Saturday, December 29, 2012

Happy 85th Birthday, Nanay!

Maxima Reynaldo, my mother-in-law and the inspiration for the character of "Imang" in The Yellow Bar, turned 85 this week. She has accepted her birthday with her usual quiet dignity and grace. (It was our family that made such a fuss. I'm sure she would have been happier if we'd just let her play Mahjong with her friends as usual.)

Happy Birthday Maxima! You are a hero in so many ways. No book could do you justice.

Color Photos by Kong Reynaldo.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Retro Filipino Breakfast!

Pork alert. I just got back from a whirlwind trip to Manila to see family and to photograph historical sites from The Yellow Bar. On one lucky morning, me and my nephew, Kong Reynaldo, stopped by the Aristocrat Restaurant for breakfast. I do not know who owns this diner, but I'm going to do a 5 star review for them just the same.

I ordered the Longanisa plate. This is the best breakfast in the Philippines. Period. Here's what's it is: Two (2) perfect eggs, garlic rice, coffee and two (2) Longanisa sausages. If you have never eaten a Longanisa sausage; it is the sweet and flavorful pork sausage of the gods. There are many varieties of Longanisa in the Philippines, but the ones at this restaurant are masterpieces. Delicately charred and seasoned with sage– it will send you to heaven. Served with a vinegar dip to take the edge off all the fat you're consuming. (On the left is a picture I took after the second bite. It demanded to be preserved for history!)

The Aristocrat has been there since 1936. It is spacious, comfortable, and spotlessly clean. A family diner, nothing fancy, but much better than any over-priced 5 star hotel.

If you're in town, you must go there: 432 San Andres Street, Malate, Manila. (Located a few steps from historic Malate Church.) Take Roxas Blvd. Easy parking. Get a window seat so you can view Manila Bay.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Sites in the Book: 1940s Filipino Country Homes

"In 1939 we built a big family house..."

The original Reynaldo home that they (and the Japanese) lived in during World War Two is long gone. There are no known photos of it. I remember from my father-in-law Felipe's stories that it was two stories tall, with a cement first floor and a wooden second floor. This picture that you see on the top left, was a typical home of a well-to-do country family in the 1940s, and it was the image that I used to imagine as the Reynaldo farm in The Yellow Bar

In the olden days, a house like this would have window panes made of capiz (oyster) shells. It was cheaper than glass, and still let the light in. The wood used in a house of this type would usually be a mixture of coconut and/or narra, which is Philippine mahogany. It had high ceilings and wide open windows to keep the house cool. The roof was made of zinc or tin, which was considered very modern and leak proof. The only problem was that in a heavy rain, it was very noisy; the roof reverberated like a drum at a rock concert. Some homes used used spanish tile.

Back then, the majority of country folk in the Philippines lived in Bahay Cubo, also know as Nipa Huts. These were made of bamboo, rattan, planks and nipa grass. (And whatever else was around.) They were usually elevated on stilts, and in a land where earthquakes, typhoons and floods are a constant, these houses are ideal for their climate and are easy to repair.

Houses such as these are still ubiquitous in rural  southeast Asia: Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. I have stayed in a few of them over the years and have found them surprisingly comfortable and hygienic (apart from the occasional lizard that falls from the ceiling.) Plus, there is nothing quite as comfortable as walking bare-foot on a split bamboo rail floor.

Nowadays, the modern asian family prefers a cement house with air conditioning. Ceilings are lower and windows are smaller. God help them if the electricity ever goes out.

Note: As the title says, these are country homes, like the one ones situated in The Yellow Bar. In contrast, 1940s Manila was one of the most modern and historic cities in Asia. There, the architecture varied from from Spanish Adobe to Art Moderne apartment buildings to American suburban. I will be posting more pictures of these remarkable building in the near future.

B/W photos courtesy of John T. Pilot. Click on image to see larger version.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Yellow Bar is based on a true story

The Yellow Bar is a work of fiction, but the main story line is based upon true stories my father in-law, Felipe Reynaldo, told me in the 1980s about how he and his family survived World War 2.

Here's the true part:

Felipe's family had the biggest house in Culi-Culi due to the successful notions and home goods store that they had. During the World War Two occupation, the Reynaldo's were kicked out of their home and forced to become servants in their own house for the Japanese pilots. As the war years went on, these pilots would become kamakazi. Felipe (Pepot) was just a child at the time. He told me how the pilots lived, celebrated, and ultimately went to their deaths.

After the horrific Battle of Manila and the return of the Americans, a relative began selling homemade booze (lombanog) to the American GIs and the Yellow Bar was born. The bar ended up being the most popular bar for visiting servicemen in Manila for over 30 years. (The stories he told me about the Americans at the Yellow Bar after the war could make up of book of its own, and may be my sequal one day.) By the time I met and married my wife, Leonor, in the 1980s, the Yellow Bar was long closed and had been converted into the local wet market, but it's art deco entrance still remained– loose chickens, cats and dogs dodged in and out its door. It was intriguing. It deserved a story.

I decided to approach the novel though 10 year old Pepot's eyes- a simple story of how a family survives World War Two. Although it is set in 1940s Philippines, I didn't want it to be an exotic travelog about the wonders of that island nation. (Let a future James Michener write that.) No, it needed to be easy to relate to. Therefore you will find very few Tagalog words and references to quaint social customs, such as balut. The Reynaldo's story could have happened anywhere, to any family.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Manila: 27 February 1945.

B/W photo courtesy of John T. Pilot.

Grandpa, what did K-rations taste like?

Well grandson, they tasted like Spam and crackers for the most part. Sometimes there was a hard slice of fruitcake. Chocolate bites. Chewing gum. Instant coffee, instant bouillon soup and fruit flavored drink powder. And they always came with 4 Chesterfield cigarettes and a pack of matches... maybe to take the taste away.

In the 1940s, K-rations were the portable foods that the American soldiers carried with them into combat. They weren't designed to be delicious, or even particularly healthy. The Army was more concerned with giving its soldiers the energy to keep fighting. And it had to be light enough to carry up mountains or hiking through jungles. The K-rations came in 3 different servings: breakfast, lunch (supper) and dinner. But most soldiers couldn't tell the difference.

K-rations were produced by the Cracker Jacks Company and used a waxed paper box about the same size as their popcorn product. It was small enough to fit in a soldier's uniform pockets. The American soldiers quickly grew tired (even physically sick) of these ready-to-eat meals; whenever they liberated a town, (be it Paris or Manila) it was usually the first thing that they gave away to the malnourished natives.

And when you're starving, K-rations are the best tasting meals on earth.

Click on photos to see K-rations in all their glory.

Friday, October 26, 2012

On Writing Your First Novel: Part 2

So how did I write The Yellow Bar?

Just like everybody else– I sat down and stared anxiously at a blank screen for a few hours. Had a beer. Put it off until the next day. The next week. The next few years...

Until I had a great opening line: “I was sitting naked on my carabao.” That got me started.

I think the hardest thing for any would-be author is the commitment you have to make. After a few hours of writing, you realize that your novel isn’t going to write itself and you are not Lois Lane. It takes a lot of brain power, a lot of hours, and a lot of false starts.

I outlined the plot with pencil and paper. This was mentioned in part one. Although I didn’t know exactly where I was going in the writing process, I had a general idea of the beginning, the middle and the end.

Get into the mood. Writing a novel involves a lot of day dreaming. If the idea for your book is strong, the dreaming will come naturally. I started to envision my characters as real people. (What would Pinky do?) However, I must warn you that if you day dream in public, and stare into space like I do, people will think you’re on drugs or about to go postal.

I made a place and a schedule to write in. I work hard as a teacher. Sometimes those kids knock the stuffings out of me. I would use this as a excuse not to write. What I did was put it into my daily activity. Instead of going directly home from work, I would stop at an obscure, quiet coffee shop next to a supermarket. Something clicked, because page after page started to flow for that magic hour or two of caffeine bliss. It became something to look forward to at the end of my day.

I made myself comfortable. The Yellow Bar started on my desktop. It felt like an office assignment. My laptop was long gone. All I had was an iPad, so that’s what I used for most of the original writing in the book. I can’t recommend this to perfectionists (or touch typists) because the virtual keys can be a bitch sometimes. However, it flowed for me. What I learned to ignore all the typos and type, type, type away. It was an easy matter to transfer to my desktop and correct later.

I didn't read any popular novels during this time. I was afraid of being intimidated, or worse– copying someone else's technique. I DID read Mark Twain stories. His stuff seemed safe enough since it's 150 years old.

The book I referred to the most: The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. I'm an English teacher and even I get confused with grammar rules at times. It is the author's Bible and best friend. I highly recommend all first time authors keep this small book at hand, at all times.

Music helps. I found an obscure radio channel on-line that specializes in 1940s swing tunes. ( Big Band Cantina) It gave me a great feel for the era that I was writing in. I also listened to just about everything: from Classical Mozart to Eminem hip hop. Again, music helps you get into the mood.

Be prepared to be lonely. I cannot write with other people interrupting or looking over my shoulder. Hence the coffee shop. I also occasionally lied to friends about not joining them on the weekends, so I could keep on writing. Most of them have forgiven me by now.

Ignore your deadline. I originally thought I’d have The Yellow Bar done in six months. Ha! It took me a year and a half. Again, schedule your writing times, not your ending.

Enjoy it, and ignore your page count. I started The Yellow Bar as a scared, trembling, little flower. At about page 50, I knew I had something. By page 100 I was so excited that page 200 flew by without me knowing it. Let the story come out the way it should; don’t force it, don’t time it, don’t count it. It’ll work.

NEXT: In Part 3 You will learn about all the stupid mistakes I made PLUS the long and strange road called the editing process.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Another Yellow Bar Review

Excuse me for tooting my own horn, but I got another review of The Yellow Bar from a nice lady named Cindy. Thank you, kind stranger!

The Yellow Bar/John Falch A+. Finding out about this book was a fluke. I was perusing Facebook and saw a post from Tim Hallinan urging readers to read about a new author he found and I was hooked. The book was a $2.99 find for the kindle and worth every penny and more. It's a saga-like story set at the brink of World War II in a small village of Culi-Culi near Manila in the Philippines. The story is told from three points of view, mostly that of little Pepot Reynoldo, the youngest boy in the family; an American 'lavender' (gay) hotel manager, Eric Lawson and little orphan girl name Imang who was rounded up by the Japanese military once the war had started to work in a sweat shop in Manila. Most of the story is about the far reaching Reynaldo family which includes Pinky Del Rosario, a torch singer and her husband Romeo. They live and work in Manila, where her sister's family is on the farm in Culi-Culi. The story is about the creativity, bravery, resourcefulness, family love and respect that get them through the hard times ahead until the island of Luzon is liberated by the Americans.
Most likely this will be one of my top ten reads of the year.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sites in the Book: Intramuros, the Walled City

The Spanish capital of Manila was born in 1571, by decree of Miguel López de Legazpi. By the 1590s, the first walls of Intramuros (Latin for inner city) began to go up and work continued sporadically until the late 1800s. With walls up to 40 feet thick, on 160 acres on the shores of Manila Bay, the walled city reflected Spain's glory days of exploration and power. Other similar structures from that era can be found in St. Augustine, Florida and San Juan, Puerto Rico, but I think none matched the scale and sublime beauty of Intramuros. As stone-walled forts became impractical (and useless) when military artillery became more powerful, the city began its second life as the cultural cradle of Spain: palaces, government offices and elite homes were built. Schools, universities, and grand baroque churches, including the Manila Cathedral, stood there.

When the Americans took over in 1898, things changed quickly. Land reclamation projects on the bay land-locked the old city, and its surrounding mosquito filled moats were filled in the create a golf course, giving it a park-like appearance. (The picture on the top left gives you a bird's eye view of what it looked like in the 1930s.) As you can see, the Americans went on to create a new Manila– one that looked a bit like Washington, DC.

Enter World War Two and one of the most horrific events of the war. As the month-long Battle of Manila drew to a close, the Japanese holed up behind the walls of Intramuros and refused to surrender. They began slaughtering the native residents of Intramuros: civilian men, women, children, priests and nuns. At 7:30 AM on 23 February 1945, the American Army let loose with everything they had, bombarding Intramuros for exactly an hour, blasting 350 years of art, history and culture into rubble. (Including the Filipinos trapped inside.) Not much was left after it was over. Intramuros looked like a smashed sand castle.

It sat there for years, avoided, neglected and feared for its ghosts. Once again it was First Lady Imelda Marcos who spear-headed a restoration effort who got the blasted walls rebuilt. The work continues oh-so-slowly up to today.

I lived in Manila in the late 1980s, and one of my favorite things to do was walk around in the remains of Intramuros when I was in that part of town. These lonely walks, where I first became aware of what actually happened in World War Two, would later give me the inspiration to write The Yellow Bar.
The Manila Cathedral had been rebuilt, but that was about all. (With the exception of a tall. ugly 1960s newspaper tower, destroying the sense of scale and history.) In the 80s, it was only safe to go there in the daylight hours, because the ruin of Intramuros was where the homeless and destitute lived. Stray dogs, beggars, burning garbage and weeds owned the site. It was spooky. It still is.

The two color photos are from 2007. Even now, (though a bit cleaner) most of the old walled city is still in ruin and neglect. The main reasons for this is political infighting and budget constraints. However, more and more Filipinos are starting to realize what a neglected treasure it is. Hopefully, this movement will provide the political will to restore the grand dame Intramuros. Or at least give back some of its dignity.

Click on any picture to see a larger image.
B/W photos courtesy of John T. Pilot.

Friday, September 21, 2012

On Writing Your First Novel: Part 1

Since publishing The Yellow Bar, several people have asked how I did it. I will start with the complete interview I did with author Timothy Hallinan last month. This is Part 1, which I call Inspiration. In the following segments (to be written) I will tell you about My Writing Process, and How I Published My Book. And finally, The Cruel World of Self Promotion. I do not claim to be an expert on any of these subjects, however, I'm sure you can learn a few things by reading about what I did right, and the stuff I did so totally wrong. Hopefully, it will inspire you to finally write YOUR first book. (Because it's there inside you and it needs to come out.)

And now, on to Tim's interview:

How would you describe The Yellow Bar in, say, 100 words or less?

You can read the standard promo on Amazon, so let me be a little abstract. It’s about some nice people, the Reynaldo family, who live in 1940s Philippines. Their sweet rural life goes to hell when they are caught between two warring giants, America and Japan. It starts with the Japanese invasion and ends with the destruction of Manila. It’s about: Love. Family. God. War. Luck. Survival. The Reynaldos teach us how to make lemonade when life throws lemons at you. (And when it’s time to throw those damned lemons back, so hard that it knocks teeth out.) Fate comes in two parts; what life gives you and what you make of it. The Yellow Bar is also a reminder that we all belong to the same family of man, and that hating and killing our different brothers are the stupidest things we can ever do.

The Yellow Bar is such an accomplished book that it's hard to believe it's your first.  What other writing have you done?

I am ashamed to say that most of my writing in the past consisted of developing course books for English language learners and the occasional rant to the local newspaper. (I did spend 15 years as a local “shock jock” on the radio, which to me is a sort of improvisational writing.) These are about the only things you’ll see from me in print. However, I always knew I had a novel in me. One day The Yellow Bar just popped out. 

What first inspired you to write the novel?  What was the first idea that grasped your attention? 

I lived in Manila in the mid 1980s. Some of the happiest times of my life were when I just sat around and talked to family and neighbors. Filipinos like to talk, boast, gossip, and most of all, weave a good story. So do I, so we all got along just fine. Back then, there were still many older people who had lived under the Japanese occupation and the battle of Manila. They told me stories (always with a smile and maybe a tear) of how they survived the war. Hair-raising tales like: How the Japanese Bayonetted My Baby, or, What Auntie Alice Did When a Hand Grenade Came Through the Kitchen Window. It was amazing how they told these stories without a trace of bitterness. This is because they believe in God and forgiveness. This is because they are Filipino.

My father in-law, Felipe (Pepot) had the best stories of all. He was a short, jolly man and he also had the voice of a foghorn. He was loud. When he was speaking English he liked to punctuate with invectives that he had learned from the GIs in the Yellow Bar:

“... and when the bombs started falling, GODDAMIT it was hell!...”

The Japanese Kamikazes had lived in their house during the occupation. As a child servant in his own home, Pepot saw how how these pilots lived and how they prepared to die. He told me how the family had saved themselves at the end of the war by selling homemade liquor to the American GIs. From him I learned that my mother in-law, Maxima (Imang) had been forced to work in Japanese parachute factory as a child slave laborer. I remember thinking that someone should write a book or make a film about these stories.

Fast forward to 2010. After a long absence, I attended a family reunion in Manila. Most of the immediate family now live in different parts of the world. While we were there, I realized this incredible family history was fading away, that the stories would soon be forgotten. No, that couldn’t be allowed to happen. I started writing the book on my third day in Manila. It took me a year and a half.

Did the scope of the story give you anxious moments?  If so, how did you deal with the anxiety?

First I had to make a choice. True story or a work of fiction? I chose fiction for several reasons, the main one being that it gave me artistic license to change a few things. Secondly, by making it fiction, I wouldn’t accidently offend a family member. (Remember, they have butterfly knives there!) Other than Pepot and Imang, I made sure not to use any other relative’s name. Besides, if this was going to be a war novel, then somebody was going to die!

Call me a pacifist or call me a sissy, I didn’t relish killing anyone. I avoided choosing who for as long as I could. This was a mistake because the longer I worked on the book, the more real the characters became to me. Who wants to kill off good friends?

Another problem reared its head when I was about a third of the way into the book. The Tagalog words. At first they had seemed quaint and exotic and I used them liberally, but then they started to get in the way, making the Reynaldos seem a bit removed from you and me. That was the last thing I wanted, so Kuya Dading became Uncle Dading, etc. Rewrite and rewrite again.

The biggest bump in the road was that The Yellow Bar is an historical novel. I got anal retentive about the war facts being absolutely correct. It meant some serious research, which slowed down the writing of the story. I wasted days just searching for how parachutes were made in Manila. (Hint: Google. Buried very, very deep in cyberspace.) I read diaries and army reports. I nailed a 1935 map of Manila up over my computer. Slowly I became an expert on World War Two Philippines and the Battle of Manila. I had to. My next novel will not be historical.

Did you plot the book in advance or find your way through as you wrote it?

Yes, I did an outline with pencil and paper. It had three columns: Before the War, the Occupation, and MacArthur Returns. I placed “events” inside them, hoping to link it all up. But not everything was plotted in advance, some of it just came out of nowhere. For example, Eric Lawson, the gay hotel manager, was originally going to be a cameo, an inside joke based on a friend of mine. Well damn, he kept popping up and making himself useful. Imelda the smutty maid also just fell from the sky.

The book goes back and forth among first- and third-person viewpoints: little Pepot, a boy of ten when the story opens; then to an omniscient third to describe historical events, and much closer third-person narratives centered on Pepot's Aunt Pinky; Eric Lawson, and the eight-year old orphan girl, Imang, who goes through hell and grew up to be your mother in-law,  When did you decide to use multiple viewpoints?  What were the benefits and challenges (if there were any)?

Yes, the story bounces around several narratives, which is exactly what I didn’t want to do. It can be dangerous. I first started the novel with Pepot’s voice alone and almost immediately ran into problems when I wanted to create the background of the main characters and the history of colonial Manila. I didn’t want to say, “My Auntie did this... My Mother told me that...” It was a waste of words and conflicted with the flow of the story. Also, Pepot’s narrative wouldn’t allow me to go into important detail of the war itself. Who was Pepot, a genius boy scholar? My secret solution was to go into other viewpoints but (in my head, at least) they would really come from Pepot himself. You see, Pepot, my late father in-law, passed away in 1993. As far as I’m concerned, he is now omniscient and knows everything. By doing this, I feel the novel keeps the same language, the same nuance and style. I do not recommend multiple narratives to other authors, but if you have to, here is my cheat: Limit the first person narrative to one character only and make the other viewpoints as unobtrusive as possible.

By the way, my next book will be totally in the third person. Lightening doesn’t strike twice.

How did you feel when you'd finished the first draft? 

I was pretty satisfied. It had a strong beginning, middle and end. I put it away for a week and then reread it. There were some problems. Some things had been written twice. Some of my characters didn’t have clear definition or motivation. Some had too much. So I rewrote. I sent the draft to a friend of mine, Sue Bonnington, a senior editor for the Jakarta Globe newspaper. She found my biggest sin- I am a “drama comma queen.” I love commas, semi colons and long dashes. I use them whenever possible, way too much. (Sue says it’s because I write like I talk.) The second draft was about getting rid of unnecessary punctation marks. I’m sure there are still 100 more I could erase, but I won’t because I love them.

It was also during the first draft that I was advised cut out the prologue: Lola Suzy Tells You the History of the Philippines. To make the book start faster. Ouch. It just killed me to edit out 5 pages of stuff I thought was good, but yeah, doing so did give The Yellow Bar a quicker start. Tell you what- any one who gives me five stars on Amazon will get the prologue free of charge! Ha ha!

What do you hope readers take away from the book?

Well, I hope they were entertained. I hope they learned a few things. There is no hidden message in this story which is obviously against war. Perhaps one thing we should remember is that no matter what part of the planet you’re from, we humans have so many small, silly things in common. For example, I am from the American south and Filipinos share many of our southern traits: We drink, we over-eat, take afternoon naps, and leave the Christmas decorations hanging up until February. What is there to hate?

All comments and questions welcome.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sites in the Book: The Santa Ana Cabaret

"Santa Ana was where people went to sin..."
It's funny the things one can find when researching for an historical novel. As I searched long and lonely nights on the internet for information about World War Two Manila, I landed at the Santa Ana Cabaret. Yes, it really existed and had a long life in pre-war and post-war Manila. Its owner was John Canson and he advertised his place as the largest cabaret in the world. I don't know if that's true or not, but from the photo below you can see that it was huge. Mr. Canson also had a long and storied history; he was a real gypsy who had a life full of big ups and downs. Bar owner, entrepreneur, POW at Santo Tomas and more. He was an impressive man and deserves a book of his own.  In The Yellow Bar, I gave him a cameo role as the buddy of Eric Lawson while they were interned in the Santo Tomas. (I felt is was the least I could do. Stories like his should not be forgotten.)
There are many conflicting stories about the original Santa Ana: Some say it was nothing but a whore house, others say it was a classy place for a date. (I think it was a mixture of both.) Things I do know: He started the cabaret way back in 1914. The Santa Ana survived the Battle of Manila, probably because it was on the outskirts of town. Mr. Canson re-opened it after the war, and the club stayed intact until a typhoon finally knocked it down in 1970. Wow, that was a long run!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sites in the Book: Dewey Boulevard

In 1912, a monumental thoroughfare was built...

In the early part of the 20th century, the Americanization of Manila began in earnest. One of the grand plans that came to fruit was Dewey Boulevard, named after Spanish American war hero, Admiral George Dewey. Its original concept came from architect Daniel Burnham, the man responsible for much of the new spatial planning for the cities of Manila, and Baguio City up north. Mr. Burnham was an early proponent of "the City Beautiful" movement which advocated building beautiful cities along scientific lines. One could say that with Dewey Blvd. that he succeeded. The 1930s postcard you see can give you an idea: a sweeping double lane thoroughfare runs along the shore of Manila Bay. Mango and coconut trees were installed to offer shade and protection from the sea. (If you squint your eyes, you can see some beach at the far end.) A favorite thing to do in those days was to cross over to the park, walk its broad sidewalks, fish or swim, and watch the famous sunset over the Bay. It was beautiful and useful, just like Mr. Burnham wanted.

Just before the Battle of Manila in 1945, large sections of Dewey Boulevard were blocked off with barbed wire and heavily guarded, so that it could be used as an emergency aircraft landing field. This would severely hamper escape from Manila by its residents.

Flash forward to the 21st century. Dewey Boulevard is still there, however in the 1960s it was renamed Roxas Blvd. in honor of President Manuel Roxas, the 5th president of the Philippines. That's not the only thing that's changed; since the war there have have been many land reclamation projects that continue up to this day. Large parts of the boulevard are no longer on the Bay. I have mixed feelings about this, because a lot of the beauty has left. However, Manila is on its way to becoming a "super city" and the needs of its citizens come first. Dewey/Roxas doesn't look that special any more. (However, it's still one of the easiest and fastest roads to navigate in Metro Manila.) If you have the time, park your car (I recommend near Malate Church) and carefully cross over the boulevard to Manila Bay. If a breeze is blowing and the air is clear, it can still be a pleasant sight.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Queen of Patpong

When I read a good book, I want to tell everyone about it. I bought this book on Apple iBooks and wrote the review for it. However, Apple is taking its time posting it. Did Apple eat my review? So until it appears on iTunes, here it is:

The Queen of Patpong by Timothy Hallinan

This book is a first class read from beginning to end. It’s about a travel writer named Poke Rafferty, who is living the good life in Thailand, along with his wife, Rose, and adopted daughter. But their lives gets flipped upside down when Rose’s dark past suddenly comes back to haunt her. (Seems Rose had been a popular bargirl in Bangkok’s notorious Patpong district.) This past comes in the form of a dangerous, psychotic ex-fiancee, Howard Horner, who is hell-bent on sadistic revenge, putting the whole family on the chopping block. He’s a villain that will curl your toes.

The Queen of Patpong is more than just a mere thriller; it’s a damn good story that is totally believable. Tim Hallinan really makes the characters come alive with some of the best dialogue and background stories ever written. (The story of Rose’s childhood is heartbreaking and all too true.) The hero, Poke, is a tough guy but no Rambo; he actually breaks, bleeds and grunts throughout the book. The cops, the mama-sans, the bargirls (heck, all the characters!) come across as complete human beings, warts and all. It would have been all too easy for this story to turn into a cliche “white man in mysterious Thailand” pulp novel, but in Tim’s hands, not only will you feel that you are part of the family, you will also come away with an understanding of what Thailand and its people really are.

That said, The Queen of Patpong is a thrilling (sometimes bloody) ride, loaded with a subtle sense of humor and a wonderful slap-dead finale. I found myself mumbling “yes... YES!” at the surprise ending. This book is one of a series of Poke Rafferty novels. It’s the first one I’ve ever read and I’m happy to see that there are several more. Read this book before it becomes a movie!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

August 2012

Ever so often a person gets lucky and runs into someone who helps you a lot and expects nothing in return. It's called the kindness of strangers. My kind stranger (whom I hope to keep as a friend) is the famous and talented Mr  Timothy Hallinan, author of the famous Poke Rafferty thriller series. He read The Yellow Bar, reviewed it on Amazon, and then asked me to do an interview about it. You can read it here. But more importantly, he has been helping me, a first time author, learn the ropes on about how to promote one's books. Tim, you are an angel. Now everyone go and buy his latest novel, The Fear Artist, available in both print and eBook on Amazon. For your convenience, just click the photo on the right side of the page.

Other news: The Yellow Bar is now available as an eBook on Apple iBooks, and the Barnes and Noble store.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Sites in the Book: The Metropolitan Theater

"It sat there alone in the moonlight, looking like a magnificent art deco birthday cake."

You may have noticed by now that several locations in The Yellow Bar still survive to this day. Over 90% of Manila's buildings were reduced to rubble. All the others were shot or burned to hell. The Manila Metropolitan Theater is one of the survivors. Just barely, but I'll tell you about that in a minute.

The MET was built in 1924 and no expense was spared; it was a palace made out of marble, wood and stained glass. Italian and Filipino artists heavily decorated the theater with sculptures and reliefs. It was (and still is) an art deco masterpiece.

The MET stayed open through most of the Japanese occupation, staging plays, operas and variety shows. It was heavily damaged in the Battle of Manila but was quickly repaired after the war.
But by the 1970s, she was not looking too good and there was talk of the MET meeting the wrecking ball, as the Metropolitan is on a prime piece of real estate on the heart of Manila. Once again, First Lady Imelda Marcos (Love her or hate her, she was a patron of Philippine arts.) came to the rescue and had the MET restored.

Things were fine until the Philippine Revolution of 1986 kicked the Marcos out from power. Funding was lost and the theater once again went back into ruin. The fine garden behind the theater was converted into a bus terminal. Political infighting almost doomed the Metropolitan but 2010 it seems  that a compromised was reached. The theater has been renovated and there are plans to keep her running as a legitimate theater. However, I must say this: Manila is not known for being kind to its historical sites. Real estate speculators (those snakes in the grass) have no love for history. For example, in 2000, the historical Manila Jai Alai was demolished upon the orders of Mayor Lito Atienza to make way for a project that that never built. I hope that there is enough political will to keep the Metropolitan standing for hundreds of years to come.

Interior of the Metropolitan after restoration.

B&W photos compliments of John T Pilot.
Click on any image to see a larger version.


Below are three new photos of the Metropolitan Theater that I took on my Manila December 2012 trip. I went early on an early Sunday morning to avoid the traffic. I found a lonely standalone building with no one around. Buses are now using the driveway for impromptu pick-ups. Weeds are growing in its cracks and paper trash is building up in several corners. It doesn't look like it has been used in a long time. At this point, all it will take is a stray cigarette butt to set the whole place on fire.

A shadow of its former self.
This is one of the most historical and beautiful buildings in Manila. I can't for the life of me understand why it has been abandoned so. All the new, trendy towers and malls that are now being built in Manila haven't got half the glamour of the Met. In any other city, this jewel box would be THE place for shows, ceremonies and other events.

If anyone has any information on groups or individuals that are actively trying to save the Met, please feel free to email me or post a link here. Maybe it's not too late.

Broken stained glass window
Paper Fire Traps

Friday, August 17, 2012

Sites in the Book: The Manila Hotel

"And at the end of it, they built the Manila Hotel."
The Americans wanted to remold the sleepy Spanish city of Manila into a showcase of American modernity and power. One of their first big projects was a hotel. When it was completed in 1912, the Manila Hotel was the grandest and most modern in all of southeast Asia. Amenities that had never been seen in the region, such as air conditioned rooms and hotel elevators beckoned to first class world travelers who were lucky enough to sleep under its roof. It was the place to be.
In the early 20th century before World War 2, American Manila was considered just as appealing as Hawaii for an exotic vacation, and was thought to be much safer and cleaner than the Asian mainland.

 Celebrities and world leaders flocked to the hotel, the most notable being General Douglas MacArthur and his family, who lived there in the penthouse suite like royalty for years. That is, until December 1941, when they had to run for their lives, leaving most of their possessions behind. When the Japanese arrived they turned the hotel into a barracks and military headquarters. They left the MacArthur suite untouched and used it as a de facto museum for visiting dignitaries.

During the Battle of Manila, fighting came to the hotel. It continued from room to room, floor to floor. By the time it was over, the grand dame of Manila was a burnt out shell. MacArthur's penthouse was totally obliterated. (Click on the "after" picture to see it better.)

Surprisingly, the hotel was rebuilt in just a few years, utilizing the original walls. In the 1970s, under the direction of First Lady Imelda Marcos, the Manila Hotel got a major face lift and two new annex towers were built behind it. Some people say the new renovations made the hotel lose its charm, but hey, business is business. If you'd like a little nostalgia, go take a cup of coffee in the original lobby and watch all the people go by. It will be an hour well spent.

The Manila Hotel in 2013.

B&W photos compliments of John T Pilot. Click to view larger images.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The real Imang as a young woman

This is my mother in law, Maxima Reynaldo, from a photo taken in the 1950s. She was, and still is, quite a looker! As a child in World War Two, she was forced to work in a Japanese parachute factory. It was the only factory of its kind outside of Japan. The hours were long and the conditions were brutal.

Not mentioned in The Yellow Bar is that Imang was also called into duty several times as an impromptu nurse for wounded Filipino guerrillas. She did the best she could, never thinking that if the Japanese found out that it would be her death sentence.

One of her best memories of the war was when the Americans came back and drove out the Japanese. She had never seen an American before, and when one big, giant, white soldier came up to her and gave her a Hershey's Chocolate Bar, she about peed in her pants! She has loved candy bars and Americans ever since. "Imang" will be 85 in December 2012.

The real Pepot as a young man

Yes, there really was a Yellow Bar! This is a photo of the Reynaldo men and staff in the real Yellow Bar. It was taken around 1955 during one of the many fiestas that occur so regularly in the Philippines. The war years were behind them and the family was prospering once more. My father-in-law, Felipe Reynaldo is in the first row, fourth from the left. His childhood nickname was Pepot and he is the inspiration for the Pepot in The Yellow Bar. Unfortunately, no childhood pictures exist of him.

(Click on the photo to see the larger image.)

Pepot married a beautiful woman named Imang. They had five children together: one boy and four daughters. I married one of the daughters.

The real Yellow Bar did well for the Reynaldo family. It continued to operate until the mid 1970s. As the story goes, that the family was concerned about the bad influence the bar might have on their children and they closed it down.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Happiness is a Review from a Perfect Stranger

Amazon Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful book.

Seen mostly through the eyes of 10 year old Pepot, it follows the story of the Reynaldo family from the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in the winter of 1942, just after Pearl Harbour, to the apocalyptic return of General Douglas McArthur in early 1945. The storyline never falters as it weaves together the individual adventures of a host of characters, all totally convincing: Pepot himself, his beloved auntie Pinkey the singer, his rock-solid Mother, Imelda the good-time girl, Eric the fat General Manager of the Manila Hotel, and many more. The tone ranges from the comic (Pepot wets his pants during the family's first air-raid and his big sister refuses to share a room with him, but four-year-old Chi Chi puts her arms around her big brother and tells him she loves him: "Family," notes Pepot, "is people who love you even when you stink of piss") to the terrifying and even the tragic - there is one death in the book which brought tears to my eyes, and I think it would to anyone's.

Over a hundred thousand people died during the liberation of Manila, and a hundred thousand of them were Filipino civilians. This is comparable to the numbers killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or Dresden or Stalingrad, but nobody seems to know these days. Blame can be shared equally between the Japanese, who deliberately decided to slaughter all civilians under their control, and General McArthur, who botched - there's no other word - the capture of the city. At one level this novel is a memorial to the slaughtered dead of Manila, and a warning against the senselessness of war. It's not easy to write about such horror and carry it off without being either shrill or maudlin, but the way the book is written, with realism of detail and incident and restraint of prose, pulls it off. So that's what kept me enthralled: a true story of humanity in the midst of one of history's great inhumanities.

Friday, July 27, 2012

July 2012

It's been an exciting month. After a lonely year and a half of writing, I published "The Yellow Bar" for the first time on Amazon Kindle on July 7. Since then, I've sold about one book a day. This is to be expected, as I have done hardly any marketing for the Yellow Bar, save for my family and friends. It's like I've thrown a tiny grain of sand upon a sand castle. How to get this book noticed? I plan to whip up this blog into something interesting (the Pacific War in the Philippines) and perhaps some essays on being a writer. I would really like to link up with other writers, especially ones in the Filipino community. (Send me a message if you're interested.)

I will avoid is spamming everyone, although my primitive ego wants to do just that.

Also I am happy to announce that The Yellow Bar was published on Smashwords a few days ago. If all goes well, The Yellow Bar will soon be sold on Barnes & Noble, Apple Books and other outlets in the next few weeks.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Memorare Manila

In the heart of old city of Manila, Intramuros, you will find this memorial to Manila's World War Two civilian war dead. It's quite a contrast to the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, with its stately placed rows of white crosses and manicured lawns.

The Memorare Memorial was only unveiled in 1995, some 40 years after the war. It was created by artist sculptor Peter Guzman. It is an emotional tableaux you will see-  a modern-day pieta actually. I have been there several times. It sits in a small, quiet garden. Some days there are small bouquets of flowers placed lovingly on the figures by people unknown.

These are the photos I took during my last trip to Manila in December 2012. Read it and weep.

Click to see larger image.

Sites In The Book: Manila Central Post Office

"Little puffs of smoke danced on the neoclassical facade."

One of the most beautiful buildings that survived World War Two is the Manila Central Post Office. Built in the 1920s by Juan M. Arellano, the building resembles the grand post offices found in Chicago and New York. This is not an accident, as the Americans wanted Manila to reflect their own image. 

The photo you see here was taken just after the battle and it was basically just a burnt out shell, but was still standing. Amazingly, other government buildings still stood after the battle. The reason for this is because they were built with the strongest materials available, to be earthquake proof. (Reinforced concrete is as hard as stone.) This would prove to be a big problem for the American GIs when they were trying to flush out the Japanese fighters hidden inside.

Soon after the war, the Post Office was restored and up until this posting in 2012, still goes about the daily routine of delivering the mail. Recently however, there has been talk of converting this icon into a 5 star hotel. I do not like this idea because it would limit access to the public. Only the elite would be able to walk its halls. A cultural icon such this deserves better treatment. If the Manila Central Post Office is now redundant, wouldn't it make better sense to convert it into a museum? Perhaps a museum dedicated to the Battle of Manila?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sites in the Book: Neilson Field

"It was Neilson Field that made my family rich."
The area where the Reynaldos lived outside of Manila is called Makati. It has had many different spellings over the years, and the meaning of the word is still debated until this day. (I tend to believe the Spanish version which translates roughly into: hot mosquito plagued swamp.) For hundreds of years, not many people choose to live there, other than farmers.

Things started to change when Neilson Field, Manila's first private airport, was built there in the  1937. Suddenly, elite "high flyers" were landing in Makati from all over the parts of the Philippine archipelago, Asia and the rest of the world. However, this all ended in 1941 with the invasion of the Japanese. Neilson was turned into a Japanese military installation. Towards the end of the war, kamikaze pilots would launch from here. This post-war photo shows what it looked like. Notice the wrecked Japanese planes. (Click the photo to see a larger version.) The building inside the red circle is the control tower and terminal. It survives unto this day.

This is what the Makati area looked like in 2011. Big difference, huh? Neilson Field did not last long after the war. Manila was practically destroyed and many people, especially the rich ones, decided to homestead in Makati where it was prettier and safer. The original runways became the main boulevards of Paseo de Roxas and Ayala Avenue. It is now the most expensive real estate in the Philippines. The control tower and terminal still stand in a small park at the intersections and are used as a museum today. (Click on the photo to see the tiny building inside the red circle.)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Bad Indonesian Television

This is a reprint from a rant I wrote to the Jakarta Post. It made the front page.

Luna Maya is right- gossip and exploitation “reality” television shows really are produced by rotten animals.

Recently, in a crowded Padang restaurant, I was forced to watch a typical “reality” drama, which I believe was called “Nothing Lasts Forever.”  Hosted by two presenters, Sluggo Dimwit, and his moll, Mega Wet-eyes, their job in this episode was to reunite a reformed street thug (fresh out of prison) with his family and former loved ones.

Sounds endearing, right? Not at all. The actual show consisted of the ex-thug and the tv crew of six people, barging into unsuspecting relatives homes and scaring the hell out of everyone. Mayhem was bound to ensue: there was shouting and crying and bad blood all around. The ex-thug’s old Ibu was accidentally knocked down to the floor in a scuffle between him and his dad. It was very shocking and grotesque- and I imagine that’s why they repeated Ibu’s fall, five more times, in slow motion; her jilbab fluttering in the wind as she hits the floor. (Later in the show, Ibu is seen chasing her son down the street with a big stick.)

Throughout this whole “reality”, dramatic music is used heighten the tense situation. (I believe they were using the “Gladiator” movie soundtrack for this one. Hollywood should sue.)

The use of the show’s presenters is slick and cynical. Sluggo, the main presenter was obviously hired because he’s handsome and can raise his right eyebrow to look “quizzically concerned.” At first, you think he’s just trying to help, but in reality he urges the family feud to more violent heights by careful urging and provocative questions. What Sluggo really wants is blood; he’s a vampire in sheep’s clothing. A home wrecker disguised as a caring human being.

Studios and production houses love these shows because they’re easy and cheap to produce. It’s the lazy man’s way to high ratings.

However, the damage they inflict upon Indonesian society is great. This country, renowned for it’s polite and discreet manners, is being told that’s it’s okay to betray your family’s trust and privacy for the sake of a few bucks. Indonesian children are watching and they will grow up with these new values.

Perhaps the scariest thing is, that at any moment, a television crew could come to YOUR house with the purpose of exposing you or you family’s dirty underwear!  So therefore, I have devised a plan that will save you, should ever a sleazy tv crew push it’s way into your home, intending to damage your life in front of millions. Just follow this simple procedure and all should be well:

First, the television presenter cannot leave your house alive. Use a kitchen knife, sate stick, karate chop... whatever is at hand. Do it quickly, and make sure the presenter’s really dead (they’re actors, you know) because he/she is the last person you want testifying at your trial, on television, looking quizzically concerned. Better he is quizzically dead. You can always claim self defense.

Next, the cameraman can live but the video camera must be annihilated. I suggest snatching it and throwing it into the mandi. Producers will think twice about sending ambush “reality” crews into a stranger’s house when they know they may lose a 50 million rupiah camera. Bash it to pieces if you have to. And believe me, the production house will mourn the dead camera a lot more than the dead actor you’ve just killed.

If murder is not your bag, then there is an easier, and certainly safer, way to protect yourself from a home invasion, with the added plus that you will help clean up Indonesia’s air waves at the same time.

Forget angry letters to the production house or the television studios. They don’t care. They’re too busy counting their money. Besides, they’re not the ones funding this garbage. It’s the advertisers: the shampoo, soap, cigarette, drug, face whitening, children’s candy, and instant noodle companies. They are the real sugar-daddies.

So don’t buy their shampoo and let them know why. Tell all your friends to boycott these products. Start a Facebook page dedicated to “outing” advertisers that fund these pornographic and exploitative trash shows. (It is well known you can fit the courage of typical marketer into the belly-button of a flea and still have room for his heart.) Panic will ensue and the guilty show will lose it’s sponsors and go off air so fast, it’ll make your eyes hurt. You will win. You will be an Indonesian hero. And that’s the real reality.

But sharpen your sate sticks, just in case.