|Emy Louie, Consulting Services|
All of the people mentioned in the below write up about Kingston, Jamaica, except myself and unless otherwise noted, are dark chocolate skinned persons with an African descent.
My destination was the train station, in which I was always on the lookout for wherever I go. Another destination was Coronation Market. Both are located in downtown Kingston, Jamaica. At the break of dawn, around 6 a.m., from the hostel, I started to head over to downtown. This is my story about how I may have violated the local gangsters’ unwritten turf.
The Fruit Vendor Who Didn’t Readily Make Eye Contact with Me
After I got off the bus at the main bus terminus/hub in downtown, I asked directions to the train station from someone who appeared to be working for the buses.
I walked for a few hundred feet. I passed by a fruit vendor on the sidewalk. There were two men who appeared to be working there. One of them was serving another lady.
After the vendor finished serving that lady, one of the two men looked at me. This 30 to 40 something year old man didn’t seem to know what to do. He didn’t smile at me. He looked down towards the ground trying not to make a lot of eye contact, and there appeared to be a slight delay in his reaction to my presence as if we were all in slow motion. Perhaps his eyes seemed to express What are you doing here? and I am tired and irritated.
Even though hundreds of people were within 200 feet around us, and this was a bus terminus—a transportation hub to get to all other parts of Kingston—I didn’t see any police around.
The vendor’s reaction and the lack of police was the first sign I, as a tourist/foreigner/visitor should not stay in that area for long. I presume much more than one person was watching my every move.
I pointed to the cut fruit in the plastic container. With a half-smile, I handed to one of the men some money. In turn, they gave me the fruit and a fork.
I walked across the busy street. I saw a bunch of elderly people sitting down on a planter, under a large shade tree. I sat between two elderly people and proceeded to eat my fruit cup I just purchased. After I ate about four pieces of fruit, I saw a young man about 20 feet in front of me either standing on the sidewalk or close to the street curb. It seemed that he flashed, deliberately or unknowingly, a type of metal pruning scissors. These scissors, which were hanging from his waist or belt, had a distinct point which could act as an easy weapon.
Whatever this young man and the fruit stand vendors were expressing, it sure wasn't even with a half-smile, and they sure didn’t say "Have a nice day and come back and see us again soon!"
I almost sense there are street gangs and they are watching what everyone is doing and each person must do what they are supposed to do and if someone steps out of line, there will be undesirable consequences.
If this is so, this is what I would call a closed society—a society in which foreign influence and interaction is suspect and is limited and is strictly controlled. It's a place for only for the native born, I suppose.
If this is so, I stepped on someone’s turf or I entered onto someone’s turf.
After I saw the scissors, I got up and left. I was not scared, but I saw the scissors as a sign I should start leaving that immediate area.
Alarm Signals to Look for While Getting to the Train Station
I crossed the street and I walked along Beckford Street according to the directions given to me earlier. Beckford Street was about three car widths wide. There were no cars, just pedestrians passing through at the time. I walked in the middle of the street and the buildings to the left and right of me were shells of dilapidated and/or vacant, two story buildings which were missing doors and windows. There were piles of things, perhaps organic trash, which is compost, and inorganic trash, which is mainly plastic containers and plastic bags, lying around the street! To the outsider, this place looked like a war zone, like some scene in the 1991 movie New Jack City!
If I wasn’t just in Greater Mexico City, Mexico, a few days prior, and have been exposed to seeing heaps of trash lying around, I would have been an emotional wreck! But when I saw the trash and miscellaneous items strewn about the street, I was already used to seeing trash heaped up in piles or trash laying out in the open in the Mexico City open markets.
I was in Greater Mexico City for two weeks to learn Spanish and to visit Teotihuacán which is a town and municipality located in Mexico. Teotihuacán is the location of the third largest pyramid in the world. The pyramid in Giza, Egypt is the largest pyramid in the world! Lastly, I was doing environmental research on Xochimilco, which is a borough of Greater Mexico City, Mexico. Xochimilco is the site of thousand-year-old man-made canals. Both Teotihuacan and Xochimilco are World Heritage Sites.
As one can imagine, the Greater Mexico City, as of 2009, had an official population of 21.3 million people. In Greater Mexico City, I must have walked past hundreds if not thousands of open-air food stands, and through several open-air markets, which contained vendors all under a common roof. The average vendor booth was about 100 square feet.
Greater Mexico City, with such a huge population, should have their trash situation under relative control. One thing between the open-air markets in Greater Mexico City and Coronation Market in Kingston, Jamaica is the way they handle their trash.
It appears that trash gets piled up in heaps for all to see. I don’t’ know if the trash gets hauled away at a later period. Perhaps the organic trash can be composted right there, and perhaps the inorganic trash can be burned right there.
Therefore, the trash and bombed out looking, derelict buildings in the streets of Kingston did not alarm me.
The alarm signals usually come from men in their 20s whom I’ve had personal incidences with. They have a lot of energy and bravado and are looking for the easiest target to take their energies out on. Subconsciously, I was looking for angry young men.
I approached the intersection of Pecha and Beckford Street. I saw what looked like an abandoned bus building. I backtracked and went back one block I previously came from.
A few vendors were setting up nearby. Young women to elderly women, were walking by. There appeared to be as many women as there were men.
I saw a vendor—a man in his late 20s or early 30s. He was tall, muscular, probably holding some knife, and could be seen as intimidating. There were other people walking around; nonetheless, I asked him, “Is this Pecha and Beckford Street?” He gave me a quizzical look. He didn’t seem to understand my pronunciation of the street names.
I showed him my map and he saw the words and repeated the names in what sounded like a British or French way of saying the words. He was quite relaxed. When he spoke, I realized, at that moment, that I am in Jamaica and everyone should understand standard English as it is used in public and commercial announcements—such as on the bus. But the population spoke pidgin English, similar to how the locals in Hawaii understand standard English, but speak pidgin English.
Personally, as someone who grew up in Hawaii, I find it hard to be visiting Hawaii for more than two weeks and NOT speak Pidgin English. Pidgin English is spoken by almost everyone, from rich to poor, in Hawaii. Furthermore, in Hawaii, there is a considerable population who speak a very heavy Pidgin English.
Therefore, hearing a local Jamaican’s pidgin English and even the heavy pidgin English didn’t intimidate me, so I spoke proper standard English to this vendor. The locals will think I'm a foreigner and a tourist, but at least they can understand me, except when I pronounce French sounding street names!
The vendor pointed in one direction and spoke to me in a calm manner. “That street [over there] is Pechon.”
I said, “Thank you” and I was on my way.
With a bus hub, a bus building, a train station, a large open market, and a housing project nearby, one can imagine the flurry of activity that happened in its heyday, if there ever once was a heyday.
In my mind’s eye, I see men in pinstriped suits, with fedoras, suspenders and with winged tipped oxford shoes. A few shiny automobiles drive by. At the train station, there are people ready to greet their loved ones.
That is another time and perhaps another place. The life cycle of the place, a place, any place, flashes before me; but I was back to reality, I was back to the here and now.
The Open Market Next to the Housing Project
At the train station which I explained in this blog. The same man, who was sweeping the front of the train station and I, stood in front of the train station. From that particular vantage point, I don’t think I could see any other person in sight, which was strange. With a slightly active imagination, I can imagine this place at night to be the site of drug deals and prostitution, but right now, in the morning, the streets were packed with hundreds of people just two blocks North of here, and right at this train station, it felt like a ghost town.
He asked me, “Is this your first time in Jamaica?”
I said “Yes!”
He said, “Welcome!”
I smiled. I asked, “How do I get to Coronation Market?”
He pointed in a direction. He said, “You see the two palm trees?”
I looked in the direction he pointed. “Yes.” I said.
The direction he pointed to was also the infamous housing project--Tivoli Gardens. My husband told me Tivoli Gardens is internationally infamous because even the police don’t go there! I had marked on my map Tivoli Gardens so I knew where it was, and lo and behold, Tivoli Gardens is right next to Coronation Market—a famed open-air market—the heart and soul of Kingston. Well, if there are a lot of people in Tivoli Gardens, they need a food source, right?
At around 8 a.m. in the morning, the Tivoli Gardens were a bunch of concrete building and it didn’t seem like anyone was in sight. Two people were crossing a bridge over the train tracks.
The man at the train station continued, “Head toward those trees. The entrance is over there. Do you want me to escort you there?”
“No,” I thought that was out of his job description, I presume. I sure didn't want to return his favor. “Thank you!” I said, and I was on my way.
Directions to Coronation Market
The weather was hot already. I walked over to the palm trees. I saw Tivoli Gardens on my left. It was composed of concrete buildings. It was nothing really exciting or sensational. I went through the entrance to a parking lot. I felt like there were no directional signs! Two men were at the entrance. One man said, “Where do you want to go?”
I said, “Coronation Market,” I said casually, like I was heading to just another tourist site.
One of the men said, “This is the parking lot. [Don’t go in here.] Go straight ahead [on the side walk] and turn right.
Scanning for Signals Inside Coronation Market
When I got to that location, the entrance still didn’t look like an entrance! It looked like some back entrance to a makeshift barnyard. There was a dirt ground—unpaved. Around were one story buildings made of wooden boards.
From a thievery standpoint, there appeared to be more risk at the bus terminus/hub than at Coronation Market. At the bus terminus/hub, I got alarm signals from a person working for the buses, from a fruit vendor and from someone carrying pointy scissors. This would make more sense because at Coronation Market, there are too many mazes and not enough places after a crime is committed, to make a quick getaway. The bus terminus had dozens of bus lines stopping there, so a thief could easily disappear onto a bus. Coronation Market had many stationary people whereas the bus terminus/hub had people, mostly moving from one place to another.
At Coronation Market, I walked through a maze of these stalls and then entered the open-air market with a large metal roof overhead. The roofed area could have housed hundreds of individual vendors. A few vegetable and fruits stalls were open for business. Imagine how bustling this place would be if all the vendors were open for business and there were many customers per vendor!
To avoid standing out more than I’m already standing out and to keep myself from being distracted, taking photos was absolutely out of the question!
Then I passed by a set of concrete rooms on both sides of me. The rooms had no ceilings. Each room had locked caged doors. One room had a very used looking bicycle in it. Otherwise, the storage rooms looked rather vacant – not to attract the desire of thieves.
The floors were dirt or if there was a concrete floor, I didn’t notice it, or it was covered up. Then I approached a more open area. There was a small television set—perhaps a 15-inch television set. About a few men were watching something non-descript on television. There were more vegetable and fruit stalls open for business.
When I was in Kingston, Jamaica, I wore a sleeveless, long flowing, yellow tie die dress. Remember the weather was hot! I tried to look online at what females in Kingston wore during the day. The females shown online were dressed way down, as if they were going to the gym to walk on a tread mill, likely so they don’t attract any unwanted attention. Another set of females in Jamaica were the Rastafarian women, who were covered from head to toe. I even bought an inexpensive turban which looked silly on me, so I gave up on the female Rastafarian look!
I find that as a foreigner/tourist/visitor and ultimately as a representative for whatever a visitor may represent, whether the visitor represents tourists in general, represents a country, represents a race, it’s not good to “dress down” like the locals.
I want to give you an example why, and this was a fashion “mistake” I made when I went to India. When I went to places like the Taj Mahal, I wore a gauzy beige tunic and Merrell brand hiking boots with paint permanently splattered on it.
The locals kept on looking at my boots. At the same time, the young Indian men, when visiting these monuments and temples were wearing dress shirts and dress pants and dress shoes. Certainly, these Indians wouldn’t wear workout clothes to a shrine or temple.
Of course, attire is place based and contextual. You don’t want to dress “up,” wear gold and silver jewelry and designer name brands so as to signal to the locals, “Rob me!” At the same time, you don’t want to dress down and get a reaction from the locals such as them thinking and saying, “You mean these foreigners have some sort of money/resources to come all the way over here and they look like bums! They are dressed worse than the bums here! How disrespectful!”
So, I do dress like I made an effort to wear the proper attire, however, if you are of a different race and have different facial features and different skin color than the local population, like me in Kingston, Jamaica, you, like I, will never fit in.
Back to Coronation Market. Overall, 60% of the stalls under the roof were vacant stalls, but the scene changed a bit when I walked outside of the metal roof.
There were more stalls outside of metal roof open for business than under the metal roof, and the maze of vendors started again. I passed by an elderly lady with leathery skin and I bought only one ackee from her. While I was walking, I ate it in a few minutes and tossed the seed in this large area containing heaps of organic trash or compost. Note: it took about an hour to 1.5 hours to get off the bus and return to the same location to catch a return bus. During this 1.5 hours, with the exception of sitting down to eat some fruit for a few minutes, I was always walking and moving.
The vendors outside of the metal roof had some type of awning, but I don't remember exactly how it looked like. I was scanning other things and looking for alarm signals, mainly angry young men, which could compromise my safety. Under other circumstances, I usually do look at the physical surroundings much more.
I do have a story about how to identify alarm signals. Once, it was on the Greyhound bus:
Back to Coronation Market. It was getting hot. I have a sense of direction, so I knew about where to exit the market. After going through a maze of stalls, I ended up on a paved street, back near Pechon Street. Likely, I ended up on West Queen Street.
The Very Public Street
The streets were paved. It looked like a block party without the music, without people drinking and without people interacting with each other very socially. However, there were definitely people crossing in every direction. During this time, I saw a woman balancing a large sack of something like potatoes on her head! This is my image of Africa!
I walked about four short blocks and got out to the bus terminus/hub.
No doubt, I did not blend in via speech, mannerisms, dress and perhaps most importantly race. My difference was already a signal to the local population. If a dark chocolate skinned man who was originally from American or Britain visited this place, he would blend into the crowd. Nobody may notice him.
I say this last part about race and looks because when I was in Mexico City, I blended in quite well. This occurred early on, when I was at the Monterrey, Mexico airport for a layover. When I wait at any airport gate, I try to sit furthest away from the gate and still be able to see the gate. To my right, a lady sat two seats away from me; she was breast feeding. To me, breastfeeding is usually a private activity and in order to breastfeed in a public, most women need to feel some level of comfortability.
To my left, two seats away from me was another lady feeding her infant, baby food, and the entire contents of the baby food jar spilled on the carpet. That lady said something to me and I didn’t understand what she said, but I still smiled and she still went about her business. I felt she didn’t see me as foreign.
In Greater Mexico City, at the bus rapid transit station and on the bus, I had quite a few small verbal interactions – about 20 interactions. One time, I was standing at the bus ticket machine. A lady came up to me to ask me for change. Once I started hesitating, the lady moved on to ask another person for change. At the same location, towards the latter part of the Mexico trip, a lady asked me for change and I did give change to her.
In general, fear was a minimal emotion during these experiences. As long as I knew what signals to look for, where to go and when to go, things were smooth sailing, even amidst places that could potentially have a lot of crime. Crime usually happens during a brief time. The rest of the time, it’s business as usual—even for the locals. Perhaps we spend a lot of time fearing about the past, fearing about the future, but in the present, fear is minimal, even for everyday life, even in Kingston, Jamaica.
Emy Louie is a consultant and the author of "Fast Trains: America's High Speed Future.” From 2009-2016, Emy served as the Director of Public Outreach for the US High Speed Rail Association. Since 2008, she has taught continuing education classes on design and urban development to architects and engineers. In 2007 and 2008, she hosted her own radio show. Emy has a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. Ms. Louie, is a “kama’aina/haole” (native/non-native person) adventuring to people, places and things on Oahu, Hawai’i, where kama’aina don’t usually go to--that tourists GO to, and vice versa. She lived in Honolulu in the 70's and 80's and visits Honolulu annually since then.
by Emy Louie
This is a private post. I will get a lot of flak from people who object to the fact I visited Kingston, Jamaica by myself. For this reason, my visit to Jamaica will be somewhat of a private matter for the time being.
Therefore, if you share this post, please be discreet.
(Above banner) The immaculately maintained private property of YS Falls in St. Elizabeth Parish of Jamaica
Arriving to an unfamiliar place at night always feels more treacherous than arriving during the day to the exact same place. And this is exactly what happened when I arrived at Kingston. After going through a 10-hour airplane commute which included a five-hour layover in Atlanta, a long immigration line and then customs line at the Kingston Airport, I finally saw what resembled a taxi stand. I took out the address and map showing the location of the accommodations. The lady at the stand gave me a quote for a taxi and then next to her, a man said to me, “Come with me!”
All people mentioned from here on out, unless otherwise mentioned, have dark chocolate colored skin and are of African descent and all the locals speak a Patois/Jamaican pidgin English.
Since this taxi stand looked like the most official one, I went with the man and passed through a crowd of people waiting for arriving passengers.
Prior to my arrival in Kingston, I reviewed a map of Kingston quite extensively, but I didn’t realize how dimly lit it was outside and how long the taxicab ride took to just get through downtown Kingston. Darkness at night is good to eliminate light pollution: I was able to see the stars. At the same time, that same darkness feels frightening to people who want to feel safer.
With its windows rolled down, the taxicab went through Kingston, zipped by pedestrians and closely missed them, but never hit them. This type of driving seemed like the norm. I could hear the Reggae music playing and people loitering on the streets in random groups. Frankly, I didn’t know where the taxicab was really taking me and at this point, I was scared for my life. And then I thought about how Jamaica values its tourism, so I was sure the taxi cab driver wasn’t a crook. If I was to enjoy this trip to Jamaica, it was imperative I give everyone I meet the benefit of the doubt and not think they are crooks.
After the taxicab dropped me off at the youth hostel, I was relieved and believed in my mind everyone was around me to help me, unless otherwise indicated. This notion was continually tested repeatedly, every minute of my stay in Jamaica.
I was very aware that Coronation Market—an open-air farmers market located in downtown Kingston is right next to Tivoli Gardens—the notorious public housing project which strikes fear to the rest of the population, no different than how Kuhio Park Terrace strikes terror to Hawaii residents. And even the Kingston locals whom I asked directions from told me to watch my personal belongings while I would be in downtown.
At Coronation Market, besides that I noticed the dark chocolate skinned people who noticed I was a visitor and that “I didn’t belong” there on a regular basis, I also wonder even if the local Jamaicans who have a brown and lighter skin would even step foot in that market.
I believe I could only get away with being at Coronation Market because I have a Chinese appearance and Chinese have historically, during the last 500 years or so, been viewed to be less colonizing than the European races. Chinese are even viewed as fellow slaves, depending on the where one is in the world. Although I have heard Chinese are considered unwanted shop owners in Indonesia, this is a minority view as far as the entire world’s view of Chinese are concerned. Chinese are traditionally known to cook Chinese food with a wok, to slave away working and to do meticulous handiwork. I have heard this via my Spanish studies, my travels all around the world including Egypt, Peru, Bahamas and now Jamaica.
Back at the Coronation Market, a boisterous, heavy set, 220-pound African woman in her 30s, who was about 20 feet away from me, called out loud to me "Chini!" several times which is a way of saying "Chinese person." I smiled, waved and walked passed her and the eight people she was with.
I saw several people with knives—but they were using it to cut fruit, so I tricked myself into thinking that the knives are okay, because in contrast, back in Honolulu, I got traumatized from a knife wielding incident at Old Stadium Park which is an entirely separate story. See this link: https://personplacearchitect.wordpress.com/2017/07/27/the-man-with-the-wild-hair-and-his-behind-half-exposed/
I visited Coronation Market on a Wednesday, August 16, at around 8 a.m. I went through the market in about 15 minutes--not enough time for anyone to plot anything against me--I suppose.
I figure, with all the traveling that I have done, respect cuts across all language barriers and culture barriers, so if gave strangers the respect due to them, I wouldn’t be afraid of meeting them—regardless if they come from the “projects.”
Even though the online ratings were excellent, staying at a youth hostel with co-ed rooms sounded problematic and I inquired about having an all-female room when I first booked this hostel. It’s not a good idea to share rooms with a different gender for obvious reasons, different race/pheromones and a different age with likely different sleep and wake up times. For example, at the crack of dawn, I left the hostel for the day and when it got dark, I took the cab back to the hostel and/or went straight to bed.
Add to that, I was thinking “what type of people really would stay at a youth hostel in Kingston?”
I stayed at the youth hostel for three nights from Tuesday, August 15, to the morning of Friday, August 18. I had a room all to myself so I locked my door at night. I think there were no other women staying there at all, or else they would have roomed with me. The rooms were marketed online as co-ed rooms, but I bet you the person working there didn't want me to share a room with white men in their 20's.
For example, an Asian man once said to me, “When I was young, I stayed in a youth hostel in Europe…Europeans stink.”
On the first night of my arrival to the hostel, I walked into a huge courtyard and I opened the first door I saw. It was the office of some sound studio. This was not the hostel.
Then I meandered to another area in the relative darkness.
Then I saw about eight white men in their 20s sitting on picnic style benches located in the courtyard. I smelled marijuana and heard loud reggae music.
I asked, “Where is the hostel?”
(Above) Courtyard of the youth hostel. (Far right) A salmon colored building which is where I stayed at for three nights.
A medium build white man in his 20s, stood up from the group of eight men, said, “Here. This is the lobby.” He had a thick Jamaican accent.
After he showed me my room and after I filled out some paperwork and settled in my room for a bit, this same man knocked at the door of my room, which was locked by now.
I opened the door and he asked me, “Is everything okay? You have this room all to yourself!”
I was happy and said a big “thank you!”
The next night, I didn't smell marijuana and the I didn’t hear loud reggae music: perhaps my presence cleaned up the place. After all, I could give them a bad rating online.
I wonder if all the men staying there were young white men in their 20s who smoked marijuana?
The next night the same attendant asked if everything is okay and I said “yes.”
(Above) The spotless bathroom at the Backpackers Hostel in Kingston, Jamaica
The community bathroom, the room itself and both of their floors were spotless: I could go barefooted. I only saw one other person use the same shower I did. I really think no one else used that bathroom.
The house turned into a hostel is located in Constant Spring, way up the hill from downtown Kingston. The house seemed to have four bedrooms and each room had two bunk beds; therefore, each room housed four people. The front door had to be locked at all times.
The hostel attendant did well by keeping the one female (me) separated from the males! I felt as safe as I ever could with a room I could lock and with lockers.
The Commanding Taxicab Driver Who Drove Me Back to the Airport and Made What Could be Interpreted as Advances
Having my own room at the hostel was black and white. What happened with a taxi cab driver who drove me back to the Kingston airport to go back to North Carolina was unlike any taxi driver I have every experienced!
When I arrived at the downtown bus stop hub via shuttle bus, I was pointed in the direction of where I should take a taxi to the airport.
I got off the shuttle bus and stood in the middle of the street. In the distance, there were two taxi cabs parked at a curb. And then, about 20 feet after those two taxicabs, was a third taxi cab also at the curb. I walked towards* that third taxi cab which was the closest cab to me. Standing next to it was its driver.
His car had a top light saying “taxi.” His underwear was hanging out of his pants. He is of dark chocolate skinned and six feet tall and spoke the local Patois/Jamaican dialect. I got in the back seat. I said, “I would like to go to the [Norman Manley International] Airport.”
He said, “How much are you going to give me?”
I said, “How much?”
He said again, “How much are you going to give me?”
After a brief pause, I said, “$20 US.”
The seat belt of the back seat didn’t work and he tried to buckle me in. He told me to go into the front seat.
I switched to the front seat. He touched my hat and he said something like, “I like your hat,” which I thought was an odd comment considering I have yet to see someone else in Kingston wear a wide brim hat, but that wasn’t going to stop me from bringing and wearing a hat in Kingston.
“You like Jamaica? When are you coming back?” The manual windows were slightly rolled down letting in a nice breeze. Even though it was around 6:30 a.m., the weather was in the 80s already. The sky was relatively clear except for a few fluffy clouds. It was just a nice day!
He stopped to get gas at a gas station. He got out of his seat: a wad of money was sticking out of the ash tray.
Half way during the cab ride, he told me, “You have a phone? I would like you to take my phone number.”
I threw up my hands and I said, “I don’t have a phone with me.”
He was driving along the coast. The radio was blaring a motivational speech about “serendipity” and “having confidence.” A handful of shipping containers on barges were in the distance in the ocean. The ocean water was on both sides of the airport road resembling a type of causeway.
A few minutes later, he said, “Here is my phone number. Write it down.”
I wrote it down and then he told me, "You call me when you get back home?" Several minutes later, I arrived at curb of the airport departure area. He said, "You call me when you get back home? You hear?" I half smiled and waved him goodbye.
Prior to my encounter with the taxicab driver that morning, I “checked out” of the hostel and walked onto the streets and headed downhill and waited at the curb of a lit gas station to catch a taxicab. It was Friday, August 18, around 6:00 a.m. Instead, a 16-person shuttle bus came by. It honked and stopped in front of me. The door to the bus was open and a young, dark chocolate skinned doorman was holding onto the door handle of the bus with one foot on the bus. His other foot seemed to be suspended in midair.
I said, “I want to go to the airport.”
The young doorman said, “Take this bus to downtown and then take the cab to the airport.” Of course, since I already went to North Parade Street in downtown Kingston, Coronation Market and the Railway Station the day prior, I had a good idea of what and where he was talking about.
I got on the small shuttle bus while it honked and glided its way downhill, stopping every few minutes while the doorman yelled out to passersby and greeted other drivers out loud with a suaveness and confidence I have never seen anywhere else in my life! The young man made being a doorman for a small bus look completely exciting, dangerous, adventurous and fun. And it was!
This bus acted like a stop and go shuttle for the younger set who were on this bus. A little later, I, along with a few dark chocolate skinned women, gave the doorman the equivalent of $1 US each for the bus ride.
(Above) The street off of the Bob Marley Museum
On the first full day in Kingston, on Wednesday, August 16, the streets near the Bob Marley Museum were wide and it was hot, but still, I mainly took the bus and walked on the sidewalks. The Jamaican men in automobiles, mainly in compact sedans, are friendly! While I was walking on the street in the middle of the day, even a police officer in his automobile, honked at me. After the police officer honked at me, I did not take even a slight offense to any honking. I saw few other pedestrians on the sidewalks, but they didn’t seem to get honked at so much as I did.
Not sounding quite as loud and angry as the horns in the United States, these automobile horns are used every several minutes to communicate friendly messages such as “Hello! “or “Welcome to the island!” or “Do you need a ride?” and commanding messages mainly to other automobiles, such as “Watch where you are going!” or “You are blocking the way!”
(Above) What appears to be an upscale building near the Bob Marley Museum
(Above) At the front lawn of the Devon House - home of the first black millionaire in Jamaica
Early that morning, when I went to downtown Kingston from the hostel, I took an official looking bus, which resembled an upscale tour bus. I waited 20 minutes at a designated bus stop for this official bus. While I was waiting, I received about ten honks from passing cars at around 6 a.m. in the morning.
Everyone who seemed to have gotten on this official bus was elderly.
(Above) Walking to an official bus stop at 6 a.m. To the right is a Golf course. This area is uphill from downtown Kingston.
After I got off the bus, I ended up near North Parade Street in downtown Kingston and proceeded to the Railway Station.
Food scraps lay on the side of the streets, looking like some huge compost heap. I could not tell if the buildings were abandoned or vacant. The only clue I knew that I was walking in the right place was that there were elderly women walking around and women in general were around probably to get their morning groceries at and around Coronation Market which was near to the Railway Station.
I walked along Beckford Street and Pechon Street. I couldn’t see any street signs so I asked for directions.
(Above) Railway Station in downtown Kingston
I arrived to the front of the train station. A middle-aged man who was all alone was sweeping the sidewalk. He said, “You visiting? You want to come in?” He let me in the front doors and five people were working there in what appeared to be a deserted train station. Come to find out later, this train station allowed for freight trains to go through, so there are no passenger trains departing from this station, but the freight trains were departing here.
The young lady working here didn’t smile and had a very stern look—similar to a demeanor of a police officer encountering the possibility of trouble. After I sat down for a few minutes, I was escorted by the same two previous two people I encountered, while I walked through the Railway Station.
Two People—a Tour Guide and Driver—Hired All-Day for a Customized Private Tour of the Surrounding Areas
For the most secure and easiest way to travel, by far, was by hiring a tour guide and a seasoned driver for the entire day for a hefty fee. I was only in Jamaica for three nights and two full days. One day was on my own in Kingston and one day was on a private tour. The private tour was of the countryside which started in Kingston. You'll see in the pictures below of what a 12-hour, customized tour of the Jamaican countryside looks like.
Most tourists flock to the resorts of Montego Bay and Ochos Rios. Instead, I toured Kingston to see how people in the city really lived, worked and played and I toured the non-heavily commercialized countryside of Jamaica which is the South Coast.
Because of this specialized tour, I ended up with my all-day tour guide -- Ms. Dee who specializes in “community tourism” which is based on tourist sites that the community wants. When this happens, local and international visitors will follow. Ethnicity speaking, Ms. Dee is half white, part African, part Indian from India and I am guessing, part Taíno, the indigenous race of Jamaica.
I know the concept of “having a tourist site that the local community wants” is an extremely simple concept, but in practice, this does not happen much in Hawaii, where tourism is heavily commercialized and goes against the wishes of the local community. Even the tourists who visit Hawaii recognize this aspect as many tourists are disappointed with the over-commercialization of Hawaii!
Since I spent the entire day with Ms. Dee and her dark chocolate skinned African driver, Ms. Dee and I have become good friends and I was able to understand her model of tourism, where the tourists are “visitors” and “appropriate” and “inappropriate” tourism is demarcated. No doubt, the authentic practice of “community tourism” has much to offer to Hawaii!
Ms. Dee and I at an amazing park with fishponds and swimming pools fed with natural water.
Apply Valley Park, Maggotty, Jamaica
When I was with Ms. Dee and her driver, I didn’t even have to worry about the time. And when we were in a town near Mandeville, Jamaica, a tall, elderly local man came up to me and asked me for money, Ms. Dee held my hand.
(Above) Consisting of 88 square miles of conserved wetlands, the Lower Black River Swamp is one of Jamaica’s largest wetland preserves.
While I went swimming, she watched my bags, and when I couldn’t take pictures, she took pictures for me. Of course, Ms. Dee made my trip carefree and at the same time, she told me the concerns she had for Jamaica. I told her about the summary Hawaii’s problems—all of Hawaii’s “dirty laundry.” We compared Hawaii with Jamaica and swapped notes.
“How sad!” She said about Hawaii. “Poor Hawaii!”
Ms. Dee vows to take a contingent of Jamaicans to Hawaii!
YS Falls, St. Elizabeth Parish, Jamaica
YS Falls, St. Elizabeth Parish, Jamaica
(Above) I wouldn't normally show myself swimming in a waterfall, but there is huge significance here:
the waters in the Y.S. Falls is clean enough for people to swim in!
(Above) YS Falls, St. Elizabeth Parish, Jamaica
(Above) YS Falls, St. Elizabeth Parish, Jamaica
(Above) Fish pond in Apply Valley Park, Maggotty, Jamaica
(Above) Large clumping bamboo in Apple Valley Park, Maggotty, Jamaica
(Above) Not many automobiles on the Jamaican T1 Toll Road at 6:30 p.m. on a Thursday night.
(Above) Back in Raleigh, North Carolina and returning home via the GoTriangle Route 100 bus which is
driving on the shoulder of Interstate 40 during 5 p.m. on a Friday.
(Above) A brand new GoTriangle bus. The brochures have yet to go into the brochure racks. Raleigh, North Carolina.
----------THE OFFICIAL END OF STORY----------
What Happened at the Downtown Bus Hub and How I Chose a Taxicab to Go to the Airport
*Two days prior, after my visit to Coronation Market, I was at the same downtown bus hub location. I asked a man who appeared to be working for the buses, “What bus do I take to go to the Bob Marley Museum?”
He said, “You can take that one …. but the museum does not open until 9 a.m.” [It’s only 8 a.m. now.]
I said, “Then I will go to the Spanish Court Hotel.”
He said quickly, “Then take that bus over there!” and he pointed to another bus amongst the other handful of busses nearby, “and watch your belongings!”
I got on that bus and it took me through the “nice parts” of town which was up the hill. There were single family homes with manicured hedges.
What I sensed from the interaction with that “bus operator” is it’s not good for me to be around that bus hub for more than five minutes—that I should be going onto another location very quickly.
Therefore, the clue I got here made me choose the taxi physically closest to me verses the taxi that was “first in line.”
The Clues and the Cues: The Taxicab Driver Could Have Been Driving a Stolen Car
Perhaps the most informative takeaway from this write up is what type of cues or red flags one should look for, and then take action when a situation could turn into a theft, robbery, assault, battery, extortion or worse case, kidnapping and murder.
In Kingston, these cues can be confusing to a foreigner, especially a foreigner exposed to too much television and movies. On television and movies, take for example, in the 1991 movie New Jack City, all the following have been associated with crime: loud music playing in the open air, black people loitering on the street during the day and at night, organic and inorganic trash being strewn along sidewalks, boisterous talking in public, honking of horns and yelling out of moving automobiles, vehicles stopping at any location which is not predesignated, as well as buildings looking abandoned, derelict and vacant.
As shown in the above write up, all the above cues may not have criminal activity.
The real cues to look for to indicate a place is safe, was, in this case, the presence of females and more specifically, the presence of females over 50 years old. Then there are other subtler cues and clues which, I am finding, take life experience and research to understand.
Take the taxi cab driver who took me to the airport. As a hypothetical example, at the most criminal extreme, he could have stolen that taxicab. Based on all the taxicab rides I have ever taken around the world, all his actions showed he was not a professional cab driver! Furthermore, his actions were masked by what would be construed as sexual advances (the asking or giving of one’s phone number outside of a commercial or business setting). He could have obtained my phone number and eventually extorted from me.
At the most benign extreme, he could be a Jamaican envoy with no need to have any favors returned.
When I was in college, based on personal experiences with an abusive boyfriend, I understand this type of potential extortion and criminal behavior that comes along with an invitation of friendship and/or an amorous relationship.
When it comes to clues, I’m all about research! I read as much as I can before I visit somewhere unfamiliar. I study maps. I go to the North Carolina State Library to do research. This is where I gather clues. I read the touristy websites. I read the unofficial online reviews. I read the American Automobile Association publication. I read the good and the bad! And usually, the bad information and the good information is not in the same place. For example, touristy write ups will almost always put things in a nice light and tell foreigners to stay away from experiencing the grittier parts of town.
Knowing where to go and when to go to experience grit without compromising safety takes experience!
And the particular clues in Kingston are this. Reggae music is loved. Public streets are “living rooms” in which people loiter. Boisterous talking out in public and horn honking is a form of confidence, self-expression and friendliness. Vehicles stopping at any location is a sign of convenience of transportation. Derelict buildings are no to low maintenance.
Another key topic, which I haven’t mentioned yet, in which non-Jamaicans are not accustomed to, especially when conducting a life out in public, is that I read, monogamy is not a valued trait so having more than one lover is common. Multi-amorous relationships are perhaps not talked about, but they are certainly practiced and condoned.
Emy Louie is a consultant and the author of "Fast Trains: America's High Speed Future.” From 2009-2016, Emy served as the Director of Public Outreach for the US High Speed Rail Association. Since 2008, she has taught continuing education classes on design and urban development to architects and engineers. In 2007 and 2008, she hosted her own radio show. Emy has a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa.