Sword to the Stomach: Seppuku and the Case of Altruistic Suicide

by Bramantyo Indirawan

If you ever watched a samurai film , you probably would have seen harakiri – a suicide act by thrusting a dagger or short sword to oneself for the purpose of retaining honor after a defeat or shameful doing. The earliest harakiri recorded in history took place in late 12th century, committed by Minamoto Tametomo, a samurai, and Minamoto Yorimasa, a poet. Although still practiced during World War II, harakiri was officially ended in the late 19th century in the Meiji Restoration period.

Samurai, Seppuku and the Bushido code

In Japanese samurai movies like “Harakiri” (1968), and the relatively popular Hollywood production called “The Last Samurai” (2003), we can see the depiction of a samurai taking their own lives by disembowelment. Spectators in a temple, house, or prison watch as blood gushing out of the swordsman who lives by the code of bushido.

In pain but pride, as the samurai perform this disembowelment, a man called kaishakunin swings his sharp edge blade from behind. In mere seconds the samurai is dead. It is important that the kaishakunin have to slash the samurai’s head without beheading it so that the attached head would make the samurai look bowing down. So precision is what makes the kill “delicate” as it is deadly.

This honorable act that the Japanese preferred to be called seppuku distinctly belongs to samurai, a warrior caste who lives by the sword. Honor itself is a lofty human value; this brutal yet elegant way of suicide is an attempt of a man who wants to uphold the honor for himself, his family, and his clan.

When committing seppuku, after stabbing the dagger into his abdomen the samurai then makes a left to right cut of roughly 25 centimeters wide; they believe that the spirit resides in that particular area. This privilege also shows bravery and he posthumously earns respect.

High ranking authorities from daimyo Oda Nobunaga (1582) to the War Minister Korechika Anami in World War II (1945) chose to end their own lives by belly ripping for atonement. To an extent, seppuku can be seen as a form of suicide, but “honor” as a part of cultural values is a determinant factor in this sacred act.

Although the samurai caste no longer exists and seppuku seemingly vanishes in modern Japan, there are cases indicating that this ritual (at least its spirit) is still practiced. One example, the Olympic medal winner judo athlete Isao Inokuma took his own life by the sword in 2001. Although the public views the event as an anomaly, his act certainly resembles seppuku.

As mentioned in my previous article The Freedom of Taking Your Own Life, there are specific reasons why someone ultimately decide to commit suicide. In this case, what are the basis of enacting seppuku in Japanese life?

Seppuku and Altruistic Suicide

Based on the altruistic suicide theory by Emile Durkheim, we can reason that seppuku happens because of strong social integration in the Japanese people, especially the samurai caste. In a book entitled “Le Suicide” (1897), the French sociologist said that when a person kills himself it is not because he assumes the right to do so but, on the contrary, because it is his duty.

If a man fails to fulfill his obligation, he is dishonored and also punished. In the case of seppuku, when a samurai enacts the infamous disembowelment, he actually protects not only the honor of himself, but also others’ such as family and society.

“Man has become detached from society, he encounters less resistance to suicide in himself, and he does so likewise when social integration is too strong,” said Durkheim. The individual personality has little value, a state he called altruism.

When a person has integrated himself to a society, community, or group, they will follow certain societal values. In this process the individual can cease to exist and become a part of something she or he chooses. But in social integration, other people often choose for us. A child born from a samurai clan is most likely to inherit and exercise the bushido values.

Modern time seppuku varies in its implementation, and in certain events seem unrelated to duty and honor. In the case of the Olympian Isao Inokuma, the reason behind his suicide remains unclear. The Olympic gold medalist turned businessman lived a relatively successful life with no visible problems; it would make no sense if he committed seppuku due to his failure. So when a powerful thrust of the sharp blade ripped his own stomach, perhaps it was neither tradition nor high integration in society that caused his action, but rather due to his own ego in a low level of social integration that may lead to depression or sense of meaninglessness as Durkheim put it.

It is a matter of perspective in seeing the modern times seppuku. Does Isao Inakuma feel defeated or ashamed of himself? No one knows what goes inside his head when making the ultimate choice to end his life.

Yes, the 100 year old theory that Durkheim proposes is limited to the relationship of men that seemingly dwarfs the existence of cultural manifestation. Although the majority of Japanese society has left some of the old ways, few people still think highly of them.

If we put culture as the basis of seeing this phenomenon, then we can see an individual with personal perspective in seeing cultural manifestation such as seppuku. No one can tell a person what to do, what is right or wrong. A combination of belief, values, customs, and traditions can push people to put a blade into his stomach may it be in the 20th or 21st century.

Seppuku throughout the years

As mentioned earlier, the samurai caste was abolished in 19th century by the government in the Meiji Restoration. One of the 5 main articles written in the Charter Oath that was issued in 7 April 1868 affirms the abolition by stating that base customs of the past shall be abandoned, and all actions shall conform to the principles of international justice.

With this new law, seppuku is automatically banned but apparently doesn’t stop it from happening. Nogi Maresuku, a general in Russo-Japanese War period, for example, still practiced this ritual even after Emperor Meiji passed away. Another example, at a much later time, was the seppuku committed by General Korechika Anami who felt dishonored after the defeat in World War II. Such sacred disembowelment strongly suggests the “strictness” of the social integration in the Japanese life.

If we look at samurai in the past as a warrior, we can also see the General as a warrior of the 20th century. Battling enemies with weapons different from a sword, his spirit as a warrior still lives inside him and others shown by the enactment of their ancestral and past customs.

The manifestation of a sacred ritual still exists even though it is different from the original form. In the case of Korechika, a kaishakunin wasn’t present, so a proper seppuku that was enacted by the samurai long before World War II was not met. There are more examples that practice different ways in retaining honor that prove seppuku is obsolete.

In 2011, Prime Minister Naoto Kan resigned after the events of earthquake and tsunami. The failed attempt to lead a nation resulted in dishonor, and immediately followed by his stepping down. It’s not uncommon for a Prime Minister to do this. In 2008 Yasuo Fukuda resigned after considering himself incapable of unlocking the deadlock in domestic politics. Shinzo Abe, the current Prime Minister, also once resigned from the same job in 2007.

Different from the above examples, a seppuku style was taken by a Japanese writer Yukio Mishima who committed suicide in 1970 after a failed attempt at taking over a military command post. He criticized the military and fading traditions in front of Japan Self-Defence Force (JSDF) but the coup was responded with angry troops who shouted at him.

Realizing the speech had failed he then went inside the General’s office and committed seppuku, just like a samurai would in protecting his honor after a defeat. While his intestine spew out of his stomach, one of his followers slashed his head, acting like the modern day kaishakunin.

It is said that seppuku in modern Japan only happens in Kabuki theater, but there are proofs showing that it exists in every day life. Seppuku is arguably still relevant to Japanese in this modern time as cases of belly ripping rituals are literally continued to be practiced. Bushido may have faced a new era, and may have taken different forms, but it retains its spirit in upholding duty and honor.

It is important, however, to differentiate the belly ripping and the culture of resigning in Japan. Those who commit seppuku are gone forever because they have gone to the afterlife. Stepping down or resigning from a duty, on the other hand, doesn’t transfer oneself to the world of the dead. Both actions are about honor and duty, but they are different in results when it comes to their lives.

Through the altruistic suicide viewpoint, cultural reasoning, or other means we can see that suicide is not limited to depression and the sense of meaningless. It can be a philosophical choice that concerns himself, family, and society that intertwine with culture.



Source: Emile Durkheim, Le Suicide (1897), Andrew Rankin, Seppuku: A History of Samurai Suicide (2011), Ancient-origins.net, Britannica.com, Newyorktimes.com, Quod.lib.umich.edu, Uchicago.edu.

Climate Change vs. Economy

Environmental deterioration and extreme weather are real, the facts and figures are too obvious to be dismissed or neglected. One of TV commercials says, ”Nature does not need people; people needs nature.” For the sake of economic growth (and wiping out poverty), the world still seems to continue to abuse nature and pollute environment. So what is your take on this issue?


How Fashion Adapted to Climate Change – In the Little Ice Age

by Lane Eagles, University of Washington

One could say the consequences of the planet’s warming climate can be seen on fashion week runways and the shelves of Anthropologie and H&M. Silhouettes shrink as midriffs and backs open. Sheer fabrics, breathable textiles and flowy draping are in. And in response to climate change’s rapid pace, some corners of the fashion industry are moving toward implementing sustainable business practices and incorporating more flexibility within their designs.

Today people may see global warming as a modern phenomenon, but fashion has a long history of responding to worldwide climate change.

The only difference is that while we sweat, early modern Europeans froze. The Little Ice Age was an interval of erratic cooling that ravaged the Northern Hemisphere roughly between the 14th and 19th centuries. And like today’s designers, Renaissance fashion designers were forced to contend with shifting temperatures and strange weather.

A menacing chill settles on Europe

Scientists have yet to determine the primary cause of the Little Ice Age, and historians are still pinning down its exact chronological parameters. But voices from the era describe a rapidly cooling climate.

“At this time there was such a great cold that we almost froze to death in our quarters,” a soldier wrote in his diary while traveling through Germany in 1640. “And,” he continued, “on the road, three people did freeze to death: a cavalry-man, a woman, and a boy.”

The entry was from August.

Scholars do agree that the Little Ice Age impacted our shared global history in myriad traceable ways. Its unpredictable temperature fluctuations and sudden freezes devastated harvests, escalated civil unrest and left thousands to starve. It may have inspired the menacingly chilly settings of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” and Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” Darkness and clouds haunt the skies of paintings created during the period.

And the Little Ice Age also altered the history of fashion. As the cold ramped up in the 16th century, fashion championed warmer styles: Heavy drapery, multiple layers and sleeves that trailed on the floor became more common across the visual and material record, while examples of the oldest surviving European gloves, hats, capes and coats from the era populate museum costume collections today.

“No one in Egypt used to know about wearing furs,” a Turkish man traveling through northern Africa wrote in 1670. “There was no winter. But now we have severe winters and we have started wearing furs because of the cold.”

Staying fashionably warm

This change can be observed by comparing medieval and Renaissance dress.

In one French medieval manuscript (illustrated between 1115 and 1125), the knight’s skirt is slit to the hip, and his squire’s hemline stops above the knee. There are no capes, fur or headgear; the garments are light and loose – especially compared to what men wore 400 years later, when the Little Ice Age was in full swing.

Take Hans Holbien’s iconic 1553 painting “The French Ambassadors,” which depicts two courtiers to King Henry VIII. The man on the left, wearing thick, dark velvets and a heavily fur-lined overcoat, is the French ambassador to England, Jean de Dinteville. Georges de Selve, the bishop of Lavaur, stands on the right.

Hans Holbein’s ‘The Ambassadors.’ Wikimedia Commons
The cleric has donned a floor-length coat befitting his godly station. But it would have also been very effective against cold. Both men sport fashionable caps and undergarments. The laced collar of De Selve’s undershirt peaks above his robes, and those white slashes in de Dinteville shiny pink shirt show off his hidden layers.

As with all portraits from the era, these men dressed to impress for the sitting – meaning their fanciest clothes were possibly their warmest.

A c. 1545 portrait of Catherine Parr. Wikimedia Commons

Women’s clothing also had to sustain temperature fluctuations that tended to range colder during the Little Ice Age. In a 16th-century portrait of Katherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII, Parr wears a headdress and a multi-layered gown with billowing sleeves.

Several petticoats would have been required to sustain the bell shape of her skirts. If you look closely, you’ll see a thin, translucent layer of fabric that shields her exposed skin where the neckline ends. Meanwhile, a large fur mantle – at the time, an essential accessory – is draped over her arms.

A removed opulence

New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has a surviving collection of clothes from the late 16th century, some of which could point to the cold’s influence on Renaissance clothing.

For example, one Spanish dress is outfitted with a cape atop the thick fabrics that make up the bodice, skirt and stacked sleeves. Beneath this densely layered gown, the wearer would have also needed to don several tiers of skirts and undergarments.

A late 16th-century Spanish ensemble features thick fabrics. MoMA

A British lady’s jacket from around 1616 also may hint at cold weather. Tailored from linen, silk and metal, this tight bodice probably kept its wearer very warm. (Early modern clothing often featured cloth-of-gold thread, which was made from actual thin strips of gold metal and painstakingly wrapped around sewing thread.)

Portraits and preserved garments from the Little Ice Age tend to have one thing in common: They are all the pictures or products of elites who enjoyed the means to have a likeness made of themselves. Their wealth is evident in the very existence of these images and the expensive clothes they wear.

Knit wool caps are perfectly suitable for fending off freezing temperatures, but the wealthy women of the era instead opted for elaborate, pearl-lined headdresses that trailed yards of gauzy veils.

Their opulence ignores the various crises of the era. While countless peasants were displaced from their homes and died from starvation or rampant disease, the rich simply transitioned to sable-lined sleeves and mantels threaded with gold.

It’s dangerous to oversimplify historical narrative. But the parallels to our current situation are hard to ignore. Climate change is a looming threat, with deep social and political ramifications.

The ConversationYet for many, it remains a distant phenomenon, something that – beyond buying lighter, looser clothing – is easy to dismiss.

Lane Eagles, Ph.D. Candidate in Art History, University of Washington

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Loving Vincent

The World’s First Fully Oil-Painted Film

[Jakarta, LTTW] “We cannot speak other than by our paintings” is a sentence from the last letter written by Vincent Van Gogh himself, which later inspired painter and film director Dorota Kobiela to create Loving Vincent, the world’s first fully oil-painted film about Vincent Van Gogh’s final days.

Derived from re-imagination of 94 Vincent Van Gogh’s original paintings; the filmmakers produced over 65,000 frames of oil paints on more than 800 canvases for the film. “Everything was a painting on canvas”, said Hugh Welchman, co-director of Loving Vincent.

They shot the film with real actors in live action combined with Computer Generated Layout Animatic as reference materials. The recorded film was then handed over to Painting Design Team, which consists of over 80 painters working at studios in Gdansk and Wroclaw. This team of painters meticulously turned each frames into a thick, expressive brushstrokes and colors mimicking Van Gogh’s painting style. Each frame was painted over and over for the movement of the shot.

“No tracing, no nothing. The opening shot, where we come down from Starry Night, took six hours per frame to paint. So you’re talking about two weeks to do a second. It might have taken 20 weeks to paint that 10-second shot – you’re looking at half a year of someone’s life”, said Welchman. Ten minutes fully oil-painted film is great, but for one and a half hours, it is breathtaking – especially when we are in the middle of technological advancement era.

That’s why the filmmakers didn’t just succeed in making fully oil-painted animation, but also pushed the boundaries of filmmaking by combining conventional technique with today’s technology. Another thing that needs to be well-pondered is that the film story was created based on the interpretation of Van Gogh’s paintings and letters, thus the filmmakers must also interpret each paintings and letters, and how one relates to the other. This is the reason why Loving Vincent leaves us flabbergasted.

Loving Vincent’s Official Trailer via Youtube

According to its official website, Loving Vincent took more than 6 years to complete.

The movie was released on September 22, 2017 in the US, followed by screenings and events in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) until early 2018.

If you’re still curious about how the film was made, you shouldn’t miss the Loving Vincent exhibition at Noordbrabans Museum in Den Bosch, Netherlands. The exhibition runs until January 28, 2018.


Sources: Loving Vincent Official Website and The Guardian

In Jakarta, Solving Problems with New Tech Tools and People Power

Foreword from Listen To The World

Is digital technology the solution to our problems? Big cities around the world have been overwhelmed with new, ever increasing problems, especially in developing countries. The problems are varied: unbearable traffic congestions, air pollution, corruption, poor societal integration, lack of trust, and identity crisis. For that, we need solutions.

With today’s technological advancement, it is only right if those cities turn to technology to solve their problems. One of the cities is Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia.

 Jakarta makes use of the digital technology to answer various problems. It has created e-budgeting, e-musrenbang, e-ID, and so on. The question remains, however, if this advanced technology is really the way out of it.

The data of e-budgeting and e-musrenbang (digital platform of budgeting and development planning) are stored online to ensure transparency, making it available for all to see. Beside making budgeting and planning efficient, this technology is also believed to be able to prevent corruption. It’s a good solution, but is it enough?

On the other hand, Singapore remains the only Asian countries that made the list of top ten ‘corruption-free’ countries in the world without the use of e-budgeting system.

Perhaps e-budgeting could eliminate the chance for corruption, but it is still questionable whether it would change the corrupt mentality. The e-ID Card project in Jakarta is the proof.

Another digital application created by Jakarta City Administration is Qlue, a platform through which people of Jakarta can submit their complaints for any disruptions such as broken roads, garbage problems, etc. – online. It’s a good solution, but is it enough?

Is this application enough to make society more independent in solving their own problems and work hand in hand to look after their own neighbourhood and city? Who knows?

From what we have discussed, we can see that digital technology can only answer a small part of our problems, whereas the real problem lies in our mental state. Can a digital application change our mental state is a question remains to be answered.

Read the article below and let’s try to answer the questions.


In Jakarta, Solving Problems with New Tech Tools and People Power

by Patralekha Chatterjee, Citiscope

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Jakarta often appears in photographs as a teeming metropolis awash with honking motor bikes, buses and cars snarled in traffic. Then there are the deadly floods that frequently befall this megacity of more than 10 million people.

But defying the clichés that surround it, the capital city of Indonesia also is beginning to earn its spurs in urban innovations. What is generating a lot of interest across the country and beyond is web-based planning mechanisms that involve residents in local government’s decision-making process. Citizens are becoming engaged in identifying the city’s most pressing problems and proposing solutions.

Some of Jakarta’s tech tools may sound familiar in other cities. For example, thousands of residents are using Qlue, a smartphone app that lets users snap a picture of uncollected garbage or a broken street lamp, and report it to local authorities. Like “311” services in the United States or Seoul’s “smart complaint” app, Qlue gives citizens an immediate way to tell authorities what needs fixing.

But other solutions are more particular to Jakarta, and seek to engage residents in deeper, long-term questions about the future of their city. One strategy mixes face-to-face meetings at the local level where residents can propose new ideas to city officials, and uses a web-based platform to track whether authorities are delivering on them. Any city resident with a valid city identification card known as a Jakarta ID can propose an idea through the system.

I recently had a chance to see some of these tools and talk to urban planners, community leaders and ordinary citizens about them as part of an international study tour. The city’s participatory planning strategy was one of 15 programmes acknowledged last year by the Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation. A delegation of Asian city leaders and experts visited to learn lessons from Jakarta Smart City, a government agency that partners with the private sector and NGOs on these approaches.

What we saw was a megacity that hasn’t solved all of its myriad woes, but is well on its way to a new bottom-up formula to work at it. Citizen engagement is now seen here as crucial to improving services, improving transparency in government and holding local leaders accountable.

The public’s priorities

The word you hear all the time when you listen to city planners here is musrenbang. It’s the local word for community meetings that happen at the level of Jakarta’s 44 districts and 2,726 sub-districts. These forums have become a primary path for citizens to express concerns and demand better services for their neighbourhoods.

For communities who historically have had little say in local decision-making, merely having a forum for residents to make suggestions directly to local officials represents something of a breakthrough. However, their recommendations often get lost in the city bureaucracy afterward. Residents would have little way of knowing if the city was working on their idea or rejecting it.

So city leaders added a digital component to the process, known as e-musrenbang. Proposals decided upon at the local-level meetings are submitted to city government through the web-based application. It’s the repository of aspirations residents have for their communities — in 2016, Jakarta city government received more than 46,000 proposals from the public.

The platform is also a tracking mechanism, so that the public can easily check on the progress of their suggestions. If the proposal is rejected, local officials must give a reason why. According to Tuty Kusumawati, head of Jakarta’s Regional Development Planning Board, 76 percent of the proposals from the community are accepted, validated and funded for implementation.

This bottom-up process works alongside the more traditional top-down planning and budgeting systems driven by local government agencies, says Andhika Ajie, a planner and analyst with the Province of Jakarta Special Capital Region. “The head of the sub-district should know the real needs of the people,” he says. “The proposals are verified by the sub-district and then the district authorities. The idea is to combine technocratic planning by municipalities with citizens’ ideas.”

According to Ajie, having the Qlue app as a separate platform for handling day-to-day complaints has helped improve the dialogue between residents and planners.

“Previously, citizens used to submit proposals which combined complaints needing immediate redress with long-term demands,” he says. “Now we have separated it. Qlue deals with complaints and the proposals are fed into e-muserenbang. If there is garbage lying around somewhere, all that a Jakartan has to do is to click a photo and report it. Within 24 hours, it will be removed.”

Tracking progress

In Cipete Utara, a middle-class neighbourhood in South Jakarta, residents and community leaders generally offered a positive assessment of the changes.

“The most interesting part of e-musrenbang is that now we can actually track online the status of our community proposals,” says Yostiana Bella Ulfa, 25, who has lived in Cipete Utara all her life. “If any suggestion is refused, we are also told the reasons. If it has been accepted, we can track various stages of implementation.”

She says she was “thrilled” recently when a proposal from the neighbourhood committee to fix a number of streets pocked with potholes was acted upon quickly. “In Jakarta, we use motorcycles a lot, especially in narrow lanes,” Ulfa says. “Commuting becomes a big problem if the lanes are badly in need of repair.”

Yostiana’s father, Iyus Ruslan Said, a 50-year old businessman, heads the local neighbourhood committee. He says e-musrenbang has been helpful in communicating and tracking the progress on the community’s main demands, which relate to repairs of roads, sewers and other infrastructure. “These physical bottlenecks are on top of the mind of most people,” he says.

However, older residents and many community leaders are still trying to adapt to technology, he says. Much more needs to be done to spread awareness of the e-musrenbang process. “The sudden change has been a cultural shock,” according to Said, “because there is a big difference between the process earlier and now.”

Mohammed Yohan, head of the Cipete Utara Sub-District, agrees that it has been a change. But in his view, it’s largely a change for the better.

“Earlier, it was more difficult to track status of proposals to the city government,” he recalls. “We have seen angry community members throwing chairs, frustrated at not knowing the status of some proposals made for benefit of the community. Now any citizen with a Jakarta ID card can track proposals in real time. It is the culture of open data.”

Spreading awareness

Participatory urban planning in Jakarta is not just about technology. It’s also about finding new ways to tap resources and energy in the community.

In Cipete Utara, the sub-district office sits alongside a preschool. Recently, PT. Agung Sedayu, a real estate development company, turned the area next door into a park for children and an activity centre offering classes from dancing to drawing. There’s a small library, three toilets, a lactation room, basketball court and small amphitheatre. The project was part of the company’s corporate social responsibility efforts. It is maintained by the company and the local community.

Inside the complex is something called a “waste bank”. Residents drop off old newspapers, plastic bottles and other trash, and 120 women volunteers who work here turn the waste into toys and craft items.

“Every three months, I hold meetings with mothers who drop by and other volunteers,” says Sri Hastuti Sugiyono, the waste bank’s director. “We discuss what sort of products we should make out of the trash — and which would sell.”

Citizens are the ones who proposed these new facilities, says Yohan. Because the ideas rose up through a participatory process involving not just residents but the private sector and local NGOs, the company and the community found a way to pitch in and make it happen.

Teguh Kurniawan, an associate professor at the University of Indonesia, says the most interesting part of Jakarta’s approach is the direct participation of citizens. “The challenge now,” he says, “is in spreading awareness about the benefits of these innovative measures, spreading the message among the public at large and ensuring that community leaders adapt to technology.”

Kurniawan adds that it’s important to recognize that access to technology and internet connectivity is not uniform across the city — especially in poorer neighbourhoods, there will be teething problems. In addition, since e-musrenbang requires a Jakarta ID to submit proposals, a large number of transient residents aren’t able to use it.

At the same time, Kurniawan notes that Jakarta’s population is mostly literate and that these innovations have great potential to positively impact the daily lives of most city residents.

For tech-savvy younger residents, Qlue is an especially big hit. The app, launched in 2014, came about through a partnership between the municipal government and a local software company.

With Qlue, more and more Jakartans are reporting problems that occur in their neighbourhood in real time by clicking a photo, geo-tagging the location, offering a brief status report. People without smartphones can use SMS.

Yohan points to a street lamp nearby as an example of an improvement suggested through all of Jakarta’s new feedback tools. Using Qlue, lots of residents complained of dark alleys that made them feel unsafe. Using e-musrenbang, they asked for more street lamps — the city has installed more than 600 street lamps in Cipete Utara through that process.

“It was proposed, accepted and implemented,” Yohan says. “In all, there were 119 proposals from residents of this sub-district. All but one were accepted.”

(Travel costs associated with reporting for this story were paid for by the Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation.)