Children in Legaspi
It rained a great deal during the night and the morning sky looks grey and overcast in the narrow views I get from my windows. Not great prospects for the day, but the weather could improve.
The karaoke never started up again last night, and I will be eternally grateful for that. I really should work on my attitude, though, and knock off the passive-aggressive routine. Better would be to simply approach the managers of this hotel and ask them if they’d mind shutting off the karaoke just for tonight while I was their guest. I’d feel guilty about that, but it would be a more honest approach than ranting and raving like a lunatic. And, feeling guilty or not, I’d be somewhat in the right to ask. A hotel and a karaoke bar are two different things. It is a poor choice to combine the two. You end up with one group of people trying to relax or sleep and a second group making as much amplified noise as is humanly possible (just a few feet away). It’s not a reasonable business plan.
I went to bed extremely early and despite twisting and turning and flipping and flopping to try to get comfortable on my too-short and too-narrow bed, I feel rested this morning. I feel like I spent most of the night awake, but there were certainly periods of sleep in there, too. I remember the vivid dreams I had during those periods.
At the risk of sounding like someone who does nothing but complain, I’ll mention a couple other things that have bothered me about this place – the Western Highway Lodge. The main thing is the dog. They have this little dog tied up on a chain near the stairwell that leads to the upper floor. When I first arrived, I wasn’t feeling very friendly towards the dog. It growled and barked at me quite viciously every time I made a move anywhere in the hotel grounds, and, again, I thought it was a poor practice on a hotel manager’s part to keep a dog like that around. Why have an animal that lunges at and growls at your guests? It’s hardly a move likely to make your guests feel welcome.
My feelings have changed, though, and I now can’t help but feel pity for this dog. Last night, it whined and barked and yelped constantly. It was a heartbreaking sound. (It’s still whining and crying this morning as I write.) My sense is that the poor thing is never let off the chain. I haven’t investigated too carefully, but I think the chain is extremely short and the dog can do little other than lie down and stand up in the same place. My guess is that it never gets any attention. No one plays with it. While walking around Legaspi, I stopped and petted every dog that was brave enough or friendly enough to approach me. People clearly thought I was insane. Gary said that his wife – she is a Filipina – constantly tells him not to pet the dogs. She reasons that they are dirty. These dogs in the barangay don’t get any attention either (other than the occasional rock thrown at them by an evil boy), but at least they have the company of the other dogs. They run free and wild throughout the barangay and play together. This poor dog at the hotel is all by itself. Its only contact with its own kind is to hear the other dogs barking in the distance.
Another annoyance was a bright light hooked up to a motion detector. That is all well and good and I suppose it is meant to keep away thieves. However, the darn thing goes off constantly and it shines right into the window of my room. I think mosquoitoes and moths and bats set it off, it is so sensitive. All night long, I felt like I was sleeping in Times Square or underneath some giant neon sign flashing and flashing and flashing. Luckily, I travel with an eyeshade and I had to put it on in order to get any sleep at all.
I have my other pet peeves that could apply to this hotel. For example, the lack of hooks. They somehow got the water to the bathroom running, so I no longer had to get my own water in buckets. That was good. But whenever I go in there to take a shower, I end up looking around stupidly and wondering what to do with my towel and shorts and other things. As I’m sure I mentioned before, I wonder what Filipinos do. They must bring something into the bathroom with them – at least a towel. Where do they put the towel? At least in this bathroom, there was evidence of some effort. There was an old plastic towel rack lying on the floor behind the toilet. On the wall above it, I could see two round circles where the glue used to hold this thing to the wall. It was a cheap piece of junk that you could pick up in any household goods shop – something that is designed to look good for two weeks and then fall off. It’s certainly not something that you would buy for heavy-duty use in a hotel. I’d be surprised if it lasted even the two weeks. It probably fell off the day it was applied and has never been looked at since.
In fact, nearly everything I see around me in this hotel falls into that same category – absolute junk. Every faucet, every door, every surface, every item is of the cheapest possible grade and barely survived the installation process. I can understand the impulse to save money when building something, but that impulse can be taken too far.
I wonder sometimes if this world of junk and poor quality has a circular nature. Do the people here get so used to being surrounded by junk and poor quality that they get desensitized to it and then never expect better? Does it lead to a country not progressing? Does it lead to a mental attitude that keeps the country from developing? If you’ve never been exposed to a water faucet that actually works or a door that lasts more than a month, how would you know that such things existed?
I thought about this while I was in Guiuan. In my hotel room there, I had a TV with some kind of bizarre cable hook-up called Skyworth. At least, whenever I turned on the TV, there was a long boot process while something called Skyworth was being loaded. One channel was devoted entirely to the UFC. I was pretty happy to see that because I’m addicted to all things UFC. This channel showed a random assortiment of UFC events, some of them going all the way back to the very beginning. It had been a long time since I’d seen any of them, and it was fascinating to see how the fighting systems and the UFC rules have progressed and changed. It was also fascinating to see a young and chirpy and rather timid Joe Rogan, not to mention a Dana White with hair. Bruce Buffer was actually toned down in those days and hadn’t become the Bruce Buffer I know and hate today. I also got to see the original fights of some of the guys that went on to become UFC legends.
The interesting thing, though, is that these programs were all clearly illegal copies. They were probably bootleg copies of copies of copies. In any event, the sound was so bad that I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying. The picture was distorted and fuzzy. Some of them were incomplete. I sat through an entire two hours of one UFC waiting to get to the final fight, which was a title fight featuring GSP. The GSP fight was just about to start and the program ended and a new one began. It was funny to watch this process because the shows were clearly computer files. And an image showed up on the TV of a computer screen with files and folders. You could watch the mouse pointer move around the screen and click on various folders and then open the next file.
A couple of times, I was watching a certain UFC event. I’d be an hour or two hours into it and looking forward to the next fight. Then there would be a power failure. The whole room would go dark and the air conditioning went off and the TV turned off. Just seconds later, the power would come back on. But instead of the UFC event picking up from where it left off, they simply started from the beginning again or they just clicked on a new file and started an entirely new UFC event. Of course, I was very unhappy with this. It drove me crazy. However, it is just business as usual in the Philippines. And, to get back to my thesis, I’m wondering if the local people, having had to endure this kind of shoddy practice their entire lives, have become accustomed to it and just accept it as normal. Perhaps people grow up and then get jobs and in those jobs never strive to make things better because everything being crappy just feels normal to them. In essence, does a world of junk and poor quality become self-perpetuating? Does it lead to people never striving for perfection and never figuring out how to make things better and never questioning things?
This hotel explodes with examples of this. My entire stay here has been little more than an endless series of encounters with crap and junk and poor quality. I know it sounds ridiculous to be in a third world country and then comment on how thirld world everything is. But I’m not talking about a little dive hotel that costs $1 a night where you expect cockroaches and fleas and outdoor latrines. This is a real hotel that tries to be a real hotel. At least it has all the surface appearances of one. A normal room here costs $30 a night. That’s a lot of money in the Philippines. For $30, you’d expect to find hooks in the bathrooms.
The store is another good example. I was annoyed when I went in there and found that there were no prices on anything. I bought some 3-in-1 coffee packets. I just opened one of them this morning and found that the contents were rock solid. They had probably been in that store for years. I keep wanting to go into the store and buy something, but there is never anyone in the place. The door is always locked. In order to make a purchase, I have to go find one of the sisters and ask them to open the store. I do this in an apologetic manner. I feel like I am disturbing them by wanting to be a customer and put some money in their pocket. It’s ridiculous. And this hotel has a nice little combination café, bar, restaurant with a lot of products for sale. But the sisters and their children set up shop in there and treat it like their living room. They have a computer there and play video games. They watch TV. They eat their meals there. The children do their homework. So, as a customer, I can’t really go there without feeling like I’m disturbing them. I’m essentially walking into their living room and disrupting their family life. So I never go there. I’d love to go there and have a cup of coffee and write in my journal. But instead, I’m sitting here back in my room writing and making my own coffee on my own stove. Actually, I did have one cup of coffee in the restaurant. I had to wait for the rain to stop before I went out, and I thought I’d assert myself by sitting there and getting a cup of coffee. Then I was unpleasantly surprised at the price of this coffee – 30 pesos. That seemed like an insult. It’s not like she brewed up a fresh cup from newly roasted grounds. She just got a 3-in-1 packet from the store and poured some boiling water into a cup. In the store, these packets cost 6 pesos. So they charged me 5 times the going rate. And then, of course, they had no change for my 100-peso note. Now it was my responsibility to make sure that I had change later on and to remember to pay them for the coffee – a coffee which they so reluctantly served to me in the first place.
Again, this is all probably quite normal for a Filipino. I am coming at this from a Western point of view with all of my cultural values and norms. I’ve noticed that Filipinos are much more demanding. They have gotten used to demanding service. It doesn’t bother them that there is nobody inside a store. They will beat on the door and shout until they get someone’s attention. It’s normal for them. It’s definitely not normal for me. The thing is that someone obviously went to a lot of trouble to design this store and restaurant and stock them. The store clearly has ambitions to be something special. It has all kinds of luxury items on its shelves. It’s a place that is crying out for customers. But then it fails in the execution because the doors are locked and no one is staffing the place. The three times that I’ve purchased something in the store were all difficult and involved having to find someone to open the store and then having to rush to make a purchase choice because I felt that the sister was waiting impatiently for me. She wanted to go back to her video game or TV show or whatever it was she was doing. Also, since the door had been closed at the store for days, it was blisteringly hot and stuffy inside. It was very uncomfortable. And I was reluctant to make a purchase because I worried about the products baking in that heat – like my rock-solid coffee mix. I’ve ended up making all my purchases in the sari-sari stores in Legaspi and carrying them back to the hotel. It’s too much bother to use the store here.
I suppose I should call it quits here with the complaining disguised as cultural sociology. But did I mention the mouse, gecko, or rat droppings everywhere? Did I mention the thick and icky spider webs over all the cupboard handles? Did I mention the ever-present ants? The squeaky door hinges that I lubricate with my bike chain oil? Honestly, how hard is it to oil door hinges and stop that haunted house squeaking? That brings me back to my time in Ethiopia when I’d roam around an entire building and oil all the door hinges. The squeaking and squealing was so loud there that it would keep me awake at night. It was in my self-interest to oil the hinges of all the doors. Here, at least, I just do my own door. Of course, I really was paying $1 a night in Ethiopia and we are talking about a country where it would be hard to even track down oil. The Philippines has everything in abundance and has no excuse for squeaky hinges.
I find that I didn’t say much about my trip through the barangay yesterday. Just a few quite comments. I was so entranced with the place that I started daydreaming about being a millioinaire. I’d buy up the entire village and turn it into a nice resort. There were so many fascinating areas near the limestone outcroppings, it felt like a fantasy land. I was taking pictures of some of the thatch huts in these incredible settings, and I commented to a woman there it looked like a Hollywood movie set to me. It was too perfect to be real. I could see a fantastic resort there with exclusive thatch-roofed bungalows dotted about there and there connected with trails to make it seem like an authentic village. Gary commented that he’d love to run a zip line from the top of one big rock to the top of a nearby smaller one. (Filipinos have a love affair with zip lines.)
There was also the most astonishing little spot – an area underneath a huge overhang of rock right on the water. An enterprising man had installed a type of disco there. He had a set of amplifiers and speakers roughly hooked up and had set out some plastic chairs and rough wooden tables. It was the happening spot in the barangay. I’m sure he also had videoke. To me, it would be a nightmare living anywhere within hearing distance of this place, but it was certainly unique. It would be a beautiful spot for a nice little café.
There was another gorgeous spot underneath some huge rocks that a man showed me. It seemed appropriate that this gorgeous place offering the best of views and ocean breezes was where he kept a pig and some chickens in broken-down old wooden cages with garbage and shit everywhere. At the most beautiful spot of all – the little cove at the end of the barangay – I arrived to find a man just getting up and hitching up his shorts after dropping an immense load onto the sand. Many times I’ve had the thought that I’d love to go swimming, with the sudden counter-thought that I shouldn’t. This counter-thought generally comes after spotting all the shit on the sand or the big lumps of shit floating in the water like small logs. This happened in Lawaan. I’d walked out to the end of the pier and admired the tranquil scene of two young mothers in the water teaching their toddlers how to swim. One mother even put her child on her back to hold on while she swam around. The child loved it. Then when I walked back along the pier, thinking that I should return and go for a swim myself, I noticed all the lumps of shit floating in the water along the pier. My urge for a swim vanished. This is in my thoughts this morning because I woke up to find two big infected areas on the little toes of both feet. Very strange for these to be on the same spots on each toe. I started wondering if I picked something up as I waded around the various shorelines taking pictures. I never went swimming, but I did have to walk through the water to make my way around the shore. Perhaps I should not do that in the future when close to barangays.
Well, it’s time to go outside and check out the skies. Then if things look promising, I’ll load up the bike and hit the road.
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