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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

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.

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