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More people traveling to Malaysia to go under the knife

One type of tourism has managed to thrive despite the poor global economy. The prevalence of medical tourism is on the rise in countries like India and Malaysia.

Think that it is a little extreme to go under the knife abroad? Consider this: depending on the procedure, surgery in Malaysia can cost half of what it does in the US or UK. Many doctors in Malaysia are foreign trained and facilities are world-class. The rate of patient infection at clinics and hospitals in Malaysia is much less than it is in the UK.

Last year 341,288 foreign patients came to Malaysia for its medical services. Projections show a 30% increase each year over the next several years.

Who are these medical refugees? People without insurance, people whose insurance won't cover a procedure, or those who want surgery for cosmetic purposes. In countries with socialized medical care, the wait list can be several years long. In Malaysia, minor surgery can be arranged and performed in a day or two. If health care costs in the west continue to rise, look for Malaysia's medical tourism industry to grow with it.

[Related story]

Etihad thinks they are ready for the big time

A few years ago, Etihad Airways was an upstart. Sure, it has grown at least 40% each year since its 2003 birth, but that trend can't be sustained with the economy the way it is now. Right?

The Abu Dhabi-based carrier is adding destinations to its roster rapidly. New routes include Beijing, China and Melbourne, Australia. In the US, it is only possible to catch an Etihad flight out of JFK. But, that may soon be about to change. Etihad has signed two major deals this year, one is a 45-plane order with Boeing and the other a mammoth 51-plane order with Airbus. These will mean that the Etihad fleet will be growing by more than 300% in the coming years. No matter how you look at it, the numbers in those orders are almost ridiculously ambitious, especially considering that most airlines are now doing everything they can to save money rather than spend it.

It seems that Etihad is hell bent on overtaking Emirates as the best known brand to come out of the Persian Gulf.

Is bird flu making a comeback?

Three chickens in Hong Kong recently tested positive for the bird flu. The sick birds were found on a farm with 60,000 chickens. Actually, the infected birds only tested positive for the H5 virus. Further tests are needed to discern if the deadly N1 strain is present.

Officials are acting quickly. The 60,000 feathered farm residents were destroyed, along with 20,000 others in the area. This will, one hopes, prevent the spread of H5 to other birds in the territory. As a precaution, authorities have imposed a 21-day ban on poultry imports. All farms surrounding the one with the infected birds are considered part of the area.

As scary as it might be to hear that the dreaded virus is still lurking, it is equally encouraging to see a swift response by authorities. Despite the fact that H5N1 hasn't been in the news lately, health officials, at least in Honkers, have not become complacent.

When karaoke turns deadly

Karaoke is deadly. Deadly boring. That is, unless you happen to be quite drunk or with someone you are physically attracted to. I've never gone out to find a place to sing karaoke. But I have spent a lot of time in East Asia, where karaoke seems to seek you out. I've witnessed some violence as a result of the sing-along phenomenon. Usually, it stems from "you took my beer" rather than "hand over the mic." Come to think of it, people get the most agitated when someone doesn't sing, rather than when they sing too much.

But that wasn't the case in Sandakan, Borneo recently. A 23 year-old man was stabbed to death in a fight that began when he refused to give up the karaoke mic. Abdul Sani Doli, the deceased, was apparently feeling the groove that night. Unfortunately, others in the bar were not. When he refused to give up the stage to the next person in line, an argument broke out. It only ended when Doli was stabbed by at least two other patrons on the street as he fled the scene.

Protesters disrupt service at Stansted Airport

50 protesters from the environmentalist group Plane Stupid forced England's Stansted Airport to close this morning after they cut their way through security fences and chained themselves to railings and fences near the runway. The airport is heavily used by budget carrier Ryanair, which had to cancel more than 50 flights as a result of the demonstration. The protest began at three in the morning and it was not until 8:30 a.m. that flights resumed.

Ryanair complained about the slow response from security officials:

"It is unacceptable that the travel plans of thousands of passengers have been disrupted because BAA Stansted security have failed to remove a number of protesters."

Plane Stupid's protest was in response to the government's decision to add another runway to the airport. They have spoken out against the airline industry's handling of carbon emissions and pollution. I'm no PR expert, but chaining yourself near an airport runway is probably not the best way to get your point across. In fact, I'd way it was plain stupid.

[Related Story]

Australian cruise ship mistakes tuna fishermen for pirates

Everyone was on edge aboard the MV Athena as it passed through the Gulf of Aden on Tuesday night, local time. The gulf has become a hot spot for pirate activity. Earlier in the week a large cruise ship on its way from Rome to Singapore, outran pirates after they opened fire from their skiffs. So when a group of boats surrounded the Athena, the captain ordered passengers off the deck as crew members prepared for the worst. The captain reported to the relevant authorities that 30 boats had surrounded his vessel.

However, no shots were fired and no attempts to board were made. That's probably because the "pirates" were actually not pirates at all. They were fishermen in search of tuna. A spokesperson from Classic International Cruises Australia, the company that owns the Athena, explained the situation.

"The captain followed all security measures as far as readiness on board for any eventuality by placing fire hoses around the decks and continually liaised with all authorities. It has been confirmed that the approaching small ships were a tuna fishing fleet."

Former costly cities like London and Seoul are now cheaper

Is there a good side to the world's economic woes? Not if you are a stock trader or banker. But if you are an expat, living in one of the world's major cities, there is an upside to the sad state of the global market. Example: London and Seoul, formerly two of the world's costliest places for expats to reside, have become quite reasonably priced.

A year ago, Seoul was on par with Tokyo in terms of expense. If you needed imported goods ("gotta have my Corn Flakes"), Seoul was actually a more expensive place to live. A mere year later, expats in Korea have seen a 40% drop in prices. This is according to ECA International, a UK-based consulting firm that specializes in helping companies with the planning and logistics of sending employees to overseas offices.

London, once in ECA's top ten most expensive cities list, has dropped to #72 because of Britain's poor economic performance.

Who's on top of the most expensive list? Japanese cities still dominate. Surprisingly, some African cities are expensive for expats because of the high price of imported goods. In fact, Luanda, Angola is the world's most expensive place for expats, according to ECA.

[more about the ECA survey]

Why you'll still be able to find the new Guns and Roses album in China

Yes, I will put a shamed expression on my face and admit that I felt a bit of excitement when I heard that Guns and Roses was releasing a new album. Come on, I was an awkward, pimple-ridden junior high-schooler when Axl and Slash were still at the top of their game. I thought that they were the shit.

Well, the new album, which was actually made by Axl Rose and a bunch of session musicians, is less than mediocre. But when I heard that Chinese authorities were critisizing it because of its content and about to ban it, I had to laugh. Not because the government was taking a bunch of has-beens so seriously, but because I know that if I walked into a Shenzhen bootleg CD shop right now, I'd have a pretty good chance of finding a copy of the album. The same goes for pirated versions of controversial books and DVDs. I don't have the official numbers, but I'd wager that over 85% of the music and movies sold in China are bootlegged. So your hip Shanghai record store might not have G&R, but the bootleggers probably will.

Michelin comes to Hong Kong. Will it ever be the same?

Michelin, the famous (or infamous) French restaurant guide has been branching out lately. Two years ago, Tokyo became the first Asian city to be visited by the star-giving gourmet food experts. This year, Tokyo received more stars than any other city. For those unfamiliar with the Michelin rating system: 1 star means your restaurant is awesome, two means it is unbelievably awesome, and three means you provide nothing less than orgasmic gourmet experience.

Hong Kong and Macau became the second Asian destination for Michelin. Two restaurants received the coveted three star rating, while two dozen others received one or two stars.

In the US and Europe, a Michelin star can make a chef's career. The fame doesn't yet translate in the Pacific Rim. But gourmet cuisine is definitely on the rise in Hong Kong. I hope the coming of Michelin doesn't change the culinary atmosphere there. What would the city be without the chaotic dim sum joints, the hidden away seafood restaurants, and tiny noodle shops? The whole "food as art" thing has its place. There is nothing wrong with it. But if everyone suddenly goes gourmet, Hong Kong would lose its wild restaurant culture. If that happens, then the whole territory might as well just break off and sink into the South China Seas.

[Via Globespotters and The Standard HK]

Flights resume in Bangkok

Gadling has been following the situation in Bangkok over the past few days. Hundreds of thousands of domestic and international travelers were stranded when anti-government protesters occupied Suvarnabhumi Airport, the country's international hub. Things came to a rather anti-climactic end yesterday (thankfully for those involved) when Thailand's highest court convicted members of the ruling party of rigging elections held last year. Getting the result that they wanted, protesters simply abandoned the airport peacefully.

In the past few hours, those who were previously unable to leave have been flocking to the airport and to travel agents around the city in an effort to book their flights home. Cleaning and inspection crews have been working around the clock to bring the airport back to international standards. Airport officials claim that it will take two weeks before the airport is fully operational. For now, flights are trickling in. Travelers stranded might have to wait several more days before they can procure a seat on a departing flight.


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