Tag Archives: Malaysia

The politics tower

Bangunan UMNO

As the name suggests, the glass-facade, 40-storey Bangunan UMNO is the headquarters of Malaysia’s largest political party, the United Malays National Organization, remaining in power since the nation birth in 1957. They lead a coalition called Barisan Nasional consisting of mainly three parties, the other two being the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), against some smaller opposition parties.

The country holds a multi-party system, but the coalition has always been enjoying landslide victories throughout time, to the extent where some, within the party, has voiced concern over the absolutism that hardly gets in check.

UMNO’s towering power

“90% majority (vote) is too strong. We need opposition to remind us if we are making mistakes. When you are not opposed you think everything you do is right,” said former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad in 2005.

Prime minister succession in his country had all come from UMNO. He was the fourth, and the longest serving.

Democratic or not, all countries have each of their own predominant political organization, but few have a party akin to Malaysia’s that could stay in power uncontested since the birth of the nation.

And among those few, none have the privilege to build a stoic headquarters 175 meters tall which is arguably the world’s tallest building that conspicuously bears the name of a political organization, not to mention the future plan to develop a super bloc PWTC KL housing luxury hotel, convention center, and a 70-storey skyscraper to mark 70 years of age for UMNO by 2020.

Opened in 1985 for mainly commercial-use, Bangunan UMNO is also called the Dato Onn Tower, named after the party founder Dato Onn Jaafar.

The Communist Party of China certainly has the land and all the resources to flaunt grandiose headquarters as they did when they came to power by building a central government office that also houses the ruling communist party office to be bigger than the Forbidden City. However, they did not come close to construct skyscrapers or a business district at the city center and put the letter CPC on top of it.

Its neighbor Indonesia was once ruled by a party whose power went uncontested for 32 years. Having had bolstered an image as the initiator of the country’s economic development, yet they did not construct Golkar Tower whatsoever. Instead, their new office complex showcases an interesting design.

But there are similar instances elsewhere to compare.

High-rise party headquarters

Ušće Tower, built in 1964, remained the tallest building in Serbian capital Belgrade to date. It was home to the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, the country’s communist party. Its supreme political status made it an airstrike target by NATO forces during the Balkan crisis in the late 90’s, despite of no strategic value. Several years later it underwent a revamp to add a shopping mall, thus restored the prime sense of modernity at the city center.

Named also after a leading political figure, Metzudat Ze’ev is an example of a high-rise office for political party in Israel, Likud. Ze’ev Jabotinsky was central in the 60’s Revisionist Zionism, a movement that sees a unified territory of Israel as opposed to the Arab-Jewish States of Palestine. Among the tallest building in 1963 at 60 meters high, it is now one of the oldest buildings in Tel Aviv, and remained a home for Likud-affiliated movement centers, institute, and museums, while the rest other space leased for private businesses.

Too high to afford

In the same year, London also saw the completion of Millbank Tower, an 118 meters building that housed the countries’ Labour and Conservative parties, although this was merely coincidental. The general function for office use subjected the parties to rents which steadily rises to the point where Labour party decided to vacate its headquarters a decade ago due to high annual rents. The United Nations soon followed suit.

In 2013, the ruling political party in Uganda constructed a 27-floor tower to house the National Resistance Movement headquarters in the capital Kampala. The ruling president helped raise funds to build the USD12.5 million Movement House by a hundred thousand of party members donation, and other means he initiated. It will become a mixed-use high-rise structure accommodating retail space, financial, office, and other leisure amenities.

Morning cruise in the Strait of Malacca

V4 Nov 2013The morning sea view from the highest deck of Italian mega ship Costa Atlantica cruising the Strait of Malacca graced the cover of the fourth international edition of think archipelago magazine, November 2014. Here are several photographs on board of the ship that was not found in the article Night at the cruise ship. Now we publish it online for the first time.


Costa Atlantica viewing deck

Costa Atlantica viewing deck

Costa Atlantica stern deck

Sunrise in Malacca Strait

Costa Atlantica cruise upper deck

Costa Atlantica cruise upper deck

Night at the cruise ship

Costa Atlantica deck at night

Costa Atlantica deck's bar
Recently boarded passengers chat at one of the deck’s bars.

A few men isolated themselves on the deck of Costa Atlantica from over 2,500 passengers, most of which have just boarded the ship two hours prior to departure.

A small group remained stuck in the crammed lobby to get through time-consuming but necessary boarding arrangements. Most others had started discovering every interior part of the lavishly decorated ships.

Many stayed in their rooms to get a break from the mass tourist.

On the deck, the gathering place at the top level of the ship where only very few people have had the thought to look at, the peace in vacation was found.

Minutes of departure

Under the dark sky and facing dark seas, people did not notice that the ship had just departed the Marina Bay Cruise Centre Singapore. The main engine was hardly heard or felt. Their conversation was louder than the sound of waves.

Costa Atlantica viewing deck at night
Work hour: A crew member walks past the panorama deck as the ship begins the 5-day itineraries across three Southeast Asian countries.

Costa Atlantica picked Singapore as the port of origin in one of its cruise line maiden journeys in Southeast Asia.

In the late evening that does not differ much in temperature than in daylight, it set sail to two cities along the Strait of Malacca—the city of Malacca, Penang—and ended its journey in Phuket Island.

The visit to three ports and return trip southward to Singapore took five days to complete. The Strait of Malacca was barely challenging, as calm waters and windless days remained so for the entire vacation on board.

Crew members were on duty the entire day and they made up around a third of the total number of passengers.

Costa Atlantica lobby
Cruise staff seemed leisuring in the glitzy lobby. “Cruising in Italian Style” makes them able to mix professional on-duty hours with relaxing attitude.

Money spenders of Asia

Due to the economic slowdown in the western continents, cruise business activities have shifted to the east. People in the region with curiosity for the experience and cash are more than willing to fill the vacant rooms.

Thus, Costa Cruises Group operate their Asian cruise lines from Shanghai Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal. They become the pioneer in international cruise lines making Asia as homeport.

People in the region now can take a cruise vacation without having to fly to European ports beforehand.

Nonetheless, this is still a luxury vacation, yet at a relatively affordable rate considering the cost the Asian riches had to pay to get such a holiday at the time when cruise lines operations were concentrated in far-flung regions.

Costa Atlantica at the Strait of Malacca
New business frontier: Costa Atlantica sails off the Strait of Malacca.

The ship looked empty on day as most passengers disembarked to quick visits at one of the ports of destination along the Strait of Malacca.

Cruise journeys benefit the coastal cities situated along the course. Money spenders of Asia make the tourism and hospitality businesses all the more promising.

Budget flights and hotels gain a strong foothold in Asia. The ship garners some success in its new venture in Asian territories due to the operator’s ability to align themselves with Asian behavior in terms of meticulousness in leisure spending.

Tiziano Restaurant of Costa Atlantica
Dining at Tiziano Restaurant of Costa Atlantica

Cruise dining

At one section of the cruise, Tiziano Restaurant offers not only fine dining experience and exquisite interior lightings, but also a pleasant surprise by the well-clad waitresses who show a love of Italian rhythm and melodies.

More than just a gastronomic indulgence, Italian culinary feast on an Italian cruise is a mixture of delightful taste and vacation life style. This is a culture that celebrates every bite of food, every musical note, and each colorful moment in life.

To see more photographs of Costa Atlantica, go to Morning cruise in the strait of Malacca.

Chinese Chamber of Commerce office George Town

Chinese Chamber of Commerce, George Town
On one hand, preserving old building brings a big return from tourism sector. Yet conservation cost aside, it actually pays a hefty price in the land scarcity needed to make way for economic development of bigger size and population. Is it worth it?

Chinese Chamber of Commerce’s branch office in Penang, Malaysia, dated back in 1928, at the decline of Qing dynasty and the rise of Nationalist movement in China, is one of the examples of Chinese preserved buildings overseas.

More than just protecting the site amid the modernisation—as seen across the block—conservation of such buildings in Penang, is a guarantee for indefinite time.

Penang has also preserved a number of Chinese ancestral temples.

This is an extraordinary commitment considering that keeping old buildings is inefficient as low-density offices cost space. Especially in a town that sits on a small island, separated by a strait from the rest of the country, space is extremely limited.

What the commerce says about conservation

High-rise buildings have in the past few decades slowly scraping the skies of Penang, keeping up with demand for space. But supplying office space within these low-density old buildings deserves a praise.

This is part of the solution to ensure continuous growth for commercial and tourism sector, although economic gains to land value ratio does not look too good.

In Singapore, for instance, the policy favors land reclamation, while the city administration in Jakarta compromises the protection of heritage sites for the sake of supplying new, high-density office spaces. In many ways, however, it is hardly that each cases be compared.

Remember ancestors

Chinese ancestral temple in Penang
Chinese settlers brought together with them the complete set of culture, not least this type of structure, rich in decoration and well-conserved.

The annual Chap Go Meh festival this year and the Hakka festival that follows a week later sparked the old tale of Chinese settlers in this small island that now became one of Malaysia’s attractive tourist destination.

For all its heritage, George Town depends on its ubiquitous, well-preserved old buildings to present a “Truly Asia” experience, a tourism jargon created by its host country, Malaysia.

Some of the epic buildings were inherited from the past British administration, located near the main harbor, but Chinese architecture dominates the greater part of the town. An outstanding example would be the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.

Chinese ancestral temples are found scattered across the old parts of George Town, the very heart of it. It is note-worthy that not only the municipality protects these buildings for its historical value, the Malaysian of Chinese descents also care for each of their memorial center, keeping the tradition of paying homage to the past generations.

A couple of elderly in one of these temples are responsible to keep it clean. There is an office for them on the first floor where they occasionally welcomed relatives from other countries.

Chinese ancestral temple in Penang
Chinese Ancestral temples are usually managed collectively by the same group of family or people with the same specific places of origin.

George Town

George Town

For all its heritage, George Town depends on its ubiquitous, well-preserved old buildings to present a “Truly Asia” experience, a tourism jargon created by its host country, Malaysia. Some of the epic buildings were inherited from the past British administration, located near the main harbor, but Chinese architecture dominates the greater part of the town.

Malaysia cashes in from their tourism sector through basic steps of optimising what they have best to offer: nature and history. In the case of George Town, no less popularly called Penang, the government could foresee the incoming of foreigners from closer region if they could improve the general quality of infrastructure compared to the neighboring countries.

The sidewalks are narrow and not in their prime conditions like what other major sightseeings are supposed to be, but they are in relatively good shape, providing the basic infrastructure for a tourism city.

The cost for conservation

Colonial buildings are typical to any other places in Southeast Asia, as these countries share similar past of western colonisation. But simply maintaining conservation has paid off. It costs considerable taxpayers money, but the reward for the citizen and the country’s image as a whole outweighs the small sacrifice.