Sunday, July 22, 2012


So I live in London which some friends of mine still don’t understand or know, but I don’t know how much more I can say it. J I moved here New Year’s 2012 to work with a small technology group to do global education work around the world focusing in internet and computer technologies.

In British English, the word “village” has no connection to development at all; it only refers to the size of the town. So here, we use the term “village” to refer to a small town, whereas in the U.S. you would only use village to refer to small towns in other (non-U.S.) countries that might not have running water or electricity. However here, many small towns are called villages or hamlets (depending on the size).

London is a town of about 8 million. And though news journalists refer to the UK government as London (the same way you refer to the Russian government as Moscow or the Israeli government as Jerusalem), in the UK the journalists refer to the UK government as Westminster because the seat of government, the House of Parliament, and the queen’s palace, Buckingham Palace, are in the borough of Westminster, not in the specific city of London.

It’s a cosmopolitan city unlike any I’ve seen. At my work, they call it the capital of capitals. With 8 million people, one third is foreign born (just like in New York City). Compare that to a rate of 8% foreign-born for the entire UK. English is not the first language of about 22% of Londoners which increases to 42% of London children. London itself has 2 universities in the top 20 universities in the world—Imperial College and University College.

The business here, too, is international. According to the Economist who interviewed a senior banker with New York and London experience, 80% of the dealmakers and 90% of the deals on Wall Street are American. In London, however, 65% of the dealmakers are foreign and 90% of the deals have an international element. But it doesn’t just attract the rich; it attracts the poor as well.

London has grown from a small city to a city of villages. The actual city of London is only one square mile (I said this in the last update). All of the surrounding villages continued to grow and grow and connect and then voila---London. And the collection of villages is often ethnically aligned. My first three months, I lived in temporary housing in Bayswater which has a high percentage of Arabs. The Koreans can be found in New Malden. There are many Portuguese in Stockwell. There are Turks, Kurds, and Turkish Cypriots in Hackney, Islington, and Haringey. Wembly and Southall have many Indians. The first Jamaican-British person I met lives in Brixton where there are many more. My Nigerians are in Peckham. You can find Bangladeshis and Pakistanis in Newham and Tower Hamlets. And the list goes on including Jewish people which I’ve seen in a certain part of town.

It’s strange though. Even though it’s bustling now, it hasn’t always been. It’s had a long history since it was established in 43 AD by the Romans

Today, it is growing again, and as it continues to grow it attracts global events. We just finished Wimbledon here. To explain a little bit about how big this 8 million-person city is, instead of naming the tennis open, the UK Open, it’s called Wimbledon which refers to the neighbourhood or village of London that houses the matches. It’s the same with football/soccer. Arsenal and Chelsea are neighbourhoods/villages of London. Some cities would not be able to emotionally, financially, and motivationally support multiple teams in the same city but you can do that in London. And few people seem to care that there is not a team that bears the name “London.” Now we are preparing for the 2012 Summer Olympics and the city is already packed with people. I can’t tell if this is normal for this time or if it is just the influx of people for the Olympics.

The Olympics are projected to cost 9.3 billion pounds over an estimated 2.4 billion pounds. We have built a village to house the athletes, and a housing block for the press. There is even a huge art piece, the ArcelorMittal Orbit, but, as with all global sports event hosted by one city, it’s not certain how the structures and space can be used AFTER the Olympics.

London faces all the normal issues of a global city of its size in a country like the UK. We face health issues including a declining happiness even though there is a high standard of living. We deal with things like silicone implants that have gone wrong. People complain about the health care and health system here, too (this is no way means that the UK system, the National Health System, is inferior or worse at providing for most people than a system like the US does; I think many US politicians during the health care debates of 2009 misrepresented failures of NHS as if they were characteristic or typical; one thing I’ve learned about trying to decide whether I should pay money to a health insurer for private health care---most British people I’ve met with are agreed that there is no difference in the quality of care; there is a slight difference in the speed of care depending on what you want done, but not the quality). There is an immigration issue as with most big cities and the government has recently ordered many illegal immigrants to go back home. The tough part is they don’t know how many there are exactly, how many have complied, and how many are still here. There is the problem of poor primary and secondary education. They also have a free school movement which is like the public charter school movement in the U.S. Teachers want to strike here as do other unionized groups. There is inequality and scandal. It’s all quite familiar especially because I live in London. I think other parts of the UK are less US-leaning (hyper-consumerist leaning).

But let me give you an example to explain a bit how the UK is slightly less consumerist as the U.S. Let’s use an example from entertainment. In the U.S. if a TV show is produced and in the first season it does well, they continue for the next season. In the second season, if there are even more viewers, they go for a 3rd. After the third season, it’s been declared a hit with the highest ratings of all times. They decide to do a 4th. This process continues until the ratings drop again, and then they finally decide to cancel due to poor ratings. Occasionally, they end before this happens perhaps because the actors together decide not to do it anymore or the main actor decides not to do it anymore, perhaps in consultation with the producers and creators. Now let’s travel to the UK. In the UK, a TV producer starts a new show, and it has amazing reviews and becomes the number 2 show on UK TV that season. The producers don’t have a team to make a decision about whether or not to go on because the producers and creators and writers know the story is not finished. So they do a 2nd season. The second season goes on air and the show becomes the number 1 show on TV that year. There is no huddle to decide whether or not to continue the show (and of course not, the ratings are good). They simply decide that the show is over. Why? It’s over because the story has come to an end, according to the writers and creator and producer. And that’s how that works here. Of course, you could have a similar situation like the business-minded TV decisions of the US, but it is less likely in the UK. And you are more likely to see someone ending a show when it naturally ends. So you are less likely to have those types of situations like Matrix II and Matrix III when you can tell that the writers did not have in mind the complexities of Matrix II and Matrix III when they wrote the first Matrix. Those complexities were an after-thought brought in when they decided to make another movie (I’m guess and this could be wrong). But it happens in US movies and TV and you say to yourself “What? Why did she do that? I don’t think she would have ever done that if she were real. That’s not like her.” And perhaps it’s true. But they have to keep writing and keep creating and keep making it interesting with no turns and twists and sometimes, in the US, this manifests in making the characters do extraordinary things or putting them in extraordinary circumstances.

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