Sunday, September 25, 2005

Singapore, Barcelona and wallets in the front pocket

It was good to be back to Singapore . I lived there from 1992 to 1995. I love the city. I love the people. I love the food.
I did not see much of the city this time. I was in meetings from early in the morning to late in the evening, but at least, I was able to go to Newton Circus on Sunday night to eat one of my favorite dishes, sting ray with lots and lots of chili and one big Tiger beer (actually, two). On Friday night my Singaporean friends brought me to a new place, Fullerton One, to a seafood restaurant next to the relocated Merlion. We had delicious food, pepper crab, steamed fish, drunken prawns, baby kailan and a yam based dessert.
I really like Singapore as long as I do not read The Strait Times or watch the local TV news. I am sure that you can learn much more about Singapore from Orange Raindrops. By the way, I was told that now you can finally buy chewing gum in Singapore with a doctor's prescription (!?).

One of the characteristics of Singapore is how safe it is. You can walk around almost everywhere in the island without fear of being robbed or assaulted. I wish Barcelona were the same thing, but it is not. I still remember when I moved to USA in 1999 and called the VISA hotline. I noticed a familiar accent in the service staff that answered my call. He was Chinese and we switched the conversation to Mandarin. He asked me where I was from and I told him from Barcelona (I would never say from Spain). He was shocked. He said, "I am sorry for you". I argued, "why sorry, it's a great city!". "No", he said, "many of the calls I receive every day to report stolen Visa cards come from Barcelona. So many people get robbed there, it must be a terrible place".
It is obvious that it is more difficult to prevent crime in Barcelona than in a tightly controlled island as Singapore, but I am convinced that much more can be done by city officials and the Catalan government to dramatically reduce crime levels. If pickpockets are released, while victims are still filing the police report, we will not go anywhere. The Catalan government needs to address two of the main sources of crime, uncontrolled immigration and drug addiction and at the same time, provide the tools to police and judges to address the unacceptable level of crime on the streets of Barcelona. We get about ten million visitors every year. We want to make sure that they have an enjoyable experience, that they have fun, learn a bit about our culture, dine and party, participate in our traditions, shop and spend money. I feel bad when I realize that some of them just remember the four hours they spent at the police station trying to file a report and the 2 hours on the phone, canceling their credit cards.
However, before the Catalan government finally steps in, I still encourage you to visit our wonderful city, just make sure that you have the wallet in the front pocket and your camera always under control.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Bullfighting, souvenirs and "guiris"

There are two things that I would like to see banned in Barcelona and Catalonia at large. One of them is bullfighting, the other one is Mexican hats sold at souvenir shops.
Before I elaborate on the reasons behind those draconian measures, let me say a few words about the word “guiri” that has created some controversy. In my opinion, the word “guiri” is only mildly offensive and in many cases, it pretends to be funny. The origins of the word, are pretty old (early 19th century) and it described the members of the “Carlist” party and it became also a synonym of the word “liberal”. It was also used to describe certain members of the Civil Guard (“Guardia Civil”) that most probably led to the term “guripa”, still used today. There are many theories about the origin of the word “guiri” applied to the Anglo and North Europeans, whose only interest in Spain was the sun, the beach and the cheap alcohol but had no interest at all in the country they were visiting. It clearly originates in the early 60s, when Spain started to open up to tourism. The Spanish society at that time was totally unprepared to deal with this influx of tourists who did not speak the language (hardly any Spaniard spoke English at that time either), behaved in a strange way, were noisy and got drunk all the time, became red as lobsters and had no interest at all in the country they were visiting or its people. They had to create a word to describe them, and this word was “guiri” as I said, not a terribly offensive word.
Going back to the main discussion point, in Catalonia, bullfighting and certain souvenirs like Mexican hats are offered just for the consumption of misguided or misinformed tourists. Bullfighting has never been popular in Catalonia and the vast majority of Catalans is against it, so let’s devote the arenas to other activities like concerts, displays of local culture (human towers, “sardanas”, the national dance, ...), circus, etc. If someone wants to see bullfighting, he/she can go to Madrid or Sevilla and mingle with the locals who appreciate this tradition. Let me be clear, I am not proposing a bullfighting ban in the rest of Spain, only in Catalonia. Those who voice animal rights concerns should devote their time to other issues first like animal testing. If asked, 100% of the bulls would prefer to die in a bullfighting rink, 20 minutes of suffering after having enjoyed 5 years in the wild with plenty of food and cows, rather than being forcedly fed with “contra-natura” food in overcrowded farms and later being hanged alive from a moving conveyor, electrocuted and skinned while still kicking.
The issue with the Mexican hats is obvious, what do Mexican hats have to do with Barcelona or Catalonia? I take it as a personal offence, a lack of tact, a total disregard of our culture and our feelings. But those who buy them are not responsible for this cultural disgrace, they are simply ignorant, those who sell them are to blame. That is why the Catalan government should ban their sale in souvenir shops (they could be sold in Mexican or ethnic shops, I have absolutely nothing against Mexico, in fact I worked there for a few years and have excellent Mexican friends).
What would New Yorkers think about a group of tourists visiting the Big Apple dressed in full cow-boy attire and franticly looking for the nearest rodeo show, because they want to enjoy some "local" entertainment? Anyway, be careful, I hear that it starts to be popular in DC.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Cartography in Namibia

Cartography is a very dynamic science. Just compare the map of Europe from 30 years ago and the current one. Dozens of new countries with its small little borders have appeared. Is the Queen of Namibia implying that the inhabitants of those little countries (Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Rep., Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Slovakia, Slovenia, etc) deserve more respect than Catalans, that their languages deserve more recognition than Catalan, because they have little borders around them? That’s obviously ridiculous and does not stand any analysis, but the very fact that some people think this way and even try to promote it from the outside (and from the inside), may lead us to a Europe of micro-states, unable to compete with the almighty USA.