Thursday, March 14, 2013

Science for Peace

The President of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia making his opening remarks at the Science for Peace Discourse

A few of the participants representing various organisations at the Discourse

      A discourse on Science for Peace was organised by the Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) on
Wednesday March 13, 2013 at Hilton Hotel, KL Central, Kuala Lumpur with two panel members to speak on the topic.  In his opening remark, the President of ASM indicated that the Academy accepted this initiative of one of its illustrious Senior Fellows, Tan Sri Dato' Dr. Ahmad Mustaffa Babjee and an international Conference on it is being planned scheduled to take place in 2015 and that this discourse is a preliminary to get more insights on what are some of the relevant issues on this topic - Science for Peace. Dr. Ahmad Mustaffa was the first speaker in the panel discussion. Dr. Mustaffa was a former Director-General of the Department of Veterinary Services Malaysia and served for a period in the Faculty of Veterinary Science, Universiti Putra Malaysia.  He is active in many community organisations especially the Academy of Sciences Malaysia.  The second panelist was Dr. Rita Colwell, U.S Presidential Science Envoy.  Dr. Colwell is a Distinguished Professor both at the University of Maryland at College Park and at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. Her research interests are in the areas of infectious diseases, water and health Her international experiences include serving in advisory positions in non-profit science policy organizations, and private foundations, as well as the international scientific research community.  She has authored or co-authored 17 books and more than 750 scientific publications.
     Dr. Ahmad Mustaffa in his presentation highlighted that science has its black history as it is associated with the atomic bomb and calamities linked with nuclear power and the many wars attributed to socio-economic, tribal, sectarian, bilateral etc. Accordingly, science has to redeem itself and Science and Technology must be harnessed towards peace to save our planet. The objectives of the campaign Science for Peace are:
                     a. to place greater emphasis on the application of S&T to find solutions to peace
                     b. to encourage scientists to practice positive values
                     c. to undertake research that are scientifically evaluated for sustainability
     According to Dr. Ahmad Mustaffa, Malaysia has been involved in peace keeping efforts.  It has sent peace keeping forces to the Congo during the civil war there;  organised international conference to criminalise war; has made peace efforts on the Arab-Israeli conflict; has sent missions to help the Arabs in Gaza; has highlighted the plight of the Bosnians during the Serbian- Bosnian conflict.
     In her short delivery, Dr. Colwell supported this effort of utilising science for peace. She felt that conflicts and wars could be avoided if the basic needs of the people are met. Such basic needs include food, education, good health and free from diseases, availabilty of resources such as water and energy. She has given the undertaking to promote the international conference on Science for Peace, scheduled for2015.   

Monday, March 4, 2013

Friendship Journey to Da Nang, Vietnam: February 20 to 24, 2013

Celebrated my birthday at Seventeen saloon
Travelling in a tourist boat upstream  to visit a Buddhist
temple in Hue
Pagoda of Buddha at Ba Na Hills
Ba Na Hills Mountain Resort
Satatues of the Mandarins at the Nguyen
Emperor's Mausoleum in Hue
Entrance to the Forbidden City, Hue 

Handicrafts from marble at Marble Mountain
The Hindu temple monuments at My Son,
capital of the Champa Kingdom

   It was my interest in the Malay-Polynesian history, culture and people that attracted me to visit Da Nang, as not too far away in the south-west interior of it, is located the temple complex of My Son, which in the early history of Vietnam, served as the capital of the Champa Kingdom known as Panduranga.  This Kingdom which existed in the 6th to the 8th century came under the Javanese influence of the Sri Vijaya Empire and inhabited by a population made up of Malay-Polynesians. My two backpacking friends, Tan Sri Mohd Nor Ismail and Rahim Abd Rahman agreed to accompany me on this trip.  The Air Asia Go Holiday fare+hotel package was booked two months ealier amounting to RM 1350 per pax.
   We departed on Wednesday Feb 20 from the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) Kuala Lumpur by Air Asia flight AK 1468 at the scheduled time of 13.55 hrs. It was a 2hr.35minutes flight from Kuala Lumpur arriving in Da Nang at 15.20 hrs local time (Da Nang is one hour earlier than KL).  The airport taxi took us to HAGL Plaza Hotel, a 15 minutes drive away from the airport. The fare was VND 70k (exchange rate US $1= VND 20, 800). We stayed for 4 days and departed Da Nang by flight AK 1469 at 16.00 hrs on Sunday Feb 24.  The places of interest that we visited and my observations of the city and its people are provided below.

    1. Ba Na Hills Resort.  This was the first destination in our itinerary scheduled for Thursday, Feb 21 , costing each one of us VND 890k for the trip inclusive of the cable car and lunch. We were picked up by a van and there were other tourists which we found out later were locals.  It was about a 2 hour drive to the foothill of Ba Na and then took a cable car to the summit of the Resorts.  It was a cool breezy day.  The attractions of the Resorts include the cable car ride, the winery where visitors were conducted through the process of wine making, a huge Buddha pagoda, the cool climate of the hill and the scenic views around it.  A fantasy park is being constructed and is expected to be completed in 2014.  Inspite of the cool, cloudy weather and light showers the Resort was crowded with tourists. We were back at the hotel by 16.00 hrs.

   2. Hue City.  On the advise of the Public Relations Officer of the Hotel, Ms Thao, we decided to rent a car and guide for this trip that cost us a total sum of VND 2 800k. Yes in Vietnam transactions were in millions - millions of VND. We feel like millionaires   The visit to the imperial city of Hue took place on the third day of the visit Friday Feb 22.  The journey to Hue from Da Nang gave us glimpses of rural Vietnam.  Extensive paddy were being grown and it was the young seedling stage in the paddy-fields and gave the green colour to the fields.  The narrow piece of land in front of each villager's house are grown with vegetables.  Altough the distance to Hue is only 110 km the drive took 2 hrs 30 minutes as the 70 km/hr speed limit has to be observed.  According to our guide, the authorities are very strict on the speed of vehicles on the road and any driver that breaks the law can be suspended from driving for 3 months and it is strongly enforced.  Our Malaysian authorities can learn a few things on the enforcement of laws from Vietnam....We were at the Perfume River jetty where we rented a decorated tourist boat from an operator assisted by his wife, who was selling such tourist items as silk shirts, night dresses for ladies, table place mats. We headed for the Thien Mu Pagoda jetty, a half-an hour boat ride.  The Pagoda is an iconic landmark of the city and along the bank of this river there are many othr pagodas.  We did not visit the pagoda but instead headed for the Citadel. The Citadel is an extensive walled area, which served as the seat of the Nguyen Dynasty that ruled Vietnam for 142 years starting in 1802  until the abdication of the last emperor, Bao Dai, in 1945 with the emergence of the Communist Government.  Within the Citadel is the Forbidden City, accommodating the palaces of the 13 emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty with the accompanying residences for the mandarins, soldiers, concubines, and other supporting workers.  We also visited the mausoleum of the last emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty on the way back to Da Nang. Its unique feature is the the many pictures decorating the main hall and each picture is accompanied with a poem. The mausoleum was built at high cost with construction materials imported from France and other parts of the world and this project became very unpopular with the people.

    3. Marble Mountain, My Son and Hoi An Old City. We devoted the fourth day (Saturday Feb 23) visiting the three destinations in the same rented vehicle and guide costing us the same amount as above.  Marble Mountain is on the route to My Son.  Around this rich limestone outcrops a vibrant marble handicraft industry has developed.  We visited one of the bigger marble outfit displaying a whole range of products from small items such pen-holders, vases, bracelets, pendants to to huge statues of Buddha.  I bought two pendants and two small flower vases. We then proceede to My Son. As I have mentioned it was the temple complex at this past capital of the Champa Kingdom that has drawn me to visit Da Nang.  This temple complex is divided into several sections.  However, quite a substantial part of it was destroyed during the recent war with the United States of America. A huge bomb crater could still be seen there. The temples were of Hindu origin depicting many of the gods and goddeses associated with Hinduism. Satisfied on achieving my objective we left My Son for the old city of Hoi An.  As it was past lunch time we headed for a seafood restaurant by the beach.  It was another windy day and huge waves were rolling in and due to the weather there were hardly anybody on the beach.  The lunch was sumptuous as among the dishes we had was crabs, large prawns, grouper and vegetables.  The bill came to a whopping VND 3 900k or US $ 200 or MR 200 per person.  We were informed by the guide that Hoi An is a shopping destination, with the whole range of products available.  Suits could be made to order and ready just within hours.  We opt not to go shopping but stop at a silk factory where we were shown the production of silk products right from the rearing of the silkworm, to the threads and finally the products such as scarves, shirts etc. As the effect of the heavy lunch meal and the earlier two days of tiring schedule, we decided to return to Da Nang early and we were back at the Hotel at 5 would have been great for a body massage. It was not going to be as February 23 is my birthday.  After a short rest, clean-up we headed for a seafood restaurant by the beach in Da Nang.  It was a memorable birthday dinner with two pretty Vietnamese friends which was followed by an entertainment programme at a night-club, Seventeen Saloon.  The night-club was packed with revellers on a week-end with an entertaining band from the Philippines.  It was at around one am that we finally ended up in bed.
   As our flight was scheduled in late afternoon, we have scheduled the city tour in the morning of the last day.  Whenever I visit a place  the destinations I have always included in the itinerary is the wet market and the museums.  The wet markets will usually give me a picture of the type of agriculture in the area - the fruits, vegetables, herbs, wildlife, the species of fishes available, locally processed food; the museums will provide the history, culture, religious practices etc of the people.  However, it was not to be as the weather was cool, cloudy and above all wet. We were kept indoors.  However, I decided to have my final swim at the hotel pool.

   4. Entertainments.  Part of the excitement in the travels, besides the sightseeings of places of interest such as the wet markets, museums and people, are the lighter side of things. In Da Nang we were recommended the New Phuduong Night Club.  We patronised it the first night we were in Da Nang.  There were pretty guest relations ladies but the techno music was too loud and that you feel the whole inside of you is throbbing.  Surprisingly, not many patrons were on the floor and as someone that enjoys disco dancing this was a let-down.  We were looking for a lounge with soft music where we could go on the floor to dance and we were recommeded Seventeen Saloon with a band from the Philippines performing.  The performance was satisfactory but again the dancing the oompness in its ambience was not there.  I observed that there are many karaoke joints and massage parlours.  

Comments and Observations.  My travels in recent years are confined to countries in the ASEAN region.  It is relatively cheap both in terms of accommodation, food and other amenities; many entertainment outlets; friendly people friendly and there are so many interesting things one can see. And lately, since the establishment of the Malay-Polynesian organisation,  I am fascinated with the many facets of the Malay-Polynesian peoples all over the world.  But Vietnam is of special interest to me.  I have earlier visited Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.  The country as long as I could remember, were in perpetual conflicts and wars.  We read how the French colonialists were humiliated and defeated at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and subsequently the Americans in the early 1970s. Even earlier the Vietnamese were subjugated by the Chinese from the north.  These wars have its positive effects on the people.  I find them resilience, industrious and resourceful.  They move around on motorcycles and appear to be eating healthy food.  Generally they are slim, the ladies petite.  The many of them that serve us in the hotel, entertainment outlets, tourism destinations and restaurants, I found them courteous, disciplined and honest.  It is these sort of people that I like to be associated with.