Monday, June 11, 2007

Fields Avenue, now and then

A buddy and I did some barhopping last night. We decided to truly hop, to have only one drink per establishment before hopping on to the next. We started at 6 pm. Before I knew it, midnight was nigh, and my scooter a pumpkin. It was a lot of fun, so naturally, time flew.

My first time barhopping in Angeles City was January 4, 1983, more than 24 years ago. A lot has changed since then—some good, some bad, some neither good nor bad.

With my 50th fast approaching, I often find myself thinking back to the past. I suppose it might be a sign of looming old age. It sucks knowing that there is much more behind than in front of me. Still, it is something to do, to make the comparisons between now and then.

One thing hasn’t changed here—the girls. They still trickle in from all over the islands. They come at the prospect of making some money and meeting a foreigner for possible husband material. It isn’t a myth; it happens all the time. Most of the guys I know are married to one of these young fillies.

Twenty-four years ago the girls were certainly here, only then, there were multitudes more of them—there were thousands, perhaps ten thousand. Clark Air Base was still an active U.S. base with its own thousands of airmen to add to the mix. When all those beautiful and willing Filipinas met up with all those young American military men, well, things got crazy. Truthfully, I’m glad those days are gone, and I’m glad the base is no longer a U.S. one. It made all Americans political targets and towards the end of the large scale American presence here the NPA assassinated several of us. To hell with that!

There were hundreds of clubs back then; now, by comparison, there is only a handful. In the old days the bar clientele was mostly young American men (like me), full of vim, vitality and vinegar. Naturally, the girls were kept quite busy. I remember several times being released from my nightshift work on the flightline and heading downtown with some squadron mates. Even before midnight I often noticed that the bars were almost empty of most of the girls who were already otherwise “entertained.” Considering how many ladies there were back then I thought it quite amazing that so many could already be out and doing their “thing.”

What was nice about the Air Force base being here is that it was Air Force. I rarely saw violence or strife between the partying troops like I used to see during my time around fellow marines and sailors. Go to Okinawa today and very carefully observe the young marines while they are out on the town. I say carefully because you might just find yourself getting your ass kicked. Chances are, however, they are too busy kicking each other’s. Man, I could tell you some stories!
Now, you’ll rarely see young men’s faces in the bars of Angeles, almost never in fact. I recall back in the day seeing customers in their 40s, 50s, and 60s and thinking it remarkable to see “old” guys like that. Now, around here, men in their 40s are considered the younger ones. Occasionally these days, when a tourist shows up in a bar in his 20s he looks like an intruder to the old denizens who live here permanently. How dare that whippersnapper come in here and show off his youth? Feels like he’s rubbing our faces in our own old age. The bastard!

I was sitting in a bar once when one of these young foreigner studs walked in. He was a strapping, good-looking blonde lad and yet he was not stirring up any attention from the ladies. I had bought a young hostess a drink and asked her why the girls were ignoring him. She sniffed that he had been in before, was a cheapskate, and wasn’t very nice. Then it hit me. Many of these girls had made that mistake once already in their young lives, to let themselves be hoodwinked by a pretty-boy ladies man, or babaero, as they call them here. A babaero, pronounced ba-ba-ero, is a man who goes after “mga babae,” or “the ladies.”

One of my interests is talking to the bar girls and hostesses, to find out why they come here from all over the Philippines. It seems that more than half have a young child or baby. Many tell a similar tale: Some local lothario back in the province talked her into giving up her virginity. After a while, once tired of her or if a baby is on the way, the guy disappears. Or, many of them tell the story of a husband that takes off with some other cutie after getting her or perhaps both girls pregnant.

Women here, especially poor ones, have virtually no protection under the law. There is no divorce, and for the most part, deadbeat dads are left undisturbed. With no divorce, and with annulments difficult and expensive, many men just start up new families after simply abandoning the last one. Not many people anywhere are want to do the right thing without being forced to, and its true here as well. So there you have it. Few men who do wrong by their families in the first place EVER do right by them, since the legal system does not pursue them or make them comply with their familial responsibilities. It's a very unfortunate situation, especially for women.

I’ve seen foreigners trying to marry their Filipina fiancee pay huge sums to bribe a so-called “missing husband” so that he will agree to the next step, an annulment, because the husband must agree to it first, no matter how pathetic a husband he might be. All that, so that the love-struck foreigner can then pay further large sums for the actual legal end of the marriage in court, the annulment.

Aside from the legal difficulties, a “deflowered” Filipina, and certainly one with a child, has few options. Even if she’s otherwise single, few Filipinos will want her for marriage, probably not one that could support her well.

Then, these forlorn ladies find out about Angeles City. They learn that it’s where foreigners come to meet Filipinas to have a “good time,” and that many come as well to meet girls for potential relationships. Unlike many traditional-minded Filipinos, most Americans, Europeans, and Australians don’t care if the girl is not a virgin; and if they fall in love, even a child or two is not a problem. It’s almost the perfect solution for both sets of the “hopeless.” It’s a place where hopeless old 1st world men can come and find an attractive loving 3rd world wife, who would also be otherwise JUST as hopeless.

Just today, I spoke with a fellow retiree, a 60 year-old marine with 7 failed marriages under his belt. Four years ago in search of the perfect gal, he met his 8th and probably his last wife. She’s 26 now and seeing them together, they seem like the ideal couple. He’s taught her everything he knows about martial arts and now they travel Asia together as she competes for trophies. He proudly told me that last week she bungee-jumped from the 54th story of a hotel in Thailand. If you know Filipinas, you’ll know that seems VERY unlikely!

Speaking of unlikely, how can a 26-year-old hard-bodied beauty and a 60-year-old bespectacled bald-headed man be the perfect pair? Well, I’ve seen it for myself, and it can probably happen ONLY right here in the Philippines. However, my advice to him and to anyone with a young beautiful wife from here is to never take her back to the States. Funny how quickly "true love" can quickly “turn off” as the young lady’s head is “turned around” once these old fellows take their youthful brides back home. The solution: stay here and have no fear!

Getting back to my recollections, last night I visited 6 or 7 bars. I usually like to buy one of the girls a drink or two, but anymore, more often than not, I don’t. And that brings me to another drastic difference between "now and then"—the girls’ attitudes and demeanors. Then, the girls working in the clubs were extremely aggressive, not so now. In the old days I couldn’t sit for more than a few seconds before a lovely lass would approach and say hello. Last night, I noticed that most of the ladies avoided looking at any of the customers, par for the course for most of the places these days. My policy is not to buy a ladies drink UNLESS she has at least looked at me once and smiled--EVEN if she has to FORCE herself to do it!

Although last night, in the very first bar I went into with my friend, Don, I made an exception to my rule of “a drink ONLY AFTER a look and a smile.” We sat together with the manager, Rod, drinking and talking about “veterans things,” since all three of us are military retirees. I sipped my mango juice and watched the bikini-clad dancers. None were really dancing, most were talking, standing and fidgeting up on the platform. All except one, and I was really pleased to see that she was dancing VERY well, enthusiastically even.

I interrupted, “Hey Rod, see that girl? The one actually dancing with the white ribbon in her hair? I want to buy her a drink. She deserves one for dancing like that. I don’t care if she sits over here or not; you don’t have to call her over.”

Obviously ignoring the part where I said she did not have to come over, he snapped his fingers at a waitress, and told her to tell the dancer to come over. The deed was done, and soon, very unladylike, the fetchingly dancing teenager hopped over the railing and made her way over to us.

I raised my glass to her, and nodding, greeted her with, “Mahusay kung sumayaw.” (I like your dancing.)

She smiled at my Tagalog, thrilled that I know some, so few of us do after all. I asked her why she was the only one dancing so actively, and that I wanted to reward her for her fine efforts with a drink. She thanked me and explained that she was cold from the air con and was just trying to warm up.

“Ah, I see. Well, if that’s the case, I wish the other girls would warm up like you do. Your dancing is very nice, almost as good as the girls used to dance when I first came here 25 years ago.”

Just 19, she had no idea what I was talking about. Many of the dancers these days, when they even bother to try, do what I call “The Balibago Shuffle.” Usually, with their arms folded across their chest or with hands clasped shyly in front of their bikini bottom, they stand in one place, and merely shift forward and back from one foot to the other, sometimes not even to the music. Oh, and Balibago is the Angeles City barrio where most of the bars are, thus the name of the boring pseudo-dance. It really is quite dreary to watch them do it, so I don’t; and the girls look even more disinterested doing it.

Ah, for the good old days when they really danced around here! It’s funny to think about now, but all those beautiful young women who danced so alluringly for us back then are all now in their 40s and 50s, all probably grandmothers. I wonder where they went?

I know many got married to GIs and went to the U.S., but I still think of them as they were then, not as grandmothers, but as the girls I see dancing today. I like to pretend that they are the same girls, as if they never got old and stayed forever fit and lovely.

If only it were so.


Ed said...

From this end, most of the Filipinas hail from Cebu followed by Mindenao and AC ranks about third. I guess this is thanks to the internet which makes meeting in person almost absolete.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Even here in AC, most of the Filipinas come from the Visayas. Cebu is well represented, although Samar probably provides most of the new "transplants."

Anonymous said...

Just started research on Fields Avenue and I found your post informative and objective. Thank you for the insight re bar girls then and now. Thank you, too, for a well-written blog. - Mz J

PhilippinesPhil said...

Thank you Mz J. As far as objectivity, I don't strive for it per se, but I do like to think that I make every effort to strive for the truth--at least, the truth as I see it of course; and truth is usually subjective, isn't it? Even more important to me is civility. Being civil is important too, don't you think? Hopefully it keeps people listening even when they don't necessarily agree. (Right Ed?)

Anonymous said...

Indeed, truth could be subjective. However, I also live in AC for many years now and having read your post, I knew straight away that you spoke the truth. I read a couple of your other posts re living in this city which made me think I may not need to do face-to-face interviews after all. There are nuggets of info in your blog which will assist me in my research.
Again, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thx for ur article it was right on target, oh how i miss the good old days of CAB, Mabuhay Buddy

Anonymous said...

Hi Phil:

What is the minimum income (USDollars) to retire in AC? What restrictions are placed on foreigners, particularly Americans?

Mostly Dave

PhilippinesPhil said...

Hi mostly D,
I suggest you send me an email and I'd be happy to give you some of my insights into what its like trying to live in AC and what it currently entails.

Anonymous said...

Camp O'Donnell 84-86, Outcast, I remember those days also. I love that country and the people. Most beautiful women on the face of the earth.

Steve said...

I was there from 1986 to 1986, 3d CRS ECM shop. Red Lips was one of my regular hangouts. And yes, I ended up taking one of those "wild things" back with me. Lasted 10 years.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Yep, I remember that place. It hasn't existed for quite some time. I don't know why your marriage ended, but lots of them do, even to "nice" girls from the states. I'm with a wonderful local girl now and I'm sure she's THE ONE. We'll see...

Jungle Howard said...

85-86 at 3rd CRS ECM shop for me... great to read not only some updates, but the postings of some of those who have also been there. Is very hard to tell those who have never been about the PI. For those who have, it's not hard for the memory to slip right back there.

Anonymous said...

Surfing about northern PI flooding and came across this site. Great memories of A-city. Never stationed there, but many TDY's 86-88 from Kadena. Don't tell my wife, but the best sex I ever had was with a girl in PI. Named Lani. Danced in Okinawa. Made enough money to return home and go to nursing school. Smart, beautiful. Where is she now???

Anonymous said...

If memory serves me---back in the 80's you could leave base with $10, get dinner, get drunk, get laid, and still come home with change in your pockets. How's the economy now-a-days?

PhilippinesPhil said...

Your Lani is likely in her 50s now, maybe a grandma living in the US if she's lucky. The days you describe are gone as far as costs go anyway. Dinner, inebriation and a short time, all that would depend on where you eat and what bars you go to for your drinks and action. You could probably do everything you say now for 50 to 100 bucks as long as you hit the happy hours.

Anonymous said...

Well written Phil and much appreciated.
Four years I spent there in the PI A-City from Oct.81 thru Oct.84 3rd EMS, mostly on the flight-line. It really was the best of times and the worst of times. Divorced my high school sweetheart Harriet while there then I married a beautiful Fillipina but two daughters and seven years later I divorced her and kept the girls and raised them pretty much alone, they are 25 and 23 now and they have not yet made us grandparents and that is fine by me. I had some great friends there, wish I knew how they were doing today. My best friend in the PI was also named Phil T.
I have always wanted to go back and visit there in PI A-City, I have even dreamed about it. But from what you have shared it sounds like we really can not ever go back.

Thanks again Phil