Insh’Allah this reaches to find each and every single one of you in the best of health, spirits and the highest of e’maan.
Apologies for the time taken to update.
I was able to make out the new moon today, though it was three or four days old, by my guess It’ll be Eid next Friday/Saturday in the UK.
To proceed….since I last wrote, I’ve travelled some several hundred kilometres, heading generally in a north westerly direction, into the heart of the Chinese heavy industry heartland. The weather has gotten progressively worse the further north I’ve gone, the temperature at best gets to 0c, yesterday with the wind chill factor, I had it at -5c, thankfully I had prepared for this, so on went the layers of thermals to help keep the chill out, despite my best efforts though, I have been hit with flu, just the normal type, though I bet I’ll have fun arriving at heathrow with a runny nose, a cough like a braying donkey and a constant stream of sneezes. TWM is a phenomenon I experience all the time…being accused of having the swine flu will be another bow to add to my growing strings of accusations, but if you combine the two…a terrorist who has THE flu and is intent on passing it on to everyone else…I guess I’ve been watching too many crappy movies.
Come to think of it now it’s not a fear of flying that I suffer with, I’ve learnt to accept that I’m being fired to my destination in a tin box full of other people’s farts, but it’s the whole security element.
Infact the level of security itself frightens people more so than the actual flight itself.
You’re not allowed any fluids on board in case you make a bomb out of lucozade and an i-pod, come on, who’s training Al-CIAda these days, McGyver?
You see it’s OK for all you whitey’s out there, but airport security is even tighter if you look vaguely middle eastern, if you’ve got a turban and a beard, I reckon you’re about six months away from having to fly naked on a plane made out of clear plastic.
I always fear our own government agencies more than terrorists, you may be looking for possible muslim extremists on the flight, but i’m looking out for guys who look like they used to be in the army, I tend to spend the whole flight time eyeballing people who are holding any kind of electronic device, which may double up as a detonator. This particular chappy was reading the bible, which didn’t help me, people say they find prayer reassuring, but if the pilot came on the intercom, told you to buckle up, would you be happy to hear a few verses of "Our Father"?
It got me thinking even more, what is typical behaviour for people who are going to blow up a plane?
I remember american airlines were working on a system where they would install camera’s on board planes to monitor our faces to check for signs of nervousness. Good job they weren’t installed on the flight I took, otherwise I’d be rotting away in a CIA secret prison somewhere.
With this said, I had my first negative experience in China.
At all rail stations there are baggage scanners like you have at airports, so when my bag went through I was asked to open it. Asked is putting a fine touch on it, as that would mean I was being spoken to in English. Imagine communicating in gestures alone, they kept pointing to one particular area of my suitcase. I got nervous, I had bought an item of chinese art, and though that perhaps I wasn’t allowed to, don’t ask me why I thought that, after all the closest thing I had got to anything close to an indiana jones type of escapade was ducking and diving the bull frog soup and dog meat rolls served for breakfast at the buffet.
They wanted me to open up my bag, which I did under protest, by protest I mean shrugging my shoulders and shaking my head, eventually as the case was about to open, to my mix of horror and disgust there was a whole crowd of people who had gathered to witness what this foreigner was carrying in his luggage.
The offending article….
My can of shaving foam.
They wouldn’t allow me to board the train because of a can of shaving foam.
What did they think I was going to do with it, give every one a quick shave and a columbian neck tie?
Eventually after much gesticulation on my part, like I was playing charades high on crack, I was allowed to put the shaving foam can back into my suitcase…and I was looking forward to bringing my role as sweeney todd to china’s train system too.
OK, I seem to have digressed somewhat, so lets get back on track.
I had the best part of yesterday free to spend as I wished, so with my bodyguard/driver/friend in tow, I proceeded downtown, to see how the locals wile away their weekends.
I ended up in a huge american style mall…you think parking is difficult in England…boy you need to experience parking your car in china, I wasn’t even driving and I was getting road rage.
The mall is everything that China seems to aspire towards, a rampant, corpulent consumer culture, where you are the products you own.
Now I wouldn’t be me, if I didn’t show you the dark side, yes their is a dark side, and as I do on every trip I always stray away from the boundaries that have been allocated to me. You see it’s all good me talking to you about the economic prosperity of China and how everything is so marvellous, when you are flitting between identikit clone 5 star hotels, you’re in the high rise board rooms of major industrial players, and you’re backside is sitting in the finest automobiles that europe can offer.
But this boom time is missing a whole bunch of people out of the equation, economists who talk about "trickle down effects" and yet never leave the boundary of what I’ve described above have no clue of what goes on for ordinary people. See China has a population of roughly 1.5 billion people, that’s 1500 million. If we take a conservative number of 3% living a "hand to mouth" existence that’s 45 million people that the system has failed. 45 million people that live on the fringes of society and are disaffected, means that a few years down the line, when the economy gets off its steep trajectory, there are going to be a whole bunch of very angry people. China has had a history of rebellions, a 21st century rebellion will be on a scale the country has never witnessed before.
A typical conversation with people over here goes like, what’s your name? where you from? what’s your age? how much do you earn? For the Chinese, the capacity to earn is at the forefront, while in Britain it’s a taboo to ask what you earn (I don’t know how much my fellow friends from uni are earning) but over here, they’ll ask with no hesitation.
The average university graduate takes home 500 USD a month. Go to one of these malls and see how far that would get you. The same jeans I was wearing were being sold for…brace yourself…an eye wateringly expensive £185, trainers similar to mine where on sale for in excess of £100, even everyday basic high street chains like h&m, zara and next operate here, but sell for double to triple the rate. Despite the fact they are selling products made in China, and electronics are no better, just as well I bought my camera in the UK before I headed out, as the same camera here costs at least £80 more.
My take on this is simple, we in the West consume everything that gets made in china, it gets made in china because its cheaper than making it in our own countries, in fact we don’t make anything in Britain anymore, we have no industry, just services, all our utilities are owned by foreign powers, we don’t mass manufacture any cars, we are reliant on imports of food and energy, without which we’ll be back in the stone age, and you wonder why britian plays lapdog to america? it’s all about the control of resources in all their shapes and forms.
The Chinese export on the cheap, because to us, all the fancy fashion and hi tech gadgetry are essentials, for the chinese they are high end lifestyle products, and thus come with a price band to match.
Note to self: opening up a primark here would do wonders.
I’ve seen how people who serve westerners in their hotels and serve them food, and open up their car doors and carry their bags live, and I’ll tell you what, it ain’t pretty. I went out to what can best be described as an old colonial style cantonment, and for all talk of china’s economic miracle, the vast number of people who live on the margins of society is a saddening sight to witness. I’ve seen kids picking through rubbish in many a country, and I know that the benefits of aid and trade that our western liberal sensibilities often trumpet are nowhere to be seen, the notion that the chinese live in a "people’s republic" is anything but, it’s the same system in play but with a different face on, the face of market forces and capitalism.
At least we British are upfront about our dishonesty, we’ll stick adam smith’s picture on our money, the godfather of modern day economics, the chinese have chairman mao, whose cult lives on…his pictures are omnipresent…you know what i’m talking about if you’ve ever been to an arab country, the ruler’s picture stares at you from every wall space, same thing over here.
It’s only been my stiff upper lip that’s kept me from taking pictures, as i’m a stranger in a strange land, I have to respect their customs and remain polite. Although in one particular hotel there was something on the menu that I’ve never seen anywhere.
I see that you’re thinking what could this be?
Now i’m a pretty open minded kind of guy, and I understand that East has to cater for all kind of pedo’s the west has to offer, after all gary glitter was hiding out in thailand and vietnam, but there’s a line which you cannot cross, and offering "Rape" on the menu sends shudders through my body. I asked the waitress what exactly the "Rape" was but she couldn’t explain it, oh to have another english speaker at the table with a sense of humour as bad as mine!
On that rather strange note, I have to go for a dinner appointment (let’s hope "rape" isn’t on the menu), I’ll try and get one more update done for you in the next couple of days.
Remember me in your duah’s as this traveller remembers his Ummah.
This is Akh the Angry Academic Activist
And I approve this message!