Saturday, December 29, 2007

Finding a Rental House in Dumaguete

Many expats assume in order to find that ideal rental house in Dumaguete, contacting an agent or looking in a newspaper listing is the way to success. In reality, the best way is to travel around the city on a motorcycle or car, and simply look, talk to people, and ask other expats.

There are some agents that will be happy to help you. However their commissions are steep, and the listings can be overpriced. One thing that you will notice is that almost everyone is a sales agent for property. But if you want to rent your sources for information are more limited.

The real key is to network. If you are new to Dumaguete, obviously that will be hard to do at first. The Why Not has a bulletin board of properties for sale or rent, and many foreigners are congregating there as well. If you visit a few cafes on the Boulevard and start conversations you will no doubt hear of some opportunities.

Take time to get a feel for the average rental prices in the area that you select. Prices sometimes range from cheap to exorbitant for similar properties. As a foreigner you will often be taken advantage of, know the value of the property before you enter an agreement. It is easy to pay too much.

After renting a first house on the recommendation of a friend who lives here, I have found some very nice properties by simply just riding around on my motorcycle and looking for signs. It is amazing what you might find. How about a beach front two story house with private beach, cabana, outside barbecue enclosure for 15,000 Pesos a month? This is one I just happened across recently. I am not a beach dweller, but someone will have a super deal when they rent that place.

The more time you can afford to look, the better chances you have of locating that ideal house. another source are the local forums. is a wonderful resource for many things an expat new to Dumaguete might need.

When you find that seemingly ideal location, observe the neighbors. Do they keep a lot of fighting cocks tied up outside? They will crow beginning about 3 AM. are there lots of stray dogs or dogs on chains? they will bark in succession if one is startled, for minutes on end. Avoiding the chickens is nearly impossible, but watch out for large numbers near by your house.

Everyone has their own idea of security. Make sure you are comfortable with the security measures around the rental property. Usually a concrete wall with lockable gate and metal grilling on the windows is standard. Look for screens on the windows, and ask about the water supply. Believe it or not some outlying areas of the city turn off the water at 10PM until 5 AM.

Be patient, and persistent and you will have ample choices from which to select. If you can afford not to be in a rush, all the better.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Dumaguete McDonalds

Some argue Dumaguete has changed for the worse with the recent arrival of a McDonalds on Legaspi Street. Others laud the arrival as a sign of progress to this provincial town. Whether you are a fan of McDonalds or not, this article will open your eyes to the differences between McDonalds east and west.

This is an excerpt of a review I did on a book about McDonalds establishing fast food restaurants in Asia circa 1998. While it is not specifically about the Philippines, when you visit the Dumaguete McDonalds, you will immediately observe many of the behaviors outlined in the article.

There is more to the fast food business than food. For example many Asians patronize McDonalds for the ambiance and the “American experience” rather than the food, which is considered secondary. Typified by Japan’s example, many Asians adopt selective American traits as desirable and reject others. They often love the American “style” but reject the restaurant behavior required to make the McDonalds concept work (from a profit standpoint). An example is the Asian tendency to linger and enjoy the air-conditioned ambiance, when to be profitable, McDonalds relies on rapid turnover of customers. Another is the widespread Asian trait to hold a burger with the paper wrapper around the burger bun.

The clever and sometimes humorous solutions required by restaurant owners are interesting. One such case might be called the napkin wars. Chinese McDonalds customers when presented with self-bussing and self-service would simply steal all the napkins from the dispensers if they were left unattended. In Singapore the restaurant owners actually catered to the hordes of teen age customers descending on McDonalds after school. They recognized that these were the future adult customers as well as teenage consumers with disposable income. Additionally, Asian patrons often would not queue up in lines to order but would mob the counter and fight for service. Retraining was necessary to establish order.

McDonalds goes into great depth analyzing both the behavior and expectations of the various cultures, and then adapts in order to ensure economic viability and acceptance. Treading a fine line between product uniformity and catering to local tastes, McDonalds goes to great lengths in order to ensure success. In the Philippines observe the burger McDoo, and chicken and rice dishes.

Is McDonalds a cultural imperialist as some claim, or a valuable partner in transnational business? McDonalds encourages co ownership of the Asian franchises. Local businessmen wholly own several Asian concerns. However, in Korea this tactic was employed out of necessity in order to penetrate the less than enthusiastic Korean market. In Korea and to a lesser extent elsewhere in Asia, eating is a political act, not simply a sustenance or social act. McDonalds was forced to alter the perceptions of Koreans and other Asians to accept the fact that bread and hamburgers were a politically correct food in lieu of native rice.

McDonalds not only researched local tastes, but also did extensive market research to determine the best way to advertise their product in Asian countries. One example was the way they determined that television advertising in China would be of little value because of the viewing habits of the Chinese. There is no advertising during a TV program in China, advertising only occurs between programs. Chinese viewers generally switch channels between shows rendering TV ads ineffective.

McDonalds encountered difficulty conveying to the Asian consumer that hamburgers were more than a snack. This was one of the most difficult tasks they faced in all the Asian markets. Hong Kong was the exception, as Hong Kong had a long history of cross-cultural influences. Another issue facing American style fast food businesses was the value meal concept. Asian languages had no word for value and McDonalds was forced to come up with another way of describing combination meals. The solution was using the term “sets” which approximated the meaning in Japanese and Chinese.

If for no other reason, McDonalds must be admired for their business savvy in bringing American fast food to Asia while at the same time addressing Asian tastes and social custom.

For those interested in reading the book, which I highly recommend, here are the particulars.
Golden Arches East. Watson, James L. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997. Pp. xi, 200.

Eating fresh in the Philippines

As an expat or long term tourist in the Philippines, one has the opportunity to sample some of the unique and delicious foods here. Certainly visitors can opt to be the tourist who eats at expensive western style restaurants and fast food outlets. However, it would be a missed opportunity not to eat some of the outstanding local food. If you are here for an extended visit or plan to settle, learning the local food culture will be to your advantage.

My focus here will be on food available in the provinces. What can you expect to find in the local farmers markets, groceries, and small Filipino restaurants?

In general Filipinos love sweet foods and fatty meat. However, there are a broad range of seasonings used in native cooking and the flavors are quite diverse. Ginger, garlic, and cili (hot peppers) are common ingredients. The unfortunate side effect from western influence is the thousands of candies available at every Sari Sari store. The diet common 400 years ago of fish, rice, native chicken and the occasional pig is now expanded to include soft drinks, beer, candy, and cookies with sweet filling.

It is easy to eat healthy here with not as much discipline as required in the west if you shop for local produce and local meats. Fresh dairy products are not readily available in the provinces as dairy cows are few, and goats which are prevalent, are raised for meat only. So without cheese, milk, and butter, cholesterol and fat from these sources is easily avoided. The supermarkets in the larger cities offer a broad range of dairy products, so if you desire those items you may indeed buy them.

You will never see fresh milk in the grocery stores here. There is what they call “ultra pasteurized” boxed milk imported from Australia, but it is an overly sweet and watery liquid. Milk to the average Filipino is powdered milk. Basically it is formula made in various concoctions targeting infants, pre-teens, teens young adults, and the elderly.

When visiting the local weekly produce market, there are many healthy fresh vegetables to choose from, both familiar and unfamiliar. Eggplant, garlic, red onions, tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, carrots, cabbages, lettuce, cucumbers, and peppers are all available. In addition there will be coconuts, local varieties of bananas, Syote, bittergoat, pineapple, guava, papaya, lancones, mangos, and many varieties of strange root crops and squash like veggies. There are many local native fruits available. Trying to describe them all would take another article. Suffice to say, experiment and you will quickly find the ones that suit your personal tastes.

Buying fresh meat is something that has to be done while exercising caution. There is little refrigeration in the rural parts of the Philippines, and the local supermarkets sometimes turn off the freezers at night to save electricity! There is no concept of food spoilage here in the provinces. Once cooked, food is considered safe, even if left out in 90 degree heat all day. That said, after two years, I have only had bad reactions to food a few times, never serious or lasting more than a day or two. I use common sense and simply refuse politely to eat what looks unsafe to me. “busog” means I’m full.

Key to buying fresh meat is get it within hours after the animal is killed, or caught, if fish.
The Public market in Dumaguete has a meat market within its confines. Get there before eight AM and you will be assured fresh killed pork. There are local reliable supermarkets, but the same axiom holds true .There are some stores that offer frozen meats of good quality, but make sure they maintain the freezers overnight. Fresh industry raised chicken is readily available in both the public market and supermarkets.

The fish market is an experience. You simply either have to learn about the signs of fresh seafood, or send a Filipina maid or wife to do the shopping. As a rule of thumb, clear eyes, red gills and not too stiff are good indicators. When buying prawns or shrimp, check that the neck area is not too soft. Green shells, better known as Mussels in the West, are farm raised and safe. Stick to the varieties that you know. The markets are full of dubious fish varieties including aquarium fish. Some common fish to westerners are Lapu Lapu (Grouper), Maya Maya (Red Snapper), Yellow Fin Tuna, Tolingan (small tuna), and white Marlin, (Tarogho).

One of the best local seafood dishes is Kinilaw, it is a Philippine version of Sashimi. Made with fresh yellow fin tuna it is delicious and safe to eat. Often it is made with Tolingan, or marlin. Tangy and spicy it is delicious. If you are buying the fish for Kinilaw, get to the market early, make sure the yellow fin head is on display and look for clear eyes and red gills.

Eating local food can be very rewarding and healthy if you follow a few guidelines. Use your own common sense and good judgment when shopping. Remember imported foods often are tempting but less fresh than what you will find in the local markets. Join the local culture and enjoy the exciting eating adventure available in the Philippines.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Dumaguete Street Scenes

I was downtown a few days ago with my camera and shot some photos of ordinary street scenes. These are the kind of photos you do not see so much. Not the resort sandy beaches, nor the colorful under water shots seen from dive vacations. This is what you will see when you walk down Legaspi street on any afternoon. I thought they might be interesting to the future expat looking to get a sense of Dumaguete the city; ordinary snapshots of everyday Dumaguete.
These photos were taken walking down Legaspi Street adjacent to building 3 of the Public market, and in the market. I was very close to the National Highway looking for the most part east toward Quezon Park. This is central downtown, the old city center. In Recent years the main shopping district has spread North along Perdices street.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sunrise Festival

One of the great things about Dumaguete is the diversity you can find here. Speaking now in terms of arts and culture, you can find everything from jazz, art shows, Disco, Rock music, to poetry readings. Traveling shows and festivals also come to Dumaguete streets. The Sunrise Festival is one of these.

The Sunrise Festival is held every year at different locations around the Philippines. Sponsored and produced by the Maharlika Writers and Artists Federation, it presents a view of the Philippines often lost in its rush to join the 21rst Century. It emphasizes Philippine traditional dance and music, as well as contemporary commentary on Philippine life. Any given Sunrise Festival is a mix of concert and recital, dance and sculpture. Not bound by traditional sense of art, Maharlika makes art on the fly, creating both physical manifestations of creative energy, and more ephemeral live music and performance art. When the Sunrise Festival is over after a week of descending on a venue, there is little residue or evidence of its presence. Instead the Festival is about the process, the act of producing an experience unlike that in which most art and music are observed.

If you go to merely watch the proceedings at the nightly festivities, you are very likely to become a participant, applying body paint and dancing with the performers, or grabbing a drum and joining a morning drum circle. It’s like that.

Maharlika celebrates authentic Philippine culture, reinventing ancient arts and combining them with contemporary expressions. The participants, who come from all parts of the Philippines, represent the Elite among Philippine artists. Some bring with them crafts and arts to sell. Camping on site is the preferred lodging, and affords and promotes the communal atmosphere at The Sunrise Festival. Stories are exchanged and old friendships are rekindled.

I was very fortunate to be introduced to these wonderful phenomena by Susan Canoy a local artist in Dumaguete. Affectionately called mother Susan, she is well known here and a very nice person. She was instrumental in getting me an invitation to join the Festival with a display of my Photographs. As the local coordinator for the festival here in Dumaguete during its 2006 visit, she worked tirelessly to line up venues, hang the artwork, and make sure everything went smoothly.

The Sunrise festival has been held in such places as Boracay, and Bagio in 2007, and hopefully will visit Dumaguete again soon. I met some great folks and made some very interesting contacts far a wide throughout the Philippines.

I’ll post a few links to photo sites and information pages. If you get a chance to experience the Sunrise Festival while visiting the Philippines, I highly recommend it.


You might ask what do ants have to do with Dumaguete. Well coming from a temperate climate where insects know their place and species are limited in numbers, I had no idea there were so many kinds of ants in the world. Just in the Philippines I lost count at 300 species and sub species.
When I moved in to my first Dumaguete rental house, I learned very quickly about several species of insects. Number one was Mosquitoes. Now these are potentially dangerous carriers of diseases such as malaria and Dengue fever. However, they can be easily prevented from entering the house with screens and judicious use of sprays or mosquito coils. The latter are pressed spirals of insecticide that you light and let burn like incense.

If you are bothered by ants, don’t come to the Philippines. They are everywhere. Sure you can spray insecticide daily or weekly, but you will spend a lot of money, and after a while you think that you are poisoning yourself instead of the ants. Not to say they can’t be controlled, but they are persistent little buggers.
You would think that because this is a tropical climate that the insects here would be larger than there northern counterparts, not so with many of the ant species here. Most ants you will see in the house are small. One species, (featured in my photo) are a mere 2-3 millimeters long.

My pets drinking milk for breakfast
There is one kind of slightly larger black ant that runs on steroids apparently. These guys can move fast. I would guess about 200 miles per hour if you would scale their size to the size of a car. Unlike Philippine human pedestrians, the ants here are orderly and travel in neat lines single file. Sometimes you will wake up in the morning to an armored invasion. The line will start at some crack in the first line of defense such as a screen pulled away from the wall. It’s really quite interesting how they disguise themselves. They might travel along a window ledge, down a door jamb to the floor. Once on a tile floor, they neatly follow the grout lines, almost impossible to see. Inconspicuously climbing a table leg, they will terminate their invasion line on that plate of snacks you left on the table the night before. How do they know? Beats me, but these guys will surely inherit the earth.
My wife has instilled in me tolerance for our ant friends. She separates them into good and bad ant categories. A country girl, she takes delight in inserting one small species into her ear and letting it crawl up and down her ear canal. I was at first really grossed out by this, but she explained that they always crawl back out. All I could think of was the science fiction story about Earwigs that bored into your brain and took over your body. I can’t say I enjoy the sensation, but I have actually let her put one in my ear. Unless you try it you’ll never know... It’s like popcorn exploding in your ear, and it tickles like crazy. The problem is its like taking a drug, once it’s in there it will run its course (ha). You can’t get it out until it decides there’s neither anything to eat nor a good looking young lady ant in there.
One species of “bad” ant I seem to find without trying. These red devils hide in the grass waiting for an unsuspecting sandal adorned foot to come there way. They have this knack of biting you between the toes. The first sensation is a burning pain which then transitions into a painful unrelenting itch. It is similar to a wasp sting but not as severe.

I have made my peace with my ant friends here in Dumaguete, we tolerate each other’s existence, and besides they really don’t eat much. Just check that glass of coke before you take a swig!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Old man from Siquijor

This story was related to me by a Filipino friend. Take it as an example of the type folklore that you will hear in the Philippines.

"I was in Siquijor on business for a few days. When I went to the pier to catch a Ferry back to Dumaguete, there was this ragged old man waiting on the dock. I gave it no thought at first, bought my ticket and boarded the ferry. I happened to know the First mate on the boat and we started to chat. I glanced down and the old man was having some talk with the boarding guards. I thought there looked like a problem so I decided to go investigate; perhaps the old man had some difficulty. As I approached it was clear the old man did not have the proper fare to make the trip. He explained that he wanted to visit his family in Dumaguete. I decided that the good thing to do was to pay his fare and help him get on the Ferry. My reasoning was that I hoped if I got to be that age, someone would take pity on me if I were ever to face the same situation.
I helped him on board and the Ferry began to move. The old man was very grateful and gave me a small branch from some sort of tree. It was small, was obviously a cutting, and very much alive. I took the seemingly insignificant gift as his only way of saying thank you. I told him I was happy to help him and thanked him. He then told me to keep the branch as a good luck charm, and never throw it away or bad luck would come my way. I took this as a tale from an old man and put the branch in my bag. When we arrived in Dumaguete, I briefly talked to my friend the first mate. When I turned around the old man had simply vanished. I asked my friend if he had seen him disembark and he said no. I scanned the dock area and there was no sign of him anywhere. I was surprised he disappeared so quickly because he could not walk well at all. When I got home I found the gift in my bag and for lack of something to do with it, hung it on my bedroom wall. To this day from 3 years ago, the branch is still very much green and alive. I cherish it and will keep it always."

To answer the obvious question, no I didn't see the living branch. It's existence isn't important nor is the literal truth of the story. Siquijor is well known for the black magic practiced there. Much of the “black magic” performed now is for the benefit of tourists, and I know of at least one tour that visitors can take that includes a show. Never the less the old tribal belief systems are very much alive. Just scratch the surface and the stories of curses, hexes, white ladies, and spirits come to life. Personally I think the term black magic is misleading. It might be more accurate to say, “Outside the Catholic Church”. The Philippines was after all not Catholic before 400 years ago, and had its own unique native belief system before that time. It is easy to understand that it still exists today in many parts of the Philippines.

I will post some more stories as time goes on. I have accumulated a number of them!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Ceres Liners

Denizens of the roads from north to South, bright yellow Ceres Liners are an iconic means of public transportation in the Philippines. The parent company Vallacar Transit Company Inc. is the largest bus company in Negros. It has over 1700 units traveling in Negros, Mindanao, Cebu, and Luzon.
There are many smaller bus companies in the Provinces; most own a few tattered coaches with more body filler than sheet metal. These lumbering local run busses often stop every kilometer to pick up passengers, a slow way to get anywhere. A few operators offer modern but small coaches that look more like space ships than public transport. These small hot rod busses for lack of a better term often are rolling music venues, with huge subwoofers blaring the latest disco or hip hop mix. Bounding down the highway with reckless abandon, this is truly a multi sensory experience. This variant is not so prevalent in Negros Oriental. They do ply the routes from Cebu City south to Car Car and beyond.

Ceres liners are a class above these lower echelon rides. Well maintained coaches (by Philippine standards), some are air-conditioned and feature onboard movies. The size of the bus often will depend on the route. Sometimes their will be a small express run for students and commuters between neighboring towns such as Dumaguete and Siaton timed for local school and work schedules.
Ceres liners operate both from proprietary terminals and public ones. They also make unscheduled stops along the way, depending on whether they are an express or local run. If you are a foreigner and 6 feet tall, you will quickly realize that in the Philippines everything is downsized for the average Filipino. A Diminutive people, the average man stands about 5”4”, and the average female about 5’. The bus seats reflect this as well as the legroom. Combine this with the Philippine tendency to get as much as possible from a revenue standpoint, and you will quickly discover that the buses while large are cramped.

There is little regulation concerning public safety in the Philippines. In some ways this is a refreshing change from highly regulated and litigious societies in the West. As a traveler you have to accept the fact that you are in a foreign country and it is their rules and culture. I have never had a problem riding any public transportation here, but one needs to responsible and keep a watchful eye.

The buses have no seat belts, and the conductor will fill the seats first, and then fill the isle with passengers sitting on plastic stools. After that if there is any standing room that is used as well. Not all trips are so crowded, but if you are claustrophobic, be aware of the possibility. Ceres does not at this time sell tickets in advance. The protocol is to get to the terminal early and sit in the waiting area. There are no announcements, you will watch for your bus to arrive. In larger terminals like Cebu if you are an obvious foreigner, there will be many “volunteers” looking to help you. Be careful; never give your bags to anyone. If you have more bags that you can carry, make sure you see the porter put your bag in the lower compartment and close the door.

Once the bus arrives at the terminal, everyone just gets up and boards taking any available seat. Normally there is no problem. However, if this might be the last trip of the day on a busy run, be prepared for bumping and jostling to get a seat. On rare occasions people will storm the door before the passengers on board are even off the bus. Join the fray. No one seems to get angry, pushing your way on is normal in these instances.
After the bus is on the way the conductor will first come down the aisle and give you your ticket after asking your destination. The ticket has several columns with numbers. Some numbers will be punched. Read the ticket from left to right to determine your fare in Pesos. The conductors in my experience are honest, but in the Philippines education is inconsistent, so simple arithmetic skills vary, learn to read the ticket and count your change. That said, the money as compared to Western currency is so low, you can’t lose the bank.
Money is not collected when the ticket is issued. In typical Philippine efficiency, the conductor makes two trips up and down the aisle. If he does not have change for you right away, don’t despair, he will return later with your change.
I have met some very interesting people, and made some friends riding the Ceres Liners. As a rule you will find fellow passengers friendly and very willing to help you if you don’t understand something. The worst thing that you can do is get angry and aggressive over some issue. While this behavior is tolerated in the West, it is considered rude and insulting in the Philippines. Go with the flow, and be patient, everything here runs on “Filipino time”.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Breadman

For most tourists and visitors, the bread man of Dumaguete is a well kept secret. However, among the long term residents of Dumaguete he is becoming quite well known.

He lives a simple life, getting up at 3AM to begin the daily ritual of baking bread. During the daylight hours he makes his deliveries. He mounts his specially modified motor bike and delivers to communities in the surrounding area. With two large black boxes attached to the rear like saddlebags, he services an area from Dauin south to Sibulan north, and Valencia to the West. Unlike many expats, the Breadman does not live on the beach or in the cool mountains of Valencia, but resides in the back Barangays of Dumaguete. He is living and working among Filipinos, accepting their ways and providing a much sought after service.
Peter is of German origin, from the south of Germany near Stuttgart. With his bright red hair and piercing but sensitive blue eyes he speaks in soft tones. He has lived here in Dumaguete for eight years. Peter is a quiet but engaging man, passionate about his work and willing to sit and talk about his craft. He is quite proud of his special ingredients, including fresh cow’s milk which is almost unheard of in the Philippines. When I ordered one of his Berliners, a German version of the donut, he first produced the pastry wrapped in a plastic bag. Mysteriously, he disappeared to his motorbike and returned with a plastic tub of powdered sugar. As he busily opened the container, Peter explained that the sugar must be placed on top at the last possible moment before eating.
The Bread man’s products are available at many of the local resorts, restaurants and boutique delicatessens, but he mostly remains invisible. If you are lucky enough to meet him and sample his incredible breads first hand, you will be the better for it.

Dauin Fiesta

If you visit the Philippines for any length of time, you are likely to witness a Fiesta celebration in a local community. Fiesta is a tradition wide spread throughout the Philippines. Dating back to the time when Spain ruled and dominated the local culture, Fiesta is a unique Philippine take on a European concept. It is regarded as a time to return home and visit family, a homecoming of sorts. Festival is also a time to share your wealth, even if you are poor, with your friends, family, and fellow villagers. This could mean roasting an entire pig and inviting the neighbors, or even sharing a small amount of rice and fish. Festivals happen all through the year, and each community has their own unique date. The larger municipalities usually have parades with elaborate costumes put together by each Barangay. These parades are a prelude to what is called here a “showdown” or competition between the ornately adorned dancers. These showdowns are elaborately choreographed production numbers often with as many as 100 participants. The music is the best part for me. The musicians play percussion instruments, drums of all sizes and make up. Many of the instruments are hammered from steel drums, others are modern band instruments. The rhythms are complex and high energy, influenced by native sounds dating back hundreds of years.

One of my favorite fiesta competitions is in Dauin, a small town just south of Dumaguete. For my tastes, it has the right mix of smallness and well organized competition. Each Barangay tries it’s best to outdo the others with the elaborate native inspired costumes and bone shaking percussive accompaniment. Dauin is a small but wealthy community with a history dating back many hundreds of years. There is an old Spanish mission on the town square which dates back to the time of the early European colonists. Everyone in the larger community participates in some way. All the schools have bands which march in the parade. Even elementary schools have bands with elaborate costumes. Music is a large part of Philippine culture and daily life.
In the Philippines no Fiesta week would be complete without one modern addition to the festivities. That is the nighttime disco. Most towns have an outdoor sports complex which often also serves as the home for a local church or Barangay hall. The basketball court (which sometimes is the Sports Complex) is transformed by traveling DJ’s with high powered amplifiers and speakers. Large sophisticated pulsating Disco lights are strung up overhead on a jury rigged web of poles and wires. Presto! You have a disco. Everyone in town goes to the disco. Ma, Pa, and the kids. If you are a stranger, you won’t be for long. People will try to get you dancing to ensure that you enjoy yourself.
fiesta, you will come away with not only a full stomach, but perhaps a greater appreciation for the true hospitality and friendly attitude of the Philippine people.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ading's Pick Quick

Off The Beaten Path

Ading’s is one of those little spots you would never find on your own. Located far from the Boulevard in Barangay Taclobo, Ading’s offers a unique combination of native and international flair. Ading’s started as a small sari sari store. Sari sari loosely means a little bit of everything. Normally this would refer to various dry goods, snacks, drinks, and candy, all displayed hanging on wires and hooks. Ading has since expanded to a sort of Sari sari, karinderya(cafeteria style native food), karaoke, and watering hole for both in the know Filipinos and foreigners. Quaintly designed in the native style, Ading’s will accommodate only about 30 customers at a time. From the outside the look is unremarkable, but once inside the atmosphere changes. Ading’s bubbly personality and the friendly staff makes you immediately feel at home.

The walls are lined with artfully framed local photography. This sampling from Dumaguete and surrounding area was part of an exhibit at the Maharlika Festival in 2005 right here in Dumaguete. The music playing is always an eclectic mix of old rock, alternative, blues, jazz, and even the local favorite dance sounds.
Drinks include Ice cold beer, and soft drinks at very reasonable prices. Snacks are always available and if your timing is right, you might just be able to sample some native cooking. The Chicken curry is awesome. Since at this point the food service is karinderya (cafeteria) style, the earlier in the day you get there the more likely you are to get a choice. Ading says she would like to eventually offer a small menu from which items could be selected. Even now if there is something you would like, Ading might just prepare it for you if there are ingredients on hand. She is like that.
If you are looking for an authentic native style experience with a twist, Ading’s offers the alternative to the tourist oriented establishments. To find Ading’s, travel west away from the BVLD on Locsin street (the one that Unitop is on). Cross the National highway, keep going past ACSAT College on the right. The road will curve and you will come to a Y. Go to the right (now Larena Dr.), take the first right which is Ceriaco Espina Street (also known locally as Bag-ong dalan). Ading’s is only a few hundred meters on the Left. If you take a tricycle, just tell the driver “Bag-ong Dalan”. It's only about one kilometer from downtown.

Mount Talinis

I have always been attracted to mountains, big or small, I find them beckoning me to explore, climb and photograph them. When I was staying in Panagsama Beach a few years ago, the mountains of Negros brought me here to Dumaguete. From afar, majestic and shrouded in mist and clouds, they were at once verdant mysterious worlds to go experience.

Once in Dumaguete, it wasn’t long before Mount Talinis captured my interest. Rising 6100’ over the city to the West, it dominates the landscape, influences the weather, and gives a primordial feeling to the up hill explorations I have become found of. Also referred to as Cuernos de Negros (horns of Negros) Mt. Talinis is an ancient dormant volcano responsible for much of the land we walk on today in Dumaguete. It is second in height only to Mount Canlaon. Even today volcanic vents are active throughout the area and on some days when you look to the mountain you can see a great white plume of steam rising from the PNOC geothermal facility up high in the Valencia region. If you ride up into the surrounding hills, the smell of sulfur is frequent as you become suddenly aware of the live volcanic vents along the road. Hot springs offering an invigorating mineral bath are located in remote ravines waiting to be discovered by the adventurous traveler.

Talinis is almost always capped by either clouds or moist steamy mist, which ads to its mystique. Small subsistence farms dot the slopes as Talinis rises from the surrounding plain. The roads that lead up the mountain gradually disappear into trails, then paths only suitable for hiking. The remoteness is what attracts me to it. In many western countries the mountains are accessible by roads or perhaps cable cars. In the Philippines, no such infrastructure exists. The natives who live in the remote mountain areas live much like their ancestors, except now they travel to the cities, and have become adapted to modern society.

The plants and animals found on the slopes of Talinis are varied and exotic. Wild Orchids beyond description, pythons, wild pigs, and many indigenous birds and reptiles dwell there. There are several outfitters in Dumaguete who can organize trips to the mountain. You determine the difficulty of the climb. That said you do need to be in relatively good shape to attempt a trek up Talinis. I would suggest a minimum overnight expedition. I have been told that a three day trip is ideal, but keep in mind this is undeveloped tropical terrain and very steep. Slightly to the north of Talinis slopes lay the Twin Lakes, known officially as Balinsasayao Lakes. These lakes can be reached via a trek from Talinis, but this is definitely for the more adventurous hiker. In case you are wondering, the Twin Lakes do have a car accessible access available as well in Sibulan.

Talinis is a constant reminder of our connection with nature as it hovers over Dumaguete, even influencing the weather with its rain producing clouds. Life below in the city goes on seemingly unaware of the Mountain to the West, but all you need do is glance up and you a drawn to its majesty.

Cata-al Japanese/U.S. War Museum

There are many out of the way yet very worthwhile attractions to see in and around Dumaguete. One of the most unique and interesting is the Cata-al Japanese/American World War 2 museum in Valencia. The small private museum is proudly run by Porforia Cata-al, an 84 year old World War two veteran. Porforia fought for the U.S. in a division trained by General Douglas MacArthur before the Japanese invaded in 1942. Cata-al is an intensely proud and patriotic man, eager to share his stories and personal history. I will leave the stories for you to hear first hand, only to add that many are highly embellished tales of things as esoteric as Yamashita’s gold, secret bunkers, and spy stories related to Philippine heroism during the conflict. He conducts a personal tour through the museum located in a downstairs room of his house. Unable to walk well, he nevertheless is enthusiastic and very sharp mentally. At one point while showing me some memorabilia from the era, he pushed a small button on a plastic model of Iwo Jima complete with American flag. A tinny rendition of the Star Spangled Banner started to play; Porforia stood at attention and sang every word. It was moving, and although I am not overly patriotic, I joined him for a bar or two. A man with a good sense of humor, he joked about a friend who is dead 60 years and still gets his army pension. Porforia said,” I get none, but I don’t complain, because I am still alive.”
The museum is full of all kinds of relics, many duplicated 40 times over. Mess kits, ordinance, personal effects, grenades, and more. Certain items, such as a gun removed from a crashed Japanese Zero fighter, and three 1000 pound bombs were very impressive.
As our visit was wrapping up we made a donation in the box by the door and were greeted by Porforia’s son who was just returning from work. The Jr. Cata-al, it turns out is the recovery expert and has personally brought down all the relics from the mountain battlefield. He is also a consummate local historian and avid World War 2 enthusiast. Needless to say if you have similar interests you will not have a short visit! He recounted stories of how it took 20 men to drag the 1000 pound unexploded bombs down the mountain. We moved back inside and the Jr. Cata-al showed us his most recent finds. These were the human remains of some 10 Japanese soldiers. It was a little off putting at first, but at the same time interesting. Cata-al explained that as these remains are discovered, they are sent back to Japan for burial, so in a sense he is providing comfort for the families whose long lost relatives were killed here so many years ago. Perhaps they get compensated, but certainly it is deserved, as it is evident they live modestly.
In Valencia, the museum is on the main road from Dumaguete, on the right side just before the first in town cross street. Just shout Hiyo! And you will be beckoned in past the gate.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Japanese WW2 Pillbox

I am just getting to know a little about Dumaguete's role in WW II. It was the scene for the U.S Invasion of Southern Negros at the end of the second world war. Occupied by the Japanese on May 26,1942, it was liberated by U.S. forces assisted by Filipino Militia April 26, 1945. If you travel casually around the city of Dumaguete today most likely you won't see much remaining evidence of the conflict. However, if you know where to look, there are some interesting historical structures and locations to see. The first one I found was smack in the middle of Town, just north of Silliman University.

This defensive position, or "pill box" is located about four blocks inland from Looc, sight of the landing of one contingent of U.S. forces here. The Landing sight itself is now occupied by the Dumaguete port and pier. If you want to find the pill box, travel North through Silliman University on Airport Road, i is located in Piapi Barangay on the right hand side of the street.

Unfortunately, it is not a preserved historical site, but is located on what appears to be private property with a small house built almost on top of it. You can still see the gun port on the East side. The entrance is intact as well as what looks like a rear exit.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Father Tropa's Zoo

If you travel south of Dumaguete on the National Highway you will find the town of Zamboangita. The name is interestingly a bastardization of the original dialect word for Octopus. Apparently long ago legend has it, there was a giant Octopus caught and displayed on the beach and the name stuck. Traveling a few kilometers further south going towards Siaton, you will see (if you look very carefully) a small sign for Father Tropa’s Zoo on the right side of the road.

Father Tropa was a religious leader in the Philippines that had a following which believed that Jesus would come back to earth in a space ship in the year 2000. He even hosted a TV show titled Spaceship 2000. Well the year has come and gone, and so has father Tropa, but his zoo remains. Father Tropa was a dedicated environmentalist and did his best to protect native wildlife. His existing zoo is an outgrowth of his interest in protcting animals. It is a zoo unique to the Philippines, and unlike any zoo you might have encountered in the western world. Humble would be a kind way of describing it. In the genre of bizarre, quirky, and entertaining, it is an interesting stop if time allows.

Passing through the narrow gate is best accomplished on a motor bike or small car. A gate keeper will collect 10 Pesos per person to enter or park, not sure how they apply the fee. In any event you pay, enter, and park. When I entered with my wife we were greeted by a diminutive guide who spoke no English, and very little of any language it seemed. He had this never ending smile and giggled incessantly. He was determined to show us every display and animal.

First on our tour was this largish low building that looked like a Barangay hall or meeting place. Once we were through the doors and our eyes adjusted to the lower light levels, a strange and surreal world awaited. Reminiscent of a Bruegell painting, there were displays representative of your average house of horrors. Our guide was laughing in his imbecilic manner and pointing out every display with great pride. This hall was home to what might be called the dead stuff. Long tables with dusty jars full of formaldehyde in which were preserved every aberration of genetics known to man, including a human fetus with multiple limbs. If you are sensitive or squeamish, don’t enter, because the stuffed two headed calf will certainly put you off.

Other exhibits included many moth eaten examples of taxidermy, both domestic and wild critters. Some of the displays have been artfully repaired with duct tape. Actually this was my favorite part of the zoo. It either brings out the teenager in you, or makes you ill. After the initial shock and cursory tour, our over zealous guide bent down and dragged a large flat box from beneath one of the tables. I was wondering what surprise we were in for now… As it turned out this boxed contained a large very alive Python. Without hesitating he gingerly raised the snake and draped it around my wife. She is very OK with this stuff and played along with the gonzo theatrics. What I don’t understand is how these snakes, and there were more, live in boxes under a table. But there was no time to ask. We were whisked outside again and showed the various animals kept in rusty wire fences and cages. I tried to get some photos, but the cages were so ugly and constricted, it was hard to get anything worthwhile. One of the proudest moments for our guide was when he showed us the “giant” chicken. Essentially a standard size domestic type from Europe or the U.S., compared to the wild native chickens in the Philippines, it was indeed giant. At this point I was muttering to myself but enthusiastically enjoying our tour.
Next up where the two dozen Monkeys in cages, most I assume donated or orphaned. The highlight live animal was the giant crocodile. This thing in a low pool was immense. We missed the feeding, but apparently they throw it a live goat or dog once in a while. I was very glad to miss that. My wife described an earlier visit with here family where in fact a dog was sacrificed in from of visitors.
The last exhibit we saw was father Tropa’s grave. Yes he is there among his beloved animals, forever enshrined, but not stuffed thank goodness.

So if you get tired of coral, exotic fish, white sand beaches, and mountain climbing, Father Tropa’s awaits you, ready to give you an alternative zoological experience.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Why Not Disco

The Why Not Disco is one of the premier night spots on the Boulevard in Dumaguete. It has existed in one form or another for longer than most of the other night spots in town. In reality, the Why Not is comprised of several businesses under one common name. There is a European style delicatessen, an upscale but informal restaurant, a cyber café, Laser Karaoke, and my favorite, the outdoor cafe where one can sit and watch the Boulevard street scene.
The disco is open every night of the week. The Why Not features a live band on Wednesdays with a cover charge. On Fridays and Saturdays there are also cover charges for entering the disco. These are all consumable. In other words, depending on the night you may get one or two drinks included with your entrance fee. On the remaining week nights the disco is free to enter. The drinks are moderately priced by Western standards, about 40 Pesos for a local beer. One rather interesting and puzzling rule is on those nights that they have someone at the door; you may not wear flip flop thong type sandals. However, sandals considered “fashion” wear with over the foot style are allowed. It makes little sense, but it’s the Philippines, so be advised, the shoe police will nab you.
The Why Not is a large venue with two bars, ample seating for over 100 people, and a very good light and sound system. One large screen TV and several smaller ones constantly run movies throughout the evening, in case you get bored I suppose. There are also three large 8’ pool tables for those who like to play billiards. 8 Ball is the game of choice here, and the rules are winner keeps the table. So if you want to play, you simply put your name on a chalk board. When your turn comes you get to play the winner of the last game.
The Why Not is haven for all things Dumaguete. It is a pick up place for singles, as well as a place where adult families and couples can go as well. Since there are three major colleges here, and several smaller ones, there are often many students frequenting the Disco.
If you like to dance, people watch, or listen to the music, the Why Not offers all three at a level unmatched by other venues in Dumaguete. If you plan to visit Dumaguete, the Why Not will certainly be on your list of things to do. It is an eclectic mix of typical Philippine night life, all in one place.

Malatapay Market

The Market at Malatapay just south of Dauin is a weekly Wednesday happening. This is a very picturesque little hamlet along the National Highway south of Dumaguete about 20 minutes drive. Farmers from the surrounding mountain villiages migrate to Malatapay once a week to sell their produce. Along with the fruits and vegitables you will find a livestock auction with pigs, goats, and chickens among other things. There are native crafts such as straw weaving that rival any I have seen anywhere in the world.

One of the highlights for me is the roasted Lechon Baboy, or roast pig in English. Stuffed with lemon grass and seasonings, the whole pig is slow cooked over an open fire until it is a golden brown color. The resulting meat is deliciously decadent. Not for the dietary concious, it is laced with fat and colesterol. But in the Philippines it is a delicacy none the less. In addition to this, there are small open air eateries along the waterfront serving the Philippine version of Sashimi called Kinilaw. Made with local fresh fish, including yellow fin Tuna, it is safe to eat and uniquly delicious. It has a spicy affect and is very good with the local San Miguel Lager beer.

As you stroll up and down the main road with booths crowded together on both sides, your senses will be stimulated with the sounds, smells, and sights of Philippine native culture at it's best.

Malatapay is the main ocean gateway to Apo Island, one of the premier diving locales in the Philippines. As you look about you will no doubt see folks waiting for the next pump boat leaving for Apo. This is a great way to meet other like minded tourists and expats. Who knows, you might end up in Apo by evening witnessing one of the best sunsets anywhere on earth.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Bus from Dumaguete to Cebu

When you want to travel to Cebu, one of the easiest ways is to take the bus. There are several ways to do this with a combination of Ferries, buses, and small vans called V-hires. For convenience, there is the bus that leaves Dumaguete Ceres Liner Terminal and actually drives aboard the ferry, then crossing to Cebu. There is no changing buses except you have to get off the bus when it goes on the barge. They charge you three times, Cebu bus fare, barge fare, and Negros bus fare. It takes up to 5 + hours.

The fastest way, is to take a bus or Easy Ride (very small bus like vehicle) to Sibulan port which is about 15 minutes North of Dumaguete. From there take a pump boat (large native style outrigger with a motor) to Liloan, and catch a bus to Cebu. You will save an hour or two over the above method.
Riding a V-hire from Liloan to Cebu can save you more time than taking the Ceres. These are converted 8-12 passenger vans . Try to get the front seat of a V-Hire if you are claustrophobic or over 6' tall. They typically pack 15 to 20 people in these things with carry on bags and personal items. On the return from Cebu to Dumaguete, I would recommend leaving Cebu no later than 1-2 PM to avoid missing the last pump boat at Liloan or traveling at night.


I Went to Cebu Yesterday. Going there I took fast craft from Sibulan to Liloan which docks at a different pier than the pump boat. “Fast craft” is just a local name for a more modern style cabin ferry. It is a 15 minute ride and costs 47 P. Upon arrival there was an air conditioned Ceres bus waiting at pier, the bus left almost immediately, and the cost was 149 Pesos. I made it from Sibulan port in Negros to Cebu South Terminal in just over three hours. This is the best time for me so far.
If you take the pump boat from Sibulan to the pump boat landing in Liloan you have to hire a motorcycle to transport you to the Ceres at end of the road costing 20 Pesos. However V-hires are available very near the pump boat dock.

When I returned to Dumaguete later the same day, I took the Ceres liner that drives on to a barge or “Ro Ro” ferry. Here is the way they break down the fare.

South terminal Cebu to Batu Maayo Shipping terminal 168 P

Batu dock to Tampi (Amlan) Maayo shipping terminal 60 P ferry fee in addition to the bus fare.

Tampi to Ceres terminal Dumaguete(or any where you want along way) 22 Pesos.

This trip took 4.5 hours again on the faster side of average, we were lucky with connections to the ferry, traffic, etc.

As an aside for those unfamiliar with Philippine etiquette, THERE IS NONE when it comes to getting on a bus. They do not pre sell seated tickets. One simply fights their way to a seat, and pays the fare after the bus gets underway. Be fully prepared for aggressive bumping to ensure a seat. This was accentuated as it was the last trip on day before a holiday. Normally it is not as bad as this.
I was ready to calmly but firmly get on the bus as usual, but as seasoned travellers know, everyone rushes the bus door before it opens to let out the disembarking passengers. In this case, the conductor yells and screams to get back, no one responds. Door opens people don't wait for one person to get off and try to push by immediately. My girl and I did get our seats, and everyone went back to being polite.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Buying a motorcycle in Dumaguete

I spent a good amount of time researching this subject here in Dumaguete. I have purchased two new motorcycles since moving here. Buy new, unless you are inclined to fix the headlights, brakes, and put the muffler back on. Seriously, good and used here can not be used in the same sentence unless you personally know someone selling a bike. There are a few used shops selling overpriced junk. Some of the dealers offer used bikes, go that root if you must buy used. New bikes are so cheap it makes sense if you plan on keeping it any length of time.When you come here everyone will tell you have to buy a Honda. They are assembled here in the Philippines mostly from Chinese made components.

I highly recommend Rusi motorcycle shop. They sell rebadged Lifan, Losin, and a few others. These are Chinese bikes assembled in the Philippines. What impressed me was not so much the quality of the bikes, but their excellent customer service. Both bikes I purchased I got from them, they provide fair pricing and negotiating is allowed. I first bought a 125cc trail motorbike, called Ramjet. Not enough power so I traded up to a 150cc lightweight bike used primarily for conversion to tricycle (the motorcycle with side car used for taxi service). It has a Honda clone motor that has been trouble free for well over one year. I did have issues with the rear hub, and electrical system. They replaced both no charge under warranty.Prices for this type of bike range from 35,000- 45,000 Pesos, depending where you buy it.

A 150 cruiser type (not available at Rusi) will run almost the same and higher, 200cc-250cc cruiser 75-85,000. There is a new dealer for Motostar, which are reputedly good Chinese bikes, near the market next to Benardo's electric. Sorry can't remember the shop name.Again, I like Rusi because they have a large service shop with good mechanics. See June Marie, she is a peach to deal with, although she is the service manager, there are other girls in the sales dept, all equally friendly and helpful.There are many new shops in town, all selling a variety of bikes, few have what I regard as a good service area. But I am picky.

There are roughly speaking 4 grades of bikes here in the Philippines.

1. Branded (Japanese) bikes who's parts are made in China, Japan(few parts), India, Malaysia, and assembled in the Philippines. There are no new Japan manufactured motorbikes here, they would cost too much for the Philippine buyer. There are surplus Japanese big bikes, 400cc up. In Manila and surrounding area you can buy new any kind of bike you want including a BMW, Honda 1000cc road racer, 750,000 to 1M. not sure that these may be grey market. A different market than we speak of here. We are Talking small affordable motorbikes, cycles.

2. Bikes with a name brand made in another third country, example Indian made Japanese bikes.

3. Chinese manufactured bikes sold in the Philippines.

4. Rebadged (renamed) Chinese bikes made to a particular design spec. some partially assembled in the Philippines to make them cheaper.

Most of the motors for the small 100-125cc bikes come out of the same factories in China. Including Honda. It is the assembly of the bikes and the spec to which the small accessories parts are held. That makes the difference. You can go to any motorcycle shop, find 4-5 nearly identical 150cc tricycle bikes with different names on them, including Honda TMX. The Honda may have slightly higher quality minor components, and less expensive other components, painted fender vs. chrome on the Chinese bikes. My advice: Choose the dealer not the bike if you buy new. If your choice is new or used, just take one minute, and think about what you want to deal with, a few small problems fixed under warranty, or doing a major overhaul.

The Rusi Ramstar 150cc has the feel of a real motorcycle, not a motor bike. I replaced the gearing with higher ratio for 100kph cruising, I removed 2 of the four rear shocks. I replaced the Chinese rear hub with a Suzuki original(drop in replacement), I bought a quality drive chain, and put an Izumi semi knobby tread on the rear, and put a halogen headlight in requiring a new capacitor.. I can cruise to Bacolod in 3.5 hours, or drive to the Twin lakes with no compromise. It's what I wanted in a bike. If you plan only to drive around the city, or only on good roads, then something else might be better and much cheaper.

There are two places to buy Motostar here in Dumaguete. EMCOR San Jose St. I think, and the new dealer I mentioned which is named MSS Motor cycles. I have priced bikes at EMCOR, They have limited service area, but will negotiate price. I know someone who purchased one of the Motorstar Z-200 racing style bikes for a rental, he is happy. These bikes are getting good reviews on motorcycle Philippines forum. MSS is new, a dedicated motorcycle shop (no appliances). I stopped in and asked them some questions. They have a spot on the floor for a service area so far, they say they hope to rent a space next door in the future for service. They are not stocking the Magnum or Predator right now, these are the cruisers. 150cc and 200cc. They do have a nice looking Off road style 150, many 155cc Tricycle type motor cycles similar to the ramstar 150. Cash price 45,000 Pesos. Also available, the Z-200 and new whizbang 250cc overhead cam balanced motor cafe racer type bike. FYI Motostar is at the top of the Chinese food chain. You would do well to visit Motorcycle Philippines forum to see what riders are saying.

APO Island Diving

Apo Island is one of the Premier diving destinations in the Philippines. Apo is known specifically for it's pristine coral reefs and marine sanctuary. Green Peace has been monitoring the reefs surrounding Apo Island, and they regard Apo as one of their success stories. I met several members when they visited last October. It was a great party, many beers, a disco specially arranged for their visit. Access to Apo island is facilitated with easy connections by Air from Manila to Dumaguete. Once you are in Dumaguete, there are various ways to get to Apo. If you are adventureous and independent, there are regional Ceres Liner buses which will drop you at Malatapay Market where you can take a ferry to Apo island. Well, ferry is misleading in a way. These are Bankas, or commonly called "pump boats" here. Essentially they are outrigger canoes with motors. Some are small, others can carry up to 20 persons. The cost will range from 200 Pesos (about 5 dollars) to 1000 Pesos or more if you want a private ride with return trip

Malatapay market is a destination in itself every Wednesday. Farmers migrate down from remote mountain villages to sell their produce. You can buy anything from bananas to dried fish, to hand woven straw crafts. The straw weaving here in Negros is some of the highest quality I have seen anywhere in the world. The prices are below cheap, even when you factor in that as a tourist they will often raise the price.The Roast pig barbecue or "Lechon" as it is known, is fantastic. People come weekly just to sample this local delight.

Once on Apo, if you have decided to venture there without the assistance the local dive shops, there are two resorts offering a variety of services. These range from dive rentals, snorkel rentals, restaurants, and accomodations. Apo Island Beach Resort is the smaller and more exclusive, Liberty's Lodge is larger.

Personally I liketo live among the native people, so when I visit Apo Island I try to rent one of several native houses I know of. 500 Pesos per night is typical. Be warned if you go this route, no online reservations, you just go and ask around. There is no airconditioning, brackish water to shower with, and the electric on Apo (except for the resorts), goes on at 6 PM and off at 10 or 11PM.

This is simple living folks! The people on Apo are some of the most friendly I have met anywhere in the Philippines, if you take the time to mingle, eat, and drink with them. Aside from diving, there is a lighthouse at the top of the big hill on Apo. I have no idea how many steps, but more than a few hundred, take water! Since I enjoy photography, I found that exploring the volcanic rocks near the marine sanctuary revealed some extaordinary surreal formations. Here are a few.