My girlfriend, a Filipina, will hear me use American phrases every so often that I just keep presuming everyone has heard. They are common phrases to me. Her version is sometimes a bit different, such as her phrase, “I see the blind man.” (as opposed to, “I see, said the blind man.”) Her way of saying it makes me laugh so, I just go with that. So when I used the phrase, “Better to let sleeping dogs lie.”, she looked at me strangely and asked what I meant by that. So I told her, “Well.., if a situation is doing just fine as it is but could create problems by messing with it.. it’s better to not mess with it. Just leave it alone.” So now she uses the phrase, “Don’t wake up the sleeping dogs.”. Close enough.
It was my fifth day at my new studio, my fifth morning waking up here in the Philippines. And one thing I’d taken notice of during the first four days were the many street dogs roaming around. I love dogs. Cats.. eh, not so much. But dogs are cool. The street dogs I see are not in the best of shape, but I’ve seen far worse in Mexico. Here the dogs seem to scrounge up something here and there from the trash people leave out at night to keep body and soul together yet another day. A bit skinny, not the best coat of fur.. but no mange that I’ve seen as yet. Probably full of fleas but.. I’d be too if I lived out on the street 24/7.
So, during my first four days of walking about town I’d occasionally come across some dog during the heat of the afternoon and he’d be taking a siesta out on the concrete or alongside the road somewhere. All the street-dogs I’ve run into here are just interested in some food, sex and sleep. They aren’t violent. They don’t snatch my groceries from me. They are fairly laid back and usually travel in packs of three up to fifteen I’ve seen at a time. So as I’m ready to enter the mall, I’m walking up the cement steps and there is this dog.. dead. Everybody is just walking around him, going in and out of the mall as if he weren’t there. I’m thinking either security or the janitor should have noticed him by now and carried him off. But no.. he was laying there on his back.. legs sprawled out, motionless with his chin upwards not breathing.. not moving, laid out dead as a door-nail. So I got closer, hoping to see if maybe he was still alive. Nope, no signs of breathing. Still, just to be sure, I said to him, “HEY!!.. Doggy, you OK?”. He slowly turned his head.. looked at me and went back to sleep.
What the heck? That was the first time this had happened, either back home or in the Philippines. Three more times over the next few days I saw a dog lying on the side of the road or next to a business.. stretched out like he’d fallen out of the sky.. seemingly dead to the world and then.. he’d scratch his fleas with his eyes closed and go back into his deep slumber. The dogs I see back home don’t sleep this deeply! Dogs in California will wake up in a heartbeat to the slightest sound. Especially at night. But even the occasional night-sleeping dog I’ve seen here doesn’t even give me a glance as I walk by. My theory is the humidity. It must suck to be in fur all day with this heat and humidity. My guess is the dogs around here are just more laid back and deep-sleepers than California dogs. Back home you worry about some random dog going for your throat.
So.. getting back to my fifth day here on Mactan. It’s a bright, early morning and I’m actually awake before 9am ready to get some breakfast in town. I turn my corner from the studio and there lays one of the dogs that lives amongst our collection of studios. “Hey.. Doggy.. time to wake up.” He was laying directly in my path and I didn’t feel like walking in the wet grass around him. I didn’t want to startle him out of sleep.. he might freak out on me. So, I said a little louder.., “HEY!! Doggy.. you’re in the walkway!” Still nothing. Wow, this dog was really, really a deep sleeper. I figured I’d gently touch his hind leg and hope he didn’t go nuts on me.. so I gently tapped him with my sandal. That’s when I heard a bunch of flies start buzzing around from underneath. Whoah. He was asleep alright. The ‘Big Sleep’.
I looked around but none of the caretakers were around to report this to. “Not my job.”, as a renter is all I knew. My neighbors still seemed to be either asleep or had already departed for work. I began to wonder how long it might be before this is taken care of. A day in this heat and he could get pretty ripe. I grew up in the country and I know that smell can waft along for miles.
But.. I was still hungry so, I walked through the wet grass and found myself some breakfast in town.
On my way returning home I started thinking about the doggy again. Poor doggy. But, in a better place now. At least that’s what I’d like to think. There’s another dog that lives around here, I feel bad for him too. He’s the only dog I’ve met who has bronchitis. He coughs, hacks and even barks with a hoarse voice from it. I’ve had bronchitis several times in my life and I know how much that sucks. Not much I can think to do for him though. He wanders in and out of the subdivision randomly, but I know his cough-bark even late at night in the dark. Plus, that’s how the whole slippery slope starts. Before you know it I’d be like that lady that lived 2 acres down the street from me back home. She had over 35 dogs, about just as many cats and a possum with a broken back that lived under her sink that she fed every day. Twice the Animal Control people have carted away her ‘babies’ and twice she re-filled her acre with a new batch. I went to her home to fix her computer one time.. it had the most gawdawful smell in that place. But hey.. she’s still single if any of you are interested in a woman who really likes animals. And the kicker is.. she works in the local school cafeteria.
A day doesn’t go by that I don’t see either some random street dogs or several of the five or so that seem to think they live here. Even while writing this one of them made his nightly rounds to my screen-door looking for scraps. I don’t like keep food in the trash because it attracts bugs so, any leftovers I leave out for the first doggy or bad kitty-kat that comes along. Leftovers don’t last more than an hour before one of them comes by and makes a quick snack out of it. I’ll even bring home a plastic bag with the fish and chicken bones from when I go out sometimes to leave on a flat rock where the drain pipe water hits the patio edge. They never leave a trace, not even anything for the ants. It’s a symbiotic arrangement.. good for me, good for doggys.
As for the cats.. there’s this pregnant Momma-Cat that seems to think I’m it’s owner. I’m no idiot though. I know she’s pulling that same scam at two or three other houses. Even so, I’ll give her scraps when she does her annoying ‘meow-meow-meow‘ routine at the screen door.
I’ve written before about the ‘Pros & Cons of Making New Friends’. Sometimes you meet new people and it turns out they are lifelong friends. Other times you meet people only to realize through repeated behavior that they only see you as a meal-ticket for their expenses and whims. I’ve had to distance myself from several people like that even in these last two and a half months here. But, Mactan is a small island and you eventually cross paths with the same people again. I’m not accustomed to that sort of awkwardness. Back home it required effort to make time to see my friends who were spread out over all of Southern California from San Diego to Los Angeles. And if by chance I didn’t want to associate with someone any more it didn’t take much effort to just not see them again.
But Philippine island life is not like that. You tend to see the same people over and over again. Last week I ran into some people I’d distanced myself from because every time I’d see them they asked for money. Money for transportation, money for lunch, for dinner, for strange fees they owed their employer.. so many stories and few were likely to be true. I didn’t want to just turn a cold shoulder to them (in my estimation) and so I was courteous enough to say ‘hello’ as we met in passing and made some small chit-chat. I was thinking a few congenial words and we would part ways without any weirdness. But no.. the same paradigms went into play once again and within minutes they were asking for money again. By the time the whole incident passed it left a smudge on my otherwise perfect day as I once again had to be the ‘bad guy’ who had to keep telling them, “No”.
It’s hard to break old habits. It’s tough for an old dog to learn new tricks, as they say. I was raised to be as courteous to people as possible, despite any former misunderstandings. But lately I’m finding that sometimes you just gotta stick with your original gut instinct. Some people only seek to subtract from your life without contributing anything back in return. That’s just who they are. In such instances, rather than ‘play nice’ perhaps the better, more efficient thing to do in such a social situation is to simply take my ball and go home. Just leave the situation alone to prevent creating even more hassle. Go on about your business, enjoying the simple pleasures the islands have to offer.
Sometimes, it’s just best to let sleeping dogs lie.
Henry Velez is a recent (2012) addition to the Philippines and brings with him a fresh set of eyes as well as a talent for bringing his first-hand observations clearly to the reader. Motivated by both a life-long passion for writing, as well as for a Filipina he met in the US, Henry dove right in and made the move to the Philippines 'sight unseen'. He currently maintains three blogs, one which is devoted to his adventures here, and is currently working on a fictional novel set in the Philippines. We wish him the best of luck in his new adventures!