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Phuket Diving: Knowledge trumps beauty of ignorance: sea snakes edition

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Phuket Diving: Knowledge trumps beauty of ignorance: sea snakes edition | The Thaiger

PHUKET: Not every dive in Phuket’s waters, but often enough, a diver comes across a critter that they become inexplicably and completely fascinated with.

The vast majority of dive instructors and masters seem to have their own sea-animal fetishes – from blue dragons to mantis shrimps. They’re usually obscure choices that lean away from charismatic mega-fauna like sharks and mantas (not saying anyone’s turning down the chance to book an entire dive with a manta ray), and are based more on an in-depth understanding of the animal. I know people who claim to be completely satisfied watching a mantis shrimp for the entirety of a 55-minute dive.

A diver surfaces, the regulator comes out of their mouth and immediately they say, “That was cool!”

It could have been a pair of boxing shrimp out and active, or a horseshoe crab scuttling along, for me, on my last dive, it was a banded sea krait (click here to see an Olive sea snake).

The fascination is unexplainable. Occasionally, it’s the first time you’ve seen the animal up close, but more often than not you’ve seen the critter several times over, and this time it was flint and steel for your imagination.

Even before you hit the showers, the computer’s fan is humming and seven or eight websites about the animal are tabbed in your browser. It’s not until you start reading that you truly appreciate how miraculous the creature you just saw is.

I watch the banded sea snake (Laticauda colubrina), also known as a colubrine sea krait or yellow-lipped sea krait, swim below me and close to the corals with a goatfish following close behind. The banded sea snake is known for it’s cooperative hunting technique, during which it will often flush small fish, eels and other pray into the open.

One of 62 species of identified sea snakes, known as Hydrophiinae – literally water serpent, the banded sea snake glides through the water, it’s slightly flattened tail propelling it forward as its forked tongue barely comes out of its mouth to smell the water for prey.

I wanted to turn around, drop close to the corals and swim against the weak current so as to follow it while it was hunting. My plan, with a bit of luck, was to see it head for the surface for a breath of fresh air.

With the capacity to stay submerged for several hours, sea snakes are the sort of free diver you are jealous of. Not only have they developed large lungs that extend almost the entire length of their body (rear portion developed to aid in buoyancy rather than to exchange gas), many species of Hydrophiinae are able to respire through their skin. Some, such as the black-and-yellow sea snake, have demonstrated the ability to satisfy about 25 per cent of their oxygen requirements in this way.

During a diver’s above-water research, youtube inevitably gets involved, despite one’s intentions for maintaining a purely academic fascination with the marine animal.

After closing another great dive with Andrea Filippozzi from Sea Bees and firing up the laptop, it didn’t take long to uncover some unfortunate youtube videos of divers holding this docile but venomous snake by the tail.

Instead of turning on them and striking, as I imagined I might do in a similar situation, the snake patiently attempted to keep swimming for almost the entirety of the three minute video.

All species of Hydrophiinae are incredibly venomous, and yet they are often handled, as seen in the video, without incident.

Nonetheless, pick on the wrong sea snake, such as a hook-nosed sea snake or a Belcher’s sea snake, and you are now messing with two of the most venomous snakes in the world.

A lethal dose of venom, (where 50 per cent of subjects will die), is .02 milligrams of venom to the kilogram of a subject’s body weight. These snakes, when provoked, are not playing.

Despite the potency of the snake’s venom, they are not considered dangerous to
humans.

Only about 25 per cent of the time does the snake inject venom when it bites a human, and even the US Navy, (not known to rate threats lightly), describes sea snakes as generally mild-tempered. Although they do note that there are variations among species and individuals.

But back to the banded sea snake, a member of the Laticauda genus. This genus is unique to the subfamily of sea snakes in that its members are the least adapted to sea life, and unlike the majority of sea snakes, it can still live on land.

The vast majority of other sea snakes are documented as being almost completely helpless on land, unable to move properly or accurately defend themselves. However, the banded sea snake’s body is only slightly laterally compressed compared to other sea snakes, which is one of the factors that allows it to function both in water and on land.

When it comes to the natural world, understanding is 70 per cent of what blows your mind. The beauty of an underwater soft-coral vista, the miles of blue ocean and the tumbling dance of a juvenile rock moving wrasse. But sometimes, a deeper understanding of the world just beyond your regulator bubbles trumps the beauty of ignorance.

— Isaac Stone Simonelli

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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Business

500 people own 36% of equity in Thai companies

Greeley Pulitzer

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500 people own 36% of equity in Thai companies | The Thaiger

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

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Thai Life

Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers

The Thaiger

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Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers | The Thaiger

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

Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers | News by The Thaiger Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers | News by The Thaiger

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Entertainment

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival

The Thaiger

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The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | The Thaiger

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.

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

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 K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

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.”

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

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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