Bureaucrazy

Dave and I have just finished the most unnecessarily bureaucratic process we have ever experienced.  This honour belongs to the migration department in Guadalajara.  I was trying to get a temporary immigration visa, called an FM3, so I can legally work as an English teacher in Mexico.  Dave was applying for a visa so he can have Mexican computer clients.

Guadalajara Migracion building

Guadalajara's downtown Migracion department building

Let me go through the process we had to endure.  Keep in mind that to attend each booth in Migracion involved a wait of between 10 minutes and three hours – usually about an hour.  Also, every visit meant a drive downtown in peak time, taking up to an hour driving time each way, and paying for parking.

Step 1:  Visited Booth 1 to get an information sheet about what we needed to give them, and forms to fill out.

Step 2:  Photocopied documents and hired a secretary to type out the forms (as required).

Step 3:  Went to the bank with an approved form to pay the deposits for the FM3 processing, then photocopied the deposit receipts.

Step 4:  We both presented our documents and deposit receipts at Booth 3.  Dave’s was accepted, but I was told to get a new number and wait in line as we couldn’t hand in our paperwork at the same time. 

Step 5:  I handed in my paperwork.  We were told to come back in a week.

Step 6:  So we came back a week later to be told by Booth 7 that our documents hadn’t been processed.  We could wait or come back the next day.

Step 7:  We came back the next day, to be told that the proof of residency receipt wasn’t sufficient (because it was a rent receipt).  I wondered why Booth 3 accepted the receipt if it wasn’t sufficient.

Booths inside Migracion building Guadalajara

Some of the booths inside Migracion building Guadalajara

Step 8:  Returned with a detailed receipt showing our residency for 3+ months at the motor home park and presented it to Booth 3.  The Booth 3 lady told me that was not sufficient either; they needed an electricity receipt from the park, a letter from the owner (not the manager!) saying we lived there, and a photocopy of the owner’s ID and his signature.

Step 9:  We came back with the aforementioned papers and gave them to Booth 3.  Told to come back in a week.

Step 10:  The next visit a week later, we were told our papers weren’t yet ready.  We could wait or come back another day.  We decided to wait this time, to avoid the ragged commute.  Three and a half hours later, we gave up.

Step 11:  The next day, we visited Booth 7, were given our documents back and were told to go back to Booth 1 to pick up new information sheets and forms.

Step 12:  Waited in line at Booth 1 and collected the new information requirements, including photos and payment at a bank for the FM3 processing.

Step 13:  Hired a secretary to type out the new forms (which contained a lot of the same information!) and to take the visa photos. 

Mercedes filling out some of our FM3 paperwork

Mercedes the friendly secretary filling out some of our FM3 paperwork

Step 14:  Paid the remaining processing fee at the bank and made photocopies of the receipt. 

Step 15:  Handed in all the documents and receipts to Booth 2 and were told to wait a week.  We tried to hand over our photos but they were refused.

Step 16:  Paid the tow truck $500 pesos so he would offload our car and not take it to the impound lot on the other side of the city.  Okay, maybe that wasn’t Migracion’s fault.

Step 17:  Came back a week PLUS ONE DAY! later (to make sure the docs were ready this time), and waited over an hour to collect our ongoing documentation from Booth 7. 

Step 18:  We handed over Dave’s photos to Booth 2 with the documents.  Why they couldn’t take those photos the last time with the rest of the information flummoxed us.  I tried to hand over my photos, but was told I needed a tax number first.

Step 19:  Went back to Booth 7 a week later and was told a tax number wasn’t required yet after all, but instead I had to fill out another form.

Booth 7 at Migracion Building, Guadalajara

Booth 7 with our favourite cheerful attendants (the rest of the booths were staffed by total grumps)

Step 20:  Gave the form to Booth 2, but was told they needed photocopies of every page of my passport before accepting the information.  I had already given them the photocopies of every page, and I didn’t have another passport copy with me, so we had to leave.

Step 21:  Came back with the new form completed PLUS the second set of passport photocopies.  Delivered them to Booth 2 after an hour wait.  Was told to return in one week.

Step 22:  Returned one week and a day later to collect the FM3, and give my signature and fingerprints.  But I still had to collect a tax number within thirty days and deliver it back to Migracion.

Step 23:  Returned three weeks later with the tax number to Booth 2, and was told to wait in line for an hour to collect another form from Booth 1.  The lady at Booth 2 showed us the form, we needed, but refused to give it to us. 

Step 24:  Collected the form from Booth 1.

Booth 1 at Migracion Building, Guadalajara, Jalisco

Booth 1 - the information booth

Step 25:  Dave and I filled out our forms stating details we’d already given.  We also had to write them a letter explaining that we were fulfilling the tax number condition, give them a copy of our tax numbers, and the sheets they gave us requiring the tax number.  Triplicate reporting when the information was self-explanatory.  After another long wait we handed them into Booth 2, and were told to come back the next day to re-collect the FM3s.

Step 26:  Two days later, after a mercifully short wait for our final visit, we were handed our FM3s.

By the time we got to the last few steps, I was starting to swear under my breath.  I longed for the efficiency of the Canadian and New Zealand visa processes.  Just two, maybe three visits, one processing agent to deal with, one set of requirements and a simple, easy-to-follow process.  But here in Mexico, my theory is that there is no incentive for the Migracion to become more efficient or customer-friendly.  They are doing you a favour in their minds, and so they can use as many different processes and booths as they like.  Time and effort is not money for them. 

The scary thing is, on Step 21 while waiting an hour to be seen at the booth, I read in Migracion’s magazine that they recently modernised the visa process and made it more efficient.  I shudder to think of the torture new migrants must’ve suffered before then.

Corruption and the Drug War

My partner and I haven’t had to deal with much local corruption here in Mexico.  The times when we thought we’d have to pay a bribe here or there: when our car was towed, when receiving a cellphone plan discount, getting our immigration papers etc., nothing was implied.  Even trying to give a generous tip was sometimes refused.

It’s a nice reality from what we read before we came.  We were told that the local police would stop you for a cash payment, border officials might need an incentive to leave you alone, and “morditas” (little bites) would be required to make life smooth.

Instead, in recent years everyday Mexicans seem to be less and less corrupt as a culture.  Maybe they instinctively recognise the damage it does to their economy and way of life, or maybe enforcement against such corruption has increased.

Unfortunately, corruption in Mexico still permeates anything to do with the drug war, senior business leaders and politicians.

As part of the federal government’s protracted war on drug cartels, swathes of mayors, local police chiefs, elected officials and community leaders are arrested for corruption relating to the drug trade.  Even the head of Mexico’s narco offensive in 2008 was bought. A lot of the times the problem is greed for money and power.  But sometimes the corrupted don’t have much choice.  Either they accept money and help the drug traffickers, or they and their families may be kidnapped or shot.

And the latter is also common here.  An English language client of mine was shot at in his car while giving a friend a ride back home.  She is the daughter of a member of the judicial police and had received death threats.  Federal police and soldiers are ambushed on the roadside, tortured, decapitated.  Senior politicians are assassinated.  There are thousands of kidnappings per year.

I still feel safer here than in many parts of the USA and New Zealand – partly because most of the crime is centered near the US border, in Mexico City, and/or is drug related.

The problem is that many state and local police are corrupt or inefficient.  I read an estimate that 98% of crimes in Mexico are unpunished.  Municipal police can be paid as low as 30 pesos an hour ($US 2.27).  That sort of wage doesn’t encourage anyone to put themselves in harms way.  It also promotes widespread corruption.

There is a lack of transparency and checks and balances in local, state and federal budgets.  Politicians earmark essential funds for pet projects, and siphon money as it is spent.  This is a problem in the USA as well, but in Mexico it’s harder to trace.

In my opinion, Mexico’s Drug War started by President Calderon (a good man, but hamstrung by widespread self-interest and corruption in his government and administration) is unwinnable unless the rich and powerful of Mexico renounce corruption and their own ties with the drug cartels.

Vacation Destinations

I’m writing this on a rustic cabin patio overlooking a forest south of Mazamitla, Mexico.  Mazamitla is a mountain town about 2,200 metres high and 120 km south of Guadalajara.  Mazamitla is a favourite vacation place for middle-upper class Tapatios (residents of Guadalajara) during the summer and on weekends.  Second to white sandy beaches (which are popular world-over), Mexicans love to relax in cabins with wood trim and wood decks, surrounded by forests.
Mazamitla trees and cabins

Our view from the Mazamitla, Jalisco cabin

I wonder if the desire for a particular vacation destination reflects elements that are uncommon where people usually live.  Much of Mexico is hot and dry, the remaining forests are shrinking in size, and the cities are polluted and full of people.  So people seek out temperate pine forests in mountain areas.  Wood is expensive here and an uncommon building material, so wood cabins are a touch of the exotic.

Canadians flock to Mexico during the winter, leaving behind the bone-chilling cold for a warm, dry, sunny climate, with a touch of the exotic – Mexican culture and food.

Teotihuacan pyramids near Mexico City

Teotihuacan pyramids near Mexico City

Many Mexicans, if they can afford it, like to holiday in Canada and Europe.  The snow, cold, rocky mountains and clean cities are so different and exciting. 

Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

A mountain beside frozen Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

New Zealanders like to head to Australia or Southeast Asia for big-city excitement and shopping, or the Pacific Islands to escape the damp chill of winter.  For many kiwis, lying on a beach and snorkelling on a coral reef for a few days sounds very appealing. 

Sydney Australia

A cityside Australian beach

The grass is usually greener on the other side when vacationing, but probably only because it is different than the usual and slightly exotic.  The number of people who decide to move permanently to the “other side of the fence” is much lower.  “A change is as good as a holiday” is the saying – “a holiday is as good as the change it gives” also appears to be true.

Swine Flu

It was new, it was scary, it was somewhere, it was everywhere.  No-one had it, lots of people had it, it was deadly, it was harmless.  The media wet their pants over it, the media lost interest over it.  What on earth happened to the swine flu?

It certainly hasn’t disappeared.  Ironically enough for a so-called “Mexican Flu”, I’ve been passed over while my young brother in Wellington was hit.

The short answer is that it’s still spreading out of control across the world.  But it doesn’t seem to be any more deadly than other flu strains that crop up every winter.

Here in Mexico, the southern states are reporting a surge of H1N1 flu cases.  Jalisco (my state) has 802 cases, with five reported deaths.  For a state with almost 7 million people, that’s not many – even when you include estimated unreported cases.

Countries like Great Britain and Australia seem to have it much tougher.  100,000 people were infected just last week (as of 23 July) in England, double the week before.  When winter hits, the numbers are expected to jump again. 

As the WHO (World Health Organisation) predicted, travel bans to/from Mexico were a waste of time.  Yet the Mexican tourist locales like Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and Acapulco were still hammered by the fear of the flu – even though there were no flu cases in those areas.

The WHO has given up trying to count cases.  They reckon that the virus has now hit 160 countries and could infect 2 billion people in the next two years.  All they can do now is give advice and encourage vaccination. 

So was the swine flu overhyped?  Probably.  It certainly generated a lot of advertising income from media coverage. 

What SHOULD we be worried about?  Stephen Hawking believes that the two biggest threats to humankind are climate change, and a virus genetically modified by terrorists that has no human immune response.  On climate change, the bumbling, inept moves of the current New Zealand government is an example of how most of the world is failing to take heed of this clear and present danger.  And the GM virus threat seems to be relegated to the realm of B-grade movies. 

For readers who will be infected by this flu over the next two years, keep warm, rested and hydrated.  But don’t worry too much – chances are, you’ll be ok.

Time Zone Refresh Part I

Okay, an admission first up – I dislike time zone allocations in many countries around the world.  Not because I disagree with the cultural, economic and historic reasons for the variances, but because I like human allocation of hours to be as close as practicable to actual sunlight hours.  Keeps us closer to the natural rhythms of the world: summer winter, sunrise sunset.  During the spring and autumn equinoxes, the sun should rise at 6 am, reach its zenith at midday, and set at 6 pm.

Here at Guadalajara in Jalisco State, Mexico, the sun rises at about 7:30 am and sets about 8:30 pm – 13 hours at this time of year.  Waking up at 6 am in pitch-darkness in the middle of summer throws me a bit.  Why are the daylight hours so late?  One – because Guadalajara is in the wrong time zone.  Two – because Guadalajara has “daylight savings time” (moving sunlight one hour forward during the winter). 

If it were up to me, states could only implement daylight savings (assuming they wanted to) if they are not in the Tropics.  I.e. if they are north of the Tropic of Cancer or south of the Tropic of Capricorn.  In the Tropics, sunshine hours don’t vary significantly from summer to winter, so why bother with daylight savings? 

Here’s my Time Zone Refresh for Mexico, aligning states to more appropriate longitudinal-based time zones from Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

  1. The western states have their time zones correct: Baja California Norte = Pacific Time (-8 GMT).  Baja California Sur, Sonora, Sinaloa, Narayit = Mountain Time (-7 GMT).
  2. The states from Veracruz and Oaxaca eastwards have their time zones correct = Central Time (-6 GMT).
  3. All remaining states should switch their time zones from Central Time to Mountain Time. 
  4. Daylight savings should only be used, if the citizens want it, in the following states: Baja California Norte, Sonora, Chihuahua and Coahuila. 
Mexico States

The United Mexico States (Estados Unidos Mexicanos)

In some future posts, I may turn my purifying stare at other parts of the world that I reckon need a Time Zone Refresh.

The Bible Bulls-Eye

I’d heard a lot about the Bible Belt in the United States.  The Bible Belt is a catch-phrase for an area where conservative evangelical Christianity is the predominant culture. 

But I never knew where in the States it was exactly.  It didn’t help that people from many different states claimed to be part of this “Bible Belt”.  “Dallas is the buckle of the Bible Belt.”  “Nebraska – smack bang in the the middle of the Bible Belt.”  “Fresno’s in the western Bible Belt.”  And so on.

Wikipedia suggests that the Bible Belt is synchronous with the traditional ‘South’, from Texas to North Carolina and southwards, excluding certain cities.  They base this on the location of traditional Anglican and religious revival movements.  This is a good starting point, but I wanted to get more specific. 

A small piece of inspiration came to me one day when I read an article linked from the Gay Christian Network , called “Will Iowans Uphold Gay Marriage?“   

The article’s author built a statistical model to predict whether a gay marriage ban would pass by 50% or more in any particular US state.  30 real-world instances were used for the model; when states attempted to pass a constitutional ban on gay marriage by voter initiative.

It turns out that only three variables were needed to predict opposition to gay marriage in a US state:

  1. The year in question.
  2. The % of adults in the state who say that religion is an important part of their daily lives (by Gallup survey).
  3. The % of white evangelicals in the state.

Looking at these variables, and given that gay marriage is the latest battle front-line for conservative evangelicals, I wondered if the model’s results could be translated into a demonstration of the Bible Belt on a USA map. 
States that are predicted to reject a gay marriage ban earliest I color-coded blue; those that were predicted to reject a gay marriage ban latest I color-coded red. Those in-between were color-coded between these two colors.

This is what came out:

The Bible Bulls-Eye

The United States' Bible Bulls-Eye

My hypothesis ended up fitting remarkably well.  Even where the lines are drawn across states makes sense for the most part, for example: Chicago is more liberal than southern Illinois; the western mountains of Montana and Idaho are more liberal than the eastern plains. 

A glance at this map shows that the “Bible Belt” is actually more like a “Bible Bulls-eye”.  The bulls-eye, the centre of conservative evangelical culture, is the states of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas.  The further away from these states you go, the less “conservative Christian” your culture is. 

Of course this is a very general rule.  There are some liberal cities within conservative states, and vice versa.  And the glaring exception to the bulls-eye model is Colorado.  As the centre of Focus on the Family ministries, I expected Colorado to be more conservative Christian than it is. Perhaps all those skiing tourists and nature-lovers have too much of a heathen influence. 

It saddens me somewhat to realise that the main source of opposition to gay marriage is religious folk, especially white evangelicals like myself.  But as progress on other front-line issues such as slavery, sexism and racism took time to work their changes into the Bible Bulls-eye culture, I hope that GLBT rights will also infiltrate the culture in all states, starting from New England and the West Coast into the very heart of the Bible Bulls-eye.

Whatever happened to the new Auckland Harbour Bridge?

This post is likely to have little relevance to those not from New Zealand.  Don’t worry – the next will be based in the U.S.A.  A consequence of my recent cosmopolitan history. 

For those not from New Zealand, Auckland’s harbour bridge is the main road conduit joining North Auckland and Northland to Auckland’s CBD and the rest of New Zealand. 

The Auckland Harbour Bridge

The Auckland Harbour Bridge

As a large structure in the middle of New Zealand’s largest city, it’s a kiwi landmark.  Equal in stature to the newer Sky Tower and the much older One Tree Hill. 

Auckland Sky Tower

Auckland's Sky Tower

Auckland's One Tree Hill

One Tree Hill in Auckland

The Bridge is about 1 km long, with the highest point of the road 43 m above the Waitemata Harbour.  Despite its landmark status, the Bridge isn’t particularly pretty.  It’s a poor cousin to the Harbour Bridge across the Tasman Sea in Sydney.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge

The Sydney Harbour Bridge

The Bridge was built in the 1950s, and right from the start short-sighted decisions were made.  The bridge only had four lanes, with no footpath or cycleway, forcing pedestrians and cyclists to board a boat or travel 50 km around the harbour. The Golden Gate Bridge it was not.

Only 10 years later, traffic across the bridge was three times forecast, causing massive traffic jams.  The Japanese came to the rescue with two clip-on lanes on each side.  They were nicknamed the “Nippon Clip-ons”.

The clip-ons now only barely cope with the load of traffic placed on the bridge during rush hour, and the lanes are scarily narrow when being squashed between a bus and a truck on either side.  From this the clip-ons now have structural problems needing constant maintenance.

Recently, Aucklanders have been suggesting many different alternatives to these problems.  These alternatives include a parallel bridge, a new bridge nearby, a tunnel, multiple tunnels, and replacing the bridge altogether.

The decision-making process now has new leaders.  A new National (right-wing) government is in charge, and the current mash of local government in Auckland is being reshaped into a super-city governance structure.  These changes give much more power and decision-making priority to a handful of politicians.  I’m playing the optimist and hoping it leads to more proactive, visionary decisions. It will depend who the players are.

The Transport Minister is still um-ing and ah-ing about whether to build a new crossing.  The latest consultant team to think about the issue recommended four bored tunnels – two 3-lane tunnels for freeway traffic and two for electric trains.  The existing Bridge would carry local traffic and have a cycleway and walkway across it.  All this would cost up to $4.1 billion.

This is a sensible solution, albeit expensive, which will probably prove its undoing.  Given Auckland’s historic short-sightedness, the politicians of the time will probably remove the public transport part and just build one chunky tunnel to lug more cars into and out of the Auckland Isthmus.

But the existing bridge will remain.  Probably without the clip-ons, removed to reduce expense.  Auckland will be stuck with a black skeletal ramp across their very pretty harbour. 

The New Zealand Herald published an alternative last year.  A team of architects and engineers designed an elegant arching structure spanning Waitemata Harbour between Wynyard Pt near the Tank Farm on the waterfront and Onewa Rd in Northcote.

Auckland's New Harbour Bridge

An imaging of Auckland's new Harbour Bridge

It features a giant angled pylon supporting a splay of cables in the shape of a sail.  This radical design reflects, in an abstract-art sort of way, Auckland’s nautical history.  And it looks like an “A” from the side.

It could carry cars, buses, bicycles, pedestrians and possibly even light rail carriages given its lower gradient. 

An added benefit is that this bridge, one and a half times longer than the existing one, would free up prime coastal land.  The sale of this land would pay most of the bridge’s costs.  Westhaven could be restored as a sandy beach for the public. 

It’d be a piece of world-class architecture to frame the Waitemata Harbour and give Auckland an icon to rival the Sydney Harbour bridge.

But soon after the concept was proposed, it died for lack of attention.  This seems to be an incessant problem of Auckland’s politicians, both national and local.  They talk lots about having “vision” and making Auckland a “world-class city”, but in action whatever vision they have is usually frittered on removing beloved public artworks and renovating their offices. 

Even when a good idea is actually adopted, such as Vector Arena, blunders are still made, like hiding the Arena near an industrial sector with no visual prominence from afar. 

Where to from here?  A lot depends on the big political players poised to take an oligarchical hold on Auckland, such as Rodney Hide, John Banks, and Paul Holmes.  If this new Harbour Bridge could capture their imaginations enough to extend their horizons, Auckland could finally get the magnificent bridge structure it deserves, a stunning complement to the Sky Tower above.

But I’m not holding my breath.