atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#465: Home again, etc.

American Airlines lost one of my bags (the big one, with $300 worth of souvenirs) and ruined the other one. Fortunately there was a service counter in the baggage claim area. I have a "case number" and some phone numbers to call for status of my claims. They gave me a big plastic bag for my belongings, and kept the ruined suitcase. I'm hoping the big case is just rattling around "the system" somewhere and will turn up safe and sound; besides the souvenirs it also had some hardcopy photographs of me...

and my fiancee.

(Yeah, not "girlfriend" but "fiancee". I'm pretty startled by it, myself.)

The thing with the suitcases marred an otherwise excellent trip. Air travel is not what it might have been in a different world, but the issues were manageable and not unexpected. (Except for the suitcases.)

Next time I may spring for "business class" rather than go steerage economy class. A few extra inches of elbow room go a long way when you're aboard an airplane for 12-16 hours.

On the trip out, the 747 stopped at Guam for refueling. On the trip back, it didn't.

See, here's the thing: when Filipinos go home from the US, they bring boxes and boxes of stuff with them. This is so common that there are businesses which make boxes specifically for these return trips: they are called balikbayan boxes and they're about 20 inches on a side. And the plane's cargo hold was full of 'em. I don't know what was in those boxes, but I'm betting it was stuff that cannot be gotten in the Philippines, at least not inexpensively, and souvenirs (pasalubong) for family members, and such. Anyway there was a hell of a lot of it, so much that the plane had to stop at Guam for refueling. And while we waited for that (about an hour) I discovered that my TracFone pay-as-you-go cell phone works in Guam. That was pretty cool, so I called home--solely because I could.

Anyway, the flight from LA to Manila was a 16-hour flight; but the trip from Manila to LA was only 12, because they didn't need to stop for gas.

* * *

While my fiancee and I were going someplace, there was a traffic jam on a bridge. Halfway across the bridge we saw why: a Jeepney had lost its left-front wheel. The stub axle had broken clean off the steering knuckle, and not once did I see a tow truck anywhere in Cagayan de Oro City.

Later, coming back, I saw that the Jeepney's broken steering knuckle had been removed. Right there in the road, they jacked it up and went to work on it. Wow.

On Monday we saw a Jeepney which had somehow ended up laying on its side. I'm guessing the driver swerved to avoid something, and the tire climbed the guardrail on the opposite side of the road--anyway, it was laying across a lane of traffic.

I'm betting the problem was fixed by getting a bunch of people to lift the thing, but a few hours later it was still there, so who knows?

When we were going to take the Jeepney someplace, my fiancee would call the gate of her subdivision, where there is a stand of tricycle taxis. Someone would come to the house, and we'd board the thing; the driver would laborously pedal us from her house to the entrance of the subdivision. Cost: three pesos per person--a bit less than seven cents. I paid for both of us, of course, so it was a total of around 13 cents. Riding the Jeepney costs six pesos per person; so the ride from the subdivision to the nearest shopping mall cost me about a quarter, again paying for both of us.

$0.60 for transportation to and from our destination.

And there are literally hundreds of Jeepneys. They're everywhere. They ply specific routes, and the stops are written on the sides of the things. "That jeepney goes to Xavier Heights; that's the one I want." But if it's full, there'll be another one in a few minutes, anyway.

The public transportation system there is awesome. It's chaotic as hell, and it doesn't run to a set schedule (it doesn't need to) but it works very well: it provides enough capacity at a price cheap enough for the locals to afford to use it, and unless I'm mistaken everyone makes money at it.

But it's impossible to implement here. Seeing life in the Philippines, I am struck with just how regulated we are, here in the US--how the straitjacket of government regulation strangles us without our knowledge.

I mean, I knew it was bad; I just didn't know how bad.

My fiancee's parents are a perfect example. They have a couple of children living with them; they're the kids of another family, one which is dirt poor--really poor, I mean, not the relative poverty of Americans--and they work to earn their keep. Their parents don't have jobs.

The girl is the oldest. I thought she couldn't be older than 15; except for breasts she had the build of a little girl and barely reached my armpit. She's 18. Her younger brother is 12 but could pass for 8. They didn't eat very well before my fiancee's parents took them in. Now they do eat well, and they're going to school every day, too. Besides that, they get a few pesos here and there for incidental expenses. My fiancee's parents ensure they have enough time to do homework and study, and their chores are not very onerous.

But in the USA, they couldn't do that.

First off, the child labor laws would make it illegal, even if most of their payment is in the form of room, board, and tutoring from my fiancee's mother, who is a teacher. Second, the Department of Family "services" would probably have gotten involved and put the kids into a foster home which was inferior to the one they are now in. (My fiancee's family is very strongly Christian. That would horrify the social workers.) The kids would not learn that they can improve their own situation by working hard, nor would they learn much of anything useful from the government schools they'd have to attend during all this.

Instead of improving the kids' lot in life, the government would--at best--keep them where they are.

What about the public transportation?

Jeepneys don't have seat belts. They don't have windows, except for the windshield. They're not air-conditioned. By any measure that would apply in the USA they are unsafe, yet they're the primary mode of transport for many; and somehow I find them much more appealing than the sterile buses that we use here in the US. Not only are they cheap and common; they're fun. No two look alike and the drivers don't wear uniforms. The fares are collected by a person (usually a boy) called the "conductor", appropriately enough, and if the driver doesn't own his own jeepney he can rent one for a certain fee per day. 500 pesos is the number I recall--about $10--and once he's collected the fares for about 100 rides the rest is profit.

There are motorcycle cabs, as well: a two-wheeled contraption which fits over a motorcycle, making it into a four-wheeled vehicle with enough room for about four or six passengers. They're not fast but there are a lot of them.

I never rode in a regular car-type taxi: I was warned not to do it without a native--taxi fares for foreigners is in "ass rape" territory--and the jeepney is a lot more fun than any taxicab.

* * *

Every time I went to the mall, I was checked for weapons; there were security checkpoints at the doors. Mostly it was cursory in my case, and I think it was because I was obviously a foreigner--no fear of profiling in the Philippines!--and white folks are notorious for not making much trouble. Particularly white men who are accompanied by Filipinas--they're rich foreigners who are there for love, not money or violence. I saw several white guys accompanied by Filipinas (but none of them were are pretty as my fiancee, heh).

In fact, one of my fiancee's aunts married a German. I met the guy at a couple of family functions and found him to be a nice guy. Their daughter speaks German, English, and Visayan.

English is the de facto "second language" of the Philippines. Everyone there understands it to one extent or another; when you watch TV you will be bombarded with English phrases embedded in the middle of Tagalog or Visayan speech: "Basdk ajkj wej dkfj awef wiue4 alf iwjl adef jfijeij jifejw owjlkj gjjewi so I consulted an expert! Djeiwoj jf qwei fdsjas jipwe jfkg joaiejijfi under the weather asdifjo weri igoojp jasdf nqw gpo jawieow jasdjijgroi had no idea what was going on, but jiowerap jweiorj joidsjf apo jwerioj jndsfi jenokdkk dfpo awiopejf."

My fiancee's niece was watching Pokemon dubbed, and watched a few episodes of my copy of Mahou Tsukai Tai!. (The Pokemon was pirated. Piracy is big in the Philippines.)

I saw a couple of game shows which cost me brain cells. One is called "Tok Tok Tok! Pasok, Pasok" (Knock Knock Knock! Come in, come in") in which contestants face challenges behind doors, for cash and prizes. It's kind of what would happen if Fear Factor had been invented by Merv Griffin.

"Willie of Fortune"--it's the most popular game show among Filipinos. It's not Wheel of Fortune; partly it's a quiz show, and partly it's a talk show in which the host, Willie, pretty much gives away prizes at random.

Willie also hosts another show called "Wowwoowwee!" (I'm not sure of the exact spelling) in which people from the audience get up and sing the show's theme song. The constant repetition of the song drives me insane, but the performances are usually entertaining. The "best" performance wins a prize.

* * *

One channel runs anime in the afternoons. I saw InuYasha and Law of Ueki; I'm sure there were one or two others but I'm drawing a blank right now. In any event, they're dubbed in Tagalog, and the dubbing is damn good. The voices are good and the pronunciations of names are dead on. Why is it that in the US, the dubbing sucks donkey balls, but in the Philippines--where a doctor makes $400 a month and most people live on about a third of that--the dubbing is perfect? What the hell?

If you have a chance, check out Shaolin Soccer. I saw part of one episode and was greatly amused by it. It's live action. Also, the live action series Lupin was pretty entertaining, even though a couple of actors were chewing the scenery.

* * *

Some people in my fiancee's subdivision run small stores, shops, or carry-out restaurants out of their homes. One was an internet cafe. Try that in the US and see how far you get.

* * *

I was able to amuse people considerably by repeating a phrase I learned from the nightly newscast. The phrase means "best in the country": Paniq sa bayan. I would say it like the announcer did, in a kind of Don Fontaine voice, and the kids would laugh to hear this big white man repeating an advertising slogan. But then again, they sing along with the commercials, so what the hell.

* * *

I will probably end up posting some videos on YouTube, because I want people to see the terror that is Filipino traffic. But right now, my bed calls out for me; I still have jet lag to sleep off.

More later.

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