Philippine Island Times Adventures of an American expat in the Philippines

December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Filed under: General — Donald @ 11:42 am

SM Christmas 2008

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.

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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