Sunday, December 21, 2008


Sadly, it seems that Christmas caroling in the US has been relegated to old-folks homes and shopping malls, but it is alive and well here in the Philippines. From November through January, bands of carolers roam the streets every night. (This is called mamasko, which is basically making "Christmas" into a verb.) Most of them are children with sweet voices and simple noisemakers - a stack of flattened metal bottle caps nailed to a piece of wood - who sing medleys. There are more professional bands that go around too, like groups of men with guitars or larger groups of teenagers with drums and other instruments. After playing for a minute or so, they will stop and then begin saying "maayong pasko... maayong pasko... pasko... pasko..." ("Merry Christmas.. Merry Christmas.." then more pathetically, "Christmas.. Christmas...") until you give them money or hide yourself deeply enough in your house that they eventually go away. If I'm at all visible during the performance, I feel compelled to give them money, but if I'm behind closed doors and can hardly hear them anyway, I usually just stay inside. Otherwise it would be like giving out candy at Halloween every night for a month.

I took a video of a group of younger kids singing their medley on my porch. I can be heard yelling "kanta!" (sing!) to a kid who is just mugging for the camera, thinking I'm taking a photograph instead of a video. It fades out, I give them money in the interim, and then they sing the thank you song.

And here's a photo of an older, more intense group:

And a serious guitar band last year during Christmas:

This also seems like a good place to mention my favorite Pinoy Christmas decorations, which are these awesome stars. It depends on the size and material, but here is the making of one with bamboo and plastic. Then lights are put inside. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures yet of this big green one lit up.

But here are some smaller ones, so you get the idea. They look great in trees!

This will do it for this blog for 2008. I'll be back in January with an update on my trip to Malaysia, which I'm leaving for tonight. Happy holidays to everybody!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mag-ambahan ta!

Without really realizing what I was doing, I entered a choir contest with my co-workers for the Local Government Unit Christmas party. There were 8 contingents, with each contingent singing a song of their choosing and a Visayan song called Mag-ambahan, which means "coming together to do something". Our group sang The First Noel as our second song. It was way more serious than I expected (quick background for those who don't know me well - I have no musical training at all) and we had harmonies, vocal warmups, and all. I sang bass and didn't embarass myself too terribly.

Here are the lyrics:


Issignit ta ang kalipay'g hudyaka
Kay pasko karon sa pagmaya

Mag-ambahan ta ning pasko sa kalipay
Ang kagul-anan ta ato nga isalikway
Ug duyog ning awit sa malipayong dughan
Issignit ta ang kalipay'g hudyaka
Kay pasko karon sa pagmaya

Wad-on ta ang mga kayugot
Isalikway ta ang pagdumot
Ang pagpasaylo mao'y angay buhaton ta
Ning adlaw sa manunubos

(Repeat Mag-ambahan stanza)

Issignit ta ang kalipay'g hudyaka
Kay pasko karon sa pagmaya

My rough, unofficial translation is below. Of course, it loses all its poetry in translation...

We're shouting in happy merriment
Because it's Christmas, time of joy

We're coming together this Christmas time of happiness
We're putting aside our troubles
And joining together in song of happy chest*
We're shouting in happy merriment
Because it's Christmas, time of joy

We're getting rid of our anger
And setting aside our hatred
Forgiveness is the right thing to do
This day of our Savior

We're shouting in happy merriment
Because it's Christmas, time of joy

*"happy chest" is the literal translation, I think it's more of an expression that you're walking around filled up with joy and happiness.

We didn't win the contest, or get top three. Funnily enough, I nailed the lyrics to the Visayan song, but had a little trouble with the 3rd and 4th verses of The First Noel.

If you'd like to see the performance, I've embedded a video below. Please be aware that the friend I gave my camera to was more drunk than I realized, and it's extremely shaky. Once you glance and get the idea of how we looked, you may just want to switch to another tab and let the sweet sounds of our voices fill your computer speakers. And ignore the talking that sometimes drowns out our voices.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Pinoy Pageant

[This may be the first in a series of Christmas-related posts]

I hear that the high school is doing its raffle drawing today. (Last weekend some students came by selling tickets at 2 pesos a pop, so I bought ten.) I head over to the school 45 minutes after the official start time and try to enter inconspicuously, but as usual, I am unable to do this and dragged to a chair onstage. The teachers are finishing up the parade of top students this grading period to the stage. Two raffle prizes - a sack of rice, and a lechonon - a live pig that is just ripe to be lechon'ed - are given away. (I win neither.)

The pageant begins. I leave the stage and go stand facing it to get a better view. It is introduced with specific references to the scriptures on which it is based. We are at a public high school, but there is no separation of church and state. The Washington State Capitol Holiday Sign Argument Extravaganza would not occur here. The pageant is mostly traditional, except that the piped-in musical accompaniment is more techno-based than the typical pageant. The three wise men bring their gifts wrapped in festive wrapping paper with Santa designs. Mary and Joseph are addressed as "ma'am-sir" by the innkeeper. And immediately after Herod has given his orders to seek out the babe in swaddling clothes lying in manger, the stage clears and 20 girls in Santa hats, short red skirts, and tall white boots come out and do a dance to an instrumental version of Walking in a Winter Wonderland. (It's at least 80 degrees, but with a strong breeze, admittedly almost-chilly weather here.)

The 2nd-prize pig is roused from its sleep across the field and dragged squealing on stage for a photo-op. It arrives mostly by being dragged on a leash attached to its hoof, but is whisked up the steps with a firm grip with one hand on an ear and another on the tail. I realize that I'm being introduced by the emcee, and jog up to the stage to select the winner of the raffle. I spin the drum with gusto, open the lid, and select a name, hoping that I don't pick my own name. It ends up being a construction worker who's right next door helping to construct a new school building. I am photographed with him, the school principal, and a teacher, handing over the small two-range burner with natural gas tank that is the 1st prize. In her final remarks, the principal urges all male students to make sure they get haircuts over the break. With that, the event is over and the crowd disperses. It has been exactly an hour since I left. I return back to my office.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Celestial Countenance

A couple weeks ago (December 1 to be exact), Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon all lined up. Even cooler, they made a smiley face over south and southeast Asia. They were quite low, and by far the brightest things in the sky, even showing up before it was dark. Here's my somewhat-fuzzy shot, taken right in front of my house.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


I normally enjoy the feeling of going to sleep as torrential rainfall comes down outside. There's a certain sense of security and warmth about being wrapped up under your sheets and safe from inclement weather. So that's what I did on Saturday night.

I was torn from this pleasant dream at about 1:30 a.m. as I groggily woke up to the screams of my host mother and realized that my floor was already covered in a few inches of water. I hastily stood up on my bed and started hoisting electronics, books, and magazines from my bed to higher ground. The lower half of my mattress was already soaked, compliments of a leaky nipa roof.

Once I'd cleared off the important things from my bed, I sort of froze in shock. The water kept rising. Already given up to the water were all my shoes, half of my clothes, and some random papers and magazines that were on the ground or on low shelves. It was time to get in. Forgetting a lifetime of jokes about high-water pants, I stepped in to the hopefully-not-contaminated water wearing baggy white basketball shorts. I had a short table with a lot of important documents, books, and magazines on it that needed to be cleared off. Once I got to that point, it was sort of a wait-and-see.

I realized belatedly that my bed would float (it's just a thin foam mattress on a wooden frame), so I could have saved some initial time that I spent clearing it off. But I couldn't leave my room as Sining (host mom) was yelling at me to stay in my room because the water was higher outside. I doubted this claim, as there's a 1-inch gap between my door and the floor, but I stayed put. Eventually the waters began to recede, having got as high as my knees. But nothing could be done until the water level dropped to the lowest barrier outside. After that, we'd have to bail out about 8 inches of water, because my room + porch is sort of like a tub. And now it even has a ring to prove it.

When the water finally reached the bailout point, I started on my room and porch area, while Mark went for the kitchen (it's own, separate tub.) Eventually, after much more exercise than I'm used to at 3 in the morning, the water was mostly down. But there was still a ton of silt and mud to be dealt with, as the river had been carrying quite a bit. We worked and cleaned until 6 a.m. until I couldn't stand it anymore, and I went to go sleep in the extra room upstairs.

In the end, the damage wasn't so bad. It could have been much worse. I will be eternally grateful that I put my laptop on my bed that night, instead of in its bag on the floor, as I usually do. All in all, the main fallout was losing a backlog of Economist and GQ magazines, a bunch of paper I probably needed to recycle anyway, 3 books that are totally soaked through, a lot of basketball cards (planned as presents to children here), my Trivial Pursuit '90s edition, and all my shoes are soaked. I hope they'll dry. Basically all of my clothes except the ones I'm wearing (one change of clothes made it through dry) are still wet. My passport and iPod cord also got soaked, but hopefully they'll survive.

And in anticipation, here's a PFAQ (Potential Frequently Asked Questions) Section:

How did your host mom wake up in the first place?
Usually when there's a super high tide, my toilet goes glug-glug-glug as the water table gets inundated. This happens frequently enough that you don't even think about it. For some reason, on this night, she heard it only go glug-glug-glug once and was up in a flash, and looked outside and saw the rising floodwaters. I, for the record, never heard anything.

Why did it flood?
We live about 5 houses away from the river. Apparently the river had been running high all week, and with the super-hard rain coming on Saturday night in addition to a week of heavy rains, it must have caused a storm surge of at least 2 meters. I'm not sure what role the tide had, if any. Another thing to think about is the cause that deforestation had on the ability of the mountains and hills to retain water and sediment, rather than letting it gush through the valley and flood. I can only speculate, and it still may have flooded were the deforestation not so severe, but I'm guessing it had a lot to do with it.

Wow! Do you have any pictures of this?
Uh, in case you didn't notice, I embedded a YouTube video at the start of this post. If it's not showing up for some reason, here's the link: Flash Flood Video
And if you haven't seen what my house looks like during non-flooded times, here's a link for comparision: Cribs Philippines

Why haven't you blogged for 2 months? What have you been up to?
My parents came/I've been busy/I've been unmotivated/it was thanksgiving/It's been a rough month/etc. etc. I'll get around to some updates, I hope!