Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Sing It, Grandma

I looked at my bank statement today and realized that I've spent over $200 since Friday. Whoops! I think I'm finally done stockpiling dishes, kitchen supplies, office supplies, and toiletries for the year, though.

The upside is that my suite looks, well, sweet. I'm in a two-room suite at the top of a fifteenth century turret, with carpet and a leather-topped desk and a floral-print armchair and sofa and a little, possibly non-functional tiled fireplace. And best of all, it's got enough shelves and empty walls for me to display all the junk I've brought back from around the world without looking like the pawn shop of Babylon. (I've got Moroccan dishes, Filipino masks, Malaysian prints, postcards from Switzerland, and a Slovenian vase on display. It looks suspiciously like a flower child's version of Pier 1.)

It's all just stuffy and tasteful enough that it could pass for my grandmother's apartment. Hopefully, this kind of grandmother:

(I shamelessly stole that from Bob.)

Monday, 29 September 2008

In Which I Drink the Wine of the Grapes of Wrath

Being the dork that I am, I skipped the first half of President's Drinks tonight to watch the streaming coverage of the federal government taking the economy behind the woodshed and emptying a shotgun into it. I thought about going to stockpile canned goods, but I've got a half a box of All Bran, a couple of plums and apples, a half-loaf of bread, rice cakes, and some jam, so I'm all set for, what, two days? Maybe?

Regardless, I went to the Turf instead. Sarah and Nikki are back to turn in their dissertations before they go the way of Abby, Debs, Abby L, Ambika, Tanmay, Remi, Dwayne, Dave, Darcy, Bernadette, and leave Oxford like pretty much EVERYONE ELSE in my social universe from last year. (We've got a motley crew of hardened survivors - Erika, R. Dave, Jamie, myself - but the field has definitely been culled.) I love that when my grandkids are like, "what did you do on Black Monday?" I'll be like, "oh, you know, rearranged my furniture, bought a pair of trainers, killed a pint of cider with a couple of friends." I also went to RBS to see if they could refund a couple of bogus charges to my account, but I might just stop asking because they probably need the money more than I do. (I should point out that the shoes are wicked cute, though.)

At the Turf, somebody cracked a joke about PETA asking Ben and Jerry's to use breast milk in its ice cream, which was admittedly one of the odder stories of this week. But then I thought about it, and maybe we've just reached the same point that Rosasharn does in the Grapes of Wrath when she up and breastfeeds the old man in the barn. Except the only lesson we learned over the past eighty years is how to mix it with tiny chocolate fish and name it after a rock band.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Better Luck Next Time

On September 27, 2007, I arrived at Heathrow jet-lagged and overwhelmed after taking the red-eye from DC with 30 other students. As we went through immigration, the joyless woman at the counter was like, 'what are you studying?' and when I told her it was anthropology, she furrowed her brow and was like, 'and what is that?' And I wanted to sigh and say, 'lady, your guess is as good as mine,' but instead I mumbled and rambled until she just stamped my passport and let me through.

As everyone else trickled through to the baggage carousel, I remember going to the ATM and withdrawing a bunch of pounds, and then walking over to AMT for a cup of coffee. I looked like absolute hell, and when I finally got to the front of this huge line, the barista didn't even look up from the register as I ordered a cup of coffee.

'Black or white?' she asked.
I stammered and blinked. 'Sorry, what?'
She exhaled, loudly. 'Do you want a black coffee, or a white coffee?'
I shrugged. 'Um, maybe a black coffee with a little bit of milk?'
She rolled her eyes and was like, 'So that'd be a white coffee.'
And I was like I CAN'T DO THIS.

The bus dropped Brian and I off in Oxford in front of the Grad Centre, where they didn't have our keys. So they sent us back to the College with all of our worldly possessions in tow, picked up a ring of keys, and made the twenty minute trek back down to the Grad Centre. When we got there, it was freezing cold and I hadn't thought to bring a coat. My heater wasn't working and I had no sheets, so I laid down on the bare mattress and slept all afternoon covered haphazardly in a pile of towels. I met up with all the other scholars for dinner outside of KFC, and we walked to a fluorescently-lit fish and chips place where I got a veggie burger that seemed to involve a bag of Green Giant diced vegetables packed in a mashed potato patty and deep-fried. It was sort of tragic and sad. And then I slept in my nest of towels.

On September 26, 2008, I arrived at Heathrow similarly jetlagged, but by myself and with a much, much better idea of what I was doing. When the woman at immigration asked what anthropology involves, I knew to say that it's like sociology and give a ten second synopsis of what I study. I hauled my bags up onto a cart and went to the ATM (by which I mean cash point), strode over to AMT and got in the line (by which I mean queue), and ordered a white coffee and biscotti that I balanced on the cart as I maneuvered it one-handedly to the Central Bus Terminal for the umpteenth time. I slept on the bus, and when I got off at Oxford, it wasn't unseasonably chilly, it was just frigid the way that Oxford is always sort of frigid. I'd brought a scarf.

It was almost magic, compared to a year ago. I got off on the High Street instead of riding the bus all the way to Gloucester Green, beelined for the Lodge and got my keys, and was all moved into my suite in less than an hour. I popped down to get my mail and promptly found Erika, and we chatted, and then chatted an hour later over soup. I was still sort of jetlagged, but I tried to stay up to get into a regular sleep pattern, so instead I picked up all my boxes, unpacked, and went out for pizza at Strada and drinks at Sugar Brown's with friends before crashing for, oh, twelve hours.

If this year continues to be about 2% as stressful as last year, it's going to be positively magical.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

I'm a (Homebound) Liar

I lied, my layover is actually in Abu Dhabi and not Dubai. Whoops! To be perfectly honest, I'm only halfway conscious of my surroundings, and I could just as easily be in Detroit. The important thing is that I'm almost home, but also that I finally saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on the plane, and it is insane. It's like George Lucas did free association (El Dorado! Cate Blanchett! Aliens! Red Scare!) and then tricked someone into giving him like tens of millions of dollars to commit it to film. I also watched the musical episode of Scrubs with Stephanie D'Abruzzo, an episode of Frasier, and an episode of the Office, plus Smart People, which has a stupendous cast but was sort of obnoxious. We get it - sometimes smart people are also neurotic and lonely. So are dumb people, actually. This is not groundbreaking; Woody Allen has shown us this about once per year for the past three decades. Sarah Jessica Parker was likable in it, though, so I guess that's a cinematic achievement. By contrast, Dennis Quaid is still the least sympathetic person in any movie, ever.

...So who wants to take bets on whether the crippling airport glitch that swept the UK tonight will strand me in the Middle East? Before you do, a word of caution: I may or may not be the unluckiest person alive. The odds are very good that I will be stranded, my bags will be lost, the bus will break down on the way to Oxford, and I will run out of money somewhere by the Thornhill Park and Ride and have to become a 19th century urchin. Okay, place your bets.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008


I've been crap at blogging for the past week, because I had a madcap last night (slash last morning, since it ended when I arrived back at my guesthouse at 6am, waved to that underage sex worker who works on my block, and took a quick nap) in Manila, then flew to Singapore, where Tiffany and I promptly tromped around Malaysia for two days and then walked the entirety of Singapore. We did what we do best, which is sitting in cafes, going to zoos, and wandering aimlessly while devouring whatever gets in our way.

So that was awesome, even if the fact that Tiffany bore the brunt of being the first close friend I've hung out with in two months. (A sample conversation: "I'm worried that nothing motivates me anymore.") I got back from Singapore this afternoon (and then tomorrow I fly from Manila to Dubai, and then I fly from Dubai to London and arrive on Friday), and I'm way too wiped to narrate the past week. But I have pictures (although no picture of Tiffany and I together, so you're just going to have to take it on blind faith that this isn't just an elaborate, totally pointless ruse), and those are worth like a bajillion words.

Yay, Jonker Street! Tiffany watched patiently as I stopped at every stall, multiple times. I bought a Chinese chess set and was stoked about it, until we realized that neither Tiffany nor I know how to play Chinese chess. (And you can't just fake it and play checkers, because geometry gets the best of you. It usually does.)
And then we walked back to our traumatically sketchy hostel, which a) only admits Westerners, b) wouldn't let Tiffany's cousin enter because she wasn't a guest, and c) seems to be geared exclusively at students and vagrants, so we had to be very evasive about the fact that Tiffany was job-hunting. (Apparently, being temporarily unemployed doesn't suffice, you have to be like permanently unemployed, and also poor.) The problem was that the owner has a very rigid concept of the place as a "traveler's home," which he kept pressing upon us with increasingly ill-conceived illustrations like, "it's like an old folks home, JUST FOR THE OLD." And I was like, similarly, I won't be remotely surprised if we get bedsores and you become verbally abusive when our family drives off into the distance. At we ate our complimentary breakfast (bread AND jam!), I was also attacked by a bunny. Probably a killer bunny.
And this was a temple in Singapore.
And this was the temple with Buddha's tooth in a reliquary, which was awesome. Mostly because it was beautiful (like, orchids and 10,000 Buddhas on the roof kind of beautiful), but also because there was tea.
And after Chinatown, we roamed around Little India for a bit. It was Deepavali, which explains the many, many Deepavali signs in this picture.
We ate things like this, which involved rose syrup, cane sugar, corn, red beans, jellies, and a yellow syrup that we couldn't identify. When I eat something in spite of a mysterious yellow liquid, you know it's transcendent.
And then we went on the Night Safari, because errybody knows that Tiffany and I are fucking AMAZING at zoos. We saw lions and tigers and (sloth) bears, and this tragically ugly rhino-type monster and a giraffe and a zebra and bats, and we did not just see bats, we WALKED THROUGH A BAT TUNNEL, hunched over, making high-pitched squealing noises as they dive bombed at face level. In retrospect, high-pitched squealing noises probably aren't helpful in a bat tunnel. Anyway, we conquered it, keeping the score at Ryan and Tiffany: 2, Zoos of the World: 0.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

All Day I Dream About Poultry Infrastructure

I have less than 48 hours until I leave for Singapore. Want to know what my big mission was this evening? I ate a barbecued chicken foot. The slang is adidas, which is cute enough that you sort of forget what you're about to ingest. And you eat them by sucking off the toes and then chewing the cartilage that holds them together and popping the joints apart, and periodically spitting out tiny toe knuckles. They're not bad until you reflect on them, and then I went out and panic-bought graham crackers.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Even My Triumphant Finale is a Joke

So two hours after I triumphantly decided that I was done with my fieldwork and patted myself on the back for a job well-done, I got a text from a woman I'd contacted yesterday about doing just a couple more interviews in her neighborhood. And she said yes, and I got excited. (See, I've gotten 30 interviews in my sample neighborhood, but given the estimated number of LGBT residents in that area, a statistically significant sample is 32. So this is thrilling.)

Anyway, my schedule tomorrow still involves tanning and reading "On the Road," taking myself out for lunch, and maybe shopping for jewelry (because there was a ring I really liked that I opted not to buy because I decided it's sort of weird to buy yourself a ring, but to make it up to myself I've started looking at bracelets). And then I'll briefly - but only briefly! - get a couple of interviews, and then I'm going to the rescheduled party with my interviewees, which will hopefully be just as magical as if I'd gone in the first place instead of wheezing to a halt. So for all intents and purposes, the freak-out portion of fieldwork is over, and it's just the housekeeping.

Done and Done

I woke up this morning and gamely trekked down to this street in Pasay that's supposed to be lined with beauty parlors where a ton of gay or bakla parloristas work. I didn't have an interpreter for the day, but since I've only got two days left to do this research, I decided I'd do it myself. I had visions of collecting a dozen interviews, nudging my sample size just short of 100 and generally wowing everyone, not least of whom would be myself.

The trip took longer than I expected. The sun was oppressively hot and I made the mistake of wearing a form-fitting shirt that quickly became damp and clingy. The LRT was packed, and when I arrived on Vito Cruz Street, the construction meant that I got lost periodically along the way, and my sun-bleached Rocket Dogs (and toes) were very quickly covered in a blanket of dust and grit. I was exhausted and a little woozy when I finally arrived on the strip, which had a few parlors, but not the pilgrim's Mecca that I'd imagined when I set out.

I walked into the furthest parlor and launched into an explanation of the project as the hairdresser lounged back in one of the stylist's chairs.

"I'm not the owner," she said.
"Oh, that's okay!" I chirped, consciously marshalling all the cheeriness I could muster. "I'd love to talk to you too!"
"No," she said, flatly.
"It'll only take twenty minutes," I said, with a tone that suggested that it could be fun, but was also clearly requesting mercy.
"No," she said. It was almost amazing how the pitch of her voice had changed absolutely not at all.
"Well, thanks!" I responded with a wholly inappropriate exuberance, and waved goodbye.

One down, five to go.

As I walked up the street, I mentally discounted each place. One was a barbershop. One was packed with customers. One appeared to be empty. One wasn't empty, but the only person I could see was laying in a shampoo chair, unconscious. I got to the last parlor, which was part of a chain of salons that I'd seen around the city. I walked inside.

"Can I help you?" the parlorista asked, looking up from the register.

I paused. In a slow, hesitant voice, I said, "Yes. I would like a haircut." Except I said it with something between a question mark and a period at the end. So that's what Joan gave me. And as the scissors and the clippers and the razor worked their magic, the question that hit me when I walked into the parlor seemed more and more reasonable.

At the considerable expense of my physical, emotional, and mental health, why am I driving myself crazy about getting more interviews?

At this point, I've talked to 78 people. Probably 70 of those are usable, in that the people were over 18, the interpreter was either unnecessary or so good that it was virtually one-on-one, and the interviewee was engaged in the conversation. I managed to get 30 respondents from the neighborhood I targeted, plus 48 more from other parts of Manila or other cities across the Philippines. I haven't even begun to work with the sixteen hours of audio that I have from activists in the Philippines, or the knee-high stack of books I haven't cracked open, or the pages and pages of notes I took at forums, discussions, meetings, and parties that I attended. (You know what's actually pressing? I have to present my findings to a bunch of researchers on Friday, and I haven't written them up. Oops!)

So I got my hair cut. And then I went to the mall and got a dressing room, where I hid in my underwear for twenty minutes as all the staff in the otherwise empty store decided they'd just keep bringing me jeans in the hope that I would buy all of them. I got two pairs. I bought a bunch of fruits, both within and (thanks, mangosteen) in excess of my budget. I walked home, peeled a bunch of the fruit, and watched Gossip Girl. I guess I'll start analyzing the data that I've gotten for the presentation on Friday, and maybe another essay on the L Word that I agreed to write. That's it, and the the weird thing is that there was no deadline that passed or thing I accomplished, I just sort of decided that I'm done. And it's weirdly liberating.

Monday, 15 September 2008


I'm still sick, but went to the SM Mall of Asia today for a few reasons:

- The Manila International Book Fair is held at the adjacent convention center. It ends tomorrow, and I was hoping to pick up a couple of hard-to-find books on gender, sexuality, and progressive social movements in the Philippines and was told this was my best bet.
- It's on Manila Bay, and supposed to be one of the best places to take in the supernatural, pollution-amplified beauty of a sunset in Manila.
- It's the third largest mall in the world, and I feel strangely obligated to visit any of the malls that displace the Mall of America for sheer bulk and excess.
- Today was my last opportunity - either the research group I'm working with pulls through with three days of interviews tomorrow, Wednesday, or Thursday, or I frantically pull out all the stops trying to find 30 people to interview in that period. Either way, it's going to be busy.

And it's probably for the best that I didn't visit earlier, because I'm going to go ahead and sacrifice most of my anthropological integrity and say that I probably would have returned every time I felt badly or needed comfort, possibly scrapping my fieldwork in the meantime. Malls are ubiquitous in Manila, but they're usually busy and crowded, and aside from the people at the front of every store who call out to you, I usually end up brushing off people who come up offering 1) knock-off merchandise, 2) currency exchange at discount rates, or 3) sex, and that gets exhausting and usually I leave with a headache, in a bad mood.

The Mall of Asia is different. It's like the Disney version of those malls. It's all spacious and naturally lit, with outdoor walkways lofted amid palm trees and spotless courtyards with cafe tables scattered all around. I don't know how to describe it, except that it's incredibly serene. It feels like a village, with covers of Burt Bacharach being piped through and air conditioning in spaces that are ostensibly outdoors. I found a place with frozen yogurt that's some sort of weird Italian hybrid of Tasti DeLite and Pinkberry, and got frozen yogurt with granola and coffee-flavored cookies for lunch and it was magic. Then I picked up two of the books I was hunting at the book fair, and now I'm off to watch the sun allegedly set around 5:57pm. After that, I'll probably stay for dinner. And maybe Wall-E. Basically, I don't want to leave. (And in a place that doesn't have a supermarket, but a HYPERMARKET, that's totally plausible.)

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Why I Love Anastacia

Ever since I wrote for Let's Go in Italy, I've had this semi-private soft spot in my heart for Anastacia, because her voice is terrifyingly good and her lyrics are fabulously terrible, to the point that they sort of circumnavigate terrible and become really catchy. (Sample: "He calls you pretty little dum-dum, he says he loves you but he lies. He says that you're the one one, but that's eleventh in his eyes.") And then today I was idly checking the Guardian and saw this interview with her, where she talks about the fact that she's lied about her age for ten years and is actually 40, she says Botox is great, and she uses phrases like "she was horrible.com." She just got like twice as awesome.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Things That are Creepy

So as I was drinking that glass of wine yesterday, I finished 'Good Old Neon,' the story in David Foster Wallace's Oblivion where the narrator details feeling like a fraud and all the events that eventually lead up to his suicide. And then this morning, I woke up and found out that yesterday, David Foster Wallace actually did commit suicide. Yikes.

An Update Which is Sad Because I Uncharacteristically Choose My Survival Over a Bad (But Fun!) Decision

I was honestly planning to go out to the party yesterday. I even packed deodorant, a toothbrush, and a change of clothes in case I spent the night, trudged all the way to the LRT and rode two packed trains to Katipunan, and sat at a cafe to meet the guy who was picking me up. But then he was like, 'if you're sick, let's do this another time,' and I was like, 'I'll be fine, I just might need to call it a night a little bit early,' and he was like, 'no, you're looking pretty bleak.' And this was true, because I realized at some point during the train rides that I not only ached all over, but I thought I might throw up, too.

So instead, I doubled back, made a supermarket run to buy fruit and milk that was nothing short of Herculean during the dinnertime rush (like, I not only almost passed out in the produce aisle, but I also almost punched a total stranger in the throat when I shuffled into the line and she jumped in front of me, body-checking me and then going "OOOPS!" and giggling like it was so funny that she'd just budged in front of me at the last second, and weren't we both sharing a great laugh about it! and I was like, HA HA try laughing without a windpipe, you bastard.)

And I made it back by 6:30, had a glass of wine at the guesthouse's weekly party, and promptly fell asleep from 7:30 to 9:30. And then I woke up, checked my email, and fell asleep again (fully clothed) at 10, and only just woke up at 9 feeling rested for the first time in the past couple days. (Turns out thirteen hours of sleep will do that for a person.) I'm still congested (and sneezed so forcefully this morning that it somehow covered the entire surface area of my wad of Kleenex and made me worry that part of it was actually brain tissue) and sniffly, but the aches are gone, and I don't feel nauseous anymore. I'm not going to push it by going out to see the party people tonight, but I'm hoping that I'll at least recover enough to reschedule and earn back a little bit of lost karma.

Friday, 12 September 2008

My Blood Hurts.

I feel like a walking ache, and I've blown my nose approximately 10,000 times today, which I'm sure all of my interviewees found irresistibly attractive. I probably have Japanese B encephalitis or something horrifically unlucky like that, so if I die in my sleep, someone make sense of these 70 interviews. I was going to say something about the sex-gender matrix and domesticity and discrimination, but you'll figure it out.

UPDATE: I survived, although I woke up every half hour coughing until I breathlessly passed out again. On literally any other day, I'd say fuck this and I would curl up with a papaya and a glass of orange juice and David Foster Wallace's Oblivion (so good, and the last of the books I've bought here!) and refuse to move. Unfortunately, tonight is the night that a bunch of my amazingly sweet interviewees are planning a party for me, and invited me to come do more interviews at 4, then have dinner at 7, then have a party at 10, then 'rampage' until the wee hours of the morning, then spend the night there before my meetings on Sunday. I refuse to cancel even if I'm having a bit of trouble 'breathing' and 'talking,' although I might bail early and splurge on a cab to take me back to the guesthouse, because there I can moan and whimper without scaring the hell out of some Filipino family that doesn't deserve to have a stranger die in their home when they were just trying to be nice.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

This is What Either Sinking or Swimming Feels Like

I got up and somebody else was using the shower (again), so I ate a speed-breakfast of strawberry jam and bananas on toast before I power-showered, power-walked to the LRT, and power-walked from the LRT to City Hall. I got there breathless, sweating, and (blessedly) only two minutes late.

And then I sat for two hours, because the woman who was taking me out for the day forgot about me. While waiting, the guy who was taking me out for the evening texted to cancel. It was shaping up to be a helluva day, considering that I'm constantly panicked and my hair is falling out and my n and visions of statistical significance have replaced food and sex as things I think about every twenty seconds. But then the woman showed up and we had a leisurely day of interviews - we got seven respondents, but took breaks for me to try penoy with salt and vinegar, to eat lunch with her husband and talk about federalism, and to snack on fried bananas with a really fantastic lesbian. And then I got back, and met up with two friends and got two other interviews from the two people who were with them.

Considering that I could have either zero interviews or sixty interviews in the next few days, today might be good practice.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008


My contact in Quezon City did come through at the last minute and invited me up to the barangay today, so I quickly wolfed down my breakfast, packed up my laptop, and raced up to the barangay with a dozen donuts under my arm.

And as I got off under charcoal-grey thunderheads by GMA, it began to rain, for the third day in a row. One of my interviewees once complained that people in her area blame queer people for bringing bad weather. I don't believe that's the case, but if it is, I would like to apologize to Northern Luzon for this typhoon.

It started to pour to the point where grit was spraying up from the street, so I ducked into a carinderia where I got puto and 3-in-1 and found a chair in the crush of people having lunch or eating to avoid the rain. As it turned out, the barangay office was just down the street, and the friend I'd contacted there pulled up a chair at her desk and I hung out there for the afternoon.

Like, all afternoon.

I interviewed two of the employees in the office while we waited for interviewees to show up, but as appointments came and went, my friend apologetically shrugged. "It's the rain," she said. "And nosebleeds."

I thought that seemed odd, but didn't ask about it. One of the city's employees showed up out of nowhere with a bowl of lugaw that I devoured. I made it to Vermont. I peed. I ate a donut. I had another cup of 3-in-1. I peed again.

Finally, another interviewee showed up, and we polished off my third interview for the day. As we wrapped up, my friend asked if I could return on Friday.

"I probably can," I said.

"Good." She cocked an eyebrow. "And maybe it won't rain, and maybe we'll have fewer nosebleeds."

And then she explained that "nosebleed" is slang for the panic when you're expected to speak in English and run out of English vocabulary or stress out about underperforming. And this is how pouring rain and a flood of nosebleeds made for a pretty relaxing day in Quezon City.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

A Change Would Do You Good

I did absolutely nothing today. I woke up at 10, found the door to the bathroom locked, and shuffled upstairs with my laptop in my tee-shirt and shorts for some papaya and coffee. I meant to do data entry, but then instead, I ended up on GChat having a way-overdue, emotionally involved conversation that lasted until about 2pm. And then I got up to wash out my mug after my fourth cup of coffee, and ended up talking in the kitchen with this woman who's from Thunder Bay, Minnesota (!) and has spent the past couple years teaching dance in Taiwan and is about to go to Canada to do a doctoral program in dance and "the evolution of consciousness." By the time I finally showered and brushed my teeth, it was after 3pm. I almost just called the day a bust, but I managed to walk to the mall and pick up groceries, which felt semi-productive. But then my horoscope in the Inquirer said to take a breather - and my horoscope in the Philippines has been freakishly accurate, to the point where I'm trying to find a way to consult it from the UK when I get back so I'll know how to live my life - so I did. I'm picked up a knot of ginger and made ginger tea for my throat, and I'm hoping that a good night's sleep, ginger tea, and trying to commit myself to honesty and emotional maturity will kill this cold by tomorrow.

Alternative Medicine

I spent eight hours yesterday in a city up by Cubao, where it poured rain for the entire time that I was there. This morning, I woke up with a sore throat that I attributed to the fact that I crashed when I got back and slept next to a fan going full blast in my face all night.

Over breakfast, I bumped into this woman I befriended a couple of nights ago over dinner, when I was chopping up vegetables and she wandered into the kitchen, wearing capris and a translucent blouse. She stood watching me and smiled, and I got very, very self-conscious, and cut off the tip of my finger. I hoped she didn't notice.

"You cut your vegetables so carefully," she said. "You remind me of a surgeon I know. He used to cut his vegetables just like that."

I hoped she didn't mean that he regularly amputated his fingers.

She kept watching. "Were you born in September?"

"Nope," I said, shaking my head. "November." Please relate this to the zodiac, I thought. It would make my night if you related this to the zodiac.

"I thought you might be a Virgo."


We introduced ourselves (her name starts with a Q!) and ate dinner together, where she talked about the herbs she was boiling for her kidney trouble, her schizophrenic ex-husband, and her impending court dates in Australia for bogus traffic violations. We got on the subject of materialism and raising kids, and I found myself spilling all these fears about a well-rounded life and whether I'm capable of raising kids with well-developed values and an appreciation for the little things that I grew up enjoying. I don't think this was the only reason, but she reminded me very, very much of my friend's mother, whose project last time I visited Fargo involved raising feral cats in her backyard. It was one of the best conversations I've had since I arrived in Manila.

Anyway, this morning I croaked hello to Q. and she immediately popped into the kitchen and emerged with a fistful of herbs to chew on to soothe my throat. They did absolutely nothing for my throat, but they intensified my girl crush tenfold.

Monday, 8 September 2008

In the Past 72 Hours...

- I went clubbing at O, which burned out my eyes and throat with cigarette smoke and left me stumbling home deaf and drenched in sweat at 4:30am. Aside from the fact that everyone was literally packed thigh to thigh and dancing consisted of rotating my shoulderblades, it was a blast. The underage sex worker that I befriended also showed up when I stepped outside for air, but he seemed hurt when I didn't offer to pay his cover for the club but I'm pretty sure buying drinks for a minor is against CUREC guidelines, and after watching heavyset, grizzled, paper-white AARP members with a cloud of twinky Filipino boys circling them like atoms all night, it also violated any shred of ethics that I still possess.

- Hours later, I hauled my tired ass onto the LRT to interview a priest. Among other things, we talked about his sex drive and whether masturbation is sinful or pretty awesome (hint: all parties were in emphatic agreement on that one). When I left, I mentioned that I'd been to O, but still needed to visit Bed. And in the kindest goodbye I've had with anyone in recent memory, he got this impish grin, clasped my hand and said, "oh, Ryan, something tells me anyone would jump at the chance to take you to Bed." He's 80. It was my favorite interview, hands down.

- I gave my cell phone number to one of my interviewees, who responded by texting me about fifteen times the next day. I hate texts and fear commitment, so I was like, ooh, yikes, and responded once, coolly. I felt bad, though, and so today I took him out for coffee and a tart before his afternoon classes and felt like a not terrible person again. My soul costs 27 pesos.

- Tonight, I spent the evening up in one of the cities in Metro Manila, where I knocked off 12 interviews (that's stamina, raw and unadulterated) before wearily taking a cab back after eight hours of non-stop Q and A. It was a total hoot, though - I brought donuts for everyone from Dunkin', and as I was leaving, they asked if I'd come back for a goodbye party on Saturday. I decided that this is probably a bigger deal than Petula Clark, and said I'd be there. Possibly with donuts, definitely with beer.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

You Know You're Not Melancholic When

I'm pretty sure that the cool kids are able to smoke a cigarette when they're feeling edgy and put-upon without getting dizzy and feeling like they're going to throw up. I'm not cool, and further evidence of this is that I'm considering going to go see Petula Clark on September 13.

The Women, Starring Everyone Except Kathy Najimy

Remember how I've always wanted to cast a film with all those actresses who are famous but people sometimes forget about, because they're working just often enough to keep them from appearing in "Where Are They Now?" columns but not quite famous enough that people can spell their names correctly and sometimes they're used as filler in People magazine when most celebrities are out of the country for a film festival?

Somebody else did it, and it's a film adaptation of the Women. I will so see this, the day it premieres.

Friday, 5 September 2008

The Gospel According to Least Heat Moon

"The true West differs from the East in one great, pervasive, influential, and awesome way: space. The vast openness changes the roads, towns, houses, farms, crops, machinery, politics, economics, and, naturally, ways of thinking. How could it do otherwise? Space west of the line is perceptible and often palpable, especially when it appears empty, and it's that apparent emptiness which makes matter look alone, exiled, and unconnected. Those spaces diminish man and reduce his blindness to the immensity of the universe; they push him toward a greater reliance on himself, and, at the same time, to a greater awareness of others and what they do. But, as the space diminishes man and his constructions in a material fashion, it also - paradoxically - makes them more noticeable. Things show up out here." -- William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways

I had an appointment at some archives out in a tiny barangay in Quezon City this morning, and I got there twenty minutes early. The NGO is in a big, gated villa along a gated, guarded street, so I waved the cab driver off and kept walking until I left the subdivision and entered the barangay on the other side of the gatehouse.

It was sort of stark - the pavement suddenly became uneven and rose and fell in slabs, the fences and trellises gave way to plywood and piles of rocks and trash, and the estates were replaced by alley after alley of carinderias and vulcanizing shops. And instead of the lone security guard patrolling on a bike, there were people hanging out of windows and milling around, and they were all staring at me in the way they do when I wander around looking totally lost.

I stopped at a carinderia for a cup of 3-in-1, and got to chatting with the proprietor about his time in the Navy and the three months he'd spent in Baltimore and a coastal town in Canada. He asked where I was from, and I tried to explain, but his eyes only lit up with recognition when I said it was about fifteen hours from Chicago. I found myself describing Fargo as a farming town - not really accurate at all, and hasn't been for a few decades, but calling it a city conveys the wrong impression, and calling it a small town makes people more comfortable with the fact that they've never heard of it. (And really, compared to Manila, virtually everywhere else seems pretty tranquil and idyllic.)

As I was starting to get nostalgic, the man's wife walked over and peered over her plastic glasses. "That your bible?" she asked, pointing to Blue Highways. The cover of my 1970s copy does sort of look biblical, with the sun pouring through the trees and spilling onto a winding highway. "No," I said, blushing. "Just a little reading for the afternoon." She picked it up and skimmed the back cover, nodding slowly.

And then on the way back into Manila, I read that passage about space and what it does to a person as he grows, and if it's not really a Bible, you've still got to give it props for truth and wisdom nevertheless.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

31 Days and 30 Nights

Maybe it's not wise to book flights when you're abroad and missing people, but I just did that. And when you think of the grand scheme of things, I haven't seen my family in about a year, so three weeks in Fargo and a whirlwind tour of New York for New Year's is totally justified. Especially for less than $1000.

These Boots Are Made for Backtracking

Operation: Sex Adventure was a bust. I left my building feeling awfully bold and within ten minutes, I'd been pinned to a car by three young girls begging for money, offered 'very young boys' by a very persistent tranny, and and followed for two blocks by a guy who kept pleading for me to take a walk with him. I lost heart, because there's nothing like somebody trying to sell you a minor to take any of the glamour out of sex work. When I gave up on that bit of the evening and went to salvage my walk with a mango, the guy was like, "40 pesos!" and I was like, dude, that's a 10 peso mango, and thanks for wrecking my night. And then I went home, without a good story or a piece of citrus fruit, and that is when I know I'm defeated.

Still, eight interviews today, bringing the grand total to 23/32 in Pasay and 18/18 from the provinces. I've gotten to the point where I can wing the last nine if push comes to shove, which is a fantastic feeling.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Red Light, Green Light

For the past two nights, I've had fleeting conversations with someone who I very much suspect is a sex worker, who's caught me twice on the street. (This is in addition to the fleeting conversations that I usually have, which go something like, "Hi SIR, massage?" "No, but thank you for offering," breathless, well-endowed stranger.)

The snag is that I also very much suspect that he is not eighteen and hence not CUREC-approved, which is why our conversations have been fleeting. On the off-chance that he is eighteen, though, I'm about to go out to hunt down a pineapple vendor, and that's a euphemism for skulking around his street with a copy of my survey in my shoulder-bag (but also hopefully finding pineapples). I'm like a Boy Scout, except there is no merit badge that I'm aware of for interviewing gay prostitutes.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

The Cold War

All of my skin fell off today, and it falls off again every time I sweat and duck into someplace with air conditioning. At this rate, I either have to sweat it out, stay indoors, or keep getting smaller and smaller until I become a oval-shaped Russian peasant.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Cebu and Bohol

This is the Carbon Market in Cebu, which was hella fun because I'm totally a market fetishist. (I bought a machete here, because it's handy for cutting fruit, and who can turn down a small machete for just $0.75? Not me, apparently!)
The street food in Cebu was probably the best I've had so far. Especially the grilled bananas, which changed my life.
Here are the Chocolate Hills, which I saw during a marathon trip to Bohol that involved the first ferry out of Cebu to Tagbilaran,, the first bus from Tagbilaran to Carmen, approximately fifteen minutes of dutifully hiking to the lookout and snapping a dozen pictures, and then racing back.
Except as I waited for the bus, this guy named Mark was like, 'hey, only 500 pesos for a tour of the island,' and I was like, 'gee, I've only got 300, but I can skip the rest of the island if you find me a tarsier' and we haggled and I won. And that's how I ended up speeding around on the back of his motorcycle on the road back to Loboc, and since I was straddling him and my mouth was in his ear, we got to chatting. He ended up showing me the man-made forest, the bamboo bridge, and the tarsier just to be nice. (At one point, he was like, 'you can't appreciate the island from inside a car, you need to see it without walls' and I was like, 'um, helmets usually prevent that, but yeah, trust that I'm soaking in the beauty as I cling to you like a tarsier.' Anyway, here's Mark delivering on his promise.
Here's when I went to the fiesta and pageant outside Cebu, which was amazing. See that? That's ethnography.