Asian Insider

More blue skies, less plastic and no school shootings: What ST foreign correspondents want for 2023

The past year has been a tumultuous one, with the Covid-19 pandemic showing little sign of going away and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine triggering a food and fuel crisis worldwide. Here are The Straits Times foreign correspondents’ hopes and wishes for a better 2023.

A more compassionate America leading the world

Every weekday morning outside my window close to downtown Washington, DC comes a reminder that there is a lot to wish for – kindergarteners walking by in a straggling, unsteady little line, their small hands resolutely grasping a rope that connects them, their little faces scrunched up with concentration and confusion, with one adult leading and another bringing up the rear.

This being the United States of America, my first wish is that there should be no school shootings in 2023 – or ever.

For that, sweeping reforms are needed, in gun control and in mental health. They will probably not get done in any way significant enough to make a difference; yet one must never cease to hope.  


Time to heal and move on from tragic Itaewon crush

Ppalli ppalli. This Korean term that literally means “fast fast” can be heard anytime, anywhere in South Korea.

In a competitive country where no one likes to wait, there is always silent social pressure to get things done in the shortest time possible.  

Some people push and shove to get ahead, which contributed to the disastrous Oct 29 crowd crush in Seoul’s clubbing district Itaewon that claimed 158 lives.


Think hard about plastic, take Thai efforts further

Thailand started 2020 with a ban on single-use plastic. In the burst of enthusiasm that followed, people turned up at convenience stores with fishing nets, buckets or even wheelbarrows to cart away their purchases.

Mariam, the orphaned baby dugong turned national darling, had died just months earlier. The marine mammal had ingested plastic that clogged her stomach.

All that is a distant memory in 2022, after the Covid-19 pandemic turned plastic into a byword for hygiene.


Protect Indonesia’s Komodo dragons, punish the slayers

Responsible, enlightened wildlife tourists, and hefty fines for the rest – that’s my wish for 2023.

As a huge animal lover, seeing wildlife in their natural habitats is always a treat.

On one of my many treks to national parks, a Sumatran orangutan trotted out its entire family, suckling babies and all. On another trek, the elusive Javan rhino would show only its footprint.


Fewer traffic jams, trolls and price hikes in the Philippines

The past year was one crazy ride for the Philippines. The fraught May general election left behind a deeply divided country, with scars to last a lifetime for many of us.

It meant an existential crisis for the Philippine media. It turns out, a significant number of my countrymen would rather believe the trolls than the good ol’ honest work of journalists countering all the lies on the internet.

But hey, the worst time to be a journalist is also the best time to be a journalist. So, we’re here to stay, no matter what @user123456789 may say about us.


The right kind of development that Malaysia needs

As at Dec 21, about 70,000 people have been displaced in Malaysia’s now customary year-end floods, with five dead.

Tragic as it may be, it is trumped by Dec 16 landslide near Genting Highlands, which has claimed 31 lives with seven still missing.

And yet, we build more roads through our forests and allow more land to be cleared in the name of development.


Put politics, face aside to deal with Covid-19, China

Under China’s now defunct zero-Covid policy, the Chinese have had the best and the worst of times in the pandemic.

For much of 2021, as Covid-19 raged on around the globe, those of us in China were blissfully ensconced in a giant bubble where, even if you tried, you couldn’t catch the virus because it was so elusive.

But at its worst moments, the policy - aimed at snuffing out any flare-up in the most expedient manner - compelled officials up and down the ranks to over-enforce what had become an ideology, where science and logic were no longer factored into the equation.


Longing for clear blue skies amid India’s pollution woes

As I stare out of the window of my home in Gurgaon, a Delhi satellite city, all I see is a thick blanket of smog.

I wish for clear blue skies.

The air quality, particularly in winter, is usually multiple times over the safe limit of 40 microgrammes per cubic metre for PM2.5. PM 2.5 are tiny particles of less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter that cause throat and lung irritation and coughing among other health issues on prolonged exposure.


‘Quality’ tourism wanted as travellers return to Japan

With the surge of tourists returning to Japan expected to continue in 2023 and beyond, long-term residents like myself can only wish for “quality travellers” who are more respectful of local customs and mindful of social etiquette.

Some visitors may plead ignorance – “nobody told me so” – but that is a sorry excuse for not educating oneself on the sensitivities that are key to the concept of harmony that is an important aspect of Japanese culture.

Bad behaviour by tourists had, in 2019 when Japan welcomed a record 31.8 million visitors, led some tourist sites and restaurants to impose rules – or even a complete ban – on foreigner visits. 


Let others learn, Taiwan’s not just a geopolitical flashpoint

Mention Taiwan these days and people often talk about it in the context of war.

“Are you sure you want to move there? Isn’t it dangerous?” people would always ask me when I first accepted this job.

Obviously, I hope that there will always be peace in the Taiwan Strait, but my other hope is that Taiwan can be discussed beyond it being a major geopolitical flashpoint.


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