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Monday, May 04, 2009


How's your traffic jam?

One of the things I appreciate about the internet is the way it makes it possible for us to communicate with people we would never otherwise meet. Recently I have been communicating with someone in Cairo and I must say that my knowledge of Cairo is scant. My online friend mentioned being caught in a traffic jam which prompted me to wonder just what a Cairo traffic jam is like.

On my last visit back to Australia some friends who live in Toowoomba were complaining bitterly about how terrible the traffic was in Brisbane. To hear them speak you might think that to be caught in a traffic jam in Brisbane was completely intolerable.

I lived a long time in Sydney. For some years prior to leaving, my work required me to visit schools all over the city. When I got the opportunity to move back to Brisbane, the thought of being able to escape the traffic jams of Sydney was an incentive for the move. Let me assure anyone who thinks Brisbane traffic jams are terrible that by comparison to Sydney, Brisbane's traffic moves very smoothly.

I learned to put Sydney's traffic into perspective after I'd spent some time in Bangkok. The population of Bangkok would be more than double that of Sydney and when all those people are trying to get to or from work the traffic is utter chaos. Anarchy is the norm on Bangkok roads. Lane markings mean little and traffic lights not much more. When you notice the inside lane on a Bangkok road is free, you ease yourself into it and fly along for a little way until you come upon a vendor slowly peddling a heavily laden three wheeler ahead of you. If you're lucky he is actually going in the same direction as you are. For pedestrians it is extremely dangerous to put a foot on a Bangkok road and even on the footpath you have to contend with motorcycles that have given up trying to make progress on the road. When I visited Sydney after living in Bangkok I was surprised at how courteous Sydney drivers are.

Last year I made my first visit to India and when I'd spent a little time in Delhi I realised that traffic in Bangkok isn't so bad after all. You haven't really experienced a traffic jam until you've been stuck for a few hours in Delhi traffic getting absolutely nowhere. And when the traffic is moving fast you have to hope you have a good driver because traffic is moving every which way with horns blaring constantly. I have the greatest respect for the ability of Delhi taxi drivers. Without them I probably would never have gone anywhere. There's no way you'd get me behind a wheel in Delhi. Returning to Bangkok after experiencing Delhi I have to say the traffic is quiet and almost pleasant.

Sometimes I wonder how people back in Australia are coping with the economic downturn. On the news here I see garment workers in Wollongong protesting about the loss of their jobs. If you lose your job in Australia you have to contend with the poverty of living on the dole. Let me assure you, your poverty is relative just as traffic jams are. I have friends in Cambodia who even with a job have a lifestyle way below that of an Australian on the dole. My Cambodian friends who are unemployed are even worse off. They have no running water and no money to buy bottled water as I did when I lived there. If they are lucky enough to have a pump, they boil the water from underground before they drink it. Some boil the river water and drink that but that doesn't kill the germs from the human faeces in the water. Most Australians, even if unemployed, have drinkable water piped into their homes.

If you happen to have lost your job recently because of the economic downturn, I'm sorry about that. As you drive to your next job interview if you get caught in a traffic jam and you think you'll be late for the interview, take it easy. Just think of someone in Delhi trying to get to their interview on a broken-down motorcycle or perhaps someone in Cambodia riding through the traffic on the way to their interview on a borrowed bicycle. Stay calm. I hope you get the job.

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