My awareness is getting better. Last night, I'd been working in a restaurant near Sukhabatar Square until it closed at midnight. Walking home, I was about to pass through a group of three guys when suddenly this flash of danger kicked in. WarningWarningWarning!!!
I stopped, turned on my heel, and walked in a broad circle around them. One of the guys looked at me. I looked back briefly, but then kept moving.
I'm keeping an eye on these guys because they're kind of sort of in my way in the direction I'm going. I can circle around because I'm at the broad part of the walkway past Sukhabar, so there's two paths. But they're still near me.
As I'm watching, a random passerby walks through the three tough dudes. One of them grabs the passerby by the arm, and starts to try totally hold him. The passerby yells, shouts, shoves, pushes, shakes, and is able to get away and run off towards the night.
My awareness is getting better.
This is the most dangerous place I've been. By far. A friend is visiting me and staying at my apartment. Someone tried to pickpocket him on his third day in town. It was raining pretty heavily, and he said he felt like his computer bag (slung over his back) was swaying in the wind. Then he realized, "Hey, that's too strong for the wind" - he turns around, and there's a guy soaked in just a t-shirt rifling through his bag.
My friend, a big American guy from a rural family, grabs the would-be thief and starts yelling and shouting at him. "Who the fuck do you think you are, what the fuck do you think you're doing, you piece of shit, you!!" Then my buddy remembers that there's gangs that work together here a bit, and looks around. The thief gets away while my friend is looking around, and he comes back to my apartment, somewhat shaken up.
I see about three fistfights a week. A lot of times I stop and get ready to jump in to protect the victim if he gets in serious trouble, but it hasn't come to that yet. I was about to jump the three muggers last night if the guy hadn't gotten away. First strike and training combined with no delusions about honor gives you a fighting chance against a slightly larger group.
Anyways, I'm rambling. This is supposed to be the preface to a post about Feeling Better vs. Doing Better.
I've had a number of snarls, threats, and people grabbing at me at me in my 2+ months here. It's the most dangerous place I've spent significant time.
The strangest one, the one that puzzled me the most, was when a street kid grabbed at me.
It was down on Seoul Street, again near Sukhabatar Square, and I was walking from the main Square to Adesso, the cafe I was primarily doing my work at.
A kid, I don't know how old... early teens maybe?... he gets right in my path and puts his hands out in a begging position.
Now, I never ever given money to panhandlers. I believe in helping people and I think it's good to bring others up in the world. I've worked at soup kitchens and I donate 10% of what I make to responsible charities. But I think giving money to panhandlers is a very inefficient use of funds. Best case scenario, the panhandler is going to go buy McDonalds or Taco Bell or whatever, where they can get a meal for $2. Whereas a soup kitchen, buying in bulk, can serve up healthier decent food for 20 cents to 40 cents per meal. There's a variety of quality staples that are inexpensive, including rice and beans, oatmeal, and eggs... mix in a little fruit and vegetables, and you've got an okay meal. maybe not the best possible meal, but still much much better than McD's.
Your money literally does more than 500% more good when channeled through an intelligent, compassionate organization who can buy in bulk and administrate intelligently. That's even assuming the panhandler wants to buy food or medicine or shelter, which is a stretch. There's plenty of studies on this, and in most places, a lot of that money goes to intoxicants, cigarettes, booze, etc. It's infinitely more compassionate to never give to panhandlers, and instead channel your donations through well-run relief organizations.
So this teenager is in front of me with his hands out in a begging gesture. I try to move around him, and he shifts to get into my way. I try to move the other direction, and he shifts and now he's right in my space. I hold my arm out to keep some distance between he and I, and he half-strikes/half-grabs at me.
I'm not sure what he was trying to do - snatch something? Pick my pockets? Just sucker punch and run away?
Anyways, no damage done, I get around past him and yell some curses at him while moving onwards. He's got like 4-6 buddies with him, so I keep moving, and I take a different route when I walk home later that day.
I thought about that kid for a while afterwards. My first inclinations were all angry, of course - putting your hands on someone in an unfriendly way is not at all okay, and should result in serious consequences.
But after I calmed down, I reflected a little more. I figure, at that age, getting the shit kicked out of him (which will probably happen if he keeps trying to put his hands on people like that - the kid was brazen, I'm not exactly a small and defenseless looking person) - anyway, getting beaten up is probably not going to discourage him. He's got serious problems going on.
So I brainstormed a bit. How much would an orphanage cost to fund? I reckon, with real estate and furnishings, maybe you could get two rooms of 20 bunk beds per room, for... maybe amortized to $3,000 per month? Food, $2 per person per day, so call that $80 per day per kid. That's another $3,200 in expenses. You'd need maybe 3-4 staff working there to keep the place clean and keep order and not go crazy. Call that another $1,000 in salary per month. Security, medicine, electricity, miscellaneous - maybe another $1,000? (More? Less? I don't know)
Okay. So you could probably take 40 kids that were having a tough go of it, and get them fed, clothed, housed, and some basic education and medicine for $8,800 per month? That's $220 per kid per month. On the one hand, that's kind of on the high side relative to the per capita GDP of the country. On the other hand, you'd expect a certain lawless streak, things getting broken and stolen, and significant need for medicine and other cleanup of previous bad condition. So yeah, maybe $220 is about right.
If you could get waivers on property taxes and a favorable interest rate and favorable prices from compassionate businesses in the community, maybe you could cut that down to $150 per kid per month. So that'd be $72,000 per year to get 40 kids off the street and into a condition where they'd be getting fed, clothed, sheltered, and some education. Maybe my numbers are off, but the orders of magnitude seem correct.
So I start thinking on that. Obviously, these kids have at least some tenacity which I respect. Crime is awful and inexcusable under almost all circumstances, but coming at a big guy double your weight does show some chutzpah. So maybe some of these kids could even go on to be leaders and do valuable things if trained in a better way.
This is how I try to think. When something is broken, I want to think about what it would take to fix it. Maybe I'll build orphanages at some point. It seems valuable. If you can convert would-be criminals into valuable leaders and productive citizens, that'd be a double-win for any society.
That's doing better. Now, this post is getting long enough as it is, but I'd also like to highlight that you've got to walk through reality as it is in order to get to solutions.
Sometimes on this site, I describe things pretty bluntly. If I were to describe one of these kids, I might say, "Driven by desperation, filled with anger, largely fearless, largely without conscience, hateful, dirty, disheveled, a threat on many levels to innocent people trying to go about their business."
And occasionally a conscientious person hits the site and says, "How dare you! What do you, you privileged Westerner, what do you know about their lives! How dare you, how dare you!"
But you know what? I don't think those kind of people actually fix stuff very often. I never, ever see scorn and shaming and sanctimoniousness from the people who actually make things better instead of trying to feel better, or worse, trying to make others feel bad for honest observations.
I reckon, the readers at this site probably are action-oriented, build-stuff, fix-stuff kind of people. So maybe I'm preaching to the choir here. But I'd say, the next time you're about to get indignant with someone, grab a shovel instead. Dig a trench, build a wall. Start putting together plans to actually make things better in reality.
I analyze and write sometimes about mistakes people make, ways they act that are destructive to themselves and others. That's not normally what you'd see out of people who observe these situations. Most people go, "Oh these poor terrible people, we must open our hearts and souls, and fill the world with compassionate!"
You know what? Fuck that. That's trying to feel better instead of make things better. More building, less feelings.
Walking with a 4' hiking staff might cut down on your encounters. More broadly useful and fun and less lethal than a knife.
Mongolia does really spark my interest. Maybe it's not surprising that 1 in 200 men are direct descendants of Genghis Khan http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2010/08/1-in-200-men-direct-descendants-of-genghis-khan/
That would be very interesting if you can write about your experience for some of the different places you lived.
I'm glad you are OK, but it seems you shouldn't stay there for to long. If trouble finds you that regularly, at some point you are going to be out of luck.
Regarding feeling good vs. doing good: be careful what you tell us about the orphanage. Paradoxically, it seems that talking about your goals makes it less likely you will achieve them: http://www.ted.com/talks/derek_sivers_keep_your_goals_to_yourself.html Of course that point needs to be balanced by people holding you accountable. Posting it on your busy blog is worth something too.
You summed it up here:
"And occasionally a conscientious person hits the site and says, “How dare you! What do you, you privileged Westerner, what do you know about their lives! How dare you, how dare you!”
But you know what? I don’t think those kind of people actually fix stuff very often. I never, ever see scorn and shaming and sanctimoniousness from the people who actually make things better instead of trying to feel better, or worse, trying to make others feel bad for honest observations."
We are a strange and fortunate breed, the benefactors of western society. I appreciate how thoroughly you think about the every day happenings. I don't think the justification for not giving money to panhandlers is necessary though.
I try not to put my values onto others. That beggar who wants cigarettes more than food... shoot, that sounds fine to me. I don't smoke (never have) but who am I to say that is not money better spent. That said, I also don't like to give to beggars because I'd rather see my money go to other things. Helping people isn't always giving then what they want, but rather what they need. I don't always know what they need, so it ends up leaving this system in a cycle.
August 11th, 2011. Chiba, Japan.
A mix of confusion and awe as I step off the platform.
I must have made a mistake. But maybe a good mistake.
Birds caw and cicadas click gently, filling the warm afternoon air with sounds of nature. The train platform is open to the air and on the other side of the tracks is a high fence. Beyond it, a bicycle and walking path leading to a park.
Children are running around and playing in the park, but surprisingly quietly. Very Japanese.
By Leo Babauta
It seems that many parents here in the U.S. (and very possibly in other countries) are worried about how much their child is learning by a certain age. Does my kid know everything that a 2nd grader should know? Is my kid learning as fast as other 3-year-olds? Does my sister's kid know more than my kid does?
I think the traditional school system encourages this (there are non-traditional schools that break away from it). Schools have decided that all kids need to know X, Y, and Z by age 6, and then U, V, and W by age 7, and so on. How does this get determined? Who are these oracles of education who know exactly what our kids need to know by age 18, and can predict what the future will be like at that time? It's impossible. None of us could have predicted what 2013 was like in 1999, and we certainly don't know what the world will be like in another 10-15 years.
So I've stopped worrying so much about learning X by a certain age. I've also decided it's pointless to compare my kids to any other kids. What's the point? Life isn't a race. It doesn't matter who learns what by any age -- what matters is that we're preparing our kids for life, and that they have the tools to be happy and do what they want as adults.
That's what matters.