Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Where has the time gone? I'm on Filipino time.

So I'm still trying to get the hang of this. Our days are typically ten hours long and then I've been too tired at night to write. But I have some extra down time at rehearsal today so I'm going to try to catch up a bit.

When last we saw them, our heroes were in rehearsal for Cinderella. Julia was shouting and being mean to our star, Lea Salonga, and Jefferson was sweating like a one legged man in a butt kicking contest. (think about it!). That was Friday June 27.

Saturday June 28 was our 11th anniversary (wedding that is). Julia had the afternoon off while I honed my comic skills at such time honored classics as pants dropping, double-taking, and bursting a vein in my forehead in my ineffectual male rage at the shenanigans of my over spending wife the Queen. Great fun, I had a great day playing with my fellow cast and production team.

We had reservations for the People's Palace Thai Restaurant for dinner. Upon arrival we were given a bottle of champagne on the house and congratulated on our anniversary. Curious. We suspected our director, Bobby Garcia of being behind this and that turned out to be the case. No wonder he was so keen to know if we had in fact made reservations. A very kind and thoughtful gesture. We had a great meal and toddled home tipsy on Champagne and Crispy Pork. I know I talk a lot about Pork; but come on! This stuff was incredible. Basically Pork belly(fat; and a little meat) fried crisp and smothered in a sour onion and garlic vinegarette. Yum Yum. Only sour note to all this was one bad shrimp in the Pad Thai. One bad shrimp is all it takes, as I was to find out at 4am.

The next day was Sunday, and our first day off. We took a cab(that is an adventure in itself) to Intramuros which is the old city center. A Spanish fortress built on the foundations of the Muslim city that existed before it. We had a great walking tour led by Carlos Cedran. Who it turns out was childhood neighbor to our director Bobby, and his father is Lea's Pediatrician. As he said, "Manila's a small town." 12 Million Small!!

The tour shed a lot of light on how Manila got to it's current state of overcrowding and widespread poverty. Colonization and wars over the past five centuries have left behind a true multicultural melting pot, but in the melting process, the flavors have run together and the individual tastes have been blurred. Finding the center or base note of the Filipino culture can be difficult for an outsider. We have a lot to learn yet and we hope to come away from here with a better understanding of the people and their culture. That is what makes travel so great. Experiencing cultures that seem so different on the surface, and getting to know the people well enough to see that they are just like us. They have the same fears, the same desires, the same challenges as we do. They love as we do, and they struggle to survive just like you and me.

As Americans, we seldom experience poverty at this scale. I have seen many people here living in the street. Whole families seeking what shelter they can and struggling to stay fed and clothed. And my first thought on seeing this was how picturesque it was. And I'll post the pictures to prove it. Why are we so fascinated with people on the street? It reminds me of the famous dust bowl portraits of the Great Depression in America. The faces of these people tell a compelling story. Their resiliency in building a makeshift shelter and getting through each day
draws your attention. It is so alien to me.

We had an experience on our tour that raised several ethical questions for me. As we walked from the fort to the oldest church in Manila, we were beset with children begging for money.
I don't understand Tagalog, but it sounded like the adults in the square were setting the children on us. They looked up at us pleadingly with their big brown eyes and innocent faces. They called us Mommy and Daddy. They wanted just 5 Pesos each (about a dime). When we reached a suitably photogenic location I told them that I would take their picture with Julia and then give them all money. They gleefully posed for the picture and then I was surrounded by a sea of upturned palms and little voices saying, "Me,Me, Me!! " (This may be the universal language of want. It reminded me of feeding Koi in Japan. They are beautiful as they swim around the pool until you arrive with your bag of bread crumbs, and then it is all mouths.) I fumbled with my coins, trying to get one in the hand of each child, finally dropping some which caused a mad scramble at my feet. I feared for the safety of the smaller children, some only two years old. And then as quickly as they had arrived they were gone, as was all of my change. I had given out about 20 Pesos (50 cents). Though I felt I had done something noble, I also felt like a fake. What had I really done? Did I make any real difference in these children's lives? Basically I had paid them for posing for a picture. " See Julia with the quaint third world children!"

Now I'm told that these children are sent out by a syndicate which takes all the money and the kids get a small amount. I'm told that the woman who knocked on our cab window with a baby in her arms is a sham and the baby is most likely not even hers! I'm told not to give money to them because they are not actually helped by it. I should give food instead. So now do I carry some sort of portable snacks with me wherever I go?

I don't feel cynical about this racket. People do what they can to get by. They do this. I am not sorry that I gave money to these kids. How can I feel conned when I hired them to pose for a picture?

Later that day we luxuriated in great massages (75 minutes for both of us for about 60 bucks total!!!) and had pizza and beer in front of the TV in our 5 star hotel 6 floors and miles away from those Dickensian urchins. Whew!!! It's almost like being in America.........


1 comment:

mikeslinkard said...

Great fun reading your blog! Happy anniversary to you! Debbie and I are celebrating our 31st tomorrow, July 9. Life's a long song! Keep up the blog, the whole gang here is interested. Give the beggars Powdermilk biscuits. My they're tasty!