Welcome! I'm Brad, a retired American high school teacher who has been living in Cabanatuan City, the Philippines for more than four years. My adoptive/adopted Filipino family, the Javier-Aldonza-Guevarra-Academia clan; the kind staff at the hotel across the street where I used to live; and the Raguindin family, under whose roof I now live, have been friends and helpmates to me during this time; thanks to them for letting me describe here their trials, successes, heartaches, celebrations, passions, so that American readers can get an idea of Filipino life. It has, for the most part, been a very enjoyable stay. I post every four to ten days, y'all. Tap the lower floors above for earlier posts, and, as ever, click the pics to embiggen them!

You can reach Brad Smith at boan.song@gmail.com

The main entrance to the SM Mall, September 23. The Christmas season is four months long in the Philippines!

9.24.22

More Heavy Weather

(Weather Underground)

That's Karding (int'l name Noru), a strong tropical storm that is expected to cross central Luzon tomorrow afternoon and tomorrow night. Nueva Ecija Province is currently under Signal 1 (strong winds (39 to 61 km/h), minimal to minor threat to life and property). The eye is expected to pass north of Cabanatuan, so the winds here should not get above 50 km/hr; just hoping this whirligig's rain does not flood half the city!

I had told Jheng's 19-year-old sister Mariel that she could use the Avanza to buy needed furniture and clothing for her baby tomorrow, as long as Jheng was the chauffer for her and her boyfriend Sean. She is about five weeks from her due date and these days often seems to be about to topple over when she is walking. Seeing the forecast this morning, I sent a text, along with an image of the storm, suggesting she might want to pick another day for this errand. She hadn't seen the forecast and expressed dismay; it had to be Sunday! Well, I went over to the Ventusky weather model and saw that the storm wouldn't be underway in Cab City until sometime in the afternoon. Texted this news to Mariel and she texted back that she wanted to get an early start, could I bring the car at 8 am? Eeew. I texted back okay see you at 8.

She has college classwork during the week, and she wouldn't have a chance to use the Avanza next weekend, because the Avanza will be way up in Isabela Province then. Yes, I'm driving to that little resort in Cabagan to spend a full month with that "family of the northland" with whom I could spend only six days back in July. If Grace and I come to believe our relationship has staying power during this visit, we'll make plans for the family to journey to Cabanatuan at the start of Faith and Matt's Christmas break, and they will spend Christmas and New Year's with me here.

I can tell you this is a big step for me. Over twenty years of teaching in America and five years of retirement in the Philippines, I have lived alone. In the U.S., after my divorce, I never dated. My life was a busy one; what's more, the psychic wound of my failed marriage was raw for a long time. I came to the Philippines to see Jheng, with whom I had struck up an online relationship during my last teaching years. She is now a trusted friend, my best friend here. But the love relationship came up a cropper.

So next Friday morning, early, I start the long drive back to Cabagan. Don-Don will not be at the wheel -- he is supervising construction at the house, and while he thought the job would be finished by October, they are behind schedule and so he won't be traveling to Cauayan in Isabela. Jheng's brother James will join me as far as Solano in Nueva Vizcaya. Bob and Cy are both coming. And this desktop computer is coming, so's I can keep up with American news and continue this blog. Apparently Globe Telecom has a tower somewhere up there in far northern Luzon . . . .

Update: it's now Sunday morning. Karding slowed a bit and intensified a good deal overnight. It's now a typhoon that will likely cause a good deal of havoc in parts of central Luzon tonight and into Monday morning. Nueva Ecija is now under Signal 3 (storm-force winds (89 to 117 km/h), moderate to significant threat to life and property).

Update: 2 pm. A Signal 5 alert just went up for Nueva Ecija. This is the highest signal level. Really? Winds in excess of 200 km/hr?

9.16.22

Homeland Thoughts

It's a term that became popular in America after the tragedy of 9/11 twenty-one years ago: "homeland." I didn't like it at first, feeling it had jingoistic connotations, an "us against them" feel to it. Two years after 9/11, agencies in cabinet departments that were tied in some way to the nation's security were yanked out of their departments and placed in a new cabinet designation, the Department of Homeland Security. The Secret Service and the Customs Service came from Treasury; the Immigration and Naturalization Service came over from Justice; the National Communications System came over from Defense. And so on. This consolidation was deemed necessary: the world was a more dangerous place than we had once thought it was.

The DHS regularly puts out the National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin, and the most recent one, which came out in June, speaks of a "heightened threat environment" with regard to terroristic acts within the United States. And in that atonal government-speak one expects from such documents, the writer assures us that the threat comes from within. Acts of domestic terrorism are on the rise, and the actors in these cases are almost always white men.

(CNN)

Modern technology keeps me up to speed, here on rainy Luzon, with developments in the U.S.: I spend a good part of each morning reading and watching American media. My first four years here I followed closely the riots, the mass shootings, the impeachments. This year something seems to be unfolding that could end in a great deal of nastiness for all Americans.

"The continued proliferation of false or misleading narratives regarding current events could reinforce existing personal grievances or ideologies, and in combination with other factors, could inspire individuals to mobilize to violence." Duh. And the source of the most pernicious of these "misleading narratives" is a mean-spirited, pathological huckster of a former prez. The 2020 election was full of fraud! Trump was the real winner, and by a mile! The former guy repeats the big lie again and again and again; as with any mantra, sympathetic listeners are lulled into belief. I've heard that 70% of registered Republicans believe Trump's lie. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

It's been an interesting summer. The FBI dropping by Mara Lago in June. The backstory of lawyers lying to the FBI during a previous visit. The piling up of lame excuses by Trump defenders. Trump's badmouthing of the FBI and DOJ. The picture of the seized classified documents. Trump's backhanded threats concerning what might happen, should he ever be indicted. I'm of two minds as to how this will play out -- and for that matter, as to how the other criminal investigations into the former guy will play out. My first thought is that he will be indicted, perhaps more than once, found guilty at trial, and have to spend the rest of his miserable life confined to one of his residences, with restrictions placed on whom he can communicate with outside that residence. My second thought involves militia groups with AR-15s in the streets; haven't had the will to pursue that thought to any logical conclusion.

How will the coming elections affect the widening split in American society? They're a source of hope for me. And of dread.

 

https://www.dhs.gov/ntas/advisory/national-terrorism-advisory-system-bulletin-june-7-2022

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Department_of_Homeland_Security

(The New Yorker)

9.5.22

I'm Gonna Fix You, Cy

A few days ago I ran into Richard at the SM Mall, and chatting with him learned that he is not a happy man. The expat Aussie and his Filipina wife grow rice on their farm in Talavera, one town north of Cabanatuan, and he told me that for small growers rice farming was becoming financially unviable. I knew that the government's decision to waive restrictions on rice imports in 2019 had  brought down the selling price of unhulled rice. What I didn't know, but learned from Richard, is that he and his wife are facing a double-whammy: fertilizer prices have tripled since 2020!

Richard is an easygoing mate in his early sixties with long and wavy gray hair. He's thin and handsome for an older guy, and he dresses like a biker. Really, I feel more comfortable with him -- maybe because Eric's Norwegian accent makes him hard to understand? because Michael's politics are so repellent?-- than with most other expats I've met in the Philippines. Anyway, I said to Richard the government wouldn't let small farmers go under; they would tweak this policy, institute that policy. Richard said he hoped so.

Reading the East Asian news this morning, I learned the Philippine Department of Agriculture will soon subsidize small farmers 5K pesos for fertilizer expenses. Also read that very poor rice harvests are expected in China and India this growing season due to drought and severe heat; prices seem destined to rise. So how about that, Richard: your short-term prospects seem to be getting brighter.

Not much in the way of drought or severe heat here. The rainy season is finally acting like the rainy season, although the southern monsoon is staying away. We get one or two downpours a day, some lasting minutes, some hours. Here's some news: I won't be alone with the cats on the drive up to Isabela on October 1. My landlord Adonis (Don-Don) has a cousin he would like to visit in Cauayan, which is four towns south of Cabagan, and he's offered to do the driving to Cauayan. Also, Jheng's brother James wants a ride to Solano, Nueva Vizcaya (about the halfway point of my journey). James spent the first few months of this year helping his Uncle Sonny, who opened a second computer repair shop in Solano. Business must be going well for Sonny up there; he wants James's help again.

Speaking of the cats, it seems that Cyrus, the younger of the two, has started pursuing the ladies. Last week he spent a few entire nights outside. Robert was neutered at 6 months; I just haven't gotten around to bringing Cy in. Well, Cy, tomorrow you'll have a blood test, and a day or two after that, snip, snip. More strays are not needed in Cab City -- or in Cabagan!

 

https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1658331/da-told-to-expedite-release-of-cash-subsidies-for-rice-farmers

https://www.scmp.com/economy/global-economy/article/3191136/india-and-china-farmers-fret-drought-and-heat-threaten-rice

8.28.22

China Wants Taiwan

(MIT OpenCourseWare)

The northernmost islands of the Philippines, the Batanes group off the north coast of Luzon, lie just 120 miles from the southern tip of the island of Taiwan. As you probably know, a few weeks ago a belligerent China took great offense to the visit paid Taiwan by the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and a contingent of American congressmen: such great offense that it sent its warships to points north, south, east, and west of Taiwan, and held live-fire exercises lasting several days.

Xi Jinping, president of China and general secretary of China's Communist Party, has repeatedly stated that it is China's policy to reunite Taiwan with mainland China in the not-distant future, by peaceful, diplomatic means if possible and by force if necessary. The position of U.S. administrations, for decades, has been to support democratic Taiwan with trade which includes weaponry for self-defense; on the issue of whether the U.S. would come to the defense of Taiwan militarily, should Taiwan be attacked by mainland China, the U.S., despite President Biden's recent claim that the country would militarily defend Taiwan, has maintained a stance of "strategic ambiguity." Which means, what? Maybe, maybe not? I don't think it's going too far to say that the positions of these two nuclear powers (with the two largest armies on the planet), vis-a-vis this island with a population of 24 million, have created a tinderbox in the region, with many opportunities for miscalculation on either side.

China out-invests the U.S. in Philippine industry, but news reports of Filipino demonstrations against the Philippines' growing reliance on China, as well as every conversation I've had with a Filipino about China, suggest to me there is a deep well of disdain in the average Filipino for their formidable neighbor to the west. Generally, the people here feel the Chinese government's economic designs outside its own borders are predatory, and China's territorial claims in the South China Sea are outageous. President Duterte, trying to win investments from both China and the U.S. during his six years in office, maintained a studied neutrality concerning differences between the two major powers, and, beyond diplomatic protest, would not rock the boat when Chinese warships chased Filipino fishermen away from Philippines-claimed islands in the western sea. Whether President Marcos will maintain this "let's just keep an even keel" position has yet to be seen.

Will China invade Taiwan not in the not-distant but in the near future? No doubt the Chinese government has been observing closely the Western response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Unprecedented sanctions have been imposed on Russia by every NATO state, by other countries as well. Tens of billions of dollars in weaponry and other support is being funneled into Ukraine. This cannot be making the Chinese leaders sanguine. China depends on international trade in ways that Russia doesn't; and foreign assistance to Taiwan, after Chinese aggression, would much more likely lead to flashpoints and a wider conflict than it currently does in Ukraine. On the other hand, President Xi has publicised the issue of Taiwan, and "rattled the saber" in the Taiwan Strait, as no Chinese leader before him has. It is almost as if he is staking his reputation and legacy on reunification during his tenure.

If China does go in militarily, try to reclaim the island that was Chinese territory for more than six hundred years (before the 1949 revolution, and before the decades of Japanese control before that), how would this affect the Philippines? I guess that depends. Would the U.S. come to Taiwan's defense, and, based on a treaty made long ago between the U.S. and the Philippines, would it pressure the Philippines to allow the U.S. to use military bases on Luzon? Would the Philippines give in to such pressure?

For that matter, just what kind of hegemony is China seeking to establish in East Asia? The years ahead should be interesting ones (cough, cough).

(thejakartapost.com)

8.23.22

Still Life with Tropical Storm

Well, the tropical storm-force winds are north of here, but it's been a pretty dark and dismal day in Cab City: overcast with occasional downpours. Florita (int'l name Ma-on) has been affecting most of northern Luzon since midday yesterday, and Grace's daughter Faith and son Matt, up in Isabela, got only a taste of school on Monday -- schools in the province closed at 11 am, and they are not open today. They are closed here in Nueva Ecija today, but Jheng's children got in a full day yesterday.

Grace and Faith had flu-like symptoms this morning; Grace just texted me they are both feeling better now (it is getting on evening). Up north in Isabela they're really feeling the storm and have been water-sodden for a day and a half. As for me, have been sedentary for two days now, reading Richard Flanagan's very good novel, Gould's Book of Fish (thanks, Mark!); watching Netflix movies; cooking; tippling into the night.

I guess it just took me blogging about how dry this rainy season has been for one of those whirligigs to descend upon us. Hopefully, Florita will be in the South China Sea by tomorrow morning.

8.16.22

Plan-Making in the Not-So-Rainy Season

It's my fifth rainy season in the Philippines, and this one is not playing out as each of the others did. Simply put, there hasn't been very much rain. Yesterday there was a furious downpour with a nice lightning display -- it did not last an hour. In years past, sunny afternoons at this time of year were a rarity; but these past few weeks have seen long lines of sunny afternoons with nary a drop of rain. And, while two or three circular storms have formed in the western Pacific over the past couple of months, I have a memory of these whirligigs forming with much greater frequency in prior rainy seasons.

I'm not complaining! On the ninth or tenth day of a southern monsoon, a malaise starts to overtake one's soul -- I call it the rain-grippe. A prolonged absence of sun does affect a person's mental space, I've learned since moving here. The rain-grippe has not been felt by me for many moons now . . . .

------------------------------------------------

Faith and Matt will not have an extended break from school until December; at the start of this break, Gracelyn and her children will board a bus and head south to spend a couple of weeks with me. All right, but. As Grace explained how we could reunite, the selfish side of me kicked in. Nearly half a year away from these people who in six days had become an important part of my life? No, thank you. And the seed of a plan lodged itself in my noggin while I was still in Cabagan.

It took a bit of arranging, to be sure. Back in Cab City, I contacted Roel's Garden resort by email, lauding their accomodations before asking whether a stay of, say, a month, could be procured at a discount rate. After some back and forth, an online deal was made: the P1,200/night rate became P1,000/night for the entire month of October. Later, Grace visited the resort with a further request which I thought might require some personal finesse: could the American bring with him his two cats? They told Grace that they liked this particular American, and yes, he can bring along his cats.

Bob is not a killer. Cy, on the other hand, has brought into my room, through a hole in the bathroom windowscreen, a dead sparrow and more than a dozen dead mice. In a few weeks, he'll be introduced to new hunting grounds.

Before the arrangements with the resort were completed, I sat down with Dondon at the big family table, told him I wanted to live in Cabagan for a month and not pay him rent for that month, then settled back in my seat for his response. I was a little uneasy: his family runs three or four small businesses, but my monthly 25k was a real help to them, I sensed. I was also a little worried that he would find an affluent couple or another foreigner to take my place, and my comfortable (even for that money) abode in Cabanatuan would be lost. But a deal was arrived at: if I left Dondon with 5k, I could leave whatever I wasn't bringing to Cabagan in the apartment, and the place would be saved for my return November 1.

So October will cost me 10,000 pesos more than my average monthly apartment expenditure in the Philippines, and 10k is about $180 American at today's rate -- the peso has fallen against the dollar. Much of my eating will be done at Grace's place or street-side, where vendors in every Philippine city provide savory, wholesome, and cheap meals: restaurant bills should not add up to much more than normal. There will be the gas money, and surely expenses unforseen. But a longer stay with "the family of the north country" is necessary for this old man. And a month at a resort? I'm in!

8.8.22

Daang Maharlika

The Maharlika Highway stretches 3,517 kilometers, from Laoag City in the far north of Luzon to Zamboanga City at the tip of a Mindanao peninsula.  There is a ferry service between Luzon and Samar, and another between Leyte and Mindanao; a bridge links the two islands of Samar and Leyte. It is the "great connector" of this country -- not just of four of the archipelego's main islands, but also of several linguistic groups and disparate cultures. You may know that two southern Asian countries in the last few decades, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, changed their names due to the strong association of their previous names to a colonial past. Well, in the Philippines, which was named after a Spanish king now dead for 400 years, there is currently a groundswell of support to do the same. It's a testament to the affection in which Filipinos hold their "great connector" that the new name for the country bandied about the most, in the last few years, is "Maharlika."

The Maharlika is less than 200 meters from the Raguindin house, my current home base, and the Roel Garden Resort in faraway Cabagan is actually on the Maharlika, so the how-to-get-from-here-to-there aspect of the trip was simple enough. Up Luzon's central plain to San Jose City. North of SJC, a wide "saddle" of highlands connect the Sierra Madres to the east with the mighty Cordilleras to the west -- switchbacks galore for about 30 kilometers. These highlands separate the watersheds of the Pampanga River, which flows south through Cabanatuan and into Manila Bay, and the Cagayan River, which flows north between the two mountain ranges and ends at Luzon's northern coast. Then the drive was up the Cagayan Valley for the length of Nueva Vizcaya Province. At the province's northern border with Isabela, the Maharlika winds up into more highlands before dipping back down into the valley. Once back in the valley, it is a straight shot up the length of Isabela Province to the city of Cabagan.

The Maharlika in Cabanatuan.

The Maharlika in the highlands. (WordPress.com)

As the crow flies, The distance between Cabanatuan City and Cabagan is 232 km. The road distance is 325.7 km, or just over 200 miles. Now, 200 miles is almost precisely the same distance I traveled eons ago between my home in Cohasset, MA and Waterville, ME, where I attended Colby College. That trip of bygone days took a little more than four hours; the trip to Cabagan took nine and a half hours. 

Why? The Maharlika Highway is not the I95, to put it shortly. There is an expressway on Luzon, with overpasses and off-ramps, on the western side of the island, from Manila to the start of Kennon Road, which climbs the Cordillera to Baguio. But the Maharlika serves as the main drag of sixteen cities between Cabanatuan and Cabagan, main drags that are always, at least in daylight hours, congested with traffic. I probably spent a half hour getting through the downtown section of Santiago. In the highland regions of the Maharlika, a driver is more often than not stuck behind a gi-normous, over-laden, lumbering semi, or a column of semis, which can do no more than 10 km/hr on the switchbacks (and the Marharlika in the highlands is mainly switchbacks). You want to pass one of these trucks in the highlands, where there is never more than two lanes? I did, more than once, when there seemed to be enough clearance and visibility down the road -- always with a strong sense that I was putting myself into peril.

A sense of peril on the highway is not limited to passing in the highlands, though! In areas near cities, residences line the Maharlika; I screeched to a halt somewhere in Nueva Vizcaya (later thanking my lucky stars no one had been behind me) when a minivan suddenly pulled out of a blind driveway. The sheer variety of what moves on the Maharlika definitely adds to a sense of ticklishness on the road: cars, trikes, big trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, tractors, carts overladen with sacks of unhulled rice pulled by carabao (water buffalo) . . . . When to pass? When not to pass? When to yield? When to pass through? When to use the horn? When to blow a kiss? Questions pile up on the Maharlika.

Two hours after darkness fell I pulled into the XentroMall in Cabagan where Gracelyn Gatan was waiting for me. She directed me to the resort she had chosen for my home for the next six days and helped settle me in. Walking seemed unnatural and was a little painful. I fell off to sleep while watching a movie. The next morning Grace came to the resort with her children and introduced them to me. And within a couple of days I realized the trip had been more than worth the travel involved. The "great connector" had connected me with a lovely northland family.

For postings between January 22 and July 27, 2022 (and my actual stay in Cabagan), tap the "8" in the blue band at the top of this page. For earlier postings, descend farther!