Considering there's too much to process in the short space of time I'll be here (I arrived Thursday/Friday; leave Monday/Tuesday), I've done the natural thing and fallen back on the areas in which I can easily recognize disparity: the internet and advertising.
Right now I'm in an internet cafe that's been set up in someone's hallway. (Gotta love old-school XP and Mozilla Firefox pre-tabbing.) Besides this spot, there's no internet anywhere else I've seen - not even a closed connection I can mooch off of on the long lonely nights. People communicate mainly via text-message. The mobile industry is massive here, and texting takes on political importance. When elections hit, everybody's deluged by "personal" messages from presidential incumbents.
To think back home, the only "celebrity" to ever mobile message me was Sam L. Jackson. And that was considered a forward thinking marketing campaign for the so-called new wave "third screen." Puh-lease.
And the ads? What fun. A vivid example: I logged onto Xanga today, and the central banner ad on the homepage was for a "matrimonial assistance" service called Shaadi.com.
Women are the Philippines' biggest export. They depart the country as domestic helpers, mail order brides and -- for the lucky ones -- nurses. For this reason, all my island-bound cousins are studying nursing. It appears to be the easiest way for an educated person to leave the country.
For those who seek glamour in the profession, it's soothing to know that HappySlip -- who's practically a local celebrity amongst rabid YouTubers in Quezon City -- pays for her vlogging habit with a nursing degree. (Everyone here loves you, Christine!)
The long car ride from Manila to Quezon is colored with billboards that pretty much obscure the landscape. Open space is fast paved-over with high-rise condominiums by a company that calls itself "truly Filipino." The fruit of its productivity are virtually indistinguishable from homes I've seen in El Cerrito or Walnut Creek.
The most expensive cafes and restaurants boast European or American origin, though I have never heard of any of them.
As for the jeepneys, most are airbrushed over with religious messages in graffiti-style print. Refurbished army vehicles, now posing as buses, marked "GOD IS GOOD" or "Nothing is impossible with God" whiz topsy-turvy around kids playing basketball on the street. "How's my driving?" some bumpers ask -- a question immediately followed by a number too long for my brain to process.
It's odd to think this is where my parents came from. "Welcome to the Third World," my aunt said playfully.
This happened shortly after I asked her why the public toilet we were standing in didn't have flushers. "And what's that bucket of water for?" I added. She sure got a kick out of me.