Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Something lingers

I am still carrying the Philippines around with me, like I'm still there. Somehow I'm not yet arrived in America, even as I was racing to leave crowded Manila. I simply cannot shake my constant looking about, my wide-eyed vigilance, the small tension in my gut. I don't miss the cacophany of urban sounds, the Jeepneys, tricycles, and buses. I miss the Filipinos: their great warmth and humor and common sense, the indefatible and creative spirit, a deep sense of grace and dignity.

You'd think I could make the transition more easily. The ground in Michigan is covered with snow, not palm leaves, the air is bitingly cold, not syrupy warm, and nothing hangs from the trees except bare, brown-black branches, and the occasional dangling sneaker, thrown up there by the local college kids. A week ago, I could look up and see clumbs of bananas, mangoes, or coconuts in the trees.

You'd think I would quickly re-embrace the lavish spaces in America. A week ago, there were no trim houses, yards neatly landscaped. Instead, every square meter in Manila, and even in the provinces, in Bauan, were Spanish style raised houses, concrete, soot-covered buildings, shanties of aluminimum and boards, and tiny, open-front sari-sori stores, all competing for space.

My eyes could never rest in the cities of the Philippines. I learned to stop looking at the window, or risk visual and emotional overload. There are no patterns of housing or building, no consistency at all. The neighborhoods have no integrity or distinctiveness anymore. Apparently, as people spilled from the provinces to find jobs, they crammed in anywhere they could.

I saw this: Between two post-war buildings in disrepair, in the space of six linear feet, someone has concocted a dwelling of rusted corrogated aluminum sheets, and rotted plywood. The wood is hammered in such a way as to make a little door, and a window. Behind the dwelling, the owner has strung a rope, to dry newly washed shirts and pants and handerchiefs, which hang neatly, by category.

Out front of the 'house' is an umbrella table holding neat rows of bottled orange and mango juice and Cokes. Under the table is a neat mound of pale green coconuts, also for sale. On a skimpy patio chair sits a shirtless old man, who dozes, his shoeless young grandson about three squatting at the edge of a traffic-filled street. In one moment he's filling coconut shells with bottle caps; the next moment he's scampering up a low wall.

I notice that children who live at the margins are constantly in motion; their highly physical play of climbing, running, darting, looks disorganized and random, without much joy or purpose.

As the boy strays toward the road in his play, a huge Jeepney in front of our car honks him back, and he moves back smoothly just in time, without looking up. The boy, nor his grandfather, seem the least panicked that he was inches from death.

I cannot so easily file away these kind of images, now that I'm back. I have trouble forcing them into the folder labeled 'Travel-Philippines' nor the psychic containers which are marked 'interesting' or 'unusual' or even, 'thank your lucky stars.'

The Philippines isn't a Cambodia, or Vietnam, or Laos or Thailand, or even an Indonesia. Those countries are re-building themselves from ruin, carefully placing hotels and restaurants and Internet cafes in sight of national treasures, like beautiful temples and gardens and palaces from antiquity. As some of the intelligensia told me, the Philippines doesn't yet have a clear idea yet about its own identity, apart from the antiquity left behind by previous colonizers, and its borrowed Western stores and fast-food stations.

And--this is the disquieting thought that keeps me back there-- until it does, the Philippines is like the little boy and the old man: just surviving, too perilously close to self-destruction.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Still in Bauan

Here's what Bauan is to me, an American visitor, one with a lot of experience moving around busy giagantic monstrocity cities like New York, London, Chicago, Madrid, San Francisco, Auckland. Washington D.C., and Houston. (Somehow L.A. still escapes me, and okay, I haven't visited Rome or Cairo).

On one hand, it made me afraid to venture out. Unless we had a Pilipino escort-guide, we did not leave the second floor flat of our host family in Bauan. This was disturbing at first. AFter all, Rob and I are continual explorers. Traveling to a new area, our first instinct is to jump right in, walk the streets, find stores and sights, take in the place at the street level, mingle among the people, and, sure, find a coffee bar.

What happened here? The people weren't the problem. No one hassled or hounded us; even the street beggars or vendors hawking newspapers or peanuts or jewelry in Manila, or the provinces, while they were persistent, did not threaten to retaliate if we looked the other way, which we mainly did.

Bauan- city of 70,000 living in 23 barrios--wasn't itself menancing. There were no obvious signs of criminal-minded people, despite hearing and reading that political crime was on the upswing in the country at large, despite the fact that a Bauan reporter, on the trail of something or someone, was murdered in the city several years ago. Type 'Bauan' into Google, and THAT story is prominent, by the second screen.

So? What kept us indoors much of the time? I think it was the streets themselves in Bauan. They're narrow raceways filled with 1000 honking, screeching, motorized tricycles, many Jeepneys, cars, and buses. All these vehicles compete for space on the one or two-lane roads, and rush about frantically, narrowly missing the young and old pedestrians, dogs, and cats. Without stop-lights or stop-signs, or driving rules, it's a free-for-all frenzy out there, far from the lazy, seaside village I foresaw, with maybe one busy, hectic street.

It's not just the roads; the edges of the roads are just as dangerous. There are very few sidewalks; those that exist are water-pitted, with deep almost bottomless holes, or crumbled at the edges. Clearly the population has greatly expanded while the streets have not. Tjey're like capillaries bulging, not with destructive plaque, but with packed red cells, thriving and squeezed in matter with little room for maneuvering.

Crossing the street in downtown Bauan--or Manila, or Quezon City-- is not unlike crossing a mid-sized freeway in L.A., on foot, during rush-hour. It takes courage, and excellent eye-foot coordination. The street is rarely emptied of vehicles. It's a dare game. Does that guy on the tricycle see us, or not? Our hosts ALWAYS took our arms to walk us about, like we were little children with no experience, which was practically true. 'Single file, Tita Pat' Karla or Kristine would say. 'You need to watch,' Lita or Ida would warn me as we walked about. Just noise, or just traffic might be more negotiable for a foreigner like me, but the combination intimidated me. And so, we kept still much more than I'm used to.

On the other hand-and for this I am greatful- being still was ultimately rewarding. It meant being in homes, and focusing on what was around me visually, afternoon after afternoon. I sipped, not gulped, like I usually do. Indoors for hours, I got to experience the small beauties of Filipino homes,some more Spanish, some more Mayan or Chinese: the spare tidiness of rooms devoid of unnecessary clutter; the inviting large retangular or circular dining tables; the heaping bowls of carefully chopped pork and green beans, resting in a thick, soy-vinegar-garlic-ginger sauce; the shrines, the small to large porcelain blue-rose-white Madonna figures watching over the living rooms; the polished ornate wood and rattan furniture grouped symetrically about a lace-draped table; on the wall, the many, many framed photos of children, family groups, and ancestors, and the simple to ornate pictures of Jesus or crosses. Everywhere, the swatches of color in mango or dark lime, or turquoise or rose played out against the backdrop of rich, dark wooden furniture and floors.

The Pilipino homes I sat in had some other dramatics touches: high ceilings, or great, sweeping touches like an interior balcony, flowered draperies looped from window to window or large, pew-like wooden benches with rising backs, tilted back chairs in wood and rattan, glassed cabinets holding precious memories of people, or prized possessions like figurines, or china, or imported liqueurs; dark, polished floors, and ornately carved doors.

There is something important and immutable here in what I was made to see staying indoors much of the time. It might be this, that the best gifts lie, not just beneath the wrappings, but deeper, in the meeting space between giver and receiver, in the the meanings to be taken from the exchange,the things that are what's remembered, and preserved. What's important to a Pilipino home is not an array of possessions meant to be emblematic of class or status, but the care and preservation of only the important items necessary for staging family, custom, and rememberance. What's essential is not the expensive sterling-silver vase, but a tiny red plastic candle holder sitting below a draped, religious statue, and its flickering flame, burning day and night, no matter what.



I don't know what I was expecting, really. I guess I thought Bauan would be a couple of busy, congested streets surrounded by more provincial areas with rice paddies, small farms, and an area by the sea. After all, this was a Province, not Manila, a mash of stained and crumbled concrete, miles of overhead wires, a city that looked liked it had been through a Demolition Derby (which it had: the Japanese bombed it thoroughly; after Dresden it was the second-most destroyed city during WWII).

Crossing into Batangas from the northern provinces, my hope rose. Grassy areas were dotted with palm and coconut trees. It was green, wavy in the wind. Several mountains popped up, without ranges or plateaus, just dense jungles of tropical trees. Occasional cattle grazed placidly. Fresh from reading Battle For Batangas, set in 1900-1902, I passed some of my car time imagining how difficult it was for American soldiers to traverse this land. Fresh from the Indian Wars, they were used to the wide open plains.

What I saw approaching Batangas from the one freeway which goes there, was a match for what I had imagined from the meagre scraps of images I had from old and new photos of Batangas. Bauan was a seaside town, according to my map, dead center on Batangas Bay, one which ran from Batangas City to a small peninsula. Sea plus tropics plus burgeoning, small industry town: that was my picture.

Cora's photos suggested there were lots of Jeepneys, and it was noisy. So what? I love New York City. What could be more crowded and noisy than, say, 53rd St. as it moves from East River Drive to Eighth Avenue, in Manhattan, or the corner of Fulton and Lafayette in Brooklyn, where Adam and Kelly used to live?

It was like a third-grade drawing, compared to what I found. We approached Bauan from the East, from Batangas City, through San Pascual. Southern Batangas Province, along the Batangas Bay, is a continuous stream of people, vehicles, and stores. An occasional school, or municipal building, or little college breaks up the view.

The road is not widened, so when a bus, of Jeepney, or motorized tricycle stops, everything stops. This equals tremendous traffic, and condensed traffic equals noise, and pollution, and dangerous walking conditions for the many children, adults, and stray cats and dogs who walk about.

I would spend the next several days there, try to immerse myself, try it on, see it through the eyes of the families living there.

Does a city have a life, a character, a personality? When you define a city as a birthplace it takes on romance, and becomes infused with sentimentality. I had always contrasted peaceful, pastoral Bauan with the hard grey metallics of the ships wjere Pio spent much of his adulthood. What can be inferred about a person, from visiting the person's birthplace?

No much, I'm thinking. My grandfather, a shy, gentle man would have not been at home in today's Bauan. By the century's turn, especially after the Americans burned and looted it as punishment for Bauanians' support of the revultion, perhaps Bauan was becoming a place he was began to dislike. Maybe that, and the traumas of the Philippines-American war was why he left his seaside, Batangas town, never to return.

Friday, February 03, 2006



Pio Dimayuga Carino is coming into focus, not yet through knowing his exact place on his several family trees--despite some signficant leads-- but through the legends of the Dimayugas, the stories and character of people who share in the name, and the communities wherein Dimayugas first resided: Bauan and Lipa, in Batangas Province.

Mention my search for a Dimayuga and the response has been about the same: 'Ah, Batangas.' I sat next to a man at Alfredo Roces' book party at De La Salle University, an esteemed, retired Dean of the school who received deep bows of respect from his colleagues in all of the opening speeches. Perhaps he was a Dr. Alicarte from an old Manila family. Because of the language barrier, I could not hear it clearly, and became too embarrassed to ask a second or third time. After all, I am part Filipino.

When I mentioned my quest to this tall, white-haired man in a blue leisure suit, he said, 'Ah, Dimayuga. Unshakeable. Dima means 'cannot.' And so, snatching from a Web-site I found years ago, I see the following names have meanings that are suggestive of strength against being beaten down or held in place:

Dimaano untouchable Tagalog
Dimaapi unoppressable Tagalog
Dimabasa unwettable Tagalog
Dimacuha unobtainable Tagalog
Dimaculangan uncheatable Tagalog
Dimagiba unbreakable Tagalog
Dimailig unbendable Tagalog
Dimaisip unfathomable Tagalog
Dimalaluan unsurpassable Tagalog
Dimalanta unwiltable, untiring Tagalog
Dimapasoc unbreachable Tagalog
Dimaporo unpointable Tagalog
Dimaranan unpassable Tagalog
Dimarucot (dimadukot) ungettable Tagalog
Dimarumba Tagalog
Dimasalang untouchable Tagalog
Dimasuay unstoppable Tagalog
Dimasupil(Dipasupil) unvanquished Tagalog
Dimatulac unpushable Tagalog
Dimaunahan unbeatable Tagalog
Dimawili unsatisfied Tagalog
Dimayacyac Tagalog
Dimayuga (dimaiuga) unshakeable Tagalog

Like Pio, like myself. I have many of these traits. It's not a stubbornness, like some mules I know who cannot be budged to move forward. Hindi (no). That's rigidity, when the mind closes down, and loses sight of the goal, or the context, or the consequences of being a mule. That's any number of people I know, with the jaws that clamp shut, the eyes that glaze over, the hands that told together slowly on the table. I could name names, but will not, for fear of judging them, although I often catch myself with those superior notions.

Luckily these people are ultimately stoppable, because I just go around them,sometimes stamping and fuming, other times with head-shaking humor. I just get another donkey to take me where I need to go.

Oo(yes). When the Dimayuga part of me is harnessed, I can be unstoppable. Outside I look cooperative, accomodating, pleasant, unruffled. After all, I am part Filipino. But inside something is in motion. A wave is beginning to form and it is gathering force from somewhere deep. Maybe it is reaching down, under the plates or rock and molten lava, to gather energy from the South Pacific, from Batangas Bay.

Then something happens. One second I can feel the idea begin to surge; in the next it is visible. I can see the shore where the wave will finally break, my final destination. There is relief, clarity, resolve all at once.

If something or someone is constructing some barrier, I begin to resist. But not for the sake of resistance or the demand for control; in this way, I am often misunderstood.

You see, when this Dimayuga part gathers strengths, I am usually going toward something that I judge is leading to sometime very meaningful to me or potentially meaningful to others I love. So I resist anything or anyone who would impede me, even if it's a trip to the drugstore to buy batteries (for my camera for some pictures for someone I love), or the library to look up some arcane reference for my love, writing, or a trip to Florida, or the East Coast, or London, or New Zealand, or Nashvilleto see people I love. Even if it's some crazy, unrealistic, expensive, untimely, frightening, or illogical idea.

Like going to the Philippines, to Bauan, to Pio, someone I loved.



When I return to the United States, which are anything by united, I want to make a drawing. It will not be artistic; I wish this was my talent. Instead, it will be a map of the human connections I made while I have been in the Philippines.

They do not seem random, these connections. (In Tagalog, I might write that as Mga connection hindi ba random. It makes more sense to emphasize the main part of the idea in a sentence and then modify it from there. And, for heavens sake, skip the verbs.

Americans are very verb. Very verb-al, very verb-ose. We are too much about action, and not enough about meaning, and connection. That Tagalog uses linkers between most words is a perfect analogy to the way the people relate: smoothly, and with consideration.)

Take tonight. The Baraoidians made a bookend to the last leg of my trip by coming down for dinner: Pedro (Pedring) Lydia (Jane) , Penny, and Manny. I loved talking with them. We went smoothly between humor and serious talk, between laughing about the coffee I spilled today at an important author talk at De La Salle, and serious talk about Filipinos in the US Navy. Pedro posed an important question for me to consider: if the work was so bad, why did the navymen keep encouraging others to come?

When my friends and family ask me next week, how was your time in the Philippines, I will not be able to answer them without teling them about the people I came to grow very fond of. Without the people, the Philippines is concrete, corrogated rooves, and neon signs. The West pushing into the East. Traffic. Honking. Food stalls. Many people working so hard and bravely to scratch out a living, that their futures are suspended, and their pasts are ghosts and what-ifs.

The Philippines is the easy human connections I made here, from the woman From Quezon sitting next to Rob on the plane over, to my driver, Phillip, to F. Sionil Jose and Antonio Pastor, to the proud and protective Obispos, to Rose Marie Mendoza, my new assitant, to the hard-working young man at the National Archives, the beautiful and helpful girls at the Mandarin, like Ivy,and to all the Dimayugas: Feling, Uray, Tess, Carlos, Carina, Amando, and Divinia. And, of course the Baraoidans.

At Solidaridad today I bought a book by Katrin de Guia (perhaps a distant relative!). It is entitled Kapwas: The Self in the Other: worldviews and Lifestyles of Filipin Culture Bearers.

Kapwa, she writes, beholds the essential humanity recognizable in everyone, therefore linking people, rather than separating them from each other. Humaness at its higest level. People remaining just people, despite titles, prestige or wealth.

I have found kapwa here. It was perhaps always a part of me, bequeathed to me from Pio,and the ancestors before him.

Kapwa, my self in others, and others in me, inseparable all.

Thursday, February 02, 2006



I woke up this morning to find that the hallway light near my room had come on. Before I went to bed last night, I'm positive all the lights were off, because I recall thinking how brave I was, to sleep in the total darkness, with just the lights of Manila skyscrapers behind the curtain to keep me company.

Instantly I released my legs from the heavy coverlet and swung them to the floor. No fear. Not yet. But how could the light have come on? Is there a timer somewhere?

The door was still bolted; peering through the security keyhole I saw no one, at least no one I could see. I unbolted the door and peered outside into the hallway. The paper had not yet arrived, nor was anyone visible. Closed the door again, and this time, figured out how to use the third security device, an invisible chain.

The safe in the closet was open. No worries. I don't tend to lock it at night. There was my camera, a full camera card, my passport holder, my passport, and the envelope of pesos Rob bought me before he left.

But where was the new stash of money, the 8000 pesos I took late yesterday afternoon from a Citibank ATM, under the watch of several armed police spaced every 12 feet around the building? In the buttoned down pocket of my hiking pants? Negative. In all the other places I tend to keep money. Negative-negative. In Tagalog, when you want to superlatize an adjective, you just say it twice.

Panic-panic. Upon investigation, near the inside front door is a little slot where a room-key-type-card sits. I never figured out why it was there. Playing with it a little I found out why. Outside in the hallway, when you put your key in the door, the hallway light comes on, so that you don't have to come into a darkened room. If' you'd rather not have that happen, simply remove that card. Oh....Uh-oh.

I doubled my effort so find the P8000, my fear rising. Already my judgment began to cloud, the way it does when you begin to doubleback through your things looking for lost items. Soon, you go amok, searching in all the no-way places: bedcovers, ALL your pants pockets, the inner pockets of suitcase long closed.

In a zippered pouch on my right leg, in yesterday's pants, I found the money. Double feelings: relief coupled by a wave of self-hate. Why didn't I put the money in the safe? Why didn't I search more thoroughly.

Images of yesterday's lapses came back to me, and I could feel the fear bubbling up from my stomach. I left my purse in the driver's car while he drove around the block, while I went to Citibank. Upon arriving back at the hotel, I couldn't find my room key in its usual spot. Checked and re-checked. Figured I had mislaid it at the Archives, and simply re-keyed the room with the concierge and got another one

I tend to hypothesize when anything puzzles me. It's my way of making sense of the world, and fending off anxiety. This gets me in trouble occasionally, because the hypotheses are occasionally more scary than what has motivated me toward hypothesis-making.

This was one of those times: Okay, the hotel taxi driver, who has easily seen my wad of cash, stole my key. He seemed like a trustworthy fellow, but then he makes $395 pesos a day, a little over $7.00 a day, or less than a dollar an hour. Did he come into the hotel in the middle of the night? Did he try to use the key he stole? If so, because I had to re-key for a new card, it didn't work

But my light came on.

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