Cultural Gulfs in Emerging Markets 8: Tooth Repair in Kowloon's Walled City

33,000 people
8,000 homes
1,000 businesses
2.8 hectares

That's 1.2 million people per square kilometer (Manhattan is 27 thousand per square km)

The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating 18 minute video (Greg Girard and Ian Lambot) documentary on Kowloon's "walled city", the slum which formed outside of Hong Kong, as rural peasants and refugees sought shelter in a place that was closer to Hong Kong's growing economic power in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s.  It was condemned in the late 80s and torn down in the early 90s, as Hong Kong became too prosperous, land values increased, and people became embarrassed and self conscious of the towering slum, which typically housed four families to an apartment.

This fits with the "Cultural Gulfs in Developing Markets" blog series.  There are equivalents to Kowloon's walled city today, counterparts in Cairo, Lagos, Kinshasa, Lima, and Mexico City.

The move from spacious rural poverty to dense urban poverty is a mind trip, an incredible social and cultural shock.  It explains the demand for hundreds of millions of SKD televisions (small TVs made from reused USA computer monitors in the 1990s-early 2000s).  It explains the growth of internet, ten times the rate of growth in nations earning 3,000 dollars per year as in the "developed world"

The documentary begins with some of the "bad jobs" the walled city became known for, and the early "poverty porn" (before the term) in kung fu movies and Jean Claude Van Damme and Jacky Chan films.

During my life, living and working with people who know these city-slums intimately, bringing my family close by or inside these places, or to eat with families who once lived in these places and have now moved up on on, I'm sad that there has been so little documentation of the "tinkerers blessing".   The WSJ documents heroin and opium trade, prostitution, and primitive dentistry (a form of repair)... though it does later briefly allude to how good the dentistry became, how the dentists progressed.

Laptop repair and cell phone repair is a form of bloodless dentistry.

Enough, click to watch.

Still reading?

Cultural Gulfs is about the evolution of what I've already written about, Environmental Justice in Pixelized City Slums.  I want to add motion, add time passage, add evolution to the picture of the good enough markets.

Ask yourself, if your parents moved you and your 5 brothers and sisters to Kowloon or Accra in 1962, and you had your own kids there in 1983, how large a family would you plan on having?  And what would you want your kids to do for a living, if not scrap metal recycling and cell phone repair?

Had your kids not gone on to form contract manufacturing, assembly, and companies like BenQ, Wistron, Foxconn, and Acer, not invented the touch screens used on smart phones, would the city have still been demolished in 1993?

What would you think of the people who called your children primitive and informal, who made money from their photos without sharing it to form alternatives?   You would still perhaps feel loss of face, feel shame, and want to see the city torn down and the memory erased.

But look at early 1900s film of New York City, and ask yourself, are boycotts of poor people the best we can think of?  Or does Fair Trade Recycling make a little more sense after walking a kilometer in their shoes?

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PS   Oh and yes I stopped practically all of Vermont's Good Point Recycling Trade with the "evil living" of the slums about 4 years ago, before the Vermont contract and "Ecycles" law.  I remain friends of geeks in cities, and I remain active in supporting them.  But we don't ship to them, actually never did directly, we sold to factories which made 'good enough' product for them to afford computers and television.  Now even that is over.  So telling reporters that I'm somehow tinged by Basel Action Network's accusations of overseas trade is somewhat false, somewhat defamatory.   I got tagged as mostly export this week in an original draft article after the reporter interviewed ANR. 

Fair Trade Recycling, which I found via FOIA request was specifically written down as a negative in the Agency's technical evaluation of our bid, is an OPINION, a right of free speech, a belief.  I didn't send any VT material to the slums.   My company was downgraded for expressing a thoughtful opinion which helped inspire a 469k three-university research grant, a USITC study, an MIT research survey, and actual analysis of 279 sea containers seized in Africa, full of alleged "e-waste" and found over 2 years to be 91 percent reused.

And you wonder why you have a bitter blogger?   Make someone give up his friends, and after he painfully separates from them, because of the racial profiling he cannot overcome, then go ahead and say he's still tinged by them.  See how that goes over.

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