Sunday, August 10, 2008

Your Time Has Come

After months of world-wide protests and questions about health safety, the 2008 Beijing Olympics finally kicked off. And what a kick-off it turned out to be! For the Western world, so sure of their dominance with technology and culture and virtues and basically everything, the opening ceremony itself was a kick below the belt, a rude awakening.

The Rise Of The Dragon

Not that China hasn't grabbed attention over the last few years. Phenomenal population growth and hitting the billion mark, were soon followed by a successful control in birth rates. Of course, how the control was achieved may have a dubious side or two of its own. Which brings us to the second most popular Chinese coverage in the media - human rights abuse. Reports about the second child being snatched away from hapless parents, anti-communist or pro-Tibetan protests being squashed without notice and general forceful adherence to communist policies have hogged the international media and portrayed China as a fire-spitting Dragon. The largest number of criminal executions in the world anywhere doesn't get missed either.

The most popular Western media coverage of China though stems from fear, a realisation deep within about the coming of a superpower like none before, but one which no one wants to accept completely. Statistics proving China is now the "circuit-board" of the world, leading in electronics, and generally any sort of manufacturing, are ably matched by numbers showing disproportionate growth in GDP and wealth, and eventually political clout and military might that the Dragon now wields. Everyone is looking behind their backs.

Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure. From a virtual nobody, China is on the world's lips and thoughts every single day now. Their presence is not taken for granted anymore.

Icing On The Cake

Gone are the days where the West enjoyed centuries of technological superiority on the back of the Industrial Revolution. Now, most manufacturing takes place in East Asia. A popular tag on products in the stores in the US reads - "Designed in the US. Made in China" - as if to reassure where the brains lie. Nevertheless, the Chinese have not only minted money from their manufacturing exploits, but also inherited skills that help them master technology on their own.

What better way to signal your intentions and abilities to the world than the Olympic Opening Ceremony, while everyone on the planet is tuned in. The magnificent display filled the senses of the viewers and everyone must have been left with a gaping wide-open jaw. Anyone who still thought of China as the land of cheap labourers, will not dare to think that again. Lights, organisation of massive proportions, sounds, colours, shadow-plays and marvels of modern technology intermingled with varied sights that gave a glimpse into the country's five thousand year cultural history and variety. It was like saying - "We have always been around, long before any of you were civilized. Now, we are ready to take the stage."

Homeland, Take a Cue

It is widely said that the next coming would be that of India's. Homeland will soon be 61 years old - young enough to justify it's lag - but another nation whose time is almost here. After China, the Indian Tiger gets second-best media coverage in the West. But, it is not one of utter fear, but rather one of upheaval of the backward. A story of rags to riches, as opposed to lust for universal fiefdom.

I wonder how India will send its message out when it wants to announce to the world that there is a new kid on the block. History however, gives us enough clues. Homeland has never been boisterous. The messages are always subtle, and India has always preferred a gradual flowing change as opposed to a sharp transition. So eventually, I believe when its time comes, people will not be shocked but instead accept it as fate that awaited. However, I do hope there are a few little stunning moves in the midst. I anxiously look forward to the lunar-probe mission - Chandrayaan-1 - later this year. No one expected India to come this close to such a massive step, indigenously, only a few years after Independence. It's all been hush-hush, but when its time to blast off, I hope it isn't!

Fear Translates to Hate
A few months ago, I walked into a barbershop (hair saloon for the unconventional) in Strangeland. The media was whipping China's backside for toxic levels of lead in Chinese toys (80% of toys in the world are Chinese!) at the time. A mom was helping her 7 year old with his homework - an essay on toys - while she waited her turn. Seeing me walk in, she somehow felt like I needed chastising, and asked her son to read aloud what he had written. He read aloud - "I love playing with toys when I come from school. However, recently, I learnt it is not safe to play anymore. The Chinese toys are poisonous. China makes bad toys, and everything they make is bad. They should stop making things and we should stop buying from them." The mom gave him a mini-applause, both obviously needing a lesson in global economics, and of course, English essay writing. By the way, do I look like I am Chinese?