Use it til it Breaks

I went up to 181st Street today to drop off a return at UPS. A book I ordered from Amazon didn’t arrive in time so I had no use for it and figured I might as well get my money back. I love Amazon’s return policies. The refund was processed as soon as the item was scanned in by UPS.

While I was walking down the street, I overheard a conversation between a girl and her mother. We were standing near each other on a corner while waiting for the light to change. The mother was telling her daughter that she was going to get her a new phone in heavily accented English. The daughter, who spoke English without an accent, told her mother that the phone she has works fine and she doesn’t need a new one. This escalated almost into an argument with the daughter telling her mother that her phone works just fine and she’s going to use it until it’s broken before she gets a new one, because she doesn’t see the point of replacing something that still works.

I had a few thoughts about this. Was the mother a first generation immigrant and the daughter born here? Is it a conflict of identity? What I mean is, does the mother see herself as being American through participation in consumer culture while the daughter doesn’t feel the need to? Is it a result of first generation immigrants trying to accumulate material wealth as a response to a previous life of (by US standards) deprivation? Maybe the daughter is more concerned with the planet or the ecosystem and the mother doesn’t understand or care about those things. Or maybe the mother just really wanted to get something nice for the girl and doesn’t know what else to buy her.

Anyway, I’m glad it’s getting warmer again. This winter was like a long period of hibernation. I’m looking forward to going out and exploring the city again.

Background Noise

A few days ago I was standing on the train, looking around. Sometimes I like to just look at the other people on the subway and wonder what their lives are like, what they do, think, or believe in. How do they view reality?  It makes me think about the way that I view and interact with other people. In a place like New York City, there are just so many people that invariably some of them fade into the background and just become noise or static at the edge of the story of my life.

That’s sort of sad to think about. Some people are a brief hello, or a shape in the hallway, or a flash of color against the snow. But it isn’t really possible to form longterm and meaningful relationships with everyone we meet. I read a study one time that said it’s only possible for people to have about 250 relationships in total. By that, the report meant meaningful relationships where we actually know about other people and keep up with them. After that, our minds just can’t keep the story straight anymore. That’s probably pushing it too. I’ve always been a bit of a loner, because I move so often, but I don’t know that I’d be able to, or even want to have, more than two dozen people at a maximum that I keep up with regularly, outside of family. Maybe it’s laziness, or maybe I’m just interested in developing a few relationships that matter, instead of a lot of relationships that don’t.

Anyway, I like to try to put myself in the shoes of the people around me, or to imagine the world the way they might be seeing it. Sometimes it helps me to remember to be a better person, in terms of common courtesy, and it helps me to remember that the world doesn’t revolve around my life. There are other people with needs and concerns just as real and crucial as my own. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that, and easy to forget to be good to the people around me. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying to improve myself.

Mostly Naked People and Huge Crowds at Times Square

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Last Thursday night my wife and I went downtown to meet up with an old friend who was in town for the week and we decided to walk through Times Square to take some photos. You know, the tourist thing. I even bought a few “I Love NY” magnets at a souvenir shop.

Times Square is always packed but with the weather being so mild, it seemed like there were even more people out than usual. Besides the crowds, it seemed like the number of panhandlers had increased as well. We saw a few “acts”, but in Times Square, you mostly find people who are dressed up in unusual ways that try to get you to pay them for having your photograph taken together with them.

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The last time we were there, there were only a handful of people dressed up as animated characters. Now, there are dozens, sometimes with two or three of the same character standing right next to each other. Sort of takes the magic out of it, if you ask me. Not that there was much to start with, but if a kid sees three Iron Mans standing next to each other, how is he supposed to feel excited about having his photo taken? You have to at least let the kid pretend you might be the real deal, right?

There were also people dressed up in costumes to bait adults into paying for photos. A few years ago, there was only one naked cowboy; now there are two naked cowboys, a naked Indian, and some naked women as well. Well, not completely naked, but mostly naked, stripped down to their underwear and, in one case, panties and pasties.

It was fascinating watching my wife’s friend’s reaction to all this. She seemed shocked. I asked her if she wanted her photo taken with the half naked cowboys, with their junk hanging out, and she seemed really disturbed. She had earlier described the hoochie shorts women in America wear, that leave the bottom half of their butts hanging out of their shorts, as scandalous. She probably thought the mostly naked people in Times Square were scandalous too. I suppose it is. People wear less at the beach, but maybe it’s more about wearing clothes appropriate to the situation. And I suppose that’s the point of those people showing up there half dressed. They’re counting on the shock value to pay off in real money that people will shell out to have their photos taken with “crazy people” who are almost naked in Times Square.

We wound up staying in Times Square until around 11 PM. I don’t think we’d ever been there that late before. I was surprised by how bright the area still was at that time of night. Because of all of the electric billboards, it might as well have been noon on an overcast day.

Man At Astor Place Dancing With a Bra on His Head

Astor Place, Manhattan, New York City
Astor Place, Manhattan, New York City

Just another day in New York City’s Astor Place, right?

Man With A Bra on His Head at Astor Place

Wait?  Is that a guy with a bra on his head?

Man With A Bra on His Head Dancing at Astor Place

Why yes, yes it is.

Man With A Bra on His Head Dancing at Astor Place

Man With Bra on His Head Dancing at Astor Place

 

Man With Bra on His Head Dancing at Astor Place

This guy slowly took off his clothing while doing a very unusual dance that resembled a combination of a swimming, robot, and peek-a-boo dance.  I’m not sure why he needed to have a bra on his head to do it, but nothing about the whole routine made sense anyway.  He had a little guitar looking instrument with him, but never played it.  I only watched for about a minute, before going about my business.

As entertaining as this is, it’s a shame that he’s on the street and isn’t receiving the mental care that he really needs.  Given how much we pay in taxes every year, you’d think the government would be able to take care of the people in our society who really need it.  No one can tell me that they think this guy is just playing and should get a job, or that he isn’t suffering while we make light of his situation.  I really wish our government did more for people like him.

People Hanging Out At Union Square

Union Square Park in Manhattan, New York City.

There’s almost always something going on at Union Square, and even when there isn’t, there are still crowds of people there.  The warmer the weather gets, the more people there are.  I imagine quite a few of them are NYU students from the nearby dorms, but there were also people hanging out on the grass, having lunch, reading, or just talking to friends on the benches.

Union Square Park in Manhattan, New York City.

Union Square Park in Manhattan, New York City.

Then, of course, there are tons of people passing through to get to the stores around the Square, and to get to the subway entrances scattered around the area.  Union Square is one of the major subway stations in New York City.

Subway entrance at Union Square, Manhattan, New York City.

I like to walk through the park just to see what kind of people are there.  You never know what you might come across in New York City, after all.

Barnes & Noble at Union Square, Manhattan, New York City.

Three of my favorite stores are situated alongside Union Square: Best Buy, Barnes & Noble and Petco.  I can spend hours just browsing in those stores, especially Barnes & Noble.  Barnes & Noble is like a museum of words.  I could spend a whole weekend just browsing the shelves.  It helps that they have a coffee shop inside (which is a bit expensive, but we can’t have everything right?) and they don’t run around throwing you out if you’ve been hanging around too long.

‘Green’ markets and holiday markets are regularly held in Union Square.  I’m looking forward to finding time to explore one.  I go through there every day, and I’ve seen them quite often, but I’ve never had time to just stop and look.

The Homeless in New York City

A homeless man and his makeshift 'home' in New York City.

New York City has always had homeless people.  Ever since I can remember I’ve seen homeless people in the streets here in New York.  They used to be a lot more obvious.  You’d see them laid up in doorways or in front of store windows.  Since then, the police have become more active in rounding them up and sending them to homeless shelters.  I imagine the guy in the photo above, who was setting up a ‘home’ for himself in a parking lot is no longer there.

You might wonder why these people would choose to live on the street if there are shelters set up for them, but I’ve heard horror stories about these shelters.  To start with, there are only so many beds available, so you have to be there early to claim one.  You also can’t have anything with any value, because it’s common to be robbed in these shelters, or worse.  I imagine the potential violence a person could be subjected to is much worse for homeless women.  In a way, it’s safer for them to try to find a place in the streets to hole up for the night.  Not that they’re immune to being robbed or abused in the street.

I can’t help but wonder how drastically the level of homelessness has increased given the current economic problems the country as a whole is facing.

What Can I Expect in the Philippines?

A guy I know told me he’s going to be making a trip to Davao in the Philippines and asked me if I’d been there, and what he could expect, and if I had any tips for him.  So, I gave him a quick heads up of what you should really keep an eye out for when you’re in the Philippines.  This is the message I sent him:

I’ve been to the Philippines quite a few times. My wife is Filipina and I’ve gone there to visit with her family in the Manila area. I’ve also been out to Pampanga Province. There are over 7000 islands in the Philippines, so I can’t say I’m an expert or anything but here’s what I can tell you:

…[Personal details removed]…

That aside:

For your spending money, beyond airfare and hotel, I doubt you’ll need more than 400 [USD] bucks. […] That should be cool. Just to give you an example, a movie in the Philippines is only about 3 USD. You can also both eat for about 500 PHP, or 10 USD. That would be a meal at a place like an Applebee’s. If you wanna get fancier than that the price goes up, but not by much.

If you need more beyond that, there are ATMs all over the place that you can withdraw from. Depending on your bank of course. You should ask them in advance, and notify them in advance so they don’t reject an ATM request from the Philippines. Also, if you do take cash with you, don’t carry more than 2 -3k PHP on you at any given time. Don’t carry a fancy cell phone. If you have a nice watch, buy and use a cheap one for your trip. Don’t wear extremely expensive clothing. Try to look poor. I know it sounds ridiculous, but you don’t want to look like a juicy target. Oh, and if you have a cheap camera to use, I recommend taking that one with you instead of whatever expensive fancy camera you have. Crime is rampant there and as a white guy walking around you’re already going to draw a LOT of attention.

Also, if you purchase anything that’s not in a store with a price tag on it, expect to have people try to rip you off. Even when I was with my wife and father-in-law they would try to do it. They’d try to charge double or triple for a pack of smokes. I wound up waiting with my wife around the corner while my father-in-law bought the smokes for us. So ya, just keep an eye on your wallet, don’t carry a lot, and don’t try to be flashy. Being white and in the Philippines is flashy enough, [especially when you start to get further away from major tourist cities].

On the upside, you can expect to eat well while you’re there. I don’t know much about tourist attractions in the Davao area, but if you want to know about good beaches, there’s Boracay and Palawan. I don’t know the price details on those but you can Google it and add it to that $400 amount. Most people, except when it comes to money, are going to treat you very well.

[Personal details removed]

Oh, something you might want to keep in mind is that Filipinos are VERY family oriented.

[Personal details removed]

Also, most Filipino families still live in multi-generational households, like what you hear about in Mexico. [You’ll often find many family members, like brothers and sisters, still living in the parents house along with their wives and possibly their children.] Not all Filipinos are that fortunate. You’ll see some people living in houses that look like they’re made of corrugated metal and plywood. It’s really depressing sometimes to think about, but the odd thing is that most Filipinos know they’re poor but still are fairly positive about life.

Out and about in the city you’ll definitely know you’re in another country, but it’s weird… when you step in a mall you’ll feel like you could be somewhere in the US. Oh and speaking of malls… carry some toilet paper with you. The public restrooms usually don’t have it. They usually don’t even have toilet seats because people try to steal them to resell.

If you’re going to stay in Davao City this won’t be an issue, but if you go out to the provinces there usually aren’t taxis around. [There will be buses, jeepneys, and tricycles around. They typically have set prices, so you’re not likely to get stiffed too hard there, but it’s best to be with a local who knows the ropes when trying to ride those.] The tricycles are pretty fun to ride in, but hold on because there aren’t seat belts…

My last word of warning is do not, under any circumstances, let anyone trick you into eating something called balut. Sinigang, adobo, menudo (Filipino style, not pig guts like Mexican style), tinola, pancit canton (instant noodles, take some home with you, they rock), ox tail kare-kare, are all good local dishes. But… not balut. That’s just disgusting. If you see a place called Max’s Chicken, I highly recommend it. Get the half chicken. I did, and I stripped it to the bones. I don’t know what they put in there but it’s delicious! Jollibee isn’t that great. It’s a step down from McDonald’s. Most Filipinos love it though. Uh… longanisa is a sausage that’s pretty good, depending on what kind you get. You might see it at McDonald’s there if you stop in fro breakfast.

On reflection, what I can add to this is that most beggars are part of a syndicate and aren’t really poor. If someone’s poor in the Philippines you can really tell.  They won’t just be dirty.  They’ll look like they haven’t eaten well in weeks.  These beggars can be damned persistent and will sometimes even try to help you give them money by reaching into your pocket for you.  Keep your eyes peeled.  Even the cute little ones selling flowers are just trying to rip you off.  I need to send this little bit of information to him too!

Note: The text in brackets and italics has been edited or added to make the message more clear for posting on a blog.

A Poor Example of Leadership

When I went through leadership training two of the basic principles we were taught is that you should never ask your subordinate to do something you weren’t willing to do yourself, and you should lead by example.

So, here’s an example of a failure of both of those sound leadership principles.

You ask your employees to work extra hours, without pay, to meet unrealistic goals.  You do this regularly, and your employees, having no choice but to comply for fear of losing their jobs, do it.  Rather than staying behind as well, to ensure that your personnel are getting the job done, and to show that you too are sacrificing for the good of the company, you leave on time every day.  As you go out the door on time every day your subordinates are still slaving away at their stations, becoming more and more filled with resentment at their mistreatment.

The result is that you create a hostile work environment, where the employees resent their jobs and resent you for asking them to stay behind when you’re not willing to do it yourself.  These are major failures in leadership, as you undermine your own authority and cause your employees to stop caring about their work.  Employees will start performing to the minimum, rather than trying to excel, because they have no desire to impress you, as they don’t like you to start with.  Eventually that dislike spreads to dislike for the job and the company as a whole, and employees start biding their time until another opportunity comes along, rather than making plans to invest in their careers with the company.

There are right ways to lead and manage people and they’ve been identified as the right ways to do things because they work.  I wonder at how some people attain managerial positions and yet these basic tenets of management and leadership seem beyond their grasp.

(Image Source)