- 01. Giving It Away
- 02. Mind Games
- 03. Customer Service
- 04. Getting Down to Business
- 05. …And Not a Drop to Drink
- 06. The Commission
- 07. Service!
- 08. Instant Celebrity
- 09. The Pinoy Diet
- 10. Life As We Know It
- 11. Doctors’ Borders
- 12. Poor, Poorer, Poorest
- 13. Half Empty
- 14. Me and My Leg
- 15. Always Be With You
- 16. Going Underground
- 17. Decisions, Decisions
- 18. I Shall Depart
- 19. A Volcano within a Volcano
- 20. A Nod and a Smile
- 21. Not Fighting City Hall
- 22. Stasis in Places
- 23. Fond Farewells
- 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.
We vacationed in Taiwan armed with a rational framework to help decide whether to extend the volunteer assignment in the Philippines. Like most rational frameworks, it was of little practical use. Instead, the moment we stepped out of the Taipei airport into cool, dry, clean air, an overwhelming sense of relief captured me. Life, I recalled, need not suck, at least not for me, at least not now. Terribly selfish, I know, but there it is. It occurred to me that it was entirely possible that I was not cut out for this volunteering thing. Whether we knew it or not, the decision was made there and then: we would not be extending our assignments.
Back in Quezon City, I realized my thorough enjoyment of Taiwan was partly the appreciation that the best thing about Metro Manila is that it feels so good when it stops. On the first day back, walking to work, I found myself counting the things I would not miss:
- Walking single file in the sewage gutter because the sidewalks are blocked with parked vehicles and street vendors, amongst much else;
- Breathing the exhaust of a billion jeepneys – not just exhaust, but acrid, tire-fire billows of diesel smoke.
- Cringing in pain from the incessant din of bus horns, not just loud, but calculated ear-splitting blasts from professionals who should know better than to expect everything in front of them to disappear miraculously.
- Smiling at the relentless entreaties and gawking eyes of eager hawkers, curious children, well-intentioned neighbors, and pathetic beggars, every time I step outside: “Hey, Joe!”, “Good Morning, sir!”, “Where you from?”, “What’s your name?”, “High five!”, “Give me money!”, “Food, sir, food!”
- Playing the slow but dangerous game of “Chicken” that is Metro Manila traffic, where crosswalks, street lanes, road signs, traffic lights, enforcement officials and even expectations regarding which side of the street cars should drive, all create more danger than provide safety by falsely suggesting some level of order exists.
The list went on to an alarming length. I consciously turned to more positive thoughts: what did I miss back in Australia? I mentally rattled off a lengthy list. As this list raced through my mind, Frank was walking behind me, single-file, as usual, as necessary. I shouted my list to him over my shoulder:
“Hey, remember drinkable tap water? Or hot water? Or hot showers? Fresh vegetables? Spinach salad? Garden salad? Inch-and-a-half thick steak, medium rare? Our barbecue? Walking, jogging, and bicycling? Public parks? Cool weather? Clean air or clean rivers or clean beaches? Beach volleyball?”
“Stop!” Frank pleaded, his shoulders drooping a bit. But I couldn’t.
“Remember sidewalks? The foreshore? South Melbourne Market? Decent TV in English?”
“Cut it out! You’re killing me!” he begged.
“Jeez, remember the internet? Footy? A bottle of wine with friends at an outdoor café on a pleasant evening as the sun sets over the bay?”
“Enough!” Now he was angry. “I just can’t handle your negativity!”
I was flummoxed. “I thought I was being positive…” I squeaked.
For the rest of the walk, I tried to think of things I really liked about life in Metro Manila. Ten minutes later, I had come up with nothing. Absolutely nothing. By the time we arrived at our office, the best I could come up with was bar beers for $1.50, and inexpensive sashimi quality tuna. I relayed this to Frank.
Frank said “It sounds like it is time to go home.” I nodded in agreement. Decision reached.
In reality, there was more to the decision than that. For one thing, I was still hobbling, particularly on stairs, from my leg injury. I felt ten years older than I had only months earlier. Suddenly youngsters on the MRT offered me seats. I had a recurring thought: “This place is killing me.”
As for the volunteer assignment, things had stalled – again. This time we had a better understanding of the reasons. Realistically, implementation of our business plans was still a year or more away, meaning an extension of three or even nine months was unlikely to bear fruit. Furthermore, I was coming to the realization that focusing of these efforts might be a distraction from other work that needed to get done first. Worse, there was a persistent, nagging sense, an intuitive inkling of practicality, that suggested the business plans we had developed might be a formula for fiasco.
You could be forgiven for concluding I had a pretty miserable time in the Philippines. I did. Even so, it wasn’t all bad, and regardless, it ranks as one of the most interesting chapters of my whitebread life. There are some stories worth telling here, and now that I can write them down without developing a nervous twitch, I plan to do so.
Later that day, we confirmed with the boss we had decided our assignments would end after nine months, as originally scheduled. He was disappointed. A very effective influencer, he talked us into adding a month. But as things went, even that didn’t work out. Nine months would be it.
Three months to go.
Funny how a deadline can make things happen. And happen things did…