Sunday, April 12, 2009

Fourteenth Post

Stinky Wallboard. What’s Next?

China exports its wares to the world. Virtually all the kitchen paraphernalia sold here is manufactured there. I bought a lot of it . . . unfortunately.

Let me explain. I have yet to see a dishwashing machine in this country and running hot water at a kitchen sink is a rarity. Consequently a less than rigorous dish washing leaves food clinging to nooks and crannies – right angles, even – formed by the manufacturing process. The food attracts mold and who knows what bacteria. I have containers that are unusable for milk products and I have a difficult time cleaning the blender pitcher to my satisfaction. I occasionally add a dash of chlorine bleach to the dishwater in hopes it will remove the bad news stuff I don’t want to ingest and, from time to time, I leach out glass ware with muriatic acid.

I’m not alone in my disgust with China’s Laissez Faire attitude toward their exporters.

Item: Thousands of American homes built or remodeled in the past few years had Chinese wallboard installed that now outgases noxious odors. Smells awful, makes some sick and tarnishes jewelry. Builders are in a hard way right now and those who are not already bankrupt will have a difficult time correcting the problem.

Moving right along, Ford is trying to clamp the lid on information it installed prone-to-early-failure tire valve stems in some of its 2006 and virtually all of its 2007 cars and light trucks. Guess where they got ‘em. Double bad guys here; Ford developed a legal strategy to answer the many lawsuits involving fatalities arising from the design faults in its older Explorers equipped with Firestone tires: Stonewalling and secret out-of-court settlements. They dusted it off for this situation. NHTSA under Republican administrations have demonstrated a rather toothless enforcement capability, so the problem goes largely unreported. If you have any doubts, get your valve stems inspected, better yet replaced.

Before that it was the tainted milk scandal which killed several and sickened tens of thousands – small children and infants, for the most part, and before that, there was the lead paint which prompted the recall of millions of Christmas toys, and before that was the imported pet food which poisoned several animals.

Not all the fatal foul ups in the world’s most populous nation were exported. They kept mum on the SARS outbreak to the detriment of their own citizens. They were also reticent on the number of avian flu victims until the central government was embarrassed by leaks.

Building inspectors overlooking shoddy construction practices – for a fee, most likely – contributed mightily to the death toll in the Sichuan quake on the eve of the Olympic Games in 2008. Tens of thousands of children perished in poorly built schools.

Some show trials have been held. If something is reported in the media as an embarrassment to the government, you can be sure executions will be dealt out liberally to the defendants. Several Sichuan builders and inspectors have gone on to whatever reward might be found in the afterlife. Only one of the executives tried in the milk scandal was not so sentenced. The sole survivor was the woman whose botched suicide attempt confined her to a wheel chair for life. She received a life sentence. Who said Chinese judges didn’t have a sense of humor?

Americans have largely graduated from the age of Caveat Emptor, but if you have a desire to purchase something, check the tag to see where it was manufactured. You might want to be skeptical if it is from the PRC

Friday, March 27, 2009

Thirteenth Post

Sunsets Unlimited

Seasons here are a little wacky when measured by norms of the northern hemisphere’s temperate zones. But then, too, from what I read on the net, I gather that seasons in the northern hemisphere are a bit skewed these days. According to some it is God’s punishment for the United States electing a liberal, while the liberals adamantly blame global warming.

On the other hand, weather here is governed by the trade winds. Generally there are two seasons; wet and dry. During dry season it gets scorching hot and rainfall is not nearly as plentiful as the wet season. There was almost solid rain from Christmas until early February. That went away, and nowadays we might get a brisk shower weekly. The end result is some outstanding tropical sunsets.

I came by a new Canon A470 not quite 2 months ago. I’m not a photographer by any elastic stretch of the imagination, but the folks at Canon really did right on this one. Even a klutz like me who doesn’t know F-stop from shutter speeds can snap good pics.

Coupled with the new camera is an interest in dining al fresco at a nipa roofed, open-sided establishment located way out past the ferry piers on landfill. (Yes, tree huggers, I frequent such establishments.) The view to the west is largely unobstructed. The next major island over is Panay with a smaller island named Guimaras between.

I try to time my arrival for dinner a half-hour before actual sundown and walk out on the man made spit. All sorts of things present themselves as photogenic in those lighting conditions. As a consequence, I shoot up a storm. I have begun having my jpeg files printed at a little photo shop across the way. They’ve caused quite a bit of commentary among the people who have seen them and I’ve had requests from friends to stop by and copy my files to their thumb drives. I, of course, am flattered and happy to accommodate.

The costs of printing and framing here are extremely modest, so I have begun adorning my nearly bare walls with 8 by 10 and 12 by 16 sunsets and sloe-eyed island beauties.

The vernal equinox is just passed. The sun should be at this latitude (11° north) around the beginning of May. I am looking forward to some more outstanding photo opportunities. I ride down to “Reclamation” once a week. (It’s a “two ride” trip. Seven pesos for the jeepney and 10 for the trisikad, which is a bicycle with a side car, Takes about 20 minutes for the entire trip.) On top of fabulous sunsets, a fresh seafood dinner for four can be had there for a bit over the equivalent of $15.

The building itself is a rather sturdy structure. Built on concrete pilings, floored with mahogany planks, open walled for the most part and topped by a nipa roof supported on six-inch diameter bamboo poles which are joined by a heavy duty baling wire. I asked my favorite waiter, Harmon, what damage was fetched up by Typhoon Frank. His answer was the building was unscathed, but they did have to carry the tables and chairs back in from the parking lot where the hurricane force winds had deposited them. Heck, I might get into shooting these amazingly enduring structures, as well.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Twelth Post

Hopping Spiders, Cute Lizards, and Fearless Frogs

There are some strange creatures here. There is a comical little gray spider. Tiny little thing. Tapping the area to their rear with a fingernail results in a hop several times their own length. Amazing . . . and fun to watch.

Then there are the geckos. I have yet to find one who rattles on about GEICO Insurance in an Aussie accent. They scurry around on the walls and ceilings here doing whatever it is that geckos do. They seem harmless and are very shy. I tried to shoo one outdoors at the behest of one of my female acquaintances. Said behest was screeched out while she stood in a chair. I didn’t want to hurt the little fellow, and was trying to swish him gently out the door with a broom. He kept trying to hide rather than leave peaceably. In the end his tail broke off. I was then able to sweep both wiggling halves out. He may be the first lizard in history to lose his tail on account of a little piece of head.

When it rains and it tends to rain a lot, the frogs move to high ground. When I first moved into my apartment there was a frog who stayed on my threshold on rainy days. My apartment is a step higher than the walkway and with the door closed there is a narrow ledge. It was totally unperturbed by me sitting next to him while putting on my shoes, sitting there for a couple of minutes while I fussed with sandal straps, but it did hop away, however, when I asked if he were the storied princess who had a hex cast upon her by an evil witch. (That’s how I determined he was a he.)

They are a little too fearless for their own good, however. Automobile flattened remains litter the streets after a heavy rain.

And speaking of rain, this is the rainy season which is being accentuated by typhoons and tropical depressions. The Philippines insist on using their own names for typhoons. Frank (Fengshen) did a destructive number here. It caromed around the islands like a ping pong ball gone berserk, killing over 2,000 people, an untold number of domestic animals, sinking a 26,000 ton ferry and 54 fishing vessels from this island alone. Nan (Hagupit) charged through the Formosa Straits a couple of weeks ago and Ofel (Jangmi) followed in its tracks. Rain bands from Nan gave this place a soaking and Ofel did more of the same. There was another unnamed tropical depression that sprang up between here and Guam. It looked a lot like the foregoing two. I pity the poor folks in Northern Luzon and Taiwan. Two typhoons back to back a week apart might be a tad wearing, fortunately the third storm turned northeast and lost strength but still gave Japan a good bit of rain.

One of my friends needs to travel to another island in October. She refuses to travel more than short stretches by water due to the monsoon. There are only two flight destinations from this quiet little backwater; Manila and Cebu. Both are international airports, but air travel here is almost as big a pain as it is in the states. (And to think that I used to enjoy flying.) Bus travel here is largely over rough roads, so it comes down to water or air travel from here.

The hot, humid weather brings mold and mildew. The jacket I wore to SFO back in February has a leather collar. It now has splotches of gray powdery mold all over it. Women are cautioned by their gynecologists to NOT dry their undies in the bathroom. I make it a point to dry bath towels outside.

It’s raining as I write this. There is a huge festival scheduled to start in a few days. I sincerely hope the rains abate. If you’ve not seen videos of a Filipino festival you’ve missed a treat. The costumes are lavish and the choreography dazzling. This one is called Mass Kara. If you’d like to see some stills, google “masskara bacolod.”

Monday, June 30, 2008

Eleventh Post

Everybody Talks About The Weather

But nobody does anything about it. Drought and a freak electrical storm set a good part of the California woods on fire; the Midwest is about to drown; the polar ice cap could completely melt this year; and the Philippines have partially dug out from some of the mess created by Typhoon Fengshen/Frank.

The other part of the mess is hundreds of bodies trapped in a capsized ship in the shallows of a remote island.

M/V Princess of the Stars was caught in the midst of the highly unpredictable storm, lost power, broached, was driven onto a lee shore, capsized, and foundered trapping most of the passengers and crew. Horrible deaths; drowning or suffocating in the dark.

Filipino and US Navy divers have been inside the vessel and detected no signs of life. They were called off because the vessel carried ten tons of highly toxic insecticide in her hold. That is something of a no-no for a passenger vessel. Special equipment and divers skilled in its use are en route from Singapore.

The victims have yet to be removed and identified, let alone buried, and the recriminations and accusations are flying, while at the same time bureaucrats are using the tragedy as a pretext for increasing their share of the budget.

Dole Philippines, shipper of the insecticide, the ship’s owner Sulpicio Lines, and the Philippine Coast Guard are in a three way argument over the shipment of poison on a passenger vessel; Sulpicio is blaming the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, And Astronomical Administration – the local weather service – for faulty forecasting and has filed a suit in civil court.

Taking them in reverse order, I looked at two forecasts on Fengshen, one from Global Disaster Alert And Coordinating System – GDACS for short, and the Hong Kong weather service. Neither agreed with each other, nor did they accurately predict the storm’s path. Fengshen/Frank was utterly unpredictable. I don’t think Sulpicio’s argument will hold water. Weather prediction is an inexact science at best. When I was in the Navy, Aerographers – Navspeak for weathermen – were derisively known as “Weather Guessers.” Besides, PAGASA aren’t the folks who made the decision that sent the ship to her doom; the vessel’s master is the man ultimately responsible for the ship’s safety.

Sulpicio loaded the Dole shipment on the wrong ship claiming that the shipper never told them it was a toxic substance. Dole’s riposte was that not only did they tell the line what was in the shipment, they provided the Material Safety Data Sheet with the shipping manifest as well.

The Philippines are a third world country with all the problems other less well-to-do nations have. First, officials aren’t paid well and there are always one or two who will take little gifts to not observe something that needs observing. Supposedly it is the most graft-ridden country in Asia.

Another thing I can relate from first hand observation is maintenance budgets are miniscule to non-existent. I wouldn’t doubt for a minute that Princess of the Stars could not, repeat not, have passed a US Coast Guard safety inspection.

All in all, Sulpicio is not coming off well at all in this matter, but no one else involved in this tragedy has a right to be smug.

I really like the Filipino people. They are light hearted, quick to smile, and always ready to trot out hospitality. I have the deepest sympathy for the survivors who lost relatives and loved ones.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Tenth Post

The Costs Are Going Up

June 1st came and went. Along with its coming, old prices were replaced by new ones. Jeepney fares went up a staggering 50 centavos. . . from P7 to P7.50. That translates to a cost increase of about an American penny, maybe a little more.

My favorite barbershop raised prices, too. Haircuts are now P70. They were P10 less before the change. Figure it went from a bit less than a buck and a half to a hair under a buck, six bits.

There’s hair cuts and then there’s haircuts. My barber gives a pretty good trim of every place hair is showing; head, beard, mustache, ears, nostrils, eyebrows. He finishes off the clip-clip by fitting a single edged razor blade into something similar to the straight edged razors of yore. He then goes about scraping off any remaining stubble. To end up the session in the chair, he delivers a massage of shoulders, arms, hands and upper back followed by a wipe down with a hot towel. I usually tip him P20, about a half dollar. Last of the big spenders, I am.

To offset these horrendous prices, there is some good news. The dollar is rising against the peso. For the past few days it has been creeping up from a dollar buying P43 to P44. It was hovering around P40 per buck when I arrived in February. Only us retirees living in the Phils picked up a 10% raise, I’ll betcha.

Professional Services and Other Prices

I needed and got a gingivectomy a decade or so ago. The follow up on that is quarterly cleaning of my teeth at the dentist – post perio prophy, in the jargon. I was overdue by a couple of months, so I wound up in the chair Friday. I wanted a full dental examination and a cleaning. The dentist discovered a small cavity in the course of examination. The cost of a cleaning and the filling of the cavity was P800. The examination was incomplete because that office is not equipped with x-ray equipment. He referred me to a diagnostic center equipped with x-ray. I went there the next day and was in and out in a matter of half an hour with the x-ray and lighter in the wallet by P800.

From there it was to Doctor’s Hospital to see the Dermatologist about a rash on my hand. In a matter of a few minutes, including a short wait, I was on my way, prescription in hand. No lengthy forms to fill out; merely put my name on a waiting list and walk into her office when called. Her fee with senior discount was P200. Filling the prescription was another matter; P545.50.

That makes the trips to the dentist and xray lab $18.20 each. The doctor’s office visit was $4.46, and last but certainly not least was the cost at the pharmacy was $10.33.

The power was off here. Brownouts are something that occur as often as weekly. When that happens, I usually hie myself off to one of the malls that has its own generators with the attendant aircon and comfy places to sit and girl watch. I had a slight variation yesterday; rather than girl watch I went to see Narnia Chronicles: Prince Caspian. That cost P90 for preferred seating. I had seen the new Indiana Jones flick a few days before for P75, also preferred seating. That’s $2.05 for Narnia and a buck seventy for Dr. Jones which was by far the better deal.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Ninth Post

The Great Jeepney Strike

Fury at the steep rise in fuel prices has led to a two day transport strike hereabouts. No taxis, no Jeepneys. Just as well; it’s been raining cats and dogs. Consequently I have limited my outdoor excursions to those absolutely necessary. I was getting low on potable water and needed to go order some. I waited for a break in the rainfall before getting ready. The lull didn’t last long, so by the time I was ready it was coming down again. I slogged through some fairly deep puddles to run my errand. I had purchased a new umbrella a few days before when I suspected we were in for rain. The poor thing lasted one street crossing. With the taxis and jeeps off the streets, heavy trucks hauling cane move right along. I was standing a bit too close when one went by. The air turbulence broke all the threads holding the canopy to the frame. And it was so pretty, too. Sniff.

The roofs in this complex are corrugated galvanized steel. They’re gabled, some running at right angles to others. There are neither rain gutters nor downspouts. The racket created by water striking the patio at the junction of the nearest angle is enough to drown out the sound of my laptop’s speakers. It was two tropical depressions causing the water works. One moved on a northerly track to the east of the archipelago pouring water on the whole country. The other went by here to the west on a northerly track, but has now turned northeast and is pounding Central Luzon. There will be floods and washed out terrace plots from it. The noise awakened me several times the last few nights.

That’s a change. Before the rains came, the wake up call came from a lizard, a rooster, and the church down the street. To explain; there is a large gecko on the next property. He/she calls randomly in the dark hours. The family on the other side had a rooster who added to the early morning wakeup call until a week ago. I can’t help but think he wound up being Sunday dinner after losing his match at the cock fights. He did, however, do his job before going on to inglory, there are several chicks running around in that yard now. I’m sure the church is still issuing calls to the faithful in the wee hours, I don’t hear them over the uproar caused by the rain.

A Word or Two on Plumbing

There is no hot water in this building. I can buy and have installed an electrical heater for the shower. So far I haven’t seen the need. I do heat dishwater in an electric kettle.

The shower plumbing is a bit unusual but practical. There is the normal shower head and its control valve. Then there is a spigot located a bit above knee height. I’ve found two practical uses for it. Running water is not a 24/7 proposition here. Unless a building is equipped with its own elevated holding tanks – this one has ‘em – you’re not taking a shower until it comes back on. . . Unless, of course, you maintain a large tub (ten gallons or so) in your shower area which you fill every time the water is on. The spigot comes in handy for filling your tub.

The other use is washing your feet without having to remove clothing. This is the tropics and most of us wear as little as modesty will permit. I’ve had on shoes and long pants twice in the last two and a half months. Every time else I’ve worn sandals and shorts. Spritzing the feet down after a walk on these hot days not only cleans them, but it also cools them.

Bathroom fixtures are smaller than the ones I’m accustomed to. The toilet in particular sits about 4 inches lower than the ones in the states. They are you usually equipped with plastic seats. The seat here didn’t last long when my 190 pounds plopped on it. I found something considerably more substantial in a local building supply outlet.

Target for Subtle Crime

I’ve had two encounters with criminal elements in the past couple of weeks. A pickpocket skillfully sliced my left hip pocket with a razor. He hauled butt when he found a pocket pack of tissues to be the bulge rather than a well stuffed wallet. One of the witnesses asked me where my wallet was. I smiled and told her it was in California. I was a wee bit peeved. Those were new shorts and they now have a 2 inch slit in the left hip pocket.

The other incident was much more insidious. I saw a little girl – I misestimated her age at 6 or so – playing on the escalator in a local mall. I explained to her that she should be careful, it would be very easy for her to get hurt. Whereupon she attached herself to me like a limpet.

I made a purchase in one of the stores and asked the cashier to translate for us. The girl said she was nine, didn’t know where her parents were nor could seem to recall when she’d last seen them, and that she lived in the streets. I know there are a lot of kids living like that here, but they are an abstract until I meet one in person.

I checked my purchase at the courtesy booth and took her to a barbecue restaurant for a bit of pork and rice. I was busy on the old mobile phone during the repast. I needed to run down my police woman friend.

Once the girl and I met the lady cop, the decision was made that she belonged in the Filipino equivalent of Child Protective Services. The girl’s story began to unravel as she was going through intake. A police officer recognized her as being part of a scam operation.

A little prompting by a skilled, yet motherly, female interrogator got an entirely different story. Her parents send her out to latch on to strangers like she latched on to me. She was instructed to go to their home and stay with them for a few days, and then lead her parents to the quarry’s home. It also turned out she is twelve. The Murphy Game in spades.

I heard the warning to do everything in my power to avoid even the hint of having sex with underage girls. In this case, my concern for the welfare of what I thought to be an innocent child kicked over a pretty well laid trap and even better, I played a small part in putting the bait out of reach of her conniving parents for months, maybe even years. They went fishing for a pervert or someone who could be accused of being a perv to blackmail and got themselves an over-aged Boy Scout.

I did explain to my lady police friend later, that American pervs who grab kiddies usually off the kiddies after they get their kicks. She turned a bit green when she heard that even under that lovely Morena skin.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Eighth Post

It Takes Some Getting Used To, It Does.

A slow moving tropical depression inched its way through here dropping copious quantities of water. After giving the Visayans a goodly dousing it has moved off into the South China Sea where it graduated to the status of tropical storm and received its very own name; Storm Neoguri. It’s moving very slowly on a generally northwestward track which you can see

It is a gorgeous, sunny day. Hot, too, I might add. I thought it would be an excellent time to wash out four small towels I use in the kitchen and hang them on the line to dry. They’ve been hanging for nigh onto five hours and are still damp to the touch. I hadn’t reckoned with the post-storm humidity, you see. Now that there looks to be more thunderheads over the mountains to the east and I do hear thunder, the time has come to move them to the shower curtain rod in CR (what the locals call bathrooms).

I am constantly being surprised by this place. Sometimes pleasantly, sometimes otherwise. Take prices, for instance. If you’re not paying $4.00 a gallon for gas yet, you have little to complain of; It’s running the equivalent of $4.60 here and milk is a whopping $5.60. On the other hand, items produced here are ridiculously inexpensive.

We had a brownout today, and rather than swelter here, I walked across the street to the mall to window shop and keep cool. Hawaiian shirts manufactured here are about $5.00. Mangos grown here run P70 per kilo or 78¢ a pound. Papaya, pineapple, and bananas are even cheaper. Fish and oysters are harvested locally. Pork and chicken are plentiful and cheap.

Rice is a sticking point, however. Over the years the RP has become a net importer and the suppliers just jacked up the prices. There was a honking-of-horns protest downtown over the prices of rice and gasoline. Downtown is the seat of the provincial government, but it is hard to see what the Governor can do about the situation. Recently the Agriculture Minister was grilled on the matter by a BBC World News correspondent. The Minister appeared calm and poised, the reporter confrontational to the point of rudeness. The Minister pointed out the situation was inherited by the present administration and is being addressed by the addition of more cropland devoted to rice production. A reasonable answer in the face of a provocative manner.

Another surprise I found – in the sporting goods section of the department store, no less – were brass knuckles. There was an interesting variation along side the “dusters;” another weapon in same pattern but a different material – a beautifully polished hard wood.

Something else that I find a little odd are the personal questions that would be considered intrusive in the states and not asked. I’ve lost track of the number of young women who ask me if I’m alone; meaning do I have a partner. Since I don’t know to what the conversation might lead, lately I answer, “Yes I am. All by myself. No girl friend, no wife.” Then I ask, “Are you interested in the position?” The last three have professed a distinct lack of interest in a somewhat embarrassed manner. Which is just as well.

I made comment in the Sixth Post about all the different influences brought to the islands over the millennia. The archipelago is made up of 7,107 islands inhabited by 97 ethnic and cultural groups speaking 101 languages. Add to that diverse mix dabs of other cultures’ languages, foods, and customs and you have an inkling of how complex the sociology is here. The unifying factors are the Church and the English language. 87% are Catholics and more speak English than any other language.

The original languages have long since been corrupted by other languages. A friend who was seeking translation of a document from Tagalog to Ilonggo complained that it had been translated by a woman who was adept in the pure form of Ilonggo was incomprehensible to him. He is native Ilonggo and grew up with the language.

I’m amused by some conversations I overhear. People will be rattling away in Cebuano, Tagalog, or Ilonggo and phrases like, “Yes but,” “Como esta,” “Salaam.” work their way into the conversations. Guitar in the style of Mexican balladeers can be heard and chorizo is available in the markets. Some newspapers are printed in English and it is comical when the writer lapses into Pilipino for a few lines in the middle of the article.

Fun place, I think I’ll hang around for awhile.