Friday, November 16, 2007

Road Trip

We went for a Sunday drive a few weeks back to escape the city. We made a huge loop, going east and then south through the mountains and skirting a lake called Laguna de Bay, returning to Manila via the SLEX, or South Luzon Expressway.

After six hours we were awfully tired of the car. But the mountain air and the constant sea of green made it all worthwhile. Along the side of the road you could buy coconuts, wicker furniture--even Christmas decorations.

The view:

These cuties were selling quail eggs when we stopped at a lookout point to take pictures:

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Question (thanks, Angela!): How come it's common practice not to talk to your neighbors [in the Philippines]?

Answer: I have no idea! We tried introducing ourselves/engaging in small talk a couple of times, especially when a new family moved in across the street. It was perfectly friendly, but did nothing to establish any sort of neighborly relationship. People still prefer to stay within their enclosed spaces. Most of them honk their car horns when they come home, wait for their domestic help to open their huge front gates, then pull into their driveways while the gates are closed behind them. Gives you warm fuzzies, no?

Last month the Vice President of the Philippines attended a party a few houses down from ours. Apparently there were security personnel swarming all over the place. I heard about it second-hand, though, since I was tucked safely away within our own little walled fortress and had no idea anything was going on.

In contrast, the people you do see on a regular basis are the domestic workers. They're out walking dogs, gardening, tending children, or chatting with each other. They smile frequently and some of them are on friendly terms with our kids.

The antisocial stuff is obviously a learned behavior of people with money here, whether it's a matter of security, privacy, or just plain being uppity (or maybe some combination of those). It's all about perspective, I guess. Compared to the circumstances in which most Filipinos live, our way of life is wasteful in the extreme. Yes, the company pays our rent, and it's an amazing perk, and more house than we could ever afford on our own. Yet it's not so different from the standard of living we're used to in the US. But to those outside the village walls, it might as well be the moon.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Tricks and Treats

Halloween in the Philippines is hilarious, and slightly surreal.

Trick-or-treating does take place, in a weird sort of way. Many of the malls and businesses sponsor trick-or-treat events, usually a few days before the actual holiday. But the house-to-house routine really only happens inside the villages.

A village is a community of very large houses surrounded by a ginormous barbed-wire, cinder-block wall and a gate with guards. There are at least a dozen villages just within our little corner of Metro Manila. The villages are home to politicians, diplomats, executives--and foreigners with expat packages. Each individual house is surrounded by its own wall and gate. You interact with your neighbors as little as possible. The only family within our village we speak to and see on a regular basis is the American family down the street.

So. On Halloween each village opens its doors to trick-or-treaters from all walks of life, regardless of race, economic status, age, or the presence of a costume. Our village cheated and did this three days early. But the village down the street, where our good friends the Openshaws live, waited for the 31st and we were all about getting the authentic experience. Except not cold, dark, or spooky. We settled for hot and humid, and controlled chaos. And a marching band.
It works like this: The home owners (those who participate) send their house help to stand outside the gate with a basket or sit at a table and pass out treats. No Snickers or Reeses or Skittles or even Tootsie Rolls or Dum-Dum pops, unfortunately. Imported candy is expensive here, it melts, and there are HUNDREDS of trick-or-treaters, at least half of them well past puberty. Instead they pass out local treats: little bags of chips or hard candies or wafer cookies or whatever. All KINDS of strange stuff. Tiny cups of gelatin (very popular here), gummies--even something called Totoy Tongniks Crunchy Corniks (garlic flavor). It's a plus for our kids, though. Keeps Mom and Dad from raiding their stash.

The marching band

We had a blast. The atmosphere was festive. Giddy, even. I couldn't keep up with the eight-year-old. The five-year-old's feet got tired. The one-year-old was done after a couple of houses. But they looked so cute! And they got something so far and yet still so very close to the authentic experience. (Mom and Dad even got chili and hoagies at the Openshaws afterward.) Next Halloween when we've moved home and the kids are complaining about the cold, I can pull out these pictures and remind them of the trippy, tropical Halloweens half a world away.

Kellie, Amaya, and Avery