Sunday, December 28, 2008

Basketball final

We’re sitting at the MacArthur café on Sunday morning. It’s windy off the North Channel, but comfortable. Last night was the annual Cypress Christmas party. The Cypress group runs the café and some ground maintenance. As usual the food was fantastic, highlighted by litson, [sp. lechon] or roasted pig. There was plenty of music and spirits to go around.

The basketball tournament final, which was postponed after Baywalk beat Aces on a final second, controversial basket in game two, tying the series at one each, finally resumed last Tuesday. The game was scheduled for 3:00, but since everyone works until 3:30 or so, that was not to be. Finally the game time was announced as 4:00, but then they had to wait for one of the coaches, and so it started about 4:30.

Marcia and Steve were, of course, seated at courtside. Rico, the tournament commissioner, and head of the Coast Guard, told the players that the decisions of the refs were final, in hopes of avoiding the bad feelings that had erupted after the last game. Ronilo, the island manager, took control of the microphone and did the play by play, making sure that he stressed the decisions that the refs made were to be accepted, Someone had brought brandy and beer, so we enjoyed a few spirits during the game.

Warm-ups began on one side of the court where some Baywalk players were shooting, then a couple of non-players like Carmello, and even the first couple of Aces joined in. Those not shooting were exercising their lungs with a smoke or two. When enough Aces arrived they took their own side, but no one takes warm-ups too seriously.

The game started out one-sided, and as usual Aces, with their superior height and strength, got off to a 10-0 lead. Baludbod, the smallest and quickest guard in the tournament, was already nursing a severely sprained right thumb. He injured a knee very early in the game, hurting Baywalk’s chance for a comeback. He came in and out several times, and it was obvious that they needed him, as the score swung up and down with his presence or absence. By halftime the score was 50-48 Aces.

Coming out strong in the second half, Aces made four straight baskets for a 10 point lead. Eventually they brought it up to 11 with a free throw. When Aces was clicking, they would complete stunning fast breaks, usually with Taton scoring. Baywalk countered with great play by their guards as well, Constantino being their main guy when he was not sharing time with Baludbod. Baywalk specializes in stealing the ball from dribbling opponents, almost always leading to a basket.

With just a couple of minutes left to play, Baywalk trailed by eight, Baludbod was benched for pain, and it looked all but over. But basketball can be a funny game, and all of a sudden the basket on the Aces size got smaller and nothing would go in, while Baywalk’s basket must have looked like a garbage can, and everything went in. Baywalk wrapped up a 96-93 victory, in a final as closely matched as you could ever want.

Constantino, one of the chain smokers when not playing, was named the tournament MVP. Trophies were also handed out for best cheerleader, best uniforms and best sports, (to make sure that all five teams got trophies) and third, second, and first place. The first place trophy was almost as tall as the shortest player, and certainly bigger than the National Championship trophies that Michigan State’s basketball teams won in 1979 with Magic Johnson, and in 2000.

In fact, the trophy is only exceeded in size by hockey’s Stanley Cup and the Indy 500’s Borg Warner Trophy. If size be the judge, this is the third biggest championship in the world. All joking aside, it truly was a grand finale to a great tournament.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Going to Christmas Mass soaking wet

Probably the only time we were ever wetter in church was at our own baptisms. We found out on Christmas Eve evening that a banca was going to Cabcaben, which is a city in Bataan, on Christmas morning, and that there were masses one after the other at the church there. Gilbert, Jun, and two ladies were invited to be godparents at a baptism in Tarlac Province, so they had arranged to be picked up at 5:00 A.M. and taken to Bataan where they would finish the journey on land.

Because we had not been to Mass since our move to Corregidor – rosaries on Sunday mornings being the best we could do – we jumped at the opportunity to go to Christmas morning mass. Ronilo said he would go with us. Perfect. But this meant we had to set an alarm clock, something we had not needed to do yet in our new home The roosters and monkeys and sun wake us up plenty early for most days. Having no schedule, we could probably sleep until noon without anyone noticing, but after years of being up early, we both are awake by about 6 o’clock.

So at 4:00 we were up and at ‘em. Showered and dressed, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Well, not really, but we drove down the hill to meet up with the gang. At 4:55 we parked and walked over to the place we knew Maynard would dock his small banca. No one in sight. No banca. At 5:15 we texted Gilbert and Ron and got no response from either one. Strange. Then we figured that maybe they were running on island time, which tends to be 15 minutes early or late from world time, and just maybe the baptismal party was already gone. But we didn’t figure Ron would go without us.

We called Gilbert: again nothing. We called Ron, and on the fourth or fifth ring he said he was putting on his shoes and was on the way, which probably meant we woke him up and all it would take for him to be on his way would be to put his shoes on. Ron arrived a few minutes later, and explained that Gilbert and Jun had been still sleeping, and that maybe the boat (banca) captain was drunk after Christmas partying, and not coming.

Around 5:45 Gilbert, Jun, and the ladies showed up, but still no banca. Ron started to make arrangements with Randy, who owns a bigger and thus more expensive boat. About the time Randy had pumped out the bilge water, along came Maynard in his banca. There were no seats, so we wondered how all of us were going to sit. We climbed aboard, carefully stepping on concrete pillars that were just above the water line. What looked like a boat without seats suddenly sprouted boards across the width, and voila, seats! We finally shoved off at 6:15.

The ride across was uneventful, meaning we did not sink or run into an ocean freighter, although we did cross paths with two of them. However, it wasn’t long until we were in two foot waves, approximately the height the banca rides above the water. Maynard skillfully steered us into the waves, gliding us over and through them. Being a double outrigger, there is nearly no chance of capsizing, but that doesn’t guarantee you’ll stay dry. The waves kept hitting the rigging tied to the outriggers, and the wind occasionally directed the resulting cascade into the front of the boat, where we had the seat of honor. Steve’s right sleeve and left leg, along with Marcia’s skirt, were the wettest. But it was warm, and we knew that we would eventually dry out, it being clean salt water.

The ride took longer than usual because Maynard had to continually speed up and slow down to time the rolling of the banca with the waves. The diesel motor went from brrrrrrrrr to putt-putt and back again, with an occasional backfire. Maybe an hour or so later we were pulling up to the breakwater at Cabcaben. We disembarked, walked over some boulders, and once again set foot on solid ground.

The baptismal party headed for a bus, hoping to make the connections in time to be at the mass. According to Gilbert, godparents here can number up to 30 per each child, so if they didn’t make it, it sounded like there would still be plenty to go around. Ron led us on foot up the street a few blocks, and then turned left, and we were at the Catholic Church. It was just after 7:30, and not knowing Tagalog well, it took us a couple of minutes to figure where they were in the mass. As it turned out, we had just missed the entrance. There was an overflow crowd, and we weaseled our way so that we could stand at the back of the church.

Inside we were impressed by the number of young people, including very young children, who were present. Also the choir was outstanding, and this being Christmas Mass, quite involved. We were pretty much lost when it came to the readings and the sermon, but were able to figure out major events like the Gospel, Consecration and The Lord’s Prayer. Communion seemed a little disorganized, as people from every row got in line whenever they felt like it. We were just happy to receive Communion after so long. Maybe we will go more regularly if we can figure out how to time it so we have rides back and forth.

After mass – we were finally dry – we walked a mile or so to the city market, which looked like business as usual, although we did get to say Merry Christmas to many people along the way. We bought three large chickens, some vegetables for chop suey, a bunch of bananas, and two apples and two pears for the first time here. We then hopped into a tricycle. Actually, Marcia got into the small sidecar first, with the groceries. Next, Steve set the backpack inside, and then sat down next to Marcia, a feat quite amazing because the seat is about as wide as one and a half of our two butts. Ron hopped on the back of the bike. The fare was 30 pesos (50 cents) but Steve gave the driver 50 pesos and wished him a Merry Christmas. Steve got a very big smile and “Thank you, sir.”

The banca ride back was just Ron and us, our market purchases, and a huge (50K) sack of rice. Since we were now going with the wind, we stayed dry, and Maynard had very few speed adjustments to make until he got near the Corregidor shoreline. The tide had risen at least a foot and now covered the concrete, so we were able to get a little closer to shore, and thus getting off was easier and safer than getting on had been.

We hope we did not give the impression that we were ever at any risk while on the banca crossing Manila Bay. These are expert boatmen, and the bancas, although they may appear flimsy, are well built and very sea-worthy. With coast guard on the island, word spreads quickly if conditions are not safe, and then everyone stays where they are until the waves are calmer. We look forward to many future rides on bancas.

A good part of the rest of the day was spent relaxing, which was easy due to it being a cloudy, sometimes rainy day. In fact, it looked like a Michigan day this time of year, almost like it could snow at any time. There were no tours so the island was even quieter than usual. We finished the day at Ron’s, eating chicken suspended on a bamboo stick rotisserie and roasted over homemade charcoal, while drinking Red Horse Beer. We also had a couple dishes made with goat, a coconut fruit salad, and rice. A late text message told us that Gilbert, Jun and the ladies were going to have to spend the night with friends in Cabcaben since they returned too late for a ride back. They’ll probably come back with Maynard at 5:00 A.M., so we will hear about their adventure later.

All in all, we had a very nice day for our first Christmas on Corregidor.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas wishes

Since you’re receiving this email, you are on our regular mailing list and there is no need to update you on our adventures on Corregidor. However, we will give a quick recap for those of you with short memories and for those who have more recently begun getting our emails.

Steve retired from the State of Michigan’s computer department and Marcia retired from her job as a physical therapist assistant on October 3. Having sold almost everything we owned at an auction on the previous Saturday, we spent the next week making final preparations to retire to the Philippines. On our way to our son’s house on the 10th, we were involved in a could-have-been-fatal car crash, with the car being totaled, but all involved walking away unscathed. Guardian Angels were very busy on that road.

On the 12th we departed from Detroit and arrived late the next day in Manila. We spent the next nine days joining the Philippine Retirement Authority and doing some preliminary shopping and banking. On the 23rd we moved into our newly renovated house on Corregidor, which is run primarily by solar power. Now we spend our time exploring the island, meeting visitors, giving occasional tours, and writing our newsletter, partially in hopes of enticing some of you to visit us here someday.

We feel so at home on the island. There are still many of the workers that we have not gotten to know, or know by face and not name, but they all seem to know us. The wide smiles are sincere. Here we are Sir [SEER] Steve and Ma’am [MOM] Marcia. At parties, at the basketball games, at the televised boxing match, we are given the best seats. We don’t know what we’ve done to deserve such royal treatment.

Ever since Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas,” many people, especially those who live in snow country, like Minnesota where we grew up, and Michigan where we lived the past 27 years, think it can’t feel like Christmas without snow. Since more than half the world’s population never sees snow, including anyone who never leaves the Philippines, we know differently. Nevertheless, it will not seem quite like Christmas here away from family and friends. We do hear that there is a 100% chance of snow in Minnesota and Michigan this year, with inches if not feet of snow already on the ground. We don’t miss that a bit, by the way, even though we’re sure it is beautiful.

Anyway, we send wishes to you and yours for a most Merry and Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year, from the tropical island paradise of Corregidor, Philippines.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dinner alone; mati mati internet service

Last night was kind of strange in that we ate dinner alone. There was at least one Christmas party that involved a group of island workers and Ronilo, whom we usually join for dinner, attended it. So we were on our own and decided to just go have dinner at the MacArthur Café. We shared a whole chicken, which they prepare with some spice that reminds Steve of Christmas cookies. So we guess that was appropriate enough. The catsup that comes on the side is a little spicy and made from bananas. It is also very sweet, which is how most Filipinos apparently prefer their food. “Filipino Style” spaghetti sauce, for example, is very sweet.

During the war, the Japanese transported Allied POWs from the Philippines to Japan, Formosa (now Taiwan), China and other places on unmarked prison ships. The men were packed so tightly in the holds of the ships that they could not all lay down at the same time. The food was terrible and the conditions beyond unsanitary. Many of those ships were attacked and some sunk by American airplanes and submarines, killing several thousand men. They became know as “Hell Ships.”

The trip from Manila to Tokyo could take as few as five days. Steve’s father, Walter, as well as at least one reader of this newsletter, were on the coal carrier Canadian Inventor. Soon after boarding, the men’s faces were so black that they couldn’t recognize each other. It had repeated boiler problems which caused it to return to port, and then be delayed along the way. The journey lasted about 62 days. Miraculously only two men died, one from malnutrition and the other from a beating by a Japanese sergeant. The Canadian Inventor became known as the Mati Mati Maru, or “Wait Wait Boat.”

On Corregidor we feel like we’re using the Mati Mati Internet Service. Officially it is called “Globe Visibility, the Ultimate in Mobile Internet.” If this is the ultimate, we’d hate to see what preceded it. It basically consists of a module that plugs into a USB port. You then connect via the Globe cell tower, which sits on the highest point of the island. Being that you can’t be more than two miles from the tower anywhere on the island, you would assume that the signal is strong all over, but in reality it is strong in some places and intermittent to non-existent in others. We can’t use our cell phones inside our house, which is no more than a half mile from the tower. When we receive a call we have to remember to stay still so we do not move out of the signal reception. The Corregidor Foundation is in contact with Globe in hopes of improving the strength and consistency of the signal.

We have to go down to Bottomside to get a consistently strong signal to use Visibility. We normally can connect okay, but the download and upload speeds are around 2 kilobytes a second, much less than the 40 kilobytes that they claim. At that speed, using the internet is extremely painful, especially after having had very high speed service in Michigan. This is the reason that we can only send a few low-resolution pictures at a time. Whenever anyone sends us a picture it must be under 100K for us to bother trying to open. We usually delete messages that refer to internet sites like YOUTUBE because it doesn’t pay to try to see what’s there. It takes forever to load the graphics. Some we are storing until we are in Manila where we can access high speed service.

Normally we both go and sit at MacArthur Café in the morning and work through both of our emails together. Since we both have laptops which get about 45 minutes of use while unplugged, we bring both in case the one goes dead before we are done. Marcia is considering buying a second Globe unit so that we can suffer simultaneously.

One important note: We do not use our Yahoo accounts any more. Therefore if you are sending messages to or, delete those email addresses and communicate to us through these GMail accounts. Please don’t forward large attachments, and send us small pictures when possible.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lynn Lafever; oregano

The colorful bird that we showed has been identified by a number of you as a white-breasted kingfisher. Thanks to those who investigated. It is not a rare bird for these parts, but it is normally shy, so most people have never seen one as close up as Steve got for the picture.

No typhoon, apparently, as the weather is beautiful and word is that Ulysses completely skipped the Manila area, for which we are grateful, being only 26 miles away.

One of our readers pointed out that the Philippines has actually won 9 Olympic medals, not one like we had stated. The majority have been for boxing. However, no Filipino citizen has won a gold medal as of yet.

On Wednesday we met retired Sergeant Major Lynn Lafever, Sr., a man who goes way back as far as Corregidor is concerned. Steve got to spend a good part of the morning with him, his Filipina wife of 38 years, and two of their friends.

Lynn came to Corregidor many years ago out of curiosity, since his older brother was part of the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team that successfully recaptured the island in February, 1945. He immediately fell in love with the place, although at the time he first came, the island was mostly undeveloped and what development there was was in disrepair.

Through the years Lynn became a benefactor of the island, especially taking an interest in the school. At one time Corregidor had a one-room school that serviced first through sixth grade, with one teacher for 40 kids. Lynn noted that the supply of paper was so short that writing was erased so the paper could be reused, and pencils were in such short supply that they were cut into pieces so more than one student could use them. He eventually supplied the school with supplies, and also acted as their Santa Claus, giving gifts to the children each Christmas.

Even though the school is no more, he and his wife still bring presents for children and give them to the hotel staff to take home for their kids. Lynn is around 75 years old, and a veteran of the Korean War, and we hope that he can return for many Christmases to come. His son, by the way, is in radar with the 101st Airborne, and is in his 3rd tour of duty in Iraq, with the distinct possibility of being sent to Afghanistan soon.

Lynn gave Steve a set of maps that we can use for exploring the island. He also bought us lunch, tuna sandwiches at the Corregidor Inn. But most exciting was a picture that he brought with him. The photo was taken by a Japanese photographer on Corregidor on May 6 or 7, 1942, and shows many of the American soldiers who have just surrendered. It was taken in two parts and later merged by the original photographer. We are including a low resolution copy, and are wondering if any of you has ever seen it before. To the right is Malinta hill and possibly the mostly destroyed entrance to Malinta Tunnel, in the middle is Bataan in the distance, and to the left is the head of the island.

Lynn speaks Japanese but cannot read the characters. On the back is an inscription from the man who gave him the picture, who claimed to be standing next to the photographer as the photo was taken. There is an indication that the picture may be in a book on pages 52 and 53, and it is obviously two pages put together. We know that there are Japanese readers who receive this email, and we would appreciate a translation.

While we were meeting with Lynn, Carmello, our occasional gardener on his day off from his island job, was transplanting some oregano for us. We had been told that a plant which was underneath a larger bush was oregano, so Marcia decided that rather than just remove it when Carmello weeded around the bushes, to have him move it somewhere. So Steve explained, in English, what was to be done. Carmello didn’t understand the word transplant at first, but then asked, “Transfer?” so Steve was pretty sure he understood.

When we returned from lunch, we saw that Carmello had created about a 25 foot long plant bed filled with nothing but oregano. It actually looks pretty nice, and is at the edge of the yard, a natural and gracefully curved border along the top of the ravine. We were surprised that he was able to get about 25 plants out of the small patch we showed him. That is, until we saw that the original oregano plant was not moved. Carmello had obviously found oregano elsewhere, and had just weeded around the bush and the oregano. Steve felt that he had already moved enough oregano to supply the island of Luzon, since it is not a commonly used herb here, so he told Carmello to just get rid of the original plant. Somehow he did not communicate, even though he used the universal sign of slashing his throat to indicate killing, and the next thing we knew, Carmello had created a whole new spot beyond the first bed in which to plant it.

Carmello is a very good landscaper, and he works very hard for us, never taking a break from 7:00 to 11:00 and 1:00 to 3:00. For that we pay him his daily wage plus a little extra, and are almost embarrassed for how much work we get done for so little money, but he is grateful to get the extra cash on his day off, and we are thankful for help with native plants that are new to us.

We did have him move some smaller bushes, which we should have not problem keeping watered until they are on their own. We do want some trees in the front yard to replace the ones that were cut down to make way for the sun hitting the solar panels, but ones that will not grow so tall. Since it is now considered summer here – yes we’re north of the equator, so technically winter starts in a few days, but they consider it summer from the end of rainy season until the start of rainy season, which will commence in late May or early June – Carmello does not advise transplanting any trees until it gets wet here again.

It’s amazing what Carmello has done for the yard in only 12 hours time. We can only imagine what this place will look like once the former butterfly garden begins to fill in, the relocated plants and bushes mature, plus future trees are transplanted.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Beautiful bird; basketball tournament; possible typhoon

On Monday we woke up to see a beautiful bird in our backyard. Not only are many birds here beautiful, they are also extremely shy, and require luck and patience to get a good picture. Included is the best one we have taken so far. We hope you enjoy it, and that someone can help us identify it. Gilbert and Armand said that they had never seen one before, but Greg said he has seen that type near Battery Way.

We also took a walk along the north side of the “tail” of the island. We specifically walked where the Japanese invading beach forces landed on the evening of May 5, 1942, forcing surrender 12 hours later. The beach, as you can see from the pictures, is rocky, making it difficult to walk along. You must be careful to not trip or slip. The morning started out beautifully clear, got cloudy by the end of the walk, with sunshine returning before lunch.

We had to descend a fairly steep trail to get to the beach. After we walked as far as we wanted to, we tried to take a short cut through deep grass back up the hill. This turned out to be a mistake. Although it looked like it might save us time, we were forced to turn around once we emerged from the deep grass and all of a sudden were about to enter a thorny area. So we returned the way we came, not all bad, since the scenery in the reverse direction kept us looking at the Bataan peninsula, which is quite picturesque.

Sunday night may have been the end of the month long basketball tournament. We say may have been, because the ending was sadly controversial. It all boiled down to a two of three between the top two teams. The Aces won on Saturday. On Sunday a Baywalk player drove through the lane and heavy traffic and made a layup that may or may not have been shot before the clock expired, the score having been tied. There was a lot of shouting from the Aces coach and players but the basket was deemed good, giving Baywalk the game and tying the series at one to one. Today the story is that Baywalk is refusing to play game three, forfeiting the championship. We hope that cooler heads will prevail and the deciding game can yet be played.

Up until that play, the tournament was a lot of fun to watch. There were some runaways, but enough close games to keep it interesting. We went to a lot of the games to show our support, and even sponsored a free throw competition last night. As we’ve said before, they love their basketball here. A few of the players are quite skilled in ball handling and shooting. It’s just that they are so short that they would stand no chance in America, where many 8th graders would tower over most of them.

The court is a rough hard surface, and also can be used for tennis. The ball is a worn out rubber basketball. Since games are played after work, they start in the daylight and end after the sun goes down. The court is surrounded by a hodgepodge of lights, some incandescent, some the sodium type, and some fluorescents. Some of them go on and off at random during the game. Most games have been interrupted briefly when the lights go out entirely. Since the island is run on generators, the lights only come on after someone throws the switch, and that can be anywhere from half an hour before sunset to after dark. Many peoples’ homes are powered by the same generator, by the way, meaning that their refrigerators are only running at night, making it difficult to store foods.

Another curiosity is the attitude toward smoking. Cigarettes are very cheap here, and we suspect that a lot more people in America would still be smoking at 60 cents a pack. Each pack contains a warning that takes up half of one side, saying smoking can kill you. It’s normal to see players not currently in the game smoking off the court. Even the announcer, who calls play by play on a bullhorn, the scorekeeper, and anyone else sitting at the center table, may be smoking at the side of the court.

Ronilo, the island manager, left for Manila yesterday to spend the evening with his brother. He took the normal Sun Cruises boat, which typically runs every day between Manila and Corregidor if there are enough paying passengers and the seas are safe. We’re wondering if he will make it back today, since we heard last night that Typhoon Ulysses is bearing down on the area.

We have yet to experience a typhoon, although one tropical depression brought quite a bit of clouds and rain here soon after we moved in. The annual Corregidor Christmas party is scheduled for tomorrow, but there is talk of postponing it because of the storm. Since we don’t have internet at the house, and only slow speed internet elsewhere, we have to rely on word of mouth for this kind of information. We kind of miss “” with their up to the minute radar, but with Coast Guard on the island the information is pretty fresh.

This time of year the storms can be violent, but shouldn’t last too terribly long. Gilbert and Armand were talking last night of a storm a few years ago that basically lasted three weeks, and some people were eating grass to stay fed. We have our own food supply that will be good for at least a few days in an emergency, but again, December storms are generally short-lived. It may mean a short time without cell phone or internet service, but the communication around the island is two-way radio as well as “grapevine,” so we will be well cared for.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

First two months list; money

We arrived in the Philippines two months ago today. Since then we have done some things that we have never done before, but mostly we have done a lot of things more often than ever before. Here’s our list of things that we have done more in the past two months than in our 55 plus years each, leading up to this October. S is Steve and M is Marcia.

Swim in the ocean – S & M
Walk along the beach – S
Wear flip-flops – S
Ride in a taxi – S & M
Eat squid, squid soup, jackfruit, pork intestines (sisig), lemon grass, ocean fish other than tuna– S & M
Eat white rice, corned beef – S
Drive a diesel, stick shift Jeep – S
Live in a house without a mirror, electricity (temporary) – S & M
Spend 1000 peso (P1000) notes – S & M

Speaking of spending P1000 notes, that can be quite difficult here, especially on Corregidor. That may not sound too unusual until you realize that P1000 is just about twenty US dollars. When we go to Manila we make sure that most of the money we bring back with us is P500 or smaller. P200 notes are handy here since it seems that 4 dollars is enough to buy a couple of meals or three big bottles of beer. But try to spend a P1000 note and you are often told they can’t change anything that large. It is strange to think that with P5000 in your pocket you’re really only talking $100.

The stores on Corregidor are for the most part sari sari stores, literal “all kinds.” Many of the island residents have little shops along the tourist route, and some even have them in their homes. It is a way to supplement their income. For them, P1000 is a lot of money, so it’s not surprising when they can’t make change. But we have even had trouble at the MacArthur Café at times, and it is the most established store on the island. Sari sari stores are prevalent throughout the Philippines, to the point where you often wonder how much any one store can sell in a day. The same is true for fruit stands along the roads, one after another, and nothing to distinguish one from the other, either.

Paper money denominations are 20, 50, 100, 200, 500and 1000 peso notes. They also have coins for 1, 5, and 10 pesos. On top of that some stores break down the price into sentimos, which are hundredths of a peso, a peso being about 2 cents. They have at least 5, 10, and 25 sentimo coins. It seems like you never spend such small coins, but you may end up with a pocketful that are worth about a nickel. We read that one of the Catholic bishops in Manila got the idea for people to throw their sentimos in collection cans at the counters of some of the stores that use sentimos for change, and the banks were asking the church to please turn them in because it was causing a shortage, so he must be being pretty successful. Certainly the poor in Manila can use every sentimo they can get.

The back of the P1000 has a picture of the world famous Banawe Rice Terraces. They are located north of the city of Baguio, about a day’s drive north of Manila. The terraces were built thousands of years ago and are supposed to be a sight to behold. We have not been there yet, but certainly we will some day. A book entitled something like “A Thousand Places to See Before You Die” lists them as one of two must-sees in the Philippines. The other is the Taal Volcano, which is actually a volcano within a lake, within a larger volcano within a lake. It is an hour or two drive south of Manila. We visited there five years ago but it was cloudy over the lake and we couldn’t see anything that day, so that’s another trip we’ll have to make some day.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lost keys, cutting trees, misunderstandings and monkeys

On Tuesday Steve threw out the trash. We keep the food trash in a closed plastic bag in the “bodega” behind the house to avoid attracting flies and other critters. Normally we keep the building locked because we keep tools and other gear there. So Steve had to grab the set of keys, which we keep hanging on a hook on the house, and which holds separate keys for every door in the house in addition to the bodega.

Steve grabbed the keys and the small bag of eggshells. He unlocked the bodega, unfolded an incredibly foul smelling, slimy bag holding garbage from the last two weeks, and placed the egg shell bag into it, then took another clean trash bag and put it over the slimy bag. He then walked across the Middleside parade grounds, crossed the road, and went down the trail to the garbage dump. Once there he tossed the trash bag on a smoldering pile; it rolled off to the side.

A couple of hours later Marcia noticed that the keys were not hanging on the normal hook, so she mentioned it to Steve. He was sure that he must have just set them down in some obvious place, probably on the shelf in the bodega that held the trash. So he went out to look for them. They were not there, so he assumed that he must have set them on the computer desk, but they weren’t there, either. After looking above the fridge where he keeps the car keys, he was starting to get concerned.

So for the next hour we searched the house and the bodega. We looked everywhere, places that were extremely poor candidates, such as inside suitcases that we had just finished emptying that morning. We looked on the computer desk and in its drawers and in the cupboard above the fridge at least twice each, but to no avail. We walked around the house and looked in the grass, but no luck. Finally Marcia asked Steve to retrace his steps and go to the dump.

So Steve walked over the same area, looking for keys that would have made noise if they had fallen out of his pocket. When he got to the dump, which was buzzing with flies and as noisy as a hive full of angry bees, he found the bag and shook it but did not hear the keys. He then took off the outer bag and emptied it out on the ground to no avail. He even shook the small stinky bag but heard no metal sound. So he headed back to the house.

A young man had been mowing the grass around our yard, which is done here with a weed whacker. Steve and Marcia did another walk through of the house and the bodega, and around the house in the grass. Steve then went in the house to look up “lost” and “keys” in Tagalog, in order to have the young man keep an eye out for them. But just then it was 2:00 and his shift must have been over, so he walked away before Steve could say; “nawala susi,” or lost keys. We were beginning to get worried, because even though the island manager has a set of duplicates, we didn’t like the idea of someone else possibly having a set of keys.

Finally Marcia, who has over 36 years experience helping Steve retrace steps to find something he set down in a moment of distraction, said, “Let’s go look in the trash again. They have to be there.” Steve was sure it was a waste of time but didn’t argue. On the way over we pondered whether Marcia may have taken the keys for something without recalling, but that still didn’t answer the basic question of where they were. When we got to the dump, Marcia went through the trash that Steve had strewn on the ground and agreed they were not there. Then Steve grabbed the rotten smelling bag and shook it hard, and there was no sound of keys. Nevertheless Marcia decided to open it, and amid rotten bananas and other fetid materials, there were the keys! How they got in that bag Steve cannot imagine, going over and over it in his mind, which he is apparently losing faster than we thought. So a stinky but happy ending.

On Wednesday Carmello, an experienced groundskeeper, began to clean up an area that once was a butterfly garden. When we first arrived, it was an overgrown area of about 30 by 50 feet which still had the poles in place but no longer had netting. Since it is very close to our house which everyone refers to as the aviary house, we decided to take it upon ourselves to rehabilitate the area once the poles were removed.

About a month ago that work was completed, but not without some damage to the trees and shrubs, which were unavoidably broken by poles that dropped as the welder cut off long sections, and also from the trampling. In addition, a nearby eucalyptus tree which had to be cut to allow the sun to land on our solar panels in the afternoon was leaning over the garden, but the man who cut the tree did a great job of dropping the tree where it did the least damage.

Immediately after the poles were gone, Rollie began the cleanup. Marcia had been very concerned that the two mature papaya trees in the garden be saved if possible, and for the most part they were still intact. Steve made it clear to Rollie not to cut down the papayas during his cleanup. Somehow Rollie must have interpreted this as to cut down everything except the papaya trees, because the next thing Rollie was cutting down a good tree. Steve went over and yelled, “Rollie, stop cutting down the trees!” Rollie, whose English is not the best, seemed to understand, giving Steve a big Filipino smile. But the next minute he was hacking on another tree. Rollie is one of the older workers on the island, having been here since 1964, and is a very nice man who just must not have understood what Steve wanted.

At this point, Steve texted Ronilo and told him to come to the house. He explained to Ron what Rollie was doing, and asked Ron to tell him to stop cutting down the trees. Ron said he would take care of it. He went over to the garden and yelled, in English, mind you, “Rollie, Steve wants you to stop cutting down the trees!” Steve was not sure why having Ron say it got through to Rollie, but he now seemed to understand, and he stopped cutting the trees. The jury is still out one whether one which has hack marks on it will survive, but so far, so good.

Carmello, as we said, is an excellent gardener and a very nice man, but we suspect that he did not study much English. He had previously treated our rattan furniture so that wood bugs would leave it alone, so we knew him already. But communicating with him is another thing. Basically Steve tells him to do something in English, and if Carmello has any questions or wants to tell him something he speaks in Tagalog. Steve understands very little Tagalog, so the result is that they both hope that the other one knows what he said, and everything seems to turn out all right.

Even those whose English is pretty good can be hard to understand. For example, when Carmello was going to treat the rattan, Ron brought him here on his bike and helped act as a translator. Ron was explaining to us the proper mixture of chemical and kerosene. He said, “You mix six cupfuls with a liter of kerosene.” Since we only had a liter of the chemical, and six cups is more than a liter, Steve was confused how this could work out. Ron again said, “Six cupfuls.” Steve was still confused until Ron pointed at the cap of the bottle. Then it occurred to Steve that Ron was saying, “capfuls,” but the a sound in Tagalog is always like the “a as in father,” and the sound of “a as in cat” just isn’t heard. So Steve said to Ron, “capful,” and Ron said, “yes, cupful.” This is why many visitors here have a hard time understanding Filipinos, even those who speak grammatically good English. We are learning Tagalog words and phrases, and our ears are adapting to the accented English, so communication is improving.

One last thing. The monkeys around our house are getting braver. They’re fun to see. On the other hand, they are eating the leaves off of our new papaya trees, and we are afraid to leave things like flip-flops lying around outside since the monkeys will steal them. There have been some attempts to limit their population, but at present there definitely seem to be too many given the island’s size.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Pearl Harbor Day and Pacquiao Fight

“December 7, 1941. A date that will live in infamy.” - FDR to a stunned nationwide radio audience.

In the Philippines, on the other side of the International Dateline, it was already December 8. Soon all of the major military installations were as badly damaged here as Pearl Harbor had been, despite an eight hour heads-up. Thus, 67 years ago today, World War II began for the United States, something it tried to avoid since Hitler had begun his conquests in Europe more than two years earlier. Before it was over, millions of Americans would be in uniform, and over 400,000 would be killed. Over one million Filipinos, mostly civilians, would die during the war.

Although we have never been to Pearl Harbor, we hope to be there on the 75th anniversary in 2016. We suspect that there will still be a few surviving veterans in attendance, although they will be in their 90’s.

There are many reminders of WWII here, especially on Corregidor, which houses the Pacific War Memorial. Along the Bataan Death March route, nearly every kilometer has a marker. There are numerous other reminders, such as memorials where the main prison camps were located. And the American Cemetery in Manila is the largest American cemetery in the world outside of the United States, bigger than Pearl Harbor’s Punch Bowl Cemetery.

It will be interesting to see how much if any of today’s news coverage is about the anniversary of the start of the war. That’s because yesterday afternoon a sporting event took place in Las Vegas whose outcome might have produced the biggest hero in recent Philippine history. Manny “Pac Man” Pacquiao defeated Oscar de la Hoya in the most anticipated fight in a long time. De la Hoya had held 10 different titles in his career, and at 35 was the favorite. Pacquiao at 27 is 4 inches shorter. They had fought once before to a controversial draw.

The fight was shown here at 1:00 in the afternoon. Because it was also on pay-per-view, it was delayed but aired on a broadcast station. Steve gathered with a couple of dozen island staff to watch the fight, already knowing that de la Hoya would fail to answer the bell at the start of the ninth round. There were numerous commercials before the fight began, and each one minute break between rounds was crammed with 8 minutes of commercials, so the fight, which lasted 32 minutes in real time, took about an hour and a half to watch. This did not blunt the enthusiasm of the guys who watched their hero dominate from start to finish.

The broadcasters spoke in Tagalog during the pre-fight, although it is impossible to speak Tagalog without using some English words. During the fight, the blow by blow announcer spoke English. The color commentator would begin most sentences in Tagalog, only to finish most sentences in English, almost as if he was forgetting to speak English and the other announcer was having to point to a sign to remind him. In any case, it is so common for the two languages to be mixed here, even on TV and radio, that no one seems to notice.

There are very few world-class athletes here, since height and size play such a factor in most sports. We’ve heard that a Filipino won a bronze medal once in an Olympics, but we aren’t sure if it’s true and if it is, in which event. There is a very good young woman race car driver who is trying to give Danica Patrick a run for the money in Indy cars. But outside of Pac Man, the best known athlete of the Philippines is probably Efren Reyes, one of the very best billiards players, who probably would have been a multiple gold medalist if only billiards were an Olympic sport.

Pac Man has been dominating the news here the past few weeks, and he will certainly dominate the news today. We just hope that there will be a mention of the start of the war as well.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Contrasting Makati-Corregidor, first jeepney ride

It’s Friday morning and 28 degrees out. Sounds cold until you realize that’s about 82 back home. Seriously, when we returned to Corregidor yesterday it was so windy that sitting down for lunch at the MacArthur Café was a bit chilly. The locals can’t agree if we’ve made the switch to dry season, but in any case it is very windy most of the time. Two years ago a rare early December typhoon ravaged Corregidor and metro Manila.

What a contrast returning to the island. Last night we ate with Ron and Gilbert in back of the row houses. Gilbert cooked over open flames, and at one point a family of monkeys jumped from one tree to another only 30 feet away. First the father monkey, whose body was about as big as a beagle, then four of their average size monkeys, large cat-sized, and finally a youngster, about the size of a large squirrel, who walked out on the branch and hesitated before making the plunge. As each one jumped the branch on the receiving side bent and then flung back, and the monkey disappeared. The whole process lasted about two minutes. Cheap entertainment.

The night before, we ate at a Middle Eastern restaurant with Brian and Leslie. The four of us were the only diners, so service was great, as was the food. As we were leaving, another group entered, so maybe we were just earlier than the usual customers. We were technically in Taguig, which is near Makati. Apartments in the nearby high-rises go for up to one million dollars. This is amazing in a country where the minimum wage is 260 pesos a day, or a little over $5.00, and many Filipinos subsist on far less than that. The contrast between the “haves” and the “have nots” here is startling. If you only walked around the malls and stores in Makati, you would think that the Philippines is a very rich place indeed.

Tuesday evening Marcia attended the American Chamber of Commerce Christmas gathering with Leslie. A choir of 10-12 year old children sang several songs for them, a very energetic and talented bunch. It was a pleasant time, meeting a number of people and sharing about our decision to come to the Philippines, while enjoying good food and wine.

We were in Makati, among other things, to replace our cell phones. Here most people use pre-paid calling cards, which provide text messages for 1 peso each and calls for 6.5 pesos per minute. Incoming calls are always free. When you walk down the street, every other person, even the obviously rich businessman, is either reading or composing a text message.

Anyway, we asked Leslie where we might get the best deal on cell phones. We were interested in simple and cheap, as we have become texters ourselves, and don’t need the built in camera which adds so much to the price. She asked around and found that a particular mall called Makati Cinema Square sold used phones. We were able to buy simple identical used Nokia cell phones for $24 each. Here all you do is transfer your SIM card from one phone to the next and you’re off and running. Amazing.

Later we decided to buy an extra battery to have on hand in case either of us needed one on the spur of the moment. We had been doing a lot of walking and were probably two miles from that mall, so we decided to take a taxi. Taxies are incredibly cheap here as long as you make sure they have a working meter; otherwise the driver will invariably try to take advantage, knowing that Americans are unlikely to know usual fares. We told the driver we wanted to go to the Makati Cinema Square and he was clueless. We got him going in the right direction but then he took a right turn where we knew he should have gone left, and after that, we were all lost. When he pulled into a gas station we paid him the fare (about a dollar) and got out.

Now we were at a loss for sense of direction. The mall was not far away, but we did not know which way to walk. We asked a man where the mall was, and he pointed in a direction we thought was wrong, so we asked another man who pointed in another direction just as confidently. We started in the direction we thought most likely right, and ended up walking down a street that was more like an alley. It didn’t seem the safest place for two Americans to be walking, but no one bothered us. Finally we asked a man at a fruit stand and he told us to get on the jeepney across the street. Since its route included Mantrade, it would pass by the mall. So we hopped aboard the jeepney, hoping he knew what he was talking about.

We were the first two aboard, riding who knows where, with a driver and assistant whose English seemed to be limited to the word Mantrade, which the assistant shouted every time we stopped, which was about once every car length. We later found out that Mantrade is short for Manila Trading Center, a big building that has since been converted to something else but kept the nickname.

Soon a couple got on the bus, and told us we were on a jeepney headed to Makati Center and Mantrade. They didn’t know if Makati Center and Makati Cinema Square (Cinema stands for all the DVDs that are for sale there, many of them pirated) were the same. But then a couple of women got on and assured us that we were indeed headed to the right place.

Meanwhile, we were moving extremely slowly through rush hour traffic. A car behind us honked every time we stopped, like our driver had any choice. In fact, horns were going off all over the place, even though we were all in the same traffic jam. Marcia was starting to get an upset stomach, since we were sitting in the back, facing each other, in open air and inhaling exhaust at unpleasant levels. Eventually passengers started passing their fares forward, 8 pesos (16 cents) each, to the driver’s assistant.

As we approached our destination, all of a sudden our jeepney speeded up. It seems that there was an opening in traffic. There was, but it was in the oncoming lane. No matter, the lane was temporarily open and now it was ours, so look out anyone coming the other way. Suddenly we stopped, and there to our left was the mall we were looking for. One of the two women told the driver we wanted to get out there, as did she. The three of us quickly jumped out and crossed the other lane of oncoming traffic. We walked into the mall, passing store after store of videos and cell phones, bought our battery, and walked back to our hosts’ apartment.

To see all of the Makati photos, go to:

Monday, December 1, 2008

Shopping in Makati

It’s December first and it was really cold sleeping last night. We are visiting our friends Leslie and Brian in Makati, metro Manila, and in the middle of the night had to turn the air conditioning off.

We’re here to do a little more shopping, trying to shorten The List. Today Leslie accompanied Marcia and me to various shopping centers. The first stop wasn’t so bad because it was Home Depot. Not quite the same as the States, but at least they had cool tools and stuff.

But then we headed to the mall, and I got bored in 10 minutes. The women, on the other hand, got stronger and stronger. Why is that? We guys hate to shop at places like that, and when we do, it’s go straight to the store, buy the thing, and get the heck out of there. Women walk in a mall and drool for the next four hours. Sometimes they don’t even buy anything; they just “shop.”

Fortunately we had The List, so we were able to stay focused, kind of. The thing with lists is they send you by other shelves that have products that yell, “Buy me, you need me, I love you.” In today’s case we bought things such as glue that weren’t on the original list because we just happened to pass by them. What about a mop? How many guys do you know that walk by a mop and have to have it? I know one woman who did.

When we’re home on Corregidor, every time we turn around we think of something else that has to be added to The List. Darn flies, get a fly swatter. When we mentioned this to Col Art, he said, “Stop making lists.” Not a bad idea. On “Gilligan’s Island,” it’s simple, very little is for sale and there are few temptations, maybe some cookies at the sari sari store. If you want something you normally have to plan it out, give a couple hundred pesos to the boatman to bring you a chicken, 50 for some bananas, whatever.

When we’re in a mall in Manila after three weeks on a remote island, everything looks good. We went to the grocery store last night to pick up a few things before supper and there it was: ICE CREAM!!!! Since we can’t get ice cream to the island before it melts, I felt like I had to have some ice cream last night. We all had some Rocky Road after supper. Don’t you agree that was more practical than a mop? I’m just saying…

So here I am, plodding along on this email, trying to stay awake, while Marcia and Leslie, rejuvenated by a day of shopping, are out getting their hair cut and nails done.

Update: They’ve just got back, much later than expected, and guess what? They stopped to go shopping on the way back,

I know what you’re probably thinking, “Steve’s gonna be sleeping alone tonight!” Nope, ain’t gonna happen, cause we’re at Leslie and Brian’s, and they’ve only got one guest bed.

Steve (while Marcia was out getting a hair cut and SHOPPING)

The following pictures of Makati were added after we established a good internet connection.