Things I have learned…

1.) Americans are germ obsessive. At one point I was running out of reserve water and realized that I was trying to rinse off the bottom of a pot I had used. And I stopped myself to ask why on earth I would be so concerned with the cleanliness of something I will never come in contact with. And then I washed my hands.

2.) You actually can wear socks with flip-flops, but only if the mosquitoes are really that bad (at least as far as I’m concerned).

3.) We could solve the water crisis by using shower heads with triggers that only work when you squeeze them. AND if there were no hot water tanks (not realistic, but noteworthy).

4.) Naps can be taken pretty much anywhere. If you are tired at work, take a nap. I’ve seen countless people napping from noon to 2pm, just at their work station or in transit or wherever ( it’s really not a bad idea).

5.) No matter how much bugspray you administer, you will have new bites by the time you go to bed.

6.) Buses with TVs = nausea. period. trust me.

7.) Vegetarian in the PI means you might still get the crispy, slightly hairy, fried chicken skin garnishing your beautiful papaya and mango salad. Or that really you just like vegetables with your meat. Or that you are American and weird.

8.) There’s a strange comfortability that comes with people who look like you (i.e. dark hair, dark eyes), but the moment you open your mouth a subtle difference occurs: first of all you’re not Filipino, and secondly your not a guy. “Mam, sir” is actually one word, and you will hear it when vendors are trying to sell to me; I think I might prefer it!

9.) Speaking of which,  I know I haven’t talked much about it, but the queer scene is quite conundrum. You will see queer folk everywhere, but the Church controls all things political and so the scene is very scattered. There are no rights, and while there are a few gay-boy bars that are very popular, there is practically no lesbian or female identified scene (and trans is mostly acceptable if it is Male to Female, but it’s called something different if it’s Female to Male- it’s like having a “male’ persona or something). But I got desperate and lucky by contacting a lesbian organization and was able to get in touch with some *awesome* queers! You can check on my facebook for some pics!

10.) Not to get too mushy, but– home is where the heart is. I love it here in the PI, and I’m not sure if I miss the States yet, but I do miss my family and friends. It just proves that in the end, certain things just fade away and what matters most makes itself known. And I know.

Hanggang sa muli, (Thanks teacher Joanne for correcting my mistake of separating the words in the phrase!)

vanessa

oh and 11.) Always travel with a mosquito net- even if you think you aren’t going to need it. You will.

Bamboo on location

So I’ve always wondered what it would be like to film something, you know, really get behind a camera and create a scene, one that reflects the vision you have in your head. Well, today I got it– that feeling that producers or directors or whoever is behind the camera must get, a sense of creating something greater than yourself, outside yourself.

Naturally, I was shooting bamboo ( I mean that’s the whole point of being all the way over here right? Well, besides the shopping of course).  I have decided (or rather Dr. Lantican and I have decided!) that my senior thesis should be based on the creation of a courseware on bamboo, one that can be distributed to local barangays, University classrooms, or to whoever wants to learn about planting bamboo. This way, bamboo trainers don’t have to go to every village and municipality that wants to use bamboo to improve their livelihood– they can learn at their own pace! We’ve been working  the past few weeks on the layout and design and today was the day to shoot the parts we think need video representation!

So there we were, arriving out in the countryside  at Dr. Lantican’s farm just after 2ish and the rain came pouring down the mountain, but hey, it’s the rainy season, so we just waited twenty minutes or so and then it was nice and muddy for us. We had created an outline earlier in the day so we started out right away, luckily we had 3 other people working with us (two to do the digging, planting and cutting and a third to carry around the speaker stand that came up to my chest and doubled as our tripod for the day, while also holding the umbrella over me and the camera!). We were quite the crew, cracking ourselves up over who was going to yell “Action!”, slipping around in the mud, and working our butts off.  Bamboo branches were cut, bamboo poles were unearthed and replanted, holes were dug, lines were marked off– it was a full days work. And the whole time I kept smiling to myself, thinking, “So this is what it feels like to be ‘on location’ and standing behind a camera”. The backdrop of the video shows green, fog encrusted mountains, with bamboo reaching to the sky all around, begging to be planted and processed. It was breathtaking. And by the end of it all I was wet, the mud had crept up past my shoes and was traveling up my pant legs, I was exhausted, and judging by the mirror reflections around me, I think everyone else was pretty wiped as well.

I don’t care if I sound cheesy, today was an *awesome* day! And I don’t know if I’ll ever get to do something like that again, but I hope so. It felt important- real. Now, if only the editing room looked just as enticing!

Hang gang sa muli,

vanessa

Is it the “Mall of Asia” or “Asia, a Mall”?

Recently, I was sitting in a car with a fellow bamboo enthusiast and he remarked on the sight emerging before our traffic-bound car– a huge mall. “You know,” he said, gazing abhorrently at the towering structure boasting of a cineplex and chic boutiques, “isn’t it ironic that for a country that is so poor, we have so many malls?!”. I’ve thought about this statement for quite sometime now, and after my stay here in it’s fifth week, I have to admit that the mall culture is somewhat ravenous here. I know the U.S. is guilty of similar extravagances, but here it’s like the elephant in the room, the expensive one that no one wants to talk about but everyone is waiting to go on a half-marked down sale.

And I don’t think it’s just a marker of my age, that because I am no longer a prepubescent teen I don’t flock to the mall at the drop of a red tag sale. Well, I guess don’t, but there is something different about it here, the larger provincial towns all have malls, and even the smaller ones (like Los Banos) have mini versions.  And they all have names like “MegaMall” or (the reason why I”m writing this post) “The Mall of Asia”. Which is saying something. I realize that there are some advantages to these indoor “common” areas that are breeding grounds for advertised goods that are in effect owned by the very companies that are providing you with “free” parking. The most obvious advantage is the air-conditioned relief you get from the hot and ever-humid outdoors. Even I am guilty of seeking out this amenity whenever I can get it (internet shops are another guilty pleasure, and I think the reason why Asians are so good at video games, but it’s just a theory).

However, despite the drive to escape nature’s abundant heating resource (namely, the sun), the sheer number of malls here is unexplainable. There are people packed into apartments, earning less than livable wages, and even the air is not free of charge– of such a low-quality that it is a serious and deadly cost to their health. So how is it that the Mall of Asia has a skating rink with people practicing their triple luxes in it?! I have no idea, but I have never in my whole life spent so much time in malls as I have in the Philippines. The mall is like the cultural attache of the Philippine future, quietly grabbing people by their elbows and nudging them out of their wet markets, suggesting they leave their tin-roofed towns to seek a greater fortune– one that includes dark denim jeans on deep discount and a country that is even more deeply divided.  What I do know is that the gap between low-income and poor is something I am afraid to put into words, it humbles you and makes you stop saying “Oh, I can’t afford that, I’m poor”. It is difficult to describe a state of affairs that lingers in the dark, one that starves children and adults, creates beggars and thieves, is silenced by shame, swept up and put behind walls. That’s what they do here. When you’re driving along the highway and you see walls alongside the road, it’s because there are shanty towns that exist behind them (you can see them between the cracks and holes), and sometimes it looks like the walls are working more as retaining walls, as if the poverty might spill out and erode down onto the street; exposing the truth. And the truth is that Asia doesn’t need anymore malls (who does?!), they need a lot of things, but clothing outlets and Auntie’s Famous Pretzels aren’t one of them.

All of that said, I am glad to have seen these “mega malls” and towering billboards promising better lives and healthier skin, they make one question the necessity of ‘stuff’ and the ‘things’ that we can’t live without.One thing is for sure, I will be glad to be home and away from the allure of air-conditioned shopping complexes. And I’ll  be more grateful the next time I take a hot shower or set the thermostat to 75!

But there I go again with those American sensibilities, they are tinged with the scent of privilege…  🙂

Ingat! (Take care!)

vanessa

Inside the ADB!

Ah well, I tried to send this post while inside the Asian Development Bank, but no dice! But figured I should go ahead and recap that it was like a geeky policy dream come true! The building itself is complete with massive chandeliers and elaborate gifts donated from foreign countries. As soon as I get home I’ll post  some pictures!

It was really cool to have read about the ADB in my policy class last semester and then to find myself sitting in their library in Manila! You may be wondering how I got in, (other than my brilliant plans to alleviate poverty through bamboo plantations!), it turns out that Dr. Lantican’s daughter works here and I was able to take a tour of her office. It’s pretty amazing, they have their own dental and medical offices, gyms, cafeteria, library, Starbucks, you get the idea…

Well, I’m headed off to go to the Mall of Asia, we’ll see if it comes with the parking lot of Asia 🙂

Dyan lang! (Later!)

-vanessa

My first typhoon

Thank you Julia for bringing up the typhoon, we are all still recovering from it, hence I haven’t had time to put it down into words!

Yes, we had the season’s first typhoon two days ago– typhoon Conson. It was raining all day on Tuesday and then the wind started to pick up around 5 pm. Since almost all of the houses here have corrugated tin roofs, the sound became deafening rather suddenly. It was similar to being at the bottom of a waterfall and then in a cave, the sound battering down on the roof and reverberating throughout the walls. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep, no one did. You really couldn’t do anything at all, just had to sit there and wait to see if the roof was going to get peeled off or if the water would start seeping in under the door. Was I scared? There’s a saying we use back at home that goes: “Does Howdy Doody have wooden balls?” Yes, of course I was scared! I was all by myself, watching the wind and rain wrestle banana trees to the ground, hurl tree limbs around the yard, and then the power went out around 1 in the morning, leaving me to my own darkness. It was while I was laying in my bed, sweating under my sheet because my fan no longer comforted and cooled my skin, that this is how Gods and Demons must have been created. The storm became emotional, I could hear Zeus and the Devil having an argument, punishing me and my ancestors over stolen cows and forgotten rituals. Then the wind would let up for a moment and I would feel safe, thinking surely the worst had been over and now I could get some rest. But the immortals don’t seek slumber and with a hammering of rain I would be sent wide-eyed and tingly, back under my thin sheet of a blanket. The house-noises were also disorienting,  I got up several times to check on a thumping noise that sounded like I had left a door open, only I hadn’t. Tree limbs scraped the rooftop as dirt and dust were sent flying from the rafters, creating an indoor rainfall of a sort. And I kept wondering “WHY THE @$#$% TIN?!” why not shingles instead, soft, dark, sound-absorbing shingles, so I can rest at night? But there I go again with my American sensibilities! Who could afford that here?

The next day I awoke after a few hours of sleep to a yard full of bamboo leaves, broken trees, scattered plants, and only a small amount of water in the living room. I was lucky. I talked with some friends at my language school and as it turns out, no one slept that night. In fact several of them had water come into their homes up to their knee-caps, and one person died. An elderly gentleman apparently went out to get food for his family and was swept away by a flash flood. They found him later in the creek with a big gash in the back of his head. Unfortunately, Laguna is not used to flooding, (it has only been within the last few years that they have been experiencing flash floods), thus they don’t readily have sandbag materials on hand to alleviate some aspects of this disaster. Currently the whole province has been declared under a state of calamity, so funds and people are being sent here to rebuild and repair where necessary. As we drove around the lake yesterday there were buildings missing parts of their rooftops and some of the flooding had not receded all of the areas. Overall, though, people here in Laguna have been saying that this wasn’t a bad typhoon, however, it looks like they got hit harder in Manila (23 people dead, 57 missing).

I am fine though, I feel lucky in fact. No ceilings caved in, no injuries incurred, but my

The day after...

sense of storms has irrevocably been changed, now I have gods and demons to consult…

Paalam! (Goodbye!)

-vanessa

“For the Filipino people”

That is the dedication on the inside of Bino A. Reaiuyo’s book of poetry entitled “The God’s We Worship Live Next Door”. While I have much to write home about, I will defer (for now!) to this eloquent Filipino poet whom I recently came across. I was looking for a few good books to read and decided to give this book of poetry a try. I highly recommend looking at more of his work if this one strikes your fancy!

Amsterdam Canal

Out there are boats, Sunday boats

but not the ones I imagined them to be.

They sail here without thinking

of a catch, or empty plates,

of fish salted quickly to last for days.

Back home, I had once waited for a boat.

One night it arrived, rusty, peeling on its side

painted with a name I couldn’t read

with faces I still remember.

Planks of wood slammed against the dock.

I rushed in, slept through the smashing waves.

The nameless boat that took me

brought me here,

this city of salmon carts endlessly rolling by.

Salmon is not fish.


Not the same fried

salted milkfish in a flat rimmed basket,

banana leaves covering, to keep the flies away.

It is not deboned milkfish over steamy white rice;

A woman at a 'palengke' or 'wet market'

cut, sliced, dipped in bowls

of vinegar and raw peppers

so hot it prickled on the tongue.

Smoked salmon in jars is not fish.


They don’t hold the scent of letters on my reed mat,

which I cut open with a dry seaweed.

Letters from the farm,

little remnants of a river crumble as they unfold.

.

.

.

.

**I just love this poem and wanted to share it (and him!) with folks!

Magandang gabi! (goodnight)

-vanessa

A “community in transit”

Over dinner the other night, my friend Jay and I were discussing the many things we love about the PI. Jay is a friend of mine I met through the E3 language school and is a Filipino taking Spanish classes because he is relocating to Mexico at the end of the month. So we were talking, and then I brought up jeepneys, I know, I know, I’ve already covered them in this blog, but the more we began to talk about them, the more I realized how little space I had previously given them in this blog. That’s when Jay defined a jeepney as a “community in transit”. As soon as he phrased it like that I knew exactly what he was talking about.

Where to next?!

See, while jeepneys are a one-of-a-kind transportation, there’s more to it than just their flashy colors and obnoxious fumes. As we began to peel back the layers we started getting to the fundamental differences between not only jeepneys and subway stations, but where America and the PI, the “developed” and “developing” go their separate ways. It lays mostly in the concept of “relationships vs. independence”. While this is no shocker, what is surprising is how the jeepney gives us the perfect example. As people are picked up on the side of the road, they enter into a space that is communal, as one sits down and shoves their hand in their pocket or rummages through their purse for the fare, hands are already extended, ready to pass the fare forward to the driver. A simple phrase “Bayid po ” – “fare please”, and others have already consented to aid you in your destination, passing your fare up and your change back, never taking what’s not theirs, always mindful of those around them. Where as in the ever- independent States, we pay first, usually to a shiny metal box that sucks in our ticket and spits us both out on the other end, with a not-too gentle pat on the derriere by a rotating metal arm, reminding you to please move along and get out of the way.

Here, the relationship begins when you are picked up, and mind you, it is a relationship, you are ultimately subject to other’s schedules and destinations- even the drivers need for gas. I’ll never forget the first time my trip included a quick stop to the gas station, I mean I wasn’t exactly in a hurry,but seriously?! Even the gas tank is located in a place that invites conversation- usually just inside the driver’s door, so the two can quickly chat, exchange money and possibly share a cigarette for a minute. The structure of the vehicle is also no exception, with the benches facing one another, you can’t escape the closeness. And while I’ve admitted my fear of the insane driving conditions here I have begun to appreciate the natural rhythm of acceleration and abrupt stopping in the middle of the road, you get where you need to go and aren’t subject to sitting at a silly stoplight when no one is around- which oddly makes sense. The other day I was riding a jeepney and remembered what a friend of mine once told me- that the Chaos Theory proved the existence of God (you know, the one that basically says that even in madness or ‘chaos’ there is a divine pattern), and I guess that explains why so many Filipinos are Catholic!

SO, there we have it, the jeepney as a cultural revelation! However, I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit where credit is due– I have a great deal of respect and frustration for jeepney drivers. You see, drivers contain a seventh sense, one that enables them to accept fares as they awkwardly extend an open palm behind their seat, count out the correct change and pass it back, talk with the person who is inevitably sitting in the front seat, stop when people yell “para!”, and most importantly—pick up the next fare. Like a pelican seeking fish under water, the driver’s eyes scan the roadside deciphering the body language of each individual- the two girls on their way home from school on the other side of the road look up and cross the street just as he is waving them inside or the solo man just stepping outside of the store– the eyes gesture, the body moves forward and surfaces, swiftly being scooped up into the gullet of the always-ajar back door. It all happens in a matter of moments, while tricycles sputter by, music blares out of storefronts, saucy-smoked meat is grilled on skewers, and people step around and into view, clambering to escape the fumes and eager to begin their communal journey home, one that ends at their front door or whenever they choose to say “Para po”- stop please.

Yes, stop please- America,what with our automated entry fees and swift connections, we have forgotten what it’s really like to relate to our surroundings, our environment- where we live, work, play and even travel. No longer with our knees touching, our hair flying, and our journey subject to those around us- it makes me wondered what exactly we have “developed” into?

Hangang sa muli! (until next time),

vanessa