Bill Fink's story of a year of work, basketball, romance, and other disasters in the Philippines

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Back to Work

As the header of this blog mentions, Dunked in Manila covers the year I worked in the Philippines. While I often considered my work at IBM to be an inconvenience between games of basketball and trips to beaches or bars, somehow I managed to fulfill the duties of my AIESEC internship. My confusing first day at work is summarized here.

In my role of market analyst, my challenge was to make projections for the future of the economy. This would be tough in the U.S., but nearly impossible in the Philippines where the year ahead of me would hold earthquakes, coup attempts, volcanic eruptions, and the usual devastating typhoons, random bombings and kidnappings.

Years have passed, I'm not as thin as I was in this photo (which may explain my inability to dunk anymore), but the Philippines economy remains as chaotic as ever. One step forward, two steps back sort of thing. But the underground economy keeps on chugging. You may be able to see in the background of the photo I have a poster advertising that I was selling tickets for a Sharon Cuneta show at the University of the Philippines--looking for money to supplement my low IBM stipend. Just trying to fit in...

Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Eve in the Philippines

Since it's 12/31, I should mention that New Year's Eve in the Philippines is a fun, and always explosive event. Tons of San Miguel beer, many parties, great food, family gatherings, and lots and lots of fireworks. Both official city celebrations and thousands of people on the streets launch fireworks in the sky and/or at each other. The smoke is so thick from the fireworks that the lack of visibility causes major airports to close. The mayor of Manila recently suggested residents skip the fireworks and bang pots and pans instead. Good luck with that.

During my year in the Philippines, I spent New Year's Eve in the city of Cebu, in the central Visayan islands. Together with a few of my fellow AIESEC trainees, we wandered the town, getting invited to a couple large family celebrations which obligated us to eat two huge meals. We road in the back of a pickup truck across town, unwittingly offering ourselves as big white targets for many little kids with bottle rockets. We teamed with a beautiful but depressed Chinese woman and an exile from Miami to go to an empty nightclub. We figured it was just as well that it was empty, because it was the sort of place where they had to post a sign saying "please check your firearms and weapons at the door." Despite being orphans for the evening, we became enough of a family together to enjoy our night.

For the long version of the story, check out this chapter from my epic work in progress.

People love squirrels

I recently published a Philippine travel story in the San Francisco Chronicle. I detailed exotic beaches, luxury hotels, kayaking, diving, hiking, rare river dolphins, history, politics, and gave travel tips. But what did all the readers write in about? The squirrel. My story talks about my seeing a recently discovered species of white squirrel on a remote island, and for some reason people across America emailed me to say that they, too, had seen white squirrels and/or chipmunks in their areas. Weird. Maybe I should write a squirrel book instead of a basketball book?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

backboard montage

Someone needs to come up with a coffee table book based solely on backboards as seen in the Philippines. They're a pretty good summary of the country, scenery, and people, because after all, life is basketball, right?
Fancy net with beads braided into it, palm tree above, as seen on the resort island of Miniloc, Palawan

Fish drying on tarps on the basketball court, near Taytay. Often the basketball court is the only flat, clean place in town.

"Air Safari" backboard, behind barbed wire outside of airport in Manila. Hopefully the anti-aircraft explosions illustrated on the board aren't foreshadowing your flight.

and one from outside a shanty area in a harbor, put together with sticks and twigs, and still sturdy enough to host games

more to come....

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Dolphins have hops, too

Ok, not much to do with basketball, but just had my eco-toursim article on Palawan island published in the prestigious Expat Magazine in Manila. If you squint, you can see the dolphin hopping out of the water in the screen shot of my article to the left. I think dolphins probably could be trained to play some sort of water-basketball. And sure enough, a quick search on youtube shows this is true. I'm going to bet on the dolphins vs. the sea lions in that game.

The squirrel in the lower right corner is some newly discovered species that hasn't even been named yet. Saw it in a cage in some remote island off the coast of Taytay. And the bird in the left corner is a hornbill, not an eagle as the magazine mis-labeled it. And thus launches my new career in wilderness photography.

I'll also have an article on Philippine ecotourism published in an upcoming SF Chronicle travel section, as well as a couple blurbs into the December issue of Islands Magazine. So perhaps the Philippines is going to start getting some publicity as a tourist destination.
And just to make sure I'm keeping the focus on all things basketball & the Philippines, below is a shot of a basketball game on the deck of a docked freighter ship, taken during my recent ecotoursim travels. Seems to be some sort of irrepressible desire for Filipinos to play the game by whatever means necessary. Would loved to have seen a game at high seas, it'd add a whole new dimension to the sport. And could be yet another Olympics basketball category in which Filipinos would be assured of a gold medal. (in addition to flip-flop-wearing basketball).

Thursday, September 13, 2007

walkin' like larry

When I first went to the Philippines, I had "open zipper syndrome." That is to say so many people stared at me when I walked down the street, I kept looking down to see if my fly was open.

It was just that sometimes I forgot I was a walking freak show, a white guy strolling through neighborhoods that tourists never visited. I tried to act normal, act like a local, but like Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinnie, I just didn't blend.

So my mental coping mechanism, in this nation crazy for basketball, was to imagine I was Larry Bird. My thinking was that Larry Bird always stood out in a crowd, literally because he was 6'9", and because of his fame. But he didn't seem to let it bother him. I figured if I took this same attitude, I would keep my composure. This worked a little bit. And sometimes it didn't, like the time I came across the duck ladies.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Please don't shoot me in the face

On my recent trip to Manila, I grabbed a couple drinks with a Dutch AIESEC trainee, just to see if his life was as crazy as mine had been. My earlier posts detail the AIESEC organization that sent me to the Philippines for my one-year assignment. Our merry band of international students and recent grads got into all sorts of trouble back then, and I imagined it probably wasn't too different nowadays.

Sure enough, the latest news is that several trainees had been arrested, one for urinating in public, a couple others for taking a swim in the fountain in front of the Peninsula hotel. While I can't imagine getting arrested in the Philippines can be a good experience, it probably beats getting shot in the face, a fate I narrowly avoided during one of my AIESEC goofs back in the day: Read The Wrong Wall

The photo above is I believe of a Bushmaster automatic submachine gun, it was sitting in the backseat of a town mayor's landcruiser when I hitched a ride during my recent trip. Just a subtle reminder that hijinks can go bad in a hurry in the Philippines.