Arrived in Manila on Saturday evening. Took a bus here from Baguio. It was a nice bus, potty on board and all. And it was direct. No stopping to pick up lolas (Filipino grannies) with live chickens for tomorrow's adobo. It made for a nice ride. As we winded through the mountains around Baguio, I intended to read, but was taken by the mists swirling around the trees, terraces, and distant hilltops. Eventually, the mountains gave way to the faster and flatter roads to Manila. The mists yielded to rice patties with plows pulled by Carabou (like water buffalo). The Philippines is progressing quickly as a country. In some ways, that is sad. As Joni Mitchell says, "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. You pave paradise and put up a parking lot. Ooooh, la la la la."
Manila arrived with all of it's traffic, noise, and rumble. The "express bus" slowed down to a tricycle pace. At 6 p.m., we arrived at Edsa. I'm thinking, this is awesome. If I could get off at Edsa, I could walk to the guesthouse in 5 minutes! But, um, the bus doesn't stop at Edsa. Or anywhere in Quezon City. We were continuing in Metro Manila all the way to Cubao. (OK, not Cuba. Buses can't drive to Cuba from the Philippines. Cubao is another burrough in Metro Manila.
It was another hour and a half before we reached the bus station. I didn't expect any problem in finding a taxi. What I didn't really anticipate was all the "help" I would receive. Almost as soon as I got off the bus, some guy grabbed my arm to drag me toward a taxi. At first, I thought he was a taxi driver. I asked him how much the taxi would be. Few taxis here use meters. Most of the time, the fare has to be negotiated. Taxi's are usually a fairly cheap way to get around, but drivers are always trying to get as much money for a trip as they can. This guy wouldn't answer me so I turned around to go the other way.
I started watching and realized there were a lot of guys trying to broker taxis for people. I assume they were working for tips, but there is never much telling how much someone in that position will demand. I usually would just as soon avoid it and deal with a driver directly.
After two or three of these guys grabbing me to help me, I walked through the bus station to a quiet street behind the station. While this meant no crazy guys "helping" me, it also meant local taxis who don't really want to drive from Cubao to Quezon City. I made a few fruitless negotiations. One guy said he would do it for 500 pesos. OK, it's $10, but about 5x what I should have to pay. Eventually, I found a guy who would take me to the guesthouse for 250 pesos. I shoved my suitcases in the back and climbed into the front seat. Negotiation concluded, I breathed a sigh and relaxed.
Now, my driver was a good one. He knew all the backroads and was able to avoid the traffic that was still dense on the main roads. However, he also knew a back way into the neighborhood of my guesthouse. I only know how to get here from the main road. And I didn't even know the address. "Where do we go from here?" he kept asking. "I...ah...I...ah, which direction is SM North?" If he could show me the mall, I could find it. I think. It has been a couple of years. The taxi driver was beginning to look dubious. Who on earth had he allowed in his taxi? And why hadn't he asked for twice the money?
We got almost to Edsa and I suddenly knew where I was. I offered to get out and walk, but the driver turned the taxi around and took me to the door. Someone was actually waiting out front, looking for me.
I had a day off before class started. I went to church with my friends Anne (head of the program where I teach) and Raymond. Fun. Good. Reminded me of why I come to the Philippines. I am usually sweating when I am here. It is pretty much always hot and crazy high humidity. So, Raymond told me to go sit by the AC. Who knew that I was in the youth section? So, I started chatting up the teenagers, most of whom just stared at me. A few of them warmed up to me and kids were hugging me before they left. I love youth ministry.
Had a little time for preparation before class started on Monday. It's odd that I am teaching a Youth Culture class here. After all, what do I know about Filipino Youth Culture. I had assigned them a whole lot of research articles on adolescents in the Philippines for homework. If I had actually read all of those articles, I would have been in a little better shape. Still, I structured the class so we would talk about big picture issues and they would do lots of research and reporting on fads and facts about adolescents. Ha. They don't call me professor for nothing. I know how to get around teaching things I know nothing about. :)
One thing I've learned about AGS students: They love to play games. More than the kids in the youth group. My mentor, Allen Jackson (the youth prof, not the country western singer), used to plan games for every day. I just look for a class "Game Master." Believe it or not, every youth ministry class comes pre-loaded with at least one person who knows games, loves games, and gets excited to lead games. Looked around a little. Didn't take long to come up with Raoul. (Apparently, he thought the way I pronounced his name sounded Puerto Rican instead of Filipino. Hm. I wonder what the difference is.) As soon as I told him he was the Game Master, we were up playing some game where two people make a house an another one gets inside the house, and somehow everyone is running around half the time. They can play this as elimination, but instead Raoul enforced a punishment of self-description on whoever got left out of a house at each round. Nice. We look stupid. Run around. And get to know each other. Best Game Master ever.
I found this dodgy little gym close to the guesthouse. "How much does it cost to workout here?" 30 pesos. About 60 cents. Ok, this is my favorite gym. I decided to expand the role of Game Master. "So, Raoul, I want to lift, but I need a spotter. I am very weak." He wants to know where. I laugh. "There is this dodgy gym near here that costs 30 pesos. It won't be clean, but they do have weights." OK, he told me that he would bring some workout clothes the next day.
Raoul was the best kind of workout partner. He was up to do what I wanted to do. He knew his way around a gym, though he said he usually uses machines. I had a great time with him. Got some Jolly Bee with him after we finished. We both were sweating like Mother Theresa in Calcuta, and I'm sure we smelled like the cattle car at a rodeo, but most Filipinos sitting at the next table at Jolly Bee are too polite to point such a thing out. The next day, he was complaining just a little of being sore, but he asked me when we were going to work out again.
The class was full of characters. Bobat and Jean were the patriarch and matriarch of the class. They were in business for the first half of their lives, but in midlife decided to quit the rat race and go full time in youth ministry with Navigators. The class took a field trip on Friday to meet the kids they work with. So much fun. Faith is a tiny little Filipina. When I would ask her how she was, she would say, "I'm good, sir. I'm so pretty." And we would all role on the ground in laughter. Of course, she is a pretty girl. Just not very Filipino to say so. Louisa is a shy middle-aged youth volunteer. Every game, she ended up being the one to share--over and over again. Would have been much simpler for her to just get eliminated, but we had an awesome Game Master. Daisy is a Chinese Filipina who loved talking about K-Pop and Korean drama (I guess I'm going to have to watch Goblin), and talking about the "EXTREMELY good looking actors and singers."
On Monday night, I told them to do some reading and research about an "artifact" of Filipino Youth Culture--a song, TV show, or other item we could examine to learn more about the culture. We'll talk about them tomorrow. I thought it would take about an hour. We took the whole day. Then, on Tuesday night, I assigned them to do an interview with a real live teenager about his or her perspective on youth culture. I thought we could discuss them in about an hour. We took another whole day. Needless to say, this did not turn into the class I had planned. Still, I had a living blast.
Friends kept popping in all week. I met Ferdi the first time I was in the Phils and we get together just about every time I come. As I write, I'm waiting for him to arrive to go to some all you can eat spa. Yea, I got nothin. We're meeting at 12 noon. It is 12:20. If he gets here in the next 40 minutes, he'll be right on time. Filipino time.
I had dinner with my friend Dave a couple of nights ago. He is thoughtful and kind and way too funny. But the real reason he is my friend is that he laughs at my jokes. :) He is planning to go to Bali with me later.
Lehm suddenly showed up in class on Wednesday. He is one of my boys from Shekinah in Mindanoa. I taught a class there two years ago, and have continued to keep in touch with several of the guys from the class. Lehm has started school at AGS, would have been here for the whole week but got sick, and greeted me with all the excitement I felt at seeing him.
Next week is Educational Psychology. OK. Not youth ministry, but I'm looking forward to a new group of students. Pastor Dave and Daisy will be in this class with me again. Should be fun.