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Gold mining has sparked a clash between illegal diggers, artisanal mining associations and large multinationals.


It’s still pitch dark in the small Mongolian town of Khailaast. But Ganbold and Tungalatamir have already finished their light breakfast and are about to leave their ger – the traditional yurt of the nomads – with all the tools required to perform their illegal work. Ganbold is carrying the heavy water pump while his wife loads smaller tools into the back of their white minivan. They head for a manmade lake in the middle of the infinite steppe, where the first sunrays cover the green grass in gold... And that is exactly what the couple is looking for. They are ‘ninjas’, a nickname gold diggers get because of the large green bowl they carry on their backs, which is reminiscent of the shells of the famous comic characters in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

War Against the Miners

This is precisely what Amgelan Damdinragehaa is trying to fight. He is the president of a small association of artisanal mining, the type of organisation that the government decided to legalise at the end of 2013 to reduce the number of ninjas and allow people to legally benefit from the exploitation of a national resource. As opposed to what ninjas do, these artisanal miners pay their taxes and funnel their gold directly to the Bank of Mongolia, which will then add it to the national reserves. Damdinragehaa was once a ninja, so he understands their struggle, but he can’t agree with their methods.

Environmental Impact

“We are suffering major environmental degradation here,” Damdinragehaa criticises. “Ninjas dig holes up to 10 metres deep, and then they leave. Cattle fall in and die there. This sometimes look like the craters in the moon,” he says while showing a big plain full of holes partially covered in snow. “And then, our gold, a Mongolian resource, ends up in the hands of Chinese and Russian traders who pay nothing back to the country. Many are part of international mafias which may be financing harmful activities. That’s why artisanal miners are trying to convince ninjas to professionalise and work with us.” The associations have easier access to capital for the purchase of better and safer equipment, and workers are insured and can enjoy paid holidays. Most belong to the region where the mining exploitation takes place, so the whole community benefits from it.


(Read more on Mongolian gold miners from the full story available in print. Subscribe to our magazine here)






How Technology and Globalisation Are Changing Language As We Know It

In our everchanging lexical world, where languages twist and turn, and sometimes bend over backwards or die out to suit trends, cultural changes and technology, the future of the spoken and written word is difficult to predict.

Around the World

The influence of globalisation is operating in quicker and more complex ways, and creating a more connected world than ever before. This multi-cultural epoch that we live in affects language in significant ways, for wherever we go, we bring our language with us.

As the impact of the major global languages increases, it continues to pressurise local languages into adapting, and year by year we are seeing more languages bowing out. The extinction of many of Taiwan’s indigenous languages – from Ketagalan to Siraya – is a direct reaction to the spread of Mandarin in the country, and presents a hard- hitting reality for many local languages that this may also be their fate.

But could this extinction of local tongues follow suit on a global scale? Linguist, educationalist and communications professional Teresa Tinsley does not believe that the world will return to a ‘pre-Babel’state where we all speak one major language. Some linguists suggest that either English or Chinese will form the world’s lingua franca. In fact, many of the major languages inter-breed with the local colloquialisms and create a variant form of that language.

To understand the future of our global languages, one must trace back through pre-modern Europe’s history to take note of the rise and fall of Latin. The success of the Roman Empire propelled Latin throughout Europe, and kept Classical Latin alive as the standard written medium for the continent – long after the fallof Rome. But the Vulgar Latin used in speech continued to change and form new dialects. That, in time, gave rise to the modern Romance languages: French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian and Italian – languages that emerged in their own right and became mutually unintelligible.


Singapore English

Today in Asia, there are similar examples of language evolution. Step forth Singapore’s street language, Singlish, a colloquial brand of English with words plucked primarily from English, Malay and Chinese, and tossed into a straight-to-the-point syntactical structure. Singlish is widely used by the locals and can be almost incomprehensible to Western English speakers – one can almost draw a parallel between it and the early development of the Romance languages. It is interesting to note that, despite the Singapore government’s strong encouragement that its citizens speak standard British English through the national ‘Speak Good English Movement’, Singlish has only continued to thrive. In fact, some Singlish words like ‘blur’, ‘wah!’ and ‘shiok’ have become so commonplace that the highly- respected Oxford English Dictionary has added them to its lexicon!


(Read more on the evolving tongues of Asia from the full story available in print. Subscribe to our magazine via ___)




ca. 1980s-1990s --- Fishermen fish with a net in the Strait of Malacca.

Long before the sun peeks over the horizon, artisanal fishermen across Malaysia's Johor Strait gather at their respective jetties and beaches. As they set their nets and lines, check their engines and look up for an indication of the weather, they hope that the day's catch will be a good one. 

Some are fortunate enough to be able to fish just off their shores - others burn fuel travelling hours away in their small boats to find a spot that still has fish. Sometimes this even entails sneaking across national borders, risking capture by marine police and violent encounters with human smugglers.

Indigenous Way of Life 

In the southwest of Malaysia, the artisanal Malay fishermen of Mukim Tanjung Kupang ply the narrow straits between Singapore and Malaysia in the Pendas and Pulai River estuaries. These fishermen are used to inshore fishing, never straying far from coastal mangroves and seagrass areas. But over the last few decades, the winds have changed, the weather is erratic and even water patterns are strange. 

The winds bring alternatively extremely hot then much cooler air, sometimes bringing them an unexpected shrimp bounty, other times, their nets coming up empty. The generation-old tricks of the trade do not seem to ensure a catch. Monsoon seasons have completely turned on their heads and the only way to guarantee an income when cash is of essence is to travel further out and risk life in border areas.

The Orang Seletar, the original indigenous people of this area, are still dependent on the seas as a source of food and livelihoods. Ten years ago they would hardly ever be found venturing beyond the mouth of the river - their boats and engines are too small to go far.

By Serina Rahman

Read more in ASIAN Geographic No.117 Issue 2, 2016.


Farmer Dilli Ram Regmi stands beside the 4.5kW solar array that harnesses the sun's energy to pump water for drinking and mushroom farming in his community in rural Sirubari, Nepal.

At a magnitude of 7.8 that hit on 25 April, then 6.3 on 12 May - just two weeks apart from each other - the disastrous impact left close to 9,000 people killed and tens of thousands injured. A further  850,000 homes were damaged and over 2.5 million of the population were left without homes. This inevitably meant that healthcare and education facilities were left in tatters, with local agriculture suffering from lack of power to operate water pumps and irrigate crops. As the country continues to struggle with the effects of the natural disasters, climate change and political instability, renewable energy is providing both light and hope for a nation of people renowned for their resilience. 

Over 80% of Nepal's population live in rural mountainous regions that lack access to electricity, and it is this lack that remains one of the biggest barriers to the country's economic development. Kerosene lamps are currently the only reliable source of light, leading many businesses to run privately-owned diesel generators for backup. Still, they suffer from increasing fuel costs, frequent shortages and pollution from fumes and noise. 

In the post-earthquake situation, these businesses have been forced to shut down and are actively seeking out clean, reliable and alternative energy solutions. Solar, therefore, has become a very feasible and viable answer to power Nepal and provide a path towards energy independence.

By Kristin Lau

Read more in ASIAN Geographic No. 117 Issue 2, 2016.


Dulen Mili (35yo) is fishing with the traditional net on Brahmaputra river near Modarguri village. The net is oriented to catch fishes going upstream.

China and India's race to fulfil hydroelectric dreams has seen over 150 dams planned for River Brahmaputra and its tributaries - and this number is just from India alone. The 2,900 kilometre river, which runs through China, India and Bangladesh, is at the epicentre of flash floods, environmental degradation and loss of livelihoods, borne by rural villagers and their homes which stand in the way of meeting energy demands.

The case of Brahmaputra isn't unique - and the global nature of these water issues is what French photographer Franck Vogel wants us to realise. The Asian premiere of his photography  exhibition, Transboundary Rivers, presents stories of the Nile in Egypt, the Brahmaputra in India and the Colorado in the United States, three rivers each with their own sets of problems. 

Franck is renowned for his coverage of social and environmental issues, from the Bishnois people in India - who dedicate themselves to protecting wildlife and the environment - to albinos in Tanzania who are persecuted by their societies. Franck was inspired to embark on his most recent Transboundary Rivers project in 2012 after investigating issues concerning the contentious Millennium Dam project on the Nile. "I realised that the global freshwater situation has reached a critical point and that it needs immediate attention and action," says Franck. Apart from the rivers featured in the Singapore exhibition, he has also travelled to Jordan, whose water is shared (or rather, fought) between Israel, Jordan and Palestine.

By Franck Vogel

Read more in ASIAN Geographic No.118 Issue 3, 2016.


E-waste components are

Seelampur, Delhi, India, 2006: E-waste is “cooked” in acid to extract valuable materials. Gold plating gradually comes away and sinks, the acid solution is discarded and the gold is recovered. 30g of gold can be recovered from 1kg of e-waste ▶ Maya Puri, Delhi, India, 2006: “Maybe it is a little dangerous, but we’re used to it, I’ve been working with acid for many years.
by Sophie Gerrard

Read more in ASIAN Geographic magazine No. 97 issue 04, 2013.

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ASIAN GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE celebrates Asia in all its rich diversity, from its natural environment to its assortment of wildlife, cultures and scientific discoveries. Based in Singapore, the team has its fingers on the pulse of Asia, with its award-winning contributors scouring the region to bring powerful stories and images to you. Titles under Asian Geographic Magazines include its flagship title ASIAN Geographic, PASSPORT, JUNIOR, and its diving titles, Asian Diver and Scuba Diver.

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