Philippine Island Times Adventures of an American expat in the Philippines

August 31, 2008

A Poke in the Eye

Filed under: Manila — Donald @ 12:24 pm

Filipinos love malls; roaming around them window-shopping is a favorite pastime. At the moment they are particularly proud of the SM Mall of Asia, the largest in this part of the world, and a city all its own.

SM Mall of Asia 1

SM Mall of Asia 2

Some of the architecture actually has a bit of appeal, and I enjoyed a decent seafood risotto on a terrace overlooking the bay. As mall experiences go for me, that’s top notch. Usually the only things I like are the aircon and cheap steamed dumplings. Consumerist orgies and bourgeois pretenses at style make me nauseous, and when it comes to actual shopping, I’d prefer a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. But getting outfitted for the move to the province is one of the reasons for my stay in Manila, so shopping it has been these days. My major purchase is this cell phone, a Nokia 6120 Classic.

Nokia 6120

I’d hoped it would provide decent internet access in the hinterlands, but no dice. Everything is painfully slow and clunky even in Manila where I’m supposedly getting a strong 3G signal; good for only the smallest jobs and transactions that I won’t want to do on a public machine. Still, the organizer is very useful, and the sound from mp3s on the 2 gig card is remarkably good. The camera is awful (I took the mall pics above with it), but of course it does have the advantage of always being there for unexpected occasions. Should have snapped a few shots last night at the Cafe Havana; great live Latin music and dancing and tasty mojitos. Life isn’t all a poke in the eye. Cuba libre!

August 26, 2008

On the Hoof

Filed under: Manila — Donald @ 7:05 pm

Manila sidewalk trap

Manila sidewalk swamp

The streets of Manila can be treacherous; oddly-placed poles and their support wires, bizarre concrete outcroppings, the occasional unmarked pit that seems to descend straight to hell, vendors and café tables occupying many of the decent spots, and unpredictable traffic when you make the inevitable decision to walk in the street. My favorite sidewalk feature is the Kano trap; a deep hole that has been covered by some concerned soul with thin plywood. After a few weeks in the rain the wood is barely strong enough to support the natives; a guy like me is bound to be first to fall through. You quickly learn to watch where you walk.

I have been walking a lot lately trying to get to know my new neighborhoods, Ermita and Malate, and looking for the best deal on a hotel. The Victoria was intriguing; they are a short-time place but I negotiated a good daily rate. Maybe it is low season even on love.

Hotel Victoria Manila

In the end, the blocks between there and my hangouts looked excessively risky even to my poor judgment, so I gave it a pass. Searching all day led me to conclude that the deal I’m getting at the Cherry Blossoms is about as good as any.

My last couple of weeks in the US were a little stressful. There were great visits with friends and family, but most of the time I was prepping the move, which took about three times as long as expected. Boarding the plane was supposed to be my moment of great relief, but of course it wasn’t. The racks were full and my only piece of luggage would have to be checked at the gate. With a hasty connection coming up in Detroit, that looked very bad. It was. Security in Nagoya became alarmed when they discovered my luggage tag blowing around the cargo hold with no bag attached. Fortunately the bag contained nothing important, just three months worth of prescription meds, contact lenses, personal checks, and all of my clothing. Even more fortunately, Nagoya has one of the best-run airports in the world, and with characteristic efficiency the staff found my lost bag, brought it to the gate for me to identify, apologized for the inconvenience, and let me carry it on the plane. Welcome to Japan.

Since I was seated toward the front of the 747 and now had no checked luggage I was able to beat the rush to immigration and customs as planned. I cleared both in a total of about five minutes, putting me on the street to begin the celebratory carousing shortly after midnight. The next day I slept for 14 hours straight; a record for me and a good sign, I think. My lucky streak continued that night at the poker table where a crew of partying Aussies kindly funded a few days of my stay. Manila’s dark streets look even darker with a few extra pesos in your pocket, so I flagged a cab home. It took only three reminders to get him to turn on the meter.

May 19, 2007


Filed under: Manila — lapulapu @ 11:45 pm

Roxas Boulevard, the main freeway into Manila, was busy at 1:00 a.m.. The minivan in front of us cut off a motorcycle and came to a stop on a two-lane entrance ramp. When the hatch popped open people poured out into traffic; lots of people, like from one of those little cars in the circus. The Philippines I know and love.

The 26 hour trip went fine and after a quick shower I took a little stroll. Santa Monica Street was dark and smelled of urine, but it brought me to Pedro Gil, center of seedy nightlife in Ermita. I stopped in for dinner at a tiny little Indian/Pakistani joint called, I believe it was, “Stop In”. Big cities are not my favorites; I prefer quiet little villages on the beach. It is really nice, though, to order mutton curry at two in the morning, and for some reason I find it soothing to hear people around me speaking languages I don’t understand. It offers a sense of human contact without the information processing load.

Perdices Street Dumaguete

First on the agenda after traveling to Dumaguete was a seafood feast at one of my favorite restaurants, Lab As (“fresh”). A research colleague and I had bouillabaisse, a spectacular kinilaw (raw fish in vinegar, chiles, ginger, onion), and fish balls in onion and garlic, along with the usual rice and San Miguel Light beer. They were hosting a writer’s workshop that evening so we were regaled with poetry and folksy music. Our research is on relations between Christians and Muslims, which have gotten a little testy in the southern Philippines in recent centuries. I’ll spend the next couple of weeks trying to figure out how to approach that topic without getting myself into too much trouble. My colleague’s brother ran for mayor in last week’s election and his home was shot at only once, so I’m not too concerned.

Karaoke bars, on the other hand, can be truly dangerous and require wise policies.

Why Not? firearms policy

I was happy this one was in place when, my last night in town on a previous trip, a couple of girls forced me to sing “Leaving on a Jet Plane”. It probably saved my life.

Yesterday morning began with a walk through barangay Lo-oc, near the pier in Dumaguete. (The barangay is the local political unit. This usage of the word, which refers to the type of boat the original settlers arrived in, was instituted by Marcos in preference to “barrio”.) Had a coke with my new friend William, who was intent on introducing me to the young lady peering shyly out from the store.

William Lo-oc Dumaguete

Thanks to the American influence Filipinos play more basketball than soccer. Practically every barangay has a court, which serves as a meeting place and often as a dance floor on Saturday night.

Lo-oc Basketball court

Nothing says “Supper time!” like sun-dried eel.

Eels Drying Sun dried eels

The asian economic miracle hasn’t quite reached Lo-oc yet.

“Welcome Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army.”

Kabulakan, a flower festival, is underway in Dumaguete. Haven’t seen many flowers yet, but there was plenty of grilled meat in the park last night. Grilling is big in the Phils. Just one more reason I belong here.

Festival grill

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