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.