01. the die is cast

I am travelling again. After a stopover in Singapore we are headed to London, Scotland, Liverpool, Provence, Burgundy and Brussels. I have booked:

  • Six flights covering 35,440 km (21,973 miles)
  • Fifteen accommodations over forty days in thirteen cities
  • Sixteen train journeys
  • Three bus rides
  • One car rental
  • Tickets to a symphony concert, a palace tour, a football match, two theatre productions.

In addition, I have researched in detail about a dozen cycle rides, not to mention countless vineyards, restaurants and attractions to visit.

If I had to guess, I would say I’ve easily got about 200 hours of planning invested in this extravaganza. That’s five weeks of full time work.

Now, sitting here in Singapore’s Changi airport, waiting for a flight, it occurs to me how many things could go wrong. In fact, it seems close to a miracle that everything doesn’t go wrong.

Changi is regularly voted the best airport in the world, and Singapore Airlines is regularly voted the best airline in the world. So far, both have been a model of efficiency – except after we landed, when they had a fifteen-minute delay getting our jetway in place, trapping us on the plane, everyone cheek to jowl grumbling in the aisle, after an otherwise lovely flight. Even the best screw up.

I worked in the electricity industry long enough to understand the basic physics involved. Science goes only so far, then humans get involved. I can say with authority that it is, in fact, bloody good luck that when you flip that light switch, a light goes on.

I have travelled enough to know that the same goes for travel. You can plan all you want, but when things go wrong, plans fall like dominoes.

Luckily, no dominoes have fallen – yet. But we have placed our bets. Alea iacta est.

SK

24. Parting Shots

This is post 24 of 24 in the series “Smiling Kodiak Volunteers”

  1. 01. Giving It Away
  2. 02. Mind Games
  3. 03. Customer Service
  4. 04. Getting Down to Business
  5. 05. …And Not a Drop to Drink
  6. 06. The Commission
  7. 07. Service!
  8. 08. Instant Celebrity
  9. 09. The Pinoy Diet
  10. 10. Life As We Know It
  11. 11. Doctors’ Borders
  12. 12. Poor, Poorer, Poorest
  13. 13. Half Empty
  14. 14. Me and My Leg
  15. 15. Always Be With You
  16. 16. Going Underground
  17. 17. Decisions, Decisions
  18. 18. I Shall Depart
  19. 19. A Volcano within a Volcano
  20. 20. A Nod and a Smile
  21. 21. Not Fighting City Hall
  22. 22. Stasis in Places
  23. 23. Fond Farewells
  24. 24. Parting Shots

[This is the final tantrum in the series Smiling Kodiak Volunteers]

It has been six months since I left the Philippines, so it is high time I wrapped up this series, Smiling Kodiak Volunteers. In fairness to myself, I arrived home only two months ago, after gallivanting around the planet for a while.  Life is just starting to get back to “normal”, whatever that is. I have struggled to get my thoughts and feelings in harmony regarding the volunteering experience, which signals that there is something profound in there – if only I can find it.

The Philippines faces enormous problems, problems that will take generations to address. Foreign volunteers will be, at best, a microscopic part of any solution.  The Filipinos are very much aware of this. From time to time over our assignment, I could detect frustration and perhaps even a little resentment arising from our contribution as foreign volunteers, particularly from movement leaders. That is fair enough – we fly in with grand recipes, then fly out leaving things half-baked.  The simple reality is that in the long run, only the Filipinos can fix the Philippines. Continue reading 24. Parting Shots

23. Fond Farewells

This is post 23 of 24 in the series “Smiling Kodiak Volunteers”

  1. 01. Giving It Away
  2. 02. Mind Games
  3. 03. Customer Service
  4. 04. Getting Down to Business
  5. 05. …And Not a Drop to Drink
  6. 06. The Commission
  7. 07. Service!
  8. 08. Instant Celebrity
  9. 09. The Pinoy Diet
  10. 10. Life As We Know It
  11. 11. Doctors’ Borders
  12. 12. Poor, Poorer, Poorest
  13. 13. Half Empty
  14. 14. Me and My Leg
  15. 15. Always Be With You
  16. 16. Going Underground
  17. 17. Decisions, Decisions
  18. 18. I Shall Depart
  19. 19. A Volcano within a Volcano
  20. 20. A Nod and a Smile
  21. 21. Not Fighting City Hall
  22. 22. Stasis in Places
  23. 23. Fond Farewells
  24. 24. Parting Shots

My last weeks in the Philippines are something of a blur. As our departure date approached, I had a growing, haunting sense of impending doom – irrational, yet telling. Each morning, as I prepared to leave the apartment, I heard myself praying “Please let me get out of here alive.” I wanted out.

Giselle, who went through orientation week with us nine months earlier, finished her assignment in rural northern Luzon a week before we finished ours. She had a couple days of debriefing in Quezon City before she left, so we and some other Aussie volunteers in QC took her out one evening for a farewell soiree.

We started out at rib joint. Over dinner, I let slip I regretted that in my nine months here, I never set foot in a gay bar. I was fine with that. The rest of the table did not see things that way.

“Why not? What stopped you?”

They didn’t wait for an answer. They began laying plans to right this wrong – immediately! Continue reading 23. Fond Farewells

22. Stasis in Places

This is post 22 of 24 in the series “Smiling Kodiak Volunteers”

  1. 01. Giving It Away
  2. 02. Mind Games
  3. 03. Customer Service
  4. 04. Getting Down to Business
  5. 05. …And Not a Drop to Drink
  6. 06. The Commission
  7. 07. Service!
  8. 08. Instant Celebrity
  9. 09. The Pinoy Diet
  10. 10. Life As We Know It
  11. 11. Doctors’ Borders
  12. 12. Poor, Poorer, Poorest
  13. 13. Half Empty
  14. 14. Me and My Leg
  15. 15. Always Be With You
  16. 16. Going Underground
  17. 17. Decisions, Decisions
  18. 18. I Shall Depart
  19. 19. A Volcano within a Volcano
  20. 20. A Nod and a Smile
  21. 21. Not Fighting City Hall
  22. 22. Stasis in Places
  23. 23. Fond Farewells
  24. 24. Parting Shots

The last two months in the Philippines were undoubtedly more fun than the first seven. There were several reasons for that.

For one thing, it was rather freeing to know that a bureaucratic stalemate made implementation of our planned work impossible. Rather than wandering in a fog of uncertainty, I now had a good idea what was going on: very little. Where once there was confusion and frustration, now I employed much eye-rolling and shrugging.

Another reason was that the wet season turned into the hot season, which morphed into the hot HOT season. We attended an increasing number of events at resort-like venues: retreats, planning meetings, congresses, exchanges, and the occasional piss-up. Continue reading 22. Stasis in Places

21. Not Fighting City Hall

This is post 21 of 24 in the series “Smiling Kodiak Volunteers”

  1. 01. Giving It Away
  2. 02. Mind Games
  3. 03. Customer Service
  4. 04. Getting Down to Business
  5. 05. …And Not a Drop to Drink
  6. 06. The Commission
  7. 07. Service!
  8. 08. Instant Celebrity
  9. 09. The Pinoy Diet
  10. 10. Life As We Know It
  11. 11. Doctors’ Borders
  12. 12. Poor, Poorer, Poorest
  13. 13. Half Empty
  14. 14. Me and My Leg
  15. 15. Always Be With You
  16. 16. Going Underground
  17. 17. Decisions, Decisions
  18. 18. I Shall Depart
  19. 19. A Volcano within a Volcano
  20. 20. A Nod and a Smile
  21. 21. Not Fighting City Hall
  22. 22. Stasis in Places
  23. 23. Fond Farewells
  24. 24. Parting Shots

I was staring at a worksheet, lost in thought, trying to figure out how to estimate the salary of a grocery store manager in Metro Manila. Vanessa dropped an opened letter on my laptop, obscuring both screen and keyboard, interrupting me mid-wild guess.

“We have to go to this.” she said. “Frank, too.”

Frank came across the room to read the letter over my shoulder.

Mayor Herbert M Bautista

Dear community development organization,

The Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency has advised the Office of Quezon City Mayor Herbert M Bautista that your organization hosts foreign nationals as volunteers in Quezon City.

On behalf of Quezon City Mayor Herbert M Bautista, we request that you attend an informational interview with the Quezon City Community Relations Office, 5th Floor, Civic Center Building A, Quezon City Hall Compound at 2 pm on Wednesday, January 18, 2017.

Thank you for your cooperation.

God Bless Us All!

It was not signed. Continue reading 21. Not Fighting City Hall

20. A Nod and a Smile

This is post 20 of 24 in the series “Smiling Kodiak Volunteers”

  1. 01. Giving It Away
  2. 02. Mind Games
  3. 03. Customer Service
  4. 04. Getting Down to Business
  5. 05. …And Not a Drop to Drink
  6. 06. The Commission
  7. 07. Service!
  8. 08. Instant Celebrity
  9. 09. The Pinoy Diet
  10. 10. Life As We Know It
  11. 11. Doctors’ Borders
  12. 12. Poor, Poorer, Poorest
  13. 13. Half Empty
  14. 14. Me and My Leg
  15. 15. Always Be With You
  16. 16. Going Underground
  17. 17. Decisions, Decisions
  18. 18. I Shall Depart
  19. 19. A Volcano within a Volcano
  20. 20. A Nod and a Smile
  21. 21. Not Fighting City Hall
  22. 22. Stasis in Places
  23. 23. Fond Farewells
  24. 24. Parting Shots

Manny’s eyes betrayed he was more irritated than worried that our boat had abandoned us on Taal Volcano Island.  A few hundred meters down the foreshore he spied a sturdy old woman baling out another boat.  Manny motioned for us to follow him along the rubbish strewn shoreline, which we did.

After a quick negotiation, the old woman agreed to supply us a boat and driver. She nimbly hopped out of the vessel into knee deep water, and with a twist of her arms demonstrating the strength of Hercules, she repositioned the boat alongside the beach. Manny dropped a wobbly gangplank which enabled us to board high and dry.  She hadn’t finished bailing out the boat, though, so onboard we plonked ourselves down ankle deep with a sploosh. Off we went. Continue reading 20. A Nod and a Smile

19. A Volcano within a Volcano

This is post 19 of 24 in the series “Smiling Kodiak Volunteers”

  1. 01. Giving It Away
  2. 02. Mind Games
  3. 03. Customer Service
  4. 04. Getting Down to Business
  5. 05. …And Not a Drop to Drink
  6. 06. The Commission
  7. 07. Service!
  8. 08. Instant Celebrity
  9. 09. The Pinoy Diet
  10. 10. Life As We Know It
  11. 11. Doctors’ Borders
  12. 12. Poor, Poorer, Poorest
  13. 13. Half Empty
  14. 14. Me and My Leg
  15. 15. Always Be With You
  16. 16. Going Underground
  17. 17. Decisions, Decisions
  18. 18. I Shall Depart
  19. 19. A Volcano within a Volcano
  20. 20. A Nod and a Smile
  21. 21. Not Fighting City Hall
  22. 22. Stasis in Places
  23. 23. Fond Farewells
  24. 24. Parting Shots

Funny how when one makes a decision, all sorts of unintended implications rear their tangential heads. Funnier how I say “one” when I want to say “you” while in fact referring to “I”. That’s because I have never completely thought through the implications of any decision I have ever made. Near as I can tell, neither has anybody else. Yet, the words “I hadn’t thought of that” rarely pass the lips of humans. There’s a good chance you spent much of your life waiting in vain for your boss to utter those very words.

Once we decided to finish the assignment as originally scheduled, the seemingly distant departure date suddenly loomed near. There were so many sights we had planned to see in the Philippines that we had yet to see, mostly because my limited mobility from the knee operation had trashed some well-laid plans. Now, we’d just have to cram in what we could. Continue reading 19. A Volcano within a Volcano

18. I Shall Depart

This is post 18 of 24 in the series “Smiling Kodiak Volunteers”

  1. 01. Giving It Away
  2. 02. Mind Games
  3. 03. Customer Service
  4. 04. Getting Down to Business
  5. 05. …And Not a Drop to Drink
  6. 06. The Commission
  7. 07. Service!
  8. 08. Instant Celebrity
  9. 09. The Pinoy Diet
  10. 10. Life As We Know It
  11. 11. Doctors’ Borders
  12. 12. Poor, Poorer, Poorest
  13. 13. Half Empty
  14. 14. Me and My Leg
  15. 15. Always Be With You
  16. 16. Going Underground
  17. 17. Decisions, Decisions
  18. 18. I Shall Depart
  19. 19. A Volcano within a Volcano
  20. 20. A Nod and a Smile
  21. 21. Not Fighting City Hall
  22. 22. Stasis in Places
  23. 23. Fond Farewells
  24. 24. Parting Shots

It has been some months since I posted about the volunteer assignment in the Philippines. At last report Frank and I were trying to decide whether to extend our assignments (see https://smilingkodiak.com/17-decisions-decisions). I won’t keep you in suspense: we did not extend.  We arrived back in Melbourne on a Philippines Airline flight at the end of March.

Since that last tantrum, I wrote the nine-part “Smiling Kodiak Laps Up Taiwan” covering a twelve day trip we took over Christmas and New Year’s.to that island almost-a-nation I really enjoyed Taiwan. For the several months, when I sat down to write something, I found lots of fun and interesting things to say about Taiwan. With the Philippines, not so much.

It may surprise you to know I don’t like writing negative stuff. That is mostly because most people don’t enjoy reading negative stuff, and there is little point to writing that which nobody reads. Complicating matters, I now count as friends many good people who live in the Philippines, good people who are likely to read this, good people I’d rather not offend. This left me in something of a conundrum.  I can either write interesting, truthful, entertaining, pull-no-punches stuff which will be read only by those who might be offended by it, or I can skip over all the bad stuff to crank out mindless drivel focusing on the positives. Let’s see where I go. Continue reading 18. I Shall Depart

09. Recycled

This is post 9 of 9 in the series “Smiling Kodiak Laps Up Taiwan”

  1. 01. A Breath of Fresh Air
  2. 02. Traincatching
  3. 03. Dutch Retreat
  4. 04. The Deep South
  5. 05. Dust in Time
  6. 06. Fire in the Sky
  7. 07. Kaboom with a View
  8. 08. A Free Country
  9. 09. Recycled

[This is the final post in the series Smiling Kodiak Laps Up Taiwan}

Our last day in Taiwan was another brilliant day, sunny and warm with a nice breeze. Over the previous three days we discovered another world existed just steps from our Taipei hotel. The banks of the Tamsui (or Danshui) River are cut off from the city by a double-decker superhighway atop a flood wall four stories high.

Determined to lay eyes on the river, at first we walked a mile before we found a break in the flood wall under the highway. Then, walking back along the river, we realized the stairs that appeared to deposit one on the superhighway were actually the access way for the river, immediately adjacent to our hotel. We used those stairs daily or more since.

The river bank offers a myriad of delights. Continue reading 09. Recycled

08. A Free Country

This is post 8 of 9 in the series “Smiling Kodiak Laps Up Taiwan”

  1. 01. A Breath of Fresh Air
  2. 02. Traincatching
  3. 03. Dutch Retreat
  4. 04. The Deep South
  5. 05. Dust in Time
  6. 06. Fire in the Sky
  7. 07. Kaboom with a View
  8. 08. A Free Country
  9. 09. Recycled

The midnight fireworks display was over in five minutes. After hours of waiting, a half-million smiling Taiwanese arose from blankets laid on the hard city streets, and headed for the subway, en masse. I knew this was going to happen.

Earlier we had purchased daily tickets for the ride home to avoid needing to buy more tickets after the firewoimg_5262rks, when the stations were sure to be mobbed beyond capacity. Realizing that “daily” tickets might be just that, expiring at midnight, I had asked the ticket lady.

“They expire at midnight.” she confirmed. She also said she couldn’t sell us tomorrow’s daily tickets until tomorrow. I was incredulous.

img_5151“Really? Everybody taking the subway home after the fireworks will have to buy tickets in the station? There’s going to be tens, if not hundreds of thousands of us.” Continue reading 08. A Free Country