Thursday 26 November 2009

Pot calling the kettle or I think I'm turning Japanese

Minutes after I posted a blog last weekend, I received an angry ranting telephone call, that I couldn't get a word in edge ways. Goes with the territory really.

I entitled it "A video for our Japanese friends who visit Cairns" which was probably a little insensitive, yet it did represent the reality I know. The brief posting was all about a Danish road safety campaign where local Police were handing out helmets and hugs to cyclists who ignored the road rules. It was done with great spirit and fun. I mean, two men hugging in public, it's enough to make anyone listen to a copper.

In my blog I said that this would go down a treat in Cairns, especially along McLeod and Spence Streets, a reference to the huge number of largely Asian students that frequently cycle without helmets and without lights in the evening hours.

However the inference of this, especially targeting Japanese visitors to Cairns, was a bit too much for one reader.

I agree that there are more than just young Japanese students cycling around Cairns sans helmet and lights. There's Korean and probably a number of other nationalities that either flout the rules or are never informed about our practices when arriving to live, work or study in our fair city.

"Why are you having a go at Japanese," yelled the first few words when I answered the phone. Before I could say anything, it went on. "What are you doing that for on your Blog?"

"Who is this?," I enquired.

"Your Blog, you know, why are you putting that stuff on, are they all the same to you?" the person on the other end bellowed.

I again asked who the caller was. "You know who it is!"

But I genuinely didn't. This caller was starting to piss me off. No matter what the point of discussion was, this was hardly a way the way to start off a debate and make a point.

So I asked a third time. "Who is this?" And then he declared it was Warren. Warren Popelier, the once well-loved artist that appeared weekly on CairnsBlog.

Warren's political cartoons were magic. They got people talking and explained issues in a comical and powerfully funny, often absurd way. The most infamous one was, without question, one portraying our then fresh-faced new Mayor, with a forceful Premier Anna Bligh, who was visiting Cairns for the Parliamentary sitting.

It made the point that Mayor Val Schier was letting her Labor masters do whatever they wanted. She was silent on the Yacht Club debate when thousands of locals wanted her input and support. She was viewed as simply letting her Labor master in Brissy take control over a galvanised local issue we wanted her leadership on. Well that's what I got out of the Circusmouse cartoon. Maybe others simply got a smutty schoolboy message.

Needless to say I, and no doubt my readers, miss Circusmouse and his regular contribution. I know Molly at QaHC was rather sad when he stopped. "It was my Friday fix!" she said.

I always chuckle when I see my other depiction of Anna, just weeks before she called an early election. Political characters are rife for satire, it goes with the public territory, and whilst Val and some may find those offensive, I know the Mayor is good-spirited enough to accept new media having some fun like this. Of course when I did my April Fool's joke, Val, with great gustso, got behind the prank, even though she didn't know she was launching her own book that morning.

Anyway, enough about me. Back to the Japanese slur and the angry telephone call.

Artists, well the ones that I've encounted over the years, are a temperamental lot. Their creative genius is at extremes to most which makes their art stand out from the crowd. They can look at what most would perceive as normal and turn it around to make us think, laugh, cry and react. That's what they do.

Nevertheless, I don't think there was any reason why Warren couldn't have had a rationale and intelligent conversation to make his point and convince me of my wayward racial slur.

"You always do this. You go too close to the edge," Warren yelled at me, continually raising his voice. "You published that guy's address," he said.

Warren, who has a Japanese partner himself, took great offence. And rightly so. He was making reference to a blog back in May, after the Cairns Post allowed an appalling letter to slip through. The following week they issued no less than three apologies. My reaction was a bit of cyber-bullying, and with the help of my little friend Google, popped up a map of where this hate-filled nutter resided. It wasn't difficult, as he already published his name and his suburb. So what is worse out of the three 'crimes'? What the letter writer wrote? That the Cairns Post published it? Or what I blogged?

It's important that we keep a close vigil on our newspaper, when they slip below the line by allowing anyone to make such statements through their pages. That's the job of an alert society. Watching the watchers.

"I bet you think they're all the same," Warren shouted at me. He was insinuating that my reference to Japanese cyclists in Cairns are not the only ones flouting the local road rules, and that I simply assume, but my statement, that all Asian-looking students must be Japanese. He's right there. I should have thought a bit more before bursting into print. I'm sure some Trinity Bay High School lads also do the wrong thing. And then there's Bill Smith, from Edmonton who is a bit of a worry without his helmet and shoes, not forgetting the old duck from Edgehill who cycles all over the road. I could go on.

I guess I should have said 'Asians', to embrace all foreign "Asian" students that seem to be the majority that don't wear helmets or lights on the cycles at night, certainly around the CBD area of which I was referring to. I got that bit wrong. I apologise to Warren and his beloved. She is a beautiful lady. I wonder, however, if he screams down the phone at her to make a point?

I'm told that many Japanese and Asian cyclists have the right of way in their homeland. I've visited Taiwan, China and Japan on occasions, and know that there's good reason why motorists allow courtesy to cyclists - there's simply more of them. Millions more. I have been to Beijing and Taipei and it's not motorists that command the road debate. John Mackenzie would spew on his cornflakes is he was running Tokyo TalkBack 846. I know from my ventures to Europe, especially Holland, cyclists rule the road, certainly around Amsterdam.

I suggested Warren post his opinion on the blog, below the story.

"You'd like that, wouldn't you!" he laughed. Because he was so confrontational, I suggested, like the television, if he didn't like it, don't log on to CairnsBlog. I mean, all he's doing is boosting the regular readers to over 5,400, and I hardly need that.

It appeared an impasse had developed in the telephone conversation, as his tone and style was not conducive to any rationale mature debate. Regardless of my errors, I doubt he was at all open to me suggesting a solution and an amendment on the original blog.

"Look Warren, I don't think I want to waste my weekend being abused without getting hardly a word in, so goodbye." I hung up.

When anyone wants to debate a differing viewpoint, it's hardly going to be communicated effectively if there's a degree of rudeness and aggression, an imbalance. I have no problem with debate, it's one of the founding reasons behind a blog, my blog. However, when it's a one-way shouting match, then I'm not really interested.

The irony with Warren's attack on me, and the point he was trying to make, is that he's rather quick to portray the Mayor of Cairns donning a Nazi uniform in almost every cartoon of his to make some funny point, which I don't have a problem with, but it seems an incongruous position to attack me on the basis of racial hatred, if you will.


Paul said...

But they do. They cycle around with total oblivion to their surroundings. If they don't wear the helmet that's their problem, but when they float into oncoming traffic or sail around a roundabout the wrong way with that serene "let's be happy day now" vacant grin on their faces, then I wonder how much longer they can expect to live.

say what you think said...

How funny is australia now , if you pick on anyone or comment on them in anyway and they were not born here you are rascist, people shit me death , mike wrote what he observed and what most of us that were born here and did not marry one observed also.

Louise Williams said...

Regardless of his view, he seems a rude person not to extend the courtesy of an introduction.

Cyclist from hell said...

Good cartoonist but

Unknown said...

What is really weird about it is, that (especially the Japanese), wouldn't even dream of walking through a red light, let alone push bike against the traffic.

So why do they ride around like lunatics when they come to Cairns ?

I am very pro bike, I love Japan and the Japanese, but I wonder how they would appreciate it if we went over there and ignored all the traffic rules

I can understand that people from certain other Asian countries (where traffic rules don't seem to exist) need some time to adjust, but not the Japanese. They even drive on the same side of the road as us.

That is not to say that there aren't plenty of locals doing the exact same thing.

What is so bloody difficult about riding a push bike in a proper manner ?

The Headless Horseman said...

Maybe I am something of a prude or, worse, a conservative, but I am offended by that cartoon of Bligh and Val and I wish you didn't run it again, Mike.
Satire is an effective way of commenting on our times.
My memory is that Val opposed the demolition of the Yacht Club. However, the seeds of its demise were in train long before she was elected Mayor. The only people who could have stopped it was the State Government.
In any case, good will can be effective too. Please don't run it again.
On the matter of addressing the poor bicycle habits of our Asian friends. I know Mike well enough to know he is no racist. He's only a bloody Kiwi himself, anyway.
However, Asian cyclists are serial offenders and it's a wonder more aren't killed or hurt. I nearly killed a bloke who deliberately crossed in front of me. He didn't even look back when I slammed on my brakes. My theory is that they are more attuned than us to a bicycle culture and they are presuming cycling conditions are the same here as in their home countries. I understand overseas tourists are able to benefit from a program that teaches our traffic laws. I think some local cyclists should attend the same program. Every day I see local cyclists ride through red lights.

KitchenSlut said...

Grateful Mac you are correct but don't understand the cultural differences. Cyclists in Tokyo at least are pedestrians at least as observed during my short sojourn?

To the extent that you can observe pedestrian crossings with separate 'lanes' for walkers and cyclists marked on the roadway. They are also more prominent with places such as Asakura, where I stayed, stacked with mountains of bikes in the streets, and none locked!

Ironically I recall some comment thread some time in the past involving Circusmouse also on this very topic.

P.S: Headless Horseman ... numerous British conservative politicians have proven that conservatism and prudishness are not synonymous. You are a humourless prude mate simple as that!

Unknown said...

Cultural differences are no excuse for not respecting the customs and laws of the country you are visiting.

But maybe they are just mimicking what many of the locals are doing..

Dutchie said...

I agree, culture is no excuse to deliberately ignore local laws. When in Holland, especially in Amsterdam, I am an anarchist on a bicycle. But here, I wear my silly useless helmet, have my little LED lights on, and even stop for a red light! To top it off, I anticipate that the drivers won't look in their rear vision mirrors, keep sufficient distance or give me right of way. Yes, I am totally assimilated.

Unknown said...

Last time I was in Amsterdam, I almost got run over by a pushbike. Maybe it was YOU, Dutchie.

Well, serves me right for lingering too long in the local coffee shop...

Dutchie said...

Mac, the operative is "almost". It's the proof that the system of complete anarchy of cyclists works! It requires total surrender of all road users though...

In case we don't agree total anarchy of cyclists is the way to go, here are some suggestions, in the spirit of the video above:

In Holland, the Police started a campaign where they would book everyone without lights on their bike at night. However they'd tear up the fine if you popped by at the police station within a week with proof that you had installed lights on your bike. This was way more effective than just fining, as most people installed the lights to avoid the fine - which is really what the government wanted to achieve.

I can see a similar campaign for cyclists without helmets. Pull them over, and either make them buy a helmet on the spot, or give them a fine for more than the helmet would have cost. (Have a mobile eftpos machine to eliminate most excuses).

If you don't like cyclists on footpaths, then make it completely illegal, or at least for those over a certain age, say 12 or so.

And provide resources to enforce this. No need to tie up police resources, other officers could be mandated and given authority to hand out fines in relation to these offences. I am sure we will find plenty of volunteers on this forum to start this campaign off.

Anyway, that's my two bob.

nocturnal congress said...

I agree with Headless. Val has been thrown more vicious bullshit than any other public figure in the Far North in my lifetime. Give her a break, can't you?

Unknown said...

I agree with you Dutchie.

The Dutch system works in Holland. I know,'cause like you I grew up there.

Don't know if you can transfer this type of approach to Oz though. I could be worth a try...

Crystal Cascades said...

personally, I think both ladies are enjoying it (in the cartoon)!

As for Horseman's comments.. well, if he really is a "horse" man, then I dunno why he's up in arms.

Chow bella