Chasing - New Naratif

Akan Datang: Would you like to be chased by a cannibal?

Akan Datang: our contributors’ take on the stories to watch in Southeast Asia this week, curated by Regional Editor Aisyah Llewellyn.

Hello New Naratif readers!  

What a week we have coming up for you in Southeast Asia… There’s some great news following the (surprise!) announcement that Malaysia is set to abolish the death penalty; some not-so-great news of more arrests in Vietnam related to Facebook; and a veritable smorgasbord of food-related coverage from Singapore and Indonesia.

Over at New Naratif, we started the week with this piece on child marriage in Sulawesi and the damage it can cause to young people in Indonesia. You can read the Bahasa Indonesia version of the piece here. We also published this article on Con Dao Prison in southern Vietnam and the Cambodian nationalists who were incarcerated there. This piece is also available in Bahasa Indonesia here.

Here are all the stories to watch in Southeast Asia this week…


In Malaysia, New Naratif’s West Malaysia Editor, Pauline Wong, has this update:

The Pakatan Harapan government this week announced that it will abolish the death penalty in a move that has been lauded by activists across the nation. In the same breath, the government is considering abolishing the colonial-era Sedition Act.

What this means for the progress of human rights in Malaysia remains to be seen, as it’s widely believed that the revoking of the death sentence is a ploy to bring convicted murderer, Sirul Azhar Umar, back to Malaysia. Sirul, who was convicted of murder of Mongolian national Altantuya Shariibuu, had fled to Australia where he remains in detention. Former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak was implicated in Altantuya’s murder, although it was never proven.

Meanwhile, the victory of Anwar Ibrahim in the Port Dickson by-election paves the way for his return to Parliament. Anwar is expected to take up the Deputy Prime Minister post upon his return, but Malaysians may well remember that the last time Anwar and his ex-mentor, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, were at the top table together, it didn’t end so well for the former. New Malaysia, or deja vu? Only time will tell.


In Vietnam, our contributor Mike Tatarski, has this dispatch:

As the trade war between China and the United States drags on with no end in sight, it appears that Vietnam may become a major beneficiary of the spat. There’s been talk for several weeks now of Vietnam’s advantages on this issue: obvious proximity to China, as well as a young, rather highly skilled workforce and already robust manufacturing capabilities. Nikkei Asian Review has now reported that GoerTek, a Chinese company which assembles Apple AirPods, will shift production from its home country to Vietnam in order to avoid US tariffs. I’m very interested to see whether this begins a trend moving forward, as this would be a boon for Vietnam’s already strong economic growth.

On the other hand, increased industrial production also brings environmental and labour concerns, so this will be a major trend to watch. Another question is how long it takes until Vietnam’s trade surplus with the US catches President Trump’s attention. America already has a nearly USD26 billion deficit with Vietnam, and that will only grow if more companies shift production for exports to the Southeast Asian nation.

In a weekly occurrence here, expect further news related to Facebook and/or dissent. A man from northern Vietnam received a second jail term over allegedly anti-state Facebook posts last week, and an exclusive Reuters report found that the Vietnamese government plans to take a hard line on foreign tech companies once the Cybersecurity Bill comes into effect on 1 January 2019. Facebook and Google have yet to publicly comment on this development, but this is an issue I’m keeping a close eye on.

I also wrote this piece for SEA Globe following a study from the University of Leeds that found that Vietnam has the most sustainable quality of life among 151 nations.


From Singapore, our Chief Editor Kirsten Han has this news:

Singapore’s so proud of our hawker centres that we want them to be listed as “intangible cultural heritage”, but we seem to be having some trouble treating our hawkers right. Makansutra’s KF Seetoh, a Foodie in a nation of foodies, recently penned an open letter pointing to the high costs of operation for hawkers. He also points out some pretty unreasonable contract terms for hawkers in a hawker centre run by a social enterprise, such as getting hawkers to pay for tray returns, or allowing landlords to raise service and monthly fees at any time as long as notice is given in writing.

The Online Citizen then followed up, reporting that operator of the hawker centre outsourced dishwashing and table cleaning services to a company owned by the brother of the operator’s parent company’s founder. Discussion about the challenges of high costs for hawkers has been bubbling on social media for some time; it’s about exploitation, dignity and fairness. New Naratif’s next episode of Political Agenda will a look at hawkers in Singapore, so look out for it!


Over in Indonesia, the search for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Sulawesi has been officially called off and the political blame game is now in full swing, according to an article in The Diplomat. Aside from the politics, the twin disasters are also being blamed on the annual Nomoni festival, which apparently always spells doom in the region. We can expect to see more coverage of what went wrong in Sulawesi, particularly with regards to the government response, in the coming week.

For something a little more cheerful, our Consulting Editor for Jakarta and Papua, Febriana Firdaus, wrote this piece for Lowy Institute on Sulawesi’s “healing kitchens” which have sprung up in response to the crisis.

And, talking of food, we also have the news that Indonesian runners were “chased” by a former cannibal for prizes at a government-sponsored race in Purbalingga, Central Java. According to Coconuts, “Sumanto became infamous in Indonesia in 2003 after he was imprisoned for digging up a corpse and eating its flesh. Fifteen years later he says he’s completely reformed from his cannibalistic ways but agreed to help drum up interest in a local race.”

The question, I guess—other than “Why?”—is whether a cannibal can ever truly be reformed. I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to have a candlelit dinner alone with one.

I would, however, love to dine in Kampung Madras, the home of the Tamil community in Medan, North Sumatra, which I was delighted to see featured in this video by VICE. Also… here’s a video that explains how ketchup actually comes from Indonesia.

And that’s a wrap on this week in Southeast Asia! If you have a tip on a news story you would like to see featured in Akan Datang, then send it to us via [email protected] !

See you next week!

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