Thursday, December 16, 2010

Out My Window - An Age-Old Problem of Inequality

Bangalore is the fastest growing metropolis and the leading IT exporter in India. The highrises in Bangalore lucidly illustrate Bangalorians’ cultures and lives. Although there are some favorable aspects of highrises, some of the downsides of exclusive development in IT are manifested through them. “Out My Window” project, which introduces many films about highrises of different regions, showed the lives of people living in Bangalore. As I watched the three documentary films regarding high-rise buildings in Bangalore, I came to realize that Seoul, the city where I live, has many aspects in common with Bangalore, in addition to some differences.

A baby named Akshadha and her parents live in one of the high-rise buildings in Bangalore. For Akshadha’s family, the building gives them happiness and pleasure, because they love looking out the window. Through it, Akshadha not only can see the office where her mother works, but also learns how to identify new things, such as monkeys, squirrels, trains, and birds. This pleasure giving aspect of highrises in Bangalore was impressively familiar to me, since I have a seven-year-old younger sister who enjoys looking outside the window of my house. Like Akshadha, my sister learns about nature through the window by observing the river, the mountains, and the sky. The fact that highrises in both Bangalore and Seoul can become the means of education and enjoyment for young children intrigued me very much.

Another striking similarity between Seoul and Bangalore is that both cities, although major economic and cultural hubs of India and Korea respectively, clearly manifest the problem of unequal distribution of income. Unlike the first documentary film that depicted the favorable aspect of highrises, the second documentary film vividly illustrates the dark side of highrises. In the basement parking lots of the high-rise buildings in Bangalore, laundry washers called Dhobis work for thirteen hours a day. Although there is an IT boom in Bangalore, only people who work in IT - 8% of the population – enjoy the privileges of the economic development; the rest of the population has not experienced any wage rises during the economic boom. The rest of Bangalorians hold other jobs, especially in the service industry, catering to this 8%. Only those who work in IT and receive high wages can afford to live in the highrises of Bangalore. Although Bangalore and Seoul are slightly different in that most Koreans live in highrises regardless of their wealth, there are certain highrises in Korea that are considered symbols of wealth like those in Bangalore. For example, the highrise I live in is an apartment named Tower Palace with 69 floors. Most residents living in Tower Palace are wealthy like residents in the highrises of Bangalore. However, just as the Dhobis work for the residents of highrises in Bangalore, sweepers and janitors work for the residents of Tower Palace, providing for a cleaner environment in and around the apartment.

The aforementioned documentary films all presented similar aspects of Bangalore highrises and those in Seoul. However, there were some differences depicted as well. The third documentary film revealed that the construction of the highrises in Bangalore has been in stoppage because of economic recession. In contrast to Bangalore, Seoul has constantly and quickly achieved economic development, thus building great numbers of highrises without any stoppage.

I live on the 32nd floor of Tower Palace, Dogokdong, Gangnamgu, Seoul. The height of my house allows me to obtain a wide scope of view out the window. The wide view of my window fascinates me with so many things that I can ponder upon. Through my window, I can see mountains, a river, and the vast sky. I feel fresh and energized every moment I see these scenes of nature. My younger sister takes pleasure in observing the outside view likewise. She usually likes to see adults and children jogging and walking along the riverside. When it snows, my sister and I can see snow covering up the whole world out the window, and this view makes us lose our words with awe.  

However, there are not only pleasant views out my window. The west side of my window is filled with numerous tall buildings and I feel suffocated by just taking a glance at the view. With only small bits of green, the whole view is covered with cold, dark, and grey highrises. Not only that, but there are also a few tumbledown old shacks I can observe through my window. When I first saw those shacks, I was flabbergasted by the apparent contrast that my house and those shacks exhibited. Furthermore, when I encountered the janitors and sweepers in the hallways of my highrise, I could not help but wonder how much they earn through their work.

Palace is not only the tallest residential highrise in Korea, but also has been regarded as the representation of wealth and luxury. In accordance with this reputation, the building is full of modern amenities, and most of the residents of Tower Palace have occupations with high income. Like Tower Palace, highrises in Bangalore show economic inequality among people. The films that highlighted this aspect of highrises matched with my own experience of seeing the shacks out my window and encountering the sweepers that work for the residents. “Out My Window” project had given me an opportunity to develop more insight into the age-old problems of inequality.

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