When I was in London recently, I observed a lady parking warden walk up to a street sign and snap some close up photographs. It was a curious sight, as I initially imagined that it might be a cross between curiosity and tourism. Then, she went some five or so metres back and started taking photographs of workers climbing off the back of a lorry, parked off of Oxford Street. I went up to her to ask what she was doing and she replied that the new policy was to document with time-stamped photographs the infractions, at the same time as handing out a parking ticket. The parking warden looks like a techy geek these days carrying a handheld machine for registering and printing out the offense, as well as a digital camera hanging around the neck. I would have to believe that the responsible lorry driver would be less “flippant” about tearing up any parking tickets as a result of the patent proof.
In any event, I would have to believe this is a best practice for parking wardens around the world… Not sure how city governments and their parking wardens share any such “best practices,” but this blog post could mark a beginning!
If you drive a car in Paris, then you know what a daily battle it is to find a parking place…. especially one that is not under a pigeon-infested tree which will cause the chrome paint to dissolve the following morning because of all the pigeon dooodoo.
On national holidays, parking on the streets (in legal “paying” spots) is free. And, in Paris, during the month of August, parking is also free… in some places, not ALL places. I had thought that all Paris, all the month of August, was free. Clearly, there is a lot of shared misunderstanding out there, even for the true Parisians. I was walking back from work last night and observed a few “signs” of misunderstanding in the form of a screaming match between two Parisians and a parking tickets emitter. And, for the owner of this “abandoned” mini (photo below on the right), the surprise will likely be all the bigger upon his/her return from holidays as the car was clearly left in the street, believing that the month of August was “libre.” If parking in Paris has become ever more difficult over the years, when will they abolish even free parking in the month of August for all? With more Velibs and the same concept for cars (Autolib) coming in 2010, the idea of owning a car in Paris may become, finally, either a ridiculous luxury, or a real nuisance.
Driving in Italy is quite an experience for most of us non-Italians. However, driving in the south of Italy is considerably worse, in my opinion, than driving in the north of Italy (cut off at Rome). Even if I consider myself a handy driver and get by in Italian (più o meno), I was still rather confused by the signposts. I snapped this shot in Salerno, on the coast south of Naples. Anyone’s guess as to what it means!?
You can find similar paradoxical signposts all along the middle of roads. Rather unnerving.
Of course, there are also the southern Italian driving habits. On dual-lane carriageways, there are, naturally, two lanes. You might say, the ordinary lane and the overtaking lane? The Napolitans have repurposed the lanes. The super slow lane (less than 60 kmh) for the panic-striken and the super fast lane where the drivers, often in swank SUVs, speed up to your tail at over 150 kmh, ominously flashing their beams to get you out of the way, to move into the docile slow lane. Again, rather unnerving.
Anyway, when I returned to Paris, I found that some of the driving ‘habits’ I had picked up (to survive) in Naples came with me. The Parisians found me particularly rude. After a short while, however, I was able to curtail my Napolitan style driving and avoided any Parisian tickets. Anyway, if you plan to do any driving in southern Italy, get your lead shoes on!
I particularly enjoyed Thomas Friedman’s editorial in the New York Times (or International Herald Tribune) of June 25, 2009, entitled “The Green Revolution(s)”. For those of you are still not inclined to believe in the need to reduce man-made pollution and join the ecological bandwagon, here is a well written exposé on why we should at least reduce our consumption of petrol in the Western World: reduce the demand of (and the dependence on) oil and prices will tumble. Friedman cites The First Law of Petro-Politics “…which stipulates that the price of oil and the pace of freedom in petrolist states – states totally dependent on oil exports to run their economies – operate in an inverse correlation.” So, regardless of any potential benefit for General Motors and Chrysler and their “Greener” cars, the geopolitics of the world would be a much better place if the “easy money” derived from oil exports was exposed for “bad money” and the auto-aggrandisement and self confidence == that comes from being financially secure — were deflated as speedily as oil prices decreased. Friedman cites Yegor Gaidar, a deputy prime minister in Russia in the early 1990s, as saying that “the collapse of the Soviet Union could be traced to Sept 13, 1985…” date on which Saudi Arabia officially changed its oil policy, unleashed its production and brought oil prices tumbling down and, consequently, the Soviet Union to its knees.
Friedman believes that by reducing the Western World’s dependence on oil, the Green Revolution (the reformers) in Iran will be able to take hold, allow greater freedom for its population and bring down the Islamic dictatorship. Along the way, perhaps the collateral benefits might also be applied to other oil-rich despotic regimes, such as in Nigeria, Venezuela and even the rigid Russia. As Friedman exhorts: “An American Green Revolution to end our oil addiction – to parallel Iran’s Green Revolution to end its theocracy – helps us, help them…”
So, this is just one more reason to take the greener roads, for surely the grass is greener on the other side of this hill.
Don’t we all? Trouble is, as we grow older, the opportunities to belly ache, hoot and laugh out loud seem to diminish. It is said that kids on average will laugh 80 – 100 times in a day. Little children can laugh up to 400 times in a day. From Sixwise, in an article that discusses how to reduce stress (always necessary), there is a section on the benefits of laughing.
“By the time we reach adulthood, we laugh only 5-6 times per day. You only need to watch children to appreciate the relationship between humor and enjoying life. Children will laugh at anything! If you ask them, ‘what’s so funny,’ they may say something like, ‘he looked at me!’ says Barbara Bartlein, R.N., M.S.W., a motivational speaker and consultant.” [BTW I also particularly like tip #15: To drive courteously. Isn’t there enough stress without having obnxious, selfish and dangerous drivers on the road?]
There are apparently many purported health benefits to laughing, including helping to heal cancer & depression. From Nurses Together, laughter apparently also “lowers your blood pressure and heart rate, improves lung capacity, massages internal organs, increases memory and alertness, reduces pain, improves digestion, and lowers the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenalin.” And, here is a recent study (April 17 2009) as reported by Health on the Net (HON), saying that laughter increases good cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart attacks for diabetics. Bascially, laughter would seem to be the panacea for many ailments; maybe we should all be prescribed tickets to see hilarious theatre?
One of the downfalls of smiling and laughter is the creasing of the face (evidently not appreciated if you have had plastic surgery, for example). The wrinkles that mark time on our faces also carry the history of how much we may have spent laughing and smiling as opposed to frowning and smirking. I would be easily led to believe that those who know how to laugh liberally tend to have a more positive outlook on life. On another level, for those whose humour involves self-derision, there is an equally appreciable sense of humility. Different from comedians who have the knack of helping us laugh, I am just more likely to gravitate toward those who are given to laugh, without shame. BTW, did you ever stop to consider if having a sense of humour refers more to the ability to make people laugh or the ability to laugh oneself? In effect, a sense of humour is about both per dictionary.com: “The trait of appreciating (and being able to express) the humorous…” In either case, it is a wonder you never see “own a sense of humour” on the CV.
So, in an effort to increase those smile wrinkles, to bring a smile to your face, and even encourage you to laugh, not just now as you watch, but every hour of ever day, here below is a five point bulletin designed to set your course straight and wiggly.
First, the classic from Mary Poppins, written By the Sherman Brothers (1964).
2/ Ok, Mary Poppins doesn’t make you laugh necessarily, but it sets the stage for a good smile. Now to do some laughing. Here is 1″40 of sheer enjoyment.
A good followup act is here with this little kid that has a funny, deep laugh. Just being around carefree babies is enough to bring smiles to all in proximity (although the parent may at times gain immunity!)
3/ Try this laughter yoga video, hosted by John Cleese. You can find out if and where Laughter Yoga clubs are near you at LaughterYoga.org. We had one dinner party where we began the dinner by all laughing for 10 minutes. Made for a super energy for the rest of the meal.
4/ I invite you to pop over to watch a short video podcast from ABC, broadcasting a report by the BBC, about the contagiousness of laughter. Watching a few babies giggling is bound to break out a smile. Visit here.
5/ And, fifth, I am glad to report that there is an official Global Belly Laughter day which happens to be my son’s birthday: January 24th. May every day be January 24th.
To close out this post on laughter, here is a wonderful Laughing and Smiling Oath:
The Laughing Oath
I do solemnly swear from this day forward To grease my giggling gears each day And to wear a grin on my face for no reason at all! I promise to tap my funny bone often, With children, family, friends, colleagues and clients, And to laugh at least fifteen times per day. I believe that frequent belly laughter Cures terminal tightness, cerebral stiffness, And hardening of the attitudes, And that HA HA often leads to AHA! Therefore, I vow, from this day forth, To brighten the day of everyone I meet, And to laugh long and prosper.
I have long enjoyed the card machines that you use in Paris to pay for your street parking. Originally, you used coins to pay, then they introduced the prepaid cards (e.g. 10€ or 30€ option). Naturally, it took some getting used to because you had to know to buy the prepaid card from the tabac. Now, most machines only accept the prepaid cards (or a system called Moneo where you top up a bank card for instant payment). Now, the thing that has come to irk me is the waste inherent in these cards.
Once the card’s credit is used up, there is no way to re-use (top up) or recycle it. My suggestion for the collection would be to add a little compartment on the side of the machines in which to deposit the used cards. Afterwards, I have no idea if there is truly a way to recuperate and/or reconfigure the cards. But, at least there seems like there would be an easy gesture to gather the used cards. Anyone know of any organization that could figure out how to make a business out of this opportunity?
Herewith some tips on parking in Paris, courtesy of parisinfo.com.
Caught sight of this rather cool looking motorcycle. Photo taken with my lowly blackberry. Cool though it may be, the owner felt that they could also invent its parking space — more or less along the black line of a zebra crossing. Anyone know what brand this contraption is?
I have written in the past that the Philippines placed highly (6th) in the World Economic Forum 2008 global gender gap ranking. The report says in the latest publication:
“…The Philippines is one of two countries in Asia to have closed the gender gap on both education and health and is one of only eleven in the world to have done so. However, the Philippines’s score relative to its performance in 2007 fell due to a drop in the perceived wage equality between women and men employed in similar positions and a decrease in the percentage of women ministers [to 10%].”
It would seem that this high ranking was largely favoured by the female President (the second Filipina President in its history) and the good representation of girls/women in school at every level. I also wonder about the impact of the relative earning power of Filipinas abroad who, with even numbers, send in $18B versus $32B for men (OFW statistics). After my visit to the Philippines over the Christmas holidays, I can make a few more observations.
First, courtesy of my kind acquaintance Charlie Avila, I learned that 57% of the Filipino university students are women. Second, just by circulating around Manila, you can see that women very clearly have an active role in business. That said, in this activity, there is a traditional division of labour (e.g. 99.9% of jeepney and tricycle drivers are men; while, for the women, there is obviously a lot of childbearing and rearing) and, outside of Manila, the ‘latin’ machista culture dominates. And, third, during our stay in the Philippines, I read how the government signed into law the so-called Magna Carta of Women, presumably promoted by the relatively large representation of women in parliament. In the Lower chamber, there are 49 out of 240 (20.4%) women elected, while there are 4 out of 24 (16.7%) in the Upper chamber. The ‘Magna Carta for Women’ bill (#4273) seeks to provide women equal treatment before the law, equal access to information and services related to women’s health, and equal rights in all matters relating to marriage and family relations. The cynic would say that if they need to create a law, there must be good reason for its need.
Nonetheless, although I would like to believe so, women’s equality is not necessarily tantamount to progress. Since my first visit to the Philippines in 2004, I have observed little progress in the Philippines. The standout difference is perhaps the Subic-Clark-Tarlac dual carriage tollway (funded by the Japanese). Otherwise, the infrastructure and travelling conditions remain difficult–opportunities to break the speed limit (60kph) are exceedingly rare. Driving around the countryside, you are besieged by the 3rd World poverty (cf kids playing in the burning trash). People seem either to be mulling about doing absolutely nothing or on the move going absolutely anywhere. Any transportation is optimized; single drivers are an oddity. Passengers ride on the roof or hanging out the side. Cities are chockerblock with tricycles,bicycles and jeepneys. And the forms of transportation are quite inventive. You will see rice thresher contraptions and a “skylab” (down south, pictured above right) consisting of a balancing beam placed perpendicularly behind a bicycle/motorcycle with equal portions of people on either side. You can hardly fall asleep at the wheel thanks to the ingrained–if poor–driving habits and continuous overtaking.
As a testament to the constant to and fro’ movement of the people — and semantically revealing — the typical greeting in tagalog is “saan ka pupunta” meaning ‘where are you going?’ Another common greeting is “saan ka galing” meaning ‘where are you coming from?’ In terms of an answer to this greeting, you can say eith
er “diyan” (just there) or “doon” (doh-on, yonder/over there).
Signposts, and I am not referring to the names of towns, lead the way. There are signs calling for healthier (washing hands, drinking clean water, etc.) and greener (no trash, less water waste…) living; others invoking God and revoking drugs in the same breath; yet others demanding to stop abuse of children and/or women. All these signs, of course, are mixed in with a robust cocktail of commercial enterprise. And, yet, the progress seems slow.
As Charlie said, it seems that the Philippines suffer the instability of stability (as opposed to Italy which finds stability through instability). Part of the challenge evidently lies in the continuing stranglehold of the top 100 families who stubbornly refuse to yield. A defining Filipino saying is, roughly translated, Filipinos have “a loud but short fizzle” — the firecracker (a national pastime over New Year’s eve) is a good metaphor for the Filipino character. After the smoke, not much has changed. And yet, the success of Filipinos overseas, one of if not the largest diaspora (11 million or around 11% of its population) in the world is paradoxical. Beyond the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) in Dubai or the Filipinas that set the standard for domestic help around the world, there are ample cases of successful Filipino professionals (medical technicians, engineers, etc.).
From my various conversations, it would seem that the Filipino education system has taken it on the chin in recent years. An experiment to convert the curriculum entirely to Tagalog lasted a couple of years, but has had a lasting negative impact on English literacy levels. What was once a sizable competitive advantage — wide ranging English fluency — has decreased without compensation in any other form.
The other calamity is the growing strength of the “other” Filipinos occupying the southern islands, particularly Mindanao. Aside from hurting what is already a diminutive tourism, there seems to be a real schism between the predominant Catholic Filipinos and the Muslim population in the south.
To overcome the handicap of the terrain and climate and its reliance on the centralizing, megapolis capital (12-15 million), the Philippines will need to overhaul its education system (as is the case, that said, for so many countries) and invest in its infrastructure (none more so than in Manila itself). With its pro-Western stance, the large and growing population and the generally genial charm of the Filipinos, there is much potential for this country. Will have to come back in another ten years to see how it all transpires.
You have to smile when you see an 11 miles-per-hour sign! At first, I thought it might have a translation from kilometers-per-hour, but that would be highly unlikely in the US, especially since 11 MPH is 17.7 KMH.
Anyway, it is proof that a little well-placed humour can capture a little more attention.