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The New Road: long before the highway was digital March 18, 2015

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.
When we’ve grown up with roads, we take them for granted and have no idea what life was like before.

When we’ve grown up with roads, we take them for granted and have no idea what life was like before.

Before we went to live for a couple of years in Malaysia, we spent a couple of hours with an elderly Canadian lady who had been a missionary in the mid 1960’s. We talked about some of the changes she must have seen in that time and she told us how she had been proudly taken out and shown the new road.

I didn’t ask the right questions to picture it fully, and perhaps some of those who were children then can now read this blog and correct me,  but I caught a glimpse of what it might have been like…

Forest had been cleared, the ground made level, drainage included to ensure most of it didn’t wash away with every storm. It might even have been paved. For a while it didn’t quite go anywhere, wasn’t quite connected, but it went in the direction of the city and you could go in that direction faster and safer than anyone had gone before. It began to make new things possible.

We’ve grown up with roads. We take them for granted. We complain about them. And we have no idea what life was like when a journey that takes an hour on a good day, and two on bad day, took a day in the olden days.

Roads mean you can sell things in the city, work and earn money to buy things you’d never have had a use for before. They broaden your horizons and give you the chance to meet and get to know new people. New people who don’t know all the people you know, don’t do things how you do, who talk a bit funny, in a different accent with a few words you’ve never heard before, or in a completely different language. If you want to talk to them in their town you have to learn to use their language or a different language that they’ve learned to use to talk and to trade with strangers.

Roads mean that things change, that people move away, or move back and bring city ideas with them. Sometimes the birth of a road system means the decline or even the eventual death of a language. It takes time and for a while people (or at least young people) hardly notice. The elders get older and the old ways blend with the new or are left behind. That’s progress. That’s what some call it. And that’s just roads.

As more people used the roads from the rural villages other things started to happen and change. First it was people coming back with stories, then it was the outside world breaking in with radio, and then TV. There are millions of people who now have a satellite dish but still no plumbing. They can get the latest shows from the US or reruns of 1970’s sitcoms at the touch of a button but still can’t get clean fresh water at the turn of a tap.

And now people have phones and data, or internet cafes, and the world is available in a deluge of information, news, views, wise education, and all the best and worst of what the world watches. Things are going to change and change faster than when the roads came. That’s what some call opportunity and some call a threat. Some will embrace change (good and bad), some will fight against it, some will grow richer, some poorer, and some will be able to tell the difference.




1. JennyG - April 10, 2015

This is a true story – in more than one location and time. We heard a similar one from some European translators that occurred a couple decades later.


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