Philippine Island Times Adventures of an American expat in the Philippines

December 15, 2009

Aswang Attack

Filed under: General — Donald @ 11:53 am

One of my neighbors reported that two men were attacked by an aswang last week inside their home just a few kilometers from where I live. The aswang entered the house as a cat and then turned into a dog and attacked. Neighbors heard strange screams coming from the house, like those of a goat. They came to investigate and saw the aswang briefly take human form before becoming a bird and flying away. One victim is dead and the other is in the provincial hospital with lacerations to the shoulder area.

She says this is the first time she remembers hearing of anyone in San Juan dying from an aswang attack. Last year she witnessed an attack herself, but the victim was only a goat. On that occasion, late at night, she heard a goat screaming outside her house and went to find out what was wrong. With her flashlight she saw what appeared to be a dog attacking the goat and she fought the dog off with rocks. It was apparent that the attack had really been by an aswang because the goat had only a small puncture wound, but under the skin there was a large cavity. Aswangs normally bite and then suck the insides out of their victims. She also found a dead chicken with its guts eaten out. The meaty flesh was intact.

To ward off aswangs, she carries a bottle of herbal oil, touching a bit of it to her neck whenever she hears something suspicious. She also stuffs the many holes in the sides of her house with ginger and salt, so that an aswang’s tongue cannot slip through.

[This was hottest aswang story I’d come across so I put my neighbor in the truck and tried to track down the witnesses. Many people had heard the story, but in every neighborhood we checked, people said it happened in some other one. My neighbor friend was shamed that the story didn’t pan out. Very bad idea to bring her along for the investigation.]

October 2, 2009

I Smell Wet Dog

Filed under: General — Donald @ 8:16 pm

This time there really is a wolf. Filipinos tend to call every circular storm a “typhoon”, but Pepeng (“Parma” to most of the world) is the genuine beast, and with some very sharp teeth. Reports vary, but all put the maximum sustained winds somewhere between 200 and 300 kph (134-196 mph). Some say it will be stronger than Katrina and maybe the strongest storm ever recorded in the Philippines. The path is again well north of us here in Siquijor, and north of Manila too, but it will drag in lots more rain there, and they cannot handle it. One of my friends was in Manila yesterday looking for her missing sister. She found her safe at home, up on the roof, where she has been for days. Pepeng is forecast to weaken as it makes landfall in Luzon, but also to slow its westward progression and linger for a while. People are evacuating countless towns on the coast, below dams and volcanoes and steep hills (to avoid the inevitable mudslides), and on and on. Even after the water goes down there will be lots of illness among people who waded for days through waist high sewage and who will be eaten by mosquitoes for weeks. This is dengue fever season too.

None of those problems for me personally. My symposium in Mindanao has been postponed until November and our fiesta here in Solangon is coming up next Wednesday. Streamers are flapping wildly across the main street (maybe the other one too; I haven’t been up the mountain today) and I hear music blaring from our outdoor basketball court, announcing tonight’s disco. Filipinos don’t cancel many parties.

August 4, 2009

Balik balik

Filed under: General — Donald @ 5:20 pm

I have not been eaten, though I did run into some hungry looking guys at the Festival of San Juan.

Here are some of the reasons I haven’t posted in a long time.

1. Internet is appalling these days. It takes forever and half of the time something goes so badly sideways that I lose everything. This time of year is worse than usual because of the weather. A tropical storm or typhoon passes nearby every ten days or so, knocks out the power, and ruins the cell signal. Recently it was dark and rainy for six days straight.

2. Two fevers and a bout of food poisoning. The last fever gave me a good beating. It broke a week ago but I’m still weak and dizzy (more than usual even).

3. Haven’t been doing much fun stuff to tell stories about.

4. Spending lots of time on volunteer projects. One was a series of training seminars for local science teachers. (Another seminar speaker informed the assembled that one of the big problems with climate change is that it will cause Jupiter and some lesser bodies to leave their orbits and elicit a solar event that will destroy all life on earth. It’s worse than I thought.) Another is helping the Rotary Club, which is doing lots of great things like improving water supplies to elementary schools. Here is a pic of the current water supply at one of them:

When the kids use the toilet, they fill the bottle with water and carry it a long way so they can flush and wash up a bit. The school hosts over 400 kids and the kids host countless parasites.

5. I don’t like anything I write. The descriptions of volunteer stuff are unseemly and the other stuff is whiny.

This morning I visited a special ed school to check on a little girl with cerebral palsy. For the first time in her life she is walking around (with help from adults). Walking makes her face shine like the sun; she just loves it. Her treatments cost a whopping $5 a month. I’m a happy guy.

(“Balik” means “return.”)

May 22, 2009

The Great Leap Forward

Filed under: General — Donald @ 12:39 pm

I’ve spent way too much time over the past few months figuring out the nuts and bolts of living here. One big issue is transportation. Tricycles are available at the road in front of my house, but the wait can be over an hour and they only run during daytime. My landlady rents me her motorcycle for fifty cents an hour, but it’s not always available, and riding on an island with lots of dogs and no good hospital is a risky proposition. It’s unusual for a month to pass without hearing of a motorcyclist being killed on Siquijor. Finally I went to Cebu and forked over big money ($3500) for a little truck.

These things are made by Suzuki, the motorcycle company, for the Japanese home market. Once they get too old to pass emissions tests there they are chopped up and sold. Filipinos buy the parts and put them back together in great numbers. It’s a 4×4 with high- and low-range gear ratios and a locking differential. The engine has only three cylinders and a tiny 660cc displacement, but after giving it a workout, I’d bet that with the right tires this truck would climb a tree. (One of my tires is mounted backwards, by the way. Not a country where you can expect perfection.) A couple of removable benches under the canopy will seat four Kanos or six Filipinos.

No nook or cranny of Siquijor is safe from my advances.

February 18, 2009


Filed under: General — Donald @ 7:35 am

Computer Build

I was changing clothes for a night on the town when I saw the face in my window. Other foreigners in my neighborhood had been hit by burglars in recent weeks and I was expecting a visit, but it still shocked me, especially with my pants literally down. I should have just taken a very good look at the guy so I could identify him, but I was too angry to be clever, so I yelled instead. He didn’t move from his perch atop the motorcycle parked under my bedroom window; he just kept scanning the room for things to steal. It was only when I yelled a second time using more graphic vocabulary that he scampered off toward the beach.

My landlady was very good about it, agreeing to beef up security for my bedroom so that I would have a place for valuables. That meant it would be a construction area for a while, so I headed for Dumaguete to do some shopping and blow off some steam. Having my privacy invaded wasn’t the worst thing that had happened that week, but it was the final straw.

Well, not really. You can pile as many straws as you like on a broken camel. One wafted gently down when I finally found out just how waterproof a Zero Halliburton laptop case is (and isn’t). I decided on a desktop replacement because they’re so much cheaper, especially over the long run. The cheapest computer shop I could find in Dumaguete, and the busiest, is Ace Logic. They build their own systems and I offered to buy one if 1) I could watch the technician put it together and 2) he would watch me take it apart and put it back together again. No anti-static wristbands or dust-free assembly areas in that back room. Seeing my sweat drip into the case sometime in the third hour temporarily re-traumatized me, but the new beast works great.

I’ve been back in Siquijor for a week or so now. While I was out for a Valentine’s drink the burglars came back. They entered through the window over the kitchen sink, as I had told my landlady they would. Stuff was messed around a bit, but they never got into the hardened area, and nothing seems to be missing. If they come back again while I’m out and do manage to get into my bedroom they’ll be in for more disappointment. Best if no one knows just why.

January 30, 2009

Debtor’s Prison

Filed under: General — Donald @ 8:53 am


The matriarch of one of the families in my neighborhood is in the hospital following a stroke. She had brain surgery and her bill is enormous. Hospitals here normally will not release a patient until everything is paid in full, but this family can use quite a bit of titled land as collateral, so they have to pay only the doctor’s fee at this time. It’s a small fraction of the total, but still amounts to about 1000 times the typical Filipino daily wage. One member of the family has a good, steady job, so she was able to secure loans at 3.5-5.0 percent per month, but they were not sufficient to cover the bill. Bit of a jam. That is how I almost got into the mango business.

The deal is called a prenda. The owners of a property borrow money against it. Until their debt is paid, the lender enjoys full use of the property, including in this case the harvest from about 60 mango trees. Unfortunately, the plantation is on the mountain, about 1 km from the nearest road, and it has no water supply. Mangoes need water. Boys will haul 5 gallon containers up there for about 10 cents each, but it still isn’t feasible. In the end I learned a lot about mangoes from the island’s top expert, but could not make it work. I believe the family was able to secure yet another loan at some ungodly rate and bring their loved one home.

Sparing the details, I’ve also been exploring rice and coconuts. I like coconuts because they just hang there and grow no matter what. My kind of crop. Occasionally they fall and kill people, but in my opinion we should not jump to hasty conclusions about that.

At the moment I’m in Dumaguete trying to find a good Java programmer that I can hook up with a friend in the States. Once that is wrapped up I plan to avoid business matters like the plague and relax for a while. February is the nicest month of the year here. March starts to get hot, and God willing I will get a lot of swimming and exploring done before then.

January 11, 2009

Ako Pinoy

Filed under: General — Donald @ 7:23 am


Recently I fixed the fan in my cheap hotel room by stripping the wire with my teeth and using my underwear to establish the contact. My lawyer says the photo documentation of that maneuver qualifies me for citizenship. I am Filipino!

December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Filed under: General — Donald @ 11:42 am

SM Christmas 2008

December 10, 2008

Scut Monkey*

Filed under: General — Donald @ 7:43 am


The ice picks in my face had to go. I had waited two weeks for my cold to pass, which it seemed to be doing until a couple of days ago when it got worse again with a vengeance. Time to consider seeing a doctor. One of my guiding axioms is that people are basically incompetent; you’d better know enough to check their work. That goes for docs like anyone else and doubly for docs in places like the Philippines. Everything I read made it seem very likely that I had a bacterial sinus infection and that a penicillin-class antibiotic and a non-drying decongestant were the appropriate first line treatments, so I decided to bypass the doc entirely and self-medicate. With self service you get what you pay for.

The antibiotic was no problem. In the Philippines any primate with a few pesos and a simple lexicon can walk out of a pharmacy with amoxicillin. Pseudoephedrine is a different story. The three pharmacies I tried told me 1) we normally carry it but it is currently out of stock 2) it has been phased out and is no longer available 3) it requires a prescription. This affirms a corollary to the axiom of incompetence: If one person doesn’t tell you what you want to hear, ask someone else. Eventually I gave up and got a different, less effective alternative. The meth (shabu) labs seem to have cornered the market on the good stuff. I also picked up some acetaminophen by asking for paracetamol, as I had learned to do on an earlier expedition. Not only the brands but the generic names of medicines are often different here, which can be trying. On a related note: If you’re ever in a Philippine pharmacy, resist the inclination to approach the youngest and cutest girl behind the counter. Her older and dowdier colleague is much more likely to understand what you want, medication-wise.

The final step in my treatment plan is getting out of the city and back to some fresh air. Next bus pulls out in two hours.

*Newbie med student.

December 1, 2008


Filed under: General — Donald @ 7:05 am


Alan was American, about 50, from Colorado where he owned a small construction business. The combination of slim, fit look and expensive Ray Bans said Boulder. He had been coming to the Philippines for years and sometimes taught diving.

“Where you staying?”

I hate that question, but he wasn’t a girl and seemed straight, so I told him.


“What room?”

Christ. Never even heard that one before.

“I don’t remember. Up there”, I said, waving vaguely.

“C”. The girl behind the bar was trying to be helpful.

“C?” His voice was instantly dry.

“Yeah, C.”


Alan became tense. He leaned across the chair between us but then glanced at the barmaid and said nothing. Finally he switched seats and whispered, “You will hear things. L is worse. Not as bad as L, but things happen there.”

“What do you mean?” Pending financial maneuvers compelled me to carry a lot of cash, cash that I could not trust to the “safety” deposit. I didn’t need bad news.

“Girls crying outside your door, scratching…children crying…voices. I woke up there one night and the voices were in my room.”

Great. C was the cheapest room in the cheapest pension in a huge, festering Philippine metropolis. Because I had to be in town for quite a while to sort out some business matters that had become convoluted and treacherous it was about all I could afford. Conveniently, it was also the last place anyone would look for a guy like me. I had stayed in a better wing of the pension before and like Alan I had heard girls crying outside my door at night, but I did not want them in my room.

“Seemed ok to me, except it was filthy. I cleaned for an hour.”

“The girls won’t go in. Only if there are three of them; one in the room, one in the hall, one in the CR.”

“This used to be my home base. Room L. But one time I had to travel for a couple of days and when I got back there was a whole city in there. I found 30 or 40 people in my room.”

“Motorcycles. They had motorcycles. I tried to get out but I couldn’t. Tried for two hours, but they kept pulling me back in.” The look of terror in Alan’s eyes was one I had seen before.

“They slaughtered a cow in there. And the worst thing about the motorcycles, they had an iron bar. It was welded across the back…ten men chained to it. Their hands were tied.”

The barmaid had drifted off a bit and her gaze was turned away. Alan and I talked for another twenty minutes or so before someone else took a seat nearby and distracted him.

That was this afternoon. It’s late now and Alan has just shown up at the bar again. I’m off to bed, in C.

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