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The Burning Desire To Possess The Present Moment

The world is changing and we are forgetting.

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“I think you realize something is no longer going be what it was. It creates a burning desire to possess the present moment, as a deeper immersion into what it is now, or in an effort to memorialize it. In the case of this film, it was the former.” -Shevaun Mizrahi on her film Distant Constellation.

This pretty much sums up what I do. I began traveling in the early phases of the globalization era, and it was clear that universes all over the planet were in transition. The old ways — cultures and traditions built up via gradual change and abrupt upheavals over centuries — were becoming faint memories, exchanged for the international culture. Cities were being demolished to be rebuilt to look like every other city. Our tools for communication and work were becoming standardized. The world was becoming same-paged, very, very quickly. And people rarely give a shit for what they have until it’s almost gone.

So I documented change and transition, eventually falling upon the new city topic which I’ve been running with for the past six years or so. The new city epitomizes this change. Millions (yes, millions) of villages and rural towns are rapidly being wiped from existence and replaced with uber-modern cities that look just like every other city in the world that will be populated by the same people in every other city in the world.

I like to hang out in the liminal zones between these two universes. The places where modern high-rises pop up out of traditional villages. The places where skyscrapers rise up from farming towns. The raw conspicuousness and contrast here is startling. The miasma is spreading and everyone knows that they will soon be consumed. But life goes on, business as usual.

I don’t oppose the miasma. Rather, I’m fascinated by it. It’s something that has never happened before on this scale. Cultures go through phases of mixing together, absorbing elements from each other, and riding a stretch down the same line, only to split off again and go their own way. The world comes together just to break apart.

But this leaves me with the burning desire to possess, to document, the present moment.


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Filed under: Essays, Globalization, New Cities

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3722 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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