20 stories that changed our world in 2010

20. Taj Mahal hotel’s heritage wing reopens After nearly two years of rueful rehabilitation following its destruction at the hands and rifles of terrorists, the Taj Mahal Palace’s heritage wing triumphantly reopened on Independence Day.

The renovations required Rs 1.75 billion (US$37 million) and the invaluable diligence of workers who used old photographs to scrupulously recreate the unique trappings of the oldest portion of the 107-year-old hotel.

A marble plaque memorializing the 32 people killed in the hotel during the terrorist attack of 2008 reads, “For now and forever you will inspire us.”

19. Pacquiao wins congressional seat 
The fighter of the last decade could be the politician of the next. In his second run at public office in May, Manny Pacquiao beat a heavily favored opponent from a powerful political family by a landslide in congressional elections held in the Philippine province of Sarangani.

The beloved Filipino fighter was sworn in to the House of Representatives in June, but requested a leave 
of absence two months later to train for an upcoming bout with Antonio Margarito.

18. iPhone worker suicides
Foxconn, manufacturer of the iPhone, offered workers at its Shenzhen facility in China a 66 percent performance-based wage increase in June following a series of suicides blamed on worker burnout.
The raise accompanied a 30 percent cash hike awarded a week earlier, more than doubling wages to RMB 2,000 (US$300) a month, and provoking what economists suspect will become a larger trend in compensation across China.

Twelve workers committed suicide at the plant, while 20 more attempts were halted by the company.

17. HK-Shenzhen-Guangzhou rail link funded
In January, LegCo approved HK66.9 billion (US$8.6 billion) in funding for the Hong Kong portion of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong high-speed rail link. The decision came after 25 hours of heated debate and amid clashes outside between police and pro-democracy protestors, who viewed the move as a steamrolling maneuver by the mainland.

The plan, projected to wrap in 2015, links Hong Kong with China’s high-speed rail network, and promises to cut travel time to Guangzhou in half.

16. Merchant of Death deported from Bangkok to United States
After months of fighting extradition, alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout was released from prison in 
November, and flown to the United States to face trial on terrorism charges.

The so-called “Merchant of Death” had made a fortune delivering arms to Africa, South America and the Middle East.

Bout had enjoyed a cell at Bangkok’s Bang Kwang maximum security facility since March 2008, after being arrested in a sting operation by U.S. undercover agents posing as Colombian FARC rebels.

Russia was not pleased about the extradition. The United States was ecstatic.

15. Shanghai fire kills 58

Welding sparks during renovations of an apartment building in Jing’an district in November touched off a blaze that engulfed the 28-story structure in flames, killing 58 people.

The four-hour blaze raised concerns over sweeping efforts to reduce energy use by installing flammable insulation to the exteriors of existing structures, as with the Jing’an fire.

The 13-year-old apartment building contained approximately 500 units, primarily housing retired teachers and children.

14. India cricket scandal
In April, tax officials raided Indian Premier League offices as part of an investigation into money laundering that soon widened to include betting, match-fixing, tax evasion, conflicts of interest and political influence peddling.

IPL’s superstar founder, Lalit Modi, is blamed for runaway malfeasance in the league, which is alleged to 
have operated with Enron-like impunity.

The scandal threatened to not only jeopardize cricket’s image, but prevailing notions of a “NewIndia,” free from the corruption of its past.

13. Sina Weibo reports 50 million microbloggers

Though initially introduced last year, 2010 saw the rise of the microblog, or Weibo. The first of its kind, Sina Weibo attracted 10 million microbloggers in months and now claims to have registered 50 million Sinotweeters.

Every Chinese portal launched its own Weibo this year, making it the main news and narcissism platform for mainland netizens.

12. Haneda International opens
Haneda Airport opened its new International Terminal in October, offering daily flights to a number of major cities including London, Paris, New York, Bangkok and Singapore.

Travelers have marveled at the terminal’s planetarium and outdoor observation deck, a slot-car racing center and a fourth-floor mall of restaurants and shops designed to resemble a Japanese street from the Edo Period (1603-1867).

A relocated Tokyo Monorail station provides easier access from the city, and the new 2,500-meter runway is estimated to boost capacity to roughly 150 more flights per day. Finally, an alternative to Narita.

11. iPad hits Asia
Queuing for 60 hours outside an Apple store to get an iPad is not a big deal in China. A total of 3.27 million iPads were sold globally following Apple's overseas launch in May, which saw third-quarter growth in South Korea of 184 percent and in China of 144 percent. One Singapore site jokingly reported that "Have you got your iPad yet?" had become the tech-crazed country's unofficial new greeting.

A comfortable news reading experience that won’t dirty your hands, faster web browsing, easy to carry design and longer battery life all make the tablet good company on a journey across town or the world.

What's left to buy? Only a few bazillion apps.

10. First of Khmer Rouge hierarchy sentenced
More than 30 years after the Khmer Rouge exterminated 25 percent of Cambodia’s population, the first major figure in the regime to be tried for its crimes was sentenced in July.

Sixty-seven-year-old former teacher Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Comrade Duch, received 19 years in jail on top of 16 years already served for his part in running the S-21 detention center in Phnom Penh.

There, Duch oversaw the brutal torture of detainees considered most threatening to the regime.

9. Hong Kong tourists killed in Manila bus tragedy
In August, a daylong bus siege in the Philippine capital of Manila ended in the murders of eight members of a Hong Kong tour group and the death of their hijacker, a disgraced former senior police inspector
demanding reinstatement to the force.

In the wake of the slayings, protestors seeking accountability for what they believed were botched negotiations by local police marched on the Philippine consulate on Hong Kong, rocking a populace unaccustomed to violent crime.

8. Lee Kuan Yew, others, embarrassed by WikiLeaks
In November, Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew was added to the list of diplomatic embarrassments released by the global whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks.

In a 2009 conversation with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, the 87-year-old referred to North Koreans as “psychopathic types, with a 'flabby old chap' for a leader who prances around stadiums seeking adulation.” 

The shocking remarks made headlines around the world. Lee also felt sympathy for North Koreans, adding
that “he had learned from living through three and a half years of Japanese occupation in Singaporethat people will obey authorities who can deny them food, clothing and medicine.”

Lee was recently re-elected to the government cabinet post of “Minister Mentor,” a position he's held since 2004.

7. Asada beats Kim figure skating
In a skating rivalry dating to 2004, Japanese Olympic silver medalist Mao Asada bested South Korean gold medalist Yu-Na Kim at this year’s World Figure Skating Championships in Turin, Italy.

Asada’s win was a sweet revenge from the Winter Olympics one month earlier, when she was beaten by Kim. Asada won the title in 2008, but Kim took it back in 2009. Although the South Korean has dominated the last two seasons, everyone cheered Asada at the Olympics when she earned a Guinness World Record for the most triple axels performed in a competition. The International Skating Union currently ranks Asada sixth in the world. Kim is ranked first.

6. Natural disasters rock Indonesia
On October 25, a 7.7 magnitude earthquake shook Indonesia’s western Sumatran region and Mentawai Islands chain. The quake and resulting 10-foot tsunami were blamed for the deaths of more than 400 people. 

Separately, on the island of Java, the October 26 volcanic eruption of 10,000-foot Mount Merapi sent 400,000 residents fleeing to emergency shelters and caused more than 300 deaths. For two weeks, the archipelago was in a state of emergency.

As a result of the twin natural disasters, more than 15,000 survivors have reported mental health disorders and villages have had to repair infrastructure. According to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, Mount Merapi’s eruption caused the loss of up to Rp 6 billion worth of snakefruit trees in Magelang regency.

5. Commonwealth Games failures in India

Organizers of October’s 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi needed eight years to plan for the quadrennial event. They got seven.

As such, missed deadlines, poor construction, security issues, execrable accommodations and corruption prompted some athletes to stay home, a wise move if you were among the 20 percent of England’s swim team to fall ill after several heats in the facilities’ murky pools.

Embarrassment came to a head at a press conference when organizing committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi thanked Princess Diana for attending the opening ceremony.

The games were a high-profile blight on a nation that has otherwise made ambitious gains on the world stage. An official from the Delhi Commonwealth Games organizing committee even appologized for the 
"collective failure."

4. Korea military hostilities
Calling it an invasion of his nation’s territory, the president of South Korea vowed “enormous retaliation” for an artillery strike by the North Korean military on Yeonpyeong Island in November.

The bombing marked the first direct attack on South Korea since 1953, and sparked an hour-long exchange of fire between both sides.

The incident, combined with the sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on North Korea in March, have raised global concerns of all-out war.

3. Shanghai Expo success
The most expensive expo in the history of expos drew more than 70 million visitors during Shanghai Expo’s 184 days of national pride and corporate messaging, and breathed new life into the former site of 
crumbling shipyards and steelworks.

Convenience was sacrificed in the name of global perception -- more than 18,000 families, 10,000 workers 
and 270 factories had to be relocated -- but the images, indulgence and innovation of the event seemed to 
make it worth the trouble for most.

2. China-Japan relations strained over Senkaku Islands 

A major diplomatic dispute erupted after a September collision between a Chinese ship and a Japanese Coast Guard patrol boat near the Senkaku Islands.

Japanese sailors boarded the Chinese boat and detained the captain and crew for several days pending possible charges. China furiously demanded their release, and in retaliation took four Japanese construction workers hostage in China’s Hebei province. Allegedly, China also halted the export of crucial rare earth minerals to Japan.

A video of the collision was leaked to YouTube, appearing to show the Chinese trawler at fault. Angry protesters massed in major cities of both countries. After demands for an apology from both governments, 
and meetings with both U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,Tokyo 
eventually capitulated to Beijing and released the crew without charges. China appeared to win a diplomatic victory.

The Senkaku Islands -- five uninhabited islets and three barren rocks -– are administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan, and have been disputed for centuries.

1. Red shirts protest in Thailand

It began in March with peaceful protests by supporters of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and ended two months later with 90 dead and more than 1,400 wounded, in a swath of violence spanning seven 
provinces.

The original movement hoped to force Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s strict parliamentary regime to call early elections.

The United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship, also known as the red shirts, seized upon the cause 
and mobilized thousands to hit the streets, launching grenades and setting fire to banks, shopping malls 
and the stock exchange.

In May, an all-out military assault beat back the protesters, in a horrific crackdown witnessed around the 
world. Red shirt leaders soon surrendered and were jailed, ending a bizarre series of incidents that further polarized this usually peaceful “land of smiles.” The surprising coda is how quickly the country returned to calm and comparative normality.