Welcome! I'm Brad, a retired American high school teacher who has been living in Cabanatuan City, the Philippines for more than five years. My adoptive/adopted Filipino family, 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

On the trip to Pangasinan Province. Glenda's daughter Krizza, front and center; behind her Glenda's sister Gio (smiling) and Gio's partner Charm.


Up, Up, and Away . . .

Reader, I'll be in Seoul in a few hours; from there on to Boston, to stay with family for a couple of weeks. Will be back to the islands soon! 


In Passing

** Had my first beetle, at Aiza's prodding, a couple of days ago. Most Filipinos, I would say, are averse to eating bugs, but there are enthusiasts here, among them my landlords, the Raguindins. Salagubang, these particular beetles, are not at all bitter. Hold the shell and peel off the underside with your teeth (they have been de-legged). The texture of the fried beetle is creamy; the taste is difficult to liken to the taste of anything else I've had. Buttery artichoke hearts? On the whole, not bad. I declined a second one.

** Groceries for two people, here in Cab City, come to about $50 per week, and if I weren't something of a dairy freak the amount would be closing in on $40. "Foreign" cheese is my weakness. Three supermarkets now carry decent havarti, and cheddar and feta are generally available.

** With regard to driving in the Philippines: when someone flashes his lights at you, it means "I'm coming through!" In the U.S. the flashing of lights, at least in the northeast, is a signal that you will yield to the other driver. In my first weeks behind the wheel here, some time back, this difference in signaling almost got me into serious trouble a couple of times. I'm pretty much used to it now, and have even done some of my own flashing.

** Jheng's young Janniah certainly is affliction-prone. Today a lengthy stomach ache became so painful that mom took her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining). She'll be on drugs for two weeks, and she'll have a follow-up examination next week.

** The tropics are becoming lively, weather-wise. Super Typhoon Betty (int'l name: Mawar) has been heading west, and its latitude is that of central Luzon. Wind gusts over 150mph, what one expects of a super typhoon, but no, we're not battening down the hatches here: all models have it making a right turn soon. It'll bring wind and rain to northern Luzon as it brushes Luzon's northeastern tip before threatening Taiwan and Japan.

** I have a granddaughter who is becoming more and more conversational, I've been delighted to see in my weekly video meets with my sons. In a little more than a week I'll be seeing her in person: that will be so much more delightful. Sons, brothers, daughter-in-law, ex-wife, other relatives, friends: it will be great to see you too. Glenda can hold the fort for the two and a half weeks I'm gone. It's time to be a New Englander in New England once again.

                                                         Phoebe and Sophie, one recent morning.


Dark Musings

Maybe I should be spending more time doing good Americano deeds about town, swimming in swimming pools, reading this Dickens tome, listening to history podcasts. I'm a news junkie first, however. And the news has not been good recently. The caca seems to be getting closer and closer to the fan, both in my native country (Trump's "American carnage" never existed, but the Republican front-runner seems intent on inciting something like carnage these days) and internationally. Beyond America's borders, a nuclear power, Pakistan, is falling apart at the seams, politically. Stymied in Ukraine, Putin may well turn to his stockpiles of WMDs. China is growing more and more pugnacious in the South China Sea, and is itching to bring long-lost Taiwan into the communist fold. The U.S. would likely intervene militarily, should the Chinese army invade or blocade Taiwan, and I guess if that should happen the new U.S. bases in the Philippines would become fair game for the Chinese. None of those bases is close to me, but the Philippine base of Fort Magsaysay, here in Cab City, does occasionally host American army personnel for joint exercises . . . .

In large swaths of West and Central Africa, as well as in Somalia, famine is setting in, thanks to crop failures. interdicted grain shipments, and civil strife. The gang problem in Haiti has caused food to become scarce there. And climate change? Its tangible effects have been with us for years, but carbon emissions have not yet been decreased; their increase has been slowed, merely, despite the brave "commitments" of national leaders. Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica is about to fall into the ocean, and the melting of Greenland's icecap has gone into hyper-drive. Ice-melt with its attendant sea-level rise is just one tipping point of several involving climate change, as you probably know.

. . . Sorry about that. I just had a mango, and I'm feeling a little rosier. It just seems like, for members of our species, decisive action is taken only when catastrophe is upon us, resulting in actions that do not have desired results, or actions that are ineffectual, or actions that are disastrous. Couple that quality with nationalistic greed, or domestic political greed, seems nothing good can happen.

I'm well; Glenda has a cold, and I'm monitoring her for fever. It's something of a relief to finally be the nurser rather than the nursed. The Intertropical Convergence Zone (highfalutin term) is slipping north toward the Philippines, and wet weather is more common now. For the past week, isolated thunderstorms, in the late afternoon and evening, have been traveling southwest to northeast up the Central Luzon plain. So occasionally Cabsy gets dowsed, its residents becoming cringy at the ratapallax of close lightning strikes. The air seems so clean after a thunderstorm; I wonder why that is so.


The Crystal Waves Resort

Unable to find a private resort that hadn't already been booked for the 4th, The Day of No Electricity, Jheng suggested the BL Resort, which is near both of us. She second-guessed herself, and it's a good thing she did, for later she learned from a friend that the BL was crammed with people yesterday. She suggested we go instead to Crystal Waves in Talavera, the city just north of Cabanatuan. After cold-water baths, Glenda and I headed for the duplex at 9am. I'd purchased flotation toys and a pump at the mall the day before, which Janiah and Aaron were glad to see as they tumbled into the third-row seats of the Avanza. Mama Luz and I sat in the second row, baby Arsean on Luz's lap. Zheng drove with Glenda beside her. Sometimes trailing us, sometimes zooming past us, Arsean's parents, Sean and Zheng's sister Mariel, traveled by motorcycle. Upon arriving at the resort, we  encountered kind and accomodating resort staff; a trolley cart pushed by a staff member transported our large pile of belongings to our cabana (I tipped the guy P50). And the place was no more expensive than the BL; the cabana rental was P600 (less than $12) and the entry fee was P100 per person (yes, less than $2).

No more expensive, but Crystal Waves had something that the BL did not have: a remarkably large pool with a wave-making machine. Every two hours, the wave machine would run for a half hour, causing three-foot swells in the deep end that gradually dissipated in the fan-shaped shallow section of the pool. Mama Luz had made a large pancit dish and a huge pot of rice; we had stopped at one of the few open rotisserie joints in Cabanatuan to buy three chickens and a large helping of sisig. Some started right in on the food, and some took a dip first. The water was 24 or 25C, ideal.

For most of the 8 or so hours we stayed at Crystal Waves, I was in the water. In the first two or three hours the sun was strong, so I wore a visored cap; then a bank of clouds moved in. Was the only anglo there, and many people, especially young people, waded or swam over to try out their English and make my acquaintance, find out where I came from, how long I had stayed in the Philippines, etc. In the second half of our time at the Waves, whenever I left the water to spend time in the cabana, it was in part to rest facial muscles from all the smiling I felt compelled to do in this socializing with strangers.

In their first extended time together, Glenda and Jheng got along fine together. I had explained to Glenda that Jheng was through with men, but that we were still friends, and that her family felt like my Filipino family. Glenda acted a little distant at first but by afternoon was conversing self-assuredly with Javiers and playing  peek-a-boo games with baby Seany. Jheng, for her part, is happy I found a companion/helper/friend.

P  M P

Sorry about the darkness of some of these. Having a little trouble with the flash!


"There Will Be No Electricity in Cabanatuan City . . ."

Just sent by Glenda from her cousin's place. What lipstick!

Glenda is spending the day and night up in Rizal helping out in the celebration of a cousin's birthday. I'm in the city that will be losing its electricity in a few days, keeping Sophie and Phoebe company, watching the GoodGood guys play golf on youtube, and reading The Pickwick Papers -- Dickens's first novel, and one of the three or four novels by Boz that I haven't read. Oh, and tapping out these sentences. Afternoon temps these days crease 100 degrees F; a common feature between Nueva Ecija summers and Massachusetts winters is that much of one's time is spent indoors. The decision has been made by the government here to keep the children in school until the middle of July, to catch up on time missed last year due to the pandemic, so we will not be entertaining Glenda's children until late in the summer. And I'm flying back to Massachusetts June 6 to spend two and a half weeks with family there.

On May 4, every barangay in old Cab City will be without the juice between 6am and 6pm, due to "scheduled maintenance operations." Luzon's grid, the other grids of the country as well, rely on large, old, centralized fossil fuel power plants that can't seem to keep up with rising consumer demand. Moreover, wiring above the streets of Cabanatuan and other Philippine cities is haphazard, with many low-hanging and dangling wires. The revamping of plants and tending to faulty wiring require a yearly -- or in some places semiannual -- "day without electricity" during which most businesses cannot operate and many workers cannot earn pay. It's a problem the nearly year-old Marcos administration is beginning to tackle, and I wish them luck with it.

After learning of the upcoming day without power, I texted Jheng and asked her if she could reserve for us one of the private resorts in the area for May 4. These private resorts can be rented for a day for between P3K and P10K, which is within my means, and I could give the Javiers, Glenda, and myself the luxury of a private pool and a shaded cooking area for the day. And I could ask the Raguindins to join us. But no beans: Jheng texted the next day that all the private resorts seemed to be already booked for May 4. She suggested we go to the BL public resort, which has apparently added a third pool, olympic-sized, and which is pricier than most resorts and so may not have a large crowd. That is now the plan. We'll arrive at the BL early on the 4th and stake out one of the family cabanas. If the place is overcrowded when we arrive, we may drive for an hour north to San Jose City and camp out at a resort there.


Pig Food

. . . was our mission today. We headed up the Maharlika to the Rizal road. Riding over the river bridge, I noted that I had never before seen the Pampanga so low. Farmers must be feeling this very dry stretch. The inside of my nose cleared up after three or four days of antibiotics. Then came the ear infections. Awoke with sharp pain in the left ear one morning; on the same day I had a checkup with Dr. Claudio, my ENT doc, so I asked him to check the ear and he confirmed it was infected. Had had visions of a large needle being plunged into my ear to extract bright yellow fluid (such was my fate many years ago when I had an infected ear), but young Dr. Claudio said no, that is a procedure when the infection is below the eardrum, but my infection was above the eardrum, and a regimen of antibiotic eardrops was all that was needed. Glenda aimed the drops carefully, and after a few days the pain was gone -- at just about the time my right ear began to feel sensitive. Back to Doc Claudio, who was more than a little surprised. I was taking it in stride, though, convinced what I had was nothing less than a "general uprising of the face," and that multiple battles would have to be fought before the foe was vanquished.

At any rate, the right ear, into which Glenda is dropping drops three times a day, feels better now. We reached the feed store in Rizal at 9:30am, and I moseyed around the sample bags of various feeds that were open for the customers' inspection, while Glenda made the purchase. Goat feed, pig feed, farmed fish feed, and so on. After a little while, a young man with a 50-kg. sack of pig feed came around the corner, trailed by Glenda, and soon we were heading for the family homestead in southern Rizal and the two pigs eagerly awaiting us.

The pigs had no idea we were coming, and would be well-fed when we arrived, but one can imagine. JM hefted the sack from the car and brought it over to the pig stalls at the back of the house, and I followed him to see the new arrival, a loud, hairy little shoat that will be a ponderous, pink-skinned, snorting porker in little more than forty days, like the lady in the adjacent stall. Unsurprisingly, family pigs are not given names here, for members of the family that owns them -- in this case probably Edmar and Angelo -- eventually put them under the knife. The new shoat replaces the pig that became lechon for the celebration of Francis and Gio's birthdays. The lady next door will be mated with a male in May; whether or not she gives birth to piglets, she will become lechon in a few months' time.

Glenda and I spent a lazy hour with members of the Torres family sitting in the shade outside the sari-sari store. Joy-Joy and her antics were the center of attention. A lady selling fresh produce came by, and we bought some eggplant and garlic. The local numbers runner came by, and Novi and Glenda each bought a ticket. One of Glenda's aunties was paring palm fronds into long slivers with a sharp knife. Glenda asked me if I knew what she was making and I said I had no idea. Then Glenda pointed at one of those curious whisk brooms that every Filipino family seems to have . . . .  Ahhh. Okay.


Jeez Louise

Holy week was fun. Got to bond a little with Glenda's daughter, broke bread with Glenda's family. Was going to travel to the west coast (Pangasinan) with much of the family when I began feeling embarrassingly under the weather, so I handed over the Avanza keys to the boisterous Bong, who has a license, and received updates on their adventure from home.

Sorry about the long time away folks; I've spent the last week dealing with folliculitis up both of my nostrils. It became infected, and Glenda rang up the clinic at the mall to find out when the ENT guy would be in. Next day I went in and was relieved when I was told it was not shingles, my self-diagnosis. The ugliness and pain were due to a rebellion of hair follicles in both nostrils. Imagine chickenpox up the nose. I had sensitivity in my ears so had them checked as well by the good doctor. Impactions of dry ear wax up against both drums. Oy. So I'm treating the nostrils with a saline solution, taking clindamycin for the infection, and dropping docusate sodium in both ears twice a day to soften up the wax so that the doctor can dig it out when I see him next. Have been feeling old and very unwriterly recently.

A strong low pressure system will be moving over central Luzon tonight and tomorrow, and we'll be seeing our first steady rain in weeks. Before the follicular debacle, Glenda and I paid  a couple of visits to a local resort that contains quite a menagerie: a crocodile, two huge boas, ostriches, macaques, exotic poultry . . . . In lieu of writing more, let me treat you to some of the pics.


The Summertime

In the summertime, Phlipside, one feels sorry for the folks who have to work outdoors. One feels sorry for the many families that cannot afford air conditioning. Today's high will be 36C (97F), and for the next week the projection is for high 90's each day. The time just before the rains arrive in June is generally the worst -- I'll start looking for a pet-friendly place in Baguio so that Glenda, the kids, the cats, and I can have a respite for a few days in the mountains, away from sea-level swelter. Read somewhere that the all-time high for Baguio is 29C (84F). At the start of this school year, due to time missed during the pandemic, the government expanded the school year all the way to July 7, eradicating the customary April-May vacation for one year. Educators and a few senators have recently raised a major fuss about the change, though, arguing that school days at the height of summer would be torturous and unhealthy for teachers and students alike, so it looks like the April-May break will be reinstated. I'll just wait until a decision is finalized before booking in the mountains.

Glenda and I yesterday picked up a rotisserie chicken and headed over to the BL Resort where we dallied about in the water and had San Miguel Pilsner with our repast. Worried about the kittens, we made for home after only two or three hours there. Sophie and Phoebe were just fine, of course. The clothes basket is their favorite place to hang out, and, despite occasional slip-ups by Sophie, they have both learned to use the litter box. In case you've been wondering, I haven't smoked a cigarette for more than two weeks. The urge still occasionally comes; am pretty sure I've convinced myself that I'm bigger than the urge.

In a few days Glenda and I will ferry the part of her family living in Manila back to Rizal for Holy Week. We'll spend one night at the hotel we used last time, and after we drop off the sisters and their partners at the homestead we'll drive back to Cab City with Glenda's daughter Krizza, who'll spend the week with us. Well, I guess we'll spend many of our days in Rizal; Krizza will spend nights with us, it is more accurate to say. Should prove to be a busy time!


More River Dipping

More than 220,000 American expats live in the Philippines, and expats from Australia, New Zealand, and western European countries are here in abundance, too. They tend to be men, they tend to be older individuals, they tend to be widowers or from failed marriages, and they tend to remain single here not for long. The stigma against old-young relationships is not nearly as strong here as it is in most western countries, and many a white gray-beard has found companionship with a Filipina who may be no older than his own children. Such is my case, reader. It is probable that the outlawing of abortion and the social taboo againt contraception play a role in the great coming togather of older expats and younger Filipinas: there are more husbandless mothers here than there are in most countries, women looking for the kind of financial security that a western pension brings.

My problem is that the woman I fell for, and the woman who fell for me, is not husbandless. The man Glenda married, who currently lives in Rizal, is no longer a part of her life, but his presence does put something of a crimp in our lives. Until quite recently, divorce was impossible in the Philippines; now it is possible (they prefer the term "annulment" here), but the process takes 2 to 4 years and costs anywhere from P200,000 to P600,000. This is no small amount, even when translated to American dollars. We are in a holding pattern for now. Glenda's Krizza and perhaps Francis will join us once school is let out for summer break; there is time for us to mull over our situation together.

A couple of days ago we went to Rizal, picked up Glenda's parents, Novi (not Nobe) and Joy-Joy, JM, and a cousin named Adwin, and set out for the upper reaches of the Pampanga River in a town called Laur. The mayor there had set up a "bamboo village" along the shores of the river to please the masses on holiday, and, frankly, to make a buck. The bamboo shanties were all rented out by the time we arrived; we were sold the use of a table for P400. It was a fun time, though! We ate rotisserie chicken and a pancit that Glenda had prepared, then moved to the riverside. The water was refreshingly cool, the geology was interesting, and many people were interested in me! Western expats on Luzon are mainly in Manila and up and down the west coast; here in the east, away from Cab City and Baler, we are a rarity, and folks in the river wanted to know where I came from, what I thought of the Philippines, etc. Children especially came over to practice their English and listen to my halting Tagalog.


I neglected to bring the sun screen, and my face and arms were quite red the next day -- but it wasn't a bad burn, and the fun time with Glenda and her family was more than worth it.


It's Time

Cigarette packs bought in the Philippines are emblazoned with  pictures and messages meant to disturb the Filipino smoker. One that adds some humor is seen at right, but most of the photos are downright gory, depicting the sufferers of throat cancer, emphysema, peripheral vascular disease, stroke. Or juxtaposing pics of a clear lung and a diseased lung. The government here wants to wean its nicotinized citizens away from cigarettes, to be sure. Year by year, beginning last year, it will increase the tax on tobacco products, and smoking cessation aids such as Nicorette and the nicotine patch are far more readily available now than they were two or three years ago.

My parents smoked, and I started the habit when I was sixteen. For a few years in my mid-twenties and a few months in my early forties I got off of them: both times I came up a backslider. My time in the Philippines has more encouraged than inhibited the habit: each pack had a troubling photo, but each U.S. brand pack cost me about 1/5 of what it would cost in the U.S. Glenda as soon as she came to live with me worked with me to reduce my smoking. I was down to eight butts a day when, last week, I came down with bronchitis.

With Glenda I went to the respiratory/pulmonary specialist I had brought James to see two years ago when James came down with TB. He checked me out, said I was a good candidate for COPD, sent me to labs for a chest x-ray and a blood workup. Knew what it was, but I let them do their pricking and picture-taking. Dr. Ramos gave me a script for an antibiotic and a beta-blocker. The beta-blocker I discontinued not long after it kicked in: have you ever before taken a beta-blocker? They are not for me.

And now the coughing is greatly diminished and the throat feels fine. It is my fourth day without cigarettes; I'm sucking on five or six pieces of Nicorette per day.  When the psychological part of the smoking addiction has departed, I'll slowly wean myself off the nicotine gum, as I've done before. But no backsliding this time.

We are slipping into summer, which in the Philippines consists of the three months before the rains start in June. Noticed the afternoon highs in Cabanatuan for the next week will be between 33 and 37C (93 and 98F), which is toastier than it's been for months here. Back in Massachusetts, the high school at which I taught for eighteen years had a snow day yesterday and a late opening today. Well, crocuses and daffodillies are on their way, teaching buddies: hang in there!


March Days

My landlord Don-don's older brother had a stroke at the age of 46 several days ago, and died soon after in the hospital; his embalmed body lay a few feet beyond my door for three days before it was moved to another relative's home in Barangay Masyapyap for another three days, prior to the graveside service and burial. It is the custom in the Philippines to keep departed loved ones in a coffin with a glass lid for a week, so that family members, friends, and acquaintances can all pay their last respects. I had not known the man; his relative youth struck me each time I passed his coffin. A teaching friend of mine at LHS had passed away suddenly due to a stroke ten or so years ago, at the age of 28; I ducked her funeral, realizing that I would almost certainly start bawling during it.

Glenda and I venture out most days, to shop, to try out a restaurant, to visit the Torres home in Rizal. Recently we spent a morning with Glenda's son Francis at the Torres house. Francis lives with his father, from whom Glenda is separated, but he has obvious affection for his mother. The two played checkers as they conversed, Glenda's mother Bienbe watching the moves and occasionally making wry comments. Didn't understand most of their words, which were sometimes Ilocano, sometimes Tagalog. I'm feeling regret that I did not begin a systematic study of Tagalog when I first came here. Everyone with a high school education speaks "carabao English" (basic English) at least, and some are quite fluent in English. Almost all are fluent in Tagalog. Glenda is conversant in four languages: Ilocano, Tagalog, Arabic, and English. Ilocano is her first language -- as it is for many residents of Rizal. In her early twenties she worked in Qatar for two years, and studied Arabic for some time before moving there. English is her fourth language, and it is pretty . . . carabao. Had I been as earnest in a study of Tagalog as I had been in learning conversational Chinese during my stay in Wuhan, we would be chatting in Tagalog now. More fool me.

We've had visitors from Rizal here in Cabanatuan. Glenda's nephew Edmar, Edmar's wife Nobe, and their little one Joy-Joy stopped in one morning while I was grilling peanut butter sandwiches. Nothing like the SM Mall exists in Rizal, so we spent a good part of the afternoon there, then returned to watch a movie in Tagalog. They spent the night, and my landlord graciously would not accept money for their use of another room in the big house.

More recently, Mark, Glenda's good friend, popped over during his stay with an aunt in Cabanatuan. We ate at Max's, where I tried my first kare-kare dish -- a seafood kare-kare. Kare-kare dishes are prepared in a clay pot, and important ingredients include coconut and peanut butter -- the reason I have stayed away from the dish until now. Surprisingly, this turned out to be the tastiest dish we ordered!

On Brad and Glenda's to-do list? I'm to have a general checkup at the clinic on Thursday. Have had tummy trouble recently and a strangely inflamed lymph node. Glenda is to get a student license so that she can be enrolled in a driving school. She has mixed feelings about driving -- who wouldn't in a country with roads like the Maharlika? -- but has resigned herself to being peripatetic on four wheels.


Filipino Time

My devoted nurse is spending the week with her daughter Krizza in Manila; took her to the bus terminal Monday morning. I've mended well and today look a good deal better than I do in the photo of Glenda and me taken many days ago. Krizza, however, now has a bad toothache, and her mom could not get her a dentist appointment before next Monday; so Krizza is on some tooth-numbing medication for a few days, and Glenda's return date has been pushed forward a couple days. 

Glenda and I will have the month of March to ourselves, then at the start of Holy Week we'll drive to Manila for an overnighter in order to pick up Krizza, as well as three Torres siblings and their partners, and deliver them home for the week-long break.

Five days to get an aching tooth attended to. "Filipino time" is not a term coined by aggravated white Northerners afflicted with the time-neurosis common to white Northerners. Rather, Filipinos came up with the term to help them explain their mindset and way of life to time-enslaved outsiders. Simply, it can take a long time to get things done here. A bus scheduled to depart at 7am leaving the terminal at 7:45. An entire morning to register for school. Hours of waiting past the appointment time to get a vaccination booster shot. You get what I mean. And if you're a Facebook buddy back in Massachusetts, these are things that can get your dander up, aren't they? On several occasions during my first months phlipside, my dander was floating way above my head! I'm over that, now. Well, for the most part.

Yesterday it was time for me to get a new prescription for a blood pressure med (I'm on the lowest dose, and my bp has been fine for years). Gave myself a whole afternoon to get the script and buy the drug. Traffic was as bad as it usually is, or maybe a little worse. On my way to the third-level medical clinic at the SM Mall, I stopped off at the second-level National Bookstore and bought two by George Orwell which I hadn't read before, Homage to Catalonia and Down and Out in Paris and London. Checked in at the clinic, expecting a nice read before I could be seen. Was on page 5 of Homage when a nurse informed me the doctor would see me. Got my 6-month script, paid the cashier, and headed for the car. At the largest Mercury Drug on the Maharlika, there was no line, and they had my drug in stock! And so I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself back in my digs after having been gone for only a little more than an hour.

It's hard to plan around Filipino time. It fluctuates, you see.


A Night in Baler

Glenda was brought up beside a sprawling rice field in a rural southern barangay of Rizal. Have visited the family homestead five or six times in the couple of months that I've known Glenda, and I've grown fond of the place. A breeze often blows in from the wide open rice field. Papayas, bananas, mangos, and limes grow on the property; there are two pigs, a large gaggle of geese and goslings, hens, and a rooster. Scarlet, Bruce, and Can-Can are the family dogs.

Could I live happily here? I think so. 

But I came to the editing site to write about the Torres family trip to Baler (pronounced Bah-LAIR) and the calamity that befell me there. Am typing this with a large abrasion on my forehead, a black eye, and a badly skinned knee, you see. It's what happens when a man in his sixties tries to keep up with men in their twenties and thirties during a night of carousing. Don't worry, Glenda is proving to be an admirable nurse: I'll pull through.

Glenda and I had been wanting to visit the coast; her gay best buddy Mark Kevin suggested Baler, and two mornings ago we arrived early at the homestead in Rizal. Mama Bienbe would stay at home, but everyone else was game to go, and Papa Mario, Glenda's sister Nobe, Nobe's husband Edmar, their baby Joy, Glenda's brother Angelo, her nephew JM, and Mark Kevin squeezed into the rear two tiers of seats of the Avanza. Glenda's son Francis joined mom and me up front, and we set out on the road linking Rizal and Baler, which traversed the Sierra Madres range, a journey of about three and a half hours.

Surprisingly, there were two or three gift shops up in the Sierra Madres. We stopped at one to admire the priapic woodworking on display there.

At Sabang Beach in Baler a man suggested Charlie's Point for a large party that wished to stay overnight, and we drove along a sea barrier in the northern part of town until we reached our destination.

Charlie's Point met our needs. Cabins were fitted with two large bunkbeds: king-sized mattresses below and double mattresses above. A communal kitchen and a small  above-ground pool. The price: P 4,000 (about $75). Mark Kevin and Edmar would be the cooks: they had brought along two large fish, mussels, pork butt, and fixings for a salad.

The food, after a morning with little eating, was delicious. After this late lunch the two liters of whiskey and small bottle of gin I had hunted down and bought earlier were broken out -- whiskey for the young men and gin for myself. Mario, who is my age, wisely declined; Glenda took an occasional nog of the whiskey. The sun slowly lowered over the vast island of Luzon behind us. At dusk we walked across the street to the breakwater and down stairs to the beach, all of us in varying states of inebriation. We made for the ocean. Baler is known as the surfing capital of the Philippines: the long fetch of the Pacific Ocean, combined with extensive shallows off the coast, makes for tall and powerful waves. And so one doesn't swim from the beaches of Baler; one gets knocked around by massive foamy waves! There is no use swimming beyond them: steep swells are found far from shore. We all laughed as the waves had their fun with us, and we stayed in the water until it was dark.

Walking into Charlie's Point, I noticed that though I had cleaned the sand off my feet, there was sand in my hair. A quick dip would take care of that. I bounded up the steps to the pool, not realizing the stairs were slippery, and quickly enough found myself prone and bloody at the foot of the stairs. I was immediately surrounded by Torreses. The attention and care they gave me, the heart they showed, were truly gratifying. No, I didn't need a hospital; I was just banged up a bit. No, I'll be fine. Mark Kevin applied an antisepsis. I'll be fine.

The next morning we all sat on the breakwater watching the surfers duck and weave far offshore, and watching the surfing lessons closer to the beach. My face, in the daylight, was closely examined by more than one Torres. We started back over the mountain road at about 10am.

Since the painful face-plant by the pool, Glenda has brought up the subject of lifestyle changes with me more than once. And she has good points. Yes, good points.