In my 10 years of working in the World Bank, I have seen remarkable changes around me. In 2004, Emerald Avenue in Ortigas Center, where the old World Bank office was located, started to wind down after 9 PM. Finding a place to buy a midnight snack whenever I did overtime was hard. It was also hard to find a taxi after work.
Today, even at 3 AM, the street is bustling with 24-hour restaurants, coffee shops, and convenience stores, hundreds of BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) employees taking their break, and a line of taxis waiting to bring these new middle class earners home. Living in Ortigas Center today means that I also benefit from these changes.
|Photo from Aktionsbündnis gegen Aids through a Creative Commons license|
It was Christmas dinner two years ago, in 2010, among my gay friends. I just came back from an expat assignment in the US, and was greatly enjoying the uniquely Filipino way of celebrating the cheery season. Towards the end of that dinner, one of my close friends came up to me saying he wanted to speak with me in private.
The two of us went outside the restaurant, and in a dark corner of the parking lot he told me he wanted me to be among the first to know. Early that month, he had himself tested for HIV, and found out he was positive. I was so shocked that no words came out of my mouth, I remember just giving him the tightest hug I could, my mind blank, my heart racing, not knowing what to say or do next. He was my first close friend who came out to me as HIV-positive.
In Malaysia, over half of all HIV infections are transmitted through sharing contaminated needles and syringes. To combat the spread of the epidemic, the government in 2006 spearheaded 'harm reduction' interventions (pdf) which included a program where people who inject drugs are provided unused needles and syringes in exchange for used injecting equipment. Those who are addicted to opioids such as heroin, the most commonly used illicit substance in Malaysia, can also enroll in rehabilitation for synthetic opioid replacement therapy. Synthetic opioids, taken orally, help stabilize the opioid cravings of patients, thus enabling them to work. The move to introduce harm reduction in Malaysia revealed something that caught people by surprise—many of the fishermen from port city on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia use drugs.
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|The author at one of the roads renovated with NT2 funds (2010 rainy season).|
|No mountains are visible beyond this pollution cloud. (Late November 2007)|
It certainly feels like the worst of winter is over for another year, well until December anyway. Daytime temperatures now reach above 0 Celsius (32 Fahrenheit) regularly, the city’s ice sculptures have melted and the slippery footpaths have thawed, making walking in the city safer and easier. There’s also a visible improvement in Ulaanbaatar’s (UB) air quality.
On most days, from my office window, I can now see the beautiful snow-dappled mountains that surround UB; during the heavily polluted winter months the horizon is completely hidden behind a thick grey-brown smoky haze.