Monthly Archives: April 2014

Losing Yourself in Another Philippines

Catigan Road
I was in a place called Catigan, Toril, Davao City. For those that don’t know, that’s in Southeastern Mindanao, the southern island of the archipelago. It’s difficult to try and describe a place when you’re not there anymore. My biggest frustration was not being able to write whilst I was there. Of course, in reality I could write, lack of computer was not really an excuse as I suddenly remembered that possibly, the greatest dramatist of all time, William Shakespeare, actually never had a computer. Yes, I discovered an old fashioned concept and long forgotten technique, pen and paper.

If Willie can do it, so can I. After all I come from a place only 40 miles away from Stratford upon Avon so we’re made of the same stuff surely. OK, maybe I’m not made of the same stuff as Willie as whilst using the old quill and ink, I only kept notes. I was so used to the luxury of editing, cutting, pasting and deleting some of the poorer stuff I had written, I struggled with the idea. It does kind of bring me to the point of this post.

I had gone back to basics. I had become someone who had become totally reliant on the modern world. I have lived in a world with computers; suddenly using a pen is such an ordeal. I had arrived in a place far removed from the relatively easy city life I was accustomed to.

If in need to cook, I turn on the gas; if I need water for drinking, then it’s in a blue bottle that is delivered. When I need to wash, I turn on a tap. I need light, and then I flick a switch. Naturally, it’s what you’re used to and when modern convenience is taken away, only then are you aware that you have gone soft.

Another Kind of Adaption

So let me tell you about what I came to. Firstly, I stayed with a family in a house with no electric; water was a 15-minute walk away downhill and 25-minute return when laden with water uphill coming back.

I’ve lived in many places that was fairly basic but the difference was, this was a different kind of basic, at least as far as my experiences of life go. I had never experienced no electric, best of all, no toilet, no water at hand from a tap, and no gas or electric to cook. Straight away, I realized I have to toughen up and boy, do I need to adjust. I became completely aware that no matter how intrepid I thought I was (not very), I really had become a creature of convenience, a city boy through and through.

It took me back to my early times here and all the awkwardness of not knowing much of anything that is going on around you. Sure, I had adapted to the convenient life in the Philippines, this was adapting all over again. I really felt like a tourist all over again. All eyes were on me and I felt like a buffoon and I was sensing the amusement of the locals watching me puffing and panting down slippery paths just to get home. This was to become a mind and life-altering experience.

There’s A Fat White Man on the Purok

So the big bloke bounced into Catigan, Toril in Davao City. I had come to a beautiful, peaceful and totally different part of the Philippines to what I had experienced. I was to come face to face with some stark realities about myself. I didn’t want to stand out looking awkward that’s for sure, but arriving about 16 lbs overweight suggests I wasn’t helping myself in that regard.

My first visit to Catigan was in early March 2013. It is situated at the foot of Mt. Apo. As you ride the tricycle up the Catigan road, you feel it drop a degree in temperature every 2 or 3 kilometres. By the time you had completed the 8 kilometres uphill from Toril to Catigan, the climate was noticeably cooler. I struggled with my bag down a path to where my hosts lived. I got welcome help from a guy who gave me my first twinge of embarrassment at myself.

There I was struggling to wheel my suitcase down a bumpy path which was just not designed for suitcase wheels, but I still tried. A guy just came up, put my suitcase on his shoulder and strolled up a steep bank with such ease that it made me look and feel really weak and useless. I didn’t like what I had become. I was 54 at the time but it wasn’t age that was giving me difficulties, it was being overweight and unconditioned that was the problem. At this point, I had no idea how I was going to adapt.

I had come to see my twin sons and their mother. The twins were just only 2 years old at this time. I had come to bond and live the life they were living. My sons were a lot tougher than dad that’s for sure.

I arrived at the family home, was greeted by Papa Lolo and Lola Ate and then taken for what to me at the time was a terrifying walk back up the same path, but this time in complete blackness. We were aided by a dim torch on a lighter and I wondered how the hell anyone copes with this. It seemed it was nothing to my hosts whereas I could barely walk for tripping, falling down holes and not seeing where the hell I was stepping.

I was amazed how easy the mother of my twins found it to negotiate the blackness, the terrain and manage to not trip over. In the dark, coming towards us was another dim flashlight. My instinct was who the hell is this especially when it became apparent that the holder of the flashlight was stumbling down the path. I could tell whoever it was couldn’t hold their balance so straight away I deduced it was someone that was drunk.

Should I be wary? I observed my companion and detected not one flicker of concern. As we drew closer, it became apparent it was someone she knew. Overtime, it became obvious she knew everyone; that’s how life is in this close community. I was to experience many lessons about trust; this was my first. In the blackness, we had a friendly encounter with the drunken man who warmly greeted me in English. He became known to me after as the repeating man as he held my hand repeating himself over and over and it was no problem at all.

I spent my first night under the most beautiful sky watching fireflies. Being a few kilometres up the Catigan road seemed to take you nearer the stars. They seemed so close and clear skies meant incredible night skies and you felt you could reach up and touch them. My first night was a mixture of emotions. I felt happiness to be with my sons, but at the same time dreading ever needing to take a crap. I don’t think I recall ever not having a toilet to use. The dread constipated me for a week almost.

So here I was the fat white bloke on the Purok. I had a lot of learning ahead of me and I awaited the morning keenly. At this point, I couldn’t get my head around not having a toilet. That was another bridge to cross when the time comes.

This was my opening night in another Philippines. I knew I had a long way to go, much to learn, a lot of adapting to do but I was up for it. My puffing and panting state had embarrassed me enough and made me aware of how soft I had become. I spent a good two weeks watching and letting people accommodate me.

I suspect that my inability to do something as simple as take a crap without the convenience of a toilet, said volumes about me. I know it’s not exactly compulsive reading, but strange as it may sound, it was a huge psychological hurdle I needed to get over. I did progress, in fact, I made huge strides but at this point, I was pathetic.


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Cracking My Shell Open

CrackedI’ve been back in Manila from Mindanao for a few weeks now. I was forced into a shell even after I got back because of circumstances, but now my egg is hatching. Disheartening episodes continued and became worse than what I told you about in Bubble Bursting.

Eventually, a tiny bit of financial relief came along, enough to get myself up and running with a computer and got back online. I had really missed writing. I had tried continuing in an internet café on my return, but I couldn’t focus with ten screaming youths around me and keypads where I have to punch the space bar to make it work. I’m not complaining though, it’s damned cheap!

Injury Time

Then, to further compound my writing return, I was beset with illness. My poor health was a hangover from an injury I got in a tomato field. Don’t ask but in short, a nylon rope had cut into my leg, a fly had a nibble on the injury when I wasn’t looking which resulted in a very yucky pus-ridden swollen and infected lower leg which made my last few weeks in Mindanao very uncomfortable. I returned to the capital and fully recovered, or so I thought. Apparently not, my leg decided to start rotting from the inside out. It swelled like an elephant’s leg and was so painful, I struggled to walk. I had serious fever for a few days and a course of antibiotics later; now, I am in recovery mode.

All these enthusiasm-dampening events have made it difficult to continue where I left off. I’ve hardly written a thing since December. It wasn’t losing the will; it was more about the means. I had many months away without a computer or internet connection.

Well, I now have the tools (computer and connection), I just need to wake up the brain and get some energy. It really is difficult picking up something you started after putting it down for such a long while. I had the desire, but the lack of means really did throw me off course.

In Bubble Bursting, I played with footballer analogies. The reason for that is because mentally I do feel rusty. No money and illness has left me feeling that I really need to ease myself back into writing. So as I’m still in football analogy mode, I will describe it as not feeling match fit. I need a few warm up games in the reserves. I guess this article could be such described as my warm up game.

I went well overboard with the football analogies in my last piece so it best ends here.

Losing Touch

Being away from a computer and internet meant I hadn’t had much to do with social media. I would visit a café a couple of times a month and keeping up with events wasn’t a priority. I did feel cut off from knowing what was going on but it wasn’t exactly a hardship.

I would make a point of checking on the fate of my beloved Blues spend 30 minutes realizing I was bored with Facebook and then log out to go back to a simple existence all of which I’m due to tell you about. I learnt a lot on my travels. I lost touch with the world and it was fine.

Something for Everyone

My absence from writing gave me the time to think about the future direction for this blog. I still have no idea exactly where I’m going with it though.

I’ve been spending my time since getting back online familiarizing myself with events, news and observing the usual Facebook chatter in an attempt to get the old brain working again. I’m hardly Mr. Metro so I don’t go out and find out much first hand. On occasions I have ventured out, I have had some great nights out, seen some excellent local bands and discovered many places which have gone a little under the radar. One thing I know is whether you like Facebook or not, social media and the internet in general really make it easy to find out what’s going on and where.

This blog is for those that can afford a good night but not forgetting those that can’t. Having less cash may be limiting in some ways, but the other side of not having a lot of money on your stay here means your limitations make you more informed and more adventurous. Lack of cash takes you into situations which other visitors seldom see. Your condo or hotel can be a little too safe. I love those that can step out of their comfort zones and explore the real Philippines and real Filipinos.

I’ve spoken of it before but there are many different ways of being accommodated if you’re coming on a visit. If you’re coming with a view to settle here, you need to know even more. You can save yourself a lot of time and money by simply educating yourself and taking guidance from someone that knows what may take you years to find out for yourself.

Metro Manila or tourist spots will always be more expensive when it comes to everyday living and accommodation. In short, these lessons are something you could really do with being fully aware of before you come with a vague plan. The actuality would mean having to rethink whatever you intended. Wouldn’t it be better to educate yourself long before you even got here?

It’s never easy, but this country has endless possibilities if you’re prepared to grasp them. I’m aware that for good reasons, people want to stay in their comfort zone. You’re not in your own country; you play it safe, very wise. Not everyone wants to be intrepid but the reality is if you only see a country from the safety of a hotel room, you are going to go home having learnt little about the real Philippines.

However, you don’t need a hotel to live comfortably. There are apartelles, motels, home-stays or rented condos and houses or a simple unfurnished or furnished room. With many of the options, you can get the same services you get in a hotel for a lot less cost. If you’re prepared to move away from the standard you’re possibly used to, then you can live amazingly cheaply. I will try and guide you enabling you to hold on to your cash and therefore prolonging your time here safely.

Everyone has different needs from the next. Whatever you want from the Philippines, it’s here. I’m hoping I can help tailor your stay within your budget. It’s most likely a vacation so you may want a little comfort. It really depends on you. Whatever you want, it’s doable; it’s the Philippines.

In future articles, I shall be offering you the guidance you need. You simply need to ask yourself a few questions as to what it is you want to achieve. If you’re visiting only, what is it that you want to do here? Do you want to sit in your room and only relax around the pool or do you want to see everything, do everything, and taste everything whilst you are here? To do that you need to plan. I’m more than happy to help you make that plan.

OK, I will leave you with one more football analogy as its World Cup year. This post was my playing just the first half of a friendly behind closed doors. A few more run outs, a full game and I’m ready for the league. Be patient with me and no more football analogies, I promise.

I’m back writing, still rusty, but I’m coming back to see where this takes me. I have decided to just put out posts as they come to me. No regular pattern, I think it will be all the better for it. So this is my warm up post. Normal writing will resume as soon as possible. This old chicken is coming out of his shell.

(Photo courtesy of Kay Smith Brushworks)

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I am no professor in Filipino music studies. I simply came across this band by listening to local radio. I would hear good music from time to time and ask whoever I was with, “who’s this?” The answer often came back, “Eraserheads.”

Curiosity aroused, I explored the usual medium of YouTube and found they were too good a band to ignore. In their early days, they were doing covers to get work, and then went their own way. That’s how it was in those times, do covers or get ignored by the industry. They stepped out of that mould and throughout the nineties, they paved the way for what is now a vibrant OPM scene, truly fresh and innovative.

If bands like Eraserheads had not knocked down some doors, it’s doubtful Filipino music would be progressing as it is today with original compositions and an array of new talent coming through with their own material and doing their own thing.

This band could stand anywhere and was a sad loss to the OPM scene when they eventually quit in the early 2000’s.

However, it wasn’t quite the end of the story. After the split, they have done reunion gigs: Taguig in 2008, Pasay City in 2009, and then moved forward to gigs in North America in 2012. In 2013, they re-emerged again and did Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Singapore.

But it doesn’t stop there. As of the time of this writing, they are in London, so the Eraserhead story goes on. Many are screaming out for them to get back together and cut another album.

These guys had and still have a huge following and the current wave of OPM bands can thank the Eraserheads for sticking to their own sound and own songs, something that wasn’t done much when they came on the scene.

Who knows what the next chapter of the Eraserheads story will be?


With A Smile

Ang Huling El Bimbo
Huwag Mo Nang Itanong

More about the band here:

Radio Republic

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