Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Brotherly Love

The opening fixtures of the ASEAN Football federation Cup in Jakarta tomorrow are a fascinating microcosm of South East Asia history and politics.

Thailand v Lao

More people of Lao descent live in Thailand than live in Lao. In many parts of the north east it can seem more Lao than Thai as families have settled the land for generations, fleeing the French, I can understand that, and communism, yep, good point there.

The communists did away with the Lao royal family shortly after coming to power back in the 1970s but the hammer and sickle have been found to be an uneffective way to run a country and there are now some Lao who cast envious glances south of the Mekong at the Thais and their royals.

Many Lao dishes are staples for Thais while Lao return the favour by sitting avidly round their cranky TV watching the latest Thai soap operas, weeping at the misfortunes of the latest star just like their neighbours.

If you can read and speak Thai then the chances are you can pretty well make yourself understood at least in the Lao capital city of Vientiane.

There are some difference of course. Vientiane has the feel of a provincial backwater lost in time. The fading French colonial style buildings may be in need of a lick of paint but they have yet to be dwarfed by high rise condos, hotels and malls.

There have been tensions over the years and even a little shooting match over a piece of land back in the 1980s but they have mostly been solved or at least are not allowed to damage relations between the two countries anymore.

Indonesia v Malaysia

But while the Thai Lao relationship shows maturity Indonesia and Malaysia are like a couple of quarreling cousins, one rich the other poor, who have yet to reconcile their differences after they were riven apart by a couple of unwanted step fathers.

They share the same food, language and religion. Bugis, Javanes and Minangkabau, among others, flocked to the Malay pensinsular over the years bringing with them their own heritage and quarrels. You can in a way liken Indonesia to the old world and Malaysia to the new world. But whereas Germans don't get too upset when Americans claim hamburgers as their own the Indonesians show a testiness whenever Malaysians flaunt what they feel is their heritage.

Extremists in Indonesia have called for war with their neighbours over slights imagined or otherwise. When Malaysia claimed a plot of sea nobody could find on a map Indonesian news showed locals in the jungle undergoing military training ahead of an invasion of Malaysia.

Likewise another mob of nutters threatened to invade Malaysia surreptitiously if Malaysia didn't stop claiming batik shirts as their own. For their part the Malaysians don't seem too bothered by the one way animosity felt by some which got as far as someone flinging their shit at the Malaysian embassy once.

People have in the past described football as war but it is to be hoped that some mild abuse on the terraces tomorrow night is as bad as it gets.

Its frustrating that such prestigious regional tournament like Suzuki Cup involving Asean countries once every two years, there is no live telecast by free to air tv channels like Singapore Ch.5, Malaysia TV1 and Indonesia TVRI. How to support?
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