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, theTorreses, 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. The postings below describe the experiences of my girlfriend Glenda Torres and me foremost, I guess; I'm also apt to peer into the experiences of those who are close to the two of us -- with their permission, of course. On a larger scale, I'd like to give my non-Filipino readers glimpses into the culture here, the rich history I've been imbibing for several years, and the challenges faced by a developing tropical nation in which more than a hundred fifty languages are spoken. Cheers!

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

                                               Mario at Baler.


The Big Wet

Meant to sit down to this blog some days ago, but a bad cold prevented me from attempting anything as daunting as the construction of sentences for a while. The rains have really set in, and these are the weeks in the tropical Philippines comparable to the most frigid period of winter in Massachusetts, insofar as one's susceptibility to head colds is concerned.

The above graphic from the Ventusky weather depicts the rains over central Luzon today, and provides a good illustration of the southwest monsoon. This monsoon has been with us for three or four days; they last from one to three weeks, generally speaking, and really soak western parts of the island. We in the central plain have drizzle in the morning and sheets of rain in the afternoon, whereas westerners get just sheets of rain.  Monsoons come once, twice, or three times in a rainy season -- or they don't come at all. Due to the position of the Intertropical Convergence Zone this time of year, without a monsoon there will still be rain, just not as fierce or as persistent.

It is not the same household next door, if I may change the subject.. Don-Don's wife Aiza has gone to the Mediterranean island of Malta to earn good money as a housekeeper in a popular hotel there. Don-Don himself has moved with his daughters Donaiza and Adelle to an apartment not far from here; he apparently was not feeling independent enough living in the house with his mother Teresita. We see him and his girls often, but they are no longer residents here. Teresita lives in the house with Don-Don's son Tenjong and another grandson, Ritz, who is soon to be a nursing student at a nearby college.

In about a week Kreeza will begin junior high school here in Cabanatuan. Francis is living with us now too, but soon he will return to Rizal to be with Bienbe and go to elementary school there.


Godspeed, Manuel Torres

Up until my last afternoon in Massachusetts, when Glenda texted her very sad news, I'd very much enjoyed my three weeks living with son Bart in his spacious apartment, just across the town of Medford from the house belonging to my other son Jeff and his wife Anna.  Time spent in Jeff and Anna's garden nibbling on the greenery and watching their beautiful daughter blow bubbles. Between Bart's gourmet cooking and the many visits to restaurants (whose dishes I was never allowed to pay for), I'm sure I gained weight. A trip to the medieval castle of an inventor in Gloucester. Crane Beach. Watching street performers in Salem. My ex Weiya joined us on all of these forays; she presented me with a Crane Beach blanket on Father's Day.

On the days when both Bart and Jeff were working, Bart loaned me his car, so I was able to spend time with former colleagues at Leominster High School, which I visited twice at the end of school days. Went to Newton to have lunch with Mary, my old officemate at Northeastern U. And of course went down to the burg I still consider my hometown, Cohasset, twice alone and once with Bart, to hang out with old pal Mark, see how the old sights had changed, enjoy some seaside dining . . . .  Remembering now especially a couple of sunny hours with Mark, Bart, and Blake and Jill, two old friends who married long ago, sitting on rocks next to the Atlantic Ocean, Black Rock Island with its lonely house offshore to our left and Minot's Light about a mile offshore to our right. Just talking.

It was my last full day in Massachusetts. Bart and I returned to his apartment, where Glenda's text was waiting for me.

The trip from Boston to Manila, with layovers in Dallas and Seoul, took 26 hours. The original plan was to have Glenda spend a night or two with her sister in Manila and pick me up at the Belmont Hotel the morning after I arrived. Glenda now needed to stay with family in Rizal: one sister was arriving from Saudi Arabia, two sisters and the adopted son Angelo from Manila, and one sister from Pangasinan (Gio was already at the farmhouse) -- and Bienbe needed all her children by her side. The hotel's concierge sent me in a cab to a bus station that did not have Cabanatuan as a destination; I was about to direct the driver to another station when he told me he would drive me to Cab City for 6K. That was pricy, but family in Massachusetts had not allowed me to pay my way there, and so there was a good wad in my pocket. I took him up on the offer.

 . . . And the dude talked my ear off for the entire 5-hour drive. Ah well. Good to see the apartment and pet the cats; the following morning Glenda picked me up and drove me to Rizal. Mario, embalmed and dressed as I had never seen him in life, would lie in his casket for a week at the farmhouse before being taken in a procession to his funeral at the same little church where Joy-Joy had been baptized more than a year ago. Then he would be taken to the nearby cemetery for his above-ground internment (the dead, for the most part, are "buried" New Orleans-style throughout the Philippines). Above you see the six sisters and adopted brother together with their mother for the first time in many, many years, beside the coffin of their father. In the back is Angelo, the adopted son. The sisters from left to right are Gio, Libya, Nancy, Amy, Jenny, and Glenda. Mother Bienbe sits surrounded by her girls.

Chairs, tables, and a large awning were rented for the many who came to pay their respects, and for seven days the farmhouse was a very public place. No room for the Avanza: it was parked on the road above the property. On the morning of the funeral, plates of pancit were provided for all, and then well over a hundred joined the procession to the funeral. Mario led, his casket on a bier pulled by a car. I brought up the rear in the Avanza for the half-mile trip, and many white balloons were set free when the procession reached the church. It was a hot morning; while the priest did a fine job and the funeral service moved along smoothly segment by segment, it was a very long ceremony! In the second hour, while the priest prepared to deliver communion, I, born into an Episcopalian household, walked into the courtyard, which contained an overflow crowd, and on to the car, where I blasted the a/c and wiped the sweat from my face with tissues. The service ended with communion, and then the procession reformed for the short walk to the cemetery and internment. Manuel Torres, it must be said, had a fine send-off.

I took the Avanza back to Cabanatuan; Glenda would spend a few days with her family. While I was napping at our apartment on the afternoon of the funeral, she sent the photo below; the family had returned to the cemetery to light candles at the gravesite and to leave for Mario a bottle of gin. Many of them are wearing T-shirts with a photo of Mario provided by a cousin.


Mario's Passing

Manuel "Mario" Torres, husband of Bienbe, father of six girls and adoptive father of one boy, died on my last full day in the U.S. The text "My father died!" and the phone conversation with an almost unintelligible, crushed Glenda are still vivid in my mind. High blood pressure and chest pain had caused him to be hospitalized, and in hospital he suffered a heart attack. He was a farmer who had worked hard his entire adult life, and he was a humorous, quiet-spoken man.

Mario's funeral is this morning; I awoke early to note his passing here, and to let readers know I haven't given up on them. There will be more on this sad milestone in the Torres family's lives, and on my stay in Massachusetts, in the coming two or three days.


The L-o-o-o-ng Hop Back to the States

As I tap this out, Glenda is enrolling Kreeza in a nearby high school. Have my exit visa, am registered for etravel, and after the enrolling Glenda will have my itinerary printed up. Manila to Seoul to Boston (the plane departs just after midnight tomorrow): 22+ hrs. Boston to Dallas to Seoul to Manila on June 25: 26+ hrs. Will live with son Bart in Medford; my Philippine drivers license is good in the US for up to six months, and Bart has graciously told me I may borrow his car. There will be friends to visit: in Cohasset, in Scituate, in Newton, in Leominster. One of my nieces plans to hold a barbecue to which my two brothers and several other family members will go. Hope to spend much time at the house of my other son Jeff and his wife and spend time with a granddaughter who is becoming more and more conversational!

The plane flights are wearying, and, while I do tend to bear time differences well, no one ever really knows how jet lag on a particular trip will affect one. It will all be worth it during the three weeks ahead, however.

On another note, I'm relieved that the former president of my country was found guilty of all 34 counts by a jury of his peers. I have friends and family members who are not at all happy with the result. I believe he has committed several crimes, and that no one is above the law. 


Graduation Time

Sorry for that enforced departure from my blog. Payment for the site came due, and I simply had no way of paying. I could get into the problems of double verification under certain circumstances here, but I won't.

Jheng's sister Mariel is still two years away from graduating college, but three younger folk close to my heart -- Adelle Raguindin, Angelica Janiah Academia, and Krizza Torres -- all advanced from elementary school to junior high in ceremonies today. In terms of physical stature, Adelle is the smallest student in her grade, but in terms of scholarly acumen she is a giant. She was the valedictorian at her school, bravely standing before a large crowd and smoothly delivering her speech.

          Adelle                                                                Angelica                                                         Krizza

Adelle, her father Adonis told me long ago, was going to become a pediatrician (I remember wondering whether Adelle, so many years from then, would accede to this plan). Angelica is moving into a school that specializes in foreign languages, where she hopes to study Chinese and Spanish. Krizza at the end of elementary school finds herself where I found myself at the end of high school, unsure of just what she wants to do with her life. Alas! One thing seems pretty certain: she will be attending junior high school in Cabanatuan, and she'll be living with her Mom and me. Glenda is scouting out junior highs in the area, and hopefully will lock onto one before I leave for Massachusetts. The next school year begins at the end of July.

Leaving the Philippines, by the way, if you are a foreign national who has been living here for more than 6 months, requires a good deal of running around chasing papers. Filled out the request for an exit visa at the immigration office two days ago, taking care to bring with me three passport-sized photos of myself. I'll pick up the visa tomorrow. Then there is the E-travel registration that must be filled out online within 72 hours of departure; after one finishes the registration the site burps out an infographic that must be presented at the airport. I should be used to this runaround by now, but I'm not.

In about a week I'll be heading for Boston with a layover in Seoul: 22 hrs. The trip back will have two layovers and last 27 hrs. He, he.


Of Wifis and Rainy Skies

"In a pickle" pretty well describes my situation yesterday and the day before. On Friday I decided it was high time to check in at the blog. Clicking on the pc I noticed internet access was denied. Walked back to the wifi box (Globe Broadband) and saw an ugly red light instead of the usual blues and greens. Of course I diddled around with the box and with the pc for quite a while, but it was no go. Needed to get in touch with Jheng, whose uncle and cousin are IT whizzes, but I lacked the means to text her -- and no wifi, I quickly learned, meant no Skype. A couple of the college boarders in the compound lacked loads for their smartphones, as did Tenjong. And Glenda had left for her father's birthday party in Rizal that morning, planning to spend the night, so there was no car. Jeez Louise. Went to the tricycle stand and got a ride to Jheng's. Her mom and grandmom were entertaining four guests in the small living room: great. Mama Luz went upstairs and brought down a hacking and croaking Jheng, who had been suffering from a sore throat and laryngitis for three days: great again. Nonetheless she took me back to the kitchen and contacted her uncle, sending him video of the wifi box. The box was either kaput or the Globe system was down, came the news. Much more likely the former rather than the latter.

Dejectedly, I flagged a trike down for a ride home. Once home, I opened a book. The previous Saturday morning, I had missed the video meeting with my sons, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter due to one of the "rolling brown-outs" that are mitigating the strain on the power grid caused by the heat wave. It was only the third outage in three weeks, and the outages last only four hours, but this one seemed to have taken that meeting for a bulls-eye, and hit it squarely. In subsequent texting I informed the boys of the problem and suggested we just hold off until next week. Now it seemed pretty certain (and it proved certain) that I would miss the next meeting due to a burned-out wifi box!

Glenda was back before noon on Saturday wondering why I hadn't answered her texts. An already long story shortened, we took the wifi box to the Globe store way down on the southern edge of town, where it was confirmed the box was shot, and where we took advantage of a promo for fiber cable, something the broadband company had recently gotten into. Lo and behold, installers were available that very afternoon, and now I have a super-fast machine and access to the internet for considerably less than what I had been paying with the old setup. My elder son isn't available Sunday evenings (it's his Dungeons & Dragons night with buddies) so we're holding off till next Saturday morning (their Friday evening).  Third time's a charm? Let's hope so.

For Luzon, the weather may have started to take a much-needed turn. Today we hit 38 C, but yesterday's high was 35 (95 F), and the forecast is for a string of days starting tomorrow in the 34-36 C range. More importantly, rain for Nueva Ecija is in the forecast. A big thunderstorm skirted the southern edge of Cabanatuan yesterday (nothing here in the northern part of the city), and widespread afternoon thunderstorms are forecast for five of the next seven days. If this is the start of the usual cavalcade of afternoon thunderboomers that sets in before the rainy season begins in earnest, farmers that still have a viable crop (most of them, thanks to various forms of irrigation) will be breathing a big sigh of relief.

With the Raguindins and Glenda, I cooled off (literally and figuratively) at the Lucky Jhey Resort off the Aurora road today, Sunday. I picked up the tab for the cabana, and Adonis and Aiza brought along plenty of chicken and bangus (milkfish) to barbecue onsite. And yes, those are bipedal and strangely elongated panda bears standing guard at the entrance beyond me. This is a Philippine resort, after all!


A Few Days at the Coast

On the morning of the 23rd Glenda and I jammed three changes of clothing into the smaller of my two pieces of luggage, along with sundry comforts of home. The destination was Playa Azul, a hotel on the ocean in the town of Baler, Aurora Province, which sits on the east coast of Luzon, facing the open Pacific. I drove there, taking one pass over the Sierra Madre, and four days later Glenda drove back, taking a different pass over the rugged mountains that line Luzon's east coast. It was still very hot -- as it is now, after our return -- and the nearly six-year-old Avanza handled the hours of inclines, declines, and all sorts of twists and turns admirably, both in the coming and in the going.

Yes, it's a pretty place, wilder than the much more densely populated, and more touristy, west coast. North of Baler (Bah-LAIR) there are no passes with roads over the Sierra Madre. A coastal road from Baler stretches north for about a hundred kilometers to the small village of Casiguran, where it ends. The coast of Isabela Province and the east coast of Cagayan Province, two hundred kilometers of coastline, are reachable only by air and by sea. A handful of villages at the mouth of the Palanan River in Isabela, with about 17,000 inhabitants, have a small airport out of which six-seater Cessnas fly. Outside of this area, the two hundred kilometers of coastline is practically uninhabited.

It was cooler at the coast than at Cabsy, unsurprisingly -- 33-34C afternoons rather than 38-39C afternoons. On the first full day we went south along the coast, stopping off at Ermita Hill to pay the 60p admission fee and take the road up, up to viewing platforms and a mown field ringed by souvenir and snack shops. There we got the good view of Baler and the coast north of Baler that you see in the pic above. Then we went on to a small resort I had visited with Jheng and her family years ago, nestled between interesting rock formations and containing many tidepools. In the largest of these tidepools tiny tetras darted about, as well as slightly larger fish, some with neon green and some with neon blue stripes. There were spindly, fast-moving starfish, and we gazed upon a 6-8 inch sea snake before it darted beneath rocks.

Next day we drove north toward Casiguran for an hour and a half into country very sparsely populated but encompassing coconut plantations, banana plantations, papaya plantations . . . .  We finally arrived at a small beach resort whose steep narrow twisty path to the shore Glenda did not care to drive down; so we switched positions and I got us down without mishap (Glen later bravely drove us out of there). We had some trouble locating the caretaker, to whom we paid the 100p entry fee, and we had a long dip in a pool fed by mountain spring water before heading to the shore. No other people at this place. Glenda watched from the beach as I dodged waves for an hour or so -- at the beach in front of the Baler hotel, too, she did not enter the water but was content watching me. I did not cajole her; we were at our ease here -- she joined me readily in the pool here and at the hotel. I took snaps from the passenger seat on the road back to the Playa Azul.

Yikes.  . . . Well, somehow lost three paragraphs just now. Dunno how. Refer to the title of the last posting on this page if you want to know what the feeling is about it. Let's see, covered in that writing was . . . .  The food at Playa Azul is superb, loved the pool, the cable TV menu, and I recommend the place to any who can afford it (we paid about P3,500 a night). Bought crabs (really big ones, lovely, fresh) from a pedicycle and dropped them off in Rizal with the Torres family as we worked our way back to Cabanatuan. Sophie and Phoebe overjoyed to see us upon our return. Very hot forecast for the first two weeks of May, and the Philippine government is worried. Twenty-three percent of the workforce is in the ag sector -- they and the wholesalers, retailers, and exporters of their product -- also very worried. For once a typhoon up our alley does not seem an evil thing. Hmm, that pretty much covers it, to my recollection!


Sobrang Init! (It's So Hot!)

The temperature has topped out at over 100 degrees F (38 C) for the last two days, and the extended forecast for Cabanatuan charts afternoon highs between 100 and

105 degrees for the next two weeks. That's every day for the next two weeks. And once again Americano, this is not your Phoenix, AZ heat: humidity, almost without a doubt, will not go below 70% during this time (today it is 81%). Being outside for any length of time is something of a chore if one is not immersed in water, as Adelle is here. Her father, our landlord and friend Don-Don, makes cold baths using the cargo bed of his tricycle in a jiffy; both Adelle and her sister Donaiza availed themselves of cold baths yesterday.

Like the Raguindin girls, Glenda and I are not ones to stay cooped up in an air-conditioned room all day. We've been shopping, and twice in the last four days we've spent afternoons at Nery's in one of the pools there -- once with the Raguindins and once on our own. No doubt Nery's will see us often over the next few weeks . . . .

Classes have been canceled in more than a thousand schools throughout the islands; students of these schools are learning remotely online, as they did during the days of Covid. Other schools have shifted classes to the cooler periods of the day. The power grid is taxed beyond its ability to perform normally in this heat wave, and rolling brown-outs, mainly on Luzon and Mindoro, are currently being implemented -- in Cabsy we were without electricity for three hours two evenings ago. Malls and resorts do a very good business during a heat wave, because the number of households with air conditioning, while it steadily grows, still does not exceed 40% in Manila, and fewer households have cool air in the provinces. Many with A/C will use it for only a few hours a day, due to electicity's high cost (by Philippine standards)

On top of the heat wave that will stay for a good while, drought conditions have extended from Luzon to most of the Visayas and Mindanao. As of today, the government has put agricultural losses at more than 1.8 billion pesos; these losses will of course grow as the drought continues. And the rainy season is still six to eight weeks away. With luck, afternoon thunderstorms, often harbingers of the rainy season, will come soon. 


Bangus, Tilapia

Will be spending my birthday on the coast -- at the beachfront Playa Azul Hotel in the east coast town of Baler (Bah-LAIR). Glenda and I will spend three days exploring the rugged shore there and ducking the waves.  Have noticed online that a handful of new restaurants have sprung up in the town since the last time I was there, and we'll no doubt pay some of them a visit.

Milkfish, known in the Philippines as "bangus," will figure prominently in the menus of these places, no doubt. Many are caught off the eastern shore, and they are the most popular saltwater fish for the table in the Philippines. Bangus grow up to 5 feet long but most adults are in the 3-foot range; they have a mild taste and are often jazzed up with calamansi or a spicy sauce before they are served. They are rich in good fatty acids and a little bony. My own favorite saltwater fish here is the pampano, which is pricier but to my mind a good deal tastier than bangus; I like pampano steamed with lemon slices, especially.


      Bangus (PNGEGG)                                                                                      Pampano (Philaquaculture)

Tilapia, a tasty freshwater fish, is sold roadside from bubbling metal bins and farmed for profit throughout the Philippines. Usually fried for the table, it's the second most popular fish-fare in the country, I would say. Pond farming began in the 1950's in Central Luzon with introduced Mozambique tilapia; that fish proved not to be very popular, and the Nile tilapia was introduced in the 1970's. This fish sold very well indeed, and today very few Filipinos go a few days without this reasonably priced, tasty, smallish fish on their plates.

Nile tilapia (vecteezy)                                                                            (Agriculture Monthly)

In the aquaculture production of salt water and freshwater fish, the Philippines ranks tenth in the world. The industry is important to the economy as a whole, an important employer of Filipino workers as well.

For most of June, I'll be away from the bangus, the pampano, and the Nile tilapia. From the 6th to the 25th I'll be back in Massachusetts, visiting with relatives and Stateside friends. One of these friends has already emailed me not to catch Covid in transit this time; Jeez Louise, I'll mask up for these plane rides. Once in MA, I'll be up for some clam chowder, maybe a cod fillet?



Bad Baluts

Jheng's sister Mariel (remember that family over on the Aurora road?) keeps in touch with me regularly to remind me when her tuition is due, to send grade reports, etc. -- she's near the end of her second year in a four-year undergraduate program in hospitality management at Aurelio University, and I'm footing her tuition. An unplanned pregnancy with her boyfriend and the birth of little Shonie haven't deterred her in her quest to be the first in her family to attain a college degree. Anyway, she texted yesterday with some sad news: her mother Luz, grandmother Dana, and Jheng's son Aaron had tried some baluts, and had all come down with                          

bad cases of food poisoning -- so bad that they all spent time at Good Sam                       Mariel, Shonie, Luz, and Aaron


Baluts are a popular if fairly expensive street food in most southeast Asian countries. They are fertilized duck eggs: yes, one eats the boiled or steamed fetus of the bird, directly from the shell. American reader, sounds unappetizing to you? Seemed unappetizing to me too, but of course there came a time when I had to try one. The taste is strong and redolent of fowl, really not bad; I found the texture to be disagreeable, though, and I haven't gone back to baluts. I just read in Wiki that the processing conditions for the eggs are also ideal growth conditions for bacterial pathogens such as salmonella; will pass this information on to the Aurora road family when I see them next. In the meantime, I doubt they'll be buying baluts.

On a tangential note, Teresita brought with her from London some real camembert, a very, how shall I put it, aromatic French fromage, and she offered me a round of it, which I gratefully accepted. Other members of the family, Glenda as well, couldn't understand how Teresita and I could consume this cheese with gusto: they found it disgusting! And their acculturation to this fine product will no doubt be slow: "stinky French cheese" cannot be found in this country outside of Manila, I'm willing to bet, and it's probably not easy to find within that teeming metropolis.


In Passing . . . .

*GDP in the Philippines grew by 7.6% in 2022 and by 5.6% in 2023 (dof.goc.ph).

*According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the projected life expectancy for Filipinos was 71 years for males and 78 years for 

females in 2022.

*The Philippines is made up of 7,461 islands. Only about 2,000 of these are inhabited (Travel Tramp).

*The estimated 2024 population of the country is 114,163,719, making the Philippines the 12th most populous country in the world (Wiki).

*One hundred eighty-two distinct languages are used by Filipinos. The top languages generally spoken at home are Tagalog, Binisaya,

Hiligaynon, Ilocano, Cebuano, and Bikol. Tagalog is taught in all public schools and serves as the nation's lingua franca (Wiki). 

*The only place in the Philippines ever to have received measurable snow was the summit of Mt. Pulag, Luzon's tallest mountain at

9.606 feet. . . more than 100 tears ago. 

                                                                                                                                      Pulag's summit. (Unsplash)

*The SM Mall of Asia in Manila, with almost 600,000 sq. meters of floor space, has more than 3,500 shops (Wiki).

*The country is named after Phillip II, king of Spain when the islands were colonized  by that country in the 15th century. There is

a movement afoot, a movement that is gaining traction in cultural and political circles, to change the name. One of the frontrunners

for the nation's new moniker: "Maharlika."

*The Philippines currently has a highly centralized form of democratic government. Its

twenty-four senators do not represent different parts of the country; rather, the Senate

candidates who receive the most votes in a long list of candidates, no matter where they

reside in the country, take the powerful Senate seats that are open in a given election.

This governmental setup creates a number of inequities that have become more and more

noticeable as the country modernizes -- for example, because so many candidates come

from Metro Manila, funding for infrastructure is skewed toward that one region.

Forms of federalism have been envisioned for the country since the days of the revolution

against Spanish colonizers. The revolutionary leader Aguinaldo wanted three separate

administrative regions in an independent Philippines: Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao.

A 25-member consultative committee has much more recently proposed the creation of

eleven regions that would have two senators from each region, plus two senators from the

central administrative region of Metro Manila. The mechanics of instituting this plan are

currently being worked out: stay tuned. 

*Generally, the temperature of the ocean in the Philippines is that of bathwater. May sound enticing to you, but I prefer the cooler

pools and rivers here for swimming.


The Tropical Sun

"Guess! Guess!"

"Guess what?" I turned to Glenda, who was standing at the door of the bedroom in her PJs. Still prone on the bed, I was physically trying to remove cobwebs of sleep by rubbing my eyes and scratching my scalp.

"We're out of guess!" Well, Glenda's native Ilocano gets in the way of her English vowel and consonant sounds; she almost always murders the small "a."

"Ga-a-as," I intoned.

"Right. We're out."

I asked if Tenjong was in the compound and she, after ducking her head out the kitchen door, answered in the affirmative. Tenjong (Don-Don's eldest, and formerly referred to here as Langjohn -- he found a nickname) is my gas guy, and I told Glenda to give him a 1K note and tell him to keep 50 pesos for himself. Tenjong would carry the empty kitchen stove fuel tank a short distance to a place where he could exchange it for a full tank for about P800. He would carry back the full one, hook it up, and hand over the change. Each tank is good for about four months of cooking.

It's an hour later and I've finished my second cup of coffee. And I'm congratulating myself over having had a good sleep after three difficult nights. You see, the night before Glenda and I were going to Pangasinan for a river splash with other Torreses, the bathroom saw me almost as much as the bed. My luck, a gut bug, maybe a norovirus. Glenda had spent most of the previous afternoon preparing dishes for the trip -- this trip would go on, but not with the drooping one who had little chance of having a good time, and who would probably put a damper on the whole affair. The driving, which I had envisioned splitting with Glenda, would all fall to Glenda now -- about 5 hours' worth. Her performance on the road in the weeks since she got her license had impressed me; I knew she was ready for something like this. And she did a fine job driving to Rizal to pick up family, then heading west to her sister's place in Pangasinan, then driving to the river there. She spent the night in Rizal after driving family members back to the farm.

There was definitely enough water in that mountain-fed Pangasinan river, by the way. Here is one of Glenda's snaps.

I kept the cats company; they were fine with my own guess. Read the kind of book I tend to read when not feeling well: in this case a Clive Cussler cliff-hanger-packed adventure yarn of no literary merit at all (sorry, Clive, but you do entertain).

Now, the three months before the rains arrive in mid-June are regarded in the Philippines as summer; we are on the cusp of said event. In the afternoons during this time, if you're near sea-level you can expect afternoons with oppressive, occasionally "mad-dogs-and-Englishmen" weather. Fahrenheit thermometers regularly register afternoon temps in the 90's; summer heat waves here are declared when there is a stretch of 100+ afternoons (or over 38 C). And this is not the Phoenix, AZ type of heat, Americano. Summer heat here, as in India and the rest of southeast Asia, comes with high humidity. Early mornings and evenings can be pleasant during a Cabanatuan summer, but watch out for that sun! The intertropical convergence zone -- that wet, north-south-north-south traveler -- reaches the Philippines in June and stays for a few months. One may not see the sun for days on end during the Philippine rainy season, particularly when the wet convergence zone is augmented by a southwest monsoon, as often happens during these months. When the rains come they will be most welcome; but they are at least three months away.

Before the summer solstice, and for several weeks, we experience in the Philippines something I had never witnessed before coming here: the sun directly overhead. Had never before experienced this due to the fact that I had never before lived south of the Tropic of Cancer. And it was weird, the first time I noticed this, let me tell you. My home for the vast majority of my days was at latitude 42, where the sun at "high noon" only for a handful of days achieves an altitude angle of 70 degrees, and here it was at 90 degrees!

Hence the disagreeableness of Philippine summer, I guess.



A year ago I was passing a body in a casket in order to  get to the kitchen to make meals. Don-Don's older brother Edmund had died suddenly (heart attack) and, as is the custom in the Philippines, his embalmed body was laid out in fine dress in the ancestral home for relatives and friends to visit, in order to pay final respects and discuss the life of the departed one. This occurred over just three days; the body was then taken over the river to be viewed in his own home in Barangay Masyapyap for three days, before the burial ceremony at a cemetery in Masyapyap. Yesterday, on the first anniversary of the man's death, friends and family members convened at that cemetery to eat a catered meal and remember Edmund. In addition to birthdays, anniversaries of death are observed in the Philippines and sometimes form the basis of social occasions.

Glenda and I had not known the man, but we were kindly invited to the get-together by Dona Teresita, the man's mother, who, so soon after landing at Clark Airport and still dealing with jet lag, planned and presided at the event. Fifty or sixty people attended; it was overcast, in the 80's (F), and there was a comfortable breeze. This was a good opportunity for me to learn more about Don-Don's family and to get to know Dona Teresita better. "Gracious" was the word I used to describe her on the phone, and she's that in person too! Also humorous and vibrant.

As you can see, the cemetery is quite parched due to the lack of rain. The rice crop on Lubang Island, off the coast of Mindoro, is a total loss due to drought, says the news today, and there are reports of widely scattered crop failures on the big island of Luzon. Outside of a few mountain showers in the central cordillera, there is no rain in the forecast for Luzon over the next two weeks. Typhoons can continue to steer clear, but some good, saturating rains would be most welcome here.


More Fool Me

Call it a hiatus. Actually it was the ugliest bronchitis I have memory of. Brought on by smoking, of course. Yes, I did the thing I said I wouldn't do: backslid. And paid the price. Now I'm in the middle of my third week sans puffs, chewing the occasional square of nicotine gum. Read somewhere that smokers rarely make a clean breast of the habit on the first try. May the Force be with me on the second.

I'm walking comfortably for the first time in a long time; thank you, Dr. Alcuer. Glenda has achieved an even greater freedom of movement, bagging her standard driver's license on the first try. She's been back to Rizal twice, over to Gabaldon, tearing up the road with the Avanza when she wasn't caring for me. The car's air conditioning gave out on her on the first Rizal trip, which made the drive home for her an uncomfortable one. We had been expecting this inconvenience. Six months ago we were driving in Bongabon when the aircon gave out, and came upon a car aircon shop before the sweating became intense. The guy there replaced a magnetic coil, then told us he thought the compressor had maybe six months left of life in it -- and he could not have been more accurate, with regard to the timing! Our aircon is now as good as new, though we're about $300 out of pocket.

The Raguindins are working hard -- cleaning, painting, decorating -- to put the big house "to rights" for the arrival of Dona Teresita, now just three days away.  The cats are fine; Phoebe enjoys sticking out her tongue. Afternoons are noticeably warmer than they were last month, and there is still no rain. Glenda's older sister Libya and Libya's partner Pinkie have invited the two of us to go river-splashing with them near their home in Pangasinan Province the Sunday after next. But the great Pampanga here in Nueva Ecija is a kneecap-high stream in most places; surely in their smaller river to the northwest little splashing can be done. Perhaps we should offer to take them to a Pangasinan resort . . . .

A few days ago in Manila, the Catholic Church held its annual Walk for Life, which was begun in 2017 in response to extrajudicial killings of those involved in the drug trade and to calls for the reinstatement of the death penalty by the Duterte Administration. It drew more than 3,000 participants. Manila Archbishop Cardinal Jose Advincula, in the mass preceding the walk, had some interesting words which seemed to pertain to the unavailability of divorce to a vast majority of the population: “How do we deal with the dilemmas and complexities of modern families, irregular situations in the home, the diversity and understanding of identity and personhood, the wounds caused and inflicted because of polarization even in the home?” he asked. He encouraged dialogue rather than unswerving adherence to doctrine. In this country, where so many couples are "separated" and have started new families with spouses whom they are not allowed to wed, these words attracted notice. The Philippines is the only country in the world, outside of the Vatican, where divorce is outlawed; a lengthy and very expensive process of "annulment" is available only to the rich. One senses that change regarding marriage laws is on the horizon; one wonders, though, how long it will take to get to that horizon.

Manila Archbishop Advincula to flock: Rethink pro-life strategy (inquirer.net)