Saturday, 10 September 2011

An update ...

Quite significant news is that I have moved away from Southeast Asia, so sometime in the future, first hand reports will dry up ....
In the meantime though, I still have a couple of reports upcoming, of a journey I made through the northern part of south Thailand.

Think Green? Not Soak?
This years earthquake and tsunami exposed Japan's over reliance on atomic energy.Within Japan this has lead to a more sustained push for geothermal energy.
What makes Japan stand out from other countries is the ingrained appreciation of soaking. Any possible project in Japan which would affect soaking possibilities stands less of a chance of becoming a reality.

The Mainichi Daily News (September 3) reports on an onsen hotel (Kuju Kanko) with electricity generation. Unfortunately the price returned by the government prohibited the electricity generation from being profitable (great policy) but this hotel did get a much more positive image from generating it's own electricity, enabling the owner to hark back some of the losses.

Monocolumn adds in another article the fear that the push for more geothermal energy will have adverse effects for soakers especially as the overall scope that geothermal energy will have a sufficient contribution to Jaspan's overall energy needs:
'.. many hoteliers and innkeepers are dead-set against having geothermal prospectors drilling in their backyards. They worry that a power plant nearby would harm the environment; worse, it might deplete the heat that keeps the local springs warm, they say'.
Kenji Hall, the reporter of this article, adds a positive example of how the two could exist, similar to the above experience and concludes:
'The technology will need more success stories like that to avoid being branded as the villain. Geothermal energy won’t likely to win the sympathy vote if the public has to choose between a niche technology and a leisure activity that has been around for centuries'.
With oil prices refusing to drop substantially, the lesser endowed geothermal countries in the region are revving up their investment plans. Both Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai (Thailand) will be part of research and find for a 2-10 MW installation.
Malaysia are thinking bigger, 36 MW (Phase 1).
'Speaking after negotiation meeting between the stakeholders for the Geothermal Power Plant project at Kg Tass Balai Raya here, Wednesday, he [Project Director Andrew Amaladoss from Tawau Green Energy Sdn Bhd] also assured the kampung people in the nearby area that the project has no threats to them.He said that among the advantages of using geothermal power was it is clean, required not a big area, cost saving and is not harmful to the people and environment'.
Added was that the geothermal project is not harmful to the people or the environment ...

Actually the Think GeoEnergy website is a good source for geothermal energy news. From the past months there are reports on projects in Lampung (Indonesia), Lahendong (Indonesia) Sarulla (Indonesia), Naga (Philippines), the Philippines and West Sumatra. And more ...

Crossing the divide, culturally
Hot springs in China are becoming a target for Japanese hot spring companies. reports that:
'According to a recent report by the UK's Financial Times, Gokurakuyu aims to open its first spa in China by March 2011 with its partners, an affiliate of China's Citic Group and Japanese investment company MBK. The company has also announced an aggressive expansion plan to run 100 variously-sized spa houses in China within five years, more than it operates in Japan'.
Coming from Japan, they are well aware of the different soaking culture in China, f.i. solely targeting businessmen rather than being a family outing (btw what about businesswomen?). Another example:
'In parts of China where people feel uncomfortable bathing communally, Gokurakuyu expects to include an area for customers who want to wear swimming costumes'.
Seeing how in the past, Chinese authorities have lambasted non-costume swimming as 'western decadence' it probably means that Japanese 'bathing' will not be the next big thing ...

Meanwhile back on the theme of China and Japan, a recent internet report pointed to the fact that many Chinese wish to visit Japan to enjoy their hot springs as opposed to westerners ...

Than what does Japan think about this? Weird culture (sideline):
'A NATURE park in China’s Hunan province is offering free admission and prizes to virgin females aged 22 or older, according to the state-run Global Times'.
Sex discrimination? Culture? A Japanese hot spring TV show has caused controversy as it employs 'an adult video model' to crank up the ratings.
'The “Let’s go to the spa and more!” broadcast by Japanese Fuji TV Station is actually an “adaption” of the old one “Go to the Spa!” which was first introduced to audiences of all ages in 2000, and mainly features the hidden hot springs (secret hot springs or secret tang) throughout Japan. In 2008, the show took a daring change by featuring the female host wearing only a towel and its name was changed to Let’s Go to the New Spa! The rating increased slightly after that. In the latest revamped programme, the host strips her clothing one by one before entering the hot springs naked'.
As soaking au naturel is a cornerstone of Japanese culture and many villages manage to attract significant numbers of tourists wishing to enjoy a soak dare we say naked, tv programs denying this seem a bit unreal. Anyway in reality it's all very tame ...However, already back in February Japansugoi reported on the increasing popularity of the show (DVD's also available). It notes:
'While nudity is not a big issue on Japanese TV, this onsen show by its very nature has the charms of the onsen demonstrated by way of a female reporter’s nude bathing'.
Just one of a series of photo's by Paula Bronstein. Text with the series:
'Japanese earthquake victims enjoy a communal bath set up in tents by the Japanese Self Defense Force March 26, 2011 in Rikuzentakata, Iwate, Japan. With hundreds of thousands made homeless by the quake the baths are essential since the makeshift evacuation centers have little running water'.
The regional news
Soaking festivals are the in-thing. The Philippine Information Agency reports (Sept. 9) from Los Baños:
'The Special Science and Nature City of the Philippines will celebrate Bañamos—a unique healing waters festival—beginning September 14 that will highlight the town’s colorful history capped by various fun-filled events. ... The Dia Aguas Santas (Day of the Holy Waters) is set on September 17 where a symbolic public bathing will be held in a hot spring pool blessed with holy water near the Immaculate Conception Parish Church'.
And ziplining and soaking? Head for Bamungao Pangasinan, Philippines:
'Zipline ride offers you a view of villages, extinct Mt. Balungao, and flowing hot and cold spring'.
Annah Rais hot spring, Sarawak (Malaysia) continues to gather favourable reviews. For instance Dawn Poh. And JG.
That has been noted by local politicians who will now move their constituency up to the 'modern' world.
Borneo Post report (September 5):
'Speaking of one famous spot, the Anah Rais hot spring, he [Deputy Tourism Minister Datuk Dr James Dawos Mamit] proposed that a study on the carrying capacity of the spring be conducted to improve the facilities there'.
Oh no, study the carrying capacity!

Pai, Mae Hong Son (Thailand) keeps on moving up. And so does it's hot springs. New kid on the block: Pai HotSpring Spa Resort (lot of effort in finding a name). Though probably just a rename (from Thapaispa) their own guest review page gives a positive shine on the rename.
However continue on
tripadvisor and you will be shocked by for instance this entrance from August 2010:
'This hotel is filthy and just rely on the hotspring appeal to rip travelers off'.
I wasn't impressed either but that was 5 years ago ...

A Russian language, extensive
site on Siam's soaks.

Wrapping up, more cross cultural exchange. The US is doing it's part ... to help China's science get a grip of it's hot springs. Montana State University is leading a research project in Tengchong, Yunnan. Part of the surprise is that in Tengchong visitors boil eggs in the springs, which in Montana would be an offense and get you a nice fine ...

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