Tag: Current Affairs

We may be in Bali some time!

We may be in Bali some time!

We have arrived in Bali to discover volcanologists are announcing that Mount Agung, its largest volcano to the east of the island, may erupt any day soon. With numerous villages likely to be wiped out, thousands have been evacuated from a 12km exclusion zone. Authorities are right to treat this seriously, the last time Mount Agung erupted in 1963, over 1,000 died.

We’re 70km away so currently unaffected. But it does mean our flight out of here on Saturday might be disrupted. It’s possible we’ll be here longer than planned and may have to rearrange our remaining round-the-world flights.

When we were children, Bali was an idyllic, exotic and semi-mysterious place. Today we read it’s ruined; litter on all the beaches, the sea full of condoms, the whole place overrun with drunken Aussies. So we have realistic expectations of our week here, hopefully a time of relaxing and recharging before we start a fairly intensive period of travel in Malaysia and India.

Our home in Bali is the surf shack area of Canggu, which Lonely Planet calls ‘more a state of mind than a place’. But, today with cranes and builders everywhere, it’s a place in transition – the ancient paddy fields are becoming pizza joints.

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Through booking.com we found this lovely penthouse apartment, five minutes from the beach
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High-rise middle classes

High-rise middle classes

In London, high rise living is polarised between the rich elite and the poor underclass. Between the shiny new apartments at Nine Elms and the many run-down “Grenfell Towers”.

In China, things are so different. It’s the ordinary urban dweller who lives 22 stories up, in a small two bedroom flat with a narrow corridor, on a massive new housing estate.

With Hilary revisiting sites in the centre, Roger travelled on the Hong Kong metro to the eastern suburb of Hang Hau, to explore just one estate and take some pictures. He wanted to see how hundreds of millions of Chinese live.

Everywhere, including the lifts was impeccably clean, with no graffiti anywhere. These are tower blocks with security and concierge services, attractive water features, children’s playgrounds and next door a vibrant shopping mall.

In Britain the landscape of the middle class is leafy and semi-detached – in China it’s tall, concrete and utilitarian.

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Faces of the future

Faces of the future

What do we see in these pictures? Young children regimented in the morning heat, being prepared for “the system”. Or, a focus on equality, discipline and ambition, so that opportunities for all are realised.

Much of what Roger saw at the assembly would mirror a school assembly in the west: certificates awarded for outstanding work, group singing, a talk by the head. Yet, there was an unmissable Chinese twist. For instance, even though many of the children looked close to passing out in the heat, teachers walked between the ranks admonishing any child not standing to attention with arms straight down at the side.

But China is in the business of winning. Winning the economic trade war. Winning the future of technology. And winning the fight against rural poverty affecting so many. It sees education as a way to propel the future of the country, rather than shape the lives of individuals. This seems to us the fundamental difference.

And one final thing to point out. In China, the school day starts early and ends late. The buses and pavements are full of uniformed kids at 7.00am and 6.00pm.

If you have children of school age, remember these pictures. The kids in them will probably be in the same queue as yours for the new global jobs.

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Heading to the BRICS summit

Heading to the BRICS summit

On entering a railway or metro station in China all bags are x-rayed and you have to walk through a metal detector. Normally the young security staff, just go through the motions, looking bored out of their minds and disinterested. But not on the day we travelled from Hangzhou to Xiamen: at Hangzhou station, they confiscated our cutting knife; at Xiamen bus station, Hilary had to open up her umbrella (we are not sure why) and also had to drink the liquid in her bottle to prove it was drinkable.

In ignorance, and by bad luck, a couple of days ago we heading to the host city of the 2017 BRICS summit, the annual meeting of the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Bad luck because the city is under a kind of emergency law, most restaurants have been forced to close because they use gas cookers, and we are currently unable to get to why we came here – the island of Gulangyu.

That said, knowing five of the most powerful men in the world are in town, no doubt staying in a much more palatial hotel than we are, does add some drama. And we watched the delegates’ cars whizz by through the closed streets.

BRICS countries have nearly 50% of the world’s population, account for 30% of the world’s production, but also have some of the worst inequality, which hopefully was on the agenda. In which case, we’ll excuse the security interruptions and the locals might forgive all the disruption to their economy.

Women only carriages

Women only carriages

We noticed women only carriages, stipulated on certain carriages during morning and evening rush hours, first on the Tokyo metro system. Our China expert Sophie, told us they were introduced because of the high levels of groping by men on crowded trains.

We’ve since also spotted these notices on Korean metro lines (above). What is the problem here? Aren’t we living in the 21st century in cosmopolitan egalitarian societies?

We note that this week a British Labour Member of Parliament (MP) has been making similar suggestions for the London tube. Glad to say that egalitarians have pushed back and said the solution should be prosecuting men for behaving badly rather than restricting women’s freedom.

Now some of you might say it’s not restricting women, but as Yvette Cooper MP says, “Why should women have to shut themselves away to stay safe.” And Sarah Wollaston, MP added, “In countries where women are segregated on public transport, it’s a marker for disempowerment not safety.”

Sad and depressing to see that in 2017 sexual harassment is still such an issue in advanced societies.

Falun Gong

Falun Gong

There’s a large Chinese community in San Francisco. This group are doing Falun Gong (or Falun Dafa). It’s a Chinese spiritual practice that combines meditation and qigong exercises with a moral philosophy centred on truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance.

But you won’t see this sight in China. Since 1999, it’s been a proscribed activity. Perhaps the authorities didn’t like its popularity, its moral and spiritual content, and its independence from the Communist Party.

It’s reported that Falun Gong practitioners in China are subject to a wide range of human rights abuses, including imprisonment and even death as a result of torture in custody. Some observers report that tens of thousands may have been killed to supply China’s organ transplant industry.

And yes, until we were handed a leaflet, we were unaware of any of this.

A moment on The Bridge

A moment on The Bridge

This post covers a tragic and very sad event that took place on the Golden Gate Bridge which some readers may find distressing.

There are uplifting reasons to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. To marvel close up at the engineering. To gaze across at the San Francisco skyline. To take that widely-shared selfie.

Another reason is to take your own life.

At regular intervals there are notices encouraging potential jumpers to press a button and talk to a counsellor. Yet, despite campaigns going back decades, there is still no protective fence preventing anyone pulling themselves up over the four-foot high barrier.

At the mid-point, Hilary marches on ahead whilst Roger and Stephanie (Hilary’s sister who has flown out to join us) turn back. Passing her, Roger notices the lone young woman standing by the barrier looking out into the distance, but there is nothing to directly suggest what will happen seconds later.

A cry.

Her body is directly below us floating away into the bay. Only an English couple on bikes and a young girl from the Philippines had actually seen her go over. It has all happened so quickly. All of us shaken, waving hopelessly to a tourist boat some way off.

So sad.

Bridge Protection Officers on the scene in minutes say it happens “Too often”. A flare is launched to track the current.

Roger picks up the woman’s black backpack left on the walkway; it’s completely empty except for some face cream. An Officer implies she wore it to blend in, “They often make many visits to work out how to avoid detection”.

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The black backpack – where the young woman left it before she jumped

Asked by Roger and Stephanie why there was no protection fence, the Officer says matter of factly “There are agreed plans to put a steel netting out on either side, but the money is still not fully available yet. It will cost millions.”

On Wikipedia a graph indicates around 30-40 people jump from the bridge each year. Surviving is very, very rare.

As she floats away, we see no attempt to retrieve the young woman. The girl from the Philippines cries on Roger’s shoulder “I was the last person she looked at”.

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500m straws every day

500m straws every day

St Francisville is a seriously upmarket artsy town. The place to enjoy drinks at the Magnolia Café.

With the lemonade and water (served with Hilary’s coffee) we got two of the 500 million straws that are provided every day in the States.

And they are used just once. Then disposed to landfill or perhaps worst to the rivers and oceans. What a waste.

You can read more about The Last Plastic Straw campaign here.

Ecuador at a defining moment

Ecuador at a defining moment

Back in Quito, as we went round the Presidential Palace (very underdressed!) the incumbent Rafael Correa was working away in his office. Unbelievably – given our European security sensitivities  – just down the corridor from us.

Unable to serve another term, Correa will be replaced on April 2nd when the country votes in the presidential run-off. It’s a defining moment for the country whose economy has crash-dived on the back of falling oil prices.

Leading in the polls is Lenín Moreno who offers continuity; many we spoke to fear this will lead to Ecuador becoming another Venezuela. Meanwhile Guillermo Lasso promises to put the economy first, reduce the state and align the country more with the West.

Should Lasso win – Wikileak’s Julian Assange might be booted out of the Ecuadorian London embassy sometime soon. But don’t expect that to happen. The ruling PAIS Alliance party have distributed a lot of money to the poor, built miles of roads, hired more civil servants than really needed and might even tamper with the vote.

At the Itaipu Dam

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Construction of the hydroelectric site started in 1971 with the first power generated in 1984

We took a free tour around the Itaipu Dam built on the Parana River between Paraguay and Brazil. It was a massive joint venture between the two countries; both at the time headed up by dictators.

China’s Three Gorges Dam has greater potential capacity to generate electricity but because the Parana River has less seasonal flow differences, Itaipu usually produces more electricity each year; much to the Paraguayans delight!

In a promotional video we learnt of the CO2 saved, but we weren’t told of the loss of the Guaira Falls – the world’s biggest by flow until they went under the Itaipu reservoir.

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The Itaipu Dam provides 75% of Paraguay’s needs and 17% of Brazil’s. It cost $19bn to construct and employs 3,000 people.