Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Boom Tarat Tarat

I heard that a local composer liked the "Little Drummer Boy" Christmas song and he wanted to compose something similar. He came up with Boom tarat tarat, the sound precisely of a drumbeat.

The popularity of this song comes not only from its catchy lyrics but also from the dance steps that locals seem to know and dance by heart. Grandpa, the teacher or professional, the balikbayan, the little kids, the shy teenager, they all have their way of dancing to this music.

The first step is to pull your forearms in (like when you say "Yes!") and right knee up then tap your right behind with your right hand, then your left hand over your left behind. This follows the line, "boom tarat tarat". The second movement follows "tararat tararat", and the hands wave to the right like a hula dancer. The third movement follows "boom, boom, boom" and the foreams pull in while the pelvis pushes out. A very macho movement!

You can't imagine how many interpretations there are of this dance but each one manages to bring laughter and smiles all around.

Christmas in the Philippines will never be the same without this song played over the airwaves. It's now a classic like the old standby, Ang Pasko ay Sumapit.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas

It's Christmas Eve and I'm just now writing my personal greetings to you. As you know, I'm in the Philippines for the construction of my beach cottages on the island of Panay, just southwest of famous Boracay Beach.

We've been through 2 typhoons and I personally have faced many new challenges. But it's been a great 6 weeks and today, my hairstylist convinced me to sport a new look. It was hard to let go my long hair but now that it's done, my head fills lighter (ha ha). Angel, the hairstylist, assured me I would look younger with a layered do. (How can I doubt him with a name like that?) I'm also slimmer (according to my masseuse) from walking on the beach everyday. Don't know how long I can stay this way because I've been invited to so many lunches and dinners, sooner or later, all that eating spree will surely manifest itself in the most obvious places.

The construction of my fence is halfway finished. There was added work because the property is below the road line so they are earth filling when it's not raining. I'm so looking forward to the construction of my 3 cottages. This will start the first week of January.

Dear friends and family, Christmas will be more meaningful if we remember our less fortunate brothers and sisters.

May you and your family enjoy peace, togetherness and love today and throughout the new year.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

First Honor

My sister and I had shopped for school supplies last August in preparation for my trip to the Philippines. We had planned to give a few schoolchildren at the Conrado Barrios Elementary School what they sorely need and could barely afford to buy. But only 20 children would be so lucky. We would also give them toys.

My nephew at 10 years of age has outgrown toys. He is more interested in computers and his blog. I think he knows more about software than I do because he has uploaded videos to his blog. I had asked him to set aside the toys he no longer plays with so I could give it to the poor children in the Philippines. When I came by to pick up the toys he saved, he gave me a bagful of unopened McDonald’s toys from all the Happy Meals he ate.

We chose the Conrado Barrios Elementary School because this is built on the property my great grandparents donated to the school. And recently we had donated books to its very tiny library which has six chairs, a cracked table and one shelf of books. The children here are from poor families.

Since I had only enough school supplies for 20 children, I thought it best that we award these to the Top 20 first grade schoolchildren. ( There are 120 kids in 3 sections.) So the secretary was sent out to get the brightest and most deserving of these children. They came to the Principal’s office, quiet and expectant. My cousin and I asked them to form a line, in order of their rank in class. It seemed there were too many “first honor” kids but no problem. Their teachers gave them my name and they greeted me in unison. “Good Morning, Miss Charie Albar”.

I called the first honor of Section 1 to come forward and I asked her what her favorite subject was. She said “math”. So I challenged her by asking her how much 2+2 is. She hesitated a kid. Some kid peering through the windows shouted “4 and I know better than you so I should be there”. After talking with a few more kids it became apparent we didn’t have the honor students. The secretary explained that we had instead, the poorest kids in the class. They were thinking of sending them away but I decided to keep these kids as they had already seen the school supplies and toys and I didn’t want to crush their expectations.

One boy I interviewed told me he had 15 siblings. When I asked him what his parents did for a living, he told me they cooked (in the house). Another child had 9 brothers and sisters. What was striking about these kids was their blank faces. I had to ask them to smile for the camera. Some could barely muster a quarter smile. But a child by the name of Bueno cupped his chin with thumb and forefinger and showed me his teeth.

Afterwards we took pictures together. As the children went out the door, other kids hovered and grabbed the toy of one child. She warned him to return it immediately or “I will report you to “Ma’am”.

Other children who had seen the school supplies asked us if we could give them any. They had to be content when they were told we would return in January. I’m returning in January to award the brightest first graders. I’ve ransacked my bags to scrounge enough supplies and toys for these kids. I only found supplies for 10. I told myself that next schoolyear I will find a way to give all first graders the tools they need to succeed in their first year as students.

Monday, December 18, 2006


At the appliance store, the owner’s son and right hand man was telling me he would send the delivery boys to my apartment around noon. He told me not to worry. “They’ll be there, 'Ta”, he said. I nodded and walked out the door where light rain was falling.

I think that was the first time I had heard this word 'Ta. It didn’t fully register in my brain until I was talking to one of the younger contractors who again addressed me as 'Ta. And some days later, the classmate of my assistant came by the apartment and said “Good afternoon, 'Ta”.

In Spanish, we call our aunt, Tia. In the Philippines we say, Tita, a derivation of the Spanish word. It would seem that I have inherited a lot of nephews and nieces because the younger crowd (30 years of age and below) all address me as 'Ta.
But today, everyone calls an older woman, 'Ta as a sign of respect.

I don’t know if I’m pleased that the youth have abbreviated the word Tita to 'Ta. But I do know that I have graduated to a different age group because more and more people are calling me 'Ta.

It will take time for me to get used to this.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Since November we’ve managed with just four borrowed, plastic chairs and one round table. It was really nice to come home and be able to eat our meals properly. I also use the table to talk with contractors and discuss plans for my 3 cottages. Or when friends come over, to sit around and enjoy a round of conversation while munching on “pitchi- pitchi” or junk food as we say in English.

I had my assistant scout around for bamboo furniture for the living room. One day she came home quite excited over having found a sofa at the market for about $30.00. We went to the furniture store where she saw the bamboo settee but by the time we got there, it had already been sold. We browsed the shops for a sofa but none appealed to me.

The apartments next door to mine have beautiful custom made furniture. I took pictures of these with the intention of finding a furniture maker to make one for me. The apartment manager referred us to the person who made their furniture and I saw the man on Wednesday. After browsing through his catalog, I found the loveseat I liked and asked him to make me one just like it. On Friday I went to his shop to check on the progress and I was pleased to see how well it turned out. On Saturday afternoon he delivered the rattan sofa which I had asked him to stain in dark walnut. He did a great job in only three days. I can’t imagine where I would have been able to find this kind of quality workmanship and fast turnaround.

The sofa is now in my living room but I don’t use it much. It is currently where I’ve stacked my Christmas presents. I’m glad it’s full of gifts because I am a little bit hesitant to sit on it and wear it out. I like to keep it new.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Food Vendors

Living on the beach has its advantages. Besides being able to buy fresh fish, there are food peddlers everywhere. Right now I see and hear the ice cream vendor carrying a big box on his back like a backpack. He rings his bell to announce his presence and on Saturdays or Sundays when locals flock to the beach, business is good. But it should be good everyday because temperatures never seem to go below 85°F. Beads of sweat trickle down my face as I sit at the dining table eating lunch.

There are two women I’ve watched walking up and down the beach, covered from head to foot to protect them from the harsh sun. They are selling boiled peanuts in small plastic bags or “ibus” which is sweet rice wrapped in coconut palm leaves. Three “ibus” cost P10. One day my relatives bought two bags of coconut candy for P5 each. I am astounded at how “cheap” these goodies are. I know how far they have to walk to make a sale, I can’t imagine there is any profit in their work.

There’s also a guy who runs around selling something I haven’t discovered yet. He has a speaker that blares out a six note music piece. And he rides up and down the street several times a day announcing his arrival as loudly as possible.

For breakfast we buy “puto”, rice muffin in banana leaf. These are P6 for five pieces. We usually buy 3 bags and this is more than enough. Sometimes we buy the “bibingka” which is wider, the size of a saucer and flat like a pancake. It’s not difficult to know our vendor is outside because he toots his horn until he's certain he has awakened the entire neighborhood. One morning when we failed to wake up and pick up our breakfast food, the vendor left our goodies with the guard. Since then we’ve stop ordering from him, the novelty having worn off.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Fresh Catch

Everyday after lunch, I sit on a plastic stool in the back balcony overlooking the beach. I love looking at the sea, scanning the horizon for ships and wondering where they’re headed. The water is of the greenish brown hue closer to shore and teal blue beyond. It is not the color of the California coastal waters nor of the Mediterranean but the color of the tropics.

The sand is brown and shells dot the shore. Some days there are hundreds of beached jellyfish. Fishermen sail out to sea from just below our balcony. Their sails are made of blue plastic material that can be bought by the meter and sometimes used to cover a car or as a makeshift tent. One “banca” has an orange sail. It’s hard to miss it as it bobs in the sea. Four sailboats are jut now approaching the shoreline. They've come back laden with fresh fish which they put into plastic pails and vend right on the beach. One day we bought a bowlful of fish for P100.00. It was a mixed bag of 2 midsize fishes and the rest were tiny fishes which are delicious when mixed with vinegar and garlic and left to simmer on the stove for a few minutes.

After a short rest, the fishermen in groups of four, carry their bancas back to their shed, far enough away from encroaching waters.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

After the Storm

The sea was far away after the storm. The beach was wiped clean except for the hundreds of thousands of shells littering the sand. There are women and children who pick up these shells and sell them. When these shells are pulverized, they are fed to ducks. This is what makes a delectable duck a l'orange.

Further along the beach we saw the full effect of the typhoon that kept us up all night. Flimsy nipa huts lay on the ground with fallen coconut trees. Someone's steel gate was washed to our beachfront from half a mile away. Restaurant owners were busy cleaning up the debris and repairing the damage wrought by the storm.

It must have been high tide as well because the waters roared past the breakwaters and into the backyard. The apartment workers were busy cleaning the yard and putting back the stone path leading to the beach. And an antique decorative clay jar was sliced in half and carried away by raging waters.

In town all was back to normal. The "cleanest city" has a lot of work to do to make it worthy of its name.

We were lucky to have survived the brunt of typhoon Seniang.

Monday, December 04, 2006


The first time I used the ATM machine here, I was charged by the local bank $9.98. And all I got was P4000.00 ($80.00) and fast cash of P500.00 ($10.00). I tried a couple of times to get 4000 pesos and the machine blinked each time. I panicked thinking that P8000.00 was taken from my account. This is the equivalent of about $160.00. After a week I learned that I only got what I really wanted to withdraw. That is P4000.00. So much for worrying.

So I decided to open an ATM account with a local bank to avoid paying tremendous charges everytime I need money. Well this bank I chose is incredibly busy with people waiting in line for many minutes before getting the chance to withdraw their money. You can't imagine what a punishment this is if you are waiting outside in the sun. And when you gain entry into the small airconditioned room, people behind you want to join you as well. Forget about privacy. The next customer is hanging just behind your shoulders.

But think about getting wads of bills. P4000 should be 4 or 8 bills only, 4 - P1000 bills or 8 - P500 bills. What I got and nearly lost were 40 - P100 bills. The cash dispenser was slightly concealed so while I was searching for it, a warning came on the screen that I could lose all my money in a few seconds. When I finally found the cash, it was tightly packed and difficult to take out all at once. A couple of bills were left as the machine tried to gobble these up into its inner recesses. I pulled hard to get the last 2 - P100 bills, nearly tearing these in half. Then I started to count, and kept on counting. Then I recounted because I was missing one P100 bill. I thought the machine had gained on me and eaten this. It would have been a struggle to go inside the bank and wait again with all the customers there. But the bank, I found out, closes at 3 p.m. And thankfully, I had all my money.

I still dread going to the ATM machine. I never thought the day would come that I would wish money grew on trees.