Firth here. I’m in the Philippines now (didn’t crash and burn in the Pacific), and it’s extremely hot. I am thankful for this semi-cool internet cafe, except for the frequent wafts of dog business coming from Julian’s shoes, which he inexplicably refuses to wipe off (Julian — go find another internet cafe to smell up! Lol 😉 )
San Fernando’s pretty cool…non-temperature wise, that is. Julian and I have been getting up at a chirpy 6am and have been doing a lot of shopping (new business shoes for 4.5 dollars, phone for $25, a huge huge pile of groceries for $20, an electric flyswatter for $4, lunch for $2…everything’s amazingly cheap). By the way, what have I been doing all my life waking up at 10am+? The day seems twice as long if you get up early, it’s awesome, I feel as if I’ve been here for a week.
I was super excited to discover how linguistically diverse the Philippines is. I was afraid that it would only be in name only — kind of like Papua New Guinea, where they boast 1000 languages but a lot of them aren’t really spoken, have been utterly bastardized, or have a morbidly low number of speakers. In the Philippines, however, people really do speak their local language. The local one here is Illocano, which is completely unintelligible from Tagalog, the country’s lingua franca. A few words of Tagalog are thrown into the talk here (like “goodbye” = “pa’alam”), but for the most part people use Illocano. When we ask people, “How do you say…?” they assume we are asking for the Tagolog word, but are excited when they realize we are more interested in learning their own language. There are also a few other linguistic groups here. We tried to impress the staff of a shoe store with a little Illocano, but it turned out they all spoke a language called Bikol and were from some province 16 hours from here!
I’m counting pharmacies, cuz there seems to be a million of them. I have yet to figure out if this means that Filipinos are extremely healthy or unhealthy. But nevertheless they will surely be a good resource.
I’m also counting instances of American music, but I’ve lost count. Jay Z, Beyonce, Keisha, Dannity Kane, TI, Lady Gaga…you can’t escape. Especially Lady Gaga. American culture in general is fairly pervasive here. Our colleagues who picked us up for the 7 hour drive from Manila to San Fernando seemed only interested in stopping at KFC or McDonalds for meals. There’s also Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and Dairy Queen. The weird thing is that they can really be anywhere, not just their typical petrol station environments. We were walking around some kind of informal fruit and vegetable market and in some obscure corner, hemmed in by many shops and signs, we saw a dusty Dunkin Donuts sign. I thought it was just a sign, like those abundant coca cola signs above shops unrelated to coca-cola, but sure enough there was a Dunkin Donuts!!
The drive up from Manila was on a National Highway, although it was a two laner for most of the way, curbless, packed with pedestrians, and about 40km per hour. The whole 280 km stretch was lined with random stalls and bus stops and administrative buildings and houses, as if we never had left the outskirts of Manila. But if one looked beyond the first row of buildings, you’d realize that for the most part it was pretty much just fields; although the towns were admittedly closely spaced, and pedestrian traffic was always high for some reason. As we passed settlement after settlement, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of economy each had, and thought how difficult it might be to find the capital to start certain projects in them. It never occurred to me that San Fernando might look like one of these myriad places, and I might have a similarly hard thinking creatively about what S.F could do with minimal funds. Being hit by this realization was a good thing, as it eradicated the paradisical stereotype of the Philippines that I held—if not intellectually—but subconsciously. Such a misconception probably was nurtured by the “oohs” and “aaahs” I got every time I told friends back home that I was heading for the Philippines. Anyway, although San Fernando was not the Paradise I may have accidentally, momentarily, thought it might be, my lowered expectations from the car ride up gave me the pleasant surprise to discover that it’s actually a really vibrant town, with really friendly people, non-invasive sellers, and a stronger economic base than the many settlements we passed on the way here.
Tomorrow, Julian and I start work. Wish us luck!