June 27, 2011

"Hi Bag!"

The rain FINALLY stopped and we had a few great days of SUNSHINE! I love it! We decided to take our neighbor, Bryan, a new intern that served his mission here, with us to explore more of the city around us. He is blonde, thin, and has blue eyes so people at church thought we were brothers. So you can imagine that if we were stared at with just Lady Hiva and I, what it was like to have TWO white guys walking around the streets.

It was fun because being a missionary here recently, Bryan, likes to say hello to people just like I do when we pass. A few times he stopped to play basketball with a few of the kids. And yes, we found some more random courts as we walked around the city. It was fun to hear them "ooh and ahh" as he would dunk the ball for them--so tall! It was nice because if we got separated from each other in the masses of people he and I could just look over everyone else's heads and find the OTHER white guy. Hiva on the other hand blends in a bit too much and it is harder to find her if her back is turned. Maybe I should have her wear a matching neon orange shirt like the families do in Washington, D.C. when they do not want to loose a child! HA, she would LOVE that!

At one point we had turned off the main street and ended up walking down a residential street. Tall cement walls enclosed the walkway, the only break was a few windows and the door to enter the house. Random graffiti and laundry hanging to dry displayed the only colors. The grey walls are a bit intimidating with bars on the windows it feels a bit like walking in a prison. On first glance, you would think that it was dirty--grey walls, back alley, bars, graffiti...yet as we walked through, we saw that there was no trash to be seen, every inch of the place was meticulously swept and laundry was hung in beautiful patterns over our heads. Then it is the people that gives theses walls life. Their happy countenances and diverse faces brighten as we walked by. Children of course could not let some 'Americans' walk by without asking for money, to which we would reply that we did not have any--truly we didn't. Although they most likely thought we were lying because we had two LARGE black cameras hanging around our necks.

The street continued on for half a mile and eventually narrowed into what looked like a dead end. As we walked Bryan was in the lead and Hiva between he and I. He would say hello to the groups of people that we passed, I knew that it was in Tagalog because they would all look at him at chatter in shock as he passed. I would go by and too greet them in Tagalog then they were REALLY in shock. Not just one, but TWO tall Americans can speak our language! Then they look at Lady Hiva and wonder who the Filipina is with them. It did not take long before everyone in the street was coming out to see the white men coming down the street and they all greeted us with smiles and hellos.

Several of them want a photo, at one point an older lady asked for money as we passed, again we told her we did not have any, then as she saw the camera, she pointed to a girl about 18 or 19 years old, I assume is her daughter, in a wheelchair and said, "Picture please?" I went back and told them that I would only take a photo if I could be in it, much to their delight. Hiva snapped a photo and we could tell that this girl in the wheelchair with such a happy demeanor meant the world to those on the street because they all stopped to watch the photo op. One guy joked after, "yes, you need to take picture...she is endangered." The whole group laughed!

At a few points, I could not tell if there were more people or more cars! Both were everywhere! Your eyes get dizzy from constantly looking every direction trying to soak it all in. I took a few fun photos of signs, at one point where the traffic is really heavy and people walking are more than abundant there is a sign that said, " Bawal Tumawid May Namatay Dito"--It is forbidden to cross here, people have died. The other day I looked up as Hiva ran across the road calling back, "Hurry it is clear!" and I saw this sign! YIKES! Later I explained to her what it said because she could not read it before, she replied, "It wasn't THAT bad." Oh boy. The other sign is one we see EVERYWHERE! "Bawal Umihi Dito!"--It is forbidden to urinate here. We  see this on the grey walls near houses, on the side of stores, on boards and cars...I guess they are trying to curb old habits. Lady Hiva of course could not pass the sign without making me stand there pretending to pee for another photo. The three Filipinos that were repairing a bike stopped what they were doing and watched in amusement as this went on...

It began to get dark and that is when all the "malls" close so there are vendors in the street. We walked down Taft street after the sun went down. It was like a never ending swap meet. Lady Hiva kept saying, I cannot wait to come back! We saw shoes and more shoes, clothing of all kinds, movies (pirated of course I saw one that said it was Pirates of the Caribbean 4, do they even have that yet? Now that is ahead of the game), and foods of all kinds--fried chicken heads, eyeballs and skin included, coagulated blood kabobs, and other meaty things that I did not dare ask about but took a photo of! The vendors were all over the sidewalks and in the streets, actually really smart selling because when the lone car ventured down the street we all had to step into the booths to not get ran over. At one point Hiva said to me, "I want to get a smaller bag to carry at times like this so I don't have to wear my large purse." Within seconds this older lady was at her side, I am still not sure where she came from or how she heard Hiva say that, maybe it was just a coincidence, but she turned and had hundreds of paper bags hanging of her arms she raised them toward Hiva and said in her best English, "Hi Bags!" mixing two long sentences into one: 'Hello, do you want some bags?' Hiva laughed because it sounded more like she was just called "Bags."

At the end of the road there was a HUGE cathedral, made of cement of course, and we wandered inside. Hundreds of people were outside waiting for the next mass to start. I thought there were plenty of people out there, but inside had triple the amount. I would have taken a photo if it did not feel like I was intruding on their spirituality, and even then  there were so many people I still would have done it, but Hiva had the camera and refused to give it to me knowing what I was going to do. This place was as long as a softball field and people filled the seats packed and lined the aisles. It was amazing. Outside the cathedral there were dancers and drummers, I guess to entertain people as they waited. It was fun, I could have stayed there all night just people watching.

Taft is a place that you will see for sure when you come visit.

June 24, 2011

Nature Heaves Her Bounds and Swimmers in the shadows

Even as I write this the heavy rain is pelting the windows and creating an underlying background rhythm. These are not the normal rain, and in Hawaii we saw quite a bit of rain, these drops are enormous. They land with a hard splat and instantly soak every surface in a matter of minutes. The good thing is they are not picky, they treat everything the same, they will soak the grass, car, sidewalk, road, house and suits and new silk ties equally--nothing gets left out.

It started raining yesterday. They tell us that it is rainy season here, but ever since we arrived the weather is similar to Hawaii. We expect rain at least once a day and a bad rain every few weeks. But this is 'typhoon' weather. Go big or go home, right? When I sit at my desk, I have a wonderful view out gorgeous picture windows to the buildings manicured lawns and the parking lot. Just beyond that is a large wall that separates the building from the Manila bay. Yesterday the windows were pattering their tune adding more white noise to an already buzzing room. I watched as people ran to and from their cars with umbrellas and bright yellow rain suits; the umbrellas appeared completely useless whipping around in the wind and large drops of rain almost vertical and the rain suits just looked down right comical. It was not until I went upstairs on an errand that I saw more than the parking lot and how the, normally calm, sea was churning and waves were crashing up against the walls all the way down the street. Large crests of nature's sheer power would careen into man made walls and with majesty, displayed angry white foam several feet in all directions.  It was mesmerizing. The battle against man and nature. Neither were giving in. Nature was literally heaving her bounds--bounds that man gave her anyway...

It rained all night, I went to the gym and was soaked before I even got there! Bad idea. I had to call someone to tell them water was flowing into the place from the old cinder block wall. I am still not sure if that is normal because it was still happening today.But hey, electrical machines and some water, no bid deal, right? We came to the gym to raise our heart rate anyway, how bad is a little extra energy?

Today the rain continued, traffic was lighter this morning because most people decided to stay home. Yet it was still slow because there was flooding everywhere. We were able to leave early because the weather was just not letting up.

Hiva and I decided that we were not scared of the water, we put our shorts and slippers on, took the two umbrellas and walked to the mall. It was nice because there was hardly anyone else there, something rare since we have been here in Asia. We watched a movie--the only dry, non staying home activity within walking distance--and the rain pounded on the metal roof so hard the music soundtrack was muffled.

The cab driver could not get close to our house because of the flooding so he dropped us off down the road and we walked through the sludge up to our knees to the house. I say sludge because it is brown and has floating debris and obstacles in it. We are near the bay so all the water from the city to the east runs this way...I am trying not to think about WHAT the obstacles and debris really ARE that we are sharing the water with!

We went to take some photos because the whole area looks like a large lake. The pool is even spilling over the edge. As we went to step off the curb, I was looking close because it is hard to tell where the curb is under three feet of dirty water and just as I put my foot down something swam out of the dark shadow and around my leg before darting back in! YIKES! I jumped because I did not know what it could be, a fish? Not likely because that would mean they live in the sewers, a rat? Ok, again not wanting to think about the possibilities! I jumped and yelled, "Did you see THAT?!" Lady Hiva was right behind me and I landed hard on her foot from my jump. "Owe! You hit my foot!" She was dancing in pain and I was dancing because something living, black, and nasty just swam up my leg and wanted to ravenously bite me and give me all its diseases it carries from the feces it eats daily---ok, a bit dramatic, but it did startle me. I tried to apologize by explaining why I jumped, Lady Hiva was not buying it and accusingly retorted, "You SAW something in the water so you HAD to jump on my FOOT?" Well, when you put it like that maybe I was over reacting a bit...

The best was all the wires stretching out in different areas to pump water out, ironically those wires, some exposed completely, were just floating in the water! A little zap is not too bad right? Or is that over reacting again? (Hiva says I am the 'drama queen' in our family, I am not sure how to take that, so I just wear the title proudly, because with her easy-going nature it really is true)

June 20, 2011

Waterfalls and Underground Rivers

We woke up early today to take the long trip to the other side of the island. Everyone here is SO accommodating. They cook food around our schedule, they drive when we want to drive, anything we ask for they stop what they are doing and complete the task right away. It is a bit intimidating at times. The drive was beautiful. We were able to see more of the countryside. The road turned into dirt and holes of mud from the storm were plentiful. I was amazed at the colorful buses passing with hundreds of faces packed into the windows and people riding on top, the side and the back to get passage back to the city. Small motor bikes were common vehicles, I began to count to see how many people they fit, the most was 6 on a small dirt bike! They also take bikes and put a shell on it so from the front it looks similar to a Volkswagen beetle with only three wheels. They will pack stuff on top of the roof and stuff up to 8 people inside as they travel.

Basketball must be a sport of choice here because there are courts everywhere. Some are nice with actual cement courts, others are packed dirt out in a field. I was fascinated with all the courts that we passed. We made it to Sabang, a touristy beach town on the west side of Palawan. Some really classy resorts are interspersed with the typical huts and sari-sari stores we have been seeing. We walked around for a few hours in the shops and had fun watching people come and go.

We walked out to the waterfalls—a 2 mile walk along the beach. It was beautiful. We were the only people there. I think due to the fact you had to walk through a village to get there. If all the staring makes you nervous, it is not a comfortable walk. It was intriguing to see the boat makers shaping a ship with a machete or painting with a homemade brush. Or to see women around a large tub washing cloths and children playing in the stream or throwing rock in contest. They too wanted me to take all of their photos—maybe it is the large ‘professional’ looking camera. The only person I have to fight to take a photo sometimes is Hiva. But she actually volunteered for a photo with a carabao that we passed. I told her to get closer, but she was afraid it would bite! I had to laugh and tell it would not bite so she inched closer, then I added it won’t bit but it might kick!’ She decided she was close enough!

The waterfall was gorgeous. We cooled off in the water, Hiva wanted a photo of me in the fall, I obliged because I did not want to be hypocritical, but told her to hurry because the last time she and I were swimming in a waterfall—in Hawaii—I ended up with giardia! I could almost feel it swimming into me as she fumbled with the camera to get a shot! HURRY!

We boarded a boat that took us out across the limestone cliff edged bay into the deep blue water towards the underground river. The trip there alone was beautiful. God truly does amaze me with all of his creations.It is hard to describe the lush greens falling over the tops off grey limestone that cut into the water below. Neither photos nor words do it justice.

The underground river is a cave that is full of water. 9 and our guide of us got onto a boat that is supposed to be for 8. The waterline was really close and I had some second thoughts about going and the similarity to the day before we Hiva and I sunk a boat already. The difference being here the water was DEEPER and full of minerals from the cave and of course plenty of bat droppings!

We were able to see monkeys and huge moniter lizards on the trail to the river, and eventually saw a snake hanging from the trees. Wildlife so close and not in zoo cages, it was wonderful. 

People here are really resourceful and put a new meaning to recycling. We saw old tires used in so many ways: as signs, as stands, as patio furniture, as pots for plants. We rode in one of the tricycles and it was fun to see how they converted a motorcycle into  something for passengers. Although it was full with just Hiva and I, I cannot imagine what it is like with the 8 people I saw before!