The ABCs of Children’s Books Exhibit at the New York Public Library – 42nd Street/5th Ave

The ABC of it: why children's books matter

On the 6th of this month, my wife and I met up with friends of ours to check out an exhibit on children’s books at the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue. I love going to that library! Right now, it’s just a reference library, meaning you can’t check any books out to take home, though there’s a chance that could change soon. There are plans being made to move a lot of the reference works to a storage facility in New Jersey and open up the area that is now called “the stacks” to the public as an area with books that can be taken home, though these plans are meeting heavy opposition from scholars who have filed lawsuits to block the removal of reference materials from the site.

Lion Statue in front of 42nd Street New York Public Library

The Fifth Avenue library branch regularly shows exhibits with different themes. Last year, we went to see an exhibit on old Automat restaurants.  I think you’d call them restaurants anyway. The exhibit we saw this time was on children’s books.

DSCN2636

I wasn’t expecting much, but I was surprised by how well the exhibit was set up and the diversity of books on display.

Dick and Jane!
Dick and Jane!

DSCN2626

A Japanese Faerie Tale
A Japanese Faerie Tale

They had everything from traditional American textbooks to Hindu comic books to Japanese faerie tales.

Little Golden Books in a case shaped like a Giant Golden Box
Little Golden Books in a case shaped like a Giant Golden Box

A few of the books on display were books I remembered reading as a kid, like the Little Golden Books series. Most were older. Some were a lot newer, though, like the Harry Potter series. I’ve seen the movies and I’d like to read those books when I get a chance too. According to the display, Harry Potter books are the fastest selling of all time. My wife says it’s because the books appeal to kids, teens and adults, so the audience buying them is a lot bigger. Makes sense to me.

I’ve always been fascinated by books. I guess that’s a good thing, considering the field I chose to pursue in college. I just placed an order for 17 books for one master’s history class for this Fall semester. Woot woot! I have so many books I’ve run out of shelves to put them on. I’ve given away lots of books to charity in the past when my collection became too cumbersome to take with me when moving, but this time most of my books are history books or books on religion, politics, sociology and anthropology. In other words, they’re all books I’ll probably need in the future as a student and teacher. I suppose there are worse things to have too many of in your house!

Gallery of more photos from the children’s book exhibit:

Would You Leave A Kid on the Side of the Road?

If I were in Singapore, or the Philippines, the answer would most definitely be no, but the US and other Western countries are gripped by paranoia and fear.  Every man is a potential molester, deviant or criminal.  Every woman, on the other hand, is safe.  Or at least that’s the common belief, despite the fact that there are documented cases of female murderers and molesters.

Earlier today, I was checking Facebook and a relative had posted a link to a Wall Street Journal Article called “Eek!  A Male!  Treating all men as potential predators doesn’t make our kids safer.”  It’s a good article, and one part of it in particular caught my attention.

In England in 2006, BBC News reported the story of a bricklayer who spotted a toddler at the side of the road. As he later testified at a hearing, he didn’t stop to help for fear he’d be accused of trying to abduct her. You know: A man driving around with a little girl in his car? She ended up at a pond and drowned.

At first I was shocked by the guy’s behavior, but after I thought about it a bit, I realized that I don’t really blame him.  From the time kids are old enough to talk and understand what they’re being told, they’re told to be wary of strangers, and especially so of strange men.  The idea that every man is a prospective child molester is embedded in the national consciousness.  We grow up with it the same way we grow up knowing that cereal is a breakfast food.  Not that it’s a good thing, but that’s just how it is.

If this guy had been found with the girl in his car, it could have gone badly for him even though he hadn’t done anything. They might have suspected him of being involved in the girl’s disappearance somehow, or at the least have questioned him and landed his name in a police database somewhere. Or, the girl could have decided that she wanted to tell a fun story, partially prompted by the questions the police would invariably ask her, not realizing the consequences, but having heard it on television and having decided it would be exciting.  Maybe the guy would have been arrested and tried for something he never even did, all because he stopped to lend a helping hand to a lost kid.  Maybe he even would have found himself being jailed over it.

Ridiculous?  Well, is it really?  How many times do you hear in the news that someone was found to have been innocent of a crime they were convicted of decades ago, and that they’d spent most of their life rotting in prison as an innocent man?  Juries aren’t selected based on who’s the smartest.  The prosecutor and defender fight to keep people on the jury that are biased in their favor.

So, it all comes down to a question of self preservation.  What’s more important?  That random kid, or your well being, and if you’re a family man, the well being of your family?  If you wind up smeared and/or in jail over accusations of something like child molestation or abduction, it’ll have a lot of repercussions not just on yourself, but on your family as well.

Even if none of that happened, what if the kid twisted his or her ankle, or cut his or her finger while in your care?  Everyone’s looking to make a quick buck these days with a lawsuit.  If a woman can win a lawsuit for spilling hot coffee on herself and getting burned, and a criminal can win a lawsuit for hurting himself on a knife in the house he broke into, do you really think parents who let their kid wander on the side of a road might not sue you for a twisted ankle or other accidental injury?

And, beyond that, what if it were all a trick to get someone to stop and get out of their vehicle?  Something like a kid on the side of the road, looking helpless and in distress, would be particularly good bait to get women into a vulnerable, isolated situation.

My relative asked me if I could live with myself knowing that a kid had died because I didn’t stop to pick him or her up off the side of the road, and the answer is yes, I could.  It wouldn’t be a very pleasant thought, but given how stupid and paranoid most people in the US are, and all of the things that could go wrong, I wouldn’t want to risk it.  Like I said, if I were in Singapore or the Philippines, I wouldn’t worry about that sort of thing.  Not as much anyway, and it certainly wouldn’t worry me enough to stop me from helping some lost kid.  Here in the US?  I don’t really know.  I certainly wouldn’t stop.  I wouldn’t let the kid in my car.  The safest way would be to call the police from a payphone and then leave.  Depending on the situation, I might stop a distance away and call it in on my mobile.

What would you do?  Would you pick up a random kid off the street?  Would you simply call it in and keep going?  Would you call it in and hang around and wait for the police to show?

Children Selling Cigarettes in the Philippines

DSC05376

I was sitting on that same second floor window where I saw the girl with the bag that said “Use Me” when I saw something else interesting.  Does this count as child exploitation?  Isn’t there a law against it?  Maybe there isn’t.  It seems like labor regulation is pretty loose in the Philippines, which can apparently have both its ups and downs.

This reminds me of something else I saw, where children were encouraged to buy tokens for the toy machines in a grocery store at the tobacco counter.

DSC04850

Street Rats

In the Disney movie Aladdin, the idea of being a “street rat” was glorified as an honorable way of making a living, with a code of ethics and a comfortable life.  In reality, things don’t work out quite that way.  I’ve seen poor people on the street here in the Philippines and they don’t look like they’re having quite as good a time as Aladdin was.  They’re dirty, they’re hungry and they live in a way that’s dangerous because at any moment of the night someone could take their lives.  It’s not that adventurous when you think about it.  It’s a torment that must be a horrible way to live.  Even at my worst, I’ve always had a roof over my head and a little something to eat every day.  So, I have pity for these people when I see them in the street.

In the Philippines, and perhaps everywhere, that pity has to be tempered by wariness about the real nature of the person holding the cup or the annoying children that flock around me like little vultures.  Here in the Philippines there are organized begging rackets where beggars are put out on corners like a pimp would set out prostitutes in other parts of the world.  The individuals doing the begging are made to look more forlorn than they may actually be, and some of them may have homes that they go home to in the evening.  Most people probably learned about this activity by watching the movie Slumdog Millionaire.  The same practices you see in that film are employed in the Philippines.  So, you can’t be too free with your money when you see these types of people coming up to you in the road, or holding a cup out to you in front of a store.

The ones that really annoy me are the groups of kids that try to surround you and start asking for money.  They even go so far as to start grabbing at your clothing.  My guess is that this is to distract you while their friends start fishing in your pockets for whatever they can grab and run with.  When I first visited the Philippines in 2008 I had a lot of patience for this sort of behavior, to the point that it annoyed my wife.  She always shooed them away as fast as possible.  I didn’t really care.  My attitude about it has changed now though.  I suppose that when you visit a place, those minor inconveniences seem quaint and entertaining, but when you actually move to that place and you know it’s something you’ll have to deal with on a repeating basis, the patience you had before wears thin quickly.  Now, when these kids surround me and start asking for money I give them a very gruff, ‘”No!” and keep walking.  If they persist, or start grabbing at my clothing, I push them away physically and tell them to “Fuck off”.  That message normally gets through to them and they break off their pursuit, often accompanied by a string of expletives in Tagalog, the local language.  I suppose that they think that just by being white, I must have tons of cash and I’m just holding out on them.

If you think that’s a little rough, given that these are kids, keep in mind that it’s typically organized.  They do it every day.  They beg as a job, rather than out of necessity, and I’d rather come across as a jackass than have my belongings stolen from my pockets while trying to play nice.  Life in the Philippines isn’t just hard because the money is worth less, it’s hard because you have to be hard to survive when you’re out of the house.  No one has bottomless pockets and every peso counts.

Singapore Budget Terminal Children’s Art Area

If you haven’t been through Singapore’s Budget Terminal lately there’s a table set up for kids to play.  It’s one of those tables where you lay a piece of paper over an image made from raised edges.  You scribble a crayon (or pencil) across it and the picture carries over.

It’s a lot of fun!  The table was drawing a mixed crowd and when I walked up to it, it was composed of mostly adult tourists trying to get one last souvenir before getting on their flight.

Some of the designs are really interesting too.  Here’s the one I made:

Undisciplined Children on a Singapore Bus

On Friday afternoon I was on the bus, heading to the MRT station so I could meet my wife for dinner. I was on a single story bus in the standing area, leaning against the padded rest.

(For those of you not familiar with Singapore buses, I found the photo at left on Jom Naik Bas!, which seems to be a blog dedicated to reviewing modes of transportation, mostly in the Malaysia/Singapore area.)

So, anyway, I was standing there, leaning against that rest and chatting with my wife via SMS. There were two kids playing around in front of me (towards the rear of the bus). I wasn’t paying much attention to them, but after a brief stop, when the bus lurched back into motion, the kids stumbled. Like I said, they were goofing off, being noisy, and they weren’t holding onto anything. So, one of the kids stumbles and stomps down on my foot. I was only wearing slippers (flip-flops), and the boy had rubber shoes on, so it hurt. I wasn’t that upset about it because it was an accident, so I stood there, looking at the kid, waiting.

What was I waiting for? Can you guess? Well, apparently the boy didn’t know or care, because instead of doing what was proper, he glanced at me briefly and then went back to playing. His mother, who was sitting to my right and saw the whole thing, didn’t bother to speak up either.

Why did I have to be the boy’s parent for a few minutes on the bus that day? Why did I have to teach him a lesson his mother should have already taught him, and should have scolded him for forgetting?

I closed the cover on my iPhone and put it in my pocket and then I leaned towards the boy and said, loudly enough for his failure of a mother to hear as well, “You know, the polite thing to do when you step on someone’s foot is to apologize.

The kid looked at me as if he were shocked. Is it so uncommon a thing to ask people to be polite to each other? No reaction from the mother. Perhaps she doesn’t care about what her child learns? I bet she would have reacted if I had simply reached out and smacked the boy in the back of the head. That probably would have made headlines here. I can see it now: “Ang moh asshole abuses boy on bus for stomping his foot and not saying sorry.”

Anyhow, the boy looked at me, all shocked, and said, “Oh, sorry.” Then returned to playing with his friend. I was satisfied at the time, but later I would remember that honorifics are used in this country. I don’t exactly think of myself as an “uncle“, though I’ve been referred to that way before by kids that are about 10, but a “Sorry, sir” or a “Sorry, uncle” would have sounded much more convincing to me.

The kid is probably already spoiled if he’s that indifferent to other people’s space, or to the fact that he caused injury to another person. I blame his parents, and I blame society. This is where it starts. The kid doing something wrong and the parent not correcting them, or no one correcting them. This leads to a self-centered “me me me” attitude that produces kids who think they walk on water, foreigners are trash, and anyone who does an “un-glam” job is a failure.

There will be a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth when that bubble bursts.

Beggars In The Philippines

Beggars are a pretty common sight in the Philippines, but not all of them are what they seem.

In the U.S. there’s a running joke that some bums are just bums part-time to make some extra money. When they’re done they go home to wash up for the night and get ready for work in the morning. My wife tells me that in the Philippines there are professional beggars.

It was pretty easy to pick out the people that were actually having a hard time there. In front of the Nepo mall in Angeles City there was a man sitting on the ground, begging for change. The guy was really old, really browned, really wrinkled, and really skinny, to the point that he looked like he might starve to death at any moment. We happened to have an extra cheeseburger on us (we’d bought some stuff from Jollibee to sneak into the movie theater; we don’t keep cheeseburgers in our pockets usually) and passed one off to him. His reaction was a bit odd. He looked at it, sniffed it, and then eyed us, as if he wasn’t sure it was really safe to eat. I couldn’t tell if they guy hadn’t seen a wrapped burger in so long he’d forgotten what it was, or if he was accustomed to people handing him garbage as a cruel joke.

On the other hand, there was a little girl at the bus station in Angeles City that was really annoying. Looking at her you could see she was well fed. Her clothes were a bit worn out looking, but not the ratty type you would expect to see on someone so poor they had to beg. As soon as she saw me she ran over to me and started begging for money, but it wasn’t just that. She started grabbing at me and grabbing at my bag. If her hand had found its way into my bag I’m sure she would have tried to run with whatever she got her dirty little paws on. Telling her no didn’t seem to work. It took having my wife tell her to get lost in Tagalog for her to finally give up. It seemed to startle her and she fled. She must have had a short memory though, because a few days later we passed through that same station and she tried her trick again. This time I didn’t even bother to stop. My wife turned to tell her to get lost again but when she realized the girl wasn’t there anymore we kept walking. I remember the kid sort of bouncing off my hip. I’m not sure if she wound up on her ass or kept her balance, but I don’t really feel bad about it, surprisingly, even though she couldn’t be more than 8 years old.

I guess by that point I became numbed to the people trying to rip me off and they stopped registering as ‘people.’ If you visit the Philippines you’ll have a better understanding of what I mean, but imagine having a cloud of mosquitos buzzing around your head whenever you’re in the street, but instead of biting you, they talk: “Bzzzzzzz hey mister bzzzz buy buy buy bzzz cheap bzzz good deal bzzz mister mister!”

That wasn’t the only time a little girl tried to hit me up for money in the Philippines. It seems like little girls, the cute ones at least, are the weapon of choice for Filipinos looking to make extra money off of foreigners and foolish locals. Child exploitation anyone?

In March of last year I was sitting with my wife at Gloria Jeans coffee at the Galleria mall in Manila, watching the traffic and the rain when a little girl walked up to the table. This was my first experience with this, though I’d been warned. At least this kid was trying to offer something in return. She had a handful of fake flowers that she was trying to sell for an insanely inflated price. I told her I wasn’t interested, and tried to shoo her away, but she played dumb and kept insisting. This was the first time I had to be rescued by my wife, who told her to get lost in Tagalog. I need to find a way to get rid of them myself, because my wife might not always be nearby when they launch their attack. I suppose I could just whack them in the head and tell them to leave me alone, but that might land me in jail.

This last trip, just after I plowed through the grabby little girl at the train station (and checked all my belongings) my wife and I sat down in a Jollibee and had lunch. While we were there I saw a dirty looking boy outside the window, lying down on the pavement in the shade. I asked my wife what was up with him, and she told me that he’s another fake beggar, but one that uses a different tactic. Instead of being energetic and grabby, like the little girls, they try to appear forlorn and destitute.

It all reminded me of a story she told me about how my former boss handed out money to beggars while he was visiting the Philippines and wound up getting lectured by his wife (a Filipina) about letting himself get suckered. Maybe I’m just a bastard, but I’ve decided to not take the time to try to figure out if they’re genuine or not. Unless it’s obvious, like the guy in front of the Nepo mall, I’ll just ignore them all.

It’s hard enough to hold onto your Pesos in the Philippines without letting yourself be done in by fake beggars. Keep that in mind if you ever go to the Philippines for a visit.