Hundreds gather at giant Buddha statue in Vietnam for Vesak day

Hundreds of Buddhist worshippers flock to a giant Buddha statue in Vietnam this weekend for Vesak Day to celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. When it is completed in three to four years time, the monument will be the largest effigy of Buddha in all of Southeast Asia.

Thailand marijuana festival has visitors on a high

As Thailand became the first in Southeast Asia to legalise marijuana for medical use last year, many Thais are drawn to a northeastern town for its debut weed festival as excitement builds over a medical marijuana boom worth billions. The “Pan Buriram” (Buriram Strain) festival coincided with the annual “4/20” date celebrated by marijuana users globally.

Swastikas and statues, SE Asia’s fixation with Nazi iconography

As Europe battles a surge in anti-Semitism, including the desecration of graves in France, Southeast Asia is wrestling with a lack of understanding about the provenance of Nazi paraphernalia that casually creeps into public spaces.

Why Bird’s Nest Soup Is So Expensive | So Expensive

Bird’s nest soup is a delicacy in Asia made from the dissolved nests of swiftlets, a small bird native to Southeast Asia. A bowl of bird’s nest soup can cost more than $100 at some restaurants, due to growing demand and a limited number of wild birds. The soup is popular in China, where it’s believed to have healing properties. We stopped by the Oriental Garden in NYC’s Chinatown to taste it for ourselves.

Following is a transcript of the video:

Narrator: Bird nest soup. It’s a gelatinous mixture, made from, you guessed it, bird nests. You can find it on the menu at certain Chinese restaurants like at Oriental Garden, here in New York City. But it’ll cost you.

Cici: For one person it costs $32.95, and for four people it costs $128.

Abby: And that’s normal pricing?

Cici: Yeah, that’s totally normal.

Abby: Wow.

Narrator: So, what makes it so expensive? People in China have been eating bird nests for more than a thousand years. It’s believed to have near magical properties, from curing cancer to helping children grow taller.

And the main ingredient? The partially dissolved nest of a swiftlet, a small bird native to Southeast Asia. Three times a year, swiftlets build nests out of their sticky saliva on cave walls and cliff sides, where they raise their young. It’s the high cost of these saliva nests that makes bird’s nest soup so expensive.

Here in New York City’s Chinatown, for example, a couple dozen were selling for more than a thousand dollars.

Until recently, the most common way of getting the nests was by harvesting them from the wild.

Creighton: There are many dangers involved in harvesting nests from caves. They would climb up without really any safety nets or harnesses, that kind of thing, and just try and extract the nests from the cave wall, and they’d be, in some cases, many stories up.

Narrator: But for many, the risk was worth the reward.

Creighton: Harvesters would often try and collect as many nests as they could, regardless of whether they were fully formed, and they would just take them repeatedly.

Narrator: In some regions, swiftlets couldn’t compete with the rate of harvest, and so their populations plummeted. Between 1957 and 1997, the number of swiftlets declined by as much as 88% in parts of Southeast Asia, largely due to over-harvesting. And as a result, the price of bird’s nests skyrocketed.

Creighton: The price for bird nests, I would say, peaked in around the early 1990s.

Narrator: Around that time, nests were selling for up to $1,000 a pound. Adjusting for inflation, that would be around $2,000 today. Those high prices earned bird nests the title “Caviar of the East.”

And they also fueled a new industry. You could call it hospitality.

Scores of people across Southeast Asia looking to cash in on the bird nest trade started investing in swiftlet hotels.

Creighton: People just found that if there was a vacant building or, say, the upper story of a building was uninhabited, then swiftlets would make their way inside, and they would start just using the buildings as their nesting sites. Then these rumors kind of emerged over time about how much money you could make swiftlet farming really overnight.

Narrator: And they weren’t just rumors. In Myanmar, for example, swiftlet hotels can bring in at least $6,000 a year, while the average annual income is just over $1,100. And the more swiftlets you draw in, the more money you make. 

George: According to locals, in order to successfully farm for the bird’s nests, there are a few factors involved.

Factor one: The locals believe that abundance is related to charity. The more charitable and kind they are to the community, the more the birds will come to build nests in their houses.

Factor two: technology. To attract the swiftlets to build nests, the house keepers have to employ the right technology using speakers to continuously broadcast the correct frequency of the chirping swiftlets at the optimum volume.

Factor three: they believe in showing care and concern to the swiftlets. They will be careful not to harvest the nests if there are eggs in the nests.

Narrator: In the last few decades, the swiftlet farming industry has exploded. From 1998 to 2013, the estimated number of swiftlet hotels grew from 900 to 60,000 in Malaysia alone. But while this increased supply, it didn’t exactly slash the price. That’s because in the last couple of decades or so, demand has also increased.


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Why Bird’s Nest Soup Is So Expensive | So Expensive

Why Dragon Fish Are So Expensive | So Expensive

Dragon fish, or Asian arowana, are some of the most expensive pet fish in the world. It often sells for tens of thousands of dollars, and one was rumored to have sold for $300,000 in 2009. The fish is highly coveted for the red and gold colors, and new color variations that it has been bred for. Emily Voigt, author of The Dragon Behind The Glass, talks about the peculiarities of the arowana trade.


#DragonFish #BusinessInsider #SoExpensive

Following is a transcript of the video:

Narrator: What would you rather have, a new car, or this fish? Turns out they cost around the same. A single dragon fish can go for tens of thousands of dollars. So, what’s so special about it? Well, it might not look it, but this endangered fish is so coveted, people have actually gone to prison over it.The dragon fish gets its nickname for how it resembles a dragon in flight as it swims. However, its real name is the Asian arowana. It’s a freshwater fish native to Southeast Asia, and it has taken the aquarium market by storm. Today, these fish are so prized that some have their own motorcades, and breeders protect their stock with layers of concrete walls, complete with guard dogs and watchmen. There’s even a market for cosmetic surgery to help subpar fish who need eye lifts or chin tucks. And that may sound like overkill, but it’s really not.

Emily Voigt: It’s a very valuable commodity, and that had driven a tremendous amount of crime around the areas where it’s bred.

Narrator: That’s Emily Voigt, who explores this world for her book, “The Dragon Behind the Glass.” We’re talking murder and midnight fish-napping. This wasn’t always the case, however.Up until the second half of the 20th century, these fish weren’t flaunted. They were fileted and eaten by locals. Then, in 1967, an aquarium trader traveling through northern Malaysia saw a dead arowana at a food market and found it so attractive that he sought one out to keep as a pet. By the 1980s, arowanas had turned up in Taiwan, and eventually people all over Asia wanted one. In particular, the red and gold varieties of arowana came to symbolize luck and wealth in several Asian cultures.

Voigt: All that has led to a whole mythology about the fish. It’s supposed to bring good luck and prosperity, even to jump out of its tank to save its owner.

Narrator: Nowadays, breeding for new color combinations is all the rage. Like this fish, called the chili red, which you can get for around $1,400 each. Or the emerald violet fusion super red, which goes for about $12,000 each. But no fish is more rare and valuable than the albino. In 2009, one of these supposedly set a record, selling for $300,000 to an anonymous high ranking official in the Chinese government. In fact, most people who buy dragon fish are middle-class Chinese men, who’ll collect the fish as a status symbol.

Voigt: So keeping this fish is very much a macho hobby. There’s not a lot of women that do it. And it’s almost like collecting cars or something like that.

Narrator: So in the mid-90s, when dragon fish were successfully bred in captivity on certified farms, it was a big deal, because they were becoming rare in the wild due to overfishing and harvesting for the pet trade. Since then, more demand has led to breeding operations all over Southeast Asia. And while it’s perfectly legal to buy a dragon fish in the area, it may not be in other non-Asian countries. In the US, for example, you can only find the Asian arowana on the black market. And in fact, you can’t bring it into the country legally, because it’s banned by the US Endangered Species Act. People have actually gone to prison for trafficking this fish. So if you have an itch to have a dragon-like pet, maybe you should stick to something safer, like bearded dragons.


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Why Dragon Fish Are So Expensive | So Expensive

Nobu’s Sushi Secret That Makes It Healthier

Nobu Matsuhisa is the owner of Nobu Restaurants and Hotels and author of “Nobu: A Memoir”. Here, he shares the secret that makes his sushi special. 

Nobu Matsuhisa: Sushi rice is — make the steamed rice, put the rice vinegars, and the salt, and … used to be I use the sugar, but we don’t use the sugars anymore.

I’m Nobu Matsuhisa, owner of Nobu Restaurants Group and Hotels.

Most sushi rice uses sugar, rice vinegar, and salt, and the sweet sake. But maybe since last year, I started using, called monk fruits. Because this is a no sugar, no calorie, but they’re still sweet. Because it’s more healthy. You know, people, especially the New York people are looking for the more healthy food.

Monk fruit is native to Southeast Asia

Companies like Splenda have started making monk fruit sweeteners

This is very new. It’s very new. And a lot of people don’t know the monk fruits yet. But I started to introduce these monk fruits all over the world.

How to make the sushi rice is — we wash like five or six times, rinse. Then after finish, after five or six times and strainers, they cut all the water. Maybe keep that half an hour.

Then put it in the rice cookers. So, means five cups rice, so five cups water. The same amount. And this is the perfect way to make the sushi rice.

Maybe for the sushi rice, using monk fruits, maybe I am first, so far.


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Today in History for December 26th

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A tsunami kills more than 200-thousand people is Southeast Asia; Six-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey is found beaten to death; Winston Churchill addresses joint session of Congress; Presidents Truman and Ford die. (Dec. 26)

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