PHUKET: Off the north end of Mosquito Island, part of the Phi Phi archipelago, is a steep sloping hard coral reef. Happily, the staghorn corals there have not yet been destroyed by the anchors of speedboats just around the corner. However, it’s not these elegant hard corals that make this rarely visited dive site a must, it’s what lies beyond.
The steep reef quickly gives way to sand and underwater scrub land, which is reminiscent of the deserts of the American Southwest. The sandy dive site stretches out into the blue, broken up only by sparse heads of brightly colored soft broccoli corals.
Like all good adventures, there’s a prize nestled out there somewhere – we aren’t just cruising the sands for nothing – we are seahorse hunting.
Diving with Zeavola’s dive shop presents the advantage of a good location, as the dive center is situated on the north end of Phi Phi Don, putting Mosquito Island, just a 10-minute boat ride away.
Luckily, the dive center agrees to accommodate the custom trip – an attempt to photograph the enormous species of seahorses known as the great seahorse, Kellogg’s seahorse or offshore seahorse (Hippocampus kelloggi), which can grow up to the size of a banana.
At a depth of 20m, deco time (your non-decompression limits) becomes the limiting factor for the dive, which makes Nitrox a smart choice. However, we have no extra tanks waiting in the shallows and only air strapped to our back, so our total dive time is limited to about 45 minutes.
With only one dive allocated for the hunt, the pressure is on, and the first 10 minutes quickly slip by. There is quite a difference between searching the deep blue hoping that a giant manta ray appears of its own volition and scanning the seabed for a treasured marine creature.
If you fail to see a giant manta ray, well there just wasn’t a manta – bad luck. However, if you fail to find one of the well-known masters of underwater camouflage, well, maybe you just aren’t very good at finding seahorses.
Zeavola’s master of seahorse-spotting, Saroj “Peng” Panan, wasn’t available to join the dive, so today the resort’s activity manager, Jennifer Arbuthnot is on seahorse duty.
Out in the sand, a half-buried car tyre appears. There aren’t any seahorses inside – nothing for their tails to clutch onto – but there is a small juvenile nurse shark that clearly wants to be left alone.
Moving on, with the pressure of the steadily descending deco time mounting, we continue to scan the sands. We carefully hover over each surreal broccoli coral – one of the distinctive life forms on the planet the Dr Suess would have no doubt approved of – looking for the tell-tale shape of a seahorse.
In the distance, there is a strange, small curve, something that catches the trained eye. There she is, although not a Kellogg’s seahorse, but another species, smaller and bashful, but nonetheless a full-grown adult about 16cm long from tail to snout.
Pulling ourselves away from the solitary creature – it would be easy to spend an entire dive just photographing a single seahorse – the hunt is renewed with vigor.
There – another seahorse. Making our way to the second find, a single seahorse adrift in the sand, we stumble upon a third seahorse.
As our deco time hits the five-minute mark and the need to start safely moving toward shallower waters draws close, a fourth seahorse – a different species than the others, but again not a Kellogg’s seahorse – appears in the soft-coral scrub lands.
It’s hard to leave it behind, as seahorses are prone to sympathetic anthropomorphism. Even though they’re voracious predators with an incredible kill rate, they emote a shy, bashful and sometimes even coy demeanor. There’s a tangible desire to nestle into the sand next to them and give them time to open up – to reveal another side of themselves.
Additionally, having spotted four seahorses once we hit the “right” place, it’s hard to leave, simply because we are so clearly on the cusp of even further discoveries. Nonetheless, Jenny motions for us to move up into shallower water, away from the wonders below.
Still, when you are diving safely, there’s always a next time…
— Isaac Stone Simonelli
500 people own 36% of equity in Thai companies
Roughly 36% of Thailand’s corporate equity is held by just 500 people, highlighting wealth inequality in the Kingdom, according to a study released by the Bank of Thailand’s research institute.
Each of these 500 amass some 3.1 billion baht (102 million USD) per year in company profits, according to the report from the Puey Ungphakorn Institute for Economic Research. In contrast, average yearly household income in Thailand is around 10,000 USD.
A report out this week from the Economic and Business Research Centre for Reform at Thailand’s Rangsit University also pointed to divisive and polarised politics being another root cause of the economic divide.
Thailand’s private sector is dominated by tycoons running sprawling conglomerates. According to the World Bank, the gap between the mega-wealthy and the rest of the Thai population of 69 million is among the many economic challenges for Thailand. According to Bloomberg, the perception of a divide, exacerbated by an economic slowdown, is a major political fault line.
“Magnates arise in Thailand from institutional factors that privilege certain businesses,” said the executive director of PIER, author of the study.
The institute said Thailand needs to promote competitiveness to reduce profits from monopoly power and bolster entrepreneurship to create a more equitable distribution of corporate wealth.
The research is based on analysis of 2017 Commerce Ministry data on the 2.1 million shareholders in Thai firms, and was funded by the University of California San Diego.
SOURCE: Bangkok Post
Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers
PHOTOS: Daily News
The answers are in the banana leaves.
Thai people LOVE playing the lottery (and gambling generally). In fact they’re BANANAS about the twice-monthly lottery (it was drawn again today). Daily News has reported about two unusual banana trees growing in front of a shop in Klong 4 Pathum Thani, just north of Bangkok. The trees did not have blossom and on one plant two bananas were pointing skywards. On another there was a whole bunch pointing up into the sky.
There was a steady stream of the faithful lighting incense, praying and rubbing powder on the trees to get lottery numbers. One group thought ‘542’ was the magic numbers and a path to riches (we’re not sure how they came to this conclusion). 53 year old Surachai says the trees had been growing for a few months and that he’d never seen anything like it before.
An unnamed agricultural expert suggested that there was probably something wrong with the banana plants. Trees and malformed animals are a favourite source of inspiration to select numbers for the lottery, as are numbers of houses and vehicles involved in events where people experience “miracle” escapes from danger, or even bizarre accidents.
SOURCE: Daily News
The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival
On the streets, in parks and garages, seven Cuban youngsters spent seven months practising K-pop moves to secure a spot on their dream stage: an appearance in South Korea to imitate their idols. 13 final teams from 80 countries are competing in the 2019 event.
At the grandly titled and government-funded Changwon K-pop World Festival contestants from around the globe perform imitation dances or sing cover versions of the genre’s biggest hits, with thousands of fans cheering them on.
In terms of global heft, South Korea is overshadowed by its much larger neighbours China and Japan, but the event is a way for Seoul to derive soft power from one of the country’s biggest cultural exports. In terms of pop-power, South Korea’s K-Pop is now a recognised world-wide music phenomenon with bands like BTS and Blackpink figuring amongst the other big-hitters on the Billboard charts and outselling their western counterparts with millions of albums and downloads.
Finalists for this year
Cuba’s Communist government is one of North Korea’s few remaining allies: when President Miguel Diaz-Canel, successor to the Castro brothers Fidel and Raul, visited Pyongyang last November he was only the third foreign head of state to do so since leader Kim Jong Un inherited power in 2011.
But rather than geopolitics, Havana performer Karel Rodriguez Diaz – whose mannerisms and sleek hairstyle could easily be mistaken for those of a K-pop star – is more motivated by high-tempo beats and superslick dance moves.
“We never had a place with a mirror or a choreographer who could teach us the steps” but they kept on practising, he said.
His team-mate Elio Gonzalez added: “We are so excited to represent not just Cuba but also the whole of Latin America.”
Some 6,400 teams from more than 80 countries entered the competition, according to organisers, with 13 groups from places as diverse as Kuwait and Madagascar winning through to the final in Changwon, where they appeared on stage waving their national flags.
“This is like watching the Olympics, a K-pop Olympics,” said the event’s host Lia, a member of K-pop group ITZY.
The Korean Wave
K-pop – along with K-drama soap operas – has been one of South Korea’s most successful cultural exports to date. A key part of the “Korean Wave” which has swept Asia and beyond in the last 20 years, the K-pop industry is now estimated to be worth $5 billion, with boyband BTS its latest high-profile exponent, becoming the world’s most successful band in the past 12 months, selling out stadium concerts within minutes, around the world.
The South Korean government has financed a variety of K-pop themed events in what CedarBough Saeji, a visiting professor at Indiana University Bloomington in the US, said was a form of long-term “soft power diplomacy”.
“When you are covering you get to ‘become’ those idols for the three and a half minutes of the song,” she said, adding that performers will go so far as matching their clothing, accessories and hairstyle to their heroes and heroines.
“The cover dancers of today will be diplomats, news reporters, and business leaders in forty years,” she went on.
“And hopefully they’ll still have a soft spot in their heart for Korea. Korea can’t win the world through hard power – armies, economic bullying – but with soft power even a small country like Korea has a chance.”
The music also provides an artistic alternative for overseas fans, especially those in developing countries, Saeji added.
“The West, especially the United States, has been so dominant culturally for so long, and having a different cultural pole to look to provides hope that one’s own country can experience similar success in the future.”
Be who you want
Beneath its glitz and glamour, the K-pop industry is also known for its cutthroat competition, a lack of privacy, online bullying and relentless public pressure to maintain a wholesome image at all times and at any cost.
Sulli, a popular K-pop star and former child actress who had long been the target of abusive online comments was found dead on Monday, with her death sending shockwaves through fans around the world.
“I think a day where (people) would be ashamed of the K-show business will surely come,” a South Korean online user wrote in the wake of the star’s death.
“I think an industry that makes money by (making people) sing, dance, undergo plastic surgeries and go on a diet to please the gaze of others since they are teenagers should really go bankcrupt.”
But for Kenny Pham, a finalist from the US at last week’s contest, K-pop’s diversity – with some tunes having dark themes, while others were “cute” or sensual – is what gives him a sense of liberation.
“I like how expressive you could be,” the 19 year old told AFP last week.
“I feel like it’s a place where you could show the passion you have for music, dance or fashion. No one is bashing you for what your likes are.”
SOURCE: Agence France-Presse
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Tour De France comes to Phang Nga – L’Etape Thailand on October 27
Key ally rejects PM Johnson’s Brexit plan – Sterling sags
Five days to move out – restaurant encroaches on Nakhon Si Thammarat creek
Earthquake rattles north-east Thailand
Thailand rated near bottom for privacy protection
Drug dealer on the run for 20 years arrested by Thai immigration
500 people own 36% of equity in Thai companies
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True to introduce 5G with help from China Mobile
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