Tuesday, February 28, 2006

zen and the art of jeepney maintenance

Jeepneys are the most dominant form of public transport in the Philippines. They’re a sort of jeep-bus hybrid. The early jeepneys were made by modifying jeeps left over by the Americans after World War 2, but now they’re manufactured from scratch, often using the parts of discarded Japanese trucks. The passenger area consists of two parallel padded benches that run the length of the rear section. In a full jeepney, two rows of passengers face each other. And a full jeepney carries more people than you would believe possible. There is an apt joke that goes:

Q: How many people can you fit in a jeepney?
A: One more.

Jeepneys are ubiquitous throughout the Philippines. They are also ornately decorated with images and phrases. The images can be flags of other countries (I think representing the country that is now home to the relative who sent back the money with which to buy the jeepney), airbrushed images of Jesus, or just about anything else you can imagine. The phrases range from the religious—“Gift of God” and “God bless our trip”—to my personal favourite, “Poor no friends.” I don’t know if this is supposed to mean that real poverty has more to do with lack of friends than it does with lack of money, or (my preferred interpretation) if it’s a searingly honest appraisal of the driver's station in life.

I have only been involved in one accident with a jeepney (details available here).

Jeepneys have a number of pros and cons. These tend to depend on whether you are inside a jeepney or not.


  • There are thousands of them so you never have to wait long to catch one.
  • They stop to pick up and put down anywhere and everywhere along their route.
  • You can usually negotiate with the driver to take you somewhere off the usual route (for a fee).


  • There are thousands of them so they clog up the streets and make the traffic hellish.
  • They stop to pick up and put down anywhere and everywhere along their route.
  • The drivers are blissfully unaware of any other car on the road that’s not directly in front of them.
  • Disembarking passengers tend to suddenly appear from behind jeepneys into the path of your oncoming vehicle.
  • They billow out diesel fumes that are impossible to avoid (this is about the only pro or con that isn’t dependent on one’s position relative to the jeepney at any given moment).

There are some more cons for 6’5” people. These include hitting one’s head on the ceiling, and elbowing and kneeing unsuspecting Filipinos as you try to make your way to an empty space on the bench.

Below are some Jeepneys driving down the street just around the corner from my house, a few nights ago. I could pretend that the appearance of movement was something I strived for, using a combination of my high-falutin’ technical knowledge of photography and raw artistic talent. But really, with a little point-and-shoot digicam, this was the only way I was able to take the shots.

Monday, February 27, 2006

here comes the sun -- to Joe's @ LB!

This speaks for itself, really.

It's an issue from sometime in 2002 and it's one of the many stellar publications available for perusing at "Joe's @ LB", a little Italian eatery (belied by the ultra-techie "@" symbol in the name, which -- deceptively! -- seems to imply some sort of internet cafe) and the only restaurant in town where you can 1) get OK wine, and 2) sit around and take your time over dinner. Many Filipino restaurants serve your food almost before you've finished ordering. It's not uncommon to see notes next to menu items that warn: "Please allow 10 minutes for this dish." Admittedly, though, if it's a busy night, Joe's can take rather longer than "leisurely". It's best avoided if you're starving.

Some of the other titles in Joe's eclectic reading list include various Filipino gossip mags, various Italian gossip mags, in-flight magazines of varying ages (none post-2001), an Australian New Idea and, bizarrely, the Adelaide University course outline from 1999. Joe's also features an equally eclectic collection of "art" on the walls, including Italian-themed prints (fair enough), tacky non-endorsed Australian Indigenous prints, and a photo of a group of men who look like Russian mafioso.

I also like Joe's because they have a big poster with a long list of available Italian foods and not only are some of them not available, none of the staff know what they are.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


Many things can and do happen when driving through Manila. Two of these are:
  1. Getting stuck in heavy traffic
  2. Interacting with men who are sitting on the back of trucks (usually while encountering 1., see photos).

A few weeks ago, I had another 2. experience. The guys were gesticulating at me and at first I was hesitant to wind my window down (security in big city Manila ra ra ra) but figured there wasn't much danger. I wound down the window and greeted them with my best Tagalog "good morning". They laughed and said hi and then passed a rambutan across to me. I thanked them. I ate it. They laughed again. Strangers from different worlds, brought together by tropical fruit. On a Manila main road. The traffic moved again. The end.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I, Caligula

I thought it would be EXTREMELY amusing if I posted the blurb on the back of the Caligula DVD cover, but changed “Caligula” to “I/me”; “his” to “my”; and “movie” to “person”. I also omitted 4 words for the sake of continuity.

I may very well be the most controversial person in history. Only one person dares to show the perversion behind imperial Rome, and that person is ME, Rome’s mad emperor. All the details of my cruel, bizarre reign are revealed right here: my unholy sexual passion for my sister, my marriage to Rome’s most infamous prostitute, my fiendishly inventive means of disposing those who would oppose me, and more.

Not for the squeamish, not for the prudish, I will shock and arouse you as I reveal the deviance and decadence beneath the surface of the grandeur that once was Rome.

I think those of you who know me will find this spookily accurate. (Especially the bit about me shocking and arousing you – I’ve been doing that for years!)

We could chat for hours about why this is so unbelievably hilarious but, in the end, that would only serve to diminish the comedic heights to which I have climbed.


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

When the war comes...

the Philippine army...

will protect us.

Taken on Sunday 19 February in Calamba, Philippines.

George Bush killed my girlfriend’s job

It’s true, more or less. Thanks to the man-child idiot leader of the free world, D will likely be out of work by the end of the week. How? She works for an organisation that promotes family planning and reproductive health in the Philippines. Her organisation, like every other similar organisation in this very Catholic nation, does not in any way endorse or promote any sort of abortion. But an organisation that funds D's organisation, the UK-based International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) does support such programs. These programs are credited with not only saving the lives of women forced to undergo dangerous backyard terminations (according to IPPF, “This year 19 million women will face serious injury, illness or death as a consequence of abortions performed by unskilled people under unsanitary conditions”) but – insofar as they are generally part of overarching family planning programs – are also regarded (by the Whitehouse, no less) as being one of the best ways to reduce abortion rates. But of course that’s not good enough for Baboon Bush, who is intent on imposing his dangerous moral code onto people who don’t need it and who will die because of it. All while Dubya thumps his carefully calculated, voter-endorsed, conservative Christian chest and adopts his obscene moral postures.

So - D's organisation was subcontracted by another Philippine organization to run a reproductive health program in one of the provinces here. This program is funded by the US government, which now requires any family planning agency that wants access to US government funding to sign Bush's policy (known as the Mexico City policy, after it was created in that city by Ronnie Reagan in the 80s -- then suspended by Clinton and now reinstated by Bush) -- i.e., if an organisation wants any US government dollars, it has to promise to have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with abortion. Because D's organization is funded by IPPF, it can't sign the Mexico City policy -- to do so would mean it loses its IPPF support, its main source of funding. This would effectively kill D's organization. And because D's organization can't/won't sign the Mexico City policy, the US-government-funded program she works (sorry, worked) on will be terminated by the end of this week. Which may be a bit of a shit for her, but really sucks for the thousands of Filipinos who could do with a better idea of how to avoid having 8 kids they have no way of affording.

Monday, February 20, 2006

still smokin’

No – NOT the 1983 Cheech and Chong stoner movie. If you want that, go here.

Two Saturdays ago (11 Feb), N (Australian volunteer living next door to me) and M (French PhD student living next door to me) and I attempted to go to the launch of a livelihood program for the residents of Smokey Mountain. “Attempted” because I ran over some rogue chunk of metal sitting in the middle of one of Manila’s main roads and blew a tyre. After driving another 200 metres during which the occupants of every passing vehicle well-meaningly (but rather unnecessarily) gesticulated towards my very flat tyre (it is not uncommon for vehicles to stop, for any number of reasons, in the middle of roads here, but I had no intention of worsening the Manila traffic), I pulled into a petrol station. Here, I adopted a capable, manly persona and heroically changed the tyre while N and M alternately held wheel nuts for me and swooned. Delicately placing a towel on the ground so that I didn’t dirty my knees IN NO WAY hurt my masculine disposition. Nor did the fact that, had a petrol station employee jumped in and offered to do it for me (as I anticipated, wrongly, that someone might), I would have gladly shelled out a couple of bucks for the chance to sit around and watch.

I digress.

So, we arrived as the launch finished. The program was coordinated by N2, another Oz volunteer, who designed clothing that some of the Smokey residents will make and sell. Smokey Mountain is the name for an enormous rubbish dump in the suburbs of Manila. For decades, people eked out a living here (clichéd term, but appropriate) by scavenging the dump (some good photos here) for anything they might be able to sell for a few pesos. Whole families, including very young kids, worked together. Kids were born, grew up, had their own families, and died (often early). The name of the place comes from the smoke that comes from methane fires caused by rotting rubbish inside the “mountain”. Areas have collapsed in the past, sending dozens of people to a smelly, fiery demise.

A number of organizations have worked towards pulling the Smokey people put of abject poverty. The dump was closed a few years ago and the residents – constituting more than 2500 families and 15-20,000 people – moved into temporary housing development while more permanent housing was built. R, an Oz volunteer in the same intake as me, is an environmental engineer; one of his jobs was to assess the safety of the new housing.

View towards the new Smokey Mountain apartments
over the old dump, which continues to smoke.

When the launch finished, most of us long-noses pulled out our little digicams to get some shots of the often malnourished, sometimes snotty, sometimes scabrous, and often grotty but generally sweet, smiling, laughing, and incredibly camera un-shy kids. N2 organized for one of the residents, Angela, to give us a tour around the compound – which features 21 apartment buildings, each housing 120 apartments – and surrounds.

Smokey residents hanging out in their new apartments

It was a strange place. It had the feel of a self-contained city with its own little economy (including markets, a water purifying station, and a “hairdressing salon” that was nothing more than a guy outside with some scissors, a chair, and a mirror). I could imagine people living their entire lives in there without ever
leaving. As is the case all over the Philippines, many people spent their hours sitting around and chatting. The most visible form of entertainment was basketball; improvised courts dotted the compound and guys (almost always guys) played intense games with half-size balls. When the ball was down one end, a bunch of spectators would rush onto the other end and practice their shots. I inevitably attracted attention due to my height (that actually happens everywhere, every single day, while living here) and, to my horror, as we walked past one court somebody threw me a ball and people started yelling “dunk”. As SM will testify, I DID dunk once (once), on the court at Sunrise Christian Primary School about 14 years ago. He saw me, damn it, and said he would back me up if anyone, based on my abject lack of athleticism, doubted me. Somehow – largely thanks to a small ball and a basket that was clearly lower than it should’ve been I managed (just) to dunk in front of the Smokey lads. I hastily threw the ball back and left as quickly as I could.

Where i dunked...honestly...

Everywhere we went, kids followed us around. If we took photos, they clamored around to try and get a glimpse of themselves on t
he screen. They swung off my arms and playfought among themselves. We walked up onto the old dump and a few of the kids came along, barefoot on several million tons of crap, now overgrown with vegetation including a few veggies that are sold down in the compound. I declined the offer of some raw leaves to nibble on.

Smokey boys on top of the "mountain".

The whole experience was a bit surreal, and I’m not sure we managed to stay on the preferable side of the line between documentation and exploitation. While it’s good to be aware of the sort of poverty that creates communities like Smokey, we didn’t really do anything all that worthwhile. We weren’t doctors or engineers come to see how we could improve peoples’ lives. We were a bunch of rich westerners interested in poverty but happy enough to leave it behind when (and because) we could. (I should point out here that I'm only speaking for myself, not for N and M.) The best thing I think I did was give a bit of novelty entertainment to the kids. Maybe that was enough to justify the visit, but I have my doubts.

N and M read a book with some Smokey kids,
who are distracted by the tall photographer

I don’t mean this as some sort of guilt-ridden confessional. I occasionally get the rich-westerner guilts but I’ve pretty much got over that (as I proved by having a very enjoyable dinner at a fancy-ish Manila restaurant with friends later that evening). I try not to take some pretty basic rights for granted and I appreciate my good fortune. Feeling shitty about it doesn’t do much for anyone. Like most, I could do more, but I’m not doing nothing and I’m not the worst example of perpetuation of the existing world order
(or maybe that’s just brainwashing myself to achieve self-justification, but it seems to be working).

The other thing I grapple with is this: while most people this poor lack certain things we consider fundamental human rights (access to basic education, food, healthcare etc – though, due to the programs to help the Smokey residents, they're starting to get those now ... the 5-year-old boy with the cigarette notwithstanding, though I never actually saw him take a drag), they very often seem no less happy if not happier than the people back home who have a thousand times the material wealth and all the fundamental human rights money can buy. How do you create wealth for people who need it without creating the same materialistic, consumerist malaise that defines so much of the developed world?

Poor but happy kids enjoy novelty giant foreigner

OK – time to sign off. This is too long and I’m starting to sound very much like somebody who’d completely ruin a perfectly fun dinner party.

more on the publicly funded memorial service for a very rich man

An email exchange between A and I...

the kerry packer memorial shits me the core too - makes me quite angry - the crikey email sums up the situation beautifully...and people bang on about his generosity! - paying off the home loans of strangers etc etc - fuck that! don't people realise that when a billionaire gives away $10,000 it's eqivalent to the rest of us giving away $1 - which most of us do everytime we walk down smith st...and unlike most wealthy australians - the myers, pratts etc etc - he didn't establish a charitable trust - tight cunt.
SOOOO true re: “generosity” of the mega-rich. Even giving away significant proportions of their income isn’t really very generous. If someone with $10 billion gives away $9 billion, they still have $1 billion. And the way people talk fondly about how big his balls were because of his “big” gambling – balls my arse! Like you point out, if he loses $27 million in one night in Vegas, It’d be like you or I losing $100. I doubt our friends would be telling stories at dinner parties about their high-rolling risk-taker mates.
did you see any of the memorial service? it was sooooo bad - i cringed the whole way thru it.....i just wanna know one thing - if you took a poll - what percentage of australians would a) think he's great; b) neither like nor hate him; or c) think he's a complete flog bag? have you seen any polls like this? or a similar poll about whether australians in general approved of kp being given a govt sponsored memorial service?....also have your heard/read anywhere how much it cost us?...still not happy, can't let it go.

A poll in the Sydney Morning Herald found that something like three quarters of respondents thought the service shouldn't be publicly funded, but I doubt SMH readers represent a broad cross-section.

There were some pretty inane statements made about the protestors at the service, which was reported here in the Sydney Morning Herald. You can tell from her that
"Ms Natasha Lang, 46, a promotions manager of Vaucluse, who came to watch the guests arrive" is an activist with a rich vein of social conscience running through her psyche said:
"Kerry Packer was fantastic person. Everyone should take a leaf out of his book. I think the protest was shocking. They've got nothing better to do than complain when we are a positive country and we need to get positive energy happening.''
Same can be said about those few hundred thousand idiots who protested the Iraq war -- how dare they threaten our "positive energy"? For shame!

And the treasurer, Peter Costello, wasn't to be outdone:
"What's the point of protesting at someone's funeral, they're gone," Mr Costello said. "I think you should let people rest in peace, that's my view and I don't really care who it is."
Hitler? Pol Pot? I'm not suggesting Packer was anything like either of them, just suggesting that it wasn't a very bright comment from Pete. And, even if you agree with him, he's at least partly missing the point. Some, if not all, of the protesters weren't protesting about Packer -- they were protesting the service itself, decrying the fact that taxpayers were shelling out for public service to a very rich and very private man whose contribution to Australian society is, if nothing else, debatable. Specifically, these people were part of the Kerry Packer Dis-memorial Collective, who protested "the iniquity of using taxpayers' money to stage a media extravaganza and salute a man who boasted about evading tax." Pete added that:
"I think they're totally misguided and if they think they'll win any public support they won't."
I wouldn't bet on it. He went on to say Packer was a:
"very significant media player by world standards."
And that's what it's all about if you want to be an un-un-Australian Aussie champ, isn't it? As long as you're big on the global stage -- be it in sport or business -- then you're a "great Australian". God forbid we'd have the national self-confidence to finally stop seeking fawning approval from our big brothers on the other side of the world.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

they need us to pick up the bill, honest!

I very much liked the intro to Crikey's daily email today:
Tomorrow, the Prime Minister and a cavalcade of businessmen, politicians, community leaders and celebrities will take their seats at the Sydney Opera House for a state memorial service in honour of a "great Australian." Flags across NSW will fly at half-mast. There will be live television coverage. Eulogies will pour in.

Kerry Packer was a businessman. He owned casinos, a TV network, a stable of popular magazines and many other assets. Kerry Packer deserves respect for doing well in his chosen field of accumulating money and power. He was a rich and powerful Australian, not a great Australian. Tomorrow's state memorial service has blurred that distinction to the point where being rich/powerful and being great seem to be a singular concept to many Australians including, it seems, the federal government.

Tomorrow, as it turns respectfulness into obsequiousness, the federal government has raised some really uncomfortable questions about values in Australia.
Like many others, I find it difficult to fathom how the government can justify spending public money on this. But I guess it's not the only thing in that category. Sigh.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

when it comes to “drugs”...

…can’t we move past the simplistic, black-and-white pap being doled out by our beloved Prime Minister Howard following the death-penalty verdicts handed down to two of the Bali nine? It’s so tiresome, listening to somebody like Howard – whose views on morality are given disproportionate weight, thanks (for better or worse; I would argue the latter in the case of most things Howard has to say) to our political system – coming out with this “drugs are bad” crap. Surely (SURELY???) the Australian public can cope with something a little more nuanced…? Which drugs are bad? In what circumstances? For whom? Let’s see – booze is OK because it’s legal; marijuana is bad because it’s not. Prescription drugs are OK because they’re legal, but only if a doctor says so. Nicotine is bad, but we let that one go because, well, we’re never going to stamp it out and, after all, the tobacco companies are pretty powerful and do give us lots of taxes. But that argument won’t work with any of the illegal recreational drugs, because they’re evil. And so on. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that there’s a bit more to it all than “drugs are bad"; this is hardly revolutionary thinking. You’d think that considering a few shades of grey wouldn’t be the most radical thing we could ever do.

Monday, February 13, 2006


...but what's inside???

more on hazing...

...this time from an email from Canadian MB, who was something of an athlete in his prime, but has now foolishly foregone all that for the rigours of a (non-frat) academic life. It seems clear that the US isn’t the only culprit – I guess it’s just that the country that is powerful enough to foist Webster onto the (Western) world’s TV screens (and check out the message in the top right corner of the TV Guide!...yes, worthy of an exclamation mark) is powerful enough to hog the frat-house / hazing limelight. They’re welcome to it, mind you.

You are a lucky man never to have heard of hazing. Hazing was a ridiculous ritual on many of the competitive hockey teams I played on. The mild incidents included (sometimes injurious) gotchies [I think this is the same as a wedgie – SW], or head shavings of various, silly looking sorts. Of course, the sensitive kids who cared most about fitting in and not wanting a silly looking head always got the silliest looking heads. And never fit in. But things were sometimes much worse. E.g., marshmallow races (rookies have to pick up a marshmallow with their ass cheeks, race to a finish line, loser eats all marshmallows), cum cookie races (four or five guys jerk off on a cookie, last to shoot eats the cookie), bathroom antics (just before I joined the semi-pro team I played on, the 5 rookies, during one bus driven road trip, were stripped down, had their ankles and wrists taped together, and were all smushed together into the bathroom at the back of the bus; one of the guys got so scared with claustrophobia that he shat all over the lot of them as they sweated in out in close quarters for another 30 minutes). Somehow I always managed to get out of these nasty incidents. The worst I ever got a two inch shaved strip above each of my ears that was actually in style at the time anyways.

And this, from a follow-up email, further exemplifying the heights to which humanity can leap…

Reading it again, I forgot to mention that one of the teams I was on had had their "initiation" rituals severely curtailed because in the prior year, before I was there, they had heartlessly involved a mentally challenged water boy in the cum cookie game. Five or six guys all knew the slow kid would be the slowest, so invited him in and told him he simply had to eat the cookie because he'd failed to summon the sufficient mental images of Samantha Fox (recall: early 90s) in time. The poor kid just wanted badly to feel like one of the "normals". Unlike the normals, he yakked all over the place--after eating the cum cookie, unlike the normals.

Sometimes social intelligence alone was not enough to avoid hazing. Had to invoke other strategies. On one football team I was the rookie quarterback and it seemed the "chocolate swirl" was coming 'round to me (they'd dunk one's head in a toilet that had just been shat in and flushed). So I quit right before the semi-final game. "Fuck 'em," I thought. Two things then happened. The backup quarterback played a hell of a game. And, people on the team were so pissed off at me that word spread that there'd be a lynch mob if I didn't show up for the championship game. So I showed up. Didn't even get to play I don't think. The back-up played the whole game, we lost, and my initiation was just forgotten. When I was nominated for athlete of the year in final year (didn't win that either), the head of the atheletic program mentioned all the high school sports I'd played, except football.

The head athletic guy did include basketball though, perhaps because I opted out of initiation in a more graceful way there. I was on the junior team, and we were travelling by bus with the senior team. The seniors were going through the whole junior team, serving up gotchies. They sounded painful as all hell. Some guys bled. Some probably can't have children. I sat near the coaches at the front of the bus to avoid the gotchie. We stopped for gas and drinks. Smartly, I thought, I waited till I was the last guy in the store before re-boarding the bus. After all, school buses always fill from the back to the front, right? So I'd get to sit near the coaches again, right? (This was hard for me, since I was normally "too cool" to sit near the coaches). Not this time. At some point during the trip, the whole senior team had plotted to force me to the back of the bus: upon entering the bus, and in a world-view shattering change of high school social dynamics, all the coolest senior kids were sitting near the front of the bus, with the coaches. Only the very back seat, far from the coaches, was open. I had no choice, and had to walk by each and every one of the anxious senior players en-route. After sitting down, I saw the plan slowly enter its final phase. The three senior gotchie-givers (all the 7'0'' posts of course, and me the tiny guard) slowly moved to the back of the bus, displacing seat sitters row by row, over about 15 torturous minutes. I decided to fain illness. By the time they'd gotten to the back, I had the window open and looked green. As he got to the second last seat, just in front of me, the senior captain said, as if this made the whole think okay, "We're going to gotchie you now, okay?" I can't remember what I said in reply, if anything. But he said, "man, you don't look so well, are you okay?" I said, "Not feeling good, may barf." Continuing with the world-view shattering change in dynamics, the three guys had a change of heart and decided they should let me be. Or maybe I was just a lucky "cool" junior, since illness wouldn't have saved one of the "losers.” Had I been a "loser", the three posts would have set a new underwear stretch distance record, and now, E and I would be planning to adopt instead of to conceive.

Funny, there were never any initiation rituals on the tennis teams.

To which MG (US – and now also Candian – citizen) added:

…likewise in the theater arts department...yes...I'm a weenie...but I TOO have functioning balls.

north american culture really is the pinnacle of all human existence

Friday, February 10, 2006

a loose tongue, or: he couldn’t keep his mouth shut

M just called me from Davao (where he’s studying Cebuano, the main language of the Visayas region of the Philippines, as well as northern Mindanao) to tell me he has diarrhea. Admittedly, the diarrhea was an incidental point. Given his condition, he’d looked up the word in his Cebuano-English dictionary and decided – rightly – that the definition therein had to be shared. It's a doozy even without the knockout punch at the end (bear in mind that some Filipinos mix up their Bs and Vs).

Diarrhea (n): pagkalibanga
Morbidly persistent purging or looseness of the vowels.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

addendum to 'seeing through the haze'

It occurred to me -- after chatting with Belgian J, who told me (to my surprise) that frats were quite big in European unis -- that maybe frats are prevalent in Oz and that I just never experienced them because 1) I lived at home while at uni and 2) I wasn't exactly the most out-there party guy. (A Venn diagram would probably show some overlap between those two factors.)

There's no denying that there's an enjoyable cameraderie to be had by belonging to some sort of club. It's probably human nature. I can also see the fun in some of the more harmless initiation rites, like skulling a couple of beers or eating something a bit nasty. But the hazing violence is complete and utter macho bullshit -- so worthless that it didn't even make it into 1980s US frat-house teen movies.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

seeing through the haze

A couple of weeks ago, this banner suddenly appeared on one of the University of the Philippines buildings near my apartment:

Having no idea who Marlon “Along” Villanueva is – or, unfortunately, was – I asked D, who tends to have a better idea of what happens around these parts. Turns out the poor sod was the victim of a hazing incident. From INQ7.net, the online version of the Philippine Daily Inquirer:

CALAMBA CITY, Laguna -- An agriculture economics student at the University of the Philippines at Los Baños died Saturday from severe physical injuries believed suffered during fraternity initiation rites at a resort in this city, police said yesterday.

The rest of the article is here.

I had to ask D what hazing actually was. Fortunately, it seems that it’s not a big thing in Oz. Unfortunately, Philippine universities have inherited the US fraternity culture, which puts hazing on a pedestal. It’s not just a US thing though. I read a week ago about a Russian soldier who was a hazing victim. He lived, but he was so badly beaten that he had his legs and genitals amputated. Makes you feel quite ill, really. The people who killed Marlon were people he wanted to be friends with. Hopefully, if nothing else, it might turn people off the idea of frats and their associated wankery.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

how to catch a boat from Batangas to Sabang

…arrive at the pier at 3pm, in plenty of time for 3.30pm boat. Remember that 3.30pm may or may not bear any resemblance to actual time of departure. Watch for occasional exoduses of people from waiting area towards boats; ask someone (anyone) in a uniform if the people are leaving to catch the boat you want to be on. When uniformed person says Yes, move outside towards boat. Wait outside on pier, in front of boat, for 20 minutes. Follow fellow passengers onto boat. Sit on boat for 30 minutes and watch crew attempt to repair engine (part 1, see below). Learn that there’s a problem with a fuel pipe. Learn that the fuel pipe in question is not on boat but down the street at a repair shop. Assure lovely young French couple that this sort of thing is normal and we’re likely to set sail soon. Listen as Filipino girlfriend asks a crew member if it will take much longer. Listen as girlfriend translates crew member’s answer from Tagalog to Philippine English: “They’re fixing the engine.” Listen as girlfriend translates crew member’s answer from Philippine English to English: “I have no idea how long it will take but it probably won’t be soon.” Consider shelling out around $50 to hire private boat before it’s too late/dark to go. Follow fellow passengers as we are ushered into another boat, moored next to the first one. Sit on new boat for minutes and watch crew attempt to repair engine (part 2). Raise and lower hopes in time with alternately revving and faltering engine. Reassure (less convincingly) lovely young French couple that this sort of thing is normal and we’re likely to set sail soon. Experience relief as we leave, at about 4.45pm. Wonder how likely it is that engine will fail halfway across. Arrive on darkness and ignore touts trying to get us to stay at their place. Make way to booked accommodation, along with lovely young French couple who seem happy to trust our recommendation. Meet friends in bar. Drink mango daiquiris.

Fixing the engine (or not), part 1.


Taken at Batangas Pier, Batangas, Philippines.

Friday, February 03, 2006


Am I some sort of misogynist alpha-male, out of touch with my emotions and harbouring deep-seated conflict towards my father? Am I struggling to survive as a man in this topsy-turvy world?

I never thought so.

BUT – these are questions I asked myself one day in 1997.

I moved from Adelaide to Canberra to study science communication. The 14 others who did the same and I were plonked into Fenner Hall, an ANU student residence. Thinking I was oh-so-above that, I promptly found a sharehouse in Todd St., O’Connor, with Claire, Michelle and…shit, can’t remember – Heather? Sorry. Bugger. Anyway, we all got along OK but it never really felt like home so after a couple of months I moved back to Fenner, where I ended up having much fun including two failed efforts at sleeping with girls for the first time. Maybe the “fail” part of that wasn’t so fun at the time but, really, in hindsight it was all good.

I wanted to end things on a good note with the Todd St. girls, so I bought what I thought was a pleasant and appropriate gift. The room I’d been in had something of a jinx on it. They couldn’t get anyone to stay for more than a few months and many of the itinerants were quite strange: the guy who told them he was gay so they could wander around in their underwear, and who then fell in love with Michelle. The guy who was barely ever there except when having very loud sex with his girlfriend. And me.

Anyway – I bought them He died with a falafel in his hand. A book about sharehousing and the odd characters one meets when doing it.

They seemed appreciative and I think they probably thought, Shit, we better get something for him! (Don’t mean that nastily – I am completely crap with gifts and, if that’s the truth, can only empathise. So the next day they reciprocated with … Manhood by Steve Biddulph. Now I am sure that Steve is a good guy and that his books contain some sound advice and have quite probably helped numerous confused men, and I certainly don’t mean to malign them for having so benefited. I just never thought I was one of them. Sure I have my own confusion and frustrations – career, work, decision-making etc etc. But I don’t think any of them are due to internal conflict about my role as a man.

Part of the description of Manhood reads as follows:

Beginning with the confronting words ‘Most men don't have a life’ it begins to unfold the ‘seven steps to manhood’ which tens of thousands of men have now taken and therapists worldwide have reported to have brought about significant change.

Fixing it with your father. Being a real equal to women. Finding a job with heart. Experiencing joyful sex. Being a real dad to your kids. Friendship. Trusting your wildness.

I think “it’s” fixed with my father. I think I am a real equal to women. I pride myself on my rich and diverse friendships. I don’t have kids. Sure, I could probably take a few pointers on the job thing. But I like to think I experience joyful sex.

I confess I’ve never been into self-help books. Never even read one. But it came as a shock to think that I came across to people – three of them, at least – as somebody clearly in need of (self)help.

photos taken hastily out of a car window in Rajshahi, Bangladesh

Thursday, February 02, 2006

pictures of walls

Today's perfect procrastination partner is all about pictures of walls. With stuff written on them. I'm finding it addictive.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Number of mobile phones provided to me by my employer in current contract: 1

Number of previous users of SIM card provided with phone: 1

Number of previous SIM card users who were devout and married with kids: 1

Number of txts for devout previous user sent to me by young women who were not devout previous user’s daughters: many

Number of young women who sent abovementioned txts: at least 4 (3 Filipino, 1 Vietnamese…possibly more but early txts were not saved)

Number of such women who referred to previous user as “Daddy” (despite not being previous user’s daughter): 1

Number of such women who said they missed previous user’s kisses: 1

Number of such women who upon learning from me that previous user was now living on another continent were devastated by the news: zero

Number of such women who upon learning from me that previous user was now living on another continent swiftly asked me questions such as “What is your name? Where are you from? How old are you? You married or single? Can we be friends? Where do you live? Can I see you?”: 3

Number of such women I have seen: zero (boring but true).

Windmill in Otway National Park, Victoria. Not the greatest photo but I like the clouds and 'windmill' was, apparently, one of the first words I spoke.