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.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Seventh Post

The President’s Coming! The President’s Coming!

Her Excellency, Mme Gloria Macapagal Arroyo established an aggressive program of economic growth for the RP early in her administration. To that end, she gets out to visit new projects to lend a little publicity to both herself and the project.

This time she’s off to Siargao, a small, pristine island off the northeast tip of Mindanao where she is scheduled to speak April 17. The occasion is the kick-off of a game fishing tournament to be held in Pilar Town. But game fishing isn’t the only thing happening in this little-known tropical paradise. JAFE Surf and Sail Camp Resort has just opened.

Situated on the east coast of the island, it receives the long rolling waves from the broad Pacific which break on a strategically located reef and provide the surfing community one the world’s premier venues for competitions.

If fifteen foot, left breaking waves aren’t your cup of tea, try getting your toes into white sand and swimming in crystal clear water. The resort also features caving, boating, trekking, and beach sports. Transportation is available to nearby dive facilities, and if you didn’t bring your board, no worry; they have very reasonable rentals.

The resort is family owned and operated and families are not only welcome but encouraged. Having just opened, they are very interested in interacting with their guests. Meals are served family style in the capacious dining hall. If you find need to make a comment, you might find a willing ear within arm’s length.

To add even more to a very attractive package, group rates run as little as P500 ($12.50 US) per day and include breakfast, transportation from ferry or air terminal, a one day island tour, a relaxing atmosphere, and fun for the whole family.

In this satellite
shot (courtesy of Google) you can see the reef and beach of the resort and here’s their website. Give some thought to making a reservation and we might see each other there.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Sixth Post

A Little History

There are 7,107 islands in the archipelago. In the distant past they were more or less independent from each other. Over the millennia Muslim Indians, Spaniards, Americans, Japanese, and a host of other nationalities have been here.
Wikipedia has a pretty good write-up, if you’re interested.

The resultant melting pot is decidedly Asian, but vastly different from their neighbors. Filipinos put down quirks in the national psyche, if any, as being due to three and a half centuries in a Convent followed by fifty years of Hollywood. After a Filipino delivered that line to me, the others present laughed uproariously. As a matter of fact they laugh at about anything. A few years ago there was a coup attempt with army troops shooting at other army troops. The noise drew a crowd who all cheered and laughed until the bullets started coming their way. As I’ve said before, they are the happiest people I’ve ever met.

I went grocery shopping yesterday to stock the new apartment. After things were put away, I tried my hand at a little cookery in my somewhat truncated kitchen. I had four females laughing their heads off at my efforts. [A note to the thin skinned: Don’t come here if you don’t want to be the butt of at least a few jokes.]

The Shabu Epidemic

Methamphetamine abuse, called “shabu” locally, is a raging epidemic. One of the females whom I amused yesterday with my kitchen klutz routine is a 7 year old girl named Vanessa. Her story illustrates the nightmare of the drug.

Vanessa’s grandmother wasn’t terribly selective in her choice of mates, leading to Vanessa’s mom’s rape at age 13 at the hands of one of several step-fathers. She then followed the typical path of the low self esteem female which is too many mates, too many children, not enough money, prostitution to make ends meet, drugs to ease the pain of her existence and eventually drug dealing. The which has landed her money making butt in the clink. She’s been incarcerated for 5 years so far with an indeterminate time left to go.

She did attempt to see to the then toddler’s welfare by putting the little girl in the care of a trust worthy woman with her own family. But Vanessa was taken out of foster care by her father who allowed her to run loose in the streets with not enough to eat or proper care. Recently she has been returned to foster care without so much as a toothbrush. She was hungry for food and gentle attention. The pain I felt at her experience while watching her eat yesterday was profound.

A human face has been put on the wreckage of the drug epidemic and it is that of a still-innocent 7 year old girl. I’ve been active in helping lushes and loadies find a new path for life, but I am beginning to get the feeling that I should put my efforts into helping the other Vanessas and Vans out there.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Fifth Post

Living on Island Time

Communicating with the locals gets to be a hilarious vexation at times. I was in a conversation with a realtor the other day whose answer to my every question was yes. I’m grateful, truly grateful, I hadn’t urgent need for the lavatory – CR or comfort room, here – and her directions were required to find it.

If you are planning on meeting someone at noon, it could be today and it might not when your date shows up. I’ve attended meetings where I was the only one there until it was time for the meeting to be over. I was told it was just Island Time and to not get uptight. As one of my friends used to say, “Breathe In – Breathe Out.”

I need to move out of my ghetto. Friends have told me this place is dangerous, and true enough, there are some unsavory types here I wouldn’t invite over for dinner. On the other hand, there is a charming neighborhood near here.

I couldn’t find a taxi yesterday, and took a tricycle – a bicycle with a side car – in lieu of. Interesting ride. The driver turned off the main drag and I was a bit apprehensive until we passed a good sized knot of children playing along side the road. The kids started yelling and cheering and waving while the driver was having a hard time pedaling because he was laughing so hard.

We passed by them to turn down yet another narrow lane. This one had nice, middle class Filipino homes lining both sides. The homes looked well tended and the people lacked the scruffiness to be found right here. There were also several very attractive young women who stood talking and turned to smile as we moved by. I’ll bet I was the first lone Caucasian who had been down that street in any of the residents’ collective memory.

The weather has turned hot, and being outside out of the breeze is miserable. It’s very okay here as I’m on the second floor and an onshore breeze is keeping things pleasant.
I walked into a locally owned store yesterday to see about a belt buckle to replace the one that has failed several times in the past. The proprietress asked me if I wanted to rent a house. I said sure, so one thing led to another.

There is a new subdivision 5 KM from downtown where they were building a 3 BR, 2 BA 2,600 square foot home for their daughter who has decided to delay her return from abroad for another 7 years or so. It is about a KM from blue water, so ocean breezes avail.

The house is unfinished, but beautifully appointed. The use of wood as trim is lavish. Some of it would go for a small fortune in a specialty lumber yard in the states. Ceilings in the living room and master bedroom are coffered.
Something uniquely Filipino are the use of two kitchens. One named the “dirty” kitchen, the other one is the “clean” kitchen. Dirty kitchens are used for laundry and charcoal cookery.

The place needs some painting, plastering, electrical, landscaping, and the like. The 72 year old builder says make him an offer.

I just might.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Fourth Post

Strange Doin’s In Paradise

There was a christening of a beautiful 2 year old girl today. I missed the ceremony, but was nevertheless invited to the ensuing luncheon. Like most of the places I’ve been in the Philippines, I was the only Caucasian there. The person inviting me requested I wear long trousers and shoes in the second part of the invitation, which didn’t get to me until I was already at the restaurant with my hairy legs sticking out of my size 36 Good Will shorts and my feet somewhat comfortably encased in sandals.

The other people attending were all law enforcement types, primarily jailers. It struck me that everyone was open and friendly. They were a far cry from the sociopaths I’m acquainted with back in Santa Clara County. No alcohol, no glares, no cross words. An apparently gentle and amicable crew.

That was all well and good, but the strange part came next. I was asked to say grace for the meal; something I haven’t done in recent memory. I would be a poor guest if I declined, so I forged onward, hoping I could remember what I was supposed to say. Here I am, a renegade Southern Baptist who has not stepped inside a church of his faith since 1982 offering a prayer in a room full of devout Catholics.

I guess God wasn’t too upset with me; the building didn’t fall down and I have yet to receive a Cease and Desist Order from the Vatican . . . or Manila, for that matter.

The Kids

Children here are plentiful and run free playing and yelling the day long and into the early evening. They are a happy crew and when I pop out of my apartment they are there to greet me with cheery little voices. I stop and talk to them often, getting their names and asking what their interests are. Facts which promptly slip out of mind.

I’ve seldom seen a small child acting up, and when they do, parents offer the mildest of admonishments. They seem to be happy and well adjusted, but then, too, I haven’t seen any Dr. Spock on the bookshelves of the local print mongers. Wonder if there might possibly be a correlation between the lack of “modern” child rearing books and the fact everyone is so happy here.

Getting Around

The traffic here has to be seen to be believed. Jeepneys, tricycles, taxis, bicycles, personal vehicles, heavy haul commercial trucks, and pedestrians are on the roads from before dawn till well after sunset. No one practices lane discipline, observance of yellow lines seems to be optional, and if a vehicle operator stays in a straight line for more than 10 seconds it is at a crawl or because he can’t change lanes.

How they manage to do what they do without reducing the population considerably bears scrutiny. So far I’ve seen one child injured from dashing into traffic. That wasn’t the driver’s fault. The only other incident involved a Jeepney swapping mirrors with an a Suzuki pickup truck driven by an elderly man.

I’ll never forget the night I took a taxi from Capitol Square, Cebu, to Marina Mall, Lapu Lapu. The cabbie wanted a P20 spiff for the trip and I told him only if he got me there by 8:30. It was 8:34 when I gladly paid his fare plus the spiff. That was a ride right out of the chase scenes in action movies. Beats the dickens out of any theme park ride I was ever on. That driver was born to be a fighter pilot.

More Later

Friday, March 28, 2008

Third Post


They abound here. Food servers and chain store employees, as well as students wear them. Department stores hire only the comeliest young women who are fitted with very flattering matching tailored slacks or skirts – short skirts, I might add. While school girls wear more modest skirt lengths, there is never a doubt a of the femininity of the wearer or the designer’s intent.

I was coming back from breakfast early one morning when I saw a slender young woman walking ahead of me. She was wearing a pink top and a gray A line skirt of midi length which swung to and fro as walked along. She turned down a side street. When I got to the side street, I looked down it to see her and a dozen more young women in pink and gray swinging their hips as they walked toward their college. Whoever designed that uniform managed to hit a balance that was at once able to meet any standard of modesty in the Christian world, while at the same time emphasizing the fact a comely female was wearing it. Neat trick, that.

There are other uniforms that are not quite as becoming. There’s a guard in almost every door way of the newer businesses. Some are armed with S&W Model 10 .38 Specials, but some bank guards have 12 gauge Mossbergs with pistol grip in lieu of a butt stock suspended from a shoulder strap at near-tactical present. Other bank guards tote double slung M-16s.


These folks are rabid sports fans. I’ve not seen so much interest in inter-mural basketball since I landed in Indiana back 1960. The NBA has a following here as well. Boxing is big and Pinoys are justly proud of the fighters who have done well in Vegas. They all ask me if I lived close enough to Sin City to see the fights.

Another thing that is big here is cock fighting. I think anyone with a patch of land where a chicken can thrive is raising them. They start greeting the new day about 3:00 AM. Not a bad way to wake up, but their sense of timing sucks.

The subject of cock fighting came up in conversation the other day, and I stated that it is now outlawed in all 50 states. A genteel woman looked at me incredulously and asked, “They don’t like chicken fights?” I’m not sure she would have understood the SPCA. I just shrugged in response.


Buildings range from squatters’ shacks to millionaires’ mansions. Permanent structures tend to be made of poured concrete or cinder block in the case of single story dwellings. Corrugated galvanized steel roofs are predominant. During a hard rain, you can’t hear yourself think. There was a hard rain and I thought it would be nice to accompany it by playing Buddy Guy’s "It Feels Like Rain." Couldn’t hear it, even with my ear next to the speaker.

The major government buildings date back to the 1930s when the country was upgraded from colony to Commonwealth. They are magnificent structures built during FDR’s NRA. I can see the upper story of the Capitol of the province of Negros Occidental from my kitchen window. This is a satellite view of it
here using Google map. Notice the large park and lagoon in front of the building. I walk there in cool evenings. Speaking of which, it’s time to do.

More later.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Second Post

The Beat

The first thing that struck me when the jet lag finally subsided was the heat. Not a problem. I grew up on the Texas Gulf Coast. Reacclimating is only a matter of time. The second thing was The Beat. Every shop or store or restaurant in any mall has something on the PA with a throbbing beat that does nothing to quell the old libido. The sole exception happened in an upscale department store one day when one of the Archbishops was leading the prayer to the Virgin. Away from malls, 80s US pop – with a beat, of course – dominates the FM radios here in Bacolod.


The Visayans are predominantly Roman Catholic. There’s a sprinkling of LDS, Muslim and Protestant, but Catholics are in the large majority. God Bless Yous flow freely and most people attend Mass frequently. The hang-dog guilt that seems to flow in the Mother’s Milk of Western Catholics is notably lacking here. As a group, I’ve never seen happier people. If they are guilt-ridden, it sure doesn’t show. Religious Holidays are observed in a somewhat strange manner. I was in Cebu toward the end of Lent. Most businesses were closed Maundy Thursday and everything except the few businesses catering to Westerners were closed Good Friday, or Black Friday in local parlance. The kicker is that everything was back to normal Easter Sunday. Go figure.


I loaded a VOIP onto my laptop before I left the states and have been able to make calls to North America as if I were still in California. Beats the dickens out of the $0.20 per minute rate of most discount carriers for calls to or from the Philippines.

The favorite method of communication here is “texting.” It only costs P1 per message. I bought a used Motorola in the US that was difficult to use for extensive SMS. I did see where suitable refurbed Black Berrys are for sale for about $110.00 online. They’re desirable for the QWERTY keyboard and the quad band capability. Buying one there will save you a bunch of money. If you buy any mobile for use here, make sure that is unlocked. SIM cards for the Phils are available online at Ebay. The next most popular form of communication is the internet. Few Pinoys have a computer at home, but internet cafes abound. For P15 you can have an hour of computer time which includes internet access. That’s a whopping 37.5¢. I have yet to encounter someone who does not have a Yahoo Messenger account.

The funnest method of communication is person to person; Chikka-Chikka. That is market gossip and it gets carried to extremes. Being a guy who stands out in a crowd, particularly of five foot something Asians makes me a target extraordinaire. I feel like Tom Cruise when he shafted Nicole Kidman. Everybody’s talking. I was pleasantly surprised to find out just who my “companions” are. Don’t I wish.

More next time.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

First Post

I’ve had several expats tell me this is paradise. Hence the title of the blog. Plan on seeing frequent posts until the new wears off.

The major attractions here are the weather, girl watching, the sea, and the low cost of living. The weather is hot and humid which makes girl watching all the better on account of the skimpy oufits worn. Filipinas have a natural hip swaying motion when walking that comes a bit shy of a sashay suitable for runway models. It is intriguing to watch as they walk past, particularly a pair of SYTs in short shorts at the mall.

The women

The women have a ready smile and a friendly manner and are very easy to talk to. Sometimes too easy. This is a very poor country and most people subsist just above poverty level. I haven’t counted the number of times a would-be friendly chat turned into a solicitation for commercial sex, in which I have no interest aside from curiosity. The pitch usually starts with an expressed need for money to pay the rent, buy a sick father medicine, etc. The asking prices have ranged from P500 to P2,000. That’s approximately $12.50 and $50.00 respectively. They usually start by asking for a loan, if you demure – and what idiot wouldn’t? – they will then offer to come to your place. I’ve lately dodged that part by claiming I am married to a woman much larger than myself who beats me.

One night a pair of girls didn’t bother with the preliminary. They caught my eye while I was sitting in a wifi hotspot coffee house and joined me at my table after a little flirtatious eye contact. They straight up offered the solicitation for a double header without any small talk or shilly shallying. That’s when I trotted out the notional large, mean hausdrache. Another variation I’ve used is the price haggle. Interesting specifics have emerged from such a dialog.

If you come here and decide to participate, please be super extra careful. The Philippine Republic comes down hard on anyone who has commercial sex with a person under the age of 18. There’s a variation on the badger game; big brother shows up in time to wilt your ardor with a pronouncement that it will take a lot of money to keep your indiscretion discreet. Believe me, you would rather contract all manner of STD than go to the Pinoy clink where you can languish for up to a year before your case is called up. When the local magistrates get through with you, home you go where you will face one of the DOJs crusading feminist prosecutors. No double jeopardy as we’re talking two counties here; you get a relatively short, absolutely miserable stretch in the RP, and a long one among kinks and child molesters after you get back home, AND the life-time stamp of “sex offender.”

In general, Filipinas are easy to meet and talk to if it is obvious you are a westerner. Despite the skimpy attire and the sexy walk they tend to be very modest and sometimes painfully shy. Caucasians my size, 6’/190 or 182/92, are something of an oddity here. I have made it a point of learning the local transportation system and often ride jeepneys at the cost of P7 versus as much as P80 for a taxi. I was coming home one evening when one of the shop girls sitting across from me continued to stare. I was feeling a tad uncomfortable and stuck my hand out to introduce myself. The poor girl was mortified and the other riders were highly amused.


The foodstuffs easy to buy and plentiful here are rice – a staple for nearly every Pilipino meal – fresh tropical fruit, hot weather vegetables (great okra, scrawny potatoes) hardy leaf vegetables, but crops requiring less robust weather are seldom seen. For example there’s no spinach and the only lettuce is imported for the fast food chains. I don’t think there is a soul in this country who can spell “asparagus.” There’s a good bit of imported foods from China and New Zealand.

One of my favorite foods while I lived in California was a blender mix of mango, bananas, and yogurt. Dairy products here don’t have the variety found in the states and large containers of plain yogurt just aren’t available.

I know yogurt is reasonably easy to make, but I don’t know how. Like any good byte-head, when I want to know something, I Google it. “recipe + yogurt” yielded a number of sites, the first of which is Inviting what?

Native Pinoy dining habits employ a fork and a table spoon or the meal is simply eaten with the hands. A lot of it is cooked over charcoal. I had a half chicken and rice with a family in a fast food restaurant catering to Filipinos. The rice is made up in huge stock pots and dipped out in 1 cup servings. It is often called sticky rice. Good name; it is a bland, glutinous mass. A sauce made up of juice from a lime-like fruit, mixed with soy sauce, and spiked with a bit of seriously hot pepper gives it character and authority. The chicken didn’t need any help; it was pretty good on its own.

Fast food here includes the usual suspects led by McDonalds, followed closely by KFC. There is a direct competitor to the former named Jollibee. Shakeys, Greenwich, DaVinci, and Yellow Cab are pizza houses. All offer a variation suitable to the taste and appetite of the locals. Portions are smaller, but then, too, prices are about a third of that in the states.

This morning my breakfast included hot tea, a mango, a couple of finger-sized bananas, half a small papaya, buttered bread and a glass of milk. I’m planning on an apple, cheese and cracker lunch.

The Sea

So far, the beaches I’ve seen are something of a disappointment. There is a 7 meter tide here. That’s 23 feet. What I have seen are steeply angled seawalls with a narrow band of sand before one reaches the water. I have, however been promised the real thing when I visit a friend’s resort on Siargao. See the promo here.
My brother came over for a diving vacation and found some great places which I haven’t had a chance to visit yet.