Fire-Eating Ladyboys, With Drums….

Ok, so no snow here in Olongapo, but still lots of traditional Christmas Carols. The week after Christmas, though, this group comes door-to-door. My daughter handed me an envelope in the morning, in preparation for the visit. I had no real idea what to expect, but I put 40 peso in and forgot about it. The drums are amazingly loud, and you could here them coming down the street. Throughout the video you can here one of the group asking for 1000 peso. I added 400 to the original 40 peso, they where pretty good….

Turkey’s Done!

Note to self / Lesson for the Day: Be careful what flippant remarks you make,  because you may have to explain them in greater detail than you ever intended.

Tossing out a casual, glib, and somewhat crass remarks based in your home town culture,  can lose all potential comedic value (however small that may have originally been) and cause wasted time and energy,  if there is no local reference for your clever remark.

I give you first the pop-up turkey timer. This simple and revolutionary plastic device  has ensured properly cooked birds for decades now in the factory-farmed U.S. poultry industry. The timer was originally invented by Eugene Beals, a member of the California Turkey Producers Advisory Board, in the early 1970’s, in an effort to improve everyone’s holiday turkey experience by avoiding burnt and dried-out turkey.

(good article on him here: .

Mr Beal’s simple and brilliant invention has become a commonplace part of cooking poultry for the last 40 years in American kitchens.  When the bird is cooked, the plastic timer pops up, and “Turkey’s Done!” Poultry in the Philippines has a much shorter journey from barnyard to table. There is no big turkey consuming holiday here, and I’m fairly certain no turkey producers advisory board. Turkeys here are small farm or backyard raised and the person selling  the bird is likely also the one who raised it and dispatched it. The pop-up timer is not a part of Filipino kitchens or society.

Fast forward now to a recent trike ride here in Olongapo on a side street full of trike and pedestrian traffic. Watching the flow of people and vehicles swirl and mix is always an interesting scene from the almost street level view of a trike seat. A girl moving towards us stands out to me for having made a daring or questionable choice for undergarments, or lack there of, and an even more daring or questionable choice of a dress and fabric, considering her previous decision. As she walks towards us, standing out from the crowd, I can’t help myself. “Turkey’s Done!”, I say out loud. Irene, who has been paying less attention to the crowd and is half awake sitting next to me, perks up immediately.

“What mean that?” she asks in a suspicious way that makes me realize I have made a mistake.

I attempt to explain very briefly the remark, without drawing too much attention to myself and my observant nature. After a few minutes of explanation, highlighting  the basics of American poultry and Mr. Beal’s revolutionary timer, I succeed in creating only a more curious scowl. I now begin to mentally coach myself on avoiding this mistake in the future while trying to remain positive and helpful.  I carefully try to string together the connection between what I saw and what I said, increasingly feeling like I am tying my own noose for the gallows. She is not understanding or not impressed. Either way, I am happy when the road begins to open and the trike pics up speed. On the clearer road we leave the pedestrian swirl and failed humor behind. I am grateful for the whine of the trike, and every moment it moves us closer to Barrio Barretto.

If you are one those people that occasionally tosses out this remark, I urge you to consider more strongly your audience, and to think as well of Mr. Beal’s real contribution to properly cooked turkey.  Did you know as well those timers are re-usable? Maybe I’ll save a couple to bring with me to the Philippines next trip.

Being Sick in Subic


Being sick is usually always better at home where you are comfortable and haven’t invested any vacation money or effort to be where you will be sleeping between trips to the bathroom. I felt it coming on Thursday night, and realized Friday might be a washout. I had plans for this Friday. They involved going diving Friday morning, and to the Arizona Resort Score Bar for the Jolly Joker Jackpot drawing on Friday night. The Jolly Joker is a weekly Friday night raffle and social/drinking event where every drink you buy come with a ticket. At the height of the evening, numbers are drawn, and if your ticket is selected, you have a chance to pick the joker from a pack of overturned playing cards pinned to a cork board. If you select the Joker, you win the cash jackpot. For each week the Joker stays hidden, the prize increases. Jackpots have grown to over 150,000 peso. Great fun, but potentially tough on the liver, if you are really want to win. If your the generous type that likes to buy a round or two, you could increase your tickets and your odds that way. If you don’t want to risk organ damage, or at least incredibly sloppy drunkenness, you can enlist the aid of one of the Score bar girls to drink with you, at “Lady Drink” prices, meaning her drink cost three times as much as yours. Myself and Irene have traveled by trike from the apartment in Olongapo to Barrio Barretto to check into both diving and a room at the Arizona Friday night. My plan is to stop at the Arizona resort, check in with the dive shop, inquire about room availability, and finish off with a drink and some video of sunset from the floating bar. I am now feeling increasingly in the grip of something unpleasant. I am also dealing with a stiff back from an awkward sleeping position. My minds eye is not painting a pretty picture of myself as we move through traffic then pass by the Arizona and continous on down the street. I look at Irene who has decided drinks first at the T-Rose bar. She is not a fan of the floating bar, and my plans fro sunset video are slipping away. I have become more concerned with how well I am not feeling, and decide on a head on assault to combat the oncoming ailment, as well as the stiff back. We disembark the trike outside T-Rose and walk past a tall ladyboy sitting at the entrance and into the interior darkness of the bar illuminated by orange rope lighting. A gaglge of 5 or 6 bar girls are shuffling in a circle on a small round stage, singing along to the music video on the big screen TV. The hostess and Irene walk us toward a booth, and I imediatly divert us to seats at the end of the small bar, which are less cozy, and more functional. I order my first attempt at self medication, a San Migueal Light, and my almost 6 month pregnant girlfriend orders mango juice (more on the math there later). As we begin to sip our drinks the ladyboy from the door walks in with a disheveled looking charechtor who, judging by the reaction of the staff, is an old friend or somewhat regular. The bar owner (assuming here) shakes his hand and welcomes hime back, and the girls stop their shuffling and come over to great him. “Remember what you promised last time” one girl reminds him, “threesome!”. I’ve never been too carried away with being over-dressed or over-primped, but this dude looks like he just washed ashore after surviving some sort of maritime disaster. Oh well. Judging by the warmth of the greeting, he must be a pretty good guy, or at least a big spender, barnacles aside. I get through two bottles of San mig light, and glance at the clock. Still early enough to catch the dive shop, so we pay up and head out. By the time we leave the Arizona, I am feeling it worse, and although I have a slim hope for the next day diving, my realistic expectation for tomorrow is bed rest. I make it into the door at the apartment and onto the small love seat / sala set on the first floor. I watch TV as Irene moves to the kitchen to eat. I have no interest in food. I am feeling a growing lethergy and discomfort in my belly. Irene checks my forhead, and a couple other spots for good measure, and tells me I have fever. I doze off on the couch and awake to my daughter dabbing a cool alcohol and water soaked cloth across my forhead and neck. She proceeds to wash my arms, hands, neck, face, and forhead again to cool the warm skin. I am a very lucky guy. Irene is already getting a shopping list together, gatoraid, BiFlu, Imodium. The neat thing here in the Philippines is that you can buy one, two, three, six, however many pills you want or need with getting the whole package. My mother never threw anything away, and her medicine cabinet was an amazing collection of remidies, many of which had long passed there sell by date. When myself and my brother cleaned out some of the cabinets at her house after she passed, it was amazing to find 1990 era medications, or older. Some I swear I remember from childhood, and more than a couple no longer made. Ergophene ointment, a drwawing salve for splinters, I think dated from back in the 70’s. In some cases I could remember the situation or illness from a point in my life when medicine was used. Here in PI, no need for a big medicine cabinet, or even dosage instructions. Just by as you need. Being sick is no fun, but I have a limited budget for the 30 plus days I am here, and some down time at the apartment was part of the plan. I also have a secret weapon, thanks to a great travel doctor. On my first trip to the Philippines I went to Sandwich Urgent Care to get some of the reccomended vaccinations for travel to PI (FYI: ). The doctor who did my jabs also had some experience traveling, and offered to write me a perscription for Ciprotech anti-biotic. “Keep them in your bag”, he advised, “No need suffering long term from food poisoning on vacation”. He went on to say they usually had a longer shelf life than advertised, and related a story about using a bottle that was a year out of date to knock down an intestinal issue from food he ate while traveling with a medical outreach program. The pills in question had now been in my bag since November 2013, happily unneeded. I doubled up the first dose the next morning, something I think I remembered was right, either from my travel doc, or maybe Mom’s cancer treatment regimine. Either way, I went all in, reasoning if the pills had weakened, it would help, and if they hadn’t, I’d start things off with a bang. During the day I rested and scrolled though some Google searches regarding the shelf life of Cipro, and the potential hazards of expired antibiotics. It turns out that the military had done some testing, and pills, especilly tablet form similar to mine, have a substantially longer shelf life than advertised. The good news is these are likely 100% or close to it. Next I search for my symptoms, just to be safe, and all signs point to an intestinal infection. I am in the master bedroom at the apartment, complete with private bathroom, which sounds ideal for this situation. If you ever spent a lot of time working as an interstate long haul driver, or perhaps using construction site porta-potties, the bathroom here would barely faze you at all. Conversly, If you are someone who is acustomed to some form of cleanliness /sanitation, and have grown used to toilets that have seats and flush, the bathroom here might be cause for concern. The room is long and narrow with high ceilings and black and brown tile that reminds me of the service station rest rooms my parents hated to have us use when we traveled as kids. The grout is dirty with no recognizable attempts to make it otherwise. The walls are topped by a cracked, water stained ceiling and a single bare lightbulb. Spider webs hang along the edges, complete with a slender, non-threatening looking spider I saw while shaving one day and have never been absolutely certain since would not drop down at an unexpected moment. There is a curtainless shower area at the far end of the room with a strip or plasticcord tied between two rusty fasteners where a curtain should hang. Two pairs of panties are hung for there for drying instead. On the wall behind the shower is a window completly covered by a yellow, once white, bedsheet with blue flowers, cut and folded for its new purpose. The toilet, like the other two in the apartment, has no seat, and the flush mechinism has long ago fallen apart and sits broken in the empty flush tank. Flushing is done by bucket, filled from the shower area, and any non-liquid contribution to the bowl requires some extra help with the plunger, and usually a second bucket of water.
I begin my day taking my second dose of Cipro around 6 AM. I feel weak, and my belly is not happy. I guess I have a fever, but i’m not sure, but the discomfort bellow my belly button is real, and I spend my moring sleeping, visiting the bathroom, plunging, and sleeping. Irene feeds me gatoraid and tries to get me to eat a variety of foods which I refuse. I settle for bananas, her mothers reccomendation, and google some natural treatments for intestinal infections between naps.
I add ginger and yogurt to the next shopping list, as well as mint tea. Ivy Joy comes home from school for lunch and informs her Grandmother she will stay home from aternoon classes to help her dad. The day grinds on, sleep, bathroom, plunge, sleep. I have deep sleeps and fitful vivid dreams. Things could be worse. Sitting on the toilet here is a tremendously preferred choice to placing my face anywhere close to it. Saturday comes, more sleep, less trips to the restroom, and eventually I am feeling improvement. Ice cream eventually gets me out of bed Saturday. We need to go order it for Ivy Joy’s class Christmas party, so I answer the call, somewhat groggy, and make the trip on foot a few blocks to fix the order for the coming Tuesday, then back home for a bit more sleep. I’m feeling better, thanks to Cipro and solid advice that didn’t expire.

Getting Around on Trikes

If Mister Toad’s Wild Ride ever left Disney World and was projected into everyday reality, you would have a pretty good approximation of the Trike experience. Convenient  and plentiful, trikes allow people to move easily in population areas  all over the Philippines. To use one analogy, if the Philippines was a body, and the Filipino people the  oxygen that gave the body life, then trikes are the red blood cells that distribute the oxygen as necessary throughout the body. Trikes keep things flowing in a country where nearly 50% of the population does not own a car.  A friend who visited Olongapo while in the Navy described to me leaving the bars and heading back to the ship, with sailors in  separate trikes offering  a cash bonus  to the driver who arrived first, insuring a memorable ride that would make Ben-Hur proud. Trikes are a great and inexpensive way to get exactly where you are going in the Philippines. Another unique form of mass transit is the Jeepnee. Jeepnees are jeeps, stretched into improvised buses that run on set routs from point to point around the city.  Jeepnees originally where created from a surplus of left over U.S. Army jeeps left over in the Philippines after World War 2. Jeepnee’s are colorful, abundant, and an interesting experience. They are also very inexpensive to ride, and very cozy (Read: if you don’t like to be in small spaces with large groups of random people, you may prefer the trike).

If you want to get a virtual taste of the trike experience,  bellow is a loosely narrated trike ride from By The Sea hotel in Barrio Barretto to  Olongapo.  The ride cost 200 peso per trike (about $4.00 at the time, we have two trikes going here). As in most similar situations, pricing is best agreed upon before the ride begins. There are informal ideas of rates, but no meter, and you should tell the driver your destination and agree on the rate beforehand to avoid overpaying or any other misunderstanding at the end of the ride.


Subic Bay


As long as I could remember I was a “summer person” on Cape Cod. My parents fell in love with the place before I was born, and I was one of those kids that turned up around Memorial day, and left  as part of the  annual labor day gridlock to begin the school year the next morning.  The day after my high school graduation I moved to the Cape year round and have been there ever since.  For the past 4 years now I have visited Subic Bay, Philippines in November.  It is a much longer commute than the hour drive we used to make reach Cape Cod, but I’m now one of those people that turns up once a year for a few weeks. I have learned, too,  some short cuts in traveling here, such as flying into Clark International Airport, the former Clark Air force base in Angeles City, instead of Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila.  Flights are harder to find for Clark, but the advantages of arriving there are substantial. Clark is much closer to Subic, a clean one hour drive with little real traffic compared to a three hour adventure in Manila gridlock which can easily become five, and maybe six with traffic. Traffic in Manila starts early, and goes late, and the traffic chaos there makes Boston rush hour look like Cape Cod in the winter.

My second trip to Subic I was surprised people remembered me, recognized me. That was probably what triggered the Cape summer person memories. I stopped at the Arizona resort to inquire about rooms,  and the girl at the desk welcomed me back. Mark Walton who ran the Arizona dive shop my first trip here, pulled up beside me as I walked down the street and greeted me.  I too, recognized some familiar faces as I walked around, and Chris, a local I had met the year before, popped up to shake my hand and ask to borrow 20 peso. It is always a nice feeling to be recognized and remembered, even if it costs 20 peso.

This trip back, my first stop is another summertime memory flashback. After settling in, and after being on the road 29 hours, I’m going to the Fiesta Carnival in Subic. I met Irene on my first trip to Subic in 2013. In the three years since we have spoken in person, on the phone, or Skype  every day since, and we have pieced together a non-traditional long distance relationship that has come to include her family, and daughter Ivy Joy,  who calls me Dad. This has been my welcoming group  each of my last  three trips here.

I have promised Ivy Joy a first night trip to the carnival, and after having a good sleep on the plane, and a good nap at the apartment, we load up a cab and head to the carnival.  Our goal is the mausoleum, the horror house that is a step up from our usual haunted ride, the horror train. Unfortunately, the Mausoleum is no more, replaced by a much less terrifying flying Jolly Bee ride.  We ride the flying bee’s, revisit the horror train, and then drive the only three functional bumper cars, before having  dinner outdoors on rickety plastic chairs  with matching tables and ladyboy waitresses, while watching a Christmas dance /talent show on the big outdoor stage at the back of the carnival.  After this, it is home to sleep, as the kids have school in the morning, and I have a proper night’s sleep in a bed waiting for me before taking Ivy Joy to school in the morning.


On The Road To Subic

There is that moment when you transition from preparing for the trip, to traveling.  For me, it usually  means chasing loose ends and watching the clock until it is time to walk out the door. Hopefully walking out without leaving something undone, or behind.  For this trip it starts with a one hour bus ride and a  7PM flight  from Boston to Liberty International in New Jersey, a 1 AM flight from Liberty to Hong Kong , and finally a 2 hour hop to Clark Field in Angeles City, Philippines. The plan is to arrive at Liberty from Boston at 8 PM, and then wait around 5 hours for the departure to Hong Kong.  I arrive at Logan by bus at 5 PM, and head to the gate. The wait for departure drags past 7 PM, then 8PM as a low cloud ceiling at Liberty is causing long delays. After 9 PM  goes by worry begins to creep into my thought process that the delays might put me in jeopardy of missing  my international flight. Waiting around one airport is as good as waiting around another, except that waiting around Logan too long means missing my flight to Hong Kong.  Finally, after 10:00 PM,we board. A further delay awaits us once boarded, but thankfully it is brief. We arrive at Liberty around 11:30, and my bag is one of the first on the carousel. Some helpful guidance from a couple of the ladies from the airport security staff  leads to a quick trip on the AirTrain and I am at the Cathay Pacific gate comfortably before boarding.   I signed up for Cathay Pacific’s frequent Flyer program, the Marco Polo club for the miles, but I am pleasantly surprised with an early boarding call as an added perk. Better still, as  I wait in my seat as boarding completes I realize I am the only one in my row.  Not a bad way to start an 18 hour international flight.  My plan is movies, movies, sleep. I never watch movies normally, so there are lots to chose from. Ghost Busters, the new version, is good to start. The latest Rocky movie, “Creed”, is excellent, and about a third of the way into James Bond’s “Specter”  the action can’t keep my attention and I’m falling asleep. I pull the blanket up  over my head, and doze. I wake up to breakfast being served three hours out of Hong Kong. The international airport at Hong Kong is clean, beautiful, and easy to navigate.  After a two hour lay-over, I’m boarding for the final flight to Clark Field, and somehow when selecting my economy seat, I missed that row 11 is actually be the second seating  row in on the plane. I guess they start at 10. Nice to have the extra leg room and be one of the first people off the flight. We  sail smoothly in sunny skies with the ocean blue and inviting bellow, landing at Clark 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Despite the initial delay leaving Logan, it has been an incredibly smooth trip. Waiting around one airport was just as good as waiting around the other, except maybe I think the food was better at Logan. After a somewhat uncomfortable wait at the baggage carousel  my checked bag appears  and I grab it, clearing customs in no time at all. Life is good. Outside I wait for my greeting party, but they are no where to be seen. After 20 minutes I am thinking my trip is about to hit that bump, but then as I move back towards the terminal exit, there they are, waiting, and this is now officially a smooth trip.




One Day Until Panic

Tomorrow is the day. The day and night before leaving for an extended dive trip to the Philippines, and usually the time I realize something important was overlooked or left undone, and there is no time to fix it now. So far, all is well, and I am getting ready for packing.  From a packing standpoint,  I feel confident I will be able to pack tomorrow night without too much trouble.  Anyone who travels at all will tell you it is  best to pack, check, and double check.  I will do that, except it will all be mostly tomorrow night.  The bulk of my dive gear is already there in the Philippines, so lesser things like clothes, toiletries, small accessories, and more important stuff, like camera gear, passport, and plane tickets. I have learned from the mistakes of past trips. My best/worst head slappers in recent memory was using the laptop in my living room just prior to leaving for the airport.  With everything else packed, I  tossed the laptop into the backpack, as my ride arrived to catch the airport bus. I was in the departure lounge at Logan Airport when I fired up the laptop, saw the low battery warning, and began searching for the power cord, which was still plugged in back home in the living room.  Now I have double checked that the cord is packed, but I am wary of creating a new mistake. Packing aside,  I always have a building anxiety in the days before I leave on a long distance trip. A fear of the unknown, perhaps, a fear of distance, the feeling of being uprooted, even for a short time. There is a subtle pressure that builds like the gasses accumulating behind the bullet in a gun barrel, until the pressure overwhelms the resistance of the lead and the bullet is expelled at high speed in the direction it was aimed. So anxiety aside, I find myself  at some point, bags in hand, hoping to hit my target successfully.