Aaron still has a low-grade fever; James is staying with him while Jheng and Mama Luz watch over Mariel at the PGJ Hospital after a short stay at Good Sam Hospital. PGJ has a large blood bank and for this reason it was deemed a more suitable place to get Mariel, who has a very low platelet count, stabilized. The blood test for dengue fever at Good Samaritan came back positive. Her platelet count is currently 41,000 (100,000-150,000 is considered normal), and Good Sam docs feared it would go down more.
This lovely, studious eighteen year old's posture on the gurney at Good Sam is typical of one suffering from dengue. Any movement is painful, and patients tend to hold themselves rigidly in one position. Jheng texted me this morning that her little sister had been up most of the night vomiting and complaining of chest and back pain. Could she have the car and some extra money to take Mariel to the hospital? When I arrived, Mariel was sitting rigidly in a chair, a very woebegone expression on her face. Mama Luz and Lola Dana were sitting somberly nearby.
Mariel may need a blood transfusion, or more than one, if the platelet count does not rise. Medicines designed to boost platelet counts (Nplate or Promacta) are usually the first order of business. Jheng told me she would text me with updates.
If you have been following my postings for a while, you may remember that Mariel's cousin Michael contracted dengue a little more than a year ago. For him it lasted nine or ten days, if I'm remembering correctly.
In the Philippines, dengue happens. In 2019, cases surged, with more than 420,000 infections recorded, but last year less than half that number of cases were documented; it appears to advance and recede in waves, probably based on the fluctuations in the populations of a certain little critter, the mosquito Aedes aegypti.
In the islands, about 1 in 300 infected with dengue die of the disease, usually because of a lack of competent care in the areas of those infected. Competent care is available in Cabanatuan City, and Mariel is going to get it.
I guess the next posting was as long in coming as the previous posting. Well, it is true that not a great deal is happening here. Jheng is busy getting pencils pushed over at the duplex. Not much in the way of important Philippines national news right now. And I was gearing up for, and am now working my way through the first week of, a doubling in the number of online classes to prep and teach. My Chinese students have begun a three-week vacation from school (their traditional New Year), and the parents of these students -- wealthy by Chinese standards, and ambitious for themselves and their children -- have set up a number of "extra learning" activities for their progeny to partake in, among which are added sessions with the online English teacher. Ah well, it's nice to feel in demand.
Next Tuesday my first batch of February money from the U.S. should arrive. I'll buy myself a little camera, probably another Sony, because I do miss putting my own snaps up in my own blog. This time I won't habitually keep the machine in my pocket (it was silly to do so with the last camera).
Dollying back to a broader focus, I can say that I'm increasingly feeling as if I'm treading water between alternative outcomes on a number of fronts. The governor of Nueva Ecija, my province, is purchasing 300,000 doses of the astrazeneca vaccine, and it seems that the Luzon breadbasket may be in the forefront of the national innoculation campaign. Getting rid of this scourge is a major topic in the global media right now; but also getting much attention is the growing number of mutations of the Covid virus, and the growing odds that mutations undermining the efficacy of current vaccines may be on the way. Dr. Fauci has said that, should a vaccine-resistant strain develop, new vaccines can be produced within a couple of months; but would it still be a couple of months if a number of vaccine-resistant strains should develop? Also, even if vaccine-resistant mutations of the virus kept pace with our ability to develop new vaccines, would people have to be vaccinated against multiple strains on a regular basis for the rest of their lives?
Jheng has told me that I tend to "overthink" issues, and she may have a point. I'll resist the temptation to expand upon this feeling of "treading water," lest I just start going on and on about the world's economy, the global climate, American politics, food security . . . .
Above is the bakery that is steps from my door. Pastries are generally 10 cents each, a loaf of bread one dollar. Don-don and Aiza hired a 24-year-old baker, Raymond, to make the product; he's a quiet but affable young man whose skills with the dough I've observed with some wonder. Two of the couple's children, Langjohn and Donaiza, sell the baked goods.
And now, in addition to their bakery, their water distribution center, and their sari-sari (convenience store) Adonis and Aiza, with the help of Aiza's mom and aunt are selling ihaw-ihaw, like Jheng's family over in Barangay Bantug Norte, in the late afternoons and evenings.
Chicken meat, chicken liver, chicken claws, chicken guts, chicken heads, pork meat, pork ears, pork liver, hot dogs, squid, talapia, bangus, shrimp, quail eggs . . . . It is all brought to the showcase on sticks after sitting in a marinade for a while. The customer chooses his delicacies for the day, and the vendor puts the selection on a charcoal-fired grill. The above picture is from a Filipino street food symposium in Manila, and that price is outrageous; come to Cabanatuan and get good barbecue for half that price courtesy of Aiza's mom and aunt!
A few of my American readers may have tried chicken claws at a dimsum restaurant. But chicken heads? Intestines? The crackling skin of a cooked chicken head is pretty tasty (at least to this taste) while the intestines, which I've tried, have no flavor aside from the sauce being used. Interesting texture, though. They are cleaned thoroughly before being strung on the sticks, of course: an ihaw-ihaw that sells one stick of unclean guts is not an ihaw-ihaw for long.
What with the bakery and the ihaw-ihaw, now I have more good eats not close to home but at home!
I drove the car over to Jheng's this morning; she has taken the kids up to San Jose city to help Larry Academia celebrate his 62nd birthday. Would have gone along, but I'm meeting with three funny young Chinese students of English this evening.
Have not been typing much for nearly a week, and have had some aggravation trying to click the computer's mouse with my middle finger, due to an infection of my right pointer finger. When it became sensitive and swollen, I took it to Good Sam (Good Samaritan Hospital) and was directed to the office of a surgeon. Oh great, I thought, another lancing, but the surgeon told me she thought I had brought it in early enough to avoid the lance. She prescribed ampicillin horse pills (not easy to swallow); a few days later, it's not nearly as sensitive as it was, and the swelling has gone down. I'm guessing my next posting will not be as long in coming as this posting was.
Havoc in D.C.
An American president recently defeated in his bid for a second term claims the election was rigged, fails with secretaries of state to overturn the election, fails in the courts, then stews for a while. Finally, he decides to call for his supporters to come to Washington, and gives a speech to thirty or forty thousand adulant fans just as legislators meet to finalize the result of the election. In the speech, the president calls upon the crowd to descend upon the capitol building. And to "be strong."
As you know, this is not the plot of a schlocky made-for-TV movie but a fair summation of actual events that have taken place over the last couple of months. The five-hour-long melee at the capitol building, two days ago, caused five deaths. About 60 people were injured.
As for the man without whom this nasty little chapter in American history could not be written . . . he is still president. There are calls for a second impeachment, calls for implementation of the 25th Amendment in order to remove the president, but with Mitch McConnell remaining top dog in the Senate until the new president takes office, impeachment and ouster cannot be expedited, and Mike Pence lacks the spine to wield the powers of the 25th Amendment against the boss he has played lapdog to for such a long time.
I'm angry, and for the next twelve days I'll be very worried for my country. What happened in Georgia is marvelous, but 2021 is not off to a good start.
Good Riddance, 2020
Will be heading over to the New Years Eve party at the duplex soon. Jheng and Mich have arranged adult games and kid games with prizes. Mama Luz, I'm guessing, is cooking up some great pulutang. Fireworks are exploding in the distance, closeby, in the distance again. If Langjohn, 12 year old of the family I'm staying with, has some, I hope he's careful with them.
The year is ending true to form. A new poll suggests Sara Duterte, daughter of the president and currently mayor of the large city of Davao, is a preferred candidate for president in the next election. Meanwhile, across the lake, Trump worries his own aides with what he might do as January 20 approaches. Hospitals in several parts of the U.S. have been stretched past capacity, and a new, more transmissible form of the virus is on the loose. Senator McConnell is busy loading a bill with "poison pills" so that the bill, which would increase Covid relief from $600 to $2,000, will go down to defeat. And a man plagued with conspiracy theories blew himself and part of Nashville up with a powerful bomb.
Will file away these ugly thoughts before joining the party: who needs a dour old foreigner in a celebration?
Maligayang Pasco! (Merry Christmas!)
For the first time during my stay in the Philippines, I'm spending Christmas in Cabanatuan. The number of online tutoring sessions I've missed over the last few weeks due to the wifi trouble, which has abated recently, compelled me to offer my services over Christmas, and the offer was taken up by my friend Cathy in Chengdu, China. Jheng left yesterday for San Jose City with the children, and I've sent along my regrets to Larry and Lori for not being there. I'm with the Raguindins, and will find Christmas cheer with them, I'm sure. Checked off my list are presents for eleven children: three Raguindins and their cousin, three Academias, three Guevarras, and the daughter of Lola Cita, proprietor of the sari-sari across the street.
Peace to you in this season of hope. Think: in just a week this sorry year will be put to bed.
Malfeasance at the DOH?
"Kickvacc" is a term seen and heard frequently in the Philippine news media these days. Speculation as to how the DOH (Department of Health) could have botched a deal with Pfizer for 10 million doses of their Covid vaccine now contains accusations of graft committed by officials at the DOH, including the health secretary pictured above. The Philippine Representative to the U.N., Teodoro Locsin, who helped to broker the deal with Pfizer 5 months ago, said that somebody "dropped the ball." When asked whether he and the Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. had not acted fast enough, Locsin said, “No. We did not miss the bus because we were slow to act. Babe [the Philippine Ambassador, “Babe” Romualdez] and I were fast. Offers poured in. But there are none so slow as those who never had the intention to catch the bus.”
Out the door and innuendo, Mr. Locsin. Dr. Duque, for his part, claims that "richer countries" beat out the Philippine government for those 10 million doses -- but apparently Duque had sat on that preliminary agreement with the drug company for nearly five months! . . . The 10 million doses are going to Singapore, and there is speculation that some Singaporean officials greased Duque's hand. A second theory is that another vaccine-producing country (perhaps China) has "convinced" the DOH to hold off on purchases from other countries and wait until its own product is ready for export. A simpler, and less nefarious, explanation is that a back and forth between government agencies over the Pfizer purchase got drawn out and complicated, until Pfizer decided it had waited long enough. That's the Philippines for you: enough of the red stuff for a ticker-tape parade.
I had thought earlier that there was a simple deal with Russia for its Sputnik vaccine. But apparently that deal was modified or it fell through; I can't find the relevant news concerning it. The DOH says it is working on deals with Moderna and another American company for 25 million doses, and says it is working to procure another 25 million doses of a Chinese vaccine from SinoVac, but who knows how all this will pan out. One thing I can say with some certainty: this man Duque will be in the hot seat for a while.
If you are a squeamish person, don't embiggen the photo. This is Meaty, a street cat Jheng and Mariel saved after discovering someone had sliced off her front right paw. And yes, this is Meaty giving birth. It was a difficult birth: just three out of five of the kittens survived. Counting Mariel's tabby Mingzy, we now care for ten cats between us. I'm trying to imagine a house with us and ten cats.
Piping Fresh Bread . . .
. . . ten steps from my bedroom door. Don-Don and Aiza's bakery will open Saturday. They have an industrial oven, kneading machine, wooden and metal prep tables, dozens and dozens of loaf and muffin tins, display cases . . . . And today several 50-kg. sacks of flour arrived. Would post some pics, but my Sony, which had been successfully fixed by a guy Jheng had taken it to, is on the fritz again. Tried to download some pics, and the download portal emitted smoke, after which downloading was altogether impossible; I'm guessing it's time to invest in a new camera. The bakery is on the first floor of the addition that was built right outside the front door; there is an air of excitement in the compound as final preparations draw to a close.
Boudicca has discovered that in the morning biting me is the easiest way to get me out of bed. Her kits are all healthy, and, when they aren't passed out on my bed in a ball of fur that grows larger with each passing week, they are very, very lively. My soap, shampoo, medicine, razor, toothbrush, and toothpaste have been moved from the tub and sink to behind the closed door of a bathroom cabinet. My clothes, sandals, shoes, paper towels, bowls, and plates, among other things, rest easy in the darkness of the bedroom wardrobe. The computer is turned off when not in use lest little furry feet on the keyboard send the machine into septic shock.
Jheng and I trade off the car as we need it; weekdays it is mainly mine as she is busy then with the schooling of the children. Jheng is getting a good dose of what I made my life's profession, and she's handling it well! Lara, her, eldest, can complete the modules on her own, but Janiah and especially Aaron need the directing, intructing, questioning, and cajoling of a teacher-figure, and nai-nai (mom) is fitting the bill.
Meanwhile, Stateside, The Dear Leader was defeated by Joe Biden in the presidential election by more than 7,000,000 votes and by 70-odd electoral votes. A-a-a-a-and 75% of Republicans, according to a poll, do not believe this. A larger percentage of Congressional Republicans will not admit that Biden was the winner in a fair election. Trump's efforts in the courts have largely failed, as have his attempts to strongarm the leaders of swing states. Will he be up to extraconstitutional shenanigans in the coming weeks? I sure as hell hope not.
It's been overcast for a few days with afternoon temperatures mainly in the high 70's F, weather that Filipinos call lamig (cold). Jheng is in bed with a stomach bug, monitoring her children's progress on the school modules from a distance. I'm helping a frazzled mama cat look after her own children and getting back to occasional online tutoring with Chinese students of English, now that decent wifi is back. Quarantine restrictions remain in place; masks and sometimes face shields are a must if you go out on the town, and don't expect to go out on any town other than your own.
Sorry, Jheng, but I'm going to talk about food. I feel I haven't written enough in these postings about the eats Phlipside. In weather like this, Filipinos like steaming, meaty dishes. Sinigang, a soup made sour and tangy with tamarind of sorrel, is a popular lamig-weather dish. My own favorite is baboy (pork) sinigang, but beef, shrimp, and fish sinigangs are tasty, too!
Kare-kare is a rich stew made with peanut sauce, okra, and usually oxtail. A Philippine gumbo, if you will. It is definitely a rib-sticking dish; I'm still waiting to develop a taste for it.
The meat of sisig comes mainly from different parts of the pig's face. Spiced up with peppers, chilis, onions, and calamansis. it is a dish I took to from the start. Most places give it a creamy texture by mixing in a raw egg or mayonaisse.
Kaldereta is a favorite of mine. It's a beef stew with tomatoes, liver paste, potatoes, and any number of other vegetables. I've seen that goat and duck are also prepared kaldereta style, but haven't yet sampled those dishes.
Pata hamonado is fall-off-the-bone deliciousness. Pork hocks, pineapple chunks, dark brown sugar, onions, and garlic are the main ingredients here, and the resulting stew is remarkably good. In an earlier posting, I wrote about crispy pata, a dish in which the hock, and often a whole leg, is deep fried. I stay away from that dish; the Filipino nickname for it is "high blood pressure" in Tagalog!
I will eat adobo anything. Except maybe insects (though if I did eat insects, they would be prepared adobo style). The meat is stewed in a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, and peppercorns. The white cane vinegar, during the cooking process, loses much of it acidity; what appears on the dish is a savory meat that may remind one of teriyaki -- but mellower and less salty to the taste.
The above dishes are not just eaten in lamig weather, of course, but they do seem to gain in popularity when the sun is hidden.
For three years, by the way, I have not been preparing my own food -- I get most of my meals at restaurants and at curbside "eateries" -- and not once have I experienced food poisoning.
Picking Up the Pieces
The noise of power saws is less frequent now; downed branches and trees are on their way to becoming next week's bumper supply of charcoal, or fuel for a Christmas bonfire. Three typhoons hit the island in a period of eleven days, and President Duterte has placed Luzon under a "state of calamity." The prices of basic necessities have been frozen, and non-interest government loans are in the offing for companies and families afftected by the storms under this proclaimed state, all in the interest of greasing the wheels on our return trip to normality.
The most recent storm, Ulysses, is blamed for 73 deaths, as of today. Many of those deaths occurred in the sudden flooding of the Cagayan River, the island's longest river. It seems that at the height of the storm, officials of the National Irrigation Administration in Isabela Province feared the mighty Mabat Dam there was in danger of a catastrophic breach, and so they opened wide the floodgates, relieving pressure on the dam but greatly exacerbating the flooding that was already going on downriver. Those officials on Nov. 24 will attend a hearing in Manila that will look into their decision to open those gates.
For the past four days the weather has been dry for the entire island, and the dry spell is expected to continue over the next several days.
I'll have to buy Aiza new floor-length curtains to replace the kitten-tattered ones now hanging in my bedroom. . . . Cuddly enough furballs at rest (as depicted above), when wide awake they chase each other, wrestle each other, shred what they can, knock over what they can, drag kitty litter grit all over the place. I have to wipe down everything on a daily basis. Boudicca, though she still feeds them, will occasionally give one a good swat, and it's gratifying for me to know she's a believer in corporal punishment.
People Need Help
Much of the large northern Luzon city of Cagayan is severely flooded, thanks to Ulysses. People have lost their houses, lost everything. Filipinos are pitching in to help -- as I type this Jheng's family is rounding up used clothes to send north -- but much is needed. American readers, friends from all countries, if you can send a few dollars to a relief organization here in the Philippines, those dollars will count, I can tell you. Several such organizations can be found in the article tagged below (I'm using the GMA Kapuso Foundation).
As far as typhoons go, this was nothing major -- but Ulysses did come barreling down the Sierra Madres with more enthusiasm than the forecasters had predicted, and Cab City endured typhoon-force winds for 5 or 6 hours early this morning. At about 8am I hailed a trike and went over to the duplex. Was relieved to find everyone safe and dry, but no one had slept very well, what with the elements pounding on their corrugated roof for so long.
I took the car from Jane and drove around to eyeball the damage before heading to the mall for supplies. Many trees were down, including at least a couple of the big, beautiful acacias in Freedom Park. Quite a few of the trees, or large branches of trees, had fallen in the road and had already been dragged to the side by city workers. I noticed some minor damage to buildings and a couple of roads that were impassable due to high standing water. On one side of the SM Mall, large chunks of what appeared to be painted plaster had been blown down from the outside wall; these had been moved to the sides of the driveway into a colorful melange of detritus.
The power will be out for a day or two, according to the mayor. Adonis's putt-putt generator affords me light, a fan, and use of the computer, but not air conditioning, refrigeration, or hot water. Wifi has been affected; one or more of the towers must need some fixing. As for the storm, it's gaining strength again over the South China Sea and is heading for the Da Nang area of Vietnam. Its international name is Vamco -- sounds like a retail conglomerate, you ask me. I'd much rather be pummeled by a Ulysses than by a Vamco.
My internet connection is not good, but I'm keeping up with news from the States as best I can. My three main takeaways: Covid-19 is getting way out of hand in parts of the country; Donald J. Trump needs the help of a good psychiatrist; and the new Republican would be Gollum, if Gollum lacked a spine. The country is in a deep hole right now. It seems ripe for so-called "triggering events." I do hope it finds its way.
There have been three over the past week, skirting us woebegone people in central Luzon to the south, to the north, and to the north. Now the fourth and maybe last typhoon in this string, due Thursday, is taking dead aim at central Luzon, according to forecasts.
Rolly, Tonyo, Atsani, and soon Ulysses. Rolly (intl. moniker Goni) was a so-called "super-typhoon" before making landfall in southern Luzon November 1. Planes had recorded winds of over 190mph inside him, but he thankfully lost his wind punch quickly once over land. Flooding destroyed a great many homes and created dangerous conditions over a wide swath south of Manila, however. The death toll from that storm is currently 25.
The tropical depression that forecasters assure us will soon become Ulysses has been loitering off the coast of Samar for the last couple of days. It will head north tomorrow, then veer west, gaining strength all the time. It is predicted that Ulysses will be a minimal typhoon at the point of landfall, and will probably be somewhat shredded by the 4 to 6 thousand foot Sierra Madre mountains at the coast, but the Ventusky weather model has 60+mph gusts in the vicinity of Cabanatuan around midday Thursday, so it looks like we're in for a blow as well as drenching rain.
Jheng's roof is not strong; I'll encourage residents of the duplex to spend Thursday in two large rooms at Fred's, on me, if this forecast turns out to be accurate. Fred's is open for guests, but its restaurant has not reopened, so I'll shop with Jheng tomorrow or Wednesday.
Speaking of tempests, Trump has been voted out of office. Yeah, I noticed that. Ivanka and Kushner, goo'bye. And Barr, and Mnuchin, and Pompeo, and DeVos, and Ross, and Carson, and a host of other assorted goons. All fine with me. But Trump hasn't conceded. He's making loud claims concerning vote-rigging (without good evidence), and his voice sways millions of diehard Trumpists. Would he bring down the country with him? I seriously doubt he would work for that in the coming weeks, and I more seriously doubt he would be able to bring about violent factionalism on a mass scale if he wanted to.
But I also know what happens near the end of most cheesy horror movies.
Mira Gets Married
We sat at the venue for the reception and watched servants set up the buffet table: Mariel and her friend Angelica, Lara, Janiah, Sonny's daughter Trisha, little Aaron, and me. I was to mind the minors while adult family members of the bride and groom partook in the service at the church. Churches, unlike private receptions, have strict limits with regard to the number of people that can be allowed inside for weddings and other ceremonies. There was little for us to do but wait.
I was standing in front of one of the heavy-duty fans when I noticed Mariel energetically gesticulating for me to come back to the table. There the kids were huddled in front of Mariel's smartphone. Michael's wife Marie was piping to us live the wedding service! We all watched quietly while Mariel and Arvin made their vows, while they exchanged rings, while the priest blessed them. Well, all but Aaron, who was entranced by the swimming pool nearby that none of us would swim in.
Reception guests were entering the semi-open-air venue as the wedding service ended. And it wasn't long before the wedding party itself arrived, Mira looking serene, Arvin looking hot and flustered but happy. Jheng joined us at the table and I took the keys from her for a ten-minute cool-off in the car. Returning, I noticed our table was full, so I found a place at the nearby table of bridesmaid Mich, Mira's sister, and Mich's boyfriend Noel. The food was excellent.
During the bride and groom's dance, it's a Philippine custom for relatives and friends to pin money to the bride's gown and the groom's jacket. Lacking pins with which to join this festooning operation, I had tucked my gift into Arvin's jacket pocket earlier. They were both sporting lovely money tails by the end of the dance!
We had to leave soon after that dance, and it seemed to me too soon, but Jheng needed to help Mariel with some business at Mariel's school. It had been a reinvigorating interlude for me. Mirasol and Arvin, good luck in your life together!
The typhoon season has been fairly active, but the whirligigs have had their birth too far to the west and have been tracking too far to the north to endanger the Philippines. Looks like that's about to change: the Ventusky model has three typhoons striking the east coast of Luzon over the next ten days. The first is to arrive Sunday night. None of them is expected to reach the status of a "super typhoon," but it does seem there are stormy days ahead.
The kittens are sequestered in the bathroom most of the time; at least two of them are now using the litter box there, but one or two are still leaving their "night soil" where the urge strikes them, and I usually have some cleaning up to do in the morning. The set-up suits me. If they are outside the bathroom and not being watched, they'll shred whatever can be shredded, and knock over whatever can be knocked over. If you're thinking, "Yeah, but," don't worry. These critters now know better than to attack my ankles when I'm taking a pee or sitting on the john.
New cases of Covid-19 are on the rise in the U.S. -- breaking records, according to the news (all the U.S. news outlets online are accessible here). In the Philippines, new cases have been decreasing in number since the middle of August. When I look at the numbers for total cases per million of the population for both countries, and do some easy math (I'm not capable of the difficult stuff), I find that 3.6% of all Americans have been infected, and .33% of everyone in the Philippines have been infected.
Heat is not a very big factor in the slowing down of spread: believed it was some months ago, don't now, mainly because the U.S.'s second spike, and it was a big one, occurred in the middle of the summer. Yes, governors "opened up" their states at that time, and we understand now how rash a move that was, but the very fact that the virus could thrive in 80- and 90-degree heat shows that, unlike influenza, this virus moves along quite nicely, thank you, in high temperatures.
Human mitigation in the form of government-imposed rules and restrictions do have an impact; I now feel they have a greater impact than what I felt before. Per capita, the number of infections in the U.S. is more than ten times the number of infections in the Philippines. Why, if it's not the hot weather? Well, what a handful of governors in the States have done on a fairly sporadic basis over the last several months has been done thoroughgoingly and nonstop Phlipside . . . and then some. Anyone out in public here must wear a mask; if you want to enter a mall, you must wear a face shield in addition to the mask. There is a curfew. Circles and arrows, to borrow a phrase from Arlo Guthrie, show people how to move in busy public places in order to maintain social distancing. Actual contact tracing is performed with almost every new case discovered in the Philippines, there is rigorous testing throughout the islands, and at-home quarantining is overwatched by trained people hired by barangays.
The death toll in the U.S. due to this virus is more than 230,000. The death toll in the Philippines, which has 1/3 the population of the U.S., is a little more than 7,000. The math again is easy: the U.S. has more than ten times the number of deaths per capita than the P.I.
Despite Trump's spinning and outright lying, I think a large majority of American citizens realize just how badly we have played this. Why? Of course, a president who downplayed and then politicized the pandemic, to the detriment of mitigation efforts (yes, I'm referring to the masks), has his role to play in this shitstorm. Governors with wrong-headed priorities, too. But also I'm thinking that our 2020 American culture, in which individualism has soured to selfishness in too many, in which an overweening sense of privelege is superceding the need to curb behavior in too many, has had a major role to play, too.
Boudicca's New Family
Yes, I know. I was going to get her spayed. Read some time ago that a cat shouldn't be spayed while nursing, and it's remarkable how quickly a mama cat can become pregnant again once she has stopped nursing. Learned that last year. Twice. Early this year Jheng and I drove over to the veterinary clinic I had previously brought Little Red to to make an appointment for the spaying and discovered that Boudicca would need a blood test before a spaying could be performed. So we made an appointment for that. At the time, one of the first large clusters of Covid in the city was starting to bloom in the barangay where the clinic was situated, and Jheng nixed going back. I was desultorily mulling over other clinic options when the lockdown occurred and I found myself stranded in San Jose City for 3 months. Returned to Cab City, and of course she was pregnant again.
She gave birth to four girls under my bed. Two of them have Boudicca's coloring, but with more white; one is a straight-up calico; and the fourth is completely white except for a small dash of gray on top of its head. The white one's blue eyes indicate who the father is: feral, blue-eyed Whitey.
Thank you, Adonis and Aiza, for suggesting I keep Boudicca in my room during birthing and mothering: it's been fun! . . . . Keeping her here will allow for slipup-free spaying later on, too.
Well, American readers, has the fast-approaching election given you the fantods yet? (Fantods, "attacks of uneasiness," a term often used by Huckleberry Finn in Twain's novel.) Almost every time I consider another four years of T. Rump, I get the fantods, I must admit. Biden was 8th or 9th on my list among all the Democrats competing for the nomination a few months ago. I'm 100% for him now. Hoping the electorate has had enough of this dangerous drama queen.
P I C D U M P
Blog entry removed due to privacy concerns!
Well, the four largest telecom firms on the island -- Globe, Converge, PLDT, and SKY -- are all "down" while "emergency maintenance work" on the international cable system here is performed. At first I thought something was wrong with my wifi; then Sonny Javier, my IT friend and uncle to Jheng, gave me the straight poop. Download speeds are to be tragically low for about one week. Yesterday, getting online was impossible between 10AM and 6PM. Two days ago I was able to contact Cathy, leader of the Chinese tutoring service Ivy&Me, on Zoom, but the connection did not last long. We agreed to put off tutoring for my handful of students until this is over.
So I'm back in that offline world I experienced so much of during the lockdown in San Jose City, and back into The Guns at Last Light, the last book of a scholarly trilogy on WWII in Africa and Western Europe by Rick Atkinson. Currently I'm at the end of the American and Free French three-week surge up the Rhone in Operation Dragoon. At the end of that chapter I noticed that Monty's botched Operation Market Garden is just a couple of chapters away. I contemplated skipping that one. After all, I've seen A Bridge Too Far twice, know the story of that debacle well. But curiosity took hold of me: did the movie get all of the story right? And what did it leave out? I decided to see what Atkins has to say about it . . . .
Jheng is well; two days ago she ferried Lara back from her long stay with Larry and Lorie; formal online lessons begin next week and Lara wanted time to prepare. Saw Jheng's eldest for the first time in a long time yesterday after Jheng and I went shopping; she seemed slimmer and prettier than I remembered, and I told her so.
Alas, my little Sony camera crumped a few days ago; should not have made it a habit to keep it in my pocket at all times. We'll see if it can be fixed; if it can't be fixed, we'll hunt for a new one (October money will be on the way tomorrow).
Cabanatuan City (aka Cab City, aka Cabsy) has been home for me for three years now, and it's about time I placed a short entry's focus on the place. Sitting at latitude 15.4865N, or about 1,065 miles north of the equator, the city has a tropical climate and the dry and rainy seasons attendant to such a climate. Moving around the globe on its line of latitude, one finds Guatemala and Belize, the Caribbean island of Dominica, the Cape Verde Islands, Eritrea, the Indian city of Panaj . . . . Cab City is well inland on Luzon, the fifteenth largest island in the world; it takes a Cabanatuanite three hours to drive to the closest point on the ocean accessible by car, Dingalan on the east coast. Despite its inland location, its elevation is only 37 meters, thanks to its situation on the Pampanga River. Should the Antarctic ice sheet have a catastrophic meltdown, the ocean will come to us, in other words.
Cabanatuan is the most populous city of its province, Nueva Ecija, with a 2015 population of a little more than 302,000. Like Boston in Massachusetts, it is surrounded by "bedroom communities," and its population during a workday is close to 1,000,000. Unlike Boston, Cab City has no high rises, no subway system, and no school buses. When I came here, there was one traffic light; there are now three or four.
Oh, and also unlike Boston, this is a sprawling city, covering 75 square miles. Driving its length on the Maharlika will take you more than an hour.
As with all Philippine cities, Cabanatuan is divided into administrative districts called barangays (baRANgais). I live in Bitas, Jheng lives in Bantug Norte: altogether there are 89 barangays in Cabanatuan City. Eight elected barangay council members administer to the needs of barangay residents and enforce barangay rules. These "villages within the city" cultivate feelings of community and even solidarity among barangay residents; most barangays in Cab City have their own elementary schools, their own "covered courts" for sports and barangay gatherings, their own festivals . . . .
Barangay Bitas is close to the northern edge of Cabsy. It's quieter here, the life slower here, the streets more verdant here, than what one finds in most other barangays of the city. And that suits me. Never really took to apartment-living in the hurly-burly of Boston during my student years. Outside my door at dusk, here in Bitas, bats veer silently about against an indigo sky. The aroma of Aiza's cooking, or of Mama Cita's cooking across the street, is in the air. I can take a walk knowing I won't be struck by a stray trike, will cross paths only with young couples and old guys like me, fellow Barangay Bitans, also out for a walk, whom I'll greet in passing with a "Maganda gabi!"
South China Sea Blues
After so many years of being out of touch, a good friend from my graduate school days and I are communicating with each other once again. Her roots are in Greece, and after earning a PhD. in the UK she became a professor of English at a university in Greece, publishing several books on English Renaissance literature. After supplying each other with timelines of our exploits over the past few decades, we fell to discussing (via email) the pandemic, American politics, other topics of note in the world today. Recently she has written of tensions in the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece, an issue I confessed I had been unaware of. It seems Turkey, under that autocratic strongman Erdogan, is making claims on Greece's economic maritime zone, a zone delineated by the 1923 Lausanne Treaty between Greece and Turkey. Turkey, it seems, wants to drill in these waters; Greece is adamant that Turkey will not drill there. Well, the strongman's threatening noises over this debacle have, in the past year or two, been joined by provocative acts, such as the ramming of a Greek patrol boat by a Turkish coast guard vessel. There is a real possibility of armed conflict between the two countries.
A similar instance of territorial aggression is taking place in the South China Sea; it involves not the claims of one nation upon the maritime territory of another, but the claims of one nation upon the maritime territory of four nations. The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea determined that countries had exclusive economic rights to maritime resources within 200 miles of their shore. China's nine-dash line, depicting its own claims to maritime territory, encompasses James Shoal off the coast of Malaysia, which is more than 1,000 miles from the large Chinese island of Hainan!
This nine-dash line was first drawn by the Kuomintang regime of Chiang Kai-shek, then adopted by the CCP after the Communist Revolution. And with the recent rapid growth of its navy, China has shown a keenness to exercise its sovereignty over this vast maritime territory that stretches well within the 200-mile zones of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines.
Scarborough Shoal, a large atoll 150 miles off the west coast of Luzon, had been a destination for Filipino fishermen for hundreds of years. Not any longer: since 2012, the Chinese navy has maintained a presence in the vicinity of the shoal, and they have used water cannon against any Philippine fishing vessel whose captain has the temerity to approach the shoal. In 2013 the Philippines brought the matter to the UN's Permanent Court of Arbitration, but the Chinese government refused to participate in this arbitration. The five arbitrators of the tribunal that was convened unanimously agreed that China had violated the sovereign rights of the Philippines; furthermore, the tribunal ruled that China's nine-dash line had no legal basis. The Chinese government rejected the findings of the court. To this day, Chinese government vessels keep Filipino fishermen away from Scarborough Shoal.
Within the nine-dash line, China has pushed Vietnamese fishermen out of the Paracel Islands and has established military bases in the Spratly Islands. Chinese "island reclamation" projects are underway in the Spratlys, acres of lagoon becoming dry land, reef systems destroyed. Chinese vessels have rammed a number of Vietnamese, Malaysian, and Philippine fishing boats. In a particularly vicious incident last summer, a large Chinese fishing vessel rammed a Philippine wooden fishing boat, then left 22 Filipinos, whose ship had gone down, to fend for themselves in the water. They were rescued by a Vietnamese fishing boat six hours later with no loss of life.
Anti-China sentiment is strong in the Philippines, but for the past several years the government has relied heavily on Chinese investments and Chinese loans. As for the United States, it has declared that shipping lanes in the South China Sea must remain open and that ships must not be impeded by inspections. The United States Pacific Command now has the South China Sea as its top priority, regularly sends military vessels into it, and *flash* just two weeks ago a People's Liberation Army spokeman warned of possible "accidents" happening between American and Chinese naval forces. Well, I can't fault the Americans for getting involved. The strength of the combined navies of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines is only a very small fraction of that of the Chinese navy. And the nine-dash line is fraudulent as well as redolent of the imperialistic ambition that China itself has castigated and fought against for the last century. The South China Sea should remain free, you ask me.
I was meeting with a couple of advanced Chinese learners of English some time ago, and I brought up the nine-dash line during discussion time. We talked about Chinese maritime history, China's need for oil (large reserves of which are thought to lie under the South China Sea), and the neighboring countries' reliance on fisheries in the disputed territory. I did learn quite a bit from the conversation. One of the students eventually said, "It's called the South China Sea, right? So it belongs to China." My quick-thinking was working reasonably well in that class, I guess; I brought up on the screen the map of a big stretch of water labeled "Gulf of Mexico." I asked, "Does Mexico have exclusive rights to the fish, the oil, the minerals of this entire body of water?" Many Chinese people when embarrassed laugh; I waited for this student's laughter to subside before he said, "No, I guess not."
Son Jeff's lovely Anna gave birth prematurely five days ago to a snippet of a girl not much more than two pounds in weight. The OB/GYN folks told Jeff and Anna the baby, Mirah, looked well for a human being so tiny, and complications are not foreseen -- yet special precautions are needed for 6 1/2-month premies, and Mirah will reside in the NICU for several weeks before going home. Of course, Mom and Dad will be making the commute to her bassinetside daily.
Can only guess at the emotions that washed over Anna and Jeff as they experienced this. Me? I'm a grandfather for the first time and feel pretty fine about it! Look forward to visiting in a few months, when Covid concerns are behind us, and holding her!
Back Phlipside, all is well and not nearly as exciting. Jheng still buys and sells most days, and I spend days reading, preparing lessons, playing with children and animals . . . . Jheng and I made the trip to town for provisions this morning, and in the car she told me a brother-in-law of mine has been texting with Auntie Des for a while. Both good people; I hope they hit it off! Lara, Janiah, and Aaron are already involving themselves in school projects ahead of the Oct. 5 start of remote-learning classes, and Jheng's younger sister Mariel, not a public schooler, has been taking high school classes online for a while.
I'm learning from the Facebook postings of my former colleagues at Leominster High School that being on the other side of remote-learning, when one has a hundred or more students, is no easy chore. I hope they, as well as the children's Filipino teachers, have no more than a term or two of it. Vaccine, vaccine, who's got the vaccine? Apparently a few are now in the third phase of trials. Except for a period of time decades back, after a bad car accident, when I was good and hooked on morphine on a hospital's stryker frame, I have never more looked forward to a needle.
The afternoon rains have not come now for a few days here in central Luzon, but they'll be back: the rainy season ends several weeks from now. Typhoons can strike any month of the year, but in this season of high typhoon frequency all of the pinwheels have so far tracked north of us, threatening China, the Koreas, and Japan. One or two earthquakes above 4 on the Richter scale occur daily in the islands, but Luzon has not experienced any perceptible ground-shaking for a long while. All the volcanoes are quiet.
Graft and Corruption
No problems at the immigration office. They took a little more than P10,000 from me and made a six-month visa extension official. Odd, but I seem to pay a different amount each time I go there. Six months ago it was 7K and change; one year ago it was more than 13K. Foreign visas, at any rate, have been reinstated; Duterte declared restrictions that limitet the tourist trade had to be lifted, because those restrictions were hurting the economy as much as anything else in these days of Covid.
The changes in price for the visa could well be due to changes made over the past several months in the various fees involved in the issuance of a visa, of course. But stories told to me by friends, and, well, my own experience, have informed me that corruption among the powerful and not so powerful in the Philippines is widespread. Kickbacks, embezzlement, extortion, fraud, book-cooking, expense-padding, nepotism, skimming, bribery, influence peddling, cronyism . . . are all alive and well in the islands.
You remember Mr. Sherwin, whose agency got me a car loan? Jheng received a call from him a couple of weeks ago in which he said it was urgent that I deposit in his account P45,000 (almost $1,000) due to unpaid payments and "collection fees" levied by Toyota. Jheng explained to him that the two payments not made during the period of ECQ (the strictest of quarantines) were transferred to the end of the payment period by the car company, as the company had made clear in a public announcement. "And what exactly are these 'collection fees'?" Jheng asked. Sherwin's answer was muddled and didn't make sense to Jheng. I wrote a terse email to Sherwin stating that Jheng and I kept careful records of our payments to him, and that we were looking for a lawyer to investigate this matter. Sherwin replied that he "respected" my decision to procure a lawyer, but that this was "not a big problem, really." Neither Jheng nor I have heard from him since.
Jheng is looking for a lawyer; we're both pretty certain Sherwin is an unsavory character. Moreover, his downtown office has closed, and we know that he is being investigated for business practices incommensurate with the consulting license he holds. Should he also be investigated for attempted extortion? A desperate person makes desperate mistakes. Yup, we need a lawyer.
To move on. Let me tell you of an experience I had four years ago, during my second school vacation in the Philippines. I was staying at Pacific Waves Resort about five miles north of Caloocan (pronounced Cal-o-O-can), where Jheng and Mich had an apartment -- they were working at a food processing plant there, while Lara, Janiah, and Aaron remained behind with grandparents in Cabanatuan and San Jose City. Jheng and Mich had spent a day and a night at Pacific Waves with me (I rented a room for them), and we were heading back to Caloocan the next day when it occurred to me that the last number of my rental's license plate forbade me from driving in Metro Manila on that day of the week. (Yes, this policy is still in effect; it is meant to reduce traffic in a very traffic-plagued city.) I asked Jheng and Mich if Caloocan were a part of Metro Manila. They both thought it wasn't.
But it was. Shortly after entering Caloocan we were pulled over by a traffic enforcement officer. Both of my friends told me hurriedly, before I opened the window, that either I could have the car impounded or I could hand over to the nice man P500. I pulled out a 500-note and stuck my hand out the window with it, smiling. The man gave me a sinister sneer and turned his back on the car. This is when I learned something about bribery etiquette. The women in hushed tones told me to hide it, fold it in a piece of paper, and Jheng pushed at me some paper she had ripped off a package. I folded up the yellow denomination, then folded the paper around it, allowing a small bit of yellow to show. The man gruffly accepted this and waved us on.
In the two or three miles from the Caloocan line to Jheng and Mich's apartment we were pulled over a total of three times, twice by traffic enforcement officers and once by a genuine pulis (policeman). The policeman was kind and jovial, unlike the other two actually willing to listen to Jheng and Mich's explanation that they did not know Caloocan was a part of Metro Manila. And the man gave us a motorcycle escort to the foot of Jheng and Mich's street, so that we would not be pulled over yet again. But like the other two, he accepted my P500 bribe. Fifteen hundred pesos in all, or thirty dollars -- not very much for a long-tenured school teacher from Massachusetts. But for Mich, who has a four-year degree in food services, it would have been three days' pay; for Jheng, it would have been nearly four days' pay.
A German NGO, Transparency International, measures public perception of corruption within countries across the globe. In the Asia Pacific region, New Zealand comes in first; its population believes little corruption occurs there, it seems, and the NGO awards it with an 87, whatever that number actually means. The Philippines comes in at a 34, and the average score for the region is 45.
Both the government and the people here understand that corruption is a problem. The government's anti-corruption task force has grown over the past few years and has had a number of successes -- the most recent large success being its discovery that billions of pesos have been siphoned away, in a number of different fraudulent transactions, from PhilHealth, the nation's public health care insurance provider. The agency's directors are all on leave while several investigative groups attempt to locate the money and the people within the agency responsible for this criminal enterprise.
Well, I'm guessing if Trump by hook or by crook gets another four years, Transparency International will find several reasons to darken the U.S.'s shade on its map in the coming years (the U.S. scored a 69 in 2019). As for the Philippines, corruption seems to be in the grain, and it will be a long slog to get out of the 30's, and then a long, long slog to get out of the 40's, and so on, if you would have the work of a German NGO be your measuring stick.
Additions to the Family
Jheng's cousin, close friend, confidante, and duplex-mate Mirasol is going to have a baby with her longtime boyfriend Arvin! They're both very much excited. Mira went in to see an OB/GYN specialist yesterday; it is too early to determine the baby's sex, but the pregnancy seems to be moving along well. . . . And I might as well use this space to let my readers know that I am to be a grandfather for the first time in December; Jeff and Anna will have a baby girl, and the name they are leaning toward right now is Mirah! I don't think Mirasol and Arvin have yet considered names -- they must still be getting used to the idea that they are going to be parents. This season of new life is most welcome after the recent losses of Bernie and Montero.
On another note, ridiculously large thunderheads roll up and down Luzon most afternoons now. A downpour I watched about a week ago was the strongest rain I had ever seen, it seemed to me, like a valve opened wide on every square inch. Thankfully, the drainage is very good in this part of Barangay Bitas. The drainage is not so good at the duplex in Barangay Bantug Norte -- but at least the duplex stands on relatively high ground. The widening of the highway stopped within a half mile of the duplex due to the pandemic, by the way. When the work starts again after this hiatus is anybody's guess.
On yet another note, the visas of foreign residents were "withdrawn" by the Duterte administration shortly after the quarantines kicked in, and I'm not really sure what my legal status is here right now. (He, he.) My last visa has an expiration date of 8/26, so Jheng and I are making the run up to the immigration office in Palayan tomorrow to see what's what. There has been no outflux of foreign nationals from the Philippines, but the announcement about the visas has given these last few months a "living in limbo" feel to them.
Improving Health and Sputnik V
Well, that was a jolly two or three weeks. The fever disappeared five days ago; I'm left with a much-diminished cough and a stiff neck in the morning. These too will pass. Thank you, thank you Filipino friends, for running my errands and cooking for me! I would have been in a tough spot, if it hadn't been for you.
Jheng, while not fetching and cooking for me, has kept busy selling meat and produce. She'll have this opportunity for a while, probably -- Cabanatuan has been placed back on General Quarantine, and the Sangitan Market is not reopening any time soon. She seems to specialize in longganisa, the Filipino sausage, now, and preps 30 kilograms of "longga" each day.
More restrictive quarantines are going into effect in many parts of the islands. The case line and death line are not flattening here but becoming steeper, and health care workers are being hit especially hard. "The Philippines is crying," as Rodrigo Duterte puts it.
Duterte signed an agreement with Russia months ago to gain access for the Filipino people to a Russian Covid vaccine. And now Sputnik V, developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, is coming down the pike, as you have probably read. ("Sputnik" to remind us that as it was with satellites, so it is with vaccines: the Russians are first. The "V" signifies "vaccine" and not the number 5, by the way.) As with many other potential vaccines around the world, this one is in Phase 3 of its trials, but the Russian government is so confident of its efficacy and safety that it has already made the vaccine available to Russian health care workers and teachers.
The Philippine government has been told that it will be provided with the data from Phases 1 and 2; and with Philippine FDA approval (forthcoming), 500 to 1000 Filipinos will take part in the Phase 3 trials of this vaccine. If all goes well, massive shipments of Sputnik V to the Philippines will begin sometime in November.
American medical authorities are leery of the value of this upstart candidate, and understandably so; not even WHO has yet seen any of the literature from Phases 1 and 2. I'll be keeping a close eye on developments regarding this vaccine, for sure.
B l a h
"It is what it is," the dumbest, most unfeeling president in modern American history said to that Axios interviewer, and the thought that I was going to use the words of that silly but dangerous man (who deserves several presidential superlatives in addition to the ones above, none of them good) to describe my own situation sent chills a little stronger than the ones I've now grown used to feeling coursing through my body.
So I won't use those words. The symptoms returned a day or two after the last posting, and they've been with me for about a week. Nothing severe, but enough fever to make me muddle-headed, enough coughing to keep me from tutoring, and headaches strong enough to occasionally send me under covers in my darkened room. My appetite is good, and Jheng, Aunt Des, and Mama Aiza have sent me tasty dishes: thank you, kind women! As happens with plenty of blokes, my, uh, manly courage departs when I become sick, and the support is appreciated more than you may know.
So I'm "on hold" now, trying to keep my room clean, reading when I can, watching movies on Netflix. Recommending to you The Ballad of Buster Scruggs for a smart movie. In the wider world, President Duterte is placing Metro Manila back on Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine, and claims he would have gone the full monty (take out the "modified") if the government could afford another period of time in which most people were not working. The hospitals in Manila are overcrowded, the country has officially gone into a recession, China is sending warships into places where they should not be in the South China Sea . . . . Not much in the way of good news here.
And I know there's not much good news back in the U.S. It's these kinds of times in which we need to tune into own own individual senses of curiosity and wonder, I think, for the emotional well-being they bring -- tune into our sense of righteousness, too, if we are to effect change for the better.
Rain Wash Over Us
A huge churning low to the west of the islands is pulling up wet weather. The Cabanatuan sky this morning was a study in light and dark grays; now the rain is falling in sheets. Deep rumblings of thunder to the south.
My low-grade fever and headaches departed two days ago, and the cough is now manageable. Probably just a tropical bug against which I hadn't yet grown adequate defenses. If it was COVID, the virus certainly didn't take to me the way it took to Jeff. Jeff, by the way, has lost his cough and was feeling fine when I spoke with him Monday morning.
The rainy season lasts from June to the first part of October in the Philippines. Actual rain occurs mainly just in the afternoons and evenings, and it makes an appearance not every day but most days. Not surprisingly, these are the months when incidences of illness climb: respiratory infections, stomach bugs, dengue, vague malaises. COVID of course has only increased the sense that an assault on the body may be lying in wait around the next corner.
Governor Benjamin Diokno, head of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, believes that "the worst is over," with regard to COVID in the country, according to a piece in the Manila Times today. I punched up the worldometer stats for the Philippines, found no sign of a flattening of the "active cases" curve. The number of active cases is a little over 60,000, the number of deaths a little over 2,000. American readers, you cannot be much impressed by those numbers, I know, but here they have everyone's attention.
And, over in Murca . . . well, Republicans finally put something on the table in the way of COVID relief. And House Speaker Pelosi's characterization of this HEALS Act as "pathetic" seems about right to me. It does not extend the eviction moratorium, and it lowers the unemployment assistance currently offered -- so as not to disincentivise a return to work, Republicans blithely explain. Truly, $600 a week does not go very far in most parts of the U.S. Now it is "too much"? And you're willing to let millions of Americans become homeless with cold weather not very far away?
One hopes the Democrats will be able to win important concessions before the bill goes to the White House.
Find earlier posts on the 4th Floor!