There used to a wet season and a hot season, and they didn’t much overlap. Now is supposed to be hot, sauna hot: 35C is normal, and much higher is possible. It is endless and debilitating, yet labourers can be seen toiling all day on the construction sites that are marching across the capital and South into Luzon. However, these are local people: a brand of super-heroes whose Secret Power is skin like asbestos, and whose lungs have the capacity of a wind-tunnel. They are recognised by their characteristic clothing of a tee-shirt worn over the head and face. Westerners are advised not to emulate them.

They, like me, may have been pleasantly surprised just now by the gentle onset of an unseasonal shower. That’s how it began. The gentle pitter-patter of rain drops on next doors’ roof as I was tipping my rancid clothing into the machine in the Dirty Kitchen. This is not actually dirty but semi-outside and keeps the cooking smells out of the house.

The gentle raindrops, reminiscent of April in England, rapidly gathered force and became the sort of downpour that would have given W.S. Maugham food for thought. The noise of this phenomenon is, well, phenomenal, a real revelation. It combines the rushing of a waterfall as it crashes through the leaves of the mango trees with the deafening drumming of some ancient army on the march. It is common here to have steel roofing and millions of droplets hit hundreds of roofs simultaneously. It is great to watch it from the upstairs window, and see others doing the same.

The transformative power of such downpours is wonderful. The palpable pressure of the heat suddenly lifts, and lungs begin to function more easily. The temperature drops faster than the value of the pound under a Tory government, and cooling breezes slip through the open windows, rippling the imported net curtains. One’s body relaxes.

Outside torrents of water are flushing the drainage channels and sweeping away the mosquitoes that can breed in them. At the back of the house our concrete rain collecting tank, which I estimate holds about 4,000 litres, will by now be overflowing.

In lower lying areas with poor drainage, streets will flood and children will be merrily splashing about, despite their mothers’ protestations. Make the most of it, kids. Already the sudden deluge is ceasing, and tomorrow’s temperatures will be back to normal.


Tom Pinoy



Teleserye: I think that’s how it’s spelled, those eons -long soap operas in which the actors and their characters grow old in real time, taking in over the years the ups and downs of everyday life, and the major real-life historical events and crises, only with many more murders, sexual scandals, deaths, health shocks and sometimes encounters with aliens. As the pet priests on the morning radio are wont to say, “Sometimes our own lives can seem a little like that”.
Today we opted for a quiet day. First, we took the 11 year old 9 seater back to its ancestral home for a health check. The rear air-con fan is getting noisy, and I don’t like the clutch operation, too snatchy. The brakes likewise seem a bit ‘all or nothing’. I must admit that the two professional drivers who do all the driving that requires more than the 3Km run to the Hypermarket can’t see anything wrong with it. Mind you, they could handle a pick-up truck with a missing wheel without any qualms. 

The service centre had a queue of vehicles out to the street so we parked on the forecourt and La Serenissima went in to pick up a queue number, which was around 40. Not good. Fortunately, she spotted the Service Manager, who has looked after our stalwart all its life on the other side of the hangar-like workshop. I believe we have what’s called a suki relationship with this admirable man: a long, enduring, loyal and trusting relationship between supplier and customer which should never  be broken. 

It’s a Filipino thing, and it’s important. 

As soon as he saw our plight, he pocketed the queue card and, collecting a mechanic on the way, went straight out to the forecourt to investigate. Some quick adjustments were made somewhere in the depths beneath the bonnet and, as we have come to  expect from these highly skilled operatives, everything was rendered hunky-dory. 

Relationships are incredibly important here. At school you will make a best friend. You will be constant companions. You will walk down the street with your arm round his or her shoulder and they will do anything you ask of them, forever. Then there is the highly structured system of expectations and obligations between older and younger siblings. You respect your older siblings and in return they watch out for you, maybe even helping to pay for your schooling. Godparent relationships here also are very much more than the rather symbolic arrangement that prevails in the UK. 

Filipino society is built on a much more complex network of relationships than the average Westerner can ever hope to comprehend, but it engenders what might be described as a sense of affiliation. If you meet a Filipino in a far-off country they will soon ask your home province, then your town, then if you know so-and -so the former Barangay Captain. Well, he’s their uncle and knows your grandfather. Now you can go out for lunch, because you have a connection and can trust one-another.

To get any real insight into Filipino culture, I would recommend marrying into a Filipino family. After about 30 years you may still have problems following the plot, but you will find that you have assumed an interesting and rewarding role in the fascinating and never-ending Teleserye that is Filipino life.

15th May 2017: What We Take For Granted

Hello from SM Bicutan. Mum is having a manicure, which means she won’t be filling the house with acetone fumes. I am in Bo’s coffee shop enjoying an excellent Americano which requires neither milk nor sugar, and reading the Manila Bulletin, a stuffy old paper founded in 1900 which makes no concessions to modern presentation, style or values. It does claim to be an exponent of progress, but that should be understood in a Catholic Church sort of way. 

Mum has returned. No, she’s off to the kubeta. Anyway we shall now try to find somewhere to eat. Fat chance on Mothers’ Day. Probably end up in the gloomy KFC on the Lower than Lower Ground Floor. 

Its a hard life.

Nothin’ better to do, part 2
I was right about all the restaurants being full. Then I suggested to Becky that we try a Continental Bakery cum restaurant that served European food, not terribly popular, at prices even less so. Bingo! They had a table. We sat down amidst a crowd of people who, like us, looked as if they had access to foreign money. Possibly a pension from working decades in the US Post Office, or a remittance from a relative employed as a carer overseas.

We ordered a boneless chicken quarter with mango salsa apiece. Becky’s arrived in about 15 minutes, mine took longer. When it arrived I set about cutting into pieces, only to realise that it was undercooked. A word with the server had this sorted out quickly and she returned 5 minutes later with the pan-tossed chicken, and a small pot of gravy, on a tray. She lifted the plate from the tray and tipped the gravy all over my shirt. The server was mortified, moaning tearfully  “Sorry Po, so sorry” over and over. 

Becky instructed her to bring a wet cloth and we spent sometime removing the gravy while the chicken went cold. The chicken was good, and I said to Becky not to demand redress, as this would only be deducted from her pay, and might cost her job. Accidents happen!

Becky went to settle the bill at the front of the shop where the breads and pastries were sold and I gazed out of the window only to be roused by a terrible loud noise, one that transported me immediately back to 1958. It  was like the sound of a plank snapping suddenly under enormous strain. It was the noise I had heard when my 8 year old brother had fallen from a playground slide to end up motionless on the ground. It was the sound of a human head hitting concrete at an acceleration of 32 feet per second squared.

I looked towards the counter and couldn’t see Becky, only the slow drift of curious human beings. I made my way quickly to the source of the noise, and rounding the end of the counter saw Becky, ever the nurse, feeling for the pulse of a motionless man who had already been deftly rolled into the recovery position by a bulky foreigner. There was no discernible pulse. Out of decades of conditioning I assumed my position at the side of my former boss, relaying her instructions to the surrounding gawpers. There seemed to be no pulse when I tried to find it, then the man drew a huge breath right down so that his belly heaved. 

“Don’t move him”, I related to the onlookers, “Call an ambulance or a doctor.” 

There’s a Health Clinic on ground floor of the Mall, full of doctors, and a 911 call would reach the emergency services. To my consternation, the gathered staff and spectators looked first at one another, then at me, then back at one another and did nothing. 

“Don’t fuck about, get a doctor’, I said crossly. 

Such things happen every day in any English town. Someone collapses, a passer-by, possibly someone with a bit of experience like a first-responder, a carer, a Polish NHS A&E doctor on his way for a coffee, assumes a co-ordination role. The sick person is assessed, breathing is facilitated, bleeding attended to and further harm prevented. Someone, maybe several people dial 999, a paramedic arrives, then if necessary an ambulance is called and the patient is admitted to hospital. We all know the drill, we could all have a go at it. With this cultural conditioning, and our iconic NHS, it is easy to forget that it ain’t like that everywhere.

In the Filipino Mall scenario the request “someone call an ambulance!” gives rise to unspoken questions. Me? I have no authority, I don’t know this person from Adam. Ambulances cost money, who will pay? Whose responsibility is it? It’s not the fault of the shop-keeper that random people collapse in his premises. Where are his relatives?

It is not that Filipinos are in any way uncaring, indeed they are most compassionate. Those observing the collapsed man in the Mall may well have been reflecting upon the mortality of us all, and even saying a quiet prayer for his recovery, but they are not in the position to do much beyond immediate assistance for people with whom they have no social affiliation. 

Some of the onlookers, unaware of the blood flowing from the man’s nose and mouth, probably assuming that he had merely fainted, urged helping him to stand up, and sitting him in a chair, then taking him out to a taxi, and had to be discouraged from doing so. One of the bakery staff requested that he be moved out of the way so that business could be resumed. The burly foreigner, who may have been French, insisted that this should not be done, as did Becky.

Then, like guardian angels, two athletic and authoritative female Police Officers arrived and started clarifying the situation. The Mall Medico, for there was such a person, was summoned and quickly arrived. PNP officers DO have authority.

The Doctor (most Filipino doctors are women) quickly attempted to measure the unfortunate fellow’s blood pressure with uncertain results. 

“Maybe a stroke,” suggested Becky. 

“Opo,” said the Doctor,  confirming the  possibility. Under her calm supervision, the now vaguely conscious but hardly aware man was removed. I pray that he recovers from his trauma.

May I end with some observations.  One is an appreciation of the powerful role of women in all the professions and in the armed forces and political institutions of the Philippines. Another is the astounding influence of socialised institutions like the NHS on the ways we think and act, and finally, which still surprises me, the depth, the profundity, of our cultural differences, and the consequent need for extreme sensitivity.