Being Nice vs. Planning Efficiently. Or Could We have Both?


About 25 years ago, maybe more, my husband and I signed up to teach in Japan for two years. About a week before we left, my wonderful Canadian Zen teacher came over to Ateneo to have lunch with me. While she was there, we noticed that my car, parked in front of the Admin Building, had a flat tire. So I called my husband in U.P. and asked if he could send his driver over to deal with it – and he did.

“Oh my”, said Sister Elaine, “things are different in Japan – you pretty much have to take care of yourself. On the other hand, the roads are very well done and you are unlikely to get a flat tire in the first place!”

I’ve been thinking about this polarity quite often lately – good, professional, well-done city services versus incredible good spirits and helpfulness in various crises. Japanese are very helpful as well, but they aren’t often called on to deal with these very basic problems.

A couple of examples will serve.

Yesterday I got stuck in the mud on our street yet again. Three or four workmen milled around, trying to set things in order – several cars and one big water delivery truck were also stuck. The leader of the guys was encouraging me to try to go around one truck and slide between two others, all in deep muck, and I was pretty sure I couldn’t do this. He was patiently encouraging me and even offered to drive, while I was still sizing up the situation. All of a sudden RJ, our family driver appeared, and I simply passed the problem to him. He agreed that my car could not get through that muck and asked the driver of the big Hyundai truck to do a little more leveling before we tried. And so he did, and home we went a few minutes later.

Nice. And I want to say that I do appreciate the paving going on too. But suppose there had been a little more planning for this road? We live in Sta Monica, and it is high and hilly and is being done in sections as is usual. But it was scheduled to be finished in April, before the rains, but of course, it wasn’t. It is nearly done now, and perhaps the city thinks it IS done. It isn’t. One of the unpaved stretches and unpaved on both lanes goes sharply uphill, and a ten-minute rain leaves it soft, mucky, skidable, and sinkable. I’ve either skidded or gotten stuck four times in the last week, and three or four workmen have been spending a lot of time helping people out here. Seems to me this would be the first priority for paving, but apparently it isn’t and we wait it out.

And then there is the other problem issue. By the end of March, our faucets were running dry. The city water supply had reached a crisis level. We were told to pray for rain, and so we did, despite our concerns for our road. So it rained and the street sank into the mud, but the faucets remained dry. We called the water district, and they answered, but said all their trucks were out making deliveries, and they would put us on the list and come within five days. But if we brought containers there, they would fill them. So we bought a huge water container, packed it into our truck, and went to get water. We got it, and have been getting water three or four times a week since then.

And the people at the water company are nice, polite, and helpful. They sometimes post water schedules on the internet and get back with answers to questions that people ask. They are quite transparent. One woman explained to my son-in-law over the phone that the company has been eyeing two new potential water sources the city might tap into, but politics, disagreements, and maybe an outright competition for profit, have prevented these deals from being made for FIVE WHOLE YEARS!! So again, let’s look at sensible planning and efficiency, and deal with this situation. We need new sources of water. So instead of telling us to pray for rain, clarify these issues and tell us whom to pressure, where to demonstrate if need be! This is an El Niño year, yes, but our population is increasing, and we are building new hotels and welcoming tourists. We need water. Let’s get moving on this problem!

Our road will no doubt be completed, maybe within another month. I am crossing my fingers, and yes, still praying, for the water situation. But there have to be better ways to deal with this.

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