Thursday, December 07, 2006

I think I see the light at the end of the tunnel...

Or is that an oncoming train?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Aquino slasher movies, and other effects of higher education

I had the most bizarre and disturbing dream last night – Corazon Aquino (post-People Power Philippine President) was forced to fight off a group of ninja assassins, cutting them up with a kris and eventually triumphing, in full slasher-movie style.

I think this probably means I’m working too hard. School anxiety dreams are nothing new, but when my research subjects start popping up in my nightmares, I think it’s gone to a whole new level.

I don’t feel like I’ve got much of a choice about it at the moment. I got through the GRE’s and the first round of grad school applications this week. I feel like I should be able to relax, rest on my laurels a bit.

Instead, I have to finish a draft of my entire thesis (about 20 pages to go), write 2 big articles for journalism, a 13 page ethics paper, and another SEAsian studies research paper, all in the next two and a half weeks.

I’ve got this bag I really like. It’s a fancy, vinyl pseudo-messenger bag. Big enough to fit my computer and books, and distributes weight well, so it rides on the small of my back when I’m biking. But its been falling apart for the past few months; the strap is ripping through from carrying to much weight for too long, and because of the material, there’s not really anything I can do to fix it. Thing is though, it still does exactly what I need it to do, so I keep on using it (though I’ll admit that I avoid carrying my computer in it). It works as well as it ever did -- better than any other bags I have -- but there’s no ignoring that one of these days it’s going to break. It’s completely inevitable. The accident will stop waiting to happen, and it’ll go, spilling its contents into the street.

In any case, the point of this is that I was walking down the street yesterday, bowed under a load of books, and I got to thinking about what a good metaphor for my brain this bag is. I’m still completely functional, but there’s no question that I’ve been pushing myself way too hard for way too long, and you don’t have to look to hard to find the places where the strain is starting to show. It’s only a matter of time.

I’m just hoping (like I’m hoping with my bag) that it’ll get me through the next couple of weeks, at which point it can snap at will, and I’ll have enough time to put the pieces back toghether before I start over.

Not terribly profound, mostly just kind of pathetic. But true.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Restorative Justice

I don't have time to write, largely because I'm so busy writing all the time. So, I thought I'd resolve the dilemma by posting some of the writing I've been doing. This isn't the greatest piece of writing I've ever done, but for something written on a tight deadline, I'm pretty pleased with it, and it's kind of a nice change to explore solutions instead of problems.

p.s. - any suggestions for headlines?

The .22 caliber bullet that pierced her skull took a lot of things away from Jackie Millar. Shot in the back of the head and left for dead by teenaged car thieves in November 1995, Millar will never recover full use of her body. She’ll never be able to go back to the job she loved, or take any more of the photographs of forests and mountains that decorate her apartment. She can’t walk in high-heeled shoes, or see clearly as her sons Chad and Derek mark their passage to adulthood.

“I should be dead,” she said. “I am legally blind. I am paralyzed on the right side of me. I. talk. slow. My long- and short-term memory is hit-and-miss. All because they wanted my car.”

But Jackie didn’t lose her ability to forgive, and to love. She keeps framed photographs of Craig and Josh -- the teenagers who laid her on the floor and calmly discussed which of them was going to shoot her -- to show to visitors. “I love Craig and Josh,” she said.

“They tried to eliminate me,” she said, and she’ll never forget it. But, “I wanted to get my life back, and I knew that forgiveness was something I’d have to do.”

Working with mediator Bruce Kittle, the former director of the Restorative Justice Project at the UW-Madison Law School, Millar began to communicate with the boys who shot her. “I love restorative justice. It played an important part in the healing process for me,” said Millar. “It is a chance for the perpetrators and the victim to meet side by side, for the perpetrators to ask for forgiveness and for the victim to get to forgive them.”

Millar has visited both of the boys who shot her, and writes them regularly. This process has been instrumental in giving her closure and in forcing her shooters to take responsibility for the damage they’ve done to her and her loved ones. “Craig and Josh won’t forget me. Craig said it best. He said it doesn’t matter if he’s in prison or not, it will plague him until the day he dies.”

The practice of victim-offender dialogues draws on Maori and Native American traditions that focus on bringing victims, perpetrators and their communities together to find ways to repair the harm caused by crime, instead of emphasizing punishment or revenge. According to the web site of the Center for Justice and Reconciliation at the Prison Fellowship Institute, the concept spread from these traditional practices to social service and police agencies. At present, the group’s Web site estimates about 300 programs in the United States operate on these principles.

UW-Madison’s program, the Restorative Justice Project, started in the late 1980’s, when law students and professors searched files at minimum-security prisons for cases where victims and offenders might want to meet, said program director Peter DeWind in a telephone interview. Today, DeWind said, the project works on about 10 cases a year, accepting only victim-initiated requests – partly because they already receive more from requests from victims than they can handle, and partly because he fears pursuing offender-initiated cases risks re-victimizing crime survivors.

The program now works primarily on cases involving severe violence, including homicide. “These cases are often the most valuable, because there’s such emotional trauma and damage to people that there’s often no other way to really relieve,” said DeWind. Giving crime victims a chance to express their emotions --whether anger or forgiveness -- “often eases a lot of those negative emotional effects”

Because most of the offenders remain in prison, it is difficult to gauge the program’s success by traditional markers like recidivism, said DeWind. But, he said, “I just treat it as successful if people are glad that they met.” Follow-up interviews, he said show “virtually without exception, that’s been the case.”

Shelley Justiliano, a victim services program specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections said the DOC fully supports the work of the Restorative Justice Project, adding that victim-offender dialogues are “just one tiny aspect” of the restorative justice model the department embraces.

“Lots of things are restorative that we’ve doing forever, like paying restitution,” Justiliano said in a telephone interview. The Department of Corrections also offers victim impact classes, where prisoners spend as many as 16 weeks examining the effect of crime on society – looking at everything from insurance fraud to homicide and sexual assault. Prisoners listen to victims who come in to speak about their experiences, and go through exercises like calculating the cost of their stay in prison or writing their own obituaries as though they were homicide victims. In some prisons, she said, inmates have donated crafts to be sold to benefit victim services programs. The state also tries to give victims the options for input, allowing them to write victim-impact statements for the trial or to appear at parole hearings.

“It’s not a class or a specific program, it’s a way of looking at crime,” Justiliano said. “The model is a triangle, an equal sided triangle. The three sides are occupied by the offender, the victim and the community, and the restorative justice model alludes to the fact that they’re all affected equally.”

Restorative justice is “a lot more meaningful than just fining people or putting people in jail,” said Merry Kay Shernock, a probation officer from Northfield, Vermont who has collaborated with programs in her district since 1997. In a telephone interview, Shernock emphasized the practical value of restorative programs. “Punishment is expensive. If you want to incarcerate people to punish them you have to feed them, you have to give them a place to live. Restorative justice actually makes money, creates value, especially when the offender gives community service.”

The townships Shernock works in offer a number of restorative programs aimed at facilitating offenders’ re-entry into society and finding ways for them to make amends for the harm that they’ve done. The most common, she said, are reparative boards -- citizen volunteers who meet with offenders to draw up contracts for how the offenders can repay the damages they’ve caused to their communities.

“It’s a really ancient idea -- You make a mess, you fix it, you clean it up,” said Shernock. “If you got drunk and drove over Mrs. Johnson’s petunias, the right thing to do is go over and replant them.”

The contracts, which are decided by consensus between the board and the offender, seek to include the needs of as much of the community as possible. In one case, Shernock recalled, “A man got terribly drunk and plowed into a pedestrian bridge and destroyed it.” Before the accident, elderly people stood on the bridge to throw crumbs to ducks, and one consequence of the accident was that the ducks went hungry. As a result, said Shernock, “Part of his contract was that he had to feed the ducks until the bridge was rebuilt.” After all, she said, “One of the biggest impacts of his offense was on those poor ducks.”

In the end, added Shernock, the ducks got fed, and the offender later told her that having to get up in the cold every morning “really made him think about things.”

And that, she said, is the best she can hope for. “We don’t ask, ‘Does this reduce the crime rate?’ The question we ask is ‘Was the victim compensated, were amends made to the victim?’ That’s what we care about -- that wrongs were righted, to the extent possible.”

The restorative justice model can also help societies recover from human rights abuses or mediate international conflict, said Kyle Leighton of the Restorative Justice Initiative at Marquette University. Bodies like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, where offenders publicly took responsibility for crimes committed under the apartheid system and victims were given an opportunity to tell their stories, move beyond a dialogue between offenders and the state, he said. “I think it can be really healing for a society, for all aspects of a community, to take part in that conversation.”

In honor of restorative justice week, which begins Nov. 12, Marquette University will host a sold-out international conference on the 13th, titled “Healing after Political Violence,” bringing together people from around the world to share their experiences with restorative processes. Separate events, with the theme of ‘creative partnerships, collaborative action,” will be held throughout the week at prisons across the state.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Just one damn thing after another

Finally catching up on email after being away for the weekend and finishing up a chapter of my paper, I found myself reading through news briefs ... Indymedia reporter shot dead in Oaxaca ... thinking "shit, that's awful" and then "wait, Brad that..." yeah. it was. Brad from New York, the lunatic who stayed inside his Lower East Side squat and tried to face down a wrecking ball. Brad who I used to sleep next to in Seattle. Just one more person I let slip away over the years. I never even knew his real name till I read about him lying on the sidewalk with a bullet in his chest.
I wish I could say that it just inspires me, makes me more determined to keep walking the path I'm on, keep telling the truth about the bastards, but it doesn't. It just makes feel sad, and tired, and old. Wishing that, just once, I could get through this time of year without having to deal with the horrible death of someone I care about.
I've been thinking though, about this conversation we had the first time I met Brad, in Minneapolis in 1999, talking about planting flowers at squats, sowing seeds you'll never see bloom, just because it's a good thing to do, putting a little more beauty in this world.
So I'm just going to try and think about that for a while.
More about Brad:

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Ivory Tower

Note: I wrote this a couple of days ago, but coulnd't get it to post until now. See, even why I try to do this more often, I fail.

The combination of dealing with grad school applications and attending a Southeast Asian Studies conference this weekend has me thinking a lot about academia in general. Specifically, the way in which some people seem to educate themselves into irrelevance.
I mean, I'd like to think I'm pretty well read, and I've basically completed the requirements for a degree in Southeast Asian studies, but there were a couple of papers presented that left me scratching my head, wondering a) what the hell they were on about and b) why I, or anyone else, should give a shit. Papers where people descended so deep into theory that any connection to reality seemed at best tangential, that seem like they could only possibly be of interest to other academics.

(I'm not condemning the conference as a whole, there were a few really good panels, where people seemed to be making a sincere effort to use their knowledge about a subject to contextualize current or past events -- particularly coups in Thailand -- in a meaningful way, and seemed to want to contribute to a larger public dialogue.)

I've generally been questioning the purpose of higher education, especially since deciding to stay in academia for at least a couple more years.
I'd like to think of it as a way to better prepare myself to be of some use to society -- partly because, as a student at a public university and the recipient of thousands of dollars of grant money, my education is heavily subsidized by society, which seems to me to create an obligation to give something back. More broadly though, I guess I can't imagine feeling satisfied with myself or my work if I wasn't doing something at least slightly useful to other people. Granted, probably nothing I ever do will have as much tangible value as a paramedic or a garbage collector, but that doesn't mean it's not worth trying.
On the other hand, there's a part of me that feels like anything that people do with their lives that's done out of genuine passion makes a positive contribution to society as a whole, if only because it means there are fewer bitter people roaming the streets. I mean, practicalities aside, I'd rather live in a world full of people who feel intellectually fulfilled by publishing arcane articles in obscure journals than in a world full of people who hate whatever it is they spend the majority of their conscious life doing. At the same time though, considering how few people really have the opportunity to spend decades in school, to do nothing more with it than sit in a small room and talk to people who are just like you seems like, to put it mildly, a bit of a waste...

Saturday, September 23, 2006

I’ve been quite slack about posting lately, mostly because I’m not really sure what to say. I’ve just been busy with school, work and the radio station. It’s all interesting to me, but not the kind of interesting that makes me feel compelled to write about it.
The satisfactions are small, but not to be discounted – encountering a new idea in an article, finding a perfect quotation to support a theory, moments of competence at work. I’m still working out how best to balance work, school and loafing.
Fortunately, I have no social life to worry about, at least not here in Madison. It’s funny....I do vaguely recall having had social skills at some point in my life, and still have the old friends to prove it, but I seem to have checked them at the Wisconsin border. Some of it’s just being busy, and consequently lazy about socializing. Even when I have the chance to go out with people, I usually would rather just go home, be by myself and rest. And then, I wonder why I haven’t made any close friends here...
There is definitely something about Madison though...I’ve been here nearly two years now, but have fewer friends than I did after a month in Manila (where I was equally busy), or really pretty much anywhere else I’ve ever spent more than a week. I suppose it’s because I didn’t come to Madison because of any interest in the people here.
In any case, my (non-superficial) contacts with other humans have been boiled down to communication with people who I already have close enough relationships with to communicate with long distance or travel hours to visit, and who tolerate me no matter how strange, intense, spastic or withdrawn I become. So, I’m afraid, I’ll only get worse until I finish school, and, with luck, go somewhere very, very far from here.
In the meantime, look for me at the library. But don’t expect to find me, especially now that I’m working there and have keys to even more isolated and far away rooms than ever.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Summer is over. It will almost certainly get warm again, but the back of summer has been broken. Two days in a row now I've found myself regretting not putting on gloves before leaving the house.
It's odd to have moved so quickly from the stifling stickiness of the tropics into flannel sheet and hot drinks season. ... I was going to say at least the rain is the same, before realizing how patently false that is. This cold, endless drizzle is absolutely unlike the temperamental bursts of monsoon fury.
In many ways, it's wonderful to be back here, to a place where drinking out of the tap doesn't feel like Russian roulette, where I can walk down the street without feeling like a space alien or worrying about falling in open sewers or having my heart broken (or, for that matter, my pockets picked) by street-children. At the same time, especially in the Midwestern blandness of Madison, I find myself missing the energy, the almost indescribable chaos of Manila.
Being home though -- there's no bitter in that sweet. Not "home" in the sense of back in Madison, but home in the sense of not being a guest in somebody's house. Indulging in the innocent pleasures of putting things where they belong and wearing clothes out of a closet instead of a suitcase, and the slightly guilty pleasures of staying in bed reading until noon and making a mess if I damn well please. I'm settling back into my old routines, and trying to develop some new ones as well. My schedule is almost entirely self-directed this semester. I have only two classes that actually meet, and the rest in all independent work. I've actually been at bit bogged down the past week, the inevitable consequence of changing my thesis topic in the middle of the summer. I'm scrambling to get back to where I was at the beginning of the summer. On which note, I should probably actually be working

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Loose Ends: Mindoro Photos

So, now that I'm back stateside, with regular access to technology, I'm going to start posting some of the photos and notes I've been accumulating over the last weeks. To begin, here are some photos from Mindoro, where I spent the 4 days of actual vacation that I took this summer, waking up and swimming, eating, going for a walk, swimming, going for another walk, swimming, eating, maybe swimming again, and then going to bed early... I really know how to whoop it up. Actually, I did meet some nice people, stayed out past ten a night or two, did a bit of irresponsible late-night motorbike riding on unlit, unsealed roads, got a bad chest cold, and other fun vacation activities. But mostly, I remember swimming.
Talipanan, where I stayed, butts right up against the nearly impassable spine of mountains separating Mindoro Oriental and Occidental. The picture above was taken on a hike up through a series of waterfall pools running down the mountains. I didn't make it all the way to the top, because I was on my own, it was evening, and I was afraid of getting trapped in the dark and eaten alive by malarial mosquitoes. Still, it was a nice walk.
Manyan kids, members of an indigenous community that is being increasingly marginalized and dislocated by the aggressive development of the tourist industry in Puerto Galera. A tourist industry that I was, peripherally, taking part in. Errch. In any case, these kids were really excited about having their picture taken (which is more obvious from the kids in the back than the ones in the front). One of the nice aspects of feeling like a tall, white space alien was that it made the tourist dynamic a little more two sided -- people were always at least as interested in looking at me as I was in looking at them.
Ahh, the beach. What can I say?

A river, just before emptying into the sea.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Back in Manila once again, this time after a trip up north to the cordilleras. It was definitely the most beautiful part of the Philippines I've seen so far, but that experience was totally overshadowed by interviewing political prisoners in benguet province. I've been working on transcribing and translating horror stories of torture and injustice, so I wasn't in much of a vacation mode. I'll maybe post some later for those who are so inclined, but for now I'm just trying to get myself sorted out again here.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Hopefully, this will work now. As with many things here, internet access is a bit inconsistent, although this connection seems quite good.
I'm back in Manila now, or Quezon City to be precise. I find myself surprisingly happy to be here again. Even though people stare at me like I have a third eye, at least they stare at me like a human with a third eye instead of a walking dollar sign. As noisy and chaotic as Manila is, at least I can walk down the street in (relative) peace.
It's funny, people always assume that I don't understand what they're saying in my presence. It's usually nothing very interesting though -- 99% of the time it's a comment about my height. Which is very, very noticable. I went to the market earlier this afternoon, and had to hunch over almost the whole time to keep from hitting my head on various trade goods suspended from the ceiling. Much amusement for everyone.
And then, when people discover that I do understand, the first thing they ask is often whether I'm a mormon. Go figure.
Tomorrow, I leave to head up north, to the Cordillera region. It's an area that's very remote and beautiful, and also very popular with tourists, so I'm sure I'll encounter many of the same irritations there as in Mindoro. I suppose getting treated like a tourist is a just punishment for being a tourist. I'm not even sure how useful Tagalog will be up there. Ilocano is much more widely spoken up north, along with local and tribal languages. I'll have a companion this time at least, a friend of one of my classmates, who also wants to visit the cordilleras. For better or for worse though, he's another very tall white person. I didn't feel unsafe travelling alone, but people definitely found it very, very strange.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

So, I decided it was time to leave Manila for a few days. It's almost indescribably dirty, hot, loud and crowded there and it was definitely starting to get to me. For just a few dollars, it's possible to get a boat to a clean, quiet place with a beach, which is what I decided to do. I decided it was time for a few days of hedonism before returning to reality. After this, I'll be going to UP to do reaseach, and then return to the states where I'll have a few days to move back in to my apartment before school starts, so this is pretty much my only chance for a vacation.
I'm in Mindoro now, near Puerto Galera. The village I'm staying in, Talipanan, is quite nice -- very quiet (except for the shouting Korean family staying next-door), small and friendly with a few family-run guesthouses. ( I'll try to upload a few pictures in a minute, but I want to post this before I try anything that fancy on this computer.)
The problem is that most of the rest of this part of the island is a tourist resort, which means that it's pretty hard for me to walk down the street without about 6 people trying to sell me something I don't want at exhorbitantly inflated prices. I try to remain sympathetic to people who are just trying to make a living, but it can get pretty aggressive. For example, I wanted to take the jeepney (regular public transit) into town this morning, but while I was waiting, I was surrounded by a veritable plague of tricycle drivers trying to charge me 5 times the normal fare to ride with them instead, in spite of my repeatedly insisting that I just wanted to take the jeepney. It's an aspect of the Philippines I haven't really had to deal with yet, because so far I've always been with Filipino companions or in urban areas where people pretty much leave me alone.
In the end, it usually turns out okay, but only because people are so amused by my Tagalog that I can usually redirect the dialogue into a conversation about their wives and kids, or various relatives who are overseas workers in America.
The other thing I have to concede is that even when people do overcharge me, at least they're nice about it. They'll charge 5 times the local fare, but they'll make sure I get exactly where I need to go, and that I'm safe and well taken care of when I arrive.
To be honest, I don't even particularly mind paying a bit more than the locals for services -- I mean, when you start thinking in terms of percentage of hourly wage, it's ridiculous to quibble about a quarter which really means nothing to me, but can make the difference between some vendor's kid going hungry or not. It does seem like there's a certain amount of justice in people who have more money paying more. Still, there's a point between where economic justice turns into just plain getting ripped off, and you do have to draw the line somewhere.
On that note, this internet connection is pretty steep as well, so I'm going to wrap this up and save the more serious thoughts until I get back to Manila.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Reality Check

Having a moment of self-hatred about how self-absorbed I’ve been getting these past few weeks. I’ve been being treated like a child, so I’ve responded by acting and thinking like a child, but I should do better. I’m ashamed of complaining about food when there are people that are literally starving in this city.
Yes, my schoolwork is stressful and often just for show, and I have every right to resent the way this program is run when it could use fewer resources and have better results – but I am essentially getting paid to go to class at one of the most elite universities in the country while little kids have to drop out of public school because they can’t afford the fees and uniforms.
I’m not saying I should be walking around with a huge, crippling case of first world guilt, but I do need a serious reality check, and I do need to focus more on how I can use this education to actually try and make a difference in peoples’ lives.
So, let this stand as my formal, public apology.
Three more days and my class is over. I will do my best to grow up between now and then.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Self-Portrait upon completion of first draft

Here's me upon completion of my paper. Note hollow cheeks and black under eyes. Also note elated sense of accomplishment. This is because I know that my Tagalog is not actually good enough to write papers at an academic level, and consequently, my paper will be edited and rewritten for me by a native speaker, without changes even being explained to me, so that it will make the program look good. It's all a big show. I'm going to be happy when this program is over. In the meantime, I'm going to go out in the rain to try to find something to eat.
And, lest you think I'm just whining about nothing, compare the shape of my face in this picture, taken a few days before I left for the Philippines, a time at which I was also fairly stressed, but at least eating properly:

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Father English

Writing this paper has given me a rather unhappy level of familiarity with the English-Tagalog dictionary written by Father Leo English. While generally acknowledged as the most complete bilingual dictionary, it has some rather irritating flaws.
It is, in essence, 3000 pages of Christian proselytizing. The sample sentences are pretty incredible. Here’s my favorite (so far):
Nilapastangan ng mga Hudiyo ang ating Panginoon – The Jews blasphemed our Lord. Note the use of the pronoun “ating” which is the inclusive form of we (yours and mine, including the person being spoken to) rather than the exclusive “aming” (ours, not including the person being spoken to).

I’ve also noticed that the word “homosexual” does not appear in the dictionary, in spite of Filipinos’ very open and accepting attitude towards homosexuality and the very visible presence of homosexuals in society. Nor do “contraceptive,” “sex” with any meaning other than gender, or any number of other fairly commonplace words. (Interestingly, “abortion” does).
So, if anyone has any questions about why I object to missionaries carrying out linguistic research in tribal societies, I shall refer them to this dictionary.
Now some parting words of advice from Father English:
Huwag mo siyang ibuyo sa pagkakasala – Don’t tempt him/her to sin. (sample sentence for “tempt”)
Oooh, wait, here’s another good one: “Gugunawin ng Diyos ang mundo sa pamamagitan ng apoy – God will destroy the world by (means of) fire” (sample sentence for "destroy")

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Carabou - emblem of the Philippines. The connotations of the national animal being a creature that spends its life in captivity, laboring in the mud, is best left for others to speculate upon.
Farmers working a rice paddy in Cavite. Not the best composed shot, but something about the convergence of modernity and tradition in this scene seems to me very illustrative of life in this country.

Again, a rice paddy, or tubigan (literally, water-place) in Cavite.

Old-school grinder for shaping butterfly-knife blades at a small-scale factory.

The production of panutse, one of the tastier Tagalog delicacies. A combination of peanuts and sugar. Sticky, fatty, delicious and suitable for vegans. The working conditions are pretty harsh, but this is considered a model smale-scale enterprise by local standards.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Here's me windblown and disheveled taking shelter from the monsoons at the Aguinaldo shrine in Cavite. I tried to upload this yesterday, but my computer's perfomance has been a bit patchy since I've been here.

Today was actually the first day for a while that it didn't rain. De La Salle reopened, and I finally had to put on actual shoes to go to class. All good things must come to an end.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

I feel like I should post more often, but I'm in such a set routine that there's not really much to say. I go to school. I have too much work to do. I'm disgruntled. I'm writing a paper about the ways in which early Filipino nationalists manipulated historical narrative to legitimize their nationalist aspirations. A series of concepts that's pretty difficult to translate into Tagalog. The fact that a lot of what the paper is about is how nationalists like Rizal tried, with varying degrees of success, to apply (impose?) Western ideas like the nation-state to the Philippines makes the process slightly humorous, but not any easier. It's a nice little post-modern interlude to my day.
Actually, it's not particularly nice at all. I don't really know what I was thinking choosing such a dense topic. It's a subject I know quite a bit about, and I've written on related topics before, so I knew all the relevant source materials, and I thought I could do it. Now that it's too late to do new research, though, I'm kicking myself for not writing about folk dances or something of that ilk (descriptive rather than analytical).
A lot of Manila is still flooded due to the second serious typhoon in the last few weeks, so schools have been closed across the city, including la Salle. This doesn't get me out of class, as we've just been meeting in the hotel, but it does mean that the library is closed and I can't get some of the reference material I desperately need. On the upside, I can now attend class in flip-flops and pyjamas, and take a nap in my room during lunch. (I'm tired all the time)
I'm trying to post a picture of me hiding from the monsoon rains to complete the scene, but the computer won't cooperate, so I'll just stop here.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

School kids in Dasmarinas

I'm finally able to connect my computer to the internet, so I'll start uploading pictures bit by bit over the next few days.
Here are all the students (including 2 women who teach Filipino in the states. All women. Note the height difference.
Taal Vista, in Tagaytay, Cavite. Taal volcano the collapsed cone shaped mountain in the middle of the lake. Usually, you can take a boat ride there, but the volcano was on high alert while I was in Tagaytay, so not this trip.

Here's me interviewing elementary school students in Dasmarinas, Cavite. This was the first time they'd ever spoken to a foreigner.

kvetch, kvetch, kvetch

I'm in a better mood now than I was when I wrote the following yesterday afternoon. However, in the interest of historical accuracy, here it is:

I’m typing this right now instead of working, because I can’t get anything else done right now. The battery for my computer ran out while I was working in the Filipiniana section of the library, at which point I discovered that the outlets in the library are all non-polarized, and won’t accept the 2-prong adaptor I have for my battery charger. There is a place in the library that has 3-prong plugs, but, naturally – hmm... I hesitate to call it logic, but some distant relative perhaps – dictates that it is forbidden to bring in laptops. And besides, the books I need can’t be taken out of the Filipiniana section. I was able to borrow an adapter that works for my computer, but I had to leave my id. Now, without my id, I can’t get back into the Filipiniana room. So here I am, wasting my extremely limited time, waiting for my battery to charge so I can get some work done.
I have a 15-page research paper that I have to write, in Tagalog. Thinking about it makes me want to cry. I basically have the vocabulary of a kindergartener, but I’m expected to write a college level paper. This, mind you, on top of 9 hours a day at school, 2 hours commuting, and at least an hour or two of other homework every day. I actually am beginning to feel like this program is hampering my learning Tagalog. My weakest area, by far, is conversational speech. But I have almost no time to actually just sit and talk with anyone, because I always have some assignment I should be doing. Not to mention the toll it’s having on my body. I can see bones in my back and chest that I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen before. I have no control over my own diet, and no matter how many times I try to explain otherwise, the administrators of this program seem to think that being vegetarian means I can survive on iceberg lettuce and white rice. Needless to say, I’m tired all the time, my head constantly aches and my stomach is a mess. The two weeks I spent with a host family that actually asked what I eat and made an effort to keep me well fed have slowed down my physical deterioration, but tonight is the last night I’ll stay with them. I am honestly terrified about what’s going to happen once I return to the dorm-hotel.
I suppose at least this can be considered part of the cultural exposure this program is supposed to provide, as I’m getting just the tiniest little dose of the malnutrition that so many people here suffer, and increasing my understanding of how deeply this can impact someone’s ability to succeed in school or at work....

The best moments of my day are the ones that I manage to steal for myself. Just the smallest bits of freedom. Figuring out how to get around by jeepney. Asking for directions from strangers. Even just chatting with the people at the bag-check at the library. Imperfect command of the language is always a bit infantilizing, but it can make what would otherwise be routine interactions an adventure.
It’s difficult at times to be so obviously different in a fairly homogenous society, but it does have its advantages. My Filipino-American classmates, physically indisinguishable for everyone else, say people are often very disapproving of, or at least confused by, their problems with the language. Because I’m white, people are so genuinely delighted that I can speak Tagalog at all that they forgive my trespasses against the language, and usually go way out of their way to be helpful and friendly. I’ve gotten pretty used to having a crowd gather around me whenever I start speaking Tagalog. You could get around this country fairly easily with just English, but it definitely wouldn’t be the same experience.Well, looks like my battery’s about where it needs to be to get me throught the afternoon. I should be able to post this tomorrow (let’s not even get me started on the problem of internet access at this school.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Imersyon sa Maynila

So, when they said this was an "immersion" program, I assumed they were speaking figuratively. I wasn't prepared for the actual floods.
Which, probably I should have been, since my stay here corresponds pretty much exactly with the rainy season. It rains everyday, but usually only for an hour or so. Today, though, there was a real typhoon (bagyo in Filipino). Afternoon classes at De la Salle were cancelled due to flooding -- for everyone except us, of course. For part of my trip home today, I had to take a taxi along Roxas Ave., which runs along Manila Bay. The street was so flooded that water was actually seeping in the bottom of the door. For a few minutes, it looked like we weren't going to make it, but the taxi driver pulled through like a champ. Still, definitely a new experience for me. One of many, of course. I also learned a new vocabulary word -- baha is flood (which I knew) sa babahaan is a place that often gets flooded. An apt description for Manila this time of year.
I also learned a new thing to worry about. Aside from the obvious danger of disease from the filthy flood water, a much more insidious danger can lurk beneath. When the rains are strong enough, the sewers back up and the rising water from the bay can push open manhole covers, which then turn into death traps for pedestrians, completely invisible on dark, flooded streets. (It's worth noting at this point that in the Philippines, the sidewalks are for vendors and panhandlers. if you want to actually get anywhere, you walk in the street) A classmate, who grew up in the Philippines, was genuinely terrified by this possibility, so I assume that it's not just an urban legend.
Fortunately, I made it to my light-rail station without getting swept out to see. Riding the light-rail -- LRT to the locals, who have quite an affinity for abbreviations -- is also quite an experience, particularly during rush-hour. Filipinos definitely have a different concept of how many people can fit into a small space than Americans. Some of it is just size difference, but some of it is cultural as well. For example, car seats built for three Americans hold four people here, even though it means that at least one of them probably has a metal bar wedged somewhere uncomfortable. On the trains, it's absolutely incredible how many people can cram in. Fortunatly, the first few cars of every train are reserved for women only, so it's just physically uncomfortable, not emotionally.
The image here is a sea of black hair, with my head and shoulders floating on top. I am a full 10 inches taller than the average Filipino (male or female) Being tall is convenient at times, especially on the train, because I can hang on to places nobody else can reach. Unfortunatly, I also seem to injure at least one person a day, because my elbows are at eye-level for quite a lot of women, and on a crowded, jerky train it's hard not to bump into people.
I also have a lot of work to do, all the time, which I should probably be doing right now.
I also notice that my syntax has gotten a bit odd. Which is a good sign, I think, because it means I've gotten so accustomed to speaking and thinking in Filipino that it's a bit difficult to shift back to English.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


So, the technology situation is a bit difficult. The computer seems to enjoy eating my attempts at posting. Between that and my complete lack of free time, I won't really be able to write more than a few sentences at a time for at least another week. Basically, I'm in Dasmarinas, Cavite. I'm enjoying being in the Philippines, but hating pretty much everything about how this program is run (which should be no surprise to anyone who had to watch me trying to deal with the admissions process). Details to follow...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Here is the view from my window. Off in the distance, lost in the smog, is Manila Bay.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Greetings from Manila!
I'm still a bit too exhausted to write much or well, but (nearly) everyone else has gone to mass, so this seemed like a good time to sit down at the computer.
The trip here was pretty much what I've come to expect for airline travel -- complete with a whining, seat-kicking child behind me for 11 hours, a seatmate with astonishing halitosis and a series of special "non-dairy vegetarian meals" consisting of things like shrimp and bean and cheese burritos. Basically, what survives in my sleep-deprived brain is a long string of boredom and discomfort, punctuated by a few moments a grace (the shadows of clouds on the sea, the way breaking surf, from the right height, looks like a stationary line of white on the water)
I survived though, and got off the plane in Manila on my own steam.
Even just walking down the gangway between the airplane and the airport, I could feel the pressure of the damp, vegetative heat closing in.
The entire process of immigration, baggage claim and trying to find the people who were supposed to be waiting to greet us was a bit of a circus, but fortunately I ran into one of the other students in the bathroom. She actually approached me. Given that I'm a conspicuously tall, white college-aged person carrying a laptop, I don't think she had to go out on too much of a limb to ask if I was part of the program. Everyone else was a bit harder to spot though -- I'm the only non Fil-Am. There were actually four of us on the same flight from Japan, but we didn't figure out who was who until everyone was collected and ready to leave the airport.

It turns out we're spending the first week in Manila, at a hotel/dorm for de la Salle university. (We're all on bunkbeds in one room, but the building is fancy, air conditioned and has a swimming pool and a restaurant.) I will probably be getting a cellphone in the next couple of days, so email if you want the number. Otherwise, I'll try to update this when I get a chance. Hopefully, more thoughts and impressions will follow later -- I just wanted to let everyone know that I made it in one piece.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Heto ang aking blog. Booyah.