Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lionel Richie Diplomacy

Traveling around the jukebox time warp that is the Philippines, I have come up with great US public diplomacy towards this country. Filiponos love 80s glam rock and soft rock hits. Bus rides sound like those old commercials for soft rock best of albums. Everyone seems to know the words to every song, and they sing endlessly. Air Supply is still huge. The Outfield jams. The Scorpions are still rock gods. On that last note, I was in a mall, descending the escalator and saw prob half a dozen people singing along to Winds of Change as I passed different floors.  So, I think VOA's tagalog service would be smart to run a soft rock, glam rock program with news in between.  All Journey, all the time.  Kinda like al-Hurra Radio Sawa, only people would actually listen.

Wages of Whiteness

Wages of whiteness on Filipino tv: no one is brown. The tv shows and commercials are completely whitewashed and totally unrepresentative of the brown reality here. It doesn’t remotely reflect the brown world I have been residing in. Sure, I have seen plenty of people of fairer complexion, but the tv doesn’t reflect the norm. What a message is sends. Kind of like the constant advertisements for skin lightening cream that I see here. Sad.

Negros Navigation

So my 1pm ferry got rescheduled to 4pm, which came some 2 hrs late and didn’t leave for another hour. Where was the delay yesterday? I am still convinced I could have taken the ferry last night if the crew had been more helpful, I doubt the ship had left on clockwork precision. Anyway, I finally boarded the ship and made my way to the open deck. I had humanity staring back at me, and I smiled. Someone came by and checked my ticket and said I was in a different class, so I moved up one level to a room also filled with people but with aircon rather than open air. I was a little disappointed. “Sir, are you sure you don’t want to upgrade,” the attendant asked. No, I am just fine here said Lord Jim. Ever the only.

"Eight hundred men and women with faith and hopes, with affections and memories, they had collected there coming from north and south and from the outskirts if the East, after treading the jungle paths, descending the rivers, coasting in praus along the shallows, crossing in small canoes from island to island, passing through suffering, meeting strange sights, beset with strange fears, upheld by one desire. They came from solitary huts in the wilderness, from populous campongs, from villages by the sea. At the call of an idea, they had left their forests, their clearings, the protection of their rulers, their prosperity, their poverty, their surroundings of their youth and the graves of their fathers. They came covered with dust, with sweat, with grime, with rags- the strong men at the head of family parties, the lean old men pressing forward without hope of return; young boys with fearless eyes glancing curiously, shy little girls with tumbled long hair; the timid women muffled up and clasping to their breasts, wrapped in loose ends of their soild head-cloths, their sleeping babies, the unconscious pilgrims of an exacting belief."
-Joseph Conrad, "Lord Jim"

So why did I take the ferry? Because it gives me something to write about. Because of the beauty of the night-blackened velvet sea, the twinkling cities we pushed past and the clouds that hung like a veil on the edge of the purple night. For all the people I see. The women in paisley veils with black hair peeking out, wrapped in colorful cloths and smoking long, white cigarettes as they stare into the distance. For the babble of tongues foreign to me chattered by the fellows lounging on deck. For the women in multi-hued cloths, topped with black veils. For the men in blue and white topis and wispy beards who smile toothless grins at me while they thumb their prayer beads. For all the people I get to talk to, who are always so curious about where I am from, why I am alone and what I am doing.

The boat itself was fine. There was a dining room (my three meals were included in the ticket price), a bar/disco and of course, a karoke room. I sat out chatting with members of the crew about life here in the Philippines. Later, I made my way to the bar, and some fellows promptly started pouring Tanduey down my throat. Nothing like rum to give you your sea legs. The ferry was quickly turning into a booze cruise.

I wandered back into the dining hall, where a group of graduating midshipmen were singing. A fellow addressed the graduates, switching his speech back and forth from English to Tagalog, it was interesting to see the switch. Then the ship entertainment came out: two girls singing and a keyboardist accompanying, belting out Lady Gaga and Beyonce and dancing about. ‘Twas actually a lot of fun, and I sat drinking dirty wine with a group of fellows who owned an automotive parts business in Manila.

I awoke this morning with a bit of a babalas. I am quickly learning that Red Horse equals automatic hangover. I spent most of the day sitting outside, watching the majestic seas and the beautiful scenery of islands we passed. I made the right choice.

I was reminded what a Catholic country I am in with the 3pm Habit prayer and the 6pm Hail Mary offered up on the ship’s loudspeakers. We arrived into port around 9pm, about 26 hours of voyage in total. I fought my way out of the port and in search of an honest taxi driver who would turn on the meter rather than give me bs about how the meters don’t run in this particular zone but they would give me a good deal. I returned to the Manila Bay Hostel, where I was gifted with an upgrade to my own room complete with aircon and tv. I even got to watch the World Series.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

New Pics Up: the Visayas, Tarsiers and the Choco Hills

From Visayas (Boracay, Negros, Cebu)

From Tarsiers (Bohol)

From Chocolate Hills

20th Century Statecraft, PD 1.0

My friend Mel posted on the Digital Diplomacy forum of PD Interactive about PD 2.0 vs. 21st Century Statecraft. Being the PD Luddite, I put the kabosh on all of it in my responsa:

Here is my issue with all this talk of digital diplo, PD 2.0 (or is it 3.0?) and 21st century statecraft. While I think all this is good and fine, my view from the road less traveled is that it is communications dilettantes or those who don't get out of the Fortress Embassies, Foggy Bottom or Silicon Valley who are pushing this, while the vast majority of the world is still in 1.0. Most of the world still connects via shortwave and medium wave radio, cheap satellites dishes or via cells and sms. I think the sms PD is far more effective than anything on social networks, I see the ubiquity of cell phones in areas that have no internet connection. Yes, more and more are getting on social media, but wide swaths are far from the digital revolution and still meandering in analog. I don't get a sense from techno-futurists like Jared of Persia that he understands this. 21st century statecraft and PD 2.0 are fine and dandy, but 20th century statecraft and PD 1.0 is still the norm for most of the world.

Happy endings

Hour-long Filipino massage for 150pesos ($3). Happy ending for the spine; happy ending to the stresses and strains of travel.

Friday, October 29, 2010

What the World Costs- The Philippines

Free: National Art Museum, Philippines Nation Museum- during Museum month
2 pesos ($.05): one fried chicken nugget on the street
5 pesos ($.11): bathroom at D’mall in Boracay; mango on the street
7 pesos ($.16): jeepney ride in Iloilo, Bacalod; instant coffee (although cup, spoon and water doubles the price)
10 pesos ($.23): 200 ml bottle of water
15 pesos ($.34): grilled eggplant in back alley bbq in Manila
20 pesos ($.45): ferry terminal fee in San Carlos; tricycle in Romblon per person
22 pesos ($.50): bag of cinnamon sugar breadsticks in Bacalod
25 pesos ($.57): loaf of bread for shabbat
30 pesos ($.68): cockfight in Romblon; Red Horse beer in Romblon
34 pesos ($.77): San Miguel draft beer
35 pesos ($.80): whole grilled fish in back alley bbq in Manila
40 pesos ($.91): brewed coffee at Coffee Break in Iloilo (wifi included)
50 pesos ($1.14): expensive San Miguels in Boracay; ferry terminal fee in Boracay
53 pesos ($1.20): beef stew with potatoes and peas, with rice in Bacolod
60 pesos ($1.36): 3 whole uncooked fish at Romblon market
72 pesos ($1.64): bbq chicken, veggies, soup and rice
80 pesos ($1.82): 20 min taxi to bus station in Manila
90 pesos ($2.05): 1.5 hr jeepney from Odiongan to San Agustin; Gin Tonic in Boracay
98 pesos ($2.28): pancakes at Café de France in Cebu
100 pesos ($2.28): 1 night stay in Looc; pair of Foakleys in Boracay; 30 min massage
120 pesos ($2.73): cab from Noynoy airport to Manila (or 450p for “special taxi”)
140 pesos ($3.18): grilled tangui fish steak, rice and veggies at Republica in Romblon
160 pesos ($3.64): whole rotisserie chicken
166 pesos ($3.77): 2 hr bus from Manila to Batangas
170 pesos ($3.86): ferry from San Carlos to Cebu
200 pesos ($4.55): Single room in Odiongan sans bathroom
250 pesos ($5.68): ferry from Looc to Caticlan (the Minnow special)
275 pesos ($6.25): bamboo bungalow dorm at Nuts Huts in Bohol
290 pesos ($6.59): 3 hr bus from Bacolod to San Carlos (w/AC)
300 pesos ($6.82): dorm suite at Tree House in Boracay
303 pesos ($6.89): 5 hr bus from Caticlan to Iloilo (w/ AC and a slew of Pacino movies)
320 pesos ($7.27): Single room in Iloilo w/ toilet & cold shower, plus bfast; dorm in Cebu
350 pesos ($7.95): dorm in Manila Bay Hostel
440 pesos ($10): stupidity tax for missing ferry to Manila
400 pesos ($9.09): 2hr fast ferry from Cebu to Tagbilaron; single room in Tagbilaron w/bfast
450 pesos ($10.23): 9hr ferry from Batangas to Odiongan
536 pesos ($12.18): 4 chx kebabs, tumeric rice, humus, pita, mango shake and beer at Terra in Iloilo (I splurged, it was Friday night. I still felt guilty)
1,036 pesos ($23.55): 22hr ferry from Cebu to Manila
1,100 pesos ($25): 1.5 hr flight from Cebu to Manila
4,092 pesos ($93): 2 hr flight from Taipei to Manila

Stupidity Tax

Stupidity tax for missing ferry: 440pesos ($10).  Not too steep.  Usually stupidity taxes range between $10-$25.

Smart Politico ad

While I am quite glad I don't vote in the failed-state that is California's gubernatorial election, this ad was smart:

Filed under: Best Laid Plans

I was told that the best idea would be to catch the 5:30pm ferry from Tagbilaran to Cebu, some 2hrs, which would arrive just in time for me to catch my 8:45pm ferry from Cebu to Manila (22hrs). Only one problem: first ferry was an hour late, causing me to wave from the dock to my other ferry. Stupidity taxes will ensue.

Bohol Sundae: Nuts Huts, Chocolate Hills

Well, there weren’t bedbugs in my bed, but there were ants. And I was staying at a nicer place. I woke up at the crack, and decided I needed to get out of Tagbilaran. There wasn’t much there, and I found a place called Nuts Huts on the road to the Chocolate Hills. The place was described as a backpackers Shangri-La, which was enough of an endorsement for me. At my early morning breakfast that came with my ant-infested room, I ran into my Dutch friend John, who was also staying at the hotel. We decided to head on to Nuts Huts. Since I was only staying a night before I had to catch the ferry back to Cebu and on to Manila, I left all my stuff at the hostel.

We caught a tricycle to the bus station, then a cramped jeepney with 24 people packed in. We hopped off the jeepney at the turnoff for Nuts Huts and hiked our way some 800 meters past simple village huts. We descended down the long staircase and arrived at the wonderful bamboo backpackers lodge overlooking the verdant jungle-covered mountainside that was green as the eye could see. A lazy river meandered below. We headed down the mountainside checked into a dorm called Finding Nemo, past a few goats and some coconut footpaths. We then trudged our way back up and to the roadside to catch a bus to the Chocolate Hills.

The bus arrived at the roadside juncture, and was packed, so we opted for the convertible option- riding the roof. We climbed up and were told to sit at the front. We sat at the tip of the bus, arms locked in to the front luggage rack. The bus was a little taller than previous minibus convertible rides and we had to block low hanging branches with our feet and duck low hanging wires. We sped through jungle canopy and forests, and past little one-donkey towns. The bus was going so fast we looked like memorex ads with the wind whipping our eyes, faces and hair. The bus was speeding a long, a little so much so that it felt like we were pushing our luck a little too much, so we climbed back down and into the cabin.

We arrived to the Chocolate Hills, giant round cones that look like giant Hershey Kisses.  We climbed up the vista point and looked out over the giant mounds. They looked absolutely Jurassic.  It seemed as if some giant dinosaur should come bounding out.  The natives believe the hills to be the remnants of a war of fallen giants.  We took pictures, and the locals took pictures with us.  I can't really imagine why someone would want me in their family vacation album, but I took pics with mom, grandma and sis.  We climbed back down as a rainstorm came sweeping over the hills, and sat back on a veranda watching the rains come down.  We caught a bus back that was literally a karoke bus.  Old 80s glam rock and pop blasting in the bus.  I have a post coming about Lionel Richie Diplomacy to the Philippines, but I am short on time and will write more later.  For now, all I can say is that the Scorpions are still rock gods here.

John and I took a brief detour, hopping off the bus to get some early dinner in a tiny town.  The town had a market on one side of the street and a few stores on the other.  We bought a whole chicken, and proceeded to chow down on the bird, sitting on the market steps as the locals looked on in disbelief as these gringos tossed chicken bones into the trash barrel.  We washed our hands in rain-water, and grabbed sweets of caramelized coconut on glutinous rice for dessert.

We got back to the hostel, and sat out on the balcony overlooking the jungle.  We sipped Beer beer.  That isn't a typo, the beer is called "Beer."  The slogan is "Beer na beer," Beer is beer.  That's simple marketing I can respect.  Wasn't so bad either.  We met some frauleins on a six-month trek and spent the night sitting out chatting with the rest of the EU I invited over (France, Slovenia, etc).  We were even joined by a fairy- a giant flying cockroach that was the size of a coke can.  Tinkerbell, it wasn't.

The night got interesting as we all turned into our hostel room.  As we were all brushing our teeth, John plugged in his phone and the outlet short-circuited and started spewing fire.  Some combo of wiring and rain that was coming down- really, really bad in a bamboo and wood bungalow.  A strange scene ensued of the bucket brigade running around with toothbrushes still in mouth.  We luckily got the fire out without the tinderbox catching, and cut the power to keep any more electrical mishaps from taking place.  I went to bed with the sound of the jungle in my ears as I lay under my mosquito veil.

I awoke early to the sound of the jungle, and we EU went swimming in the river.  We hiked along a trail until we got to a waterfall.  We splashed in and out of the fast moving current and rode the rapids about.  All but the Frenchy, who decided it was too dangerous and sat in the kiddie pool.  When we returned, he shrugged and said "I am French."

We caught the currents back down stream, and I showered and dried off.  I bade farewell to the EU and hopped a few jeepneys back to town.  I am about to hop on a 2 hour ferry from Tagbilaran to Cebu, then over to a 22 hour ferry from Cebu to Manila.  Why not fly, as asked?  Because I know what I get with flying, whereas I have never done it this way, and expect the morning view to be exquisite as we pass islands.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Tiger's Tail cont

I have been watching with some interest as India starts reaching out in Southeast and East Asia. I wrote a blog about it before (India and the String of Pearls). More recently, India has been reaching out to Japan for trade and investment. I'm hoping to see these efforts accompanied by public diplomacy outreach in cultural diplomacy and exchange. But perhaps that is what this forum is for, to push such things.

Meanwhile, I am wondering about Indian-Filipino public diplomacy. I was in Cebu and saw a lot of Indians in the business district where there are a lot of IT projects and call centers. I'm curious if anyone in the network knows of specific Indian public diplomacy outreach to the Philippines. It is an interesting country for India and could be a good country for Indian pd. Maybe some call center exchange programs?

Escape from Cebu

I spent yesterday wandering around downtown Cebu. Visiting the old fort constructed by the Spanish on arrival. I had a pounding headache that wouldn't go away. At first I thought it was a hangover, but by the third day I realized it was something else: a smograine. I have been having a mini-migraine caused by the exhaust and pollution of Cebu's choked air. My guide book said that if Manila is full throttle, then Cebu runs in second gear; rather if Manila is the seventh layer, perhaps Cebu is layer numero tres.

I thankfully escaped this morning to the island of Bohol on a fast ferry. The headache dissipated as I sat on the side of the fast ferry, taking in the swirling winds as the crossed the seas. I arrived to Bohol, to its main city of Taglibaran, and found cheap accommodations. To reward myself for surviving Cebu, I treated moi to some McDonalds. As I poured over the MickeyD's menu, with fried chicken and rice as well as spaghetti, I had an idea for a McWorld. McDonalds should open a branch that features all the local versions they offer around the globe. Like the egg-topped burger in China, or the McAloo Tikki potato burger in India. Perhaps the McArabia from the Middle East, wrapped in pita. The Philippines' spaghetti is another variation. And the random favorites not at USMCD like potato wedges or curly fries. 'Twould be interesting in a globalized sort of fastfood fashion.

Anywho, I caught a jeepney to another jeepney station until I got to the Tasier Conservation Center. Tasiers are micro-primates with saucer-like eyes.  I wandered through the forest, playing paparazzi to these tiny little creatures.  They were adorable and tiny.  I have been promising my sister a monkey for years, this one I could actually fit in my camera bag and take home.  Really funny looking creatures.

On my way back there were no jeepneys, so I hitched a ride in a water delivery truck.  We fumbled with words since I didn't speak Visayano, Boholono or anything of a common tongue.  But a nice ride through the jungle.  I got back to town and rode the back of a jeepney into the city center.  Now I am frustratingly trying to deal with AirAsia, whose website is so not user-friendly.  Tomorrow I am off to the Chocolate Hills, details to come about these choco mountain kisses.

Speaking of kisses, when trying to exit a jeepney, Filipinos make kissy noises to signal a stop.  I prefer the Central American tooth hiss.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Polling in Nermalland

I am quoted in a story on Gallup and Abu Dhabi as a PD expert who reads smoke signals:
Public diplomacy experts see interesting smoke signals coming out of the Abu Dhabi center. Paul Rockower of the University of Southern California's Public Diplomacy Corps project notes that Gallup's affiliation with the Crown Prince Court may give them wiggle room on their operations: “If they're established with the Court, Gallup might get some leeway from the government to ask more interesting questions but it really varies country-by-country. In-country polling firms are very careful as they know what will get them in trouble and they know where they can bend the rules.”

Rockower also emphasized that landing Gallup was a major public diplomacy coup for both Abu Dhabi and the Emirates: “It lets Gallup create a broader global presence and lets the Emirates, and Abu Dhabi in particular, further brand itself as a Gulf hub of research and scholarship. The Emirates has been working for a long time to conduct public diplomacy via nation branding to highlight its internationalist credentials. This is just one more piece of that branding push.”
Shukran Mel and Nomi, my own pollsters.

The Long Return to Manila

Ever Pablo's Cost/Benefit Analysis: for the same price to return to Manila, I could take a 1.5 hour flight on Cebu Pacific or a 24 ferry on the high seas. Guess which one I chose.

"A brooding gloom lay over this vast and monotonous landscape; the light fell on it as if into an abyss. The land devoured the sunshine; only far off, along the coast, the empty ocean, smooth and polished within the faint haze, seemed to rise up to the sky in a wall of steel." -Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

Monday, October 25, 2010

or the highway

Umm...apparently singing Sinatra's My Way at karoke bars in the Philippines can get you killed! Thanks for the warning Adam.

Not-Quite-SAT Analogies

Colt 45 is to the Philippines like Pabst Blue Ribbon is to Tibet. Answer: Random American beers that pop up and end up popular in random places.

Islam in Asia

An interesting piece in the LA Times on Islam in Asia.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Frankenstein's monster and my own

"Beware when battling monsters, lest you become one."

"Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, of how dangerous is the acquirements of knowledge, and how much happier is a man who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow."
-Victor Frankenstein to Captain Walton

Has Obama Failed to Reduce Hostility to Obnoxious Americans Abroad?

Thee Onion offers the true test of Nation Branding (TY JB)

Has Obama Failed To Reduce Hostility Toward Obnoxious Americans Abroad?

Island of Negros; Cebu

I awoke early in Iloilo and headed out in a jeepny on my way to the port. I hopped a morning ferry to Bacolod in the Island of Negros. I had read there was much in Bacolod, so I made my way to the bus station. I was debating whether to go to Dumaguete, a college town in the south or on to my final southerly destination Cebu. The bus station I stopped at only had buses to Cebu so my decision was made for me. I hopped another bus and we wove around cliffs and past fertile rice fields and mountains under cloud cover. We rounded the top of the isle and over to the port of San Carlos. In San Carlos, I hopped a ferry to the island of Cebu, to the port of Toledo.

The ferry ride was nice, save for the grunting piggies in the cargo hold. A truck full of sows was in transport. There was even a prayer offered for safe travel, broadcast on the ship's tvs before we set off,  including music.  I saw some dolphins swim past the ferry, kinda cool. I sat at the front of the boat, taking in the sea air and watching birds dive into the water to hunt. We arrived to Toledo and were off again to Cebu. As we drove across the Island of Cebu and into Cebu City, we passed a whole town that seemed to have had a brown out. Whole markets were lit by candle light, as were bakeries and little shops. I saw people standing out scratching lotto tickets by red wax candles. Under the fecund full moon, the whole thing had a fascinating yet eerie look.

We arrived to Cebu and I headed uptown. I found a hostel and dropped my stuff. I met a Filipino, a Korean and a Dutch fellow, and we went out to a local club. Actually lots of fun. Then to karoke, which was even more ridiculous. I have never seen anyone love cheesy pop music like Filipinos. The have beatified Lionel Richie. They sing such cheesy pop music all the time. It's kind of endearing, in a lame sort of way.

Too much Red Horse ("dirty wine") made a fun night turn into a rough morning. I found a place that had pancakes, then headed downtown to see the Cross of Magellan. At the church downtown, there is the cross that Magellan planted in 1521, shortly before he was offed by Lapu-Lapu.


Spain should be ashamed for bestowing the colonial name "The Philippines" on a place where the language has no "F."  Here it is the Pilipinas.  See under: Balestine (no "P" in Arabic)

Friday, October 22, 2010


I just finished the masterful work that is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. If you have never read it, I highly recommend it. As you can imagine, it is nothing like Boris Karloff's Hollywood version. It is a travesty that the book and the subsequent movies even share the same name. For one, the creature is not some moaning dunce, but a brilliant, sentient being who struggles with his creation and isolation from the world of man.

"Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man more beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even the very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred."

The story is a mix between that of Adam created by a G-d that abhors him, who desires only an Eve to mitigate his isolation and loneliness, combined with Milton's Paradise Lost and a touch of Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner (linked a few blogs back).  Also a bit of Faust thrown in for good measure.

"Remember that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel," the creature states. The creature desires to be virtuous, but a callous world cannot listen, they only see the horror. "...misery made me a fiend. Make me happy and I shall again be virtuous," the creature declares.

There is also a lot of Freudian undertones, for Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Shelley) had serious familial issues. Her famous mother died in childbirth, her father treated her poorly and neglectfully and abandoned her with her marriage to Shelley.

A staggering, page-turning work of brilliance, that I humbly submit as a recommendation for all the readers of this blog who enjoy a masterpiece.

On Honesty in Iloilo

I found this bit of wisdom in a jeepny in Iloilo, it seems a little too apt this morning:
Be Honest
Even if others are not.
Even if others will not.
Even if others can not.

At a loss

After a tricycle, ferry, 6 hour bus and jeepney, I have arrived in Iloilo (ilo-ilo, fun to say).  I am spending the sabbath here and then heading on to the isle of Negros.  In my travels in the Philippines, I have been surprised by the absence of two groups that I keep tabs on: Israelis and Mormons. 

On the first, I am shocked I haven't seen Israeli backpackers.  I am on cheap islands and beaches in a Christian country that already has some contact with Israel through the numerous Filipinos that work in Israel (and are changing its cuisine).  Israelis either travel in packs or travel to avoid the packs of Israelis.  I am shocked I haven't seen itinerant Israelis about.

On the second, I am shocked I haven't seen Mormon temples or clean-cut missionaries about.  This is a country that is 90 percent Christian, of which is overwhelmingly Catholic.  Yet I also see in-roads by the Protestants (Evangelicals especially) and also Jehovah's Witnesses.  Yet no Mormons, and I am suprised.

PS: I saw a Mormon Church in San Carlos and met a Mormon Filipino in Cebu.  Just missing Israelis then.

On Labels

"When I feed the poor, I am called a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, I am called a communist." -Dom Helder Camara, Archbishop of Recife (Brazil)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rime of the Ancient Mariner

"The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,
Yet he cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

"And now the storm-blast came, and he
Was tyrannous and strong:
He struck with his o'ertaking wings,
And chased us south along.

With sloping masts and dipping prow,
As who pursued with yell and blow
Still treads the shadow of his foe,
And foward bends his head,
The ship drove fast, loud roared the blast,
And southward aye we fled."
-Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Call me Isaac.  Ishmael was already taken, and the original fellow was wise enough to stick to the desert.  I took to the rough seas not so much to wrestle with G-d but rather with Poseidon.

I awoke early in Looc, itching and worrying of critters, and wondering if the ferry would sail.  The sky was somewhat clear, and things looked promising to get out of dodge.  I walked down to the pier and found that there was a boat departing at 9:30am, the Victory Express.  How fortuitous, I thought.  I had no idea what a pyhrric victory it would be.

Then the storm rolled in, and it was raining sideways.  We hid out on the side of the ferry terminal dedicated some years prior by
GAM (Just another country that had a female prez before America) until the gale subsided.  But the winds blew the storm away and the skies were blue as I boarded the minnow.  I stowed my daypack in the hull while I sat on top as the ferry departed.

"Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip
That started from this tropic port
Aboard this tiny ship.

The mate was a mighty sailing man,
The skipper brave and sure.
Five passengers set sail that day
For a three hour tour, a three hour tour.

The weather started getting rough,
The tiny ship was tossed,
If not for the courage of the fearless crew
The minnow would be lost, the minnow would be lost."

Almost immediately I realized this round would be different.  Within about two minutes I was chased off the top with waves.  I tried to climb into the hull, but the flaps were already down.  I was called over to the captain's room, where senior citizens and mothers with children sat.  The waves were rocking the boat up and down so that the captain could press the gas only intermittently.  We rocked with the waves as I posted up in the doorway, trying to hold on tight and not get splashed too much by the swell.  The waves were coming up so much that I had to take off my shoes and throw them in the back to keep from getting wet.  The water was proving extremely rough, even though the skies were clear.  The waves were tossing the ship up and down, and the swell was coming aboard.  The aftereffects of the typhoon to thank.

I ventured to the stern (back to you landlubbers) and found the bathroom (comfort room, 'round these parts) and a semi-dry fellow named Apram in a cowboy hat.  When I returned to the cabin room, the rocking of the the boat had a few in the cabin sick.  I wasn't feeling great with the rollercoaster ride either.  As soon as one woman started getting sick, I knew it would be a rearguard action for my stomach.  With a sick child spewing near my bag, and the room filling up with the smell of stomach bile, I had to escape to the back of the boat for fresh air or I would be next.  I stowed my precious cargo in the bathroom and sat down on the ropes in front of the anchor.  From this point forward, it was this old man versus the sea.

I sat on the ropes as we rolled up and down over the giant swell.  I thumbed my prayer beads as I offered up supplications to G-d.  As they say, there are no atheists in foxholes; the same logic applies to ships in storms.  I let myself go limp with the waves and tried to think of good thoughts.  I prayed; meditated; stared off into the blue skies, anything to fight the waves and fight to keep my lunch down.  The two hour ferry doubled in time since we had to go so slow.  While I prefer the world as an amusement park, this ride was rough.

To keep myself cool and free from nauseous heat, I doffed my shirt and rolled up my pants cuffs.  The formerly dry spot lost its seco nature, and soon I was soaked.  Although the salty water burned the eyes, it helped keep me cool and unsick.  Eventually it dawned on me that the midday sun would fry me if I kept my shirt off, so I dawned the soaked shirt for protection.  Lodged in tight on the anchor area, I passed the awful voyage until the waves died down and we could properly drive.  Never have I been so pleased.

My anchor mate, Apram, was kind enough to invite me back to his house for lunch and a shower.    Apram owns a bakery in Caticlan and one in Romblon.  He took me back to his store, introduced me to his family, fed me wonderful Filipino rotisserie chicken and rice, then he and his wife took me by tricycle back to his home for a bucket bath, back to the bakery for a loaf and then back to the port to head on to the final leg of my voyage on a 20 minute ferry to the isle of Boracay.   It is always the strangers who carry the fire and keep my lamp light.

I took the brief ferry to the white sand beaches of Boracay, and took a tricycle to the Treetop hostel, a bamboo structure off the beach.  I got a dorm suite, a whole dorm to myself for 300 p ($7).  I showered once again- although cold, still the first shower not from a bucket since I left Manila.  Then I wandered out to where the white sand met the turquoise sea.  The scene was made even more brilliant by the foreboding perse skies bearing storms.  The winds swirled, sending storms about and I ducked into a German pub to stay dry.  The storm passed and I spent the night walking in the anti-Romblon.  I was surrounded by old white gringos with their brown girlfriends, and korean tourists.  I had enough early on and went to bed early after a long day.

Today has been spent drinking coffee off the beach and dodging the occasional storm as I plan my escape tomorrow.  Nice place, but not my style amid the obnoxious imperial gringos and rampant beach materialism. I don't want a massage (especially from the tranny who kept following me with offers of a "free, special massage), ride a jet ski, or take a boat trip.  Salaamat, but  I am audi5k.  Down next to Iloilo and then either the isle of Negros (!) or Cebu.


From far-away, I dream of Mama Afrika.  I am getting closer.  Two interesting things.

-A vid about Women of Afrika from JR that won the TED Prize.

-From Jocelyn, a fascinating perspective on the size of Afrika:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Looking for a Leader in Looc

I found this on a sign in Looc:
I'm looking for a leader
Whose heart throbs with the "poor in spirit,"
Whose face burst forth into a smile of peace.

I'm looking for a leader
Not beside the gambling table nor in the cockpit,
Neither on a drinking binge nor a-hunting chicks.

I'm looking for a leader
With the farmers in the fields,
With the fishermen with their net,
With the vendors in the market,
With the common people in the street.

I'm looking for a leader
In the hospital near the sick bed,
In the slums to give the people a lift.

I'm looking for a leader
wWo is not afflicted with the mañana habit,
Whose appointment is not many hours late.

I'm looking for a leader
Who is not very bookish,
Whose commonsense is down-to-earth.

I'm looking for a leader
Who can plant trees with breathless speed,
To save our poor, wasted planet earth.

I'm looking for a leader
Who does not "lord it over" his followers
Who can hammer a nail when the wall falls to pieces
Who by his good deeds teaches
And walks in the footsteps...

Bantam raptors and other pics

From Road to Romblon

From Rasta Romblon

From The Cockfight

From Leaving Romblon and the road to Looc

Shelley on Travel

"But he found that a traveller's (sic) is one that includes much pain amidst its enjoyments. His feelings are forever on the stretch; and when he begins to sink into repose, he finds himself obliged to quit that on which he rests in pleasure for something new, which again engages his attention, and which also he forsakes for other novelties."
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

The Voice of Taiwan: RTI on CPD

I have a new blog up on the USC Center on Public Diplomacy's website on Radio Taiwan International.  One of the most interesting points (I think):

RTI also plays a valuable role via its Thai, Vietnamese and Indonesian services for guest-workers residing in Taiwan in letting them connect with their families at home. RTI thus has become a source of news about Taiwan and information on the home countries for the numerous guest-workers from Southeast Asia living in Taiwan. Meanwhile, in a triangulated dialogue, family members in Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam can contact RTI and request songs or leave messages for their family members in Taiwan.In addition, the station provides Mandarin language lesson programming to help guest workers learn the language and better assimilate.

The Bow; The Convertible

For my last night in Romblon, the group headed out for an evening in town, to try the aforementioned ballot, drink Red Horse beer and sing karoke. I mentioned the ballot, but I don’t think I gave a full description. It is only sold at night or in the early morning, and is sold warm- probably because the duck is still incubating. You peel off the top of the shell, and crack the membrane. You then take a little salt and drink the juice. Then some more salt and eat the chewy ducky. Some of it tasted rubbery, other parts softer like a hard-boiled yoke. Thankfully, it was dark and I couldn’t exactly see what I was eating. Thankfully we had plenty of Red Horse about, which is affectionately known as “dirty wine.” After, we pathetically belted out songs, crooning both well-known favorites, and also trying to join in on the tagalog songs. It was a bit ridiculous.

I awoke to the view of the jungle out my open bungalow, and to the sound of the winds passing through the palms. Next to me, Agusta the cat was still purring in her sleep curled up where my head had been. I packed up, paid up and sat listening to reggae with Toytoy before I headed into town with John the blond dreadlocked Swede to catch the ferry.

We shared a tricycle in with a beautiful Filipina American, who ended up being the wife of Dave- the fellow I met in Manila who had told me of the isle. As I like to say, irony is G-d’s sense of humor. In town, John and I grabbed some lunch, which we shared with a fellow named Herman who chatted with us from his plastic wheelchair. I sat in the Romblon book café, drinking calmansi lime juice and waiting for the ferry.

Romblon, it is said, is hard to leave. True and almost a little too apt as the skies opened up and poured down. I wasn’t sure if I was getting on my 1pm ferry, but the rains let up just in time and I climbed into the small ferry boat with bamboo pontoons. I was the only passenger on the ferry, and was rewarded with an immaculate view of post-diluvian pink skies. The indigo seas were crashing down but still calm enough for voyage. I left my stuff in the hull and climbed out to the nose of the boat to enjoy the view with the sailors. They laughed at having the gringo in their midst. I sat on the bow, as we rocked with the waves.

The ride was magnificent. I sat out on the nose of the boat as we rocked with the waves.  The sea winds were blowing in my face as the waves crested past us, intermittently splashing me. The skies and the seas formed a glorious scene as I smiled as wide as the horizon with the beauty before me. The sailors moved to the back as they were getting splashed, but I remained at the bow. As I was getting more wet, the sailors laughed as I disappeared into the hull. Then as I returned sans shoes and shirts and took my place back on the front of the boat, they let out a loud chuckle. I remained on the tip of the boat as we rocked with the waves. I watched flying fish come shooting out of the water, fly across the seas and dive back into the depths. After a splendid hour voyage, which I wished would have never ended, we arrived at San Agustin.

Barefooted, I climbed off the boat and walked through town to catch a jeepney to Odiongan. The jeepney climbed the unpaved roads and crashed through the mud. At one point, it started to rain and I got worried about my camera in my bag on the roof. I got the driver to stop, and started heading back to climb up to the roof when I saw that there was a tarp over top. I called out “walang problema” ( no problem), which was greeted by a jeepney full of laughs.

We arrived in Odiongan, and I was first told there were no more jeepneys to Looc, where I needed to catch my ferry to Boracay. But I asked around a little more, and found out there was one last bus around the island coming in an hour. Sure enough, the last mode of transit pulled into the market. I looked at the packed bus, and looked at the luggage rack and decided to try my luck on the roof. Don Pablo’s rules of the road: if given the choice between a crowded bus or an open roof, go for the top. I climbed up and parked myself for a convertible ride with a few Philippine compatriots. As we rode through town, the presence of a gringo on the roof brought cheers, chuckles and big waves.  I was reminded of previous convertible trips in Cambodia and Guatemala.

We pulled out of town and into a verdant green brilliance of rice paddy terraces and rolling bamboo and coconut tree hills. Now, I was sailing on the roads, and the ride was equally magnificent. We drove past thatched roof bamboo huts, past simple life (as the say in Laos, “the simpler the life, the better”) and past various village churches. The rice paddies shone a brilliant green, and the rice water plots reflected the bamboo thatch huts in their pools. I had to duck low hanging branches as I sat with my feet dangling down the side of the cruiser. Again, I wished the ride had never ended.

I arrived in Looc, and found the cheapest place in town. At 100 pesos ($2.15), you get what you pay for, as I spent the night battling cockroaches, lizards and bed bugs.

PS: I missed a post, so go back to Oct 18th for the entry on my arrival to Romblon.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Holy stinky tofu, I ate the Philippine delicacy that is bollot- a duck fetus still in its shell.  Crack the shell, drink the juice, eat the ducky.  It was revolting, I had to work really hard to get it down and keep it down.

PS: Thanks for all those concerned. Typhoon is in the north of Luzon, I am in the middle in the central Visayas, on my way to the white sand beach of Boracay. I am pretty dry.

Rasta Romblon

"Of all the unbearable nuisances, the ignoramus that has traveled is the worst." Thanks Danny!

The fool wanders, the wise man travels.  –Thomas Fuller

After Le Coq Sportif, we headed to the market to buy supplies for the evening’s barbecue.  We bought 3 whole fish to be grilled, including a parrot fish.  All for 60 pesos, $1.15.  We also bought half a kilo of squat purple eggplants, cloves of garlic and round red onions to cook on the coals.  We returned to San Pedro on tricycle and made our way for a sundowner cocktail on Tofi’s porch.  The expansive sky met the endless seas at the horizon’s point in a world gone pacifically pink, yellow and crystal blue below.  From below, we heard the waves crashing; from above the rasta reggae of Bob Marley, Sergeant Garcia and Bob’s own progeny Stephen Marley. 

Tofi had been grilling tuna steaks that were ready when we arrived.  We crushed calamansi limes and sprinkled a little rock salt on the firm pink tuna steaks.  For added deliciousness, we ate the tuna’s head, which seemed to resemble a dolphin.  We grilled up the three fish, plus the little minnow thrown in for good luck as I bargained for our catch.  One large fish was stuffed with red onions, the other two grilled as is.  We picked at the three fish with our hands, pulling the flaky white meat from the fish bones.  We also ate the whole grilled eggplants grilled in a little oil, salt and calamansi lime.  The red onions and garlic cloves were grilled on kebab sticks, and balanced out the fish nicely.  All the while, we sipped Tanduey rhum and coke and pina coladas.  For desert, we ate sweet baby bananas.

Rooted deep in my American capitalist membrane, I had dreams of building A-frame huts along the cliffs and turning Romblon into a backpacker paradise.  The Rasta Romblon reggae festival, sponsored by Tanduey Rhum.  But sometimes it is best to leave paradise intact, and keep a secret as such. 

After dinner, we swam in the warm seas.  Snorkel goggles revealed white phosphorescent algae that sparked white with each passing stroke.  I climbed into a canoe and paddled out.  In the vast and endless sea of memories, I remembered my rafting trips with my father.  I saw a red light in the distance and decided to paddle out to reach it.  I kept paddling and paddling further from shore, seemingly getting closer to what I thought was a buoy.  While I had gone out far, I figured I could ride the tides back for an easier return.

After I had paddled far out into the seas, I finally realized the light was a chimera- coming from an island across the bay.  My curiosity had lured me out far past where I should be, and I quickly turned around and headed back to shore.  I paddled and paddled back towards a lighted beach I thought to be our own.  Once I got closed, I realized I was mistaken.  I began paddling around a giant cliff, hoping the next port would be mine.  Then I heard my name being called.  Tofi and Toytoy had rowed out in a small pontoon boat to look for me since I had been gone so long.  We rowed back around the cliff and to shore.  My French friends sat smoking on the beach, waiting my return. 

We walked back to Toytoy’s place, and I went to sleep in my open loft, under the mosquito nets.  The cat curled up next to me and we slept in peaceful slumber.  I awoke this morning to the sea winds blowing through the jungle.  I sat with Toytoy, drinking coffee as he smoked papaya leaf cigarettes.  I headed back to Tofi’s A-frame hut, where I sit in a hammock overlooking the undulating waters.  The sea winds dance through the green leaves as the sounds of waves crashing below fills my ears.  I am privy to the grandest hi-definition flat screen. 

The trouble with television is that it is like a sword rusting in the scabbard during a battle for survival. –Edward R. Murrow

In a word: perfect.

Gauguin's dreams

A world of marble, bamboo and coconut
Shades of white, yellow, green and brown
I feel like I am passing through Gauguin’s dreams.

The Cockfight

And the stadium came alive with cheers, chants and bets.  Le Coq Sportif.  Sunday’s post-church baptism of blood and feathers had begun.  Bets were flying faster than the fowls; my compatriots and I placed side bets on the broilers- a bottle of Tanduey rhum on the walla side.   Those about to die cluck you.  The brown-skinned brood lovingly petted their poultry as they waited to let loose the cocks.  Cry havoc, and unleash the poultry of war.  In a hail of feathers and a glint of steel, it was all over: for the capon champion, eternal glory; for the fowl loser, in the pot.

If I had a warrior rooster chicken, I would dress him in a red silk cape trimmed with feathers- red to match his plumage.  He would have a filigreed helmet, which he would doff before battle.  His blade would be finely-tempered damsascus steel- a forged Toledo beauty with inscriptions in curved calligraphy.For those who would say this sport is barbaric, I point to the agro-industrial complex.  Birds kept in confining cages with no space to move or breathe.  Hens kept alive on hormones and antibiotics.  Rather, these roosters are loved and cared for until their demise.  Fed and trained- apparently, there is eve a cock channel that offers tips on feeding and caring for your bird.  Cared for and treated as a prized possession.  Given the chance to live or die with honor.  Far less barbaric than the food system we support.

Monday, October 18, 2010


After a delicious lunch of grilled fish- tangui steak, rice and veggies (140P, $3) and a few San Miggys to celebrate the arrival, I hopped a tricycle to San Pedro. Tricycles are motorcycles outfitted with side cabins for transport. They are semi-enclosed structures that ply the transportation routes. There are also ones with bicycles, and are closer to rickshaws. Not wanting or needing a private cab, I shared the tricycle with 5 others heading that way- two in the front, two in the back and one on the back of the bike. I shared the back seat with a little boy of about 8 years old. I broke out my ipod for the ride and let the little dude listen to the sounds of Kanye, K-os and South African quito music. He beamed from ear to ear listening to the beats, and we flashed peace signs to all we passed. Ever indoctrinating the impressionable youth with hip-hop. I gave him a zahir, a coin bearing Chinese characters and the mug of Chang Kai-shek. Reminded me of a night bus from Paxse to Vientiene, when a monk and I shared ear buds. He in saffron, me in my usual threads, connected by ear buds.

I arrived to Toytoy’s bar, a great little place in the middle of nowhere. Wooden decks with hammocks, hanging lanterns, thatched roof. A little bit of paradise in the jungle. I procured a place to stay upstairs, on a mat enclosed with a mosquito net. I always love sleeping in a mosquito net, it seems like slumbering in a veil. I changed and walked through the jungle to the beach for a swim.

And there I was, where the jungle meets the beach, where the pastel skies meet the crystal blue seas. I waded out in the glassy water, painfully stepping on a sea urchin, but otherwise content. The pastel pink and gold horizon reflected on the mirror-like seas and all was quiet, save for the lapping of water against the shores. I swam until my fingers turned prunish and made my way back to Toytoy’s.

There I met the select few who had found this little outpost in paradise. I was joined by 2 French fellows and a Swede, three twentysomething friends who had met before and were traveling about. We sat out on the deck, listening to reggae music and playing some derivative of the game “Asshole”. We drank tanduey rum, the cheap Philippine delight with calamansi limes squeezed in our glasses. We passed the evening, chatting with Toytoy and his boisterous neighbor Tofi. I chatted with Tofi about the days when Marcos was in power, and how his generation rebelled with long hair and rock music. He talked about the days of “Erap”- the B actor-turned-president whose corruption was rather on par with the Marcoses. Toytoy’s wife prepared us a phenomenal meal of pan-fried tuna steak cooked in garlic and spicy chilies, fried springrolls and rice. The tuna was a perfect texture and the chilies burned my mouth ever so nicely. The fellows went in for a night in town, but I stayed back to get some rest after a long day.

I slept in the open-air second floor, under the mosquito net, with a cat curled up at my head. A rain storm came in the middle of the night and I could hear the tranquil sounds of rain pattering on the thatch roof and jungle leaves. I awoke rested, and came down to the porch to have coffee with Toytoy. As I chatted with Toytoy, I think I found a person with the most perfect existence. He lives in paradise, where the jungle meets the beach. He has a beautiful wife who cooks immaculate food, 3 kids (two boys and a baby girl). He owns this chilled out bar/guest house and stays his days here. He said he hadn’t been back to town, maybe 30 minutes away, in 5 months. He is content with his castle and keep, and as I hear Cesaria Evora sing her mellifluous Portuguese, I can understand why.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bataan Death March; Frankenstein; Ramblon

Destiny was too potent, and her immutable laws had decreed my utter and terrible destruction.
-Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

The thrilla was gone, so I fled Manila southwards on a Bataan Death March on the back of some advice.  I hopped a cab to a bus station (there are many, as there is no central) and quickly caught the bus to Batangas.  We rode some 2 hours or so southward past greenery and scenery that was pretty yet nondescript.  I arrived to the port pier of Batangas, and as expected found that the ferry wasn’t until Saturday at 5pm.  Unexpectedly, I found another ferry leaving at 3pm that day for Odiongan on Tabla Island in the Ramblon area.  It was a 9 hour ferry arriving at the witching hour.  Better to take that and figure it out from there than wait a day and change doing nothing. The beauty of no plans is that with no destination I can improvise. I bought my ticket (450pesos, $10) and entered the ferry terminal to wait. 

I lunched on some instant noodles and flirted with the cashier girls to let me plug my ipod in to the charger.  The girl wanted payment for power, so I offered her kisses and affection.  I passed time in the browned-out terminal amid the semi-darkness caused by power failure, which was welcomed if ending the annoying tv and bringing on blissful silence save the pitterpatter chatter of tagalog.  I boarded the ferry and took my spot on top of a cot on the open-aired deck.  As usual, I am the only. 

The rains began to trickle down on the murmuring waves as the distance grew dark and the ship rocked.  I grew slightly apprehensive in the thunder, but it passed.  I chatted with a nice, religious fellow named Nalli on questions of faith while we waited.  The engine came on a beat out a percussive beat as we turned.  I lay horizontal with my wide screen window showcasing the beauty of the world. 

It is uncanny that I can only really sit still when I am moving.  Perhaps it is the after effects of my parents putting me in a car seat and driving around the beltway to put me to sleep as a wee babe.  I napped and awoke to a pamphlet about Dengue Fever from a crewman.  I went above deck to get some fresh air and was greeted with a placid velvet violet sea and thick lines of horizontal clouds fighting to pass a mountaintop.  The sun was setting pink-orange in the distance. 

I pondered 5th grade, a pivotal year in my life holds some clues to this puzzle I am sorting out.  It was that year we learned of the age of exploration.  Of Magellan, de Gama, Drake; of lost cities like Tenochtitlan, Macchu Pichu and Zanzibar.  It was that year I first can recall going abroad, traveling with my parent to Cancun.  I remember climbing the pyramids of Chichen Itza and doing a project about the stone structure.  I was so enthralled with the new, foreign world offered in Mexico, with its exotic foods and different tastes.  It was also a tough year, the year my mother got breast cancer and things began to fall apart.  It was the first year I had an adversarial relationship with my teacher, Ms. Quinn.  The pangs of puberty also started kicking in.  It was the first year I can remember not believing and starting to actively question.  It was a rough year, whose after effects lasted a while, something I realize all these years later.  Somehow I feel that all of this is connected- as if in discovering the world, I am discovering myself.

In the distance, an impressionist landscape filled the sky.  I ventured out back above deck into the purple suede night and saw something I hadn’t seen in a while: stars.  From high above, a half moon slice peered down.  Surrounded by a circle arc of clouds, it resembled the iris of G-d looking down from high.

And I read the brilliant classic Frankenstein, the original version by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.  I have always loved her husband’s work, but I have now found affection for hers as well.  I don’t so much find books, as they find me.  Her brilliant prose had me wondering if my journeys were a monster.  But who would have thought that I would find public diplomacy in Shelley’s gothic tale? 

You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been.  I do not know that the relation of my tale will be useful to you; yet, when I reflect that you are pursuing the same course, exposing yourself to the same dangers which have rendered me what I am, I imagine that you may deduce an apt moral from my tale; one that may direct you if you succeed in your undertaking, and console you in case of failure.

And later Frankenstein’s monster: ‘Listen to my tale: when you have heard that, abandon or commiserate me, as you shall judge that I deserve.  But hear me…  Listen to me, Frankenstein…Yet I ask you not to spare me: listen to me; and then, if you can, and if you will, destroy the work of your hands.’

Frankenstein beseeches Captain Walton to listen before continuing on his own fool’s errand- just as his monster entreated Frankenstein to listen.  The most forgotten aspect of public diplomacy is related to listening.  Listening to well-intentioned advice so we do not make the same mistakes over and over; listening to our adversaries to better understand them and understand that they are likely not the monsters we believe them to be.

A night storm came and sent everyone back inside.  After the storm had passed, I ventured back up and sat alone out perched on the deck, watching lighting cast pale blue light on the eastern burgundy skies and wine-colored seas.  After 9 hours, we arrived in port in Odiongan.  Sometimes the only thing worse than an endless journey is arriving at some ramshackle port. Nalli helped me find trike and lodging at a cheap place in the city center. 

In the morning, I walked around town a bit before Nalli returned and gave me a moto ride to the jeepney station.  I sweated it out at the jeepney station until we departed down back roads and gravel paths.  Nothing like the smell of diesel and burning refuse to remind me how much I love adventures.  The full jeepney drove around the mountains on gravel roads until we arrived in St. Agustin (The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only a page).  I hopped out of jeepney and on to pontoon ferry to Ramblon.  While I was able to hold back the temptation to ride on top of the jeepney, the ferry proved too much and I spent the hour journey on the white roof with sun kissing my pale skin and surf splashing up at me.  I am now in Ramblon the marble isle, ahead of schedule, and will spend a few days incommunicado.  After a cab, a 9 hour ferry, a trike, a moto, a 3 hr jeepney and a ponton ferry, I have earned my rest.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Manila Photos up

From Manila

From Intramuros


My biggest annoyance with the Philippines is that everyone calls me "sir."  I f'ing hate being called sir.  It seems like some colonial imposition to have the natives address everyone as sir.

Virgil is a tranny

Oh Manila. Fine during the day, but a beast when the sun goes down. My evening the night before was fine. I walked down to Remedios Circle where there are some bars and restaurants. I fended off the various putas and trannies offering their wares, and found a little hole-in-the-wall kitchen for some chicken soup and rice. I sadly doused my food with liquid salt thinking it was a sauce, and muddled through the mess. I was the evening’s entertainment as I chatted up the family and they took many pictures with me. Also, there are now videos of me eating chicken soup, which I can’t imagine are really that interesting. But a good bit of pd I performed, and we drank brandy in metal cups to celebrate the cultural exchange. I fended off the same workers on my walk back through the dark and sordid alleys bearing whole families sleeping in squalor.

Today I hopped the Light Rail Transit (LRT) uptown to Abad Santos to check out the famous Chinese Cemetery. I have found that I am a bit of good business for any place I stop to eat. It was the case in Taiwan as well. It is as if when a gringo sits down to eat, it somehow must be good food served. I lunched on grilled eggplant and some kind of string bean stew over rice, nothing too special but nourishing. I wandered through the jeepney lots and past mechanics working on the chrome cruisers. I got a little lost and ended up at the wrong cemetery and couldn’t figure out why I needed a permit from the city to visit a tourist place. Eventually we realized I was at the wrong cemetery and I backtracked to the semi-ornate Chinese cemetery. Recoleta it wasn’t, but it was kinda interesting with large marble mausoleums that had chandeliers and toilets (?).

I came back to the city center and went to the National Art Museum. Since it is national museum month, the gallery and national museum are free. Ever my favorite price. I walked through the galleries of Filipino artists. The work on display was rather good. A whole collection by a fellow named Juan Luna that was quality impressionist landscapes and portraits. The works on display gave a good sense of Filipino culture and heritage.

After that, I headed over to the national museum, which featured the anthropological origins of the Philippines. It had some fascinating history on the Manila Galleons, and how the silver mined in Peru, minted in Mexico came to China and filled imperial coffers in exchange for silks and ceramics. It had a great exhibit on the shipwreck of the San Diego in 1600.  Some putz capitan named Morga lost a battle to the Dutch that he really should have won, cause he had them outgunned, but he was a bureaucrat who was given control of a ship he had no biz commanding. He then was one of the few survivors and wrote up his heroic account of the battle and was awarded with a medal.  The Dutch captain wrote up his own more accurate tale of what transpired.  Morga's loss was our gain, as the sunken San Diego left us priceless relics from years past. There was also a great exhibit on trade in the Philippines before the Spanish came, with wares from Southeast Asia and China.  The rest of the museum had more on the various groups and tribes native to the Philippines. Some fascinating anthropomorphic funerary urns.  Again I was reminded of the timelessness of objects like millennia-old jade necklaces that resembled things I had purchased as gifts in my travels.

After the museums, I wandered around snapping pics of the Manilanos. Back at the hostel I met a fellow named Dave, a fellow tribesman living in the Philippines. He is a stone sculptor and helped give me some direction for my travels to a group of islands called Ramblon, which is marble quarry at the edge of jungles. So I am headed on a Bataangas Death March south to take a ferry to the marble isles of Ramblon.

I wandered back out in the streets to forage for food and came upon a back-alley grill. I had a whole grilled milkfish and whole grilled eggplant that were barbecued over charcoal in a tin drum. The alley filled with smoke as I ate the white fish over white rice, and dipped the delicate fish into a Philippine fish sauce with pieces of onions and chilies floating about. The whole thing cost me 63 pesos, about $1.30. I found a piece of pineapple pie for a desert.

After some work uploading pics, I walked back to my hostel through the squalid streets. I was greeted with toothless beggars pawing at me as I walked past whole blocks taken up with people sleeping on the streets on silver mats. Manila is one of the shadiest, seediest cities I have ever been to, and believe me, that means something. Skip Calle Purgatorio in Guate City, this place is straight up Dante’s Inferno. But it is a strange uneasy vibe. I have been to places both more dangerous and more poor. It doesn’t feel too unsafe. It just feels like a place that has seriously seen better days. It is fine during the day, but just becomes shady at night.  I chatted about this with a Filipino fellow hosteler named Philip.  He said he was ashamed of how bad things are.  He said he thought things have gotten worse, and he didn't see any way for it to get better.  Perhaps the thrill is gone.  Pearl of the Orient, but what is a pearl but an irritation of a shell.  I am leaving today but will be back as my trip ends to fly out.

New pics up from end o' Taiwan

From Taipei 101

From Mid-Autumn Festival

From Around Taipei (Fam Time)

From Taipei Flora Expo

From End o' Taipei

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Picking up where I left off, I wandered out of the Rizal Museum and over to the edge of the old Spanish fort to overlook the Pasig River at the mouth of the Manila Bay.  I wandered back out and down to the San Agustin Church, the oldest in Manila.  I walked through the hallways of the old church, through rooms filled with golden iconography and past painting of the evangelization of the Philippines.  I was reminded of Lima as I walked through the musty old church.  My journeys always end up as trips through memory, as I found myself in a multitude of forgotten memories.  I wandered into a museum dedicated to Andres de Urdaneta, another one of those luminaries since forgotten.  Urdaneta was an Augustinian friar who found the "tornaviaje," the return trip across the Pacific from Asia to New Spain (the Americas).  The museum began with an affective opening:
A long time ago, there was a man born with wings. And said he did around the world.

A man held captive by an unreachable dream of love, human and divine, to master the winds of the skies and the currents of the sea, a dream no other man had been able to attain. A man who set his heart upon his dream and reach out with his love for love, science and cosmography, a brave and talented man who knew how to go and most importantly, how to return, a gifted outstanding ordiziarron ignored by his own people, a forgotten oracle, a restless heart who treasured the seas and cherished the absolute soul, a hero, a perfect man, a Totus Homo, the man who discovered the "tornaviaje".

He is Fray Andres de Urdaneta, the Augustinian scientist, cosmographer, diplomat, patriot, and missionary who planted the seeds of evangelizm in the Philippines.
I wandered through the museum, following the lines of voyage of explorers like Magellan, Balboa and other unknown to me.  There was a case of the different spices, where they were found and their origins.  It seems so silly today that the value of cinnamon and cardamom was of such luxury; some day we will look back at other unobtaniums that way.

There was also a wonderful exhibit about Urdaneta's discovery in the return from the Philippines back to the New World.  His discovery opened up the trade routes that would shape history.  As any good hobbit knows, it is there and back again which matters.  I sat on the floor scribbling the Eulogy of Return:
He was a man who returned
People may return in triumph or defeat,
people may return rich or poor,
people may return by chance,
people may return for nostalgia
people may return to claim an inheritance,
people may return to die.
He was a man who returned.
He was a man who simply returned.

What treasure did he bring back in the hold?
What new spices did he find far a field?
How many ports did he plunder?
How many ships did he board?
Did he ravish the daughter of some Portuguese governor?
Did he flee from cannibals?
He was a man who returned
and the answer was himself.

Neither gold nor silver, pearls or precious wood.
His holds were empty,
he held the treasures under his arms:
papers, notes, records,
the story of how he befriended the winds,
the alchemy of the impossible return.
He was a man who came back to tell his tale.

He was a man who came back
and the journey itself was his cargo.
This is what made him a discoverer,
not because he was the first to arrive,
but rather because his
was an adventure to be narrated,
one that could be understood, one that could be told.
He was a man who came back
to prove that is was possible
to come back.

The cabin boy no longer sings,
only the wind sounds.
The lookout no longer climbs on high,
the moon dwells in the mast.
Yet the man continues with his calculations.
Like a Copernicus of the seas.
He was a can who came back
With new wisdom to behold.

Rats, scurvy, hunger,
torn sails, broken mats,
dead companions thrown to the seas
like sentinels of the voyage.
Nothing can turn back
He who has fooled the wind.
He was a man who came back
to narrate his adventure.

He was a min of his times.
Andres de Urdaneta, pirate of the stars,
navigator of the seas.
Born in these mountains
Yet he lived in those mountainous seas,
An exceptional giant of the sword, the cross and science.
He was a man of his times.
And who made his times progress.

He was a man of his times,
He who heard tell in these mountain
that there, across the seas lies America.
Not for him the discovery of new worlds,
Not for him the subjugation of nation or
the conquest of lands for his king.
And if this were so, he is recognized
neither for his bravery nor his cruelty.

He was a man of his times,
Andres de Urdaneta.
An unassuming navigator, a hero returned.
He was a man who returned
So other could venture out.

Remembering Rizal

"To foretell the destiny of a nation, it is necessary to open the books that tell her past"
-Jose Rizal

The functionality of Taipei has given way to the teeming streets of Manila.  The sky is pink with pollution spewed from the noxious diesel fumes of the buses, cars and jeepneys.  The colorful jeepneys are chromed and colored, and bare biblical verse. In God we Rust.  Streetside vendors plying their colorful candies and selling cigarettes with the names "fortune" and "hope", nursing those dreams with each passing puff.  Glue huffers wander in their own chemical clouds with eye glazed lost.  Sterility of Taipei gone- viva la diferencia.

I made my way to the old Spanish enclave Intramuros, where the Spanish once resided as the Philippine world grew around their outpost.  The lovely wide streets and leafy plazas were the centerpiece of Spanish Manila until the Japanese and Americans had a firefight over the city and burned it to the ground.  Over 100,000 Filipinos lost their lives in the chaos.

I wandered over the ramparts and down past the old Palacio de Gobernador and Manila Cathedral that had been rebuilt by the Vatican after the last one was destroyed.  I made my way to Fort Santiago, and to the Jose Rizal Museum and Shrine.  Like my pilgrimage to San Salvador to honor Romero, my trip to Manila is  very much about learning more about and honoring Jose Rizal.  Dr. Rizal is the national hero of the Philippines- a doctor and poet who eloquently spoke for Philippine freedom through nonviolence.  His work helped influence Gandhi among others.  Another one of those heroes i never learned of in school.  The museum and shrine are on the prison grounds were Rizal was held captive for sedition against the Spanish overlords.  The museum holds his effects and showcases his writings.  Some of the passages I found moving:

"The powers that be who, 
believing that they remedy an existing evil, 
fall short of justice and humanity, let them beware! 
There is a God in history." 
-From "Let us be just" 1890

"I left her...My nation hearth, 
a tree despoiled and shriveled, 
no longer repeats the echo of my old songs of mirth.
I sailed a vast  ocean
craving to change my fate
not noting, in my madness
that, instead of the weal I sought,
the sea surrounded me
wrought the spectre of death
and sadness."
-"They ask me for verse" 1882

"Men are born equal, naked and without links.  They were not created by God to be enslaved, neither were they endowed with intelligence in order to be misled, nor adorned with reason to be fooled by others.  It is not pride to worship a fellow man, to enlighten the mind, and to reason out everything.  The arrogant one is he who wants to be worshiped, who misleads others, and wants his will to prevail over reason and justice."
-"To the Women of Maloles"

I walked to the recreation of his simple cell, where he waited to die for the treasonous act of demanding his nation to be free.  These lines covered the walls:

"Man ought to die for his duty and his convictions.  I maintain all the ideas that I have expressed concerning the state and future of my country and gladly I'll die for her, nay, to obtain justice and tranquility for you."

"I have always loved my poor country and I'm sure I shall lover her until my last moment, should men prove unjust to me.  I shall die happy, satisfied with the thought that all I have suffered, my life, my loves, my joys, my everything, I have sacrificed for the love of her."

"I wish to show those who deny us patriotism that we know how to die for our duty and honor"

I walked upstairs to see paintings of Dr. Rizal, and see a room dedicated to his last poem, which he snuck out in an oil lamp just before his death at the hands of a firing squad.  I got chills reading this:

Farewell, my adored Land, region of the sun caressed,
Pearl of the Orient Sea, our Eden lost,
With gladness I give you my Life, sad and repressed;
And were it more brilliant, more fresh and at its best,
I would still give it to you for your welfare at most.

On the fields of battle, in the fury of fight,
Others give you their lives without pain or hesitancy,
The place does not matter: cypress laurel, lily white,
Scaffold, open field, conflict or martyrdom's site,
It is the same if asked by home and Country.

I die as I see tints on the sky b'gin to show
And at last announce the day, after a gloomy night;
If you need a hue to dye your matutinal glow,
Pour my blood and at the right moment spread it so,
And gild it with a reflection of your nascent light!

My dreams, when scarcely a lad adolescent,
My dreams when already a youth, full of vigor to attain,
Were to see you, gem of the sea of the Orient,
Your dark eyes dry, smooth brow held to a high plane
Without frown, without wrinkles and of shame without stain.

My life's fancy, my ardent, passionate desire,
Hail! Cries out the soul to you, that will soon part from thee;
Hail! How sweet 'tis to fall that fullness you may acquire;
To die to give you life, 'neath your skies to expire,
And in your mystic land to sleep through eternity !

If over my tomb some day, you would see blow,
A simple humble flow'r amidst thick grasses,
Bring it up to your lips and kiss my soul so,
And under the cold tomb, I may feel on my brow,
Warmth of your breath, a whiff of your tenderness.

Let the moon with soft, gentle light me descry,
Let the dawn send forth its fleeting, brilliant light,
In murmurs grave allow the wind to sigh,
And should a bird descend on my cross and alight,
Let the bird intone a song of peace o'er my site.

Let the burning sun the raindrops vaporize
And with my clamor behind return pure to the sky;
Let a friend shed tears over my early demise;
And on quiet afternoons when one prays for me on high,
Pray too, oh, my Motherland, that in God may rest I.

Pray thee for all the hapless who have died,
For all those who unequalled torments have undergone;
For our poor mothers who in bitterness have cried;
For orphans, widows and captives to tortures were shied,
And pray too that you may see you own redemption.

And when the dark night wraps the cemet'ry
And only the dead to vigil there are left alone,
Don't disturb their repose, don't disturb the mystery:
If you hear the sounds of cithern or psaltery,
It is I, dear Country, who, a song t'you intone.

And when my grave by all is no more remembered,
With neither cross nor stone to mark its place,
Let it be plowed by man, with spade let it be scattered
And my ashes ere to nothingness are restored,
Let them turn to dust to cover your earthly space.

Then it doesn't matter that you should forget me:
Your atmosphere, your skies, your vales I'll sweep;
Vibrant and clear note to your ears I shall be:
Aroma, light, hues, murmur, song, moanings deep,
Constantly repeating the essence of the faith I keep.

My idolized Country, for whom I most gravely pine,
Dear Philippines, to my last goodbye, oh, harken
There I leave all: my parents, loves of mine,
I'll go where there are no slaves, tyrants or hangmen
Where faith does not kill and where God alone does reign.

Farewell, parents, brothers, beloved by me,
Friends of my childhood, in the home distressed;
Give thanks that now I rest from the wearisome day;
Farewell, sweet stranger, my friend, who brightened my way;
Farewell, to all I love. To die is to rest.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Chapter the next- Tradewinds

My parents made an interesting remark about the seemingly ample amount of vacation I take.  I would hardly consider what I do to be "vacation."  I can think of many things that would be far more relaxing than traversing the globe.  This is part of an education, not a vacation.

No, I would consider what it is that I do to be part of an education, and an attempt to answer the questions of why the world is the way that it is.  To do so, I find that I must pass in and out of the wake of the VOC, the Manila galleon  and the British East India Company.  All while tangoing with such luminaries as Magellanda GamaRiebeeck and Raffles.  It is all connected and intertwined.  And of course the gastrodiplomacy side, and the role that spice played in pushing the age of discovery.

Manila and Batavia were commercial entrepots that shaped the dynamic of discovery and colonization.  Manila as the Pearl of the Orient was what linked Spain's new world to the Orient.  So much so that Mexican silver remained a primary source of currency in China in the 19th century (kippis Taru).  Meanwhile, the Dutch East India Company ruled the commercial world from its headquarters at the Straits of Malacca, while British East India Company's held sway from Malaya and Raffles' Singapore.

So that introduces the next chapter of my adventures: the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.  You cannot understand the way the world is at present without understanding the role that places such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia played on the past.  As Winston Churchill said: "the farther back you look, the farther forward you can see."

I bade farewell to Taipei in typical Pablo fashion, by sending everyone for my going-away dinner to a restaurant that was closed. Mind you, this is not the first time I have done such. I did the same thing in Buenos Aires for my going away/bday party. But it ended fine, having dumplings at Din Tai Fung with roomies and friends. I packed up and headed out in true Taipei form, on the back of my roommate Harry’s moter scooter with my daypack strapped to my back.

Top ten things I miss about Taiwan:
1) the food
2) Bubble tea. Shaken not stirred in a martini shaker.
3) The ubiquity and convenience of convenience stores
4) Domo coffee
5) The friendliness of the Taiwanese
6) The flow of people in the middle of Taipei Main Station
7) A bowl of beef noodle soups (sans the beef) at the place near my office
8) The buffet near my office and all their delicious veggies
9) The hotsprings in Beitou
10) The functionality of Taipei

Top ten things I won’t miss about Taiwan:
1)The isolation
2) The lensless eyeglasses
3) ditto from #3
4) the ennui
5) stinky tofu
6) the ubiquity of pork
7) the language barrier
8) the eerie color contacts and fake lashes
9) the inside-the-box thinking
10) tonal languages

I got to the Taipei airport with plenty of time, but hit a minor snag in that my flight was the last one out and all the bank exchanges were closed. I had been warned that if I didn’t exchange my Taiwanese money in Taiwan, I would take a major hit. But alas, I had no options. I met two nice Canadian girls, Andrea and Julia, who are traveling around Southeast Asia for 6 months. One had been teaching for a year in Kaouhsiung. They had met on an amazing and typically Canadian international exchange program, Canada World Youth. Follow the link, it is an amazing bit of Canadian PD. They had met in Southern Africa, and it was a bit of a serendipitous reminder of my present projection.

We boarded out 2am Cebu Pacific flight. I wondered if we would get the dancing flight attendants but thankfully at 2am, no one bothers. I stayed up the whole flight, thinking that it would be worse to nap. We arrived to Manila, and spent a while trying to get situated. Sure enough, I got robbed on the currency exchange, getting only 4,800 peso for 3,000NTD, basically losing close to $20US. I had received ample warning that Manila is not a city to trifle with at night. The girls had a quasi-reservation at a hostel north of town, while I was going to the center of town to a place called Manila Bay Hostel. They decided to try their luck with this Virgil, and we dodged the airport ripoff special taxis (450pesos, $10US) and grabbed the regular cab. I talked my way down from the special deal the driver was offering, and diplomatically convinced him to turn on the meter. We sped away through the slums of Manila, past brothels and seedy bars that immediately made it apparent I was no longer in Kansas or Taiwan. We found our hostel and got dorms at 350 pesos ($7.50) a pop, and got a little rest at 5am.

I woke up and started wandering around the “Pearl of the Orient.” That was what Manila was known as before the Japanese and Americans torched the city in a WWII firefight. I will return to this later. Dirty, poor, fetid, choked, polluted, crowded- my type of city. I wandered out foraging for food past kids pitching pesos in the street. I was surrounded by a world of Phil Javelinas.

In the streets, the naked and the dead lay sprawled on cardboard. I shuffled past an old conquistador’s colonial progeny, who sat smoking and talking to himself. I admired the change in complexion and face structure. Gone are the almond eyes and pale-yellow skin, replaced by wages of brownness and oval eyes; the delicate Chaiwanese features replaced by a supple Philippine roundness. The Filipinos almost seem not to fit in the region, or perhaps just a variation of the Cambodian/Laos features, that I have forgotten amid the Oriental look. There were also some Chinese here, but it caused a bit of cognitive dissonance to hear the bouncy tagalog pouring out of their mouths.

I stopped for brunch at a little roadside hovel, having a plate of bbq and charcoal-grilled chicken, rice and some unknown vegetable accompanied with little bowl of sour soup and with a silver tray bearing a small lime and chili. Gone were the chopsticks, replaced a spoon and fork. I say spoon and fork because the spoon is the main utensil, while the fork shovels food onto the spoon (Yes Nomi, like Thailand).

I walked down to the water and sat on the edge of the putrid sea. Colorful stretched limo jeepneys (old US army transport jeeps) and rickshaw tricycles filled the cracked streets. In the cesspool sea, naked kids climbed on each other to do backflips.

I wandered about through the muggy afternoon trickle, through Rizal Park and past heroes unknown to me. I wandered through a city that felt like an Asian Managua with hints of Panama. I bounced around the din and wandered in and out of the drizzle and made my way over to the old Spanish garrison fort of Intramuros. The old Spanish area left a sad legacy of what the city once was. Being exhausted from the late night, I decided I would return when refreshed. I will write more on both Rizal and Intramoros later.

That evening I went out wandering through the streets with Andrea and Julia, and we stumbled upon the Shwarma Center, a middle eastern place I had read about.  Allahu akbar!  It is a Jordanian outpost of Middle Eastern grub.  We salivated over the prospect. We had shwarma, and plates of humus and tabouleh.  I got to chat in Arabic with the owner, and we gorged on khanafey for desert.  Such middle eastern comfort food.  I luv Taiwanese food, but it doesn't give comfort like the chickpea.