Category Archives: Entertainment

That’s Classified!

There is a new classified ad site for all things Philippines. Philippine Finder is the place to go for real estate, cars,  items anything that is up for sale for the expat or retiree. There is also a personals section where you can find friends, activity partners or seach for romance.  You can advertise there free of charge. Right now it is a little light on for ads, but so was the Yellow Pages the day the first telephone was installed! The more people who use it to advertise and respond to ads, the better a service it will become.

ANGELES CITY HAS MORE TO OFFER THAN BARGIRLS

Before anyone accuses me of being a hypocrite, I freely admit I have been to Angeles in the past and I enjoyed the place for what it was then and is now.  I believe we must always have places like Angeles, they serve a purpose that human nature creates and I won’t be so naïve as to deny it.

But times and people change and I find myself quite disillusioned with the whole sordid sewer of a place that is really just a very small section of an otherwise vibrant and wonderful Filipino city.  So with that understanding between us (writer and reader), let us progress.  Angeles City sprung up to serve the needs of the US military.  Back in 1902 when the US Cavalry set up a remount station and cavalry camp there the local barangay was some distance from the camp gates.  Gradually the place grew as those bars and brothels that sprung up outside the camp gates met with the spreading tentacles of Angeles City proper.

The hey day of Angeles would have had to have been in the 1960’s and into the 1970’s during the Vietnam War.  The expats who have retired here who spent time in the USAF stationed at Clark still hold the attitude that they own the town and the people.  Or at least many I have met do.  I can understand that sentiment as the USAF poured up to a million dollars a week into the town, more sometimes.

The airmen had the money and lust, the local girls had the looks and the need.  Perfect symbiotic relationship in anyone’s book.  Clark had the highest divorce rate of any military base according to one source.  He explained it was no wonder when Mrs Obese Ohio ’74 spent her days hiding in the house because the locals stared at her and hubby was off in the bars chasing sweet young Filipina’s all night long.

I spoke to one man who was one of the team that investigated the backgrounds of women engaged to servicemen.  He said it was more of a surprise when they found out she wasn’t out of a bar or had been selling her services one way or another for some time.  Most of the Filipinas were working girls, how else would they meet their future husbands?  He said he would love to follow up on some of the cases he had back then and see how many were still together, how many were divorced and so on.  He felt that there would be a higher percentage of couples still married than the national average.  He also felt if the marriage broke down after more than five years you really couldn’t pin it on the girls’ previous employment.

June 15 1991 was the day Mount Pinatubo speeded up the inevitable.  With the nationalistic bent of many in the country; many who gained nothing from the US bases as they were but might if they were open to local development, it was a fairly foregone conclusion the Yanks would have to go home.  I have asked dozens of Filipino’s and I have yet to find one who has benefited from the USAF not being at Clark.  I have yet to find a single Filipino who doesn’t want them back!  Obviously I am asking the wrong people.  I need to get out and ask the rich minority who own businesses in the Clark Special Economic Zone that replaced the base.

Unlike Subic Bay, where far sighted Richard Gordon organised the local middle class to protect the greatest asset their town (Olongapo) possessed, when the USAF left Clark it was in a bit of a hurry.  People were assured their homes would be protected and their belongings safely packed and sent on to them but many I have spoken to claim locals simply walked on base and looted every home they could enter.  They never saw their personal effects again.

It is close to 20 years since all of that happened yet I can remember it as if it were just last week. One thing is certain, Angeles City is more than just Fields Avenue in Balibago. It is a thriving city with hospitals, universities and a heck of a lot going for it beyond the red light strip bordering Clark Special Economic Zone. Get away from the entertainment area and explore the city and surrounding province and you will find a lot more to do than just hang out in bars and drink beer.

Ever Been To Puerto Galera?

I love Puerto Galera! PG is on the island of Mindoro which even today is a pretty rugged and inhospitable place despite being relatively close to Manila. PG is a great dive area with some top drift dives. One drift dive I did years ago had me hurtling towards ‘Hole in the Wall’ at 2-3 knots. You have to decide if you are going to abort the drift or shoot for the hole in the wall! Exciting stuff. On the other side there is an abyss that can suck a diver down 50m or more in seconds. The trick is to not venture out too far over the abyss and avoid the down draft. I was holding onto the rocks for grim death when I dived the bowl.

There is another great drift dive where you drift along in one direction for a while then ascend a few metres and you catch a counter current going the other way! Awesome stuff! The currents are strong at times and it pays to eitehr be in good shape or just go with the flow and have the dive boat follow your bubbles!

There are a couple of purpose sunk wrecks in Sabang Bay on the sand where you can feed the fish. Tame by most wreck dive standards but still good fun and a great dive if you have been dry for a while and need a gentle refresher and re-introduction to scuba diving.

The place has plenty of PADI approved schools to choose from right along the waterfront. Most are tied up with affordable accommodation and cold beer and unless it is Chinese New Year you should be able to get a bed without too much trouble.

Getting there from Manila is easy enough with the new South Luzon Expressway cutting quite a bit off the drive time. You can rent a car, hire a taxi or FX or grab the bus from the City State Hotel in Ermita. There are public buses to Batangas, the jumping off point but for first time travellers that might be a tad confusing. At the port there is a major ferry that goes over, tied in with the bus service and you can also take local bancas, or pump boats.

I hired one late one night with two mates and a Filipina and we nearly had a pirate fight in the middle of the channel with the crew when the captain wanted more money. Stick with the main bus and ferry providers and do it in daylight and you won;t have any trouble.

If you don’t scuba dive, then you can learn or, just enjoy the resort atmosphere and the two or three girlie bars and the plethora of restaurants. Venturing further afield and exploring Mindoro is doable, but be prepared for real adventure travelling! Whatever you do, Puerto Galera is a must-visit destination.

Makati! More Than Meets The Eye

Makati has a reputation amongst some of being the haunt of the rich, effete and privileged. Those fat cat expats with the big salary packages who live here in the company owned house surrounded by walls, guards, with a driver, maids and so on. True. Makati is also home to some of the poorest in Manila.

The city of Makati came about after the Second World War when the Ayalas bought up Nielsen Field, the old US Army Air Corps airstrip. Even today, a glance at a map of Makati shows how Makati Avenue used to be the main runway and the old control tower is still there, near the intersection with Ayala Avenue, the alternate runway. Both roads are on a similar axis to the existing runways at NAIA as the prevailing winds haven’t changed.

The City of Makati has slums like any other Manila city, especially along the disused railway tracks of the old North Luzon rail line that runs parallel to Taft Avenue along the south western boundary of the city. Across EDSA to the north east and also to the north and north west lie areas of working class housing, squatter “jerry builts” and out and out shacks and shanties!

The super rich areas of Forbes Park are more what we think of when someone mentions Makati. Walled compounds containing huge family homes and servants quarters, immaculate grounds kept so by an army of gardeners and dozens of fawning domestic help almost like something from a Graeme Greene novel. It takes serious money to live here. No matter whether it is dollars, euro or peso, expect to hand over a lot of them for the privilege.

Of course there are also very affordable apartments in Makati that can be rented, fully furnished for P20,000 to P30,000 a month. If you want to live nearer the working class but still boast a Makati address you can even rent small apartments for half that!

Some argue that living in Makati is expensive and the truthful answer is yes, it can be. If you choose to live that way. Those single men who haunt P.Burgos Street and the go-go bars that line the curving carriageway would go through vast amounts of cash just keeping up with their bar tab, let alone renting company from time to time. But even there, ‘Happy Hour’ at some bars like ‘Rogues’ above the Pizza Hut can be reasonable with beers costing around P40 until 10pm!

If you are like me and are no longer an avid attendee of these bars, then the best value I was shown would have to have been Chilli’s. Two beers for P65 or six for P180, it varied over the time I was doing my empirical research. The same kind of deal could be had at Pier One in nearby Taguig at The Fort, a very flash new development I might say. The food at Chilli’s is very American, huge portions and so on but I love their Ranch Burger for P275. You really had a hard time stepping around the thing it was that big.

The malls of Makati are many and world class. Glorietta has four malls, then you flow into the Greenbelt series of four Malls and some of the cafe’s and eateries there are simply superb. Not all of them are ridiculously priced in fact all were far cheaper than what I would pay for similar fare in Sydney’s Darling Harbour. I have also been to Rodeo Drive in L.A. and Greenwich Village in New York, Berlin and London and I would have to say for value for money, Makati offers everything the other cities promise.

As well as the great cafe scene, the shops are full of eye candy for the discerning voyeur and great bargains for the serious shopper. The department stores like SM and Robinsons charge the same prices as they do in Cebu, and the malls go on and on for miles!

All of the insider information was passed on to me by my good friend, David in Makati as he signs his emails. A retired British Ghurkha Officer, David has lived and worked his own consultancy firm out of Makati for over twenty years. He knows his way around and he also, understandably, knows where to get a decent curry! As he quite rightly points out, “why live in the boonies and suffer when you can live in a civilized part of the world with everything you need close to hand, just as you would in the center of New York, London or any major cosmopolitan city?”

He’s quite right and I think you could live in Makati within a P50,000-P75,000 (US$1,100-US$1,750) a month budget and be very comfortable on half that again. Try living well and eating out regularly in Manhattan or Mayfair for less than US$1500 a month! And there aren’t all of those fashionista Filipinas to feast your eyes upon, either!

BATTENING DOWN THE HATCHES

Your Intrepid Editor Dines Italiano While Typhoon Namandol Bludgeons Manila

The Pollo Diavalo was, to be honest, superb!  The Maple Butter that covered the succulent breast of chicken spread its’ tasty treats onto the accompanying vegetables, the bread was still warm and the butter spread itself without complaint.  I was thoroughly enjoying the meal, and the old guy on the grand piano running through a medley of old standards.

The Jameson’s Irish Whiskey was a nice surprise, not many places even in Makati carry much in the way of whiskies other than Johnny Walker or J&B, even getting a decent bourbon can be an iffy proposition.  Somehow, the meal, the malt and the mood were just right.  I felt decadent, just like the Manila social set dancing, dining and drinking the night away as the army pulled out and Macarthur declared Manila an open city over 62 years ago.

The rain was literally lashing the windows of the Italian restaurant on Tomas Morato Avenue, Quezon City.  Outside it was black, bleak, wet and windswept but “for awhile” I could sit back and enjoy the ambience of the restaurant and the pianist and just enjoy myself.  I rarely enjoy a meal in a restaurant here in the Philippines as much as I was savouring this one.  Admittedly the staff had to leave the plates just that little bit too long before being reminded to clear them away and for some reason my Jameson had taken rather longer to arrive than you would think, given the proximity of my table to the bar, but this is the Philippines.

If you want perfect service of a standard you would expect in a western restaurant, go to the west!  At least the waitresses were pretty, friendly and tried their best.  If you don’t grow up in an environment that values and demonstrates efficiency then you can hardly be expected to have any idea of what proper silver service is all about.  I called for the bill and after a fairly lengthy delay it arrived.  Three Jameson’s and two cokes plus the superb chicken? About fifteen bucks! I’m not normally this extravagant but what the hey, there’s a typhoon coming!

My meal over with, I decided to head up to Mickey Dee’s for my favourite dessert, a caramel sundae.  Forget the fancy Tiramisu’s and Gelati, give me good old vanilla soft serve ice cream with caramel flavouring any day!  I even bypassed Seattle’s Best Coffee, Starbucks’, Figaro, Liberia, Mocha Blends, Gloria Jeans’ and Baang! on my way to the Golden Arches!  Two of them had already closed to give their staff a chance to fight their way home in the typhoon and the others offered overpriced brews I am seriously trying to give up.  Paying half a Dong’s daily salary for a cup of java does seem a little decadent when you start to do it on a daily basis and get rather blas about the whole thing.

A bunch of Dong’s were huddled in the rain around a Corolla, trying to jigger the door open.  The driver was looking desperate, probably Ma’am or Sir were due back from their dinner and would be mightily upset that their limo had swallowed its own keys.  I knew from experience they would be hard pressed to open the car with just a wire coat hanger, you really need a brazing rod or something stiffer.  If I had my trusty old Slim Jim with me I could have had her open in a jiffy, but “going about equipped” is probably an offense here too, just like back home.

I had learnt the trade when I was a Military Policeman and had used it numerous times to my own advantage as much as anyone else’s so I know how dumb you feel when you lock the keys inside.  I also know the sweet relief as the door pops open but for this driver it was not to be.  Pretty soon the Dongs drifted away, but not without trying me out with a tentative “Merry Christmas Sir” plea for a handout.  After what I had just spent on a meal and a few drinks for one person, I wasn’t up for a spot of charity, never mind the weather!

My umbrella played hide and seek with itself all the way up the street, the tall buildings making the wind veer and wander so you couldn’t keep your brolly head to wind.  More than once I rounded up like my old sailboat on Sydney Harbour in a southerly just to save the umbrella spokes from terminally twisting themselves inside out.  The rain came in horizontally under the brolly that I had to hold in front of me leaving me walking blindly along the soaked sidewalk.  I had a few close calls with fellow pedestrians before I made it into the sanctuary of Macca’s.

I finished the caramel sundae, said goodbye to the clown and returned to the wind swept, rain soaked street and cast about for a jeepney to get me back to my room.  Two jeepneys roared past, ignoring my signal and naturally, empty.  Finally a very full jeepney came to a halt in front of me and I went to the back to clamber in.  Even though I hadn’t spotted anywhere to sit I scrambled aboard, knowing from experience a place would magically appear as I needed it.  It did and I plonked myself down with what little dignity I had left.  Trying to get my bear size bulk into these cut down sardine tins is an exercise in wishful thinking sometimes. At least it was so windy and cool outside I was appreciative of the muggy warmth inside the vehicle.

What I didn’t cotton to was the smell.  It was like clinging to the collar of a giant, wet dog.  That damp dog smell, the one you get a whiff of just before he shakes four gallons of water onto you and your new carpet.  That’s the smell!  I hoped it wasn’t me and since the girls squeezed in either side of me didn’t seem to be squirming too much, I figured it came with the jeepney.

Getting from the jeepney stop to my lodgings proved to be another challenge in keeping my umbrella alive and me more or less dry at the same time.  We both made it without further loss or injury and I basically just settled in for what I knew would be a long, wet, windy night.  I gave thanks that I was nice and dry and warm and not wet, freezing and homeless like many would be that night.  Only the other day Tropical Depression “Winnie” had claimed over 300 lives.  I wondered what the butcher’s bill would be for this little spat Mother Nature was giving us?  I called the wife and made sure she and the kids were safe and well, then went to bed.  After all, once you’ve battened down your hatches, there’s not much else you can do in a Typhoon, Nature pretty much has her own agenda!

FUNNY MONEY!

A New Scam To Watch Out For! Part 1.

I have been coming to Manila a couple of times a year for nearly twenty years and for the last three years I have been living permanently in the Philippines, albeit in Cebu. Returning recently to Manila full time for work has brought back memories but it has also given me some new ones to file away. I thought I had seen pretty much most of the scams in regular use against foreigners, either first hand or from a safe distance. The one I will relate here was not only a new one for me, but also a new one for one or two long term expats of my acquaintance.

One Saturday I find myself at the end of a jeepney route, in this case it was Harrison Plaza, a salubrious shopping center at the end of Malate near Manila Bay. It is a major sleaze pit and pick up joint for hookers, even in the middle of the day as when I arrived. I was in search of some refreshment before I intended to walk down to Malate Park and do some research for a story on the area. (Philippine Dreams December 2004,Manila Meanderings)

I was approached on the mezzanine level by a scabby looking Bakla with padded bra and broken teeth, dirty hair in a pony tail and a home made tattoo on his arm. He asked if I wanted chicks and I declined. He ignored me and called over a young woman and said I could have her for eight hours for P1500. I repeated my refusal and started to walk away. Apart from the fact I am married, Harrison Plaza is known as a place where the girls you buy are either underage or thieves or both, with or without STDs. The pimp followed and told me the price was now only P1000. Forget it, bugger off, go away, Hindi Alis! Walang na pera! (go away, I have no more money)

He persisted a little longer but I kept walking and went on my merry way. I wandered around Malate, along the BayWalk and up to the Manila Yacht Club, then headed back to the Plaza for a bite and a jeepney home. As I wandered past the area he had accosted me in before, this pimp materialises at my arm and is agitated and very upset. He whines that the one thousand peso note you paid me for the girl was fake, now I am in trouble.

I asked him to repeat what he just said and he did! At that point another person appeared out of thin air, this one looking quite neat in a Barong type shirt and slacks, short hair and a semi-automatic in a belt holster on his right hip, under the shirt. He also had hand cuffs under the shirt on the left hip and a cell phone around his neck. I ignored him and the pimp and turned on my heel and made a rapid bee line for the exit where the taxis wait. I walked fast and didn’t look back, just kept moving as I smelt a rat, something was going down and it had me plastered all over it!

As I was about to get into the cab the pimp and his mate arrived, said something in rapid Tagalog and the neatly dressed gun toter grabbed my arm and told me he was a cop and not to move. He flashed a wallet which I grabbed hold of and studied carefully. On one side was a PNP badge and on the other an ID card that looked pretty genuine. He had a death grip on his wallet and only later I realised his thumb was over the photo.

He mumbled the obligatory we sort this out and then I call Immigration as if that would scare me into complying. I told him there were a lot of fake cops around Manila and I wasn’t sure he was genuine. I had no doubts about the gun which I had felt up as he showed me the wallet and it was a large frame Colt 1911A1 .45 ACP style handgun. By now a crowd had formed and there was no way I was making it into a cab and getting away.

The pimp repeated his allegation that I had given him a fake one thousand peso bill and when he went to spend it he was arrested or stopped, depending on which version he was saying. It was all very upsetting to the poor thing and he was looking good for a Filipino Oscar. The cop said we had to sort this out and I would go with him. He asked for ID and I told him I didn’t have any and he accepted that. Hmmm!

He said we had to go to the security office. I didn’t want to go anywhere as I figured if we went to the police station it would get more expensive. I asked what the problem was and if the bakla got another P1000 would that be the end of it? I had no intention of paying a peso if I could help it but I wanted to feel out the situation. The cop muttered something vague and unheard and I got the gist there may be more to this. I figured he was going to try and pin solicitation on me and then the bakla would produce a 15 year old who would swear I did the deed and the girls mother would chip in that she helped clean away the soiled sheets and saw the whole thing etc.

Next thing we were walking inside and heading for the security office. I was behind the cop and the bakla and could have turned and ran anytime. Of course I would have been the slowest waddling foreigner Bear in Manila and it is very hard for Bears like me to blend in with the crowd here! No, I would have to brazen this out and see where it was going. I was prepared if necessary to pay the thousand pesos if I had to, anything was better than trying to beat a trumped up sex charge. Even if you beat it you are still tainted and plenty of people would be less than convinced of your innocence. Try explaining your appearance on TV in an orange t-shirt marked PNP DETAINEE, as one of mistaken identity and see how many will give you the benefit of the doubt!

FUNNY MONEY!

A New Scam To Watch Out For! Part 2.

In the security office I was surrounded by uniformed and plain clothes security officers. The cop spoke into his cell phone a second time and I wondered how come they don’t give Manila cops two way radios? They do but I wasn’t 100% sure of this at the time! I pressured the cop and said either produce this fake note or I am going. Then I told him even if he shows me the fake note he can’t prove it belonged to me or that I gave it to the bakla. At this he said we had to go to where the money was!

OK, so now we are out on the street, heading away from the mall! I am behind the cop and the bakla, who is berating me and begging me to admit I paid him the funny money and lets get this over with. We get to the traffic lights at the road that runs along the mall. I ask where are we going and the cop says we have to go to the Barangay Captain’s office where the money is being held. Hmmm?

I repeat that it is my word against the bakla, I have denied giving him anything and there is no way he could prove anything anyway, even if I had given him funny money. I then said there is no way I was going any further with him or the bakla and I was leaving. At this I turned on my heel and strode off back towards the mall.

The cop stayed standing there but the bakla went off his brain, poked me in the arm and yelled at me. I warned him not to poke me again or I would defend myself. I tried to get into a cab as I figured if I hopped a jeepney he could keep up, even incite the passengers somehow against me. I had my camera and a magazine in one hand as I opened the cab door with the other. The bakla seized his chance and my glasses and stole them off my face quick as a flash.

He kept dancing just out of range as I tried to get them back. I knew from hard experience as a school boy how pointess it would be to dance along, it was either tackle and down the mongrel or say goodbye to the glasses. I said goodbye to $200 worth of prescription two tone glasses in a P400 frame. Without the camera and magazine in one hand I might have been able to grab them, but I doubt it. He would have simply thrown them under a passing jeepney or something. If I had decked the mongrel then I would have really been in trouble. Hitting a Filipino with breasts, even a thieving bakla, in daylight and full view of the public isn’t advisable for foreigners!

I jumped into the cab and told the driver to simply drive. As we stopped in traffic around the corner out the front of the Manila Zoo, another taxi passed us and stopped right in front. Next to the driver was the cop! I told my driver to make a quick turn once the other taxi had missed the intersection and we went off to Makati. I realised then for sure the cop was a fake, probably going back to his day job as a security guard at some fancy five star hotel.

This scam might have worked better for them if I had in fact paid for the services of the hooker, the guilt and doubt would have made it difficult to walk away with confidence. I was never totally convinced the cop wasn’t a real, albeit crooked, cop. Insulting the real deal could be self destructive if he takes it personally and continues on somehow even after the original issue is resolved. Filipinos have thin skins to begin with where white foreigners are often concerned, no value in making it worse. The bakla was very convincing, at least to onlookers and anyone who didn’t know the truth about the fact I never paid the bakla with a fake bill for anything! I figured if I had to pay a real thousand to avoid complications, it might be worth it, but that would be a line call and the last resort. Of course you don’t want to give in too early but you also don’t want to miss the chance to get out for just a grand if you have to.

You see this is not about right or wrong or justice, it is street survival, pure and simple. Throw enough mud and some will stick and it is too easy for scammers to set a foreigner up and have him facing a capital charge of soliciting a minor and looking down the barrel of the death penalty! Yes, things can go from bad to very shitty real fast here if you are unlucky to find yourself in a situation like that. It happened to a good friend of mine, John Martin. He was setup with a bullshit drugs charge and spent six months incarcerated until he was finally able to effect his release. It cost him just about everything he had one way or another.

The final cost of that day’s little adventure was a pair of decent glasses. Cheap when you think of how it might have ended. Did I want to deck the bakla? Damn right I did! Could I have done it? Let me see, I was an unarmed combat instructor in the Australian Army, I hold several black belts in martial arts, have boxed, worked as a bouncer and on and on so yeah, I could have cleaned the street with him and the cop. Then what? It doesn’t pay to get physical here unless your life is at risk. My life wasn’t in danger, just my reputation and my fortune, such as it is! I do think though that if I had continued on to the Barangay Captain’s office I might have ended up in a ditch with a leaky hole in the back of my head.

Do I want to go back there and find the mongrel bakla and give him a serve? Sure, but how dumb would that be? Best thing I can do is stay well away, chalk it up to experience and let others know about this scam. Besides, I had a spare pair of specs back home anyway!

EDSA SATURDAY NIGHT

Why You Take The Train When Travelling Along EDSA!

Part 1.

When I first came to Manila, nearly 20 years ago, there was no light rail alternative. PNR (Philippine National Railways) still enforced its right of way along the single track that ran north-south through the heart of the city. Today the rail line north is no longer in use, the southern line stops way before it even nears the center of Manila and all of that is a good thing for the thousands who call the strip alongside the tracks, home. Thousands of squatters have taken up residence in jury built shanties and shacks for miles along the track. There is often talk about resolving the issue, usually with ridiculous ideas like buying out the squatters (and their votes!) and giving them title to their narrow land holdings. Of course that neither properly resolves their long term housing issues or clears the way for more much needed road transport alternatives.

As an aside, just the other day the train from the south derailed and killed more than a dozen people. Seems the track had been dismantled by locals who sell off the spikes and sleepers! The train went around a curve too fast for the dilapidated condition and derailed. How sad that people can be so poor and so stupid they endanger the lives of others just to make a peso!

I remember the first light rail system, the LRT, now known as LRT1. It runs north to south from Monumento at the northern end of EDSA, to Baclaran, past the southern end. EDSA, or Epifanio Des Santos Avenue, is the major ring road type thoroughfare that runs in a rough semi circle from Manila Bay past Makati, Ortigas, Cubao and Quezon City to the Northern Expressway and Monumento. The LRT1 runs down through the older parts of Manila like Quiapo and across Luneta (Rizal Park), edging along past Ermita and Malate and into Pasay and the street markets of Baclaran.

I rode the LRT1 the other day for just two stops, from Taft to EDSA and it took nearly half an hour. For some reason the train wouldn’t leave the station without waiting ten or fifteen minutes, then we crawled to the next stop as if the track was in need of repair. A little harrowing I must say, especially as you can look out of the windows at each end of the train and see the train coming up behind you stop just a few hundred meters back.

When it runs normally, the LRT1 has a section in the front just for women. In the rear of the last carriage there is a roped off section for men, either infirm, elderly or with children and monitored by a guard so the feminist types can’t claim sexist treatment with the women’s only carriage! How this works at peak times I am yet to see as there has always been more men crowded into the rear carriage than women travellers in the front one!

I first rode the LRT1 back in 1994 when I came for the WEKAF World Full Contact StickFighting Championships, held at the Alabang Country Club in Muntinlupa. (I won the Super Heavy Weight Division however they presented me with a Silver Medal as they wanted the Filipino I slaughtered to have “won” so he could go to the USA for the next competition! Watching the officials openly change the scores so Filipino’s would win heats was my first introduction to the blatant cheating and corruption that can happen here) Before the contest I visited a friend who was staying out at Monumento and I used the LRT1 to get there and back from my hotel in Ermita. I had seen the elevated rail line the year before but I never had the chance to try it out. I must say I enjoyed the speed and ease of travel, even back then when Manila traffic hadn’t reached its gridlocked peak (I believe that came in 1997).

I do recall one trip where I looked down and saw a crooked finger trying to open my front pocket so it could get to my wallet. I grabbed the wrist and followed it along until I looked into the eyes of the thief! I yelled out “pickpocket!” but as I did so he twisted his slippery wrist (they grease them up to help escape being grabbed) and stepped back, just as an accomplice stepped in and politely told me I was mistaken! I can still visualise the hooking action of the finger at my pocket, to this day! Right at that moment we pulled into a station and the thief and his apologising accomplice backed off and quickly stepped through the open doors. I didn’t follow but instead double checked my pockets and personal effects as it would be typical for a third person to rob you while you focused on the thief you caught.

Pickpockets all over the world are very good, usually, at what they do. They rely on your carelessness and the press of the crowd to help them get whatever you have not bothered to properly secure. Yesterday on the MRT2 I watched a hand sneak through the crowd standing in front of me ( I was seated) towards this large, fashionable “purse” type wallet this young trendy kid had stuck in his designer jeans. More money than sense but I couldn’t just let him get ripped off. I looked past the hips surrounding me and caught the eye of the owner of the hand, who withdrew his arm and then himself into another part of the carriage. I warned the young lad about what had happened but he seemed more contemptuous that some fat foreigner had bothered to speak to him. Next time he can lose his cash and cards!

EDSA SATURDAY NIGHT

Why You Take The Train When Travelling Along EDSA!

Part 2.

The MRT2 runs from EDSA’s beginning at Taft Avenue with a connecting walkway through the mall to the LRT1 line. It goes all the way to North EDSA station which is right near the North EDSA SM Mall. The gap between North EDSA MRT2 and Monumento LRT1 will one day be joined, but for now you have to continue your journey by jeepney or bus.

Along the way you can alight at Ayala Station and wander into the Mall Heaven of Glorietta 1, 2,3 and 4, then across Ayala Avenue through the Landmark Department Store and on to GreenBelt Malls, 1, 2 and 3! If you get off at the next station, Buendia, it is a short jeepney ride to the nightlife of P.Burgos Street.

Further up the line you come to Shaw Station where you can alight for SM Mega Mall and Ortigas, the bustling new business center. Cubao further on has several malls and the Araneta Coliseum, then a few more stations brings you to the end of the line.

There is a new east-west line, MRT3, which runs from out in the suburbs of Marikina City to the inner city area around Quiapo and the Divisoria market area. Basically for much of its length it follows Aurora Boulevard and up until now I haven’t had a reason to take a ride.

As Manila grows and spreads out, more of these mass transit light rail systems are needed. The road system can not handle the vehicular traffic now as it is. More people, more cars only means more congestion and even longer “peak” hours.

Tonight I hopped a jeepney to Cubao, getting off a little before the end of the line and grabbing a passing bus on EDSA. It was an airconditioned bus that was showing “BlackHawk Down” on a TV at the front. I grabbed the seat behind the driver which meant I could slip my legs under his seat and stretch out, but I had to suffer his incessant sounding of the very loud air horns. He would sound the horn at the vehicle in front even if we were stopped at a red light! The man was, basically, an idiot.

The seat was a one and a half seater. Obviously they would expect two Filipinos to fit on it but even that is silly as it simply isn’t big enough. The first three rows are made up of these seats, perhaps to allow lots of room for boxes to block the aisle? Who knows? Then the two seater seats begin, all fitted with three headrests of course. This justifies the conductor squeezing three Filipino’s onto these seats. Why Filipino’s simply accept this rubbish beats me. Of course it isn’t in their culture to say this is not acceptable or to do anything about it like send in a letter of complaint. Yet none of the Filipinos I have ever canvassed have liked being squashed in like sardines.

The traffic was horrendous. I was on the bus between 7 and 8pm on a very rainy Saturday night. Traffic both ways was completely stationary in some places, mainly major intersections such as at Ortigas. With the door open the whole time, the air con around me wasn’t working as well as I would have liked and the extra humidity from the rain made it a moist trip.

Dong the conductor had the annoying habit of fast forwarding the video regularly. He liked the bits where helicopters were flying but sped past the parts full of dialogue. I asked him why he was doing this and he said he didn’t understand the talking anyway, so why show it? I said perhaps the passengers wanted to follow the story? His reply was a shrug that suggested that it was his video and he could do what he wanted with it!

Meanwhile the mental midget we had unwittingly entrusted our lives with was back on the horn. Again for no discernable reason. I willed a cop to appear and hit him with a major fine for noise pollution and inherent stupidity, but to no avail. I received a call on my cell phone that was only half heard as he began to really wail into the horn with both hands! I tapped him on the back of the head pretty sharply and told him to lay off or I’d disconnect the thing. It seemed to work as he did ease off and only used it once or twice more before I alighted. Of course as soon as I walked away from the bus, you guessed it. He let cry! I was waiting for it so he didn’t have the satisfaction of making me jump, but it was a close run thing!

If I had taken the MRT2 it would have been merely fifteen minutes out of my life to get to Makati from Cubao. Of course the stations have vicious sets of steps to climb and the bus saved having to do that. But at a cost of P15 (compared to P13.50) and an extra forty five minutes or so. Not to mention another five percentage points of hearing loss!

TENNIS ANYONE?

A Few (More) Thoughts On The Importance Of The Expat Exercise Plan.

I had a term or two playing tennis at school although most of the time was spent watching the girls and very little time actually learning to play tennis. In fact, we avoided the coach as he was a known “Chester”. Chester the child molester. Of course in those days we didn’t know we were supposed to be traumatised about it, we just ragged this old fairy mercilessly and played hookey and blackmailed him into signing our attendance sheets.

Somewhere along the line I must have learnt something because when I went to play for the first time in decades, I could actually hit the ball. And return it over the net and within the lines! Amazing! Not only that I could serve! Within a few chukkas or rubbers or whatever you call these games with the weird scoring, I was enjoying myself immensely. Then the heat hit me.

You need to drink lots of water. You need at least one change of shirt and a towel. You need to start playing about 5.30am like we do! Even then, by 6 or 7 I’m sweating like a rapist and I need to refill the fluid levels regularly. The sign on the wall states that playing regularly “Adds Years to your Life”. I have to agree, playing just a few games in the heat and already I feel about 86! But I love it!

I play at a court in a back block in Minglanilla. The old retired San Miguel executive who owns the court is 78 and still spry. He was pushing the roller to smooth out the court when I first saw him. We usually renew the chalk lines with this ladder like frame and a chalk dispenser, then have a bit of a hit around before starting play.

Manong will play if we are down a player for doubles, but if you come by yourself he’ll probably just get the ball thrower machine out. For P10 you get 100 balls fired at you, great exercise by itself and cheap! The rental of the court for two hours only costs P20 each and so its great value.

Back in 1984, Manong retired from his job with the Coca Cola division of SMB Corporation. He had started tennis when he was 35 because he was out of shape and smoked too much. Gentle reminders are panted on the wall at the back of the court to play tennis regularly and not to smoke. He can still run around alright but his eyes are going and seeing the ball is getting to be difficult.

With nearly as many years to go as I have already lived before I catch up with Manong, I hope I can maintain my new found enjoyment for tennis. I should as I have invested over P549 in the best tennis stick technology the Gaisano House of Fake Rolexes and Empty Shelves Supermarket can offer! I couldn’t see the point spending ten times that when it wouldn’t make me ten times the tennis player. Besides, it really is just for fun!

AlleyCatting In Cagayan De Oro

Some Words Of Advice On How To Find A Friend In This Southern City.

By “Kissy”

You don’t have a lady here? I will give you a few tips on how to find one. This depends on what you are looking for. Do you want a little darling to fall in love with and eventually marry? Or do you want a lady of the night? You will find many lovely ladies that fit in both categories. There are several malls here with ladies just waiting to find you! Take advantage of the mall where you will find aircon to keep you cool. There are shops of all kinds and the prices are great. You will also find several restaurants. It is a great way to spend the day just looking around and relaxing.

There will be many beauties to feast your eyes on and some will follow you around like groupies. Don’t be shy, just smile and you most likely will be approached by a few gorgeous women who will find you very attractive just because you are white. If you are older and fat that is even better. It shows you are mature and must be rich to be able to have so much to eat. You are already a target for marriage, so play all your cards right and you will get there eventually. You have the upper hand since there is only one of you, and many of them. They are everywhere; so don’t stop with just trips to the mall.

These are the nice ladies, so don’t think you can just offer money for a roll in the hay. That can get you in deep trouble, even land you in jail, and perhaps have you deported. I will tell you more on how to find your sweetie in my book, “StreetWise Cagayan De Oro!” due out soon.

If you want a lover only, there are places for that. Just as Ma would say “son wear your rubbers!” You don’t know what disease could be waiting for you in there, so be wise and listen to Ma. Besides, you don’t want to make a baby!

What to do on a lonely Friday night!

There is an area of CDO that is wide-awake all weekend. You will find Live bands, women, several places to eat, loads of fun and more women. It is very well lit up at night and is like an outdoor concert and a huge street party rolled into one. You can eat, shop, relax to great music, and meet a lot of people. There will always be other foreigners there in the crowd. There is tight security with all the cops, so it is a safe place. Just please watch out for pickpockets, they can be anywhere.

This place is “DIVISORIA”, located in the center of the city. Anyone can show you where it is. There are also many restaurants, and shops there, including pharmacies, and Internet cafes. This area is off limits to anything with wheels on the weekend, so have no fear of being hit by a car or even a bike. Just let the kid in you come out and enjoy this fun event!

Another Day In Paradise

paradise

Today was one of those days.  Perfect.  There is a lot that can be fixed about this country, a lot that drives many of us foreigners up the wall, although if it is locally constructed that wall just might collapse on you. But there is so much to appreciate, to cherish and enjoy. Today was one of those days.  We went for a picnic.  Only a small picnic, just six adults and four kids.  Hardly worth cooking the rice by Filipino picnic standards. But we went all the same.

Everybody piled into the Red Terror and Papa Jusing and Vangie followed behind on the Lifan 100cc Super Tourer, minus the side car as the pigs are still too small to take to market.  The women had packed a mighty picnic lunch and lots of drinks and ice and with pots rattling in the boot we were off. Not too far from home we turned off the main road and went along the dirt, barangay road to the sea.  The chosen spot was beautiful!  A lovely bay with a coral beach and clear, azure blue water.  We parked the car next to some fishing bancas, under the shade of a jackfruit tree and got out the stuff.

High tide meant that the water deepened nice and close to the beach. Most of the coast along northern Cebu is mudflat reaching out a long way before the reef drops off into deeper water. It can make finding a decent swimming hole a bit of a lottery.  When you do find one, there is often a“resort” clogging the shore and charging money for a “cottage”.  Cottages are nothing more than a table and bench with a roof over it.  Mama Alice didn’t want to spend the money on something we really didn’t need, so we were “roughing” it.

The girls had gone into Daanbantayan earlier and bought pork, chicken, fish and pancit noodles.  The local jeepneys were on strike so they had to grab a “Habal-Habal” motorcycle taxi to get home.  The rice and pork and pancit were cooked before we left and Papa Jusing handled the BBQ for the chicken
and fish.  I went for a swim with my two daughters. After we enjoyed the water, it was time to eat, so everybody just hooked in with their fingers and enjoyed the sumptious repast.  I sipped a few bourbon and cokes while the others drank soft drinks or beer as the want took them. The kids played on the waters edge and collected more shells than they would be able to carry home in a month of Sundays. Life was good.

It’s the simple things in life like a family picnic by the sea that makes living here so worthwhile.  I never have to worry about some psycho abducting one of my kids and abusing them, it just doesn’t happen here.  At school they may have to learn the National Anthem and salute the flag, but nobody
frisks them for firearms or checks their bags for drugs. We lit a fire on the sea shore and nobody came along to tell us to put it out or to move on.  We minded our business and everyone else minded theirs. Driving back to the city we passed no radar traps, no speed cameras, no highway cops.  Nobody to tell me how to drive, how to live, how to enjoy my life.  Common sense rules.  If someone oversteps the mark, it gets dealt with sooner or later, usually permanently.  Few step over the mark, we all know what is right and what isn’t, nobody has to play Big Brother.

Back home we are legislated into a false sense of security.  We think we are safer because there are rules, regulations, ordinances, standards.  But are we really that much better off?  Workplace safety is definitely better back home, but most regulations just save the stupid from their own stupidity. When there is no social security safety net you tend to look after yourself a little more.

Where I came from if there was any risk, we screamed until the government legislated against it.  Then we relaxed and felt safer, knowing there are laws and rules to protect us; mostly from ourselves.  We lost touch with the reality that life is an inherently risky undertaking, even in this modern age. The Filipino’s haven’t lost that sense of reality.  They live with it every day, they just choose not to let it get them down.  How they keep on smiling, day after day with little of what we would consider hope for the future, is an inspiration to me.  Life here is at a slower pace.  It is a pace where you can take the time to smell the coffee, the roses, the buwad, the garbage, but also take the time to enjoy your life, and your family.  OK, it might not be paradise, nowhere is.  But since happiness is a choice, I choose to think it is, indeed, a paradise. At least for me and my own.