A ghost city, and a horror story

ghost city china

 

 

Just a few days prior, China has officially surpassed United States to become the world’s largest economy based on purchasing power parity (PPP) level. While the country still has a long way to go to completely replace US as the planet’s future superpower, China has started to face numerous problems that are increasingly deteriorating, all of which are the decades-old by-products of its breakneck economic growth. One of them is the existence of ‘ghost cities’ – gigantic, splurge urban areas with dozens, even hundreds, of building blocks which are apparently uninhabited and even unfinished – and Kangbashi (pictured above) is the poster child for this phenomenon. Supposedly built to accommodate 1 million people, the city has now no more than 20,000 people living in this territory. Something must have definitely gone wrong with the way these cities are built.

Konrad Kaestner creates a short, 15-minute film titled ‘Cathedrals’ about this ghost city. Using the sceneries he records throughout his journey in Kangbashi, he creates the entire sceneries, using a poetic, and oftentimes Edgar Allan Poe-style narration to depict the whole pictures, which he recreates into a Kafkaesque realm of existence (and sometimes reimagining the enactments from Silent Hill). Watch his short in Aeon, and listen to his narrative very seriously.

Looking at death the other way around

when i die

When Philip Gould was diagnosed with cancer and had only 6 weeks to live, he decided not to fight the disease back. He was, instead, doing something what much of the public would term as ‘surrendering oneself to ultimate fate’, or ‘giving up’. Gould, nonetheless, offered an interesting perspective about it. He would rather call death as ‘life’s ultimately most extraordinary journey’, a journey to somewhere unknown, unbeknownst by human understanding.

In this 9-minute video recorded in 2011, Gould spun the yarn about his last days before dying, and how this experience completely alters his perspective about life, and attempts to make his last stage in life ‘as exciting and enjoyable as possible’. Watch the full video in Aeon.

“Fieldwork” North Korea: an observation

north korea

 

A direct, firsthand observation by Emma Campbell, a Korean expert based in Australian National University (ANU), of daily life in the world’s most secluded country. Read her research paper in The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus.

 

Excerpt:

 

The Chinese visitors are easy to tell apart from the general North Korean population. Not only is the Korean Workers’ Party badge missing from their jackets, but they are generally better dressed and bigger. The relative wealth of the Chinese is apparent not least because of their spending in places such as markets and casinos. The interaction with these richer neighbours must also reinforce the other imagery and experiences that remind North Koreans in their daily life of the relative wealth of China. On two occasions I encountered North Koreans watching Chinese DVDs, including one being played on a television set visible to the general public coming in and out of a hair salon. This DVD was an episode from a detective series, set in a major Chinese city, and showing the full cosmopolitanism and modernity of contemporary China with its skyscrapers, traffic, sophisticated restaurants and shops.

Of course, interactions with Chinese tourists constitute part of daily life for North Koreans who live in the key tourist cities and regions. Given the apparent efforts to grow tourism from China to North Korea, such interactions are likely to increase. Entering northeast Korea using the Chinese-constructed road from the Korean border post of Wŏnjŏng and moving onwards to other cities and towns in the Northeast region there is a visible construction boom with many tourist infrastructure projects underway. These included a spa facility in Kyŏngsŏng and a resort hotel near the town of T’umŏn. In addition, hotel construction was visible in the Ch’ilbo mountain region with plans displayed for ski resorts and other tourist facilities across this spectacular national park. These tourist facilities were all said to be aimed at the growing Chinese market20. Chinese tourists dominate North Koreas nascent tourism sector – it is estimated that in 2012 around 10,000 Chinese tourists travelled to North Korea compared to only 4,000 Western visitors21.

China’s next target in the South China Sea

south china sea

 

As China’s geopolitical stance becomes increasingly assertive, the soon-to-be superpower is now emboldening its claim in several places ‘historically assumed’ to be belonging to them. One major point of contention among them is the dispute in South China Sea. As it is disputed by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei, and numerous diplomatic talks have repeatedly stalled, this issue is becoming more complicating than ever.

Right now, with the latest nine-dash map released by Chinese government, there’s one country that is increasingly possibly involved in this dispute as well. And that’s Indonesia.

Victor Robert Lee, a geopolitical expert and also a novelist, analyzes this in Medium. Read the full article by clicking the link.

 

Excerpt:

 

The Natuna archipelago has been the subject of an Indonesia-China tug-of-war before. Until the 1970s the majority of Natuna residents were ethnic Chinese. Deadly anti-Chinese riots plagued Indonesia in the 1960s, early 1980s, and again in 1998, leading to a decline of the ethnic Chinese population on Natuna from an estimated 5,000–6,000 to somewhere over 1,000 currently. Many ethnic Chinese in the broader region believe to this day that a secret meeting (never publicly confirmed) was held between Deng Xiaoping (China’s premier from 1978 to 1992) and Natuna islanders of Chinese origin who asked that Deng either back their bid for independence from Indonesia, or bring their island under Chinese suzerainty.

Neither happened, and as part of a nation-wide transmigration initiative, the Indonesian government in the 1980s started to relocate ethnically Malay Indonesians to Natuna, for the stated reasons of importing skills and relieving population pressures on the over-crowded main island of Java, and, as perceived by local Chinese Indonesians, for the unstated reason of swamping the ethnic Chinese population with “real Indonesians.” That is, people of Malay ethnicity, who now number approximately 80,000 in the Natuna Islands group.

Courage and Hope – an essay by Malala Yousafzai

malala and kailash

 

This essay was published in Medium shortly after the announcement. Feel free to click it, or just read her work below.

 

Courage and Hope

What the Nobel Peace Prize means to me.

Today, I was honored to learn I have been selected to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

I spoke to co-recipient Kailash Satyarthi by phone. We agreed to continue the struggle for children’s rights together and to work to heal divides between my home of Pakistan and his of India.

I am proud I am the first young person and first Pakistani to win this prize. It is an honour I share with Kailash Satyarthi — a hero in the fight for children globally. More than ever, our world needs more heroes like Kailash. His example makes me brave.

I believe the Nobel committee didn’t give this award to me. I believe they have done this because they believe education is the best weapon through which we can fight poverty, ignorance and terrorism.
I believe they did this because they don’t believe in just one girl, but in all the girls whose voices need to be heard, who are under the darkness of conflict or poverty. This award is for my powerful sisters who have not been listened to for far too long.

And I raise their voices, I stand together with them.

I believe they did this because they believe we are #StrongerThan any challenge. We are #StrongerThan fear. This award is courage and hope for me and all those who fight for education.

Walking to school with my father.

When I found out that I won today, I was in school, studying Chemistry. I told my teacher I needed to finish my school assignment. Education is my top priority. I was learning with my friends, where I believe every child should be. But 57 million of them are still out school. We still have a lot to do.

The road to education, peace and equality is very long. But I know millions of children are walking beside me. If we go together, we will achieve our goals and we will complete our journey. We have to walk together.

I am honoured to walk this road with Kailash. I am honoured to walk it with you.

I invite you to join our movement to break the cycle of poverty and empower girls through education at www.malala.org

Stay updated on all Nobel Peace Prize news and watch Malala’s full speech here.

Originally published at community.malala.org.

 

Malala and Nabila – worlds apart

malala and nabila

There’s much adoration toward Malala Yousafzai when she was awarded Nobel Peace Prize this year – no wonder she’s been tirelessly talked about in mainstream media, and she’s the youngest person ever to grab such a prestigious award. With hardly a doubt, we all must congratulate her, appreciate her bravery in advocating education rights for women and children in her country, Pakistan, particularly in areas controlled by Al-Qaeda terrorists who never cease intimidating their daily affairs there.

Nonetheless, behind the hype about Malala, there’s something ironic, and inevitable, that is all associated with our natural tendencies towards statistical numbing. While Western media never stops courting her, we seemingly become oblivious to the fact that at the same place she used to live in, there’s an ongoing campaign led by US military to infiltrate the terrorists. But this is being done at a huge cost. Relying solely on drones, they often haphazardly target civilian places as well, killing ordinary people, including many women and children. The media, business as usual, has again, by exploiting Malala’s name – she has no guilt for this part, concealed us from the what is really going on there. The drone attacks continue over and over, and there are seemingly no signs of abating.

Until now, US government has yet to completely review and evaluate their drone policy. Again, this is an irony.

Read the Al Jazeera opinion piece below, published in November 2013.

Malala and Nabila: worlds apart

by Murtaza Hussein

01 Nov 2013

On October 24, 2012 a Predator drone flying over North Waziristan came upon eight-year-old Nabila Rehman, her siblings, and their grandmother as they worked in a field beside their village home. Her grandmother, Momina Bibi, was teaching the children how to pick okra as the family prepared for the coming Eid holiday. However on this day the terrible event would occur that would forever alter the course of this family’s life. In the sky the children suddenly heard the distinctive buzzing sound emitted by the CIA-operated drones – a familiar sound to those in the rural Pakistani villages which are stalked by them 24 hours a day – followed by two loud clicks. The unmanned aircraft released its deadly payload onto the Rehman family, and in an instant the lives of these children were transformed into a nightmare of pain, confusion and terror. Seven children were wounded, and Nabila’s grandmother was killed before her eyes, an act for which no apology, explanation or justification has ever been given.

This past week Nabila, her schoolteacher father, and her 12-year-old brother travelled to Washington DC to tell their story and to seek answers about the events of that day. However, despite overcoming incredible obstacles in order to travel from their remote village to the United States, Nabila and her family were roundly ignored. At the congressional hearing where they gave testimony, only five out of 430 representatives showed up. In the words of Nabila’s father to those few who did attend“My daughter does not have the face of a terrorist and neither did my mother. It just doesn’t make sense to me, why this happened… as a teacher, I wanted to educate Americans and let them know my children have been injured.”

The translator broke down in tears while recounting their story, but the government made it a point to snub this family and ignore the tragedy it had caused to them. Nabila, a slight girl of nine with striking hazel eyes, asked a simple question in her testimony: “What did my grandmother do wrong?” There was no one to answer this question, and few who cared to even listen. Symbolic of the utter contempt in which the government holds the people it claims to be liberating, while the Rehmans recounted their plight, Barack Obama was spending the same time meeting with the CEO of weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

Selective memory

It is useful to contrast the American response to Nabila Rehman with that of Malala Yousafzai, a young girl who was nearly assassinated by the Pakistani Taliban. While Malala was feted by Western media figures, politicians and civic leaders for her heroism, Nabila has become simply another one of the millions of nameless, faceless people who have had their lives destroyed over the past decade of American wars. The reason for this glaring discrepancy is obvious. Since Malala was a victim of the Taliban, she, despite her protestations, was seen as a potential tool of political propaganda to be utilised by war advocates. She could be used as the human face of their effort, a symbol of the purported decency of their cause, the type of little girl on behalf of whom the United States and its allies can say they have been unleashing such incredible bloodshed. Tellingly, many of those who took up her name and image as a symbol of the justness of American military action in the Muslim world did not even care enough to listen to her own words or feelings about the subject.

As described by the Washington Post’s Max Fisher:

Western fawning over Malala has become less about her efforts to improve conditions for girls in Pakistan, or certainly about the struggles of millions of girls in Pakistan, and more about our own desire to make ourselves feel warm and fuzzy with a celebrity and an easy message. It’s a way of letting ourselves off the hook, convincing ourselves that it’s simple matter of good guys vs bad guys, that we’re on the right side and that everything is okay.

But where does Nabila fit into this picture? If extrajudicial killings, drone strikes and torture are in fact all part of a just-cause associated with the liberation of the people of Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere, where is the sympathy or even simple recognition for the devastation this war has caused to countless little girls such as her? The answer is clear: The only people to be recognized for their suffering in this conflict are those who fall victim to the enemy. Malala for her struggles was to be made the face of the American war effort –  against her own will if necessary – while innumerable little girls such as Nabila will continue to be terrorized and murdered as part of this war without end. There will be no celebrity appearances or awards ceremonies for Nabila. At her testimony almost no one even bothered to attend.

But if they had attended, they would’ve heard a nine-year-old girl asking the questions which millions of other innocent people who have had their lives thrown into chaos over the past decade have been asking: “When I hear that they are going after people who have done wrong to America, then what have I done wrong to them? What did my grandmother do wrong to them? I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Murtaza Hussain is a Toronto-based writer and analyst focused on issues related to Middle Eastern politics.

Simon & Garfunkel – America

 

United States, for all its imminent problems – worsening income gap, violent crime rates, persistent economic stagnation, and other countless things you may have to compile a list – remains a dream place not only for its young generation, but also for people across the whole world. Nearly 50 million people born worldwide have been residing in this country, excluding hundreds of millions of people still going after the dreams they relentlessly chase. At one point, this song by Simon & Garfunkel was an ironic statement about how reality slowly crushes away their dreams, forcing them to ‘wake up’, finding out all the promises made about America are no more than illusions. And this seemingly explains again about the waning power of this country, one that has been embattled by so many troubles of its own, excluding the world’s problems that many of the countries desperately need America to protect them. Its soul is becoming increasingly empty, and many people are slowly losing their life directions as reality intrudes and grinds their dreams further. That the America they are looking for is increasingly distant from their expectations.

Nonetheless, people still never stop chasing America. And they will never stop.

A lesson seriously learned from this song. We need to do our self-contemplation, a soul-searching journey again, on what our dreams really are.

 

Bonus: the song is covered again by Passenger (a vivid fan of Paul Simon), The Once, and Stu Larsen.