Wednesday, September 30, 2009


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.

Monday, September 28, 2009


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.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Not a Drill

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:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Our Next Little Adventure

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:

But, hey, this woman has to get out of her box slowly, and preferably on a leash.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Check It Out, Ya'll

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.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Grabbida Frabidda

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.

Fast forward... 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.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Back from Singapore

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...)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Rain, rain, go away

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.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Overnight Holidays

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.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Momentary Madness

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.