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Jeepney Ride

5 September 2011

I begin my morning in Cebu City by clambering into the back of a jeepney, the Philippines’ ubiquitous vehicle for public transit. First, as ever, I smash my head on the low roof as I crouch-walk between the benches on either side of the bed. Then I take a seat, and hug my backpack to my chest. When the back of his truck is full to the driver’s satisfaction, he releases the parking break and accelerates into a high-speed slalom down the narrow road winding out of Peace Valley. Chickens, children and dogs dodge the jeepney, and the jeepney itself dodges potholes, low-slung branches and chickens. The passengers are like popcorn kernels.

The original jeepneys were built from the Jeeps left behind by the US military after World War II. The back of the Jeep was sliced off and replaced with an extended bed, and, voila, public transit. There are many jeepneys still on the road today in the same style and construction: they look like junkyard frankensteins, all bulging curves and polished chrome embellishments, soldered together out of obviously mismatched parts, and slathered in whatever colors of paint happened to be available at the time.

The newer jeeps have a boxier, more clean-cut look, but with equally outrageous paint jobs: I’ve seen firebreathing dragons, abstract cubism, and a life-sized Yoda wielding a light saber. Also painted on is the jeepney’s route (e.g. “APAS LAHUG CARBON JONES & vice versa”), and often the name of the driver, or perhaps his boss, or maybe his wife (e.g. “Jose Vincent” or “Ramos Brothers” or “Severina”), and occasionally a total non-sequitur (e.g. “Duran Duran” or “Stairway to Heaven” or “Powered by Linux 2.8!”). (more…)

Cloudburst Refugees

22 August 2011

It’s the rainy season here in Southeast Asia. In practical terms, that means it starts raining every time I walk out of a building. After a vain attempt to leave work on Friday, I spent half an hour stranded under a bus shelter not 40 paces from the front door of the clinic. This was the scene:

Thai Scenes

12 August 2011

Almost before I even knew which way was ขึ้น, my first stint in Thailand was at a close, and I was flying back to Cebu. Looking back, a few observations from the past month:

Chiang Mai Pork BunsChiang Mai offeringWriting on the wallWhere can you see lions?Lunchtime at the monasteryReflections in the Buddhist templeSunset on the River Ping

Chiang Mai Pork Buns


Chiang Mai offering


Writing on the wall


Where can you see lions?


Lunchtime at the monastery


Reflections in the Buddhist temple


Sunset on the River Ping

Burma Hop

27 July 2011

My Thai visa was set to expire on Saturday, so I set out from Kamphaeng Phet, boarding the morning bus to Mae Sot. The Moei river divides Mae Sot, Thailand from Myawaddy, Myanmar, and by crossing the Friendship Bridge and coming back again, I’d get a fresh 15 days stamped in my passport.  Seemed like a prime deal, so off I went, expecting to be home that afternoon.  (A three-hour tour, a three-hour tour…)

One bus ride and one bowl of noodles later, I was riding the back of a motorbike, eyes squinting into the raindrops smattering my face, a satisfied grimace curled on my lips: I was going to one of the most repressive countries on earth, a country (relatively) few curious foreign eyes have seen since the junta took over in 1962: exotic Burma. The bike pulled up to the iron gates, and I strode to the immigration booth. A window snapped open and a woman’s head popped out in a military cap. “Help you, sir?”

Thanks, don't mind if I do.

“I’m going over there,” I pointed at Burma, like Napoleon at Russia.

“Sorry sir, border closed.”

“Pardon me?”

“No cross! Border closed one year.”

“Wait. What? Why?”

In her turn, she pointed across the river: “Over there, is a war.”

Well. Fair enough. (more…)

City on the River Ping

6 July 2011

Deeper thoughts will come.  For now, a few impressions from my first days in Kamphaeng Phet:

Sunset on the river PingTrio in Kamphaeng Phet Historical ParkSleeper in Kamphaeng Phet Historical ParkElection day in ThailandWat!

Sunset on the river Ping


Trio in Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park


Sleeper in Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park


Election day in Thailand