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Monday, January 11, 2016

Osaka Two: The Naked and The Nude: Posted Jan 11, 2016


JAPAN ENTRY NUMBER 4:

THE NAKED AND THE NUDE

I start this blog on the plane from Seoul to Manila. The Japan phase of my trip over, I'm starting a fortnight of new life in The Philippines.

More customs/immigration to come... and in a burst of honesty-- I've checked the COUGH list on The Ebola Card. (Crossed out NOT APPLICABLE) Let's see what happens.

(I'm adding to this blog on the plane BACK from Osaka... actually back from Taipei where I transferred from a Manila flight. I still have the cough... worse than ever.)

Flash back to Osaka:

The Japanese have a phrase: hadaka no tsukiai, literally naked relationship. It refers to a special bond formed by being naked with your friends or co-workers. More on this later.


Before we get naked, let's go to the first Drink Club of the trip. Check out this crew at a take-your-shoes off restaurant.

[NOTE: If you know me, you know I wear army boots... always. In a take-your-shoes-off culture like Japan... army boots are a pain in the ass. Others slip on, off, on again. I have to untie... loosen pull my feet out...usually the tight boots pull my socks off in the process. I've got to put my socks back on... then finally step into wherever. It takes me double digit minutes to cross a threshold. In Japan, a raised platform always means TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES. Everywhere has a raised platform.]

This drink club is in an izakaya... one of those eateries with raised tatami platforms where you have to (you guessed it), take off your shoes when you sit down, and put them back on again when you go for a piss.

What a great crew! Takashi, Kazu Yada, a Hong Kong co-worker of Takashi's who calls himself Jerry... and is one of the best new people I met on this trip. (Yeah, I saw him naked,,, we'll get to that in a little while.) Plus there was PYOKO!!! Drink Club Goddess® ... my heroine, the woman of my dreams... the beginning and the end... THAT PYOKO!! Have I died and gone to heaven?

Over dinner Takashi asks me... “Hey Mykel, what do you want to do in Osaka?”

I explain that I've done the Skywalk, and Okonamiyaki and Takoyaki... I want to do something new.

How 'bout SPA WORLD?” asks Takashi.

Sounds like science fiction,” I say. “Like planet of the apes.”

He laughs.

But isn't a spa where you lie on your stomach and someone with strong hands beats your muscles until they hurt?”

He looks at me like I've asked if a crowbar was a place where blackbirds get drunk.

No!” he says. “It's like an onsen... but indoors. And there are all kinds of pools and showers. We could be hadaka no tsukiai.”

Do boys and girls go there together?” I ask.

Sure,” he says, “but they're on different floors. I thought you liked onsen, Mykel. It's the same thing.”

[In fact, one of the reasons I'm in Japan is to go to an onsen... with monkeys. It's been a long time dream of mine.]

You're right,” I tell him. “Besides they don't call me Mykel ATM for nothing.”

ATM?” he answers. “You mean like a bank?”

I shake my head.

ATM,” I say. “Anything That Moves.”

Conversation stops for a few seconds.

So we meet at Spa World tomorrow at 2PM!” he concludes. “Who's coming?”

Me!” says Jerry, “I've always wanted to go there.”

I'm in,” I say, leaving the double entendre for the (non-present) English-language native speakers.

FLASH TO SPA WORLD: It's in a faux luxury building that I wouled have called kitch at the time, but after seeing the Philippine Hotel Paradis, will just say is... er... a bit much.

Outside is a statue of some creatures arising from a hunk of marble. 

There's PAN blowing a flute, a horse, and another figure who seems to be fighting off the advances of the horse.

The building itself has faux marble pillars with a white-on-blue SPA WORLD sign, in English, over the same thing, but metal on metal, in Japanese. Here we are in front, ready to take the... er... plunge.




Inside, there is a little wooden space ground level. Then, a platform with a cashier and a lot of little rooms off to the side. (As I write this, it occurs to me that Takashi might have paid for everyone, but my memory often fails me.) After paying, you climb onto the raised platform.

My fuckin' army boots.

On the platform is an advertisement for a special HIP SLIMMING massage, available on the third floor.

Can you pay extra for a happy ending,” I ask Takashi.

Slim hips are the happy ending,” he says.

I let it go at that.

From the platform an attendant shows you the way to the SHOE LOCKERS, where you lock away your shoes and take the key. Then you move to the CLOTHES lockers.

We enter that locker room and find a few lockers together. Stripping down-- as in any lockerroom, sideways glances get covered with blinks and random dumb conversation.

How 'bout that Bird Series?” I say

What are you talking about?” asks Jerry

Hawks against the Swallows,” I continue, “two birds.”

He sniffs a laugh.

There we are: naked, clothes locked away... unlike a gym lockerroom where you change from one set of clothes to another, here you change from one set of clothes to NOTHING. At least that's what I think... but we walk naked from the lockerroom into another room where we select longish blue robes (reminds me of hospital gowns) and put them briefly over our naked bodies.

Those robes, it turns out, are only for elevator travel. The same elevator carries men and women... and there's a prohibition of revealing the good parts to one another.

Takashi pushes 4 and the elevator goes up. There are no girls with us in the elevator.

They switch floors,” explains Takashi, pointing to a coded calendar inside the elevator.

Here's the schedule. You have to check it before you leave the elevator to make sure you don't get off on the girls' floor.”

What if I WANT to get off on the girls' floor?” I ask.

You might leave a bit...” He says something that sounds like dabokusho, I guess it means trouble.

Off the elevator... into the locker room... three lockers together... Bang! Off come the clothes. We're naked now, hadaka no tsukiai friends... with friend parts dangling... mine a bit shrivelled... lucky I guess in relation to the alternative. We go to another room to pick up towels... included in the price of admission.

Don't look at my ass,” says Takashi... whose slim white nether parts contrast beachedly with the rest of his tanned body.

How did he know?” I think to myself.

Just checking to see if you need that hip-reduction massages,” I say. “You don't.”

He laughs.

The three naked us stroll into the first bath, a clear... rather shallow... pool with one guy... about 40, chunky, with bad skin... already sitting in it. I step in, surprised at its lack of scalditude....

NOTE: Japanese baths are notorious for their heat. Even the public baths... sentos... are supposed to be hot enough to boil a lobster. This was hot... but not killer hot... Tabasco rather than Death Sauce 2000. Comfortable really, easy to settle in... only necessary to hold the good parts for a few seconds before releasing them to the luxury of the water.

Don't grab yourself there,” says Takashi. “People will think you have a disease.”

Jerry laughs.

So there we are... in the shallow bath... water clear and warm. The good parts floating free. They look like three tiny baby butts... just breaking through the surface.

We sit by the side of the pool across from the guy with bad skin... We talk about Japan... work... life... girls... my plans for my future time in Japan.

I want to do this with a monkey,” I tell Jerry. “Just sit naked in a hot bath... talk about the weather... life in Japan... Just sit next to a monkey, put my arm over his shoulder...”
I put my arm over Jerry's shoulder... he does not flinch... he laughs, in a very non-simian way.

Share a banana... ask about the wife and kids,” I say.

In Nikko?” asks Takashi.

I heard that the monkeys in Nikko were too unfriendly,” I answer, disengaging myself from Jerry. “They have monkey gangs... they're really racist. If you're not a monkey they attack you... you're an illegal alien... Sometimes they hit you, steal your camera... No thanks. Those monkeys need to learn a little tolerance.”

He nods. “Yeah,” he says, “I heard that too.”

I'm going to Nagano,” I tell him. “They have nicer monkeys there. Welcoming, liberal monkeys who enjoy diversity.”

He doesn't get it.

Let's go to another bath,” he says, standing up. Jerry and I follow... down a short hallway... we pass a bunch of other naked guys. One of them has his upper arm wrapped in a bandage. At first I think, “Uh oh... there's gonna be oozing pus in the water.” Then I remember: Public baths don't allow tattoos. It's because of their association with the Yakusa. The bandage probably covers a tattoo.

We pass a few other naked guys-- several with bandages. I guess tattoos are becoming increasingly popular here... I'm waiting for the full body guy who comes in bandaged like a mummy... maybe covered with Saran Wrap-- if it's a fresh tattoo.

As fashionable non-Yakusa tattoos increase, the character of these baths will change. They'll look less like nude locker-rooms, and more like hospital wards for burn victims.

Before we enter the next bath, we go into a side room filled with... salt. Great sacks of the stuff... course... like kosher salt. Takashi takes handfuls and starts rubbing it on his skin. Jerry and I follow suit, pretending we know what we're doing. The salt dissolves into my wet skin. I rub it everywhere... in some places, it hurts more than others.

After we're covered in salt, we head to the next bath... this one a bit hotter than the last... Is that steam I see rising from the surface? Slowly we step in and sit our salt-covered naked bodies down on the shallow bath floor. I feel like I'm making soup.

From salt bath to outdoor bath. I take a plunge... breast stroke across the pool..

Mykel,” says Takashi, “it's not a pool. You don't swim here.”

Jerry laughs.

Should we go for a massage now?” asks Jerry.

Happy ending?” asks I.

Costs extra,” says Takashi, not shaken a bit.

Wow,” I say, “who was YOUR English teacher?”

He looks at me and smiles.

I laugh.

We hit one more place before returning to the lockerroom to rid ourselves of our nuditude. It should have been weird... being innocently naked with people... especially one I've met so recently. The whole event was just fun... not arousing... not embarassing... just fun... even for an ATM like me.

FLASH TO LATER THAT NIGHT: Jerry and I are meeting Pyoko at her favorite tachigui bar. One of the few Japanese customs I dislike is the penchant for doing almost everything standing up... especially drinking.

[ASIDE: I guess there are some Americans who also love to drink standing up. Often, I go to a U.S. bar and the tables are empty... there are empty seats at the bar... a crowd of people will be standing... elbow to elbow... chatting and drinking... maybe with a few seats taken... by their coats and shopping bags.... like standing means “I'm on the sex prowl.” I just don't get it.]

In Japan, there's more: They have standing bars, standing noodle shops, standing takoyaki stands. Will there be standing toilets for girls? Standing hotel rooms? I'm going to a wedding reception in a couple days. Are they gonna have a standing reception? (Yep.)

Tonight, Jerry and I are meeting Pyoko. Takashi's gotta work.

[NOTE TO TRAVELERS: One of the hardest things to understand when you're visiting friends is that those friends have lives outside of you: work appointments, sex liasons, day-to-day stuff. Their lives don't get put on PAUSE when you arrive. Sometimes, it takes a while to get the message.]

We meet at the station close to the bar. Pyoko walks us though a maze of streets until we get to a series of toilet-stall sized bars. She stops in front of one and bows with an openhanded gesture like the maitre d' at the 21 Club before the an international celebrity enters.

We walk in. Pyoko follows. It turns out SHE is the celebrity!


Everyone greets her and waits as she introduces us. One of her long-time buddies comes over to ask where we're from, why we're here, and what we're drinking. It isn't long before we become friends and he joins us for a picture. 

Hey, this is fun. Standing and drinking isn't so bad... you can walk around that way, give gravity a chance to empty your stomach... look less paunchy... It takes less room. Maybe I'm beginning to get it.

Ah, so much more happened in Osaka, but I've got to move on to Kyoto and the story of Frog Berry... and Lola.

But before we go, I have to mention a most unusual invention. I it saw on Japan's largest indoor walking street. Everybody knows that bagels are fragile. If you drop one, it bruises. So what does the world need?

A BAGEL CUSHION... only in Japan.

-end-

[Contact me through facebook or via email: god@mykelboard.com]

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

I Had A Dream... Landing in Manila

CONQUERING THE PHILIPPINES

Mykel Board's Philippine Blog
Entry Two

Posted December 16, 2015


The only way we know it's true is that we both dreamed it. That's what reality is. It's a dream everyone has together. -Jeffrey Eugenides

I woke up this morning at 9:30... from a nightmare: I am in a park... city unknown... walking through... a shortcut to somewhere. A big colored guy, wearing black clothes... steps in my path. He doesn't touch me, but I know he wants to rob me... to hurt me. He's standing close, blocking my path.

I briefly consider throwing a leg behind him and pushing him over... judo style. I discard the idea. Other people are walking in the park... wearing trenchcoats and fedoras...detective style... my style... no one notices us.

I open my mouth to scream HELP!... like I really did in Italy when surrounded by people who didn't like having their picture taken... In this dream, I can't scream. My throat freezes... only a whisper escapes... A few people pass us. I don't remember their race but they're mostly dressed like students... in school uniforms. I look at them pleadingly. They pretend not to notice.

A white guy in a inform... mostly white fabric with a cop-like hat and epaulets on the sleeves... passes... I beg him with my eyes. He turns to us... steps between my attacker and me... The attacker leaves... I'm relieved... at first. Then I see this man is blocking my path...looking menacing into my eyes.

I wake up.

WHAT THE FUCK?

I leave this country in 2 days. I have NEVER felt in danger here. What is this dream about?

Okay, I'm superstitions to start with... I'll cross the street to avoid a black cat. I don't make any plans for Friday the 13th. I never open an umbrella inside. A broken mirror has me looking over my shoulder for weeks. I know it's not logical. I know it's primitive... infantile... but that's my inner being. You can't teach an old punk new tricks.

In Japan, Buddhist temples offer fortunes... you pay a few yen and shake a jar full of sticks. One of the sticks falls through a hole in the jar lid. That stick has a number on it. The number matches a drawer in a large wood cabinet. Inside the drawer is your fortune:

CARELESSNESS LEADS TO BROKEN BONES

Great! Just what I need. I was picturing stumbling on wet leaves, or being drunk and missing a curb. Suddenly the meaning changes... becomes more sinister... Make the wrong moves with the wrong people... and you'll have someone else break your bones.

There was that girl in THE HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN. I plan to go back there tonight. I promised. Mabel, the manager gave me her own phone number. The day after the club I texted her:

Great to meet you last night. I was a bit too drunk and in love with that girl who sat next to me. Now I only remember her beautiful face not her name. Could you tell me? Thanks and see you soon.

The answer came in a few minutes:

Her name is Dovie. Where are you now Mykel?

I ANSWER

Ok Mykel, we just wait your promise to us to comebak soon! Take care your self!

Tonight I plan to keep the promise... make my own farewell party... go with some friends... introduce everyone to Dovie... You know... get my leg broken for not paying her “surcharge.”

FLASH TO THE AIRPORT... LANDING... December 1... or was it 2?

In New York, no one every meets you at the airport.

Take a subway/bus/cab, get off at your hotel/my place/grand central,” that's the way we do it. It's different here.

How do I find my way into town?” I facebook Hil... one of the Pinoy friends I made on facebook.

I'll meet you,” he says. “Manila airport is the worst airport in the world. You'll never get out of there without us.”

“How will I know you?” I ask.

I'll come with a friend... Johnny Deadbrain... and we'll hold up a big sign that says:

MYKEL BOARD.

Great,” I answer.

And watch out for THE BULLET,” he says. “It's usually a problem leaving-- not arriving... but you never know.”

In a conversation with another Filipino facebook friend, Emmanuel, I suggest he come to the airport too. You can't have too many back-ups and insurance friends. I figure, if the other guys come, Emmanuel will see the MYKEL BOARD sign and join the party. I figure wrong.

Great, something else to worry about. Though I'm an experienced traveler, I'm a worry wort. Besides being superstitious, I always expect the worst. USUALLY, nothing happens, but just often enough I have to go through a ton of shit... bribes... delays... strip searches... by very unattractive people... it stays with me.

I get off the plane in Manila, immigration is easy. Inside the terminal... there are a bunch of cab-driver-looking people holding up signs with people's name on them. No punk rockers. No MYKEL BOARD. I walk out of the terminal. It's HOT! Japan was cold... sweater cold... when I left. The weather here is tropical... I mean... what the fuck? It's the tropics!

There doesn't seem to be anyone waiting for family members at all.... just taxi drivers.

Taxi? Taxi”

Where you goin'?”

I'm waiting for a friend,” I tell 'em. They go off to hustle someone else.

I keep looking.

I explain the situation to one of the drivers.

Do you have your friend's phone number?” he asks me.

Yeah,” I tell him, “but I don't have a phone. I can't call him.”

I'll help you,” he says. “I'll bring you to someone who has a phone. Write down the number for me.”

Suspicious, but out of alternatives, I follow the driver to a group of his co-workers. He shows the number to one of them, a short guy... about my height... with a thick Greek-looking mustache.

The guy takes his cellphone... dials... waits... shakes his head.

Your sure it's the right number,” he asks.

It's the only number I have,” I tell him.

Let's try a different phone,” he says, pulling me deeper into the crowd of drivers.

What the fuck? I was supposed to meet the guys right outside the airport. That's where I am... I smell scam among these drivers.

Sorry,” I say, and walk back to the airport, figuring he's just very late as people from hot countries are apt to be.

Still looking, I try to reenter the terminal. A guard stops me. It's like a rock club... no readmission. I'm screwed... fucked... stranded...

The same cab driver returns to me. Walking from a pack of his fellow drivers. What does he want now? New scam time?

I contacted your friend,” he tells me. “He's waiting for you just at the exit of the airport. He's standing under a sign that says TAXIMUS...” He writes the name down on a piece of paper. “Follow me, I'll show you how to get there.”

He takes me to the entrance to a tunnel, that leads... I donno where.

Here it comes. The kidnapping... the body part harvesting... the jihad beheading.

Just go down that way,” he says, pointing to the tunnel entrance. “And I hope you can give me something to say thanks.”

I open my wallet. I have a few bills I got when I changed some money in New York. Of course he should get something. He either saved me or got me killed. In either case, a few dollars won't hurt. I shuffle through the bills... all thousands... I don't have any idea of the currency here, but I just want to meet my friends and get out.

How 'bout one of those,” he says, pointing to the thousand peso bills in my wallet. I take out one of them out and give it to him.

Thanks,” he says, and I head down the tunnel.

It opens somehow onto a street. There are a ton of other people waiting for friends and relatives. Evidently this IS the human waiting place. The airport itself is reserved for taxi drivers only.

There is the sign: TAXIMUS... and there are two guys, one a bit usual, just a friendly guy looking... the other long hair, black leather jacket, punk rock. Between them they hold a sign:

MYKEL BOARD

I wave... walk over to them... shake hands.

Hil! Johnny!” I say to the guy in the leather jacket... I guessed right.

There's no Emmanuel, but 2 out of three isn't bad. When I explain my 1000peso tip to Hil he laughs.

That's $20, Mykel,” he says. “The guy is probably just gonna take that and call it a night.”

Shit,” I say, “well, it's my first minutes in Manila... things like that always happen at first. How much will a cab cost to Johnny's?” (I expect to stay with him, sleeping on the floor.)

Fuck cabs. You're going to learn the REAL Philippines, Mykel,” Hil tells me.


Johnny takes my bags (way too much! Usually I travel much lighter.) We're going by jeep. (Click on the image below for some more pictures)

Jeepneys


More precisely a JEEPNEY, the most common and cheapest way to travel in Manila. A jeepney is a modified jeep... extended and painted-- often beautifully... sometimes with Christian themes, sometimes with family figures, zombies, super-heroes you never know.

It's just one of the Philippine mind bogglers. They travel in art... moving art.

In the jipney windshields are small signs with the destination of that particular jeep. You flag one down and get in. Inside there is a row of benches along either side. There is room for 12 people. Usually there are 19... and their too-much luggage. In addition to the sweating passenger bodies, the driver usually plays music louder than a city SUV.

Once you wedge yourself inside the jeep, you fish around for some money. Then you say BUY PO (or something like that) and pass your money to the next passenger who passes it forward. Sometimes the driver takes it. Sometimes he's (always HE in my experience) got a helper to take it. If there is a helper, that guy raises his eyebrows when he gets your money. You shout over the music: your destination and how many people you're paying for. If you pay the driver, he looks at you either in the rearview mirror or directly when the traffic is stopped... which is often.

My Philippine friends say Manila has the worst traffic in the world. People in the near suburbs get up at 4AM to be at work by 9. It makes the LA freeways seem like speedways by comparison. The air pollution is so bad that my sometimes cough instantly morphs into bronchitis.

The air is so dirty, that scratching a mosquito bite will leave your nails black. Headlights reflect what looks like a permanent fog. In the morning, you pull from your nose thick black boogers... as long as a tapeworm.

The locals seem used to this pollution. Every-once-in-awhile you see someone on a jeepney with a surgical mask... the kind that Japanese wear as a matter of course... or just a washcloth over their mouths. Usually, it's business as usual no acknowledgment of the air.

I have a theory: Manilans have evolved to NEED pollution. Their body uses it as nourishment... stimulation... aphrodesia. Their lungs crave it like a penis craves stroking. The proof is in the smoke.

I have never seen a group of people who smoke as much as the Manilans. Two... three... more... packs a day. Not chain smokers, but machine gun smokers. POW! POW! POW! Everyone! Restaurants, bars, home, everywhere... hangs smoke from tobacco. Turning down a cigarette here is as strange as turning down cash.

The reason? Lungs! Manila people are allergic to clean air. It cripples them... makes them impotent... weak... sick. The natural air in the city usually takes care of the need to breathe dirt... but what about inside? Or on a deserted street in the middle of the night? Clean air can creep up on you anywhere... Cigarettes are the best defense.

Three hours later, we arrive at Johnny's place. I get the futon. Johnny sleeps on a cardboard box on the floor. (Yes, that's how great the people are here.) After Johnny smokes a last cigarette, I say good night.

These guys... never met 'em before... they spent eight hours to meet me at the airport and take me back. 8 hours! That's just one of the things you learn about the people here... other than they need filth in their lungs.

And oh yeah, Emmanual WAS at the airport. Waited all night for me, tried to contact me by facebook. I fucked him over. Damn. These people are great. I feel like shit for HIS eight hours.


--More next time....


And don't worry, I haven't forgotten Japan... it's just that if I don't start going backwards... I'll never catch up!


Saturday, December 12, 2015

First From The Philippines

CONQUERING THE PHILIPPINES

Mykel Boards's Philippine Blog

Entry One

Posted December 12, 2015


The Santa Cruz area of Manila is a maze of narrow streets choked with barely moving traffic, blaring horns... people walking.... hanging out... sleeping on plastic bags filled with trash.

Food stands sell Chinese pork buns or wooden sticks with your choice of pig's ear, pig's blood or pig guts. The narrow streets hold the auto exhaust of the immoveable traffic. Walking a block is like smoking a pack of cigarettes.

Every few meters, one woman or another will smile at you... showing her braces and ask, “Hey Joe, you like me?” If you shake your head, she'll offer you her younger sister... or her daughter. My upper arm still has a bruise where a street hooker pinched me in an attempt to keep me from walking away. Every few steps will bring you to another encounter.

Backpacks become frontpacks here... watch your step...means a fuck of a lot more than be careful crossing the street. The heat is oppressive... a wet-hot. Your sweat mixes with the filth from the car exhausts so that a simple neck-scratch leavea your fingernails black.

I love the place.

Right now, I sit at a table in room 162 at the Paradis Hotel. It's just after noon.


FLASH BACK 10 MINUTES: I'm waking up for the third time today. I lie in a super king-size bed with a padded headboard and a faux marble spiral on the wall above. I awaken to myself... naked-- curled fetally-- reflected in a huge circular mirror on the ceiling.

Sorry, you don't get the naked version


It's cold... over-air conditioned in this tropical country. Eyes half closed, I roll over and feel for the AIRCON button on the shelf next to the bed. I push OFF. Then, I pad through the room to the bathroom to relieve myself of several pints of last night's beer.

FLASH BACK TO CHECK-IN YESTERDAY: On the street, next to Manila's Chinatown, is a blue sign with two white iconic angels... facing each other. HOTEL PARADIS this way... an arrow points down a side street. The lobby is blue and white... pristine... strange in this section of the city not known for its pristinitude.


A guard nods to me as I walk in with my pal Alfred. On one wall is a large poster... more like wallpaper... with the double angel logo of the hotel.

On the other walls are captioned photos... bright landscapes with the words PASSION, DESIRE, and SHANGHAI. Inside the elevator is a sign... white on blue... ADULTS ONLY, NO MINORS.

Albert is the guitar player for the pick-up band I'm singing with... one show... THE OUTSOURCED. (The joke: The Philippines, along with India and Malaysia, are world centers for outsourcing. When you call customer service for anyone from Nike to “American” Express... you're likely to reach a call center here. So what better name for a pick-up band than THE OUTSOURCED.)

We take the elevator up to the sixth floor check-in desk.

At the desk is an ordinary-looking young man and a beautiful young woman. The woman is dressed in blue and white. Angelic... Actually, she wears angel wings... I shit you not. (They're hard to see in the photo... but they ARE there.)

The desk tells us that I I have a choice between paying by the hour, or 1000 pesos (about $20) for 12 hours. I can get a full 24 for only 400p more. I choose the later. Yes, I can pay with a Visa card.

I get a key card, and go to my room to leave my bags. Then, we go across the street to meet Alberto's friends and some other musicians. It's a bar restaurant... seems popular in this neighborhood. As we walk in, Alberto recognizes someone sitting there with a bucket of half a dozen San Miguel beers and some fried tofu-- a co-worker at the casino.

[NOTE: Though Filipinos look something like Thais, their food is much different. The key to Thai food is spice. They key to Filipino food is sugar. EVERYTHING is sweet... and speaking of sweet...]

The waitresses here are dressed like Santa in a miniskirt... showing more leg than a package of nylons. They wear high-heels... VERY high heels that would not be out of place at The Crazy Horse or Rick's Cabaret.

They'll come and sit with you if you want,” Albert tells me.

Only sit?” I ask. “That's like the girls in Japan that come to your table, laugh at your jokes, pour you beer, and charge you $300.”

He laughs. “It's a lot less than $300,” says Albert. “You only have to buy them a lady-drink or two.”

I shake my head. Little did I know then that... Well, I'll tell you later.

Albert's pal called over a santa and she opens two of the bottles in his bucket... handing one each to Albert and me. It's not long before some other guys show up... 4 buckets later, I'm beginning to feel a little tipsy.

So Mykel,” says Albert, “where do you want to go and to see here in Manila?”

Oh,” I say, “I want to see the architecture, get a feel for the people, and the culture...”

They wait patiently after my ellipsis.

And go to strip clubs,” I say.

The others smile as if they'd known I was going to say that from the get go. Moi?

Manila's an early town,” says one of Johnny's friends, a thin jovial guy, with a shaved head. “Filipino culture is an early culture.”

Don't I know it!” I say. “I had to get up at 4AM to make it to Manila by noon. Most New Yorkers get up at 7 or so...”

To get to work by 9,” he says.

I nod.

“Most Filipinos get up at 4AM to get to work at nine,” he tells me. “Traffic... traffic... traffic.... anyway, stores close up by 7. At 9 the streets are dark... only the prostitutes, sex shows, like that are open late.”

Sounds like my time of night,” I tell him.

It's also dangerous,” he continues, “so dark. The only thing glowing is the target on your back.”

He talks with his friends in tagalog. The discussion looks slightly heated, with a lot of head-shaking and glances my way. Finally Albert talks to me.

We'll take you to a strip club, Mykel,” says Albert, “but we can't stay with you. We have to get home to our families.”

I nod.

We'll talk to the owner and he'll take care of you,” he continues. “But first, you need to go to your hotel and leave everything. Wallet, backpack, passport, everything. Take only 1000 pesos with you... and say NO!”

My eyebrows raise with a question.

If someone come to you and asks for something, say NO,” he explains, “If someone wants something... or offers something... say NO. Everything, say NO!”

I look at him.

You got that Mykel?” he asks.

NO!” I answer, nodding.

Good,” he says. “Now go to the hotel, leave everything, and come back here. We'll take you to the bar.”

I go back across the street, up to my room, dump my backpack, camera, cellphone. Leave my passport, my metal pillbox (cough drops, vitamins, malaria medicine)... everything except 1000 pesos. Then I return to the santa bar.

Okay, let's go,” says Albert.

We leave the Santa bar, go around the corner to a narrow back street... vendors on all sides. It's just starting to get dark. Motorcycle taxis, jeepneys, honking horns, sleezy looking locals, beautiful locals, a combo pack or two.

About two blocks away we stop at a doorway. The doorway leads directly to a staircase going up. At the top of the staircase is another door. Above that door is a multicolored sign: HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN. At the bottom of the stairs are two middle aged men in white shirts and khakhi pants. Both with typical Filipino rice bellies.

[NOTE: It's like being among Jews... or Italians. Instead of saying “Hi, nice to meet you.” The Filipino greeting is “Are you hungry?” Social life is around food... copious amounts of meat... as heavy as anything in America... and rice... lots of rice.]

My friends talk with the guards in tagalog... glancing at me occasionally,. Albert puts a hand on my shoulder. The two guards look at me... smile... nod.

Albert talks to me.

They'll take care of you, Mykel,” he says. “But still... be careful.”

I smile... nod... Albert and friend walk away, stopping to look back... like a wife leaving her soldier husband who's heading into battle. I wave, walk up the stairs into the club. Though it's pitch black outside, it's only about 8pm.

The club is fairly large. A stage in one corner, about 20 tables spread far enough apart to give an air of privacy.

The price of admission... 300p (about $6)... includes two drinks. After I sit down, a waiter-- white shirt, string tie, red jacket-- comes over to take my order. I order a Red Horse... the strongest (and best-tasting) beer on the island.

I look around at the other tables. Checking out the clientele.

There is no clientele.

Only me... an old white guy... in a strip club where the dancers see white skin like dollar signs... three matching ones... in the slot machine. BINGO! I must look to the dancers here like a lone beach bather looks to a cloud of mosquitoes. How long until one of those girls is at my table offering a lap dance? I don't do lap dances... How do you say that in Tagalog?

The stage is empty. There is some soft background music, nothing like the usual pole dancing disco-rap. There is a pole, but it stands by itself... bare... naked... alone... on the stage.

An announcement... that special strip club voice-- always a man... like a radio DJ... It's in Tagalog, but it doesn't matter. It could be in Gilyak... The meaning would be as clear:

And now, appearing exclusively on our Rising Sun stage... the beautiful and talented ISABELLA.”

On stage is a pretty girl... early 20s, wearing a kind of black cocktail dress... with no top. Her B-cup mammaries flop lazily as she sort of sways back and forth. She looks bored... her expression not much different from an NYC girl in a doorway checking her iphone.

In my peripheral vision, I see someone approaching my table. Uh oh... here it comes. Remember Mykel... any questions... anything the want... just say NO! Got that? NO! NO! NO!

She sits next to me. NOT a dancer, but a mama-san (female owner-manager-madam) looking woman. Deep into her 40s, she's plump smiley-faced and friendly as a puppy.

[NOTE: The Philippines joins my short list of the world's friendliest countries: Thailand, Denmark, Brazil, Trinidad. Just sit down at a table in a restaurant... and everyone around you is an instant friend. Hard to believe if you come from a fuck-you-you're-in-my-space country like New York.]

High,” she says, “my name's Mabel.”

She extends a hand. We shake.

Mykel,” I tell her.

Then comes the usual whereyoufromwhyareyouherewhatdoyouthinkofThePhilippines blah blah blah questions.

Then:

You like girls?” asks Mabel.

Seems a strange question to ask someone visiting a strip club.

I like everybody,” I answer.

This is the Philippines,” she says, “liking everybody can get you in trouble.”

I laugh.

How long are you staying here?” she asks.

I'll be here for two weeks,” I tell her. “I have to go back to New York and go to work.”

You want a girl now,” she asks.

Remember: NO! NO! NO!

Not right now,” I tell her. “I'm just looking.”

Okay, Mykel,” she says, “I need to take care of the club. If you want something special just ask for me. I'll take care of you.”

Thanks, Mabel,” I say.

She gets up and leaves the table with a smile... like we're old friends. I know it's a show, but I like it.

It's five minutes before the seat next to me is again occupied. This time by a Filipina at least 20 years young than Mabel and with a whole lot of leg showing. I can feel my own third leg stiffen moving from over-cooked spaghetti to al dente.

She pushes her chair closer to mine. She crosses her legs, rubbing her knee against mine in the process. I look at her face, her high cheekbones, perfect skin... light brown smooth as a baby's ass. She turns toward me, letting a breast rub against my upper arm. Al dente changes to pre-cooked.

Hello,” she says, “my name is …”

I don't get her name... a stage name anyway... and I just like looking at her I don't bother to ask. She says something to me. I'm too dazed to understand.

What's your name?” she repeats.

As she's saying this, the waiter is coming over with her Lady Drink. It's a beer... a Wild Horse... He sets in in front of her and opens it.

I know the system. You buy the girl a drink. The club jacks up the price and the girl gets a cut. But usually, you have to ASK for the drink first.

Can I get you a drink also, sir?” he asks me.

I only have 1000 pesos with me,” I tell him. “I can't spend more than that because I don't have more. No credit cards, nothing. Only 1000.”

I understand,” he says. “Would you like another beer?”

Always say NO!” I think, “Anything they ask, say NO!”

Yes, sure,” I answer.

The waiter brings another beer. On stage is a beautiful woman... one of those whose legs begin at the ankle and go all the way up to the hip. She wears what looks like... I donno... never saw one before. Somewhere between crotchless panties and a garter belt... on the bottom. On top, a kind of support bra without the bra. Her pert little nips hard in the over air conditioning.

I barely notice I'm too involved in my tablemate.

Of course,” I say, “when be begin our life in New York together....”

I don't even know what I'm saying. The waiter brings over another drink for the young lady... pops it open.

I have a one year old daughter,” she says. “I want to take care of her. Could you find me a job in New York?”

Remember: NO! NO! NO!

Of course,” I say, “no problem.”

“I don't want to work in this business,” she says. “I want something more respectable.”

The waiter brings another beer for me.

No problem,” I tell her. “You can work as a nurse. There are a ton of Filipinas working as nurses in New York.”

She hugs me and presses her face into my neck, casually letting her other hand drop between my legs. It's so sudden, I cough. The beer comes out my nose. I apologize and wipe my face.

I'm staying at the Paradis Hotel ,” I tell her, “room 162.”

She makes some noise that doesn't sound like I'll see you there later,” but I write that off as a language barrier.

I'll have to leave soon,” I tell her. “I only have 1000 pesos and my friends say the streets here are dangerous at night.”

Ok,” she says.

The waiter brings over another pair of beers: one for her and one for me.

One more,” she says. “This will be the last one.”

NO! NO! NO!

All right,” I say, “but this really must be the last. Remember, I only have 1000 pesos.”

By now, she's practically on my lap. A few other customers are at other tables with dancers by their sides.

We cuddle. She continues to kiss my neck. I look for some tongue... no dice. Then it's over... bottles drained... beer spent out. I call for the waiter.

I need the check,” I tell him. “Remember, I only have 1000 pesos.”

He nods and returns with the check: 996 pesos. I tell him to keep the change.



--more in the coming weeks, I hope! Lots of PUNK ROCK to tell too!