$20 laptop in the near future?

From Financial Times:

FT: India To Follow $2,000 Car With $20 Laptop

India is planning to produce a laptop computer for the knockdown price of about $20, having come up with the Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest car at about $2,000.

India’s “Sakshat” laptop is intended to boost distance learning to help India fulfil its overwhelming educational needs… However, some analysts are sceptical that a $20 laptop would be commercially sustainable and the project has yet to attract a commercial partner.

A prototype will go on show at a National Mission on Education launch in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, tomorrow… the laptop has 2Gb Ram capacity and wireless connectivity.

R.P. Agrawal, secretary of secondary and higher education, said last week that the cost of the laptop was about $20 a unit, but he expected that to fall. He also said he expected the units to be commercially available in six months.

We will have to wait and see this prototype, but I am also pretty skeptical, especially considering the lack of details at this point. You have to wonder what features it could have for $20.

Remembering the Railway of Death

About a week ago the New York Times had an article entitled “Seeking Recognition for a War’s Lost Laborers” on the lack of recognition for the Asian victims of Japanese forced labor in the construction of the famous “Railway of Death.” According to the article, the history of the 200,000-300,000 Asians who were employed, and often killed, in the construction of the railway, which was being constructed to link Bangkok and the Burmese (Myanmarese) capital of Rangoon (Yangon) to provide logistical support for Japan’s invasion of Southeast Asia, has been almost completely overshadowed by stories of the smaller number of Western POWs.

Between 200,000 and 300,000 Asian laborers — no one knows the exact number — were press-ganged by the Japanese and their surrogates to work on the rail line: Tamils, Chinese and Malays from colonial Malaya; Burmans and other ethnic groups from what is now Myanmar; and Javanese from what is now Indonesia.

“It is almost forgotten history,” said Sasidaran Sellappah, a retired plantation manager in Malaysia whose father was among 120 Tamil workers from a rubber estate forced to work on the railway. Only 47 survived.


By contrast, the travails of the 61,806 British, Australian, Dutch and American prisoners of war who worked on the railway, about 20 percent of whom died from starvation, disease and execution, have been recorded in at least a dozen memoirs, documented in the official histories of the governments involved and romanticized in the fictionalized “Bridge on the River Kwai,” the 1957 Hollywood classic inspired by a similarly named best-selling novel by Pierre Boulle.

One reason given for this inequality of historical memory are that virtually none of the Asian victims were from Thailand, giving the local government little incentive to commemorate them. Another is that, unlike the American and British POWs who wrote memoirs and gave countless interviews to journalists and historians, virtually none of the Asian laborers were literate, and they lacked ready access to mass media.

At this point, I would like to present some photos I took at a very peculiar museum that Adam, his (now) wife Shoko, and I visited when we were in Kanchanaburi, the location of the famous Bridge on the River Kwai.

The Jeath War Museum (JEATH is an acronym for Japan, English, American and THai) is a rather eccentric museum based on the collection of a wealthy Japanese history buff, who apparently purchased a building a number of years ago, stocked it haphazardly with local WW2 memorabilia of both great and small interest, and has not had arranged to have it cleaned since.

First, some photos from outside the museum itself.

This is a picture of the famous Bridge which I quite like.

Here are Adam and Shoko posing with the bridge behind them. I do not know the sleeping man, but I have to assume that he is a war criminal of some kind.

This is a silly little train which lets  tourists ride across the bridge and 1 or 2km into the jungle on the other side, and then ride backwards to the other side.

I blurrily snapped this memorial obelisk in the jungle across the river, from aforementioned silly train. It says something along the lines of “the remains of the Chinese army ascend into heaven.”

This plaque is location near the bridge. I did not, however, see one for the British POWs, although I certainly could have just missed it.

And now we reach the museum portion of our tour. I do not seem to have any photographs of the entrance area, but the first thing you see upon approaching the entrance to the museum proper are these statues of historical figures, with biography written on the wall behind them. I will transcribe the highly amusing text another time.

Here is Tojo.

Adam and Shoko again, with their good friends Josef Stalin and General Douglas MacArthur.

The lovable Albert Einstein gets a wall as well.

Inside the museum we are confronted with more dramatic statues, such as this tableau of POWs constructing the railway.

Here is one in a cage. Note the real straw.

Eerie closeup of another caged POW statue’s face.

Adam and his new friend, the WW2-era Japanese soldier driving an old car.

The driver.

Another old car. I do not recognize the make, but it is covered in dust that may weigh as much as the steel.

US Army signal core teletypewriter

Recreation of Japanese army tent

Read the text carefully. Do you know when the CD was invented?

A message from Japan to the Thai people. It’s a bit hard to read, so if anyone wants I can transcribe it.

A British anti-Japan political cartoon

Overall, the museum is a complete shambles. While it has a huge array of cool stuff, it is strewn about almost at random, covered in dust, and sometimes behind other stuff. Not to mention placed in crowded and un-lit cases with poor labeling. Despite the numerous flaws, it is certainly worth a visit if you are in the area, but I can’t say that it will do much to provide any sort of historical narrative, and certainly does not even try to meet the standard hoped for by the Times article I began this post with.

The Samurai and the Swami

Today’s New York Times article on the growing economic relationship between Japan and India contains the following line:

Consultants are trying, so far in vain, to coin the catchphrase, like “the Samurai and the Swami,” that will sum up the nascent strategic economic relationship between the countries.

Do the MFT readers have any brilliant suggestions?

10,000 yen curry – If I eat it all within 30 minutes can I have it free?


Signs of a Fancy Curry Boom Emerging – High-Class Traditional Japanese Gourmet Restaurants Also Getting Involved, One Place Even Offers 10,000 yen Curry

Recently, curry rice, loved by children and easily made with stock bought at supermarkets, has been undergoing a transformation in Japan. Long-standing ryotei (high-class Japanese restaurants) and French restaurants are entering the market one after the other. Even a 10,000 yen premium curry with carefully selected ingredients has come on the scene. Perhaps the next star after the ramen boom will be fancy curry?

“The Flavor of the Old Ryotei

Funaba Kitcho Shinsaibashi in Osaka’s Chuo Ward started selling curry for lunch limiting their offering to 20 meals (per day) in September 2005 for customers “to casually enjoy the taste of a ryotei.”

Famous Hyogo Prefecture beef brand “Sanda Beef” sirloin and more than 10 types of vegetables, including sweet potatoes from Kagoshima Prefecture, are cooked in a Japanese-style curry stock that uses a dashi broth of skipjack tuna and kombu seaweed for a touch of flavor.

Though somewhat expensive at 2100 yen, the meals are almost sold out every day since they have gained popularity since diners can enjoy a ryotei’s “curveball.” Manager Noriyoshi Kawaura (43) explains, “We have a good reputation from a wide demographic including women eating together and (male-female) couples.”

Selling 10,000 yen curry is the “Yokohama Curry Museum” in Yokohama City. The dish is full of top-class ingredients such as top-grade Yonezawa beef, 40 types of spices, and a gold-medal winning wine for a touch of flavor.

The Museum began offering the high-class curry last September on a limited basis, but changed its plans and continues to sell it due to unexpected popularity. The Museum’s analysis: “Curry’s base has spread even to those with deep pockets.”
Continue reading 10,000 yen curry – If I eat it all within 30 minutes can I have it free?

America’s India strategy

This article in the Hindustan Times sheds some more light on the US strategy to balance China from its backside.

In early 1999, George W. Bush met with eight foreign policy advisors, collectively known as the Vulcans, in his ranch at Crawford, Texas. He was preparing for his White House bid. They were there to tell him about the world.

Well into the briefing, Bush interrupted: “Wait a minute. Why aren’t we talking about India?” The Vulcans — who included Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz — looked at each other. India didn’t matter, they explained.

Bush’s response: “You’re wrong.”

It’s a friendship that should have been made a long time ago… and shows that Bush deserves personal credit for at least some part of his international strategy. Who knows—this could be one of the best foreign policy legacies to come out of the Bush administration. Assuming there isn’t a nuclear war, of course…

Also check out The Economist‘s take.

Indian Customer Service Sucks — Not because they’re Indian, because I can’t understand them!

The Asia Pages pointed me to this WP article about how tough it is for Indian customer service workers to deal with racist Americans who want to deal with Americans.

I agree that the Indians aren’t to blame for wanting to use their English skills to feed their families. But I have to tell the lame-asses who hired them: Indians accents are hard to understand! Even as someone who has lived abroad (though not in India) and who deals with shitty accents for a living, I have to ask the customer service people to repeat themselves almost every sentence. I’ve had a few customer service experiences where the person was in India but easy enough to understand and sometimes even friendly, but 7 times out of 10 (I’ve had to call customer service a lot lately) I feel like I’m lost in a foreign country.

We’ve been screwed so hard by companies in the customer service department that I’m not even going to bother asking for courtesy anymore. They can be complete assholes as long as the problem gets solved. But I don’t think it’s racist or too much to ask to speak with a customer service representative that actually speaks my language. I’m not the typical moron who needs everything explained step by step, but if there is no manual included with the product I buy (and there’s usually not) and it’s not working I need someone to tell me what’s wrong with it. And if possible I’d like to understand it the first time it’s said. That is all.

Born Into Brothels: Charity, Hollywood-style

I saw this movie, Born Into Brothels, at the E Street Cinema the other day. It’s about this British woman, Zana Briski, who goes into the red light district of Kollkata, India, to shoot photos. Eventually she decides to teach the children living there how to take pictures and tries to use this as a gimmick to raise funds for them to go to good schools. It’s charity, Hollywood-style.

While it was interesting watching her navigate the international and Indian systems to try and save the kids from what all can agree is a pretty horrible life, you can’t fight the feeling that for her they are no more than “noble savages” whom she has decided to civilize. Plus she only succeeds in getting one or two of the children to actually stay in school. The rest of them are either held back by their own lack of discipline or by their parents who need the children to sustain their livelihood in the sex trade. Letting these kids play with cameras and taking them to the zoo ends up giving some of the kids false hope. Suchitra, one of the most enthusiastic photographers, ends up becoming a whore despite hoping for the best: “When I have a camera in my hands I feel happy. I feel like I am learning something…I can be someone.”

Also, the director had a very narrow and gimmicky approach to helping these kids. They were only worth helping insofar as they remained photogenic, their families and the rest of India be damned. There are lots of scenes of hopeless Indian bureaucracy — forms are filled out with old typewriters, moldy records litter offices — but they aren’t put into any context except to serve as barriers to Briski’s mission to save these children through the magic of photography. One gets the feeling that she doesn’t understand much about India’s problems save for what she can see immediately surrounding her.

Now that the movie has won an Oscar for Best Documentary, however, protests have arisen from a Kollkata NGO that claims that the woman didn’t follow proper protocol. The filmmakers didn’t check in with the largest NGO in the area before filming in a dangerous location, and in addition ignored attempts by the organization to contact them. At first, the NGO’s complaints sound like territorial bickering and sour grapes. Like many institutions, they are looking to get a piece of the pie and are probably bitter that they didn’t get an ounce of credit in the film for the work they do. But take a look at this:

DMSC officials, who have not seen the film but heard about it from other sources, said they fear the documentary is inauthentic in not being shot in Sonagachi, but in some other neighbourhood in the city.

Doubts are also being raised about the identity of the children showed as offspring of sex workers of Sonagachi.

“No one told us that a documentary was being made on the lives of the children of sex workers. We are not unhappy about that, but we wish a balanced view of things were presented. Also, we want the collective uplift of the children and not only a few individuals,” said Dutta.

OK, now I feel cheated. These people weren’t even in the *real* Red Light District! Was this lady pulling a fast one on us? It sounds like the lady who made this probably had a good reason to avoid a legitimate NGO — this stinks of the crass heart-string pulling filmmaking that Oscar loves. She was doing exactly the kind of stupid crap that they would frown upon — going in and exploiting the kids to get a few good photographs and a lot of recognition.

I had my doubts when watching the film — not only is the film woefully light on background, the film leads you to believe that these kids are totally uneducated and don’t speak English. But in certain parts of the film you can overhear kids speaking English or they’ll say something in English with a far-too-good accent.

Don’t get me wrong — you don’t doubt the woman’s sincerity when watching the film — it’s just that her approach is so wrongheaded as to be harmful. Now that it’s won an Oscar, people might actually believe that this kind of behavior is legitimate charity work.