Education About Asia: Online Archives

Mini Dragons II

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(Pt. 1) Indonesia

(Pt.2) Malaysia

(Pt.3) Thailand




Three Southeast Asian countries with high rates of economic growth over the last decade, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, are the subjects of this series originally aired on television in one-hour segments. The filmmakers were concerned to show the trade-offs of rapid development in this region where industrialization, an expanding middle class, and higher incomes for many families have led to environmental deterioration, human displacement, and other social ills.

Most successful at achieving a balanced view of these tradeoffs are the films on Thailand and Malaysia. These introduce us to people who represent a cross-section of two variegated societies: a feminist, Islamic labor organizer; a middle-class manager of a rubber plantation and his wife who opens a bakery; a Murut community of slash and burn cultivators in Sabah ravaged by logging; a fabulously wealthy Chinese family in Bangkok that is building a new shopping mall; a confrontational monk who agitates and preaches to save the forest; and a poor couple who leave their children behind in a rural village and move to a squalid slum in Bangkok near the docks where they labor.

In contrast, the Indonesia film shows mostly the bright side of economic growth and spends a great deal of time following men who are not only wealthy but at the very pinnacle of power in that country. The poor, the transmigrants, the environmental wasteland around the Freeport mine, the depletion of forests, the congestion of Jakarta— none of this enters the glowing picture. The very silences and omissions in this segment, however, hint at another significant cost of economic development in Asia, where the openness of democratic political process has often been sacrificed or postponed in order to give the state the power to engineer economic growth. This series is useful for teachers of high school or university undergraduate students. Narrated in English, with multiple languages and English subtitles, it is a rich stimulus for classroom discussion. When combined with readings that fill the silences in the Indonesian segment and that contextualize the life stories depicted in the other two segments, these films can also reveal the region’s religious and ethnic diversity, suggest how women’s roles and work opportunities are changing, and how post-colonial nationalism fuels leaders’ keen ambitions to catch up with the West economically.