Tuesday, February 07, 2006



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.

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