Archive for November, 2006
Today my blog is one year old. I am gradually getting to grips with the site (thank you again to Tommy and to Rob) so now I want to invite my family and friends – and anyone who may have dropped in from cyberspace (well, you never know) – to help it grow.
The idea came to me on a tram in the centre of Prague. Why not use my website to record a snapshot of the cities I visit? By the time I got off the tram I had a much better idea.
Last year when I was editing The City Talks newsletters for Edinburgh City Centre Management Company, I enjoyed rummaging round the internet for ‘global gossip’ about what was happening in city centres around the world. Ever since I joined the ECCM board I have become slightly obsessed by city street life. Now I cannot ride a tram, sit in a pavement cafe or wander through a city square without making comparisons with what happens in Edinburgh. I am always asking Ray to take pictures of street furniture and people sitting at cafes (er… what was so special about that view of Helsinki?)
So here’s my idea. There is no point trying to do this on my own. It would take too long (and far too many air miles) to put together a decent sample of postcard case studies. Why not invite my family and friends to send me their pictures and perceptions of cities round the world?
I am posting a couple of ‘postcards’ here today to set the ball rolling. But you can present your view in any (printable) way you like from any city in the world (including Edinburgh of course). It can be a glimpse of something unexpected, like Carrie’s early morning scenes from Beijing, or my discovery that Tesco behaves differently in other countries (I hope to add details of the extraordinary store in Prague soon). It can be about public transport, street markets, old or new buildings, food, music – whatever you think gives the city its own sense of place – and it can be just a picture caption or a commentary up to 300-400 words long.
What will become of all this? I hope the words and pictures might inspire new audio postcards, Dougal’s inspired innovation on RadioMagnetic. Perhaps they could also inform new directions for ECCM’s new Street Life committee (guess who is the chair). So perhaps this idea is a bit of brass neck. But it is my blog’s birthday!
November 13th, 2006
“If you don’t come out in the morning to wake up, how will you be alive? What kind of life is that?”
Caroline Cooper’s postcard from Beijing
Overgrown with towering skyscrapers and wide-lane boulevards, Beijing’s quiet street life and old hutong homes are under threat. Preparations for the 2008 Olympics are at the forefront of city planner thoughts, heightening the capital’s urbanization.
Early morning hours in the city parks reveal a capital’s most gregarious side…
As Beijing continues to reinvent itself nearly every day, and traditional neighborhoods disappear, a stroll through the city’s public parks reveals sides of Beijing’s lively public life that may otherwise go unnoticed. Ditan, Beihai, Hohai and Tiantan are just a few of the major parks that host eager participants every morning.
In the early morning hours, Beijing residents turn out in great numbers to stretch, walk, run, walk backwards, run backwards, slap their faces, pull their earlobes or clap and chant in groups. People are generally out in the thousands and, now that the temperate fall weather is here, even more are joining.
On a recent visit to Beijing’s Ditan Park I found Mr. Zhang Liwei, a retired accountant, standing inches from a stonewall, belting ancient Chinese poems with his nose to the mortar. His voice was a deep baritone with good range. Mr. Zhang favors Tang dynasty classics as well as selections from the Peking Opera “Li Qiu Visiting His Mother.”
“I come here most mornings to open up the lungs,” he said. “And to get ready for the day ahead.” On the morning I visited, he followed his private recital with some deep lunges and a few windmill circles of the arms. “If you don’t come out in the morning to wake up, how will you be alive? What kind of life is that?”
It’s a question much of Beijing’s rising elderly population asks itself every morning. With a growth rate of 5.3 percent per year in a city of nearly 15 million, Beijingers aged 65 and above are in good company. As free public association remains seriously frowned upon by authorities, Beijing’s early morning parks are a place where residents can gather, chat and begin the day. Even as the city undergoes its rapid transformation, the longstanding Chinese tradition of morning exercise in a beautiful park continues unabated.
Caroline Cooper is a freelance writer now living in Indonesia. A shorter version of this postcard case study appeared in the City Talks newsletter in 2005. Hear more of Caroline’s views on RadioMagnetic’s audio postcards.
November 13th, 2006
“Sex and drugs and sausage rolls,” there’s a guy behind me in the queue for the concert in St Salvation with a mission to entertain. “You don’t get lager louts in this town, you get Saga louts.” His wife is not amused: “Oh Sid, give over.”
With or without Saga louts, at night you can see Dubvrovnik is really a theatre. Maybe all successful towns and cities are theatrical sets but Dubrovnik certainly knows how to turn crumbling Renaissance scenery into a thriving, bustling stage starring waiters and restaurant owners politely accosting tourists on the relentless tread around town; live music echoing across the squares; shop keepers dressing and undressing their windows; lights gleaming and bouncing across the marble streets.
Thick walls didn’t stop bombs and plagues in the near and distant past but so far they keep out cars . You can hear the sound of feet echoing across squares and people talking to one another. I wondered if that was why I saw so few people using mobile phones; there is no need to escape the here and now.
Kids ride bikes to the edge of the harbour, trolleys deliver sick and frail to and from ambulances and bring barrels of booze to the bars. Handcarts meet tourists at the gate to help with heavy luggage unloaded from taxis. And business seems to thrive.
We didn’t venture much outside the walls. The sounds of engines – buses, cars, taxis, motorbikes – hit you as soon as you walk through the gates. The walls are ringed with a moat of car parks and cars seem to circle the ring road as if ceaselessly looking for a chance to break through. I hope they never do.
And you can hear my audio postcard from Dubrovnik on RadioMagnetic too.
November 13th, 2006
So here I am sitting in the City Chambers cafeteria enjoying a bowl of minestrone with two Tigers and a Monkey. It’s been an odd week.
Two job applications rejected in two days just as two more possibilities of unpaid work open up. Why, oh why, is the best work always unpaid? My voluntary involvement in multicultural work is now the most fulfilling part of the week. That’s why I am back at the City Chambers for a meeting with two councillors and a friend who is exploring the potential for turning his Arts Council funded project into a charitable foundation which will create new bridges between Chinese and Scottish communities in Edinburgh.
One of the councillors spots that 2007 is the Year of the Pig so we learn that there are two Tigers and a Monkey round the table. For no good reason, I think I am either a Rat or a Pig and I am impressed to discover that these two fairly hard-bitten city councillors know their Chinese horoscopes so well.
At the same time they paint a fairly depressing picture of a city where communities (of all creeds and colours) too often find it hard to connect with one another. Kimho is not interested in creating yet another self-contained ethnic minority group. He prefers to use the term intercultural instead of the politically loaded multicultural. He wants to reach out and make creative communication between young people in both Chinese and Scottish communities, using music and artistic performances of all kinds to open minds and stimulate meaningful conversations between people who otherwise never meet. And wouldn’t that be good?
This is the most heart-warming aspect of the multicultural work I have been engaged in for the last year. Why I am doing it? I often wonder. A year ago I blundered into a world of uncertain boundaries as part of a team exploring how we could bring people from different cultures together. I know nothing of the etiquette of approaching organisations run by minority communities. Sometimes I feel I am intruding awkwardly into a private world. At other times the welcome is extraordinary and heart warming. At last year’s winter party run by the Edinburgh Refugee Council I danced the Gay Gordons with my friend Nick among a wonderfully warm group of people from Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Usually I hate Ceilidhs (so bloody jolly in a serious kind of way) but this one had the feeling of pioneers sharing food and drink in a frontier town.
Perhaps newcomers at their most vulnerable find comfort in joining others in the same position, regardless of where they have come from. Some of the older communities seem to feel safer living behind their own cultural barrier. It takes a fairly determined effort to find the doors through such barriers and I am discovering that ethnic minority communities are often just as divided by jealousies and internal politics as every other community. What a surprise!
Why am I so interested in all this? I sometimes wonder if it is the result of being raised in a gloriously dysfunctional family – half Irish, half Scots – where my quest for a quiet life depended on helping people to stop fighting. I hope that’s not my only reason, it sounds hellish grandiose. But a quick Google finds me a site that tells me I am a Pig and ‘Pigs do not like discord and will do whatever it takes to maintain a peaceful homestead.’
Enough of this. I have a new idea for my blog as I confided the other night in Tommy who set up my website and patiently advises me what to do when I mess it up by inadvertently changing the whole of the Home Page to italics. I tell him at some length about my plan for creating a new section of the site. He shakes his head sadly, ‘I created a monster.’ He’s joking of course. But then he is a Monkey – according to the Chinese horoscope they make you laugh even when you want to cry.
November 10th, 2006