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Below find four short stories that will be updated periodically. If you are viewing on a mobile device you may need to scrool down through the stories.

Old man sitting on bench

Books, Chickens & the LGBTQ

© - MAURICE O' NEILL - Dec. 2019

Don’t you just love rummaging in an old bookstore searching for that one book that ignites your interest? Standing in the aisle, flicking through the pages, the smell of the paper, and watch the bookstore owner wrapping it in brown paper and sealing with a strip of cello tape. Then you drop it into your shopping bag and forget about it. Later at home the delight and excitement as you open it like a present. To hold it in your hands once again, but this time it’s different, you actually own it until the last page is turned and the full story revealed. I love books. I love chicken eggs too! Weird right, but there’s always a reason. Mine stems from 1991, working in Quetta, Pakistan and visiting a chicken farm that was part of a humanitarian income generating program, designed to give the recipients a sustainable future. It was a beautiful idea, yet fraught with unforeseen consequences. Do the villagers want a chicken farm? Is there a sustainable market for the eggs. Will it negatively affect the local market? What licenses are required? Will corruption sweep away all profits? Are the operator’s capable to manage a collective enterprise, or will squabbling collapse the venture? And then there are the eggs themselves. What do you know about eggs? Well, let me tell you some interesting facts. There come out of a chicken’s rear end in varying sizes and states of cleanliness, so they need to be cleaned and graded for size and type before sale. My visit to the chicken farm was to investigate some complaints. For example, small eggs were finding their way into large trays. There were complaints about the taste, and even the shell color? Of course, you can only please some of the people all the time, and not all of the people all of the time. Perfection, like a toilet roll, is an article in constant motion. The hardness and color of an eggshell is dependant of the grit that the chicken can obtain. Caged chickens cannot forage so grit must be introduced into their feeding. It is a delicate balance. The grit can be collected from the ground, but the feed costs money so they were skimping on one and increasing the other. Hence, people could not easily crack the eggs on the side of the frying pan, nor behead the point if served boiled in an eggcup. There were even complaints that people actually cut their fingers, given another meaning to the term ‘bloody eggs.’ A bloody egg is normally an underdeveloped egg, unusually from a pullet (a hen of less than one year old). For the first two years, a hen predominately lays standard large eggs, then comes the extra-large eggs for perhaps another two years, followed by retirement, chop-chop! The problem with the taste was accentuated with the double-yoke eggs. Obviously, double-yoked eggs cost more so the complaints were loudest. They tasted of fish. I sampled some eggs of course and they definitely tasted of fish. Caviar chicken eggs are a hard sell. So I resolved all of these issues. First, I had the chickens housed by age, not randomly as was the custom. Second, I reduced the grit into two categories to produce brown and white eggs. Next, I insisted they cease complimenting the actually feed with the slops from a nearby fish farm. And lastly, I remodeled the grading conveyor and doubled the ultralights used to identify double-yoke and fertile eggs. Lastly, I needed better packing trays to protect the more fragile eggshells. It would have all been so perfect had not Marek's disease crippled the farm less than six weeks after my visit. But that’s life, chickens are always dying. All as you need to remember is that eggs keep for months in a fridge. A non-fertile egg is best for consumption and is achieved if there is no rooster near the laying flock. A fresh egg is best for frying, but if boiling then an egg should be at least ten days old. Then it will have formed a membrane just inside the shell which allows for easy peeling. A simple test of egg age is to place it in water. It if lies flat on its side, under 10 days. If the point tilts upwards at 45 degrees or so, 10 plus days old. It the egg floats don’t eat, don’t crack it, fling it at your grumpy neighbor. And for God’s sake folks don’t use salt on eggs. Savor the flavor, treat your tongue, your blood pressure will thank you. Oh BTW, I couldn’t find a book about chickens so I settled for a murder mystery. BTW. At a recent writers gathering, I was checked by a young person that the word “penmanship” might be more piquantly acceptable if orated as “penship” (these are not the idiots' exact words). It is becoming insufferable to listen to this younger generation who have worked for nothing, being given everything, and never tasted, hunger, hardship or the backhand of either parent. Political Correctness or PC, as they say, is a recipe for pussies and a country that will be quickly overrun if close-armed combat ever occurs. You cannot give minorities the platform of the majority and expect any other result. Nice names like Rainbow, PC, and Sensitivity are fine in conversation, but in practical application make the ridiculous the expected. It is all this LGBTQ crap, of course, every persuasion pushing their sexuality in your face like an ice-cream to lick. Now school children are being asked on enrollment what sex they wish to be identified as. Really! At ten or twelve years old is mature enough for that. Perhaps we should let them drink, smoke, drive and vote as well. Honestly, it’s becoming so epidemic that some days I’m debating going bi myself. Yes, I’m considering eating a bucket of hormones, growing a humongous pair of knockers with golf ball-sized nipples and get me in on some of the action, unless I become self-sufficient of course. Now wouldn’t that be a hoot? Wonder how my dear old mother would handle that news, probably faint or say; Maureen who?, but unfortunately knowing my luck, I would likely just grow another humongous penis. My computer is broken, so pen and paper it must be tonight. This primitive form of literature would surely stump much of younger the folk who only know the value of keyboards. Old ways are for old people, I guess, past knowledge like good sex is short-lived. However, I’m glad I reside beyond the contamination of all this modern PC nonsense that pluralizes instead of singularizes, that demands you do it on your side so nobody is on the bottom, where grunting must be agreeably ordained, and heaven forbid you have an orgasm on your own. There is absolutely none of that “Oh My God I Think Coming” crap nowadays, as this implies one is pushing, and the other has gone lazy only shoving on alternative strokes. In my day, and still my way, we do not care who is top or bottom, the physical effort of copulation is a race to get either one to orgasm, so you can relax afterward and light up a cigarette. Yes, we oldies write what we feel, scribble what we know, show it to everybody, and if it bombs, it will still find use in the bathroom. You can’t do that with an Apple computer.

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Bantmore Doyle

© - MAURICE O' NEILL - Feb, 2020

Bantmore Doyle, was considered by friend and foe alike to be an arrogant, ignorant, disingenuous character, even to himself. He never wore shoes or underpants, and always appeared at odds with his surroundings. Indeed, he so seldom had a good word to say about anybody or anything of merit, that nobody could remember the last time he did. Pessimism seeped from him like the seams of a paper cup left filled too long. There was nothing normal, standard, fixed or sensible about Bantmore. His eccentricities appeared to manufacture new peculiarities as quickly as a fox could silence a stray hen. On alternative days he shaved one side of his face trusting correctly that his horse like snout-of-a-nose would cast shadows over stubble so few would notice his half-assed job. There was no known reason for his strange shaving peculiarity. Indeed, the truth be told, he had many. He opened all the front windows on his mansion on odd days and the rear windows on even days. He completely removed his trousers on each bathroom visit. He would only cut his fingernails while inserted inside a ziplock bag. His facial features would freeze during sex, hardly a problem, but his mouth would drop open and dribble like a leaking tap, and he never closed his eyes. Many a woman opened her and screamed at the sight of him. For all intents and purposes his multiple failing as a constructive human found humor with the masses and partially explains why he gained a fellowship of observers wherever he traveled. Two things did set him apart from the congregation. A substantial inheritance that a single man might try for a lifetime to squander and fail miserably. Secondly, he had an opinion about everything and never stopped talking. One is therefore left wondering why anybody would listen to him at all. But the curiosity of human nature is an interesting oddity, because in everybody’s madness there lie symbols of truth, the merest whisper of originality, a pinch of honesty so practically pure that it cuts deeply into one’s thoughts like the weight levied upon a surgeon’s scalpel. What distinguished Bartmore was the perplexing way his mind quarried a consideration, and the how answers fled from his tongue with raspy insidious rancor that was not deliberated hurtful to the recipient, yet seldom did them any good. For example, Bantmore’s treated girlfriends like the daily newspaper, there were many, quickly read and discarded. As one such gold-digger eloquently explained it, “He is the weight of an elephant ass on one’s conscious and can smother each smile with a single word. One day a girlfriend, no better looking than the last, tired of his abrupt manner, and his incessant chatter echoing in her head like a migraine. “Bartmore, where is my golden egg I simply must depart this very moment?” To which he replied drily and instantly, “In your fallopian tubes no doubt, and pray to keep them there.” He walked out the French doors into the garden and continues on without once looking back. He thought to himself, ‘One thing for sure a woman can always find the front door.’ The sun was warm on his face, he started whistling.

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Kathmandu

© - MAURICE O' NEILL - June 2019

Kathmandu lies in the basin of a mountain range, that includes the shadow of Mount Everest, that corpse-collector of mountaineers and torment of the Sherpas, who risk all so the mountaineers may succeed, or live to understand why they failed. I visited here once before, and I am shocked to realize that it was 31 years ago. At that time, Katmandu was a sleepy Buddhist town, and journey’s end for many hippies treaking the Silk Road to eastern enlightenment. My companions and I were no hippies. Wild, reckless, and playful, yes definitely, but we were from a different extreme of Western society. We were four people on a drinking binge sharing our third bottle of vodka. The pilot and co-pilot were playfully teasing the small plane as close as they dared to the rock face, while the navigator and I, harnessed in our seats behind them exchanged the bottle while laughing. The cliffs were so close I could see roosting birds alarmed to our presence. Had the windows been open at times I felt I could reach out and scrape my fingernails. However, before considering me insane, two of these men saved my life, not once, but twice by helicopter in Eriteria, when I found myself out of sorts and options to flee. The unfinished case of vodka we carried and whatever fuel this thirsty Antonov plane could devour was on me, including hotels. I place an extraordinary value on my own life, and so should everyone. Thirty-one years later, I'm back. I’m a calmer person now. My impetuous humanitarian escapades are 15 years behind me. Quarter Airlines flight No. 646 is a commercial plane with 300 passengers, and the pilot not nearly so reckless. The Kathmandu valley is now densely populated. Concrete structures and homes decorate what before was a barren wasteland. The city of Kathmandu has mushroomed from under 100,000 to over two million. The mist is no longer morning dew but smog. As always, nature pays for man's progress. The declines into the valleys that meander into India are already under housing and tillage, while the inclines above are being ravaged with similar zest to the advance of terracing. Before, the airport terminal was a shed, with less than ten friendly, welcoming people. They marvel at our captain, who flew his plane like a swallow feeding on the wing. What a sight we must have looked, jovial in a borrowed airplane, war-weary seeking a few days without constantly looking over shoulders. Now, in 2019, the terminal is hardly ‘first world’, but it is a welcoming and presentable improvement. It emanates a relaxed vibe. The metal detectors sound to no great alarm, the customs officials, aside your paperwork unread, stamp your passport and smile. There is no sense of urgency or denial. Buddha still lives in the cities veins; all are welcome. You get the distinct impression that if you forgot your passport, they would find a way to accommodate. It reminds me poorly of the idiosyncrasies of our Western world driven by hysteria, greed, misinformation, and over-protection of our children. We have nurtured our distrust of other nations to the point of isolation and reared our children with a sense of entitlement that is globally unrealistic. That's our bag, of course. We listen to our governments with the assumption they care for our future before their own pockets. We surrounded ourselves with possession until indulgence became the norm and debt an inescapable byproduct. Unfortunately, when you extend beyond your needs, common sense has already waned, so few will rectify voluntarily. The bubble must burst first. At the carousel, as the evening light faded to darkness, my wife and I fall into easy conversation with a Swiss traveler. From his dress and general demeanor, he is a seasoned backpacker. He has crested his sixties and no longer looks correct in a faded military T-shirt and heavy khaki cargo pants and hiking boots. It's a younger man's attire, but an image he clings onto, rather like a Serbian woman refuses to relinquish beauty to the timely call of elegance. Some morning he will wake up in a room with a full-length mirror, and the penny will drop. Until then his dream continues. He is friendly and struggles to be helpful. It would be interesting to hear his life story. I sense he is childless, with a string of failed romances as his wandering nature is beyond his control. Like an opium addict tending a poppy field he has doomed himself to a single pleasure. We collect our luggage and part with a smile that cossets the soul with respect... to each his own path. Outside the terminal, we find ourselves in a car so small I could drive it from the back seat. The roads are awful, huge potholes, crowded organized chaos, dribbles of speed with a courtesy of spirit that eludes the newly arrived. Horns sound like Buddha speaks, without anger. Traffic flows erratically like gentle breezes of wind. Exhausted from our long flight, the hustle of the streets cannot fully grip my curiosity. The Hotel Tibet is old-world charming. Ornately carved teak decorates each doorway. Under flourescent lights, the dark gleam of French polished wood glossed with beeswax, reflects the light, like a beggar seeking your attention. Beneath our feet, marble slabs - each one mirroring the next - pay homage to a scattering of hand-made rugs forgotten to time and walked upon without appreciation. The concierge, an exotic mix of Asian features, speaks perfect English. He has a relaxing aura and disarming smile. He reminds me that in my exhausted stupor I have forgotten the scents, sights, and pleasure Asia carries to my soul. In the room I shower and climb into the bed. Sleep grabs me like a hungry lover. The next morning, at breakfast, we meet our tour guide and the rest of the group. Immediately afterward, we depart by bus for Nagarkot, located in the highlands of Nepal. This vantage point offers a spectacular view of the Himalayan mountain range. Unfortunately, the weather is not cooperative, and we're bathed in a curtain of wet mist that hangs solid for two days. Nepal, known as backpacker heaven, lives up to its reputation. This old hippie destination, where they sought enlightenment after a drug-hazed romp across Europe and lower Asia, still stands an unmolested virgin. The Nepalese accommodate visitors, as they always did, with decorum wrapped in a cultural sense of peace, which welcomes without imposing and resists cross-contamination. You get the feeling it's a bold and daring place, yet the ambiance soothes you with a calmness that lets you flow through each inconvenience without irritation. If I describe a paradox, perhaps apt. It is like two cultures meeting at either bank of a fast-flowing river and hurling platitudes at each other. At the end of two weeks in Nepal, one expects to have been magically swept away into that deep feeling of the soul. One expects abundant smiles, to chatter about the sights, the beauty, the people, the roads traveled, to be wrapped in that pleasant exhaustion that swaddles a person in the aftermath of an adventure. We are twelve at the dinner table. Thwarted by rain, road delays, and dense fog, our itinerary kept shifting and shrinking, making those memorable moments one seeks more challenging to find. To counter this, we bonded as a group to super-charge the moments we did encounter. We are a motley group covering many disciplines - a barber, a mechanic, a pole-dancer, a peppering of elegant pensioners, and one insurance agent who thankfully didn't hustle business during the trip. Some of us are seasoned travelers; others taste their first sample of the developing world and strive to pacify the confusion of their emotions. The older you are, the more difficult to accept the human hardships endured by others in less affluent countries. Travel doesn't just broaden the mind, it enriches your humility, it strengthens your tolerance and appreciation to the constraints suffered by others. The meal is tasteful, the beer cool, the whiskey strong. Banter fills the air and is devoured like humorous custard poured over sponge cake, with second helpings sought. Afterward, we say our goodbyes, promise to stay in touch, but we never do. Once home, our regular lives shall consume us once again. It is the Western way, fly until you die but bring home the honey. The following morning, I drop Stella at the airport to fly home. Work beckons, and honestly, she wants no part of my next adventure. My journey has not ended. I have purchased a motorcycle in Kathmandu and will drive it to Pakistan via India. My passion for motorcycles demands that such an opportunity not be wasted. Indeed, given encouragement I would ride to Kabul, Tehran, Ankara and even further. There is always a sunset on a horizon to chase. I'm three hard days in the saddle having decided to leave Kathmandu and cross into India via Masuri, rather than the nearer, more sensible, Ramnagar crossing point. There was no logic applied to this extra day's drive. On the map, Masuri kept me in Nepal one day longer, and I like the food, the people, and the vibe of a country where the dogs are communal property, hence well fed. Buddhism is a religion with more useful features than most. The final leg of my journey starts in the stifling heat of Jumma City in India and hopefully ends in Muzaffarabad, some 330 miles later. On a Royal Enfield motorcycle, it should take me twelve to fifteen hours to complete. On the map, the Jammu National Highway dissects the upper Kashmir Valley before meandering due west to end in the city of Muzaffarabad in Pakistan, that bubbling hotbed epicenter of the Indian Pakistani territorial dispute. In sections, the road is harsh, undulating, unforgiving, and crudely carved through rock face by chisel and dynamite. There are no safety guardrails, and in places, not enough room for two trucks to pass. The drivers of the mostly Indian or Russian trucks are the real heroes of this highway. Their gauntlet is not just the road. Banditry is as prevalent as requests for bribes at the numerous checkpoints, and vehicle maintenance is always challenged to the extreme. Each morning, the truck drivers may be observed laying their prayer-mats on the roof of their cab, and facing Mecca to pray for a safe journey and family prosperity. Jumma is bustling, noisy, too many people - ants in a sugar bowl. My hotel breakfast is more than satisfying. The cooking oil is less rancid than the butter, so my omelet is enjoyed, and toast untouched. Afterward, I visit the marketplace for fruit and drinks for the journey. It's crowded. Rotten fruit clogs the drains under a cloud of fruit flies. Goats and chickens are being slaughtered in the meat section. I don't dally. I'm anxious and excited to get underway and escape the intense heat. The further north I travel into the mountains, the cooler it will be. The motorcycle has a lot less power than what I'm accustomed to, but with a heavy hand and lower gear, it supplies all the thrills I need. Only the last section between the town of Uri and the city of Muzaffarabad is of concern due to the heightened security in force. This section of road is closed at dusk. Otherwise, on the road, I'm free, at peace, and doing what I enjoy. Pleasure, after all, is your ability to find harmony between your thoughts and your surroundings. Between Jumma and the northern capital of Srinagar, it is pretty much a standard road - potholed, insane corners that follow the line of least labor, and heavily pummeled by trucks, their cabs so ornately decorated that they resemble floating mosques. The unfolding views are beyond spectacular, breathtaking vistas that make Switzerland look like a kindergarten. Fields of rice, terraced hillsides, and tall houses perched precariously on mountain ridges, as if dropped from the skies. The mountains are lush with trees and foliage, there is little erosion or landslides, and their peaks, like fingers, point into the morning clouds. In the fields, colossal straw hats protect the peasant beneath from a relentless sun or drenching of rain. Weather permitting, with terracing, proper irrigation, and a hint of fertilizer, this land can produce two crops of Basmati rice and one crop of beans in a single year. The Enfield was brand new when I started, with only 8 Km on the clock in Kathmandu. Now it has over 3,000 km and has surrendered much of its sparkle to the grime of the road. Its single-cylinder engine has a beautiful sound, and it drives nicely. I would have preferred a more comfortable saddle, but manage as I must. The traffic is heavy to the outskirts of Jumma. Everybody is vying for the same inch of road and using any means to achieve it. It’s definitely more hostile than Kathmandu. Beyond city limits, the main road opens up like a black scar rippling through the lush landscape before it disappears between the contours of the mountains. I give the bike more gas. The breeze is not cooling, but the illusion is nevertheless welcome. Traffic now is mostly the floating mosques, with an occasional car. I can zoom past them all, like greyhound racing a Saint Bernard. I'm so looking forward to riding this motorcycle into Muzaffarabad, where unfortunately we shall part company and I will fly home to join my wife. She considers me a two-wheeled zealot, and I accuse her of being a Sunday only worshipper. Either way, it works for us. Love shared conquers all. I start up a steep, coiling incline. There is no traffic, no road markings, and a better chance to find a unicorn than a policeman so I push as hard as I dare on the gas. It's exhilarating; the closeness to nature bubbles in my veins like a therapeutic massage. I bank, accelerate, and brake with a youthful zeal that is borrowed. Jumma is behind me. Muzaffarabad is ahead. In between, I don't have a care in the world. I live in the moment. Today, I'm basking in bliss, and tomorrow, or the next day, I shall fly home. Every journey must end for another to start.

An Irishman abroad

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Philippines

© - MAURICE O' NEILL - Dec, 2019

Those who have not visited the Philippines might suffer the illusion it is a developing country. They would be sorely mistaken. The Philippines has ascended from the shackles of poverty to the prosperity of city-center gridlock, and once gridlock exceeds an hour, that’s some serious first world shit. The Philippines consists of three main island groups. It is all about water and islands. The actual low-tide number of islands exceeds 7,600, ragworm is plentiful, crabs can run fast as hell or get eaten and children learn the breaststroke in the amniotic sac. With so many islands it must be a postal nightmare during Christmas. Many islands are now being connected by robust bridges that curve into the wind to withstand the currents and fury of the sea, and they are perfect perches for fly fishing, and the occasional disenchanted lover leaping to their doom. However, for longer journeys, the boat or plane is king. All domestic airports we encountered were spotlessly clean, tiled floors, airy and air-conditioned. Common to all were convenience shops, fast-food, praying room, a breastfeeding room to which I gravitated, but my wife redirected me to the bottle refilling dispensers instead. There are cell phone charging stations, air conditioning, and ample seating. The domestic airport in Manila even has ODNHE massage parlor, (open door no happy ending). The Airport queue flowed peacefully, everybody smiles, and there was no pushing or shoving. The only line jumpers I noted where two Eastern European men of whom I mentioned in an earlier post (Manila Domestic Airport, 19 Dec.’19). We stayed in Stella’s ancestral home in Santa Barbara, near Iloilo city. I remarked the girls here were prettier than Manila and my wife corrected that assumption by giving me a chamois for my glasses. The equalities of beauty restored, we take a Jeepney to the SM City mall (Shoe Mart). This chain was started by an enterprising Chinese man called, Henry Sy, who realized that Filipino ladies imagine they are centipedes and he started selling shoes. Now he has 70 malls and a personal fortune estimated at 19 billion dollars. Unfortunately, he died before spending it. Jesus is going to have a great payday when he resurrects that one. On our way to the Jeepney depot, we pass by the Laundromat. There is virtually one on every block. Their industrial machines make short work of our load. The lady attendant, with two different earrings, a nose piercing, and a reserved smile, assures us they will be ready for pickup later that day. My wife suggested I safety-pin my socks together to prevent loss, but as I borrowed them from my brother before departure, it will be his loss, not mine. The Philippine Jeepney is a real piece of work. Oh, sweet divine mother of Jesus, what were they thinking? The body-shell is manufactured locally from used spam tins and fitted with a Japanese engine and transmission. You travel two up front, and 20 squeezed to 22 in the back. There are no windows or doors, just openings. You enter by the rear and hold on to a grip rail in the ceiling. When the Jeepney starts moving they run 600 volts through the handrail so you can’t let go and fall out. The ride from Santa Barbara to the mall is perhaps 15 miles and costs 18 Pesos (52 Pesos = $1). I suppose for that price one can handle the discomfort and hair static. My real gripe is that Jeepneys are designed for a 5’- 4” person with petite hips and flip-flops that fold. I’m 5’-12”, and hence scrunched into a pelvis twist that connects each road bump to my teeth. On exit, I have this special stretching routine that I must do on the sidewalk. The kids love it. Parents think I’m a foreign actor break-dancing for a TV commercial and a few have tossed me a coin or two. Many thanks, keep tossing, wealth always comes before my pride. Once elongated to my correct height we proceed into the mall. At the entry to all malls you pass through a metal detector, bags are opened, male bodies are often frisked, it tickles sometimes. I particularly like the fleeting, under-eye assessment of the security guards. I’m deeply suspicious they are Israeli-trained. Between Santa Barbara and SM in Iloilo, there was a child seated across from me on his mother’s lap. I would guess his age about three eyes and he was charming in the way children should be, smiling, bright, alert, and curious. Stella wanted to steal him but we hadn’t a bag big enough. I wanted to give him a few sweets. So tactfully I asked Stella could I give the child my packet of Fisherman Friends from my belly-pouch. She suggested no because they were already half-devoured, the child’s mother mightn’t approve, and a child expects an unopened packet, not a cheap-assed half-full bag. Well, Holy-Wow! When I was that age my mother fried Dad’s leftover potatoes skins for our treats, and we devoured them and licked our fingers gratefully. Inside the SM mall, we have a shortlist of items, mainly groceries. The malls are always full, schoolgirls in their long, dervish style, parachute size, tartan skirts, and boys, penguins in white shirts, black pants, and polished shoes. They come to the mall to chill, literally. Philippine malls are air-conditioned oases in a county were winter is 86 degrees and clammy. Once I visited during the summer and it was microwave insane. One can always climatically adapt of course, but realistically approaching retirement age we seek quiet comfort, gentle to less sex, more chocolate, and the pleasure to order and chastise young people, not friggin’ global warming and swabbing with terry towels. We lazily acquire our commodities and decide to treat ourselves to an ice-cream. Nothing can be more pleasing than caramel-flavored ice-cream in air-conditioned luxury. There are multiple choices, Dairy Queen, McDonald's, Burger King, Jollibee, and a host of others. My preference is always Jollibee. Stella forces me into a ChowKing simply because it is closer. ChowKing doesn’t sell ice-cream, only halo-halo. I’m sorry but a dessert impregnated with kernels of corn is not a dessert. So I ask for mine without the shaved ice, beans, corn, jelly, banana, jackfruit, and a triple ball of ube ice-cream on top, please. The girl behind the counter is still staring. Stella remembers she needs a pair of rubber gloves for washing the laundry. Ever playful, my mind pondered why would anybody need gloves to wash their underwear when they don’t use gloves to wipe their butt? (no need to comment, Jack Riepe). It is 2 PM and the food court is thronged beyond capacity, people are standing. The fast-food vendors stationed throughout the mall are swamped with schoolchildren who have collectively ridden Jeepneys or crushed eight deep into a taxi. The reason is food, but the real draw is the air-conditioning. Comfort, like greed, is lapped up like a kitten’s nose introduced to a saucer of milk. Soon the schoolchildren are gone. We sip pineapple juice and play with our phones like all bored adults. But seriously the Philippine culture is an ultra pleasant one. The way children are respected, hugged, appreciated and engaged is charming. I often marvel when a child or youth enters a full room for the first time, how effortlessly they greet each elder in turn without a hint of social awkwardness. It’s family values at its best. Likewise, the Philippines is virtually devoid of sexual stigma. Sexuality is a liberal expression; gender identity is never an issue. There exists a measure of tolerance that is enviable. Men and women are free to dress and behave as their nature inclines them, and all are allowed to express themselves openly. In the Philippines, there is little need for LGBTQ organizations. Everybody is accepted at face value. Women dress and behave like men, and holy-cow can the men ever dress like women. In the evening cross-dressing is common around the motley of cafes along the Grande Rues. Routinely I check for an Adam's apple before appreciating the eye-candy. Forgive my loose generalization, the women have straight black hair, lulling brown eyes, they enrapture elegance and glide with sophistication, whereas, young men tend to be purposeful in movement and laden with self-esteem that breeches vanity. At every opportunity, you will see men sweeping fingers through their hair as it they are an actor passing a mirror. This un-gentlemanly practice is so prevalent that I wonder if there is a serious misbalance of women over men in the Philippines. Incidentally, the equivalent for ‘Uber’ here is called ‘Grab’ and for motorcycles, it is called ‘Angkas’, or ‘thrill-seeking’ if you are a tourist. The traffic situation in town centers is at best chaotic. The authorities are trying. New traffic lights clearly display the time in seconds before the next color change. Traffic Police, (called Enforcers) man the intersections during rush hour. Two-stroke motorcycles and motorized tricycles are shunned from many city centers and high-ways. In Manila, they have introduced a fleet of narrow gauge, air-conditioned electric buses to rival the Jeepneys. They are terrific. The reign of the Jeepneys I believe has crested. On the mall floors, they sell electrified scooters and utility vehicles. With twelve months of sunshine, solar vehicles will be appearing soon. To sum up my thoughts, the Philippines is a great place to visit. Bring a friend, and definitely bring your family. There is only fun, excitement, history, culture, magnificent scenery, stunning architecture, many resorts, surfing on sand and sea, snorkeling, ancestral palaces to visit, singing, superb food and drink, and a warmth of hospitality that you won’t believe, and friends you will never need an overcoat.

An Irishman abroad.

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