More than a month’s worth of rain fell in just 12 hours.
The Philippine capital Metro Manila recently experienced a devastating
typhoon. Dozens have died, whole houses are underwater, and the
Philippine government is ill-equipped to deal with the disaser. BBC’s
report is here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8276347.stm,
but I don’t think anyone will know how just how much damage there is
until much later.
Imagine this: Katrina dumped over an inch of rainfall in Louisiana for
3 hours and another 0.5 inches per hour over the next 5 hours on
August 29, 2005. Philippine typhoon ‘Ondoy’ dumped an average of 2.24
inches per hour for over six hours.
By the time the rain stopped, more than 16 inches of rain had fallen
over Manila in 12 hours. To put that in context, only 15.39 inches of
rain fell throughout the month of September.
Many have lost their homes. Many are still stranded in theirÂ roofs in
desperate need of food, clothing, and shelter. The typhoon affected
people from all walks of life — rich and poor were stranded and lost
homes — but in the Philippines, the poorest are the most affected.
Please refer to this blog for pictures and video on the flooding so
you can see what has happened for yourself.
I am writing to you now to appeal to your sense of compassion and
strongly encourage you to donate to the Philippine Red Cross.
I was able to donate using my U.S. credit card through this link:
I’m terribly frustrated and sad that I can’t do much more to help. The
one thing I can do is spread the word about the disaster;
international news sites haven’t reported much (hours after the event,
I still don’t see any stories on CNN).
There aren’t enough distress signals out there, so if you can forward
this link to people you know who want to help, please do so.
I love the Oldies
Last weekend, Adam and I were in a car accident in Barstow, on the 247 by the Mojave desert. Because it was a Saturday and there were no body repair shops around, I had my car towed to Loma Linda, where my grandmother lives. We ended up sleeping in Loma Linda and getting both my blown tires fixed.
At around midnight (my grandmother sleeps at 9 p.m.) we stole what tasted like 50-year-old Moet from my grandma’s top shelf and drank it with orange juice (it was nasty). My grandmother told Adam to sleep in the den, and I got the guestroom. Before we left, she asked Adam to change a bunch of lightbulbs.
Today, my mom called my grandma from the Philippines to ask what she thought of Adam.
My grandma said, “Well, he’s gay.”
Mom replied, “What do you mean he’s gay?!?”
“He said so himself!” My grandma said indignantly. “He admitted it, right after he lost American Idol”
Juvenalia, care of Sunshine
I was fixing my published fiction files when I found a short story I wroteÂ with my one of my best friends from high school, Sunshine. It was for the teenybopper magazine Candy in 2002.Â So I put it up. I wish I had gotten PDFs — the illustrations of this story were AWESOME. Anyway, forgive the lousy title, but it’s a SUPER CUTE STORY, if I do say so myself. Read it here.
R.I.P. Cory Aquino
When I was a freshman in high school at St. Scholastica’s College (which was incidentally President Cory Aquino’s alma mater) being president of the country was a popular aspiration. Sunshine wanted to be president, I remember. So did Margaux, or maybe it was Debbie.
For the 12 and 13-year-old girls in my class, Cory Aquino wasn’t just the first female president of the nation, she was THE symbol of the Filipina. Someone who was a leader, yet kind, someone who was not necessarily beautiful but fearless and brave anyway. That this ‘humble housewife’ was the commander-in-chief of the Philppine islands meant that any of us – of a similar colegiala upbringing, heck, even graduates of the same school – could also one day do the same.
Of course, we took it for granted then. But as budding feminists in the 90s, we were never made to feel that women couldn’t do certain things. After all, Cory was our president. She’d made the cover of Time magazine a bunch of times. She led a revolution. Even without the macho posturings of guns and armies, Cory changed our world.
Living in the late ’80s and most of the ’90s in the Philippines, right after overthrowing the Marcos dictatorship, was amazing. The whole country was constantly rejoicing, newly discovering freedom of speech, free trade (yes, even McDonalds), having more than three channels, being able to travel abroad, letting go of the US bases, art festivals.
We lived through coup d’etats, planes flying over our houses, en route to Malacanang palace, without really being afraid. (I remember being happy every time the army tried to overthrow the Aquino government because classes were suspended.) Cory made that possible, that fearlessness, that belief that everything was going to be OK. No matter what kind of leader she was, she gave us hope in ourselves and in our country. And really, that’s all we needed, and at the time, it was all that mattered.
Crying in Cambodge
We traveled in the heat from Saigon to Siem Reap aboard a Vietnamese bus that stopped at various roadside canteens. Hungover from Tet activities, I threw up at bathrooms that slowly degraded — from tissue papers in toilets to just holes in the ground, until we passed by Kampong Thum, the town closest to the Vietnamese border.
I had fallen asleep, tired from my headache and too much alcohol in my system, when I realized the bus had stopped again. I woke up to look for my mother and found her, in her brightly colored shirt and sequined bag, surrounded by litttle children selling things. “Pretty lady, you buy from me,” one girl who looked about 12 said to her. She carried bags of sliced pineapples…and a giant tarantula. “This my friend,” she said to my mother. “You like?” she asked, shoving it near her face.
It confused me; it looked almost exactly like the Philippines. It was dusty and hot and crowded, with coconut trees and rice fields everywhere. But I looked around and saw vendors selling tubs of insects-as-snacks. Locusts coated in coconut, fried spiders and turtles were the fares of the day. A limbless man crawled past my mother to ask a Korean man from my bus for alms. I went back to the bus, where I ate a locust the Korean offered me. It tasted like a shrimp head; not so bad, and pretty crunchy.
All of a sudden it hit me: I was eating an insect, and I was in a country that was so poor, they ate insects as snacks. I swallowed the locust and tried to stop the hot tears welling up my eyes, but I couldn’t. I put my head on my mother’s shoulder and cried the rest of the way to Phnom Penh.
Joy Luck Club-ish? An immigrant story
A story for Claire Lightâ€™s â€˜Joy Luck Hubâ€™ Blog Carnival:
I made the decision to move to the United States in increments. At first I was going to stay a month, then three, then I found myself the lead singer of a rock n roll band and decided to stay. Now I’ve been in the country six years; the band doesn’t exist anymore but I’ve lived in five cities (in two states) since opting to stay in Orange County.
When I first moved here, my aunt would always try to make me feel better by saying, “Of course, moving is always hard. When I moved, we didn’t have a dining table for a YEAR. We ate on a balikbayan box (the cardboard box most Filipinos use to ship goods back to the Philippines) every night for dinner.”
My grandmother’s father was American. He was Jewish (Bergen from NJ), and he had an iron business in Manila before the war. His common-law wife, my grandma’s mom, was Filipino. Bergen left my Lola in the Philippines during World War 2 in the care of his Spanish foreman. He never came back, so Alfredo MojicaÂ adopted my grandmother and raised her to be a good Catholic girl in Sampaloc, Manila. She met and married my grandfather, then had four kids.
Most of my family then moved to the United States incrementally, too. First to move were my great-aunts; nurses, wives of soldiers, during and after World War 2. Then my mom’s sister fled a bad marriage in the 80s; this was the balikbayan box aunt. With her two boys, she settled where my great-aunts lived, in California. In 1986 another aunt married an American and moved to New Jersey. Then my grandmother decided to live in both countries depending on the weather, then another aunt settled in NYC. That was it, until me. Then my sisters moved (one to Milwaukee, one in Cali), then my cousins went to school in Boston, then California as well..
Now, everyone lives in the United States except for my mother; she prefers the chaos of Manila, the bendable rules, the awesome food, the household help, the absurdity of the traffic, politicians, corruption, pollution, poverty. I don’t want her to be alone, so I’ve been making plans to move back to the Philippines, incrementally, again.
My top 10 experiences of 2008
This year proved that what I am really best at is either a) looking on the bright side or b) deluding myself. Because despite getting laid off (RIP, MKE), I traveled a lot, developed new relationships, discovered what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. At the very least, 2008 was waaaaay better than 2007. Or even 2006!
1. I see Poland, I see Prague:
Going to Europe with Kathy, Justin, Marla and Carrie was pretty life-changing. Not because I got to go to Auschwitz or ÄŒeskÃ½ Krumlov (aka Chesty Kumquat) or the Bone Church or Austria, although all those places were amazing. It was life-changing because after the 10-day trip I made my Milwaukee keepers. We had fart-offs, meat sweats, jumping shots, cartwheel shots, amber infusions…it was fun. The only non-fun was having to hold Justin’s hand while Kathy was in the bathroom or something, while waiting to board airplanes. That hurt.
2. Food Night
What it is: Sunday nights, Justin Shady & Co. (we called them the Ohio crew) would buy ingredients for a yummy meal and cook dinner for the masses. Then we’d all sit around drinking booze and talking.
How it works: Basically whoever was hosting (Justin or Marla or whoever) would buy the ingredients, plan the menu, and cook. The guests would start trickling in while the cooks were preparing, and sometimes help, sometimes just drink booze. Then we’d sit in a circle and eat everything. The cooks would tally up the cost of the ingredients and divide it by the guests, and it would usually amount to $5 or less. You had to bring your own booze.
Who goes: People who knew the TLC crew, lovers, dreamers, musicians, yogis, bicyclists, painters, illustraters, writers, copy editors, comedians, actors, dogs, photographers, drummers, guitarists, etc etc etc.
Why it was a highlight: Food Night in Milwaukee made all of us feel that we were part of a family, one of our choosing. Other than my sister’s house, the Shady-Bryja-Scott household was the most at welcome I ever felt in the Midwest. And it also inspired me to start cooking. And do household chores. And I got better at picking booze. And drinking it. So, you know, it also made me appreciate Milwaukee so much more.
3. Staying in Riverwest
There were reasons I didn’t want to get my own place in Milwaukee long term. I knew winter wasn’t my thing, so I didn’t know how long I was going to stick around in the Midwest. I was saving a ton of money living with my sister, and I loved being around Zach. Plus I always thought my sister would be sad if I moved. Subletting Marla’s place was a good idea though; I had alone time, I made my own food, I wrote a short story, I wrote a few songs. I found out about the Reservoir, I took care of dogs, I felt more responsible than I had in YEARS. Okay, ever. So that was pretty cool.
4. Getting Laid Off
On one hand, it was the biggest ego blow I’d ever experienced in my life. On the other, it seemed like I was getting paid to finally do what I really wanted to with my life. Getting laid off paved the way for me to do everything else that made 2008 one of the best in recent history. I miss working with people from MKE, but I love what I’m doing now (i.e., partying).
5. Going to Alaska with my family
Total chaos, but fun. I flew from Milwaukee to Seattle early so I could explore the city a little bit by myself. When my family arrived (from Manila and California) we boarded the NCL cruise ship thenÂ hit Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Prince Rupert in Canada. In Ketchikan, we toured various totem poles. In Juneau, we rode a float plane to look over a bunch of glaciers and have a salmon bake…we also saw real bears eating salmon leftovers at the barbecue! In Skagway, we biked around town. We were too late to book a whale watching tour in Prince Rupert, so we all just hung around the small, non-descript Canadian town.
I’d never been on a cruise before, and to go with 13 members of my family (cousins, aunts, grandma, mom, baby nephews) was pretty awesome. I KNEW my family was fun, but group vacations are always a nice way to prove it.
6. Burning Man: More than a “drug-fueled desert artfag epiphany.”
Regardless of how passe Burning Man is perceived (so passe that even ragging on it is passe), it probably the most amazing thing I did last year. Random notes from my journal; none of them really concrete. Also all mentions of mind-altering substances and real names will be hidden under words like “unicorns” and “rainbows” and “roses.”
Day .25 – flight delayed, got to chico really late. j*sh and i did wizards and smoked. they had half an oz. of unicor s. went to walmart. would’ve forgotten i was at chico except for teh ‘chico state u’ t-shirts. bought water jugs, camelbak, stole a little girl’s bike by accident. it was pink, but there was no bell. luckily i am very short. also groceries (not stolen)
Day .5 – more walmart, picked up the uhaul from a dude who was fired but rehired and used to be meredith’s neighbor…who ended up giving us free shite from uhaul…we drove to nevada……was in line to get in Black Rock City 12 hours, worst thing ever
Day 1: set up camp in a dust storm. slept at Hookahdome, all wasted on rainbows…it was awesome. for some reason burning man felt really really like home, it was amazing, everyone so nice and friendly and weird and so much magic…i felt like just being there was sacred space…
i think we took roses. i don’t know. it was great, even though i was alone i had a whole city to explore. i felt kind of intimidated in the beginning.
Day 2. – 6. took two sugar cubes of griffins. then explored the city on my bike, at dawn. it was constantly, like, 100 degrees, and i couldn’t process any of the shit that was happeninng properly. a cubicle in the mmiddle of the desert? sure. a cheshire cat truck trundling across my tent? of course. a magic carpet ride and a disco that people danced on while it moved through the city? why not. But by the end of the trip I was burnt out, burnt and tired. We left before the man burned. Still, it was AWESOME.
More hippie bs, but time with MamaSu and Lia was priceless. I met Su’s family from Humboldt, I camped out some more (but only for three days!) i got to smell a lot of hippie bullshit sage, and also, there was more available unicorns here than at burning man. there were angels and dodos and peacock feathers. one night i took peacock feathers and Neko Case saved my life. I did not bathe for three days.
I also had a great time just BEING in Sebastopol. The yoga studio was walking distance, so I would take ashtanga classes daily. It got me back into the practice. I drove around San Francisco, went to see Michael Franti, spent time with my cousin Rosanna in Berkeley and B + Karla in Oakland — all in all, a very productive NorCal sojourn.
8. Driving to Cali from MKE
It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done — three days in a car through eight states, just driving, driving, driving. The whole one foot in front of the other is great in theory, you know? I really enjoy going to different cities, like notches in my belt. Or something. Plus, I always wanted to be able to say I drove cross-country. (Also, I saw my odometer hit 666.)
But when you’re on the road and just listening to music, seeing cornfield after cornfield turn into snow turn into rain turn into the desert, you just have an amazing amount of time with your thoughts all swirling around in your head, loop-de-looping in your brain.
I’m glad I didn’t need to follow a map; instead, I just convoyed with my friends Justin Shady and Kathy Bryja + the fab Mr. Fabulous, who were moving to LA. It helped give me a focus, plus Kathy learned to drive stick (fast learner) and helped me out during the moments I got really sleepy. Here was my view for most of the trip:
I’m not very good at being with other people, and I always have to apologize for that; it’s like something in me is locked into alone mode. Sometimes, though, I get lucky and do the right thing at the right time, and just live in that moment.
10. Going to the Philippines
When in doubt, go home. Best idea I ever had.
I met Erap today. And I have no proof!
A good friend from high school is deposed president Erap Estrada’s spokesperson. (Don’t ask me about hows or whys.) If you’re not Filipino you may not know that he was an actor-turned-mayor-turned-president who was impeached on corruption charges. He also inspired a revolution by the poor, then was imprisoned by the current president’s administration. For the longest time, he was also the country’s most popular punch line, via emails and text messages.
My father would send out Erap jokes daily (“Why does Erap like a BMW better than a Volkswagen? He can spell BMW.”) so it was ironic/surreal when M texted me: “Do you want to meet Erap? Meet me outside the Cafe in 5 minutes.”
The traffic was pretty horrible so I waited for about 20 minutes. I wondered what ex-president’s cars looked like. Of course he had a wangwang and a siren, and two escorts (front and back) that stopped traffic before the car (a black Mercedes Benz) pulled up in front of me. M got out, and so did Erap.
We got introduced amidst gawking passersby (hey, how often do you have a presidential sighting on a Baguio sidewalk near jeepney stands?). On his left hand, he wore his signature wristband, white, with a gold presidential seal. (Why does Erap wear a wristband? So he can tell his left from his right.) I shook that hand.
I thanked him for bringing my friend to the Cafe and invited him to dinner, but he said he already had a dinner date and politely refused.
Then, as M and I were walking away, I realized I missed a photo op, so we ran back to the car. M asked Erap to roll down the window so she could take our photo, but his car started moving, so she only got this:
At the restaurant, M called him again to thank him for dropping her off. She added, laughing, “Sir, kilig na kilig yung kaibigan ko dahil na-meet ka nya, hindi na daw sha maghuhugas ng kamay FOREVER!” (“Sir, my friend was so thrilled to meet you that she said she’s not going to wash her hands EVER.”)
Erap started laughing, then replied: “Gusto nya, next time, halikan ko nalang sha para hindi na sha maghugas ng bibig!” (“Next time I’ll just kiss her so she’ll never wash her mouth!”)
Notes on Reverse Culture Shock, part 1
The first thing you forget about the Philippines is how poor everyone is. And how cheap certain things like labor and food is, and how expensive other things we take for granted are (like gas).
There’s cigarettes they sell in packs of five sticks, and shampoo in little travel sizes, etc. cause sometimes that’s all people can afford.
In Siargao we went to this little island called Dako to surf. We took a tiny outrigger boat to get there, an island where residents have noÂ electricity or plumbing.Â I asked to useÂ someone’s bathroom; it was a hole in the ground. For lunch, we grilled fish forÂ 11 people. There was also a salad andÂ rice. All the food (we even had leftovers) cost less than $18. TheÂ round trip boat fare to the island cost about $12.
Lots of people on this island aren’t locals. ,They’re here to surf Cloud 9, the Philippines’ most legendary wave. They’re Australians, Israelis, Germans, French. Not aÂ lot of Americans. Other tourists are treat me like I’m American. It is, as Axel the Biarritz surfer said to me, because ‘my English is perfect.’
I didn’t have the heart to tell him most everyone in the Philippines spoke decent English.
One day, I will decide: Do I want to be here or there? I think California is home, even though I haven’t lived there in two years. I saw the Milwaukee house today, on iChat with Diwata, and I longed to be there for a second. Being here feels like regression. Being comfortable makes me feel guilty; having a maid around makes me feel retarded, like I can’t do anything for myself.
Maybe the Philippines felt different, like a different skin, for the first two weeks. But one day while sitting in a car with Anne driving, I felt it: I was home. From Makati on EDSA, crawling to Taft, behind buses and tricycles and motorbikes and pedestrians and tamaraws and taxis and jeepneys. The inky black night punctuated by the chorus of red brake lights, all waiting for the stop and go of traffic.
It seemed very comforting, very Zen to not get impatient, to just wait out the stillness. I felt safe, I felt good. Most of my quality moments with loved one involved this: air conditioning and Bjork at the speed of 5 km per hour.