Sunday, August 2, 2009

Part 5: We Move Again

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."
~Mark Twain

"If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home." ~James Michener

In January of 1967, with his
IRRI rice propagation courses completed, Dad was finally offered a posting on the island of Leyte. Which was good because we were beginning to wear out our welcome in Quezon City. 
So before the locals came with their pitchforks and torches, we quickly packed up all our stuff and had it shipped off along with our new Toyota FJ4 Landcruiser on an inter-island ship.We took a DC-3 from Manila to the city of Tacloban, the provincial capital of Leyte, but Dad went with our stuff on the boat. It was a long drawn out trip through some of the heaviest rains recorded for the month of January in the Philippines. Dad got so mad because on the last day of the voyage the sun came out and the crew promptly started painting the ship - and got paint all over our new jeep too!

Our first year and a half in the Philippines had been just a warm up for what was to come. Now, far removed from the hustle and bustle of Manila, we were to find ourselves immersed in new dialects and cultures in the jungles of Leyte and Samar.

The island of Leyte was divided into two language groups, the northern half was Waray-Waray and the southern half was Visayan. We were on the North-eastern side along the coast, the Waray side. Just across the straits was the only other Waray speaking area in the Philippines, the islands of Samar and Biliran. This meant that besides the Tagalog we had learned in Manila, we now had to learn Waray-Waray and Visayan too. It was very confusing for all of us except Keith who picked it up quickly. Even Auring, who spoke Taglog and Visayan found that her Visayan was not readily understood by the locals.
Tagalog was being taught in grade schools across the country as the "national" language, but in the rural areas most people spoke their native dialects. Some of the Waray words were similar to the Tagalog words (like the word for "one": isa in Tagalog, usa (oosa) in Waray), some were very different (like the word for "ten": sampu in Tagalog, napulo in Waray). In Tagalog, "why" was bakit. In Waray it was kay-ano (often abbreviated to "kay"). In Tagalog, the phrase "Siya ay maganda" means "She is beautiful", in Waray it is "Mahosay hiya". One of my favorite Waray words was "Ambot" which in English means "I don't know".

We moved into a house on the compound of Bethany Hospital. This would be our house for the next four years. It was a little four bedroom, one bath bungalow with its own water tank on a tower next to the house. There was a long rectangular building out back that housed Dad’s workshop, the laundry room and eventually three to four college students. Across from the house was a large grove of lime trees called Calamansi. In the front yard was an Avocado tree. Dad would eventually plant Papaya and banana trees and dozens of pineapple plants. We never lacked for fresh fruit at that house. From the workshop there was a path that led past the hospital garbage dump to the Hospital's laboratory. You wouldn’t believe all the perfectly cool stuff you could find in the dump. I mean besides rats, snakes and all those diseases and stuff.Dad promptly tilled up a huge garden where we found even more cool stuff from WWII. There were spent munitions of every caliber, a helmet, a mess kit, a Japanese bayonet. Dad found a GI dog tag which he sent in to the US Embassy. I even found a live 50 caliber round when I was digging in the driveway. I promptly took it to the shed and put it in the vise and pulled the bullet out of the shell, poured out the powder on the sidewalk, burnt it, then took a punch and hit the primer with the hammer. BANG! That was the sound of Dad knocking me on the head when he found out about it.

There wasn't much to see or do in Tacloban, no TV reception on our side of Leyte, the only form of entertainment was movies. We went to the movies occasionally when we lived in Quezon City, but the theaters were a long way from our house. Now we were just a few blocks from the movie houses of Tacloban. Sometimes I'd go with my parents, sometimes just with Mom or just with Dad. Mom would take me to see the movies that Dad didn't want to see and vice versa. Going with my Dad was not too much fun, he usually kept a running commentary of what was going on up on the screen. Westerns, War movies and anything science fiction were genres he didn't much care for.
Boy, I'd sure like to have a gun like that! You never have to reload!

It's a good thing those Germans were such lousy shots or we would have never won the War!

I would whisper back, Dad it's just a movie. It's not real. He'd just snort and keep on muttering to himself. I didn't care too much really, I loved going to the movies.

Every Saturday afternoon Auring would take us to the old Republic theater, that ran "B" grade movies and re-releases. It had an extra wide screen built for Cinerama or CinemaScope. It had been a grand theater in it's heyday before WWII, but now was kind of run down on the inside. Sometimes you came home with the marks of bedbugs on your ankles. Sometimes you felt something furry run by your feet. But for fifty centavos the movies were great. They were always double features. Usually it was Westerns, the Japanese Zatoichi Blind Swordsman series, War movies or Comedies.

Sometimes it was old Tarzan movies. Johnny Weissmuller, the perfect Tarzan, Maureen O' Sullivan the very perfect Jane. Every Saturday it would be another one, till one Saturday they had a Tarzan marathon: Tarzan the Ape Man, Tarzan and his Mate, Tarzan Escapes, Tarzan finds a Son, Tarzan's Secret Treasure and Tarzan in New York. It started at 10:00 a.m. and we didn’t get out till just after midnight. I had a horrible headache, my eyes were bleary, my butt was flat, but it was absolutely wonderful.

After the show we would go home and recreate the movies we had watched. I would be Tarzan and Keith would be Cheetah
(there was no PETA in those days so there was no one to complain to if I harmed an animal, I mean Keith) or maybe he would be a Pygmy Cannibal ...

"Let your brother be Tarzan!"
Dad would yell.Fine. I'll be the cannibal and you be Tarzan. Stand over here while I get some wood and kerosene.
Can I have some matches Dad?

"Sure, what do you need them ... Hey! untie your brother!"

When we played War Dad would yell

Let your brother be the good guy!"


So we would play
Bridge over the River Kwai and Keith was the British Colonel that I locked in the "hot box" (our rice bodega) for the afternoon while I sat on the porch and read my comics and drank grape Julep.
Who locked Keith in the bodega!Or we would play
Back to Bataan and Keith would have to go on the Death March to Cabanatuan while I went inside for a snack (well, he was always wandering off anyways). Being a Hero was hell.


Sometimes we were Ronin warriors. Blind Ronin warriors. We had our wooden swords and we would put them in the belts around our waists, or pretend they were cane swords like Zatoichi, the masseuse. Then with our eyes squeezed shut we would draw our katanas and whale away at each other! After 3 or 4 whacks on the ears and head “someone” would start crying and Dad would yell"Let your brother be Zatoichi!"Fine. OK, I keep my eyes open and you close your eyes and at the count of three start swinging your sword.
Ichi, Ni, San!

After 3 or 4 whacks on the ears and head “someone” would start crying and Dad would yell
“Cut that out!”

Trying to Dad but you won’t let me finish

When we were gunfighters we didn’t always have guns. Dad went back and forth in allowing and then disallowing us to play with toy guns. So when we didn’t have guns we used flip flops. It worked this way. You took off your flip flops and stuck one in each pocket of your shorts. You would hold your hands away from your sides and someone would yell “draw”. Then you’d grab that flip flop and overhand pitch it at your opponent. Head shots preferable. Great fun. “Someone” would start crying and Dad would yell
“knock that off!”

Still trying to Dad!

But the deadliest quick draw of them all was Auring. She really must have been paying attention during all those spaghetti westerns. You could be getting in to trouble across the room and she could have her back to you and in one fluid motion she could turn on one leg, bend the other up behind her, grab her flip flop and fire it across that room into the back of your head.
Pow! Sometimes you would see her reaching for it but before you could dive for cover she took you out. In the early days she still wore the wooden clogs called bakya. When you got hit with one of those you dropped like a log.
Although Keith holds the world’s record by several thousand, I have been the dumbfounded recipient of many a shot right between the eyes.


  1. Great story -- loved the flip-flop guns!

  2. Nothing comes close to the wild west childhoods some of us were priveleged to enjoy in the Philippines in the Sixties. I, too, grew up on a fabulous diet of Zatoichi, Tarzan, John Wayne, James Bond, and later on, Bruce Lee films. We kids regularly got clobbered for misbehaviour with brooms, bunots or bakyas by the cook or our yayas. We lived in the middle of a sugarcane plantation at the foot of a rain forest until I was 5, and my brother and I often spent all day playing by ourselves in the cane fields. I still remember my mother shouting out to us each time we left the house not to tease any pythons if we came across them on our walks.

    What a shame today's kids have little chance of experiencing the adventures and the freedoms we enjoyed in our youth. We have to take them to ridiculously over-priced theme parks for vapid versions of what we had for free.

  3. Can't wait for the post when you get to Brent School. Am I rushing the story?

  4. working on the Brent thing, there are some things I need to work out first.