Friday, April 28, 2006

boat boys

I have something of a sniffle and have been sneezing rather a lot. I hence need somebody to refer to me as “petal”. As this has not happened, I’ll merely post a series of photos taken as BoSW, E, B, K, D and I left Sabang last Saturday. Local boys climb all over the big outriggers before they set sail. The kids ask passengers to throw coins in the water, which they dive in and collect. Their ability to find the coins is impressive. It doesn’t really seem like begging – they don’t seem too fussed if you don’t throw money – they just keep mucking around, doing backflips off the boat.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

power and your snivelling demise, all for 50 pesos

Last Friday, Brother of Secret Wombat, E, B, D and I began the evening with a couple of quick cocktails at the Point Bar in Sabang (2 for the price of 1 from 5.30pm – 6.30pm).

We then caught a Jeepney to White Beach...

…where a concert was taking place.

We drank some Mindoro Slings…

…and were EXTREMELY fortunate to be presented with an opportunity to buy one of these.

“A sex toy!” you say, disapprovingly, like the joyless prude you are.

“No!” I say, “Get your filthy Freudian mind out of the gutter. It’s a…

“Hmmm,” you say, taken aback and more than a little embarrassed, three colours in one! You continue, with increasing dismay: “But…what…how…what does it do? FOR GOD’S SAKE, MAN – PLEASE TELL ME!!!”

“Calm down,” I say, perhaps a little smugly. It does…THIS!

“Oooooh!” you say, swooning. In fact, you are unable to do anything but swoon.

“But wait,” I say, “there’s more!”

“MORE????” you yell, in a hysterical, cracking voice.

“Oh, yes. Were you not an intellectually barren cretin, you might have deduced given the subtle hints that lie deep within this object's name that it … FLASHES!”

You are now speechless – a helpless, quivering wreck. After several long minutes you fart out the few words of which you are capable: “It…it’s…such…a…a…” I cut you off, ANGRY at your weakness.

“Yes,” I say, quietly now, more to myself than the shameful, disgusting, undignified, pathetic mess blubbering at my feet. “You’re right. It is. It certainly is.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

the tragic death of two pairs of underpants

*** Scatological content warning!! ***

Had an amusing conversation with German M a couple of weeks back about the literal nature of many German words. I’m already enamoured with the German language’s tendency to package complex concepts into single words (e.g., weltschmerz, schadenfreude).

Some examples (English word + English translation of German word – don’t expect the actual German word, I’m not that thorough):
Television = “far seer” (which I think is the same as the Greek [tele] and Latin [vision] parts of the English word)
Airplane = “flying thing” (you can’t deny it’s accurate)
Refrigerator = “cold cupboard”
Vacuum cleaner = “dust sucker”
Diarrhea = “flow-through” (also interesting in Cebuano)

"TELL US MORE ABOUT THE LAST ITEM IN THAT MODERATELY AMUSING LIST!! PLEASE!!!" I hear you scream in a desperate, ear-shattering, soul-piercing falsetto. Well it's funny you ask! As it turns out, I have myself experienced some flow-through over the last few days.

While Brother of Secret Wombat, E, B, K, D and I were in Sabang, I must’ve eaten something that the others didn’t. I was sort of glad it wasn’t one of them, being here on holiday and all, but the occurrence did batter the well-travelled, iron-constitution, pragmatically competent reputation that I'd like to believe I have but probably don't. I haven’t felt ill, I’ve just been visiting the comfort room (as it’s known in the Philippines – CR for short) rather frequently.

Not, however, quite frequently enough.

Yes, in the small hours of Sunday morning, I awoke TWICE with something that rhymes with a start to find that my undies needed to be thoroughly washed or thrown out (I chose the latter – they were skanky undies). It was lucky I was wearing undies at all; I usually don’t (please don’t pretend you didn’t want to know that … or any of this, for that matter) – it was only because M, E, B and K were in the bedrooms, and D & I were therefore on the floor in the loungeroom, that I adopted some degree of modesty.

There was absolutely nothing I could have done about it. Each time, I sighed, showered, and placed undies in a plastic bag which was tightly tied and thrown into the apartment block's rubbish collection. I haven’t had such misfortune since I don’t know when. Even the makeshift nappy of tissues that I fashioned after the first incident failed to provide enough protection to save my poor boxers. D would probably confirm that it wasn’t the sexiest night we’ve had in our 2.5 years. It's sad but true: even my EXTREME NATURAL SEXINESS* wilts in the face of uncontrollable flow-through.

*Not an independently verified trait.

Monday, April 24, 2006

leopard-skin ladyboy (part 2)

As promised, here’s the next installment of Brother of Secret Wombat’s adventures under the caressing hands of a ladyboy hair stylist. The pictures tell the story: success, by any definition of the word! The main thing worth noting was that the new look appeared to make BoSW irresistible to ladyboys-of-the-night (of which Sabang has an embarrassment of riches). Indeed, while one such bakla, as they’re known in the Philippines, was so enamored with our protagonist that she followed BoSW (and E, his better half) 100 metres up a hill to their room, offering “massages” and the like. AND, to cap it all, at one point went the full frontal grope. Only strong discipline and a hastily locked door saved BoSW from what I can only describe as an uncertain fate.

Getting there...


Friday, April 21, 2006

leopard-skin ladyboy (part 1)

A quick update from sunny Sabang, where D and SW just left Brother of Secret Wombat (BoSW) in the (hopefully) capable hands of one of the local ladyboys, after deciding, on a whim, that he'd like to have his hair coloured in a leopard-skin fashion (a bargain at 800 pesos -- about A$20). BoSW's better half, E, seemed accepting of the plan, knowing that this is the sort of KRAZY thing that BoSW does from time to time. I guess it was one of those holiday ideas that seems so damn good at the time. The event will be pictorially documented. More to come...

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Groucho Marx masks and toy helicopters

On every busy road in the Philippines, especially at bottlenecks where traffic often stands still, you’ll find men, women and children running amongst the cars, jeepneys, buses and trikes selling any number of things. Some of these are obvious and often welcome – newspapers, water, cigarettes. There are snacks such as fruits, hardboiled quail eggs (with a little bag of salt to sprinkle on them), bags of chicharon (deep-fried pork crackling; oh-so-nutritious), small buko (young coconut) pies. Others are less obvious but could be useful at times – hand towels, rags. And others are just unlikely and odd – like Groucho Marx masks and toy helicopters.

Here are some bad photos of guys selling stuff on Sunday, on the way back from Tagaytay:

And here is a shot of a sign that is supposed to advertise a brand of processed foods (e.g., hot dog sausages) named Purefoods. In theory. I mentioned in a loose tongue, or: he couldn’t keep his mouth shut that many Filipinos get their Bs and Vs mixed up. The same goes for Fs and Ps. Damn!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

eat, drink and be nannied

D’s birthday (27th) yesterday and she, the Belgians (J and I) and I drove to Tagaytay (pronounced ta-guy-tie), a town on the rim of the old volcanic crater that rings Lake Taal (in which resides Taal Volcano – i.e., as the Philippine Tourism ad says, a volcano within a lake within a volcano). We ate at Antonio’s, an extraordinarily nice restaurant in an old homestead there, full of cooling breezes and sun-dappled gardens. I had a garden salad with panfried chilli and garlic scallops followed by a cream of cauliflower soup followed by Chilean sea bass (I know I should check whether seafood I eat is overfished...) on truffle mashed spuds followed by a chocolate soufflé. Here are a couple of photos (not of the food, I forgot to capture that):

Note in this second one the woman in navy blue attire (looks black in this...hard to see, I apologise), standing, to the extreme left. She was evidently a nanny (ya-ya in the local lingo) working for the family seated at the table next to her. The family had three young kids and, consequently, three ya-yas. One for each. Of course. And all wearing the same navy-blue uniform.

At a guess, the ya-yas would get around A$100 per month. Child-rearing is therefore a breeze for wealthy Filipinos. No changing nappies, no running around gathering up wayward toddlers, no fights to feed the kiddies food they don’t want to eat…you can have someone else do all that. While I see the attraction, I can’t quite come around to the idea. Many of my be-childrened friends have a single ya-ya to look after the kids while mum and dad are at work. I can handle that idea fine, and would likely do the same if I had kids and lived here. But the idea of a fulltime nanny for each child, as practiced by the truly wealthy here, sticks in my craw somewhat. You hear stories about distant relationships between kids and parents and it’s hard not to think that never actually doing much of the parenting stuff – no matter how mundane – must play a part in this.

After lunch, we took fruit shakes (in the way that the English take tea; “took fruit shakes” raises a staunchly dignified image, no?) at Café Lupa, right on the Taal rim. Lurvely...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


What, with it being Easter and all, the rest of this week is a holiday. On Sunday and Monday, SW's bro' plus several friends (B, E and K) arrive in big silver birds and we go sit on a beach somewhere and sip mango daiquiris for most of next week. SW may or may not get around to posting things on this here blog.

I love youse all.

the end-user is nigh

Dear end-user,

Secret Wombat would like to thank you for reading this blog. Secret Wombat is committed to providing quality-assured, value-added, text-based reading material…

I actually had in my possession, a few weeks ago, a brochure that I wish I’d kept so that I could scan it and post it here. It was flogging apartments in some Manila high-rise development, and it actually began “Dear end-user…”

There are no people any more. Even “Dear potential resident” would be better than “Dear end-user”. “Dear moneyed-up sucker” would be better still.

Dear end-user…

How can anyone think it’s actually OK to write that? How can anyone who manages someone who writes that look at the draft and say, “Great job, print 100,000!”?

I want to see letters from coffin retailers that describe their potential customers as end-users.

My Dear end-user brochure officially marked the beginning of the end.

If you don’t know why it’s the beginning of the end, there is nothing that can be done for you. Exit this blog now, please.

Friday, April 07, 2006

I WAS on TV!

STOP THE PRESSES! (Heidelburg, of course.) I never saw it, but beach soccer captain K informs me that our team -- including secret wombat -- was shown booting the ball around on Solar Sports cable TV channel last night. K is trying to get hold of a copy.


Thursday, April 06, 2006

can I kick it? well ... sort of

Despite being unathletic, tall and, at times, clumsy, I am not the worst sportsperson on earth. My hand-eye coordination is reasonable and I can do things like throw/hit/catch with some sort of proficiency. HOWEVER – in NO WAY should I ever be an ambassador for any sort of sporting activity. Yet, it seems that I may feature on Philippine cable television in what must surely be a doomed attempt to market the sport of beach soccer.

Last Sunday, with a team comprising people from work plus friends, I played in the Kicksand Legenda Beach Football Tournament at everybody’s favourite symphony of industry and nature. D, K (PhD student at work and team captain), I (workmate and team member) arrived mid-afternoon on Saturday and, after finding accommodation, set about rigorously preparing for the following day’s competition:

It was a fun day (except for J, the team’s Swede, who rooted his knee quite badly), despite the sand getting bloody hot and shredding not only socks but also feet. The blister at left belongs to K, our captain, who grew up playing barefoot in Ghana on jagged rocks and was consequently and understandably dismayed to find he was the only player who had to pull out due to blisters – and the photo shows his foot after only one game; we played 8 for the day. Below are two teams who look NOWHERE NEAR as professional as we did in our rip-off Chelsea uniforms.

The event was filmed and apparently televised (I haven’t seen it yet) on Solar Sports, a local cable channel. Apparently our side’s “international” flavour was attractive. We were reasonably international, with Ghana, Sweden, Iran, Turkey, Philippines, France, Netherlands and Oz being represented. And we did OK – 3 wins and 3 losses after the elimination round (matches were only 15 minutes each), and then an upset win over the until-then undefeated favourites. We lost the final 2-1 and each received a lovely runners-up medal, which I will wear at all possible occasions.

“Oh, this old thing? It’s nothing, really – how embarrassing that you even noticed! Did I score any goals? Well, now that you ask…” You know.

Solar Sports is sponsoring another tournament that they’ll televise just before the World Cup in June as part of a campaign to in crease Filipinos’ knowledge and enthusiasm for soccer. AND they invited us to participate. Unfortunately I’ll be unavailable on the planned date; I’m sure that Real Madrid and Liverpool will have scouts watching.

Most sports marketing seems to be aimed at showing highly skilled individuals performing amazing physical feats and thus inspiring us ordinary folk to try and emulate them. While I speak only for myself here (some of my teammates are pretty good), Solar Sport’s strategy seems more along the lines of: “If this guy can do it, think how much better you’ll be.”

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Manila, by Carlos

Two Sundays ago, D and I took a Carlos Celdran tour of Manila’s Chinatown area and surrounds. Carlos describes the tour thus:

Rediscover Chinatown! Let's take a Saturday afternoon stroll and together we'll rediscover the charms of one of Manila's oldest districts. We'll ride a horse drawn coach and check out much of its remaining 19th century architecture. The tour will be capped by a visit to a Buddhist temple and a traditional chinese pastry shop.

This is Carlos, showing a picture of the door behind him in better times. (I can’t recall the significance of the door; I am a bad student.)

It was very entertaining and interesting. It included a visit to one of the 19th-century buildings that now houses 10 families:

It felt a little intrusive to barge into the place, but, as Carlos had pre-arranged it all, nobody seemed to mind. The living quarters are small. This photo of a kitchen (this is the entire kitchen -- use the blue jug for a sense of scale...note: jug is not a wacky novelty giant jug) gives an idea of the scale of things:

Rent is 2000 pesos (approx A$50) per month. Although, by Australian standards, it was cramped and poor inside, it was – as Carlos pointed out – immaculately clean and “smelled more of old soap than old socks.” A couple more shots of the inside:

Carlos donates food and contraceptives to the local community, which is pretty poor. Seeing naked street-babies, completely alone (though family probably not far away) sleeping on cardboard boxes on the footpath is always disconcerting:

It makes me feel sort of guilty, grateful, inadequate, sad, frustrated and angry all at once, though the strong feelings are probably too fleeting – more thoughts on Western middle class angst in the Smokey Mountain post. I certainly felt like I should be doing more obviously helpful things than what I actually do (which, in theory, couldultimately help people, but it’s impossible to ever really know). One problem with high-workload professional jobs is that one often gets so bogged down in just trying to get things done and meet deadlines that little energy is left for anything else. Just doing the job overrides any sense of whether it is worthwhile, or how one should go about making it so. Bertrand Russell really was right.

Sorry -- this wasn’t supposed to turn into an self-indulgent existentialist rant. To finish: if you go to Manila, a Carlos Celdran tour is well worthwhile.

Monday, April 03, 2006

keeping an open mind

“Hey, dude, how many of those bumper stickers did you print?”

“10,000. Why?”

“I think there’s something not quite right about them.”

“What do you mean?”

“Hmmm. I dunno. Whatever. Anyway, they look real good!”