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June 24, 2005

Kinabalu and the Last Leg

Legend has it that the Emperor of China once learned of a pearl being guarded by a dragon on some mountain in Borneo. Desiring to have it for himself, he dispatched his three sons to retrieve it for him. The first two failed, but the third succeeded and also took a wife at the base of the mountain. Before too long, the young man decided he must return to China, but promised his wife he would be back for her. As you have already guessed, the guy never came back and his wife, in mourning, climbed to the mountain's summit, where she met her death. Anyway, the name 'Kinabalu' translates to 'Chinese widow.' Neat, huh?

The mountain from park headquarters. Notice how many peaks this thing has!

My flight from Kuala Lumpur was quick and painless (and cheap--only $50). I headed straight for the National Park and sought out refuge in the budget dormitory at HQ. Of course, I brought the Rice God along for the ride and he proved to be quite helpful, especially during the descent. That night at dinner I met a Briton named Ian Phillips whom I would hang out with for the rest of my stay in Malaysian Borneo. I took full advantage of the dinner buffet, stuffing myself to utter abdominal pain once again. Ian and I traded stories about the places we had visited, then rested up for the climb.

The Laban Rata Resthouse (3200m) from the front...

...and rear.

Our 'guide' (more of a chaperone, really, we barely saw the guy; however, hiring a guide is a requirement even if he is worthless) led our group of six to the base of the mountain at 0930. He somehow sensed that I would be moving like a raped ape, and told each of us to travel at our own pace, since we'd all be ending up at the Laban Rata Resthouse before summiting early the next morning. 2 and 1/2 hours later, I reached the resthouse at an elevation of about 3,200 meters. It was interesting to observe the vegetation change from lush moutain jungle to gnarly and weather-beaten shrubs. I rested and read my novel, snacking on the occasional Chinese mung bean cake. The plan was to disembark at 0230 to make the supposedly difficult 3 hour ascent to the summit.

Ian and I got about an hour of sleep each. We both tried getting to bed around seven, but the heater made things extremely uncomfortable. At about 0115, the two Chinamen that were bunking in our room decided to wake up and make a ruckus just after I had finally managed to drift off into lala land. 'WTF?' I thought. 'The sun doesn't even rise until just before six so get back to bed!' Well, they didn't and luckily we both managed to return to our slumber after they left. At 0230 our guide woke us and simply said, 'We leave now. You guys catch up, okay?' Okay. We tumbled out of bed and headed to the restaurant, where I loaded up on about 200g of chocolate and another bean cake. Then we set off.

One by one, Ian and I passed the slow-moving members of the train of people along the steep route to the summit. I had no torch and relied on the full moon and stars to illuminate my path. The air was wonderful--cold mountain air that was thoroughly refreshing. Eventually, the trail was gone and a thick rope laid along the bare granite marked our path to the summit. At this point I was feeling frisky and increased my pace, passing everyone in my path until I was alone. At this point, I thought I might be the first to the summit. Between gulping huge breaths, I sang songs to make things more cheerful. Finally, I reached the base of Low's Peak, the tallest of Kinabalu's several peaks, and scrambled my way to the top. I summitted at 0430, an hour and half after leaving Laban Rata. I wasn't alone--a single Malaysian high school student had been shivering up there for about a half-hour. Ian reached the summit about 10 minutes later, followed by a few more Malaysians. We all sat shivering in the wind, Ian and I huddled behind some boulders and went through another big bar of chocolate.

The sky began to change colors at about 10 minutes till 0600.

Getting there...

Ah, here we are--sunrise at 4101 meters in all its heavenly glory.

My two best friends on the hike: chocolate and the Rice God.

Sunrise, about an hour and a half later, was superb! The combinations of colors and the frequency with which they changed as the sune rose was brilliant. I snapped as many pictures as I could and sat back, taking in the excellent views in all directions. It was a bit cloudy on this particular morning, so I didn't see it myself, but supposedly one can see all the way to the Philippines across the South China Sea.

At the summit.

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Ian and me.

A view of Low's Peak during the descent.

After getting our fill of the views from the summit, Ian and I headed back down to camp. I found this to be much less comfortable than ascending, as descending puts a great deal of stress on the knees. We got a couple more hours of sleep and headed back to HQ.

Peaks to the North...

Peaks to the West...

Standing before South Peak.

The rest of our time in Borneo was fun, but nothing worthy of mention to you fine folks. I flew into Bangkok last night and am heading north tomorrow for a second slice of Pai. On the 30th, I head back to Portland. I am truly excited for my return, there are many people I am eager to visit and many goals I have set and will accomplish during my short stay. I have a hunger to get some things done, just as I had a hunger to travel before I actually left. This trip has been a huge success in so many ways and I feel that I have grown immensely as a person. Also, I've been bitten by the travel bug and ain't gonna stop moving. This has become part of my life, this backpacking to various regions of the world. There is so much to see, so much to do, so much to learn...

In closing, thank you for following along with me these last several months. My family, my old friends from back home, my new friends from out here, and the strangers whom I have never met--I'll see many of you at some point in the future, so look out! Later...

"Memento Te Esse Mortalem"
(Remember You Are Mortal)

Posted by Gary at 07:38 PM
View/Add Comments (3) | Category: Malaysia

June 16, 2005

Peninsular Sprint

Having spent two days in Singapore, I high-tailed it across the water to Peninsular Malaysia. I've been on sort of a rush job as my trip is winding down (I'll be touching down in Portland, Oregon in less than two weeks), but I still feel that I have been able to absorb quite a bit. Travelling solo has been very helpful as it has allowed me to breeze through the region at my own hyper pace. Anyway, without further delay...

My first real stop in Malaysia was Melaka, about 3 hours north of the border on the west coast of the peninsula. The city has heavy influence from the Chinese, Portugese, and Dutch-- the latter two having ruled over the port town hundreds of years ago-- and this is reflected in both the architecture and the food.

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I first took a tour through Chinatown. The most interesting building here is the Chen Hoong Teng temple, built in 1645 with all materials imported diretly from China.

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This is Town Square, also known as "Dutch Square." It sits below a hill whose steps lead to...

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The St. Paul Cathedral, well, what remains of it anyway. Not sure how old this place is, but it is definitely OLD.

Descending the hill on the other side leads to what remains of Ft. de Santiago, an old Protugese fort.

Okay, so Melaka was nice. Next stop, capital city, Kuala Lumpur. A lot nicer than Bangkok or Manila, on par with Phnomh Penh, but visibly wealthier. In Kuala Lumpur stand the fourth-tallest radio communications tower in the world, Menara Kuala Lumpur, and the former tallest skyscrapers in the world (though still the most visually striking), the Petronas Towers. The food here is plentiful, varied, and best of all, dirt cheap!

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Ah, behold the Petronas towers.

Another view of these twin beauties.

Menara Kuala Lumpur.

Next, I headed to tea country, the Cameron Highlands. The weather was very cool, which was very comforting given the humid high temperatures of the lowlands. I got rid of the rat's nest on my head and even got a shave with a straight razor...all for $2! I'm not much of a package tourist, but for 98 ringgit ($25), I couldn't pass up a tour of the Boh Tea Estates, a hill-tribe blowpipe demonstration, a jungle trek to the famous blooming rafflesia flower, and a jungle trek to a beautiful waterfall. All that and lunch...not too shabby.

Tea, tea, as far as the eye can see! Touring a tea plantation is a lot like touirng a winery. You get to learn all about the different grades of tea, the processes for producing the different styles (green, black, oolong, etc.), the proper way to drink, blah, blah, blah...anyway, I bought some really good stuff, so anyone who wants to visit me in Portland or Seattle should stop by for a cup.

Trying my luck with the blowpipe. I actually did quite well. These things are a lot more powerful than you'd think, and are used to hunt everything from squirrels and birds to monkeys and wild boar (using poison from a frog).

There's no scent like that from a rafflesia, the second largest flower in the world. The bloom lasts for seven days and then poof!

At this point, I had three options. I could go NW to the island of Penang, NE to the 130 million year old jungles of Taman Negara, or waaayyy NE to the beautiful Perhentian Islands. All the folk I spoke to advised me to go to the Perhentians, hands down. I would see better jungle in Borneo and Penang could only offer me lots of food, which I would return to in Kuala Lumpur. So, back to the islands I went.

The Perhentians are composed of two islands, the Big Island and the Little Island. Most of us cheap-asses stick to the Little Island because shit is just cheaper there. I spent my first two nights on Long Beach, which had an abundance of bungalows and topless Euro-babes baking themselves in the white sand. It was fun for a couple days, but I was seeking something even more secluded and quiet. I headed to a place called D'Lagoon for the next two nights. Ah, that was more like it! Very few people, only one extremely cheap guesthouse, and beautiful coral reefs to snorkel through. I saw some excellent marine creatures, most notably some black-tipped reef sharks and an awesome sting ray speciman. Something about swimming with fish is so therapeautic. It's like a whole new world underwater.

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White sand and swimming pool coloured water-- this is Long Beach.

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I couldn't resist the urge to shinny up a coconut palm.

One of my reptilian friends, Lizzy, whom I believe is a Tokay gecko.

Ole Snaky looked poisonous, though I couldn't identify his species.

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Sunset from Turtle Bay.

Well, I'm back in Kuala Lumpur, enjoying the cheap food. Gonna catch a flight to Borneo tomorrow. I've got a mountain to scale.

"I don't see the difference between the wrong and wrong/
Soldiers emptyin' clips at little kids and they moms/
are just like a desperate mothafucka strapped to a bomb"

Immortal Technique "Leaving the Past" Revolutionary Vol. 2

Posted by Gary at 08:18 PM
View/Add Comments (3) | Category: Malaysia

June 08, 2005

Like a Diamond Out a Goat's Ass...

...Singapore shines! Holy crap, dude, I have never been through a metropolitan area that is so free of litter. The government here imposes hefty fines for littering, etc. which I think is brilliant. As liberal as I am, I am definitely not opposed to dealing huge fines for littering, lashing vandals with bamboo canes (anyone remember Michael Fey? Bastard had it coming.), cutting the hands off of thieves, castrating pederasts and other sexual predators, etc. (okay, they don't actually do the last two here, although I don't think it would be so bad if the whole world adopted this practice).

Not a bad skyline, eh?

A scene from the Quays. The Singapore River lies at the heart of the city and it is a popular activity to cruise it by boat.

Anyway, Singapore is a compact place with what seems to be the perfect balance of East meets West flavors. There are people of all ethnic backgrounds residing here, though mostly what you see are Indians, Chinese, and ethnic Malays. Religious buildings--mosques, churches, and Hindu and Buddhist temples are everywhere and most of the sights can be explored by foot or by using the excellent MRT system.

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This building stands at the edge of the Quays. I thought it was pretty funky. The police HQ is in here somewhere.

Singapore is divided into districts, each with their own unique flavor: Little India, Kampung Glam (Middle Eastern population), Chinatown, the Colonial District (lots of old British buildings), the Quays (where most of the modern buildings stand), Orchard Road (shopping area)....that's basically the city centre. I stayed in a hotel in Little India where the rooms are a very good value and the smells of delicious India cusine permeate the area.

The chick and her guitar.

My first meal in Singapore...

...And my drunk ass conquering it. "Hey fella, won't ya take my picture so I can remember that this happened?"

After dropping my bags off at the Boon Wah Hotel, I spent my first night wandering around Little India, admiring the tidiness of the place. A new backpacker's lodge had just opened up and although all the rooms were booked, the nightlife looked good, so I returned for some beer and entertainment. I enjoyed a local girl doing covers on her acoustic guitar, washing it all down with half-liter mugs of Hoegaarden, a Belgian witbier for those of you who aren't familiar. I then took my big-ass bottle of Absolut to a local Indian restaurant and pigged out. Man, is Indian food ever tasty.

Returning to my 2-person dorm room, I spent some time drunkenly conversing to my Malaysian roommate about where I should visit in Malaysia (my next destination). Satisfied with this new information, I drifted off to sleep, only to be awoken 6 hours later by the roomie's unbearably loud snoring. Unable to get back to sleep, I brushed my fangs and headed out on the town for some sightseeing.

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In the heart of Little India stands this mosque. I can't remember for certain, but I think it is called the Masjid Abdul Gafoor, built in the middle of the 19th century.

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A portal at the mosque. I love Islamic architecture; who else makes entrances like this?

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Hindus sure do have a lot of gods to keep track of.

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Worship inside the temple.

My favorite of many flower paintings on the temple's ceiling.

I started off by wandering around Little India, photographing the impressive religious buildings. Then, I headed to the Quays and walked to the Colonial District, spending some time at the beautiful Ft. Canning, which was once a British military stronghold. Walking back down through the Colonial District, I spotted an outdoor store and decided to check it out. The prices were too high, but I did spot the 2005 Mad Rock catalog (Mad Rock is a rock climbing shoe company that I worked for until I could no longer tolerate my boss's dickheaded antics). Funny, I didn't think I'd find my image in a shop half-way around the world. My next stop was Chinatown, where I walked through the touristy markets and stumbled across a REAL gem: an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant!! And it wasn't second-rate sushi either. I had five full plates of the stuff, and was so full I felt like I was going to pop. Yum!

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The vast Ft. Canning Centre, obviously of British design.

Keramat, a Muslim tomb for sultans.

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Ah, plate o' sushi #3. What a deal!

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In Kampung Glam stands the largest mosque in Singapore: Masjid Sultan.

Besides the sightseeing, I found some great deals on electronics, picking up a new flash card for my digital camera and some headphones to replace my busted ones. I'd like to come back sometime just to pick up some electronics and camera equipment.

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I'd say the guy on the right is far more handsome.

All in all, Singapore was rad, and delivered much more than I expected of it. I arrived in Malaysia yesterday morning and have already seen some exciting sights...more to come soon.

Donny: What's a 'pederast,' Walter?
Walter: Shut the fuck up, Donny.
From The Big Lebowski, the greatest film ever made...

Posted by Gary at 07:47 PM
View/Add Comments (2) | Category: Singapore

June 05, 2005

Adios Philippines

Well, I'm off again, off to a new land with a new culture and new surroundings to experience. I'll let you all know in due time.

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This is San Juan Bech, the most popular surf destination on Luzon, and very close to where most of my family lives.

After the waves in Daet died, I travelled further south in Bicol, admiring the perfectly symmetrical cone-shaped volcano, Mt. Mayon, and then began my island-hopping campaign through the Visayas. I started on the boring island of Masbate, which really only acted as an intermmediate between Bicol and the more exciting island of Cebu. Once in Cebu, I immediately hopped on a bus and headed north through the coconut palms and farms, and then hired a boat heading to the tiny, beautiful island of Malapascua. This place was picture perfect, with dazzling white sand beaches, beautiful coral reefs teeming with aquatic life, and groves of coconut palms under which to hide from the baking sun. I would like to return to this place after I get a scuba diving certification, as it seems most of the excitement takes place below the sea's surface. Most of my time was spent reading or examining the creatures not far from shore, though I did take a nice kayak trip around the island one sunny afternoon.

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Ft. San Pedro in Cebu, erected by the Spanish in 1565.

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The very impressive Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral.

However, my travels through the Philippines haven't been all bright and cheery. First, my digital camera ws stolen on the ferry from Masbate to Cebu (hence no pictures of southern Bicol, Masbate, or Malapascua). I take full responsibility; I was careless and fell asleep in my bunk without securing the the thing thoroughly enough. I did end up buying a new one when I returned to Cebu, and boy did I pay (looks like I'll be working plenty this summer to pay off that credit card debt). I have never met more hustlers than I have in this country! Really, people are either really awesome here or they just flat-out suck ass and care only to take your money or violate your trust in some way. I am no homophobe, but I have been avoiding any male whom I suspect to be gay here, as I have only had problems with those that are. These aren't the same gentle fairies you'll meet in America; these fuckers are conniving and manipulative. Really. Moving on...the staring has gotten annoying. I am one of the few white (well, the Flips see me as a totally white person, although many Thais think I'm Japanese...go figure) folk travelling through the country this time of year and I seem to be some kind of oddity or spectacle. It was cute at first, but I've had enough. Finally, the monsoon has hit the Philippines and I am being drenched almost everywhere I go, so it's kind of pointless to hang around anyway.

I'm not trying to paint an ugly picture of this country. Some of the most memorable experiences of my life took place here: meeting my relatives for the first time, catching my first wave, eating dog and the dreaded balut, and of course, I will never forget the majesty of the rice terraces at Batad. I'd come back here just to see that again! There is natural beauty to be admired throughout the land. It's just that the Philippines has been the most challenging place I have travelled through so far, which, though painfully bothersome at times, has also provided me with the most opportunity for personal growth. I have had enough for now and am ready to move on and begin my next adventure.

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Me and the fam at San Juan Beach after a lunch of adobo, kare-kare, beef and brocoli, and lechon baboy.

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Alvin's crib...and more cousins!

I wrapped up my trip by seeing my huge family one last time. My cousin Jacky and her husband Alex drove me out to La Union to meet up with my aunt Gigi and few cousins. We had a nice lunch on the beach at San Juan, not far from where most of them live. I then met up with my Uncle Alvin, whom I hadn't met before, and his family back in Baguio. We went out to karaoke (it's a Filipino thang) and beers and got to photograph and video them singing their hearts out (humorous). As a parting gift, I made the fam a small album full of photos of our times together and also of some of the more beautiful places I got see while I was here. Just as General McArthur promised the Filipinos back in WWII, I'll be back.

Hey, I found a place I actually like in Manila! It's called Paco Park now and I'm not sure when it was built, but it's pretty old.

"There comes a time in every man's life and I've had many of them."
Casey Stengel

Posted by Gary at 05:43 PM
View/Add Comments (1) | Category: Philippine Islands

May 24, 2005

I Will Eat Your Unborn Child!

As you know, food plays an important role in any culture you may encounter. Since I am on a "cultural exploration of SE Asia (sorry, India, next time...)," I have made it a point to sample indigenous dishes wherever I have visited. From ant and bee larvae soup in Northern Thailand and "happy food" all over Laos, to cockroaches and fried frogs in Cambodia and dog in the Philippines, I have shied away from nothing. However, there was one item I had been intentionally been putting off until the right moment, while I underwent some mental preparation.

Balut is the fertilized egg of a duck or chicken which has been allowed to develop up to 18 days. My ma used to tell me stories of regularly devouring balut with her friends after picture shows when she was young. I thought it sounded revolting.

Here in Daet, on Bagasbas Beach where I stood atop my first wave, I had another first. Ah, balut, you aren't so bad after all!

Step 1. Balut is pure protein--what a great post-workout snack! Select an egg and give the local kid 10 pesos and a pat on the head. Have a really dopey look on your face.

Step 2. Carefully peel away some of the shell and suck the weak broth within. Be careful not to spill as you could ruin your boardshorts.

Step 3. Once the broth reserve has been exhausted and the embryo is basically high and dry, peel away more of the shell. Season your prey with salt and vinegar.

Step 4. Waste not, want not. Eat up! Spit out the small bones you will inevitably encounter along the way.

Step 5. Chew thoroughly. You want to make digestion as smooth as possible for your system. And lick you fingers clean! Cleanliness is next to Godliness, after all.

Step 6. Give the nod of approval. It tastes a helluva a lot better than it looks, haha!

"When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable."
Clifton Fadiman

Posted by Gary at 11:35 PM
View/Add Comments (6) | Category: Philippine Islands

May 22, 2005

Learning to Play

I watched my first surfing documentary, The Endless Summer 2 , back in 1994 at age 14. My family had just picked up a satellite dish and the Starz! movie channel would play it like five times a day, so my brother and I would watch it quite often. After seeing it a few times, I remember saying that one day I was going to learn how to surf and that I was going to travel the world, just like the guys in the film. This trip is definitely allowing me to fulfill many of the promises I made to myself over the years.

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You never forget your first...c'mon, baby, gimme a kiss!

I have stationed myself here in Daet for 6 days now. I caught my first wave on my second day, during my third attempt. The feeling was pure magic. In those few seconds standing atop the wave, I felt stoked! It was awesome and I felt like I could understand how so many surfers forfeit everything else in favor of becoming beach bums.

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My first morning in Bagasbas.

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Another view of the beach.

Two days before, I had taken a bus from Manila that was supposed to leave at 4 PM and arrive in Daet, at the most, 7 hours later. Well, it turns out we didn't leave until 7 PM and the ride was actually 10 hours. I took a tricycle from Daet to Bagasbas Beach and watched the sun rise over the Pacific--first time I've ever seen that! Watching the waves roll into near-perfect tubes got me eager to seize the day and start learning, so I wandered along the street, looking for a surf shop or a place to stay. Nothing. I wandered to and fro, inspecting each business more closely. Still nothing. Now I was feeling a little discouraged, thinking I was going to have to head further south to Surigao on the island of Mindanao because there was no scene here. Luckily, I stumbled upon a young local waxing his shortboard. I asked him if there was a place to rent surfboards nearby and he led me to Arthur's, a small canteen on the corner. Arthur was still sleeping, so I waited about half-an-hour, talking to my new friend, Jong. Arthur ended up renting me a nice longboard and Jong offered to teach me the basics, so we headed out right there, only a little more than an hour after arriving in Daet.

Jong brought me out to the waves and had me lay down on my stomach. As the first wave came rolling in, he said, "Okay, when you feel the front go down, just pop up and stand." Sure, sounded simple enough. We spent a couple hours going over the finer details of the basic techniques and conituned trying to get me stnading. Well, the best ride I got that day was on my knees. It was great, though, just being out in the ocean under the sun, learning entirely new techniques and working muscles in a way I'd never tried before. Jong invited me to stay in his very basic Nipa Hut, to which I obliged and at which I remain. Everyday, we "play," the local term for surfing. It really is like playing again and the feeling is great.

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Here we are in my quarters having "Guy Talk"...chicks, surfing, food...uh, hmmmm....

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One of the boys at play. The waves here are gentle right now and thankfully break over sand, otherwise, I'd be shredded from all the wipe-outs.

I don't do much out here besides play. I am really not feeling any urge to drink much or party at present, I have had a couple bowl-roasting sessions before I retire and also some karaoke sessions here and there. But really all I can think about is getting back out in the ocean. There is also a nice children's playground where I can have my workouts.

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One of my rare performances. "Turn around, bright eyes..."

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The chick to my left is Irine. She is only twenty, but runs hands-down the coolest bar in the area. It's a really well-run joint with stand-up comedy and musical performances. Here, I was describing just how big the hamburgers in America really are.

The locals here are among the nicest I have met on this whole trip around SE Asia. Every morning, I am invited to someone's place for breakfast and coffee. Today, Arthur turns 41 and is having a birthday party at sundown. I can't wait to eat more of the local Bicol (the name of this region of Southern Luzon) cuisine, which is heavy on coconut milk and chilies. Along with Pai and Ton Sai, Bagasbas Beach is in my 'Top 3 Favorite Places in SE Asia' so far.

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The local boys.

Last night, I had dinner with Mike and Joy at their PALACE about 400m from the beach. Their house is beyond rad. Mike works half the year in Malaysia doing helicopter maintenance and is doing very well. Over the next few years, he is going to start a fishing tour and island-hopping service. He is from Oregon and like me, was in the military and tried out some "normal" jobs, and then figured out (like me) that the American Dream (Nightmare?) was not for him. We had some great conversations on his third story balcony overlooking the ocean under the full-moon, sipping on bottles of San Miguel. He's seen some shit in his lifetime, and many of stories are truly an inspiration to me. Mike was also instrumental in transforming Bagasbas Beach from a garbage-strewn Manila Bay lookalike into the beautiful stretch of sand that it is today. All it took was setting an example.

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Sheena, El Guapo, Irine, Tog, and Jong enjoying the Philippine's finest beverage.

Yesterday, Tog took me to watch sabong, or cockfighting, a national pastime here in the Philippines. Men bring in their prized cocks and have them battle it out until one bird either runs away or is severly injured or killed. The cocks will peck at each others faces and try to cut each others' throats with a razor affixed to their left spur. It's pretty vile and amazing to see how riled up the crowd and get, wildly waving their pesos around. Digusting yes, but I'm glad I got to experience seeing it live.

Sabongeros preparing their cocks for battle.

The birds engage...

...but only one can walk away (or rather be carried away by his owner).

Not sure how long I am going to stay here, but I will probably head south in a few days. I am excited to see the perfectly cone-shaped Mt. Mayon in Legazpi, and also to do some island-hopping through the Visayas and onto Palawan. I have to be back in Baguio on the 11th for Cousin Jacky's birthday; my only obligation other than my flight out of the Philippines on the 14th. I am headed to Kota Kinabalu, in Sabah, on the island of Borneo (Malaysia). There is a picturesque mountain there that is beckoning me and I aim to kick its ass and get some great pictures at the same time.

Been enjoying Weezer's new album, Make Believe. The second and third cuts are my favorite.

"Nothing happens unless first a dream."
Carl Sandburg

Posted by Gary at 07:16 PM
View/Add Comments (1) | Category: Philippine Islands

May 17, 2005

I Love Sufing

I love surfing. That's all. More on it later...

(in Daet, Bicol, Philippines)

Posted by Gary at 08:24 PM
View/Add Comments (2) | Category: Philippine Islands

May 15, 2005

Reunited (And It Feels So Good)

The History of Lola Leyte

My first meeting with Lola Leyte.

Barrio San Miguel, City of Mexico, Pampanga Province, 1941. Night has fallen and 14-year-old Leyte Pangalinan takes cover uphill in the darkness of the pine trees alongside her guerilla colleagues, watching and waiting, her face smeared with charcoal. The invading Japanese soldiers have grown increasingly aggressive, storming through her barrio, raping women young and old, pillaging at will. In range now, she and her fellow defenders raise their rifles and take aim at the cluster marauding soldiers. More lives lost. This is nothing new to Miss Pangalinan. Defending her homeland with the rifle had become a part of her daily life. My grandma was a legit badass.

Onto the Present

I love my lola. I met her for the first time just four days ago, in the city of San Fernando, two hours west of Baguio. At 77, she still has the heart of a kid, dancing and skipping about, cracking jokes about her missing teeth, and playing practical jokes on people (myself included, and I think I now know where the prankster in me came from). Her culinary skills are legendary; she was friends with two former Filipino presidents (Ramos and Aquino) who requested her services at one time or another. I'll have my chance to sample her delightful cuisine on June 11th, at my cousin Jacky's birthday party.

The dudes.

The chicks.

The majority of the family met up in La Union to welcome my arrival with a huge feast on the river near my Aunt Shirley's home. I ate quite a lot that day (even for me!), stuffing myself full of bangus (milkfish), tilapia, pork chops, oyster shooters, salad, and of course the inescapable mounds of rice. Spent time paddling rockets (bamboo rafts) and swimming in the saltwater river with my numerous cousins. It was one of my greatest experiences meeting all these blood relatives and learning of my family's history. Many of the questions I had about my family's history were all answered in the span of a few hours.

Who needs utensils? When in the Philippines, eat like a Filipino!

My cousins and me rocketing along the saltwater river.

Sunset at Uncle Victor's bangus pen.

My mother's maiden name is Edmund, obviously not a typical Filipino name. It turns out that my lolo (grandfather) was originally named Gomez, but was adopted by an American priest named Paul Edmund, hence the European name. I had always believed that there was some kind of European ancestory mixed into the Filipino side of my family, but the Filipino side is pure. My lolo was half-Igorot and half-Kalinga. Both tribes are mountain dwellers, the Igorots tpyically display short and stocky builds, while the Kalinga are typically built long and lanky. The Kalinga are also one of the most feared tribes in the Philippines. They used to be headhunters and still engage in bloody tribal wars to this day (there was story in the paper just the other day about a recent battle). My lola is full-blooded Pampanga, people of the lowlands in Central Luzon known for their culinary expertise. As Lola is often fond of saying, to know how to cook is the Pampanga way!

A family picture at Aunt Gigi's before my departure to Vigan.

After our visit with my family, Kristian and I headed north to the town of Vigan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Much of the original Spanish buildings that were erected hundreds of years ago still stand, and on the weekends, that historical section of the city is closed to motor vehicles (thanks be to God!). Only horse-drawn carriages are allowed to travel down the cobblestone street (yeah, it's only one long street unfortunately), and the lamps are antiques along with the buildings, making a late-night walk feel like a walk into the past. I loved it. The town also sports the extremely impressive St. Paul's Cathedral, built by the Augustinians late in the 18th century. We stayed at Grandpa's Inn, a charming rest stop with high ceilings, lots of antiques, and plenty of character.

This spot reminded me of old Mexico.

A man has to know how to defend himself 'round these parts. Practicing Quack Fu on the mean streets of Vigan (you have seen 'Howard the Duck,' haven't you?).

Inside St. Paul's Cathedral

The drive on the way to Vigan sports some beautiful rocky coastline. Eager to get out of the town for a little while, Kristian and I hopped on a bus and headed to Paraiso ni Juan (John's Paradise), where waves crash from all directions against the sharp rocks jutting from the sea. It was well worth the trip to simply sit on the rocks and watch the waves crash. An old Spanish watchtower still stands atop the largest and most distant of the large rock formations.

Admiring the crashing waves and the old watchtower at Paraiso ni Juan.

I also had quite a bit of fun bodysurfing with these young children on a black sand beach north of Vigan the previous day. These kids don't have proper bodyboards, so they use small sections of plywood instead. The waves were strong and the sunset was magnificient, and I got to enjoy saltwater, trapped deep in within my sinuses, involuntarily drip from my nostrils for the next few hours.

Curling waves, bodyboarding youth, and a gorgeous sunset over a black sand beach.

Balancing practice.

If you are interested in some old Filipino folklore, read on and I will tell the story of Mananangal and the Aswang, frightening creatures that are virtually the same in appearance, but are separated by their culinary preferences...

The Mananangal and the Aswang

Both types of creatures only come out at night, and usually during a full-moon. During the day, they appear to be ordinary people, nothing unusual at all. However, when hunger strikes, they seek cover behind the banana trees and begin their disgusting transformation. First, her hair grows wild (get this chick some frizz-control!), her teeth become fangs, and her fingernails extend into sharp talons. Then she grows giant bat wings, and her upper body detaches from her lower body so that her legs, topped with her innards, remain standing in the same spot. She flies to the house of a pregnant woman and perches herself on the roof above the sleeping woman. Her tongue then elongates and becomes threadlike, working its way down to the woman's navel, where it gently pierces her and makes its way to the fetus within. The Mananangal then sucks the blood from the unborn child until it has been spent, drying it up like a raisin. Satisfied, she flies back to her lower body and transforms once again into human form.

The Aswang is exactly the same as the Manangal with the exception that it preys on lone travellers, and instead of sucking blood, it simply rips your liver out with its sharp talons and feasts on the vitamin-rich organ.

You can kill either one of these creatures if you discover the lower body and pour salt on the innards. She won't be able to re-attach herself and will die at the break of dawn. Many superstitious Filipinos still believe in these myths.

Well, I finally did it--I finally ate dog (an aphrodisiac!). It was delicious, too. Hide your pooch!

After a 10-hour bus ride, I am back in my favorite city in the Philippines, Manila. I'm awaiting the arrival of an old friend.

"Kia Kaha (Be Strong)
Kia Toa (Be Brave)
Aroha Nui (Big Love)
Ka Kite Ano (We'll See You Again)"

Maori farewell (big thanks to John Hepi, a Maori whom I met in Chaing Mai)

Posted by Gary at 09:14 PM
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May 11, 2005

On a Cool Night, Just Let Me Hold You By the Firelight

If you don't feel right, you can go...Ha, I love 80's soft rock. If I had to pick my top three cuts, they would be Billy Ocean's romantic "Caribbean Queen" (íNo more love on the runí!), Bonnie Tyler's epic "Total Eclipse of the Heart" (íTurnaround, every now and then I get a little bit lonely and you're never comin' roundí), and Toto's inspirational "Africa" (íI bless the rains down in Africaí).

That's right, doggy, I REPRESENT (tourists)!!!

After an intense CrossFit-esque workout in Baguio's Burnham Park last evening, I sat down for a cheap meal at a local canteen (that's what they call the "budget" restaurants here in the PI), enjoying my two favorite Filipino dishes so far, pork adobo and arroz caldo. A good sized portion of each totaled 70 pesos, which is a little under $1.40. More on the food here a little later in the entry. The Filipina chick that served me decided it would be a good idea to serenade me with some karaoke en Tagalog (Tagalog is the official language of the Philippines). It was pretty funny. Every time she would look back at me she would start cracking up and totally butcher the song.

Baguio from Kristian's balcony.

Sunset approaches in Baguio. This is the view from the SM (Super Mall).

Since I am spending such a good chunk of time in Baguio, I felt it only appropriate to show those of you following along some of the city's sights. There isn't anything here that is nearly impressive as Sagada or Batad but I like the look of the homes built on the piney hills of the city. Burnham Park is a really nice place to chill, although it can get rather crowded during the day, which is why I typically only visit at night. There is also Camp John Hay, a defunct U.S. military base which has become the site of great parks, golf courses, and luxury homes in which some of the wealthiest folk dwell. It's a great place to walk around during the day, when the weather is pretty hot, as the dense pine forests act as a canopy to block the sun.

On a stroll through the "eco-trail" at Camp John Hay. Look familiar, Northwesterners?

Though sometimes Kristian cooks for us at his apartment where I am staying, we usually just eat out at the local canteens. The food is cheap and abundant. Most Filipino dishes are very meat heavy and light on the veggies. Last night, I ordered a dish of steamed vegetables to go with my chicken menudo and rice and Kristian gave me a perplexed look like "Why would you spend money on that?" As I mentioned earlier, my favorite dishes are pork adobo and arroz caldo. I have been eating adobo for as long as I can remember (my mom made it often), and there are some good offerings here, although honestly I haven't found any to match hers yet. It is a stewey dish usually made with either chicken or pork, seasoned with soy sauce, vinegar, pepper, and garlic. Arroz caldo is one of the lighter dishes I eat, a thick and flavorful rice pooridge complimented with bits of chicken or beef. Diniguan is a dish that I tried and have grown to love deeply...DEEPLY. Chunks of pork meat and pork organs are slow-cooked in pork's blood and God knows what else. It is a very rich dish and requires plenty of rice to balance the strong flavors. Pancit is the popular noodle dish and is a nice break from eating big plates of rice all the time with the meat dishes. There's lumpia, which is a popular Filipino-style egg roll, filled with pork, vegetables, and rice noodles, and deep-fried. So those are the "normal" dishes. On the street, you'll encouter some funky shit. First, there are the skewer stands, where you won't find the typical meat on a stick. Instead you'll find de-beaked chicken heads complete with comb and waddle, chicken feet, intestine medallions, and other strange animal delights, all well seasoned and barbecued on a skewer. One of the most popular Filipino snacks is balut, and even though I ate a whole bag of cockroaches in Cambodia, I haven't mustered the strength to try it yet. Oh, but I will. Balut is either a fertilized chicken or duck egg in which the embryo has been allowed to mature long enough to develop a beak, reptilian feet, bones, and feathers. The locals love it! My mom used to rave about it to me. I'll give it a due time.

The preferred mode of local transportation is the jeepney. These things are great and really cheap to get around in. They basically look like an old-school jeep from the front, but have been modified so that they can accommodate a bunch of people in the back. Look at the picture, it's much more effective than my attempted explanation. Each one is totally customized, and some of them have been very impressively tricked out. Some have whole murals of epic battles or American Indian and Wild West scenes painted on the side. Others have great decal jobs. And some are just plain fugly. You read right: FUGLY, dig?

Your average jeepney. This one ainít nothiní special, but just know that there are some real pieces of work out here.

Okay, on to the best news of my stay in Baguio so far: I finally met members of my family face-to-face. Yeah! They are awesome people and we had a great evening of playing catch-up over a magnificent feast this evening. My point-of-contact was my first cousin, Jackie, a half-Lebanese, half-Filipina, who is just a couple years older than. She let my tita (aunt), Gigi, know that we were meeting up tonight, and so Gigi came all the way from her home in the beach town of La Union to meet me. She brought along to more cousins, Margaret and Brian, 13 and 4 respectively. It was such a great feeling to have finally met them. Tomorrow, we are all heading to La Union, sans Jackie, who has job responsibilities, to meet the rest of the fam. I am so excited! At last, I can meet my lola (grandma), who I have heard about all my life, as well as my other aunts, uncles, and cousins. One of my uncles is a commercial fisherman, so I am going to see about heading out with him during my stay for a little fishing trip. Yum...

Some of mi familia and me together again for the first time.

Cousin Jackie.

Cousin Margaret.

Aunt Gigi.

My mama let me know that she and my pops are seriously considering buying a house here in the Philippines. Good news for everyone, plus Iíll have a place to rest my laurels while in country. Whoís with me?

Kristian and me at the Lamtang Boulders.

Cancelled my flight back to Bangkok in favor of a longer stay in the Philippines, plus I discovered that a flight from Manila to Kota Kinabalu in Borneo (Malaysia) is just a smidgen over $20 USD. Amazing! So now I can climb Kota Kinabalu and see Kuala Lumpur along with other Malaysian sights before heading home. It will be a blast, for real.

"Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one."
Jane Howard

Posted by Gary at 07:13 AM
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May 07, 2005

The Temperate Zone Spreads Her Chilly Tentacles... far away as the Philippines. Well, this place is certainly proving itself to be the "Land of Surprises," surprising to me anyway. I thought the climate here would be all tropical or sub-tropical and was shocked upon entering an environment not unlike the Northwestern U.S., where I have lived most of my life. I will touch on this subject some more later in this entry. Let's begin with my arrival to the lovely capital of the Philippines, Manila.

I. Have I Been Here Before?

Yeah, but it was called Los Angeles last time. I fucking hate Los Angeles and Manila reminded me exactly of that place. I stayed at a nice inn called the Malate Pensionne on Adriatico St. and recommend it if you must stay overnight. Other than that, visiting Manila again isn't worth a squirt of piss to me. Sorry for the hate, but that's just the way I feel. Wanna see a picture of Manila? Google it.

II. Baguio, Baguio...My, How You've Grown.

As you know from my previous entry, I have been in Baguio since my second day here. When my mother described the "City of Pines" to me, I had the impression that it was just a quiet mountain town with a few pines here and there amongst the tropical flora. Well, the town has grown into a fair-sized city (pop. 250,000) and the foliage is most definitely dominated by pine trees. It's an okay place to hang out-- nice parks, good nightlife (although sometimes too loud too late)...all the convneniences of the big city. Unfortunately, the city has gone the way of Manila and become much too Americanized for my taste. The young peoples' idea of a good time here in Baguio is hanging out at the Super Mall. God, I hate shopping malls.

My typical meal: pork adobo, rice, and coffee. Filipinos seem to have something against vegetables.

My first night here, I met a nursing student named Kristian who invited me to stay at his place. Very hospitable guy! He cooks very well and can give one helluva full-body massage. Kristian acted (and continues to act ) as my guide here. He even brought me to the Lamtang Boulders, which I read about at, but would have had a very difficult time finding without some local help. After a couple days in the city, I was craving some exploaration of the more remote areas of Northern Luzon (the island I am on now; there are over 7,000 islands making up the Philippines!) and on Thursday, caught the 6AM bus to Sagada.

III. Wriggling My Way Through the Caves of Sagada

Covered in pine forests and situated way up in the mountians, you'd think you were walking around Central Oregon and not the small mountain town of Sagada in Philippines. The main attractions here are the numerous large caves, some of which contain stacks of coffins which have been placed there for several generations. The town is beautiful, even more "piney" than Baguio, and c-c-c-cold at night. Really, I was kicking myself for not bringing another layer of clothing for chilly evenings. The town requires that you hire a guide for the caves (and for good reason, a person could easily get lost!), so I wasted no time.

Church in Sagada.

I visited two caves, the first being the largest in the vicinity (I don't recall the name). It was freakin' huge! Inside, there were some very interesting rock formations and lots of water. For most of the tour, we were wading through waste-deep water until we reached a nice big pool. It wasn't exactly warm in the cave, but I figured What the hell? and jumped in.

Wading through the water.

An impressive toothy rock formation.

This is called the "King's Curtain."

At one time, this area was under the ocean, as evidenced by these marine seashell fossils.

The cave swim.

The next morning, I caught another bus to the town of Banue, where I witnessed one of the most remarkable sights since Angkor Wat: the rice terraces at Batad.

IV. Batad

The majestic rice terraces of Batad.

Some 2,000 years ago, the Ifugao people (the local ethnicity of this region) carved, by hand, magnificient rice terraces into the mountainside, supporting them with stone retaining walls. The terraces thrive to this day, providing food for the locals and serving as one of the major tourist attractions in the Philippines. Luckily, I encountered maybe five tourists on my hike through the "Eighth Wonder of the World" yesterday. My guide, Reynaldo Agas, was awesome! Definitely the man to see for any of you planning to make a trip out here. I picked up a few souvenirs, including a walking stick with the Rice God carved into its head that I hope to take around the world. Before returning to our starting point (the day's hike took about 6 hours), we visited the Tippia Falls for a little rest and swim-time. We reached the trail-head well past dark, heading back to town in Reynaldo's headlightless tricycle (it's what they call a motorcycle with attached car). The twinkiling lights from the numerous glowing insects only added to the charm of this magical place.

Standing above the rice terraces.

Yet another view.

Hopefully, the Rice God does his job.

Walk quickly and carry a big stick.

The locals of Batad were very funny when it came to my appearance. Just about every person we encountered had to comment on my build or my tattoos or both. Some thought that maybe I had been in prison. Reynaldo told some of them that I was a great boxing champion from Manila and that I could kill them with one punch. Funny guy.

Ifugao girls.

Your man in Banue/Batad...Mr. Reynaldo Agas and don't forget to to let him know who sent ya!

For anybody interested in trekkig through Batad for one or more days, please contact Reynaldo Agas at 0910-272-3855. He is definitely top-notch and can arrange multi-day treks through the mountains with his porters, who will cook all of your meals and even serenade you with song and guitar. Mom, we're going to do this when you and I (and maybe the rest of you--Dad, Crystal, and Brian!) visit.

Read and Heed.

Posted by Gary at 03:34 AM
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