Two four five

Two four five

It is quite early when I wake up on the morning of May 24th. Wednesday morning at 05:30am. Today I would spend the majority of the day on a bus. After a short breakfast, the driver Don Don, who had already taken me to the rice terraces of Batad, takes me to the village center. There I’m looking for a Jeepney that would drive to Solano. What is a Jeepney? This is one of the most used means of transport in the Philippines for short to medium-haul routes. Here is a short extract from Wikipedia:

“Jeepneys are to small buses converted vehicles with up to 14 seats – traditionally, they were Willys Jeeps that the US Army had left behind after their withdrawal from the Philippines. Jeeps are still being replicated in the Philippines. Jeepneys with their individual, mostly colorful design are considered typical Philippine means of transport. Alrady years ago, the Jeepneys have been criticized for their exhaust fumes and the often poor technical condition.”

In the vehicle I meet a dutch girl. She would like to go to Baler today, a small place on the east coast of Luzon. So we both have a long way to go. She graduated as a physiotherapist and has now been on the road for 3 months. In a few weeks she will return to the Netherlands, where she would like to do something other than physiotherapy. The journey to Solano takes about 2 hours. Again and again, people get into the vehicle or stop it to get out again. My left leg is asleep because I am very uncomfortable sitting between our two big backpacks. Finally I can get up! We change the means of transport. A bus. Without air conditioning. However, we are lucky enough to get a seat in the full vehicle. Now we are on the way to San Jose … this is about a 3 hours drive.

This route is very annoying. Many curves, worming trucks which, either because of the missing engine power – or because they are totally overloaded – try to climb up the mountain or – perhaps because the brakes are not really working – down the mountain.

Again and again the bus driver overtakes them. This in, for Asia absolutely normal, dangerous maneuvers. The risk of a heart attack is significantly increased for people from Western Europe who experience something like this for the first time. About 90%, hahaha.

How many children there are on board usually interests nobody…ok perhaps the parents, hehe. This applies not only to the driving style, but also to the contents shown on the on-board entertainment system. So I experience it again and again that on bus trips brutal films are shown – of course illegal copies – while 3-year-old kids stare at the screens. This is not only the case in the Philippines. Somehow, the relationship to violence here is different. Thus my brain is trying to inevitably draw conclusions such as:

Cry outs and horror, in case of homosexual acts, but confidently showing the young children how a human body is shred by a chain saw. Paradox? Noooooo. This is something completely different.

It is incredibly hot, and there is no possibility for an airstream to develop, with the traffic volume, the many construction sites and the police checkpoints. Nevertheless, I survive the journey and arrive in San Jose. I say good-bye to the European girl and ride a tricycle to another bus terminal. There I can get into a bus whose air conditioning forces me to wear my sweater. Now I am off to Cabayan, which I hope to reach in two hours. I eat the peanuts with Adobo flavor, which I bought before the bus left and drink water. At 17:00, the bus reaches Cabayan. A man with the bus company tells me where I have to wait to get a bus to Tarlac City, my second last stop for today and Limuel’s home town. Again and again buses pass and somehow they all go to Cubao and not to Tarlac. A friendly Filipino assures me that a bus to Tarlac would soon come. He is right, and there he comes. Again, I force myself with my two backpacks – a big one for most luggage and a small one for day trips – through the people.

My right butt cheeck even gets a seat while the left free hangs in the air, haha.

Lim and his female friends- who absolutely want to see me – are impatient and always ask where I am. If someone like me, who seems to be so important, is on the road, then you just wait for him;) After another two hours, so at 19:45 o’clock I finally reach Tarlac City. A tricycle takes me to the shopping mall where they wait for me. It’s good that they do not see me, because I can – even though I am the only European far and wide – sneak up at them and spook them, hahaha.

Finally I’m back with Lim!

The last time we saw each other was on January 6th. A very long time. But we must restrain ourselves. We are in the public and especially in the city where he lives. I welcome Cheyenne, who I have seen last time in Puerto Galera, in June 2016, and a new friend of Lim, Angelic. A little small talk and then the bus to bring us to Mabalacat comes already. We say goodbye to Lim’s friends and get into the air-conditioned bus. It is a very special feeling to sit next to someone you have not seen for months. Someone you haven’t touched for months and yet always missed. The reunion is a wonderful moment and I can hardly believe that I am really here.

We arrive in Dau and have to find out how to get to our accommodation. The first time for me that I try the online service “AirBnB“. Short explanation:

“Airbnb is an online marketplace and hospitality service, enabling people to lease or rent short-term lodging including vacation rentals, apartment rentals, homestays, hostel beds, or hotel rooms. The company does not own any lodging; it is merely a broker and receives percentage service fees (commissions) from both guests and hosts in conjunction with every booking. It has over 3,000,000 lodging listings in 65,000 cities and 191 countries, and the cost of lodging is set by the host. Like all hospitality services, Airbnb is a form of collaborative consumption and sharing.”

So if you have a big flat or even a house, rent a part of it out on AirBnB;) What is to say, however, is that the legal basis in Switzerland is, as far as I know, controversial. But now enough of this.

I contacted the owner a few days ago and asked for the exact address. I even got it. JP Rizal street number 245 in San Joaquin, Mabalacat. That sounds accurate to me. However, this was also the last time I heard from the owner. On further inquiries on how to get there best and so on, I received no answer. Also google maps does not know where the JP Rizal street is. Well, with the address and the help of the locals there we would find it, I tell myself. Lim and I take a tricycle, that is like a motorcycle with side car and explain to the driver where we want to go. First only the district, San Joaquin. There we would inquire further. The mark, which the owner has placed on the online map for the location of his house, is completely wrong. I try to call him. No Answer. Now the great search begins. First the road, I think. We find it with the help of nice passers-by. There is even a sign with the street name. It is a barely lit, partly asphalted street in a residential area, wide enough for one car maybe. A small party tent is set up and some people are gathered at a table under the tent. But here comes the small but subtle difference to Switzerland: only a few houses have a house number. We find numbers 253 and 222. We ask around.

„Two, four, five.“, I keep hearing the tricycledriver.

Every time he wants to ask someone for the house number, he has to get it confirmed by Lim. He also turns around in circles several times. This can not be so difficult, I think, and start getting angry, as the guy always goes in the same places, misses junctions, and Lim always has to tell him where he is supposed to drive, even though 10 seconds ago someone explained it to him. Now I get off and try it in English. Unsuccessful. Now we are on a parallel road to JP Rizal. In the meantime, we started to show people the pictures of the house entrance from the AirBnB app. We call George, the owner, again and again. No answers. Everything unsuccessful. No one knows house number 245 or George. Many even tell us that there is no house number 245. After half an hour wandering around, I’ve had enough and start looking for a hotel on the app. At this moment, Lim’s phone rings.

It’s George’s wife! Lim goes to squat and tries to absorb the sound of the plane of Qatar Airways, which is flying a few hundred meters over the residential area.

Apparently George and his wife are not there. But Lilly, the mother of George, is. Now we have a name to ask for. More we do not get, even when Lim is asking for the GPS coordinates. Okay, then we do not try it with a house number, I think, but with a name. Once again we end up in the JP Rizal, where we started our search and this time with success! Conveniently opposite a small shop, whose owner was the first person we asked for directions, is the house! I can not believe it. I can not believe we found it, and even less can I believe the shopkeeper told us 30 minutes ago that there is no house number 245 in this street! Well, great neighborhood, I think. Lilly, the mother of the owner warmly welcomes us and shows us the apartment. It is a separate apartment, an annex to the main building, so to speak. Small and comfortable, but by far large enough for the two of us and even with a kitchen and bar in the living room.

We just unload our bags quickly and then ask Lilly, where there is the next catering option. All I ate today was breakfast and a pack of peanuts. Meanwhile it is 22:00 o’clock. We are told the way to the main road, which we knew by now, where we stop a Jeepney that brings us to the next McDonalds. Finally food, I say. When we enter the restaurant, the world stands still for a moment: everyone turns around and looks at me. Oh shit, I think. Not many white people here, what? That would not be the last time that I feel like an extraterrestrial in the Philippines. After the meal, we leave the restaurant and at the entrance, Lim is approached by a friend. A short hello and that’s it. We go. It’s a former school colleague, he tells me. He muses about her contacts and hopes that she does not know anyone who is relevant enough and could ultimately bring this information to his parents. Yes, it is often a hiding game here. Lim’s parents do not know of his inclination to men and certainly not of a relationship with a foreigner who is 12 years older than him, hahaha. And a good place to hide us, of course, we have also chosen: during our entire stay in Mabalacat I do not see a single other white foreigner. Not even on a bus or on the road, nowhere. I got the whole attention of the entire city for me alone, hahaha. Back on JP Rizal street we are approached by curious children.

“Give me money.”, says a 6-year-old girl to me.

I reply: “You give me money, ok?”. She is not interested in this. Well, if it is already planted in the heads of the little ones, that white foreigners have a lot of money, well. Their English is quite limited and they have great fun with me. “Tito Foreigner” they call me, explains Lim, which means “Uncle Foreigner”. The children here call every unknown adult “Tito”, that is uncle. I think that’s sweet. And the next morning there are also some kids outside the door and ask where Tito Foreigner is.

Lim and I spend our time with television, food and cozy get-together. I cook a lot of coffee, instant coffee, because I do not want to use the machine here. For hygienic reasons. Not everything is to here hygienically and the bathroom in our accommodation is very disgusting. Lim must also intervene and save me from a 4cm long cockroach, which found the way into the kitchen and later also to the bathroom. Ok, cockroaches are nothing unusual here. There must be millions. But I am used to seeing them mainly on the streets and the walkways. I do not like them. However, I am a little bit interested in them and I would like to take a look at some facts:

Apparently, they are among the most persistent animals and are the fastest crawling insects, with a speed of up to 1.5m per second! Have fun hunting! They have existed for a long time, and in old stories of history there is often talk of cockroach races. Even into the world of music they have made it with the song:

“La Cucaracha”, the cockroach. A Mexican folk song, apparently dedicated to an unpopular general.

But now enough of it.

On Friday we visit the Tarlac Festival in Tarlac City. Lim’s home town. I ask him several times whether he really wants to go there. The danger of being recognised is high. And so I can apply my talent as an actor several times when we are in the local shopping center, where some of Lim’s study colleagues roam around. Suddenly we would separate and I pretend to buy a coffee machine, or ask for directions. It is very annoying, but I have to admitt: it is also a bit of fun;) Reminds me of my time in private security, when I was sneaking up on insurance cheaters.

It is rainy season in the northern islands of the Philippines and so it rains every day. Sometimes only an hour, sometimes the whole afternoon and evening. At 20:00 o’clock a special show starts on the stage of the festival. Hundreds of Filipinos have come with their umbrellas and sit down on the plastic chairs or stand in front of the stage. Families with children, couples, all kinds. Anglic is also with us and we get a nice place in a meadow. The voices of the commentators resound in my ears. The Filipinos – like most people in Southeast Asia – have no sense of loudness. In a few years, a fairly large number of people will get hearing problems, I’m sure. Well, so I just try to close my ears a little. The show’s hosts are three men dressed as women who behave like drama queens.

The Filipinos find this hilarious and laugh their asses off.

Various dance groups appear. Then a few singers. Among them is a man who can bring his voice to extreme heights. The audience love him. Several guys from the audience are also invited to the stage, where they have to face various challenges. For example, a dancer in a very erotic style would dance in front of them or with them, and it is then up to them to participate. Also this the Filipinos find hilarious and laugh themselves ill. Ok, once or twice this is funny, but it is repeated over and over again.

In between, the commentators also repeatedly thank the various politicians who seem to have done something for the festival. Governor anyway and vice-governor this and that. Board member anyway and the president of this and any club or I do not know what. I get bored and I want a beer. Lim comes along and we walk through the audience. Oh my dear, I think.

Wherever I go, I get looks. Some curious, others surprised and still others undress me with their eyes.

Meanwhile, I must have more viewers than the entertainers on stage, I think. It’s incredible. I have not experienced this even in India. And it is not that Lim and I embrace or go hand in hand. They also stare at me when Lim is not there. Now I know how a movie star must feel when he walks on the street.

I was not expecting that. Really not. I knew that the Tarlac region is not touristic, but that I would be perceived as so strange, I was not aware. Ok, I do not look bad, I’m also not 60 years old. Actually, I am pretty handsome and no longer fat. But what exactly is it, I do not know. Some people try to touch me. I wonder if it happened to the first dark-skinned people in Switzerland too?

Briefly we meet Michael, a new friend of Lim, who makes a friendly impression. He is about 35 and works at the municipality. The small talk, which I find far more interesting than the stage show, we can not continue unfortunately, since he is busy with his guests and there are no seats available indoors anymore. So we’re on the way home. Angelic stays in Tarlac and Lims and I take the bus to Mabalacat. So our days in the small cozy apartment also come to an end.

On Sunday we go to Tarlac together. Lim leaves me here and I continue to Baguio, a place in the mountains. He still needs to attend several lessons and pay semester fees. Hopefully, we will not be separated for a long time, because soon his internship in the capital of Manila begins.

Thank you for reading and see you soon!

2 Replies to “Two four five”

  1. It’s funny reading your article…it’s like listening to you all over again…I can even recall your facial expression when we were talking about ” two four five ” …..ahahhaha!!

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