It's nice reading about people from First World countries telling each other how so much better it is on the other side of the pond. :-)

Living in the Third World, we're envious of the various little things you guys take for granted. (Try looking at the face of a child as he watches American children throwing food at each other on TV. A food fight is almost sacrilegious in a place where so many people go hungry).

So your police occasionally get overzealous and beat up an innocent caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. How about a police force that shoots first, and asks questions later? (Anecdote: police chase a van full of kidnappers, manage to set up a roadblock and bring it to a halt. They then open fire, riddling the van with 5.56mm rounds, killing or wounding most of the kidnappers, as well as ending the life of the 8-year-old kidnap victim inside.)

How about getting hauled up in front of a court where money talks the loudest (it doesn't matter whether you're innocent or not, or whether you've got a good lawyer - it's all about how much you can pay the judge. No jury - less people to pay off.)

Most disputes don't make it to the court. Someone dents your fender, and if that someone is sufficiently high on the social scale, you don't make a fuss, you go home quietly. Or risk getting a bullet in the head for your trouble.

Internal Affairs is a dream, in places where kidnap-for-ransom or bank robbery gangs are run by policemen in active service (where do you think they get all their firepower?). The only protection you can get is being able to call on a friend or relative in the military (make sure he's high enough) to keep the criminals off your back.

Availability of guns - anybody who is anybody owns a few. We pretend to be a democracy, but we're really a feudal society, where the dukes and barons of old are now mayors and governors, each toting private armies of heavily armed goons (grenade launchers, machine guns and mortars are par for the course) - winning elections are a matter of deciding who can haul more cowed peasants to the voting booths. (Shooting wars between rival candidates aren't unknown).

Health care? Government-run hospitals will turn you away if you're unable to provide a deposit, up front (in cash, mind you) - and they're the cheapest around. Most people only go to the doctor in extreme cases (gunshot or knife wounds, strokes) due to the cost. And keeping healthy is tough when you're dealing with malaria, cholera, dengue fever, and the whole entourage of tropical diseases. Don't think having money means you're safe - I live in a middle-class neighborhood, and we get regular typhoid and dengue epidemics nearly every year. (I caught amoebiasis a couple of years ago - not fun, especially when you can't afford to stay in a hospital).

It's not actually the corruption, the violence, or the poor economic conditions that makes life so hard. It's the general feeling that you just can't win, whatever you do. Pay your taxes, work as hard as you can for most of your life, and you can't even raise enough money to get your family out of the gutter. And you have to live with the knowledge that in all likelihood, your children and your children's children will be doomed to the same fate.

In contrast to Karmaflux's assertion that a manual construction laborer makes US$8.50 an hour - here, unskilled labor gets less than a dollar a day, tops. Skilled labor (electricians, plumbers, carpenters) make about US$3 a day. I've a graduate degree in Computer Science, and I can expect to make about US$50 a day, working for a private firm as a software developer.

The freedom to move around isn't a given. You'll get hassled by functionaries, police and military officers if you do a lot of traveling, even if we were scientists working for the government. This involves demands for your papers, searches through your trunk and baggage, with guns pointed at you all the time. Try living in a place where you have to go through three different checkpoints, each operated by different forces (police, military, and rebels) just to get from one town to another, about an hour's drive.

It is any wonder we want to live in a place where you can get money from the government by merely proving that you have ten children, a disability, and no job? Where someone who works his ass off has a chance to actually make a living?

Don't get me wrong - we don't all think that America is a happy place where we all automatically get fat and prosperous. But based on what our friends and relatives find living there, it is far better than what we have now. Yes, we long to be American. Or Canadian, or Japanese, or English, or German, or anywhere else except here.

To paraphrase Jamie Zawinski*, most places in this world suck, but some places suck less than others.

Disclaimer: I was born in the US, but I've moved around a lot since. I've lived the longest in the Philippines, but I've also spent several months in Indonesia and India. Note that due to my place of birth, I'm an American citizen, even though I haven't been on US soil in the last 25 years.

*I originally thought the quote was from Linus Torvalds; corrected by litui.