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 email@example.com
Introducing Glenda to Shakey's pizza.
Take Me to the River
Flooding caused by two typhoons over the last few months destroyed a good deal of the onion crop in the foothills of the Sierra Madres to the north and east of Cabanatuan. Because this area is practically the only place where onions are grown in the Philippines, onion prices soared, in some places by more than 500%. The government responded by lifting import restrictions on onions, and the market is expected to be flooded with more than 21,000 metric tons of foreign-grown yellow and red onions by late next week. The problem lies with the timing of this: the government lifted the import restrictions just before the farmers who do have crops began harvesting. Now, most of the farmers whose crops were wiped out by the typhoons will be better off than the farmers who are bringing their crop to harvest -- most of the farmers who lost their onions have crop insurance, whereas the farmers whose crops survived will now have to sell at a loss in order to compete with the foreign providers. Newspapers are starting to keep track of the number of suicides among the onion farmers of eastern Luzon.
On a brighter note, the Torreses took me along on a family outing to the Sampaloc River, just north of Rizal. We arrived at noon and stayed until 4:30 or so. It was a mostly cloudy afternoon with a nice breeze; the water was cold, the current fast! It was a great opportunity for me to get to know Glenda's family better, and for them to get to know me better. We cavorted in the water (well, most of us did), played scrabble, and ate. And ate. Grilled fish, buttered shrimp, rotisserie chicken, a huge salad . . . .
After the outing, Glenda returned to Cabanatuan to run my household; for the first time in the Philippines I'm actually living with a girlfriend. As for her children, Krizza attends school in Manila and is staying with Glenda's sister Gio; Francis is currently staying with his father back in Rizal. Glenda has been separated from her husband for a long time, and very much wants to get an annulment. The Church recently relaxed its policy on annulments, but still it takes quite a bit of time, and a considerable amount of money, to attain one. More on that later. As for now . . .
P I C D U M P !
Don-don Raguindin buried Beulah two hours ago in the family garden beside the front stoop, not far from the burial place of Beulah's grandmother. Three days ago, Tuesday afternoon, I brought the 4-month-old pup to the vets for the first of two worm shots. She barfed that night and would not touch food the next day: read online that this was not unusual for a pup after her first worm shot, but if symptoms persisted after 36 hours, the pup should be taken back to the vets. On Thursday I was expected at the joint celebration of three milestones in the family of Glenda Torres: the christening of Glenda's niece Joy-Joy, the 8th birthday of her son Francis, and the 29th birthday of her sister Gio. I'd been asked to serve as a godfather of Joy-Joy and had bought gifts, and so decided to bring Beulah with me to keep an eye on her during the day (Glenda welcomed me to bring her "baby" in a text). Beulah seemed more lively than on the previous day at the festivities of Thursday, taking an interest in all the people. She sat in the laps of several in attendance, and early in the afternoon Glenda was able to feed her milk
through an eyedropper. Pic dump now.
It was a lovely time. Thirty or forty people, Torreses and their friends, sat at the tables to meals of menudo, lechon, tilapia spring rolls, a spicy seafood salad . . . . Packages of food were put out on a table for neighbors to come and claim. I'd bought a case of Alphonso I, and that was broken out after dinner as the karaoke machine was readied.
In the middle of the songfest, Beulah squirted on the shirt of birthday girl Gio. Bubu was brought to a mat in the family's sari-sari store, where she was attended to by Glenda and one or two relatives. I broke away from a conversation and by the time I reached the sari-sari Beulah had destroyed the mat and befouled two cinder blocks of the sari-sari's wall. It was almost 4pm, and there was not enough time to bring her to the clinic that had cared for my cats and at which Beulah had received her worm shot. A young man, Patrick, whose acquaintance I had made during the day, suggested that I take her to the clinic in Rizal, and after brief thinking I declined, saying it would be more comfortable for me to bring her back to the clinic at which she received the shot. Besides, she should be okay for one more night. Before I left with the pup, Glenda produced a solution and the eyedropper: five drops in the mouth each hour that evening to prevent dehydration. The solution had been provided to the family when one of its dogs was sick. Told Glenda I would be at the door of the clinic in Cabanatuan when the clinic opened in the morning.
Delivered the drops, until I dropped off that evening after placing Beulah on a folded pair of old pants and tucking her in with a towel. This morning, found her already stiff, gone.
"My bad," was often the response of students of mine who failed to prepare well for a test or to meet a deadline. It seems to me I acted within reason, regarding Beulah's care after the shot, but that expression has been something of a mantra inside me today. I'm negligent now -- as you and I have sometimes been, in the past. Goodbye, little friend.
A Day and a Night in Rizal
Happy 2023, folks! The site is unglitched now; sorry about the unplanned hiatus. Last week the landscape of my fair province of Nueva Ecija was potted with giant mudflats. It was the between-time in rice country: between harvest and planting. Open-air granary floors and some roadsides were strewn with the orangey-golden palay (unhulled rice) which, after drying in the sun for a day or two, was bought by and trucked off to the mills. The day before yesterday, as I drove up through Llanera to Rizal, rice fields were a shimmery, delicate green: the shoots had been planted.
Near the turnoff to Barangay Agbannawag in Rizal, 30-year-old Glenda Torres and I hooked up on video chat, and I pointed the smartphone at the windshield. She announced the turnoff and directed me to a rear corner of the barangay, where her family's house and sari-sari store, made of untreated cinder blocks, stood among mango and guava trees. A garden next to the house, and behind the house that shimmery green stretching for at least half a kilometer.
Glenda had spent three days with me in Cabanatuan, after our long chats on facebook. We met on a dating site. Now her children and I would get acquainted at the Dentofarm Resort, which had recently opened in Rizal. Glenda's parents greeted me at the house, staring me up and down but with smiles. I met her brother Edmar, his wife Nobe, their one-year-old daughter Joy-Joy, her cousin Aldrin, nephew JM, and the man she called her best friend -- the gay, very funny, blonde-haired Markevin.
JM, Nobe, and Joy-Joy joined us in the car for the ride to the resort; Aldrin, Edmar, and Markevin would join us after they had finished servicing a motorcycle they were working on. The Sierra Madres faced the resort to the east, and a steady breeze was blowing off them. It was partly cloudy throughout the day; the afternoon temp was 26C (high 70'sF). And the water was good! We ordered silog dishes with extra eggs for lunch; Aldrin and Edmar drove out on Aldrin's trike later in the day, came back with rotisserie chicken and sisig. Three quatro-quatros of gin and orange juice put the young men in the mood for singing, and we were allotted two hours on the resort's karaoke. Glenda sang beautifully, and Markevin would have been judged astoundingly good by an American tourist -- having witnessed a lot of karaoke singing in the Philippines, I realized he was merely excellent. After some gentle pressing ("Anglos don't know how to sing" was my retort) I rendered Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall," which requires good growling rather than good pipes.
About 9pm the young men, Nobe, and Joy-Joy bade the rest of us goodnight (very cute wave from Joy-Joy). The children -- Glenda's Krizza and Francis, along with nephew JM -- settled into one room; Glenda and I took the other. And shortly after settling in, a stomach bug made its presence known to me, alas. Still dealing with it as I write this, though it has quieted down somewhat. Took care to make my bathroom excursions as quiet as possible during that night, and I think Glenda got enough sleep; not me, but in the morning was up to driving Glenda and the kids home, and made it back to Cab City without incident. Slept far into the next morning, and today took the medicine Glenda told me to pick up. Hopefully did not pass this on to any of my new friends!
P I C D U M P
No Crying He Makes
At least he wasn't crying when I popped in at the duplex earlier today, after doing the last of my Christmas shopping. He was sound asleep in the cradle attached to the ceiling by ropes, which was gently rocked by Mariel with the help of a string attached to the prow of the cradle. They showed me the stitches where doctors had cut in to use a neck vein for an iv, after other veins had proven too small. Arsean was released from the hospital yesterday, after a stay of several days. His lungs are clear, but he still has an occasional cough, according to Marielle.
Before shopping I had visited an ATM for 20K from my Banco de Oro account, and one of the 20 notes was the new P1000 bill! News of this bill coming down the pike was fairly recent, and I hadn't expected to see one for a while. There is a group pic of, as you would guess, politicians on the bill that is most in circulation today. But the new bill features the Philippine eagle, an endangered species which in terms of length and wingspan (but not bulk: this is a sleek bird) is the largest species of eagle on the planet. Mindanao has between 100 and 200 breeding pairs; there are also a few breeding pairs in the forests of Leyte and Samar, and in the Sierra Madres of Luzon. I presented the bill to Jheng (who is collecting the new 20-peso coin) as her early Christmas gift.
Scientists have named the times we are living in the 6th Great Extinction, with animal species dying out on almost as daily basis, and one wonders whether this magnificent bird has much time left. It is protected: anyone found guilty of killing a Philippine eagle faces up to twelve years in prison. Could it make the kind of comeback the American bald eagle has enjoyed? Doubtful: its range is just much, much smaller than that of America's bald eagle.
In the car this morning Jheng told me that Mariel, staying with her baby Arsean at the new hospital downtown, constantly has tears in her eyes, and has been so distraught that she refused to eat any dinner last night. Jheng had just helped me to mail a form to the SS office in America (there is no place to park at the post office), and we were on the way to buy breakfast for Mariel at a place across from the hospital. Jheng was determined that Mariel would eat this morning, even if it pained her to do so.
Arsean, less than two months old, is seriously sick with pneumonia. He began fussing three or four days ago, Mariel took him in and returned with a nebulizer two days ago, and yesterday, with symptoms worsening, she took him back to the hospital, where he was admitted. The baby's father, Sean, has a cold and is not allowed to be with his child. The plan is for Jheng to take Mariel's place at the baby's side once or twice a day, so that Mariel can return home for periods of sleep.
Yesterday the baby's iv kept clotting, and, after being told by a doctor of the vital importance to run an iv for a baby in Arsean's condition, Mariel signed papers to allow doctors to operate on Arsean in order to insert an iv in a large vein in his neck. The operation went well, but I'm sure the sight of her baby with a tube sticking out of his neck does little for Mariel's peace of mind. Jheng sent me a picture of Arsean post-op; I won't place it here.
Offered Jheng the use of the car during Arsean's hospitalization, but she told me that, as at the post office, there is no place to park at the hospital. Both are in very busy sections of town, and, while parking garages above or below ground do exist Phlipside, the codes one must follow to build one in this earthquake-prone country often make them prohibitively costly, in the eyes of the builder. I can think of only one parking garage in this important hub of central Luzon, at the SM Mall in the southern part of town.
Shopped yesterday. The busy Maharlaika at WalterMart.
Will post again as soon as we all know that Arsean is on the mend, reader. Am spending the afternoon reading, cooking, playing with Beulah, typing here . . . . Christmas is coming! Here's hoping Mariel and Sean have a healthy bouncing baby over the holidays.
She was sired by Nano, the Raguindin's pug. The family that owns the mother, a mutt, had agreed to give one pup of the mother's litter to the Raguindins, apparently -- and the Raguindins, learning of the loss of my cats, asked me if I wanted to adopt her. After some hesitating, I said sure. The name the family had given her happened to be the name of a girlfriend of mine from college days, and calling her that proved to be a little weird for me, so I changed her name to "Beulah" (why Beulah? not sure about that) and now she recognizes the name as her own. What she has not yet recognized is the purpose of the newspaper laid out in the bathroom. I'm guessing that will come.
Vice President Harris Pays a Visit
The vice president arrived on Monday in Manila, where she met with President Marcos. Among other things discussed, there was a joint reaffirmation of the 1951 mutual defense treaty, which stipulates that if one of the two nations should be attacked by a third nation, the other nation would militarily help defend the one attacked.
Yesterday, Harris and the Second Gentleman (have I got that right?) flew to Palawan, the long, narrow island that that juts out from the archipeligo in a southwestwardly direction and fronts the South China Sea. There the couple visited a fishing community and a coast guard base. At the base, the vice president gave a speech underscoring the importance of "respect for sovereignty" and "freedom of navigation," and so on.
Now, I do hold those two freedoms in high esteem. And I'm sorry to see either abrogated by a belligerent power, as they have been in Ukraine, for instance. Over here in East Asia, China has laid claim to a huge swath of the South China Sea, including what should be the territorial waters of four other countries. An international court in the Hague invalidated China's claim in 2016, but China did not send representatives to the court sessions, and has ignored the court's ruling. It has built military bases on islands in its enormous claim, denied non-Chinese fishermen access to fisheries they had previously fished for ages, and is starting to place oil rigs in what are basically disputed waters.
(The Japan Times)
. . . And yet. And yet, the Philippines and its neighbors have been muddling through what is certainly a difficult time. There have been no hostilities between countries, and a great deal of negotiating. Manila is in talks with Beijing to undertake joint oil exploration in the South China Sea, for example. Vietnamese diplomacy is endeavoring to give Vietnamese fishermen access to fishing grounds off the Paracel Islands.
The U.S., as you probably know, has become China's bogeyman over the last couple of decades. The superpower rivalry, with its tit-for-tat tariffs and denunciations, is growing increasingly bitter. And does the appearance of an American vice president in the Philippines indicting the Chinese power grab help or hinder the talks between China and its neighbors?
Weak countries tend to be leery of strong countries, even those strong countries with which they have an alliance, lest they get squashed like a bug in a rivalry between the strong, and I think the Philippines should be leery of the powerful on all sides.
I agree with Anna Malindog-Uy, a geopolitical analyst in Manila, who says the Philippines must “prevent at all costs the possibility of becoming a pawn of any superpower to encircle another superpower.”
Arsean Is One Month Old
. . . And celebration is in order! Jheng's 19-year-old sister Mariel is proving to be a very caring mother, and Arsean (whose name is an amalgam of the names of Mariel and her boyfriend Sean -- see 2.16.20 on floor 8 for some discussion of Filipino names) is the proverbial darling baby.
The Javiers are taking Arsean to the home of Sean's family today and have been invited to spend the night there. I'm invited to the duplex tomorrow morning for a breakfast -- I'll contribute a couple of bags of warm pandesal (a sticky, spiced, sweet bread) from the stand at the foot of my street.
The news just came in that back in the States, the Nevada U.S. Senate race has been called for the Democratic encumbent, Catherine Cortez Masto. Democrats keep control of the Senate! I voted for Republicans, occasionally, back in the day, but if you've read these postings for a while you know that I feel the GOP has grown toxic over the last ten or so years, and certainly over the last six years.
American reader, you may feel the same way. I hope you do. The four years of Trump saw record-breaking corruption in the American executive, outpacing anything seen in the administrations of Nixon, Harding, Grant. Republicans readily became Trump's enablers, even in the face of abuses that threatened the balance of powers, American democracy, etc. Jeez-Louise. Actions have their reactions, of course. The McConnell Senate's underhanded stacking of the Supreme Court led to the Dobbs decision, and the Dobbs decision became a major factor in the stemming of the "red wave." Continuing Republican support of Trump after Trump had lost for the GOP the presidency, the Senate, and the House enabled Trump to select many candidates for the midterms, candidates that often turned out to be unfit to lead, in the eyes of the electorate. Trump himself will be immersed in legal trouble probably for the rest of his life; what's on the docket, let's see, tax fraud, election fraud, the stealing of classified documents, rape . . . .
The Senate is safe, but not the House, and as of this writing Republicans are closer to a House majority than the Democrats are: it will be a slight majority if they get one, however. The thought of Jim Jordan chairing the House Judiciary Committee turns my stomach -- but the midterms of a first-term presidency have historically skewed significantly to the side of the party in opposition to the president's party. This time the Geogia runoff may increase the Democratic majority in the Senate, and, if they gain a slim majority in the House, the undisciplined Republican Freedom Caucus will likely be at loggerheads with the more traditional GOPers, to the Democrats' advantage.
All in all, heartening news for democracy lovers.
Back in the Tricycle City
Up the Cagayan Watershed, across swollen rivers, over two stretches of highland, and down the Pampanga Watershed. Nine hours of driving without mishap and with pretty clear sailing almost all of the way, but with no cats to visit me in the driver's seat! I traveled on All Saints Day, a holiday in the Philippines, when so many Filipinos pack food in the early hours of the morning and travel to cemeteries where loved ones are buried to keep vigils at gravesites from sunup to sundown. Not so many vehicles on the Maharlika; not so many overladen trucks zig-zagging the highlands at 5 or 10 kms./hr. And I would have shaved a half hour or a full hour off the trip, had I left Cabagan at 8am instead of 10am. Just as I arrived in Munoz, two cities above Cabanatuan, folks started leaving the cemeteries, and in no time the Maharlika was chockfull of cars, pickups, tricycles. In the highlands above San Jose City, I had bought 8 kgs of fresh ginger as pasalubong, and dropped off 4 kgs at the duplex before heading home and handing over 4kgs to Don-Don.
The day before, my last day in Cabagan, I had driven to Tuguegarao for a last visit there. My passengers in the Avanza were Grace, Faith, Matt, and Crace's niece Marga. Tropical Storm Paeng was now spinning over the South China Sea, but its effects were in stark evidence on this stretch of the Maharlika, which in places passes close to the Cagayan River. In two places we crawled through road-flooding in which water rose to the tops of the Avanza's wheels.Tropical Storm Paeng killed 150 Filipinos; 36 are missing.
See the treeline in the distance? It marks the bank of the Cayagan River. No, not the far bank: the near bank. The river normally runs on the other side of those trees. We passed many flooded homes, and in places on the side of the highway makeshift sheds and tents housed families that had been flooded out.
The time at Robinson's Mall in Tug City was fun but bittersweet. Would I be seeing these fine people again? I had wanted to get closer to warm, funny, smart Grace during my stay in Cabagan, but I had made missteps in that direction. In addition to being warm, funny and smart, Grace is very (almost typed "intensely") religious. She crosses herself before car trips; more than once I've witnessed her whispering prayers under her breath. And of course she attends mass, usually with her children, every week. I'm not religious, though I'm not the strict materialist my scientist sons often appear to me to be. Aldous Huxley coined the term "agnostic," and despite the copout connotations of this moniker it probably suits me best. I don't want to get into the particulars of my "missteps"; suffice it to say they fall into the range of possible missteps committed by a man without religion toward a woman who is fervently religious. And I regret them. But could we have ever bridged the spiritual divide between us? Perhaps and perhaps not.
At any rate here I am now, catless in Cabanatuan. Say that three times fast. Grace and I are staying in touch online. Yesterday felt stiff all over, due to the long drive; today is much better. Hoping to hear some word from the resort staff about Bob and Cy.
As you can see, the new editing platform I was inexplicably saddled with is still quite foreign to me. I somehow lost the border, and can't get it back now (hopefully, before long, I will get it back). Still have not heard from the SimpleSite folks.
Awaiting the arrival of Tropical Storm Paeng (int'l name: Nalgae) right now. The eye will pass to the south of both Cabagan and Cabanatuan, but this storm is massive, hundreds of miles in diameter, and pretty much all of Luzon will get a drenching along with gusty winds. Jheng in Cab City will be closer to the eye than I will be, and I checked in on her earlier today: the family is ready. The family, by the way, is one soul larger than it was when I departed for my month-long sojourn: Mariel and her boyfriend Sean are now the parents of a baby boy. Jheng texted me that the the birth was a very painful one for Mariel, and that the baby was robust and healthy.
I'll be leaving Cabagan for Cab City in a few days. It's been fun, restful. To this day, during my stay, I've provided transportation for a couple of happy and polite children to and from school. Have swum quite a bit in the pool at the resort. And each weekend Grace and her children have joined me on trips to the malls up in Tuguegarao: above you see Grace helping Matt dress for such a trip while Lolo (Grandfather) watches his beloved fights; and there is a quick turnaround snap of Grace and Faith on the escalator at Tug City's SM Mall.
The rain outside is steady but not yet very heavy; the wind is picking up. Already the storm has caused tragedy in southern Luzon and the Visayas: at least 72, so far, have died in flash floods and mudslides. Here is a Ventusky image of the storm at this time..
So the last week of my stay in Cabagan is punctuated by a national calamity -- one that is ongoing as I type this.
A calamity of a more more personal nature than Paeng is unfolding for me now: Cy has been missing for two weeks, and Bob has been gone for twelve days. Cy scooted out as I was talking at the door with the resort's manager, and Bob seems to have fled when I was away and a housekeeper was cleaning the room. At first I didn't feel upset. Cy was out overnight once during my first week; he showed up around noon the following day. "Cats have the homing instinct," I told myself, after a few days. "They'e getting fed somewhere, and that's where they'll hang out for a while." It's been a long while, and still no sign of the two.
My eyes are peeled now when I'm driving in the vicinity of the resort. A staffer here has led me to two strays on the premises, but neither was Bob or Cy. Will I be leaving without them? If it comes to that, I'll leave pictures of them with all the staff here. I'll ask them to try to get them into a room if one or both turn up, contact me, and expect my arrival within a day or two.