Philippine Island Times Adventures of an American expat in the Philippines

May 31, 2007


Filed under: siquijor — lapulapu @ 11:19 am

My first night in Siquijor the moon was bright on the white beach and the air smelled of flowers. The new videoke was obviously proud of its sound system and its wailing could be heard for at least half a kilometer (I checked), but even that did not ruin the atmosphere. I was the only guest at the resort, which was not exactly open for normal business, and enjoyed a nice chat with the cousin of the manager. She had suggested that he drop by with his motorcycle just in case I needed a ride somewhere. Treasurer of the barangay, he worked on the books as we talked. At one point I noticed a chorus emerging in counterpoint to the videoke. My companion and I went to the road to watch as a procession of the local saints passed by. Many smiling children trailed along behind the adults, the girls walking hand in hand or arm in arm as they often do, and everyone singing in the local dialect. There are so many beautiful moments in Siquijor.

It was only when I was ready to call it a night that I realized I had no water. My companion the treasurer and I zoomed off on his motorbike to a sari-sari (general store). When we returned I asked how much I owed him. He just said “No” and seemed a little embarassed at the question. “The distance was very short. To ask something would not be good.”

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 28, 2007


Filed under: Cebu — lapulapu @ 2:33 pm

Carbon market is the largest in Cebu and it was hopping on Saturday morning.

Carbon Market Street Scene

Rain the night before had left the ground looking a bit like used motor oil.

Carbon market muck

The staples of the Filipino diet are dried fish, usually prepared by frying, and rice. Filipinos also do a lot of grilling.

Dried fish at Carbon market

Grilled fish at Carbon market

Chili peppers (sili) are not as widely used as I wish they were, but they’re available. The tiny limes are called calamansi.

Sili at Carbon market

These string beans were at least half a meter long.

Giant string beans

Seaweed washes in and is collected off the beach.


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

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

May 10, 2007

My Favorite Place

Filed under: General — lapulapu @ 2:11 pm

The Phlippines is a different planet. For me it is a far better one and I can’t wait to get back there; smiling faces, friendly girls, grilled fish, ripe mangoes, scuba dving, walks on the beach, and thunderstorms at night over the Mindanao Sea. I’ll post here from time to time for anyone who is interested. Until then, these are a few pics from previous trips. Click to enlarge.

Bohol Sea from Salag Do-Ong
Bohol Sea from the lookout point near Salag Do-Ong beach, Siquijor.

Loboc River, Bohol
The bamboo bridge over the Loboc River, Bohol makes for a fun walk if you jump up and down a bit.

In the dry season these things turn brown, so they call them the Chocolate Hills. I’ve read explanations of how they were formed, but I think they’re all just made-up. Bohol.

Sandugan Beach
The beach in front of one of my favorite little spots, Kiwi Dive Resort, Sandugan, Siquijor.

Sanny with tuba
It’s time for tuba! Tuba is palm sap wine, made daily.

Filipino kids love to have their pictures taken. This lot was in Dauin, Oriental Negros.

Virlanie kids
Virlanie takes in kids off the street in Makati. I spent an afternoon visiting them.

Staff at El Dorado, Dauin, Negros
When I was not learning how to dive at the El Dorado Beach Resort I was learning a little Cebuano from the staff. Dauin, Oriental Negros, south of Dumaguete.

Coco Grove Staff
I also had a long stay at the Coco Gove Beach Resort in Tubod, Siquijor.

Sandugan foragers
These guys are looking for sea urchins. I’m told they are a good source of iodine (the urchins, that is).

Sunsets in the Philippines are amazing. Sandugan beach, Siquijor.

Sandugan boats

Sandugan beach sunset


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