Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Levels of contrast

This morning I was standing at a crosswalk waiting for the speeding traffic to stop so I could cross a 5-lane street. This was an ordinary city street in downtown Sāo Paulo, and a bit of culture shock after living in places like Timor Leste and Haiti which barely have paved roads at all, much less multiple lanes of traffic.

As I stood there, a rush of 7 motorcycles came my way. My first reaction was to think it was a motorcycle gang, but then I realised it was just everyday normal traffic. Really not even enough motorcycles worth noticing compared to the average traffic jam in Jakarta, Indonesia, which I passed through several times this year due to work obligations.

Isn't it funny, I thought, how this motorcycle traffic hits me as a shock when I'm coming from Haiti or the U.S., but it's completely negligible when I'm coming from Indonesia?

Then I thought of all the traffic jams here, and how people get stuck for hours driving home from work on weekdays. I have absolutely zero tolerance for this after living in Dili, the capital of Timor Leste, where a bad traffic day meant the road in front of the Presidential Offices was full of cars - it was the only road wide enough to fill up, and the only part of town busy enough to earn the title of traffic jam.

And more examples come to mind:

Crime: The crime here in Sāo Paulo is atrocious, and whenever I come here from, say, Damascus, I am in constant fear and have to keep reminding myself to be careful not to give undue temptation to the crooks. Coming from Port-au-Prince, however, I'm forcing myself to relax when in a car with the windows down. I am telling myself to just enjoy walking on the streets without feeling the heavy load of guilt I'd feel in Port au Prince.

Craziness of traffic: To someone coming from Cairo, Egypt, to Bristol, England, the organisation and discipline of the traffic must be quite a shock. But going from England to a suburb in Virginia is a whole new level of tameness.

Cleanliness: The pollution here in Sāo Paulo used to always bother me. It doesn't now, though, as the Haiti is supremely more dirty than here, and Jakarta has its fair share of pollution as well. Personal cleanliness, on the other hand, is extremely high here and leaves every other country where I've lived in the dust. Except for Timor Leste, where people wouldn't go with me to a sports practice without taking a shower first.

We all know the old truism, that there is always something better and always something worse. Always someone taller and always someone shorter. Always someplace cleaner and always someplace shorter. Always someone richer and always someone poorer. All this traveling I've been doing this year has really pounded that home.

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