Introduction to Southeast Asia:
Lifestyle, Livelihood, and Subsistence

How have the people of Southeast Asia adapted to their physical environment, and continue to adapt as their environment changes?

How is this reflected in the livelihoods of peoples of the region?

Student will examine photos of Southeast Asians at work in a variety of environments in order to make connections between elements of geography and occupations. Students will produce a travel article that describes the environment of Southeast Asia and select representative photos that show different livelihoods in that environment.

Students will be able to:

  • Describe general characteristics of Southeast Asia’s environment.
  • Identify ways people have adapted to their environment.
  • Identify ways in which environmental change and/or new inventions might influence the ways people make a living.
  • Produce an article that describes the environment and identifies human adaptations to local conditions.
  • Identify the diversity and unifying elements of geography in Southeast Asia.

Photo exercise with small group/whole group reflection: one (45 minute) class period
Research: one to two class periods (or assigned as homework)
Writing: one to two class periods (or assigned as homework)
Reporting/discussion: one class period

Introduction to Southeast Asia: History, Geography, and Livelihood
by Barbara Watson Andaya

Southeast Asia is an expansive region covering an area of about 3,800 square miles. The region spans mainland Asia as well as islands off the coast of Asia. Several distinct geographic features have had a major impact on the lives of people living in the region, including river systems, islands, mountain ranges, jungles, and urban areas. Throughout history, Southeast Asians have
developed ways of supporting themselves by responding to environmental challenges and opportunities posed by these features of the environment. Southeast Asia can be distinguished as being made up of two main sub-regions: Mainland Southeast Asia (continental Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma/Myanmar) and Maritime Southeast Asia, covering the Malay Archipelago (Indonesia, the Philippines, East Timor, Brunei, and the islands of Malaysia).

Anticipatory Set

  • Begin class by asking students to describe the general geographic features of their region.
  • Show students a projection/overhead of Physical Map of Southeast Asia.

    Ask students to describe the general geographic features of this region (prominence of water, islands, archipelagoes, and peninsulas, as well as the climatic orientation in an equatorial region).

    Ask students how this set of geographical circumstances would influence the potential occupations available in the region.

Photo Analysis

  • Break students into groups of 3 or 4 and provide students with access to photos online.
  • Using the Photo Analysis worksheet and the Geography/Occupations organizer, ask students to analyze the pictures in their small groups, identifying environmental features and occupations that may be reflected in the visuals.

Class Discussion

  • Bring students together to share the results of their Geography/Occupations Organizer. Record the suggested occupations and influencing geographical features on an overhead of the Geography/Occupations Organizer. Maintain a record of the results for later comparison.

Research and Writing

  • Give each student a student news article assignment sheet for individually researching and writing a news article highlighting occupations in four Southeast Asia locations. Review the directions with students, offering clarification as needed. See alternative suggestions for students with special needs or English-language learners, provided below.

Whole Group Reflection

  • With completed assignments ask students, as a class, to generate a list of occupations that they highlighted in their articles and photos. Note the geographical and environmental factors that contribute to the existence of these occupations in the region using the Geography/ Occupations Organizer. Compare this copy to the original list completed on the first day of activity.

  • Think about the photos that show the changes in traditional ways of making a living in Southeast Asia, those showing industries that arrived in the late nineteenth century (rubber plantations), twentieth century or even the twenty-first century (trucking, timber mills, coffee factories and eco-tourism).
  • How might people accustomed to being farmers, fishermen, ferry masters or traders in the markets adapt to these changes?
  • What happens to those who collect forest products when the forest begins to disappear through logging?
  • What happens to water buffaloes when mechanization is introduced?
  • Which occupations may not be visibly or clearly tied to the environment?
  • How does globalization hold the potential to change the occupations available in any world region?

Consider offering the option of making a PowerPoint presentation or travel brochure (a single 8-1/2 x 11 sheet of paper folder into thirds) to replace a newspaper article for students with challenges in organization, language, or written expression. Requirements for visual element of photos and maps should remain constant. This modification allows connections between geography and occupations to be demonstrated, while organization and mechanics of writing may be scaffolded with more limited requirements of writing. These projects produce polished documentation of knowledge and support for participation in oral presentations or discussions.

Student understanding will be assessed on student’s ability to:

  • Complete photo organizer, making links between geography and occupations.
  • Discuss key geographic features and impact on occupations in a group.
  • Produce a newspaper article representing key geographic features of Southeast Asia in general and four locations in particular.
  • Visually represent the impact of geography on occupation by selecting appropriate photos.

Have students investigate real news articles featuring economy and occupations in Southeast Asia by referencing and sharing from English language newspapers of the region (for example Business Times of Malaysia). Look for world newspapers at www.refdesk.com for a listing of available online newspapers links.

Write an essay agreeing or disagreeing with this statement, giving reasons for your point of view:
“Is it true that ‘Geography is destiny’?”