Bits & Bobs, bikes, birds, beards and beer.

After the slight fiasco of the bike run, the Sunday was a fairly muted affair.  We all gathered for a few speeches, said farewells to bikers departing for other islands, had a couple of beers and chilled out on the Boulevard.  I was told by members of several clubs that I would be welcome to hang out with them on other islands if I was moving around.  I really can't stress these guys hospitality enough.  Did I mention it was a really hard life here?

I was glad to see Bjorn and Petter both up and about, although both obviously in some discomfort.  Bjorn had a real problem.  With 59 stitches in his leg and obviously pumped up on painkillers, he had to leave that day for Europe.  In his "day job" he is a senior officer on a very technical ship which, I believe, does either surveying or cable laying.  His mission, if you can believe this, is to keep a ship within one metre of a defined course no matter what the swell, current or wind is doing at the time and he does this in the Atlantic, North Sea or wherever.  Rather him than me.  He had something like a 20 hour journey to Belgium to pick up his ship and I really didn't envy him that in the condition he was in.  He did make it, although the story doesn't end there but that is for another post.  All in good time, dear reader.

The days rolled on and I was settling into a little routine round and about Dumaguete so I'll just show you a few little bits and pieces here.

Concentrate on the bike!
Well, you could describe Edsal as a bit or even a piece but I include this photo for the bike.  Honestly!

There has been nothing short of a revolution bikewise in Negros since I have been here.  Basically, you have two generic types of bikes here, scooters (fully auto and semi-auto) and dirtbikes or quasi dirtbikes, rarely more than 200cc.  I would have to be different naturally and am riding a 125 roadbike as described before.  The Honda 200 is very popular amongst expats.  There is a company here called RUSI, which is a Chinese / Philippino outfit who import bikes manufactured in China and they have just come out with a new model, the 150cc machine you see so delightfully modelled here.  They have caused an absolute storm.  The initial consignment of 200 was sold out before the ship had even docked and apparently there were near riots in the local dealerships to buy them.  An expat friend of mine has five of them (more of which later) and the reason for the popularity is simple.  They are cheap, and I mean ridiculously cheap.  They are marked at 49,000 pesos but you can deal cash for 47 with a few bits and pieces thrown in.  To make it easy for you that equates to £685.339 or $1,103.97US for other readers.  It is completely nuts and is going to kill the second hand market in Hondas etc.  You can buy three of these for the price of a new XR200, so flog two of them into the ground and keep the third for cannibalising.  Absolutely everyone here wants one.

Like most things in life, you get what you pay for, and friends have told me (I have not ridden one yet although I have been offered a run on one) that they are geared wrong and rattle like anything over about 60kph.  My mate John had one and the back brake seized after three days, they are basically "cheap and cheerful".  Just a piece of technical advice here from those who know.  If you do buy one, change the rear wheel from the 14" supplied to a 17" and change the sprocket, it is like adding another gear.  Just thought you'd like to know.

Race day, Bacong.
This next little piece is about bikes as well.  This blog is in danger of becoming Motorcycle News soon.  I appreciate this is not a great photo but the text, taken from my Virtual Tourist page explains why.

"I shall write at greater length about the simply abysmal driving conditions in the Philippines in a general Philippines tip at a later date, assuming I survive the roads that long, but this is a tip specific to Bacong / Dauin and the National Highway there.

The local youth have a practice of racing small but very souped-up motorbikes along a particular stretch of this road. They race from Dauin towards Bacong and the finish line is the tree at the disused filling station opposite La Fiesta (Baboy's Place). You would think that two small bikes would not present much of a hazard but some of these things are capable of 140kph. There is some serious betting involved and preofessional riders, extremely light guys drive these things like complete maniacs. I have seen it myself and it is frightening, they will happily take both sides of the road approaching the finish. Remember this is a very busy Highway with trucks, buses and all sorts on it. there is considerable anecdotal evidence that most of the riders are on shebu (methamphetimine, a powerful and illegal drug) which gives them the courage to drive in such a fashion.

Everything appears to be organised on mobile (cell) phones and lookouts are posted against the occasional visit of the local police when they scatter in every direction, it is something to watch. Sunday afternoon is the normal time for this madness and crowds of literally hundreds turn up to line the "track", although I have seen occasional night races which are doubly dangerous. They are not common, thankfully.

Apologies for the photo which was taken surreptitiously and at a distance. An American guy I know was physically threatened by a group of Philippinos for taking photos. As it happens, he is just a bike buff and wanted some action shots but the locals didn't seem to appreciate that.

I am told there is another stretch of road near Siaton that is similarly used but I have not seen that myself.

Drivng this road at any time in any conditions is dangerous enough but when these drug-addled idiots are flying at such speeds it is a potential deathtrap. Be warned."

To add to the above, I witnessed a couple of night races last night which were terrifying.  To meet two of these guys in the dark is to look into the jaws of Hell.  Really.

I stuck this photo in to show you that it is not all beer, birds and bikes.  I met this adorable little chap at my mate Louis's house one Sunday afternoon where I had been invited for beer and videoke.  OK, so maybe it is about beer etc. after all.  He took a real shine to me and was as cute as anything, as you can see.  I couldn't resist getting my mate Tom to take this photo.  Actually, apart from Mr. Cute here, whose proper name I have forgotten, it was yet another wonderful day and glimpse into the lives of ordinary Philippinos.

I can't remember if I have posted before about the obsession, and I use the word advisedly, with videoke (karaoke) in the Philippines.  Indeed, it sems rampant all over SE Asia.  I remember once in Cambodia (or was it Lao?) watching a group of uniformed policemen sitting outside the station in full unform with the rifles propped against the table in the middle of the day belting out totally tuneless renditions of soft rock ballads. The Philippinos are, if anything, even more ardent users of the medium.

Here are a few things you should know if you are tempted to indulge.

1.  Whilst the standard of Philippino professioal musicianship is excellent the standard of videoke singing, generally speaking, is somewhere between abysmal and criminaly liable under Human Rights legislation.

2.  The volume of any videoke singer is in inverse proportion to his / her musical ability.

3.  All songs are pitched to suit Asian voices which are usually higher than Western but they can be changed.  If you do not want to wreck your throat singing like some Italian castrato, tell the operator to put the pitch down at least two tones.

4.  Bass is everything here and much overused.  Consequently, the bass cab just about anywhere is shot and rattles like a jackhammer.

5.  Nobody here can sing a song here unless the reverb on the mike is set to at least 11 (remeber Spinal Tap anyone?).  It is like singing in an echo chamber.  I like to play a game where I set the mic on the bartop and do nothing only tap the lead and listen to the resultant booming chaos that ensues.  The late John Martyn, in his early experimental phase would have approved, I am sure.

6.  The belief of the average videoke singer here in his / her place as the reincarnation of Jim Morrison / Janis Joplin is in direct proportion to the amount of Red Horse / Tanduay consumed.

7.  Everybody sings the same 10 songs.  Early Bon Jovi, Celine Dion, the Corrs etc. all feature heavily.  Journey (remember them?) are huge as they have a Philippino singer now.

I am sure there are some other things I have omitted, so I'll add them as I go along.

Potential deafness and the destruction of any musical sensibilities are not, however, the only potential dangers involved in videoke bars.  When I got here first I had a habit of dropping into a local place.  Again, I will let my VT tip speak for itself, so please ignore the slightly odd phraseology.

"This may well be one of the strangest tips I have ever written on VT as it is a warning / danger tip on a place I love and where I have many friends. However, I do try to be fair and objective in my writing so I will present the facts and let travellers make their own decisions.

There are certainly no shortage of videoke (karaoke) bars along National Highway South and the imaginatively named 11km (it is at the 11km post) is merely one of them. I had been visiting here for a couple of weeks quite happily and got on well with the staff and the locals. However, when I mentioned the place to an expat who has lived here a while, he told me to take care and that he wouldn't go there. He told me that there had been a serious stabbing about six months before and a fatal shooting sometime before that. Apparently, the local police chief had told him to steer clear.

By this time I had, as I say, got friendly with the locals and staff there and was loath to just abandon the place. I know the place is under new ownership, I know the owner who owns another place in Dumaguete that I also visit and he is a lovely guy. I asked the staff and they told me quite candidly that they cannot even recruit a new waitress because no-one around will work there.

Speaking for myself, I feel the place is suffering from a bad reputation previously earned. I have certainly been in there nights when the Red Horse (strong beer) and Tanduay (local gutrot rum) have been flowing freely and have only had one very slight problem when a guy started saying something to me in what was evidently not a very friendly tone. Before i would have been required to do anything his friends had removed hm and were making very apologetic gestures to me.

As you can see from the images, I reckon the biggest danger in here is the gents, which is ropey to say the least but not untypical here or perhaps having your hair and beard plaited by the girls when it is a quiet night!

Not a good look.

I trust, as always, that I have presented the facts impartially and trust similarly to the reader to use their judgement.

Definitely a bad hair day.
In fairness, I should point out that something very similar happened t me in my local bar in London before so maybe it is not merely a Philippino thing.  If you are confused about the reference in the text to the gents loo, I really couldn't bring myself to inflict it on you.  If you don't mind losing you last meal or have the constitution of a horse, look at the VT link provided.

This seems like an appropriate place to break, so I'll do that and try to brave the cyber suicide associated with uploading images here to bring you the next instalment.

Stay tuned.

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