A shanty town is an area of town (generally on the outskirts of a city) where people who can't afford housing live. A shanty is a house you build yourself, usually out of cheap plywood/corrugated tin, or whatever you can find that's handy. After the civil war shanty towns populated by freed (but now homeless) slaves (who often were forbidden to live within city limits) sprung up all over the South.

During the Great Depression in the US, when shanty towns filled with as many whites as blacks, they were called Hooverville (in tribute to President Herbert Hoover, who was widely blamed for the depression).

In Central and South America (and probably many other places) modern shanty towns are often big enough to be their own cities. Many have (stolen) electricity, bus service, and sometimes even running water (for a few hours / day, usually). But they are still impermanent settlements (having no foundations, many of the homes wash away every couple of years during the rainy season).

Ok, I'll tell y'all a story about when I went to Mexico, a few years back. Okay, first things first, usually when an American talks about going to Mexico, it's often something along the lines of hitting one of the many border/party towns, like Tijuana or some such place. Well, not the travel party I was in, we went straight for the throat! We went to the most-densely populated city per square kilometer in the world...That's right, we flew right in to Mexico City (via Houston if you must know).

Now, to describe downtown Mexico City is kinda interesting. I've heard Hong Kong is a crazy place because everyone is moving 100 miles an hour. Well, I may not have ever been to Hong Kong, but having been to Mexico City, I understand. Now, I don't know how much you, the reader, are aware of the geography of Mexico City, so I'll give an abreviated rundown.

Mexico City Proper sits in the middle a 500 sq. kilometer valley, ironically called Mexico City Valley. In the middle of the valley is, as previously mentioned, the city-proper. Bright lights and big tall skyscapers and all the icing. I saw women of such elegance and graceful beauty there (only in appearence of course, my knowledge of Spanish extends to ordering another beer). I saw a crazy cab driver doing 80 through the beltway, weaving from lane to lane which such hasty abandon that was only matched by his frequent utterance of various Spanish vulgarities( I think he was borracho). To top it all off, he started pissing on the street in front of me when I wouldn't tip his crazy loco ass (Hung like a horse, I might add).

But anyways, I disgress.

So in the center of the valley are all these gnarly shopping districts and classy food joints (btw, they have great jazz music in Mexico City), I even saw a produce truckload of AK-47 armed Federalis drive down the main drag while I waiting in front of hotel one day.

The mountains surrounding the Mexico City Valley are where all the hardcore rich people who aren't crazy enough to live in the city dwell. It's all nice art-deco stucco houses (the hallmark of Los Angeles archetecture, right here in Mexico!), with irragated lawns (It's dry as a mofo there), and swimming pools. Ever watch Muyi Pronto? Well, this is where those people live in Laberint de Pasion.

I mean..it was chic, man. Well, the most interesting part is yet to come.

So anyways, one day, I went with my travel group to go on a tour of some local ruins (I don't recall whether it was Mayan, Incan, etc etc), and I hop on the tour bus (which I must also note was quite superb, Mexico has an excellent long-range bus system, it puts Greyhound to shame), and we leave the City-core.

Once you get out of the belt, you're surrounded by this desolate wasteland, with a few minor tweaks. Mexico's freeway arterials are quite nice, I'll give them that. Well, these roads are barricaded on either side with four foot black and yellow striped concrete dividers. Ten paces from either divider is an eight foot barbwire cyclone fence. Wanna know what was on the other side?

MILES AND MILES AND MILES AND MILES of tar-paper shacks, with the occasional TV attenae dotting a roof here and there! It really blew my mind, you know, the contrast in lifestyles. I mean, I've walked across the street of some neighborhoods where I live and watched the property values drop double digits. But this...this was hardcore.

It was crazy y'know, makes ya really think 'bout how lucky we are (you must be somewhat lucky to be on a compooter, teen angst aside).

So I figure whenever I get all snivelly about my life situation and how I don't have enough toys (Jah, I could go for another 64 megs of RAM!), or how life is fuckin' pit, I can always gloat over the fact that I don't live in a tar-paper shack outside of Mexico City. I mean shit, do they even allow these peasents, these human beings into the city?

I never saw one, straw poncho and all.

Yes, I know it's contradictory for me to simultaneously sympathise with their plight and be grateful I have it better. sue me.

On a side note, for an interesting read on Mexico City, read Moloch's writeup on that place...

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