Saturday, November 29, 2008

Rustic Scenes

Trips to far-flung provinces like in the southernmost big island of Mindanao accord visitors with the long-lost vistas of rural living and communities typical in ages past. Of simple uncluttered lives, of coarse and crude structures, of primeval living habits and pursuits, of pure and unadulterated simplicity unaffected by the harsh marches of civilization and the suffocating influences of big crowded cities.

Like scenes and lives dramatically portrayed in the following random snapshots. Of crudely built houses, some on fragile stilts, built close to navigable waterways for easier access and travel. Of lives centering on some fishing and washing and bathing in the same water source, and even of drinking from it if needs be. Of miniscule homesteads, some areas planted to vegetables for consumption, some just as crudely fenced to keep animals and possible trespassers away. Some structures so crude and elemental that modern privacies are almost non-existent – from prying and judgmental eyes of neighbors and passersby.

One big exception. All these shots were taken in the middle of the bustling city of Cagayan de Oro in Northern Mindanao, alongside the bridge that undoubtedly is the heaviest and most traveled among the city’s five bridges. This is the inappropriately named Marcos Bridge that connects the city’s eastside with the westside and serves as gateway to the western part of the province of Misamis Oriental.

And these unmindful residents are probably squatters on either private or public land. One harsh reality of daily living in a city like Cagayan de Oro, burdened by its own heavy loads of squatting and housing problems.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Cagayan de Oro's Nite Cafe - Revisited

Every weekend at about 5 p.m. Friday, when the afternoon commute is just gathering storm, the main plaza of the city, Divisoria Plaza, metamorphoses from a shady, leisurely, and quiet haven of many different segments into a veritable beehive of intense economic activities and harried people, erroneously called a nite cafe. It has actually morphed into a full-blown frenetic bazaar likened to those of old, where any and all marketable merchandise is hawked and promoted. From food services, to garments, to footwear, to costume jewelry, to dresses and men's wear, to all and almost anything that could possibly catch the fancies of the expectant shoppers as they hem and haw negotiating through the congested mazes of stalls and tent enclosures. And yes, loud live shows with blaring sound systems,too. And I suppose even contraband goods are marketed, such as pirated DVDs and a variety of smuggled items from footwear to garments.

For a taste of the strange and exotic, how about trying a hardboiled egg dipped in some kind of gooey batter and then deep fried. For eight pesos, it is served to you in a small paper plate laced in some kind of buttery substance.

All this with the solicitous blessings of the city government which has encouraged this strange practice dating back to the largely unlamented previous city administration. So, noisily commencing every Friday night, it lasts till early Sunday morning, except that all day Saturday the entire tent city is folded up and raised again late Saturday afternoon so vehicular and human traffic can continue unimpeded during the day.

Any stranger or any astute observer to the city cannot help but be amazed how this pained transformation is effected every weekend with precise clockwork. The plaza starts to ease up like a slowly emerging image of a recognizable bazaar before the clock strikes 5pm. Like a colony of ants, sweaty purveyors slowly materialize first with their assorted building structures of wood, steel, tent, plastic, and whatever else is available for such purposes. Then ushered in are the merchandise, again in differing sizes and volumes, carried around by differing modes of transportation.

By 5:30pm the entire plaza has taken on a completely different look and ambiance, with the noise levels rising dramatically, gaggles of people start congregating in large numbers, milling around mostly in places offering great bargains. Some streets are cordoned off and vehicular traffic diverted, in the usual chaotic and helter-skelter ways things are done here.

The surreal scene takes on the unmistakable air of organized chaos, amidst a chaffing sea of humanity and the jungle of motley assortment of merchandise.

Winding gingerly through them, one gets a sense of being in a dream-like trance.

Plastic tables and chairs, the best guard against the harsh elements of rain, dust, and yes, rough people.

Nothing beats a nice ride in the park against the backdrop of twilight's fading light.

Tents like these sell cheaply here. The demand is great. And poor quality work assures repeat customers.

Fortune comes to those who wait.

Are we ready? Should we expect rain? (Expected or not, it did rain less than an hour later.)

Light imperceptibly fades out, making the point-and-shoot camera's flash inadequate.

A bit of glamor in those selling those glamor items.

A thousand choices for my pair of feet. "Mirror, mirror on my wallet, which ones..."

A cradled baby joins the window-shopping.

A stunned shopper reacts with obvious displeasure.

Blue is the preferred choice of color for tents today.

The local university's imposing building facade provides an incongruous background.

Havaianas? Hard to pronounce, maybe even harder on the wearer's feet.

Behind the scene, things do not look too up-beat or promising.

Monday, November 17, 2008

US Automakers Lament

These pictures taken from old brochures have become telltale signs of Detroit’s three big automakers' ominous future, culminating in their maybe going to the bankruptcy chopping block if not rescued by a bail-out. For this non-prescient but hindsight observation, I went through my trusty time-capsule files of the 60’s.

Thus while Detroit was then devotedly churning out huge monsters like the GTO, Bonnevile, Caprice, Grand Prix, etc, upstart Japanese automakers were silently promoting to market their tiny little cars that could not even be allowed on US freeways due to miniscule engine size and other basic standards. As small as 360cc engines but able to seat 4 passengers. Mitsubishi’s Minica was an early forerunner in the Asian markets. Honda did come out just as early with its Civic but focused on the US markets with their heftier engines of at least a 1000cc.

In a real way, the 60’s also shows the world’s cluelessness, or maybe just inattention, about the need to conserve existing energy sources and/or aim for more efficient uses of energy. Because many dismissed these actions by the Japanese as simply the manufacture of oversized toys, not good enough as acceptable human transport. But Honda successfully marketed their earlier versions in the US, promoted primarily as “second” cars, not the main transport for the family or the parents.

For me, I actually purchased a Minica, but the earlier version of the one pictured here and imported completely assembled from Japan. It kept its value well, since I was able to sell mine more than 2 years later for almost the same price as the purchase price.

How the world has changed since then.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


That is how it is called locally. For a little over $1.42 one is served up with slices of fried-pink Spam (the genuine, the original), egg over easy, and a cupful of garlic rice, and finally topped with a little refreshment of iced tea.

For many Filipinos a breakfast of this sort has been traditional fare as far as I can remember, believe it from a proud somebody who used to be called “Spam” boy by a now dead cousin as fitting tribute to my uncanny ability as a kid to consume a whole can in one sitting. A satisfactory start of a nice morning would have been after a hearty meal of fried rice, eggs cooked in lard, and crispy fried Spam slices.

So this new local eating place breaks new ground by reminding patrons about this once popular menu, by now offering this breakfast selection as one of the tempting choices of other traditional breakfast fare such as smoked fish, longanisa, and tapa, the last two being sausages and smoked beef.

We knew even then given the unlikely, or maybe even unseemly, origins of Spam, that Westerners looked with askance at this staple. After all, Spam became famous as part of GI ration during WWII. Invented and marketed by a Hormel heir precisely for “hard times”. During war or before that during hard economic times like the Great Depression. The poor man’s choice of a meal.

With the now unraveling of the global economy with even more and harder times being forecasted, what should come to the rescue?

The lowly Spam, originating from one of Hormel’s factories in Austin, Minn. Production has never been better and at a more furious pace, with employees doing double shifts or overtime work to keep up with the increased demand.

And unlike the Spam of old, one can now pick one’s favorite from an adequate selection – such as Spam Low Sodium, Spam with Cheese and Spam Hot & Spicy. And don’t you know you can also buy Spam retail – that is, packed as one slice per plastic wrapper? Averaging under $2 per can, imagine how much one slice would cost.

Thus, while the bad economic times have re-introduced this food for hard times, the Filipinos never entertained any such low regard for this product. Good or hard economic times will always be a happy time for Spam – especially for breakfast. Thus, while Westerners may derisively refer to junk email as Spam, no such dark thought lurks in the Filipino psyche.

What about Spam dipped in a batter of beaten eggs before frying and cooked in good old very hot lard?

Oh, sizzlingly yummy!

Stray Thoughts On A Cloudy Day

When angry winds buffet, timid and fragile sails are furled.

Or so we were told or saw in the many sea-faring movies of old.

Thus, too, this last Friday harried workmen started rolling up the giant billboard hanging on the roof deck of our building.

When queried why this new-found solicitousness over a coming little wind and rain, they cheerfully said that storm signal No. 1 had been hoisted by the local government weather forecasting station, aptly called Pag-asa (literally meaning hope in English), ominously presaging the rampaging onslaught of a good-sized typhoon expected to hit the area that Sunday. And from their explanation, one gathered that the weather station has now been tasked with informing billboard owners when storm signals are up to allow them ample time to take precautionary measures, like rolling up their tarp billboards. So caught a team of high-climbing trapeze artists nimbly clambering the steel structure to unhitch and secure their billboard. In less than an hour, the huge “sail” was securely tied up on top casting a very tiny profile for any angry wind to maul.

A good precautionary measure indeed in a country that is regularly visited by disastrous typhoons, which unwelcome natural calamities almost always bring considerable damage to structures and infrastructures. Blowing away very exposed billboards and their frames has been a commonplace occurrence, sometimes causing also human deaths.

As a relieving end-note, Sunday came and the sun shone mercilessly throughout the day, nary a drop of rain or a wisp of air to blow away a lit candle.

As usual, weather forecasting at its level best. No better, or worse, than a throw of the dice.


One’s face is usually unerring testimony to the ravages of time and the catalogue of deeply wrenching emotions felt over the years. Leathery or botched skin, wrinkled temples, furrowed foreheads, and more, are what we carry to our graves if we live to be of ripe old ages. These are inevitable and inherited signs of man’s living of life. We can usually not only tell a man’s age by these markers, but how easy, comfortable or difficult one has gone through life. And repetitively doing specific physical activities as part of one’s life usually leaves visible marks in one’s body. A stevedore, or mason, or a carpenter will typically show the accumulated results of their trades in their bronzed and well-developed arms. A doctor, especially a surgeon, maybe by his dainty and exquisite hands and arms?

Aside maybe from a gaunt overall physique, what else does a long-time inveterate jogger or brisk-walker exhibit?

Well, after over a score of years of jogging, here is what I can show to the body parts that I use most prominently running or jogging, usually on hard pavement.


When nuns gather for a noonday meal at some fastfood center in the mall, you can bet that it will be a happy and holy refection. Caught in a pancake place, of four Assumption nuns taking a little respite from their campus outreach ministry at Xavier University.

A holy meal of tossed salad and smoked fish, and of course, rice.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Our Daily Bread

Ever wondered how your daily bread gets to your table?

I doubt it first saw light from some huge air-conditioned factory equipped with rows of perpetually humming conveyors and flailing robotic arms moving the emerging bread from one process to another. Until they are packaged and delivered to your favorite retailer.

Most likely, it originated from some small and cramped “sweat-shop” in many locales in the city and outlying towns, manned by a team of serious and sweaty workers. Literally, a sweat-shop because baking bread and cookies requires a lot of heat from preparation, to actual baking, and ultimately to retailing. Everybody wants his bread hot, if not warm when consuming it.

So workplaces are kept at least above normal temperature, most especially during the preparation – for the yeast to grow and expand the dough.

So your bread probably comes from a workplace quite similar to this. Pans and pans of bread manhandled by sweaty bakers and toasted by cagey horneros.

So in quiet recognition for those who labored with sweaty faces and furrowed brows to provide you with your daily bread, sweat a bit when taking a bite off your favorite pan de sal or pancho. Or belguim, or elorde.

…and pray to deliver you from having to eat day-old bread.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lawless Driving In Cagayan de Oro

Road courtesy and internationally accepted standard traffic rules are literally being driven off the road in the bustling city of Cagayan de Oro, in Northern Mindanao. Populated by at least a million folks(Hey, nobody really knows what the exact population is!), expected to survive in cramped quarters in a smallish poblacion traversed by grid-iron type city streets which are noted for their being too small for vehicular traffic but too wide for use as pedestrians sidewalks, which pedestrians use as such anyway. And the width of any street is immaterial anyway because it is not the reason why drivers do not observe common road courtesy. Drivers will use any unoccupied strip of any street, whether it is intended for parking or striped-laned for going the other way. If it is currently unoccupied and the vehicle can drive through it, then the green light is on to snake through that part of the road or sidewalk and be on its merry unmindful way. Any traffic enforcer be damned.

But here is a little recommendation, just be extra careful about negotiating no-left turn intersections. Doing so catches the wary attention of any traffic enforcer nonchalantly observing grid-locked traffic on the intersection. For some strange reason making a wrong left turn is worse than engaging in a coarse game of chicken and by so doing jamming the intersection from all directions. And another is going through one-way streets of which they are many which are not marked with clear traffic signs and thus easily unnoticed. These two actions appear to be anathema to them, notwithstanding the clear as day fact that there are other violations much worse traffic-wise unraveling before their very sunburnt noses. Like double parking on an already narrow street with both sides parking, or loading and unloading of passengers from public transport anywhere the passengers so please.

In a city where anything that can roll and move can be par for street use, negotiating traffic is not only daunting trying to weave and dodge from errant four-wheeled vehicles, but is equally confusing in trying to identify the objects one is confronted with driving along its streets. Never mind the pedestrians, since they are everywhere anyway – walking, idling, conversing, phoning or simply existing or living on both sides of the road. And by the way, you also find them in the middle of the road, precariously teetering on top of the disregarded median lines, arching and aching to cross to the other side of the street.

But the “vehicles” you encounter are truly a motley group, some defying what could be described as motor vehicle or typical human transport. Admittedly, there are the two-wheeled common enough bicycles, but outfitted or resourced as either a cargo carrier or as a place of business. Resourcefully converted in various ways and configuration aimed at being able to carry maximum load and volume. Think of any possible way to do that to a bicycle and you bet it has been done and implemented. Same is true when used as a place of business – complete with a counter top and storage space to conduct any itinerant business whether in food service or selling of pastries, or whatever.

Then there are the lumbering carts, mostly too bulky to be pushed or tugged by a bike, that are simply pushed around by humans through the streets of the city, searching and angling for leftover street or sidewalk space fit enough to park and conduct business.

Then you have the motorized bikes, wrapped in tin sheets to look like their four-wheeled cousins, used as public transportation, ferrying passengers for as short a distance as a city block away. Lazy residents? The heat in the tropics does discourage any leisurely or even brisk walking most days. And this mode of transportation is literally everywhere. Every Juan or Pedro who can buy a motorbike, even a cheapo made in China, and outfit it with a tin-can cab, has one. If not, then every Juan or Pedro who can borrow money to engage in this type of transportation business has one. Looking at their numbers one gets the crazy feeling that they must propagate like rabbits.

And the mother of all traffic hazards and road courtesy ne’er do wells – the passenger jeepneys in their multi-colored ugliness and challenged models of inefficiency in function and looks. They daily invade every motorist’s space and peace. Loading and unloading everywhere and anywhere the drivers’ fancies direct them. Flouting every possible traffic rule or road courtesy, causing the equally ubiquitous traffic enforcers to quietly exclaim in frustration, or simply show the disinterested look. They do at times flag down jeepney drivers and issue tickets appearing as a semblance of order amidst the wholesale chaos engulfing them.

Another equally hazardous presence on the streets is that of taxi drivers who do their share to merit their dubious distinction as reckless drivers and cheap teasers of fate. At least with their new and shiny units, one gets the sense that they at least have the earnest desire to prevent any contact with other vehicles since they would most likely end up as clear losers in the damage department. But again their big presence on the streets is cause enough to be extra careful in one’s unorthodox driving. And the exercise of precise care in approaching intersections since the concept of right of way is almost alien to them, practicing only the primeval chicken game in approaching and taking intersections. He who dares fearlessly and aggressively and shows no tentativeness gets to drive first unimpeded to the next intersection.

Another group of vehicles is noted more for their non-visibility than their ability to obstruct one’s view of the road traffic. These are the tiny or mini cars coming from China and Korea. Diminutive sedans with their one-liter or less engines stealthily weaving in and out of columns of vehicles, and uncannily parking themselves neatly in left-over spaces in a city where such spaces abound. Again their new shiny looks and basically tin-can body frames make their drivers extra cautious in preventing even the softest of fender-benders.

And shades of images of the US freeways and suburban cities are the out of place presence of huge SUVs like the Ford Expedition or the F150 pickup truck, and the popular family transport of recent US lore and yore, the minivan or full-sized van. Being status icons here proud owners are only too willing to maintain them and go through the rigmarole of driving them around constricted city streets – with great unease and discomfort. Hey, no different from some women who wear shoes with skyscraper heels after being aware of the ill effects of their wear to their feet and legs and also feeling some excruciating, I surmise, discomfiture in simply wearing them. But for them pride is in the ownership.

So for those who have to drive to get around, be forewarned and be prepared in this demotion-derby environment, minus the actual collisions. Gear up to be optimistic and think of it as being a bump-car ride, where even collisions and minor scrapes are simply causes for fun and entertainment, and one is none the worse for wear and tear after each experience.

Over time, one actually learns to appreciate the experience. After all, actual disastrous contacts are far and in between and common experiences are mostly minor paint scrapes or minute body dents, and maybe bruised egos for some. Yet In the excruciating process one learns to pay utmost care and undivided focus to one’s driving.

Which is what most credible experts who teach proper driving techniques recommend anyway.