A Day in the Life of Manila [true story]

Just another day in Manila:

Novita took the car so I grabbed a taxi home from work. Traffic in Manila was so obscenely terrible that I decided to get out and walk. Only after exiting the car did I realize the entire street was lined with gates – meaning it was completely illegal to be on the busy street vs the sidewalk. (Ayala Ave / Paseo) Nice of the taxi driver to mention that. WTF?

So just as I’m ready to hop the gate, a cop runs over and yells at me to stay where I am – in traffic – with cars driving dangerously close to me. I politely tell him the story – that I didn’t mean to, didn’t know, blah blah. He asked for my ID so I lied and said I only had my work badge. “Sir, where is your license?” “Well, sirrrr, I’m walking so I don’t really need my driver’s license do I?” His face wrinkled up like he just swallowed a burning cigarette.

He said he’d confiscate my work badge. No problem, cause I’d just get a new one at work rather than spend 5 hours sweating in a filthy Manila police station to retrieve it. A far better option than handing him my license which was in my pocket.

He then tried to issue me a ticket. Hmmm, based on what – my work ID? “How long have you been in Manila?” “Uh, only 3 months.” “And you didn’t know you can’t walk on this street?” “Uh, I never walk this way – I drive to work.”

Now he’s really confused. Or is it angry? Irrelevant.

“Sir, I thought you didn’t have a license?” “Yeah, uh, I left it in my car.” Moving on… “Sir, do you realize I can give you community service for jay-walking.” “Yeah, but I also realize it’s your job to keep people safe and we’re standing here talking on the very street where you said it’s not safe to be.”

Obviously hard of hearing as he didn’t reply.

“Sir. Do you see all these flowers planted? They were planted by jaywalkers.” “Right. So how about you help me hop this fence and I can get home safely rather than chat with you in this ridiculous traffic?” He wasn’t amused but I think he simply couldn’t stand my insubordinate face anymore so he said, “Ok, but next time I catch you I will give you community service planting flowers.”

“It’s a deal, boss. Can you give me a boost?”

After I hop the fence. In my nice clothes. At rush hour. In front of 300 people. Carrying 3 bags and a bunch of photo gear that crashes to the sidewalk. I compose myself and continue on. At the next intersection a woman near me starts screaming. (Not at me, fortunately) The screaming escalates. She starts throwing punches at another woman. The other woman punches back – hard. Only then do I realize that the other woman has unusually large biceps under her skin tight dress. She was he in drag. So basically a street brawl opens up right in front of me between she-men with far too much estrogen/testosterone to be safe for anyone breathing fumes like that. In a city like Manila, you don’t wanna hang around for round 2.

As I’m walking away, a cop runs over and starts yelling at them, all I hear is, “Ladies, do you want community service!!!”

And this, my friends, is why I love expatriate life. Never a dull moment.


Want more? Here are similar posts:

Expat Experiences

Bule Behavior

Culture Clash

Getting back into mountain biking

One of my first obsessions on the internet was pouring over websites and forums in the wee hours of the morning in search of the best mountain bike for my budget. While my massive roommates spent hours surfing pRon, I was bleary eyed from comparing the latest Gary Fishers and Voodoo. This was late 90’s, when I first got into mountain biking. I was midway through university and found biking to be amongst the best of stress relievers. There was something medicinal about getting out on a trail all alone after a day spent in lecture halls. It cleared my mind like nothing else.

Then I moved to Indonesia. I left my beloved Voodoo hardtail with my ex-girlfriend, and decided to share the roads with 18 million people.

Once in Jakarta I had a tough time finding any decent bikes (or bike shops), so giving up, I picked up a sub $400 no-name hardtail with a strong but heavy steel frame. I found myself never venturing out on trails anymore (it was Jakarta after all), and it became my usual mode of transportation to and from work while I gave the sleek little Honda to Novita to use during the day. Without clean trails and blue sky, my interest in biking tapered off and it simply became my daily driver without a spark of enthusiasm.

Fast forward 8 years. We moved to Manila. For the past 20 months I’ve simply been too busy to do much of anything fun, but the other day while walking past a local bike shop I felt a yearning that’s been absent since the early Naughties. I want a bike. Badly. I’m talking a 10-year-old boy’s, “you’ll-shoot-your-eye-out-kid”, kind of ache. I want to get out there again. I want to crash into ravines and get so banged up that I forget florescent lights and grey carpet. I want to let the week’s stress drop off of me like the pounds that will melt as I get back into shape. I want to spend Saturdays lovingly wiping my gear down only to trash it again come Sunday.

Now comes the fun part: choosing. 

A lot has changed since I was last into biking. Disc brakes had just come out, full suspension was only for very specialized needs (and sky high price-wise), and 29″ was pretty much unheard of. Now it’s hydraulic discs, carbon fiber, full suspension, 29ers, and 30 speed? I’ve already started descending into the abyss that is obsessive research, but it’s the good kind of obsession (unless you ask Novita). It’s exactly the same way I get with camera gear.

It’s unfortunate my passions are so expensive, but then again there are far worse things to spend your money on: gambling, exotic cars, Russian mail-order brides, a meth problem.

Let the good times roll.


Photographing Manila as an expat

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.

Celeb sighting at the zoo

Saturday, Novita and I spent the day at the zoo in south Jakarta. As we were heading towards the exit, three women were walking towards us. Novita started talking to one of them; I assumed they were old university friends or something, as the conversation was quite bubbly. After a few minutes of small talk, I said, “Oh did you go to university together?”. (I tuned out their Bahasa – happens if I’m tired). It turns out the woman’s name is Julia Perez – some sort of Indonesian celebrity.

I rarely watch local television, so I didn’t recognize her. Just for kicks, when we arrived at home, I Googled her name. Turns out she’s taken some rather racy photos (by Indonesian standards). Not sure if they’re for magazines or other media, but interesting none the less.

At any rate, she was very nice, friendly, and down to earth. It’s just one of those quirks of living in Jakarta; it happens quite often actually – Novita constantly points out celebs at the mall, airport, in Bali, and now at the zoo.

Thinking back, I should have asked her to pose for me – I need some models to work with. (with Novita there of course!) 😉

Well hello there.

So I guess I’ve been away a bit longer than I’d planned. It’s a rough life waking up every day, heading to the beach or for a day trip around Bali. The ‘net has been the last thing on my mind. My apologies to those of you who’ve wondered where I’ve disappeared to.

Although we’ve managed to soak up some sun, we’ve covered about 1300 kilometers so far; our travels have included: Kuta, Seminyak, Ubud, Sanur, Tampaksiring, Kintimani, Lake Batur, Lake Braten, Ahmed, Tirthagangga, Candidasa, Padang-bai, Tanah Lot, Uluwatu, the west coast, and so many small trips in between. It sounds like a lot of ground to cover but over the span of 5 weeks it’s not as bad as it seems.

We’re primarily staying in Seminyak this time for the beach rather than our beloved Ubud. However, I’m currently sitting in a house overlooking a stunning rice field in Ubud at the moment, having finally found a wireless connection. (the owner of Cafe Kita kindly relinquished the password free of charge).

I’ve managed to capture some new material this trip, having taken about 40GB worth of photos with my Canon 5D. I’ve been pretty happy with the resulting images, but don’t know when I’ll have a chance to go through them all properly. Once I get back to Jakarta on Aug 10, work will hit me with a swift kick in the arse for the next month or so. Having said that, it’s quite nice having a job that offers such wonderful holiday time.

Just for kicks, been looking at homes and villas for sale… Only a dream? I’ve met some intriguing people that seem to think it may not be impossible for me to make a living here if I so desired…

One more week and I’ll be back in the Big Durian. Updates and photos will flow rapidly soon thereafter.

balinese dream

When friends leave

One of the most unfortunate aspects of being an overseas expat is the simple but inevitable fact that you must continually part ways with close friends. When you work in an expat situation and experience extreme highs and even more intense lows, these people become your surrogate family.

Unlike other environments, rarely would you find a job where you’d find yourself stranded together because of massive flooding, and evacuated together in the back of a military truck. You’d scarcely find yourself discussing ways of coping should Avian Flu come to a head, changing life dramatically. You hopefully would never witness the death of your very own leader who had become a father figure to all in this close-knit environment, and the subsequent painful healing afterwards.

Dealing with these issues brings people closer than the average workplace. The fact that in many ways you’re isolated due to the language constraints only amplifies this bond. When vacation time arises, most often you’re traveling together, and experiencing the cultural differences and quirks together. These experiences form memories that time will not tarnish.

It’s only when your friends begin seeking new contracts in other countries, or start moving back to where they originated from that you remember that this is all temporary – that all of us will move on in one way or another in due time. Am I thankful I’ve remained in Indonesia this long? Of course. Have I met some amazing people? Definitely. It’s better to have made these connections and then lost them, rather than to never have made them in the first place.

But like a layer of fresh snow in the April sunlight, it’s fleeting and ephemeral.

Ultimately, we are all transient.

United Nations brochure – my photos

United Nations brochure - my photos

A nice fellow from the U.N. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) emailed me asking for permission to use some of my photos for their project. A couple of my photos were used. Here’s a link to the full brochure.

This particular photo was taken in front of my work place after the floods in Jakarta last month. The three white dudes are my coworkers/friends.

I’m very pleased that something positive came out of me wading around in that filth for a few days with a camera.

For the full story on the floods and video, check out my blog post on it: thejavajive.com/blog/?p=572

Photography for a good cause

If my photography can, in any way, help others or be a conduit from Indonesia to the world, then I’ll feel as if I’ve accomplished something meaningful. Photography, on its own, is a passion of mine but rather than make money off of selling pretty prints, I feel much more fulfilled if I can somehow give back. I was hoping that my photos of the flooding in Jakarta could help voice how dire the situation was, and to help raise awareness for such disasters that fade from BBC’s home page within days.

On that note, I received this email today. It seems to be a step in the right direction:

Hi Java

I saw that you have a nice photos of floods and more, I am Mario, I work for the United Nations in Geneva, the branch which works for the prevention of natural disaster (www.unisdr.org). We are building a photo gallery for using in our publications and want to ask you if it is possible to include your photos including your name in our gallery, we can send you the link where you can see the publication and in some case send the hard copy.

For the time being, the Photo gallery will be used only for our organization but in the future it will be shared with other United Nations organization.

Actually, if you give the rights now I am working in leaflet and I would like to use one of your nice photos on the cover and another one in the internal page.

Looking forward to hearing from you
Many thanks