The Pilipiñas Packet

Sojourn in The Philippines, 2019-2020

Volume 22, Dasma Lockdown, March 29

Week 22, March 29, Dasmarinas

The Dasma Diary was supposed to end at Week 21. This edition of the Tribune/Diary feels like injury time in a football match. But how much time?

It was a quiet week in Dasma.
The whole city of Dasmariñas was quiet. I daresay the whole island of Luzon was quiet, especially after 8:00 pm when the curfew goes into effect. As the images on TV told the story, Manila was spookily quiet. On Governors Road outside Quba Qabana there is no traffic, hardly any cars, a few noisy transport trucks from time to time, but no jeepneys and no tricycles. Our hotel is far enough away from the street that the belching jeepneys with their mufferless exhausts were not nearly as intrusive as they were in Tagaytay, but you still knew they were there. Now they are not. You don’t hear the siren sounds of the ambulances seeking passage many times during the day – they have no obstacles now. The unnerving sound is that of the police loudspeakers hailing some errant driver to pull over and present identification. I almost miss those jeepneys. Luckily the local roosters have decided to make their presence more known.

The QQR is a party hotel with a band shell of sorts and a terrific sound system, now silent. Very silent. But Sunday night the lonely QQR skeleton staff were quietly playing their paylist on the sound system. Carmen and I sat poolside enjoying the music. I visited Charle and said how much we liked the music lighting up our dreary evening. So they played on, mostly an unknown guitarist on You-tube: Dancing Queen, The Gambler (tribute to Kenny Rogers), Ob La Di Ob La Da, Life goes on, Wah. Carmen and I danced on the balcony, the boys danced at the bar. 
We have been in lockdown more severely the last ten day, some cities more so than others: in Mandalayang (Manila), for example, people are not allowed out of their houses except one member; here in Cavite you can go to the malls but only the supermarket, bank and pharmacies are open, and there are long lines controlled by armed security guards metering entry. There are police roadblocks between cities and you must have a city permit to get through the roadblock. We can’t get to the nearby malls ourselves any more because they are too far to walk and the jeepneys and tricycles are off the roads. Our volunteer driver, Arlyn, has obtained a certificate to leave her town (General Trias) so she can pick us up at our little resort in Dasma and drive us to the mall for groceries. She was challenged at three different roadblocks but getting groceries for shut-ins seems to be a good reason. (Imagine that, I’m now a shut-in!)
We went for a grocery run at the giant SM Mall. Very sobering experience indeed. All the stores were closed except BDO bank, Watson’s Pharmacy, and SM Supermarket. The mall’s lights were turned off and security allowed only 100 shoppers at a time in the store metering entries until another shopper had left; this resulted in a very long line waiting to get in, but that at least limited the queues at the checkout counters. We left Arlyn to hold our place in line while I went to the bank to line up for cash at the ATM and Carmen went to Watsons for Vitamins and hair products. SM was its usual massive store: the shelves were well stocked and the meat and produce sections plentiful which tells you the supply chains are still working and customers are not hoarding. But this is only week two. What will week four look like, and week six?
The serious crisis when it comes to staples is that there is now an alcohol ban in the Philippines. The wine store is closed and QQR’s bar is padlocked. I never thought of The Philippines as Puritan, only Catholic, and a smattering of born again Christian, so why did Roddy ban drinking as well as social congress? I’m down to only a glass and a half of my Australian rosé of choice and soon will have to resort to Carmen’s oversweet muscato. Then… hey, is that a San Miguel Dry at the back of the fridge?

Having pretty much recovered from my respiratory ailment I decided enough was enough and it was time to get back to serious workouts. Our balcony was never really adequate but now that it has become our California Kitchen, well, there’s just no room for pushups. 
So I moved my gym to poolside. Parked a chair under a palm tree, rolled out my mat and dumbbell, and set to with a modified routine of curls and situps and pushups, and shadow boxing Covid-19, though I wish I had a heavy bag. 

Cool down

Reading and writing take up a big chunk of my day but there’s only so much sitting one can do. And changing positions to lie on the bed is only a temporary solution. These were activities I was looking forward to in my Philippines sojourn but now that they are almost my only activities I am feeling a bit claustrophobic, and QQR a bit like prison. I’ve taken to feeding rice and bread crusts to the sparrows on my balcony. I’m beginning to think of myself as the Birdman of Alcatraz. 

Only a sparrow, but hey.

From the beginning of my sojourn in The Philippines my two main planned activites were reading and writing. And I have done plenty of both. I just finished The Battle for Singapore and have started in on Rampage, The Battle of Manila. I think these books about the gruesome human costs of war give perspective on our battle with Covid-19, but they certainly don’t lighten the mood. 
As you know, that is if you are reading my other blog, Travels with Myself, I finished up the series called Getting on with Life? last week. Getting on with Life was about my time with Carmen in Canada last summer; when I brought Carmen back to Pilipiñas last October it occurred to me that I should journal that too, which gave rise to this newsletter series, The Dasma Diary (formerly the Tagaytay Tribune). Now that my time in Philippines is almost over (is it?) I thought I’d take a longer view of what my experience has been here and put some summary thoughts into a new series of Travels with Myself, Lessons From The Philippines. If Roddy and JT make me stay here long enough I should have nine more entries in Travels. I’ll then start a new section of Travels when I get back to Canada; The Tagaytay Tribune/Dasma Diary will telescope into Travels With Myself and be consigned to archives. My time in The Philippines may be over but my life’s journey continues.

The Hot Season, tag-init, in Philippines is also the beginning of fly season, kinda like August in Canada. Where do they come from? The Ancients had their own ideas, along with the origins of locusts, but here in QQR they come from the piggery and poultry farm somewhere behind the hotel. We were unaffected at first but lately, especially around dinner time, they show up, a bit like ants at a picnic. Carmen hates these ‘flying flyings’ and I find them annoying too, especially all the ineffectual swatting we do. So I took up arms of another sort. At our last outing to SM I bought two sheets of fly paper. I unstuck the two sheets from each other and stuck them to the balcony walls in conspicuous places. They didn’t stick to the walls very well, and after a number of attempts to reaffix the paper all I succeeded in doing was get glue all over the walls. I threw the paper away but the glue stuck. Over the next two days I had decidedly mixed results: three flies, and two geckos. The geckos are actually insect eaters but since they are nocturnal they aren’t helping me with my fly problem, and obviously I wasn’t helping them with my fly paper. Pity. I appealed to the management of QQR and Charlie soon produced one of those modern high-tech rechargable electronic fly swatters. Zap! We’ll see how many of the enemy elude this weapon.

I don’t know when I will be able to come home if I can’t persuade an exception for Carmen. This feels a bit like Sophie’s choice, so my strategy is to put it off for as long as I can. In the short run I am probably better off here than there, though as you may rightly put it, I am probably missing my stuff. I think of my car sitting idle in the garage, battery no doubt dead; I think of my living room, waiting for someone to live there, hifi, my music not being played; my plants ignored (my neighbour has checked on the place all winter and waters my plants, thank goodness). I’ll have to ask Alison to drag my patio pots out of the garage in a few weeks, but she’ll have to move the car first! All those little life things we take for granted in their season, and now fuss about because we can’t do them. 

My lockdown situation will become more urgent soon if I am not able to refill my prescription meds. I had brought with me sufficient supply to last my planned five months stay here, but now that my stay has been extended by an unplanned event, my supply will run out soon. I emailed daughter Alison to get in touch with my physician and my pharmacist. Dr. Majeed’s office advised, compassionately, that it was impossible to write scripts in Canada to be filled in The Philippines. My pharmacist was more pragmatic: he would fill the prescriptions and Alison could just ship them to Philippines. Alison checked with FedEx and was given a long list of items that they could not ship to Philippines, and that list included, in addition to firearms, prescription meds. I asked the Canadian Consular Service here in Philippines for guidance and here was their answer:

We would advise you to contact the Food and Drug Administration first or the Department of Health if the medications can be shipped to the Philippines. Please also contact the courier company for delivery schedule and availability.

Carmen, however, was pretty confident the pharmacies here will just fill from the labels on my bottles, or failing that we will go to the local health clinic and get a doctor to write new scripts for me. It will be difficult for us to visit her own doctor as he is two towns over! (You will recall, our loyal driver had to get a certificate from her town to be able to travel from General Trias to Dasma, but Dasma to Trece may be a town too far.) So we requisitioned Arlyn again and she got out her now trusty Lancer and headed to QQR to take us to Mercury Drugs at Robinson’s Mall. She was soon challenged by the PNP. She told the diligent gendarme she was going to pick up some seniors at QQR and take them to the pharmacy. She called Carmen who took pictures of the meds bottles to show the police officer. Satisfied, he waved her through. Soon we were entering the mall to confont two huge lines waiting to get into the supermarket. 

Once again Arlyn held our place in the supermarket line while Carmen and I lined up at Mercury (in the senior preferred line, complete with plastic chairs, all about a meter apart!) and waited entry. Fifty minutes later I was at the senior’s preferred wicket, now temporarily separated from the potentially infected customers by a plastic screen. I told the pharmacist assistant I was from Canada and could he refill my four prescriptions. I gave him my official receipts and showed him the almost empty containers. He didn’t bat a eye, only asked if the brands they had were okay. He filled two of my scripts (30 days) and said he would order the two items he did not have in stock and would call [Carmen] when they were ready. Carmen smiled at me, ‘See!’ 

And so our second week in captivity ends. I wonder if my birds know they are more free than I am. Even though my environs are agreeable, and the company still fine, the risk of becoming stir crazy increases.
Stay well yourself. Stay sane. And stay tuned for the next edition of, The Dasma Diary.

Doug Jordan Reporting to you from Dasma, Philippines

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