Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I have recently arrived in South East Asia, with a view to living cheaply here until the end of the year.

Hot and rainy Bangkok through a window.

It has been over ten years since I was last in Bangkok, and my first impression upon arrival is that it has modernised considerably.

Hazadous bus journeys (when I last tried take to public transport in Bangkok a single journey across town involved two bus breakdowns and a bus-on-car accident) have now become a pleasantly air-conditioned whizzing-about on a shiny overhead rail system; I stayed in a guest house last night where not a single rat assailed me in my sleep; and when I walked around yesterday evening I saw no giant cockroaches scuttling around the rubbish-strewn streets - possibly because the streets were rather rubbish-deprived than strewn.

In some ways being in Bangkok isn't as interesting as it was.

I once knew a young man (a young man from a wealthy background who moved in refined circles) with an unusual point of view when it came to the problems of the world: "don't solve them". That is to say, he didn't believe it was too difficult to achieve social and economic equality; he thought it was a bad idea all together. Wiping out the huge divide between rich and poor within the world would make living in it far less diverse and interesting, he told me, and that is why I was wrong to actively try to achieve it. His argument was basically that economic diversity is essential to maintaining cultural diversity.

Perhaps in some ways he was right. If we had universal prosperity numerous species of human creatures from our currently interesting world would become extinct. Gone would be those colourfully-dressed peasants doing back-breaking labour with intriguingly old fashioned tools in order to feed their diversely-diseased families, and we would no longer be blessed with little half-naked pokey-ribbed children sitting on footpaths selling toothpicks to passers-by.

Imagine the disappointment of Opera-goers if Puccini's La Bohème if Mimi had been able to afford warm clothes and central heating, thus destroying the pretext for Rudolfo's chat-up line regarding her "tiny frozen hand". Imagine if the concept of charity became redundant, and along with it all of its associated socialite busy-work; and if no wars, famines nor crimes were available for consumption by the listless and information-hungry. The prospect is terrifyingly ho-hum.

Hence a certain level and concentration of poverty and inequality must be maintained, in order that the bored rich of the world may keep their idle minds entertained by the picturesque misery of the world.


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