I’ve got a travel story in today’s New York Times. It’s about how Bangkok’s legendary Khao San Road, long a meeting place for backpackers, now offers a variety of upscale amenities.
Simon Romero had an excellent story in the New York Times yesterday about Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, fighting to defeat the high-altitude soccer ban I mentioned recently. I particularly like the lede (as well as the delightful image, above):
Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, donned a green jersey the other day, watched a llama sacrifice for good luck and flew to a snowy spot nearly four miles above sea level, where he scored the winning goal in a brief match pitting him and his aides against a group of mountain climbers.
It was a textbook lesson in Andean political theater, and the perils a globalized sport can meet when it comes up against a small country’s nationalist passions.
On the surface, Bolivia’s president was simply staging an amusing stunt to fight a ban on international soccer games at altitudes above 2,500 meters, or 8,200 feet.
It’s well known that Mr. Morales will play soccer against virtually anyone, from the foreign press corps to local squads in the hinterlands, to let off steam, and recently broke his nose doing so. But in fact, the ban, enacted last month by soccer bureaucrats in Switzerland, played right to Mr. Morales’ trademark populism, and gave him an opportunity to act as a unifier of his otherwise fractious country.
“Bolivia’s dedication to soccer cuts across the deep dividing lines in the country, which are economic, racial, regional and ideological,” said Jim Shultz, a political analyst in Cochabamba, in central Bolivia. “Fighting the ban is great domestic politics.”
A friend of mine who’s studied politics in neighboring Ecuador once told me that he felt the Ecuadorian national football team was the single greatest cohesive force that the nation has working in its favor. The game trumps race, class, politics — everything.
Two related books that I recommend highly: “How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization,” and, in the case of Bolivia and its “market dominant minority,” “World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability.”
On this map, East and West Germany are next to each other, as one would expect. But Romania’s closest neighbour is Armenia? And Poland and India are side by side? Well, this is not a straightforward geographical map, but a cultural one. It plots out how countries relate to each other on a double axe of values (ranging from ‘traditional’ to ‘secular-rational’ on the vertical and from ‘survival’ to ‘self-expression’ on the horizontal scale). This makes for some strange bedfellows – for example: South Africa, Peru and the Philippines occupy almost the same position, although they’re on three different continents.
Here’s a great IHT story by Somini Sengupta about outside influences creeping into Bhutan.
Once, Bhutan guarded itself from the world outside so ardently that it allowed in satellite television only seven years ago. Today, globalization is officially sanctioned, and it is rushing in fast.
Today, at least here in the capital, outside and inside coexist.
Tall white prayer flags grace the side of a hill as offerings of good will to what Buddhists call sentient beings, even as the naughty rhymes of Snoop Dogg throb at the disco.