philippines

My Summer Vacation, Part III: Flying High With Ms. Biscuit

Manila. We were just cleaning up after one mess, when another fell from the sky. Unless you’ve been vacationing in your fortress of solitude for the past month, you’ve probably heard every bit of news about the Malaysian Airlines flight shot down over Ukraine, so I won’t go into it much, except to say that boarding our own flight, prefixed with “MH,” there was a definite chill in the air aside from the blast freezer that is Filipino air conditioning. It was quite apparent that everyone was doing everything they could to think about anything but high-altitude death.

Everyone, that is, except for one woman.

Let me digress for one moment here. Air travel, in general, sucks. Before being allowed anywhere near the aircraft, there are queues, scans, queues, more scans, queues, questions, queues, and, if you happen to be flying in the US, the surrender of dignity and the very real possibility of nudity. And of course, there are more queues.

But once you’re up in the air, flying doesn’t need to be a horrible experience. It’s not the subway, where the accepted method of communicating with your neighbor is keeping your mouth shut and your eyes on the floor or some other inanimate object. In fact, airplanes are one of the few vehicles in which turning to your neighbor and attempting conversation is still almost universally considered not weird.

Almost.

It was about 20 or 30 minutes into our flight, right around the time when those who were going to try and catch a nap on the four-hour flight were getting comfortable. A loud voice popped my comfortable bubble of pleasure, just as I was settling into a book. It wasn’t the tone that screams danger–just the kind that indicates that the four hours are about to feel like six.

“Rosemary! Rosemary! You have to try these biscuits! My children love them!” the woman crowed from the row behind us.

And so it began. Demands for biscuits and drinks came first, quickly followed by an analysis of the crash of MH17, particularly the fact that many, many AIDS researchers had been on board. If there is one thing that nervous passengers trapped in a flying metal cylinder six miles up do not want to hear, it is an analysis of a recently doomed flight from the same airline. People were turning around, giving her the evil eye, but some part of her brain interpreted “potential angry mob” as “rapt audience.” And in a sense, we were. She was so loud that almost everyone within three rows had their airline-issued headphones on. And even then, we were captive witnesses to her life story, as told to Rosemary from one middle seat, across the aisle, to another middle seat.

She has three kids: two daughters and a son. One daughter is 27 not married, and worked for Microsoft in Singapore, but moved back to the Philippines. Her mother, of course, wants her to get married, but she (or her mother) is having trouble finding someone at her level.

And then, before launching into the story of her own life, she wanted more biscuits.

She got married at 21 in London. “I was born Hindu, but in 2008, God touched me, and I was born again.” I got that part through a loud fight scene in the movie Ip Man, which I’d thrown on because reading was a fool’s errand. The guy next to me turned to me and we shared a moment. No words were spoken, but we both knew what we wanted to ask: “Now show us on this doll: where did God touch you?”

The story of her religious revelation and conversion to Christianity (a marvelous topic on which to crow loudly while on a plane returning to a Muslim country, by the way) continued unabated for as long as the biscuits lasted. Mercifully, they ran out quickly, and she flagged the cabin crew down for another hit.

“We’re sorry, but we have no more biscuits.” No more?! No more. Just three. No more. Okay, just one, then. “Ma’am, we have run out of bisuits?” But couldn’t they go back and check, pretty please. No. Why? There are none left. It took a delegation of cabin crew to confirm that there were, indeed, no more god damned biscuits, so please shut up about them already. Rebuffed, Ms. Biscuit turned to the topic of bodily functions.

Rosemary has knee problems, and so did Ms. Biscuit, until she started taking something called MSN. I may have changed my mind about her if I thought she had been injecting the Internet into her knees. But nope. No NSA geeks tapping her lower extremities. Oh well.

As we descended into Kuala Lumpur, Ms. Biscuit asked Rosemary to look her up in Indonesia because clearly they had a spiritual connection. As did we all–at least with each other. The level of hostility toward this woman was incredibly tempered, considering how long she had held us all captive. On a flight back from Laos, friends of ours (not terribly inclined toward hyperbole) were witness not to Jesus, but to an epic fight between a German woman and a Malay man after the woman politely asked a group of first-time flyers to please stop praying so loud because it was freaking people out. The man took offense and launched into the woman with a tsunami of invective. The crew apparently tried to calm the man down, but he threatened to kick everyone’s asses, and shook his fist in righteous anger. The woman cowered and broke down sobbing, and the two were separated, the woman moved to the front and the man to the back.

The point is that it could have been a whole lot worse. The B story of this is that on almost any flight in the US, this woman would have been asked to not shout across the aisle, and if she didn’t stop, would probably have been gagged and bound in a very not-sexy way. So maybe we need more doms working for the airlines. No whips, just good knot work.

My Summer Vacation, Part II: Food and Stuff

[I made an edit to my last post. Apparently, the video I had didn’t embed, and I didn’t notice until Trisha pointed it out to me. I’ve put a link in the text.]

On one of my days off (it’s always a working vacation), before Typhoon Glenda hit, I went to the Yummy Eats 2014 food festival. I went primarily to pick up handcrafted, thick-cut bacon from Mad Meats, but once you have a bag of meat, there’s a tendency to start a collection. After all, what good is meat if you don’t have cheese? And what good is cheese if you don’t have artisanal crackers? And so on. I didn’t get a lot of good pictures from the festival, but the following are the ones I thought were worth sharing.

Cream Cheeses

Cream cheeses flavors with herbs and garlic. Very good, but we forgot about them and left the jars I bought in the Philippines.

Pouf!

Pouf! Marshmallow Creme. It came in three flavors: original, Oreo, and cookies and cream. I tried the latter, and it was delicious, but I didn’t think I could transport a jar of it safely back to Malaysia in my baggage.

Chicharrones

Chicharrones. Deep fried pork rinds (pork skin). Absolutely delicious.

Game of Thrones Cake

A Game of Thrones cake!

There were many more booths, one with a lasagna that I loved, but alas, I left my festival guide behind, and can’t remember the names of the vendors.

As always, the food in the Philippines was ridiculously good across the board.

Stay tuned for Part III, in which I drop some helpful tips for not being “that person” on an airplane.

My Summer Vacation, Part I: My First Typhoon

Now that family time is winding down, I thought I’d get back on the horse, writing-wise, and share a few moments from the last two weeks in the Philippines. I’m also going to call the 60-Day Blogging Challenge a loss. I didn’t write every day for 60 days, and even though those days were at the end, when things got super busy, it’s a bit late to ret-con the whole thing as a hiatus. I got close, though, so that’s something. Anyway, enough wallowing.

My First Typhoon

As some people may know, The Philippines got hit with a mid-size typhoon, which, according to most accounts could have been a lot worse.

Here’s a video I took of the winds outside.

The power had gone out, and I was trying to work, using a mobile WiFi device, but service was spotty, especially as cell towers went down, or when flying debris battered them into a wiry pulp. During one service outage, I took the above video, and then, when I’d moved upstairs, I snapped the following picture as one tree began to disintegrate.

Breaking Apart

 

The damage in this particular neighborhood was light: missing roof tiles and shingles, several downed trees, and a couple crushed fences. But a quick excursion into the city proved that the storm had been somewhat stronger than first thought.

Busted Windows

Windows in a nearby high-rise were blown out, and the roof of a hotel (not pictured) was partially destroyed. At one point during the early hours of the storm, something oblong and orange flew by, caromed off the upper wall of the house, and disappeared down the road. I’m almost certain we were hit by a mango, though there remain skeptics. It is possible, nay likely, that those windows fell victim to other such projectiles.

Collapse

Due to the high volume of such storms, the city has taken to having billboards that can roll up and be stored on site. If the advertisement isn’t stowed in time, it can act like a sail and pull the whole structure down with it. Of course, some of these frames are old, have been through several storms already, and are ripe for the picking.

Tree Down

 

Trees like the above and below littered the streets, both in Manila proper and especially in the suburbs, where larger trees caught the wind and toppled over, often taking street signs and chunks of the sidewalk or road with them.

 Another Tree Down, Angle 2 Another Tree Down, Angle 1

 As soon as the winds had died down, reconstruction and debris clearing began, but it turns out, some of the funds going toward disaster recovery are held up due to investigations into corruption and pork-barrel politics. Oops.

Stay tuned for Part II, the lighter, fluffier side of this trip.

Back in the Philippines

I’ve been a little remiss about getting the last few days of the 60-Day Blogging Challenge wrapped up. I should have started earlier, so that the last days of it weren’t a scramble of international travel and family business. Oh well. I’ll try to get the last posts banged out over the next few days.

My future daughter-in-law had her baptism today, something that was, for me, a first. I went to Catholic high school, and have been to full and half Catholic marriages, but am not myself Catholic, and have never been to a real live baptism of a real live baby. Aside from the baptizee soiling herself upon application of the appropriate fluids (I bet the priest would have regretted talking about how the child should be naked as a symbol of rebirth, had the parents opted to go that route), the event was about as smooth as could be expected, which, if you don’t know what to expect, is a rather odd thing to say–but here we are.

The next day or so should be somewhat busy, what with our engagement party and related festivities, so updates may be brief, but they will be forthcoming, even if I am not.

Also, I needed to get this out of my <span style=”font-family: baptismal;”>system</span>.

Bitches and Media Dickery

I spent last evening drinking with my girlfriend’s extended family. Toward the end of the night, one of her relatives told a story that I’m going to try and reproduce here from memory. It may not be accurate to the letter, but it’s going to be close, and as true to the story as I can get it.

You know, our generation of Filipinos is maybe the last one that speaks fluent English. There’s the accent, of course, but you can tell English is going away when you hear the younger people say one word: confirm. They say con-feerm. I always get this: “confirm” is when you know something, and “con-feerm” is when you really, really know it. But I have to tell them: it’s “confirm.” When something’s solid, it’s not feerm; it’s firm.

Another cousin, a teacher and former journalist, jumped in and added something more:

I hear that. I hear another one, too. Kids are always saying they’re going to go to the bitch. They’ve got a bitch house. This bitch is my favorite. It’s like they’re not listening to what they’re saying. ‘The Philippines has a lot of really nice bitches.’ Well….

I guess I’ll get to see for myself, when the family takes a trip to the bitch after Christmas.

The next item on my list is the article BuzzFeed posted about the whole Justine Sacco debacle. If you want to know about it, read it. My first rule of BuzzFeed is don’t talk about BuzzFeed, and I’m bending that rule enough just by doing a quick meta-analysis. The title of the article is: “This Is How A Woman’s Offensive Tweet Became The World’s Top Story.” AP style gripes notwithstanding, there’s something wrong with this whole concept. I’m not going to go down the journalism ethics road, because BuzzFeed isn’t journalism, but it is, unfortunately, news for a lot of people. I see far more articles from this website re-posted to social media than I see from any of the waning heads of the Fourth Estate. The Boston Globe did put out an interesting article on the Tsarnaev brothers, who were (I think we’re still supposed to use the word “allegedly”) responsible for the Boston Marathon Bombing earlier this year, but articles like it aren’t being produced in volume sufficient to keep pace with the more exciting, short-burst consumption that is BuzzFeed.

What troubles me about this particular article is that it involves at least one of BuzzFeed’s staff. If you’re going to claim that a shitty tweet was the world’s top story, even if the hype flared up and burnt out over the course of a day or two, it would seem like a conflict of interest to have your own people commenting on it and ginning up controversy within the same interactive medium. But again, BuzzFeed isn’t journalism. There is no conflict of interest because it is in their interest to keep page views up. They may not have been the ones to start the fire, but fanning the flames couldn’t hurt if there might be an article in it.

Sometimes, though, wish I had that kind of work ethic.

Just the Tip

As I mentioned early on in this blog, I work customer service for a company in the States. All day long, I watch pizza delivery orders pass through our website, and occasionally, a restaurant will call in to add a tip to an order if the customer waited until the food was delivered, or simply forgot to add one. Typically, anything under $10 gets a $1 tip; $10-$13 gets a $2 tip; $13-$17 gets $3; $18-$24 gets $4, and so on. Generally, Americans are pretty good about giving 15-20%. Some people tip less, some more, depending on service, existing delivery fees, personal budget, and the economy, but almost everyone gives something.

The practice of tipping is so ingrained in American culture that we know exactly who to tip and how much. Like American English, though, there are a ton of exceptions, and you learn them along the way, typically by asking someone else. For example, you tip delivery drivers because they’re bringing food from a restaurant to your home, and you also tip waiters because they’re brining the food from the kitchen to your table, but neither tip the UPS guy nor the person behind the counter for takeout (the latter is actually optional, but most people tip much less than 15%). You tip house movers, tattoo artists, and blackjack dealers, but not tow truck drivers, appliance repairmen, or chefs. Oddly, people tip a bartender, but not a barista. Though I did get some tips when I was a barista, they were nothing compared to a bartender’s tips. Both are mixers and preparers of socially accepted drugs, but one earns the big bucks, relatively speaking.

I don’t know if you’re supposed to tip a prostitute or dominatrix, but I Googled it, and there is a pretty even split on the issue. Some say that the fee is all-inclusive, but others say that if you have a regular girl, you might want to tip. There are other issues, like pimps and pay-as-you-go rackets, and it all gets pretty complex. With dominatrices, however, the split leans more toward tip than don’t tip. Anyway, the point is that it’s kind of willy-nilly. There’s no set of rules for who gets tipped. You just have to know. A good starting point is that if there’s skilled/dirty labor involved, you tip them.

In my experience so far in Southeast Asia, tipping is rarer and at a far reduced percentage than in the States. Leaving a little something, like the odd change from a bill, is fine, but on your receipt, you’ll generally find a 10% service charge already included. Restaurants in the States do this, but generally only for large groups of six or more. Here, even if someone’s doing a dirty or service job for you, you still might not tip them. It is almost wholly dependent on the person, place of business, and region. For instance, everyone I’ve talked to who’s been to Japan and Korea, say that it’s frowned upon as an insult. In Malaysia, it’s more accepted, but I’ve tipped two people at the same place and been met with two different reactions. And once, I tried to tip a guy and he just stormed off. Lesson learned. I haven’t had the opportunity to tip here in the Philippines, but I’ve been told that while it’s not frowned upon, it’s not really a thing; there’s no set percentage, and people tend to give a few coins or whatever they feel is appropriate.

Americans are so used to tipping that when, in places like Boston that are saturated with college students from around the globe, we don’t get tipped or see someone not getting tipped, we lose our minds. For the most part, we treat service jobs as lower class or a transition from one place to another in life. A job as a waitress might be a way to get through college, or it might be a way to work your way up to management, where you get paid enough not to need tips. It’s kind of a trial by fire. In one sense, tips, in the American experience, are a way of encouraging excellent performance through incentive–positive reenforcement. In another sense, it’s a way of motivating people upward, through the knowledge that because they rely on tips to survive, they are the lowest on the heap and need to fight their way up. Bootstraps, or whatever. But philosophy aside, tips are a way of supplementing employees’ meager wages in an industry that can’t afford to provide for its own people. At least in America.

The Philippines: First Night, First Impressions

After a long day of travel and several drinks, I groused that I wanted to postpone the last five days of this 30-day blogging challenge until the Christmas festivities are over, but was told in return–in no uncertain terms–that I was to finish this thing and not make excuses. No rest for the wicked. So let’s start toward the top of this travel experience, and then get to the Philippines, because chronology.

A couple months ago, I posted about a taxi driver, Mr. Zain, who defied the laws of gods and men to get us to the LCCT airport a full half hour before reasonable expectations. Today, he chopped at least another fifteen minutes off that journey. At one point, I could swear that the tires left the road ever so briefly as we crested the top of a rise. As gravity yanked us back from our flight of fantasy, I felt my internal organs rise in my chest cavity. Part of the experience is a bit melancholy. In another life, this guy would be a fighter pilot or captain of a rocket to the moon. But we only get the one, and looking back at the choices we could have made and the decisions we should have reconsidered can only cause grief.

In the car I heard a cover of a pop song that I’ve probably hear a few dozen times, but oddly I can’t put a name to it. The only reason I mention this is because it was a mariachi version in Tamil. Perhaps the mind-destroying combination is what is preventing me from remembering the name of the song.

At the airport, it took us about a long time to find the place where we needed to check in, because, of course, there were no signs up. The counter itself wasn’t even labeled. We ended up finding it by locating the long, snaking line of Filipinos. Once we checked in, we found one of my girlfriend’s colleagues, who is also spending the holiday in Manila. As we sat, waiting for our delayed flight, the following exchange took place:

Lucy: “What’s the difference between Asia Air and Asia Air Zest?”

Emmett: “About an hour and a half wait, apparently.”

Lucy: “More time in the airport!”

Indeed.

Over the past month or so, I’ve been working my way through Asimov’s Foundation, but with maybe twenty minutes a night to read before sleep overtakes me, I hadn’t made much progress. But I got a ton of time to read on the plane, and it seems that Hardin’s headed to Anacreon, and shit’s getting real.

As a welcome to the Philippines, we were taken directly off the plane, put onto buses, driven twenty-five yards and then deposited in front of the gate.

I was told that traffic round Manila was going to be insane, especially so close to Christmas, and that it’d probably take at least an hour to get to my girlfriend’s parents’ place, but not including a stop for petrol, it took twenty minutes. When we were in the car, I was taking some video on an iPhone (which I can’t/haven’t uploaded yet) when someone exclaimed, “Look at that traffic!” and pointed out of the left side of the car.

“That’s a parking lot!” I said, and then realized that I was taking video of an actual parking lot. It was not a proud moment. Still, the traffic was pretty gnarly.

Speaking of gnarly, the internet is spotty, so hopefully I’ll get a post out tomorrow, let alone show up for work.