Friday, February 29, 2008

The Answer to the Ultimate Question

That being, the question of when I am actually going to take delivery of the plane. And the answer is, if everything goes to plan, "tuesday". The plane should be ready this weekend, but we have to do a bit of a shuffle to get all of our people and aircraft back in the right place, so getting the people lined up has taken a few days.

Monday, February 25, 2008

It Had To Happen

After all, what goes up, must come down. And this weekend and Air Force B-2 bomber came down hard.

Now, this isn't the first time the Air Force has lost an aircraft due to a training accident. After all, F-15Cs are dropping out of the air like flies these days. However, it is the first time we have lost a $1.2 billion (that's with a 'B') aircraft.

It makes you wonder if there isn't something better we could be spending this money on. Never mind the possible civilian applications like roads and schools -- how about the fact that the cost of this one aircraft is enough to 7 sets of body armor for each of the 130,000 troops currently stationed in Iraq?

I'm sure that I've written or mentioned before what a useless piece of equipment the B-2 is, now that we no longer have a compelling need to do a sneak nuclear attack on Moscow, so don't take my word for it. In 1995, Congress authorized buying two more B-2 bombers that the Air Force said it didn't need.

There's a four-letter word for this, and it's called "pork".

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

We're Back

We are back at home, after a couple weeks in the Philippines and Singapore. We are still sorting through our load of photos (we filled up nearly 3GB of storage in pictures and movies), so it will be a while before our photos get put up.

It's nice to be back home, but we also picked up a cold while travelling, so we recuperating some from that. I will post more on the last part of our trip and Singapore in a bit.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Home Stretch

We just finished up our last day in Singapore, with a tour of the southern-most tip of the island. This area is being developed into a resort, with docking areas for cruise ships.

Tomorrow kicks off two long days of travel to get back to the U.S. Tomorrow morning we have a 4-hour flight to Manila, where we will pick up our remaining luggage, meet up with roommate-Alex for dinner, and then around midnight catch another 4-hour flight to Korea.

We have another 12 hour layover at Seoul, so we may catch a quick tour of the city during that time, after which it's back for the long-haul 12-hour leg back to SFO. While this isn't the longest amount of flying that I've done in a day (flying to Banglaore wins there), it may be the longest amount of time I've spent living out of a suitcase.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

More Photos

Joey's camera was getting full, so we have pushed up all the photos from his camera to Joahnna's Picasa account. Here is the first group of pictures, and here is the second.

Uncle Yoyo's Church

Today we drove to Tinambac, which is the town that consistutes Uncle Yoyo's (known to others as Father Gaite) parish. The town has a large church founded in 1781 that was destroyed in the recent typhoon, and Father Gaite has been attempting to rebuild the church ever since.

Since Tinambac is a fishing village, we had a very nice lunch of fresh-caught seafood. Uncle Yoyo made a squid pasta with vegitables which was very good. Joahnna had a couple helpings of fresh crab.

Now we're heading back to Naga to pack our bags. Tomorrow we fly back to Manila, and then from Manila to Singapore.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Hot Springs

Yesterday we visited the local hot springs. And local actually meant local -- it was only 20 minutes drive from our hotel. Joahnna and I spent the morning shopping. She went looking for a new bathing suit, and I replentished my diminishing book supply.

In the afternoon we headed out to the springs. Along the way aunt Lyn spotted uncle Yoyo walking along the side of the road and invited him along, and he said he would drop by. This is normal. Naga is a city of 300,000 or so people and we run into Joahnna's relatives randomly as we're walking around.

The hot springs were possibly the most impressive scenery yet, just because it was so different than anything I have seen previously. The springs are located next to a river which is at the bottom of a canyon 300-400 feet deep. The resort has built small concrete pools to contain the hot water. Immediately above the springs rise a sheer cliff, covered with vegetation. The overall effect felt like a scene from Jurassic Park. If there had a been a couple dinosaurs in the background they would have fit right in.

Because we arrived in mid-week, we were the only people at the springs aside from a couple workers doing maintenence. We lounged in the springs for a couple hours until we were watered-out, and afterwards snacked on some food Joahnna's aunts brought, which was about the time uncle Yoyo showed up (yes, he's really called uncle Yoyo). After some further conversation and snacking we returned to Naga, had some coffee at a Starbucks-esque shop (I had a Freddocino), and dinner at Aunt Lyn's.


On Sunday we drove to Legazpi, which is about two hours drive away from Naga. Legazpi sits in the shadow of Mayon Volcano, an active volcano. We visited the site of a church which was famous for being the last refuge of a many locals when the volcano previous erupted in 1814. We also drove through an area which was devastated by mudslides of volcanic ash in 2006.

After Legazpi we drove on to Tobaco, which provided us with a few amusing puns, and then on to an old resort and shrine on the slopes of Mayon Volcano. The resort looked reasonably modern, but had been abandoned for a while -- at least 5 years. The scenery and views were beautiful, with cool, crisp air. Of course, only Joahnna and I though the temperature (somewhere in the mid 60s) was pleasantly cool; Joahnna's relatives were freezing.

After visiting the volcano, we drove back to Legazpi, where we met up with uncle Alex and his family, and had a nice dinner at a local restaurant before driving home. By this time it was after nightfall, and driving at night (or even being a passenger while driving at night) here in rural areas is a bit of a harrowing experience. There are no streetlights, the roads have no reflectors, the roads are narrow, and oncoming traffic occasionally leaves their high beams on and is frequently in your lane. And that's just for starters. Because in this mix of poor visibility you throw occasional tricycles, pedicabs, and bicycles that are completely unlit and devoid of reflectors, along with pedestrians that wander and congregate along the side of the road with no fear of traffic.

The net result of this is that people and vehicles simply appear out of the night 20-30 feet in front of your vehicle, and the only hint of their presence you have is that sometimes they block out the lights of oncoming traffic.

Fortunately for my sanity, I slept for most of the trip back.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Gun Culture

One of the things I've noticed in the Philippines is that armed guards are very common. In the U.S. you normally see these only around "high security" areas such as banks and airports, but here almost any properous business will have armed security guards at the main door. Hotels, malls, clubs, parks, and restaurants all have a guard or two, who usually do double-duty as a doorman.

The guns themselves are also interesting. When the U.S. does put an armed guard or police officer somewhere, they are usually equipped with a SIG or Glock -- an semi-auto pistol with a large magazine. Police and guards here are equipped with a large variety of pistols, mostly revolvers (complete with Wild West ammo belt). Occasionally you will see one with a pump shotgun. Rifles and submachine guns are noteably absent, even at the airport and president's palace (I saw a single guard post outside the palace with an M-16 leaning inside the post, and a couple guards with MP-5 submachines outside a bank). It's possible this difference in equipment is legislative, but I suspect economics -- guns are expensive and labor is cheap. Some of the guns look fairly battered (taped grips, etc.), and others look well cared for but old (the guards outside the palace had M1911 Colts that look like they could have been WWII surplus).

According to Joahnna's cousin Donna, the guards in front of our hotel do use their guns occasionally (Aunt Lyn lives across the street from the hotel she works at -- hard to argue with a commute like that), but the usual perpetrators are drunk customers at the club next door rather than any organized activity.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Beach Trip

Today we gathered the local branch of the family for a trip to the beach. Food was prepared, and we bundled most of our food and beach gear into two cars, and then rented a jeepney to transport all the people. The beach was about 45 minutes away from Naga.

The weather was very nice today -- probably somewhere in the mid to high 70s. I ended up getting sunburned, despite it being mostly overcast and applying sunscreen twice.

At the beach we rented a small floating hut, as well as a beach house, and spent the day swimming around our floating hut. The ocean was a nice temperature -- slightly cool, but refreshing once in the water. A local kid with a dual-outrigger canoe came by, and offered to rent us the canoe.

There was an island about a mile offshore that looked like a classic island-inhabited-by-cannibals from a B-movie. We tried to row out there in the canoe, but (like so many other things on this trip), the canoe was about two sizes too small for me, so I couldn't row very well, and I started to be very concerned about whether we could make the trip back. There was a strong wind at our backs on the way out, and rowing against it on the return trip would have been dicey, so we called off the full trip.

After a full day of rowing, swimming, eating, the jeepney returned, and everyone piled in for the return trip. Before too long about half the passengers were asleep. Both Joahnna and I ended up with a pretty good sunburn.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Riding Around

Spent another day kicking around Naga city. Walked through a couple open-air malls (and closed-air malls, I'm developing a new appreciation for air-conditioning), and did some shopping for souvenirs.

On our way in to Naga today, I borrowed Raoul's motorcycle and got a little taste of riding in third world free-for-all traffic. The area I rode in didn't have much traffic, so nothing was really hairy until I had to drive across a street full of tricycles. All intersections in Naga are uncontrolled, so the only way to cross a stream of traffic is to stick your nose out and kind of shove your way through. Takes some getting used to.

Speaking of tricycles, the tricycle and the jeepney are the two dominant forms of transportation here. A tricycle starts its life out as one of a variety of stock motorcycles, and then has a sidecar and a roof welded on, the driver's seat extended to form a large bench, and a number of handholds welded on. You can cram at least 8-9 people on a tricycle, which then crawls along as a poor, suffering 125cc motor tries to move its load. Tricycles operate like taxis in urban areas, but if you want to leave the city and go to a rural area, the tricycle won't leave until it has a full load.

A jeepney is the tricycle's big brother. The original jeepneys started their life as a surplus U.S. army jeep, which was then extended in every direction to create a small bus that can haul 20 or more people. Jeepneys take the place of local bus routes, and run everywhere.

Tonight we're going to Shakey's Pizza for a group dinner. Although Shakey's is almost unknown now in the states, in the Philippines it is a popular chain of higher-end restaurants -- like a nicer Chili's.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Trip Photos

We've found some time to relax and sort through some of the photos we've taken so far. This is the group that went on the tour of the Malakangan palace:

The front of the palace:

After pushing these two photos up, I've decided to change tactics. Posting photos through Blogger is just too painful to do more than one or two at a time, so I'm putting the photos on Picasa web,

Presidential Gifts

When we visited the presidential palace in Manila, they had on display a number of gifts to President Arroyo from the heads of state of other nations. For example, Myanmar gave this jade dragon:

And what did we provide? The United States, the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world, provided...

a casserole dish.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

On the Road

Yesterday we spent in Manila. First we managed to get a quick tour of the presidential palace and museum. They had the old presidential office, which was used until the end of the Marcos regime, as well as the nearby cabinet rooms and the small ballroom. They had a display containing many of the gifts to the government of the Philippines by other governments, as well as other clothes and personal effects of previous presidents and first ladies.

After the presidential palace, we walked through Fort Santiago, an old spanish fort. We walked the old walls, looked through gun ports, and spent about in hour in the memorial to Jose Rizal, a famous Philippine patriot and nationalist.

After the fort we stopped off in a local mall for lunch, and then found an internet cafe where I could check in with Alex and fire off a couple quick emails home. Afterwards we went to the Mall of Asia, which is billed as the largest mall in Asia. We spent some time and money taking advantage of the favorable exchange rate (there aren't many places left you can do that, after all), then headed back to the house for showers.

We finished up the day with dinner at Joahnna's aunt in Paranaque. I didn't manage to make it out to meet up with Alex, as he was out dancing with his performance group and we ended up fairly far apart, time-wise.

We are on the road to Naga city, which is a full day's drive from Manila. Most of Joahnna's relatives live in this area, so we will be spending a week in and around Naga. Along the way we stopped and took a look at Taal, an active volcano in the middle of a lake. There was an old Marcos palace called “The Palace in the Sky”. It's at the top of a nearby peak that overlooked the lake and volcano, so spent a while admiring the view.

After the peak we stopped at at a food stand by the side of the road and bought bananas, pineapple, chico, and jackfruit. The last two were new to me – chico is a small brown fruit that looks a bit like a kiwi, but inside is brown and tastes a bit like dates. Reputedly if you eat enough of it you will get drunk. The jackfruit looks a bit like a pineapple the size of a watermelon. We just bought portions of one – I'll have to check in later with how it tastes.

Update: Just tried some jackfruit. The taste is difficult to describe – the closest we could come is a combination of banana and pineapple.

Arrived in Manila

Woke up early in the morning to the sounds of roosters crowing back and forth. It's still quite dark outside, but my body insists that it's time to be up and about (according to the world clock on my computer, it's about 5AM). I slept a total of about 2 hours on the two flights over here, and probably not much more than a few hours last night, so I have a feeling this is going to catch up to me pretty fast in the next day or two.

Weather in Manila is as expected – hot and humid. Since our plane arrived last night at around 11PM, I didn't get to see much of the city as we drove to our present location (a rental house in southern Manila, owned by one of Joahnna's relatives). However, from the airport and what I did see, it reminds me very much of the Yucutan. Most houses in this area are walled and gated, with a small drive in front where you could park a couple cars, and a decent size back yard.

So far cell phone operation is a complete bust – it's able to come up and detect several local service providers, but registering with one of those providers doesn't seem to have any effect. I get no signal, and attempting to dial out produces an error message. There is no internet access at the house we're staying at, but some experimentation last night picked up a weak wireless signal. Since this is a pretty nice area, there's a good chance of finding an open access point around somewhere.

My plan, prior to departure, was to have dinner with Alex, my old college roommate, either today or tomorrow, somewhere in the vicinity. I had disucssed it briefly over email and chat with him prior to leaving, but had planned to figuring out the details today. My current lack of communications ability puts me in something of a bind. One of Joahnna's aunts took down his phone number and said she would give him a call, which sounds like a setup for epic confusion, since she has no idea who Alex is, nor he she.

Somehow it will all work out, I'm sure.