Philippine Island Times Adventures of an American expat in the Philippines

September 23, 2008

People of Palawan

Filed under: General — Donald @ 9:16 am

At Aniceto’s Pension

The gracious gentleman who runs Aniceto’s Pension, named after his mother, belongs to one of the oldest families in Puerto Princesa. At the end of my second week here, his little nephew calls me “kapatid” (brother). I am invited to spend Christmas and New Years with his family.

Friends for an afternoon of music

Puerto is growing quickly and many residents are from neighboring regions of the country. This guy, originally from Manila, settled here after riding his guitar around the world. He has a great voice, as does his daughter who recently won a national competition. They run a sari-sari (convenience store) from the front of their house and their side yard is open to guests who buy beer and rum and snacks and sit around talking and singing along with the owner. The place is informal and without a name at the moment. Tell the tricycle driver to take you to Citra Mina, across the street.

Palawan pearl

This young lady sells native items including the famous Palawan pearls. She strung these small ones into some nice jewelry and was kind enough to model for me. Her ready smile despite working 12 hours per day with one day off per month says a lot. Originally from Cebu. I could not resist buying the necklace, bracelet, and earrings set for $6.


Had a nice conversation with the owner of a furniture business one afternoon. Her assistant was busy sanding.

Saint Matthews Episcopal Church Puerto Princesa

I was surprised to find an Episcopal church here. According to the rector, the famous “commandment” of their bishop was, “Thou shalt not set altar against altar,” so Episcopal parishes were only established in regions not fully served by the Catholic church. The result is that the more remote the region, the more likely one is to find Episcopalians. Palawan is remote enough in itself, but this congregation is composed entirely of immigrants from the mountains of northern Luzon. They were very welcoming to me and in fact I spent my last evening in Puerto Princesa with one of the families, but generally speaking, highlanders are more reserved and “hard” than the happy-go-lucky residents of the coast. Millenia in the cold, wet, typhoon-battered northern mountains, warring with neighboring tribes over scarce land and livestock, may help to explain that. The day I first visited St. Matthew’s was very rainy and when the time came to start the service, the rector was a bit embarrassed to note that, besides his own family, I was the only person there. He takes “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am also” to mean that a service cannot begin until at least two laypeople show up, so we waited for a while and talked. When another parishioner did arrive, they decided that since half of the lay congregants were American they would hold the service in English. Families who came even later may have been a bit confused, but I suppose the white guy up front explained the situation well enough.

My time in Palawan is up. Off to Cebu.

September 17, 2008

Via Crucis

Filed under: General — Donald @ 5:59 pm

Materials: nails, blood, sweat

Filipinos identify strongly with Christ crucified. When devotees in San Fernando, Pampanga commemorate the Passion on Good Friday, one of the penitents is nailed hands and feet to a cross.


Christianity was brought to the Philippines by Spain, which subjugated the islands for about 300 years. Filipino revolutionaries were jubilant when the Americans drove the Spanish out in 1898, until the American guns turned against them. Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos, most of them civilians, died in the Filipino-American war. Next the Japanese came, subjecting the population to cruelty that some elders here still cannot forgive. Again the people were grateful when American military power drove out their oppressors, never mind that American bombing destroyed nearly every major structure in Manila in the process. Filipinos officially gained independence in 1946. Power and wealth remain concentrated in the hands of a few dozen families, however, while for the average Filipino each day is a struggle for existence.


Natural disasters accompany the man-made ones; typhoons and the flooding and mudslides that they bring, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions like the enormous one of Mt. Pinatubo that finally drove the American Air Force from their base at Clark in 1991. The following April, in the ash and lahar, the people of San Fernando observed Good Friday in their traditional way.

[Photos from Museo ng Sining, Manila. The cleaning girl is singing very sweetly downstairs as I write this.]

August 21, 2008

Advice for moving to the Philippines

Filed under: General — Donald @ 1:23 pm

1. You do not have enough strapping tape.
2. You got more? Lots more? Great. You do not have enough strapping tape.
3. You counted boxes, measured the dimensions of each, and got twice as much as you calculate you need? Should have done that the first time, Homer, but better late than never. Oh, and you do not have enough strapping tape.
4. You just spent an additional $100 buying every large roll of strapping tape in stock at the store? Ok, now you have enough.
5. Your strapping tape sucks. It is the kind that always tears along the axis filaments, twists on itself, and forces you to fling huge sticky balls of it at everything in sight. Did you buy it at Wal-mart? Of course Walmart strapping tape sucks. Oh, I see, you bought it at the UPS Store. UPS Store strapping tape sucks. It does come in large sticky rolls though.
6. You are in hell. To escape you must 1) admit that you are in hell 2) admit that you will do anything to escape and 3) start completely over and buy at least five times as much as you calculate you will need of Scotch Extreme Application Packaging Tape. You must buy exactly this tape. Working with this tape will calm you down more than a triple bourbon. Yes, 100 proof single cask, not 80 proof ragwater. Trust me on this. I know tape and strong drink.

June 25, 2007


Filed under: General — lapulapu @ 2:31 pm

The next week or so I’ll be doing a little research project and probably won’t have time to post. My new camera died anyway. The Canon zoom lens and image stabilization system take nice shots even in shaky hands like mine, but maybe they don’t stand up so well to sand and salt spray. Who would have guessed.


June 21, 2007

I need a good sauce

Filed under: General — lapulapu @ 3:48 pm

Dumaguete Wiring


I cannot get a decent shave with cold water. My 5:00 shadow is a total eclipse.

The smell of burning rubbish.

Being surrounded by crowing cocks 18 hours per day. They are fairly quiet from about 9:00 at night to 3:00 a.m., so if you’re a foreigner in a typical rural village you’d better learn to sleep then. Filipinos seem not to hear them.

The piercing bark of a small dog tied to a coconut tree. People here are known to eat them sometimes, and there is one in particular that I would just love to prepare as a snack. When my mind wanders, which is most of the time, I find myself imagining him on a spit. I would stuff the cavity with onion and tomato. Hopefully they are just fattening him up.

Mosquitoes, though they are not as bad as I expected them to be, unless the bathroom has a dripping shower head.

Being asked to sing at karaoke, which I cannot do.

Listening to others sing at karaoke, which usually they cannot do.

Great investment ideas. (“I know a sure way to make a million in the Philippines. Start with two million!”)

The long con.


The fragrance of kalachuchi at night.

Watching my neighbors forage in the still evening sea, lighting their way by pushing ahead of them a tiny raft of candles.

So often being invited to join in when nearby Filipinos are eating and I am not, and the fact that they accept “yes” or “no” with equal grace.

Children splashing naked at the beach.

The soft sounds of Visayan.

The warmth and frequency of Filipino smiles.

Honor and delicadessa.


Wak wak (witches). They keep the number of Siquijor tourists in bounds.

Being looked after as though I were one of the family, and being given space because I am not.

The sun setting over the Mindanao Sea behind the dark Cuernos de Negros.

June 19, 2007

Dear Bob

Filed under: General — lapulapu @ 10:40 am

I hope you and yours are well and enjoying a fine Michigan summer.

Occasions such as this one call for pen and paper, but since the Philippine post relies largely on bamboo outriggers, trained dolphins, and fate, I am deferring to practicality.

My current island of residence, Siquijor, is famous for witchcraft, and it has hold on me for good. Unless Jill says that getting at my 403B will require a gun, next year will be my last at H. A few weeks ago I sent Fritz a draft of an ad for my replacement. He seemed to think it was fine. I believe the earliest deadline for running it in August is July 3.

Thursday I plan to make an expedition deep into the mountains in search of Juan Ponce. Though he is very old now, he is still acknowledged to be the most powerful sorcerer in the Philippines. My friends assure me that one of his temporary antidotes will allow me to make an escape back to the US for the next academic year, but the price may be high. Do you perhaps have a little Whalen or Kalthoff to spare?

See you in August.


June 12, 2007

Family Values

Filed under: General — lapulapu @ 9:29 am

Magellan’s cross

Family is everything in the Philippines. It is normal for older children, particularly ate, the eldest female child, to sacrifice their youth for the sake of those younger still.

Carbon market kids, Cebu

I couldn’t even say how many Filipinas in their 20s I’ve spoken with who were working ten hours a day, six days a week, fifty-one weeks a year, earning a hundred dollars a month and sending half of their salary home to put siblings through school. It seems impossible until you learn how they manage.

Overlooking Carbon market, Cebu

Times Square, Cebu

Not long ago a friend and I were walking through the old, interesting part of Cebu when I remarked that a nearby hotel looked like a good deal at 500 pesos (about $11) per night. Her reply: “Still very expensive. That is what I pay for one month.” She shares a room with six others.

Carbon market cock

Some families here are doing quite nicely, though. A few dozen of them get to run the country, and according to the Asia Times, the top 15 control more than half of GDP. One family alone controls about a fifth of the market capitalization of the Philippine Stock Exchange, which is currently roaring thanks to a huge improvement in the fiscal situation following the implementation of a 12 percent national sales tax.

May 29, 2007


Filed under: General — lapulapu @ 10:45 am

The vendor’s face was like the surface of the moon, but I did not see why that should disqualify him from selling balut. “How much are they?” “12 pesos.” So far so good. I don’t know what balut should cost on the boulevard in Dumaguete on a summer’s evening, but I could afford to be taken for a quarter.

“When did you cook them?” “At home.”

“Yes, but when?” “Today, of course.”

I suppose you can tell when a hard-boiled duck embryo has gone off, but I thought I’d ask anyway.

“How many days?” “Fifteen. You want fifteen?”

“Are there others?” “Yes, of course. Fifteen, eighteen, twenty…”

“Give me eighteen.” “No. Eighteen has feathers already.”

“Good. Eighteen.”

The eggs were in a plastic pail with a cloth wrapped around them. I think there is a procedure, a little ritual, for eating these things, but the vendor was preoccupied and not interested in telling me what it was. When I asked how to do it he just cracked the egg open at the fat end and pointed to a container of coarse salt. My balut was still very warm, almost too hot to eat.

I picked the shell away and slurped out the juice. Not bad. It wasn’t difficult to get at the would-be chick. At eighteen days gestation the white has mostly become duck, so the shell comes away cleanly. Not sure what to do next, I just gave the little guy a good pinch of salt and tossed him back whole. Hmm. Where’s the slight crunch of beak? The feathery weirdness? I chewed and chewed waiting for some dawn of recognition, but I guess my palate is unrefined, or maybe I was given a fifteen day after all. There was lots more liquid than I expected, but the dominant texture was from the bit of remaining egg white at the bottom, which was quite hard and chewy. Being kind of dense myself I was actually a little surprised to find that the taste was mostly just egg yolk in savory broth. The only unpleasantness was at having the juices all over me when I was finished. I squeegeed my chin with my fingers and licked myself clean like a cat.

May 26, 2007

Tempting Fate

Filed under: General — lapulapu @ 9:01 am

Turo Turo in Cebu

There are millions of little sidewalk restaurants like this in every town in the Philippines. In Tagalog they’re called “turo turo”, meaning “point point”. Often the dishes are one each of fish, chicken, pork, and beef, along with a vegetarian item or two like eggplant or monggo soup (mung beans, my favorite). At some the food is pretty good and you can always eat plenty for 60 cents or so plus drinks. I never really had any digestive trouble here to begin with, and after a few months in the country I seem to be able to eat almost anything. In one particularly unthinking 24 hour period a few days ago I ate kinilaw (raw fish) late in the evening at a fiesta and drank a lot of tap water and got off scot-free. God really does watch out for fools.

I occasionally joke about the various minor dangers in the Phils. Yesterday I came across another: all you can eat (or as they say here, “eat all you can”) pizza and all you can drink beer at Ratsky’s in the Ayala Center for about $3.30. That would lead to my slow but certain demise if I lived in Cebu. Ate a bit healthier last night at a little Thai and Vietnamese place just across the way from Rasky’s called Lemon Grass. They go inexplicably light on the fish sauce, but it was still pretty good.

The evening ended at Jazz and Blues near the Castle Peak Hotel. They began with slightly popped-up jazz standards then moved into slightly jazzed-up pop. Some of the ballads were charming, and I enjoyed the house band’s cover of Oye Como Va a lot, but things got a little strange toward the end when a male vocalist who seemed to be charicaturing Vegas impersonators took over. Skin-tight long-sleeved ornamented white shirt, shiny black bell-bottoms, Wayne-Newton hair, and Elvis moves, all times-two and played completely straight. He got the place moving, with many of Cebu’s most beautiful people hitting the dance floor to Cha-cha.

I’m off now to Sto. Nino, the most famous church in Cebu, to confess having enjoyed that.

May 21, 2007

Death and Death Wishes

Filed under: General — lapulapu @ 6:59 am

Most of what I know about Santa Catalina comes from news articles about skirmishes between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, rowdy offshoot of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Recalling those stories made our brief participation in a funeral procession there yesterday particularly thought provoking.

Funeral procession, Santa Catalina

Upon approaching the bus to board a couple of hours earlier I had been stopped by the driver. He asked a series of pointed questions before allowing me to proceed. “You want to go to Bayawan?”, he began with a skeptical squint. “Why do you want to go there?” “Who recommended?” “What was his name?” A few months ago a Governor’s assistant told me she thought that half of the Americans on her island were CIA. It probably doesn’t help that on this trip I’m carrying my laptop in a brushed aluminum Zero Halliburton case. He did let me on, though, and the trip passed uneventfully. By the time we arrived we had become friendly and he helped me get a ride to the hotel.

Bayawan is in the sugar cane growing region of western Negros. It is said to have the longest oceanfront boulevard in the country, long enough that even with every family in town eating barbeque there on Sunday evening it is peaceful and uncrowded.

Bayawan Beach

The street itself is, apart from Roxas Boulevard in Manila, the only four-lane, median-divided thoroughfare I remember seeing in the Philippines, which is pretty interesting since Bayawan is sparsely populated and most of the large vehicles are bicycles with sidecars. The town is charming and clean and seems fairly prosperous at the moment. Sugar prices must be ok. I didn’t find the people there quite as friendly as in other Philippine communities I’ve visited, though, replicating my experience on a previous excursion into sugar country. In several hours of walking I never saw another foreigner, and judging from the low level of English proficiency in the shops, that was no fluke. My guess is people might warm a bit if I spent more time there, but that isn’t going to happen on this trip. I’ve been burning the candle at both ends since my arrival and really needed some sleep last night. One of these guys camped outside my room made sleep impossible, and I don’t know of another aircon hotel in town.

Fighting Cock

I’m beginning to understand the appeal of watching fighting cocks rip one another to shreds. Tonight I’m back in Dumaguete, which has a nice boulevard of its own.

Rizal Boulevard, Dumaguete

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