Philippine Island Times Adventures of an American expat in the Philippines

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%.

October 10, 2008

Going South

Filed under: Cebu — Donald @ 1:25 pm

Self Portrait

After leaving Cebu city I scouted the southwest coast of the island for places to live; south to avoid direct hits by the frequent typhoons, west for sunset views. Cebu is one of the most developed provinces in the country, so it holds for me the attraction of a reliable electrical supply. The beaches in the southwest are few and mostly rocky, but still there are some pleasant spots.

Southwest Cebu Shoreline


The only good sand I found was at the famous White Beach in Moalboal.

White Beach, Moalboal

Ginatilan is a particularly nice town. The market lies behind a Spanish wall.

Ginatilan Gate

The little park by the light tower would be pleasant except that it lacks shade, rendering it uninhabitable for most of the day. That is a bizarrely common characteristic of Filipino public spaces.

Ginatilan Park

In Malabuyoc I came across this gentleman playing a harp he had made. Cebu is famous for musical instruments.

Malabuyoc harpist

Another onlooker invited me to his home for lunch and we have become friends. In the provinces many people retain traditional Filipino values such as hospitality, values from which those in the cities have largely been liberated.

My lunch on another occasion was grits (“maize rice”) from this pot.

Grits pot

Now I’m in Dumaguete, one of my old haunts and a very nice town. Plenty of shade along the boulevard here. In my never-ending attempt to drive down expenses I tried out the Vintage Inn near the market.

Vintage Inn Fan Room Window

The view through the window didn’t bother me much, but the fact that the concrete walls kept my room sweltering did. Fan-only joints are best made from bamboo. Nothing like that is available in Dumaguete, so I decided to give myself a little vacation and checked into the new Ildesefa Suites Inn.

Idesefia Suites Inn

Even my cratering budget can handle a long weekend at fourteen bucks a night from time to time. International travel is a different story. My return ticket expired on Wednesday and I renewed my Philippine visa on Thursday. Kita ta unya, amigos. (See you later. Much, much later.)

September 30, 2008


Filed under: Cebu — Donald @ 11:46 am


My trip to the Lingap Center, a children’s home, began with a long taxi ride to the southern terminal in Cebu during the morning rush. The weather was good, so the next leg of the trip, two hours on a second class bus with no window glass, was very pleasant.


The driver said he knew the Center and would drop me nearby. His friend sitting alongside was getting off at the same spot and would guide me the rest of the way. After walking up a long hill well off of the highway we arrived, not at Lingap, but at his home. He gave tours of the area and would be happy to show me around after he ate. “You wait”, he said, disappearing into the house.

When I got back to the highway I found a tricycle driver who would take me the rest of the way.

“How much?”

Pause… squint… “Nine pesos” (18 cents). The look was bad but the price was about right, so I got in the sidecar. We just sat there.

“When do we go?”

“We wait more passenger. Need three.” Ok, that’s a common practice and fair enough.

A middle aged woman and a young mother with her small child joined us. One sat in the back compartment of the sidecar and the other sat on the seat behind the driver. He still did not take off, which told me what the deal now would be. I’d seen it many times. We would wait until we got as many people onto the tricycle as humanly possible at 9 pesos a head or I would be charged an exorbitant fee for a “special ride.”

“You said three. Let’s go.”

“You pay, we go now. Fifty pesos.”

“No. Nine.”

We waited and eventually another woman with her child arrived. He told her to sit with me. The sidecars in Toledo have by far the smallest seats I have seen in the Philippines. My little compartment was less than two feet wide, two feet deep, and four feet tall.


“You pay for two. Eighteen.”

“Not possible for two here.”

“You pay eighteen.”

“Nine for me and nine for the crocodiles?”

Eventually the woman and child and I all squeezed in together like a circus act. Normally the driver would be laughing his ass off at this point, but the look on my face kept the smile off of his. By the time we arrived at the Center I was not in the right frame of mind to be surrounded by 82 kids. They were still at school, though, and a nice chat with the staff calmed me right down.

Lingap, founded by an American who lives near the place I used to work, takes in street children in the Toledo area of Cebu. Most of them are from families so poor that the children must basically support themselves. Instead of going to school they scavenge for food and things they can sell as scrap. By doing this they earn about 15 pesos (30 cents) per day. Some sleep on the street. Some are orphans. Some eventually drift into worse and more profitable ways of making a living.

Toledo street kids


Most are referred to Lingap by social services. Others are drawn in by an outreach program. Every afternoon staff members go to the plaza and teach the children there as best they can. To entice them they offer snacks when the lessons are complete. The children are encouraged to come and live in the Center and attend school, but many will not, usually because they do not want to give up their income.


Lingap provides the kids who do come a very nice place to live, the attention of great houseparents and social workers, tutoring in the evening, and even private school tuition for those who excel academically.


Our lunch was typical Filipino fare; lots of rice, some adobo (a small piece of very fatty pork cooked in soy sauce and garlic), and a banana.


The kids help to prepare the food, they wash their own dishes and clothes, and they help to keep the center clean. All in all they seem to do well.


After lunch they sang some songs for me.


September 26, 2008

My Side of the Tracks

Filed under: Cebu — Donald @ 7:42 pm

My new neighbor

“Where you going?”, the taxi driver asked.

“Kukuk’s Nest.”

“Why you staying there?” (incredulously).

“It is the cheapest place in Cebu.”

“Yes. It is a cowboy hotel.”

That’s about right, if you switch out the horses for motorcycles. Kukuk’s Nest, in heart of the Philippines’ second-largest city, is the most interesting pension I’ve found since I mistakenly booked a room in a Tijuana brothel a few years back. A Filipina friend was mortified when I told her that guys with tattoos sit around shirtless in the 24 hour outdoor bar, which is often filled with smoke from the neighboring chicken grill.

Kukuk’s tat guy

Kukuks bar

(Next to the grill is a tat parlor. Unlike in the US, where every 12 year old girl has a hissing cobra stamped on her ass, tattoos are still rare in the Philippines.)

The place is decorated with some pretty crazy pieces, a mix of contemporary and cubist and Gauguinesque.

Kukuk’s “fish”

Despite obvious challenges, the resident artist does good stuff.

Kukuk’s Artist

Filipino, Indonesian, and Thai food from the kitchen is tasty, the beer is very cold, and instead of the usual pop treacle they play Neil Young. My fan-only room is in a big old house out back.

Kukuk’s Nest House

Kukuk’s Double Room

In fact, it is only the second cheapest in town. The smaller one was booked.

September 23, 2008

People of Palawan

Filed under: General — Donald @ 9:16 am

At Aniceto’s Pension

The gracious gentleman who runs Aniceto’s Pension, named after his mother, belongs to one of the oldest families in Puerto Princesa. At the end of my second week here, his little nephew calls me “kapatid” (brother). I am invited to spend Christmas and New Years with his family.

Friends for an afternoon of music

Puerto is growing quickly and many residents are from neighboring regions of the country. This guy, originally from Manila, settled here after riding his guitar around the world. He has a great voice, as does his daughter who recently won a national competition. They run a sari-sari (convenience store) from the front of their house and their side yard is open to guests who buy beer and rum and snacks and sit around talking and singing along with the owner. The place is informal and without a name at the moment. Tell the tricycle driver to take you to Citra Mina, across the street.

Palawan pearl

This young lady sells native items including the famous Palawan pearls. She strung these small ones into some nice jewelry and was kind enough to model for me. Her ready smile despite working 12 hours per day with one day off per month says a lot. Originally from Cebu. I could not resist buying the necklace, bracelet, and earrings set for $6.


Had a nice conversation with the owner of a furniture business one afternoon. Her assistant was busy sanding.

Saint Matthews Episcopal Church Puerto Princesa

I was surprised to find an Episcopal church here. According to the rector, the famous “commandment” of their bishop was, “Thou shalt not set altar against altar,” so Episcopal parishes were only established in regions not fully served by the Catholic church. The result is that the more remote the region, the more likely one is to find Episcopalians. Palawan is remote enough in itself, but this congregation is composed entirely of immigrants from the mountains of northern Luzon. They were very welcoming to me and in fact I spent my last evening in Puerto Princesa with one of the families, but generally speaking, highlanders are more reserved and “hard” than the happy-go-lucky residents of the coast. Millenia in the cold, wet, typhoon-battered northern mountains, warring with neighboring tribes over scarce land and livestock, may help to explain that. The day I first visited St. Matthew’s was very rainy and when the time came to start the service, the rector was a bit embarrassed to note that, besides his own family, I was the only person there. He takes “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am also” to mean that a service cannot begin until at least two laypeople show up, so we waited for a while and talked. When another parishioner did arrive, they decided that since half of the lay congregants were American they would hold the service in English. Families who came even later may have been a bit confused, but I suppose the white guy up front explained the situation well enough.

My time in Palawan is up. Off to Cebu.

September 17, 2008

Via Crucis

Filed under: General — Donald @ 5:59 pm

Materials: nails, blood, sweat

Filipinos identify strongly with Christ crucified. When devotees in San Fernando, Pampanga commemorate the Passion on Good Friday, one of the penitents is nailed hands and feet to a cross.


Christianity was brought to the Philippines by Spain, which subjugated the islands for about 300 years. Filipino revolutionaries were jubilant when the Americans drove the Spanish out in 1898, until the American guns turned against them. Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos, most of them civilians, died in the Filipino-American war. Next the Japanese came, subjecting the population to cruelty that some elders here still cannot forgive. Again the people were grateful when American military power drove out their oppressors, never mind that American bombing destroyed nearly every major structure in Manila in the process. Filipinos officially gained independence in 1946. Power and wealth remain concentrated in the hands of a few dozen families, however, while for the average Filipino each day is a struggle for existence.


Natural disasters accompany the man-made ones; typhoons and the flooding and mudslides that they bring, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions like the enormous one of Mt. Pinatubo that finally drove the American Air Force from their base at Clark in 1991. The following April, in the ash and lahar, the people of San Fernando observed Good Friday in their traditional way.

[Photos from Museo ng Sining, Manila. The cleaning girl is singing very sweetly downstairs as I write this.]

September 14, 2008

And then she said…

Filed under: Palawan — Donald @ 4:43 pm

Puerto girls

“Give me five peso.”

September 13, 2008


Filed under: Palawan — Donald @ 3:41 pm

Aniceto’s Pension rooftop 1

One of the things I like best about Aniceto’s Pension is the view from the rooftop.

Aniceto’s Pension rooftop 2
It also has great places to sit and write.

Aniceto’s Pension 3rd floor lounge

Today I visited the neighborhood near the lighthouse (parola).

Parola girl

There is a little resort where cottages built over the sea can be rented for a day of lounging and swimming.

Parola cottage

Add on a room and the cottage becomes a home.

Parola house

Kids here love to play on bancas.

Parola banca

Maybe that’s why they can scamper around them so well in rough seas when they grow up. Hard to imagine just how well unless you’ve seen it.

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

Powered by WordPress