Friday, September 28, 2012

Oslob, Cebu: weekend of a lifetime

I met Alex Erano from the island of Bohol through Couch Surfer. I was originally going to stay with him in Tagbilaran City but he was headed  my way for a little adventure of his own. Together we put together a sort of itinerary and made a weekend out of it. The ENTIRE first day was consumed by his waiting for the 4pm ferry because the 10am ferry was literally commandeered by the Vice President of the P.I. making a big deal about a housing project in Cebu. Apparently, preparing for the election requires helicopters, ferries, army vehicles, and lots of drama. So our first day was a bit of a waste as far as Alex was concerned, because he has a limited weekend's amount of time for this short but eventful excursion.

I was just walking around trying to get my phone to work. The GSM phone I brought with me has a software problem I've been trying to fix. I'm borrowing a phone from Karen, bought a SIM card, and 'load' for it, but it still won't work. Even landlines won't work for me, only locals. I press the same exact buttons and when I do it, whatever device I'm trying to use simply does not work. So frustrating! I'm going back to living without a phone. The sim card's supposed to work for emergency numbers regardless of anything, so I guess that'll have to do.

Serious Bamboo! - Tumalog Falls
Anyway, besides trying to charge the battery and get my phone to work so I can contact Alex, I walked around Argao, where my bus landed and ended up at the beach (I knew my feet were taking me there long before I could smell the salt). I perched myself on this wall over looking the sand, and one by one over the course of half an hour, the entire neighborhood gathered around me on or near the wall. Entire families and friendship networks showed up to talk, banter, offer me to their young maids, put hats on my head, have me hold their children, and invite me to their homes. So loving! Not a single mocking or ingenuine smile among them. It was a little party there just because I was seeking some alone time with the sound of the waves. So I have open invitations to stay or paddle a boat around in that area whenever I want, and some good memories to go with them.

Puppy Love
I ended up having to backtrack up to Taloot because Alex didn't look into his travel plans as much as I expected him to. I found out when we met up that he just had a vague idea of where we might go, he really just wanted to follow my lead and learn why the "gypsy life is cool, bro!" Alex is a goofy, 27-year-old guy who is extremely nice and hospitable. He has hosted so many travelers from all over the world on his couch in Bohol, and he's lived vicariously through them all. What does goofy mean? He's a nurse over there, and apparently a 6-year old came in with an infection that necessitated the amputation of his finger. Alex thought, "well, it's not every day you find a finger in the trash!" So he picked it out, brought it downstairs and had it put in a jar of formaldehyde, and gave it to his girlfriend, who looked at him strangely, and said simply, "you're weird". She gave it back to him when she left her apartment and took off to London to study. They're planning to get married and have kids. Alex has trouble breaking out of his shell and thinking outside the social constructs of normal, and yet on some levels he defies normal. I hope he balances out some day.

Sunrise in Oslob
After I backtracked, I took a nap on a bench by the the ferry in Taloot. At one point I struck up a conversation with a random guy nearby who happened to be a local politician who was also present for all of the VP's hullabaloo. Interesting hearing how he had adopted Baringay Taloot as his own family, having grown up there. He told me stories of working as a waiter at a beach resort when he was a teenager, sleeping with all of the foreign women with nothing to lose, getting lots of tips, free food and lodging, and free trips to visit family up north in Cebu City (only about 50km away), his Antonios' Angels crew of cleaning women for the ferry. Nicer than most politicians, especially given that he's on his third, 3-year term in the Barangay where he grew up. But still, I can't stand that politician's smile. You just know from lookin into his eyes that like every other politician he'd done some dirty things to earn or keep his position. Hence the timed insertion of talk about his family and kids.

Alex's ferry finally arrived, and it was obvious he was stressed and frustrated. He had worked the night shift the night before from 12-8am, then packed and left for the 10am ferry, only to be told every other hour or so they would soon be on their way. His ferry became the 4pm afternoon ferry, arriving just as the sun was setting. I say, "Bahala na amigo!" It's a saying that basically means take the shit life throws at you and slough it off. Just let it be. There's no use fighting things you can't control. Unfortunately, through Catholic influence and some warped version of cultural, generational game of "telephone", this saying also became "don't be angry at life or each other, just suck it up and deal with your tragedies; give us a smile!" I didn't mean it in that sense though. It's important to experience negative emotions deeply. I just meant, you're finally through, time for the fun to begin. He took my meaning finally started to relax and focus on the now as we talked. Both of use started the trip tired, but it didn't really hit us until the weekend was over. For now, though, we were both excited to get on the road. Rather than crash at the ferry terminal, we decided to hop on a bus south to Oslob so we could get the jump on whale watching as it ran from 6am-1pm.

We stopped at one company and talked prices (thank goodness Alex speaks Cebuano). And hearing that just to set up tents on the property would cost us 200 pesos, a basic room 800, we decided to try our luck looking for a spot in the forest. We walked along the road and decided to try one more company. They let us crash on the most spongy, full, grass lawn I've ever laid on for the night, for free. Needless to say we went out on the water with them in the morning. The price is double for foreigners, and Alex wanted me to feel less discriminated (lol) so he paid extra so we would pay the same fare. Sweet no? We took turns covering fares for the rest of the trip, and with my memory for numbers I calculated it came out pretty darn even. Awesome. One more odd thing about Alex that became immediately apparent. Food. Since he was born he's had a mental allergy to fruits. All fruits. Doesn't eat hardly any vegetables. His travel food was white bread with some packaged, processed, liquid corned beef stuff. Yum. I had brought some dinner leftovers, nuts, dried peas, and an avocado. That ended up lasting me the whole trip. Timing to build a fire and cook, taking up an hour for food, just didn't seem right given Alex's "What's next?" energy. Not a problem for three days. I survived.

Set up tents (ants were prolific in the grass, otherwise I would have just laid down to sleep), ate food crashed hard just after sunset, and woke up in time for sunrise. Paid 750 pesos each to swim in the water with whale sharks that are baited. I knew that they were baited, and I felt bad, but I caved. Just too amazing to go swimming with whale sharks. What was it like? They're HUGE of course. They take us 100m out from shore to a viewing area using small paddle boats. I counted five different sharks. We were in the water almost an hour with them, trying to remember how to snorkle (hadn't done it except 5 years before, gimme a break : ). They give you an orienation before you go in about how far you should stay away, don't touch, no flash, protect them! Then they bait them with minimal plankton and fish guts, never giving them a break from 6am to 1pm every day to find and eat an actual meal for themselves. It takes some serious amounts of plankton to build these massive creatures. Anyway, the sharks of course, don't follow rules. At one point I was watching one when my ear pops above the water and I hear a half-hearted shriek. I turn around, and by far the biggest of the five sharks is slowly barrelling towards me an arm's reach away. Instinctively, I put my hand out to its nose to let it know I was there (duh, it knows I'm there). People above water say, "Don't touch!" The shark slowly angles around me knocking me with its left fin and then its tail fin. Something similar happened a couple more times. It was absolutely fantastic. Didn't know before I came here that the Philippines is one of the only places in the world where whale sharks consistently find and stay in a bioregion with good habitat for them.

 We walked from sea level up to here, the view from the top
We packed up and walked back up the road to Tumalog Falls. We could either pay 30 pesos each to go up, or we could walk the 3.5km up the road to the Falls. I look to Alex, who has this look of fear in his eyes knowing I'm gonna say, "Let's walk!" I asked several times if it's okay that we walk. Not objecting we head uphill. He'd never walked anything like that in his life, whereas I had done things like walking 10 miles to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and then back up in one day. I had my big pack, and he had this tiny thing that weighed maybe 8 lbs. He was dying after 150m. We slowed our pace and made our way up to the top. I was really proud of him for not givin up, and he felt so good at the top. We paid our 20 pesos each entrance fee to the trail to the Falls. I walked faster than him down the steep incline towards the falls that lay nestled in this small saddle between hills. There on the right side of the road, basking in the sun, was a monitor lizard three feet long! It was surprised by my running down the hill and took off way before I could get a really good look at it, but it was so amazing!

Approaching Tumalog Falls

The falls themselves were the most serene and beautiful falls I've ever seen. It's hard to describe or take a photograph that could do it justice. There were so many terraces and so high up. The water flowed down from different spots pretty evenly about 30' long, about 100' high. It was like two-dimensional healing rain. It was water so the terraces were mineral deposits. We filled our water bottles using my filter, and the water tasted so much better than the sparkletts-style filtered water down in the city. We sat and had lunch washed down with a can of red horse. Two different kinds of lizards skipped or swam across the pond at the base of the falls. Of course, one kid used his sandal to terrify and catch one against Alex and my vehement protests. Must have more of those lizards somewhere else cause the kid was so intent on catching that sucker.

Coming back down the hill

Tiki pots on the way to Kawasan
We walked back down the road to where we started and caught a bus to take us around the southern tip and up to Kawasan Falls. Phony guides offer their "services" at the entrance to the obvious trail. After the 50-peso entrance fee, we walk about 1km along the river's flat banks up towards the falls, small communities mushroomed in pockets along the river. The falls itself are a 1/2-km long complex of falls surrounded by bistros, pension houses, and nipa huts. Not serene, not secluded, but still beautiful. Saw some amazing plants and flowers on the way. Alex is a novice swimmer, so I gave some swimming tips in the main pool. I can't forget these three flamboyant gay buys in bikinis who joined the two of us in the pool. Here it's so much more condemned to be gay, and I guess when they do come out it's all or nothing. Like the backlash has to match the level of social repression gay people feel. Just gay men though. Lesbians don't seem to react in the same way. In general, they're actually more feminine than many lesbians in the States, at least that I've seen so far.

Kawasan Falls, the lowest in the complex

Anyways, from there, we hike back to the road and get on a bus up to Moalboal to the famous White Sand Beach there. We took a motor out to the beach. There were three of us on that tiny scooter, including me and my pack. For 8 bumpy kilometers I struggled to stay on that thing using every last once of strength my core muscles would give me. I was so sore the next day. We camped out on the beach, drank a jumbo Red Horse, and marveled at all of the amazing things we did that day as we watched the moon move creep across the sky. I woke up during the night to realize that I had misread the moon; the tide was moving in, not out. So we moved our tents up into the resort-ish areas, hoping we wouldn't be arrested for tresspassing in the morning. The water never made it up to where our tents were but it was close.

In the morning we swam lazily along the coral reef just along the beach. Alex saw a seahorse! I missed out on that one. Saw some amazingly beautiful coral and fish though. He was too scared to go out there, but the reef dropped sharply at the far edge into dark blue water, a complete contrast to the bright teal from the reef.  The beach is white sand because it's entirely ground shells. We walked along the beach for a bit and then decided to make our way back to the road to head back to Cebu.

Dancin' with the Porno Faggots
The one thing in our trip that I had planned and wouldn't waiver on was a heavy metal show that Karen and I had planned to go to since we realized we had that passion in common. It was 15 local bands. Punk, Heavy Metal, Death Metal, Ska, and Anarcho-Punk. As soon as Alex and I got back to Cebu, I made sure he could make it to his brother's place. I went to Roselynne's to cook vegetables. Yay! Then we the trio headed straight to the venue, F & B Bar. Some covers were played but it was almost entirely original music, including an improvisational band of three members that was awesome! Alex met us there midway through. We smuggled in some 65 proof Tanduay Rum and I finally reached a sensable buzz. The bands appreciated me for starting a dancing circle in the place. It was so much fun! Roselynne conked out early trying to digest some gluten her body took to be some sort of insult. We cabbed it back home, dropped Alex off at his brother's, jammed out on the guitar and uke, and slept around 1am.

Bridge to Kawasan

Standing on said bridge
We woke up the same time in the afternoon. I whipped together food and an outline for my talk later in the evening. At 5pm we went to the Cebu Atheists meeting, the group where Roselynne finally found her niche of open-minded thinkers to call home. I was scheduled to be the guest speaker. Roselynne broached the topic of the damage of grammatically misused "agnostic" and "atheist" in practice. She and I facilitated discussion, and we settled on using the terms as qualifiers. Essentially, the spectrum we settled on goes like this: GNOSTIC THEISTS are the radicals who know without doubt that God exists in the manners they were taught by their religions (Hindu, Muslim, Jew, Christian, etc...) AGNOSTIC THEISTS believe there's a God but are open to the idea that this deity might not exist in the way they were taught, if at all. AGNOSTIC ATHEISTS believe there's no intelligent being ordering existence, or at least reject the spiritual beings and indoctrinations of religions, but are open to the idea that a being might possibly exist in a similar manner told by religions. They simply aren't totally sure. GNOSTIC ATHEISTS are radicals on the other side of the spectrum that know without room for doubt that there is no deity, unifying spiritual power or universal dogma. The Philippine Atheists and Agnostic Society may be inspired to use these terms to revolutionize religious discussions worldwide. 

Power plant on the way to Kawasan Falls
Then came my talk/facilitation on challenging sexism in our daily lives. Half of my audience were 18-19 years old, way ahead of their peers when it comes to existential, independent thought. All together, we were able to articulate the many ways that gender is socially constructed and enforced, where gender politics and sexism originated, biological vs. social gender politics, explored hierarchy and power, unconcious vs conscious sexism, specifics in language, in Filipino culture, individual experiences, other power politics regarding genders other than female, religion, family structures, role models for masculine and feminine sexualities, contrasted masculine hierarchy and feminine egalitarian modules of social organization, feminist ideologies, and so many other things. We also talked about ways to approach challenging so many of these things in our daily lives in the face of strict closed-minded rejection. Then we sang songs about gender norms and played a game that helps people empathize with different hierarchical roles. The patrons at Starbucks were definitely entertained by our antics. The talk went for more than 4 hours. We stayed late talking afterwards and then walked to dinner a long way away from the Starbucks where we held the meeting. We got home that night early in the morning and I couldn't help but bathe in the warmth of an amazing four days in a row. Couldn't believe I did so much in such a short amount of time.

Front view of the power plant
Since then, I've done more shopping, more cooking, and more sleeping to make up for the busy weekend. A few lateish party nights, but mostly staying home, working on the blog, and singing. I've learned several new songs since I've been here thanks to Roselynne's amazing musicality and her guitar, Mango. I made four dozen no-bake vegan chocolate peanut butter cookies, one dozen of which were gluten-free oats for Roselynne. It's been heavenly and lazy these last few days. On Tuesday night, I was up almost to sunrise cranking out a song. It's musically and lyrically deep. Really deep. My mental and physical vitality honestly felt drained by the creativity that flowed out. Called it "Floating". It's about living in the liminal space between sleeping and waking, in the now between the past and the future, in a constant state of transition. I've recovered since that came out of me, but I still need to learn the fucker. It's not easy, of course. I can never make life easy on myself. I'm already jottting down ideas for my next song, something light-hearted and simple with a title something like, "I Murdered My Ego (Now for Yours)." I'll probably record that one before the other one. We the trio watched this film Once together, an awesome Irish-made film that was centered around these two awesome musicians living totally different lives in the film than in real life. Completely inspiring personally and musicaly. LOVE IT. WATCH IT. I've also realized that I need a guitar. That's where I'm headed today and tomorrow. Finding a travel guitar. I think it will be necessary for me.
Where's the David???
This weekend I'm helping Roselynne move, doing the last few things I want to do here, then moving on to Negros. I was invited to a show there by one of the bands at the metal show I went to last weekend. It also just happens to be the Masskara Festival there during that time, a very colorful Mardi Gras-ish festival, the last four days of which are supposed to be stunning. It opens on Oct 1st (won't make that) and closes on the 23rd. From there it's up to Panay, then Corregidor, then back to Luzon. I'm currently exploring several prospects for helping with Philippine Eagle and other conservation work on the island of Luzon. I'm hoping to pick up a good survival knife in Batangas, see Lake Taal, Banaue Rice Terraces, and, I of course still have to visit my own family in the north. From there I can't miss out on Vigan, a town north of where my family lives (pronounced Vegan!) that is one of the only places in the P.I. that still has buildings left from Spanish Rule. Just a few of things on the list. Don't know when I'll get back to post, but it could potentially be a few weeks, so I hope these posts keep you from getting thirsty till then.

LIFE IS TOO DAMNED SHORT! TOO MUCH TO DO! Some days it's harder to accept that I'll never get to do everything I want to in life. Hence the song I wrote. I feel I really have embraced this fact. Till next time! Please send me messages! Even if I don't know you yet!

Healing Present Nature Farm and Wellness Center

My grandparents live in Ajax, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto. They met some Filipino friends there shortly after they moved there. They got to spend lots of time with them and their son, Jon. Jon just moved to the P.I. two months ago to work at an organic farm and wellness center as an apprentice. Anyways, I've been planning to do some WWOOFing in my travels to learn different methods to grow produce organically. I also wanted to meet Jon, this random connection from my homelands. Jon is vegan (most of the time). He is also a kindred spirit to me unlike anyone I know besides Roselynne or Jason. We see the same world in front of us and we're exploring similar ways to navigate it. We see the world in a pretty unusual light.

So does the owner of this farm, Eleanor. She's an incredible human being. The vision she has for this place is finally coming together after three years of work, and it's absolutely gorgeous. She focuses mostly on the wellness center and education sides of things, and Danny runs the farm. Before this, Danny spent ten years as the head of Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, the chief humanitarian aid group here cleaning up after conflicts between the Muslim/Communist/leftist rebels and the rightist/Catholic/military government. He's an amazing fellow.

The property, the buildings, the farm, and the untamed jungle are organic and fluid in themselves. Both positive and negative energies of the land and its surrounding occupants is as legible and tangible as a book. I arrived in the morning and left the following morning, drinking buko/passionfruit juice, taking a tour of everything, eating jackfruit, sleeping, talking with farmers and amongst the three of us (Jon, Farida, another potential apprentice, and I). I took notes on suggestions and fantasies tossed out by all of us in discussion and later compiled a list to send to Eleanor.

It's a beautiful thing, what she's created. From the moment they opened, they've booked their 4-day Wellness Retreats, where guests go through a detox fast of only buko-passionfruit juice and three meals of probiotics and their signature tonic. I should mention here that nothing the center does is kept secret. There are no secret remedies. They point out what they do uniquely from other natural healers and farms, and they actively teach guests how to mix their own tonics, use whole plant medicines and foods to build a healthful foundation, how to do their own enemas, and eventually, how to prepare their own food, play music, do art, and a whole host of other specialty therapy skills they can take away with them. Jon said at one point, "we don't want them to come back", clarifying that people should come away empowered and healthy for life, not just for the time they are there. On the last day there's a feast of natural foods. Guests react differently. Some want to go through as many cleansing experiences as possible to get their money's worth. Others just try to remember what it's like to relax. Others release an outpouring of previously bottled up emotions. Others are transformed simply because they got away from the poor diet they had before. Some guests are Filipino, others are international.

The center has an open invitation for practitioners of spiritual, emotional, and physical therapies to come and stay. They get free food, a place to sleep, cook, and wash, opportunities to exchange skills with all of the other practitioners (including farmers), and receive a small stipend. Jon offers Eskrima, and hopes to learn plant medicine knowledge. I could easily see myself filling the roles they need me to fill. If I decide to stay there, I would spend 3 weekend days as the Bistro executive chef and manager, finding staff and developing a menu to teach mostly raw vegan culinary variety and how to prepare food without destroying essential vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. I would also serve as music and art therapist for the other four days of the week, again teaching how to use vibration and creativity to cultivate emotional and spiritual health. I can do this job. It fits me well. However, my heart just isn't in it. It's not where I am at this point in my life. Right now, I need to wander, see what's out there, and not commit the minimum two years I think it would take to do this job, get it off the ground and running without me, and learn what I want to get out of it. I'm really happy that I got to visit. It'll be a home in the world if I ever want it.

The night before I left early in the morning, there was talk about need for a Filipino cultural night at the end or on the off days. Someone said they need someone to teach them Tinikling. Lights... cue action! I learned Tinikling and even performed for hundreds of people when I was a teenager, and of course I remember! So I asked for two bamboo poles and showed these two, old, very Filipino men how to do the dance, along with Jon and Farida. So much fun because of the mild element of danger. The bamboos clapping toether make a loud noise, and you have to try not to get your food clapped in between. We had a blast, and in the middle of it all, Eleanor called just to check in, and I overheard everyone saying, "yes, David! David is teaching us tinikling!" The white man teaching the Filipinos their own folk dance. How ironic! The video below is similar to the routine I did when I was younger.

So, I thought I'd finish up this post with one little detail. Jon and Danny told me that the neighboring landowners don't treat their forests or the life in them with the same respect as they do. Shooting and capturing birds for intstance. Over the last few years the birds have learned that the Healing Present land is safe, so the trees have become a sort of sanctuary. Most of the birds of the area stay on their 17 hectares, and the sound in the morning is fantastic. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Roselynne picked me up from the airport and we cabbed it back to her place, which isn't far at all. The airport is on a small island adjacent to Cebu the big island, and her place is close to where the bridge lands back in Cebu City proper. Ours was to be a common sight in the coming weeks. Two strange foreigners. The white guy/hobo, and the Cebu Doctors student with uke in hand and song in voice sitting in the back seat of a cab oblivious to the point of apathy on the way to some awesome happening or other. She's here in the P.I. studying medicine at Cebu Doctors University.

Cebu is completely different than the Manila area, or even the rest of Luzon. People are much more friendly, the atmosphere is slower and more relaxed, the air is cleaner, and people stare more shamelessly. The jeepneys (a Filipino bus with an 8-peso (16-cent) fare that seems to bear the burden of all Filipino creativity) are also totally different than Manila. In Luzon, they look like the WWII jeeps; true to their heritage of recycling American vehicles left in the country after the war. In Cebu they're like toys, with much less creativity bolted into their frames or painted on their outer panels. Cebu is simultaneously the mecca for martial arts and for natural healing. It's also world-famous for its mangoes. The language is the Visaya dialect Cebuano, which has a lot of Spanish influence.

Roselynne and I spent the first two days catching up, I cooked and slept or did pushups, and then we'd go to the mall. If it's just the two of us, I'm straddled on the back of Roselynne's motor (motorcycle/scooter thing), with my alabaster legs almost reaching her knees. Daphne is the name of her motor, and Daphne finds me too heavy compared to Roselynne's girlfriend, Karen who hovers around 90 lbs. We of course spend time in the malls here, which I think are nicer and less manic than Manila's malls. I met Karen at Ayala Mall, where the three of us hit it off easily from the get-go. We bought 4 different kinds of dried mangoes at the grocery store and opened them all at once to see which was the best brand. We all agree that dried green mangoes and "Philippine Brand" are the best.

Roselynne's cousin Andrew is here as well. We celebrated his 21st b-day two days in a row, and spent some time with a lady friend of his from San Diego who arrived in Cebu two days after I did. Spending time with Andrew and Roselynne together, I realized for the first time that somehow, people who grew up in our area since birth have a unique style and shared understanding that's hard to explain. People born and raised in other small specific areas have similar similarities, but it was my first time feeling it myself. I guess I noticed a slight awkwardness to conversation, misplaced competitiveness and unused odd-ball skills, a love for reflex-based card games, and a certain sheltered, bottled energy that doesn't know where to go. Strange but interesting.

Food here has been so much easier than it was for my first week and a half. Roselynne is an alien in the kitchen so I have free reign. There's an outdoor produce market nearby, so I eat the vegetables I want to! Squash, okra, kangkong, camote, mung beans, peanuts, coconut palm heart, green beans, potatoes, rice... I'm in heaven! The vegetables are nothing compared to the fruits though. I'm going to be so spoiled when i leave the land of tropical fruit. Papaya, pineapple, guyabano, lysones, rambutan, bananas of all varieties, mangoes; love it all. So I've been teaching Roselynne the value of vegetables. Her girlfriend is a great cook too, and together Karen and I made epic vegetable lumpia (like egg rolls but rice wrapper). It came out sooooo good! So many ingredients too. That would be good, and that, and jicama, and bell peppers, and coco palm heart, and the list goes on.

 I almost took that first weekend to go with Andrew on an expenses partially paid trip to neighboring Bohol, but when I move on, I don't really go back and I only just arrived in Cebu, so I decided not to go. Instead, Karen, Roselynne, and I, the terrific trio, went to a play. Now, Karen has lived in Cebu for 11 years, Leyte before that. She also ran a 5-hour heavy metal session on Saturdays for 3 years with the biggest radio station in Cebu. She's well connected. We went to this play that is the first play about "gender inequality" (Karen's friend, the director's words) in the Philippines. It's even become an assignment for Roselynne in one of her Gen Ed
The Inconspicuous Traveler's Journal
classes. The play was awesome. The language was Tagalog with random bits of English and Cebuano, and colored lights made the moods of each scene extra-dramatic. The play was about one boy coming out as gay to his family and rifts related to Filipino culture that make this such a harrowing process.

After the play, we the trio went to an awesome place called the Turtle's Nest, which was a house turned into a hostel/bar. It's the place where the subversives and artists hang out. There's a huge bookshelf inside, and the first book that caught my attention happened to be an impromptu journal where travelers leave messages. I couldn't resist leaving a message too. The novel itself was in Swiss or something. Later we joined some friends of Karen's and Roselynne and I had a long discussion with this guy about his being comfortable living in perpetual internal conflict regarding religion. He had rejected the church and all it stands for but still attended mass, believed in God, and agreed with most of Catholic doctrine because he grew up with it, not because he logically agreed with it. We enjoyed stretching this guy's mind a bit.

I had several opportunities to drink my fill of Red Horse beer and sing karaoke. I'm not a fan, but it's hard to avoid here. Filipinos love karaoke and singing along to songs. I don't think I've ever been somewhere that so many people can not just carry a tune but do it justice. Tone-deafness doesn't exist here. They have music in their bones. And the musicians know so many tunes because they learned music entirely by ear. It's really something to behold an entire country of the world's best cover bands. People here also listen to music completely differently. You can see it the way they tap their feet or sway with the music. Even mosh-pits are sort of half lost in the music, half wanting not to get too much into it.

When we're together, the three of us take taxis or jeeps to where we're going. When I'm alone, I walk. To many people here, Cebu City seems huge and sprawling and not worth the sweat of walking. I can see so many things and make it back to Roselynne's apartment having only walked 5 miles total. I could circumnavigate the borders of the city in a day if I left early enough. There's no such thing as a street grid here, but I've spent enough time in the wilderness at this point that my sense of direction hasn't failed me once. Even if I don't find that one tiny street or place I had been looking for, at the very least I always know how far I've walked and can always get back home.

I've had so many interesting walking adventures! I have found myself walking down random enclosed produce markets, passing cemeteries with tombstone engravers actively working across the street, and watching basketball games in the slum. There's one particular day that was an unusually unique adventure.
That tome on the table is one of 3 huge karaoke tune books at this place
I think of the water as bottom of my mental map, and the hills as the top. Roselynne lives near the water. I walked over to a mall where I found a random market full of handmade things and jewelry. I bought one made out of clay for 20 pesos that I thought was interesting. Then I walked up towards Fuente Circle and the Capitol Building. In the mall across the street, on the fourth floor, there were four chess games going on. Timed so that each player had only 4 mins of play time. Money was involved so all the players were sweating and moving incredibly fast. I'd never seen anyone play chess these guys were playing. Rarely was there a checkmate, but these guys must have their moves planned out 5-10 steps ahead. So familiar with exactly what's going on with each and every piece. Crazy. In that mall, there was also a woman who claimed she'd seen me before and wanted me to hook up with her daughter. Sweet lady though! That mall also had a sign out front saying it's about to be a dog-friendly mall and host a dog walk. This is such a step for the P.I.! Even affluent people here don't keep pets the way we think of them. Pets are street animals, or dogs are guard dogs kept in small cages so that they bark when an intruder comes near. Jason's family experienced tons of break-ins until they got dogs, when the break-ins stopped completely. From Fuente Circle, I walked back down towards Carbon, an open-air produce and flea market. I met a guy as we crossed an especially treacherous intersection together who lived and worked in California for 20 years and came back home to retire. I could tell he was nostalgic for his time in the States. After we talked, I had a local treat. Banana fried in oil and sugar. So tasty! Apparently that particular variety of banana has to be cooked to be eaten. While making my way through downtown, I stumbled across this lot that was lined on either side by artists souping up motors with colored chrome, neon lights, details, paint, accessories, and who knows what else. They all displayed their work in front of their shack-like stalls. I was totally impressed so I walked down to the end and kept walking expecting to find an alleyway out. Instead, the lot was circled entirely by tall buildings. In a back corner, there was a crowd gathered. I kept my eyes peeled for flying feathers from a cock fight but instead saw a flying ball between softball size and volleyball size but sounded as hard if not harder than a tether ball. It was a volleyball game with three people on each side hitting the ball overhand back and forth across the net rather than underhand setting up a spike. It was very fast paced and there were a lot of big bills being passed around wagering for the team most likely to win. The referee's stand was awesome. It was a shanty-style structure with a tin roof and the words "referee decision is final" spray painted in white. The ref moves a little ring back and forth on a bamboo pole above his head to indicate who's serving, and a team can only score if it's their serve. The score is kept with spray paint-numbered metal plates that scrape over a metal ring and clink down when they hit the plates already slid down. The ref himself was a balding old drunkard looking guy with droopy eyes roving back and forth with the ball, a blue shirt, lazy movements, and a cigarette threatening to fall from his mouth. Totally illegal-looking situation and I didn't stay longer than a very memorable 30 minutes. I walked back out past the bike stands and kept heading towards Carbon. But I overshot by one street. Instead of ending up in Carbon, I ended up in a vast maze of a neighborhood that was once tightly-packed Spanish-style colonial houses now populated by several families each. People asked each other loudly if I knew where I was going. Kids were high-fiving me everywhere, saying "up here!" Prostitutes subtly asked if I was interested in a lay, moms were breast-feeding babies everywhere. It's the most colorful place I've seen in the P.I. so far. Horse-drawn carriages with their wheels falling off traveled up and down the streets. Only the smallest car made it down those streets with its mirrors barely missing the walls on either side. A group of 20 guys tried to get me involved in a coin-tossing gambling game. I stayed and watched but didn't put any money down. I stumbled on a basketball game, and while I was watching i noticed this kid just in front of me playing with a spider in just the same way as Jason's uncles did. This spider looked like a black widow with bright green highlights on the legs. Gnarly. It was just running all over his hand that was holding a bamboo food skewer. He coaxed it into the portioned matchbox by blowing on it, just as Jason's uncles did. He had two more spiders crammed in there with room for ten more. I was totally captivated. I ended up at a dead end at the water, so I came back out the way I went in and found Carbon soon enough. I picked up some produce, took photos of the fort and made it back just after dark. What an awesome day that was.

I was again reminded how masterful Filipinos are when it comes to games when Karen took us to play ping pong at the YMCA. Not only was she amazing at this game (she schooled Roselynne and i big time), but the matches happening at the tables next to us were like tornadoes you hoped wouldn't pass near your house. They were practicing for competitions, and each player had a style of their own. Blows my mind. It seems that skill and fascination for these kinds of games come and go like fads. My grandfather told me about pool and other games when he lived there. Now, the sport is badminton. EVERYONE plays badminton. Then basketball is next. No soccer happening here though. Still not sure why it would be big in a place like Jamaica but not here. 

These are the highlights, and there are so many other small moments and awesome experiences I've had with Roselynne, Karen, Andrew, and even Karen's son Red. 

Where Valdez says, Cacanindin goes...

This first week and a half or so we've been living on a schedule. There wasn't really time to recuperate from the four days in a row of sleeplessness so a dreamy haze hovered in front of my consciousness much of this time. Jason's family develops plans for us in the back room (or maybe mid-conversation, there's no way of knowing cause I can't speak Tagalog) and then we get ferried one place where we stay all day and into the night, then we're suddenly woken up the next morning working every moment trying to extract some sort of information as to what on Earth is going on. We spent a lot of time accompanying his parents on their Balikbayan. Balikbayan is an important tradition where relatives journey back to the place where they were born and raised. Filipinos always bring small gifts (called pasalubong) from where they live to give relatives staying near home. Furthermore, when Filipinos are born, they often bury the placenta under the home or in the town square. So they simply can't stay away from home for long. They are literally rooted there.

Given all of this, I was still instantly part of the family before I even arrived here because Jason's parents made it clear to everyone that they considered me their son. This meant so much to me and it was evident in all of the ways everyone made me feel like family while I was under their wings. I wish I knew how to better express my appreciation in a way that was appreciated by the culture. Hospitality is a completely different sort of give-and-take here that I'm still too unfamiliar with to describe. Hopefully Jason's parents didn't take my Vegan diet or cultural nascence as an embarrassment or lack of appreciation. 

We visited the childhood homes of both his parents. His mother grew up in Lucena south of Manila, and his father grew up in Pangasinan province north of Manila. Lucena is a beautiful beach-side village rich with bukos (coconuts) but not money. These welcoming, honest, beautiful people are the definition of poor. The lucky ones drive tricycles or a jeep or work as maids. The rest catch fish or have given up on the job concept all together. All of the buildings in the small village were nipa huts on bamboo stilts or cinder block with the same palm leaf roofs.

It was during two days visiting Lucena that after years of trying to get Jason into the water, he swam in the ocean for the first time in his life! With bright blue water like that it's hard not to. Plus, travel is all about first experiences right? Leave it to Jason to attract all of the strange creatures. At one point he screamed out loud after stepping on some sort of bottom-feeding sand-dweller. I was so proud of him for finally tackling his paralyzing fear of submersion. Still, I swam a good 200-300m out into the water and could still stand, so there wasn't really much to worry about... or so I thought.

In the afternoon on that first day in Lucena, I helped haul in a fishing net that contained small fish doomed to serve as bait for the next round, and a lionfish! Lionfish are deadly poisonous but one guy used his sinelas (flip-flops) to pick it up and put it back in the water we'd been swimming in all day. We cooled off with a fresh buko each, right off the palm. Coconuts are filling! The water and flesh from just one were enough to fill me up after I skipped out on the seafood lunch feast, crashed on a bench and woke up so I could skip the seafood dinner feast.

We spent the night at a place often used to accommodate for parties and tourists, courtesy of a family friend. Encaged in a small bird sanctuary were three immature Philippine Eagles! I've had a love for this creature for a quite a long time, but this was my first time ever seeing one in person. Hopefully my experiences here will lead me to encounter an adult in the wild. Jason and I spent part of the evening sleeping in these hammocks that look like woven baskets. In just a couple of hours, he was eaten alive, arms and legs covered by mosquito and flea bites when I had only one bite on my leg. I was wondering why I hadn't seen a single mosquito since I'd arrived and I realized then that they simply liked the Valdez family more than me. Figures that they also have a genetic allergy to bug bites. Yum! The next day was spent visiting other family members in the area, distributing pasalubong gifts, learning to count to 5 and say "you're handsome" in Tagalog, and somehow consuming four full coconuts worth of water and flesh in one sitting, alone.

Jason's father's home was different because his family grew up comfortably. More those who hire the maids. In fact, his father's side of the family hired extra hands specifically for the time that we were there. We stayed with them in Manila as well. In Pangasinan province, we visited churches and cemeteries, and visited the places his father frequented as a child. The house they grew up in had a sort of farm/orchard spanning a few acres behind the house.

The kitchen
 At one point, Jason's father and his brother got comfortable in the living room of the house we slept overnight in and told stories about how they spent their spare time as youths. Plenty of hacky-sacks, bee-bee gun marksmanship, various sports and games, bicycles and horse carriages rather than motorbikes and tricycles. My favorite story was when they would go into the jungle and catch spiders, blow on them in their hands to make them sleep, and put them in a portioned matchbox. Later, they meet up with friends, put the spiders on either side of a bamboo food skewer, rile them up and make them fight. Seems like there's a cultural tradition here of making entertainment out of nature in the in-between hours. If it isn't dogs or roosters, it's spiders or lizards or who knows what.

We visited several churches and I played along and went to mass... until the sermon turned to condemnation of the HR (Reproductive Health) Bill, when I simply had to walk out. I get overwhelmed with frustration seeing such a beautiful people taking the sword the Spanish used to colonize them by the blade and stabbing it deeper into their guts. I can only imagine what the people and the land would look like if the people and the government declared independence from the Roman Catholic Church (Islam in the southern island of Mindanao).

Anyway, I enjoyed walking around while the family visited churches. I saw a huge turkey hanging out in the passenger seat of a tricycle, I was a hot commodity in the eyes of girls at buto stalls, and I absorbed the full heat of stares from every mammal, bird, and reptile in the area. I stick out like a sore thumb in North America and I'm used to getting stares, but that's nothing compared to how people stare here. The farther away from tourist areas you are, the more you stand out. It's probably like fascination with abomination; it's hard to look away from the bright white light in a field of familiarity.

Sprout some balls
The bus rides to and from all of these places were atrocious. They were 4-6 hours each with far too much air conditioning and non-stop, loud, shitty movies. We were so tired but we just couldn't sleep. It reminded me of this serious bout of insomnia during college that I still don't know how I survived.

One of the last things we did in the provinces was visit a beach. There was a tiny fruit-bike where we tried some really unique fruits. My favorite was chico, which has the consistency of jicama but sweeter, with skin fuzzy like a kiwi, shaped like a potato, and yellow crisp and juicy on the inside. Excellent with salt and chili powder. There was also this big green fruit a little bigger than a grapefruit but very much like it. same skin but green, about an inch worth of that white inner rind before you hit the juicy stuff. It has the same color and texture on the inside as a grapefruit but tasted like an apple!. Then there was snake fruit. Aptly named for its surprising snake-like skin, it's much more sour than kalamansi or lemon. I don't care who you are, your face will squint at the taste of that thing.

Snake Fruit
Jason's family also took us to some places in the Manila area. We went to the Ayala Museum, which had specific galleries of Filipino art. Not much in the way of the clay or weavings or crafts you'd imagine. More the blue-and-white pottery from specific kilns in China, and there was an interesting exhibit on gold crafts and influences from China and India that created a "Filipino" culture, erasing differences between family groups scattered across the islands. We also went to the Mind Museum, a science museum that was fun and surprising at times.

Food was sometimes an issue because Jason's family brought us everywhere, including to restaurants. Especially his father's side treated us to some fancy places. If we ever ate at home, the maids did the cooking. They were fantastic cooks but it was hard to get a say in what happened in the kitchen, so I spent quite a bit of time telling myself that there are so many malnourished people here, just buck up and make it through the week. I'm really sensitive to my physical, spiritual, and emotional health. So, when my body was hating me on the first day, I knew it would be a long visit. By the third day, I was shaking from simply having eaten white rice and maybe nutritionally insufficient bittermelon or a banana here and there. By the time the week and a half was over, I was looking forward to sleep, rest, and cooking for myself.

Trinna, Jason, Misset, Jon, and Me
I also don't handle tofu well. Again, my body just wants it to be over and out. It's impossible to even find a salad here without a cheese-based dressing over iceberg lettuce that happens to be more expensive than half of the meat entrees. One day, I was sitting at a restaurant, his uncle is paying and he's helping me find something vegan. So he points at a Filipino word and says it's a bowl of soy beans. I ask him repeatedly to make sure it's not tofu, that it's soy beans, that there's no patis (fish sauce), that there's no butter or milk. He reassures me at every juncture. To be generous, he orders two bowls of this dish. It's a bowl of fried tofu, of course, swimming in potent white vinegar and soy sauce. I'm starving and I wolf it down as fast as I can, trying to match everyone else's pace and seem content. Then I reach the bottom of the bowl, and there are several obviously fish fins. As if I didn't feel like vomiting already. I thought it tasted funny. By the time I had finished that monstrous bowl, everyone else had taken what they wanted from the other bowl, and were all insisting that I finish the tofu bowl. Somehow, my desire to show my appreciation and my strong instinct not to waste food overpowered my nausea for the next few hours. I don't think even Jason had any idea how bad I felt. Sure, people have been startled by learning that what they thought they ate was pork was actually grubs or something. But for me, after going through similar experiences at almost every meal, exhausted, trapped by propriety and lack of choice, and having gone from nutritionally pristine to straight malnourished, this experience like this seemed like a big deal at the time. Sure, I've accepted the fact that I'll have to eat meat once in a long while. But making my own choice when, and having those meals surrounded by meals of my own nutritional choice, make facing that prospect a little bit easier.

At one point, all of our bags were lined up against a wall inside and Jason freaks out saying, "David, get in here quick and get this spider before i kill it." I was expecting a regular spider, I dunno, daddy long legs, or a thumb-sized thing that couldn't possibly be scarier than a black widow. This fucker was huge. It's called a hunter spider, and I immediately remembered the size shape and motions of the spider that was used for all the smaller spiders in Arachnophobia. This thing is quick-moving and intimidating. Legs included, it spanned bigger than the palm of my hand. I used a bucket to catch it (it was on my pack when I came back with materials). When I flipped the bucket over, there was a very obvious plop as it fell to the bottom. I left it on a tree outside. What an incredible creature that thing was.

I had a great time in Manila, and Jason's family are all so wonderful. It's so sad that Jason couldn't stay longer and come with me to visit Roselynne in Cebu. Long before sunrise, Jason and I went to the airport for our flights. One to Cebu, one to Los Angeles. Everyone else flew later that day. I can't wait to catch up with Roselynne, and I can't wait to be making decisions for myself again!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sexism in Science

People in the field of science promulgate the idea that there are so many efforts to mitigate gender bias in the field. However, it's hard to mitigate an internalized social norm. This study proves that there is still no such thing as equal opportunity. Not by a long shot. Concise and important. Please read it!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Pope Song

This song speaks for itself if you're open enough to listen to it all the way through. Enjoy!