As part of the Festival of the Mind activities hosted by the University of Sheffield I participated in a session called Tales from the Ivory Tower. The aim was to talk about research in a story telling format. Here is the video of my storytelling, which focuses on social inequality and eating sparrow in Hong Kong.
Every now and again events conspire to make one realise that what is taken for granted is actually not so stable or certain. I frequently have encounters with time that make this real for me. My most recent experience occurred on a trip I took to Tunisia, where the certainty of the calendar and what constitutes the start of a year was called into question. The Georgian calendar (the one used as the global civil calendar) will for many of us be taken for granted as the way to structure time, yet it does not map onto the cultures and traditions of the majority of the world’s population, and upon reflection I realise only has partial influence upon how I consider my own year. Through the experience of a collision of calendars one can sometimes also be afforded the chance to consider and reflect on the gifts of serendipitous circumstance, as I was when my personal calendar, the muslim calendar, and assumptions I made based on the Georgian calendar all came together. Continue reading
Update: We tried this walking tour on our latest visit to Hong Kong. Some of the way finding landmarks are now no longer there, please be aware of this if you try to do the tour.
This walking tour starts at Central and travels west toward Sheung Wan. The tour takes in Fa Yuen Streets, Central Market, the Mid Level Escalator, Graham Street Market, Gough Street, Cat Street Market, Sheung Wan Market, Western Market and ends at the Sheung Wan MTR station.
In Shanghai, some distance from the Iconic Bund, is a relatively new tourist district called Xintiandi. Surrounded by skyscrapers, the district is a pedestrian area comprised of upmarket shops, many of which are global brands (e.g., Starbucks, Shanghai Tang, Vidal Sassoon). The site is an example of heritage type preservation whereby buildings are repurposed for commercial use. While building facades remain, the original purpose of the buildings, and often their interiors are stripped away. The Xintiandi area is comprised largely of redeveloped Shikumen houses, which were smaller workers houses. Somewhat ironically, this site of tourism and global commerce was also the site of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist party.
As you head up the mid-level escalator, just to the right of the bottom, you will see a small street (wet) market. Known as Graham Street Market (but actually comprising parts of Graham, Gage, and Peel Streets), the activities here have been part of Hong Kong Street life for over 150 years (172 years according to a recent article in Hong Kong Magazine). This street market has survived Japanese occupation and previous rounds of urban development, but that is about to change. The market traders are being evicted and building clearance has begun (as evidenced in the photograph). In one fell swoop, the street life that calls forth community, memory, and a way of life will shortly be erased from the landscape. One has to wonder what is the mentality that allows for this sort of urban erasure and consider the depth of what is lost. Continue reading
If I could describe Mexico city with one word I would have to say food. When engaging with this city it is almost impossible not to notice the abundance of food possibilities. On nearly every street corner you can find juice vendors, paleta stands (fruit ice lollies), or taco stands. Women sit in doorways selling tomales to passers by on their way to work. As you move along the pavements you must make your way between and around those having a meal or buying their breakfast. In more affluent neighbourhoods there are tables on the pavements outside decorated with a basket of bread and where patrons linger over their meals in the pleasant warmth of the weather. Fruit is sweetly ripe and visually vivid while the smells of cooked meat and tortillas tempered by the sharp smokiness of chilies assault your olfactory senses. In this city one cannot help but interact with food; food becomes part of every encounter, in one way or another, as conversations inevitably turn to recommendations and comments about where and what to eat. Eventually, patterns to these interactions emerge and it becomes apparent that food in this city, as is the case throughout the world is classed. But what seems unique here is the role that fear plays in making these class distinctions. Continue reading