60. Smile Bar Island

Smile Bar Island: Amy found this shirt for me in a Singapore hostel, someone left it behind in the free basket along with some hair gel and a box of Corn Flakes. For the moment it’s a bit of a mystery, because the back of the shirt suggests that “Smile Bar Island” is a place in Laos, but there’s no other English clue to tell what kind of place. Liquor bar? Floating liquor bar? Floating liquor bar and brothel? Only a big smiley face and the words “Vang Vieng, Laos.” This kind of crap is irresistible to me, because the thing I love more than free stuff without a queue is some English nonsense printed on a t-shirt.

But hang on – is it really English nonsense? I kept this baby bagged up until last week, when we landed on a tiny little island in the central Philippines called Bantayan. The island is raw paradise, white sand beaches with more fishing boats than sunbathers. Bantayan is farming, cockfighting, drunken sailors singing improbable karaoke, feverish Catholicism (gracias, Magellan) and mountains of dry fish that glint like old tinsel in bright sun. There are very few white tourists* flip-flopping through Bantayan’s towns, so it’s something of a local event every time we step outside. Lots of staring and giggling and shouting of random English words strung together with more thought than is immediately apparent, “hello dude rock n’ roll I love you like Smile Bar Island!” And then, after hearing dozens of people shout “Smile Bar Island” like this over the course of a week, I finally realized something. This shirt makes perfect sense here.

Kid: Hey man Smile Bar Island, yes!
Me: You like Smile Bar Island?
Kid: Yeah!
Me: Where is Smile Bar Island?
Kid: (points towards the ocean)

Smile Bar Island is, apparently, anywhere and anything you want it to be. It’s not just a favorite shirt, it’s a state of mind, it’s a cotton vacation and it’s a religion, because every day I pray for its future. Let’s light a candle for Smile Bar Island, thank you friend like rock n’ roll I love you.

* The notable exceptions are the older German, Dutch, Swiss, English, American and Australian men who’ve moved here to marry 20-year old Filipinas. I was going to write more about this, but really there isn’t much more to it. A white man approaching 70 has an easy time finding an obscenely young girlfriend here, simply because he’s white. So there’s a lot of that happening all around you in the Philippines and I won’t be polite about it, it’s creepy. But it’s also cultural, and as Emy’s sister Elaine puts it, “If you’re white, you’re a god here. Like Sloan, he’s Brad Pitt.” There were a lot of people laughing right after she said that, which seemed a little unfair.


  1. Emelinda says:

    As I recall, it was actually “Like Sloan, he’s Tom Cruise.”

  2. furey says:

    it looks like you’re checking out the ass to your right. if that’s Amy, who is taking the picture?