Thursday, December 27, 2018

How has the plastic ban affected me in Boston.

Like many people, I use the plastic bags I get from the supermarkets to bag my trash. They seemed to be an important part of my waste management at home. I do support the single use plastic ban and was wondering how it would affect me.

Normally, I would try to bring my own shopping bag to buy groceries, but even with a plastic bag in my backpack, in my motorcycle / car, I usually end up with more plastic bags.

So after the ban on Dec 14, 2018, I have been to the supermarket several times and I did not bring my own bag at least once a week. However, I just decided to put what I can in my pockets after paying and carrying the remaining items on my hands.

The fee for the plastic bag was $0.10. While not much, mentally, I was not willing to shell out more money. I also realize that this made the hoard of plastic bags in my cupboard decrease significantly as I was bringing less home.

When I start to realize that I may have to pay for trash bags at some point of time, I start to sort out my trash more efficiently. I sort my styrofoam trays according to size, I fold my plastic covers and other waste to compress them. When using eggs, I stack my eggshells into each other. When I'm cutting vegetables or removing shells, bones and other food waste, I now try to consolidate the waste and compact it to use less plastic.

Overall, I would saw it will probably cost you more if you don't bring your own bags, or have more inconveniences created when you need to carry groceries in your hands without a plastic bag.

Perhaps it is a little price you have to pay, and it may prove that is may be an essential to change our behaviors.

-- Robin Low

Friday, December 21, 2018

Money and the need for Enabling currencies

Money today is generally used as a mode of payment. Money also encourages competition and creates a need for endless growth (interest).

It works for many of us and got us through the industrial age, however, there are a lot of problems that are caused by our current economic system. Concentration of wealth is happening and major  religions that were against charging interest did not seem to bother about it now, Income redistribution schemes have all failed. Welfare system and progressive tax are criticized for being effective.

With the coming of the 4th Industrial Age, the worsening of climate change, explosion in population and the ageing population, there will be a lot more problems faced, and the pollution caused may make it harder for future generations to survive.


Enabling currencies / Complementary tokens can play a big role to solve many of today's problems. A cooperative currency can be created to try to address some of these problems.

In a job scarce future, a work enabling currency can be a complementary currency instead of welfare. It can be used a tool to buffer a region from shocks caused by failures in the money system.


Quality Childcare
Mentoring Youths
Elderly Care
Arts, Entertainment, Music
Crime Prevention
Infrastructure repair
Housing Rehabilitation
Environmental Cleanup
Greening of towns
Urban farming
Public transport
Preventative healthcare

Where there are no jobs, people can still work to contribute to society and they can be rewarded by tokens.

The role of the tokens can also be used like Barter+, or it can be stored as work hours which can be exchanged for favors and other tasks in the gift economy. (e.g. Looking after a pet for a day in Boston can earn you tokens which you can exchange for someone to accompany your parents to the doctor for a medical checkup and back.)

Time can be spent on community building activities instead of being wasted. The community can be encouraged to cooperate and show reciprocity in places where money is scarce.

Tokens can also be given freely without transaction fees, contributing to the gift economy.

People can take up loans of the tokens to start small businesses and people contributing can trade the tokens they collect for the products and services.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Job vs Work

We "work" at our "jobs", and "work" can be used to refer to our "jobs", but the underlying difference is, "work" can be used in areas where its just labour, while "job" refers specifically to paid work.

The word work is more general than “job” – whereas “job” is a specific occupation/profession, “work” refers to general efforts and activities done to accomplish a goal. “Work” can be done both inside an official job and outside a job!

The word job is more recent, dates from the industrial age, whereas work is an old word.

In the coming of the 4th industrial age, climate change and biodiversity extinction, explosion of population, increase in human lifespan (Silver Tsunami) and financial instability, there is enough work for everybody, but it may not be the same for jobs.

Lets put some definition:
Job - activity that people do to obtain money -- to make a living.
Work - activity that is performed for its own sake, for pleasure derived from giving, or the passion expressed for the activity itself.

If you did not need the money, would you still have the job?

If the answer  is yes. Then your job is also your work, and you are the minority in this world.


There is a connection to public health.

Evidence points that jobs without meaning makes you sick, and even kill you. I have a few friends that died this year. Friends that decided to grind and work hard to earn more money. One of them owns several houses but decided that it was hard to give up a high paying job and needed to work hard to maintain the same lifestyle until he collapsed and never woke up again. Another friend simply works in a stressful environment everyday and constantly falls ill, just to pay bills and get by, and eventually, his poor health caught up with him.

There are several research done to show that medical services have little effect on national health levels. Instead, what influences health is a work situation where people are in control of their lives.


Money and Job.

The problem with work is finding someone to pay money for it. i.e. making it a paid job as well. The scarcity in jobs make money scarce as well. But does money need to remain scarce?



With the coming of the 4th industrial revolution, will unemployment be just a blue collar thing?

No! Large corporation worldwide are shedding people and having "strategic layoffs" Even profitable companies are streamlining to be more efficient and this will be a trend and becoming new norm, and no jobs are safe.

As we progress in technology and processes, corporations may improve its competitiveness through downsizing. It also has economic consequences. as people buy less when they lose their jobs, but in Third World Countries, the middle class expands and market shifts there.


Economic Exclusion

When economic irrelevance occurs, it creates depression in the population. "We don't need what they have and they can't buy what we sell."

Depression may become epidemic and you get a society that cares only for themselves. Violent rage and lashing out randomly and the majority of the society tries to blame others and find scapegoats for the problems.


Fear by the majority

The next thing that is on everyone's mind is -- fear.

Fear leads to people and companies taking defensive positions, reducing investments, causing unemployment to increase and starting a vicious cycle.

People start to fear things different from them, and this creates political polarization. In many countries, political leaders cannot solve the problems as they follow traditional ways. 

The traditional left-right debate is an inheritance of the Industrial Age economic framework. Debate had to do with private or public ownership of the 'means of production'; i.e. factories and machines. 

What is missing is always -- money. In a poorer community, there is a lot of work to be done, and people are willing to do it, but who will pay for it?

Interestingly, with the fear, the population also turns to high nationalism, and we have seen the effects of this during WWII.

-- Robin Low

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Money is an agreement, within a community, to use something as a means of payment.

Today, money is an agreement, within a community, to use something as a means of payment.

Sadly, today's money is used mainly as a means of payment rather than a "medium of exchange" which is used in the past.

4 features of (normal) money today:

1) Money is geographically attached to a nation state.
2) Money is 'fiat' money -- created out of nothing.
3) Money is created by bank debt.
4) Bank debt against payment of interest.

1) (Normal) Money creates a bond between countries divided by an invisible line. This arrange has serious consequences for all participants and value and exchange can change drastically, affecting the lives of many people without their ability to do anything about it.

Political corruption, chronic shortages of food and medicine, closure of companies, unemployment, deterioration of productivity and high dependence on oil have also contributed to the worsening crisis. Currency devaluation makes everything not affordable my the locals and causing a hyper inflation. (Instability of national currencies)

2) Money is created out of nothing -- like magic. Central bank can create money when needed.

3) The dollar started out as a bank loan. When you buy a car and request for a loan, the bank will magically create a deposit in the seller's account and you have to reimburse the loan until it is destroyed.

Debt money derives its value from scarcity relative to its usefulness. The scarcity has to be artificially and systematically introduced and maintained. Central banks play a role in their currency intentionally scarce to maintain relative value and this system in a fiat currency system is not self regulating.

4) Interest is a recent phenomena and the effects (to service the loan) are pervasive and powerful.
a) Interest indirectly encourages systematic competition among the participants in the system.
b) Interest fuels the need for endless economic growth, even when living standards remain the same.
c) Interest concentrates wealth by taxing the majority in favor of the rich.

In the fourth industrial revolution, a bold change to what we know as money is needed, otherwise the concentration of wealth and income inequality would be exponentially worse. Coupled with a climate change, an aging population and uncontrolled population growth, it is true that while money has the potential for abundance, sustainability and peace of mind; it can also engender unending suffering and hardship.

-- Robin Low

Short term financial interests vs long term sustainability

Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.

Temperature is up.

The planet's average surface temperature has risen about 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.4 Most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years, with the five warmest years on record taking place since 2010. Not only was 2016 the warmest year on record, but eight of the 12 months that make up the year — from January through September, with the exception of June — were the warmest on record for those respective months.

Ice sheets are shrinking.

The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost an average of 281 billion tons of ice per year between 1993 and 2016, while Antarctica lost about 119 billion tons during the same time period. The rate of Antarctica ice mass loss has tripled in the last decade.

Extreme events are getting more common.

The number of record high temperature events in the United States has been increasing, while the number of record low temperature events has been decreasing, since 1950. The U.S. has also witnessed increasing numbers of intense rainfall events.


All said and done, many companies and governments are still carrying on business as normal. Forests are getting chopped down. Vegetation are removed for monoculture crops like Palm Oil, waste are getting vented into the atmosphere or dumped in rivers.

Many of these practices are going on because of short term profits.

Any company that does not need to spend more on disposal will do so, and in the US, the EPA is cutting down regulations to allow more short term profits for companies.

For the convenience of "users" single use plastics are still used and they end up burnt or in landfills. In Singapore, plastic straws, single use plastic bags are still common, and recycling is talked about and not really practiced properly.

Even in 2018, where solar and wind power is getting cheaper, banks are still funding the construction of coal powered plants.

Most people are concerned about convenience than the environment.

If businesses and governments don't act, and the majority of the people are unaware or apathetic to the environment, it is hard to advocate change when the conditions are stacked against you.

-- Robin Low

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Money and the fourth industrial revolution.

Money not only has the potential to contribute to global abundance, peace and sustainability if used wisely, but when restricted in its flow, it also has the ability to create unfathomable hardship and suffering.

Money is an important component of our lives. We spend a lot of time earning, saving and spending money. We allocate a lot of mental, physical and emotional energy around the topic of money, but how many of us really knows what is money and where it comes from? Income inequality is becoming a big problem and there are many other problems associated with the current financial system.

However, it is not just the lack of money that is preventing us from addressing current challenges. Rather, it is the limited functionality of our money and monetary system that is the major force behind our present disorders. Many current solutions reside within the architecture of our current monetary system and in out understanding of and agreements around, money.

A hundred years ago, the world was oblivious of pollution and over population. Nationalism, competition, colonization and endless growth is encouraged. These values start to shape the monetary and banking systems we have today.

In the coming of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we have a monetary system from another age which is starting to look inadequate to solve the challenges ahead. Many attempts at money reform have failed in the past, because they were trying to radically change the official money system in a time where the problems do not seem as obvious as today. But instead of replacing the money system completely, a complementary currency can operate in parallel. With the availability of information technologies, we have what is necessary to implement new money system that allows for money innovation.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Upskilling? How about leveraging on their other soft skills?

I have often heard about people talking about re-training their older staff, then paying them less because they are now "without experience" and starting in a new industry.

Sadly, a lot of experienced workers in many industries have lost their jobs. In many cases, due to the change of direction of the government policies making some industries disappear. They told to get IT skills, programming skills or join the hospitality industry.

Having trained refugees in innovation and technology, I realized that it is much easier said than done. I've worked with ex-prisoners and various other skilled labor on imparting tech skills and unfortunately, a small fraction of them can really make it in the fast moving tech industry.

Looking at the skill sets that these experienced people have, they still have a lot of project management skills, connections and other soft skills that the new start-up industry people do not possess.

A process engineer for a manufacturing company can still add value to the innovation and creativity to a start-up company run by a 20 year old, by adding structure. There may be inter-generational gap in terms of thinking and ideas, but as for diversity, adding other opinions can actually make the company more creative and innovative than just having a few college grads running the show.

Many tech companies, software or hardware will eventually engage larger established companies as clients or a more mature customer base, and having someone who speaks "the language" and help communicate the needs -- can offer good insights on what the customer may actually need.

I see "upskilling" and "skills upgrading" as a good way for businesses to retrench people based on their age and then paying them less on new jobs which they have to be trained for.

There is a need for a better way to move forward -- a need to build empathy and better communication skills in organizations so that they can fully utilize the potential of their workers, but helping the different generations communicate better, valuing experience and outside knowledge which may not seem relevant to the industry initially, but having a diverse background allows different insights which may lead to better framing of problems and better solutions.

There are always people who can code, but a tech company needs more than just coders.

-- Robin Low

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Humans make bad decisions -- But don't judge

I was driving along on a congested highway and I saw cars cutting in front of the line, making the same exit I was trying to get off, blocking much of the traffic. Approaching the exit, a large SUV drove up and aggressively drove into my lane to exit the highway.

I blasted my horn and shouted vulgarities at the driver and even flashed my high beams at him. "What an inconsidered person!"

The next day, I was riding my large motorcycle into Malaysia and as I was going through customs, I realized that the lanes were too narrow for my motorcycle. As I could not get pass, I had to reverse out, I blocked the path for many motorcycles and some of them horned at me. Many people looked angry and probably thought I was a jerk. But I kept thinking. "It is not my fault. The lanes were poorly designed and I could not pass."

This actually has a name. Fundamental Attribution Error

The Fundamental Attribution Error is our bias to judge other people differently from how we judge ourselves.

When things go poorly. When we screw up, we tend to believe things happened because of circumstances outside of our control. However, when others fail, we tend to think it is a result of poor choices or someone being a bad person.

I have done this countless times. When I saw a person rebuilding a shop at the base of a landslide -- after a landslide. I tried to tell him that there is no vegetation on the hill and the landslide will push his shop off a cliff again, but he insisted that this place was the easiest place to build as it is flat and has no vegetation on it. I was thinking why can't people think? But could it be the case of lack of choice?

In religion, I often hear stories about priests and abuse in church on the news. Christians are perfectly fine with an imperfect system. I have read about news where a Muslim man raped a teenager, and is forced to marry her and the solution seemed fine with other Muslims. Buddhists monks seemed to get the support of other Buddhists in their countries when they are oppressing people of other religions, and in come cases, incite violence and anti-Muslim riots.

It seems that their acts can be forgiven by their gods, but when it comes to consenting adults having sex, they want to legislate what adults of the same sex do in their bedrooms.

On Social Media, You are either judged or you are invisible.

Many people like to judge others. It can be seen on various posts online. We give ourselves and our friends the benefit of the doubt but not others who do similar things.

When we succeed, we believe it is our hardwork and talent, and when we see others succeed, we sometimes believe it is pure luck or that person is connected in some way...

So why are we wired to make bad decisions and what can we do about it?

Turns out that confidence boost can benefit us and may even serve an evolutionary purpose. Researchers believe it may help us take on beneficial risks as we change our perception of what we’re capable of.

For example, a study of unemployed college grads found those who credited their successes to themselves, were more likely to find a job than students who tended to blame themselves for failures. The researchers’ believe students who viewed things in a more self-serving way were more motivated and optimistic about their futures.

We need to;

1) Embrace the luck of the die.

Yes, sometimes luck play a factor. People do win the lottery. The winning odds are mind blowing, and most of all, you have NOTHING to do with it.

We need to be grateful that good things happen to us, and not that we deserve it sometimes. This same attitude regarding the role chance plays in all our lives can help us cultivate a more unbiased point of view.

2) Build empathy by engaging with others.

When we have zero information and no knowledge about something, our biases and what we read / learn in books, etc. kicks in and we judge based on our biases.

Seeing a woman get into an accident, we make quick judgements based on her sex and not the events that lead up to the accident.

We need to engage with more people and travel and learn about other cultures. Practicing empathy has been found to reduce the fundamental attribution error. Pretending you are in the shoes of the person you are likely to blame makes us less judgmental.

3) Assholes exist.

Well sometimes, people are brought up wrong. And humans are brought up to have fundamental attribution error. It helped in our survival to bolster our confidence and reputation. However, in modern society, this cognitive bias can hurt us and others more than it serves us.

And on Social Media, extreme cognitive biases may be seen as racist or "bully" and one could lose their jobs because of one stupid post which we may regret for a very long time.

But take note. We may be assholes, but we have the ability to evolve and do better. If you get angry without all the information next time, give others the benefit of the doubt and seek out why by putting yourself in their shoes, even if it takes a little effort.

Of course assholes exists, but you don't need to be one sometimes.

-- Robin Low

Friday, May 25, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 49

Tupi felt strange. He was looking at himself lying on the hospital bed -- alone. There were doctors, nurses checking on him from time to time, but no one came to visit. "I guess, in the end, my existence did not matter to anyone." Tupi said.

Tupi watch himself with tubes coming out of his nose and mouth and nurses coming to feed him from time to time using the tubes. Soon, it was morning again, and still no one visited. Tupi can feel himself drifting further away from his body. "I guess this is the end. Working hard my whole life for that HDB flat, and no one remembers me. I think my Eulogy would read - Loner to the end, failing to help, and helping to fail."

Tupi was about to turn and leave, but he saw Suzie coming into his room and sitting beside him. "Tupi, please wake up. I felt really lonely when you left the house to live on your own. I miss you and I did not have a chance to tell you as you were travelling and did not give me new your non-office phone number." She choked a little and cried clutching her Mickey Mouse necklace. "You were the best brother to me and... and you protected me and taught me many things when I was young."

"You bought me this necklace in Tokyo Disneyland when I was 14, and wear this everyday. When we had a fall on your motorcycle, which I got this scar, you never forgave yourself and sold the motorcycle and never rode again. But it was my fault for leaning the wrong way in a corner. The last time I saw you happy was with that bike." Suzie said holding Tupi's hand tight. "After that, you started working and even when we live in the same house, I don't really have a chance to meet you except during New Years and Christmas. You work late everyday and get home tired and sleep all weekend, then you moved out a few months ago. Mary was angry at first as she thought you would be still in the house taking care of me. I did not want you to move, but you seemed finally happy again with your own place. Please don't leave me...."

Tupi paused. He did not realize that his sister cared so much about him. He approached her and tried to touch her but his hands passed through her. "I'm a bad brother, I have never been there, not even for your graduation because I was in the army. Then I focused too much on work. I wanted to give you more space as we live in such a small HDB flat, so I was determined to move out to give you space." Tupi said. "I am too selfish. Even when I was jobless, I wanted to explore more and did not think about catching up with you and Mary. I just wanted to make an impact on someone... anyone, as my life has been insignificant and no one would remember me, but now I know that you cared... I need to find a 1-up or restore from a save point. Please let me try again. I will make it up to you."


Tupi woke up in a hospital bed. He opened his eyes slowly and his vision was still blurry with a bit of red. He was very uncomfortable with tubes in his nose and mouth. He can feel a throbbing pain on the side of his head and ringing in his ears. "My head hurts... so much." Tupi mumbled and as his vision slowly gets into focus, he realized that he was in an empty room.

Tupi felt slightly nauseous and really tired. tears rolled down his face as he had a sudden feeling of loneliness again. "I guess this is level 10." Tupi thought to himself and could not control the tears rolling down his cheeks. "Oh.. god, this hurts more..." Tupi muttered as his tears entered his bandages and went over some abrasions.

Tupi closed his eyes and waited for the pain to end.


Tupi heard more voices in his room. He slowly opened his eyes and saw Michael. "Hey! You are awake!" Michael shouted excitedly and ran out of the room. Minutes later, Tupi's sisters came in along with many of his other friends he met while he was volunteering.

"Tupi!" Suzie cried. "Don't leave me!" 

Tupi felt something warm inside. He felt loved and glad that he had many friends and family concerned about him. 

"Here are some information about you on the News." Michael said. "Singaporean survived hurricane in Florida only to hit by a car in Singapore... Seems like your friend Justin was interviewed and he had some photos of you, and local news was about to publish it and soon after, you were hit by that car mirror. It was a hit and run, some people posted the accident, it became viral, and when your story broke, suddenly there are a lot of well wishers. The whole room next door is filled with flowers from well wishers. They also caught the driver."

Tupi was happy, he wanted to respond but started choking from some liquid entering his throat getting into his airway.

"Doctor!" Suzie shouted and the nurses rushed in to check on Tupi. The nurse shined a flashlight into Tupi's eyes.

"He's ok." The nurse said. I will remove the tubes now, since he is awake. Can all of you please leave for a while, I need to work here."


Tupi made a full recovery. His skull was fractured by a car mirror and went into a coma for 3 days from the impact, but nothing was seriously damaged inside. Tupi was observed in the hospital for 2 more days and many people including numerous strangers came to visit.

Tupi was really touched as he felt appreciated. "I am not alone."

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 48

Tupi felt insignificant. He was confused. Can change be driven by one person alone? Do people care about making social impact or more about themselves?

Tupi was in his apartment alone. He looked at some of the photos of himself as he unpacked and he had friends in school, but after he started work, he felt more alone than ever. He did not have much of a social life and did not do anything much besides work.

Tupi checked his emails and for the few weeks he was traveling, he did not receive any emails from any friend or family – just lots of spam emails. Tupi went onto Facebook. There were no new messages or anyone commenting on his posts. ( He checked out a meme on Level of loneliness and shook his head. “Wow, I moved into this apartment by myself, and I have no one who I think would help me move.” Tupi said. “That’s level 9/10 loneliness. I wonder if anyone really cared about me, or if I would die alone?”

Tupi check the other rooms in his apartment and still found several boxes that were still packed up in boxes. He found some undeveloped film from his camera and made a list of things to do.

1) Build shelves.
2) Buy new 2m long shower hose.
3) Get nice comfy chair.
4) Need a bucket and mop.

Looking at his list, Tupi went online to check for the items and decided to take a trip to Ikea and make some stops along the way for the other items which cannot be found in Ikea.

Tupi plotted out his trip route and efficiently went about his purchase. He would systematically go to the store he picked, make his purchase, take the shortest route to the next store and move on.

Tupi was quite pleased with his progress. As he was waiting at the sidewalk, he crossed out some of the items he bought on his list and saw an e-scooter speeding by and stepped away from the path of the e-scooter, unfortunately, he was too close to the road and as a car was passing by, the mirror his Tupi on the head and everything went black.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 47

When Tupi was going home, he kept thinking about whether he prevented Michael from helping to build another bridge. "Helping is hard... Not helping is also hard." Tupi muttered and was troubled. "I thought that taking a few months to do volunteer work would make me learn more, but instead it made me more confused."

When Tupi reached home, he made some tea and took out a book and read a chapter. Then he started thinking about the bridge again. "They never asked for a bridge, it seemed like Michael wanted to build it because he had been building bridges for other communities around the world. So when the bridge did not get completed, why am I so worried about it? Is it because I sort of donated money and wanted it to be completed, even though my life is not affected by its completion? Should I donate more money to get it done, but what if it still does not get done? Isn't this how scams work?"

Tupi picked up the phone and called Alex (In Haiti). "Hey Alex... I've a question for you. I've donated money to build a bridge, and it has not been built because they needed more money as they did not budget for things, but after several rounds of more donations, it still did not get done... Should I donate one last time?"

"People in third world country are not incompetent. They can budget. If they fail to budget once, it may be because it was their first time, and they will be careful after. If they fail many times, it may be because they think you are a sucker and they are just milking you for money. Please don't encourage such behaviors." Alex said.

"Thank you... " Tupi said and he felt a lot better. "I guess I did learn something..."

Tupi went on the job portal and looked at the job postings. He typed in "Social Impact" and there was no job listing on anything social except "Social Media".

"Well, I guess no one will pay you to do good. It seems like you have to pay to do good..." Tupi said. "The world is really weird that way."

Friday, May 11, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 46

Tupi met up with Michael to have dinner. Chomp Chomp was very crowded as usual and it took them sometime before they got a seat and their food, but the food was good.

"So have you found a job yet?' Michael asked. "Any good offers?"

"Applied for some and did not get any response." Tupi said. "Did not try that hard though, still want to understand more about myself."

"Wah, so rich ah..." Michael said. "Don't work also can travel? And pay for your new HDB flat?"

"I've been saving for the past 30 years for the house." Tupi said. "Finally bought it with all my savings. After that, my expenses are actually pretty low. I'm also renting out a room."

"Ok, anyway, I have some bad news." Michael said. "Remember the bridge we fundraised for Nepal a long time ago?"

"Ya?" Tupi asked. "What's wrong with it?"

"They have not built it. We sent the money and they hired the contractor and engineers and bought the materials." Michael said. "Then we did another round of fundraising for transportation."

"Yup, remembered that." Tupi said.

"Then they discovered that they needed more materials months later..." Michael said. "And we fundraised again and bought the materials and actually went there with the truck for delivery."

"Uh-huh." Tupi nodded."

"The bridge is still not completed yet." Michael said. "We paid for the permits, and submission, and it got approved months later again, but now, they claim that the monsoon washed away the sand and some of the cement bought was damaged in storage."

"This is ridiculous, don't they need to walk like 10km instead of 1km to the bus stop if the bridge is completed?" Tupi asked. "Why did they not store it well, and can't they pay for the remaining bits?"

"Uhhh... they are still living in poverty, their homes are slowly getting rebuilt, and they say they are still poor, but I kind of feel that we are getting taken for a ride." Michael said. "Many of the villagers have bigger houses now, they added a third floor to their homes.  So, you are right, they may be able to pay for the damaged materials and are just not doing it as suckers like us keep doing fundraising for them. "

"Ok." Tupi said.

"What do you mean ok?" Michael said.

"What else do you want to do?" Tupi asked. "If we believe that they can fund the materials and build their own bridge, then we should just drop it."

"What do you mean -- drop it?" Michael asked.

"How does it affect you if the bridge does not get built?" Tupi asked. "Are you angry that the bridge is not built because they cannot budget for nuts? We should allow them to pay for the remaining bits for the bridge."

"Wow, deep..." Michael said. "Travel has made you different... You were always so easy going and ok with everything."

"Unless its an ego thing where you want to show to people the bridge you built. " Tupi said. "Otherwise, just walk away. If its important to them, they will get it done."

"But they are poor..." Michael said.

"And yet they can build another floor." Tupi said.

"Oh ya..." Michael said and pondered for a few minutes. "Then I'll not do another round of fundraising for them. Thanks!"

"You were still thinking of another round for fundraising?" Tupi asked. "Its been years."

"Ya, but the bridge was not built yet." Michael said.

"You are too good..." Tupi said and they both laughed.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 45

Tupi arrived in Singapore after a long flight. He felt accomplished but had also some doubts with some of the things he had done. Tupi had a lot of time to think on the government response and how some of the survivors are stuck because of the bad policies causing so much waste.

Tupi did his laundry and took a nap, the continued with some chores in the house. Tupi finished his chores and watched Netflix for an hour and felt much relaxed. "What should I do now?" Tupi asked and looked at his laptop. He pressed the power button and it could not be powered it. "Damn it," Tupi complained. It was an old notebook and the battery was dead and it took ages to power up. Tupi connected the cables, powered it on and took a shower while it was turning on.

"Back to this again." Tupi said as he dried himself with a towel and started to check some emails. "Its such a long time without using my computer." Tupi browsed through several job portals and looked for suitable jobs. He spent an hour and bookmarked several jobs to apply later.

"Ok, now I can do other things." Tupi said, feeling productive. Tupi checked his phone messages and to do list and found that he needed to call Michael. "Yup, sure, all chores done." Tupi muttered to himself.

"Hi Michael, its me, Tupi." Tupi called Michael on the phone. "I just got back."

"Wanna grab a drink?" Michael said. "I'll buy you a drink as promised."

"Sure, where?" Tupi asked.

"Any cravings for Singapore food?" Michael asked.

"Oh yes, BBQ Stingray!" Tupi said. "Lets go Chomp Chomp to have beer too!"

Monday, April 30, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 44

Tupi woke up to his phone ringing. It was Michael. 

"Hey Tupi, heard about you getting lost in Florida after the hurricane. Are you ok? Did you get hurt? You need to go to the hospital for a check up, you may have ..." Michael said on the phone.

"I'm ok, was not hurt or anything, just went out and got disoriented by the messy roads." Tupi said. "Thanks for the concern, I'll be back in 2 days and will go for a check up in Singapore. Did Justin tell everyone?"

"Yeah, read about it on Facebook." Michael said. "I'm glad you are not hurt. I'll buy you a drink when you are back. I have some stories about Nepal Earthquake I want to tell you. Sometimes you try to help people, and it backfires on you, and then they try to take advantage of you."

"No one is taking advantage of me. The people are very nice here, and they sent me back to Justin." Tupi said. "Just realized how vulnerable I was without my phone."


The 2 chatted for about an hour and Tupi felt a lot better when he knows that someone cares about him. Tupi went to have breakfast with Justin and just wanted to take it easy. Justin sent Jake to his mom at the hospital and Tupi heard that Jake's mom is getting discharged and he would go home with her. Things are looking better and Tupi did not want to risk it and he stay in the house to pack up. 

"MRE and life straw is still here, never get to use them." Tupi said and took them out of his luggage and continued to pack. Tupi did his laundry and carefully ironed and folded his clothes. Tupi looked at the photos in his camera and was still in awe on the destruction. 

When Justin is back, Justin took Tupi to Miami where they went to the mall to shop for souvenirs and had a good dinner. Tupi felt a lot better after a burger and milkshake and Justin took the scenic route where they had the windows down. There was not much traffic and everything was calm and peaceful.

Soon it was time for Tupi to get on his flight to Singapore. He checked for his passport and his belongings and Justin sent him to the airport. It was an interesting adventure, one that he would never forget.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 43

Tupi got in the car and after crossing the bridge, the nice sunshine and the wind blowing on Tupi's face helped him to relax and Tupi was able to recognize some of the roads and guided the driver to Justin's house.

When the car pulled up, Justin ran out and saw Tupi. "Where did you go? What happened to you?" Justin asked.

"I don't know what happened, I could not sleep, went out and got lost." Tupi said. "And I was saved by the people who lost their homes."

"Thank you sir, for bringing my friend back." Justin said to the man, shook his hands. "Do you want to come in for a drink?"

"Got to go now!" The man said and waved good bye. "Some packing to do."


Tupi went in the house and felt ashamed. "I seem to be a lot of trouble."

"Its just stress." Justin replied. "You are not used to be in this situation."

"But I did not even lose anything..." Tupi said. "I'm now being a burden."

"You have too much empathy." Justin said. "You are feeling the shared painful experiences of everyone, and you are taking it all it. Perhaps we should talk more, eat healthy and rest well. I've been through a phase of depression before, and trust me, you don't want to have it especially when you're just here to help."

"Ok, I'll take it easy." Tupi said. "Did not know that I can develop stress by just volunteering."


Tupi took a nap and woke up in the evening to go for dinner with Justin at a nice restaurant. They went to the hospital to get Jake. "Lets go get some Southern Seafood!" Justin said and brought Jake along for dinner.

"Have you tried Jambalaya?" Justin asked.

"Is it like Paella" Tupi asked.

"I don't know. To me, Gumbo, Paella, Jambalaya and etouffee is almost the same thing." Justin said. "Gumbo and etouffee are wetter, almost like soup with rice inside, but pretty much similar"

"Wow, so many different names?" Tupi said. "All the rice dish with meat, seafood and vegetables inside?"

"Yup..." Justin said.

"Hey Jake, do you like Jambalaya?" Justin asked.

"Love it!" Jake said.

"Then its set!" Justin said. "Lets go!"

Everyone seems to be in a much better mood. Jake started talking about his mother's recovery and the mood was rather uplifting.


The smell of good food, fried seafood and spicy Cajun sauce fills the air. Tupi immediately looked at the spicy Jambalaya and was all set. "What goes well with this?" Tupi asked the waiter.

"Sauvignon Blanc" The waiter said.

"Really?" Tupi asked.

"The spiciness of the Jambalaya actually goes really well with a medium bodied white." The waiter replied. "Not too over powering and brings out the flavor of the other ingredients inside."

"Sounds really good." Tupi said. "I'll have that and the wine."


It seem like good food and good company can fix everything. Tupi felt much better when they got back to the house. Tupi looked at his schedule and decided to book a flight home in 2 days. Then he went and inform Justin.

Tupi chatted with Justin into the night, talking about his recent experience and near breakdown. Justin listened and was very encouraging. Tupi felt a big relief after the chat and slept well for the night.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 42

Tupi could not sleep even when he felt really tired from lifting heavy stuff. Tupi felt restless and could not focus. He got up and washed his face and was not sure what he was doing. Tupi went through his luggage and found his lifestraw, MRE and solar kits. "What was I thinking..." Tupi muttered and decided to get some fresh air.

Tupi put on his light jacket and sneakers and left the house. Then he began to walk down the road.


Tupi did not realize that he walked for a long time and the sky was turning blue. "Morning?" Tupi muttered. Tupi felt confused and disoriented. "Where the hell am I?" Tupi asked and he was lost. The roads does not look familiar and he did not know how to get back to the house.

Tupi could not find his phone, he just realized that he did not have Justin's address or any other phone numbers on him to call. Everything he knows is stored on the WhatsApp messenger. Tupi felt calm, he did not panic and felt rather numb.


Tupi walked and soon could smell an open trench. He continued to walk and crossed the bridge. At this time, his legs were aching and he was a little dizzy. He walked over to a few people at their destroyed trailers and sat there. Tupi was not feeling so well. 

One of the kids at the trailer approached Tupi. "Do you need a drink?" The young girl offered Tupi a refilled bottle of water and Tupi drink it quickly. Tupi did not realize that he was badly dehydrated. "Thanks, I really needed that." Tupi said and walked over to the family and helped with the clearing of debris for them to collect some of their belongings.

A few hours have passed and the family offered Tupi some fruits for lunch. "Where do you live now?" The man asked Tupi. 

"I live on the other side of the bridge." Tupi said. "I mean.. The house is not destroyed... I'm not from here... I live in Singapore." Tupi was confused again, and he was not sure why.

"Are you ok?" The man asked. "Do you need to go to a hospital or something? There is one in Tavernier and another in Homestead. We could send you there."

"I think I'm ok, I'm not injured or anything. I needed some fresh air." Tupi said. 

"Where do you live?" The man asked. "Perhaps I could send you back. You seemed a little lost."

"I was here yesterday. I don't recall where I live but I know it is on the other side of the bridge. Nearer to Miami, not on the Keys." Tupi said.

"Ok, We are pretty much done for the day, still need to do some paperwork and need the Internet. Send you back in 15 mins?" The man said. 

"Sure, ok." Tupi replied.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 41

The next day, Justin and Tupi drove across the river again. They saw some people at the destroyed mobile homes and Justin drove over and stopped the truck. As Justin exited, he looked at Tupi and Tupi was just sitting there in the truck.

"I have donated in the past, and writing checks and helping people makes me feel good, makes me feel that I'm contributing to society." Tupi said. "I had always dreamed of coming to a disaster area and help. And now, everything seems overwhelming. The rubble, the debris, the smell. Where do you even start? It is so easy to watch on TV and feel sad and want to do something, and end up only donating, but now that I'm here, I am lost."

A man walked over and handed Tupi an apple. "How can I help you? Did you lose your home too?"

Tupi looked up at the man. He was a big guy with a bandanna and a big white beard. "Um.. no... I don't live here, I'm here to help, but I don't know what to do."

"Hey look here." The man said. "Nobody is an expert. Every day is different, just come over and help. We are clearing some heavy stuff here and could sure need a hand!" The man smiled at Tupi and extended his hand out and Tupi grabbed it and stood up.

Tupi help pull up some fallen boards and panels and carried it away. It was quite hard work and requires a lot of strength and endurance. The sun came up and it was nice and warm and Tupi too off his jacket and took a short break. "You ok?" The man asked Tupi.

Tupi smiled and gave a thumbs up.

Everything seems overwhelming when you look at it, but when you start clearing things up, a board at a time, the task becomes much clearer, and progress can be felt. Tupi drank from his bottle of water and felt great. He took a deep breadth and continued to carry out buckets of mud and debris and place it in a pile so that the others can continue to work and look for things inside the destroyed mobile home.

Another van drove up and the drive came over and shared several sandwiches with everyone. "Thanks..." Tupi said as his stomach growled. He had forgotten to have lunch. Everyone around him seemed nice, sharing food and water.

Tupi walked over to the man with the bandanna. "Hi, my name is Tupi."

"I'm Steve." The man said. "Nice to meet you. Really appreciate that you can come to help."

"I was already in Florida." Tupi said. "Our place was not so affected, and I always wanted to help in a disaster, but never got a chance till now."

The group of people chatted for a bit and bonded. Tupi felt that he was now connected to something bigger and more important and it felt like a day well spent.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 40

Tupi walked into the sport arena and saw that there were still some people there. There was quite a bit of mess and there were many people still leaving. There was a stench of dampness in the air. "Everyone needs to go!" A man said. "The flood is over, and power and water is back soon."

"Excuse me sir," Tupi asked the man. "This boy's home is destroyed and his mother is in the hospital."

"We don't take in unaccompanied minors, and this shelter will be closed tomorrow." The man said.

"So what can we do?" Tupi asked.

"Call FEMA, call City Hall..." The man said. "Get your insurance claims."

"But he needs a place to stay." Tupi said.

"We are closing tomorrow, he can stay for the night." The man said. "We are a shelter to keep people safe during the hurricane. Hurricane is over."

"How can we help if the people are leaving?' Tupi was rather disappointed. "Don't worry, we'll get you a safe place to stay tonight."


Tupi approached a family that is still in the shelter. "Hi, I was wondering what you were going to do when you have to leave this place."

"Our home is destroyed." The man said. "Most of us over here live in mobile homes, and the hurricane destroyed the whole area. If we can't stay here, we probably have to find a cheap motel. Currently filing some claims and getting some relief, but my workplace is also damaged and I'm probably not getting paid for the next month as well. Don't even know when the relief and insurance would come."

Tupi's heart sank. He would not even know what to do if his home was destroyed yet this man seemed calm and collected. "I bought some rations and water, hopefully this would help a bit." Tupi said. Tupi did not know what else to do and went over to Justin. "So, what can we do? Those people were leaving as well and they were just going to find a motel or sort."

"The boy can stay at my place for the moment, should not be a problem." Justin said.

"That sounds like a good idea." Tupi said and felt much relief. "Lets also give out the rations to these people here, their mobile homes are destroyed."

The boy walked over and asked. "Can I go to the hospital to see my mom?"

"Sure, lets go..." Justin said and gave out the last few boxes and went up the truck.

"Let me sit out in the back." Tupi said as he looked at the empty truck. "Looks like fun..."


The truck drove for 10 minutes and Tupi smell a strong stench like sewage or an open trench. "Ewww...." Tupi said and looked around and saw an area with the destroyed mobile homes.

"Wow, how did they survive that?" Tupi said pointed at the destruction to Justin who stopped.

As the windows went down, Justin immediately could smell the awful stench. "Oh my god... it stinks..." Justin closed the windows but it did not help much.

Justin drove away to avoid the smell.


Tupi was still in awe. The destruction and the smell can be very overwhelming. Tupi knew he was just a visitor and the residents who had their homes destroyed have to live in the consequences.

"How did the people survive the destruction?" Tupi asked Justin. "Those mobile home seemed so destroyed."

"They probably went into the shelters before the storm." Justin said.

"Duh..." Tupi muttered. "I feel so dumb..."

The boy went into the hospital and Tupi said. "We will wait for you here. Don't worry, you can come stay at our place today."

Tupi was physically and emotionally drained. The situation was overwhelming him but he felt good. There was so much conflict internally and he really felt like leaving this place as it was sad, but internally, he felt glad that he was not affected by the disaster.

"Am I a bad person?" Tupi asked Justin. "I am tired and feel really sad for the people here, but I feel good somehow... even when I'm not sure if I did enough."

"At least you took action and did something." Justin said. "I'm sure you did more than those thoughts and prayers that were sent."

Monday, March 19, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 39

After crossing the bridge, Tupi saw a young teenage boy tossing some debris into the river and told Justin to stop the truck. "What the hell is he doing?" Tupi asked.

"Forget about it..." Justin said. "Lets just go to the shelter."

"No, this kind of behavior should not be tolerated." Tupi said. "Junk should be placed in a pile to be removed later, throwing into the river will require more resources to remove later."

"Lets not start any trouble..." Justin said.

"Just wait here." Tupi said. "I'll handle this."

"Hey there!" Tupi shouted as he walked towards the boy. "What do you think you are doing?"

The boy initially ignored Tupi and continued to carry buckets of debris to discard.

Tupi walked towards the boy and the boy returned with 2 buckets of debris and Tupi stood in his path. The boy towers over Tupi, physically much bigger than Tupi and continued his approach.

"Hey, why are you throwing things into the river?" Tupi asked.

"Because this shit is in my way." The boy said and puts up a tough look and walked past Tupi.

"It will cost more to clean the river." Tupi said. "They will eventually come clear the street."

"When?" The boy asked. "Its more than a week, nothing happening. They should have thought about that before ignoring us."

"You live here, and when the waterway clogs up, you'll be the one suffering." Tupi said. "Stop doing this, you don't really need to clear away the debris right now.."

"You can't tell me what to do." The boy said. "So why don't you just fuck off."

"You don't need to be so selfish." Tupi said. "Where are your parents? Did they tell you to do this? Let me talk to them."

"This is none of your business, so I suggest that you turn around and walk away." The boy said and his lips trembled and his eyes seemed red. "I don't tell you where you put your shit."

"What is your problem? Tupi asked. "You don't need to... " Before Tupi could finish his sentence, the boy shoved him to the ground.

"I don't need to... what?" The boy asked as he stood over Tupi.

Tupi was shocked. He had never got into a fight before and a teenager is now kicking his ass. "I'm going to tell your parents about this."

The teenage boy suddenly went all out and attacked Tupi. Tupi was punched then kicked and losing the fight. The boy also seemed to be crying and Tupi was getting hurt and confused. He was the one getting hit, why was they boy crying?

Tupi managed to grab the boy's hands and stop his from punching and Tupi grabbed him and managed to roll and mounted on top of the boy, grabbing his hands while sitting on him. Both the boy and Tupi himself was surprised he was able to pull off such a move. "Now, tell me what exactly is going on, slowly... I am here to listen and not here to hurt you."

The boy cried out loud. "I don't have a dad."

"Look, this is a serious thing you are saying." Tupi said. "What do you mean exactly?"

"I fucking lost my dad..." The boy said, and stared at Tupi seriously.

"So you dad is missing?" Tupi asked. "Are you living with your mom? Do you see your dad on weekends?"

"The roof was blown away and my dad is gone." The boy said. "My mom is also in the hospital now. Are you happy now?"

Tupi felt very emotional as well. He cried and hugged the boy. The boy hugged Tupi as well and it felt like they bonded instantly. Tupi lost his father at a young age and was brought up by his mother, and often was stubborn and had bad temper as well. He often felt the world was not fair to him and it took him years before he could rationalize what happened and mellowed down.

Justin parked his car and walked over and was not sure what to make of the situation. Tupi was just hugging the boy and both of them are crying. "Erm... are you ok?" Justin asked and Tupi waved Justin away.

The two of them must have cried for 10 minutes, but it felt like ages. "Is that your house?" Tupi asked and pointed at a badly damaged house with no roof. The boy nodded. "Are you living at the shelter?" Tupi asked and the boy shook his head. "Is your mom still at the hospital?" Tupi asked and the boy nodded.

Tupi followed the boy to his house and saw him cleaning up the mud and other damages but much of the house was destroyed. It was a miracle he was still alive.

"Don't worry, cleaning up can wait." Tupi said. "We can help you clean up and bring you to a shelter. Then take you to the hospital to see your mom... Do you have any siblings?"

The boy shook his head. "We are also going to the shelter, there are many people there. You can stay there for the night, and do you want to pack up?"

The boy walked over the rubble and entered his room and pack his clothes. The room was in a mess, but it had a roof and it does not seem badly damaged. The boy packed up and got into Justin's truck and they drove through the town and saw much more destruction before reaching an indoor sports arena which was used as a shelter. "We're here."

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 38

Tupi saw a small convenience store opening and the owner seemed to be clearing some debris off the side of the store. The store was pretty empty, but there was newspaper delivery and Tupi decided to go and support to buy some papers and a bar of chocolate.

"Everything sold out?" Tupi asked.

"Yeah, people bought out many things before the hurricane, and we do have some products which got damaged as the store was closed for a week, and we had no power. So just cleaning up now." The store owner said.

"No restock yet?" Tupi asked.

"Usually, the big boys like supermarkets get their supplies first." The store owner said. "We get ours from a different supplier who still does not have stock. But I'm not in a hurry, the power is still out here." The store owner pointed a several repairman fixing the electrical cables.

"Its been a week!" Tupi said.

"And we are not the worst hit, you should see the Keys... " The store owner said. "easily half the houses there were destroyed of badly damaged. My cousin's house has a boat inside."

"I thought the flooding down the road was bad..." Tupi said.


Tupi quickly hurried to the house and was reading the newspapers on the way. "Justin! Florida Keys is like... destroyed!" Tupi said.

"I heard.. it was on the news.. " Justin said. "Do you want to go? I'm not sure if we can access but I can try."

"I'd like to see the damage and how we can help." Tupi said. "I still have my lifestraws and MRE..."

"Sure, I have some blankets and warm clothes." Justin said. "Lets pack the truck and see how we can get there."


The truck was loaded and ready to go. Tupi brought along a big bottle of water for the trip and brought along some fruits. "Wow, your refrigerator is really stocked up..." Tupi said.

"Well, you can't take the Singaporean out of me... The fear of losing is real." Justin said.

As they were driving there, the roads were still empty. "I can never get used to this... There should be many cars out..." Justin said. The traffic lights are still not working and there were few vehicles on the road. "One week, still like a Ghost town."

As the truck crossed the bridge, Tupi can see widespread destruction on the other side. "There is a boat in that house... That house has no roof..." Tupi was in shock and awe. This is where is destruction by nature starts, and Tupi feels like he is in a movie, and the devastation is still everywhere.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 37

Tupi could not sleep well. He woke up the next morning and walked around again. There was an old man taking out some trash outside a house that was sitting in the flood a week ago.

"Good morning! Hello there, was wondering if you require any form of assistance?" Tupi asked.

"Thank you kind sir, however, we are quite used to it." The old man said. "This is not the first time. So there is not a lot in the basement that we keep now."

"Oh my... " Tupi exclaimed. "This happens often?"

"This is the 6th time in 10 years that we are living here." The old man said.

"I met another lady in the shelter the other day, and she said that her house floods almost every year." Tupi said.

"That is probably down the road." The old man said. "I've lived here for more than 50 years, and that used to be a swamp, which sits on flood plains. And you wonder why people would think to live there. "

"Why did the government allow people to build there? Tupi asked.

"Corruption?" The old man said. "Developer probably paid off the mayor or city official to get the land. And when they were building it, it actually flooded as well."

"Then what about your house?" Tupi asked.

"This street started to flood only in the last 10 years." The old man said. "There used to be more open land around here, that strip mall over there did not exist 5 years ago. The car park over there was a forest. Whole area is much more built up, when it rains bad, like during a hurricane, flash floods will happen. And the really heavy rain happens now, once every 2 years... Those houses over there get flooded every year."

"I think this is what happened in Singapore as well. As we got more built up, more flash floods happen as the land can soak up less water, and the water become run offs and flood the area." Tupi sighed. "Thank you for your time, it was very educational and are you sure you don't need my help again?"

The old man shrugged and thank Tupi again as Tupi continued down the road, determined to help someone.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 36

Tupi arrived in  Florida to meet Justin again. "How are things?" Tupi asked.

"Bad..." Justin said. "Quite disappointed with people. How is Dominican Republic and Haiti doing after the storm?"

Tupi immediately recalled his experience in the hurricane. "Oh that..." Tupi said. "I don't see any thing particularly wrong there."

As Tupi went to the large supermarket to get some toiletries, they ran out of a lot of basic necessities, like baby milk formula, water and fruits. "Its like a war zone down here." Justin said. "We are not that affected. But this is crazy.. People are hoarding."

"This is ridiculous." Tupi said. "Outright disgusting."

Tupi was not affected as he could find soap, tooth brush and toothpaste. As Justin drove by some other stores, Tupi saw some supplies stocked at the gas station. "They have it there..."

As Justin drove by, Tupi saw the price of a carton of bottled water. "Seriously??" Tupi exclaimed. "$50 for a carton of bottled water?"

"Not all the supplies arrive yet, and there is still a gap, and many people are looking to make a quick buck." Justin said. "That is why I have stock stored away in my basement."

"There are also a lot of fraud." Justin said. "There are robo calls calling to tell you they can help claim from FEMA for a fee, there are also calls that tell you your insurance lapsed and need to pay them quickly. I paid a contractor to clear up debris from my yard. He took half the money, started removing some debris, and left. I never saw him again."

"Why are people cheating the victims of the hurricane?" Tupi asked. "Don't they have morals?"

"Some cheats will tell me that they can help me claim for damages, even though my house was not damaged." Justin said. "I've seen reports here to tell people not to donate to fake sites set up to get donations even when they do not do work here."

"What happens when there is so much fraud?" Tupi asked. "Does the government do anything?"

"Well, these fraud cases simply cause the claims to be delayed as the investigators need to look at every claim and the government has taken more time to investigate their legitimacy, and longer to pay benefits. Yup, the victims suffer when this happens."


Justin and Tupi returned to the house. Much of the streets are cleaned up and the flooding was gone. "Are people still in shelters?" Tupi asked.

"Nope, they are home now. Slowing repairing their houses, but most of them are home or with relatives." Justin said. "Sadly, the money and help is slow to come in. Some FEMA inspectors also want some money on the side to come first... Not sure how true it is, but the situation is bad."

As Tupi was on the road, he noticed that some parts of town still had no power and some restaurants were still closed after a week. "Seem like Dominican Republic and Haiti either got less damage or recovered faster." Tupi said.

"Probably recovered faster." Justin said. "They get disasters more than us. And our government is not particularly fast in providing support to regular people. Just good at giving money to the rich. Don't worry, I have food at home, we have dinner at my place."

Tupi was still a little shocked to find out that disaster recovery in Florida is slower than in Haiti and Dominican Republic. When Tupi unpacked, he found the MRE and Lifestraw he bought and said. "I hope I can use them here, or give it to people who can use them."

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 35

Before sending Tupi off to the Airport at Santo Domingo, Alex stopped at a restaurant --Adrian Tropical -- for lunch before the flight. "I've not forgotten..." Alex said. Tupi looked at Alex and asked. "Mofongo?" Alex nodded and said. "You remembered its name."

"How can I ever forget?" Tupi said as they entered the restaurant. The restaurant looks rather fancy. It was by the beach and Tupi could order a drink that comes in a cup with an umbrella. "Sure, I'll have a Pina Colada... In a Tropical mood now. Help me order food. You know what I like."

Alex called the waiter and ordered food when he served the drinks. "Filete de Res y dos Mofongo."

Tupi chatted with Alex more about how he could help the organization more and information about the earthquakes and hurricanes that ravaged the land. However, Tupi was constantly distracted when the waiter brings the dishes for the other tables.

"Everything smells so good here." Tupi said. Then the waiter brought a small strip steak and 2 orders of Mofongo.

"This steak is not the regular thick one that we usually eat." Tupi said as he cut a small piece to try. "Oh my god... this is so flavorful and tender!"

"Thought you would love this..." Alex said. "The food here is generally good."

"The Mofongo is awesome!" Tupi said. "Wow, its better than the other place. This is perhaps now my favorite food."

Tupi was done with the meal pretty quick, and they took a Taxi to the airport. "Have a safe trip!" Alex said. "Bon Voyage!" They waved goodbye and Tupi was glad he came to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. This would probably be one of the most memorable trip thus far.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 34

Tupi was invited for breakfast before visiting the school. Breakfast was 2 pieces of toast and a soft boiled egg. It was simple and good. Then Tupi followed Alex to the Children's Academy.

There were young kids outside the classrooms sweeping the leaves from the tree and placing it a big bin. "Wow, the children help in area cleaning?" Tupi asked.

"Everyday, they tend to the plants, clean up the area and compost the dead leaves." Alex said. "They learn about permaculture gardening and the environment."

"What is permaculture gardening? And how is it different from organic farming?" Tupi asked.

"Permaculture uses organic farming practices and integrates the farm and home to create a lifestyle that impacts less on the environment." Alex said. "In a permaculture system, we try to have a closed system where we try to import less and everything hopefully gets fully utilized. We try to grow what we eat, eat what we grow and bring in less produce."

"Organic Farming promotes the use of natural fertilisers, making use of the natural carbon cycle so that waste from plants becomes the food of another. But still we cart the produce to the market and buy products that we need." Alex said. "The Ideal Permaculture ‘Farm’ brings production of food closer to consumers and the consumer’s wastes back into the cycle. It also reduces the energy wasted in transporting and the people contribute in their daily life toward the production of their food and other needs."

"Wow, that is a lot to learn. I don't even think I've learnt this in school, and what's worse, I can practice this at home." Tupi said. "This is so much information... But are you worried about the pathogens?"

"We have a anaerobic digestion system at the school, but each of the homes in the village also have a dry composting toilet, which greatly reduce the pathogens." Alex said. "Its all managed."

Tupi asked the kids about the plants they were growing and they all seem quite knowledgeable about the life cycle and reproduction for the plants. Looking into the classrooms, Tupi also spotted adultsin another classroom.

"Those students look old." Tupi joked.

"The parents participate in adult education classes." Alex said. "Sometimes, they are in community savings and loan groups and talk about finances."

"How the hell did you get the parents to attend?" Tupi asked.

"Its not easy, but simply put, we need to build trust." Alex said proudly.

This was the first time Tupi visited an area without a regular toilet and the people here seemed much more resourceful than others in the cities Tupi visited. Tupi felt that when humans lack resources, they have to become more creative and innovative in ways to conserve every little bit they have. It made Tupi think a lot and reflect on his city life and how wasteful he had been.

Tupi visited the various classrooms and saw the kids learn art, music and some entrepreneurial skills by thinking of various ways to redesign their crafts and which markets to sell it in. The kids have a little understanding of English and some of the kids engage in conversation with Tupi and taught him simply Creole language.

Tupi learnt farming along with the kids and the lessons seemed informational and interesting. He never thought that school could be that fun.

"This is very educational. I am really touched by what you are doing and you have opened up my mind on what is possible." Tupi said. "From what I've read, Haiti seemed like a very challenging environment, and you guys seemed to have found something and are working on real change despite the challenges. I can't even put in words what I've really experienced, but I'm really impressed and thanks for inviting me."

It was a great journey of self discovery and learning experience, and Tupi was glad he spent time coming to visit Haiti. Soon, it was time for him to return to Florida to help his friends in disaster relief, and Tupi was dreading the bus ride, however, he decided that since it was probably one of the last time he would be riding this bus, he can treasure the experience and hopefully not take good public transportation for granted.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 33

Tupi woke up the next morning to the crows of a rooster. "Damn, 5:30am cock..." Tupi grumbled and as the rooster does not seem to want to stop, Tupi washed his face and clean up. After some unpacking, Tupi walked outside and saw the sky slowly turning blue. Tupi went outside and it was rather chilly, and Tupi put on a jacket.

As the sky got brighter, Tupi could see more of the surroundings around him. "Wow, its kinda nice up here, and we are really high up." Tupi said as he looked down on the hill. The view was very interesting with shadows in the valleys and the various trees slowly getting illuminated. As the sun slowly appeared, the lush greenery became visible. "I keep hearing stories that there are no trees in Haiti, and I guess they are all false."

"Kijan ou ye?" a voice said.

Tupi turned around and saw a 10 year old boy. "Oh hi, I don't understand what you are saying."

"How are you... " The boy said. 

"I'd good!" Tupi replied. "Good morning!"

"Bonjour." The boy said. 

"Bonjour." Tupi replied. "Wow, I learned a new word today, thank you!"


Tupi walked around and he saw some of the villagers up and about early in the morning. "Its just slightly after 6am and people are already up." Tupi said.

"Slept well?" Alex asked as he approached Tupi.

"Wow, you are up so early?" Tupi asked.

"Yeah, usually around this time." Alex said. "Sorry, I did not have time to explain how to use the toilets. We don't have sewage system here, and we use composting toilets. When you poop, use water to wash and throw some leaves on the poop. There is no toilet paper in this system."

"Wow, thanks." Tupi said. "I've not used such a toilet before."

"We do not have the luxury to turn on the tap and get water. We do collect some rain water, filter it for cleaning, but we do truck up most of our other water as well." Alex said and showed Tupi around the toilet. "Make sure you use soap to wash your hands after using the toilet."

Tupi has never used a composting toilet before and all these experiences are new to him. "This is very interesting. Thanks for sharing." Tupi said and tried using the toilet.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 32

The traffic in Port-au-Prince was horrible. The car was barely moving and impatient drivers drive on the wrong side of the road causing massive traffic jams. Many of the roads were very narrow and the driver was very good at avoiding random pedestrians running across the roads in front of the cars.

Tupi finally arrived at the school on top of a hill in the evening. There was many people sitting in a circle beneath a tree watching a kids choir sing. Tupi stood there and watched and the kids could really sing well. There was a slight breeze and Tupi could see some animals on the side of the hill across the valley.

"This view is so good." Tupi said. "Compared to 10 minutes ago, the city with the bad traffic seems like a horrible place. Road were bad and pedestrians are just running across the road without warning, but this place... It looks like a paradise."

Tupi sat under the tree and watch the beautiful sun set. The sky turned purple as the sun slowly set in the horizon.

"People from this village come to the school often to see what the kids have learned. There are also discussion on various opportunities, problems and other news that affects the village. Generally it is well attended." Alex says. "We have created a nexus for the village to converge and focus on their future."

"That is amazing." Tupi said.

"We want to help Haiti change thorough education." Alex said. "Ok, lets go to dinner now."

Tupi was very impressed with what he saw. This organization seems to be doing something right for the villagers to engage with their children and care about the community. Tupi's perception on poor communities is usually one of the people putting one another down, making no progress. Watching the community support their kids and work on solutions together gives Tupi hope that change can happen thorough education.

"Oh wait, I have something for you." Tupi said as he brought out some solar kits and MRE and life straws.

"We have safe water here." Alex said. "We don't have nice ponds and streams to use lifestraw here... Thanks for the solar kits, we can definitely use them here, and as for the MRE, perhaps you need it more when you go back to Florida?"

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 31

The border crossing into Haiti was something that Tupi did not expect. At Dajabón, there were many people carrying luggage and items on their heads. "Wow they have strong heads!" Tupi said and Alex smiled. "That river over there looks dirty, what are people doing there?" Tupi asked Alex as they walked over the bridge. "Fishing, washing their clothes, whatever they want..." Alex said. "That is Massacre River."

Tupi's eyes opened wide. "Massacre River? You're kidding me right?" Tupi asked.

"Nope, more than 20,000 Hatians were massacred here in a genocide." Alex said.

"Is this place haunted?" Tupi asked and Alex shrugged.

They walked by a large open Market and it was crowded. Tupi looked inside and many of the items were old clothes and shoes. "What the hell? Aren't these things donated? Why are they being sold?" Tupi asked.

"Haitians buy these clothes in bulk to bring back to sell in Haiti. There is some form of economy created by these clothes." Alex said.

Tupi looked at the items and nothing interests him. "Lets go!" Alex said and led Tupi to the Customs checkpoint. "Wow, this is a little confusing. So many people, yet not much queue." Tupi said. 

"Its open border day, and Haitians can come over and buy and sell stuff at the open Market." Alex said. "But for us, we need to chop the passport. and pay the visa fees."

Border crossing was surprisingly easy with Alex's help. They navigated to another area where they boarded a different bus to go to Port-au-Prince. This bus ride was surprisingly much better than the Dominican Bus where Tupi was squeezed in a corner. Tupi had his own seat, and the bus ran direct with no stops in between.

In many of the roads, the bus ran on gravel, leaving a trail of dust behind it. The bus also passed by several old mining area and quarry, and the area looked deserted but pretty. Tupi enjoyed looking outside and there was quite a bit of trees and greenery along the way.

Approaching Port-au-Prince, Tupi saw more buildings and shophouses. There were many "Business Schools" which were in small buildings, size of a convenience store. Tupi also noticed a lot of stores selling lottery tickets. "So Gambling is big here?" Tupi asked.

"Sadly, when you are poor, you will bet everything to have a chance to have more, but lose everything." Alex said.

As the journey continues, Tupi sees more lottery stores, and on a block, there can be easily 3 - 4 lottery stores on the same stretch. "This gambling thing is ridiculous. Just like NTUC, our Trade Union that turned into a Supermarket. They seemed to have gambling beside every supermarket as well.

The bus stopped at a big depot and Alex brought Tupi out and Alex has a friend who was waiting in a car and they left to go to the school where the NGO is.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Giving out food to the homeless, to give or not to give?

I've volunteered at food banks before, and helped prepare food for the homeless. There are actually courses you have to go through for food safety preparation before you can actually cook (otherwise you can always help chop vegetables, or serve, etc)

Even for catering, I've witnessed "expired" food given to volunteers at a National even causing food poisoning.

In supporting the vulnerable, I don't think preparing food and giving out on your own is a good idea. Sometime, the packaging, storage and other factors cannot be controlled and the food may have gone bad. I seriously doubt they can afford medical help these days, and you are only making the situation worse.

If you really want to help. Bring them to a food bank or soup kitchen. Donate to these places as they do have a safety standard to keep, and they do provide "safe" food.

I do think the cops should have given these people a warning and explain the importance of food handling and licenses.

I am opposed to give money to a pan handler as I've witnessed a friend give money to a homeless person, and an hour later, that homeless person was hit by a car with a bottle of booze in his hand. Please, go buy them a meal and sit and engage them in a conversation. Learn why they got into the situation and see how you can connect them to help.. or even ask google.

-- Robin Low

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 30

Tupi arrived in Santo Domingo. The sun was out and the weather was nice. It was not too humid but it was warm. Tupi waited almost 1 hour from landing and going through customs to get his luggage. The luggage was rather bulky and heavy due to the gifts. Tupi had a porter help him with the luggage as it was too heavy for him. Luckily, Tupi did not need to go far as Alex was waiting for him outside.

"Do you want to have the Hatian Experience or the Tourist Experience?" Alex asked Tupi.

"Um... The cheapest method? The money saved can be used for other good stuff." Tupi said.

"Are you sure?" Alex said. "It is a pretty bad ride."

"As long as I can get on the bus with the luggage and nothing gets lost." Tupi said.

"The comfort is the issue, not theft." Alex said.

"How bad can it be?" Tupi asked.


Tupi got up the bus and sat beside a chicken. There was instant regret of Tupi's face. "7 hours you say?" Tupi asked and Alex laughed and nodded. "A ride you will never forget." Alex said.

Alex has taken the bus several times. It is often over crowded, hot and uncomfortable. However, they pass by several areas with very good local food. The bus was not really an express bus. It has multiple stops in the city. At this time, everyone was hot and sweaty and Tupi was squished and the bus was still letting more people up. There were even people hanging on to the outside.

Fortunately, many people got down at the last stop where the bus will run express to other towns. Alex was quite familiar and as he sees Tupi hot and sweaty, Alex passed Tupi a bottled water and Tupi gulped it down. "You need to pace yourself, next stop is 2 hours where we break for lunch."

The trip outside town was not too bad. The bus was traveling fast enough for a breeze to come in, but the roads were bad and the ride was bumpy. It was like clockwork, and 2 hours later, the bus stopped at a restaurant where the passengers had a 30 minute break for food while the driver rests and refuel the bus.

The bus had a stop at Barahona. This was a very busy city with lots of cars and short buildings. "Wow, this is so far from Santo Domingo, yet so busy? What's going on here?" Tupi asked.

"This is Barahona, one of the most important cities in Dominican Republic. They make a lot of sugar here, and there are lots of Eco-Tourism here." Alex said. "Come, let me show you a good restaurant for Dominican Food." Tupi looked around, this place looks busy and old, and he did not really feel like eating as he was tired after the long bus ride.

Alex spoke in Spanish and ordered some food. Tupi had a bowl of soup and an egg shaped dish served in a wooden cup. He was hesitant to try, but it smells really good. When Tupi break a little of the food to have it with his soup, the mixture of flavor blew his mind.

"What the hell is this?" Tupi suddenly was excited about the trip as his appetite arrived. "This stuff is great!"

"This is Sancocho and Mofongo" Alex said. "Its a very traditional Dominican Dish."

"Oh Mofongo... Where have you been all my life?" Tupi said. "You never lived until you have this..."

"Well, I'm glad you liked it, when you are leaving, I'll bring you to a more popular shop that serves better Mofongo." Alex said.


What is mofongo?

Mofongo is a dish made with plantains: fried, mashed with garlic, shaped into a ball and served in a pilón (the mortar bit of the pestle and mortar).

Classic mofongo is made with chicharrón (fried pork rind). It can be eaten for lunch or supper and is also a popular snack for late-night revelers.

What is Sancocho?

Sancocho is a dish that is usually prepared for special occasions. Its preparation is long and it contains many ingredients. However, the time it takes to prepare is the time best enjoyed with friends, while drinking a little rum or a cold beer.

Classic Sancocho is made with beef only (usually flank, or similarly inexpensive cut) and it is a Dominican comfort food.

Ingredients for the mofongo 
1 cup oil for frying (corn is ok)
5 unripe plantains peeled, cut into ¾" [2 cm] slices
1 lb chicharrón cut into 1″ [2.5 cm] pieces
2 tbsp garlic mashed
1 1/2 tsp salt (or more, to taste)

Chicharrón is basically deep fried pork belly in its own fats. 
If you really want good Chicharrón, it is a bit of work.

Instructions for Chicharrón 
1) Rub the skins of the belly with baking soda.
2) Cut the belly into the right size and rub salt on them. 
3) Place in refrigerator overnight to dehydrate. 
4) Rinse the pork belly and pet dry with towel. 
5) Place segments of pork belly in a wok with a bit of water, set it over the stove, and let the fat render out over the course of a few hours.
6) When the water evaporates, turn up the heat as the oil from the pork has already out of the pork and watch the pork deep fry in its own fats. (3-5 mins)
7) Transfer the chicharrones to a plate lined with paper towels to blot the extra fat. Toss with salt and your choice of seasonings. The chicharrones will remain crispy for many hours.

Instructions for mofongo 
1) Heat oil over medium heat and fry the plantains till golden brown all over (3-5 mins).
2) Using a pilón (wooden mortar) mash the plantain, garlic, and chicharrón together (You might have to do it in small batches and mix in the end).
3) Shape into 6 balls and place in small bowls.
4) Serve garnished with Sancocho .

Prep time is about 15 mins and cook time is about 1.5 hours. (If Chicharrón is already cooked before prep)

Ingredients for the Sancocho
1 lb beef for stews flank, chuck, or round [0.45 kg]
1 lb pork sausage longaniza or chorizo [0.45 kg]
1 lb pork for stews belly, or chump end [0.45 kg]
1 lb chicken [0.45 kg]
1 lb pork ribs [0.45 kg]
1 lb bones from a smoked ham [0.45 kg]
Juice of two limes
1 tsp cilantro or parsley chopped
1/2 tsp oregano powdered
1 tsp garlic mashed
1 1/2 tsp salt 4 tbsp oil corn, peanut, or canola
2.5 quart water [2.5 liters]
1/2 lb yam cut into 1-inch pieces [0.23 kg]
1/2 lb West Indies pumpkin (Calabaza) cut into 1-inch pieces [0.23 kg]
1/2 lb taro yautia (or what ever Taro you can find) cut into 1-inch pieces [0.23 kg]
3 unripe plantains 2 cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 lb tapioca cut into 1-inch pieces [0.23 kg]
2 corn cobs cut into 1/2-inch slices

Instructions for Sancocho
1) Cut all the meat into small pieces.
2) Coat the meat with the lime juice (except the pork sausage).
3) Place the beef in a large bowl and add the cilantro, oregano, garlic, and half a teaspoon of salt.
4) Rub meat to cover with the spices.
5) Marinate for at least half an hour.
6) In a large pot heat the oil over medium heat, add the beef and stir (be careful with hot oil splattering).
7) Cover and and simmer for 10 minutes.
8) Add a few tablespoons of water if it looks like it might burn.
9) Add the pork and simmer for 15 minutes, adjust water when necessary.
10) Add the rest of the meat to the pot (except for the chicken) and simmer for another 15 minutes, adding tablespoons of water as needed to prevent it from burning.
11) Add the remaining meat and simmer for another 5 minutes, adding tablespoons of water as needed to prevent it from burning.
12) Add 2 quarts of water to the pot and bring to a boil.
13) Add the yam, taro and tapioca and the two plantains that you had previously cut.
Simmer covered for 15 minutes. Grate, or scrape with the knife the remaining plantain to make it into a pulp, add to the pot.
14) Add all remaining ingredients (minus the salt) and add water as it becomes necessary to maintain the same level.
15) Stir regularly to avoid excessive sticking.
16) Simmer until the last ingredients you added are cooked through.
17) Season with salt to taste.

Cook time and prep time is about 1 hour each.