Ilig Iligan

January 28th, 2012
Location: Real Coffee, Boracay Island
Time: 5:03pm

Today I met an angry ocean.

The waves weren’t particularly high and the water was a crystalline blue, but there was no mistaking that anger.

Unlike its neighbors to the south these waves did not roll predictably and sweep sweetly away.  They crested too soon, rose up hard and fast like a horse rearing up on its hind legs and then tumbled to the sand with a thud and crash – smashing the shells to pieces in a tormented cadence.  And they were relentless.  No time to dive below one wave in time to wait for the next.  One after the next, the waves shoved onto the shoreline, each jostling and pushing its way to the front.

The shoreline was a wreck of broken shells, jagged stones, twisted coral, and ravaged kelp.  Halves of coconuts littered the sand; torn pieces of fabric and garbage were strewn across the pitted, craggy rocks, and odd bits of flotsam and jetsam from days gone by jutted out from between the palms and plants. 

Little white sand crabs wheeled about, skittering across the sand, warning you to stay away.  They reminded me of little dogs, ankle biters – they’ll yip and snarl at you but come near and they’ll dart away quick as you please.

This beach was tired.  It was tired of the garbage that festooned is shore.  Angry at being disturbed, wracked, and ravaged. This beach clearly said: Go away.  Leave me be.

Most people seem to listen.  The beach was nearly empty save ourselves and a few Japanese tourists.  The journey there took us off the main road, up and over hills of unpaved, deeply pitted roads, closed in by a dense jungle.  A once stately resort tucked back from the shore was a testimony of failure with its faded peeling paint, overgrown terraces, and sagging patios. 

Nobody wanted this beach.
And this beach wanted no one. 

But then, I never was the best of listeners.

 

Feeling Like Forrest Gump


January 11th, 2012
Location: Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Terminal 3
Time: 11:17pm

If you have to hop on a freeway, drive through town, and arrive at your destination 15 minutes later then guess what, Manila?  That is not another “terminal” – that is a whole other freaking airport.

It’s 11 o’clock and I’ve just sat down to a chocolate blended and a BLT.  My flight from Shanghai arrived in Manila at 8:40 pm.  

I would just like to stop, take a minute, and say: Um, seriously?

Here’s why:

Hands down, most ridiculous airport experience of my life. 

First off, I arrived at immigration and queued up at the shortest line.  Bad news bears.  While my line stood patiently waiting, not moving, the lines beside us were slipping past effortlessly.  Beckon, survey, stamp. Next. Our lady was popping out of her booth every 30 seconds, dragging some other uniform over, discussing at length, and then repeating the process.  At some point we all wised up and got into new lines.  As soon as this happened, a new flight arrived, took up the queue we had vacated and were ushered straight on through, past us with our mouths agape and muttered curses. 

Still shaking my head, I pulled my backpack from the belt and headed out into the night heat, following the signs for departures.  After declining multiple offers for illegal taxis, passing 2 fenced off escalators, and multiple security guards I arrived at domestic departures . . . for Philippine Airlines.  At this point, I wasn’t even sure if I was at the right airport.  My information for my connecting flight put me at Ninoy Aquino Airport, while my itinerary to Manila simply said Manila, with the airport code of MNL.  After checking with a guard I discovered I needed to be at terminal 3.

Back down the stairs, past the taxi men , and the security guards dissuading passengers from using that particular form of transport, I managed to find the airport shuttle.  Now, mind you, all the signs are in English, which is great.  What is not so great is that the sign showcasing “Airport Shuttle” isn’t facing the doors through which people are exiting.  The sign instead faces the cars that are pulling through.  Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure the people in cars aren’t too concerned about finding transport to the next terminal. 

So, there I sat on a bench for over two hours, waiting for this shuttle.  At one point I tried to find out if I could just walk there.  No, too far. Much too far. Just take the shuttle.  When I replied that I’d been waiting on this supposed shuttle for an hour, the man replied “Maybe there’s traffic.” Traffic. At 10 pm on a Wednesday night.

At this point the airport was starting to settle down a little, so the many security guards were congregating on the bench on which I sat. One of the security guards pointed out a shuttle that had pulled up – not in front of the airport shuttle sign, with the benches and waiting people, and the designated painted lines indicating the bus space, but 100 feet or so away. It was a dirtied white with a cracked windshield, and the only thing indicating its purpose was a half-sheet of paper taped to the inside of window which simply stated T1-2.  As I was headed to terminal 3, it didn’t help me much.

So, I just sat there to wait it out.  Other shuttle services pulled up, but those required fare.  This should tell you something – there’s actually a market for a paid airport shuttle service despite the presence (“presence”) of a free shuttle.  After I’d been sitting there for over two hours, exchanging pleasantries with the Filipino guards and other various strangers, another bus pulled up to the curb.  I didn’t pay it notice because it looked nothing like the other shuttle I’d seen (silly me, I expected uniformity), I didn’t see a sign, and it was parked behind a paid bus.  The guy who was driving the paid shuttle had been through 6 or 7 times at this point, and we’d talked.  As he was pulling out again, he opened his door and called out to me to that the bus behind him was the shuttle that I wanted.  

Thank God.

It’s entirely possible that in the hundreds of minutes I’d been warming that bench, that same shuttle could have pulled through without my notice given its entirely nondescript appearance.  But, ya know, I kind of doubt it.
When we arrived at terminal 3, after first stopping in at terminal 4, I hopped off the bus and made for the entrance.  I think I was supposed to tip but 1) I had no pesos on me and 2) dude, I waited on you for 2 hours.  I don’t think so. Also, you called me mamsir and I’m just not down with that. Not a tranny, but thanks.

I’d probably be really annoyed with this situation but there’s something about Filipino people – they’re just so freaking nice.  Minus the whole crime, dangerous, scuzzy side of Manila, these people are super hospitable.  I also think the ability to communicate in English has bolstered my spirits. 

Shoot, I’m in the Philippines.  It’s time to get a tan.  Talk to all you suckas stuck in cold climates later.  And if you ever find yourself in the Manila airport, just expect to wait and you’ll be a-okay.  Security will keep you company.

Share the Road. Get off the Sidewalk.


January 5th, 2012
Location: My Living Room
Time: 8:38pm

Today, I read a story about a Finnish man who is using tai chi in an effort to force Chinese drivers to respect pedestrians.  I don’t understand the majority of what he’s saying because it’s in Chinese but at one point he illustrates his tactics by stopping directly in front of a bus, planting his feet, fists on hips in a pseudo Superman stance, eyeing down the bus driver and giving a defiant “STOP.”

How this man hasn’t died after 11 years in China is beyond me.  By all rights, dude should definitely be road kill. Maybe his stellar pony tail is giving him special mojo powers.  I don’t know, but Hakulinen has inspired me to consider what initiatives I can take to improve Shanghai.

Problem 1: Rogue Bikers
Both manual and motorized, these free wheelers seem to have mistaken the sidewalk (emphasis on the walk) for their own personal thoroughfare. Even more so than vehicles, cyclists think that the rules of the road (loose as those are in China) don’t apply to those with only 2 wheels.  They will run red lights without discretion, go the wrong way down one-ways, and knock over anyone in their path.  Sometimes this is accompanied by a warning honk, offering just enough time to dive out of their path before sure and sudden death.

But no more.

I will do my part by using any and every part of my body (but probably mostly just my arms) to push the offending motorists to the hard, unforgiving pavement.  I will employ the classic stiff arm maneuver, or if need be, the clothesline.  Both, I imagine, will be highly effective in showing these rogue cyclists the error of their 
ways.  

Problem 2: Offending Motorists
Bigger, strong, and faster than a mere human beings, these machines can and will kill you if you enter their path.  White crosswalk lines mean nothing.  The concept of stopping at a red light if you are turning right, despite the fact that there are pedestrians in front of you, is meaningless.

Obviously, I’m no Jean Valjean and so using the same tactic as I do on bikes would prove disastrous.  But neither am I a Hakulinen.  Mostly, tai chi just looks silly to me.  No, I’m more of a Malcolm X – pacifism be damned.  My plan is to carry on my person, at all times, a brick.  If and when a vehicle attempts to run me over as I innocently take the right of way and cross the street, I will simply throw the brick through the offender’s window.  And then I will run like mad.  If the outraged driver should catch up with me, I will be able to use the enormous strength that brick toting has prepared me for, and I will either a) knock him or her flat on their back or b) take out the second brick I will always inevitably carry and smash his or her face in. And again run like mad. 

These are just some small ways I can help to improve the safety of all bi-peds in the greater Shanghai area.

What will you do?

If you happen to be on the receiving end of these acts and would like to file a complaint, I offer you only this:

Ignorance of my initiatives is no excuse.

The City of Sham Relationships

Januray 3rd, 2012
Location: Wagas, Grand Gateway
Time: 7:06 pm

If I had a nickel for every Asian girl/laowai duo that walked through the doors of this coffee shop tonight, I’d have . . . 50 cents or so.  And I’ve only been here for an hour.

People call Paris the city of love, but I wonder if those people have ever lived in Shanghai.  I realize that the calling of love is strong throughout the world, in every city, in every season, and in many hearts.  But, I think there’s something about living abroad that drives some to pursue love a little more wholeheartedly.

Oh, did I say love?  Excuse me.  Silly blunder.

I think the word I’m actually looking for is sex.

Forgive my crassness, but if I wasn’t already indifferent about the prospect of a relationship in general, Shanghai has made me nothing short of jaded. For the most part.

I will admit that there are undoubtedly three or four real romances springing forth in this burgeoning metropolis on a daily basis.  In a city of millions I think it’s a statistically viable thing to say.  But I also have to consider the stories I’ve heard on the regular, both in the expat community and the Chinese.

Like much of the world, but maybe more so than other countries, China (and Shanghai especially) is caught up in material success.  The possessions you have define who you are – and they define whom you may date and whom you may marry. In People’s Square there is a marriage market.  Mothers and fathers gather in the busy park to post pictures of their child, along with criteria of what they are looking for in a future son or daughter-in-law.  As a man, if you don’t own a house or a car, don’t waste your time.  Your ethics, talent, character, humor, and values are seemingly irrelevant.  Oh, but there is a “must be this tall to ride this ride” criterion.  You want marriage in this city?  Better have money and be at least 5’7”.  Also, you can’t be put off by the prospect of carrying a woman’s purse.

Money grubbing is so pervasive within this city the government recently enacted a law that safeguards men’s possessions in the event of a divorce.  Women were outraged. Naturally.  Wouldn’t you be upset if your plan to marry an ugly, fat, old man for his money and divorce him a year later and take half his assets went up in flames?  I would be.

But in regards to the relationships that I see in this city, it’s not the Chinese who have made me question these so-called love matches.  It’s the foreign men.  And they know exactly why.

Dictionary.com gives four definitions for relationship:
1. a connection, association, or involvement.
2. connection between persons by blood or marriage.
3.an emotional or other connection between people.
4. a sexual involvement; affair.

Here is how Chinese women see their relationships with their foreign boyfriends: definition 3, in hopes that it will eventually evolve into definition 2.  Here is how many foreigners see this relationship: definition 4. Si. Quattro. Neljä. FOUR. And only four. And supposing number two crops up (through lack of proper precautions) it’s time to head for the hills.

This isn’t mere speculation.  I have been told, on more than one occasion, from more than one man, that if his girlfriend decides (against his objections) to go through with that “mistake” he will pull up stakes and find greener, less complicated pastures.  I’ve yet to meet one who has actually left, but I’ve met a few who have helped their girlfriends by taking them to a clinic.

And I’d be remiss not to mention those who are “dating” not one, not two, but three women simultaneously.  And by dating I mean sleeping with, of course.  I should also mention that these women don’t know that their boyfriend has other women and that he calls all 3 his girlfriend, although he doesn’t consider them as such.  He just fails to tell the women that.

Not that all scuzzines lands at the feet of men.  I recently met a woman who had a grand ol’ time regaling me with a story of her French boyfriend –  the pathetic sap who bought her loads of crap, drove her about, and wanted her to meet his parents, who she had been cheating on since they first started dating.  After all, she wasn’t planning on marrying the guy anyway.  Nobody really expects monogamy in this city, right?  Of course, if she discovered he’d been cheating on her she’d castrate him without a second thought.  I wanted to smack that woman clean across her face and then douse her in bleach lest her disgusting self contaminated my soul.

While living in this city isn’t a vacation per se, it often does seem like a break from real life.  It’s temporary.  Few actually plan to stay here for the rest of their lives and their treatment of relationships is a reflection of that. For those few that make it to the alter, the statistical likelihood of “til death do we part” isn’t exactly encouraging.

These are statistics from 2003 as I’m having a hard time negotiating this site (uscis.gov) to find more recent facts: 

3889 K-1's (fiancée) entered the USA
54.0% left the USA within 6 months
28.2% left between 6 months to one year
17.7% lasted more than one year

1546 K-3 (spouse) entered the USA
70.3% left the USA within 6 months
22.6% left between 6 months to one year
7.1 % lasted more than one year

Pathetic.

So, Shanghai isn’t the city of love.  First of all, it’s way too ugly to be considered romantic.  And secondly, love has got nothing to do with the hand-holding I see waltzing throughout the city.  Rather, I shall dub Shanghai the city of Sham Relationships. Please don’t take pride in that, Shanghai.  It’s not a good thing.  But I still give you permission to put it on your postcards.





Day 1

January 1st, 2012
Location:  My house
Time: 10:02 pm

This year will either mark the end of it all or the beginning of it all.  Either way, this is the year of decisions and I see one of two options ahead of me:

1)Live as though the Mayans got it right and live as though I’ve got nothing to lose
2)Live as though I’ve got an entire life ahead of me, one that I want to be fruitful, successful, and filled with joy and contentment.

Regardless of how I decide to envision the future, the outcome is still the same.  2012 has got to be a year of doing for me. If I want an awesome job that I love to wake up to, then I’ve got to pursue avenues that will lead me there. If I want to try my hand at writing, well then I’ve got to actually spend time writing.  Learn a second language? Run a marathon?  Pay off debt? Climb Kilimanjaro? I suppose I need to be prepared to realign my priorities and be willing for to undergo a little pain in the process.

 I’ve spent so much of my life letting life just happen.  Passivity is lethal even if it is often more comfortable. 

This year might prove to be an epic crash and burn in so-called dreams, but I’ve decided that sudden death is far preferable to the slow burn to nowhere. The coulda, woulda, shouldas of life are tangled up in that lethal combination of laziness, fear, and apathy and I’d just as soon not picture my 80-year-old self with a suitcase full “if only’s.”

So, here’s to you, future self.  Live a life that’ll make all the other old people in the home jealous of your stories.  

2012.   I’m coming for ya.