A Kite Dancing in the Typhoon

  • Coming from the Land of Milk and Honey, this is my first real disaster.
  • Infrastructure almost completely collapsed, and it wasn’t great to begin with.
  • “You’re not leaving the Philippines without experiencing this.”

It’s Tuesday morning here in Cebu, where we’re still getting to grips with Typhoon Odette/Rai.

Yesterday, I celebrated my 47th birthday with cake, candlelight, and Ian Fleming’s masterful book From Russia with Love.

Pam has been an angel, going old school with a washboard and dipper.  Our house, somehow, is still ship-shape.  Micah is getting used to the heat, albeit it’s much cooler here in December, mercifully.

As for me, this is the most educational adventure I’ve been on.  If I was an enthusiastic capitalist before, now I’m a rabid one.

Today’s letter will be my random thoughts, somewhat organized.  Tomorrow, I’ll try to add some good theory to my thoughts.  Finally, on Thursday, I’ll loosen up and share with you the lessons I’ve learned from the man himself, Commander James Bond.

The Prologue

Before I begin, let me state this clearly.

Though the suffering here is genuine and terrible, it’s nothing on the scale of what those towns in Kentucky have gone through.

Nor is it on par with what NOLA suffered from Katrina.  Though we had crazy flooding, this town isn’t underwater.

With that said, I, myself, have never witnessed such natural wrath.

Growing up in New Jersey, we got horrific storms, but the hurricanes had already made landfall somewhere south of us.

Undoubtedly, readers will remember Sandy, but I wasn’t there for that.

So sustained winds of 95 mph and gusts up to 120 mph just weren’t a regular part of my upbringing.

New Jersey is a pretty safe place, all things considered.

Singapore, where I lived for six years, is similar.  Though Singapore suffers more lightning strikes per square mile than anywhere else on earth, typhoons turn away from the island.

You get staggering downpours, but the wind isn’t so bad.  The light show is incredible, but you’ve got to expect that when you build a towering city where a rainforest would naturally grow.

The same used to apply to Cebu.  Big rain.  Lots of lightning.  But rarely – very rarely – a direct hit from a typhoon.

Incidentally, the word “typhoon” comes from the Chinese tai fung, which means “supreme wind.”

Of course, the British butchered tai fung into “typhoon,” and the name stuck.

Typhoons, hurricanes, and cyclones are the same type of storm.

Back to Cebu.

Part of the reason the city was so unprepared for this storm is that it rarely gets this kind of storm.

Sure, Cebu gets the rain and some wind from passing typhoons, but never the eye of the storm.

The Destruction

What I’m writing is simple observation.

First, the telephone poles are not made of that timber that you can step up to change the wires.

Thanks to the muggy weather conditions here, they’re made of reinforced concrete.

And yet, they snapped like twigs.

I don’t know if it was lousy engineering or the crazy wind gusts, but many were lying strewn across the roads.

Of course, mango trees were uprooted and fell across the ubiquitous wires you find drenching third-world cities.

That is a big cause of the electricity issues.

 

Windows were smashed on nearly every building, and the gusts ripped off many building sides, even on the big malls.

I can’t confirm this yet, but a large ship is lying on a Cebu pier and not next to it.

But I must say, the city’s people banded together cleaned up most of the town already.

The Consequences

Here’s where it gets interesting for me.

I see the world through the eyes of commerce, finance, and economics.

Cause and consequence.  Incentive and outcome.

First, luckily Pam and I had got a chunk of cash out of the bank before the storm hit.

I’d love to call that proactive planning, but we just wanted a little cash for my birthday and Christmas.

It’s a good thing because now there’s a scramble for cash.  The lines at the cash machines are around the block.  Really.

Second, the lines at the gas stations are at least a mile long.

And those lines are clogging up traffic in an already bulging city.

Cebu was never meant to be a metropolis.  It used to be a beautiful fishing town that has expanded far beyond its meager infrastructure.

And everyone has a car here because there’s no mass transit other than the jeepneys.  Jeepneys are privately owned minibusses that shuttle people around the city.

I sat in a gas line for 6 1/2 hours on Sunday.  Yes, we got in the queue at 5:50 am and didn’t get served until 12:30 pm.

My tail bone aches as I write this, two days later.

Of course, my first thought ran to the OPEC crisis in 1974 and the famous gas lines.

It’s not a piece of history worth repeating.

But the market is working it out.  Slowly but surely.  But that’s also because there’s no government here.

I mean, there are no cops directing traffic in a city where every single traffic light is down.

I’ve seen a few ambulances and a few fire trucks.  But the government here is as silent as I’ve ever seen one after a major disaster.

It’s easy to see why the Philippines’ tax revenue is only about 10% of its GDP, far below developed countries’ take.

You may as well burn your money than give it to these guys.  (Not that developed countries spend it well, either.)

Personally, by the Candlelight

“Mr. Bond, you’re a kite, dancing in a hurricane,” said Mr. White in Spectre.

I must admit, I’ve been loving the tech-free evenings.

No Netflix nonsense.  No YouTube boobery.

Just a light and my book.

Since Saturday, I’ve read Octopussy and The Living Daylights and From Russia With Love.

I had forgotten about the sheer pleasure and escapism of reading.

Micah sleeps deeply, much earlier.  Pam and I have a few moments to ourselves.

It’s revealing to go back to the Stone Age.

But here’s the thing: I don’t want to reside there permanently.

I can’t wait until I get my electricity back on and my water running again.  The thin film of sweat and life grows tiresome.

As I see it, those who want the off-grid life are welcome to it.

But I’ve never been more convinced that those who’d force us to give up our tech, air-con, and running water must be confronted, fought, and defeated.

Capitalism is the art of turning luxury into necessity.

Cebu is a microcosm of what would happen should the enemy prevail.

Right now here, you literally can’t do anything but survive.

But that’s not what we’re here for.

We’re here to thrive.

Tomorrow, we’ll have a look at what some brilliant (but long dead) thinkers said about capitalism.

All the best,

Sean

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