Stepping out of the airport in a jet-lag induced haze, I was bombarded. Everything was so different from what I knew and the humidity was so thick I felt like I was drowning. So many noises, so many smells! Maneuvering more luggage than I had hands for, I somehow made it on the right bus. Or I was about 75% sure it was the right one, anyway. I walked down the narrow aisle of the bus and couldn’t help but eye the red velour walls, yellow polyester curtains with giant tassels, and a lucky maneki-neko cat* figurine sitting at the front with its paw beckoning at each turn of the bus. So much beauty for the eye to behold… As I began to wonder why American bus systems haven’t yet adopted the ambiance of Asian buses, the guy walking down to collect the coins yelled something I couldn’t understand, and immediately everyone standing in the aisles found a lap to sit on. I tried to suppress a laugh; it came out as a snort instead.
I’m sure my experience conjures up memories of your first trip to a developing country. It’s pretty standard, from what I understand. It’s funny how quickly life overseas becomes normal and you actually come to expect the very things that once overwhelmed you.
Case in point:
Last week on my night to make dinner, I was preparing to make orange chicken and fortune cookies (by scratch, mind you) when I realized I didn’t have any oranges. Living in the-land-of-never-being-able-to-find-all-the-ingredients-needed, I’ve become queen at substitution. However, there’s no substituting orange in orange chicken; at least I wasn’t about to try to attempt it. Off to the store I went. I jumped into a motorela** and went to the store, which is approx. 2 km from our house, bought 4 oranges, hopped back on a ‘rela’ and came home. The trip took me an hour and fifteen minutes. When I walked in and glanced at the clock, I was shocked — at how quickly I had returned from my errand!
How did this become normal?
More recently, yesterday at 8 am to be precise, the day kicked off with a little kindergarten, 5th, and 7th grade math. After working on math for a few minutes in silence, Kuya Boy, (yes, that’s really his name) the guy working on the bathroom cabinet, turned on some manly machine – a chainsaw perhaps – right outside the schoolroom window. Whatever it was, it was loud. That’s fine. We can work with that. Then, “Iron Man” (I have yet to learn his real name) turns on a weed-eater, again, right outside the window. All right, testing my patience here. When I didn’t think the kids could possibly get more distracted, a parade walked by outside our house with live music and drums. A parade. At 8 in the morning. Only in the Philippines. Oh, the noise, noise, noise, noise! Sorry, I couldn’t resist getting a little Seuss-ical on you.
Yet somehow even then, I didn’t think much of the absurdity in the situation until all was quiet, and I realized I had been yelling the lesson to be heard over all the commotion.
*For those of you needing a visual image of my bus trip, this is a lucky maneki-neko cat. You clearly have not been in Asia or eaten bad Chinese food in the US if you have not seen one of these bad boys! You probably just didn’t know they were called that. Spread the word.
**These are motorelas. They’re like a cross between Thai tuk-tuks, Mexican cucarachas…and I’m pretty sure a combination of any other motorised transportation you’ll find in another country. Motorcycle in the front, party in the back! It’s more fun in the Philippines.
For now, my maneki-neko cat and I are signing off. (Admit it, it’s fun to say!)