Thursday, March 30, 2006

uninspirational quotes

Secret Wombat likes to think that he's not the sort to force trite "inspirational quotes" down anyone's throat. But I saw the below today and decided I liked it. Then I realised that, as it's really a bit depressing and not all that inspirational, it would be acceptable to post it. It's purportedly from Albert Einstein, but I can't be arsed checking that. Anyway, who said it isn't all that relevant.

All of us who are concerned for peace and triumph of reason and justice must be keenly aware how small an influence reason and honest good will exert upon events in the political field.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

saved by a purple yam, or: SMS FIRE for ... fire

This bakery, Eng Bee Tin, is in Manila’s Chinatown area. When Eng Bee Tin, which specialises in hopia –Filipino pastries filled with sweet bean paste, sometimes flavored – was on the verge of going bankrupt, the owner, Gerry Chua, made a last-ditch attempt at salvage*. He started making purple yam (ube; pronounced “OO-bay”) hopia. They took off and Eng Bee Tin is now one of the most popular bakeries in the city.
* “salvage”, in Philippine English, can mean to kill someone and dispose of the body. The above is non-Philippine usage. Just in case you were wondering.

In a gesture of gratitude, Chua has donated four fire trucks to the local community. Four bright purple fire trucks. The true purpleness of the trucks isn’t obvious form this shot, but you get the idea:

And how to notify the fire department in case of a fire?

Phoning is for losers.

SMSing is huge (and cheap -- 1 peso, around A$0.03, per SMS) here. People SMS at any time of the day or night in any situation (movies, work meetings, lovemaking...). Meetings, appointments, restaurant and accommodation bookings -0 all can be set up using SMS alone. One of my workmates received the results of some medical tests by SMS.

And, yes, I was responsible for the amateurish blurring of the SMS number. Who knows what hijinks the thousands, nay, millions of readers of this blog might get up to if ... in the wrong hands ... the consequences ... horrible, horrible ... it just doesn't bear thinking about.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

hating starbucks - an addendum

Sorry to harp, but I googled "hate starbucks" (including the quote marks, so Google searches for the words together in that order) and got more than 33,000 results. Adding an "I" to the front yielded more than 22,000 results. Contrastingly (and depressingly), "I love starbucks" gave 101,000 results. It makes you wonder how much longer independent places can survive (the second essay below touches on why it's important that independent places do survive). I found two essays that I thought were worth posting here:
  1. Why do I, personally, hate Starbucks (this came from, which returned the first Google result)
  2. Why do people hate Starbucks? -- a considered piece from a bloke named Garrison Frost.

if you build it, I will come

It's coming! If the owners think they're excited, they ain't seen NOTHIN'. I am SO MUCH MORE than excited to learn (to learnt?) that AUSSIE BASED FAST FOODS will soon be available a mere 5 minutes walk from my apartment. No more pining for that taste of AUSSIE! The BIG OZ FAST FOODS can and will be nothing less than a LIFE-ALTERING establishment.

Rest assured that, as soon as The BIG OZ FAST FOODS does open, Secret Wombat will elbow the elderly, the very young and the infirm out of the way to be first in line for a little taste of heaven. And, needless to say, SW will report back here the very next day to 1) review the experience, and 2) explain what on earth AUSSIE BASED FAST FOODS are.

Monday, March 27, 2006

are you being served?

I am reasonably certain that most readers of this site like to imagine that I have a team of minions that service my every need. For one thing, that would give me more time to parade around in a cape, prodding at things with my elegant cane, squinting inquisitively through my monocle, and raising my chin all aloof-like at passers-by. Believe it or not, though, you’d be wrong! However, I do confess that – thanks to G, who cleans my apartment – I haven’t washed clothes or cleaned the bathroom for nigh on 2 years now. But I still dress myself, occasionally cook (when I don’t go down the street), brush my own teeth, and even shop.

“Shopping??” I hear you ask. “Please sir – tell us more!” Why, certainly – I am humbled by your interest.

One of the first things I noticed about shopping in the Philippines was that shops – especially large-scale shops like supermarkets and department stores – have WAY more staff than you’d expect in Australia (and, I’d guess, the rest of the developed world). I have to admit that I’ve not researched this, but one key reason is that labor here is much, much cheaper than back home. Minimum hourly wage (and the wage most supermarket shelf-stackers would receive) is around 25 pesos (A$0.69).

An aside -- I'm not sure what the current minimum wage is for Australian retail staff, but, at a guess, it's more than 10 times the Philippine equivalent. The cost of living here is considerably cheaper than it is in Oz, but there's NO WAY that it's one tenth -- especially if you want to have even a very basic level of material comfort that most Australians take for granted. (SEE -- there's a lesson in every Seccret Wombat post! And it comes at NO EXTRA COST to YOU.)

You’d think that more staff would mean better service, but they’re often assigned strangely. It’s common to experience long queues at the checkouts, but only half the checkouts open, while 16 guys mop 2 square meters of floor. (And, by the way, I’ve never seen a guy on checkout duty – it’s always guys on the shelves, girls on the checkouts). There’s always s guy (and it is always a guy) to pack your shopping into bags for you, too. Sometimes the security guard does this. Security guards also always know that loo paper is in aisle 5, left side, and that tinned sardines are in aisle 2, right side. All that, and they carry a gun.

Another aside – don’t try to sneak through the “10 items or less” (which, as we all know, should be “10 items or fewer”) lane with more than those 10 items. Ex-housemate J once tried to get through with 12 items. There was nobody else in the line and every other open checkout was crowded with people pushing large trolleys full of Avogadro’s number of 15ml shampoo sachets.* Sure enough, she was refused service at the express lane and asked to take her place among the masses. It’s funny, too, how some rules are kept so vigilantly while others are abjectly ignored. Spend 5 minutes on the street and you’ll see every traffic rule known to humanity broken in one way or another.

*Sachet marketing – selling stuff in small, single-use packages – is huge here. People often can’t afford to buy in moderate levels of bulk (e.g. a shampoo bottle). It’s also done with products like prepaid mobile phone credit. You can buy packets of as little as 15 pesos (A$0.42) of credit. Another interesting article on the phenomenon here.

So, to continue the Secret Wombat tradition of EVIDENCE-BASED blogging, I'll end with a photo of the staff that served D and I when I went shopping for all the household items that followed J to her new apartment. Everybody at the counter except the woman at the far left is serving us and us alone. Eight staff in total. And that doesn't include the 3 others who I sent to fetch my cape, monocle and cane.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

not going to heaven

Interesting conversation last night at the bar adjacent to the bar with the overbearing waiter (we needed a break from the attention). Was chatting to a friend from work, P, and she brought up – I can’t remember why – the subject of christening and baptising. I mentioned that many people back in Oz are not very religious and don’t get baptized or christened, and that I hadn’t been. I can’t remember the exact lead-up to the next part of the conversation, but it went like this:

P: But you believe in God, don’t you?

Me: No.

I should point out here that I tend to avoid mentioning my (un)religious status here unless it’s very much in context/relevant to any given discussion. Atheism in the Philippines can often be misconstrued as semi-evil and even, D tells me, as satanist.

Anyway – P expressed disbelief and then what seemed a genuine, deep sadness. At one point I thought her eyes were tearing up. We had a good chat about our two views. I gave my spiel on how it’s not a passionless, cold way to think etc, and that I get a genuine sense of awe at the unlikeliness, the random improbability of existence when seen from my viewpoint of life/existence having no intrinsic purpose/point. I’m not sure that P was the slightest bit convinced of my position. She didn’t think I was evil, at least (though she did said I should get baptized when I’m old or I won’t go to heaven).

It was very interesting and I was impressed by her depth of feeling about my tragic choice. Plus, it goes without saying that it's much better that someone is simply sad, rather than violent, when they don't understand another's religious views.

Can't think of any attempted wit to finish on, damn it. Good day.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

why i hate starbucks (even though i sheepishly confess to having purchased their coffee occasionally)

Yes yes, we've all read Naomi Klein's No Logo in which she describes how Starbucks saturates markets (note that there are often 2 or more stores within close proximity) and is happy to make a loss on individual stores as long they squeeze out competitors and their overall profit goes up in the slightly longer term. What really shits me just now though is their rank hypocrisy on environmental matters.

Starbucks is huge in the upscale areas of manila. Non-instant coffee culture is relatively new here and it began with the big chains -- starbucks, seattle's best etc - and they dominate the market here bigtime. So, when in Manila, one sees many Starbucks (and i have to confess that, occasionally, i've bought their damn coffee -- I won't try and justify it, though will say it's usually a matter of choosing between one of a number of chains or nothing at all, and I needed the damn coffee).

Anyway - the environmental stuff. I have no idea how many disposable items -- cups, stirrers, sugar packets, bags, plastic sandwich containers, napkins and so on and on and on -- any one store goes through each day, but it'd be a pretty phenomenal amount. Multiply that by the number of stores's obscene. I couldn't find the global number of stores, but as of 1 week ago, there were more than 7,500 in the US alone. AND THE FUCKERS HAVE THE GALL TO CLAIM THEY ARE "committed to contributing positively to the environment." (There's that classic weasel word, "committed" -- anyone can say they're commited to a cause; it doesn't mean they're actually doing anything about it.)

A couple of paragraphs from the Starbucks "Environmental Affairs" web page:

Starbucks is committed to minimizing our environmental impacts throughout our entire supply chain, from coffee bean to coffee cup. It’s one of our guiding principles and it’s part of the way we conduct business. Starbucks approach to minimizing our environmental footprint is guided by our environmental mission statement, which was adopted in 1992.

From Bean to Cup Starbucks environmental efforts are visible throughout our supply chain, from working with farmers to preserving the natural environment in places where coffee is grown to recycling coffee grounds into nutrient-rich soil amendment.

They're also

"...committed to increasing the amount of recycling in all our company-operated stores..."

And they as good as admit that they're not REALLY doing all that much...sure we'd like to, but it's out of our hands! Oh well!

"...but it comes with certain challenges. For one, we don’t oversee waste management in all of our company-operated stores and must rely on our various landlords to place a high priority on recycling, as well as track their efforts. In addition, some of our stores are located in communities where commercial recycling facilities are not available. Nevertheless, we strive to increase the number of company-operated stores that participate in a recycling program."

How well are they actually doing?

"We report our performance in this area as the number of company-operated stores where waste management is controlled by Starbucks, and that have recycling programs. In 2003, Starbucks managed the waste and recycling at 1,544 of our stores, of which 61% have a recycling program."

I think that means that 61% of 1,544 (942) stores where waste management is controlled by Starbucks have recycling projects -- which raises at least 2 questions:

  1. What about the other 602 stores -- why don't they have recycling projects?
  2. What about the thousands of stores where waste management is not controlled by Starbucks?

Here's an idea if they want to minimize their bloody environmental footprint: stop serving EVERYTHING in disposable containers, regardless of whether the customer is dining in or taking away. In this context, the PR fluff on the Starbucks website is truly sickening. But as long as they can market the recycled nature of their cardboard coffee-cup holders (and who can drink coffee without them??), their environmental credentials must be pretty damn sound.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

the Heidelberg uncertainty principle

This is a photo of a Heidelberg printing machine (a pretty old one). They’re good, apparently.

Today, three of my workmates and I visited a couple of local printers. In my current job, I edit a magazine. I never trained as an editor of publications: almost all I know has been learned on the job. One consequence of this is that I have no idea about some of the publishing/editing jargon and associated technical knowledge. Some I’ve picked up, but I remain clueless about much of it. For instance, I know nothing about industrial printing machines.

And I squirm when I have the following sort of conversation – this one with one of the workmates, who does, it seems, know about printing machines:

Workmate (looking at me, expectantly): Heidelberg is the Mercedes of printing presses!

Me (knowingly): Mmm. Uh huh. (nods head)

My accompanying thoughts: “Quality German engineering….gooooooooood. Why am I saying ‘mmm’ in a way that implies I know deeply that Heidelberg printing machines are unsurpassed in their precision, reliability and overall quality? Why am I nodding my head in an agreeable and assured manner?”

I also never formally studied editing. I probably know when to use the past perfect tense, but I’d have to look it up if you wanted me to define it. My ignorance in this field led to this conversation with the somewhat grammar-obsessed scientific editor who works two offices away from me (and spends his lunch walking laps around the lawn outside our building, proofing papers…I think he probably edits non-work stuff for kicks on the weekends):

Scientific editor (walking into my office): “What do you think of dangling modifiers?”

Me (looking what I hoped might be appropriately amused): “Ha! Well – you know!” (Please don’t ask me what a dangling modifier is. Please.)

Scientific editor: (sniggering, shaking head): “well, this one’s a doozy!”

He proceeded to tell me about said doozy (we shared a laugh over that, he and I!) and saved me the ignominy of trying to say something that proved I knew what it was. It did turn out that I knew one should avoid dangling modifiers, even if I didn’t know how to define one. At least I didn’t answer: “I LOVE dangling modifiers! Use them all the time! Can't catch a fish without one!”

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

ballroom dancing...

...was a Paul McCartney song that somehow never quite reached the same heights as his Beatles heyday, despite Linda's creative genius on the tambourine. Yes, that's a cheap and easy shot, but I never said I was above Linda McCartney jokes and, like the song said, ballroom dancing made a man of me -- as can be seen in the following shots of me BURNING UP THE FLOOR at the Australia New Zealand Association Charity Ball (this expat livin' gets you to events you'd never have imagined yourself at). Manila, lock up your daughters. Also note the dapper Barong Tagolog I'm wearing, best seen in the last pic, where i look pret-ty pleased with myself, thankyou very much. And who wouldn't, if they'd just transcended dance like that? FOR YOUR INFORMATION: the guy to my right in the last pic is my bodyguard, asking the PAPARAZZI to cease and desist their INTRUSIVE photography of me.

PS - capitals and underlines ROCK.

*Credit to J for the photos.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

churches and shopping malls

** WARNING: the following is an attempt to be considered**

The below outlines a theme I'll try to revisit occasionally.

Note: “Western society/culture/whatever” below refers to the society/culture/whatever of my home in suburban/urban Australia. I can probably assume it has strongish parallels with other Western countries. It also certainly has parallels with some aspects of Asian society, to varying degrees depending on which Asian country and where within the country one happens to look. I can’t speak for Africa, the Middle East, or South America, as I’ve never visited them. (And, for that matter, I’ve only been to half a dozen Asian countries and only lived in two of them.) I should also point out that I don’t hate Western culture – I’m a product of it and I very much like parts of it. I’m simply better qualified to criticize it than any other. Lastly, this will be poorly formulated, poorly edited, very subjective, and self-indulgent. If it stimualtes debate, all the better (if nothing else, that means someone read it).

OK, that’s the qualifications out of the way. I could add a hundred more, but that would be boring and annoying. For the sake of brevity, I’ll refer to Western society/culture/whatever as WC. That may or may not be an appropriate initialization.

One of the things I very much dislike about WC is extreme – often bordering on grotesque – materialism/consumerism. Somehow or other (I haven’t formulated this in any way; that’s what the attempt to write it down is for), this ties in with the sense I have that WC no longer has a strong sense of community (assuming it did before the Coming of the Secret Wombat, a little over 3 decades ago). How to define community? Simplistically, I’m talking about links and integration between members and groups in a society – and in this case I mean a physical society, not an online one. One reason for this seems to be the lack of physical focal points, where people can meet and talk, whether by accident or design. Once upon a time it was probably the village square. An example of physical focal point (for those of you who’ve been there) is the Adelaide Central Market. The main reason people go there is to buy food, but it’s a very social place and has a happy buzz to it. This is one of the few places I know that really embodies that sense of community that’s too often lacking.

It occurred to me the other day that the connections that make up community don’t necessarily have to be deep. Say there’s a cheese seller at the market who I chat with on Saturday mornings when I buy my cheese. We crap on a bit about our past week or which cheese to buy – whatever. This is an integral part of community. I seem to feel that if I get on well with someone, at some point I should try to take it to the next level – move the relationship outside of its original boundaries into a more personal friendship. That may happen naturally, of course, but it doesn’t need to happen. A healthy community needs connections at all levels, from profound and intimate through to discussing the cricket.

That turned into a bit of an aside.

My question is: how do we regain the focal points that foster a strong sense of community? (Assuming I’m right that that’s what’s needed – of course, you need more than just the right physical infrastructure, so to speak.) WC makes it very easy to be insular and barricade oneself up with 24-hour passive entertainment. One very obvious – but in many ways diminishing – focal point is the church. As in the local church, not the generic term for a general or particular religion. It provides a meeting point, activities, and facilities. But, in WC, fewer and fewer people are going to church and it’s losing its role as a community focal point. (The rise of the big Hillsong-style evangelicals may counter this to some degree; that’s for another discussion.)

I’m not religious and have never attended church apart from wedding or funeral ceremonies. I’m not dismayed at the decline of the church in the sense that I am more comfortable with a secular than a religious society. The problem is we need something to stand in the place of churches to provide the focal point. Or maybe we don’t need the right sort of physical space as much as we need attitudinal and behavioural change. Certainly, we need both. And, presumably, each influences the other.

Looking at the physical side of the equation. The market is an example. I can think of a few streets that get close. Shopping malls are nowhere near; they exist only to perpetuate the crass materialism that I think we need to eschew.

That’s it for now. Hopefully (for me if not anyone who happens to read this), I’ll get back onto this sometime soon.

Monday, March 13, 2006

the barong way

Too tired for more than the following…

I went to the Australia New Zealand Association charity ball on Saturday night. Given work just now (the magazine deadline is Wednesday) and my consequent overworked, tired state (not said to be a martyr – I’m well aware that I often shit in my own time-management bed), I mixed only with those I knew well and/or required no conversational effort. The main point is that I wore my Barong Tagalog – a traditional Filipino formal shirt made from pineapple fibre. I bought mine for around AUD$70 from a town near home that’s known for its barongs. I’m sure I looked very dapper. Photo later. Maybe.

Friday, March 10, 2006


I just discovered this word and I love it. I intend to drop it into converstations, no matter how pretentious people think I sound.

weltschmerz (VELT-shmerts) noun

World weariness; pessimism, apathy, or sadness felt at the difference between physical reality and the ideal state.

[From German Weltschmerz, from Welt (world) + Schmerz (pain).]

It makes me want to move to Germany.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


Some crude email statistics from Monday – Thursday this week (which has been pretty typical)...

No. of emails received per day
Monday 64
Tuesday 69
Wednesday 57
Thursday 56
Total: 246
Average per day: 61.5

Now, some points about the above, qualified by stating that 1) BY NO MEANS am I the most email-harassed person on earth, and 2) I acknowledge that some of these I generated myself by sending an email, either as a reply or as a first move.

I have no idea how long I spend, on average, on each email. Some I open, scan, and delete. Some I read more carefully then delete or file. Some I read then follow a link to a website. Some I respond to with a brief reply. Some require follow-up work. Some are from friends, sending me news of escapades and hijinks in yonder lands (these I receive with a tender smile and respond to munificently). Some are from workmates/superiors asking me to do things that are part of my job. (The time I subsequently spend on the job should not, of course, count towards average time per email). Even taking into account that many emails are quickly ditched, I’d guess my average per-email time to be at the very least a couple of minutes p(quite possibly more) – around 2 hours per day or 25% of my official work time.

I would (very conservatively) guess that if I never saw half of the emails I receive (probably more like three-quarters), it would make not a jot of difference to my, or anybody else’s, life or work. Not even a half-jot. In this light, I try to only send emails that are genuinely worthwhile. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of sending irrelevant crap, but I’m better than many.

This is partly why I need to work, unconnected, from home if I need to actually write something other than emails (and writing stuff wot ain’t emails is supposed to be the main part of my job).

“But you could just turn off Outlook,” you say. After I tell you to fuck off, I will remind you that clicking on an icon isn’t exactly a difficult hurdle. I don’t have anything popping up or beeping when I receive emails, so it effectively makes no difference whether it’s on or off. And given the ENORMOUS capacity of email as a procrastination device, your suggestion to “just turn Outlook off” is like telling a nicotine addict to “just put the cigarettes in your pocket.”

I am the first to admit that I need to be more efficient with emails but, even so, they can be so completely bloody counterproductive. And this is a technology that’s supposed to improve productivity.


PS - I know the title was a bit of a stretch.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

service you can pay for...or: dude, where's my green papaya salad??

A few months ago, one of my coworkers struck up an unwritten deal with T, one of the waiters at a little bar/café that a few of us frequent (that's a photo of a drink from said bar). Nothing unusual or below board – simply a “you look after me and I’ll look after you” arrangement. It quickly expanded to include the other foreigners who go to this place. Partly, this was the “all foreigners are the same” rule that, for better or worse, is often applied here. Partly it was because the guy who struck the deal insisted that we uphold it.

It amounts to nothing more than T making sure that we always had a table and were well served, and the rest of us making sure that we leave a decent tip. This could be anything from 100 pesos (AUD$2.50) out of a P500 peso bill, up to a few hundred pesos or more for P2000 bill. Around 20%. It doesn’t seem excessive, but the hourly rate for a waiter probably isn’t much more than P50, so a decent tip can easily be a day’s wages.

And is T attentive? You bet your sweet arse he is. From pulling out chairs to clearing room on your table for the food you ordered from a different establishment (the area is a bit of a food court arrangement), T will be there to serve your every need. Try to order so much as a glass of water from one of the other waiters and you’ll be met with stunned silence and the sound of T screeching to a halt as he hip-and-shoulders the other waiter off to the cheap seats.

J (soon-to-be-ex-housemate – she’s leaving…*sob*…two doors down but at least I get to use the tables to put things on now), however, HATES it and now tries to avoid the place. I understand her discomfort (particularly when he fawned over J while apparently ignoring a Filipina friend of ours), but find it mostly amusing albeit rather over the top.

Take tonight. Tonight, T excelled* himself. The waiter from the bar/restaurant next door, from which I’d ordered a meal, delivered said meal. Spotting trouble from a good 15 metres away, T positively dashed over and moved a plate of Thai green papaya salad TWO CENTIMETRES along the tabletop so that my meal had just a wee bit more breathing room. I exaggerate not.


*I'm experimenting with underlining certain, appropriate words. I think it will take this blog to a whole new level.

don't panic

It's now past midnight and I have been in front of a computer FAR too long today. All I want to say is that I received an email today that included the following sentence:
Now it is too late and we can only hope he will accept it as it is!!!!!! Otherwise?????

This pleased me enormously. Given last night's post, the timing could not have been better. And I promise I didn't add any of the exclamation or question marks. The email wasn't sent directly to me -- I was CCd into the reply. I also felt very satisfied to see that said reply included the following two succinct sentences:
  1. Relax.
  2. Don't Panic.
In case anyone cares, "he" did accept it. So plan B -- the ominous Otherwise-followed-by-five-yes-five-question-marks -- was never set in motion.

Monday, March 06, 2006

pointed remarks, followed by a smile

Here is a receipt I ... received (the most appropriate word, certainly) after buying petrol on the way home from Manila on Sunday night. I draw your attention to the circled text:

A friend once recited a quote (I forget by whom and I couldn’t find it on the web) that went something like “Exclamation marks are great. Everybody should use at least one or two in their lifetime.”

That sums up how I feel. However, I have compromised over the last couple of years, and on more than just exclamation marks. Never in my life before the Philippines did I commit to paper or screen a single smiley face. Not one. That has all changed. The Philippines is smiley heaven or hell (depending on where you stand). The most common of my transgressions is the txt-based u-with-umlaut (ü). But I have at times strayed into :) or :-) territory.

All this would fine if every incidence had been oh-so-ironic – but I can’t claim even that. (Though – and it’s a small concession – I have NEVER used the =P style of smiley in non-ironic form).

I argue that without my Filipino exclamation marks and smileys, the potential for misunderstanding is simply too great. Dry humour doesn’t always translate, at least not in written form. More than once I’ve found myself backtracking after sending emails I thought were quite humorous. Example:

Workmate: I met D on Saturday. She’s cool :)

Me: Yeah – pity she has such a loser boyfriend.

Workmate: Oh, that’s so harsh!

Now, read that again with appropriate smiley:

Workmate: I met D on Saturday. She’s cool :)

Me: Yeah – pity she has such a loser boyfriend ;-)

Workmate:Teehee! You have a very sophisiticated dry sense of humour, which is appreciated by many and is quite sexy to some!

See?? Sure, that last line is pure speculation, but, when you think about it, it's one of only 2 or 3 possible responses. Three little cunningly ordered characters and the initial, HORRIBLE mix-up would have been completely avoided.

And given the limitations of txt as a medium of communication … well, I’m sure that – even if it hasn’t been documented – there have been incidents that, due to a lack of a well-placed smiley, have almost caused world wars. And, similarly, wars have been averted because of smileys. There is a rumour that Stanislav Petrov actually based his fateful decision on a smiley. It’s true, I swear.

Unless it is ABSOLUTELY necessary, though, I avoid exclamation marks! Especially multiple ones!!!

Oh, the irony.


Thursday, March 02, 2006


This is Ricky, the guy who makes tapsilog in a little caravan just outside my front gate.

The word "tapsilog" is a contraction of tapa (beef marinated in vinegar, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper, or variations on that theme, then fried in oil), sinangag (fried rice), and itlog (fried egg). Ricky mans his caravan from around 2pm until anytime up to the wee hours of the morning from Sunday - Friday. Saturday is his day off (Saturdays in LB are quiet because his main clientele, University of the Philippines students, often go back to their hometowns). Tapsilog isn't the most earth-shattering dish, but I eat it occasionally and quite like it, especially if I get home from work late and can't be arsed cooking or going further afield (i.e., another 100 metres) to other eating establishments. For the students, I think it's often the equivalent of a late-night drunken kebab/yiros. It's cheap -- Ricky charges 35 pesos, just under AUD$1 -- and I like the tart-sweet oily saltiness, even though they say it's bad for you, hmph.

There are a heap of variations on the -silog theme. You can see some of them on the menu behind Ricky. Tunasilog (obviously) replaces beef with tuna (tinned), hamsilog = ham, longsilog = longganisa (filipino sausage), cornedsilog = corned beef (tinned), hotsilog = hot dog sausage, tosilog = tocino (cured pork), siosilog = (I think) siomai (chinese-style pork dumplings). I don't know what malsilog and shangsilog are. Nor do I know why Ricky advertises longsilog twice, at different prices.

Stop press! I just texted D about malsilog. The "ma" means maling. To quote D's txt, maling is: "cheap Chinese luncheon meat. DO NOT EAT!"

It's late and my judgement may be fatigued -- I'm not sure if this is a completely boring post or not. BUT -- I will press on. For your tapsilog enjoyment, I present two photos of some particularly nice tapsilog eaten with D, M & K at Subic Bay (a symphony of industry and nature north of Manila) in July last year.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

abandonment and adult diapers

One of the emails in work’s public announcements folder yesterday included a photo of some of the staff with a group of elderly women, many of whom were obviously incapacitated. The email subject was “Visit to Bahay ni Maria”.

The text of the email included the following description of what the staff were doing:

“…brought cheer and supplies of adult diapers, toiletries and food to the abandoned grandmothers.”

The last two words piqued my interest. Abandoned grandmothers? Who abandons grannies?? Googling “Bahay ni Maria” turned up quite a few mentions, but no actual Bahay ni Maria site. But I did manage to find out that it’s a “home for the abandoned aged and children.”

The idea of "abandoned aged and children" is desperately sad but, somehow, the “aged” part of the equation makes me feel sadder. Both are tragic and I don’t presume to know how being abandoned as a kid could affect the rest of your life. I guess some abandoned kids go on to happy lives and some don’t, and I have no idea if the latter is more likely due to the abandonment. I also don’t know if, on balance, it’s emotionally worse to be abandoned as a child or as an elderly person (if in fact it’s possible to measure that). But the abandoned granny idea makes me feel wretched. Maybe because I imagine an abandoned kid would be less self-aware, less conscious of the tragedy of being abandoned. I simply can’t fathom how it would feel being 80 years old and waking up to find that the people who were supposed to care for me—probably people I helped bring up—had done a runner.

And to make sure things don’t get all teary, here are two more shots of Filipino modes of transport, from the same night as the jeepney shots.

3 people on a small motorbike. You often see many more than 3.

A tricycle -- the Filipino answer to the tuktuk or auto-rickshaw, or whichever version you choose. Basically just a small motorbike with a covered sidecar chucked on. I've seen at least 8 people in these before. And, remember -- they're the vehicle of choice for the army.