Thursday, December 07, 2006

Life Lessons from the Least Expected

I was finally able to flag down a cab. I had been turned away multiple times b/c my final destination would have required the driver to weave in and out of a nightmare of traffic for way too long. It would have eaten up too much gas and cut out too many possible customers. I guess cab drivers in Manila make most of their money up front…on the automatic 100 pesos or so you have to pay just for getting in. So, having more customers going shorter distances can be a bigger pay off than having fewer customers going longer distances. But anyway, the driver I got was chattier than any other driver I had ever been in a cab with despite the fact that we were already at the end of a long and hectic day. It was dark out, but the neon lights in every direction are sure to keep Manila bright at any hour. Just like New York, it’s a city that never sleeps. The driver, thinking I’m a tourist, began hurling questions at me left and right.

Where are you from? Do you speak Tagalog? How do you like the Philippines? Are you married?

I answered these questions quickly and with little interest hoping to satisfy his superficial interest. Much to my dismay however, my aloofness only seemed to fuel his fire. I was tired and was worried that the sporadic standstill traffic might cause me to miss the last bus ride back to Bontoc. A small part of me hoped that it would happen anyway…there’s comfort in being surrounded by millions of strangers…in being anonymous…in being able to walk into an internet cafe at 1 AM and still feel like a normal human being. If I have to stay in Manila another night…sige…ok lang. The driver regained my attention when he stopped asking questions and started divulging information about himself. He worked overseas for over 10 years…in Saudi. He lived in the desert…and not just in the desert…but in an actual compound “in” (under) the desert sand. However, he seemed less interested in talking to me about his work and more interested in talking to me about his wife and his Saudi girlfriends and how they compared to one another physically and sexually. While he was thinking he was either shocking me or impressing me…or just plain entertaining me…I was thinking about throwing the car door open and bolting. By this time, sure, I had no idea where I was, but there were plenty of other cabs around. Granted, the traffic wasn’t moving at all, but I could at least sit in any other cab and probably have to deal with less testosterone. Next thing I knew, he was asking me another question.

“How old are you?”

Not only did I not want to answer this question for the shear fact that dude was just plain shady…but I didn’t want to answer it, as well, for it’s inevitable repercussions…more questions. I saw the scenario playing itself out in my head… “You’re 29 and you’re not married? Why not?” “Because I’m just not,” isn’t a valid response here. And I wasn’t in the mood for making up an elaborate story. So, I thought I’d divert from that direction completely. I thought, I’d cut him off at the pass. I thought I could be slick, and just tell an itty bitty lie to stop his questioning. So, I coolly said, “I’m 18.” At that instant, the inside car light flashed on, and the driver reached his arm around the passenger side seat so he could more easily turn his head around and get a good look at me.

“18!” he exasperated. “I thought you were atleast 30! You look much older than 18!”

I was a bit shocked. I had never heard anything like that in my life. My whole life, people have mistaken me for being much younger than I really am. I didn’t think for a second that I wouldn’t get away with it. But, as I sat there under the car’s prosecuting beam of light, I thought to myself that maybe I have indeed aged since the beginning of my peace corps stint. Maybe I have lost some of that baby fat that was once in my cheeks. Maybe my skin isn’t as smooth and firm as it once was. And I’m sure the city lights can cast some strange shadows on an already haggard face at the end of a long evening. Busted!...the one time when I was just trying to earn myself a little peace and quiet.

“Why do you look so old?” the driver asked.

I couldn’t help but to just chuckle inside at this unforeseen backfire. Now, I had to cook up another lie to support my first.

“I’ve had a hard life,” I say meekly as if at that very moment in time I was being haunted by all the bad memories of that which had robbed me of my childhood in the first place.

To this day, a part of me feels still feels bad for fooling that driver. He stepped intoa role that many people wouldn’t have taken the time to do, especially with strangers. He was immediately empathetic and encouraging. Not only was he offering me his driving services, but he was throwing in a psychologist for free.

“What was so bad? What happened to you?”

I remained aloof partly because I didn’t know what to say (I’ve never been good at lying and coming up with elaborate, believable stories on the fly…I’ve never really even tried), and partly because aloofness could in the end only help sell my story. The rest of the way, the driver proceeded to load my plate with heaping spoonfuls of inspirational stories and motivational antics. “You control your life, don’t let your life control you! Keep pushing on if life isn’t going the way you want. You be the master of your destiny! Even as he helped me carry my bags to the bus up until the moment he waved and slunk back into the driver’s seat of his dingy cab, he urged me to keep my head up and not let life’s problems discourage me. So, what started out as nothing but a necessary cab ride to my bus, ended up, 40 minutes later to be life lessons in disguise. I said “thank you, I will remember that,” and climbed aboard my bus.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

11-16-06

There's a pretty big boxing match coming up this sunday between Mexico's Eric Morales and The Philippines's Manny Pacquio, otherwise known as Pacman. I'm really looking forward to it...maybe for one reason...I get to witness faces gettin smashed...I really need to let out some of my own aggression...maybe I should smash some softballs. Or maybe I'm looking forward to the match b/c for me, no matter who wins, it's still a win-win match. Of course, I'm backing Manny for the time being...I'm in the Philippines for crying out loud, how could I not?! But, my spiritual latin american roots run deep...seeing as I studied Spanish for about 8 years and spent a year of my life in Mexico...and anyone who has spent anytime in the US knows that all of us are just a handful of generations away from being bilingual (English/Spanish) anyway. Hispanics are the fastest growing minority in the US, and bits and peices of their culture...and their language have taken root, whether we like it or not, in US soil...and in the minds and hearts of the non hispanic Americans...atleast in my generation and the next. ...so, this brings me to the discussion of cultural diversity. ...oooh, exciting.

To say that there are alot of Filipino overseas workers would be an understatement. And if you compared the total number of Filipinos with the total number actually overseas...you would find that the Philipines holds one of the highest percentages of nationals living outside their country. But, even if all the overseas workers were working in the US, I still don't think they'd hold a candle to the number of Mexicans and hispanics in general who actually live there. ...not sure if filipinos understand just how much white bread life in the US has been influenced by the influx of hispanics (most especially Mexicans). Take avocados for example (ur like...ok?) ...here people like to turn them into a sweet dessert. They mash up an avocado or two in a bowl full of sugar and powdered milk...to end up with a sweet green lumpy mush. ...and I gotta say...I really like the stuff. There are a few things that I eat here on a regular basis...because they're tasty treats...and I will continue to eat them once I go home to the US. Sweet avocado glop is one of those things (however, I'll probably discontinue the use of powdered milk once I go home...b/c well, when ur surrounded by cows...why not use the real deal...diba?) ...and...Tuna WITHOUT mayonnaise and eggs is another dish I'll continue to eat. Come on ya'll...mayonnaise and egg is just foul... instead, I love me some slightly oily tuna with chopped up onions and tomatoes dumped over a SMALL pile of rice. ...but anyway...about the avocado... here they like the avocado mixed with things that make it sweet. In the US, we like the avocado mixed with things that make it salty... hence guacamole. Here's what's tricky. I may be mistaken, but I get the feeling that alot of Filipinos still associate Americans with being white. therefore...and I may be mistaken again...but I get the feeling that Filipinos think guacamole comes from whitey? At any rate...I just want to set the record straight and give credit where credit is due. White people as well as anyone else in the US only eat guacamole because of the Mexicans. But...did guacamole exist before Mexicans? If so, did it come from the Aztecs and/or Mayans? Or was it brought over by Spaniards? Who really knows? But, what I do know... when my parents were kids...they didn't eat guacamole. Did they even know what guacamole was? ...probably not. Avocados, as a whole, weren't a big part of the southern diet. I'm pretty sure my parents ate alot of fried ham, or spam, and fried potatos and mashed potatos and more potatos, or bacon and eggs and biscuits, and green beans, and black eyed peas, and corn bread and corn on the cob and more corn. ...but avocados...not a whole lot of that going around Nashville about 50 years ago. But, Nowadays, you can't throw a rock without it breaking through the window of a mexican restaurant and landing in plate full of guacamole and pico de gallo. My true roots lie in Nashville...in the south...no doubt about it...my southern accent (which I used to never notice, but have now come to love and love to play up) will give it away everytime. My true roots lie with a people of strong will and determination...people who work hard and sacrifice for what they have. A people who won't take handouts...A prideful people. A people who believe that God helps those who help themselves. When I think of my roots, I think of my grandparents and who they are, where they came from, what they've sacrificed and accomplished in their lives, and all that they have to be proud of. What a small world we live in now...so many complex cultures touching each of us and influencing what we believe, how we think, how we act, what we say, and how we perceive each other. In Nashville...you can get your southern style meat and three at Cracker Barrel, or walk next door and get your Enchilladas and Margaritas at Cancun. You pick. :)

It's hard to put my finger on it...but people here definately have their perceptions of how the west...how the US is. And whether or not those perceptions are reality is beside the point. Without batting an eyelash, alot of people here have just quickly reduced me to their American steoreotype and gone on about their lives. Let me quote an article I read in Newsweek called, "Asia's New Gods".

"Most Asians are unaware that Christian evangelical movements have gained enormous political power in America. And if they were to learn this, they would be mystified. Their images of America remain the old ones: scenes of Hollywood and sexual permissiveness, secularism, money worship and devotion to modern science and technology. None of these squares with an America under the sway of fundamentalist or evangelical Christianity."

I really do think alot of Filipinos view Americans as void of any sort of spiritual conscience, reasoning, or drive. And It may all be in my head...but then again...I don't think it is... Some people around here make a point of speaking English...and loud enough for me to hear...when it comes to talking about money...and when they're trying to put on an authoritative air. Through the act of speaking, people here subtley convey their association of being money-centric know-it-alls with being American...or with being any westerner I suppose. Sometimes people here think they are immulating Americans and American ways of thinking...when they really aren't...at all. Not all Americans are money-centric...and not all Americans are know-it-alls...and I know that for a fact... ;P

I guess my point in all this is...for all the differences we like to point out...all the time...not only between one American and another, or Americans and Filipinos, or one Filipino and another, or even one Igorot tribe and another...we all have more in common than we admit. We're all spiritual beings...and yep, we can all be money-centric and know-it-alls at times. The ironic thing though...one of our biggest similarities is that each of our cultures is unique. I'll always find it interesting just how much effort someone from Bontoc will put into making sure I know how different the Bontoc dialect and traditions are from say, Sagada or Besao which is just an hour or so up the road. A healthy pride is the driving force for pointing out those differences...The desire to come from and represent something beautiful and unique. Whether or not we afford it to each other, we all come from unique cultures...unique blends of influences. For me, I wouldn't trade my roots for anything. And though it's pretty obvious, haan ak Ifontok (I'm not from Bontoc), some ideas and traditions that I've learned here will find a permanent home in my mind and heart and will inevitably contribute to who I am and who I will continue to evolve into once I go back home to the US.

I'd have to live here for years...many more years that is...to begin to understand the subtle differences between the culture and language here in Bontoc vs. the culture and language an hour away in Sagada, or much less, across the bridge in Samoki. And I guess it's the same with the Ifontoc's perspective of the US. They'd really have to live there for years to see and experience and understand the differences between regional cultures and subcultures formed from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, and hear the different spoken accents and slang associated with each.

I thought I'd end this blog with a little humor...just some cultural observations, mostly for the enjoyment of the those Filipinos who read my blog. ;)

You know you're in the Philippines, or maybe Bontoc specifically when...

1- Someone text messages you at 5:30 AM with a forward about God or just wishing you a "gud mOwin"

2- your morning alarm clock is a symphony of snorting and grunting pigs impatiently awaiting their breakfast, and the "shh shh shh" sounds of stick brooms sweeping the street outfront of your house and the cocunut husks buffing the wooden floors inside your house.

3- Miraculously, you find that neither you nor anyone else around you is fat.

4- You're wondering to yourself if you've accidentally happened upon a middle school dance somehow or another...b/c everyone around you seems to be clustered together by sex.

5- ...if you had a peso for every shampoo and conditioner commercial you saw on tv...you'd be a very very rich person.

6- you see a cigarette commercial on tv...and then hear the voice of God say, "Govt. warning...cigarette smoking MAY be dangerous to YOUR health."

7- Only the Bakla wear makeup...but then again, they're really the only ones who need to.

8- guys walk around with their pant legs rolled up, their t-shirts pulled up to their armpits, and plastic bags on their heads...all for good reasons...well...except for maybe the whole t-shirt thing...ain't nobody want to see no belly.

9- You can take 10 steps in any direction and find yourself in a different "neighborhood" or section within a barangay.

10- Everyone's baby is the cutest thing in the world.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

11-4-06

Ok, so I said that I wouldn't write anymore blog entries...so I lied.

What have I been doing with myself lately? Well, I've been a reading machine for one. Read more fiction these past few months than I've probably read in the past 10 years, no joke. Recommendations...Two books by Carol Goodman, "The Seduction of Water", and "The Lake of Dead Languages". Those may have been the only two she's written, if so...she done good. I think her writing meshes more with the female psyche though, so needless to say, I'd recommend her books to mainly females...but if you're a guy and you'd like to read her...by all means. I read one intense book about drug abuse..."A Million Little Peices" by James Frey...I'd recommend reading it if anything to experience one man's journey all the way to the bottom and back. I'm not sure how much in the book is true to the author's life. It was originally sold as an autobiography, but I think, later, it was found out that he made alot of it up? Nevertheless, the imagery will slap you in the face. I appreciate that throughout the whole book he never blames his addictions on anyone or anything else other than himself. He never plays the victim card...except that if he is a victim, he is a victim of nothing other than himself. I appreciate as well, his description of that which is inside of him which drives him to drugs. He calls it the "fury"...he has no idea where it came from...it's always been there. And he realizes, it will always be there. The major part of his ability to overcome his addiction was to acknowledge this fury, recognize it for what it is and what it does to him, and, ultimately, when it shows its head, which it will always continue to do, to just... always be stronger than it. In the end, the way he overcame his addiction was to always be stronger than the fury...and just...not drink...not smoke crack. Alot easier said than done, but...in order to truly overcome, that's what has to be done. If you don't want to smoke crack...you gotta...well...not smoke crack, diba? (right?)

Thank God I'll never have to battle his exact type of fury...it's pretty safe to say that I'll never smoke crack...but I'm not naive enough to think that I could never have..say...a drinking problem or something like that...so, I realize, I better deal with my, for lack of a better word, fury, in other ways.

I'm not sure if it's my being here on the other side of the world, or if it's my getting older...or maybe it's just a combination of things that has helped me realize that I do have a fury inside of me...we all do I'd venture to say. The question is...are we able to recognize it?...and if so, what are we gonna do about it? Let it rule us? ...I don't think so. Well, atleast not all the time. For me, at this stage of my life, and for a good while, my fury has been dissipointment in myself...and depression. And I'll be honest, I mainly stopped writing blog entries b/c my fury was getting the MUCH better of me. How can I be stronger than it? Well...write atleast one more blog entry for starters. ;) ...other than that...not sure. I've got the rest of my life to figure it out, and figure it out I will.

This past 1st and 2nd of November was all Saints day and All Souls day, respectively. I went to the town cementary (Campo Santo) to celebrate.Some dude asked me if I knew how to paint. I said yep. He asked me if I could paint his grandparent's "tomb". Side note- When I say tomb, I mean more of a large trough sized cement box. Those who are laid to rest in Campo Santo are laid to rest above ground, in cement boxes...more or less. To help with the description, most cementeries here are similar to cementeries in New Orleans. Plus, here they put more than one family member in each box...tomb. However, each person is in his own coffin inside the tomb. And on All Saints and All Souls day, people go to the cementaries, light candles, lay out fresh flowers, and put fresh coats of paint on the tombs. But anyway, dude asked me if I could paint his grandparent's tomb. I did... He also asked me to write his grandparents' names, birthdates, and deathdates on it. He said that he wanted me to give it my "techie" touch. he he. I got as far as finishing the grandfather's info, and then a heavy rain kept me from the grandmother's. As silly as it sounds, I really really enjoyed holding that paint brush in my hand for the short time that I did. And I really liked focusing on painting those letters as perfectly as I could. I just really enjoyed painting which is something I haven't done in a long long while. I still find it funny to think that I entered UT Knoxville thinking that I could possibly go for a degree in art...and then, what...3...4 years later, I'm focusing so hard on learning how to be a computer tech...that I just stop drawing...and painting...and doing anything remotely artistic altogether. Other than just telling this story for the sake of telling it, I think I've realized that I really need some artistic outlet in my life to keep me going...keep me inspired...help me be stronger than my fury. Ironic that I gotta paint somebodies grave to be reminded of it...to be reminded that I gotta paint...or draw...or write...or do something creative to keep me alive.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

10-11-06

Might of thought I dropped off the face of the earth?? ...still here... I'm done with the DB...for all intents and purposes. Now it's up to those who would use it..to well...use it. :) We'll see if that happens. Now I'm working on helping 10 students put together a digital yearbook. I'm the unofficial photographer for all teachers and kids. Each friday, I'm taking pics of kids all day long... It's fairly organized, so I'm herding em thro pretty quickly and efficiently...it's just, there are alot of kids, period, so it's gonna take a lot of time to snap all their pics.

So...I probably won't be posting anymore blogs... mostly for the fact that I realized...I don't like writing about me an my life until I know whose gonna be reading what i write (if anyone).

No biggie though...just shot me an email if you'd like to know what's going on with me. yount521@yahoo.com is the only email I can check these days. I'll write you back and update you. :)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

3 Igorot Folktales

***Hopefully these stories will make up for my lack of blogging these days. Each of these 3 stories will either make you laugh out loud, make you go, “huh??”, or both. This first story is a lesson in origin…enjoy***

The Origin of the Anus in the People of Madatag

In the early days when life was at its beginning, it came about that a man from Madatag met and wooed a woman named Pakiyan, who came from another place. They were married and went to live in the husband’s house in Madatag.

Pakiyan noticed a strange custom which the people there had. They ate only the vapor which comes off cooked rice. She became consumed with curiosity as to why they followed this custom. Finally she thought that maybe their bodies were different. So one night, full of curiosity, she went over the body of her husband and examined it. To her surprise, she found that there was no hole where the anus should be.

Pakiyan was very sorry for her husband and wanted to help him. So she took her sharp stick and made an anus for him. In the morning they found that he could now eat just as Pakiyan herself could. The other people saw the husband eating rice and asked Pakiyan how it was done. She told them and showed them how to make an anus.

So now the people of Madatag are just the same as other people.

(This tale must be true for a woman told it to me).

***…And we all know women never ever lie!! duh... This next story is more bizarre than anything…take a look…***


The Story of the Skeleton

There was a man, Donkoan. His wife died leaving several children. One night he arranged with one son to go fishing with him. They prepared rattan to string the fish on, and dried sticks for the torch. Then they went and caught many fish. The load became heavy for the son and he wanted to go home; but the father wanted more fish. So they stringed some of the fish on the rattan in the water and fished on up the river. Thus they came to a far place where there were houses. “See the light in the houses,” said the son. “Those are only our relatives, my son. I will go and ask them for tobacco,” replied Donkoan. He went and called to the people, asking for fire. The people in the houses roused up at hearing a stranger in the night. Finding him to be an enemy, they killed Donkoan and took his head. But Donkoan returned to his son without his head. The son did not notice in the dark that his father was headless and they started home. The father was in a hurry to get home as he had now changed to a skeleton. So he carried his son, together with all their equipment and fish. When they reached home, Donkoan told his children to guard the house well as he himself would become destructive.

The children barricaded the house so that the skeleton could not get in. The skeleton, balangobang, returned to the houses where he was killed and tried to get his head back; but the people took the skeleton and tied it in the top of a betel-nut tree.

The children had hidden themselves from their father in a big jar. They put the dog with her puppies on top as protection. When the skeleton returned, it spend the night trying to break down the wall of the house but the barking of the dog prevented him.

The skeleton then started to return to the place where he was killed. On the way he met a woman and brought her to the place so that the people would give her the same treatment he had and she would be like him. But when they came to the houses, the woman dove into a nearby lake. The skeleton hid in the bushes. A bird told him not to come out. Then it flew to the top of the betel-nut tree and got the head for the skeleton. It flew back and forth. While the bird was near Donkoan, the wound in the head became better. After it had flown several times, Donkoan became all right again just as before. He took the woman and escaped home that night. He asked the children to open the door; but they said their father had died. He asked them to let him in anyway. Finally, they did. He asked them to cook rice; but they said that they had none. At last Donkoan convinced his children that he was their father and related his story.

Donkoan married the woman, whose name was Daloquilmay, and they all lived happily together.

***Gah! I hate skeletons…they’re so destructive! But, I’m sure we can all sympathize with Donkoan anyway…I know I hate those days when I turn into a skeleton and have to go through heck and highwater just to get my head back! ...but anyway…let’s read the next story. See if you can gather the moral.***


Sorab and the Two Boys

Once upon a time there lived in a remote barangay of Apayao an old woman and her two sons.

On the other side of their settlement, there dwelt also a giant named Sorab, with his children.

One fine morning, the two boys told the mother to cook their breakfast for they were going to work in their kaingin (field). So their mother did.

They went and worked in their kaingin continuing for many days until they were able to plant some rice.

Months passed by; the rice plants grew. One day the eldest brother sent his younger brother to see their growing rice. When he reached the kaingin, the wind was blowing so hard that it caused the plants to move to and fro. The boy commanded the plants to stop; but the wind kept on blowing. This made him angry. So he cut all the plants down and went home.

When he reached home, the boy told his older brother what he had done to their plants. This made his brother angry.

The next day, the elder brother went to visit their kaingin. Before he left, he told his younger brother to bathe their mother for she was already old. The boy heated the water in a pot to its boiling point. Then he carried his mother and put her in a tub full of the boiling water. This burnt her so severly that her skin fell off from the flesh and she died.

After several hours, the older brother returned and his younger brother met him so joyously telling his big brother that their mother was sleeping soundly after taking her bath. The big brother went to see her, but he found his mother dead. He was so angry that he sent his brother to go and call for Sorab, the giant, to come and eat their mother. The lad was willing and ran as fast as he could to perform his errand.

When he reached the house of Sorab, the boy told the giant that his mother was dead and that he was sent by his brother in order to request Sorab to come and eat her. Sorab agreed to go as long as the boy would stay and take care of his children.

Sorab went away on his errand. After a while the children began to cry. The boy tried to stop them; but they would not stop. At last he took an aliwa (a magical object that will do whatever you want it to) and killed them all. Then he started for home.

On his way, he met Sorab who asked him about his children. The boy told him that they were all fast asleep. So each continued to his home.

The boy related to his brother what he had done to the children of Sorab. This filled his brother with fear. They were afraid of the giant: So they ran away. On their way, they came to a deep river and saw a big tree on the other side. They climbed the tree to hide themselves; but Sorab was able to follow and discover them. Sorab called and asked how they had crossed the river. One of the two brothers said that they had tied big stones around their necks and jumped into the roaring water. Sorab followed the lad’s directions. He took a big stone which he could hardly lift and tied it around his neck. He jumped into the water and never came out again.

***…Dude…I thought for sure there would be some sort of lesson telling us why its not good to be a bad person. As evidenced by his actions, younger brother was definitely bad. 1- He has definite control issues, 2- he has absolutely noooo conscience, 3- he is a pathological liar, and 4- he is a cold blooded killer. He’s a complete psychopath! And what is his fate? What does Karma have in store for him?? …absolutely nothin. He gets away with it all!!

On the other hand, the lessons that we can glean from this story are…1- If you want to do something right (and insure that no one dies in the process), you better do it yourself, 2- You betta ask somebody if s/he ever tells you someone else is “sleeping,” and 3- Stupidity is bad. If you think you should tie a friggin stone around your neck and throw yourself into a river...then you probably should.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Trip to Japan

I'm sitting in a cubicle in the back of the Internet cafe in Manila. I usually just take any pc this particular cafe gives me, which is usually in the front near the door...but this time, I asked if I could specifically have one in the back. After having returned from my oh so short trip to Japan...I think I'm just much more conscious of noise pollution. How can I describe my impressions of Japan? Japan is beautiful!! It's quiet, clean, and efficient. People are fast-paced, yet not pushy or overbearing. They are polite and conscious and respectful of others. My brother hit the nail on the head when he said that they are a a society which focuses on the details. I think he's very right about that. And its all of those little details which make Japan such a breath of fresh air and such a pleasant place to be. Another pcv who has been to Japan used the word "sterile" to describe it. Relatively...she may be right.

Most people ride bikes to get around town which helps soooo much with noise pollution and gaseous emissions. Its just an easy thing to do because of the way the cities and towns are structured. Buildings are close together, but at no point do you feel like they're too close or infringing upon your privacy or personal space or anything. We spent one afternoon in a touristy city called Himeji where we were able to borrow bicycles for free! We rode them up to this huge castle up on a hill. It was such a fun way to spend an afternoon.

Most places I went to, I saw absolutely no trash anywhere. First of all...recycling bins are everywhere, so its practically impossible to not throw things away and not throw them into the proper bins when you do. Usually, bottles and cans have one bin, paper another, plastic another, and everthing else goes into the "other" bin. One morning we were caught off guard when we saw a large group of business men and women "in suits" walking up and down one of the sidewalks picking up trash...not sure if it was "corporate clean up day" or if that was normal, daily procedure. There wasn't a ton of trash on the ground to begin with, but what was there, they were sure to take care of. Floors in homes and temples are immaculate because you have to take off your shoes (or occasionally swap them with indoor slippers) before entering. And you must take off your shoes for sure when entering a bedroom or a room with the traditional japanese tatami mats. I've always been one to leave my shoes on when I'm entering a house b/c i never wanted to get my feet dirty. But, b/c no one ever enters these houses, rooms,and temples with shoes, the floors are completely dirt free. At the same time, most people still sleep on mats on the floor, so its good to know that the floor you're sleeping on is clean. You pull them out at night before you go to bed and pack them up in the mornings to give yourself more floor space during the day.

The Japanese deserve a standing ovation for their toilets alone. First off, public restrooms are a plenty and they are always stocked with TP and sinks with soap. Many public restrooms will have both styles of toilets; Western and Japanese. The Japanese style is sort of like a little rectangular pit that you squat over. You only have to use them once to get the hang of them. Most of the time, there will be a handle bar on the wall you face. Grabbing hold of it while squating and then leaning back into the squat helps with balancing. At the same time, the pit will have a grill on it which protects you from any splashing. The western style toilets are the bomb though. Many times, the seats are heated, and they usually come with three different types of badets (splashing which cleans you up after you've done your business). There is also a button you can press which makes the sound of flushing in case you're bashful and don't want anyone to hear you while you're doing your business. And when you actually do flush the toilet, the water used for refilling the toilet is first routed through a small faucet and sink before it makes it to the bowl, so you can wash your hands if you like without having to use more water.

Most people have bathtubs too, but they're a bit shorter and deeper than the ones in the states. Most importantly, they're used solely for relaxation, not for cleaning. Traditionally, one suds up and rinses off while seated on a stool in the shower. After the shower s/he can fill the tub with water just to soak in it. One of the coolest things I had a chance to do while in Japan was experience a traditional, public Japanese bath. You have to bring your own shampoo, soap, and towl. Men and women have their own bathing areas also. You pay to enter first and then you walk into a locker room. Once inside the locker room, you strip down completely and then walk into the bathing area to take your shower. It was much harder to strip naked infront of my friends and a roomful of other women than I thought it was gonna be! It took Peyton and I about 10 minutes of nervously giggling before we had finally stripped ourselves of everything...but we were still tiptoein around with our towels. After a few more minutes, a Japanese lady finally ended up just bluntly telling us that we needed to put our towels in our lockers and make our way to the bathing area. We took our (oh so pleasantly hot) showers while seated on stools. After our showers we had so many bathing pools with so many varying degrees of temperatures to choose from. Also, some had jacuzzi bubbles, others had small water falls...all for massaging and relaxing. However, I made the mistake of walking into a section of one of the pools with friggin voltage running through it!!! And yes, the voltage was meant to be there. It wasn't alot of course, but it was enough for me to feel like there was a definate problem. At first I didn't know what was going on...I just knew something didn't feel quite right with my body. And then I looked down, and saw all the what looked to be "power outlets" submerged along the edge of the pool. I made a little scene when I yelped and jumped out...lots of little Japanese women just started chucklin. Throughout the evening, I saw quite a few women venture into the voltage pool without batting an eyelash.

There are many many other things I'd love talk about as well, but at this point, this monitor's refresh rate is about to give me a massive headache. Also, I just want to post my pics. I'll write more about the trip later. I uploaded pics to my flickr acct. Look under "trip to Japan." I'm a bit confused b/c I rotated all the pics that needed to be rotated before I uploaded...but it didn't seem to take. sorry...I'll try to fix it later.

Friday, June 16, 2006

6-12-06


We've entered rainy season number 1 of the year. It rains practically everyday now, at almost 2:00PM on the dot. Good for the harvest...bad for one of my only forms of entertainment...basketball. There has been a basketball tournament going on in the plaza for a couple of months now. I'm sure it would have been long over by now, except for the fact that all the games keep getting rained out.

School started last week. Its been good so far. Small groups of students have started using the internet lab again...mostly for just listening to online music. ...I guess I can weather another year of scorpions, guns n roses, and man o war. Its kind of interesting that some of the songs the 15 year old boys love (don't cry tonight, november rain) were popular when I was 15.

Also, a handful of students have approached me about helping with the school's website. As soon as this db is done...which it's almost at the point of implimentation btw, I'll teach a handful of frontpage (and maybe dreamweaver classes) to the interested students so we can start working on a website for the school.

Today was independance day...independance from the US, that is. The Philippines has gained its independance from not only the US, but Spain and Japan as well. I marched in the parade today with all the other teachers from the highschool. (The above pic was taken while I was marching) It felt a little weird...just for a moment that is. ..."Hey Nancy, you want to march in the parade with us celebrating the fact that we finally got those friggin Americans out of our way and off our back." he he... For real though, there was no awkward moment. People truly are happy (I think...I mean they're certainly not hostile or anything) to see Americans around town as well as just tourists in general. Its funny though...I've been in this town for over a year now, and I can still fool people into thinking I'm a tourist. All it takes is for me to put on a backpack or a pair of shorts...and suddenly I'm a new face in town. I think its just that "all white people look the same" thing that throws them off. There is only one difference though between being a tourist vs. not. If ur a tourist, every kid that passes you on the street will call out to you, "hey americano, give me one piso!" ...the general response to that is, "hey filipino, give me one dollar." he he :D

I now have a kadwa (site mate)...a new batch of pcvs has entered the Philippines. They finished their training about two weeks ago and one of the pcvs was placed here in Bontoc with me. His name is Dan. He's a musician from Austin, TX and all around very cool. He'll work with the provincial govt. in attempting to help them solve water supply and waste management issues. He may be a bit overwhelmed at the moment with the tasks that lay before him...but no doubt he'll find his niche soon. He's a smart guy and a fast learner. There were things he picked up on in a week which took me a month or two to actually figure out. ...I've always been a late bloomer, what can I say.

So...I'm taking a trip to Japan in July!!! Teri, the volunteer in Besao is ETing. She's got family in Japan (her mom's side is Japanese) so, she's actually flying to Japan first before she goes back to the US. Peyton, a volunteer in Solano, and I are gonna take a week of vacation and go and visit her while she's in Japan. The funny thing is, Peyton and I will probably get to Japan before Teri does. So, we'll stay in a hotel in Tokyo for the first night. The rest of the time, we'll stay with her and her family in Yokohama, just south of Tokyo. I have no idea what to expect or what we'll do. I'll try googling for some things to see and do before we go, but for the most part, I guess we'll just go wherever the wind takes us, or wherever we have enough money to go (whichever)...I've heard (repetitively) that its not cheap there.

I had a chance to read somemore Igorot folktales and legends the other day. They were sooooo awesome and entertaining...most of them were kinda bizarre actually, but that was one thing that made them so great! There was one legend that detailed the origins of the anus (believe it or not...he he)...I'll post it and a few others next time I get around to writing a blog.