Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hakone Trains, Trams and Gondolas

Hakone Open Air Museum

Tokyo Disney

The Philippines

So...the first big trip I took recently was to the Philippines. I went with a number of other JET participants during Golden Week, a group of holidays that coincide roughly within the same week. The Philippines is an amazingly beautiful country if not a bit odd due its hodge-podge of cultural influences. Nearly everyone speaks at least some English (many quite well), Spanish cultural influences are also pervasive as are Southeastern Asian and native cultural artifacts. The trip was both a vacation and a volunteer opportunity as we spent the majority of our time building houses for Habitat for Humanity. This gave the trip a distinctly odd feel; we would spend half our time doing distinctively altruistic things followed by uber-touristy things like trips to the beach. I had a great time doing both, it was just an odd mix of activities.

For transportation we relied nearly entirely on Jeepneys, a remnant of the US military presence in the Philippines. These outfitted Jeep/Buses made for an interesting (read: harrowing) commute everyday.

Thanks to Kelso Gordon for the picture.

Of course, the bulk of our time was spent building. This was a ground-up operation where we did everything from make our own bricks, to fetching water from the near-by river to mix our own cement, to creating intricate relay teams to transport the aforementioned bricks and water.

Thanks to Kelso Gordon for the picture.

Thanks to Johnathan for the picture.

Not surprisingly, the Philippines was damn hot. A number of us came out with some rather impressive sunburns, or for the lucky ones, extreme tan-lines. To beat the heat, we drank enough water to drown the city of Manila. It's good to know what good we did for the world was grossly offset by the pollution we created via our bottled water.

It may not look like much, but this is our final product. Keep in mind that we started with a whole in the ground and, as I mentioned, did everything from scratch. The foundation work is, without a doubt, the most time consuming work. I would say our house is probably 60% done. In the background you can see a more complete house.

As a side trip we went to an orphanage one night to play with the children there. This was, by far, the most poignant moment of the trip; as we didn't have any real contact with the families whose houses we were building, playing with the children was a more concrete manifestation of how our work can make a difference. Here I am juggling for the kids. I should mention that, although they enjoyed this, they were far more amused when I made my arms into a circle and pretended to be a basketball hoop for them.

Thanks to Aiko Harman for the picture.

Of course, we didn't work the entire time. We were on vacation after all. We took two notable side trips during our stay. The first was to a waterfall at the foot of a dormant volcano. After a 20 minute hike or so, the forest opened to a beautiful pool where we took in the scenery, did some swimming and some waterfall diving for the bolder members of the group. The second trip was a day at the beach where, after a short boat ride to an island, we partook in snorkeling, feasting on grilled fish and general, well-earned relaxing.

Thanks to Nigel Dixon for the picture.

Thanks to Adam Taylor for the picture.

Hey....remember that one time....

...that I actually updated this thing? Yeah....me neither. Anyway, it's been a while hasn't it? Early April by my reckoning. A lot has been going on. I admit this is a lame excuse for a lack of communication, but it is what it is. My next two posts will cover the two big trips I took over the past few months: one to the Philippines and one to Tokyo. If, by the grace of God, I can be more diligent, I'll try to start posting more.....don't hold your breath. Hope everyone is well. Holler at me with what's new in your respective life. I promise to get back to you before the rapture.