Sunday, June 29, 2008

Manila - End of Week 1

So it's our first official day off and I feel like I should go out and do or see something in Manila. And I'm thinking that something might just be a movie. Not much motivation for anything else.

I went out last night with some cast members and managed to stay up until midnight – quite a feat considering I still want to lay my head down around 8pm. Managed to sleep in until 7:30am this morning, too! We went to a Thai restaurant in the Greenbelt, which is quite possibly the best mall ever. Lots of coffee shops, restaurants, stores, live music, museums, and all spread out in this mix of indoor/outdoor spaces. Lots of trees, plants, open air – really the best way to design a mall if you have to have one. I hate shopping, but this place is really quite pleasant and relaxing.

Anyway, we had some Thai food, and I proceeded to set my lips afire with my stir-fried chicken with holy basil. Anyone who knows me knows I'm a 5-alarm kinda' girl – I love spicy, and am usually not satisfied until my nose, eyes, and ears are running and I'm almost crying. This was WAY beyond that. The kind of spicy that literally made my lips AND NOSE burn, and almost had me convinced that I could, in fact, breathe fire. I only made it halfway through my meal – it was good, but it's clear that even super spicy Thai food in the States is nothing compared with the real thing. I also had the Tom Yum Goong soup, which is a spicy prawn soup that I've always loved, but was a little grossed out that they actually put the whole animal in my soup. Two, in fact. I had to let my mind wrap around that idea for awhile, scooped the two crustaceans out and set them aside, finished my soup, then decided to go for it, anyway, and tore into the poor (very much alive-looking) creatures. Once they no longer had faces they were much easier to swallow and quite tasty.

A couple of our cast members are local actors and one of them suggested a specifically Pinoy delicacy: balut. I thought he was pulling my leg but have since verified that this is for real. Duck fetuses and hot sauce. Baby ducks, not quite fully-formed, that you break out of the egg and eat whole. Uncooked, even. I've been eating a lot of raw fish since I got here – perfect breakfast food, surprisingly enough – but balut will be a struggle for me, I'm sure. I have several weeks still to work up the guts . . . literally.

I might be off to a museum today, because that sounds nice and easy and not too expensive or overly ambitious. I'd really love to sit by the pool, but I don't think the sun is going to show at all today. There's this weird cloud cover; Manila doesn't seem to have too many super tall buildings, so you can practically see horizon to horizon and there's just white covering everything. Not really cloudy as I know it, and not really fog, either, but like someone just laid a thick layer of cotton over the city. Not very inspiring to get out and about.

Recently got a short introduction to Manila's seamier side. I'm not sure what it is about me that makes people want to share this kind of info with me, but at least it's interesting stuff. One of the locals I get to interact with every day pointed out a couple of sex hotels on the way back to our hotel. Maximum 3-hour stay. His English wasn't the best, so I'm not sure if we were communicating very clearly, but he told me prostitution is legal here, along with dog-fighting and cock-fighting – you know, in case I felt the need to satisfy EVERY possible vice, I'm now covered. I'm not really into seeing animals tear each other apart (I've seen enough of that kind of thing backstage when two divas collide), and I'm not sure I could keep a straight face long enough to ever try and hire a prostitute, but I do love getting to know something not-so-touristy about Manila.

I'm beginning to think half the Pinoy population is employed as security guards. They're everywhere. Anytime you enter a building, you're screened. They look in your purse/bags, they've got the metal-detector wands, etc. I'm not sure what all the security is about. It's a little annoying – my backpack is searched everyday even re-entering our own hotel after rehearsals – but if it's that strict, I guess there must be good reason.

Rehearsals are awesome; I feel so blessed. We record the cast album in 10 days, then hard back at work to open, I think, maybe 2 weeks later. I see posters everywhere, and Lea's face on billboards, and even one giant 4-story banner hung up in the mall advertising a contest to win tickets to our show. (I know, I should take a picture!) I promise to keep my camera with me today, and will take a photo of SOMETHING so I can get myself in the habit.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Manila - Week 1 Update

I know, it's been several days since my last post, but we really kinda' hit the ground running and this is my first chance to sit down at a computer for more than 5 minutes without either having to run off to rehearsal or put my butt in bed before I pass out sitting up. I have the day off today, though; I think Lea has some press stuff all day, and since all my scenes are with her, I get to look at my lines poolside today. :)

Typhoon Frank/Fengshen finally left the Philippines on Monday, but the country is still dealing with the aftermath. It's really quite sad - the newspapers are still headlining with all the damage, injuries, lives lost, etc. I don't have the paper in front of me, but I read at breakfast that there are close to 500 dead, maybe 250 injured, and a couple hundred more still missing or unaccounted for. Over 70,000 homes destroyed . . . ugh. They're retiring the name "Frank" from the list because of it's severity. Not sure how much news has covered it in the US, but it's quite serious over here.

Other than than the typhoons, though, Manila is lovely. It's about 80 degrees every day, sunny, tropical breezes blowing . . . perfect, really. I don't even turn the AC on. We're rehearsing right by the ocean - I walked down to the beach yesterday to eat lunch and was, unfortunately, quite disappointed. It wasn't really a beach; it was somewhat fenced off, but a portion of it had fallen into disrepair and I crossed through that. Wish I hadn't. The waves hitting the coastline were more litter and trash than they were water, and the water itself was actually brown. I've never seen the ocean that color. There's signs and tips advertised everywhere about living and working "green" in the Philippines, but I guess that'll take some time to take effect. Further south, though, is supposed to be some great surfing and scuba-diving. The Philippines has the largest populations of humpback and whale sharks of anywhere in the world, so I'm hoping I'll have a chance to make it out on a boat to spot some. (Might even try surfing again, who knows?)

I'm struggling a bit to find what is specifically Philippine culture - food, art, etc. Manila is apparently quite diverse, and especially where we're at. We're staying in a more international business-oriented area of Manila, so I see people from all over the world at breakfast. Even the TV channels speak to that; they have CNN, BBC World, some possibly Korean channel (?), several Philippino stations (where they speak in kind of the Philippine equivalent of Spanglish, half Tagalog/Filipino and half English - took me a while to realize it wasn't my ears just misunderstanding half of what they said), and - randomly - a German channel. We're right next to a GIANT mall - and I am NOT exaggerating - a mall so big there is nothing else around but MORE mall. Hopefully once I settle into the time change and rehearsals, I'll see about how to get a little further away from our hotel.

They have these public transport/buses called jeepneys. They're supposed to be super cheap, but I have to admit I'm a little hesitant because I've yet to actually see one STOP. Just yesterday I watched as a dozen people got out of this vehicle that really probably only seats 4-6 adults (?!?) AS IT WAS STILL MOVING. It did slow down a bit for them, but I'm just clumsy enough to break something vital trying to crawl in and out of a moving vehicle, so we'll see if I ever work up the nerve.

Anyway, all is good over here with me. I did finally buy a digital camera, and even took a picture. Yes, ONE. I'll keep working on that so I can post some photos here eventually. For now, I'm off to finish "God of War" on my PSP and then maybe go get an $8 hour-long massage . . . I know, ridiculous, right?!? Sure am loving it here! :)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Mabuhay in Manila

Well, we made it to Manila after about 18 hours on a couple planes, and just in time. Typhoon Frank hit just minutes after we landed in Manila and has since caused 89 flights to be completely canceled. (How much would that suck to travel for 18 hours and have to turn around for a couple more just to make it to a safe place to land? Besides the fact that we would have been stuck wherever that is for quite awhile!) I think the worst of it is further south than we are - unfortunately 19 dead at this point - but we've had some amazingly heavy and constant rain since we landed almost 22 hours ago, and Manila is under Public Storm Signal No. 2, whatever that means. The lights have flickered a couple times, the pool flooded and has closed off part of the 2nd floor, and there seems to be some interference over phone lines but we are by far better off than those in the hardest-hit areas. It's supposed to rain for the rest of the week, so I do hope anymore casualties can be avoided.

On a more personal note, I am ti-RED! I'm writing this to try and stay awake for another hour. My body clock says it's 7:50am and I haven't been to bed, but it's actually 7:50pm in Manila and if I go to bed this early I'll be up well before the sun and worthless by the afternoon. We start rehearsals tomorrow, so I've got to get on a good schedule here soon . . .

Haven't had much of a chance to look around, yet, or see anything interesting. I did find the grocery store today, and I don't know if they're all like this in the Philippines or not, but I frikkin' love it. Anything and everything you could possibly need - and even multiple brands of each! Just one of those things that Manhattan doesn't really do well: well-stocked and plentiful grocery/drug stores. (Sigh) Sure could get used to that one-stop shopping.

Fading fast here, but I've only killed about 10 minutes so far . . . hmmm.

Walking around today, I was really happy to encounter lots of smiling, warm, and generous faces; can't really say yet if that's a cultural thing or just really great customer service and a few randomly friendly strangers but, again, a welcome change from NYC, where merchants act like they're doing YOU a favor by letting you buy their merchandise, and you're lucky to get ANY kind of acknowledgment from strangers - much less a smile!

It's now 8:16pm and I'm just not going to make another 44 minutes. More later, of course; I finally joined the 21st century and bought a digital camera today, so I'll also be sharing pics as soon as my eyes are rested enough to be able to read how to work it!

Good night, Philippines/Good morning, USA.