Langauge Learning: How to Spot a Chaos Informant

When you’re learning a language, you should know that some native speakers will feed you misinformation, and they will believe it deep down in their hearts that their misinformation is true, completely oblivious to the fact that they made that shit up on the spot.  I call these people “Chaos Informants;” take their explanations with a grain of salt. This is not a term that professional linguists use, in fact I just made the shit up on the spot.

Sometimes, they will offer you their chaos information unsolicited, but more often the chaos informants come out when I ask a question.  In fact, you can use questions to identify Chaos Informants, so you can take their explanations with a grain of salt. Here’s how.

“What is the difference between much and many?”  If you’re learning English, you can use this question to identify English speaking Chaos Candidates.

The “professional” answer to that question is countables; we use the word “many” for nouns that are in countable units (too many bananas, too many armpits, too many individual liberties).  We use much for things that are not in countable units,  (too much money, too much talking, too much sex).

I call this the “professional” answer because usually it’s only langauge professionals that can answer this question off the top of their head. This answer probably does not occur to someone who learned English as their native language.  Here’s the deal: linguistic knowledge is separate from conscious or academic knowledge. A native speaker can live a hundred years without ever mixing up “many” and “much” and never be able to supply the “professional” answer.

A “chaos answer” is any explanation that is yanked out of the ass region that doesn’t involve countability.  So if someone tries to tell you something like “always use many with objects you can fit in your pocket,” they are a Chaos Informant; grain of salt.  It’s probably not malicious; people are just trying to be helpful.  Some people just have horrible horrible intuitions about language and have a “tin ear” for what their own mouth is doing.  One British lady railed against /r/ insertion and then burst into tears when a researcher pointed out that she was totally an /r/ inserter.  She’s not stupid; it’s common for poeple’s perception of their own langauge to be different from actual acoustic reality.  I used to tell my classes that there was an [m] sound hidden in the sentence “I lived in Paris for a year;” this exercise divided the class and upset people, not kidding.

If you’re not blessed to be a language professional and you don’t want to be a Chaos Informant, here’s a good alternative for you; just say, “I don’t know.”  If that’s too humiliating for you, you can try “I’m not sure.”  It may not be the answer to the person’s question, but at least it’s the truth, and it’s more helpful than making shit up like a jackass.

Here’s a test for Spanish-speaking Chaos Informants:  “When do you use the subjunctive?”  The professional answer is that there are certain clauses and conjunctions that trigger the subjunctive; I can list them all for you if you need me to.  Native Spanish speakers who are not language professionals have no reason to know the professional answer, so don’t bother them with that. Hopefully they’ll tell you “I don’t know, I’ve never had to think about it before,” which doesn’t answer your question, but at least it’s true.  A chaos answer, one that I’ve heard before, is that you have to use the subjunctive whenever you use the word “que.”  Total chaos.

By the way, the students in my Spanish classes often felt confident about making up their own rules for Spanish, you don’t have to be a native speaker to be a Chaos Informant.  I was always stunned at their classmates willingness to believe the explanation as that still smelled like the ass they were yanked out of.  They’d say something like “you can’t have three verbs in a sentence” or “there is no umlaut in Spanish,” and then try to convince me that they were right.

For Tagalog, ask your friends, “What’s the difference between galing mo and galing ka.Both sentences mean something like “you’re sharp.” The professional answer is that “galing mo” is an abbreviated form of the exclamatory “Ang galing mo,” and the focus is on the adjective “galing.”  In the sentence galing ka, the focus is on the pronoun.  Easy.

If the person tells you that the verb “galing” means “to come,” you know that this person is a Chaos Informant; grain of salt.

Do I have one for Chinese?  I don’t remember anymore.  It might have been the difference between modal verbs 必須,必需and 需要.  I think I’m back to being a chaos informant for Chinese.

I have no memory of ever meeting a Chaos Informant of French or Italian, although there are many times where I’d hear someone make a grammatical mistake for fun, and then deny that it exists and forbid me to repeat it.  Also, I discovered last week that I’m making shit up when it comes to French.  Here’s a lamp post sign in Glendale that’s up right now:


As you’ve probably noticed, they’ve written “Welcome” in several languages.  None of them are Filipino, so I guess Filipinos are not welcome.  Chinese is on there twice. And the French looks like a feminine singular; they’re welcoming a single French woman.  Ho ho ho. Look everyone, a French mistake!

Only my friend Armando pointed out that, “Bienvenue” is the noun, and that’s the appropriate way to write “Welcome” in this context.

So in other words, I’m a Chaos Informant for French; grain of salt.  Don’t trust my judgement!

Learn Pangasinan: Existence Sentences

To declare the existence of something in Pangasinan, we use the word wala.  To declare the non-existence of something, we use angapo.


  • Walay andeketa pusa ed dalanan. There’s a black cat in the street.
  • Angapoy andeketa pusa ed dalanan. There’s no black cat in the street.
  • Walay priton pusit ed lamisaan. There are fried squid on the table.  
  • Angapoy priton pusit ed lamisaan. There aren’t any fried squid on the table.  

Piece of cake. You should notice that there’s a -y suffixed onto our target words.  That -y is a focus marker, it tells you when the noun in focus is coming up. In this case the nouns in focus were andaketa pusa and priton pusit.  

You may have noticed that we use the preposition ed to specify a place in Pangasinan.  In English, we have specific prepositions like on, in, at, and to… In Pangasinan we can use ed for all of those; it’s a general-purpose location preposition.

If you want a more general locations like here and there, there are a couple of options. Here are the location adverbs:

  • dia here (near the speaker)
  • ditan there (by the listener) 
  • diman there (far from speaker and listener)

Note that it’s a three-way distinction, which corresponds to 1st person, 2nd person, and 3rd person. It’s different than the two-way here/there system in English.

So now you can use these location words in your existence and non-existence sentences.


  • Angapoy andeketa pusit dia. There are no black squids here.  
  • Walay priton pusa diman.  There’s some fried cat over there.  (DISCLAIMER: Pangasinan speakers do not eat cats.  Language learning has to be surprising sometimes.)

Hooray, now you can declare existence (and non-existence) of objects and specify locations!

But wait, there’s more!  If you are really committed to the preposition ed, you can feel free to use it with diaditan, and diman; there’s no change in meaning.  One thing you should know, though, is that the forms contract.  Here are the contractions:

  • edia (ed + dia)
  • edtan (ed + ditan)
  • edman (ed + diman)

I’m told that you can switch corresponding forms out freely, that there’s not a meaningful difference between walay bastosa ugaw edman and walay bastosa ugaw diman.  

There’s one more thing. The existence verb wala loves the location adverbs so much, that it contracts with them.  Check it out.

  • wadia (wala + edia). Wadiay narasana aso ed abong.  There’s a hungry dog here at the house. 
  • wadtan (wala + edtan)  Wadtan so narasana aso ed abong. There’s a hungry dog there at the house (near you, listener). 
  • wadman (wala + edman) Wadman so narasana aso ed abong. There’s a hungry dog over there (far from both of us).  

You’ll notice that wadtan and wadman both end in consonants, so it’s impossible to add the focus suffix -y to the end of that word.  Instead, we use the other focus marker so.

As far as I know, it’s just wala that has contractions; if there are angapo contractions I’m not aware of them yet.

To summarize, there are a few ways to declare the existence of, for example, a big house over there, you’d say it like this:

  • Walay balega abong diman. 
  • Walay balega abong edman.
  • Wadman so balega abong.  

You can deny the existence of that big house over there with angapo; just remember the word angapo doesn’t want to make a contraction.

  • Angapoy balega abong diman.
  • Angapoy balega abong edman.  

That’s all for now, here’s a summary.

Existence and non-existencelocation prepositionlocation word three way


Learn Pangasinan:  Noun Phrase Linky-Links

Look here’s a bunch of  common nouns.  I’m listing them with definite article say, which means “the for singular objects.

The list is short because this post isn’t really about nouns, it’s about making the linky-link with other nouns and adjectives.

Some Common Nouns

  1. say aso the dog
  2. say pusa the cat
  3. say pusit the squid
  4. say ugaw the kiddo
  5. say abong the house, the home
  6. say kaiba the companion, friend
  7. say dalanan the street, the road
  8. say buek the hair
  9. say eges the belly, the tummy

So if you want to link any of these nouns together in a noun phrase relationship, you have to use a linky-link.  Here are the noun linky-links in Pangasinan:

Linky-links for Pangasinan: 

  • If the first word ends in a vowel, jam the linky suffix -n onto the first word.
  • If the first word already ends in an -n, make it end in linky suffix -y instead.
  • If the first word ends in a consonant, separate the two words with the linky particle na.

Now you can link a bunch of those nouns above together.

  • say abong na pusa the cat’s house
  • say kaiban aso the dog’s companion
  • say eges na pusit the squid’s belly
  • say dalanay ugaw the kiddo’s street

You may have noticed that my English equivalents all came up as possessive apostrophe-“s,” which is one way we link nouns together in English. It’s not the only way we do it in English, so don’t get too hung up it. What you need to know is that you need a suffix or a particle to link nouns in a noun phrase relationship.

If you’re from Santo Tomás, La Unión, you can use a slightly different set of linkers:

  • If the first word ends in a vowel, jam the linky suffix -n onto the first word (same as standard Pangasinan).
  • If that first word ends in -s, use the linky particle na.
  • If the first word ends in a consonant, jam the linky suffix -a onto the first word.

Here’s what you get:

  • say abonga pusa
  • say kaiban aso
  • say uges na pusit
  • say dalanana ugaw

There, easy.  If you want Santo Tomás flavored Pangasinan like I do, you’re going to end up having to know the standard way too, so you can understand your friends in Dagupan. It’s a minor difference.

Now that you know how to link nouns to each other, it’s time to link adjectives to nouns. The rules will look very familiar.

  • If the adjective ends in a vowel, use linky suffix -n.
  • If the adjective ends in a consonant , use the linky particle ya.
  • If the adjective ends in an -an, make it end in -ay instead.
  • For Santo Tomás style, use -n for vowels, and -a for consonants and don’t worry about adjectives that end is -s, they can take -a as well.

Some Common Adjectives

  • baleg big
  • melag small
  • ambanget stinky 
  • bangad naughty, willfully-disobedient
  • bastos naughty, disrespectful, rude
  • dugyot filthy
  • pilipino
  • andeket black
  • ampoti white
  • maabig nice
  • narasan hungry
  • buwag greedy, gluttonous 

Ok, now you can link these handy adjectives to the noun above!  You can say things like Say baleg ya abong, say pilipinon ugaw, say andeket ya pusit, say narasay ugaw, say dugyota pusa. 

Try saying these things:  The white house, the greedy squid, the naughty dog, the rude friend, the big belly.  Make your own combinations!

At first, you’ll be looking back and forth between lists, and using analysis muscles to figure out which linky-link to use.  Keep practicing until you’ve got linky-links in muscle memory.

Noun and Adjective Linkies

Interference and other Paranoia

I would like to tell the world that in the early 1990s back at the UW, I studied more than one langauge at the same time.  In fact, it was my policy; taking both French and Spanish was exactly what I wanted to do.  There was one point when I added Italian to the mix so that I could do the UW’s Rome Program.  Anyway, the point is that semester after semester, I was studying two or sometimes three different languages at the same time; often on the same day.  

People used to ask me, “Don’t you mix them up?  Don’t you confuse them?  Don’t they interfere with each other?” 

And my answer was, no, not really.  Then people would either look at me like I was a super genious (I’ve never been a super genious) or tell me that it was impossible, and that I must be lying somehow.  

I don’t really know what their theory of language was. They must have believed that the human brain is a finite container, and that a one language filled a normal brain to capacity.  My Linguistics 120 class taught me that we haven’t really found a ceiling on the number of languages a human could learn, but maybe I was the only one who got that memo.  In other words, if there is a limit on the number of languages a human brain can hold, science hasn’t found it yet.  

For me, speaking a language is just a habit, and we conjugate verbs by habit, the same way a basketball player has a habit to dribble a ball.  Is there a limit to a number of sports someone can learn to play?  If someone is a tennis player, does the tennis knowledge interfere when that person tries to play basketball?  Are there stern warnings against learning too many sports or too many games?  Is there a danger that a football player might get confused and start dribbling the ball?  

Anyway, for me, French is an entirely different game than Italian; Italian is a different game than Spanish.  So no, I don’t mix them up.  Sometimes, when I’d be teaching a Spanish class and the bell rings and five minutes later my Chinese class is in the room, yes, I absolutely called a Chinese student “Señorita” or “Señor.”  Does that count as mixing up the languages?  Because it doesn’t seem very significant.  Nobody seemed to care, not me, not my students.  I feel like in those quick-switch situations, I wasn’t “mixing them up;” it just had a different langauge handy at that very second.  I mean, so what if I call an English speaking lady “Señora,” or say “Hola” to a Chinese person?  Everybody survives.  Literally everybody survives.  

I remember one time when got a paper back in Spanish class back in college.  I had written, “he oído hablar que…” or something and the prof marked it wrong and wrote “Interference from French.”  And I thought, this prof is a dick.  We were in a Spanish class because we were learning how to speak Spanish; if I used a French structure it was because I DIDN’T KNOW THE SPANISH STRUCTURE.  It was a strategy.  But he called it “interference” as if my French habit was damaging my Spanish.  Honestly, literature professors are not qualified to diagnose stages of language learning.  I still think poorly of that prof (although I learned a crapload about Latin American short story in that class).  

People love the theory of language interference, they love it like a dog loves a bone.  Whenever I take a new language class, it doesn’t matter if it’s Spanish or Korean or German, there is always some precious snowflake who answers the instructor in French, and the breaks into English and explains that they took 6 years of French and French is just on their mind, and guh, it’s so hard to speak Chinese now because French is crippling them. Later I speak to them in French and find out that they don’t actually speak French; their Chinese is being blocked by a langauge THEY DON’T EVEN SPEAK. 

I don’t believe in interference.  I don’t believe that knowledge of one langauge is ever a detriment to learning another.  I don’t think that langauge learning is ever bad.  

When people ask me how many languages they can take at once, I tell them, “as many as you believe you can handle.”  If they believe they can handle only one at a time, then they’re probably right, but it’s their personal limitation, not a biological one.  

And when people tell me about getting “confused” with too many languages, I always wonder, do they know someone who is so “confused” with many languages that they are disadvantaged in life?  Are there YouTube videos of genuinely language-confused people whose lives are ruined by too many languages?  Have you heard of a single person?  Sure, they say, this person speaks English with a horrible accent, they say, but in that case, it’s not someone that’s genuinely “confused.”  It’s usually the case that they’re not good at English.  Anyway the point is “confused with too many languages” is NOT A REAL AFFLICTION.  

Finally, there are people who create monolingual policies for their children, because they don’t want their kids to be “confused.”  Folks, little kids learn language like a superpower.  Confining a kid to one language because you are afraid of confusion is like forbidding Superman to fly because you’re afraid he might fall.  It’s adults that tend to suck at language learning; it is a shame that they project that onto their kids.  Also, you might want to remind those parents who fear multilingualism that they haven’t read a single book, article, blog, tweet, nutrition label, or fortune cookie about raising multilingual kids before they sentenced their child to monolingualism.  

The End of the Trip

Day Trip to Baguio

My sister and I woke up in Sto. Tomás, again, and piled into the car with Kuya G, Atsi T, and Auntie M, and drove down the road to Agoo and had breakfast at a place called New Iceland.  Poor H wasn’t feeling well and had some problems with the tabu.

After breakfast, we piled into the car again and drove up the mountain to Baguio City. It’s a beautiful drive by all accounts, but I fell asleep. H had it worse in the back of the van; I think she was getting motion sick.

We got to Baguio, took a pit stop at Burnham Park, picked up Atsi T’s grandson N, and then drove to the strawberry fields in La Trinidad.  Auntie M bought baskets and also all the vegetables. I had a coffee emergency, and everyone ended up having a coffee with me. Kuya G and H tried the strawberry ice cream.

After that, we all drove to Burnham Park and rented bikes. I tried a bike but found that all the seats stabbed me in my gentleman parts, so I decided not to rent. However H, Atsi T, and Kuya G all took rode around happily.  A highlight of this portion of the trip was when Auntie M reached over and grabbed H’s bilbil, asking, “What happened?”

After the bike riding was dinner at a Chinese restaurant called “Rose Bowl.”  By this time H was feeling really sick so she excused herself and lay down in the van.

Then we rode down the mountain back to Sto. Tomás, and I rode in the way-back so that H wouldn’t have to ride there again.  I am too tall for the way-back, and got motion sick as well, but H got a picture of the Lion Head, so there’s that.


I’m a Tomasiño!

Once we all got back to Sto. Tomás, H was feeling too crummy to go out, so I walked around the corner to the Villanueva family house, which was right where I remember it from 1983.  Cousin D and L live there now, and I hung out with them for a while, looking at old family photos, speaking Tagalog, enjoying some Coke Zero.  At one point D showed me a video of his sabong performance, and even showed me the chicks, which lived in a box still until he could get them inoculated.  D and L are soft-spoken and kind and I liked hanging out with them.

When it was time to go, they offered to walk me back to Auntie M’s place, but that seemed unnecessary, since it was only around the corner. They worried I’d get lost, or that the dogs would get me, but I told them not to worry, I’m a Tomasiño; I got it under control.  As expected, I got back without incident.

Goodbye, Sto. Tomás

The following morning my sister made breakfast and then we said goodbye.  We took one last walk to Tsismis Park and the place where Atsi T volunteers, and took some pictures. Afterward we drove to Agoo and waited for a Dominion bus to take us back to Metro Manila on the TPLEX.

I don’t regret having spent my entire last summer in Makati and not going home to the province; I was able to study Tagalog grammar with Ate B who is a professional teacher, and it was the background I needed. However now that I’ve been back to the province it’s really kind of the only place I want to be.  If and when I get a chance to return to the Philippines, I hope to go back to our little town and learn Pangasinan.  I know my Tagalog will improve there as well, since people seemed to have no interest in speaking English with me.

So the TPLEX and the NLEX are the expressways that cut the trip from the province from 10 hours to 4, and if you don’t want a back-road slow bus, I highly recommend using a bus that takes the TPLEX.  We only made one stop in Tarlac, and the rest of the ride we listened to some DJ’s funny dance mix which had a very silly beat-track super-imposed on the music.

Snack in La Loma; Dinner at Kanin Club

We got off the bus at Balintawak Station and über’d back to the family house in La Loma.  Niece G was super happy to see us, she is a ray of sunshine.  Cousin Ate D fed us a huge snack immediately and Auntie B demanded to know how we managed to get there.  We told her we just got off the bus at Balongkakawit Station, which she thought was charming, but Ate D wasn’t that impressed with.

We watched a bunch of news that was not news; most of it was preparation for the big Traslacion ng mga Replika through central Manila, and I wondered irreverently why Filipino Catholicism required so much suffering and busting-ass.  Auntie B just shook her head at me and laughed.

Later we got in a car and drove to Kanin Club on Scout Rallos, which is prounced “es-kaw-trall-yos.” The veggies were a little salty for our tastes, and the non-veggies seemed bland, but it was good to be there.  Cousin D also showed up, and I spent most of my time trying to mortify my teenage niece, who is gorgeous and amazing.

Later we fought over the bill in a grabby way, trying to snatch it away to pay it and treat the other. Yes, it’s tacky, and also, tacky is fun. In the end we lost when Auntie B threw our money into the car at us.

Airport Run and Dinner with More Cousins

The next morning, H and I hoofed it over to Toby’s Estate on Salcedo for breakfast and coffee at the same place–trust me–and then we got in an über to the airport to pick up Cousin L.  She managed to text us from the terminal, so the driver agreed to just pick her up and circle us back to Makati.

L is a great traveler; had no problems with adjusting, super well-prepared, great attitude. We went for coffee at Habitual Coffee (check it, check it) which is a good place for Seattlites.  L checked in with her brother and we put together a plan for the afternoon.

The plan included a massage, which we reserved.  They cancelled on us 10 minutes before the appointment (unprofessional!) and we ended up walking into another place.


After a pretty good massage, we walked over to Mesa and met Cousins D and N to catch up. Also, Cris from Kalyespeak showed up, as did the S family, who was also on vacation (except for Uncle R and Auntie G, who live there now).  I don’t remember much about the food but it was great to catch up.

After that, L wanted to try Grammercy, but there was a stupid dress code, so Cris took us to Hole in the Wall instead, which was quiet, rooftop, and casual:  perfect.  We had a quiet drink and chat before going home for the night.

Last Day

It was H, L, and I.  We had breakfast early at The Wholesome Table, and then a stroll through the Salcedo Saturday Market.  Then it was über to Market! Market! and SM Aura.  We ended up eating in the food center at Isdang Pulo; a fried crab, a pork sinigang, and a couple plates of lato (ararosep).

Business Class Upgrade

After lunch we went back to the condo, and I packed up my gear and said goodbye.  My sister sent me off with a baggie of trail mix.

There was crazy slow traffic on the way to the airport, a bag scan at the entrance of the terminal, and then a long, chaotic, snaky line to check in. By the time I had gotten to the front of the line, I had already decided I was going to upgrade, since the thought of the middle seat they assigned me made me want to die. They told me they’d call me if there was a spot.

There’s departure checkpoint with immigration in the Philippines, and they wanted to see both my passports; the one I was traveling under, plus the one I had entered with.  Then airport security, a second bag scan.  Finally I got to the gate, and there was a third bag scan just to sit down at the gate!  I chugged a water I had just bought before sitting down at the gate to anger-tweet about being hungry and isolated from the bathroom.

Finally I couldn’t stand it anymore, I exited the secure gate area, went to the restroom, and afterword ate a tuna sandwich at the snack bar.  When I went to return to the gate, the flight had been moved to two gates down, and everyone had been re-seated.  I had to get in line to go through gate security AGAIN, and I had to wave at the gate desk from behind the velvet rope when they called me about my upgrade.

Finally, I got in, they assigned me a seat, and they asked me to board.  My seat was 5C.  I’m trying not to think about how much money I paid for it. In any case, it was a seat that folded into a bed, and that was amazing.  I ignored all of the media and games; I didn’t even bust open my headphones. I just read a book on my kindle app and spent the rest of the time either sleeping or eating.  The food was good and the bathroom was always free when I wanted it.  I hope all my transpacific flights from now on will be in business class! and I know with my brain that it’s probably not going to happen again.

So it was a good trip to the Philippines for New Year 2016.  It wasn’t actually a vacation, technically; I was working remotely. It was awesome to see family, to practice Tagalog and Pangasinan, and to spend time with my baby sister.  I’m not sure when I’m going to get a chance to do this again, but I hope it’s soon.


Pangasinan Adventure

So today Kuya G and Atsi T took H and I in Auntie M’s minivan on a “lazy hawaiian” style tour of the Lingayen Gulf coastline in Pangasinan province.  I’m saying “lazy hawaiian” style here to mean “reasonable,” because Filipino style provincial travel would be waking up before dawn, sleeping in the car, driving the entire day, being unrealistic about the drive time, arriving at the destination late and without reservations, and then repeating the whole thing in reverse for the return trip.  So forget Filipino style!  “Lazy hawaiian” style is the greatest.

We drove through San Fabian and reminisced about the old railway that used to bring visitors from Manila along the eastern coast of the Lingayen Gulf all the way up to Ilocos, before they gave up on it in the 60s.  We stopped at a roadside bike shop which had dramatic lighting from skylights. I told my sister to find an ugly bike that works really well, one that will get you places without getting stolen.

Our next stop was Dagupan, which in the morning is a couple of notches below “bustling.”  We had breakfast at Pedritos and I theorized that whoever serves ketchup with embutido really doesn’t enjoy embutido.  We got some gas also, and stopped at a cash machine.

There was a side mission to CSI, which is a hyper market.  We bought water, candy, and a fabulous romantic parasol for Atsi T.

Our next stop was the provincial capital Lingayen, which was kind of peaceful and beautiful.  There was a wide, long beach with baseball fields and picnic areas and a memorial to the Japanese Occupation and the MacArthur landing and Liberation and also the unnecessary bombing by the Americans after Resistence fighters had already busted their asses to tell them that the Japanese forces had already completely retreated from Pangasinan.  Actually they were nicer about the unnecessary bombing than I would have been.  If I wanted to hang out in Pangasinan for a little bit, I might choose Lingayen.  Anyway, at the beach I put my feet in the Lingayen Gulf and watched a bunch of kids sort the fish from the shrimp after the nets were emptied.  We also saw fishing boats that looked an awful lot like the ones in the paintings from 100 years ago, same shape.

Our next stop was Alaminos, which is a resort town as it is near the Hundred Islands national park.  In early January on a Tuesday it’s a pretty chill place, though.  We got some supplies at the market and then chartered a motor boat for four.  We ended up on Quezon Island, and the first order of business was to explore the karenderia on the second floor of the terrace. We ordered liempo, some pinakbet, a large Coke, and two plates of araraosep (sea grapes) with tomatoes, which are my favorite.  This araraosep was a little spicy.

A couple of us splashed around in the water later, and a couple of us hung out on the beach.  Hundred Islands is really a beautiful place to hang out and play in the water the whole day.  The islands are beautiful and the facilities are really very nice when it’s not crowded.

A boat ride back to land, and then we got back in the car.  If I were my sister I’d hang out in Alaminos for a couple of months, learn Pangasinan and maybe work in the tourism industry for something to do.  I like that place.  On the ride back, we busted open a bag of chicharron, and it was magical; the flavor was complex and subtle. Seriously.  Best chicharron ever.

On the ride back through Pangasinan province we learned a lot of Pangasinan words and phrases, some that we forgot already like “masturbation” but also some that we like to talk about a lot:  hunger, gluttony, mosquitos, etc.  We also got clarity on words we had known but never knew that we knew.  Mangiras.  Ageyet. Buwag. Kuwatit.  Ambagel.  Naerasanak la. Mamanganak ni.  Baoninato say pusa.

My sister practiced the whole subject pronoun paradigm with predicate adjectives.  We also started creating a stupid Adele parody.

Dinner was at Silverio’s back in Dagupan by the river.  We had two kinds of sinigang, calamares, adobong pusit, and chop suey.

The photos below were taken by my sister.

Woke up in Sto. Tomás









 Yesterday my sister had these crazy plans to wake up at the crack of the crack and find and deluxe express bus that takes the TPLEX to Sto. Tomás.  We did get up pretty early, I made breakfast out of the leftovers and did some remote work.  

And then we got lazy and decided to take a walk and get an expensive breakfast at Toby’s Estate with some decent coffee.  We walked around Makati for awhile, and then packed our bags and tried to get an early afternoon bus.   

 Here’s how you travel to La Union from Manila.  Step one is to look up information online and inform yourself about everything and make a water tight plan  Step two is to über yourself to the bus station and on the way, to save time, give yourself a lobotomy and remove any part of your frontal cortex that involves reason or planning.  

We went to a bus station and waited in the bus lot breathing in fumes from an SUV running for no reason in front of the seating area, watching a Pitch Perfect I dubbed into Tagalog.  We were there for a couple of hours and then got on a bus and I smashed my head on the flat screen TV hanging in the front of the bus where tall passengers like to put their heads. They had a basketball game on, and the signal shorted out randomly to snow about every two seconds.  It was golden hour, and there was a pretty spectacular view out of the bus windows if you could ignore the basketball game.  

The bus stopped after two hours and let us off at the bus company’s shed, where there was a karenderia just waiting to serve us a bowl of kick-ass mami with egg, and sell us a package of chicharron with sawsaw squirted into a rip in the plastic.  When we got back on the bus after that, the TV failed to play Mission Impossible III which was literally the answer to my prayer.  

Somewhere along the way, we took on an empanada salesman, who gave everyone on the bus the first empanada free.  I skipped my free empanada because my sister said it was sugary.  

Two hours later we stopped at another company stop outside of Pozorrubio, and I bought a bottle of water and there was a cute stray puppy that kind of looked like a pig.  

Before long we got off the bus at Sto Tomás crossing and found Auntie M.  It had only been a six hour bus journey.  

Auntie M and Atsing T welcomed us and force fed us some relyenong bangus, adobong baboy, red jello and fruit salad.  H and I realized that Auntie M’s Tagalog is crystal clear to us, along with everybody in Sto. Tomás.  People are addressing us in Tagalog.  I don’t always know what to say but H has got it under control. 

The next morning we got up and cooked breakfast for Auntie M; longsilog plus leftovers.  Then cousin D came and got us in two tricycles and we motored over to Tococ, to get big prawns out of the family fish ponds.  After walking out into the ponds over the narrow fish pond walls, we hung out in the pretty awesome hang-out shack (a hut on stilts with a semi-closed off nap room, an open sheltered area with a bench and a hammock), while B and Manong P did all the wet dirty work in the ponds for us.  H did some stand-up rafting.  

I love to hear people speaking Pangasinan.  In the past few years, I only hear it on holidays, and usually exclusively from my parents.  It’s awesome to hear it here in town.  

After what seemed like a couple hours in the awesome hang-out shack we walked back to shore and sat around in another awesome hang-out shack, which was kind of a a shaded bamboo structure built around a tree with a bank of seats.  It seemed like we were there for at least an hour, I lost track of time.  It was super peaceful over the fish ponds, and the program at the time really just seemed to be to hang out and drink cokes and eat some fudgy snacks.  And enjoy it.  

Later we tricycled back to Auntie M’s house at the height of the mid-day heat.  The whole town was having a siesta but H, Atsing T, and I all walked around the block, stopping at landmarks and meeting relatives and friends of my mama. Back at the house, H started playing with two of Atsing T’s adorable first grade grand daughters.  They were playing and giving H Tagalog and Ilocano lessons.  Later Auntie M had us all inside for a very polite and adorable session of eating ice-cream and having good manners.  

Afterward Atsing T took us to the little afternoon market and we bought long beans, kamote greens, zucchini flowers, tomatoes, my favorite seaweed, shallots… and then we came back and cooked for Auntie M and Atsing T.  I made a dinengdeng with way too much water, and H helped me with the seaweed/tomato salad.  And I cooked the prawns in a bunch of garlic.  

We ate, cleaned up, and got ready for bed before 8pm.  Tomorrow we’re taking a road trip, I have no idea what’s going to happen.  

Cowsin Taco Stand

My time is short here in the Philippines this time, so in order to streamline family time, my sister and I have organized these gatherings and demanded that our relatives attend.  

Yesterday we were at Kuya D’s place in Cavite.  My sister was grilling chicken thighs and zucchini skewers in the front yard.  I was in the kitchen making carnitas, Mexican rice, and a can of refried black beans in the kitchen.  

When Auntie B came in and saw us cooking,  she immediately asked, “why are you working when you are the guests?!”  And I might have said “because I don’t want to eat any shitty take out from Amber’s.”  Except I probably didn’t say “shitty” out loud.  

There was a point when Ate D was standing in the kitchen next to me, watching me try to make Mexican rice, wondering if I had lost my mind.  She asked me, is this how you cook?  And I told her, no, when we’re back home in the States, we’ll probably make Filipino food.  But for you, we are making Mexican food.  Here’s what we made:  

  • Tacos de pollo, de carnitas, de calabacin, and of course campechana
  • Guacamolito
  • Pico de gallo
  • Arroz mexicano
  • Frijoles negros

Our cousins of course had no faith that we could feed everyone, so they hedged their bets by brining a palabok from somewhere, making a delicious spaghettini al tonno, and grilling some liempo and a couple of tilapias.  They were halfway into the palabok when we finally had hot tortillas and I set up a cutting board and made tacos to order. The rice was a minor disaster, turning out cooked but dry somehow.  The can of refried black beans was gross, they were over salted and puréed.  The tacos were pretty good.  

Anyway my neices were eager to try the tacos we were making, eating standing up at the counter just like some buzzed Mexicans outside of a disco.  My sister said it was cute.  I was too busy chopping meat too look up. 

After everybody was fed I went and sat outside with the men and poured myself a glass of whiskey on the rocks.  At that point the liempo and tilapias came off the grill and they looked fabulous but we were too full to eat more.  My sister and I were both thinking what amazing tacos the liempo and tilapia would make.  

The lady folk started watching a movie inside the house, and the volume was LOUD and the girls were screaming LOUD.  The movie was “Ettiquette of Mistresses” and from what I could gather it was about how this club of mistresses got disenchanted with the glamorous mistress lifestyle and in the end got their revenge by finding handsome boyfriends.  In these movies everyone is rich and glamorous, always extremely well-lit for photography, and with porcelain white skin that looks like it would shatter if you flicked it with a finger or a boot.  The formula is 1) be a fabulous, glamorous BETCH with a heart of gold, 2) get mistreated by a callous married man, 3) find a handsome unmarried boyfriend and say something to the married man that would embarrass him in front of others.  This is basically the life of all Filipinos.  

Anyway, my sister and I got to spend some quality time with Aunie B, and gave some New York advice to my lovely niece S.  I asked a question about politics to my cousins, and got some long winded stories about the secret relationships of the oligarchy.  Later niece A made some frosted muffins for us.  

Cousin D and B drove us home in the jeep for mechanical reasons, and we spent the rest of the evening trying to plan our trip to the province the next day.  



New Year 2016: Manila

Good morning and Happy New Year!  It’s a little before 6am; I’m sitting in the window of cousin D’s condo in Makati, watching the sun rise over the high-rise office towers.  

My journey started days ago, on the 29th of December.  I took an über through LA traffic to LAX and hung out at the gate way early.  My flight was PAL so it was direct and the service was Filipino so lots of food for the matakao people.  It was a 15 hour flight, but I only watched one movie (Trainwreck) and the rest of the time I was either sleeping or eating.  

Got to Manila at 4am and breezed through Immigration, but then waited an hour for my bags.  My sister was waiting for me just outside the gate and we übered back to the condo and the putted around for a second before re-packing my bag for overnight duty and starting the trek to visit uncle J.  

But before we left, we decided to try to get an early lunch, so we walked to the empanadas place, and then to Cash and Carry, but everything was closed.  Apparently it was already New Year’s Eve, national holiday, and almost everything was closed.  Even Sinangag Express was closed, which is fine by me because I prefer going hungry to eating garbage.  Anyway, we decided to go hungry.  

Uncle J lives in Malolos, Bulacan, which is just outside of Metro Manila.  To get there, we übered to Cubao and went from bus company to bus company to find a bus that stopped in Malolos, so we were looking for destinations like Tarlac and Dagupan.  In the end we found a non-air-conditioned, school bus type bus that ended in Malolos, and we crammed 3 to a seat and rode for 40 minutes.  

When we finally go to Malolos, uncle J was waiting for us.  We were hungry so we decided to stop at Gerry’s Grill and treat them to lunch.  Uncle J gathered the cousins T and A and we ordered kangkong, a grilled squid, and some sisig.  

Ok my sister’s Tagalog skills are more sophisticated than mine at this point, thank goodness, and she has them at the ready, so I can go back to my lifelong habit of not listening to Tagalog.  However I do hear some crazypants stuff happening, and even though I’ve seen it before, I can confirm it’s not just me.  So after my sister did all the ordering the server came back from the kitchen and apologized to us that stir fried kangkong was not available, only sizzling kangkong with oyster sauce.  My sister, very correctly, said, ok, fine, whatever, but serve the oyster sauce on the side, because everyone here at this table hates vegetables drowning in two cups of sweet goop.  A few minutes later the server came back and apologized, because they couldn’t make it sizzle on a sizzle iron without the goop, so they would be obliged to serve it on a plate.  

Let’s review:  1). We would like stir-fried kangkong.  2). Sorry, we only have sizzle plate kangkong.  3). Sorry, we won’t be able to serve it on a sizzle plate.  Result: we will get regular stir-fried kangkong on a plate.  

Now see, thank God for my sister who is handling the situation.   I do not understand this situation and everyone including my cousins will think it’s because I don’t understand Tagalog.  The truth is, I understood the entire exchange, but the exchange itself doesn’t make ANY DAMN SENSE.  1) We want kangkong on a plate.  2). Sorry we only have it sizzling.  3). Sorry we can’t make it sizzling, it has to be on a plate.  Does that make any sense to you?  Give me what I ask for and quit coming over to talk about it, shit dude.  

I guess my habit is that when I see something that doesn’t make sense, I ask, “What is this?”  And people think that I’m stupid.  Like one time at a Thai restaurant in LA there they served some fried wontons on my lunch plate, and I said “What is this?”  And my coworker looked at me in all seriousness and said “fried wontons.”  And I wanted to say, “I know they are fried wontons asshole, what the fuck are they doing on my plate?  Who serves fried fucking wontons to humans, drizzled with that bullshit sweet Thai chili sauce that you get at the grocery story for $1.50 per bottle? ”

So from now on instead of “What is this?” I’m going to ask “What is this bullshit?” and maybe that way people will bring their brains to the conversation. 

But I digress.  Uncle J put me in the side car of his motorcycle–this is called a “tricycle” in the Philippines–and I rode through town hunched over inside the side car cab.  All I could see of the town were people’s calves and that they were buying oranges, limes, and some watermelons. 

When we got to the house, auntie T was there, and it was family hang-out time.  We cousins walked to the playground, later we came back.  Auntie cooked and uncle started a barbecue, and there was pork skewers, grilled chicken, pansit, karikare, tilapia escabeche, bangus en papillote, all kinds of things.  We got uncle Jonny talking about the 70s, and heard his badass stories. 

 And then I went to bed and slept at 7:30pm, becuase I hadn’t slept properly since the 29th of December.  And yes, I slept through New Year’s Eve and the fireworks on the street but there was no other way.  My cousins wanted to wake me to join the celebration, but my sister wisely counseled them against it.  

In the morning auntie offered to cook eggs and toast and sausages and red hot dogs and slices of ham and yes I ate it all.  We watched some Korean TV shows about traveling in China, and living on a remote island.  We face-timed with my folks in the States, confirming and requesting clarification on some of uncle Jonny’s stories, like when my mama dissected the owl.  

After some more pansit and some YouTube videos my sister and I said goodbye to our auntie and the cousins, got back on the tricycle with Uncle J and found a van back to Makati.  


When we got back to Makati, there was a walk to see what was open for dinner on New Year’s Day.  Of course there was a Chinese place still open so my sister and I went HAM on a mixed vegetable plate and some bean curd rolls.  Starbucks was the only coffee option, and the security guard recognized me from this summer.  

After that we came back to the condo, I did some stuff for work and went to sleep early.  

Today is going to be a BBQ with cousins in Cavite.  

Thoughts from LAX Gate 155

I’m on my way to Manila for the new year.  

 A bunch has happened since I last blogged, kind of a lot.  After I left the teaching job I figured I’d have a lot of time to journal, but I seem to have lost the habit.  I’ll try to get back into it in the new year, especially the language stuff. 

So since I’ve last blogged, I saw the Star Wars movie, which is not a big deal except for that the company treated all employees to an exclusive viewing at El Capitan theater on Hollywood Boulevard.  It was neat because there was a special laser show before the movie.  

I also spent Thanksgiving and Christmas in Las Vegas with the folks and their dogs.  The best is going on missions with my mama. 


Right now I’m at Gate 155 at LAX, waiting for a flight to Manila.  My sister is there on her Year of Discovery, so I’m going to visit.  We’ll be spending New Year’s Eve with Uncle Johnny, and exploring La Union and Pangasinan.  Hopefully I’ll get to see my cousins, nieces, and nephews too. It’s less than 10 days this time, but I feel lucky I get to go at all.  

I checked bags, which I don’t usually do, but I’m bringing a few gifts and it’s a direct flight so I feel good about it.  On the return flight I fully expect to stuff one suitcase inside another and check only one bag.  

So this year was all about learning Tagalog, and after this summer I learned a lot.  I haven’t had a lot of practice in the last few months, but I’m sure I’ll get it back with practice.  

There’s only one problem.  I found an Ilocano textbook on Amazon, and once I started reading it I was like, I hate Tagalog, I should be learning Ilokano!  

And then I found a couple of Pangasinan textbooks, one online and one softcover.  The softcover book was definitely from the Spanish colonial period, and written by a Franciscan priest in old timey religions Spanish.  So he has crazy accents all over his Spanish, his Pangasinan examples are all very monastic; e.g., “I took the prayer book to my cell,” “Is the Father home,” and “Have you prayed yet?”  It’s kind of a scream.   Anyway, good thing we learned Spanish!

So it seems I’ve fallen out-of-crush with Tagalog.  This was confirmed when I attended a housewarming party in Las Vegas, where nearly everybody was from Sto. Tomás, La Unión, which is the town where my folks grew up.  When we arrived everyone greeted us in Ilocano, and at some point very early on everyone switched to Pangasinan.  

Every once in a while someone would address me in Tagalog, and I just didn’t care.  I think I might prefer to speak French than Tagalog; is that bad?  

One of my older cousins was excited that I wanted to learn Pangasinan.  When he heard about my language history, he was a little disappointed; he said the language I should have learned were German and Japanese.  What an idiot I’ve been, German and Japanese!  Shit!  I told him I’m working on it. 

I’m going to walk around the terminal now and see if I can find those stupid Ruben sandwich flavored potato chips that my cousins think they want.