Join Prism Book Alliance® as KJ Charles goes Outside the Margins today.
I’ve recently come back from Myanmar. This is a country pulling itself out of hell: despite having once been the rice bowl of Asia, with abundant natural resources, it was driven into the ground by the ‘Burmese Way to Socialism’ (if by socialism you mean becoming one of the ten poorest countries in the world) and the vicious, brutal rule of the military junta.
Now Myanmar is opening up. Tourists have been welcome for the last few years, real elections happened, the military are going to have to release their grip on power. It’s still very, very poor, but people are getting richer. Many people have mobile phones, usually iPhones. And a lot of people have nice, shiny, relatively new cars.
Here’s the thing, though. Myanmar imports the vast majority of their cars second hand. Japan has tax laws to boost its motor industry that ensure there’s no market for second-hand cars. Therefore a ton of Japanese used cars go to Myanmar. Sorted!
Except that Japan drives on the left and Myanmar drives on the right.
Virtually everyone in Myanmar is driving right-hand drive cars on the right-hand side of the road. We took a lot of cabs and a lot of journeys, and we went in literally one car (an ancient one) with left-hand drive. Everyone is driving on the wrong side in their own damn country.
This gets weirder the more you think about it. (And on a winding mountain road when your driver and the oncoming lorry driver are both pulling out blind to overtake, you think about it pretty hard.)
We said to our guide, “Isn’t it difficult that you all drive on the wrong side?”
He said, “Huh?”
We said, “Well, in our country we have cars like this but we drive on the other side.”
He said, “Why?”
We said, “So that the driver is near the centre of the road? And can see more?”
He gave us a “jeez, tourists, there’s always something” look, shrugged, and pointed out a pagoda.
It literally didn’t strike him as a problem. This ridiculous situation, which must cost so many lives in unnecessary accidents as a result of grotesque global economic inequality…it was normal.
And it made me think of the things we all accept as normal. It was normal for me to buy my alcoholic boyfriend weaker beers, not the strong ones he asked for, to stave off the belligerent phase a bit longer—and by ‘normal’ I mean I didn’t even think about it until long after I’d kicked him to the kerb, and my new boyfriend pointed out I’d bought him a pint of Heineken instead of Stella. It’s normal for LGBT people in many places to refrain from something as simple as handholding in public or to field queries about their personal lives without giving anything away. It’s normal for ethnic minorities in many places to see the police as threats, not protectors.
I don’t know whether it’s better for individuals’ mental health to accept a crappy normal than it is to be aware of the injustice and angry about it. I would have been better off not accepting my boyfriend’s drinking as normal, but then, I had a relatively easy out from that situation. Most people in Myanmar can’t just order a different car. LGBT+ people can’t make the bigots go away.
But it is crucial for privileged people (whether your privilege is related to some or all of economic circumstances, sexuality, gender, health, ability, race, whatever) to remember that everyone doesn’t have the same normal, that you cannot take your privilege for granted or assume everyone is on a level playing field. That the patrolling policeman may be a reassurance to you but he’s an armed threat to your friend. That the clean drinkable water coming out of a tap in your house is something millions of people don’t have access to. That you can hold hands with your boyfriend when others can’t. That you have the privilege, denied to so many people, of simply driving on the right side of the road.
Title: A Queer Trade
Author: KJ Charles
Publisher: Self Published
Publication Date: 02/02/2016
Cover Artist: Catherine Dair
Apprentice magician Crispin Tredarloe returns to London to find his master dead, and his papers sold. Papers with secrets that could spell death. Crispin needs to get them back before anyone finds out what he’s been doing, or what his magic can do.
Crispin tracks his quarry down to waste paper dealer Ned Hall. He needs help, and Ned can’t resist Crispin’s pleading—and appealing—looks. But can the waste-man and the magician prevent a disaster and save Crispin’s skin?
A 16,000 word story set in the Charm of Magpies world, and a prequel to the novel Rag and Bone (March 2016). This story was first published as part of the Charmed & Dangerous anthology.
About KJ Charles
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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