Overhead Wires in the Philippines vs Underground Service Cables in Europe

I am writing this post because even today (lockdown measures have been lifted a bit) I have had to cope with one of the many traffic jams that are caused day in and day out by never ending road repairs, many of which are the result of the fact that all kinds of utilities in this country run underground.

One of the things that really impressed me the first time I set foot in the Philippines is the incredible amount of utility poles and overhead wires and cables.

I found that jungle of wires quite odd because here in Italy, as well as everywhere else in Europe, there is almost nothing hanging overhead.

I assume that the reason why they have overhead feeds in the Philippines is because the cost of underground wiring is much higher and developing countries evidently can’t afford all the extra expenses of boring holes in the ground, and all the more so because cities like Manila grow very rapidly and more and more new high-rise buildings and shopping malls are being built almost at the speed of light.

The downside of this “spaghetti wires” system became pretty obvious to me back in 2008 when I experienced my first tropical typhoon ever, bagyo Frank: we had no electricity for three days. Evidently overhead wires get very easily damaged by storms and severe storms do happen in the Philippines way too often.

Here in Italy we never, or hardly ever, have any prolonged power outages.

Underground feeds also offer a much cleaner look, since there are no power poles running down the streets.

On the other hand the underground wiring system has its downsides:

First of all electric bills are very high in this country and I guess that the higher cost of boring holes in the ground and digging every now and then to do ordinary and extraordinary maintainance is something that ultimately us users pay.

Another problem is that we have to put up with men at work digging holes to repair electric lines as well as gas and water pipes, day in and day out, and more men at work putting patches on the asphalt and those patches are not always even (and that is perhaps why in the Philippines roads seem to be smoother than the ones we have here in Rome: no one is digging holes all the time).

For us tourists who visit the Philippines those messy overhead wires are a little ugly to watch but I guess that it would be rather unpractical and probably too expensive for a country like the Philippines to switch to underground wiring in the short term.

At least Filipinos can enjoy their new roads that are free from the way too many patches and bumps that we have in this country….

Never ending digging in Rome

No overhead wires in Rome
Overhead wires in Baguio City, Philippines
Roads in the Philippines are getting better and better and they are free from utility workers who dig holes all the time…

Is the Philippines an Asian Country?

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The first time I set foot in the Philippines, I didn’t quite have the feeling that I was in Asia.

People there look more similar to Polinesians than to those who live on the Asian mainland and the landscape also resembles that of the Pacific Islands because, from a strictly geographical point of view, the Philippines is situated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and actually lies between the Asian mainland and Micronesia.

When I think of Asia the very first mental picture I have is the far East, namely places like China, Japan or Korea. Then I broaden the picture and what also comes to mind is places like India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and, of course, the Middle East.

The Philippines is none of these things but at the same time it includes some elements of other Asian countries.

There is an expression that encapsulates rather nicely what the Philippines looks like and the expressions is: Filipinos are Malay in family, Chinese in business, Spanish in love and American in ambition.

Another expression, pointing to the Western colonization of the country is:

Filipinos lived 300 years in a convent (under Spanish domination) and 50 years in Hollywood (under American domination).

Filipinos are Malay in family

The ancestors of the population of the Philippines, at least the vast majority of it, came from Malaysia and, under this aspect, Filipinos are much more akin to Pacific Islanders than they are to Asians.

That’s why Filipinos look closer to Hawaiians, Maori etc., since they came from the same Malay-polynesian group.
Many smaller groups of indigenous peoples and immigrants constitute the remainder of the Philippines’ population.

They are Austronesian

Tagalog is an Austronesian language like the languages spoken in the Pacific Islands.

Me dressed like an indigenous Filipino (Igorot)
A Catholic church in Bulacan
Noodles
Malay looking Filipino
Tagalog is an Austronesian language
Polinesian vibes

Chinese in business

This expression reveals that Filipinos have had a lot of connections with the Asian Mainland, and particularly with China, while Pacific Islanders are, by and large, culturally and socio-economically cut off from Asia.

Not only are Filipinos Chinese in business, in the sense that Chinese business people are very active in the Philippines, they have also been strongly influenced by China in such areas as cooking (Filipinos eat noodles and spring rolls) and family relationships (such Tagalog expressions like ate and kuya, or “older sister” and “older brother” come from Chinese).

Not only have Filipinos been exposed to Chinese immigration, the country has also been exposed to Arabic immigration, to the point that part of Mindanao (the Southernmost island group of the Philippines) is a Muslim area.

The “Culture Shock Philippines” book by Alfredo and Grace Roces says

“At about the same time as the Chinese, the Arabs had also come to the Philippines to trade. In the Southeast Asian region the founding of Malacca, followed by the conversion of its leader in 1414, spread the influence of Islam among the Malay peoples, reaching southern Philippine shores in the 14th century. Islam remains a dominant influence in the southern Philippines, a factor that unified the kinship groups in the area to resist colonisation by Spain effectively and strongly for 400 years, and put up a strong resistance to American colonisation. Although only a small minority within the Philippine population—about 5 per cent—the Muslims have added cultural character to the nation. The Filipino Christian majority today express pride and admiration”

Spanish in love and American in ambition

The fact that the Philippines have been exposed to 300 years of Spanish colonization and 50 years of American colonization sets them apart from both the rest of Asia and Polinesia and gives the Philippines a strong Western veneer to the point that a Westerner like me really feels like having landed in a Western country when he first sets foot in the Philippines.

In the Philippines you can find Spanish architecture as well as American-style skyscrapers.

Actually the Philippines was not even directly controlled by Spain, rather it was ruled by the Spanish via Mexico so, in this respect, the Philippines could also be viewed as a slice of Latin America situated between Asia and Polinesia but, at the same time millions of Filipinos speak English rather fluently and the American impact on the country can easily be observed by a tourist who sets foot in the Philippines.

So, yes, the Philippines is a very unique place: it’s a mixture of Asia, Polinesia, U.S.A. and Latin America.

From a selfish point of view I should encourage you to visit Italy, because my country will badly need tourists after this Coronavirus crisis but I must honestly tell you that I would rather encourage you to visit the Philippines than to come to Italy.

It’s geografic position as well as its exposure to all kinds of cultures and its incredible mixed architecture make the Philippines a place like none!

Kawayan or Bamboo in the Philippines

While in the Philippines I was amazed at how resistant and how versatile bamboo can be.

Filipinos use it everywhere: I have seen bamboo poles on the sides of the boats I took to get to the One Hundred Islands, the one I took on Lake Taal as well as in other places.

One common feature with many boats in the Philippines are the long bamboo stabilizers fitted to either side of the boat.

Also in the Philippines there are plenty of bahay kubo which are made of bamboo or kawayan and kugon or cogon grass.

The last time I was in the Philippines a bahay kubo was being built in the backyard of our house in barangay Pinaod, San Ildefonso Bulacan and I was amazed at how tough and resistant kawayan is.

Bahay kubo

Filipinos are so closely tied to bamboo that they have their own mythology about how man came from bamboo:

“there was a bird that flew incessantly between the sea and sky, unable to find a place to alight and rest. To add intrigue, the bird sparked a quarrel between the sea and the sky. It told the sky that the sea had designs of rising and drowning the sky; the sky replied it would fight such a move by hurling rocks and islands to hold the sea down, a statement the bird conveyed to the sea, provoking it to lash waves at the sky. The sky retaliated with rocks until, weighed down with islands, the sea no longer proved a threat. The bird then alighted happily on a protruding rock.

While it was resting, a bamboo node washed ashore and nudged the bird’s feet. The bird shifted a little. The bamboo nudged its feet again, and again the bird shifted. This went on until the bird, in anger, pecked at the bamboo, breaking it open. Out of the bamboo node emerged the first man. From the second node emerged a woman. Obtaining permission from the gods, the couple had many children. All grew up idle, doing nothing to help their parents until the father angrily picked up a stout stick and threatened to beat them all, sending them scampering in terror. Some ran out of the house, others fled to the bedroom, a few cowered in the living room, some hid in the kitchen and some among soot-covered cooking pots. Those children who entered the bedroom sired the chief and datos; those in the living room became free men; descendants of those who hid in the kitchen became slaves; while those blackened by the cooking pots produced the Aetas. From those who fled the house never to return descended all the people from other parts of the world” (source “Culture-shock Philippines” by Alfredo and Grace Roces-Chapter 2)

Maybe the only way to break open a matigas na ulo is by using bamboo….

Close to my wife’s town is the city of Meycauayan. I thought that it meant may kawayan (there is bamboo here) but I didn’t see much kawayan there….but I didn’t see any bakla in Baclaran either….

Pangasinan, La Union and Benguet: From Tropical Beaches to Temperate Climate in Two Hours

One of the areas I really love in the Philippines is the area situated between the provinces of Pangasinan, La Union and Benguet because it literally gives you the opportunity to spend half-day on a white-sandy tropical beach and the other half in an environment that almost resembles parts of the Alps.

I’ve got friends in Damortis, La Union, and the amazing thing about that area is that you can go to places like the One Hundred Islands or Bolinao in a couple of hours or so and enjoy blissing out on a tropical white-sandy beach or snorkel in waters that are filled with corals or, in only about one hour, you can reach Baguio City in the province of Benguet where you can find a climate that is more or less the same as the temperate areas of the world and you can see forests of pine trees and Alpine-style chalets.

Although my wife is Bulaquenya, each and every time I visit the Philippines, it is a must for me to head North and spend some time in my beloved Ilocandia where I get to enjoy this amazing variety of landscapes and climates and, all the more so because, under many aspects, Italy is also like that: there are parts of Southern Italy (like Calabria or the Sorrento Peninsula) where subtropical beaches are very close to high mountains so Southern Ilocandia is partly akin to my birthplace.

Backdrop View of the Mountains of Benguet From San Fabian Beach in Pangasinan
One Hundred Islands Pangasinan
Songyot Island in La Union
In Baguio City
Pine Trees and Alpine-style Chalets in Baguio

The Filipino Solution for Sinking Venice

Someone expressing concern on fb about sinking Venice
The “New Venice” in the Philippines
Canals and gondolas in the Grand Canal Shopping Mall

I am an Italian husband of a Filipina and one of the most famous tourist spots here in Italy, the city of Venice, is flooded.

Floods happen each year in Venice but the situation is getting worse and worse.

Venice is sinking and, according to recent studies, it will be underwater by 2100.

Does it mean to say that it will no longer be possible for tourists to visit Venice?

Well, Filipinos have come up with an interesting alternative: the Gran Canal Shopping Mall in Taguig that features canals and gondolas!

Venice is the city of canals so is Manila, the city of maraming mga kanal (at daga sa kanal….just like in Venice).

There is also plenty of kanal in the province and there is one running through my wife’s house compound in Bulacan.

Because the Philippines is the country of kanal, it stands to reason that only Filipinos could have created an alternative to the sinking city of Venice, should it completely go underwater….

How to Experience “Real” Adventure in the Philippines

Driving in Manila is a real adventure

(I stumbled upon this old post that I had not categorized when I created it so I am reposting it)

The Philippines has so many remote islands, jungles, rough roads and so on that the opportunities to experience adventure at its peak are endless.

I’ve had the chance to visit remote parts of the Sierra Madre Mountains where there is not even a trail and where the NPA hide.

Yet, scuba diving, bungee jumping, driving a jeep on a rough road leading to some remote waterfall, hiking in a jungle etc are certainly not the only ways to experience adventure in the Philippines.

You don’t by any means need to go to some remote area to experience adventure: just try driving in Manila during rush hour (that in Manila practically means almost any hour) where cutting in lanes and tailgating is routine or even in the province where buses overtake cars or buses in a curve and you have to resort to your best driving skills to avoid a crash, or try walking alone in some slum area like Tondo or Quiapo (I’ve experienced Quiapo by night) and you will experience “adventure” in the real sense of the word.

But even more adventurous is being married to a Filipina as the various aspects of culture shock that I’ve abundantly touched on in this blog can turn your relationship into a real “adventure” that can cause other kinds of adventures like swimming among the sharks or hiking in a trail infested with cobras or pythons to pale in comparison.

You will find yourself dealing with mainit ang ulo, hinanakit and other highly emotional traits of Filipinos or moving on the razor’s edge of trying to budget your money while sending substantial amounts to relatives in the Philippines (not my situation but it can happen to some) who expect help and those things definitely qualify as “adventure”.

But if you are willing to view the bumps on the road, the challenges and the obstacles as an opportunity to step up emotionally your relationship with a Filipina will definitely offer you an opportunity for an exciting adventure, a ride second to none.

So here is my top five list of adventures one can experience in the Philippines:

  • Tondo by night
  • Quiapo by night
  • E.D.S.A. Avenue at rush hour
  • Your Filipina’s relatives who ask for money
  • Your Filipina’s mood when she is having buwanang dalaw (menstruation)

Have a great time in the Philippines!

Mabuhay!….or mamatay

The Underground River of Bulacan

The underground river of Bulacan
Barangay Akle
Our young tour guides

Falls and pools

The Philippines is primarily known for its amazing beaches and its islands.

But I personally find that the inland areas of this incredible island nation are just as interesting as the seacoast.

Maybe the reason is because I come from the subtropical part of Southern Italy where the seascape almost resembles that of parts of the Philippines.

As I already pointed out in my article https://buildingfilipinowesternbridges.wordpress.com/2019/04/01/ang-italya-ay-ang-pilipinas-ng-europe/, Italy has amazing islands and beaches and I was born by the sea in a village situated in front of an island so I am more naturally drawn to explore landscapes that are other than the seacoast.

And in my Filipino wife’s province (which is virtually an inland province as the seacoast of Bulacan is part of Manila Bay and therefore not worth exploring) I have found places that are cut out for me and in today’s article I’d like to share a few pictures of the underground river of Bulacan, a place situated near barangay Akle in the municipality of San Ildefonso Bulacan.

The area is comprised of a river that forms a series of falls and pools (like many in the Sierra Madre region) and the main attraction of the area is precisely the underground part of the river that connects San Ildefonso to San Miguel (where the famous Biak na Bato National Park is situated).

Many locals agree that, if that place were made known, it would soon become a tourist attraction.

I barely remember the road to get there but, as far as I can remember, we turned right at the intersection of the National Highway and the M. Valte Road and kept following the M. Valte Road until we got to Barangay Akle and then turned left at the Eagle Cement Corporation plant and followed the rough road (it was rough when I was there and, as far as I can see from Google Street View, it seems like it is still rough) until we got to the church that is in the picture below

We parked and two young kabataang lalaki guided us to the cave where the river flows and they were carrying torches to light our path.

The place is quite amazing: the water inside the cave was quite deep in some parts and we could even climb various rocks and dive in various spots inside the cave and the water was pretty cold, which is exactly what I was looking for to cope with the tropical heat.

Another amazing thing is that, as the river exits the cave there is a series of falls and pools.

If you pass by Bulacan you’ve got to check this place out and definitely explore the underground river of Bulacan.

Sa Kabukiran

One of my favourite Pinoy songs is “Sa Kabukiran” (in the countryside) by Freddie Aguilar, a song I have learned how to play on the guitar, not that much of a difficult song, just a standard “Travis” (or something similar) picking in the key of G.

The opening lyrics go

Sa kabukiran, minsan kami ay namasyal

Kasama ko ang aking barkada

Sa isang kubo, doon kami ay lumugar

At kami ay masaya, masaya

and I am happy that my wife’s birthplace offers some amazing kabukiran and a lot of bahay kubo kung saan lumugar ako.

My wife’s place (as I ‘ve already mentioned in some previous article) was originally given by the Spaniards the fitting name of Hacienda Buenavista (the modern name is San Ildefonso), as the surrounding kabukiran offers a stunning 360-degree view of the Bataan Peninsula, Mount Arayat, the Pinatubo and the Sierra Madre Mountains.

Although the song goes “Sa kabukiran, minsan kami ay namasyal
Kasama ko ang aking barkada…” I actually used to walk about in it and rove about on it all by myself but I also did it once with the barkada and, sure enough, as the song goes, we ended up in a kubo (as heavy rain caught us by surprise) at kami ay may kaunting (not “container”) “pampasaya”…..

Halo-halo Architecture in the Philippines

If someone blindfolded you and took you to the Philippines for the first time in your life and once there removed the blindfold from your eyes you would hardly understand where you are in the world.

If you found yourself in the middle of Intramuros or in Vigan (where no one eats meat because everyone is “vigan”…) you would think you are in Spain or Latin America.

If you found yourself in Makati or in a mega-mall you might assume that you are in America.If you found yourself sa kabukiran you might think you are in Vietnam or somewhere else on mainland Asia.

In my wife’s barangay some houses are American style, others are bahay kubo, some have no style. In parts of Batangas I’ve seen Italian style houses…

In the Philippines you can hardly see any distinctive architecture that clearly tells you where you are in the world.

The Philippines is a strange place: it is something between Latin America, Asia, Polinesia and U.S.A. and in parts of Baguio City you can see houses that are similar to those you can find in the Italian Alps!

Even the character of Filipinos is an interesting mixture: it has been said that Filipinos are Malay in family, Spanish in love, Chinese in Business and American in ambition.

This explains everything……

Planning a Trip to the Philippines

San Ildefonso: ang “perlas” ng Silangan
Sa Kabukiran around San Ildefonso and part of the “Buenavista”

If you marry a Filipina you’ve got the opportunity to visit the “pearl of the Orient”, one of the most beautiful corners of the planet.

However, as I’ve already touched on, there is no guarantee that, by visiting the Philippines with your Filipino spouse, you will indeed have the chance to see pearl-like sceneries.

My wife comes from Barangay Pinaod which is part of the municipality of San Ildefonso, in the province of Bulacan and San Ildefonso is not that much of a “pearl”.

It probably used to be some kind of pearl because the Spaniards called it Hacienda Buenavista and for good reason because San Ildefonso is situated on a slightly elevated place that offers a 360-degree view of the Bataan Peninsula, Mount Arayat, the Sierra Madre Mountains and….the cloud of smog that covers Manila. However, nowadays San Ildefonso is not that much of a place and it is certainly not the kind of place that justifies spending 14 hours in a jumbo jet to get there. I come from a world-class tourist area in Southern Italy and surely I cannot settle for spending one month in San Ildefonso doing nothing but counting the calabau passing by.

The problem with many Filipinas is that, once they get to their home town, it is extremely difficult to convince them to travel around the country to satisfy the eagerness of their Western husbands to see the Perlas ng Silangan. Many Filipinas, once they go home just want to stay home.

So, my idea is that, unless your Filipino wife comes from a beautiful area that is already worth the trip to the Philippines, you’d better plan ahead to make the most of your vacation.

I think the best strategy is (once you land in Manila) not to leave the airport at all and immediately take another plane to go directly to a tourist spot like Coron, Palawan, Siargao etc and only after you have enjoyed a “proper” vacation you move to your wife’s village because chances are that once you get there you’ll stay there and you won’t be able to move your wife even if you try to lift her with a crane….