Welcome! I'm Brad, a retired American high school teacher who has been living in Cabanatuan City, the Philippines two and a half years. 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; thanks to them for letting me describe here their trials, successes, heartaches, celebrations, passions, so that American readers can get an idea of Filipino life. It has, for the most part, been a very enjoyable stay. I'll post at least once a week. Tap the lower floors above for earlier posts, and, as ever, click the pics to embiggen them!

Okay, officer! (And thanks for posing.)

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


Under the Weather

Well, yesterday I came down with a bug that delivers headaches, an on again-off again cough, a low-grade fever, and some digestive unrest. Feeling cruddy, yep. Suggested to Jheng that I go in for a COVID test; she and other members of the family thought that would be a bad idea. I would first be given the "rapid test," a blood test notoriously inaccurate (it seems that anyone febrile scores a positive on it). With a positive result on that one, I would then get the more accurate swab test, which takes time to process -- time I would have to spend at a quarantine center housing many genuinely positive patients.

So, for as long as symptoms remain unsevere, I'm self-quarantining, very rarely leaving my room and the adjoining front porch. My appetite remains okay; Jheng kindly brings me meals and supplies (she just came over with a helping of her tasty pork sinigang). 

Jheng's sinigang na baboy.

That good friend does not hang around after making deliveries, of course. The solitude of the last two days has had me puttering about online, mainly looking at U.S. news; playing lexulous online; sleeping; getting back into Rick Atkinson's final volume on the Second World War, The Guns at Last Light. U.S. news is hard to take in large doses these days, don't you think? The politics, the economy, and the culture all seem to be headed for the shitter. Whoever wins the executive in November, there will be a deeply aggrieved losing party guaranteed to ratchet up the discord. A Democratic sweep of the House, the Senate,  and the presidency would to my mind produce the least discord; it would mark a broad turning away from an increasingly radicalized right, on the part of the electorate, that could not be gainsaid easily. But I may be wrong.

If such a Democratic sweep occurs, the Republican Senate will still have had time to ensure that hundreds of thousands of homes will be foreclosed upon, and that millions of people will be evicted from rental properties. They actually seem to be about to let this happen.

Rioting. Political scandals to beat the band. And the COVID calamity -- which need not have been a calamity in the U.S., I have read again, and again, and again.

I get the feeling the country I will visit sometime in the coming months will not be the same country I visited in June of last year .


Aaron tries on my reading glasses..


The Cabanatuan Surge

Sounds like an exotic new dance, no? But this posting's title is meant to reflect the jump in positive COVID tests recorded over the past week in this city.What we have here is, at least by Philippines standards, a surge. Wider testing among people associated with the nearby Sangitan Market has identified 43 people testing positive (to date); other positive individuals and clusters of positive Cabanatuanites have been documented in other parts of the city.

Just down the road from the duplex a vegetable seller tested positive, and his experience is probably representative of the experiences of the many others who have tested positive. Jheng tells me he has been confined to his house with his wife and children, the house has been cordoned off, and a rolling detail of barangay reps keeps an eye on the place 24/7. No one allowed in, no one allowed out. Food is delivered.

This grim type of at-home quarantine will soon give way to something hopefully not as grim, at least in our province of Nueva Ecija. The army's Fort Magsaysay, which abuts the southwestern boundary of Cabanatuan, is in the final stage of being turned into a quarantine center, and will be accepting positive cases within a week, according to the news. The base has occasionally hosted American service men and women, whom I saw now and then at the mall; it's doubtful now that I'll be seeing them while this infection is abroad. Hoping I can report in the coming month or two news about how well-staffed and well-run the new quarantine center is.

Fort Magsaysay. (Reddit)

With the Sangitan Market closed (probably for quite a while, says Jheng), Aunt Des has set up shop again on tables outside the duplex. And, no doubt with Des's encouragement and assistance, most of the family members have caught the buy wholesale/sell retail bug, including Jheng! They get up at 1am in order to get the pick of the produce delivered to a wholesale center on the Vergara Highway, then have it delivered back to the duplex, where they tastefully display their booty: fish, squid, mussels, beef, pork, liver, many kinds of vegetables. They are selling by about 2am, and sell much of what they bought while it is still dark.

Boxes of fish unloaded at the duplex in the wee hours of the morning. (photo by Jheng)

I'm guessing for the kind of small fee the Sangitan charged of P50 a table (I haven't asked), Des has welcomed a few other Sangitan vendors, all testing negative, to sell at the duplex. Unfortunately, from this expansion of the duplex market some friction has arisen between the vendors and a branch of city officialdom Jheng calls "the enforcers." These people want all vendors not belonging to the duplex household to move to an officially sanctioned highway-side area for former Sangitan market sellers. The problem here is that the proprietors of this makeshift market are charging P500 a table! The vendors naturally don't want to move, and the family is on their side. They have all chosen to ignore this first notice and continue selling at the duplex. Will let you know what comes of this contretemps in a future posting. 

Spoke with Jeff and Bart yesterday. Aside from a little coughing, Jeff seemed like his old self. He insisted his lungs were fine, had gone on a long bike ride earlier in the day and had felt no ill effects or unusual fatigue. Will speak with them again my Saturday morning/their Friday evening.

The after-breakfast wash up at Fred's.


Cab City: Back to the Shadows Again?

Confirmed cases of COVID in Cabanatuan are still below 100 in number, but the past week has seen this number going from zero to something approaching 100. Sangitan, the public market closest to Fred's and the workplace of Auntie Des, has four cases among its stall owners; it's been closed down. Mayor Vergara has declared a return to unmodified GCQ for the city. Barangay captains are erecting roadblocks to impede travel into their districts, checkpoints are being reestablished, a city-wide 9pm-4am curfew has been declared, alcohol sales are temporarily prohibited.

What a difference a week makes, eh. The Philippines has less than 1/20 of the cases per capita that the U.S. has, and fast actions like these are perhaps one reason why. Then again, the Philippines has the highest number of cases per capita among Southeast Asian nations -- and one wonders whether the fact that American culture has made inroads here as it hasn't in any other Southeast Asian nation may have something to do with that. A little conjecturalizing, that's all. (I know, English lovers, but the word has made its way into Congress: why can't I use it?)

The building of the addition has been moving along smoothly; not sure whether this quarantine upgrade allows the workers to return on Monday, though. The first floor of this structure will house a bakery, run, presumably, by Adonis and Aiza. The second floor will be a two-bedroom apartment whose monthly fee has not yet been decided upon. On the roof there will be a large deck, accessible from the main house's balcony. Also on the roof a large box-like structure is taking form: haven't yet inquired into its function.

On another note, yesterday Jheng spent several road hours on an errand of mercy. One of Larry's grandchildren, John Lloyd, lives with his father out in Baler -- his mother has been working on Taiwan for four years. The poor online connectivity in Baler would not allow John Lloyd to take online classes from his father's place, so Jheng drove out there to fetch him, then drove him up to his grandparents in San Jose City, where he'll have a better chance at online learning. While at Larry and Lori's, Jheng was able to spend time with her eldest daughter Lara, who'll be staying with her grandparents for a few more weeks. Then back to Cab City for Jheng: a long day of driving!

Back in Massachusetts, son Jeffrey continues to improve after being knocked down by COVID. In quarantine he became interested in  investigating our genealogy, and recently directed me to the family tree he's working on. My father's family he has traced back, making all the paternal connections, to "Ralph Smyth" (1610-1685), who lived with his wife Elizabeth on Cape Cod. And I had thought all my relatives, three or four generations before mine, were in the British Isles. Thanks for the education, Jeff.


A New Base of Operations

Jeff is getting better, and that's a great relief. Both he and Bart, before we completed the conference call, stressed the need for me to be cautious, to wear the mask and use my wits when outside; I said I did, and I do. The number of new cases in the U.S. each day now surpasses the total number of confirmed cases in the Philippines, however. My concern about Bart, Anna, my former wife, and other family members seems, what, more justfiable than my concern about myself and mine here Phlipside, regarding COVID?

Chucky, my favorite of the six dogs at Adonis and Aiza's home.

J.R. working the desk behind plastic at Fred's.

In the span of a few days a couple of weeks ago, my landlords Adonis (Don-Don) and Aiza provided me with a laundry service, a hot water-maker for my shower, and a big, quiet convection air conditioner to replace the antiquated a/c I was using. And they welcomed me to stay on, even after Fred's reopens. I've taken them up on the offer. The restaurant at Fred's is open for take-out, and I get my breakfasts and sometimes lunches there. Two days ago I approached the manager, Ruth, who is already directing the staff's reopening chores and filling out the paperwork needed for reopening, to tell her about my change of plans. She wanted to know about the accomodations, the cost, etc. (Ruth and I are friends), and in the end agreed that it seemed like a good move. She knows Don-Don and Aiza well, and seems to think they and I will get along fine.

Jheng has a stomach bug and is spending plenty of time in the bathroom over at the duplex: hopefully other members of the family won't come down with it. With the pandemic's upending of lives here, we've agreed to put off getting hitched until early next year. The children and Mariel will be learning from home until Christmas, at least, and it seems now that there will be some kind of quarantine in effect for the forseeable future. 

Keep safe everyone. A new beginning is on its way.


Just finished a conference call with Jeff and Bart. Jeff is much more lively than he was a week ago, says he is feeling better. No fever. Still coughing, though not as much as before. We're anticipating a full recovery. Thanks for all kind thoughts sent Jeff's way!


Jeffrey on My Mind

Not long after filing the previous post, I learned from elder son Bart (33), at the start of a weekly conference call with my sons that Bart initiates, that younger son Jeff (31) had contracted the COVID virus several days before and had pretty much been in bed for a week. Quickly after that jarring news, Bart said Jeff was joining the call; and soon enough there he was, operating from his smartphone, pale and coughing, his long-uncut hair streaming over a pillow.

Jeff at the beginning of a 100-mile bike trek to raise funds for the fight against cancer.

The fever is down now, but he feels very weak and the coughing is loud and uncontrollable. His wife Anna and he have set up a system whereby she can care for him without exposing herself to the virus; she'll visit with her parents when he can shift for himself, and he'll do the quarantine thing until the possibility of transmission is behind him.

Since coming of age, Jeff has treated his body better than I ever did mine. This has no doubt helped him in fighting the bug, and will help him to toss it off. But the COVID virus is a strange one, eh. It hangs on with some patients for months, seems to have more than one way of proliferating in the body, can leave permanent damage to lungs, heart, and kidneys. That Jeff hasn't felt the need to be hospitalized is encouraging. And his age and constitution are both on his side. I'm betting the infection will seem an ugly thing of the past to him in a week's time.

As for Jeff, he said he looks forward to donating plasma.

Reader, I'll keep you apprised of his progress.



COVID Conundrums

An Aussie expat I met a few months ago hailed from Darwin, on Australia's northern coast, and he told me the rainy season in that city's region was not at all like the rainy season on Luzon. There it was constantly overcast months on end, he said, and almost always raining. It did sound much drearier than the rainy season here. Here the rainy season's mornings are often bright. The big dark cumulus clouds roll in, not always but quite often, in early to mid-afternoon. Sometimes these clouds bring what I've come to think of as "the squirts": 10 to 20-minute periods of rain, in the form of everything from a drizzle to a gully-washer. There may be one in an afternoon or two or three with dry periods in between. Sometimes the dark clouds simply sit over us, no rain, but often with sounds of thunder in the distance. And sometimes we get whacked with hours of downpour or wild and woolly thunderstorms. PAGASA (the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration) announced the start of the rainy season nearly a week ago. And the sky is acting in agreement.

The fuzzy photo of Jheng and me was taken by a shop assistant yesterday, a couple of minutes after we signed into the SM Mall. Yes, one signs into most public places in Cabanatuan these days. Name, contact info, age, body temperature (the doorman takes this for you). Now, I take some pride in my own truthfulness, shun self-misrepresentation generally; but I fudge my age every time I fill out one of these things. My conscience doesn't exactly take a hit, but a measure of disquiet descends upon me when I scribble in "59" under "age." To be denied entry because I've taken a couple too many turns around the sun seems absurd to me. If I were enfeebled by age or a medical condition, I wouldn't be out in coronaweather -- but I'm healthy, not to mention careful.

Lara, Janiah, and Aaron had not left the duplex for 90-odd days and were understandably restless. Mama Jheng and Luz were to make a buying trip to San Jose city the day before yesterday, and the children pleaded with them to take them along to see Larry and Lori: and besides, it was FATHER'S DAY! A fair amount of pissing and moaning on the kids' part may exist only in my imagination -- I haven't asked Jheng about it -- but I do know these children! Well, Jheng and Luz "spirited" the three of them up the Maharlaka, and they had a fine day with Lolo and Tatay. Lara was left behind when the car headed south to Cab City; she'll help Lori keep house and play with SJC cousins until her online classes start up in August.

Sonny -- Luz and Des's brother, Jheng's uncle -- is an IT technician and runs his own shop in Solano in Nueva Viscaya Province. He and his wife Jasmine left their only child with Jasmine's parents in Bongabon, Nueva Ecija to attend the better schools there. Now it has been three months since Sonny and Jasmine have seen Trisha and all their other relatives in Nueva Ecija -- and, Jheng reported to me after a phone conversation with Sonny, they are miserable about it. Since June 1 they have been allowed to move about, but the barangay in which they live in Solano has placed a huge proviso on interprovince travel. Anyone from the barangay traveling outside Nueva Vizcaya must submit to a 14-day quarantine upon their return. And the quantine is not a "home quarantine": the barangay has set up a special facility for returnees. Before March, Sonny and Jasmine had made quick trips to see their daughter in Bongabon and family at the duplex in Cab City frequently. A two-week hiatus from work is too high a price to pay for such travel now, though. They hope for a change in policy when June becomes July, the birthday month of their daughter.

Conscience-chafing fudging, cabin fever, emotional angst. I'm guessing most folks on the island of Luzon have had a taste of each of these, over the last three months. Heck, I'm guessing most of homo sapiens has.



Bernie with his wife Des, Mirasol, and Mich.

The day before yesterday, late in the morning, Bernie, husband of Des and stepfather of Jheng's cousins Michael, Mich, and Mirasol (the three siblings' natural father died in a road accident when they were children), was doing a welding job on the cage of the family dog, when he suddenly passed out. Mich and Mira called out to Jheng, who was washing clothes, and with the help of some men who work at the trike shop across the street they lifted Bernie into the Avanza. Jheng sped to the closest hospital, but Bernie never regained consciousness. He died after having had a heart attack. He was 43.

The viewing is being held not at the duplex but at the house of Bernie's father; face masks on, Jheng and I went there yesterday. Bernie will be interred next to his mother Thursday morning in a cemetery on the Maharlika north of here. 

Last December, Uncle Monteiro. Now Bernie.

My sometime drinking buddy, Bernie took the family and me on a few outings in the jeepney he rented to earn a living. He used to be the catcher on his district's baseball team, had a quick smile and a great sense of humor. He also had a heart ailment, probably congenital, which laid him up in the hospital three times over the past few years. I was here for his last hospitalization, about a year ago. After tests he was told that his heart had become enlarged and that from then on he should avoid strenuous activity.

He had been fine the night before, when Jheng had watched a movie with him and his family.  . . . . So sudden, and so final. Deeply saddened that this big, gruff friend has passed on.

At the viewing with Jheng, Michael, and Mirasol. (Photo by Mich.)


General Community Quarantine

I've loaned the car to Jheng for the duration of GCQ: folks under 21 and over 60 are not allowed to drive about in the city. Jheng has run a couple of errands for me, and yesterday she drove Mariel, her cousin Mich, and me to the SM Mall. Jheng and Mariel's grandmother Lola Dana had been stopped and forbidden from entering the NE market recently; with one underager and one overager, we wanted to test the door vetting at the larger mall. Surprisingly, I was allowed in -- but Mariel was stopped and asked for ID. She said she had none and claimed to be 21; the woman in uniform told her she looked 11 (she is 18) and turned her away. Disappointment sundae with a humiliation cherry on top.

So Mariel waited in the car while Jheng and I entered the supermarket of the mall. Mich is now an "area manager" of the coffee/teashop Chatime, and went to the mall's Chatime to do an audit (we would drop her off at the WalterMart on the way home so that she she could do an audit at the Chatime there). Folks in uniform in the mall kept people moving in one-way aisles in the interest of social distancing. Free squirts of disinfectant were available everywhere. It's not surprising that Cab City is tighter on quarantine protocol than SJC; Cabanatuan has had two dozen confirmed cases of coronavirus, while throughout my stay in San Jose City, no cases were confirmed there.

Jheng makes desserts to sell, does her sizeable washes, and keeps her children occupied at the duplex during the day. I read, keep track of virus/protest news in the U.S., and prepare material for evening online tutorials here at the mansion. My landlords are very nice people, and as you can see from the photos above I have a good living arrangement. There is no hot water at the mansion, and I'm still washing my own clothes, but I've grown accustomed to these conditions over the last 2 1/2 months. And a cold-water bath is still a bath.

GCQ is likely to end July 1, or continue in an attenuated form which would allow hotels to reopen. The staff at Fred's, of course, would like to get back to full-time employment. As for me, well I wouldn't raise my nose at a return to hot water and laundry service.


Another Happy Landing

Checkpoints were not stopping vehicles yesterday. But a man in uniform did draw my attention to the fact that I was traveling illegally, after he asked me my age. This was at the entrance to the WalterMart in Talavera, where I had stopped to buy fruit for Mama Luz and goodies for Jheng and the children. I stuttered my way through an explanation that I had all my documentation; the man spoke with another fellow in uniform for more than a minute, then turned and took my temperature, gave me a crooked smile, and nodded me though.

Jheng, the children, Mama Luz, Lola Dana, and Mariel were at home when I pulled up at the duplex around 1pm. Just wonderful to see them all again after 75 days away! No social distancing a-tall! Won't go into a full description of the reunion and my feelings during it. I don't write mushy stuff.

Eventually Jheng and Mariel joined me to check out my new digs, which is a room in that house across from Fred's that I focused upon in an earlier blog entry, the house that has an addition under construction. The work that was stalled during the lockdown has begun again -- happy to say that in the 26-odd hours I've been here, no contruction noise has disturbed me in my room, though construction has certainly been going on. The house is owned by a lady who, on her daughter's phone, looks about my age; she is in England now; her daughter and her daughter's husband, along with their son and two daughters, are my housemates. About $18 dollars a day, electric and water included. I have my own fridge and a bathtub. No hot water. There are dogs all over the place (I like dogs, and these are all friendly).

Word got out in the neighborhood of Fred's that I was looking for a place to stay until Fred's reopened. I received two offers and chose this offer. I'm friends with the family and the workers already; seems to be another happy landing.

Importantly, download speeds are significantly faster here than in SJC: I meet with a trio of Chinese students tomorrow.

See the long window on the first floor, beyond the gate? My room's window.

Those workers depicted in a pre-San Jose City posting? My pals now.

Don-Don (behind the cement mixer) and his wife Aiza are my new landlords. The boy is their son Lang-John.


On Second Thought. . . .

Jheng has tales of waiting in ridiculously long lines for hours on end in order to get a government-issued piece of paper. And it struck me this morning that this first day of the "new quarantine order" would see hundreds of people descending on the two places I needed to visit in order to get travel papers. I texted to Larry that I thought I'd hold off till tomorrow and told him why; he felt this was a good decision.

Two days ago Larry and I traveled to another Academia family get-together, this time in the backyard of a massive house under construction. The house belongs to a registered nurse in the U.S. doing front line duty right now. She is, of course, an Academia.

P I C    D U M  P

Larry and Lori cultivate kalachuchi bonsai trees.

The raising of fighting cocks is a thing with certain members of Larry's family.

Here two birds, not wearing sharp metal gaffs, are set to spar for our entertainment.

No way to hold a cock.

Larry's policeman cousin Jun-Jun shows me how.

More beer, more pulutan.

Larry's lovely nieces.

No social distancing here. But hey, it's family. . . .

Back in Cab City, in addition to helping at the family market, Jheng is taking orders online for these dessert confections that she makes. Galing naman (good work)!


A Traveling Pass and a Health Certificate

I'll need the two items above to travel back to Cabanatuan; on Monday, with Larry's assistance, I'll go to the central police station to get the pass and city hall to get the certificate. Yes, Nueva Ecija, as well as Metro Manila, goes from ECQ to GCQ on June 1. Restrictions regarding travel will not be lifted, but they will be eased. I pored over the guidelines for both forms of quarantine and found one sticking point: folks under the age of 18 and over the age of 60 are still forbidden from traveling under GCQ. Hopefully, authorities will disregard this restriction when they see what a high-functioning 62 year old I am. (If this is one of those instances in which being American gives me an edge, I for once will not be irked.)

Larry, Lori, and I were invited by Larry's cousin Romeo to a party at his place on Wednesday and we had a fine time there. My buffet choices were spaghetti. chicken, green beans, and some small cakes made from glutinous rice. After dinner, the men sat around a table to drink the beer that Larry had brought and swap funny stories. Romeo will travel back to America in a couple of weeks, and so he is attracting a number of gatherings of family and friends these days. This man spent more than 30 years working in Alaska, Washington, and California; retired now, he spends two months in California with his grown children and their families, then flies to the Philippines for a three-month stay, then returns to California for two months, flies back to the Philippines for three months, and so on. He is a robust (and funny) 72 year old.

Romeo. That's "pulutan" on the table -- food one eats when one is drinking. I especially liked the fried tofu.

Larry had told me that Romeo was still looking for a renter for his house and had suggested that Jheng and the children could live with me there. This got me a bit excited. Romeo was asking P15,000 (about $300) a month, electricity and water covered. A/C on the second floor. A flurry of texting between Jheng and me revealed that this could not be worked out, however Mama Luz is finishing her 6-month regimen of meds for TB now and her lungs at the last checkup looked fine, but high blood pressure and diabetes continue to be serious problems for her, and Jheng does not want to leave her. Bring her along, I texted, then after a while learned that Luz would not leave James and Mariel alone. Ah, well.

                                  The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men                                                                                       Gang aft agley. . .

. . . so why should a spur-of-the-moment scheme succeed? At any rate, the quarantine folks would be more likely to bar Jheng's children from traveling to SJC than they would be to bar me from traveling to Cab City.

Two recent photos, a study in contrasts:

Interior of the WalterMart supermarket.

From my back porch: an incoming storm.

In Philippine news, President Duterte declared two days ago that school will not start up again until all students are vaccinated against COVID. This has put into a tizzy the educational establishment, which had been planning to restart school in August. (It looks as if Lara, Janiah, and Aaron may get the vacation of their wildest dreams.) China, whose expansion into the South China Sea is becoming increasingly provocative, has signed off on a $750 million loan to the Philippines to bolster the islands' pandemic response. And the government recently made clear that under GCQ restrictions on international travel will remain in effect (which has me wondering how Romeo was able to swing his trip). . . .

Wish me luck on Monday.


One Week to Go?

In addition to uniformed men, kindly medical ladies can be found at quarantine checkpoints.

Yesterday, some women at the quarantine checkpoint fashioned a temporary pass for me that I could flash at the bank, where I had some urgent business to attend to, and at the supermarket in town -- this despite it being an "off day" for barangay residents for travel into town. Went back this morning and asked a couple of them to pose with me for a snap. Listen, if I were confined to two descriptors of what I deemed to be qualities of the average Filipino, they would be "generous" and "kind."

My weeks of hand-washing laundry and taking cold-water showers may be coming to an end after June 1. That is the day scheduled for Nueva Ecija's switch from "Enhanced Quarantine" to "General Quarantine." Quarantine checkpoints will remain in place during GQ, but travel restrictions will be eased, and I should be able to drive back to Cabanatuan.

Hand-washing laundry is not as onerous as I expected it to be: every two days I wash two shirts, two pair of undertrow, one nightshirt, and a hankie; once a week I wash one pair of shorts. Each washing takes a little more than a half hour (and it's not as though my time is crowded here). Was rinsing twice, but then discovered that Jheng rinses three times, so I upped my game in the rinsing department. As for showering in cold water, it's nothing I will miss, but it does wake me up in the morning!

Back in Cabanatuan, Jheng is looking for a carpenter to make temporary or permanent repairs to the roof that was damaged in the storm. Hard afternoon rains make sneak appearances in the run-up to the rainy season, and the family's already had quite a bit of mopping up to do. What with the quarantine restrictions, of course, lining up someone to do the work and then getting the work done quickly are not easy tasks. Hoping she at least finds her guy today.





The morning after the storm, Philip and I walked across the street and collected windfallen green mangoes that weren't damaged. My collection was added to his: I know there are many ways to eat this fruit unripe, and that the health benefits of eating green mangoes can be found in long lists online, but they're just too tart for my taste.

The power had been down since about midnight, and would be down until well after sunset. I spent much of the day reading in the air-conditioned car, parked in front of Philip's establishment, once taking a ride up and down the Maharlika between checkpoints to scan for storm damage. One tree down closeby, and at the acacia tunnel many sizeable branches down. No building damage, as far as I could see.  Later that night I would learn from Jheng that the corrugated metal roof of the duplex was damaged and will have to be replaced.

Stories about flooding have not been in the news: the storm was a big rain-maker, but also fast-moving. In the days since the storm, thunder and downpours, in the afternoons and evenings, have occurred daily. Power is sporadic. I've learned the best positions for candles to read, eat, do laundry.

Shall I vent for a paragraph on American leadership? I think I will. With 5% of the world's population, the U.S has 30% of the world's cases of COVID-19. There's leadership. Oh, and we have a president who is afraid to lead or even steer a united response to the pandemic. This fellow has called himself a "stable genius" who is "unmatched in wisdom." An example of this unmatched wisdom: yesterday he questioned the importance of testing because "the more testing we do, the more cases there will be." His presumptive challenger Biden, unnimble both of foot and mind, is not instilling a whole lot of confidence in most folks who cringe at the idea of four more years of Trump, you ask me. You ask me, the situation looks pretty bleak.

I've voted for some Republicans in my lifetime. What the hell happened to this party?

Ashoka trees. Otherworldly giants.



After plenty of fiddling and diddling  (as Johnny Most might have said), the weather people seem pretty sure about what Ambo will do over Luzon later this afternoon and tonight. Our province of Nueva Ecija, encompassing both Cabanatuan and San Jose City, is bracing for several hours of rain falling at a clip approaching or exceeding 1 inch per hour. Two days ago the models pushed the track eastward, suggesting only a close brush of the storm with the province, but since that time they have nudged it again and again westward.

It will not be typhoon strength, in terms of wind, by the time it reaches this far inland; I'm concerned mainly about flooding at the duplex back in Cabanatuan. They are not in a flood-prone area, but 5-8 inches of rain is a real possibility over the next 24 hours -- and that kind of falling water brings flooding where flooding is rare. It's probably hoping for too much, but it would be fine if Jheng's little piece of Cab City and my little piece of SJC have electricity throughout the storm. I want to be in touch with folks there.

The quarantine? It is not being lifted or reduced in Nueva Ecija. A few hours after putting up the last posting, I learned that ECQ would give way to GCQ in all of Luzon except for Metro Manila. Immediately thereafter, word came down that the governor of Nueva Ecija was petitioning the central government to maintain the stricter form of quarantine in the province until June 1. Yesterday, the central government responded favorably to the petition, and here we are.

I may be able to get a travel permit and a medical certificate from city hall here in SJC; and the owner of the sari-sari store across from Fred's has agreed to put me up until Fred's reopens. But with this kind of quarantine in place, being 1 kilometer away from Jheng and her family is no better than being 50 kilometers away, or very little better. I can wire help to her, but I can't wire myself. As for the tutoring, it's doubtful that download speeds are very different between the two cities; I've emailed Cathy that I won't be available before June.

Hotels will not be able to reopen even after GCQ goes into effect in June; I'll accept Dona Cita's kind invitation then. 

It's 3pm and a steady rain is falling. The back of this is supposed to usher in a stream of thunderstorms. Into the murk.

Of the 20-odd species of palm in the Philippines, the coconut palm is by far the most common.

A green fibrous husk encases the hairy nut. Thanks to Jeff for teaching me about these!


Some Trees on My Morning Walk

The heat is on. Two of the last five days saw the temp reach 38C (100.4F); but three of the last five days had late-afternoon thunderstorms that washed much of the heat away. Feeling very tropical here. A rare May typhoon is forming to the west of Luzon. The Ventusky model right now has it pummeling southern Luzon before heading up the east side of the island Saturday into Sunday. The Philippine weather agency's model has it cutting the island in half, southeast to northwest. Inch-an-hour rain, anyone? "Ambo" is the Philippine name for this storm. The international designation is Vongfong. More on this, no doubt, at the end of the week.

President Duterte has not yet made his announcement concerning the easing of quarantine restrictions on Luzon beginning May 15. Hopefully later today we'll hear from him. I went into town a day early yesterday (a med needed refilling) and was a little surprised when I had no trouble getting through the checkpoint. Added Thousand Island dressing to my usual provision pick-up at WalterMart and later discovered that canned salmon with dollops of the dressing on whole grain bread makes for an excellent sandwich. Chatted with Larry, who feels sure that San Jose City will go from Enhanced Community Quarantine (lockdown) to General Quarantine on the 15th, though he has doubts about Cabanatuan. SJC has had zero confirmed cases of COVID-19, whereas Cab City has had about two dozen confirmed cases. Of interest: more than a third of this country's 81 provinces have remained COVID-free.

Mornings I get out and putter up and down the highway, as I've mentioned. This morning I took the little Sony clicker along and took pics of a few of the trees growing nearby, then looked them up online when I got back to my room. Here are some results:

The big mango tree across the street. Some grow to a height of more than 100 feet.

The narra tree is the country's national tree. They're all in bloom now.

Foxtail palms. Native to a small part of Australia, they serve as ornamentals across Southeast Asia and beyond.

A big old acacia.

There's a flame tree just beyond the checkpoint into town. Hard to miss when in bloom!


Tuesday Is Go-to-Town Day

Tuesday is the day marked for traveling on the quarantine passes of Barangay Santo Thomas residents; though I currently live in the barangay, I'm not a permanent resident and so cannot obtain a pass. So as I start the car and blast the a/c, I arrange my face into a kindly and beseeching expression which probably will not be noticed, what with the mask I'm expected to wear, and pull out the index card I prepared with the help of Google Translate.  

A shot of the checkpoint on the way home.

"I live in Barangay Santo Thomas but am not a permanent resident and cannot get a pass. I travel to town just once a week to buy food!" The checkpoint is just a couple of hundred yards up the road. Occasionally I'll get a look of consternation after the card is read; more often there are smiles, and one or two will try out their English on me, ask me questions about myself. The checkpoint hasn't once turned me back.

Their job is not an easy one: hours on end they spend in the heat of the day, fully uniformed, often making difficult judgment calls. I call out the most gracious thank you in Tagalog that I know of as they wave me on: "Maraming salamat, po!"

The McDonald's drive-thru in town opened during the week, so I pick up a double-cheeseburger, fries, and a coke, drive past San Jose Cathedral, and pull into the parking lot at WalterMart to enjoy lunch in the car. It's high summer on Luzon and temps are in the mid to high 90's F, so the engine and the a/c stay on.

San Jose Cathedral.


The policewoman checking quarantine passes at the door was wonderful after she read my index card: "I understand your situation, sir. Please go in!" After squirting my hands with the disinfectant they provide, I did. Grabbed a cart and started cruising the aisles with fellow masked shoppers. Cans of salmon, tuna, low-salt spam, corn, juice. They didn't have the jars of Greek cheese and olives I normally pick up; Philly cream cheese, then. Peanut butter and strawberry jam. Dark chocolate, oat cookies. Instant coffee, jasmine tea. Soap. Wait, what's that? The liquor ban has been lifted?

Beer, wine, and strong spirits can normally be bought in any supermarket on the island -- any 7-11, for that matter. Some group or individual in the central government had the bright idea, in the second week of the quarantine, that the encouragement of liquor bans in cities and provinces would help improve "public order." San Jose City quickly jumped on board, and for the last few weeks I've been availing myself of a couple of "under the counter operations" whose price mark-ups and air of skullduggery were getting a bit on my nerves. Now, the paper wrappings and signs were gone in WalterMart; bottles and cans were in the open. A supermarket worker, smiling behind his mask, affirmed that the ban had been lifted. So I lifted two bottles of Spanish gin off a shelf, smiling too, no doubt.

At Larry's there was headier elation. With the help of his elder son's savings he had bought an air conditioner! They had just taken it out of its box when I poked my head in at the screen door. A large majority of Filipinos live without a/c: the machines are expensive, the costs in electricity high. Larry told me this unit was very energy-efficient, costing only 2 pesos per hour to run, and I thought, thought mind you, that this was probably pie-in-the-sky salesperson malarky, but was very happy for Larry and his family. Many afternoons over the next month or two, before the rains start, will be brutally hot, and my friends in San Jose City now have relief from the heat.

Back at the a/c-less duplex in Cabanatuan, Jheng and the children are well. Jheng texted me that President Duterte will decide on May 10 whether to extend the quarantine past May 15, reduce the area of an extended quarantine, or lift the quarantine altogether. My download speed now prohibits me from even having one-on-one tutoring sessions. If the science says it's right to lift the quarantine at least for Nueva Ecija, I'll be happy.


Two More Weeks

Zumba cronies. (Selvesy by Mariel.)

Janiah's sores have crusted over, and she seems to be more comfortable than she was. Jheng has written to me of a "workout" the two pairs of female siblings had at Aunt Des's yesterday -- Mich, Marisol, Jheng and Mariel intend to make this a regular practice. And Fred's staff member Christian texted to inform me that Boudicca is well. I'm ready, no, antsy to return. But that blessed day, barring a further extension of the quarantine for these parts, is two weeks away. Metro Manila may get that further extension: it has more than 2/3 of the COVID-19 cases in the country, and while the curve upward of new cases is not a steep one, that flattening of the curve I thought I had noticed earlier proved to be illusory. The country today has 8,202 confirmed cases, or 75 per million of the population. Would like to see the curve for Central Luzon, the district that contains both Cabanatuan and San Jose City, but the data seem unavailable.


I take walks along the Maharlika south of here, yet still within the quarantine checkpoints that hem me in. It's a stretch of the highway that fronts the property of Central Luzon State University, whose agricultural school is among the best in the country. Here, for at least a kilometer on either side of the road, folks from the school planted acacia trees several decades ago, and trained the trees to bend over the Maharlika. So we have today an "acacia tunnel" delightfully convenient to the foreign transient looking for a shady place to walk! (Don't worry: I walk along the side of the highway; I stepped into the middle just to take the pic!) Some of the trees have trunks more than ten feet in circumference; I'll try to find someone who can tell me when they were planted.

The "akasya" (there are no c's in Tagalog) is hands down my favorite commonly growing tree on Luzon. It was first introduced from subtropical America in 1860, and seventeen species of it have colonized different parts of the island. It's crown is usually wider than the tree's height, but it's not a short tree; mature specimens are almost always both majestic and lovely.


A friend I made on my last walk. Yes, this was a short posting -- not a helluva lot is happening!


Quarantine Extended for Most of Luzon, Lovely Janiah Be-Poxed

Yep. The extreme southern tip of Luzon and all of Luzon north of the Baguio region will be welcomed to a "new normal" on May 1, while probably close to 90% of Luzon's population will have to endure a two-week extension of the quarantine. This decision was made by Duterte after several meetings with medical experts and consultations with provincial heads. Probably this is the right move. Unlike the orange man in the White House, Duterte is a planner and a thinker -- not a "go with my gut" kind of guy.  And unlike the orange man, Duterte seems wholly focused on the health and welfare of the people of his country. He doesn't scramble after chimera-like quick fixes or dwell on painting rosy pictures during public appearances. Of course the Philippines has a "one term and done" president -- Duterte doesn't even have an incentive to act like the orange man.

Yes, the Philippine president is too authoritarian for me, and many Filipinos; his directives during the ongoing drug war here may be crimes. But he is not petty, vindictive, or self-serving. He doesn't look for scapegoats He is a straight talker. I think the people here could do worse, in terms of leadership during a pandemic, than this guy. People in the U.S. could do a whole lot better than the orange man.

Social-distancing squares at Jollibee's

Houses facing Phillip's establishment across the Maharlika.

The numbers, the numbers. Today the Philippines has 6,981 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 462 deaths attributed to the virus. Total tests so far, 72,346 -- not nearly enough for a country with more than 100 million souls, but I understand a big boost in testing is underway. Case numbers have been advancing at a clip of 100-200 per day; there is evidence that this curve is flattening a bit, despite a small spike over the last two days (which may reflect the stepped-up testing).

Meanwhile, back in Cabanatuan, Janiah, Jheng's second child, has come down with what appears to be childhood shingles. She's had chickenpox already, and these do look like shingles sores. Dermatologists are not keeping office hours during the quarantine, and folks in Cabanatuan have been told to stay away from hospitals unless there is an emergency. Reader, if, based on the photo below, you have another possible diagnosis, please send it along: boan.song@gmail.com. There is no fever, but Janiah is miserable with itching and discomfort and can't sleep through the night. Jheng is treating the sores with calamine lotion.

At the rate she's going, Janiah will have had every affliction known to humankind by the time she gets married.

Turned 62 today, and have received some nice wishes via email and social media. I won't trouble the nice family downstairs with the information. Probably I'll drink a little more gin than usual. Have selected a Lovecraft-inspired (and schlocky, Rotten Tomatoes assures me) horror movie to watch in the evening.

Another three weeks of hermit-like living ahead. Must continue the early-morning walks: I ain't getting younger, after all.


Trip to Town

Had three errands to run and not a great deal of time, so decided to forgo the customary visit to Larry's. First to BDO bank to deposit a car payment. I had gone to BDO for the same purpose a few days back, only to find that the bank these quarantine days is open only in the morning. Got there before 11 and handed to the teller the "BDO account number" that Sherwin had sent to Jane. The number, it turns out, is not a BDO account number. First errand: failing grade.

Then I pulled into the Waltermart parking lot. At the door, temp check, hand squirt, and then a third thing I had not yet encountered: they asked me for my quarantine pass. Not being a permanent resident of Barangay Santo Thomas, where I currently live, the barangay leadership has not provided me with passes. I hemmed and hawed and apologized, and they finally let me in the door. Was surprised to see that Jollibee's was open for takeout orders before heading to the supermarket. The shelves were better stocked than they had been the last time I had visited Waltermart. Whole grain bread and oat cookies: there's my roughage, Jeff. Great selection of juices. Plenty of high-end cans of tuna. Dark chocolate. Pork and beans. On the way to the car I stopped and ordered two "Bacon Cheesy Yumburgers" at Jollibee's. Second errand: passing grade with bonus points.

Drove back to the center of town and found a parking space three doors down from Mercury Drug. Two mendicants encountered on my way to the pharmacy door received P100 each from me (what a way to live during COVID-19). The folks in the pharmacy had close to the amount of the two blood pressure meds I asked for and all the ranitidine I asked for. To this pill popper, Mercury is the best drugstore chain on the island. Third errand: passing grade.

Phillip and Joel provided me with a hot water maker; it's burping and fizzing now, and two bags of jasmine tea await their bath in my newly-bought mug. Still no word on whether or not the quarantine will be lifted at the end of April.

The folks at the duplex back in Cabanatuan seem to be well . . . .


Behind plastic. Pharmacists at Mercury Drug.


The Interior Life

Not much going on here, folks. I daresay that's probably the same where you are. The tutoring sputtered out after three consecutive disconnects. Then got resurrected (by the way, Happy Easter) when Cathy suggested dissolving the classes and holding one-on-one sessions only. The sessions are shorter and the Zoom connections are holding.

I know: I'm looking for larger face masks.

Once a week I go into town ("Kailangan kong bumili ng pagkain" gets me past the quarantine police) to buy provisions and to drop in on Larry and Lori. Lori picked up a flu bug a few days back, which must have freaked the family a little; it turned out to be merely flu. Larry is a stoic, confronts the entire quarantine experience with stoicism and dry humor. The household lacks any source of income during these days; I'm helping out in a small way.

During other days of the week, when I feel stir-crazy enough, I hop in the car, blast the a/c and the music, and drive up and down the 2 or 3 kms. between checkpoints on the Maharlika Highway. A small bakery and a sari-sari store are still open on this stretch of road, and sometimes I pull over, don the mask, and pick up a thing or two.

The ritual hand-washing takes place directly after I've been outside or downstairs, and once again I'm alone with my computer and my bunk beds. When I'm not preparing a session or with students, I text with people, play the online word game Lexulous, do research into various aspects of this global dumpster fire.

There is evidence that people with A blood are more likely to get the dangerous version of the disease, people with O blood less likely, and I found that interesting. I'm pretty certain I have O- blood; Jheng tells me that she and her mother have O blood, but the children all have A. I read about the various deficiencies in the U.S. government's response to the pandemic and look over the numbers -- the U.S.'s infection rate today, by the way, is 1,693 per million; that of the Philippines is 42 per million. (Jheng, we really don't have it bad here.)

I'm reading at the Gutenberg site right now Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year, an account of Londoners' last serious encounter with the bubonic plague in 1665. It killed one quarter of the city's population. Prohibitions in the city decreed by authorities at that time bear an eerie resemblance to the shutdowns and quarantines of today. Also, I'm reading a novel, one that was suggested by a teaching colleague at Leominster High: Patron Saints of Nothing. It arrived in the mail just before I left Cabanatuan; threw it in the bag before I left and have just recently started it -- the story of a young Filipino-American who returns to the Philippines to learn the details surrounding the death of his cousin, a casualty in the Duterte-inspired drug war. It's good, Danielle: thanks!

That's it for now, I guess. Sit tight, folks. Reflect. Take care.



Holed up and Holding up

I was eating canned tuna on crackers three days ago when I felt sudden pain in the back lower right of my mouth. The pain did not subside over the next two hours, so, after learning the words for "toothache" and "dentist" for the benefit of the quarantine police, I set out to find Larry for help in locating an open dentist's office. Larry and I drove around the city for an hour or so; dentists had either shut down their offices for the quarantine or for the weekend. One sign outside an office welcomed "emergency calls," and so Larry rang up a dentist who sent prescriptions for an antibiotic and a painkiller and told me to appear at the office Monday at 9 am. I woke up Sunday morning with no pain or swelling whatsoever, of course. Waited till afternoon for it to come back. It didn't. I texted Larry and asked him to cancel the appointment, feeling, not for the first time in the Philippines, like a tom-fool foreigner. Larry was good about it, told me to be sure to text him if the pain came back.

On another front, 50 or so kms. south of here, Jheng and all adults in the duplex back in Cabanatuan have hooked up with seafood, meat, and produce suppliers and set up a market outside their door. Business is good -- the opportunity they extend to folks to buy food away from the crowded supermarkets is a selling point, for sure. And the engagement of family members in productive activity, while so many in the city have little to do and nowhere to go, is an added bonus. Jheng hasn't said so in her texts, but I'm pretty sure Aunt Des was the main mover behind the market: that is a lady with entrepreneurial spirit.

Mirasol cleaning mussels.

I'm back in the saddle again (sort of) myself. Cathy, my go-to person for online tutoring, suggested that I try a session using only Word files and PDF files -- transitions are very slow, but so far there have been three full sessions without a disconnect. Fingers crossed: I too could use a renewal of productivity!

The president of the Philippines has extended the quarantine to the end of April. Not a hard choice, in my opinion. A vast quantity of test kits is starting to arrive from China, and the government here will know before long just how large a problem it has on its hands. Today's tally has 33 infected cases per million of the population -- a drop in the bucket compared to the U.S.'s 1,111/mil.

Rapidly increased testing may uncover an enormous amount of iceberg below the water's surface. But there have been no huge strains placed upon even Manila hospitals, no deluge of new cases. I suspect countries in the northern hemisphere will get a breather for much of the summer and some of the fall, before a second wave comes on. It just doesn't thrive in hot weather.

The second wave of the 1918 flu pandemic was far deadlier than the first. Scientists feel that the virus mutated into a deadlier form between the first and second waves; also, the demobilization of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers at the time ensured a very high spread rate. It was a "perfect storm," if you want to attach a modern-day sobriquet to it. Let's hope our second wave is more benign than the first. Let's also be sure to prepare for something more malignant, eh?

Find earlier posts on the 3rd Floor!