Philippine Island Times Adventures of an American expat in the Philippines

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

February 18, 2009


Filed under: General — Donald @ 7:35 am

Computer Build

I was changing clothes for a night on the town when I saw the face in my window. Other foreigners in my neighborhood had been hit by burglars in recent weeks and I was expecting a visit, but it still shocked me, especially with my pants literally down. I should have just taken a very good look at the guy so I could identify him, but I was too angry to be clever, so I yelled instead. He didn’t move from his perch atop the motorcycle parked under my bedroom window; he just kept scanning the room for things to steal. It was only when I yelled a second time using more graphic vocabulary that he scampered off toward the beach.

My landlady was very good about it, agreeing to beef up security for my bedroom so that I would have a place for valuables. That meant it would be a construction area for a while, so I headed for Dumaguete to do some shopping and blow off some steam. Having my privacy invaded wasn’t the worst thing that had happened that week, but it was the final straw.

Well, not really. You can pile as many straws as you like on a broken camel. One wafted gently down when I finally found out just how waterproof a Zero Halliburton laptop case is (and isn’t). I decided on a desktop replacement because they’re so much cheaper, especially over the long run. The cheapest computer shop I could find in Dumaguete, and the busiest, is Ace Logic. They build their own systems and I offered to buy one if 1) I could watch the technician put it together and 2) he would watch me take it apart and put it back together again. No anti-static wristbands or dust-free assembly areas in that back room. Seeing my sweat drip into the case sometime in the third hour temporarily re-traumatized me, but the new beast works great.

I’ve been back in Siquijor for a week or so now. While I was out for a Valentine’s drink the burglars came back. They entered through the window over the kitchen sink, as I had told my landlady they would. Stuff was messed around a bit, but they never got into the hardened area, and nothing seems to be missing. If they come back again while I’m out and do manage to get into my bedroom they’ll be in for more disappointment. Best if no one knows just why.

January 30, 2009

Debtor’s Prison

Filed under: General — Donald @ 8:53 am


The matriarch of one of the families in my neighborhood is in the hospital following a stroke. She had brain surgery and her bill is enormous. Hospitals here normally will not release a patient until everything is paid in full, but this family can use quite a bit of titled land as collateral, so they have to pay only the doctor’s fee at this time. It’s a small fraction of the total, but still amounts to about 1000 times the typical Filipino daily wage. One member of the family has a good, steady job, so she was able to secure loans at 3.5-5.0 percent per month, but they were not sufficient to cover the bill. Bit of a jam. That is how I almost got into the mango business.

The deal is called a prenda. The owners of a property borrow money against it. Until their debt is paid, the lender enjoys full use of the property, including in this case the harvest from about 60 mango trees. Unfortunately, the plantation is on the mountain, about 1 km from the nearest road, and it has no water supply. Mangoes need water. Boys will haul 5 gallon containers up there for about 10 cents each, but it still isn’t feasible. In the end I learned a lot about mangoes from the island’s top expert, but could not make it work. I believe the family was able to secure yet another loan at some ungodly rate and bring their loved one home.

Sparing the details, I’ve also been exploring rice and coconuts. I like coconuts because they just hang there and grow no matter what. My kind of crop. Occasionally they fall and kill people, but in my opinion we should not jump to hasty conclusions about that.

At the moment I’m in Dumaguete trying to find a good Java programmer that I can hook up with a friend in the States. Once that is wrapped up I plan to avoid business matters like the plague and relax for a while. February is the nicest month of the year here. March starts to get hot, and God willing I will get a lot of swimming and exploring done before then.

January 11, 2009

Ako Pinoy

Filed under: General — Donald @ 7:23 am


Recently I fixed the fan in my cheap hotel room by stripping the wire with my teeth and using my underwear to establish the contact. My lawyer says the photo documentation of that maneuver qualifies me for citizenship. I am Filipino!

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 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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