Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Child Beggars

Today I read this post on slate:

In my travels through the U.S., I haven't seen child beggars. I've seen old people, teens, but not kids under 10 years old.

But when I travel internationally, I have seen it, in China, Thailand, Mexico, Jamaica and the Philippines. One thing I notice if you give any attention to any one of them, suddenly they swarm.

There were several memories that stuck with me. One was in the Philippines. I was standing at a counter waiting to pick up some medicine for my stomach. In the Philippines the pharmacy can be in a corner and just nothing but a counter top and you have to catch the cashier's attention so you can give her your script. There are no such thing as "taking a number".

I was standing waiting for them to process my order when I felt a tug at my t-shirt. It was a small boy about 5yo with his hand out. I looked down on him and in just the space of two blinks, suddenly I was surrounded. I made the mistake of giving the kid a bread roll and suddenly other kids came out. My cousin looked at me and sighed before she shooed the kids away. As she was doing that, a woman approached me with her hand out and she was holding a baby. I made the mistake of smiling at the baby, making it smile back at me. But having learnt my lesson, I didn't give anything more. I turned my head and in that quick turn, I saw the beggar woman punch her baby's leg until the baby shrieked in pain. I looked at her dead eyes in disbelief. I let my cousin lead me away. That baby's tears still haunt me.

The other time was in Bangkok. I was staying at Sukhumvit Soi 11, within walking distance of the red light Nana "entertainment" area. So I had gotten used to some surprising scenes. 

At night the sidewalks along Sukhumvit explodes with rows and rows of tables and wares. From pirated DVDs to monkey & elephant trinkets, scarves and yes even samurai sword sets for $50. I once passed by a table full of what looked like child pornography. I watch a man looking though them and said loudly "That's disgusting!" Then under my breath "pervert." 

Then one night, as I came strolling home from dinner, it was around 10p. I saw a 6yo girl watching over her 2yo sister, settling her in a box so she could go and beg. I watched her silently, her face angelic as she tucked her sister in the box with some toys and a bottle. But as she tended to her baby sister the look on her face was that of a much older being.

As she prepped for her begging, she got an intense look on her face that was unforgiving, determined, relentless and thoroughly cold. When a man appeared, her face metamorphosed into an innocent with big startling eyes of grief and hunger. Then when she got her money, she counted out her coins with the intensity of a banker. When I think of her, my heart still bleeds. I don't know what I could have done. I still don't know what to do to help them.

So I go on my merry way, far removed from their suffering and I wish I knew what to do. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Road Trip Rules

It's spring break time. With the cheap gas and the optimistic economy, there are a lot more families hitting the road. I should know, it felt like they were all in front of me this year.

Usually, if spring break traffic is bad, summer traffic will be even worse. Combine it with construction fever and so many people on the road that normally aren't used to high way traffic who inevitably cause accidents, a ten hour trip took 18 hours!

So here is a list of helpful tips that I know from personal experience.

1) Safety is always first. You have to use your mirrors-you can't just switch lanes. Someone, usually a smaller vehicle has to give way, if they aren't careful, it's called a multi-car accident.

There was also a lot of gigantic RVs. I've been a road warrior for most of my life and I'm used to the big tractor trailers, the 18 wheelers, I even know the signals and road etiquettes that the driver exchange. But this year, the RVs outnumbered the trucks!

I'm not one of those people afraid of an 18wheeler driving next to me, they are for the most part, seasoned drivers. But RV drivers aren't used to driving with such a big vehicle and make the mistake of thinking they can drive it like a normal sized car.

2) Just because you are lost doesn't mean drive on your brakes with your turn signal on. Make sure you use your GPS and be ready to hit "detour". In all the years ice traveled the route down to Florida, to the Keys, I have never used my detour button so many times.

But definitely don't be the jerk who hangs up traffic because they don't know where they are going. Also, DO NOT back up on the off ramp to get back into traffic because you changed your mind! Most exits also have entrances. 

3) Use your turn signals, to switch lanes, to take turns, even if there isn't anyone behind you. On highways, someone can come up fast and you won't even know it. If you aren't signaling, you can cause an accident. Regardless of who's fault it is, someone could get hurt or even killed.

4) Headlight can be used for more than night driving. There are daylight running lights that are supposed to make your vehicle easier to spot. There is also road etiquettes with headlights. 

If someone coming towards you flashes their light at you and then turn off the headlights, they are telling you that they passed a cop car waiting on the side waiting to catch someone. You say thank you by flashing them back. Then when you pass the cop, you return the favor by flashing others, for a while at least.

At night, when you pass a truck, they turn off their lights to let you know you can come back into the lane. This was a tried and true practice, but I didn't notice it this year.

So when you want to let someone in, it used to be you turn off your lights to them to signal them to come in. Nowadays, most people don't know the etiquette and end up sitting there and get mad that no one is letting them in.

5) Gas stations really don't make their money on gas, they make it on the snacks and drinks they sell. So when you need to use their bathroom, buy something. Even if it's just a pack of gum. It's the nice thing to do. After all, some places will post that the rest rooms are only for their customers, translation: buy something.

6) One of the single biggest contributor to accidents(even more than idiot drivers) is fatigue. If you find your mind drifting, pull over at the next exit or rest area. Sometimes it just takes taking a few minutes of stretching your legs and getting a lungful of deep breathes that can revive you. DO NOT DRIVE SLEEPY.

7) Don't drive up on another driver then sit on their blind spot. Be respectful of another driver's space. If you sit on their blind spot, they may not notice that you are there.

8) Even in a multi lane highway, unless it is marked as a HOV (high occupation vehicle) lane, the left lane is always just for passing. When you pass someone, return to the right lane. As fast as you think you are going, there is always someone faster than you. Don't sit on the left lane and hold up faster drivers.

9) A "wolf pack" is when a group of drivers intentionally drive over an above the speed limit. The idea being that if there are multiple cars all speeding, a single cop car can only catch one car. That's not true, the cops can always call for back up. But if you are not a part of the wolf pack, just get out of their way. No one elected you traffic officer. Don't think you can stop them by sitting on the left lane and driving the speed limit. You'll just end up with angry drivers and probably get flipped off. Depending on where you are driving, you could get shot, not even joking.

10) On small country roads, speed limits can go from 55mph to 30mph in less than a 1000yards, pay attention and take your foot off the gas first before you stomp on your brakes. Highways can differ from 55 to 65 to 70mph. Just be careful because the cops are out there and the fines can be steep.

Otherwise, a road trip is great fun, especially with good music and great conversations. You can also enjoy audio books, I get very engaged with the story and if it weren't for the audio books I had, I would not have made the 18hours of straight driving with the insane traffic and accident delays. 

Have fun and safe travels!