Tuesday, February 5, 2008


When you drive around Dumaguete you will be sure to notice frequent roadside signs with a hand painted Vulcate. Often painted on an old tire propped up at the roads edge, these are the typical tire repair shops of the Philippines.

Some are so small and humble you won’t see them as you speed by. But I guarantee if you have a flat tire on your motorcycle in Dumaguete, you will be wishing you memorized every one in town. With typical Filipino understatement and frugality, the vulcanizing shops have no modern tire repair equipment. One tire iron, and a homemade vulcanizing press, hand pump, and some old inner tubes are often the only equipment. The “press” is always made of found or recycled objects. I have seen them made from old engine pistons, bits of steel plate and old steering wheels. The designs are always similar with a container for a flammable liquid which is used to “vulcanize” the patch as it is being pressed.

When you pull up to one of these places with a flat tire, don’t expect them to remove the wheel from your bike. No they just unseat the tire and ease out the tube from within. Again, it is an exercise in doing as little work as possible with as few tools as necessary.

Once the tube is extracted in this way, they pump in some air and look for the leak. Then moving the mountain to Mohamed, the press is dragged to the tire where they work their magic. While the tube is being pressed or perhaps beforehand, the operator will examine the tire for an intruding object. After about twenty minutes the process is done and the tire insertion procedure is reversed, and off you go for 20 pesos or so.

What you will notice in time is that some of these shops are open all night in Dumaguete City. They service not only individual motorbikes but the 2000 plus tricycle pedicabs plying the streets of Dumaguete. I have been lucky to be near an all night shop in the two instances that a flat occurred after darkness. The shops are everywhere and numerous. This tells you two things about the Philippines, one the roads are rough, and two, Filipinos ride around on marginal tires, patching them until they nearly disintegrate.

My friend Nelson owns one such shop near our house. He can usually be found sitting at his place either playing his guitar, or playing with his pet Reticulated Boa Constrictor. He rescued the snake from a city street when it was a baby. An engaging fellow, he has an easy smile and an friendly manner about him. I always go to him if I need air in my tires or if I happen to notice a tire going flat with in range of his place. If I pull up for a little air, he tries to wave me off for no charge; I don’t let him, and always give him something for turning on his compressor. Nelson is one shop that has an electric air compressor to make his operation easier for him.

Over the months I have lived in the present location, Nelson has indeed become a friend. He comes to our karaoke and buys one beer and maybe sings two or three songs. He appreciates our business, and when he can afford, will patronize ours. Some times he comes with his snake in his pocket and lets the college students who frequent our place hold it or snap cell phone photos. It is a good time, and while to the uninitiated it may seem bizarre it isn’t here, and we have grown accustomed to his pet.

The vulcanizing shops are just one of the things unique tothe Philippines, and in addition to fixing your flat you just might find a friend. That in the end is what it is all about isn't it?

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