Friday, April 28, 2006

The Foreign Country Game

Here's a fun game I started a few months ago. It's going to become the new craze among globe-trotting bloggers world-wide.

The Foreign Country Game:

Rules: Travel to any foreign country (The more foreign to you, the better!). Find an area similar to where you are originaly from (i.e urban, rural or suburban). Walk around for about an hour and adjust yourself to the surroundings. Stop in your tracks and close your eyes. Mentally transport yourself back to where you are from and bring back all the memories, sensations, thoughts, sights, sounds, etc. of a similar environment- for me it's walking down Market St. in Center City Philadelphia on a hot August afternoon. Take a few minutes to transport your mind back to that location and get re-adjusted to that scene. Now open your eyes and resume walking as you were.

The Objective: To take note of the first 7 things that tip you off that you are no longer at home and how long it takes you to recognize those 7 things. Here in Manila, I can go for quite some time in certain areas before anything really jumps out at me, and other times it's an instantaneous realization that I am a long way from Philly. Write them down, post them on your blog and share with the rest of the world. It's alot of fun, and works even better if you've got a camera with you to document your findngs.

Here's my List from Manila...in no particular order.

The Foreign Country Game: Philadelphia, U.S.A. vs Makati City, Philippines

Number 1: Vegetation

Philly is pretty green for an East Coast urban area, but you're not going to find palm trees or intricate root structures like these along the streets.

Number 2: Transportation Methods

Taxis inhabit both worlds, but Jeepneys, tricycles and hordes of scooters & motorcycles are unique to Manila alone. Buses are just as common in Philly, but here they come equipped with men holding signs and shouting their various destinations.




Number 3: Sun Avoidance and Maximum Coverage

In Philly, around May or June, once the temperature reaches 80+ and sunny, the clothes start coming off. Shorts, short shorts, tanktops, haltertops, miniskirts etc are all on men and women alike. You can find people lying in the parks all through the day enjoying the rays of the sun, soaking up the sunshine that has been so rare during the dark, cold snowy winter months. Not here. Here, the sun is a force to be feared. All efforts are taken to expose the least amount of skin to the blazing entity that seems to bake all who dare to venture outdoors. The smart ones bring umbrellas. The not-so-prepared use whatever necessary (books, briefcases, newspapers, etc) to shield themselves from instant solar death. Shorts are out of the question. (You show me somebody in Manila wearing shorts and a T-shirt and I'll show you a tourist!!).

[Case in point]

Number 4: Armed Guards at Starbucks and Seven-Eleven.


We've definitely gotten used to the Shotgun Men, so it doesn't stick out so much anymore because it's everywhere, but when we return to Philadelphia, we'll be automatically be opening our bags and expecting a metal detector pat down whenever we enter Target, WholeFoods, or Old City Pizza.


Number 5: The Aggressive 8 Year-Old Street Vendor Kids


The guys selling roses and water on hot days at the intersections in Philadelphia usually won't come near you if you've got your windows rolled up and don't make eye contact, so we don't pay them too much attention. Even the homeless guys in Philly just wander around with their dirty t-shirts, ratty sneakers and over-stuffed shopping carts with a cardboard sign written in black magic marker. It would be a whole different story if groups of them were knocking on your windshield, telling you how they might be able to get something to eat today if you buy a string of flowers from them for 10 pesos ...about 20 cents.


Number 6: The Pace of Life.

If you're a regular reader of our blog, you've certainly heard us mention the slower pace of things here. But we need to stress that it's just not being laid back or not being on-time for scheduled appointments. Take a one-minute video of pedestrian traffic along the streets of Philadelphia or in a shopping area like the Shops at Liberty Place. Slow it down. More. Even more. There. Now crumple the tape up in a big ball, shove the whole mass into the tape deck, light it on fire and play it again. That's life on a typical Manila street!

If you attempt to continue an East Coast manner of walking anywhere in Manila, you will drive yourself insane. This is one aspect that we have not gotten used to and is a daily source of extreme frustration. Getting from Point A to Point B is devoid of all regulation, rules, guidelines or logical patterns of human movement. There's no concept of having cut somebody off because there was no previous concept of anybody having a right of way- no matter which direction they're going. There's no picture I can take that would do this endless cluster of madness any justice, so let me give you a diagram:

Here is a sidewalk in Philadelphia, with 2 corners and a small section jutting out into pedestrian traffic. Both blue and red know their respective sides, and continue to keep an ordered method of movement even when an obstacle occurs.


Here's Manila. Notice that even before the obstacle appears there is no form or method. Red is taking up about 95% of the entire usable space on the right side, causing blue to either crush against the side, stop, or (more frequently), cut a perpendicular path through red's walkway. Just look at the diagram...I can't describe this anymore, or I'll start screaming.

Number 7: Elevated, Submerged and Covered Walkways

Now, if I was back in Minneapolis, these wouldn't stick out quite as much (there, you can traverse the whole city without stepping foot into the 2 feet of snow and minus 20 degree death freeze. Here it's meant for sun and rain. Whether it's scorching sun or typhoon-driven rains, you can walk for about 10 blocks through the businesses district, hotels and shopping areas without being exposed to the elements.

I'll also include the underpasses for this one...normally, a subterranean pedestrian walkway would be avoided at all costs in Philly (who wants to be mugged, raped or come out smelling like urine?), but here they are the only things that allow to traffic to actually move on the major streets through town and they are well kept and lit (and, of course, with their own security guards).



So that's how you play! Stay tuned for:

The Foreign Country Game: Grocery Store Edition ("...out of stock, sir")
The Foreign Country Game: Restaurant Etiquette ("What does it take to get a beer in this place?")
and,
The Foreign Country Game: 7 Things You Won't Find in Your Bathroom

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