27 September 2009

The London Great Gorilla Run!

750 gorillas, 7 km, 1 city, no regrets - What do you get? A spectacular sight!

£60k have been raised in 2009 and more than £1m ever since its inception seven years ago. - And one won't complain about a decline in popularity anytime soon. People from all walks of life and professions come together in the City on one Sunday morning and don their Gorilla Suits for some serious fun! Unsuspecting passers-by and tourists can't help but laugh themselves at being run over by highly individualised gorillas running across London Bridge and Tower Bridge and along the riverbank.

For years I have wanted to take part in this particularly fun event in London, if not as runner (minimum pledge of £400 + £75 registration fee but you of course get to keep your costume!), then as an enthusiastic onlooker!

I took position with my camera phone on London Bridge with other "Sunday photographers" or friends of runners. What a great way to be back in the city!

I had just arrived back from KL a few days before and it was great to S_T_R_E_T_C_H_ my legs by an extensive walk along the Southbank, across the Thames and through the City and admire the beauty of London and reclaim the freedom as a pedestrian. I had a Mediterranean brunch in Spitalfields with a great view of an amazing open air gig by Arun Ghosh whose name I've only ever registered peripherally before that day. Great Jazz. He sold out on all the CDs before I could even get there - and I rarely am compelled to buy a CD on the spot.

A little bit about what the Gorilla Run is all about from their About page:

The threats

Imagine that you're one of the poorest people on earth. Now imagine your only chance to survive is by mining, farming and hunting in the rainforest next to your home. It's a no-brainer right? Trouble is this land is also home to some of the most endangered species in the world, and every time you enter the forest, you are damaging the forest and the gorilla habitat. Oh, and you're not alone - you live in one of the most densely populated areas in Africa.

How we help

The Gorilla Organization works with African NGOs (nice good organisations) to help local populations get everything they need outside the forest.

How helping local people helps gorillas

Everything the gorillas need is right there in the forest. So we work with local communities to make sure that the forest stays just as it is.

Take Isabelle for example - she lives in Rwanda right on the border of a National Park. Money raised by Great Gorilla runners means that we were able to show her how to grow giant crops to feed her family so she no longer has to collect food from the gorillas forest.

And Alphonsine - we showed her how to make her own firewood saving stove that uses 80% less wood than her old stove, so more trees stay in the forest for the gorillas, and life is a little less difficult for Alphonsine too.

Then there are the school children from Gitaraga Primary school with their new water cistern. They used to spend the first half of their day collecting water from the gorillas' forest, but now they just turn on the tap and have more time for learning.

The Gorilla Organization relies on the sponsorship and support from people like you. So be one of the extraordinary people that helps us save an incredible species in amazing ways all around the world, so that the world will always have great gorillas." (from the official Great Gorilla Run website)

25 September 2009

Goodbye KL!

After nearly half a year of living in KL, I at last say goodbye to a city that has grown on me, the friends that I have gained and that made it special, and an intense internship that gave me a taste of the future.

It seems unreal therefore, to be sitting in a plane, in a baju kurung, reading Urban Odysseys – KL short stories at last (I read about the publisher's launch event of it on somebody's blog when I first came here), have one last nasi lemak on the plane and return back to London, the city that spit me out in the first place.

I discovered a whole new country and even saw more places than the average Malaysian (“Oh! You went to...!? Even I haven't been there and I live here. We Malaysians don't like to travel so much”). I even learned one or the other thing about my mother. I learned about a country's way to balance multiculturalism, nationalism, religion and secularism. I learned about the reality of law(lessness) on the streets, how frustrating impunity is and how to avoid being ripped off. You know you know a place really well when you can tell the distances within a city by the price on the meter.

Although KL is a badly planned city, there are some things I am going to miss:
  • Fresh apple juice (green apples freshly pressed), lime juice and Chinese red date juice
  • Fresh mango, rambutan
  • Working under palm trees
  • The warm weather
  • Good sheesha and affordable eye-rolling reflexology
  • Kuih (Malaysian desserts usually made with sticky rice and coconut, often wrapped in leaves)
  • The ease to travel around Southeast Asia from KL

Regarding my internship, it is with mixed feelings that I am handing over work, clearing my desk, buying some goodies, going from department to department to say goodbye to everyone.

Many intense months in which I would get up, rush to an intense day at the office, hunt groggily for a taxi (if Hugh Jackman says he showers cold in the morning because that really pisses him off and gets him ready for the day, he should try living in KL without a car for a while), arrive for a long, intense but rewarding day that requires sharp concentration and a focused mind all throughout and after, return home by 12 midnight, jump into bed and wake up seven hours later to start the same thing all over again.

If anybody would have told me that this is what my time in KL would be like, I would have told them “That's crazy!” But here I am and I did it. We all did it.

Of course, an experience like this makes you wiser too, so it's not the whether or not but rather the how that turned out in a rather unpredicted and quite surprisingly diverse way. Living on a different continent is the ultimate test – you learn to navigate your way through a different reality, you realise that certain pre-conceived notions of innate global politeness do not manifest themselves in the same way around the world (it's one thing to know it and another to experience it). You learn not to rely on anyone and at last, your gut-o-meter comes to good use to gauge unfamiliar experiences or even uncomfortable encounters.

Trying out new food was another regular source of adventure. I yet have to taste The Durian, my local friends tell me that I only become a real Malaysian when I have tried this sickish smelling fruit, a delicacy banned in some public places, hotels etc. because of the distinctive smell!

People are often surprised to find you, a young woman, living half a globe away on your own (to work for free!!!), with no parents or friends or relatives to look out for your welfare and safety! "Wow, youuu very courageous!", they often say, genuinely impressed. And the astonishment and excitement (and even, at times embarrassment) when they find out you speak Malay, albeit only the same few phrases! "Youuu speak very good Malay, lah!!!" Just try and imagine middle-aged Austrians not frowning at every time you mix up your nominative and dative! They tend to have much higher expectations from foreigners learning German, a much more difficult language!

You also learn funny nothings and find amusement at the most trivial discoveries, for example that bread, when left on the kitchen counter, wrapped in plastic to preserve it from drying out, tends to mold - because of the hot humid climate. Didn't think of that, huh?

And of course, you learn about Asian religious lifestyles whether Buddhist, Muslim, Christian or Hindu. I was especially keen to get a bigger insight into Southeast Asian forms of Islam not without studying its (in)direct political role in a multiracial societies like in Malaysia. Likewise, I wanted to capture the beautiful aspects of it as well - and beauty I found!

Altogether, I learned a lot, I enjoyed a lot, I lived a lot!

23 September 2009

H1N1 in Malaysia

H1N1 has been kind of everywhere and subdued at the same time really.

I mean, you see people with surgical masks but at the same time, the government complained that awareness about H1N1 was still low among the population despite massive campaigns in the radio, on the newspapers and at the workplace.

A poster with nine separate picures gives you instructions on how to properly wash your hands and is strategically placed on the outside of the toilet door so you can read it while you wait. Also, there are additional notices in both English and Malay as well as huge dispensers of desinfectant gel where many people pass by.

It is always possble to bump into people wearing masks, in the street, in the mall, in the plane, at the work place and it is a totally normal sight. Some people have the tendncy to wear mask as a fashion, on every occasion, I mean as an amulet, even though they are not sick; you are only supposed to wear them to prevent infecting others when you have flu-like symptoms; they don't work the other way round! But then other people see you and get a mask too and the next person, and the next peron. Panic for nothing.

I mean all I know about H1N1 is that you avoid close contact, especially in train stations, airports and well, you do want to take that extra steo when the person behind you on the escalator is coughing. You're supposed to wash your hands regularly and thoroughly and stay away from the work place or school if you have flu-like symptoms. In that case, open windows at home to air frequently to reduce any microbiotic activity. Minimise your contact with people and make a list of people who visit you (or go shopping for you).

Asia's response was pretty quick and they were said to be better prepared for this than many Western countries because of the Avian flu outbreak a while ago. Whenever you take a plane, you are given yellow forms from the respective health ministries, asking you to tick if you had any of the following symptoms recently (iecoughing, sneezing, rash, diarrhea). If you ticked yes to any, you are asked to report to the health officer at arrival and are reminded that if you give any wrong statements, you incriminate yourself and can be put into jail, penalised with a fine etc. etc. You have to give flight/bus/ferry/vehicle number, seat number, basic biodata and origin and destination of your journey on arrival, you hand it to the health officers (placed before immigration counters, interestingly) while a thermal camera scans the crowds for abnormal temperature.You may find that a lot of airport personnel from the check-in desk to security, cleaning and shop attendants are wearing a mask. If this makes you nervous, you can still walk into a souvenir confectionery shop and find a mask to buy between the durian sweets and the cashew nuts, like I saw in Ho Chi Minh City.

In Malaysia, 77 of the 7066 cases so far reported (24 September 2009) have been reported to have died of H1N1. Then again, I don't have any figures for how many people, in comparison, died of the "normal" flu and wonder if it's just a global hype.

Whenever one kid is identified to have had H1N1, the whole school closes down. You get a massage and the radio plays a H1N1 notice in between every single commercial ad between songs of at least I experienced that once (in a Chinese blind people's massage place, by the way).

One person is sick and quickly rumour spreads that X or Y has H1N1 but in general, nobody really cares or puts it at the back of their mind. It has even found its way into everyday jokes. What I am trying to say is that you won't see people running at the mere mentioning of “H1N1!” nor a lot of drama, luckily.

On the other hand, you have hospitals ovrwhelmed with too many people who think they have the virus but only make doctors more busy. They have to use maybe 20 kits in a day – and that might be the amount they get from the MOH until further notice, or so a local doctor lamented to me.

The other day, on the cover page of the newspaper was a picture of rows and rows of uni graduates in their gowns and tassles, all wearing masks to their graduation ceremony which only ruins their special day without being effective at all.

Pulau Pehentian – Island Ahoy!

What a perfect way to end a long, intense internship in tropical waters than to go an island with sandy beaches, palm trees and loads of sun?!

Pulau Perhentian (or in English, Perhentian Island) is actually a pair of islands located of the Northeast coast of Malaysia, near the border to Thailand.

The jetty brings back memories of the last time I tried to board a ship to an island. Back then, it was a catamaran on a rough sea in Thailand and after laughing at first at the plastic bags handed out before the start of the engines, the whole matter turned serious 10min into the ride!

This time, the boat ride was much more exhilarating/fun though. Have you ever tried an open boat going at 70-80km/h at 40 degree angle? The sun had just risen (the night bus arrives around 5am). All the white surf whooshing past the boat...

I stayed on the smaller of the two islands in a kampung-style wooden A-frame bungalow on stilts and a mosquito net over the bed - yeah, those fuckers were everywhere (what function do mosquitoes serve in evolution??) that will do me great service. The whole hut is relatively easy to take care of: All you need is to take a broom and brush the sand off the edge of your terrace and that's it!

Very fun. The dive shop is three huts down, so it takes me only 15 seconds each morning to my diving class – YES! DIVING CLASS!!!

What a lucky person I am! I have fulfilled myself another dream I've had for more than 10 years and fulfilled a goal I set myself for the past two months in KL to crown my stay for this internship!

At first it was a bit scary to do all these so-called “airway control” exercises under water but eventually, as you become more familiar with your equipment and the environment, a whole new world opens up and the open sea is your limit! It's like seeing a reef right through itself, with a huge stingray nestled on the ground below half-buried in sand, endangered (!) bump-head parrot fish passing through (they're huge!), underwater vegetation you have never seen before so close, clown fish (Nemo!), cleaner shrimp (they engage in symbiosis with other animals by removing parasites off fish, both internally and externally), puffer fish and and a (non-stinging) red jellyfish making its way up. It's like a 360 degree slow-motion movie with you right in it and it's SO ALIVE! The fish usually ignore you, so you can suddenly find yourself swimming along with a big school of brightly-coloured tropical fish (at least 300 of them) or... fish nibbling at you curiously once you get your buoyancy right (and hence don't have to move any limbs to stay absolutely still in the water).

Definitely a new hobby I want to keep up on! So if there's any divers among you crowd, let's buddy up!

16 September 2009

Wiener Blut or: Vindoborama (Homecoming)

Coming back to Europe after several months of urban Southeast Asia, one cannot but marvel amazedly at the novelty of sights "hidden in plain view". It is like walking around with a pair of 3D glasses or heat cameras - everything is the same but you are seeing "new" things about them. I can only imagine the stronger impact it must have if you were an ethnographer coming home after one year in "deep space". But I can at last imagine the beginning of how alienating and even disorienting it must be for some people of other non-Christian background who come to Europe. On the more cheerful side though, I enjoyed the viewing of the spectacle; more often than not with humour.

- It all started with arriving earlier than scheduled at around 10pm in Stansted and with no usable British phone to speak of, looking forward to getting picked up by a friend who had said she would help me with my luggage. I usually don't like a fuss on airports but this time was special, as I hadn't seen her in ages and I was coming home from a rite of passage (yet another one but a major one). So, looking forward to getting picked up at the airport for the first time ever by a friend, I dressed in the traditional Malay dress, the baju kurung, that I was given by some Malaysian friends. Well, suffice to say, my friend's head never popped out of the crowd and she never turned up at the airport. I didn't have any small change, so I asked a woman if I could use her phone for a minute. Luckily, she was really supportive. Turns out, that there seems to have been a misunderstanding in what I thought was a pretty clear arrangement. I might be mistaken but oh well... I've got a ton of luggage, two Vietnamese hats on a windy night tied around the trolley handles, a rolled up bamboo mat and not a very practical dress but I can manage. Unexpected though was that when I tried to communicate how much I had been looking forward to that moment, I was explained that, "Stansted is a bit far out, you know". And bang - Welcome home for me! I guess it's a really polite Southeast Asian thing to offer people to bring them to the airport or to pick them up from there on such occasions if they have the time. In the end, I took a coach and was slightly amused by the fact that I was standing in the middle of (predominantly Jewish) Golders Green, in a Muslim dress and a pashmina wrapped around head and shoulders as protection against the wind. And isn't it ironic?

- It continued with the lifelessness of the streets outside the buzz of Central London. In KL, there's usually always people on the street, open plan eateries on the side of the road, stalls, shacks, street noise... It's rather quiet back here.

- Also great is walking into a shop, swiftly heading for the item in question and proceeding to the cashier in less than a minute without the need to talk to anybody and totally independent of the "Asian shadow" - a shop attendant greeting you when you enter and waiting and sometimes also watching you across the shop. I heard the superior-ising "Hello, Miss" so many times it sometimes is a nuisance when all you want is to browse - for once - in peace in a large mall. You're ear will virtually fall off after the 25th shop! It's also great to know you're in warranty world again and therefore a relief not to have to examine the item you're buying extra closely.

- I went back to SOAS and let my gaze wonder across the learning spaces on one of the terraces in the library and thought to myself how hi-tech studying in the UK is. One cannot but marvel at the comparative technologies of education in different countries. At SOAS, you see people with laptops in class who while studying, are often plugged into their iPods to block out any disturbing noise while typing their essay, summarising or studying on the virtual learning environment. The School can communicate with you via an iPhone app. Libaries, schools and student services are tweeting or facebooking their events. Podcasts and live webcasts of some selected open talks by Professors, Research Centres available to download from a sophisticated and visually appealing website, around 10-20 emails a day which many students check regularly on their respective smart phones. WiFi access in all teaching rooms and communal areas. Students bringing recorders to lectures and typing (or skyping!) away on their laptops, taking notes. Crazy!

- English people queueing up again and arguing of who should let who go first out of politeness. Being this polite in this way will turn out a weakness in Malaysia. If you are not assertive, you will never make it to the front of a queue in Kuala Lumpur. I think that must be one of the most severe areas of culture shock for British expats.

- Luton: Apparently, regulations changed and a laptop bag counts as a separate handbag (!). Judging from the fact that a few confused people were shuffling stuff around backpacks once they reach the front of the check-in, I was not the only one who was surprised by this. I was furious for I had to pay extra and thought this was the next scam by low-fare airlines, to change the regulations in the middle of the summer (!) when nobody would be in the UK to follow the news!!! So I googled and found out that there was a whole community infuriated at this new "security alert". I bet turnover from airport storage lockers and laptop sleeves sold at the airport soared in September!


- Treed streets vs. "Seed trees!"
They say, the heart grows fonder with distance - add time and you can imagine how great it was to be back in Vienna. The streets are so green and summery and you suddenly physically understand why parks are called the green lungs of a city. Vienna has a lot of them and nobody would give them up for a condo or a car park like in KL where natural jungle had to give way to tall concrete blocks whose residents would contribute to increase traffic congestion. And the Viennese parks are groomed with such care! Gardeners and cleaners come by regularly to make sure everything grows the way it should and that it all looks neat. I once asked a person in KL, annoyed at the destitution of a green patch I would pass every day, if the council didn't send anybody to take care of it and the person just looked perplexed at the idea that the council would do such a thing... On the other hand, when the council does stuff, they do stupid stuff like put plants and trees right below an inaccessible highway ramp - See it this way: Who plants under a bridge?!

- Another of the first impressions is that Vienna is a clockwork and the people therein robots. The street system makes sense, there are no traffic jams, there are neatly kept pedestrian zones, car drivers generally adhere to traffic rules and stop lines on the road, everything on the street is labeled and (shop) services neatly advertised on the front. The trams & tubes all go their timed ways to provide one of the densest public transport systems in Europe! The bus stops are easy to recognise, have maps and timetables and nobody parks in front of them. While the Viennese cycle along a network of extensive, safely designed cycling lanes. Imagine that in KL!!! Or even the city council providing bicycles nearly free of use as long as you returned them to one of the stalls spread across the city! Also, there are traffic signs everywhere, usually highly visible and spaced in calculated timing (most of the time). The cherry on top is the ding-ding! of the tram - that when you know you're home.

- The urban architecture up to the last detail is so clear-cut and thoroughly planned! Sidewalks are mostly so even, you can press paper on them and your heels will last forever! People actually wait until the pedestrian light in an entirely empty street turns green!!! Even the dog shit has its own beautifully designed dedicated space in an urban park. There are trams, everything is in walking distance, there are maps in the tube stations, there are COFFEESHOPS in tube stations (however, seldom open after 6pm or on Sundays!), you can go grocery shopping on foot! The trees look so healthy and well-groomed compared to KL, that they nearly look surreal to me! The streets are so clean - you don't come home with black feet from all the cars like in KL - for the first time, I understand why my mother defends so vehemently that anything that touches the ground is instantly dirty.

Other great "novel" features of Vienna:
- People actually park where they are supposed to
- Italian ice-cream ready to eat every 200m!
- No need for a taxi
- Being somewhere in 20min without the use of a taxi!!!
- The smell of grass and trees in the city!
- Being told and shown in buses what the next stop is!
- Leaving the house and not having to look over my shoulder all the time and watch the corner of my eyes every time I take out my purse to pay for something.
- The sunflower fields when you drive towards Hungary. Utter beauty divine!

- Going to Schรถnbrunn (the royal summer residence of the emperors of Austria-Hungary) boggled my mind. I did a double-take as coming back from months in the patchworked "chaotic" streets of Asia, the groomed hedges look so sharp, it is a shock to the eye!

- Look of genuine surprise when you ask an Austrian taxi driver - by habit now - if he uses a meter before you even step in, like you offended his honour at the mere implied suggestion that he would not use a meter. It's good to be home!

On the other hand:
- Starbucks actually charges for internet anywhere outside Asia. I blissfully forgot. And I was so sure it used to be free in Vienna (even though I never had reason to use it in their Austrian coffeeshops)

- I miss the facility to add boiled water to your instant noodle soup in every supermarket!

- Shock at seeing a man fingering his mini skirt-wearing girlfriend while standing behind her in an ascending escalator and whispering murmuring intimate stuff into her ear with a leery grin and her grinning back just as wistfully, even if slightly embarrassed. Guess who was standing on the step below the guy (this is but one of the disadvantages of not being very tall - your field of vision can be at an inconvenient height). Imagine this happening in KL - haram to the third!!! Not even non-Malay couples would find it appropriate to do this in public!!! The closest I saw to "get a room" in KL was two Chinese people snogging inside a car in the middle of a pedestrian crossing (in Bangsar)! While I do generally promote couples showing signs of affection in public, my threshold of decency starts with keeping the touching of sexual organs to private, enclosed spaces of your own.

Nevertheless, apart from this rather extreme example (I saw a second couple doing that on another day in the underground! Makes me wonder if i just had never noticed...), it is quite interesting to be re-exposed to "Western dress", after months in a conservative country. The girls all dressed in spaghettis for summer with their (sometimes differently-coloured) bra straps openly visible, the hot pants (Chinese people wear them too though in Malaysia), the boobs bouncing and the upper part pushed up or nearly popping out of the top, the armpits clearly in your face when they hold on to a handrail above in public transport, the bigger personal space they occupy comfortably and confidently - if I had met any of them running around like that in Malaysia (even on a touristy beach), I would have been concerned for their dignity and/or safety. It's quite an interesting mind experiment, as it's like I am seeing for the first time with the eyes of an imagined outsider how shocking and disorienting it must be (for the more virtuous) or how arousing (for the less virtuous) to come to a "Western country" (with imagined shared values among its population). In London, it took me a while to get used to the scantily or ridiculously (bees, pink butterflies) or both clad hen night girls (Central London is haunted by) again who on top of it all, are usually heavily intoxicated and excessively disrupting. Then again, that particular group I will never get. I mean, if you drink that much, you might end up puking all over the altar! If that's not a bad omen, I don't know what is.

- As I was walking through a residential side street in my old school town, I saw an 10 or 11 year old kid closing the enforced mesh garden gate of his house, and rushing off to run down the road towards the next main street, the bus stop being around the corner. I peek a look at his house across the large neatly mowed grass of his yard, the "Chappi" signature dog watching me, alert as if watching me for any suspicious behaviour. A beautiful motorbike parked on the porch, in front of the garage. The fact that you feel perfectly safe for a 10 year old kid (or any from around 6 onwards) to let them go to school on their own without a school bus.

- And isn't it amazing that you go to an agreed place and you can rely on the fact that a bus is going to come by at a given time each day?? And that as a non-university student, you can use it for free by showing a non-electronic travelcard?

- Punity: One of the greatest things I find about Europe even if I tend not to capitalise on it so as not to feed into the already judging mindset of some xenophobic and narrow-minded Austrians, is being back somewhere where there is punity. If somebody (sexually) harasses you, you can call the police. If somebody cons you, cheats you over money, steals from you, you can tell the police and they will take care of it. If you get mobbed, you can sue somebody for it.
If living in Southeast Asia has taught me one thing, it is an understanding for why people would consider seeking "justice" by extrajudicial ways if law enforcement is not efficient or even corrupted or even overwhelmed. I am not condoning or promoting anything here but I believe that no legal body standing up for your rights creates societal frustration in society. The only thing you can do is taking measures not to become a victim. If you haven't been to Southeast Asia before, then I hope that this paragraph does not keep you from it for at least Malaysia is a relatively safe country and Kuala Lumpur a relatively safe city. The only thing that are likely to happen to you is being ripped off over money (which you will learn to manage) or if you are a woman, being eve-called by usually uneducated and/or rural South Asians (Indians, Bangladeshis...) - more on the latter soon.

To summarise...
I wouldn't say I was suffering from reverse culture shock, "shock" always implying negative experiences. Human is a species governed by the laws of inertia just as much as matter is. It's a way of getting used to different logics and grammars of culture.

While I was walking through the smog-free streets of Vienna with glee, I was thinking how great it is I did not have to think about what I was wearing, where I was going, how much something is supposed to cost. It is also great to be able to plan your day again while gazing at the pacifying urban Viennese landscape on public transport. What a breath of fresh air!

Tick Tock!

Oh and if you want to watch something funny if ear-shattering, then watch a (really bad!) performance of Wiener Blut, as composed by Johann Strauss II. The waltz with its instantly recognisable theme was so popular that an operetta emerged from it. It also has become Vienna's unofficial hymn.

If you prefer to watch a contemporary interpretation, check out Falco's pompous Wiener Blut music video where an Americanised police theme meets Hermann Nitsch.

02 September 2009

9th International Congress on AIDS in Asia-Pacific (ICAAP)

The congress itself was a comprehensive and original mix of various topics addressed in satellite meetings, community forums, symposia, field visits and was complemented by cultural performances, spas (in the convention centre!), an international cartoon contest, a photo exhibition and an opening ceremony hosted by the president of Indonesia himself. More than 2000 delegates were protected by more than 300 security staff and submitted xyz number of abstracts.

Some highlights of the 9th ICAAP:

Satellite Meetings:
Organised and operated by several companies, government agencies, institutions or non-governmental organisations. There are 75 satellite meetings and some are open only for selected delegates invited to the meeting.
  • Engaging Islamic leaders to strengthen the HIV response: strategies, successes and lessons learned:
    "This satellite will explore the role of Islamic leaders in fostering an enabling environment for HIV prevention, treatment, and care at the national, province, and community levels. Based on work in the region, the session will share effective strategies for partnering with Islamic leaders to address sensitive issues, such as stigmatising attitudes ad religious opposition to harm reduction and condom use. The session will also share successes in transforming Islamic leaders into HIV policy champions who are making a difference in their communities. In particular, Islamic leaders form the region will share their personal experiences, triumphs, and lessons learned so that approaches can be adapted and replicated in other areas. they will also discuss how passages from the Quran can support HIV-related interventions. the intended audiences include religious leaders, HIV program implementers and any other stakeholders interested in mobilising communities of faith in response to HIV in Asia"
  • Women parliamentarians addressing feminisation of HIV/AIDS:
    "[...] A recent UN study reveals the percentage of adults living with HIV/AIDS who are women have increased in all regions surveyed, indicating a worrisome 'feminisation' of the epidemic. Therefore, there is a need to highlight this issue by engaging women parliamentarians and leaders to raise awareness of the linkages between gender inequity and HIV/AIDS."

  • Pleasure and safer sex, have they come together?
    "Most dialogue around AIDS - including at international AIDS conferences - has omitted discussion of sex and sexual pleasure. Safer sex campaigns have focused almost exclusively on fear-based messages to promote safer sex. the key objectives of this session is ensuring a wide audience of health professionals learn how to make safer sex sexy, in order to create more effective safer sex messages creating skills to ensure effective incorporation of discussions of pleasure and desire into safer sex messaging highlight key resources, such as the global mapping of pleasure and other international evidence of the eroticising of safer sex for practitioners to use in the future."
    (Hosted by The Pleasure Project and the Global Mapping of Pleasure)
There are 24 symposia hosted by various organisations, where invited speakers and lecturers will discuss cross-track issues. Several symposia will take place after the plenary sessions are open for all delegates.

  • Viagra vs. condoms: Unequal footing technology of sex and sexuality:
    "The juxtaposition of 'condom' and 'Viagra' in the title of the proposed session is to indicate that there are different perceptions and values centering on the various types of sex-related products in the market. whereas there is still a great hesitancy in Asia to discuss openly and promote condoms for safe sex, Viagra has been aggressively promoted in the media and marketed widely in the region, for objectives well beyond its prescribed purposes, without facing any 'moral' or political objection. how can this difference in societal acceptance be explained, considering that both products focus on male sexuality, and could thus be considered equally 'sensitive' (or not 'sensitive')?
    [Ha! It's a man doing this lecture against what many would expect]

  • Impact of financial crisis on labour migration and HIV:
    "In the midst of the current financial and economic crisis there are likely to be both direct and indirect consequences for migrant labour supply and demand. A two-way increase is expected in the movement of people: Overseas migrants returning home after losing their jobs, or those recently laid off at home moving overseas in search of work. As some countries may take increasingly protectionist stances, the options for formal migration may narrow. Migrants abroad may also face increasingly difficult conditions, with fewer employment opportunities and may encounter greater discrimination and stigmatisation. Of particular concern is the likely impact on the lives and jobs of millions of documented and undocumented migrant workers in the region, and their access to health services."
Community forums:
People living with HIV/inter-faith/migrants/people who use drugs/sex workers/women including lesbians/youth/MSM

Field visits:
  • Gaya Dewata Foundation
    Established on 29 December 1999 by the Bali gay community to promote safer sex. The foundation plays an active role in spreading information about preventing STIs and HIV to the general public by conducting outreach activities, counselling, radio talk shows, discussions, edutainment, VCT referral and hotline services. HIV counselling and education are often packaged in the form of stage entertainment. it also functions as a communication forum for the gay community in Bali.

  • PTRM Sandat: Sanglah General Hospital
    Methadone maintenance therapy - comprehensive holistic approach at this hospital including social, cultural, sprititual and humanitarian activities, spritual water therapy and prayer, yoga and hypnotherapy.
Poster presentations:
  • Fiji: mapping peer education programmes for Asia-pacific islands
  • Australia: Myanmar: Those who 'talk the talk' of HIV prevention in Myanmar do not always 'walk the walk'
  • Philippines: How SMS & online networking increases sexual networking among risk groups
  • Myanmar: Digging the Scriptures: A small Buddhist faith-based organisation's quest for tailored HIV prevention
  • HIV/AIDS cross-border competence: Thailand, Lao PDR, Myanmar (a Thai hospital)
  • Homeopathy an effective way for OI management and improvement of CD4 count in HIV/AIDS cases
Photo exhibition: "Access to life":
"[...] visual chronicles that encompassed their subjects lives both before and four months after the start of ART treatment" Global Fund + Magnum Photos

A few facts and figures about AIDS in the Asian context:
In Asia, an estimated 5 million [4.1 million–6.2 million] people were living with HIV in 2007. Asia-Pacific has the second-highest number of HIV positive people after Sub-Saharan Africa. The HIV epidemic in Malaysia is concentrated mainly around unsafe injecting drug use practices, and it is estimated that more than two thirds of HIV infections to date have
been in people who inject drugs. (UNAIDS)

An interesting video from AlJazeera English about the debate on mandatory HIV testing for Muslim couples before they get married:

And another more informative video about children living with HIV/AIDS in Malaysia, by UNICEF: