Friday, August 18, 2006

Videoke Love

Stop laughing. I love videoke. LOVE it. I have a deep and abiding passion for videoke that I don’t think would even be possible in Canada. In Canada we treat karaoke as something to be ashamed of – we sing it self-consciously, with irony. We abuse karaoke, basically – we laugh at it and hurt its dignity and when we’re done we forget about it until the next time we’re drunk. We’re callous and karaoke deserves so much better.

But here, people love videoke with the passion is deserves. Here people sing it without shame, without irony. People take videoke seriously and sing it with abandon. People in the
Philippines treat videoke right and it rewards them with the freedom to sign, badly or well, the way only an atmosphere of true love can.

But if you’re a Canadian in the
Philippines (you callous brute) and videoke decides to give you a second chance, you’re going to need to take some advice. Hence, three rules for videoke novices:

  1. Knowing a song’s chorus does not mean you know the song. In fact, main melodies are often quite different from the chorus. You can try that song you “think” you know, just realize that the only sociable reaction to the embarrassed silence that ensues when you realize you don’t is to pass the mike off to someone who does.
  2. The key you think a song is in is not the key the videoke machine thinks the song is in. Transpose, or be prepared for some spectacular octave jumps.
  3. Don’t wait to enter your song numbers. You may think you need some time before choosing a song to get into the videoke groove. That is because you’re a videoke novice. Everyone else at your table has 3 or 4 favourites already queued up. So has everybody at all the other tables. So if you hesitate, you’ll be waiting for your songs long after your friends are finished, feeling slightly ridiculous for making people wait so you can sing ‘Piano Man’.

You’ll need some songs, too, and while that’s an intensely personal decision people make within their relationship with videoke, I hope you can learn from the top 17 songs that bring meaning to Megan’s videoke experience:

  1. Total Eclipse of the Heart – Bonny Taylor
  2. Making Love Out of Nothing at All – Air Supply
  3. Like a Prayer – Madonna
  4. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper
  5. Africa – Toto
  6. Without You – Air Supply. (Air Supply is one of those bands most people don’t realize you know until you hear them. I cant’ liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive, if living is without you……)
  7. My Humps – Black Eyed Peas (Ok, I’m a little ashamed of this, even here.)
  8. Material Girl – Madonna
  9. Bang Bang – Sonny and Cher
  10. Eternal Flame – The Bangles
  11. Narda – Kamikaze (I’m trying to learn more Tagalog songs, but there’s so many syllables, so little time.)
  12. Can’t Take My Eyes Off You – Frankie Valli
  13. Piano Man – Billy Joel
  14. It Must Have Been Love – Roxette
  15. Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond
  16. Time After Time – Cyndi Lauper
  17. I’ll Be – Edwin McCain

There you go – Air Supply, Madonna, and a bunch of one-hit Wonders. Videoke loves me just the way I am :p

Filipino Fruits #Something: Macupa

I was thinking about what Filipino Fruit Rajat would like (there, do you feel better my liege?) and I think Macupa is it. It looks like a bright maroon pear, with white, sponsy flesh and a big round seed in the middle. It’s a bit sour unless you get the ripe ones which have a deep fragrant flavour, almost like eating a particularly delicious rose. It’s hard to describe. But there’s a macupa tree in the yard of my house, so I’ll do some more research and get back to you.

I got laughed at so much for arranging this picture

Roles & Responsabilities

I thought I had gotten used to being conspicuous here in the Philippines. People (especially kids) call out ‘Hey Joe!’ or ‘Americana!’ all the time, but it’s all friendly. I hadn’t realized how used to the way people stare until I was in a mall in Koronadal with Lieka, my SCALA partner, and she was shocked by how everyone was staring at me while I didn’t think they were staring that much.

Still, when I rode into Malaybalay on the bus and a guy on the sidewalk stopped dead, elbowed his friend in the ribs and pointed at my window, I realiazed I might be a bit more conspicuous here than in Manila. Then a couple of weeks ago some elementary-age girls from the neighbourhood stood outside the gate watching me read. They giggled for 15 minutes before asking me to buy a ticket for their school raffle. How could I pass up the chance to win a sari-sari store? (Although it’s telling that the grand prizes are a tricycle and a small store). When I came back out of the house instead of 3 girls there were 9 plus a couple of toddlers. Lots of giggling ensued.

A while later I was back inside and heard my name being called through the open window. I went out on the porche and there were 15 kids crowded around the gate and a little girl in front waving a book and pen. “Megan, Megan!” she called, “Autograph!”

Oh man.

Later that evening my host family was still teasing me for having refused (nicely, I hope) to sign an autograph. “For them it’s like a movie star is living in their neighbourhood! They’ll remember this forever!” I think they get while I don’t’ want to act like a movie star, even if that’s the case, but that doesn’t stop them from teasing me to wave like a pageant queen out of bus windows.

This is the pretty innocuous, friendly end of the spectrum. At the other end you have the Regional SCALA Focal Person announcing, as she introduced my Filipino partner Ronaldo (a trainer from Ilo-ilo) and I to the SCALA team in Malaybalay, that they are soooo lucky because they’re the last set-up to get a Canadian volunteer and future centers will have to make do with two Filipino volunteers. Then she forgot Ronaldo’s name.

Ok, so that’s an extreme example. I was talking to Nocnoc (Ronaldo’s nickname. Filipino nicknames rock! So far I’ve met several Bongs, a Nars, a Dodong and the supremely satisfying Bonky). Anyway, I was talking to Nocnoc because it was bothering me the way the host family always asks me what I’d like to do on the weekends or what I’d like to eat but don’t ask him. I figure he’s a guest here also, but he sees himself more as my host as well. And when we got on the subject of the Focal Person’s comments and the way people address their questions to me instead of him he said that now it’s part of the culture here for a lot of people to treat Westerners like that. He also said that in some ways he thinks it’s a good thing – the fact that Canadians were pushing the SCALA project probably made it more likely to be accepted. His opinion is that it’s harder for Filipinos to refuse a Westerner suggesting a project without feeling ashamed. I don’t know how true that is here, although certainly the head of the DSWD really pushes me front and center (compared to Nocnoc) when he’s trying to sell the project to the Governor or Vice-Governor.

If it is true, I don’t know that I agree with Nocnoc that it’s a good thing. On the one hand, if as Westerners we’re supporting projects that are needed and well-thought out and our involvement makes it more likely those projects are adopted, that might be a positive thing. But how well are we really able to judge that the projects we’re supporting will have a positive impact? And furthermore – I feel it’s a big responsibility to back a project knowing it’s more likely to be accepted because we’re involved rather than based on its merit. I’ve gained a better appreciation here for how resources are finite – in South Cotabato one of the trainers had been taken off her previous job as the social worker for abused women and children to become a SCALA trainer. She thought a replacement would be found for that job but it hadn’t been found yet. Does EWB’s involvement give SCALA a higher priority than it should have based on it’s merits, and if so are we able to, willing to or aware of taking on that responsibility? (It’s a bit of a moot point as EWB has moved out of doing its own projects and into supporting existing local projects, but how does that question extend to other Western development groups?)


Last Friday evening found me eating guacamole with a spoon. I had to, because Noc-noc had dumped all the chips into the bowl and mixed them in. Forget learning to speak Visayan, guacamole is the key to acceptance in my host family ;)

I didn’t really expect people to like it. Martin made it in Iligan and apparently it went over like a lead balloon. People in the Philippines consider avocado to be a fruit, and they either eat it plain or mixed and chilled with sweetened condensed milk as desert. (By the way – try it, it’s delicious!) Whe I said it was treated more like a savoury in Canada people actually gasped.

But now, in 5 days I’ve been asked to make it 3 times and I think my family and the SCALA trainers are well on their way to being addicted! (Even if, reading the recipe before she’s tried it, one of the trainers asked, “so, it’s a type of gravy?” They’ve also decided that the name “guacamole” doesn’t make nearly as much sense as “avocamole” :)

So I’m in Malaybalay, the capital city of the province of Bukidnon. I got here on July 24th so obviously I’m ridiculously behind in posting this blog! My only excuse (but oh, it’s a doozy) is that the center set-up here has been “interesting”, to say the least. (In this case, “interesting” means that on the one hand the trainers here are awesome and strong in both computers and teaching and the center manager has great ideas. On the other hand, we’re still working on getting our set-up budget and the venue prepared and before Wednesday every one of the four identified trainers had full-time jobs that didn’t include training the youth once the center launches. Why yes, there are only 2 working days left before I leave, thanks for asking).

But this is an entry about where I am! Malaybalay is a great city – smaller than the other cities I’ve visited. (I mean, there’s no mall! I know the Ben and Cat are going to freak out if they read that but I haven’t been in a Filipino city yet that didn’t have a mall. ‘Malling’ (window shopping and hanging out at the mall) is a pretty popular pastime here). The city is also very green, apparently the result of a government green-ci
ty campaign. We’re up in the mountains so it’s cooler than almost anywhere else in the Philippines, and cooler than Toronto by a long shot :p Filipinos call Malaybalay the “mini-Baguio”, Baguio being a place in the mountains in Luzon that’s the coldest place in the Philippines. It’s cool enough here (I haven’t seen a thermometer since I arrived so I can’t say how cool except that I need a sweater sometimes and a blanket at night) that pine trees grow, and it’s a little strange for me to see pine trees growing next to huge stands of bamboo in the forests! There’s also a large Indigenous population in the province – 7 different tribes and languages under the umbrella term ‘Bukidnese.’

This is also a mainly agricultural province – Dole and Del Monte both have huge banana and pineapple plantations here (and not only are their export bananas tasteless compared to the local ones, they’re also covered in plastic bags while growing on the tree to prevent blemishes. Sorry!). A lot of the people here either work on the multinational plantations or are subsistence farmers.

The gap between the two typs of farms is huge, as you can imagine. I went with Jo, a population worker for the government, to her home
municipality of Sumilao. It’s about an hour away on the main (only) highway, and then we went another 12 km along a bone-rattling road to the barangay of Lumpiagan. Lumpiagan is one of the poorest barangays in the province. It’s a handful of houses perched on the top of a cliff overlooking a small, deep valley. On the sides of the valley and the cliffs opposite are peoples’ fields. Some of the fields here are on hills so steep I wonder how the farmers keep their footing when they plant or, when they harveset their cabbages how they keep them from rolling down to the bottom of the valley.

Jo was there to give a talk to the barangay youth on how to make banana chips, as part of a livelihood program. I have to wonder though, is knowing how to make banana chips that useful when those youth have to walk 12 kilometers to get to Sumilao to sell them? It’s a hilly road, and Jo says it takes her at least 2 hours to walk if she takes a shortcut over the side of a steep hill. Their remoteness is why most of the youth from the barangay are out of school – the nearest high school is in Sumilao, and if their families can’t afford to board them there high school kids have to spend at least 4 hours a day walking there and back. A lot of them drop out to start farming instead. Jo also told the kids about SCALA and hopefully some of them can take advantage of it. The municipalities have agr
eed to cover the cost of board and lodging for their SCALA participants in Malaybalay as well as the cost of transport to get them there, which for the kids in Lumpiagan is essential.

After visiting Lumpiagan we continued on to a ranch whose manager Jo is friends with. It’s owned by one of the rich families in the area and the difference between it and the farms in Lumiagan was overwhelming. This place was huge – and was raising Kobe beef to sell in Manila for a thousand pesos per kilo. (To give you an idea of the shock of that, regular beef here costs about 100 pesos per kilo). The ranch manager was really knowledgeable about farming in the region and the chance to get on a horse for the first time in a long while was great, but it was an unreal afternoon. Two very different sides of life around Malaybalay, that’s for sure


Steep fields.