Thursday, September 16, 2010

My First Trip to the Philippines, Day 12

Day 12

I love big cities. I especially love seeing big cities in other countries that I’ve only ever read about or seen in movies, TV shows, books or magazines, so I was eagerly anticipating doing a little sightseeing around Manila today and even more so because Tita Conchita and Tito Willy were born and raised here so who better to have as tour guides? Unfortunately, this being the rainy season, we were not able to see as much as I’d hoped. Instead, we spent just about the whole day at…wait for it…the mall. But that was still pretty cool believe it or not, at least at first (more about that later). After 10 days in the provinces, it was nice to spend a day in a big, modern city with all its conveniences. First stop? The coffee shop for an espresso of course. Starbucks and Starbucks-type coffeehouses have gotten very popular in Asia over the past few years and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more Starbucks in Asia than in the US these days (As Conchita says). They’re just everywhere. I remember going to Thailand a few years back and it wasn’t uncommon to see two Starbucks right across the street from each other. Same with Hong Kong. I personally hate Starbucks so I avoided it but the coffeehouse we went into served the same exact kind of coffee as Starbucks – burnt. So not the best espresso ever but what the hell, after ten days drinking nasty instant Nescafe, I’ll take it.
After that it was lunch time so we hit a Chinese type place and it was phenomenal. The Chinese food here is just so much better than in the US or Europe, I could eat it all the time. Tita Conchita was born in Manila but she is actually Taiwanese so she knows her Chinese food. After that we strolled around the mall for a bit on our way to the ice cream place to get some halo halo. Along the way we hooked up with the wife’s cousin Gie and her sister. The halo halo was just awesome – I got mine with avocado and purple yam ice cream, my two new favorite flavors. As I mentioned in one of my earlier entries about halo halo, everybody seems to make it a bit different and with different ingredients and imagine my disgust when I noticed that this place put corn in their halo halo. Now, I’m sorry but…corn? In ICE CREAM?! WTF. Other than that, it was delicious, I really love halo halo.

We hadn’t really planned on doing any shopping but the wife wanted to go check out the DVD store as she usually manages to buy a bunch of DVDs for like a buck or two a piece when she comes here. Meanwhile, Gie and her sister took the X Man into the huge arcade place next door to play some games. I joined them after a bit and it was actually a fun place, reminded me a lot of a place called Funworld back home although at least half the place was devoted to rides and games for smaller kids. The wife’s father was accompanying us and it was kind of funny to me to see him watch the kids playing in this place and wonder what must have been going through his mind. This is a completely different world than the provinces. They had one of those “strong man” things where you hit the thing with a huge mallet and see how high your power meter goes so I decided to give it a try. I reached a max of 82, which wasn’t too bad considering that the high for that day was 83. I told the wife’s father to try it because, despite his small size, he is literally as strong as an ox so I thought sure that if I hit an 82, he should be able to hit 90 but to my surprise, the highest he could get was 77. Apparently I got game baby.

Outside the arcade place was another little Starbucks-type coffee stand with all kinds of drinks, sandwiches, desserts, etc so we took a break and I had my espresso while everyone else ate sweets. There was a slightly uncomfortable moment for me as we had asked the wife’s parents if they wanted anything and even though you could see them practically drooling as they looked at the decadent chocolate cakes and cheesecakes and such, they were too shy to say they would indeed like a piece. I honestly think they didn’t want me to spend the money on them, even though it was just a freaking piece of cake. So we got a piece for them anyway but we literally had to force them to eat it. I didn’t want to be rude but all I could think to myself was “Cripes, would you just eat the damned cake, it’s not going to bankrupt me!” Not long after, Tita Conchita and Tito Willy joined us and informed us that there was a ban on driving downtown that just went into effect until 5pm so we were stuck in the mall until then. It was like 3pm at the time so we had to kill two frigging hours in the mall with nothing to do. Man did that SUCK. They were planning on taking us to a comedy show tonight but since we were stuck in the mall Conchita decided we would just get some beer, some KFC and have a little party at their house which sounded fine to me. The X Man and I wandered around the mall a bit, then the wife and I checked out a store where I bought a couple of nice dress shirts, we had more coffee and eventually 5pm rolled around and we took off. We got to KFC in Quezon City and man it was PACKED. Filipinos love fried chicken so KFC is very popular here. In fact, that’s one of the first things I found out about the wife was that her favorite place to eat was KFC. Unfortunately we don’t have a KFC on the base, we only have a Popeye’s which I guess is not as good. At KFC, we met up with Gie’s partner Mel (yes, they are) who joined us for dinner before we headed back to the house. Conchita broke out the beer and snacks (nuts, nogaraya, etc) and we sat there chatting for a while. Somehow the topic of basketball came up and Mel mentioned that she loves the NBA so I asked her what team she liked and to my pleasant surprise, she said she’s a huge Celtics fan! I love that girl. The wife’s mother must have been feeling left out because she actually decided to try and drink a beer. She finished about half of it and then had to go lay down because she wasn’t feeling good, God bless her heart…

Gie and Mel were planning on hitting a nearby bar later on and asked if we wanted to join them. Originally I said no because it was already late and I didn’t want to stay out all night the night before we flew home but eventually my party side got the best of me and I figured hell, I can always sleep on the plane so we agreed and said that the wife and I would go with them, as well as her father who wanted to go out and have a good time with us on our last night here. They made it sound like a karaoke bar so the wife’s mother decided to go as well which I immediately did not think was a good idea. And sure enough, she did not look comfortable all night in a bar where people were getting drunk and dancing and stuff. Not only that but it wasn’t really a karaoke bar, it was more like a bar with a girl performing on stage, you could request songs for her to sing or you could even request to sing a song yourself (for a 100 piso “tip” of course). We were all a bit tipsy by the time we got there so we were having a good time from the start and when the girl saw that there was a white guy in the audience, she came right over to me and started interviewing me. Afterwards she asked if I had a request, I said “Yeah, sing ‘Crazy’ by Patsy Cline!” and she did…but only after forcing me to go up on stage and sing it with her as a duet. At first glance, the chick appeared to be smoking hot but when I saw her up close, under the lights, well…let’s just say we suspected she might be a tranny. In fact, several times I joked that next time I go up on stage I was going to stick my hand up her skirt just to see what she was packing. She also was a bit rude – she kept calling the wife “African”. For some reason, most Filipinas want to be white, so much so that skin whitening products are big business here. I guess they think it’s more attractive, I don’t know. But up in the north where the wife is from, most people are really dark skinned (like the wife). It’s kind of amusing to me to see all the Filipinas trying to lighten their skin (one of these days I’m going to walk around Manila yelling “ALL Y’ALL TRYING TO LOOK JUST LIKE ME!) while back home in the US and Europe everyone is always trying to look darker.

Anyway, the rest of the night was freaking awesome, I was having such a great time that I even got up and did my trademark ‘Copacobana’ as well as joining some Filipino dude for the end of ‘Faithfully’. I also spent some time out on the dance floor tripping the light fantastic with Gie (the wife was too chicken) and her sister. I can only imagine what was going through the wife’s mother’s mind as she watched us! But quite honestly, I didn’t care, I was having so much fun I wasn’t going to let anyone ruin it. In fact, the wife and I were thinking about just staying out all night since it was such a great time but then I ran into her father in the bathroom. I was coming out as he was going in and he was swaying very badly and was obviously very drunk so I figured I’d better watch out for him. I practically had to carry him back to the table so I told everyone that we’d better leave because he was in a bad way and I didn’t want anything bad to happen. He is not a beer drinker at all but had been drinking beer with us all night so I think it was affecting him more than he thought it would. We grabbed a cab and headed home but I gotta say, the last night here was probably the most fun as I just love nights like this and the wife and I never get to enjoy them anymore with the two rugrats. I told Conchita that next time we come, we’ll plan ahead better and next time we’ll be staying out ALL night.

Oh well, last night here. Sad, but at least we made the most of it. Filipina lesbians…who knew they were so much fun?!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My First Trip to the Philippines, Day 11

Day 11

Not much to say about today as most of it was spent on the bus. It was hard to say goodbye to everyone this morning but here I am back in Manila. I can’t believe my vacation is almost over and I can’t believe it’s only been about 10 days, it feels like I’ve been here for years. Got up this morning and had some tortong talong for breakfast as usual, then started the tedious chore of packing up. While we got ready to go, we went through the usual routine of taking a bunch of last minute pictures and saying our goodbyes to anyone who wouldn’t be coming with us. We had to carry our suitcases all the way to the bridge and it’s so frigging hot that by the time I got there I was just soaked with sweat so the wife’s sisters had to settle for business-like handshakes instead of the usual goodbye hugs. We loaded everything onto the tricycles and headed for Rosario to catch the bus. The wife went off with Luca to get some diapers and her mother went off to get some drinks and snacks for the bus ride and her father sat with the tricycle, leaving me standing at the bus stop watching over all the bags which was a little uncomfortable because every single person in the area was staring at me constantly. At one point an older woman walked up to me and started asking me something in Tagalog (or some other language) and even though she didn’t look disheveled or unkempt in any way, it seemed t ome that she was begging for money. I just told her I didn’t understand and she gave me a weird look and then sat down on the bench next to us talking to nobody in particular. A little while later the wife’s mother came by and the crazy lady saw her talking to me so she got up, walked over and started talking to her about who knows what. I don’t know what they were talking about but a couple times during the conversation I distinctly heard the wife’s mother say “In Jesus name…” so I figured I’d better stay out of it. Eventually the bus came by and we loaded all the bags in and got aboard. The ride was long but pretty comfortable. The bus was air conditioned and was so chilly that the wife’s parents, as well as the X Man and Luca, all wore jackets. For me, it was paradise. The ride went a good 5 hours or so but I could not sleep a lick as it was a good chance to see more of the country which I always enjoy, even if it is through a bus window. Just outside of Manila however, the skies opened up and it poured so hard that I couldn’t see a thing. For some reason the bus dropped us off at a different stop than everybody seemed to be expecting so we stood under a building awning in the pouring rain while we waited for Tita Conchita to make her way through the congested madness of the Manila traffic.

So here I am Tita Conchita and Tito Willy’s house in Manila (Quezon City to be exact) with visions of the beach and the provinces in my mind. The plan is for Conchita and Willy to spend the day tomorrow showing us around Manila which I’m really looking forward to but I have to admit that I really miss Pangasinan.

One interesting thing did happen during my last night at the wife's parents' house, or this morning I should say. I got up in the middle of the night, sometime around 2 or 3 am and I had to take a leak really bad so I stumbled to the bathroom, turned on the light, and as I was about to go in, sitting there on the wall near the floor was ANOTHER huge freaking spider. I turned around, shut the light off and went and pissed outside, although I did manage to get a picture of the bastard first.

So in case you’re keeping score, there were zero snakes but three huge, ugly spiders.

Monday, September 13, 2010

My First Trip to the Philippines, Day 10

Day 10

Roding came by early this morning and we were able to take a good look at the inside of the beach house. It’s about what I expected, a little better even. Like I said, it’s not huge but it’s perfect for what we would use it for – a yearly vacation house on the beach and a possible retirement venue someday. I was probably about 75% certain that I wanted to buy it after seeing the outside yesterday and after seeing the inside I’m probably closer to 90% now. I told the wife to get the contact info before we leave and we’ll call the owners when we get home to see what we can work out.

As far as the inside, you walk in and there’s a cozy little living room area with a nice leather couch. Plenty of room to put a TV and a few other things too. Go down the hall and there are two bedrooms, a master bedroom with a double bed and a second bedroom with two single beds. At the end of the hallway is a little kitchen with a sink and a gas stove and next to that is a small bathroom with a flush toilet and a shower. You can tell the place has not gotten much use in a while (with the exception of the bedroom I’m guessing) as it needs to be cleaned up a bit but for the most part it’s ready to be moved into right away if someone wanted to. And really, that’s one of the main selling points for me; the fact that it doesn’t require any additional construction. For example, Nestor showed us another lot down the beach that was a lot bigger, had a lot more land and that could probably be had for about the same price as this one however there is no house on it, it’s just a big plot with a few nipa huts. So even though it’s a lot more land, I’d still have to spend at least another 20k or more to clear the land and put a house on it and from what I’ve heard and read about hiring contractors here, well, that’s just a road I don’t want to go down. The place we’re looking at is already built and furnished and since I am planning on paying cash for it, we could own it outright and use it right away without having to invest any more money in it with the exception of a few small things like an air conditioner and a TV and such. And one of the best things is that the wife’s family live so close that they can use it whenever they want which they seem to be thrilled about. We haven’t even bought the place yet and her mom is already thinking of possible businesses to set up during peak season to make some extra money. I told her that if we get it and they want to clean it up and fix it up a bit, they can rent it out and keep whatever money they make off it. I’m not interested in trying to use the place as some kind of business venture, it’s strictly a vacation place for us. With the X Man in school and Luca starting in another year or two, we’ll most likely only be here during the summer months (June, July or August) and peak season here is March-April so that would work out well. I’ve met and heard about plenty of guys that come here and think they are going to start a business and get rich and end up losing their shirt and I ain’t going to be one of those guys. I still have to wait til we get home to talk to the owners and this is the Philippines after all where nothing is easy so there’s every chance we won’t ever end up owning it but I’ve gotta admit, I spent most of the day thinking about the place and what we could do with it if/when we get it. Air conditioning is first and foremost of course but after that I will have to look into putting a karaoke machine in the nipa hut. Eventually I’d like to put a pool table in there as well. The wife’s family are very industrious, good at carpentry and stuff like that and they’ve already told us that they will do all the cleaning and fixing up that needs to be done for us. Since they’ll be using the place a lot more than us it’s probably only right that they do anyway so I’m glad they offered. I feel a lot better about buying the place knowing that they are close and will be taking care of it for us. Hopefully things will work out.

Anyway, the rest of the day was pretty uneventful. We took a tricycle to Dagupan City to hit the ATM before catching a bus back to Rosario where we did some shopping at the market. The stares continued as usual which you’d think I’d be used to by now but it still is annoying. Got back to the house in the early afternoon and then we went over to visit Steve and Jovi which was a lot of fun. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this already but Steve arranged to have a pool table delivered to Jovi’s family’s house since he was going to be here for an extended amount of time on this trip and would need something to do. So we ended up playing pool and drinking Red Horse beer most of the afternoon and into the evening which was great. Eventually they broke out the karaoke machine – I’m telling you, the Filipinos are INSANE about karaoke – and we sang when we weren’t playing pool. Jovi’s family has like a complete freaking sound system set up in their yard too, it’s amazing. It’s like being in concert with all the speakers set up. I did a few songs (including my trademark ‘Copacabana’ of course) and then they brought some food out and invited us to stay for dinner but since we’re heading back to Manila tomorrow for a couple days before flying out on Saturday, this is our last night at the wife’s parents house so I told them that we really should do dinner there, with her family.

Our last night here turned out to be really memorable. The whole family was outside the front porch/terrace type area and we enjoyed a few drinks together, shared some stories and remembered some of the funnier moments from our stay here. At one point I asked the wife to translate for me as I spoke from my heart and made a toast to our last night here. Basically I said that I’ve enjoyed every moment that I’ve been able to spend with all of them and that I am so happy to finally meet everyone after so long. I thanked them all from the bottom of my heart for everything, especially for making me feel so welcome. With that, I raised my glass to the wife’s father and we drank together. Then it was his turn to make a little speech. He started out by saying how sorry he was that they didn’t have a lot to offer – at this point I interrupted and told him that we may have more money or luxuries than them but they have so much more than that…the closeness and the bond that he and his family have is something I’ve never experienced before and they have far more than I’ll ever have. Kind of corny I know but what can I say, Red Horse makes me emotional. He then went on to describe the immense joy he felt at my being here. He said that he was worried that he would die without getting a chance to meet his son in law and the fact that I’m here has made his life complete. It was a cool moment, fitting for my last night here. I’m really going to miss these people when I leave, they’ve made quite a mark on me.

The wife and I were talking earlier tonight and apparently I’ve made quite a name for myself here, folks all over the Barangay have been talking about me. I guess my little stroll around the Barangay impressed a lot of people, including the wife’s family. They say that of all the white guys that have come here over the years, I’m the only one that left a favorable impression; almost all the others that come here act arrogant and don’t make any effort to try and meet people or even be cordial to the locals so I guess I did something right. Even Cesar (the ladies man) told them that of all the white guys who he’s ever met here, I’m the first one that he really liked. I think a big part of it was the party we had at the beach, I like to have a good time and spent the whole day and night laughing and joking around with everybody and I think that more than anything left a favorable impression. Whatever it was, I’m just happy my first visit went so well. I’ve honestly had a blast here and can’t wait to come back in another year or so. The first day or two was a little rough as I adjusted but eventually I felt right at home here. Using the bucket to flush the toilet or the tabo to take a bath is really no big deal. Overall I feel perfectly comfortable here. The only bad part about it is the boredom and the unbearable humidity although I think the humidity feels worse than normal because of all the extra weight that I’m carrying right now which makes me sweat more than usual. I’m sorry to have to leave tomorrow morning but I’m really looking forward to seeing Manila before we leave.

So my time in the provinces is up and after 10 days, not a single snake. I’m actually a bit disappointed to be honest…

Friday, September 10, 2010

My First Trip to the Philippines, Day 9

Day 9

Yeah, so…remember that beach house I mentioned yesterday? I think there’s a good chance we might be buying it. I was admittedly skeptical when they told us about it but after seeing it this morning I changed my mind. It’s not a huge lot with a mansion on it but compared to what I was expecting for such a cheap price it looks like a hell of an opportunity. It’s got a small, fully furnished 2 bedroom house (pretty sturdily built) and a huge nipa hut (bungalow) out front, also fully furnished. Between the house and nipa hut there’s an empty plot that we could build something on or use as an outdoor cooking area or maybe even a small garden or something. There’s also a small back yard with a water pump although it does have indoor plumbing too. It’s locked up so we weren’t able to see the inside yet but from what I’ve seen it looks great. The price, well…let’s just say it’s cheap enough that we could probably pay cash for it without having to borrow any money or dip into my retirement fund. I mean, hell, this whole place costs 10,000 bucks less than my car for cripes sake! That means we could own this place outright and since it’s ready to be moved into right away, we could use it as a vacation home when we visit every year or so. The best part is that the wife’s family live only a half hour away so they could manage the place, when we’re not there. Use it whenever they want, even sell their vegetables, food, whatever, to make a few pisos. The nipa hut is pretty big and perfect for beach parties. I could easily put a karaoke machine and a pool table in there. Who knows, in 20 years we could even retire here. The funniest part is why the people are selling it in the first place; I guess the owners live in the US and their father lives in nearby Dagupan City and he’s the only one that uses it. However the reason the father – who is in his 70’s – uses it is for his extramarital trysts. Apparently the family is tired of his antics so they decided to just sell the place. Not sure how true all that is but it sure is pretty funny. I told the wife to get the owner’s contact info before we leave and when we get home we’ll give them a call and see what we can work out. Even at the full sale price it’s a great deal but if I can talk them down a little, even better. Ever since I got to the beach all I can think about is that I’d love to come back here every year if I can so this place would be perfect. And the thought of the X Man and Luca having a place right on the beach to spend a month or so every summer is just too good to be true. The main thing that would make it doable is that the wife’s family lives so close so I wouldn’t have to worry about the place when we’re not there. I won’t go too crazy til I get home and talk to the owners as it seems too good to be true but it definitely looks like a great opportunity and it’s definitely doable for us. Stay tuned…

Anyway, I love it here so much and the rooms are so cheap that we decided to stay another night. I told the wife to tell everyone that they’re welcome to stay but most of them work and stuff so In the end the only other people who stayed were two of the wife’s sisters, Lorna and Christina. They spent just about the whole day on the karaoke machine by themselves too, singing songs one after the other. I might have joined for a song or two except that after last night’s festivities my voice is almost completely gone. The constant singing combined with my cold has just about done me in, I can barely even talk let alone sing. The guy who lives next door (Nestor) sort of oversees a lot of the places around here and he’s been very helpful in showing us around and making sure we have everything we need. He walked us down the beach a bit to a big resort place called the Lazy A Beach Resort which is great ,they have a restaurant that serves all the local Filipino and Asian dishes as well as western style breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Like I said, there are a lot of ex-pats around here. The best part is that they have free WI-FI so I was able to catch up on email and sports scores while I enjoyed the best tasting omelet I’ve ever tasted. I figured a big breakfast would be a treat for the wife’s sisters but with a plethora of Asian and western style dishes on the menu, they each opted for the Filipino breakfast which consisted of white rice and two hot dogs. Old habits die hard I guess. Across the lawn from the restaurant (which is open air, so nice) there’s a big building with…wait for it…a karaoke machine for the guests and there was a short dude (I honestly could not tell if it was a guy or a girl) singing song after song by him/herself. I mention this because he/she was wearing a #5 Kevin Garnett Celtics jersey. It’s funny, I’ve seen probably 10 Celtics jerseys since I’ve been here and every single one has been a #5 Kevin Garnett jersey. Weird.
On the way over this morning, Nestor had pointed out a couple places right next to where we were staying that had western ex-pats as owners. One of them was a bar a couple plots down that he said was owned by a Canadian guy named Peter, right next to that was a beach resort owned by a Scottish guy. I figured I’d stop by the bar later that day and chat with Peter, maybe get to know a little more about the area. But first, it was so warm and the X Man wanted to play in the sand so I decided to take a dip. I can’t believe how warm the water was, it was almost like being in a warm bath. I didn’t want to stay in the sun too long so I went into the shade and listened to Lorna and Christina singing karaoke while the X Man played by himself near the water building sand castles and digging holes and such. God that kid just loves the beach. After a while some locals started pulling in one of the fishing nets so I went down to the water to watch. They ended up with nothing more than a few tiny fish which seems to be the norm since I’ve been here but it was still fun to watch them perform their craft. I’m telling you, the longer I’m here the more I love it, this place is just so completely laid back and welcoming. I can just relax and enjoy myself without having to worry about anything, not even how much money we’re spending since everything is so cheap.

In the afternoon we did end up going to the bar. It’s a typical beach bar, sort of a little shack on the beach with stools around the outside, like the one that Tom Cruise was working at in the movie "Cocktail". Me and the X Man went ahead and when we walked up and sat down I noticed all the other guys at the bar were white like me (albeit older) and each of them was with a young Filipina, pretty much as you’d expect. I sat down and they looked at me and one guy said “Ah, another white guy! Welcome!” He asked where I was from, I said the US, he asked which part, I said about 45 minutes north of Boston and the guy at the end of the bar pipes in “You guys got a shitty baseball team up there!” I laughed and said “You must be a Yankees fan…” Sure enough, he was although he was from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania rather than New York. We all got to chatting and they asked me the usual questions, am I on vacation, is my wife a Filipina, is it my first time, etc. I mentioned that I was looking at buying a place nearby and they immediately asked me a litany of questions almost like they were reading from a list. It was obvious that they were experts and had all been through this before so I decided to pick their brains a bit and I liked what I heard. I told them the price and they all said it was very reasonable for this beach. I described the place a bit and they asked where it was. Now, I have to admit that I’m a bit leery of them because for all I know, they could be businessmen who would jump at the chance to buy a place like that as an investment so I didn’t want to give too much away. I just said “Down the beach a ways”. At that point I saw the American guy lean over to his buddy and say quietly “Sounds like the place that Mike is looking at…”, which made me a bit nervous that we might have competition. Regardless, they all agreed that it sounds like a good, solid deal and said that having a place on this beach would be a great thing for us. The American guy was a retired Air Force Senior Master Sergeant (E9) and had been here for many years so he gave me a lot of good info and advice. I appreciate that they didn’t sugarcoat anything for me, gave me the plain truth about what to look for when buying property around here and such. They said that I asked all the right questions and seem to know what I’m doing so I should be fine which makes me feel even better about possibly buying the place. After a while they all left except for the guy who greeted me when I arrived and as it turned out, he was Peter, the owner. He’s originally from Newfoundland, Canada but spent a good chunk of his life in Scotland so he speaks with a strange accent. He was quite an entertaining character and I hope we’ll be seeing more of him in the future as well.

Interesting thing happened while we were at the bar. You see beggars often here and at one point a young kid, probably all of 11 or 12 came by begging. I sometimes give a few pisos to beggars but the wife’s sisters said don’t give him anything because he works for the syndicate. I asked what they meant and although they weren’t 100% how it works, basically it’s like an organized crime type thing, they get these young boys and send them out begging and whatever money they make goes right to the bosses. They said they knew because of the mark he had tattooed on his hand. Eventually he left and soon another young boy came up begging and they saw the mark on his hand as well. They asked him to show us his hand and he immediately hid it behind his back and would not show it to us. So we gave him nothing except a slice of pizza (you can order pizza at the bar) since the poor kid was probably starving. Harsh dose of reality right there, I thought to myself.

Had dinner again at the Lazy A tonight, it was fantastic. We ordered a smorgasbord of different Asian dishes (and French fires for the X Man) and I caught up on email and sports scores again. We got an sms that the wife’s family had stopped by and were wondering where we were so we left and met them at our place, they were there with Roding and Audie. We sat and chatted for an hour or so before calling it a night. Roding has arranged to go early tomorrow morning and pick up the key to the beach house so he can show us the inside before we leave. Can’t wait for that.

Day 9 in the books, not even a sniff of a snake so far. I love it here.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

My First Trip to the Philippines, Day 8

Day 8

Best day so far. As I mentioned, the wife’s cousin Roding gave us a good price on a beach rental and what a price it was – about 30 bucks a night for an air conditioned room (with a flush toilet and a shower!) right on the beach. In addition to the room, there’s also a couple little huts and a big barbeque/karaoke area for parties so the wife’s whole family and a bunch of friends came for the day and what a party, everybody had such a great time. We got there in the morning, about 20 people packed into 3 tricycles and met Roding and a couple others on the way. The wife went off with her father to get food and beer while her brother in law went to get some stuff for the barbeque. All in all, we ended up with enough food and drink for at least 30 people - fresh vegetables, chicken, fish, seafood, fruits, beer, brandy, etc – for less than 100 bucks, it was unbelievable. The kids hit the sand and the water right away while the rest of us fired up the karaoke machine. For those not in the loop, let me tell you about Filipinos and karaoke: THEY ARE INSANE. They just cannot get enough and they don’t care how bad or how funny they sound or if they can even pronounce the words, they just keep belting them out one after the other. Watching a bunch of Filipinos who can barely speak English singing karaoke is by far one of the highlights of my life so far. First up was one of the wife’s uncles singing “Johnny Come Lately” by the Eagles, then her father with his rendition of “I Can’t Stop Loving You”. Cripes it was just so much fun watching it all. I’m not a big karaoke guy but in a group with a lot of people having fun, I’ll certainly spend my share of time rocking the mic...after I get a few beers in me of course. Eventually the beer arrived and I cracked one open but here’s the problem: the cold that I’ve been suffering from has rendered my voice practically unusable for karaoke. The first song or two I was ok but as the night went on it got worse and worse and eventually I could not sing a note without my voice cracking like Peter Brady singing “Time to change”. The funny thing is that I guess since I’m a native English speaker I’m like a celebrity and everybody kept asking me to sing certain songs – “Seeng dees one! Seeng dees one!” - so my voice seldom got a break. The highlight was when I did “Copacabana”…brought the house down. I kid, but truthfully some of the Filipinos there could actually sing pretty good. One of the guys that came was the guy who gave us a ride in his tricycle the day we first arrived. His name was Cesar and from what people tell me, he is known as somewhat of a ladies man around the Barangay even though he’s in his 40’s. He’s got his own karaoke machine at his house so he could handle a few of the tunes really well. He did an excellent job with “Quando Quando Quando”.

The food was nothing short of amazing. We had plenty of fresh fish on the grill, plenty of prawns, some chicken, even some huge squid that the wife sliced up and served with some chili dipping sauce. Plenty of fresh fruit too, mostly lanzones and rambutan, neither of which I’d ever even heard of before coming here but am quickly getting addicted to. This being the Philippines, people come up to you constantly trying to sell you stuff and at one point someone came by selling fresh oysters and we bought the whole lot. It was like 3 big buckets full, at least 4 or 5 pounds and the whole thing cost about 2 bucks. I remember back in Germany, the wife loves oysters so we would occasionally splurge on a few for her at the Nordsee fish store and we paid a euro and a half for ONE freaking oyster - same price we paid for about 50 of them here! And these were fresh out of the water. Man, I could get used to this…

We also got a visit from the ice cream man this morning. He came up ringing his bell and all the kids wanted ice cream but instead of the 5 pisos that the guy back in the provinces charged, this guy was charging 15 pisos each. I started to order a few for the kids but everybody quickly stopped me and told me not to because 15 pisos was just too unreasonable. Now, the American in me reasoned that 15 pisos is still only about 30 cents and that’s pretty damned cheap for an ice cream but the Filipinos would not allow me to pay such an exorbitant price for ice cream. So I figured I would meet them halfway and told the guy that if he would give them to me at 10 pisos each, I would buy them. He declined initially but when it was clear that he had lost the sale he agreed on 10 pisos. I prepared to pay…and once again the Filipinos would not allow it. Even 10 pisos was too expensive! My God, I could not believe it but I didn’t want anybody to get pissed off at me (except the kids who didn’t get their ice cream of course) so I just told the guy to forget it. He stayed there for a good 15 minutes trying to get me to buy them at 10 pisos each and I kind of felt bad but sorry guy, maybe next time…assuming there are no Filipinos around the witness the transaction.

One thing that kind of sucked is that I couldn’t spend much time in the sun because every time I’d go out in it, it would feel like I was being burned really badly. I’d look in the mirror and I wouldn’t even be a bit red so I’m guessing this is what the doctor meant when she told me the malaria medication would make me ultra sensitive to sunlight. Next time I come here I think I’ll forgo the malaria medication, I really don’t think there’s much chance I’ll catch it here and it’s already hot enough without taking medication that makes me even MORE sensitive to sunlight for crissakes. Besides, so far it looks like I’ll be going home after 2 weeks in the Philippines with my skin just as white as it was when I arrived. *Sigh*.

Luca and the X Man just absolutely had a blast playing in the sand and in the water. I’m not sure when I’ve ever seen them so happy. I remember growing up, my dad would take us to Hampton Beach every summer to visit our grandparents who spent a couple weeks there and how much I loved it there, playing in the sand and frolicking in the waves. I imagine the X Man is enjoying it just as much here. The beaches near us in Italy are overcrowded and really expensive so we don’t normally bother but after seeing how much he loves it here, we might have to start. He doesn’t burn very easily too, he gets dark like the wife. Lucky bastard.

A little later on, Roding and Audie came by to join the party which ended up going late into the night. The wife’s father had invited a bunch of his friends to join us and everybody was drinking beer and brandy all day and since it was getting late I told Roding that we’d take another room so anybody who didn’t want to drive back home could stay overnight. At 30 bucks a night, that was a no-brainer for me. Everybody was having so much fun, it would have been a shame for the party to end because people had to go home. A few people did leave and the crowd thinned a bit as those who couldn’t run with the big dogs went to bed but we still had quite a few people late into the night. At one point Audie got on the mic and did an unbelievable version of “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” by Five For Fighting. Probably the best performance of the night, I was floored. I could hardly sing with my voice all cracking but someone put in “Living Next Door to Alice” and shoved the mic in my face. I’m not sure if anyone knows that song but the guy who sings it has a real gravelly voice so I completely nailed it, sounded just like him! Unfortunately, although the song was popular, nobody knew the “live” version so when I got to the end of the first verse and yelled “ALICE? WHO THE #@$% IS ALICE?!”…well, let’s just say I was the only who yelled it. And I yelled it very loud. Some people started laughing but I got the sense that most were afraid to sing that part because the wife’s mother was present. Definitely a “you had to be there” moment but still hilarious. Of course, the FUNNIEST thing happened this morning; they had gotten some ice for the drinks but ice here comes in huge blocks. So they put it in the cooler with the drinks and the wife’s brother Zaldivar was chopping it with an ice pick and while he was chopping he accidentally hit the big plastic bottle of Sprite which started spraying everywhere. I started cracking up but as if that weren’t funny enough, he grabbed the bottle and picked it up and as he did so, the wife’s father comes walking up and the bottle sprayed all over him and he reacted like he’d just been shot. My God, I laughed so hard I started crying. The look on his face was just priceless.

Roding was telling the wife about a lot nearby that someone was selling and supposedly the price is real cheap. I dismissed it originally as the last thing on my mind is buying property here but I told Roding to come by tomorrow and we’ll go look at it, if only to appease the wife. As an American here I am a bit leery of people trying to sell me things, even if he is family. I think it’s somewhere around a million pisos which is about 20k but I’m sure it needs a lot more put into it as that sounds pretty cheap for a place right on the beach. Then again, it is the Philippines so you never know.

Well, this day has just been fantastic. When I knew I was coming here, the thing I wanted most was to spend some time on the beach and it has certainly not disappointed - these Filipinos sure know how to party! Especially after the provinces, this place just seems like paradise. Since it’s the rainy season right now the whole beach is practically empty but it’s still so hot that it’s like we have the whole beach to ourselves. I’m told it gets completely packed during the summer months and there are plenty of western ex-pats around but haven’t seen any yet. Right at this moment I’m about as relaxed and content as I’ve ever been. We’re hoping to come back every year so to visit and if I have my way, we’ll be staying here at the beach most the time since it's so damned cheap. Luckily the wife’s family lives a mere 30 minutes away so that is definitely doable.

Sad to see this day come to an end. Still no snakes…

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

My First Trip to the Philippines, Day 7

Day 7

When I went to bed last night, the party was still going pretty strong, there were plenty of people still here, I figured they’d leave eventually but when I got up in the morning, most of them were still here. Everybody slept wherever they could find a place to crash. Most of the men stayed up all night playing some card game called Tong-it or something like that. I guess it’s really popular, Audie was trying to get me to play with them but I’m not really a card guy but apparently he is as he cleaned up last night. The wife’s sisters made breakfast and everybody got their fill and eventually all the guys that were here for the Lechon Baboy yesterday took off leaving just the wife’s family. Her mom was up early and ready for church and expecting everyone else to be as well but I wasn’t sure if we were going because the wife didn’t seem very keen on it. I didn’t want her mom to blame me for our non-attendance so I was kind of hoping we would go and sure enough, we got ready just in time and headed to church. I actually really enjoyed it. Filipinos are really religious people in general. I’ve always known them to be one of the biggest Catholic countries in the world but since I’ve been here, I’ve not seen that many Catholic churches. On the contrary, I have seen a TON of protestant churches such as Baptist, Pentecostal, etc., and you see Bible verses and religious sayings on everything from jeepneys and tricycles to buildings and eateries. The wife’s family is protestant but I’m not sure if it’s any particular denomination. I know her mom is a Born Again Christian. The church was nice, not very ornate, mostly just a big auditorium with a stage and a pulpit for the pastor and the choir and metal folding chairs for the congregation to sit on. The service had already started by the time we got there and everybody was standing up, singing and waving their hands. It reminded me a lot of the churches I grew up in or attended back home in the US most of my life. When the singing part was over, they welcomed the guests and apparently the wife’s mother had told them about my presence as I had to stand and wave when they introduced me which of course brought more stares. Just what I need, more attention on me and more people staring. Later on in the service they did a “greet the family” type thing where you say good morning to each other and everyone made a beeline to say hi to the white guy and shake my hand. I must have shaken a hundred hands, I felt like I was running for office for cripes sake. The actual sermon almost put me to sleep however as the guy who gave it spoke in a monotone voice in mostly English with some Tagolog mixed in. I’m sure that it meant a lot to the wife’s mother to have us in church with her so I’m happy that we went.

The rest of the day didn’t quite go as smoothly. After church, some of us went to Rosario for lunch at the Chow King. Believe it or not, it was one of the best meals I’ve had so far. I got the beef wanton noodles and a side order of siomai. I’d never had siomai before – I’d never even heard of it – but it turned out to be exactly what I’ve been looking for since I got here. I am a huge fan of Chinese dim sum and siomai is sort of a Filipino dim sum, a little steamed pork dumpling basically. They give you a little thing of chili sauce to dip them in and they were just delicious. The place was so packed that we had to split up on two different tables. The wife and I were sitting at a table next to an older couple who paid us no mind during our meal but afterward the wife started talking to the woman and after talking to her for about 10 minutes, they suddenly realized that she was her teacher when she was in school years ago. It truly is a small world but I probably shouldn’t be surprised as it seems like the wife is related to, or friends with, every single person we meet here, it’s crazy. The wife’s brother Samuel is very active in the church and he used the church van to drive us to lunch which was convenient but the problem was that it had no air conditioning and since I was sitting in the front, the sun was hitting me directly and causing a lot of discomfort as my exposed skin felt like it was burning. I’m taking malaria medication called Doxycycline and one of the only side effects of it is that it makes you much more sensitive to the sun so the doctor warned me to stay out of the sun as much as possible and wear very strong sun screen. I brought SPF 60 but I haven’t bothered to use it because I sweat so much that there’s no point to putting it on. Anyway, Samuel dropped us off at the bridge and as we started walking across on our way back to the big house, I was not feeling quite right. I felt extremely sluggish, like I didn’t even have the energy to take a step and I felt like just dropping to the ground where I was at. I slowly kept going, feeling worse by the minute and eventually I started getting light headed and a bit dizzy. I’m pretty sure I was starting to get heat stroke. I made it back to the house and sat in front of the fan mopping my forehead and eventually I felt a little better but I was on the verge of telling the wife that I don’t care if her family gets offended, we are checking into the hotel. But, we are going to the beach tomorrow so I changed my mind and decided to ride it out here.
So it’s been just about a full week here and it’s flown by. Overall, I am really enjoying myself here despite the inconveniences and lack of things to do. I definitely hope I’ll be able to come back on a regular basis, maybe even every year if possible. The wife’s family are a little shy but they seem to be warming up to me a little. For my part, I just love them all to death, they are such wonderful people. I’m actually a little embarrassed because this summer has not been kind to me – between leave, trips for work, the World Cup, and the wife being away, it’s been 3 straight months of eating and drinking mostly crap and too much of it at that and this has caused me to pack on between 10-15 pounds so I hate the fact that they are meeting me for the first time when I’m so overweight. But whatever, nothing I can do except make sure I’m back in shape next time we come so they can see the real me.

Since we’re at the halfway point in my trip, I figured I’d write some observations I’ve made during my first week here:

* I’m guessing they must have problem with crime here because security guards are everywhere. At banks especially, you’ll see several of them carrying machine guns but even the smaller businesses have them. It’s not uncommon to see, say, an appliance store with an armed security guard standing outside the front door. And when you go into the malls, they have guards at all the entrances to check your bags or pat you down. A lot of places make you check your bag at the front before going in. Restaurants have them as well, it’s kind of weird to be sitting in a Jollibee and have an armed guard outside. It’s funny too, many of the guards help by clearing tables and such, makes me chuckle.

* The people here are some of the friendliest I’ve encountered anywhere. Everybody calls me “sir”…and I mean EVERYBODY. You walk into a place and everybody who sees you greets you with ”Hello sir!”. It’s quite charming actually. They are also some of the most honest people I’ve ever met. For example, I needed to buy a sim card for my cell phone and there were 3 phone shops right next to each other so I picked one and asked which card would be the best for me to send text messages back to the US. He said Global so I said ok, I’d like to buy a Global card. He checked and said they were out so I asked if they had any other ones. He said they did but it would be better for me if I went to another store and bought a Global card. Cripes, if this was the US or Italy, he’d have sold me anything he could but here the guy sends me to another store!

* You will never go hungry in the Philippines. I’m astounded at the amount of places I’ve seen selling food in this country. Not just restaurants like Jollibee or Chow King either, it seems like every two feet there is some kind eatery. Some of them are just little stands on the side of the road but they’re freaking everywhere. I guess it’s the easiest kind of business to run here as everybody has to eat and if there’s one thing Filipinos can do well, it’s cook. The most common seem to be little makeshift places selling hot food with a sign out front saying somebody’s eatery. For example, “Rowena’s Eatery”…”Maria’s Eatery”…”Lucia’s Eatery”…etc., etc.

* Basketball is far and away the most popular sport here. There are basketball courts EVERYWHERE and it seems like every other guy you see is wearing a basketball jersey. The NBA is very popular here so you see a lot of NBA jerseys which are perfect since it’s so hot here. The two most popular teams are the Celtics and Lakers and it’s not uncommon to see tricycles and jeepneys decorated with team logos and such. There’s even a basketball court on the dirt path next to the wife’s family’s house, in the middle of nowhere. Soccer doesn’t seem to be very popular here but I have seen quite a few Brazil hats and shirts worn.

* The kids absolutely love it here. I had my doubts about the X Man as he can be kind of wuss sometimes and he’s afraid of everything but he has surprised me. Back home he gets scared of everything from dogs to house flies but here he plays with bugs, plays with the goats and catches frogs. He has a couple cousins close to his age and he loves going off with them to play in the woods or the river or to climb trees. Luca seems to love it here as well. Call me crazy but they both seem happier here than back home in Italy. I was a bit worried that a month and a half might be too long for them but obviously not. The X Man is even starting to pick up a bit of Tagolog.

* The whole white rice phenomenon makes much more sense to me now. I know it’s very popular because it’s so cheap and everything but the main thing is that it is filling. The wife’s family is pretty big so they have to make a little bit go a long way. I couldn’t understand it at first because we would go to the market to buy fish or a chicken or whatever and the wife would only buy a little bit even though it’s so cheap compared to what we pay back home. Basically they buy enough meat or fish so that everybody gets a little, then they eat some vegetables and a ton of rice with it and they get completely full. I’ve never been a big rice eater so I’ve probably eaten more white rice in the past week than I have in the past 20 years. You will never come to our house and not find a big pot of rice on the stove or in the fridge but the wife eats it all, I never touch it.

* So far my favorite Filipino dish that I’ve had is called “Tortang Talong”. It’s basically just a stuffed eggplant omelet but it’s delicious. They char the eggplant, then peel the skin off, then mix in some egg and grill it. I love eggs and I love eggplant but I’d never heard of this before. The wife’s sisters make it for me for breakfast pretty much every morning, I can’t get enough of it.


Most importantly...halfway through my trip and no snakes.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

My First Trip to the Philippines, Day 6

Day 6

Today was a great day – it was “lechon baboy” day. Lechon baboy is a Filipino specialty and is basically a huge pig roast. Although many different cultures and countries do it, it’s a tradition that’s practically been raised to an art form here in the Philippines. I’ve heard about them for years and always wanted to experience one so we planned it ahead of time and the wife made the arrangements. It’s usually a big deal , the whole Barangay comes out and there’s a ton of food and they do piƱatas and other games for the kids. Things didn’t start off very well though as I’m pretty sure I fell victim to the “Cano curse”, whereby you end up paying more for stuff because you’re American. Here’s what happened: the wife had arranged for a medium sized pig, about 30-40 kilos which cost 5,000 pisos (about $100). However, when she called this morning about it, she was told that we were given a much bigger pig – at a cost of 10,000 pisos. She was visibly upset and I was a bit angry myself because I have a feeling that as soon as they found out that the American was the one buying the pig, it suddenly doubled in size (and price). It was too late to change it by the time the beast arrived so we were stuck and the Cano Curse had struck again. Oh well, next time I will know better. I wasn’t going to let anything ruin the festivities so I bit my lip. They delivered the pig this morning and it was huge - 95 freaking kilos! After some preparation they got ready to kill the thing which I’d never seen before so I was fascinated. They had 4 or 5 guys hold the thing down with their hands and with the help of a huge wooden plank since it was so big while another guy slit the throat with a big knife. I’ll never forget how loud the thing was squealing, it was hair raising. The whole Barangay must have heard it (I got a good video of it). They put a big pan under the neck to catch the blood and after a few minutes it stopped struggling, then stopped moving, then it was dead. After that, they cut the belly open and removed all the insides and washed them in the outdoor sink. Next they take the blood and the entrails and make another Filipino specialty: Diniguan. I’ve heard plenty about Diniguan but this was the first time I’ve ever actually seen it. Basically it’s a stew made out of the blood and insides of the pig with some vegetables, spices and other stuff thrown in for good measure. I’ll try a lot of things but I don’t eat things made out of blood and I don’t eat intestines and stomachs so I passed but the Filipinos went crazy for the stuff. Even the kids, they had like three servings over rice. But back to the pig – after he’s gutted, they shave him and then wash him thoroughly with steaming hot water. After that he’s ready for the spit which is a huge, long bamboo pole. I watched, amused, as 5 or 6 guys forced the pole into the pig’s ass and through his mouth because it kept getting stuck and the whole thing took like 15 minutes. Finally it was done and he was ready for the fire. It was interesting to see how they do it: they dig a small hole on the ground, then surround it on two sides with charcoal. The pole is placed on a couple pivot poles with notches cut into them so it doesn’t fall off. On one end of the big pole, there’s a handle. There are 2 or 3 guys called “drivers” whose job is to sit at the head and slowly turn the pole by the handle. They sit in a chair and put some plywood up to protect them from the heat and take turns so they don’t get too tired. Our pig was a massive 95 kilos so they said it would take about 5 hours to cook. Every 5 -10 minutes another guy will come over with a washcloth attached to a long stick and rub cooking oil on the pig so it doesn’t dry out.

For some reason our pig seemed to be cooking a lot faster than they thought and the skin was soon getting charred and black so they had to keep spreading the coals out to even the cooking out a bit. I asked how they would know when it’s finished and was told that these guys were experts and they just know. This wasn’t good enough for the wife though as she had a meat thermometer in the house so she gave it to the main guy to use and this is where everything went wrong. Apparently the guy somehow used it wrong or read it wrong because they declared that the pig was ready after only about 3 hours or so. It certainly looked done from the outside as the skin was black in some places and golden brown in others and smelled delicious. So they took him off the fire and brought him over to the table and removed the pole from his ass and cut into him. First they cut the head off and it seemed a bit undercooked to me. Sure enough, the meat on the outside was cooked fine but the further in you got, the less cooked it was. As a result, a lot of people didn’t eat much of the meat and so we ended up with probably over a hundred pounds of uncooked meat. Nobody seemed to mind though as there was plenty of food and some of the pig meat was edible anyway. I partook of the feast and ate way too much and we had plenty of beer to wash it down and it was a really fun night, one of the best since I’ve been here. I was amazed by the wife tonight too; not wanting to let it all go to waste, she grabbed her big cleaver from the kitchen and spent a good part of the night carving up the pig carcass and filling several huge plastic bags with undercooked pig meat for people to take home with them and cook at home the next day. Turns out nobody left empty handed and man, you should have seen her carve up that pig. She would make a great butcher, I was very impressed.

In fact, since I’ve been here I’ve seen a side of my wife I’ve never seen before. I call it her “province side”. She’d been living in Hong Kong for 10 years when we met and one of the things that attracted me to her was that she was a city girl. I loved the fact that she knew her way around a huge city like Hong Kong and was independent. I knew nothing about the provinces or the kind of world she grew up in. So to see how comfortable and in her element she is here is quite unexpected and somewhat surprising as she moved to Hong Kong when she was pretty young so she’s spent most of her life living outside this place.

Jovi and Steve came over for the festivities and I had a good time chatting with Steve most of the night about football (soccer) and a few other things. He’s spent a good amount of time here so he’s a good source of information. One thing he told me that was surprising is that the water in this particular area of the barangay is considered some of the best in the Philippines for some reason. It’s so good in fact that they are considering bottling it and selling it. When I first got here I asked the wife if the water is drinkable, she said her family all drink it but that we would only drink bottled water just to be safe. I told her what Steve told me and she was quite surprised…but we’re still drinking bottled water.

I met plenty of people today but one in particular stands out: Audie. Audie is an extremely interesting individual. He was born and raised here to a Spanish/Filipina mother and a German/Romanian father. Because of this he looks like a white European but then he opens his mouth and he speaks fluent Tagolog. Not only that but he’s fluent in something like 17 different Filipino languages and he also speaks really good English. We hit it off right away and I ended up spending most of the day talking with him, completely amazed by his breadth of knowledge about so many different topics. He’s incredibly well informed about politics, current events, history and a ton of other subjects and he’s so laid back and friendly that within 2 minutes you feel like you’ve known him your whole life. He’s also a tremendous wealth of information about the Philippines and its customs and history, the people and such. I honestly could have talked to him all day and not gotten tired. I hope we’ll be seeing more of him, he is one cool cat.

As it turns out, the guy who was in charge of the lechon baboy was the wife’s cousin. His name is Roding, he doesn’t speak much English but he’s a businessman - although he certainly doesn’t look the part as he wears shorts and a basketball jersey with a huge belly sticking out from under his shirt. Part of his business empire includes managing some rental properties on the beach in San Fabian so he’s giving us a good price on a few rooms there for next week. We’re going to head out Monday for at least a day or two. I’m SO looking forward to that as life here in the provinces is really getting boring and tedious, today’s festivities notwithstanding. A few days on the beach are just what the doctor ordered right about now…

Almost a full week in now and still no snakes.

Friday, September 03, 2010

My First Trip to the Philippines, Day 5

Day 5

Today was pretty uneventful. Boredom is really starting to set in a bit as there is absolutely nothing to do here. However, in the late afternoon/early evening I took a walk that turned out to be one of the most enjoyable experiences I've had here so far. It was sort of a lazy day and I was getting a bit stir crazy so I decided to go out walking. The wife was taking a nap which worked out well because I was kind of hoping to get in some alone time at some point and this afforded me the perfect opportunity. I haven't had a second to myself since I've been here - there's always at least 3 or 4 other people around, usually more, and this isn't cool for me as I'm an independent person and I need some time to myself occasionally. Especially when I'm in a new environment; while it's nice to have someone to show you around, I've always found it more enjoyable to explore on my own and see what I find. There's more adventure in it I guess. I'm sure a lot of guys in my shoes would be a bit intimidated walking around an area like this on their own but not me. I feel pretty safe here. I only took a couple bucks for a bottle water or a beer so I wasn't worried about being robbed and anyway, it seems like 99% of the baranguay is related to the wife's family so I didn't think I'd have any problem. It turned out to be an interesting and fun time. I started out not knowing where I was headed but after a while I decided to just walk to the small house since I knew my way there and wouldn't get lost. I thought it'd be cool to surprise the family who were there, show them that I had no problem getting around by myself. On the way there I realized pretty quickly that walking around alone was a vastly different experience than walking around with the wife. When I'm with the wife, people just stare the whole time but never say a word. When I was alone, a lot of them will say hi and some even tried to talk to me. Some of the little kids are curious about this strange white person in their world and they asked me my name and where I'm from, then follow me around like I'm a celebrity. Occasionally I would pass by a house where a few men were drinking and they'd ask me to have a drink with them. One such house creeped me out a little; I passed a house with a little store out front and there were 7 or 8 scuzzy looking Filipinos in the area to the side drinking something and they seemed enamored of me when I walked by. I asked if they had mineral water and one guy sprang to his feet and said yes as he motioned for me to come inside and join them. I repeated my request - "Do you have mineral water for sale?" and he said yes, and motioned even harder for me to go inside and join them. Just then a woman appeared at the storefront so I asked her if she had mineral water. She said no, they didn't have mineral water for sale. I looked at the weird guy and he was still motioning for me to go inside but given that the girl said they didn't have mineral water for sale, I was a bit suspicious of him and declined. I just said "She said you don't have it..." and quickly walked away. The adventurous side of me really wanted to go inside but the cautious side said screw them so I kept walking. Just down the street from the small house there were 3 young people sitting outside a little storefront so I stopped and asked if they had mineral water and they did so I bought one. There was a young guy standing behind a small grill and another young guy and girl sitting on a bench next to him. The guy sitting was wearing an Orlando Magic jersey and asked me a few question in decent English while the girl just stared at me. The other guy came back with my water and asked if I wanted to have some barbeque with them. I looked down at what he was grilling and I swear to god, it was a small chicken head and two little chicken feet on wooden sticks. I didn't even know you could eat those things! Needless to say, I politely declined. They asked if it was my first time in the Philippines, I said yes and the guy at the grill smiled and said "Your wife's mother is my auntie!". Of course she is, I thought to myself. I thanked him for the water and bid them adieu. I got to the small house and her father's tricycle was outside but no sign of anybody so I went inside and walked to the back of the plot where I found the wife's youngest sister, Christina (I think she's 24). She seemed a bit surprised to see me but said hello, I asked where everybody was and she said they were at the other house without even looking at me. She asked me where the wife was and I told her she was taking a nap, then she walked right past me to the front of the place and started cleaning something like I wasn't even there. After a minute I kind of got the feeling she was really uncomfortable with me being there, especially without the wife, as if it wasn't proper or something so I said goodbye and decided to walk back. I'm really starting to get the feeling that her family isn't really taking to me as well as I'd hoped they would. I've been here 5 days now and most of them are still standoffish towards me, as if they're either afraid of me or just plain don't like me. I've gone out of my way to be as nice and friendly as I possibly can - which is no small feat for me - but I guess I'm just as charming as I thought I was. The wife says they're just shy but it seems more than that. I'm not overly worried about it to be honest because let's face it, after eight years of marriage and a couple of kids, it's not like I need to win their approval or anything, It'd just be nice if I felt a little more, I don't know..."accepted" I guess? Whatever. Nobody has been rude or anything like that so I'll take the wife's word for it, that they're just shy because they don't speak much English. The rest of my walk was pretty interesting. I got plenty of stares and a few times I walked by a group of locals who were engaged in some kind of activity and said activity would completely grind to a halt as I walked by and everyone stopped what they were doing to stare at the white man walking by. The funniest one was when I walked by a basketball court with a pickup game going on. As soon as one person spotted me, the game stopped and all the players stared as I walked by. For a second I thought about yelling "THREE SECOND VIOLATION!" but decided against it. On one road I walked down, a few of the young kids even made fun of me and I'll admit that there were a couple of times when I felt a bit uncomfortable and paid extra attention to the people around me but for the most part I loved every minute of it. There were two really funny moments. One was a tricycle that was packed with young kids, probably in their late teens/early 20's. They seemed fascinated by me and they ended up passing by me about 4 times and each time, two girls that were riding on the side gave me what I could only describe as catcalls. The first time it was innocuous stuff like "Hello, what's your name?" but by the 4th pass, it was stuff like "I love you! I love you!". I doubt I would have heard that if the wife was with me! The other funny thing that happened was on my way back, there were a group of young kids probably around the X Man's age (maybe between 5-9) who were playing and when they saw me they starting acting out all kinds of stereotypes that they'd heard about white men or Americans. One kid made guns with his hands and yelled "AMERICAN SOLDIER!" and made machine gun sounds. As I walked by a couple of them made really some sarcastic remarks in mocking tones, stuff like "What's up dude" and such which sounded really funny in their broken, Filipino English. Then, after I was past them, I heard one of them say, in a really mocking tone as only kids can do "Oooh, my body is soooo white!". All I could do was laugh, turn around and wave at them. Crazy Filipino kids, I probably made their whole year just by being there. As I approached the bridge, there were a few shady looking guys sitting at a makeshift table drinking. I said hello and they asked me to come have a drink with them so I happily obliged. They were drinking gin so I poured a glass and downed it in one gulp, feeling a little uneasy as they were just staring at me as if they were sizing me up. (Do they have cannibalism in the Philippines? I'm kidding, I'm kidding...) They poured me a glass of water, I drank it and said "Thank you gentlemen", then beat a hasty retreat so as not to overstay my welcome. When I got back to the bridge, the wife father was sitting there as if he was waiting for me. I actually think he was worried and planning on going out looking for me. At least now everybody knows that I'm not afraid of this place and that I can take care of myself. I can't understand why some people would be afraid of just going for a walk around here, it's just a foreign country like any other. People stare and it can get uncomfortable but they're just people like anywhere else. Besides, what better way to see the real Philippines than to just walk around by myself in the middle of nowhere?

I'm going to bed early tonight, gotta rest up for the huge pig roast tomorrow. 5 days down, not a snake in sight. I'm starting to get used to it here.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

My First Trip to the Philippines, Day 4

Day 4

It's official: I'm sick. I'm in Southeast Asia, it's 1,000 degrees here and I catch a cold. WTF?! The night we slept in Manila at the wife's aunt's house, we had the air conditioner on all night and Luca wouldn't use a blanket so he caught the sniffles and I obviously got it from him. I'm trying to remain positive but it's uncomfortable enough here without having to deal with a frigging cold at the same time. Cripes, I can't wait to see what happens to me next. I did finally break down this morning and told the wife that we are either buying a couple mattresses for the beds or we're checking into the hotel. My body can't take it anymore, my two hip bones are so sore I can't sleep - or even sit - comfortably anymore. There's a new store that opened up in Rosario recently called the Friendship Market so we went there this morning. It's kind of like a mini Filipino Wal Mart, it sells a variety of different stuff, everything from food and drinks to appliances, furniture, and other stuff. We bought a couple mattresses, some groceries and other stuff, then headed to Agoo afterwards. Agoo is another big city, about the same distance away as Dagupan. First stop: Jollibee. I was looking forward to it as the X Man said he was going to get the huge cheeseburger they have and he can only eat half of it so I was planning on eating the other half. I don't normally eat fast food and I can't remember the last time I ate a fast food burger but with all the Filipino farm food I've been eating...well, let's just say the thought of a big, juicy cheeseburger is very appealing to me right now. Unfortunately the X Man threw me a curve and opted for the Jollibee jumbo hot dog instead so my lust for cheeseburger goodness went unfulfilled. Oh well, maybe next time. The kids got pineapple juice with their meals and I gotta tell you, that was the best freaking pineapple juice I've ever had in my life. Just so fresh and delicious, not all syrupy sweet and crappy like the stuff you get where we live. The wife wanted to try some place called Inasal so we went there afterwards and the wife ordered a dish called Sisig. You can get it with pork or bangus but she got bangus and to my huge surprise, I loved it. She delighted in making fun of me for eating bangus as I'm always teasing her about how disgusting it is. But what the hell, that's why I'm always willing to try different things, you never know when you'll come across something you really like that you'd never think you would. I still don't like bangus in general but at least I found one dish with bangus that I like. Plus, it was made with a teryaki like sauce and some red chilis so you could hardly even taste the actual fish. On the way home I took my first ride in a Jeepney. It was pretty cool, nothing amzing or anything but at least I can say I rode in a Jeepney. Jeepneys are one of my absolute favorite things in the Philippines. They have an interesting history; the original jeepneys were surplus jeeps from WW2 that Americans sold or gave to the locals, who changed them up a bit to carry several passengers. Eventually they became the main mode of public transportation and at some point the Filipinos starting decorating them in loud, bright colors and designs. You see them everywhere and in the cities you probably see more of them than any other type of vehicle. I personally LOVE them, I just can't get enough of them. Some of them are so creative, it's fascinating to see what people here have done to them. I'd say the most popular themes are religious in nature as you see a lot of them with Bible verses painted on them or religious sayings and such. NBA teams are another popular theme. I've known about them for years and seen plenty of pictures but seeing them in person is nothing short of awesome (NOTE: If you want see how cool they are, go to Google Images, type in "Jeepney" and prepare to be amazed). Anyway, I was a popular topic of conversation between the other passengers and the wife as they asked her all kinds of questions about me and kept staring. The people around here are funny, they have absolutely no problem just staring right at you. Ain't no shame in their game either, they just stare right at you even if you stare back. I've been to a lot of different countries but never have I ever encountered anything like this. It's difficult to describe what it's like to walk around and have every single eye on you. Not only that but I watch people out of the corner of my eye and not only do they stare but they also tap their friends and point to me, as if their saying "look, that must be the legendary 'white man' we've heard people talk about!". I've given myself a nickname: "White Devil". I told the wife that sooner or later I'm going to be in the middle of the market and get so tired of all the staring and the pointing that I'm going to yell at the top of my lungs "THE WHITE MAN IS HERE AND I'VE COME FOR YOUR WOMEN!"

Anyway, as it turns out, Virginia has a friend who lives two houses down who is married to an English guy. She has been telling me about him and asking me if I want to go meet him and this evening we finally did. Her friend's name is Jovi and her husband is Steve, they live in London. Steve is a nice guy, we got along really well and it was really cool to have another white devil to talk to. I brought up football (soccer) early on in the conversation and his reaction gave me the impression that I was unfortunate enough to run into the only man from England who didn't like footie but then I asked him if he had a favorite team that he supported and you can imagine my pleasant surprise when he replied Tottenham! I've always been a Manchester United fan but the past 5 years or so, Tottenham have become more or less the team I follow and support most of the time. So we hit it off pretty good and I invited them to the pig roast we're doing on Saturday, which I'm really looking forward to. Jovi said something about them finding a dead snake just down a the road a little ways so I asked what she meant by "big snake" and she pulled out her camera to show me pictures. The thing was at least 8-10 feet long! It looked like a python which I guess are pretty common here since the rice fields are perfect hunting grounds with all the frogs and rats and stuff. This is not good because now, every time I walk out to dirt path I have to go through the rice fields and I am constantly scanning for snakes. It was freshly dead when they found it in the road and they picked it up and ate it I think. You can imagine how uneasy seeing those pictures has made me now. I'm still traumatized from the dual spider incidents that past couple nights and now this. We ended up chatting so much that we lost track of time and soon enough it started pouring out so we had to walk back to our house in the pitch dark, pouring rain. I did not enjoy that at all.

Despite the pictures Jovi showed me, I'm on 4 days now and still haven't seen a single snake. Let's hope it stays that way...

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

My First Trip to the Philippines, Day 3

Day 3

Pretty uneventful day today. I think the heat and humidity are starting to get to me because I spent a good chunk of time laying in bed today doing nothing, sleeping occasionally. Part of it was because I'm a little wiped out from the weather but part of it is also because I'm kind of bored here to be honest. I already described how far out in the middle of nowhere the wife's family's house is so it should come as no surprise that there's nothing to do here. The kids love it since they have their cousins to play with and a place like this is great for them because kids love playing outside, climbing trees and such but for a white city boy from the US...not so much. I brought a book to read ("Opening Day; the Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season") but I can only sit around reading for so long, especially on the furniture here. Let me tell you about the furniture here; it's very uncomfortable. It's all handmade out of bamboo and looks really cool and was fine the first day or so but by now my body is sore from constantly sitting on hard wood. The tricycle ride to Dagupan City yesterday was very unforgiving as the seats are small and made of wood and the roads are very bumpy so my ass is really sore from that. And the beds are the worst part. The beds are also handmade from bamboo and there no matresses which normally wouldn't be a problem if I were used to sleeping on my back but unfortunately my sleeping habits are to sleep on my stomach or on my sides. And that just does not work on a bed made of wood. My two hip bones are bruised from pressing against the wood. I am trying to be the proverbial gracious guest so I have not complained about any of this to anyone but I'm not sure how long I can hold out. When you come to a place like this you quickly realize some of the things you take for granted in your cushy life back home and right now one of those things I'm realizing is the ability to just sit on a cushioned couch or chair or sleep on a soft matress. It's no big deal for these people as they've done it their whole lives so it's normal to them. But for us spoiled westerners, it takes some getting used to.

One thing I forgot to mention from yesterday is that on the way to Dagupan, we stopped at a hotel/resort type place nearby to check it out in case staying at the wife's parent's place just becomes too difficult for me. It actually looks really nice, air conditioned rooms, comfortable beds, swimming pool, pond out back to go fishing and only 2,000 pisos a night (about $40). I guess the wife must have mentioned some of my discomfort to her mother because after we looked at it, her mother said to her privately "Why not just buy an electric fan and a mattress, it's cheaper". I'm learning quickly just how wide the chasm is between how we in the "rich" countries view money vice how people here do. Spending $40 on a nice hotel room with a pool, air conditioning and mountain views is considered cheap by our standards but to some people here, it's a frivilous luxury, something totally unnecessary. We decided that we may end up checking in to the hotel next week for a few nights, if for no other reason than just to get a little privacy and have a mini vacation with the kids since they have a pool and fishing pond. It's funny, before I came here I told the wife that I would prefer to stay in a hotel nearby rather than try and rough it at her parents place but since I got here my better insticts have prevailed and I'm determined to stay at the house as long as possible, if only to prove that I'm not a wuss. And honestly, it's not that bad here. I spent enough time in the field when I was in the Army that I've lived in a lot worse conditions than anything I have to deal with here. Hell, my first 2 weeks in Kosovo I took showers with baby wipes. In some ways, life here is a lot like being in the field actually. I shave outside with a little cup of cold water and a mirror and brush my teeth out there with a bottle of water as well. Baths are a little easier. The bathroom is a little empty concrete room with a bucket. You fill the bucket with water and use a little scoop type thing called a "tabo" to wash yourself. No hot water but it's so frigging hot here that you don't mind using cold water. The worst part about it is that it's so humid that the second you're done, you're already sweating profusely again. The sweating here is really annoying. I may be from New England but I've spent time in some very humid places, places like Georgia, Florida and Honduras and Italy gets extremely humid in the summertime, almost unbearably so. But let me tell you, those places have NOTHING on the humidity here. I sweat 24 hours a day, nonstop. I've taking to carrying a washcloth around with me everywhere - I call it my sweatrag - and within 30 minutes it's completely soaked so I have 2 or 3 that I rotate. We're in the rainy season here right now so occasionally it pours down and cools off a tiny bit but not much. They have one electric fan in the house and they've pretty much given it to me full time. When I sit in the living room, they turn it on so it blows directly on me and at night we sleep with it in our room. So far I'd say the humidity and constant sweating are the hardest thing I've had to deal with.

In the afternoon we decided to go to the small house. Her parents have two houses; the big house and the small house. Here's the back story: about 4 or 5 years ago her parents had a friend who was selling a small plot of land in a great location and offered it to them first at a cheap price since they were friends. Of course they couldn't afford it so they asked us if we would loan them the money. It was only about $2,000 and as the old saying goes "land is the best investment because it's the only thing God ain't making any more of" so we bought it for them, as a gift. What makes the land so attractive is that it's on a main road, which makes a hell of a lot more sense to me after seeing the other house where you have to go down a dirt road, cross a small walking bridge over a river and then walk down a muddy trail through the rice fields to reach. So they got the land but since they have very little money they can't afford to build a big house on it so they've managed to piece together a decent little shack for a house on it and they call that the small house. The big house is the one we're staying at. Industrious folks that they are, they've also managed to buy a pig and some chickens that they keep on the land and although there's not a lot of land her mother has a garden where she grows vegetables to sell at the market. It's about a 20 minute walk from the big house to the small house and it was a very enjoyable little stroll. Along the way, every single person that we passed stopped dead in their tracks and stared at me like they'd seen a ghost. I'm getting the feeling that people around here have never seen a white man before. Just down the road from the small house, they're building a big supermarket and a couple other things which is a great sign. They've already started construction and have started widening the road and that means that the little plot of land that we bought her parents for a mere $2,000 will soon be worth a HELL of a lot more than that. In fact, someone recently offered them $3500 for it which they turned down cold. That little piece of land might just end up being one of the best investments we've ever made and here's the funniest part - when they bought it, they put it in the wife's name since we gave them the money for it as a gift. So technically, we own it. I'm not interested in making any money off it though, it's more for the wife's family to do with it what they want. As far as the other house, they own that land as well even though it's in the middle of nowhere. The wife says that there are plans to build a big bridge over the river and a big road connecting the land that the house is on and when they do the value of the big house will skyrocket so that's why they are doing everything they can to keep up the big house even though it's so secluded. From what I've seen so far, things move extremely slow here so I'm thinking there probably won't be a bridge or a road appearing here anytime soon though. Maybe not even in my lifetime.

Earlier tonight, I was sitting in the living room relaxing when suddenly Xavier started screaming "MOMMY! MOMMY! HELP!". I jumped up and ran into the kitchen and he was in the other bathroom which is basically another little flushless toilet bowl in an empty cement room in the kitchen. As I get to the kitchen, he comes running out of the bathroom screaming "SPIDER! SPIDER!". So I asked him what the problem was and he said there was a huge spider in the bathroom on the wall. Now this surprised me because since he's been here, he's really become quite a country boy, playing with bugs, climbing trees, petting all the animals, etc. so I had a hard time believing that he'd get scared by a spider. Sure enough, we looked in and there was no spider to be seen. He knows how much I hate snakes and spiders so he occasionally thinks it funny to try and scare me so I figured that's what he was up to and I went back in the living room. He stayed and continued to look for the spider and about 5 minutes later yelled to me that he found it. My curiosity got the better of me so I went in and looked through the open door in the bathroom and oh...my...GOD. On the wall was THEE biggest spider I'd ever seen in my life, even bigger than the one on the wall last night - and that one was huge. It was about the size of my hand when I spread out my fingers. Virginia's sisters were laughing at us and kept saying "Eh, those things don't even bite, don't worry about them" but I don't care. They tried to get it but it ran quickly up the wall and into a crack that separates the kitchen bathroom from the other bathroom and the shower room. Needless to say, I am extremely traumatized now. Every time I have to use the bathroom, I go in very slowly, looking for any sign of the gargantuan arachnid. I've named him Spiderzilla. Fortunately, it is normal for the men to urinate outside since we're in the middle of nowhere so unless I have to take a crap, I think I'll be peeing outside the rest of my time here.