Leica ad draws heat in China for a photo shot by a Nikon

The advertisement below is dramatic to say the least. It depicts how journalists risk their lives to bring us the images that will change the world.

One of the most iconic images in the world is one shot in Tiananmen  Square on June 4 1989 when a lone man carrying shopping bags stopped a column of tanks by standing in their way. It came to stand for the students defiance against an authoritarian regime and was dubbed the Tank Man.

tank man

Leica released an advertisement last week telling a story of what it must have been like for the journalist who took the photograph. All powerful stuff and expertly shot and quickly drew the ire of the Chinese Government and other Chinese.

The Tiananmen Incident remains till today one of the most sensitive issues in Chinese society. The Govenment has banned all mention of the incident. Other Chinese, however, have hailed the ad as something that needs to be said. Still other point out that by airing the ad, Leica is jeopardizing Huawei in a sensitive time, because Huawei uses Leica lenses in its handphones.

Leica has since disowned the ad, saying that it was unsanctioned by Leica and it was the fault of the agency that produced it for loading it onto the net. Yeah.

The political fallout is one thing but what strikes Unspun as ridiculous is that the journalist depicted were almost certainly using Nikons than Leicas. There were actually four journalists that managed to snap photos of the tank man.

Three of them told The New York Times that they were using Nikons. The fourth did not say but there is no evidence he used a Leica.

So you decide whether the Leica ad was a good ad that spoke truth to power, an ad where poetic licence was more important than facts, or a needless provocation of the Chinese Government and some of the Chinese?



Petungkriyono is a forest reserve about three hours drive south of Pekalongan in Central Java. The distance is not that great but like many other places the road there is narrow and potholed, prolonging the journey that would take about a third of the time if it was serviced by good roads.

It’s actually adjacent to the better known Dieng Plateau, so the vegetation there is thick, the weather when we were there in July wet and fairly cool. The area is about 7,000 hectares and houses several villages.


The Pekalongan government is trying to turn this area into a tourist destination. This means that if you love nature, go there before things get spoilt.

The main attraction, apart from the flora and fauna seems to be the Welo River where you can go river tubing. The concept sounds more attractive and fun than it actually is.

A group of us tried it and we were taken to a part of the river where we were to begin our journey. We were given helmets, arm pads and knee pads that looked like arm pads. We then got on rubber tubes and off we went shooting the rapids – for about 20 meters.

Then we had to disembark, get off and walk to the next stretch where we would get a 10 or 15 meter ride down the tube. It was a bit dangerous. We had to walk and jump from one section to another barefoot and the tubes are anything but stable so overturning in tricky sections were inevitable.


The organisers were all well meaning and caring but their idea of safety isn’t the highest by international standards so you could imagine if someone overturned and, in a panic, kept holding on to the tube. They would have been dragged by the strong current. Once when I overturned I hit my head against a rock. Luckily I had a helmet, and a hard head.


Still, it ended well and it was fun although I’d not recommend it for the less intrepid.



Other than that the best part of the trip was to wind down the car windows and enjoy the scenery as we passed by rice terraces cut into the hills, rivers swollen and angry from the recent rains.



The other attractions included watching the power of the river expressing itself as a raging waterfall at Curug Bajing (Squirrel’s Waterfall).


Leaving Petungkriyono you get to pass through small towns with their market days.


And when you leave Pekalongan for Jakarta you are always treated with views of fields of paddy and other crops





Had a spare day after a business trip to Munich in July so took the train to Dachau, the Nazi’s first concentration camp located about 10km outside of the city.

It was opened in 1933 by Heinrich Himmler and meant to house political prisoners but quickly became a catch all for everyone the Nazis couldn’t tolerate – Jews, monosexuals, foreigners,  even German and Austrian criminals.

There must have been so much sorrow and sadness played out there but when I visited I found the place impeccably restored but clinical, like so much of Bavaria.

It did not help that it was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, it was cool and cottony clouds floated across the blue sky. I could not help wondering what the inmates must have thought, the irony they savoured, on such a beautiful day when imprisoned in Dachau, a place specially designed to strip them of their dignity.

Entrance to Dachau. A railway ended near here to unload the prisoners
The iron gate into Dachau with the slogan “Work Will Set You Free”. The Nazis excelled in mocking and insulting their prisoners.
Inside Dachau are pictorial and text displays of the rise of the Nazis and their programme to establish Concentration and Extermination camps after Dachau
Another irony. While stripping the wall of paint, the restorers found the original paintwork where a “no smoking sign” was prominently painted on the wall. Many of the prisoners would be killed within a short time so this admonition seemed pointless and mocking.
This is where the prisoners were brought en masse to shower.
A scale model of Dachau, outside the window is a sculpture that is part of the International Monument
A sculpture in the Dachau Museum
A view of the barracks at Dachau
Another view of the barracks
The Jewish Monument at Dachau

Office trip to Belitung

Our office recently went on an outing to Belitung, an island off the east coast of South Sumatra made famous by the film Laska Pelangi.

Our first stop was Tanjung Pandang Beach, a recreational stretch that had nothing remarkable except that it faced west and therefore was a place to watch the sunset.

So we did what all good Indonesian groups do, which is to take lots of group photos and selfies.


There was also the “it’s good to be Boss photo” designed to show me up as a beacon of collected calm in a sea of jumping staff members.


Others ventured to become amateur photographers and models for their portfolios and Instagram accounts.


The next day was games day where we went on boats to the surrounding islands, mainly Pulau Lengkuas. They all had the characteristic of having huge rocks sitting on white sand or clear sea.



Some of them even came complete with their own spume of cloud to crown what, to the creatively minded, must be a lingam of Belitung


The island was, however, beautiful.


And studded with a lighthouse from Dutch days


In between the games and activities we had we managed to see a bit of Belitung, which is on the surface a rather dull town with unremarkable modern buildings  that belie its rich tin-mining past.

But there are glimpses such as this old Dutch house


Or this colonial building that the neighbours couldn’t tell what it was built for.


There was also a temple, the Hock Tek Che temple near the market that hinted on the Chinese ethnic groups that coalesced around mining towns in Indonesia and Malaysia. Apparently the largest groups are the Hakkas, the Haines and the Hokkiens.


There were also a few shops, again near the market, that echoes traditional trades of the Straits Chinese like this rattan shop.


There was also little recreation in the town. No cinemas or Karaokes that we should see, a small shopping mall that you covered in 10 minutes. Much of the entertainment seemed to centre around drinking coffee at the beach and at coffee shops.

Among the coffee shops Kong Djie stands out as the  top hang out spot. There are three outlets, one by the beach, a relatively hip one near a restaurant and ole-olen complex and the original one in town.

When we were there Isyak, the sen of the founder was minding the till and occasionally making the coffee.


He’s a sport though and allowed one of our colleagues to play barista for the afternoon.


Back at our hotel, called the Bahamas Resort (why do they name one exotic tropical beach destination with another) it was time to chill out and bond as an office. We were treated to the great sunsets Belitung offers.



The scene changed with the tide went out.


Two other attractions that Belitung has is the Blue Lake, so called because the kaolin mined in the depleted time mine has given the water a bluish tint.


And of course, there was the famous beach (I forgot the name) where Laskar Pelangi was shot, still. clear waters punctuated by time rounded boulders.


Visually immersed at the Argos in Cappadocia

Unspun‘s been in many hotels, even the ones he can’t afford. Usually he and a few of his cheapskate friends would go there for tea and ask to see the rooms. The Aman and other resorts and fallen prey to such cheapskatery.

But of all the hotels Unspun’s seen none has been so captivating and enchanting as the Argos in Cappadocia.

On a recent trip to Turkey the Unspuns and extended family members stayed at the Argos and it was simply the best hotel ever that Unspun’s lived in, let alone seen.

The Argos whispered of understated elegance, simplicity and elegance combined with an attention to detail that leaves you visually sated.

The Argos is located in Uchisar, a village in Capadocia that is known for its fairy chimneys and moonscape-like terrain, caused by wind erosion over thousands of years. The volcanic rock was also easy to dig into and for thousands of years, until recently, Hittites, Christians and Cappadocians have been hewing cave houses in the rocks.

Uchisar is a charming village with a couple of mosques, a plaza of sorts and topped by a huge rock called The Castle. The Argos is on the side of Uchisar that overlooks a volcanic mountain Mt Erciyes and Pigeon Valley.

If you are an amateur photographer like Unspun, you begin to get visually stimulated as you approach the Argos via a cobbled street among rustic looking houses. At the entrance to the reception vibrant yellow pumpkins lines the stairs and inside the decor of antiques, wooden floors and spacious yet cozy layout.

Our rooms were on the opposite side of the cobbled road. You enter through an old women door. A small antique window is on your left, you go up the stairs and you see a courtyard. On one side is a table of six inside a pergola. Drying corn cobs are hung from its arches.

Outside are a couple of rattan recliners, a huge sofa with brightly colored cushions and a small square fountain.

Go up again and there is another courtyard that overlooks Pigeon Valley and its many fairy chimneys. Our room was there. On entering the room you see the double bed in an alcoves cut into the mountain wall.

A corridor leads you to a sitting room with a view of Pigeon Valley and the courtyard below. Next to it is a bathroom, also hewn into the mountain face that makes you feel like you want to shower till you look like a prune.

When you walk around the hotel you are constantly surprised at virtually every corner with little touches – drying twigs piled on rocks here, small bunches of potted plants there, old horseshoes nailed to another wall, a burst of red flowers in volcanic rock pots elsewhere.

Then there is the patio where you have your breakfast. Being summer, the weather was perfect. Every morning there we would sit in the patio with Pigeon Valley laid out before us.

They would serve a Turkish breakfast – olives, tomatoes, cucumber, simit (a kind of bread), cheeses, jams. Then would come the omelets, coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice…you get the idea. And all the while there is this heartbreakingly beautiful scenery drenched in sunlight before you.

Pigeon Valley is also where you can go hot air ballooning. A hot air balloon trip starts at 4.30am when a driver picks you up from the hotel and takes you to their office where you have – surprise – a Turkish Breakfast (although not as good as the one at the Argos) before putting you on a balloon.

At just about when the sun rises, your balloon takes off – together with what seems a hundred or more of them. The tourism in Turkey is so hot, any destination attracts thousands of tourists at any one time.

Ballooning in that area is particularly a treat because the balloons hover over the moonscape like terrain and dip into the valleys, all alit in the glow of sunrise.

After that we couldn’t wait to get back to the Argos again, just to immerse ourselves in it earthy aesthetics and to discover new nooks and corners that continue to surprise the eyes.

Asia’s top 20 progressives?

World Business names Singapore’s Mr Brown and Malaysia’s Raja Petra Kamarudin, as well as former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad and present Indonesian President SBY as among Asia’s top 20 most progressive. Let’s see what you make of the list yourself.

Top 20 Asian Progressives, World Business magazine, May 2007
1 – Hu Jintao, the eighth General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and China’s paramount leader and president
2 – Raja Petra Kamarudin, founder of the Malaysia Today website
3 – Lou Jiwei, head of China’s investment agency
4 – Narayana Murthy, founder of Indian IT services firm Infosys
5 – Nguyen Tan Dung, prime minister of Vietnam
6 – Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank in India, which provides micro-credit loans to the poor
7 – Mahathir Mohamad, former prime minister of Malaysia
8 – Li Ka Shing, Hong-Kong founder of conglomerate Cheung Kong Holdings which embraces businesses including ports, telecommunications and electricity generation, operates in 54 countries and employs 220,000 people
9 – Jaime Augusto Zobel De Ayala, head of the Ayala Group, one of the Philippines’ biggest business groups
10 – Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, founder of a string of businesses in Malaysia embracing property, hotels, power stations, rubber plantations, banking, retailing and construction and a charity foundation which has poured millions into building mosques, schools and hospitals
11 – Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, president of Indonesia
12 – Ratan Tata, head of the Tata Group, a family business based in India which is becoming global with businesses ranging from steel to cars to IT services
13 – Warren Lichtenstein, activist investor and founder of Steel Partners, a New York-based hedge fund
14 – Mahesh, Ajay and Sharad Amalean, founders of Sri-Lankan-based apparel maker, MAS Holdings
15 – Jaruvan Maintaka, auditor general, Thailand
16 – Lee Kin Mun (alias Mr Brown), founder of Singapore’s social and political commentary website, http://www.mrbrown.com which averages 20,000 downloads per day
17 – Zeti Akhtar Aziz, governor of Malaysia’s central bank
18 – Tarisa Watanagase, the first female governor of the Bank of Thailand
19 – David Webb, Hong-Kong based founder of one of the best global websites devoted to corporate governance, http://www.webb-site.com
20 – Pushpa Kamal Dahal (alias Prachanda), leader of the Maoist Communist party of Nepal

Worth visiting: Losari

Spent the weekend with the office in Maverick’s Annual Outing in Losari Coffee Plantation Resort and Spa and thoroughly enjoyed the place. Being with colleagues that one likes enhanced the pleasure.

Situated in central Java between Magelang and Semarang, the Losari resort is just one of those places that are worth going to and restores your faith that things can be beautiful in Indonesia in spite of the dump that is Jakarta. Unspun’s impressions from Losari: