Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Around Xiangfan

November 30th, 2010

Xiangfan - web

For all their madness, Georgian drivers were predictable. Not the Chinese. And it was getting worse. Towns. Cities. Vehicles stopping abruptly. Bicycles, electric scooters, motorbikes weaving through the traffic. As often against the flow as with it. Pedestrians drifting into the road. And yet it is the very absence of order, the uncertainty, that prevents complete calamity. Engenders caution. Just enough.

Construction - web

Xiangfan was no different. Not just the traffic. For it was a warm day. Mid-twenties. Reminded me of Urumqi, the first city I’d encountered in western China. Construction and consumerism. Shopping plazas, office blocks, housing complexes. The usual international High Street brands. Familiar fast food outlets. At first a novelty. But no longer. Not for a long time.

Consumerism - web

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Silk Road reflections

September 29th, 2010

"The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions and without becoming disillusioned" – Antonio Gramsci, Italian politician (deceased)

Ordinarily I’d wait until I’d traversed an entire country before reflecting on what I’ve experienced. But China’s a bit different. It’s not just big. It’s also a very diverse nation. So, a few thoughts, observations, along the way seems reasonable.

There’s the relative modernity of the towns and cities. The consumer society. For quite a few a standard of living broadly comparable with that of Western Europe. That’s not to say there aren’t people forced to scrape by, struggling to make ends meet. But that’s often the case, in even the most developed of nations.

I was curious as to just how many people existed on, or below, the poverty line. But, subjective as this measure invariably is, comparisons are fraught with difficulty. Not least because I’m a little sceptical as to the veracity of some of the figures. Does the UK really have four times as many people living in poverty than China? I seriously doubt it.

What is irrefutable is stark contrast between the relatively sophisticated urban environment and the smaller settlements, the villages and homesteads. Abject poverty? A more simple existence, devoid of modern material possessions, need not be. Just ask the Amish. Rather, it is the economic disparity between the two, a gap I sense is widening, especially for those at either ends of the scale. But nothing unique about China in that respect.

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Around Hami

September 28th, 2010

Hami - centre - web

Hami was much in the same mould as other large towns and cities I’d visited in western China. A prosperous oasis, wide boulevards, equally generous tree-lined pedestrian walkways running alongside. Construction much in evidence.

Shop front - Western - web

Pavements shared with mopeds and electric bicycles, weaving amongst the throngs of shoppers. Colourful shop fronts. And the Western influence. The now familiar fast food outlet. Clothes outlets with names expressed in the Roman alphabet rather than Chinese characters. Seeking to entice customers in with equally recognisable music. Some international brands. Many not.

Hami - leafy street - web

But drift down side streets, relative tranquility. More traditional shops, small cafes. Old men playing board games in the parks, enjoying the shade beneath the trees. Seemingly oblivious to China’s march into consumerism.

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Consumer society, cafe culture

August 25th, 2010

"Joy is not in things; it is in us" – Richard Wagner

Cafe culture - web version

Urumqi. Provincial capital. Modern, air conditioned shopping malls. Expensive boutiques, international names, Louis Vuitton, Cartier. Even a few Western fast food chains. A consumer society. There’s a refinement, a sophistication, a nation teetering on the edge of First World, First Division. The cafe culture has arrived.

Boutiques - web version

In the streets, flyers being handed out, artists impressions of towering new housing developments, great monoliths amongst landscaped gardens. A great leap forward, or a step too quick? China’s economy has just over taken Japan’s, now the second largest in the world. But, in the background, rumblings of that familiar Western affliction, escalating property prices. And food prices are on the increase.

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Consumer society

August 23rd, 2010

Consumer society from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Ken discusses the rise of the Chinese consumer society

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