Saturday, 12 September 2009

Pause, rewind. Listen, then play again. Louder.

This has been the first real pause since the beginning of this blog. It's not that I've had nothing to say. On the contrary.

I saw first hand how the global recession, kicked off by the subprime crisis in the U.S. in 2007, is now determining the crops grown by Akha people in northern Laos, close to the Chinese border. Quite simple really (slowdown of the automotive industry and of private spending, reducing demand for tyres, less consumption of rubber by Chinese tyre factories, less need for them to look as far afield as Laos for rubber trees...) but still quite startling if you think Akha people live in remote hillsides, earn their living from rice and sugar cane on the local market, and have no access to the news since they only speak Akha, of which there is no written alphabet. It goes without saying that they wouldn't know what you are talking about if you mentioned CDOs, credit crunch, G8 and G20, GM/Chrysler rescue, Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, etc.

Luckily, they have grown an alternative source of income with sustainable tourism, thanks to excellent work over 10 years from GTZ, the German cooperation agency. Allowing a limited number of tourists in their villages (and only one day a week,) and managing the tours themselves, should hopefully enable them to preserve their way of life while opening up to visitors, and save them from the fate of other native populations, many of whom have all but disappeared.

A little more than 200km south of the Akha villages (a 12 hour mostly off-road drive) lies Luang Prabang. Three years ago, this was a town undergoing reconstruction thanks to international aid, with a few decent hostels here and there...and a great atmosphere. Today, it has flourished: the street market has been moved south to give it more space, local shops have sprung up selling all sorts of local goods, there's plenty of accomodation of all sorts...and free wi-fi in many cafés and hostels. IMHO this is what progress and development is about, although plenty remains to be done.

A sad comparison to back home, where free wi-fi for tourists and visitors is unheard of, despite tourism being a pillar of our economy. Just one small symptom of the structural decline Italy is experiencing since the beginning of the decade, not just against emerging markets like China but also against all our Western peers. Adding insult to injury, our leaders don't seem to notice or even suggest the worst is over, despite plenty of early warnings that the decline is structural.

UPDATE: Marco Tullio Giordana also said it well in the 2003 film "La meglio gioventù" (The best of youth).

(in Italian)


Are we condemned to fight over our own little slice of a shrinking cake, or will we be able to get the cake growing once again?

Still, there's a time to write, and a time to pause to listen and reflect. To start again, with renewed vigour. That's why pauses are needed, and why more will come to this blog.

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