Fifteen

Copyright © 2019 by VeryWellAged

Back to In the beginning...Prologue

Author's note: These chapters are NOT stand-alones...The story starts here.

In the beginning...1

At 8:30AM on January 23, 2003, a Thursday, I boarded a jet that would begin my first journey to the Philippines. It was 4 degrees Fahrenheit that morning with clear skies and winds at 16 mph from the west-northwest at Logan International Airport.

The flights were seemingly endless. I was routed via Montreal and then Hong Kong before a final flight to Manila. I was in the Philippines late on Friday the 24th. I allowed myself two days, staying at the Manila Hotel, to recover from the trip before flying off to my final destination, General Santos City. My research had, in the end, told me quite a bit. The biggest thing was that I couldn't learn shit about General Santos City, other than it had a population of almost half a million souls.

Half a million and no significant information. It sounded promising. With that many people, it had to have basic services, but was probably not an economic engine for the nation. Cost of living would be on the low side for the nation and that meant only good things for me.

The US State Department was discouraging traveling to the island of Mindanao. And there were problems on the island, but General Santos City was not part of the problem. Regardless of the relative safety of that southernmost city, it seemed like it was being economically starved for a number of reasons.

The island in general was not attracting investment money for industry because of instability in the Muslim regions in other parts of that large island. That much was clear.

Later, I would learn that the Philippine government was starving Mindanao for another reason I will explain next, and finally, there was no significant tourist income there.

My digging into the Philippine government displayed something very different from what you read in the newspapers. It isn't a real democracy as those in my country understand democracy. Political control in the Philippines is based on tribes, clans, and warlords, though these warlord clans are called dynasties in that land. It is a national government and not a federation of islands. All tax money flows to Manila, often called by those outside the city, 'Imperial Manila.'

While Marcos was in power, as he was from Leyte, funds would be diverted from Manila to Leyte and that region. But in general, and otherwise, tax money stays in and around Manila.

The legislature of the Philippines is bicameral... in 2003, and for a long time before that, not a single Senator came from Mindanao. Mindanao was getting nothing in the way of largess from Manila in 2003, hadn't in the past, and wouldn't for some years in the future.

If you wanted to find the cheapest place to live, it was the island of Mindanao. If you wanted the safest place to live on Mindanao, it was arguably General Santos City.

That city had one more thing going for it. It seemed that though typhoons regularly ravage the Philippines, none had ever hit that city. It was too far south.

And so, with all that gleaned from my reaserch...

On Sunday I board a PAL flight, the domestic division of Philippine Airlines, from Manila to General Santos City. I have booked a room at the Sydney Hotel.

If the Philippines is going to work for me, I am going to find the least expensive, decent-sized city, to see if it even has a chance of succeeding. The BVI looked good on paper, but it didn't work out that way in reality. But, no sense in writing a place off without really trying. Even with all the research telling me this is going to be a winner, I am far from sure as I sit on my seat in the PAL plane.

My visa is a tourist visa. I have learned I can extend it at the Immigration office in any city where I am staying. And so my plan is to hang out for a few days and see just what the place is like.

If it has a chance of working, I will either extend the visa, or return briefly to Boston before returning for a longer stay. But that is getting the cart before the horse. I may decide to leave after just a few days. We will see.

On arriving, all I have with me is a carry-on bag and a heavy coat I am lugging over my arm. As warm as it is here, it had been frigid in Boston and I will likely be returning there soon enough. This is not going to be that long a stay, no matter what I decide.

A taxi takes me from the airport to the hotel, where I check in and drop my bag before leaving the room. I grab a very late lunch downstairs and take my first walk in the city.

General Santos City is hot.

The sun is beating down and I really am not prepared for it. It is too much of a shock to my system. What I am also not prepared for are the beggars who surround me and will simply not disperse as I walk down Pioneer Avenue that Sunday afternoon.

I don't think I am outside for more than half an hour before giving up and retreating to the air-conditioned bar at the hotel. It is well before dinner time and there are not many souls inside.

I order some Jack over rocks. It is too early in my trip to come to any firm conclusions, but my first foray outside was not auspicious. Still, I need to learn about the city.

The intense presence of beggars is both troubling and good news. It suggests potential evidence that the economy here is in trouble. Rents will be low, help in the form of workmen and maids will be affordable. So far, my English is working within the hotel and worked when I took the taxi. So it's not all negative.

As I nurse my drink toward the end, the rocks remaining but the Jack only a memory, a waitress approaches, asking if I want another. I do.

She departs, gets a fresh rocks glass for me and returns, placing my drink down on a new coaster, before asking, Sir, why you come to GenSan?

I am a little surprised and a little confused. And then the confusion clears. GenSan must be her way of saying General Santos City. Yeh, otherwise it is a damned mouthful. I note she did not say Gensan. No, each part receives emphasis. It is GenSan.

In a way, it is none of the gal's damned business and then again, isn't it? I am here to see if this place will work. She is 'of this place' so why not answer?

I am looking to find a place to live. Maybe GenSan is the place. I don't know yet. I just arrived today.

Sir, your girlfriend, where is she?

There is no girlfriend.

I confused. Why you want GenSan if no girlfriend?

I am thinking about cost of living, weather, stability, safety. That's why.

You married?

No.

And no girlfriend?

She is really zeroing in on this. It's sort of cute. That's right, no girlfriend.

Sorry for asking, but maybe you gay?

I laugh. I mean, she is checking all the boxes.

No, I am not gay.

You not want a girlfriend?

I am laughing again. I am in my late fifties and no 'hunk' by anyone's definition. Maybe there is some damned broad out there who will want to share my sheets, but that is not a 'for now' issue, and it is not easily achieved. I have been divorced and without a squeeze for seven years. If it was easy I would not be alone right now.

I will figure out if this place works for me; then, if lightning should strike about companionship, glory be, but that's not what this is about.

If this is the right place, and if I get lucky to find a girlfriend, I will be very lucky.

You want place to live before you get your girl? Why that?

So now this conversation is going places that make no sense to me. But, I guess, I decide to start at the obvious beginning.

Why would I want a girlfriend if I decide this is not the place for me?

The girl, she is a girl in my eyes, she can't be over twenty-something if she is even that old, is giggling.

Sir, if you have a girlfriend, you will want to stay. I sure this.

I decide to pull her leg a bit. This is just a silly conversation. But she has no customers to wait on. The other couple, the one that was here when I arrived, has left. It is only me, the barman and this girl.

You're sure of this?

Yes! I sure.

How do you know I am not Muslim and want many girls?

OK, why not? There are Mosques here. It OK.

Really? If I want four girls, no problem?

If you want. It OK. You will stay, see?

And how do you think I should find these gals?

She is giggling again. You want to try, Sir? See, if you want many, you need a bigger place? Correct?

And now, like a locomotive engine backing into the train it will pull, in my mind, the crash of the coupling being made hits me. It hits me hard.

Those beggars outside... they are the canary and there is a cage. Economic insecurity, could this fucking nuts conversation be about that?

Tell me, how long have you had this job?

One month, Sir. I have four more months!

Huh? What do you mean, you have 'four more months'?

The contract, Sir. It a five month contract.

And if you do a good job, it is renewed?

No, Sir. Not allowed. Five months and then nothing. I look for another contract.

Also for five months?

Yes, Sir. I do this for a while. But when I reach thirty, I must be married or like that, because no contracts then.

Crash! I hear another locomotive coupling making its connection.

I see. How old are you?

Nineteen, Sir. You think I look OK?

Holy shit. This is no bargirl hooker. She is just a waitress. A cute young waitress, who has yet to tell me her name and who has no idea who I am, where I am from, if I have any money, has no idea of anything, and yet she asks this.

So you think if I have a girlfriend like you, or many like you, I will not leave?

Yes, Sir, I think this.

What's your name?

Evelyn. What your name, Sir?

Craig.

Where you live, Sir Craig?

Dorchester, it is part of Boston in the US.

It nice there?

Right now it is very cold there.

Oh. You like GenSan?

I haven't seen enough of it. It was too hot this afternoon to look around much.

You want to see the city? Maybe I can help you.

How can you help?

I show you what it like at night. And we also go out in the morning before it get very hot. I show you then, too. It best if you with me. It not safe you to be out alone at night. I keep you safe.

And in a moment of clarity I hear and see in my mind's eye the flashing lights between the X sign of an unguarded railroad crossing. In this economically depressed town, I am the wealthy foreigner. It isn't terrorists, drug cartels, or religious unrest I need to fear. It is simple economics.

And, just as quickly, the reality of my needs instructs me that wherever my plan might work, be it here or somewhere else in the world, that same inequity of economic disparity will exist, as will the danger associated with it.

If I decide to bail out of here, I might as well bail out of the plan entirely.

Eve, when do you get off tonight?

Haha, Sir, I not Eve. My nickname is Lyn.

OK, Lyn, when are you off tonight?

I off at eight. You want we go out tonight?

Well, you offered, didn't you?

Yes, Sir, I do this.

I am having a problem understanding. I hadn't been up to now, but I don't know if she has acknowledged that she had offered something or that she has agreed to actually do it. I decide to assume both.

OK, I am in room 504. Will you ring me to come down when you are ready?

Yes, Sir Craig, I remember room 504. Very good. Sir, no more drink now! Wait for later. Now maybe you want to eat?

Damn, she is already changing from a waitress to a girlfriend who is watching out for what is, in her eyes, the perceived best interest of her guy. This is unreal. I am hearing that damned locomotive coupling again. More connections.

OK, well, I agree. I really don't want any more to drink, but I am not ready for supper yet. I ate a late lunch.

It occurs to me that this is the time to see exactly how much shit I can get away with here and where the walls are. Sometimes brave talk is just that, bravado, without substance. I expect the worst that can happen is that any request I make will simply not go anywhere.

When you are ready tonight, bring at least one more girl with you. If I am going to stay, it will be with more than one girl.

You truly Muslim, Sir?

No, Lyn, I'm not. I'm Catholic. But there must be at least two of you.

OK, we do this.

Good, now remember, I am just looking around.

Yes, yes, I know this, Sir. No problem.

And, with that, she removes my, now empty, second rocks glass, wipes the table clean and, smiling, says, Rest now, Sir Craig. Busy later.

I haven't been here in town even six hours and I have my first wannabe girlfriend volunteer and she isn't a 'working girl.'

The BVI was sure as hell not like this. Is this a trap?

My passport and most of my cash is in the safe in my hotel room. But, I am getting a bit worried as I rest on my bed, propped up with the TV on to CNN.

It is too damned easy. Far too easy. And yet, I chose this place because of the economics of it. Isn't what has just happened about that very thing?

If what Lyn said about the contracts and the nature of working conditions here is true, then those very conditions might well make for a perfect storm for the likes of me. As she explained in very short form, employment is via non-renewing, short-term contracts.

If businesses cycle through young girls, none getting long term employment (and therefore no long term obligations for the employer such as pensions, health care, and other potential legal matters), and no employment for older women, then each woman is on a desperate search for a man to catch before the world collapses in on her.

Lyn is a cute girl. Short, no more than five feet and probably less, thin but not emaciated. Her hair is straight, black and longer than shoulder length. She had her hair in a ponytail this afternoon and that alone reached her shoulders. There were small pearl studs in her earlobes. I didn't see any rings, but that might be because of work.

I spend some time looking at some of the promotional things on the small writing desk in my hotel room. There are restaurants listed. Something about a festival coming up the end of next month. It is called a Kalilangan Festival. It seems to be a big deal but nothing I am reading tells me why it is a big deal.

For what it is worth, I don't think I will be here for that.

One thing seems to be coming into focus. Nothing in this place is set up for the tourist. If you are here, it is because you have a reason to be here.

This place seems to be based on fishing and farming. All promotional materials mention tuna.

I am not a tourist. Tourists don't come here. That is why Lyn wanted to know why I am here. If not for a girl (evidently, that might be the third thing the city is based on, after Tuna and farming), then what is my reason?

That I am looking for a place to pitch my tent was a concept that Lyn did not have as 'a reason' based on how this place normally functions. Will this place work for me? Is Lyn right? Once I have a girl, that alone will be the reason I decide to stay?

Huh, I think I am really tired. I turn off the TV and close my eyes.

§ § §

In the Beginning... 2

Names and Dates