9th Wonder is not So Bad
While every tiger in the Sundarbans was licking its wounds on 11/11/11 for failing to make the measure of the longest underground river or that of the biggest rainforest to be named among the new seven wonders of nature, it will take more than an owl's wisdom to remind them that the largest mangrove forest on earth was a good ninth among 440 contenders only five days before voting ended. So cheer up!
The nationalistic emotions were high; and the high, mighty and the humble joined forces in the campaign.
In the Philippines, President Benigno Aquino III led the campaign involving at one stage over 42,000 villages that took part in synchronised text voting. We could do that.
Backed by the UAE rulers Abu Dhabi conducted an extensive campaign to encourage its people to vote for Bu Tinah. Celebrities including Argentinian football star Lionel Messi appealed to fans to pick the Iguazu Falls. We did somewhat.
Prime Minister Najib Azmi Mikati said voting for Lebanon's Jeita Grotto was national duty. Maxime Bernier, the Canadian Minister of State urged Canadians to vote for the Bay of Fundy. We did not go that far.
The support for Jeju Island came from a cross-section of Korean society, including major companies, sports organizations, and religious circles. Committees to promote Jeju had been set up in not only in the Korean cities, but also LA, San Diego, Toronto, Tokyo and Beijing. We did not in Brick Lane and Jackson Heights or the Middle-East.
Some winners were ecstatic. Peruvian Trade and Tourism Minister Jose Luis Silva said that the inclusion of the Amazon ecosystem among the world's new seven wonders of nature will help boost tourism.
Some were argumentative. The Indonesian ambassador to Switzerland Djoko Susilo complained that the money spent for this contest could have been used for the conservation of Komodo Island. A winner, would you believe!
Millions took part in the voting. It is assumed that about one billion world citizens voted through this exercise of digital literacy. It would have been a billion and one, but for me.
We were never told that only 10 percent of the votes from the host country (i.e. Bangladeshi votes for Sundarbans) will be counted; the other 90 percent will be global. So my one vote would have been point zero, zero, zero something, if at all.
The mobile telephone operators did hefty business, and why not? They are surely one of the wonders of the world. Ask any mother whose child is abroad.
Founded in 2001 by adventurer, filmmaker and shrewd businessman Bernard Weber in Zurich, the foundation New7Wonders is based on the same principle on which the seven ancient wonders of the world were established by Philon de Byzance in ancient Greece. So we are to believe.
Several years ago, people around the world were asked to nominate the Seven Wonders of the World. Nearly 100 million votes were cast, and the results were announced on 7/7/7. The sites include the Great Wall of China, the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza in Mexico, the centuries-old pink ruins of Petra in Jordan, the statue of Christ overlooking Rio de Janeiro, the Colosseum in Rome and the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru, and India's Taj Mahal. Is that why they were so quiet about the Sundarbans? I did not hear a meaow from them, let alone a roar.
We failed because it was not only votes that counted; an expert committee had a say in the final selection. We lost out to the Amazon rainforest that covers over a billion acres, to Vietnam's Halong Bay of thousands of islands and caves, to Argentina's Iguazu 275 waterfalls that also embraces Brazil, to South Korea's subtropical volcanic 'biosphere reserve' and 'geopark' Jeju Island, to Indonesia's Komodo island which is home to the world's largest living lizard, to the Puerto Princesa Underground River in the Philippines, and to Cape Town's Table Mountain.
Little wonder that controversy crept in. A country-wise registration fee of $199 was followed by a bill for a high-profile global marketing campaign that saw the Maldives government receiving a shocking demand for half a million dollars and the Indonesian government for $10m dollars in licensing fees and $47m dollars to host the closing ceremony. How much did they demand from Bangladesh? While catching the imagination of millions of voters worldwide, the contest lost its charm because of fund demands that appeared as an afterthought. Neither paid and both wanted to pull out, but remained in the competition at the request of the Weber and gong, termed self-serving and possibly dishonest.
Five of the winners were already listed as UNESCO heritage sites, based on science and education. This campaign being a whole lot commercial its founder was shunned repeatedly by the world body.
Ahem! The Swiss-based New7Wonders foundation is now working on determining the world's top seven cities. Please vote for Dhaka!
Will someone please tell this Canadian-Swiss chap of a Weber that it would not hurt him or his money-earning machinery if they announced the New 9 Wonders of Nature! We can do that!