Par-tay!

It’s the 31st, maybe about noon. My first attack on the senses are the multitude of cicadas all going off around me, as they do two or three times a day. But this time they seem so loud, it almost pains me. As I look down, there’s fluorescent yellow, green, and red body paint all over my shorts, reminders of the previous night. It’s all a little to bright and loud for me, making my headache worse. I try to make sure the hammock I’m laying in doesn’t sway and increase my nausea, close my eyes and try to remember how this happened.


Haad Rin. This is the beach on Koh Phangan where the legendary Full Moon Party takes place. So every 29 days people come from all parts of the world to the Gulf of Thailand. And every 29 days those people and more come from all over the island and from neighboring islands to descend on Haad Rin. Last night, about 30,000 people made the trip.
We arrived to a brightly lit neighborhood of storefronts and restaurants selling the standard fried chicken and pizza party food and buckets of alcohol. The streets overfilled with people in clown wigs or fluorescent body paint. The energy of the place was contagious as Mari and my excitement kept growing. We were about to join in and buy a bucket when we turned down another street and saw the beach. Masses of people drinking and dancing everywhere. On platforms, on decks and spread over the entirety of the beach. Turns out we hadn’t even entered the party yet, just the on-deck circle so to speak. As soon as we stepped onto the beach, a girl stumbled towards us, grinning goofily. Apparently, she decided she could no longer stand, and enlisted 3 strangers just to my left to aid her in her descent by tackling them as she fell to the sand. It was just before 10 pm. Looks like someone needs to work on her pacing in the future.


We walked the beach checking out the party, drinks in tow. At this point, we both were probably a little excited from the atmosphere, but also a little wary. Every once in awhile we would see a shady looking dude or two walking around probably waiting for an easy pocket to pick. And for 2 non-partiers, we felt a little old. But with each sip and then gulp, anxiousness gave way to excitement as the Full Moon lured us in. We came across a large gathering of people as they circled what looked to be an undulating light. As we edged closer, it turned out that it was not a light, but a fire. A huge rope was continuously doused in petroleum and set on fire, the alternating light coming from the ropes swinging. Turns out this was jump rope for the adrenaline junkies. People would happily go in and jump to the crowd’s delight. It would continue until someone’s rhythm failed and would end with drunk people stopping, dropping and rolling.
We walked down the beach more and saw the party’s bathroom facilities. People waded into the water and peed into nature at low tide. I saw a high stakes game of limbo, as the limbo stick, like the jump rope, was of fire. People would pass under it, lighting their cigarettes on the bar as they went. I was contemplating how low I can safely go when Mari ran up and high-fived me. She had just returned from peeing with the masses in the ocean. The rest of the night turned out to be loads of fun and consisted of more buckets, more fire games, and more stupidity. We eventually rolled into our bungalow about 4am, after I tossed my cookies just outside it. Looks like I need to work on my pacing too.

Posted: February 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Thailand | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Some of Nature’s Top Predators

They’re bodies are sleek, evolved to carry out quick stealth-like attacks in near silence on slacking prey. They kill thousands annually and their appetite for blood is unparalleled. And upon our arrival into Chiang Mai, we chanced upon seeing these top predators in action…unfortunately. Actually, we saw at least 64 of these guys in action, as that’s how many mosquitoes we killed in our room in a day. Turning on the fan caused 5 of them to scramble in all directions. Walking by the bed, 3 fly out from under it, 2 more make their appearance known from on top the blanket. Trying to lock in on one to smash it, meant ignoring others flying by your face in the commotion. They were everywhere, and if we stayed still, they attacked our exposed legs and arms unmercifully.
And let me say, I HATE mosquitoes. HATE them. The shrill buzz of its wings always finds me just as I’m about to nod off. And their bites on me don’t just result in a little red dot and a slight itch. When mosquitoes bite me, it’s like a mosquito clown is blowing balloon animals with my epidermis. My skin reacts into massive red irregular shaped patches with legs and tails shooting off them. I really can’t stress how much I HATE them. This also means then, that I take a real pleasure in killing them. Each clapping of my hands that ends with a little needle-nosed insect falling out of the sky brings me a smile.

The day after the day that became known as the “Massacre of 64,” I went out and bought a mosquito zapper. I’ve been looking forward to this for months, but have held off for not wanting to actually carry it around. It’s a tennis racket shaped instrument that has a small electrical current running through the “face” of the racket. See a mosquito, show it your backhand (remembering to follow through with your body) and zap! Mesquite BBQ mosquito. The prey has become the predator.

The same day I bought the zapper we went to see another of the world’s top predators. This one however is warm, cuddly and a welcome sight (under the right circumstances). We visited a place called Tiger Kingdom and spent about half an hour inside the enclosures with the equivalent of toddler and adult tigers. Mari entered and was in heaven. I was somewhere in the SF Zoo around Christmas time. But my fears subsided and we were able to sit and touch the tigers if they were lying down. When they were up and walking around us, we happily stepped back and observed. Being this close to these animals was a real highlight for us.
And it was a highlight that almost didn’t happen. We originally planned to volunteer in Kanchaniburi, Thailand for a month working with tigers at a place called Tiger Temple. We were both really amped to work with animals that had been illegally poached and couldn’t be returned to the wild. However, our research into the program brought up some concerns about the animal’s treatment (even in a country where animal conservation has a different meaning from our own) and we had decided we couldn’t support it.

And Tiger Kingdom isn’t perfect either. Assuming “perfect” is only the wild in protected areas, free from illegal logging, human interaction and hunting, this is far from perfect. The tigers are in enclosures and are fed chicken daily. They interact with humans daily, from birth. They will never be returned to the wild. But, that’s not the goal of the kingdom either. It’s a breeding program, keeping a species from extinction from a world that is far from perfect. And in a country without government commitment around conservation, this agency has naturally turned to tourism dollars to fill a void. And they do seem to treat the animals well, especially by South East Asian standards. They are cared for by handlers who have known them since birth. They look healthy and happy. And even if we’ll continue to hope for an ideal world, and hope that one day there will be large scale sanctuaries set up for these majestic animals, in the present we’ll happily settle for a step in its direction.

Posted: January 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Angkor What?

In Europe you can blur cathedrals until they lose any distinction. In Egypt you’ll forget whether the pictures were from Edfu or Komombo. And in Kenya it’s almost silly how quickly you can take for granted a family of 50+ baboons crossing your path.

And in Asia, it’s the temples/pagodas/wats that you burn out on.

I hope none of this sounds like complaining, or that I’m taking our experiences for granted. I’m not. It’s just human nature, isn’t it? To adjust, to process and adapt, and eventually to move on. So a year of ruins and 5 months of wats have taken their toll on us. Hmmm, 5 tiered pyramid, it’s cool, it’s no 7 tiered pyramid, but it’s cool.–This Buddha statue has his eyes crossed.-There’s more ruins but they are all the way on the west end of the complex? Do they look that different? No, I’m aiiight, you go ahead.
So without realizing it, in my mind Angkor Wat had a near impossible task if it intended to impress me. I dared it to astound me. “Wow” me Angkor, if you can.

Wow.

Seeing Angkor turned out to be like seeing the Sistine chapel. You walk through a limitless museum with paintings and murals by Rapheal, Bernini, Rodin on every wall and ceiling. And you do this for hours all while following signs directing you to the Sistine Chapel. And your mind can’t possibly appreciate or process everything you’re seeing so you start to glaze over. You want to just get there, see it to say you saw it, and go take a nap. But then you get there, and everything you saw before simply fades. You and the hundred other people staring straight up are silent because however great you thought it was going to be…this beats it. And you need the silence so that all your energies can be directed to the sense of sight. If you could breathe it in, if you could taste the Sistine Chapel, you would. Well seeing Angkor was like that.

It overwhelmed on the macro scale as well as in the minute details, shaking any feelings of burn out from me. Spread out over 1000 sq. kilometers there were nearly 1000 temples built over a 400 year period. We walked, biked, took motos and tuks-tuks to them over a 7 day period. And throughout the exploration, the temples remained able to show us each one’s unique nature whether it was climbing through the ruins in Beng Melea, photographing the overgrown trees of Ta Prohm, looking into the stone faces of the Bayon, or walking the endless walls of bas reliefs. And though they are now ruins, slivers of their past glory, the temples fulfilled their intended purpose for me just as a chapel had done for me years ago; my visit ended not with my feeling burnt out or desensitized but rather renewed and a little in awe.

Posted: December 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Beach Life Redefined

I can still close my eyes and just see touristed beaches elsewhere. It’s summertime and the briskness of morning can still be felt in the air. These early hours are dominated by beach-blond surfers hitting the water; some are zen-like cool, others are territorial assholes. The occasional jogger becomes the first of the day to imprint the sand with carefree, confident steps. As the sun heats the sands, colorful board shorts and bikinis begin to paint the landscape. Most arrive in groups of two to four, and in these small groups find areas on the beach to lay claim to (spread out equidistantly of course). The occasional boat might pass on the horizon, silhouetting a sandcastle a boy has made, complimentary with the help from his happy meal sand toys. It’s quiet except for some small chatter and the break of the shoreline, only the occasional whiff of something SPF-40 or higher touches your senses. This is what I recall it is like, but just barely. At the moment “elsewhere” cannot be further from our experience.
We’re in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Beaches line the town on 3 sides of the peninsula. We’ve checked out Otres Beach and Ochheuteal Beach here, and they, for the most part, support my image of a beach. Sunny. Calm. Relaxing. But today we decided to venture to Serendipity Beach, the popular beach of the area. Here, they’ve taken elements of what we’ve seen around other touristy beaches in Asia and crammed it into a 1 kilometer stretch of sand. We arrived via a dirt path, women in asian-style pajamas and kramas (Cambodian scarves) immediately asked if we wanted massages, pedicures or our toenails cut. We declined and hurriedly turned to our left to walk the beach, or more accurately the 1-2 meters of beach between where the water hit the shore and where the edge of the restaurants was. Yes, the beach itself had been swallowed up by about 50 beach shack restaurants with enough lounge chairs and beach umbrellas to block out the sun and the sand. Every few meters a restaurant gave us their pitch. “Cheap food! Free lounge chair! Happy shake!” Each pitch we tossed back to them politely, but firmly and kept walking. We passed a monkey leashed to a tree. And after we walked enough of the beach to not be able to distinguish one area from another, we settled down and tried to take it all in. Women continuously walked past us offering plates of fruit, cooked lobsters (and at $4 for 10 lobsters, we indulged), drinks, souvenirs and of all things…nursery plants. Small Cambodian children played in the water and came from 1 of 2 camps. Either they splashed around completely naked and for the most part only with other kids of their age, or they came to the beach in shorts, long-sleeved shirts and neon bright life-vests. These children waddled into the surf, with watchful parents arm’s lengths away. For some reason the word for “fear of the water” escapes me.
Western tourists laid out on the lounge chairs, ordered beer and read novels. They (and we) soaked in the sun, and occasionally went into the water to cool off before reapplying our sunblock to minimize the actual sun we soaked in, in order to do it again for as long a period of time as possible. It is clear that Asians view the beach differently. Groups of Cambodian young adults played beach games together. Soccer games spontaneously sprang up and just as quickly dissolved on different parts of the beach. Groups of women played Monkey-in-the-Middle in waist length surf, fully dressed and just as often in full hysterics. Men buried their friends in sand and gave them sand-boobs. And speedboats pulled groups of 7 on huge inflatable water toys, only to dislodge the laughing riders into the water at the end of their trip.
It was busy, chaotic and loud at the beach today. There’s so much going on that an image of a serene, isolated stretch of beach blips into my head but has no staying power. But tomorrow we’ll go back to Otres Beach and see again the blue of the ocean, the white of the sand. We’ll escape the crowds, the vendors, the stimulation and just relax. We’ll soak in the sun (as minimally as possible), swim in the ocean and repeat the process. I’ll get through the rest of the mystery I’m reading, maybe treat myself to a Happy Shake. And part of me will recall the groups of Cambodians playing like it’s their first time at the beach, or like they are once again six years old, maybe as if it’s both. And for some reason the word for “fear of jealousy” escapes me.

Posted: December 17th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

The Secret’s Out

To my right, about 30 prosthetic legs hang from fishing line to create a thought provoking piece. The ones hung closer to the floor are rudimentary, made primarily from a wood log or pipe. The materials have been salvaged and painstakingly carved by hands desperate for the body to work again, for the ability to make a living, for a sense of normalcy As the limbs ascend they become more technologically advanced—stronger, lighter, capable of bending at the knee. In contrast, another installation sits in front of me. This one though dominates the room, with hundreds of tennis ball-size pieces looking as if they are falling from ceiling to floor. Each piece however, is a plaster of Paris model of a bombie and these, unlike real ones dropped on Laos, don’t drop, but instead hang inertly suspended, mercifully granting this country reprieve.
I am at COPE National Rehabilitation Center here in Laos. It’s a devastatingly sobering center as one of its aims is to educate others on the enduring consequences of the US’s Secret War on it. For 9 years (1965-1973), the US feared the spread of Communism throughout South East Asia and so in the way that America does, it intervened. And in this case at this time, intervening meant flying hundreds of missions from Thailand and Southern Vietnam, dropping 260 million explosives on a country with a population of fewer than 7 million, equating to 37 explosives per person. It meant flouting the international community by violating the Geneva Convention, it meant lying to Congress and the US public, and it meant utterly destroying a country and people who were not our enemies.
And it meant for me, feeling again what has been becoming a familiar salad of emotions. Anger and sadness, embarrassment and disgust. In Nicaragua I felt this way as I learned the US had ousted the Sandinistas. For what? Ideology? And the feelings have been there in Vietnam learning about Agent Orange and the generational effects of chemical warfare. But if there was any sense of justification, it is to be found in the ugliness that is war. But this? There is no sense of justice in something that has been done in secret. There is only anger. And for a people that have seen 11,000 die from UXOs (Unexploded Ordnances) since the “war” ended, that farming of land comes hand in hand with the fear of digging up bombies, for a country that can’t progress with roads and infrastructure without first flashing back to the US’s past role in hindering the present. Or to learn that the country won’t be cleared of UXOs for many decades…there is only sadness. Embarrassment comes from my growing up in the US and not knowing of our responsibility here…or for John McCain’s singing joke “bomb-bomb-bomb-bomb-bomb” playing in my head. Learning that when air missions couldn’t be carried out in Vietnam, they were diverted to secondary targets in Laos mostly to just get rid of bombs rather than take the added risk of landing with them on Navy ships; that disgusted me.
COPE though tries to move the country past these feelings. I learn that the center provides prosthetic legs to victims of bombie explosions as part of a holistic approach to healing in the country. As people with new legs and arms return to their villages one can often see shells of bombs turned into boats or house supports, scrap metal from bombs are recycled into knives, pots, bowls and shelves.
We exit the Center at dusk, quiet settling on both Mari and me. And there, lining the side paths we see more shells of big bombs. Only they’ve been placed on their side, propped up. Inside each of the shells hints of pink push past the tender green leaves as young flowers are for the first time, coming into bloom.

Posted: November 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Laos | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Vang Vieng

In the middle of Lao rattan woven bungalows pepper both sides of the Mekong river as teetering bridges seemingly made of driftwood crisscross the water. Here, hammocks are a way of life, as sunsets unfold between limestone karsts that nestle the small town in peaceful isolation. This is the Vang Vieng we hoped to experience.
We arrived into town just after sunset and our first sight was a tuk-tuk full of blonde hair, board shorts and bikinis. Mud was smeared across sun-burnt skin as college-age foreigners struck superstar poses as flashes from their digital cameras popped off all around. The scene was repeated as we passed more and more tuk-tuks bringing back drunk hordes from the town activity of tubing. They, barefoot and loaded, then flooded the town restaurants and bars to keep the good times rolling. And rolling…and rolling. After we found a guesthouse we continued to hear those good times throughout the course of the night as the riverside bars lived up to their location and kept the liquids flowing. The morning came with the sounds of a rooster and of a partier that had partied too hard and needed to chuck his/her cookies. Repeatedly.
Ok, Vang Vieng was not what we had thought. We realigned our compass of expectations by moving to a rattan bungalow overlooking the water. Another guest came up to us and told us about the tubing. “It’s too expensive if you rent a tube. Just grab a tuk-tuk to the first bar with us, and when the crowd moves on, float to the second and you can swim to the third and fourth.” And though tubing without a tube was a novel idea, we decided to pass on the invitation. Instead we sought out the other side of Vang Vieng. We hiked a nearby mountain, along the way passing scattered villages and farms. A boy ran up to us, carrying with him two puppies he wanted us to see. We went to a bright blue lagoon and cave. And, we tackled a limestone karst. Mari and I tried rock climbing, going up 24 meters on one of our climbs. It was fun and exhilarating, minus the spider I almost grabbed who was hiding in one of the holds I reached for. Ugh. We stayed in Vang Vieng four nights in all as it proved to us day after day that expectations aren’t always a bad thing or even misplaced. Sometimes you just have to look a little harder (like past the nearest bar).

Posted: November 23rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Laos | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

November 7th-16th

• We left Vietnam from Hanoi on November 7th. After waiting 5 hours at the bus station (because of the incorrect advice from our guesthouse) we started our 13 hour ride to the border town Dien Bien Phu. This was to be followed by getting immediately onto a 5:30am bus for 7 hours to the Laos border and then to a transfer town called Muang Khua. At Muang Khua we would walk the 3 kilometers with backpacks to the bus station which, after a 3 hour journey through winding dirt roads, would lead us to our destination of Udomxai. The highlight of the journey was that apparently our dinner was included in the price of our first ticket. So when we stopped at a rest stop we were told to sit with four others, a Vietnamese family. The daughter smiled and scooped rice for me. She then followed that with pantomiming for me to try the dish in front of her by rubbing her stomach. I tried the intestines, she laughed in return. Meanwhile her father and uncle, both in full military uniform, had offered me a shot of rice wine…and then six more. The rest of the ride, well, I don’t remember so well.

• Udomxai was a jumping point to Luang Nam Tha, an NPA (National Protected Area) with supposedly great hiking. We thought we would have the chance to see Black Asiatic Bears, elephants, or ligers. We were disappointed to find out that it was unlikely to see any animals without doing expensive 4+ day hiking trips. We opted instead for our own free 14 kilometer walk through stilted thatched villages to a waterfall. We bolted down to Luang Prabang the next day.

• Luang Prabang is an UNESCO World Heritage City. With its old French architecture, flourishing temples and location between the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers it’s easy to lose yourself in its beauty. Unfortunately, as it seems with UNESCO protected cities and the catering towards package tourism it spawns dilutes the city’s charm. In spite of that though, the city still speaks to us and we’ve been finding our way through it to the things we think of as its gems. The nearby Kuangxi waterfalls are beautiful, producing turquoise blue pools that seem almost unnatural. The Hmong night market houses a food alley where a vegetarian buffet goes for about sixty cents. And today, Mari and I volunteered at a local English teaching program called Big Brother Mouse. Mari worked with a 21 year old man who was trying to learn English so that he wouldn’t have to be part of the family business as a farmer. He reminded us how much Luang Prabang, and it’s bubble directed towards wealthy foreigners, is not reflective of the average living conditions in Laos by mentioning in conversation practice that he didn’t know if he liked eating at restaurants, since he had never been to one before. For my couple of hours of volunteering, I was matched up with a young man who took me to an internet café because he wanted me to help him communicate with a doctor he had met here before…through Facebook of all things. We spent the whole time setting up his account, posting a picture to his profile, and sending out his 1 friend request. In the end, he thanked me and asked if I would be his second friend. Something tells me he’s getting the hang of it.

Posted: November 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Laos | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Science 101

Law
Lately, connections have been coming from the realm of science. Take entropy for example. It’s the idea that closed systems move from order to chaos, from shiny to rusty. It came to me the other day when Mari looked at me, studying my face, and said, “you’re looking old these days. I guess 10 months of unrelenting sun and elements really do add up.” Ppphhhhttt went the balloon that was my self-confidence.
But it did make me think of our backpack of belongings—as closed a system as any. My clothes, each a little worse for wear every time I push them back in the bag, have long ceased being dirt-free let alone wrinkle free. And they in turn press hard on my toiletries, which includes my electric clippers. Back in April, Mari’s parents brought me a clipper which I was able to use on my fuzzy head once before it stopped working. I bought a second pair in Turkey which worked fine for the first 4 ½ months. However, when I took it out to cut my hair in Hawaii for my grandfather’s birthday party, I noticed that the guard had broken in my backpack. Its side had broken off, leaving no way for it to stay secured to the razor and with a portion “guard-free.” My solution to secure the guard was duct tape. I cut my hair and felt pleased with my Mcgyver-esque ingenuity. Mari saw the back of my head and thought otherwise. She managed an “um…” before trailing off. It turned out that the part of the guard that broke off was kind of important. It’s what keeps your head from having lines shaved into it. I felt like I had the LA freeway system carved into my head that night at the party.
3 weeks later in Danang, Vietnam I again took the slightly used clippers from my backpack. This time I used more duct tape. But when I turned it on, it rattled for a few seconds, and made a new noise. But I cut my hair anyway. Or at least I tried to. The clipper’s noise had been its way of telling me cut at my own peril. It conked out on me, leaving me to feel like an unfinished crop circle. As I chucked my second pair of clippers in the garbage, I thought, “ain’t entropy a bitch?”

Hypothesis
Remarkably, 10 months in and we haven’t been robbed, pickpocketed or beat up. We have the things we set out with (minus only a few things we’ve carelessly forgotten along the way), haven’t had any major health problems or other major issues. All in all, it feels like we’ve been extremely fortunate. And that’s led me to be a little reluctant to write about how we have been faring to date—for fear of our fortune changing by me jinxing it. And I surely don’t want to be the jinx, since I’m not the cause behind our good fortune. But for today, science trumps superstition.
For some time, I’ve been convinced that much of our good fortune is directly linked to Mari. She’s the equivalent of a scientific secret weapon. There’s a school of thought that says that mammals all have an instinctual affinity towards mammal babies. And because of that mammals will want to take care of them. It’s called the Biophilia Hypothesis. Think about how warm and cuddly you feel when you see kittens or puppies. Or calves or piglets for that matter. It’s the reason there are urban myths about people being left in the woods and raised by wolves, and why Tarzan was…well, Tarzan. Mari, thanks to her impish size and Asian youthfulness, seems to have fallen into a little natural selective niche with this one. Her oversized backpack only accentuates the issue.
Despite not speaking the language, local peoples love trying to communicate with her. They pat her on the head and grab her cheeks. I’ve seen men pick her up and carry her across streams and then put her down as gently as if she were being lowered into a crib. Every time we get off a bus or train, someone is helping her with her backpack. Last week the guesthouse owner, a woman actually about the same height as Mari but older looking, took Mari’s backpack for her and then held her hand to help Mari cross the street. For whatever reason, people want to baby this 31 year old woman, which has been ok with me.

***note****

12 hours after I wrote this, we lost our camera.  Way to go jinx.

Posted: November 1st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Hawaii, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Wouldn’t Miss it for the World (literally)

Originally, it was our plan to not touch down on US soil for all of 2009. As it turned out though, there was an event we felt we just didn’t want to miss out on. I mean, how often does your grandpa join the centenarian club? So we hit the pause button in Southeast Asia and flew to Oahu for 6 days to join with friends and family.
We stayed in Waikiki in a beautiful hotel. That’s right, that’s “H-O-T-E-L,” not “h-o-s-t-e-l.” Fresh flowers on our bathroom towels welcomed us. Come to think of it, we were geeked even that bathroom towels welcomed us. We flushed toilet paper right down the toilet with seemingly reckless abandon. There was wonderful refrigeration and we bought juice and poke to take full advantage. But the best part about the hotel was that it was 2 blocks from my sister and parents. After not seeing them for nine months, I now saw them daily. And I got to see my sister at least this once during her pregnancy.
We all, along with other family, flew in to celebrate my grandpa’s 100th birthday, which is really just an excuse to celebrate my grandpa. He’s a gentle man with an endearing, playful sense of humor. And though living to 100 is a feat in itself, it’s my grandpa’s quality of life that makes me smile. For one, he out ate me at my aunt’s dinner. And he needs all of that fuel, since he still dances and gardens. And into his nineties he swam, played tennis and drove a stick shift car with a spoiler in the back. It’s that never-ending lack of activity that I usually think of when I need to shoot down my own self-doubts. When I ran my marathon a few years ago, he was the inspiration.
After a family dinner, we sat around my aunt’s dining table. The grandkids made party favors for the upcoming celebration, and my mom and her 2 sisters were doing the seating chart. I remember thinking that I love seeing my mom interacting with her sisters. It all seems so happy and effortless. I get a glimpse into another part of her-as a sister. Maybe that’s why I think she looks even more complete whenever I see her with my aunts. I looked over to my grandpa and realized I wasn’t the only one whose attention they had caught. My mom’s and aunt’s laughter filled the area just as the house was filled with my grandpa’s daughters, son-in-laws and grandchildren. And as my grandpa looked on at his daughters and family that surrounded him, his eyes blurred from tears that swelled in them. But even they couldn’t obscure for him his legacy, our family patriarch.
Happy Birthday Grandpa.

Posted: October 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Hawaii | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments »

Ondoy

We are in Quezon City. We’re in a beautiful home high on the hills, far removed from the realities of the surrounding areas. I’m in pajamas, and we’re sitting in our air-conditioned room watching a movie in tagalog which features Manny Pacquiao and our host who we’re staying with. It’s early evening on our second night here, which means it’s the night after tropical storm Ondoy (typhoon Ketsana outside of the Philippines). I’m not sure which situation feels more surreal.
The previous day we circled Manila’s International Airport for an extra hour, waiting for a break in weather conditions so we could land. When we cleared immigration and exited the airport, I began to look for Mr. Ignacio, my old karate instructor whom we were visiting. We were an hour late, and I was hoping he hadn’t been circling the whole time. I didn’t end up seeing his car on the road. It hit me then that there were no cars on the road. None. Everyone around was just looking with empty expectations at the road entering the airport. About 25 people were in line to catch taxis which weren’t coming. That’s when we realized that the rains were worse than we knew. We asked the airport what the situation was, and they told us that the roads leading in and out of the airport were all flooded past people’s waists, and that everyone would need to stay at the airport overnight. Mari and I, still not comprehending the extent of the rains, shrugged our shoulders, grabbed a couple of chairs, and prepared to settle in for the night. One more stay at an airport didn’t really affect either one of us much.
It was 8 hours later, around 11pm, that I heard my name being called on the PA system. I was being paged. It was Mr. Ignacio giving word that he was still, somehow, picking us up. An hour later, he made it through and we finally saw each other. The strongest person I’ve ever known greeted us. He hugged me, kissed me and had such a look of worry/relief on his face that it became clear that this storm wasn’t just a part of the seasonal weather, but something more. As we headed to his home, we learned that most of Manila was flooded, that there was a death toll of about 100, and that it was growing. I looked out of the window of the Landcruiser we were riding in, saw a family walking waist deep in the floods and my heart sank.
So now we’re in Quezon City and we’re doing what you do when you travel to another country to see someone. I get to finally see firsthand the successes of my Instructor (turned actor) as he is recognized in public and as I watch him in movies. I update a man who had a huge impact on my life growing up, on what my life is about now. And Mari ends up knowing me better through these interactions. The time spent has been wonderful and I’m grateful to see him and his family, in spite of the circumstances literally all around us.
The circumstances are devastating. But Manila is resilient. The floods have for the most part receded, and the city is starting to recover. Huge amounts of garbage have been swept from the streets and are piled on the side of the roads, with garbage collectors working overtime removing it as fast as possible. Mattresses hang from side fences as people dry them out and move on. In one area of the city, an underpass remains terribly flooded, and in effect has turned a busy street drag into a massive swimming pool. And locals react accordingly at this bizarre sight. Some stare in bewilderment, others warn of the health risks of the water, but many of the younger ones see it differently. In the midst of everything, they’ve put on their shorts and gone to play in the pool.

Posted: October 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Philippines | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »