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.