Friday, July 27, 2007

The Vacation that Wasn't

I apologize for the delay of this blog entry. Yes, it is high time that we blog about our company 'vacation' to Manila, which occurred over a month ago, in June.

Really, it should have been a trip to Phuket, an island off of Thailand, but the organizers failed to book enough seats... or to book all of them... or to spend money on the 'real' trip. Bait and switch.

And so, last minute changes were made due to a "tidal wave." Our trip was postponed until a week later. This, of course, was after employee spouses had already booked time off from their respective places of employment for the initial trip date.

As always, our company's thriving competitor, jumped on this opportunity to de-'face' (face is a big issue here) our company by booking their own excursion to Phuket on the exact week when we where supposed to have went. Hum, I wonder how it went. As for our vacation, well, I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

It all began after a long night of work and overtime, which lasted until 11:30 p.m.. First, we had to go home, finish packing, take a nap, and go back to work at 2 a.m. to catch the bus to the Taipei airport. The bus ride took a few hours, and the plane trip to Manila took a couple more. Not to mention, there was waiting time in between.

Upon our arrival in Manila, we came to realize why Taiwan is only 'subtropical'. The intense Filipino humidity and sweltering heat swallowed us as soon as we set foot outside of the airport.

The next step was the long bus ride to the beach (left photo) where we'd then take a boat to the resort. Along the way, we stopped at a few convenience stores. Every door was guarded by an armed policeman.

The convenience stores demonstrated the Americanization of the Philippines... or at least their aspiration for the American way of life... or their desire to project that they can afford the American way of life.

While we in Canada generally scorn brand names, Asians seem to celebrate them, especially in the Philippines. In China and Taiwan, I know that brand names, such as LV (which I didn't know about before coming here!), are badges of success. It seems, however, that American culture has more intimately permeated the Filipino existence, even more than in Canada. The food, products and television shows made that apparent.

On the bus ride to the beach, country roads were lined with tin-roofed shacks. Stores were covered with small signs bearing icons of the American dream, faded by the Filipino sun. Colour televisions flickered through the window of almost every home, and most families seemed to own a descent vehicle, or at the very least a quasi-bike/scooter. It was an unsettling coexistence of poverty and of American 'comforts'. Ironically, the comforts intended to shroud their poverty only seemed to magnify their desperation... or perhaps, their denial.

While people in the city and in the country greeted us with broad smiles, the people at the resort were of another breed. Their spirits had been weathered by their need to depend on the wealth of foreign vacationers for their daily survival.

After disembarking from the boat that brought us to the resort, we had to haul our luggage through muddy alleyways infested with questionable tourist practices, and make our way to the hotel. Crowds of desperate locals surrounded us, hoping to sell one of their trinkets or necklaces... or themselves. Man, woman and trans-gender alike.

At long last, we arrived to our rooms. The design of the complex in which we stayed was quite organic. Stairs led to neighboring 'cabins' and the rooms gave the illusion that they had been dug out or formed by white clay. I am sorry to say that we can only provide you with photos of the outside of the complex, as we got food poisoning from the slop we were served at the only group meal that we chose to attend. I had planned to take more photos of the interior of our room, but alas, we were incapacitated for the remainder of the trip.

After leaving the island, we endured a day of travel on a hot bus, in ill condition. We didn't have the option of taking another bus or a 'Jeepnee' (a kind of jeep/bus that litters the crowded streets of Filipino cities) because we had to stick to the schedule... which was constantly being changed. But this was out of the hands of our diligent tour guide, Micheal...

The trip to the volcano sounded splendid. Participants in this activity had to ride horses with broken legs on a precarious path to the top, after taking a boat to yet another island. James and I felt too sick to go. Phweh! But, we did hear about it afterwards!

When we finally arrived at the hotel in Manila, it was after midnight. We were too sick and it was too late to do anything by this point. James and I only had a few small things that we wanted to do in Manila: James wanted to have a Quarter Pounder (which are impossible to come by in Taiwan) and I wanted a Wendies burger. We had also planned to visit the biggest mall in Asia and to get a haircut.

However, to the dismay of most trip participants, our tour of Manila consisted of us rushing to the hotel on a bus, as our tour guide frantically attempted to describe the sites that we passed at about 70 km/hr -- including the Filipino Cultural Center. Still, we did have the time for an unplanned stop in front of this building for a group photo op. Face -- the veneer of Asian society.

During our vacation, we only ate Chinese food... no Filipino food whatsoever, we did not participate in or witness any truly indigenous cultural activities (as we were relegated to the resort for questionable tourists and scuba divers... although the rooms were quite nice), and we did not have the opportunity to visit the biggest mall in Asia, or any other important structures / monuments for that matter.

We had to get to the airport early the next morning. And then there was the long trip home.

The islands in the Philippines are really quite beautiful and I feel that we did get a good feel for the Filipino identity, simply by being there. We also needed the time off work. I do wish I could say more good things about our vacation though... but there is just no denying what it truly was. Maybe that explains why we took so long to write this blog.

I think the next time we have a vacation, we'll plan it ourselves. No more group trips for us. Group trip? What WERE we thinking anyways?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

My Taiwanese Hair

I thought that this was a particularly noteworthy Taiwanese experience, and so, without further ado, here it is:

A couple of weeks ago, I finally got my hair cut. After a failed attempt to do so in the Philippines (see our blog entry to follow, 'The Vacation that Wasn't', for details), I needed to accept what fate had in store: a Taiwanese person would have to cut my hair.

Since having my hair cut in China Town, back when I was a student in Canada, I have been painfully aware that having an Asian hairstylist near my head is not a wise plan. If it is not enough that the average Asian is unfamiliar with my Western hair texture, there is also a completely different sense of aesthetics here in the East. Bangs cut at a forty-five degree angle are just not for me.

That being said, I realized getting a cut in Taiwan was a risk... but it needed to be done. The distinct line between my brown and blond hair colour was getting to be too much of an eyesore; it was time to take action! Well, that's what the girl at Geant (spoken [eye-my] in Chinese) seemed to think when she approached me with a small promotional package containing a flyer for her hair salon and tissues... Tissues? Okay. Anyways, I took the hint. The lady even asked in broken English/Chinese if I'd been here for a year, after more closely observing the length of the brown portion of my hair.

The salon was more like a takeout joint. First, I had to feed a 100 NT bill into a machine, which quickly spat out my haircut voucher. I was then let loose inside. Upon entry, I was led to the closest of the three available chairs. As I began to take a seat, the lady who gave me the flyer only moments before promptly began the hack job. It was an interesting and efficiently executed hack job, nonetheless. In a mere 4 minutes, I closely resembled 90% of the Taiwanese office girls where I work.

Upon completion, the 'hairstylist' vacuumed, yes vacuumed, the residual cut hair from my scalp with a long tube that hung loosely from the wall, and sent me on my way in order to make room for the next customer.

Ah, Asia. Well, at least the haircut is not beyond repair. After all, James and I trim each other's hair all the time.

And, hey... I did get free tissues.