Flight delay, delay, delay….The glamour of air travel is gone.
In China was it ever thus?
Unquestionably one can consider Laozi (a.k.a ‘ Lao Tzu’), the ancient Chinese poet and philosopher who died in 531 BC, truly perceptive when he remarked:
“Yī wèi cōngmíng de lǚxíng zhě méiyǒu gùdìng de jì huà, érqiě bù yīdìng fēi yào dàodá mùdì de [一位聪明的旅行者没有固定的计画，而且不一定非要到达目的地]”, which roughly translates as
“A clever traveller has no fixed plans, and does not necessarily have to reach their purpose.”
For it seems this wise sage back in ‘BC’ times was privy to the staggering state of affairs that would by and large ensue by the end of 2015 when China will have built close to 220 fully operational airports (up from 175 airports in 2011) handling over 870 million passengers and serviced by 46 domestic airlines (exclusive of foreign airlines), with a fleet of just over 2,000 planes (to be expanded to 4,200 aircraft in 2020) vying for limited space overhead. Add to this mélange the fact that China doesn’t have enough airspace (the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) controls all airspace, only allocating 20% of airspace to civil aviation), and China’s inclement weather (for example, if there is a thunderstorm impinging on a flight route between two cities, the flight will likely be delayed since it can’t divert through controlled airspace), and it is no wonder flight delays snarl China’s clogged and struggling civil aviation transportation system.
With the People’s Liberation Army Air Force blaming chronic air traffic congestion and flight delays on poor airline management and scheduling performance, “having no fixed plans” at least for the day of passage, as in “cancel all other appointments”, is sage advice indeed. China’s airlines have the world’s worst record for flight delays.”
And so to some of the tell-tale signs that all is not well regarding timely aircraft departure from Chinese airports as experienced by myself over the past 12 months almost 100% of the time.
1. The informative announcement
2. Queuing to board the aircraft?
4. Food Service
5. In-flight Films
6. Angry Passengers
7. The Hard Landing
The joys of flying in China, soon to get worse. “A clever traveler has no fixed plans, and does not necessarily have to reach their purpose.”
Encouraged by captains of Irish industry, who should know better, Opposition politicians with an agenda, and armchair critics within the tabloid and online media, a degree of pessimism appears to be growing among Ireland‘s small to medium (SME) sized business sector regarding the ‘risk versus reward’ futility of getting involved in Chinabusiness. More mature markets in EU and the USA are being represented as offering more scope to grow for Irish SMEs with the right value proposition.
Irish businesses no matter what their size cannot afford to be pessimistic about China and here is why.
“…China’s transformation is one of the defining facts of our lifetime. Last year China became the world’s largest trading nation. Next year China is set to become the world’s largest importer of goods and later this century it will become the world’s biggest economy.
We should be clear that there is a genuine choice for every country over how to respond to this growing openness and success. They can choose to see China’s rise as a threat or an opportunity. They can protect their markets from China or open their markets to China. They can try and shut China out – or welcome China as a partner at the top table of global affairs..”
The British Prime Minister Mr. David Cameron, on the eve of his second official visit, in an article published this week in Caixin (pronounced ‘sigh sheen‘), China’s financial news heavyweight, couldn’t have been more explicit about China’s growing importance.
Most China watchers will agree that – largest, longest, fastest, biggest, greatest, tallest superlatives aside- China is still in the very early stages of its re-emergence: Get in on the ground floor now and potentially be in the happy position of earning revenue hand over fist.
Sure China is no cake walk. At the beginning, building a China market presence from scratch involves hassles, stumbles, issues, errors, problems, stresses and utter confusion. Yet, isn’t that what getting in at the beginning of any start-up business or market looks like? The only way to WIN is through hard work, support, communication, committment, patience, and understanding that there will be many instances of having to deal with a lot of confusion. Similar to a start-up company, these are the learning steps that must be taken to break new ground and grow a viable market presence in China.
In a start-up there also comes a point when the challenges start to be overcome and things begin to gel together. And so to in insatiable China where the surmounting of challenges and barriers or difficulties will open the way to doing fantastic things and improving on a daily basis faster than would have happened in more traditional, mature, markets.
With certain senior business executives and media in Ireland advocating a niche market approach for SMEs with respect to China [“China is a … slow burn” (Mr. Sean O’Driscoll, CEO Glen Dimplex); “More fortunes have been lost than made by getting in too early,” (Liam O’Mahony, Chairman, IDA Ireland) “Putting Mandarin on the school curriculum is a typical proposal from armchair ‘experts’ who have no experience of the challenges of selling in China – – 1.3bn consumers and all we need is a very tiny slice of the pie!” (Michael Hennigan, Editor of Finfacts.ie)] the crux of this Accurate China Insight is to draw attention to the fact that almost all of Accurate Group’s Irish clients, no matter what size, doing business in China or with China succeed at it, while the vast majority of European and American companies in China are flourishing.
Moreover, we do not share the view that China is a particularly risky market for foreign companies. Like any foreign market with a unique language, business culture, and legal system something can go wrong. However, despite the challenges China remains, will continue to remain a very profitable place to do business, which is really what matters most for Irish businesses.
Returning to David Cameron:
China is at a defining moment. It has just announced bold reforms that show real ambition to free its markets and open them up to foreign participation…
As Chinese cities expand dramatically and Chinese people become more prosperous, Britain has the world-class goods and services they need…
Building on the recent launch of EU-China negotiations on investment, and on China’s continued commitment to economic reform, I now want to set a new long-term goal of an ambitious and comprehensive EU-China Free Trade Agreement. And as I have on the EU-US deal, so I will put my full political weight behind such a deal that could be worth tens of billions of dollars every year…
We should recognise that China’s economic transformation is happening at 100 times the scale and 10 times the speed of Britain’s own urbanisation two centuries ago. In the last 30 years, China has made unprecedented social and economic achievements. The recent meeting of China’s leaders – the Third Plenum – has now set a clear goal: comprehensive reform, including issues such as governance and the judicial protection of human rights, and recognising that all types of reform are inextricably linked. The promise is of an economy with a more predictable legal environment and with stricter enforcement of protection for intellectual property rights…
The fact is that businesses thrive in a stable, secure and corruption-free environment that limits the risk of shock, provides certainty of dispute resolution and offers protection of capital and intellectual assets. These conditions are good for growth in China…
Ireland’s SME’s should be able to determine a new China business model that suits their situation. Top management and business owners who are destructively determined to succeed by increasing efforts to ‘do more of the same better’ in their traditional markets and ignore the potential of China are going to lose out in the medium and long term.
Irish businesses across the board need to intensify efforts to tap the China market otherwise they will be left behind.
Discussion paper presented by Niall O’Reilly at 6th International ‘Life & Development Forum’ – “We Make Life Better – Hangzhou, White Horse Lake Jianguo Hotel , November 8-9, 2013.
Sustainable development is a continuous, guided process of economic, environmental and social change aimed at promoting the well-being of citizens now and in the future. To realise this requires creating a sustainable and resource efficient economy founded on a fair and just society, which respects the ecological limits and carrying capacity of the natural environment (Source: Wikipedia)
In 2013, the economic situation in Ireland is dramatically different to the earlier part of the last decade, when Ireland was known as The Celtic Tiger. Measured against the standard indicators of GDP, and GNP – trends for economic development, new housing output, tax revenues, and employment levels have dropped sharply.
We have also seen rising unemployment, a banking crisis and a collapse in the property market after a sustained, if unsustainable, boom in the property market. A number of factors drove these unsustainable trends, including: rapid growth in employment, large scale inward migration (annual immigration rose sharply from 52,600 persons in 2000 to peak at 109,500 in 2007) (2), rapid natural population growth (17% increase between 1996 and 2006), fiscal incentives for the construction sector, rising car ownership and weakness in the strategic approach to spatial planning.
At a time of rapidly rising prosperity and development, the existing structures and controls were not strong enough to withstand the pressures that unavoidably arose.
This legacy leaves Ireland facing huge challenges in the period ahead, challenges that are all the more serious when set against the backdrop of a global economic downturn.
The sustainability pressures on the economy continue to be high and while some progress has been made, there is still a distance to travel before Ireland can fully remove itself from what is the most serious fiscal and economic crisis in the history of the Republic of Ireland.
In meeting the challenge, the Irish Government is implementing a radical Framework for Sustainable Development for Ireland – a national recovery agenda, which seeks to integrate sustainable development principles into policy making across all sectors, for the purpose of stimulating:
the transformation of public services
economic growth based on knowledge and innovation
an inclusive, high employment society
a greener low carbon economy
and a good quality natural and built-environment so that Ireland can once again prosper on a competitive global stage.
Lessons must be learnt from Ireland’s recent experience and Ireland will have to ensure structures and systems are put in place that are strong enough to survive periods of pressure which might threaten to weaken sustainable growth and fiscal stability.
It is widely accepted that economic growth, social unity and environmental protection are equally important targets for meeting the prime objective of delivering well-being in a diverse multi-cultured society that promotes participation, a society in which everyone takes responsibility for the environment.
While the establishment of a more sustainable pattern of development for Ireland is one of the key challenges of government and ultimately for society, there is also a clear consensus that a return to ‘business as usual’ is not an option.
At a global level there is a growing consensus that the world’s systems of production and consumption cannot be sustained without posing a huge threat to the environment and to human health. Water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, resource depletion and irreversible biodiversity loss are problems that have to be tackled as a matter of priority.
Consensus is now focusing around the need to put economies on a more sustainable, green growth path on the basis that the cost of sustaining biodiversity and ecosystem services is lower than the cost of allowing biodiversity and ecosystem services to decline.
For Ireland ‘green growth’ and the ‘green economy’ are now fundamental aspects of Government policy as the country shifts away from the ‘brown economy’ on the road to becoming a low-carbon, competitive, resource efficient and climate resilient country, policy which will ultimately improve its citizens’ well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.
Economic, environmental and social progress are mutually related.
Ireland’s Framework for Sustainable Development
This Framework contains measures to help meet the overall goal of achieving continuous improvement of quality of life both for current and for future generations.
The following set of 7 principles for sustainable development are the central aspects of this Framework for Sustainable Development for Ireland:
In relation to “economy”, the principle seeks “to promote an innovative, competitive and low carbon economy with the aim of achieving smart, sustainable and inclusive growth” and to reduce pressure on natural resources
In relation to “satisfaction of human needs by the efficient use of resources” the key objectives are that:
(a) “Prices should reflect the real costs to society of production and consumption activities and polluters should pay for the damage they cause to human health and the environment”
(b) “The needs of current generations should be addressed without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”
(c) “Resources should be used within the capacity for regeneration”
3. In relation to “respect for ecological integrity and biodiversity” the Framework seeks to ensure that “the abundance of wildlife and extent of habitats should be maintained, improved and restored where necessary, through sustainable management”
4. In relation to “social equity” the main principle is that “social inclusion should be promoted to ensure an improved quality of life for all”
5. In relation to “respect for cultural heritage and diversity” the Framework will ensure that “the quality of landscapes, the heritage of the man-made environment and historic and cultural resources should be maintained and improved”.
6. In relation to “Equity between countries and regions” Ireland will:
(a) “promote fundamental rights, by combating all forms of discrimination and contributing to the reduction of poverty”
(b) “promote consistency between local, regional, national, European Union (EU) and global actions in order to increase their contribution to sustainable development”
7. The 7th and final theme of Ireland’s Framework for Sustainable Development relates to good “decision-making”. In this regard, the framework will aim to:
(a) Guarantee citizens’ rights of access to information and public participation procedures.
(b) Ensure citizens’ access to review mechanisms.
(c) Develop adequate consultation with all interested parties, including citizens, businesses and social partners (such as trade unions), and develop participatory channels for all such interested parties.
Of course there are challenges.
Ireland’s Sustainable Development Framework catagorises 12 the key challenges under the following themes:
Sustainability of public finances and economic resilience.
Sustainable consumption and production.
Conservation and management of natural resources.
Climate change and clean energy.
Social inclusion, sustainable communities and spatial planning.
Education, communication and behaviour change.
Innovation, research and development
Skills and training
The 12th challenge is how to address global poverty and sustainable development.
I will now briefly explain Government-led initiatives regarding two of these themes: sustainable transport and public health
Smarter Travel – A Sustainable Transport Future
Transport, which is a key element of a sustainable development strategy, should be closely aligned to land use planning and the need to create more sustainable communities.
Sustainable transport is central to Ireland’s efforts to combat climate change, air pollution and other negative environmental and social impacts.
Transport trends in Ireland from the mid 1990’s onwards are unsustainable. The main problems associated with transport in Ireland are:
Rising pollution – greenhouse gases and particular air pollutants which are detrimental to health and the environment such as nitrous oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Increasing congestion on roads that lengthens journey times, adversely impacts on family, leisure time, and community life, contributes to the growing problem of obesity, and adds to pollution and costs at many levels including affecting Ireland’s national competitiveness. In Ireland there is a clear appetite to abandon the car for commuter driver, if only this were practical.
Safety also remains a key issue despite the steadily decreasing numbers of road deaths.
In addition, a key characteristic that distinguishes energy use in transport in Ireland is the almost total dependence on oil as a fuel and on import dependency, over 99% in both cases.
Without intervention, congestion will get worse, economic competitiveness will suffer, quality of life will deteriorate and carbon emissions from the transport sector will grow.
In order to achieve a sustainable travel and transport system by 2020, Ireland needs to change its unsustainable behaviour and habits as a nation and as individuals.
Sustainable and smarter transport measures currently being implemented by the Government under the Framework for Sustainable Development are set out in four key goals:
Goal 1 – to “reduce overall travel demand and the distance traveled by private car” and encourage smarter travel, including
focusing population and employment growth in sustainable compact forms, which reduce the need to travel for employment and services
using pricing mechanisms or fiscal measures to encourage behaviour change and discourage people from using the car unnecessarily.
Goal 2 – to “maximise the efficiency of the transport network” by ensuring that alternatives to the car are more widely available mainly through a radically improved public transport service and investment in cycling and walking.
Goal 3 – to reduce reliance on foss1il fuels and emissions by improving the fuel efficiency of motorised transport through
improved fleet structure
energy efficient driving
Goal 4 – to improve accessibility to transport.
To achieve these goals the Government is pursuing a number of key targets such as:
Dramatically improving the placement of spatial and transport planning to stop urban sprawl, and urban-generated one-off housing in non-urban areas
Encouraging e-working through better broadband provision
500,000 more people will take alternative means to commute to work (200,000 people will switch to cycling and walking) to the extent that the total share of car commuting will drop from 65% to 45%
Alternatives such as walking, cycling and public transport will be supported and provided to the extent that these will rise to 55% of total commuter journeys to work
The total kilometres travelled by the car fleet in 2020 will not increase significantly from current levels
A reduction will be achieved on the 2005 figure for greenhouse gas emissions from the transport
These key targets are ambitious. However, they are necessary to improve the quality of life of Ireland’s citizens, to secure future energy supply, and to ensure that the transport sector substantially reduces greenhouse gas emissions, in line with the need for all developed nations to do so. These targets represent a complete turnaround in the current trends. They mean that the Irish public must radically alter how they travel, and that Government priorities in the transport sector must move towards more sustainable modes.
Smarter Travel and Sustainable Transport Ideas:
Specification of a maximum permitted level of car parking for Government offices and commercial sites, which have suitable public transport facilities and are within walking/ cycling distance to amenities
The adoption of flexible working policies. The Government has provided leadership in promoting such flexible policies in the public sector
Ensuring that every school and college in Ireland has a school travel plan to encourage students to take alternatives to the car.
Government commitment to a culture of walking in Ireland
A car-sharing website which will help employers to encourage such initiatives in the workforce.
One smart-card to pay for all forms of public transport
Conversion of taxi and public bus fleet to alternative fuels.
A Healthy Ireland
Public health protection is an essential goal for society in delivering well-being and quality of life. Ireland has made significant progress in regard to the health of its population, but some key challenges remain.
The rise in life expectancy in Ireland during the past decade has been unmatched by any other country in Europe with the greatest gains in the older age groups reflecting decreasing mortality rates from major diseases.
In fact, the most important statistic from a health perspective is the number of people over the age of 65 which is projected to increase from over 500,000 now to over 1,300,000 in the next 30 years with the greatest proportional increases occurring in the 85+ age group.
However, Ireland’s ageing population, together with negative trends in obesity (60% of adults are obese), diet, exercise and other risk factors – such as smoking [6,000 deaths a year), and alcohol abuse (related road accidents cost over Euro 600 million a year) means that the level of chronic health conditions will certainly increase.
In addition, there are a range of social determinants of health, for example social exclusion, education, health services, the built environment and lifestyle choices:
People who are less well off or who belong to socially excluded groups tend to fare badly in relation to these social determinants
A healthy environment is also absolutely linked to the health of Ireland’s population which relies for survival on clean air and water and the crops we are able to grow in uncontaminated soil. Public amenities such as forest parks provide opportunities for recreation and add to our understanding of the environment thus supporting healthier lifestyles while contributing to our well-being.
The Irish Government’s Healthy Ireland frameworkis about taking important steps towards making Ireland a healthier and more prosperous country in which the whole population enjoys the best possible health and well-being.
It is designed to include Government Departments, local authorities and public bodies, businesses and employers, sports and voluntary groups, communities and families.
Initiatives within the Healthy Ireland Framework have four goals:
Goal 1: Increase the proportion of people who are healthy at all stages of life:
This means addressing risk factors and promoting protective factors at every stage of life – from pre-natal, through early childhood, adolescence, adulthood and into old age, to support lifelong health and well-being.
Initiatives in this context include:
Increasing the number of adults (by 5%) and children (6%) with a healthy weight by 2019
Increasing by 20% the proportion of adults eating the recommended five or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day
Reducing smoking among young people by 1% a year
Decreasing levels of self-harm across all life stages
Increasing by 20% of proportion of the population undertaking regular physical activity
Goal 2: Reduce health inequalities:
Health and well-being are not evenly distributed across Irish society. This goal requires not only interventions to target particular health risks, but also a broad focus on addressing the wider social determinants of health – the circumstances in which people are born, grow, live, work and age – to create economic, social, cultural and physical environments that foster healthy living.
Initiatives in this context include:
Increasing the ‘stay at school’ rates of students in second-level schools
Reducing the % of the population in consistent poverty from current 6% to 2% or less by 2020.
Increasing self-reported happiness and well-being across socio-economic groups.
Goal 3: Protect the public from threats to health and well-being:
The Healthy Ireland Framework is designed to ensure effective strategies and interventions to protect the public from new and emerging threats to health and well-being are implemented. Being prepared to prevent, respond to, and rapidly recover from public health threats through collaborative working is critical for protecting and securing the population’s health.
Initiatives in this context include:
Increasing immunization rates for children to 95% uptake
Reducing prevalence of food-borne infections in compliance with Ireland and EU legislation
Complying with indicators defined in International Health Regulations, World Health Organisation (WHO).
Goal 4: Create an environment where every individual and sector of society can play their part in achieving a Healthy Ireland:
It is beyond the capability of any one Government Department or organisation to promote society-wide health and well-being. This can only be done through society-wide involvement in and engagement with health and well-being promotion and improvement activities – from individuals making positive lifestyle choices and projects run by community and local groups, to policy and legislative changes at the highest level of government.
Initiatives in this context include:
Establishing key indicators measuring the level, range and effectiveness of cross government collaboration and effectiveness of structures.
Increasing percentage of people participating in informal, unpaid charitable work.
The current health status of people living in Ireland, lifestyle trends and inequalities in health outcomes are leading Ireland toward a future that is dangerously unhealthy and very likely unaffordable. The work that is underway to build a health service that is accessible and fair will only succeed if Ireland builds an environment that supports people and their families to lead healthier lifestyles.
Evidence and experience from around the world clearly shows that to create positive and sustainable change in health and well-being, it takes the involvement of the whole community, the whole of Government, all of society working in unison.
In conclusion, having endured the worst crisis in the history of the Republic of Ireland, by placing Sustainable Development as a critical component in Ireland’s Agenda for National Recovery the Government is clearly focused on pursuing coherent policies and sustainable actions for the health and well-being of the country’s most valuable asset: Its people.
Given Ireland’s present economic condition investment in the necessary infrastructure elements of the Framework for Sustainable Development will be challenging. However, the real challenge is to change mindsets, so that Ireland’s institutions and individual citizens realise the benefits from altering their behaviour for the common good.
Managing Director, Accurate Group Ireland China Market Makers (Route to Market, Export, Import, Partner Due Diligence)
He is wearing a uniform that in China suggests a pretense of authority and power, which he seems determined to exercise. Noisily exhaling he’s flicking through the pages of my passport with that contemptuous self-important look which always makes me feel so grateful I have a foreign passport.
“Why you come China many time?”, the eye-balling Immigration Officer challenges me.
He looks quite irritated, which I guess is understandable because I’ve made him lose face in front of his superiors. A team of three officers have just helped him to identify the apostrophe ” ‘ ” key on his Chinese keyboard…. Irish family names [O’Reilly, O’Donnell, O’Maolcraoibhe, O’Seachnasaighare, etc..] are a novice ChineseImmigration Officer‘s worst nightmare.
His question provokes a chain of thoughts as I reflect a little too deeply for a fitting answer.
“That’s a really good question”, says I…… …. clutching my passport and briskly walking in the direction of Hong Kong Immigration.
Even if there are a few hundred people in front of me patiently waiting in line, this has to me my favourite queue in the world… One-by-one Chop!… Chop!… Chop! … and finally seventh heaven. Works every time!
Hong Kong just feels so different (mindset, style, colours, passion) and so Niall!
Always great to be back in fragrant Hong Kong for a recharge.
I was feeling really uptight, stressed. 52 hours on the go from Hangzhou to Dublin ..
Heavy snow, freezing temperatures. The busiest time of the year. Travel chaos. Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Three cancelled flights, queues, queues and more queues, the rumour machine (“we could be here until Christmas Day“), the lottery for seats on the extra plane put on by Aer Lingus (the world’s worst airline), which didn’t depart on 11.30pm but rather 2.30am.
Dublin Airport. The 5.00 am arrival (“where are our bags?“). More rumours… the chaos, bags, except mine, discarded all over the baggage reclaim area… the lack of Aer Lingus / Dublin Airport authorities ownership of the problem… everyone else to blame except them…. freezing cold waiting for the bus… that was dawn 23rd December… The welcome sight of my brother at the door standing in his jocks… a foot of snow outside the house..
And so to this heartburn-like feeling over the past week… the usual Christmas excesses or? I also felt wasted, like I had never felt wasted. At the urging of my ever attentive mother I went to see the family doctor for a check up.
When Dr. K started checking the battery of the blood pressuremonitor I knew something was very wrong… He did the test again… “How do you really feel?” “Very tired, easy to nod off, mentally erratic, hard to concentrate, a little headache and strange white spots in my eyes”
A reading of 170/108. Such blood pressure readings fall within Stage 2Hypertension(readings of 160/110 and 180/110 usually indicate Stage 2 Hypertension), in which there is high risk of a heart-attack or a stroke.
There then followed the ‘Mother of all Colds’, which knocked me out for five days … Related? Hypertension? To much salt?
Almost two weeks later I am wearing a blood pressuremonitor taking readings on an hourly basis. From a 170/108 emergency, blood pressure readings are now in the low 130’s or high 120’s/88-82.. Absolutely normal.
So what was all that 170/108 about?
Life is not to be taken for granted. We can be here one second and the next second snuffed out. Hypertension and stress are invisible killers. I wouldn’t have been aware what the combination of symptoms were pointing to.
Wholesome home food and a relaxed mind are the keys to a healthy life…. Now, if only air-travel was less stressful!
I know what my 2011 priority will be… “Good health = long life”.
It’s 0.32 hrs, early Wednesday morning, on rattler K8427 and we’re rolling along towards Hangzhou East Station, having just pulled out of characterless SongJiang (I guess everywhere is inexpressive when its pitch black outside).
Two more stops to endure: Like time without end in this oppressively hot sardine can, stuffed to the gills with wilting, almost comatose, travellers. In any manner whatever dishevelled bodies covered with sweat, are crushed, wedged, packed, and squeezed into seats and each other. Faces, compressed into table tops and plastic bags crammed full with life possessions, compete for space with those two standard trappings for such idle moments: melon seeds and screw-top jars.
To rise above the tedium of the travel, passengers, those that are still of sound mind, delight in picking, cracking open and chewing melon seeds (now I know what the long pointed nails are for, working much more effectively than teeth), while another infallible remedy are the jars filled to the brim with tea, the fuel that drives China’s blue-collar classes.
The carriage is unventilated and airless, while the railway car attendant is swabbing the floor under my feet with a filthy black mop, the same one she has just used to clean the toilet.
The commuter across the way has his shirt rolled halfway up his chest, a nauseating waft of cigarette smoke permeates the space between us, and I find myself envisioning two very smelly French delicacies:
Vieux Boulogne, the foul-smelling ‘chou dofu’ of cheeses, the smelliest cheese known to man, is said to smell like a product from a cow’s ass, rather than its udders, which adequately describes the stench originating from the toilet.
Pont l’Eveque, the Durian of cheeses, is one of the world’s oldest cheeses and dating back a couple of hundred years actually smells that old, its pong bearing a very strong resemblance to the overpowering odour emanating from this gentleman’s sweat soaked, decaying socks.
And for all this entertainment only RMB 25 (Euro 2.60), the price of the ticket from Shanghai South Station.
According to the Public Security Bureau (PSB) only just over 200 pedestrians, drivers, cyclists and others people died every day last year on China’s roads (The World Health Organization’s approximation is close to double this figure). Even the minimum 73,484 deaths (out of 265,204 officially investigated traffic accidents) in 2008 (compared to just under 82,000 road kills in 2007) as published by the PSB is equivalent to the population of my home town of Dun Laoghaire being wiped out three times over. That’s quite a sobering thought.
90,000 people died in the Sichuan Earthquake.
The most common accident scenes in a city like Hangzhou are of a crumpled bicycle / electric bike and rider lying under a car (invariably a taxi) or bus. My, first impression regarding the accident shown in the photos below, which I witnessed yesterday, was that there were no fatalities because I didn’t see an ambulance. Actually, the cyclist was removed in an unmarked van…. straight to the mortuary.
On the motorways the culprit is usually a truck (fuel tanker), while in the countryside an accident scene is likely to involve a packed long-distance sleeper bus.
And the outlook…?
China accounts for 10% of global car sales and is the fastest-growing market in the world
19 out of 1,000 Chinese drive a car, whereas in America some 780 people out of 1,000 do
There are 30 million cars in China today. By 2020, that figure could rise to 140 million cars alone (that is a lot of carbon monoxide).
There are over 165 million licensed motor vehicles in China, 90% of which were cars and motorcycles.
Over 18 million cars were privately owned.
Beijing has close to 3 million cars. Every day over 1,000 new vehicles appear on the streets of Beijing. To cope with the rising car numbers 1,000,000 more parking spaces are needed.
China had no motorways in 1988; it now has 41,000 km, the second-largest network in the world after the United States.
….. With such breakneck motorisation the outlook looks grim.
The Bangkok of the typical mind’s eye is a sleazy, illegal, exotic, out of the ordinary place that never sleeps. Most foreign accounts of Bangkok play to this image, or on the contrary, to an ornamented description of the city as spectacularly dazzling as the gilded mosaics of the Grand Palace, which forms the ideal Land of Smiles postcard.
In truth, Bangkok doesn’t require such seedy embellishments or historical imagery when its reality is already so uniquely remarkable.
So, how to sum up the energy that this city radiates? Rather than focusing on the must-visit attractions and monuments, maybe a few photos of the people and dynamics that make Bangkok tick will really convey a sense of what Krung-thep-maha-nakorn-boworn-ratana-kosin-mahintar- ayudhya-amaha-dilok-pop-nopa-ratana-rajthani-burirom-udom-rajniwes-mahasat-arn-amorn-pimarn- avatar-satit- sakattiya-visanukam is all about.
So what do an urban elephant, a street dog, a hawker, minorities, Africans, Arabs, buses, durians, the huay (lottery), the monarchy, motosai (motorbike taxis), phuangmalai (flower garland), pollution, sanuk (fun), Soi Nana, the Sky Train, Gucci, street food, tam boon (merit making), taxis, touts, uniforms and traffic all have in common? Well they reflect through Niall’s eyes an attempt to echo the madness, enthusiasm, sounds, smells, tastes and creative energy that shines from this incredible city.
The elephant…. An eccentric sight …. Enjoying a cool beer on the sidewalk when one of these huge animals appears from around the corner. It’s depressing to see this highly intelligent and self aware mammal being led around noisy, polluted streets by a mahout handing out bananas for money, Thais seeing the feeding of elephants as a form of merit making, with extra money coming from photographs taken for thoughtless tourists. Of course, uncontrolled logging in the mountainous Thai border areas has meant less work for the elephants, less food supplies, with owners claiming they have no choice but to roam the streets of Bangkok begging with bananas.
The street-wise (soi) dog, or mad dog, is almost always to be found lazing way in the burning midday sun outside a 7 – Eleven, or a temple. With looks only a mother could love they are not certainly not pretty, invariably have a dreadful skin disease, and have almost zero hair. But this is part of their allure… By night they roam Bangkok’s polluted streets, relying on food from ‘merit making’ locals.
Whether its balloons, squeaky toys, floor mops, silly masks, fruit, food, coffee, ice cream, or cold drinks, just about everything under the sun, the hawkers provide sound and smell to the commotion that is Bangkok.