Written as though someone were going to read it.
Jul. 14th, 2008
Of all the notions imposed upon us in childhood, one of the most fallacious must be the fiction of learning in any sort of progressive order.
Who can blame children for a disinterest in education? If you ask a child why they're taking a math class, the most optimistic and polite answer you could ever hope to expect is "So that I know geometry" or whatever the current topic might be.
When is the last time you asked an adult what they were up to and got such general and altruistic motivation? We don't learn things to know them, we learn things to do other things.
Rarely would I find the opportunity to sit down with a physics text book out of the desire for pure personal betterment. But building a flame thrower, that's a task. Except it isn't working.
So how does a solenoid valve work?
How does a magnetic coil work?
How does AC power work?
Oh. Hey. Physics.
Similarly, I had very little desire to learn Python until this.damn.script.wouldn't.package. Now I'm fascinated.
Do most adults learn in reverse this way?
And yet, the notion of complete and systematic knowledge still holds such a draw.
We're all beholden to the grand resource of human knowledge. Who'd get much done in life if you had to build your own car (or tame a horse from scratch) from scratch before you could see the world?
Quaint and inefficient as it may be, real understanding remains compellingly seductive, like a glimpse of Victorian ankle.
Nov. 6th, 2007
This year, if you don't care, then well, you're probably paying attention. Yet and still, civic duty blah blah blah.
Anyway, here's how to become informed in less than half an hour.
1) A perennial favorite of mine: The League of Women Voters non-partisan guide. Based on the actual propositions, stripped to just what matters, with pros and cons. Not just for women. (Warning, PDF)
2) The Guardian's very partisan how-to-vote-and-why guide to the props and to the candidates.
3) Endorsement cheat sheet.
That should do it.
Jun. 25th, 2007
04:25 pm - An open letter to my parents.
Yeah, to both of you.
I just wanted to take a moment and say:
Thanks so much for never hassling me about marriage.
Not saying I'm not planning on it eventually or anything.
All I -am- saying is that I just had Every. Fucking. Person. in the Philippines ask me if I was married yet, why not, if I was gay, wasn't I so old, isn't it about time?
I had absolutely no idea how awful that is. Because you guys never pulled anything like that on me.
Seriously, it got me a bit freaked out, thinking, OMFG, I'm 27, who will want me now!
Until my friends talked me out of it.
So really, very much:
Jun. 13th, 2007
09:30 pm - Ocean crossing
At the start of the 25 mile ocean crossing between mainland Luzon and Fuga Island.
09:30 pm - New photos up
Photos of the Philippines are up on Flickr. If you feel like looking, please look past the first few. I need to start controling the order I upload these...
10:54 am - From an email to Nicole...
Tokyo is tough. I'm actually having a pretty hard time. I've been trying to figure out why.
I can't read anything, but I couldn't in Thailand either. (Though there is even less Romanic signage.)
I can't talk to anyone, but I couldn't in Laos either. (Though there is even less spoken English.)
I don't can't find anything and the streets don't have names, but it was like that in Kuala Lumpur too.
It's deleriously expensive, but who cares? I'd resigned myself to spending the big bucks in order to see Japan, so it's not a surpirse. I'm ok with it.
It's all of these things put together, but... It's not really that at all.
It's really that when you talk about pretty much any city, you can't get too hard before you start saying "Westernized." That's kinda because that's what cities are. If you live in one, you work either an officy kinda job, or one that supports that kind of job. If you live on the 11th floor of an appartment in a 10x12 room, you aren't farming, you aren't making things by hand, you aren't raising animals. You're doing the stuff that came out of our Industrial Revolution and its aftermath. Stuff that was invented in America. So it feels Western, and comes with Starbucks and McDonalds. And everyone still sees us doing it better than everyone else, so they want it to be -more- Western, more like the thing we're doing, because it's working.
So you show up and be a big white guy in most places in Asia, and even if you make a total fool of yourself, as long as you're trying, people don't really mind. Because you're the one from some kind of a "goal culture." Sometimes it almost feels like they're taking notes... You may have just totally shattered a local social moor, but unintentionally you just showed them that -that's- how it's done in America.
Except in Japan.
Japan may have been shaped by the same forces of industrialization, but they did it on their own, by themselves. So the ways that they've come up with aren't borrowed from ours, they aren't like ours. They're Japanese.
And there is a way to do everything.
I've been handing people money to pay for stuff. I now just realized that's probably rude. There are little trays you put the money in, and they use the same tray to hand you your change.
I didn't slurp my ramen last night (I don't know how!) and I think that may have been rude.
I don't think I'm bowing right.
I don't know how to pronounce "thank you."
I don't have anyone to ask.
More to the point, I spent the night in a capsule hotel last night. There's a particular way you do this, in stages. Shoes, shoe locker, bags in bag locker, then the capsule. I was dead sick, but I think I did ok. I couldn't wear the bathroom slippers (didn't come close to fitting) and got some looks. This morning, I had no idea how to shower. There aren't any in the bathroom. Eventually, I found the spa, and I just froze. A bunch of guys were there, but they were in the tub. Were they naked? In trunks? I couldn't tell. Either way, if I made a mistake, it would be a huge gaff. And I got the feeling that rather than being a funny white guy goof, it would be insulting.
Capsule hotels aren't there to give gajin something to giggle about back home. They're for salary men who drink late and miss the train. They have free toothbrushes and sell dress shirts. And being so close to other guys in a slightly embarasing situation, you do things right. You do them respectfully.
If you know how.
I almost left without bathing, then figured that would be ridiculous.
I decided to wait until after 9am so it'd be pretty empty and I wouldn't be in the way. Then I realized I didn't know what to do. Finally, I waited around and watched someone else do each thing I wanted to do, trying not to look like I was watching, and then tried to mirror them.
For the record, yeah, everyone wanders around naked.
I did ok. After I got in the tub, the other guy who'd been in left quickly, and with a bit more observation I realized that you're supposed to shower both -before- and after you get in. Of course.
I don't care if people see me naked. I don't care if I look like a dumbass. I do care if I make people uncomfortable, offend people, in their own country.
I do care if I make white folks look like a bunch of rude oafs. I've seen two other gajin since I left the airport. No others in the capsul hotel. If I screw up, there aren't a bunch of other Americans around to counter my bad example.
It's a lot of presure.
Like in Contra or Mega Man where the bosses have these elaborate attack patterns that have to be learned, memorized, and preformed flawlessly. Except that I'm doing my damndest to get it on the first try.
It's confusing, invigorating, facinating. I'm not unhappy. I'm just constantly processing. Trying to solve it all, figure it out. Trying to beat the game.
On the up side, the cybercafe I found serves free ice cream. That's pretty great.
Jun. 9th, 2007
Fun Facts about trains in Japan.
1) Trains in Japan kick ass.
2) If you don't live in Japan, you can get a discounted pass.
3) You must buy this pass at a Japanese ticket office.
4) You cannot buy this pass in Japan.
Anyone notice a problem here?
Basically, I had 12 hours to find a rail pass in Manila. Where no one knew what I was talking about.
I was laughed out of three travel agencies and was looking for a third when a guy stopped me and introduced himself as the security guard at my hotel. "Don't you remember me? I opened the door for you!" I didn't, but that didn't mean much, so I talked with him a bit, and he offered to assist me in finding my rail pass.
This, of course, quickly degenerated into an attempt to convince me to give him the money so he could "get me a discount." On the other hand, he did seem to know where everything was, so I went along with it until he actually managed to locate the one ticket office in Manila that -can- sell me a rail pass, then blew him off, much to his very vocal disappointment.
I wish his mother godspeed in her recovery, by the way.
I went back into the ticket office, warned them he'd tried to rob me, and asked them to warn any other travelers he might bring in there.
This seemed like a really stellar idea at the time, I assure you.
Then things got complicated.
1A) I had to wait until 2pm (12am PST) before I could withdraw any more money with my ATM card.
1B) They close at 12:30pm.
2A) This is a Japanese ticket. You need furnish most papers which exist and have others specially fabricated.
2B) I was only carrying my copied travel documents, as I don't walk around with the originals.
3A) The signature had worn off my credit card.
3B) I'm disgraphic and can't ever make my signature look the same twice.
4) I'd just gotten them all thinking about scams, cons, and robbers.
Rather than describe in excruciating detail what actually happened, I'll simply let you imagine all the possible ways the above difficulties might interface.
In short, they decided to split the difference and treat me like a criminal, but sell me the pass anyway.
Fair enough. That's a success in my book.
Jun. 8th, 2007
08:34 pm - Experienced
"Water" Nicanor said, jerking his head to indicate the noise that enveloped the sputtering jeep "In the gas."
I nodded sagely in response, then thought to add "How did water get in the gas?"
"Water" Nicanor started again, then looked at me confused, "in the fuel tank."
The jeep is both a defacto national symbol and short modern history of the Philipines. After America abandoned litterally thousands of tons of them after World War 2, and many more when we were kicked off our rented Naval bases in the 80s. They were modified for any use, repaired, destroyed, cherished, built into buses and re-christened jeepneys. The became a part of the Filipino idetity, simply because there were here, and everything else was an ocean away. Let's say they're on the 50 Peso note, as I can't currently disprove the conjecture, and they might as well be. As these jeeps broke down, folks here started making most parts needed fix them, and then all parts. Eventually someone noticed, and you can now buy a locally built copy of an ancient American military vehcile with a Japanese engine. Which is kind of funny, when you think back to whom it was we came to the Philippines to fight. They cost about $2,000 USD new.
This particular jeep is just such a beast, built in Imperial units which allow the Mitsubishi engine to very nearly line up with the holes drilled for it in the simple steel beam frame. I had the pleasure of driving it around the other day. I had thought this showed great trust in me. In fact, everyone else was simply unwilling to do so and I saved us all from walking. It's behavior is best described as a cross between that of a lawn tractor and that of a lawn tractor that somehow actively wants to injure you. Which I mean in the best possible way, as I loved the thing.
If nothing else, while it showed absolutely no intent of running better (or even any understanding of what that might entail) it also seemed quite happy to keep chugging and coughing alone, with no desire to stop.
I commented on this perceived durablility, and Nick shot me a look which either expressed trepedation at such a statement, questioned my sanity, or pleased for help as his shoe had just caught fire.
After stomping his shoe out in the grass and running into a nearby house for a pitcher of water (which was used to extingish the jeep's electrical fire to great pyrotechnic effect) we paused for a moment. Personally, I was basking the wonders of the Philipines, but I suspect I may have been alone in that.
Eventually Karie descended from his perch on the Jeep's spare tire and shrugged.
"I think it may be time to explore alternate avenues of transportation."
I had met Karie two days before at a resort miles from anything where neither of us were staying and neither of us wanted to be.
I was there because the particular nothing that surrounds it is the sand dunes of Suba, one of the largest coastal and dune areas in the world. Part of the movie Mad Max was filmed there. I planned to rent an ATV at the resort and explore a bit. I figured this would let me brag to Death Guild and let them not care, which seems to work out just perfectly for everyone. Unfortunately, upon arrival I was told that in order to rent one, you have to be booked in at the resort, which was new news.
The resort was orginally built serve as the wedding venue for President Marco's daughter, because appartently that's the sort of thing you get up to when you're the leader of a democratic military dictatorship. As such, the cheap rooms clock in at about $100. In response, I decided to wander around looking for someone to bribe and maybe a bottle of water. Asking about the latter, I was directed to the front gate. I figured this was a creative attempt at asking me to leave, but I decided to play it out simply in order to find something valid to complain about, to see if doing so might make me feel better.
In fact, I found a small shop there which sold me not only water but also cigarettes, so I pointedly directed myself to consuming these in the shade. About halfway through the second round of the traditional "American, 27 years old, 6 months, single" converation, a huge van pulled up and spilled a giant Canadian and a number of Filipinos who probably could have all ridden on his shoulders. I hadn't seen another white guy for over a month, so I stared with everyone else until the opportunity to speak in complete sentences registered and I struck up a conversation.
Karie introduced himself as an artist here on a failed attempt to photograph the architecture of a resort building constructed in a style which fused a local look with durability. He was esplained that he was in the midst of designing a building to house the international aid organization he'd started to help the natives of a nearby coastal island called Fuga.
An island with no electricity, no phones, no roads, no stores, no vehicles, no guest houses, no medicine to speak of. Only 2,000 local villagers who'd been living there for thousands of years.
I decided to take the cosmic hint and do my damnedest to go.
Which is how I found myself standing at the side of the road, trying to figure out how to get the last few kilometers to the beach, where I hoped to attempt the 25 mile ocean crossing in a large outriggered canoe only slightly more seaworthy than the broken down jeep that had stranded us.
And that's where I'll pick up the story next time.
May. 29th, 2007
10:58 pm - Man the guns!
Aw, heck. I like this one too. How about not-a-landscape for a change?
10:36 pm - Rain Coming
I took this single shot, then like 15 closeups of the smokestacks. The best one was this immediate reflex shot.
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