|Emy Louie, Consulting Services|
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.