Philippine Island Times Adventures of an American expat in the Philippines

September 29, 2009

High and Dry

Filed under: siquijor — Donald @ 5:05 pm

I’ve gotten a few emails from people asking about the flooding, so I thought I’d post here to let everyone know things are fine in Siquijor. Manila’s lousy drainage system is chronically plugged with the plastic wrappers and other junk everyone just tosses into the streets, so it floods every year at this time. Saturday they had about 13 inches of rain in six hours and lots of people died.

I had to go to Dumaguete Friday to get money and fix a visa problem. Ferries were canceled the next day, but that was just a little inconvenience. I caught the first one Sunday for a slightly wild return trip.

Tuesday I leave for Mindanao where I am scheduled to speak at a peace symposium. People keep telling me that there are two more typhoons on the way, but I know they are lying. Even Ondoy (the preferred Filipino tag) was only a tropical storm.

September 8, 2009

Party Time

Filed under: siquijor — Donald @ 1:03 pm

Bugwas is the biggest festival of the year in my municipality of San Juan, Siquijor. It lasts a few days, with live bands every night, plenty of sugba sugba (“grill grill”) in the park, a beauty contest, a basketball tournament, and everyone’s favorite event, street dancing.

The municipality celebrated its fiesta later in the week. Families prepare huge feasts that traditionally are open to anyone who ventures in, but that are attended mostly by family and friends. A good time was had by all, except for the pigs.

I added one of those to my neighbor’s offerings (above). A good friend (below) is about to carve into another at his family’s place. He’s heard that the tradition of having lots of people over to eat an entire pig at a sitting was developed years ago due to the lack of refrigeration. I did my part to prevent pork spoilage at four houses that day.

My friend above had a birthday party for his daughter two days later.

I forgot to take a camera to the next event, a great birthday bash thrown by the owners of Coral Cay, just down from my house.

On my first trip to the Philippines I stayed a couple of weeks at El Dorado Beach Resort on the neighboring island of Negros and learned to dive. Some of the staff there, including the girls left and right below, became my first friends (yes, just friends) in the country.

Last weekend the one on the left was in the Miss Dauin pageant, so I made a return visit to cheer. She won Miss Photogenic and Miss Congeniality, which seems about right. The girl in the center is Miss Philippines Earth. She came to judge and was also staying at the resort.

Back to work until my little neighborhood has its own fiesta on October 7. I need a break.

May 22, 2009

New Home Starts

Filed under: siquijor — Donald @ 12:45 pm

When I returned from Cebu I found that my landlady had begun construction on a cottage in my backyard. No more view to the sea. Having a beachfront place to rent out has always been her dream, though, so I was happy for her. I was less happy to hear that she had financed it at 3.5% per month and was planning to cut down the biggest tree in her yard for lumber.

While having my coffee the next morning I heard the workers pass by. Seemed a little odd that they were starting before 4:00 a.m. with only the moonlight to see by, but then I remembered them digging in the hot sun the previous afternoon and I thought I understood. I didn’t. My landlady later explained that “there is a traditional way to build a house.” The workers had come before sunrise to place in the new excavation some hair, a few old coins, and blood. The hollow blocks they build with around here literally crumble in your hands, so maybe it’s not a bad idea.

April 16, 2009

Let’s Eat

Filed under: siquijor — Donald @ 12:43 pm


Philippine custom is that if it is your birthday, you throw the party. My plan for a simple little gathering spun so out of control that after two days of shopping I ended up with a hundred pound pig, four big fish, five chickens, three cases of beer, two cases of rum, and a live band. Part of the idea was to give a little back to the community, but my neighbors ended up doing most of the work.

All I did with the pig was pick her out of a back yard pen a few houses down. These guys took care of everything else.

Lechon Masters

Women friends came hours early to help me clean and set up. They attended to the other guests, danced up a storm, and stayed until every dish was washed.

The Welcoming Committee

Bebe, my landlady, neighbor, and best friend in the islands

One patiently explained while mincing a couple dozen heads of garlic, “It is hard for a man to do these things.”

February 27, 2009

Gimme Piso

Filed under: siquijor — Donald @ 8:10 am

Allied Bank Siquijor

I hoped never to know about the vital signs of banks. That’s a luxury I can’t afford anymore, so lately I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time on the Philippine Stock Exchange website reading disclosures of capital adequacy and non-performing loan ratios, returns on assets, and other stuff the accountants made up. The result is a couple of bank accounts that will allow me to diversify my currency exposure and finally begin losing pesos just like everything else. A dollar buys a lot of local coin right now, but that may change after the current panic abates and the Philippines elects a new President next year. Good a time to move in as any. Fortunately, the security procedures at my bank here on the island are very reassuring.

Bank Notice

January 6, 2009

Stormy Weather

Filed under: siquijor — Donald @ 12:24 pm


[Written January 4, 2008; posting delayed by tropical depression]

In my neighborhood we usually get no warning at all of nearby typhoons. A couple of months ago we did and people diligently began making preparations. When I checked the internet I found that the system had already passed and was heading for China.

It began raining hard here a few days ago. New Year’s Eve it poured. I was at home with a fever so it didn’t matter much to me, but it put a damper on the last big night of holiday celebrations for my neighbors. In days since, the sun has not shone and the winds have picked up. I guess that means another unannounced system is passing to the north. Unusual weather for January; maybe the sea has stayed warm late this season. Not good for the many Filipinos who have been visiting family and will be taking ferries this weekend back to wherever they work. Foreign tourists will also be seasick, but at least their ferries probably won’t sink.

I’m anxious for my friends who are traveling today, but mostly I’m sad for a girl just up the road. Last year she was valedictorian of the best high school in the area. Unfortunately, her family could not afford to send her on to college. That seems to have precipitated a depression which ended on New Year’s Day, when she hanged herself. She had been working for a household on a neighboring island since the time I arrived in Siquijor and I had not heard about her before. She was only home for the holidays.

Tuition at Siquijor State College is about 6000 pesos per semester. Students need about another 500 pesos per week to cover room and board and transportation to visit their families on weekends. At the current rate of exchange, that works out to an all-inclusive total of about $350 US per semester. Silliman University, the best school in the region and one of the top five or so in the country, runs about $1,000 US per semester. There are others in between. A couple of you have already asked me to let you know of good kids you could help with school. For you and anyone else who might be interested, I’ll do what I can to find out about them.

December 18, 2008


Filed under: siquijor — Donald @ 4:08 pm


The Visayan region of the Philippines is famous for music, and Christmas involves a lot of caroling. Every day people come to my front porch to sing. Sometimes its just a couple of kids, sometimes a family, sometimes an entire band. These photos are of the premier caroling group in the barangay (neighborhood).

Siquijor carolers

The lady in front with the wire rimmed glasses is my “helper”. Every Thursday she cleans my house, rakes my yard, and washes my clothes. The gentleman in the white tank in back lives next door. He’s the brother of my landlady and a great cook.

Caroling instruments

These guys catch a lot of fish for the village. Their ensemble included a stand-up bass that was held like a guitar, two actual guitars, and two banjos.

Carolers banjo bass

The banjos were the oldest I’ve ever seen, probably from the American colonial era.

Banjo caroler

They did a truly beautiful old Visayan song. I’m told that just twenty years ago people got together to play and sing them regularly. Evening entertainment now is mostly TV (one channel) and highly-amplified American pop karaoke. One of my neighbors even treats us to Kenny Rogers songs in the morning. Every morning. Not much middle ground here.

November 25, 2008

Freud in the Philippines

Filed under: siquijor — Donald @ 8:25 am

Long ago, at just about this time year, I was invited by a high school friend to go quail hunting on his farm. The November sky was a soft gray that I’ve always loved against the brown earth and tan corn stalks. At first I was excited with anticipation, but after walking fence rows for a couple of hours my mind moved on to other things. When we finally did scare up a covey I was so startled I couldn’t decide which one to shoot and ended up missing them all. Traumatic events have a way of recurring, and when this one does, I intend to correct it.

On a manifestly and latently related note, I met this week a guy who introduced himself as special operative in charge of security throughout the island; a Captain of some sort. We had a nice chat looking out over Lazi Bay and he invited me to his home for a few shots of “ginseng wine”, which turned out to be the local brandy with a ginseng root stuffed into the bottle. Amazingly the root continues to grow, sending out so many tendrils that after a few months the entire volume is filled. My new friend spoke very highly of the manly virtues of this concoction and promised to prepare a bottle especially for me if I returned a few days later, which of course I did. When I arrived he was cleaning his assault rifle and 9mm. Now he’s invited me to target practice with the head of the armed forces and the Governor. Excellent prep for the recurrence, I think. Those guys must have bagged lots of quail.

November 7, 2008

Akong Balay

Filed under: siquijor — Donald @ 5:10 pm


My House

I have an obsessive mind and for all my last year in Michigan it was obsessing on the Philippines. Even when I was in class saying things I didn’t really understand about the hippocampus it wandered off to my favorite places, like the long, white beach in Solangon, Siquijor. The pics here are of a house I just leased on that beach. At the moment the owner is living in a nearby resort where she is the caretaker. Her mother is away in Manila. One dark, moonless night I slipped in the back door and before they found me out I had squatter’s rights. The place is not yet finished, which is perfect since bare concrete and no ceiling is exactly what I can afford.





This is the mother’s bedroom when she’s here, which she might just be in April and May. The family offered to move her elsewhere but I couldn’t do it Probably we’ll both regret that.


The garbage disposal system is highly redundant and will have wonderfully crunchy brown skin come fiesta time.


These guys keep the bugs down and fertilize the sandy soil. I’m told that stepping in chicken dung negates the effects of the local love potions; easy excuse when I strike out.


This is a standard Filipino comfort room. You flush the toilet buy dumping water from the bucket.


It’s about eighty meters down to the beach. That has advantages over being right on the sea; salt spray is simply evil for electronics (one reason this update has been so long in coming), and the house probably won’t flood next typhoon season.




Fishermen live within a few dozen meters on either side. Premium varieties are scarce here, but people get smaller ones and squid fresh off the boat.


I’ve spent many hours looking at Apo Island. The Shedd Aquarium in Chicago has a reef modeled on one at Apo.



Plenty of cold beer in the fridge. Last one here’s a balut.


October 19, 2008

Paradise Eaten

Filed under: siquijor — Donald @ 7:40 am

Coral Cay Beach

Siquijor is the most beautiful place I have ever been. Only thirty years ago there were basically no paved roads or septic systems and no electricity. All of those things are more-or-less in place now, but much of the natural beauty of the island remains. The beaches are white, and thanks to the surrounding islands and reef, the sea on the west coast where I come to enjoy sunsets is usually very still. Everything seems hushed here. Siquijodnons speak softly. At this time of year it rains almost every night, but the days are usually sunny with a warm, clear light that reminds me a little bit of Taos, New Mexico. Moonlight on the beach is otherworldly. It is no mystery why people think this island is full of magic.

I spent most of last Wednesday on a motorcycle scouting out places to live. It was fun but tiring, so I settled in for a couple of beers at the resort in the evening. The guy next to me was also tired, having spent the last month marching through the mountains with a geologist from Manila. He is chief financial officer of a mining company that is in the process of making claims on tens of thousands of hectares of land. They plan to take from it gold, copper, and manganese.

Siquijor is said to be south of the typhoon belt, but one passed unusually close this year. It accompanied a high tide, resulting in a storm surge that damaged much of the coast. The beach is still littered with rotting vegetation some months later. During heavy rains, the water from the mountains runs brown with soil. Last Sunday a strong rain caused the downhill side of two new bridges to collapse and filled the market with three feet of water. No one I have talked with remembers such a thing happening before.

That night I saw the rain coming to Siquijor from a restaurant perch on the neighboring island of Negros. Seated at the next table was a well-dressed older gentleman with an upper-class Filipina companion. When he overheard me talking with the waiter about my favorite place, he took an interest and I told him what I knew. Then he told me what he knew. He had never been to Siquijor, so nothing about that, but he had been in and out of the Philippines for many years, beginning in the time of martial law under Marcos. Always he was head of one investment bank or another, most notably Citigroup Asia. We talked finance. He told me about shooting down Michael Milken when Milken tried to sell his company junk bonds, before the scandal broke and Milken went to prison. He told me about his testimony before Congress regarding the savings and loan crisis, and about how in recent years big boys on Wall Street gamed the system to make bundles of risky mortgages seem riskless, setting off the current crisis. From his descriptions it seemed that in every case disaster was foreseeable and could have been prevented by appropriate regulation and oversight. Instead, the government failed to protect the citizenry, allowing the richest of the rich to walk away with billions and to leave taxpayers with the bill.

Coral Cay Ref

As we looked out over the sea to Siquijor I asked him if things would get any worse this time around. His reply? “You haven’t seen anything yet.”

The next day the S&P was up 11%.

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