"Africa Town," Guangzhou, China

"Africa Town," Guangzhou, China

This is Guangzhou. A sprawling megacity of 13 million people in Guangdong Province, southeast China. It's near neighbor to the south, Shenzhen City has another 13 million. 18 miles from there is Hong Kong with 7 million more. This region is predicted to eventually form a virtually unbroken urban corridor that would absorb a total of 11 existing cities. If it were organized as a single municipality, the "Pearl River Delta Megacity" could have a population as high as 80 million people. A city this size seems unfathomable but the 21st century globalized economy has facilitated an unprecedented mass migration from all parts of the world to the planet's major urban areas.

Guangzhou, at the heart of the delta, perhaps offers a glimpse of what life might be like in the planet's future urban mega regions.

The level of industrialization and urbanization in the Pearl River Delta is already striking. Taking a train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou and simply looking out the window reveals very little remains of the natural world. This was the first part of the People's Republic of China (PRC) to reopen to the outside world after the isolationist decades of the Mao era. I1978 an experiment in market capitalism began here in the Pearl River Delta. It was a huge success and the same economic reforms were eventually extended to the rest of the country. With this shift in policy from ideological to pragmatic, in 30 short years the perpetually struggling socialist state transformed into the world's second largest economy and a rising global superpower. 

The land area that now constitutes the PRC is one of the oldest continuously inhabited regions in the world and Guangzhou has a long and rich mercantile history within it. It is today the third largest city here and a key international trading center. Much of the flow of manufactured goods from all over the country begin the journey to the far corners of the earth here in Guangzhou's wholesale markets. In the west, the city has historically been known as "Canton", a name extended to the entire region to distinguish Cantonese language and culture from the rest of the mainland. During the era of European expansion into Asia, Canton was the only Chinese city granted the imperial right to trade with the west. It consequently became China's key point of contact with the outside world and one the most important international trading centers of the day. It also became the flash point for several conflicts with foreign powers, the outcome of which shaped China's path through the 19th and 20th centuries. Present day Guangzhou continues this legacy but in a 21st century globalized context; an increasingly international and cosmopolitan city struggling to adapt long standing cultural and political norms to the new reality.

With the industrial success of the region, Guangzhou now one of the richest cities in China; alive with the activity of commerce and an entrepreneurial spirit thats unique on the mainland. It's the land of opportunity where anything is possible, not just for those well connected to the political elite but also for poor people arriving with nothing. This has made it a major destination for migrants in search of a better life; people not just from China's poor rural interior but from distant places with no historical or cultural connection to China.

Unexpected places like the countries of West and Central Africa.

During China's economic boom of the 1990's, buyers from all over the world in search of low cost goods began pouring into Guangzhou. The post-colonial, developing countries of Africa proved an ideal market for China's cheap, mass produced wares and since the 80's bilateral trade has increased 700%, making the China-Africa economic partnership one of the biggest in the world. As African traders spent more and more time in the city, many found better opportunities for them than in their home countries. Some built successful businesses and became wealthy, some opened restaurants, some married Chinese women and had kids. Despite the difficulty of emigrating to an authoritarian country with neither the need nor the desire for foreign migrants, some decided to call it home. 

There are "officially" 16,000 people of African origin living in the city of Guangzhou. The umbrella term "African" is used but it includes citizens from many different countries including but not limited to Nigeria, Mali, Congo, Guinea, Senegal, and Angola. This number is problematic as it comes from a Chinese government census done in reaction to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa and to dispel public rumors there were several hundred thousand Africans residing in the city. This government has no history of transparency and no real reason to be honest so any information it provides should be treated skeptically. Most independent news outlets that have reported on this have reported a similar number, more or less 20,000 though some much higher, but because of the nearly half a million African business people flowing in and out of the city annually, the true number of long term residents within this transient population is nearly impossible to track. Some of these traders are on short trips, some will overstay their 30-day visa, some may end up staying for good but very few will obtain the legal residence permit. The population statistics are inconclusive but are also largely beside the point. What's most interesting is that for the first time ever there's a large, undocumented foreign community living on mainland China.

In this country's long history, it's never been a destination for foreign migrants. Quite the opposite, its people have long been leaving in successive waves and establishing Chinese communities literally all over the world. Guangzhou's "Africa Town" is the first and only community of its kind in the PRC and also the largest African community in all of Asia. Unauthorized, unintended, and unwanted; a consequence of China's expanded trade relationship with Africa. It's been a strange novelty both for the Chinese citizenry, historically unaccustomed to the presence of foreigners as well as for government authorities who've been at times laissez faire but also acted with xenophobia and discrimination. It's a brave new world for everyone in this story.

Why Guangzhou?

The city is thoroughly modern by international standards with a world class airport, extensive rapid transit system, and an impressive Central Business District that's a monument to the wealth flowing through here. Despite being founded in 200 BCE, it is essentially a new city as the construction boom didn't begin until the 90's. Because of the Pearl River Delta's massive industrial footprint, Guangzhou isn't just the region's business hub but also one of the most polluted places in China. The omnipresent dead gray haze in the air obscures the countless construction cranes littering the horizon. It's just an aspect of life here, and as I discovered, not unlike many other Chinese cities. Given the vast majority of people in this country have never left, they know nothing better. Many don't even realize how poisoned the air and water really is. This country is developing at unprecedented speed and the environmental price has been massive, the true long term consequences yet to be realized.

The 1.4 billion citizens of the PRC make it the most populous country in the world. Public spaces such as this pedestrian shopping street in Guangzhou as well as train stations, airports, and food courts offer a taste of the reality of life in an overpopulated country; the endless and overwhelming flow of people pushing past each other, going about their business in a million different directions; the dizzying cacophony that accompanies it. Asia's megacities are an experience unlike any other.

Guangzhou and other cities of its size require an efficient means of moving around millions of people and its ever expanding Metro is now as extensive as New York City's. This is an impressive fact considering construction didn't begin until 1995; another example of China accomplishing large, complicated infrastructure projects in a fraction of the time it would take in western countries.

China's growing middle class has taken to western style consumerism with great fervor. A good number of these people have the memory of the chaos, poverty, and hunger of the 60's and 70's so disposable income is a relatively new concept. Those looking to flaunt new found wealth have made China one of the biggest markets for luxury goods in the world. Rich cities like Guangzhou feature many outlandish shopping malls selling boutique brands at prices higher than in the west. Expensive consumer goods are a status symbol the world over but in China this seems especially true. Here, the Asian Culture of Face is perhaps strongest and one's social standing is of paramount importance. Luxury clothes and cars are a popular way to show everyone else that you're doing well in the New China.

Since 1978 the PRC has contradicted its founding ideology and evolved its own version of market socialism. These economic reforms are credited with lifting hundreds of millions of people out of dire poverty. Despite this, the wealth disparity here today is one of the most striking in the world. In the densely populated cities, luxury skyscrapers ring decaying, poverty stricken slums. The contrast is extreme but by no means unique to China. Evidence of the growing gulf between those at the top and those at the bottom is an all too common feature across the developing world and arguably the developed world as well. 

It's said that if China is the world's factory then Guangzhou is the showroom. The city pulses with the activity of people from all over the world buying and selling everything from pre-paid phone cards to exotic endangered animals. Even sidewalks become impromptu markets and restaurants where traders haggle and make deals over a bowl of noodles. It gives the city a fun and lively atmosphere that's a far cry from the menacing seriousness of Beijing and the weird sterility of Shanghai. 

Refurbishing and reselling used cell phones is a key businesses in Guangzhou. When a phone is stolen or even returned to a US or European carrier for an upgrade, it will perhaps eventually end up at the Shengxian Dashatou Secondhand Market, one of the biggest sources for wholesale refurbished electronics in the world. As much of Africa lacks the infrastructure for landlines as well as the money for new devices, it's the biggest market for secondhand cellphones in the world. Many of the Africans now residing in the city first came on purchasing runs, packing as many used phones as can fit in two suitcases to resell back home. This business is a big part of the Africa-China connection but change the word "cell phone" to "T shirts", "textiles", or "auto parts" and this is the story of Guangzhou's foreign traders. Not just from Africa but from the Middle East and other places in the developing world; there's a great deal of money changing hands here and men are drawn far from their homes hoping to get a piece of it. 

Traders in the city on both short trips and longer stays typically live in the Yuexiu District near Xiaobei Road. Before the arrival of the Africans, this part of Guangzhou was home to muslim migrants, Hui and Uyghur peoples, from China's western provinces. As the neighborhood already had a decidedly ethnic vibe and plenty of halal restaurants, it was a natural place for the newcomers to settle. Today it's the most ethnically and culturally diverse part of the city, if not all of mainland China.

Guangzhou is a tangled maze of elevated roads and transportation infrastructure. Near the Xiaobei Metro stop is Baohan Straight Street, the heart of "Africa Town". The pedestrian bridges leading into the neighborhood are their own microcosm of commercial activity and a telling cross section of the city's increasing diversity.

While China's immigration policies have made it difficult for Africans to acquire the residence permit, some well established business men have successfully brought their families over and there's now a sizable number of young people growing up here and studying in Guangzhou's schools. In addition are children from mixed marriages born here with full Chinese citizenship, creating a completely new paradigm for the PRC's categorically rigid system of ethnic classification.

A cohort of single men coming and going on business doesn't make for a solid and lasting community. However the addition of spouses and families, establishing businesses, houses of worship, and community organizations indicate a group with no intention of leaving. A real community like this grows organically over time and despite the lack of approval by the Chinese authorities, it has happened in Guangzhou.

Government propaganda is easily identified by a bold, red typeface on a bright blue background. These socialist slogans are found all over the country, reminding citizens of the virtues of the state and their civic duties. This sign near Baohan Straight Street espouses the "ethnic harmony" of the PRC, depicting the country's 55 recognized ethnic groups standing together. The "Harmonious Society" is an ancient Confucian ideal still held deeply here and one continuously exploited by the ruling Communist Party. However to accept this notion, one must first completely disregard the separatist movements in the western provinces, suicide bombings in Xinjiang, and buddhist monks self immolating in Tibet. This government has been extremely effective at controlling the flow of information and ensuring that their version is what's widely regarded as the truth. While the Han Chinese make up the overwhelming majority, non-Han people together number over 200 million; a sizable population but in the context of China, just a drop in the bucket. 

"Africa Town" is Baohan Straight Street and it's a place unlike anything I've seen in China or anywhere really. It's like a giant scoop was dragged across the entire third world and dumped out here. It's poor, it's raw, and it's real. People not just from Africa but from all over China and all over the world pack the streets buying, selling, haggling, cooking, and eating. Because of the rather precarious existence of this place within the PRC, there's a palpable feeling of distrust in the air. A sense that many of those milling around don't wish to be seen or discovered. 

Hui people, Mandarin speaking muslims who trace their ancestry back to Silk Road traders, were on Baohan Street first and today run many of its restaurants and businesses. China's ethnic minorities have a complicated status that varies wildly from group to group. Most are "free" to live by their own culture and use their own language though this essentially excludes them from mainstream Chinese society. Religion is discouraged in the officially atheist PRC but it can be practiced in heavily monitored, state sanctioned houses of worship; religious festivals and observances must be approved in advance. Some minority groups are not subject to the unpopular One-child Policy so are allowed large families that only the wealthiest and most politically connected Han people can have. This has led to a somewhat factionalized society with groups largely sticking to their own regions and their own communities. Anything outside the mainstream makes the Communist Party of China very nervous; particularly religious and ethnic identities. Cultural and political norms such as these have made the African's situation here all the more difficult. This is not a country where outsiders can seamlessly integrate.

Muslim Uyghurs from China's far western Xinjiang Province have also made a home in the district. Xinjiang, or East Turkestan to the indigenous Uyghurs, is one of the county's most troubled regions. Ethnically Turkic, they have more cultural and historical connection to their Central Asian neighbors than to their Chinese countrymen. This has created a strong nationalist sentiment in which many refuse to participate in any aspect of Chinese society; using only their own language and pushing back against efforts to suppress their religion and cultural identity, sometimes with violence. It remains a remote and isolated island within the PRC and the Xinjiang Conflict has "officially" claimed 2500 lives since the 1980's. 

On Baohan Straight Street, Uyghur men teach their boys how to butcher a sheep in the middle of a city of 13 million.

Some of Guangzhou's African residents find cheap housing in the "Urban Villages" scattered throughout the Yuexiu District like Sanyuanli seen here. These impossibly dense neighborhoods are a unique result of China's out of control, unplanned development. As the economy began booming in the 90's, urban areas blindly expanded in every direction and once isolated rural villages gradually found themselves completely surrounded by city. Never properly integrated, these clusters of low slung huts were transformed into senseless mazes of precarious multi-story structures built so densely that remaining accessways are sometimes only a few feet wide. 

The sun can barely reach the ground in some places making Sanyuanli damp and dark year round. Beyond the lack of fresh air and sunlight, some of these Urban Villages have the other problems typical of high density housing like inadequate infrastructure and sanitation, drugs, crime, and prostitution. Despite this seemingly low quality of life, they provide vitally needed affordable housing for China's estimated 140 million transients, migrants from the rural interior who float from city to city in search of work.

Many men of Guangzhou's African community are on expired visas so the fear of deportation is very real. Some stay off the streets during the day, coming out at night when a run in with the authorities is less likely. Because of their unpredictable situation, there's a great deal of distrust in this community towards outsiders. I had a very hard time getting anyone to speak candidly with me and for good reason. Eventually after eating in the same restaurant every day I was able to meet a people willing to talk but only under the condition of anonymity. Had I been able to stay longer, in time they may have opened up the fullness of their world here; the underground churches, bars, and social clubs.  

This unique community's long term future in the People's Republic of China is uncertain. The country's draconian immigration policies are more concerned with managing its own population of 140 million internal migrants than foreigners seeking the right to live and work in the country. With economic success comes internationalization and there are now "officially" 600,000 foreigners residing legally. This is the smallest percentage of foreign residents for any country in the world. Preference is given to the business class so it's difficult for those without professional credentials to obtain it. This is evident in the expat communities of Beijing and Shanghai; comprised mostly of people who will stay in the country for a few years on business, diplomacy, or education and are not likely to stay for good. As most are lacking educational degrees or a professional track record, those in Guangzhou's African community wishing to reside long term usually do so illegally.

Because of their legal status, the community has been subject to discrimination, random passport checks, deportations, and occasional clashes with the police. In 2012 a Nigerian man died in police custody after being detained over a taxi fare dispute. This resulted in hundreds of Africans assembling in confrontation at the public security office. In a country that does not tolerate public protest or dissent, incidents like this have resulted in significant racial tension here. It's not an easy life but for many, there are better economic opportunities in China than in their home countries. There's little incentive to leave.

In African business hubs like the Shengxian Cell Phone Market, the reality of their life here is evident in reminders that they have no rights and can be detained at any time, for any reason.

"Aliens can't work in China without residence permit", "Aliens over the age of 16 are subject to passport check", etc.

At the same time Africans are living in China without rights, there are now supposedly one million Chinese nationals living and working on the African continent. The extraction of Africa's rich natural resources has been awarded to Chinese state companies in exchange for the construction of badly needed infrastructure. The irony is that just like during Africa's European colonial era, infrastructure wasn't built for the benefit of the native people but to move resources out of the country. Even the work constructing these large projects hasn't been done using the large and available pool of local labor but instead with hundreds of thousands of workers imported from China. Country to country, the African people appear to be benefiting very little from these imbalanced agreements.

Are China's activities in Africa the goodwill of a rising superpower looking to strengthen its ties abroad or is it economic neocolonialism where an overpopulated and environmentally devastated country is building its future home? This is a very controversial topic with compelling arguments for both points of view. 

As a research aid, I'm indebted to the amazing blog, Africans in China, written by Roberto Castillo, a cultural studies scholar who spent many years in Guangzhou researching this topic. I was hoping to link up with him while I was there but we just missed each other. Of all the fascinating things I encountered in Asia, this really piqued my interest. After learning of its existence, I backtracked hundreds of miles to Guangzhou in order to research and photograph China's "Africa Town". There's so much more to this than what I've been able to present here, the other side being the situation of the Chinese living in Africa. This is a remarkable story waiting to be told properly. A near perfect case study on globalization and the unexpected consequences of disparate societies colliding and becoming intertwined.


Megacity: New Delhi

Megacity: New Delhi

The future of humanity is decidedly urban. Today nearly half of all people worldwide are living in cities and it's projected this number will increase to 70% by 2050. Compared to a global urban population of 34% in 1960, 14% in 1900, and only 3% in 1800, these statistics suggest the human race is currently on an exponential mass migration to our planet’s cities.

This large scale population movement has resulted in the relatively new phenomenon of the “Megacity," a metropolitan area with a population of 10 or more million people. In 1950, New York City became the world’s first megacity. 65 years later it’s population has doubled to 20,300,000 and there are now two more megacities in North America - Los Angeles and Mexico City.

As of 2015 there are a total of 36 global megacities; 23 are in Asia compared with only 5 in the Western World. This is to be expected as Asia holds the bulk of the global population. The economic potential alone of all these people makes the prediction of the Asian Century, wherein cultural and political dominance shifts west to east, extremely likely. The engines fueling this growth are its megacities.

This topic of global "mega urbanization" is one of my key interests and I've traveled in 17 of the planets's 36 megacities. I want to know, "What are the present and future challenges facing the planet’s super populated urban areas?" 

Much of this large scale urbanization is found in the developing world where it's happening at unchecked speed and with little long term planning. The logistics of managing such large populations and areas becomes increasingly difficult for governments, especially those prone to instability and corruption. Other immediate, tangible problems include pollution and sanitation; increased pressure on food, water resources, and infrastructure; social problems such as human trafficking, exploitation, poverty, public health, and basic quality of life concerns. Beyond this are problems likely to result from climate change and likely to be an even bigger existential threat than the problems at hand. The true human and environmental costs of a city of 20 or 30 million have yet to be fully seen. 

India is a developing country of 1.25 billion people. It has 6 megacities of its own including the capital, New Delhi, metropolitan population 26.5 million. It faces serious hurdles in its development. As a British colony it was exploited; systematically dismantled and agriculturalized. Post independence its population has quadrupled, its environmental record has been poor, human development low, and until fairly recently, stagnant from decades of adhering to a planned Soviet style economy. Massive regional differences in ethnicity, language, culture, values, and religion make governance and policymaking even more challenging in an already endemically corrupt system. Reforms made in the 1990's have improved environmental policy and spurred numerically impressive economic growth but widespread extreme poverty remains an undeniable fact of life here.

The Indian government defines poverty its own way but the World Bank criteria is any individual living on less than 1.25 USD per day. 33% of the total Indian population is currently living at or below this line and many hundreds of millions more at levels not substantially higher. As the economy has grown and diversified, a broader middle class has emerged however remains relatively small at 150 million out of 1.25 billion people,

Delhi is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and is projected to become one of the largest. It provides an excellent case study for the 21st century megacity as many of the problems of dense urbanization are here in plain sight. With many millions dwelling in slums or living on the street, it offers a window into the realities of extreme poverty. Also, as a capital city, the visible wealth of the political and business elite makes for a striking contrast between those who have nothing and those who want for nothing. 

The city is big, dirty, and occasionally threatening. The human condition is on display here in a way unlike any place I've ever been. The initial shock of those first few hours after arriving alone here is something I'll never forget. The overwhelming chaos and filth of its streets; people approaching me so aggressively and shamelessly trying to get money. Lying to my face. My first night in town I lay there, thinking, "What have I done? I can be back in Thailand in four hours." I ended up staying for two months.

"New Delhi", "Old Delhi", to the locals it's all just "Dilli". Here's the old part of the city seen from the rooftops. On the ground below is a tangled network of crumbling 14th century alleys, filthy mud streets, and the true signature of all Indian cities: the endless crush of people, vehicles, and animals. Nothing can really prepare you for it. The air quality in Delhi and in much of the north is a major problem. Unlike neighboring China whose abhorrent air is mostly from industrial coal burning, here much of the urban haze is dust from unpaved roads and smoke from millions of small cooking fires. The only other city I've been in with air this bad was Beijing and there too it's not uncommon to go many days without seeing the sun. This is subconsciously troubling and environmental factors affecting psychology such as this are in my opinion, major quality of life issues.

Trash fires are a common feature of Delhi and are a major contributor to the city's poor air quality. The refuse in the streets is a readily available fuel source for small cooking and warming fires. Seeing people burn garbage in the streets was one of the first things that struck me. Nowhere else in Asia do you see so much of this as in India. In the city or countryside, there's always something burning.

This is an open air "men's room" on a Delhi street. India's public health and hygiene problem is so big it's difficult to comprehend without seeing it yourself. The lack of proper sanitation, particularly in slums, is the main reason so many have no other option than to relieve themselves in the open. Piles of rotting garbage along with human and animal waste contaminate municipal water supplies across the country. This has been directly linked to India's chronic problem of underweight children, affecting nearly half of all kids under the age of 5.

People pissing everywhere is the other thing first time visitors to Delhi are likely to notice. Public urinals aren't uncommon but apparently there aren't nearly enough. I sensed an attitude that the city is already so dirty, adding a little more makes no difference so who cares?

This is a uniquely Indian solution to Delhi's public urination problem. In places popular for pissing, locals have covered the walls in these small tiles depicting sacred images of the world's religions. Many people here are quite religious and as no one would choose to piss on their god, this little preventative measure has been surprisingly successful. Here Krishna, Jesus, and Ganesh all narrowly avoid being splashed together.

There are no pastures for Delhi's urban cows so they eat from garbage piles and receive food offerings from those looking to improve their karma. Cows are sacred animals to Hindus so they're neither killed nor eaten. Instead they're free to roam where they please and occasionally make their way into odd places like train stations and indoor markets! Their owners let them out during the day to wander the city in search of food and at night they meander back home. Though we have little experience with them in the west as they're regarded as nothing more than a future hamburger, they're actually very sweet and intelligent animals with a lot of personality. Comparatively cows in India have a very charmed life but once their useful milking or breeding days are over, they're abandoned to die a natural death. India's cities are filled with not just cows but dogs, goats, monkeys, pigs, horses, and the occasional camel or elephant. The waste from all these animals is everywhere and another factor contributing to the public health and hygiene problem. 

The Jama Masjid Mosque is the main focal point of Old Delhi. This structure and the neighborhood around it date back to the era of Shah Jahan, the Muslim ruler who built the Taj Mahal and many other architectural treasures of the north. India's cultural heritage is endless and an entire lifetime could be spent exploring it. There are several other parts of the world with equally long histories but what makes India unique is that it's so remarkably well preserved. Not just ancient structure still in use but cultural practices alive and largely unchanged since before anyone even knows.

Many, but not all, Hindus maintain a vegetarian diet. For Muslims, the main dietary restriction is pork. Because cows are sacred to Hindus and pig is forbidden to Muslims, the meat that's available in India is typically goat or chicken. Butchering animals and preparing meat is often the work of Muslims and is sold from behind curtains so as not to offend passing Hindus with the sight of dismembered animals. Age old customs such as this are evidence of the millennia long and occasionally precarious coexistence of faiths here. But this same coexistence is what defines the place; Muslims, Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Christians of all ethnicities along with cows, pigs, dogs, birds, rats; everyone and everything piled on top of each other and somehow making it work. It's remarkable.

Beggars and hustlers are just part of the experience traveling in India as they form the front line of the endemic culture of poverty here. As a western visitor in Delhi, you can count on being harassed for money pretty much from the time you leave your hotel to the time you return. Babies and children as well as people who've been intentionally disfigured are commonly used as a ploy to get sympathy and thus more money. Being constantly confronted with such tragedy is mentally and emotionally challenging but it's just the way it is here and has always been.

The true population of Delhi's homeless is unknown but their numbers appear to be vast. At night, people will be seen sleeping in parking lots, under road blocks and on traffic islands; almost any place that can accommodate a reclining person will have one or several. At least in a slum there's a roof over your head but if one is unable to afford even that, the street is where they'll make their home. 

These young kids are "Delhi street boys"; unwanted and homeless, many have developmental problems but are lucky enough to find themselves at Salaam Balaak Trust, a non-profit where they can live in safety for up to 6 months. It's hardly a paradise; they're locked inside this cold, damp building and sleep on thin mattes in the same room where they study. The Trust is not an orphanage so is only able to keep them for so long. After their time is up here, they may be moved to another care facility, back with an abusive family, or possibly out on the street where glue sniffing, petty crime, and those who prey on the vulnerable await. This organization offers a "Street Kid Walk" where a rehabilitated youth guides you through a slum, telling their story of being homeless in Delhi. Needless to say the experience just rips your heart right out. The situation for India's homeless kids is absolutely devastating. 

Glue sniffing is the plague of India's poverty stricken youth. Offering a cheap and readily available escape, kids who show the signs of abuse are commonly seen like this boy in a village in nearby Uttar Pradesh. He looks far older than he probably is. 

Delhi cops are the most notoriously corrupt in India so many crimes go unpunished here. Government jobs like the police are some of the most desirable in the country as the work is stable, relatively well paid, and includes opportunities for "extra income". The culture of corruption is certainly not unique to India but is an acknowledged aspect of life here. 

While Delhi exemplifies many of India's widespread social and environmental problems, it's still a city like any other; full of normal working people just going about their business. The bustling streets are busy open air markets selling cheap and tasty food, goods of all kinds, and a variety of services, even medical.

This man's red turban identifies him as an "ear cleaner", which earns him 3 or 4 USD per day. Some traditional occupations such as digging wax out of people's ears are still caste based and generational. This man's father cleaned ears as did his father before him. Though it's illegal in India to discriminate against low caste people, the system itself is a part of the culture and hasn't gone anywhere. It's a challenging topic to research as it's not well understood by the outside world and many here aren't terribly comfortable talking about it. Almost everyone in this country is likely to be a member of any number of social, cultural, economic, and religious classifications. 

Here, a friend I met in Delhi takes a leap of faith letting the ear cleaner work his craft. He's doing this without the assistance of a flashlight and removing horrifying amounts of deep buildup through his sense of touch alone. From a western perspective it seems crazy to let a random man on the street stick a long metal pick in your ear but this is India and necessity has meant finding creative ways to earn a living.

A Delhi street "dentist". They can fit you for dentures, pull a tooth, fill a cavity, and I'm sure would be happy to attempt some light oral surgery if you're feeling brave.

This is a barber shop set up in a parking lot. India's genius for making it work with whatever's available is seen all over Delhi. I got the worst haircut I've ever had here which inspired me to buy a pair of shears and just shave it all off. Then again I got exactly what I paid for with my 200 Rupees (3 dollars). 

Drinking hot spice tea, or "Masala Chai", is a big part of the street culture in not just Delhi but all over India. Cheap and nourishing, it's made by boiling lots of black tea with fresh ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, fennel seeds, black pepper, sugar, and fresh whole milk. When it's made well it's super strong, creamy, spicy, and sweet. An abundance of caution should be exercised eating or drinking anything on the street here. One of my worst bouts with food poisoning was actually from masala chai!

Delhi's expanding Metro is clean, modern, and cheap. It's a major point of pride for the city, efficiently connecting tough inner-city slums with the affluent, gated "residential colonies" of the south side and posh satellite cities like Gurgaon. This city is very spread out and after I grew weary of fighting with cab drivers, I took the Metro often. It's really quite an impressive public transit scheme.

Most of Asia's megacities are inundated with western brands and part of what feels so unfamiliar about Delhi is the noticeable absence of this. For a city of 26 million, Delhi in many ways offers little of the convenience typically found in a city of this size. Seen here is one of only two Starbucks in Delhi proper, and perhaps the only Starbucks in the world with a metal detector and pat down. The lack of westernization here is refreshing in some ways but it also suggests the lack of base of those able to afford it. Lattes at western prices aren't in the family budget for most. 

This is Khan Market, one of a few upscale shopping areas in central Delhi. Catering to diplomats and wealthy Indians, places like this are where western goods are available. The further south one travels, a very different city begins to emerge. 

Many of Delhi's affluent "colony" neighborhoods have guards and gates with restricted hours. Walking around in places like this I was treated with great suspicion. Statistically speaking, Delhi is a very dangerous city that currently holds the shameful title, "world rape capital". As an able-bodied man, I felt threatened at times and I do not recommend solo females travel here. There are just too many desperate people and with inadequate law enforcement, there's little stopping someone with nothing to lose from trying something bad. If you called this city home and you were able to afford it, clustering with other wealthy people and building walls around yourselves is a legitimate safety measure. The rich separating themselves from the poor is by no means unique to Delhi though and is sadly pretty much status quo the world over! 

India's rail network is one of the most extensive in the world and train travel is a big part of the life here. Public places like New Delhi Station seen here, are where visitors get a real sense of just how populous India really is. Trains are used by everyone; rich and poor, all castes and creeds vying for the same cramped space. 

India's official population is 1,252,000,000 but is still growing and by 2025 is projected to overtake China's population of 1,350,000,000. 10 short years from now, there will be another 1 billion of us worldwide. Many of these people not yet born will live in megacities. Delhi, by then could be the biggest city in the world but hopefully one with an improved quality of life for more of its inhabitants



Dogs of India

dogs of India

With 1.25 billion people, India has an absolutely massive human population. Prior to coming here, I was expecting to find visual evidence of this but the one thing I hadn’t considered was the seemingly equal amount of domesticated animals roaming the streets. Monkeys, cows, goats, pigs, chickens, donkeys, horses, camels, elephants, and the staggering number of stray dogs. With numbers no less than 30 million, there are more semi-feral canines in India than anywhere else in the world. They're found in any city, town, or village, and roaming in packs in remote rural areas. Because of the sheer volume of the dog population, 36% of the world’s rabies deaths are in India; 20,000 per year will die out of the 35,000 documented infections. This is a public health problem of massive proportions. 

Prior to British colonization and the arrival of other dog breeds, the most commonly found canine on the subcontinent was the ancient, indigenous Pariah Dog, also known as the Pye Dog or India Native Dog. While generations of interbreeding have left the Pariah Dog mostly mixed today, this guy I saw in Delhi exhibits many of the physical traits

While the name refers to an indigenous Indian breed, "Pariah Dog" has come to encompass all street dogs here. This name also suggests a scavenger species largely regarded as a threat or nuisance and living on the fringes of society. Their connection to people is ancient though, one of the oldest in the world, and many dogs are put to work as guards in slums in exchange for food. As with other animals here, people have traditionally just left the dogs alone but this neglect is part of the problem. The colonial solution was to round them up and kill them. As of 2001 this is now illegal but without a real policy in place, the problem of stray dogs attacking and infecting peoples remains largely status quo. 

For a scavenger species, the large amounts of exposed garbage found all over India provide an abundant food source. Slums are the biggest refuse producer and as long as human beings are living without access to proper sanitation or waste disposal, there will always be large numbers of stray dogs. 

Two dogs can multiply into three hundred within three years so sterilization is a more humane approach. Cities such as Jaipur and Mumbai have been successful in their programs to neuter, vaccinate, and return animals to their territorial areas. This keeps other dogs from coming in and breeding. The neutered animals will eventually die naturally and reduce their overall numbers. Implementing similar measures on a national level has yet to happen.

All across developing Asia, it's becoming rather posh by the middle and upper classes to keep thorough-bred dogs and it's no different in India. Even so, the average visitor is more likely to see street dogs in a wretched state rather than loved and well cared for animals. Letting a dog live in your house and be a member of the family is a relatively foreign concept in this part of the world. In my experience with dogs in India, most seemed pretty docile; afraid of humans and trying to avoid them. Even if food is offered, they're very skittish. A dog's life here is not an easy one.