Tuesday, February 28, 2012

When Roxas Became a Parking Lot

You might think I'm joking, or exaggerating, like when people in DC say, "Oh my gosh. 395 heading south last night was a total parking lot!" Except I'm not. The main road I take to work turned into a parking lot today. Literally. Buses and jeepneys parked at least three across, on both sides of the road - so I guess that would make them sextuple parked? See photo courtesy of my neighbor:
And, no, those buses and jeepneys aren't moving. They are 100% stopped. Parked. Not going anywhere.

A large local Christian denomination, Iglesia in Christo, held a huge rally today, at Rizal Park just a few blocks up from the embassy. Initial estimates projected about 10,000 people attending, but it definitely topped that - could even be closer to 1,000,000 in the general area (up and down Roxas, including at the park). I'm looking forward to the newspaper reports tomorrow.

Think about it like a consulting case study. Say each bus holds about 70 people. And buses are six across, making 300-400 people per bus length (less than 420, because jeepneys can't cram as many in). And the buses are parked for at least two miles, with bus + parking estimated about 50 feet. So that would be 105 bus lengths per mile = about 70,000 people on the buses I saw parked. And then all the other people streaming in constantly throughout the day. And all the buses diverted to elsewhere.

My excitement of the day came when it was time to go home. Though the embassy had liberal leave in effect from 2PM (meaning, you could take leave without supervisor's approval), I had a meeting scheduled with some local government contacts at 4PM, so no liberal leave for me. The meeting (a 10 min walk from the embassy) finished at 5PM. By then, I had heard that most people who attempted to drive home ended up abandoning their cars at the embassy. And since the alternate route to work was "traffic" with all the diversion, no way was Joel going to make it anywhere near me to pick me up.

So, walk home I did. I saw exactly two other non-Filipinos during the hour long walk home (it took extra time, because I was in work shoes and because the crowds were difficult to navigate). One was with the volunteer police force. And the other was Greg who came to meet me since it was starting to get dark - after having already walked home once himself, bearing the crowds. What a nice guy.

Thankfully we live at Seafront and had the option to walk. A couple we know who lives in the Fort caught an embassy shuttle to Seafront, which took 1.5 hours (usual commute time: 10 minutes), because their car couldn't make it out of the embassy lot. With no idea how to continue on home, we just lent them our car and driver for the night. They'll keep our car and then pick us up tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

travelogue: Palawan / Sabang

We took a beach vacation this long President's Day weekend. Of course, unless we travel internationally we're always taking a beach vacation, so that's not saying much.

Object of this trip was to see the Underground River, one of the Philippine's top tourist destinations. Per friend's recommendations, we stayed at a resort in Sabang, about a two hour drive from the Puerto Princesa airport, but only 25 minutes by banca boat from the Underground River. Recommendation was well appreciated!

The beach at Daluyon Beach & Mountain Resort was beautiful. It wasn't the white sand of Bohol (or reportedly Boracay), but with minimal seaweed, trash, or random spiky sea creatures, we all could walk, run dig and swim without worry. From the door of our ground floor room to said beach was about 20 feet. Put boys to bed, order room service on our porch, and, voila! private ocean front dinner each night. Combo of fun for kids and enjoyable for adults is about all we can ask for a family vacation.

The Underground River tour itself was a bit disappointing. After all the hype, I was expecting something along the Luray Caverns, but the stalactites and stalagmites were no where near that. Plus, the lack of organization to get a permit to take us on a boat to the cavern loading place was so frustrating. We were glad to have paid the extra money to the hotel to send a guide along with us, so he could jostle and shove in line. Definitely room for improvement if this is to be a world-class tourist attraction.

We did see some cool monitor lizards while waiting for the small boat to take us in the cavern. And after the tour was done, Wm asked our guide where a path in the jungle went. The guide replied that it took one back to the hotel. Without a blink of an eye, off shot Wm into the jungle! I ran after him and finally was able to reason some sense into him that perhaps going alone on the path wasn't such a good idea. To which he replied, "but it's so nice and peaceful here, and that boat is so noisy!" I couldn't argue :)

The next morning we took a mangrove forest tour, which was worth way more than the PHP 150/person we spent. Kingfishers, snakes, shinny crabs, and all sorts of other creatures spotted. Not to mention a private 45 minute paddle boat tour through the mangroves. Even Patch sat in attention! I'd say this should be publicized more, but then more people might detract from some of the fun of being the only ones in the mangrove. 

They fall fast!

Knock on wood, we've been blessed with two super healthy kids, especially considering the cities they've grown up in. I don't want to write more for fear of tempting fate, jinxing ourselves, whatever.

Tonight, though, poor Patch fell hard and fast. Honestly, I didn't realize at first what was happening, because either of them are so rarely ill. I came home from work, and Lea reported he maybe had some indigestion or ate something funny, so I put a diaper on just in case. Then, he was really clingy, wanting to be held, wanting his back patted, crying when he was put down. I just thought he was being fussy, until he went into his bed, got his blanket and doggie, and half stumbled back to the living room sighing, "up, please!" By then I had been home about 45 minutes and decided maybe something was up beyond a typical toddler demand.

After just about 15 more minutes, he was quite hot to the touch. I asked how he was feeling, and he said, "Patch go sleep on Mama lap." Save for the two long car rides from airport to beach resort this past weekend, it's been a long long time since Patch fell asleep on me - maybe since he stopped nursing at 10 months, even. Though I felt sorry he was feeling poorly, I will admit, a little part of me did enjoy the extra snuggies and knowing that even if he usually acts pretty independently, resting on my lap was what he wanted when he felt sick. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Pasay Adventure

I'll admit, I haven't explored our "backyard" neighborhood very much. If I leave out of the front of the compound, I can take Roxas straight to the chancery. Or with a quick u-turn, I'm at Mall of Asia or S&R (think Sam's Club). Aside from a very occasional meal at the Sofitel or show at the CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines), I don't do much in my neighborhood. In honestly, we don't do much except go to the playground and pool!

Ten months after arriving, I finally ventured out the back gate to run an errand. When in Chennai in July, I purchased some raw silk to make a dress and jacket. I finally found a seamstress I liked with a schedule whose matched mine, so I was ready to undertake this project. But I needed lining, thread, buttons, and a zipper. The seamstress told me of a place called Carolina's which I could walk to. After some discussion back and forth in Tagalog with Lea, Lea agreed she knew where it was.  This evening, of we went (I took Lea since I didn't want to get lost, and there was no where to park a car).

As it turns out, the store was almost a straight shot from Seafront, about 15-20 minutes by foot. For Manilans -- just on Libertad past the LRT station. It had all sorts of sewing notions you could imagine, though definitely geared more toward fancy gowns (think lots of ribbon, rhinestones, and shiny fabirc) than suits and daily clothes. I did manage to find what I needed, thankfully, even if the button selection was a bit more metallic than I would usually opt for.

With the weather finally cooling off, I enjoyed the early evening walk. Our area seems to specialize in inexpensive furniture and second hand clothes, judged by the number of shops of each kind. The public market seemed quite clean compared to similar markets in India, and Lea said the inner stalls sold fruits and veggies for up to 20% less than the ones close to the street. Trikes and jeepneys plied the streets with the occasional motorbike or bicycle - but I didn't really see any passenger cars. Street food vendors sold fried eggs (think hard boiled eggs dipped in batter and fried), fish balls (Lea says never to eat these since even Filipinos get sick eating them), ice cream, and soda in a bag with a straw (i.e., poured out of a big liter bottle into a sandwich baggie for about 10 cents).

Patch was quite a novelty, not surprisingly. He decided he didn't really like the attention and kept trying to pull the sun visor down over his head. Jeepneys won't stop for much, but they will for a white baby with strawberry blonde hair in a stroller trying to cross the street in a neighborhood where we were the only foreigners to be seen.

Unless I need some flowers (found two flower and party supply stores), some more sewing notions, or perhaps just want to browse the public market, I don't think I'll walk around much. At least, though, I can say with conviction that I don't live next to a "slum," like an acquaintance (who lives in the Fort) told me last night. It's not upper class, but streets are swept and stores well kept. Just a normal neighborhood for normal people.