Dalian Wonder

Dalian Wonder

March 2009, Silkroad Magazine, China

A colourful past has created a bright future for this cosmopolitan city

“You won’t find much of China in Dalian,” one foreign resident recently observed over coffee, and he has a point. At one time Russian, another Japanese and with a host of names and identities in its recent past, Dalian is as famous today for its female ‘mounties’ on horseback and its links with Canon and Mitsubishi, as it is its excellent sea food.  But on one of its famously clear days in one of the many squares, watching couples parade and old men practice water calligraphy, Dalian can also be the best of China. Many agree, and it has been voted one of the most livable cities in the country.

Dalian’s appeal comes from its modern history, since it has little by way of ancient architecture or artistic heritage. Before the various occupations it was a fishing village. Instead there’s good weather, a dazzling coastline, a string of manicured beaches and a surprising connection to the cultures in its past. Quirky Russian and Japanese accents are found used in modern buildings here and visitors from both countries come thick and fast; the Russians to warm up and the Southern Chinese to cool down. Dalian is booming too, with a good handful of five star hotels, a thriving port and a software park that is gaining global recognition for IT.

Things to See

Though the retro cable cars and gentle hills have had Dalian likened to San Francisco, this is a coastal town with Chinese characteristics: expect magnificent squares and a neatly sculpted coast. A trip to Zhongshan Square is to see pigeons flock and citizens exercise under the sedate gaze of grand stone buildings (all disappointingly, banks).  Friendship Square at night lights up like a big snow globe, and Xinghai Square – as the largest square in East Asia – is the pride of the town.  It has a prime position by the sea and boasts seafood restaurants, a beach nearby and a very young castle, which is currently a museum of shells, but is slated for hotel development. Xinghai can also kick off the coastal drive (about 100RMB in a taxi), which winds past a number of beaches, viewing pagodas, themed wedding studios and the working harbor in the east.  Pause for a snack with the well-heeled at Tiger Beach – where attractive holiday homes cluster – or continue on to Hai Zhi Yun Park, where reality can warp.  Here you’ll find real deer mingling with plastic versions, and sculpted sea creatures protruding out of the cliff. Try out the binoculars at the park’s ramshackle tea house (Magic Slope Tea House, tel: 13998412649). There are also a number of zoos in the area, and a large Jinshi Golf Club (www.dalianjinshigolf.com) at the Golden Pebble Beach National Resort, 40km from town.

Where to Shop

Top fashion brands nest at Parkland (1 Jiefang Street), where you’ll find  your Escadas, Ermenegildo Zegnas and English speaking staff at Starbucks. For more of an adventure, Victory Plaza is a labyrinthine underground mall just outside of Dalian train station, with everything from shoes to souvenirs. Olympic Square is your bet for electronics, DVDs and other gadgets – and for a haggling match, especially towards the end of the day. For something a bit hip and quirky, check out a few of the small fashion stores along Xiangqian Road which leads off of Friendship Square. X-ite (Xian Qian Jie tel: 82808705) has edgy male fashion in line with Diesel, with labels from France, Japan and the US. Among the specialist tea houses in town, Middle Centre Tea House or Xong Xin Wu (16-18 Liu Lin Street, tel 8282 1000) is a dusty treasure with a good range.

Where to eat and drink

Dalian is well known for its seafood – particularly its sea cucumber – but it has yet to build the kind of coastal restaurant strip that you’d expect.  Those in the know will head downtown to Wan Bao (Jie Fang Road, tel: 0411 8881 2888) – a large marble wonder with a procession of fish tanks – or to Tian Tian Yu Gang  (45 Tongtai Street, tel: 0411 8454 9111). The latter has a rather elegant branch called Seafood Gourmet (543 Binhai West Road, tel: 0411 8477 0099) near Xingang Square, with around ten large private rooms. Also in the square area is the fresh, upscale La Gauche De Malin Restaurant and Lounge (527-1 Binhai West Road, tel: 0411 8480 3188), with everything from steaks to salmon, and a buffet that could rival your five star hotel.  La Riviera (68 Renmin Lu, tel: 0411 3963 3899) and Café Igosso (45 Nanshan Rd, tel 0411 8265 6453) are the people’s choice for a top European meal, the former a grand affair, the latter more of a bistro. Be boggled by the beer choices at the comfy Strollers (tel: 0411 8269-8293), or go Bavarian at the Kempinski’s Paulaner  Brauhaus (92 Jiefang Road, tel: 0411 8259 6666).

Where to stay

The Kempinski Hotel Dalian (92 Jiefang Road, tel: 04 11 8359 8888, www.kempinski-dalian.com) is central, modern and sleek and comes complete with an Arabian themed spa, a pool and a variety of upscale restaurants, and a new Chocotheke patisserie. The immediate area features plenty of shopping, and a good selection of bars and restaurants. Closer to the port and the railway station, Hotel Nikko Dalian (123, Chang Jiang Road, tel: 411 82529999 , www.nikkodalian.com.cn) has 372 bright, modern rooms and suites with harbour views, plus a selection of one to four bedroom long-stay apartments. Many expats choose to stay at the efficiently-run Somerset Harbour Court Apartments (55 Renmin Road, tel: 86-411 8899 1888, www.somerset.com) for something a little more long term. If you fancy a night by the sea shore, the Dalian Regent Hotel (12 Hutan St, tel: 0411-2892811, not related to the Regent group) is a well trodden three star establishment along the Beihei Rd route and sees a lot of honeymooning traffic.

Best Coffee in Town:

E xpats are fond of the All’s Well and Starbucks chain affairs but you are guaranteed a good cup at Isiyaki Café (35 Wuwu St, tel: 0411 8273 4550) – though being Japanese-run, your cup will likely be rather delicate, with flowers on it. Expect pages of options from Cuban to Charcoal Roasted.

Insider’s Guide

Wen Jing runs Dalian’s only Jazz establishment, Blossom Jazz Club.

Favourite Restaurant: Shanghai City (29 Wuhui Road, Tel: 0411 88228888), next to the Labour Park. I like Shanghainese food and here it’s healthy and not so spicy.
Favourite Bar:  Blossom Jazz Club (50 Kunming Street, tel: 0411 8280 0878), my own of course! I love foreign cultures and after a big trip abroad I decided to open this place – the first jazz club in Liaoning province.
Favourite buildings: All the old buildings around Zhongshan Square, they are old and special. From above the round shape and the eight entrances symbolize good fortune.
Favourite way to relax: I go to the Shangri-La spa every Saturday. It’s comfortable and has highly skilled staff that were trained overseas.
Favourite view: Beihei Lu, the road along the coast, is clean and beautiful.
Favourite place to take visitors: To my bar. I think it stands for the level of Dalian culture and many international people meet here.

Ground Control

Ground Control

Silkroad Magazine, Hong Kong, September 2010

Three top landscape architects are breathing new life into urban areas

Yu Kongjian returned to China with a doctorate from Harvard in 1997 and the firm belief that ‘beauty is the by-product’ of good architecture. After founding Turenscape, China’s first private landscape design firm, he also became a professor at Peking University. [Find the full transcript of the interview below].

“In China, there are two landscaping cultures,” Yu explains. “There is the elite, high-class culture of gardening and then is the vernacular culture of farmers and fishermen. This ornamental culture of landscape design nethereeds a lot of resources – it’s not sustainable.” Instead Yu takes his inspiration from the practices of China’s farmers and the “beautiful, productive paradises” they can create from a working landscape. Yu believes that this is the key to keeping China’s cities liveable, despite the country’s break-neck pace of development.

The architect puts this paradigm into practice at his studio. Turenscape’s latest major project, Houtan Park, saw an ecological revival of an old industrial landscape at the site of Shanghai’s World Expo. The park used wild grasses and crops to filter river water for use at the expo, among other aspects, and won the highest honour from the American Society of Landscape Architects Awards this year.
Yu is aware of the wider responsibilities of his job, particularly his role as an educator. “I hope for there to be a higher level of understanding about how landscaping can help…The changes need to be top-down,” he says. “Landscaping needs to become a law, we need to see what needs to be protected across the board and keep it that way. To help that, we need a more democratic system of education, we need to encourage innovative young people to take part. China has wonderful traditions; contemporary landscape now needs to break through all the existing knowledge and criteria. We need more openness for everybody so that we can have more creativity.”

Gavin Coates is the primary resident landscape architect at urban planning firm ACLA, and came to Hong Kong in the 1980s after working in the UK; he is currently ‘on loan’ to the government while he directs the ongoing Hong Kong Greening Master Plan.

More than a third of Hong Kong’s land mass may be covered in country parks, says Coates, but these green spaces are vastly under-used. “There’s some incredible wilderness out there but people don’t take advantage of it,” he says. “So you have to bring the landscape to them.”
He spends much of his time tackling the territory’s urban areas, which are some of the densest in the world. Thanks to the reflective properties of concrete, the mass of human traffic and the heat emitted by cars and air-conditioning, Coates says that there can be as much as a 7 degree difference between the countryside and the city. To counter this he has overseen the addition of over 5,000 trees and a million shrubs and groundcover plans to Hong Kong and Kowloon – a number which will have tripled by the time the project is complete.

Yet Hong Kong’s density creates a unique challenge. “You lift up a paving block here and there’s a solid mass of cables; you’ve got water pipes, electric, telephone company cables,” he says. “Above ground you’ve also got sightline issues and signs, street lamps and traffic lights all competing for space”. And though many of the public rally for a greener city the feeling does not extend to everyone; most shopkeepers, Coates explains, will object to a tree being planted outside of their shop because it blocks their merchandise. The danger from falling trees or branches has also become a contentious issue. “On the mainland the landscaping is quite impressive but they’ve got the space to do it,” he says. “If you have 20-30m verge along the side of the road, a leaf or branch falling off your trees are not going to hit anybody. In Hennessy Road we’re planting into a medium that’s not even two metres wide, and which millions of people go down every week.”

Jie Hu is one of China’s foremost landscape architects and returned to the country after spending almost a decade with Sasaki Associates in the US. He now practices and teaches from Tsinghua University’s School of Architecture in Beijing, and believes that a city’s green spaces must be carefully attuned to the nature of the place and its people.

Hu’s time in America had an expansive influence on his work, he says, but the country could benefit somewhat from the Chinese attitude to landscaping. “You get the sense that when U.S cities are developed, the land is just cleared of its original characteristics and built over”, he says. “In China there’s a historically strong connection to the features and the energy flow through the land.”
He reveres the way a simple, well-designed park space can bring life to a neighbourhood, both as a space where people can “get out of their homes and engage in their surroundings”, and as a green lung. During its Olympic bid the Central Government promised to build a vast green Olympic Park that would counterbalance the environmental burden of the extra construction and activity. As project director Hu won acclaim and awards for the park’s blend of native ecology, modern techniques and local culture.

To strike the right balance in a project, Hu immerses himself in the physical and traditional culture of a city. “For the Olympic Park I did this by researching [Beijing’s] older existing parks that already carry its character and tradition, like Imperial Palace Park, so that my design would feel like a continuous development of that park system,” he explains. “But I also looked at the Beijing people, at what they like to do in parks: tai chi, dance, play cards or just have tea? Landscape architecture is about understanding and meeting the needs of the public.”
Full unpublished interview text:

Yu Kongjian

Q: What proportion do you practice versus teaching these days?
A: I’m a full-time professor at Peking University and I founded The Graduate School of Landscape Architecture at PKU. It’s hard to say what proportion of my time is practice as compared to teaching; I don’t consider teaching and research and practice to be separate. What I’m doing in design is pedagogical demonstration in school.

Q: What drew you to landscape architecture?
A: (Laughs) It’s a long story. Even though landscape architecture is fundamentally different from landscape gardening, I believe it is the most appropriate profession to deal with the issue of land – to meet the challenges of today’s environmental issues. My definition of landscape architecture is: the art of survival; it isn’t about gardening or decoration. It is about the relationship between the land and the people, about how to deal with the land so that people can have a safe, healthy and pleasant life. It’s what we need to create functional productive, life-sustaining and culturally meaningful landscape, so that we can meet today’s global climate changes, and the  environmental challenges coming with the rapid urbanization in China.

At the time in 1980s, Beijing Forestry University was the only option in China for landscape gardening, for physical outdoor environmental design. That was the beginning of my education.

Q: Which skills or ideas from your time at Harvard have you found have made the strongest impression on your?

A: Harvard gave me many things. At one side I was able to deal with large-scale landscape planning due to the fact that I had the best advisory board for my doctorate of design study, which is composed of the top landscape planner Carl Steinitz, landscape ecologist Richard Forman and a GIS (Geographical Information System) professor. On the other side, I was exposed to the contemporary, cutting edge design. All the lecturers and professors at Harvard are very much on the cutting edge. The way it works is that the design school at Harvard invites the best practitioners to teach and to lecture and to learn from each other. These two aspects of education make me a student capable to deal landscape across scales, from the national and regional landscape planning, to the site specific design, which have proven to be extremely important in my latter career.

Q: What are a few of the major differences that you found berween the American and Chinese approaches to landscape design?

A: In China there are two landscaping cultures. There is the elite, high-class culture of gardening and then there is the vernacular culture of farmers and fishermen. Some people think that landscape design is from the higher culture of gardening, but this is a mistake. I am against that, we need to learn more about the vernacular culture; we need to learn how to deal with land, how to make it productive, how to irrigate it, how to survive on it. Today, we are facing serious problems because we are wasting too much energy. This high-class, ornamental culture of landscape design needs a lot of resources, and we don’t have the resources for that, it’s not sustainable. We have to go back to the real vernacular, which is about making land productive and sustainable. Normal Chinese farmers create beautiful, productive paradises by focusing first on the working landscape. We need to get back to that. All my designs are about the working landscape first, about function, not about beautification.

In the United States, landscape traditions go back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. It’s comparatively young compared to the elite Chinese tradition of gardening and the European tradition of gardening, but old [when] compared to contemporary Chinese landscape architecture. On the one hand the American tradition of landscape gardening comes from the European tradition – it’s a tradition similar to the high culture gardening of the Chinese. But about 110 years ago America began to urbanize itself and they needed a profession called landscape architecture to make the congested city liveable. So this tradition of landscape architecture (not gardening) is a breakthrough from the European tradition of gardening, and is the root of modern profession of landscape architecture, which was based on the need to meet the challenges of  urbanization in America. The goal of landscape architecture was to create recreational space, to bring nature into the city by creating a pastoral landscape, like Central Park in New York.

Today, China is moving forward so fast, we have to deal with serious environmental crises and also urbanization while making a city liveable. When America started this style for urbanizing cities 110 years ago, they did not have such serious problems we are now facing. It is therefore important to recognize that the contemporary landscape architecture in China needs another jump forward from the American tradition of landscape architecture, in that the Chinese contemporary landscape architects have to face more serious environmental and ecological crises, and be able to deal with such unprecedented challenges as climate changes, globalization and urbanization with unprecedented speed and scale. My intention is to develop a new Chinese vernacular landscape. In my projects, we use the landscape as ecological infrastructure, to help people feel present, see beauty and counter environmental problems as well.

Q: What can the world learn from Chinese landscape traditions or from feng shui?
A: Feng shui is part of the Chinese vernacular, part of everyday Chinese society. We can learn how to be more adaptive to the environment. We can learn how to deal with natural processes, like water. When you look at Chinese traditional settlements and architecture, like rice paddies in mountain areas, like the irrigation system of Dujiangyan in Sichuan, that’s what I am thinking about how actually the Chinese vernacular landscape culture including Feng shui can  be as inspirations for contemporary design. The rice paddy landscape in the Yunnan Province for example, is a kind of landscape which is adaptive to the mountain area, but at the same time, there is an irrigation system that make the land working and productive, while people cultivate around the reasons. It’s about using the landscape for productivity, for survival. 2000 years ago, people knew how to build these irrigation systems with minimal cost and minimal materials. We can learn from this.

Q: Where do you think landscape architects can do the most good in China?
A:
Anywhere, from the protection of national ecological security to the construction of regional ecological infrastructure, and at the smallest scale to the present and productive private gardens, even to your balcony! China is facing environmental challenges on all levels, it is the time for the nation to consider the remaking of the national landscape which has been destroyed badly in the past centuries and especially in the past decades of urbanization and industrization, and landscape architecture is the only most critical profession that can remake our national landscape safe, productive, beautiful, and meaningful. All the rivers, the lakes of large and small are becoming so badly polluted and defunctioned. Engineers say we can fix this by creating water treatment plants, by building more dams and dykes, and through more steel and concrete, I doubt that completely and I believe we need to see lour land as a living system, we need to treat it like that. We can’t fix it with engineering. The land is a living system.

Q: What changes do you hope to see to make doing this (your job) easier? (

A: I hope for there to be a higher level of understanding about how landscaping can help. It’s not just about making something beautiful, it’s about making something work – beauty is the by-product. Landscape must be seen as infrastructure; landscape architecture must be seen as a tool to help fix today’s serious environmental and ecological problems. The changes need to be top-down.
Landscaping needs to become a law; we need to see what needs to be protected across our national landscape and keep it that way. To help that, we need a more democratic system of education so that new ideas and new knowledge can be taught; we need to encourage innovative young people to take part so that more innovative planning and designs can be implemented. China has wonderful traditions, contemporary landscape now needs to break through all the existing knowledge and criteria and even the value system.

Q: Would you say that love of public space a particular characteristic of China?

A: Every culture loves public space. In China, traditionally, public spaces are most easily visible in villages and small towns – the village centres and town centres in front of the temples (for religions or ancestral worships). In America they call them commons. We have similar commons, usually they are in front of temples. Traditionally in cities there isn’t a lot of green public space but today we treasure open space more. This is for several reasons. First, the urban population is becoming bigger and cities are much more compact than they are in America. People live more densely, their private space is smaller, so they need more public space. There are more parks in Chinese cities, more spaces for tai chi and other collective activities. Compared to the suburban American communities, open spaces in Chinese cities are more useful and more occupied, and certainly more important for public health, for ecological security, sense of community and sense of cultural identity and belonging.

Q: What have you worked on most recently?

A: My latest major project is the Houtan Park at the 2010 Shanghai Expo. We worked to create landscape as ecological infrastructure, by creating multiple ecological services, including mediating flood and cleaning the contaminated water. For this we won the 2010 ASLA (The American Society of Landscape Architects) Award of Excellence for general design.

 

Hope for Sri Lanka's child victims

Hope for Sri Lanka

January 1, 2009, Guardian Weekly, UK


Torture has become a familiar feature of criminal investigations in Sri Lanka, where children as young as seven have experienced abuse under interrogation. At a small human rights unit in Kandy city, a Catholic priest has created a vital support system for the victims of police brutality. Father Nandana Manatunga relates the – often tragic – cases he has tried to help with.

Our torture act passed 1994, but until about 2000 there was not a single case filed against anybody for torture in Sri Lanka. I opened my human rights office five years ago and since then we have cared for about 22 victims – most of them children, ranging from seven years to 20. Many of them were quite young when they came to us, and now some are young adults. Cases here take years.

The torture is mostly done by the police or the armed forces. Victims are often too scared to fight back, but now a lot of them are trying to – they want to do something and the legal procedure is their only way of taking revenge.

One boy I know was 16 when he was accused of stealing a water pump. He was kept for one week and beaten continuously. They hung him from the ceiling with his arms behind his back, which damaged his nerves. Now he can’t use one of his arms. Lalith, 17, was beaten in police custody for three days. He was unconscious for a week afterwards. They were actually looking for another Lalith who was supposed to have stolen a gold chain.

The police have their own methods of interrogation: they assault you and dunk you again and again in cold water. They also put books on your head and bash. They use torture because there isn’t a proper investigation system; their current procedure is to bring someone in for questioning and beat them until they confess.

Most of the victims of this abuse die with their stories; they don’t want to fight the police and they don’t want to go through the difficult legal proceedings. I run a refuge for these children, with the aim of empowering them and giving them the courage and moral support they need to break their silence. We give them other things they need, like security, protection, legal aid, medical care and counselling.

It was when one torture victim, Gerald Perera, was shot dead in 2004 that we realised the children needed somewhere to hide. There is no state witness protection system, which means the perpetrators are free to hunt down their victim again, especially if they are having to go to court. We started placing the children in convents, where they would be able to go to school. Children who are at particular risk come and stay with me. I often have a full table at breakfast.

Most of the children can go home if they want to, but there are some we don’t want to send back. One girl didn’t go home for three years; she went back just once and the same boy who raped her abducted her again. It took us two months to find her. Sudath, another torture victim, was shot dead. He was with me for three weeks, and now I am hiding his wife and two children. I am so full of regret that I allowed him to go home and be killed.

Right now we have four torture cases on trial and more than eight rape cases. Some have been going on since 2001. One part of the trial will be now and the next part in six months. If you could see how the victims are questioned… it’s really hard. Rita, a girl who was raped, had to appear in the magistrate’s court 21 times over two years; it was only six years later that the case made it to high court. On the very first day – she was in grade 10 at the time – the lawyer for the accused said that she was a prostitute.

The children have to repeat their stories several times, but as the years pass they forget the details. Even Lalith forgets certain things and I have to remind him – “this and this happened to you”. Their trauma counsellor might make some progress, but then be right back at the beginning again.

In October the verdict came through on Lalith’s case. The accused police officer was acquitted and released. We have looked after Lalith since 2002; I saw him when he was discharged from hospital after being tortured. Now I ask God where justice is, and why this poor boy was treated like this. I have fears about the future and what will happen in the other children’s cases.

When a case begins in high court, the accused policeman is suspended from work. Without his uniform and his gun he feels like a nobody, and then he becomes very dangerous, especially if he thinks he might go to jail anyway. The children have been chased and threatened, and in May an attempt was made on Lalith’s life.

We’ve now learned to go to every court proceeding in numbers. There are 25 or so prominent people – lawyers and doctors – who meet with us every month and arrange to escort the kids to their various court appearances in groups. Some trips take us right across the country, but these men help to keep us safe.

Do I wish life was easier? No. I get spiritual support in church, and I meditate. I get a lot of joy from working with my parish. The community children come and play from about 6pm to 8:30pm every day and I always join in because it’s a kind of recreation for me too.

My main challenge is to sustain our young fighters. Just getting these policemen and perpetrators suspended is a victory for all of us, even if we’re not sure of the final judgment. Systematic torture has been going on in Sri Lanka for a long time, but people never knew they could take action against the system. Now there’s a kind of awareness, and activism is growing. As a priest, I call it the spirituality of human rights.

• Father Nandana Manatunga was speaking to Jo Baker.

To the Manor Born

To the Manor Born

Perspective Magazine, Hong Kong, December 2008
Along the Aegean coast an intriguing new boutique hotel seeks to celebrate and reinvigorate traditional Anatolian-style architecture with a contemporary twist and a healthy injection of Turkish art

When the world “homey” is used to describe a hotel it rarely applies to anything bigger than a few thousand square metres; very few people, after all, can call a manor house home. But for the non-mansion dwellers among us there are hotels like Casa Dell’Arte on the Aegean coast.

When the world ‘homey’ is used to describe a hotel it rarely applies to anything bigger than a few thousand square metres; very few people, after all, can call a manor house home. But for the non-mansion dwellers among us there are hotels like Casa Dell’Arte, on the Aegean coast.

Preserving a sense of ‘home’ was the main design aim of the Büyükkuşoğlus, a prestigious family with a prime piece of ocean-side real estate in Bodrum, Turkey’s answer to San Tropez. The 4.500sq m all-suite hotel was inspired by the family’s former holiday home, and though very large and very decadent, the place feels charmingly  ‘lived in’.

“We wanted the hotel to still feel like a house, and to be very social,” says matriarch Fatoş Büyükkuşoğlu, who led a group of young architects on the design, and who lives in a smaller house on the property. “We designed a lot of inner courtyards and spaces where guests can come together – at the dinner table, in the lounge or by the pool”.

The hotel is largely made of local stone and is hewn with courtyards. It’s a modern take on the Anatolian style, a Greek-Armenian mix that was common before the formation of the Turkish republic. The family has its roots in Anatolia, and on a trip there a few years ago Büyükkuşoğlu had been upset to see old Kayseri houses being knocked down. Her decision to give them new life gave the Casa an extra layer of history. A charming mix of century old relief work – a slab here, a gargoyle there – with angular modern architecture lends the building textural and cultural accents.

The hotel stretches down to the coast in a series of linear spaces, all linked by a view of the sea. Guests enter the property at the front by way of a grand 200-year old front door (from Edirne, the old Ottoman capital) and check in with a glimpse of ocean; the view hurdles a classic courtyard pool, a series of open chambers, a large living room and a lawn on the way down.

Though the property is sizeable, the family settled on just twelve suites. As the name suggests, Casa Dell’Arte was designed so that the Büyükkuşoğlus could share a portion of their 300-piece-strong art collection, and each suite displays four or five well-sized canvases. The paintings are by modern Turkish artists such as Devrim Erbil and Anan Coker, and they inject colour into an otherwise crisp cream and white landscape. Light retro furniture adds a little chic, with glam accents from the odd animal skin rug. Each room has been named after a sign in the zodiac but the references are subtle, in most just a sparkling blue optical fibre panel in the ceiling that loosely mimics the constellations.

The Casa’s common areas are large enough to find privacy in: a beautiful outdoor pool with a covered art gallery each side, a series of small ante chambers with lone love seats, sculptures or book shelves, and, at the end of the house three connected spaces overlooking the lawn. The double height dining room and the two large day rooms all subscribe to Fatos Büyükkuşoğlu’s home vision, and they blend the very old and ornate with the new and modern. “I like old pieces,” said Ms Buyukkusoglu, “but modern design is much more comfortable so we selected very ergonomic furniture and combined it with antiques”. This sees items such as a contemporary beige couch and plate glass coffee table feature together with display cabinets from the 18th century France. A modern dark wood dining table supports antique candelabras; rare old religious frescoes from Russia perch above a salvaged Anatolian fireplace. “In Turkey this mixing is common,” says Büyükkuşoğlu. “People inherit old antiques, but they like to use them in interiors that are modern and comfortable.”

Out on the lawn white furniture pieces, alone and in pairs, are scattered like statuary, while the terrace provides a good spot for an ocean-view cocktail at sundown. In this place – part house, part hotel, part museum – guests tend to socialize much more, there’s an unmistakable pull out of the suites and into the rest of the house. In fact it’s hard not to throw your bags down, put your feet up and move in.

Spurred on by the success of the hotel yet loathe to extend it, the Büyükkuşoğlus have created another hospitality concept next door. The Casa Dell’Arte Village opened this summer with 38 suites, with plenty of art, a stylish ocean view pool and a free program of art workshops with in-house artists. The design concept is similarly eclectic, but it can’t help but pale slightly next to the original. There really is no place like home, when it’s a mansion.

 

Minding their Business

Minding their Business

South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, December 5, 2008
Asia’s designers find a silver lining in the credit crunch

Speakers at Hong Kong’s Business of Design Week have long pushed design as a money-making tool, but this year audiences will probably be listening to the advice more closely than usual. With big business in trouble, the question on everyone’s lips at the event, December 8 to 13, will likely be, how are we going to weather the storm?

Developer Morgan Parker thinks designers are in for a leaner time. Having spent more than 13 years in Asia developing luxury real estate, he is now the president of Taubman Asia, which is behind Macao Studio City and Seoul’s flashy Songdo IBD Shopping Center, both still underway. “Business is the origin, the genesis of design. We use design to improve the world around us but it really starts with the consumer,” says Parker, who will be showing the firm’s retail projects at the event. “It’s a mistake to think otherwise. Iconic buildings around the world come from a social need, and the architects are influenced by society around them.”

A look at any city’s landscape can give a hint of the design to come. Find a building from the 1950s or 60s and you’ll notice a kind of austerity: simple, efficient shapes and durable materials. Modernist, Brutalist and Bauhaus schools of architecture were partly the design world’s response to a time of tight budgets, and the buildings stand in contrast to the grandiose skyscrapers that have been erupting in Dubai or Shanghai in the last decade and a half. Architecture may be able to revitalise a city, but only if the city can afford it. “We’ll see materials change; architects who specify expensive kinds will see the [materials] value engineered out of the process,” says Parker. “Designs that are structurally complicated will be simplified.”

The developer’s greatest concern is that projects are not rushed. In the construction industry time may be money, but careless mistakes can be lethal.

For Asian designers, who have started to turn heads with daring, complex work, this aesthetic cool-down could be a blow. Until recently Hong Kong architects had been flocking to the mainland for briefs that demand bigger, bolder buildings. An exploding luxury market has had interior and industrial designers creating just as hard. But though work may be starting to slow, industry insiders are sounding convincingly optimistic.

“I’m actually looking forward to it,” says Wong Mun-sum, whose firm WoHa designs buildings and interiors from Singapore. “I think in the boom architects and designers have been spread quite thinly, and they’ve been trying to do too much. This kind of adjustment will go back to the pace that we should be moving at.”  The architect, whose studio was born out Asia’s economic recession in the mid-nineties, fondly remembers a period in which projects could be lingered over.

Also, if adversity is, as they say, the mother of invention, there could actually be more innovation on the way than ever before.  “I think designers will have to think twice about how they can make their ideas stick out better,” says the director.  At the speakers’ forum he will be showing how WoHa has done just that.  Last year the firm won numerous awards for No. 1 Moulmein Rise, Singapore, a high-rise complex with “monsoon windows”, horizontal sliding windows that can stay open without letting rain in. This year its Newton Suites project [pictured], Singapore, won another slew of awards, and was chosen as one of the world’s top five high rises by the city of Frankfurt, for its use of community gardens in an apartment complex; there’s a garden on each of the 36 floors and a 100m high vegetation wall. Both, Wong says, came from the idea that western high-rise formulas need to be reworked for the Asian lifestyle and climate. “In a boom period there’s a lot of repetition and pushing projects out too quickly, meaning that a lot of ideas are not developed,” he says. “Now, hopefully, there will be more discourse.”

Other designers agree, from Hong Kong interior designer Kenneth Ko to homegrown graphic whiz Raman Hui, who is based in Hollywood. “Now is a great time for restructuring and rethinking the basic fundamentals of different businesses” says Hui, who worked on Disney’s Shrek movies. “Even though the economic environment might be very challenging … that makes everyone more critical and serious about the creative business they’re doing. I hope this period will stimulate creativity.”

Ko, meanwhile, thinks that the period could be useful for the mainland by forcing a much needed “time out” for its generation of breakneck designers, who can now stop, take stock and reassess their priorities. Many people on the mainland, opines Ko, haven’t yet gained a deep enough understanding of the quality of life.  Without this, he believes there cannot be good design. “The problem is the blind leading the blind,” says Ko, who has an office in Shenzhen. “China is developing too quickly and its people are not going through an educational period. In Europe people may be introduced to culture as teenagers, or even younger, but here in China they come from the countryside, go to university and expect to bring out good design.” Ko hopes that the mainland’s young designers will start to travel and gather life experience before returning to the drawing board; his talk at BODW, he says, will be on how to enjoy life; a brave message for a time of tightening belts.

Michael Young, a British Hong Kong-based industrial designer and a speaker at the event, believes that a change of tack will be necessary for design businesses that aim to stay ahead. He advises them to choose their sector carefully and make the most of emerging technology.  “I have watched design become a tool for communication over the years and this is how companies must see their products, to stay ahead of the game,” he observes. “They can choose to enter the higher end and offer good ideas, or compete at the lower end by price competition.”

“Here in Hong Kong we can integrate with advanced technology; partnership is more important than ever. Designers have much more to offer, we must assist in marketing and sales as well.”

Because just as design studios will be struggling to stay ahead, so will every kind of business, which may be the industry’s saving grace. Among the many changes in our world since the last major recession is the utter reliance of business on branding; design has become the ultimate marketing tool. As long as this doesn’t change, the status of the world’s creative minds should be secure; they will simply have more time to enjoy it.

Built to Last

Built to Last


South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, December 12, 2008
Tadao Ando has 40 years of genre-defining architecture under his belt, but don’t assume he’s ready to retire.

As a veteran architect in high demand, Tadao Ando knows how he likes his press meetings to run. “Give me three or four questions and I’ll answer them in a row,” he instructs through his interpreter, before delivering a series of diplomatic clichés and being whisked off to his next gig. But Ando can hardly be blamed for being perfunctory; he is just part of the way through a 24-hour publicity spree that includes a Hong Kong architecture tour, a speech at a business lunch, a series of interviews and an evening lecture at Hong Kong University to an arena of slack-jawed students. Despite the jaunty bowl cut and the kindly eyes, the 67-year-old is tired.

This schedule is a just hint of the demand Ando finds himself in after 40 years in the business. His small, 30-strong design studio has whipped up projects around the world for clients from Armani to UNESCO, and its trophy list is long and illustrious. At the pinnacle of these is the Pritzker, architecture’s equivalent of the Nobel. “Ando’s architecture is an assemblage of artistically composed surprises in space and form,” noted the jury in 1995, when he was awarded the prize. “There is never a predictable moment as one moves through his buildings.”

Ando is often spoken of as having reinvented the ‘art of building’, but few would have guessed it in the 1969 when he set up his firm without college training; he’d simply ‘self trained’, he says, with an architectural study tour of the world, from the landmarks of Finland and Siberia to those of Mumbai. But wedged between the cheap post-war duplexes of Sumiyoshi, Osaka, Ando’s debut project gave a hint of things to come. It reworked Japan’s skinny, low-income row house into a stark shield of concrete, with a complex light-filled home hidden behind it.Ando later admitted that the design was a kind of retaliation for the house he and his grandmother had lived in while he was growing up. “After World War II I lived in a narrow, oblong, wooden two story row house,” he remembers in one book.  “Winters were so cold you could practically see the wind race through, and summers were stiflingly hot, admitting no breeze… I grew enraged at society and felt inspired to improve living conditions.”

Ando has continued to use architecture as a tool for social change, but his projects are also famous for their respect for materials – he likes them bare – and his high sensitivity to nature. His buildings harness the natural elements as decoration, with complex shadows giving depth to a wall, light creeping through a skylight or snow piling up against a window. His is a ‘haiku-effect’ notes professor Masao Furuyama: like the Japanese form of poetry, his work is concise, traditional and all about the changing seasons. His religious buildings, such as the Church of Light and the Church of the Water, have become iconic the world over for an almost spiritual use of the elements.

Ando is in town to help promote a new project in Japan’s snowy, northern Hokkaido. When finished in a few years Cappella Niseko will have a 70 room hot spring hotel and 149 residences, about two hours from the capital, Sapporo.  It’s only Ando’s second resort. “It was a new challenge,” he says, through friend and architect, George Kunihiro. “A totally new environment and climate, with world famous conditions of light snow powder from Siberia. I wanted to somehow incorporate this into my idea.”

The resort makes use of Ando’s favourite material, concrete, combined with glass, raw wood and stone in the shape of two intersecting rings, which open up to a 360 degree view of the mountainside. It has similarities with his first resort – an art museum and resort on Naoshima Island, which he worked on over a period of about twelve years.  Here The Oval arranges six guestrooms around an elliptical garden, each flooded with views of the landscape. If you’re going to travel somewhere, Ando seems to say, you’d better feel it to the full.

The architect also thinks that it’s an interesting time for the Japanese tourism industry, noting that the country offers the best of a developed society – including hygiene and safety from terrorism – and giving the impression that his decision to work on a resort was partly patriotic. It’s a fair notion; the architect draws hoards of design buffs to the country each year. ‘If you can’t afford an Ando-designed house,’ one fan exclaims in an online travel blog, ‘at least you can stay in this hotel.’

It is an interesting time for architecture, too. Ando agrees with the many other designers who have welcomed the economic slowdown as a chance to produce more thoughtful work. “It’s going to be harder for buildings to be put up,” he admits, “but it’s the kind of time where architects can really put energy into each project, to make it their best. Until a few months ago they were all working so quickly the quality of each building was probably not at the highest.”

He believes that architecture will be able to help. During the great depression in the 30s, says Ando, Roosevelt and other world leaders took a leaf from the book of economist John Maynard Keynes, who had pushed public projects as a way to keep a struggling economy afloat. The period saw housing projects springing up in countries like the US, Sweden and the UK, and the creation of landmark public buildings like London’s Royal Institute for British Architects. “Maybe economists will come up with some ideas like this to overcome the depression,” he says.

Still despite his achievements, Ando can’t relax; he feels Japan’s younger generation of architects barking at his heels. Unlike the many stars who tend to look down on young upstarts, Ando sees them as worthy adversaries. “When you’re at the top for a long time there’s always someone new coming up. The younger generation is in demand, and they are the one who are going to knock you out,” he explains. Though he has kept his studio small and flexible, he still tries to stay aware of design trends. Still, at 66, could he not just take it a little easier?

“[Architect] Oscar Niemeyer worked until he was 102 years old; he got married when he was 75,” the designer says with a laugh. “My clients Giorgio Armani and Karl Lagerfeld are at least ten years older and they still have powerful personalities and high energy levels. This inspires me, so I’m sure I can keep going for at least another ten years.” Perhaps next time around he’ll stay for a proper chat.

 

 

Election pledges a matter of life or death for inmates

Election pledges a matter of life or death for inmates

October 22, 2008, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong

There will be little sleep tonight for the inmates of Adiala jail’s death cells, but though the rooms in Pakistan’s notorious northern prison are concrete, cold and small –they measure about eight by five feet – discomfort is currently a side issue. This is because for the first time in years the men and women on Pakistan’s death rows have been given some hope about their futures.

On 25 August a letter reached a Pakistan news agency from the prisoners at Adiala. It warmly congratulated the new President on his appointment and it carried the reminder of a promise. “You had spoken on the floor of National Assembly that our government wants to commute death sentences,” they wrote to President Zardari, and to Prime Minister Gilani. “We are now alive since then … Please, once again look in to our matter.”

The reminder was badly needed. On June 21 Yusuf Gilani announced that, in tribute to its assassinated leader, Benazir Bhutto, the new ruling party would like to commute the country’s 7,000 or so death sentences into life imprisonment. But four months on, says the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), four people have already been hung. “We are being crushed by the system like a turnip,” wrote the prisoners. “There are so many innocent people in the jails of Pakistan… [but] no stay orders have been granted to those who are being hanged in the near future.”

For Pakistan’s reformers, who had seen this as a step towards abolition, Zardari’s promise has started to look empty, but the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) insists that it was for real. On October 15 a law minister announced that a summary had been sent by the cabinet to the President’s office, where it now awaits his signature. Pakistan annually executes the most people in the world after China, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and is one of just five countries that will still hang juveniles. The coming weeks, say insiders, could be crucial to more than just 7,000 lives.

This isn’t the first time the death penalty has been fought in Pakistan. In the seventies Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto turned all death sentences to life imprisonment, before being hung himself in a coup, and fifteen years later his daughter Benazir kept all but a handful of those sentenced from the gallows while she was Prime Minister. This year the federal cabinet again made steps to commute death sentences, but caved under political and religious pressure from the right wing.

The Bhuttos, like many who have supported reform in Pakistan, believed that until a country can offer a fair trial, it should not risk having a death penalty. “There is corruption and disorganization all through the police and the judiciary in Pakistan,” says the AHRC’s Baseer Naveed. “The rich and powerful can buy themselves out of trouble, and custodial torture is run of the mill. I think that many innocent people are hung.”  Supporters of the penalty point to the country’s relatively high violent crime rate and say that death is the only practical deterrent.

When the Pakistan republic was first formed in 1947 only two crimes could be met with a death sentence – murder and treason; there are now more than twenty. The list runs from drug offences and rape to the more ambiguous, like extra-marital sex and blasphemy. The only possible sentence for blaspheming is execution, and the law keeps Pakistan’s death cells  well stocked, largely with minority peoples such as Christians, Hindus and Ahmadi sect members, many of them at the losing end of a personal vendetta or property dispute.

Zardari’s camp has suggested that an announcement on the 7,000, and even on abolition, could come at any time. “I’m sure they will do it,” says Nasir Aslan Zahid, former Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court. “This time they have got a chance. It has been 12 years since Benazir Bhutto’s government and this time they have control with the presidency, so they can easily implement her decision.”

Others look to the country’s many conservative MPs, its powerful mullahs and the lack of action so far and conclude that Zardari doesn’t have the resolve. “It was an exuberance. They don’t have the political will,” says lawyer Muneer Malik, who spent time in Adiala’s death cells himself last year after he ran protests for an independent judiciary. “It was just pandering to a particular lobby, putting up a liberal face before the European Union, which there’s pressure from. Otherwise the bill would already be in parliament.” And for the condemned inmates? “Right now their chances look pretty bleak,” Malik concludes.

Earlier this year the AHRC reported on the case of Zulfiqar Ali, a man on Adiala’s death row who had been convicted of murder but was not able to afford a lawyer; he had tried to construct his own defense even though he can’t speak English. His brother, Abdul Qayum, remembers his family’s reactions when they heard of Zardari’s announcement. “I was jumping on my feet, not on the earth or in the sky,” he remembers. “Where I was, I don’t know! His daughters were also jumping around in the street. When I told Zulfiqar he couldn’t speak for minutes”.

Nevertheless on 2nd October Qayum was summoned to a guard’s house in Lahore and showed the black warrant. “I felt like I was going deep into the earth, I couldn’t talk or say anything,” he says. “Then I collected my senses and I went to tell the rest of the family.”

Thanks to last ditch campaigning Ali got a last minute stay of 15 days. Under Islamic sharia law a murderer can be pardoned by a victim’s relatives, usually after a blood money payment called diyat, and the courts will often urge family members to resolve matters on the side; it’s what human rights NGOs call the ‘privatisation of justice’ and tends to give the wealthy a certain criminal freedom.  However worse, say such groups, is that many death penalties are given because judges assume a settlement will be found. Ali’s family are poor and he has been in prison for ten years. If diyat can’t be arranged this time around, his execution will take place this week.

The world will be watching Pakistan’s new president over the coming month. Politicians make many promises around election time which, as everyone knows, may not be kept. But the promise of life to 7,000 – some criminals, some not – would be a cruel and unusual ploy. “Our eyes are towards you,” wrote the prisoners in August. “Please accomplish your objectives as soon as possible, because time is short and we are on the Verge of Death.”

Losing Ground

Losing Ground

October 7, 2008, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong,

150,000 Cambodians are at risk of eviction from their homes as developers exploit a corrupt system which fails to protect property rights [PDF: SCMP land grab]

Losing Ground

In June 1975 waves of black-clad guerilla fighters entered Phnom Penh and emptied it – by persuasion, coercion and violence – in just a few days. The Khmer Rouge north had beaten the south, and as a first step, more than two million bewildered people were banished from the city and sent to live in the countryside. Today, facing the prospect of its first skyscraper, a rash of Special Economic Zones and numerous foreign-backed developments, Cambodia is boasting of a new era. Yet some things haven’t changed.

“See that tree?” asks Son Chhay, a bespectacled Cambodian minister, as we stand on the steps of the new national assembly building and look south. “Behind that there’s a company, 7NG Group, that’s trying to move 600 families more than 20km away. They’re literally building around them now, cutting off their entrances and exits. They have gangsters. A few of us have already had to physically step in in their defense.”

An opposition MP and a notorious thorn in the side of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, Son Chhay has been fighting land-grabbing since at least 2000, when he found out that a piece of property he’d owned for five years was being eyed by developers; it was just outside of Siem Reap and he had planned to turn it into an agricultural training centre. After a convenient declaration was issued by the Council of Ministers, earmarking the area for a ‘hotel development’ zone, Son Chhay, along with 150 families had been told that if he moved out quietly, he would get a decent rate for the property.

“Cambodian property laws state that if the government buys private land they should be using it for the public interest, and they must pay the market price,” Son Chhay stressed. “If it was for schools or a road it would be different, but hotels? Why do we need them to build hotels when we Cambodians can do that?”

The families were offered between US$0.3 to US$2 per square metre, and Son Chhay himself was offered fifty cents. His land back then, he says was easily worth US$50 per sq metre, and now, having passed from the government-appointed Apsara Foundation to the Sokha Hotel Resort company and morphing into the luxury Angkor Resort Hotel, it’s easily worth twenty times that. After a messy, protracted fight, a third of the families managed to walk away with a figure slightly better than the original offer.

Many in Cambodia have been far less lucky. Following a violent eviction from Sambok Chap in Phnom Penh nearly a thousand families were dropped off at a field 22km from the city, with no shelter, electricity or running water – except for frequent ankle-deep floods. Now, two years later they still live in damp squalor. Other eviction victims have simply had to move on to the streets.

Perhaps more alarming is the dwindling democratic space left for Cambodians to protest in. While the government insists that Cambodia is a credible business environment, reports are on the rise of arbitrary arrests and beatings, residents being forced from their homes, and of property burned or confiscated. In Kampot province this June, eyewitnesses described a standoff between approximately 30 villagers and 100 military police; men and women were beaten unconscious and four were charged with stealing and willful damage to property (the result, say NGO reports, of a policeman’s mobile phone being grabbed, and land allotment signposts being pulled out from the ground).

In 2005 five people were shot dead during a forced eviction, as were two last November in Preah Vihear province, including the wife of a community representative. Those responsible are rarely charged. Ties remain uncomfortably tight between the ruling party and the tycoons that support it financially; it has been noted by the Asian Legal Rights Commission (ALRC) that 99% of judges in the country’s fledgling court system belong to the CPP.

Cambodia was one item on the agenda at the Human Rights Council’s Ninth session in Geneva last month and forced eviction topped many delegates’ list of concerns. “Land-grabbing is rife,” said the ALRC’s representative Michael Anthony, in his address. “In 2007 it affected more than 5,000 families who were forcibly evicted from their homes and land without just compensation. An estimated 150,000 Cambodians are currently at risk.”

The problem, says Dr Lao Mong Hay, former head of the Khmer Institute for Democracy, is how little organization there is in land ownership. After the war and Pol Pot’s four year course in intense and very bloody agrarian communism, those who had survived were given small plots of land to live from, but no title deeds. Sponsored attempts have been made to organize the land over the years but these, as Dr Lao discovered, come at a cost. “It was supposed to be free,” he says, when he went to register his own plot three years ago, “but at every step of the way, from the land officers to the registry office, a small bribe was needed, $10 here, then another $20, another $20. Then, to legalise the process it cost $70! The average Cambodian does not have that money.”

Villagers in rural areas are particularly vulnerable; whether along the south coast where the beaches are lucratively white and property has gone from $50 to $200 per square metre in the past year, or in remote rural areas, where space is snatched for logging and rubber plantations. In some cases businessmen have simply hired workmen to clear swathes of forestry land and threaten park rangers into submission. Few rural Cambodians know that they need to officially lay claim to their land and even if they did, the process is fraught with obstacles.

In Siem Reap – Cambodia’s second poorest province – an arm of the Cambodian NGO, LICADHO, tries to safeguard the rights of local farmers and residents through workshops. “They don’t really know their rights, so not many do complain,” says Sar Vannara, one of the four men in the small office, found along a dirt road near Angkor.  It’s a big job – the province has close to a million people – and it’s not the safest of vocations. When asked if they’d been threatened over the years, the group broke into gales of laughter. “Of course!” said one, on his recovery. “We are here opposing the government.”

In 2004, shortly before his re-election, Prime Minister Hun Sen declared war on land-grabbers, identifying many in his own party. Several high profile officials, including an army major, tycoons and provincial governors, were arrested or fined, and forced to return thousands of hectares of land. But little is being done to educated Cambodians on their land rights and since Hun Sen’s re-election arrests have dwindled and land continues to be cleared. “He acts as a safety valve,” says Dr Lao. “When the pressure gets too strong he’ll step in. It’s not consistent.”

According to the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) at least 70,000 people are still at risk of eviction in Phnom Penh alone, most in the government’s battle against ‘squatters’; many Cambodians have lived in the same ramshackle dwellings since the end of the war, and as Phnom Penh’s fortunes rise, they are less welcome.

Boeng Kak lake, in the north of the city, is one example. Last month bulldozers started to work among its stilted waterside houses, home to about 4,000 families, after the government leased the property to a private developer for 99 years.  The lake is to be filled in and turned into a tourism destination. Residents say they have been told little about what will become of their homes and businesses if this happens. Land laws in Cambodia state that in order for state public property to be leased it should be for a maximum of 15 years, and must keep its original function.

“If the government wishes to develop Boueng Kok Lake they should do so through a legal process,” says Dan Nicholson, Coordinator at COHRE. “The question is not just whether the level of compensation is adequate once people are forced off their land – it’s whether an eviction is justified in the first place.” Should this continue, both COHRE and Amnesty International warn that it could be the beginning of the biggest forced eviction since the Khmer Rouge lost power.

For things to change, says Dr Lao, land laws need to be respected. “Hun Sen needs to do more,” he says. “He should end the practice of using executive orders to adjudicate land disputes, and should instead utilize the due process of law. He should also cease his control of the courts of law, clean up their corruption, provide them with adequate resources and respect their judgments.”

Foreign investors, too, can make a difference, say the group at Licadho. They should ask more questions about where the land is coming from, and ask for proof that the original land owners were willing to sell.

But as Cambodia’s development continues to boom and little of the profit trickles down to Cambodians – the ones stuck in makeshift shelters on remote plots of land, or who wake each morning at home to the sound of encroaching bulldozers – Hun Sen may find it harder to ease the pressure indefinitely. “No one can rule forever,” says Son Chhay. “I have to be optimistic. Sooner or later the people will make decisions about the society they want, they will decide enough is enough. Then they will move to the streets.”