Tonight we are having an early birthday celebration for Mary Ann at the old house in San Simon. Nothing too elaborate; a potluck meal and, no doubt, karaoke. That’s if we have electricity, because we woke up this morning to a brownout affecting most of Apalit and San Simon.
For some reason, in the Philippines a blackout is called a brownout. Look it up in a dictionary and you will find that a brownout is a reduction in the electrical supply, causing lightbulbs to glow dimly (thus, a brownout). But not here. We have no electricity at all, and it will probably last most of today. So no TV, computer (I’m typing this on battery power and will upload it later), fans or aircon. Fortunately it’s not too hot and there’s a bit of a breeze on the rooftop patio of Sito and Arlyn’s house.
Twenty years ago, when I first came to the Philippines, brownouts used to happen on a fairly regular basis, sometimes daily, as the authorities rationed the inadequate electricity supply. These days they’re the exception rather than the rule. However, I think that this afternoon we may head off down to the mall to cool off, probably with most of the population of Apalit and San Simon. (As you’re reading this you can assume that I’m uploading this from an internet cafe at the mall, or the electricity has come back on.)
In the meantime, the absence of TV and internet gives a bit of space for reflection. This morning I finished reading The Beach. The British author, Alex Garland, know the Philippines well – his second novel The Tasseract is set here – and I seem to remember reading somewhere that The Beach was inspired by his travels in the Philippine islands, though it is set in Thailand.
Strangely enough, the search for the ideal, idyllic beach which drives the story was echoed in our breakfast conversation when we were reflecting on the fact that although we have visited beaches in the past six weeks, we hadn’t gotten to spend any time on the archetypal picture postcard powdery-white-sand-fringed-with-palm-trees-and-turquoise-sea variety. Ah well, there’s always the next time. And as the book reminds us, when we discover what we think is perfection, we soon find out it is flawed.
We nearly got to a beach yesterday, when we drove down to Subic for the day. We ended up doing other stuff – I’ll write a separate blog post about that – but one thing that I was reminded of as we walked on a trail through the forest is the sheer variety of insect life in the Philippines, and some of it very large – huge beetles, stick insects which might be better called branch insects and beautiful butterflies with a wingspan far wider than any in the British Isles. But the insects that have caused us most bother are at the smaller end of the scale – ants and mosquitoes. Although we’ve all been bitten by the mozzies, Sophia, Nat and me seem to react in the most spectacular manner. My right arm has a trail of red spots, probably all caused by one single wretched mosquito hiding in our bedroom during the day and sneaking about in the dark. Hopefully the one I squashed last night with The Beach. Vengeance is sweet.