Monday, November 08, 2010

The Philippine File (Part II)

(Where I chose to keep my entries completely random in my last Philippine travelogue, I have instead kept them in order this time. Partly because this was a more disciplined type of journey and not so random; with a more personal purpose in mind and, partly, because it’s the only way I might actually make a little sense - if any - of the whole experience.)

February 9th, Lester B. Pearson Airport - Gate C34; Toronto, ON (10:30pm)

I’m getting ready to board the plane for my second overseas adventures in the Philippines. I’m loaded up with 25kg of peanut butter, protein bars, Kraft Dinner, sport gels, whiskey, GPS unit, heart rate monitor, hydration belt, spin shoes, clothes, toiletries, and enough chocolate treats and maple candies to give the entire Filipino Customs stage two diabetes. I’m a little more trepidatious about this particular trip as I am expecting to deal with a whole new host of unique challenges and obstacles in comparison to my last trip over in October. In particular, I am intending to stick as closely as possible to my triathlon training while there despite the 93-degree heat, insane humidity, massive pollution levels, urban congestion, lunatic drivers, etc. Also, I am also going to attempt to live as locally and as independent from restaurants and fast food chains as possible. Yup, I’m going to make all my own meals. This is going to be a hugely daunting task as I don’t expect the food will come in nice, pretty, conveniently wrapped cellophane packaging*, oh no, I’m expecting you buy the whole freaking animal – lips, tits and asshole included. I’m quickly going to have to transform myself into the Iron Chef and figure out to do exactly with all the new and mysterious indigenous foods so I don’t come back a 300lb lard ass after too many Quarter-pounder meals at MacRaunches.

* Or so I thought…

February 9th, Gate C34 (11:15pm)

As luck would have it, I’m leaving just in time to avoid the new winter storm heading across Western Canada and threatening to dump nearly 10cm of snow tonight and a severe chance of “freezing fog”. What the fuck is that exactly? Wouldn’t that just make it…snow?

February 9th, Flight CX827 to Hong Kong (11:45pm)

I am seated to a young Soviet couple heading to Cebu to go scuba diving. Oh goodie! I can’t wait to past the 15 hour plane ride with spirited conversations about Glasnost and Dostoevsky. The good news is that my chances of getting some quality sleep on this flight are definitely looking up.

February 10th (I think), Flight CX827 to Hong Kong (12:45am)

I have been asleep for the past 12 hours. Thank you, Sleep Aid Liquidcaps! The only bad thing about his flight so far is my case of bed head from sleeping with my hoodie on. I look like Ed Grimley from SCTV. Even my egg and sausage croissant they gave us earlier in the flight was tolerable…and by tolerable, I mean I’ve survived thus far.

February 10th, Hong Kong International Airport (6:30am)

Hong Kong International Airport is a different world at 6:30am local time. Currently, it’s only me, a few other haggard looking travelers from my flight and about a dozen masked custodians all vacuuming, sweeping, and polishing the vast empty expanses of floor.

I found a meal of rolled banana pancakes and Gatorade in the only airport café open and am now bracing myself for the final leg of the journey to Manila in another two hours with a little light yoga…anything to get my mind off the brain-suckingly-repetitive flute music playing over the airport PA system. It’s enough to make you bore holes in your ear drums with a power drill…

February 10th, Flight CX907 to Manila (8:00am)

Crammed into another sardine can with another hundred weary and irritable passengers. Looking out the plane window I can see the breaking dawn over Kowloon Bay and the early morning mist wafting over Phoenix Mountain in the distance. Hopefully, the take off will be a bit smoother than landing I just survived into Hong Kong so I don’t toss my banana pancakes all over the woman beside me. Definitely, not the kind of thing you buy a souvenir t-shirt to commemorate:

“I went to Hong Kong and all I got was yakked on my by a giant nauseous North American.”

February 12th, Renaissance Condo’s; Manila, Philippines (12:30pm)

Successfully made it through Day One! Grocery shopping has proven to be as difficult as I expected. I can’t just buy turkey deli meat for example; I have to buy the whole fucking turkey - feathers, beaks n’ all. This totally goes against the grain of my personal rule I made on my last trip of never eating anything with a face. To my surprise, however, there is lots of nice, pretty cellophane wrapped packages. In fact, everything is conveniently wrapped in cellophane – fruit, veggies, fish, meat, everything! I swear, you can almost feel the ozone collapsing in on you as you load up your shopping cart with produce. The produce section alone at SM Supermarket must be responsible for the destruction of a zillion acres of Amazon rainforest, at least!

Also to note: when you say “only a little rice please”, they immediately interpret that as about 12 kilos worth.

February 13th, Renaissance Condo’s; Manila, Philippines (3:30pm)

I completed my first short run around the “neighborhood” this morning (23-degrees, 74% humidity). To my surprise, I was not the only lunatic out avoiding the heat of the day and extreme traffic congestion. Besides dodging the odd low-flying bat, the only other real hazard of running at night is maybe falling to your death in one of the seemingly bottomless potholes along the road. I’ve been warned about being mugged but, seriously, who’s going to target a fully grown man in stretchy shorts? Definitely not the kind that’s interested in my money; let me tell you! Wait…

February 13th, Transcom Center; Manila, Philippines (5:30pm)

Everyone at work seems pleased with their “Pasalubong” treats I brought. It would seem that a simple Cadbury’s Cream Egg turns your average Filipino into a raving, sugar-induced lunatic. I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire office called in sick tomorrow due to a massive collective sugar crash.

February 14th, Renaissance Condo’s; Manila, Philippines (8:30am)

I forgot one very important amenity from the supermarket: toilet paper. I must remember to remedy this situation tomorrow before I’m reduced to wiping my ass with discarded pineapple husks.

February 14th, Antipolo Village; Rizal Province, Philippines (3:30pm)

I was fortunate enough to attend another wedding this afternoon outside the city. You haven’t lived until you’ve sat through an entire Catholic wedding conducted entirely in Tagalog.

February 14th, Renaissance Condo’s; Manila, Philippines (9:30pm)

All the local girls are lined up outside the condo’s today waiting for the opportunity to make googley-eyes at us ex-pats as we leave the building. So, this is what Mick Jagger must feel like whenever he leaves his hotel.

February 15th, Bay of Manila; Manila, Philippines (10:00am)

I went for an enjoyable – yet scorching – run along the infamous “Baywalk” between the Philippine Marina and the US Embassy to Rizal Park. I must have looked as out of place as a tap-dancing albino rhino while running along in my fancy shoes, iPod headphones, hydration belt, blinking GPS unit and heart rate monitor…judging by the mystified expressions of local passersby. It seems like I’m the highlight of their social calendar. Let me tell you, you haven’t felt out of place until an entire park of thousands suddenly stops their picnics, games of badminton, eating their ice cream cones or playing in water fountains just gawk at you as lumber by all sweaty and breathless.

February 15th, Greenhill’s; Manila, Philippines (4:00pm)

I am quickly learning the art of negotiation Filipino-style. It’s a two part process. First, it’s the display of a particularly sour and disapproving look on your face like someone has just presented you a freshly laid turd on your grandmother’s fine china plate. Second, you respond with your counter offer of approximately half the originally quoted price…and so the dance goes on. This display of disgusted looks and returned counter-offers continues until you reach a mutually agreed upon price or you just walk away altogether. It’s basically a war of shopping attrition.

February 16th, Circle’s; Shangri-la Hotel; Makati City, Philippines (1:00pm)

When I die and, hopefully, go to heaven, I will stay at the Shangri-la Hotel and feast at the Circles buffet restaurant for eternity. I absolutely gorged myself on Duck Confit, Coco van, and just about every decadent Asian, Indian and North American cuisine imaginable. I probably consumed more calories today at one sitting than most people here in the Philippines consume all week. Most notable, was the huge-ass chocolate fountain in which to dip your skewered marshmallows, fruit or, shit, anything really. I had the incredible urge to strip down, dive in and do laps around the fountain just for kicks. Of course, that might be a bit of a deterrent for the other diners to see a fat North American doing the backstroke through the pools of chocolate.

February 16th, Greenbelt; Makati City, Philippines (3:00pm)

More shopping – this time in the Prada, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss, Burberry, etc. stores of the extravagant Greenbelt Plaza. I swear, if I see another designer purse, wallet, handbag, or pair of pumps, it’ll be too fucking soon. It amazes me that there is such extravagant shopping here as most Filipino’s, as far as I can tell, don’t have a pot to piss in. Clearly, the shoppers here are not from the “have not” class of society. Who can justify spending 112,000 PHP on a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes? And while I’m on the topic, since when did the Chinese become the bench mark in high end designer women’s shoes? I think Jimmy may have a bit of a height complex maybe. Also disturbing to me are the clothing adverts in the shops that depict 14-16 year old models pouting in their 90,000 PHP t-shirts, 112,000 PHP jeans and 365,000 PHP jackets. I want to step into one of these posters and punch every one of these spoiled pre-pubescent fuckers and really give them something to pout about. These are the same trendy assholes that tormented me about my discounted BiWay duds all through high school. One thing is for sure, my own children will never be caught dead in any Hugo Boss or Gucci threads; unless they get off their asses and from in front of their Wii gaming systems and get a job to pay for it themselves.

February 17th, Ortigas; Manila, Philippines (3:30am)

Saw the biggest cockroach of my life scurrying across the sidewalk while on one of my jogs. I probably could have strapped a saddle on it and rode it back to my condo.

February 18th, Ortigas; Manila, Philippines (5:00pm)

I have been experimenting with some local cuisine, namely, Halo-Halo and Suman. Halo-Halo is a rather odd looking dessert consisting of shaved ice and milk to which is added various boiled sweet beans, fruit (mango, coconut, and caramelized plantains), sago pearls, gelatin cubes and the infamous (and almost scary-looking) purple Filipino ice cream (pig parts optional). The ingredients are mixed together until you have yourself a big bowl of purpley mush. Suman is basically sticky rice wrapped in coconut leaves and then dipped into either sugar, chocolate, or in my case, a coco jam spread I purchased from the Antipolo Village market. I equate it to a poor man’s chocolate bar.

February 19th, Texas Roadhouse; Ortigas, Manila, Philippines (5:30pm)

Watching the Olympic cross-country skiing (women’s 15k chase) at the Texas Roadhouse while chowing down on nachos and fajitas; what a juxtaposition of culture if ever there was one. It’s enough to make your head explode…but such is the entire Filipino experience if you ask me. It’s highly entertaining to watch the pint-sized Filipino servers in tight jeans, boots, and handkerchiefs taking orders in their best Texan accents*: “wha kin I get yoo, paat-nah?” Umm, how about a Filipino to Texan dictionary for starters…

I had a rather embarrassing moment when I brought it to my server’s attention that the Men’s bathroom was out of toilet paper. Suddenly, the whole restaurant was put on Orange Alert and a Texas-sized flurry of activity occurred to procure me some shit sheets while I stood there with clenched butt cheeks. It took the entire staff to find, restock and ultimately escort me back in with warm smiles and inviting gestures so I could get on with conducting my business of taking a Texas-sized dump. So, this begs the ultimate question: how many Filipino’s does it take to change a roll of toilet paper**?

* Don’t even get me started on the décor of cowboy hats, horseshoes, chuck wagon wheels, etc.

** Seven.

February 20th, Pasig City, Manila, Philippines (5:00am)

During one of my early morning jogs I ran into (literally) a military checkpoint of no fewer than a dozen soldiers armed with huge automatic rifles. Apparently in the days leading to a national presidential election, it is illegal to carry a concealed or unregistered weapon. Of course, this begs the question: what about the other 5 years and 11 months of non-election? Apparently it’s just a huge free-for-all, Cinco de Mayo style. Whatever, I was allowed to pass under scrutinizing eyes despite the two lethal weapons I was concealing in my sleeves (“the guns”).

February 21st, Pasig City, Manila, Philippines (3:30pm)

I have noticed a lot of Filipino’s walking around with weird growths and deformities on their faces. I saw a lady that had what looked like a punching bag hanging off her face and I had the momentarily impulse to make like Sugar Ray Leonard and do some speed work. I wonder if it has anything to do with the heavy carbon monoxide emissions here fucking with the parents frail, delicate DNA strands.

February 22nd, Pasig City, Manila, Philippines (5:30pm)

I was humored on my drive into the office today by a billboard advertisement for breast enhancement. Now, given the extreme, exaggerated nature of the Filipino’s, we’re talking about a three-story pair of knockers here; easily the biggest pair of breasts I have ever laid eyes on. It’s a complete wonder to me that there’s not a 5-star pile-up in front of the billboard every day. I mean, if a set of normal-sized breasts alone can distract a male driver, what do you think a pair of tits you can see from orbit are going to cause?

February 22nd, Las Fiestas Building, Pasig City, Manila, Philippines (9:30pm)

I am happy to announce that I ate from the work cafeteria (pork BBQ skewers w/ rice) and didn’t immediately drop in agonizing convulsions as the result of prehistoric strain of food poisoning; whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger I suppose. So after a few weeks in the Philippines my immune system and digestive tract must be on par with Superman. I could probably eat pure toxic waste now and not only live – but go back for seconds.

February 23rd, Flight CX864 to Bacolod, Aquino Ninoy Airport (9:00am)

Back on board one of these flying toasters they call an airplane bound for Bacolod. The U.S.S. Enterprise this is not…more like the U.S.S. Albatross by the condition of the aircraft. The airplane is more of a flying minivan. Fortunately, I am all hopped up on strong Cinnabon coffee that is one part caffeine, one part kerosene and one part rocket fuel…which is good considering I had approximately an hour of sleep last night. So if this hand-glider happens to go down I’ll have enough strength and energy to paddle my way back to shore.

I’m sitting in the front row seat so close to the front of the craft that I feel like I should be shoving dollar bills in the flight attendants stockings during her pre-flight safety routine.

February 23rd, Flight CX864 to Bacolod, Aquino Ninoy Airport (9:49am)

The pervert beside me is traveling with an “eleventeen” year old girl with whom he continues to grope and pet like you would a pet. To say he “makes my skin crawl”, would be the understatement of the year. I think I’m going to need extra shots when I land to ward off any contagious communicable diseases.

February 23rd, Planta Hotel, Bacolod, Philippines, (3:30pm)

I am once again back in No-Man’s Land. The mixed smell of street BBQ, sweat and diesel exhaust in the 90+ degree heat…in a strange way, I missed it. It’s the same Lechon vendors, the same rickety tri-bikes, same drunken karaoker’s, attentive hotel attendants, the lack of appetizing menu options, the same Godfather theme in the hotel lobby – it’s like the ‘Land that Time Forgot’.

On a side note, I wonder what acts of indiscriminate carnality the pervert from the plane is currently performing on his young plaything. Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s illegal in most parts of the world and will, no doubt, be broadcast live via Internet feed on some underground fetish website somewhere.

February 23rd, Planta Hotel, Bacolod, Philippines, (3:30pm)

I am looking forward to an early morning jog down the main drag tomorrow before breakfast before the local traffic turns into a natural force on par with any hurricane, typhoon or tornado. My last 25k run into TayTay (Manila) a few days ago was about as much fun as the Bataan Death March. For 2 hours and 43 minutes, I slogged through toxic exhaust fumes and plumes of burning garbage so foul it had a beak and feathers and battled the 88-degree heat to boot. There are few things in my life that I couldn’t bare to do again…and that run is among them. I would rather castrate myself with a pair of nail clippers than relive that experience. It was almost Biblical in its torment. Hopefully, this jog will be somewhat less difficult.

February 24th, Planta Hotel, Bacolod, Philippines, (6:30am)

Not such luck. I returned after 45 minutes completely covered head-to-foot in black soot. Conditions were as bad, if not, worse, than back in Manila. Hard to believe – but true. It is also only 6:30am and already 92-degrees outside. Maybe I should have gone last night while it was cooler, but “better hot than hostage” I always say.

February 24th, Planta Hotel, Bacolod, Philippines, (7:30am)

The Bacolodians may know a thing or two about chicken but they don’t know shit about eggs. They couldn’t prepare a decent omelet to save their lives.

February 24th, Planta Hotel, Bacolod, Philippines, (3:30pm)

I revisited the Central and Libertad markets* looking for unusual spices and cooking ingredients today…total ‘Chef Abroad’ experience. I can almost hear Michael Smith now: “While cooking at home for my family, I typically prepare my chicken ass using the more traditional methods, but, here in the Philippines they’ve taken cooking chicken ass to a whole new level.” I purchased some monggo beans, mini chili’s, anato powder and some weird fluorescent pink shit called ‘preque powder’ which is apparently used for marinating chorizo sausage. Who knew?

* Same vendors, same squalor, same questionable hygiene, same assaulting smells, one big fucking rat.

February 25th, Ferry Terminal, Bacolod, Philippines, (10:30am)

Sitting here in the Bacolod ferry terminal watching ‘Casualties of War’…a rather ominous movie to be playing in the terminal considering how it all turned out for the Vietnamese. Yup, nothing like a dramatic tale of wartime rape to set the mood for a delightful sea cruise.

February 25th, Ferry Terminal, Bacolod, Philippines, (10:30am)

The ferry to Iloilo just arrived and the ‘Good Ship Lollipop’ it is not…more like the U.S.S. Tetanus. I guess the good news is that it’s a former military vessel…of course, WWII was over 60 years ago; another bad omen. Likewise, a man just came aboard holding a rusty old engine which is, hopefully, not for this particular craft. And now that I’m looking for bad omens, I notice that there are no emergency exits, no open windows, no fresh air, and a life vest that wouldn’t float a guinea pig. Now that I think about it, this ferry is practically nothing more than a floating death trap and the onboard Elton John or the Sandra Bullock movie they’re currently showing is not making me feel any safer. I’d rather be cruising along the River Styx at the moment with some dog-faced boatman.

February 25th, Ferry Terminal, Bacolod, Philippines, (11:30am)

To say the water is rough and choppy would be like saying Captain Bligh had a slight moral problem. The advertisement on the back of the seat in front of me says “Crave Burgers”; umm, no…not really. What I really crave at the moment is Gravol.

The provided tips for surviving this ferry ride include: 1) Drink soft drinks to ease nausea, 2) sit in the center aisle, and 3) eat soda crackers…and by the looks of it, the old woman beside me isn’t taking any chances. She’s stuffing fistfuls of crackers, walnuts, piala cakes, and whatever else she has brought with her into her wrinkled maw as if her very life depended on it. Personally, I think the anti-sickness tips are only intended to merely boost the sales at the ferry snack bar. If you really want us to survive, how about unlocking the cabin door and give us a fighting chance?

February 25th, Iloilo, Philippines, (11:30am)

If I didn’t fit in very well in Manila or Bacolod, I’m definitely not in Kansas anymore. I feel like Michael Vick at a PETA Rally. But at least I’m alive…

February 25th, Bacolod Airport, Bacolod, Philippines, (6:45pm)

Power here at the airport has gone out about a half dozen times since I’ve been here and is doing nothing to boost my confidence about boarding the plane again back to Manila…particularly after my perilous voyage to Iloilo this morning. If the airport is experiencing power outages, surely, the flying toaster I’m about to board can’t be much more reliable. We’re likely to loose power and end up in a tailspin hurtling to earth at 800km/h if someone were simply to burp too loud, or bump and outlet with their ‘Pasalubong’ package. But everyone takes it in stride as power (or lack of) seems to be an everyday occurrence here. In my hotel room, I asked for a power converter (200v to 110v) and they brought me a unit the size of a turbine engine. It looked like something that might power a small city or a combine tractor or something…not something you’d use to recharge your cell phone or camera. I was afraid that if I plugged in my cell phone I’d end up with a miniature Philadelphia experiment-like situation.

February 25th, Bacolod Airport, Bacolod, Philippines, (7:00pm)

It would seem that fate has it in for me today. On scary ferry ride, airport power outages, and now our flight is delayed two hours due to a tire being 4” lower* (whatever that means). Either way, it means we’re going nowhere fast and her in the Philippines, that’s just the normal pace to life.

* Now, pardon my ignorance of avian mechanics but if a tire is low, don’t you just pump it up like you would a car? Call me crazy, but is it really necessary to fly in another one all the way from Manila?

February 25th, Bacolod Airport, Bacolod, Philippines, (7:30pm)

I’m still here waiting for an airplane tire, listening to the Dawson’s Creek theme play over the lobby PA system, swatting away flies and trying not to pass out from the shear stench of sweaty travelers. In short, I am in hell. Hell, I’m even considering having some of the weird purple cake (that may or may not have random pig parts in it). If things get any worse I’ll end up going mad with hunger and wind up on a boat to Mikonos wearing a pair of ass-less chaps. I was tempted to refresh and, therefore, revive myself in the airport bathroom but I was immediately scared off by an enormous pubes stuck to just about everything. I mean, seriously, how does pubic hair get stuck on a sink facet? What, is somebody giving their ball sack a thorough rinsing while squatting over the sink or something? There was enough random pubes in there to knit a sweater. I bet if you conducted DNA testing on certain pubes in this bathroom, some may even date back to early Philippine colonial times.

February 25th, Bacolod Airport, Bacolod, Philippines, (8:00pm)

I’m tired, hot, hungry and cranky. I’m more uncomfortable than Michael Moore in a Speedo. In about another 5 minutes, I’m going to unleash on one of the security guards with all the fury of a Biblical prophecy and beat them like a mixed race stepchild before I roast and eat them like a Lechon BBQ.

Dinner has been provided by the airlines and consisted of chicken and rice from the local Inasal Restaurant and not a moment too soon. Any longer and we were going to go all “Lord of the Flies” and turn on one another in a hunger-induced panic that would make a Haitian earthquake victim shake his head in disgust. I was afraid that someone might figure out that I had a bag of Pasalubong treats on my person and so my head would be the first on the stick.

February 25th, Flight to Manila, Bacolod Airport, Philippines, (8:45pm)

We’re finally on our way back to Aquino-Ninoy airport in Manila and leaving a mountain of Styrofoam take-out containers and chicken bones in our wake here at the airport lobby. I am not terribly excited to be on this plane, however, as given the kind of day I’m having already I’m half expecting that our plane will be struck by a falling meteorite once we get airborne.

February 27th, Tagaytay, Philippines, (11:00am)

Had an awesome Filipino lunch of tuna belly, hog jowls, mixed vegetables, some weird-looking egg soup and a fan-fucking-tastic pineapple shake at Leslie’s Restaurant, overlooking the volcanic island of Taal (the Philippines smallest active volcano).

Most amazing, however, was the house band that circulated among the tables of diners playing songs by the Eagles, Johnny Cash, Taylor Swift and most impressive, Lady Gaga. Now I’m no Lady Gaga fan but this particular acoustic version of ‘Pokerface’ will serve as one of the highlights of my trip. Filipino’s absolutely love their music but this experience sure beat listening to taxi drivers belt out Deep Purple’s ‘Highway Star’ at the top of their lungs during rush hour traffic on the way into the office.

If there is anything closer to heaven on this earth than Colette’s Pineapple (Buko) Pie, I have not experienced it. But then again, this should come as to no surprise since ANYTHING here that’s made with pineapple in it is bound to be de-fucking-licious, be it pie, shakes, yogurt, pizza, juice, tarts, or just straight up from the husk…it’s my comfort food. You could probably wrap a dog turd in a pineapple ring and I would at least consider it.

February 27th, Enchanted Kingdom, Santa Rosa, Philippines, (1:00pm)

Billed as the ‘Walt Disney World’ of the Philippines, this was more of a Labor Day carnival by North American standards. Disney-lite is more like it I guess. Instead of Mickey Mouse they have this strange wizard mascot named EK (very original indeed). Whatever the case, I didn’t find “enchantment” per se after entering so much as I did heat stroke and sweat stains. Similar to Disney, the park was divided into different themed areas including ‘Spaceport’, ‘Jungle Outpost’, ‘Midway Boardwalk’, ‘Brooklyn Place’, ‘Portobello’, ‘Victoria Park’ and ‘Boulderville’ (which was more like the Flintstones’ Bedrock except with these huge purple marshmallow like boulders laying around everywhere so that the place looked more like Barney’s litter box).

On my initial Google search prior to coming all I could find on the website was that the park features an 11-story rollercoaster, a huge Ferris Wheel, a water-ride (Jungle Log Jam), automated teller machines, first-aid station and storage lockers. Oh boy…storage lockers!! Thanks again, Google. It continued that the park was “for the young and the young at heart”…yeah, that, and coma patients maybe. I was determined to make the best of it, however, although I am skeptical given the standards of typical Filipino safety requirements; I may just be taking my life in my hands here. Perhaps I should have considered taking out life insurance before this trip. I was half expecting to see a sign outside the amusement park gates that read: “No Injures or Deaths to the Public in 23 Days”.

February 27th, Enchanted Kingdom, Santa Rosa, Philippines, (3:30pm)

As with most amusement parks, the central theme of most rides is to attach a basket, swing seat or carriage of some sort or a fixed spinning axis point and then revolve the shit out of it at high speeds until everyone pukes up their snow cones and caramel corn. After nearly napping through most of the rides I decided to get in line for the “Swan Lake” ride featuring swam-shaped paddle boats around a 3” deep lagoon. This proved to be about as frustrating as trying to wax the dolphin while wearing a catcher’s mitt. If Filipino’s are bad drivers on the roads, they sure-as-shit cannot operate or steer a paddle boat as swam after swam was stranded out in the lagoon unable to dock. I say they should release a few Great Whites into the lagoon in order to motivate directionally challenged park-goers to paddle their swans a little more vigorously back to the dock. “Paddle you little fuckers, paddle!”

As it turns out, the bumper cars are not much different than driving on the streets of Manila. I half expected them to be handing out valid driver licenses upon exiting the ride.

While standing in line for the Space Shuttle Max roller-coaster, I learned that this particular ride has had, shall we say, issues, in the past few months. Of course, I’m immediately imaging epic disasters with enormous body counts - definitely regretting not taking out that life insurance now.

February 27th, Jollibee, Santa Rosa, Philippines, (3:30pm)

Decided to take the plunge and, against better judgment, added to my list of life’s “Been There, Done That” by sampling the wares at Jollibee. Jollibee, for the record, is the only other fast food enterprise to ever outsell McDonalds in hamburgers anywhere in the world; which is not surprising considering that there seems to be, like, three on every corner. But I guess when your other options are beaks, feet and assholes, suddenly, Jollibee is much more inviting. I consider myself just lucky to have walked out alive or fall victim to any dino-sized strains of prehistoric food poisoning upon biting into my burger and fries.

February 28th, Ultrasport Complex, Manila, Philippines, (5:30am)

I was among approximately 30 runners congregating at the Ultrasport track first thing this morning before first light. Why? Because we’re fucking nuts, that’s why. I decided that I wanted to try and avoid the traffic, congestion and pollution (same as everybody I expect) in the city streets today by completing my scheduled 25k run (63 agonizing laps) on a track instead. In the beginning, it was me and those 30 people I mentioned. After an hour as the sun began to rise brining the heat of day with it there was about only a dozen or so people including myself. After 2 hours, it was only me left with 6 armed security guards watching my progress and sipping iced teas from the comforts of their shaded guard booth; talk about torture. This made me think: what are they so afraid of me stealing exactly that 6 guards are required to watch over me? By the time I left I heard them refer to me in hushed voices as “loco bastardo” which needs no translation in any language.

February 28th, Escopa Orphanage, Quezon City, Philippines, (1:30pm)

I had to actually dance today for the first time in years; since high school actually. Except it was no box trot this time but a child’s Elementary school dance instead, but it was no less difficult…maybe, worse. I had the same trepidation I had before my high school Prom. It would definitely not go over well here if I end up sending a small child to the hospital with crushed toes after a failed attempt at the “Deep Down In my Heart” dance with a clumsy, gargantuan Canuck.

March 4th, Renaissance Condos, Ortigas, Philippines, (4:00pm)

What the fuck doesn’t Manny Pacquiao endorse exactly? Shit, I’ve seen this guys’ mug on posters and billboards hawking everything from motorcycles to vitamin water. Most recently, he’s the new product endorser for Head & Shoulders shampoo. Great, it’s bad enough I have to see him everywhere as it is but now I also have to see zoomed in close-ups of his scalp?

March 5th, Renaissance Condos, Ortigas, Philippines, (3:250pm)

Learned a valuable lesson today: when you buy cheap pants from the local Tiendesitas Market be prepared to have your zipper fall off half through delivering a classroom presentation leaving standing in front of two dozen employees with your barn door open.

March 6th, Salcedo Village Market, Makati, Philippines, (11:00am)

I visited an awesome market today which served up everything from BBQ chicken and fish to health shakes to homemade pies to crispy pigeon. Now why anyone in their right mind would ever want to eat pigeon is beyond me; pigeons have all the social grace of a rat with wings. But then again, I am but a stranger in a strange land. I also had the opportunity to try “jack fruit”, which, aside from its rather perverse sounding name, is a deliciously curious fruit. What first grabs you is the absolute size. It’s about the size of a small beach ball with little spiky protrusions sticking out of it. It looks like some kind of dinosaur egg. The next thing that grabs you is its funky smell; pleasant it is not! In fact, it smells like a sack of rotten assholes; enough to stop a charging rhino in its tracks. But taste-wise (providing you can get past the stench) it’s perfectly enjoyable.

March 6th, Greenhills, Ortigas, Philippines, (4:00pm)

Back at Greenhills and babysitting some visiting trainers as they run the gauntlet of vendor stalls. If I see another knock-off purse or pair of shoes again in my life, it will be too fucking soon. I’m likely to drop down into the fetal position and weep like a little Sally girl if I ever bump into someone sporting a Louis Vuitton bag. I wonder if it’s possible to develop a phobia of fashionable hand bags.

March 7th, United Wellness Run, Bonifacio Global City, Philippines (5:20am)

I ran my first Philippine half marathon today for a personal best of 2:04:37 over a very challenging uphill course in the 89-degree humidity. As it turns out, Filipino’s run very much like they drive – like blind orangutans. The most interesting part for me was the 5 minutes of group calisthenics’ for all 1000 or so racers at the starting line before beginning the race itself.

Quote of the Day: “Yes, we’re getting ready to begin the half marathon, the most grueling of all running races.” Clearly the logic and concept of a HALF marathon has totally escaped our announcer and somebody needs to fill him in on what a FULL marathon is.

March 7th, Renaissance Condos, Ortigas, Philippines, (11:00pm)

Discovered 4 cockroaches in my apartment today and I’m ready to break out the kerosene and box of matches. I can tolerate the little geckos, the lack of shading drapes, the sketchy Internet connection and the daily morning political rallies under outside my window in Tagalog which sound like Nazi Youth Rallies, but, cockroaches I cannot and will not put up with. It’s turning into Mutual of Omaha here at the Renaissance. Their way of dealing with it you ask? Why, spray a can of “Roach Away” under the couch and, presto, no more roaches. Yeah, right! But that’s just the Filipino way: affix a band-aid solution and turn a blind eye until everyone forgets about it. Next, I’ll probably find piranha swimming in my toilet.

March 8th, Gold’s Gym, Ortigas, Philippines, (9:30pm)

I enjoyed a cold ‘Vanilla Caramel Cappuccino’ this evening in the Gold’s Gym Café. Only in the Philippines can you purchase pies and dessert drinks in a body-building gym. I doubt that flavored drinks have any magical muscle building or health benefits to speak of and that ‘ol Arnie didn’t get all ripped on vanilla cappuccinos. What next? Free gin & tonics at AA meetings or a free mink coat cleaning with every purchase at the Body Shop?

March 8th, Gold’s Gym, Ortigas, Philippines, (10:00pm)

I was delivered the bad news today that all my utilities at the condo are scheduled to be turned off despite only getting the bill the other day (Monday). The conversation went something like this:

Superintendant: “They’re going to turn off your power”.
Me: “But I only got the bill this Monday.”
Superintendant: “Yes, it’s late.”
Me: “But I only got the bill this Monday.”
Superintendant: “Yes, I know. It’s late.”

Clearly I wasn’t going to win this one. Picture an ostrich sticking its head in the sand and you have that superintendant. I guess the Philippine Power & Utilities Commission doesn’t play around when it comes to prompt payment for their services.

March 9th, Texas Roadhouse, Ortigas, Philippines, (4:00pm)

So it happened…my power has been turned off. I am now officially without lights or air-conditioning, which, given the current weather lately, is the worst of the two evils. This is a little too traditional Philippine for me. Shit, I may as well just chuck it all away and joint the lepers and beggars living under the fly-way. So I am holed up in my little bastion of sanity here at the Texas Roadhouse finding solace in an iced tea and cheeseburger as I’m scared to go back to my apartment lest the giant roaches decide to rally together and carry me off into the night.

The staff have just gathered today in the room adjacent to me for some kind of prayer session; definitely not a good omen as a diner in the establishment if you ask me. Hopefully, they’re putting in a good word for me not get food poisoning as the result of some undercooked flat iron steak…or, better yet, for the chef to find the divine power and channel the true spirit of the Lord into cooking me the PERFECT steak dinner.

March 9th, Linden Suites, Ortigas, Philippines, (4:00pm)

I’m back at the Linden Suites in lieu of not having any power back at my fleabag condo unit. It would suck to wake and discover that I have been carted off as a sacrifice to the Queen of the dino-roaches or end up cooked through like a Christmas ham as the result of no air-conditioning.

March 11th, Aquino-Ninoy International Airport, Manila, Philippines, (4:45pm)

My trip has drawn to its close and I’m nearly back where it all started one month ago. I wish I had a cattle prod to deal with the throngs of people here all milling around the airport; there would be a wake of bodies in my path as I made my way to my flights boarding gate.

It’s always an adventure getting through Philippines Customs and Security. The first I have learned is NEVER over stay your welcome. In this case, overstaying by 9 days has set me back $3000 PHP…money grubbing opportunists they are. I have also learned that you NEVER forget about a small flip-knife stashed away in your carry-on bag. Not exactly the weapon a master terrorist would consider attempting a hijacking with, but concerning to Security guards nonetheless. What would they do, remove the screws on al the fold-down service trays in the airline seats? Or maybe use it to cut through their Salisbury steak a little more efficiently? The guards looked at me suspiciously, no doubt trying to figure out what my heinous master plan is and, hopefully, they decide not to go all Midnight Express on my ass. In that case, I hope my family remembers to send me boxes of Kraft Dinner with which to bargain for my safety among the other inmates.

I am now reminded of the huge Philippine-style billboard we passed in the tax on the way to the airport advertising men’s jockey shorts. More specifically: “Be Adventurous. Be You.” Little did I know what was in store for me only a short while later with the Airport Security. Of course, I’m not swinging joyfully from a zip-line in my underwear and, instead, sitting here in a Customs holding pen…but that’s still pretty “adventurous” to me!

March 11th, Flight CX902 to Hong Kong, Manila, Philippines, (7:30pm)

I am watching the onboard safety demonstration about what to do in the event of a crash landing being performed with ballet-like precision by the stewardesses. If I am to understand this correctly, I will be instructed to assume the crash position by an announcement of “Brace! Brace!” . Personally, I’m not confident that this is the most effective signal. I feel I’d be better motivated by an announcement like “HOLY FUCK, WE’RE GOING TO CRASH!”. That would definitely capture my full and undivided attention.

March 11th, Champions Sports Bar, Hong Kong International Airport, (11:30pm)

Apparently, there is something even more grave and menacing to Airport Security than a blunt flip-knife and that just happens to be a normal, everyday Allen Key. What the fuck? Am I going to disassemble the plane or something? I mean, only a complete moron would choose a flip-knife to hijack a plane with, right? So what kind of senseless retard would then put that flip-knife down and think to themselves, “Hey, you know what would strike fear into the hearts of men even worse than a dull flip-knife - an Allen Key!” Yes, perfect!” It’d be like trying to hold up a bank with a lawn dart. Even Helen Keller would show better sense in choosing weapons. If they were really concerned with security, they would have stopped me with this knapsack full of local snacks I am returning with which could threaten to unleash a wave of nausea and irritable bowel syndrome upon the unsuspecting passengers.

March 12th, Hong Kong International Airport, (12:00am)

I am slowly going mad waiting for my connecting flight. Never mind flip-knives and Allen Key’s, soon CNN will be airing live reports on the developing crisis at the Hong Kong International Airport where a crazed passenger goes berserk with a pair of chopsticks. Somebody better alert Anderson Cooper!

March 12th, Flight CX888 to Toronto, Hong Kong International, (12:00am)

Finally boarded my flight for home and if I have to take off my shoes or unpack my bags once more time there is going to be blood. I’ve already nearly round-housed another passenger when they dare scold me about the slow process of stowing away my luggage. “Mister, unless you want to spend the next 14 hours stuffed into this overhead luggage compartment, I suggest you take two steps back and zip your pie hole.”

March 12th, Vancouver International Airport, Vancouver, Canada, (12:00am)

I just can’t catch a break on this trip home as I was yanked aside, again, by airport security who this time decided that my jar of pineapple jam was too dangerous to board the flight with thanks to random swab test. FUCK! Luckily for the security guards, I’m just too tired to give a shit at this point. Take my flip-knife, take my Allen Key, take my pineapple jam, strip me naked and tie me to the tail of the airplane to be dragged behind the aircraft, whatever, just get me the fuck home.

Despite this unfortunate circumstance, being back in Canada is a relief to the system as it is just so different than being abroad. The airport is clean, fresh-smelling and inviting and the people working there are friendly and helpful. Compared to Hong Kong, it’s an apple and oranges type comparison. When I asked for direction to my gate, I was given detailed instructions including landmarks, tile color, distances in meters, shit, I was given everything but the longitude and latitude coordinates. I was waiting for the Info Desk person to break out the airport topographical charts and calculate not only my ETA but the amount of calories I would be expected to burn getting there. In a month’s time, I have become accustomed to figuring my way from dismissive gestures and waves. I was now just blown away at having received so much detail. It felt like my brain was imploding.

March 12th, Flight CX897 to Toronto, (12:00am)

Just mined a booger from my nose that resembled something you might extract from the remnants of a Hibachi.

Glad to be almost home!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Taste of Evil

(The following excerpt was taken from the, as of yet, unpublished journal entry: ‘The Philippine File - Part 3’) dated October 30th, 2010.

It has been said that Filipino’s never pass on two things: prayer and food. There is always time for prayer as there is always time for a quick snack or meal. Personally, and judging by the looks of some of their favorite menu options, I too would be drawn more frequently to get on all fours and beg for a safe outcome from my god before eating any of it as well.

Just saying…

On literally every corner there is something being grilled. Hell, you’re as likely to find charred frog nipples on a stick as you are to find a plate of BBQ-ed pork bits (Lechon). You just name the particular animal and random body part and I’m confident that you’ll find not only find it on a menu somewhere, but also a dedicated group of enthusiasts for it.

I learned this after a midnight excursion to Banchetto, an open-air food festival held in the City of Ortigas (Manila) every Friday night beginning at midnight. Once the clock strikes 12:00am, the entire street closes down and it transforms into a veritable smorgasbord of culinary mysteries and delights. I have never seen so many skewers of random raw organ meat in all my life; breast, butts, livers, faces, feet, ears, intestines - you name it – it was available.

Is it happened on this particular occasion, I was coerced into trying chicken “Isaw”, or chicken intestines. I’m not sure why I ever allowed myself to try this nasty-looking street meat in the first place, much less even consider trying it. Maybe it was the result of some macho instinct that kicked in at having been dared by giggling local females; maybe it’s a primal man thing that when meat is cooked over an open fire it needs to be consumed; or, maybe I just have a deep-rooted death wish, whatever, but I did it and it tasted exactly what you would expect a vessel whose primary purpose it to carry waste (ie. feces) to the outside world to taste like…like shit, of course.

And while I’m on the subject of shitty food, I also had the misfortune of eating at a “Racks Rib” joint in the ‘Pueblo de la Manila’ complex where, seriously, I had the worst meal of my life. Surely this is what evil tastes like. I’d rather eat a steeping bowl of dog vomit (which, it should be pointed out, was what the baked beans side dish could have been passed off as) than the order of Texas-style beef ribs that was placed in front of me. It is very doubtful to me that what I ate on this night in question was actually ribs at all…much less “beef” ribs…alley cay, maybe…rat, possibly…but beef?


The first sign that things were not exactly going to go well was when the food actually appeared in front of me in, exactly, 3 nanoseconds after my having ordered it. Hello? How is this possible? Do they have some amazing alien technology that enables them to scan my brain upon entering the restaurant and then have it prepared quicker than it takes me to order it? That suggests to me that my puny order of ribs had been well prepared hours in advance in anticipation of some hapless sucker like myself actually wandering in to eat. I’m sure Vietnam POW’s ate better than this slop.

In my opinion, the chef of Racks should be taken out into the streets at Banchetto and flogged by it’s patrons as a warning to others or, worse yet, subject to eat their own food.

Suddenly BBQ-ed chicken intestines doesn't sound bad, does it?