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My lecture for the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy (http://www.culturaldiplomacy.org/academy/index.php?en_conferences_three-piece-puzzle-2011_speakers)

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  1. 1. Ladies and Gentlemen, your Excellency, dear conference participants,<br />I would like to thank our host, H. E. Amb. Lyobomir Nedkov Kyuchukov (Bulgarian Ambassador to the UK) for hosting today’s proceedings. Also thanks to the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy for organizing this auspicious conference in what is clearly emerging as the world’s cultural capital, London.<br />My name is Jan van Weijen, I am the Head of the Department of Dutchness (Public Diplomacy, Press and Culture) of the Dutch Embassy in London. I have worked for the Dutch government in a number of places including Shanghai, Copenhagen, Bucharest and Lagos. I have worked in the private sector in Egypt and for an International NGO in Geneva. <br />As a practitioner of public & cultural diplomacy I can tell you from my own experience how thrilling it is to be here in the most cosmopolitan city in the world and to work on a daily basis with the best the world has to offer, today including you.<br />My slot as the last speaker and before the drinks is sometimes referred to as the death spot. Although no insult to your endurance and intelligence, I am aware of the limitations and will therefore use your time with all possible means to keep you on your toes. It will be lively enough. I will take you all over the world, using my personal knowledge of peoples and places.<br />The subject is ‘A global culture of cities and social media’. My first question is – who of you does have a facebook account? Secondly, who is on twitter? Thirdly, who has a Smartphone?<br />Many of you and that reflect your age and your being here. If you want to tweet use my @janvanweijen<br />So let’s start the lecture. I begin with some general observations on culture.<br />Slide 2 – culture can be very contagious.<br />Culture happens, it is like a virus that spreads and touches you in some ways. You can be receptive to it and soon the effects will be noticeable, if you have some resistance it will take longer and it usually will sneak into your world through your subconscious systems. There is no stopping unless you avoid contact.<br />Slide 3 - Cultural exchange thrives on personal contacts. Nothing beats personal contact to convey the virus. Understanding is physical and makes us realize that cultural differences are often perceived and similarities are apparent. <br />Slide 4 - The longer the contact lasts the more persisting it will be. The more personal the deeper the effects.<br />Slide 5 – 7 Now I will exemplify this with a real storey. It started with a Dutch ship ‘De Liefde’ – Love, washing on a Japanese shore in 1600. I don’t know who of you has seen the American series Shogun, based on the novel by James Clavell. It gives a nice background to the struggles of the Japanese to adapt to foreign cultures. A power tussle emerges between Catholic Jesuits and the Japanese military establishment. Also between the protestant Dutch and the Catholic Portuguese. This struggle finally ended in all foreign nationals except for the Dutch being interned at the artificial island of Deshima in 1636 followed by their total expulsion from Japan in 1641. After they had left the Dutch were sent to Deshima and could not leave this island but by a Dutch vessel. The Dutch were not allowed to learn Japanese. An army of 100 Japanese interpreters was used for communication between Dutch and Japanese. <br />Slide 8 – 10 Trade is a way of being infected subconsciously with another culture. The Dutch for example ordered porcelain produced in Japan with Dutch motifs. The Japanese started to depict the Dutch and vice versa. Through the body itself, we are all human after all, Dutch knowledge of anatomy and medicine was sought and this opened the floodgates of western knowledge into Japan through the Dutch language. Books were translated and used for tuition. This was called Rangaku, the Dutch learning.<br />Slide 11 – 13 This exposure left a lasting legacy, clearly visible in Nagasaki, but also in trade. The Dutch electronics firm PHILIPS has very close contacts with Japanese giants like SONY introducing since 1980 new formats for digital audio and video, from CD to Blue ray.<br />Slide 13 – 18 I am taking you across to China now. The silk trade had for centuries linked China with the West giving ample opportunity to exchange other items than goods only. The adventures of Marco Polo are commonplace in Europe. He vividly described the enormous wealth of the Chinese court and their fantastic way of organizing such a great nation.<br /> Harbours are also a natural point for intercultural contacts. I have lived and worked in Shanghai and personally experienced the cultural difference between Shanghai and other Chinese cities. Shanghai was after the first Opium war in 1842 opened to Western influence and governance. This lasted for over 100 years and the legacy remains. Even after the cultural revolution in China that – in my own words, wiped out the Chinese cultural hard disk - Shanghai’s spirit is laced with Western culture. When China reopened in the 1980’s it designated ‘special economic zones’ along the coast for trade and investment from outside, a bit like the treaty ports in 1842. This created up to today a huge difference between the savvy cities on the coast and the Chinese hinterland. Go 50 kilometres west of Shanghai and you are transported 500 years back in time. No running water, no electricity. My map of Starbucks penetration is exemplatory. By the way, Starbucks itself brought an entire new culture to China, hang out with Friends (like the television series) and enjoy your coffee with complementary wifi.<br />Slide 19 – 21 Railways were for a century the new Silk routes. They criss-crossed the planet and for the first time connected inland cities with easy access to the world. Early air travel did the same thing but due to its costs it was reserved for the rich and business people. Yet air travel managed to overtake all other means of international transport after 1945. As shown in the statistics, already in 1957 transatlantic passage was taken over by air transport.<br />Slide 22 – 25 The true revolution in mass transport arrived in London on 22 January 1970 with the first Boeing 747 operated by PANAM from New York. Cost came down and travel boosted people’s experiences of far places. First mainly between Europe and the US, but as the airport statistics show, now also the Asian airports are high in the airport top 20. This of course also reflects the internal travel, but is also because of a dramatic increase in intercontinental flights. The development of planes like the Airbus 380 shows that for transport between continents the only way is up! Some suggest this development will give rise to a new breed of cities, the new type of city whose layout, infrastructure, and economy is centred on an airport, offering its businesses speedy connectivity to suppliers, customers, and enterprise partners worldwide. And of course with a very international population.<br />Slide 26- 30 Having established that contacts between China and the world have increased manifold over the last 20 years it is now time for me to give you some proof of the pie. Yes, cultural exchanges have followed the trade trail and there is no other place on Earth to find proof of this than in Edinburgh. With its 12 Festivals Edinburgh is every year since 1947 the cultural home of the world in August. The Festivals are the world’s third ticket selling event, only surpassed by the World Football Championships and of course the Olympics. This year saw a notable influx from China with performances of Shakespeare in a Chinese way. It gave ample opportunities for cultural diplomacy and of course also for criticism for allowing China to dominate the scene. Please note as well that the London high street is getting some new kids on the block!<br />Slide 31-36 Twenty years after the popularisation of mass transport a new revolution took place. Interconnectivity through ICT –Information and Communication Technologies. TV and international telephone had been around since 1950’s but due to cost and centralized programming could hardly be categorized as leading to a revolutionary increase in international personal contacts. The internet changed all of this. Introduced in the 1980’s and commercialized in the 1990’s it offers in 2010 its services to one quarter of the world’s population. This feat is only rivalled by the mobile phone that has now a reach of 2/3 of the world’s population. In 1998 the internet was mainly centred on North America, Europe, Japan and Australia. In 2008 one can say that only the bulk of Africa and some central Asian states lag behind. The same goes for fast internet, nowadays almost a must. Still within countries the difference between rural and urban is very noticeable. There are also cost and speed concerns. As in 1998, still North America, Europe, Japan and Australia have an advantage with the cheapest and fastest internet.<br />Slide 37-40 Combine broadband, wifi and smart phones with personal contact and you have social media. We all know facebook, twitter and other ways of communicating and sharing information with a group of friends and followers. It has delivered what mass transport could not do. Instantaneous and continuous personal contact no matter where you are as long as there is connectivity. So as long as you are at a location offering (free) wifi and you have a Smartphone, pad or laptop, all your contacts are at the tip of your fingers. With voice but also video over internet a virtual contact almost feels real. Increased speeds will certainly bring 3D experience soon. This has changed the ball game. Now everybody can get into contact with whoever. Friends can be made through shared interests, ways of life or studies. Culture spreads more fluently and instantaneously. Nothing can beat physical contact but virtual contacts are as close as one can get. Through social media you can extend your personality into cyberspace thus leaving ample options to find people with whom you share something dear. This crosses boundaries and cultures and makes us focus on what we have in common as an individual. To most of us here that will not leave us shell shocked but for some it is a threat. <br />Slide 41-44 Just some examples of how the Department of Dutchness in London and other advanced Dutch government bodies are reaching out to you.<br />I say that all these developments will give rise in the next 10 – 30 years to a global culture of cities and social media where differences are more articulate between those who are connected and who are not.<br />