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Glimpses of life seen from halfway around the globe


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April 22, 2014 | 01:58 PM
Editor's note: Reporter Steve Targo visited the Philippines for a few weeks, in March and April. It was his first time in that part of the world, so we asked him to write about it.

"There he goes! There he goes! There he goes!" screamed my 3-year-old son, Isaiah, as he ran through the terminal aisles.

Four flights for us to get from Chicago to Davao City, Philippines — O'Hare to Las Vegas, Las Vegas to South Korea, South Korea to Manila, Manila to Davao.

The first flight was delayed two hours. Isaiah got bored after 15 minutes. He decided he'd creep into the roped-off areas of the gate, look at me and smile. I would rise from my chair, he would run away, and the chase was on.

Around 11 p.m., he was sleepy-eyed in his stroller as our footsteps echoed through the mostly vacant passageways of McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. Slot machines flashed quietly as no one was using them. We had just boarded our flight to Korea and were catching our breath as one of the airline employees regretfully informed us they did not have our luggage.

It was more than 12 hours of night on the flight to Korea, then 3 ˝ hours to Manila, where the temperature was warmer by about 30 degrees. An Italian beef at the airport consisted mostly of onions and yellow mustard.

Another flight delay, and my son's game of there-he-goes expanded beyond our proximity. I heard him laughing before I saw him run through the door — down a hallway that led to a different plane.

By then, we were baking in the heat of a large building without air conditioning that was filled with people, undergoing the merciless reprogramming of our body clocks.

We weren't laughing.

As Facebook friends complained about another snowy March forecast, I stood on a brick patio, squinting and sweating under the tropic sun, still dressed for Wisconsin.

The first day of the trip and our luggage hadn't made it to Davao yet. My wife bought clothes in a mall, but one country's 2XL is another's large. The T-shirts she acquired hugged my torso like sausage skin, so I decided to just wear the shirt I flew in with.

Three days later, the airport called with our luggage.

"This is great," I told my brother-in-law. "Now you can see the other shirt I brought."

In Davao City, there's always movement, always sound.

Malls are crowded, thriving places of business. The presence of metal detection gates and armed security personnel fade into the background after a couple visits.

Where the influence of America's aesthetic is heavy in shopping centers and on billboards, there's a mix of cultures on the streets.

People grill pork on nearly every corner. Pedestrians shield their skin from the sun, usually with an umbrella or a book bag.

Several structures appear to be built out of discarded materials from other building sites.

One shack that appeared to have been built from apple boxes had a sign boasting "Internet Café."

Durian, a popular, spiky, pungent fruit, also can be found among street vendors, as are other fruits and vegetables.

The streets are alive with sounds from roosters, dogs, lizards, insects, birds, stereos, power tools.

Traffic consists mostly of taxicabs, jeepneys — public transit vehicles which look like shrunken buses or trucks — and motorcycles with sidecars and umbrellas. They call them "tricycles."

Ideas like right-of-way, staying within one's lane or speed limits don't rank highly.

The car horn is an integral part of driving.

At first, it seemed chaotic, but there's a system — if you're driving and someone's in the way, honk the horn. Either they move or you slam on the brakes.

"If you can drive in the Philippines," said my wife's friend, "you can drive in America."

Or anywhere, really.

Ayoung, short, long-haired boy dove off the concrete pier at the Davao City harbor and swam to the boat waiting to take tourists to private beaches on Talicud Island.

He hopped onto the outrigger and balanced himself effortlessly, walked over to where I sat, extended his hand and asked me a question in a language I couldn't understand.

"He is asking for pesos," my wife said. Then she dug out a coin from her purse and told me to drop it in the sea.

The boy watched it intently until it sank from sight, then dove in, head first. A few seconds later, his head and his left hand — with the coin, pinched between thumb and forefinger — emerged from the water's surface.

We played this game with him for a while, my son enjoying dropping the coins.

As more people boarded the boat, others boys perched themselves onto the outriggers.

Then, a sound like a wounded seagull from the starboard side.

It was an older boy with a scar down the left side of his head. Whenever he'd open his mouth, he'd wail, his hand outstretched, face winced.

He joined the others on the port side and continued wailing for pesos. The other boys laughed and wailed their own versions of his sound. Mocking him, my wife said.

But when the boy with the scarred head did three back-flips in a row into the water, the other boys applauded.

The boat dropped us off at a pier made of stone, at a private beach on the island. The sea was turquoise, the sand was white. Bright green lizards scampered up the sides of palm trees. Staircases appeared to have been made from coral and the petrified remains of aquatic creatures. Metallic xylophone sounds echoed down from the wooded hills behind us.

We ate various meats, such as lechon (a pork dish), pancit (noodles), and maxed out the storage capacity on our digital cameras.

A sign cautioned guests, "Watch out for falling coconuts."

Now that, I thought, gazing out at the sea, isn't such a bad problem to have.


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