A Few Good Days

I need distractions. I’m so horrified by the events in the U.S. during the past ten days but I don’t know what to say about them, what to add to the discussion. I need distractions.

Friends from Hong Kong (American husband, Filipino wife) have a house in Angeles. We drove up there for the weekend. The drive itself is quite okay – well it’s roughly 60 miles but takes almost 2-1/2 hours if you drive straight through. The NLEX highway has plenty of American-style rest stops – the larger ones not only have gas stations but also have 15 or 20 fast food chains. The ones on the drive south also feature outlet stores from Nike, Adidas and others, crafts shops, even a shop selling ATV’s.

Continue reading “A Few Good Days”

Manila – The Insanity of the Pasig City TPMO

Here’s an example of one of the unexpected drawbacks of living in Manila, the kind of thing you might not anticipate before you move here but that can have a noticeable impact on your quality of life.

In this instance, one might think that if one buys a car and gets insurance for that car and has a proper drivers license, one can just get in that car and drive as one wishes. But in Manila? Not so much.

I live in what is called a “subdivision” – in this case a private community surrounded by a wall with entry/exit gates manned by private security guards. The one I live in is called Greenwoods Executive Village. This is one of the largest villages of its kind in Manila. There are thousands of houses here, spread across ten different phases. No one seems to know for certain how many houses are here or what the population is. (Some have joked that the population is 25,000 out of which 24,000 are construction workers. After 25 years there are still plenty of vacant plots here and new houses are going up daily.)

The village is so big that it spreads across three different cities – Pasig, Cainta and Taytay. (The latter two are not considered part of Metro Manila, they are in the province of Rizal.) The main entrance to the village is in Pasig but the bulk of the residents live in Cainta or Taytay – very few live in Pasig or pay taxes there or vote for Pasig officials – but most of the traffic coming to and from the village routes through Pasig.

Pasig traffic is controlled by the TPMO – Traffic and Parking Management Office. The head of the TPMO is an appointed, not an elected official, one Alberto Dulay Sr. The members of the TPMO are referred to as “traffic enforcers” or “blue boys.” Pasig City has had 4 mayors in the past 24 years and they all have the same last name – Eusebio.

Continue reading “Manila – The Insanity of the Pasig City TPMO”

Short Trip to Hong Kong

Allow me to digress from my current If I’m So Smart series.

I went to Hong Kong this past weekend, just Saturday through Tuesday, a quick break. Here’s what I did.

Saturday night, a party with a group of good friends, 4 or 5 hours hanging out in Joe Bananas drinking, eating, talking, followed by a 3 AM late night supper with my wife at Hay Hay.

Sunday, brunch at the Wanchai branch of Le Pain Quotidien. My wife was disappointed that there wasn’t more smoked salmon on her herbed farmer cheese and smoked salmon tartine but I was 100% happy with my “Tuscan platter” (4 different kinds of salumi and ham, ricotta cheese, sundried tomatoes and an amazing black olive tapenade). The price was reasonable – for Hong Kong. I could go to Paul’s or Passion or Dean & DeLuca (or probably half a dozen other places in Manila that I don’t know about yet) and eat a similar range for half the cost, but without the aggravation known as “traffic.”

Then some shopping, mostly picking up some items at the Wanchai Computer Centre (much bigger selection than “cyber malls” in Manila and generally lower prices).

Sunday dinner, nothing remarkable.

Monday, I picked up a new backpack that I’d ordered from Amazon, the Everki Versa. (Odd. I paid around US$170 for it, plus shipping. Now it’s out of stock and once back in stock, it’s US$123 but only available for sale to Amazon Prime members.) I had it shipped to a Hong Kong address because getting it shipped to Manila would have meant an additional US$50 in customs and taxes.

Also on Monday I had to get from Causeway Bay to the ICC tower, and that took me 20 minutes. Traveling that kind of distance in Manila would have taken me at least an hour, maybe two.

Monday night, dinner at the oddly named Spanish restaurant The Optimist. We had zero complaints about our Jamon Iberico, Gambas a la plancha or the flat iron steak with chimichurri sauce, though I wasn’t impressed with the sauce for their Clams Almejas in salsa verde. A very comfortable place to sit for a couple of hours, great staff, we really enjoyed it. The price, again, “good for Hong Kong.”

Tuesday, Airport Express, 23 minutes Central to the Airport. Coincidentally my (second) ex-wife was transiting the airport at the same time so we had a brief reunion while waiting for our flights.

It’s kind of funny. I lived in Hong Kong for almost 20 years. I still work in Hong Kong. But these three days were stress free and totally felt like a vacation.

Then back to Manila. I came out of the terminal and traffic was backed up for miles. It was not moving at all. I got an Uber within one minute – because the guy had just dropped someone else off and was waiting there, stuck in traffic. It took an hour and a half for us to go 12 miles.

Now that I’m back home, I’m faced with a new traffic scheme, starting tomorrow, in which I will not be able to enter or exit through the main gate of my village because the idiot TPMO in Pasig is trying some new experimental traffic “scheme” that bans cars from the surrounding streets – Monday, Wednesday and Friday if your license plate ends in an even number, the other 4 days if an odd number. Instead of going out through Pasig, I have to exit through Taytay, where the traffic is already at a standstill every day due to construction work on a bridge and incompetent traffic enforcers and too many people who don’t know how to drive. On those three days a week, it would now take me one hour to get to the supermarket that is normally 15 minutes away, 2-1/2 miles from my house. To say I am unhappy about this is an understatement.

My friends in Hong Kong think that Manila is starting to get to me. I’m having an increasingly difficult time debating that point with them.

 

Dealing With Traffic; Marc Maron; Horace and Pete

I have written (too?) many times about how soul-crushing the traffic in Manila is. There are many reasons, not the least of which is a ridiculously inadequate and poorly managed public transportation system, poorly trained and corrupt traffic enforcers, the FX and jeepney drivers who do whatever the hell they want, fuck everyone else, and too many people on the road who either just don’t know how to drive properly or have a total “fuck everyone” attitude once they get behind the wheel.

My house is less than 10 kilometers away from the office.The drive in either direction can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours on any given day.

drivingmorefun

When I’m driving in the car alone, I have my iPhone hooked up to the car stereo. I have a 128 gig iPhone and 100 gig of that is music, well over 10,000 songs. (I could fit a lot more but I prefer the 320 kbps bit rate.) I could get by with less. I load new albums onto my phone every week but when I’m stuck in traffic and stressed out, I tend to want to hear comfortably familiar albums over stuff that’s new and basically unknown. But the downside is that listening to the Allman Brothers Band Live at Fillmore East for the 9,000th time doesn’t really occupy my attention. So I sit back, light a cigarette, crank the music louder, file some traffic report with Waze, but I can still get to feeling frustrated and stressed.

Then one day it hit me. Podcasts. They’re not new. They’ve been around for more than a decade. And they’re really working. If it’s a good podcast, if the conversation is interesting, then I’m wrapped up in it and not noticing the minutes tick by. I sometimes  get upset if I reach my destination before the show has finished.

If you look in the iTunes store or in any other source, there’s millions of different podcasts, covering just about any conceivable topic.

The one that I’ve been following for years is What The Fuck with Marc Maron. The back story here is interesting. Maron is a 52 year old stand-up comic who went for decades without much notable success. Then he started interviewing people in his garage. His podcasts contained long rants about whatever was going on in his life but also amazingly insightful interviews with other comics. He has this way of drawing people out, getting them to talk about their lives and their own creative process and as a comedian himself with decades of ups and downs, he seems to know exactly the right questions to ask.

maron

The result is that each episode of WTF is downloaded anywhere between 500,000 and a million times. And while it was his Robin Williams episode that initially brought him a lot of attention, in recent times his guests have included Keith Richards, Elvis Costello, Ethan Hawke, William Friedkin, Michael Moore, Lorne Michaels and … President Obama. Obama actually came to Maron’s garage and sat for a one hour interview.

WTF is so popular that Maron now has a TV series on IFC, a half hour sitcom called “Maron”, a fictionalized version of his life that initially might have been too close to comfort to Louis C.K.’s show but has significantly improved with each new season (the fourth season starts soon). The supporting cast includes Judd Hirsch as his father, Sally Kellerman as his mother and a host of other comics making cameo appearances. A number of the episodes were directed by Bobcat Goldthwait and those tend to be my favorites.

Last week Maron published his 700th episodes. Episodes because for some reason there were two of them. The first one featured a 90 minute interview with Julia Louis-Dreyfuss. The timing may have been due to the 5th season of Veep kicking off, but the interview touched on most of her career, especially the early days.  The second episode was an almost-two-hour interview with Louis C.K., entirely devoted to the creative process behind C.K.’s groundbreaking Horace and Pete.

A ten part mini-series that (so far) is only available as a download from C.K.’s web site (get all 10 episodes for $31), completely financed out of C.K.’s own pocket (to the tune of $5 million), it was announced – with zero promotion or fanfare – only via emails to the people on his mailing list. No explanation of what it was about, no mention of how many episodes there would be or when the next ones would be released … and probably most importantly nothing like anything he’d done before.

horace-and-pete-title-card_1920.0.0

He did it this way because he wanted to be completely independent. It represents such a radical departure that he didn’t want to risk anyone else’s money on it and he didn’t want any network or distributor giving him notes on what they thought it should be.

It isn’t a comedy, although there are comedians in it and there are moments of humor. It is set in a downscale Brooklyn bar that is 100 years old and always owned and run by the same family. It’s very theatrical – just two sets (the bar and the apartment upstairs) – and many of the episodes had an intermission.

[small spoiler in the next paragraph]

Louis C.K. plays Horace and Steve Buscemi is his brother Pete. Horace had done something terrible that ripped his family apart to the extent that his son doesn’t talk to him. Pete has severe mental problems and is dependent on medication that won’t be manufactured for much longer because of the side effects.

Get it? Terrible people in horribly depressing circumstances. It’s been compared to Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill but C.K. cites the Mike Leigh film Abigail’s Party as a particular inspiration.

The rest of the cast? Alan Alda as Uncle Pete, a foul-mouthed bigot who makes Archie Bunker seem like Bernie Sanders. Edie Falco as the sister who may be dying from cancer. Jessica Lange, Aidy Bryant, Steven Wright, Tom Noonan, Laurie Metcalf, Colin Quinn, George Wallace, Amy Sedaris, Burt Young, David Blaine. And featuring new music from Paul Simon.

There’s been a lot of nonsense press in the wake of the show. C.K. went on Howard Stern and said that he’s millions in debt as a result but that was an exaggeration. Even if he didn’t get enough downloads yet to pay the production costs of the show, it will eventually go to DVD and Netflix and other outlets and is guaranteed to at least break even. There are those who didn’t watch the show who reported that it was cancelled after ten episodes but that was nonsense as well. Ten episodes told the whole story exactly as he wanted to tell it.

C.K. sees the show as tragedy and it’s almost unrelentingly depressing. The ending, when it comes, seems simultaneously inevitable and abrupt. And I simultaneously hated the show and was mesmerized by it. What I’m struggling with is that tragedy, in the classical sense of the term, is said to have to be about kings and queens and gods, people in high places who are cast low, not about ordinary people. In more modern times, perhaps these stories can be seen as metaphors for the human condition, but I’m struggling to find the metaphor here.

I’m feeling that I’ve seen some great acting. And some pretty strong writing. I just don’t know what it all adds up to. I honestly don’t know what to make of it – except that it struck such a deep chord for me that I’m still thinking about it.

I watched it alone the first time and I really want to watch it again now that I’ve had the chance to give it some thought. I don’t know that it’s the kind of thing that I could put on for my wife or my mother. I know that some people will find this total nonsense, incredibly boring or ridiculously depressing.

Me? I’m just thrilled that in these days of the Marvel Comics Universe someone is trying to do some actual adult entertainment. Someone is taking real risks. We need a lot more of this, at least I do.

 

This Thing About the Philippines I Just Don’t Understand At All

This story is from last week but I didn’t want to let it pass without comment.

Various news outlets, including GMA, ran a story about how 600,000 license plates for cars have been sitting at the Manila docks for anywhere from 6 to 9 months. This in a country where people have to wait months to get plates for their new cars, using cardboard plates from the dealer – and at least once in the past year the idiots at the LTO declared that driving with those cardboard plates would be illegal, even though it is the LTO’s fault that what is a simple process in most countries of the world should be something that seems to be beyond their capabilities to manage.

The incompetence here is on a level that is beyond mind-boggling.

First of all, they out-sourced the making of these plates to a company in the Netherlands. Think about this for a moment – a Philippines company called Power Plates Development Concepts Inc. operates a factory in the Netherlands, a country where factory workers undoubtedly earn many times more per hour than workers in the Philippines.

So a country with massive unemployment and poverty is exporting jobs … to Europe.

After all, it’s a fucking small aluminum rectangle, stamped out by a machine. In the U.S., prisoners make license plates, so it’s not exactly as if this kind of work takes people with unique skills or education.

It’s not like these plates are works of art either. The old design was beautiful:

oldplate

Matatag na Repulika translates to Strong Republic, and that’s a rendering of the Rizal Monument. So, dignity, history, culture, pride on every car on the road.

The new design is an embarrassment:

newplate

(Neither of those are my plates; these are images grabbed via Google.)

And now, this Power Plates company has not been able to pony up the 40 million pesos due in import duties and taxes, despite the LTO claiming that they have already paid more than 477 million pesos to this company.

Which begs the obvious question – how can it possibly be cheaper to make license plates in Europe, ship them halfway around the world, pay import fees, as opposed to just putting up a couple of factories in poorer provinces and putting people to work?

Well, someone else seems to have asked that question. Last July the Commission of Audit stopped the LTO from paying another 3.4 billion pesos to that company because they smell a rat. Hmmm, almost US$85 million dollars to make license plates, what could possibly be wrong there?

“LTO said that despite the setback in payments, PPI-JKG is trying its best to pay the import duties for the release of the new car plates.”

And that, apparently, is that. If the LTO has any plan to step in and actually do something to remedy this situation, I haven’t seen it reported.

 

 

Traffic in Manila – The World Takes Note

The Economist has a pretty good story on the Manila traffic situation. “Rising car ownership and appalling transport policies ….”

Manila’s transport plans have been terrible—among the most foolish adopted by any great city.

The city’s first fault is its failure to build an extensive, high-volume public transport system.

There is no mention of the almost-daily breakdowns on the few lines that actually exist, breakdowns that increased in frequency after the previous maintenance contract held by Sumitomo was awarded to a local firm under suspicious circumstances.

If Manila has too few trains, it probably has too many buses. Hundreds of small operators ply the roads—the fruits of a radical liberalisation in the 1990s. EDSA alone is served by 266 bus companies, while 1,122 operate somewhere in Manila. Competition and plentiful supply should be good for passengers, except that drivers are paid partly based on the number of fares they collect. So they race each other to busy stops and then loiter for as long as they can, blocking other drivers.

They should have mentioned how these buses occupy two, three, even four lanes while they are loitering. You would think that traffic enforcement might actually do something about this, but they never do.

Yet the biggest reason Manila’s roads move so slowly is that so many people now drive. The economy of the Philippines grew by 5.8% last year, and a swelling middle class is buying lots more cars (see chart). Driving, nicer and often quicker than public transport, is encouraged by minimum-parking rules, imported from America, which oblige developers to provide lots of parking spaces. Cars are thought to carry about 30% of people in the metropolis but account for 72% of traffic.

Well, it’s obvious why there are so many cars. Public transportation is unreliable, overcrowded and unsafe.

As well as cars and buses it has motorbikes with sidecars and perhaps 50,000 Jeepneys—stretched Jeeps that can hold more than a dozen passengers each.

No mention of how famously awful the drivers of these vehicles are, nor the condition of them – most of them wouldn’t pass any sort of reasonable safety or pollution inspection, but apparently the government doesn’t care enough about its people to put such regulations in place, or enforce them if they exist.

What is one of the suggestions?

Gated housing developments ban all vehicles without residents’ stickers, forcing drivers around the edges. That seems increasingly bizarre, since some of those leafy suburban developments now lie next to booming business districts. Yet the armed guards will probably stay.

Possibly the stupidest thing I’ve read today. Flood private housing communities with traffic? Open the gates to all, potentially increasing crime? And who maintains the roads in these communities – it’s not tax money, it’s homeowner association dues. It’s not as if these roads are public property that has mysteriously been gated off, they are private property.

In December the Philippines approved a “rapid bus” route in north-east Manila, with buses travelling along dedicated lanes. Similar systems have worked well in Brazil and China.

The so-called “conduction” stickers, that forbid drivers from being on the road during rush hours one day per week has had little impact. And banning trucks from major roads during certain hours doesn’t seem to help much either. Corrupt and inexperienced traffic enforcers, selfish driving habits, bad road design and intersection management – none of these things are helping.

Curiously enough for a news magazine that calls itself The Economist, there is no mention of the economic impact of all of this.

Economic losses from this soul-crushing traffic are estimated at 2.4 billion pesos per day. That’s well over 700 billion pesos per year. They’re forecast to increase to 6 billion per day by 2030.

It kills everything – transport and logistics services, commuting to and from work, traveling anywhere for leisure activities, and I’m sure it’s a huge turnoff for foreign investment as well.

None of this was news. It was recognized as far back as 2000 and probably long before that – check this blogpost from 2012 that contains the full text of a 2000 government report on traffic in Manila.

Sixteen years ago they wrote, “actual travel times are more than twice the ideal travel times with delays ranging from 0.6 to 0.73 hours.” I wonder what that number is today?

Under Aquino, the situation has drastically declined. I wonder if his successor will do anything to improve the situation.

 

The Traffic in Manila Will Destroy Your Soul And No One Does A Thing About It

Sundays are usually the one day of the week when one can get from point A to point B in Manila in reasonable periods of time. However today it took me 90 minutes to travel 1.6 miles. This was in part due to some small side streets in Pasig being closed for a “Fiesta” and parades, in part due to poorly managed intersections and in part due to what I perceive as the incompetence of the TPMO “blue boys” who are directing traffic at those intersections. The fact that streets were closed was an outlier, because Monday through Saturday this route is almost always totally blocked up.

It’s bad every single fucking day and no one does anything about it. And that’s what I don’t understand. Not that things are bad. But that no one does anything about it. True, they keep trying new things on EDSA, Manila’s own Trail Of Tears, but apparently everywhere else can just drop dead. Other cities have had bad traffic problems, some as bad as or even worse than what Manila has right now. Those problems didn’t get fixed over night. But in many cities, the problems did get fixed.

Continue reading “The Traffic in Manila Will Destroy Your Soul And No One Does A Thing About It”

Manila Has the Worst Traffic on Earth

It’s official. It’s all over but the shouting. The fat lady has sung. Waze says that Manila has the worst traffic on earth. Manila has the most frequent traffic jams and the roads are in horrible condition. Waze analyzed the data from 50 million users in 167 metropolitan areas to come up with their determination.

Waze, in case you don’t know, is the crowd-sourced traffic app that is absolutely indispensable for driving just about anywhere, but especially in Manila. It has real-time traffic data and often gets me from point A to point B via some pretty bizarre routes – for awhile I had the voice of Stephen Colbert giving me directions (if I understood Spanish, apparently I could be getting directions from Dracula, which seems both cool and scary at the same time).

DSC02390

(Not a great photo – taken through my car window while stuck in traffic last night.)

How bad is the traffic in Manila? I tell people it is soul-crushingly bad. What are the causes? Too many cars and too little road; a very bad public transportation system that is ineptly managed; drivers with a “fuck everyone else” attitude – and drivers who just don’t know how to drive and don’t think about (or don’t care about) what they’re doing. It’s the reason I now work from home as often as possible.

This diagram is an amazingly accurate representation of what I face every time I’m driving home from work. (Grabbed from here.)

Manila-Traffic

To put it another way, last night I went over to Bonifacio High Street at the Fort. I picked up various salamis and cheeses (impossible to find in my neck of the woods), spent an hour browsing at the 4 floor Fully Booked book store, and then gobbled down a burger and onion rings at the Serendra branch of 8 Cuts (which probably isn’t as good as Liberty & Beef or Butchers Club Burger in HK but is still pretty darned good).  It took me about 40 minutes to drive the 10 kilometers from my house to the Fort. And the same 10 kilometers coming home took more than 90 minutes, because it was raining.

Just around the same time that this Waze publicity-gimmicky thing came out, Lifehacker had an article on The Best Ways To Get To Work. They say that driving is the most stressful way.

Now me, as a driver, for most of my life I was Mr. Fast and Furious. Remember that at one point, many years ago (more years than I care to count), I drove a taxi in New York City for a living. I had a Need For Speed like you wouldn’t believe. And I was kind of that way driving in Hong Kong too.

Something funny happened when I moved to Manila though. I changed. I chilled out. I can’t say why, exactly, but I realized several things. First and foremost, most of the drivers here really suck sweaty donkey balls, and attempting to drive at even normal speeds is akin to taking your life in your hands. And when you do get stuck in traffic, which you always will, there’s nothing you can do about it, so getting upset or stressed isn’t going to help. Mostly I’m operating on my own schedule, my own clock, so I rarely have to get to certain places by certain times, and when I do, I just give myself a ludicrous amount of time to get there.

When I get stuck in traffic then hey, the way I figure it, I’m not outside walking down the street in 40 degree C heat or getting rained on. I’m sitting down, on a comfy leather chair, with a very effective air conditioner. I shove the gear shift into P, turn up the music a bit louder, light a cigarette.

So on my 10 kilometer, 90 minute drive last night, the only thing that stressed me out (and only slightly) was that I followed Waze’s instructions and went down some pretty tiny dark streets, and even a couple of alleys, basically no idea where I was – the kinds of places where I was thinking that if I get a flat tire or lose the mobile network (so that Waze can’t update), I might be well and truly fucked. But the worst that happened was that I got a cramp in my foot.

I made it home safe, dry, cool, and had listened to the latest albums by New Order, Disclosure and David Gilmour.  (New Order is much better than I expected, every track on the Disclosure album sounds like a hit single to me, still can’t make up my mind on the Gilmour – the best part may be the photos in the deluxe edition, shot by a friend.)

Anyway …..

drivingmorefun

 

 

Smackdown – LTO vs. MMDA

The Land Transportation Office (LTO) announced that beginning April 1st, cars without proper license plates would get pulled over and even if the drivers had proper registration papers, would be fined at least 5,000 pesos for failing to affix the license plates to the cars.

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) announced that this ruling from the LTO is not only unconstitutional, it is also “un-Christian” because of its implementation right before the long Easter holiday.

The MMDA said that 17 cities in Metro Manila would not enforce the LTO order. In apparent retaliation, the LTO said they would send their own enforcers out on the street to enforce the order.

The upshot is that people like me, who have a brand new car and have paid all of the fees and signed all of the papers, are unable to drive their cars if, like me, they still have their temporary license plate because they have not received the permanent one.

The LTO doesn’t give a shit. “Blame the car dealers,” they say. The car dealers don’t send new registrations to the LTO every day. They wait (a week? a month?) until they’ve got a big stack of them to bring over for registration all at once.  Why not pass a law requiring auto dealers to submit registration papers within a certain period of time after the sale rather than severely inconveniencing hundreds, if not thousands of innocent people? (The place we bought our car from sells more than 700 cars per month and that’s just one shop out of dozens.)

So the politicians, under the guise of doing their jobs, are busy squabbling with each other. The big businesses are not suffering at all – there’s no penalties going back to the automobile dealerships, no fines, no lost business. If anyone with any authority outside of the LTO or the MMDA has weighed in on this, I haven’t seen it in the news sources I check.

So there is no justice here. Just mindless politicians battling each other over turf.

It’s more fun in the Philippines!

Baby I Can’t Drive My Car

It’s hard not to wonder what the hell the Land Transportation Office (LTO) is thinking. Or if they are thinking at all. Probably the latter.

They’ve announced that beginning April 1st (and no joke), any car on the road without a license plate will be pulled over, the driver subject to large fines, the vehicle subject to forfeiture. That sounds okay – except it also extends to new cars that are being driven with temporary cardboard license “plates” and numbers while waiting for the LTO to issue the permanent plate.

The LTO says they can do this because they are now able to get plates issued within 7 days. That is a complete lie. I’ve had my car for a month now and still don’t have the permanent plates.

The fault is partly with the dealer. Rather than sending someone to the LTO with new registrations every day, they wait until they have some unspecified stack of them – maybe they go once a week, maybe they go once a month, I don’t know. But my registration was submitted at least two weeks ago – and possibly longer than that. The dealer says they hope to have the plates for me in “two weeks, maybe less”, which of course in the Philippines translates out to “two weeks, maybe seven.”

So while I’m waiting, I have a brand new car for which I have paid every fee, signed every form, and I cannot drive it. Even if I were to show the papers to the traffic enforcers who pull me over, who knows how many times in a day that might happen – or how many of them might want bribes to let me continue down the road, 2 or 3 blocks until I get to the next one.

I suppose that in some other country, there might be some sort of congressional oversight that could rein in such reckless activity. But apparently not here.

For me, it means that when I’m going to work, I will have to walk 10 or 15 minutes from my house until I find a tricycle to take me outside of the village to a place where I can stand on the side of a road for however long it takes me to find a taxi who will tell me, “Traffic! How much you pay me?” Coming home will be even worse, since at 6 or 7 PM the street where my office is located has dozens of people standing in it trying to flag down the one or two taxis that come by every now and then – and when the taxi drivers find out where I’m going, they’ll just scoot down to the next person standing there hoping they won’t want a ride to the middle of nowhere.

In a semi-related vein, my new car isn’t so new any more. It’s a bit difficult, well it’s a bit embarrassing to explain, so let’s just say that last night I managed to “remove” the right side mirror on the car.

Today I brought it to the dealer. They wanted me to fill in an insurance claim. (First year’s insurance was included in the purchase price.) I’m thinking to myself, in the US or in HK, you don’t file a claim for something like this. After the deductible, how much is left? And won’t my premiums go up – if not for this year, then in future years? Plus, they said it would take 2 to 4 weeks to get the claim approved. Meanwhile I’d be driving around with no right side mirror, which is really asking for it the way other people drive here.

My wife then went in the back, talked to someone in the repair shop, and got them to agree to reattach the old mirror as a temporary measure. All done within one hour. They couldn’t reconnect the wires, which means no turn signal on the mirror and I have to fold it in by hand when parking, but otherwise it’s perfectly fine for me.

I just feel really, really, REALLY stupid for having done this. I can’t recall having an accident driving since I was an NYC taxi driver more than 30 years ago.