London’s seamy side revealed in new exhibition

London has always had an underworld, a dangerous side. Just go out late on a Saturday night and you’re sure to see a fight. For many, the hint of danger is one of the city’s attractions, at least if you don’t have to deal with it full time.

Back in the 18th and 19th century, there was nothing attractive about the St. Giles Rookery. It got its name because tiny apartments were stacked atop one another like birdhouses. Only the poorest of the poor lived there–the beggars, the prostitutes, the gin addicts. Especially the gin addicts. Gin was a national addiction, a cheap way to get blasted. Gin addiction was immortalized in Hogarth’s engraving Gin Lane, showing a drunken mother accidentally knocking her baby over a railing while a tradesman hawks his tools and a man hangs himself within view of an uncaring crowd.

Hogarth was no teetotaler. He liked a good drink, as his engraving Beer Street shows. It’s the same scene, gentrified. Industrious drinkers of real ale prosper and flirt in clean, attractive surroundings. It must have seemed like heaven to the denizens of the Rookery.

A new exhibition by the Museum of London looks at the lives of these nearly forgotten people, thanks to an excavation the museum sponsored at the site of the old Rookery. London’s Underworld Unearthed: The Secret Life of the Rookery features finds from the excavation along with contemporary and modern depictions of this Hell on Earth.

The finds remind us that these were real people living here. Children’s toys, simple crockery, and trick glasses used in drinking games give us a glimpse of their lives, and the gin bottles hint at how many of them died. The modern art, created by Jane Palm-Gold, draws comparisons with today’s urban blight. The permanent collection at the Museum of London is well worth a visit too in order to get a better understanding of one of the world’s most fascinating cities.

The show runs until June 3 at the Coningsby Gallery.

[Hogarth prints courtesy Wikimedia Commons.]

Slum tours in Jakarta now operating

An Indonesian tour operator, is now offering tourists the chance to see the ‘other’ side of Jakarta – a side tucked away from the sprawling shopping malls and 5-star hotels.

Jakarta Hidden Tours is advertising 3 different separate routes through the slums, allowing you to “explore Jakarta with a local and see how the majority of people live, work and raise their kids”.

Poverty tourism” has come into the spotlight since the release of Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire.

Robert Finlayson, from Volunteering for International Development from Australia, helps run the tours and believes that the tours help social understanding. “Guilt is like pity, it stops you from seeing people as they actually are,” Finlayson was reported as saying. “What we wanted to say is…People are the same all over the world.”

Head of the Jakarta Urban Poor Consortium advocacy group, Wardah Hafidz, disagrees. “”It creates more problems for us than it helps,” Ms Hafidz said. “If you come with money then it’s a complete language of money. It doesn’t develop the understanding that they (the slum dwellers) are powerful, that they can help themselves.”

What do you think? Should tourists support this type of travel?
[via AFP]

Slum Tourism

Having produced one of their very first travel pieces, I was very pleasantly surprised to see the recent deal between Current TV and Yahoo. Good for them. I have to confess that I rarely watch Current on channel 102 here in NYC, since so many of the pieces are agonizingly hard to watch, especially if you’re like me and don’t really like hip-hop all that much. That said, there are many gems among the hours of programming they feature, and I’ve always hoped they’d do a deal with someone like Yahoo or Google so you could select and watch specific pieces that get rated or passed around on the Web. So here’s kudos to Current and hopes that they keep on gong strong.

And here’s to Current as well for doing a great little story on Slum Tourism. When I was in Bombay, India two years ago, I made a special trip as a journalist to the Dharavi slums on the outskirts of town. This was a soul-slapping experience. The rancid sprawl of this slum, Asia’s largest ,went on forever and ever, as if it was a rank, wrecked city all to itself. And amazingly, while I was there interviewing one of the city’s administrators about the state of the slum, I ran into several tourists, walking around and shooting photos of people who lived in the slum. I hadn’t thought much about it at the time, but what I saw was exactly what they talk about here: slum tourism.

Is this an awful sign of the growing divisions of wealth in the world or an unsurprising reflection of human nature … that is, there have always been forms of slum tourism around, where the rich leave the comfy confines of their lives to “see how the other half lives.” I tend to believe the latter, but I could be wrong.