Blog : BUZZ

Lepak Downstairs: Outdoor Marble Furniture Designs Viewed from the Top

Lepak Downstairs: Outdoor Marble Furniture Designs Viewed from the Top

/ Singapore /

/ Story: Natthawat Klaysuban / English version: Bob Pitakwong /

/ Photographs: Jonathan Tan /

If looking at life from a different perspective excites your imagination, here’s Lepak Downstairs a collection of marble furniture photographs taken from the top. Welcome aboard as we embark on a virtual journey through a Singapore residential neighborhood.

Lepak Downstairs Singapore

Let’s take a look at some of the visuals by Jonathan Tan, whose favorite pastimes include taking photographs for enjoyment. This episode takes you to an HBD apartment block, or a flat if you prefer the British term, in Singapore.

HBD stands for the Housing and Development Board, or the Housing Board for short. It’s a government agency that’s responsible for public housing. By a rough estimate, HBD apartment homes constitute the principal type of residences accounting for more than 80 percent of housing in Singapore.

We trust this collection will give you a real buzz about the place, providing an experience that inspires your curiosity leading to creative design thinking and fostering conversation. If you’re pleased with what you see, give us a like and share.

Lepak Downstairs

A favorite hangout on the ground floor

Jonathan has lived in an HDB apartment home since a young age. Taking photographs is among the things that give him pleasure. One day he caught sight of a set of marble furniture on the ground floor of the apartment block where he lives. He couldn’t help but noticing this kind of furniture here, there and everywhere in much of Singapore. And they all looked alike.

What’s known as outdoor marble furniture is, in fact, concrete construction tiled in various colors and designs. Jonathan started taking photographs of them from the top hoping to compare tabletop designs that vary greatly from one place to the other. He named his collection “Lepak Downstairs” in the Malay vernacular meaning a favorite hangout downstairs.

Colors that tell stories about the mid-century period

Jonathan thought that photographs taken from the top were the best way to explore the various design patterns that come with every geometric-shaped tabletop, be it circular, square or octagonal.

The outdoor furniture with its tabletop covered in glossy tiles is designed to perform well in the warm and humid climate prevailing in Singapore. Some sets of furniture have been around for more than 50 years, while tabletop designs convey a great deal about the colors of choice prevalent in the mid-century period.

Lepak Downstairs Singapore

Lepak Downstairs Singapore

Lepak Downstairs Singapore

Designs that are fading into oblivion

With most people unaware of its existence nowadays, the outdoor marble furniture is slowly being forgotten, let alone discarded. People simply take no notice of it as old apartment blocks are torn down making room for ultramodern ones now mushrooming everywhere. It has since become less popular as a hangout place among the younger generations.

Now that public transportation has become faster and more convenient, people simply pay no attention to it, preferring instead to hang out elsewhere, among them public parks, shopping malls, restaurants and café, leaving the once popular seats lying largely underutilized. Plus, some new apartment blocks even have their own recreational facilities in place for public enjoyment.

Lepak Downstairs Singapore

Lepak Downstairs Singapore

Ideas from the past hidden in plain sight

Left standing there hidden in plain sight, the outdoor marble furniture has become a thing of the past. In spite of that, the design now considered old-school is far from dead and gone.

Quite the opposite though, it continues to attract the attention of a select group – the local art community. Some people now find it cool to keep photographs of what was trending back in the 1960’s in their private collections.

They know that marble furniture that represents the great hangout of the past is slowly fading away and never coming back. So the artists are quick to make appropriate adaptations incorporating old ideas in new designs hoping to restore its popularity. For Jonathan, it’s legacy that inspires preservation. And he’s doing more than his fair share to breathe new life into past glories.

Lepak Downstairs Singapore

Lepak Downstairs Singapore

Reference: Jonathan Tan

Instagram: @jontannn



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War Memorials Across Southeast AsiaCatching a Glimpse of War Memorials Across Southeast Asia

Super Ung-LoThe Making of the “Super Ung-Lo,” Ratchaburi’s Fuel-Efficient Cook Stove

Catching a Glimpse of War Memorials Across Southeast Asia

Catching a Glimpse of War Memorials Across Southeast Asia

/ Story: Kor Lordkam / English version: Bob Pitakwong /

/ Infographic Designer: Chittawat /

In this presentation, we take a look at war memorials across Southeast Asia, ones that inspire people to be cognizant of the turbulent past, live in the present and look to the future.

War Memorials Across Southeast Asia

Wars have the potential to bring destruction, death and losses, not to mention physical and mental injuries. They have long-lasting impacts on the social and economic fabric of countries. Soldiers who fought the battle knew only too well what it meant to suffer from a psychological trauma. So did civilians who accounted for the majority of war-time casualties.

There is no denying that violent conflicts bring painful experiences hard to be reconciled with. In memory of the hardships and tribulations, monuments are erected. Some are built in remembrance of those who died heroic deaths. Others serve as grim reminders of the terrible things that happened. Sadly, life that’s lost cannot be brought back again.

The countries of Southeast Asia are no strangers to tragic events of the past. Each one of them has a sense of history and heritage to pass on to its next generations. That’s reason enough to commemorate the struggles, freedoms and notable events that have come to define a country’s distinct character.

The Rizal Monument

Manila, the Philippines

Erected: 1913

War Memorials

The Rizal Monument is a memorial to José Rizal, the Philippine national hero, writer and leader of a reform movement. He was widely recognized for his writings that centered on liberal and progressive ideas, freedom and individual rights of the Filipino people.

An advocate of political reform in the Philippines, he was arrested and brought to trial for the crime of rebellion after the Philippine Revolution broke out. He was found guilty and eventually executed by the Spanish colonial administration in 1896. The Spanish-American War brought Spain’s rule on the islands to an end in 1898, only to be followed by the Philippine-American War between 1899 and 1902.

Memorials in honor of José Rizal were erected in several places, the most well-known of which being the Rizal Monument built in 1913. It’s situated at Rizal Park, also known as Luneta Park, one of the most famous landmarks in Manila.

Reference: [1] [2]

The Rangoon Memorial

Yangon, Myanmar

Erected: 1951

War Memorials

The Rangoon Memorial is part of the Taukkyan War Cemetery, the largest of the three battlefield cemeteries in Myanmar. It’s located about an hour’s drive from the Yangon city proper.

More than 27,000 names of men of the Commonwealth land forces who died in military operations across Burma (now Myanmar) are displayed here. The Taukkyan War Cemetery is a Commonwealth burial ground for more than 6,300 soldiers who perished during the Second World War, of whom only 5,500 men could be positively identified.

Reference: [1] [2]

The Tugu Negara

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Opened: 1966

War Memorials Across Southeast Asia

The Tugu Negara, or National Monument, is a 15-meter-tall bronze sculpture in the center of Kuala Lumpur. Designed by Austrian-American artist Felix de Weldon, it’s a memorial to those who died fighting for freedom. The Tugu Negara features a sculpture of seven human figures representing seven key attributes of Malaysia as a nation, namely, courage, sacrifice, leadership, suffering, strength, unity and vigilance.

Taken as a whole, it’s a reminder of the struggles against the Japanese occupation during World War II and the loss of many lives during the Malayan Emergency, guerrilla warfare fought in then British Malaya between communist pro-independence fighters and the combined forces of the Federation of Malaya, the British Empire and the Commonwealth from 1948 to 1960.

Reference: [1]

The Civilian War Memorial


Opened: 1967

War Memorials Across Southeast Asia

The Civilian War Memorial is a heritage landmark dedicated to civilians who died during the Japanese occupation of Singapore in World War II from 1942 to 1945. It’s the brainchild of Singaporean designers from Swan and Maclaren Architects, a homegrown architectural and industrial design firm.

The memorial sculpture standing 68 meters tall consists of four pillars representative of people of four races, namely Malay, Chinese, Indian and Eurasian, who perished during the war. The number of civilian victims taken away and executed by the Japanese occupation forces has been unknown, but the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce reported a figure of 40,000 deaths.

Reference: [1] [2]

The Patuxai

Vientiane, Laos PDR

Completed: 1968

War Memorials Across Southeast Asia

The Patuxai, literally Gate of Victory, is erected in remembrance of those who died fighting to protect their fatherland during World War II. It’s also a memorial to the struggles that resulted in the country gaining independence from French colonial rule in 1949. It’s modeled on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, except for the decorating sculptures that convey a great deal about the culture and belief systems unique to Laos.

Together they form the basis of a mix of religions, namely Buddhism, Brahmanism and Hinduism that’s evident in the figures of deities and mythical creatures from ancient literature. They include Kinnaree, the female bird with a human head; and Erawan, the three-headed elephant. The Patuxai is a memorial landmark in the center of Vientiane, the capital of Laos PDR.

Reference: [1] [2]

Monumen Nasional (Monas)

Jakarta, Indonesia

Opened: 1975

The National Monument, also known as Monumen Nasional, or Monas, commemorates the struggle for Indonesian independence. It stands as a testimony to the hardships and the fight for freedom from the Dutch who ruled Indonesia from 1816 to 1941, only to be followed by the Japanese occupation which ended in 1945.

Indonesian architect Friedrich Silaban submitted his design for the National Monument in 1955, but the project was further refined and eventually completed by another architect, R.M. Soedarsono.

The obelisk (square stone pillar) carries the torch of Indonesian independence at the top decorated with bronze and gold. It stands in the middle of 80-hectare parkland that’s part of Merdeka Square in the center of Jakarta.

Reference: [1] [2]

The Son My Memorial

Quang Ngai, Vietnam

Erected: 1978

War Memorials Across Southeast Asia

The Son My Memorial is dedicated to victims of the My Lai Massacre that took place at Son My village, Quang Ngai Province, formerly South Vietnam. The indiscriminate killing of civilians by United States Army personnel happened at the height of the Vietnam War in 1968. The GI’s arrived in the area expecting to engage the National Liberation Front (NLF), but ended up killing innocent civilians instead.

As fighting escalated in the area, it was estimated that more than 500 lives were lost. The world reacted in shock and horror. The Son My Memorial is depicted as a time of unwavering resolve in the face of tragedy and great suffering. Now the village is home to a museum and paraphernalia that people keep as reminders of the tragic event.

Reference: [1] [2] [3]

The Choeung Ek Genocidal Center

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Established: 1988

War Memorials Across Southeast Asia

The Choeung Ek Genocidal Center is located 15 kilometers from Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Formerly referred to as the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, it’s the best-known among a few hundred sites that communist Khmer Rouge forces used to exterminate their adversaries during internal conflicts that took place between 1975 and 1979.

It was estimated that more than 20,000 people were killed and buried in mass graves at this site alone. Approximately two million lives were lost at the hands of the Khmer Rouge countrywide. Choeung Ek is now home to a memorial museum dedicated to victims of the Khmer Rouge.

It’s a tall building with multi-tiered roof design symbolic of Buddhist architecture. Inside, piles of human skulls and bones are on display as a grim historical reminder. Outside, the surrounding landscape calls attention to years the country was turmoil.

Reference: [1] [2]

The Hellfire Pass

Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Opened: 1998

War Memorials

The Hellfire Pass, or Chong Khao Khat in Thai, is a preserved historic site located in mountainous terrain in the western part of Kanchanaburi bordering on Myanmar. It’s home to the infamous railway cutting site on the former Burma Railway line built during World War II by forced labor including allied prisoners of war from several countries.

About 12,800 allied prisoners died of malnutrition and disease along with another 90,000 Asians who perished building the so-called “Death Railway”. The Hellfire Pass that was the most difficult section of the then Siam-Burma railway line has been preserved in memory of the allied prisoners and forced labor working under harsh conditions cutting through rocks under torchlights at night, a sight conjuring up the image of fires of hell.

Reference: [1] [2]

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Bangkok Then and Now

Bangkok Then and Now

As we welcome the start of a New Year with enthusiasm and renewed hope, it’s good to look back and see how far we have come.

// Thailand //

Story: Samutcha Viraporn / Photo: Rithirong Chanthongsuk, Samutcha Viraporn

A lot has changed since the time of Venice of the East, for which Bangkok was lovingly known. Along came the railway system that ushered in an era of mass travel, followed by the building of many transport routes. As people’s lifestyles changed, shopping malls were mushrooming everywhere, and mass transit light rail systems were introduced. Now it’s a city of skyscrapers. See what it’s like then and now.

Built in the reign of King Rama V, the Stupa of the Golden Mount dominates the skyline above the junction of two canals, Ong-ang and Mahanak, main routes for travel by water since the early days.

Bangkok Railway Station, also known as Hua Lamphong, then and now.

Completed in 1942, the Victory Monument serves as Kilometer Zero on major routes linking Bangkok with other parts of the country. It was designed by famous architect M.L. Poum Malakoul.

The historic Mahakan Fort overlooks Ratchadamnoen Avenue with the Stupa of the Golden Mount in the backdrop.

A bustling street market opposite the Temple of Dawn is home to river view hotels, among them Sala Rattanakosin and Sala Arun.

The Giant Swing bespeaks the influence of Brahmanism on Thai society in olden days.  The swing is gone now; only the red tower remains in front of Wat Suthat Thepwararam.

Above, Silom Road in its early days. Below, the vibrant central business district is served by passenger rail transport — the elevated BTS and underground MRT. The Siboonrueng Building, a familiar sight on Silom, is scheduled for a teardown to make room for a new project.

Siam Center, then and now. The busy intersection in Pathumwan District has become a passenger rail transport hub conveniently linked to business and shopping destinations via the Skywalk.

Ratchaprasong Intersection, then and now. The area is home to the Erawan Shrine, a widely revered Brahman shrine erected in 1956.

Views from the top of the Baiyoke 2, tallest building in Bangkok from 1997 to 2016.

Back in the day, the Post and Telegraph Department doubled as the Central Post Office in Bangrak District. There’s a river pier at the rear of the building that once upon a time was a British consulate. Nowadays, it’s home to the TCDC, Thailand Creative and Design Center.



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Manual for Art Viewing 101: the Professional Approach to Art Exhibitions

Manual for Art Viewing 101: the Professional Approach to Art Exhibitions

In earlier times, an “art work,” for the most part, simply reflected the ways of life and daily routines of human beings at the time. Stone age cave paintings tell us of the progression of early civilization from tribal animal hunts to creation of tools & utensils by shaping and carving done with the human knowledge and experimentation of that time.

Nowadays, though, art has become a reflection of the progress of the human mind and of creativity itself, distilled and filtered through experience, imagination, and the fashions of the time, to express personal insight and inspiration through visual arts, sculpture, painting, and even architecture. In bringing art works together for exhibition, care must be taken that each work, full of historical value, is experienced according to specific requirements and protocols so that it will not be harmed or deteriorate before its time.

Bangkok Art Biennale 2018

Because these art works are so precious, we are offering Living ASEAN readers some guidelines for their proper viewing and study.

Refrain from taking pictures

Museums and art exhibition centers generally make it a priority to ask visitors not to take pictures. This is because some paintings and sculptures may have reactions to flash photography that cause premature deterioration of the pieces being photographed. Both cinnabar and yellow from lead chromate darken over long-term exposure to light. Realgar yellows may become fine powder incapable of restoration to their original condition. This is why many museums enforce standards for direction and intensity of light, and why museums are often darker than one might expect.

The use of photographic accessories such as tripods and selfie sticks can block people from easily walking around as well as diminish the aesthetics of other visitors’ viewing experience.

Refrain from touching materials on display

It is also important to avoid physical contact with exhibits. Many art works are labeled “Don’t touch,” or are protected by barriers, since some art works may react to human body temperature much as they do to light. Certain paintings may change color or retain fingerprints if touched, and direct touch can cause abrasion, scratching, or punctures from fingernails or palms, causing breaks, tears, disfigurement, or premature degrading. On the other side of things, though, some artists use art as a more direct means of communication, and give visitors the opportunity to interact freely with their works, so some art pieces actually may be touched! Just watch for a “Please touch” sign at the exhibit area.

Refrain from loud noises or running and playing within the building

Basic art show etiquette calls for limiting vocal communication. Museums and art exhibitions are common areas with large numbers of visitors, and loud noises or conversation can disturb others. Running or careless walking, as well, may cause collisions both with people and with exhibits. Many museums insist that children under 18 be under the close supervision of their parents or guardians at all times.

Refrain from bringing bags/gear into art exhibition areas

Many museums or art exhibitions forbid carrying personal bags into exhibition areas; this may include backpacks, suitcases, or large shopping bags, as they may annoy or block the path of other visitors, or cause damage to works on display. A suitcase on rollers can collide with a display, or a backpack strap can catch on one.

Refrain from smoking or eating at in exhibition areas

Smoking, eating, or drinking near exhibited art seriously risks damaging it, which is why many museums do not allow bringing food or liquids in, or even in outdoor exhibit areas. And simple good manners would obviously mandate not smoking in an exhibition area.

Keep an appropriate distance

Many art works need to be viewed in specific ways. Some large paintings need to be viewed from a certain distance to properly experience them. Besides giving consideration to not blocking the view of others, we need to be sure we get a full impression of the meaning the artist is communicating, which too much attention to a single point may make difficult.


Dress respectfully

Some museums have dress codes. If planning a visit to an art exhibition or museum, be sure to dress up to international standards: fully dressed, no open-toed shoes): this shows respect and is acceptable almost anywhere. This may depend on local traditions: for instance, museums in some countries require women to wear head coverings. In any case we should educate ourselves about such things before embarking on international travel to visit art exhibitions.


Always study the manual before attending an exhibition

Finally, before visiting an exhibition always read signs, announcements, or guides provided by the curator or institution: this will help you have a worry-free experience. Each location involves different customs and viewing rules, and studying and understanding these details aids us in developing a truly professional approach to the enjoyment of art.

The contemporary international art festival Bangkok Art Biennale 2018 had its formal opening last October 19th. This fair has reinvented our own Bangkok as a major art venue on a level with Venice, Berlin, Paris, and Singapore. Here, now, more than 75 famous domestic and foreign artists have showings at various important locations for us to enjoy what has been called “resplendent, energetic art,” as Bangkok itself becomes a prominent landmark in the contemporary art world.  From now until February 3rd, 2019.

Bangkok Art Biennale 2018
Bangkok Art Biennale 2018, (BAB) is an art fair which will transform Bangkok into a city for art lovers. Famous artists from many corners of the world have brought their works here to be shown at 20 landmark sites.  (Download here)

Thanks for information provided by:
– Bangkok Art and Culture Centre
– Museum Siam
– National Palace Museum

The Making of the “Super Ung-Lo,” Ratchaburi’s Fuel-Efficient Cook Stove

The Making of the “Super Ung-Lo,” Ratchaburi’s Fuel-Efficient Cook Stove

The old-fashioned cook stove known as “Ung-Lo” has long been a manifestation of traditional knowledge of the people of Thailand. It’s fair to say that the charcoal stove can make food taste and smell better than can gas-fired cooking ranges. Precisely, nothing can replicate the natural smoky flavor of char. Nowadays, although the ubiquitous influence of gas-fired cooking ranges is felt by everybody, there’s always a demand for the charcoal stove. That said, we believe there’s at least one “Ung-Lo” in practically every household to meet every cooking need, whether it be barbecuing low and slow or cooking with high heat.

Story: Trairat Songpao /// Photography: Kosol Paipoei

Ruam Sukhawattago is owner of “Gold Stoves,” an old manufacturing factory located in Ratchaburi Province. He kindly takes a break from work to show us around and share his experience. No doubt it’s an opportunity to observe traditional knowledge at work and see how the cloning process has evolved over time to fit modern circumstances. In the process, Ruam succeeds in crafting a fuel-efficient cook stove that he calls the “Super Ung-Lo.” The product is made from materials sourced directly from the community, such as clay and rice husk ash. In all, the handcrafted cook stove takes ten days from start to finish.

Super Ung-Lo Super Ung-Lo Super Ung-Lo

How It’s Made

First of all, clay goes through a curing process to become liquefied overnight. Then the soft clay is mixed with soil and rice husk ash. The ratio of soil to ash is 2:1. Work the moistened clay mix into paste with the hands until it’s thick and malleable enough to be molded to its final shape.

Let it cure for 12 hours before attaching three cooking pot supports to the inside wall of the fire chamber. The support points should be raised slightly higher than the mouth of a stove. Rub off the rough edges on the clay surface to give it a nice finish. Cut an opening in the lower part of the wall to make an air inlet. Then, let stand for five days before putting it in a kiln, where the clay stove becomes hardened by heat.

Next is the making of a perforated clay brick or grill that separates the fire box from the ash chamber below. The lower room doubles as air inlet and ash removal port. The round grill prevents the fire from falling into the space underneath. Traditionally, a total of 61 holes are made while the brick is soft and easy to cut. The grill is fired at the same time as is the stove body.

From the kiln, the hardened earthenware is placed inside a metal casing for protection. The void space is filled with rice husk ash for heat insulation. Finally, it’s time to seal the top circumference with cement mix and install the perforated brick to complete the process.

Super Ung-Lo Super Ung-Lo

The “Super Ung-Lo” cook stove is designed to save fuel in line with the policy of the Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency. It differs from traditional cook stoves in that:

  1. Shape: It’s perfectly shaped to store thermal energy in material by raising its temperatures.
  2. Stove top circumference: The stove mouth is capable of supporting 9 sizes of cooking pots (sizes 16-32)
  3. Support points: The three support points are raised above the top circumference only slightly to minimize heat loss.
  4. Fire chamber: Relatively speaking, its fire chamber is smaller than that of a traditional cook stove, which translates into less fuel being used.
  5. Grill: The perforated clay brick is made thicker for durability. Its efficiency comes from a forceful current of air that is pulled through many smaller holes using convection.

Super Ung-Lo Super Ung-Lo

Touring the factory, we come across so many cook stoves to the extent it gets us thinking about the future of the age-old industry. Will this occupation continue to have pride of place in modern circumstances? Interestingly enough, Ruam replies:

“At one time, the US Embassy invited me to join my counterparts from Laos and Vietnam for a meeting on Ung-Lo making in Vientiane. I represented Thailand in that event. At the time, many versions of cook stoves were discussed and compared in a bid to identify a design that produced the highest heat, had the least impact on the environment, and the most energy efficient. The Thai Ung-Lo proved to be the case. It started a fire in the least amount of time. By comparison, it produced the highest heat with water reaching the boiling point very quickly. In fact, the kettle boiled twice while the Vietnamese stove had only just started a fire.

“It turned out that theirs was a biofuel stove, which produced a lot of smoke. Experiments showed the Thai stove was made to a high quality standard. I couldn’t help wondering why the Americans were so interested in the Ung-Lo. Their answer was that 20 years from now, humans would have turned around to using traditional cook stoves due to natural gas being used up. Oils derived from petroleum would have been depleted less than 50 years from now, unlike wood which is a renewable product. So, now I understand.”

Super Ung-Lo

We came away feeling good knowing we have formed friendships and understanding with each other. It made us happy to go by the saying, “Whatever you do in life, do it for love.” Ruam Sukhawatago no doubt was of the same opinion.

For a chance to visit the “Gold Stoves” factory, or get yourself something good like a “Super Ung-Lo,” call 08-7977-8677 for information.

Source :


3 Apps to Check Air Pollution Levels

3 Apps to Check Air Pollution Levels

Despite the omnipresence of the Internet in society today, there seems to be a disconnect between the impact of pollution and access to the information needed to protect public health. Strange as it may sound. According to a 2017 estimate by the environmental tech company Plume Labs, only 0.246% of the earth has access to that vital information.

/// ASEAN ///

 As air pollution levels rise from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok to Yangon, and Phnom Penh to Jakarta, it’s wise to stay abreast of the latest developments. There are many websites and apps that measure the concentrations of both PM2.5 and PM10 and other pollutants. Here are three useful apps to check air quality wherever you are.

An example page of the Real-time AQI app.
An example of Real-time AQI’s advisory page showing air pollution values, concentrations of airborne particulates, and protective mask recommendations by Greenpeace.

– Air Quality: Real-time AQI App –

The Real-time AQI app for Android and iOS shows air quality information from more than 10,000 monitoring stations in over 60 countries, including mainland China, Korea, Japan and countries across Southeast Asia. It provides, among other things, data about the concentrations of smaller airborne pollutants (PM2.5) and larger particulates (PM10). The former refers to extremely small particulate matter 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter or about 3% the diameter of human hair.

Updated hourly, the same information is linked to the developer website along with data on harmful gases and other readings such as temperatures, pressures, and humidity. The site also publishes visualized maps and protective mask recommendations from the global independent campaign organization Greenpeace. Get to know three types of masks to protect you from PM2.5 that ordinary surgical masks cannot. Whether it’s on the mobile app or the website, good infographics are worth a thousand words and a good place to start researching.

Plume Air Report provides air pollution levels in Yangon and Phnom Penh, which are not listed in the AQI app.
Flow, a portable instrument for checking air quality values and weather maps by Plume Air Report.

– Plume Air Report App –

Plume Air Report on the iPhone is a reporting and forecasting app that tracks real-time air pollution levels for every city in the world. The environmental tech company (website is the maker of “Flow,” a mobile personal air tracker that measures harmful pollutants indoors and outdoors. Real-time data including air quality indices, temperatures, UV levels, winds, and humidity are updated hourly along with pollution forecasts for the next 24 hours and statistics for the past 7 days. Flow makes it possible to track harmful air pollutants even in cities without AQI monitoring stations. The device is open for pre-order. Check the website for availability.

An example page of the AirVisual app showing unhealthy air pollution levels in cities across the globe. The information is updated hourly.

– Air Quality: AirVisual App –

AirVisual is a real-time and forecast air quality app that provides AQI indices for over 70 countries worldwide. Available on both Android and iOS, the free app gathers information from more than 9,000 locations via global networks of government monitoring stations and AirVisual’s own sensors. By giving historical, real-time, and forecast air pollution data, AirVisual is a pocket guide to avoiding harmful airborne particles. The AirVisual Earth Map is a good place to start tracking pollution levels and weather conditions with hourly updates.

In Southeast Asia, notably Bangkok, Chiangmai, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Jakarta, thick haze of air pollution isn’t going away any time soon. As the fight for clean air continues, it pays to be in the know and avoid places with high concentrations of PM2.5 and PM10. The mobile apps mentioned above are three of many technologies designed to get the message across in the interest of public health and safety.


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Air Quality around the ASEAN

Air Quality around the ASEAN

Air pollution is just one aspect of the wider environmental and health problems in major cities around the ASEAN. It’s a wake-up call among city dwellers from Bangkok to Jakarta to Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.


Traffic jam in Bangkok, Thailand
PM2.5 Level, Hanoi and Jakarta, 14 February

The crux of the matter is the high concentrations of small airborne particles (known as PM2.5) that enter the body through the nose and mouth. They pose greater health risks than larger particles (known as PM10), which the body is capable of eliminating through coughing, sneezing, and swallowing.

Technically speaking, PM2.5 refers to particulate matters with a mass aerodynamic diameter less than 2.5 micrometers. They are capable of traveling deep into the body causing anything from mild symptoms such as nose and throat irritation to more serious conditions like lung and heart problems, even lung cancer.

To get the information across to the public, a monitoring system was devised. The Air Quality Index (AQI) is a number used to communicate how polluted the air is in real time, and how bad it is forecast to become. AQI readings above 150 are considered to have direct impacts on the health conditions of sensitive groups of people.

While industrial pollution left cities across China and India in the smog, countries in Southeast Asia have become alert to the man-made problem and begun taking action to reduce PM2.5 levels.  Let’s hope that it’s not too late.

PM2.5 Level, Bangkok and Chiang Mai, 14 February
Highest PM10 Level, Saraburi in Thailand, 14 February

A few weeks into the new year 2018, it was a terrible shock to find thick haze of air pollution blanketing the entire landscape of Bangkok Metropolis. The spike in PM2.5 concentrations that cut down visibility and posed a threat to public health was blamed on a mix of humidity and seasonal inactivity in the air flow.

The same also happened to Chiangmai in the northern part of the country, and the haze hasn’t fully lifted. While local governments called on farmers not to burn their fields in preparation for the new planting season in Chiangmai, Bangkok authorities were looking for ways to free up traffic snarls and reduce air pollutants from industrial plants.

In Jakarta, where traffic jams were just as bad, the need to reduce air pollution has been a hot topic for quite some time. Jakarta’s problems stemmed from rapid increases in vehicular emissions in the city and industrial pollution in the northern part of the city. A recent study showed that over 60% of the population of the Indonesian capital were facing increased risks in respiratory and pulmonary disease.

Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City were no exception when it came to air pollution from vehicular emissions. Motorbikes remained the most popular means of transportation nationwide. The country with a population of 92 million had over 45 million registered motorcycles. A 2013 study showed that high PM2.5 levels were linked to about 40,000 deaths, equivalent in seriousness to a 5% economic loss.



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Different Names Same Good Food / Anyone for a Yong Tau Fu?

Different Names Same Good Food / Anyone for a Yong Tau Fu?

In Malaysia and Singapore, the popular noodle soup is known as “Yong Tau Fu”. In Thailand, it goes by the name “Yen Ta Fo”. Different names for the same good food!

A mix of crispy fries is readied for a Malaysian-style Yong Tau Fu.

Originally a part of traditional Hakka cuisine, the scrumptious noodle soup is enjoyed by many people across peninsular Southeast Asia. Particularly in Malaysia, it has pride of place among top 100 dishes with a national heritage status.

Yong Tau Fu has been among many big hits on the menu for hundreds of years. Its various recipes were brought in by the Hakka people, one of major groups who migrated into the Region from southeastern China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

Malaysian-style Yong Tau Fu with a side dish of crispy fried condiments. They can be added to soups or eaten with dipping sauces.

As its name implies, the recipe is made of tofu stuffed with ground pork and then deep-fried to give it a distinctive crispy flavor. It is the perfect match for a bowl of soup, good with dipping sauces, and makes a delicious accompaniment for noodle. Nowadays near-original versions of Yong Tau Fu can still be found everywhere in Malaysia.

Meantime, the Thais like their Yen Ta Fo slightly different from the original. They treat it as a noodle dish that comes either with or without deep-fried tofu. Instead, the Thai recipe features fish balls, pleasantly crisp calamari, pig’s blood cakes, and tender shoots and leaves of water spinach. Some Yen Ta Fo joints offer pork-stuffed tofu, while others may do without it entirely.

Known as Yen Ta Fo, the Thai noodle meal with its signature pink soup is served with pig’s blood cakes and tender shoots and leaves of water spinach.
Hakka noodle, as the Thais call it, is a variation of the Yen Ta Fo recipe.

The Thai version is distinguished by the signature pink soup that gets its color from fermented red bean curd. The Thais also like their Yen Ta Fo with a variety of condiments, including taro fries, shrimp balls, jellyfish, and wood ear, aka black fungus. Some like their Yen Ta Fo the Thai way in spicy chili soups. A lot of people confuse Yen Ta Fo with a similar recipe without the pink soup. Although made with the same ingredients, the latter is known as “Kuaytaew Khae”, literally Hakka noodle.

Ingredient of Malaysian-style Yong Tau Fu
Be spoilt for choice! There’s nothing like a full-course Yong Tau Fu served Malaysian-style.

Traditionally, a Malaysian-style Yong Tau Fu begins with first-course meals consisting of a mix of crispy fries, such as tofu, purple eggplant, stuffed meals, and sweet pepper, aka bell pepper. It’s hard to beat a good dipping sauce to start with. Then it’s time to eat them with a soup and add noodle to complement a great meal. Yong Tau Fu is ranked among Malaysia’s top 100 dishes with a national heritage status, along with other big hits such as Nasi Lemak (a rice dish cooked in coconut milk with anchovies and hot sauces), Nasi Ayam (chicken rice), and Ketupat (rice dumpling in palm leaf pouch).

Queueing for a Yong Tau Fu in Singapore. If you’re patient, it will get to your turn.
(Left) A Singapore-style Yong Tau Fu comes in a noodle soup. (Right) Crispy fried anchovies, locally known as “Ikan Bilis”, add flavor to a Yong Tau Fu meal.

In Singapore, where Yong Tau Fu is a culinary success story, rice vermicelli is served on a plate along with a bowl of spicy soup called Laksa. It is recommended to try this with Chee Cheong Fun, a rice noodle roll that comes in either dry or wet versions. There are plenty of Yong Tau Fu joints to be found. The price is reasonable, but keep in mind the line is rather long. If you are patient, it will get to your turn. Enjoy your meal!


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Bangkok Is Top Global Destination City, Continued Growth Forecast for 2017

Bangkok Is Top Global Destination City, Continued Growth Forecast for 2017

Bangkok was at the highest place on the chart of Top Ten Global Destination Cities attracting 19.41 million visitors in 2016, outranking London, Paris, Dubai, and Singapore. A Mastercard index released recently showed the Thai capital benefited the most from international travel, while further growth in visitor arrivals were in the forecast for 2017.

/// ASEAN ///

Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), Bangkok / Photo: Tanakitt Khum-on


Visitor Volume

The Mastercard Global Destination Cities Index predicted that Bangkok’s visitor arrivals would increase by 4.0 percent in the 2017 calendar year, while Singapore was forecast to move up one notch growing by 2.6 percent and outranking New York (at minus 2.4 percent). Meantime, Kuala Lumpur was likely to post a strong 7.2 percent gain in visitor arrivals for 2017, enabling it to keep its eighth place on the chart.

Kuala Lumpur / Photo: Sitthisak Namkham

From 2009 to 2016, two ASEAN cities also saw strong growth in visitor arrivals, namely: Jakarta up 18.2 percent, and Hanoi up 16.4 percent. Of all 132 destinations across the globe, Osaka was at the top with a whopping 24.0 percent growth in overnight visitor arrivals during the 8-year period.

Overall, international visitors to leading global destination cities increased in the 2016 calendar year. As for 2017, Tokyo’s visitor numbers were forecast to increase by as much as 12.2 percent, making it the strongest growth in visitors among the top ten.


National Gallery Singapore / Photo: Sitthisak Namkham


Cross-border Spending

The Mastercard index was more than just a ranking of top destination cities across the globe. Apart from international visitor volume, it also looked into tourist spending that contributed to furthering economic growth of countries. For the 2016 calendar year, Dubai was at the top with overnight visitors spending $28.50 billion, followed by New York ($17.02 billion), London ($16.09 billion), Singapore ($15.69 billion), and Bangkok ($14.08 billion), all in USD. Destination cities benefited greatly from tourism. Shopping accounted for 22.9 percent of tourist spending, local service 21.5 percent, and food and beverages 20.6 percent).

Royal Palace, Bangkok / Photo: Aphirux Suksa



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Souvenirs of a Myanmar Visit

Souvenirs of a Myanmar Visit

Nothing impresses visitors to Myanmar more than tea, nuts, and Balachaung. And there is more to the Land of Pagodas than “Thanaka,” the popular anti-UV facial powder. Living ASEAN introduces the three favorites that foreign tourists like to take home as souvenirs of a Myanmar visit.

/// MYANMAR ///
Story: Samutcha Viraporn /// Photography: Sitthisak Namkham, Samutcha Viraporn


– Tea –

Tea drinking has long been a popular culture in Myanmar. Small tea shops with plastic furniture in vivid shades are ubiquitous across the city. Like old school cafes, they are favorite hang-outs for people to socialize or just chill out sipping tea. The modest shops in peaceful settings offer the country’s all time favorite, black tea with sweetened condensed milk. Legend has it that tea growing was initiated by King Alaung Sithu (1113-1167 AD), in the northern part of what is now Shan State. Later when the country came under British rule, Myanmar grew tea on commercial scales for exports to Britain in much the same way as India did throughout the Colonial period.

Nowadays the aromatic beverage made the traditional Myanmar way has become increasingly popular among foreign visitors. Many tourists take it home as a souvenir of their visits. For instant tea lovers, Myanmar tea comes in 3-in-1 pouches ready to be reconstituted into a cup of tea. For a premium tea experience, try tea leaves that come in sealed bags. There are many varieties to choose, from English Breakfast to Earl Grey to Jasmine to Green Tea. Two popular brands are Royal and Nagar Pyan.



– Nuts –

Laphet is Burmese for fermented or pickled tea leaves. Popular among the citizens of Myanmar, it’s a cold dish made of various mixtures of nuts and tea leaves. It started out as a condiment to a cup of tea, but eventually grew to become a salad recipe on its own. Various nuts are cooked in oil, mixed with fermented tea leaves, and seasoned with chilies and garlic. The export version of Laphet comes in boxes for tourists to take home as souvenirs. Whilst there, don’t forget to try peanut energy bars, and the Myanmar Peanut Crisp Candy. The latter is similar to Toobtub peanut snacks of Thailand. The name refers to the sound of ingredients being pummeled in the making of the tasty snack.


– Balachaung –

An accompaniment to hot steamy rice, the Myanmar Balachaung is made with fried shallots, garlic, ginger, shrimp and red chilies. Its tantalizing aroma comes from the fact that all the ingredients are fried crisp. It is set aside to cool down completely before being stored in airtight containers. Properly stored Balachaung keeps well for a fairly long period. It is easily transported and goes together well with Thai-style omelet that is cooked in a frying pan until firm. Versions of the crispy mouthwatering condiment are also made by many households around Mae Sot town on the Thailand-Myanmar border.

The above have been three favorites that we have discovered on this Myanmar trip. We trust that our friends across the ASEAN find the information useful, and that your next itinerary will include Laphet, tea products, and the delicious Myanmar Balachaung.