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Category archive: Asia

Saturday October 01 2016

The Evolution of Everything, pp. 181-184:

Evolutionary reform of education is happening. James Tooley, Professor of Education at Newcastle University, has catalogued - ‘discovered’ might be a better word - the fact that the poorest slums of cities, and the remotest villages, in countries such as India, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and even China abound in low-cost private schools. He first began studying this phenomenon for the World Bank in 2000 in Hyderabad in India, and has more recently followed it through Africa. In the cramped and sewage-infested slums of the old city of Hyderabad he stumbled upon an association of five hundred private schools catering to the poor. In one of them, the Peace High School, he found doorless classrooms with unglazed windows and stained walls, where children of rickshaw-pullers and day labourers paid sixty to a hundred rupees a month (about 90p-£1.50), depending on age, for their education. Yet the quality of the education was impressive. In another, St Maaz High School, he found a charismatic head teacher with mathematical flair who in twenty years had built up a school with nearly a thousand students, taught by a group of largely unqualified (but often graduate) teachers, on three rented sites, from which he made a reasonable profit. State schools existed, with state-certificated teachers in them, but many of Hyderabad’s parents were exasperated by the poor quality of the education they provided, and many of the private-school teachers were exasperated by the poor quality of the teacher training. ‘Government teacher training,’ one told Tooley, ‘is like learning to swim without ever going near a swimming pool.’

When Tooley told these stories to his colleagues at the World Bank, he was told that he had uncovered examples of businessmen ripping off the poor, or that most of the private schools were creaming off the wealthier parents in a district, which was bad for those left behind. But this proved demonstrably untrue: the Peace High School in Hyderabad gave concessions, or even free tuition, to the children of extremely poor and illiterate people: one parent was a cleaner in a mosque earning less than £10 a month. Why would such people send their children to private schools rather than to the free state schools, which provided uniforms, books and even some free food? Because, Tooley was told by parents, in the state schools teachers did not show up, or taught badly when they did. He visited some state schools and confirmed the truth of these allegations.

Tooley soon realised that the existence of these low-cost private schools in poor neighbourhoods was not unknown, but that it was largely ignored by the establishment, which continued to argue that only an expansion of state education could help the poor. The inadequate state of public education in low-income countries is well recognised; but the answer that everybody agrees on is more money, rather than a different approach. Amartya Sen, for instance, called for more government spending and dismissed private education as the preserve of the elite, while elsewhere in the same paper admitting that the poor were increasingly sending their children to private schools, ‘especially in areas where public schools are in bad shape’. This bad shape, he thought, was due to the siphoning off of the vocal middle classes by private schools - rather than the fact that teachers were accountable to bureaucrats, and not to parents. Yet the poor were deserting the state sector at least as much as the middle class. The lesson that schooling can be encouraged to emerge from below was ignored in favour of the theory that it must be imposed from above.

India was just the start for Tooley. He visited country after country, always being assured that there were no low-cost private schools there, always finding the opposite. In Ghana he found a teacher who had built up a school with four branches teaching 3,400 children, charging $50 a term, with scholarships for those who could not afford it. In Somaliland he found a city with no water supply, paved roads or street lights, but two private schools for every state one. In Lagos, where government officials and the representatives of Western aid agencies all but denied the existence of low-cost private schools, he found that 75 per cent of all schoolchildren in the poor areas of Lagos state were in private schools, many not registered with the government. In all the areas he visited, both urban and rural, in India and Africa, Tooley found that low-cost private schools enrolled more students than state schools, and that people were spending 5-10 per cent of their earnings on educating their children. When he asked a British government aid agency official why his agency could not consider supporting these schools with loans instead of pouring money into the official educational bureaucracy in Ghana, he was told that money could not go to for-profit institutions.

Suppose you are the parent of a child in a Lagos slum. The teacher at the school she attends is often absent, frequently asleep during lessons, and provides a poor standard when awake. This being a public-sector school, however, withdrawing your child goes unnoticed. Your only other redress is to complain to the teacher’s boss, who is a distant official in a part of the city you do not often visit; or you can wait for the next election and vote for a politician who will appoint officials who will do a better job of sending inspectors to check on the attendance and quality of teachers, and then do something about it. Good luck with that. A World Bank report cited by Tooley states despairingly that pay-for-performance cannot work in public-sector schools, and ‘dysfunctional bureaucracies cascade into a morass of corruption, as upward payments from those at lower levels buy good assignments or ratings from superiors’.

If your teacher is in a private, for-profit school, however, and you withdraw your child, then the owner of the school will quickly feel the effect in his pocket, and the bad teacher will be fired. In a free system the parent, the consumer, is the boss. Tooley found that private-school proprietors constantly monitor their teachers and follow up parents’ complaints. His team visited classrooms in various parts of India and Africa, and found teachers actually teaching in fewer of the government classrooms they visited than in private classrooms – sometimes little more than half as many.  Despite having no public funds or aid money, the unrecognised private schools had better facilities such as toilets, electricity and blackboards.  Their pupils also get better results, especially in English and mathematics.

Tuesday August 09 2016

One day, I will collect together all the photos I have from over the years, of … this kind of thing:


I love it when Asians get married and have a photoshoot to celebrate, in London.  Quite when and where they get married, I don’t know, but this is definitely a Thing that they love to do.  I took the above photo this afternoon.  On a bridge.  With a Big albeit Ancient Thing in the background.  Weird reflections. 

And because they are making such a spectacle of themselves, and doing it so very delightfully, I feel it’s okay to put my photo of one of these photoshoots here.

Sunday July 31 2016

Don’t get me wrong, it was a very fine day indeed.  Deepest thanks to Darren for sharing it with me.  But, it wasn’t the magical day that the game that Darren fixed for us both to see last year was.

There are several reasons for this relative lack of magic.  For starters, last time around, it was all happening, for me, for the first time.  I had never before sat high up in the Surrey Pavilion like that, so last September I was doing that for the very first time.

The game in 2015 was a semi-final and was very tense throughout, in fact the result was in doubt until the final ball.  The game last Wednesday was a handsome win for Surrey, which was good.  But it rather fizzled out at the end, as handsome wins in sport so often do.

But the biggest difference between this game and the previous one was that whereas, in that 2015 game, a cricket legend by the name of Kumar Sangakkara made a superb century, in this game, there was no megastar super-performance, just a succession of very capable Surrey players doing very well, until the game was won.

The nearest thing to a dominant superstar on show last Wednesday was Jason Roy.  Roy is not yet a cricket legend on a par with Sangakkara, and of course he probably never will be, having arrived only rather recently as an England one day and twenty-twenty star.  But he has made one hell of a start, starts being what he specialises in.  He supplied, for example, the rapid start that England had to have if they were to get anywhere near to South Africa’s huge score of 229 in England’s World T20 must-win game back in March of this year, in Mumbai.  Roy hit four fours in the first over of that amazing and ultimately successful chase.  Then, back in England, Roy did brilliantly in the 50 overs games earlier this year against Sri Lanka.  He shared in the huge opening partnership with Alex Hales that won game two, and in game four he made 162, in another dominant England win.

On Wednesday, Roy got the game started in his usual style by hitting the first ball of the match for four.  And I got a photo of that very predictable moment:


And so it continued, for a short while.  But then, Roy got out for a mere 34, and Surrey needed many more runs to set a decent target.  They got those runs, but the day would have been a whole lot more fun if Roy had hung around for longer.

Here is another and much better picture of Roy in action, which shows his face as well as one of his actions:


That shot, in both of its two meanings, was shot by a Real Photographer, again at the Oval, last Friday evening, when Roy played exactly the sort of innings that I would loved to have seen him play on Wednesday afternoon.  This was a twenty-overs-each-way game.  Roy again went in first for Surrey.  But this time he stayed in, and slammed 120 not out.  Roy and the formidable Australian, Aaron Finch, shared an opening partnership of 187, and Surrey ended up with 212-4.  This was more than enough to crush Kent, but sadly, it was not enough to get Surrey through to the last eight, because another result went against them.

Darren, having so kindly invited me to accompany him to the Wednesday game, was also at the Oval on Friday evening, when I was busy hosting a meeting at my home.  Perhaps this posting should end now, on that note of, I trust, good humoured envy.  But I want to contrast the events of that game last Friday, which Darren witnessed and which I did not, with what happened in another cricket match, in Sri Lanka, that was happening at the same time.

On Saturday morning, yesterday morning in other words, I followed this other game on Cricinfo. Sri Lanka and Australia were playing out a test match.  Remember those?  The ones that sometimes go on for five whole days?

Sri Lanka, back home but still smarting from their disappointments in England, had got themselves out for a mere hundred in their first innings.  But they then confined Australia to two hundred, and then got a real score in their second innings.  By Saturday morning my time, Australia were struggling to get a draw, on the final day of a rain and light interrupted match.  And in the course of this ultimately unsuccessful struggle, their ninth wicket pair, Nevill and O’Keeffe, resisted the Sri Lankan bowlers for more than twenty overs, without scoring a single run.

Here is a screen snapshot of cricinfo commentary, taken by me during this dot-ball-fest:


At that point, during over number 77, and as commenter Viran Salgado pointed out towards the bottom of that bit of commentary, it had already been twelve overs of dottiness with no runs having been scored.  And when the ninth wicket eventually fell during over number 86 the score was still stuck on 161, with the final wicket falling three overs later, also at 161.

In other words, on Friday night Jason Roy made 120 and Surrey as a whole amassed 212, in the space of 120 balls.  A few hours later, Australia, in the passage of play in their game against Sri Lanka that I have just described, faced almost exactly the same number of balls as that, and scored a grand total of: no runs.  And in the course of all this relentless blockage, Sri Lanka managed to take: no wickets.  0-0.  Zero for zero.  Bugger all, for bugger all.

It’s not that nothing happened.  It was riveting stuff.  But this extreme contrast does illustrate how the game of cricket is now changing.

Wednesday April 20 2016

As regulars here know, I am fascinated by unusual vehicles, and by almost all commercial vehicles.  Whereas cars tend to be reticent about making any sort of personal statement, commercial vehicles have to communicate.  They have to radiate an atmosphere.  They have to dress themselves like they’re going on the pull in a nightclub.  Well, they don’t have to.  But most commercial vehicles are an opportunity to do marketing, so why turn it down?  And these vehicles consequently radiate as many different atmospheres as there are commercial purposes being pursued in and with them.

Here are a couple of vans I spied today:


Both are somewhat self-conscious, I think.  There is a lack of earnestness here, a certain ironic distance, a certain slightly bogus artifice, not to say Art, involved.

But, all part of what makes wandering about in London such an endlessly entertaining pastime.

Sausage Man website here.  I tried googling “Oliver London”, but all I got was a lot of stuff about a stage musical.  The small tricycle van looks oriental to me, and that its presence outside an oriental restaurant is not coincidental.

Sunday March 27 2016

Or: Spoughts thoughts?  You choose.

Sport (spought) has been good to me of late.  Last summer, England won the Ashes.  My local cricket team, Surrey, got promoted to division one, and also got to the final of the fifty overs county knock-out tournament.  England then defeated South Africa in South Africa.  England (a different England but still England) won the Six Nations rugby Grand Slam.  And now (back to cricket again) England have got to the last four of the twenty overs slog competition, alongside the Windies, India and New Zealand.  Few expect England to win this.  But then, few expected England to get to the last four.  No South Africa (beaten amazingly by England).  No Australia (beaten today by India (aka Virat Kholi)).  No Pakistan or Sri Lanka.  But: England still involved.

Concerning the Grand Slam, the best thing about it was England winning all its games, but otherwise it was … a bit crap.  The recently concluded World Cup, in which England did rather less well loomed too large over it.  The World Cup featured no Six Nations sides in its last four, and when watching our local lads stressing and straining against each other you couldn’t help (a) thinking that the Southern Hemispherians would murder them, and (b) that a lot of the best Six Nations players seemed to be Southern Hemispherians themselves.  I mean, what kind of rugby world are we living in when the most threatening French back is called Scott Spedding and was born in Krugersdorp, South Africa?

The Six Nations was worth it just to hear Jonathan Davies, a man whose commentating I have had reason to criticise in the past, say that a certain game is “crucial”, and that Wales have “matured”:



As for the twenty-twenty slogfest now in full slog, well, I have been rooting for England (England’s best batsman being a bloke called Root), but also for Afghanistan.  You might think that as a devout anti-Islamist, which I definitely am, I would be rooting for the Muslim teams to lose.  But actually, I think sport is one of the leading antidotes to Islamo-nuttery, and it is my understanding that the Islamo-nutters regard sport and sports-nuttery not as an expression of Islamo-nuttery, but rather, as a threat to it.  Sports nuttery ultimately causes fellowship with the infidels rather than hatred of them, underneath all the youthful antagonisms which it does indeed inflame.  It’s hard not to get pally with people when you play or follow games with them and against them, especially as you get older, and remember previous hostilities with fondness rather than anger.

So, in short: go Afghanistan!  The Afghanistan twenty-twenty cricket team, I mean.  Afghanistan gave England a hell of a fright and nearly beat them.  And yesterday, they actually did beat the West Indies, even though it didn’t count for so much because the Windies had already got through to the semis and the Afghans would be going home now no matter what.  But, even so, beating the Windies was a big deal, and the cricket world will have noticed, big time.

Here is Cricinfo, at the moment of Afghan triumph:


I love it when a T20 game really boils up, and they put “dot ball” in bold letters, the way they usually only write “OUT” and “FOUR” and “SIX” and “dropped”, or, as in this case, “an amazing, brave, brilliant running catch!”

And soon after that climax to the game, came this:


Chris Gayle is quite a character.  Having scored a brilliant century against England that won the Windies that match and put England in the position of having to win everything from then on, his commitment to the West Indian cause is not in doubt, as it might have been had he celebrated like this with the Afghans without having done any other notable things in this tournament.  He has quarrelled with West Indian cricket bureaucrats over the years, and has definitely seemed to have like playing for the Bangalore Royal Challengers more than for the West Indies.

His demeanour after today’s Afghan game is in sharp contrast to his lordly impassivity after taking the wicket of David Miller of South Africa, which reduced South Africa to 47-5, a predicament from which they failed to recover


One of the delights of virtually following this tournament is that it has been possible to watch little videos of dramatic moments, like the one of Gayle taking this wicket and then not celebrating very much.  The graphic additions to this posting are merely screen captures.  Clicking on them accomplishes nothing.  But if you go to the original commentary from which I took my graphics, you can click on the little black video prompts, and get a little video of the drama just described.

Also: Happy Easter.

Monday March 21 2016



One of the very best The Wires! photos that Dezeen has ever published.

Seoul-based ThePlus Architects was tasked with accommodating all of these activities within a heavily restricted site in Seogyo-dong, measuring six metres across and 10 metres deep, and flanked by taller buildings on three sides.

Here is another picture of the same building, from the same report:


The Wires! are, as is usual, not mentioned in the text of the report.  But the photographer is, I think, intensely aware of The Wires!  In the first picture he searches out a rare shot in which The Wires! don’t interrupt the starkly white modernity of the building’s exterior.  And in this second shot, where there are far fewer of The Wires!, he deliberately lines up the roof of the building with some of The Wires! that remain.

But that alignment is not merely something he saw.  It is almost as if it is part of the design.  It’s almost as if the building has been designed, not just to stay out of the way of The Wires!, but to include The Wires! in the overall composition.

But, as I say, no mention of any of that in the text of the piece.

Question: Once The Wires! are installed in this or that particular place, are they likely subsequently to change very much?  For my surmise to make sense, it would need to be that once The Wires! are in place, there tend to remain in the same place.

Friday March 11 2016

Well, the New Year (even though the New Year is actually getting quite old now) Resolution here, to blog early, and sometimes even to blog often, is working well.  I haven’t delayed going to bed because of this blog for about a week, and I sense that this may even continue.

Friday is my day for cats, and now also for other creatures, and already this Friday, even though it not yet even the middle of the day, there has already been a posting here about dogs.  Republican dogs.  That posting is right below this one, but there’s the link anyway.

And here now is another creature posting, about a truly unique other creature - half cat, yes, but also half dog, half bee, half zebra, and wholly suitcase - of the sort that kids can ride, at airports, to stop them getting bored:


Apparently Trunki made the first of these, and then some Hong Kong guys did a cheaper knock-off, and Trunki complained.  Trunki lost.

These cases - the physical (suit)case and the legal case - illustrate the fine line that divides a design from an idea:

But five Supreme Court justices unanimously disagreed, and ruled in favour of PMS on Wednesday – stating that while it had “sympathy for Magmatic”, the “Design Right is intended to protect designs not ideas”.

It looks a lot like a design being copied to me.  Not that I mind.  And actually, I think the Hong Kong version is better, because the original can’t make up its mind whether its eyes are eyes or horns.  HK case resolves this by having eyes and horns.

PMS website: here.

Saturday December 26 2015

I did a Samizdata posting earlier today, soliciting help in decyphering a piece of text in a photo.  Earlier this month I photoed this lady holding up a message for the lady she was videoing to read.  Trouble is, the text was in something that looked like it was Russian.

According to Samizdata commenter Alex, the text is Kazakh.  It would appear that the lady being videoed was making a video message for her sister.  I expect further details to follow.

Ah, Kazakhstan.  Known in Britain mostly for being the home of Borat.

As it happens there’s a Borat photo I’ve been meaning to stick up here, of Borat on the back of a bus.  Here is that photo, on the right below, together with another Borat related photo which is one of my all time favourite snaps.  I took this Borats-plural photo, on the left here, in Piccadilly, on March 9th 2007, and it has been shown here already, on the day after it was taken.  The Borat on the bus photo was taken on March 14th, and is being shown here for the first time:


Click to see these photos bigger.

When I googled for more serious Kazakhstan information, the most interesting info I found was definitely this.  Blog and learn.

Architecture as modified cliché
Green Park wedding photos
Don’t mention The Wires!!! in South Korea either!
Don’t mention The Wires!!!
Cat photo and cat news
The Dragon Bridge of Da Nang
Two skyscrapers joined by a bridge that is a swimming pool
T20 fun and games
Hampers can be annoying
Quotes of the day
University of California chickens coming home to roost?
Nerd spin talk overheard by Jarrod Kimber
Kazakhstan landscape
Today I’m in a “How very odd!” mood
Choosing a Clean Food Outlet in Lawas is as easy as ABC
Health and safety on a mountain in Borneo
NZ doing a bit better than England
Sportsmanship by us – bullying by them
I can now copy and paste from .pdf files
Mmmmmm … Asian skyscrapers!
Abandoned Bangkok tower
Ten thoughts about the Pakistan cricket corruption story
Tiny Cardboard Box People Appear All Over Singapore
Why not just sell them?
Big Singapore Thing
The US Navy photos itself
Chained cat in Vietnam
Changing faces of Europe
Colonial Governor’s Mansion dwarfed by modernity
Africa is big
What’s this for?
Malaysian footbridge for everyone except … gephyrophobiacs?
My Wheel’s bigger than your Wheel
Self-guided photo-tour of the streets of San Francisco
Michael Jennings on telecoms at Samizdata
The robotic future
Eee PC not eeesy to get in Asia either
Rain stops Murali
Operation Cat Drop and some Hello Kitty Bags
Alisher Usmanov is now better known for being nasty
Taipei with skyscraper