The Feverish Little Girl
Jane texted me from San Jose City last Saturday. Janiah was burning up with fever and they were taking her to the hospital. She texted me again in the evening: Janiah had the mother of all urinary tract infections, and the doctor at San Jose City General was surprised at the number on her white cell count. She had a temperature of 40.1 C (40 C is a little more than 104 F).
They returned on Monday with Janiah's fever unchanged, despite the antibiotics she was taking. Tuesday as well: high fever. Jane during this time was not getting much sleep; Janiah was restless in bed and Jane checked on her frequently. I brought over juices during the day. If the fever had not abated by Thursday, Jane was instructed by the doctor in SJC, then she should get Janiah admitted to a hospital in Cabanatuan.
Well, the fever was a "mild fever" Wednesday morning, and by the end of that day it seemed to be gone. Janiah will go in for a check up (and another stick) on Saturday, but she won't be spending any nights in a hospital. When I saw her today she seemed just like her old self, with a little extra exuberance at being released from the dank prison cell of sickness. My pension money arrived today; I picked up french fries and ice cream at the mall so Janiah could celebrate.
On a sad, disturbing note, and on a note relating to my 8/1 entry, an American environmental activist was shot and nearly killed on 8/6 in Ifugao Province, about two hours north of Cabanatuan. Brandon Lee is a Chinese American reporter and activist who moved to the Philippines from San Francisco ten years ago to help organize indigenous peoples' efforts against the encroachments of mining, logging and hydropower companies on their land. He married a Filipina and the two have a young daughter.
Since 2015, Lee and other organizers had complained of escalating incidents of harrassment. On August 6 he was shot at his home at least four times in the back and the face by unidentified men, but he survived the attack. He is now recovering at a hospital in Baguio, surrounded by his wife, his San Francisco relatives, and his friends. On the same day he was shot, other organizers were visited by unidentified men: but Brandon had been the only one at home.
Jane has just texted me. She and the children have arrived at Larry and Lori's house safely.
The graphic above conveys well the messiness of the situation in the South China Sea. Competing territorial claims led to naval skirmishes between the Chinese and Vietnamese over the Paracel Islands in the late 1970's and early 80's, and over the past ten or fifteen years, as China built and armed artificial islands in the Spratly group, tensions have been renewed. With the "nine-dash line," created by China's Kuomintang government after Japan's defeat in WWII, China laid claim to virtually the entire sea. The Communist government adopted the line and doubled down (to use a silly Trump-era phrase) emphatically on China's claim with its recent construction/militarization projects. The sea, you may have heard or read, is one important piece of soggy real estate -- its huge fisheries feed southeast Asia, one third of the world's shipping plies its waters, and vast deposits of oil and natural gas are thought to lie beneath its seabed.
The Philippine government, which calls the South China Sea the West Philippine Sea, asked for a special tribunal of the international court at the Hague to arbitrate territorial claims in the sea in 2013. The tribunal ruled unanimously in 2016 in favor of the Philippines, saying there was "no legal basis for China to claim historic rights" to the disputed islands. China, which had refused to take part in the arbitration, said it would not comply with the ruling.
Fast forward to yesterday. President Duterte at a bilateral meeting with President Xi Jinping in Beijing did what he had told the Philippine papers he would do: he declared the international court's 2016 ruling "binding." Xi told Duterte that China refused to recognize the ruling. China would not budge. Then there were pledges to "dialogue peacefully" over the issue, discussion of "mutual trust" and "good faith." It dissolved into niceties, in other words.
By and large, Filipino people are distrustful of the Chinese these days, even though Chinese investments in the Philippines are raising the standard of living here more than investments from any other country. Chinese investors have put $2 billion into building a huge industrial park on the site of the former Clark U.S. army base. Chinese loans are funding a railway between Clark and Subic Bay, site of the former U.S. naval base. Chinese-owned companies in the islands employ tens of thousands of Filipinos. But the distrust in many of the Filipinos I've spoken with about this is palpable . . . .
To be sure, it is more than just China's territorial claims that have caused the recent demonstrations outside the Chinese embassy in Manila. And it is more than just the size of the Chinese footprint within the country that has raised consternation among many Filipinos: it is also the nature of that footprint. Three decades of spectacular growth have made China an economic powerhouse; the Chinese who come here are owners, managers, advisors -- people in a position of power. And the taking of orders from foreigners is something to which Filipinos are signally disinclined. Who could blame them, given their history with the Spanish, with the Americans, with the Japanese? Floating in the minds of many Filipinos, it seems, is the nagging worry that they may be witnessing a creeping annexation of their homeland.
I don't think they are. But then, I have not been shaped by Filipino history.
A Doleful Celebration
Tomorrow Jane will borrow the car and travel to San Jose City with the children. There they will gather with the Academia family and with friends of her deceased husband to commemorate the birthday of Larry Jr. Five years ago her husband celebrated his last birthday alive.
Larry had high blood pressure; doctors told Jane this is what caused a blood clot to form in his head. After a short time in the hospital he died, months after his wife had given birth to their third child and first son, weeks after his thirty-fourth birthday.
The time came round to get another visa, and Jane and I decided we'd do it ourselves with no immigration agency go-between. I'd learned from Mike, a fellow retired expat, that the capital of Nueva Ecija, Palayan, had set up an immigration office in their business center, and that by doing it myself I could save some money. Palayan is just a few kilometers away, and so yesterday Jane, her uncle and my IT go-to guy Sonny, who happened to be in town, and I headed east on the Aurora Road.
Population-wise, Cabanatuan is about seven times larger than Palayan, and Cab City is no doubt the commercial center of the province. But in 1965 the government in Manila took a large swath of land adjacent to Cabanatuan, which had been the capital of the province since 1917, called it Palayan, and designated Palayan to be the new provincial capital. (Were there shady political dealings behind this move? Your guess is as good as mine.)
The business park there is quite beautiful. Note etched into the glass of the building pictured above the fronds that stretch stories high. The park consists of five or six buildings like this one, and when we arrived, at about 10 AM, the place was not exactly bustling, but there were a number of people walking about. The immigration office was not crowded, and we sat in chairs while the immigration people processed the forms I had filled out.
They were fine about my getting a 6-month visa, though on the new visa ladder I started climbing after my trip to the U.S., I was supposed to be eligible only for a 2-month visa. The cost of a 6-monther was more than $100 less expensive than the 6-month visa processed by the immigration agency. And we were in and out of the office in less than an hour!
On the way back to Cabanatuan Sonny had us stop at a fruit stand so that he could buy some fresh fruit for his mother (Jane's grandmother), who has been ailing recently. Coming back to the car, he plopped a bag that contained what appeared to be two red artichokes in my lap. "Dragon fruit," he said. "Very good for you. Eat these." I thanked him and told him I would. I had seen these once or twice before in the market, not even realizing they were fruit.
When I got back to Fred's I googled them and found they were indeed chock-full of nutrients, antioxidants as well. The rubbery rind came off easily enough; what was inside looked like a huge strawberry. It didn't taste like a strawberry, but it tasted fine and it was gone in little time! I'll have the other one after I finish typing this.
Today was another school holiday -- this one for the birthday of Benigno Aquino, Jr., the exiled political leader who was assassinated on the tarmac of Manilla's airport during his homecoming in 1983. Jane picked up a bug last night and was feverish when I dropped in before lunch, so I offered to take the kiddos off her hands for the afternoon so that she could get some rest. We spent about three hours at the SM Mall, eating at Jollibee's and then spending a good deal of time at the arcade on the third level. Lara, Janiah, and Aaron won 1,222 tickets with which they bought a good deal of swag to take home.
Tomorrow, if Jane is feeling better, she'll join me on a trip to the immigration agency to make a payment on the car, and to explain to Ma'am Des that we won't need the agency's help in procuring visas any longer.
Islam's Feast of the Sacrifice, commemorating Abraham's run-in with God, was a school holiday yesterday. This holiday and a holiday celebrating the last day of Ramadan were added fairly recently to assuage Moslems and address Moslem grievances. About 11% of the population belongs to the Islamic faith. I had told the kiddos that Monday would be our day out. Jane and Marielle joined us, and we all headed off to the mall.
Our own feast at Zark's consisted of juicy burgers, cheesy fries, and chili fries. Then the children, their mom, and their aunt headed to Kidzoona for an hour of fun; I went over to the mall's "Cyberzone" and studied the smartphones at three shops. Later I showed Jane what I thought was the best pick for what I could afford. Jane took me to a fourth shop and showed me a better deal. I bought one for Jane, to replace the phone that had fritzed when moisture got inside it, and got one for myself. My very first smartphone. Bart, Jeff, I can no longer be the butt of your jokes, I'm afraid!
Lara seems to be at the top of her class: nearly every test she brings home has "highest" penned in by the teacher at the top. I know this photo is blurry, but it's apparent that this ten year old is learning about assonance and alliteration, among other things I don't remember learning about until at least junior high.
Am watching more news shows than I used to, from anywhere but Fox, over Youtube in the morning. The hazardous wager placed on Trump by an incensed, alienated portion of the electorate in 2016 is coming up a cropper, to put it lightly. There is malfeasance at the government's highest level, to be sure. Social and racial tensions are being ratcheted up, apparently by design. House committee subpoenas are being ignored by administration officials, per Trump's orders. Mass shootings (2 out of the last 3 influenced by white supremacist dogma) occur more and more frequently. Families of immigrants continue to be separated. Billions of dollars have been transferred, and will continue to be transferred, from the middle class to the 1%, thanks to the 2017 tax bill. Half of many crops are left to rot thanks to Trump-imposed tariffs. One of our two major political parties has been hijacked, or has sold its soul, or both. I could go on, you know.
It's remarkable that the president maintains a favorability rating of over 40%. To what extent has this asswipe helped disaffected Americans? It's so much my hope that Bernie, Elizabeth, Kamala, Mayor Pete, Julian, Beto, Cory, or Andrew will drive a stake into the heart of this odious excuse for an administration in 2020. Not Joe, please. Been there, done that. May funny business foreign or domestic not impede or sway a fair, democratic vote in 2020. And may there be no violence involving the election.
If I've offended any of you with this mini-rant, there are other blogs to read, no?
Jitters for a Retired Expat
When the end of July 31st, American time, arrived without a pension deposit to my bank account, I realized something must be seriously wrong -- realized also that, since almost all of my savings are invested in the market, I could be in a seriously precarious position. My first move was to text Cathy, the Chengdu native who founded the tutoring service I work for, Ivy&Me, and ask her for an advance (she normally wires money the 15th of each month). She promptly wired me more than I asked for.
Then at 9pm I phoned via the Skype service MTRS, the Massachusetts Teachers' Retirement System, in Springfield, MA. I was put in touch with a very kind and very professional young woman, whose name I won't publish here though I would like to, and she listened to me explain my quandary, then did some tapping on her machine, then concisely explained to me the error of my ways. They had not received a change of address form from me, and every two years pensioners must submit a BVF (Benefit Verification Form). The deadline had passed, and benefits were being withheld.
I had for quite a while thought that the Leominster School Department was handling my paperwork, but this was true only for my first year of retirement -- I learned this during my time in Massachusetts in June. After the first year, it all gets shoved over to MTRS. My change of address was known to the School Department but not to MTRS, which had my old Fitchburg address. Had taken it for granted that the School Department would send along the change (one should not, of course, take for granted things that involve one's cash supply), and the change had not been sent. My tax forms had not been sent -- I filed for an extension -- and MTRS would have to provide these too.
Well, the woman at MTRS, despite her real kindness and professionalism, then dropped an anvil on my foot. The BVF could not be filled out digitally, but she would send one by mail; when they received it back signed and notarized, they would reinstate the pension. I knew this process could take three, even four weeks, and obligations raced through my mind -- P18,000 car payment on the 22nd, the weekly to Fred's of P6,500, Jane's salary, the cats' cans of mackerel . . . . I told the kind woman I really needed the money sooner. Could we do this by fax? she asked.
Jane and I spent the next two days canvassing the city. In the two establishments that advertised a fax service, faxing was no longer available, and other leads did not pan out. I called the woman back and explained the situation. She did not even "ahem" but said she would call her manager, and could I hold? In less than three minutes she was back and told me in my special circumstance I could fill it out digitally: it would be sent to me in a compressed and encrypted file, along with the tax information. In a separate file, the code for the encryption would be sent.
Now even for a sixty-one year old I am very tech-unsavvy, and so, well, I quailed at the kind woman's words. But it occurred to me, after we rang off, that I could rely on Jane's uncle Sonny, an IT whiz, if worse came to worst. In the meantime, I would attempt to throw this dog.
First, to decompress the file with the BVF and tax forms. But crikey, the free WinZip app I downloaded last year did not have an unzip feature: it would only zip! So I went to the WinZip site and found there was now a free app that would do both! I downloaded that, drew the file over to it, and unzipped it! The code worked! The transfer from PDF to Word was successful!
I sent the Word File to my immigration agency: they have a printer. Jane and I took the hard copy to a notary public down the street from the agency, where I signed the document and got the stamp. Then we went to a place on Mabini Street that has a scanner service, and we got the thing redigitalized. I sent it to the kind woman that night, and saw in her reply the following morning that the July funds had been deposited in my account.
. . . So, former colleagues at LHS, if once retired you opt for the expat life . . . be more heads-up than I have been!
In other news, twin typhoons tracking north of Luzon are on their way to the northern tip of Taiwan and the Shanghai area. 'Tis the season: may they keep tracking north of here. The Philippine government has declared a "national epidemic" of dengue fever: cases in the first half of this year are double what they were in the first half of last year. (Cabanatuan is not in one of hard-hit areas.) I'll end on the very untroubling note that Lara and Janiah are standout scholars in their new school!
It's important to let the pension people know when you've moved. Found this out while going over their online site. The lesson is a bit of a hard one for me, as money was not wired to my Bank of America account yesterday. I imagine they tried to reach me at my old Fitchburg address without success and so pulled the plug. Cathy at the tutoring service has sent a $500 advance, and I'm calling the help line at the pension center tonight when they open over Skype. Yes, feeling foolish.
The Philippines has a host of environmental problems. Some of these are beyond the reach of human mitigation: sitting on both the Pacific Ring of Fire and Typhoon Highway, this country is often beset by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and destructive storms. Of course the effects of these natural calamities can be mitigated -- and the Philippine government, to its credit, has developed a compendium of building codes designed for an earthquake-prone country, a vast number of evacuation centers all over the islands, and a host of scientific agencies that study, track, plan, disseminate . . . . Of course, an 8 or 9 magnitude quake, or a direct hit by a supertyphoon like Haiyan, which killed at least 10,000 people in the Visayas in 2013, will inevitably cause widespread death and destruction.
Environmental problems in the Philippines linked to human activity include pollution, illegal mining and logging, deforestation for "squatter agriculture," wildlife extinction, dynamite fishing, and a rising sea level caused by global warming. The illegal mining takes place mainly in areas prone to landslide: illegal mining in Itigon in the Cordilleras is being blamed for a massive slide that killed 70 last year. In 1900 it was estimated that 70% of the islands were covered in forest; today's estimate is 24%, and this precipitous decline occurred mainly over the last 40 years. Dynamite fishing peaked in the 1980's and 1990's, but it is still widespread -- and causing widespread damage to reefs in Philippine waters.
There has been response -- both from the government and from Filipino environmental groups. The government began in earnest to clamp down on illegal practices when Duterte came to power in 2016 -- yes, the president who seems to want to exterminate all drug dealers has a soft place in his heart for the environment. But there has been criticism in the papers that Duterte is not putting enough resources into the clamping down, and that lawmakers are not making tougher laws and levying tougher penalties against illegal practices which concern the environment.
The list of environmental organizations based in the Philippines is more than six pages long. Their work on behalf of the environment, and the protests they stage, are arguably helping more than the actions of the government. The yearly "Lakbayan," for example, is the sojourn of thousands of indigenous people -- Lumads, Moros, Mangyans, Igorots, Aetas, among others -- to major cities in the Philippines to protest environmental degradation and resource plunder on their ancestral lands. Their grievances over both legal and illegal practices are widely published in the national papers. Several watch groups belonging to environmental organizations regularly publish infractions of environmental law they have witnessed. Shame campaigns are waged against polluting companies. Shame campaigns against the government, too, are waged when non-enforcement of existing laws occurs.
Murders of environmental activists and assassinations of activist leaders have taken a particularly heavy toll in the Philippines. One hundred sixty-four activists were killed here in 2018, and Global Witness, an international nonprofit outfit, has pronounced the Philippines to be the deadliest country in the world for environmental defenders. Death threats and other means of intimidation appear to be common.
One hopes, as the effects of these degradations of the land and the water become more apparent and get more coverage in the media, that more elected leaders will become activists themselves, and will find means to protect all activists who speak out, shame, act. One hopes.
Drip, Drop. Pic Dump.
Well once again more than a week has passed and a thought came to me as I booted up and tapped into the site: are you caving, Brad, on the commitment you began more than a year ago? My response was no; it's still my response a couple of minutes later. There is a tether in our lives, it seems to me, that pulls in the opposite direction of commitment; it is a common thing, natural as gravity; it is the reason "recommit" is an often-used word. Recommit? I can do that.
It has not been a newsy week, however. This may be partly due to a lack of funds: am fine till the end of the month and the next pension check, but last month's trip eventuated in a tight July budget!
When it's not raining, the sky is almost always overcast now. This has kept the temperatures below 90, and it's comfortable for one to be out and about even in the afternoon. I continue to try new restaurants in town: yesterday at "Joey's," the chicken was fine but the mac and cheese was overcooked. Jane and the family are well.
Sorry folks, the time got away from me. It's gloomy most days, with the occasional bright morning, and I find that my usual state of forgetfulness has been heightened a bit. For the first time I missed my weekly payment at Fred's, and yesterday at breakfast Che-che gently reminded me of the lapse.
A huge cyclonic disturbance, rain-laden but with little force, is meandering across northern Luzon today, but it's my first day without a tutoring session in a while, and this morning I decided that after lunch I'd bring the small gifts I'd gotten for the Academias in the States up to them in San Jose City. A serving plate for Lori, a hat for Larry. It was only drizzling at the time I set out, but before making Rizal I had the wipers at high speed. The car was anything but at high speed: it chugged along, and didn't seem to mind the many cars that passed it.
I'm getting the knack of selecting good driving music for the thumb drive. Among new additions I enjoyed, traveling there and back, were two versions of "Choctaw Hayride" and "Dragostea Din Tei," that "Gangnam Style" of Eastern Europe.
Arrived in SJC and found Lyndon and Larry's mom in the house. We exchanged pleasantries, and Lyndon suggested checking the church where Larry books weddings, funerals, and christenings. Darn, he wasn't there either. Oh well. Knew I was welcome to stay, but didn't want to be on the road in the rain after dark -- so I left the gifts with Lyndon, hopped in the car, and started back. Larry must have arrived soon after I left; within minutes of arriving at Fred's I saw a picture of him on Facebook sporting the Celtics cap. Hope you don't mind my borrowing of the pic, Larry!
But on to a topic on the minds of many Filipinos. Mindanao is the huge island at the bottom of the Philippine archipelago. It's ranked 19th among the world's largest islands (Luzon comes in at #15th), and western Mindanao has been the scene of armed conflict between Philippine government forces and a variety of Islamic separatist groups for nearly fifty years.
Did you know that Moslems beat the Spanish to the Philippines by well over a hundred years? In fact, the emirate of Granada in present-day Spain was a thriving center of Islamic culture when Arabian and Malaysian Moslem traders started settling in parts of the southern Philippines in the 14th century. Spain's gradual conquest of the islands, beginning in the 1520's, was successfully withstood by the Moslem-controlled areas of Mindanao for more than 300 years, which is quite an accomplishment when one considers the variety of ethnolinguistic groups in the Islamic population on the island. With the advent of powerful European gunboats in the middle of the 19th century -- used by the British, the French, and the Dutch to carve out their own pieces of the East Asian pie -- Spain was finally able to subdue the Moros.
The Spanish called Moslems "Moros" (a word the English anglicized to "Moors"), and Moros is the term used to this day for Philippine Moslems. Constituting 5% of the population here, Moros are today the largest minority in a country that has many minorities. And, as with so many minority populations across the globe, they have endured inequity and prejudice at the hands of the folks in control -- first the Spanish, then the Americans, and finally the Christian Filipinos.
Although the policies toward the Moros of Spanish and American overlords would have ramifications for what later occurred, and still occurs, in Mindanao, developments after the Philippines gained independence in 1946 laid the groundwork for conflict. There was a large influx of Christian Filipinos from the North in the two decades after independence, and government assistance to the new settlers was much greater than that offered to the Moslem population. Christian communities quickly developed road links. The Bureau of Lands, led by Christian Filipinos, dispossessed Moslems who, due mainly to their unfamiliarity with the system, had not filed claims -- and in government land offerings, Christian Filipinos always seem to have received the choicest parcels. It was not long before the economic disparity between Christian and Moslem communities was glaringly evident.
In response the national government created the Commission on National Integration, which eventually granted thousands of scholarships to young people of the Moslem communities. Ironically, this led to the politicization of a generation of Moslem youth, for young Moslems gained the tools to look into the causes of disparity -- and many of these young scholars partook in student demonstrations against an increasingly authoritarian Marcos administration.
The most powerful of the Islamic separatist movements spawned in the 60's and early 70's was the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front), led from its inception by Nur Misuari, a former CNI scholarship student. The group saw as its sole purpose the creation of an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines. The Islamic world provided them with weapons, and in the fighting between 1972 and 1976, more than 120,000 Moslems and Christians were killed. The MNLF did not oust government forces, but Marcos (who used the fighting in Mindanao as a pretext for his declaration of national martial law) saw that the government would not be able to achieve a final victory over the Moros. And so there were peace talks. A plebiscite on an independent Islamic state was conducted in all territories claimed by the MNLF -- but only two provinces of the several claimed by the Moros approved (those pictured above). Those two provinces were granted a high degree of autonomy but not independence from the national government.
The MNLF was not happy with the outcome, and outbreaks of guerrilla warfare against government forces in Mindanao, as well as terrorist bombings, have been fairly regular occurrences on the island for the last three decades. Then in 2017 the city of Marawi for five months was the scene of pitched battles between the government's military and three different Islamic separatist groups, including one affiliated with ISIS. The fighting destroyed large sections of the city; 978 militants, 168 of the government forces, and 87 civilians were killed.
President Dutarte, it seems, may now feel as Marcos felt in 1976. He invited Nur Misuari to the presidential palace earlier this year to discuss how they might end the fighting on Mindanao . If further discussions do lead to a deal that the government and all the armed factions of Islamic rebels can accept, a long and bloody chapter of Philippine history may close.
The Rainy Season
On average, Massachusetts receives 42 inches of rain yearly (snowfall in this stat is reduced to a rainfall amount). Cabanatuan, on average, receives 38 inches of rain in the months of July, August, and September. It doesn't rain all the time. Sometimes there are clear mornings before dark cumulus clouds come scudding up the central Luzon plain after noon; the clouds produce downpours, but not everywhere. Sometimes we are socked in by overcast which produces occasional drizzle here, steady drizzle there. Sometimes massive cells of thunderstorms are on the move, and I punch up the Philippines doppler to gauge the chances of a hit on Cabsy. Of course these storms can blossom like toadstools from nothing in less than an hour on the doppler screen, and can fizzle just as quickly, so I'm not a great prognosticator.
The Trumpster said little that was unsettling during his July 4th extravaganza, which is good. Jane and I went to the immigration agency on the 4th to file for another six-month visa, only to discover that my trip to America rules out a six-monther, which is not good. I must settle for a one-month visa and once again work my way up to the six-month visa. The agency deals almost exclusively with Filipinos seeking to study or work abroad, so I guess it is learning with me the ins and outs of Philippine visas for foreign nationals -- but it would have saved me a minor case of the fantods if I had known about this before the trip.
Am seeing Jane's family often, what with my afternoon ferrying duty, and I'm gearing up for another term. Really hope that Cathy of Ivy&Me, the online teaching service I've hooked my wagon to, can come up with a schedule that will give me three free days in a row. Would like to take a road trip in August.
Back from Massachusetts
What I had missed about the landscape came home to me only after my return. The bristly asymmetry of white pines. The calls of mourning doves. The smell of freshly mown grass. I stayed at the home of younger brother Randy and his wife Christine -- the new home of son Jeff and his wife Anna has as yet only one bedroom furnished. Thank you Randy and Christine, nieces Abigail and Dehlia, Abby's Lewis, and nephew Dan -- for the company, for the delicious food, for the comfortable bed!
I tooled around southeast and central Massachusetts in my rental, some kind of Hyundai -- driving to Leominster High School, which had been let out for the summer absurdly early; driving to the coast, then to Boston; visiting with son Bart my gorgeous 85-year-old aunt on Cape Cod. Twice my destination was Medford and the hundred-year-old house Jeff and Anna had bought only the month before. It's a solid beaut with wooden floors and steam heating. Jeff and Anna already have a garden growing; also, raspberry bushes and a huge blueberry bush grow at the back of the property; and a short walk behind the house brings one to the Mystic River.
It was a thrill to wrap my arms around the boys again, and around Anna, and around my ex, Weiya. On the day the above photo was taken, Jeff made a savory ratatouille and we all chatted around the kitchen table.
Ten days was not enough time. Next year I may want to double that.
Lori's 56th, and a Nasty Assault
On Thursday, at the WalMart Mall in Talevara, we all ate lunch at Jollibee's, then picked up a cake and a nice pair of sandals for Lori before continuing north. We reached the Academia house in San Jose City about 1:30 pm, and there Lyndon, Larry and Lori's son, told us the two had already departed for the campsite where Lori's birthday was to be celebrated.
We found the right turnoff and headed into the highlands north of SJC and found the campsite, which is a couple hundred yards below Pinsal Falls, the waterfall we visited last November. Adults met new adults and children met new playmates, but Larry and Lori had not arrived; they had stopped off somewhere before heading on to the campsite. A half hour later they did arrive and the party began in earnest.
The food was excellent meryenda fare, two different delicious tofu concoctions and a large pork dish, among other treats. The drink was gin and San Miguel beer -- I stuck with the beer. But before getting to the consuming part of the party, and in part because I was already sweating due to the heat and humidity of the day, I emptied my pockets into Jane's handbag and stepped into the makeshift swimming pool in which the children were playing.
The water was maybe 4 1/2 feet deep. I motioned to Aaron, who was sitting on the top step leading into the pool, to get on my back; I would carry him around and he could play with the others. He set his lips and emphatically shook his head. Back at the pool of the Mangrove Hotel in Subic Bay, Aaron had fallen off a shallow shelf into the deeper pool, and he thrashed around frantically before his Mom, who noticed first, could fish him out -- a bad scare for the yet-to-be-a-swimmer. Well, I saw he still had a vivid memory of that mishap . . . . Moments later I saw my chance and grabbed him off the steps, and took him to the middle of the pool, where he screamed and wailed for close to five minutes before settling down. Ten minutes later he was jubilantly directing me with his outstretched arm in search-and-destroy missions against the other children.
When I sat down with the other adults, I was thoroughly sodden, and quite comfortable. Irving, Alew, Edwin, Eric, Karl, and a lovely 66-year-old lady they called "Capitana," because she is the chief of the councilors in a San Jose barangay -- these are the names I remember. They are all government workers, mainly drivers, and they are all falling on hard times because the candidate they backed did not win the mayoral election last month. Now instead of regular driving duties they must put themselves on call 24/7 for driving assignments that may or may not come their way. We talked about that; talked about the difficulties of learning English, learning Tagalog; talked about my stay in the Philippines. The men used gentle humor against each other. The food was really good.
I awoke in my bed at Fred's very early the next morning with an urge to barf, did so, and didn't feel any better for it. I suffer as only men can suffer when they are sick, and yesterday was a bad day indeed. At first I thought the culprit may have been some of the food I ate at the campsite; in my long stay Phlipside I had experienced 0 intances of food poisoning, but mightn't I be due? The chills that came on after noon, the need to sleep whenever I wasn't in the bathroom, and the quality of the cramps in my stomach were good indicators of a stomach bug, though. As stomach bugs generally do, this one started to leave me after a day and a half. Now I'm feeling drained but without tummy trouble after a long Saturday afternoon nap.
That makeshift pool is likely the culprit. It was fed with unfiltered water from the stream below. Water was constantly being renewed with a pump and a drain, but chlorine was not a part of the equation. Thankfully, Jane, in our texts yesterday and today, has not informed me that one or more of the children were down with a bug.
If I smile at Filipinos I don't know -- on the street, in the shops, at Fred's -- at least nine out of ten will smile back. If I walk into Fred's and some of the staff are enjoying some local fare at a table in the restaurant, I'm always waved over and asked to try the food. Filipinos, for the most part, are gracious and open with people they don't know, or don't know well. They laugh when they are unable to dredge up an English word from the back of their mind. They are believers in eye contact.
That last time I was at the SM Mall, I had to renew a couple of prescriptions at the medical clinic, in addition to resupplying meryenda. Dr. Santos had moved to another organization, and so I had to wait to see my newly assigned doc -- and the wait was more than two hours. A woman about my age, one ahead of me to see this doc, introduced herself and asked me if I were from the U.S. She, it turned out, was a Long Island resident returning home to help her mother celebrate her 85th birthday. Linda, 58, is a very funny woman. We bantered back and forth about the plusses and minuses of living in the Philippines, living in America. She viewed my photos, asking questions about many. Just before she was ushered in to see the doctor (I didn't ask her why she was at the clinic) she invited me to the birthday celebration of her mom, just three days away.
The celebration was held at the Nipa Hut Resort, which I had not yet visited, in San Leonardo, two towns south of Cabanatuan. A birthday party at a resort? I imagined, based on experience, a larger cabana, barbecue, swimming. That Saturday afternoon, a swimming suit under my shorts and a box of NE brownies under my arm, I paced around the swimming pools at Nipa Hut, looking for a party, for Linda. I found two parties, but neither was my party. A resort employee finally pointed out for me a building at the rear of the grounds.
As you can see from the pics above, this was quite a bash. A live band with singers, an emcee, a huge spread, at least 150 celebrants. I felt a little uncomfortable standing there with my brownies. But Linda and her siblings greeted me graciously, and Linda sat me down next to her best friend from "old days," Lisa. And I had a fine time! Most interesting to me was the half hour or so during which the emcee introduced one by one members of the family, who got onto the stage where Paula sat, and, arm around this smiling old lady, spoke for awhile. I understood only snippets of what each family member said, but the affectionate and sometimes comical tones spoke volumes.
And now I'm connected to a few more Filipino friends by social media. Linda returns to the States today or tomorrow, a trip I'll be making in 11 days.
Princess Lara and Angelica Janiah are settling in at their new school -- classes began the day before yesterday. They both say they like it; I'm guessing they feel some discomfort at being dropped into a milieu in which everyone already has friends, though. In time, they will find their new set of friends.
There are no school buses; families must arrange for transportation. Mama Luz or Jane will take the girls to school in the morning, using James's trike. James will take them home for lunch and then back to school for the afternoon session. I've designated myself to provide transportation home each afternoon.
Today is the last day of Ramadan and a school holiday. Jane and I are heading north with the girls and Aaron to San Jose City, where Larry's wife Lori is celebrating her own birthday!
Snacks & Stimulants
Rejecting an urge to cocoonize, I was back behind the wheel yesterday, taking backroads to the mall with the goal of accomplishing some resupplying that there had not been time for when I was last there with Jane and her daughters. On the way I listened to the soothing songs of Jorma Kaukonen's Quah album, from 1974. The wonder of that little music thumb drive.
That's the most of it above. The juices are calamansi, guyabano, pomelong, and pink guava: all mighty tasty. I nibble on the macadamia nuts or the toasted watermelon seeds most evenings. A more substantial snack would be the liver pate, imported from Denmark, with Sky Flake crackers. A blessing of the crackers Phlipside is that they are the sort of cracker one bought in the U.S. before manufacturers there discovered a way to pump air into them. Phlipside crackers are substantial crackers, I tell you.
My morning stimulant is Nescafe instant coffee, which I bring downstairs with me for breakfast (along with a large can of mackerel for the cats). In the afternoon, if I'm not out and about, I put two bags of jasmine tea and one bag of guyabano tea in a large mug, which I then fill with hot water at the downstairs restaurant. Tea from the leaves of the guyabano (better known as soursop or paw paw in the U.S.) tree has many health benefits, and it is popular among Filipinos. It just doesn't have much pick-me-up; hence the added double dose of jasmine green tea.
Snacking is called "meryenda" in the Philippines. Last week Jane sent me a photo of the dish her family was snacking on that afternoon. Upon seeing it I immediately texted her: "ARE YOU EATING BUGS?" Her response: "Yes [laughing and crying emoji]. One of my [Triskelion] co member give me that yesterday."
She stated they were bugs found in rice fields and were delicious. So I looked them up. Adobong Salagubang is munched on by many people in Nueva Ecija, turns out. "Salagubang" is Tagalog for beetle (sorry, can't find the species in question) and "adobo" or "adobong" is the method of cooking. I've written here that chicken adobo is a favorite of mine. To do adobo, marinate food in a mixture of vinegar and soy sauce (making sure to use sukang iloko, a dark vinegar made by fermenting sugarcane and samak, a medicinal plant). Then boil or saute the food in that same mixture. Adobo was the main method throughout the islands of preserving food before refrigeration came along, and I'll eat adobo style any food -- any food that does not involve crunchy exoskeletons, that is.
I hit a motorcyclist with the car yesterday. I was at the end of the road leading to Fred's and turning onto the Maharlika Highway. It was raining, and though I looked left and right more than once, as one does at that intersection, I did not see the motorcycle coming up on the left on the shoulder of the highway. It was getting dark: I didn't notice his dark outline against the buildings close to the shoulder, only that there was nothing showing against the sky above the lane.
Thank God he was not hurt badly. He hadn't been knocked far. I helped him up; he said he was fine, not hurt, and he turned to pick up his bike and study it. He was a young man dressed for motorcycling except he wore no helmet, and I kept looking over his face and head for signs of injury. He banged on the casing of his dashboard, which had been jarred loose in the collision, and got it reattached.
There didn't seem to be any other damage to his ride; he had come into me with his front wheel and then flopped over sideways. There were no noticeable scratches, and the bike started on the first attempt. The engine sounded fine.
I was keenly aware of my own fault in this, and I fished out the 1000 peso bills I had in my pocket, numbering three, and held them out to him. He accepted them without a word, revved his bike, and headed outbound. I turned and saw that a long line of halted traffic outbound was facing me. Got behind the wheel and drove away.
I didn't sleep well last night. Imagined him not sleeping well either -- not due to anxiety or guilt but due to the aches of bruising he could not have escaped in that kind of fall. After driving away I pulled over at a place where I could get a look at the front of the car. Damage indeed. It seems that most of an Avanza body is composed of some kind of freaking polymer. Insurance will take care of it, but I'll have to foot a $100 copay. It's all right. The motorcyclist is not seriously injured or worse -- my confidence in myself as a driver in the Philippines is a bit shredded, though.
I had been driving over to Jane's to transfer the car to her; she was rightly nonplussed over the damage and my story, told me she'd help with the insurance, told me to "drive more safely." Tomorrow she will travel with Lara and Janiah to the cities of Gabaldon and Talavera with future classmates of the girls, and the classmates' parents, to clean and paint and otherwise improve schools in need there. This is a yearly activity in the week before school starts; school buildings in need of TLC and elbow grease are identified by the education bureau, and schoolchildren of the area with parents arrive in caravans at designated times to work at each school. It's a lovely practice.
Earlier yesterday, Jane and I had taken the girls to the SM Mall for a pre-school startup celebratory lunch at Zark's and an hour at the *kidzoona* playground. At Zark's we received a call from James, Marielle, and Aaron, who are still visiting with Jane's father in Manila -- Jane had been there with them, but had returned to Cab City the day before to enroll the girls in their new school, Jane's own old elementary school. (While there, Jane was surprised and happy to discover that Janiah would have as her teacher Jane's former teacher -- and that teacher, present at the enrollment, even recognized Jane after more than twenty years!)
About the Manila visit. Jane and her siblings had been estranged from their father for many years, but he made contact with them a few months ago. New relatives are now getting acquainted with one another -- and old bonds renewed as new bonds are forged. Aaron on the phone seemed to be having a blast down there. James and Marielle will return with him on Sunday.
After our time at SM, I dropped off Jane and the girls at the public market, where the girls would be fitted for their school uniforms (yellow skirt, white blouse), and where Mom would find black shoes for them. After dropping them off, I threaded my way through the narrow streets and crazy traffic surrounding the public market and headed back to Fred's to prep for an online tutoring session later that night. I'd encountered no driving mishap in many trips through the narrow streets and amid the crazy traffic of the market district; but my Waterloo would occur a couple of hours later on a wide, relatively uncongested highway.
Year-round, it grows dark between 6:15 and 6:45.
In the birthday song, the celebrant's name is not included.Where I have normally sung the person's name, simply another "happy birthday" is sung.
One of my favorite dishes (sisig) is made with parts of a pig's head.
A popular way to show respect to a person whose hand you are shaking is to draw that person's hand to your bowed forehead.
Blinking lights on the road is not a signal of yielding but a notice that the driver is "coming through."
Fifteen flavors of spam are available; grocery stores carry most of them.
Sanitation workers ride high atop trash in dump trucks with music blaring. They sort the trash as it is collected.
Much courtesy is shown toward the aged and infirm.
The attitude toward litter is what one imagines that of American citizenry to have been before the flood of PSA's in the late '60's.
Justin Bieber is very popular.
Rice is eaten with breakfast, with lunch, with dinner.
The way to evade a court summons for a traffic violation is to discreetly relinquish a 500-peso note to the traffic officer.
Christmas party parlor game I participated in: teams of one woman/one man are belted with a string from which another string falls inches below the crotch; from the male dangles an eggplant and from the woman dangles a plastic baggie with an egg inside it; couples gyrate to enable the eggplant to break the egg; the first couple to break the egg wins. (Elsie, asst. manager at Fred's, and I did not win.)
Tagalog's subversive borrowings from Spanish: "derecho" means "straight ahead"; "seguro" means "unsure."
I'm dreaming what may be the most vivid dreams of my life.
Midterms were held yesterday. Of the twelve Senate seats up for grabs, the opposition went 0-12; not one of the Otso Diretso candidates became a senator. Candidates allied with the Duterte administration, certainly for the Senate and seemingly, based on what I can find now, for the House, have won big. A couple of weeks ago, in the Cabanatuan barangay of Bitas, which I call home, three men and a woman were shot dead in the early morning by police in what the papers call a "buy-bust operation." "Buy-blow away" may be a more accurate term. According to police, during the transaction the suspects suddenly pulled weapons and fired "but missed." Police produced three pistols and ten sachets of shabu that were said to be found on the four dead people. This election, without a doubt, has strengthened the hand of National Police leaders, whose policies are killing so many drug suspects in the streets.
And Imee Marcos, daughter of Ferdinand and Imelda, has won a Senate seat, for God's sake. Her resume states, and she confirmed in an interview, that she graduated from Princeton. A spokesperson for Princeton has said she did not graduate, and a column in the campus newspaper states that she "flunked out." Well. PDP-Laban, ironically enough, is her political party. This party was founded in 1982 in protest against the martial law imposed by Imee's father, Ferdinand Marcos. Acknowledging the irony recently, Imee Marcos said, "God works in mysterious ways." The current chairman of the party is President Duterte, who is close to the Marcos family.
Seven youth leaders of the protest movement against martial law, back in the late '70's and early '80's, were killed by Marcos thugs; one of these was Archimedes Trajano. He had had the temerity to question Imee Marcos in 1977 at a public forum at the University of Manila as to why Marcos was qualified to be a youth representative to ASEAN. Trajano was forcibly removed from the forum by Marcos's bodyguards . . . and that was the last anyone saw of Trajano alive. Two days later his mauled and broken body was found on a street in Manila. There was evidence that Trajano had been tortured before he was killed.
A court in Honolulu (the Marcos family fled to Hawaii during the 1986 uprising) found that Imee had instigated the brutal murder in a wrongful death lawsuit, and ordered her to pay more than $4 million to the Trajano family. Though a Philippine court concurred with the Honolulu ruling, Imee's lawyers convinced that court in 2006 that an irregularity in the serving of a summons to Marcos abrogated that finding. Imee is a very wealthy woman, as all Marcos family members are, but the Trajano family has received nothing from Imee Marcos.
Jane sent to me from San Jose City, where she is registered to vote, this photo of her right forefinger. The silver nitrate in the ink applied to the finger of a voter ensures that the mark will be in evidence for days to come, which, in turn, ensures that no one will be voting "early and often." I've noticed, after last year's barangay elections and now this one, that many Filipinos bear the mark pridefully as a badge of their civic responsibility. . . . And I wonder whether instituting this practice in the States might raise voter turnout there.
Jane has all three children with her, and I'm making the trip north tomorrow to drive them back to Cab City, along with all the belongings of Lara and Janiah. The two girls will be living here with their Mom and Aaron, I guess from now on. Aaron will start attending school in June, and he wants his sisters to be with him; this and other factors have brought about the change. It will be good to have the sisters in town; Jane visited them in SJC often, but, at least to this close observer, she was missing too much of their childhood.
Dengue, NE Pacific, and the Circumcision Decision
People living in the Philippines enter a lottery each year; the chances of hitting it are about about 1 in 2,000. "Winners" spend a week or so with high fever, dizziness, vomiting, and sometimes excruciating joint pain. Dengue, aka "break-bone fever," is a virus transmitted to humans by infected Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus female mosquitoes. Eighty percent of bitten people who are infected remain asymptomatic; the unlucky ones who become symptomatic, about 1 in 2,000 each year here, have a very bad time indeed. One of the daughters of the manager at Fred's contracted the dengue virus some time ago; she spent three days in a hospital and underwent blood tranfusions -- dengue can drastically lower platelet counts in its victims.
The mortality rate of those that contract the disease is less than 1%; that rate increases for those who contract the much less common dengue hemorrhagic fever, to 2-5% for those who receive treatment, and to about 50% for those who do not receive treatment.
The rains will not begin here for at least another month, but afternoon downpours are no longer uncommon (I snapped the above photo on my way to NE Pacific yesterday). The rain is truly needed by farmers in most of the Philippines after a very long dry spell, but the downpours leave areas of standing water, a fertile breeding environment for mosquitoes. PSAs and billboards have called upon barangay officials and the population at large to find ways to drain standing water, in order to TEPOK DENGUE -- fight dengue.
Several mentions of SM Mall in this blog should be joined by a mention of NE (Nueva Ecija) Pacific Mall at the southern edge of town. I go there occasionally for resupplying, though it has fewer shops and is farther away from me than SM (I don't know what SM stands for). It was the first shopping mall to be built in Cabanatuan -- or Nueva Ecija Province, for that matter -- and it offers a nice contrast to the SM shopping experience. SM is a place of cavernous spaces, symmetry, and antiseptic cleanliness. NE is a complex, low-ceilinged warren of shops and restaurants with a supermarket at either end and booths set up in the middle of the wider hallways. Unlike SM, NE has a cluttered feel to it; it is clean, but not see-myself-in-the-polished-wall clean. People are closer together here, and occasional jostling is to be expected.
. . . For many years before the subjugation of the islands by Spain in the 16th century, Bornean Moslems had been trading with Filipinos, particularly in Luzon. They introduced several practices and ceremonies, including circumcision. Today nine out of ten Filipino men are circumcised, and the vast majority of them were circumcised between the ages of 10 and 12.
The practice, called tuli, is considered a rite of passage (one newspaper has called it a "writhe of passage") for preteen boys in the islands. It is performed this far along in life, Jane has told me, so that the child can have input into the decision as to whether or not he will be circumcised. Yet a great majority of boys do go under the knife: it is a cultural norm here.
Circumcision clinics are sponsored by PhilHealth -- and by various philanthropic groups for boys whose parents cannot afford the copay. The clinics are often held in school assembly areas or cafeterias, where the boys are snipped en masse. A local anesthetic is used, but of course there is discomfort during and after the procedure.
While I was at NE Pacific, Jane was in Manila buying supplies for an upcoming circumcision clinic sponsored by the Nueva Ecija Triskelions. Triskelion members who are doctors and nurses will be doing the cutting pro bono; the supplies and venue have been paid for with charitable donations the fraternity has raised.
"If There's No Fighting, We'll Come Back Next Tuesday"
My former wife and I (hi, Weiya!) had two sons who got along together remarkably well. From toddler age through high school, Bart and Jeff's squabbles were few and far between, and I don't think one ever raised his hand against the other. My own childhood with three brothers was less anomalous. I still have a small scar on a knuckle from when I chipped one brother's tooth.
Jane's three children -- Lara, 10; Janiah, 7; Aaron, 4 -- do get pretty feisty with each other. Janiah is a passionate powerhouse who can, and does, stand up to Lara. Janiah and Aaron are often at loggerheads. For all three, jealousy has a hair trigger when one encounters some small good fortune and another does not. They are by turns affectionate/comradely and antagonistic/I'm-gonna-get-you! towards one another. Nothing abnormal here, but their bickering can wear Jane down . . . and does.
For 9 or 10 weeks every April-June school break, the girls are back in Cabsy with Mom, and the three are together under one small roof. Today Jane and I took them to the SM Mall for lunch and some fun. (Jane and I, by the way, are not an "item," in case you've wondered; she is simply the lodestar in my Cabanatuan life, as well as a fine employee.) After seeing how crowded the Jollybee's was, we walked down to Burger King, where the girls and Aaron had chicken and rice. That's right, even American fast food places Phlipside have chicken and rice; Jane was surprised to find out that Burger King and MacDonald's don't have chicken and rice in the U.S. The rice comes wrapped in waxed paper, and it's piping hot.
The fun was had at "kidzoona," an "edutainment center" operated by a Japan-based company and found at malls in many Asian countries. Here, for about $4 out of a parent's wallet, a child for an hour can romp about in several venues, play with educational toys, become a cook or a grocer or a doctor . . . .
Before heading home I picked up some canned mackerel, juice, and small goodies for the children at the supermarket. Aaron burst out crying once at lunch due to a perceived slight by Lara, and once on the promenade after Janiah did I'm not sure what. Which had Jane and I putting our heads together in the car. Jane asked them in Tagalog if they wanted to return to SM next week -- yay! Then Jane told them that I wouldn't take them if I heard from Jane there was fighting between them at home. Oh.
Add that one to your bag of pacification tools, Jane.
Okay, that's a relief. For the time being, if you wish to read previous posts, press "My Front Page" in the blue bar above. It's good to be back.
My learning curve for almost anything involving tech resembles the North Face of the Eiger. But I understand the "page issue" now, and will create new ones every 20 posts or so, just as the good fellow named Andres at SimpleSite showed me. ...I know a smart woman who drove her first car for months and months and then started having trouble with it, because she hadn't known that oil changes are necessary. Am probably now feeling something akin to what she felt then.
There's an evening shot of Jane and Aaron at Subic Bay. We -- Jane, her children, brother James, sister Marielle, and I -- piled into the car on the 23rd and spent two nights at the Mangrove Resort Hotel right on the Bay. I turned 61 there, but a birthday wasn't the occasion of the visit; we all needed some relax-time and a change of scenery.
Subic Bay is a laid-back, touristy kind of place; some Filipinos were staying at the Mangrove, but folks from elsewhere -- Australians, Americans, Germans -- outnumbered them. Temperatures in Cabanatuan had been (and still are) topping out at 36-38 C, but Subic Bay was noticeably cooler with a refreshing sea breeze. The journey there was one of my better calls, but I'll have to be frugal over the next few weeks before my 11-day stay in the States in June.
The Bay is only 5 kms. from the epicenter of a 6.1 magnitude earthquake that had struck the day before we traveled there. We felt no aftershocks while there, though according to the news there were some. On our way over we did see cracks in the highway -- surrounded by pylons and topped with signs containing large blue arrows pointing at them. Fifteen of the sixteen deaths attributed to the quake happened in Pampanga, 75 kms. from the epicenter, when a supermarket partially collapsed. Authorities are studying the building materials of the market to see if they were below standard.
High rises rocked in the 30+ second quake in Manila, about 50 kms. to the southeast of the epicenter -- there is a remarkable video of water jostled out of a penthouse pool and tumbling 50 odd storeys to the street below. ....I was sitting where I am now at 5:11 pm on the 22nd, swayed back and forth with my pc, thought immediately, "this is an earthquake," then thought "61 freakin years old and this is my first earthquake." There was plenty of time to think during this. I thought about getting up and removing myself from the building, then thought better of it. Cabanatuan, 100 kms. from the epicenter, experienced a gentle, rolling motion. While I intuited gentle rolling could be followed by serious jolting, it did not seem as though this would be a dangerous earthquake for my location (indeed, I've encountered no reports of damage in the local news since the quake). I sat and wondered at the experience.
While we were at the Mangrove on Subic Bay another quake struck well south of us in the Visayas, on Samar. This was a 6.5 temblor which fortunately caused no deaths -- Samar is not as thickly populated as Luzon.
If these quakes are just the beginning of a concatenation of seismic realignments Phlipside, you'll read about it here.
Looking forward to posting free of folderol. Thanks Andres.
Earlier posts can be found in the Basement Archive!