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
Sofie (the tabby) and Phoebe (the calico) joined the family yesterday. Glenda and I picked them up in Talavera after noticing them on the provincial pet adoption facebook page. Good kitties both.
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.
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!
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.
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.