Across Continents

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Glimpse back in time?

October 31st, 2010

Workers drawn from the countryside into the cities, helping power the industrial machine. Some in dormitories, others in vast housing complexes. Attracted by the prospects of better wages. Ever growing disparity between rural communities and the expanding urban sprawl. A time for entrepreneurs. And a rising middle class. Railways now the transport for the masses. Shipping the avenue to new markets overseas. And the means to import raw materials to satisfy an insatiable appetite for growth.

A glimpse back in time? England during the Industrial Revolution? Quite possibly. But no. China today. A nation undergoing significant social, economic and, to a lesser extent, political change. Some differences. Where we built canals, they’re investing in a huge, modern road network. And a pace of change beyond comprehension a few centuries ago.

But what of China’s imperial aspirations, the British Industrial Revolution being so closely wedded to the rise of its own Empire? More subtle perhaps, less of the gunboat diplomacy, but some striking similarities nevertheless. No straight lines on maps admittedly. Rather agreements reached with poorer nations, mostly African. Securing natural resources – coal and ore for example – solely for export to China. Feeding the machine.

Africans - web

In return, infrastructure projects, advisors to provide assistance to developing nations. Even the teaching of Mandarin to Government officials. As I’d discovered at one of my stops in central China. Struggling a bit with the cold. But most of all political influence. Binding these countries ever closer to Beijing.


Perspectives on Bishkek

June 12th, 2010


These were not a people possessed of a revolutionary zeal. They simply tired of injustice. Corruption, nepotism, an impotent administration. A revolt, a public uprising, a riot or a revolution? Not bloodless, for over eighty people were killed. An act of defiance, a protest in which some subsequently lost their lives. Opportunistic looting before the gradual restoration of civil order. Over within a week.

At the fountain

Two months on, soldiers once more stand guarding the national flag, fluttering in the gentle evening breeze. A young child plays amongst the fountains with her mother. Others waiting for a bus. An overwhelming sense of normality.

Bus stop

Bishkek might lack some of the sophistication, and expense, of other Capital cities I’d visited, but with its tree-lined boulevards, plentiful leafy parks and wide open spaces, it was probably the most pleasant. Even the rush hour traffic seemed relatively benign. It felt safe. Very safe.


But not perfect. The centrally provided hot water hadn’t been seen for a month or so, and neither had the heating. And a society with no concept of orderly queuing can be a bit testing. But the real risk to your well-being? Probably the breakfast menu at Fatboy’s Cafe. Hardly a war zone.


And of the future? The interim President has just extended her term in office. Sounds ominous. Hope I’m wrong. And the Honorary Consul? Never did find him.


In Bishkek

June 11th, 2010

In Bishkek from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Ken describes the situation in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s Capital, a few months after the public uprising and removal of the former President.


More troubled times

June 11th, 2010

Scant evidence of the recent troubles to beset Bishkek. A few burnt out buildings, boarded up windows, little else. Floral tributes to the fallen long since removed. Broken glass swept away. A city at peace once more. Cosmetically at least. Nothing to as much suggest the loss of over eighty lives amongst the protestors, or sporadic looting in the centre.

Bullet hole

Little to show of the ransacking of the White House Presidential residence, just a few buckled bars in the wrought iron entrance gates, the remnants of an old barricade, a few bullet holes to peer through. Smoke damage that had been visible around the upper floor windows scrubbed clean. Burnt out cars scattered around the rear of the building removed.

Prosecutors office

In the centre of the city, only the Prosecutor’s Office, a few minutes from the White House, still showed any real signs of the destruction that had been inflicted by the crowds venting their anger and frustration at the then Government. But you’d be forgiven for mistaking the damage as being the result of an unfortunate accident, not a deliberate act.

Boarded shop

Whilst Government buildings had borne the brunt of the protestors wrath, there had been widespread opportunistic looting of shops and businesses, largely focused on those owned by the former President’s family. A few premises still remained boarded up, the odd window yet to be repaired. But otherwise little to suggest what had happened a few months previously.

Sons house

The former President’s son’s house had also been targeted by protestors, ransacked and set ablaze. But even it too was slowly being rebuilt, discretely behind high wooden gates. Destined, it appeared, to become a home for disabled children.


Order had been restored, in the Capital at least. But there was nothing to suggest this was a new administration stamping its authority, or a Soviet style airbrushing of history, erasing all traces of a past best forgotten. Simply a gentle return to normality. A single workman sitting precariously above the shell of a burnt out shopping mall, slowly restoring one of the few sights that gave any clue to recent events. The People had spoken.

[With especial thanks to Esther for hosting me, and being so generous with her time, acting as my guide around the city, sharing her collection of images taken around the centre of Bishkek in the immediate aftermath of the uprising]


The Full Monty

June 10th, 2010

Not a bad effort I suppose. A small omelette in lieu of the fried eggs, baked beans replaced with red kidney ones in a tomato sauce. But proper toast, and a quite acceptable mug of tea. I’d arranged to meet my host for the next few days in Bishkek at Fat Boy’s Cafe, mainly because I liked the name of the place. And it was on my small city map. Although early evening, I’d covered a good eighty miles or so to reach the Kyrgyz Republic’s Capital, and considered the Fully Monty breakfast option to be fair game.


No sign of the Honorary Consul who supposedly frequented the establishment, but I’d see if I could look him up later. I’d pondered who should be buying who a mug of tea. Or something stronger. Instead, an evening sat in the pleasant sunshine, chatting about life in Bishkek. The cafe was just a stone’s throw from the burnt out remains of the State Prosecutor’s Office, and a short walk from the White House, the Presidential residence ransacked a few months earlier by an angry mob.

This evening, though, the city seemed tranquil. The rush hour traffic, such as it was, had dissipated. Young couples strolling along the wide pavements. Fountains dancing in the central square, children running amok in the fine cooling mist. Families wandering through the parks. Tree-lined boulevards. Not what I’d expected for what the US deems to be an active war zone.

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