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Sunday, September 26, 2010


I have noticed that NO ONE in the Philippines knows how to do proper masonry work with cement blocks.  It looks to me like the mortar they use is deficient in some way.  The blocks are haphazardly stacked, and the mortar looks like it is crumbling as soon as it is dry.  Of course most new construction uses poured concrete pillars and beams for structural load bearing, and the cement blocks just fill up space.  Still, it seems like a poor policy to take an inherently unsound structure and cover it over with stucco. Perhaps this is planned so the building won't last very long.  Still, I think a really good mason could figure out what is wrong with the mortar and make a lot of money building really good buildings.

There is a tremendous amount of construction that was started, but when the money ran out, the project was just left to rot, and the tropical climate is very obliging and brings rot and ruin very quickly.

Out of Chronological Order...

I didn't sleep much on the bus ride to Baguio.  Grace has motion sickness problems and took a couple of pills as the bus was leaving.  Except for the two comfort stops, she spent the trip sleeping with her head on my shoulder.    She looked so sweet, I didn't mind a bit.  It took over an hour to get out of Manila.  Much of that time we were on toll road that looks like an American Freeway.  Once we hit two lane, we were not able to go as fast.  One of the biggest traffic problems here comes from the huge difference in speed between different kinds of vehicles. The big highway buses, with powerful Nissan diesel engines, can go really fast, but farm trucks and the heavy haulers can't match that speed.  Also, the Victory Liner buses are well maintained, while everything else on the road is slowly disintegrating without any maintenance until something breaks, and then it is patched up with wire and duct tape.  The bus would accelerate to 100kph then have to brake hard to keep from hitting the farm truck with no lights.  As we got into the mountains, there were places where the road was washed out, and the bus had to slow to a crawl.  The air conditioning worked very well, and I was glad I listened to Grace and brought a jacket.  In the mountains, I observed that there are some universals for living in the mountains.  People will put old tires on the roof.  I don't know why they do it in the US, but they do it here too.  People will think up funky crafts to use whatever natural resource is abundant and call it "ART" and try to sell it to tourists.  People will make things out of the local wood that look like chainsaw carved statues, even when carved with hand tools, twice life size.  Who buys that stuff?  Who has a place to put it?  They will make furniture with 6 times the wood needed, and so heavy, a team of Olympic weight lifting champions is required to move it.  They will find unique ways to stick river rocks together to stabilize dirt and stop erosion.  People will name their house and put up a clever sign announcing the name.  When I was in High School, our next door neighbors at Rock Creek Lake had a sign with club, diamond, heart and spade with the name of their house, "Suits Us."  People will sculpt tree trunks into the corners of a house built of concrete and paint the trunk brown. People will build log cabins for tourists to stay in.  Government agencies will built bridge rails to look like logs and paint them brown.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Baguio - Summer Capital of the Philippines

Grace and I left Manila at 2AM and arrived in Baguio around 9AM.  Baguio is at a much higher elevation and is much cooler than Manila.  It rains nearly every day.  There are long needle pine trees mixed with banana trees and tropical flowers.  We are staying in an apartment building that has been converted to guest house or hostel type rooms.  They all have a private bath and hot water.  We are paying 3000p for 4 days.

The cab drivers here are so nice compared to the ones in Manila.  There, drivers will refuse to turn on the meter, then demand twice the fare we usually pay for a trip, or they will say they don't have change, and hope you will let them have the extra.  I asked one driver for his registration number, and talked about the regulatory agency, and he magically found change.  In Baguio, the drivers always turn on the meter, never ask for extra, and always have change.

Grace took me to dinner at The Forest House tonight.  It is on the road from Baguio to Camp John Hay.  It is very rustic and has a great view from the terrace.

This was taken outside the call center where Grace used to work in Camp John Hay.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Snoopy decorating his dog house to win a contest prize is the long standing symbol of Christmas commercialization run amok.  I always hated it when malls and stores started playing all Christmas music before Thanksgiving.  It nearly drove Danielle crazy to hear the same tired old Christmas music over and over every day for 2 months.  Guess what?  They start the Christmas selling season on September first here!!!  I nearly laugh my ass off every time I go to the mall and hear "Walking in a Winter Wonderland,"  "Let It Snow," "Sleigh Ride," and all the other songs that are so out of place in a tropical country.  I think they should play Jimmy Buffett's song, "Ho, ho, ho and a bottle of rum; Santa's run off to the Care-ib-E-an," "A Sailor's Christmas," and other suitably tropical songs.  I am so glad I don't need to go to the mall very often!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


People here will generally not understand what you are asking if you ask for directions to the "rest room" or "bath room."  "Comfort Room" or "CR" is what is used most often here.

If you have seen the movie, "Demolition Man" you will understand this reference to the "three sea shells."  Mostly, it seems that people here don't use toilet paper.  Almost every home has a plastic, sauce pan shaped thing, that people use to wash off.  While Filipinos in general are less shy about their bodies and bodily functions than most Americans, I am not going to ask Grace for a demonstration of how to use the little plastic bucket, and it will remain a mystery akin to the proper way to use the three sea shells.

We were at the gym last night, when Grace suddenly got very pale.  I got her home as fast as I could.  She said she smelled something at the gym that made her  feel sick.  Her body temperature was really high, and I used cool water on a cloth to help get her cooled down.  She went to sleep, and was feeling fine this morning.  I don't know what made her feel so ill so quickly, but it was pretty scary.  She does so much for me, I'm glad I was able to take care of her for a change.

Grace has become a very good Cribbage player, and I have to bring my "A" game to be competitive.  We both have a silly sense of humor, and find plenty to do without TV, and we seldom watch any of the movies I have on my hard disk.  Grace is an excellent bargainer, and she is always getting us a discount on this and that.  She also buys things, advertises on an online board, and sells them at a profit.  We are talking about finding a place to live "in the provinces" where there is a beach that isn't over developed yet so that prices are still low, and doing "buy and sell" rather than her getting a regular job.  Having her work from home would be a big plus as far as I'm concerned.  Life is just more fun when she is around.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


I got my biopsy results today.  They took 12 samples and made 24 slides, so it was a very thorough biopsy.  The pathologists found no sign of malignant cells on any of the slides.  I will still be getting a PSA every 3 months just to make sure nothing slips by without early detection, but there was a big sigh of relief when I read the results.

Grace has been so brave through all this.  It is amazing that she is brave enough to be starting a new relationship with a man twice her age and from a different country and culture, but that she did not run away screaming from the possibility of my needing a second cancer treatment, shows what an incredible woman she is and what a lucky man I am.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

September 15

I have been in the Philippines for 3 months.  A lot has happened.

We went to the gym today.  I felt a little sore, but did a total of 45 minutes on the treadmill and some light weights.  Grace was working out hard today.  She is a lot more dedicated than I am.  After the gym, we came home and Grace invented a new dish for lunch.  It is similar to a Monte Cristo sandwich, which she didn't know existed, but the bread is wrapped around the meat and cheese.  Grace is really good at getting fried things drained really well, so they aren't greasy, so her creation was better than the best Monte Cristo I ever had.

I suppose this goes back to the days when the Spanish were in charge, but it seems that people here have a thing about light and dark skin.  Every soap and grooming product for women and even for men advertises "whitening" ingredients.  I think Grace has beautiful skin, and I love the color, so I'm glad she isn't obsessed with lightening her skin like so many women here seem to be.  It makes it difficult for me to find anything to use to wash my face or bathe with.  I'm white enough already, and don't really want any bleaching chemicals on my skin.  I hate what advertising does to people.  Thin girls think they need to gain weight, healthy girls think they need to diet.  White girls go "tanning" and brown girls use whitening cream.  Of course even old, fat, white men aren't immune to advertising pressure, and I am as guilty of vanity as anyone else.  I just think it is so unfortunate that people think they need to buy this or that or have operations to be "attractive."  I especially am opposed to breast "enhancement" surgery.  I've never seen a natural breast that was too small for someone to love, and the natural ones are so much more fun to touch.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Biopsy completed

The biopsy was completed, and I am recovering nicely.  Having anesthesia made all the difference.  The laxative to prep for the procedure was the worst part of the whole thing.  Maybe I have just been really lucky, but all the lab techs here have been very good at finding veins and getting in on the first stick.  They also have been very skillful and haven't hurt me, which was my usual experience in the US.  They took 12 samples, so I had to pay for extra supplies, however my total bill was $601.

I got my water heater installed on Saturday, and I am amazed at how nice it is to have that little luxury.  It was especially welcome at zero dark-thirty this morning.  We got a taxi immediately, and the driver was willing to go where we needed to go, didn't swerve too wildly, and because it was before most people are on the road, we got to the hospital early.

I was a lot more relaxed before the procedure, and I have been feeling very appreciative of everything Grace does for me, especially the loving spirit that goes along with all she does for me.

Friday, September 10, 2010


The biopsy is scheduled for 7AM Tuesday.  The total cost including all doctors fees will be 24,000p  The exchange rate has been around 45p=$1 so the procedure will cost about $533.33

Of course we are hoping they won't find any cancer cells in the "suspicious nodule."  It will take about 5 days after the procedure to get the pathology report.  I'm having the procedure done as outpatient surgery at The Medical City; Ortigas Avenue, Pasig City, Metro Manila Philippines.  The urologist who will perform the procedure says that Medical City has the best ultrasound equipment that will give him information in two planes simultaneously, which will make it much easier for him to place the needles precisely.

I am so lucky I have Grace to be with me while I get this done and to help me afterwards.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Healthy Enough

The doctor pronounced me healthy enough to have the biopsy.  They are doing 12 samples, so I will be sedated, and they have to be sure my heart can deal with that.  My BP is back under control, my blood sugar is excellent and so is my cholesterol.  I lost 4kg last week.  I will see the urologist Thursday to schedule the procedure.  Grace is such a big help in navigating the medical system.  They have their own way of doing things, and it is not what I'm used to, so it is very helpful to have a native Tagalog speaker in my corner.

We played hooky from working out at the gym today and went to the Moonwalk Barangay Hall. Barangay roughly translates to "community" although from my perspective, it seems like "neighborhood" would be better.  The city of Paranaque has a number of distinct communities, and each has its own Barangay Hall, administrative staff, police, and traffic enforcement officers.  Grace needed to register her new address and get an ID card from the Moonwalk Barangay.  Chateau Elysee is in the Moonwalk Barangay, so that's where she had to register.  The Barangay ID is required to get a Post Office ID, and Grace needs that to get clearance from the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation - roughly equivalent to the FBI in the US)  The NBI Clearance is documentation that she has not been convicted of or wanted for any criminal activity.  The NBI Clearance is required to apply for a job, and some place along the line, Grace lost hers, so she has to fill all the squares to get a new one.  We got the Barangay ID with no problems, but found that we have more hoops to jump through to get the Post Office ID, so we went shopping at Landmark Square in Makati and bought a bunch of small stuff for the house.  I bought a water heater, and they will be coming to install it on Saturday.  I am tired of feeling like my heart will stop when the first spray of water from the shower hits me. This is a small demand unit that only supplies one shower head, so it should be fairly energy efficient.  We both had sore backs after shopping, and Grace took me to a spa she found for a massage.  I think she had a coffee body scrub too.  I feel much better now.

It's difficult to talk about Grace without getting into the realm of TMI.  Let's just say that I am a very relaxed and happy guy with a perpetual goofy grin on my face.  She is such a sweetheart, and takes such good care of me. 

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Taking Out the Garbage

Because we use so much less processed food, we have more organic and less packaging garbage than a typical US household.  The volume for the city is staggering.  They don't use the type of garbage truck you see in the US that packs the garbage in with hydraulic ram pressure.  They use an open truck with a bed that is twice as long as a dump truck, and has sides about 9 feet tall.  They stack the bags in from front to rear.  Nothing is mechanized.  The condo complex has a wheeled cart that three men use to take garbage bags from the dumpster to the truck, which stops just outside the front gate every morning.  The size of the piles of garbage bags waiting for pickup on city streets is monumental.  The many stray, skeletal dogs and cats, make a mess of any bags left out overnight.

Well, it seems that the condo management means something different than I thought they did by "don't put up a clothesline." I thought they meant that you could not put up anything permanent, but I just got told I could not have the rack on rollers, that we use to hang clothes from to dry, on the balcony.  I have brought it inside, and now have a fan blowing on the semi-damp clothes. I guess they are "strict constructionists."

Friday, September 3, 2010

Here We Go Again

Well, I've been at the doctor's office a lot this week.  First my cold led to a cough that wouldn't let anyone sleep, so I went in for medicine for that, then my blood pressure doesn't seem to be under control any more, so I went in for that, then I started having trouble emptying my bladder again, so I went in for that.  The urologist thinks my prostate is swollen and that is cutting off the flow, so I'm on meds for that, and they worked, so we avoided the trip to the ER and getting cathed again.  The urologist thinks I need a new biopsy to make sure the "nodule" the St. Luke's ultrasound found is not cancer, so I'm going in for blood tests in the morning and will be working with the internal medicine doc to get my BP down so I am safe for the procedure.  It doesn't make sense for my BP to have gone up when I was exercising and doing everything I'm supposed to, but it is definitely too high, given my single kidney.  Grace has been a big help getting through all this.  Also, there is a good clinic close to the apartment, so it is easier to get to the doctor.  Average cost for a doctor's visit is $11, including specialists.  That's paying full price, with no insurance.  Prescriptions have been more expensive, about $90 so far.  Labs were about $100.

Jackie and Joan got the last of their stuff today and we rearranged furniture.  Jackie helped Grace clean while they were moving things around.  Things are not as crowded now, and it should be easier to clean.

Grace made fried eggplant and BBQ chicken today.  Both were excellent.