Monday, August 15, 2005

The End is Near (part 2)

The Fourth Sign: The Outsider

Last weekend, my stateside-based tito, tita and cousins visited us for a family reunion.

Showing the usual filipino style hospitality, our family offered to treat them to the best of our native delicacies.

Typically, pinoy cooking can be summed up as follows: The more cholesterol, the better. Roasted pork, molten sebo, deepfried parts, or basically anything that sizzles and crackles and your meal is good to go. Heck, even our veggie dishes are full of oil, meat or chicharon.

However, this post is not about the typical pinoy cooking.

For some reason, my Dad suddenly had a craving for something... exotic. Yes. Something more exotic than even balut (steamylicious aborted baby duck eaten in its shell) and dinuguan (chewy pork liver bits in blood stew)...

He craved sawa (python), bayawak (monitor lizard) and locust. Deep fried of course (Best with san miguel). And to my horror, my Tito agreed.

Thus we found ourselves on the way to Balaw Balaw restaurant in Angono, Rizal, the most famous source of these holy grails of Filipino food. Angono, by the way, is commonly called the Artist's town because of its colorful culture (not just Balaw balaw), and because a lot of Filipino National Artists took up residence there.

However, this post is not about the Balaw Balaw restaurant nor the quaint little town of Angono.

This post is about Jeepneys. Yep. The icons of Filipino ingeniuity, whose very drivers have transcended the limits of multi-tasking by not only texting while driving but also looking each passenger in the eye (via the rearview window), coordinating where each one should sit, counting change by the use of touch alone, and with his free hand, smoking out the window.

Of course, with everything else going on, something's gotta give. Jeepneys are absolutely the WORST drivers in the Philippines. They cut, they swerve, they stop and even go on reverse in the middle of the street with reckless abandon.

Sort of like a woman driver, but more aggress... Oh wait... Sort of Like a woman driver.

Anyway, this post is about how on the way to Angono, I finally saw a Jeep that actually signalled to switch lanes, and slowed down before stopping at the road's shoulder to pick up a passenger.

The end is near.

Friday, August 05, 2005

The End Is Near

Im sure of it. The signs are here.


The First Sign: The Appearance of THE OTHERS....

The other day I was browsing through Friendster, and by some weird premonition, I decided to search my own name. Now, this is the first time I've ever done searching for my own name, and having a surname such as mine wherein its so obscure even Filipinos have difficulty pronouncing it, I expected to find my own profile smiling smugly at me.

To my surprise, Friendster came up with not one, but TWO people under my name!!! (try it!)

Que horror! Another Adrian out there... possibly wreaking havoc using my good name!!!

The next day, my friend Joy excitedly YM's me... (edited for GP viewing)

Joy: "I dont miss you that much anymore"
Me: "Eh?"
Joy: "One of my clients looks exactly like you!"
Me: "Thats... scary..." (of course at this time, I was thinking about the evil friendster clone)
Joy: "Yes. Scary isnt it? He even acts like you. Imagine that! An Adrian Clone."
Me: "...good lord. My evil twin has resurfaced!!!"

This news, coupled with the Friendster discovery suddenly turned my world upside down. I know some people have been praying for more people like me (yeah right haha)... but Adrian Clones? This is too much.

Oh, and if any of you see me sneaking into unscrupulous areas, flirting with your girlfriend, slamming your car with a sledgehammer, crashing into a private party or doing something otherwise incriminating... Remember: its that evil Twin!

The Second Sign: The Truce Has Been Broken

For the past five years, I have been blatantly disobeying the stupid "Color Coding" law in Manila. For those unfamiliar with it, its a law here in the Philippines where cars are banned from the road once a week, depending on the last digit on their plate number (e.g. XXX001 is banned on mondays.) This initially lessened traffic, but as the years gone by, didnt actually help since anyone who could afford it just bought a second car. Now, they can't take it out anymore because once they do, the extra volume brought about by people owning more than one car (who would drive the extra car just because they suddenly can) would instantly clog Metro Manila's streets.

Anyway, for the past five years I have blatantly disobeyed this rule once, twice and even three times a week. And have never been caught.

Its uncanny. Whenever an MMDA officer looks my way, something extraordinary happens which causes the officer to look away again-- two cars suddenly crash into each other, some idiot would blare his horns, a jeepney would stop in the middle of the road, a sudden waft of air would lift a sexy pedestrian's skirt... Always, there is something that would happen to get their attention away from me.

Except last thursday.

For the first time in history, I got caught redhanded after some idiot in front of me chickened out of beating the red light, and got handed a ticket for violating the color coding law.

To celebrate of course, I slowly drove up to each MMDA outpost in my path, purposely baiting the eager sonsofbitches and then showing them the ticket with a "Gotcha! Someone beat you to it! Idiot!" smile to each one before stepping on the gas.

Fun... but still, the Truce has been broken.


The Third Sign: History is Rewriting Itself

Imagine this: Early in the 14th century, years before Ferdinand Magellan circumnavigated the world or Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas, centuries before James Cook discovered Australia, a daring Chinese Emperor assembles a gigantic fleet of 800 ships to finally map out the ancient world and discover the continents that lay around him.

But then, an internal Chinese struggle ensues, which leads to a radical change in foreign policy. The maps of the ancient world are destroyed, and all captains logs burned to ashes. However, a single map makes its way to medieval Venice, moves silently to Portugal, to Spain and from there singlehandedly triggers the European Age of Discovery.

No, this isn't a Dan Brown Novel. This is 1421 (, Gavin Menzies' earth-shaking discovery on how screwed up a history we have. I just finished reading it and was very amazed at how logical it was.

I've always thought it was impossible for the early European seafarers to actually achieve their "journeys of discovery." I mean, look at this: Magellan supposedly circumnavigated the world with only 5 ships. Columbus reached the Americas using three. Due to restrictions on supplies (freshwater, food, ammo...etc), health risks (Scurvy, beriberi...etc) , and crudeness of seafaring technologies, using so few ships on both of these journeys were one-shot deals and were actually suicidal... unless of course they already knew where they were going.

A few years ago Time ran an article (and its still available online!!) about Asia's greatest seafarers. Zheng He, the eunuch general who commanded China's entire fleet during that time. It detailed pretty much his flagships, some reaching the colossal sizes of 130m long and 30m wide, the cannon-toting destroyers that accompanied these behemoths and the self-sustaining supply ships that made sure the 30,000-strong navy would be able survive for months at a time. The article goes on to say Zheng He reached the African Continent and brought back the emperor various exotic animals as tribute. Not bad for a guy without balls.

Gavin's book goes a bit further. Much much further. He says Zheng He led another trip, a previously unchronicled and uncharted journey, much further than Africa in the hopes of "uniting the world in Confucian Harmony" (a stark contrast to how Christian conquerors slaughtered and enslaved the peoples they ran into)

Here's an excerpt from the book (first published in 2002):

"...On the 8th of March, 1421, the largest fleet the world had ever seen sailed from its base in China. The ships, huge junks nearly five hundred feet long and built from the finest teak, were under the command of Emperor Zhu Di's loyal eunuch admirals. Their mission was 'to proceed all the way to the end of the earth to collect tribute from the barbarians beyond the seas' and unite the whole world in Confucian harmony.

The journey would last over two years and circle the globe.

When they returned Zhu Di lost control and China was beginning its long, self-imposed isolation from the world it had so recently embraced. The great ships rotted at their moorings and the records of their journeys were destroyed. Lost was the knowledge that Chinese ships had reached America seventy years before Columbus and circumnavigated the globe a century before Magellan. They had also discovered Antarctica, reached Australia three hundred and fifty years before Cook and solved the problem of longitude three hundred years before the Europeans..."

It's interesting how Gavin Menzies pieced it all together. While writing about the history of the world in 1421, he stumbled onto an old Venetian map where islands were drawn when they could not possibly have been mapped by European cartographers before. This caused him to embark on a lifelong quest to find out about the ancient seafarers who actually trailblazed the way for future explorers such as Magellan, Columbus and Cook.

Of particular interest is on how advanced Chinese technology was during that time, which led to further strength in his theory that only China and her great fleets would be able to surpass all possible obstacles to surveying the world as we know it.

Here are more excerpts.

"China’s standing can be illustrated by a comparison with London that same month.

February 1421 was also one of the most important days in English history. By the Treaty of Troyes the Hundred Years War was to be brought to an end. The French heiress, Katherine of Valois, would marry the great English general, King Henry V, and be crowned Queen of England in Westminster Abbey. When the French King died, Henry and Katherine’s children eldest child would become monarch both of France and England, uniting the two countries. At the feast on 21st February 1421 to celebrate the coronation of Katherine as Queen of England, 600 guests ate stockfish - salt cod. Their plates were but slabs of stale bread.

In Beijing, 26,000 people celebrated the inauguration of the Forbidden City with a ten-course banquet served on fabulous porcelain. Zhu Di’s favourite concubine was clothed in sumptuous silk. Her jewels included cornelians from Persia, rubies of Ceylon, Indian diamonds and khotan jade; her perfume contained ambergris from the Pacific, myrrh from Arabia, sandalwood from the Spice Islands – its composition much like the most expensive perfumes of today. Zhu Di’s walled city was more than 1400 times the size of the walled City of London.

The disparity in learning, knowledge and literacy was equally profound. In 1405 AD Zhu Di had commissioned 2,000 experts who had worked for 12 years; they could refer to six centuries of written wisdom. At last they had completed the Yongle
Dadian, a massive encyclopaedia. In Henry V’s England, printing was as yet unknown; Henry possessed six books of which three were on loan from the Nunnery of Syon House, whereas in China concubines could buy printed novels from market stalls.

England had no knowledge of the heavens. Chinese astronomers every evening charted over 1,000 stars traversing the night sky. They had predicted and noted the return of Halley’s Comet on every pass since the year 200 BC.

In June 1421 England’s King Henry would ferry his army of 5,000 archers to France in a few fishing smacks which could only carry 100 men and could only make the journey in daylight within sight of land.

That same June, Zhu Di's army of 28,000 men landed in East Africa. The Chinese cavalry was armed with every sort of gunpowder weapon. A contest between China and all the world’s navies combined would have resembled that between a shark and a sprat...."

Gavin's book traces the journey the great fleet of 1421 made. He makes note of how the ancient Chinese sailed in gargantuan ships whose very rudders were much taller than Columbus' largest ships, how they mapped out the continents, figured out how to compute latitude and longitude (you need some sailing background to understand this though) and circumnavigated the world, as well as how the crafty Portugese were able to get their hands on the ancient Chinese maps and use them to pave the way for a western-dominated society.

Now, we're slowly seeing the great giant of China wake up again from its long slumber. They lost history to the West... Will they start taking it back again? be continued