Thursday, September 01, 2005

First Impressions

I arrive in Incheon on Wednesday, Korea time. Tuesday, for you folks left behind in the Eastern time zone.

Over the last few days, my first impressions of the city itself have not been great. It's actually similar to the situation I had when I left Wawa for London. Wawa was a small northern Ontario town, surrounded by deep green forests and dark blue water. A walk along a thickly pine scented trail or a swim in a fresh, clean lake was only ever minutes away. London was a downgrade, in this area; only natural for a city. London is better than most, of course; it comes by the moniker Forest City honestly enough. There are parks scattered through the city, and you can almost pretend to be in a forest on occasion. So I adjusted. I went from having a huge Canadian Shield forest in my backyard to having a Shopper's Drugmart, but I adjusted.

Incheon... Incheon is a whole different story. Granted, I haven't seen much of the city yet. But it seems as cold and industrial as any human dwelling could possibly be. The buildings are large, rectangular, and have a dirty grey colour. The smog is so dense, visibility can't be more than a kilometre or two. The smog apparently comes from China; doesn't make it any less stifling.

Why does this matter to me? I suppose this is where my vaguely theoretical enviromentalist streak appears. I think a clean, spacious, natural enviroment is one of the most fundamental human pleasures. Those are the circumstances that the vast majority of humanity has spent it's history in, and with every new apartment block, we move further and further from this.

This is not a matter of suggesting that life was better 200 years ago; I think that on a historical scale, the quality of human life across the globe only changes incrementally, I believe. Sure, we have better health care, more egalitarian governments, and have a achieved a terrible mastery over nature, but many of us still escape into narcotics or alcohol. Human life is human life, either for a Buddist monk living serenely in a mountain temple or a 21st century city dweller.

With this qualification in mind, I wish nations like China and Korea were not in such a rush to become world powers. China's forced abortion population limits is one aspect of this, but I also sigh for the loss of the Three Gorges. The Chinese government, in building The Three Gorges Dam, is destroying ancient archeological sites, the ancestrial homes of thousands of people, and a handful of species will be devasted because of the resultant flooding. It is terrible - and it is irreversable.

I wonder if it is possible to slow urban sprawl. I wonder if a future U.S. President will open up national parklands to oil drilling. I wonder if meaningful atmospheric regulations will ever be implemented. If humanity continues down this path, our descendants - however many generations from now - will be spitting on our grave.

Is it all irreversable or inevitable? I don't know.

So I look around me, and I see people living in oversized filing cabinets. The economy makes its demands, and we bow to it. I suppose it is the same everywhere. However, after a few days in Incheon, I'll be making a beeline for the greenest city available. London has never looked better.

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