I went to Dumaguete and brought home a yoga mat

Edges of yoga mats made on Apo Island are specially designed, making them more flexible than regular mats. (AC Dimatatac)

Edges of yoga mats made on Apo Island are specially designed, making them more flexible than regular mats. (Photo by AC Dimatatac)

ORIGINALLY, I wanted to title this piece, “I went to Dumaguete and all I got was a crummy yoga mat.”

It was funny but untrue; an exaggeration.

After all, the yoga mat wasn’t crummy—it is a product of a tradition that, if left unsupported, will die and wither away like careers of certain pseudo-professionals such as, for instance, myself.

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#justasking: does Manila really have one of the world’s worst airports?

The Changi airport’s terminal 1 train approaching the terminal 2 station.

EN ROUTE TO MANILA—It’s a question that’s been raised ever since the Philippines got on the global investment map after surviving two crises (the 1997 Asian flu and the 2008 meltdown) and after posting successive stock market rallies since 2010.
Substandard facilities and services at the Philippines’ airport—named after the current president’s father—have been discussed anew, although with significantly less fanfare and intensity, in the March 1-3, 2013 print edition of the Asian Wall Street Journal.
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Up there in Baguio City

Thanks, Nikka Corsino for this photo.

You just can’t please everyone.
Ask residents of Baguio City, the Philippines’ summer capital.
Everytime a couple of hicks from Manila come up and visit, the locals get complaints about the weather.
It’s either too warm or too cold.
If it’s too warm, they rant about congestion — vehicular and otherwise — and how Baguio’s weather, which attracts more tourists than it can handle, has become the city’s very enemy.
If it’s too cold, they complain about coming down with the flu and how people who live in the tropics aren’t really acclimatized to temperate weather.
If you believe these people, it’s never just right, up there in Baguio City.
Of course, I have a different opinion, having gotten parts of my formal and informal education in one of my favorite cities.
When I arrived last month, everything was perfect.
The weather was cool, the air was crisp, and my accommodations were — how do I put this? — on someone else’s tab.
I stayed in a standard hotel that offered a bathtub, hot water, cable television, and enough coffee to keep me awake for fourscore and seven years.
To what do I owe this undeserved privilege?
I was lucky enough to be chosen to participate in an energy conference organized by a non-government organization.
And no, it was far from being a summer junket.
It was — to use the term of my reporter friends — a nosebleed; one that lasted two days and temporarily stanched only by ice-cold alcoholic beverages.
All throughout the 48 hours, resource persons talked about ancillary charges* and indexation** as though these were widely understood by everyone.
The whole weekend allowed me to grasp these two concepts, however superficially.
Unfortunately, since discussions lasted until after supper, I was unable to hang out with my Baguio-based friends unlike last time.
It may have been all for the better.
After all, I had experienced enough misadventures to fill up a slapstick comedy movie a few hours before.
To reach the venue in time, I had to endure the Victory Liner Bus’s ticket lines.
It wasn’t pleasant.
It had the heavy flavor of a train queue during rush hour, complete with the stench of sweat and the stale air of impatience.
After finally being seated two hours later, I had to deal with a passenger who snored like a diesel engine.
And, upon arriving at three in the morning, tired, sleepy and irritable, I lost my notebook. Apparently, it slipped off my pants’ backpocket and fell onto someone else’s seat.
Good thing the bus conductor had the sense to keep it, failing to rid the world of the notes of an unrepentant blogger. [See: Picture of Conductor]
That single act of honesty made my weekend.
As a result, I was filled with good cheer all throughout the conference, helping create another fond memory of the City of Pines.
Up there in Baguio City, it’s always just right, if you ask me.

———————
From the Credit is Good but Her No-Good Friends are Too Cheap to Pay For Anything Dept. Photograph above was taken by Pauline Nikka Corsino. For more of her photos, visit her website. Thanks, Nikka.

From the Nosebleed Dept.

*Ancillary fees
These are collected by the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP), the private entity now controlled by Henry Sy Jr. that manages the country’s electricity superhighway. These fees are for costs incurred in keeping contingency power reserves. These reserves are used to ensure that electricity service all across the country remains stable and uninterrupted, even in case of unexpected power plant shutdowns.
There are two kinds of contingency reserves — the first is the spinning reserve, which come from plants already turned on, ready to provide spare electricity at a moment’s notice should service be interrupted. The other, called a stand-by reserve, is expected to be ready to become a spinning reserve should the first be commissioned into service.

**Indexation
Since commodity prices go up due to inflation, companies also pay more for their maintenance and operating expenses, among others. As a result, they are allowed to increase rates to ensure a reasonable return on its investments, a practice known as indexing rates to inflation, a standard business procedure.
However, in certain power supply contracts, generation companies have based — or indexed — energy prices on costs of oil and coal — not inflation — even if there are no valid reasons for doing so.
In one case, a company pegged its local geothermal steam prices to world coal prices when the former, an indigenous energy resource, has no connection at all to the latter.
As a result, whenever coal costs in the world market went up, so did its geothermal steam prices. Result? Higher generation costs — and therefore increased electricity prices — for consumers.

From road trip to road rage in just half a day (or how I went to Batangas and ended up in Quezon)

Rich New Yorkers spend their weekends in the Hamptons.
Metro Manila’s coño kids — and their coño parents — spend them in exclusive resorts in Batangas and Laguna.
For bonafide members of Quezon City’s cream of the crap — such as, for instance, myself — weekends are generally spent inside their apartments, usually in a vain search for a clean pair of underwear.
But recently, something else came up — as something always does — ensuring that my life (such as it is) hews as closely as possible to the storyline of any tacky, low-budget, late-night television sitcom.
On the last weekend of May, I got invited to a beach wedding in Batangas, prompting me to rearrange whatever passes for my social calendar.
It wasn’t difficult.
As a result, my plan to stare at the ceiling for two days was moved to the weekend previously allotted for thumb-twiddling and/or humming.
But let me just say that I almost didn’t make it to the ceremony.
However, that’s getting ahead of the story.

That’s what rich friends are for

Of the few times I visited Batangas, I never had to fork out a peso — at all — to cover costs related to food, drink, lodging, and transport.
A few years ago, after an acquaintance picked me up in a van, I spent the weekend visiting a beach, lounging in a Tagaytay condo, and — get this — drinking the night away, all for free.
All I had to do was to be my charming, sophisticated self — cracking old jokes until told to shut up and get some more ice.
Yes: that was the life.
This year, after running out of bad karma, it was payback time.
A friend, his small family, and I were offered free food, drinks, and overnight accomodations in one of the beach resorts in Batangas — all just to attend another close friend’s ceremony.
The invitation came with a set of requirements.
Besides being requested to wear linen shirts, khaki pants, and sandals, we were also asked to take care of our own transportation.
Surprisingly enough, as someone who rarely wanted to leave my apartment, this barely discouraged me from going.
After all, my fellow guest agreed to drive me to the venue since he was going on an extended vacation with his family in the area anyway.
Our small delegation included his wife and son, a smart boy who is too young to realize the repercussions of having me as his godfather.
And during that Saturday afternoon, as we were cruising along the South Super Highway, the boy’s mind was on something else: the beach.
This was manifested by his continued interest in repeating the set of instructions on how to get to the resort.
It was like clockwork.
Every kilometer, he made an announcement, telling everyone that we should get off at the Maharlika Highway exit towards Sto. Tomas, Batangas.
But the boy’s attempts to help us navigate would prove to be futile.
Even before we reached Lipa City, we discovered that half of the instructions were about as useful as a dial-up modem.
Only upon entering Lipa City proper — which was still an hour and a half away from our destination — did we realize the enormity of our troubles.
A rotunda sat on the middle of the highway, flanked by a huge McDonald’s outlet which, in turn, cut the road into two directions.
Thankfully, the instructions — posted on and downloaded from the resort’s website — made no mention of these two structures nor the general direction which we would take.
But we all ignored that setback.
All three adults in the delegation considered themselves fairly experienced travelers.
The ceremony’s best man (who was behind the wheel) once lived in the East Coast with his family and I (the groomsman) once got lost in the subway — on New Year’s Eve at that — without being mistaken for a terrorist, a panhandler, or some Filipino hick living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Years later, we missed a midnight train from Virginia to DC but our streetsmarts led us back to our hotel where our wives were waiting for us.
On separate occasions, both of us were also able to survive visiting two other continents with nothing but chutzpah and common sense to guide us throughout our trips.
But at that moment, one and half hours before the scheduled ceremony, as the car encircled the rotunda, we finally came to terms with our fate.
No amount of adventures in any foreign location were about to controvert our situation in Batangas. We were not only lost, we were absolutely, unquestionably, undisputably lost.
To quote a popular saying, we were fucked.

Lipa City is Makati on Valium

As we came to grips with this inconvenient truth, we attempted to do what appeared logical to three fairly-intelligent but lost adults at that time.
We drove into the city, madly, blindly, like three mice for whom a nursery rhyme was composed.
And as we traveled on its streets, we came to realize that Lipa City was Makati on Valium.
Like the Philippines’ premier business district, it had one-way streets more common than the signature accent of Leo Martinez.
Every time we made a wrong turn, we had to go around the block just to get back to where we were.
This occurred a couple of times while looking for a P. Torres — supposedly the location of a Mercury Drug store — which would then lead us to a Padre Garcia.
However, the route information that we had failed to indicate what P. Torres or Padre Garcia was.
Were these streets, districts, or neighborhoods? Or were these simply random names of dead or fictitious people designed to confuse cityfolk confident of their navigational skills?
We didn’t know and we didn’t care.
Our goal was to get to a resort in Laiya as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, another thing got in the way.
Vehicles in Lipa City traveled at the pace of the Philippines’ judicial system.
On more than one occasion, even though the road ahead was clear of any vehicle, pedestrian, or potential road kill, jeepneys rarely accelerated.
Instead, they moved at the pace of a fully-loaded shopping cart pushed behind by a senior citizen suffering from arthritis.
After receiving directions from five to six tricycle drivers and a couple of pedestrians, we were convinced that we were on the right track.
We got on what appeared to be a national highway that we believed would take us to our final destination.
That is, until we saw a school named after a certain Governor Rafael Nantes.
In the blink of an eye, our car slowed down, moved to the shoulder, and attempted to make a U-turn. We took the wrong way and was already heading toward Tiaong, Quezon.
Good thing the driver knew who Nantes was: he was the Governor of Quezon.
Only when we reentered Lipa City did we get correct directions from an old guy on a cane, sitting on a bench by the roadside.
When we asked which way Laiya was, he was so shocked that he was able to stand up without using his cane.
He then volunteered to give us specific instructions on how to get to the resort.
His directions were proven correct.
But we still arrived an hour late.
Fortunately, our hosts waited for us, ensuring our participation in their blessed and happy ceremony.
Not long after, all of us were already enjoying the reception.
As I drank crisp, ice-cold, and most importantly — free — beer, I remembered a quote I first encountered in high school while reading Robert Ludlum’s The Osterman Weekend: “It may be better to travel, but it is even better to arrive.”
I took a long pull on my beer and got myself another bottle, hoping that the trip back to Manila wouldn’t be half as bad.
It wasn’t. I traveled with an economist.
But that’s the subject of another blog entry.
———————
Picture of Southern Tagalog Arterial Road from Batanggenyong Online.

That’s what rich friends are for

(From the Blast From The Past Dept. This piece was first published by the Manila Times in August 2004 when a 33.6 kbps dial-up connection was considered high-tech. Picture of Ding Dong from Philam Food’s website. No transaction, financial or otherwise, has been entered upon by Philam Food and the website’s owner and manager, then and now.)

Just last Saturday, I grudgingly agreed to leave for Tagaytay together with my wife and two other couples; friends whom, for better or worse, we never got around to hang out with that much.

This is because of the six people in that group, almost everyone had work schedules that were tighter than a rusted nut: three were high-powered professionals, two were very active in the academe, while one puttered about in the apartment all day, wearing silly polka-dotted boxers and looking for snacks, preferably Ding-Dong Mixed Nuts. (Which, by the way, is one of the many fine quality Filipino products that go very well with beer. Cigarettes also go well with beer but you can t eat them.)

Anyway, I looked forward to the whole trip with the enthusiasm of former president Estrada awaiting impeachment proceedings.

As a loyal follower of the Dave Barry School of Journalism (Motto: Never leave the house), it was and still is my journalistic responsibility to stay indoors as much as humanly possible, come hell or high water, whether on weekends or weekdays, despite invitations to press conferences and events held outside my apartment.

And so far, I have been successful.

But last Saturday, I relented. Easily, if I might add.

According to Couple A, who had planned the whole Ta?gaytay excursion a month ago, Couple B and my wife and I would not incur any expense at all during the course of the whole trip. Not a centavo, they said.

The Tagaytay invitation therefore proved interesting.

If there is anything that would make me want to step out of the apartment in case of fire, an inspection from my landlord, a surprise visit from my in-laws, or an emergency beer shortage it is always the prospect of a freebie.

This explains why it is always a financially sound decision to have rich friends, as any highly paid financial consultant will tell you. Hanging out with rich friends makes mooching off a lot easier than it sounds.

For instance, rich friends offer to pick you up at your convenience, pay for expensive dinner and drinks, and take you home safely, even after you’ve become rude and drunk.

After all, what else can they expect? You’re poor. You’re supposed to be rude and drunk.

Aside from being the butt of coño kids’ corny jokes, the inability to hang out at Rockwell and drink expensive coffee at Starbucks, what else are you supposed to be? A moocher, that’s what.

And so, early Saturday morning, my wife and I were fetched by a van, which fortunately, was not driven by Vandolph.

As soon as we were cruising along the highway, I saw that half of Metro Manila also had decided to spend the weekend at Tagaytay City. Apparently, a lot of them also had rich friends.

A couple of hours later, we finally arrived in a posh Tagaytay subdivision where we spent the night drinking beer, playing some board games, and watching DVDs, at no cost to us.

Indeed, it was a typical weekend getaway made possible by having rich friends.

Thank God for poverty.

Dumaguete Desperado

The trip to Dumaguete almost failed to take off.
This was because the cab driver bringing me to the airport decided to engage in some form of highway robbery.
The old geezer tried to sweet-talk me into forking out P400 for the airport run from Quezon City, citing high fuel prices, the time he reportedly spent “waiting” for me, and the huge costs of raising a family, mainly his.
I declined.
I had no control over the first, requested no such arrangement regarding the second, and hardly cared about the third.
Had the offer been made during rush hour — a time when empty cabs were fewer than presidential candidates — I would have pawned whatever remained of my soul just so I could get to the airport on time.
But it was four in the morning.
The only people on the road were drunk drivers, drag racers, and cab drivers, one of whom was trying to swindle an unsuspecting passenger armed only with a travel toothbrush so old the bristles fell off.

Diners enjoy inexpensive but tasty food — including native coffee and suman — at the Dumaguete market.

Diners enjoy inexpensive but tasty food — including native coffee and suman — at the Dumaguete market.

Since I was not prepared to let go of my cash that easily, or at least not until I was threatened with physical harm, I told the cab driver to pull over because I wanted to get off.
He refused to call my bluff, knowing that nothing was worse than driving an empty cab along deserted streets during the wee hours (that is, next to being swindled inside one).
He then shifted smoothly into the charm drive.
After switching on the fare meter, he began to inquire about my final destination and proceeded to discuss the mundane intricacies of the weather.
I obliged, even though I was in no mood to chew the fat.
During what at that time appeared to be an inordinately long airport run, I even allowed him to use my phone to text his one and only wife.
And that, fortunately, was the end of my encounter with Mr. Not So Smooth Operator.
From then on, the trip to Dumaguete — from takeoff to touchdown — was uneventful.
Which was a good thing.
After all, I was temporarily leaving Metro Manila to take it easy.
And Dumaguete is among the very best places to let your hair down.
Life remains at an unhurried pace in the City of Gentle People that until now, even during weekdays, some offices and establishments close at twelve noon, allowing supervisors and staff alike to kick back and enjoy a two-hour siesta, well-deserved or otherwise.
The time-honored tradition has long unsettled workaholics, many of whom have probably chosen to move to Manila and lead lives at a pace of their choosing.
The siesta certainly worked wonders for slackers.
It did for me.
But that was 14 years ago, when cellphones were bigger than car batteries, laptops were the size of luggage, and I — ehem — was a fellow of the Dumaguete National Writers’ Workshop.
As a fellow, not only was I entitled to a three-week long, all-expenses paid stay in Dumaguete, I learned that drinking cold beer was the best way to while away a siesta.
Sure, I also benefitted from the advice of older writers, a number of whom implied that I was better off doing something else (i.e., selling shower curtains, aluminum siding, and other implements crucial to a functional, well-run household).
My first visit to Dumaguete changed my life for reasons too indulgent to be mentioned.
And early this month, for the first time in 14 years, I came back to see if I could bring back that pseudo-literary, slacker feeling.
Turns out I could.
Except that this time, I had to foot the bill.
No such fellowships were awarded to overweight, mid-career slobs yearning for fond memories, lost youth, and free beer.

(To be concluded)

When in Rome

When in Rome, ape the locals.
Or go native.
Or at least try to act like you know your way around.
This is not difficult, especially for Filipino tourists visiting the Eternal City for the very first time.
Filipinos, after all, are to cultural adaptation as the Chinese are to producing pirated DVDs. And just like illegally-copied video discs, the said Filipino trait remains unfettered by regional restrictions.
But then again, this trait — as far as Rome goes — appears to be irrelevant.
Romans are still likely to be irritated whenever strangers interrupt their routines by asking them for directions.
Just like sharp-tongued New Yorkers, Romans have perhaps nurtured a dislike for tourists, simply because their city has too many of them, Filipinos or otherwise.
Besides clogging buses and trains, these visitors delay pedestrian traffic by reading street signs, studying maps, and posing for pictures.
How does it feel like to live in a city absolutely swamped with visiting foreigners?
I barely have an idea.
I live in a city notorious for being the Philippines’ squatter capital and I’m pretty sure that that’s not a top tourist attraction.

This picture was taken in Rome after being awed by the Fiat 500.

This picture was taken in Rome after being awed by the Fiat 500.

What I do know is that for the first half of 2006, approximately six million people visited Rome. The Philippines — which is 60 times larger than Rome — only had 2.8 million visitors during the same year.
So what does this mean?
There is a shortage of Romans patient enough to give directions to the next bus stop while there is a surplus of Filipinos — at least 30 to a tourist — all too willing to answer any questions under the sun, proud of their abilities to communicate using broken English, complemented by various hand and facial gestures.
This discrepancy posed a problem for my wife and I when we were about to leave Rome and the bus we needed to catch was running late.
If we missed the bus to the train station, it might take awhile before we could board a train to the airport. A later train to the airport might mean a delayed connection to Paris, compromising the last stop of our European adventure.
We had become so desperate that we considered taking a cab. The idea was quickly dismissed when I learned that it might cost me an arm, a leg, and my other organs, unsavory and otherwise.
Why was the bus late?
I didn’t know but I was tasked to find out.
Armed with my poor English speaking skills and my atrocious Italian, I ambled to the station attendant and asked when was the bus arriving.
She answered me in broken English and then she shooed me off.
Was this racism?
Were my questions being dismissed outright because I wasn’t white? Was I making a fool of myself because I didn’t know how to speak their language properly? Was I being treated unfairly because I was overweight and therefore used more soap than thin people?
I didn’t know.
But I found out soon enough.
As I sat beside my wife in the waiting area, I saw various other tourists — some of whom spoke in English — getting the same treatment that I got. They asked the same set of questions that I asked but they were summarily dismissed, like appeals of lawyers with losing court cases.
Not long after, the bus arrived, making us consider the incident with some measure of fondness. (We did catch the plane to Paris, after all).
My wife and I loved Rome — we still do — despite having stayed for less than a week. And no bus station attendant, no matter how ill-tempered, was about to ruin that memory for us.

(This piece was written after a trip to Europe in 2007. It was finished more than a year later when a temporary alcohol shortage prompted me to do something else on a Saturday night. It was also published in GMANews.TV)