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Thoughts on Asia

November 22, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

A week ago I was travelling – first to Jakarta in Indonesia and then on to Mumbai in India. I left Jakarta just as President Obama was arriving, and flew to India where he’d spent a few days before moving on to Indonesia.

I’d never been to Indonesia before and hadn’t been in India for a few decades so my take on both countries may be subjective. However there were some things that were impossible to ignore.

In both hotels I stayed in, security was high. I had to pass my luggage through a scanner and pass through one each time I entered the hotel. The same applied to a shopping mall I visited in Jakarta. I’m familiar with this in Israel – and expect it. It’s the way to protect public places from terrorist attack. I was not surprised to see it in Mumbai, considering the atrocities carried out over the last few years in India. However I was surprised to see it in Jakarta – the largest Muslim nation in the world. I know that there was an attack in Bali in 2002 but Bali was a target as it was a way to hit so-called decadent Westerners (or so I thought). Jakarta, conversely, is a business centre and unlike Bali, mostly Moslem. Yet, security was tight – and it wasn’t just because Obama was visiting.

In London there is no overt security in hotels – you walk in without being stopped. The same applies in mainland Europe (or at least in the countries I’ve visited recently) and in the USA. However I suspect that over time, this will change as the terrorists inflict their damage on the ways of life and the freedom we expect. The plague that is terrorism does not distinguish between nations and religions – and it is ironic that so many terrorists claim to be followers of Islam, yet still target Moslems, as was so evident in Indonesia.

Jakarta - Rich versus Poor: A bank next to a street merchant.

Jakarta - Rich versus Poor: A bank next to a street merchant.

Another thing I noticed – especially in Indonesia was the gap between rich and poor. My hotel – a beautiful five-star hotel – was directly outside a road packed with shacks and small roadside shops. I took a walk down a lane – that would have been a downmarket slum in London. The lane joined the Intercontinental hotel that I was staying in, and the Shangri-La that Obama was booked into. Although I felt safe, I could see how resentment over the wealth that was so visible compared to what the majority survived on could spill over and destabilise the country. Whether this will happen, of course, will depend on the efforts the government makes to close the gap and allow the aspirations of the majority to be fulfilled. Without any effort I foresee trouble within a few years – either via violence, or political upheaval. Either will not be pleasant for those with the money, and potentially for those without.
In contrast, in India, even though I saw poverty, I also saw hope. People smiled and looked happy – even those with almost nothing. Children played cricket on the streets and there wasn’t the poverty of spirit you see in the West. Instead, there was an optimism that I’ve also seen in China but you need to search for in the US and Europe. 

A Mumbai Street Scene

A Mumbai Street Scene - Night-time cook-out on the pavement.

Children playing Cricket In the Street in Mumbai

Children playing Cricket In the Street in Mumbai - perhaps why India is now better than the UK at Cricket, as kids still play actively outdoors.

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  1. Ari
    November 23, 2010 at 4:01 am

    About the “poverty of the spirit you see in the West”… The spirit gets impoverished when too much can be had too fast and too easily, without too much effort. The Western bubble economy of the past decade or so has been the driver of this depravity. And sadly, the powers that be of today just don’t allow the destruction that the ongoing financial crisis enables to be a truly creative destruction. After a creative destruction the spirit would be forced out of poverty.

    • November 23, 2010 at 12:40 pm

      I agree that getting things too fast and too easily, without effort can be a problem. However I think that the problems are much more deep-seated than you suggest. What’s needed is a belief in the future – and destruction, even creative destruction, is unlikely to generate such a recovery or belief. There have been many “creative destructions” in the past and I can’t think of a single one that led to an improvement. The classic case of a “creative destruction” of something bad was the Soviet Union. Each change, overthrowing the old for something new led to something worse, not better. It was only when Communism was defeated that the spirit could be revived.

      I think the problem in the West is that the individual has become God and so there is no place left for community or sharing or collaboration or even God. This is not the same as communism as societies that make the community God also fail. You need something in the middle.

  2. November 24, 2010 at 4:18 pm

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