Archive for July 1st, 2007

This Week’s Wandering News

  • A Vagablogging post about a Yukon 15 year-old preparing to make a journey of 10,000 miles via carbon-free transportation enlightened me to Bikely, an amazing resource where cyclists can share – and learn – bike routes, from around the block to around the country.
  • Global Voices Online reports that the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) is announcing the 2007 AISI Media awards, which are “aimed at individual journalists and media institutions based in Africa that are ‘promoting journalism which contributes to a better understanding of the information society in Africa.'”
  • Citizen-journalism site Oh My News reports on the 10th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese control, and shows a bit of gritty context underlying the festivities.
  • In other China news, blogger Robert Paetz recently left China (after taking stunning photos as he traveled from its crowded urban areas to the desolate outer-reaches) feeling impressed yet disillusioned with the hype of 2008.
  • World Hum’s Bill Belleville writes a wonderfully surreal and peaceful article about searching for “Fire in the Night,” or bioluminescence, off the coast of Florida.

This Week’s Wandering News is a collection of travel-related links from the past week TDT finds interesting. It is posted every Sunday.

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Our Definitions of Home

puget sound. photo by rachel b.

There are several places in this world in which I feel at home: Madison, San Francisco, Seoul and – the original – Seattle. The latter of the group is my “true” home (if I can call it that), my base of operations or, at least, a point of origin.

But my definition of home encompasses all of these locales, really, which makes it fairly complicated to cope with bouts being “homesick.” I’m forced to question, “Which ‘home’ am I sick for?”

Can I really call it “homesickness” when I’m sitting in Madison longing for San Francisco, a place in which I’ve never actually resided? Is it backwards to also term it “homesickness” when I’m sitting near the waters of Puget Sound, facing west, and wistfully recollecting sitting on the other side of the Pacific as though home is actually over there?

The emotion of homesickness becomes even more baffling when, as Rick Steves recently discussed, one feels homesick for the road.

***

It’s been a while since I’ve been in Seattle, roughly six months now. The really strange thing is that my flights to the northwest have ceased to be journeys of returning and have become, simply, visits. Though a Seattle native, the roadways etched into my mind like the lines of my palm, I am essentially a visitor there – my presence transient, temporary.

There are things I deeply miss about the city: chilly, pine-scented gray mornings, the rocky shores of the Sound, calm drizzling rain, evergreen trees, bug and humidity-free summers, cycling through downtown, really good coffee, purple sunsets over Bainbridge Island – the list could go on and get much more specific.

But the real aspect of Seattle that continues to tug at my heart is the sheer volume of memories that have accumulated on the city’s street corners, in friends’ apartments, on the beached logs that served as chairs for self-contemplation, and in the house where I was raised.

Yet my departures from these places have, each time, severed a little my connection to them – though I long to return, in my absence things have shifted irreversibly. The place no longer matches the photo of a memory I hold in my head – it’s home, but not the same home.

Perhaps it’s only a part of growing up …

sinchon neighborhood in seoul. photo by riИux

It has, similarly, been a long time since I was in South Korea. My anticipation to return is only matched by a certain anxiety that future experiences will be decidedly at odds with my out-dated image of “home” in Seoul. With the absence of a university safety-net and the network of friends it afforded, will I still be in love with the city as I once was?

A better question amid all – am I homesick, or just stuck in the past?

I’ve yet to find good answers to these questions; I suppose the only real option is to embrace the fact that “home” will continue to be dynamic – shifting in both concept and location – and to realize that even as I long for familiar places, the experiences that unfold when I finally arrive will be delightfully unfamiliar.

(Revised on 07/03/2007)

The True Cost of a Few Dollars

A set of new labor regulations in China will protect workers’ rights by setting standards for temporary employment, layoffs, severance pay and working conditions, the AP reported Friday.

The enactment of the new law was catalyzed by a recent corruption scandal in a rural province, where it was uncovered that a group of 32 migrants were being made to do slave-labor at a brick kiln. Among the group were children and mentally-disabled people, who toiled in horrific conditions 18 hours a day, under the watch of guards and dogs:

The brick kiln was operated by a foreman identified as Heng Tinghan, but owned by the son of the local Communist Party chief. According to local villagers, the brickworks were illegal but still allowed to operate with the tacit agreement of the local police and officials because the party boss’s son owned them.

The extraordinary revelations were followed by an open letter circulated on Chinese Internet fora, alleging that at least 1,000 children aged between eight and 16 years have been enslaved in the illegal brick kilns in Shanxi province. []

The twist? The new labor laws were reportedly met with vocal concern from foreign investors, who were alarmed that regulations might drive up the cost of business. This friction led the Chinese government to drop an aspect of the original legislation, which would have mandated that layoffs be approved by state-sanctioned workers’ unions:

They argued that overly restrictive rules could raise costs and hurt business. A report issued yesterday by the legislature on the approved law did not mention such union approval.

It said a company that plans to lay off more than 20 workers has to inform its union and listen to its opinion. []

This new regulation is certainly a step in the right direction, but is despicable that investors would sooner hold on to a few more dollars than see a higher quality of life for the Chinese people.

China is in a period of rapid growth and development; if this pattern continues (as it surely will) then it will eventually cease to be a nation of cheap labor – as it should. China’s skilled workers deserve to have job security and a comfortable existence, and they deserve pay that will allow them to enjoy the fruits of a booming economy.

Our continued demand for outsourced cheap labor will hurt everyone involved. This is evident in the layed-off American factory worker who continues to shop at Wal-Mart because he doesn’t see the connection between the loss of his livelihood and “saving” a few dollars by purchasing sweatshop-made foreign goods. The rhetoric of globalization and free trade doesn’t hold water when the playing field stays uneven.


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