Monday, May 5, 2014

Rat from a sinking ship

Complaining and curmudgeonly might be my default state, but it's not like I enjoy getting into these stressful situations where I need to exercise that typically British form of release to get through my day.

If I do end up living in the Philippines for the long term, I might eventually become so beaten down that I don't have the energy or willpower to speak out any more and just let the corrupt government, incompetent monopolies and ignorant bystanders stomp my deeply-lined face into the dirt. Or this blog could end up being the longest, most tedious suicide note in history.

Or I could just run away, which is what I'm doing next month. For a little while at least, before I willfully fly back into the inferno again. I'm not philanthropic enough to do everything I can for the people I love, but I'm also not selfish enough to be a true hedonist and just do what's good for me. You know things have got pretty crazy when Thailand is your sanity leave.

I (still don't) have the powerrrrrr

Electrical problems? Here?

Things have got steadily worse since I wrote at disgusted length about the compulsory, arbitrary power cuts being imposed across Mindanao for an uncertain length of time, because the hydroelectric dam operators hadn't expected it to get hot and dry this summer like it's been every summer since the last ice age.

You can also expect widespread surprise when the typhoon season arrives in October and cities get flooded because the money assigned to flood prevention measures mysteriously vanished. But one frustration / deadly, preventable, inevitable catastrophe at a time.

I was stretched further beyond my elastic limit last Monday, when the usual hour-long blackout was extended to 90 minutes, then two hours and 20 minutes on Tuesday (of course I wrote them down) and a worrying and sweltering three hours and 20 minutes on Wednesday. The monopoly power supplier Davao Light had already made us grow accustomed to one hour of stone age living per day, now they're free to push it as far as they want. Because what are we going to do about it? Where will it end?

According to news stories that finally started talking about the blackouts a month after they started (I guess even Filipinos have limits to the magnitude of oppression they're prepared to endure), the maximum duration will be four hours during the daytime and six hours at night. The power company blames the dam operators, the dam operators blame the weather, no one is taking any responsibility - though Davao Light does seem to confess to having failed to provide sufficient infrastructure to power Davao's rapidly growing industries over the last few years, despite that being their job. Why bother planning for the long term when there'll always be some kind of temporary solution that inconveniences all your customers and damages the local economy?

That's four hours every day with no lighting, cooling, cooking, charging power or Wi-Fi, and no kind of schedule informing me when this will randomly take place. There is a supposed schedule of outages on the Davao Light website, which covers the next few weeks in the immediate future (as that's evidently as far ahead as they're ever able to conceive of), but that schedule doesn't even seem to be accurate and is so vague with its multiple choice possibilities as to be basically useless.

I work on the internet; I need power to make a living. If the power goes out before I've gathered all my research and sources, that's a few hours where I can't do any work. I've watched my completed documents attach to an email when the power goes out and I have to wait several hours before I can resume and send the work to the editor. If it's already past 10:30 AM here, there's no guarantee I'll be able to communicate at all before the end of the Australian work day.

And that's just my ridiculous, cushy freelance situation - what about the people working normal jobs, on a desktop computer with no battery power? Or even in local Sari-Sari stores like my girlfriend's sister runs, where they can't offer customers cold drinks when they're most needed. Most major commercial buildings will invest in power generators, but having visited the local supermarket during a blackout, seen the electronic goods section all switched off and smelled the unpleasant odour of non-refrigerated food in the air, that power can only go so far. Especially stretched over four hours.

Look on the... bright side?

I'd love to take the opportunity to head outside and enjoy the fresh air, but where am I going to go? (And thousands of jeepneys don't make the freshest fragrance).

The only thing close to a bright side I can see in this is that I get to enjoy the satisfying sensation of pulling the ice loose from the defrosting freezer every day and admiring its moulded shape. But since it is every day, the ice never gets the chance to get properly big and chunky, it's just pathetically thin and brittle, so I only get a fraction of the pleasure I would from a scheduled defrosting every two months or so. How many more simple pleasures will you take away from me?

We can't even while away the brownout with infotainment TV watching any more, since my limited laptop battery doesn't last out the duration. I get through a few more pages of my books every day, but since there aren't any used bookshops around here that accept exchanges or donations, I'm trying to make them last until Thailand where I'll have a treasure trove of counterfeit paperbacks to choose from. There are various reasons I'm looking forward to the trip.

There's a rat in me kitchen, what am I gonna do? 

Last time I mentioned being cursed by cockroach plagues on top of everything else, but that's so early April 2014. We have a rat these days, granddad!

Every time I catch the little guy in a bin he can't quite jump out of and take him to an unpopulated patch of grass progressively further from our home, he returns a few days later to hide in the laundry pile and scare my girlfriend. I'm open to the possibility that it's a different, essentially identical rat that's found its way through the same rat-shaped hole that I can't find but that demonstrably exists on our balcony.

I could never harm the sensei

I checked out the pest control section of the stinky supermarket, but they don't deal in non-lethal solutions. When a country doesn't even treat its human population like people, what chance do the rats and cockroaches have? There's so much I've had to get used to about this place, but the situation will never be so bad that I betray my principles and unambiguously kill an animal (those hundreds of ants I wash down the drain can probably swim back home). I refuse to accept these inhumane conditions forced upon me and shall continue to demonstrate my beliefs by shouting loudly and not doing anything practical to change things.

I hate it here. Thirty-five days and counting! Don't let me come back.


  1. So it looks like the blackouts can exceed four hours in the day time after all. I knew that even that one small comfort was too good to be true.

    I was also slow to realise why they opted for rotating brownouts rather than a fixed daily schedule that would actually let people plan their daily activities. It means they can cheekily stretch their 'maximum' daily limits by crossing the 12:00 midnight threshold, allowing brilliant days like this one where my power was taken away for more than seven hours within a 16-hour period (20:18-23:33 on Tuesday night, 08:27-12:34 on Wednesday morning).

    I underestimated your intelligence, power suppliers. I just hope you're applying the same Machiavellian ingenuity you used for your excuses to actually fixing the problem you've made.

    Or at the very least, provide us with a schedule of power cuts that's actually accurate. Today's was mostly inside the time window (though the premature start massively interrupted my work research), but last night's was way out.

    If only you had some industry competition to force you to pretend you give a shit about your customers.