managing and being managed by global complexity
In Malaysia there’s a term for white males: ‘mat salleh.’ It derives from ‘mad sailor.’ I assume this references Malaysia’s Dutch colonial past or Malays’ experiences with WWII Allied soldiers. It can be used in an affectionate, derogatory, or even disinterested manner, depending on the context.
I am without a doubt the only mat salleh in Cabanatuan, a city of roughly 30,000 people in the province of Nueva Ecija, Central Luzon. I haven’t done anything – yet – to deserve the derogatory application of the term, so I’m holding firm to the belief that most of the folk here regard me with disinterest or at least slight amusement.
I’ve been staying in a small hotel – the De Luxe – on Burgos St. in Cabanatuan. It’s one of the best in Cabanatuan and weighs in at $22 per night. The staff are lovely and yesterday we sat around trying out Tagolog and English on one another as we ate unripened mango with rock salt. Masarop! (Delicious!)
Burgos St. is the main strip and it feels like the whole city converges here during the day. Cabanatuan is known as the city of tricycles – motorcycle taxis with aluminum side cars attached – and it honestly feels like there are more tricycles than residents.
A five minute walk from the hotel leads you to a street market that starts at 6am and stays open till about 6pm.
My favorite place to eat is just about a minute away.
I ate there three nights running when I first got to town. They make this incredible BBQ chicken, done on a rotisserie. What you see in the picture are huge slabs of pork, spitted and turning above a charcoal fire. Dinner – chicken, a small bottle of cold Coca Cola, rice, and vegetables – costs about $1.75. I’ve had my fill and have moved onto fish, but this served the purpose my first few nights here. I also had my fortune read, within the eating area, by a wizened, old lady with no teeth and an extra long Virginia Slim hanging from her mouth. One of the locals tried to translate, while the rest of the crowd looked on in amusement. It seems I have wealth, happiness, and a very bright future ahead! I get the feeling there’s a lot of positive futures being predicted. It helps with repeat business.
All in all, my time in Cabanatuan has been pretty uneventful. Like Manila, I’ve spent much of it working and preparing for the field. I leave for Pinagbayanan tomorrow afternoon. Pinagbayanan is a small village of 400 households located about 90 minutes north. It takes three different modes of transportation – motorcycle, jeepney, and tricycle – to get there and it is remote. Jeepneys are a kind of open-container minibus. I spent a full day in Pinagbayanan on Wednesday. After some negotiations a local teacher, Ma’am Dora, agreed to put me up in her home for the next two months. Her brother, Captain Dora, who is the head of the berengay, gave his blessings to the arrangement. The real work begins soon and I’ll get into that during my next post.
The berengay (village) is seated within huge fields. The farmers are in the middle of gawat (months without income) and preparing the fields for rice harvesting in late July and early August. In the distance are small hills, blanketed in lush green. These are the beginning of the Cordillera, the central mountain range that carves its way north over huge swathes of crooked earth. In a couple of weeks I’ll be taking an overnight bus from Manila to go explore this region. I’ll be hiking into Batad, which is supposed to be the most beautiful and remote of the Philippines’ famous rice terraces. There are no roads into these valleys so it requires a hired guide and I’ll take about 4 days roundtrip to hike around the region. This should be an incredible adventure!
Posts on Low-Income Household Debt, and Moneylending soon to come.