Saturday, March 24, 2007

101 Uses of a Sidewalk (Where in the world am I? [32])

I have run this as a lesson a couple of times in my English classes - a vocabulary-stretching exercise. Well, it should be more of an imagination-stretching exercise really, since finding 101 different activities on the sidewalk is pushing it a bit. However, imagination is in short supply round here, so it actually ends up being an exercise in improving the powers of observation.

When I first posed the question, my students (late teens, early twenties) were stumped, dumbfounded.

Eventually, one of them offered, rather hesitantly, "Walk on it, teacher?"

"Well, yes, where I come from, that would be the primary use. Often just about the only use. But that doesn't really happen here, does it? The sidewalks here aren't usually of very much use as a pedestrian thoroughfare at all, are they? Because they're narrow, blocked by trees and telegraph posts every few metres, dangerously uneven and poorly maintained, discontinuous.... [OK, OK, I'm stream-of-conscious-ing here; I didn't actually say all of that in the class. One has to keep the vocabulary and the ideas at an appropriate level.] And because they are clogged with people doing other things on them."

"Like what, teacher?"

"Well, let's take a look, shall we?" I direct their attention out of the window of our 4th storey classroom, whence we have a clear view of a good hundred yards of the street outside the college gates.

And we can see:
cars parked on the sidewalk, bicycles parked on the sidewalk, bicycles being ridden on the sidewalk (on this particular stretch of bumpier-than-usual sidewalk, that counts as an extreme sport), a man selling crockery from a wooden handcart, some children playing in a pile of sand, delivery men piling up sacks and cartons outside the local supermarket, a couple of hot-food stalls, a woman washing a sweater in a plastic bowl, old geezers sitting around on little collapsible stools chewing the fat, itinerant fruit & vegetable sellers nervously setting out their wares (keeping a lookout for the neighbourhood police who are constantly but ineffectually moving them on), a group of people playing chess, and so on and so on.

Yes, the street life here is vibrant, diverse, endlessly photogenic. But you tend to walk in the bicycle lanes, not on the sidewalks.

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