Wednesday, June 19, 2002
Gah ¡V or How I learned to ignore the poverty in the Philippines and learned to love the bar
This is El Lexifabro reporting from humidity-drenched Cebu, somewhere in the southern Philippines. Contingent with my mission to deliver Australian aid to the poorest elements of Filipino society, I'm typing this in the games room of a luxurious five-star beach resort called Plantation Bay. I'm trying to send email to Fiona, but the software here is decidedly four-star, if that, and it doesn't help that I forgot my hotmail password (what the hell did I set it up for?)
Ah well, a quick synopsis: the place I am staying at has a swim-up bar, and to get here the air-conditioned bus which picked us up from the airport delivered us past roughly twenty kilometers of squalid fibro/cardboard housing, complete with roaming dogs and abject, exuberant poverty. That pretty much sums up everything I know of the Philippines to date.
Friday, June 14, 2002
Because things were clearly going too smoothly
As if I weren't already nervous enough, I've just found out that our Finance people screwed up my travel allowance payments for the trip to Manila. Now I won't get any of my travel money until Monday at the earliest, the day after I leave the country. Since I am going to be staying in a $200-a-day hotel (not my choice) for something like twelve days and have a credit card limit of $2000, this makes me understandably nervous. Not to mention curious as to with what I will pay for food , if the banks and our Finance section continue to conspire against me.
If I was going to be somewhere where I could just make a couple of calls or jump online and clear things up, I would be pretty relaxed about the screwup. But I will not be anywhere where a couple of calls will be a simple thing – I will be in a different fucking country! A fifteen minute call to the bank could cost me 80 bucks! And that's if I can even get fifteen minutes out of the entire period to spare, which seems pretty unlikely. If they do screw up again and fail to put the money in, I might not even be able to find out about it for several days.
I am pretty goddamn far from being sanguine about this.
So, if you're reading this on the 29th -
- and I don't seem to be back in the country yet, do me a birthday favour and give the Embassy in Manila a call and tell them to bail me out of the debtor's prison, or whatever they have there.
In the meantime, happy birthday wishes to:
- Anna: Today – hope the evil bastards get blisters, or something
- Tiff: 21st June – hope you aren't still stuck out at Julia Creek or Burke or wherever the hell you've been banished for work. Doing the books for gold prospectors and escaped criminals can't possibly be good for you, you know…
- Fiona: 27th – taking my life into my own hands, I am not going to make it back for my darling love's birthday. I know she understands and forgives me, but God help me if they don't have any of the stuff she wants in the Duty Free shop in Sydney…
Anyway, if I do vanish without a trace, give them all a call and wish them a happy birthday. And send me consolatory birthday presents, care of the Manila jail. Wish list includes cake, Xbox, plastic explosives and a fake passport.
Thursday, June 13, 2002
Aww yeah I say Awww Yeahhhh!
A couple of days behind the news, but I just read that Neverwinter Nights is about to go on sale. And better news, it's going to be released for the Mac as well. Ohhh baby! Now all I gotta do is hurry up and whack out that Diablo hombre, and I can immerse myself in La Vida Neverwinter!
Incisive World Cup Analysis
Argentina are a pack of dicks. They should have started with Crespo. Serves them right.
I feel sorry for the South Africans though. I'm going to miss them. Their coach is a funny funny guy. I'm now officially backing Senegal and/or Ireland.
Workin' workin' workin' it
It's now just three days until I'm on the plane to Manila. Ask me if I've done the reading for the project review yet… Well, hopefully I'll find a few minutes on the eight hour flight, possibly somewhere between the three novels I've picked up and any in-flight movies.
This has been a busy, busy week, and the disconcerting thing is that most of what has been occupying my time has nothing to do with my trip, so preparation for the mission* has been somewhat lacking. Or rather, I think it has. I'm still a little unclear on what it is I will be doing and how much I am expected to know or understand coming into it. Fortunately the ludicrously well paid consultant with whom I will be travelling seems to do one of these reviews every other week (to judge by how hard it was to book his time) so presumably I will be in capable company. And I think that after yesterday's meetings he is beginning to get some appreciation for the fact that he will be coddling a clueless ignoramus through the process. Good luck with that, pal.
* really cool technical term for "expensive jaunt to another country"
Wednesday, June 12, 2002
Betty when you call me
So Al showed up in town last night on one of his flying visits, which I suspect are more frequent than he lets on. He was staying at the Hyatt overnight before doing some sort of breakfast presentation this morning. I caught up with him after my indoor cricket match (brief boast digression: 5 wickets for –15 with the ball. I was on fire!) and we chatted and shit. Both of us were pretty tired and not up for a hardcore lager-frenzy catching-up session, though I did point out that the next time we were likely to meet would be in the same hotel and the next chance we were likely to get for a lager-frenzied catching-up session would be in the same bar.
Alexander Downer was there too, but he didn't say much.
Al (not the aforementioned Minister for Making a Tool of Himself) hasn't changed a lot over the years: he's still a reprobate at heart, even with his new family and domesticated lifestyle and dogs and such. He does a terrifying amount of travelling for work (I presume, despite the emphasis on boozing when recounting his overseas exploits, that he actually does at least some work) which is probably less exciting than it sounds. Or perhaps I'm just jealous – I'll let you know in a couple of weeks.
Certainly the only good thing he had to say about Manila was to tell a ribald anecdote about an incident that is fairly unlikely to happen to me (at least I hope not) so I am not anticipating falling in love with this town during my visit.
City without mercy
I fly out to Manila on Sunday. At this stage, I am beyond hope of really understanding all the issues surrounding the review I'm supposed to be helping with, so I plan to take lots of notes, look attentive, and hope I don't cause some sort of political or cultural upset that plunges Philippines-Australian relations to a new low. Not that there's much chance of that while the Americans are still over there distracting people.
On a kinda-good, kinda-bad note, my mid-trip weekender to see the malaria project in southern Mindanao has been cancelled. It's unfortunate on the one hand because I really did want to see what goes on with that project, which is one of the more tangibly successful ones that AusAID runs in that part of the world. But on the other hand, I get to not go to an area which by definition is infested with malaria-bloated mosquitoes, and I have a weekend free. But back on the first hand, the weekend will be in Manila, against which I have been cautioned not to hold great expectations. Though presumaby, although nobody has actually specifically said so, a weekend there is at least better than catching malaria. Right?
Just realised that I did nothing to catch Lexifab up with the long weekend (longer for us because we took Friday off). Well, not much to tell: it was one of those fabulous, drawn out lazy weekends where you do just enough housework/gardening/wedding preparations to feel good about spending the rest of it slobbing about on your bloated arse watching the World Cup and drinking coffee or beers. I can't recommend them highly enough. The only downside was the apparent onset of carpal tunnel syndrome from playing so much Diablo II on my laptop. Curse that fiendish Diablo for the misery and suffering he inflicts!
Tuesday, June 04, 2002
Notes from Real Life
Before I inadvertantly turn Lexifab into some sort of forum for improv worldbuilding, here is an interlude composed of inconsequential reality checks:
- There's definitely something wrong with my right knee. It's been sort of dubious ever since I started playing indoor cricket again. After I've done a bit of running or stretching or whatever, it feels kind of tight and not-quite-sore in behind the tendons. The suspicion is starting to grow that it's either a serious problem, or on the verge of becoming one, but so far it hasn't come right out and hurt, so I procrastinate about going to see anyone about it. But I am playing indoor cricket again tonight.
- I fly out of this country for the first time in less than two weeks. I will be in Manila and elsewhere in the Philippines for about a fortnight, working on a review of one of the projects that I have for the past few months been managing virtually. No, I'm not going anywhere near where the Abu Sayyaf kidnap people. Yes, I am going somewhere where malaria is hyperendemic (pretty unavoidable since I'll be visiting a malaria prevention project...). I don't know that I'm really ready for it. I have a hell of a lot of other stuff to do before I leave.
- We're finally starting to get some wedding confirmations. As of tomorrow, the Big Day is just four months away. I feel like I ought to be more nervous than I am.
- Spidey - just two days away...I am taking a long weekend to ensure some chance of seeing it at least once and preferably several times. I'm just that excited. On a side note, I notice that the TV ads for Clones is now showing the one good bit of the film. Which is more in keeping with traditional advertising techniques than their previous tactic of highlighting the stomach-churningly awful "romantic" scenes.
More Pointless Creativity
For some reason, my brain failed to heed the warning I gave it yesterday and immediately came up with another story/game setting. This one is inspired a bit by the new Dragonstar game setting (or at least what I understand of it), but it's also equal parts pre-apocalypse/collapse of society, slavery vs freedom and a handful of other minor influences that are only really coming to mind as I type this. Again, I figure there's enough meat on the bones that you could get some good roleplaying or a few good short stories out of the setup, although whether I've managed to convey that is another matter.
I don't really make any apologies for the even-more-florid-than-usual writing. I was making the whole thing up as I went along. I didn't bother stopping to reread things or flesh out details, I just tried to get whatever ideas or images came to mind out before they disappeared. And again, I have no plans to use this, I just wanted to put it down on paper while it still existed. Because if I don't - poof! For good or ill, it's gone.
The Flight of Dragons
They have been our masters for a hundred generations. My people, who are called the Terim'sal, serve with faith and devotion Her Emerald Majesty, the Wing Tyrant Jexanzhalterim. To Her we offer the treasures mined from our mountains and the livestock that grow fat in our pastures. As She shelters us beneath Her wings as vast as clouds and gathers us in Her claws as fine as razors, so we repay Her boundless generosity with our songs of praise and humility, our intricate works of art and our strongest and most virtuous young. The Terim'sal know not the depredations of Her reviled cousins or their barbaric tribes, for She protects us. The Terim'sal know not the misery and solitude of the Godless, for She is with us always. We are content.
For more than two thousand years the human tribes of Orlande have been ruled with perfect, sublime tyranny by Dragons, creatures of untold power that long ago descended from the heavens like gods and took their place as masters of humanity. Once, in a time that is no longer even a memory, strong humans attempted to rebel and overthrow their masters, but the futility and disrespect of such savage uprisings have long been recognised by civilised folk.
Now the Dragons are attended well by their servants, who provide succour and tend such gifts as will placate their awesome tempers. Whether through backbreaking toil in the fields and mines, or in sacrifice to great appetites or in war on their neighbours, each life is offered up willingly by the tribe to its protector. Every mind and heart and arm is a willing weapon in the complex dance of diplomacy, subterfuge and espionage between the Gods.
Only the most wretched do not know the stern love of a Dragon; those tribes whose great master has fallen in battle or to treachery are called the Godless. They are shunned and killed by the civilised tribes, for they are unworthy. Some of them wander the world preaching against the Dragons, saying that they are tyrants and monsters, but only the most depraved would listen to their words.
* * *
But Orlande is about to change. The Dragons, marooned on a backwater world and believing themselves forgotten by their spacefaring companions, have finally reestablished contact with the Core Network. A rescue cluster has been dispatched and will arrive within the year – and not a moment too soon. The premier planetologist amongst the expeditionary team, Golden Peroglothissi, has for the last sixty years plotted the approach of an asteroid it calls the Steelbearer. This great mass of iron, nickel and heavy metals is on a collision course with Orlande. When it arrives in roughly eighteen months, it will likely exterminate all Orlandi life. By then the Dragons hope to be long gone.
The Dragons cannot take any humans with them. Most do not care. Seeing the Tribes as servants at best or barely domesticated animals at worst; they will abandon their charges the very moment that escape becomes possible, and depart without a backward glance. A handful seek to do what they can to make the last months of the Orlandi species comfortable. And one, working in absolute secrecy, hopes to preserve them from their cataclysmic destiny.
What will happen when the intricate games of diplomacy and treachery that have held Orlandi culture in balance for centuries end overnight? What will happen when the humans are suddenly abandoned by their gods to unendurable freedom? How will the Godless tribes take advantage of the Flight of the Dragons?
Monday, June 03, 2002
10-minute Setting Theatre presents…
This is something I knocked together over lunch. Not sure exactly what I would do with it, if anything. It emerged more or less as I was typing it as a setting for exploration of some fairly obvious themes (see virtually every adjective for a general clue) and I guess would make an okay setting for a series of short stories or a roleplaying game. Might even work best as a play by mail game, now that I think about it, with about 6 or 8 players oscillating between cooperating and working at odds, with lots of scope for treachery, betrayal and backstabbing. All I know is that I was thinking on the weekend about how worldbuilding doesn't necessarily have to involve the building of entire world, just the bits that support the ideas that the author (or GM or whatever) intends to explore.
I notice that I tend to create best at this sort of vague conceptual level (although I usually work even better with someone else, brainstorming and bouncing ideas around) and my projects tend to fall apart when it comes to completing some sort of product. It's easier to sustain my momentum when I don't have a specific goal in mind, strangely enough. Anyway, this is virtually completely goal-less - beyond being a handy distraction from the report on policy development in the Philippines that I should currently be absorbing – so there's a chance I will develop it some more due to the fact that I have yet to invest any commitment in it.
Streets of Old Bankruptcy
The aging, decaying city of Bankrupa, called "Old Bankruptcy" by those who live there. Stagnant and stale, ruled over by a puppet queen mouthing the words of an ancient, jaded merchant class, nothing has changed here for more than a century. Old gods long past caring are paid lip service in temples of chipped and cracked and mossy stone. Its people shamble about sooty cobbled streets, a lucky few with mean and dispiriting jobs to go to, the rest looking for any work, or begging for food, or taking what they can get. Many seek the clandestine pay of the scopers, secret police with a network of spies and informers; others dodge from day to day just one step ahead of prying neighbours and inquisitive cardies, armed law enforcers little better than lazy and easily bribed mercenaries, authorised to investigate crimes and keep the peace but little inclined to do so.
But there is another world beneath the grimy surface. A silent war is brewing for control of the secret speakeasies and the musical recitals that move from one venue to another. Bards and troubadours are secret heroes to a spiritless and miserable people, but exploitative gangsters protect their 'talent' jealously and deal ruthlessly with their competitors.
New beliefs, perhaps smuggled into the city by idealistic outsiders, are beginning to find purchase in the hearts of a people desperate to transcend their suppression. Talk of righteous and vengeful gods is contaminating the complacence of a church besieged by apathy and neglect, and while its clerics struggle to turn their distracted flocks from the corruption of false worship, its inquisitors strike out the roots of the new faith and burn them wherever they are found.
And secrets abound. Hidden truths that Old Bankruptcy has kept from scrutiny for a dozen generations are now oozing towards the surface, slick and glistening tools that an idealist might wield to bring down a corrupt and merciless regime – but what if they fall into the hands of the unscrupulous or the malign?
The Streets of Old Bankruptcy – an exercise in hope and despair, corruption and rejuvenation, the fall of virtue and the ascendancy of truth.
Just looking over that again and contemplating turning it into a PBM, reminds me that at the moment I am currently also working on drawing pictures for and posting updates to the Knights Below website and spending a full half-day each week playing in the campaign, running a Delta Green tabletop game with Jimbo and Simon, participating in three separate play-by-email games, and trying to expand the Lexifab site (that last with no discernable success - but progress is being made). I notice that the second I start getting into a creative rhythmn – the current one triggered by all the sketches that can be seen on my pages of the KB site - my brain immediately starts looking around for other projects to distract it.
Stupid active brain. Quit multitasking, you crashy piece of crap.
Saturday, June 01, 2002
Where did it go?
I did a long, detailed review of the timesharesque presentation yesterday, but Blogger had one of its intermittent spaz attacks and ate it. Well, never mind - we've decided we're not going in for the deal, so the cheap holidays are off. Sorry to anyone who somehow got their expectations up...