Friday, October 17, 2008

Discovering Dumaguete 2

The jeepney ride from Sibulan was typical. Crowded full of local Negros folks, and me a tall out of place foreigner. I was soon put at ease. several passengers helped me with my luggage, and with the info on the proper fare to pay. As we approached Dumaguete, I strained to look out the narrow side windows of the van. I could see very little as we jostled along the National highway, but did notice the diminutive and round faces I came to associate with provincial people. We passed several schools, universities among them, and it seemed Dumaguete was indeed a college town, bustling with students, motorcycles, and tricycles.

I had called ahead to the Bethel guest house, but they had no available rooms. They did recommend an alternative, the OK pension... As I had no idea where to go I asked a fellow jeepney passenger, and they were very polite and helpful, directing the driver in visayan to the pension house. Dumped in front of the hotel with my three bags, I sighed in relief that the long days trip was now over. It was just a matter of checking in, and flopping on a bed in an air conditioned room to relax for a while. I had arrived in Dumaguete, not quite knowing why I was here or what I was going to do. In any event it was a fateful and profound step in my quest to assimilate into the Philippine culture, as much as a foreigner could.

The OK Pension proved in fact, not to be so OK, so after two nights of cats fighting in the open courtyard just outside my room, I transferred to the Honeycomb guest house on Rizal Boulevard. I negotiated a rate for a ten day stay not knowing if I would remain after that or move on. The Honeycomb is an old Spanish style mansion dating to the beginning of the twentieth Century. Converted to a hotel, it was charming but somewhat rundown from lack of routine maintenance, never the less a nice place with friendly young girls at the front desk.

There I was smack dab in the middle of expat central, not knowing this at first, I quickly became aware of the charms and pitfalls of the so called "Boulevard", as it is known locally...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Discovering Dumaguete

The first time I heard the name Dumaguete, I was sitting at a seaside cafe in Moal Boal. A divers resort, Moal Boal and nearby Panagsama Beach lie on the south western coast of Cebu Province.

As I dreamily contemplated the looming mist shrouded mountains of Negros Oriental, I ask a waitress what that place was over there, pointing across the Tanon Straight. She replied "That's Negros, and it's my place." I asked her what it was like over there. She replied, "It is very green, many farms and fruit plantations sir." I said "ahh, a nice place?" "yes" she replied, "friendly people and a quiet clean place." Sitting there it looked primordal in the hazy orange sunset of early evening. What town is over there I wondered, what kind of people inhabit that place of large dormant volcanoes and verdant forests? Further conversation yielded the name Dumaguete as the principle municipality in southern Negros Oriental.

I stayed two more weeks at Panagsama beach. I enjoyed the white sand beaches, the nightlife, and touring around on a rented motorcycle. I kept wondering about Negros, it was getting the best of my curiosity. I canceled plans to return to Cebu city and bought a bus ticket to Bato, where I could catch a ferry to Sibulan, just north of Dumaguete. It happened that fast, an impulse to visit a seemingly enchanted place of waiting adventures and discovery. It was a trip that changed my life in so many ways. What follows here is a retrospective of my personal discovery, my journey to Negros, a journey to myself, and a journey to understand the Philippines and it's people.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Who is Visiting Dumaguete?

I pulled this interesting statistic from a local news article. It shows quite clearly the trend in tourism and visitors to Dumaguete. A 13% increase in visitors from other countries with Koreans leading 3:1 over Americans, the next highest number of foreign nationals.

"Negros Oriental Alien Control Officer Peter Bueno disclosed that his office collected P13,826,110 (US$307,797) in 2007, almost 14 per cent higher than the 2006 collection of P11,915,029.65.

Bueno said the bulk of the fees collected was from tourists who visited the province last year.

Records show that in 2007, almost 1,000 tourists had visited Negros Oriental, with Koreans topping the list at 330, followed by Americans, 105, British, 46, and Germans, 25, and Japanese, 22.

The Bureau of Immigration is an attached agency of the Department of Justice and collects fees from foreign students, tourists and aliens taking up temporary or permanent residence here."

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Dumaguete to Cebu City by Motorcycle

I often go to Cebu City for various reasons. Sometimes a visa run, other times shopping or other business. This time tired of riding ferries or Ceres Liners, I decided to ride my motorcycle. I figured I could shave at least a half hour from the trip if I got lucky with the ferry connection to Bato from Tampi.

I actually left from Siaton not Dumaguete, so my trip was lengthened by 40 minutes. I made it from Siaton to Tampi in just over one hour, a rather fast time as it was Sunday and the traffic was light. As I approached the dock at Tampi the barge was loaded and just about to leave, the dockmen waived me on and I scooted onto the ship as they raised the ramp. Timing is everything, and in this case I was very lucky.

Disembarking at Bato after a thirty minute ride on the ferry, I sorted out my things and took off for Cebu City. On a Sunday, as I mentioned before, the traffic is very light making the first two thirds of the trip relaxing and very enjoyable. The road winds around through Oslob, Argao, and Dalaguete. A motorcyclist's dream of switchbacks, chicanes, and sweeping turns are an adventure and joy to ride. Just be very careful of the Ceres liners that also ply this road in abundance.

The coastal road has a decidedly Mediterranean feel (except for the flora), and the resorts and large homes carved into the seaside cliffs add to the ambiance. It is a beautiful ride, and very different from riding on the bus.

After getting to Car Car, the traffic increases exponentially. Not as relaxing, driving speed is still about 60-80 KPH, but you are surrounded by other motorists. A careful eye and dilligence is required. The fun goes out of the trip by the time you reach the outskirts of Cebu, but it is not so bad that anyone could not handle it.

In the end, my trip from Bato to Mactan Island Island took under three hours. I did in fact shave off a 1/2 hour to the south terminal where the bus normally would stop. A nice ride on a Sunday mid morning, and even on my 150cc underpowered steed, very doable.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Visiting Siaton

Since family ties are so important here in the Philippines, we have occasion to visit Siaton somewhat frequently. Siaton is a very small town at the tip of Oriental Negros. Traveling south from Dumaguete, it is about a hours drive if you go slowly. If you are a dare devil motorcycle rider(I am not) the trip can be done in 40 minutes.

The first thing that strikes you about Siaton are the bountiful and verdant rice plantations as you enter town. Fed and irrigated by two rivers, Siaton is an agricultural center in the region. In that way Siaton is more or less the main market town for Southern Negros Oriental. Much of it's bounty heads north to Dumaguete for distribution there. Truckloads of fish, rice, and produce find there way north to the larger markets.

Siaton is a quiet villiage, with only a few modern bussinesses. There is a wet market, town square, and a satellite campus of NORSU University. A sleepy town, with mostly bicycle pedicabs, Siaton has a quite charm of its' own. If you are an expat you will be looked at with curiousity although nearby Tambobo Bay supplies a limited flow of forein visitors to town. English is no as freely spoken as in Dumaguete, but as this is still largely a province town, that is not surprising.

The beaches of Siaton are expansive and consist mostly of brown sand, normally almost deserted as far as recreational use is concerned. You will find mostly native houses and fishing boats along the shore line. I had the occasion to spend a day at the families beach cabana a few days ago. the pictures show the way the Philippines was everywhere only a few years ago. It was a pleasant change fom the crowded beaches surrounding Dumaguete. Sitting there having a beer and eating barbecue, it was not hard for me to imagine being in the Philippines of 100 years ago.

Siaton, a worthwhile stop if you are traveling to Lake Balanan just south of town.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Staying Safe in Dumaguete

People often ask, "How safe is Dumaguete for foreigners?" This of course is a somewhat loaded question. To be safe, secure in ones home, or safe to act as one might in their own country. Safety is a state of mind regardless of where you are.
Of course certain realities exist and will intervene no matter where you live. Dumaguete is a growing small provincial capital. With growth comes an influx of money to the area. And if you think just a little, criminals will be attracted to the riches and perceived wealth. Crime is extant in Dumaguete. If your main concern is your personal safety, there are ways to easily ensure a relatively safe and secure stay or residence here. It is no different than anywhere else.

The difference in Dumaguete, is that if you are an expat, you will become a target for those few criminal elements who percieve "foreigners" as all being rich. Taking precautions when traveling at night, securing your residence, and not letting your guard down, will all serve you well to a safe experience here.

The police here are trying to do their job, but are strained by budget, and manpower problems. In addition, there investigative techniques are quite different than those in western countries. Hence your best bet is to prevent a crime against your person, rather than rely upon the police.

During daytime hours ordinary precautions with regards to carrying bags, wearing expensive jewelry, and handling money are all that is needed. Use a secure ATM. Change your habits occasionally to avoid being stalked.

A greater danger comes after dark. Most crimes are committed under the cover of darkness. Avoid deserted streets, stay in the populated areas that are well lit. Watch that you are not being followed, especially if you are on a motor bike. Criminals often ride tandem on motorbikes cruising for victims. The back rider will carry a gun and point it at you to pull over.

There are certain areas of the city that are listed as higher risk than others. the area north of the Boulevard in Looc by the waterfront, and south of the boulevard in Tinago and Canday-ong are noted drug dealing zones and are frequented by undesirable elements. Again daytime hours present little risk anywhere in town, but be cautious at night.

Is Dumaguete Safe? Ultimately I believe it is as safe if not safer than some other areas of the Philippines, but one must always be aware, and diligent.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Utang Na Loob

Fourth in a series of Articles on Philippine Culture

Social organization in the Philippines generally follows a single pattern reflecting the influence of local traditions. Among many provincial Filipinos, social organization continues to be marked primarily by personal alliance systems, that is, groupings composed of kin (real and by association), grantors and recipients of favors, and friends.

Philippine personal alliance systems are anchored by kinship, beginning with the nuclear family. A Filipino's loyalty goes first to the immediate family and personal identity is deeply embedded in the matrix of kinship. It is normal that one owes support, loyalty, and trust to one's close kin and, because kinship is structured bilaterally among relatives, one's kin can include quite a large number of people. With respect to kin beyond this nuclear family, closeness in relationship depends very much on physical proximity.

A bond between two individuals may be formed based on the concept of utang na loob. Another way of saying obligation to repay a loan or debt. Although it is expected that the debtor will attempt repayment, it is widely recognized that the debt, as in one's obligation to a parent, can never be fully repaid and the obligation can last for generations.

Saving someones life, providing employment, or making it possible for another to become educated are "gifts" that incur utang na loob. Moreover, such gifts initiate a long-term reciprocal interdependency in which the grantor of the favor can expect help from the debtor whenever the need arises and the debtor can, in turn, ask other favors. Such reciprocal personal alliances have had obvious implications for the society in general and the political system in particular.

It is why if a family member has a Sari Sari store near their relatives, it is hard to make any money. "Utang" is often exploited to get credit for which repayment may be slow in coming. To a foreigner it is often puzzling why this is so.

In today's modern urban Philippines this concept of indebtedness is less prevalent than in the provincial areas. To know the fundemental principles governing the behavior of Filipinos, one can begin to understand how and why people act the in the way they do. Empathy and tolerance follows.

See also:
Amor Propio

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Tokay Gecko

When you come to the Philippines even for a short visit you are likely to encounter the night time call of the Tokay Gecko. A croaking "Tukawh Tukawh, sounding like a cross between a frog and a wild turkey. It was several weeks after first hearing this haunting call that I actually saw on of these common lizards.

They are strikingly pretty with grayish bodies with bright red spots and bulging eyes. They grow to 30cm in length and have a reputation for being very aggressive. Many here consider them good luck and advise not to touch them or harm them. There is another very practical reason for staying a good distance from these Tokay Geckos. they have the reputation of being the pit bull of lizards. Unlike many reptiles they are aggressive and will often jump or bite someone attempting to handle them. They are not poisonous, but once they clamp on to your hand or finger you might wait one hour for it to let go. If you try to pry it off it just clamps down. supposedly dunking the attached Tokay in a pail of water will cause it to release it's grip.

Widely spread all over Asia they are one of the most common Geckos. The Latin name is Gekko Gecko, and locally they are called the Tukaw Gecko. They are normally nocturnal arboreal dwellers that eat almost anything. Their life span is 7-10 years. Being carnivores they hunt insects and small mice. Tokay Geckos have adapted well to city life, and often dwell in houses climbing the walls at night in search of food.

I can attest to this as we have a mating pair living under our entrance stairs. In fact last month they hatched babies and we saw at least two tiny geckos crawling around the stair case under the watchful eye of mother or father. Apparently they mate for life as we have had the same pair in residence for over a year, and they also seem to be protective parents. Oddly, or perhaps luckily, these particular Tokay Geckos seem to be mute. I have nor once heard either one croak, perhaps they are being polite or simply go outside to make noise.

A common sight in the country side, and more likely a common sound at night, the Tokay Gecko is an integral part of life in the Philippines

Monday, June 2, 2008


Third in a series of Articles, see Philippine culture category at right

Hiya, pronounced “heeyah” is ‘shame” or the loss of Amor Propio. Individuals in the Philippine culture behave in a way to prevent hiya or loss of respect. Filipinos believe they must live up to the accepted standards of behavior, and if they fail to do so they bring shame not only upon themselves, but also upon their family. In order not to bring upon Hiya, Filipinos will share sometimes more than they can afford at a party in order to avoid losing respect among peers. It is why in part, at Fiesta time even the poorest families invite all the neighbors into their house for food and drink. It is also why you see extravagant graduation parties for sons and daughters and lavish “Debute” 18 birthday parties for their daughters. It is all part of maintaining Status and avoiding Hiya.

On the other hand, if you were to insult or verbally accost a Filipino in front of others, he or she would immediately suffer Hiya. More than simple embarrassment it means loss of Amor Propio or “face”. The result might be anger or rage, or a strong resentment. It is considered rude and inappropriate to argue or insult someone in public. It is why there is so much discussion when there is a disagreement among individuals or groups; everyone is trying to maintain Amor Propio while at the same time trying to avoid inflicting Hiya on others.

I have seen an occasion where Hiya was unintentionally inflicted on an individual by a very good friend. A comment was taken in the wrong manner. Completely out of character, and without warning, he picked up a bottle and threw it at the unsuspecting fellow. It is thankful that friends were there to intervene. Volatile reactions are often the result of inflicting Hiya. This should not be confused with simple anger as might be the case in other cultures. Once the basic concepts of Pakikisama, Amor propio, and Hiya are understood one can begin to understand how the Philippine social structure works.

See also:
Amor Propio

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Lakbay Aral

Lakbay Aral, means “study tour”, and in that context I had the pleasure to meet Hannah Meditar, a member of the government agency that concerns itself with waste treatment and environmental issues. Working out of South Cotabato (region 12), she was a participant on a fact finding mission to Several Negros communities. Lakbay aral is organized and sponsored by Environmental Governance 2 a USAID project in which Mr. Ferdinand Esguerra is the regional coordinator of South and Central Mindanao.

The first group had a total of 31 participants.

Provincial Technical Working Group (PTWG):
1. Cotabato Province - 6 participants - 1 Provincial Planning and Development Office (PPDO) and 5 active PTWG members)

2. South Cotabato - 4 participants Provincial Environmental Management Officer (PEMO) Ramon B. Ponce de Leon and active PTWG members.

Municipal LGUs
1. Magpet - 6 participants: MENRO, 5 active TWG members
2. Pres. Roxas - 6 participants MENRO, 5 active TWG members
3. Kabacan - 6 participants Hon. Mayor George Tan, 5 active TWG members

2 participants

DENR Environmental Management Bureau (EMB)
1 participant

Hannah’s office is DENR-Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) based in Koronadal City , Region 12. Its vision is “a nation empowered to protect our finite natural resources, attuned to the pursuit of sustainable development, for a clean and healthy environment that enhances the Filipino quality of life for present and future generations”. Its mission is “to restore, protect and enhance environmental quality towards good public health, environmental integrity and economic viability”. Locally, EMB visions a “Pollution-free Region XII” and to realize its mission “to establish and carry out the vision, to ensure public health, environmental protection and safety and to adhere excellent practice of good governance”.

Their mission in Negros was to examine some newer facilities for waste water treatment and solid waste disposal. The idea was to gather information and see if some ideas could be taken back and modeled by other communities in Region 12.

Dumaguete was one of the communities examined both for waste water treatment from the public market, and its solid waste management program. In addition the group surveyed local recycling efforts, and visited local organizations involved with making products from various recycled materials. There are a variety of programs that many people might not be aware of. For example some barangays and local universities are recycling a wide array of materials including

· demonetized currency
· plastic bottles and bags
· newspaper
· vermiculture composting projects
· glass

The Vermiculture composting facility is located in Barangay Calindagan. They are using biodegradable waste to manufacture compost for gardening. St. Pauls University is involved in the Plastics recycling, making shopping bags and rope from plastic bottles among other products.
Here is a picture of the Mayor of the Municipality of Kabacan in North Cotabato, Hon. George B. Tan examining products made from recycled paper.

What I learned from talking to Hannah was that there are indeed many people in the Philippines who are concerned about the environment and pollution, both in the government and private sectors. While these initially may be small efforts, every effort contributes to a better environment. What I was not aware of was the depth of local interest in researching the conversion and use of recycled products.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Colonial Dumaguete Houses

Dumaguete is growing at an ever increasing rate. As one travels the streets and back ways of the city, it is very apparent that change is everywhere. Brightly colored concrete and glass buildings dazzle the eye attracting one's attention to the bussiness or pension house contained there in. If you decide to "see" the old Dumaguete, you now have to look hard for signs of it's colonial past.

It is still there, on a side street or even on the National highway as it routes through town. Sometimes plastered with concealing vinyl banners to lend a garish splash of color to the grey/brown wood underneath. The old colonial style buildings do not stand out, usually drab colorless bare wood etched by years into a uniform grey patina, they are relics fading into dust.

It would be great from a historical viewpoint if a few could be selected, restored and preserved as a connection to Dumaguete's historical roots. There seems to be little interest in anything old here. Dumaguete is plunging headlong into the future, with nary a glance backward.

A few examples on Silliman Universities campus will always remain, and there are some examples of early mansions converted to pension houses along the Boulevard. With those as inspiration, it would be nice to have a few more restored to give some connectedness to Dumaguete's colonial past.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Amor Propio

Article 2 in a series, See Label “Philippine culture” at right

Amor Propio

As it is almost impossible to talk about any one of these traits or societal behaviors individually with out invoking the others, this section about Amor propio will include several other terms. Bear with me, each will have its own article but will be briefly defined this time.

Filipinos are known for being sensitive to insults, and criticisms, whether constructive or not. Insinuating racial superiority or exhibiting an arrogant nature can easily offend a Filipino. Amor propio can be looked at as self-esteem or pride. To make sure this is not damaged, the Filipino is expected to be sensitive about the feelings of others. Shame and embarrassment, called hiya, should not be inflicted on others. Often the sudden and intense violence in Filipino relations is caused by "damaged" amor propio.

Ego is another way of looking at amor propio. But juxtaposed to the European individualistic sense of ego and self, the Filipino protects not only his Amor Propio, but is expected to protect everyone else’s as well. In fact the emphasis is on not offending others. This act in itself boosts one’s own Amor propio.

Amor propio, connects the traits pakikisama, hiya, and utang na loob (or debt of honor). All of these affect his amor propio. If you have helped a Filipino in a way that cannot be repaid materially, he will constantly thank you for the favor done. The pride to return the good deeds he received nurtures his amor propio, which sometimes leads to showing off especially in the presence of peers and subordinates. amor propio propels the Filipino to be overly sensitive.

If you would list Amor proprio at the top, the other social behaviors and attitudes serve to maintain one sense of self and esteem in the community. As we begin to decode the inter connectedness of these social constructs, the complex and seemingly mysterious Filipino ways can be slowly understood.

Another way of looking at Amor Propio is to compare it to “Face” in other Asian cultures. Saving Face is a term most expats can relate to. If one loses Face, it brings shame and may cause a violent reaction. The difference is In Japanese society, self destructive behavior is often manifested instead. Suicide is still seen occasionally as a reaction to loss of face or the onset of shame in Japan. Amor propio is similar but not exactly like saving face (or gaining Amor Propio). There is the inner self in these other cultures that represents a Taoist influence or dualism, in other words the opposite of “Face”.

As it can be seen, almost all of these cultural value systems centers on the welfare of the larger group, whether it be family, clan, or community. Historically one might envision a time when practical necessity demanded all social interactions preserve the well being of the collective society.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Special Needs Children In The Philippines

We live in a family compound in Dumaguete. Most everyone is somehow related except for Ading and I and a few other families. This social structure is key to understanding how people relate to one another. Families tend to live in close proximity. In the event that some move from rural areas to the city, there seems always to be some relatives nearby or clusters of family. The point being that family is all improtant down to the third and fourth cousins. and believe me, Filipinos keep track somehow.

Our neighors have a Downs Syndrome child at home. The regard for special needs children in the Philippines is historically completely opposite to what has been seen in Western Cultures. Admittedly attitudes have changed in the West, and what was once seen as a curse is seen more as a challenge to maintain some degree of normalcy and inclusion in society.

Here in the Philippines, a special needs child is considered good luck, and a blessing. When I first met Maris, it was a unique experience for me. We had entered their home to say hello and were chatting away when Maris entered the room. Imediately her mother said "this is Maris our blessing", she is our "special child". Maris at once came over and gave us a big hug. She lives a protected life and is held in the highest regard among her family. Every day they take her to school, and recently hosted her debut for her 18th birthday party. They feel exceptional children possess a good spirit and closeness to god. Certainly the gentle innocent nature of the Downs child fosters this impression.

To the best of their ability have created a garden of Eden on their small property. Maris can play with her cat and enjoy a protected existence surrounded by her loving family.

Coming from a society that has treated these conditions as a deficit and a burden to the family, it was another learning experience for me. It was another example of the strength of family and regard for children in the Philippines. Despite her obvious limitations Maris is highly regarded for her gift as a loving child and her closeness to god.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Article 1 in a series, See Label “Philippine culture” at right

Although many Expats feel comfortable talking and relating to Filipinos on a casual basis, eventually most will suffer culture shock due to fundemental differences in the way people think here. To increase ones understanding, it is necessary, ( if you want to fit in) to learn the foundations of the Philippine value system: Pakikisama, Hiya , Amor propio, and Utang na loob and the importance of the extended family.

This first piece will be on the topic of Pakikisama. In future articles I hope to discuss many other traditions, ways of thinking and relating to others unique to Asian cultures in general and specifically the Philippines.

In Japan it is called “Uchi-Soto” or similarly, "Nemawashi", a process of relating to others by consensus building. It is a non confrontational way of doing life, business, and interpersonal group relationships. In the Philippines Pakikisama is the ability of a person to get along with others to maintain good and harmonious relationships. It implies camaraderie and togetherness in a group and the cause of one’s being socially accepted. Pakikisama requires someone yielding to group opinion, pressuring him to do what he can for the advancement of his group, sacrificing individual welfare for the general welfare. Consensus takes precedent over individual needs or opinion.

Pakikisama implies smooth social interaction. Relationships no matter with whom and on what level should be without open conflict. To keep pakikisama, Filipinos in general will avoid verbal confrontations, rude words or gestures, the direct decline of a request, and will try to act polity and calmly although perhaps they are not inside. You will seldom hear no to a request or question. To an Expat this will be confusing and sometimes lead one to think Filipinos are insincere or otherwise misleading with their answers. It is not so. Maybe is a standard reply which often means no, or sometimes yes, and other times maybe. If you are now totally confused, it is understandable. It takes exposure and time to understand the difference.

Often critical matters are negotiated through third parties to avoid direct conflict. Sometimes a quarrel between two individuals escalates to an unsolvable row between two clans or families. The only way to resolve the conflict peaceably (very desirable), is to go to the local Barangay captain and use him as a mediator. The skillful Barangay chief will explain to both parties in private why he is doing them a favor by entertaining their side of the argument. In the end all go home satisfied that they have been heard and perhaps nothing was gained or lost in the process. Everyone maintained Amor Propio, or saves face.

Pakikisama is most important at work places and is considered as the key factor getting a job best done. The Western way of arguing, disagreeing and being very straightforward or frank, is considered by many Filipinos as a breach of etiquette.

Pakikisama has many manifestations in Philippine society, one of which is extending support or offering help to neighbors who are in need. This comes from the still relevant necessity to bind together to survive as a group. When food is scarce and rice is expensive, all eat, for the good of the group. Pakikisama reflects the bayanihan spirit, which involves cooperation among fellow men to come up with a certain idea or accomplish a certain task. While bayanihan refers to a community-support action, pakikisama has a more individualized sense.

I will talk more about these and other cultural traits in future writings. As you can already surmise all these ways of thinking and behaving are inter-related.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Landing at Dumaguete Airport

Here is a You Tube clip of the West approach to Dumaguete airport. As you land from this direction the pilot will fly low over residential areas and below the summit of Mount Talinas which is out of view on the right side of the plane. Careful flying is required, but it offers a great view for passengers of the area around Dumaguete. Cebu Island is visible as the plane makes it's final descent. Both Cebu Pacific and Philippines Airlines make daily scheduled trips to dumaguete from Manila.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Multicabs Demystified

Maybe you have seen them and did not know what they were. There are many now in Dumaguete, brightly colored little trucks and vans, micro sized and perfect for the narrow streets of Dumaguete. They look like toy cars, and in many ways they are. The Volkswagen of the Philippines, they offer automotive transport at an economical price for Filipinos and expats alike. They are the Suzuki, Scrum, mini trucks often called Multicabs.

Multicab is a trade name coined by Norkis Manufacturing for their version of the Suzuki 660cc micro trucks they first imported from Japan. The name has stuck and almost everyone calls them this as a generic reference. The trucks were originally brought in as surplus, meaning they were free of excessive duty thus making them inexpensive. The chassis of these vehicles are cut in half either lengthwise or crosswise to conform to the law about importing scrap or junk vehicles.

The concept was first to replace the polluting tricycles choking the streets of Cebu. Norkis worked with some government agencies in order to introduce the Easy Ride as a small economical passenger van for commercial use. The Easy Ride was essentially a Multicab pick up with an open jeepney type body from the cab rearward. The Easyride has replaced the tricycle in downtown Cebu and has reduced pollution from two stroke motorcycle engines. Its introduction also decreased the number of vehicles clogging the streets of Cebu at the time.

To get back to the process of remanufacturing these trucks, after they are imported in pieces, then they are essentially welded back together, painted and repaired to almost new condition. The difficulty when it comes to buying one off a lot is that you have no idea of how many kilometers are on the motor or chassis, how much body filler is holding the paint on, and whether or not the car was wrecked before they remade it. Careful examination is very important. Or better yet have someone you know who works in one of the shops pick one out for you before it is made pretty. Some shops like Phil Trucks will let you pick out your vehicle pre repair so at least you know what you started with. Even others offer the “bare” rebuilds sans body work and paint for a substantial discount.

The engines are sometimes rebuilt, but are often left as is. A test drive is a must to determine at least if the water pump and cooling system is working well. Some dealers will offer a short warranty period, often only one week, sometimes 30 days. In any event these vehicles are cheap to operate and repair. A total engine replacement is about 18,000 Pesos, a tune up 300, and a yearly replacement of all hoses, belts, and brakes etc about 1000 P.

The basic types are as follows:

· Multicab- small pick up truck
· Multivan- Microvan, also called carry alls
· Easy Ride- pick up cab with passenger body on rear, similar to a Jeepney
· Hybrid- half truck, half van
· Countless other aberrations

The motors come either 6 valve or twelve valve, the twelve valve being the better choice for power. The engines are three cylinder overhead valve water cooled. Transmission choices are 4 speed or 5 speed manual shift. Top speed is for practical purposes about 80 KPH, the 5 speed is a good choice if your going to drive any distance.

Generally the trucks and vans come in three trim levels new rebuilt.

· Rebuilt not painted
· Rebuilt painted, with standard tires steel rims, and no air conditioning
· Or with two tone paint, air conditioning, wide low profile tires and alloy rims

Power steering is not required on these although I have seen it on a few. The wide tubeless tires and alloy rims look cool, but they are eaten up quickly here on the rough roads. The tubeless tires tend to leak because of low pressure and small size. The steering has to be converted from right hand in Japan to left in the Philippines, so alignment is an issue that will plague those with the wide tires. Aircon is nice, but realize it will sap the power from the tiny engine and reduce fuel economy.

Both the Multicabs and the Multivans are available in 4 wheel drive. Unless you plan on traveling frequently to the mountains, these can be problematic as well. Maintenance is more expensive, cvc joints wear out and only surplus parts are available. Again fuel economy and power will suffer with a 4x4. The Multicabs are also available with three sizes of canopies to cover the back, often in combination with bench seats to accommodate rear passengers.
The two wheel drive multicabs are mostly mid/front engine, while the vans are rear engine rear wheel drive, better for traction up muddy roads.

Relative prices new rebuilt.

4x4 PICKUP type:
without CANOPY: PHP155,000
(w/ accessories)without CANOPY: PHP135,000
(w/o accessories)with CANOPY: PHP180,000
(w/ accessories)with CANOPY: PHP160,000 (w/o accessories)

Easy Ride type:
Passenger OPEN: PHP150,000
FB (closed): PHP165,000

5th speed transmission= 6,000
4X4 (front drive/4WD) = 12,000
Airconditioning = 12,000

170,000 190,000

Friday, May 2, 2008

Sineguelas, Food of the Gods

The heat of summer is nearing its peak and the leafy greens and water dependent vegetables that were so abundant and robust just weeks ago are now disappearing from the markets. However, a few fruits are ripening now in an annual effort to propagate themselves and seed the countryside before the rainy season.

Sineguelas are one of those “childhood memory fruits” in the Philippines. Sineguelas (Spondias purpurea) or Spanish Plum in English, is a native to Mexico and the western coast of Central and South America. Brought over by the Spaniards, it has taken very well to the Philippine archipelago and thrives here.

The fruit are approximately 1 to 1.5 inches in length and start off purplish or maroon green and ripen to a yellow or dark red state. The skin is taut and shiny and the flesh firm when unripe and slightly astringent (many of my relatives prefer them green hard eaten with salt) When they are ripe Sineguelas are more like the plum I am familiar with, sweet, juicy, with a large pit.

They are in season from April to June or so but they seem to peak in May. In my family, they are considered like manna, food from the gods. There is an almost sacramental aura about them in our household and neighborhood. My wife assures me the best Sineguelas are grown in Siaton, and that they grow nowhere else quite as well as at home. I asked why she thought so. She remarked that while they will grow anywhere in the Philippines the limestone (coral) bluffs along the sea are ideal growing conditions for larger and more prolific fruit production. This leads me to surmise they like well drained neutral acidic soils.

In any event, we have made no less than three trips to Siaton from Dumaguete to pick bushels of these little fruits. Ading’s family has a large plantation of Sineguelas on their large property over looking the sea. They bring them back and prefer to eat them when they are green hard and sour. Dipped in sea salt and eaten until there are no more to eat. The almost mystical attraction to these fruits is baffling to me, but then they are not part of my growing up.

When friends come to visit us, they are given without asking a large bag of Sineguelas to take home. It is like that, sharing something of great value which seems to make the eating of them all the more precious.

The season is just about over now, peaking this month in Siaton, we will have to wait another year to again go sineguelas crazy and eat until sickened by these strange little gems.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Stay at Silliman Medical Center

From an expat point of view, medical care in Dumaguete has been both praised and maligned. When you talk to other expats at social gatherings you will no doubt hear so called horror stories about everything from misdiagnosis to incompetent physicians. If you participate on local internet forums, the discussions run the gamut from caution to praise. I had the recent opportunity to, by quite serendipitous and unpleasant circumstances, to become involved first hand in the quality of care at Silliman Medical Center.

When a member of your family becomes gravely ill, sometimes you have no choice but to avail yourself of the first line defenses available in the community. I’ll leave out the personal details in this narrative out of courtesy to my family, suffice to say, all came out extremely well. What follows is a “foreigners” perspective on local hospital care.

Silliman University Medical center is well respected in the local community. A teaching institution, there are always plenty of student nurses, interns, and medical students running about. The physical infrastructure is old, no other way to put it. Most of the beds look like they date back to the 1940’s. The wards are small crowded, and worn. We were forced to use the general facilities for three days as there were no available private rooms.

In the Philippines the first difference a typical foreign visitor will notice, is that there are no restrictions on family visits. The wards are literally jammed with mothers, fathers, and anyone one else who would like to come in. It is common practice to stay with your sick family member often sleeping in the same bed around the clock. I became part of this. I chose to sleep at home, but spent my entire day at the bedside. Food is supplied three times a day, but most often we went outside for food, an unusual practice by my standards, but no one objects as long as the restrictions are complied with. In fact all manner of food drinks and personal supplies are brought in by families.

If you are in a ward the problem is that all these people are crammed into one very small room housing up to six patients, all eating all manner of sometimes odiferous food brought in from the outside. Banana Q’s, lechon, fish, whatever is allowed on the patients diet comes in from outside. We were fortunate to transfer to a private room in a few days as one became available.

Despite the shabby surroundings, the medical care was good. The Doctor we had was astute, conscientious and managed to correctly diagnose two complicating infections. Doctor patient communication is not as well developed as a rule, as most Filipinos tend to let the doctors do their thing and ask few questions. I am used to talking to doctors and getting specific information about the diagnosis and care of the patient. The nurses and doctors were forthcoming and informative when asked, and would go into great detail. But you must ask.

There were never fewer than 15 nurses at the nurses station on our floor, sometimes there were 30 or more. I am assuming many of these were students. One thing they could not seem to do was check the IV in our patient. We had to summon the nurse every time the Dextrose solution ran low.

Another unusual practice is the dispensing of the medications prescribed. The patient is presented a list daily of all the meds the patient will require. The family can go outside the hospital and buy the medications. I tried in vain to have the hospital supply the meds, but they don’t have many of the medications in stock at the hospital pharmacy. So every day we went out to buy antibiotics, Dextrose solution, and a variety of other medications. This is unlike anything I have experienced before, and I found it unbelievable that the hospital did not have medications on hand. It was explained to me that this practice is to allow local families to buy medicines at lower prices outside the hospital. Nearly everyone takes advantage of this opportunity to by cheaper medications when possible. Perhaps this is why the hospital does not bother to stock some drugs.

Since I was going outside several times a day, I became very familiar with the two elevators at the hospital. It looked as if they were never inspected. One always stopped 3-6 inches above or below the floor level; the other would sometimes fail to open right away, causing some concern. On occasion the smaller of the two elevators would deliver you to the basement unannounced (the morgue). After a day or two I got used to this, never got stuck between floors, and just kicked the door to get it open.

Our family Doctor had the demeanor of a politician, rushing into the room, trailed by several student doctors furtively taking notes; she was loud, cheerful, took no questions and left as suddenly as she had entered. Her assistant, a young Korean med student would visit alternatively. She was very forthcoming and was the source for the answers to most of our questions.

Despite the unusual protocols and rundown infrastructure, I was very pleased with the overall care, both nurses and doctors were attentive (except the IV checking), and provided care indistinguishable from a hospital in the U.S. From our experience I can’t fault the level of care at Silliman University Medical Center. Some people might be taken aback by the old equipment and shabby paint, but the bottom line is the care you receive, and in this instance it was first rate.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Captain Eleven

This being the anniversary week of the liberation of Dumaguete at the end of WW II I thought I would submit this little anecdote. Too often the small stories, the local heroes are overlooked on momentous occasions.

The 164th Infantry went ashore in southeastern Negros on 26 April, approximately five miles north of Dumaguete. There it soon made contact with the Reconnaissance Troop of the 40th Division, which had worked its way south along the eastern coast without encountering opposition. Two days later the 164th attacked the 1,300-man Japanese garrison that occupied forbidding hill positions ten miles southwest of Dumaguete. Combat continued until 28 May, when the Japanese positions fell and the ever-present guerrillas largely assumed responsibility for mopping up. On Negros, the 164th Infantry lost 35 men killed and 180 wounded, while killing 530 Japanese and capturing 15

There are many stories about this pivotal time in Philippine history; we have one customer whose father was one of the more notorious freedom fighters throughout the war. His son is currently a sitting judge; his last name is well known in Dumaguete today. Ironically even though he was a wartime hero, there is not a street, monument, or building named after him in town.

This is stuff that movies could be made of. Apparently this Captain of the Philippine Army resistance had six fingers on one hand. Known as "Captain Eleven" he was constantly hunted by the Japanese occupiers. A very clever man, he was a constant source of information for the American troops getting ready to invade Sibulan and Dumaguete.

He had several identities and was able to visit with the Japanese officers and glean important information from them. Knowing they were on the look out for a man with eleven fingers, he would tape his eleventh finger, don gloves and escaped detection until the end of the war. The Japanese never apprehended Captain Eleven and he was instrumental in the liberation of Dumaguete.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Rizal Boulevard Dumaguete

The Boulevard, as it is called here in Dumaguete, is the social and entertainment district in town. All visitors eventually gravitate here as it has some of the most popular restaurants, discos, and lodging establishments in Dumaguete. The very well known Why Not disco is the hallmark night spot, and a variety of other establishments offer Karaoke, live music, and food in a variety of cuisines.

Historically the port of Dumaguete beckoned both Spanish missionaries, pirates, and traders from throughout the Philippines. Today, the commercial port in Dumaguete brings tourists, freight and travelers from Cebu, Manila, and other cities. Dumaguete's proximity to Apo Island a premier diving destination, and other tourist attractions, make Rizal Boulevard an ever changing collage of people and activities.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Motorbike Drag Racing-Dumaguete

I am always interested in manifestations of popular culture where ever I travel. It is particularly interesting for me to see current trends in motor sports transfered to other cultures; adapted and translated to the local tastes and in this case budget.

Motorbikes, step throughs, scooters; whatever you call them, they all descend from the venerable Honda 50 Cub. This classic first of its kind motor bike was voted best all time motorcycle by the Discovery Channel. An amazing fact since it was competing with Harley's, Triumphs, Matchless, and other very powerful classic machines. The Cub won because of its impact on popular culture, its durability (at the shows end they dropped one from a 5 story building and drove it away), and it's world wide distribution.

Today in Asia, and specifically the Philippines, there are many descendants of this classic design. Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, Kawasaki all make updated 100 and 125cc versions whick resemble futuristic cafe racers on a miniature scale.
This is not wasted on the after market crowd. There is not so much disposable income in the Philippines, so the kids customize there $1000 dollar motorbikes instead of Toyota Celicas. They spend at least that much money again replacing parts for both appearance and performance sake.

What you see is anodized accessories, custom seat covers, lowered frames, ultra thin tires and alloy or cast aluminum rims. On the performance side they add, unneccessary (but cool looking) oil coolers, performance exhaust systems, and tweaked engines. Some street racers have hidden neon lighting under the fenders and custom headlighting. Basically everything available to hot rodders for their cars is utilized on these miniscule two wheeled bikes.

Some do it for style, while others go for performance. Drag racing is a popular weekend activity here, while illegal on public roads, it happens with regularity. If you are in the know, word gets out where the weekly races happen. Commonly refered to as "underbones" these racing bikes are stripped of every bit of plastic coach work, seats removed, all lights taken off, all in a legitimate effort to decrease the weight. When doing any performance mod, decreasing the weight is the single most effective means of increasing performance.

Some of the bikes look like stripped down Mad Max creations, while others really are an artistic expression of personal style. I get to see quite a few of these as students come by our place often. The coolest one I have seen so far is a 1970's vintage Honda Dream 70cc bike. Stripped like an underbones style it is tastfully painted with chromed accessories. The rear fender is bobbed and it just looks sharp.

Here is a video slide show from You Tube that highligts a gathering in Dumaguete. I don't take credit for the hip hop/Alternative soundtrack, turn it off if it becomes too much, it does accuratly relect the social scene surounding the bike crowd.

This next takes place in Tanjay just north of Dumaguete. Check out the people in the road, "and no one got hurt"

This last one I included just because this guy gets the prize for Wheelie King.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Foundation University

Foundation University was established on July 4, 1949, founded by Dr.Vicente Guzman-Sinco, former president of the University of the Philippines. President Vicente G. Sinco, Ph.D was one time Philippine Comissioner of Foreign Affairs, and a signer of the United Nations Charter. In 1963 Foundation College received international recognition and was invited to become a member of the International Association of Universities. The College was the first institution in the Visayas and Mindanao to receive this honor, and the first institution in the world that was not a full university to become a member of this organization. On January 28, 1969 the Philippine Department of Education granted the College a university charter, thus the institution became Foundation University.

The universities current president, Dr. Mira D. Sinco, wife of the late university President, Leandro G. Sinco, has had a long and distinguished career in the academic world, both in the Philippines and in the United States. She has served as Dean of Student Services at the City College of San Francisco, and as Dean of Admissions at California State University Los Angeles, both in the U.S.A. She is an alumnus of the University of the Philippines and Harvard University.

Foundation Universsity prides itself in its concentration on relavent education. Most of it’s programs are accredited by PAASCU* and by PACU-COA* in the Philippines, or by IAU* internationally. This means that the credits and credentials you earn at Foundation University are transferable and valid for further study anywhere in the world. Working with local employers like Teletech to establish language laboratories to help teach real world skills is one of Foundation Universities hallmarks. Training students to compete internationally in a global market is high on the universities priority list.


Foundation University is dedicated to the quest for excellence in mind, body and character and to the pursuit of truth and freedom.Along with the mission, it envisions the development of each individual so that he can judge, think, and plan for himself, so that he can truly govern himself.The specific objectives that guide Foundation University in fulfilling its mission-vision are the following:

1. To produce persons of sound character and broad culture
2. To develop citizens imbued with spirit of universal brotherhood
3. To train men and women for some definite work or professional career
4. To contribute to the advancement of human knowledge in the search for truth


The extracurricular sports teams are called the Greyhounds, and this lightning fast creature is the symbol for excellence in sports activities at Foundation University. In 2001, Foundation University gained national recognition when our men's volleyball team won the National Beach Volley University Challenge, with the women's team close behind as 1st runner up. Our indoor volleyball teams - men's and women's both - are ranked among top five teams in the Philippines. Our men's basketball team is also among the best, ranking 4th in the UNIGAMES. Our men's soccer team is considered to be a contender for local and national competitions, as is the women's softball team. With our excellent facilities for visiting teams, Foundation has played host to many local, regional and national tournaments each year, including 5th National University Games (UNIGAMES). This event saw 28 of the best colleges and universities in the nation gathered together here at Foundation University for one of the major sporting events of the year.

Foundation University prides itself as a small friendly campus with a concentration on excellence and up to date educational goals. English is the official language of instruction and will be extended to include campus at large activities.
Foundation University also operates Greyhound 101.3 FM a popular radio station in Dumaguete, as part of its mass communications curriculum. The Radio station organizes many promotions and concert events for the community.

Foundation University provides a wide array of student services for its students, please visit their we site for complete information on all that foundation University has to offer.

*PAASCU - Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities*PACU-COA - Philippine Association of Colleges and Universities - Commisssion on Accreditation*IAU - International Association of Universities

Friday, April 4, 2008

Foreigner in the morning

Woke up this morning about 7:30, it was already warm, the heat of the last few days was building, and even the reciprocating ceiling fan on high did little to quell the heat. I had to use the CR, normally a simple effort get out of bed and walk down the hall open the door and pee. Today Ading anticipated my move, decided she needed to go worse than I, and beat it to the CR ahead of me. OK I thought, I’ll just turn on CNN for a minute to divert my attention from my full bladder long enough for her to vacate the CR. I looked for my glasses put them on, then ambled out to the living room and commenced to turn on the TV. It was so hot; I went over to the room fan to turn it on. It was then that I was reminded of my almost daily mistake; I forgot to inspect my glasses before donning them.

There are these pesky microscopic ants that seem to take delight in crawling on my frames at night, my first clue to my negligence is this movement in my peripheral vision. “What the heck is that” I think, and try sleepily to swat the air before remembering that these guys are running the NASCAR circuit around my glasses frames. Before I get the glasses off to shake the little buggers off, one has escaped into my scalp. Here we go... scratch, itch, scratch, until I am reasonably sure the ant is no longer there. OK, now to turn the fan on.

In the meantime while I was distracted, Ading’s daughter has come from the store where she had a sleep over with her student friends. Ading was out of the CR, and without warning or notice Maean was in to take a shower before darting off to school.

Still had to pee…

I sat and tried to watch a little TV. Now my head itched even though I was reasonably sure there were no more ants on my head, or in my ears for that matter. Maean was out soon enough, and now it was my turn. Ahhh… relief at last. Finished, with a nice cool shower, shave, and now for my ritual first cup of coffee. Got the cup brewing, no sugar. Ading called Carl!. Carl her son was in Siaton overnight, we laughed at her attempt to get the absent Carl to fetch some sugar for us at the store. Coffee without sugar OK no big deal.

As I sat down to sip my bitter brew, both of us were lazy to walk to the store for more sugar. Just then some shouted from outside, It is the world without walls here in the Philippines it’s Hiyo! from down the alley. “Newton is here”. Newton of motorcycle painting fame was waiting for me at the store. Still in my briefs, I set down the cup of coffee, and dressed quickly, then walked to the store.

Newton was dressed in his normal “Newton” attire complete with his trademark fashion glasses. He was repairing something for a friend of his and wanted to know if I had any Cyanoacrylate adhesive. Not surprisingly, I had some in the fridge, hording it as it is scarce in Dumaguete. Newton had already canvassed JT Marketing, but as is typical they don’t have regular stock. Guessing I might have some he stopped by on his way home. We did the deal, and then off he went. Now ten o’clock, still not having finished my coffee, I sat down and got out my computer to start my day. And a wonderful day it was here in Dumaguete surrounded by friends and people I love,

even if they beat me to the CR…

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Silliman University

Silliman University was the first University founded in Dumaguete. Now one of many institutions of higher learning here, it retains the reputation as one of the most prestigious and rigorous Universities in the Philippines. Dumaguete is known a a University town, and Silliman is the keystone and flagship institution here.

Silliman University was founded by American missionaries of the Presbyterian Church on August 28, 1901, making it the oldest American university in Asia. Originally named Silliman Institute, an elementary school, it was started with funds from Dr. Horace Brinsmade Silliman, a retired businessman and philanthropist from Cohoes, New York. Silliman was an active layman in the Presbyterian Church.

The school began with 15 male students, four desks, two tables, and two chairs. The First President of the University was David Sutherland Hibbard of Lyndon, Kansas. His statue is in front of the CAP Building on Rizal Boulevard, Dumaguete. The first faculty consited of Reverend Hibbard and his wife Laura. From 1901 to 1912, it was a boys school. In 1910, Silliman was given the right to confer degrees. In 1912, girls were admitted for the first time. In 1938, Silliman became a university, the first school outside of Manila to be granted university status.

Silliman has a main campus near the center of Dumaguete City, dotted by large acacia trees. The campus has a land area of 610,000 square meters. It originally faced the sea to the east and its gates are flanked by the portals which are now symbols of the university.

Other facts:
* The school is recognized by the Commission on Higher Education as being a "Center of Excellence" in nursing, teachers' education, and Coastal Resources Management.

* Silliman University is CHED Center of Development in Physics, Biology, Marine Sciences Mechanical Engineering, Business and Management Education, and Information Technology.

* The school is host to the annual Church Workers Convocation, a gathering of hundreds of members of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines— from around the country.

* It is among the top 3 schools in physical therapy with outstanding board exam performance.

* Silliman is among the country’s top 3 centers for development in Business Education.

* The College of Agriculture ranked among the Top 3 schools in the country.

* The College of Performing Arts (formerly School of Music and Fine Arts) has produced great names in Philippine Music Education history. Among them are ethnomusicologist Priscilla Magdamo, violinist Gilopez Kabayao and baritone Elmo Makil. Silliman is also a pioneer in Choral Music Education in the country.

* The Silliman Information Technology program received 100% rating from CHED.

* Silliman is also recognized as one of the leading schools in marine biology in Asia with the Marine Laboratory as its home.

* Silliman is among the country’s Top 10 schools included in the annual BPI Science Awards for student achievement.

* Silliman has a continuing exchange student program with three Japanese Universities (International Christian University, Shikoku Gakuin University and Ferris University).

* Silliman is on the Top 10 List of schools in the Philippines listed as No. 4.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Pulang Bato

Easter Weekend is a time to go swimming in Dumaguete. Many folks migrate to the beach, others to the swimming pools in nearby resorts. In any event, it is a time for family and renewal. What better way than to take a day off and go swimming?

I like cool temperarures, and Good Friday was blistering hot last week. We had not made reservations at a resort, and did not feel like fighting the crowds at the various beaches, so off to Pulang Bato we went. Where is Pulang Bato you ask? Well it is a little known small series of waterfalls in the moutains on the way to the PNOC Geothermal generating plant in Valencia. Recently upgraded with stone lined natural swimming pools, and a nipa pavilion, it is a small out of the way place you have to just know about.

Pulang Bato is the place of red rocks. The rocks are red stained from all the minerals issuing forth from the shear rock walls on the way up the small paved road to the falls. Many come just to bath in these waters for medicinal reasons. Bamboo tubes protrude from the rocks in certain spots, delivering the healing mineral waters to bathers. Further up the road lies the swimming area and water falls. The entire region is rife with volcanic stem vents and sulfuric mud slides.
To our surprise there were a gathering of students at the main falls, so not wishing to join in drinking with the kids, we ventured up the stone staircase to the upper falls. This tiny pool and personal waterfall was completely deserted. Ading and I enjoyed a refreshing dip and were quickly cooled down to a very comfortable temperature. After an hour or so we ventured back down the road stopping once at one of the mineral water springs so Ading could treat an insect bite. It was a nice quick trip, a good swim, and a pleasant afternoon. By the way they charge 10 Pesos per person to enter.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Japanese-American-Philippine Shrine

1,200 meters above sea level, the Philippine-American-Japanese shrine is located at Barangay Sagbang, Built in 1977 to commemorate the spot where a heated battle took place in World War Two, it stands as a three nation memorial to this conflict’s end.
On 26 April, 1945 remnants of the 164th U.S. infantry went ashore at Sibulan, some five miles (8 km) north of Dumaguete, rendezvoused with a Reconnaissance Troop of the 40th Division, and in two days, attacked the 1,300 strong Japanese force entrenched in forbidding hill positions surrounding Dumaguete. One of these sites was where the shrine now stands in silent and all but forgotten tribute.

It is possible to reach the shrine by motorcycle in dry weather, but it is a dangerous and tricky ascent. There are actually two routes going to the shrine. One goes up from Balugo Valencia just outside Dumaguete, and the other goes around the mountain from Valencia, near Cassaroro falls. Either route is arduous, and should only be attempted by experienced motorcyclists. The trail winds up and down the moutain with up to 60% grades in some locations. Loose gravel and washouts are common. The safest way to visit is to hire a jeep or four wheeler to make the trip. Given that there are few signs indicating the way, a guide would be a good idea as well.

True to our adventurous nature… we traveled to the shrine with none of the above. And as a further testament to our adventurous spirit, we not only rode our motorcycles to the shrine, but made the complete round trip from Balugo, to the shrine, then on to Valencia! The ride was the high point of the trip as it turned out.

The shrine itself is in a state of serious neglect. Not that the property is not well kept, there is simply nothing there to give a clue as to what the place actually is. There are no plaques, (rumour has it the local Barangay captain took the monument plaque and put away for safe keeping??), no signage of any kind, nor anyone that seems to be on duty to collect the 10 Peso entrance fee. That said, the Japanese Shrine offers an incredible view of the Dumaguete harbour, Cebu, and Siquijor island. It is easy to see why the Japanese saw this as an excellent defensive position. It is a beautiful spot, but I am not sure everyone will have their expectations met if they are expecting any kind of organized presentation of historical information.
There is a monkey in a cage…

After hanging out and catching our breath from our motocross expedition up the hill, we decided to trek on to Valencia, hoping the road there would be even just a bit less difficult. It wasn’t. The hardest part was finding the road to Valencia, as the shrine access road was a dead end. We tried to ask the few folks at the shrine, all had varying stories as to the whereabouts of the road continuing to Valencia. I had a good idea that the fork in the trail we had passed a few kilometers down the road was the way. As it turned out, after asking several more passers by we came to the point where we had to decide. Back the way we came, or on to unknown parts in search Valencia.

It was a no brainer, on to the unknown we would go. The road was a bit longer in distance than our ascent, but the inclines were more mild, still, washed out dirt trails were the norm. As we turned and twisted towards Valencia throught the mountains, we were occasionally forced to stop just to take in the outstanding vistas presented to us. Finally we came to a concrete road and a stream forded by a bridge. We again stopped our bikes and enjoyed a moment at this last bit of primitive Philippines before trekking on to now nearby by Valencia.

After a kilometer or three, we came to the main road to Valencia. We stopped at Tejeros swimming area to have a beer at the restaurant located adjacent. Three beers later and a hot meal and we were recounting our newest adventure to ourselves and wondering how many others had followed our path.

Included as an imbedded video is a piece done by a Japanese television crew some years ago. The slide show is from our trip 3/20/08 Enjoy.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Taclobo Barangay Choppers

One gets to meet some good folks here in the Philippines. It's even better when through serendipitous events, two or more can be brought together to create something exceptional.

In this case my friend Alan had a motorcycle he recently purchased used transformed into a work of art by another friend, Newton.

Newton has been a motorcycle painter and repair technician for some years. I have known him to be talented and very creative with his work. When Al bought a chopped Chinese 150cc cruiser from another expat, he asked if I knew anyone who might be able to paint it and do some repairs. Newton had great mechanical talents, and could also paint. The plot was hatched.

Afew days later Al and I went to Newton's shop, and as it turned out he wasn't too busy at the moment. He was all ears and very interested in the project.

One thing led to the next and the bike was literally transformed. Pictures will do more to serve the result than words, so here goes. Newton has been excited about the prospects of doing more bikes, so who knows TBC may become a Philippine franchise.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pamplona Golf Club

For those who enjoy golf there is a world class Golf course within a one hours drive (40 kilometers) of Dumaguete, it is Pamplona Golf club. Pamplona golf club, near the City of Tanjay, sit in a pircturesque valley near the town of Pamplona Negros Oriental. Originally a coconut plantation, it retains a shaded course lined with trees. Originally built in the early 1990's, it is home to several national tournaments a year.

Considered a challenging course, the fairways are narrow, and feature some unique water hazzards. The office and adjacent clubhouse are well equipped with staff. you can hire a caddy, and an umbrella girl as well as the services of a local pro. Meals and cold beverages are available in the clubhouse.

For those wishing to stay overnight, there are three rental cottages available for visitors to Pamplona glolf club. Golf carts are available to rent by the day. Fees are very reasonable. 800 pesos a round, cart, 800 pesos (weekdays), excluding caddy and umbrella girl fees which are dependent on the golfers generosity over a basic fee. Pamplona golf has three sets of rental clubs for the unprepaired visitor. Memberships are available for a minimum six month period.

A surprisingly picturesque oasis of golf in the middle of rural Negros Oriental. It is just another example of the variety of activities available to tourists and residents alike.

Drive north on the national highway, as you enter Tanjay City proper, start looking carefully on the left side of the road. There is a very small sign at a gravel road going left. Turn left, and follow signs to the Pamplona Golf Club. The road becomes concrete in a short distance and it is an easy drive through the countryside.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Trekking to Balanan Lake

A friend of mine has coined a phrase to describe when something goes wrong on a day trip in the Philippines. He and his wife ride a motorcycle and have been caught in the rain on several occasions; they just look at each other and mouth the words "adventure". It is an apt way to describe even an uneventful day trip to a Negros Oriental tourist destination.

When we decided to Trek to Lake Balanan it had rained straight for a week. The day actually started as a bright sunny Philippine morning. As my friend, his wife and I sat sipping coffee, my honey text from the house; Hun, are we going for adventure today? That’s all we needed to get us off our collective rear ends. Rain or shine we were off to Balanan Lake! Never mind that it was already afternoon and it was a 30K journey.

It was a beautiful sunny, hot day as we left Dumaguete on our motorcycles. Just as we passed Zamboanguita, and just as the road began to climb and turn twisty, it began to rain. We traveled on a few kilometers but with the heavy downpour getting worse we took shelter in a roadside bus stop. We were cold and very wet. Adventure? You bet!

After the storm passed, the mountains in the distance re-emerged from their cloudy shroud. Somewhat encouraged by a slight warming in the air temperature, we remounted our motorcycles and continued on to Siaton. Balanan Lake here we come.

Arriving in Siaton, we were nearly dry once again. The area around the village is filled with rice fields, it is a wonderfully verdant scene and represents some of what I consider to be the best of the “real” Philippines. Snowy egrets fly about the fields looking for food. King fishers also are numerous. Oxen and bicycle Pedi cabs clutter the road.

After passing through the village proper, the road takes a few turns. Immediately after crossing a small river, there is a sign on the right side of the road, Lake Balanan 10K. I pulled up and stopped at the sign. I turned to my friends and asked “good for another 10K?” After a somewhat enthusiastic nod we started the long climb to Balanan. It was already late in the afternoon; our rain delay lost us about 45 minutes. Intrepid travelers that we were, we pressed on, hoping still to get back to Dumaguete before dark, foolish thought as it turned out.

The ride up the narrow road to Balanan Lake is not a difficult one. The road, as most rural roads do in the Philippines, alternates from smooth concrete and rough unpaved stretches. The scenery on the climbing ride is some of the most beautiful in the Southern part of Negros Oriental. Fertile river valleys, distant rice plantations dotted with banana and coconut trees predominate. As we climbed further, we saw terraced fields on the steep slopes with a scattering of Nipa huts dotting the mountainside.

Then abruptly, the chain fell off my rear sprocket forcing me to pull over. I had noticed a few days prior that there was a little too much slack in the chain. Typically, I told myself, Ah, I’ll take care of that soon. Well, not soon enough. It was a simple matter to put the chain back on, but I was well aware that once that occurs, the likelihood is it will happen again… It did.

If I had the proper wrench, I could have made a quick field adjustment, but I had no wrench with me except the small tool kit supplied with the bike. Just then a Habal Habal rider came blasting around the corner. Ading, my honey, suddenly screamed out John! She had recognized this guy as an old friend of the family. Now one might ask, what are the odds of that happening on a remote mountain road high up in the Philippine countryside? Quite good actually, since this was her home territory, and in the Philippines extended groups of friends and family seem infinite.

I took it as a good omen; here we were in the middle of a true life adventure. John ran to a conveniently near house and returned with wrench. Within minutes he had removed the rear wheel and begun to repair the chain. A few moments later we had two of his friends there also.

The Habal Habal bikes are an art form in themselves. Looking all the world like something out of Mad Max and the Thunderdome. These reworked modified motorcycles are the modern version of mules of the Philippine mountains. Carrying easily six or even seven passengers, they ride the winding unimproved roads with uncanny ease. The drivers are like diminutive bronco riders, navigating rock strewn roads and steep inclines, with an intuitive sense of both balance and finesse.

The three moto-caballeros quickly repaired the motorcycle on the spot. We busied ourselves looking at the scenery and taking some pictures. As the repair was completed, John did not ask for any money, but Ading gave him 60 pesos for helping us out. This is the honest unassuming nature of many Filipinos, people helping people. It is after all, necessitated in the remote mountain communities.

So with yet another adventure highlight under our belts, we resumed our climb to Balanan Lake.
Balanan Lake has undergone a significant amount of infrastructure improvement since the last visit I made 2 years ago. They have added floating Nipa huts that can be towed across the various sections of water. There is also a new tree house which is available for overnight rental. Surely that would be a fantastic way to experience the beauty of the area. However true to local tastes, it is also equipped with a loud Karaoke system, which somehow seems to diminish the whole experience. Luckily no one was using it while we were there. There are canoe and Kayak rentals as well.

As you approach Balanan Lake on foot, (you have to walk the last 100 meters, or be shuttled), it reminds me of entering Jurassic park. There is a stream flowing across a concrete ford with a footpath made of concrete to look like interlocking stones. A pond on the left and a waterfall on the right add to the atmosphere. There is a gigantic Balite (Banyan) tree on the right side of the stream as you enter. With roots streaming down its side, it looked 15 meters in diameter. Philippine legend associates Balite trees with demons and spirits, dili ingon nato, meaning "things not like us" in Visayan dialect. In any event the scenery was looking primordal and very exotic.

As you walk up the path and approach the lake, it is evident that commercialization has increased, with the addition of a store, reception center, and rental cottages etc. Still by world standards it still is a rather undeveloped remote area, and quite scenic.

Since it was late in the day, we decided to leave after briefly looking around, promising one another that we would return and have a day to spend at Balanan. We hopped back on our motor bikes and left for Dumaguete. It was an uneventful ride back down the mountain and up the highway north… for about one hour. As we approached Dauin I noticed black clouds in the distance. It was getting dark now, and within a few kilometers, the skies unleashed another deluge upon us. Coupled with the darkness, the rain made it almost impossible to see. We crawled back to Dumaguete at a snails pace. Arriving at long last, we dismounted our wet steeds, looked at each other all dripping wet, cold and dirty; no one had to say it. ADVENTURE.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Miracle at Sto. Nino

There are many interesting tourist destinations in the Dumaguete area. Negros Oriental has in fact begun to promote many of its outstanding natural attractions. You will no doubt quickly learn names like Lake Balanan, the Twin lakes, Apo Island and more. Reviews of these destinations will continue, but this article is about a small place, a place one might miss driving by. It is not a natural attraction, but an insight into Filipino culture and how they view faith.

Sto. Nino (Saint Nino) is a small chapel that is located on the road to Lake Balinsasayao, the Twin Lakes of Oriental Negros. As you drive up the small rural road to the Twin Lakes, after a few kilometers of steady climb, the road levels off, and in the distance on the right you will see a solitary salmon colored Chapel situated along the road.

The outdoor chapel, open on the front and back, is typical of similar chapels spotted through out the countryside. Some are tiny, open on all sides with bamboo seating for a few people. Sto. Nino is more substantial. A masonry construction, it is well appointed and maintained. Interestingly the entrance is normally closed with an iron gate. However if you walk around the back the chapel is open to the outside. Immediately behind the chapel is a shrine to mother Mary, not atypical in the Philippines.

What is interesting is the fact that a miracle was supposed to have taken place on this spot in 1989. The chapel was subsequently built to mark the spot and commemorate the occurrence. The complete story is recorded in hand painted lettering inside an adjacent pavilion. The walls of this pavilion are plastered with photos and memorabilia of visits to the site presumably by some of the same folks that witnessed the miracle originally.

The story goes that a group of volunteers were distributing food and medical supplies to a remote village on the mountainside nearby. Cambaloctot is the name given to the Barangay. On their way back down the mountain, accompanied by an armed escort of army officers, the nuns and medical team saw a rainbow. The story goes that the sun behaved in a mysterious way and “danced” around the rainbow, growing smaller and larger before resuming its normal station in the heavens. In addition, the sisters reported a golden glow on their rosaries which remained after the incident, hence the miracle. The entire tale is recorded on the wall, with a curious take on English grammar it might be added.

If you are traveling up the road to the Twin Lakes and want an interesting place to stop and take a break from arduous motor bike riding, or just want to stretch your legs, have a look. Sto. Nino is an interesting glimpse of local culture and religious belief in Negros Oriental.
Getting there:
North of Dumaguete off National Highway. Travel through Sibulan village, proceed past Sea Forrest Resort and Jo's Chicken by the Sea(on right). Traveling farther north a few kilometers, you will come to a place in the road where there is a sea wall on the right and the road is straight. About 2-3km along that stretch you will see a white sign with worn letters on the left for Lake Balinsasayao. There is a small shelter for a bus stop there and a road to the left. If you turn right you will be in the sea, so there is little chance of a wrong turn! Twin Lakes are 14 K from there, the chapel is about 5 K.