Monday, June 14, 2010

Before we could enjoy the beach...

Before we could enjoy the beach and its welcoming waters I noticed that a few things needed to be taken care of first. The resort is nice and all, quite attractive actually, but once again we were confronted with a common problem that certain foreigners often bump into here, that being the issue of what is and is not tolerable. In this case what I for one found intolerable was the state of the sanitation of our surroundings, the primary issue being that it wasn’t. I’ll stop beating around the bush—the surface of the water near the shore, the sand in front of our rooms, and the beach itself was littered with garbage and worse.

Confronting this very trashy circumstance, my first reaction was a rhetorical question huffed in a seething rant at my longsuffering woman, “They KNEW we were coming, so why didn’t they clean up all this crap! Ehhhhh! I don't get it!”

My girl over the years has come to see things much the way I do, that even one wayward candy wrapper on an otherwise pristine yard is unacceptable and MUST be immediately remedied. She too now hates the sight of rubbish and strewn litter, but she did not always feel so strongly. People here have the ability to NOT see garbage on the ground around them, to completely ignore it. These same folks have no idea why someone like me (a foreigner) is so repulsed and even incensed by the very sight of it. Obviously it’s a cultural thing, a cultural gap so to speak.

It’s not that Americans do not litter; I’m here to tell you that many do big time; then again, we have a term for them: "Inconsiderate A$#holes." But here, there doesn’t seem to be any societal taboo against the act of tossing personal garbage to the ground. And it’s not just the underprivileged schlub tossing an empty drink cup from a moving jeepney that does it; I’ve seen rich locals toss garbage from within the air-conditioned plushness of their super expensive SUVs. I see it happen around me several times a day and it never fails to make me coil up with revulsion and anger.

Try tossing your McDonald’s trash out your car window in another country and you can probably expect someone to yell at you, or even to take a picture of your license plate with their cell phone cam. Such anti reaction to casual littering would never happen here. For the most part it’s completely acceptable behavior; something done that is unremarkable to the casual observer, unless that onlooker has to be someone like me that is.

I swallowed my ire and nicely asked the manager for a rake and a trash bag. I pointed out the nasty flotsam (that must have taken several days to accrue) at the base of both sides of the pier and along the seawall and mentioned that I needed to know where to toss it once I gathered it. No reaction; just a nodding vacant smile with eyes averted. That meant she was peeved at me, was a bit embarrassed, and intended to take care of it, eventually. Put the emphasis on that final word eventually; there’s that passive aggressiveness again. Sigh.

Sure enough, later in the morning one of the workers had gone into the water and gathered most of the floating and semi-submerged debris, but now it was piled up into one corner of the dock landing just a few feet right away from the front of our beach side porch. The beach was still littered with scraps of paper, empty drink bottles, and cigarette buttes, so I picked all that up myself.

Now, mind you, there wasn't a lot, but NO amount of trash in a hotel's beach sand should be acceptable as far as I'm concerned, especially when I'M the customer trying to enjoy that sand. I suppose that's why so many foreign resort and hotel owners use other foreigners to manage their facilities. In my case, my fiance calls me sergeant since I still act like one while trying to get people to comply with MY standards, which means very close to perfection. I know this sounds demeaning, but the local standard all too often seems to be defined by the following: "Ehhh, that's good enough..."

While policing up the beach and immediate walkways I followed the steps down to the small coral beach and right off the bat my nose was assailed with the odor of excrement, which smelled suspiciously like the human kind. (Yes, being a discerning human, I do know the difference). Sure enough, following the scent trail I found a spot near the sea wall where some poo was half buried. Some local person on an evening walk from the nearby barrio must have decided to evacuate his bowels in that spot; perhaps ANOTHER example of passive aggressive behavior, or maybe someone took a crap out in the water and the tide washed it up?

Now THAT I could not let go; I wanted that nasty shite cleaned up and NOW. Pointing it out to the maintenance man I asked for a shovel so I could do it immediately myself if he wasn't of a mind to. (And you can’t tell me he didn’t already KNOW it was there!) Within five minutes he was doing it himself, shoveling it up into a bucket. I don’t think I shamed him into doing it; he was more likely just trying to get me to shut up and stop complaining. Squeaky wheel, thy name is ME.

Eventually, and by that I mean over the next few hours, the caretaker mostly had our immediate environs up to my insisted upon hygienic standards and we were ready to have some beach fun. Even then, I wasn’t done “doing my thing.” Over the next few days I pulled stuff to the surface that didn’t belong on the seafloor, going out of my way to carry it from the depths up to the beach for proper disposal; well, for some kind of disposal anyway. For all I know they threw that stuff right back into the water after we left just to spite me. Nah, I don’t mean that—it’s just my frustration talking. I just want everyone to love the world as much as I do. I want it to be orderly and beautiful. Why make it ugly when you don’t have to! Even better, why not MAKE it beautiful when you don't have to?

Much of the pollution "problem" in this country has to do with education and inclination. People must be instilled, brainwashed if you will, with the desire NOT to live in filth, to NOT poison themselves. These are nice people, nice people who mindlessly pollute and litter. For instance, just down from the hotel there’s a small beach that from afar looks quite picturesque that people from the local barrio recreate at. But, this quaint little beach is rife with garbage. Through my long lens I could see plastic trash floating around swimmers as they splashed around in it. None of them minded it, and no one bothered to gather it up.

And walking up the hill through this little community the nose and lungs regularly become choked and painful when exposed to the foulness that comes from the burning of modern garbage; in other words, plastics and other petroleum based products immediately made poisonously toxic once set afire. Walking through the barrio every house or compound has its own burn pit from where the air of the entire community is dangerously and unmindfully contaminated. And you can multiply that scenario by the tens of thousands since the entire country does this, including my own next door neighbor in a subdivision where burning is supposedly against regulations, in a city where it’s supposed to be against the law. Then again, a law not enforced is one that does not truly exist. ‘a form of lawlessness perhaps? U.S. Federal immigration laws in Arizona come to mind.’

Before living here I once considered myself a bit of a libertarian, if libertarianism is defined as freedom from excess government. Well, I’ve lived now for most of a decade in a place where virtually everyone (except for foreigners) is free to pick and choose what laws to follow, mostly choosing not to. I never thought I’d say this, but I MISS seeing cops in their patrol cars around every corner whose job it is to ENFORCE.

I remember last year my brother exclaiming his derision at a Super Bowl commercial showing “Green Police,” where environmental cops of the future went overboard arresting witless polluters and drivers of gas guzzlers. My GOD, but I would LOVE that. Eight years of exactly the opposite has taught me that you can NEVER have enough patrolmen, that you can NEVER have enough enforcement. Human beings NEED monitoring and bear watching. We do not self-regulate very well. Hell, look what happened in the Gulf when BP was able to talk their overseers from enforcing safety engineering that may well have prevented this horrific oil spill. In that case, perhaps even the enforcers needed someone to force THEM.

So, TEACH people to WANT to do right; but, assume that some WILL do wrong; and when they do, SQUASH ‘EM! Negative reinforcement works when the positive kind doesn't. Of course, getting back to the pollution and litter "problem" here, the real problem is that no one from here even considers there to BE a problem. As for me, I'm an outsider and always will be; therefore, what I think doesn't count. I'm reminded of my ex's repeated response to my "occasional" complaining remarks:
If you don't like it; GO HOME!


Ed said...

I'm remember my very first trip to the RP to meet my future in-laws. We were sitting on the balcony of their house having a good time and suddenly one of them broke open a new pack of cigarettes and tossed the plastic packaging right over the railing into their backyard. The cigarette eventually joined it. I was appalled. Who would do that in their OWN backyard. As you said, there is definitely a large cultural gap when it comes to littering.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Its a question of opening their eyes to just how apalling you find it. For instance, all my fiance's relatives are very aware of my outrage, which has been very much on display when I've witnessed their thougtless littering, so that now they become VERY thoughtful but ONLY when they are around me. Multiply the cigareete littering incident by millions and you have a true concept of what goes on here. Its a childish aspect of this society that I'm not sure they'll ever be able to get a handle on.

malor said...

I love this post. I hate littering. Even when I was in the Philippines, I have no heart to do it. The Earth is not our garbage can.
ANyway, it is the culture of just taking care of our circle. If you are out of the circle you don't matter. So, you could see many Filipino houses that are spotless but just a few feet away from the house litter and garbage piled up because it is out of their circle.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Malor, good honest insight there. The cultural idiosyncracy you describe actually extends to more than just littering. It explains how almost any action can be justified as long as it is seen as beneficial to the family, immediate family first, followed by the extended one. Thanks for commenting; it was a good one.