Thursday, April 10, 2014

Third world first world problems

I'm really trying to stay positive about this hellish country in which I've condemned myself to exile, but they aren't half trying their best to up the infernal ante.

Necessary isolation generally helps me hold on to most of my sanity while losing other aspects of my humanity, but even that solace has been denied to me now with the bursting of my colonial bubble by the encroachment (and cockroachment) of the Third World outside. Close the window, it's hot out there and it stinks.

How not to cope

Don't visit websites like these. Or the one you're reading now

When I first started to get dragged down by life in this country and some of its people, I thought confrontation was the answer. I'd google some of the specific problems I was having and read the embellished accounts of locals and foreigners dealing with similar situations and the inevitable, blindly nationalist rebuttals (even plunging into Yahoo! Answers if I was feeling truly masochistic), and it left me feeling justified, incensed and superior. It was like reading a right wing broadsheet (presumably), and left me just as spiritually sickened. Sharing this contempt wasn't helping me to feel any better about my situation, and it's a short fall from contributing your two pesos' worth in a comment section to becoming a racist troll getting kicks by provoking fights. I don't want to become Alfred.

Unfortunately, blissful ignorance is never an option either. Better to be a wise man dissatisfied than a pig content to roll in this excrement. I've been unpleasantly surprised enough times already at the airport gate by pointless travel taxes and paperwork I didn't know I needed, and it makes everything so much more stressful than it is already. Better to know the precise level of bullshit required for every transaction and to leave a generous margin of error.

No offence meant, I was just comparing your intelligence to that of a Filipino.
Well, you are supposed to be one of the smarter animals, so I think there's enough ambiguity for me to get away with the insult

There's also the option of bloody well doing something about it, but foreigners here are less empowered and taken less seriously than even the average native prole, not to mention that any constructive criticism voiced is received as a personal affront to the overblown national pride. When I factually replied to a travel forum comment about the visibility of prostitution in Cebu during my visit, an enraged Filipina user asked how I'd like it if she said bad things about the government (?) of my country. I said that would be fine.

But with this most recent depressing calamity, for the first time, I've been able to turn a bad situation to my advantage. Well, that's not exactly true - it would still have been preferable if this annoyance would just go away and I had the usual freedom to choose how to spend my time. But like taking the opportunity of a long, boring bus ride to churn out your week's supply of articles so you'll be free to waste time at your leisure once you're back online, these recent power outages have offered the opportunity for some much-needed bonding.

I (don't) have the powerrrrrr

Power cuts were one of my first experiences of the Philippines, after the cheating taxi drivers and the hammering of the typhoon. It had an authentic poor country charm to it, like the diarrhoea that follows street food, being mobbed by hungry street urchins for the first time and seeing your first horrific age-gap couple. All these things are part of the experience when you get to leave the country after 21 days, but like a fool I've just extended my visa.

In the last fortnight, the power has cut out in our street nearly every day. Too many times to put it down to maintenance or the weather, and their one-hour durations were suspicious in their punctuality (especially as this is the Philippines). After her last visit home, my girlfriend informed me that this is supposedly an island-wide measure by the monopoly power company due to depleting hydroelectric power and excess levels of demand, though I'd wager there's a fair dash of a Filipino company's typical inability to prepare for the future and lack of respect for its customers thrown in.

She heard that these enforced brown-outs will continue into 2015, though I've been unable to confirm this clearly non-newsworthy bombshell with any online evidence, or official mentions of the power outages at all. I'd normally hedge my bets with the duplicitous media over second-hand ghetto gossip, but in a country that ranks 149th out of 179 for press freedom, all bets are off. There's some of that depressing background reading I mentioned earlier. Knowledge is debilitating.

It would have been gracious of the power company to at least stick to a regular schedule in depriving us all of fundamental energy for at least a year (like any projects are completed on schedule here), but to make things worse it happens at different times every day. I've been left sweating in my concrete tenement without air conditioning and fans in the middle of the afternoon and been plunged into darkness while cooking dinner. I thought I'd escaped this unreliable time-share of essential utilities when I left the barrio behind, or when I was born after the 1970s, but this is the reality of trying to live comfortably in a 'developing' country, if it even deserves that label. Ooh, get the miserly foreigner!

But rather than give in to despair and anger (or rather, after a bit of that), I realised these brown-outs did at least pry my girlfriend away from her all-consuming graphic design work, meaning we had a legitimate excuse to spend some time together without me having to request it in a needy voice. I had battery life on my laptop and a stack of enticing documentaries I somehow hadn't got round to ever watching when the internet lets me bask in nostalgic 80s toy cartoons and comforting Doctor Who repeats instead. But that time-wasting, livelihood-giving service had been taken away, leaving me with only these worthwhile, mind-expanding marvels to share and discuss in company.

Enforced Caveman Hour became Bonding and Education Hour, and it's one of the highlights of the day. Thanks to Neil deGrasse Tyson and the remake of Cosmos, I've refreshed my nebulae knowledge and exposed my religious girlfriend to handy anti-Creationist propaganda that really seems to have made her think, which is quite the achievement (oh great, I have become Alfred). Richard Wiseman and other smart arses have enlightened us about Our Bleeped Up Brains, I've got to see someone's live reaction to watching Derren Brown's magnificence for the first time, and the Louis Theroux can is always worth cracking open again (though it can be difficult to close).

After our cerebral cortices are suitably engorged by all this infotainment, who knows where we'll head next? I'll watch some of her favourite films and then point out why my favourites are objectively better. Maybe if we're really lucky, one day I'll neglect to charge the laptop enough for the full hour and we'll actually have to talk to each other in the peaceful darkness, imagine that. I might endure some of her mainstream music taste. I might learn more than 10 words in her language after more than a year together.

But knowing my luck, the power company will find a way to increase productivity, the dry weather will pass and we'll back to full power and individual laptops next week, awaiting the next crisis to remind us we like each other. In unconnected Armageddon, we had a plague of cockroaches the other day too, but I didn't find a way to put a positive spin on that. Maybe next time.

Shout out to my boys Hieronymus B. and Hubble S.T. for the first and last images.

1 comment:

Alfred Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 01:02:00 AM GMT+11

YEAH RITE LIEK ANYTHING GET FIXXED IN THIS RETARD ASS COUNRY LOL! >D why havent you filipinos taken the bait and killed me yet? kill me

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