A Journal of the Plague Year Day 7

Tuesday, 24th March 2020

Lockdown. As of last night, PM Boris Johnson came on to let us know that we’re no longer allowed out other than one exercise (type) a day, to go shopping (only food, pet stores and pharmacies) or to work (essential workers, or if you ‘absolutely have to’). The Telegraph of course emblazoned its headline this morning as ‘The End of Freedom’.

We’ll get fined otherwise, and if we hang out in groups of more than 2 it’ll get broken up, similar to the days of Thatcherism where more than 8 people around a radio constituted an illegal rave. I don’t however see myself joining a Reclaim the Streets brigade.

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It’s not so much that the lockdown is now in place, but why it took so long, given the track record of not acting quickly enough in Italy and Wuhan, alongside the proven benefits that South Korea, Singapore and the rest of China managed to pull off (for the time being -reinfection is still a fear, albeit with standard testing at every corner). Opinion posits this late joining to the party has been BoJo’s long championing of personal liberties; he famously wrote in his former Telegraph column that the ban on public smoking was akin to killing Iraqis to free them.

Well after the droves of people witnessed across the country’s parks and beauty spots over the sunny weekend, he had to bite the bullet. It sounds like in the West that’s exactly what is needed in order to keep the population indoors: guns, with the army having to be called in across the continent – Italy alone has had hundreds of thousands of people fined already. The army helicopters did a flypast over our estate last night, spotting some chinooks out of the eight before we stopped counting.

As mentioned before, us Brits are a libertine bunch, a bit too entitled since the days of Empire, and in contrast to a Germany where the death toll per capita is lower than its neighbours, perhaps due to a more heedful populace in a regimented Germanic stereotype. Albeit Austria -more specifically the apres-Ski resort of Ischgl -has now been pinpointed as a main source for infecting much of Mitteleuropa, notably a majority of the spreader Germans and Danes and as far away as Iceland. All thanks to a sick barman (who blew whistles to clear the drunken droves engaging in body fluid beer pong), and an ensuing cover-up, the management and council in cahoots. Austria had consistently denied the link until it became too obvious, with hundreds of patients sharing that same hand-warming, shoulder-rubbing vector-point.

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The US too appears ever hassled, with its right to bear arms in a similar cultural quandary as the UK, whereby it’s populace may now prove to be its own worst enemy. It’s one thing to have 165 million people left with a month’s worth of money before facing homelessness and destitution, as the current fiscal roll out is promising, it’s another to give them guns to go with their desperation. The Stateside press is fervent with calls to take out Nancy Pelosi, who undid the emergency draft of economic measures after noticing it did nothing for the common man and a lot for uncommon, big business. Predictably so -barging into DC and plonking down her 1,400 page amendment as a rebuttal to much more rebuttal. Going by what the Republicans had intended your average white collar worker would get $1200 a head, while blue collar families $600, as a random example.

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Meanwhile the Democrats took the opportunity to attempt a sea change in policy to come with the draft, from affirmative action rolled out into the corporate echelons to gender/ minority equity in the payscale, from halving greenhouse gases to increased union power, freer healthcare to free internet. This has of course stymied the fast-tracked path of the bailout, as businesses continue to fold and a large chunk of the population waits in limbo, attack rifles readied.

The fact that for most Americans keeping yourself in work is vital to paying for your healthcare, has become a vicious Catch 22 in these climes, whereby even the threat of illness negates work which in turn negates any chance of proper treatment, or will further indebt you for decades. This is what Obamacare, increasingly indentured, attempted to bypass. It seems the end is nigh for the American Dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, even if that entailed for some, the white picket fencing off from community and a God-given right to bear arms. And it has come not in the shape of the Red Scare, foreign attack, immigrant takeover, economic overshadowing, nuclear war or a Hollywood alien race, but a mere virus exposing the flaws in every society so far. Plus a global, capitalist system utterly reliant on unceasing spending, no matter whether you’re in Louisiana or Lusaka.

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The fact Trump is now seeking to reinstate this system to the tune of untold dying is a sign of our times, and the monster we’ve nurtured, whereby dollars > death. The House Senate is now looking to shorten lockdowns, if even have them in place, which isn’t exactly democratic in any way given the commercial lobbying (read: corruption) and the lack of people voting on their own fates.

Yesterday we watched Doomsday Preppers straight after BoJo’s speech, which wasn’t the best choice in hindsight. I ended up yelling at the screen after having every button pressed repeatedly in seeing grown men (all terse, overweight and suburban) bring up their kids and inveigle other families and long-suffering wives into a life of unputdownable threat and big boys’ army games. Which got me triggered, so to speak. Watching white-socked wannabees bowling round pristine lawns armed with uzis and a well-tended fear of cityfolk, or the sweaty ranch-owning narcissist who puts his kids in life-or-death scenarios as per norm, in preparation for a terrorist takeover. His hiring of local law enforcers -constructively nurturing more trigger happiness -to stage a shouty ransoming of family members, guns to heads was especially revealing. All in aid of seeing what the 7 year old would do (he caved and put the shotgun down, bless his little warm, living hands).

I honestly think there is an unsaid link between our sociopathy spectrum levels with a hangover from our predatory evolution. That those on the far right have been shown to share nightmares of being hunted, hounded by constant threat (darkies chasing them with machetes, feminazis throwing tampons, trees getting hugged) -and that we ourselves demonstrate when put in the corner. When forced to defend our loved ones the last feelings of empathy or concern for the Other (side) goes well out the reinforced window. It’s a certain mix of cold disregard with wheedling attention and premonition that is a pathological condition methinks, and the series is making the most of it. I was shocked to find it was from the National Geographic, though of course majority stakes went to Rupert Murdoch a few years ago, and the channel’s always been in bed with Fox since 2001.

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Anyhoo they must be loving life right now. So I am not convinced this world deserves us, and that we deserve the world, regardless of how glossy a cover it makes and how, like most relationships in life, we pretend to care and support each other.

More commuting horrors of the tube were snapped this morning – but before we tut our middle class tongues, look again at the pics and note this is just the normal 5-7am rush hour for the poor as it is every day – construction crews, supermarket shelvers, carers, caterers, cleaners, transportation workers who have to come in from far to service the centre. Take away their trains and frequencies and it can only get worse -it’s a telling sign that somewhere like Denmark puts on more trains to enable social distancing, and we do the opposite to systemise it. Is that plain stupidity or just the usual punishing of the poor, at best callous, at worst intentional?

These people are not wilfully there, they are not congregating at sunrise for a latte in the park. They are trying to survive, and running a new gauntlet to do so; choice being a luxury we may have and they do not.

In short this is more a picture of desperation than disregard.

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There is always an underlying economy beneath our everyday, the background workers shunted into fruit picking, manual labour, cleaning and human exploitation from nail bars to prostitutes to garage workers to sweatshop droves in territories beyond. The fact most Londoners have no idea there is a peak travel time at dawn, where it’s standing room only on buses and trains, so long as you live out in Zones 4-9, and are up early enough to witness it, perhaps when catching our flights to more aspirational destinations.

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You can actually work out how many slaves work for you here; take note that by namedropping you live in London you actually entail more indentured labour than if you opted for Dubai, pariah of a vast underclass behind the steel and glass, just less hidden. This appears to be our question in these days of our lives, do we look out for that unseen economy? Do we worry for and change habits for the untold numbers at the edges of society, the shadows in our peripherals, blocking the sun? The old, the sick, the alone, the homeless, the vulnerable who will be dying soon in forgotten wards and warehouses across the country in the next few weeks.

Italy has seen a fall in deaths again today, though still in the hundreds. It may be over the worst, though Spain looks soon to take that mantle. The UK waits in the wings, and a judgement on what our policy of half-arsed mitigation has sown. When push comes to shove, and for all our navel-gazing entreaties, how much will we look out for others, or take up arms against them? There’s a lot to be said about being alone in a crowd.

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In other news J, who was a photographer and artist in another life has had his image on valuable items, for an upcoming auction (online of course) added to the Chiswick house feed where he works. Very apt, and a sign of the times. When I saw it, jaw-dropped, I did actually ask where he got them from. What is it that we hold dear, no really?

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John Rogers, @durbinlewis

“Right now in today’s world our perception of value might have shifted somewhat since 1766, when Sir Thomas Broughton and Mary Wicker had their coat of arms engraved upon this soup tureen as part of their marriage silver. Nevertheless the timeless quality of the silver sold through the Wakelin partnerships continues to captivate collectors and aesthetes alike.

Lot 580 on the 25th March Silver & Objects of Vertu auction

Just saw two of our neighbours from the window, coming up with their shopping (Sainsbury’s looks like), and proving life can be normalised despite. The sun is out and it almost looks a vision of lost mundanity, with their produce and smiles and nice clothing, all satisfaction arising in a time of want. They’ve even managed to find loo roll.

The stairs, that’s where we’ll get them.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

The World’s Most Highrise City

Lets look at the raw stats. According to Emporis, a website that employs data from skyline fanatics the world over, Hong Kong has traditionally been the worlds most highrise city. Not only did it have the most highrise buildings (anything 35m-100m tall, or anything 12 floors or higher) with 7,971  – 1,700 more than NYC – it also has the most skyscrapers (150m or over) with 390 monoliths compared to New York’s 282.

Let’s stop there for a minute. 8,000 highrises, incuding 390 skyscrapers. Imagine what this looks like. Imagine yourself on a Hong Kong style street. Highrises block out the sky along the whole thoroughfare, not completely unremarkable, but not completely remarkable either to a city dweller – from your angle midrises and highrises present the same bulk. You can’t see either end, or past that wall to see how many other highrises there are. Even going up in a chopper you’d get the awesome scale, but not completely due to perspective.

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Now lets imagine some atomic cloud comes over all fluffy and transmogrifies you into a traffic stopping, stampede inducing giant 300 ft tall. Bummer. Your lower arm would be bigger than a Blue Whale or the largest museum dino; you could sit King Kong in the palm of your hand, or a tiny car between your thumb and forefinger if you weren’t particularly nice. In reality you’d be so big you’d catastrophically collapse/ implode, anything bigger than your lower arm would start melting down to gravity, and lifting a finger so weighty would likely break it.

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Now lets imagine you’re breaking the laws of physics and can now see the top of many of the heads of these highrises, also transmogrifying into human like shapes. You are now in a crowd of 8,000, spiked by hundreds of people twice as tall as you, and a handful of goons three times bigger who REALLY look like freaks even to the giant you. Imagine your middle or high school assembly of similarly gargantuan people standing to attention, but the crowd 10 to 20x bigger. Then look at that tiny toy car balanced on your fingertip, and the tiny worried looking people inside, in comparison to that giant milling mass of flesh. That huge auditorium full of building shaped giants would be Hong Kong. And the fly on the floor of that arena would be you.

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As for supertalls (those freaks of 300m or over, scooping up ships and walking into bridges)  Hong Kong’s well pipped by Dubai, which has 22 to New York’s 20 or Hong Kong’s measly 6 (Shenzhen is 3rd place though with 14, and Kuala Lumpur with 13). Dubai and KL though have far fewer highrises overall, despite their impressive forests of skyscrapers, so are out of the running.

However in 2015 a new top-spot came into light, when Moscow shouldered in with 12,092 documented highrises (the majority just making the threshold) to Hong Kong’s 7,931, thanks to some very devoted online fans.

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However Hong Kong still leads if you stacked all the tall buildings together it comes to a teetering 333,836m, with NYC a third of the combined total – at 109,720m. So thus it’s official: chattering, blazing, odiferous Hong Kong is three times more ‘built up’ than a ripped NYC. It’s urban areas cover almost the exact size of 59 km² Manhattan, but have triple the built density.

However, bear in mind although no stats exist on Shanghai, at its lowest possibe measurement of 35m x 16,952 highrises comes out nearly double HK, at 593,320m, and Seoul almost double even that.

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ISOLATE

But criticism of Emporis shows it is not the authority in any way. The website rather imperiously only accepts data in English and German (where it is based), and refuses nominations from places like China, where Shanghai’s occasional contributions surmount to less than gentrified old London’s, or Kiev’s for that matter.

Most notably some bright spark noticed on the Shanghai Council’s dizzyingly complex open data website that number of floors had been included on an annual survey of housing and class, which contradicted Emporis’ presentations of factuality a tad:

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Basically the column on the left is the number of floors, the one on far right is the amount of buildings. Shanghai had an eye-popping total 14,479 buildings over 16 storeys in 2013, almost ten times more than Emporis claimed.

This compares with buildings over 12 storeys (note the lower threshold despite):

Moscow (2015) 12, 092

HK (2014) 7,971

Sao Paulo (2015) 6,332

NYC (2015) 6,250

Further back-up comes from aerial photos at the same scale.

Hong Kong:

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Shanghai:

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But for all these inconsistencies, Sao Paulo may hint at a potential unrecognised rival, like a vast, unnamed termite colony of Brazilianess teeming in the south, being all sultry and knifey and sexy:

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Sao Paulo however has only 7 skyscrapers, and 0 supertalls thanks to the relatively close proximity of the airport.

Also there’s the large question mark over other Chinese cities, notably Shenzhen and Guangzhou, which are actually contiguous now. If there’s anywhere in the world that’s building up at the moment, it’s Shenzhen, currently going through a construction boom that makes pre-Crisis Dubai look like it was making a few sand castles on holiday. It currently has 157 buildings over 200m, and a whopping 125 under construction, which is almost tripling New York’s strutting skyline. An additional 50 supertalls are under construction or approved, and all that is not even considering Guangzhou, the even larger beast in competition at the other end of the city.

Shenzhen 1986, an unremarkable border town of 30,000:

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2016, and its 15 million hawking, squawking inhabitants have conjoined with Guangzhou, totalling 41 million:

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But let’s for now, consider Shanghai, Pearl of the Orient / Whore of the East, a current reigning champ (*cough* Seoul). We’ll end on more urban porn from that city:

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In 2003 the city began sinking from the weight of so many buildings, with a moratorium declared on highrises for a whole year.

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The city council now dictates that x amount of people must live within y vicinity of z amount of green space (yep, good luck with that). To overcome the ruling the newer areas such as Pudong, enact a Courbousien tower-in-the-park idea, though much more lush and grandly utilised than the dystopian bleakscapes in postwar Europe.

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The Puxi side of the river is far denser, where the traditional fabric of the city is still extant, and people actually socialise:

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But take a telescope between the highrises and you’ll spot the city’s Sino-Anglo terraces and courtyard homes  known as shikumen or longtang lane housing.

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Large tracts of this historic housing remain, though highly endangered after years of fatheaded destruction. The old stock (most of which is 80-160 years old) covered an area almost equivalent to the City of Paris, saved from WWII destruction by a ground war (that incidentally took out 300,000 lives in ‘China’s Stalingrad’) rather than an aerial one. Then kept in aspic during the postwar years by a Communist govt intent on keeping a lid on the notoriously renegade, soul-selling city (this is where China was at its  most shockingly Capitalist, and where its Communism was born as a result).

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Despite the countless losses, and the much more visible skylines, from satellite it’s more obvious that the russet coloured roofs are still about – even dominant. After 30 years of dancing with a wrecking ball they’re finally being saved after the bigwigs realised they were quite profitable, with gentrification into chichi shopping or entertainment districts. Although this often rendered the residents just as homeless (though compensated), with some ‘misguided’ opportunity areas involving bulldozing the history and rebuilding it with mod cons for millionaires. A more favourable wave of protection has finally arrived as culturally restorative -beautifying the buildings but sodding the lattes, and keeping the damn residents, finally.

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It is poetic to end on a city that is in short the world’s largest skyline grafted on onto one of the world’s largest old cities. Both coexist, both are hidden to a large extent, at ground level, in global profile, and psychologically. It seems the most obvious of contenders appears to be also one of the least.

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The world’s most diverse city

And what about those who choose to stay rather than just visit? Not just tourists or business travelers, but those who uproot themselves to new shores and new lives? Is not the plurality and mix a wonderful measure of a city? Old and new, native and non native, an array of food, languages, art, faiths, dress, and cultures to choose from, to fall in love with, to intermarry or not. The cross cultural pollination, the exchange of ideas and fumbling body fluids – is not why people move to cities in the first place?

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The title of world’s most cosmopolitan place can go by sheer numbers, or by percentage – in multiple categories. New Yorkers claim the most languages in the world (over 800), and most people period with foreign or non-White ancestry at 10 million in the metro, of which 5.65 million are foreign born. Then LA city region pipes up with its 4 million-strong Latino majority, and whopping NYC with a 75-78% foreign or non-White ancestry, plus a 4.4 million (24%) strong foreign born contingent. Then the two cities have a pissing contest over the fact it’s rightly or wrongly skewed by the sizeable Mexican contingent.

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Meanwhile Londoners like to point out in terms of any city (not metro) they have the highest count, pipping NYC’s 3.2  million with 3.35 million foreign born, and at more evenly spread and higher diversity – they have more communities (71 – 132 depending on the size), 500 languages in a single school let alone bothering to count the rest, and that they don’t/ cannot count ancestry in the same way as the States anyhoo, especially as being Black American or Latino American, hell even Native American for the past 300 years does not make you foreign in ancestry, or cosmopolitan in culture, well according to more European terms. If you’ve been there that long you are from there indubitably.

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Furthermore White Britons tend to identify within a generation as White British despite foreign extraction whether they be Irish, Lithuanian, Egyptian or Azeri, in contrast to the US where for example Irish, German, Israeli (read: Jewish) and Polish Americans will still identify as such after several generations. 55% of Londoners are nevertheless ‘non-British non-White’, 40% foreign born (counting 4.2 million in the metro), 35% non-White and the remainder 45% ‘native’ White Londoners – if one were to go by American style rules – share one third Irish ancestry, and an overlapping half have French. So there. London’s practically of 108% foreign ancestry na na na naa.

Confused yet?

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Then the Torontonians weigh in with even more communities albeit on smaller numbers – but with ever higher percentages. Sod London’s ‘hidden’ ancestries, 89% fully do not identify as being of Canadian extraction (though tellingly 23.4% claim British extraction, similar to US style counting). Despite this, in terms of foreign born it still has 2.8 million foreigners in the metro – leaving the others behind, with 46% foreign born. NYC, London and LA metros suddenly look weedy at their respective 23-40% foreign born marks. Numbers, numbers, more numbers.

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Cue the smaller arrivistes with similar stats – Stockholm (23%), Amsterdam (27%), Oslo (31%),  Zurich (31%), Melbourne (35%), Auckland (39%), Sydney (40%),  Singapore (43%), Rotterdam (45%), The Hague (48%), to the upper stratospheres of Brussels (at 62%) – all of whom have ‘hidden’ ancestries from afield to add on top.

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But then two words: the Middle East. Cities like Amman and Beirut are now made up of majority diaspora populations – the biggest hosts for both Palestinians and more recently Syrian refugees, transposed on an already multicultural population made up of successive waves of Twentieth Century migrants, in turn transposed  on cities built on millennia of passing trade and conquest. More controversially there are the Israeli controlled cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – does one consider Israeli Jews from across the 20th Century world – or Palestinians – for that matter, non-native?

Another two words: Gulf States. Cities like Riyadh and Meccah already up there with the likes of London and New York with 35-40% foreign born, but the next level up is… wow, just wow.

Kuwait City  counts about 75% foreign born. Similarly 80% for Abu Dhabi, and higher still – 85% for Dubai, with a quarter of the remainder being of Iranian extraction. The main communities are Indian (51%), Pakistani(16%), Bangladeshi(9%), Filipino (3%), and Somali (1.7%), so a bit skewed to one country, yet still these 2013 figures are even higher nowadays (as the emirate’s population has grown a whopping  52% in only these 7 years, mostly through undocumented immigration).

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Meanwhile Doha gets pretty up there- coming in at a screeching 92% foreign born, with hundreds of thousands each from a wider range across Asia and Africa – India 25%, Nepalis 18%, Filipino 9%, Egyptian 8.1%, Bangladeshi 6.8%, Sri Lanka 4.6%, Pakistani 4.1%, with an equally large smattering of Western ‘ex-pats’ (heaven forbid, not to be confused with economic migrants or ‘immigrants’ in this data no, of course not, NO).

So we may have found a winner. Doha, Qatar:

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Or have we? Just what makes a city cosmopolitan or multicultural?

What if a city is staunchly multicultural but is strictly segregated? The Israeli – Palestinian wall, and checkpoints. The workers dormitories of the Gulf being forever ‘guest workers’. The segregation index that puts much of the US at levels approaching Apartheid era South Africa – and worsening. The divided ghettos of Brussels, Britain’s northern cities and banlieues of Paris. Do we see this as ‘cosmopolitan’? Do we celebrate its ‘diversity’?

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Take New York City for example. It started when National Geographic published a wonderfully detailed ethnic map of the city in one publication in 1993, but despite all its demographic thrills revealing to all the levels of self and imposed segregation. It’s not like New Yorkers universally hate each other or don’t hang out (though a century’s worth of racially biased zoning laws and income prohibitions didn’t help), but they have the choice to live in their ethnic enclaves should they wish, where they can speak, eat, shop, dress, build a community and have their kids attend the schooling relevant to their background.

But what the graphic revealed as so shocking was the extent people unilaterally opted for this, where every neighbourhood was 85-98% of one ethnic group, so strictly delineated one could cross from say an 89% Hispanic neighbourhood to a 95% White  (read: non-Latino White that is) neighbourhood just by crossing the street. Paris and its rings of notorious banlieues too comes close. Like New York it suffers that ethnicity also correlates with race, with the broad  rule being the darker you are the lower your position in society. More recent maps show how the 2010 Census stated that segregation was at pre-Civil Rights levels, and getting worse:

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Racial tensions in the city have markedly improved since those dark days but the self segregation is still there.  London has a much better track record, despite its community High Streets the ethnic map reveals no single minority predominates despite the city nearing 60% non native.

-And bear in mind the greenish glow below is made up of White British (English, Scotch, Irish, Welsh), and White Other (this can include Arabs, Middle Easterners, Hispanics, North Americans, North Africans, West Europeans, East Europeans, Australasians), with Mixed in Purple and Other in Blue. Likewise the other colours will also hold multiple communities and races within them, notably ‘Asians’ in yellow covering the spectrum from Japan to India to Turkey to Russia to Indonesia, and ‘Black’ in red covering Jamaica through to Nigeria to Ethiopia to Brazil to Canada to South Africa.

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Close up of some of London’s most ethnic hoods show that they are in fact strongly mixed:

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The largest minority-majority is in fact Central Slough ward in the metro, that’s 80% Pakistani. That’s still a far cry from New York where that’s below the norm for much of the city, or for that matter other British cities that have seen segregation and economic lines drawn, resulting in race riots as recent as 2001.

Don’t always believe the hype, London is no racial nirvana as yet (averaging 44 hate crimes a day, rising to 72 post-Brexit, which is a norm for many Western cities), and its wonderful mixing is a result of both native and foreign waves of communities bucking the media-driven or institutionalised racism, rather than any government policy.

In fact local councils were staunchly divisive to begin, following a ‘multicultural’ format rather than enforcing the ‘melting pot’ theory of assimilation, as was common in other parts of Europe and the US. When the postwar waves arrived from the Caribbean and South Asia after a call to fill job shortages, they were housed in separate communities cheek by jowl with the traditional working class, and given complete freedom of religion, language, schooling, dress and culture. All in a hope they’d develop separately, making smelly food and piercings and bat voodoo in enclosed communities while still propping up the NHS, post office, army and transport. They did not have to swear to a flag or even speak English.

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The result a generation later was the complete opposite to that intended effect: intermarrying at the highest levels in the West, and drawing equal to or surpassing native performance in schools, higher education and jobs, and identifying as ‘feeling British’ -at least 85%- at double the rates in neighbouring France, where French language, dress and customs were enforced. The result was clearly that people are much more likely to identify with a culture if they’re not forced to do so.

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The UK is one of the few countries where for once the darker your skin the more you earn (South Asian men and Black women forming the highest tiers of society), bucking decades of the opposite trend. There are however still racial tensions, pushed glaringly to the fore by a decade of tabloid xenophobia that culminated in Brexit, and institutionlisation, alongside the usual subconscious prejudice (anglicised name on a CV anyone?). But the main thing that seems to be propelling London’s inordinate success is rather anticlimactically, the housing market, or to be more specific the notorious UK/London property bubbles – no one can totally afford to choose where they live, or who their neighbours are. To conclude, given half the chance I’m sure Londoners would willingly segregate like other areas of the country; just they don’t have the luxury of choice, on deciding whom they deem familiar enough to share a garden wall, a cigarette and a chat with.

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Which brings us to another question: do they have to be foreign born or of foreign extraction to emit these ions of exotic cosmopolitanism?

The world’s diversity index measures sub Saharan Africa, SE Asia and India as by far the most culturally diverse places in the world, even putting immigrant nations such as USA, Brazil or Australia into shade.

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Places like Sudan speak 200 languages, Nigeria 520. Indonesia, with its national motto – Unity Through Diversity – has 388 ethnic groups over 13,000 islands (by comparison Europe’s 750 million people and multitude of nations hosts 87 ethnicities). Ethnic maps across these regions look as multi-coloured and complex as psychedelic splatter art, coursing from Africa, through the Middle East, to Central, South and SE Asia in intricate whirls, splashes and eddies that would make Pollock blush.

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India, land of 1.3 billion, speaking for three millennia no less than 122 main languages and 1600 minor ones (not to be confused with dialects that would count into the thousands), with a few thousand tribes and ethnic groups – plus 3000 castes, and 25,000 sub-caste groups, is a black hole on the map. It’s just too complex and impossible to record onto paper. And any one of its main cities would hold a few thousand of these groups.

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Make a nod to China too. When the call for National Minorities came to register in 1953 no less than 180 tried  – though only 56 had made the cut by 1979. The rest got lumped into one and the same as the ‘Han’ ethnicity, which overnight became the world’s largest, despite their differing DNA, 300 languages, distinct cultures, dress, religions, histories and looks. The main cities may hold a majority of Han (and representatives from each of the 56 officialised groups), but they speak disparate languages and live in distinct communities, from the tanned Sea Gipsies of the South China seas to the semi-nomadic, fort building Hakka, to the Polynesian sourcing Hainanese. Even without the unrecognised ethnicities its diversity index is on par with or higher than the US.

Official Minorities:

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Unrecognised ethnicities:

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Finally. Three words: PNG. Papua New Guinea, now we’re talking. 840 distinct languages (half of which are completely unrelated to each other), and thousands of dialects. Each unique thanks to 600 isolated islands and countless mountain- valley systems that have bred 37 major ethnic groups, hundreds of smaller ones and several thousand tribal ones, each isolated from their neighbours in dress, language, religion and culture. It’s mind bogglingly complex for only 7 million people. Gargantuan even.

So there it is. Port Moresby. Capital of the World.

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Continued: The World’s Greatest Food City