May 6, 2010

Walk and Learn

Get Up and Go To Work

When visiting a foreign city, try and do this: one day that you are there, put on clothes that resemble working clothes- a suit or something, take a briefcase or a folder, get up at 7:00am, brush your teeth, have breakfast and “go to work”.

I did that in Auckland, Buenos Aires and a few other major cities. I joined the crowd of people walking towards downtown, me being part of it just like a small jet being part of a mighty stream. I looked at people to my left and my right, at their stern faces as they were rushing to their offices and looked at myself in the display windows. I too, was going to an office. I looked the same way they looked. Serious. Stern. My empty briefcase was swaying businesslike in my right hand. What office was I going to? Well, any office. Note some big buildings where everyone is going to, follow the people there, get inside the elevator, listen to people talking about their daily worries at work, again watch the strained expressions and sleepy eyes, get off on some floor, walk around, and then…split. You have played the game long enough. Less than one hour will do. Now you know what it is like to LIVE there. Even for a moment. And you can now go and have an early lunch. It was not real. The working part was a self-induced ‘nightmare’. You can now go back and change your clothes to something more casual and revert to being a tourist.

It was a simple exercise, but I loved it. The pretense was most profound and the reversal to the tourist status was like being awakened from some narcotic dream. Please try it on your next trip abroad. The whole experience may turn out to be more impressive than any guided tour to some museum ever could be.

Jaywalking can kill you

I must confess that I am guilty of occasional jaywalking when living in foreign lands. In many countries it is not a crime and many people do it and no one cares. You join the crowds bolting across the street and do as they do. Heck, some roads do not have pedestrian crossings for a kilometer or two, so what are you going to do? When in Rome, you jaywalk if Romans jaywalk.

There is a hidden danger, though if it becomes a habit. If you visit a country where traffic direction is the opposite of what you are used to, you may get hit by a passing vehicle because you will be looking in the wrong direction to check if one is coming. After having jaywalked in the countries of the Persian Gulf (along with millions of workers from the Indian Subcontinent) I forgot that it was not really a good thing to do and tried to do so in Australia. I looked to my left (as I would in the Gulf) and, having ascertained that there was no traffic coming my way, I was about to take the first step only to miss a bus that was coming from my right at a breakneck speed.

You see, I forgot that Australians drive on the left side of the road. And the huge bus missed me by about a foot. Had I taken the step, I would not have been writing this article now.

If you get used to loose regulations in many Third World countries regarding jaywalking, please be careful when you go to other countries, Third-or Second World or, whatever, where traffic moves in the other direction. You need to keep in mind that now you have to be looking to your right, not to your left. Better yet, do not jaywalk. The cops can give you a ticket or, in worse cases, doing so can cause serious injuries or death.


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