Wednesday, April 23, 2008


When I first spent a few weeks in Bangkok and finally managed to get out of the Koh San Rd. traveler district I remember being totally impressed with how modern and upscale the down town was. The skyrail took me from the river thru the city to a giant mall with glass tubes connecting its different towers.

Only shortly before I lived in Calcutta for a number of weeks which looked to me like a plausible semi dystopic vision for the future of a large percentage of the urban population. People swept up the garbage in the mornings and burned it in the streets. On long walks thru town I saw many people shitting on the street. Pollution was dense and the people were more ardently patriotic about their city than I have seen anywhere else. "Calcutta is the heart of India !!!"

Since then Andheri East in Mumbai has risen to compete with Calcutta in my mind for the poster child of the future.

My Skyrail ride in Thailand made me think Bangok was more on the Tokyo path than the Calcutta path.

The big suprise for me about China is that it also seems to be on the Tokyo path of development. The streets in Gwon Zhao are wide and empty. The cars are parallel parked neatly on the side of the roads. They use large Toyota Camrys for the Taxis. An extensive subway system that feels more modern than western airport light rails links the whole city and connects to a high speed train to Hong Kong. The lack of people is the most surprising for me though.

Most of India pulses with humanity. People are everywhere to the point where bumping up against them in movement or travel begins to feel natural. Often when I come home to California its the lack of people that strikes me most. The streets almost have a post catastrophe feel, like some disaster has annihilated the population and only 4 wheel mechanical beasts roam the streets.

China isn't quite that empty. But visible people are shockingly sparse for a country with a 1.4 billion population, and the small sample of it I've seen so far feels much more like Tokyo than Andheri.

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