31 December 2010

Cafeño in San Juan in Batangas

Old-house ogling in San Juan.

Aside from promising street after street of old-house-porn, coming to Batangas gives you all you want-- beaches and coffee. When driving to La Luz to splay yourself out on the sand, you first pass by San Juan, one of the many small, urbanizing towns south of Manila.

Warm fuzzy capiz windows and pointy roofs.

A lot of mid-sized Batangas towns were once fairly small economic activity. They retain a functioning, somewhat organic, layout. Plazas, small streets, old houses, churches that don't look like suppositories, and so on. In eastern(most) Batangas is San Juan,0 originally called Bolbok, from nabulbok or "bubbling" (referring to a "live" stream in the area). Eventually, bothersome flooding from the rivers Bancoro and Bangbang resulted in the transfer of the whole town to its current location.

Not far is the countryside.

Explanation of why the whole town was moved in 1869.

Of course, you will spot an old house that tells you to stop by. It bears the name "Cafeño" in a few different fonts, colors, and forms.

Hey, stop! Cool up in Cafeño!

My favorite being the bold yellow wall with simple illustrations.

A semblance of symmetry on the table.

Plus what?

Inside, you will find a cozy room with small objects collected through the years. The Western strain of cafe, together with a low-key but intuitive assembly of things and offerings illustrates the long-running sliver of cosmopolitan influence among small-town elites.

Old moka pots. Am unsure if they are in use.

Old bottles screenprinted with congressional campaign messages.

You can sit and read magazines while waiting for food that makes you nostalgic for rainy days with lola. Suman (steamed rice cake) with warm panotsa (coconut and raw sugar sauce), cacao with either churros or pinipig (pounded crispy rice).

Cacao with churros. One is a bit burnt, but still tasty.

Suman sa lihiya with panutsa sauce and latik (coconut oil dregs) on top.

Cacao with a siding of pinipig.

An oddity is the collection of several clocks bearing the times of different cities around the world-- a continental touch that seems a folly. The odd selection of cities-- Seattle, Seoul, Toronto, and Paris-- is printed on white paper, cut, pasted on colored paper, and wrapped in plastic, a la school bulletin board.

Time now is as follows.

No.9 Cor General Luna and Rizal St.
San Juan, Batangas


17 December 2010

Yuletide Stamped Envelope Barrage

Bimboy checks in.

One of the modern aspects of Christmastime in the Philippines, not often spoken about due to its unspectacular and mildly unpleasant nature, is the barrage of service providers that ask you for "holiday tips".

Max, the Sun Cellular guy has strange word placement.

Messengers routinely leave small, white envelopes with their greetings, names, and company name stamped on. They are to be stuffed with a bill or two and returned during the next bill/statement delivery or during a special "collection trip".

PSBank guy scrawls his details.

Some have their names carved onto a stamp and glued onto the wooden handle together with the greeting. Others simply scrawl their name down on a corner of the envelope, or have a smaller, detached stamp of their name made (to allow for greeting-stamp sharing).

Buendia stampmaker.

Preparations for the season are done a few months ahead by stamp-makers, who create a few standard greeting stamps. The mind-numbing task of scrawling on hundreds of envelopes is made easier by the street artisans of mechanical reproduction. It is engaging to wonder how their presence had broadened the practice, enabling higher efficiency and stamp-sharing. Enjoy the following photos, spot a misspelling and a repeat design from last year.

30 November 2010

Appliance Bike

A bicycle sidecar, parked on the way to Mt. Isarog, features reuse of appliance refuse:

Electric fan frame and those curvy things behind refrigerators.

22 November 2010


Banan deep fried in sugared spring roll wrap, the small side by side with the large, in fireworks-like setup.

14 November 2010

The Persistence of Community

Filipina helpers take a day off.

We've had this discussion before. The mass gathering of Filipina domestic helpers in Hong Kong every Sunday is a constant source of shame, amazement, and interest-- an array of reactions from diversely inclined Manileños.

Marisa González, a Spanish artist and documentarist, has created Ellas Filipinas (The Filipinas), recently exhibited at This Is Not A Gateway in London. The video chronicles the weekly horde of Filipina workers at the open spaces of Hong Kong (particularly the HSBC bank), and how on every Sunday, the said place is transformed into a "small town" (according to Alexander Trevi), "somewhat autonomous from the city and with its own parallel economy of exchange and transactions". See the trailer here.

Local reactions to the weekly phenomena depend on personal definitions of public space, largely arising from social background. Wealthier Filipinos puke a little bit in their mouths when they see public pedicures (which are actually quite common), out of place in their ideas of hygiene and gated-subdivision-style privacy. They are mortified by the conundrum of domestic helpers in Hong Kong-- they cannot afford their own property, and they are not ashamed to create their own, even just for a day. Both the visual impact and the scope of public activity is protested by the more "couth" populace.

Streetside lice-picking.

But those who live in urban and peri-urban settings are familiar with a fluid deliniation between what is public and private, with the bounds similar to those in a very rural bahay kubo setup. The home is used for sleeping, while cooking, handwork, and even showering takes place in public or semi-public locations (e.g. "dirty" kitchen and the outhouse). In the cities, cooking and bathing have been relocated inside the home, but even to this there are exceptions-- large-scale cooking is done outside due to space constraints, and I have seen not a few grilling sessions and showers along the street (some washing their clothes, and then deciding to wash themselves as well). Activities like haircuts, lice-picking, tattooing, are best done where light and space are abundant, and this means, outside your door (urban abodes can be extremely cramped, hot, and dark).

Mani-pedi in a public market (reposted).

In a country where you can, for the most part, begin to sell various dry goods outside your house or on a busy street corner if you wish, there is also less hesitation to define a space as one sees fit. In one "dead" corner near my home (which is not in a subdivision), there is a constant bingo operation going on where the women gamble loudly whilst squatting on the floor, their cards splayed out in front of them. In other moments, it becomes a small basketball court, with the ring and board tacked onto an electrical post. On some nights, it becomes a garahe for a school bus. Once in awhile, trumping all other uses in urgency, the patch of concrete houses garish lights, a red carpet, and a coffin, for a rent-free funeral wake (for the coffins would fit into none of the homes around). People define and change utility of this "public" plot without hesitation.

Outdoor living room, under an aratiles tree.

And so, there is much opportunity to create a space that defines "non-work", for employees that need to. Domestic helpers back here in the Philippines also often take Sundays off. Being mostly regional migrants, they have no home to come home to in the metropolis, but must leave their employers' home to define the day as, well, a day off. Within the household, the work hours are arbitrary, and the maid's quarters are not defined as a "home" per se-- for usually, so long as the maid is in, she is on call. Staying in on a Sunday, unless you are sick, means volunteering your services for one extra day, or witnessing the ire of your boss as they do the dishes while you read a romance novel.

One helper recounts to me her growing closeness to a cousin, whose home had become the Sunday hangout for distant relatives making a living in Metro Manila. It was there that they received news from their small town in Bicol, traded stories on their employers, and gave money to one person who placed their lotto bets while they were at work all week. You can imagine, in a country with no distant relations with property, how Filipinas cope.

Constantly surrounded by people who are unlike them, who don't even take the effort to know their family names or interests, who don't share the same language and symbols, they need one day of ease, or at least a replacement for their local concept of home and/or common space. On Sundays, their identity resumes.

03 November 2010

Law Enforcement

In a Bicolano fastfood joint: policeman has faux tattoo pull-ons, is cradling rifle.

02 November 2010

28 October 2010

Cleaning Up

Laborers pulling grass provide a welcome distraction to those waiting for the off-peak hourly train.

Rail upkeep is currently limited to basic cleaning and pulling grass from the rail.


Worker's bags.

24 October 2010


"DOTC-PNR. Do not delay."

When the PNR stations were revamped, practically all "skates"-- illegal improvised vehicles built to travel on "idle" tracks-- were removed. I saw one spared, though. The PNR drinking water is delivered via official skate, by two men and a tag-along child.

Stop and pull to position.

Lift a la palanquin.


Engine removal.

Kid playing with the "horn"-- which is actually powered by a bike pump.

  • To learn more about skates, read this blog made by students as a quite cute project.
  • A couple of skate shots in this collection of rail photos.
  • An article about skate eradication, with a small review ("I thought it was quite a pleasant ride until there was a train heading toward us.").

20 October 2010

Rail Tie Benches

Old railroad ties, replaced by concrete ones, are the only place to sit at PNR stations.

19 October 2010

Sta. Mesa Trainstop Greenery

Lemongrass, coconut, banana, eggplant, sili, and the train station behind.

Sta. Mesa is an interesting place. Dense, much alive, and easily accessible by the spanking-new (well, relatively) PNR train. And when you get off the train station, you see an abundance of greens planted on land that used to be informal housing.

Eggplants fruiting.

The more systematic garden located directly by the station is maintained by the local barangay officials from Barangay 629 (Zone 63) during their spare time. As I missed my train, we walked up to a small bamboo room, which doubled as their local government office. There were people playing cards, and some sitting around in their sandos, one without a shirt. There's no hurrying, and you can sit down without introducing yourself, and fit instantly in their rhythm. They are good people.

The edge of the pond, shaded by an aratiles tree and bordered by tsitsirika (periwinkle).

The garden was started by barangay kagawads and tanods when the informal settlers were removed to make way for the new train system. Usually the willing come by to water the plants and do other tasks. Nothing gets stolen, but residents do come by to ask for vegetables, or many of the medicinal herbs growing. Recently, a tilapia pond had been installed. They occassionally catch some and eat them, but they had admittedly put too many fry in, resulting in small fish. No complaints, though, just learning.

Tilapia pond with religious figures.

View from the station: lots of kamote (sweet potato), kamoteng kahoy (manioc), and lemongrass.

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