Friday, July 20, 2007

Chicago...

So I'm living very comfortably here, except of course that the dollar is sliding pretty fast against the peso -- from around 46.50 when I arrived to 44.80 as of today -- so I gotta watch the money in my bank account and I'm going to sell my cash to my aunt who'll buy them at PhP45. My reckless spending will have to come to a screeching halt, unless you folks back home wanna stop fucking with the housing market, 'cuz that and all the OFWs sending remittances back are flooding this country with dollars.

In the meantime, I presented my research prospectus at the Third World Studies Center finally and it too theoretical. I definitely have a bit to learn, though when I talked to Prof. Cynthia Bautista today -- she's a noted sociologist here and student of Erik Olin Wright -- I felt a bit better about my work. She confirmed my hunch that I should look into the personal networks of the major social movement groups that are considered "middle class."

I also visited the National Statistical Office on Wednesday and Thurdsay. I have to say, that was the best-run government office I've ever been to. Despite the library being a little haphazard, the staff were so friendly and the typical bureaucratic power trip was nary to be experienced. I could spend all my time there, just looking up useless stats since it's (1) so comfortable to work there and (2) I can browse through the library without an intermediary getting in the way asking for ID for every book I take out.

In the meantime, I've been listening to Chicago on YouTube. Nothing better than singing cheesy love songs in the karaoke capital of the world. And if you think it's just me, as Jim Mahoney would say, "you'd be wrong." The singer is Sheryn Regis and I've got a Chicago crush on her.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Die Hard and Other Things

TODAY'S TAGALOG
Let the spell checking commence:

silip - to peek
singgit - when driving, to quickly occupy space by changing lanes; cut someone off

I saw Die Hard 4.0 today with my cousins. It was very explosion-y. I remember seeing Die Hard 3 maybe a good ten or twelve years ago on a friend's birthday when he treated like 20 of us to a showing of it at a local theater. Justin Long does not equal Samuel L. Jackson, though there was a great deal of snappy action movie comebacks in this one, my favorites, of course, dealing with Bruce Willis calling out the main villain for his Asian fetish.

Dandruff

I don't have dandruff. It seems, however, that the rest of the Philippines does, judging by the amount of dandruff shampoo advertisements on TV and on the radio. According to my aunt, the target of most of those commercials is the "masa" -- that rambunctious other in Philippine culture and society that stands as a flaky-shouldered antagonist to the middle class. Lots of the typical distinctions between rich and poor come out in these commercials: the kid with dandruff at a private school (you can marry up if you have a moisturized scalp!), the fear that dandruff is full of contagious germs, etc.

If only the masses could wear black, perhaps? Interestingly, one of the social movements here -- the one notorious for the Starbucks protest (scroll down) -- wears black. How can you protest impending authoritarianism when instead of pumping your fist or giving a thumbs-down, you're brushing off dandruff? Thus, of course, the "Black and White" movement seems to suggest that to be a political good-guy, you need to be free of flakes. As Barrington Moore meant to say, "no good hair, no democracy."

NEEEEERRRRRDDDDSSSS!!!
Because I can't take pictures in Power Plant, you would not be able to share with me the visual treat of what has been set up in the new "Anthropology" wing of the mall: a veritable hallway of nerdom. Apparently, some sort of black hole that doesn't let nerds escape has dumped its contents out: displays to explain cosplay (with some really nutso costumes); a display of Megatrons and Optimus Primes throughout the years (I did linger there, I admit); tables to play pen-and-paper role-playing games, and a "theater" that's always empty; ostensibly set up to show people the wonders of WoW.

People peek for second, but never really hang out there -- unless, of course, you're a nerd. There aren't too many people when I've passed by (after 8pm), but yesterday there were a few people playing a board game and others I think setting up their WoW characters. Now, once they set up City of Heroes, maybe I'll play along. Or maybe I'll tell them their display of Optimus Primes is missing Powermaster Optimus Prime. Or something.

In related news, CNN is running an episode of FutureSummit about virtual worlds. They have two audience venues -- one in Singapore, the other at Stanford. Funny, the Singapore crowd packed the venue while the Stanford one has like 7 people. Let's not reinforce any Asian stereotypes here, guys.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

What's in a Name?

First, props to Cecile "C. Diddy" for correcting my Tagalog: binatilyo, dalagita, kuribot. I know too much Spanish for my own good, I guess; though I've never had to spell anything in Tagalog yet.

Yesterday, I almost lost it at the UP Library because they kept making me pay to use the microfilm room and surprised me with the cost of copies. When I say "making me pay," it's not the money I'm complaining about per se (only about $7 in total), but the administrative rigamaroll to pay those $7 and what those $7 went to. First, because my appointment with the Third World Studies Center hasn't been confirmed officially, I have to make do with a visitor's library card. The card, while allowing me to use the facilities (on Wednesdays only), indicates to everyone that I must be charged PhP50 per hour for using the library facilities. I went in on Wednesday and had to pay the PhP50 up front, which meant that after having filled out my request slips, I had to go back upstairs and pay the cashier. Now, I came in at 11:30, so despite the fact that I didn't use up an hour, I still had to pay the entire cost.

Because the library closes for an hour for lunch, I came back at 1pm and worked again until about 2:30. This time, they made me pay AFTER I was done, PhP100. I initially thought this was because I was submitting a copy request for about 10 articles at PhP10 a page. Of course, when I went in the next day to pick up the copies, I found out that their machine can't fit a page on a sheet of paper or edit in such a way to fit the article on less pages, so I was charged PhP200 for the copy job.

Each of those times, I had to trapse back up to the cashier, pay, and exchange receipts. It's significantly less systematic than I assumed it'd be, especially at a library. On top of that, I realized that microfilm reading makes me dizzy. What a wimp I am.

In other news, names are fun, especially when they have something tangentally to do with sex. Here and here.

Learnin' Tagalog... Or Englog

Part of how I soothe my guilt for having a "driver" is, other than trying not to go anywhere, is to sit up front and talk to Jhomby about various things as we head to wherever it is we're going. My aunt suggests that I'm helping him with his English, but I've learned some Tagalog too. For instance, today we were talking about cars and we passed a BMW z3, a very weird sight on these crowded Manila roads. Cars like a z3 are for binatillos or bachelors. The female counterpart is a dalagueta (I think).

Of course, Jhomby also informs me about the seedier side of Makati so I guess I don't have to find out myself. For one, I'd advise you not to be so piss drunk you can't watch the meter in your cab. Being a former taxi driver himself, Jhomby explained how taxi drivers would overcharge drunk Americans in the Red Light District in Makati to take them back to their hotels (by just asking for more than the fare) and how, when idling in traffic, jiggling the gearshift makes the meter click. This is not as sly as more recent model taxis that have a switch on the driver's side door that they flick to add fare.

As Jhomby explained, most drivers have to meet a daily threshold (around PhP 1800), to which many drivers contribute their tips. Cheap passengers (kurebots sp?) make this harder, so drivers have to take a descarte (sp?).

Anyway, the moral of the story, Jhomby said, is to tip.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Few Things in a Row

So fieldwork is going, going, going. I'm reading a lot of secondary source stuff, but not from the library -- I've taken to just buying the books since I can only take out one book at a time and then not take it out of the library. Today, I looked up some newspaper articles that had "middle class" in the title line and made myself sick whirling through the microfiche. I've got a presentation of my research plan on Tuesday, so I feel good to have a few primary source documents that I can use as examples of what I'm looking for.

More fun, of course, is what happened a few days ago on the toilet. This is when I was still dealing with the liquidy goodness I brought back from Saragani, so I had to spend some time on the commode, mostly wondering why nothing was coming out and then when it did come out, why it was so... well... craptastic. Anyway, I was in my aunt's apartment when I had to go. Part of me was relieved (no pun intended) b/c her bathroom benefits a little from the air conditioning, so I could sit there for a bit and at least not be so hot.

I sat down on the toilet and tried to poop. The first thing I noticed was a tingling sensation around my sensitive areas, then a dull heat, like Vicks or menthol. The more I'd strain, it seemed, the more intense that menthol feeling up my butt would get. So I was torn, nothing was coming out (but there was certainly something unpleasant inside), but that menthol heat was starting to feel like burning. Ever put BenGay on your _____? Yeah, imagine that, but with diarrhea.

Eventually, I made a deal with myself: "if, in the next three minutes, nothing comes out, just get up." So I strained a bit more: just gas. So I got up, wiped a bit and then wondered what the fuck was in the water. Then I wondered, why I sat over that shit for so long. Turns out my aunt pours eucalyptus oil into the toilet bowl to freshen up the bathroom. So I get to experience new things here in the Philippines.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

For the past four days, I’ve been eating Japanese food. Being related to a foodie makes a difference, plus a proliferation of Japanese restaurants in the Manila area helps a bit. Awhile back, my Tita Beck and I ate at this place at Power Plant and ordered their sashimi special – a whole mess of raw fish, crusteaceans, and cephalopods, served on a conch shell. We paid a bit – PhP 2500 – and were only partially impressed with the sashimi, especially since neither of us wanted to finish off the sea urchin or the octopus. The salmon, tuna, and yellowtail were a little fishier than I was used to, but they did have a lot of slices on there.

Yesterday, my Lola, my stepmom, my Tita Didi, and my little sister drove around Malate and Makati looking for an open Japanese restaurant. Earlier that day, I went down to the kitchen and fed myself and wondered why our usually full dining room was empty. Turns out I didn’t get the memo: my Lola hadn’t set anything out since we were going out to eat for lunch. Around 3ish we left the house and drove to Kamameshi House a few blocks away; turned out they were closed until 5:30. We then drove down Jupiter Street in Makati, but nary a Japanese restaurant was there and those other restaurants that were were closed too. We ended up in Fort Bonifacio, at this really overdone development called “Serendra,” where we ate at a “not really Japanese restaurant” as my aunt put it, Tatami. I ordered the cha soba: it had kinda thin noodles over a huge, huge ball of ice that really made it look like a lot of food. It did have the requisite quail egg and chives with the dipping sauce, and it was pretty refreshing.

The day before (after the Christina Aguilera concert, see below), my aunt, my sister and I went back to that place in Power Plant and got in at the last minute for the last order of the day. My aunt had the cha soba and she shared some with me, my first taste of it. I had the unaju (broiled eel) and it was served similarly to the unaju at Haruki in Providence: in a lauquer box, opened as they serve it, over rice.

And earlier that day, my aunt and I tried out the UCC – a Japanese coffee/restaurant chain – in the same neighborhood. My aunt didn’t think the coffee was all that, and the eggplant-chicken teriyaki sandwich I bought was really unwieldy and smothered in mayonnaise, but the green tea milkshake was very good.

The day before that, I ate at Zaifu in the mall. I had the nabeyaki udon and slurped that mofo down just like it was from Ran Zan back in Prov. I didn’t think it was better per se, but I wanted to see how the rich people would look at me if I enjoyed my food.

Which brings me back to today (or yesterday), when my aunt, my grandma and I finally made it to Kamameshi House and had a really great dinner for about $40 for all of us. We shared some questionable sushi, but some really good kamameshi rice (their specialty) and sukiyaki.

My aunt still assures me there’s better Japanese food. I feel a little guilty for her paying for most of these adventures, but she’s told me to treat her when she goes back to the states again. Still, I’m not sure exactly what I’ve learned from this Japanese food eating adventure. If telling the difference between two restaurant’s cha sobas is my new skill, I am eccentric indeed. If it’s that my family can go seek out Japanese food in the Philippines, then it’s that we can. If it’s that I’ve eaten at a lot of the “good” Japanese restaurants within 10 miles in four days, it must mean I’m turning Japanese or something.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Wow, Lots of Stuff

So I spent nearly all of last week down in Sarangani Province in the Southern Philippines. I met up with Teal, Elli, Nikki and Cecile in Manila and we did some shopping (of course) in the mall near my aunt's place. I failed to find a pair of jeans, primarily because there's no quality control over garment manufacture here (mmm sweatshops) and because I guess no one is size 31.

Anyway, the next morning we left for Sarangani on a 7am flight. None of us slept the night before, so we were totally out of it on the plane and I think for the rest of the day. Over the course of that week, we didn't sleep spectacularly the rest of that week either (because of really cold aircon, karaoke, and an earthquake), but we had fun nonetheless.

There's a whole bunch of stuff to recount and sadly, I'm waaay too lazy to do it. Suffice it to say, you should look at my pictures on Flickr and, if you're my facebook friend, you can check out some less flattering (and more flattering) photos of me and my friends. Wow that sounds like a bad porn spam message.

The picture you see right now was taken after the inaguration (or as they call it here "oath-taking") of Cecile's brother Miguel "Migz" Dominguez as governor of Sarangani Province. I brought my barong to wear since it was a formal event, and apparently I looked so formal that I could run for congress. So, like any good politician, I capitalized on that moment of flattery for a photo-op.

Anyhizzoo, my aunt had internet installed in her apartment today, so now we have one of many series of tubes now flowing "internets" into my computer. That means I'll be able to distract myself more and also be in more constant contact with people back home as well. Also, you can see the view from here from my webcam and maybe I'll even dangle the webcam out of the window you can feel like you're falling. In any case, I'll be blogging more from now on.