Welcome! I'm Brad, a retired American high school teacher who has been living in Cabanatuan City, the Philippines for more than six years. My adoptive/adopted Filipino family the Torreses, the Javier-Aldonza-Guevarra-Academia clan, the kind staff at the hotel across the street where I used to live, and the Raguindin family, under whose roof I now live, have been friends and helpmates to me during this time; thanks to them for letting me describe here their trials, successes, heartaches, celebrations, passions, so that American readers can get an idea of Filipino life. It has, for the most part, been a very enjoyable stay. I post every four to ten days. Tap the lower floors above for earlier posts. I'm afraid this new platform does not enable readers to embiggen the photos; will try to make sure to post photos large enough not to require a magnifying glass.

You can reach Brad Smith at boan.song@gmail.com

Meanwhile, in Manila, Glenda is visiting for a couple of days with her sister Jenny, Jenny's husband Bong, Kreeza, and other family members. Pictured here is a priest's blessing of Jenny and Bong's new house!


China Is the Bully on the Block

Glenda is well. My own cold devolved into bronchitis about a week ago; fever, aching bones, etc. Four days into a round of azithromycin, am feeling a good deal better.    

I've written on the territorial dispute between China and other countries bordering the South China Sea (see 9.15.20, 5th floor). China's "nine-dash line" basically gives the entire sea, including waters 1,000 miles from the Chinese coast, to China. The U.N.'s Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 ruled that the Chinese claim had no legal basis, but China rejected the ruling, created military bases on islands in the sea, and has been harrassing non-Chinese fishermen as well as island outposts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan. 

Tensions grow and dissipate, grow and dissipate. Recently they have been growing. In 1999 the Philippines intentionally grounded the World War Two-era warship Sierra Madre upon the Second Thomas Shoal, within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, and keeps a handful of troops on the vessel, much to the displeasure of China. In the last few weeks, attempts to reprovision these troops were turned back by Chinese water cannons; supply ships were finally able to get through, but Beijing has announced the resupplying missions were deliberate incursions upon its sovereign territory. In the month before the Second Thomas Shoal incident, two collisions between Chinese and Philippine vessels occurred; in both cases, Beijing and Manila blamed the other's navy for the mishaps. During this time, President Marcos ordered a floating barrier preventing Philippine fishermen from entering the Scarborough Shoals fishing ground to be cut free and set adrift; the Chinese, who had constructed it, responded angrily and intimidatingly.

                                                 The grounded Sierra Madre.  (photo: Armed Forces of the Philippines)

The Philippine public, in Manila, has demonstrated before the Chinese Embassy against Beijing's strong-handed actions. And civilian owners of more than thirty ships planned to form a convoy that would deliver "Christmas cheer" to the troops onboard the Sierra Madre; it seems that a government fearing this would destabilize further an already unstable situation has managed to dissuade these mariners from proceeding. But anti-Chinese sentiment, according to my own interactions with Filipinos, has been on the rise among the public here since my arrival in 2017.

Enter the United States. War games are normally held by the U.S. at this time of year with the Philippine navy; this year they are larger and better publicised than ones that went before. US Seventh Fleet chief Vice Admiral Karl Thomas has stated for the Philippine media, without mentioning China by name, that the "rules-based international order" has been "ripped at and tugged at and tested to benefit not all nations but one nation." American and Philippine ships will patrol portions of the South China Sea, and perform anti-submarine and electronic warfare drills well into next week. As for China, its media is claiming that the Philippines has enlisted "foreign forces" to patrol the South China Sea.

Joe Biden's promising meeting with Xi Jinping notwithstanding, tensions between China and the Philippines do appear to be growing.






A Quickie

We've had head colds for more than a week, and still they hang on. Lingerers. Laggers. Poky-joes. Glenda and I have just about had it. A day in the sun may be what we need to shake this thing; I'll suggest a trip to a resort tomorrow after I'm done typing. Mainly, we've been indoors these many days. I'm nearing the end of a long, immersive novel, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, spending time with a likeable if flawed protagonist in New York City, Las Vegas, Amsterdam; Glenda watches videos on her smartphone.

I've been online, too. Are the talking heads back in Washington becoming more alarmist over the domestic intranquility? It seems that way. Well, Trump does seem to be following a fascist playbook, and a majority of Republican politicians, when they're not beating up on each other, seem to be lining up behind him. The Dems picked Adlai Stevenson to go up against Eisenhower a second time in 1956; old Adlai had not proven himself to be a liar, a fraud, a grifter, an inciter, a crook, and just an overall bad person, though. Never thought I'd see the U.S. in such straits.

Not up for more writing today. My head's a piece of balsa wood. Will get back to this when feeling better!


This and That

All Saints Day break is over, and the children are back in school: Kreeza boarded a bus bound for Manila with Gio and Charm yesterday; Francis is back at the family homestead in Rizal. Two days before they left, I drove up to Rizal and picked up many Torreses, along with pots and containers holding dishes they had prepared. Destination: Crystal Waves. We spent six or seven hours there, eating much, swimming together, getting tossed around together when the management turned on the wave-making machine. The sun was bright; my sun block works well, thankfully. Joy-Joy was gleeful in the water and got passed around among us. She practiced ducking her head under water and seems more comfortable in the water than when I first saw her at a resort. In the middle of a poker game at our rented cabana (we played for petty cash) Charm's leg seized up -- a very painful cramp! Gio put pressure on the leg in one direction while we comisserated with the sufferer, who was in tears. She finally regained operation of the leg; I remember thinking it was a good thing this had not happened when she was in water over her head.

Charm and Gio have been together for nearly two years and have great affection for each other. If they lived in the U.S. they would probably be hitched up legally by now. Oddly enough, the first, third, and fifth of Mario and Bienbe's daughters are attracted to men, while the second, fourth, and sixth daughters are attracted to women.  I once asked Glenda whether she thought maybe God had chosen every other child to be a boy, but had gotten the equipment mixed up. In this very religious country, jokes encompassing religion and sexuality, even pretty lame jokes encompassing religion and sexuality, are appreciated by most Filipinos. Filipinos are, by and large, more humorous, and more appreciative of humor, than Americans. (Glenda laughed at my poor attempt.)

. . . . . . . . . .

The three months before November are the most hazardous for the Philippines, with regard to cyclonic storms, but we sailed through August, September, and October practically unscathed. If the Ventusky modeler is correct, that may change in the next two weeks; they have two powerful cyclones forming about a week from now and heading not northwest in the direction of Taiwan or Japan, but directly west. As I've mentioned before, cyclones in the Pacific can form in any month, and in the latitudes of the Philipines they have no trouble maintaining strength as typhoons.

. . . . . . . . . .

Varanus bitatawa is a large lizard "discovered" in the Sierra Madre range east of Cab City. I put "discover" in quotation marks because the Agta and Ilongot peoples indigenous to those mountains have of course known about this animal for centuries -- it had never been catalogued by science before 2009, however. And this is a large creature, a cousin of the Komodo Dragon, growing up to two meters in length! After learning of it I chatted about it online with my sons a few months ago; together we tracked down pictures of it. Unlike the Komodo, Varanus is an herbivore, so my friends and I won't have to worry about it when we make a pit stop in the mountains traveling to Baler or Dingalan on the east coast . . . .  Before reading about it, I had thought the largest lizards in the islands were the monitors, which can grow to about three feet!

. . . . . . . . . .

The seven-seat Toyota Avanza I drive, I'm pleased to say, is now completely paid off.


Election Day

Drove to market for provisions today and was relieved to find that the smell of pig now seems completely gone from the car. No, we did not transport a live pig down here from Rizal; Glenda and Don-Don could not find enough buyers for roasted lechon. So on to Plan B: the pig was slaughtered in Rizal (got to see and hear that spectacle on Glenda's smartphone) and we drove over there to pick up half of the pig parts, as well as the pig's blood, to sell in Cabanatuan. A portion remained in Rizal for the family to sell, and a portion went over to the town of Luar, where Glenda's cousins had buyers. So we were hawking raw pork instead of crispy lechon; Glenda is still making a profit on her investment in feed and care. The pig parts were carefully bagged before they were put into the Avanza; there are no stains, but the pig smell was still quite noticeable in the car several days later.

At the market, I noticed that many of the customers and workers already had the ink mark on their right forefinger. Voters here receive it after they place their votes -- this election for their barangay captain, councilors, and youth representative. Their names are checked off on a roll, too; COMELEC, the country's election overseers, has put into place several techniques and mechanisms to ensure that elections are fair and skulduggery-free. Vote-buying is a problem that COMELEC has still not solved, but efforts to combat that practice seem to have resulted in a reduction, if not an eradication of it.

Markets are open, but most places of business are not. Election days are national holidays in the Philippines. You ask me, they should be national holidays in the U.S. as well. As for school, school is out for the whole week, because it is All Saints Day break! Halloween gets relatively short shrift here, though there will still be some folks in costumes tomorrow, a few parties. The much bigger day is Nov. 1, when many families bring a day's supply of food for dawn-to-dusk vigils in cemeteries at the gravesites of departed loved ones.

Glenda's Kreeza, along with Glenda's sister Gio and Gio's partner Charm, came up from Manila to spend a night with us; the next day, I ferried them up to Rizal, where we picked up Glenda's Francis and brought him with Kreeza back to Cab City. Before heading up to Rizal, we met with Edmar, Novi, JM, and little Joy-Joy, and we all spent some time at the SM Mall, where Glenda had a follow-up appointment with her ENT doc while the children had fun at Kidzoona; after this we all went to Shakey's, where the ten of us made our way through most of two "family spreads" -- Gio and Charm had takeout fare to bring with them to Rizal. Just how are Edmar,


Novi, Joy-Joy, and JM related to Glenda, you may be wondering. Edmar and JM are the sons of Glenda's eldest sister, who is working in Saudi Arabia. Novi is Edmar's wife and Joy-Joy their daughter. And an addition to their family is currently doing some gestating inside Novi!

Yesterday there were just the four of us, and what was there for Glenda and me to do but pack the lad and lassie into the car, pick up two rotisserie chickens, and head for one of our favorite swimming holes.



Pig Worries

Glenda's pig, back at the homestead in Rizal, wouldn't get pregnant, and now it won't eat. Glenda is sitting out in the compound with the Raguindins, periodically texting home for updates -- but this pig seems down for the count. I imagine it just grew tired of its piggy existence within the stone walls of its 3x5 pen.

A low pressure area has sidled up to Luzon's east coast, and it's been a dank day. This morning I'm sure many a Cabanatuanite remarked to a neighbor on how cold it was ("sobrang lamig!") -- "cold," to a Filipino living near sea level, is any temperature below about 80 degrees F; and it did seem to be in the mid to high 70's this morning. On another note, two days ago Glenda and I made the trek to Palayan to extend my visa at the immigration office there, a task I must now perform every two months (the Mardos administration switched it from six months to two months, for unknown reasons). In Palayan I received a pleasant surprise; the Nueva Ecija immigration office would be changing its location from Palayan to Cabanatuan on October 25! Indeed, Palayan is the capital of the province, but the move of the immigration office to Cab City makes good sense: Cab City sits on the main drag of the province, the Maharlika Highway, and Palayan does not; also, Cabanatuan, the most populous city in the province, has six or seven times the number of people that Palayan has. So starting in December it will not be a 50-minute drive but rather a 10-minute hop downtown that gets me an extension. And bonus: the new office will be in the NE Pacific Mall, so Glenda can do some shopping while I fill out the form and wait for paperwork to be processed.

Yesterday was a big day for Robin, the husband of Aiza Raguindin's sister Clara Mae. Robin and Mae visit with the Raguindins often, and Glenda and I have gotten to know them well, so we were invited to join the celebration at Nery's Resort. Resort after resort, I know. But these resorts, most of which are very clean and tricked out in interesting ways, play an important role in modern Filipino culture, particularly for Filipinos who live hours from the seashore. They are places for family groups, and other groups, to gather and commune. For a nominal fee long tables, barbecue equipment, and multiple swimming pools in which to cavort are provided. Nery's, as I wrote about in an earlier posting, has quite a few exotic animals as well!

The birthday boy, who owns and runs a motorcycle repair shop on the Maharlika, was presented with two cakes and serenaded with the birthday song by the 25 or so in our group; then another group closeby sang for him! Before this, we all swam, then sat down to a plentiful buffet containing a huge spicy sisig made by Aiza and Don-Don that morning, adobo and fried fish cooked by Mae, a pakbet that I think Lola Luz made, rotisserie chickens bought by Glenda and me, spaghetti (a must at every Filipino birthday), a big pot of steamed mussels, sweet muffins, boiled peanuts, and green mangos.

News Flash -- I typed out this posting about 3 hours ago. The pig's a goner, the family has agreed. I won't drive at night; the motorcycle repairman/birthday boy Robin has agreed to drive with Glenda to Rizal tonight in the Avanza and fetch the pig here in the back of the car. It will be slaughtered here tomorrow morning and roasted in a firepit overseen by Don-Don. The meat will be sold at the Raguindins' for P700 a kilo, not a bad price for fresh lechon.

I C    D U M  P

Mae is here. Everything's under control.

                                                                                                                                        Some of the gang.


Sisig!                                                                                                                                                   Pinakbet!

                                                                                                               Glenda and me slumming.                                                   


Robin's cousin and Aiza present the cakes.


The OFWs of Gaza

A week out from the murderous raid on Israeli civilians by Hamas, a raid that took the lives of more than 1,300 innocent Israelis, the Israeli army seems poised to invade northern Gaza. Hezbollah in Lebanon is firing missiles into northern Israel and may attempt an invasion of Israel, if Israel moves on Gaza. Israel, thanks largely to the United States, has the firepower to stave off Hezbollah while attacking Hamas. Wild cards are Syria, Iran, and Egypt: how do these countries, each with a sizeable army, react if the Israeli army in Gaza wreaks havoc among the civilian population there? It does not help that Bibi Netanyahu saved his position as Israel's prime minister (and in doing so avoided jail time for now) by joining with factions on Israel's far right to form a government. One senses that the plight of Gazan civilians in the middle of urban warfare will not be a priority on the minds of these government leaders.

It's a very nasty situation. Ismail Haniyeh, Chairman of Hamas, are you getting what you wanted when you sent fighters to kill as many Israelis as possible? Of course, not just Israelis died on 10/7: at least 25 Americans were killed. And at least three Filipinos died at the hands of Hamas murderers. The U.S. has a large Jewish population and close ties to Israel: the large number of American dead (and more apparently taken hostage) comes as no great surprise. But three Filipinos? The Jewish population in the Philippines is approximately 100; there is one synagogue in the entire country, in Manila.

Well, more than 10 million Filipinos work overseas, if you can believe it; that is nearly 10% of the entire population. And more than 30,000 OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) work in Israel. Ninety-two OFWs in Gaza have notified the Philippine government that they wish to leave Gaza, pronto, and the government says it is "exhausting all options" in its attempt to evacuate these Filipinos from the blockaded enclave. These 92 are in the news and on the minds of many in the Philippines right now.

Why are there so many Filipinos working overseas? Firstly, there are many well-educated Filipinos in the work force here, and not enough adequate jobs to go around. Secondly, salaries in this country are a fraction of the salaries that can be earned overseas. Finally, the islands have very family-centric societies, and there is much eagerness, as well as peer pressure, to be a breadwinner for loved ones. Much more could be written concerning each of these main reasons: there you have the bare bones of it. OFWs most commonly work in construction, in factories. They are housekeepers in rich families, nurses, doctors, therapists, and engineers. The top destinations for these overseas workers are Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, Qatar, Dubai, and Saudi Arabia. Nine percent of OFWs are in Europe, and 6.3% are in North and South America. My significant other Glenda worked for two years in Qatar, and her sister now lives and works in Saudi Arabia.

In the Philippines, a small industry exists which serves OFWs and prospective OFWs. Remittance centers can be found on all the main streets of cities: they handle the conveyance of funds from Filipinos abroad to their family members. Government-licensed agencies hook Filipinos up with overseas employers. The Department of Labor and Employment has a division devoted to OFWs: it offers worker training for overseas jobs, repatriation assistance, and other services.

Until the Philippines gets on its feet, economically, work available abroad will continue to entice ambitious Filipinos. And calamities like the current one in the Middle East will influence this phenomenon very little, I think.






The Barangay Election Season

Glenda's sister Gio and her partner Charm were up from Manila to spend five days with the Rizal Torreses, and Glenda went to Rizal for an overnight with her sister. Glenda texted me late that evening and asked if I would like to join them on a family outing to Rancho Paraiso, a "nature park" in Rizal, and I said sure. It was a pretty place, covering the summit of one of the foothills of the Sierra Madre, with views into valleys containing rice fields. Banana trees, mango trees, lots of flowers.The life-sized, colorfully painted sculptures of various dinosaurs weren't something I was expecting in a nature park, nor was the caged, long-tailed macaque, an animal found on many Philippine islands but not on Luzon. As the family brought lunch to one of the cabins surrounding the swimming pool, I studied the macaque as it was fed a jelly donut by a group of schoolgirls.

After a swim we sat down to a lunch which included some of the pig Edmar had slaughtered. Dark clouds were marching in from the direction of the mountains, and a genuinely cool breeze kicked up. After eating, most of us piled back into the water, which was warmer than the air. A steady, chilly rain set in, and I realized that for only the second time in six years I felt cold in the Philippines, shivering cold! (The other time was a night I spent one and a half miles high in the central Cordilleran town of Sagada.) After the agonizing emergence from the pool, the younger adults and I sat in a close-knit group in dry clothes sipping brandy. Joy-Joy slept in Mario's lap.

In other news . . . barangay and youth elections happen Oct. 30! The youth elections, whose candidates are young men and women aged 15-21, ensure a "contribution of youth" to local government. Winners of these elections a) sit in on barangay councils and b) form their own youth councils, which, once approved, receive a small stipend from the government to initiate or expand community projects.

The "grown-up" barangay council is where the real political power lies. The barangay is the smallest administrative unit in the country; each barangay contains a few thousand people, and there are 42,027 barangays throughout the islands. A barangay kapitan and his or her seven councilors have several jobs: they are justices of the peace, mediating disputes that arise in the barangay to avoid further clogging the already clogged dockets of the courts of justice; they hire and oversee unarmed barangay police whose job it is to keep the peace; they are responsible for the disbursement of government funds within their barangay for projects ranging from road repair to barangay festivals. Among these and other functions, the kapitan and councilors divide their time so that one of them is available on-call 24/7 to attend to needs, sometimes emergency needs, of the barangay population. It's a lovely set-up. Yes, there is occasional corner-cutting and corruption (part of the machinery here and in most southeast Asian countries) but the barangay system has served Filipinos well for centuries. It gives one an added sense of belonging here. I'm not just a Nueva Ecijo, a Cabanatuanite. I'm also a Bitas boy. Sometimes I wonder how such a system would work in the United States.

In each barangay, every three years, the election takes place. The eight candidates who receive the most votes take a place on the council; of the eight, the one who received the most votes is designated barangay kapitan. This arrangement does not prevent slates of eight candidates from running together. There are, if I'm not mistaken, two such slates running for the Barangay Bitas council: one is all men and the other has three women candidates. Such slates, if they are successful, must drop candidates if outsiders receive more votes than these candidates.

The lead-up to these elections can be a very contentious time in some barangays. Already an incumbent barangay kapitan has been assassinated in Cebu; other election-related violence has been reported. Government officials want to avoid the kind of experience the last barangay elections underwent, when 25 deaths due to election-related violence occurred (these elections took place in 2018; a law had expanded councilors' terms from 3 years to 5, but the law was rescinded by the new legislature and the Marcos administration).The Philippine National Police have designated 249 barangays to be of "grave concern" with regard to the possibility of election violence; in my province of Nueva Ecija, there is only one such barangay, and it is well to the south of Cab City in General Tinio. All 89 barangay councils in Cabanatuan have signed a covenant aimed at ensuring a peaceful election season in the city.

An order forbidding the carrying of firearms outside of the home is in effect now and will be in effect until November 30. The buying, selling, and drinking of alcoholic beverages will be forbidden on October 29 and 30. Already police checkpoints have sprung up within cities and between cities, manned not by barangay police but by the gun-toting variety of cop. They are looking for firearms. Filipinos who are not madcap political partisans (and I haven't yet met one of those) take this all in stride.

There is no orange menace fomenting hatred and violence in this country; political tiffs and scraps leading to needless deaths are just, uh, a nasty tradition here?

                          Philippine Information Agency






The days are sunny and not overly hot in Cab City, this late September. For the past three or four afternoons cumulus clouds have started piling up by 4pm, and thunderstorms with frequent lightning and gusty winds have serenaded the city around dusk, thankfully without pranking us and shutting down power. There are two reasons why this country has many more storm-caused power outages than the U.S. has. Firstly, there are many more lightning storms here than over there (with the possible exception of Florida). Secondly, when lightning hits a wire and sends one or two million volts towards a transformer, here it has a better chance of blowing up the transformer than it has over there, because the circuit breakers used here are inferior to those used in the States. I read about this recently. Well, PAGASA has central Luzon pegged for another round of storms later today; candles in the bedside cupboard are at the ready!

Fully recovered from her operation, Glenda has spent the last week in Rizal. She went up to the homestead to care for Francis, who had come down with a bad cold. A few days later, with Francis chipper again, she stayed on to attend the birthday party of the son of an old classmate, and to help out selling portions of one of the family pigs, which Edmar had recently slaughtered. She is due back later today. In conversation with Aiza, a few days back, I praised the dinner dishes Glenda prepared. "Of course, of course her food is good," said Aiza. "She's Ilocano!" And so I learned that people from Glenda's ethnic group have a reputation for being good cooks.

Sinigang, pinakbet, adobo, menudo, tinola, kaldereta . . . .  If you are not living in the Philippines and these words mean little to you, punch them up in Goodle Image. I'd had these several times before meeting Glenda, mostly in restaurants; Glenda's Filipino dishes beat those of the restaurants, hands down. Tastier, heartier. And her fried chicken is among the best I've ever tasted!  . . . So I've watched her perform in the kitchen. She knows what to put in, when to put it in, and, once it's all simmering, how much time she has to enter the compound and have a tete-a-tete with Aiza or Donaiza; but it always seems that the end product must rely on more than these simple mechanics!

I can, and have for the past week, fend for myself in the kitchen. Can toss an omelet in the pan, cook hamburgers and sausages, create nicely grilled cheese sandwiches, even make a decent American chop suey. Can't help looking forward to Glenda's return, however.


Breathing Naturally . . .

. . . is what Glenda does now. She is five days post-op and the discomfort is gone, though a "heaviness," as she puts it, occasionally visits her. She has done excellently for someone who, before this experience, had never before been examined by a doctor, nevermind had an operation. She told me this just before our first visit to Dr. Claudio, and I was a little incredulous. Never? No, never. You delivered two babies; you had OB doctors caring for you? No Brad. How do you call it? Midwife? Dr. Claudio is a good first doctor to have: tall, personable, smart-looking in his rimless glasses, and just a little goofy. Likes black denim. A little goofy? I still see him dashing down to his car just before the operation because he had forgotten something; still see him holding up for me with a lop-sided smile two medicine phials full of those little white globules, now blood-spattered, while Glenda was being woken up on the table. I spent the first night with Glenda, and there was not much sleep for either of us: the little I got was on a padded bench maybe four and a half feet long.

The next morning Glenda's nephew Edmar showed up on his trike with his wife Novi (in earlier postings misspelled "Nobe"), little Joy-Joy, and Glenda's mom Bienbe. Novi with Joy in her arms was stopped at the door: babies were not allowed in the hospital. Jeesh! So Joy-Joy stayed outside with her father while Novi and Bienbe followed me up the stairs to Glenda. I'd asked for a private room after learning one was available -- one of a few factors that pushed the "package deal" closer to 100K than to 70K -- and Bienbe, Glenda, and 

and Novi chatted about the operation in Tagalog, me understanding a few snippets and throwing in a phrase or two edgewise. Novi was to stay with Glenda, who was still not eating solids, for the second night, and after a while Bienbe joined Edmar and Joy-Joy for the trip back to Rizal; I headed for the Raguindins and my bed.

The following morning Dr. Claudio had been paid his share but we hadn't yet seen the hospital bill. I had 47K in my pocket and wasn't sure it would be enough, so over the cell phone I asked Glenda and Novi to wait for the bill and let me know the amount as soon as they received it; if we needed more money, I would stop at an ATM on the way over. The cashier on the first floor well before noon was told to prepare the bill; at 2pm Glenda was told it would be soon. At 3:30pm, with the bill not yet delivered, I hopped in the car, stopped at the ATM and withdrew 20K, then made for the hospital. In the room they had not yet seen the bill. Novi and I went down to the glass-enclosed finance department, at which a lady behind the glass said there was one more thing to do. I keep my cool very well in aggravating situations, but felt that here, for only the third or fourth time in the nearly six years I've been in the Philippines, the "exasperated foreigner" routine could be used to advantage. "It's been hours and hours and hours!" I said in a raised voice, looking in turn at each of the three employees behind the glass. And it did the trick. Mollifyingly the woman told me to please have a seat and she would get right on it. Within fifteen minutes the bill was presented, 49K+, and I handed over a wad of fifty 1K notes. The money was counted, papers were stamped, and in no time we were all at the nurses' station waiting for a wheelchair. 


The "exasperated foreigner" routine rarely does anyone any good, which is why I only very rarely use it. It demeans people and is self-demeaning, too, methinks. At any rate, Glenda ate a good solid meal that evening, at home. Novi stayed with us that night and we took her back to Rizal the following morning, walking down the deeply rutted dirt drive to find Joy-Joy in a plastic childrens' pool buck-naked and gleefully pointing a garden hose this way and that. Thank you, Novi, for your help! Salamat, Novi, sa iyong tulong!

The large gravel lot bordered by acacia trees, and Wesleyan University Hostpital beyond it. At one end of the hospital, the gate to the university proper.


Driving Ms Glenda

That Good Witch of the West has had a lot to do in many different places recently, and I've been driving her here and there. Drove her to Paniqui, Tarlac Province, about an hour and a half from Cab City, last Monday, so that she could renew her passport. One cannot renew a Filipino passport online or via mail, and there are only three government offices on Luzon that issue and renew passports: the closest to us is in Paniqui. Always I'm up for driving roads as yet untraveled by me; we checked out Guimba, Pura, Ramos, listening to the music on my thumb drive: Procol Harum, the Pixies, the Pogues, some reggae-fied popular songs (I change up the selection often). The office was in a WalterMart, and, having arrived more than an hour early, we sat down to lunch at the Shakey's in the mall.

Have not yet found pizza better than the pizza at Shakey's in the Philippines; if you are a Filipino or Phlipside expat who knows of better, please let me know! The office opened a half hour late, but once the doors opened Glenda got through her fuss and bother in less than an hour. In the Philippines that's saying something.

Last Wednesday I drove Glenda to see the ENT guy who had treated my folliculitis, for the simple reason that Glenda has not been able to breathe through her nose since she had a bad case of sinusitis while working in Qatar. Hadn't even realized she couldn't breathe through her nose until recently, when we talked about her snoring at night. Her snoring is gentle, never loud enough to keep me awake; and she has informed me that I occasionally have conversations with someone in my sleep, so it was not out of complaint but out of concern that I brought it up. And she said she couldn't use the airway. The nose plays an immunological role in protecting us from airborne disease -- so long as we breathe through it. She agreed to see Dr. Claudius.

The doctor put his viewer up Glenda's nostrils, and far up the nasal passages, the computer screen showed, there were clusters of glossy-white, globular things. "Those are polyps," the doctor intoned. It was a severe enough case to require endoscopic surgery, a scraping of the sinuses, and would Glenda be up for such a procedure? She affirmed that she would. Dr. Claudius is affiliated with Wesleyan University Hospital here in Cabanatuan, so that is where the procedure will take place. The doctor said a "package deal" was available that would include a two-day stay for Glenda at the hospital, if Glenda had Philhealth insurance. Glenda did not have Philhealth, so one of our pre-op errands would be to get Glenda signed on. The package deal would come to 70,000 pesos, or a bit less than 1,500 American -- for something that costs $8,000 to $13,000 without hospitalization figured in, in the U.S., according to Dove Medical Press.

On the way home from the doctor's office we picked up pre-op

medications. There were tests to run, and the next morning we

went to St. Albert's Clinic for blood and urine tests. The waiting 

room was crowded and so I stayed in the car with the a/c on and

waited. And waited. Should have brought along a book! Well,

eventually she came back with the results, all within normal

parameters. Then it was off to Dr. Paulino J. Garcia Memorial

Hospital for a chest x-ray; after considerable circling about,

finally found a parking space, and told Glenda I would wait in 

the car for her. After she left I was chased out of the space by

hospital security: "Employees only," they said. Great, and my

smartphone needed charging. Drove home and, texting there,

asked Glenda if she could take a trike home. Not a problem,

the Good Witch replied.

Next day, there was paperwork to procure, fill out, get notarized, and bring to a magistrate at Rizal City Hall, so that Glenda would be

able to sign on to the national health insurance plan (Philhealth). We went to Wesleyan University, where kind security guards pointed the way to the hospital, for the C-scan Dr. Claudius had signed Glenda up for, and I was relieved to find an enormous area for parking next to the hospital. Wouldn't need to take a trike to visit Glenda while she was hospitalized.

On Monday (tomorrow) I'll drive Ms Glenda to the Philhealth office at the NE Pacific Mall. If all goes smoothly there, Glenda will undergo her procedure Wednesday morning.


The Troubled Homeland: Some Quick Thoughts

First of the month. Brought rent money to Don-Don.  Drove to the duplex on the Aurora road and dropped off support for Jheng's family, tuition for Mariel. These cyclones coursing north of Luzon have been "enhancing the southwest monsoon," as the weather bureau puts it, and the rain in Cabanatuan has been pretty much constant for the last four or five days. On the west coast it's downright stormy, and I hope the Mangrove Hotel, at the foot of Subic Bay, is faring okay.

Early mornings I check in with American news on Youtube. Will have no truck with Fox, Newsmax, and the other outlets of "gonzo rightist propaganda." MSNBC and CNN seem too partisan for my taste, but I listen to Maddow, Hayes, Melber, Blitzer, Scarborough, also to Charlie Sykes on "The Bulwark," a sane podcast focused on the craziness of American politics today. Will America get through the 2024 elections intact? It seems that a sound drubbing of Trumpist candidates, and, as it seems more and more likely he will be the presidential nominee, Trump himself, would ensure the survival of the Union. But even if that should happen, what would Americans be left with? A one-party dominance of  the national executive and legislature, and a rightist Supreme Court out to quash all the initiatives of this party. It's not a pretty picture.

An uglier picture is the one portraying a holding pattern in the political scene after 2024. "Civil war" is a term the Freedom Caucus in the House bandies about frequently now; talking heads in TV- and podcast-land  discuss the possibility of such a war. What would it look like? It would not have many of the qualities of the civil war fought 160 years ago; that's for sure. Would it be a fight fought within a few (or many?) individual states between insurgents and resisters? Once all the states are irretrievably red or blue, does a nation-wide conflict ensue? What role, if any, would the national armed forces play in such a conflict? And how are secession and the creation of a new nation, or subjugation and reconciliation, whichever is the upshot of the conflict, worked out? 

Such questions chill my brain, as they probably do yours, if you're an American reader. What chills it more, though, is the consideration of another Trump presidency.  . . . Perish the thought, my dear grandmom would say. Things have a way of working themselves out, if you don't mind another cliche. Concerted violence needn't appear in the picture that does eventually emerge. I'll leave you with a coupla photos of our cats.


Transportation for Francis; Mario's BP Takes a Nice Downhill Slide

The southwest monsoon is still in play and is doing an admirable job of sheering cyclones -- typhoons and wannabe-typhoons -- off to the north. This monsoon is a band of super-moist air that originates in the waters below Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia; it can bring to the Philippines days of a rain that stops only for short intervals, or it can bring days of solid overcast with an occasional shower. Oddly, the current monsoon, while it has brought very high humidity to the islands, has not brought continuous rain or overcast. The sunny afternoons are oppressive -- but on some days, starting at about 3pm, heavy thunderstorms march across Luzon. The doppler right now indicates a big one is approaching Cab City from the west (hope I can stay online).

Yesterday Glenda and I traveled to Barangay Agbannawag, Rizal, the barangay of the Torres homestead and the barangay of Glenda's husband, to pick up Francis at his father's place, which is only a couple of blocks from the homestead by the rice fields. He has taken up with another woman; he and Glenda have not spoken for a very long time, and I get the idea that I may never meet him. Checked in on the pigs at the homestead, noticed that the new brood of chicks seemed to be doing fine; Glenda texted to Francis to come on over. While we waited for Francis, Glenda came out of the house with a dish of frog legs adobo with chili sauce. Had never before eaten frog, but I was game. A little oily, but really delicious!

Francis came. We said our goodbyes and headed back to Cabanatuan, intending the following morning to take Glenda's son to Cab City bike shops and help him pick out a ride. The Agbannawag elementary school is some distance from his father's place; in addition to the cred with his friends a bicycle would bring, the bike would also save Francis's father the service fees of trike rides to and from school. Well, the first shop we went to this morning had a very good selection of bikes for preteeners, and Francis had little problem choosing one; with bike helmet, basket, and padlock, it came to a little less than $100 American. I liked the price.

Francis rode it up and down the street outside the Raguindins this afternoon, and gave some friends he has made here a chance to ride it themselves. We'll bring him and the bike back to Agbannawag, Rizal tomorrow.

Glenda and I light out for Rizal whenever the occasion suggests it; as I've written, it's about 45 minutes away -- up the Maharlika to Talavera, then a straight shot up the Rizal road through Llanera to Rizal. The occasion more than suggested it four days ago. On that day, Glenda's father Mario was having trouble breathing, was stiff all over and suffering from headaches. He takes medicine for high blood pressure, but the sphygmomanometer his daughters in Manila had sent him was reading 175/120 on that day; he obviously needed to see a doctor. We drove up and took him to his clinic in the business section of Rizal, where the doc confirmed the high bp reading, decided to change Mario's meds, and signed Mario up for an EKG and x-rays the following day. We got the new meds, and Glenda provided her father with money for the tests. Forty-eight hours later the stiffness and headaches had disappeared and the bp machine read 120/80! That was not a one-off reading, too. The tests came back satisfactory, and Mario is up and about now, feeling a whole lot better, to the relief of many people.

Business district, Rizal.

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