Friday, January 09, 2009

It's a Flat, Flat World

M owes you a post, so if this post bores you, blame her.

For the past few years, I've been functionally illiterate. At least when it comes to books. Growing up, I loved reading, but I burned out on it in college (and my post-college internship at a church, which had a pretty hefty reading plan). In the past few years, I've read only a couple books, opting instead to play video games and mindlessly surf the net, reading blogs and news instead. But I miss reading, so I've been slowly trying to get back into it again.

Here in Beijing, we have a lot of downtime on the subway and bus, since most of the time anywhere we want to go takes at least half an hour. Lately I've been thinking, why not use that time to read instead of just playing DS or people-watching. A few weeks ago I stumbled upon one of those carts of pirated books with a pretty decent selection of English books. Yes, they even pirate books here. I'm sure the profit margins aren't nearly as good as pirated DVDs, but printing here is really cheap. The book cart had a couple books I'd missed out on during my non-reading phase: The World is Flat and Freakonomics. I haggled with the pirate book seller (arrrr!) and bought the two of them for 20rmb (~$3usd).

A couple years ago, The World is Flat made a big splash, but I was never sure why, so I wanted to check it out. It's pretty much old news now, and for most of us internet generation kids, it was old news back then too. Thomas Friedman argues that the world has undergone a flattening, mainly through globalism and technology, that has leveled the playing field for people anywhere around the world in unprecedented ways, specifically with regards to outsourcing. And the irony is that I've more or less proven it for him. The past few days, I've been using some passages in his book as material for some of my classes. No big deal, you might think, except that I'm working with outsourced engineers. An English book about outsourcers can find its way into the hands of Chinese book piraters, who then scan (very poorly, I might add, half the words have the wrong letters or even numbers) the book and distribute it to back-alley book sellers, who then sell it to some random ABC kid wandering around the streets of Beijing, who then uses it to with outsourcers to train English communication skills. *shrug* I guess the world really is flat.

But these days, what's been on my mind is that the world is small. As in tiny. M spent a few days in Hong Kong with my aunt and uncle before I finished up work and joined her. The first day she arrived, she took the subway to near my uncle's place and hopped on a 16 seat minibus. From the back of the bus, she hears someone calling her name, and turns to discover our friend Bernice. Mind you, M knows all of about 2 people in Hong Kong at this point. And she just happens to run into one of them. Or yesterday I found out that a couple of our friends that we met here in Beijing went on vacation in Spain with one of M's good friends from high school. Totally random. I've got a dozen other stories just like these, but they've become so commonplace that I've given up trying to remember them.

4 comments:

tapsearcher said...

For a good review of The World is Flat see http://tapsearch.com/flatworld by Ray Tapajna. It is a "corker" and see site for the connotation of corker related to Thomas Friedman

Katrina said...

also that couple we met in the Taiwanese mountains! hahaha.

J.Dou said...

oh yeah. I'd forgot about that and then I remembered it later. I totally got his name wrong and felt really bad :(. Marilyn had it right, so she thought it was weird when I messed up...

Melody said...

Thanks for your kind words, M! Don't worry, I'm still cynical at heart, but I just found that being happy is better for my health.