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Monday, May 26, 2014

A tiny slice of heaven

Two days at a resort with an infinity pool, beach, kayaks, laundry service and buffets, so there was some kind of food for everyone, not just mangoes. But I digress, so let me return to the end of yesterday.

After the ceremony we were taken to, of all places, an Italian restaurant, where we all got the same thing, spaghetti and meatballs. We were amused by the shooters menu which included such delights as "Screaming Orgasm," "Mind Eraser" and "Brain Hemorrhage." Those of us who wanted alcohol made do with beer.

The food wasn't bad, a little on the sweet side, so here is a chance to discuss how meals were arranged. Breakfast was generally a buffet, but occasionally you ordered off a limited menu. Lunch and dinner were usually set meals, like in the Italian restaurant: no choice. Sometimes you had a choice of two things, and those choices were barbecued ribs or a cheeseburger. I hate barbecue and in any event, those meals were gigantic. I enjoyed my cheeseburgers and asked no questions about where the meat came from. We usually were offered a choice of beverages, regular beer, light beer, a variety of sodas, juice, tea and coffee. I never drank anything that didn't come out of a bottle or can I opened myself, and nothing with ice. I saw enough out on the roads not to take chances. After all, my uncle died of amoebic dysentery. Enough said.

Then, on to the resort, which was near Subic Bay, but not close enough to it to have Americanized plumbing. Here we are relaxing on our patio. Well, not me; I took the picture.

These are the grounds.

And here's the infinity pool with me in it. My first infinity pool ever!
The day after we arrived at the resort we had a lot of stops.  I may get the order wrong, but I think the first place we went was a jungle survival school run by members (present and past) of the Philippine Army, where we learned how to make a fire, utensils and food out of basically nothing, and get water out of a vine, and so on. That explained in part why I felt like I was on a forced march through a jungle most of the time. At the school they had what I believe is the only handrail in the Philippines.
This was complemented by their delightful walking paths,

which led, eventually, to this view of Subic Bay.
After that we went to this bizarre museum which had no air conditioning but did have moving dioramas of things like assassinations. It was hard to understand what we were doing there, exactly. Staying out of the sun, I guess.
Outside the museum were more interesting artifacts, such as the phone and electrical system
Click picture to appreciate the complexity of this installation.

And this indictment of pollution. The actual translation is "Clean air zone. No running of (smoking) engines." A man was pissing on the other side of the sign while we were standing there, admiring it.
This was a long day, so I'll break it up into two posts.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Araw ng Kagitingan - Day of Valor

This is one of the big days on the trip. It is a huge observance for the Filipinas, who bus and walk for miles around to attend. Mt Sagat was the last line of the defense of the Philippines, and it is here our forces fell.

There is an enormous memorial way up on top, and many dignitaries participate. We do the same sorts of things at Arlington.
This banner welcomes the president of the Philipines to the 72nd commemoration of the event. He was rude and showed up 45 minutes late. Here we all are packed into a tent, waiting. Luckily it was cloudy.
Finally they laid their wreaths where we couldn't even see them, but here's the press corps.

Then they played the three national anthems. Aside from Ambassador Urabe and his staff, I appeared to be the only one who knew the Japanese anthem. I am not shy. I sang it, and our own, plus the Philippine anthem. I was quite the object of curiosity. I love national anthems, and I learn them for fun, in their native languages. Here's the difference between the Japanese and Philippine. The Japanese is one of the oldest (the oldest of all is the Netherlands) and the shortest. You can learn it in a week. "Lupang Hiniram" ("Land of the Morning") has about eight verses and three tunes and took the entire eleven months before I left to learn it. But I had a hunch it would come in handy.

Then the colors were brought forward and the dignitaries came in and gave speeches. The Japanese ambassador's was best, conciliatory and short. You may wonder why the Japanese participate and apologize every year. Money. They have it, the Philippines wants it, and they get it because let's face it, the Japanese owe them big time. Hooray for reconciliation.

Flags of the provinces.

Wreaths at memorial altar.

Me and Merchant Marine cadet. See how thrilled he is. This was Fred's idea. Click to see my hat detail.
There is no way I can describe to you how hot it was without quoting Dante's Inferno. Two bottles of water and no need to pee. Standing around in hot sun on a steep incline waiting for the bus. Keeping Abe's wheelchair from plummeting into a ravine of piss-soaked trash. That was the second time I got dumped on my ass but there was no way I was letting that happen. Crammed into a tiny bus with a dozen Filipino WW II vets. It was definitely a day to remember. Right after that we headed up the road to yet another resort, and we were grateful for how nice it was there. You'll see in the next entry.

All of us, and our luggage, too

Next morning we were off to Mariveles, the southernmost city on the Bata'an peninsula, and the start of the Death March. How to get there from Corregidor? Simple. Back into the very same bamboo outrigger from the day before, with our luggage piled astern. At least that prevented asking the fat people to get up and move to the rear so the boat could be poled out of its mooring. When Filipinas, for whom they were built, ride these boats, weight is not an issue. It takes at least two of them to make one of us. They can even sit two to a seat!

This ride was about two miles long, or twenty minutes. We watched the trash float by. Getting off the boat was, again, a precarious situation, but my friend with the cane didn't have to participate because he and his wife took the ferry back, met the bus in Manila, and rode down to Mariveles.

So off we went to the first marker on the Death March route. As I said earlier, this is the week they comemmorate the fall of the Philippines and a lot of shrines such as this are visited by school groups. As we left Corregidor, a Philippine Navy vessel was bringing in a load of dignitaries for a memorial service.

It's nice that they keep history alive for succeeding generations.

A note on how we traveled. No tour buses in the Philippines have a bathroom, so they have to know the location of every McDonald's and Jollibee (local fast food) so we can always get to a clean bathroom. Clean as in the floor and fixtures have been washed, not as in you can flush the toilet paper. That only happens in the best hotels in Manilla, and near the former US naval and military bases, where Americans did the local plumbing. Of course we didn't stay in those places, we stayed, instead, at coastal resorts frequented by wealthy Filipinas, Koreans, Chinese and Japanese. It's their version of a tropical vacation destination.

Next stop that day was the school where some of the surrender negotiations took place, for the largest surrender in US history. Many soldiers would have preferred to keep fighting, but it wasn't up to them. The second picture, the statues around the table, perfectly captures the despair of the American and Filipino officers.

Click on the photo to read the inscription.

That evening we went on to a resort on the Philippine Sea where the beach was clean enough to swim, so we did, and also made use of their lovely pool. Unfortunately this was one of those eating experiences that helped me lose ten pounds. Early to bed for the big ceremony next day on Mt Sagat.

Monday, May 19, 2014

More and more fun ruins and heat

First thing in the morning we took a boat ride, which provided another reminder that we weren't in Kansas anymore. First picture is the boat, a bamboo outrigger. Second picture is how to get on the boat, with the help of four guys.

The gentleman with the cane said no to that and spent the morning at the Inn. The rest of us were shown a lot of rocks, the concrete battleship, and coincidentally, the Enlisted Men's beach (there were no enlisted women on the island during the war) which was where Uncle Karl had his picture taken. As soon as I can I will upload the pictures from the war, and place them in this blog with the current shots. There are several like that.


Here's the view from inside the boat.




See? Genuine bamboo. We even saw a piece fall off. No one seemed to care.


Next stop, concrete battleship,  aka Fort Drum. which means it's an ARMY battleship. Why? you may ask. We all certainly did. I found a link that sort of explains it.


What it doesn't explain is why go to all that trouble instead of just building a permanent coast artillery installation as they had already done everywhere else? I never got the answer to that one.

After the morning's boat ride, we had lunch and then adjourned to the pool. Look! Here it is again! It's hard to see but the pool is actually tad-pole shaped like Corregidor itself. What an interesting idea!

They really should have kept the filter running but we were so hot we didn't care. Some of the tourists didn't remember their suits for the two-day jaunt, but I am one of those people who never goes anywhere without it, so I went in, and it was a good thing I could.  Those without suits waded. Well, first, I was passing out Off! and sun screen, and lost the little plastic Off! top. We looked everywhere. Moved all the furniture and dumped out our bags. I finally discovered it in my bathing suit.

While looking for it, my cousin Carol lost an earring. Finally discovered it at the bottom of the pool. I was able to retrieve it with my toes. Just about then, Carol couldn't figure out what became of her glasses. For the third time we moved all the furniture and looked in our suits, and of course, the pool. Finally someone suggested she retrace her steps and she tracked them down in a bush near where she had gone looking for coconuts.

After dinner there was a sunset excursion which was highly recommended, but only a few of us went. I did get some great pictures, but will only put a couple here.

And then it was time to pack and go to bed. We were off to see the very start of the Death March route in the morning.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Own a piece of the rock

Corregidor: it's where the Spanish collected shipping/harbor taxes. It means "collector." Seems like everyone has a rock. I met Joyce on the Rock: Shemya. A friend of mine taught on St Thomas: the Rock. Alcatraz: the Rock. People stationed in Hawai'i call their island the Rock. Malta, likewise, along with Gibraltar. It's not exactly original; more like ubiquitous. I bet Diego Garcia ia a Rock, also, along with Tristan da Cunha. Anyway, please be specific when discussing your particular Rock.

It takes half an hour by bus and then two hours by ferry to get to the Philippine rock. A lot of school groups were going out for the observances of the fall of Corregidor. Very crowded. Luckily I slept most of the way. On the way, of course, one wished to use the head. The toilet flushed, but of course, you could not throw toilet paper in there and flush that, because their plumbing can't handle toilet paper. So there was a can for it. Very quaint. Also the sinks didn't work, and you were supposed to pour a dipper of water from a bucket over your hands. Liberal use was made of hand sanitizer.

So we got off the boat and were immediately confronted with a form of transfortation called the "tranvia." This is Tagalog for "climb straight up the side like a ladder, and there's no air conditioning." Lovely for a tour in the jungle on which most participants are senior citizens. I still had enough upper body strength to do it, but the fellow with the cane, once he got up,he wouldn't get down until the end, and who could blame him?

You use the brass handles to haul yourself up there Then there are little wooden arm rests that come down which are supposed to keep you from flying out. Forget and you could be dead. It has happened. 
They took us first to the Corregidor Inn to check in. They call this facility "rustic." The only air conditioning is in the rooms, but you don't stay there much because there's a lot to see. Then we had lunch, before which we were served a welcome drink: "screw pine juice." Polish remover with jello on the bottom. Yum! Fred was the only one of us who could drink it. We all gave him ours.
Once again we were advised not to flush the toilet paper, which is just as yucky an experience as you can imagine. Fred resisted, and he wasn't the only one. He said he was going to throw his out the window, and let the monkeys deal with it, which got quite a few laughs. I had been through this a few times before and wasn't surprised, but I was just as disgusted as he. The problem is, their plumbing can't handle their toilet paper, which is very coarse, and making "fine" toilet paper is way too expensive. Hint: shake a little baby powder into the can every time you have to use it. Much better. Another hint: if this upsets you as much as it does me (I know, spoiled Americans) avoid third-world countries. I very much suspect this was my last trip to such a place. And now you begin to see why people piss everywhere: it's preferable to doing it indoors, especially at home. Hint three: if you are in a facility with public bathrooms, use them instead of the one in your room whenever practical.
After lunch it was back into the tranvia to tour the island. I spotted a place where Uncle Karl had had his picture taken while training here and they promised to take me back for a better view and pictures. We saw a lot of batteries and ruins of barracks and other facilities. All of the damage is a result of either the Japanese shelling the Americans to get them out, or the reverse, when the US and Philippines recaptured the island. They are still standing because they're concrete, although the jungle is doing its level best to take them back.

The last one amuses me. Sort of like the blind leading the blind. As always, click to enlarge. The Filipinas love to come out to the island for Ghost Tours around Halloween. You can see how they don't have to do anything but tell scary stories while riding around. They do this in the dark.
While on this tour, we stopped at one of 14 (you read it right) souvenir stands that all sell the same things. I got a pink Corregidor Island tee with a huge shore artillery emblazoned thereon. Joyce finds this amusing. I also fell and tore my knee open, but Carol was right there to take care of me, and there's a nurse at the hotel for just such occasions. He dressed it for me three days straight, no problem. I even got to go swimming.
The next day we had a hilarious time at this pool, but I'll save that for the next entry. After dinner that night, we all fell into bed (which was perfectly decent despite the rusticity of the Inn) because they had threatened us with more tours the next day. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Later that same day . . .

. . . which seemed to go on forever due to the endless flight over the International Date Line, we had a reservation to see the MacArthur Suite back at the Manila Hotel. I opted out because I blame MacArthur for what happened to my uncle. There is a wide range of views of MacArthur's conduct in the Pacific. I'm just not a fan. Instead I went swimming in the beautiful pool, where one
had a swim-up bar, a kiddy area, and very loud music. Marcia and I chose the bar. It was happy hour and we had been planning for me to try San Miguel in the pool (stemming from our many conversations about finding hypo-allergenic laundry soap during the weeks leading up to the trip). I like trying local beers whenever I can. This one is pretty good, but avoid the light. It's over-carbonated and too sweet.

The hotel restaurant was very good, being divided up into a whole bunch of buffets representing different Asian cuisines. They also had Italian and western food there, but I spent most of my time in Japan, so to speak, with forays into the Philippines. They sure love their sweets and know how to make a wide variety well. At first I thought I would just eat fruit but my appetite recovered enough to try everything, and since I had lost 40 pounds before the trip (stress diet) I didn't give the caloric content of anything the least thought. And I was right, because ten more pounds came off during the trip, during which I ate anything I wanted. As it turned out, beyond the Manila Hotel restaurant, and mangoes, there was precious little I wanted.

Speaking of fruit, one of the very best things on offer is the little, yellow Philippine/Manila Mango. We totally denuded any fruit bar of this stuff, and found you could buy packs of it dried as well. Don't confuse these with the large greenish-red mangoes we see so many of in the US. Just skip those. The yellow ones are grown in Mexico and are becoming a lot easier to find. The ones from Mexico are derived from the Philippine ones and taste the same. Since I came home I have found dried mango all over the place, and it is all the little yellow ones. Doesn't matter where they're imported from, they're delicious.

That night we showered and packed one bag for the island of Corregidor, where we were to spend two days visiting the various ruins. We had to be out of there by 6:30 AM and went to bed immediately after dinner. Everyone slept well, and I am happy to report Aunt Marion is an excellent roommate who absolutely does not snore! No headphones required.

Not exactly a lily

So, off to see downtown Manila, about which I confess I had no curiosity whatsoever. I mean, I might have in a place which wasn’t hot and filthy. I’m almost always curious and interested about anyplace new to me. But having seen the filth and the people living on the sidewalk while driving from the airport to the hotel, I wasn’t that motivated. It was just a seething, teeming mass of people out and about doing their business (like rolling up their blankets to put away in their shopping carts) because it’s too hot to move during the day. I was no longer dehydrated but I was still tired. But I was there, and I already knew I’d never return, and I wanted to be with my family, so I went. This time the air conditioned bus boasted bottles of cold water and everyone took some. And every day thereafter, we had drinkable bottled water, sometimes even cold.

On the bus we had the tour leaders, the local guide and the driver. The thirteen of us tourists were either history buffs (4) or had had a relative in the war (9). The youngest were two men in their late 50s, and the oldest was Aunt Marion at 83. Some of us were fit, some were injured, some weren’t in such great condition, but game enough. First order of business was to get away from the traffic jam around the hotel, which is basically Manila all the time, a 100% stopped traffic jam. I think we had to bribe the police, but not sure. As in Nairobi, the hotel grounds are closed and patrolled by guards armed with submachine guns, and going in and out you pass through security. The hotel staff is all dressed up as the cast of Gone With the Wind. It’s just part of the ambience. My cousin Carol took pictures but I never take people pictures without permission. However, I did find this link so you can see some of the costumes. Just flip through the gallery. They host weddings, conventions, confirmations, first communions, graduations and more, but don’t ask them to rustle up a bottle of water.

We drove around a while looking at monuments and stuff. It was so hot I usually only got off long enough to take a picture, if at all. Lots of vendors tried to hit us up for hats or souvenirs. Don’t be intimidated; they understand “No, thank you” just fine. We saw a phrase repeatedly, mostly painted on walls: “Bawal umihi dito.” In Tagalog it means “Don’t piss here.” Evidently this culture isn’t all hung up on modesty. We saw many people, mostly men, sometimes children, violating this dictum. Odd, because the Philippines have a very high literacy rate, 96%. In fact, it’s no wonder people piss everywhere. Why will become apparent as we go on.
The historic, preserved parts of Manilla, which are well-maintained, are pretty. Forget the rest. The old Intramuros Fort (Spanish practice!) is very nice, although it’s on the Pasig River, which stinks. Almost all water here is polluted beyond recovery, and they drink and bathe in it anyway. Here is the fort with its moat.
Inside the fort grounds.

Moat with lilies, for which Manila is named. Seriously.

After driving around a while, looking at architecture, Steve, the tour leader, has this brilliant idea. "Since so many of you have a connection to the American cemetery, would you like to go out there for a quick, unofficial visit? Show of hands." I admit I didn't want to, because I had this romantic idea of following Uncle Karl all over the island in more or less chronological order, ending at his grave, wearing my medals and placing the wreath. I wasn't ready. But everyone else raised their hands so we went. At the cemetery office, a woman escorted Aunt Marion to Uncle Karl's grave, along with Carol, who is named for him. Fred and I stayed on the bus and went on ahead to the Walls of Remembrance to find his name, because the location of the grave wasn't known, by us, until recently. The Army knew it, but never mind that for now.
I found his name and took pictures of it as well as the mosaic map picturing the defense of Luzon, in which he fought.


His name is in the bottom panel, fourth line from the bottom. Click to see it better.



Unfortunately, when Fred and I met up with Aunt Marion and Carol, Aunt Marion was upset, thinking the grave she visited could not have been Karl's, because he was no longer between the two men he had been buried beside in Cabanatuan, the camp where he died. And I was very sorry about that, but none of us ever found a way to make her feel any differently or any better about it. I decided to honor that grave myself, eventually, because it was the most likely to be his. More details to come.