Thursday, December 6, 2007

New Videos

I've put up a bunch of videos onto my YouTube site.

You can see them all by clicking here.

Just like this blog, you can also add it on RSS feeds! I've also put up a link to the right, next to the Flickr one!

I'm going to be posting more videos as I think they are very useful to capture sights and sounds that are hard to describe with just words and pictures. Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Thrill of Victory

Recently I was asked to judge a band contest. Peace Corps Volunteers are often asked to judge things (I’ve already judged a children’s art contest) and I figured I could tell a good band from a bad one, so I readily agreed. Then I found out it was a local high school marching band contest. What do I know about bands? I never did band, ever. Not even in middle school, when it was basically required. About the only thing I know about marching bands is that the Husky Marching Band is great and regal and Oregon’s is ridiculous and wears paratrooper outfits. But nevertheless, I was one of three judges, two of whom were highly qualified – the band director of a nearby university, and a former music champion in the area.

The criteria were as follows:
Choreography, Mastery, Entrance & Exit Formation – 30%
Showmanship, Showdown – 30% (I had to get clarification on how to judge “showdown”)
Costume, Props – 30%
Audience Impact – 10%

Marching bands are quite different here. Funding is a major constraint, so all the bands only consist of snare drums and two or three bass drums, some lightweight portable xylophones, flag wavers, and dancers. It really limits what you can do and how impressive your sound can be. Imagine the ambiance at your favorite college stadium without the blare of horns belting out your favorite fight song. Most of the songs played were simple children’s ditties like Mary Had a Little Lamb and It’s a Small World (funny, it’s just as annoying in the Philippines – small world, huh?), but one band had a pretty impressive rendition of the Rocky theme song and of “Beautiful Girls” (which I am otherwise entirely sick of). Judging actually ended up being pretty easy to sort out. I channeled my inner marching band critic to determine and realized what was better to watch (constant movement and playing, smooth transitions) and what was boring or distracting (standing in one place, stopping between songs). Not all the schools have the same kinds of resources, so I felt kind of iffy about making judgments on uniforms and proper instrument balance (which drowns out bad players, and makes songs sound better). The winners had by far the most impressive choreography, which was something that I didn’t feel bad about judging on. And I ended up having basically the same ranking as the other two judges, so I felt good about that – a unanimous victor.

Here is one of the participating bands - points knocked off for basically standing in this formation the rest of the time

Here's the winning band. I wish I knew how to take better night photos, besides getting a better camera.

The most exciting and unexpected moment came at the end, when the winners were announced. A rumbling of drums and cheers had been building up, and when the runner-up was named, the winning band exploded in the kind of pure unadulterated victory celebration that I haven’t seen in a while. As the dusk of the evening settled in, a slight haze fell over the plaza, the winners rushed around cheering and hoisting flags, carrying their leader on their shoulders, I basked in the joy of a last minute high school football playoff upset victory on a damp fall night, for it felt much the same.

The Ukay-Ukay

Anybody who knew me in high school or college was likely well aware of my penchant for thrift-store shopping. My sizeable wardrobe consisted of literally hundreds of t-shirts, polo shirts, button-up shirts, jackets, and sweaters, a large portion of which were purchased cheaply at thrift stores. It’s where I got most of my vintage Husky clothes and the large majority of my ironic hipster t-shirts. I came by this thrifty habit honestly because for as long as I can remember, long family car trips always included a few stops at Goodwills, Value Villages, St. Vincent De Pauls, and more, while my dad stocked up on books for the store he would eventually open. From an early age, I took to browsing the clothes racks looking for sports jerseys, and never really stopped.

Sometimes people accused me of essentially stealing clothes that were intended for poor people. This isn’t true at all, because the point of thrift stores in the United States is not so much to clothe the less fortunate (although it does help serve that purpose) but more to make money for charitable organizations through profits generated from the stores. But did you ever wonder where all the clothes that never get sold end up? Shipped to places like the Philippines, which means that now I have a second chance on clothes I missed out on in the US. In this country, they end up at giant clothing bazaars reminiscent of a rummage sale, usually in piles, but occasionally on hangers. I have heard that the clothes that end up here are intended to be donated to victims of typhoons, floods, etc., but that there is some corruption at some higher level that redirects these donated clothes to sellers. I’m not sure how much truth there is in this – probably some, but I doubt that it applies to all the clothes here. (Here is a very interesting article from Pacific Northwest magazine that details what happens to used clothes once they leave the United States).

Here, these clothing bazaars are called ukay-ukays (ooh-kai ooh-kai). The act of picking or sorting through something is called ukay, so the name is derived from the way you have to sort through the mounds of clothing in order to see what’s for sale. There are some relatively permanent ukay-ukays, and some even have buildings they operate out of (these are fancier, so they are called “US Surplus” instead of “ukay-ukay”), but most have the goods spread out on tables and operate under large plastic tarps. In addition to the permanent outlets, there is a large group of sellers that roves around to wherever a fiesta is. So these past few days, out of nowhere on a quiet street, a giant market showed up with plenty of ukay-ukays and sellers of various other wares.

I spent some time sorting through a large pile of t-shirts and came up with some gems:

St. Patrick’s Day At The Milton Club- The classic fuzzy letter shirt in Cooper Black font. I’ll be sure to wear this on my birthday and probably a lot of other times as well.

Willard and Pauline 50 Years- A classic celebration of love. Anybody know them?

Dodgers- a good companion to my Dodgers #42 shirt (that’s Jackie Robinson, for suckers that don’t know) that Stacey is currently looking after for me. Plus, it was previously owned by a famous soda maker. Notice that it used to cost $0.25 in the US, but I bought it for 33.33 ̅ pesos (3 for 100, along with the above shirts), which is about $0.80. And if you factor in the relative purchasing power of the average Filipino to the average American, this means that the shirt cost probably about 30-40 times more here than it did in its US thrift store.

I also found this treasure trove of baseball and soccer jerseys from Japan. I wanted to buy them all and sell them at a huge profit to hipsters in the US (maybe through Red Light, or even just online) but it just didn’t seem practical. The soccer jerseys were all a little small but I did buy a couple baseball jerseys, one for myself and one for my friend Jon, who is also from Seattle and is a big baseball fan (during training, we often played stickball with whatever materials were available – bamboo/rocks, nipa/seeds, etc.). They are also completely impractical, made of thick flannel that is entirely inappropriate for this climate, and probably nobody here would appreciate my fantastic fashion sense and would instead just wonder why I’m wearing a dirty old baseball jersey. But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to buy these because I didn’t know if I’d ever have the chance again. Also, come to think of it, I don’t actually know that they are Japanese, I just assumed they were because I know it’s baseball-mad there, but I can’t read Japanese, Chinese, or Korean or even tell them apart in this case. So if anybody knows what these jerseys say, and in what language, please let me know.