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Catching Up on Things

Every morning I feel extremely privileged to wake up in The Philippines.  Now in my tenth month of living here, it really is ‘more fun in The Philippines’, as the saying goes.  Despite its status as a third world country, there is so much more to this archipelago than that label. Here people deal with life in such a positive way, day-to-day living here can be hard, the early morning commutes to an ever busier Manila for example, the fight to get on the transport, the endless queueing, and everyone (except me and – thankfully – the driver) grabbing a nap whilst they can.  Yet despite all that people are happier here, perhaps the sunlight is a factor but whatever the reason, despite the challenges people endure, they love life and will make any excuse for a gathering, with more food than its physically possible to eat.

Standing at the door armed with a cup of coffee, usually around 6am (when the temperature has yet to hit thirty degrees but is almost there), I love to look at the palm trees and hear people catching up, sweeping their house fronts, and doing regular people-in-the-morning things.  As I settle down to my own work, the sun usually shines relentlessly, the ebb and flow of passersby changes with the waxing and waning of that fiery ball in the sky, and I get lost in words, and ideas for the future.  Today I realised that, apart from neglecting the blog  -due to other important things that needed doing – I haven’t really mentioned a lot about where we have gone in recent months, so in no particular order and without further ado:

Whilst Summer was still with us we took a trip to Laguna for a day at the hot springs – situated halfway up a mountain – and the most important thing to do was to find a good vantage point and take a photo of the great view spread out below us. That done we rushed down the hill to have a go on the slides!  The so-called express way we took to get there has frequent toll gates which was a new and surprising detail, this of course meant more queueing (an unsurprising detail) but it was worth it for this view alone.

In an effort to fly off the end of the orange slide as far as possible, I threw myself down with reckless abandon and as a burnt my back but to balance that out, I did get a cheer from the people at the bottom of the green slide when I exploded off that one, my nose felt like it had been smashed with a concrete slab, it was brilliant!  There was even some really good reception to Skype with my parents later on, as we munched on our squid dinner.

I was lucky enough to be invited once again to Join the Kiwanis crew for more work in the community. If you missed my first adventures with this wonderful charity, you can read about it here, I’ve lost a lot of weight since then.  This time it was a colouring competition and the kids were really talented, I’ll bring you more about the charity soon.

One of my favourite places to go is Tagaytay, The view from up on high at Sky Ranch, with a glimpse of Taal Lake and the many trees, is always a welcome thing to see.  The breeze was lovely and gazing out with the other impressed visitors really brings home the beauty of this country and also the worrying spread of building which threatens places like this.

Further around the lake at Charito’s, there is another beautiful scenic view, with fishing boats, small villages and on the right of the island is Taal Volcano, one of the world’s smallest volcanoes and was active as recently as 2011.  Food and drink is always abundant and full of seasoning, as well as the obligatory rice, but it tastes even better with this sort of scenic vista for company.  When we were in Bali, I really missed the food of the Philippines, and I am eager for you all to hunt out a Filipino restaurant and go sample some of the delights.
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Posted by on 08/10/2018 in The Philippines, Travel

 

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Local Reading

Wandering around Manila at Friday lunchtime, with the typhoon looming, it was exciting to head to the SMX Convention center to attend the 39th Manila International Book Fair, and after a few hours of perusing I came away with just two books. Po-on (renamed Dusk in western editions) which is the first of five books in the highly acclaimed Rosales saga, tracing the successive generations and struggles of a Filipino family.  The second of my choices, Motherless Tongues caught my eye when at the Ateneo de Manila University Press stand, here is the blurb which explains the book better than I can after too much coffee to kickstart my week:

In Motherless Tongues, Vicente L. Rafael examines the vexed relationship between language and history gleaned from the workings of translation in the Philippines, the United States, and beyond. Moving across a range of colonial and postcolonial settings, he demonstrates translation’s agency in the making and understanding of events. These include nationalist efforts to vernacularize politics, U.S. projects to weaponize languages in wartime, and autobiographical attempts by area studies scholars to translate the otherness of their lives amid the Cold War. In all cases, translation is at war with itself, generating divergent effects. It deploys as well as distorts American English in counterinsurgency and colonial education, for example, just as it re-articulates European notions of sovereignty among Filipino revolutionaries in the nineteenth century and spurs the circulation of text messages in a civilian-driven coup in the twenty-first. Along the way, Rafael delineates the untranslatable that inheres in every act of translation, asking about the politics and ethics of uneven linguistic and semiotic exchanges. Mapping those moments where translation and historical imagination give rise to one another, Motherless Tongues shows how translation, in unleashing the insurgency of language, simultaneously sustains and subverts regimes of knowledge and relations of power. 

Although I envisioned an afternoon of agonising which books to purchase from a whole heap spread over the many stands, it didn’t quite work out like that.  It was exciting to see people coming out loaded with books, there was an unrestrained enthusiasm from the masses, which was great to see and this was amped up when receiving a map of the many publishers, bookshops and other assorted stands that were in attendance. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 17/09/2018 in The Philippines, Travel

 

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Wandering in a Fantasy World

On a rainy Sunday a few weeks ago, our car climbed into the hills above Lake Taal, the fog allowing for brief glimpses of the now familiar – but no less picturesque – view.  No journey is complete without a bit of drama and this comes with a drive over a narrow section of road that is being repaired, and has an almost sheer drop on one side, that was one thing to thank the fog for, obscuring the stomach lurching drops that would be visable on better days.  The reason for our trip is to visit what was once promised as ‘the Disneyland of The Philippines’, but the owners ran into financial problems and so it is now a mere shell of theme park.

Greeted by the sight of turrets over the treeline, it all started to look as familiar as it did out of place.  As the car turned we were greeted with a vista of what resembles one of those German castles that looks like it’s come straight from a fairytale.  It was an impressive introduction as an approach to the car park.  I didn’t get a photo of that but I don’t think it would have done it justice had I done so.

A few years ago I did a post on abandoned theme parks and that melancholy feel, real or as in this case, possibly just imagined by myself.  It does get the imagination going and reminded me of Helen Cresswell’s The Watcher’s: A Mystery at Alton towers which is a tightly plotted adventure and well worth getting your hands on for a bit of escapism.

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Posted by on 24/07/2018 in Melancholy, The Philippines, Travel

 

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Book Memories #2: Ruminations on Train Travels

The second in a (very) occasional series about experiences that comes to mind about my reading past.  I honestly thought I had done more entries than this but a quick look at the 205 drafts saved, reveals a bunch of rotting posts in waiting, that need to be rewritten.

Dashing off these notes in that zone of midday when the intersection – of which we reside on one of the corners – is devoid of people and noise thanks to the heat.  Only the whir of the heroic electric fan and the clicking of Rambo’s claws on tile as he wanders around intrude upon my silence.

As I read (the perfect pastime to aid digestion of the midday meal, and it’s not considered a meal unless it is with rice) my latest fiction book, The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, one of those random thoughts arrived at the station of consciousness.  It was a memory of a train journey that I didn’t take.  Although the memory is hazy, I am certain it was a train journey taken by Michael Palin in one of his travel books, probably Sahara or Himalaya.

Judging by the two narrowed down titles, I am certain I would have read both in Summer, thanks to my ‘method reading’ and the reasoning that unless it is a book from a so-called cold country then Summer is undoubtedly the season to embark on book travel, as well as real.  It wasn’t the actual journey that was the focus of my thoughts though, rather the accompanying feeling to reading the words.  It’s that sense of the intrepid, a unique kind that is available only to the armchair traveller, accompanying through the words but layering it with one’s own imagination and experiences.  It’s an exhilarating call to the upcoming adventure and the unpredictability that inspires and excites creativity.

Unlike actual travelling which is on the whole less romantic, where the sense of the uncharted is undermined by all the research and planning, it is rather the sense of open-ended wonder of the unfamiliar that is placed in a comfortable framework of certainty.  This reading experience is by no means a common thing, rather it follows the reader around and creeps up from time to time, a welcome companion who greets me every so often, signalling a new part of a expedition, promising new perspectives and rituals to discover.

 
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Posted by on 13/07/2018 in Book Memories, My Writings

 

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Bali Days 6 – 8: Ice Cube Tax

Up early today (day 6) at 5:30 in the AM and feeling good after the day before’s events.  A peaceful trip to the beach was in order, where the waves were good, the water warm, and the added bonus of it being to early for all the hawkers. Most of the rest of the day was taken up with watching Crissy and Mamabear bartering outrageously for gifts.  This included borderline shoplifting and claims of Mamabear having murdered people back in The Philippines. It was funny to see the locals being frustrated and meeting their match in these two Filipina bargaining machines. It was also surprising to learn that clearly signed one way streets are made into two-way streets by scooters using the narrow pavements to drive up, naturally this is done against the flow of pedestrians.

A lack of photos from the final couple of days, here’s another photo of the manicured rice terraces.

Such is the desperation for a sale in these shops (still selling the same things seen everywhere else on the island), that when enquiring about the price of a football shirt (I only had time to see a Juventus shirt before being pounced upon), I was given a price and then the shirt was bagged up and thrust into my hands and the owner told me to take it and come back with the money. Not wanting to be accused of shoplifting, the sale was hastily abandoned.

Later on I had a taste of Bintang, the local generic beer which offered no surprises with taste and is interchangeable with many others from around the world. Sitting outside in the coffee bar of the hostel – or for that matter in any place where you wish to relax – means that people selling trinkets or just begging come in and bother you.  The locals don’t seem to think it a problem and ignore it, making it uncomfortable which lost the business their tip in the process.  In one eaterie, I noticed that the menu actually listed the cost of ice cubes, after an extensive check I didn’t find any pending charges for wear and tear of the seats.

The Missus and the pool.

Arriving near the airport in Kuta for our final full day, we were happy to find the Mega Boutique Hotel, namechecked here because it was lovely.  Firstly I found highlights of Hertha Berlin Vs Eintracht Frankfurt and VFB Stuttgart Vs Werder Bremen matches, a rare footballing treat for me, and also a lovely pool.  It was great to just slowly kick my legs looking up as the sky turned from bright blue to black.  The water covered my ears and dulled the bland dance music that blared out, it made everything alright on the last night.  All blog posts should be planned through this process, just exercising, alone with one’s thoughts and only the occasional gentle bump of the head to remind you to change directions. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 09/07/2018 in Bali, Travel

 

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The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

In the summer of 1956, Stevens, the ageing butler of Darlington Hall, embarks on a leisurely holiday that will take him deep into the English countryside and into his past.

A contemporary classic, The Remains of the Day is Kazuo Ishiguro’s beautiful and haunting evocation of life between the wars in a Great English House.

For some reason I never got around to reviewing this book the first time but I loved it and reading these words again, it was just as enjoyable with all its understated, unreliable reminiscences. It’s about time Eowyn Ivey had some company (after four years) of being the only other author beginning with ‘I’ that I have thus far reviewed.

The blurb doesn’t really seem to give much away to the inquisitive peruser but it in fact describes the plot succinctly enough.  The reader is treated to a story of past times, and a present that is quickly changing in many aspects.  Class erosion, and the forebodings at the possible onset of a(nother) world war are both integral to protagonist Stevens’ life, and are explored with the personal.  Namely the degrees of relationship we allow ourselves with people we spend the most time with.

Stevens himself is an extremely engaging narrator, a measured voice of self-reflection. He is a man of introspection with an analytical mind, whilst being a totally unreliable narrator, contradicting his remembrances and; one gets the impression, avoiding the thoughts too troubling to confront.  A lot is left unsaid or, at best left ambiguous which just adds to the study of his character.

There is such a wonderful evocation of Englishness here, and of the national character, both the good and the bad.  The book works as a meditation on the identity of the personal, and of where the English fit in on a continental and world scale.  With the class structure slowly corroding, the changing of political thought and the reader’s hindsight into the future events of World War II, make this all the more poignant.  Stevens’ vulnerabilities are a neat mirroring of his country’s.

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Posted by on 25/06/2018 in Fiction

 

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Bali Days 3-5: ‘Your Husband is a Very Bad Man’

Today – being day 3 – Crissy, Crissy’s mum (AKA Mamabear) and I, have a new driver and to get the ball rolling he took us to an ‘artist’s village’ that we didn’t ask to go to.  Being that he’s a local we took a punt and decided to explore as he must know the best places to go.  What we got was a silver shop in which pieces are mass-produced, put on sale at a high price to which, had we paid our driver would have gotten a commission. Again the same hard sell, follow you around pushing the ‘bargain’ pricing, bordering on desperation.  We held firm, being cheap and having principles and left nonplussed as I suspect was everyone else involved.

Next we went to a great art gallery which was the same sort of set up, admittedly it did have some really good paintings and local feeling, and I did enjoy browsing. Noticing that many had been certified as original one offs, I decided to ask if I could take some photos for the blog and share the local artists but no photos are allowed.  Its hard not to be cynical at this point about the reasons why but I can’t help speculating that these originals were just a selection of a long line of just such works.

We foolishly mentioned our hiking intentions for the next day which our driver overheard and – lacking any sort of tact professionalism and courtesy – proceeded to repeatedly mention that his friend who could get us a better deal (this before we even mentioned the price we were paying) and even kindly – and unexpectedly – drove us to said friend without telling us that was his intention.  Eager for a bargain, we listened and he gave us a price more expensive than we were paying, and then dropped it to what we were already paying, rendering the trip pointless.  In the end we managed to get a better deal from our original arrangement, it’s worth noting that everything can pretty much be bartered down to 50% or more off if you bargain hard, such is the mark up put on prices for tourists.

As you can tell by my tone, I was already jaded by the way we were seen as cash cows to be milked but it didn’t end there.  As soon as we got to our hotel, we were accosted for a massage by the locals, it’s a terrible, desperate advert for any place but here it is par for the course.  The scenery was great however and the air clean, and we looked forward to our 4am hike.  Winding down in the evening, we decided to turn on the TV and take in some Indonesian TV.  There was one channel of what looked like a serious drama but with a laughter track.  There was also a lock on both the inside and outside of the bathroom door, and a mosquito net liberally coated with bug spray which made for a less than pleasant sleep. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 18/06/2018 in Bali, Travel

 

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