Archive for 'Rantings and Ramblings'
Posted on 05. Apr, 2011 by Brandon.
This post from nearly 5 years ago has certainly received a lot of feedback – currently at 221 comments. And there were many more comments not approved or moderated for various reasons (and I’m very lenient). It appears the nature of relationships between Asian women and foreigners is a hot topic. Unfortunately, the discussion also seems to breed hate, blatant racism, extreme generalizations, and the other crap that comes with the telling of peoples’ personal history.
Each of these delicately composed comments comes streaming (and sometimes shouting) into my inbox, at times more frequently than bathroom breaks. I’m so often tempted to respond, to speak my own mind, and share my experiences having been with an amazing, loving, and caring Indonesian woman for so many years – experiences so very opposite from the majority of those sharp words expressed in the comments. But then again, whose mind am I going to change? If someone has had a horrible experience with love or has witnessed a partner using them only as a means to an end, who am I to say that they’re wrong to lash out?
Despite the fact that this blog is centered around photography, travel, culture, and my own life experiences as an expatriate living in Asia, I’ll continue to allow the comments to flow. I simply ask that before you contribute to the discussion, you ask yourself if you’d say the same thing if you were face-to-face with others, that you consider the flip side to your beliefs and statements, and that you strive to maintain some semblance of respect – especially in terms of religion. Don’t confuse the disparity of wealth and blatant naivety with a particular religion.
Having said that, perhaps it’s time for me to share my own perspectives on this matter from many years of personal experience.
Posted on 06. Sep, 2010 by Brandon.
Took a stroll the other day with a fellow photography enthusiast and Novita through a part of Manila most expats would never dare explore. Between that area and the area we live in, “Fort Bonifacio”, there’s a massive, imposing wall reaching 5 meters in some places.
I wasn’t sure if it was keeping them out, or keeping us walled in.
The security guards near one entrance just smiled and said there’s no way we could enter. Of course that didn’t stop us – we found a small gate 300 meters down the road that led us into what can only be deemed the polar opposite of where we live.
In Indonesia, I regularly went exploring on foot through less developed areas, landfills, and slums. The major difference was that I understood what those around me were saying. Yet after more than a year in Manila, I still can’t speak a lick of Tagalog – English is much more widespread. I’ll admit, it feels more vulnerable not knowing what the young guys are saying about Novita when they chuckle together. I try to smile and keep walking when I’m pretty sure they’re saying something derogatory about her – continually reminding myself that we’re the visitors wandering around their grounds by choice. It’s not always easy.
Luckily, most of those we met on the street were friendly and just wanted to practice their English. I managed to take a few interesting photos, but for the most part simply wanted to take in my surroundings and gauge everyone’s response to our cameras. I consider it groundwork for going out again.
Unfortunately, the next day, my friend went out again on his own to take photos and was pick-pocketed. His phone was stolen right out of his bag as he was taking pics. He felt it, but by the time he realized it, the guy was on his way out of there. A few girls pointed the thief out and my friend managed to get his phone back. It is a reminder to not always assume the best in people I suppose, but it could have happened nearly anywhere. It’s not fair to label a country, its people, or their station in life – there are thieves in every country, culture, and level of society. It is what it is. Better to lose a cheap Nokia than a pension plan. It won’t deter him; he’ll be back out next weekend with his camera and a grin.
It’s taken me much longer to get out with my camera in Manila than it ever did in Jakarta. But I hope I can get to know the people beyond my expat bubble, to see the similarities and contrast amongst Indonesian and Filipino people, and learn to appreciate this amazing culture just as I did with my beloved Indonesia.
Posted on 17. Jul, 2010 by Brandon.
The back of a Florida State Trooper’s police car doesn’t smell like I thought it would. I figured bad aftershave, stale coffee, and tired sweat would be the eau de jour. This one just had that pungent new car smell wafting through the steel divider.
What would have been an average, long, and boring 11 hour trip from Tennessee down I-75 to Florida turned into what my mother likes to call, “an ordeal”.
Somewhere around Macon, Georgia, we stopped to buy some of the state’s renowned peaches and pecans. My father’s (borrowed) Jeep Grand Cherokee evidently wasn’t enjoying the states other renowned feature – 96 degrees with 96% humidity. A sickly sweet, and all too familiar scent of antifreeze was steaming up from the engine block. I checked the overflow tank – check. The water pump – check. The radiator – check. Considering we still had 7 hours of driving, I wasn’t keen to have engine trouble. This was, after all, not far from the filming location of Deliverance, and we all know how that story ended.
By the time we hit southern Georgia, I needed a refuel and realized something was seriously wrong. The water pump was squealing in agony with every churn of the big V-8, and the temperature was hovering somewhere around 215 degrees. However, it appeared that the coolant was only leaking when the engine was stopped – which meant, of course, just don’t stop. A responsible man would have pulled over for the night and found a mechanic in the morning. I’m still relatively young, and thoroughly irresponsible at times, so of course I figured we could make it another 250 miles.
South of Gainsville, Florida, the worries really set in when the squealing water pump was causing pondering stares from other motorists. The other pondering stare came from Novita, who, sitting next to me, couldn’t figure out why chanting, “c’mon baby, you can do it!” would give any sense of aid to the situation.
I had her monitoring the temperature gauge like a hawk; daring it to waiver past 215. Suddenly, and without a hint of warning, it rocketed to 240 degrees and I frantically pulled over to avoid destroying the engine. Luckily or unluckily, I had been watching an unmarked state police trooper behind me for the past mile, so I waived him to pull over as I was pulling over. I immediately shut the engine off and lifted the hood. Sure enough, somehow all of the coolant had suddenly leaked out and the radiator was bone dry.
I haven’t watched enough episodes of Cops to know how to approach the police car, or, wait, do you wait for him to approach you, or, uh, do you stay in your steaming vehicle, or….? It turns out, I gave up and walked up to his passenger side window. The big dude wasn’t smiling.
“Hi there, thanks for stopping. My car overheated – what do you recommend I do?”
“May I see your license sir?”
“Sure, so, is there a town nearby or a way I can reach my mother?”
A long, dramatic pause with no response.
“Sir, do you live in Michigan?”
“No, the Philippines.”
“The what…? Where are you heading?”
“Indian Rocks Beach, Florida – near Clearwater”
“To visit my mother.”
“Does she live there?”
“Well they have a place there, but they spend most of the year in Tennessee.”
“But you have a Michigan license, driving a Jeep registered in Michigan, to visit your mother who kind of lives there, and Tennessee, and you live in the Philippines?”
He gives me a skeptical look and five more minutes roll by – as if to check out my story or my non-existant criminal record. He then gets his Blackberry out and lets me dial my mother’s handphone. How nice of him, I thought.
“Sir, there’s no town for at least 7 more miles. But you could walk to the gas station back a half-mile.”
“Any chance you can give us a ride?”
“I can’t do that sir.”
Somehow he sensed some desperation and gave in, finally offering us a ride. Great, so I went to grab my most valuable items – camera gear and passports in two backpacks.
“Sir, I will not take your bags.”, he sternly says in his best movie cop voice.
“It’s ok, I’ll hold them on my lap. I don’t want to leave the gear here and it’s not much stuff.”
“Sir!”, shouting now, “This car is not equipped to handle you and your gear. You will not bring those items into this car!”
I glance at the rather large, new, and capacious sedan with a surely cavernous trunk, but figure I have to play by his rules, so I put my camera gear back, only taking a very small bag with my wallet and passports.
It almost appeared as if he rested his hand on his gun, but that could be my imagination. “Sir! I will not tell you again. Get in the car immediately without any bags!”
Total douchebagness had set in apparently.
We pulled up to the gas station, and he let us out of the car, finally handing me back my license.
“Sir, you may walk back to the Jeep to retrieve your gear if you don’t feel safe leaving it. This isn’t the best of areas; lots of crime around here. Stay safe.”
I didn’t mind the sweltering half-hour walk back to the Jeep. I minded having only two options – walk in marshy ditches for half a mile loaded with cigarette butts, condom wrappers, and McDonalds straws, or straddle the line of life and death with semi trailers brushing past me at 80 miles per hour.
Per the trooper’s advice, I quickly grabbed my most important valuables and started making my way back to Novita at the gas station.
Remember Rambo: First Blood when Stallone was walking down the road minding his own business and the sheriff pulled over to give him crap? Yeah, so do I.
Halfway back to the gas station, another police car pulls over; the cop motioning for me to stop. Awesome.
In a rather sarcastic tone, “Sir, what are you doing?”
“Walking back from my broken-down Jeep.”
In his best RoboCop impersonation, “Sir, this is an interstate highway, it is illegal to walk here!”
“I’m sorry, but, as I said, my Jeep broke down. How should I get to a phone?”
Obviously hard of hearing, he skipped that inquiry and proceeded to, “Sir, may I see some I.D.?”.
“Sir, please get into the back of the car.”
“But another cop told me I could walk back to the Jeep.” – he obviously didn’t buy that,
“Sir, I already told you, it’s illegal to be out here. Another police officer wouldn’t have said that. Get into the car. And sir, confirm that your bags do not contain any weapons or explosive materials.”
Another ten minutes go by, he pulled up to the Jeep, ran the plates, ran my license and I had to go all through the explanation of living overseas.
“Sir, I’m going to give you a ride back to the gas station, but I usually would have to ticket and fine you for this offense.”
Yeah, I’ll remember that next time I choose to break down and walk a half-mile in the blistering sun.
Novita was waiting for me at a diner next to the gas station. She wasn’t expecting me to pull up in a cop car, and by this time, we had made a bit of a scene having arrived not once, but twice in an hour from the back of police cars, escorted by large cops. I was ready to put a black bandana around my head and give in to the expectation.
After contemplating the choices I decided a last-ditch effort was required. My mother drove all the way up to get us – 140 miles one way, but I wan’t about to leave the Jeep in B.F.E.
I grabbed 4 gallons of antifreeze and a bundle of Bars Leak tablets as a desperate last hope solution to hobble down to Clearwater Beach. Luckily it worked. Limping and moaning, I got the Jeep to agree to 140 miles; finally arriving 16 hours after we left Tennessee. Turns out the water pump was totally shot, and the mechanic couldn’t believe I had made it that far. If he only knew.
Fortunately, that was the horrible beginning to a great week in Indian Rocks Beach.
There would be no sequel to Deliverance after all.
Posted on 25. May, 2010 by Brandon.
In two weeks from today, we’ll be arriving in the States. I can’t wait.
There’s a ton of work to be done between now and then, including wrapping up a lot of work and this little detail of moving condos. We’re probably completely insane, but we’ll be moving to a new condo only three days before flying out for the summer. Needless to say, I’ve been quite busy lately.
While considering our flight halfway around the world and all of the packing involved, I’m striving to stay well under weight with baggage. One of the items I really need but am not sure I can bring is my Manfrotto Tripod and Manfrotto Joystick Head. It’s a fantastic tripod and very necessary for our travels in the States, but I chose weight and stability over portability when I purchased it. I’m pondering the idea of just purchasing a stable yet cheap tripod that I can just leave in the States full time so I don’t have to deal with this anymore.
This also brings me to the point of increased restrictions on carry-on luggage. With my photo equipment and my Apple 17″ MacBook Pro, I’m well above Singapore Airlines’ carry on allowance. The only thing that saves me is letting them know there’s a laptop in my backpack. How do traveling photographers deal with this dilemma on a regular basis? Sure I can leave a bunch of lenses behind, but in 8 weeks of holiday, I DO actually use them all.
This trip we’ve cut the travel time from an absurd 46 hours in 2008 (multiple layovers including a very lengthy Singapore stop), to a much more lean 25 hours. In 2008 I literally slept about 3 hours in those 46 hours. After running myself down like that I immediately got a nasty cold upon arrival in the States. This should be cake in comparison.
Also, I’m so much more pleased flying Singapore Air than many of the U.S. run airlines. I find the entire experience to be far superior, even in cattle class.
We’re going to try something new this trip – flying direct into NYC instead of Michigan. My father will drive to NYC to pick us up and we’re tentatively planning to tour New England for a week or so. I’ve never been in that part of the U.S. (Odd that I’ve been across 4 continents but not much of my own country). I hope to find some interesting photos as a stranger in my own country.
After that we’ll head to Michigan for a week or so, followed by some time spent in Tennessee on the lake, and possibly a trip to Florida. It’s looking like the trip out West we had initially planned will have to wait.
It’s been a great year professionally in Manila with lots of great experiences and a fantastic group of coworkers, but man oh man, is it time for a break.
Posted on 03. Dec, 2009 by Brandon.
There was an article on Engadget.com today making note of EA – Electronic Arts CEO saying:
“When people think of games, they traditionally think, in the U.S., of what sells on the Xbox, the PlayStation, and the Wii, and they forget about all these online services that are out there… if you add all that stuff up, it’s almost half the industry now. It’s about 40 to 45 percent. Next year it’s likely to be the larger share of the total industry and it’ll be bigger than the console games all put together.”
Engadget went on to expand on the topic:
“Of course, he’s not just talking about XBLA and the App Store — this is an all-encompassing view of the digital market, including casual gaming, Facebook apps, and WoW transactions as well.”
This got me thinking about physical media (CDs, DVDs, Blue-Ray, etc) versus digital distribution.
Working in the technology field, I can see definite advantages to digital downloads for both sides – the company and the consumer. I think Apple’s App Store has been a tremendous push in the right direction for helping otherwise unknown developers reach a market they may never have been otherwise able to enter. And surely digital downloads can help stem the pirate market that’s so absurdly available in Asia. Side note – it’s actually easier for me to find pirated movies than real DVDs in both Jakarta and Manila.
When I’m lying on my couch with my iPhone and can purchase, download, and play a game without burning more than 10 calories or even breaking out my credit card, I smile in the knowledge that the future is washing over us like a warm wave of innovation. In the past few years, these type of digital delivery systems have become a welcome change for many people, and for those with fast internet access it encourages a new way of working and playing.
The rise of internet capable TVs, mobile internet access, media centers (Apple TV, etc), and services like Netflix have allowed us to watch what we want, when we want, and often where we want. In some ways perhaps it slightly diminishes pollution by reducing the need to drop by a physical store, reduces the plastic waste of DVDs, CDs, and games, and maybe even gives us more quality time with family. (ok, I’m reaching – as we’re also spending less time socializing if we’re glued to these easily accessible movies and games it seems)
But are we ready for all this?
Consider, for example, the fact that the vast majority of the world does not have access to fast internet (or any personal internet at all). Whereas these populations can currently enjoy CDs, DVDs, and games without the need for internet access, what happens when companies begin the shift to all digital distribution? Is the digital divide once again widened, and the rift harder to cross?
What happens to the second-hand market for games and movies? (I’m not talking about pirated media) Part of what I enjoy about books and movies is being able to loan out a favorite to a friend so that they may also derive similar pleasure. Is that destined to be a nostalgic memory of the past?
Also consider this: as HDTV sales explode and people are striving to fill these higher resolution screens with HD media and Blue-Ray movies, and PS3 games begin to head toward 40+GB of data, are we ready for downloads of this size? Perhaps in South Korea, Japan, parts of Europe, and the States this is currently possible, but it would take me literally days – even a week to download a file of that size – and I’m at the “top of the line” internet package in my area of Manila.
Physical media, basically etched plastic, are just modern phonographs. They scratch, break, scuff, get lost, and are generally easy to pirate. They’re limited by size (which is feeling increasingly tiny – 700mb CDs vs 32GB USBs?), they require moving parts to operate, the list goes on and on. CDs have been around since the early 80′s, DVDs for over a decade, and in many ways Blue-Ray feels like a last attempt to stave off the future. There are all kinds of reasons to move towards digital distribution. As cloud computing becomes the norm, and hard drives fade into history, the idea that we actually own copies of media and cart them around with us will feel as archaic as the notion of jogging with a 2lb CD walkman and a bag of discs banging our hips.
I support the idea of moving towards digital distribution and always-available media – it’s an exciting and inevitable part of the future, especially with the increasingly mobile lifestyle; it’s the infrastructure I don’t think is ready, nor will be any time soon. I also throw caution at fact that many, many people may be left behind. Having spent the better part of a decade living in developing nations, my perspective is quite different than it would be in the States. I’ve experienced, first hand, internet speeds that make a grown man weep, entire malls devoted to pirated media, and I own no less than 10 different devices that play CDs/DVDs/ or Blue-Ray. (no counting the solid state devices). Would I like to see some sort of simplification, convergence, and a more standardized method for media distribution? Bet your ___ I would.
What I don’t want to see is these developing nations left in the dust. If the world is indeed flat, and we raise the requirements of accessibility, are we doing more harm than good? If you’re reading this on your 50MBPS internet line, 3.5G mobile network, or happen to live in Tokyo, I’m guessing this isn’t much of a concern. But will a high school student in Java, Indonesia seeking documentaries be cut off from the opportunity to learn if physical media is no longer an option? I’m not saying we shouldn’t move forward – just that we should create accommodations for those less fortunate.
What’s the answer? How will we bridge that gap amongst countries? How should companies address developing nations as they move toward this model of distribution? When do you predict we’ll see the majority of our media consumption come from digital distribution?
Posted on 24. Nov, 2009 by Brandon.
A funny yet predictable observation: I’ve been too busy these past few months to utilize Twitter in the same way as I did last year, and noticed a few things:
- 90% of the people I used to converse with on a daily basis 12 months ago no longer communicate with me, nor I with them (nothing negative, just factual).
- I spend perhaps 70% less time on Twitter currently than I did last year – hmm, correlation perhaps?
- The statement “You get out what you put in” holds very true for Twitter it seems. I’ve been too busy to do much replying, RT, DM, and making new contacts since my move to Manila, and subsequently my number of followers has significantly leveled off (and is stuck right below 1000 whereas many people who had less followers than myself a year ago have blossomed into 4 digit stars)
- Most of the Indonesian contacts I have no longer chat with me since my move to Manila – BUT this ties in with the top two points – it’s no one’s fault (well, ok, it’s more mine), it’s just the nature of Twitter and human contact. It’s quite similar to The Sims when you think about it. A few weeks go by without any conversation and the heart above my head drops a point.
- Even my close friends and ex-coworkers who use Twitter no longer chat nearly as much – if your friendship began offline, and physical proximity changes, is online communication with them more likely to diminish than those friendships which began online?
So am I ‘over’ Twitter as media sources are beginning to state, “Has Twitter Peaked?” ? No! I still enjoy using Twitter and seeking out great contacts and valuable information. But my own use for it has evolved over time. Whereas it started as a one way communication tool for me in 2007, 2008 and the first half of 2009 was more about socializing and meeting up with people offline and engaging in great conversations. It has now morphed into more of tool of observation and perhaps less interaction. This may not be a bad thing. I was getting to the point where I knew more about what my contacts were doing, going, watching, eating, enjoying, than my own family (who still all refuse to use Twitter! – as my sister said, “It’s so egotistical – who cares what you had for dinner??!” – don’t blame her, she’s just bitter she’s not eating the Italian we had last night)
I still use Twitter nearly every day, and usually many times per day. But I’ve become more of a voyeur with my contacts – I’ve made lists in TweetDeck of my favorite people (which I’ve called, “Interestingness” ala Flickr), photography news, Manila, Jakarta, etc. I even have an “Indonesian” column to keep up with the awesome group of people that helped spur my interest in Twitter in the first place. After email, Tweetie on my iPhone is my 2nd most often used app (Facebook is the 3rd, Manifesto the 4th).
My new career, new country, and abundant travel time in 2009 (Bali twice, the move to Philippines, Boracay, Hong Kong, Banaue, and soon Singapore) has prompted this change (and a definite factor is the more expensive and spotty mobile internet in Manila compared to Jakarta).
Perhaps this is a time of change for Twitter as well. I wonder what 2010 will bring for me and my “tweeps”?
Some related posts:
Want more? Here’s the archive of all my Twitter related posts. Or of course, you can add me if you wish.
Posted on 19. Oct, 2009 by Brandon.
This month marks the seventh year of this blog.
A tremendous amount has changed in these seven years, and through it all, I’ve kept this old thing running – something I never envisioned in 2002 as a naive, fresh-off-the-plane expat. In many ways I supposed I’ve “grown up” in front of anyone who has followed this blog; writing styles have changed, perspectives altered, and life experiences have dramatically morphed my views of the world.
The archives aren’t functioning ideally at the moment (only displaying about two years worth of posts), so you’re better off doing a search if there’s something you’re looking for.
Taking a look back, there have been some vibrant times. Through the good and the bad, here are a few interesting posts I dug up:
Posted on 31. Aug, 2009 by Brandon.
We’ve decided that we need a car in Manila. As metropolitan and accessible this city is, we’re feeling confined and limited in our options with using taxis. Many expats don’t feel a car is necessary, or even desired when taxis are such an easy part of getting around. I beg to differ.
The last straw came yesterday when, after waiting for 30 minutes in a taxi stand line, we hopped into a run down taxi, exhausted from carrying 70lbs of groceries in our arms, and had a horrible experience. The driver rudely asked where we were going. After telling him, he started literally yelling at us Tom Cruise style for getting in a southbound taxi when we wanted to go north – despite the fact the very car were were sitting in was facing the north side of the street.
I refrained from getting into it with him, but calmly replied that we’ve been waiting a very long time, and will offer him double the fare. He wouldn’t budge. He stared at us, then shifted in his seat and started yelling at Novita in Tagalog! I had enough, and just flatly asked him, “So you’re not going to give us a ride, is that correct?” – he began yelling again, so I just got out. (as a friend said, my best revenge would be to leave the door open)
It took all my patience not to launch into an argument with the guy. Instead I calmly got out, and watched him pull away with another group apparently heading in the ‘right direction’.
In over 7 years of living in Asia, I’ve never been treated so rudely by a taxi driver. Yes, I realize this is a one-off experience and it’s an individual’s own actions, not a general statement of taxi drivers in Manila. However, it was the final push into deciding I need my own car once again. If I was a single guy, I’d probably tough it out with taxis, but for Novita’s safety, I think it may be better to avoid them when possible.
I will say, in brutal honesty, that taxis here are quite bad. There’s no standard that I can see – nothing like “Blue Bird” in Indonesia where you know the car will be in somewhat decent condition, the drivers fairly knowledgeable of directions, they don’t smoke, and things like no radios in the car are a rule.
In just five short weeks, we’ve experienced a dozen drivers refusing to take us somewhere (politely at least), claiming to have no change (could be true but still annoying), using a meter with excessive time on it before even starting, crazy driving (and I’m coming from Jakarta), no car handles on doors (interior as well – seems unsafe), and many many drivers blasting the radio right in your ears.
Do I sound like a whiny expat? Perhaps. But considering I’ve driven in Asian cities for years, and have grown thick skin to these type of things, it must be fairly true for me to bother writing about it. If nothing else, I hope to see some sort of standard develop amongst the taxis in Manila – something along the lines of Blue Bird in Indonesia. It’s great to see progress in a place you enjoy living. (which I’ll save for another post – yes, I’m loving most aspects of living in Manila so far – don’t let this missive give the wrong impression)
The next post I’ll discuss what type of car I’m looking for and why. In the meantime, I think I’ll grab some cheese for my white whine.