Monday, October 6, 2014

The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

It's the end of my second week in Baguio, third week in the Philippines, and first week of actual teaching. I'm starting to feel at home here. I have now mastered two different jeepney routes, the Guisad route--which will take me to the mall, restaurants, bars, and basements filled with second hand clothes, and the Trinidad route, which I learned because I played the violin for a church in Trinidad which was welcoming Bishop Pacao of the Diocese of the North Central Philippines this Sunday. I found the nearby grocery store, and the other day I corrected an elementary student who called me David, “that's Sir David”.

I think of the relationship between Trinidad and Baguio as similar to that between Queens and New York, they definitely are different entities, but not entirely distinct. Also Trinidad seems a little bit more suburban, bordering on rural. Perhaps it's not a good metaphor, but hopefully you get the picture, for clarity's sake I'm going to abandon it.


By the way, full disclosure, I may make it sound like riding jeepney's is very difficult, but it really isn't. The places they're going is written on the side, and you only need to know two words, “palah” (spelling aproximate) which is stop, and “bayat po” which you say when you give the driver your 8 pesos (okay it's three words, “po” is just an honorific though)

A Jeepney leaving the Military School

You remember I mentioned Fray the driver, who drove me out of Manila and up to Baguio in the middle of Typhoon Mario. Well mostly he works in Manila, but his family is based in Trinidad, and here in Baguio his wife has been a good friend, driving me around after church on Sundays and showing me the sights of Baguio, while instructing me in how to get around and where to find the things I need. Today she showed me around Trinidad, the strawberry market which borders on the strawberry farms, the vegetable market, and Benguet University. I cannot tell you how glad I was to see the vegetable market, I never realized how much I liked fresh vegetables until I thought I was going to have to go without them for a year. The vegetable market is an enormous tent where farmers from up north sell their produce and grocers and and restauranteurs from Manila buy giant bushels of it. Luckily you can also pick up vegetables in as small an amount as a kilo. At this time of year the strawberry market is mostly souvenir stands and overpriced preserves, but apparently during strawberry season it is a major tourist attraction.

As my title suggests, I've been finding as I've gotten used to this place that many things are basically the same, but there is usually some twist to remind me that I'm not in Kansas anymore. For example, the church choir I played with is exactly like choirs at home, filled with sweetly indomitable mothers who will simply not believe that a skinny young man is full after only one serving. The difference is in the food they keep heaping on my plate at the church luncheon: liver, goat, great piles of rice, and some strangely chewy type of meat. I ask what it is, “uncooked!” shouts someone, I laugh, nope, not a joke, it really is intentionally undercooked goat meat, cooked enough to take the sauce, but not enough to ruin that texture. By the way, everything is delicious, I only regret asking a little bit. Another example is the entertainment of the church lunch, the Sunday school shyly sings a song, a group of youth giggle their way through a song and dance, there is a raffle to raise funds for the church; the first prize? A goat (second prize was a chicken).


You can find most of your fast food cravings here in Baguio: McDonalds, KFC, and some Philippine specific fast food like Jollibee which is a fried chicken place. But of course all of these places serve their food with a bunch of rice. And the restaurants, it seems to me, are significantly cleaner.
The biggest culture shock for me still has more to do with which end of the classroom I'm standing on than which side of the globe. The other day there were some kids shouting in the hall while I was talking to the class. I asked someone to shut the door and by golly a kid jumped up and did it! Maybe that doesn't seem like such a big deal, but remember I'm still getting used to the sensations of power. And then there's the feeling of shushing a crowd of kids and listening to the sound of momentary silence (until the whispering comes back like waves on the shore). I have my own classroom now, with a desk and everything, though I won't be teaching in there until the next grading period starts. I have a desk in the faculty room as well, where I get to participate in all that secret backroom voodoo that we speculated about as kids (mostly I read my textbook, comb my hair and go on facebook). Sometimes kids knock on the door and say “permission to enter teachers?” I cannot overemphasize how tickled I am by this.

Did I mention that I taught a class last week on the 20th century in music? “oooh” I think, “Debussy, Ravel, Schoenberg!” nope, not that twentieth century. Gather round children, today we're talking about Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Disco. (at one point in class I used the phrase “whatever it is you kids are listening to these days”).

Which brings me to the final bullet in my journal, what do these kids listen to? Well the first rule I've learned is that no matter where you go in the world, you can't escape Top 40 American pop music. But what else? Maybe Korean pop, or J-pop? Or some native Igarot folk songs? Nope, the predominant music you hear from live music bars and people's porches all over Baguio is good ol country music. Kenny Rodgers is a special favorite. So there's a kick in the pants for all my snobby New Yorkers, on the other side of the world people are still singing God Bless Texas.  

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