GRANDEUR AND MAGNIFICENCE IN ASIA’S CITIES


Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Good day to my fellow global citizens!

The year had just kicked off, and we’re already witnessing the contrast in images projected in the mass media between East and West. Just notice the projections regarding urban life in each hemisphere, and you can see the differences in the images.

Asian cities have been projecting themes of cooperation, growth, exquisite city plans, 21st century architectural wonders, and these themes were projected well despite the typical urban problems of decay (congestion, pollution, traffic jams). In contrast, those of Western cities’ projected crimes, street protests, snow storms, floods (e.g. Australia’s), and related pessimistic images.

Coming from the East makes me feel with awe and pride about the transfigurations that our own emerging markets and big cities are going through. Our economies are clearly the drivers of the world economy, our investments and treasuries in the West largely keep their economies alive, and our growth and rising middle class make for our urban accomplishments as well.

Whereas before our cities were citadels of flies, malaria, squalor, and crimes, today our big cities have mutated to model skyscrapers, exquisite urban plans with many mixed land use commercial centers, architectural wonders & cultural innovations, and multi-cultural cooperation. Peoples of the West who are truly appreciative of our feats would normally experience their jaws drop in awe over the marvels that our big cities can show to them.

Among recent depictions, I recall vividly the images of Christmas trees in malls all over Asia even in countries that are Buddhist, Hindu, and Moslem. Asian urbanites are showing the way to how a former sectarian event—the Christmas holidays—can be globalized and celebrated by every nation, race, and culture. Buddhist children in Thailand for instance showed deep fondness for Santa Claus and Christmas, so their respective schools respected their fondness and celebrated Christmas as well.

In Indonesia, Moslem workers were shown preparing the finishing touches for Christmas decors, Christmas trees, food & delicacies for the Christmas event, and related paraphernalia. Many of the exported decors from Indonesia’s Muslims reached the Philippines, with some of the Christmas lights reaching our home in suburban highlands east of Manila. China’s toys, Christmas lights, delicatessen, wines, and holiday paraphernalias made us equally happy as did the Indonesians.

Scenes of Asian cities celebrating the New Year—largely the Western New Year based on the Gregorian calendar—were well projected on television, internet, and print media. Taipei 101, the 2nd highest building worldwide, had its equivalent scenes of pyrotechnic fireworks and revelry of people in its surrounds. Such an event happened in all the big cities of Asia, rest assured.

Beijing with its trade exposition buildings, wondrous streets, magnificent palaces, and other marvels, were among those projected in the media. The world’s largest mall is in this city, and is owned and built by the SM Group of companies of the Philippines (owned by the Sy family).

The cities of Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Bangkok, Calcutta, Shanghai, Shenzen, Mumbai, Manila, Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo, Singapore, Osaka, Dubai, Abu Dhabi among others, were also projected with each one having their contributions to the grandeur of 21st century life and the bright beginnings of 2011. Till now the very positive projections of lustrous performance and compass of the future in such cities are still being churned out in the mass media.

Contrast those images to the still prolonged floods in Australia (cities affected too), another round of snow storms in the USA, massacre in Arizona by a sociopathic young man, hundreds of deaths in Mexico (how many dead in Acapulco? Mexico city?…), continuing protests in Europe over austerity measures and rising poverty,…well, negative images dominate those reportorials about Western cities, with some images shocking and unnerving.

Before the year 2010 ended, an American lady (professional) whom I met in a social network, shared to me a videofilm of hers about “3rd World America.” Depicting huge poverty incidence in the USA coupled with urban decay, huge income disparities between rich & poor, and deterioration of the once mighty physical economy there, the short feature film struck a cord. It amplified scenes of 3rd world deteriorations in America at this time, degenerations that we analysts thought would take place in the next decade yet.

The film was hair raising and admittedly effective in portraying its intentions. Knowing the rapid ‘decline of the West’ (ala Spengler) that is going on in the industrialized world, I could only but hope for a reversal of degenerative trends there, trends that are likewise manifested in the negative images about the Western cities.

Maybe it’s time that Western peoples should look up to the themes and images projected by Eastern cities, watch and learn from our nascent innovations and urban marvels, and hope that the experience could help to reverse the deepening pessimism and nihilism going on in Western cities and nations.

[Philippines, 19 January 2011]

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