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.