Not a symbol, but an asset.
Last April, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed to exchange panda bears for Komodo dragons as a symbol of their countries’ closer relations. My first thought was to hope that the pandas didn’t get sent to the Surabaya death camp, er, I mean, zoo. My second reaction was a general mental cringe. I have a bit of a hard time accepting living organisms as symbols of anything. They have this nasty tendency to act in their own best interests without regard to someone else’s simplistic ideology. Make a flag your symbol, or a document, or a building–anything that is static and accessible will work just fine. Let’s let people and animals go about their business, shall we?
The plot thickened this week when the local Indonesian administration refused the central government’s request for the Komodos. The headline made me happy, until I read the full article. Apparently the administration isn’t as worried about trading animals as a symbolic gesture, as they are determined to keep the tourist dollars flowing into Komodo island. So what’s better, to be a symbol or an asset?