The Globe as you know it is changing. Coming June 2019

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To understand more about why you are so important to our member support initiative, we encourage you to read the following from our managing editor ~ Read more

The Globe as you know it is changing.

Since 2007, Southeast Asia Globe has been a space for some of the region’s best writers and photographers to take our readers behind the headlines into the stories that shape people’s lives. Every month, you could expect to pick up our latest print edition and find high-quality journalism, analysis and artwork waiting on every page. And since 2007, we’ve fought to uphold our promise of quality and independence to you, our readers.

But, like we said, the world is changing. Print publications just aren’t reaching the audiences they need to fulfil their promise of informing, educating and entertaining the public. Advertisers continue to invest in digital platforms while printing costs creep ever higher. Print may not be dead, but it’s fighting for its life. And we’re tired of waiting by a sickbed for its condition to improve. We want to be present at the birth of something new.

That’s why Southeast Asia Globe is relaunching as a member-driven platform featuring daily long-form features combining world-class journalism with enthralling art design and data-centered tech. Through our core pillars – Power, Money, Life and Earth – we are focusing in on the central issues that our readers have always engaged with most, with the same in-depth coverage of politics, business, social affairs and the environment that you’ve come to expect since 2007.

But leaving print behind us doesn’t just save our backs from lugging stacks of magazines across Southeast Asia. It opens up a global readership who don’t just want to read the news, but have a say in the stories that we tell and the way that we tell them. We’re not asking you to take out another magazine subscription – our stories are open to all. What we’re offering our members is a space where they can pitch and vote on the stories that they think deserve to be told. We want to inspire an engaged and active community of members who vote for, comment on and contribute to the stories that matter most to them. We want to work with our members to curate the way they engage with the news – not just as readers, but as an active extension of our editorial team.

That’s how we’re changing to bring you great stories. Here’s how we’re not.

We’re independent. Always have been, always will be. We’re not owned by any corporation or aligned with any state. We choose the stories that we tell, and the way that we tell them.

We’re creative. We’re not interested in churning out breaking news stories on the hour, every hour. We believe that the best stories are the ones that come alive on the page, digging deeper into the issues that shape Southeast Asia – and bringing you along for the ride. From our dedicated designers to our new software development team, our commitment is to constantly challenge ourselves to find new ways of reaching out to our readers.

We’re open. Challenging governments, NGOs and businesses to be transparent with the public means nothing if we keep our own readers in the dark. That’s why we will be completely open about why we tell the stories that we tell – and how we pay for them. Work with us to build something that endures where many media fail, and decide with us exactly where that money is going.

Above all, we’re optimistic. And yeah, we know what you’re thinking. Faced with impending climate collapse, the rise of right-wing authoritarian governments across the world, widening wealth and income inequality and deepening divisions rooted in race or gender or creed, it’s hard not to open the papers and feel the weight of the world pressing down. But we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t believe that when people work together, they can make their little corner of the world a more just, open and equal place.

And that’s why we can’t do this without you. We believe that across the globe is a community of people who care deeply about social justice, environmental action and press freedom – and who will join in to help make those ideals a reality. We’re not just holding our hand out – we need your voice to play a vital role in building Southeast Asia Globe into a leading space for progressive causes in the region. Tell us what stories the mainstream media is missing. Share with us the causes that matter most to you, and how we can champion those causes not just across Southeast Asia, but the world.

Our vision is clear. By 2025, we want to be recognised for building a great space for outstanding journalists from across the region to explore new ways of telling Southeast Asia’s most vital stories. Let’s bring together a community of engaged and loyal members who want to help reshape the media rather than just read it. And we want to reach a point where our readers, not advertisers, are the ones working to support our shared vision of an inclusive media.

We can’t do this without you. Let’s get together and build something that we all believe in.

If you’re interested in joining us, sign up to our newsletter, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter. And watch this space.

One man’s quest to save Southeast Asia’s independent cinemas

By: Max Crosbie-Jones - Posted on: January 19, 2017 | Culture & Life

The region’s ageing cinemas are fighting a losing battle against corporate forces, but a determined American is fighting to save these fading silver screens

Philip Jablon outside the Pak Nam Rama cinema in Thailand’s Samut Prakan province
Cinema buff: Philip Jablon outside the Pak Nam Rama cinema in Thailand’s Samut Prakan province. Photo: Philip Jablon

 

Dusk at the Rama Chinatown cinema is quite a sight – an example of adaptive reuse at its most basic. Wait staff in blue aprons ferry bowls of steaming guay jup noodles across the narrow lobby floor. Posters for three-year-old movies try to confer an air of ‘business-as-usual’ – but fail. Any patron that does want to spend $1.70 (THB60) to see Jack the Giant Slayer must navigate folding plastic tables and a grandpa twirling a toothpick.

Most people enjoying an early dinner in Bangkok’s Chinatown on this cool December evening appear comfortable with all this – the Chinatown Rama’s ignominious decline, from kung fu movie palace to cruising joint with a noodle-shop sideline. But Philip Jablon, a 37-year-old sustainable development researcher who splits his time between the US and Thailand, is perturbed by it. He’s convinced that this structure – and others like it – deserve more. “Nowadays we tend to look at these places and call them old junk, but when these were in their prime they were extremely important,” he says, as we wait for our noodles to arrive. “They’re cultural resources, and many of them are worth saving.”

This is no heat-of-the-moment comment. Since 2010, Jablon has surveyed hundreds of the region’s standalone cinemas – the majority now derelict or ticking over as warehouses, car parks or shady fleapits – and then put his tightly worded observations and stark photographs up on his blog, the Southeast Asian Movie Theatre Project. Along the way, his project has shifted gear, from university thesis research to all-out advocacy, and picked up a small yet appreciative following. “I don’t know anyone else doing anything like it,” is how Thaid Dhi, a Yangon-based documentary cinematographer, puts it.

Sermsuk Theatre in Udon Thani province’s Kumphawapi town
Faded: Sermsuk Theatre in Udon Thani province’s Kumphawapi town. Photo: Philip Jablon

 

There have been setbacks. In a 2009 blog post, Jablon discovers the Chinatown Rama’s “lingering sexual element” first-hand in the form of an overly friendly regular. In the intervening years, while trying to access other cinemas, he has been chased by dogs, glowered at by working girls and barred from entry. There have also been moments of poignancy: for every uncooperative owner or nonplussed security guard, there has been another that has given an impromptu tour or engaged in a deep-and-meaningful chat. But above all else, the Southeast Asian Movie Theatre Project has yielded insights.

Take Future’s Ruins, an exhibition by Jablon held at Bangkok’s H Project Space last February that consisted of his images of Thai cinemas, each taken from the same front-on perspective. Surveying them, some common characteristics – boxy structures, polychromatic accents and dimensional rooftop signage – became apparent. Jablon believes a unique strain of Modernism thrived in Thailand in the late 20th century, and that his images help make the case for it. “Some say this isn’t really Thai architecture at all,” he says, “but I disagree – it’s Modernism with a Thai identity.”

I do sometimes have doubts about why I’m doing this… it’s definitely a gamble

Speaking to him, it’s clear that he’s a nostalgic dreamer, albeit one who’s well aware of the Sisyphean nature of his quest: to document every Southeast Asian standalone cinema left. “I do sometimes have doubts about why I’m doing this. It’s not like I’m making a full living off it or anything,” he admits. For about seven or eights months a year, Jablon splits his time between Chiang Mai and field trips around the region. The rest of the year he earns money by working as a removal man back in Philadelphia, the city in which he was born and raised and inculcated with a respect for urban heritage and cinemagoing. And so the cycle repeats. “I don’t know if it’s sustainable. It’s definitely a gamble,” he says.

the interior of the Petch Siam theatre in Sukhothai province
Dilapidated: the interior of the Petch Siam theatre in Sukhothai province. Photo: Philip Jablon

 

This gamble is especially risky given the fragility of the thing he’s documenting. The prospects for the standalone cinemas – whose large urban footprints make them choice targets for property developers – are especially dire in Thailand, the country Jablon has surveyed most thoroughly. Only a handful are still in business, and the future of many, including Bangkok’s tropical art deco cinema the Scala, is uncertain. “It will take hard work to save them. He needs to convince owners and create hype,” says Gridthiya Gaweewong, director of the Jim Thompson Art Centre, the board of which has funded Jablon’s research in the past. Philip Cornwel-Smith, author of Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture, agrees. “Cinemas are secular spaces that came from abroad and fit no category under the templates of Thai high culture,” he says. “Worse than that, they are associated in the public mind with low status, with dodgy associations and louche behaviour, places where the young get up to mischief away from supervision by social seniors. Getting authorities to treasure these landmarks of ‘low’ culture is a huge ask in a status society.”

What keeps Jablon going are the flickers of hope. “It’s vindicating when people show interest or I get thanks or people want the photographs to put up in their house or office,” he says, referring to the limited-edition portfolios he has sold to raise money. There are also signs of a “growing preservation sentiment” taking root in the region – and some cinemas may yet be dragged out of purgatory because of it.

Last August, the Indian-Thai contemporary artist Navin Rawanchaikul installed a hand-painted billboard on the facade of the Saha, a shed-like wooden cinema in the southern Thai city of Songkhla. He then invited the predominantly Muslim community depicted in it to share their experiences. “Navin’s approach was to reactivate social memory through art,” says Jablon. Back in Bangkok there is a government-backed plan to turn the Sala Chalerm Thani, a rickety wooden structure widely regarded as Thailand’s oldest movie theatre, into a living museum. Other cinemas, including the Chinatown Rama, have been used for pop-up projects, from film premieres to music nights; another still, the Prince, looks likely to be restored by a private investor.

Artistic visions: residents of Songkhla’s old town, in the south of Thailand, admire the cinema billboard created by artist Navin Rawanchaikul. Photo: Navin Production
Artistic visions: residents of Songkhla’s old town, in the south of Thailand, admire the cinema billboard created by artist Navin Rawanchaikul. Photo: Navin Production

 

And then there is Myanmar. A lack of development there has kept an early-to-late 20th-century architectural milieu largely intact. This milieu includes prepossessing movie palaces such as Yangon’s stately, Beaux Arts-style Waziya Cinema, which, though currently shuttered, is rumoured for restoration. “I think there’s a good chance it will happen, as the Waziya is the only cinema still owned by the government,” says Dhi, who staged a film festival there in 2013 and hopes to see it become a mixed-use cultural centre.

Ever the optimist, Jablon sees an opportunity for Myanmar to learn from – and maybe even inspire – its neighbours. “Because of its economic and cultural isolation, its cities have been frozen in time, so they haven’t had the changes in infrastructure which have ultimately lead to the destruction of this kind of lifestyle elsewhere,” he says. “This is very interesting, especially in the context of the preservation mindset that is taking hold in the region right now.”

But if recent developments in Thailand are any measure, it may be an uphill struggle. While Cornwel-Smith acknowledges that a new wave of young, indie-minded Thais have come to appreciate mid-20th century design, he also believes that one of Jablon’s central arguments – that movie houses used to be a “cultural nucleus” in many communities and could be again, given the right investment and mindset – is unlikely to hold much sway in the current climate. “Markets and shophouses are even more so [at the centre of communities], and look how rapidly they are being destroyed without consideration of their social and historical role,” he says, referring to the recent demolition or denaturing of some of Bangkok’s grittiest tourist draws. “Ultimately, Thai society doesn’t sufficiently value those buildings and their social scene, or popular culture as a whole, to save most of the remaining cinemas.”

Despite this lay of the land, Jablon is determined to try and save some – and by any means possible. As well as continuing his lone field research, he is writing op-eds and articles for local media, penning a coffee table book for Thai imprint River Books, hoping to get a conservation symposium off the ground and, perhaps most importantly, trying to identify which standalone cinemas have the best chance of being revived. “They’ve gotta do whatever they can to survive,” he says as a waitress barks another order across the lobby floor, “and I’m doing everything I can to help them.”