Friday, September 26, 2014

Japanese Occupation Money

I found some samples of some Filipino Japanese Occupation Money in an antique store. It's interesting how the style mimics the US Dollar of the times. After the Japanese took over the Philippines in 1941, they brought hundreds of propaganda experts to "asianize" the population through theater, movies, radio and newspapers. The picture on the right hand side of the note is of the monument to Jose Rizal, a Pinoy patriot. The idea was that the Filipinos would reject western influence and embrace "The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere." In other words, the United States of Japan, which included every Asian country from China in the north to Indonesia in the south, and ALL of the countries in between.
As inflation grew worse during the war years, the Japanese simply printed more money when they needed it. It became utterly worthless, yet they forced it on the populance. The Filipinos refered to these banknotes as "Mickey Mouse Money."

Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter in Manila 2014

Just a nice picture of my mother-in-law, taken by my nephew, Kong. She in her late 80s and as beautiful as ever. Some of you may already know that she was my inspiration for Imang in The Yellow Bar. We don't have any pictures of her as a child in WW2, but you can click here to see her as a young lady.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Now Available! ARTS DECO

A dark little comedy set in America’s Bicentennial year: Art Silver loves his bimbo actress wife, Kitty, which is why he consents to rent a penthouse apartment in the heart of old Hollywood while their home in the suburbs is being built. Large, glamorous and with a storied history, the place seems to be the perfect spot to for their tenth anniversary party. That is, until Kitty hosts a seance-gone-wrong and inadvertently opens a portal to the netherworld. Now long-dead celebrities are walking the halls. Far from being scary, Art finds that live-in spooks come with some amazing benefits. But is it too much of a good thing? And what's the ghost of JFK doing here with his wife behind closed doors?

Ghosts. Hollywood. 1976. What's not to love?

(And it's only 99 cents!)

NOTE: Contains adult themes. Not too graphic but a very different story from The Yellow Bar. To preview on Amazon, click here.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sites in the Book: The Manila Cathedral

"Manila Cathedral was gone. There was nothing but a few columns and a huge pile of rubble left."
Click to see larger image.
The current Cathedral, in the old walled Spanish quarter of Intramuros, is in its 8th reincarnation. The church has a long, sad history of being destroyed by fire and earthquakes since it was first built as a bamboo and wood structure in 1571 by Padre Juan de Vivero. The 7th version, which you see in the left photo was completed in 1879.

During the war years, the gardens around the church were dug up to make air-raid shelters. In February 1945, while the Battle of Manila was raging, the Japanese rounded up a group of eighty men ( including 37 Spanish priests) and crammed them into one of the shelters. Then they were buried alive with large stones and gasoline barrels full of earth. The Japanese amused themselves by shooting or tossing hand-grenades into any air-holes they found. Only a hand-full of these men managed to dig their way out, four days later, and survive. One can only imagine the horror they lived through.

Today, the Cathedral is remains the main seat of The Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines. However, the Cathedral is now closed to the public as it is undergoing extensive earthquake strengthening renovation. Hopefully it will reopen sometime in 2014.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Sites in the Book: Fort Santiago

"By late morning he still hadn't shown up. This was not him, something was wrong."

Fort Santiago is one of the best maintained parks in Manila- and so it should be. The city started here, possibly dating all the way to prehistoric times, on the banks of the Pasig River. When the Spanish first arrived in the 1500s, the site was the wooden fort of Rajah Sulaiman at the mouth of the Pasig River. Much like their Conquistador brothers in South America, they made war on the natives, destroyed the fort, and started building their own triangular stone bastion in the 1590s. It would later grow and merge into the original Spanish city of Intramuros.

So much history has happened within its stone walls: Pirates, plagues and foreign invasions. It was the starting point of the Manila Galleon trade. It was a prison and a military barracks. Philippine National Hero, Jose Rizal, was imprisoned here before his execution. 

In 1941, Fort Santiago was the headquarters for the US Army. After the fall of Manila and the occupation by the Japanese, the fort became a dreadful prison and intelligence center, where hundreds (possibly thousands) of Filipinos were sent for interrogation and detention in to the medieval dungeons below. During the war years, the mere mention of of being sent there was enough to make a suspected Allied collaborator wet his pants: the stories of sadistic torture, amputation, starvation and other brutal conditions were all true.

After its liberation during the Battle of Manila in 1945, the bodies of over 600 Filipinos civilians were found crammed on top of each other in the small stone dungeons, locked behind thick wooden, iron-framed doors. It was determined that they had either died of starvation and/or suffocation. Another horrible war crime that adds to the ghosts that must surely walk the grounds of Fort Santiago. God bless them.

Nephew Kong touches history.
Yet today, a typical unaware tourist would never suspect its bloody history. The Fort is now a national park and has been well renovated in recent years. The grounds have been landscaped into gardens; you will see Pinoy families having picnics there. The stone walls have (mostly) been repaired. Happy, plastic statues of historic figures (including American General MacArthur) recline in realistic poses on benches and light poles. A few of the former military barracks remain on the sides as picturesque ruins, with authentic World War Two bullet holes still in their walls. There is even a welcome center. 

But for those of you who want to feel Fort Santiago’s history, take my little tip: Walk all the way to the back, to the river’s edge. The stones get mossier and more broken. The vegetation gets wilder on the edge of the timeless Pasig River. You will see stone steps that lead into the dungeons. You won’t be able to go inside. You don’t need to. Just stand by the entrance silently and feel the humid heat and smell coming from below. There is nothing Disney-like about this experience- it is funky. It is 1590s, 1690s, 1790s, 1890s...

Now imagine spending an hour in that dungeon. A day. A week. A lifetime. Did a shiver just go up your spine? Good. Now you understand what history really is.

Click on photos to see larger size.

Friday, March 22, 2013

My Unexpected Birthday Trip to Singapore

As an American, living in Indonesia is a lot of fun, but there are a few annoyances. The biggest one is the government Immigration department. The rules are always changing, seemingly for no other reason than to confuse all of the participants involved. Therefore, companies that hire foreigners usually have to contract a local immigration liaison to keep up with these changes.

One of the requirements is that a foreigner must leave the country to reapply for his or her work permit. This is a yearly pain-in-the-butt. The closest country is Singapore, and that’s where most of us go. It can be a fun trip if you have the time, or a trip from hell if you have none. My visa was coming to an end on March 31, and I was expecting the fun trip.

Then my boss called.

“It’s Easter at the end of the month and all the airline-tickets are sold out. You have to go to Singapore NOW!”

“I can’t go now. I have to teach.”

“Then go on Thursday. Your day off. But you have to come back the same day. I don’t have anyone to replace you on Friday.”

Don’t you just love bosses?

To make a long story short, here is what I did yesterday:

Got up at 2:30 AM. Put a camera, umbrella and iPad into my backpack and walked out the door. Went to the alley shortcut to get to the street where the taxis are. It was locked up. Walked the long way (real long, about 15 minutes) to the main street. I’m standing on the corner in the dark when a man in a van drives slowly by and stops.

“Hey mister, where you go?”

“To the airport.”

“You come. I take you.” He looked at me, smiling hungrily.

“No thank you. I’ll take a taxi.”

“You come! You come! I take you airport!”

My imagination tells me that he’s an axe murderer. He really wants me to hop in. He wants it too much. The vehicle has no side windows. It’s scary and I walk away. But he follows me slowly in the murder van, blocking my view of the taxis that are zooming by.

“You come in! We go airport!”

I wonder what will make the best weapon: the camera, the umbrella or the iPad? Just as I’m deciding to use the entire backpack as a club, a Bluebird Taxi pulls over.


Scary man looks outraged and peels off. I hop into the cab.

“Where to?” asks the driver.

“To the airport. Take the toll-road.”

3:30 AM. The toll-road is dark blue and empty. To the average Indonesian, an empty road is a signal to step-on-the-gas, an invitation to go as fast as possible. But my driver wants to go one better; he wants to break the sound barrier. I will need no coffee this morning. I am wide eyed awake, praying that the wheels don’t fly off, as we thunder down the road at warp-speed towards Sukarno-Hatta International Airport.

And then I remember: today is my birthday! This revelation calms me down. I mean, how many people die on their birthdays, right? Besides, if I did have that misfortune, at least it would be symmetrical. My life would be neatly tied up in a memorable package. A poetic demise.

I didn’t even tell the driver to slow down.

Singapore via Lion Air. It’s a new plane but I don’t quite trust it because of the logo: an orange/red lion’s head with a crown on it. It looks like it was designed by 5th grader. Plus, they really squeeze the seats together, to cram in as many passengers as possible. My knees are pressed against the front seat for the entire 90 minute flight. But I have a window seat on a clear morning. We fly over the jungles of Sumatra and skip over the Malaccas Straight. Below are giant working ships from all over the world; oil tankers and freighters. Singapore comes into view; its apartment towers ring the shoreline like the walls of a castle.

I called our fixer, Mr. Raoul* as soon as I passed customs. He told me to meet him at the outside courtyard of the McDonalds on Orchid Road. When I got there, I found this man surrounded by other visa clients from all over the world. You see, the Indonesian immigration office requires all applicants to wait a few days for a visa. However, money changes everything, and if you pay a little extra to a Raou, you can have your visa by late afternoon. I don’t like this system; it has the feeling of a drug deal. It makes me feel sleazy. Indeed, it certainly looks sleazy- a large Indian man with a picnic table full of passports, papers and dollars. I give him my stuff and he tells me to meet him back here at 4:30 PM.

It is now 9:30 in the morning and I have no idea what to do. Being alone in a city where you know no one, makes you feel like a ghost. I float down the wide sidewalk of Orchard Road past the tall shopping malls, electronic billboards and tall shady trees. High-end clothing and electronic brands fill the shop windows. The place is spotless; even the pedestrians dress better than in other cities. There is nothing I want, other than to eat.

I spot a hawker stand, which is a patio type food garden featuring exotic foods. What to eat for breakfast? Noodles with pork dumplings fits the bill, along with that cup of coffee that I never had. The noodles are excellent and gone in minutes. I sit there content and nurse my coffee.

Then a pigeon shits on me.

It hits my hand and the coffee a mere six inches from my face, just as I was about to sip. There is no tissue paper, so I go back to the counter and ask for some.

“Oh, that happens all the time,” says the smiling counter girl. She gives me a wad of tissue and a new coffee. Singaporeans are nice.

When I get back to my table, I notice that my cell phone is buzzing. I check and see I’ve got over a dozen messages.

Oh yeah, it’s my birthday! Everyone is greeting me! I can feel the love! Now I have something to do! I’ll spend some time writing witty replies!

I send the first one to my good friend Lily.


Uh-oh, the message didn’t go through. Try again.


Hmm, I’ll just call her. I dial the number and get a voice recording in broken Indonesian English:

“We’re sorry, you are not allowed to make international calls with this number.”

Like HELL I’m not! I’ve been using this number for ten years to call from abroad! The service is called Matrix, and it’s bloody expensive but I have been paying it for the very reason that I can make calls from abroad. How dare you not work!

I became filled with Matrix-hate. The coffee soured in my belly as I sent tons of evil thoughts to the Matrix office via my mind. (May this tidal wave of bad karma one day explode their building into a zillion pieces.)

So what’s a ghost in the city to do? It was starting to get frickin’ hot. I couldn’t walk down the sidewalk all day.

Then a double-decker city tour bus drove by. Its sign said:


Why not? I had never tried that before. I paid, got on, and cruised in air conditioned comfort. The best thing about it was that the pass was good for all day. You could stop at any one of the attractions and get back on again at no extra charge. Bliss!

I took the tour 3 times.

The first time, I sat on the left of the bus. The second time, the right. On the third, I got brave and actually got out of the bus to visit some attractions. I saw the giant ferris wheel, the art museum, little India, and the wild new casino towers which have something that looks like a giant surf board on top. Mind you, I never actually entered any of these attractions; I just loitered like a bum and took pictures until the next bus came by. I did give the Botanical Gardens a try for about 15 minutes, but who wants to sweat in a humid rainforest when it’s 1000 degrees outside?

A revelation of sorts hit me on that third tour; Southeast Asia is exploding with economic growth right now. Singapore is building and reshaping itself into the city of the future. It is Star Trek come to life. I see the same things happening in Jakarta and Manila. Futuristic, gravity-defying towers are growing into the sky. Blossoming like flowers overnight. Enormous wealth is starting to be seen. A rapidly growing middle class is rising and buying. Their children are smart, ambitious and aggressive. New Asian art forms are being born. There seems to be no bounds to the speed and experimentation of this new age. And unlike America and Europe: There is no fear.

I am not jealous, but it makes me want to run back home. Not to Jakarta, but to Jacksonville, Florida, where nothing changes. But that is just me. For you fearless souls out there, look east and maybe join them in this brave new world.

It is their hour.

Oh, and I got back to Jakarta at 10 PM. The plane was late. Some things will never change.

*Name changed to protect the guilty. Click on photos to see larger image.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A short 1930s film: Manila, Queen of the Pacific

Old American Manila, Philippines. Most notable are the neat clothes that everyone was wearing. (Get a load of those ladies wearing Ternos!) Also, views of old neighborhoods and buildings that no longer exist due to being destroyed in World War Two.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sites from the Book: Manila Carnivals: 1908 to 1939

"In 1935, Pinky decided that she wanted to be Carnival Queen."

One of the things that the Americans colonists were good at: Public Relations. Within 10 years of winning the islands of the Philippines from the Spanish, they started an annual Manila Carnival that was somewhat based on a typical American State Fair. It featured the best of Agriculture, Industry, and Business. It had rides and games and exhibitions. And of course, lots of competitions, including the selection of the Carnival Queen.

This was a big deal. Young ladies from all over the Islands came to compete for the crown. Tears were shed, hearts (and wallets) were broken.

But better you get that story from the brilliant website of Alex. R. Castro: Manila Carnivals, where you will be drawn in to a whole world that is now gone-with-the-wind. This site is huge and you can spend days reading the well researched articles and viewing rare photographs. You can almost smell the popcorn.

I came upon this site while doing research for The Yellow Bar. This is where I got the first idea of the character Auntie Pinky, and who she really was. My Pinky would make it to the Carnival, but not as a beauty queen; the real winner that year was Conchita Sunico, who is mentioned in the book, and is on the second photo on the left.

Today in the Philippines, beauty and talent contests are part of its culture. In fact, it borders on obsession- from the small barrio fiesta queens to the oh-so-important Miss Philippines pageant. (I have personally witnessed everything from Best Baby to Best Female Impersonator.) I wonder if it all started with the Manila Carnivals?

Thank you Alex (and Ms Sunico) for the inspiration!

Photos courtesy of Alex R. Castro.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sites in the Book: San Augustin Church

"You don't happen to know Ave Maria, do you?" 
Click photo to see large version.

If walls could talk, then I would press my ear against the San Augustin Church. It is one of Manila's oldest structures, and still stands relatively intact since it was built in 1586. With its history, this is nothing short of a miracle. 

Take a look at the photo on the left. See the little red circle? What you see is the only building left standing in the destroyed walled-city of Intramuros: San Augustin. All the other buildings (including the Manila Cathedral and 5 other churches) were pulverized into dust during the Battle of Manila. 

But that's just part of the story. The site was consecrated as a house of worship in the 1570s. This was the time of Spanish conquistadors, whom strutted around wearing iron armor in the tropical heat. Manila wasn't much more than a wooden fort on the bay, and most of the invaders spent their time searching for gold, or converting the native Filipinos into Catholicism. Business was good; they decided to stay. Entombed in the church are some of the city's founders: Miguel López de Legazpi, Juan de Salcedo and Martín de Goiti. They lie here still in Baroque splendor.
San Augustin has witnessed and survived Chinese pirates, looting by the British in 1762, earthquakes, floods, riots, fires, assorted plagues, and the Spanish-American War in 1898. (The peace treaty was signed here.) But its real trial-by-fire came during World War Two.

18 February 1945: Most of the Japanese Army has retreated into the walled-city. They are surrounded by the American Army, whose high powered shells are ripping into Intramuros. Homes, schools, hospitals- everything is exploding and crumbling to dust. The Japanese are killing any civilian they see: men, women, children, infants. Not satisfied, they enter churches and hospitals, massacring everyone in sight. They come to San Augustin Church, where many people have taken refuge, and round up some 125 men, including 37 priests. They are marched a few blocks to the front of Manila Cathedral. There, they are forced into underground air-raid bunkers and buried alive. Only six would survive.

Somehow, (by God or Good Luck) San Augustin remained standing. Even the magnificent trompe l’oeil has ceiling survived. The church still functions today, and is the place to go for a big, fat, Filipino wedding. If you’re ever in Manila, come take a look at this jewel of a Baroque church and the adjacent museum. And remember, you are on sacred ground.
B/W photos courtesy of John T. Pilot.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Retro Filipino: Pinoy Kollector

Not all of the great sites will pop up on the first page of a Google search. Sometimes you have to dig for it. In my continuing research for The Yellow Bar, I have run across a few pages that deserve to be seen. One of them is the Pinoy Kollector blog by a nice fellow named Edward. He has a fascinating photo album of his Philippine memorabilia collection. It's a delicious hodgepodge of antique post cards, photos, movie stills, cigarette advertising, coins and paper money, toys, games and all sorts of Filipino pop culture items from the last century.

The young lady on the left is one of a whole bevy of Filipina beauties on postcards that he is featuring this month on his site. You'll have to see them to believe them! Enjoy.

Click here:  Pinoy Kollector