29 September 2006

Typhoon Milenyo and Angeles

I suppose it's only appropriate that after being away for so long, I should witness firsthand a typhoon of this magnitude. Typhoon Milenyo hit Manila directly yesterday and the damage is substantial. In my sister's area, the streets are littered with fallen branches and uprooted trees. The same is true for the entire city. Several billboard structures crumpled. My friend Tish said the wind flipped a car onto its side near her apartment building. It was crazy! Then in the eye of the storm, there was an eerie stillness but you knew that the craziness was going to come back after about an hour.

Ed arrived here on Tuesday night, just in time to catch the storm. Good timing. :)

The storm has passed and now the clean up effort begins. 90% of Metro Manila is without power and it's going to take a couple more days before it is fully restored. But people just go about the business of cleaning up the streets and repairing their homes. Just the normal course of business during typhoon season. My sister's house has a generator so we haven't really felt the impact of the power outage. Thank goodness.

Because of the storm, we moved back our trek up Mt. Pinatubo by a day. We took the bus to Clark/Angeles today. Clark used to be known as Clark Air Base when the Americans were still here. The town right outside the air base is Angeles and is best known as the R&R centre for the American servicemen. Prostitution is still alive and well here. It is unsettling to see the white man (usually older) walking hand in hand with the local girl (usually quite young) down the street. The main street is lined with girlie bars.

Ed and I decided to pay a bit more and stay at a hotel a little removed from the strip. It is called Orchard Hotel and it's not seedy at all, which is good. And they have a business centre with computers and internet access. Yay.

The highlight of the day so far is the tricycle ride we took from the bus depot to the hotel. I don't think I've ever ridden a tricycle before. I thought the driver was going to get us killed! Crazy driver!

There's an SM (a huge mall) in the Clark airbase. Since the Americans left, the airbase has been converted into an "economic development zone". Not really sure what that means. In any case, SM is a good place to grab lunch away from the seedy bars. Lunch from the mall food court costs about $6 for the both of us. We're splurging on the buffet dinner we'll be having tonight at the hotel - it costs $12.25 per person!

At 5am tomorrow, Edwin Manalang, our guide, is going to pick us up at our hotel. It will be a 2-hour drive then a 2-hour hike up Mt. Pinatubo. Apparently, there is a lake at the very top and it's fine to swim there. Too bad I didn't bring my swim suit. Lonely Planet didn't say anything about swimming in the volcano! Oh well. Then right after our hike at about 3pm, we head straight to the bus depot for the trip back to Manila. It's not too far, just a 2-hour drive. Well, it could be 2.5 to 3 hours depending on the traffic once you hit Manila.

Ed's been a bit spaced out due to the jetlag. But he's doing better today and hopefully, he'll be fully adjusted within the next few days. He was really grumpy the first two days.

On Sunday, we fly to Palawan. I'm praying the weather will cooperate and that the rain will go away. Will try to post again from there. If not, we'll definitely find a internet cafe in Cebu where we head to after Palawan.

ps. The internet cafe here at the hotel costs $3.33 for a 24-hour period. At the mall near my sister's house, it was $1.22 per hour. Crazy cheap internet access.

26 September 2006

Old friends

I remember a poem from elementary:
Make new friends but keep the old
Those are silver, these are gold.

I know, it's hokey but it's what I remember. Anyway, this past week has been about reconnecting with old friends. Some of them I haven't seen at all the last 14 years. Good thing there's e-mail because that's how I've managed to keep in touch somehow.

Most of my friends are married with kids. They talked about which schools their kids are attending, having parent-teacher meetings, dealing with issues (like one daughter eating paper as initiation into the cool group of kids in the class - and this is in grade 3!). The kids' ages range from 6 months in the womb to 14 years old. I think the average number of kids is two.

Everyone has done well professionally. Most are in management positions or own their own business. It's nice to see!

It's kind of weird, though. To me, they are still the same people. They look the same, they sound the same, still laughing at the same stories. But now they have kids! Weird.

And I wish I had a tape recorder to capture the conversations! I'm surprised at how much I don't remember. Remember when... Half the time, I wouldn't. But there has also been lots of "that's right! I remember" moments. It's great to recount the stories, like I'm hearing them for the first time. I swear, my first few days here, all I did was laugh. It was great!

I also realize I missed out on a lot of things - their weddings, births of their children, supporting my friends as they dealt with illnesses. Just life experiences in general. That's the downside of leaving.

I loved seeing my friends again. It's like not a day has passed since we last saw each other. Conversation just flowed so easily, laughter constantly spilling out of us. So comforting and wonderful. I wish I could spend more time with them. Definitely won't let another 14 years go by before coming back.

25 September 2006

Back in the hood

Been in Manila for six days now. I've had one get-together after another. My high school classmates from Assumption, my friends from university, and then my friends from Andersen. I've also been spending time with my sister, Leslie, and her husband Arnold and daughter Bea.

How does it feel to be back after 14 years of absence? Surreal! The city doesn't even look the same. So many high rises now, and a train transit system. Lots of development since I left. But lots of poverty, too. That part seems even worse than when I left. My sister lives in a gated community. Very posh and private. But outside those privileged walls, it's quite evident that life is hard. But I credit the Filipino spirit - people are smiling and laughing all the time. Just enjoying life, even if they have very little in way of possessions. But for a poor country, they sure like their shopping malls. It's all about the malls here. Malls in Vancouver pale in comparison!

My tagalog is getting better. My first couple of days here, my tongue was getting all twisted up so I just spoke English all the time. But speaking Tagalog got easier and I'm way more comfortable now. I even have the sing-song intonation that people here have when they speak. Give me a few more days and I'm sure I will sound just like my old self. hehehehe

It's all about food! Constantly eating - that's what I've been doing. But not sure why, I am always hungry still. Must be the heat. Maybe pigging out begets more pigging out. hmmmm...

And it's all about texting. I have been asked "do you have a cell phone?" so many times since I arrived. Sending text messages is the main method of communication here. "Just text me" and "I'll text you" are common phrases. When did the word "text" become a verb? And text they do - while walking down the street, waiting at the bus stop, sipping coffee at Starbucks. The thumb flies over the keypad at impressive speeds, composing cryptic messages, having conversations with unseen companions. A cell phone is a permanent fixture in one hand. Then there's me - with two thumbs at work, pausing after every letter to find the next one, spelling out entire words instead of using the shortcut versions. "s n d" means "is in the", "c u" means "see you", "ur" means "you are", and so on. It's crazy and everyone's really into it. I'm sure I'll also be a pro by the time I leave.

Other noteworthy observations:
- McRice burger. Instead of bread, rice has been formed into patties and the burger inserted between two rice patties. I haven't tried it yet but I will before we leave.
- Every place I've been to, the food has been superb. I'm going to take home a few more pounds than what I arrived with.
- This must be the billboard capital of the world. The highways are lined with massive billboards, many storeys high. Definitely was not like that when I left.
- Traffic is absolutely crazy. Took us 2 hours to travel approximately 50km. At least I had the billboards to entertain me.
- Skin whitening is big business here. Hmmm... What's wrong with being dark?
- The malls are the centre of social gatherings. Everybody goes to the mall, mainly to cool themselves, not really to buy anything.
- Some things are cheap, but some things are not. Lots of foreign stores are here - Guess, Kate Spade, Fendi, etc. And the prices are just like in Canada, converted to pesos. Who can afford to buy that stuff here? Weird.