Philippine Chronicles

 

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4-28-15

 

Greetings from Paradise –

 

The late afternoon air was still and heavy, with the slightly metallic smell of an imminent rain shower, when Sweetie and I walked the hundred or so meters down the road in the direction of the thumping music and the high, piercing, over-amplified tones of a young singer.

The Magalit family compound is a rambling cluster of nipa and cement block houses, hunched in a rough circle in a packed-earth clearing in the center of a small grove of bananas and coconut palms. Wreaths of hibiscus and bougainvilleas encircle the humble buildings and define the gravel pathways that snake between the houses. Leafy hedges with green, yellow and red foliage cling seductively to the rough, unfinished concrete walls like fancy disco skirts.

As we entered the sprawling yard, we were attacked by a dozen children who surrounded us like a school of hungry fish, greeting us enthusiastically and, in the tradition of these interesting islands, asking for our blessing. Briefly the crowd parted and Senyang, the object of the gathering, formally welcomed us. Senyang was celebrating her eighth birthday and half the barrio had come to share the occasion. The party was boisterously underway.

A child of the barrio is fortunate to have been born in the months of April or November. It is during these months that the rice bins are full and people for the moment have a few pesos from the recent harvest. The videoke rental business is booming during these flush months. The Magalit family had their rented machine set up under the nipa roof of their small front porch, with the wireless microphone and a restless line of would-be crooners peering through the window of an adjacent house where they had sought shelter from the coming rain. A teenage relative, Elisa, was trying her best to imitate Celine Dion at a very high decibel level as her mother looked on approvingly.

Three dozen non-singers, friends, relatives and neighbors, were sitting, crouching, stooping, sprawling, reclining on every available flat surface. The adults were leaning toward each other with cupped mouths trying to make themselves heard over the booming speakers. The teenagers had their faces buried in their cell phones and the youngsters were darting through the bushes, yipping and yelping like a Comanche war party.

Sweetie and I climbed the two steps to the house.

“Please leave your shoes on,” shouted Elinor, Senyang’s grandmother. I try to be sensitive to the “shoes in the house” protocol and, despite the homeowner’s gracious permission to remain shod, I usually remove my shoes. But this occasion called for semi-formal attire, so I was wearing sneakers with socks and decided that perhaps this once I would be forgiven for breaking the rules. Besides, the table was loaded with party food and at the moment there was no line.

It is an unbreakable social rule to serve pancit on these occasions. And there was plenty of pancit in a tub the size of a commercial washing machine. For special guests (that would be us) there was an added treat of freshly-prepared mango juice. Yummy! Because of some obscure cultural quirk, pancit is not a meal; it is only a snack, a between-meal munchie. If we were to serve dinner guests only pancit, they would demand an explanation.

There were no adult beverages served – this was a child’s birthday party after all – but a few of the men were occasionally slipping out back with empty cups and returning with happy smiles.

The storm paused briefly overhead, quickly dropping a lot of rain, but not dampening the spirit of the gathering. The singers continued to screech, the munchkins continued to dart between our legs, the men continued to stagger out back for liquid fortification and the women continued to try to shout a few words in between the musical pauses.

As the afternoon waned, the rain sputtered to a weak drizzle and the western sky blossomed into another radiant tropical sunset as we made our way home for a decent meal and a glass of wine. It was a good party. I was confident my hearing would return by morning.

 

Despite the occasional cooling rain showers, hot, steamy weather has descended on our humble barrio. This is the time of year when I regret that non-stick underwear has not yet been invented. The sun rises early these days, which means I must also rise early in order to finish my morning exercises before it gets too hot. Of course, I could always forego the exercise and, instead, turn on a fan and eat breakfast. But this would entail subjecting myself to a long lecture about the health risks of being a big fat slob.

As I mentioned in earlier epistles, the rice harvest is in and most of our crop has been sold to the buyers. But about a ton (approximately 20 sacks) has been set aside for drying, which will bring a higher price of three pesos per kilo. This amounts to an increase of a little over $60. Drying rice requires hot, sunny weather and sweaty labor, two things which do not appear on my list of favorites. So the drying process doesn’t seem worth the effort to me, but my Sweetie, besides being a frugal woman, has an entirely different philosophy about work than I do. That is, she likes to work, while I don’t. As you probably suspect, I did not acquire my impressive, jiggly girth by volunteering for work.

“OK,” says my Sweetie. “The sun is out. Let’s dry the rice.” A sack of rice weighs about 100 pounds, much too heavy for a diminutive Filipina. But even a sluggard has a conscience, so I reluctantly abandon my reportorial duties (please forgive me) and grab my hat.

The irik – rice that is still in the husk – is dumped from the sacks and spread in a thin layer across the smooth cement driveway where it will bake for several hours. My Sweetie will occasionally rake this blanket of irik, being sure that it dries thoroughly. I can usually find a plausible reason to be excused from this chore.

 

In the afternoon, the dried irik will be scraped into a pile and shoveled back into the sacks and stacked under cover awaiting the buyer. This is a hot, sticky, sweaty, dusty part of the operation, which, if I have had my nap, I am willing to perform only because I know a luxurious cool shower awaits.

Sometimes, during the drying process, an ominous black cloud will appear overhead. This happened just yesterday. My Sweetie and I sprang into action, grabbed the rake and the rice scoop and began to save the irik before the rain started. Jon-Ellis and Pilar ran down from their house to join in. Auring and her grandson Carl zoomed up on their motorbike and did their part. This was a nice thing to experience. When it comes to saving the rice, all neighborhood feuds and envies are put aside, albeit temporarily, and everyone helps. Farming, as I have often noted, is a tough way to make a living. Cooperation is essential.

In only nine days we will be hanging up our tropical duds and boarding the spaceship for the journey back to the home planet and we are once again excited and stressed by the impending cultural adjustment. We’ll try to keep you updated as we re-enter earth’s atmosphere and acclimate to the weight of a different gravity.

 

With love,

Adam and Eve

Read this week’s posting at Live in the Philippines

“My Philippine Adventures” is available in print and e-book versions.

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4-19-15

 

Greetings from Paradise –

 

I pried my eyes open in the pre-dawn darkness. There was a faint gray light blossoming in the eastern sky and a delicious breeze eddying through the bedroom. A perfect morning for fluffing the pillow and oozing back into dreamland. My Sweetie, a creature of disgusting habit, had risen more than an hour ago and had already, I presumed, completed her exercise routine and was probably looking at her watch and waiting for me to appear in my sneakers.

I will concede that since I have been exercising I have felt better, more energetic, if not more handsome, but the trade-off is quite expensive. It’s like giving birth; no one wants to go through the pain, but usually the results are worth it. Did I just compare a 30-minute walk to childbirth? Yes I did. Am I that insensitive? Yes, unfortunately I am. But we’re talking about 30-minutes of torture hauling my large derriere around in a circle in a tropical climate. Sometimes there are bugs. I’m not trying to sound like a martyr, but it’s 30-minutes for gosh sakes. And it’s early in the morning when humans are supposed to be sleeping.

I could hear my Sweetie out there calling me. She wasn’t actually saying anything, but I could tell by the tone of her thoughts that it was time to get up and get out. I pulled myself up, pulled on some clothes, slipped into my sneakers and went out to greet the day. It was great to be alive, if only barely.

A bright white fingernail of a moon was suspended over the distant black jungle and a rooster song from somewhere in the distance was carried into the yard on a cool morning breeze. The banana trees were fluttering. I had to admit it was good to see the world awaken. My Sweetie smiled her approval and went off in the dark to share a cup of coffee with her friend Pilar down the road leaving me to my agony.

 

As I made my circuit, the barrio gradually clattered awake. The creak and thump of backyard water pumps punctuated the stillness. Bats jittered and swooped against the gray sky, just finishing their nighttime hunting. The poot-poot of the pandesal boy’s horn tumbled down the barrio road as he flicked from house to house like a honey bee in search of nectar, gradually emerging from the dark with the steaming box of breakfast strapped to the back of his motorbike. A growling green jeepney rumbled past stuffed with farm workers, more than a dozen of whom were sitting precariously on the roof.

A young woman in red flowered pants and a black and white striped sweater passed by the gate carrying a red plastic tub of freshly caught fish on her head.

“Good morning, Lilong,” she chirped.

“Good morning, Josie.” She moved along, balancing her load, walking in the graceful gait of a runway model. If she’s lucky she will sell her fish, earning enough to feed her family for another two days.

The fluorescent bulb hanging in front of Margie’s sari-sari store flickered to life casting a white circle of light on the still-dark road and Rodel emerged from the nipa house pulling on his t-shirt. His two dogs roused themselves from the dirt, stretched languidly and sniffed Rodel, hoping for something to eat.

As dawn finally flamed up over the river, and I finished punishing my body, I sat out front and watched the barrio waking, thankful for another day in Paradise despite the sweat of early exercise.

The barrio is abuzz these days with the sights and sounds and smells of the rice harvest. All day long a stream of every sort of vehicle passes by carrying sacks of rice to the mill. Giant trucks, stacked high with bulging sacks form a nearly continuous parade, with workers resting atop the pile, recovering from the exertion of carrying several tons of rice all day on their heads.

 

 

White plumes of smoke rise day and night in the fields, the residue of the harvest. The barrio road, indeed every flat concrete

Sweetie Guarding the Harvest

Sweetie Guarding the Harvest

surface in the valley, is a blanket of brown, rice in the husk, drying in the sun, attended by one or two workers who continuously rake the blanket to speed the drying process and watch for sudden showers.

My aerie on the balcony is temporarily off-limits in the late afternoon when a swarm of neighbors take to the road to sweep up the dry rice and re-bag it, sending clouds of fine brown dust floating on the breeze.

When the sacks are safely under cover, neighbors once again gather in chatty groups. Jon-Ellis and Pilar, Auring and Rolando, come by for a few beers in the waning light and we talk and drink and watch a blazing western sky slowly sink down behind the mountains.

As you know, my Sweetie and I are down to the last two weeks before we jump back on that big silver plane and head back to the home planet. It’s always a joy and a disappointment when we reach this point in our sojourn here in Paradise. We are, of course, anxious to get back to the States and get to work on the garden and the various building projects that have to get done this summer. That last sentence is, though it’s hard to tell from the sterile typeface, dripping with sarcasm. If it weren’t for our friends back there I would opt to continue uninterrupted this life of complete indolence, notwithstanding my Herculean efforts to sustain marital harmony by submitting to the indignity of exercise. The only drawback to life in these interesting islands, besides the bewildering culture and the incomprehensible language, is the inaccessibility of decent pizza. It’s a 7-hour round trip.

As I write this, a pre-wedding dance has been set up down the road, and the thumping disco beat is being carried on the wind in our direction. The music, according to custom, will play non-stop for the next 30 hours unless someone shoots the DJ, which I am considering. It looks like a long, restless night ahead. Perhaps I will have to forego my morning exercises.

 

With love,

Adam and Eve

 

Read this week’s posting at Live in the Philippines

“My Philippine Adventures” is available in print and e-book versions.

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4-12-15

 

Greetings from Paradise –

 

First, a weather update. Chedeng happens. But sometimes it doesn’t. Typhoon Chedeng entered the Philippines on April 4, 2015 and quickly fell apart, dropping a bit of rain along the eastern coast of Luzon and barely managing to crawl over the Sierra Madre range before making a fool of itself in our little valley.

Chedeng (it started its life as Typhoon Maysak out in international waters in the mid-Pacific) was just one notch lower than a so-called Super Storm as it inched toward the Philippines. But if it had destructive plans, those plans went downhill fast when it encountered a strong cold front dropping down from Japan, which shredded the storm and left it weak and embarrassed when it limped onto our little island. By the time it reached us it was a pathetic remnant, barely able to give us a refreshing shower and not enough wind to make a candle flutter. But who’s complaining? The farmers, whose rice is nearly ripe, were worried about earlier reports of 156 KM winds, which would destroy the harvest. After the anti-climactic finish, they were able to sleep soundly.

Let me make a few unkind comments about weather reporting in the Philippines. There isn’t any. International weather agencies reported on the formation of the typhoon and tracked it along its initial path, but when it didn’t develop into a super storm, they returned to their regular news stories about celebrity marriages, leaving it to the Philippine forecasters to follow its progress.

This reporting consisted of “There’s a storm coming. Watch out.” In vain I periodically checked the TV stations (there are only two) for the latest information. There was none. No wind estimates, no time of landfall, no updated track data. No special reports interrupting the third re-airing of a Chinese badminton tournament.

Of course, the Philippines is a “developing – so slowly you can’t detect it – country” so the remote reporting is not too sophisticated. There are no satellite-equipped Action News Teams roaming the countryside. As far as news reporting is concerned, northern Luzon might as well be Pluto – not the dog who everybody likes, but that faraway planet that nobody cares about.

But I suspect another reason we don’t have on-the-scene weather reports is that Filipinos, unlike their American counterparts, are too smart to tie themselves to a lamppost in the middle of a slamming rain holding an electronic device. But it would have been nice if we had been updated periodically about what was about to happen. In the end, we took prudent precautions, but the “storm” turned out to be so wimpy, even those precautions weren’t necessary. Our close call with raging death turned out to be more like a close encounter with a butterfly.

So once again we find ourselves sitting comfortably under a dazzling blue sky peppered with skittering white cotton puffs and delicious low-humidity breezes. Paradise returned.

 Harvest

Field Workers

 

The rice harvest continues apace. Men and women gather each morning, dressed in their colorful work clothes – long sleeves, long pants, tee shirt wimples and straw hats – and pile into the kuliglig wagons for the bumpy ride along the irrigation road forming a Technicolor caravan as they stream out to the fields. It’s hard, sweaty, itchy work and the pay’s not that great. But there will be rice in the bin for the next few months. In the afternoon, after the threshing, giant stacks of rice straw will be set afire and plumes of thick white smoke will drift on the late day winds like living organisms. After dark, the red glow of smoldering fires will peer out of the night like demon eyes.

In other news, our satellite dish, against all odds, had lived to the ripe old age of 2 before finally succumbing to the effects of rust and Chinese manufacture. Two is quite old for most Chinese products, which usually disintegrate during installation. I was in the middle of a CNN “news” program, screaming obscenities at the talking head who for some reason hasn’t been fired yet, so I assume he must be closely related to management, when the screen suddenly went dark. A little troubleshooting quickly revealed the problem: The transmission conduit of the satellite dish – that little arm that peers over the dish and carries the signal to the TV – was dangling at an odd angle like a broken wing, rusted clean through. Perhaps the manufacturer was not aware that a satellite dish might be subjected to wet weather. I summoned the local satellite dish guy.

Two years ago I reported on the comedy show that was the original installation of the dish, a slapstick routine starring Larry, Curly and Moe. It was a blast. And just like the original Stooges, they had had a cast change since then. And when the truck finally arrived, Larry, Moe and Shemp stumbled out and bounced into the yard carrying the replacement dish.

“How come this thing broke after only two years,” I asked. The wacky trio looked at each other and shrugged.

“It got rusty,” said Moe, glancing up at the remains of the dish swaying in the breeze.

“I see that,” I said. “But why?”

“Because of rust,” offered Shemp. That cleared it up. The bumblers looked over the situation, got their heads together and devised a course of action, which consisted of borrowing my tools.

“Do you have a ladder?” asked Moe. And so it went, with my ladder, my nails (Yes, nails. Why not screws you ask? Don’t ask), and my crowbar, which Larry used to remove the old dish and a chunk of the soffit. But I will give them credit for having their own screwdriver and the head of a hammer attached to a four-inch length of PVC pipe. My ladder is not quite tall enough to reach the soffit, so Shemp, the designated installer, had to totter on the top step, the one with the big yellow sticker that says “Do Not Stand Here.” In an effort to retain what’s left of my sanity I scooted up to the balcony where I couldn’t watch, and pretended the world was normal.

In accordance with local custom, and to show our appreciation for the performance, we provided the three entertainers with a snack of soft drinks and crackers. They ate and they left, leaving us with an empty box and a few leftover nuts and bolts, which made me wonder how secure the dish will be in the next storm. But reception is fine once more and we are able to get a very clear picture of all 25 stations including that badminton channel that I love so much.

 

With love,

Adam and Eve

 

Read this week’s posting at Live in the Philippines

“My Philippine Adventures is available in print and e-book versions.

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4-4-15

 

Greetings from Paradise –

 

I woke to a barrio bathed in the blazing red splash of another spectacular sunrise. Soft, refreshing breezes blew vigorously from the south as I took my coffee to the balcony to greet the day. Pink tinted clouds slid by overhead, pushed by high altitude winds. This was not good.

Normally, trade winds come from the east, slipping down the slopes of the Sierra Madre Mountains, tumbling westward across our valley. Winds from the south precede unsettled weather and, though for the moment, the conditions were a pure delight, it was only a matter of time, perhaps one or two days, when there would be a drastic change.

I flicked on the TV just in time to see the weather forecast: It was a late-season typhoon out in the area of the island of Yap, and it was headed our way, predicted to make landfall near the end of Easter week. This made the rice farmers nervous. The harvest is underway, but several fields are not quite ready. Heavy winds and rain can devastate a crop, dislodging the fragile kernels and flattening the stalks making them very hard to harvest. We are all watching the skies.

And so another birthday popped up, not unexpectedly of course, but not entirely welcome. I mean, I am grateful for another year of idle self-indulgence, but the formal acknowledgement of the date encourages too much introspection. I prefer to ignore my many deficiencies, rather than be reminded of them in front of partygoers, so-called friends who remark about my obvious physical deterioration and inquire into the state of my health, unsubtly suggesting I might be on the downward slide already.

But my Sweetie likes to celebrate my birthdays by inviting the entire barrio for a proper neighborhood bash. Of course, in her defense, my Sweetie still sees me as her knight in shining armor, forever virile and youthful, a paragon of manliness. You needn’t verify this with her. You can take my word for it. So we had a party.

Several tons of pancit was cooked over an open fire, cakes were baked. Enough igadu (my favorite) was prepared to feed the entire population of Luzon. Adult beverages were laid in, and cases of soft drinks. Some of the older women were permitted access to our wine stock. They are all church-going ladies of good standing in the barrio, so they remained well-behaved, albeit a little loose-lipped after a couple of cupfuls.

Harvest

Harvest

The women came first, along with the children. Lots of children. Although everyone in the barrio is theoretically permitted to attend these birthday parties, adults are shy about coming unless they have been specifically invited. But the children, if they see something going on in the back yard, perhaps a plume of smoke, they come. And they eat. Philippine children are able to eat twice their body weight in rice. This is always a surprise to me. Crystal, one of the family, is five years old and weighs about twenty-five pounds. She stuffs away twice as much food as I do, and you know I am not a dainty eater. And yet they remain slim and lithe. This is disgusting.

At one point there were about twenty kids between the ages of 3 and 13 who were beginning to act like kids, running around in the yard, putting my Sweetie’s flower beds at risk, so I corralled the herd and hustled them out to the driveway for some entertainment. Philippine children, unlike the children of my home planet, are accustomed to obeying their elders, so I easily got them formed up into a disciplined row on the driveway and we began our program.

As many of you know, I am possessed with an arrested development. There are whole sectors of my personality that have not progressed beyond puberty. While my Sweetie wishes that I remain forever young, this is not what she has in mind. She is not pleased, for example, when I make armpit fart music to express my delight at a particularly delicious dessert. But I lined up my young charges in the driveway and led them through a series of gyrating, twisting, thumping, squirming exercises with adolescent abandon and a total lack of embarrassment. We tottered like old men, pranced like fairy princesses, marched like Roman legions and walked like an Egyptian. We waved our arms and stomped our feet. We leaped and crawled and had jiggling seizures. We had a blast. We sweat a lot.

There is an old custom in the Philippines, called, in the Ilocano language, agmano, in which the young formally ask the blessing of the older by taking the older persons hand and touching it to the forehead of the younger. When I finally called a halt to our exercises (before my heart entered the red danger zone) the kids lined up and one-by-one performed the ritual blessing. It was a very nice moment.

As is the custom, the men came later in the afternoon, not so much interested in the food as the drink. Our kuliglig, the farm tractor-trailer, was parked in the yard, a convenient, and manly, setting for the guys to sit and drink and burp and tell lies. I think we had a great time, though I didn’t understand much of the conversation. But occasionally everyone would laugh and someone would pat me on the back. Nobody commented on the fact that I was drinking Girly Beer. As night wore on and the mosquitoes grew more aggressive, the guys gradually staggered off, finally leaving me to pick up the empty bottles and go in for a late dinner of party leftovers.

I admit it was very nice having nearly the entire barrio wish me a Happy Birthday, but I still think it might be better to just ignore the calendar and continue to deceive myself that I am the virile stud that I always wanted to be. But if forced to be serious for a moment, I would have to admit that the years have been very kind to me. I have been blessed with reasonably good health, an amazing, wonderful life-companion, a lot of interesting friends, and a life of bi-continental adventure. Life is good.

 

With love,

Adam and Eve

 

As I send this, the forecasters are predicting landfall of the typhoon in 24 hours. We have battened down all the hatches and are getting ready to ride it out. Winds at the moment are 100mph.

 

Read this week’s posting at Live in the Philippines

“My Philippine Adventures” is available in print and e-book versions. (I read it; it’s a good book.)

 

 

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3-28-15

 

Greetings from Paradise –

 

First, a little housekeeping. Two alert readers have been kind enough to point out a glaring error in my last Chronicle. I am immensely grateful to any of you who can find the time to nitpik my writing and e-mail your critiques. It would be helpful if you could also post your comments on FaceBook. Perhaps you could notify the New York Times.

For those of you who didn’t notice (or didn’t care), last week I referred to March 21 as the Spring Solstice. I was quickly informed that there is no such thing as a spring solstice. March 21 is merely the start of spring. The solstice, sometimes called equinox, occurs only twice – in June and in December. I pride myself in being accurate, so this incident has caused me considerable distress. I was barely able to choke down the third pancake this morning.

Writing, I had always assumed, was one of only two useful talents I possess. Perhaps it’s time to reassess. In case you’re curious, I can also whistle the Colonel Bogie March through my nose. For some inexplicable reason, I have failed to win the approval of the judges on America’s Got Talent – a blatant example of age-ism. There are rumors circulating that I can also talk out of my butt but that is, I assure you, completely false. I suspect the source of this malicious misrepresentation is within my own household. But let’s get back to the business at hand.

 

Summer has arrived with a vengeance in Paradise. It is not a solstice, but it is hot. The high pressure front that had been sitting atop our little valley for the past several days has wandered westward toward Viet Nam, depriving us of the hitherto delightfully cool and dry days and leaving us bathed in sweat. I have had to shift my daily exercise from afternoon to early morning, way too early for a lazy man, but I have concluded that sweaty exercise, no matter the hour of day, is preferable to the sharp rebukes of my Sweetie.

We are waking these days to a chorus of peeps and cheeps coming from the field next to the castle where Jingo, a neighbor, is tending his newly acquired flock of itik chicks. Itiks, you may remember from earlier accounts, are the Philippine ducks from which are derived the infamous balut, the partially developed egg that, against logic, is widely-considered a delicious treat throughout much of Asia.

Jingo recently purchased 1,000 baby ducks in preparation for his new business. The itik business is quite an efficient operation. When the itik mature (they are only a few weeks old at this point), they will provide a steady supply of marketable eggs and after each harvest they will be sent out into the field to eat up any residue, partially fertilizing the field and saving Jingo the expense of feeding them, at least until the next planting.

At the moment, these chicks are corralled in a netted enclosure in the recently harvested field next to our bungalow, from where they have been giving us a daily peep show. At this point they are capable only of a baby peep chorus, but it is only a matter of time when they will be issuing forth with full-throated duck quacks. A thousand mature ducks squawking loudly in the re-dawn a few meters from the house? We can hardly wait.

Itik Chicks

Itik, unfortunately, are easy targets for the few midnight shoppers in the barrio, men who skulk around after dark “acquiring” things that are not securely tied down or locked up. There are not many of these felonious types around here, but it only takes a few to keep the barrio on a constant state of alert. So Jingo has erected a tent next to his duck corral, in which he has been living, keeping a wakeful eye on his fuzzy charges.

I happened yesterday to be on the balcony enjoying a mid-afternoon snooze when Jingo erupted in an excited series of squeals that sounded like he was in some distress. I flopped out of my hammock and went to the railing to see what Jingo’s problem was and saw that the barrier had been breeched and the ducks were streaming out as if from a burst dam.

They swarmed as one living organism, moving surprisingly fast on their tiny webbed feet. Like a liquid mass they spread out into the field, a thousand squirming fuzzy bodies peeping with the joy of freedom. Jingo scrambled from his tent, shirtless, in a panic. The alarm was sounded and Dingo, Jingo’s brother and Flamingo, his sister-in-law ran from the house and attempted to surround the wayward flock. Seeing three large humans in pursuit, the baby ducks panicked and scattered in a dozen different directions, racing for cover.

The three “Ingos” quickly realized their error and slowed to a calm, slow walk, gradually, with outstretched arms, encircling the wayward waifs and coaxing them back into formation. Fortunately, these fledglings have imprinted on any two-legged giant they see, so the three temporary cowboys were finally able to herd the ducks into a more of less coherent mass and soon had them following them back to their prison. A sprinkling of duck food was enough to lure them through the breeched barrier and back to their confinement.

The gap in the net was quickly patched and Jingo was able once again to relax. Unfortunately for us, Jingo’s idea of relaxation includes a steady stream of mind-numbing so-called music, which is, thankfully, not loud, but is annoyingly atonal. Are there no more Perry Comos? No Vic Damones? Are we condemned to be forever listening to Snoopy Z and Girlz 2 Dum? (I admit I’m not up to speed on this stuff.) The culture does not permit me to directly confront Jingo, so we take our Advil and try not to listen.

In other news, the rice harvest continues to trickle in. The kuligligs arrive a couple of times a day loaded with piles of one-hundred pound sacks, which are stacked next to the castle awaiting the buyers who we hope will bid up the price. Weather permitting, we may spread a few sacks out on the driveway to dry, thereby commanding a higher price. This is hot, sweaty work, but I am willing to offer my support while someone else does it.

The time, as I mentioned in my last missive, is running down and we will soon have to abandon our little love nest and return to the land of adult responsibilities, for which I am, as you know, not well suited. But today I will take my cold Girly Beer up to my hammock, listen to the Serenade of the Baby Ducks and the noise droning from Jingo’s speakers, and give thanks for all of you, our friends, back on the home planet. In the meantime, don’t forget to point out my grammatical errors.

 

With Love,

Adam and Eve

 

“My Philippine Adventures” is available in print and e-book versions. (I read it; it’s a good book.)

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3-21-15

 

Greetings from Paradise –

 

A mango-tinted river slid by silently like a silk ribbon as the sky gradually reddened and flamed into another luminous sunrise silhouetting the palms and banana and bamboo on the far shore. A bird chittered noisily somewhere in the middle distance and the roosters, encouraged by the waking day, assembled for their morning chorus. The guttural grunts and snuffles of Doming’s pigs floated by on a lively breeze, thankfully without any accompanying swine odor.

We watched Doming build his pigpen a few months ago, upwind of our little castle, and we were concerned about air currents, and I admit we entertained a few thoughts about midnight raids for bacon on the hoof. But Doming’s house is a few hundred meters from our compound and pig aroma apparently doesn’t travel that far, so we have so far avoided any confrontation with either Doming or his pigs.

It was a bit early for me. The barrio is usually fully awake by the time I drag myself out of bed. But I could hear a familiar squeal somewhere close by, and I knew it was not Doming’s hogs. It was my Sweetie and her wheelbarrow. Peering through the window I could see her out there in the pink morning, broom in hand, sweeping up the leaves in the driveway.

There is a stand of bamboo across the road that is constantly shedding its slender leaves, which float easily into our yard on the slightest breeze and wiggle through even the smallest openings in the fence. Sweeping up is a daily chore, but it’s a sacrifice one has to make in exchange for a life of otherwise comfortable idleness in Paradise. It’s an annoying job, but I am more than willing to watch someone else do it. If it’s not too early. But every squeak of the wheelbarrow seemed a rebuke of my sleeping habits. Plus, it was making me hungry.

When my Sweetie came into the kitchen a half-hour later, pulling off her work gloves and wiping her brow, I had almost finished my breakfast.

“I was just getting ready to give you a hand,” I said. “Are you finished already?” She shot me a loving glance, but didn’t respond.

“By the way,” I said. “We’re running low on peanut butter,” Her non-response seemed a bit louder, so I didn’t press the issue. Peanut butter is important, but so is marital harmony. I could always remind her later.

It turned into another postcard day in Paradise. By afternoon, white cotton candy puffs were floating lazily across a sparkling azure dome, creating moving, undulating shadows over our green-carpeted valley, as I swayed listlessly in my hammock and thought about the good life. It was the Spring Solstice, March 21, and all was well with the world.

We have been receiving reports from the home planet that temperatures back there have finally climbed above zero and that people are beginning to venture outside without the third layer of clothing. This is good news as we are already packing for our return. When I say we are packing, I don’t mean we, of course. I mean my Sweetie who, bless her obsessive-compulsive heart, has already been filling the suitcases, which means for the next six weeks marital harmony will once again be in jeopardy as we find ourselves engaged in those dangerous conversations about the relative merits of packing early vs. easy access to clean underwear. Despite my unassailable logic, I always lose that argument.

My Sweetie leaves nothing to chance. She is obsessed with the fear of forgetting some important item. She is making lists. She will pack and repack dozens of times in the next month and a half, rearranging, redistributing, re-evaluating and then repeating. Somehow socks and underwear always wind up on the bottom. And not always in the same suitcase. It’s like the Price is Right – do I choose door number one or door number two?

“What were you doing in the suitcase?” she will ask. “I had everything arranged.”

“Well, it’s 100 degrees in the shade. I thought I’d take a shower and put on a clean pair of skivvies.”

“But we’ll be leaving in a few weeks. Can’t you wait?”

My Sweetie believes in being prepared for any contingency. She has probably even considered the potential explosion of the sun and the resultant fiery extinction of the entire human race and has packed a tube of burn ointment “just in case.” If the Donner party had consulted her, they would be probably be running their own California winery today.

Whatever doesn’t fit in the suitcases, she stuffs in her hand-carry bag. And this bag is never big enough to allow for all those supplies that we might need if, for instance, the plane has to make a forced landing in the Gobi Desert. Every year she drags me on a ritual shopping trip while she searches for the “perfect” bag to carry her “emergency supplies” on the plane. By “perfect.” She means “large.” Over the years, her hand-carry bag has grown to such outrageous proportions it would be the envy of even a desert nomad. A nomad, I remind you, carries everything he owns, including his house, in his kit. My Sweetie’s bag is larger than my Sweetie. And airports these days very seldom allow access to a forklift.

“Do you have anything to read in your bag?” I ask while we’re waiting for our flight.

“How about a magazine?” she says, rummaging through the various layers in her bag, down through the cosmetic stratum, past the cracker, nut and granola tier, through the various contingency clothing and medical emergency strata, the all-weather hats, the spare sunglasses, the roll of toilet paper (just in case), finally reaching the education and entertainment layer, halfway to the bottom.

“A magazine would be fine,” I say.

“Let me see,” she says. “I’ve got Time, Newsweek, People, Readers Digest, National Geographic, and a few old editions of Colliers.”

“What, no Sports Illustrated?” I ask sarcastically.

“I have one, but it’s last month’s. ”

“I hope you didn’t forget the ticket,” I say. She spends the next half hour frantically excavating through her stuff, but I am only joking; I have the ticket in my pocket. I should know better; she never reacts well to my humor.

 

And so our sojourn in Paradise is winding down and our thoughts are once more turning to our friends back in the States who we always miss during our winters away. We expect you will do your part to clear away all the snow and slush in preparation for our return.

But for the time being, we will try to endure six more weeks of these incessantly balmy days and spectacularly brilliant sunsets. There’s plenty of wine to see us through these grueling final weeks. We’re hanging in there.

 

With love,

Adam and Eve

 

Be sure to read this week’s column at Live in the Philippines

My book “My Philippine Adventures” available on Amazon

– – – – – – – – – –

3-13-15

 

Greetings from Paradise –

 

A gauzy gray mist was eddying up from the slick surface of the river nearly obscuring the jungle underbrush on the distant bank creating an ethereal prehistoric scene straight out of Jurassic Park. From somewhere upriver, the hollow, guttural growl of a carabao floated down on the current and a half-dozen snowy egrets pulled up from the water and winged their way effortlessly into the pewter sky.

 

From my balcony perch I sipped my morning coffee and watched the barrio slowly come to life. A ritual funeral fire was still burning next door, the signal of a death. Lucia, a neighbor, had succumbed two nights ago to a long illness. A small wood fire was immediately set at the end of the path to her house. It is the custom here for a watch-fire to be kept continuously burning during the nine-day wake, intended, it is said, to assist the departing soul on its way to heaven. The family, two adult daughters and a handful of grandchildren, tied the traditional white mourning bands around their heads, which in the old days were worn for twelve months, although people rarely follow that custom today.

 

In the morning, a funeral home from the village sent a van and two men to remove the body from the house and prepare it for burial. The van parked on the road and two young men dressed, unfortunately I thought, in shorts and tee shirts, carried Lucia out on a stretcher, wrapped and tied in a sheet. Dignified customer service, if I can call it that, is not a widely embraced concept around here. But professional funeral services are still new. Perhaps they will, in time, include overly-polite men in black suits who will talk in whispers, but for now the business is still a bit rough around the edges.

 

The next day, Lucia was returned and placed in a flower-decorated and illuminated bower set up in the house, in an open casket where she will remain for another week while neighbors come to pay their respects and her oldest daughter prepares to fly back from Saudi Arabia. The door to the house will remain open and people will come and go at all hours.

 

A few neighborhood men stretched a tarp across the yard. Tables and chairs were rented from the local seniors’ organization and young men started straggling in for the all-night card games that would continue until the burial. The family are expected to provide coffee and small snacks during the wake, probably getting sleep only in brief snatches while the card games continue outside. The tong, a percent of each pot, will be given to the family to help defray the costs. This is that long stretch before the harvest when money is short and people are scratching around for their next meal, so, unfortunately, there are few gamblers with the funds to provide much help for Lucia’s family. Sometimes tables are set up for the women to play Bingo, but not so in this case.

 

Lucia’s family is mostly female, so some of the local men have volunteered to build the pansion, the concrete above-ground sarcophagus where Lucia will finally be laid to rest at the end of the nine-day wake. Lucia’s husband died about eight years ago, which is too recent for Lucia to be buried with him. Traditionally, at least in the remote barrios, the grave is opened ten years after burial and the bones are rearranged to make room for the next arrival. In this case, a new pansyon will have to be made. The casket, I should add, is rented. The body is merely wrapped for burial.

 

The weather in paradise these days is about as perfect as one could hope for – pristine blue skies, low-humidity, sunlit days, refreshing breezes and happy clouds floating overhead. Not a bad place in which to escape another New England winter.

 

About ten years ago, streetlights were installed along our barrio road, a much-appreciated project that changed the character of the place forever. No longer would people retreat to their houses at nightfall. Now they could continue the neighborhood gossip well into the nighttime hours. And gossip whispered in the night is much juicier than ordinary daytime gossip. Truly remarkable, almost unbelievable, tales could be fabricated in dark shadowy front porches, tales that would circulate (and metastasize) for days afterward. The new streetlights, in addition to stimulating far-fetched stories, have also provided additional security.

 

Our current house is located between two of the lights, leaving our front gate, while not completely dark, a bit more obscured than we’d like. It so happens that the barrio officials will install additional lights if the resident will purchase the necessary materials. This we have decided to do. We bought the pole, the bulb and the round glass globe, and contacted the Barrio Captain to put the project in motion.

 

This is not as large a project as you might think. The pole is only a length of galvanized pipe, the globe is a commonplace item around here and, due to the foresight of the original installation crew, the wire feeding the lights is laying on top of the ground, right there in the open. Naturally when they were installing the system, I thought this was evidence of laziness, of incompetent workers not bothering to do the job properly. But I now understand this was a brilliant bit of employment insurance. The exposed wire is regularly broken by vehicles passing over it and often has to be repaired – by the same crew that installed it. Good thinking.

 

So, within a few days, we expect to have an illuminated front gate and probably an illuminated bedroom that will keep us awake and give us one more thing to complain about. Speaking of electric lights, we have experienced three extended power outages this week. Rolling brownouts are a regular occurrence in the Philippines, but three in one week is a bit much, don’t you think? These outages usually last ten or twelve hours, which, in a tropical climate, makes one suspicious of refrigerated leftovers. Maybe tainted food has something to do with my alarmingly bloated body. It’s not my fault: blame that damn power company.

 

In other news, the house has been blessedly quiet since our guests finally drove off to become the guests of someone else. I am now free to scream obscenities, without embarrassment, at the various CNN talking heads (which are, I think, mostly empty). Although I don’t like to admit it, there is a slight possibility that I am becoming a crotchety old man. I have asked my Sweetie if she has seen a recent change, but she seems to think this is not a new phenomenon.

 

With love,

Adam and Eve

 

Read my weekly essay on Live in the Philippines

– – – – – – – – –

3-7-15

 

Greetings from Paradise

 

It doesn’t get any better than this. I swung myself out of the bed a little earlier than is my habit. That is, before my Sweetie made her usual “suggestions” that there were things to do and time’s a-wasting. The bedroom was infused with the rosy glow of a rising sun. A gentle breeze was promising a humidity-free day. The roosters were cheerily greeting the morning with their boisterous chorus and even the neighborhood dogs seemed in an upbeat mood. This was indeed a special day. And making this delightful morning even more delightful, this was Departure Day for our houseguests who had been blessing us with their presence for the past three weeks. Three weeks is a long time. A very long time.

But we are, as you know, gracious and generous hosts and went out of our way to make Pandong and Hulieta’s visit a memorable experience. Not so memorable, of course, that they would want to repeat it anytime soon. But we fed them and gave them a comfortable bed and unrestricted use of the bathroom while we squirmed and waited, desperately trying to avoid an embarrassing accident until they finished their hour-long showers.

The day before, we had experienced another of the annoyingly recurring day-long power outages that plague our little island. At least once a week, but sometimes more often, our little branch of the grid goes down as part of the Rolling Brownout Plan, which, for some reason follows no predictable schedule. We are always caught unawares, usually minutes after the rice cooker has been plugged in for lunch or the cell phone has just demanded the battery be recharged.

And so we woke on Friday morning to a dark house. While the guests slept in, I enjoyed a quiet candlelit breakfast and looked forward to the last day of our little Bed and Breakfast experience. Without power, the water pump becomes merely a mechanical decoration. Water for showers and flushing would have to be carried from the well. And I knew who was the designated waterboy.

Hulieta, the female half of our company, had visited us two years ago, before we had installed running water, so I already knew how much water she needed for a shower. She is a tiny lady, not even five feet tall, and as far as I can tell she’s not particularly dirty. So I was shocked to learn that she requires several hundred gallons of water for a simple morning bath. Despite my new exercise regimen, I am no longer a spring chicken. That’s a lot of water to schlep by the bucket load. Plus five gallons every time someone flushed the toilet, which at our age happens approximately twenty five times a day. And you can’t predict how a senior bladder will react when you’re carrying sixty pound buckets of water. I’m not complaining, though. I’m just saying.

But today is Departure Day and I can finally get the wine back out of hiding. I can finally enjoy a quiet breakfast without getting dragged into another conversation about the extraordinary talents of certain grandchildren, and the benefits of strategically leveraged mutual funds. There are limits to what a good host should have to endure. I passed those limits about two and a half weeks ago. Am I that shallow? Yes, unfortunately I am. But did I mention, they’re leaving? When you come, I promise to behave.

Having two additional mouths to feed had, naturally, resulted in a steady supply of table scraps with which to ingratiate ourselves with the neighborhood dogs. Jon-Ellis and Pilar’s mutts had won the leftover lottery, so my Sweetie went each afternoon with a plastic container full of garbage reeking so badly that the dogs were nearly orgasmic with anticipation and leaped with joyous abandon when my Sweetie approached. Most of these malodorous treats were chicken and fish bones, which every pet care book on the planet advises to keep away from pets. The dogs love it. I cannot explain why these animals do not immediately expire in choking spasms. It is just another of the mysteries of life that keep me in a constant state of confusion.

In other news, the grain heads have appeared in the rice fields and the verdant valley is gradually transforming itself into a tawny patchwork quilt stretched out between the river and the mountains, undulating in the breezes, attracting the attention of enormous swarming flocks of sparrow-like birds that swoop and curve and dive throughout the day like a living windsock gone berserk. Farmers who are the first to bring in the harvest enjoy the highest prices, but suffer the greatest losses from the birds. It’s a tough life.

Working the Rice Field

In another two weeks the harvest will begin in earnest and the barrio will wake from this brief period of inactivity and get to work. The sari-sari stores will be stocking up again with gin and beer. The reapers and threshers and their crews will parade down the road each morning and fan out into the fields in chatty, smoky battalions. The throb of diesel engines will rumble across the valley like the summer hum of giant mechanical insects.

Men and women will go out under a brutal sun to dry the harvest on any available flat surface and day laborers will struggle home with hundred pound sacks on their heads, their share of the work. Overloaded ten-wheel rice trucks will soon be rumbling past the castle and the mills will creak and clank with life, spewing smoke and chaff into the winds. The rice bins will be full, at least for now and the people will celebrate another year of survival. And our thoughts will begin to turn to our other home and our other friends an ocean and a continent away.

But for now, all is well in Paradise.

 

With love,

Adam and Eve

 

Read my weekly essay on Live in the Philippines

– – – – – – – – – – – –

2-28-15

Greetings from Paradise –

 

We have survived another week of the battle for the morning bathroom and our guests have announced that they will be visiting relatives in the distant city of Laoag for the weekend leaving my Sweetie and me alone in the house for two days. We’ll try to manage.

With our guests temporarily away, my Sweetie and I can once again run naked through the house, eat whenever we want and enjoy a quiet breakfast. It’ll be like another honeymoon. I’m joking, of course, about running naked. At my age, I don’t see any reason to run these days. And naked is definitely out of the question – there are mirrors in the house.

This is the time of year when the weather is an absolute delight. The skies are photo quality with soft, dry tropical breezes pushing cotton balls along overhead and scenting the air with he sensuous fragrance of jungle flowers. Disregard my earlier complaints about chilly rains. Paradise has returned.

This is the “dead” time before the harvest. There’s no farm work to be done, and the other odd jobs that help to put rice on the table are few and far between. Most of the barrio men are, therefore, idle, spending their days hanging out in front of the sari-sari stores feeding CDs into their sound systems and entertaining the neighborhood with competing blasts of non-stop disco. Somehow, despite the lack of steady cash income, there always seems to be enough for all-night card games with no limit to the amount of gin that gets consumed. But the weather is great.

I was enjoying a cool afternoon beverage yesterday and listening to the music that drifted on the breeze from Margie’s sari-sari store when Jon-Ellis led his carabao slowly down the road, allowing the animal to meander through the grass, picking his way through an early dinner. The carabao, which Jon-Ellis uncreatively calls Partner, is an impressive animal, about two years old and just now beginning to form the huge muscles and massive horns of an adult. Partner plodded along, taking his time, munching on the grass at the edge of the rice field, and I went down to the road to talk to Jon-Ellis and admire his four legged co-worker.

Jon-Ellis has lately decided to cultivate some facial hair. He’s a good farmer, an excellent farmer in fact, but despite the care and attention he pays to his beard, he just can’t seem to get it to sprout. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has even tried fertilizer. Jon-Ellis is a tall, muscular man, a good looking guy with a quick wit and an easy sense of humor, which, naturally, irritates me and makes me feel pasty and lumpy by comparison. So his failure to grow a decent beard gives me at least a small edge that partially compensates for my choice of Girly Beer. But, despite his good looks, I like Jon-Ellis. We chatted about this and that, in our usual shorthand way with gestures and grunts when a mutually understood word couldn’t be found. Like most rural Filipinos, Jon-Ellis can speak English in a pinch, but he is shy, afraid to make a mistake. I, on the other hand, am so used to making mistakes, I no longer care. Besides, I have a better beard.

Taking advantage of the lull in the rice season, Jon-Ellis has decided to build a small kamarin, a bamboo structure that will house the kuliglig and his few chickens. The roof will be made of labig, a tall tree with a trunk similar in appearance to a coconut tree. The branches, like those of the coconut, project out from the center at the top of the tree. At the end of each slim branch is a fan shaped set of slender leaves. These leaves form a very durable, waterproof roof which is still used on some of the older barrio houses. A labig roof lasts upwards of 25 years. Not even a galvanized steel roof lasts that long. Considering that the more common nipa roof (another kind of leaf) last only 2 or 3 years, labig is a good investment. The only problem is that the labig tree is 50-60 feet tall, and all the leaves are at the top.

Jon-Ellis and the labig gang picked me up in the kuliglg early Saturday morning and we drove down the road to Ricardo’s property, a huge expanse next to the river, a jungle of coconut, banana, bamboo and labig. It was a beautiful clear day, cool in the early morning, with a pleasant breeze coming up from the river. Erning, the climber, strapped a thin chair cushion under his t-shirt, wrapped rags around his forearms, tied a short strap between his bare feet and started shinnying up the first tree. I have an aversion to watching young men plummet to their death, so normally I would not watch this operation. But I take very seriously my responsibility to keep you fully informed, so I planted myself safely out of the way and took notes.

With remarkable skill and considerable speed, Erning scrambled up the tree without difficulty, found a safe perch amid the foliage (and the snakes?), withdrew his sharpened bolo from his scabbard and began to hack. Immediately heavy labig branches began raining down and landing with a thump and a whoosh on the jungle floor. When the rain stopped, Erning slid swiftly down the trunk like a fire fighter in a hurry, while the rest of the crew moved in, counted the branches into piles and schlepped them out of the woods to the waiting kuliglig. Having done my duty for you, my dear reader, I made my exit, hoping Erning would survive the day. He still had ten more trees to scale before his job was done, for which he would split 500 pesos, about $12 with his two co-workers. Even you couldn’t watch that, could you?

DSC03197

 

As February slides quickly away, we are reminded that it will be only a matter or weeks when our sojourn in Paradise will come to an end and we will be on our way back to the home planet, where we fervently hope the snow will have melted and the robins will have returned. I also hope the roto-tiller will have finally died a rusty death. Garden vegetables are highly over rated, don’t you think? And I wish you’d relate that wisdom to my Sweetie.

The end of February also brings to mind the birthday of my Uncle Charlie, who technically doesn’t have a birthday this year, having been born on February 29, on a Leap Year. By my calculations, my dear old uncle is officially not quite 22 years old. But I don’t think he would be offended if you said he was 87 years young. Happy Birthday, Charlie. Wish we could be there to help you celebrate.

Well, this Chronicle is a mighty thin offering, but there doesn’t seem to be anything important to report in this issue. If it makes you folks in New England feel better, it’s going to get uncomfortably hot around here pretty soon, so we, too, have to deal with nasty weather just like you. Well, maybe not JUST like you, but we’ll be uncomfortable on some afternoons. But there’s plenty of Girly Beer.

 

With love,

Adam and Eve

Read my weekly post at Live in the Philippines

 

– – – – – – – – – – – –

2-21-15

 

Greetings from Paradise –

 

Mornings these days are a delight for the senses here in Paradise. The blood red sun oozing up across the river casts a cheery pink glow on the barrio and even the late-night drunks are feeling mellow as they stagger home in the dim morning. Soft breezes slip along the contours of the balcony where I take my morning coffee and watch the world come awake.

Downstairs, our delightful guests are stirring noisily, flooding the bathroom with a misdirected shower spray, dropping wet towels on the furniture, and grumbling that they didn’t sleep well and they’re hungry, and why aren’t there any Cheerios. Unfortunately the balcony is surrounded by grillwork, so it’s impossible to fling myself off to the driveway below. So I drain my cup, glue on a phony smile and drag myself down to join them while my Sweetie, bless her heart, trails after them with a broom and a mop.

Years ago, when we were young and foolish, we played with the idea of opening a Bed and Breakfast. On days like this, I’m thankful we never wandered naively into that dismal swamp. We love having company in theory, and you are invited to visit any time you wish. But you are better behaved than this, aren’t you?

I realize, of course, that it is in poor taste to publicly criticize our guests, so I will refrain from going further into the gory details. Well, I will relate one incident. Our bathroom sink has a faucet that, like virtually every faucet in the known world, must be turned to permit the water to flow. Sometimes faucets should be tilted upward, but the concept is the same: a simple twist and the water comes out. But apparently back in the home territory of our guests, turning on the water is a test of strength. The morning after they arrived, I found the decapitated faucet on the bathroom shelf and a look of feigned innocence pasted on our visitors’ faces as they studiously avoided eye contact. “Who, me? Is the coffee ready?”

OK, so accidents can happen to anyone if they accidentally yank on the faucet as if they were trying to uproot an oak tree. I shouldn’t judge. I am not without sin. I was once trapped in a strange bathroom for more than an hour and I had almost completely dismantled the doorknob with the host’s toothbrush before I discovered that the door actually opened the other way. But buying replacement hardware in this booniest of boonies, where Home Depot might as well be a Martian outpost, is not a simple proposition. The nearest suitable faucet available for purchase is 100 miles away. I am, as you know, a happy go lucky doofus, content in my own little fantasy world. But I get grouchy when I am forced to face the harsh realities of life. Spending an entire day away from my hammock, searching for a faucet in the big city is not a recreational outing for me.

But there was a bit of good news that brightened our day. Pandong and Hulieta, our guests, announced that they would be departing within a fortnight to take a brief sightseeing jaunt around the island. Things were definitely looking up. I was already reaching for the celebratory wine when they revealed their intention to return at the end of their tour for another extended visit. Oh, goody. This gives us only a brief interlude during which we can make our escape. Our PR policy is to never grumble in front of the guests, but this policy does not preclude us from hightailing it at the first opportunity.

I am joking, of course. We love having these guests sharing our private space, taking up semi-permanent residence in the bathroom, and chatting about the maladies of old age several hours past our bedtime. The longer they stay, the better we like it. No, really, we’re having a great time. Maybe they’ll accidentally shatter the toilet and make our long trip to the city worthwhile.

But let me be serious for a moment – too much seriousness gives me a headache so I’ll be brief – Pandong turned out to be a delightful conversationalist, well versed in current events and sharing a political philosophy similar to mine, which is rarely encountered outside a psychiatric institution or an off-the-grid survivalist compound. So if you happen to run into him some day, there’s no point in mentioning this column; he may be unpredictable, probably armed. Let’s just leave this between us.

There are, of course, other things happening in the barrio that might interest those of you who are not particularly fascinated by the soap opera-ish quality of guest relations. Jon-Ellis and Junior have spent the past week, in between rain showers, constructing a pugon, a barbecue pit, at the edge of the patio. Well, barbecue pit doesn’t do it justice. This concrete monster stands fourteen feet high with a fire pit roomy enough to accommodate half a cow. It’s a mammoth structure. Perhaps it’s large enough to accommodate a self-immolation. I’m kidding again.

The pugon was constructed in the traditional style still seen on some of the older barrio houses, a five-foot square base that contains the fire pit, with an enclosed chimney that gradually tapers as it rises more than three meters, capped with a flat roof. There are smoke holes on each side of the chimney that create, we hope, a draft strong enough to draw all the smoke up and out the top and into the neighbor’s yard. The whole structure is finished with a gray stucco coat. It’s a very attractive design and I have long admired the few pugons that still remain along our road. I am very excited to have one of our very own. I will let you know when the pig is ready for his date with destiny.

Simayung Pugon 2015

 

The valley is lush these days with the new rice stretching far to the western mountains like an emerald blanket. The harvest will begin in a few weeks and from all appearances will be a good one. It is a delight to rise early on these balmy mornings, houseguests notwithstanding, and watch the new day rise rosily over the river as I sit with my coffee and contemplate the good life in our tropical getaway, far from the stresses, and the snow, of the home planet. We wish you could come by for a visit. You could bring a spare faucet.

 

With love,

Adam and Eve

See this week’s post at Live in the Philippines

 

– – – – – – – – – – –

2-15-15

 

Greetings from Paradise –

 

It wasn’t a great day for a long drive to the city. It had been raining all week and on Monday morning it was still coming down with mucho gusto at six o’clock when we boarded the family coach and set out into the heavy mist that obscured the barrio road and reduced visibility to fifty feet. At six o’clock most of the barrio is already awake. Men in their blue rain suits walked along the wet road, invisible in the dark. I don’t like to drive in the dark, but add blinding sheets of rain and I’m a nervous wreck. Creeping down that narrow road, dodging pedestrians, dogs and chickens (all of which should have stayed in bed) was a puckering challenge.

At the end of the barrio road is the main highway, so-called because it is the national road, not because it is an actual highway. It is a cemented, fairly narrow road that circles the island of Luzon. At the southern end of this loop, near Manila, the road is much wider, even four lanes wide at some points, but no less congested.

I turned left onto the main road, picking up speed across a small bridge where I immediately encountered a tricycle parked in the center of the road, without lights. A collective gasp went forth from my passengers and my gluteus maximus muscles clutched at my seat while I made a desperate maneuver to avoid the collision. This was not a good start. Almost all traffic accidents are out of pocket settlements. When one of the drivers is an American, it is generally assumed that the pockets are very large.

Defensive driving in this interesting country is an alien concept. If you are familiar with the road, the thinking goes, why bother to turn on your lights? Very few vehicles use headlights. Here in these booniest of boonies, tractors, tricycles, bicycles, and motorbikes travel without lights along unlit narrow roads. And a lot of this traffic moves very slowly. It’s an interesting obstacle course. Imagine you’re tooling nervously along when out of the mist dead ahead looms a bus coming fast without lights, in your lane, passing a man on a carabao who is lit only by the soft glow of his cigarette. There is no shoulder, only a ditch. Even Brian Williams would see no need to exaggerate that. We always travel with a 2-ply, thousand sheet roll of toilet paper.

So for the first hour we dodged and wove and hoped for the best, finally arriving at the Magapit Bridge without serious incident, except for a few near misses. By that time, the sky had gone from deep black to a charcoal gray, but the rain persisted as we pointed the chariot southward toward Tuguegarao.

This trip was not exactly a pleasant ride in the country. We were ferrying Auring and Rolando to the Provincial Capitol to renew their gun license, which, in this heavily bureaucratic country, is not a routine exercise. In the Philippines, guns are very strictly controlled – in theory. I’m fairly certain illegal guns far outnumber the legal ones. But officially, even owning a shotgun entails an obstacle course of permits and approvals from petty bureaucrats who can arbitrarily throw up a roadblock or “suggest” the application of a little palm grease.

Licenses have to be renewed every four years and include: A birth certificate, two photos, a Certificate of Residence, approval of the Barrio Captain, approval of the local police, approval of the municipal trial court, approval of the regional trial court, a comprehensive background check by National Bureau of Investigation, a written examination and a firing range test. Each of these steps costs money. It has occurred to me that the government might be trying to discourage gun ownership, but maybe I’m just cynical.

The weather in Tuguegarao was, thankfully, bright and dry, and I had no problem worming my way slowly through the teeming swarms of tricycles, finally snagging a spot in the underground parking garage on Bonifacio Street, where my Sweetie dragged me into the mini-mall for some shopping. There was nothing that I needed in the hardware store, but there is a bakery/cafeteria and, in the interest of my ongoing cultural research, I purchased a few samples of Philippine snacks and found an empty table where I could conduct my cultural investigation in comfort while my Sweetie shopped. I investigated through several sweet coconut rolls and a large ice tea, and by the time the Sweet One arrived with her purchases I felt quite scholarly. Also quite bloated.

The gang was eventually rounded up and we motored to the outskirts of the city, across from the airport, to our favorite all-you-can-eat restaurant, the Kuzina Ilocano, where I watched in fascination as our guests ate up twice their body weight in food. I admit that my self-discipline vanishes when I sit down for lunch, but these rail-thin folks can quite easily browse through a buffet with more efficiency than a swarm of 100-year locusts. It’s truly inspiring.

By the time we reached the Magapit Bridge on the way back, the rain was again assaulting us and we were zigzagging through the mist, hoping to arrive home safely. Which we did, just in time for dinner.

On Wednesday, we woke to a cheery red glow in the east and the promise of a delightfully warm, dry day. Hallelujah! But then I realized: this was the day when our houseguests would arrive. These are the guests that I mentioned in an earlier epistle – the guests that had promised to stay with us for as long as two months. We are, of course, good hosts, and there was no practical way to move all our stuff to a distant city, so when they banged on the door, peered in the windows and banged some more, we finally turned on the lights and greeted them with a welcoming smile.

“Oh,” I said, peering through the screen door, “It’s Pandong and Hulieta. What a surprise!”

“We’ve been e-mailing you for weeks,” said Pandong a little too testily.

“Oh, really?”

“And we texted you three times today.” Pandong seemed a little miffed for some reason. “There are mosquitoes out here,” he grumbled. “Would you mind opening the door?” He sounded irritated. Probably getting senile. I unlatched the door and allowed our guests to file in with their suitcases. They had a lot of suitcases.

I don’t want to create the impression that we don’t love having company (you’re invited any time), but isn’t two months a bit too much? On the other hand, how bad can it be? I’ll keep you posted.

 

With love,

Adam and Eve

Check out my weekly post at Live in the Philippines

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2-7-15

 

Greetings from Paradise –

 

We are sitting once again under a drippy blanket of saturated clouds that is making a soggy mess of the barrio. As I write, the rain has been giving us a non-stop dousing for more than 24 hours straight. We don’t have to shovel it, but that doesn’t make it any less miserable. The river has risen several feet and, though there’s no imminent danger of flooding, it is gradually grinding away at the banks.

A “river control” project was started a couple of years ago, the construction of a retaining wall that would guard against further erosion. But, like most public projects in this very interesting island nation, it contributed more to the inebriation of the construction crew than to the integrity of the riverbank. Very soon after the project began, the crew discovered that there was a midnight market for cement, the sales of which provided more than enough cash for a continuous party. The party is now over, the project has been abandoned, and the retaining wall remains unfinished until the governor has to pay off another contributor by hiring a few of his relatives. Thank goodness this sort of thing can’t happen in the U.S.

But here we sit, confined to the house, staring woefully out the window at the downpour. But it’s not as though the rain is interfering with my regular work. On the average day I’m as likely to work as I am to sprout a second head. This is Paradise after all and I’m taking advantage of every lazy minute. But I am, I assure you, still faithfully getting in my daily exercise, as long as it’s not raining, or there’s nothing important on the TV or it isn’t too hot, or my arthritis isn’t acting up. But once in a while it would be nice to gaze at a blue sky and wandering cotton ball clouds pushed along on fragrant breezes. This cloud gazing comprises a most delicious part of my day, best enjoyed from the comfort of a swaying hammock with a refreshing Girly Beer close at hand. But it’s no fun when it’s raining.

Earlier this week, Rolando, my Sweetie’s niece’s husband, celebrated his 62nd birthday with a small, intimate gathering at his house. I am not a big fan of birthday parties past the age of fifty. What’s the point? Past the age of fifty, nobody particularly cares how old you are; they just want to know if it’s an open bar.  And the Happy Birthday greetings, in my experience, are usually accompanied by some remark about how much weight you’ve gained or how much hair you’ve lost.

But here in Paradise, no birthday goes un-celebrated with a fifty-five gallon drum of pancit and some kind of dessert. In this case, the dessert was ramona, a kind of sweet semi-solid pudding infused with a sprinkling of corn kernels. This, despite that description, is quite good. Corn, as I have mentioned before, is not a vegetable in this alternate universe; it is a fruit.

Rolando is a farmer like everyone else around here, but he has a side-business as a DJ, providing the music for weddings, debuts and other parties. He has some very sophisticated electronic equipment, a huge collection of CDs and a dozen speakers the size of U-Haul moving vans. All this equipment was pressed into service, crammed into Rolando’s garage and cranked to its fullest capacity. The men gathered in a circle, the community gin cup was passed around, and Rolando plugged in the karaoke microphone. The garage is constructed of cement, not the best acoustics for bellowing drunks who may have forgotten the tune, but compensate by increasing the volume.

It is one of my hard and fast rules that when the karaoke starts, it’s time to head for the exit. We wished Rolando another sixty-two years of good health and got out of there.

We have taken on a project: building a barbecue pit, which we are erecting at the edge of the back patio. I say “we” but, of course, I don’t actually mean we. Jon-Ellis and Junior have been enlisted to do the job. Jon-Ellis allegedly has experience with this kind of construction. It will be a rather elaborate affair, capable of roasting a small pig, with a fire pit more than a meter square and a chimney rising more than twelve feet, tall enough to carry the smoke away from the house and into the neighbor’s yard. A few days ago the sky was suddenly (but very briefly) clear and the two workers managed to get a good start on the structure. A couple more dry days of work and you may come to the lighting off ceremony. You may bring the pig.

As I mentioned in my last epistle, we are expecting company in a few days, five houseguests who may stay as long a two months and I’m beginning to think may expect to be fed. My Sweetie is thrilled about this. Ever since we got the good news that they have booked their airline reservations, my Sweetie has been pacing nonstop and talking to herself, probably reminding herself how much fun she is going to have. How much can five people eat in eight weeks?

 

With love,

Adam and Eve

See my recent post on Live in the Philippines

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1-31-15

 

Greetings from Paradise –

 

Things are exceptionally quiet in the barrio this week. A stretch of soggy weather swept through the valley last week that kept most of us hunkered down, but a cheery tropical sun is once again blessing us with azure skies and just-right temperatures. The rice has been planted and the vegetable fields are being plowed. Farmers are watching the sky, anxious to get the seeds in the ground before the rains return.

Taking advantage of the momentary dryness, Pilar, a neighborhood friend, has been tending to the grounds around our castle, pulling weeds and planting endless rows of peanuts. Peanuts make a good ground cover crop and an excellent accompaniment to a couple of late afternoon Girly Beers. Our mini-estate is beginning to resemble a tropical plantation. The perimeter wall is flanked by papaya and marunggay trees and even a few dragon fruit cacti are crawling up the cement. Almost every square meter of ground is supporting healthy, green vegetation, including coconuts, bananas and even a decorative pineapple plant. I am an eager volunteer in this farming business, though I concentrate my efforts, not in the dirty, sweaty part of the process, but in the knife and fork end. I am proud to do my part.

I am happy to report that I have faithfully followed through on my New Year’s resolution to exercise. Each day if it’s not drizzling, I pull on my Keds and walk for as long as I can before lightheadedness and burning lungs force me to find a place to sit down. My Sweetie assures me the nausea will eventually pass, so I’m sticking to it.

I have, of course, become an object of neighborhood curiosity, possibly ridicule, as I plod doggedly in endless circles in the yard. This is considered odd behavior where people walk only to get from one place to another, not for self-torture. Passersby seem captivated by the sight, and unselfconsciously stop to stare. The school children shout “good afternoon Lolo,” as they pass, trying no doubt to see if I am still capable of speech without collapsing altogether.

My Sweetie, as you know, puts in a vigorous forty-five minutes of walking each morning. But she does this under cover of darkness, well before the barrio is awake. She does not make a public spectacle of herself.

But I have to admit that I am already beginning to feel the effects. I sleep much better, and more often. My appetite has improved, though I admit, an improved appetite isn’t necessarily a plus. But I will persevere. The next time you see me, you won’t recognize me. Perhaps my hair will grow again and those annoying age spots will fade.

In other news, Jon-Ellis and I boarded the kuliglig the other day for an impromptu inspection tour of the irrigation road. The authorities have announced that as early as next summer the irrigation canal will be closed for repairs – possibly for as long as a year. I had never ventured out to the canal and wanted to see what it looked like.

Irrigation water for our part of the valley snakes down from Mount Lambayo, about 30 kilometers to our south, through a narrow man-made canal about fifteen feet wide that winds through rice land, finally terminating at the Babuyan Channel in the north. At intervals along its course there are gates that control the north-south flow, and “outlet” gates that can be opened to flood the rice fields when water is needed.

A narrow dirt road parallels the canal, providing access for farm vehicles and animals. It is an apparently neglected path, rutted, muddy and hard to traverse in a kuliglig, which is not exactly a smooth ride in the first place. There are springs on the kuliglig wagon, but they are designed to carry more than a ton of rice. I admit to being the subject of whispered criticism by our scrawny neighbors, but I have not yet reached the point where the springs would react to my presence. Jon-Ellis piloted the kuliglig along this hazardous route while I bounced vigorously around in the trailer, trying desperately to maintain my balance to avoid being thrown overboard.

Cows and carabao were grazing contentedly along the road, standing immovably in the dirt, munching the greenery along the edge. They were not inclined to let us pass without a few threats from my driver, after which the animals would grudgingly give up just enough ground to let us squeeze by.

Through some complicated scheme that escapes my understanding, farmers are charged a nominal fee for their use of the water. The outlet gate is opened and gravity takes over. Obviously, not all farmers’ land abuts the canal, so water must flow through perhaps several fields to reach those plots at the outer reaches of the valley. In a land where people are very sensitive to perceived injustices, it’s remarkable that there are so few arguments about water.

 

In other news, we have received notice from a few of Sweetie’s relatives in the States that they (a group of five people) will be visiting us in two weeks, intending to stay for as long as two months. We are, needless to say, extremely pleased and excited to feed and house this gang for SIXTY DAYS!, three of whom are reported to have special dietary requirements.

Sweetie, the designated chef, is already trembling with delighted anticipation. With luck, they will turn out to be conversationalists who enjoy talking far into the night. It has gotten to be such a bore getting to bed at a reasonable hour. I have already located a secure place to hide the wine and am now considering burying the peanut butter in the backyard until our company leaves. It’s hard work being a considerate host.

But, until the arrival of the gang, the castle is quiet and the lazy days stretch out in sun drenched tropical beauty. And before the wine is locked away, we pass the evenings on the balcony, toasting to a happy future and watching the rosy sky slip softly down behind the mountains. Life is good, for the next two weeks at least.

 

With love,

Adam and Eve

 

Check out my weekly blog at http://www.liveinthephilippines.com

 

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1-24-15

 

Greetings from Paradise –

 

 

A drenching rain was falling bleakly on the barrio this week, a thrashing, thumping downpour that kept me confined to the house fervently hoping it would stop soon so I could get out there for my daily exercise routine. That’s a joke, of course; there is no flame of unbridled enthusiasm for sweaty exertion burning in my bosom. Though I have, in fact, started walking most days in a belated attempt to shed a few kilos, any excuse to skip a day is welcome.

So I took my coffee up to the balcony and watched the sad, trudging parade of farmers on their way to work, each encased in a blue rain suit. Up here in the northern barrios, the foul weather gear is a blue plastic rain suit. All the rain suits are blue. On wet days, it’s like a gathering of the Blue Man Group. Last year, one local resident received a yellow rain suit, a gift from his daughter working in Canada and was threatened with shunning by his neighbors for acting “high headed.”

I am a lazy bloke so I don’t normally venture out on drizzly days unless there is the possibility of getting food, but several years ago we were constructing a new house and I needed to keep .an eye on progress, and that meant I occasionally had to go out in the rain. But there came a time when I was the main attraction in an embarrassing and very public episode in which I sank up to my knees in the mud while toting my Sweetie’s pink-flowered umbrella, an unfortunate event in which the work crew was a jeering witness.

In a desperate attempt to salvage what was left of my pride, I decided it was time to ditch the bumbershoot and purchase my own rain suit. This might, I thought, get me accepted as just one of the guys and might even offset some of their snide remarks about my preference for Girly Beer.

The rain suit consists of a hooded jacket and an elastic-waisted pair of trousers. The rubbery material feels insufficiently cured and I suspect it may be toxic. I don’t know what it’s made of but I think someone should find out what the Chinese are doing with their nuclear waste. The material may even be treated with chemicals to keep it from glowing in the dark.

The largest size garment available in the Philippines is labeled “Large” but this is a relative term. Large in the local context actually means “Small.” I admit to being a generously proportioned fellow, but back on the home planet I can squeeze myself into any article of clothing marked “large.” Except large hats, which are not quite roomy enough to accommodate my oversized ego. But large clothing suits me fine. I was for years an extra-large guy, a frequent customer at the Husky and Busty Discount Outlet. But as I waddle further into old age, my upper body, through years of neglect, has begun to slide southward. It’s the furniture disease, as the old joke goes – My chest has fallen into my drawers. A few years ago, as I walked shirtless from the house, my Sweetie’s niece make this kind observation: “Uncle, you have beautiful white breasts.” These days I don’t even take my shirt off to shower.

Large, in this, my adopted country, is a tight fit, but I felt I had no choice. It was either carry an unmanly umbrella or get a rain suit. The general merchandise shop in our small village always has a display of blue rain suits hanging across the storefront keeping the road dust out of the store and perhaps killing insects. I selected the biggest one and squirmed into the jacket. The clingy, rubbery material immediately sucked itself tightly to my body like a wet shower curtain and I had the distinct feeling it was already chemically bonding with my skin cells. The elasticized trousers, which ended just above my ankles, were tight across my waist but would probably be serviceable if I didn’t bend over.

And so the next time it rained, I strolled casually to the job site, just another one of the blue-suited guys. I fit right in. The suit was completely waterproof. Not a drop of moisture could penetrate that slimy, toxic material. Nor, I discovered, could one drop of moisture escape. It was like a sauna in there. Within minutes I was gasping for breath. I ripped the jacket off and flung it aside to let the rain sluice off any residual radioactivity that might still be clinging to my body while I tried to suck in enough air to keep me alive. How, I wondered, could people work in these things?

Yet the work crew was happily toiling away, mixing cement and laying blocks without any apparent ill effects. It was inexplicable. After such a short time trapped in that suffocating garment I was already lightheaded and unable to focus my eyes. I had to sit down. That’s when the seat of the pants blew out. I needed to get rid that hazardous suit before someone else got hurt.

In the barrio, the preferred method of trash disposal, including radioactive blue rain suits, is by public burning. Every barangay house has its smoldering backyard fire pit, which is used to periodically send plumes of poisonous black smoke through the neighbor’s windows. Nobody seems to complain about this invasion of privacy and threat to public safety. They just light their own retaliatory fires. Back in the States, throwing that toxic material on a fire would result in immediate arrest and incarceration, which, incidentally, would be preferable to wearing the suit.

I have acquired a black umbrella now, but when the rains come I can always find something to do indoors.

 

With love,

Adam and Eve

 

Read my weekly post at Live in the Philippines

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1-17-15

 

Greetings from Paradise

 

Things are quiet these days in our sleepy little barrio and I find myself whiling away the afternoons thinking about fatty food. We have reached that point in our sojourn in Paradise when I start obsessing about eating some decadent, artery-clogging American-style food.

My Sweetie, as many of you know, is a gourmet cook. I love her cooking, which is always elegantly and deliciously prepared, but her menu consists of healthy choices, nothing that will stick to a fat man’s ribs or satisfy his craving for mega-calories. I am on the upper side of roly-poly, but I can’t depend on her cooking to maintain my beltline bulge. For that I must continue my extracurricular, between-meals snacking, which is sort of like my hobby.

But here in our tiny love nest in the Pacific, surrounded by green leafy veggies and disgustingly healthy food, I am in danger of losing too much weight. Sure, the danger is small; I am, after all, a professional fatso. And, given the starting poundage, a drop of a dozen kilos wouldn’t even be noticeable. But I have a lifetime membership in the Chubby Chaps Club and an image to uphold. I must be alert for disappearing body fat.

Compounding my problem is the “What Was I Thinking” promise that I made only last week, a New Year’s resolution to embark on an exercise program to rejuvenate my aging heart. But exercising on an empty stomach can’t be good for you. There’s a very fine line between maintaining a healthy heart and retaining my adorable pear shape, a physique I once heard someone refer to as “biscuit-ous.” Guilty as charged your honor.

But there always comes a time, about two to three months after leaving the home planet, when I gaze into my healthy stir-fry dinner and start dreaming of greasy pepperoni and cheese, with oil running down my chin. I often wake in the dark with a saliva-soaked pillow and an urgent need to get myself quickly to a Pizza Hut. The nearest Pizza Hut is a three and a half hour drive, but do I have a choice? I am compelled to maintain my high calorie intake. Obesity is in my genes – and also in my jeans

I needed to convince my Sweetie that the long trip was necessary. I thought perhaps I could make a plausible case that the odometer in the car needed a frequent workout and a drive to the city was sure to get that old odometer humming like new. (“Hmmm, it’s lunchtime. Where do you think we should eat? Oh, there’s a Pizza Hut on the next block.”)

There have been rumors that a Chow King restaurant is being built in our little village. Chow King restaurants are ubiquitous in the Philippines. I have never eaten in a Chow King restaurant – it sounds too much like Choking – but if they serve fatty food I’m certainly up for it. Perhaps they issue membership cards. At any rate, this Chow King will not be opening for many months, much too much time for me to wait.

So I tried the odometer ploy and was rewarded with a pitying shake of my Sweetie’s adorable head and that look that says, “Nice try, Pedro.” But she agreed to a trip to Aparri as a compromise. Aparri doesn’t have a Pizza Hut, but it does have a Jolibee restaurant where they serve cheeseburgers. It’s not real cheese and it might not be real hamburger, but I was desperate.

Dark, threatening clouds hovered over northern Luzon as we sped toward Aparri on Saturday morning. The family coach was packed to the gunwales, as usual, with family and friends, leaving precious little space for any purchases we might make. But all I wanted was a fat-filled lunch; everyone else was on their own as far as I was concerned.

I have described the town of Aparri in earlier Chronicles. It is a small town with approximately three tricycles for each inhabitant, and they are all in front of you blocking the street, picking up or dropping off passengers, or just sitting there getting ready to pull out in front of you. I believe there are insurance adjusters posted at each intersection. We threaded our way through the zipping, darting, smoke-belching tricycles and hoped for the best, miraculously finding a parking space in front of the Grand Hardware emporium. Aparri central is so small, you can walk from one side to the other in about five minutes, which makes one wonder why there are so many tricycles. I have long ago given up trying to fit square pegs into the round holes of Philippine culture. I just try to enjoy it as it is. I figure in a few years I will be completely senile anyway so I might as well get used to being confused.

Saturday is open market day in Aparri, a day when farmers from outlying districts bring their produce into the city and spread their wares across the broad expanse of concrete set aside for the market. People throng down the narrow paths between vendors, bargaining for fruit, fish and vegetables, brooms and plastic containers, all the roots and leaves that make up the Philippine diet. Covered stalls, noticeably without refrigeration, offer whole chickens and cuts of pork. One vendor shouts “Hey Joe,” and offers me a good deal on what she says is a chunk of beef. I stop to chat in my usual halting way, using all three of the Ilocano words I know. I tell her my Sweetie will be along later. The sights and smells and the loud bickering for bargains make a walk through the open market a delight for all the senses.

My passengers spread out in different directions under the dark sky to make their purchases. No one brought an umbrella, so we hoped the rain would hold off. I left the group and went for an early lunch. I just couldn’t help myself. I ate what was, according to the advertising, a cheeseburger with bacon and mushrooms, neither of which flavor was detectable. But it was greasy, so it served the purpose. A mango “pie” the size of a credit card and a cup of powdered coffee topped it off and I tried to convince myself that the three-hour roundtrip was worth it.

A round of Girly Beers with the guys on our return was a fitting cap to our Saturday adventure, and it helped to cut through some of that burger grease that was beginning to congeal in my stomach. Now it’s back to healthy eating. I suppose I’ll survive.

 

With love,

Adam and Eve

Read my weekly column at Live in the Philippines

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1-10-14

 

Greetings from Paradise –

 

Ah, a post-holiday peace has descended on our little barrio. The stream of unexpected guests has dwindled down to a mere trickle and we no longer have to pretend not to be home. Once again we can enjoy quiet meals without hearing the rattling of the gate and someone shouting for our attention. The children are back in school and their holiday noisemakers are blessedly silent. As if to emphasize the return to the calm normality that makes our little love nest so enjoyable, the sun has burst forth again, banishing, at least for the non, the monsoon rains. It remains seasonably cool, necessitating a long sleeve shirt, but nighttime slumber is oh, so delicious.

My Sweetie’s delicate system has been invaded by a sneezing, coughing head cold and, though it has not interfered with her daily pre-dawn workout, is very uncomfortable. I feel sorry for her. But she has promised to share her affliction with me as a token of her love. Bless her.

It may be too early to tell, but the New Year doesn’t seem much different than the old year. The barrio ushered in 2015 with less enthusiasm than in years past, with fewer fireworks and less obvious inebriation than we’re used to. There were no fights and no accidents.

Several years ago, Ambot, one of the local sots, and his nephew got down to some serious imbibing on Christmas night and kept it going until New Year’s Eve when, at about 2:00 a.m. they ran out of gin. These two staggering doofi mounted Ambot’s motorcycle and went off into the night in search of a sari-sari store that was still open.

The barrio had gone to sleep, the last firecracker had terrified the last dog and my Sweetie and I were slumbering peacefully when Ambot and his companion came weaving back down the dark road carrying a case of beer. I vaguely heard the approaching motorbike, but was jerked instantly awake by the sound of it coming to a not-too-graceful stop. Apparently the whole barrio heard the crash and nighgowned and pajama-ed people flowed out of their houses to take in the spectacle.

Ambot had lost control of the speeding bike, careened off the road and mowed down a line of five or six fence posts. The series of impacts with the posts was bad enough, but it was a barbed wire fence and the two witless riders, though miraculously saved from a thorough flaying, were wrapped tightly with the wire and leaking profusely from several punctures. But they were alive and sufficiently inebriated that they were not yet aware of what had just happened. When I arrived on the scene, Ambot and his nephew were bathing in a pool of beer, blood and broken bottles. Only two bottles survived.

With some difficulty, the two daredevils were extracted from their barbed wire gift-wrapping and after someone patched up the larger holes, they limped off to Ambot’s house to consume the last two beers. To this day, Ambot carries an attractive line of souvenir puncture scars, but seems none the less for wear.

This year, there was one new wrinkle to add to the New Year enjoyment: a kind of painfully loud toy horn has appeared in the local shops, no doubt part of some communist plot, and has been put in the hands of too many large-lunged urchins by their unthinking parents. These kids, who seem to obey no curfew rules, parade up and down the barrio road at all hours blasting those infernal horns with enough intensity to defoliate the bushes. Imagine a large, aging man slipping ungracefully toward the ugly edge of incontinence, idling away the afternoon in delicious slumber in the balcony hammock, when one of these horn-wielding tykes stealthily approaches the house and suddenly blasts the paint off the gate. I have so far avoided embarrassment, but I have only a limited supply of underwear. And it’s not doing my heart any good either.

Speaking of my heart, I have decided that 2015 will be the year I resume the exercise regimen that I put on temporary hold seven or eight years ago. My Sweetie has been dropping subtle hints lately about my girth, like “Do you miss the rest of your pod?” Sadly, she may have a point (a very sharp point); even my hats are getting tight (but that might be a symptom of another, less physical, more psychological problem.) At any rate, maybe it’s time to get up and get out.

I have never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. It’s bad enough that I write with such outlandish exaggeration, stretching the truth several kilometers past the breaking point; I don’t need to lie to myself too. But I really do need some exercise. And putting a stop to my Sweetie’s hurtful comments will be a pleasant relief.

My Sweetie exercises daily, pacing briskly in a wide circle each morning for forty-five minutes. This type of aerobic exercise is very good for the heart, but obviously too much work for someone in an advanced state of neglect, so I have decided to start slowly with short walks and gradually work my way up to longer workouts of up to ten or twelve minutes. If I stick with it and make exercise part of my daily routine, I should be able, in a year or two, to discard the large baggy warm-up pants and the poncho that comprise my regular wardrobe.

We all understand that maintaining good health requires making smart choices. Unfortunately, the good choices are also the most painful choices. For instance, how do you determine which foods are healthy and which are not? I think you will agree with me that the better the food tastes, the worse it is for your health. Am I not right? The same thing applies to exercise; the more painfully intrusive the workout, the better its beneficial effects.

Eating and drinking in moderation, getting regular exercise, watching your weight, getting lots of sleep: these things are likely to lead to a long, healthy life. Hardly worth living, but long. Well, getting lots of sleep sounds like a good idea.

But I have more or less committed to an exercise regime that will, eventually, get me back on the road to robust health. If I survive this crazy scheme, I shall keep you informed of my progress. Perhaps I will post a series of shirtless selfies on Facebook.

 

With love,

Adam and Eve

 

Read my weekly column on Live in the Philippines

 

 

 

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1-3-14

 

Greetings from Paradise –

 

It’s soggy and cool in Paradise today and a light blanket was put to good use last night. We’re wearing flannel shirts and complaining about the frigid temperatures, which are in the low 70s. Not exactly goose-bumpish weather, I admit, but it’s all relative.

The New Year’s Eve celebrations were quite subdued this year. In the past, the deployment of explosives was limited only by the imaginations of the most reckless barrio residents, who had only two specifications for celebratory ordinance: it must be loud and it must be smoky. Bombs (fireworks is too puny a word to describe these dangerous weapons) and other flaming projectiles would be launched, tossed, rolled and dropped alarmingly close to passing vehicles or gamboling children, exploding with glass-shattering intensity and blasts of white-hot sparks. Some of the children would rush to salvage unexploded cherry bombs and larger ordinance that failed to detonate, and try to re-ignite the fuses. I worried that it would be only a matter of time before there would be a terrible accident or even a fatality.

Fortunately, at least in our barrio, there have been no limbs lost, but we have heard stories of such incidents in other places. So this year barrio officials throughout the valley have finally decided to limit, or ban altogether, the use of the more dangerous explosives. This is good news.

So, compared to years past, the New Year was ushered in less boisterously and less dangerously. And, as an added benefit, we members of the Codger Club were able to observe our usual bedtime and sleep soundly through the night – except for the pee runs every two hours. I know it’s my bedtime when my Sweetie takes the remote from my limp fingers and bonks me gently on the head and says, “Wake up; it’s time for bed.”

New Year’s day is Minding’s birthday and we were invited to attend the party. Minding is a former Barrio Captain who has the good fortune to have a British uncle and, therefore, a potential source of supplemental income. George, the Brit, is an interesting character, a large, sometimes annoyingly reticent man, but a native speaker of my mother tongue, and an hour or two with the bloke gives me a chance to break out my small supply of three-syllable words that grow a bit rusty after a few months in the barrio.

Minding knows how to throw a good party. By the time we arrived, the crowd was already too large for the yard and was flooding out into the road, interfering with traffic. The usual gang of inebriates were gathered in a loud, jolly knot under a tarp out back imitating braying donkeys – or perhaps singing karaoke. I’m not sure.

The buffet spread was laid out on the dining room table, a grand display of Philippine dishes, including a large platter of puto, a delicious, sweet steamed cake. I loaded up my plate and found an empty chair beside George, whose round, florid face was buried in his lunch. George glanced up and grunted his hello when I sat down.

I have, for several years, been working on my “George Project”, an attempt to engage George in a conversation. This is not easy. He is a well-fed man and, like many well-fed men (myself included) he is in no particular hurry to get from here to there. We say we’re saving energy, but it’s probably just laziness. But George is also disinclined to expend too much energy in conversation. As a result, he tends to limit his responses to one or two words, which, because of his Northampton accent usually takes me several moments to decipher. Today I was determined to drag a whole paragraph out of my Limey friend.

So I was pleasantly surprised when George seemed in the mood to talk. George is my age, so naturally the conversation turned to the sorry state of affairs in the world today. We, the generation that epitomizes civilization at it’s more magnificent zenith, are convinced that mankind has begun a slow decline, and will in a few generations probably go back to living in trees and eating each other. Some of you younger readers may disagree with that assessment, but I have seen those selfies of your naked tattooed body that you have posted on Facebook. So, I rest my case.

And so I am happy to report that my George Project has advanced to a new level and I think that in a few more years he and I may become friends.

My Sweetie, despite assuming the burden of feeding the entire barrio over the holidays, remains remarkably cheerful. She still rises at some ungodly hour of the morning and goes out in the dark, under an umbrella if necessary, to put in her daily forty-five minutes of exercise. She is a machine, slim and foxy, but still a machine. Sometimes in moments of irrationality I think of joining her, but I have sunk a lot of money over the years into Big Boy clothing and we’re on a tight budget. Sweetie doesn’t seem to appreciate the sacrifices I make to keep the family finances in the black.

But despite the high cost of a new wardrobe, my mirror has been telling me (screaming loudly, in fact) that it’s long past time to get my weight under control. I was, until recently, controlling it fairly well with big shirts and a belt, but the belt is no longer long enough and in this land of disgustingly slim people, the only way to buy a belt my size is by ordering an entire cow. I can’t even find size XXL overalls in the local stores. I’d hate to admit it to my Sweetie, but little low-impact exercise might be necessary.

As we start working our way through the New Year, which seems so far to be pretty much the same as the old year, we are thinking of you, our loyal readers, and wishing you all the best.

 

With love,

Adam and Eve

Contributing writer to Live in the Philippines

 

 

 

– – – – – –

12-26-14

 

Greetings from Paradise –

 

It was 5:45 a.m. I was sleeping the sleep of the righteous, dreaming the dreams of the deranged, which on this particular morning involved the active participation of Veronica Lake. For you younger readers, Veronica Lake is not a place. She was a film star. She was hot. You can look it up.

“Get up, get up!” my Sweetie bellowed up the stairs, shaking me from my reverie and nearly shaking me from my bed. “Doming is here!”

 

A lot of the roosters weren’t even up yet. It was still dark. It was a good dream. I dragged myself reluctantly from the sack, pulled on some clothes, already in a bad mood, and thumped down the stairs. Doming, Norma, his wife, his young son and another guy, a helper I guessed, were being ushered into the kitchen by my Sweetie, who shot me a look that silently said, “Don’t say anything sarcastic.” I pointedly looked at the clock, but kept my thoughts to myself.

 

Doming is a carpenter. Well, carpenter doesn’t really do him justice. He is a craftsman who works in wood. It was Doming who made our furniture many years ago, finely carved pieces that transformed our castle from a concrete structure that might, to jaundiced eyes, look a bit like a prison cell, into a fine home. And he’s a really nice guy, even if he is crudely insensitive to my need for a good night’s sleep.

 

A month ago we had engaged Doming to construct three interior doors to replace the ones made two years ago by a local doofus who apparently used green wood, maybe even wood that was still part of a growing tree that very morning. The doors very quickly became works of abstract art, interesting to look at, but not very functional. They no longer fit the openings, the locks no longer lined up, and they were so twisted they provided neither security nor privacy. A hanging towel would serve just as well.

 

So Doming, apparently a very early-riser, had come to install the new doors. This meant, of course, offering breakfast for his entire entourage. I wondered why he hadn’t thought to bring his dog. I would guess by their appetites they had not eaten for quite some time, perhaps more than a week. Half a jar of my precious peanut butter disappeared in seconds, along with a lot of coffee and a loaf of bread.

 

I’m not complaining, you understand (well, I am complaining about the peanut butter), we enjoy having people for pre-dawn breakfasts. The more the merrier. Anytime one of you dear readers gets the urge to visit us at, say, 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, come on over. Just stand out there at the gate and try to get our attention. It shouldn’t take long.

 

So Doming and his sidekick installed the doors, which took them, conveniently, past the lunch hour. But my Sweetie is a world-renowned Queen of the Kitchen and whipped up enough grub to feed an army, which Doming and his entourage had no trouble disposing of.

 

And now the manse has beautiful new doors that actually close. We are pleased. Overnight guests who are irrationally sensitive about their privacy will no longer have to go to bed fully clothed.

 

And then it was Christmas Eve. Jon-Ellis and Pilar came for dinner, a scrumptious (as usual) spread of pig knuckles adobo, pinakbet, balatong (with onions) and, of course, rice. They wanted to play dominoes, and I knew it would be a long night, so I limited myself to two portions of that scrumptious meal.

 

I am never likely to be mistaken for a picky eater. I sit hunched, elbows on the table, knife and fork in hand, overlapping my chair like Jabba the Hutt, grunting with the exertion of reaching for seconds. So it always amazes me that my Filipino friends, and my Sweet One, can easily out-eat me. Filipinos are lithe, limber and without one extra molecule of avoirdupois. Everything I am not. But there’s no contest.

 

Pilar, who probably weighs twelve pounds, fully clothed and carrying her machete, heaped her plate with an impossibly large mound of rice, which she ingested with no apparent difficulty, and then shoveled on another pile. It was an eye-opening spectacle. So unlikely was it that such a diminutive lady could eat that much, I checked once to see if she had parked her dog under the table and was fattening him up for New Year’s dinner.

 

We ate and drank and laughed and played dominoes until way into the night, hours past our usual bedtime, knowing that we would be up early the next morning to prepare for the Annual Christmas Family Détente, a time when relatives who, otherwise, never talk to each other, bowing to my Sweetie’s authority, will come to stare sullenly at one another while they eat and pretend to be having a good time. They will drink our beer, murmur their holiday greetings and go home overflowing with Christmas spirit.

 

And so, they came; they ate; they went away skipping gleefully with the joy of the season. Well, the men went away. The women, as is the custom here, stayed and washed the dishes. It had been the women who shopped for the food, cooked the food, served the food, packed and distributed containers of leftovers and then washed the dishes. The men burped and asked, “What’s for dinner tonight?” Is this fair? Of course not. But I am but one man; I am powerless to change thousands of years of history. Besides, my Sweetie enjoys doing all the work while I offer advice during the commercials. There’s no need to verify this by talking to her. You can take my word for it.

 

So, dear reader, as 2014 glides to a close, my Sweetie and I wish you a most joyous Christmas season and an exciting New Year. Let us hope that 2015 finds us all healthy, wise and exceedingly attractive.

 

With love,

Adam and Eve

 

 

P.S. Please visit Live in the Philippines, an interesting blog, where I am also posting my observations of life in Paradise.

 

 

– – – – –  – – –

12-22-14

 

Greetings from Paradise –

 

As I write this paragraph, it has been raining non-stop for ninety-six hours and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. The barrio is up to its ears in water and the river is a thrashing brown sluice carrying washed out detritus down from the mountains, coursing like a live snake out toward the ocean. The rice fields, some newly planted, are an inland sea. The tambaks, the berms separating the fields, disappeared from view several hours ago. Even the water buffalo are beginning to get tired of the incessant downpour.

 

My Sweetie and I broke out the flannel shirts last night and are spending the day hunkered down in the castle waiting for a break in the weather. A 9-hour power outage yesterday added to the discomfort, though it gave me a plausible excuse to take a longer afternoon nap than usual.

 

Of course, this is the annual Northeast Monsoon season, so these sloppy days are not unexpected. Still, it gets rather boring peering out the windows waiting for even a tiny glimpse of blue in that snarly, charcoal sky.

 

The bad weather has not deterred my Sweetie from making her twice-daily rounds of the barrio, collecting every minute scrap of hearsay, rumor and gossip, with which she can enthrall me during dinner. Some nights I just can’t wait to hear the latest skinny. Does that sound sarcastic? I have tried delaying dinner until ten or eleven o’clock, thinking some of the more inconsequential tidbits of gossip would slip from her mind. But I did not receive a Preferred Customer Gold Card from the Big Boy Boutique by delaying meals. Besides, my Sweetie never forgets.

 

Years ago, she used to wait until bedtime to download her gossip files, lying in the dark and giving me a detailed account of every he-said-she-said rumor in the barrio. This was a much better arrangement for me. Some nights I could be asleep within seconds. These days, however, she expects me to appear interested. She expects two-way conversation. I am a devoted husband, so I pretend to listen. It’s the least I can do.

 

 

Preparations are being made for Christmas. My Sweetie loves her Christmas lights and has, despite the rain, strung a festive illuminated garland along the width of the balcony. She has done this three times so far this year, and three times she has immediately unstrung the garland of dead bulbs, which had burned out on contact with electricity.

 

All Americans are, of course, familiar with cheap Chinese products. But the Philippine government, being China’s neighbor, has negotiated special trade agreements by which such cheap products are never shipped to the islands. Instead, the Philippines receives a special category of Chinese exports called Exceptionally Cheap Crap. These products can usually be depended on to burn out, break, disintegrate or rot within an hour of purchase.

 

Occasionally, though, a manufacturing defect will, like my Sweetie’s Christmas lights, slip through the rigid quality control inspections of the Wot Da Hay Province factory and wind up in the customer’s hands, where it might not fail for another thirty minutes. To be fair, the Chinese are always trying to improve the failure rate of their products and have recently announced plans to re-tool their factory, guaranteeing failure within twenty minutes of purchase or half your money back.

 

Speaking of my Sweetie and Christmas: I am faced with a spouse-related conundrum. I am, as you well know, an imperfect man. I have my share of faults, but I have a good heart and I try to fulfill my husbandly responsibilities. I have done my homework. Marriage contracts throughout the world are pretty much alike. Husbands are to be faithful, protective, helpful, loving, and supportive. In all my research, I have not discovered any hint of a requirement that a husband must also be able to predict the weather. But try telling my Sweetie that.

 

“I’m going to cancel the Christmas luncheon,” she says angrily. “It’s raining too hard.”

“Well,” I respond calmly. “You already sent out the invitations. Besides, you know it usually rains this time of year.”

“It never rains like this at Christmas time,” she snaps. I am aware that we have entered that Black Hole that we husbands are so familiar with, in which heat replaces logic. There is no escape from the Black Hole. Even an immediate admission of defeat will not save the poor man from the verbal thrashing that is coming.

“I’m not going to feed 30 people in the rain,” she fumes, daring me to challenge her. Unfortunately, because of the unique physics of the Black Hole, it is impossible to ignore her. She is standing there, hands on hips, demanding a response. But I had a plan (he said with the naïve innocence of a child). I am a writer. I keep a journal, and my journal has dates. I booted up the laptop and did a quick search of last year’s entries.

 

“There you go, my Sweet One,” I said in smug satisfaction, pointing to a series of notes from December of last year. Entries from the 10th, 14th, 20th and 27th all referred to heavy rain. “See? It always rains in December.” I rested my case and prepared for a return to normality.

 

“I don’t care about those dates!” she said, surprisingly loudly for such a small woman. “Is it going to rain on the 25th? We’re not having a cookout in the rain.” I am, of course, not a weather forecaster, but I didn’t see any immediate benefit to pointing that out to my Sweetie in her present state of mind. Better to wait a few months for things to cool down.

 

I could assure her that Christmas Day would be bright and sunny, a day of ethereal beauty and a wonderful time for family frolic, but I needed to get out of this Black Hole eventually so I kept my mouth shut. I very seldom get in trouble by keeping my mouth shut.

 

So, Merry Christmas wherever you are. I hope it’s not raining.

 

With love,

Adam and Eve

P.S. Check out my posts on Live In the Philippines

 

 

12-10-14

 

Greetings from Paradise –

 

This place is beginning to bug me. And it’s not the perplexing culture or the alien food. It’s not even the corrupt government or the fact that the power goes out every time I try to recharge my phone. What bugs me is bugs. This place is crawling with bugs. But first, the weather report.

 

After two days of crisp, wet, blustery days in the barrio, we woke on Sunday morning to a pink sky and soft breezes drifting up from the river. Things were not quite as calm farther to our south in the Visayan islands where Typhoon Hagupit was just making landfall. Though not as devastating as the Super Storm that ravaged the islands last year, Hagupit was crawling slowly over the area and dumping as much as 3-feet of water on the low-lying cities of Legazpi and Tacloban. It was Tacloban that was smashed flat last year. It will be years before those poor folks recover.

 

The storm was moving unusually slowly, just creeping over the islands, dumping rain that measured in feet. By Monday, Hagupit had been downgraded to a tropical storm as it approached Manila, but was still very windy. And the rain had not let up. Up here in the boonies, we caught the outer edges of the storm and spent Monday night listening to the howling wind throwing stuff around. Tuesday morning was only slightly damp, but still blustery.

 

Typhoons are not unusual in the Philippines. There are at least a dozen storms that lash the country each year, one or two of which will venture as far as our little barrio near the northern coast of Luzon. These storms, by the time they reach us, have lost a lot of their punch and, though they can do a lot of mischief, they are not usually dangerous to life unless they cause flooding, which happens about every eight or ten years. Our old house is still wearing a 4-foot high skirt of mud residue from the great flood of 2005.

 

Most of the papaya trees in our yard were decapitated last year by back-to-back storms that came in only two days apart. But nature is an overachiever in the tropics, so our papayas are not only healthy again, they are producing more fruit than we can eat.

 

Typhoon Hagupit finally fizzled out to a bad rain storm and headed toward Viet Nam on Tuesday and left the Philippines to clean up the mess.

 

Now, about the bugs.

 

We employ a security firm of house lizards, which sends out roving patrols throughout the castle day and night, keeping the mosquito population under control. The lizard patrol is in constant motion, 24/7, along the walls and across the ceilings, behind the cabinets and under the furniture, barely visible in their camo uniforms, their presence known only by the distinctive clicks of their radio checks.

 

Leonard, the lizard that guards the bathroom window screen is particularly effective. When I make my hourly pee runs each night, I see Leonard always at his post, his suction feet firmly planted on the glass, thwarting the plans of would-be invaders with lightning flicks of his long, sticky tongue. Leonard is a valuable employee and I am always glad to see him on the job.

 

Our lizard security is quite effective against invading mosquitoes, but I do not believe they are up to the task of ant control. And even the more aggressive lizards like Leonard are no match for the giant cockroaches, some of which are as large as dinner plates. That may be a slight exaggeration, but when one of those creepy roaches leaps from the bathroom wall during a two a.m. bladder dump, you might be forgiven for thinking it is about to swallow you whole. \

 

The only defense against these brown behemoths is a well-aimed flip-flop, preferably a big one. Occasionally I have been awakened in the night by the loud, echoing slap-slap-slap of my Sweetie’s flip-flop as she chases a giant roach across the kitchen floor, usually followed by my Sweetie’s triumphant snarl. Hers is a tiny flip-flop, so a successful kill is quite remarkable, sort of like stopping a charging rhino by spitting on him.

 

Growing up in the cool environs of New England, I had never encountered such dangerous insects as these giant roaches. Actually, calling them insects seems inappropriate; the word insect conjures up images of spindly-legged crawlers that live under leaves, spending their working hours outdoors. These brown mutations are in a class by themselves.

 

The first time I came across one of these – I believe they are sometimes called palmetto bugs – I was in the Navy, stationed in Virginia, another warm place that is home to the monster roach. I was on my way to the shower when the thing darted out from under a sink and blocked my way. I froze. I was certain if I tried to retreat I would surely be attacked and mauled. There was a brief stand-off while we stared each other down.

 

Then, a shipmate happened by and to my amazement, and appreciation, and without hesitation or thought for his own safety, he removed his shoe and with one swift thwack he sent gooey pieces of the roach splatting across the floor. I recommended the gutsy man for a medal.

 

Having spent a couple of decades in the Philippines, I have now adjusted to the presence of these mutated monsters and I no longer scream like a girl when one of them leaps from the woodwork unexpectedly. But I still don’t like them. I once had the exhilarating experience of having one of those disgusting freaks of nature jump on my face in the middle of a long, sweaty night when it was so hot, I didn’t even bother to move. The thought still gives me the creeps even after all these years.

 

But as bad as the mosquitoes are, and as scary as the roaches are, the ants are the most annoying.

 

Ants are always trying to set up camp in the cracks and crevices of our little bungalow. Marching armies of these critters appear out of nowhere, parading single-file across a wall or a kitchen counter, streaming out of light sockets, or spreading out in military maneuvers across the table. A tiny scrap of food left exposed for more than five seconds will immediately attract the attention of a thousand foraging ants. It has become a regular dinnertime habit to eat, chat and squish ants.

 

There are three kinds of ants that seem to be the predominant home-invaders: the regular foraging ant that reconnoiters the kitchen counters, the mini-ant that seems to confine his patrol the table, and the stinging red ant that assembles its squadrons under the sinks where it has ready access to flip-flopped feet. This red ant is so good at blending into the background, the first indication of his presence is his painful sting.

 

A jar of peanut butter that is not closed tightly will, in moments, become fully infested with ants, and your Sweetie, who doesn’t even eat peanut butter, will teach you a few new words in her language.

 

Of course, this is a tropical place, and bugs are to be expected, and we have learned to cope. And if it ever comes to outright warfare, I’m sure the bugs will prevail. Easily.

 

With love,

Adam and Eve

– – – – –

 

11-29-14

 

Greetings from Paradise –

 

Eddie, the King of Freon, had been unresponsive to my text messages and had not come to resuscitate our nearly comatose refrigerator, so Rodimar and I jumped in the family wagon and sped off to the town of Sanchez Mira to see if Eddie was comatose.

 

The town of Sanchez Mira lies midway between our little barrio and the northern foothills of the Cordilleras, about a forty-five minute drive. An early morning fog was lifting and the day was brightening as we wound our way through Curva and Bagu, passing over the wide, flat expanse of rice country, then finally into the dark green forests of Pamplona, easing up into the jungled hillside, thick with coconut palms and bananas and narra and labig, which appeared like a Manet painting in the reflected morning sun.

 

On a muddy, rutted patch of dirt at the outskirts of Sanchez Mira, Eddie’s shop sits back a few feet from the road, a squat, block structure, in front of which sat the carcasses of a dozen deceased or dying appliances. As we dismounted from our coach and picked our way through the puddles, we were approached by two young boys, Eddie’s assistants, who appeared at first glance to be pre-teens. It is very difficult for an American to determine the age of most Filipinos. I hesitate to generalize, but they appear youthful, slim and agile until well into old age. After that, especially for poor farmers, things go downhill quickly as the years of hard labor and poor diet takes its toll. Few Filipinos are even afflicted by gray hair until they are well into senility. My Sweetie, of course, remains youthful and vibrant, exuding oceans of feminine pulchritude despite the advancing years, making a mockery of my pasty, balding bulk. It is for this reason that I have implored my Sweetie to remove the mirrors from our castle. So far, she has shown no sympathy. The mirrors remain in place, but I am keeping the pressure on.

 

Eddie was summoned from his house out behind the shop, and in short order he appeared, extending a hand and offering his condolences for our ailing refrigerator. Eddie is a diminutive, almost elfin man of indeterminate age, with a round, friendly face and a quiet, helpful personality. He promised to send the ambulance later in the day.

 

It was the two boy assistants that showed up just after lunch, quickly diagnosing the problem – a faulty capacitor, the third in two years – and making repairs that we hope will last at least until the end of the month. But it seems only a matter of time when we will have to purchase a replacement. I like my Girly Beer to be cold.

 

This odd preference for cold beer, unfortunately, just furnishes the local guys with more jokes about “those wacky American sissies” who wear shoes and take warm showers and drink cold beer. My barrio mates, hardy rough-and-tumble farmers all, are less concerned with the temperature than the alcohol content. And drinking beer from a glass, especially Girly Beer, is just asking for trouble. Late one afternoon several years ago, we hosted our work crew to a few after-work beers and a pot of polutan, and I made the mistake of drinking Girly Beer in a glass. I might as well have worn a skirt and a sign on my back that said ‘kick me.’

 

About “pulutan” – a word that might be unfamiliar to many of you in the audience: Finger food that is eaten with alcohol is called pulutan. The men sit or squat in a rough circle drinking heavily while their wives keep them supplied with saucers and bowls of pulutan, which are eaten in community fashion from a common dish. These snacks may be sour mango slices with dollops of bagoong (a powerful, salty, smelly fermented fish paste), or small raw fish seasoned with vinegar, or slices of cow tongue, or bits of dog marinated in catsup, or any other finger food that goes well with a few gallons of alcohol.

 

Of course, after the fifth or sixth hour of drinking, anything you can pick up with your fingers is acceptable, assuming you can still find your mouth. Snacks always go good with booze, but I suspect there may be another reason for serving pulutan: After ingesting a whole dog or a kettle of raw fish, a man is just too bloated to put more than a token effort into the fight.

 

So now, with the refrigerator once again behaving and with a half-dozen bottles of Girly Beer slowly approaching drinking temperature, I can resume my afternoon naps without frequent interruptions by whiny demands that I get in touch with Eddie. Comfortably cocooned in my balcony hammock, my thoughts turn again to ice and snow and slush and sub-zero temperatures and I fervently wish I could share another winter with our friends back on the home planet. The only thing better than spending a winter in Maine, is having your foot chewed off by a rabid dog. We’ll manage.

 

The planting of the new rice crop has begun. The fields have been plowed and flooded, the mud-makers are out there with their tractors making mud, the seeds have been purchased, and the valley is briefly alive with hard work and a bit of income until the “Crisis,” when the money runs out and the barrio goes into survival mode. The barrio will be on “reduced rations” until the spring harvest. It will be a long lean winter. But it’s not likely to snow. And we have plenty of cold Girly Beer.

 

With love,

Adam and Eve

 

 

My brother Brian managed to hang on to life until age 60, a remarkable feat for a man with Multiple Sclerosis,  a disease that robs its victims of their sight, their balance, their mobility, their continence, their dignity, and, ultimately, their lives. It is an ugly, debilitating disease. Brian spent his last three decades confined to a wheelchair.

Multiple Sclerosis attacks the central nervous system, disrupting the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Research is continuing and, ultimately, a cure will be found. But this costs money.

If you have been entertained by the stories here, please make a small donation to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society by clicking on the yellow button.

MS Society

 

– – – – – – – – –

11-22-14

 

Greetings from Paradise –

 

It’s raining in Paradise, the first heavy rain since our arrival, a good tropical drenching, an early announcement of the upcoming rainy season. This is good news for the ducks and for the rice farmers. The valley is alive with the chug and cough of kuligligs, guided by wiry, barefoot farmers up to their shins in the sucking ooze, preparing the ground for the new crop.

 

Unfortunately, the downpour has come at an inopportune time for me. This very morning, I had planned an intense workout, a brisk trot to and fro on the barrio road, finally getting started on my morning exercise routine that I had put on temporary hold six or seven years ago. Even a double serving of pancakes couldn’t alleviate my disappointment.

 

And, as if that weren’t bad enough, we’re running out of wine. Regular readers of these chronicles know that Sweetie and I enjoy our evening glass of wine, that small post-prandial ritual on the balcony when we toast to the good life and vow to remain forever young.

 

It is our habit to ship a good supply of wine in advance of our trip, along with other necessities, like peanut butter, coffee and good toilet paper. And this we did, back in September. But for some reason, the shipping pipeline has developed a serious blockage in the port in Manila and distribution throughout the provinces has been delayed for some indefinite time. It may be weeks before the supply wagon shows up.

 

Our little village has metastasized over the years into a rambling, bustling, chaotic jumble of businesses, and is beginning to resemble an actual town, including the arrival of a small supermarket that occasionally sells American wine. And occasionally, in an emergency, we reluctantly load a wheelbarrow full of pesos and purchase a bottle of the stuff. It’s not cheap. Well, it’s cheap in quality, but not in price. Contrary to the local assumption that all Americans are using hundred dollar bills for Kleenex, I am not happy to pay double for my after-dinner treat.

 

And so we wait expectantly by the gate, with hopeful faces, peering out under our umbrellas, watching anxiously for the truck that will bring relief.

 

And it’s not just the wine. As I mentioned, we also shipped a supply of peanut butter, man’s greatest invention, without which life on earth would be impossible. Skippy peanut butter is available here in the cities, if you don’t mind paying $5 for a tiny jar, something that offends my Yankee sense of thrift.

 

If I had been born in some carefree state like California, where self-indulgence is an acceptable way of life, five-dollar peanut butter would pose no moral problems at all. But I am a New England man. I am genetically indisposed to paying extra, even for my peanut butter habit. And so we fret and pace and wait for the truck. Even my afternoon naps are fitful, seldom lasting more than two hours before I’m up again and headed for the gate to watch the road.

 

In other news, it was dark when my aged bladder woke me from a delicious dream involving Emmylou Harris and a dozen peanut butter cookies. I reluctantly extracted myself from the bed and groped for the light switch. The power was out.

Paradise is a place of beautiful weather and beautiful people, but it is not a place for reliable power. Our week is scheduled around the daylong outages that occur almost every Thursday. The juice is cut off usually around 7:00 on Thursday morning, coming back around dinnertime. These are the infamous roaming “brownouts” that afflict most areas of the Philippines.

 

And sometimes the power goes out when the barrio flunky in charge of turning off the streetlights pulls the wrong switch. These outages happen around five a.m. and are of short duration, usually lasting only until the flunky returns home and discovers his karaoke system won’t work. But a blackout at 3:00, in the middle of a good dream, was potentially serious.

 

At a more reasonable hour, when I finally stumbled down the stairs to meet the day, the power was still out. I looked out across the valley to the town of Curva, which is on the main road and less likely to have a streetlight flunky. The lights of Curva were also out. This had all the marks of a long outage. I dragged out the generator.

 

I am, as you know, not mechanically adept. A mechanical pencil gives me the willies. I am convinced the generator will, one day, snarl at me, cough up a cloud of black smoke and explode in my face. It’s just a matter of time. But without power, the coffee maker won’t work. And without coffee, I won’t work. OK, I know, I don’t work anyway. But without my morning coffee I can’t function.

 

In an emergency I could, I suppose, drink instant coffee, but it would have to be a global disaster of apocalyptic proportions. On the other hand, my uncle Charlie drinks instant coffee and seems to have suffered no ill effects, though he fails to appreciate my humor, which may indicate a coffee-related brain injury.

 

So I fed the mechanical monster and hoped it would not devour me when I pulled the rope. My Sweetie looked on expectantly. I have, of course, not admitted to her my mechanical ignorance. After a couple of decades of marriage, she still thinks I am a manly man, able to leap tall buildings, etc. If you think I am deceiving myself, please keep those thoughts to yourself. I am happy in my little world.

 

After fifteen tries, when I was almost ready to give up, the machine suddenly throbbed to life and began pumping out electrons and neighbors started coming with their phone chargers. Life was good once again in Paradise.

 

After a hearty, well-deserved pancake breakfast, I took my coffee and a chair out to the front gate and started waiting for the delivery truck.

 

With love,

Adam and Eve

 

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11-16-14

 

Greetings from Paradise –

 

It’s still dark when Sweetie hops out of bed and dances down the stairs to start her day. The bedroom windows are open and cool early morning breezes caress me as I drift slowly, deliciously back to sleep listening to the drone of the philharmonic frogs in the rice fields that surround our tropical nest. Listening to the waking barrio.

 

Barrio dogs are stretching and yawning in weak white circles of flickering porch lights. The distant poot-poot horn of the approaching pandesal boy tumbles softly down the dark road like a familiar musical memory.

 

Roosters take up their positions on roofs and posts and fences, puffing and strutting with self-congratulation as they raucously summon the sun. Despite the arrogance of this gang of feathered Pavarottis, a blazing mango sun thrusts up ostentatiously, theatrically, almost hyperbolically from behind the palms, dripping great gobs of orange fire onto the river and putting to flight a flock of snowy herons, rising as one, swooping, gathering, dipping and riding the red-orange shafts of light in a grand flowing arc across the reddening sky.

 

Water pumps creak and thump, and woody smoke from breakfast fires curls into the pink dawn. Carabao plod softly to their fields, ridden by rawboned farmers wearing straw hats and kumpays strapped to their thin waists with rope. Uniformed children with wet hair and shiny faces and bulging backpacks march to school on spindly legs. A boy selling breakfast porridge, weaves from house to house like a bee collecting nectar, balancing twin buckets on a shoulder pole, singing out his morning song, “tahu, tahu!”

 

The musical voices of women float in the cool air as they bend over their short coconut brooms, one arm behind the back, sweeping front yards, getting an early start on the latest barrio gossip.

 

The gathering rumble and snort of tricycles and the high-pitched whine of motorbikes punctuates the morning as the barrio goes to work.

 

Another day in Paradise.

 

The barrio is quiet these days as people take a breather from the recent harvest, resting up before the heavy labor of the new planting starts in a few days. The start of the planting season is always a contest, a bit of a gamble. There is an obvious pressure to get started early; the earlier harvests always command the best prices at the mill. On the other hand, the first field to ripen is the first field to attract the birds, which flock by the thousands, swooping across the sky like massive black clouds and descending on the ripe grains like locusts.

 

Although the best protection from the birds would be if all fields ripened at the same time, spreading the losses, this kind of cooperation, unfortunately, runs contrary to human nature, which is interested only in personal gain. If you are interested in my theories about the economics of rice farming, send me a stamped, self-addressed envelope and I’ll get back to you.

 

I have spoken in the past of our annoying refrigerator, an appliance that behaves as if it has lost sight of its mission. Each year when we plug in this recalcitrant machine, it takes two or three days for it to reach a reasonably cool temperature, and even then the freezer won’t cooperate, mockingly leaving us with mushy bacon, squishy meat and liquid ice cream.

 

Admittedly, the thing is pretty old. Well, it’s old by tropical standards, the climate not being particularly cooperative with any freon-based appliance. Refrigerators have to work hard just to stay ahead of the game. So refrigerator age is measured like a dog’s age, making ours about 75 years old. If the thing would just die a decent death, we could replace it – though refrigerators are not cheap here in the boonies, even if we managed to evade the Pale Foreigner Price. Of course, we could always settle for the typical barrio unit, but that is barely large enough to contain a fish head and a jar of mango jam. A large perpetually hungry man needs a decent size refrigerator.

 

But this irritating appliance will run smoothly for a few weeks at a time, tricking us into believing that its maladies have been cured and that it is safe to once again trust it to keep our stuff cold. And then we wake one morning to find drippy green beans and warm mayonnaise and realize the joke is on us.

 

So, Eddie, the King of Freon, has been summoned. Eddie has an intimate knowledge of our refrigerator, having spent many hours over the years attending to its various ailments. Eddie, so far, has been a no-show, which, in this unusual culture, means either that he just hasn’t gotten around to it, or that he’s dead. We’ll probably know in a few months.

 

Meanwhile, we have purchased a backup unit, a small upright freezer that for nearly a week now has performed admirably. A week is a long time, several days already past the warranty period. So we have high hopes.

 

And so the long, lazy, delicious days unfold softly in our little Eden. Life is good despite the refrigerator chortling behind our backs.

 

With love,

Adam and Eve

 

 

 

 

11-8-14

 

Greetings from Paradise –

 

Return To Paradise, 2014

 

Traveling from Maine to Manila is not a journey for the faint of heart or the weak of bum. It’s a long, arduous trek. And how many airline meals can a human endure? But, except for some check-in counter delays in Portland, the trip was uneventful, if tiring. Well, there was one incident: At about the four-hour mark on the Detroit to Narita leg, my Sweetie (who is genetically ill-equipped to operate anything containing computer chips) was attempting to listen to a Willie Nelson CD on the on-board entertainment system, which, as you know, contains lots of computer chips.

 

After several aggressive, but ineffective, attacks at the touch screen, Sweetie managed to stab a fatal sequence of selections and the screen flashed once and went black. So did all the computers on our section of the plane. Twenty-four screens were suddenly out of commission and angry heads were popping up like whack-a-moles as frustrated passengers looked around for someone to bark at. My Sweetie pulled on her “it wasn’t me” mask of innocence and looked around too.

 

Not only was the entertainment system knocked out; the lights, call buttons and cool air nozzles were also disabled. Every system that makes a thirteen-hour flight endurable.

 

Several attempts by the crew to restore the system failed and we spent the next eight hours with no access to reruns of Friends or the latest rap album by TJ Turdz, or whatever his name is. But at least we didn’t have any of that damn refreshing air blowing on us. If the passengers weren’t bloated and lethargic from two greasy airline meals, there would have been a mutiny.

 

I am negotiating with Delta now; I’m offering to divulge the name of the perp in exchange for a discount on the next flight. I have not spoken to my Sweetie yet about this, but I’m sure she won’t mind my entrepreneurial initiative. And what are they going to do, arrest her?

 

On a serious note (I can be serious if I have to, but I’m running close to my quota for the year.): Readers who are married to a native of the Philippines, be advised that if you intend to stay in the Philippines for more than three weeks, Delta employees may not be aware of the visa rules. Those of us fortunate to be married to Filipinos are not required to abide by the rules of ordinary tourists, but on three separate occasions, check-in clerks have demanded to see a visa, though the Philippine government does not require one if an American is traveling with a Filipino spouse.

 

For years, as a precaution, we have traveled with all of our documentation – marriage certificate, proof of Sweetie’s country of birth, and a copy of the relevant Philippine Consulate regulations. Still, we have had to spend up to 3-hours at the check-in desk trying to make our case. I have alerted Delta of the problem – and my frustration – but I suspect they have more important things to think about, like whether to track down and prosecute the computer killer.

Now, back to my regular inanity.

 

We touched down in Manila about 27 hours after our Portland take-off and stumbled from the plane into the terminal, which, to our surprise, was not the international terminal, but the domestic. We learned that the international terminal was undergoing some renovations and will be closed to traffic for some time.

 

We were fortunate once again to be assigned an honest yellow taxi driver to take us to the Pension. (The taxi was yellow, not the driver.) Though it has been several years since the last attempted rip-off by a taxi driver, we’re always ready for the “faulty meter” or the “accidental wrong turn.” So far we’ve been lucky.

 

The patio at the Pension was thick with the usual collection of suspicious world-travelers engulfed in billows of smoke from Russian cigarettes, their faces illuminated by the glow of their laptops. I may be mistaken about their missions, but I get the definite impression that they are on clandestine assignments. These are people who drift in and out of the city wearing backpacks, hiking shorts and tee shirts from Guatemalan and Honduran bars. They must be spies.

 

The Pension Natividad is a cheap, clean hotel, conveniently located in Malate, within walking distance of shopping and restaurants, and is our stop-over location before flying up into the interior, to Tuguegarao. We checked in and within minutes I was snoring contentedly while my Sweetie, as is her habit, was rearranging the luggage far into the night. She is a machine. An OCD machine.

 

I have described the unbelievably chaotic traffic in Tuguegarao before. I was liberal in my use of negative superlatives. I was not culturally sensitive in drawing a picture of the pandemonium that exists in a Philippine city with no known rules of the road and drivers who would ignore rules if there were any. But I fear I have fallen short in describing the absolute madness of the situation. You see, I had never driven in Tuguegarao on a Saturday afternoon. What I had seen during weekdays in the city was, I learned, merely a rat’s nest knot of vehicles nearly immobile in the smoky snarl. But a Saturday drive is an equine of an entirely different hue.

 

Imagine a world where no one had ever heard of safe driving, or rules of the road, or rights of way or traffic safety, or courtesy or manners or common sense. A world where people park wherever they choose, drive in whatever manner they choose, and have paid for, rather that qualified for, a driver’s license. Imagine a world where one million drivers scramble down narrow streets with no regard for other drivers. Imagine thousands of pedestrians who walk in the street and assemble in confused, aimless clumps at intersections, following the same non-rules as the drivers.

 

Cars, trucks, motorbikes, tricycles and jeepneys pass within millimeters of each other. People dart through traffic, sidewalks and curbsides are infested with vendors and illegally parked vehicles. Horse-drawn wagons amble down the center of the road, tricycles stop suddenly in the middle of traffic to disgorge passengers who wander across the street with their eyes intent on cell phones. Men with pushcarts and death wishes defy the odds. It’s like a slow motion stampede through a crowded bus station, impossible to adequately describe. My vocabulary is simply not up to the task.

 

After the scary transit through the Chute of Peril, I managed to squeeze into a narrow space in the SaveMore parking lot, we did our shopping and then got the heck out of that madhouse as fast as we could, which was not fast at all. Though we managed to escape without any new scratches on the family coach, I was a wrung out and feeble wreck when we arrived at the barrio two hours later.

 

A warm girly beer helped, but not much.

 

Tomorrow, I will be rested and ready to resume my exercise in journalistic malpractice. If anything interesting happens in the barrio, I will exaggerate it to ridiculous proportions and report back to you.

 

With Love,

Adam and Eve

 

 

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