Live/work/eternal resting spaces available

There are many things I am growing to love about Manila.  It is a city of stark contrast and, like New York, it’s fragmented pieces bump up against each other in strange ways . Citywide oil tax protests and the discovery of the newest planet made of diamonds share the same space in one of the Manila daily papers.  Giant malls filled with imported goods tower over soot covered ally ways where men build new mechanical hardware out of discarded metal and batteries. A new light rail system forms a basket above the city with air-conditioned, pristine cars; while the streets below stutter with the jammed, fume filled, traffic standstill of jeepneys, buses, cars, pedi cabs, the intrepid pedestrian (us) and the insane cyclist.

Today we went to the Chinese cemetery.  I feel conflicted about documenting places of worship and rest, yet I seem to keep doing it.  Esy and I wandered around the elaborate system of roads and walkways lined with tombs.   Some of the wealthiest Filipinos are of Chinese descent.  In the most extreme cases, these tombs are reported to house swimming pools and cable TV for the departed.

In the mix of the beautifully maintained and crumbling structures were live/work spaces, living people inhabiting abandoned tombs.  Clothes lines, dishes, bicycles, work benches– evidence of people who have found a quieter place to exist than the busy streets outside the cemetery wall.

-by Sarah






in the mountains by the coast, a Malick moment

In the background, a rooster chorus and the hum of the highway behind it. It’s pretty quiet for the city here in our latest place, with a little veranda out back to write from, and get some morning light. We slept heavily for the first time since we arrived, having come from a long and incredibly worthwhile journey outside of the city this weekend to an untouched coastline whose community has fought to keep their land for the past 15 years. Displacement becomes cyclical; people are moved from the mountains and settle in the cities for jobs, then are removed from the settlements to make room for condos and shopping centers to look nice enough to attract foreign investment. The terms Ecotourism and Development sound positive, but often result in displacing people from the farmland they’ve cultivated, and causing the loss of an entire way of life. Job creation sounds good too, but turning a farming and fishing community into golf caddies and resort staff has many losses. It’s very easy for these intricacies to hide behind these terms used in flash news reports.

We travelled in a jeepney caravan filled with a number of groups, otherwise the place is inaccessible to public transport. Rice paddies and steep mountains rose up from the blue sea, and bamboo houses outnumbered concrete ones. All of us were generously fed and hosted by the community, and slept along the beach. I had a little Terrence Malick moment in the morning fog, when the shooting conditions were perfect; gentle light in a pristine paradise, with no lights to be seen in the hills.

now, we dance!

The morning began with an impromptu ballroom dance, led by two men who lead classes in an open air basketball court. We stopped to watch, and were hailed in; we started off with a salsa, which became tango, then rockabilly and ended in a flashier modern take, where I was encouraged to add increasingly more flair. Sarah’s partner was an elderly man who remarked on her resemblance to Angelina Jolie, and then reasoned that this made him resemble Brad Pitt. Sarah and I learned to dance when we met in Mexico, so many years ago, and miss being in a place where nightly dancing beats nightly tv watching. To my ladies at home, I’m bringing some new moves for our next outing!

Then it was on to the Lino Brocka Film Festival, hosted by the multi-talented film group Tudla. Narrative and doc short films touched on pertinent historical, economic and social issues, with some clever PSAs that quickly, visually, and humorously made their point. We’ve got some exciting trips coming up; there’s so much energy in Manila, but it will also be good to shoot outwards from the city and gain more perspective…and natural beauty. China is interested in the estimated $840 billion worth of mineral wealth in the mountains, materials to be made into cell phones and other technologies. I wish there was more talk of what the value of the mountains continuing to exist is estimated at; I have a feeling the number would be infinitely higher (and last infinitely longer than a cell phone would).

shooting + thinking + dreaming + drinking

We have so many incredible new friends; the jeepney’s intersections with cultural preservation, education and economic reform has spiderwebbed even further; the initial discovery period (despite prior research) is one of the best parts of the process.

Today there was a nationwide protest against the taxes on fuel; it is estimated that jeepney drivers contribute to the government P35 million ($827 thousand) per day in taxes on oil products. Streams of bright jeepneys drove past and honked their distinctive tones, still at work and full of passengers.

Now, sheets of rain are falling. I’m watching from a cafe, drinking tea with calamansi (the sweetest little citrus fruit, a dark green marble with neon orange pulp). The city is so packed outside, more so than my mother remembered it to be: 18,000 people per sq mi, vs 2800 in NY. I like to think of her as a teenager walking around these streets. The scent of my grandparents’ house, a warm, woody coconut smell, sometimes greets me around the corner, as if they just walked past.


safe on both sides, and more sides of the story

Anderson Cooper’s disappointment was palpable through the CNN reports of the storm that we watched while eating dinner last night in the little British pub themed inn we’re staying at. It’s also got an all-night jazz singing bar (thank you, earplug inventor). It’s a relief that NYC escaped the predicted destruction; while the waves did batter the southern coast, the hype felt a little much from here, where seven people died in a typhoon in the northern reaches of the island we’re on, Luzon. The BBC covered it, but no mention on CNN.

We met up with some new friends at the University of the Philippines yesterday; artists and cultural folks that reaffirmed the fleeting loss of local expression and identity. Frighteningly simple to erase centuries of history by denying access in one generation. Good teachers are the most valuable and undervalued component of society: “arts educated students are four times more likely to have higher math and science scores, involved in student’s affairs, literate and curious and engage in voluntary work.” These are the findings of John Silva, a strong proponent of arts education here who is celebrated for his lively arts & historical tours. He’s got a fantastic blog that features a creepy little cemetery hidden in the woods of Baguio, filled with painted animal statues and snarky quotes from dead American soldiers. Love it.

Plus a piece on ‘s 2004 Venice Biennale entry of a jeepney as a work of art; to my surprise it goes on to feature a sweet memory of my cousin’s grandfather Dr Novales, and the jeep he used to visit sick patients in 1950s Subic Bay. He also mentions that my grandfather circumcised him.

tandem typhoons

The sun emerged for the first time this morning, popping the pinks and greens of the city at last; it got typhoony yesterday after a light fog, so we spent it at the museums of Rizal Park. There, collections of indigenous art from all over the islands echoed the curvilinear patterns and bright matingkad palette seen on many jeepneys. My favorite motif is the sarimanok, a sort of fantasy chicken!

The day before, we visited a buddhist temple, and received a generous tour of the spacious grounds, followed by a personal audience with the head nun. Her thoughts on suffering and the impermanence of life struck us particularly, thinking back to our first film. The greeting used in the temple translates to Infinite light, infinite life; a meaningful sentiment to send out towards the living and the dead.

We hope our friends and family in NYC and the eastern coast of the US stay safe; the news reports from here seem unreal, like the earhquake that shook us the morning we left…


Morning in Manila

Stormy skies and light rain for our first day, in a cute little nabe outside of Makati. There are still some old houses wih the capiz shell windows and curving ironwork balconies, but the best fences are made from piles of plants. We dined on bangus fish & pancit noodles last night in a little restaurant around the corner. Some exciting meetings coming up in the next few days, with artists and drivers…in the meantime, we can’t stop snacking…


we are in the FUTURE

Seoul, 3:58 a.m., after fifteen hours in the sky. Outside it faded between twilight and night, as August 24th 2011 slipped by; so strange to have a whole day erased from your life. I hope it was a good day for you?

Airport art…spooky yet soothing in such a big blank space. Four hours to Manila (and a pool)!


JEEPNEY visualizes the richly diverse cultural and social climate of the Philippines through its most popular form of mass transportation: vividly decorated ex-WWII military jeeps.  Unlike mass transportation in many parts of the world, jeepneys are not a government service but are individually operated by the drivers, who manifest their identity, values, and dreams in its painting and decoration.  The stories of a jeepney driver, artist, and passenger take place amidst nationwide protest against oil price hikes that pressure drivers to work overseas to earn a living.  Lavishly shot and cut to the rhythm of the streets, JEEPNEY provides an enticing vehicle through which the rippling effects of globalization can be felt.

JEEPNEY is funded in part by The Center for Asian American Media with funds provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.