Thursday, January 17, 2013

Adjusting Our View


Three pictures of places in the world—but where are they? Take a moment to ponder them before you read on—and clicking on the images will enlarge them and possibly give you a clue. But most likely not.

In order from the left, therefore: Beijing’s Business District, Lhasa in Tibet, the setting for Shangri La, and at the bottom Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. The populations of these places are 19.6 million, 373,000, and 1.2 million. The images we’re accustomed to seeing are, respectively, the entrance of the Forbidden City (construction there began in 1406) with Mao’s image prominently visible; the Deprung Monastery and once the home of the Dalai Lama some miles from Lhasa; and for Mongolia, simple yurts with snowy mountains in the distance. Well, some Mongolians use elevators to get to bed.

This excursion was motivated by our seeing a Chinese film (too gross in content to record its title here) in which the earliest scenes showed us Beijing. Now these images shouldn’t have, but they did rather startle us, and afterwards, comparing impressions, we had to laugh: we are so influenced by stereotypes. And this came a day or so after a newspaper image from Mongolia had also startled us.

The world is changing. To be sure, there are still areas more or less untouched by modernity. Herewith I show a partial map of a city of 54,000 somewhere, along with an enlargement to prove that it is “modern.” The enlargement shows pictures of cars and trucks. 



This happens to be Timbuktu, in Mali, in Africa. And another image, closer to earth-level, reveals that Timbuktu looks pretty much like it might have looked when the Western world, in the person of France, proceeded to embrace it in 1883:

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