Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Asia’s rich are more generous than ever before. A list of recent gifts or pledges:

Donor Country Amount Favorite Causes
Li Ka-shing Hong Kong $6 billion Education, health
Jackie Chan Hong Kong $65 million Performing arts
John Gokongwei Philippines $200 million Education
Huang Rulun China $56 million Poverty relief
Yu Panglin China $250 million Eye operations
Anil Agarwal India $1 billion Education
Rohini Nilekani India $37 million Schools, clean water

Helping to drive this movement are the highly publicized activities of the Gates Foundation and the staggering generosity of Warren Buffet, the U.S. investor who announced in June that he would ultimately give nearly all of his $44 billion fortune to the Gates organization. Buffet’s announcement seems to have had a snowball effect. In July Indian-born mining tycoon Anil Agarwal pledged to give $1 billion to help build a world-class university for his native country, telling TIME, “India desperately needs to improve education … [And] what is the point of money if it’s not made to be given back to society?” Hong Kong actor Jackie Chan said that he would bequeath half his wealth to help Asian youth. In May, Forbes named Chan as one of the world’s most generous celebrities in a list that included Bono, Paul McCartney and Oprah Winfrey. And Li Ka-shing, long one of Asia’s biggest donors, revealed at a press conference on Aug. 24 that he plans to give one-third of his fortune, now estimated to be $18.8 billion, to his own charitable foundation, which he called “my third son” (in addition to his two children, Victor and Richard). (TIME, September 11, 2006, pp. 42-43)

At a press conference today with Former President Bill Clinton Richard Branson today committed to dedicating ALL future proceeds from Virgin's transportation companies - airlines, trains, etc. - to bio-fuel initiatives aimed at reducing the use of fossil fuels and fighting global warming. He estimates this will bring approx. $3 billion dollars to the global warming fight. The company is working to develop jet fuels that are environmentally friendly, enzymes to break down prairie grasses into ethanol, and other efforts (seeingtheforest.com)

Four and a half millenniums ago, ancient Egyptian kings built monumental structures that seem to stand the test of time. By some accounts:

The largest and most famous of all the pyramids, the Great Pyramid at Giza, was built by Snefru's son, Khufu, known also as Cheops, the later Greek form of his name. The pyramid's base covered over 13 acres and its sides rose at an angle of 51 degrees 52 minutes and were over 755 feet long. It originally stood over 481 feet high; today it is 450 feet high. Scientists estimate that its stone blocks average over two tons apiece, with the largest weighing as much as fifteen tons each. Two other major pyramids were built at Giza, for Khufu's son, King Khafre (Chephren), and a successor of Khafre, Menkaure (Mycerinus). Also located at Giza is the famous Sphinx, a massive statue of a lion with a human head, carved during the time of Khafre.
Pyramids did not stand alone but were part of a group of buildings which included temples, chapels, other tombs, and massive walls. Remnants of funerary boats have also been excavated; the best preserved is at Giza. On the walls of Fifth and Sixth Dynasty pyramids are inscriptions known as the Pyramid Texts, an important source of information about Egyptian religion. The scarcity of ancient records, however, makes it difficult to be sure of the uses of all the buildings in the pyramid complex or the exact burial procedures. It is thought that the king's body was brought by boat up the Nile to the pyramid site and probably mummified in the Valley Temple before being placed in the pyramid for burial (Smithsonian Institution).

In other parts of the world, in Puebla, Mexico, where the Great Pyramid of Cholula is found, earliest monarchs were consumed by obsession of immortality.

Starting in 208 BCE (before the common Era, a politically correct delineation of time), the Chinese Qin Dynasty embarked in the construction of the longest man made structure, “stretching over a formidable 6,352 km (3,948 miles), from Shanhai Pass on the Bohai Sea in the east, at the limit between "China proper" and Manchuria (Northeast China), to Lop Nur in the south-eastern portion of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region [1]. Along most of its arc, it roughly delineates the border between North China and Inner Mongolia.”

Thus began the construction frenzy ever imagined by man. We are witnesses to the mushrooming of massive vertical symbols zooming towards the heavens:

Rank Building, city Year Stories Height
m. ft.
1. Taipei 101, Taipei, Taiwan 2004 101 508 1,667
2. Petronas Tower 1, Kuala
Lumpur, Malaysia 1998 88 452 1,483
3. Petronas Tower 2, Kuala
Lumpur, Malaysia 1998 88 452 1,483
4. Sears Tower, Chicago 1974 110 442 1,451
5. Jin Mao Building, Shanghai 1999 88 421 1,381
6. Two International Finance
Centre, Hong Kong 2003 88 415 1,362
7. CITIC Plaza, Guangzhou,
China 1996 80 391 1,283
8. Shun Hing Square,
Shenzhen, China 1996 69 384 1,260
9. Empire State Building,
New York 1931 102 381 1,250
10. Central Plaza, Hong Kong 1992 78 374 1,227

Underlying this need to create horizontal or vertical configurations is the need to be immortalized.

The days of construction frenzy or edifice complex are gone. The Greeks and the Romans left remnants of them: the Parthenon and the aqueducts and the Coliseums.

Now, global tycoons of significance are on the new path of building new pyramids: philanthropy of gargantuan proportions. Does it validate the ancient wisdom of the ease with which a camel gets thru the gauntlet than a rich man?

US$44B can build you a number of Yangtze dams in China and recite at heart Mao Zedong’s poem, “Swimming”:

"I have just drunk the waters of Changsha

And come to eat the fish of Wuchang

Now I am swimming across the great Yangtze,

Looking afar to the open sky of Chu.
Let the wind blow and waves beat,
Better far than idly strolling in a courtyard.
Today I am at ease.
"It was by a stream that the Master said -
"Thus so things flow away!""
Sails move with the wind.
Tortoise and Snake are still.
Great plans are afoot:
A bridge will fly to span the north and south,
Turning a deep chasm into a thoroughfare;
Walls of stone will stand upstream to the west
To hold back Wushan's clouds and rain
Till a smooth lake rises in the narrow gorges.
The mountain goddess if she is still there
Will marvel at a world so changed."

Or interconnecting bridges as high as the Millau Viaduct in France. Etcetera.

US$44B can build you bigger and grander triangles than what the pharaohs blueprinted. But these ancient kings had been there and done that. Instead of dropping one time capsule in one geographical nook possibly visible from some heavenly bodies, today’s rich men choose to stake the boundless space of human memory constructing abstract structures of generosity as monuments of their magnanimity or immortality.

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