Monday 29 April 2013

Our Small World

The photograph above was taken in a branch of MacDonalds a two days ago. Can you guess where it is by looking at it? Think about it for a moment before reading on.

The photograph was actually taken in Thailand by a friend of mine who is on holiday there; but there's no way to know that because every MacDonalds is pretty much the same as every other. I did wonder why she travelled almost half way around the world for just another Big Mac; as it happens, she and her family are sampling a lot of the local food too, as well as delving into other aspects of Thai culture. But I'll never forget the group of Porters who went off to Malta for a week. I wished I could have joined them because I'd have loved to have seen the ancient monuments by the pre-Babylon Temple-Builder culture. When they returned I asked one of them: "What did you think of the Hypogeum and Gigantija?" My Brother Porter replied: "Eh? What's that? We spent every day on the beach, Mate, and we hit the clubs all night." If all one is interested in is getting a suntan and then getting drunk why not holiday in Milton Keynes? There are tanning salons and plenty of pubs there; that's all they need. Save themselves the busfare!

A few years ago I went to Australia for a few weeks to visit my brother. I was very thrilled as I travelled to the airport in London. I was about to fly to the other side of the world! In the departure lounge at Heathrow Airport there are of course lots of shops there so the passengers can buy things on their trip. One of those shops was the well-known high street stationer and newsagent WH Smith. I got on the plane and flew to Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport and landed after just twenty-eight hours. In just over a day I'd made a journey that took Captain Cook years! How the world has changed. But the effect of this is also that it has made the world feel smaller. The increased speed and decreased cost of travel has made the world a fraction of the notional size that is was a century ago. As I walked out into the arrivals hall in Australia there were shops there too; one of them was WH Smith. I thought to myself: "How far have I really travelled?" As I walked through the streets of Sydney, and later Canberra where my brother lived, I saw the same shop names above the doors as I see in Oxford. There's a saying that "it's a small world"; it is indeed, and it's also a very uniform one. Going to Australia was a important lesson for me; it changed the way I see the world forever.

However I don't want to paint a gloomy picture; this "Global Village" we live in might be very small, a "pale blue dot" as Carl Sagan called it, but it does contain a lot of fascinating little alleyways. There are still exotic locations in the world that the determined traveller can find. However to find these locations it's not longer a question of going a great distance, it's a question of how close or far away the place is culturally from the mainstream global civilization of Mackie-D's and Smiths? In fact there are some amazingly foreign places almost within walking distance of my home, for example see: As regular readers will know I have no passport any more, see: People have often said: "But that means you can't travel abroad! How do you manage?" As I've said I don't see any reason to miss travelling. I do want to see more of the world, but I want to see a free world. One day the world shall be free. It will still be notionally small; indeed it will be even smaller than it is with today's jet airliners once the technology to build even faster aircraft is declassified, but the nations and cultures of the world will be liberated to exist and develop in their own fashion. There will come a day when there will be no MacDonalds in Thailand. I hope my friend still likes the place as a result!


Anonymous said...

Great post mate

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Thanks, Anon.