What's this about?

Ladies and gents our story begins with our author who one day packed up his bags to spend the next 5 years of his life on some tropical island far far away. This land is not like any place he has ever been to before. There is no telling of what he may encounter during his stay there but one thing is sure he is going to be in for one crazy adventure. And this is where you get to read about it.

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Readers beware!

The stories told here maybe appear larger than in real life and at times may even appear outlandish. However, all actual events are in fact real (well, most of them). What may appear as a distortion of reality to some may only be due to the author's perspective of the actual events. Some say he is just not right in the head.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Summer Break Flashback Part 4b: Boracay

In Boracay you can find many people offering a boat cruise around the island for less than ten bucks. In the Bay Area 10 bucks wouldn’t even be enough for you to get a round trip from Vallejo to San Francisco. So when we were given the opportunity for all seven of us to be shown around the island on a boat, we hopped to it. And so here goes the story of our three hour tour.

We sailed straight pass all the tourist on the beach to a little cove where a few other boats had already dropped anchor. Once we reached the other boats one of the guides then pulled out some snorkel gear and dropped it in front of him. We were told if we like we could jump in the water and try feeding the fishes. The offer may have seemed a little more enticing if the gear wasn’t lying right next to his crusty toes, and I didn’t know full well that those things have never been sanitized since the day he bought them... or maybe even longer. So I hesitated for a moment but then figured what’s a lifetime of herpes when you can go out there and feed a few tropical fish for a couple of minutes. I took the gear and jump in the water with one other foolish soul.

The water was crystal clear. I could see coral and several small colorful fish down below. The guide gave me a piece of bread and hundreds of fish began to swarm around me to grab a bite. Some of them I could see clearly as they paused to nibble on the bread but mostly of them were just a blur of colors, blue, yellow, orange, red, and black, darting in and out. It was something you only see on a documentary for National Geographic. It was amazing.

Then I felt it. A sharp sting on my left arm as if something was trying to crawl under my skin and after failing to see what it was I popped out of the water like a torpedo. As I was trying to tell every one on the boat what had happen I could start to feel my whole left flank and neck start to burn. I realized then it must have been a jellyfish but as the pain continued to worsen the guides repeatedly denied that there were any jellyfish in these waters. However, after the welts started popping up all over my body they must have realized it was pointless to continue on lying to me. Finally they admitted that there are jellyfish that inhabit these waters but they said they were only small ones and that the pain would go away in a couple of hours. Like the f*@# I was really going to believe those @$$#*!%$ after they so blatantly lied to me just seconds ago.

Now, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was living out another one of National Geographic’s documentaries but this one didn’t have that oooh, ahhh, amazing feeling. I recalled their special on a certain species of jellyfish, no bigger than the size of a quarter, living off the coast of Australia. Apparently these small jellyfish are amongst the most poisonous in the world and were responsible for killing a string of people off the Australian coast. I then began to wonder how close is the Philippines actually to Australia. From maps it doesn’t look that far. In any case it was way too close. I also realized that the jellyfish that stung me must have been really small since I didn’t even see it. Then I didn’t really know if the reason it was getting more difficult for me to breathe was due to the toxins of the jellyfish or my fears.

The rest of those who were with me on the boat asked me if I wanted to be pissed on, in order to somehow counter act the poison. Now, though it had gotten a little more difficult for me to breathe I knew what the answer to that would be right away… No way in hell. If I was gonna die, I was gonna die a man. Not as some dead fool who smelt like piss. And despite my splendid condition we ended up just continuing the rest of our trip. And after not a couple of hours but several hours later the pain and the welts finally started going away.

Now, I suppose the boat crew initially denied the presence of any jellyfish because it would obviously be bad for business if people were to know that jellyfish were stinging divers along the coast. But you know what? Screw them... Beware of the jellyfish!

Some of the welts still left on my arm after the boat ride.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Summer Break Flashback Part 4a: Boracay

Waiting for the buffet to get started I found my self sitting on one of the hottest bikini clad beaches in the Philippines... with my parents. Well, at least I didn’t have to pay for anything during my stay in Boracay.

When you ask people which is the best beach in the Philippines there are two destinations that usually come up, Palawan and Boracay. In Borocay however, you don’t have to worry about contracting malaria as much as you would in Palawaan. And now after having been to Boracay summer I would also have to agree with what most of those people have to say. The beach sand is white (at least whiter than the black sand in Batangas) and the water is clear with minimum algae (unlike in Pagudgod). Also there is hardly any trash anywhere (unlike most of the Philippines). There are actually people on the beach with rakes combing thru the sand to keep it debris free as possible.

For all that Boracay is however it is not your idea of a “secluded” tropical paradise. This place was definitely designed for tourist and the party crowd. All along the beach strip there are bars, restaurants, tattoo parlors, souvenir shops, etc., and even a mall. What I found surprising was the number of shops with signs written all in Korean. It seems that the Korean crowd is a big market in Boracay. There are also a lot of other things to do if you are more of the adventurous type such as parasailing, island hoping, scuba diving, etc. I didn’t get to do too much of that but I did go snorkeling for a bit and I’ll have to tell you more of that in the next post.

Now rather than just lying on the beach and being contempt with taking in the sun, if you know me at all there were just a couple things I had to find and complain about. Despite being one of the major tourist attractions in the Philippines and hallo-hallo being one of the more famous Filipino deserts my parents and I were hard press to find any place that actually sold hallo-hallo during our stay. We went to three restaurants, one right after the other, and though they all had hallo-hallo on their menus for whatever reason they couldn’t make us one. One place had no ice, the other said they had no ice cream, and the other place had nothing at all. Eventually, we just gave up our search and settled for an American style shake at this little establishment owned by a Caucasian woman from the Bay Area. In reality however, not having what’s on the menu in the Philippines is quite a common thing. I’ll give them one thing though, they did have the only Ice Monster I’ve ever seen in the Philippines that actually had strawberries in stock.

The other thing I found a little odd was the lack of authentic Filipino souvenirs. Don’t get me wrong there are a lot of shops that sell souvenirs made by Filipinos but what one of my dad’s friends was trying to find was something with meaning. Something that represents the essence of the people, their struggles, their joys, their sorrows… The heart and pride of the Filipino people! OK, maybe not that deep but maybe something with a bit of cultural significance or at least with some authenticity. We didn’t really have much luck finding it though…

It appeared that what most of the shops where passing off as Filipino were really products of another culture. At one souvenir shop that also did alabata tattoos, we told the lady what were looking for and pointed us to some of the pendants she had. We were told that one pendant which was clearly a musical cleft was the symbol for one who loves music. Though maybe what she said held a little bit of truth it wasn’t exactly that part of the Filipino culture we were looking for.

These masks seem to be Polynesian.

The shop owner told us that Aetas in the mountains used these mask to scare away evil spirits in order to bring good luck to their business. Hmm, personally I couldn’t see why a bunch of hunters and gathers would be in such a need of a thing for their “businesses”.

This is maybe African in origin?

The mask of tragedy and comedy with a bit of a Filipino twist?

These are clearly resemble American Indian dream catchers however I was told they are also part of Filipino culture.

All in all I would have to say that Boracay is a nice place to go. I would not recommend against anyone going there. However, if you are looking for a bit of Filipino culture to take home as a souvenir you better just bring a camera.

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No apology needed Erap, we love you!

So I'm sitting here watching Joseph Estrada (a.k.a. Erap) arrive in San Juan on live TV, just after he had been given a full presidential pardon earlier today, and the whole time I'm asking myself why does this guy still have so many supporters? Didn't this guy steal millions of their hard earn pesos? Or maybe these are all the people that failed to pay their taxes so they could care less of how he had plundered their country. It's either that or I'm still trapped in the Twilight Zone. As I continued to watch his supporters carry their balloons and wave their banners saying “Welcome home Erap”, I couldn't help but see the irony in this as well.

Just a week ago people around here were still fuming about the comment made in regards to Filipino doctors on Desperate Housewives. Filipino officials were demanding an apology from ABC and after they got it they were saying it wasn't good enough. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago (the one who stated that the Chinese invented corruption on live TV) asked the people to stop watching the show and that the television station that airs the show here in the Philippines pull it from the airwaves. Another senator even wanted the directors to write in a Filipino character to be shown in good light.

Now, I'll admit that when I first heard the comment made by Terri Hatcher I just laughed, but then later I realized it may have been a little offensive. Any doctor who graduated from a school in the Philippines and ended up in the US as a doctor would have to work his/her ass off to get there. To work in the US you will also have to pass the US boards just like any student who graduated in America. So how can one imply they are not qualified? However, at the same time though I am sure that are quiet a few good medical schools here in the Philippines a lot of them are also... well, crap. I attend a medical school here in the Philippines and to tell you the truth I would be scared to enter my medical school's hospital for any serious injury. I would rather take my chances on surviving the long plane ride home than be admitted here. I have heard of so many horror stories at this hospital and I am sure this is not the only place were such atrocities are being committed.

One of my classmates once told me that you have to choose your battles, but why choose the battles that mean so little? What will all this fuss over some comment in a silly television show get you? Redemption in the minds of the rest of the world? Personally I don't think the reputation the Philippines has established will change much over night with any form of apology given by ABC. And even if it does what good would it do for a country that is rotting from the inside? Everyday in this country Filipinos are being treated unjustly by their own countrymen. These injustices range from small to grand scale crimes, and most of the time the people are content in sitting there and doing nothing about it. Hell, even at my university students are mistreated by the administration but I've never seen the student body here once take up any kind of stand against them. Even worse people who plunder the country like Marcos and Erap are set free to live out their lives without so much of a slap on the wrist or an apology. Just a few minutes ago I saw Erap live on national TV deny that he had ever committed any form of corruption as president. Is what is being said on a sitcom really all that more important to the Filipino people when corruption in the country is allowed to go unabated?

One other thing I have to point out concerning this issue is that while Erap was under “house arrest” the Philippine government continued to allow him to fly over to the US for medical treatment. I guess the government felt that being forced to stay in the country and be treated by Filipino doctors would be too unjustly of a punishment for the crimes he committed. Hmm, it seems the irony never ends...

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

The return...

After dropping off my car at Honda Alabang, which was over four weeks ago I finally got my car back yesterday. It took them an entire month to fix the scratch on the rear passenger door and replace the front bumper. Hmmm... Did they make these parts from scratch?

"We at Honda extract raw material from the center of the earth and then weild it into perfection to insure the best quality repair work for your automobile."

Seriously they didn't have to go that far.

A month to fix...

Ok, so the real reason why they say it took so long was that they were having problems with my car insurance company. They told me since I got my car insurance “outside” they can’t act right away on fixing or releasing the car. I find that to be a little strange though, especially when I had bought the car I was specifically told by Honda that I must purchase insurance from one of their “in house” insurance companies for the first year of ownership. I also remember when I brought the car in to Honda for the estimate their “in house” insurance agent who expected my car wore a BPI/MS Insurance logo, and in fact did work for BPI/MSI. It just so happens that the logo at the very top of the paper for my insurance policy also says BPI/MSI, and in fact the company that insures my car is BPI/MSI.

...Yeah, I really can’t explain it anymore than that. I feel like I’m stuck in an episode of the Twilight Zone. They should have just told me that they were having trouble extracting the materials from the center of the earth.

And you know after having my car for over four weeks in their shop you would think they would have the time to put back my seat covers, but they didn’t. They told me if I wanted the seat covers put back on it would take them another two hours. Who do they have installing seat covers there? Grandma? So I just cursed out the guy for a while and then left. And it was when I was driving away I noticed they stole all my maps.

F@#$!*& Honda of Alabang!

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Summer Break Flashback Part 3: The Manila Hotel

Manila Hotel is the place to be even when you can’t sleep inside.

The five star Manila Hotel opened in 1912 and is one of the oldest hotels in the Philippines. At one time General Douglas McArthur was a resident at this historic hotel and its grounds also served in the campaigns of both Ferdinand Marcos and Corazon C. Aquino. Other famous guest of this hotel include President John F. Kennedy, the Beatles, Sammy Davis Jr., John Wayne, and Michael Jackson.

The grand lobby is one of the nicest in all the hotels I have ever been to.

The were quiet a few wedding pictures being taken of different couples during our stay.

Someone once told me that Manila Hotel is still the place where you can go to see all the politicians with their mistress (or hookers) coming and going at the wee hours of the night. Unfortunately for me I’m not a politician. So I spent my first night at the Manila Hotel with my dad and a few of his buddies. Imagine if you can, spending your night listening to a live band at a bar in the Manila Hotel, and having a beer with a few 50+ year old martial art masters while watching grown Korean men dance with one another on the dance floor. Well it's not something I would have to try hard to imagine, it was a reality for me. Sometimes there is nothing more bizarre than life itself.

The rooms are nothing spectacular but for what it's worth you get a view of the Manila Bay.

The very next morning we headed out to Rizal Park which is right across the street from the Manila Hotel in search of what they came all the way from the US for, Filipino martial arts. And the one giving the marital arts demonstration that morning turned out to be none other that Grandmaster Rodel Dagooc, A.K.A. the Smoking Sticks.

Grandmaster Rodel Dagooc holds an 8th degree black belt (Lakan Walo) in Modern Arnis and though he looks a little small and feeble I bet he could still take a few people down. For his age the old guy still moves pretty well too. Check it out...

Here is another clip of his buddy showing some moves. And just to let you know this guy is missing a thumb.

And here is a Grandmaster Edgardo Telebangco showing us some of his techniques against a knife. He also had some cool moves against a person with two knives but my batery ran out.

We would end up staying one more night at the Manila Hotel before my dad and his buddies set off to make their little Filipino movie, while I returned to my non-functional air conditioned dorm.

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Summer Break Flashback Part 2: The Road to Pagudpud

Well as you could imagine during a 14 hour road trip to Pagudpud there are probably going to be a lot of things to see... most of which is traffic. However, once you get further up north and more along the coast just around the corner the view gets a whole lot better.

Some shorelines along the way looked better than the ones I’ve had to pay for in Batangas.

Like this stretch of beach some places had little tide pools where if you had a net you could stock up your salt water aquarium.

This is the mouth of Abra river, one of the three rivers that surrounds Vigan. Unfortunately like many of the other rivers in this country it has been heavily polluted due to urbanization. There is now a movement going on to try and preserve this river which once used to support the populations along its banks.

In the northern half of Ilocos Sur lies the city of Vigan. In 1572 Captain Jaun de Salcedo sailed to the island and took the already established town by force. Then two years later in 1574 Salcedo brought with him Augustian Missionaries to evangelize the native people and establish the Spanish colony. Today many of the historical buildings still stand erect and give you an idea of how the city looked back during its Spanish roots for which it is famous for. The city of Vigan is listed in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List for being the best preserved Spanish colonial city in all of Asia.

I actually missed Vigan on the way to Pagudpud and had to stop by it on the way back.

Before the automobile there was the calesa.

All along the streets are little stores for you to buy your souvenirs...

...Such as this cool hat which I should have bought made from a huge gourd. By the way I think I’ve seen this same person in Pagudpud. She may have been stalking me. Hmm...

I would have liked to spend more time in this city to take more pictures. The city streets with their cobblestones and rustic appearance are very picturesque.

A little tidbit of history trivia, before the time of the Spanish Vigan used to be a trading port for sailing merchants from all around Asian, especially China. Many Chinese sailors integrated with the native people and decided to settle down in the area which earned the town the name of Kasanglayan (where the Chinese live).

A little farther up north is another historical landmark the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse. The lighthouse was established 1892 when the country was still under Spanish rule and it still runs today, which surprises me because it doesn’t look very well maintained. When I got there, there was only one very old caretaker running the whole show.

I bet this placed would look creepy at night.

A view from the highest elevated lighthouse in the Philippines. I stuck my camera thru a broken window to get this shot. Of course the window was already broken when I got there.

That’s the biggest light bulb I have ever seen in my life. I wonder if I could get one for my room.

Well, as you finally make it closer to Pagudpud you’ll come across an interesting sign that I presume marks another popular tourist attraction.

Hmm, "a lot of people have died here". I wonder why that would be when you have a buss trying to overtake a semi-truck around a blind corner.

Just a little farther down the road there is a little rest stop with a nice view over looking the town of Pagudpud.

I guess incase you get into some horrible automobile accident out there this will give your family something to sooth them as they morn over your loss.

As you get down to flat land surrounding the town Pagudpud you'll see many fields of rice. I would guess that farming is actually the real main source of income in this town.

Also along the way to Pagudpud you'll get to see many of these guys tied up along long the side of the road. A national symbol of the Philippines, the carabao.

This guy was tied to the tree buy his nose. That’s got to hurt.

Well I’m sure there are also a lot of other things to check out along the way to Pagudpud but that’s about all the time I had for this time around. Until next time...

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