[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→
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.
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.
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.
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→
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→
[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 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 fireworks, 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.
“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→
Three days earlier, the old man in Taitung who had helped me try to get a refund for my unused train ticket made me promise to try again when we reached Taipei. Actually, it was his English-speaking son who had me promise. “He wants you to promise…” the son had relayed.
“Okay, okay, I promise, really.”
To tell the truth, I had completely forgotten about it. As we headed for the exit from Taipei’s Central Train Station, Frank reminded me. I shrugged it off. Frank stopped in his tracks.
Arrival at the Hotel Likko in Xincheng was after dark, so in the morning I was surprised to find the Asia Cement Corporation factory looming behind us. It was nestled in the town’s backside, quaintly dwarfed by the pristine mountains behind it. Clouds of smoke spewed from smokestacks, with endless trains carrying raw materials in and processed materials out, adding to a haze of grey dust engulfing the manufactory.
Our brief exploration of the previous evening had already hinted that the town was either very new to, or very bad at, tourism. Here was evidence the town did not intend to depend on tourism for its livelihood. People needed cement, and they clearly had all the ingredients swirling around them. Diversification is a good thing, particularly when it gives folks ill-suited to sucking-up to passing gawkers something else to do.
Even so, it was a bit of a puzzle. The Taiwanese had shown themselves to be highly efficient in providing quality tourism infrastructure, and more than adequate in sucking-up, as the industry demands. Here we were, within sight of Taroko National Park, whose spectacular geology seemed to be on every Taiwan tourist’s must-do list. Yet hotels and restaurants were few and far between – and these folks, although friendly, didn’t seem too interested in sucking up.
At the Taroko National Park Visitor Center, the woman in front of us in line innocently asked the dowdily uniformed middle-aged park ranger “Will it rain today?”
“How do I know? I’m not god!” she shot back. I have to admit, the response made my day – but the woman on the receiving end was rather offended. Continue reading 05. Dust in Time→
It is a pleasure to wake up on Boxing Day in a place where nobody has ever heard of Boxing Day, as one need not fear a conversation might turn to the dreary subject of cricket. We enjoyed a rare morning of relative silence, so our conversations didn’t turn to anything, dreary or otherwise, as we didn’t have any.
There was a bit of an altercation with the wait staff at breakfast. After handing over our breakfast vouchers to the woman at a reception podium, a host escorted us to a table at the very rear of the restaurant. It was adjacent to the toilets and next to a table piled high with dirty dishes, not just the previous dinners’ dishes, mind you, but three or four teetering piles of ten or twelve plates and bowls, a trough of half-eaten food at one side, soiled flatware scattered about.
I looked across at a restaurant full of empty tables, all set tidily and offering views of the sea. The table she was seating us at was so plainly the most horrible in the place, and it was so plainly unnecessary to seat us there, I had to stifle I laugh.