Another week in Santiago

One thing I’ve noticed about Santiago since arriving has been that the drivers here are much more courteous to pedestrians than what I’m used to. When crossing a road at an intersection, turning drivers will typically give way to pedestrians even if there’s no pedestrian crossing. I’ve occasionally seen drivers flash their lights to indicate that they won’t flatten me if I walk out in front of their vehicle, and this morning I noticed people politely tooting at each other when merging lanes, to indicate to each other to go ahead. The notable place where this politeness doesn’t seem to apply is with emergency vehicles — drivers in Santiago don’t seem to give way to ambulances, and several times now I’ve seen an ambulance stuck waiting at an intersection where drivers are making no attempt to make space for it. I’ve been informed, though, that it’s only really an emergency if the sirens are going, and that flashing lights are only a semi-emergency, but not one that’s important enough for other traffic to give way. Supposedly all of the drivers know this too, so for now I might give this the benefit of the doubt.

I still find the metropolitan bus system confusing, and I’ve yet to actually try and catch a bus. Apparently a lot of locals in Santiago also find it very confusing. Supposedly it used to be that there were no bus stops, and that anyone who wanted a bus could flag it down on the street. Every bus going past would screech to a halt, and the person who flagged the bus would hop onto the one they wanted. Recently, meaning within the last year or two, several billion dollars has been spent upgrading the underground metropolitan train system, and removing a lot of the buses (perhaps half of them, at a guess, leaving the larger buses). It’s not really a wonder that people find the buses confusing. Bus stops along the main drag have assigned route numbers, and only those specific buses will stop at a particular stop. A couple of nights ago when we were thinking about getting a bus home, we figured out we’d be able to jump on any bus with a number between about 400 and 410. Unfortunately, every stop we passed only catered for one of these numbers, and several times a bus cruised past without stopping before we gave up and jumped into a taxi. To make things more confusing, the buses also don’t have any schedules — they start at one end, stop at the other, and turn up whenever they feel like it. It’s really no wonder that there’s been rioting over the Santiago public transport restructuring.

Another major difference I’ve noticed compared with Wellington has been that there seem to be a lot of service-area jobs that would probably never exist back home, at least in today’s society. For instance, there are security workers of one sort or another everywhere, in nearly every shop of significance. At the foot of Santa Lucia, where it’s necessary to sign a book on entry to indicate that you’ve entered (for security reasons), there’s a guard whose sole duty seems to be to ensure that people sign the book. People stand around on the road and accept tips for guiding drivers into parking spaces, I’ve seen people stationed outside parking buildings whose job it is to wave the drivers through when there are spaces on the road and between pedestrians. Retailers create additional jobs by separating the people who write receipts from the people who take money. To buy an exercise book at the Chilean equivalent of Whitcoulls, it was necessary to take the book to one counter, get a written receipt for the book (and leave the book there), take the receipt to another counter, pay for it and get it signed, then return to the first counter and collect the book. Stacey tells me that this is common throughout retailers in Santiago. This morning, I noted the large number of people who seemed to be employed for sweeping the fallen leaves off the footpaths in the main streets down-town. They were still doing it several hours later when I walked home at lunch time. I followed a chap as he swept the leaves to the edge of the path, only for them to blow straight back into the middle after he’d continued on for a few more metres.

I’m guessing at this point, but I wonder if a lot of this might be because there’s basically no welfare system in Chile. People who don’t have work really don’t have anything, which probably means there’s probably more of an effort to create work for people in as many places as possible. People here generally seem to be pretty generous to those who are having a hard time.

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