Hi, I wanna tell all of you that I have a new blog. I dunno if the title fits me or not but its called i'm not ironic. Read it if you want, you don't have to I'm just saying. So the url is http://imnotironic.blogspot.com
Lizzie and I have been back in the US, up to our old tricks here in Green Bay, for over a week now. In fact, we're coming up on two weeks.
And it seems to me as if our time in Manila is becoming a fast fading dream, something I cooked up in my brain to pass a lazy Sunday afternoon (instead of vacuuming or raking leaves).
But I do run into people daily who do a double take when they see me, and say, "Hey, you're back. How WAS it?"
I need to come up with a one word answer--because that's all they're looking for, in the midst of their everyday busyness. "Good" might suffice, or even the ubiquitous "Great."
Of course the truth is much more complicated, and unraveling. "Good, over all," I end up saying. "There were challenges, of course. It was frustrating and elevating and terrifying and--" I launch into an extended disquisition, covering our technological frustrations, the horrifying weather, the language barrier, the feeling of disconnection from the department at UP, the deep relationship that Lizzie and I forged (and banked against the whittling and withering energies of her adolescence), our abiding joy now that we're home.
By now, whoever was stupid enough to ask me how it went is sitting behind his desk, glazed, vaguely unhappy, like a man caught in the wrong conversation at the cocktail party, his glass nearly empty and the bar oh so far across the crowded room. And yet I can barely wrench myself away from the topic, even as part of me hovers over my head and bemoans my inability to stop the tidal wave.
The short answer is that our trip was, overall, productive and positive. Lizzie and I learned what's important in life: love, human relationships, the connectedness of life on this planet. To learn that lesson, we had to suffer fear and boredom and disconnection. We made wonderful friends. We enjoyed radical hospitality--our friends who had less than us shared everything with us. We tuned into and out of what was going on here in the U. S. Sometimes our forced radio silence--the downed internet, the dearth of cable TV, the thirteen hour time gap--allowed us to take deep breaths, to calm down, not to get snarled up in the usual (and mostly invented) white noise of day to day living here.
And now we're back, and I find myself knit up into the often ridiculous chatter of a first world country, where we worry about prime time line ups and bonus checks and Christmas vacations and job search duties and who dissed whom at the last faculty meeting rather than about those clouds massing out over the ocean and threatening our shorelines or a corrosive bout of cancer caught too late or the return of martial law or losing our houses and our children in a sudden flood.
In short, I feel safe. And safety leads to a kind of mental or emotional dissolution that I suspect is as toxic, at times, as its opposite.
How was my trip? It was awesome, in every sense of the word.
We came home to Green Bay last night after a 1.5 hour delay in the Chicago airport (our plane was late to arrive and so late to leave, and when we finally did leave, was queued up behind dozens of other planes), weary, lagged, awake--more or less--for over 36 hours, but happy to be home.
Happy, that is, until we found a puddle of water waiting for us in the middle of the kitchen floor. That leak in the stucco on between the kitchen addition and the rest of the house? Well, it's gone nova. And what else? Oh yeah. The sump pump quit working.
It's been raining for the last few days, the woman in the supermarket told me this morning, as I bought donuts at 5:30 AM and stocked us up on coffee, fresh fruit, milk and cereal. Wonderful! Dave's been up since 3:30 AM (maybe he never really went to sleep), sucking water out of the defunct and filling sump pump well with the wet-dry vac.
I'm making myself the Angel of the Hearth, but I seem to have forgotten how to make coffee. Yeah. I forgot to put a filter in... (Oh. And just now, while I was trying to heat a little milk to put into my groundy-coffee, I managed to spill it over in the microwave. All cylinders are NOT operating to full capacity.)
Lizzie's upstairs, though, happily sleeping her way back to a normal home life.
The only other consolation, and it's a cold one, is that the dog and cats are still at their kennel, so they're not wandering around getting in the way of water removal. But I do confess to missing their noise and busyness. Home just isn't the same without their low level of chaos.
All in all, however, it's great to be back. When I hopped into the car at 4:30 AM and headed out to the supermarket, under my own steam, the heater on and toasting me as I navigated the silent, mostly quiet early morning streets under the spitting rain, I thought about how lucky we all are to be back here, puddles and all.
Here are some of the things that have happened here since I last wrote:
--Pepeng, another typhoon, has entered, left, and reentered the country. In the process, it has managed to nearly submerge an entire Northern island, Pangasinan. It has sparked more floods and mudslides, killing 130.
--Some of the 300 pairs of shoes in the Marcos museum, the one that we were supposed to visit with Beng but never got around to, have been waterlogged. Most, however, were saved by a quick-thinking guard, who trucked them upstairs as flood waters rose.
--I found 16 Trojan infestations on my laptop and over 300 viruses on my flash drive. As I wondered how they managed to worm their way into my life, I confessed that I'd taken my flash drive to an internet "cafe" at the UP Coop to get a few copies. "Ma'am, that's the source," my students told me. There's dirty ice cream, and dirty computers, over in the Coop. And dirty food, they say.
--I've run my anti-virus software twice. I've added two Malware-killing programs (and they found at least 100 instances of Malware). I'm supposed to be clean now. But Firefox just froze and crashed. And though I'm typing this note into Notepad, it's going very slow, and hanging up, letters and phrases behind my fingers. None of this can be good.
--I taught my last classes. Now all that's left is to meet with students for individual conferences on Tuesday, October 13, and to read their final essays and portfolios. Oh, and to assign grades.
--Lizzie's classes were canceled after she got to school on Thursday because of rotating power outages in the city. (A substation was damaged in a fire on Wednesday.) She spent over an hour on the bus, trying to get back here. Around 8 pm that night, I got a text from her school: classes canceled on Friday, too.
--I bought tickets for all three of us to travel to Philadelphia for Christmas. I've got to train in to Center City for December 28 and 29, when we will be interviewing candidates for a position during the dreaded MLA conference (that's Modern Languages Association, for those of you lucky enough not to know that ackronym).
--My hair has been falling out at a faster rate. I think (hope) it's just my regular shedding season, autumn for my head. Alarmingly enough, many of the strands that wrap themselves around my fingers and drift onto my chest are silver.
First, let me just say that I'm annoyed. I can't sleep. Someone in the shanty town underneath my bedroom window ("Oh, the UP slum," said the driver who brought us home from the airport on Monday) has been having a raucous birthday party for hours now. They started with firecrackers, which I have decided are ridiculous, adolescent, and unnecessarily male. Then they progressed to singing "Happy birthday to you" over and over again, at random intervals. They're also burning things that are smoking up the atmosphere in my bedroom and making it hard for me to breathe, even though I've taken an allergy pill.
Now it's raining. And even that natural impediment is not sending the revelers inside. If anything, it has incited them to set off another barrage of firecrackers.
Ironic, then, that I wrote the following earlier this evening, thinking mostly about the costs of modern(ism) and big cities on the psyche...
Looking for Dave on Tuesday morning, I called the house via Skype and listened to the phone ring and ring, until finally my voice answered: "We're not home right now. Leave a message."
Was he walking the dog? I imagined him striding briskly down Reed Street, then Oregon, then Oneida, then back up Reed, the mile-long block, the air already turning October brisk, his ears reddening a bit, the leaves overhead rustling and drying, getting ready to burst into color and then fall.
I left a message, something like "Hello, it's me. Just wanted to tell you that we love you, that we got home safe, hope you're out enjoying the evening, maybe walking the dog. I'll be online for another 45 minutes or so, checking email, if you get this message."
After messing around on Facebook for far too long, and learning that everyone in Green Bay and the surrounding area suddenly hates Brett Favre (what has he done now?), I tried calling home again. Got the same message.
Where is he? Then it hit me--everyone hates Brett Favre because he's no longer the Packer quarterback. Now he's the Vikings' quarterback, a turncoat traitor throwing for the enemy. Monday night football back home, everyone huddled around the electronic hearth, screaming, drinking beer, pounding each other on the back. Dave must be over at Brad and Diane's.
I called Brad's cell. He'd pick up--Dave was iffy with the cell. Who knew if he'd even taken it with him? But Brad can be counted on to take his cell with him wherever he goes, and, if it's humanly possible, to answer it.
"Hello?" Brad said. The sounds of revelry crowded around his voice.
I'd hit the motherlode. Everyone was at KC and JP's house, watching the game: Dave, Brad and Diane. I got to talk to everyone nearly all at once, as if I were already home.
"Are you going to be sad to come back to boring, white middle class America?" KC wanted to know.
"Let me tell you a little secret," I said. "I will be very glad to be home. Give me boring, predictable, white middle class small town life," I said, "where all the crises are small." A man throwing his cigarette butt out of the car window: jerk! A long line at the Target register. The small red *bing* of the engine light coming on in the Toyota. The pilot light going out on the hot water heater. A trickle of water snaking in over the basement floor after a particularly long fall rain. The dog chewing on a favorite pair of shoes, eating the expensive wool socks.
I've learned a lot about myself over the past going on 5 months. One of the things that I've learned is that I'm old and set in my ways. What's more, my adventure gene flickers--there are moments when I'm awed by the scope of the world, by its sheer variety, the sizes and shapes and sounds and tastes of it, and there are moments (usually coming right after) when I'm terrified by its overwhelming particularity. Perhaps I miss my white, middle class, midwestern American tribe, the vast herds of us grazing in supermarkets and shopping malls in our brand name jeans and unmarked T-shirts, our hair predictably coiffed, highlighted in haloes around our innocent blank faces. Maybe I want to be surrounded by the similarly guilty, our food divided into large portions, hermetically sealed, poverty hidden behind concrete walls and polite facades.
Our visit to Bohol showed me that I'm not a big city girl. I like the slower pace of the countryside, the province, the "povertyesque" of the small, neat hut with its scratching chickens and single white pig rooting under a gnarled tree. Life moves a little more slowly. The faces that come at me smile, the skin around the eyes wrinkles, and the grin doesn't slide into a grimace. People are poor there, certainly, but their poverty doesn't cut into me like a knife, doesn't slice down to my quivering, silly core.
It occurs to me that my mythical homeland may not exist. I turn on the TV and am bombarded with apocalyptic imagery. It seems that the earth no longer wants us, at least as we are. It's chewing us up with earthquakes, burning us clean with wildfires, vomiting us out with tsunamis, spitting floods on us. I might want a land that only exists in memory, the imagination, a kind of nostalgia that's sickeningly sweet.
Or maybe Manila is, in some ways, more real, more alive--and thus more threatening--than Green Bay or De Pere, Wisconsin. Here the costs of the slow, middle class float of home are more apparent, our semi-ignorance, our dazed complacence, our small bubbles of self reality like astronaut's suits to protect us from an airless moon. Haven't we somehow contributed to this city with our consumerism, our restless shopping? Manila is the city gone supernova, like the Mexico City of my childhood. People crowded on people in the worst conditions, squalor, mounds of trash, decay and death jumbled together with screaming children, babies, men and women sleeping on slips of cardboard under dirty overpasses, traffic snarled into itself like matted hair. Desire and despair, hunger and greed, are the hum, whistle and honk, the odd music, like a mechanical sea, that fills our ears. The modern city builds and builds until it implodes.
The clouds just gathered, clotted, and rained down on us, hard, for about 5 minutes.
I can imagine that there are people in the city who are cowering on top of their roofs right about now, expecting the worst.
Pundits here have compared the flooding to Katrina, and the analogy fits, at least as far as disaster preparedness and clean up is concerned. Bluntly, no one expected floods of this magnitude in the city. The city didn't have any rubber boats for rescue operations, nor did it have (as far as I can tell) a disaster readiness plan in place. The media leaped into the breach, taking cell phone calls from stranded victims, broadcasting their locations, but their sheer numbers mitigated against any effective response.
Citizens have mobilized to volunteer in rescue and relief operations, collecting food, water, and clothing to distribute to the victims, but there doesn't seem to be any central or official command post to coordinate all of these efforts. I collected two bags of clothing that Lizzie and I could donate and asked the guard downstairs where I might turn it in. "The Protestant church, ma'am," she said, indicating the church around the corner that we tried one Sunday morning. There, organization reigned. Three women at a sign in desk took our bags and asked us to sign a sheet, leaving our name, contact number and address, and type of donation.
Now thousands of survivors, homeless and penniless, are crammed together in school gyms. I read that 3000 people in one such shelter had to share one working toilet. That's bound to pump up anxiety, anger and despair. The president just opened up the Palace for 300 survivors and they are readying a carpeted ballroom for another 50. But 350 survivors in a modicum of comfort are not even a drop in the bucket filled with millions of displaced people. The threat of disease lurks over these crowded relief camps, of course--dysentery the most mild of these. Dengue fever is a problem, of course. I can also imagine that typhoid might also loom its ugly head.
This morning, the headline in the newspaper read "Flood Crisis Deepens"--angry flood survivors are rioting with each other as they fight to get rescue supplies. They won't let the trucks through to the official drop off sites, too afraid that they won't get their share of the food and water. Residents in Marikina, a neighborhood hard hit by the floods, complain that city trucks are dumping loads of garbage on a city-owned vacant lot, loads of soggy household goods, dead animals, and rotting refuse that stinks over the whole neighborhood.
On TV, a reporter with a grim visage chatters over a banner in Filipino about Pagasa, the national weather report, and something about the current storm due to hit land in the next hours, Pegeng. SUPERTYPHOON? jumps out. Scientists, politicians, and journalists blame the crisis on climate change; the number of commercials devoted to saving the environment have increased noticably since Saturday. Writers suggest that this is God's warning that the country needs to learn from its mistakes, make crucial changes, and pull together to save what's left of the its natural resources.
Meanwhile, the TV is filled again with Law and Order, 24, the Tyra Banks show, telenovelas and local variety shows, mixed in with the sober 24-hour news feeds. Life begins to return to normal, at least for those of us who weren't soaked by the floods. It goes on; the crowd outside of the Protestant church shrinks just a little.
It begins to pour again as I write this. Everyone must be cringing in his or her skin, waiting for the final, obliterating lightening bolt. The city and country can figure out, given time and money and patience, how to recover--physically--from this unexpected disaster. But what will be the lingering emotional costs? (As I type this, the news show on in the background posts a piece on PTSD--the symptoms and the treatment.) How will the country measure these very real wounds, and heal?
Lizzie and I get on a plane for Bohol tomorrow morning at 5:30. We should be at the beach by 7:00. We'll be off the internet grid until Monday afternoon, when--God and weather willing--we'll be back in the city to begin our last three weeks here. Lizzie's last day of school will be October 16, and now with some of the schedule changes at the University, it looks as if it'll be my last day to collect portfolios and final papers from my students (who I hope are all okay. I wonder if any of them lost their computers and thus all of their work for the semester? Speaking of uncalculated damages...)
Dave arrives on October 18 and we give him a whirlwind tour of Manila before hopping on a plane on October 24, and saying goodbye to this adventure. A 4 day stop in Tokyo and then we'll be home in Green Bay by October 30. Again--God, weather and human activity willing.
Now metro Manila struggles to get back to "normal," to rescue the residents still stuck in their houses or on their rooftops, residents who have run out of food and water. And to find those who are still lost, missing, perhaps stashed in an evacuation center somewhere, perhaps dead.
Lots of residents are pitching in to help those in need, putting together bags of necessities--food, clean water, blankets, clothing. There are still those who are swamped with water. Another storm is expected later in the week, a chilling thought for those who are still digging themselves out of the mud that's covered them.
Meanwhile, schools are closed "until Tuesday," which Cynch assures me means, here, through Tuesday. I can't figure it out for sure. The TV broadcasts messages from the director of the NDCC (National Disaster Coordination Committee) that begin in English and change, quickly, to Filipino. I can only read facial expressions, watch the pictures as they flash across the screen--houses halfway submerged, tumbled cars, a line of open coffins, waiting for victims.
The camera films crying fathers, husbands. Tears well in me. Just their facial expressions twist me into sympathetic knots. I feel hot, flushed, embarrassed at my helplessness. I am dry, safe, healthy, and I can't really understand what's being asked of us, how I can help. I can't even figure out if Lizzie has school tomorrow, or if I'll be asked to teach my classes as usual. Cynch says no--I should trust her.
Then there's the matter of our trip to Bohol. What should I do? Go through the week blithely waiting for Friday, to see if it will go as planned? Should I haunt the Philippines Airlines website, check to see whether planes are departing the airport as regularly scheduled? Trust the weather to hold off enough for us to go? Or should I call the travel agency and see if I can push the trip back, cancel it, use the money I would have spent, what's left of it after all the cancellation fees, as a donation to local shelters for disaster relief?
It feels shallow of me to be thinking of such mercenary matters--a voice in my head tells me to just let it go until Friday. If the plane is cancelled, then deal with the next step. If the trip is cancelled and I don't get any of the money back, chalk it up to the cost of the disaster. After all, there are people here who have lost everything--computers, cars, houses, loved ones. Another voice tells me to call the travel agency tomorrow and ask them what they think I should do, if anything.
If I could understand what the director of the NDCC is saying when he comes on the TV, perhaps I'd have a better idea of what to do. As it is, I feel like a confused kid, who only understands a fraction of the grown ups as they scurry here and there, obviously agitated, obviously on the edge of reason.
I'm downstairs now, and the internet's working. Also, while I was down here earlier, trying to get a fix on the school situation, some official verification, I ran into our neighbors from California via Australia, Nathan and Vanessa and their two boys (Liam and Jonas). They're flying out tomorrow to tour the Visayas, and don't seem concerned with the weather and potential travels alarms. So I won't be.
In the meantime, I've gone on the UP Diliman website and discovered that if I want to contribute relief money, I can take it to a pick up place in the College of Arts and Letters. Think I'll do that tomorrow.
Now that I have a small handle on life, I feel a whole lot better.
Last night I went to bed with a blocked ear, smashed into Dreamland by a combination of waning 24 hour allergy medication and a sinus draining formula (Phenlpropanolamine HCl and Paracetamol), and my only concern was that I might've made my blocked ear worse with a fizzy Hydrogen Peroxide soak that wouldn't properly drain.
I woke up every once in a while, feeling the sinus headache flex its muscles in my head, to the frenzied sound of rain and wind. It seemed that rain pounded us all night long.
Now the typhoon, Ondoy--because that's what this is--is confirmed. Rain has been lashing us, whipping us, drowning us, since light first dawned,and now it's the middle of the afternoon and there doesn't seem to be any let up. We had plans to go out for a leisurely brunch and then grocery shopping with Cynch, but we wisely decided to forgo that plan once it seemed there would be no stopping this deluge. The roads here flood quickly, and traffic, already a nightmare, becomes a snarled, floating hell.
Beng texted me in the middle of the morning: Laurie ths is really bad weather. Try nt 2 go out coz d roads r like d sea!
Yes, I texted back, this d worst so far 4 us. We hav postponed d date with Cynch. Watching d boob tube n playng solitare.
About an hour ago, I made myself get up from the couch to make a big pot of rice. So what if there are little weevil things and tiny tiny ants in the bag? Just wash them out, I told myself. You've got time.
While I was messing with the rinsing process, the land-line rang in the apartment. This hardly ever happens--usually only when the bus is here for Lizzie and she hasn't gone down to wait for it yet.
It was Cynch, and I could barely hear her over the blaring TV and the roaring rain and wind. The lights flickered. I turned off the tube and shoved my hand against my (bad) ear, straining to hear her voice as it burbled, far far away, and as if underwater, into my other (good) ear. She asked me how we were doing, said something about bad weather, Boyng, the hospital, miserable... "I can't hear you," I said. "This phone is really bad and the rain's so loud. Can I call you on my cell?"
"I can't call you on your cell for some reason," she said.
I got the impression that Boyng, her husband, had gone to the hospital for something routine, a check up? And along the way he'd gotten stranded by floods. So it was a good thing that we'd canceled our trip for lunch.
I also got the impression that we should prepare for a brown out. I'd already put the big bin/bucket in the bathroom under the slow tap to fill it. I was making the rice.
I still couldn't hear Cynch. It was like talking into the storm. "Do you think we won't be able to go out tomorrow?" I asked.
"... play it by ear..." I heard.
Okay. I tried to pretend that I could hear more than nothing, than the rise and fall of her voice, her laugh, a rushing like the sudden stream ripping through the yard next door.
Now I'm typing this, as long as we have electricity, and thinking that it may be a while before I'll be able to upload it. Certainly, the internet is down--I was using the stick this morning, before the winds picked up so hard, and in the middle of my Facebook surfing it slowed the reception of information down to nothing.
As long as the trees stay planted in the yard and don't come crashing through the windows, I figure we should be fine. I'm quite glad that we're on the 4th floor at this point. Water's rushing down the walk. I haven't ventured downstairs--sure that I'd get pummeled by water, flying sideways through the stairwell--to see if the guard's camped out on top of his desk, water surging through the lobby. Maybe that'll be an adventure for later.
Maybe I'll build us an ark...
6:30 PM -- Still raining, wind still blowing. I've got the TV on and it looks as if the Marikina river has overflowed its banks and villages are underwater, houses have been swept away, the TV shows clots of people clinging to driftwood and debris floating downstream while peole on the bridge try to throw them ropes as they pass underneath. In Quezon City, where we are, streets are flooded with fast running water.
I finally left the apartment to go downstairs and find out what might be going on. One of the housekeepers is there, watching TV, probably trapped here, as is the day guard, in her civilian clothing, and the night guard, dressed up for duty. All of the furniture has been moved or removed. Only the housekeeper sits there, in the midst of all the stacked up cushions, watching cable TV.
A banner on the news show says that San Mateo, Rizal (a neighborhood to the east of us) floods are now chest high, and a caller recounts how the waters swept through his house, taking all the cars, the computers, so fast that they could barely do anything before fleeing--and now they're looking for shelter, cold, wet, disoriented.
One of the news websites (the internet is working now) has these breaking headlines:
Yesterday I visited the travel agency on campus after classes and bought our trip to Bohol. We're going to the beach! We'll be leaving on Friday, October 2 and coming back Monday, October 5. All very decadent--Lizzie will miss two more days of school. But I think it's worth it to be able to dig our feet into the edge of the ocean.
No, we're not roughing it, or finding our way as it comes to us, like real adventurous travelers do. Instead, we're going on a package tour to this resort: http://www.amoritaresort.com/
But, hey, this woman has to get out of her box slowly, and preferably on a leash.
I spent this Sunday afternoon reading young writers' short stories, then Amiri Baraka, Lucille Clifton, Josef Kumanyakaa, catching up on a little college business from back home, and wandered out here to the kitchen for a pick me up only to find a bucket of laundry soaking in the sink.
Oh. Yeah. That's right--I put those shirts and skirts in there over three hours ago for their half hour soak. I plunged my hands into the gray water, rinsed twice, added fabric softner, squeezed everything out, and hung them on the line. My hands are getting that dry, red, stinging feeling that I imagine women on the prairie must've felt after they boiled their rags in lye.
As soon as I pinned the last shirt to the line, the man in the yard behind the apartment building stopped the obsessive whine of his weed whacker, the sky heavied itself and turned yellow gray, the palms and coconuts began to wave their fronds in a gentle frenzy, bowing and bending to each other, and the air gathered the metallic taste of impending rain. In a minute or two, the rain will crash against the windows.
When I was little, Dad used to drag the sprinkler onto the lawn with a lot of reluctance, struggling with the hose, huffing and clicking his tongue. "I'm just seeding the clouds," he'd say, hands jammed on his hips, lower lip set. And, sure enough, as soon as he got everything set up, screwed open the tap, and banged back inside, the clouds would gather and let loose, no matter how long we'd gone in a dry spell beforehand.
Thus, I experience a similar negative omnipotence, as my grudging efforts at laundry, paltry as they are, directly control the weather.
I woke up at the usual time this morning, around 6:00, and stumbled to the bathroom to relieve myself. Then I lurched back into my bed and determined to doze through the roosters and the already building heat, that thickness in the air that settles in the brain like the niggling sense of something crucial left undone.
At 8:00, I swam up from whatever dream had managed to snag me to the sounds of at least three frantic roosters, a dog, a child or two, and the boom boomboom BOOM of someone's stereo working through a disco line. It wasn't the level of noise that alarmed me--that seemed typical of any morning here--it was the quality of noise that sounded a bit different. Whatever happened to the sound of chanting and hymn making, rising from the spaceship church around the corner and floating through my window, threaded through here and there with the flapping feedback of an incomprehensible priest?
By the time I got myself out of bed and into the kitchen here, and water in the kettle building to a boil, I'd tracked down the source of the noise: a birthday party in the making in the main building. Through the window, I could see them put together a table full of food, hang balloons. Meanwhile, Lady GaGa shivered the glass.
I was talking to someone the other day about the difference between here and Singapore. I mentioned that I didn't remember hearing anyone laugh there. "It's a quiet place," my friend said.
Yes, I agreed, right on the money. This is certainly, in contrast, a much louder place. The city never really quiets or stops moving. As we drove to the airport at 3:00 AM, there was a little bit of calm, but the city was not nearly as still as other places I've lived can be at the same hour. Busses still bamboozled their way past us with blatting engines and hissing brakes. Taxis wove in and out, too, bleating their small horns. Alongside the roads, clots of people spilled out of dark bars and dance clubs, standing together or sitting on chairs, as if making a show of whoever passed. Dogs trotted through the piles of garbage in the curb and against shadowy walls.
Right now, it's about 3:10 on a Sunday afternoon. I've got the boom box going, playing a CD of upbeat music I burned to appease the apartment's sad ghost. In the main building across from me, another birthday party builds, and another baseline booms out through the cluster of balloons tied to the metal grate over the open window. A steady whir of traffic growls and whooshes in the distance. A motorcycle's acid blat rises for a moment above the rest, swelling like a giant mosquito. A man yells. A rooster answers. Someone or something clumps, thump thump thump bang, in the stairwell. A breeze stirs the leaves, a pleasant sussurus with a cooling underhiss. The two boys next door babble in their play, until one of them shrieks, high, higher, highest, then shatters into a scream that falls into the regular siren cry.
Yesterday I thought the weather had turned for the better. "Isn't it cooler?" I asked my American Literature Survey.
They furrowed their brows, pursed their lips and lifted their shoulders. "No, ma'am," they said.
"Hm." I sighed. "Well, it kind of feels like fall in the air. A little cooler underneath. On the breeze. Do you have fall here?"
"No," someone said. "Only sunny and not sunny."
"It's less humid, ma'am," Kim said, from the back.
Ah! That's it, I thought. And indeed, when I got home, the laundry I'd hung on the line in the morning was already completely dry--a near miracle, I thought, given the fact that the jeans I hung up on Thursday night, before we left for Singapore, were still damp at the waist on Monday morning, after we got back.
This morning dawned just as sunny as yesterday. Aside from the fact that I had a grinding headache, one of those that turns my right eyeball into a burning pool of snot jelly, I approached the day with hope. I'd wash Lizzie's dark jeans and they'd be dry by tomorrow, when she has to wear them again in order to practice her black-lights hands routine with the rest of the class. And since it's Wednesday, I'd sail out into the sunny, dry day with confidence, hopped up on the sinus-headache pills I dug out from the cracks in my briefcase, maybe jump onto a Jeepney headed down Katipunan and have a mocha frap at Starbucks, a Thai foot massage at the Natural Spa, read the story's for tomorrow's fiction workshop under an umbrella on the Rustan's patio.
The best laid plans... As soon as I got the clothing up on the line, clouds gathered from the mountains and menaced the yard. My eyeball headache peaked, throbbed, settled into my right ear--a dull, pushing ache. I went downstairs to check emails and Facebook; just as I added Beng as a friend and wrote on her wall, my laptop froze. I closed it and walked with Lizzie up to the main building to wait for her bus. I opened it again to the purple screen of death.
There are days when I want to throw my laptop into a big metal drum and set it on fire. It's wonderful to be halfway across the world from home and still be able to "connect" with all of my loved ones and acquaintances, not to mention the ability to keep in contact with my new friends and acquaintances here. It was odd, while we walked the streets of Singapore or hopped onto the MRT, to know that I couldn't text anyone or reconnect on Facebook--a feeling both liberating and slightly scary.
What makes me crazy about the communications world is how much rigamarole I have to navigate just to keep all these lines open. I have to have anti-virus software or else someone will find a wormhole in my computer and suck out my guts, starting with my bank account or my credit card. I have to worry about malware and spyware and whateverware, like the little fish we saw nibbling at peoples' feet in the Singapore zoo.
I don't like the fact that programs automatically update, sending out little queries into the webverse and pulling things back in, things that, as far as I'm concerned, have no discernable use in my life. The delicate balance can so easily be disturbed...
48 hours ago
I log in and get an error message, like "Windows Explorer just encountered an unexpected problem and will have to close," which bollixes up everything I'm trying to do at the moment (usually boot up), "send error message now?" and NO, I DON'T WANT TO SEND AN ERROR MESSAGE BECAUSE I'M NOT CONNECTED TO THE INTERNET YET, SINCE YOUR ERROR JUST BUMPED ME OFF.
I am getting ready to send another annoyed message off to McAfee, the anti-virus company that automatically renewed my subscriptions to the two programs (one of them unnecessary) that keep me "safe," to the tune of 149.00 charged to my credit card, and yet I continue to get warning and error messages every time I log in telling me that I'm NOT PROTECTED!
So, after Windows Explorer crashes a few times, I log in with the help chat person at McAfee, who 'chats' me through the de-installation of one program, and who links into my computer with something like a worm from her end of the world (her name is Pradjee, but she can be a man, for all I know of that sort of name; I picture her as a frowning woman with long dark hair, however). Pradjee tells me that I have old versions of the program on my computer. Pradjee keeps sending me links that hook me into Explorer, and Explorer doesn't work on my computer unless I'm in the office on campus, because it's set up with a proxy, so that keeps hanging me up, and in the meantime my battery begins to die, and I start to panic, and Pradjee assures me that we'll get done with this thing fast, and in the middle of the end of the deinstallation wipe delete thingee my computer redlights me, hibernates and dies.
I come upstairs, plug in, and finish the delete program. Then I try to log in with the Tattoo stick to reinstall the correct McAfee program. But something that Pradjee did must've destroyed something that the Globe Broadband needs to work, because as soon as I connect and try to open Firefox, the connection cuts off. This happens at least 5 times before I figure out that I'm an ass for trying the same thing over and over again.
I pull out the stick and decide to make dinner.
Later on, I go downstairs and try to download the program over the wireless. I get an error message, again and again, from McAfee: Check your internet connection. You are not connected.
But of course I'm connected, and that's what allows me to send a very bitchy email to McAfee about the problem. I tell them that I will do a little research, find an antivirus program that DOES work, and ask for a full refund.
I could go on and on about the frustration, the rank anger, that this kind of time-wasting produces in me. As I type this, in fact, my fingers come down harder and harder on the keys. Gad fraggle grommet! Piece of doobleheiger! Poodle hanger!
24 hours ago
I try again, downstairs, to download the program that I have already paid for, a month ago. Again, I get the error message telling me that I'm not connected to the internet. There is no email back from the McAfee people.
I log onto the SNC website, find their computing page, and download the McAfee antivirus software we're allowed to use. It takes a whole hour at aching speeds to download the program. But it downloads. And I manage to install it--after it freezes for a few minutes at "40 seconds remaining" and makes me want to smash something.
...to this morning, when in the middle of writing something on Beng's Facebook wall, my computer freezes up.
AHHHHHH! I keep getting the purple screen of death, a freezing whhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaa while the laptop ponders its navel and dithers off into some binary void.
So I decide to get serious. I shut down the computer and put it away.
Later, I open it up again and think, hey, maybe I'll write something on Facebook now. But I don't want to go downstairs. So I'll just use the stick.
But the stick doesn't work. It keeps hanging up on me, disconnecting as soon as I open Firefox.
Pradjee! If I could find you right now, I'd wring your neck! Grrr.
Time to get really REALLY serious. I open up "connections" and find a z-connection that I don't remember. It's probably Pradjee's worm. I delete it and try the stick again. NO JOY.
Time to get deadly serious: RESTORE.
I pick a date before we went to Singapore and click on it. The machine whirs, shuts down, reboots, and then --
and then --
and then --
purple screen of death for 5 whole minutes.
Flipping vortal chew! Green chunks on moldy toast!
The most irritating part of this process? My inability to do anything, and the speeds that the hamster in my brain cranks itself to on its wee wheel, paws smoking. What if my computer has died? What if Pradjee was some maniacal computer geek mining my computer for information and then frying it when she finishes? Will I find out that 10,000 dollars worth of gold bullion have been charged to my Mastercard tomorrow, after I log onto someone else's computer to check?
Finally, I do the unimaginable: CONTROL-ALT-DELETE. Which, for once, actually works and allows me to shut down.
And now I'm back, the computer's working, the stick works--though the massive thunderstorm DID kick me off, and the bolt of lightening that sizzled down just outside the window made me wet my knickers a bit. The rain has come and gone, the jeans are still sopping wet on the line where they've been hanging for the last 6 hours, and I haven't managed to make it out of the apartment for a massage, mocha, or walk.
But I may be able to go downstairs and connect now, paste this into a blog entry, and resume my life, such as it is.
Oh. And I woke up at 2 AM this morning to what I thought were gunshots. And then men shouting.
The guards tell me that, yes, there was something like gunshots last night. The police were called. But they found nothing. And, yes, the sound did come from the neighborhood just next to my bedroom window.
Lizzie and I had a nice weekend trip to Singapore. The city state is well maintained--clean, flowery, organized, orderly, expensive... As our friends here told us, we certainly liked it, but we'd have to be a lot richer to enjoy more than a weekend there.
We got up at 2 AM and met Cesar for a ride to the Ninoy Aquino airport at 3 AM. Our plane took off, on time, at 6:30 AM and we landed in Singapore by 10:00 AM. A representative from the Golden Dove Tour company met us and ferried us to our hotel, the Marriott, in downtown Singapore.
After marveling at our comfy beds and fully equipped bathroom (separate shower and bathtub, very swank), we set off to explore and to eat lunch.
As here in Manila, shopping seems to be the leisure activity of choice. Across the street from our hotel, we found an underground mall (fully air-conditioned), the Orchard ION, that stretched for blocks, it seemed. We ate lunch at a very large food court, picking Beef Noodles after checking out lots of hanging chickens and ducks, shark fin soup stands, and other Chinese delicacies. (Check out my Facebook page for pictures of our trip.)
After lunch, we headed back to the hotel and went into the pool--5th floor, blue tile, a little chilly under sudden afternoon clouds. But that gave us the pool to ourselves, more or less, and this aging mama didn't have to show off her cellulite to lunching guests, for which she was grateful.
That first night, Friday, we tried the swank Chinese restaurant in the hotel, and had a scary moment while we contemplated the menu and discovered, hey, this ain't the Chinese food back in Kansas, Toto! Could we find anything that would pass our severely restricted white-bread palates? Finally, we decided on chicken in a red wine sauce and crock pot with shallots and small onions, and a breaded pork cutlet in soy sauce. I tried not to look at the prices of things (the cheapest item on the menu was the pork cutlet, at $15 Singapore dollars (about 1.35 to each US dollar), with a "minimum of two" to order. Turns out that the chicken in wine was the hit of the evening.
We capped off the evening with cable TV and bed lolling on comfy down comforters.
The next day, we were up and out by 9 AM for a half day tour of the city. The other two women on our tour--Filipinas!--one a pediatrician, Joanne, and the other a UP Manila student, Jeni--made us feel right at home. I'm starting to recognize the Filipino accent, a rounded, tinkling, singy English that always sounds halfway amused. The Singapore accent, a flat Chinese English, reminds me of the ticker tape at the bottom of the CNN screen; our friends here told us we'd have to listen hard to get it, and we did. Get it, that is. I think Joanne and Jeni had more trouble following it.
Our guide showed us the downtown center (with a round feng shui fountain designed to increase the city's wealth), surrounded by five malls, "like the fingers in a hand," the man said. Then we checked out the Raffles Hotel, the oldest and most imperial lodging in the city. "Six stars," the guide suggested. The place comes complete with a white turbaned captain at the front, white pillars, rattan chairs, and oriental rugs. From the Raffles Hotel, we went to Clark Quay, which seems to be a nice riverside point that caters to tourists with empty stomachs--it's surrounded by small restaurants, every nationality represented. Since it was still early in the day, nothing was quite open and we were able to check things out without bumping into people.
After the Quay, we visited the merlion--half mermaid, half lion--that is the city's icon. It's a big white spitting fountain on a jut of land that faces water, full of tourists from all walks of life. I couldn't help noticing the high percentage of Anglos wandering around, all of them dressed, like me, in frumpy shorts and stretched out T-shirts, Birkenstocks and bad haircuts. Oy. I began to feel every lump around my waist, every liver spot on my cheeks and the backs of my hands, and every wrinkle around my mouth and under my eyes. Am I shallow? Certainly.
From there, we went to a Chinese temple, a jewelry factory, and a gift shop. The Chinese temple was my favorite. The jewelry factory and the gift shop felt like the hot mouths of a hungry, shiny beast, as salespeople, mostly women, followed us from display to display, speaking fast and furious about discounts, credit cards, deals, taxes, ... Lizzie picked out a few small souveniers at the gift shop and we beat a hasty retreat.
While we were on our tour, we discovered that we could visit the zoo at night--and since it was so hot, that seemed like the best bet--so we signed up for a Night Safari with the tour company, and arranged for a 6:30 pick up. Back to the hotel for a swim in the afternoon heat. (Unfortunately, we also managed to pick up a burn.)
At 6:20, we went downstairs and waited for our ride. Women in magenta and black outfits began to disgorge from taxis and Mercedes, bustling up the walk with ramrod style and elegance, all stiff taffeta and satin. Meanwhile, no ride to the zoo.
For whatever reason, the tour company missed us, and after a front desk wrangling, a man in a bus came to pick us up around 7:00 and sped us out of the city to the zoo, where a fast talking, speed walking tour woman picked us up and hustled us onto a tram. We got to see lots of animals, but since we weren't allowed to use flash photography--to spare the animal's eyes--we can't show you the roaring lions we saw, or the cool, sad-eyed tapirs at the side of the road, or the wet hippos, the rhinos, the giraffe, the frolicking, barking otters... It was probably my favorite event of the day, even though my thighs by then had become hot spots as the burn seasoned itself.
Because of my paranoia (I didn't want to miss the bus back to the hotel), Lizzie and I skipped the animal show. We caught the end of the fire-eaters but that wasn't all that exciting. I didn't tell Lizzie, but when we lived in Mexico we used to see fireeaters while we were stuck in traffic; they'd eat burning gasoline torches in the hopes that we'd toss them a few pesos out our windows.
Yesterday, we hopped on the MRT (not without a lot of hand wringing and freak outs from yours truly as she tried to figure out how to get from the hotel to City Hall) and checked out the Mint Toy Museum Lizzie had seen on our Saturday tour. It was a tall skinny building a lot like Lizzie's school, filled to the brim with expensive "one of a kind" collectibles from Asia and England, a few from the US, behind glass in floor to ceiling display cases. We weren't allowed to use flash, so the pictures came out pretty blurry. On our way back, we checked out yet another mall, ate pizza, and zipped back to the hotel to wait for our airport pickup (paranoia in full swing again--didn't want to miss that ride.)
We got to the airport on time and then, after getting through a long check in line, went to the gate to discover that our flight had been delayed about two hours. We wandered the mall/airport for that time, finding chicken rice for a delicious dinner. Turns out that the airport tower here in Manila lost power and all the flights were cancelled, backed up and delayed as a result. Do we have bad luck? Yes. (Ask Lizzie about the rogue jean button and the flushed toilet, 5 minutes before hotel check out...)
Over all, the trip was fun, a good getaway from this big, smoky city. But we missed our friends, I think, and all the while kept thinking I bet Dad would like this, and I wonder what Dad would think about that? Once I have time to breathe, I'd like to learn more about how Singapore works, and what might be the costs of such order and cleanliness. (Aside from hefty fines...)
We're in the middle of another monsoon/typhoon situation. I think the current storm system starts with an M (yes, I looked it up: Maring!) and it's been raining off and on for two or three days now. Funny, but after a few days of heavy rains, one loses track of time.
Lizzie and I went up to wait for the schoolbus late today. Yesterday was a holiday, and today when we woke up a gray sky pressed down on us. Every hour or so, we'd get a massive downpour, buckets and buckets of water pouring from the clouds, washing into the streets, streaming down the walks, puddling in the gutters and on the grass. I figured the bus would take a while to get here, what with traffic and flooding.
We waited for half an hour. Forty-five minutes. When it was already noon, the usual hour for her school to start, I said I'd go back up to the apartment and text Lizzie's principal, tell her she'd be late. The guard said, apologetically, "Ma'am, no school I think."
Really? But I'd been seeing buses, and school kids. True, none of the usual busses. So maybe they were all stuck in traffic. I came down here to ask the other guard, the one near the cable TV.
"Afternoon classes suspended," he said, nodding.
Crap on toast! There must be a better way to find these things out. I wish there was some way to get an instant text message from the DeptEd when something like this happens, instead of (as usual) sitting in the apartment building lobby for 45 minutes in a clueless fog.
I told Lizzie that she was off the hook for another day and we went back upstairs. I turned on the boob tube and discovered that, indeed, the Department of Education had suspended classes for the afternoon.
As soon as I got that bulletin, the rain stopped, the sun came out and all seemed right with the world.
Hah, I thought, nodding and laughing inside. Of course as soon as they cancel school for the day, the sun comes out. Rainbows and giggles for all.
Then, at 1 PM, the clouds closed in, the sun shut off, and rain poured down again in a single, relentless sheet.
Sigh. It better stop soon and blow away, so that we can get on our plane Friday morning at 6:30 and fly west to Singapore.
We went out for our usual Saturday grocery shopping date with Cynch yesterday. At lunch--we tried Tokyo Boy, dining on bento boxes and gyoza, yum--Cynch mentioned that Monday is a holiday. Monday, as in tomorrow.
"What?" I said.
"A non-working holiday," she said.
Which means no school for Lizzie.
I must've looked my usual muddled, because Cynch explained. "It's because the head of the Iglesia ni Christo church died," she said. She'd had trouble getting to campus to pick us up. Commonwealth, the tangled crazy avenue that runs past the main entrance to the University, leads straight to the Iglesia ni Christo church, a green and white spired building that, from a distance, looks like something from a Disney set. It's the church's main headquarters, it turns out, and the man who died this week is the church's leader. So the necrological services have been going on for days, and traffic is clogged. Cynch says that they've parked their cars in the street. Cops have bodily lifted cars up, straight into the air, to move them out of the way. "They're creating new holidays to honor different religious groups," Cynch went on.
"I had no idea we'd have a holiday," I said, still dazed.
"No. That's because they just created it," she said. "And on September 21, there will be a holiday for the Muslims."
I don't teach on Mondays, or schedule meetings, either, so the holiday will pass over me without leaving a mark. Lizzie, however, will not have classes. And I'm taking her out of school on Friday for our trip to Singapore.
Oh well. Lizzie and I will have to figure out a way to spend the day. I've got a hankering to see a zoo. But I'm sure zoos will be closed on non-working holidays. If I owned a zoo, anyway, I'd close it.
Lizze and I are scheduled to visit Singapore next weekend, September 11-13. We'll leave here very early on the 11th, 6:30 AM (and we need to be at the airport 3 hours ahead of time, so that means leaving our apartment at 3:00 AM). I know the departure date strikes fear and trembling into the American heart, but what can you do? Here, it's just a date for travel.
I had lots of news to type in here and now that I'm finally connected, I can't think of it. Suffice it to say, it's been hard to connect lately, what with the oppressive heat and humidity, the outages in internet service, and a general heat-induced lassitude. This is the part of the semester that usually kills me, the back side, where I can see the end in sight but as the papers roll in and I read and evaluate them, I think When will this be over? Of course when it *is* finally over, I'll miss it.
I'm already stressing out about all the things that might go wrong for our 3 day trip out of the country. Ridiculous! This is an aspect of my personality that I might pay to have surgically removed or altered. Anxiety is boring. Plus, it makes my bottom hurt.
Today, I'm going to Lizzie's school for the parent-teacher conference. This should be interesting. I'll have to compare the experience to similar meetings back home. Dave writes to tell me that we'll have to complete a lot more paperwork than we thought in order to justify the 2 months of 7th grade that Lizzie will miss in Green Bay. It has something to do with district funding, truancy, and other bureaucratic matters.
Here's a little snippet that I wanted to share with you. I was walking to the shopping area down the street last Saturday. About five tiny children (none of them could have been more than 4 years old) swooped and screamed and giggled--in the middle of the busy street. Jeepneys honked and swerved as they dove and wove and shrieked. I swallowed hard and wondered what was happening. Didn't see any parents or other connected adults looking on. A man on a scooter stopped, parked his bike at the curb, and ran out at them, yelling something.
I kept walking, my heart like lumpy ash in my mouth. A jostle at my side, and a small hand slipped into mine, cool as a fish. I looked down, into a grinning, tiny girl's face, and my skin leaped a few metaphorical inches from my body. "Hey," I said, "what's going on?" as she squeezed my hand once more and then darted away.
Down the street, another group of kids, boys in the indeterminate age range of 8-12, threw plastic lids like frisbees across the street to each other, as if daring cars to drive between them. Their laughs were harsh and gritty, tinged with dust and gravel.
It was strange, as if the world had someone slipped a little bit off kilter, the colors brighter and more hectic, even feverish, the people I passed larger or smaller than they should be, on a normal early evening. No one seemed to be in his or her right mind.
Warning to the reader: this entry contains blow-by-blow minutia. I drowsed, it seems, while writing it. I suspect that reading it will be even more tedious...
Another sticky day, skirt and shirt clinging to the sweat dew on my skin.
Lizzie went off to school early--school hours 10:00 to 3:30 today, instead of 12:00 to 5:30, in order to accomodate a whole-school special production, something to celebrate Filipino culture. "Wiki something or other," Lizzie said this morning, after I made her dress in a collared shirt to honor the day. Actually, she was supposed to wear something Filipino, she said, "but I don't have anything."
I don't know if it's my sudden descent into middle age or the weather or the time of year or even where we are (3 months out of 5) in the stream of this adventure, but when I've got a day off from teaching and Lizzie's not around and no one wants to take me to lunch and I don't have a stack of papers to read or a short story or clutch of poems to pore over in preparation for class, I don't know what to do with myself. I wander around in a half-daze, room to room, putting things into my backpack in the interstices between mental vagaries. It's not as if my head's in the clouds. It's as if my head IS the clouds.
Today I packed up and headed out by 11:00, taking the umbrella that Beng delivered me back past her house, thinking, in a wandering and nonspecific fashion, of inviting her to a last minute lunch at the Chateau Verde. I took a new way down to Juan Luna, her street, passing into a dark, slightly cooler section of Roxas Street where dogs drowsed on the ends of their leashes, giving me half a lidded eye as I passed. Sweat soaked my back under the pack.
At Beng's, both the cars nestled under the carport, behind the closed gate. The whole street drowsed in the hazy sun. I pushed the big white doorbell and it screamed into the house. "Cesar, the driver, came out.
"Ah, Ma'am," he said. "How are you?"
"Returning umbrella," I said, waving it like a baton.
"Oh, yes," he said, as I handed it over.
"Thanks," I said. "Salamat."
"Don't you want to come in?" he said.
"No," I said, already turning away from the gate. What had happened to my lunch plan? I walked around the curve and past the Alumni building. Oh. Yeah. I should go in to the tour agency and see how the plans for Singapore and Bohol were shaping up. I threaded my way through the side door into a tangle of sound equipment, folding chairs, cords, men struggling with big pieces of wood, a stage and a colorful banner that stretched over the entire back wall of the meeting hall. Crap. The guard watched me from across the room, hands on his hips. Perhaps I imagined the wrinkle between his eyes. He smiled when I got to the stairway, nodded. "Hello, Ma'am," he said.
I nodded and trudged upstairs. Watch, my brain said, the cynical part that hides when it's so hot but pops out as soon as a little cool breeze reaches it, the agency will be closed. But it was open, and I pushed into the airconditioning and plopped down in front of the receptionist's cluttered desk. Oscar, the manager who I talked with last time, wasn't in.
Turns out they're waiting for confirmation on our hotel reservations. Should be ready this afternoon, maybe. They'll call--Oscar is out of the country.
I left the Alumni building thinking hm, lucky Oscar, but not in a way that meant anything in particular, because I realized at the same time that I was already worrying in a small way about getting to the airport for a 6:30 AM flight to Singapore, going through all the taxi traumas that might happen, the language barriers we'd have to navigate while still sleeping, a sure sign that the reluctant, fraidy-cat part of me is already on the travel case.
I made my way through the sunken park that serves as the vast, semi-jungly center of the campus, toward the Museum. I'd have lunch at the cafe, read my book, drink some coffee. A group of bumptious students jumped off and on a concrete stage I'd never seen in the middle of the park, hooting and shoving each other. I walked past them on autopilot, semi-floating through the heat, up the bank, across the busy street in between cars and jeepneys, down the small bricked path, and up the museum steps. I wanted a piece of cake--Chocolate Explosion, I saw it in the refrigerated case, yes.
I sat down, looked over the menu, ordered a 3 cheese panini and an iced mocha and a glass of water. No cake. Read my book. Drank more water. Finished my mocha. My sandwich. Almost all of my book.
Paid my bill, left a tip, wandered back home past the Coop, where I got a package of Kleenex, a banana clip for my hair (which is still too short to scrape up into it--hope springs eternal, though), wet wipes. In a daze, I made it back here, damp, sticky, melting, retrieved the key from the guard, climbed up to the 4th floor, and found housekeeping wilting on the sofa, taking a short break from cleaning the apartment.
So now I'm downstairs with the laptop, tapping this out, enjoying the smallest of breezes over the top of the bushes. I'll read the last three pages of my novel, let more of this folk music trickle out of the Ipod into my ears (Nick Drake right now), upload this (assuming that the Internet gods allow me to connect with my tiny prayer), and pray for a cooling rain, something to rip through this haze, push away the clouds.
Little Irritations that Loom Large on a Rainy Afternoon
1. The forgotten umbrella, safe at home in the dry apartment. 2. Walnut shells cracking between molars--ouch--as I try a new cake flavor (Date Walnut) to use up the rain delay... 3. Small rocks kicked into the Birkenstock sandals, between the sole and the bottom of the foot. 4. Humidity that pools at the small of the back in a small, drippy puddle. Humidity that soaks the underarms in damp halos. Humidity that slicks the insides of the thighs and slides the legs along the seats. 5. The new middle-aged feel of belly flab sloughing up and down, jim jam jiggle, with each step. 6. An unexpected trip to the bathroom in the late afternoon--digestion on fast forward. Was it the oatmeal breakfast? The afternoon snack of cake and coffee? The last minute glass of water? Some unknown stress? 7. Tiny freaking ants marching along the crack of every wall, the kitchen counter, the soap on the bathroom sink. 8. Building pain in the bottom. That old, niggling, mean spirited friend, Mr. IBS, back for an ill-timed visit. Making dinner--and thinking I don't want to eat, ever again. 9. Burning the toast. 10. Remembering that I haven't worked out yet at 7 PM. 11. Working out. Melting.
Compensating Factors to More than Even the Score
1. A visit to the travel agent, beginning plans to visit Singapore and a beach resort in Bohol. 2. The travel agent, like nearly everyone I meet here, who smiles, asks me a lot of questions about my time here, suggests trips to take, gives me his card, promises to email soon with details on the two trips. 3. A text message from Beng: Just thinking about you. How are you? 4. Special delivery from Beng: Her cousin arrives at the Chocolate Kiss with a gentle smile and a plaid umbrella. 5. Sipping coffee in the warm atmosphere at the cafe, its rich, smokey flavor. Each moist datey bite of the cake. The delicate butter cream frosting. 6. Thinking about Lizzie as I walk home through the rain. Thinking can't wait to see her and thank God she came with me. Smiling as I think of her face. 7. The gentle rain, little tap tap taps on the umbrella, more loving than furious. 8. Looking into strangers' eyes as I pass and and smiling, tentative. Fragile connection. Getting grins in return. 9. The smoked gouda cheese I bought yesterday--perfect for a stop-me-up dinner. 10. Cold water, glass after glass, sliding down my throat. 11. Dinner with Lizzie, complete with sing-a-long rehashes of the "Once More With Feeling" Buffy episode. 12. Post work out buzz. Nothing finer!
Lizzie was alternately morose, angry and resigned to the fact that no hairdresser on either side of the Pacific Ocean would agree to give her bangs.
I suggested that I cut them for her (remembering how my own mother would cut my bangs for me in the bathroom off my bedroom, perching me on the kitchen stool and muttering curse words under her breath as she crouched in front of me, wielding the ungainly sewing shears) but we couldn't find a pair of hair cutting scissors that didn't come bundled with electric razors, nose hair trimmers, and other expensive grooming instruments.
Then I got a brilliant and cunning plan: we'd hit up the University Coop down the street, where there are at least three hair cutting establishments of various levels of intensity (traffic, that is), two of which are hair salons. "We'll go in there and say you just want bangs, and that's it," I said.
We marched over there and went into the first salon we could find, a hive of bustling female energy. Even the male hairdressers there were feminized to the nth degree, fluttering and half-frowning as they pranced into and out of the salon. "Yes, ma'am," a woman said, getting up from her stool and storing a magazine.
"She wants bangs, that's all," I said, making the universal bang gesture across my forehead (as if slicing open the top of my skull).
"Yes, ma'am," the woman said, smiling, as she settled Lizzie into a chair and encircled her neck with the standard hair cutting tissue they use around here. (Looks like a nice toilet paper necklace to me...) "You want," she motioned at her own forehead, "like swept," and I cut her off before she could follow up on the evil phrase, side swept.
"No," I said, again severing the top of my skull with an index finger. "Just to the brow. Straight down."
"Okay," she said, grinning, and began to pin the sides of Lizzie's hair out of the way, familiar operations to anyone who, like myself, spent the first 20 years of her life with such bangs.
No arguments, no consultations, no serious lectures about conditioning, blow drying, or vent brushes, and no expectations of artistic prowess or incipient genius. A simple bang cut.
It took her about 7 minutes to give Lizzie a very cute bang, gentle and layered. She put Lizzie's hair back into her ponytail, unwrapped the TP necklace, brushed off her shoulders, and shook out the apron.
"How much?" I said.
I thought she said 40 pesos, but that didn't seem right. Four hundred? I've given up on trying to make it without asking for directions, or asking for repeats. "Excuse me?" I said. "How much again?"
"Forty pesos," she said.
"What? So little?" I handed her a 50 peso bill, feeling, still, that she deserved ten times as much for the beamish grin on Lizzie's face as she examined her new look in the bank of mirrors. "Thanks a lot," I said. "You did a wonderful job. She looks beautiful."
Everyone smiled as we walked out of the salon, Lizzie floating on pillows of air. "I really really like it," she said.
And later, when she caught sight of herself in the bathroom mirror at the Alumni building, after our yummy Chocolate Kiss treat lunch, she did a double take and gave herself another wide grin.
Lizzie and I had three days off this week--Wednesday through Friday (today).
On Wednesday, we toured the Laguna de Bae area with Beng and Lili. This was our first trip out of Manila.
We stopped, first, in Jose Rizal's birthplace and toured (a reproduction) of his house. Then we drove through Los Banos and saw another UP campus. We ate lunch at Exotic, a place with lots of stairs, pools, animals in cages (monkeys, massive boa constrictors). Then we visited Lili's hometown, Pila, and looked at the historic town square, as well as the old church. Finally, we saw a baroque church from the 1600s.
We also saw rice fields, squatters along the roadside, a neat sunset on the lake, beggars, mounds of trash (some of them on fire)... By the end of the day, I was quite dizzy with new (and familiar) sights. I can't say that I got exactly what I wanted from the trip outside of the city--I think I wanted to escape from this metro madness, but it's leaked so pervasively into the countryside that I suspect there's really NO escaping it.
I will probably appreciate the trip more in hindsight.
Yesterday, Lizzie and I went back to our favorite mall to see Up in 3D. It was sort of a strange day, because we did things we'd do back home: ate lunch at TGI Friday's, saw Up, got our hair cut, browsed in a bookstore, looked at shoes, bought shirts--but everything had a little twist to remind us that we weren't back home.
TGI Friday's: the waiters have to wear all the ridiculous flair, but they're definitely Filipino/a in style, with knee high Converse laced up with neon laces, or a flouncy black skirt paired with swiss cheese black tights and witchy black boots.
Up: the projectionist couldn't get the film aligned properly for the previews and short, so even with the special glasses on, everything tripled on us.
Hair cut: the woman washed our hair for, I kid you not, at least 5 minutes, scrubbing and scrubbing and scrubbing, bouncing the backs of our heads against the porcelain sink, rubbing her knuckles into our scalps until I wanted to jump up and scream.
Our hairdresser, Mr. Ben, who trained in Santa Monica, lectured Lizzie on using conditioner and me on how to use my vented brush to make my hair flip under. (I didn't have the heart to tell him that I'm beyond pro with the hair; it's just that I didn't blow dry, for a change--didn't plan on getting a trim, actually, because we were there only to get Lizzie bangs, which of course she didn't get, again [in this way the experience was exactly like visiting Gregg back in the States; it must say NO BANGS somewhere on Lizzie's invisible operator's manual]--and at the last minute scrunched some lame product into the ends of it, making it flip up a little, which is apparently a fashion no-no here...)
Mr. Ben told me all about the shape of my face (oblong) and why I need a brow skimming fringe, and how he was going to soften it near my eyes but not shorten it, and it wasn't until I visited the bathroom at the Pancake House, much later, and looked into the mirror, that I discovered that I looked a bit like Eddie from the Munster's.
Today, Lizzie and I got massages at the spa near the UP. My masseuse, Cathi, must have been one of the strongest women on staff. She had fingers of iron--and boy did she use them to get at the knots in my upper back and shoulders. At one point, though it felt good, I thought that perhaps one of the knots would explode, travel into my brain, and turn the rest of me to mush. Our massages included both back AND front, much to Lizzie's consternation. "I wish I'd had a little privacy," she said, as we dressed afterwards.
My massage was heavenly, though, and I'm nicely sore now. Tomorrow, I'll feel as if I've been beaten up, I'm sure. The price tag for this double dose of crunchy, knot eliminating muscle fun? 1100 pesos for the two of us, which translates to about 23 bucks. Can you believe it? Definitely A DEAL.
Today I waited for 7 minutes for Facebook to fail to load. 7 minutes! The whole time, I must've gritted my teeth, contributing to the sore muscle on the right side of my jaw. I can feel it there, like a plum pit sized knot.
I fantasize about the days when we didn't have computers that automatically downloaded stuff, and slowly, agonizingly, again and again scanned themselves for viruses, sucking out all the energy from the processor and myself. I think fondly about those years when I typed up my poems on Grandpa Mac's old smelly electric typewriter, still smelling of his cheap cigars, or when I handwrote the first drafts of my ridiculously benign and banal literary analyses on notebook paper.
If I couldn't have access to all of my friends back home and variously scattered around the world, I wouldn't miss it. I wouldn't gnash my teeth over it as I struggle to make it happen. I wouldn't drop out with the Skype call, or glower over gmail's failure to load.
I'm cached away in my bedroom where the aircon has been burbling away all night and morning. Outside, it's mizzling into a thick, warm afternoon gray; all day long, it's been an oppressive waiting-for-rain, breath held kind of weather.
I collected a batch of essays from my American Literature survey yesterday so I have that stack of papers to grade. I set aside seven to go through today (my usual quota plus 2), read three of them, and then, after running into Beng at one of the University Co-op's crowded, hot, nearly all male computer dens (I was getting Lizzie a flash drive), I decided that I should not fail to keep my office hours on campus, even though I knew that no students would wander in to speak with me--especially after I've collected their essays and they've washed their metaphorical hands of me for at least two weeks.
So I got out the Ipod touch, queued up David Sedaris' "In the Waiting Room," and headed down the hill to campus.
On campus, I discovered that, ironically, I'd been guilty of Sedaris' sin (he doesn't really learn French, living in Paris, and decides that saying "d'accord," or "okay" to everything anyone says to him, will service--and of course pandimonium ensues). The truth is that I don't understand about 1/3 of what people say to me here. Yesterday, one of the American Literature students came up to me before class, handed me her paper, and said something like: "I couldn't do the five pages, ma'am, I tried, really, but bloobldee badda winky ka, and that would just be padding, so deedle dum dooby, eh?" She was speaking Taglish to me and didn't even know it, and I didn't have the heart to tell her, so I just nodded and smiled and told her that page limits weren't rules but suggestions.
After class, two men came up to me and introduced themselves. In the classroom's bad acoutistics, I interpreted their meaning more by hand gestures and smiles than by capturing real words. To tell the truth, at first I was mildly afraid that another set of Jehovah's Witnesses had managed to sniff me out. But then I started to get the gist.
"Ma'am, we're from a group on campus, the ------, and we're preparing for the Alternative Classroom ------- on August 20," said the more forward man of the pair, "and we'd like to get your permission to use your classroom to ----------, I think it's 310, right, from ----- to 2:30."
Huh? I pulled out my folder for the class I'd just finished and flipped through the stack of papers to the syllabus. August 20: I'd planned to cover Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg. Could we skip those worthy poets? Not likely. "Sorry," I said. "I've got two poets scheduled for that day and I really can't give you the classroom."
The man smiled--in retrospect, he smiled in that small, tender way I might smile as I try to fish a popcorn hull out of my molar's gum with my tongue.
"What are you planning to do?" I said.
"Inventing w----ds, ma'am," he said.
"Inventing what, excuse me?" I said.
"Inventing Worlds," he said.
"Oh, that would be good for my fiction writing class," I said. "But we're supposed to be workshopping then," I continued, thinking aloud.
"I'm a creative writer, ma'am," the man smiled, a real one this time. "I'm a senior. This is my last year."
"Wonderful," I said. "I'm really sorry that I can't help you out. It's just that I have all this material to cover, and, well, good luck with it."
He and his friend nodded, said okay, smiled at me, and shuffled out of the classroom ahead of me. I was left to trail in their wake, certain that I'd made some sort of mistake.
As indeed I have. I went into the main office today and discovered that classes on Thursday afternoon, August 20, have been cancelled so that students can participate in a special program of Alternative Classroom Methods. So what that means is that the young creative writing gentleman was only being polite and letting me know that he'd be using the classroom on August 20--and of course I won't be in it.
And I'll have to figure out how to massage my syllabus so as not to exclude Sylvia and Allen.
I'm wistful about this language barrier. I feel as though 33.3% of my life disappears down a rabbit hole of confusion and misapprehension. I imagine that the poor kid went off shaking his head at my thickness, my apparent inability to figure out what he was saying to me.
I'm also a little lonely here without much adult company. At home I'm used to spending a good portion of my days with others--Dave, Lizzie, students, colleagues, neighbors, friends. Most of the time, if I get a yen for conversation, face to face, all I have to do is to leave my office door open, or wander down the hallways looking for another open door. In fact, it's sometimes too much of a good thing: I wonder if I'll ever have 5 minutes to myself.
Here, I've gotten to the point where I'm not afraid to pop the Ipod buds into my ears--damn the traffic and the need to seem vigilant--because I need to cocoon myself in a world of poetic sound, where familiar friends whisper and sigh into my ears, the old stories of connection, disconnection, and despair. On the way home today, as I wandered off the sidewalk into a drive, a Toyota Yaris nearly took my hip off as it slipped past me into the parking lot. Whoops, I thought, in a wistful, floating fashion, and kept on walking in the dreamy, step by step rhythm that music helps me to achieve.
I've been trying to think of a nice overnight getaway (in town) for us. I got the brilliant plan, sitting at my desk yesterday and feeling the pretzeled muscles in the small of my back bunch, that Lizzie and I could check into a swank downtown hotel and visit one of those super sweet spas for traditional Filipino massage, steam, and so forth. We could swim in the hotel pool, watch cable TV, shop in the attached mall(s). There's a really nice hotel in Makati City, the Shangrila EDSA, that costs P7000.00 a night (about 140 bucks) with a swank spa attached, where massages (2.5 hours!) run about P3000.00 (or 60 bucks).
After doing a little mouth watering research, I discovered that most spas won't allow kids under the age of 16 or 18. Dang.
Beng suggested that I get room service to work on us. Good idea--but then again, I'd like Lizzie to be able to experience that new-age music, little waterfall over smooth rocks, good smelling kind of spa space I'm craving.
Lili Rose, who I ran into in the hallways--a moment like home that made me even more wistful--thought I'd be able to convince the spa to make an exception. "No problem," she said. "Filipinos are like that. We like to make exceptions."
Maybe rules here are like the lines painted in the road, marking off lanes--ridiculous suggestions nearly always sacrificed to expedience: three lanes become five; a 12.75 year old girl becomes sixteen.
Then again, at the rate of at least 15,000 pesos per day, time might accelerate.
The afternoon's waning. Something approaching sun is peeking out from behind the gray. Lizzie will be home from school in an hour or so and I'll have to think about what to fix us for dinner.
So now I'm going to unplug, get out of this airconditioned box, and wander downstairs, load this onto the page, dream about ice cream, red wine, dark chocolate, and giggling in the kitchen, late, with my best girls.
... and of COURSE I can't get onto the internet down here. I get the connection symbol, the little green fan of joy down in the bottom righthand corner of the screen, and the little yellow dancing ball that tells me that the network's acquiring my address has stopped flitting back and forth, but freaking Firefox tells me that the "host server" of everything can't be found.
I'm no longer wistful. Now I'm FISTFUL, me and my permanently impacted anus. Grrr. Which means that I'm totally ready for the spa getaway.
(I purchased a little internet prepaid stick thing that you put into a USB port. It screams along at 3 mbps--yeehaw! Right now it's working, at its painful speed. But it's working. And that's how I'm circumventing the downstairs tangle. Bermuda tangle.)
When Lizzie was a little girl, and got caught in the rain, or exited the bathtub before a towel could be made ready for her, she'd hop up and down on her feet, shiver loudly, and complain that she was "soaked and wet," which always made Dave and me giggle.
Now we're living the "soaked and wet" episode of our lives, Lizzie and I. It's been raining, madly, with whipping winds that howl through the apartment and smack the doors and windows around, off and on since... God, since I can't remember when. Did this start on Saturday? Sunday? In any case, we're up to the J name typhoons, and my students (source of all information on the fly) assure me, with shrugs, that this is normal, yeah, about 10 storms, by the beginning of August.
I walked home from classes yesterday and got wet, again. My Earth sandals (flip flops) have developed a nice earthy smell that no concoction can eliminate, and every dip in the rain accentuates it. Furthermore, I think the skin on my feet, which can never really dry, is beginning to slough off. If you're thinking ew, gross, you're not alone. I think that a lot, too.
Beng thought I should not let the rain get to me, and should venture out today, Friday, to the Vargas Museum cafe on campus, sip a latte and scribble in my notebook. Sounded like a good plan, in the abstract. And then a massive wind tore through the yard outside and a wall of water smacked against the open window, drilling onto the floor and tumbling all the random papers off the table. Lovely.
So I slammed the rest of my Coke Zero and came down here, to the breezeway, where the aggressive breezes are at least keeping the mosquitoes at bay, and have been lost on Facebook for more than an hour. Maybe I'll make it to the cafe later.
Cynch has been busy with "depressing" reports to the Department of Education, so I toddled off to the nearby UP Cooperative to buy a few necessities (syrup, butter, Pringles, ice cream). I dumped all the change coins into a pocket on my shopping bag and headed home.
As I walked toward the Campus Health Center, I saw a lost and semi-drugged looking little boy, probably about 7 or 8, waiting for me in the middle of the sidewalk. I prepared myself for the encounter, flashing back to Slumdog Millionaire, which Lizzie and I just watched. Okay, I said to myself, do it, give him the change. He asked me for money and I dug around in the pocket until I fished out the handful of coins and handed it to him. He looked into his palm with narrowed eyes, probably wondering just how much I'd managed to dump on him. Across the street, a woman with a baby in one arm and an umbrella in the other, and a little girl of about 5 wandering in front of her, smiled and called out to him.
By the time I'd made my way nearly to the corner, where I turn in to home, the Balay Kalinaw, an old woman had stationed herself in the middle of the sidewalk. What? Do they have radar? I had time to wonder, before she stopped me and asked for help. She gestured to her neck, where scaly white patches climbed up into her hair. "I'm sick," she said.
"Oh," I said. "That's too bad." I fumbled with my wallet and pulled out the first bill--50 pesos--and handed it to her. I smiled and she smiled and nodded and then I moved on.
As I made my way down into the apartment complex, it occured to me that my colleagues, if they'd been with me, never would have let me give money away. "You encourage it," they'd say. "It creates a bad atmosphere at the University. Beggars flock here, and bother the students. Then we have a situation like we had a few years ago, where they're holding people up on campus and stealing their laptops. So the University is asking that we don't give money to beggars."
But, I told them in my head, climbing the stairs with my melting ice cream, what am I supposed to do? I just watched Slumdog Millionaire and parts of it made me want to climb out of my skin, screaming. After all, it's just dumb luck that I was born white, middle class, and American, to overeducated parents. What if I'd been born dirt poor, black, and Indian, my mother digging a hole for us to live in the hills of garbage? Shouldn't I acknowledge this luck and, if I can, spread it around a little? Besides, I can't tell a 7 year old boy to "get a job"--begging is his job. And who knows what waits for him on the other side of the street? A mom with her umbrella, waving and calling out, or a Fagin with his eyeball melting spoonfuls of acid. I can't tell a poor old lady with spots on her neck to get a job, or, with a clean conscience, hustle past her as if she's scum...
Besides, I'm reading Charles Dickens now, Hard Times, and I'm reminded that the worst things happen when we lose sight of our humanity, when we look at people as numbers rather than fellow human beings. We become poisoned machines.
Felice asked after my last post about the reaction to Corazon Aquino's death here. Well, today's the funeral, and the government has declared a special holiday so that, across the nation, people can pay respects to a woman who helped the country turn away from martial law and back to democracy.
Last night, Beng went to the Manila Cathedral to pay her respects to Cory, as she's called here. On TV, I could see lines and lines of people passing the open coffin, signing the cross and then moving on. It was raining hard, off and on, and so I decided to decline Beng's invitation to come with her, despite my urge to be a part of this country's history.
Today, we met up with Joe and Kokkeong, who run the Philippines exchange program back at SNC. They're here to renegotiate the contract between SNC and the UP; perhaps if we change the program a bit and add a little more flexibility for SNC professors, more of them will opt to apply for the exchange.
We were going to head out to Intramuros and Fort Santiago again, but the rain is quite heavy, so we ended up at the Mall of Asia (huge place--pictures to follow in another entry), and ate lunch at the Pancake House. I'm sure that Joe didn't travel 1000s of miles to this country in order to eat at the equivalent of a Denny's, but he was a good sport and let Lizzie take the lead (too many choices at the M of A, let me tell you; at the directory, we stood there for at least 5 minutes, contemplating three long lists of available restaurants). Then we headed out for a pair of cheap shorts, which we found at the SM Hypermarket, aptly named. I'm trying not to let it affect my ego that I'm a size LARGE here, by the way.
On our way back to campus, we passed a clot of parked cars on the expressway, pulled over to the side. A line of people leaned over the railing, looking down at the freeway below, where we could see a long procession of people clothed in yellow shirts. That's where the funeral cortege will bring Cory's body on the way to her burial.
When I woke up this morning, it occured to me that I'd forgotten to bring home my work--I've got a set of fiction exercises to read through, and I usually hand them back on Thursdays. So as we passed through campus on the way back to the apartment, I asked if we could stop at the Faculty Center so that I could run in and get my work. The building was dark and, for once, still. No one ran into or out of the building. "I wonder if it's locked up," I said.
"No," said Kokkeong. "It won't be."
But it was. Only a single turon vender sat outside the locked front entrance, giving me a half-hearted smile and shrug as I jiggled the door, futilely, against its bar.
"No homework for me, I guess," I said, dodging fat raindrops as I squeezed back into the car.
And so here we are, fully reloaded with Buffy episodes (Joe acted as our Buffy mule, bringing us seasons 4 through 7 from home), the delicious kettle corn that Cynch has managed to hook us on (there was a stand in the M of A, of course), delivered from school and homework.
We have new neighbors in the apartment next to us. They moved in a few days ago, and we were instantly aware that they were American. Because it's so hot, we've got our windows open all the time, and sound travels nicely across the air shaft--we could hear them and their children talking, laughing, making dinner, playing little kid games full of under-the-breath color commentary.
I met Nathan, a PhD candidate in Political Science at a university in Australia, yesterday when I came home from school. He's studying trade relations with the Philippines, and he followed one of his advisors from the University of Illinois to Australia. He and his family, including wife Vanessa and two boys, 3 and 5, are here for four months while he does research. Nathan and Vanessa are originally from California, but have ended up here. He's actually driving while he's here--they got their car yesterday.
I have yet to meet Vanessa and the boys, but I'm sure that we'll meet up soon, probably over laundry. Nathan says his wife's having a little trouble with "staring and catcalls" while they're out and about. Apparently, they walked down to the busy avenue, Commonwealth, that fronts the main entrance to the University, and managed to walk past rows and rows of shanties. Now Vanessa's afraid, Nathan says, to take the boys out by herself.
I smiled and nodded, thinking thank God I'm past that stage. And thank God I spent all those years in Mexico, getting used to it. Reminds me of our Psychology professor friends at Grand Valley State University, the ones who told us about the consolations of downward social comparison, where you look at those you deem to be less fortunate than yourself and say, with a mental pat on your own mental back, "At least I've got it better than that." Smugness: the universal cure for social and cultural depression.
It's very windy at this minute. A gale whips through the plants along the breezeway and threatens the screen, threatens to slam it closed over my typing fingers. But the wind feels good on my skin.
This morning, after Lizzie got onto her school bus, I tried to walk out of campus and down to a big shopping center strip mall, along a busy street, Katipunan. But somewhere along the way, I must've taken a wrong turn, because I got going down C. P. Garcia (which I seem to remember Cynch saying is the way to go) and after passing a lot of squatters' settlements on either side of the street, and a lot of fenced off UP fields with menacing NO TRESPASSING signs, I made it to the Vet Med Center and the Red Cross Emergency Center and hit a snag: no sidewalk, running water and garbage piles in my way and bleating trucks vrooming past me on the other side. Literally, my courage quailed inside me--I felt a little trembling in my stomach that spread out into my arms and legs, then fingers, and I realized that the sun was pressing down on me like a big wet, smoking hand.
So I turned around and made my way back into campus. On reflection, I realized that I probably went drastically in the wrong direction, and that if I'd continued on C. P. Garcia past the obstruction, I would have ended up on the crazy 6-8 lane freeway that fronts the main entrance of the University, and would have had to navigate my way back into the homebase through a snarl of Jeepneys.
That was my adventure for the day. I got back after my long, hot walk by passing the University COOP shopping center, and bought myself some mayonaisse so that I could have a good oldfashioned tuna fish sandwich on wheat for lunch. When I took off my backpack, I discovered that I'd sweat through the back of my shirt and along the strap. I won't even go into details about my khakis. Suffice it to say, I did laundry.
At this moment, the khakis are probably dancing frantically on the clothesline, threatening to break free and whirl into the ventilation shaft in the middle of our building, down onto the blue tarp stretched across half the enclosed patio below, never to be worn again. I'm not sure I'd really mourn their passing.
Speaking of clothing, I need a pair of shorts. I thought that the Philippines, in the absence of any knowledge, would be like Mexico--where the wearing of shorts is done only by clueless tourists, with a slouchy, black socks aplomb that practically screams "I have no idea what I'm doing!" So I didn't bring any shorts, and now I'm paying the (sweaty) price for that assumption. All I've got is a bevvy of skirts. I'm wearing the skirt I traded the khakis for, earlier, and I feel like an imposter. I'm NOT a skirt woman. I think skirts imply a sort of femininity that I can't embody.
I entertained the idea this afternoon, after slogging through the Faulkner stories for tomorrow's American Lit class ("A Rose for Emily" and "Barn Burner") and thinking about how alien and silly the American south of the 1920s and 30s might seem to some of my students here, and thinking further that the American south seems even more alien and silly to my Wisconsin students back home, of hopping into a taxi and heading back to the mall for a shopping excursion sans Lizzie. ("If you get lost," she said this morning, when we first contemplated the possibility of a solo trip to the mall, "just text me when I'm on the bus and I'll have to text you directions out of there." She likes to be necessary to me, my own personal compass and company.) Then I decided that I'd rather remain on my couch with Flannery O'Connor, our Thursday meal, who makes no apologies for portraying her American south as both silly--corrosively absurd, at times--and fundamentally alienating.
A boy is sitting in front of the cable TV here in the breezeway, laughing out loud at something on the tube. It's "I-Carly," one of Lizzie's favorites at home. I can almost imagine that I'm typing this at the kitchen table on Reed Street, looking out over our pathetic backyard into Ruby's clotheslines and the well-tended flowerbeds she coaxes along between baleful glances at the tumbled down piles along the back of our rotting garage.
In other news, I am now able to scrape half of my hair into a tiny pony tail, about the size of a child's thumb.
Also, a mosquito has bitten the soft skin on my upper arm, the white fleshy part closest to my breast. Sneaky little bugger.