Saturday, March 31, 2007

Death Railway Thailand, Kanchanaburi

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Posting from Kanchanaburi, Thailand. I was going to leave for Laos, but then agreed to go with Todd to Kanchanaburi, hoping it to be a break from the heat and hysteria of Bangkok. Took the train here on Tuesday afternoon, 60 or so km west of Bangkok, about 3 leisurely hours on an old wooden train (through some cracks in the planks you could see the railings below) all the windows open and 4 ceiling fans interspersed throughout each car. It was actually pleasant with the air flowing openly through the windows, sometimes the airconditioning in public transportation is a little too chilly and I always worry I'll get sick from the sudden temperature changes. The river Kwai runs right through Kanchanaburi and just north of the center is the bridge on the river Kwai. Along the river have cropped up a plethora of bars, some pretty obnoxious bars with hostesses welcoming every passing farang, one bar opened up by some expat called the no name bar reads at the top of the facade: get shitfaced on a budget. Along the same 3 km stretch of road right by the river there's a couple of tattoo parlors, tour groups (real eco toursism one place claims, with a photo of some girl eskimo kissing a beetle) the requisite massage parlours the masseuses mostly unoccupied watching tv from the reclining chairs, and an outfit that makes and repairs dreadlocks--unsure if this last place caters to rastafarian farang or the locals who hang out at the reggae themed bars listening to Arrested Development and drinking whiskey. There are floating disco barges dragged up and down the river and plenty of war memorials, cemetaries, a war wall, a couple hours away by train there's hellfire pass. In the evenings by the river Kwai bridge boys play soccer, there's a small gathering (which seems to be required in every public park and square) a dance aerobics group. We've been staying right on the river a couple nights in cabins on stilts above a lotus garden and last night a hotel on a raft. It's so quite here once the disco barges have docked for the night.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Collosus of Pho

http://www.watpho.com/

Sunday, March 25, 2007



Friday, March 23, 2007





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1) This is also sukothai for sure, note the sign posted in the lower right hand, telling people not to climb the pedestal, signifying this is probably a site frequented by many tourists, therefore I'm certain this is Sukothai, a farang favorite, while I was there saw some hulking shirtless white guy, looking like the gold's gym mascot, pose cross legged in front of a statue possibly this one, making his girlfriend take several pictures till she got it just right, the glint of the high noon sun off his wrinkled stubbly dome, tourists kill the buddha too, if unwittingly.
2) The top of Gold Mount in Bangkok
3) A really really big reclining Buddha, each of his toes seen at the end of the hall bigger than my big fat head. He is reclining because he is tired of sitting cross-legged, his back has been bothering him all week, he lost feeling in his ass who knows when, so he reclines, propping his big golden head on his slender golden fingers, with a bemused smile he thinks I could go back home any old time, pick up some fine young thing and rule the kingdom, but I think I'll stay right here and slum it for a little bit longer.
4) Buddhist monk descending steps of temple at Wat Ratchanaddaram. The dogs I have seen in the streets of Bangkok are either mangy and emaciated or morbidly obese, the latter hanging out by food stalls. All temples have dogs. What do you have to do to become a dog in the next life? I want to sprawl on the ground by a food stall, not move an inch all day, and have food laid down in front of me by passing strangers.
5) Enlightment at the end of a shadowy hallway at Wat Ratchanaddaram, the temple with the armada of metal spires, the whole thing like a big jungle gym, you climb a spiral stair case at it's center up to the top most tier and climb a set of outside stairs to the top most spire to find some sacred object in a caged room. At the level this photo was taken every cardinal direction had a buddha, very disorienting, when I went back down to the ground, it took me a while to find where I left my shoes.

Thursday, March 22, 2007







1. Young buddhist boys in Phrae, after having been made to rake ginormous leaves in the hot dusty afternoon sun 2. A Buddhist statue possibly in Nan or Phitsanulok, so fuck me for being such a half-assed temple-tourist, all I know is that when I see the Buddha, I want to kill the Buddha, but softly, smother him with the coolest and downiest of hotel pillows 3. Asshole of temple guardian in Nan--notice the clockwise swirls of his pucker-- don't ask me what temple, the one with the white walls and square structure 4. Another gold buddha in some other temple 5. This is Sukothai for sure

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Thai foot massage

The other day, after a full afternoon of site-seeing, hanging out in Khao San the backpackers ghetto (the biggest concentration of white people I have seen in SE Asia, sickeningly ominous) and dinner at a lauded noodle house specializing in Pad Thai, Todd took me to go get a Thai foot massage in Silom, the gay ghetto of Bangkok (though there are plenty of other spaces outside downtown that queer Thai frequent, beyond the reach of marauding farang.) They sat us abreast in leather reclining chairs with foot rests--the place smelled pleasantly of camphor and none of the outside din of tuktuks and vendors could be heard inside,just the hum of the AC. Our masseurs were two thai boys maybe 20 or so in woven ethnic pants and castro-issue white v-neck t-shirts, they were both thin, but well toned, and fairly cute. It started out with a foot bath,toweled down and our feet massaged gently with camphor oil, giving me a fair amount of shivers it was so soothing, but then too soon the work of hitting the pressure points began, digging into tendons, and rubbing around ligaments and ankles with the balls of his fingers. This went on for the better part of an hour, getting my heels slapped, my calves punched, and getting the tips of my toes and the soles of my feet re-shaped with a wooden stick. I seemed to be getting a much rougher treatment than Todd (later he claimed that he had a reputation there as liking his massages on the lighter side, he also mentioned a friend may have gotten a torn or sprained trapezius from an especially thourough full body session at the same place), I didn't hear as many punches and slaps coming from his masseur, unless my flesh is especialy resonant and it just sounded like I was getting worked over more. When my masseur would dig into an especially sore spot of my shins or the arches of my feet , I would visibly wince, is that okay, he would say in his very fay english, just say stop, I said it was kind of hard, but okay--thinking it proper etiquette to just grin and bare it--not too spicy. The rest of the session, anytime I flinched, my masseur would just smile laughingly, which in turn made me smile at the ridiculousness of it all--on the edge of my seat at the hands of some Thai boy. The rest of the session included getting forced into leg bending positions, my knee pressed into my chest, and my torso turned, and then a strange, potentially titillating (but not in this instance) maneuver in which he rested his weight on his hands pressing into my thighs,and then walked his hands up towards my pelvis (one slip and he would've made me break into falsetto) and then back down again. They sat us up at what I thought was the end of the session, and gave us a nice cup of sweetened black tea, then they did a mini-backrub, and more forced stretches with the arms and back, and then the hour was over. Walking back to the sky train station, my feet were still tingling, feeling I had an extra set of cushioning in my shoes, but I felt like I had a crick in my right leg. Now I know what it's all about, and this knowledge didn't put me back more than 10 bucks and maybe a few smal bruises.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Bangkok

3/10 Went to a buddhist talk at Wat Maha Tat, a Buddhist University right off the river in Bangkok, by the grand palace--My Rough Guide mentioned that every second Saturday they give free seminars in English about different topics relating to Buddhist practice. Todd had been using some breathing/meditating techniques that a therapist had taught him and was also interested in attending a talk. I've never had any desire to seriously study Buddhism, maybe like everyone else I have romantic notions about dharma bums and Salingeresque figures pulling existential hyjinks, Richard Gere foresaking Hollywood Babylon to cruise the Dalai Llama, but my interests were mostly as a tourist--show up, observe, maybe take some pictures to post on a blog. We took a water bus up river towards the royal palace--wasn't quite sure where to get off because few of the docks had an easily visible sign in English. After disembarking I took us on a wrong turn--names of temples indistinguishable to me, they're all named Wat followed by sometimes over a dozen consonants and vowels all running together, some poetic Sanskrit phrase parading around as a compound word. My mistake lead us too far south and we had to circle the collosal grounds of the royal palace. When we finally found Wat Maha Tat, we then had to find where the talk was being given--the rough guide said an outside plaza, but there were only construction workers repairing the temple eaves and mangy dogs lounging in the shaded alcoves between buildings (dogs always seem to have the right idea). We finally found a map of the grounds and found the instructional facilities, a bungalow where aspirants, mostly farang (Farang being the word for whitey, literally meaning guava, as in pale as the flesh of a guava) were learning how to walk with a buddhist sense of presence (left foot goes left, right foot goes right...) But this wasn't the talk we had read about, so we went and had some ice cream instead from a vendor we found on the temple grounds. We wandered back to the classroom in a stupor of heat and icy sugar; the walking class was just breaking up and an older farang couple happened to be looking for the same talk (the older man, who seemed the more invested of the two, looked like Locke the former-parapalegic and water-cooler-philosopher from the tv series Lost, and what I assume was his wife kind of had a put-upon, long-suffering look on her face, but maybe it was just too hot to smile, not to mention the probably two-hour long session they just spent shuffling around in an air conditioned room, staring at their tourist's bunions.) So we followed them around eating our ice cream (I thought I must have looked like an idiot-man-child in a Faulkner novel, ice cream coating my hanging lips) asking the monks where the talk was being given, the monks mostly responding with quizical smiles and verifying that we were indeed at Wat Maha Tat. When we finally found the talk, we were over an hour late; it was not in an open plaza, but in a small room, what looked to be graduate or administrative offices, crowded with cubicle dividers and desks, a group half of whom were farang gathered around a central table, phallanxed by a guy with a video camera and a few monks in some administrative capacity, passing out xeroxed handouts and little hermetically sealed cups of drinking water. The monk giving the talk at the head of the desk, a 50 year-old Thai man, his full lips and his swollen lower eyelids, along with the ready-to-wear aura of his safron robes gave the impression of a perpetual quite state of bemusement. After sweating like a snowball in a hot house for an hour, I was so glad to be in an air-conditioned room that the horror I would have had at joining mid-discussion, a smallish roundtable, was easily subdued (still I tried to grab a seat far from the table, but they offered me a seat instead just outside of the "inner-circle" two people away from the head monk. The discussion topic written on the agenda hands out said something like "Buddhism and Modern Day Concerns," but I noticed the older white woman in front of me had crossed this out on her sheet. The monk leading the discussion, was discussing something about like and dislike, his English a little less proficient than I would have expected, what with all the Western aspirants they must surely see. I surreptitiously glanced around at the motley gathering, the farangs included the older couple we followed around, the older woman in front of me who turned around not long after I sat down and gave me a wide welcoming smile, a 20-something maybe 30-something blonde boy--the hipster hierophant--that I sat directly behind of, wore a dark brown tracksuit jacket, and had a van dyke and wire rim glasses (Todd told me later he also had a stack of books, but he couldn't see the titles), another older white guy, a hoop earing in his right ear lobe--an interesting face, like a character actor from a Cohen brothers movie--possibly gay, possibly just an old yippie trying to tread softly in his dotage--the days of being mild. Their was a youngish Japanese boy, his tussled mop of hair, screaming more harajuku-style-council than seeker of inner wisdom, and the rest of the asians I surmised were all Thai. When the monk opened up the discussion for questions, the guy with the hoop earing asked a question confirming my suspicions that the the original topic about Buddhist practices addressing modern day concerns wasn't really addressed. The lady in front of me had begun writing a letter, the lines I spied included words of thanks and appreciation and towards the end something about a Bank of America account. The guy that looked like Locke asked about why he felt there was more power in meditating in a group rather than meditating on his own. The monk gave an incongruous response in his broken english, his calm and beatific deliviery of clipped phrases, a catalog of dual concepts: like and dislike, in and out, rising and falling, I thought I was grasping at least some vague notion of Buddhist cosmology and the spiritual efficacies of breathing from your diaphragm, but now I'm not sure what he was trying to say. I nodded anyway, and laughed when everyone else laughed. After the monk's rambling answer to Lockes question, the boy with the van dyke and track jacket spoke: Master I don't think you answered this man's question if you will allow me to repeat his question, at which point he broke into-- to my untrained-ears--effortlessly fluent Thai. The monk gave the slightest jump in his chair and his expression brightened as if someone had finally scratched an elusive itch on his back, he nodded and gave a much shorter, concise answer, something mundane like: it's best to first practice with much instruction before exploring on one's own, and the others in a meditation group can offer as much guidance as the teacher. Ta-Dat-Boom. The farang chimed in unison a sound of satisfaction at possibly the first clear insight of the 2-hour long talk. Locke mentioned something about how he had a number of scientist friends, who if they had no basis in the scientific method for understanding a phenomenon or concept (e.g., the human soul) wanted nothing to do with it. Locke wanted a scientific explanation for the feeling of connectedness in group meditations, he wanted what the string theorists, and cosmologists want: a GTE, a grand theory of everything. The woman in front of me offered some names about the so-and-so's at so-and-so university possibly having a response to his question. The guy with the hoop earing gave a clever answer about how even when we meditate alone, we are all interconnected and therefore always meditating in a group. The Japanese guy said that he detested meditating in groups because it made him overly-self concious, am I breathing correctly, am I maintaining the correct posture, egotistical even, am I gaining as much wisdom as the others--to which the monk replied that gain is the wrong word: we all have the same buddha nature, the same potential, it's a matter of uncovering it [I felt like a cynic thinking: gain/uncover, brainwashing/self-exploration, empty-mind/cognitive-breakdown, but this is probably all just semantics from which no true wisdom can be purchased--I'm no better than Locke's doubting Thomas friends]. What followed seemed to materialize from my worst fears. The monk said that for the time remaining we would close our eyes and practice meditating, using whatever method we felt comfortable. Then afterwards we would go around and share our observations and he would give us individual feedback. Oh my god, I've never meditated before, staring at the evening sun till it turned into a shimmering blue worm (something I did on long car trips as a child) probably doesn't count, daydreaming and procrastination, my mind if seldom stormy is a bumperboat in a carnival basin, careening haphazardly through oily hose fed waters, the brownian motion of free assocciation, I've seldom felt aggrieved by my restless mind, maybe denial is a stronger agent for quelling negative thoughts, I've never been able to sit cross-legged for very long, before my legs sometimes my ass falls asleep, they will expose me as a fraud, why don't you go hang out in Banglamphu with the birdshit farangs, the crusty party punks, the full-moon MDMA lotus eaters, don't waste our time with your half-interests, your passing curiosity, go lie with the dogs you shameless dilletante. It was an effort just to keep my eyes closed, feeling the strain in my cheeks, did the Buddha have epicanthic eyefolds, could he wink effortlessly without contorting the rest of his face? They are looking at me shake in my seat, my fingers and arms quivering, my head and neck twitching, they can see the unease in my breathing, my shoulders tensed and the flow of air irregular and choppy, through my eyelids I see the red flash of a camera--the monks are fucken taking pictures, the sweat is beading on my forehead and dappling my temples, welling in the cleft of my upper lip, can I wipe my brow, is this permissible, but it's trickling down my nose now, dribbling down my chin, they are fucken taking pictures of my discomfort, I feel heavy, torporous, this is torture, I feel very very heavy like my limbs are swelling, my head the size of an american watermelon, what am I going to say when it's my turn? DO I answer truthfuly: I don't know what the fuck I'm doing. I can't help opening my eyes for a second, just to make sure everyone else still has their eyes closed, make sure no one is watching me. I remember one of the techniques Todd told me about, you try and observe with all your senses at once, a collusion of five orthogonal planes of perception, a resounding affirmation of now now now now the ever-unfolding Now, towards a heightened sublime state of nowness. Foresaking my hooded sight, I hear a child yelling outside, the buzz of the AC and fan, the shuffle of chairs, bones settling, grunting, maybe snoring, I taste the coat of sugar from the ice cream forming into plaque on my teeth, I smell nothing much because I've been smoking too much, maybe if anything the smell of sun and sweat and dirt on my clothes, I fucken stink because I washed the shirt with bath soap in the hotel basin--no laundromats in the orient, I've been mislead all these years, an amalgam of dirt and mold from 5 different countries, I feel my weight bearing down on the chair on my ass bones, my stocking feet against the wood floor, I feel the heat of the bodies around me, my sweat begins to evaporate, someone's cell phone goes off, the sweat no longer beads, I am cooling off, I imagine the heat of everyone around me dissipating, the child's voice outside heats the air and this too dissipates, an old less chaotic order of the sun, handed down the gifts of light and heat to the vegetation and flesh of the earth, a history of calories burned, eating and shitting and recreating and adapting, calories burned in thought and breathing, the heat of the cosmos reaching out spiral arms, vortexes, and eddies, lost to ever expanding space, the eros of entropy, a single arrow shot after which all things follow, all energies lost to heat, the breakdown of all systems, the heat of words, the laptop overheating from the hour or so I've been here typing, the words burning into your retina from the monitor screen, everything everywhere a trickling down of energy through heat, words, lists, meanings disseminated, obscured, misunderstood, restated, information lost to magnetic storms, burrowed in telephone line insulation, refracted in fiber optics cables, once dissipated into heat the energy is intractable, becomes one with the swelling space of space, we are all burning, whether we are pinpoint embers slowly descending on the ends of joss sticks, whether we are the combustion of makeshift bombs strapped to torsos and bus seats dropped in proffesor's mailboxes, the heat of love, the cool radiance of empathy, the fire of murderous libidos, the uncontrollable raving of mad men and women, the long heat of suffering and hunger, the burning twin engines of pride and fear, the industrious and the stagnant, proliferating, procreating, proscilitizing, we are all turning and burning, and maybe a hundred ressurected christs communing with blood and flesh, a million sisters of mercy the healing warmth of their fingers and their cooing songs, a billion profligate princes turned ascetic preachers of love and peace, a trillion prophets singing enumerations, sacred names, with each name a spark of heat returned to the universe, each and eveyone helping us burn slowly, calmly, evenly, and irregardless of our will, our intentions, our evil souls, the world will end in fire and fire will end in the chasms of space the whole round of days will become one endless day, the whole relief of hills will become an endless plane* I hear Carl Sagan's voice, our cool sun too small to go supernova, but swelling and scorching the earth, eviscerating the atmosphere, all stars will burn away, turn into black holes--pools of chaos--or birth lesser stars, all the heat of the cosmos, cooling into the vibration of ever-expanding space, and the space will grow till there is only space, indifferentiable space, standing still or at the speed of light there is no difference, a massless sameness, but there is no same because there is no difference, time will trickle to a stop, no ashes, no fleeting causalities, no metaphors, time's diminished domain seized by the overspowering swell of space, and in this timeless indifferentiated space, maybe in all this homogeneity, meaningfulessness, a pinpoint inditermancy will arise, a quantum bubble, a desire to remember remembering,and with this most improbable probability arising starts a chain of difference, and the cycle repeats, and will repeat again, loops within, loops within larger descending arcs ad infinitum,seeking to light the shores of existence.
Todd told me later that it was only 20 minutes that we sat with our eyes closed. I felt cool and collected, the AC in full swing. So we went around and gave our two bits and the monk gave us back two bits, the blonde boy with the van dyke and track jacket said "I don't want to say too much, because it probably won't make any sense, but I've been meditating for many years now, and I don't have to focus on my breathing any more, I can just immediately empty my thoughts," thus spoke the white llama. I spoke after him, I said that I tried to focus on my breath, but I felt heaviness. I don't remember what the monk told me.
Outside puting on my shoes, I overheard the trio of the Japanese guy, the older white guy with the hoop earing, and the older white woman grousing about how uninformative the monk was, same old buddhist hardline they said. The white llama left alone, still wearing his track suit in the afternoon heat, I saw a streak of dirt on his back where shmutz probably adhered to a sweaty patch, maybe leaning up against a column in the skytrain station, he clutched his stack of books and didn't look back.
Later that evening Todd took me to a rooftop bar across the river with a commanding view of the Bangkok skyline, a far flung smattering of none-too-interesting buildings. Then we went to the street with the boy gogo bars, future boys, muscle boys, every flavor, peeked in Tawan--specializing in muscle men--for a minute but didn't want overpriced drinks and have to consort with a bunch of trolls, we passed through the street with the girl gogo bars, every few feet a tout showing us a list of sex acts which read like sundry items from a ninety-nine cent store. We ended up having a drink on Silom Soi 4 at the telephone bar, watching the parade of boys and farang, Todd flirted with the waiters, the rest of the evening all manner of defilement flowed through us and emenated from us like the heat in the night air.

*glass eye, endless day

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Red skies at night

I've been in Thailand since March 8th. Before that I was in Kuala Lumpur for three nights. I am currently writing from the Northern mountainous province of Nan where I drove up from Bangkok with my old housemate Todd and another expat San Franciscan, Stuart. Just like in the Philippine's mountainous provinces, Nan was in the 80s a refuge for communist guerillas. The air here is hazy from all the smoke from forest clear-cutting--I can't quite tell that it's any worse than Solsona in the evening and early morning when most of the burning of trash and fields goes on--also I've been smoking enough cigarettes so that it probably doesn't even matter. In the evenings the sun seems to be setting eventhough it's still at least 10 degrees above the horizon, a reddish circle in a smokey sky. (Apparently Thailand has just issued a state of emergency regarding the haze problem and looking to curb outdoor activities for the young and elderly)

After 3 weeks of travelling alone, getting around by my own rather addled wits, and talking to virtually no one, having the company of better informed fellow travellers is a godsend. (The only conversation of any length I had in Singapore was on the last night I was there, with the owner of a Malay restaurant in the Arab quarter--he was very nice but he tried to sell me if somewhat passively on some pyramid scheme--he said his sideline was networking--he told me about his two wives, having just married his second, a 23 year-old--and then he told me of his new found interest in some positivist guru in Sedona, Arizona. This was the only conversation I had in Singapore.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Bilog ng mundo:Philippine backlog

Bilog ng Mundo--the world is round. This is the ad for the San Miguel Ginebra (Gin). It's in a clear globular bottle like Red Stripe. It's a sign that we always pass on the way to Laoag.

My parent's quality of life I would like to believe is much better here:
*relatives in close proximity
*criminally cheap 24-hr care
*My aunt and my cousin are doctors (my cousins parents put her through medical school, expressly so that they would have someone to take care of them in their old age)
*All food is organic--it's an economy of size, they can't afford pesticides or hormones for livestock. Just about every day on the highway to Laoaog my father will stop by the road side stands selling the catch of the day or fresh fruits and vegetables, hawaiin mangos, eggplant, bittermelon, all kinds of greens and legumes with no apparent english corollaries. Octopus, Blue Merlin. There's also young deer from the hills. My aunt and uncle's helper who is Visayan but has lived in Ilocos Norte most of her life is an amazing cook. Lots of vegetables contrary to what most people think of filipino cuisine--maybe it's just the northeners who love their greens (even down to the algae growing in the flooded rice fields). My favorite dish, sweet chile charred on a grill and then tossed with tomatoes and fish sauce. Most dishes are that simple. Grilled catfish, some kind of squah in broth with small clams. Every day my parents have pandesal and coffee followed by a full breakfast of whatever canned meat we send them or maybe local longaniza. Then at 10 or 11 there's mirienda, pastries or empanada and coke, then a big lunch, and at 3 or 4 mirienda again, and around 7 a big dinner--additionaly becuase my uncle is the mayor, there are sometimes extra dishes that they have prepared for town meetings. Every meal we had fresh mangos, a hawaiin breed even sweeter and more savory than the small yellow manila mangos.
*One day my father bought a huge box filled with maybe three dozen green mangos (apparently he usually bought more food than he and my mother could possibly eat--and from what I saw neither my mother or father are big eaters. It's a mystery why my father's belly is so big). He bought the green mangos with the intention of pickeling them, but he also had Lilly the cook make fresh bagoong: shrimp paste fried with garlic, so that you dip the green mango in the warm bagoong--two great tastes that compliment each other like no other--the tart green mango and the slighty sweet and salty bagong, with the fried garlic. So simple yet so complex.

There was this fruit, Lonzanas, that gave me a sort of proustian moment--they're these little grape sized, thick skinned fruits, a white fleshy meat with a pit the size and shape of an olive pit. The taste is somewhere between a pomello and a grape. It tasted so familiar and apparently you can't find this in the states. But it didn't really trigger any memories from when I was 2 or even 12 when I first returned. It could have just been a kind of manufactured deja vu of taste and smell.

So food-wise they were pretty well fed, although my mother didn't really care for most of the dishes and often just ate rice with some broth and the mangos. She's thinner than when she was in the states but not alarmingly so. One night when she especially detested the selection I went with the helper to go buy ice cream (the one thing she'll always say yes too) when there was no ice cream and she didn't want the donuts we bought, we bought her balut for dinner instead. See how we live, my father said, but I told him even if he bought a dozen balut every meal it still wouldn't amount to the credit card bills he racked up.

Bilog ng mundo:Philippine backlog

Bilog ng Mundo--the world is round. This is the ad for the San Miguel Ginebra (Gin). It's in a clear globular bottle like Red Stripe. It's a sign that we always pass on the way to Laoag.

My parent's quality of life I would like to believe is much better here:
*relatives in close proximity
*criminally cheap 24-hr care
*My aunt and my cousin are doctors (my cousins parents put her through medical school, expressly so that they would have someone to take care of them in their old age)
*All food is organic--it's an economy of size, they can't afford pesticides or hormones for livestock. Just about every day on the highway to Laoaog my father will stop by the road side stands selling the catch of the day or fresh fruits and vegetables, hawaiin mangos, eggplant, bittermelon, all kinds of greens and legumes with no apparent english corollaries. Octopus, Blue Merlin. There's also young deer from the hills. My aunt and uncle's helper who is Visayan but has lived in Ilocos Norte most of her life is an amazing cook. Lots of vegetables contrary to what most people think of filipino cuisine--maybe it's just the northeners who love their greens (even down to the algae growing in the flooded rice fields). My favorite dish, sweet chile charred on a grill and then tossed with tomatoes and fish sauce. Most dishes are that simple. Grilled catfish, some kind of squah in broth with small clams. Every day my parents have pandesal and coffee followed by a full breakfast of whatever canned meat we send them or maybe local longaniza. Then at 10 or 11 there's mirienda, pastries or empanada and coke, then a big lunch, and at 3 or 4 mirienda again, and around 7 a big dinner--additionaly becuase my uncle is the mayor, there are sometimes extra dishes that they have prepared for town meetings. Every meal we had fresh mangos, a hawaiin breed even sweeter and more savory than the small yellow manila mangos.
*One day my father bought a huge box filled with maybe three dozen green mangos (apparently he usually bought more food than he and my mother could possibly eat--and from what I saw neither my mother or father are big eaters. It's a mystery why my father's belly is so big). He bought the green mangos with the intention of pickeling them, but he also had Lilly the cook make fresh bagoong: shrimp paste fried with garlic, so that you dip the green mango in the warm bagoong--two great tastes that compliment each other like no other--the tart green mango and the slighty sweet and salty bagong, with the fried garlic. So simple yet so complex.

There was this fruit, Lonzanas, that gave me a sort of proustian moment--they're these little grape sized, thick skinned fruits, a white fleshy meat with a pit the size and shape of an olive pit. The taste is somewhere between a pomello and a grape. It tasted so familiar and apparently you can't find this in the states. But it didn't really trigger any memories from when I was 2 or even 12 when I first returned. It could have just been a kind of manufactured deja vu of taste and smell.

So food-wise they were pretty well fed, although my mother didn't really care for most of the dishes and often just ate rice with some broth and the mangos. She's thinner than when she was in the states but not alarmingly so. One night when she especially detested the selection I went with the helper to go buy ice cream (the one thing she'll always say yes too) when there was no ice cream and she didn't want the donuts we bought, we bought her balut for dinner instead. See how we live, my father said, but I told him even if he bought a dozen balut every meal it still wouldn't amount to the credit card bills he racked up.