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.