Monday, October 13, 2008

Life in the colonies

Every morning when I take a shower, I am reminded of how far Australia (or for that part Hong Kong, Canada or Singapore) has advanced beyond Britain itself. Be it in terms of water pressure, mass transit or the overall built environment, it is clear that Britain has not quite recovered from the world wars nor from the costs associated with its early entry into industrialism (much of its infrastructure is now literally falling apart due to old age).

Yet, the old homeland has The Guardian Weekly. Its format is particular suitable for long journeys into the unknown, you can tuck it away in the backpack for a while and when you pick it up, it will still have a few more days to go until “expiration date”. In a world of global instantaneous news, The Guardian Weekly reminds you of how it used to be, especially here in the “colonies”, far away from all decency.

Yesterday, my flatmate Lillian took me along for a Sunday excursion to historic Williamstown, the seafaring town which provided a natural harbour until the Yarra River was deepened and the Port of Melbourne was developed in the 1880’s. There, in the sun along its pavements, I was struck by how Australia has been able to cherry-pick its favourites from the planetary smorgasbord: Italian ice-cream next to Nepalese specialities, French crêpes competing with Mexican nachos. Being here in Australia tends to trigger a lot of thinking about such issues, about integration and assimilation, about how much idealism it will take to prevent the dark Huntingtonian fantasy of cultural disintegration from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy (for more on that, I encourage you to read Göran Rosenberg’s new series in Dagens Nyheter - unfortunately only available in the Muppet language).

Well, back to The Guardian Weekly in which Jonathan Freedland has a good piece on the US election and why the world rightfully should be concerned about November 4. Until global democracy is realized, America remains the de facto leader of the free world. Not only will the new president be charged with leading the world through the present economic convulsion, much of our common future will depend on what policies America will pursue in the coming decade. Be it in energy, security of free trade, without American leadership, the world will be left drifting and even more valuable time will be lost. Yet, watching a recent Republican rally in suburban Minesota on CNN (where a woman accuses Obama of being “an Arab”), it is easy to slip into elitism. But that if anything would run counter to the Whitman spirit. It is by asking the best of people, rather than by looking down of them, that America has the chance of once again becoming that “shining embassy on the hill”.


Blogger meditations71 said...

Australia may have "advanced" on some measures, and it is certainly true that Britain might suffer today from having been the early industrial trailblazer. That said, I don't think continuity (part of Britain's infrastructural predicaments are of course a result of not having been bombed to bits, as was continental Europe, or simply a very new country, as is Australia) and a bit of "old fashionness" is a bad thing. I think there's more to life than plumbing and wide roads. Sometimes I even long for a time when we had less of everything at once, as in the inveitable mishmash of cuisines, architectural styles and so on that today must be mixed willy nilly as some sign of cosmopolitan "progressiveness". Yes, choice is good and convenient, but it can sometimes "drown out" what is distinct of a particular place. I'm happy to enjoy my Full English breakfast and Guinness here, and the wonderful parma and prosciutto when in Italy.

There is a charm to life in these islands - where it hasn't been irretrievably eroded by modern brutalism as in most urban areas - that is the result of an ancient history and civilisation that in many (most) ways appeal to me more than does the newness and relative convenience in the 'new world'.

I have never travelled in Australia, but life in the USA struck me as somehow 'rootless'. South Africa, oddly perhaps, strikes me as having a more direct connection with the 'old country' than does the USA, but life in the Antipodes strikes me as something very faraway (as it is of course) and somehow 'alien'.

I hope you enjoy the sun though!

2:15 pm  

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