Posts Tagged ‘climate’

Yesterday, May 23, was a momentous occasion–and not just because the unicameral Parliament of Finland gathered for its first plenary session on that date in 1907. For Laura and me, it meant only two months left in the Philippines! So often here on sweaty afternoons the time seems to move no more quickly than a stray dog lying in a patch of shade, and yet here we are, 83.3% done with this time that has changed us forever. Return tickets are bought, furniture is going to be sold, and on July 23, all we’ll be left with is an empty tile-floored apartment, six obese suitcases, and a raft of memories.

As any of you who have traveled much can relate, for even the minimally perceptive hominid, foreign countries prompt continual cultural comparison. On sabbaticals with my family as a kid, I’d noticed a few things; for example in Israel: “Wow, this random family’s doorstop is older and has more significance than anything in the entire US!” Or England: “This is the coldest I’ve ever been without snow, and they have black currant-flavored everything.” Figuring out life with a spouse, however (instead of depending on parents), and working with natives multiplied this process. As chronicled here, the observations piled up as we adjusted to a new culture, but with our departure looming, we finally wrote them all down. See if you notice an over-arching theme:

Won’t Miss

Will Miss

pollution Bae (the women at Samaritana)
lack of nature nearby stunning scuba diving
tiny biting ants and giant cockroaches everywhere $7 massages
roosters mangoes
distance from friends and family having lots of time together
“not available” at stores & restaurants Tagalog moments (i.e. when we get it)
Manila’s constant noise and crowds Manila’s energy
permanent daytime sweatiness warm nights
bad hair for Laura’s curls great pinoy hair
double ATM fees & budgeting with cash fewer worries about money in a simpler life
being a target preferential treatment because we’re white
being stared at Laura being told she’s beautiful frequently
few fresh vegetables in Filipino cuisine awesome & only-in-the-tropics fruits
bad “bahala na”–resignation about problems good “bahala na”–life’s too short to be anxious
sex tourists physical affection, especially between women
filtering water street food
deadlines not being very deadly not stressing about time
opening bags for security guards shockingly cute kids
rampant corruption emphasis on relationships
Filipino food Neighborhood balut guy (although not the balut)
running circles at UP, our only option for exercise feeling fast compared to local joggers
expensive local calls prepaid (cheap) cell phones
lack of independence no gas & car insurance payments
not being rooted at a church Samaritana community
dirty rainwater splashing on legs Epic thunderstorms
Absence of food & wine connections Fulbright connections
hitting my head on things feeling tall
tripping on uneven floors & sidewalks the way Life happens on the streets
everything being such a production having time be our own
dressing shabby $2 pedicures
concrete back “yard” not paying for home repairs
obnoxious DJ’s & sound effects everyone singing along
ubiquitous, competing pop music Joniver Robles playing the blues
no legal DVD’s or streaming tv shows cheap movies at the theater
books being expensive & plastic-wrapped being respected because we’re writers
dirty feet wearing flip-flops all the time
tough local meat & expensive, imported dairy the palengke’s scruffy charm
Rarely having hymns at church Paula & Brian, prayer partners & friends
deafening bus horns roller-coaster-esque “ordinary fare” buses
difficulty planning travel beauty of the provinces
benighted attitudes about birth control Four months of Christmas season
hanging out at malls Sebastian’s ice cream sandwiches
not being able to flush toilet paper living someplace tough and non-touristy
Pinoys’ obsession with being maputi (pale) beautiful kayumanggi (Filipino brown) skin
not having appliances having house helpers
neighbor’s yappy dog, who wakes us up nightly kasama (companion) culture
worrying about getting ripped off in cabs riding on the outside of jeeps and trikes
eternal traffic pinoys’ instinctive driving
difficulty communicating stretching our brains
feeling like we have little control enforced dependence on God

As the picture may have given away, what we gradually came to appreciate is that even in a crowded, dirty, noisy place like Manila, it is possible to be charmed. Would we want to stay here for the rest of our lives? We’re not sure–but as the list shows, it’s not as simple a question as one might think. Likewise, is our life “better” in the United States? Yes and no. But wherever we happen to be, I hope we can be a little more content–and a heartfelt thanks and borderline-alarming bearhug to all of you who made this possible.

— Nate

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Are you laughing at my parasol, fellas? If you lived here, you'd carry one too.

How do you know you live in the tropics? When you haven’t taken a hot shower in nine weeks–and there’s no problem with that.

To call the heat here a “climate” is almost an insult to the towering, malevolent presence that lurks inside every day, waiting to waylay any careless biped who makes the mistake of inadvertent sun exposure, quick movement, or excess clothing. As with its counterpart the rain (the only time when it’s not hot), the heat is respected and accounted for by all but the foolhardy, the ignorant, and the dying.

How to put it in context? Here’s a brief bulleted list for the businesslike or attention-deprived.

Possible non-sweat-inducing activities:

  • standing or sitting in the shade
  • sleeping in a basement
  • being in a coma

Sweat-inducing activities:

  • washing dishes
  • walking sans umbrella
  • toweling off too briskly after a cold shower
  • thinking too hard

To illustrate, early in our stay here, I made the mistake of being the fastest-walking person on the street (hurrying to work)–but by the time I realized my mistake, I had sweat dripping down into the waistband of my pants after five minutes. It was more sweat than I excrete during a ten-mile trail run back home. And if you forget deodorant, woe to your co-workers and neighboring riders on public transportation! At first I puzzled over the women and men walking under umbrellas on sunny days, but it soon became clear to us that portable shade for that 100 yards between jeepney and trike can be the difference between spritzing and soaking your shirt.

What astounds us is how Manileños seem to be acclimated.  I’ll be panting, doglike, in dri-fit t-shirt, shorts, and tsinelas (Tagalog for flip-flops), while all around on the jeepney are locals rocking dress pants, jeans, and sometimes (cerebellum-smasher) long-sleeved shirts!

Oh, and apparently we missed the really hot time of year. Great.

* So where does everyone hang out in metro Manila, where people don’t want to be tan and there are few parks anyway? Malls. Why? They’re the only free public spaces with air conditioning.  Before we came to Manila, we did our best to stay away from shopping malls, and could never imagine why Filipinos would hang out there; now we understand.

*As a footnote for those of you who have lived in or traveled to some toasty places, according to BBC World Weather, Manila has a more uncomfortable climate than Houston, New Orleans, or Phoenix in the US, or than Cairo, Mexico City, or Mumbai. After a pretty thorough search of said BBC site (why is quantifying suffering satisfying?), I found only 7 major cities wordlwide (out of hundreds listed) with more months ranked “extreme” discomfort: Bangkok, Thailand; Calcutta, India; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Karachi, Pakistan; Kuwait City; Muscat, Oman, and Phnom Penh, Cambodia–although only Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh have every other month ranked “high” discomfort like Manila.

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Polite Bay Area rain can be put in its place by simply deploying an umbrella. Seattle and Portland ubiqui-mist can be shrugged off with sufficient dosages of caffeine. But in the Philippines, the rain owns you.

From our perch on a slight rise in Filinvest Heights we see the portly dark clouds congregating to the northeast. The lightning zig-zags down to the peaks once, twice, many times. Thunder–something we’ve forgotten living in California–booms out loud enough to set off car alarms, no empty threat like the heat lightning and thunder we get back in the States. And then it comes.

Across the metal roofs we hear the rain advancing, the drum solo of the skies, and then with a roar and a splash it is upon us. A few fat drops burst onto the balcony ahead of the others, and then their countless brethren pound down upon us. In an instant, the temperature drops from “extremely uncomfortable” to “tolerable,” conversation ten feet apart in the same room gets drowned out, and–safely above floods–we are enveloped in the sound of the exuberant tropical cloudburst.

It rains back home, and people casually click their windshield wipes from Off to Low; it rains here, and birds roost, dogs howl, and humans seek shelter under solid objects. Rain back home generally falls in tidy vertical hyphens; rain in the Philippines slants down in violent diagonal underscores. Rain back home spots shiny cars surfaces; rain here washes dog crap, dead frogs, and medium-size branches from the streets. Rain back home is a spritz from a spray bottle; rain in the Philippines is a water balloon falling on an entire city. Rain back home gently greens the hills and nourishes plants; rain here makes stronger any plant it doesn’t kill by blunt trauma. Rain back home is a footnote during the evening news; rain here is a force of nature–and then like that! It’s gone.