a close encounter with the King of the Philippine Rainforest

The Philippine Eagle is around as tall as Prince (5ft 2in) with a wingspan of Shaquille O’Neal (7ft).  It could easily eat the American Eagle for merienda, but tends to catch monkeys, deer, fruitbats and small pigs.  Without predators, it was able to reach this impressive size over the eons, but is currently numbering around just 180-500 in the wild; we visited the Philippine Eagle Foundation in Malagos, Mindanao to be in its presence.  They are doing magnificent work in reforestation, breeding and education projects; think about donating or adopting as a Christmas gift this year..










things that the camera can’t pick up in low light

From the rearview mirror, Baguio was overtaken by mountains that rose as we descended into the lowland heat, the sky warmed even more by a brilliant pink sunset reflected in the waters of the rice fields. In the smaller barangays road work held up traffic for the benefit of the snack vendors that walked up and down the lines of filled buses, tricycles, jeeps and cars. From the bus window at night, the lines of flower stalls that run along the highway are each lit by a single candle, and filled with families reunited for the All Souls Day holiday. The powerlines that run above us go unused during a time of year when spending time with the dead is preferred, lit by gentle yellow flames that replace the white glare of LEDs. Shadows circate the bus interior with every passing car. Still shooting in this dimness for whatever glimmers of this time might come across, trying not to think of the Baguio friends we’ll miss. Then a flight to Davao tomorrow…

a lovely piece of lit

on the intersection of jeepneys and art, by Baguio blogger Padma Perez:


I love Baguio


The first time I came here when I was seven, I threw up on the bus because you have to go through these roads that wind around the jagged mountains; at times you’re perched on their spine, and imagining the neverending fall below is enough to seize your stomach. I swore I’d never go back, but now that I’m old enough to appreciate the beauty and vibrancy of an arts scene both ancient and contemporary, I don’t want to leave.

There are family friends and new friends here, photographers, cinematographers, painters of canvas, jeepney and mudguard. The sensitivity and skill in watching their works unfold is incredible; photo above from Lhudz Mudguards, run by two extremely talented brothers.

Food is an art here too, as strawberries, cabbage and other hard to find vegetables grow in the cool mountain climate; the restaurants Hill Station and Cafe by the Ruins are incredible examples of this. Sarah’s been cooking up all of the greens we don’t have back home; we eat from coconut shells harvested from the market, ideal little bowls. The mornings have been sunny with an afternoon fog that rolls down the hills. An enormous moon is rising behind the cathedral now, and the colored lights of the jeepney flash behind the trees.

in the clouds

I celebrated my birthday in Baguio, a beautiful mountain city in the Cordillera region of Luzon. It was made even more memorable when an old friend from our time in Mexico and his partner flew in from where they’re living in Shanghai; no small feat given that they braved a national Chinese holiday, the last of the past two typhoons and landslides to make it in time! Gifts don’t get much more meaningful than that. It’s also sweet to get 2 continuous days of birthday wishes because of the time zones…

Now we’re even higher up in the Cordilleras, visiting Bontoc and Sagada, where rice terraces dating thousands of years back form a dizzyingly high stairway to, you know. Met with some incredible people whose families have farmed there from the start. This is one of the major origins of indigenous Philippine art, which survived in large part due to the difficulty of getting here. The jeepney works hard here, with fewer trips and heavier loads to make it up the hills and dirt roads, saving lives sometimes when hiking was once the only option.

Shifting clouds and sun changes the color of the mountains every few minutes, and the mist rolls down them like smoke. From the terrace of our little log cabin, the air is fresh with pine needles and a little bit of smoke. And it’s too cold for dengue mosquitoes to survive, hehehhh…

No rest for the wicked!

Contrary to popular belief, we have not been neglecting the blog because we were laying out a beach, vacationing.  No,  actually Esy’s been laying out in the hospital with Dengue Fever.  Dengue is a virus that overpopulation has made an ever increasing threat.  Growing population density allows for rapid transmission of the virus from human to mosquito to human.   So, in an imploding city like Manila, you can imagine the danger. Everything is fine now, but please forgive our delay in posting.  We’re back and, barring health problems and hurricanes, we will be posting regularly.

The transit strike that we reported in the last post did not succeed in paralyzing the city.  However, it did succeed in crippling certain jeepney routes.  The strike was much more successful in the provinces where, in some places, transport was brought to a stand still.  Part of the reason for the lack of participation was reported  intimidation of jeepney fleet operators by the government who threatened operators allowing more than 50% of their drivers to participate with revocation of their franchises. The value added tax and inflated prices of oil are still a point of contention between the government and the public with no real resolution in sight.

(photo courtesy of the Inquirer)

And then hurricane Pedring  (aka Nesat in international circles) hit two days ago.  The storm swept Luzon leaving a wake of devastation.  Areas north of Manila were hit the hardest and it will take a long time to reconstruct and restore “normalcy”.  A reported 18 people have died and 35 are missing.  However, as in all places experiencing disaster, reported numbers reflect only those who are being looked for.  Victims of the storm who live on the streets or in informal settlements most likely go uncounted.

Metro Manila saw severe flooding in low lying areas and power is still out in many parts of the city. In Manila Bay, 5 star hotels saw their patrons wading through waist high water and the US embassy needed to be evacuated.  This is my favorite quote from the Inquirer reports on the storm, “The hitherto impregnable compound of the US Embassy in Manila was submerged Tuesday in waist-deep water, pushing more than 100 construction workers and employees of the world’s superpower to call for help.”

We are bracing ourselves for another hurricane due to hit Luzon in the next 24hours.  Hopefully it will just float off to sea.  If not…we might be MIA again.  Keep the Philippines in your thoughts for the next few days.


a quick note from esy: hospital food stinks the world over!  it was only because of my lovely sarah-bao (my new pet name for her after the filipino beast of burden) that i have been able to make my sluggish yet triumphant comeback!  slowly pumping my fist in the air!  she brought vases of water and cup o’ noodles when my stomach was growling, and emails of silly jokes from many of you when my spirits were low.  it was the worst pain i’d ever experienced, and was enough to send my all-powerful and all-knowing mother flying over to bust me out of confinement: slather yourselves in deet, if you’re heading to an affected area, please!  i know i will be, along with wearing these fashionable leggings for the next couple months…


Constant Change

On Monday an estimated 70%-80% of Jeepney drivers will take part in a transportation shut down to protest the Value Added Taxes (VAT) and oil hikes that the government has put in place.  These taxes significantly decrease the average driver’s daily take home.  The transport freeze could bring Manila to a virtual stand still.  It will also extend to the provinces where the turn out of driver participants is projected to be even higher.

Today we talked to one Jeepney operator and organizer who started as a farmer.  Seeking a better life, he came to Manila to find work and became a Jeepney driver and then fleet operator. Now the tables have turned, he spoke about how many drivers, unable to financially survive the new taxes, are returning to the countryside to become farmers.

We have seen this cycle before– people in rural areas are kicked off there land for the purpose of development and come to Manila to re-settle and find work, only to be forced out of settlements to make room for a new Manila mall. People are shuffled between urban and rural settings but their situation remains the same. The Jeepney below has a name that says it all.

Check back on Monday for a full report on the strike.

Hong Kong Intervention

Esy and I visited the the Jorge B. Vargas museum to see Hong Kong Intervention by Sun Yuan & Peng Yu, a show addressing Filipino overseas foreign workers in Hong Kong.

According to Migrante International, “More than 2,000 migrant Filipinos leave the country each day and approximately one-third of these are composed of unskilled workers. They can be found in 182 countries worldwide.”

Many of these men and women are abused and exploited by their employers and have little resources available to them on foreign soil.

The Filipino government supports this labor migration by charging high fees for workers to seek employment through sanctioned placement centers. In return, the exodus benefits the government by adding large amounts of money to the ever growing stream of remittances flowing into the economy.

To avoid fees, many workers go through non-government sanctioned placement centers and travel abroad with false documents. They are then lost in a system of traded work and potentially harmful situations.

Sun Yuan & Peng Yu gave overseas foreign workers toy grenades to plant in the homes of their employers. The workers then photographed the grenades in chosen settings: kitchen table, amongst stuffed animals, with the family dog, or one of many artifacts on a shelf. Next to these personally altered interiors, hangs the worker’s portrait- back to the camera to conceal their identity. The two photographs capture a beautifully simple and defiant gesture.



After wandering for 40 days and 40 nights, we found ourselves in Manila?

– Sarah


lessons from the cockpit

• Cocks are left ‘handed’; they take the first swing with their left claw.

• The white cocks are called ‘irish fighters’, because they were originally bred in ireland

• There is an elaborate system of hand signals used to place bet amounts, because the noise drowns out any words.

It was at an enormous arena full of men on a Sunday afternoon, and we happened to sit beside a kind man who had spent 25 years working in the states, and who shared these little details of the fight, along with some good jokes and insightful historical facts.  The sticky coconut and rice balls, that the vendors were selling, tightly wrapped in banana leaves; those were thrown to American POWs during the Bataan death march, and kept many alive.  In the cockpit, the fights were brief; tiny white feathers floated through the air.  The decorated rooster above is another variation of the sarimanok carving, this one being a panulong, or roof eave found more on the old houses in Mindanao.

And Sarah spotted these small wax people waiting beside the flames in the marketplace, during our shoots comparing markets + malls.  The 3rd largest mall in the world (the largest being in Dubai) is close by, huge, LED lit spaces as big as air hangars.  But the markets outside have the sky, the sounds of mass, fresh flowers and these little wax guys, melting in the heat with me.  I’ve found that looping sampaguita (the national flower, like a stronger jasmine) around the armpits works like a charm…