The Pilipiñas Packet

Sojourn in The Philippines, 2019-2020

Volume 16, Dasma, February 16

Week 16 – Dasmariñas

It was a quiet week in Dasmariñas. But really, Dasma is a long way from Lake Wobegon.

This was the week of visions, vanity and viruses.


Dreams would be more accurate. Maybe visions of the future emerge from our dreams but mostly, the neuroscience tells us, dreaming is the mind’s mechanism for sorting out non-conscious conflict and trying to reconcile it, park it somewhere in memory. I’m reading Antonia Damasio, The Feeling of What Happens, but he hasn’t told me anything yet about dreaming.  We’re told you need to go to deep, alpha, sleep and as you reemerge to REM sleep your active brain is processing information furiously: heart rate goes up, body temperature increases, you sweat, blood pressure skyrockets, you dream. In your agitation in this near-conscious state, or your partner’s alarm, you awaken to self-aware consciousness, otherwise you return to deep sleep without ever being aware you were in REM, and dreaming. This sleep cycle repeats 3 – 4 times per night, the lightest one being the last occurring around dawn, or your normal waking time. This is the dream you are most likely to recall. If you really want to revisit this dream, and try to unravel its meaning, write down a summary immediately, for later you will likely not recall any of the details.

I’ve always been a very active dreamer, and even recall many of them. Sometimes the dreams are troubling, sometimes neutral, sometimes perplexing, rarely are they wholly satisfying, especially the erotic ones! My dreams are almost always in ‘technicolour’, the occasional black and white dreams are more sombre. Over the years I have had half a dozen themes that keep recurring: the classic public nudity dreams; the dreams about final exams looming and I’m not prepared; the dreams about being absent from the office for a long time and returning, welcomed, but there is nothing for me to do; the lovemaking dreams in which someone knocks on the door or interrupts at the critical moment. I am always a character in the dream, but as the dreamer, it’s more like ‘a theatre of my mind’, of which I am merely a spectator. Since I’ve been in The Philippines I’ve been dreaming at an unusally high rate, or perhaps I am merely recalling them more. Sometimes I will dream and recall them three times a night.

And what are these dreams about: they are nothing like any dreams I’ve had before. None of the classics have returned for ages, but the new ones are startling for their newness. They all seem to be about people in my past who are no longer part of my present life. I must be trying to sort these losses out, but I don’t know how the dreams will be made manifest in my real life. I think dreams are a metaphor for life itself, the ambiguity, and dare I say it, the pointlessness of it. All there is is to find pleasure where you can, live as fully as you can while you can, and try to help others with their now journey where you can.


Women, broadly speaking, are more vain than men when it comes to conspicuous display. The human female is almost unique in this respect because in most other species it’s the male that vies vigourously for female attention. Not to say men are uninterested in ways and means to attract the attention of females, but for most it is not through appearance. It is even suggested that women are not actually competing for male attention but are sending warning signals to other females.

Regardless, Carmen would be an examplar of this female aspect. And I am not without my own narcissistic tendencies. This is especially true I fear as we/I age. We fight to ward off the uncaring vicissitudes of biology: We exercise, not just for health benefits, but for appearance; we watch what we eat for the same reasons, though mostly it’s watch, not manage; we take dietary supplements, even though we doubt their efficacy; we worry about graying hair and discoloured skin. We adopt cosmetic procedures, all with the aim of defying the signs of aging. But I know, there is no escape from actual aging. It’s only vanity that drives us to put cosmetic bandages on wrinkling spotted skin. I look at my hand and startle with the sight of my father’s liver-spotted skin, not my own. So we try to drive away these unwelcome signs of aging. But what can we do to treat the kidneys, heart, mind?

Carmen is a senior citizen in The Philippines. She has an identity card to prove it. This entitles her to certain discounts on groceries and necessities, restaurants and entertainment. Cosmetics are not necessities, but going to the head of the line at the pharmacy to buy them is. Carmen does not look 60 years old and many a customer, and clerk, give her the evil eye when she activates her privilege. I like to think I don’t look my age either but I’m unsure whether I benefit from being with this ‘younger woman’ or not. In the eyes of these onlookers, are Carmen and I a nice compatible older couple? or yet one more example of the cliché culture of old white guy and young filipina? 

Still, we fight father time. And Carmen is a strong supporter of the fight. 

She colours her hair, of course. Carmen’s colourist in Canada enthusiastically supported her; my own ‘hair dressers’ in Canada recommend against it in my case – ‘Don’t do it Doug’ – but they never quite explained why. So in my vanity I began to use a shower product that promises to cover ‘some of the gray’. It mostly gives me a skin rash. Carmen encouraged me to change my hair style – for a shorter, no part, ‘younger’ style. This seemed only fair to me as she radically had her hair shortened and restyled at my bidding.

I was in this fancy barbershop ( in the massive SM Mall in Dasmariñas last month and young Leonard styled my hair. Carmen encouraged him to colour my hair too, but I demurred. Then I read a quote attributed to George Clooney painted on the wall over the mirrors in front of me: ‘First I’m going to start dying my eyebrows, just to see how it works. And then I’ll go to the hair, start slowly.’ So I did it, my hair, not my eyebrows, a dark brown colour. Carmen was thrilled, I was disturbed. A month later the gray is coming back, of course, and I’m not going to dye it again.

So here I am today, still trying to recognize the man in the picture.

(I later learned that Clooney forswore anti-aging treatments: ’You dont want to try to look younger, because you’ll look wrong. You dye your hair, you look wrong. You wear a bad toupée, you look wrong. You wear makeup to hide things, you get your eyes done, you look wrong.’)

Carmen uses a basketful of skin treatments – creams and washes and astringents and supplements for a wrinkle-free, whiter look. I often wonder how she afforded all this when she had no money, but this must be the resourcefulness of necessity. And now I find myself buying moisturizers and covering creams and cortisols to try to reverse, or at least hide, my aging epidermis. Next door to the hairdresser in Ayala mall in Tagaytay is a skin care ‘doctor’. The week before Taal Volcano spewed ash all over the place, I visited Dr. Jane and inquired about laser treatment for dark spots. I decided on a series of treatments, since it was almost certainly a lot cheaper to do here in The Philippines than back home in Canada. Maybe. And here are the results:


We learned this week that, even though the rate of infection may be on the decline, and the actual death rate was still a modest 2 – 3%, nCORv rd (now being called COVID-19), alarms continue to go off; there have been 1100 deaths from 42000 confirmed cases (mostly in mainland China, though probably many more cases unreported, elsewhere – ‘it’s [‘just’] the flu’, Canadian will say). Local transmission in many other countries is occurring, not just in China, which has raised concern levels considerably. The Philippines has reported only a few cases and one death, all Chinese nationals travelling from Wuhan in January, and is now not allowing flights to arrive in its international airports if originating in China and its protectorates, Macau and Hong Kong. Flights from Singapore and all other South East Asian countries as well as South Korea and Japan continue. But flights to and from Taiwan are now under daily watch because of the ‘One China’ policy, even though Taiwan has no reported cases of COVID-19. I mention this because the first leg of my return flight to Canada March 23 is with China Airlines, the national carrier of Taiwan, and flight CI702 for Taipei February 14 has been canceled; Taipei is lobbying the Malacañang heavily to lift this ban. I had my visitor’s visa renewed this week and took it out to April 23. The Immigration Officer asked me why. I replied, in case I have to stay here longer. 

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