Santa and his Workman Elves

It’s the Christmas party at the Facilities Maintenance Dept today and Latham and I decided to make a cake.

Christmas cake making used to be an annual tradition when my father was alive, as he loved fruit cake.  I would bake him one every year and spend a week decorating it with a different Christmas theme each time.  Then every night through the holidays and long beyond, he would slice off a little bit of the fruit cake after dinner and slowly enjoy it until it was all gone.  After he died, I had a small baby and no-one who truly loved it like he did…so the tradition mostly went away.  But it did leave me with quite a few sugarcraft tricks and skills, and this week Latham and I decided to put them to use and make a cake for Robert’s department Christmas party.  The theme was a natural:  facilities maintenance elves helping to construct a gingerbread house for Santa.  Latham was on it!  He designed the house and was a real partner in making layout and construction decisions.  We were a little limited on sugarcraft materials here in Manila, but were amazed what we could find in Gourdos, a gourmet cooking store across the street.  Unfortunately there were out of glucose, an essential ingredient to make modelling sugarpaste.  However, I found a stash from a wedding cake that I made a couple of years ago, and it turned out to be enough to make all the characters we needed.  (Its amazing what got packed in those kitchen boxes!)  We made power tools and screwdrivers, ladders and saws.  We even found chocolate rocks so the elves could construct a footpath.

I think we ended up with a very acceptable cake, but the most fun for me was that I got to do arts and crafts with my 16-yr old son again….it’s been a while!  And unlike arts and crafts with little ones, he was there for the whole process from conception to finishing touches.

Jolly Jeepneys

I don’t remember where I saw it, but I remember reading an insightful  commentary on the jeepney as a symbol of the Philippines.  I’m not sure I can do it justice, but I will attempt to repeat the gist of it here.  The article talked about the origins of the jeepney, jeeps inherited by Filipinos who, after the second world war, turned the beat-up abandoned military vehicles into something useful and unique.  Today the jeepney is essentially still a pile of old metal, often in bad need of repair, and held together with string and a prayer.  But with a touch of Filipino flair, some colorful embellishments and a healthy dash of optimism, the jeepney appears so much more than the sum of its parts.  Like Filipinos themselves, they make up for lack of substance with ingenuity, optimism and good humour.

And, yes, buses and metros are usually much more effective methods of transport.  Jeepneys clog the streets, carry limited numbers, and belch out polluting smoke into the already choking atmosphere. However, the metro here is woefully inadequate for such a large city.  I’ve yet to have a reason to use it.  Jeepneys, by contrast, are everywhere in Manila, in the provinces and on the islands.  Each one is unique and emblazoned with a personal message….anything from a bible quote to “Elvis is King”… expressing the owner’s faith, hopes or world view.

They are all individually owned. Routes are hand-painted on the side of the vehicle.  Passengers embark or disembark at will…there are no official stops.  Fares are cheap.  From a tourist perspective, they don’t offer much to see.  The small windows and inward-facing seats mean that it is difficult to see out.  They only hold about 20 (small) people at a maximum, but there always seems to be room for one more as the fares go straight to the owner-operator driver.  Yet they are the most colorful and attractive thing on most streets and I never tire of looking for my next favourite, really cool one.

Here’s a little humour on how to ride one around the city: