September 28, 2011

The Morning After

6am brought with it no rain and some light. The clouds were still grey and dreary, but compared to all the chaos of the last two days there was a sullen hush to the world outside. As the hours passed on, evidence of life could be heard outside. Honking horns, rakes, yelling, children running, or leaf blowers and chainsaws running.

Lady Hiva and I decided to go see if Boeing made it through the storm.

People were out cleaning up all over the city. Many trees were down and being disposed of and the ones that were still standing looking looked bare and sad with their branches stripped and torn off. It reminded me of when you go to get a hair “trim” and the stylist takes liberty to “butch and cut” to their hearts content and all you are left with is a mess to deal with until something better grows back.

The road is covered with a thick layer of black mud that workers are out removing one shovel full at a time. They pack it into gunny sacks and cart it off.  The brick mosaic boardwalk along the bay all had to be pulled up and piled ready to be taken away too. Trash and debris laid everywhere. Although there were hundreds of people with brooms and rakes trying to clean up, it looked like such an endless task.

As we got closer to work the silence and the smell worsened. The flood waters have gone, but it left behind all the trash and….hmmm “other things” that don’t smell so great. Piles of trash collected in the fence lines, against walls and on the fallen trees. Walking through the gates I had to hold my breath and tiptoe through the trash.
It was quiet inside. The solemnness must be preparation for the long clean up mixed with a rest after the storm. Even the workers inside were working quietly. I was trying to explain to Hiva how high  the water was and what we all saw yesterday, but it sounds so trite and like a ‘fish tale’ when you see no water in sight.  

Boeing made it! He braved the storm with the other ten or fifteen cars parked near him. I was so thankful. He started right up and we drove off to get some more bottled water—just in case there is a round two.

Here are some photos that Yahoo! Gathered from yesterday that we thought were really cool:

September 26, 2011

When the Muddy Water Gets High, JUST KEEP SWIMMING.

In past posts I have talked about Manila Bay; how it is really close to our house, how brown and dirty the water is, how the ocean breeze brings the  putrid sewer smell to our house, how trash just piles up where the waves crash, and how I would NEVER swim in it and cringe when I see other people in the water.

Well…never say never because today I did just that!

Not by choice of course. It was more a serious of events.

A typhoon is passing over the Philippines at the moment, and yes, most times the storms bring plenty of rain and some flooding, but within a few hours it is all over and the resilient Filipinos go on with their lives. We were released early yesterday because of the storm and told they would keep us posted about today. It rained all night, the power went out, and some trees fell over in the neighborhood—you know, just a normal day. In the morning no news from work, so I picked up a colleague and we went to work.

When we left the house there was no rain, but by the time we got halfway there, the rain and wind started again. The main road that runs parallel to the ocean had waves spilling over the retaining wall leaving water flooding into the streets (a common side effect having reclaimed land lower than the ocean level on the other side of a cement wall). We talked about wishing we had a camera to take photos of the lone man holding onto a yellow traffic pole facing the ocean in defiance as branches whipped past him and rain pelted his body or of the small buildings that were blown over and trees that were bending heavily to one side braving the wind. Of course, Boeing is big and strong, so we went through the water and made it to work. Many other colleagues did not make it in because as time went on the waves and wind just continued to increase in velocity and size.

The message that work was closed was not sent out until well after we had started working! We all finished what we were doing and headed out only to find that the two exits from the building are so flooded nobody can leave! Luckily, Boeing was parked close to the building, so on he was dry on higher ground; yet, each wave hitting the wall between us and the raging brown ocean was contesting the wave before to see whose splash was bigger, much like competitive children at a swimming pool. Gallons and gallons of muddy water and rubbish spilled onto land with each wave. At one point we stood in awe looking out of a second story window as powerful waves collided with the wall and the splash was higher than the coconut trees lining the bay.

It was then I realized this was not going to be getting better like other storms. We were told to leave the building, but many of us did not have anywhere to go. We huddled in the lobby watching the water levels rise around the building. The only way out was to wade through the ocean.  Again, I found myself wishing I had a camera. People dawned trash bags to shelter themselves, changed into clothes that could be ruined, and started to wade out.

I was torn, I did not want to leave Boeing there, but it was obviously not getting any better and Lady Hiva was home by herself. Ok, so I am going to go home, walk if I have to. As I was contemplating ruining my shoes or going barefoot a guy came back in the door with a huge gouge in his foot from something he stepped on in the water. As blood spurted every time he took a step, my decision was made—ruined shoes it is!

The water was shockingly cold. The wind, blowing vertical now was assaulting us with biting rain drops. It was hard to keep our eyes open, but wading through muddy water with floating debris demanded we had them open. Body and mind were revolting to this whole idea.

This is when having an overactive mind does NOT come in handy. As we walked, all holding on to each other for support my thoughts were on overdrive. ‘Why did they not close the work earlier?’ ‘I don’t even WANT to know what is hitting my legs right now.’ I have seen what kinds of things float in Manila bay when it is calm. Then as we walked over a sewer drain, I could feel pressure pushing water out of it, like a Jacuzzi would feel in a hot tub. Memories triggered of the floods in Hawaii during 2005 when it rained for 40 days and the sewers spilled out; people that went into the water contracted flesh eating viruses and had to have their limbs amputated one by one before they finally died. “STOP THINKING, just STOP THINKING…” Like Dori says on Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”

Then they told us the only way out was through the construction site! Yeah, THAT is a bright idea! No wonder someone sliced his foot open! Not to mention we are all waist deep in water and if some kind of electricity comes through here we will have firsthand knowledge of how a lobster feels when there are boiled to death. Breathe deep…oh, not that deep, the heavy rain will choke you… ‘Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.’

We made it out to the main road again; there was nowhere to go from there. A few army trucks were driving along to pick up stragglers. About 50 or 60 people were huddled together under a cement bus stop. We decided to walk towards a shuttle they said was waiting for us. As we did the current was strong and more things were hitting our legs on the way. Others followed us out and I saw people, who had lost their slippers already, selecting slippers out of the water as they floated by (talk about recycling)!

Now I thought how this puts new meaning to the religious idiom, “Get to higher ground.” Because, truly if we would have seen the signs, left earlier, or been on higher ground from the beginning we would not have been required to wade through muddy water.

After a long ride—through more flooding—I made it home. Several of the large trees around the house have fallen and the rain is still constantly playing an intense rhythm on the windows, but I am here with My Lady and we are safe—for now. Hopefully Boeing is alright and the water does not get high enough to ruin him. I guess we will see, so Boeing, I only have one piece of advice for you: when the muddy water gets high, ‘Just keep swimming.’

(For those of you that want to see photos, here you go, BBC footage is right outside of work--literally)

September 25, 2011

Oh, the places you'll go...and the unexpected you'll see

If there is one thing that can be said about Filipinos, it is that they know how to enjoy life. This week we have been able to see many sides of Filipino culture and how they celebrate.

Earlier in the week we were invited to a family birthday party in one of the small barangays (town sections) outside of Manila. The mother of the family came and met us to guide us to the house, she said it was hard to find. After missing our turn and having to make our way through neighborhoods to retrace our mistake, we stopped at a local store on the side of the street to buy some roasted chicken. This type of  chicken is what we call huli-huli chicken in Hawaii. It is slowly roasted over hot coals. Instead of being an outdoor pit like you would find in Hawaii, this store was under a cinder block apartment  on a busy street, sandwiched in between a brightly lit beauty parlor with hand written price signs taped to the door and a dentist office that had an old yellow neon sign that was flickering on and off. Combined with the overall appearance of peeling paint, layers of dust and pollution, and electrical wires draping dangerously low I was not so sure this would be my choice of dentists. (and maybe on my choice of chicken joints either)

After choosing our chicken, the worker kindly removed it from the sharp yard length skewer, slapped in onto the wood block table and hacked it into bite size pieces ready to eat, we wound through six or seven back roads to their house. We passed large concrete wall covered in graffiti, well lit basketball courts filled with participants, and hundreds of little sari-sari stores out of people’s homes with bright advertisements boasting of the store’s wares. By then I was glad that we had a guide. With no street signs, or any kind of traffic signs for that matter, directions to get here would have been a nightmare!
Their home was on a small, one lane side street with no shoulder and home’s front doors opening right into the traffic—although there was not much traffic just the occasional  jeepney. The problem was that because nobody in this neighborhood owns a vehicle, there was no parking space. A real bummer considering Boeing is an SUV! We resorted to pulling as close to the wall of the internet café across the street hoping that the jeepney would be able to pass. We met all the neighbors, ate traditional food with them and of course the small apartment was equipped with its own karaoke machine! We felt so comfortable there, they welcomed us into their little circle as if we had been living two doors down for the past few years—oh, and the chicken was unexpectedly delicious! We even found a similar sketchy chicken joint just around the corner of our house already!
Speaking of Hawaii and food, this week Hiva prepared a traditional Tongan dish, Lu pulu, for us and the sister missionaries--one is a Tongan from Hawaii. The sisters found taro leaves in the open market the other day and we all decided it was time to make some Lu! Delicious! Totally unhealthy, but delicious! We concluded the meal with Pani-popo, an equally delicious and fattening Samoan dish of dinner rolls baked in sweetened coconut milk.

This weekend we went to the ‘Road-shows’ at our Chapel. Years ago an LDS tradition started and the youth of the congregations would put together a road-show, a short play with a moral and a few simple props, and then travel to other nearby congregations to perform it. I remember doing this as a really young kid because Madre was the chronic Young Women’s leader. However, performance wise, the Filipino style road-show blew my expectations of a road-show out of the water!

The church gymnasium was packed with chairs and a good 200 other people standing, there were spot lights, show lights and fake smoke to add to the effects. We watched as several groups put on, not just miniature plays, but full on musicals. The Filipino people are prone to be musically talented and we saw that coming through on the stage. Hip-hop dances and popular pop songs accompanied amazing dance groups; choreographed battle scenes, complete with cardboard armor and real spears, recounted Book of Mormon and Bible stories; soloists sang the history of the Philippines as we watched dancers reenact important parts like Jose Rizal and other revolutions; and of course there was a modern version of the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ story where two children of rival families fall in love, almost die in a fire and then are revived to save the community. 

On Sunday as we were going to church we passed a long parade (thankfully they were going to opposite direction, because they were not moving very fast and had traffic stopped behind them) of people celebrating the St. Rafael’s catholic church being here in the area. I am not sure where it is exactly, but it is close because we have been hearing fireworks all day. In fact, the firework guy was leading the procession and every 20 feet or so he would stop to light another firework—thus halting the parade traffic more. He was followed by 2 full sized marching bands at either end of the parade, two fully decorated floats—one with a statue of St. Rafael and one with a statue of Mary—they were really colorful and fun to see, but the real braided hair on the statues was kind of creepy, and in between them all were crowds of parishioners carrying their vigil candles in procession.  Sadly, we did not have our camera; yeah, we don’t usually take our camera to church, so you will just have to imagine it.

So, yes, the places you will see when you get immersed into the local culture keeps you realizing that the only thing you can expect is the unexpected.

September 18, 2011

Christmas in July was only a metaphor, but Christmas in September is SERIOUS business

In July, when we received our HHE (household effects) shipment, I joked that it felt like Christmas to have everything again. What I did not expect when I said that was two months later to be celebrating the Christmas season! Yes, I have said it before Christmas officially starts in September in the Philippines! Carols on the loud speakers in the mall, ‘Happy Christmas’ wishers on the streets and at work, decorations on sale in stores, and blinking twinkle lights are starting to emerge wherever we drive.

Hiva and I decided to go to one of the stores near the Mall of Asia that we had heard about that sales everthing including Christmas decorations—UniWide. UniWide is a large warehouse type store that sales wholesale items at discount price. Several people have told us how great the prices are, but I was skeptical because if the prices were so great, then why don’t more people go?

On our drive we saw a traffic controller that was full on dancing while he directed traffic. His dance included pirouettes, lunges and all kinds of Michael Jackson style hand and foot work! It was so graceful! We did not mind staying at the light for an extended period of time!

When we arrived I understood the reason. UniWide is located in a “has-been” mall at the south end of Roxas boulevard. As we approached we had to navigate through large pot holes and several old buses using the abandoned parking lot as a makeshift bus terminal. The building itself was in decay. Paint was chipping, awnings torn to shreds, storefront windows literally boarded up with plywood and tin sheeting, and neon lights that used to welcome shoppers to the mall now dangled haphazardly down the wall leaving a vivid color mark where the sun did not scorch like the rest of the building. Now, I don’t watch horror films, but as we tried to decide where to park I could not help but think this was a perfect venue for the next something-big-and-dead-kills-the-innocent-shopper- thriller!

We parked near the two other cars in the dusty lot, thinking that was the best bet for safety—if other people trusted to park here. As we exited I noticed that one of  cars had a terribly flat tire and the other had not moved in months because the dirt around the tires was undisturbed evidence there had been a rain storm, followed by a muddy flood, then the water evaporated  leaving a layer of cracked, desert looking sand. What did we get ourselves into?

Inside the mall building was just as creepy. The escalators at the entrance were unmoving and the whole second story was walled off. The only natural light that seeped into the building was through the cracks in the hastily boarded exterior windows. There was no main lighting and  only one in every ten stores was open for shopping. They were dimly lit with wire lights strung across the ceiling and one or two exposed bulbs humming with electricity. The floors of the mall were white tile, meticulously swept and the bathrooms were clean  I could smell the fresh bleach—a fresh welcoming smell in stark contrast to the rest of our surrounding. We continued to walk deeper into the mall, past rows of abandoned stores that still had window displays as if they were opening in a few hours, and the large grand entry with restaurants lining the walls and benches and tables in the middle awaiting guests; Just like you would see in any other mall. But it was all wrong. The mannequins in the window displays were covered in dust from non-use, the restaurants were dark and the grand entry was empty and tables were lonely without guests using them. Just about then I was creeped out enough and ready to leave when we rounded the corner and were greeted with large bright banners of UniWide announcing Christmas sales, decorations and colors of all styles flashing with life at us…a complete juxtaposition to the rest of the mall.

We went in and spent several hours looking around. It was a blast. There were decorations, Christmas items of all sorts, kitchenware, toys, furniture, wholesale food products, and more and the prices were cheap! It was like a massive Ross! (They even had some items that had Ross tags on them! I was not supposed to take photos inside but I quickly snapped a few shots with the camera just hanging around my neck...sneaky, sneaky!)  Totally a cool place to come look for anything you need. But if you go, park in the back at the entrance to UniWide itself, spare yourself the disturbing walk through the mall.

Next we went to S&R, the Philippine version of Costco and Sams Club. There was a Christmas sale all this week. Hiva had gone earlier and left after 5 minutes because of the incredible amounts of people. Today was no different. A line outside wound around just for a cart, when we got inside the place was complete chaos! People had their cart filled to the brim with decorations and goods for the holidays. I could not believe it! I would have taken a few photos but they told me I had to turn my camera into the front desk. For about 3 minutes, I was completely fascinated that Christmas shoppers were so serious in mid-September by the way they were acting it was Christmas Eve and we needed to get all our shopping done in time for family dinner.

But then on the 4th minute, when I had dodged the fifth raging shopper darting to the next sale with their cart spilling over, I hit “Wal-martitis” mode real fast. (If you did not read about Wal-martitis in my previous posts, that is what I call it when I am in a store, like Wal-Mart, and so many people are pushing, shoving, and selfishly not paying any attention to general public around them that I get claustrophobic and need to leave FAST to keep my sanity.) So for the 5th and 6th minutes spent in the store we were retracing our steps out. YIKES! We will just have to do without S&R grocery items until next week! We went to Hypermarket instead. (In fairness, it is usually Hypermarket that gives me Wal-martitis, but after being in S&R earlier it felt like we were walking in an open air market with all the room in the world!

If it Christmas shopping craze is bad now I wonder what it is like in December.