When reality obscures paradise

We were ushered into a darkened room. The fading lime wallpaper, peeling off in seeming perpetuity in the midst of inertia and inattention, reflected misplaced priorities and dirty behaviour.  Just before, our Collectivo driver spoke to us with the authority of a man who saw it as second nature to lead naïve tourists to their frontier fate. At the entrance to the armed building, he instucted us in Spanish that non-Mexicans- ostensibly gringos- who were in Mexico for more than a week and who travelled by bus would have to hand over $500 MX. Despondent looks, spreading across our eclectic group- a Sevillian hippy artist, a sporty Dutch couple, a budding, female Nicaraguan sound engineer/DJ- turned to hushed acceptance. We all lined up in front of a two-manned counter. The attention focused on the Mexican Primera Division fixture playing on the TV was replaced by the quest for mammon. As my turn was next up, I was struck by the insouciance of it all. A fading passport stamp was the direct result of us handing over cash to a man without any record whatsoever of our payment. I walked away, feeling powerless, but not especially angered by this arbitrary payment. What message does this send out to friendly tourists for whom Mexico offers a plethora of cultural and natural delights? It sends out the message that agencies are untouchable. That entrenched hierarchies within nominal government agencies, are self-interested and not beholden to anyone. The border line between Mexico and Guatemala, scything through the ancient Mayan empire, is an excuse to rip off foreigners. Why doesn’t government realise that this is detrimental to their image and dignity as a nation? Perhaps it has done and still does. But how does a government defeat an internal racket that supports the livelihoods of thousands? Why is the central aim extracting money from the extranajero when tonnes of drugs, fuelling drug wars and one of the world’s biggest murder rates, flow through every day?

The Western press self-flagellate often in their countrymen’s treatment of foreigners- often correctly. Hospitality towards the non-citizen is a central tenet of our democratic and liberal values. European countries process hundreds of asylum applications per day in an attempt to protect those in need of refuge. It reflects our duty to help those who did not receive the blessing of being born in western societies. So why does the Mexican state slap an outrageous foreigner tax- knowing how alienating and dispiriting this is? Because short-term greed and rapacity characterises Mexican society- handicaps to a dysfunctional and stagnant country that is in desperate need of reform and de-corrupting influences. Mexico’s unofficial caste system is only legitimated by unofficial benefits that flow down to a select few non-whites who accept that bribery and corruption confers onto them in their favour are adequate substitutes for true liberation.

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‘No hablo Ingles’

My okay grasp of Spanish derives from the uneventful teen years of learning Spanish at school. The toil of conjugating verbs and painstakingly listening to the crackly audio tapes of Spanish teens discussing their hobbies eventually bore fruit…to a certain extent.

Mexican Spanish speakers wince at you when you lisp the ‘c’ or the ‘z’ in ‘gracias’ and ‘azul’ respectively. Latin Americans demonstrate their proclivity to elide phrases such as ‘buenos dias’ to ‘buena dia’ that at times offend our grammatical sensibilities.

My time in Mexico so far has taught me that being able to memorise verb tables and noun/adjective agreements is in itself inadequate in navigating the language of free-flowing Mexicano Spanish.

I hope that by the end of 3 weeks in Central America, I would be able to detect these nuances a bit better. But this would be delusional since my strong suit is not in listening, but in reading other languages. The brain can only grow with thorough training. Who knows whether anything will stick in there in the long term. But I would be lying if I were to say the that I wasn’t enjoying the ride of a lifetime and an opportunity to encounter interesting and vivacious young Mexicans in their native tongue. Let’s hope that people would not want to practice their English than I my rudimentary Spanish.

 

Americas

Having explored Old Europe in the past few weeks with great friends, I am about to cross the Atlantic to tour Mexico, Guatemala, and the Deep South of the US with two awesome buddies I have been mates with since, well, birth.

I do not promise to share any profound truths nor mind-exploding knowledge from my trip.

Hopping from one place to another within a short space of time is a flawed exercise in discovering new places. Indeed a single, crisp edition of the Economist provides more insight into Mexican bureaucracy and Guatemalan drug trafficking than I will ever hope to in 3 long weeks.

Instead, I’d like to share thoughts that have been provoked by my surroundings. It is impossible to be impervious to the socio-economic dimensions of a faraway place. Hopefully I’ll chuck in a few anecdotes, some inevitable faux pas, and admiration for rich cultures and jaw-dropping scenery.

Please feel free to get in touch and let me know if you’re near us!

 

Sports

Over the years, I’ve been an avid reader on sports analysis in the pages of national newspapers and sports periodicals. My personal input has been limited to the opinions of others.

I am determined to put that right by articulating my own set of views on topics that are either under-reported or seen, on the whole, in unoriginal ways. That said, I will always reference writers who have influenced aspects of my views from the past and present.

My sporting analysis is untried and untested. So if my ideas seem half-baked at first, I will aim to learn from my mistakes. I will always welcome feedback.

One of my favourite things to do in social situations is to play devil’s advocate. If sporting banter was limited to outrage about officiating or limited to tribal tendencies, I would be turned off in an instant. Questioning certain impulses and tendencies creates the potential for all aspects of sport to be engaging and multi-dimensional.

Writers who have influenced me over the years include Matthew Syed, Gabriele Marcotti, Marina Hyde, Mike Atherton, and Ben Rothenberg. Their ability to immerse the reader into seemingly trivial debates about the technical and social debates about sports never ceases to amaze me.

Even though it is not my intention to become a sports journalist (or a journalist for that matter), my biggest aim from this endeavour is to engage meaningfully in a combination of two passions of mine- spectator sports and writing.

I hope this becomes a regular and long-lasting pet project of mine and I hope to enter a dialogue with whomever is interested.

Starting the blog life

Welcome!

The idea of blogging seemed anathema to my sensibilities. Sticking things on  the internet that would leave a permanent imprint seems pretty risky in this day and age. From browsing cookies to fastidious HR departments in big corporates, placing ideas onto a public forum invites attention- and sometimes unwanted attention

Even supposedly anodyne sentiments can be taken the wrong way. That’s why I will try to steer clear of anything too contentious. I find that it is much better to find and share common ground with a diverse set of friends and family than to antagonise people who would be disappointed in this author’s view on one matter or another.

I am not claiming that this blog will be totally apolitical. Most topics do inevitably wade into the broader political arena. But if a certain topic does betray a bias in the author’s perspective, I am always open to receiving feedback on looking at the issue from a different light.

In this blog, I will write about my main interests; behavioural economics, urbanism and cities, travel, food, religion, football, tennis, rugby, history (all periods), music, and plenty of (old and new) books. Obviously I will also wade into other areas.

My love of writing and discussing ideas with people is something that I love to do as a pastime. And I want to keep it that way. Although if you’re reading from the FT or the WSJ I am always happy to talk…(semi-serious tone…not sure where this is going).

I can’t wait to embark on this writing journey and I am equally excited to spend time expressing my thoughts and feelings on our amazing world and its complex arrangement.