A Journal of the Plague Year Day 54

Monday 11th May 2020

I’ve been checking out some Internet. All fucking day. Still armchair travelling, still in China.

Anyhoo, a welcome getaway from the bickering and racism online, the looks on the street recently, as always. Hot on the trail of yesterday’s rabbit hole into Chinese design I’ve been delving into photography fora from the glorious motherland. And ohmigaaahd there’s so much.

I look at the pics of the Chinese cities, so different from the way the West surmises them, as poor, polluted and cowed, and feel it- pride. Nationalistic, state-posturing pride as an underdog against a more belligerent power. This is perhaps worrying.

First off, the journey: the usual big three most people have seen. Shanghai (the world’s most built-up city), population 30m:

And it’s not just skyscrapers, Shanghai’s old buildings (mostly the shikumen housing and longtang lanes that it spent decades bulldozing but is now restoring) cover an area almost the City of Paris. SH also has a millennium aged Old City, one of three, plus two colonial districts:



Next on the list, to the capital Beijing (pop 22 million), the world’s largest ceremonial centre, and world’s largest pre-industrial city back in the 19th. A terrible place to lump a capital -freezing in winter, boiling in summer, courting sand storms in Spring and smog year round. Another mistake early on: choosing the American freeway-style system to move its inhabitants around -now ridden with 8 giant ringroads and endless traffic, unlike say Shanghai or Guangzhou.

Nowadays it’s cleaned up, planting its Great Green Wall against the Gobi (and Hebei’s factories), banning 5 million cars, growing the world’s biggest, busiest metro system, with Shanghai hot on its tails. Today powered by tourism, the world’s largest bureaucratic sector, and China’s silicon valley. Plus the world’s premier creative industries, notably Beijing’s shock art that has ruled the roost for two decades, and the highest amount of start-ups anywhere. World, world, worlds.


And finally, Hong Kong, the world’s most skyscrapered, and densest city. The ‘mouth of the dragon’, or as Shanghaier’s who are the ‘head’ prefer: the arse end. HK stands out from the Mainland in its older, decaying buildings among the glitzy skyscrapers -here people own the land and prove it harder to revamp and rebuild. Also there’s hardly anything old left despite, due to the lack of space. But what a space.

A note of reality -HK is also China’s most economically divided, unequal city, the world’s freest place to do business where only 20% pay minimal tax in a social experiment that both UK and China would never have dared back home. The populace enjoys some of the world’s highest ‘average’ wages yet 75 percent are working class (for urban China that’s the opposite, 70% being middle class), and 1/5 being desperately poor where a good chunk struggle to even feed themselves. This is in short the world’s most capitalist spot, and contrasting with the socialism next door.

But still a jaw-dropping hive of activity, hustle and bustle, and prone to giving the finger to the regime.

The scope best appreciated from afar, it’s all about the lookout points.


Then there are the megacities, larger than NYC that most peeps haven’t even heard of.

Shenzhen, the world’s most highrise nexus currently adding on the equivalent of the Big Apple’s skyline in the next few years. This is the planet’s hardware capital, now vying with Beijing and California to become the software one too. Over one third of Silicon Valley tech is already sourcing from here.

In the ’80s a fishing village of 30,000 before becoming Communist China’s first Special Economic Zone and a byword for sweatshop labour -now ballooned to 12 million and reinvented as a sparkling arriviste with some of the highest standards of living in the country, though still part of a greater whole…

Plans for the 60m needle top spire added to the 599m/ 1,965ft Ping’An tower, once slated to be the 2nd tallest in the world (now 4th), were shelved in a big spat with the airport, due to the possibility of planes whacking into it. By adhering to local law it misses out on becoming a 600m ‘megatall’ by 90cm. Tis twice the height of the Eiffel Tower.



Guangzhou -centre of the world’s new largest city as of 2015, with 41 million people -Shenzhen anchors the other end. An ancient city of 2,200 years and colonial metropolis but with very little to show for it. Long a cheap parody of HK it’s pretending that part of its history never happened, notably swankier and more eco-conscious these days than her eidolon with endless new green projects, including the 3rd largest metro system, soon to be the first.

It’s plush new centre has a vast ceremonial axis of parkland, under which all the public and private transport is buried, and sided with supertalls (buildings over 300m/1000ft), which in turn lines up with a ceremonial tomb-temple complex on one of the city’s hills. At either end sit 2,000ft tall towers and some stadia, one of them floating. I mean, she had a lot to prove but gaaaahd…


Then the second tier cities. Chongqing, a city of 17m on one of the most tortured urban sites – a confluence of two major rivers and three mountain ranges, riddled with bridges (4,500 of them), tunnels, cable cars, zip lines, monorails and caverns. Trains going in and out of clifftop buildings, some of the world’s largest, tallest bridges, that kinda thing. This is China’s most dramatic city: ugly, beautiful, epic, and often the visitor’s favourite. It is possibly the world’s most visually epic metropolis.

She debuted on the world stage as the world’s largest city about a decade ago, before they worked out her 35 million inhabitants were in several cities in a catchment the size of Austria. Anyhoo, for the high drama, this is what many people think of when envisaging modern China, grandiose, tawdry, sultry, Bladerunner-y.


Chengdu, China’s hipster centrum and generator of influencers, and the country’s coolest cat of urban tribes, start-ups, 200,000 teahouses, street style, laid back vibes, a UNESCO protected Culinary site and home to an entertainment and leisure complex that’s the world’s largest building.

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Oh and panda’s, it’s big on touting the fuckers everywhere you look, from crawling up the sides of skyscrapers to airplane livery -the place you’ll have to fly into if you wanna see any in their natural habitat.


Nanjing, the historic former capital, riddled with history. It’s surrounded by the world’s largest city walls, imperial tombs, former palaces and endless temples among the skyscrapers. It lost out to nearby Shanghai in the city stakes, and whatever you do, don’t just DON’T mention the war.


Qingdao, the seaside resort and attached German colonial old town. Site of the water events during the 2008 Olympics it operates a colonial building code, as well as several marinas and a whole load of beer related branding to lure the nation’s drunks and street pissers. Breweries (notably Tsingtao, the national favourite), festivals, biergartens, all thanks to the mitteleuropan legacy. Coastal walks and sandy beaches complete the picture, handy in soaking up vomit.


Hangzhou, the country’s richest, most livable city long touted as the most beautiful but destroyed in the 1800s, having been the worlds largest too (along with 600 cities it was wrecked in history’s nastiest civil war, and second bloodiest conflict, taking out 30m lives and sending China into decline). Still its heart remains a classical landscape of water, hills and pagodas, and China’s biggest tourist attraction; for decades it banned all highrises. It’s high standards run completely with its reputation.


Suzhou, also traditionally known as China’s most beautiful city, famed for its classical gardens, Venetian canals, sweet food and a white-walled, blue-roofed vernacular. Again one of the country’s richest, and merging into Shanghai with booming growth, though the locals do moan it is a bit boring. Then they built the spantastic, supertall gateway and its megamall entertainment complex for something to look at, soon to be lined with an avenue of skyscrapers; it’s been fast-dubbed the ‘Big Trousers’.

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And even the smaller, third tier cities.

Harbin -a cold northern metropolis famed for the world’s largest ice festival, and once belonging to Russia now one of the capitals of China’s northeastern rustbelt. Having seen a fast decline in heavy industry, it’s transformed into tourism (Chinese seeing Russia, Russians seing China), carmaking, trade and gargantuan museum construction.

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Guiyang, long the capital of China’s poorest province this multicultural, minority-heavy city appears to have leapfrogged the decades of manufacturing and trade straight into hi-tech. It’s now home to most of China’s Fortune 500 and centre of a tech boom that’s won it accolades as the city most likely to watch and invest in. It’s also infamous for its copycat twin towers- from the World Trade Center to an unlikely pair of Empire State buildings, plus some IFC’s from Hong Kong, why not. For all its classy gloss, there’s always that louche, nouveau riche uncle still elbowing in on every grand plan.


Shaoxing, a reputation once preceded this place as an elegant footnote in history for its timeless poetry, writing, tea, wine, bridges, ducks and the arts -just the reality was an obnoxious centre of decay, pollution and manufacturing. Nowadays it’s shirked off that rep to become more in keeping with its tradition, but still overshadowed by Hangzhou who it lost the regional capital to, and Chaozhou with its preserved buildings and Old Town. Instead it’s become a halfway house of livability and historic restoration, and an examplar to healthy competition, even as the underling.


I could go on, with over 100 cities over 1 million (by some counts 160 – by comparison US has 20), and each of them ploughing the taxes into making them livable, eco-friendly and not just highrise or bombastic. Here even the poor areas have an epic urban scale and ‘Bladerunner’ aesthetic (founded on Ridley’s Scott experience of Tokyo/ HK nightlife), though now heavily threatened -the urban cacophony is fast disappearing, before a sanitised revision. The lair of the famous Chinese street life, where your days were traditionally lived out in public:

Chongqing

Shanghai, catch em while you can.

Hong Kong

Beijing

Shenzhen, and it’s last remaining ‘urban village’- illegally built neighbourhoods put up in the 80s and 90s, and now seeking heritage protection.

Oh and one last thing THIS CITY that has recently been in the news. Home to 11-19 million, a confluence of three seperate cities on different banks of the river, and now home to several of the world’s largest bridges (plus the biggest lightshow every night). Do click salubriously on the image below:

Wuhan

The metropolis is adversely now featuring highly as the place most Chinese want to visit post-lockdown, intrigued by the constant news and its hardy citizens. However, highly unlikely for foreign visitors, should they ever even return to China, once the world’s fastest growing market for inbound tourists (4th in the world behind the US). It now looks remote that many outsiders will ever see or experience these cities (let alone its multitudinous landscapes) other than through some clickbaiting media lens.

 

Well, after all that, how buoyant. A breath of fresh air from my lockdown barrage of US films, talk shows, TikToks, vids, reality TV and news news news, all becoming redolent of a Western society I’m excluded from no matter how I identify.

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I think a part of me is falling into the nationalism trap. It’s all so comforting when facing a world that’s otherwise against you, redlining you as forever an outsider and rechalking these past few months. You fall into the welcoming arms of a culture that looks like you.

And this is precisely the same trap as anyone else. All those toads, all those hawks, all those okay-boomers, all those Karens, you’ll likely find their equivalent anywhere else, China included. If I filled this thread with the greatest hits of the West (read: White): London, Rome, Paris, NYC, Sydney, Vienna and started celebrating how perfect Westernism all was, even their imperfections, it would surely strike a different tone.

And should it?

I think nationalism and patriotism share a fine line between them, and that dallies with inculcating prejudice. Perhaps one needs to have a sense of victimhood to feel it, and defend it. Question is, who has the upper hand?

I think universality should override both sides. We can fully appreciate the beauty of one place without that meaning you have to shirk the rest, or put it in competition. It doesn’t have to be the clash of civilisations, they long pointed at the Islamic world, but now increasingly looking further.

I’ll finish on an in-betweener from both spheres of influence. Where east meets west: Istanbul.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

The True Size

The traditional atlases of the world always have distortions, such is the nature of translating a 3 dimensional globe onto a flattened 2D plane. Thus the notorious Mercator version (used as a dartboard among geographers), that was traditionally used to increase the size of northern (read: Western) countries has been accused of long peddling the incorrect sizes of landmasses to millions in generation after generation, and we’re not just talking physical size and distances, but the map as envisaged in the political mind. Any map that say elevates Eurocentrism, or puts China in the centre, or the US (thus splitting Europe and Asia to opposite sides) can be equally accused -yet which is most correct?

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In truth, countries compared… you’ll need to be a bit of an atlas-savvy nerd to appreciate the differences in size of some of these comparison, but onwards:

https://mapfight.appspot.com

First off…

Ecuador, that tiny cut in the western side of South America is actually bigger than the UK. Fun fact, it is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries despite its small size, more so than say the US.

Also, it’s capital Quito has fantastic potential as a destination, and one of the world’s truly undiscovered next big thangs, should it ever clean up get and get the flower baskets out. It’s blessed with one of the world’s largest and most encompassing Old City’s that swamps over numerous hills and mountain vistas, like San Fran but with more grit, crime, streetkids etc. Actually exactly like San Fran:

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Quito

Quito

Laos slightly smaller. Fun fact – one of the world’s most sparsely populated countries unlike almost all other Asian territories (pop 7.2 million in comparison to the UK at 68 million). Lots of room for cows, temples and minefields -the world’s heaviest bombed country, that took more fallout than all the ammo and explosives used in both World Wars combined. Not only was this paradise so mullered, it was done secretly, that the outside world had no clue the US was bombing (as a nice little sideline in the Vietnam War). But now it’s hippy heaven, lush and laid back in every direction, just don’t stray off the paths.

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Koreans would come in at a 76 million count were they ever to reunite. The difference would be stark within the new populace – not just in culture and clothing, even in height where the Southerners would average a 3-5 inch difference thanks to the North Korean famine during the 90s. But it’s also said the Northerners are a happy, convivial bunch contrary to assumption, and the opposite holds truer for the south. The closest we’ve gotten to believing ourselves in paradise are those living in Pyongyang.

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Next off, England.

Sri Lanka. Until as late as 1480 Sri Lanka was connected to India by Adam’s Bridge, a 50 km/ 30 mile limestone shoal that is now about 1-3 metres underwater. Quite a hike, paddle and swim but bring your shark net. Where no boat ever dares:

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Tasmania, with a population of only 537,000 is very sparsely populated. Its original inhabitants were wiped out within 30 years of British conquest, and one of the few human ethnicities (distinct from Mainland Aborigines for 12,000 years) to become extinct. But yeah, let that little footnote in history hold you back. An extraordinarly beautiful island, also a little known pinnacle of fresh, inordinately organic produce from seafood to wine to bush tucker.

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Suriname, a country of half a million mostly living along the coast is South America’s smallest. It is also the first in the world to reach carbon neutrality, whose vast interior of rainforest goes far to mitigate carbon reduction for the rest of the planet. Caribbean in culture, it speaks Dutch formally and English Creole (unintelligible to the English) among the populace, who are one of the world’s most cosmopolitan, an even mix of Afro-Surinamese, Indian, Javanese, Chinese and mixed race. Basically anyone from anywhere could look Surinamese.

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Svalbard (popularised by its largest island, Spitzbergen) is Norway’s northern archipelago and a wondrous, tortured landscape of mountains, glaciers, pinnacles and ice. Only 2,700 people live across the archipelago, making it third in place from Antarctica and Greenland as the least populated land spot in the world. One of its most arresting sights are the annual waterfalls that form mile-long walls of water pouring off the melting glaciers, and the fact the inhabitants have to tote guns everywhere they walk for fear of polar bears, even if it is to take the rubbish out. Actually ESPECIALLY if you’re taking the rubbish out, such is the attraction for foraging ice monsters.

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Newfoundland floats in the world’s largest estuary, islanded also as an English speaking outpost (one of the Maritime Provinces) before French Canada takes over. Its accent is still discernibly Irish sounding as is its old sea shanty laden history -about 70% of its population claims some ancestry from the British Isles, compared to 6% from France. Small towns and fishing villages create a sleepy backwater of an island, the first part of North America (other than Greenland) discovered by Europeans, complete with a Norse settlement about a millennium ago – take that Columbus! [/snappy Geonerd speak circa 1992 school video].

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Togo, one of the smallest countries in Africa no less holds more than 40 ethnic groups, and was once known typically as to what it offered the colonials -the Slave Coast, sandwiched between the Gold Coast (Ghana) and Ivory Coast that still bears its name. Togo nowadays might be known as the Phosphate coast, having the world’s fourth largest deposits -peddler of fortune but also tying 30% of the economy to the whims of price fluctuation.

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Tunisia, the northernmost country of Africa and an even mix of Berber and Arab worlds. It is classified as the only ‘Free’ country on the continent and the only full democracy in the Arab World, in part helped by igniting the Arab Spring in 2011, and the martyrdom of lowly market trader, Mohamed Bouazizi. Thousands of years of culture, from Phoenician to Roman to Berber to Arab to Ottoman to French -and it’s more famous for the scenes shot for the Star Wars franchise. I mean, fuck the ruins.

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Japan’s northern island was once home to the Ainu people, who now number 25,000 and could be as high as 200,000 due to those who have no idea of their ancestry. They were claimed to be the world’s hairiest people, whose women would tattoo moustaches onto their faces. They were also proto Caucasoid -that doesnlt mean White, but looking similar to the Central Asians (think Afghans riding/ fighting bears and living like the native Americans).

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Louisiana comes in as the 19th smallest state in the US -which means it’s on the small size over there. Its history of Spanish, French and British colonisation, with large amounts of imported slaves and Creole culture has resulted in a heady mix of urban societies unique to the country -in 1974 English was officially unofficialised as the state language of instruction in schools, with people free to practice the tongues of their heritage. Bajan, Cajun, Creole, Caribbean, French, English and Spanish influence is redolent in cities such as New Orleans, that lends to the culinary mix. Think French food a la swamp, soul food a la spice route, Americana tropicalia.

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Panama’s 80km (50 mile) canal carved out in the 19th – 20th centuries connects the Atlantic with the Pacific without the rigmarole of going round the whole of South / North America, a journey saving thousands of km and untold hazards from sea ice to stormy straits to financial lawyers. It contributes a full 40% to the economy, though that’s now diversifying into conservative banking and luxe tax haven, notably exposed by the Panama Papers . Panama City currently looks like condo heaven for the part.

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Guatemala, the most populous of the Central American states (with 17 million) and the core of the former Mayan civilisation. About 45% remain indigenous, while the rest are mixed. They happen to be one of the world’s shortest countries, where women average 4″10 (147cm) and men about 5″3 (160cm). It’s also one of the youngest countries outside Africa, whose median age is about 20 – almost half of all people are kids. Like kid kids. Like the Dino exhibit in the Natural History Museum in Half Term with Santa Claus riding the T Rex over an Easter Egg Hunt on Disney Nite. Everywhere.

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Denmark’s size is the most varying of the world’s nation, due to whether you’d include self ruling Greenland. From 130th position it can be propelled to the 12th largest territory, overtaking Mexico or Saudi Arabia, or equivalent to 6 Germany’s. Even if you were to take just that little poky nib pointing out of Germany as the be all and end all, thanks to the exactitude of how coastlines are measured it comes in as having one neverending seaside longer than Chile’s (who measures things quite laxly, doesn’t take in so many indents and doesn’t quite give a fuck unlike map nerds). Geo-porn right here.

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Iceland is so sparsely populated it stands at 3 people per sq km for its 364,000 inhabitants, mostly in the capital Reykjavik. The island is powered by geothermal energy, and almost completely renewable, plus the first on the Global Peace Index, though to be fair it’s sitting on a giant bubbling vat of energy as the one place on the planet still being formed, and there’s plenty to go round for a pool of people so small there aren’t enough wankers to get pissed off about. Even the dating apps have to run the gamut of ancestry/ DNA tools that alert you (giant flashing letters, industrial screaming, pop up of Michael Jackson’s face) if you inadvertently swipe right on your cousin.

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Greece has 6,000 islands, of which 277 are inhabited, and 80% of the country is mountainous to boot. This topography of islanded, competing city states led to the cradle of Western civilisation, and the translation of history, landscape, culture and food today has seen it become a leading destination for visitors, notably winning ‘world’s best country’ by Condé Nast. The big secret not yet overrun with 20 quacking cruise ships a day are the mountains, dramatic idylls, that command much of the mainland and that are only visited by natives. Epirus in the west, is where its at.

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Welcome to the world’s densest country (non-city state), that fits in 13% more people than Russia -a territory 115x larger. 165 million Bangladeshis call this, the world’s largest river delta, home. Its capital Dhaka, will rise from today’s 21 million to 35 million in the next decade, then slow (Bangladesh already has below replacement fertility levels). Still, by 2100 the city will have reached 54 million, many of them climate refugees as the sea level rises and the delta sinks, though the long term plan is for a giant version of the Netherlands -the sea held back, the economy with few resources, invested in people.

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One of Russia’s most beautiful spots and a major stop on the Trans Siberian, this is the world’s oldest lake and actually the largest body of freshwater in the world. Not due to its footprint (where other lakes are multiple times in size) but depth, at over a mile down. It holds nearly a whopping quarter of the world’s freshwater, and have the only freshwater seal species, more famed for the fact they look like fat cigars /fuzzy zeppelins zipping about.

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Hawaii is the planet’s most distant island, that takes multiple continent sized expanses of water in every direction to reach. Slap bang in the middle of the Pacific (half the world’s water area and about a third of the planet surface) it’s so hard to reach only a few birds made the up to 10,000 km /6,000 mile journeys about 8 million years ago, and evolved in utter isolation into 140 different species. No mammals made it other than a flying bat, and of course the genius of Polynesian explorers in 300 AD and another wave in 1100. Imagine rafting up your belongings, pigs and family, saying goodbye to your relatives (who’ll never know your fate) and striking out from the Isle of Wight, in a hope you’ll get an angle right to reach a spot of land near Tehran, if everything in between and all around and in every direction is ocean. For all their expertise with finding land (based on clouds, currents, birds etc) hundreds of flotillas likely never made it.

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The last major spot made habitable by humans on the planet NZ was recently discovered to be the mountaintops of a previously undiscovered continent that now lies beneath the seas. Separated by 1700km / 1000 miles from Australia the islands also enjoyed unique wildlife that propagated in isolation before humans hit it in 1350. They entered a wondrous land (world’s most varied in terms of topography and climate types, on par with the entirety of the US), where birds ruled the roost, filling the niches of mousey pickers (kiwis), giant grazers (11ft moas) and the predators that swooped on them (eagles that stood a metre tall and whose spine-snapping talons were the size of tiger paws). None of them, many who nested on the ground, were prepared for the human, rodential and livestock onslaught that followed.

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Japan is -typically dichotomous for its culture -one of the worlds most densely populated yet also most forested and mountainous countries. Tree cover accounts for 70% of the land, while the 125 million-strong population crams into the strip of coastal cities on the Kanto and Osaka plains, including the world’s singularly largest – Tokyo with 39 million inhabitants. But look again at the size of the islands, each massive -just so riddled with topography humans are islanded again.

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Somalia, with the longest coastline on Mainland Africa is the continent’s most homogenous country, standing out in a panoply of states in the world’s most diverse region, that will normally count hundreds of languages and ethnicities within any border. 85% are Somali, albeit divided into 8 tribal/ chieftain groups. In the north Somaliland has declared itself independent, a functioning, peaceful state, as opposed to the civil war decimating the rest.

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WALES

Qatar can claim the title of not just the richest country per capita whom earn nearly $100,000 each every year (and that still takes into account the legions of indentured underclass and guest workers), thanks to 14% of the worlds natural gas and plenty of petrol to boot. It can also claim the world’s most multicultural country, where only 12% are native Qatari, and its capital Doha is 92% foreign born.

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Fijians are a mix of Melanesian, a few Polynesian and later waves of Indian emigrants. Melanesians share a blonde hair gene, long assumed to be traces from European colonials, but has been found to be endemic, and long before Western contact.

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Lesotho is a mountain kingdom entirely surrounded by South Africa, a mere spot on the map that shows its real size below. With spectacular cliffs, gorges, mountains and waterfalls it remains an undiscovered gem, though now rising in the tourist ranks for its verdant landscapes, plus the novelty of snow in Africa.

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Beijing has grown from 1.6 million in 1950 (barely growing since 1700 when it was the world’s largest city for the next century) to 20 million today. The govt has since curbed the growth via urban citizenship registration, but is now building a new city on its outskirts, Xiong’An.

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The Aussie state is nearly 40x larger than it’s namesake but only 2.6x larger in population  (ergo about 15x more sparsely populated), albeit a large majority live in in the Sydney area -5 million out of 8 million.

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London

Hong Kong (7.5 million) appears similarly populated as London in density (9.2 million), though in reality the large majority of HK is open countryside and mountain. If counting only the urban areas of the territory it becomes 20x denser- in fact the world’s most heaving spot of humanity surmounting to 60 sq km -about the size of Manhattan but 3x the population and built density, also being the world’s most highrise city, including 380 skyscrapers (over 150m/ 492ft in height):

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Luxembourg, a mix of French and Germanic culture, came about in 1815 as a fiefdom of the king of the Netherlands who installed a Prussian guard to defend against another French attack, thus bringing about the crossroads that is this little nation, though one of the fastest and richest in the world. Fun fact: the worlds largest manufacturer of dentures, not just a tax haven.

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Hawaii actually has the world’s tallest mountain, Mauna Kea, that is a gently sloping cone volcano (dormant) with a snow capped peak on Big Island, most of it underwater. If measured from the sea floor it comes to about a km taller than Mount Everest, at over 10,000m or 33,500 ft. Above water it 4,200m or 13,300 ft, slightly taller than Mont Blanc.

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New Caledonia, a gorgeous colony of France out in the Pacific, and one of the few places where you find tropical conifers.

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Germany.

Ghana, the rising star of West Africa this ‘small’ (well on the map it looks tiny of course), gold and petrol-rich kingdom, already diversifying into tech and biotech, is estimated to climb from a population of 30 million today to 80 million by the turn of the century:

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Uganda -another supposedly small country on the banks of Lake Victoria. However it will become the nexus of one of the world’s great population centres alongside eastern China, northern India and West Africa. A state that features little in many minds, by 2100 its nondescript capital, Kampala (present population 3.3 million) will hold 40 million, more than twice NYC. Further along the lakeshores will be Malawi, a thin thread of a country, but which will also transmogrify its sleepy towns of Lilongwe and Blantyre to similar sizes.

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Welcome to one of the world’s most mineral-rich (and suffering for it), mountainous and beautiful countries, and a former jewel of the Silk Route, whose populace is a sensual mix of the Middle Eastern, East Asian, Central Asian, Caucasoid and Indian peoples. A place remarked by invaders as an epic place to stage a war, with beauty in every direction, and crosshair.

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This ancient version of Arabia, Yemen is redolent of a medieval world where ancient mud-brick skyscrapers and exotic oases now share airspace with the current whizz of Saudi bombs and insurgent missiles.  One of the poorest, most indentured, and most beautiful nations on the planet, like Afghanistan paying the price for its isolation.

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Rights Managed

Yemen, Hadhramaut, Wadi Do’an, Khuraibah. A view of the oasis in Wadi Do’an.

From a glance at an atlas CAR looks like a small nondescript territory in the middle of the continent. It is literally the heart of darkness to many mindsets -the world’s poorest, unhealthiest nation, and worst place to be young, largely thanks to its civil war. Despite its true size shown below, only 5 million call it home, though typical of Africa they consist of 80 ethnic groups each speaking their own language. Fun fact the country is the best place in the world to view stars with the least light pollution, as well being bounded by the Bangui Magnetic Anomaly. So named after its capital that stands at the heart of this displacement in the Earth’s magnetic field, possibly caused by a meteor impact.

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The world’s newest country South Sudan broke from Sudan in 2011 after years of civil war (Sudan has been under 6 continuous conflicts since independence in the 1960s), but has recently entered its own civil wars now. In the south the country holds what may be the largest movement of large animals on Earth, in the annual migration of savannah grazers that rivals the Serengeti, only recently spotted by naturalists as a cloud on the horizon 50km (30 miles) wide and ongoing for 80km (50 miles).

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Thailand looks like an upended Germany but with a vast umbilical that stretches into the Andaman sea, haunt of tourist coves and terrorist strongholds as Islamic separatists (more affiliated with Malay culture further south) conduct their intrigue among the spectacular karst scenery. Despite its size and population (70 million), only one major city occupies the country- Bangkok, steamy denizen of the east and home to 15 million, vaults far over any other Thai city (runner up Chiang Mai only holds 200,000). One of the few cultures never to have been colonised by an Abrahamic religion or power, and thus ferw hangups about sex, and free lovin’m.

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Sulawesi, the fourth largest of Indonesia’s islands is a range of peninsulars isolated from each other by a mountainous centre. A full 60% of its species are endemic (found nowhere else), and its range of ethnic groups, tribes and religions, each with their own cultures, architecture, languages and cuisines, also owe their existence to the varying levels of geogrpahical isolation. Indonesia at large holds 388 ethnic groups, whose national motto is ‘unity through diversity’.

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100 million people, 175 ethnolinguistic groups, nearly 8,000 islands, of which 5,000 haven’t even been officially named yet, spanning the equivalent distance from Norway to the Sahara. That’s a lot of ferries and a lot of timetables. Sitting on the Pacific Ring of Fire it is perhaps the world’s most disaster prone country (including the bi-annual typhoons and flooding), but also benefits from the vast natural resources that location endows, alongside one of the world’s greatest hotspots for biodiversity.

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The world’s sparsest populated country, or territory outside the poles Mongolia counts 2 people per sq km. Imagine a rolling grassland from London to Russia and you’ll get the idea of the empty expanses that have made it even hard to invade, though helped the other way round. In the past nomads would keep track by building cairns just before the last one went out of sight in the distance.

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Extra:

Australia is a continent

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Precolonial

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This is not Argentina – it is the southernmost tip of Argentina. Once populated by the world’s tallest people, many of whom were taken into human zoos and circuses round the world -now extinct. The men were said to average 6.5ft -7ft.

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As mentioned above, Russia population 145 million, Bangladesh 165 million:

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Chile is not a thin country, just a neverending one.

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The Moon displayed below is actually just splayed out. As a three dimensional ball it would look about the size of Australia.

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Mawr:

Peru

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Japan

3

Colombia

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Saudi Arabia:

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South Africa

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Algeria

4

Indonesia

5

Chile

6

 

FIN

The Olympicked Chalice

Who wants to win the Olympics?

That moment when your host city beams to the world its assertions of civilisation, finds its cultural identity out of a globalised melting pot, celebrates its diversity, reminds us of its historical achievements, and wheels out its mystery celebs. All in a lovely package of inclusiveness, modern thinking, and children. Lots of children – alone, in groups, singing, dancing, being disabled; smiling for months till their cute little faces wrinkle preternaturally for the rest of their lives.

kids

www.dailyrepublic.com

But squint again and behind those dazzling teeth and choreographed lightshows is a helluva lot of worry. Will that vast stage behold an architectural and community legacy? Or be a money sucking, windblown embarrassment for decades to come? Will the computers work the show faultlessly, or mechanical breakdown create an epic, global case of schadenfreude? Will we spend too much, drawing negative criticism by the tax indentured populace, or too little, drawing the dubbing of an ‘austerity Olympics’? Or worse – spending loads but having nothing to wow with despite.

Will terrorism raise its underlying head, or freak accidents mar the history? Will corruption claim millions, or worse, be publicly found out to have claimed millions? Will the Olympic spirit die beneath the spotlights?

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^Helen Sharman and the Olympic flame, World Universiade 1991. Helen is from Slough.

In short the Olympics is like sitting a difficult exam or a lesson in complex public speaking, but with the world watching (and all of history), where every fault is indelible, will cost millions, and draw waves of unabashed laughter and criticism, with people paid to heckle. A merciless stage. Even beforehand the vast roving interest of the world, not unlike the Great Eye of Sauron, will beam down at your preparations, go through your friends list (and ex-friends) launching investigations, reading your old diary and spending a good few hours chortling at your fat photos, or sharing the bit where you admitted to stealing a Boyzone mag off Chantelle Norris.

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It is in short a poisoned chalice, your chance to shine, and fall, all over youtube. And it’ll cost you in crippling loans, cancelled holidays, stress, and psychiatrists for the foreseeable future no matter the outcome.

The turning point can be attributed to Athens 2004. Beforehand the huge burning eye of the world’s press was more or less politely unbecoming, or too bored to really pay attention until the big day, with a flurry of activity  before everyone sodded off again. But their own chance to shine came with the increasing spotlight on the delayed construction of the Olympic venues as the big day came ever closer. Olympic Committees arrived to study the progress, or lack of, and came away tutting with some stern words on taking it all away, and never investing in olive oil again.

ath

www.rediff.com

Like a countdown, the papers could get more and more clicks with every update, wallowing in the Greek mess of infrastructure woes, bureaucratic red tape, lazy work ethic and employment rights (the much frowned upon opportunity to strike). Ignoring the fact Greeks work the longest hours in the West, were one of the poorest members of the EU, and have a damned right to have rights (what with the birth of democracy and all that), it was all too sordid and sardonic not to shake ones head or roll our cultural eyes. Even after they completed on time, launched a highly artistic, emotive and epic opening ceremony that’s the template for every one after, and went more or less without global incident or stage blooper (except the bit where the marathon runner from Brazil got rugby tackled by a mad Irish priest, and lost his lead). Still the effortlessly gorgeous conversion of the national stadium by Santiago Calatrava has been the most beautiful yet devised and a testament for decades to come- a lesson in geometry, natural lines and low cost.

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athens-olympic-stadium

www.greece.com

Yet we cannot bring ourselves to ignore the perceived ruination of a nation. The Olympic legacy, costing 10,000 Euros of upkeep a week for some buildings to lie vacant, sun-stunned and overgrown. The Handball Arena is now littered with UNHCR tents as use for a refugee camp, while the iconic diving pools lie empty. Or rather we prefer to look at that and ignore the other legacies (such as a highway network, a sparkling new metro and airport etc). Also to look at Greece’s current debt crisis, and put the blame on the elaborate staging, rather than the cook-the-books routine that we all partook in pre-Crisis. To this day news still report on the weed grown facilities looking much like the Classical ruins a metro ride away, despite that countdown long having finished. They will also report unfailingly on libertine passengers not paying on that new metro route.

at

www.dailymail.co.uk

Then came Beijing 2008, China’s much heralded coming out party with all the fanfare and billions to invest on her make up. And if you thought Greece went through a PR disaster before her debut, China went through a real test of fire, complete with flamethrowers and paparazzi fast on her Jimmy Choo heels. The year according to Chinese astrology would not be a good one from the outset, despite 8 being the number of choice for luck. The Olympic mascots – the Fuwa, or good luck dolls symbolising the ancient Chinese elements of Water, Earth, Fire, Wood and Air- rather became sinister, cursed symbols of disaster that year. The Five Horsemen:

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Jingjing the Earth panda, native to Sichuan province, was quickly associated with the devastating earthquake that Spring that wiped out 90,000 lives there. Nini the Air swallow, who looks like a kite, was portent of doom to a highly embarrassing train crash, that killed 40 on the country’s much lauded new HSR (High Speed Rail) network – in Weifang, the ‘kite city’. Yingying the Tibetan Wood antelope saw in the biggest wave of protest and race riots in Tibet since occupation, while Watery Beibei the South Chinese sturgeon, saw in flooding in South China that killed 150 and displaced a whopping 1.5 million. All that remained was Huanhuan the Olympic Fire torch cutey and the protests that dogged him throughout the world, so much so they effectively banned foreign flame routes from thereon. China was literally introducing herself to each member state with a round of publicity to her (in)human rights record; and the Fuwa would forever be known as ‘wuwa’ or witch-dolls after.

-

agnesngoy.blogspot.com

As for PR, Beijing did indeed wow the world with a glorious, elaborately staged opening ceremony that gave a soft touch to totalitarian synchronisation, and became the benchmark for all that followed. But even that soon drew criticism. ‘Live’ footage of the fireworks marking out 29 huge footprints across the city to the stadium was widely reported as being faked, thanks to the noticeable onscreen graphics (in reality the fireworks did go off but couldn’t be filmed from above due to danger to the choppers). The insectoid little girl singing the national anthem was found not only to have been miming, but mouthing along to another not-as-sweetie’s voice after a politburo member deemed the vocals substandard (though the girl in Sydney’s previous ceremony, and the norm for all the others, would have been guilty of the same).

Kent News & Pictures Ltd/(01622) 755133

Video Grab/Kent News & Pictures Ltd

They did go off, capitalist dogs:

bjj

Further controversy followed when it was revealed some members of China’s 56 minority groups showing off national dress were Han Chinese, and not the stated ethnicity (though bear in mind ‘colour-blind casting’ was employed in every ceremony since, from London’s Victorian opening theme to Rio’s historical journey of race). For all China’s trump and glory, it became obvious her  detractors would not be missing a beat from the get go.

The Olympics was indeed an overall success: the capital cleaned up and laced herself with state of the art infrastructure, the weather held off, and a memorable Games as could possibly be was beamed to the largest ever global audience of 5 billion. But it also heralded the officialisation of an anti-Chinese rhetoric in the world’s media that continued after the poppers ended. After that mixed year Beijing’s leading Google association became tied to ‘pollution’, rather than being an ancient capital of the world’s biggest population or richest country. Beijing was smog, China was totalitarianism, and its economic rise one to fear, or belittle; its culture aping, uncivilised and enchained. That looked funny and talked funny. It wasn’t the ‘lifting of the sky’ of a billion people on some far off horizon, more a inviting your bling-bedecked Auntie Shazza to a Tuscan wedding.

torch

When London’s turn was up, envisaged protests to Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War to its extensive colonial er, legacy saw its Olympic torch route kept strictly within the host nation for the first time. It was initially dubbed the Austerity Olympics to be held during the global financial crisis  -London would be the first city to hold it a third time, but both times before were after the world wars and had effectively defaulted there for minimalised costs. The original plans were billed far lower, despite increasing realisation this would be a last once-in-a-lifetime chance to hold a fully fledged Olympic thingy, rather than yet another bare bones offering involving a big pie to go round and some spirited bunting.

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Luckily, it appears the politicians ‘forgot’ to include tax, inflation, infrastructure or contingency funds in their public bid. Nevertheless local protest to the increasing cost of the Games began to garner as the plans began to balloon. Then someone went out and bought a really big bell. In the end it worked out as the second most expensive after Beijing, climbing from initial budgets of under $4 billion to a $15 billion whopper (not including infrastructure).

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In the run up to the opening, more criticism – and laughs – came, thicker, leaner, faster. The beds to gangly athletes in the Olympic Village were found to be too short. Northern drivers, bussed in by private firms and refusing to use newfangled technologies such as er, satnav, were lost for hours trying to transport athletes from the airport, as their captives launched their ordeal on social media.

The worst fiasco came when the world’s largest private security firm, G4S, completely failed to deliver for such a sensitive, highly scaled event, with the army stepping in at the 11th hour to cover the shortfalls. The firm had seen its personnel requirements doubled to 23,000- and subsequently demanded a payrise from £7.3 million to £60 million, half of which it spent on its gold leafed, water-walking management and only £2.8 million on the extra recruitment, to utter ineffect.

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http://www.theguardian.com

A further show of unbridled commercialisation at the expense of Olympic spirit came when viewers noticed the legions of empty seats at many events, despite all tickets having sold out. They were of course the large amount given over to sponsors and associated members, who never bothered to attend, or spent their time at the bar watching footie or dancing like fat twats in suits.

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A final pluck at the strings came with another instance of breakdown. A clock froze during the fencing at the start of the Games, which lead to Shin A Lam unfairly losing a medal, made worse by the decision to uphold the result despite the cause being mechanical failure. It not only exposed the Olympic flaws, but its embarrassing propriety when they muttered painfully to the South Koreans that one has to pay to have an appeal considered. The view of a lone player sitting on an emptied stage, to half an hour of a visibly slow-clapping crowd (to leave the arena means you accept the decision), leaves an imprint.

shin a lam

All in all London did manage to pull off an inordinately successful campaign – the Opening Ceremony – the first section especially- was one of the most memorable of all time, the Games went off without further hitch, and the PR armies of gurning volunteers, an array of citywide cultural events and fun facilities meant it was one of the most enjoyable ever. The legacy of mixed use buildings, and a deprived district now becoming a polished hub ensured no international follow-ups. They even turned a marginal profit thanks to £1 billion of the contingency fund not being needed, and the following year London became the world’s most visited city. As a sign of its confidence, even in the closing ceremony, they included a poignant shot of Shin A Lam sitting in silence as her world burned. Like the Opening Ceremony, it showed not just the rosy image of revision, but the blood, sweat and tears also.

lond

In reality the legacy  was a mixed one. For all the much lauded intentions, much of which won London the Games in the first place, they have not been the complete success as widely reported. The route to the Olympic Park remains from day one, as through the city’s largest shopping mall, a festival of money parting and commercialisation; as apt today as it has ever been. The stadium itself was intended to be downscaled and kept for athletics, but the unjustified cost to keep it running led to a complete renege on that idea. And at further cost – adversely dismantling the permanent features while keeping the temporary ones, to the tune of $1 billion, to change it into a football arena as first proposed. FFS.

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The legacy of turning a nation to sports – the ‘Singapore Promise’ to “Inspire a generation” was neither fulfilled. The heartrendingly humble video they played at the bidding, of children from all over Britain and the world seeing the Games and one day becoming Olympians, thus underlying the importance of investment in public sport, does not seem to have transpired. Public facilities across the country have closed, school budgets have been axed and sports participation is dramatically down (people playing sport once a week, shrinking by over 200,000 every six months), despite £325 million invested in getting their dimpled arses off the sofa each year by the state quango.

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At the end of the day London was a success and an English apple of the eye, but behind closed doors not as amazing as trumpeted. The city does have a legacy, just not so much the one it promised about you know, not staring at the fridge, and changing society n crap. More about lining the pockets of investors and landlords, and fulfilling that raison d’etre of sticking two fingers up at the French.

Neither do the Winter Olympics escape, especially if it’s a non-Western country. Although Western countries do get noticeable concessions. Vancouver 2010 garnered its fair share of critique even before it started  following the tragic death of 21 year old Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia a few days into practice. Following  driver error he hit a steel support pole that should have been protected, on a luge track that was 12% faster than its intended limit. Also marring preparations was opposition from certain First Nations members, advocates to the colonial record of one of the major sponsors – the Hudson Bay Company, the repeated vandalism of the Olympic flame, and the plight of the low-income families displaced by the building projects, none of which were beautiful thanks to budget. These were little reported outside national papers, though the British press did castigate the games as overly nationalistic, in a purported attempt at embellishing London’s follow up.

nomar

Vancouver’s opening ceremony heavily featured mechanical failure in a rather sketchy opening show – overall beautiful, alluding to the virginal nature of the First Nations plus a mesmeric song by KD Lang, but also involving an er, stand up comedy sketch, Donald Sutherland as the be-all and end-all of Canadian fame, and a malfunctioning arm of the Olympic flame that denied the opportunity for LeMay Doan to light it. But never mind that, and don’t worry too much about the Georgian unpronounceable either – they gave his family $10,000 to renovate their house in a ‘goodwill gesture’, and Canada’s a nice, civilised Western country anyway, like Britain or Australia. Sydney was great, that was the bestest games ever before all this controversy began (just don’t mention the bribes during the bidding process).

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However, Sochi 2014 in Russia truly marked the shining benchmark of public(ised) criticism, the El Dorado for reporters from rival trade blocs the world over. The world’s most exorbitantly spent-on Olympics, costing $51 billion (tick), in a non-Western (tick) populace that can ill afford it (tick), under a charmless dictator-in-all-but-name (tick), with problems with democracy (tick), a lack of gay rights (tick), garnering accordant social media campaign (tick), in a place more famed for its palm trees and the warmest location yet devised (tick). And an unimaginable amount of graft with billions siphoned off to fellow cronies and friends of Putin (tick). Oh and unfinished buildings in the run-up (tick). And of course, a questionable legacy, with which the story can still be milked for decades to come (tick). Let’s just entirely ignore how great, artistic and well organised the show actually was in the end…

sochi

Oh Russia, you glorious summit for cultural disdain, you embellished standard of socio-economic disaster, you God’s gift to dash-cam Youtube, you. Oh mystical horizon of fur-lined intrigue and chemical factories, how we have missed you. When one of your Olympic rings failed to bloom in the Opening ceremony our collective hearts swilled with drunken love, and bloomed with laughter. Oh the mirth, uniting peoples the world over, in Olympic based spirit. Add to that the cherry on top of the current doping scandal banning much of the team, and replacing medals all the way back to 2014 – and you’ve got the best ever tally won by a single country, now being taken down by a rung or three. Thank you so much. We feel so much better for ourselves.

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Now Rio, you seductress of the south. With your teeming, drug fueled favelas, high profile kidnappings and police shootings. Where to turn the world’s eye – the blinding inequality? Racial politics? High homicide rate and petty crime? The nationwide protests at rising costs and price hikes? The indentured former terrorist / torture victim/ President being impeached? The deepening recession, crumbling the dreams of much of the Developing World? The bacterial gardens of the Guanabara Bay? The unfinished construction? And full circle to Olympic Committee threats to take the Games elsewhere (and never to hold it in a Developing country again)? So much to choose from, so little airtime.

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Okay, the ceremony went without a hitch – though there was that little girl, now summarily executed, talking the whole time behind the first Oympic Laureate making his speech. It was evocative, emotive, fun and held its message for a Green Games, plus it’s amazing, eco-friendly Olympic cauldron shining like a gorgeous, mirrored beacon. And the marathon man who got rugby tackled by that Irish priest in Athens 2004, and who lost his winning medal as a result, got to light the flame. Heart warming. Classy like.

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brazi

But then one of the Olympic pools just turned fart-smelling GREEN, inexplicably so, so wa-hey! We’re back on.

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What can we expect from Tokyo 2020? The Japanese are a nice bunch, they’re the sweetest, most polite of peoples, eminently civilised and welcoming, economically great, with a winning allure (food, arts, media) and defining popular culture. Low inequality, high social justice, low crime, high environmentalism. Bullet trains, geishas, anime, Michelin stars, forest cover, zen, bamboo, shrines, cherry blossom, sushi, cat cafes, bunny islands. What could possibly go wrong?

jap

Well the whales, the war, the yakuza, the comfort women, the weirdness. The suicide rate, the groping, the live food, the history textbooks, the depopulation, the porn, the radiation, the homogeneity, the ageing, the Senkaku Islands. Actually this is gonna be fantastic! It may be a time to put down arms, but to take up more civilised, cultured weaponry instead, from social media to trade wars, hacking to drones.

akira.gif

It’s a telling sign their inital logo already got sued by Belgian designer Olivier Debie, forcing a later redrawing:

olovie

 

As we all know the Olympics has traditionally been the time when we all lay down arms and the world stops fighting for the duration of the Games (except in er, WWI, and er, II, and er, every war after that). But anyhoo it’s the thought that counts. The Games are apolitical, yeah. No, I mean no. It’s not a forum to bring up injustice, failure, a few billion dollars, prejudice or scorn. Nosiree.

It’s just our media are increasingly finding the Olympics as a useful tool to promote our  own rhetoric, and the superiority of whatever is the regional demagogue du jour. Start off with a good kilo of global audience, add 100g of competition, 100g of emotion, a generous sprinkling of national pride (hell just throw the damn box in), and feed it through a tight nozzle of media interpretation. In hindsight Hitler’s attempt at making the 1936 Olympics a [failed] promotion of his political ideals was a masterstroke so to speak. We’re just here for the mutherfucking cake.

1936

So just think, one day… one day… America just might get it again. Another misty, headline grabbing land  ripe with opportunity, hegemony and questionable choices. And what a seasoned gift to the world that would be, inspiring generations of tabloid stories, internet forums and culture bloggers, long in the running. We, as a global community, can once again, dare to dream.

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Got to the end? Do comment.

What would you think would happen if your country were picked to host the Olympics? What would your city do well or not so well?

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is the World’s Greatest City?

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Dubious question, and one that is contentious to say the least. In the past entire Thucydidean wars were declared over economic competition, trade, hegemony, religion, and culture for that title; today they are argued over endlessly  in annual criteria-based league tables, internet fora and in everything from Trip Advisor to The New Statesman. So why all the fuss? The title breeds geopolitical influence, soft power, tourist bucks and social media tags. Cities are that great coral reef of experience, impervious yet every growing and changing. They stand testament to our lives and livelihoods, our myriad cultures and collective consciousness– with the idea of a single pre-eminent city imbedding itself as a bedrock to contemporary society. A city is, if you like, a crystallisation of culture; the greatest city is the greatest place in humanity.

bjjjwww.johnlake.co.nz

Urban agglomerations are that great marker of history – touchstones of experience where entire eras become marked by their reign, from ancient Rome to Victorian London, Angkor to Edo – with surprising ‘entries’ that stand testament to time (if not in physicality), such as former world’s largest – the million+ boat city of Ayutthaya, Thailand to the present day hamlet of Gurganj, Turkmenistan, a glorious Silk Route nexus before it succumbed to history’s single bloodiest massacre under the Mongols.

ayuth

gurg

There are many criteria, or handfuls of monikers that can lay claim to the single greatest hit. Richest city? That would be Tokyo, followed by NYC, LA and Seoul by total city economy, to er, Oslo or Zurich per capita.  Most influential city? well that could be anyone’s guess – NYC, London, Seoul get bandied about a lot with the youthful limelight, whilst Beijing, Brussels and Washington DC have the largest bureaucratic sectors. And LA might have something to say about global entertainment.

estoniaeurovision-addict.blogspot.com

Most beautiful city? Once again, the arguments range on everyone’s tastes as collectively supportive for Rome or as individualised to Brasilia. Sydney, Sana’a, Venice, Havana, Fez… the list would be endless. Many would agree the most beautiful megacity would be the complex elegance of Paris, but that would discount the myriad voices calling up the canyonscapes of NYC, the natural wonders of Rio, the futurism of Shanghai or the glorious, pluralist mix that is Istanbul/ London /Beijing/ Singapore. Moreover, how many actually visited, and how many base their opinions from received sources?

paree.jpgblogs.ft.com

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yem

Well the proof is in those voting with their feet some say – the most visited city, a rotation between Hong Kong, Bangkok, London, Paris and Singapore for international visitors, might be good indicators. But even with this seemingly narrowly defined criteria – based on numbers of overnighting foreign visitors – doubt still creeps through. Paris only counts its centre in the league (take that EuroDisney!), while Hong Kong is heavily skewed by the large amount of travelers coming in from over-the-border China, essentially the same country.

-And what about those domestic travelers? Are their views not as valid? Places like Kyoto and Orlando see in over 50 million visitors each year, double the top spot of the international-only league, while Shanghai, the freak, welcomed a whopping 70 million during 2010’s Expo year.

rioowww.telegraph.co.uk

Ratings? Well Kyoto, Charleston, Florence, Siem Reap, and Rome are all up there (Leisure and Travel Awards), as are London, Marrakesh, Istanbul, Paris, and Hanoi (Trip Advisor). Sun kissed, party mad Beirut makes sporadic appearances near the top depending on its security situation, whilst several places are as much loathed as glorified (ahem, Dubai, Macau, Seoul we’re looking at you). It’s pretty obvious there are too many cooks – whether they be trumpeting the Michelin stars of Tokyo or the street food of Tbilisi.

Beirut Residents Continue to Flock to Southern Neighborhoods

Beirut, http://www.worldpressphoto.org/collection/photo/2007/daily-life/spencer-platt

Plus there’s Quality of Life. The Nordic, Canadian, Oceanian cities doing swimmingly, but the perennial winners being a rostrum between Vienna, Munich, Auckland and Vancouver according to Mercer (39 scoring factors including political, economic, environmental, personal safety, health, education, transportation and other public services) with nods toward Sydney, Melbourne, Singapore, Toronto for the larger cities, and a whole 37 places before the first megacity over 10 million (Paris) shows her pretty head.

vienna

Vienna, travelaway.me

Meanwhile, Monocle magazine puts a megacity right up there, climbing from 5th to 1st was Tokyo (due to its ‘defining paradox of heart-stopping size and concurrent feeling of peace and quiet’), but recently usurped by Copenhagen, with Vienna, Melbourne, Munich and Berlin (a rise of 11 places since ‘after dark’ living was taken into account) worthy of mention. It’s 22 metrics include several that look at housing and the cost of living, from the price of a three-bed pad to the cost of a glass of wine and decent lunch, plus access to the outdoors, with notable upsets when seasonal changes and ambience were taken into account in 2010 (Copenhagen, maelstrom of wintry existentialism, still managed to buck the trend).

copenCopenhagen, exithamster.wordpress.com

But then there are those places with the x factor, the je ne sais quoi regardless of manicured lawns and the price of middle class, middle aged lattes. We must bear in mind cities function in the mind as well as body, that they are a cumulative, inclusive experience. The good, the bad and the ugly. It’s not just how pretty or rich or even popular you are.

Some pics to finish off with:

indJodhpur, www.theatlantic.com

issTel Aviv, www.allphotobangkok.com

lonnn.jpgLondon dalstonsuperstore.com

hanoiHanoi www.gettingstamped.com

ind

05 People Second Place Photo and caption by Yasmin Mund / National Geographic Travel

Jaipur, India

Continued next post…. The World’s Most Diverse City