Martin Jacques has written an interesting book about China’s rise as a world economic power. His overview of the geo-political and Realpolitik relationships of the east and west are interesting; particularly in light of the Trump administration.
“When China Rules the World” has interesting details that inform but do not convince one that China will rule the world. The provocative title drives the bus but it does not reach its destination.
World control is a myth that causes wars and destroys the best and brightest, as well as the mean and maniacal.
What is happening in China is remarkable. China’s transition from Maoist communism to capitalist communism is a caterpillar turning into a butterfly; i.e. China has grown wings but it still lives in a world constrained by its environment.
Though President Xi is re-instituting some Maoist mistakes, China’s world wide investment in infrastructure is based on capitalist beliefs. Xi has an internationalist focus, just like that which made America great; at least, until Trump’s Presidency.
Chairman Mao’s cultural revolution and belief in enlarging collectivist ideology nearly destroys China’s path to prosperity
Xi is attempting to open new markets by financing infrastructure improvements in African, Middle Eastern, and Asian countries. He is creating customers for Chinese product.
Undoubtedly, Xi is also trying to seduce other nations into belief in Xi’s form of Communism. This is not unlike America’s intent to democratize the world.
Jacques argues that a 90% Han Chinese cultural domination of 1/5th of the world’s population will change the nature of the 21st century. In a limited sense, that is undoubtedly true. However, regardless of the type of government rule, human nature is the same.
Money, power, and prestige, are the primary motivations of humankind. Whether one is Han Chinese, Tibetan, Uighur, Indian, Hispanic, Black, or any singular ethnic group, all humans seek control of money, power, and prestige. These innate drives are the speedometer, brakes, and steering wheels of nation-state’ leaders and followers.
There are dominant factions in every culture that are not necessarily the majority of a culture’s population. Jacques’ early comments suggest China’s 5000 year history reflects a cultural conformity greater than any other country in history while later he acknowledges that the predominant Han population is highly diverse in its beliefs.
Cultural conformity is not the relevant issue; i.e., dominant cultures, whether a majority or minority of an indigenous population, are the game changers of a nation’s history.
Jacques argues that China’s cultural history of familial respect and veneration will have profound affects on the future of world economies. Jacques has a valid point. However, the history of modernization suggests that the fabric of extended filial obligation will be ripped apart in China just as it has in every industrializing nation.
China, just as all modernizing nation-states, will see deterioration of familial bonds.
Human nature is immutable. As an agrarian culture moves to the city and parents are compelled to work for wages, family structure and filial commitment deteriorates.
Of course, capitalism is not the same in China as it is in the western hemisphere. As Jacques reports, major capitalist businesses are state owned in China. They compete in the world market but government support mitigates much of the free enterprise ideal of capitalist economies. However, no nation-state operates as a free enterprise capitalist country; i.e. government has always played a role in capitalist nations. Government subsidy of industrialization is a matter of degree.
It may be that China will change the way industrialized countries compete but global economic domination is no longer possible in a tech savvy world that recognizes knowledge is power and natural resources are limited.
All the world knows how each culture in the world lives. With that knowledge, countries will gravitate to systems of government that serve its dominant culture best. Best is defined as what is most important to the dominant culture in the context of either money, power, or prestige.
Long term, China is facing a tougher road to modernize because of population, environmental degradation, and dwindling natural resources, but their short term prospects look better than most other nations.
As Jacques points out, China’s savings rate is over 20%, with a GDP growth rate 3 times that of America. The cost of dwindling natural resources is more affordable to China than most other modernizing countries. However, all economies are closely tied to each other and a major failure in America or Europe will have great consequence for the world economy which will significantly affect China’s short term advantage.
With a failure of a western countries economy, China’s drive toward modernization will be in danger. That danger is demonstrated today by America’s creation of a trade war with China.
Some argue this burgeoning trade war is hurting the Chinese economy more than the American economy. That may be true in the short term, but the efficacy of trade wars are questionable in the long term; particularly in our internet connected world.
Jacques’ book is worth its purchase price and a consumer’s time because he exposes some of the cultural biases of China that are not widely known. His suggestion that discrimination is as prevalent in China as it is in the United States is reprehensible, and disgustingly familiar. Globalization is real. Human nature is immutable. All mankind travels on the same space ship; i.e. our blue ball. At the very least, China is proving that our environment is fragile and natural resources are finite.
Travel Review By Chet Yarbrough (Blog:awalkingdelight) Website: chetyarbrough.blog Egypt in 2019 Written by: Chet Yarbrough CLOSEUP OF THE SPHINX AT GIZA, NEAR CAIRO The pyramids, ancient artifacts, lush farming communities, and Nile river reveal Egypt’s past and present. Egypt’s current capitol, Cairo, is the seventh most densely populated city in the world. No coal is … Continue reading “EGYPT IN 2019”
Egypt is a crossroad between Africa and Asia which makes it a prime target for colonization and control by invaders.
CLOSEUP OF THE SPHINX AT GIZA, NEAR CAIRO
The pyramids, ancient artifacts, lush farming communities, and Nile river reveal Egypt’s past and present. Egypt’s current capitol, Cairo, is the seventh most densely populated city in the world. No coal is burned to pollute the air. The Nile puts China’s Yangtze river to shame in showing less river trash and pollution.
FISHING ON THE NILE
Egyptian farms are irrigated with river water distributed by concrete and mud channels from the Nile.
Lusciously feted Nile river farmers are encouraged to use organic fertilizer, but one wonders how many chemicals are returned to the Nile unseen.
Egyptian infrastructure is burdened by lack of investment. The infrastructure for Egyptian farming is primitive by modern standards with ditch irrigation systems, antiquated farm equipment, and intense use of manual labor.
Infrastructure investment in China suggests prosperity while Egypt is foundering. Many Egyptian city and village roads are unpaved. Housing is dilapidated and poorly maintained for most of Egypt’s population.
In Egypt, food is plentiful, security paramount, and camel rides a tourist delight. The trick in riding a camel is getting on and getting off.
As a tourist in Egypt, ancient sites surpass China’s remarkable historical monuments (viewed in a previous blog). The Egyptian army seems everywhere in part because of a state-enforced draft but also because of the military’s role in governing a nation fractured by Islamic extremism. Religion’s influence in Egypt is obscured from tourist’s eyes because of the warm reception from residents but the military’s ubiquitous presence implies a different story.
The sheer size of the many Pyramids, tombs, and temples surpass the Great Wall and equal China’s remarkable Terracotta soldiers.
Muhammad Ali Pasha (1769-1849)
What comes as a surprise from our guide (who is an Egyptologist) is how many times Egypt has been ruled by outsiders. Modern Egypt is founded by Muhammad Ali in 1805. Muhammad Ali Pasha is Albanian; not Egyptian. His dynasty is supported by the Ottoman Empire. It lasts until 1952 when a coup led by Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser takes control of Egypt.
Prior Muhammad Ali, exclusive Egyptian leadership is in the distant past. (The ten most famous Pharaohs ruled from 2686 BC to 1213 BC.) Of course, there were many more Egyptian dynasties (31 to be precise) but only ten marked history with Egypt’s indelible imprint. Cleopatra (principally famous for her role in the Greco/Roman incursion) is the last Pharaoh to have power. Her reign lasts 21 years; to end in 51 BC.
Egypt is a crossroad between Africa and Asia which makes it a
prime target for colonization and control by invaders. The Romans, Turks, French, and English take
turns at controlling Egypt. Fortresses abound along the Mediterranean and Nile
built by conquerors and the conquered.
Today, Rashid shows a level of prosperity that is belied by its dirt streets.
The Rosetta Stone is found in one such fort held by the French and overcome by the English. It is found in the ancient town of Rashid which was a primary port in Egypt’s earlier history. Today, Rashid shows a level of prosperity that is belied by its dirt streets. There are mud brick manufacturing plants, burgeoning boat building businesses, and fish farming pens in Rashid–the town where the Nile enters the Mediterranean. Only a replica of the Rosetta Stone remains at the fort. The actual stone is in the British Museum in London.
BOAT BUILDING INDUSTRY IN RASHID
Penned fish farms on the Nile in Rashid
The once imagined great city of Alexandria seems a shadow of tourist’
dreams. It is burdened by lack of
investment and a tax structure that works against finishing buildings. Billions of potential worth are hidden by poorly
maintained buildings along the Mediterranean water front.
Still, there are great sites to see in Alexandria. There is the modern library meant to resurrect the great library of Alexandria that was destroyed twice in Egypt’s history. It is a spectacular monument to Egypt’s potential. Its modern design rivals the best libraries of the world.
Bids for modernization can be seen in some areas. There is a burgeoning Silicon Valley, with nearby gas power plants to energize new industries.
This modernization contrasts with early Christian and Muslim places of worship, the Valley of the Kings (a giant cemetery for royalty), and the restored Winter Palace in Luxor that is now a Sofitel hotel. There is the Temple de Karnak, Grande Cour with its ram’s head entry leading to an inner sanctum temple.
Many royal residences have been returned to their original beauty and become state owned and maintained public museums.
One is reminded of the monumental gap between the rich and poor in visiting island farms that are owned by singular families. They employ hundreds, and feed thousands, while prospering from the rich Nile soil. Farming is primitive by modern standards, but the production from these farms is a sight to behold.
Island farms along the Nile show why the Greco-Roman era coveted the agricultural fecundity of Egypt.
The intricacies of Egyptian hieroglyphics are explained by our guide. The volume of information is overwhelming.
The rituals of mummification and fealty are displayed in faded colors of high and low relief pictographs on ancient walls and columns. The source and provenance of limestone quarries where great blocks of rock are harvested and hauled to temple sites are a side trip on a luxurious Nile barge cruise. There are many forms of domestic travel, but none surpasses four days of a cruise on the Aida.
Pictograph writing reveals ancient Egyptian belief in gods and goddesses; their stories of ascension, decline, death.
One of many values in a well-designed trip to a foreign country is the opportunity to meet with residents. Our trip is organized by Overseas Adventure Travel which specializes in having their tour groups offered lectures by residents of the countries that are visited.
The opportunity to hear from Christians, Muslims, Nubians, and local farmers broaden a tourist’s understanding of Egypt.
Every country of the world is complex and no brief trip will explain that complexity but these personal notes and pictures are meant to offer a peek into a mystery to all who do not, or cannot travel.
Three thousand years of history are compressed into a twenty-one day tour of China. Aside from dramatic images of China’s economic growth, one of the most interesting political observations made by our tour guide is the 70% rule of leadership.
In a self-limited group of 15 American tourists, Overseas Adventure Travel produces a personalized tour of Zhonggou; a.k.a. the “Middle Kingdom”–so named because China grew from a number of small provinces into a singular nation; i.e. a nation the size of the continental United States. Like all maps drawn by a nationalist country, China became the center of the world (a self-identified “Middle Kingdom”).
Our professional guide introduced himself as “Jason” (on the left). “Jason” is born and raised in China. He is educated and trained as a natural-medicine pharmacist like his mother. However, he chooses to abandon that career to see the world. He applies for a position with O.A.T., and after extensive interviews, training, and testing he becomes an independent, licensed tour guide.
Being a guide is no easy task. When guiding 15 people, and seeing sites only read about in literature and the news, things get complicated.
In many ways, tourists are like ostriches. Ostriches are known to bury their heads in the sand when scared. As tourists, we often do the same, not out of fear, but in astonishment.
China’s great wall, giant cities, panda parks, public monuments, landscaped byways, and city parks overwhelm the senses. O.A.T. guides are charged with gathering, and managing 15 tourists while directing and telling a cultural history of the country in which they live.
This is a panda reserve in Chengdu, China. As with many indigenous species around the world, the panda is endangered and restricted to sanctuaries where they can reproduce without fear of poachers who covet their fur.
The immense surroundings of an awakening political, and economic giant arrives in a rush of cityscapes, bullet trains, and water ways.
China is a country of 1.3 billion in a land the size of America with 327 million. Population density difference is immense. (In China there are 134 people per square kilometer vs. 30 in the U.S.) Instead of big cities of 8,000,000 citizens in the U.S., China’s big cities have 20,000,000.
While explaining China’s complicated history, “Jason” juggles arrangements for traveling cross-country. He assigns rooms at hotels, arranges meals, schedules meetings, and offers lectures prepared by local historians and residents. At the same time, “Jason” prepares 15 people to board trains, boats, and planes for the next city.
ROOM ACCOMMODATION FOR OVERNIGHT TRIP
A constant refrain from our guide is “don’t forget your passport”. Sometimes, a passport is forgotten at the hotel; other times personal luggage exceeds air-travel weight limits. “Jason” smiles, calms fears, and explains how problems can be overcome. He says he has a “cousin”. He doesn’t, but somehow problems are solved and the group moves on.
China is a closely watched country. The government requires surrender of your passport at hotels, and often insists on presentation of passports at particular sites like Tienanmen Square.
Two areas we visited (Tibet and Hong Kong) are called autonomous (actually they are, at best, semi-independent) provinces in China. These “autonomous” regions have a different set of rules but the influence of main-land China is obvious in conversations with local residents.
Since our trip to China, Tibet and Hong Kong’s semi-independent status is being challenged by Xi’s desire for conformity. To Xi, the future of China is dependent on control by the communist party. Any ethnic, economic, or political independence from the party is suppressed.
A famous Tibetan monastery (Depung Monastery), originally designed to house Dali Llamas in life and death–is converted to a government building during the cultural revolution. It falls into disrepair but is renovated by President Xi as a museum. The current Dali Llama (forbidden to return to China) is unlikely to be entombed, like former Dali Llamas, in this monastery.
Tibet requires a passport, a special visa, and security checks. All interior China flights have security stations to x-ray baggage and inspect passports when you board. Wi-fi is generally available at hotels but an unsettling feeling comes with use of wi-fi because of a feeling everything you do is monitored.
Some hotels have only Chinese stations and those that have CNN or BBC seem to limit coverage of any news that is critical of China
Additionally, it seems certain information is not available on the internet. These anomalies do not change one’s interest in China but “Big Brother” seems ever present.
Of course, the same is true in America but “Big Brother” is more likely a private company like Facebook, Apple, or Google.
Government surveillance is restricted by “rule of law” in America. America retains “checks and balances” that mitigate autocratic decisions by singular leaders.
“Jason” notes–in his experience, people all over the world are the same. People love; people hate; people believe and disbelieve, but cares and feelings of individuals are the same.
However, there seems a distinct philosophical difference in views of freedom. Freedom seems more feared in China than America. National coverage of Tibetan, Uighur, and Hong Kong independence suggests great concern over ideological differences between ethnic groups, provinces, and the government; particularly differences that encourage public demonstration against government policy.
As “Jason” unfolds Chinese history, one thinks about how important powerful, and singular leaders have been in governing China. Three cultural constants in Chinese history seem to be:
great care for familial relationship,
pursuit of higher education, and
MAO ZEDONG (1893-1976, FOUNDING FATHER OF PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA)
DENG XIAOPING (CHINA’S CHAIRMAN OF THE CENTRAL ADVISORY COMMISSION 1982-1987)
Through generations, China relies on strong leaders who are able to unite disparate interests of provinces, religions, and ethnic groups.
From the great dynasties of ancient history to the eras of Mao, Deng, and now Xi, our guide suggests many Chinese believe “…great leaders must achieve 70% of what is right for the Chinese people” to advance the country. Those leaders that do not achieve that level of public good, are failures.
In other words, Mao and Deng may have made mistakes, but they were at least 70% right. President Xi seems in the process of proving himself. Ancient China’s lead in the world of science and economic growth suggest some truth in a 70% rule–after all, no one is always right.
CHIANG KAI-SHEK (CHAIRMAN OF THE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT OF CHINA 1943-1948) Leader of China during WWII was labeled as corrupt by communist forces in China.
China, like all surviving nations in history, have fallen and risen. In the 1940’s and into the 50’s, Mao overcame, what is considered by some, a corrupt government with a revolution that advanced the economic and political strength of China. Mao eliminated feudal farming that enriched the few at the expense of the many.
In the 1950’s China rapidly improved farming production of the country. On assuming power, Mao’s goal is to eliminate landed gentry who fail to make their farms produce what they were capable of producing. Redistribution of land became a primary goal of the communist revolution.
Mao’s means were to split the land among the peasants and allow them to own their own land. Individual small land owners formed collectives to improve farming productivity. In the 50’s that plan worked magnificently. China advanced rapidly in the early years of Mao’s reign.
However, with the initial success of small farm-collectives, Mao made the mistake of increasing the size of the collective with communist overseers. Mao’s intent is to advance productivity more quickly. The overseers undermine productivity with an economic program titled the “Great Leap Forward”.
Communist bureaucrats begin saying production is steadily increasing when it is not. Individual farmers no longer control productivity.
Farmers lose their passion to improve productivity as they become smaller cogs in a bigger machine. The bigger machine is layered with bureaucrats that want to look good on paper, but as overseers they overstate the productivity of the collective.
The communist party overestimates its ability. The “Great Leap Forward” replaces farmer’s with Communist bureaucrats. In the late stages of Mao’s “Great Leap Forward”, millions of Chinese die because of bureaucratic lies about farm production. Presumably, this falls into the 30% failure of Mao’s leadership.
Nearing the end of Mao’s life, he may have recognized his error but a cabal, called the Gang of Four (which included his wife), seized control of the government and continued the failed policy of communist control of agriculture. Mao, or this Gang of Four, started the cultural revolution (1966-1976); causing the death of millions. With the question of Mao’s intent, and the usurpation of power by the Gang of Four, the mistakes of the cultural revolution seem less attributed to Mao than the “Gang of Four”.
After removal of the “Gang of Four”, Deng Xiaoping, a pragmatic leader during Mao’s reign, opened the door to a form of capitalism. The door is nearly shut with the Tienanmen Square slaughter. At Deng’s order, a massive protest in Tienanmen Square, is to be ended by “any means necessary”. An unknown number of Chinese men, women, and children are murdered by the military.
Some suggest that Tienanmen Square is a turning point in the history of China. Deng did not apologize for the Tienanmen decision, but he overcame his mistake by arguing that “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice. …. “ Deng seems to have listened to some of what the Tienanmen protesters were saying. Undoubtedly, many protesters were attempting to make communism better; not to destroy what works for the masses. but to focus on what enriches their lives.
The principle of the collective in China remains. Land is largely owned by the State. However, a version of a free market is created which allows private sale of vertical construction (particularly space within buildings) in China’s cities. (This is somewhat misleading because the sales price in a private transaction requires approval by the government, but the government does allow profit to the individual on the sale.)
Small farms are still owned by some Chinese, but the trend is for continued collectivization. Additionally, the growth of cities changes the desirability of farming. Older Chinese may stay on the farm but their children migrate to the city. When aged farmers die, the land is retained by the family but often as tenant farms; unless the government makes an offer they cannot refuse. The tenant farms still operate as a part of a collective. Produce is determined by individual farmers but brokers sell farm product to retail stores for purchase by the public.
A construction boom began with Deng’s pragmatic solution that seemingly combines communist oversight with capitalist ambition. Chinese entrepreneurs work hard, become wealthy, and live a better life. Small farms are steadily re-acquired in China through a process of payment to farmers in the following way:
families are offered (collectively owned) small-parcel farms equal in size to their parent’s land. They become absentee landlords that receive rent in the form of farming profits,
various incentives are offered by the government to families for their move; sometimes, a pension or medical insurance policy, and
the government offers a condominium or house in a different location.
In using this method of acquisition, the government is able to build new condominiums, shopping centers, and infrastructure projects–like the “Three Gorges Dam” that controls flooding. Infrastructure work is ubiquitous in China.
Roads, bridges, and rails are being built to influence and connect Chinese provinces. The most recent monumental evidence of this practice is a high-speed train connection over a bridge between the mainland and the “autonomous” province of Hong Kong.
The process of government acquisition of privately owned farmland is complicated. A team of Chinese bureaucrats measures the house in which a farmer lives, the size of the land the family owns, the product they produce, and the livestock they have. The government determines the price that will be paid. The land owner must accept the decision. In return the farmer may be offered an equally sized piece of land in a collective that is farmed by others; personal incentives like a pension or medical insurance, and a condominium or home in which to live.
BARGE NEAR THREE GORGES DAM
SHIP’S WAITING TO ENTER LOCK AT THREE GORGES DAM
LOCK AT THREE GORGES DAM
State acquisition of land allows massive infrastructure projects to be built. These projects offer jobs to Chinese farmers and their children who are migrating to the city. In some cases, the small farm is retained while the farmer’s children go to the city for a job. With payment from a city job, some call on their farmer parents to help them with a down payment on a condominium in the city. The price of condominiums rises. They rent the condo they have, and make a down payment on a second condo. With each transaction, they become wealthier; i.e. at least, wealthier on paper.
Construction activity is endemic in every city visited. A striking observation is that many of the condominiums seem unoccupied. The question becomes whether construction is too far ahead of real economic growth.
However, retail businesses appear to be booming in China’s cities. Shopping centers are full of residents, and travelers. Restaurants of every kind compete with each other in high-rise shopping malls. Our local guide in Hong Kong notes that the original street markets are disappearing because of conventional retail construction.
Another striking difference between big American and Chinese cities is that you see few homeless citizens in China. In China, government subsidizes housing for the poor. It is not luxurious. It is small and crowded. The dilemma of government is in drawing the line between central planning and public service. It appears to keep the poor from being homeless.
There seems an underlying fear of the effect of the tariff war (started by President Trump) on the local economy. An example of the consequence of the tariff war is a new 90% tax on purchase of a new Tesla in Hong Kong. There was no tax when Tesla first entered the market. Before the tax, Musk’s cars were widely purchased in Hong Kong. One doubts that continues with a 90% tariff.
Another great surprise is that air pollution in Beijing, when we were there, seems no worse than it is in America. However, we were there during the African conference which may explain why the air seemed relatively clear. China successfully cleared the air by limiting polluters during the Beijing Olympics.
Environmental degradation is a concern in China. Over 60% of their energy comes from coal. The largest Hydroelectric dam in the world, the Three Gorges Dam, only produces 2% of China’s energy needs. Three Gorges is considered a dam for flood control more than energy. Interestingly, the Yangtze river shows a lot more debris and garbage below the dam than above it. Generally, water ways seem polluted with debris like plastic and other human debris. In an effort to abate pollution around Hong Kong, sampan life is discouraged. Much fewer sampan are licensed in modern Hong Kong.
Tap water is considered undrinkable throughout China; which means nearly all water for daily consumption is bottled. Hong Kong is vitally dependent on the mainland for water. There are 21 treatment works in Hong Kong but treatment changes the taste of the water so much that Hong Kong residents drink bottled water.
As noted in a previous blog, President Xi, the current leader of China, is determined to reassert the dominance of the Communist Party in China. Strong centralized rule has been a hallmark of rapid economic and political advance in China’s history.
PRESIDENT XI’S CENTRALIZED RULE CONTINUES TO BE CHALLENGED BY HONG KONG DEMONSTRATORS–NEW YORK TIME’S ARTICLE 6.14.19.
Time will tell if President Xi is a 70% or 30% leader. Xi’s decision to initiate a China’s “Road and Belt” program for the world may be a harbinger of great success or abject failure. The worry may be whether Xi is like an early Mao, and pragmatic Deng, or a singular version of “The Gang of Four”.
Red Rock Canyon is one of many natural wonders in the Las Vegas Valley. Hiking, biking, and climbing are popular resident and tourist pastimes.
ROCK CLIMBERS IN RED ROCK CANYON–20 MINUTES FROM THE LAS VEGAS STRIP
Charleston Boulevard is a major east/west arterial road in Las Vegas. Travel for 20 minutes east on the Boulevard and Red Rock Canyon looms large; the vista explains the name. Like rusty pieces of sheet metal, hills are colored and striped by iron oxide bleeding red below a blue skyline. In January, it can be cold (say 30 to 40 degrees) and windy (say 30 to 40 mph) but on a good January day temperatures can be in the 60s with no wind.
Charleston Boulevard is a major east/west arterial road in Las Vegas. Travel for 20 minutes east on the Boulevard and Red Rock Canyon looms large; the vista explains the name.
Hiking the Bristlecone Loop on winter days is an oddly quiet experience, even though birds are flying in and out of parched bushes and bleached bark trees, there is little chirping. Burros track the fields and valleys with an occasional mountain goat peeking down from a ridge.
HIKING THE BRISTLECONE LOOP ON WINTER DAYS IS AN ODDLY QUIET EXPERIENCE, EVEN THOUGH BIRDS ARE FLYING IN AND OUT OF PARCHED BUSHES AND BLEACHED BARKTREES, THERE IS LITTLE CHIPING.
Well-traveled hiking Trails split the terrain leading to tiny snow melt waterfalls, clear water streams and occasional wild life. Ancient tribes left their mark on sandstone Red Rock Canyon monoliths jutting from dried grass ground. Climbers cling to mountain face crevices on their way to nowhere to satisfy some untouched need.
A VIEW OF LAS VEGAS IN THE DISTANCE FROM A HIKE UP “MUFFIN”
The Las Vegas Valley packs a lot of life styles within an hour’s drive; i.e. entertainment and dining that rivals New York; Boulder Dam, Mount Charleston, and Red Rock Canyon that offer every outdoor experience a resident or tourist can think of.
VIEW FROM MT. CHARLESTON–WHEN ITS 100 DEGREES IN LAS VEGAS, THIS 30 MINUTE DRIVE DROPS THE TEMPERATURE TO 80 DEGREES.
Sixteen days in Northern India vivified life. This sojourn into the world’s most populated Democracy is at once astonishingly beautiful and terribly disheartening. Northern India is beautiful for its millennial accomplishments and disheartening for its seemingly insurmountable social, economic, and political challenges. (This personal view is supplemented by authors, Arundhati Roy, Katherine Boo, Aravind Adiga, Raghu Karnad, and a smattering of Great Courses’ audio books on ancient cultures.)
India contains some of the greatest monuments of ancient history. Managed by Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, India has prospered, crumbled, and reappeared as one of the most powerful countries in the world. The great challenges of the past occur and recur with a resilient response by India’s people. Their ability to adapt to foreign occupation by disparate cultures is a tribute to their longevity as an independent nation.
One of the main attractions in the so called ‘Pink’ city of Jaipur is the World Heritage Site of Jantar Mantar astronomical observatory. This impressive collection of astronomical instruments were built by Sawai Jai Singh, a Mughal commander, dated 1728.
The Sukh Mandir palace was kept cool in the summer by covering its arched openings with screens woven with the roots of the aromatic grass called khas. The screens were moistened periodically with water, air passing through the screens was thus cooled, and carried also the fragrance of the grass into the palace-chambers.
Vehicle for entrance to the Raja’s fortress.
Like a cobra preparing to strike, India seems over-matched by environmental and societal challenges.
Today, India’s adaptability seems over-matched by environmental and societal challenges. Air and water pollution is ubiquitous in Northern India. India’s primary source of energy comes from fossil fuels, particularly coal. Over 65% of India’s energy is non-renewable while electricity is supplied to only 81% of the population (based on 2013 records). Today’s Covid19 pandemic accelerates India’s environmental and societal challenges.
In a 2011 report, Hindus represent 79 percent of the population. The Ganges river is sacred to Hindus. It is a major source of water for agriculture and life in Northern India. However, the Ganges is highly polluted. In today’s news, (May 11, 2021) scores of bodies are reported to be floating in the Ganges.
In Varanasi, it is reported that fecal coli-form bacteria from human waste is 100 times the Indian government’s official limit.
Hindu religious practices in India compound Ganges’ Pollution. Because of the Ganges religious importance, cremation occurs daily with human remains discharged into the river in Varanasi. This cremation ceremony occurs on the banks of the Ganges. Though cremation removes most organic material, there are circumstances under which un-cremated bodies are placed in the river.
Every night, (7 days a week–Human bodies are prepared for cremation on the Ganges’ bank. Fire in the background obscures a wrapped body that is lain atop a wood fire to reduce a deceased person to ash.
A societal challenge facing India is its history of caste and religious belief. Caste and Modi’s reification and emphasis on Hinduism conflicts with Islamism. Just under 80% of India is Hindu with Muslimism over 14%. Border disputes with the largely Islamic state of Pakistan continue to roil India’s culture.
Despite diligent effort by the government to eliminate caste, it remains a source of underlying societal friction. Arranged marriages are extremely important in India because the joining of husband and wife are a marriage of families, not just individuals. Though there are exceptions, many of the young appreciate their father’s effort to screen potential marriage partners. Not that this may not be a better way of ensuring a long marriage than America’s happenstance conjugality, it diminishes cultural diversity. Cultural diversity opens a world of opportunity to all people, regardless of caste.
Upper classes object to affirmative action for the castes, particularly the untouchables, because of tradition. Indians are often able to determine the caste of residents by just knowing their names. It reminds one of Americans and their recognition of race by color. Discrimination seems as prevalent in India as in America. The arc of justice may be bending toward equality but both countries are far from achievement.
Equally concerning challenges for India are the two faces of democracy. On the one hand democracy offers more freedom than other forms of government. On the other, unregulated freedom leads to abuse of power.
“White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga tells a story of the consequence of unregulated freedom in India. Katherine Boo, in “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” tells a story of the consequence of regulated freedom in India that does not work.
India’s effort to regulate freedom faces the same obstacles as America. Knowing where to draw the line on individual freedom is problematic. Too much government denies opportunity to succeed. Too little government leads to the Bernie Madoff’s of the world.
Our personal guide in India proudly noted that his family is from the warrior caste. He wishes to become rich and have his daughter marry into his caste. That is his ideal, but he recognizes his daughter lives in a different world. He is unsure of how his life will evolve. However, he is not optimistic. India has a young population, growing at 1,000,000 people per month. He believes Prime Minister Modi is a good leader but that he will not succeed in modernizing India because of the challenges facing India. He argues that diminishing natural resources and India’s increased population will defeat economic growth and social stability.
A May 2022 “Economist” article on India suggests Prime Minister Modi’s government reforms may substantially improve India’s economy in the 21st century. Our guide in 2018 was quite skeptical.
Our trip to India was astonishingly beautiful but terribly disheartening. One hopes our guide underestimates India’s ability to overcome environmental deterioration and achieves its potential for continued economic growth.
Voyager Review By Chet Yarbrough (Blog:awalkingdelight) Website: chetyarbrough.blog 20 Days in Africa Written by Chet Yarbrough Twenty days in Africa does not make you an expert. But, as noted by our insightful Zimbabwe-born team leader, every visit to Africa changes both visitor and native. Manue Joao paints a picture of three nation-states that vivify the … Continue reading “Remembering Africa”
Twenty days in Africa does not make you an expert. But, as noted by our insightful Zimbabwe-born team leader, every visit to Africa changes both visitor and native.
Manue Joao paints a picture of three nation-states that vivify the great beauty and wealth of Africa. In twenty days, the nations of Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana were traveled by our group of 15 Americans; organized, directed, and helped by local guides and a host of excellent camp managers.
Manue offers a history lesson on Africa as we travel on planes, boats, buses, and Land Rovers, through the African Savannah.
Today, the three major industries in Africa are mining, agriculture, and tourism. Each of these industries have troubles.
Mining for coal is a big industry in crises with falling prices, and environmental concern.
African laborers are offered decent salaries but Manue notes that one coal mine had not paid their laborers for over four years. He goes on to explain—the laborers keep working because there is no alternative employment. They are ecstatic when, earlier this year, the mine owners offer 7% of their back wages to continue working.
In an 11/21/21 N.Y.Times’ article, mining of cobalt has become the latest mining frenzy in Africa, particularly in the Congo. Cobalt is an essential ingredient for electric car development. Competition from China and the U.S. is a power struggle that has the imprimatur of economic benefit or criminal exploitation. It also carries the potential for further environmental degradation.
Agriculture is constantly faced with the terrors of nature, i.e., poor rainfall, soil depletion, and animal destruction.
African Tourism–the natural attributes of an animal kingdom surprises and delights world travelers, but even that is at risk.
Tourism is troubled by ivory poaching, Rhino killing for horn profits, and animal overpopulation.
Botswana has more elephants than its habitat preserves can support.
Putting aside these troubles in the big three African industries, there seems a leadership deficit in a country that has so much untapped potential. Too many Africans seem trapped in poverty when the wealth of the country is laid waste by an interstate transportation system that strangles economic growth.
Trucks are lined up for hours, days, weeks, and sometimes months for transport across borders. Vast tracks of land are only accessible by dirt roads.
Water, sewer, and infrastructure investment seems utilized un-systematically. Government leaders are often corrupted by the power they wield over the finances of their countries.
Emmerson Mnangagwa (President of Zimbabwe)
Mugabe’s previous enforcer, Emerson Mnangagwa, has become president but he has only made Zimbabwe’s economy weaker.
The history of Africa sets the table for an economic feast that is consumed by everyone except most native Africans. Because of Europe’s scramble for wealth and power (between the 15th and early 20th century), the continent of Africa is colonized by foreign rulers. Great Britain, Portugal, France, and Belgium carve Africa into nation-states in the Berlin Conference of 1884-85.
Without regard to native societies a multi-state continent is formed based on greed and hubris of occupying foreign governments. Most African nation-states are comprised of white Europeans and native tribes who establish societies within each country. Just as in America, the mixture of cultures often boils over like an over-heated melting pot.
The irony of Africa’s artificial nation-state creations is that these arbitrary borders become a source of conflict in Africa’s drive for independence.
Either because of religion, ethnic differences, or different societal norms, one factional group treads on another’s freedom. Conflict rises; in some cases, with violent and deadly results.
In Africa, conflict comes from a variety of reasons, some of which exist in America. Examples are–the taking of private property without compensation, inter-state commerce inefficiency, rule by force and corruption of leaders like Idi Amin, and Joseph Kony, and equal rights and opportunity for all (particularly women).
The economic difficulties of Africa remind one of the early days of America.
Every state of the original 13 colonies was a kingdom unto itself until the First Continental Congress in 1774. Though the 13 colonies are largely populated by white English, Germans, and French, with a growing population of Black slaves, each colony becomes a melting pot for immigrants arriving from different nations of the world. Native Americans are slaughtered by the advance of “civilization” with the increasing influx of foreign, largely white, Americans.
THE BEAUTY AND MAJESTY OF AFRICA IS EVIDENT IN EVERY CLICK OF THE CAMERA LENSE:
Africa is incredibly beautiful. In sunrises and sunsets; in exposure to the largest and most beautiful animals in the world; in spectacular views of Victoria Falls, and with many Africans’ heart-felt acceptance of tourists. A traveler sees and feels the radiance of nature and the kindness of all human beings. But, the economic hardship of the general population in the face of such great potential wealth is disheartening.
The heart of the failure of the nation-states is said to lie at the feet of poor leadership and corruption. Though there is undoubted truth in that observation, it seems an excuse for failure. Every presentation by indigenous Africans notes how important education is to their and their family’s success. It may be that the people we met are an exception but every culture has its exceptions. It is these exceptions that modernize the world.
Sacrifice for education and family values are obvious characteristics of the people we met. Stories were told of the sacrifice that a Principal makes to teach children English; a story of a prostitute who sells herself with the intent of saving enough to finish school and start her own business; a story of an un-wed mother who is first in her class in high school and goes on to college—all are native Africans emphasizing the importance of family and education.
One is drawn to the conclusion that corruption and poor leadership are a stage of early development that will be ameliorated (not eliminated) over time. There is no quick solution but a first step would be to re-value the indigenous culture of each part of Africa. Changing borders is not the answer. But, like early America, sections of Africa should consider their own Continental Congresses to provide government services that one state is unable to provide; i.e. services like interstate commerce, military preparedness, and a common currency. Every power not given to this centralized government would remain in the hands of respective nation-states.
Today, the economic strength of Africa is being strangled by border crossing regulations that delay interstate commerce. Undoubtedly, corruption is exacerbated by bribes to get goods across borders. Respective state leaders are reluctant to give up control of borders because they get a piece of the interstate border crossing fees.
The greed of leaders can be co-opted by making them understand they will make more money with the opening of their borders by using some of their wealth to create paved roads into growth corridors of their states. When a foreign company sees they can get to their mine, or have water for agricultural development, they will invest. Government leaders can negotiate deals with foreign businesses that demand training of native populations in the management work of new businesses. When more Africans are employed, a source for government taxation is created.
The emphasis on education must be reinforced. In time, that education will remove overtly corrupt leaders.
It will not eliminate corruption but it will improve the condition of the local population. There is a cost inherent in this push for modernization. Manue tells of the family structure that exists in the three countries visited. That close family relationship will be diminished by modernization.
LOCAL HEAD MAN SPEAKING TO VILLAGE PROPERTY OWNER
Every village has a Chief who has a Head man that supervises the village. These positions are inherited; not earned by performance.
This familial arrangement will be compromised by modernization because performance will become a more important criterion for Chief or Head man designations. Money and power, rather than family relationship, will become prevalent.
Another cost will be borne by the natural attributes of an animal kingdom that surprises and delights world travelers. Manue notes that Botswana has an animal refuge that can support 20,000 elephants when 100,000 elephants roam the countryside. Action is needed to control nature’s environment. Exercising that control will turn a wilderness into more of a free-form zoo. The wildness of a Safari will be diminished.
Love for Africa is clearly evident in the people we met. One suspects our visit is a sanitized view of the real life of most Africans. However, our view is through the eyes of a rich, modern nation. A young African boy or girl born into a family of loving parents knows what he/she knows and cares little about what a foreigner thinks. Twenty days in Africa is a trip of a life time; especially with a guide like Manue Joao.