Efren Reyes and Alex Pagulyan — both Fillipino — are two of my pool heroes, so I was excited to visit the Philippines with my fiancé.
We spent four days in Talisay, on the island of Negros Occidental, where she works in an office. I went to work with her at every day and would hang around the office, eating delicious food made and delivered by Art, a local vendor.
I also enjoyed venturing out to see the city, as everything was very new and different to me.
On the fourth and final day, with only an hour left to spare, I left the office for another excursion around downtown. While walking through a large festival and farmer’s’ market, I got lost. One street further than intended and only then did I weave my way out of the crowd of flip-flop wearing shoppers.
I made my way back toward the main road, and then I saw it: the pool hall!
Walking on the sidewalk, I came to a small storefront made entirely of bamboo. I peered into the dark doorway and saw a dirty old beat up pool table with guys playing one it. One of them, a sporty and well dressed young man, seemed to be a skilled player.
Upon closer inspection, the table was an eight foot Gold Crown that had seen better days. It was worn, and covered with debris from the hot breeze blowing in through the bamboo slat windows from the dusty street. About eight guys sat on the bamboo bench by the window, all in shorts and flip-flops, looking weathered and tanned — a couple of them weren’t wearing shirts.
It was hot outside, but here inside this simple bamboo shelter it was dim and cool. The atmosphere was relaxed. It felt like a pool room.
Nobody seemed to have anywhere they needed to be except here.
The place had four tables. I looked across to the next table, where an older man in flip-flops and no shirt was smoking a cigarette, walking around the table with a worn and dirty cue. He was playing a game with another sunbaked and sweaty looking man in flip-flops.
Everyone was in flip-flops, even me. It was too hot to wear shoes.
When I first arrived, my heart jumped for joy at finding the place. If only I had found it three days earlier, or even yesterday… I would have been down here shooting with these guys and having a great time, even though I think most of them don’t speak English — off the table, that is.
As it was, I had thirty minutes before my fiancé and I had to head back to the boat to Iloilo. I shot some pictures, eagerly recording the moment, and then realized that one of the tables was open.
I walked quickly to the well dressed young man I had seen first, shooting by the doorway. I asked him who was in charge here and how much it cost to play. He pointed to a young guy (shirtless and in flip-flips of course) and said “It’s him. Five Pesos a rack.”
I thought to myself, “Five Pesos a rack? That’s like ten cents!”
On second thought, given the condition of the equipment, the price was about right. It didn’t matter. I was thrilled to be playing pool in the Philippine Islands with the locals.
I paid the young man a dirty ten Peso coin for two games. I was pleased and surprised when he racked the balls for me. I chose one of the two cues he had set out for me and, after chalking up with a piece of very flat and worn down Master chalk, I busted the rack wide open.
I was having fun now! I knew my fiancé was wondering where I was and waiting to catch the jeepney to the boat, but I didn’t care. I was playing pool in the Philippines!
Back to the game: I made a cool carom shot in the corner and it was all I could do to stop myself from yelling out, “EFREN, BATA, REYES!”
I almost did too.
I dropped the last ball and the young man racked for me again. I killed two racks just shooting balls randomly on the pitted, dusty felt. I tried to show off the best I could. Being an obvious, milky-white foreigner, I wanted to at least look like I knew what I was doing.
I sank the eight ball for the second and final time, thanked the young man, and headed back to my fiancé’s office. With her bag packed, sitting behind her desk, she declared, “I was waiting for you a half hour ago!”
“I’m sorry honey, I love you,” I replied. Deep inside, having no regrets, I was still thrilled with my experience. We grabbed our bags and headed for the boat.
Nathan Freeman, a resident of Beloit, Wisconsin, is a freelance author and public speaker. Nathan loves the game of pool. His travels have lead him to play in 37 states, Canada, and the Philippines. Photos: provided by author Editor: Kristen Lizzie