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Day 37 Super Typhoon Yolanda – Mass Grave at Basper, a Concert, and Mosquito Torment

Submitted by on December 14, 2013 – 9:38 am One Comment
A skull and the spine of a typhoon victim at the Basper mass gravesite near Tacloban

The very first thing I did this morning (after taking a bucket bath, shaving, and battling mosquitoes) was to remove the back cover from my broken Kindle. The battery finally went dead, so I couldn’t use it to listen to music anymore. And I don’t want to throw the entire Kindle away as it is. If, by some miracle, someone were to fix it, they could turn it on and have instant access to my Amazon account and go on a purchasing spree. I assume if I had access to the Internet, I could go onto my Amazon account and disconnect this Kindle. However, as it stands now, it is like a an automatic gateway right to my account. So in keeping with the modern era of paranoia and information security, last night, I smashed the front cover against a hard wooden edge thinking this might break the thing in half. It didn’t break it in half, but it did pop loose a little bit of the back cover. This morning, I jammed a metal edge from my Leatherman into that gap and slowly worked it around, and the back cover popped right off in a nice complete package. I’m mentioning this because what I saw underneath that cover almost took my breath away. It was beautiful. I know that lots of people have taken circuit boards and turned them into works of art, took photographs of them, and otherwise commented on their beauty and how they look like little cities. Still, it is quite something to see the technology of the Kindle revealed like that. It’s a thing of beauty. It’s a shame that simply breaking the screen just turns it into garbage. I’m positive that any attempt at a repair would be pointless. It would be far cheaper and less trouble just to buy a new one. So all this technology – still functional as it is – is useless junk. Beautiful junk, but still just junk. Were I living somewhere permanently, I wouldn’t throw it away. I’d mount it on the wall as art. It’s that gorgeous and interesting.

The battery is awesome in how flat it is. It takes up fully a third of the area of the back but is extremely thin. The circuit board is complex and fascinating. And there are four large, smooth steel boxes. I have no idea what those could be for, but they stand in exactly for large scale commercial buildings in a city scape – like a shopping mall, a WalMart, and a Home Hardware cluster. There also seems to be something like a SIM card. I assume that contains all the information and data about me and my account. In case of repairs or replacements, they could just plug that card into a new unit and be good to go. I’m going to see if I can remove the card. But first I’m going to take some pictures of the unit.

I’m sure an electrical engineer could scan this Kindle’s interior and name all the various components. I certainly can’t, and it’s interesting that though my entire life depends on technology like this, I don’t understand it in the slightest. It amazes me that I live in a time and in a society than can produce something as complex as this, and yet I haven’t the smallest part in it or the smallest knowledge about it. I just click on the “buy” button on my Amazon account and the thing is shipped to my door ready to go. And this is only the tiniest piece of technology of our modern world. There is so much going on out there that I don’t have any hand in and don’t know anything about. To that extent, I’m quite an outcast. I have no part at all in all the technical advances going on in the world around me – not even the smallest part. I just use it and take advantage of it. And I’m relatively educated and in touch with modern life. How much more are other people outcasts – the people of the squatter settlements of Tacloban, for example?

I find it amusing that there is a big warning on the battery. It’s the usual warning: “Do not disassemble, puncture, crush, heat, or burn.” And then there is a picture of a big garbage can with an X over it. But if you can’t throw it away, what else can you do with it? I suppose if it were recycled, the toxic parts would be safely disposed of or reused.

This makes me smile because of a brand new experience I had the other day. This idea of brand new experiences is an interesting one. I was getting to a point in my life where I started to think that I couldn’t have any more new thoughts or new experiences. Typhoon Yolanda definitely put paid to that idea. I have had no end of new experiences and new thoughts in the past 38 days. These new thoughts and experiences have piled up like crazy, and I can barely process them all.

Of course, I’ve written about lots of these. Lots more have slipped through the net. I remember, for example, seeing two rats on all the garbage and debris that was floating in my pension house’s courtyard during the flood. With all the land gone, the rats had no choice but to emerge into the world in full view. Yet, the rats seemed completely unfazed. They weren’t panicking and trying desperately to get from the floating chunk of wood to floating chunk of wood to get to the side and escape. They weren’t running around and taking videos and pictures. In fact, they were calmly going about doing what rats generally do all the time. They were looking for things to eat. They simply floated around on whatever bit of debris was handy and then nibbled on this or that to see if it was edible. I lost sight of the rats eventually, but I imagine that when the flood water went down and the land reemerged, they just hopped onto the muddy ground and vanished into the cracks of the city to keep on nibbling on things, but hidden from view. I’m sure those two rats are out there around the pension house somewhere, but I’ll never see them. That was a new experience.

Another new experience concerned a garbage pile. I was walking around the harbor area taking pictures and I noticed a big pile of burning and smoking garbage. This is what Filipinos do in their spare time – they sweep garbage up into piles and set fire to it. I thought this particular pile of garbage had a photogenic quality, and I was framing it up with my camera with the harbor in the background. Suddenly, the entire garbage pile exploded. It literally exploded and sent a shower of garbage flying in all directions. I was startled, to say the least, and I went to investigate. I can’t say for sure what exploded, but I did see that there were a bunch of sealed tin cans in the garbage pile. I assume that one of these cans had heated up to the point that it exploded. Luckily, I wasn’t standing right over the garbage pile and peering into it when the thing went off. But now it put the thought in my head that the burning piles of garbage in Tacloban are not the simple annoyances they appear to me. They actually contain hidden dangers. Who knows what is inside the piles of garbage or debris? No one knows. There could be piles of toxic material making the smoke deadly and dangerous. There could be cans of paint and other chemicals waiting to explode. There could even be big cans of propane and other gas – things that could do serious damage when they explode. Meanwhile, it is practically a way of life in Tacloban right now to sort through piles of garbage. Who knew that walking too close to a pile of garbage could kill you?

I had similar ideas when I was first thinking about the Tzu Chi “Cash-for-Work Cleanup Drive” and the insurance implications. I remember thinking about stories from the United States about the cleanup that took place after a tornado wiped out a bunch of houses. There was such hysteria about the presence of toxic substances – paint, oil, etc. – in the destroyed houses and garages that hazmat teams and all the rest of it were called in. Here, ten thousand untrained people in flip-flops are just sent willy-nilly into vast areas of destroyed homes to just clean up with their bare hands.

I had another very interesting experience last night – a typhoon concert put on by a private NGO from New Zealand. This story begins a couple of days ago when I spotted the tall blonde women at the Astrodome handing out stuffed animals from the back of a pickup truck while a camera crew filmed them. Yesterday, I saw these same people up at City Hall. I rode past them on my bike once and then I turned around and rode past them again and stopped to say hello and find out what they were all about. I approached the two guys on the camera crew, of course. I think the giant blonde women got enough attention without having to deal with random foreigners like me.

I didn’t really learn much about their NGO or what they were doing here. I learned they were from New Zealand and the NGO was quite small and the creation of a dynamic man named Phil Cooper (or something like that). Over time, I picked up on the idea that they were intensely religious  and that they had come to Tacloban with a message of love from New Zealand. I assume they were doing a bunch of things, but they were also putting on a big concert. It was scheduled for yesterday from three in the afternoon until six in the evening.

At three, I walked up to City Hall to check it out. Of course, nothing was going on yet. A stage had been set up and there was a sound system playing recording music, but there was no band playing and there were practically no people waiting for the concert to start.

I chatted with the cameraman for a while. He was a very tall man and I had the extremely rare experience of looking up at someone while I talked to them. He’d said that they had a very bad day. I’m not sure if the day was really that bad or if he just felt that he should say something about that. In fact, they had gone to the temporary morgue to do a story about the identification of bodies. They found hundreds of bodies in body bags just lying on the ground in the hot sun. I find that astonishing, and I want to go out to see it for myself. After all this time, those bodies are still out in the open under this hot sun? That is astonishing. And very bad. They had put a long wall of a type of canvas material around the field of bodies, but during the night, local people come and steal the canvas to build their homes with and now the bodies are all in full view. I can’t even guess at the smell or the state of the bodies. Could they even resemble bodies by this point?

He also told me that they were in Tacloban four days after the typhoon. I find that hard to believe, as I didn’t really see anyone until a full eight days after the typhoon. I imagine they weren’t really here until maybe the 13th or 14th at the earliest. But who knows? He said that they flew into Cebu and then took a ferry to some city down south and then hired a truck to get to Tacloban. That must have been a very difficult journey.

But back to the concert. Eventually, the music started, and I was pleased to note that there were many bands and performers lined up. It wasn’t just one young rock band screaming into the microphone for three hours. There were lots of local bands, most of them pretty average. There was a group of singers doing Christmas carols. That was nice. The highlight though was a group of 3 Maori warriors doing their war chants and other things representing their culture. I think it was meant to be the highlight of the night, but the Filipinos clearly didn’t get it. They had no idea what it was all about and just thought it was hysterically funny. One problem might have been that these guys didn’t look aboriginal at all. They looked like typical white guys – and extremely well-muscled and good looking white guys at that. When they first ran out onto stage, I thought they were Chippendale dancers myself. I thought they were going to do a kind of burlesque show or a strip tease or something. And even when they started performing and I recognized the Maori elements, I doubted myself. Could they really be Maori? They sure didn’t look it.

It was quite an experience in cross-cultural misunderstandings. The Maori dance was intended to terrify their enemies and impress them with their power and aggression. The Filipinos just thought it was really funny and they laughed and laughed. I’m not sure if the dancers heard the laughter, but I hope they didn’t take it to heart. Filipinos like their culture mainstream and cute. I doubt there was one person in the audience who had ever heard of the Maori or seen this kind of thing before. A Filipino man struck up a conversation with me, and I told him what was going on. His only comment was to say that they should speak and sing in English. Then people could understand them. The whole presentation of the Maori culture thing was lost on him. The leader of the group seemed to understand that their performance was not really getting across. He started making lots of references to showing people the Maori culture, etc. He didn’t want them to think that they were just a bunch of jokers who liked stamping their feet and sticking out their tongues and making crazy faces and strange noises. He even, bless him, brought up the All Blacks rugby team to try to give what they were doing some context. Total silence. No one had any idea what he was talking about. Still, the Filipinos were game and they applauded when they were supposed to. And, of course, the girls all wanted to pose for pictures with these shirtless hunks afterwards.

Just how lost the Filipinos were was clear from the audience reaction to the next performers. These were two young Filipino men singing and playing the guitar. They were the typical cutesy guys that looked more like girls than boys and they were singing some sappy love song. And the audience went crazy. The girls were screaming and yelling and fainting, like it was Beatlemania. This is what they like. Stomping warriors from New Zealand was far, far outside of their experience.

It made me reflect again on how alone someone like me – someone from my cultural background – must be in the Philippines. I chatted with the security guy at the pension house when I got back from the concert and I tried to express some of my impressions of this concert. He didn’t even come close to understanding anything that I said. I reflected on the vast differences between us. We have so little in common. I’m fairly certain he has never read a book. He’s never heard Beethoven’s Fifth, or a Brandenburg Concerto. He’s never heard of Cat Stevens, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Van Halen, Tracy Chapman, Holly Cole, or Bjork. He’s never seen Casablanca or The African Queen or Appocalypse Now. He’s never had a glass of white wine or a shot of Crown Royal over ice. He’s certainly never gone snowboarding or skiing or lounged around in a hot tub.

To an extent, these experiences make me doubt the value of these trips I’ve taken overseas. Is there any value to living like this? I look at the exposed interior of my Kindle, and I feel like that is my world. That is where I belong. I appreciate beauty and great design. I understand the difference between great sound quality and crap. Sitting here in this hot and stinky room full of mosquitoes surrounded by mud and dirt, I yearn for a taste of the West – comfort and elegance and quality. Perhaps instead of spending more money on traveling around the world, I should take that money and simply buy those items that I can appreciate – a Macbook Pro, for example. Surround myself with beautiful music and wonderful things.

5:15 p.m.

Let me start by stating once again how much I hate mosquitoes. I simply despise the little monsters. I’m amazed, actually, that the human race managed to develop any kind of technology or art or music when they were exposed to insects like mosquitoes. When sitting anywhere outside my mosquito net, I can’t concentrate. I can’t do anything because the flies and the mosquitoes drive me so insane. I was outside on the verandah, and I was driven inside. Inside, it was even worse. Now I’m inside the mosquito net, and I don’t think I dare go outside – not to eat, not to do anything. And I can barely type because my feet are so on fire from mosquito bites.

Kind of a strange day has passed. It fit in many ways the theme of this morning’s journal writing session. I went first to my little breakfast place up St. Nino street. I had a fairly typical breakfast of rice and a fried egg and a veggie dish and a couple of pork sausages or something. It was okay, but I was driven insane by the flies while I ate. Perhaps that is why Filipinos eat like cavemen – just stuffing their faces as fast as possible and running. Perhaps they learned this behavior over countless generations of having to fend off flies while eating.

From there, I rode my bike to Mark’s house hoping to pick up my recharged batteries. There were some flip flops and sandals outside the door and they were black with flies. Absolutely black with them. It was so horrible. And there were so many flies inside the house that you couldn’t sit for two seconds without being harassed.

I found Dulce kind of kneeling on the sofa in the living room, crying, and packing a small knapsack. She didn’t return my greeting or make eye contact or anything. She also didn’t say goodbye to anyone in the family. She just picked up her bag and walked out the front door and disappeared.

I learned later that there had been a big fight in the morning between her and the wife of one of the twins. The fight was a serious one, and it ended with Dulce either being fired or deciding to quit. I guess it amounts to the same thing. They explained to me that Dulce was too lazy. She never worked and she was always texting and hanging out with boys. In my brief experience with her, I can believe that. Yet, I didn’t find myself sympathizing with the family. The atmosphere in the family was so loose and informal in general that I don’t know that there were any clear guidelines about what Dulce should be doing. Perhaps she was expected to simply work all the time – every minute of every hour of every day. The days must just go on and on, and it must be difficult to stay motivated to work when there is no clear distinction between work hours and personal hours. The situation of house maids – like the situation of Manny’s minions – doesn’t seem that far off from slavery.

I got a text message from Dulce later on. It was her typical “…hai douglas…” message. I wrote back a detailed message saying that I was sorry she had to leave her job and asked her where she was going to go and wished her well. She texted back her usual “…am okay…” and nothing more. There isn’t much you can do when someone doesn’t speak or text much English.

One mystery got solved, though. I found out that Dulce’s other name (one of many) is Edmarie. So this Joevelyn that has been texting me like crazy was a friend of Dulce. Dulce had given her my phone number. I was thinking it was a friend of someone I met on Samar. So I took the messages semi-seriously at first. Now that I know it is just a teenage friend of Dulce, I can comfortably continue to ignore the messages.

When I left Mark’s place, I went to the fire station. I wanted to touch base with the people there with a partial eye to using their charging services again. I don’t want to bother with Mark’s place anymore especially now that they have moved the generator to the market. Gerald was still at the fire station and I chatted with him. I asked him about the temporary morgue that the New Zealand team was talking about. I wasn’t sure that I got the right information, but he directed me to a place just outside of town. I rode my bike there – amidst much annoyance from the horrible traffic and poor directions. It turned out not to be the place I was looking for. It was a small mass grave at a cemetery. When I first got to the cemetery, I rode right past it and didn’t stop. I wanted to see what it looked like back there in the hillsides. I was surprised (though I shouldn’t have been) to find that the villages there had also been totally destroyed by the typhoon. The houses had since been rebuilt but they were clearly just patchwork constructions made from the debris the typhoon left behind. I assume it was the wind that did the damage up there. The storm surge couldn’t possibly have reached that high up into the hills. At least I don’t think so.

My bike seemed to be holding up well, but my state of mind wasn’t. The people up there were just as childish and annoying as everywhere else, and I was glad to turn around and start heading back toward the cemetery.

I got off my bike at the cemetery, locked it up, and then carried my pannier bag over to the big trenches that had been dug there. One big trench was still empty and the other was about two thirds full. It was a very depressing scene to put it mildly. It’s not like the body bags had been laid down in a neat line. They had all just been heaved in there at random, and they were piled on top of each other. Many of the bags had split open and there were body parts exposed and bones lying here and there. The bodies were clearly liquefying and there were deep pools of goo in amongst the body bags. Falling in there would not be a pleasant experience. It was one of the saddest sights I’ve ever seen. It was awful, to be honest, and shows how unimportant the dead bodies are. Looking at that awful mess, it was clear that there was not even the illusion that these bodies were going to be identified. The body parts were all mixed up. In any event, the bodies were largely skeletons with the flesh turned to a gooey mess. It was the kind of thing I’d expect in a country completely without resources – some African country. I think the Philippines has more than enough money to do better than that. And even if they didn’t, what about the foreign aid pouring in? Was there a need to simply dump the bodies like that? It’s an embarrassment.

When I got back into town, I went to Megabites for an expensive but much-needed lunch. Maybe even more than the lunch, I needed the water, and I polished off perhaps eight glasses of the life-giving stuff. Then I went back to the fire station. I wanted to strengthen my connection with the place and to get further directions to this morgue place. I am determined now to see the absolute worst. Through talking with Gerald and some other people, including a very nice woman named Christina, I learned that the place I wanted to see was at Suhi. In an amusing twist, to get there, I really did have to “Go straight.” I have to go down the main road I was on today and go all the way to the San Juanico bridge and then go straight, past the turn-off to the bridge, and I would soon get to Suhi. They said that I wouldn’t have any problem finding it. I would see it, but I would also smell it. Christina said that if I didn’t want to have the hassle of riding my bike out there, I could go with the BFP team on Monday morning. That is what I will try to do. She said there will be no one there tomorrow and that they only work in the morning anyway. There won’t be anyone there in the afternoon. I also learned that an American team of volunteers arrived. They are firefighter types and are here to help with body retrieval. It sounds like their trip hasn’t worked out very well so far. They got delayed in Manila because their luggage was beyond the weight limit of the commercial airlines. They were stuck in Manila for four days. They were treated as VIPs, but they didn’t want that. They wanted to get to work. And now that they are here, they find that tomorrow is Sunday and no one is working on Sunday. They are still finding bodies – a count of about 30 per day – but the operation is winding down and perhaps there isn’t a strong role for this American team to play anymore. They’ll have to see.

I stayed at the fire station for a long time chatting with Christina. Then I went over to Hayward. I didn’t plan on staying, but I was invited inside and I sat down for a while and drank some Mountain Dew that I bought. I also bought some toilet paper and some more Viena Sausage for my spaghetti dinners.

Then I left and came back to the pension house. I guess the day had been tougher on me than I imagined because I found myself with a hair trigger temper. Some local boys acted like the usual idiots at my expense and instead of ignoring them, I turned around and confronted them. At least I confronted one of them. The two biggest idiots ran away and hid behind a truck. It’s such a confusing country. On the one hand, you have the nicest, kindest people in the world like Christina and Gerald. Then you have all these idiots. Unfortunately, the effect of the idiots is a strong one and not balanced and cancelled out by the nice people.

At the pension house, I made a cup of coffee, and then I set about dismantling the Kindle. I was doing that for fun and also to make sure that no one can access any personal information from it when I throw it into the garbage. I used my Olympus to take some close-up pictures of the circuit board. I tried to show the children here the circuit board. I thought they would find it interesting. But they rebuffed me, and I walked away in a huff. A 50-year-old man acting like a child. That’s me. I blame it on the mosquitoes and the flies that had been driving me crazy while I was sitting there taking the Kindle apart. It was a lot of fun dismantling the Kindle. In a normal place, I’d share the fun with someone that could understand it, but here no one cares about anything like that. No one can relate to my interest in such things.

I finally couldn’t take the mosquitoes anymore and I came inside only to find that they were even worse in here. I had no choice but to get inside my mosquito net. I had the windows closed to keep the mosquitoes out, but it did no good. All it did was make it really hot in here. And for some reason, a type of flying insect – perhaps a flying ant – was inside the room in large numbers and they got inside the mosquito net, attracted by the light of my flashlight. They are annoying, too. It’s like the ten plagues of Egypt around here. How does anyone live in this place, I sometimes wonder. Now I guess I’ll try to make spaghetti without losing my mind.


Day 36 Super Typhoon Yolanda - Odd Encounters in Seawall
Photo Post - Basper Mass Grave in Tacloban

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One Comment »

  • November 8 is my son Ryker’s birthday and he was turning 3. Letting you know this post is my first reading. While I find your observation with keen interesting and agreeing but daze at indifference. Wow. I am going to stick around and read more of them, especially on Typhoon Yolanda. I had felt the storm while living in Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao and saw fast-moving clouds swirled away above me. I will leave you my comment on your other Haiyan posts.

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