A spinoff in proper "Rhoda" style of my patented e-mail blastograms, this blog was created with the intention of keeping friends and family updated on and amused by my life.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Puddle Reflections

This morning in London it rained. Scratch that. It didn’t just rain, it dumped. Walking to work, my umbrella did little to shield me from the oncoming storm, or the dreaded bounceback of the rain pounding on the sidewalk.

But in true coastal style, London is now, just an hour after a torrential downpour, bathed in a heavy sun. A beautiful day to be out and about…as long as you can avoid the ginormous puddles that have spread throughout the city that is.

The following are four short scenes I came across today as I walked down the Queen’s Walk along the Thames from work to the LSE:

Scene the First: A girl in a white, flowery summer dress, Mr Whippy (a type of soft serve ice cream omnipresent in London, often served with a chocolate ‘flake’) in hand. Donning pastel turquoise Wellies (short for Wellingtons, a type of rain boot) she waded thoughtfully through a puddle that went well above her ankles, almost flowing into her boots. She stood transfixed at the movements of the water, the ice cream cone at a precarious angle.

Scene Two: Two young teenage boys walking briskly down the path. One was eating a sandwich prêt-a-manger. As they skipped over a puddle, he dropped the plastic container with half his sandwich still in it. He stood there cursing lightly as the sandwich became waterlogged. The other half, with one bite gone, he clung to forcefully.

Scene Three: Outside of a restaurant, tucked just off the main path were two workers out the back door. One was out for a cigarette break. He stood on a wooden crate over the puddle, puffing away, paying little head to his colleague. The other was navigating the puddle with two o’erturned bright blue plastic crates, standing on one, pushing the other through the puddle, jumping to it. Repeat.

Scene Four: A man jogging in too short shorts. As he climbed the stairs to the bridge, water spritzed out behind him creating a fine mist that floated slowly down as he passed me by.

Labels: ,

Thursday, July 19, 2007

On Global Cities, Nation-States, and the Threats of Terrorism

“On July 27, 2005, Mumbai experienced the highest recorded rainfall in its history: 37 inches of rain in one day. The torrent showed the best and the worst about the city. Hundreds of people drowned. But unlike New Orleans after Katrina hit, there was no widespread breakdown of civic order; though police were absent, the crime rate did not go up.

“That was because Mumbaikars were busy helping one another. Slum dwellers went to the highway and took stranded motorists into their homes and made room for one more person in shacks where the average occupancy is seven adults to a room.

“Volunteers waded through waist-deep water to bring food to the 150,000 people stranded in train stations. Human chains formed to get people out of the floodwaters. Most of the government machinery was absent, but nobody expected otherwise. Mumbaikars helped one another, because they had lost faith in the government helping them.”

Suketu Mehta thus described Mumbai in an article recently republished in the IHT entitled ‘Dirty, crowded, rich and wonderful’. It’s an impressive attempt at describing the indescribable: a city swelling and surging, dynamic and rigid, sometimes appalling yet somehow appealing. A city where "discomfort is an investment.” A city where, despite all the troubles and setbacks, the human spirit thrives.

And cities, it seems, are a recurring theme at the moment. Indeed, Mumbai is one of ten cities currently highlighted in the Tate Modern’s exhibit: Global Cities, which is on show until 27 August 2007. The installations present interesting facts and statistics presented in a variety of ways mixed with artwork, photos, and videos to help bring each of the cities to life. And since this blog is called Fun Facts for whenever, I thought I’d share a few of those stats:

  • In 2007, for the first time, more than 50% of people on Earth live in an urban environment.

  • By 2050, it is predicted that around 75% of the global population will live in cities.

  • Mumbai will overtake Tokyo as the world’s largest city by population by 2050 with an expected population of over 40 million people.

  • In Los Angeles 7% of the population use public transport for their daily commute. In Tokyo, 78% of the population uses public transport.

  • Commutes of up to four hours a day are normal for those in the outlying areas of Sao Paolo.

  • Shanghai adds an average of 29.4 new residents each hour.

  • The GDP of the City of London is equivalent to that of Switzerland/

  • The population densities of four of the cities: Cario- 36,500 people per square kilometer; Mumbai- 34,000 ppl/km2, Mexico City- 5,800 ppl/km2, London- 4,500 ppl/km2

  • 95% of those moving to London since 1995 were born outside the UK

For more stats and facts, check out the Global Cities exhibit’s webpage.

Now consider that last fact: almost all newcomers to London come from outside the UK. And really, it’s the diversity of this place that I love so much although it causes its own problems.

Consider my thoughts from a blog entry I was intending to post the other week but never got around to:

“Drip, drop, gush. Frustration and anger crept into my esprit with every drop of rain.

“Il pleut. And on this 下雨天 dominated by grey skies and gusty winds, the last thing that I wanted to do was leave the house. Alas, I had agreed to a double shift (that’s 10 hours!) at the ‘chocolate factory’, and so I grudgingly trudged out the door. Which isn’t when my problems began, to be sure, but was certainly when they were exacerbated.

“As I’m sure most of you know by this point, on Thursday evening/Friday early morning (29 June 2007), a car loaded with petrol, nails, and a detonator was found outside a London nightclub near Picadilly Circus. A second was also reportedly found later that morning. Luckily police worked to diffuse the bomb before anybody was seriously injured (and it appears that it would have caused a significant number of casualties). Later that weekend, another set of bombers tried to attack at the Glasgow airport.

“‘Insouciance’ was the word the IHT used to describe the general reaction of Londoners, and I couldn’t think of a more apt description. Sure it was a talking point for the last couple of days, but since the bomb didn’t actually explode, it’s almost too hypothetical to feel strongly about. Sure, I was at a nightclub in Leicester Square at the time, but that’s a good 500 meters away from the explosive device, and therefore I was well out of harms way. And anyway, the Valentine’s Day bombings in Manila a couple of years ago was a much closer call for me.”

And yet, that rainy weekend day, after much frustration, it all melted away at the sight of the London Eye on my evening commute home. It was the day of the Gay Pride Parade in London and as such, London was trying to be in a celebratory mood. I, on the other hand, was in a dour mood. It was raining. I had to work. My Internet at home still wasn’t working. Traffic was a nightmare between parts blocked off for investigation into the bombings and the parade wending its way through London’s streets. But on the bus ride home, I turned my head to the left as we crossed over the river to see the London Eye lit up in rainbow colours.

To see that through such crap London could still band together, put a finger up to the world, and celebrate its diversity made me proud to be a Londoner. My incessant internal grumblings simply evaporated at the sight. The weight of an overbearing London ceased, sublimating into the cool night.

My parents were concerned about the almost bombings, but the fact of the matter is that in London we had it lucky.

The following Tuesday, several ‘al-Qaeda’ (supposedly) members attacked a convoy of Spanish tourists in Yemen. For a short IHT article describing what happened, see Survivors describe bombing attack in Yemen as 'an absolute nightmare'.

One of my Dutch friends here in London was engaged to the owner of the travel company that was taking the Spanish tourists to an ancient temple in the region of Marib. He lost two of his friends and colleagues who were driving the cars in the convoy. He lost seven tourists. He was dragged in for questioning by Yemeni police (though ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing).

The families of the Yemeni victims, though, lost not only husbands/sons/brothers but also the main breadwinners in the family, not to mention the cars they drove which were the family’s main source of income.

It is these people and their families about whom we should be concerned—innocent victims of a political crime. Not a focus on the potentiality of the ‘almost’ that is most certainly exaggerated in the media. For example, both free evening London papers lead with a headline like: ‘1700 threatened in terrorist attack’ that Friday, with 1700 the capacity of the club that was targeted. Certainly the club was not at full capacity on a Thursday evening! But what’s the bigger number? What’s the better story?

Labels: , , ,

Monday, July 16, 2007

Overheard in London

"It's not about me, myself and I, mate. That's Jim Carey."