Welcome! I'm Brad, a retired American high school teacher who has been living in Cabanatuan City, the Philippines for over a year. My adoptive/adopted Filipino family, the Javier-Aldonza-Guevarra-Academia clan, as well as the kind staff at the hotel where I live, have been friends and helpmates to me during this time. It has, for the most part, been a very enjoyable stay. This blog was originally set up to keep friends and loved ones back in the U.S. apprised of what I'm experiencing Phlipside. Some Filipino friends read it as well, and now that the blog is part of an expat blog network, I guess "friends who are not yet friends" are occasionally included in the readership! Will post at least once a week, and, as ever, click the pics to embiggen them.

James, as captured by his 4-year-old nephew.

You can reach me at boan.song@gmail.com.


Rain at Last

Well, the botheration is still present at my composing site, but it seems a little less bothersome than before. Still, had to wait nearly an hour for everything to come up, and what I'm typing now takes ten or twenty seconds to appear on the screen. The folks at SimpleSite have informed me that I should have been adding pages as I went along, that I have everything on a "front" page that is way too long to handle the content. Neophyte blogger that I am, I had no idea. Solving this issue is going to be a somewhat arduous task. Look for a new post somewhere in the April 20's.


School's Out!

American readers, I know, I know. Two years ago at this time there were 2 1/2 months left in my 18-year gig at Leominster High School. But they do things differently in the Philippines, owing, I guess, to the climate. Here the highest temperatures are in April and May, and schools are not air-conditioned. A record high for its date was set in Cabanatuan a few days ago when the temperature hit 41 C (104 F.). The heat has moderated since then, but it's my professional opinion that this is not ideal studying weather.

Above are Lara and Janiah at their school's final ceremony in San Jose City, where they both won multiple awards for scholarship (that's proud grandfather "Papa Larry" standing with Lara). It was a new school for them at the start of the year, and the transition went more than smoothly: they both really seem to enjoy it there, and they take their studies very seriously! In two days Jane will drive them back to Cabanatuan, where they'll spend the two-month break.

On June 16th, around the end of their break, I'll be hopping a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong; in Hong Kong I'll hop another Cathay Pacific flight to Boston. And for eleven days I'll be reminding myself to act like a New Englander. Thanks Randy and Christine for putting me up! Bart, Jeff, can't seem to wait to get my arms around each of you. And you, Anna!

The prodigal father returns. (But I haven't done any whoring.)


Countdown to an Election

Voter turnout in the Philippine general election of 2016, which placed Rodrigo Duterte in the presidency, was 81%. Even the midterm elections here have good turnouts; the last four midterms have had an average turnout higher than 70%. Filipinos take their politics seriously.

May 13th will mark the midway point between general elections, though the midway point in Duterte's term will not occur until June 30, the date of his inauguration in 2016.  A president's term here is six years -- and the president cannot run for reelection. Duterte, the 16th president of the Philippines and the first from Mindanao, has his own slate of Senate and House contenders in the upcoming midterms, of course, though he himself is not running. Senators (who number 24) also have six-year terms and may seek reelection only once; their elections are staggered, so that 12 seats are under contention every 3-year election cycle. Representatives are up for election every three years and cannot serve more than three consecutive terms.

Otso Diretso. (PHChronicles)

At the center of candidates who stand in opposition to the president's slate is Otso Diretso ("The Straight Eight"), eight candidates for the Senate who have formed an alliance and a platform. They denounce Duterte's drug war and, declaring that the president holds sway over too many senators, vow to make the Senate once again the independent body it was meant to be. They have an uphill battle; only two of the eight is polling ahead of competitors. And President Duterte is not pulling anything off the punches he directs at them. At a recent campaign rally for candidates of his party, he singled out each of the eight and had disparaging comments for each. He concluded his remarks about them by saying that Otso Diretso was "heading straight to hell."

A senate purportedly held in thrall by a president, and a president who belittles his opposition stridently and personally, must ring bells for American readers. But there are noticeable differences between the politics here and the politics there. For one thing, there are nine major political parties in the Philippines, four of which are major players in Congress's two houses. Twelve political parties have at least one congressman in the national Congress. And 23 representatives of the 238 currently serving were candidates unaffiliated with a party but supported by groups representing specific causes -- land reform, education reform, Marxist feminism (yep, 3 reps!), Mindanao nationalism, senior citizen rights . . . .  The main political parties stand in varying degrees of loyalty or opposition to the president: Duterte, I'm sure, needed more than a Mitch McConnell to gain whatever control he has over the Senate.

It will be interesting to see how all this plays out in the coming weeks.

Uncle Sonny had a lot to carry from his rental in Nueva Vizkaya to Bongabon prior to his daughter Trisha's graduation from middle school, so Jane took the car up to fetch him and Aunt Jasmine and take them to where their daughter attends school. I was not expecting Sonny and his daughter to join Jane on her drive back to Cab City, and I was surpised, before lunch, to have them knock on my door, just as I was starting to clean up my messy room. Well, Sonny had wanted to see family, and he also wanted to run diagnostics on the modem he had gotten for me (remember, he's the IT guy in the family). After racing here and there on my machine for a few minutes, he declared that my service had been hacked by someone or some people and that I was close to my monthly limit regarding the number of gigabytes I could use. Jeez. Don't worry! he said, and changed the password. He said he would check it when he was in town, but it should be fine for now.

Jane and I took Sonny and Trisha to Shakey's at the SM Mall, where we gorged on pasta and pizza. Sonny remains in good health after the medical scare that sent him to a hospital several weeks ago. His daughter is a poised young lady who will do just fine in high school, I thought during lunch.

Boudicca herself transferred her kittens from the old generator to no one knows where. She still shows up at mealtimes, and the appearance of her teats suggests they are still getting a good workout.  . . . I guess that's all for now. American readers, I assure you I'm just as well able to follow the politics there as I am able  to follow the politics here -- and I do, with wavering hopes.


The War Lurches Northward

The carnage of the government-sanctioned "extreme prejudice" for drug dealers came a lot closer to home a few days ago, when the father of one of Jane's best friends was shot seven times by police in the neighboring city of Palayan. Jane, who is the godmother of this friend's small daughter, watched after the daughter at the Palayan morgue while her friend viewed the body. Three days ago Jane attended the funeral, and two nights ago she attended the necrological service, at which she took the photo above. The clinical sound of the term "necrological service" belies the outpouring of strong emotions that must take place at these gatherings. Relatives and friends of the deceased attend, and, one after the other, many rise with eulogies to speak about the one who has passed away.

The man, 54 years old and estranged from his wife, was known by his daughter to be a user and peddler of crystal methamphetamine (the drug of "Breaking Bad" fame, known as "shabu" here). The circumstances of the shooting have not yet been fully worked out; the Palayan police who accosted this man say the man pulled a pistol and they shot him in self-defense. Apparently they have a gun. The friend told Jane that her father did not own a gun.

According to an article published a few weeks ago by a respected news service covering the Philippines and Indonesia, Central Luzon is home to the new "killing fields" in the war on illegal drugs. According to Philippine National Police statistics, in Central Luzon the number of suspects killed in anti-drug operations in 2018 (542) rose greatly from the number killed in 2017, while in Metro Manila the number fell (285). A good deal of drug trafficking was pushed out of Metro Manila in the first year or two of the Duterte administration, apparently, and it moved north. And the Rappler article identifies seven police superintendents of Central Luzon who were transferred from positions in Metro Manila over the past year: these include the new superintendent for Nueva Ecija, the province I'm living in. It seems these transfers were made to ensure that the tactics deemed successful in Metro Manila would be brought to bear upon the drug trafficking here. 


New Nueva Ecija Provincial Police Superintendent Leon Victor Rosete, when he was chief of the Paranaque (in Metro Manila) Police.

To be sure, the actual death toll of drug "perps" may not be in line with police statistics. News and religious sources generally state that the police numbers are much "deflated," and have posited the number of those killed nationwide in the last three years to be between 12,000 and 20,000. One estimate is 27,000. Can the family of Jane's friend blame an election three years ago for the death of their loved one? Last September in a speech, Rodrigo Duterte admitted, “My sin is extrajudicial killings.” In this foreigner's opinion, yes. 


"Protesters and residents hold lighted candles and placards at the wake of Kian Loyd delos Santos, a 17-year-old high school student, who was among the people shot dead last week in an escalation of President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs in Caloocan city, Metro Manila, the Philippines on August 25, 2017." © 2017 Dondi Tawatao / Reuters

In other news, a small boy was struck by a car in a street right next to Fred's yesterday evening. No, I'm not trying to make an already dark blog entry darker: the driver of the car took him to a nearby hospital, where he was treated and released, and now the kid is safe at home, hopefully with new knowledge clicking in his noggin concerning the dangers of walking into streets. Boudicca's kits are still in the generator; if handyman John made a go of those bolts, he was unsuccessful. I indicated to Ruth today that the kittens were still there, and she said she was expecting "a technician" to come on Wednesday to get them out. Jane is selling Triskelion shirts (I like the new design on these), and I've looked into a couple of gyms for possible membership (neither of those, I think, and maybe I should wait to join one until after a pricy trip to Massachusetts in June). It's not mad dogs and Englishmen weather here yet, but afternoon highs are noticeably higher . . . .


That Boudicca

The generator at Fred's is large and old and (surprisingly) very trustworthy. In the rainy season it'll be cranked up at least once a week; for some time now it has been getting a rest.

If we're fortunate, we won't need it again until after Boudicca has weaned her three kittens. Yup. I checked on her and her kits three days ago and found that she had carried them away from their nice crib, out of the unused room too, I confirmed with a careful search. Boudicca was still a presence in the courtyard, so I guessed I'd discover the location of the kits sooner or later.

And today after lunch, out in the courtyard, I witnessed Boudicca jump up onto the generator, then duck into the generator. Approaching the machine, I heard telltale mewing, and peering down through the grillwork, I saw Boudicca with her brood.

She jumped up there with a kitten three times? The top of the generator is about four and a half feet above the ground. But they all were certainly in there. The grill is held in place by many large and rusted bolts. As you can see, there is a square opening in the grill, but the kittens are beyond reach near the bottom of the casing. Smart, Boudicca. And stupid. 

Ruth, the manager of Fred's, is not able to reach John the handyman by phone right now. She seems optimistic that we can open up the casing. If John can turn those ancient bolts, and we do get the kittens out, we'll have to rig something to block that square opening in the grill. We'll put the kits back in the crib I arranged; and hopefully Boudicca will deign to settle there.


Street Food and Larry's American Sisters

Dona Cita's place.

When I'm not invited to another person's place, I take my meals in restaurants, and that will remain the case until I rent or own in Baguio. Breakfasts, and good ones, are free at Fred's; in the early morning you can find me downstairs at a table wobbling a fried egg onto my toast, a newspaper or two in front of me. Have eaten plenty of dinners at Fred's too: I like the sisig, the pancit, and the chicken torino here especially.

Dona Cita, at her sari-sari across the street from Fred's, has among her five or six dishes a marvelous tofu, liver, onion, and hot pepper dish which I seem to be buying once a week or so. Have also bought her fine menudo, a pork stew with potatoes, garbanzos, tomato sauce, and various spices. Farther afield I'm trying out restaurants that are not a part of the SM Mall; have found one with a particularly good version of a dish that may be my favorite Phlipside meal: chicken adobo.

Places like Dona Cita's, good on-the-fly roadside eateries, should not be shied away from, if you are in the Philippines. Their dishes are made by very experienced mom-and-pop cooks who work over a period of time on each dish before serving it up on a regular basis. I've eaten at four or five of these sari-saris and came away satisfied each time. Good eating, too, can be had at the roadside rotisseries that can be found in certain districts of Cabanatuan. There, a whole, tender, chopped-up-in-front-of-you chicken can be had for a little more than $3, and large pieces of pork are similarly inexpensive.

In my 16+ months in Cabanatuan, never preparing my own food, I have not contracted a single case of food poisoning. And this is not due to the ownership of an iron stomach, I assure you: stateside over a sixteen-month stretch I could expect at least one horrific night due to something I'd eaten that day which had been bought prepared -- and back then I cooked myself most of what I ate. If my complete lack of tummy trouble here is due to a fantastically long streak of luck in my street food eating choices . . . .  Nah, I don't believe that. The food here is at least as safe as it is in the U.S.

Jane, Aaron, and I visited with Larry, Lori, and the girls last Wednesday, and we took the Rizal route, arriving at the Academia gate in San Jose City in 1 hr. 9 mins. This will be the route we take to SJC from now on: traveling there on the Maharlika normally takes at least an hour and a half. After a short while on the patio there, and what seemed like a serious talk between mother and daughter (Lara), all of us packed into the car and headed for Larry's ancestral home in the sleepy town of Llanera.

Larry and I at the reunion. Photo by four-year-old Aaron.

We were heading for an Academia family reunion, at which Larry's mother, recently hospitalized, and one of Larry's American sisters with her husband -- the other sister had traveled with her sister to the Philippines but had had to return to California after only a couple of weeks -- would be present, as well as many other relatives. The Llanera house, on an acre of land, is large and well-furnished. Outside the walls of the property, hundreds of acres of rice fields, which had been acquired by Larry's savvy great-grandfather and sold by his profligate grandfather, shimmered greenly in the sun.


Larry's sister seemed shy; her husband seemed "tuned out." It occurred to me that he might be stoned; Larry had told me that the husband had brought cannabis and cannibis products along on the trip (not a very smart move -- the Philippines has not yet sanctioned even medical marijuana). But Larry's mother, an octogenarian less than five feet tall, was gracious and welcoming. We lined up at the banquet table -- given the heat of the early afternoon, I served myself mainly lighter fare and found the macaroni salad, which had raisins in it, delicious. I gave the children my camera and sat back to listen to karaoki performances, then walked about the property, politely declining chairs offered by reunion goers.

When the heat started to become uncomfortable for me -- the handkerchief was out and becoming damp -- I asked Lara, Janiah, and Aaron if they'd like to go for a ride. We piled into the car, I cranked the air conditioning, and as we turned the corner at Larry's old elementary school we decided to travel until we found ice cream (Lara and Janiah's English is better than my Tagalog, if you want to know what language we were speaking). We found ice cream, six or seven miles down the road, and the children happily munched on their cones as I drove back to the party.

Upon our return Larry was ready to leave -- he wanted to visit his cousin Jimbo, also of Llanera, who hadn't come to the reunion because he was celebrating his birthday. I kissed the hand of Larry's mother, realizing later I should have held it to my forehead, the traditional Filipino way of showing loving respect. Well, after a short while we arrived at Jimbo's house and learned that the birthday boy, a police officer who sidelines in raising fighting cocks, was out with friends. Lori stayed in the house to chat with Jimbo's wife and help her prepare a birthday dinner while Larry and I walked into the backyard to check out the cocks and geese, the mango trees and the calamansi trees. Jimbo's and Jane's kids, delighted to see one another again, became occupied with toys in the living room.

Mango tree.

Calamansi tree.

Calamansi, a citrus hybrid of the mandarin orange and the kumquat, is a major flavorizer in Filipino cuisine. Enormous mesh bags bulging with the green fruit can be found on many a cargo tricycle on the roads. As you can see in the photo of the mango tree, the mangos are not yet ripe, but this did not stop Larry from plucking five or six to take home. There are many Filipino recipes involving unripe mangos, which when eaten raw remind one a little of the Granny Smith apple -- sour and tangy. Unripe mango is extremely rich in vitamin C, works against stomach and intestinal ailments, and, due to its power to retain sodium chloride and iron in the body, acts as a guard against dehydration and sunstroke. https://food.ndtv.com/food-drinks/raw-mango-health-benefits-6-reasons-to-add-kairi-to-your-summer-diet-1827859




Jimbo wasn't expected soon, I was guessing from Larry and Lori's confab and then Larry's suggestion that we start back to San Jose City. We all bade friendly adieus to Jimbo's family, and 30 or 40 minutes later we were back on the Academia patio and Jane was telling two girls nearly in tears no, we weren't going to Jollibee's for dinner -- maybe next time. We had to start back to Cabanatuan.

Then Larry took me aside and told me something startling. I had long known that Larry's American sisters held the title of their home on Cadhit Street. Now, smiling as he always does when he gets serious (his humor, his most common register, is almost always deadpan), he told me that the sisters want to raze his house and construct an apartment building on the property. When he realized from my expression that I had understood his English, he smiled more broadly and turned away to comfort the girls. Will write more about this situation if or as I learn more -- and with Larry and Lori's permission.



My shortcut to downtown Cabanatuan takes me through a district where whole pigs are roasted in the open air. Four or five shops, each with its own small cafeteria, slaughter pigs on site, gut them, spit them from mouth to anus, and turn them mechanically over beds of coals. Most, once they are cooked, will be transported to private fiestas, where they'll sit as centerpieces for an hour or two to be admired by guests before they are sliced up and served. The rest will provide meals for travelers in the small cafeterias.

My last trip downtown I parked at one of these shops and asked if I might snap some photos; the owner seemed happy to oblige. The aroma had me salivating a bit -- I hadn't yet eaten lunch. The boy who was minding the pits next to the road looked on with a bemused expression while I held my little Sony up to the twirling animals. There are berms in the road here: just across the street is an elementary school. Heading back to my car, I envied the folks who taught with that smell often in the air. It also registered with me that, unlike most kids in the U.S., Filipino children very early on learn where their meals come from.


A Fire, Rizal, and One Helluva Traffic Jam

Within the last 10 or 20 million years, a belt of volcanoes rose in central western Luzon, which included Mt. Pinatubo, scene of the most violent 20th century volcanic eruption on earth. At the southern tip of this belt, Mt. Mariveles and its sister cones formed new land: a stubby penninsula jutting south for about 25 miles, which helped to create Subic Bay to the west and the enormous Manila Bay to the east. This penninsula became the province of Bataan during the Spanish occupation, and in the early months of the Pacific War, it hosted the most ferocious battle between the invading Japanese forces and the Filipino and American defenders. Tales of the 65-mile Bataan Death March to a rail depot north of Bataan, as well as the medical neglect in its aftermath, are horrific. More than 20,000 Filipino and American soldiers are thought to have died -- after their battle had been fought and lost.

Bataan has been visited by a new calamity in 2019, and while it is not nearly as costly in terms of human lives as the battle and the march of 1942, it has left thousands of people without a home or possessions.


The city of Orion on the west coast of Manila Bay experienced an enormous fire four weeks ago which destroyed 800 houses, virtually an entire barangay. There is only one confirmed death -- of a fisherman who ran back into his burning home to try to save some valuables -- but thousands of newly homeless and destitute residents are now living in schools and other public buildings in the wake of this catastrophe. There has been an outpouring of help from Filipino philanthropists and socially active groups -- which include the Triskelions, you may not be surprised to know, if you have been following these blog entries.

The Nueva Ecija Triskelions collected nonperishable foods, used clothing, and donations ($20 from me -- hey, I'm not rich), and early this morning Jane and some Triskelion buddies traveled down to Orion in a van to offer help and hope. She expects to be there through the weekend.

My collection of 1-peso coins had reached the brim of the jar, so on Friday it seemed a good excuse to make a road trip to San Jose City to see Lara and Janiah, the recipients of all my 1-peso coins. And I decided to take the Maharlika only as far as the Rizal-Pantabangan road just north of Cabanatuan; I'd travel that road to Rizal, then take the Rizal-San Jose City road to the girls.

This route would take me into a part of Nueva Ecija I had not yet seen, and although Google Maps indicated the route would be 12 kms. longer than the straighter shot up the Maharlika, the road less traveled is the road more quickly traveled, no?

But it was the stretch of the Maharlika I had to drive that nearly dashed my plans to see the girls during their lunch break from school. It took me 45 minutes to get to Cabanatuan's "goodbye" sign, and another ten before I reached the turnoff. Didn't know why the Maharlika was so jammed this day, and was happy to be able to gun it once I reached the Rizal road. It was easy to maintain a 60-70 km./hr. clip to the outskirts of Rizal, and once out of Rizal, the same to the outskirts of San Jose City. The country on this route is lovely -- sprawling rice fields backed by the Sierra Madres. And Rizal seems to be a sleepy and likeable burg.

There are seven cities and a province in the Philippines named after the poet and revolutionary Jose Rizal, who died in front of a Spanish firing squad in 1896. Rizal was an ophthamologist, a journalist, a poet, a painter, and an architect who did not take part in the planning of Filipino revolutionaries in the 1890's but whose writing greatly helped to convince Filipinos that the Spanish had to go. His birthday is celebrated in the Philippines, and he's fondly remembered as the country's martyr.

Thanks to the holdup earlier, I met with the girls in San Jose City just in time to drive them back to school. Oh well, got to see them, anyway! I chatted with Larry on the front porch for a while; he and Lori had already eaten lunch with the girls, so I couldn't invite them out. Told them I'd drive back on the Maharlika, since I knew the restaurants on that route . . . and so after 40 minutes on that road I stopped in at the Chung King in Talavera for dumplings.

It took me two hours to travel the ten or so kms. remaining. At one point I was stopped dead still for forty minutes. Ladies and gentlemen, I had never before felt so held up on a road. Eventually I learned what had held me up earlier in the day and what was holding me up now: road crews were repaving one lane on two long stretches of the highway north of Cabanatuan. There was nothing for it but to hold on, wait in a car that seemed increasingly confining. The songs on my flash drive grew stale. I cursed out (in my head) cheaters who passed me on the left shoulder. I pondered some pigs next to me for a quarter hour . . . .  My average speed from the dumplings home was about the pace of an amateur marathon runner.

Within five minutes of my arrival at Fred's, I had the gin out.


The Cool(er) Months

Cabanatuan monthly temperatures.

The contour etched by the top side of the "fat snake" in the graph above represents average daily high temps here in Cabsy, while that on the bottom side represents average nightly lows. The highest temperature during my stay in the city was recorded April 11, 2018, when the mercury rose to 43 C (109 F). Yes, March, April, and May are considered summer here -- the rains of June through September push temperatures down. In the graph below you can get an idea of the big yearly swing in rainfall that happens pretty much throughout the Philippines. https://en.climate-data.org/asia/philippines/nueva-ecija/cabanatuan-city-1959/

. . . And Cabanatuan monthly rainfall.

For the last two or three months, mornings and evenings have been delightfully pleasant, and even midday hours have been generally bearable in the outdoors, especially when it is overcast. I've taken walks throughout "Victoria Village," my enclave of neighborhoods on the north side of the city, as well as to the other side of the Maharlika. In the weeks ahead, of course, the furnace will become truly stoked again; not especially looking forward to that.

Janiah ready for the school parade. (Click this one to enminitize.)

Jane has been on the go. A few days ago she jeepneyed up to San Jose City to prepare the girls for and take part in the Founders Day celebration at Lara and Janiah's school -- two days that included a parade, a dance contest, a gala at a resort, and parent-teacher conferences. Then she scooted down to Munoz where she helped run a Triskelion-sponsored medical and dental clinic for the needy. And today she attends a provincial chapter meeting in Guimba, where the topic is a "party list," whatever that means. She should have a chance to slow down a bit after this meeting, even though she and the rest of the chapter leadership have developed many plans for the months ahead.

Jane in Munoz.

I have been a lot more sedentary, though I did pay a visit to the immigration agent. The big news at Fred's is the dropping of another litter by Boudicca! If I haven't yet mentioned it, Boudicca is a diminutive cat, and I really thought she was stretching it when she produced five kittens in the last litter. She carried a more reasonable load this time: three kittens, all with interesting markings.


Yesterday morning I noticed the lack of bulge at feeding time, and then saw bits of dried gore on her hind legs. After her breakfast I followed her to the unused unit/storage room at the end of the first floor units. The window was a few inches open, and she neatly jumped through the crack. That room's door is not locked, and I had my head inside the room in time to see her nose her way into a cabinet below the sink . . . .

Coming upon Boudicca and her new kittens.

What I hope she feels is a tasteful change in the nursing arrangement.

Clarification from Jane: The Nueva Ecija Triskelions have a member running in the May elections, and the Guimba meeting was called to discuss support for this Triskelion.


It's Not Talked about in Polite Conversation

The companion connection. The rendezvous racket. The intimacy agora. Let's just call it the sex industry, and yes, it is alive and well in a country where both prostitution and abortion are crimes, where a Catholicism that hearkens back to Cardinal Cushing's Catholicism shepherds more than 80% of the population. Occasionally there is a "how did we get here?" op-ed in the Philippine papers. But most op-eds on the topic get it: the sex industry is giving the Philippine economy a boost at a time when its other industries, many of which are growing quickly (GDP growth was 6.2% in 2018), are not yet taking the standard of living beyond Third World levels.

"Walking Street" in Angeles. tripadvisor.com

The powers that be in the Philippines seem to accomodate sex tourism through selective non-enforcement of existing prostitution laws in a handful of venues. The Cold War and the Vietnam War brought exponential growth to the populations of American army and navy personnel at the Clark and Subic Bay bases north of Manila. In the 50's and 60's "go-go bars" sprang up in Angeles City near Clark and in Olongapo on Subic Bay, and service to the servicemen included paid-for dalliances with local girls. In the years since those days the go-go bars became pretty lavish nightclubs and started to recruit girls, young women, and "ladyboys" from all over the Philippines. And men from all over the world began traveling to these two cities with one thing in mind.


There are two or three smaller cities that cater to sex tourism on a smaller scale, too; and the major cities of Manila, Cebu, and Davao all have enough high-profile escort agencies to meet the demand of both foreign and domestic clientelle. In addition, the Philippines is a source country for human trafficking, with Japan, apparently, taking the largest share of Filipina flesh: sex is an export business here, too.

With all that being said, the 120 or so other cities in the country, as well as all of the towns, offer milieus that are, well, more conservative than those of most places in the U.S. The two or three joints that pass as nightclubs in Cabanatuan are pretty stodgy affairs, and not large. The only unpartnered women there are serving food and drinks -- and not anything else -- but still these places have a sketchy reputation among many Cabanatuanites. On the beaches of Baler and Dingalan, most Filipinas are wearing one-pieces, not bikinis. And on my first trip to the Philippines, a three-day excursion into the mountains with Jane and two of her children would not have taken place if Mama Lori had not come along as chaperone and roommate of Jane.


I like this Philippines -- the homey atmosphere, the polite talk. If a few areas in a few cities carry on like poor man's Amsterdams for oversexed Joes in Germany, Australia, the U.S., that's their gambit, but it's not really reflective of the culture at large.


Of course "the life" in that other Philippines comes with considerable unwanted baggage. Thirty-two new cases of HIV-AIDS on average, according to the Rappler news service, are being reported daily in the Philippines. Many of the bar girls who have unprotected sex (not a small number, for the use of any birth control device carries a stigma here) find themselves pregnant, often repeatedly, with the child of a man they have no line on. And the sex industry, living up to its sleazy rep, often transgresses the boundaries it has agreed to keep itself within: "compounds" in Manila, often with dozens of underage girls who are rented out nightly, have been discovered and raided; procurers for traveling pederasts as well as child pornographers have been in the news during my time Phlipside.

photo by Dave Tacon

The sex industry may be a crutch to the Philippine economy as it learns to ambulate on its own, but is it worth the cost to average folk in the areas where it thrives? I don't think so. I would like to see all existing laws regarding prostitution uniformly enforced, as well as an agency created to help former sex industry workers find new ways of earning a living. But then, I'm just an expat with no sway here -- and with not much more than a year under my belt, a fledgling expat at that.


http://factsanddetails.com/southeast-asia/Philippines/sub5_6e/entry-3895.html https://www.manilatimes.net/permits-sex-industry/137033/ https://www.sunstar.com.ph/article/93793/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostitution_in_the_Philippines https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/business-life/2005/10/10/301102/closer-look-philippines146-sex-industry



It's Saturday morning and I'm busy putting together make-up classes and trials for new tutees. Jane's attending an important Triskelion meeting in Tarlac. James is recovering from a mishap with his trike: an early morning speeder with no lights on would have struck him if he had not slammed on the breaks; he was sent over his handlebars onto the street and fortunately suffered no more than scrapes. Boudicca is very large, will have another litter soon.


Sometime before Wednesday I'll attempt to cover an issue most if not all of you have heard of: the Philippines as a "sex vacation" destination for a foreign male clientelle. I, er, "lack experience in the arena," so to speak, and Cabanatuan is not a city this clientelle visits, but I have some thoughts on the issue after visiting  internet sites to gain more knowledge of the phenomenon.


In the meantime, random pics!

Dona Cita, proprietor of the sari-sari store across the street, with one of her sons.

Mama Luz at the NE Crossing cafeteria.

Government rice sacked and awaiting distribution.

Buying and selling at the public market.

The counter at Jollibees.

Outside the Dunkin' Donuts in Talavera.

Baguio highlands. Plenty of pines.

In the BL pool with Peanut.

Flowering plant outside Larry and Lori's house.

Marielle at the Dupinga River.


Lara Is 10!

Some birthdays are big in the Philippines, and some are not-so-big. Number 10 is a big one: Jane, Aaron, and I headed up to San Jose City the day before so that Jane could prep well for the following afternoon, when Jane's eldest would welcome neighborhood friends, classmates, and teachers at Larry and Lori's home. Into that birthday eve evening Jane worked in the kitchen while I made the acquaintance of Lyndon's trike-driving compadres, who were partying with Larry and Lori's youngest in back of the house.

As I was finishing my second beer Lyndon dropped the mike in my lap and I realized I was supposed to finish the song he had been singing. It was in English and I recognized it as a relatively easy one (forget what it's called). And I sang for at least a minute and acquitted myself, well, decently at least!

On to the Hotel Al Bien, where I slept and woke up, as usual, at 6:30. Jane had told me not to drop by the house until after lunch, so I spent time in a coffee house with a newspaper, did some shopping for both Lara and Janiah, and then on a whim headed north on the Maharlika. To the north of SJC lies a spur of the Sierra Madres which juts westward as far as the Central Cordillera. The Maharlika climbs this spur and then descends into the valley of Luzon's longest river, the Taguegarao, which flows northward to the coast. I didn't want to drive all the way to the valley, just well up on the spur. From my last trip on that stretch of the highway, I remembered rice fields in small valleys, and I wanted to see how the farmers in the high country were faring in what are now being recognized as drought conditions island-wide. The government's Irrigation Office has provided assistance to farmers in low-lying areas, but I'd read that many farmers at higher elevations were beyond the reach of irrigation assistance.

Passed a couple of high riders; then, after a while, put it into second gear as the grade got steeper. The car climbed into a chaparral-like environment with few trees and a lot of very dry brush. Eventually, when I realized that I was near the spur's summit and that there was a small valley to the right of the road, I pulled over and got out.

. . . And it does look like farmers are taking a hit down there. One can only hope that some of the rains on Mindanao will roil up this way. On the way down the spur I bought a bag of onions and a string of garlic for the Academias, and pulled up outside their door at 12:15. Four huge dishes are on the table; Jane is finishing a couple more in the kitchen. She takes time off to make a cake run with me; when we get back six children -- Jane's three, neighbor Jillian, and Jillian's two small cousins -- seemed at a loss as to what to do in the two hours before guests arrived. I asked Lara if they all wanted to go for a ride in the car; the three who weren't Academias quickly got permission from their parents, and soon I was exploring east of San Jose City with five remarkably loud youngsters in the back seat and Aaron riding shotgun next to me.

I put next to my photo of Jillian and her cousins in the car a photo I had snapped of Jillian more than three and a half years ago, when I made my first appearance in San Jose City. She and Lara do seem ready for the gangly awkward years. It was Jillian's grandfather who had first directed me to the Academia house, by the way.


After tooling around east of the city for the better part of an hour (some nice subdivisions, a palm plantation, acres upon acres of rice), we headed back to SJC's main drag and stopped in at the Walter Mart for some cold fruit drinks. Walter Marts are a chain of medium-sized malls in the Philippines, and, as with just about every mall here, they have a large, well-equipped play area for children. So it wasn't long before I was being tugged in the direction of this mall's play area. I purchased a half hour for each of them, and found that I needed to be in the play area in stocking feet because Aaron, at four years old, needed to have a guardian watch over him.

One of the keepers of this rolling menagerie was good enough to take a shot of all of us before we left. And it was back to the car and back to the Academia household, where all was in readiness.

Mama Luz, James, and Marielle had arrived by jeepney, and soon Lara's classmates were arriving, singly and in pairs -- and just as I was finishing my plate of spaghetti and hot dogs, teachers from Lara and Janiah's school arrived en masse!

It seems that only female teachers would pose for Jane; I saw some male teachers there too . . . .  Alas, I had left before that last photo was taken -- Mama Luz had to get back to Cabanatuan by 6pm, so I ferried her, James, and Marielle home. Jane remains in San Jose City while Larry and Lori make a trip to the coastal city of Baler for some relaxation; Jane expects them to be back on Wednesday.


It was a really fun day, Lara. Happy Birthday!




Yesterday Jane, brother James, sister Marielle, sister's boyfriend Froilan, peanut Aaron, and I made a daytrip to Dingalan on Luzon's east coast. It's not much more than 60 kms. away from Cabanatuan, but the roads are small and often twisty heading for that part of the coast, and a lumbering truck with a bulging cargo of coconuts may be ahead of one for a while before one sees the opportunity to pass it.


Jane did all the driving, and she did a fine job, excellent for one with not many months of driving behind her. We reached the high point in a pass over the Sierra Madres after 1 1/2 hours on the road, and shimmering before us was the Philippine Sea, a wide bowl of the Pacific stretching out to Guam and the Marianas. We saw highlands surrounding a bay, and where the bay reached farthest inland we could see the city of Dingalan.


In 2015, according to the census of that year, it had a population of 25,482. It almost certainly has grown since then, but as cities go this one is definitely pint-sized: 3 restaurants, 3 gas stations, a handful of resorts (without meals) at the beaches. For an hour or more we explored south and then north of the city center before settling down to lunch at the House of Tampi and choosing the Cave Beach Resort for a roosting place.

Yes, it's a very pretty spot, and, while it cost P800 (about $16) for our group to sit at a protected picnic table (the Red Horse beer was extra), it made for a decent roost. Motorized outrigger fishing boats that had been on the water since before dawn came in with their catches throughout the afternoon. Their main catch is what the Filipinos call tanigue and what English speakers call Spanish mackerel; I watched one outrigger crew of two men offload 11 good-sized fish, the largest one at least 10 kilos (22 lbs.). A group of strapping boys carry the outriggers into the water and carry them out: the reward of the group is one fish from each catch, and so each of the boys, who don't go out on the water, has a small catch of his own each day. Sorry, but I didn't have the camera at the water's edge; I had just spent a half hour in the water when I went among the boats coming in . . . .

My time in the water was envigorating. It was between 70 and 75 degrees F with swells and a fairly strong rip current. And there was a steep dropoff only about 30 yards out: Aaron was kept out of the water. The swells made it impossible to do any real swimming close to shore, and I didn't feel like paddling out to calmer waters to do imaginary laps, so I just bobbed with the swells, watching the beach, watching the coastline, watching on with some glee as Froilan pulled a screaming Marielle into a wave.

Froilan and Marielle took to the far back while Aaron slept with his head on James's lap, on the ride back to Cabanatuan. I listened to Jane's music. A few of the songs I like, which is probably what she would say about my music. We reached Cabsy in the dark. Great grandmother Hannah was working on her list of things to do; both she and Mama Luz were happy to have us all back safe and sound.

Happy Birthday son Bart! Knock those 10th graders sideways not with your intelligence but with your careful organizing, your savvy wit, and your big heart.


Shopping Sunday

Secretary Jane needed to attend a meeting of the Nueva Ecija Triskelions yesterday afternoon, so she borrowed the car and kept it overnight. The meeting was a fraught affair -- a vocal minority are accusing the president of embezzlement -- and Jane still seemed a little jittery when she came by with the car the next morning. I drove her back home, said hi to the folks there, and pointed the car back to Fred's, but stopped roadside by a rice field to contemplate the English department infighting and squabbling I sometimes witnessed in a life that seems so far removed from the one I live now. We got along better than Jane's group, was one of my conclusions. Then I listened to the rice grow for a while.

Back on the Maharlika I stopped at a Banco de Oro ATM and was surprised to discover that my last transfer had taken only a day. This fact changed my midday plans: I turned around the car and headed for the SM Mall -- cat food was running low, I'd run out of coffee, and my jasmine tea was down to two bags.



Was hungry by the time I entered the mall, so I went into Max's and ordered a chicken sisig with a coconut shake. The sisig was creamy and had just the right blend of chili and black pepper; the shake was tasty, not too sweet. That's gelatin, at the bottom of the shake.

Next I parked my bulk into one of the massage chairs on the third level and shoved a 20 peso note (about $.40) into the slot. I do this regularly now when at the mall. It is not a "vibrating chair." For 6 minutes it pounds and kneads and jolts one's backside. I leave it feeling jangly and renewed. Thank you, kind lady, who agreed to snap my photo! You seemed to think it a high point of your day, and your gracious undertaking renewed me, too.

Surprisingly, I did not run into any of the Cabanatuan expats who appear to visit the mall more frequently than I do: the Aussie, the Norwegian, the Brit, the Trumpite from Seattle -- all male retirees, and a couple of them married to Filipinas. I've become friendly with those four, even with the Trumpite; we trade anecdotes on the smoking patio, and one gave me good advice regarding the "retiree visa" that I've set my sights on. Well, it's the day before Chinese New Year; maybe they're at home prepping. That holiday does not mean much to me, but welcome, Year of the Pig.

Canned mackerel and sardines, coffee, and tea paid for and safe in my eco-bag, I cruise down the mall ramp. Driving up the downtown stretch of the Maharlika is the breeze it is only on Sundays; I'm at Fred's within 15 minutes. 

It's only 2 o'clock. Have a 7pm tutoring session to prep for (three young Chinese students will continue practicing the ins and outs of English perfect tenses on the eve of China's most important holiday: isn't there something wrong with that?), and I would like to peck away at the blog, but I haven't checked out the garden at Fred's, in a walled sideyard, for a while. 

One of the banana trees. What is that huge bulbous thing?

Many of the egplants were picked recently, I see.

Papaya. Have learned that a tea made from its mashed leaves greatly helps dengue sufferers: sends platelet counts soaring.

At a loss regarding this one: didn't notice it before. Will ask Christian.

Circumstances now prevent me from making a trip to Massachusetts until the middle or end of June. That's okay: I'll see my boys before long. Bart is slogging his way through his first year as a high school biology teacher and Jeff is rising through the ranks of a biotech company; we chat over the Skype phone service, but seeing them, and Jeff's wife Anna, and even my ex Weiya, again will be fine.


The island of Luzon will be my home base for the forseeable future, though. Looking forward to more high times, more fickle adventures, more ways of delivering what I hope is goodness. Phlipside, I sensed when I first visited four years ago, could offer me a palette broader than the one I held as an English teacher in the States, to help or sustain or advise folks with hard lives. It also sustains, with its cheap prices, me in my own bad habits, booze and smoke. Seems the sharpest things in life are often two-edged. But I'm gamer than game here, and I'm in love with a lady younger than my sons. What could go wrong?


Blood Sport

Cockfighting is legal in the Philippines, as is betting on birds at the cockpits. There seems to be at least one cockpit per city on Luzon, and the World Slasher Cup, a sort of Olympics for murderous birds which begins today in Manila, testifies to the popularity of the spectacle. I haven't visited a cockpit and don't care to visit one -- though a visit's worthiness for my Philippine education and for a blog entry has crossed my mind.


Another blood sport in the Philippines, long bemoaned in the editorial pages of newspapers here, can be found in local politics. As I wrote earlier, based on an international survey, Filipinos feel safer here than Americans do in the U.S. But I would not include among these Filipinos city and provincial government officials, or people aspiring to become a local official. Assassinations and attempted assassinations of these people have a far higher per capita occurrence here than they do in the U.S.


Rodel Batocabe was a member of the Philippine House who decided to get out of national politics and run for mayor of his home city of Daraga in southern Luzon. Mayoral elections happen every three years, and Batocabe last month was already making appearances in Daraga ahead of the May vote. Above we see him at a gift-giving ceremony for senior citizens in Daraga on Dec. 22. When he was leaving this event he and his police-assigned bodyguard were killed in a hail of .45 caliber bullets.


As reported by the New York Times on Jan. 3, Oscar Albayalde, the head of the national police (the Philippine version of the FBI) had this to say after suspects had been arrested: “'From all indications, as revealed by suspects and witnesses and physical evidence that was gathered by the police, the group that killed Batocabe and Diaz is a private armed group employed by the mayor that is involved in contract killing as a gun-for-hire syndicate.'” For a promised P5 million to the gunmen, apparently, the sitting mayor, Carlwyn Baldo, had brought about the killing of his challenger. A court has barred Baldo from leaving the country, and his arrest appears to be imminent.


Last July 3, the Mayor of General Tinio, Ferdinand Bote, was shot dead in his car about a mile and a half from Fred's. As he left the compound of the National Irrigation Administration on the Maharlika, two men rushed to the car and pumped bullets into the passenger side as the mayor and his driver-bodyguard waited for traffic.

The bodyguard, Jennifer Salvador, was unharmed (surprising, given the bullet holes portrayed above) and drove the mayor to the hospital, where he was declared dead. Behind this killing, apparently, is a contractor for an ecotourism project in the mayor's city, who, according to one article, didn't like the way he had been treated by the mayor.

Still at large is the killer of Antonio Halili, mayor of Tanauan City, who was shot during a flag-raising ceremony the day before Bote was killed. The gunman is thought to have used a scoped rifle from a field of high grass more than a hundred yards from the ceremony. Six months later, there are no suspects in the case.


Halili was a controversial mayor who had instituted a "walk of shame" for alleged drug dealers. He would have his police round up suspected dealers, then force them to walk in a parade on the main streets of the city with signs identifying their misdeeds. One of course imagines these guys pooling their ill-gotten cash to buy a real "pro" who would not be caught. . . .  Halili's daughter is running for Halili's post in the upcoming elections.

Mayors had been assassinated before Duterte came to power, but a count was recently done of the mayors and vice mayors (in the Philippines there is one vice mayor for every mayor) killed since Duterte's inauguration. Twelve mayors and seven vice mayors have been shot and killed over the last two and a half years. Then there are the aspirants like Batocabe that have been killed. Other city and provincial officials. There are the failed assassination attempts.

Libungan's mayor, Christopher Cuan (left), survived the second attempt on his life three weeks ago. --Philstar

The publication of a list of officials whom Duterte deems "narcopols" -- politicians involved in the illicit drug trade -- has no doubt spiked political violence at the local level: a few of the 19 mayors and vice mayors above were on the list, and the lucky Mr. Cuan is on the list. But politically motivated gun violence has been in the culture since Filipinos started governing themselves, and it will take more than editorials to seriously curb the problem. Recently a law with much common sense in it was passed: a gun ban beginning four months before each three-year election (general and mid-term) and ending one month after each election. Licensed gun owners are forbidden from carrying their guns outside of their home during this time. Rolling checkpoints were established two weeks ago in anticipation of the May election, and motorists selected by the authorities at these checkpoints must give up themselves and their cars to a thorough search. Unconstitutional in the U.S., right. But not here -- and maybe it's the right start to tackling this big problem.

Earlier today Jane sent this pic from Baguio. She's acting as driver and helper to her cousin Mitch, who is participating in a convention there. The parents of my Chinese students doubled the number of sessions for them during the four-week break for Chinese New Year, so I needed to attend to business here and could not join them. They're due back late tonight or early tomorrow. . . .

. . . Not that I'm lonely. Boudicca visits my room almost every day, usually in the afternoon. The front and courtyard doors of the hotel are kept open in the daytime for the breeze (the a/c is used in the lobby on only really hot days), and if any of the staff see the cat steal in, they seem to be allowing the visits to take place. Low-pitched mewing at the door gets my attention, and she usually stays for an hour or two, then gets antsy to go.

She's big in the belly and I'm afraid she might be pregnant again. I know, I know! I wrote at the end of her last pregnancy that I'd have her spayed. Then it became evident that she would not stay as manageable as the very sick Little Red had in a tricycle. So I sent away for a cat carrier, which arrived soon before the car. Then I read on the box of the cat carrier that assembly was required . . . and I'm one of those who just don't do "assembly" well. Something always seems wrong with the finished product, or the damned thing turns out to be defective. I procrastinated. It's still in its box.


Finding homes for the last set of kittens was not hard. There are only so many "friends of friends" that will take on a furball, though. If she is pregnant again, we will definitely go to the vet's as soon as the new litter is weened. If she isn't,  as soon as I can rule out a pregnancy I'll put her on a diet, and, yes, take her to the vet's.


A Birthday Party

The two empty Alfonso I whiskey bottles I noticed upon arriving told me that not a little drinking had already been accomplished. Jane's brother Darwin Aldonza, aka James, was turning 27, and homies and homeslices had arrived with food and alcohol to help him do it -- except for Jane, who was off officiating at the Triskelion anniversary celebration. I brought along chicken, and provided funds to replenish the alcohol supply. We dined on fried tilapia, the chicken, someone's chicken stew, pork fritters all spiced up, a variety of merienda. And we drank.

I spent a happy, sometimes rolicking, three hours or so there. As with almost any party in the Philippines, singing is a part of the festivities. James and his old friend Jemalyn were the most talented, in my opinion, followed closely by James's cousin Michael. Michael, with words of encouragement,  helped me to choose a song for myself -- but by that time it was already late, and I managed to slip away to the car before it was my turn to sing.

It was only 9:00 or 9:30, but frankly I'd lost count of the number of whiskeys I'd imbibed, and I had to drive home. I noticed James had followed me when I reached the driver's door and told him to get in, drove up to within a foot of the party-goers at the table, and fiddled with my music flashdrive while the latest karaoke song was being sung. Song finished, I blasted for them through open windows a profane drinking song by Flogging Molly, performed by the Dropkick Murphys (maybe you know it), waving my fist and lip-syncing the words. It caused some happy uproar, but, you know, I do wish I could really sing here.


With James I went up to the Vergara Highway and pulled a U-ey back onto Aurora and let him off back at the party. I kept the windows open to drink in fresh air, and drove without the seatbelt, thinking I would be extra careful in my driving without one. Foolish, truly, but I safely got myself to Fred's.

James (in the towel) was feted properly.

Mira's dog, who's just had pups. I fed her well..

Peanut in hotshot mode.


Vagaries and Vicissitudes

Hey, I'm an English teacher; cut me some slack. Am currently drying out after a fast-moving but turbulent head cold upended my weekend. Had to cancel four tutoring sessions and now must play catch-up. Still have sinus issues, but the worst appears to be over. Moving from internal to external weather, I notice the Ventusky prognosticators have a potent tropical storm (just under typhoon-sized) barging into Mindanao at the end of the week and then turning north. They expect it to boomerang back out of the country after it plows through that large southern island and much of the Visayas -- before it reaches Luzon. A week away. We shall see.

Jane and I soon after my arrival in October, 2017.

Late the day before yesterday Jane was a victim of theft. While walking through the public market in San Jose City, or standing at a stall, she didn't notice that someone was reaching into her handbag. Her purse was cleanly snatched. Missing are P7,500 she had recently collected for Triskelion shirts, her personal money, her bank card, and all ID. The incident has shaken her up badly.


She is borrowing from a friend to replace the Triskelion money -- am at a low point in my own Phlipside money supply; I've initiated a transfer, but that money won't be ready until Wednesday, and she needs to deposit the Triskelion money Monday. I'll repay the friend after the money arrives: it's about $150. Replacement of the bank card and the ID's will be her headache for probably weeks to come.

Just how safe from crime is one in the Philippines? Have been punching up crime stats this afternoon, and overall the Philippines compares somewhat favorably with the U.S. in this regard. Things seem to be moving in the right direction here as well. According to this country's Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management (DIDM), the number of reported crimes in the Philippines dropped 21.8% between 2016 and 2017. Homicide here is the only crime whose numbers rose, but the homicide rate was lower in 2017 than that of many U.S. states. (The extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealers here, which the Duterte administration tacitly sanctions, more than accounts for the rise.)


The crowd-sourced Numbeo, whose indices are based on surveys with questions like "How worried are you that your house will be broken into?" has numbers that show Filipinos feel they have less crime and more safety than Americans feel they have.


                                         Crime Index                     Safety Index

United States                      47.13                                  52.87

Philippines                          40.83                                  59.17




Numbeo sizes up the world vis-a-vis crime (or all the countries in which surveys are done) in the image above. The residents of many countries feel safer than Filipinos do (not that I'm game for a move to Iceland, Estonia, or Saudi Arabia); but, as you can see, folks in many countries, including one dear to me, feel less safe.


This info cannot lessen the anguish and aggravation Jane feels. I saw her this morning, back from San Jose City. She was with Mich, Mira, and James (they were obviously in "family in support mode"). She seemed drained, woebegone. Cheer up, Jane! Shit happens, and in time this will all be set right.

This design has been blown up and printed on a tarpaulin that will hang at the celebration Jane and some of her sorority sisters are now putting together.


Pollen, Other Nuisances

Watched the American prez's speech live this morning and was a little surprised by how coherent it was. Waited for reliable fact-checkers; they found several exaggerations, but no out-and-out lies. Again, surprised. But, must confess it, I'm still hankering for Trump supporters to find a couple of agreeable adjoining states in the Midwest, say Oklahoma and Kansas, move there, secede from the Union, and found the new independent country of Trumpsylvania. Then the U.S. could build a wall around them.

Every month of the year, one type of tree or another seems to be dropping its pollen here. No allergies to any of it, for which I'm thankful, but it does tend to dirty up a car. This, coupled with the fact that Cabanatuan is not one of the cleanest cities in Asia, makes a biweekly trip to a car wash necessary.




As with practically any service-oriented business in the Philippines, very low prices are the norm. For 100 pesos (about $1.95) one gets a car handwashed outside and in, as well as a vacuumed interior.  The twenty minutes staring at a fan and the highway behind it is not time well spent, true. Next time I must bring along a book.

Jane is very busy with Triskelion chores, this season of the 50th anniversary. I mentioned before that she is an officer in her barangay chapter, but she is also in the middle of a two-year term as Secretary for the provincial (Nueva Ecija) chapter. And the running around she does in this role these days would inspire anyone never to seek a high position in an NGO. She is in charge of the design, production, and selling of Triskelion merch province-wide this commemorative year; she plays a major role in general fund-raising; and she must parry her way through internecine squabbling, it seems, frequently. 


Last October she helped plan and carry off the big anniversary party in San Jose City. A celebration of the women's role in the Triskelions is scheduled for later this month, and of course her role in the upcoming event is not small. The pressure she's feeling due to the merch and the celebrations will diminish after January, and high time: the poor lass needs a rest!

(I do sense Jane's pride in belonging to a group which performs many good and charitable deeds throughout the Philippines and which is lauded by government officials and charity organizations alike.)


The Well-Remembered Raid at Cabanatuan

Jane had affirmed that Luz, James, Marielle, and the children were all at home, so earlier today I swung by my favorite rotisserie stand near NE Crossing and bought four chopped-up chickens, then headed for the duplex. Jane's daughters, Lara and Janiah, will be here for only two more days before we bring them back to San Jose City at the end of their Christmas break, and I wanted to spend some time with them before they left; maybe we'd play some Snakes and Ladders after we ate.


As it turned out, Jane had a big load of laundry to do, and I supposed she'd be more comfortable doing it with the kids out of their small house, so I suggested taking them to a very well-kept-up war memorial 4 or 5 miles up Aurora Road. I'd been by it a few times and had admired the grounds, but hadn't yet walked around it. Jane okayed the visit, Marielle volunteered to be co-chaperone, and little cousin Mika, who was with us, got permission from her father to join us. We washed chicken grease off our fingers and headed for the car.

I know, I know. Don't rely on the camera to choose the flash when it's overcast. I forgot!


Anyway, the memorial sits on the site of a daring raid by American and Filipino forces on January 30, 1945 to free more than 500 mainly American prisoners of war. These men had been prisoners for a long time; each one was either a veteran of the Battle of Corregidor or a survivor of the Bataan Death March. The raid has been the subject of more than one film, the most recent being The Great Raid, with Joseph Fiennes and James Franco (2005).


The prison camp was more than 30 miles behind the Japanese line at the end of January, and one might think, why such a risky effort in a war the Japanese were obviously losing? Well, the massacre of 139 American POWs by the Japanese at a camp on the Philippine island of Palawan the month before, which quickly became known to the Americans, provoked a series of raids by American and Filipino forces in January and February on Japanese prison camps to try to prevent other acts of barbarism against American prisoners. The Palawan POWs had been marched into a deep trench on pretence this was for their protection in a coming air raid, then gasoline had been poured over them, and then they had been set on fire.

I'm guessing the word "most" is missing from the English inscription. About 120 American Army Rangers and 200 Filipino guerillas, all led by Lt. Col. Henry Mucci, successfully infiltrated the Japanese line and made their way to the vicinity of the camp. Mucci's original plan of attack had been nixed by the Filipinos, who knew of a camp containing more than 1,000 Japanese soldiers only several hundred yards from the prison camp, across the Cabu River. It was then agreed that most of the Filipinos would hold the bridge over the Cabu against a certain assault from the Japanese camp, while the Rangers attacked the prison camp itself. The rest of the Filipino guerillas would be stationed on Aurora Road facing Cabanatuan, 4 or 5 miles away, where there was a much larger garrison of Japanese soldiers. (Been back and forth there, and don't agree with the distances on Aurora Rd. featured on the map below).


A P-61 Black Widow, whose pilot feigned engine trouble, distracted the camp's guards for twenty minutes while Americans crawled on their bellies to the prison camp. Wikipedia has a very good article on the raid (all of the info here comes from it), and if I've piqued your interest I hope you go to it for many more details. It all went off without a hitch: Filipinos mowed down Japanese at the bridge and the Americans killed all Japanese in the prison camp without injuring a single prisoner. In the raid twenty Filipinos were injured; two Americans were killed and four were injured. The Japanese dead numbered at least 530. 


Public Domain: Route map of Raid at Cabanatuan.svg. Created: 12 June 2010

It was a long and arduous trek back to American/Filipino-held territory. Two of the prisoners were already very sick at the time of the raid and died. But 522 prisoners were rescued, and the 492 Americans were quickly sent, mainly by plane, back to the U.S.


We dawdled in the beautiful place, which is maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission. Marielle and I chased the kids around. Janiah had picked some flowers before Marielle could tell her it wasn't allowed. An ice cream man came by with coconut and ube popsicles . . . .  It was a very pleasant time; I regretted only that it had taken me so long to make the visit. 



Happy New Year all! New Year's Eve found me mainly making up classes I'd missed due to my days off for Christmas, but I did find a free hour to visit the duplex and enjoy Hannah and Luz's pork stew with potatoes and plantains. More dishes were prepared after I left, and later today I'll visit to sample those! Jane is feeling lousy due to a flu-like bug (fever, aches), so I'll make this visit a longer one and offer to look after the kids; maybe she can get a real rest.


It's been raining for four or five days. A strong but slow-moving low pressure system is moving westward to the south of us, drenching the Visayas -- the islands between Luzon and Mindanao -- and giving Cabanatuan drizzle at times, downpours at others. Every large rain event seems to become a killer in the Philippines due to all the mountainous terrain and the geology of that terrain: newspapers today report that 52 Filipinos have died, mainly in landslides, so far in this event.


And Jane was trapped for a day in Solano, Nueva Viscaya, due to the condition of the roads there. She had taken the car up to ferry Sonny and his family down to Cabanatuan for the holiday; Sonny's business has taken him and his family to that city in the shadow of the Cordilleras, where he is currently renting a house. Jane sent me this photo of what they encountered on the way back to Cabsy . . . .

I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous 2019. Am starting now to save for a trip to Massachusetts for a week or so in April to be with my sons, visit with other family, and check in on the school I grew to love (go, Blue Devils!). Hope to see many of you then!


A Philippine Christmas 

Sugar plums are still dancing in the sleeping heads of American children (with a fondness for antique sweets). Have just returned from San Jose City with Jane and her children -- they are now at the duplex and I am back at my desk, thinking about my sons, about a beggar lady with two small children I encountered last night, about the fate of American democracy. Jane and I will take her children to SM Mall tomorrow: there is no SM Mall yet in San Jose City, and Lara and Janiah are hankering to go. We've postponed the trip to Dingalan due to a fast-approaching low pressure system -- wind and rain, lousy beach weather.



Last night with Larry and Lori and some of their children and grandchildren was a truly fun time. I had games, toys, and red envelopes for the young ones, and Larry, Lori, son Lyndon, and Jane had prepared a wonderful and delicious spread: fried tilapia, chicken and hot dog barbecue, a huge piece of pig done lechon style, spaghetti with a delicious cheese sauce . . . . We walked down to a sari-sari store and bought some cold Red Horse beer to enjoy with this feast.

Larry and Lori have their own karaoke machine -- an unsurprising purchase by them; they both have excellent singing voices and love to sing -- and the huge song book was passed around and numbers punched in while we ate. Larry likes the older tunes and sang "War Is Over," "Black Magic Woman," and a Bee Gees medley, among others. Lori dipped into some more modern tunes, and Jane and grandson Lance sang many popular songs of today's radio playlist.


As I've mentioned, I'm a poor singer, even by American standards, and the Academias knew from previous experience with me that I would beg off. They politely refrained from asking me to sing a song, though at one point Larry good-naturedly smiled at me and said, "Ah, singing is good for the heart!"

The video component of karaoke includes, of course, the words. On the Academia machine, the background includes sometimes animation of in-sync dancers and sometimes, I'm not sure why, footage from underwater documentaries. I was listening to Lori sing the teary story of a lovelorn woman while watching a moray eel devour a sea urchin when young music-makers appeared at the Academia gate.


They wanted to play for us, and, after Lori's song, we all stood attentively as they played "Feliz Navidad" and "Jingle Bells" quite well!

After the second song I thanked them and gave them a 200-peso bill -- the same amount I'd given to the mendicant with children earlier in the evening outside a 7-Eleven -- and sat back down to more eating and more listening to fine singing. After a while, I left the Academias for my hotel -- full, happy and not too tipsy to drive.

The hotel at which I stayed for two nights in SJC, the Al Bien, is clean, has good cable, and has rates comparable to those at Fred's; but it doesn't have hot water, and its staff doesn't hold a candle to the staff at Fred's, methinks. One image, just outside the Al Bien's doors my first night there, after the Academias and I had had  pizza at Shakey's, is bound to stay with me. Coasting by the hotel in the darkness on the Maharlika came one of the city's fire engines, decked out in hundreds of many-colored lights configured nicely into a sleigh. From the amplifier on top of the engine came booming and heartfelt Ho-ho-ho's from someone with a microphone in the cab.


Maligayang Pasco!

Yes, Merry Christmas. The summit of Mt. Pulag once in a blue Dec. to Feb. moon does experience flurries, but measurable snow there has not occurred since the 1890's; I will be in San Jose City, near sea level, and am not expecting a white Christmas.


There is no lack of festiveness here, though! Christmas music has been playing in the malls and markets since September 1, decorations came a month later -- and the four-month build-up is coming to a head. Am in Cabanatuan right now, and some of the staff are practicing on a rented karaoke machine downstairs in anticipation of the Christmas party tonight; I'm invited and will take part in the gift exchange, and they'll probably force me to sing after the dinner, though believe me, I'm no singer. (Heavens, as I type this I hear Ruth singing a soppy Carpenters tune . . . perfectly.) Three evenings back, the local trike association bade me to cross the street, join their celebration, and hoist a few. A beer-soaked event, but it was great to be among all the guys who had motored me across the city for so long!


This morning I visited the main public market (pampublikong merkado) and shopped for all the children I know -- and there are quite a few. Came to a little more than P3,000, some savings over the P30,000+ I was used to spending each Christmas in Massachusetts. But why am I talking about money? It's Christmas! Here are a couple of photos, which are not mine and which I hope are not copyrighted, of the Cabanatuan public market (forgot to bring my camera).

It is a sprawling and bustling place.


Jane has taken peanut to San Jose City ahead of me; she has errands to run for her Christmas-party-going girls and prep work to do there, and I have online classes through the evening of the 22nd. She had a load of stuff to bring, so the jeepney was not practicable; she took the car (I triked to the public market). Sunday she will drive back here to fetch me, and I'll spend three days with her, her children, and the Academias in San Jose City over Christmas. Knowing Papa Larry and Mama Lori, I can only expect there'll be a delectable spread at their place Christmas evening. After Christmas, Jane and I hope to swing a trip to Dingalan on the coast with some Guevarras Dec. 26-27 -- not yet sure if this plan will work out. 


In case you're wondering, I'll leave plenty of canned mackerel for the cats with Christian, who fed them also during our trip to Baguio. Thanks, Cristian!


To everyone reading: I hope you and yours have a holiday that is by turns merry and blessedly peaceful.


Driving the Maharlika

The Maharlika Highway, better known outside the country as the Pan-Philippine Highway, is a 2,185-mile stretch of road that crosses the lengths of Luzon, Samar, Leyte, and Mindanao. A ferry will carry you between Luzon and Samar, and between Leyte and Mindanao (a bridge connects the islands of Samar and Leyte). The highway is no more than 200 yards from Fred's.

It is no expressway. The one expressway in the Philippines links Manila with the cities of western central Luzon, and has its terminus at the road leading up to cool Baguio, where the well-heeled of Manila have their summer homes. The Maharlika only rarely has more than two lanes, one going in each direction, and has bypasses for few cities (Cabanatuan does not have a bypass, though Talavera to the north does).


The two-lane nature of the beast makes driving it sometimes tricky. The passing lane is the lane of oncoming traffic -- and a driver of a normal car often comes upon something that needs to be passed, if he or she is not to double the time it takes to get to a destination: lumbering "long-load" trucks, tractors, passenger tricycles, utility tricycles carrying furniture, pigs, long rolls of corrugated aluminum. 


The trickiness of passing comes mainly in the two judgments a driver must make: is oncoming traffic far enough away, and is the length of what needs to be passed short enough for it (or them) to be passed safely. There are other considerations as you dawdle behind all that aluminum doing 25 kms/hr. Is the driver behind you, or the driver three vehicles behind you, already making a move to pass? Is there anything ahead parked half on, half off the road? What is the pedestrian situation, and are there any stands really close to the road? And, finally, just how much do you want to unnerve your passengers?



Jane has driven only a dozen or so times, but even now she does not shrink from a passing opportunity when the vehicle ahead of us is painfully slow. She does have an unfortunate tendency of taking her foot off the accelerator before crossing back into the right lane, and I think she nearly cut off the "passee" once or twice; I think she's a little afraid of over- or under-compensating when crossing back at speed. It's something we'll work on.


Out and About

Two days ago Jane and I brought three siblings and their mom together in the town of Bongabon, about an hour's drive northwest of Cabanatuan. The drive includes a rise in elevation, as Bongabon sits in the shadow of the Sierra Madres, so after a half hour or so the rice fields next to the road gave way to onion fields -- Bongabon is the "Onion Capital" of the Philippines. The onions are small here, without the sting of American yellow onions, and quite tasty. Jane's passengers were grandmother Hannah, mama Luz, aunt Des, uncle Bernie, brother James, son Aaron, and that funny white guy. Destination: the home of Sonny, Des and Luz's little brother.

An onion storage room just down the alley from Sonny's place.

Luz and Des brought along pancit (a noodle dish), menudo (a kind of spicy pork stew), and pinakbet (a fish dish); and bunso (youngest sibling) Sonny had the fixings for a chicken barbecue. We sat down to the sisters' dishes, and the back and forth at the table, almost all of which was not understood by me, sailed into hilarity on a pretty regular basis. Sonny's wife Jasmine is happy and healthy again after a pretty frightening ectopic pregnancy some months ago, and Sonny looks fine, though what folks thought was incipient pneumonia a few weeks back turned out to be some kind of "pulmonary issue" for which he is under long-term care. Hoping both can now enjoy a long healthy stretch.

Relaxing between dinner and barbecue.

Checking out the goslings.

Sonny about to barbecue.

The chicken was delicious: marinated pieces on wooden skewers with, traditionally, a piece of juicy fat at the bottom of each skewer. That fat piece I've learned to love as much as my Filipino friends do!

Buko (coconuts) are split open for a nice final treat of buko juice and buko bites; I take Aaron on a walk around the neighborhood when he gets a bit hyper (he will later conk out in the car); and we observe a friendly low stakes gin rummy name the neighbors next door start playing as the sun gets low.


Jane drove there and back, and it's nice to see her getting more and more confident behind the wheel.

Next day . . . .  Its frontage certainly attracts the attention of travelers on the Maharlika Highway. "Isdaan" means "fish" in Tagalog. Beyond its ornate entrance, the restaurant stretches back on bamboo piers over a large pond that contains literally thousands of koi.

Jane needed to get to San Jose City; James and his ex-girlfriend/now friend Abby came along for the ride. We stopped at Isdaan for lunch, ordered our meal, shed our footwear, and sat down on the pier to offer our bare feet to the koi. And the koi nibbled away while we chatted for ten or fifteen minutes. It was ticklish but quite pleasing, and my feet tingled throughout lunch!


The food was very good indeed: spicy shrimp with greens and deliciously tender and juicy pork over garlic rice. Melon shakes for all. The meal for four, and it was plenty of food for four, came to about 32 dollars American.


Walking in and walking out, we checked out the statuary of this Buddhist-themed eatery. A bit gaudy? Perhaps, but nonetheless interesting. The restaurant is near the halfway point on the 75-90 minute drive between Cabsy and SJC, and I have a feeling I'll be sampling more of its fine food in the future. And offering down my feet to the koi again.


Diesel Dilemna

I know Jane. She's careful. And I don't think she will put diesel fuel into a gasoline engine again.


Late this morning I started the car for a trip to the SM Mall to get a Zark's burger for myself and a supply of mackerel and sardines for the cats. The tailpipe gargled dryly and spewed out quite a bit of smoke. I didn't think too much of it, but I did become concerned on the drive when the engine seemed out of sync with what my foot was doing to the accelerator. I worried that I had bought a lemon, that the car was destined to spend two or three weeks in a shop somewhere.


It was while I was chewing my Zark's and watching a basketball game on the TV there that I remembered Jane, while using the car the previous afternoon to attend a Triskelion meeting in Sta. Rosa, had put 300 pesos worth into the car, thinking the tank was getting too low. Worth of what? I quickly started wondering. This had been Jane's first experience fueling a car, there is a diesel pump for every gas pump at a fueling station (diesel engines are as common as gas engines here), and diesel fuel mixed with gas would account for the symptoms the Avanza was presenting.


It took me twenty minutes to start the car in the mall parking lot. During that time a couple of lads walked over from a kiosk selling an automotive cleaning solvent, commiserated with me over my inability to start the car, and made their pitch: for P600 they would remove the scratch marks on the rear fender with their amazing solvent. I said I would pay P500 and they were soon at work. And by golly, they removed all the scratch marks!


The engine finally caught, and another huge cloud of smoke exited the tailpipe. A gas station was two blocks away, and I pulled in. It took me a while to get the manager to understand my concern, but when he finally did he went to the back of the car, got on his knees, and put his nose to the tailpipe. He said he smelled diesel. Can you get it out? I asked. How much was put in? he asked. I said P300. Just fill it with gas, no problema, he said. Sigurado ka ba? I shot back. Are you sure? Gas in diesel engine very bad, he said. Diesel in gas engine hindi (not) very bad.


I had the tank filled and shook hands with a manager who must have felt as if his nose bled profusely; and back on the road the Avanza acted, well, normally. Prior to the fill-up the diesel/gas ratio must have been close to 50/50. Now it was about 1/12, I guessed. The car acted fine all the way back to Fred's. Googling, I found that what the manager had said was basically right . . . and Jane was suitably distressed on the phone . . . and I told her it seemed there was no harm done . . . and now, after pecking away at this, I will put together an English lesson for my Chinese pal Jerry, whom I see tonight.


Putting on the Kilometers

Each time Mary Jane gets behind the wheel she seems a better, more savvy driver. When I've played copilot, she hasn't scared the piss out of me once! And when I've been behind the wheel, the game of Philippine driving has been steadily returning to my hands and my cerebral cortex. There have been disappointments, but none involve driving skills. For one, the car delivered has a 1.3 and not a 1.5 liter engine. Oh, well: looking up the prices of each, I saw that I'd be saving 2,000 pesos or more a month with the smaller engine; what is more, the car as is has admirable pick-up, both in passing and on hills. Then there was the other thing. Its first night in Fred's courtyard, someone scraped the Avanza's bumper either pulling in or pulling out. It's a minor scrape (it will be unblemished for less than the cost of the deductible, I'm thinking), but . . . ! I'm parking out front now -- I can still see it from my windows.


Am toying with the idea of taking these two mishaps together as an omen of good luck "down the road." 

Great-grandmom Hannah surrounded by little ones in the Avanza.

That was a bad pun. We've made two trips to San Jose City to visit with Larry and Lori and to collect and drop off Lara and Janiah, who spent the weekend with their mom (Mary Jane). Jane (Mary Jane) stayed behind in SJC (San Jose City!) on the drop off to care for her daughters for two weeks, while Lori vacations with friends on a small island off the northern tip of Cebu. I'm feeling more and more mixed up in the clutter of duties within a large family, and I don't dislike it. We made an excursion to waterfalls north of SJC, and while the rainy season is over and the spectacle was not exactly "grand," it was nonetheless a beautiful sight, and a beautiful place.

Mr. and Mrs. Sherwin are taking my application for a new 6-month visa to Manila tomorrow. I'm tutoring my young Chinese friends 9 or 10 hours a week in sessions that are too spread out over the days, but I'm planning to make at least one visit to SJC during Jane's stay there. Without Lori, Larry could probably use some company. Happy indeed to have wheels.


Like a Very Hard Level of Candy Crush Soda

The tenor of the unfinished simile above pertains to my ongoing effort to get behind the wheel of a car. It's spitting rain now, but it was a very nice day. Temps stayed down around 80 with a stiff breeze from the northeast, thanks to a deep low pressure area making its way across the Visayas (the Visayas are the 7,000-odd islands sandwiched between the big island of Luzon to the north and the big island of Mindanao to the south). That low, once it hits the South China Sea, will "pop," turn into a strong storm, and do harm in Vietnam at the end of the week, according to forecasters.

Pinoy World Assist is the immigration agency doing the legwork and handling the paperwork for my visa applications, and three yellow stickers in my passport attest to the good job they do. Mr. Sherwin, who runs the agency, has a number of side jobs, one of which is to procure car loans for people not qualified to get a loan from a bank or car company (one has to be a two-year resident Phlipside to get such a loan). His fee is a relatively modest one, and for the last two months I've been waiting for the arrival of the car.

On the backside of many delays, the agency called Jane to inform her that the registration process would be completed by Wednesday at the latest and the car would be ready to go then. So it was with a little anticipatory giddiness that I slipped into a trike late this morning and headed for SM Mall. The agency is on the third floor of a building directly across the street from the mall (the photo above was taken from the mall's second-level deck), and I planned to eat lunch at the mall, then walk across the street to pick up the car. 

Neither the car nor Mr. Sherwin was there. Ma'am Des, Mr. Sherwin's wife and second-in-command, told me the car had not yet been registered, Mr. Sherwin would get it done soon, so sorry, the Avanza should be ready tomorrow, please come back then! She was obviously embarrassed, and I threw my "kindly elderly man" demeanor into autocontrol, asked after her family, promised her I'd be back. Because what is one to do?


A Former First Lady

A new black Avanza. Expected from Manila this week. Not holding my breath.


The agent has been through a health crisis, has spent time in Manila with doctors, has been diagnosed with diabetes, is dealing with major lifestyle changes as a result of that diagnosis. His life has been upturned, which is a pity, because I'm left without a target against which to vent my spleen. (Really, though, I wish him good luck in the months and years ahead. He's been a great help to me in procuring extended visas.)

She of the thousands of pairs of shoes is still around, folks! In fact, at the age of 89 Imelda Marcos represents a district in Ilocos Norte Province, in the far northwest corner of Luzon, in the Philippine House. After the 1989 death of her husband Ferdinand Marcos, then living in exile in Hawaii, family members were invited to return to the Philippines -- and Imelda and two of her children, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr. and Imee Marcos, have been politicians here in the years since their return. Imelda has her House seat, but intends to run for governor of Ilocos Norte next year, with grandson Matthew Manotoc, 29, as running mate; Imee is currently governor of that province, and she is favored to win a Philippine Senate seat in 2019; Bongbong was in the Senate 2010-2016, and then was narrowly defeated in the election for Vice President (yes, the veep is elected here). Unsurprisingly, all of these folks have a revisionist approach to modern Philippine history.


Imelda was a big item in the newspapers this morning. In 1991 she was charged with 10 counts of graft, and, after a convoluted 27-year-long court case that would do the chancellory from Bleak House proud, she has been convicted of 7 of those counts. Prosecutors finally proved that while she held various government posts during her husband's years in power, she created private Swiss foundations and funneled an "ill-gotten" (the newspapers' term) $200M into them. This is a relative pittance compared to the estimated $10B squirreled out of the country by the family (less than $2B of which has been recovered by the government). But each count Imelda has been convicted of carries a 6 to 11-year sentence. 


Oh, and if she does not file an appeal, President Duterte is widely expected to pardon her.

Larry and Lori Academia have traveled from San Jose City down to Laguna to help daughter Lesley prepare for another stint working in Taiwan. So Jane has journeyed up to SJC to take care of Lara and Janiah for much of this week. She sent along some photos from the Christmas light show in front of city hall there.


All Dressed up and with Places to Go . . .

But still no car to take me. As I mentioned earlier, a foreigner needs to have resided in the Philippines for at least two years before he/she can qualify for a bank loan. My immigration agent sidelines as a car procurer/financer, and the deal I made with him was a reasonable one. The Toyota Avanza, he indicated, would arrive within a week. It has now been six weeks.


Jane and I have fielded a series of excuses from him for the delay; will continue to be patient, since there seems to be no other way for me to get financing on a new car. Could sell my stocks and buy an Avanza flat out . . . but it's not the time to sell. 

Jane completed her driving school course a few weeks ago; I intend to make the Avanza available to her for visits to her daughters in San Jose City, for Triskelion errands, and for family emergencies. It will stay at Fred's, though, parked safely behind the gate of the courtyard.



As for me, I look forward to trips beyond the Cabanatuan city limits. And look forward to trips within Cabanatuan that are, well, healthier than trips in a tricycle. I do enjoy the sounds and smells of the city from a sidecar seat (peanuts and a variety of meats are roasted by the side of the road all over the city), but I will not miss being in a traffic jam in a tricycle with temps in the nineties and gas and diesel exhaust in the air I'm breathing.

Outside the city, I want to visit Sonny (Luz's brother, Jane's uncle) in Bongabon. He's been stricken with pulmonary trouble, has been put on two meds and warned by a doctor that he cannot do anything strenuous for a while. Charles in Talavera has invited AJ, Che-che, and me to come see his and Angelica's new baby, and to taste his cooking. Also, Dingalan calls me. It's a coastal town much less populous than Baler (Bah-LAIR, which I visited three years ago) with what seem to be nice beaches and scenery.  . . . All this, of course, is on hold until my agent gets his act together.

White Beach, Dingalan. Photo Credit: Vivek Mukherjee


Exit Rosita

The water's high but the sun is out and the temp has crept back into the 90's. Jane is in San Juan City with her children at the city cemetery; it is All Saints Day, and with the Academias she is spending a day of remembrance at her husband Larry's gravesite. I bought this morning at the mall the latest novel in the Kingsbridge series by that fine writer of historical fiction Ken Follett, and now in my air-conditioned hidey hole I'm about to visit the England of 1558. But first a few words about Rosita. 

The storm did lose strength before striking Luzon, but where it made landfall in Dinapigue wind gusts of over 140 mph were measured. In the mountains several landslides occurred, killing at least 18. More than 20 people are still missing and feared buried.


Right now the storm is wobbling across the South China Sea, where it is expected to dissipate before reaching Hong Kong. My friends in the lowlands are all fine, having suffered no more than the expected power outage. My Massachusetts buddies may be thinking, "Ah, and now that it is November you will be safe from cyclones." But unlike the hurricane season in the Western Hemisphere, the typhoon season lasts through December; occasionally one or two form in January. We in the lowlands were lucky with this one but realize that Rosita may not be the last typhoon of the season with which we have a close encounter.


Not a Ferocious Storm . . . Here, Anyway

The pink dot marks my location, and from looking at the image above one might think that we suffered some of the worst of this storm here in Cabanatuan. The wind today has been at times strong, and the rain has been constant and sometimes heavy, but I would be surprised if there is any serious wind damage in the city; there may be flooding in parts of the city, but Fred's sits on a high point and there is no flooding here. In short, this was not as bad as I had thought it would be.


Of course, I'm speaking for a very small section of a single city. The Ventusky weather site had and still has a lot more rain falling north of here -- well over an inch an hour in many places -- and it also indicates that winds were and are much stronger north of here. It is 3:45pm and still raining here; the wind occasionally picks up in fitful gusts.


What has happened north of here is a question mark right now; I can find nothing of substance online. Will let you know in a day or two.


Rosita Update

The jog to the south predicted turned into a dip. Huh. Forecasters now have this storm entering at Dinapigue on the east coast and exiting at San Fernando. This will put the eye at about 50 miles north of Cabanatuan when it passes by.

This revised track registered three things quickly with me. One, this may be a big storm for Cabanatuan. I'm in a large and sturdy structure and sleep above a restaurant, so safety and food are not a concern for me, but the two families out on Aurora Road could be in for a very bad time. They are not in a flood zone, but they are at street level.


Two, Larry Academia and his family (including Jane's daughters) are also at street level, but in San Jose City they are about 25 miles to the north of Cabanatuan, and the storm will be fiercer for them than it will be for us.


Three, this change of track may spell disaster for mountain towns, particularly those north of the eye. An east-to-west moving, counter-clockwise rotating storm has its fastest winds to the north of the eye (the wind speed in the northern sector of the typhoon is amplified by its east to west movement). Not only that, but more moisture tends to congregate in this sector of a typhoon. I'm afraid the cost in human lives and destroyed property could exceed that of Ompong.


Will help the families stock up on food tomorrow morning. Then we'll play the game of wait and see.

Yutu/Rosita did a number on the Northern Marianas (Saipan, Tinian), a U.S. commonwealth.


Enter Rosita

The typhoon gods are not being kind to northern Luzon this rainy season. Typhoon Rosita (international name Yutu) is forecasted to make landfall a little to the south of where Ompong made landfall a few weeks ago. The eye will cross northern Luzon more than a hundred miles north of Cabanatuan -- it will probably be just a very windy and very rainy Oct 30 here -- but folks to the north, especially in the mountainous regions, are in for real trouble again.


Deaths caused by Ompong number at least 110 -- there are still people missing and perhaps buried, the majority of these deaths having been caused by landslides in the mountains. Preparations for the new storm are underway, but as with people on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the U.S. who build where they shouldn't build in order to get the best water view, there are people in the mountains here who, with a view in mind, build where they shouldn't build. And then there are the poor in the mountains whose small roadside stands and shacks perch on cliffs, or whose hovels beside streams are in the path of flash floods. These people need to seek shelter elsewhere; hopefully, that is what they will be doing.

In the doppler image below, Rosita is entering the PAR, the zone within the red line (within the dotted line on the map above). PAR stands for Philippine Area of Responsibility, and for any disturbance (typhoon, tropical storm, strong low pressure trough) within this zone, the National Weather Office is mandated to release to the public 12-hour bulletins for disturbances not expected to reach land and 6-hour bulletins for those expected to make landfall in the Philippines.

To my friends in Baguio and Buguias: stay safe.


Sabihin na muli.

(Click this one and it will become smaller.)

Thirteen different languages have more than a million native speakers in the Philippines, and as the demographic map above indicates, there are more native languages spoken than that.  But hold on. "The number of individual languages listed for Philippines is 187. Of these, 183 are living and 4 are extinct. Of the living languages, 175 are indigenous and 8 are non-indigenous. Furthermore, 41 are institutional, 72 are developing, 45 are vigorous, 14 are in trouble, and 11 are dying." (https://www.ethnologue.com/country/PH)


The situation, I guess one can say, is language-fluid. But in 1976 the Marcos government declared Tagalog and English to be the two official languages of the country, and from that point on Tagalog and English have been taught from first grade through twelfth all over the country.


. . . Which is not to say that one has no trouble communicating in English in the Philippines. English is taught in public schools but, outside of rare exceptions, it is not the medium of instruction. And of course not everyone makes it to a diploma. Indeed, the speaker of fluent English, at least in Cabanatuan, is a rare find, and many Filipinos have a term  to describe a situation in which they must use English -- "having a nosebleed" -- that suggests well the minor shock and social discomfort this situation brings to them.

Tagalog, like English, has borrowings from a number of languages, but in the case of Tagalog the borrowings are mainly from English and Spanish, languages of the colonial past here. "Maaari mo bang ipakita sa akin kung anong mga item sa iyong menu ang walang karne o mga produktong mula sa hayop?" (Can you show me what items on your menu have no meat or animal products?) "Item, "menu," and "produktong" are English or English-derived; "karne" is Spanish. Being a speaker of English and erstwhile student of Spanish, I have a "leg up" in learning the language, sure -- but the sounds and intonations of Tagalog are daunting.


After a year here, I have maybe five hundred words and a couple hundred phrases I can pull out of a grab-bag and speak in a way that must sound ragged to the ear of a Filipino. (The translation of the sentence above is my computer's performance, not mine, in case you were wondering.) But I will continue the slow accumulation of this language.


I got over any guilt associated with provoking nosebleeds a long time ago. 


Making Ends Meet

According to a poll conducted by the Inquirer and published yesterday, more than half of all Filipinos consider their family to be "poor." The article notes that the result is several percentage points higher than that of the poll they conducted one year ago, and goes on to blame fairly steep hikes in the costs of food, gas, and electricity over the last year.


There are two-room shacks in Cabanatuan housing extended families -- I ride by them on a regular basis. There are also large, elaborate haciendas, mostly behind the walls of exclusive subdivisions with security teams. The difference between rich and poor seems starker to me here than in the U.S.; while the rich in my native country do have a knack for keeping the extent of their wealth hidden from the plebs, this starkness has more to do, I think, with just how poor the really poor are here.


And the ones in the middle, the entire spectrum of the middle here, seem to work very hard to keep themselves from falling out of the middle. As in the U.S., there are folks working two and even three jobs here. And with most there is always an eye out for a better opportunity, a better salary. Charles Escano, whose wedding I attended, is leaving Fred's to work in a printshop in his hometown of Talavera. As he said to me, he'll save P100 in commuting expenses each day he works, and he expects to make P13,000 a month in the printshop, compared to the P11,000 he currently earns at Fred's. The work will be more arduous, but his new family is already starting to grow!

Ricefield and an exclusive subdivision

Jane helps Mama Luz prepare food to be sold in the evening outside the duplex: mostly weiners and chicken peds on a stick, Filipino comfort foods.


Approaching My Own Anniversary

That typhoon seems to have turned the shut-off valve for precipitation in the central lowlands of Luzon; there has been very little rain, and only a couple of thunderstorms, in the last three weeks.

Jane was out of town for much of last week, helping in the preparations for Nueva Ecija Province's celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Triskelions. The celebration was held in San Jose City, so Jane got some bonding time with her daughters, and judging from photos she sent me, the preparations were totally successful.

For her hard work, Jane (Jheng is her nickname) was awarded a nice plaque -- I'm told the celebration was a fine time!

Rapidly approaching is the day when I will have been in the Philippines for exactly one year, so I'm guessing some kind of assessment is in order. I came here, after 36 years of teaching at the college and high school levels, to start something new, something as honest and honorable as a teaching career, but something that included a less formal relationship with the folks I was helping. Helping was the main thing -- and with the peso sinking this past year from 50 to 54 pesos per dollar, helping has been getting easier.


So, I've helped procure livelihoods for two people here, paid for 6 months of tb medication for one poor guy, paid for an operation, given to charities here, helped out in other ways. That part of it is "going okay." The US pension that would have me living frugally there enables me to be something of a philanthropist here. And if my ATNM stock takes off, why I'll ratchet up the help. My sons have good careers and are currently in need of no help. In this country much help is needed.

Certainly my life here is too sedentary. For most of the day, walking outside is very uncomfortable due to the heat. I haven't gained weight, but I haven't lost very much. Been eating restaurant food, so the sodium intake is probably deplorable. 


Getting the car -- the agent has filled the order but it hasn't yet arrived -- will bring a welcome change in my life, and the expected move to much cooler Baguio about three months hence will have me walking about much more often, and will have me cooking my own food.

Why didn't I long ago pack up and move to Baguio? So many of my friends live in the lowlands (Cabanatuan/San Jose City) that I decided to stick it out here for at least a year in the hope that I would become used to the climate over time. That hasn't happened, unfortunately, though I am wondering what kind of a difference having an air-conditioned car will bring. . . .


Strong Arm Moves

It's a tricky time for democracy around the world, it seems, from the virtual squelching of it in places like Putin's Russia and Erdogan's Turkey... to the strong arm moves of leaders like Duterte in the Philippines... to the fallout of Trumpian faux-populism in the U.S.... to the rise of anti-democratic political forces in Europe (including Sweden?!). 


Here in the Philippines, I read the papers every morning (there are fifteen nationwide broadsheets; Fred's subscribes to four), and there is a healthy spectrum of opinions in the op-ed section of each. The opinions include occasionally caustic criticism of Duterte's decisions, leading me to believe there is no serious governmental encroachment on the Fourth Estate here.


President Duterte has had more success than Trump in bringing to heel the other two branches of the national government, however. Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Sereno differed bitterly and publicly with Duterte over his anti-drug policies and his declaration of martial law in Mindanao. A pro-Duterte lawyer filed an impeachment complaint against her, and the justice committee of the House ruled that the lawyer presented sufficient grounds for impeachment. Duterte called on Sereno to resign "to spare the institution from further damage."   And, with some extended wrangling on both sides, Sereno was removed from the Supreme Court. 


former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Maria Sereno

The Philippine Senate has only 24 members, and Duterte forces have managed to arrest from among its members the two most vocal critics of Duterte's policies. Yes, arrest.


Senator Leila de Lima, accused of profiting from the businesses of imprisoned druglords, was arrested in February of 2017. Her real crime, it seems, was launching a Senate investigation into the extra-judicial killings of drug dealers. She remains in prison to this day.


He led two mutinies in his life as a soldier, but the anti-corruption crusader Antonio Trillanes IV was pardoned by President Benigno Aquino in 2010. As a senator, he has accused Duterte of stashing ill-gotten money in a secret bank account, as well as fought against most of Duterte's policies. Earler this month, Duterte claimed he had the power to revoke pardons, and promptly revoked Tillanes's pardon, then placed him under arrest.


When Leila de Lima heard the news that Trillanes had been arrested, she stated to the Inquirer, "These are not ordinary times."



Rodrigo Roa Duterte is not a ham-handed political neophyte who "lucked" his way into the presidency. In May, 2016 with 39% of the votes, he convincingly defeated his two main opponents, who received 23% and 21%. Voter turnout was 81%. (Wiki) 



And his performance ratings have been remarkably high for someone who won less than 40% of the vote. As you can see, though, there has been a recent major dip in this rating. 


Probably this is in part due to Rody's recent proneness to "stepping in it." In just a few months he has inappropriately kissed an overseas worker on the lips for the cameras, he's publicly called God "stupid," and he's become increasingly vocal in his criticism of the Catholic Church. None of this goes down well with a sizeable number of Filipinos.


News in the last few months came out that at least 74 minors have been killed in the president's war on drugs: I like to think that this has played a role in the drop of this rating, too.




I'm waiting on the car, down payment for which has been delivered. I'm waiting for folks who put in their dibs to pick up their kitties. I'm waiting for Mary Jane to return from San Jose City. I'm waiting for Actinium Pharmaceuticals to put out fine data on two different trials. I'm waiting for this next developing typhoon to swing well north of the PI.  And I'm waiting for some adorable elementary English learners -- have put together good stuff for their evening class.


Random photo time.





(An update two days later: the storm killed at least 64 Filipinos. Most lost their lives in the cordillera region, where the extreme weather precipitated several landslides.)

This is not a river. It is the main road of La Trinidad, one town north of Baguio.

Typhoons, unlike hurricanes, have multiple names: an international name (a list of 140 names was created by representatives of 14 countries), and, if one makes landfall, a local name in the language(s) of the country(ies) it strikes. This makes sense: hurricanes, striking as they do lands where only Spanish or English are spoken (minor exceptions to that, sure) can keep but one name, whereas typhoons range over territory where dozens of different languages are spoken. Typhoon Mangkhut became Typhoon Ompong for Filipinos at about 1:30 this morning when it made landfall at the northern tip of Luzon.

The little pink dot in the lower part of this doppler image of the cyclone coming ashore is approximately the position of the city where I currently live. We have experienced much wind and rain in Cabanatuan (CabAnatUan) today, but nothing more than a soaking nor'easter in Massachusetts provides.

Tuguegarao today. Thanks CNNPhilippines.

There are already stories of flooding in Dagupan City, roofs blown off houses in Tuguegarao, and ferocious winds in Baguio -- all cities to the north of mine -- but at this time there is no news from cities like Aparri on Luzon's north coast which are directly in the path of the typhoon.

Above you see what appears to be the only storm damage at Fred's: a light fixture in the courtyard knocked over by a falling branch.


According to forecasts, no typhoons will develop in the ocean east of the Philippines for the next ten days. If one should take direct aim at Cabsy this year, it must get over the Sierra Madre or the Mingan Mountains before arriving at this fair city; some of its punch will have been taken away by those highlands. Of course, the potential for catastrophic flooding is another story.


Imagining How Keats Felt in Rome

Crappy times for the old noggin continue. Have a middle ear issue on the right side that hasn't gone away. Have what looks like conjunctivitis. Sinus buildup, sinus headache. Bad throat. Jane takes me in to the doc this afternoon.


Not certain, but pretty sure will be delivering a down payment for a car today, too. Have selected the Toyota Avanza 1.5l. automatic w/ touchscreen. Maybe blue, maybe black? A 7-seater. It appears to be sold only in Asia.

Among the staff at Fred's, and friends of the staff, homes have been found for all the kittens, which is a relief. Mom is still serving up meals to them; the time of parting is three or four weeks away . . . .

Back from the doc's. Had hoped I was wrong about the conjunctivitis. Bronchitis too. More pills and now ointment. The electricity in the entire city has been down since 11AM (it is now 5:30PM), and the office lacked a generator, so business was not done on the car. Will get around to it later this week.


Thunder Boomers, a Dance Recital, Kittens

Around noon the cumulus clouds arrive, and they pop up to impressive heights. Darkness comes well before the sun goes down, trees with frantic leaves bend this way and that, and finally the rain begins, often in hard-falling sheets.


On the Central Luzon doppler there grow large red blooms out of nothing, and the blooms move ponderously in the same direction: it is time for some serious atmospherics.


The distant booming grows louder; the darkness is irregularly lit up by off-stage klieg lights. When a cell is above Fred's, or wherever I am, the intensity of it always surprises me. I steel myself mentally for the next near hit; my chin speeds toward my chest and my heart toward my throat, regardless, when it arrives.


I remember vaguely two, maybe three thunderstorms like these in Massachusetts. Now they take a bead on the city I'm living in two or three times a week. The experience is alarming . . . and kinda fun. Somnolence and rattapallax are words the poet Wallace Stevens uses to describe Connecticut summers. It is that here, during the rainy season, only moreso.

Could not make it up to San Jose City, where Lara and Janiah were taking part in a school dance recital, but Jane sent me these lovely pics. I can remember hating the call to perform for grownups when I was a young'un; both Lara and Janiah seem excited and happy. Was my thing a "boy" thing, then? Some of the boys, I notice, do have a somewhat sour look, in the pics Mary Jane sent.  . . . After the recital Jane attended a parent seminar on the dangers of allowing children too much time online.

For the first time yesterday the kittens took advantage of the cracked door to their unused room and piled out into the courtyard en masse, creating quite a scene. Charles found a way to keep them at bay; I, taking special care with each step, suffered numerous attempts to climb my legs. And Boudicca seemed to take in stride this newfound freedom of her many charges.


Money, Politics

Good luck to former LHS colleagues, whose first day of teaching is a truly hot one -- and to my son Bart, who is now testing the waters of high school teaching!

When, back last November, I learned this haircut was going to cost me $.98, I decided to tip the barber 100%. It is no wonder Americans in the Philippines have a name for largesse both discreet and indiscreet here: so much stuff costs so little!

Resorts in the area rarely charge more than $2.00 per person for a day of swimming and fun; a twenty-minute ride in a trike is also about $2.00.


Sadly enough, my vices are now 800% cheaper than they were in Massachusetts: a 1000 ml Red Horse beer is $1.56, 700 ml of decent gin is $1.95, and a pack of Marlboro Lights is $1.95.


A pound of chicken breasts is $1.64 and a pound of ground pork is $.95. A dozen eggs comes to $1.68 and a 35lb whole roasted pig costs about $95.00 (wait, that's kinda pricy).

It's been my experience that Filipinos are generally well-disposed toward Americans; in 2015 a Pew Research Center report declared the Philippines the most pro-US country in the world, by golly! The low cost of living and the feeling of being welcome, I guess, are the main reasons so many Americans have visited the Philippines and then decided to settle down here: Reuters in 2016 put the number of Americans living Phlipside at 220,000. 

And Rodrigo Roa Duterte? He's a bogeyman to many of my friends in Massachusetts, one of whom pleaded with me not to follow through with my plans to move last summer. Most of my friends and acquaintances here, in fact, voted for him-- and, wonderfully, violent crime is down more than 50% since the days of Benigno Aquino. There is a trade-off, of course. The nearly 4,000 "official" extrajudicial killings is more like 8,000, according to some media outlets here. And while he vows he will step down when his term ends, I think my friends would agree that Duterte has more autocratic tendencies than any Aquino.


The Phlipside president doesn't actively try to divide the electorate, though; he's not a chronic liar; he seems to keep his ego largely in check. And the other just-alluded-to president does seem disposed toward and capable of instigating extrajudicial mayhem, eh?



Today much better than yesterday. Wanted breakfast and lunch; while I didn't eat a great deal, I kept it down. 


Juby or her room-cleaning and clothes-washing helper located the key to the door of the locked service room across the street this morning, and together they transferred Boudicca and her kittens to an unused room on the first floor of the hotel. I was glad, since this will make it much more convenient for mom to get her food -- and these days she is a voracious cat. I was also glad to get a chance to see the little ones.


Boudicca seems riled with all the mewing attention she gets now. Noticed, though, that while the little ones are feeding, mom is purring.



Feeling done in but still able to get around. The fever came back a few days ago, so two days ago traveled once again to the clinic. Dr. Santos thought bronchitis but had me take a chest x-ray for insurance. She prescribed another antibiotic, Co-Amoxiclav, and I vomited that night after taking the first pill. Stupidly I took two more before realizing this medicine was not for me. Stomach's not doing well. Have new medication. (*burp*)


Charles and Angelica's Wedding

Once over the rain-swollen Pampanga, Darwin, Jhess and I rode 15 kms. farther north on Darwin's trike to the city of Talavera, where Charles and Angelica were to be married in a civil ceremony at the town hall there. Like Darwin and Jhess, Charles is on the staff at Fred's, and when the 26 year old asked me to be ninong (godfather) to the couple on their wedding day, I felt honored.

There was some waiting to do for the mayor, but the seats were comfortable. Charles's Uncle Danny and I were placed right behind the bride and groom, and with interest I listened to Danny talk about his many years of work in Saudi Arabia, where he was a sort of jack of all trades for a tech company.


The mayor arrived, Danny and I signed the wedding certificate in multiple places as witnesses, and the show got under way. 

Seven couples in all were being wed that day. The mayor spoke over a mike for a while, not for too long, and while the vast majority of her Tagalog was not understood by me, I did learn that she had four sons, the oldest in college, and that she had been married for twenty-one years. Her words, I realized, were words of encouragement and wisdom from someone who had trodden long on a path these fourteen individuals were setting foot on for the first time. She's a humorous mayor, which I liked; she had the hall rocking with laughter two or three times.

Vows were finally taken, rings exchanged, lips of new spouse kissed! Images of my son Jeff and Anna's wedding two Julys ago came to my mind.


Each couple had photos taken with the mayor, photos taken with family members, photos taken with family members and the mayor. I was not left out.

Walking out of the hall, I suddenly felt a hand on my arm and heard the mayor's voice say, in accentless English, "Well you are a long way from Massachusetts, aren't you, Mr. Smith?" I must admit it was a Kafkaesque moment for me. How did she know where I hailed from? It was a moment only, of course: she must have been told by Angelica or Charles. We small-talked a little, and I walked away with a very good impression of this smart, energetic woman.

On to Lamarang Restaurant back in Cabanatuan, where family and friends enjoyed a nice spread and conveyed our best wishes to the newly married couple!

I walked in back of the restaurant to have a smoke (I know, a filthy habit and "injurious to [my] health," as a worker at Aquino Airport once told me), where I saw the entrance to Lamarang Resort. Lordy, another la-la-land. Will probably have to check it out in the future with a buddy or three . . . .


Pata and Horse Pills

A pork leg is boiled for hours until the meat is very tender. Then it is deep-fried, and a splash of water is thrown on the oil at the end to create a blistered rind. Vinegar is added at some point along the way. The result is crispy pata, a favorite among Filipinos -- whose affectionate nickname for the dish is "high blood pressure."

Mary Jane, Luz, and Aaron ate just about all of it: I guess I was particularly health-conscious on this unscheduled trip to the SM Mall. The previous two evenings I'd been feverish, and had coughed myself awake a few times the previous two nights. Infections start easily and spread quickly in the tropics -- a thumb that had blown up overnight had to be lanced last December -- so I texted Mary Jane and her mother to join me on a trip to the medical clinic at the mall (this was three days ago). 


I haven't yet applied for health insurance here; am holding on to stateside insurance against a serious health issue. Treatment and medicine are both inexpensive here, and the care is very good -- in my experience, anyway.


So the doctor moved her sphygwhatzit over my torso as I did the deep breathing thing, and she said there was some fluid in my left lung, probably not much, but here's a script for horse pills, and you'd better take them. Consulting fee less than $8, pills and expectorant less than $20. Three days later I'm feeling almost back to normal.

Oh, and Boudicca had five kittens the day or the night before we went to the mall. He, he: she had them in a locked room to which no one seems to have the key, in Fred's function hall across the street, and she gets in and out for meals through a small service window. I do not fit through the service window; the much lither Christian of Fred's pulled himself through to count them, and he says one is completely black. 



This week Mary Jane is tending to kid business up in San Jose City, staying at Larry and Lori's house. I'm reading; playing online games of scrabble and bridge; learning some Tagalog, desultorily, online; puttering around the hotel. Yesterday, after feeding the cats, I noticed Boudicca had followed me upstairs. Well, I ushered her into my room, and for a half hour played her some of the cat videos on YouTube as she sat in my lap. She rarely took her eyes off the screen. Afterward, I settled her down on one of my pillows for a snooze.

As you can see, she is at the stage when some folks put the word "very" before "pregnant." Probably not more than a week away. Will try to find a good home for the kittens when that time comes: the hotel staff and Mary Jane's family should be able to help me out there. And then Boudicca and I will visit the vets, where she'll undergo a small operation.

Mary Jane Aldonza Academia is my hired part-time assistant. She liaises with my immigration agency, helps me with paperwork, provides interpreting, and locates that which I think I need. She's also my friend. She's honest; when it's needed, she's hard-working. And she's easy on the eyes.


When she's not working for me or tending to her children, she's probably doing something for the Triskelions. The Tau Gamma Phi Grand Fraternity was started by some students at the University of the Philippines in 1968, and since that time it has become an international organization with over 500,000 members, who call themselves "Triskelions" due to the three-legged symbol which the fraternity adopted at its inception. Hundreds of colleges and universities in the Philippines have chapters, but there is also a community-based branch of the Triskelions, whose individual chapters often comprise a barangay of a city. Mary Jane is chapter secretary for the Triskelions of Bantug Norte, Cabanatuan.

Community-based chapters of Tau Gamma Phi are involved mainly in charitable projects that serve needy populations. Last week, after raising funds through donations (yes, I was successfully solicited), Jane and "the crew" bought boxfuls of mainly personal grooming items and conveyed them to Palayan City's home for abused children, where they distributed them.

Triskelions providing booty at the children's home in Palayan.

The fraternity has been lauded by Philippine presidents for their good work in communities. But there is darkness in Tau Gamma Phi's recent past: many of the college-based chapters around 2005 began stepping up the violence in their hazing practices, and over the next ten years at least eight student pledges in the Philippines died as a result of those practices. A media condemnation-blitz of all hazing, which was long overdue, caused college chapters to abandon hazing two or three years ago.


Mary Jane did not underplay the gravity of what had happened, when I brought up the incidents after reading about them. She insisted though that nothing like that could happen now or in the future of the Triskelions.



The Pampanga, the second longest river on the island of Luzon, can cause big headaches in the rainy season for Cabanatuan residents. On the map above, the red dot to the north is Fred's location and the one southeast of that is the location of the duplex; neither, fortunately, is in the danger zones of the 5-year flood hazard map for the city, but large sections of the city are. And schools this rainy season, in certain areas, have seen days of closure -- last week schools were closed for a day city-wide due to extensive flooding.

This is a photo Mary Jane took with her phone a few days ago in Barangay San Juan, Cabanatuan. And the rainy season, I'm told, has not been a particularly nasty one so far. In 2015 Typhoon Lando lingered over central Luzon and produced flooding that killed at least 46 and caused P9.4 billion (around $200 million) in damage. At least a dozen of the dead were Cabanatuan residents. Yeah, I know: "headache" does not go far enough.

I keep an eye on the Pacific tropics at the amazing Ventusky weather site: www.ventusky.com. So far this year typhoons have been forming mainly northeast of the Philippines, then barging west into Taiwan and China, or northward to threaten the Koreas and Japan. These giant pinwheels to the north of us have been sucking up the southern monsoon rains into Luzon. It is when the giant pinwheels start forming to the southeast of the Philippines that we here need to be on guard for more than heavy rains.




SM City Mall

About once a week I take a trike to the SM City Mall across town and get in a good walk during the rainy season. It's a cavernous place of four levels, each level covering more than two acres. This is no lonely sojourn -- often I'm meeting one or more than one of the family there, and if I'm on my own I stop in at Chatime, a Chinese-owned tea shop, have an iced coffee or iced jasmine tea, and chat with Mich, who is the manager there.

The 26-odd restaurants at the SM Mall offer a variety of cuisines -- Filipino, American, Korean, Japanese, French, Chinese, and Middle Eastern (did I get them all?). I make a point of going to SM with an appetite -- one can taste there what one cannot taste on Fred's side of the city. Yakimix, on the fourth level, offers an all-you-can-eat Japanese/Filipino "mix," with one long buffet of cooked food at one end and raw (but carefully spiced!) food at the other, which diners cook on hotplates embedded in the tables. 

Shakey's Pizza has pizza that stands up to any I've had in the States, short of pizza made in a wood-fired stove, as well as some very tasty pasta dishes. It's an American chain, I understand, though I never encountered a franchise, or heard of the chain, over there! But there's good old Joe Cronin on the wall. . . . Especially when Aaron is tagging along, it's a popular stopover for me.

Kuya J, a restaurant with traditional Filipino food -- you can click adobo, sisig, pata, and sinigang on google images -- is also a place I frequent. And it's the only place where I'll have a desert: halo-halo. Translated from Tagalog, it reads "mix-mix," and it is quite a mix! The mix is slightly different from place to place, but it always has a fermented yam ice cream made from the purple Philippine tuber ube. It will also have a selection of the following: leche flan (egg custard), gelatin cubes, tapioca pearls, macapuno strips (macapuno is a naturally occurring mutant coconut, or so I've read), agar jelly, mango, kiwi, sweetened plantain, shaved ice, and evaporated milk. Below is not my pic, but it is a pic of a Kuya J halo-halo, and Kuya J's halo-halo is the best I've had.

Outside of walking and eating, there is of course shopping at the SM Mall! Clothing stores predominate on the first two levels, though there is an Ace Hardware, a book store, a couple of bakeshops, jewelry shops, and a large "Tech Zone" containing many computer/smartphone/other electronics stores.

On the third and fourth levels one finds a movie complex, a barbershop, beauty salons, a medical clinic, a driving school, a massage center, playgrounds for kids, two game arcades; the list can go on. This mall is colossal. The place where I always seem to do some shopping each visit is the supermarket on the first level, where I refresh supplies of juice, liver pate, Sky Flake crackers, instant coffee, green tea, gin, canned mackerel for the cats, sunflower seeds. . . . .  I guess this list could go on, too.

After a few hours at the SM Mall, one realizes it's time to go. Compared to the rest of Cabanatuan, this place is an antiseptic dream world, and one starts to hanker for the real world left behind. After a minute or two in the trike, that real world does come sweeping back. As long as I'm living in this city, though, I'll return --  once a week is a dose I can live with.



Two days ago Little Red showed up in the courtyard, looking worse than before, hardly able to stay on her feet. But she was supposed to be dead -- rabies did not take this long to kill a cat. Again she would not eat. With a pen I pried open her mouth to get a look inside, something I had been afraid to do earlier. She had missing teeth and broken teeth. She had been hit by something. And the smell of her told me her wounds were badly infected.


I wrapped her in an old shirt and took her by trike to the nearest veterinary clinic, where the vet said he doubted he had the means of treating this case, but he directed my driver to another clinic out on the General Tinio Extension. There the vet accepted Little Red for treatment. She started an IV, lined up three shots, cleaned her face. I noticed fur and some skin was missing on the left side of her face; I had not noticed that before. The vet with forceps pulled two teeth out of the roof of Little Red's mouth.


What I had read of rabies symptoms and the rifeness of rabies in the Philippines had not, after all, been of help. Fever caused by her infections made her wobbly and irritable. . . .  Little Red died at the Synervet Animal Clinic last night, and I went there this morning to clear the bill: a little more than $60 for a day and a half of treatment. The burial fee was $6. I'm sorry, Little Red.


Paean to Longganisa

If you are a vegetarian, skip this please. It's about eating meat.


Longganisa is the sausage of the Philippines. It is tangy, juicy, and, when not overly deep-fried, delicious. The American sausage, if it has a healthy dose of fennel in it, I really like, but, now that my taste for longga has set in, I would have to choose longganisa over it.


Cabanatuan consistently wins longganisa competitions in the Philippines; I've tried only the longga of Baguio outside of Cabanatuan, and would have to agree that the Cabsy sausage beats out that of Baguio.


It is on my plate four out of five breakfasts here, and I hope you, if you are a meat eater and have not tried longganisa, get to try it sometime.


(My cholesterol level continues to be low. Decent genes in that direction, I guess.)


Little Red

As I type this, an emaciated Little Red is hunched beneath a car across the street from Fred's. She is very wobbly, and seems to be entering the "paralysis stage" of rabies.

Above you can see Little Red in happier times. She appeared on the scene two or three months ago, picking Cheetah as her surrogate father and Boudicca as her surrogate mother. (Cheetah is a stray adopted by Christian of Fred's staff, and I'd like to take Boudicca with me when I eventually move to the mountains.)


Five days ago, after not showing up for a day or two, she appeared at morning feeding time looking terrible. There were sores on her muzzle and drops of a liquid periodically fell off her chin.  She moved up to the fish but would not eat. At first I thought she had been bitten in the face by a mean stray or gotten banged up by a vehicle in the road. But a closer look at her face indicated to me this was some disease. After observing her over a couple of days and doing some online research, I realized it must be rabies: no other "cat sickness" produced Little Red's symptoms. Fred's staff agreed.

That's another pic of a healthy Little Red. I won't put images of a dying rabid kitten on this blog; in fact I've snapped nothing of her since she got sick.


WHO recognizes the Philippines as being one of the "top" ten countries in the world when it comes to incidences of rabies. The virus kills 200 to 300 Filipinos each year, about half of that number schoolchildren.


Given the large populations of stray dogs and cats in urban areas here, and the lack of a public service to collect and euthanize rabid animals, it seems to be a problem that will not go away soon.



This map, created in 2016, indicates countries designated as belonging to the First, Second, or Third World based upon their Human Development Index (HDI). The index itself is based upon some complex equations (see wiki), but the factors taken into account are few: longevity, education, and per capita income. The Philippines scores quite well on the first two; it is the third factor that must must have been forcing the demographer's hand to apply the red shade to the islands. In 2015 the average family income here was P267,000, or a little under $6,000.   https://psa.gov.ph/survey/annual-poverty-indicator


Infrastructure, I'm guessing, is too complicated a factor for HDI to take into account. If it were somehow taken into account, I'm afraid the Philipines' index would probably go down and not up. While it has a beautiful highway between the capital and the Cordillera, the Philippines, with its great geothermal potential, must import almost 50% of its primary power supply from other countries. The country's wireless capability, too, is woefully bad: where one can get a connection, the mbps, at 2.8, is slower than that of every other country in the world, excepting Bolivia, Paraguay, and Venezuela (wiki).



Red tape is a problem in the Philippines: in the power-generating arena, it takes 3 years for a power company to secure all the permits for a new plant. Also, contract issues and pricing concerns make projects seem unattractive to some investors.  A couple of years ago, the big island of Mindanao had to endure "rolling brownouts" for an extended period of time due to an inadequate power supply. ...Adding insult to injury is the apparent nation-wide negligence on the part of utility companies in the planning and upkeep of their wiring!



Now that the rainy season has begun in earnest, blackouts are happening in Cabanatuan with almost every thunderstorm. Fred's has a generator the size of a small car in the courtyard, and with each outage Darwin or AJ or Charles restores the building's juice in 2 or 3 minutes. Of course, not many home owners and business owners in the city have a generator; one senses a great deal of convenience and money being lost due to problems that can be overcome.







In Fred's Courtyard, in Cabanatuan City, I Remember Poe.

 Concerning science, this weird, likable, insightful, disturbed man wrote:
Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood, 
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me 
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree? 


The Duplex. School.

A trip to the duplex of the Guevarra and Javier families a few days ago made me reflect on how difficult it can be, and how long it can take, to recover from a disaster. The man in front of the house in the photo is Larry Academia, who was down from San Jose City with his wife Lori and Mary Jane's daughters Lara and Janiah to help grandson Aaron celebrate his fourth birthday. The house is not large (the building under the rusted roof to the right is a separate house belonging to another family) and it has been under slow rebuilding and repair since the fire of about a year and a half ago.

The fire was caused by an electrical problem, and thankfully no one was hurt. The house, however, was close to a total loss. Insurance? Very few Filipinos who own properties in the million peso range buy insurance, and this family had none.

The rebuilding has been a slow and arduous process. By the time I arrived, Guevarras and Javiers had moved back in, but much work still had to be done. Recently a loan was finally obtained, and a trio of builders has improved the building to the state in which you see it in the first picture above.

Imagine an artful transition here, reader. The school year started in the Philippines two weeks ago! The Filipino's summer is over when the rainy season begins, and youngsters in colorful school uniforms are once again in evidence throughout Cabanatuan, throughout the country. Here is a photo Larry sent me of Lara and Janiah on their way to school in San Jose City.

Here's poor Aaron trying to get his bearings on his first day at pre-school! Education is a "big deal" in the Philippines, and the resumption of classes is cause for celebration. Dona Cita, who runs the sari-sari (convenience) store across the street from Fred's, has a girl in fifth grade and a boy in tenth. She has sacrificed the image of her barangay campaign choice in favor of the sign below. Mary Jane is a proud mom, by the way: her daughters maintain the kind of grades that would put them on the honor roll in high school.


And teachers are generally revered here -- at least, it seems to me, moreso than in the US.  . . . But reading some newspaper articles a week or two ago that "harkened me back to the day," I learned that Filipino teachers throughout the islands are showing growing displeasure in the size of their salaries and the quality of their benefits!


The Streets of Cabanatuan

This city proudly styles itself as "The Tricycle Capital of the Philippines" -- these words even appear on the large notices of registration on the back of each of the more than 30,000 trikes that ferry customers here (Wiki). Hiring a trike is something of a lottery. One cannot choose one's driver; at every stand there is a fixed order as to which driver gets the first fare, the second, the third, and while most drivers are competent on the road and own good rides, there are of course the standouts.  . . .Oh, I'm getting the guy who won't go faster than 30 kph; drat, I'm with the guy who seems to have no suspension system at all. "Guy" is almost always the correct moniker, by the way -- in more than 7 months of riding trikes, I've had one female driver.

The Maharlika Highway, which bisects the city, is the "main drag," and hundreds of businesses large and small line it. There are few traffic lights; police do most of the work of directing traffic at the busier intersections. Drivers are generally accomodating to other drivers. In fact, I've witnessed no evidence of anger affecting driving decisions in this often congested city.

SolidGold and Walter Mart are popular supermarkets in Cabanatuan -- these are chain markets that can be found throughout Luzon, and, for all I know, on the other islands as well.

They are well-stocked supermarkets, and they're kept clean -- but they don't measure up, in inventory or cleanliness, to the supermarket at the SM City Mall!

That chicken is P120 a kilogram. Well, 53 pesos is a dollar, and a kg is 2.2 lbs. You can do the math: food is not expensive here.

Mercury Drug is my pharmacy of choice; it always seems to have what I need. Both supermarkets and pharmacies here have lines set aside for folks who are elderly, disabled or pregnant; since I turned 60 a couple of months ago, I've been taking advantage of these!

Prepared food is available everywhere on the streets. Here you can find whole pigs roasting, there you find chickens roasting on long skewers. Freshly roasted nut stands, corn on the cob stands, ice cream stands, and buko (coconut) juice stands are generally mobile, and range all over the city.

Lunchtime for me now at the restaurant downstairs. Adobo or sisig, that is the question. . . .  Then a trip downtown to get a gift for Aaron: the little man turns four tomorrow!



A few weeks ago I set out with Mary Jane and James to buy one of the cars on which I had been doing online research. Discovered (after my financing application had been sat on for more than a week) that foreigners with less than two years in-country are not able get a bank or car company loan!

True, over the past several months moving about this city of 350,000 has not been a problem for me, thanks to trikes. James has a trike, Marielle's boyfriend has a trike, Aunt Des has a trike, there is a trike stand across the street from Fred's that is always manned . . . .  And hiring a trike does not set the average American back very far. For the 15 to 20-minute ride across the city to the SM Mall, Jhess, who works at Fred's, said I should pay 70 or 80 pesos (about $1.50). The trip to NE Crossing is 20 pesos. When going elsewhere I time the ride and hand over 25 pesos (less than $.50) for every 5 minutes on the road; and every driver seems satisfied with this.

The other mode of transportation for carless souls like me is the jeepney. Jeepneys run set routes, and their rides are even less expensive than those of the trikes. But I've stuck with the trikes: not only are they a more convenient ride for me (the nearest jeepney stop is a hike away from Fred's), but also they offer a much better view of one's surroundings than jeepneys, whose benches run along the sides and face inward, do.

. . . Too many times, though, I've been stuck in traffic in a trike in 90 or 95 degrees, breathing the exhaust of a truck or intercity bus ahead of us. 

Very recently, I was put in touch with a businessman who offers rates close to a bank's for car loans to people in my situation. He requires a P100,000 down payment, and I'm only a few weeks away from having that amount saved. Will be looking more into his terms, and will hopefully get in touch with one or two people who have used his services. Anyway, I may not be carless for much longer!


A Funeral Procession

On a few occasions I have witnessed the very public display of bereavement that is a part of many Filipino funerals -- the funeral procession. At a walking pace down streets the deceased had known well, a long line of trikes, cars, and pedestrians, led by a glass-paneled hearse that is sometimes drawn by a horse, winds its way. Over a loudspeaker placed on a lead car or sometimes on the hearse, songs the deceased had like are played.

Outside my window this morning, the steadily increasing volume of a love ballad informed me of a procession about to pass in front of Fred's, and I reached for my camera. The procession normally happens after a wake; after the procession, a mass is heard, and then the burial takes place. After the burial, a group of people will pray for the soul of the deceased nightly in a novena lasting nine days. Many deaths in the Philippines, of course, do not result in all of the above: about 16% of the population is not Roman Catholic (https://asiasociety.org/education/religion-philippines) and some families who are Catholic cannot afford the full array of these practices.

In another custom, family and friends of a deceased loved one will meet at his or her gravesite on All Souls Day (Nov. 1), holding a vigil there from before sunup to after sundown. They bring food and flowers, share memories of the deceased  during the day -- to the right is a picture of Janiah and Aaron on All Saints Day at their father's grave, giving the Triskelion sign of their father's fraternity, Tau Gamma Phi.


N E Crossing

The rainy season has begun in Cabanatuan. It will be drizzling, downpouring, thunderstorming, or typhooning on and off for the next 3 months or so. Cabanatuan receives 70 inches of rain in a year, compared to Boston's 44 inches (whose amount takes into account snowfall), and most of that rain falls in these three months.

My classroom days are over, but have hooked up with a kind and clever woman from Chengdu, China and now do some online tutoring on weekends for young Chinese learners of English. Was putting together a couple of sessions for the coming weekend when the lunch hour arrived . . . and I decided to treat myself!

N E (Nueva Ecija) Crossing is a 3 to 5-minute trike ride from the hotel -- there is a trike stand across the street from Fred's, so getting a ride to anywhere from there is no trouble. In addition to a "super bodega" at the Crossing there is a cafeteria/cakeshop that has really good food. The variety at the caf too is wonderful -- the display of choices must be 35 feet long!

Based on some previous experiences here, in which I "put away" far too much and paid for it the rest of the day, I am careful. Yes, a half portion of the beef caldereta, a half portion of that vegetable and tofu mix, a cup of rice, . . .oh and add a couple of those veggie fritters I like so much! I eschew the coconut, the mango milkshake in favor of a coke zero.

MMmmmm. Won't invite myself to any of the baked goods across the room on the way out, though I will take a pic of one showcase.  . . . Now on to the bodega to get more canned mackerel for the cats, and more gin and sunflower seeds for me!



A quick trike ride back to Fred's and there is no loginess; am willing and able to finish the session prep and move on to do more research on the pipelines of Actinium Pharma, in which I've invested a buck or two. Later will probably be online playing bridge or lexulous (Pat, you should look into lexulous) and listening to Crooked Media podcasts. Quiet day.



From the duplex housing of the friends I wrote about in the last installment, tell your trike driver to head west on the Aurora Road for a hundred yards and turn right onto Mampulog Road. A mile later Mampulog empties onto the Maharlika Highway, where you turn right again and proceed for a half mile to Grand Victoria Estate, a road whose uneven cement surface belies its highfalutin title. Fred's Apartelle and Business Hotel lies about a hundred yards up this road, and this is the place I've called home for the last 6 months or so.

Hot and cold running water, an air conditioner, a TV with CNN, a decent mattress on the bed, a good restaurant just downstairs . . . . Fred's lacks nothing I need, and it is kept so very clean, and it costs me less than $20 a day to stay here.

Even with Fred's fine array of +'s, I might have wandered away before this time and found another place with +'s in northern Cabanatuan, if only for a change of scenery. But the staff here is a + I don't want to do without in this city. Young and old, women and men, the 14 or 15 people who take care of this place and its customers are a courteous, humorous, friendly bunch of people! I've grown close to some of them, some are fountains of good advice for me, and all seem concerned for my welfare.

                                                                                                             Charles and AJ.

Mary Lou and Che-Che.

Some wildness involving flour at the Christmas party. High school interns got caught up in the melee!

The courtyard at Fred's is well cared for and contains interesting trees. It is also the hangout of 5 or 6 stray cats, which, with the staff's benevolent permission, I've been feeding.


The public spaces of the hotel are full of local Filipino art, mainly oils and water colors, but it's the steampunk statuary that really stands out . . . .

Fred himself, I'm told, is not only the owner but also the architect who designed the hotel, and an artist himself. He seems to spend all his time in Manila and other parts of the country, these days. I do hope to meet him eventually!


Friends in Cabanatuan

During my final two summer vacations as a teacher, I visited Jane where she was living then -- in San Jose City with the Academias, the family of her deceased husband. Jane herself is not from San Jose City but from Cabanatuan, a city about an hour south of SJC. It was to Cabanatuan that I traveled after retiring from my job as an English teacher at Leominster High School, for Jane had taken her small son Aaron back to her hometown, leaving her daughters with the Academias to continue their schooling in SJC.


The Academias I knew well -- Larry, the patriarch, whose grandchildren run into the double digits, is a good friend. Will no doubt be seeing them again in the not-distant future. I had fleetingly met with some members of the Cabanatuan clan on one of the vacations, but over the last few months I've gotten to know them well, too, often taking a trike to the duplex housing the families of Jane's mother Luz and Luz's sister Des. Let me introduce them!

This is Mama Luz, warm and welcoming mother of Jane. Her beef and kidney dish at son James's birthday party was the best food I've consumed in years. Her husband left the family many years ago and remarried in Manila. (Jane says, "It's a long story.")

Des and her husband Bernie are a fun-loving couple with whom I've had the pleasure of throwing back more than a couple . . . a few times. Bernie drives a jeepney, while Des and Luz are sellers in the public market.

Sonny, younger brother of Luz and Des, lives in the town of Bongabon to the east, but makes frequent trips to Cabanatuan. He works in IT and managed to triple the Mbps of my machine, which has put a stop to the "disconnects" that frequently plagued the online classes I teach!

Mary Jane is Luz's eldest, and an important reason behind my first trip Phlipside was to meet her. Less than a year before my visit, her husband Larry had died suddenly from a blood clot in his brain at the age of 34, and Jane was left heartbroken with three small children. Upon finding Jane, I learned the Academias, led by Larry Sr. and his wife Lori, had been caring very well for the bereaved mother and her children.

Darwin (aka James) is Jane's brother -- a Rastaman, a trike driver, and a ladies man!

Marielle, a high school student, is the third and last of Luz's children. Here she is with her boyfriend Froilan, who also drives a trike.

This family is into symmetry. Just as Hannah -- Luz, Des, and Sonny's mother -- had two girls and a boy, so did both Luz and Des! (Sonny's still working to get it right.) Michele (Mich) is manager of the Chatime teashop at the SM megamall and the older daughter of Bernie and Des. Beside her is her younger sister Mirasol (Mira), a college student who hopes to go into banking. The pic was taken at Mira's 21st birthday celebration at the BL Resort (as were a few others here).

Front and center here is Michael, Des and Bernie's son, who has started his own family and lives apart from the duplex. Like his uncle, he has gone into IT, and he has offered me good advice concerning my computer setup.

Hannah is the mother of Luz, Des, and Sonny, and great-grandmother of 6! She too has her own house, but one often finds her helping out at the duplex.  . . . Here she is "helped out" in a karaoke performance by the funny and irreverent JR Batcho, a family friend.

These are folks I've come to like, respect, and trust in Cabanatuan. They've welcomed my presence, and over time they have made me feel part of their family. 


A Trip to Baguio

Cabanatuan to Baguio

Well. . . .  The hotel we ended up with was not the Orangewood but the Starwood. And the van we ended up with was not a Toyota Hiace but a Chinese Foton with a sticky manual shifter. These were not major letdowns; the 5-day trip was fun and provided a nice respite from the day after day mid 90's weather of pre-rainy season Cabanatuan!


Joining me were Jane, my "personal assistant"; her three children -- Lara, Janiah, and Aaron; and her younger siblings, James and Marielle. We secured the van last Wednesday morning and headed west on a two-lane highway across some of the breadth of Luzon, the 15th largest island in the world (according to wiki). Then we got on the TPlex, the north-south expressway between Manila and the Luzon Cordillera.

Three and a half hours later we were at the bottom of Kennon Road, named after a colonel in the US Army Corp of Engineers. The ACE and a small army of Filipinos built the road between 1903 and 1905, just after the US had asserted itself as a colonial power, overcoming some pretty heady resistance to US rule in the Philippines following Spain's defeat in the Spanish-American War. The road takes one up 5,000 feet and down 15-20 F degrees, has ten or twelve bridges and many, many switchbacks. You can take the ride via an accomodating Filipino's dashboard cam here:  


At the top of Kennon Road lies the city of Baguio, southernmost and largest of the cities of the Cordillera, with a population of about 350,000 (wiki). We checked in at the Starwood, whose lobby was clean and whose staff seemed nice, and by general assent went to search out a pizza place at the SM Mall.

In the Pizza Hut at the mall, devoured three large "stuffed" slices, and driving back to the hotel realized this had not been a good idea. You see, two weeks before I'd begun daily doses of coconut oil, a regimen a 94-year-old senator in the Philippine congress swears by. Coconut oil and mozarella may become good pals in the digestive tracts of some folk, but in mine they appear to be sworn enemies -- the night, you might mind me saying, was a gaseous, oily-cheesy mess for me, and the next morning I begged off while Jane and family piled into a cab and took off to discover Baguio. Two long naps, two showers, and much CNN viewing later, I learned they had done just that:

The "Cordillera Central" (official name) is a massive mountain range in north central Luzon, covering an area larger than Massachusetts. Most of it is higher  than 4,000 feet, and its highest point, the summit of Mt. Pulag, perches 9,587 feet above the waves. Lowlanders and highlanders created quite different cultures in the Philippines thousands of years before the Spaniards arrived on the scene. Once Spanish soldiers did arrive, they largely stayed out of the mountains, whose Igorot people especially fought hard -- and had a penchant for collecting the heads of their enemies. It was not until the invention of the repeating rifle, according to wiki, that the Spanish were able to subdue the Igorots. In the second to last photo above, Jane's children are dressed in supposedly traditional Igorot garb.

Friday morning I felt ready for action, and in the Foton we went down, down, down Asin Road, over a lovely brook, through two scary tunnels . . . and noticed with some alarm at our destination that the van's brakes were smoking. James squirted water into the wheel wells and we hoped there was no real damage . . . .

The destination was the Palm Grove Hot Springs, a resort with two refreshing "cold pools" and one "tingly pool" fed by sulphuric hot springs. I had traveled here my second vacation in the Philippines (this was my third visit to Baguio), and thought the kids especially would like it.

Lara, and to an extent Janiah, are swimmers; Aaron has learned what "no" means and uses it often when he and I are in the water. But the fear is abating: this time, on my count of "1, 2, 3!" I ducked both of our heads under the water. He came up scowling and sputtering, but by the third or fourth time he was leading the count. By the fifteenth or seventeenth time I was looking for a way out of this situation. I bought a ball.

In the early mornings of the trip, wide awake children would watch SpongeBob as the adults rolled about until they felt reasonably conscious. The room was large, with three double beds as well as the bunk arrangement you see here. There was one sink-toilet bathroom and a separate shower-only bathroom, so preparing to get downstairs to breakfast was not distressingly slow for us. Breakfast was a fried egg, rice, and bacon, corned beef, or hotdogs. Hotdogs for breakfast? Yup. And Filipinos prefer sliced hotdogs in their spaghetti over any other meat!


The town north of Baguio, La Trinidad, is known as the Strawberry Capital of the Philippines. Jane especially wanted to check out the fields; the long drive through the middle of Baguio in our big clunky manual did not really appeal to me, but James and Marielle seemed game, so we called it a go. (By the end of our trip I had gone over two curbs and scraped a bumper backing out of the way of a jeepney in a tunnel. In the twenty years before this I had had one fender bender! The renter is getting a $100 deductible from me, and I'm glad it's not more.)

Certainly a worthwhile trip out. The fields are owned by Benguet State U., and students are in large part the growers. And they don't grow just strawberries! The long galleries of a farmstand/souvenir shop amalgam made for interesting viewing and picking. We left with strawberries, strawberry jam, three kilos of potatoes, greens mostly unavailable in Cabanatuan, peanut brittle, T-shirts for the little ones . . . and other stuff!

Lara picked up a genuine stomach bug near the end of the trip, and Marielle, who slept with Lara, showed signs of the same on our last day, but both responded nicely to medicine Jane got for them. Why is there no decent medicine for a stomach bug in America?


Our last full day was a quiet one spent at Wright Park, where the girls sat on ponies with dyed manes, where we picked over more clothing and souvenirs, where we lazed under conifers the likes of which I had never seen before.

James must have been one of the last Filipinos to contract childhood polio, as UNICEF declared the Philippines polio-free in 1995 (James is 26). The man seems completely at ease with this disability. Hail, James, primo bon viveur and principled Rastaman!

I drove down Kennon Road entirely in second gear to save the brakes! Was thinking of buying a Chinese car before this trip; not thinking of doing so now. We all had a nice break from Cabsy, as James calls his hometown. As much as I like some people in Cabanatuan, I look forward to going back to the mountains, in a manageable car. In the days we were up there, daytime temps were always in the low 70's F and high 50's at night. Next trip, maybe the older Javiers and Guevarras would like to join me. Eventually, I'm hoping for a small house on the outskirts of Baguio, or maybe one farther into the mountains.