Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Mumbai / Bombay Dabbawallahs

Popeye's Pekinese Palak: Documenting the "world wide web" of stuff is fun, but it takes long years of research, filled with intervals of serious contemplation! As evidence, I present two photos. The first is of "Popeye's Fried Chicken" in Beijing, taken by me in 2001 (you know the place, it's right next door to "Kenny Rogers' Roasters"). The man in the Popeye suit is Chinese, of course, but that doesn't matter. The second photo, from 2006, is of one of Mumbai's (Bombay) famous dabbawallahs, the guys who deliver thousands of hot lunches in "tiffens" throughout the city to people who wouldn't be caught dead eating American fast food. Notice, however, the detail of the red lunchbag --- it's Popeye! Big deal, you say? Well, if you ask me, these two pictures suggest that at the very least, there are important nuances to globalization. As I marveled at China's new wealth and the replacement of Chairman Mao's images with those of Colonel Sanders, I asked myself: "Who am I to tell Chinese my age (or anyone for that matter) that they 'shouldn't' be eating American fast food?" While my family was happily/unhappily gobbling up the benefits of life in post-war suburban America, these people were getting rotten teeth and stunted growth from three years of national mass starvation! As for the lunchbag --- probably made in China? What's inside is more important. And people in India knew the virtues of spinach millenia before the muscle-bound sailor made his appearance in our comics and cartoons. I think. Now I have to do some research to find out where spinach was first cultivated and consumed...

A 9/11 artifact for the Smithsonian?

I might as well share one of my prized artifacts from my collection of global flotsam and jetsam. I hope this one may earn me some retirement income someday, when I sell it as a "collectible" on eBay. That is, unless the salt leaches out of the soy sauce through the cellophane and it self-destructs through some chemical process of which I am ignorant. I shall not divulge just how many of these fine perishables I have in my artifact warehouse, so as to not adversely affect their ultimate market value! Anyhoo, as my Viennese shviggermutter says, it's one of those "who'dda thunk it" sorts of things that help me to make my point. About intersections between the local and the global, that is. It came from a fine local Fujianese takeout, one of gazillions, but this is the one that made local headlines a few years back: "Chef Charged With Spitting in Food."