TORONTO - Here on the far side of the world, they're not talking about Nepal anymore. They were, at the time of the palace massacre. It was a global soap opera with a bloody finish, and that was that. But now, as the kingdom's rough patches get rougher, no one knows, or cares, about the place.
In Canada's largest and richest city, all is gloom and doom. I daresay Nepalis would welcome the opportunity to get depressed about something so seemingly trivial: Toronto's failure, for the second time in a row, to convince the world's sporting elite to stage the Olympics here. It was a jolly little romp, the attempt to get the games. Toronto and the Canadian taxpayer reportedly coughed up $78 million, putting together a bid, wining and dining International Olympic Committee members and generally lobbying like mad. All the while ignoring the steady momentum that was building behind Beijing, Toronto folk deceived themselves into a future full of sport and significance, even better than the magnificent Sydney games last year.
There were laughable moments. Toronto's brash and sometimes unwisely outspoken mayor put his foot in it. He told a reporter that he was looking forward to a trip to Africa although his wife wasn't. "She has visions of us simmering in a cauldron of boiling water while the natives dance around, getting ready to eat us," he said. On the surface, it's a racist statement or at least a perpetuation of a ridiculous stereotype and it may have helped more than a few developing countries decide not to back the Canadians. I prefer to believe that the mayor meant no harm but must really work on getting his sense of humour in step with the times.
Far more pernicious was the Toronto media's subtle racism in their one-dimensional view of China as opponent for the Games. Now understand that all-or nearly all-is fair in the tussle for the right to host the Olympics. I have no personal problem with talk of human rights records and air pollution in Beijing, as ways of leveraging your own bid. But the liberal elite in Canada is often insufferably smug in its political correctness and quickness to spot racism in others. Those highly tuned discrimination dectectors were switched off during the Games debate.
With few exceptions, Canadian journalists painted China as a monolith of worker ants, dutifully following their leaders and waving red flags in unison every time a show of strength was necessary. Even the celebrations in Beijing, which I saw as a generation of young Chinese ecstatic that their country was getting some international recognition, were, it was reported, staged, mannered, slightly stiff and stilted. There was no reporting from the white-hot business capital, Shanghai, little effort to talk to youth or Chinese athletes, no perspective on how China is changing under immense social and economic pressure. And none of this is to say that human rights and liberal values don't matter; they do, but every picture has a thousand stories, to paraphrase an old Chinese proverb.
Canada is also threatening to increase its foreign aid budget. I say threatening because my views on the topic of promiscuous development spending by rich countries are well known to readers of this column. If the Canadian Prime Mininster were to ask my opinion of his plan to improve his country's reputation with higher aid budgets, I'd offer one or two thoughts. Send fewer "experts" to developing countries, to live their lives at the expense of the taxpayer and the locals. Listen to the aid recipients before showering them with promises, aforesaid experts and projects that benefit a tiny slice of the population, usually already at the top of the social ladder. But he hasn't asked, so I haven't told him.
One thing that's clear to me, here in the materially rich West, is that the worsening problems of one little Himalayan country don't mean a hill of beans in this crazy world, not to those who live here, in great comfort and general ignorance. Aid spending, global soap operas and occasionally overbearing neighbours aside, Nepal is on its own. Which isn't a bad place to start...