Spending The Day (And Often The Night) With The Whole Family In A Cebu Cemetery Part 1.

The first day of November is All Saints Day. The next day is All Souls Day. Or the other way around. Or both on the one day. It all depends on which explanation from my Asawa I was willing to accept as the right one. It varied each time I asked. I often do that, ask the same question several times or in slightly different ways. The answers rarely remain constant, just another part of the rich tapestry of life in this country.

Basically this is the drum. After Halloween, or all hallows eve, the witches and Onggu’s and evil spirits stop messing about and it’s time to nip down the cemetery, or “cement-tary” in Bisayan, and pay some respects to the dear departed. Apparently they go out and paint the town red on the 31st October, then settle back into their crypts the next day, ready for the rellies’ visit.

Trying to get anywhere on All Saints/All Souls Day (I’ll combine them for the time being until told otherwise) is not impossible but it is fraught with drama. Buses and jeepneys run from the early hours and all are over loaded, packed to the rafters and then even more hardy souls perch on the roof and risk falling off. This does happen and if lucky they fall to the side which doesn’t have oncoming traffic to contend with! The police and traffic enforcers do actually try and curb the more obvious excesses, at least this is the explanation Asawa gave me this year when I asked why there were so many cops about. Last year it had something to do with overtime payments and the year before that it was a blank stare. Of course that was the first year we were married and communications have improved considerably since.

Having our own vehicle is a big help, of course this now means we can transport the entire family back to the vast family estates in Calape. So I decree that we will leave bright and early, spot on 6am. Naturally the city based family members (and the youngest sister who has been spending her High School break with us), arrive several days before the departure date. This allows them to re-acclimatise with living in close proximity to a foreigner, as well as tuck in to the ice cream, chocolate and other foreigner goodies that are regularly stocked at Chez Bear. Not that I eat them that often, but the Asawa and Anaks have all developed a taste for expensive imported foreigner foodstuffs! So have the rest of the family but I really don’t mind. I enjoy having them around, saves me washing the car, running to the sari sari and lots of other menial tasks.

So as I said, spot on 7am we depart. I am nothing if not Lord of All I Survey, the Supreme Leader! The Asawa pays lip service to my authority as only a “sub-servient” Asian wife can. Not sure how that myth ever got started but it is a standing joke in our household. So off we go, seven souls in a small sedan on All Saints/ All Souls Day. First stop was Jollibee so I could berate the staff for not having the Sausage and Egg Sunrise (like a McMuffin, but sweeter, of course). It is a 50/50 deal whether they will have the only western style breakfast item available during breakfast time. They will have fried chicken and rice, spaghetti, hotdogs, funny noodle dishes and burgers full of sugar but don’t expect them to have any breakfast items. It is all too hard for them to order the ingredients or make the items, far easier to just make the Filipino things they are comfortable with. We later stopped at another Jollibee where the girl was told several times the order was for two of these Sunrises, and of course after a 15 minute wait while they made it, she’d only ordered one. So then we waited another 15 minutes.

Back on the road I introduced the tribe to The Angels, at full volume, of course. Hard Aussie Rock didn’t seem to go down well, but Barry White did. I’ll keep that in mind but listening to the CD three times in a row proved to be too much, even for the most die hard Barry White fan on board. Meanwhile, with the tribe alternately chattering away or sleeping, the kilometres rolled under the wheels and we closed in on Calape. We stopped in Bogo and stocked up with meat and vegetables, UHT “fresh” milk and anything else that would be scarce to non-existent in Calape, like toilet paper.

Bogo has two main cemetery’s and like every other town we had passed through on the way they were doing a roaring trade. Stalls set up along the perimeter fence sold food and drinks, toys, candles, flowers and cell phones. Maybe they thought the dear departed would text them or were simply cashing in on the crowds. The police were there in force wondering whether they should try and control the traffic. While the Asawa shopped I watched and noticed they had a “No Entry” sign up and were trying to operate a one way circuit to ease congestion. After half an hour I saw a discussion take place and the sign was removed, the cops retired to the shade of a cold drink stall and life went on. I was silly enough to venture over and ask one of the cops why had they taken down the “No Entry” sign? He replied that since virtually nobody was taking any notice of it, they might as well take it down and let the traffic get on with it!


Spending The Day (And Often The Night) With The Whole Family In A Cebu Cemetery Part 2.

Bogo has two main cemetery’s and like every other town we had passed through on the way they were doing a roaring trade. Stalls set up along the perimeter fence sold food and drinks, toys, candles, flowers and cell phones. Maybe they thought the dear departed would text them or were simply cashing in on the crowds. The police were there in force wondering whether they should try and control the traffic. While the Asawa shopped I watched and noticed they had a “No Entry” sign up and were trying to operate a one way circuit to ease congestion. After half an hour I saw a discussion take place and the sign was removed, the cops retired to the shade of a cold drink stall and life went on. I was silly enough to venture over and ask one of the cops why had they taken down the “No Entry” sign? He replied that since virtually nobody was taking any notice of it, they might as well take it down and let the traffic get on with it!

Don’t you just love this place? Back home people would obey the sign, or the police would start kicking some butt and make them obey. Here, they accepted the will of the people and simply ceased to try and regulate! I am impressed they took down the sign before handing the streets back to the traffic, that showed guts as well as an acceptance of the inevitable.

Once the Asawa was back with the groceries we drove the final 25 kilometres to Calape. The road is pretty rough in places and full of pot holes. With three adults and two small children in the back the suspension was having a hard time keeping the wheel arches from rubbing away the sidewalls of the tyres. Going home we had four adults, two small children and a baby in the back. To a Filipino all that matters is that you can fit in, any effect you might have on other aspects of the vehicle’s operation, like the suspension, is irrelevant. How many Filipino’s fit into the back of a Mitsubishi Lancer? One more!

Once at the vast family estates the Asawa and I borrowed our motorbike, the Lifan 100cc Super Tourer that we had “loaned to the inlaws last year” and tootled off to see our lot. We have a small farm lot in nearby Bagay and like to visit it whenever we are in Calape. My wife’s maternal grandparents have the lot next to ours so a visit was in order. Lolo the Grandfather was in fine form. Drunk as a Lord!

Within moments of being in the same nipa hut as Lolo I was drunk too! He greeted me like a long lost son ( I have to stop palming him peso’s every time we visit but he is a lovely old bloke). He kept yelling “Ya Tai!” like some pirate of the Caribbean, rolling the last syllable and adding other unintelligible words. Even my Asawa and her Aunt couldn’t understand what he was saying over and over. I decided to quote from Shakespeare’s’ “Henry V”, something I have found handles most situations where you haven’t a clue what to say!

He changed to “arrrgh! Ha tai!” for a while once he realised I meant what I said when I included him in my “band of brothers”. The line about “be he ne’er so vile this day shall gentle his condition” actually made sense to me in a way it never had before! We then “arrrrgh! Ha tai-ed” our way outside where I was able to break free while the Asawa distracted him with some beer money. He is a lovely old gentleman and so is his wife. Well, she smokes hand rolled cigars better than any man I ever met! She can keep the whole thing in her mouth, then open her lips and curl the stogey out on the end of her tongue! At over six hundred years old, that is quite a feat!

We dropped in at the cemetery on the way back, more to check out the roof we had paid for than to really do the All Saints/ All Souls thing. My Asawa would do that later or the next day with her sisters and mother. There were three boys at the plot next to ours. All around 12, one was kicking at the gate to the mausoleum type structure. I asked him if that was his family’s plot and he cast his eyes downward in shame, but replied that yes, it was. I told him to show a little respect to whoever paid for the gate and not kick the “tahi” out of it. If this were Australia, the UK or America you can imagine the response. But this is the Philippines. With eyes cast downwards and a chorus of sorry’s, the three boys ceased kicking the gate and started cleaning up the garbage lying around the plot. That would never happen back home, never!

Back at the stately family manse the cousins were running riot. We now had seven small children taking matters into their own hands. I kicked back with a cold beer and the laptop, the Asawa went to visit an old school chum and the kids went for the world record on decibel production from underdeveloped vocal chords. A feast would be available soon, then an easy evening and tomorrow, back to the city and the daily grind. For now, time to sit back and soak in the local colour. For me, that is a nice amber shade with a white frothy head!


Even More Thoughts On The Importance Of The Expat Exercise Plan.

When I was in the Army I managed to do some fun things, like leap out of perfectly good airplanes. One of the rather interesting characters I met doing this was a Corporal in the British Army’s Parachute Regiment. A rather tough, nuggetty character, he spoke in rapid fire Pom and had a vocabulary even many of us ex-Brits had difficulty following. One word he did use a fair bit and that I understood was “tabbing”.

Tabbing, to tab, to tab it, etc, means walking. Mind you it is at a decent pace that covers a kilometre every 12 minutes or so, or up to 5km an hour. You can go faster, but then you usually arrive in a condition less than fit to fight, and that is what tabbing is all about. Rapid movement forward to the battle by heavily leaden infantry troops.

The Parachute Regiment demonstrated this in 1982 when they tabbed across the Falklands and kicked the stuffing out of the Argentineans. The Royal Marines were doing something similar but called it “yomping”. Hmmmm, I’ll stick with tabbing. Anyway, tabbing is the single best way to get fit and discover the wonders of your neighbourhood.

Recently I accepted a position in Quezon City teaching English to Korean students. I spend three weekends out of four here and then get to fly home to Cebu, at least that’s the plan. So every morning I have been tabbing around the neighbourhood discovering all sorts of interesting things you just simply miss when in a car or jeepney.

For instance, I noted on my EZ-Map of Manila that several streets nearby were named “Sct Mendez” or “Sct Reyes” and so on. What did “Sct” stand for? Scout! They are all streets named after brave Philippine Scouts who died in battle. In fact the area is known as the “Scout” area when looking for houses to rent or buy in the newspaper. If I hadn’t been tabbing the streets I would not have been able to read the little plaques and signs that told me this.

My tactic is to divide my available time in half. I wake up at six am, have a stretch and a yawn and toddle off. I tab briskly in one direction for fifteen minutes, then I turn around and tab back. In thirty minutes I can cover a fair distance and I know I can make it back before breakfast. Sometimes I will meander, just following the streets and then the ten or twenty minutes still up my sleeve for cool down time may get used up if I am farther away at turn around time than I thought or the way back isn’t as direct etc. Usually though the theory holds and I get back in the same time it took me to go out.

So far I have tabbed the main streets and discovered the local swimming pool, tennis court and a really quaint little group of shops and carenderia stalls. Next week I will begin the exploration of some of the twistier minor streets too small to have names on my EZ-Map.

Tabbing is not a stroll. It is a purposeful, military like march that works the cardio-vascular system and gets the blood pumping as you cover ground. When I have every street within fifteen minutes covered, my next plan will be to tab out the jeepney routes that radiate from the next door jeepney terminus like the spokes of a wheel. I will go the full thirty minutes by tab, then hail the first jeepney coming back down the route and get home in a few minutes and five and a half peso’s!

I always carry some ID with me and a few peso in coin and small notes. I drink a lot of water when I get back, but I’m thinking of carrying a bottle also. Tabbing for half an hour consumes the same calories over the distance as if you had run the 2km or however long it was, it just takes longer than running. Tabbing, though is a lot safer on the joints and also if you are overweight and over 40, like me, safer than jogging into an early grave. Give it a try, and discover your neighbourhood!


Eighty Percent Of Filipinos Are Supported By Twenty Percent Of The Population. Part 1.

Overseas Filipino Workers are numbered at about eight million or so. The actual workforce of the country, not counting these “lucky ones” is about the same, according to an article I read in “The Expat” newspaper a few weeks ago. This suggests that out of a nation of 86 million or so, once you take away the over 65 retirees and the under 18 school age citizens, that means only 16 million or so are actually employed. Close to 70 million Filipino’s are out of work or not eligible for work or past their working prime! 70 from 86 as a percentage is 81%.

Eighty One percent of the country are living off the efforts of the other 19% and half of these are not even working within our borders! I just finished reading the Sunday issue of The Manila Bulletin and worked my way through the job ads. Page after page of jobs listed for the Middle East, KSA, UAE, Qatar even Azerbaijan and the Sudan. What is it with these Arabs, can’t they wait on their own tables or train their own people to staff their hospitals? Surely not all of them are busy barrelling up the oil their kitty litter countries float on? In fact I would say none of them actually work as the list of jobs encompasses just about everything you can imagine a society needing to be performed.

Add to this the numerous ads for caregivers for the USA and Canada, nurses for the UK and domestic helpers for Hong Kong, entertainers for Taiwan and teachers for China and you can see why so much of the workforce is heading to NAIA! Those who are left compete tooth and nail for the still numerous jobs available, at least that is how it seems on the surface.

There are several major full page ads asking for call center operators. I even saw one ad offering training in improving your “American Accent”, which apparently would guarantee a better salary and successful placement. Since the course was offered by “” I have my doubts as to its’ validity! It is an indicator of the lengths people will go to to get decent work here, though.

You can’t blame them when the top few get to go overseas and study and then the next tier grab the best local jobs thanks to their education and what remains is fought over by the third tier. Below them are the poor “masa” who are lucky if they can swing a job instead of having to go on “standby” or work a sidewalk stall until moved on by the MMDA. Half of the problem, I believe is easily blamed on the attitudes of the employers.

Every ad for a position includes the criteria of age. Few jobs state they will accept anyone over 30. I rang a few of them up and asked why the candidate had to be under 35 or 30 or whatever age was stipulated. The average, mindless, mean nothing answer was “company policy”! I asked what happened if someone got the job and then a month later had a birthday and thus was no longer within the age range specified, would they be fired? I pressed my luck with a couple and asked them to define “pleasing personality”. I also asked if the lucky job seeker would be penalised if they had the odd day where their personality was perhaps less than pleasing?

Despite what I, a foreigner, might think of the hiring practices in this country, the reality is this is how it is! They can define everything they want in an employee, from looks to height to even waist measurements! Personality, sex, marital status, everything can be included in the criteria! It isn’t fair but then at least it is “honest”. Back home we aren’t allowed to list such discriminatory criteria but of course we apply it. Look how difficult it is for a 52 year old executive to find work after retrenchment. He will go for job after job and fail, but he knows it is because he is “over qualified”. That means the company can hire a kid half his age for half the money and there is nothing he can do about it, they just can’t say as much in the job ad!

Working here is a lot tougher than back in Australia. Employers really do expect a lot more loyalty from their staff and this has to be demonstrated in various ways all the time. Staff call the boss Sir or Ma’am, or Sir Perry, Miss Milet etc, nobody is on first name terms. Staff expect to work overtime and not be paid, it demonstrates their willingness to work and do as they are told. Nobody likes it. Filipino’s get as upset as anyone at being exploited, they just hide it better than we might. A tight employment market and a hungry family will do that to you! The employee is supporting four others at least, remember? (see figures above)


Eighty Percent Of Filipinos Are Supported By Twenty Percent Of The Population. Part 2.

The employment practices in the Philippines promotes the very annoying “Out of Stock” syndrome that drives most of us foreigners at least slightly mad from time to time. It is not the staff members’ job to re-order, but they can’t remind the manager whose job it is that stock needs re-ordering as that would make them appear to think they are smarter than the manager.

The manager should know when things need to be re-ordered and bringing to their attention their failure to have done so invites wrath and revenge, usually in the form of dismissal. Filipinos can be very (to us foreigners) childlike in their behaviour when slighted and many wouldn’t hesitate to be spiteful and wield their power to fire for such an infringement as telling the manager basically that they aren’t doing their job! I know, to us it would make sense to advise the manager as the manager is human and can’t be expected to know everything, but it doesn’t work like that here!

Once a woman is 25 or 26 it is presumed she will be married and if she is married then of course she will want only to breed, so why advertise for anyone older? Certain professional women may be available for hire into their 30’s, but it is presumed they have a YaYa looking after their children and thus are free to focus on the job. Or the job will clearly state the incumbent must be single! What happens after 35? In three years of monitoring the job ads I have only twice seen ads for someone aged 40, one was a senior accountant and the other a senior chef. Both were for men, of course!

Perhaps one possible explanation for this age-ist mentality is that many Asian families expect that once the children graduate college they will support their parents. If you have four or five kids all handing over most of their pay cheque each month, you can live very well without looking for another job. You make sure you keep control of this income source so that as they marry, they bring the new spouse into the family home or compound and then you exert your influence over the new spouse and strengthen your position using the grandchildren. The alternative to that is that the employee stays with the same company up until retirement age, but often this is only possible for those lucky enough to be in professional positions. They probably enjoy some security from inherited wealth also so they are again more advantaged than the average Filipino.

Regardless of whether they are employed at home or abroad, the Filipino with a job is a happy soul! Even happier it often seems is the Filipino without a job! Somehow they always seem to get by, one day at a time and they have a smile on their face and a ready laugh. Perhaps we can take a leaf from their book and choose to be happy, no matter what life might throw our way. After all, those of us too young to have a pension or retirement income can always fly back to the States or UK or Aussie and get a job. For the Filipino that is often not an option. Even those who do win a coveted place as an OFW know that their income producing years are limited, and the clock is always ticking!


Are There Business Opportunities To Be Had in The Philippines? We Take A Look Each Month.

Here’s my latest and greatest! This is going to be huge! I have gift baskets full of shells that will sell for US$20 to US$30 in a craft shop back East, all day long! How much did I pay for them? Would you believe a buck? One Dollar! And I bought them retail, remember!

The big expense is shipping, of course. I think you could add US$2 each basket if you shipped them by sea, in say a Balikbayan type box. You could easily fit fifty baskets in and that would price it around US$100, so I guess that is within reason. In fact, smart operators would ship for less, much less.

So you add US$5 to each item, by now they are costing you US$8 each, landed in the USA and before customs duties, taxes etc are heaped upon them. Even at US$2 a basket, the shop is paying ten bucks and making 100-200% on top.

What is the secret? The secret is to have the outlet in the USA or Europe or Australia where you can sell your box of gift baskets. I admit US$250 per box isn’t a lot and maybe it will take the shop a season to clear its stock of sea shell gift baskets. Of course, if you can find one shop to take a box, then you can find two, and three and four.. One day, you’ll get that long awaited call from the giftware buyer at Wal-mart and before you know it.


How You Can Get In On The Growing Dairy Industry In The Philippines!

Dairy produce is taken for granted by most of us; at least until we come to the Philippines! I remember my first trip here in the eighties, I craved a milkshake and a decent ham and cheese sandwich! You could order both from Room Service at the 1 star doss house I was staying at in Manila, but the milk was made from powder and the bread was sugar infested Filipino bread, with strange purple ham and high temperature cheese!

Nearly twenty years later the situation has changed considerably. While you can still get the same bread, ham, cheese and powdered milk, you can also buy a much wider range of quality dairy produce in just about any supermarket. Note the location is the “super” market, not the “native”, “local” or any other kind of market. Dairy products are imported, new to the diet and thus more expensive than the average item on sale at the “merchado” or local market.

Currently, the Philippines is about only 2% self sufficient in dairy production. The National Dairy Authority is aiming at increasing that to 5% this year with an innovative program called “Palit Baka”, more about that later. Imports of milk from Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Europe in various forms set the economy back nearly US$400 million in 2003. As the acceptance of dairy products grows in the A,B and even C classes, we can expect to see that figure grow.

One thing I have always found intriguing is the total absence of goat’s milk and goat’s cheeses. Given every spare plot of dirt has a ruminant or three grazing away and the market rarely has “Kambing” for sale (usually just a hind quarter, co where does the rest of the beast go?), how come nobody milks them and sells the milk or makes cheese or yoghurt?

I turned to the Asawa for guidance and she simply shrugged and said that no Filipino would buy goat’s milk or cheese. No reason, they just wouldn’t. I have learnt not to argue with her too much, especially on matters like this. Still, it seems pretty strange to me, especially when there are some great goat’s milk cheeses to be had and surely fresh goat’s milk is better than nothing at all in the calcium stakes?

But back to the baka, or cows. The NDA website is full of fascinating information and really should be visited. These people are making a very definite effort to improve the health and diet of the average Filipino. They are determined to bring fresh milk and dairy produce within the grasp of just about everybody.

The Palit Baka program basically has farmers borrowing cows and keeping them for a period of a few years. (They can also buy selected animals and at P70,000 each, it might be worth investigating if your in-laws have a few spare plots of grassy land around their house). During this time the breeding program the NDA sponsors is monitored and new cross breeds are developed that can survive the tropical climate. All milk produced that is not consumed by the farmer is sold to the local dairy center and much of it goes back to the poor of the community through subsidised feeding programs for malnourished children.

Some of the milk of course ends up in the supermarkets and here in Cebu I can buy fresh milk for about the same as “fresh milk”, ie; UHT long life milk. My Asawa calls the UHT (ultra heat treated) milk “fresh milk” as opposed to powdered milk. Growing up in the province they never had (and her parents still never have) UHT “fresh milk”. Powdered milk was the best they could afford and that wasn’t as often as it should have been. Real fresh milk is a novelty and yet slowly she is getting more used to having it around. I find that you really need to finish the fresh milk off in a day or two, whereas back in Australia, even at the height of summer, fresh milk would last three or four days if refrigerated. Even using the same refrigeration practices, local fresh milk turns a little sour within 48 hours of opening.

If you see a bottle of Cebu Fresh Milk in the dairy department of your Gaisano, SM, Robinson’s, Fooda or Rustan’s supermarket, buy it! Help this fledgling industry get off the ground and help improve the diet of the average Filipino. The more real fresh milk that is produced and sold, the more chance there is that dairy products will become more affordable and more available to everybody in this country.