Manila Vanilla

What it's like to be a U.S. Fulbright scholar, basketball player, journalist, and the whitest man in Metro Manila.

My Photo
Location: Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

New Yorker by birth, shipped across the globe to the world of malls, shanty-towns, patronage, corruption, basketball and a curious burnt-toast smell that wafts around at dusk

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Chasing Darvin

Chasing Darvin -- The story of a young boy who has a tragic accident while having a little too much fun with some Jello in the shower and becomes paralyzed from the waist down. But he finds a new friend -- a flourescent green lizard named Darvin. And in Darvin, the boy finds new meaning in life. Until one day, he rolls over Darvin during a game of tag. The end.


Chasing Darvin -- The story of a 23-year-old journalist tracking down an NBA veteran in the streets of Manila. The player is flying back to the United States that night, and the writer has only a few hours and even fewer facts about his targets whereabouts. He's Chasing Darvin, but will he find him?

Which story is real?

The picture below gives away the already-obvious answer to that question; it also resolves the cliffhanger at the end of the latter "Chasing Darvin" blurb. But it wasn't a cakewalk. Pitiful as this sounds, I cruised around Manila this afternoon half-pretending I was on some Jack Bauer 24 mission.

I knew Ham would be on a plane by 10 tonight. I tracked him down at his hotel this morning. We scheduled a meet. Tony Roma's steakhouse in Makati. 1:30 p.m.

It's 2 in the afternoon and there's no sign of Ham. I've done three sweeps of both floors of Tony Roma's, and the staff is starting to get suspicious. I keep loitering outside. Ham will be arriving by car. Traffic is awful in Manila. A half-hour is hardly considered late. Not throwing in the towel yet.

2:30 -- Ham is still missing. He's only been here one week, so he doesn't have a cell phone. No way for me to figure out what's going on. Maybe there was miscommunication. I check nearby Outback Steakhouse. Have they seen any 6'6'' guys today? No, but there are some fat Aussies in short khaki shorts plying their trade with some Filipinas with dollar signs in their eyes.

3:30 -- Suspicion at Tony Roma's has turned into sympathy. I am a loser. Call the hotel. Is Ham in? No. Has he checked out? Not yet. I have two plays left. The hotel, and if that fails, the airport. I'm in this one for the long haul.

4:15 -- Walked in wrong direction down Shaw Boulevard. Sweating bullets. Low blood sugar. Stop at 7-11 for imitation Oreos and water.

4:30 -- In Hotel lobby. Ham just arrived. What a break! Ask receptionist to call his room, watch him dial ... 2703! The line is busy. He must be online. I head to the elevators. Wait. Assuming he didn't intentionally ditch me at lunch, I probably have some good will coming my way. Do I want to squander it by banging on his door unannounced.

4:45 -- Waiting in lobby. What's another ten minutes after all this. Call again. Bingo. He had an "impromptu" meeting with Talk 'n' Text general manager and had to skip lunch. My guess is that he wanted to make sure the money was coming through. He'll be down in a few minutes.

5-7 p.m. -- Darvin Ham is a cool guy. Gigantic, tree trunk legs. Drinks vodka pineapples and likes ultimate fighting. He sounds a little upset over the way his time out here played out, but he's also got bigger fish to fry. He came out here because he was tired of waiting for a call from an NBA team and he figured it'd be a nice way to play his way into shape in case a team wants to sign a veteran stopper before the playoffs. It's also his first chance to visit Asia.

But things weren't so smooth on the court. He was placed in the same nearly impossible situation into which most replacement imports get dumped. They're brought in on short notice to join a brand new team. They're expected to score huge numbers and dominate games despite jet lag, different styles of playing and referreeing, and a lack of familiarity with teammates.

Ham may have had it even harder. Joining a team in the middle of a playoff series is rare, even for the PBA. There is no learning curve. If he doesn't win immediately, the season is over. In fact, that's what happened. Talk 'n' Text split games three and four and lost game five in overtime. Ham improved with each game and started to look like he was taking control of parts of the fifth game, but between the triple teams, refs giving him a hard time and telling him he's "not that good" and a hungry Air 21 team with some very hot shooters, Ham never got the chance to show his best stuff.

It was like "hooping in handcuffs," he said. Welcome to the PBA.


Anonymous NYC Teacher said...

Hey, that was a good read, the short chopping fact/emote sentences
of the chase to find this guy Ham kept up a nice little run of tension. I could almost feel the heat in Manila, especially after seeing the likes of you two guys in that photo. You guys look like some kind of weird undercover cop duo hired by the Philipino CIA.
Good story, M.V.

11:46 AM  
Anonymous kevin/Brooklyn said...

Cool story. I like the way you followed up that earlier blog piece about pro ball in Manila with a real live story about the import shennanigans. It sure is a weird way to run the playoffs, that's for sure. I mean, when I was a kid we used to expect a ringer or two on the traveling team games, but hell, these guys are raising it to an art. Darvin Ham! Man, I liked that dude, too.
Good to see he's still trying to hang in. I bet somebody picks him up in February. Watch. Besides, he ain't supposed to score big time. Weird game over there, brother.

12:02 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home