By Nury Vittachi
This is an open letter to Cheung Kong, Swire Properties, CapitaLand, DLF, Excellence Group, Wharf Holdings and all the other major property developers in Asia.
I was standing outside a fancy marble, glass and steel office block when I noticed a wrinkled old lady taking a photograph of a wrinkled old man. All together now: Ahhhhh. Who says love doesn’t last? It was SO sweet.
But not everyone thought so. Beefy uniformed guards raced up and told them that this sort of outrageous behaviour was strictly banned from anywhere in the vicinity of their building.
I couldn’t hear exactly what they were saying, but it must have been something like: “How dare you use your enormously powerful five-millimeter camera flash against our massive, mile-high tower of marble and steel. You might hurt it.”
The elderly couple apologized and moved away with unsteady, Bambi-like steps.
This happens all the time. I’ve been ordered away myself from chic glass towers for various crimes: taking photographs, sitting on a wall or (and this happens every week) for being in charge of children who were—shock horror—acting like children.
Well, I’m fed up of it. So here goes.
Dear Property Developers, listen up. I am talking to you. Yes, you. Sit down and hear this.
You have built glittering edifices in cities all over Asia which are designed for international yuppies rather than the average noxious resident like me, but that’s okay.
You have replaced our noodle shops and local stalls with chain stores at which we can barely afford to buy a cup of coffee, but we won’t complain about that.
Your buildings are closed cities in themselves and have no connection with the ancient communities around them, but we’ll let you get away with that.
But there is one fact we need you to get straight. You don’t own the city. We, the people, own the city. If we want to take photographs of ourselves in our city, we have a right to do so. If you build a big glass tower in the background of our photograph, that’s not our fault—it’s yours.
If we want to walk through our city wearing lungis or sarongs or shorts, we can. You have no right to send us away or tell us to come back in Western suits. Your Manolo Blahnik brogues have been trendy for 30 years. Our preferred footwear—bare feet or simple sandals—have been a classic fashion statement for three and half million years.
Your yuppie hobbies of walking around staring at a 2.8 centimeter screen or talking to dangling wires are becoming increasingly popular, despite the fact that they make you look Very Silly. But our habit of squatting on our haunches and chewing a blade of grass while watching the world go by has been an Asian hobby since time immemorial. Let us be.
If our little ones want to squeal and shout and jump around in our city, they can. That’s what children do. You may have been one yourself once, although if you tell us that you were formed from ready-mixed concrete and steel, we will believe you.
So call a meeting of your guards and tell them to stop harassing old folk, small children, idling lovers, young families, or any one else.
You don’t own the city. We do.
Signed, an ordinary Asian.
(illustration by Watchsmart/ Creative Commons)