Traffic Safety Month

September is traffic safety month in Vietnam. What this means is that a large number of banners are placed around town with wording describing the amount of fines motorists can expect to receive if running red lights. It also means that more traffic police than average are seen on the streets.

This morning, which is a Saturday, Ngân and I woke up early and went to have breakfast at one of our favorite spots, the Trung Nguyên Cafe on the corner of the busy intersection of Trần Hưng Đạo and Nguyễn Văn Cừ. A pair of traffic police were posted at the intersection, and we sat on the second floor of the coffee shop, pretty much directly above them.

At one point, one of the pair blew his whistle and pointed at a car that was coming from District 4 and turning right onto Trần Hưng Đạo. I didn’t see any obvious infraction of traffic laws. Since we were sitting right above the traffic cops, we were wondering if there was going to be any exchange of money.

Initially, we didn’t see any. The man who had been driving went for his wallet at one point but then put it back. He then gave the police his passport. They gave him back his passport and then pointed at his car. As he was walking back to his car, his hand went for his wallet again. After sitting in his car for a couple seconds, he came back to the police and handed over his passport again. One of the police took his passport and held the passport inside one of the boxes mounted on the side of his motorbike. While he had his hand with the passport inside the box, there were about three motorbikes nearby waiting for the traffic light to change before they started moving. The cop with his hand in the box waved them on while keeping his other hand in the box. After the motorbikes had moved on, he then gave the passport back to the man.

One of the officers then took a pen and pretended to write a traffic citation, but wrote nothing and didn’t give the man any receipt or record of citation. After the man was on his way, the two policemen started packing up and preparing to move on. One thing that one of them did was look around carefully before reaching into the same box on the side of the motorbike and take something out, all the while carefully concealing it.

So, was money exchanged? Did the man who was pulled over pay off the cops? I didn’t see any money, but it’s not hard to guess what happened. Enjoy traffic safety month everyone. Remember, the traffic police are there to protect us and keep order.


Ten Years On…

Where were you 10 years ago today? It was my second day of college.


Before I start this poem, I’d like to ask you to join me

In a moment of silence
In honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon last September 11th.
I would also like to ask you
To offer up a moment of silence
For all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned,
disappeared, tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes,
For the victims in both Afghanistan and the U.S.

And if I could just add one more thing…
A full day of silence
For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have died at the
hands of U.S.-backed Israeli
forces over decades of occupation.
Six months of silence for the million and-a-half Iraqi people,
mostly children, who have died of
malnourishment or starvation as a result of an 11-year U.S.
embargo against the country.

Before I begin this poem,
Two months of silence for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa,
Where homeland security made them aliens in their own country.
Nine months of silence for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
Where death rained down and peeled back every layer of
concrete, steel, earth and skin
And the survivors went on as if alive.
A year of silence for the millions of dead in Vietnam – a people,
not a war – for those who
know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel, their
relatives’ bones buried in it, their babies born of it.
A year of silence for the dead in Cambodia and Laos, victims of
a secret war … ssssshhhhh….
Say nothing … we don’t want them to learn that they are dead.
Two months of silence for the decades of dead in Colombia,
Whose names, like the corpses they once represented, have
piled up and slipped off our tongues.

Before I begin this poem.
An hour of silence for El Salvador …
An afternoon of silence for Nicaragua …
Two days of silence for the Guatemaltecos …
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years.
45 seconds of silence for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas
25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans who found
their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could
poke into the sky.
There will be no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains.
And for those who were strung and swung from the heights of
sycamore trees in the south, the north, the east, and the west…

100 years of silence…
For the hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples from this half
of right here,
Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand
Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears.
Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry on the
refrigerator of our consciousness …

So you want a moment of silence?
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating into dust.

Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
And the rest of us hope to hell it won’t be. Not like it always has

Because this is not a 9/11 poem.
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem
This is a 1492 poem.

This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written.
And if this is a 9/11 poem, then:
This is a September 11th poem for Chile, 1971.
This is a September 12th poem for Steven Biko in South Africa,
This is a September 13th poem for the brothers at Attica Prison,
New York, 1971.
This is a September 14th poem for Somalia, 1992.
This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground in ashes
This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told
The 110 stories that history chose not to write in textbooks
The 110 stories that CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and
Newsweek ignored.
This is a poem for interrupting this program.

And still you want a moment of silence for your dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empty:
The unmarked graves
The lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children
Before I start this poem we could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.

If you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines and the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights,
Delete the instant messages,
Derail the trains, the light rail transit.

If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window
of Taco Bell,
And pay the workers for wages lost.
Tear down the liquor stores,
The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the
Penthouses and the Playboys.

If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July
During Dayton’s 13 hour sale
Or the next time your white guilt fills the room where my beautiful
people have gathered.

You want a moment of silence
Then take it NOW,
Before this poem begins.
Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand,
In the space between bodies in embrace,
Here is your silence.
Take it.
But take it all…Don’t cut in line.
Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime. But we,
Tonight we will keep right on singing…For our dead.

EMMANUEL ORTIZ,  September 11th, 2002.

Low Unemployment and Low Population

President Obama just gave a big speech on jobs and job creation. In an article that I was reading, I saw a map highlighting which states had high and low unemployment rates. I also noticed that a sparsely populated state where I used to live (South Dakota) had a low rate of unemployment. So then I went over to Wikipedia and got some numbers. Here’s what I came up with:

Am I the only one to see this correlation? And if it is indeed a correlation, what’s the explanation?