Friday, May 30, 2008

The Non-Electric Water Transportation Test

[Note: I just finished reading Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, so apologies if my writing is a little more free-form than usual. Just read it. READ IT!]

The other night, I returned to my island, after an eventful day that included:

A fastcraft ride with a lady clearly taking pictures of me with her cell phone;

Waiting for a bus on a pier so thoroughly inundated with the smell of urine that it made me seriously question my previously unwavering support for the Filipino male tendency to urinate in the great outdoors, then wandering over to take a picture of a decrepit and rusty version of the boat I just rode, wasting away on the beach, and noticing a kid just openly defecating on the beach – the first time I have seen that here;

Taking a bus ride that provided some thrilling views and awe/fear inspiring turns, a regular Disney ride (knowing in the back of your mind that sometimes they have serious injuries occur on Disney rides) with the unfortunate addition of a screeching horn that makes the bus sound like a diseased weasel hurtling through lesser, slower forms of life;

Losing my cell phone on a bumpy trike ride, ordering (and paying double my already-inflated fare) for a fruitless search of my phone;

Wandering up and down a somewhat grimy dive colony, looking for “4-American-Friends-3-White-and-1-Chinese” while realizing that this was probably what detectives had to do when they didn’t have the benefit of contacting their snoop subject via cell phone – I managed to be shown the rooms they had stayed in the previous night, was offered the room key to their place for this night, and found where they had gone diving before, but no THEM, until at last! There they were.

And more happenings, like calling my phone to find that it had already been found, stolen, and de-SIM-carded, meaning I had no viable way of tracking down an honest person who found it, because an honest person didn’t find it;

Grabbing a sandwich to go and going on the fastest boat period that I’ve been on in this

Snorkeling a little bit because I’m still afraid my throat will seize up if I cough too hard while I’m diving;

Having some dinner while playing Settlers of Catan and watching a beautiful sunset; catching a ride with locals back to the highway and getting to pay the true fare (5 times cheaper than the tourist fare!);

Waiting for an hour for a bus to come while impressing some locals with my language skills/going through the motions of the same inane conversation about “chicks” that we’ve all had a million times, finally catching the bus, the last boat, and arriving back on my island.

While I was on the bus, I thought about how dependent we are on cell phones for meeting people. Back in the day, you would name a time and a place, and that was that. [Or you wouldn’t even do that. I once read about a study where New Yorkers were asked to name where they would meet somebody in the city, if they had no agreed time or place, they just had to meet. An overwhelming amount independently chose the clock at Grand Central Station, 12:00 noon. I wonder where it would be for Seattle – I’d probably choose the middle of Westlake Plaza. UW, HUB front stairs. But where do you choose for a dive colony in the Philippines you’ve never been to before, and the time is now?] Cell phones make it more complicated and easier at the same time. But what happens when the paradigm shifts mid-plan? You lose your phone before setting an on-the-go time and place, and you end up wandering around up and down a hideously developed dive colony, telling the sunglasses/rolex/Viagra man three times that you don’t want any of his products, while thinking about what could have been in this day, in this place. You could have put the bloody phone in the pocket with the zipper, or your bag, or any number of other rough-road-immune places, there’s so many ways I could have not lost my phone. They could have kept the shoreline free and open, put the resorts off the beach, never made any seawalls, and created/preserved a place 30 times more beautiful, there’s so many people who could have not screwed this up. Sayang.

Like I said, I returned to my island, getting off the slow boat at the southernmost end of my town, which is about an hour’s walk from where I live, as I now know. It was late, beyond typical public-transport time, but there was one tricycle driver waiting at the dock. I told him I wanted to go to Poblacion. He appeared to ingest this information, but it had no effect, and he wandered off. I waited a few minutes, and then I asked him if he wasn’t leaving, after all. He mumbled some stuff and then asked how much I was going to pay. I said, well, the regular fare is 6 pesos, so what do you want? He sort of said nothing, just smiled weirdly. I asked him a couple more times, and he said nothing. I told him he needed to talk, or I was just going to walk home. It was strange, the way he refused to begin a negotiation. Then he finally says 60 pesos. 60! Sometimes I give in a little bit to the inevitable rip-offs that follow my white skin because I just don’t care enough to haggle on everything. But no way is this happening in my own town. He wants more because he might not pick up a passenger on the way back – totally reasonable, so I offer him 12. No. “Gasolina is expensive.” … Yes, it is, but it’s no more expensive at night than during the day time, when you drive up and down giving rides all day for 6 pesos. I offer 15. 20. 20 each, me and the kid by me who wants to go the exact same way as me, but even further! He’s already offered 20. That’s 40 out of his ludicrous negotiation-starting high point of 60. He’s nonplussed. I’m frustrated. The driver points out what appears to be an easy-ride going by, and the kid and I run for it, but it’s not-for-hire, plus it’s stopping where we’re standing and staying there for the night. Tired and perplexed, I don’t even go back to the trike and begin to walk home instead. It occurs to me that he just really didn’t want to drive us, even at a premium price. He decided that he would only take us if he really got away with murder. He certainly doesn’t lose money during the day - otherwise there would be no trikes on the road – and he stood to make even more here. I walked home sort of to spite him – if you’re going to hold out for everything, you’re going to get nothing, my thinking often goes – yet it seems that this is basically what he wanted. On I walked, thinking about this driver #118 and wondering if I should have negotiated differently, or longer, while counting the vehicles that passed. Not a single public utility vehicle, so I don’t know if the kid I was waiting with ever passed me or not. And then, at the EXACT moment that I reached my house, Trike #117 goes by, fully loaded with people! Now I’m unsure if it was 118 or 117 that I was originally talking to, as the paint jobs appeared similar. Either way, he got his money, or he got his secret wish to stay, and I arrived home at my apparently pre-destined arrival time.

Monday, May 26, 2008

A project beginning

One of my new projects is to try and create a supplemental livelihood for fisherfolk families, the idea being to increase their income first, and to also try and reduce pressure on the fishery by having less people dependent on it as a livelihood (which can lead to overfishing - although, really, commercial fishers are the major problem in that regard). Having been inspired at a training I went to, my counterpart and I developed a plan to introduce this supplemental livelihood project based on creating goods out of recycled materials - out of used juice patches, for one, but also out of ironed plastic bags, a new idea which is starting to catch on, but hasn't really been done yet in my area. [Curious about ironing? Check out this website.] After a few introductory meetings with local officials to build support, I met with some fisherfolk one afternoon that had conveniently already been organized by a provincial employee, and showed them some sample products and a video on the technique. When I came back the next week to give more information and do an actual demonstration, I was floored to see that one of the girls had already taken the idea and ran with it, far surpassing anything I hoped to demonstrate, producing the most creative bags and prints I had ever seen with this technique. I borrowed them for a week to show off. These are all created from plastic bags ironed together:

Orcas frolicking under the sun

An orca in a colorful sea

A small handbag

An orca handbag

... A week went by and we returned for a third meeting, and I was again floored by what had been produced, this time in only 4 days:

These bags are basically market-ready, in my opinion, and the enthusiasm that's been shown so far makes me feel like even if a large amount of people don't take to the project, at least a small group of people can really make something of it. We're meeting on Friday to talk business plans and group names, and then the plan is to develop some more sample, initial products for sale. I'm going to help market the goods locally, regionally, and possibly even internationally, if some of my North American readers dig it. Bags will probably be the starting point, but I'm hoping that a wide range of things can be made - sails, kites, umbrellas, rain jackets, whatever would benefit from a free, durable Tyvex-like material.

Here's a picture of the community organizer, Daisy, on the left, who's my main counterpart for this project, and some of the most enthusiastic members so far. I'll keep you posted on how it goes!

Friday, May 16, 2008

One Year in the Philippines!

Yes, It's official, I've now been in the Philippines for one year. And oh, what a difference one makes, if you will compare my just-arrived-after-a-long journey, freshly buzz cut, heaviest weight of my life ID photo with the one I took last night.

But sadly, I am apparently moving farther away from the culturally "proper" hairstyle.

And I've eschewed pants and shoes at the office for shorts and flip-flops every day. At least my hair's not blue, and I don't have a shifty look on my face, right?

I also just sent out a mass email, and posted it as a note on facebook. If you're not my facebook friend, or not on the list, and you want to read this year update, give me your email address.