Sunday, April 30, 2006

"...Not in Kansas Anymore..."

If you've been able to read through my previous post (about the Foreign Country Game), you've been given the opportunity to share in the unique ability to observe and appreciate differences in culture and lifestyle (some simple and humourous, others major and frustrating) without offending or appearing condescending to people or societies which are simply different than you.

Kendra and I believe that gaining this type of knowledge and insight is critical in developing a healthy and well-rounded perspective of Life here on Planet Earth and your individual position on it at this time. I hope it was clear that the intention in describing these situations was merely to highlight how a lifestyle situation equivalent to that of our Philadelphia, U.S. setting can vary greatly just by a difference in culture, customs, class structure and environment. For the amazing opportunity to experience these things and more first hand (together!), before either of us turn 30 years old, we both are extremely grateful.

With that said, let me tell you a little more about what would and would not have happened, had recent events taken place in Philadelphia.

In Philadelphia, we would not have traveled 6 hours one way (with 12 people and their luggage crammed into a minivan with no AC) in 90 degree heat to spend one night in unsanitary conditions at a destination self-described as a "resort".

To be truthful, we probably should not have gone. And having decided to go, we should have been a bit more mentally prepared just from this brief statement overheard the day before we left: "No, they won't have any toilet paper-- this isn't a 5-Star hotel."

It certainly wasn't a 5-Star hotel. Not even a 1-star hotel. In fact, if this place was located anywhere in the U.S. (except in the most seediest of red-light districts in L.A. or N.Y.C.) it would be shut down by Health and Sanitation agencies long before anyone could spend enough time in it to deem it worthy of any stars at all.

That may be a bit harsh. Let's examine the factors that may attract visitors to this location. Beaches- Not of soft, white sand but rather of dark, rough gravelly particles. Add garbage. Lots of garbage.
Ocean water- Not terrible in color, but guess where the garbage on the beach comes from?

You may be ready to say that we just need to lower our standards a bit and deal with a situation different than what our "superior" tastes might be. I'd be willing to accept that if my heath didn't come into question. How so? Example: Food Prep. If there's no soap in any of the bathrooms, what is to convince me that it's being used in the kitchen?

The lack of soap and toilet paper in bathrooms is something that we've come up against before and dealt with, but your limit really get pushed when you've got no toilet seat. Or a sink. Or towels. Or any separation between the shower floor and toilet bowl. The plastic bucket filled with water sitting in the corner raises more concern and questions than offers answers and solutions. At least there was running water, but it wasn't potable. (I'm not sure what they were making the ice from....)

And you know when you're at the shore, and after exiting the beach to return to your room, you typically can find a small water faucet for rinsing off feet and sandals to avoid tracking sand all around? None to be found here, so your bathroom floor gets covered in a muddy layer of black sand and water. Walking around in this means that despite your best efforts, it gets spread to all other surfaces, including your bed.

Bed? (We had 2 in our room. They didn't match, but the 2 unrelated girls that we were sharing the room with were both glad when we offered them the larger one). Your flexiblity will be tested due to the extreme twisiting and bending neccesary to position your body around the various metal bars and rods pushing up through the mattress. Mattress? Only in the most liberal and generous definition of the term.

They did eventually come through well with the whole vegetable thing. Like most customer service situations here, anticipatory planning and action is non-existant, but once emotion (read: anger and frustration) is expressed, things tend to be taken care of to a minimal satisfaction. Kendra's co-worker Abby (who had thought ahead and brought her own vegetables) made a fabulous spur-of-the-moment vegetable stir-fry after realizing the resort staff had failed to provide anything other than white rice, whole fried fish and pork soup. The tray of 2 dozen fried whole fish was presented complete with a random long black strand of hair. Enter a supressed gag reflex.

In spite of all this, the group we were with seemed to have a great time. They played relay games on the beach, went swimming, took a boat out to the islands and sang karaouke and drank (Red Horse beer poured over ice and shots of cranberry Absolute). They all said they had a wonderful relaxing time and wanted to come back again.

And, to be fair, Kendra's co-workers did everything they could do to make sure that we had food to eat (such as the example above of Abby leaving her own lunch to cook our food) and were as comfortable as possible (such as having us sit in the roomiest part of the sardine can van since we had more luggage - full of TP, towels, potable water, and apples). I think Kendra will always be grateful for the people she works with, although sometimes cultural differences cannot be well-communicated or resolved. She does know they try, and this makes things a bit easier!

More power to them all. They loved it. Chalk it up to a difference in culture, I guess, but between trying to avoid the bathroom (for fear of infection and the extreme discomfort of the "hover technique") avoiding the ocean water (again, rampant infection issues) and the ever-present risk of food-borne illnesses (from food NOT prepared by Abby), we were more than ready to leave.

We spent the majority of the time sitting in the outdoor dining area and reading while watching two caged monkeys pick God-knows-what out of a little boy's hair. We eventually left (an hour later than scheduled after Kendra -in a voice that was trying not to be rude- asked 40 minutes after the communicated departure date what time we were actually leaving in "American time") and set off on our 6 hour sardine-can ride back to Manila. (But this time Mimi convinced them to switch us all to a van with working A/C... THANK YOU!)

Perhaps the last straw for me was when our driver decided to overtake a slower vehicle by moving into oncoming traffic for the 10,000th time and nearly had a head on collision with the front end of another car.

The next time I plan to be in a moving vehicle here in the Philippines will be in a taxi heading to the airport. And it couldn't happen soon enough.

Well, let's at least see what tomorrow brings.

Kendra's Note:
I have to say I agree with Tim's note. It is good to be home. I think I'm done with random adventures to other than tested locations.

In an effort to try to see the good in every situation, here are some good things we experienced also:

1. While reading, I saw several ants carrying something the size of a hornet at a very fast pace. Granted, they were carrying it over the threshhold and into our room, but it was cool nonetheless.

2. Abby's asparagus stir fry; the fan she borrowed for me to fan myself and others with when the A/C broke and we almost died; and the people on the project who are very happy and friendly and put up with my thinly veiled frustrations although I'm certain they don't understand at all what is wrong with me half the time.

3. The monkeys eating corn on the cob and loving it and then sampling something the little boy (mentioned by Tim above) gave them and then tossing it on to the ground after making a horrendous face.

4. The team made a bonfire on the beach - farther away from the yucky water. That was really cool. Tim got to rearrange the fire as it was going out and feed it with bamboo wood...that was a first for him.

5. The resort staff was very friendly to us and everyone likes to practice their English on us. There was a little snack stand where they made halo-halo (a dessert with multiple ingredients)-made with hand shaved ice.


At 11:33 PM, Blogger Sidney said...

One of the paradoxes of this century is that a man can be uprooted from a familiar environment, flown halfway round the world, dropped in another clime and culture, and be expected to function as usual.

The facts are: eventually, to varying degrees, he feels disorienting effects of culture shock; acceptance or rejection of the visitor by the host country depends on his ability to think, feel and interact in terms of the new culture.

From: Culture shock.

My advice to you: relax and enjoy life. You are still young and soon enough you will join the rat race again…
You spend your Holly Week vacation in one of the most beautiful places on earth and I feel sorry when I read that you got mad because someone forgets your French Fries or because a boat never arrives…
I am happy you mentioned the smiles and the friendliness of the staff…because this is what the Philippines are all about. If you want super efficient, reliable and time conscious people you might be better off in Switzerland...
(I lived quite some time in both countries…)

"Kendra and I believe that gaining this type of knowledge and insight is critical in developing a healthy and well-rounded perspective of Life here on Planet Earth and your individual position on it at this time."

I hope you do... maybe you still need more time to reflect...
Please realize that the vast majority of the people are poor and that many of them live below the poverty line of 2 USD/day and this might explain quite a lot...

At 6:01 AM, Blogger Lame Shrill Owl said...

Hmmmm....maybe I will take Switzerland then.....

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