Thursday, January 26, 2006

La Union Trip

I wrote this after we got back from a trip to La Union in October of 2003. After reading it again after more than two years I can see I come off somewhat snide, but that's me! Stay tuned for more on other trips we've taken in-country.

I wanted to take a short vacation trip between school semesters. I’d heard that it was pleasant enough up in the northern Luzon province of La Union, on the northeastern shore of the Lingayen Gulf basin, so I asked around and heard the Southern Palms Resort was an okay place. I went on-line and made reservations via email the night before we were to depart. My thought was to simply ride a bus up there, but Amalia wanted to take the Swagman van advertised as “Fly the Bus.” That’s a local hotel transport service that goes to anywhere the Swagman hotel chain has hotels. She called them and the counter girl said to be there by 8 am the next morning.

The next morning we had our favorite Timog Park trike driver pick us up, and off we went with our one little suitcase and my knapsack. We were at the hotel with 10 minutes to spare. I sat and waited in the lobby as Amalia began to speak heatedly with the counter girl. I approached to find out what the big deal was. Amalia told me we had been misinformed; that the bus to La Union only goes twice a week and Wednesday morning wasn’t one of them. Amalia wanted to continue with her verbal remonstration, but I interrupted.

“Screw this place. Let’s get out of here,” I said loud enough for anyone in the lobby to hear.

We jumped into another trike and headed to the bus deport in Dau. Amalia was still fuming when we arrived there about ten minutes later. She wouldn’t even answer me as I tried to ask about the availability of buses. To me, it was all no big deal. It would have cost us $40 for the round trip by the Swagman bus and we wouldn’t have had the luxury of choosing when we came back. By catching our own bus it was only going to cost us $12 for the round trip and we could come back when we felt ready to do so.

The next town north of Dau towards our destination is Mabalacat, home of the very first WWII Kamikaze pilots. Unfortunately, the Mabalacat Bridge is being overhauled, and it will probably take many more weeks for it to be reopened. In the meantime, all large trucks and buses have to take a 45-minute detour through the towns of Magalang and Concepcion. It pays not to be in a big hurry over here. God knows most Filipinos are rarely in a hurry; I think more because it would be futile than for any other reason. If you are an impatient person, DO NOT live here, and think long and hard about even visiting. Impediments like the one I just mentioned keep foreigners from investing here, BUT it’s also kept the cost of living down for all of us who can stand the inefficiencies of this place.

Speaking of which, when we finally arrived at our hotel a little over four and a half hours later, we were delighted to find our room ready for us. It was on the beach and it was only going to cost us a little over $20 a night. The woman who checked us in walked us toward the bungalow, and handed us the key as we approached the door. Strange that she didn’t take us all the way TOO the door, but non-service-oriented behavior is not unknown in these parts, so I blew it off. When we got inside, I figured out why she was so hesitant to take us all the way inside. The fan wouldn’t rotate, the TV was about 6 inches across and couldn’t even be seen from the bed (Heaven forbid!), the bathroom fixtures were falling to pieces with oxidation, plus the room was only half-assed clean. Time to change rooms! We made a complaint and soon enough we were moved to a family-sized bungalow much more to our liking. Not much cleaner, but at least everything worked.

Most of you know I am a history buff, so please enjoy a little background on our vacation spot that forms the eastern shore of Lingayen Gulf basin:

“In January 1945, three years after the Japanese landed at Lingayen Gulf on the northwest coast of Luzon, Gen MacArthur's Sixth Army went ashore early on the 9th, supported as usual by the Seventh Fleet with its Royal Australian Navy element. As the US forces spread out and head south towards Manila, a secondary landing is made at the end of the month on Bataan Peninsula to stop the Japanese falling back there as Gen MacArthur did in 1942. Kamikaze attacks continued to inflict heavy losses throughout the region; mainly in ships damaged, but on January 4th escort carrier "OMMANEY BAY" on passage to Lingayen is sunk off Mindoro. Here is an interesting item: The first Kamikaze attack of the entire war originated from a Jap airstrip, which is now an area near where I play golf in the town of Mabalacat, just north of where we live in Angeles City. Cool, huh?”

Anyway, Amalia and I had a pleasant dinner at the hotel restaurant, also right on the beach and only a few short steps from our room. I ordered sweet and sour pork. It looked like it, but it was missing one thing—actually two things. There was NO sweet and NO sour! Amalia didn’t believe me until she tried some. It was amazing how it could look so good and yet be almost tasteless. Oh well, the meat was tender so I ate it. I told the waitress but she just smiled and shrugged. I guess you can’t have everything. You can only complain so much before you come across as a spoiled jerk.

After dinner, we sat on our front terrace and enjoyed the view of the late sun sparkling off the rippling waves. The sound of gentle lapping with the occasional louder crash of an alpha wave onto the dark beach sand only 15 or so feet to our front and below us was calming and restful—just what I needed.

A slender fellow in shorts and a tank top approached and wished us a good afternoon. He was a boatman and wanted to know if we wanted to take a day trip to a nearby deserted beach and do some snorkeling. I told him to meet us right there at ten the next morning.

Amalia and I retired for a nap. We woke up to a fading red sky having just missed the sunset. The breaking wave caps were still tinged pink from the freshly set sun. I declared, “Tomorrow we will make sure to see the sun slip into the water; it should be gorgeous.”

We skipped dinner because our lunch had been so late and we decided to go to the hotel go-go club called “Stiletto.” We took our seats at the bar and watched the girls cavort in their bikinis. They danced quite enthusiastically, with much more gusto than the lackluster go-go girls in Angeles City where we live. We called it a night by 10:30 and fell asleep to the rhythmic sound of crashing waves.

We ate a leisurely breakfast at the beachside restaurant at 8 am. I had an omelet. I figured the cook couldn’t possibly mess that up. Sure enough, it was very good.

Later on, back at the room, I found that the World Series was on live. I opened our door to the wonderful sight and sounds of tropical paradise while I marveled at the modern wonder of watching a live baseball game from all the way on the other side of what now seems to be a very small world. I can still remember my years living at Karamursel Air Base in Turkey as a kid in the 60’s, only about 10 or so years before the days of cable, VHS players (much less DVD!), and no TV whatsoever. There weren’t even any Turkish stations to watch at that time. Of course, I don’t remember any Americans even having a TV over there anyway. ‘Now,’ I thought, ‘here I am in a far off, remote corner of the world watching a World Series baseball game AS it happens. How is it that technology has come so far in such a short time?’ Aside from marveling at the unlikeliness of my situation, I enjoyed the sublime sensation of watching the detested Yankees lose on a walk-off homer to a rookie Marlin in extra innings. Yes!

At 10 sharp the Bangka boatman pulled his outrigger onto the beach in front of our room. Amalia didn’t want to go saying she’d probably just get seasick. I shamed her into it and we gingerly made our way into the oversized canoe. I had the boatman take a picture of us just before shoving off. He pull-started the two-stroke engine and off we went into the mini roller coaster swells of the gulf. I was amazed at the loudness of the little inboard. It clacked along to the pulse of none-too-little explosions, like one continuous string of firecrackers. Our boatman was pretty good at keeping the bow aimed into the swells and timing our speed so that the hull wouldn’t smash full force into the beginning or end of the occasional four or five foot wave. At times, however, he didn’t quite get it right and we would smash down awkwardly into a trough with a spine-jangling jolt. The resulting spray splashed and soaked us. Three times on our way to the promised little white beach the engine missed to the point that it could not recover and so completely died. I enjoyed the three or four minutes it took our man to re-access the engine, re-spin the pull cord, before pulling hard enough to re-ignite it’s single sparkplug and cylinder. Until he could fire it up though, the feeling of being in a tiny boat a good mile or so from land in a sea of gently rolling three-foot waves was quite delightful, and us without a single life jacket between the three of us!

Amalia nervously demanded that I save her first if something happened and we sank.

I poked fun at her uneasy remark: “Ah, as opposed to saving someone else first? Who else here am I going to save?”

“You know I can’t swim!” she reminded me.

“Yeah, you’re right. I’d better save you since I don’t have all that much insurance on you!”

It wasn’t long before we neared the little white beach. “That used to be Wallace Air Base,” our boatman pointed to the right side of the beach as we approached.

Sure enough, it still looked like an American base with obligatory chain link fence still in good shape and half dozen or so red and white radio towers visible above foliaged cliffs. As a matter of fact, our little white beach looked to be directly under the cliffs below the abandoned base. I could see the tops of light poles just visible over the thick plant life high above our sandy deserted corner of heaven. I understand that Wallace used to be an annex to Clark Air Base. I assume it was some kind of communication site by the look of all the radio towers. Our guide informed us of a rumor that some Japanese were going to develop the old station into a resort. ‘That’s all you need,’ I thought, ‘another resort around here.’

We had passed about a dozen resorts in the several miles of road as we came close to Southern Palms, and there were many more of them all along that same road as it continued up the coast. The japs, I have noticed, love to have their very own places separate from other foreign tourists. Fine by me, I’d much rather NOT be anywhere near THEM as well. Let them hang out in their own little enclaves. I suppose liking Japanese is the same as liking cats, which I don’t. One usually has to develop a taste for them, sort of like learning to eat raw fish. And just the same as cats, Japanese aren’t all that friendly and they even have the same persona as the furry little rat eaters—haughty and full of themselves. How do I know this? —I lived there for over four years! Then again, I guess some would say, “How ironic, an American accusing someone else of being full of themselves. If that’s not the pot calling the kettle black!”

The beach had two things going for it: 1) It was isolated with no people in sight, and 2) the sand was pale in color instead of the mud-colored stuff at our resort area. I couldn’t help but compare it to the beautiful beaches we encountered at Puerto Galera six months ago though, and compared to that splendorous spot, this place was disappointing. The water was full of brown silt and it was nearly impossible to see more than a couple of feet into it. Right off the bat I noticed the paucity of fish as compared to the millions of brightly colored tropical beauties in the Puerto Galeran waters.

Our boat guy let me use his goggles, snorkel and fins. He was concerned that the fins wouldn’t fit me, but I showed him my girly feet and he handed over his flippers without a comment more.

Even with the snorkeling gear I was disappointed with the underwater views. The few fish in sight were brown and unremarkable, like underwater sparrows. Even so, I did my thing and enjoyed myself. I came out once to let Amalia smear me with lotion. There’s nothing worse than a snorkeling-induced sunburn. The water keeps you cool so you don’t feel the burn coming on, but once you get out, you are one hurting beet-red puppy!

After an hour and a half we saddled up and headed back to the hotel. We passed by a very clear area of water and with great interest I pointed at the bottom, which was easily visible. I yelled a query to our boatman. He yelled back, “It’s about 3 meters deep here with lots of coral.” Back at the resort I asked him to come back that afternoon so I could snorkel in that area with the coral and clear water. He readily agreed.

At 2:30 pm, without Amalia, we chug-chugged our way back to that intriguing area of comparatively crystalline water. The boatman killed the engine on our little boat named the “Jan Jesus,” named after his young son, and threw out a very intimidating anchor. It wasn’t heavy, but it had three claw-like metal hooks, each about three feet long. I knew something like that couldn’t be healthy for coral, but I said nothing being just a visitor to those parts. I took off my shirt noticing yet again how much weight I’ve gained these past three or four months, and dropped into the warm water just inside the left outrigger. I had to really stretch high to get hold of the boat’s gunwale.

‘Now how the hell am I going to get back in when its time,’ I wondered.

‘Never mind, all in due time,’ I decided as the guide handed me the mask and snorkel. I put them on before he handed over the fins. Once “snorkeled up” I eagerly submerged into the deep. Then ever mindful of taking pics for my Yahoo Group I took out my snorkel mouthpiece and shouted, “Hey Pare (pronounced Pah-ray), I’m going to get a starfish, you take a picture of me holding it up, okay?” I had seen scads of them as the boat drifted to a stop, but now that I wanted one to show off for a photo I couldn’t see a single one. At last, I spotted a big blue one about 8 or 9 feet below me against the side of a seaweed-covered boulder. I took a deep breath, jackknifed, kicked down to it, and carefully picked it up. I took it the surface and had him snap my picture. I told my friend in the boat to take a couple more “action shots” before putting the camera away. He had no problem figuring out my camera, and I realized he did this sort of touristy thing all the time.

I focused on snorkeling. The swells we boated through on the way there now made my occasion as a human jellyfish, floating about at the whim of the wave surge, quite fascinating. First thing I noticed was the long hair-like seaweed. What made it so noticeable was the unremitting heave of seawater. First, it would snap the 4 and 5 foot long brown vegetation one way, and then as the undertow reversed direction, the long fronds flew back into the opposite direction, snapping exactly like a bullwhip—and I was part of it. I wasn’t getting snapped, but my body was definitely moving right along with it, and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it, so I went with the flow so to speak.

The fish, the few I first noticed, were also getting tossed about. Somehow they managed to keep together their integrity as a swarm, or a group. No, I guess “school” is the correct term. The longer I observed this underwater world, however, the more life in it I discerned. I spotted sea cucumbers and sea slugs, starfish of all colors, shellfish, and lots of “tropical” fish albeit diminutive. The place didn’t teem with finned, scaly critters, but there were a lot of modest sized ones of beautiful bright colors and assorted shapes. I’ve seen many similar looking creatures in people’s fish tanks. At first all I seemed to see were the brown “sparrow fish,” as I call them. Then I noticed in ones, twos, and sixes, the other more brilliant types. It’s as if my eyes had to become practiced to the sight of them before they actually became visible to me. It wasn’t Puerto Galera, but it wasn’t bad either.

As far as coral, the place was hurting. The ball-shaped brain coral and the aptly named barrel coral were evident, but only here and there and all were quite undersized. None were in any significant formations like you see in the undersea TV specials. Then I began to see huge patches of what used to be stag horned coral lying in flattened, lifeless heaps. They looked like crushed piles of long-dead grayish bones. It was sad to see. There wasn’t even any seaweed growing amongst it, almost as if it had been poisoned or blown up. I felt sickened looking at it.

What also struck me was that even though I was noticing the presence of fish, there were no large ones of any kind. The biggest was maybe six inches long and even these “whoppers” were few and far apart. My guide pointed out to me the many boats similar to his that were lined up with filament nets strung between them. Swimmers were in the water splashing the water to their front, their job to scare their prey into the stretched nets. I realized where all the fish were; they were all eaten! These people had devoured their very livelihood into oblivion! It was depressing to think about, and I knew I never wanted to come back to that place again because of it. I suppose people have to eat, but couldn’t they do it in a smarter more sensible way?

I slowly explored all around the bobbing boat. I circled in a meandering clockwise fashion in a radial going out about 150 feet depending on how the current shoved me around. Every so often I forced myself to look up and find the boat. After 5 or 7 minutes I would find myself in a trance from the sound of my own measured breathing and the lack of sound in my ears. It’s hard to describe, kind of like the silent crackle the old record player styluses make between song tracks. Sometimes I would force myself to awareness of the surface, raise my head and look into the direction of where I thought the boat should be, and it wouldn’t be there. Instead, I’d spot it in an entirely unexpected direction, like directly behind me! It got to be like a game, exciting yet alarming at the same time.

After I had made a complete circle around the brightly colored craft, I figured it was time to call it a day. I could see that the skin of my hands was “dish-panned.” They were as pale as a frog’s belly and as wrinkled as a brain. Yuck! I kicked my fins and soon I was between the boat and the left outrigger again. I threw each item of my borrowed equipment back up into the boat and reached up to the side. I tried to do a pull up on the gunwale and realized my bad shoulder was NOT going to allow me to do much of that to any effect. I could get absolutely no leverage whatsoever. I tried to hold onto both the horizontal outrigger support and the gunwale and that was even worse. The boat dude was at a loss as I asked him, “You wouldn’t happen to have a ladder up there, would ya?”

He considered my plight for a moment. “Just wait, I’ll make something,” he said as he tied a rope to one of the horizontal supports. He fashioned a length of rope that looped over the side of the boat. It only went about 12 inches over though, so I told him, “You’ll have to make it down to the waterline if I’m going to get my foot into it.”

“Okay, just wait,” he said. He retied it so that the ½ inch nylon rope hung over the side all the way into the water. I put my left foot into it, and used it to painfully push my chubby body up over the edge of the bobbing boat. I say “painfully” because the bottoms of my feet, my left foot especially, are beset with tender tumorous tormenting things called fibroids. They seemed to have formed over the years as a reaction to the hundreds of running miles I subjected them to over the last 30 or so years. Nevertheless, I made it back into the boat. What a relief!

As I toweled off, the boat guy asked me, “I’ll just go in for five minutes. I will get some seaweed and starfish for cooking.”

“Sure, take your time,” I responded agreeably. Sure enough, in short order he tossed up a handful of brownish green underwater weed, and after a few more dives he had three or four starfish to boot. “I never realized anyone ate starfish,” I said. They certainly didn’t look appetizing and as stiff and as solid as they felt in my fingers, I couldn’t imagine anyone trying to make them edible. After completing his catch, he reached up, grabbed the gunwale with one hand, the front outrigger support with his other and smoothly pulled himself up and into the boat.

“Showoff!” I thought. I snapped a photo of his “catch” for my Group. The shot looks rather pleasing with the brightly colored interior of the boat as a backdrop, although certainly not very tasty looking. Oh well, what is one to do when most of the fish of any size have already been consumed?

We made it back to the resort in plenty of time to catch the sunset. I snapped a couple shots of Amalia sitting on the parapet of our beach porch. I was hoping the hazy sky would add to the beauty, but instead the sun disappeared behind the murk a good five degrees before the horizon. I was thankful I didn’t wait for the sun to go lower or I would have lost it completely. It must be that this time of the year causes the sky to be obscured by what appears to be dust-laden air, or maybe its just pollution from all the fires these people seem determined to set all the time. They burn everything, almost like they suffer from some kind of national compulsion to ignite combustibles. Instead of simply throwing biodegradable brush away into the fields, they burn it. I’ve seen people sweep up a tiny pile of leaves and twigs and then proceed to light it up. Imagine the haze of hundreds of these little fires all over the region? And if the rains don’t come everyday like they are now not want to do as the rainy season runs down, the sky just seems to grow hazier and filthier. Well, what can I do? It’s not my country. I guess it’s always easy to criticize, but I speak of the good things too, I hope.

That afternoon I had pizza waiting for me when I returned. I hadn’t eaten a thing since breakfast, so even though it was cold it tasted fantastic. Pizza is another one of those cuisines almost impossible to mess up.

We decided to check out the other local girly bar called Tramps located out on the main drag. We caught a lift to it by trike and told the driver to return in an hour and a half. There were a couple of loudmouth Americans in there who really got on my nerves, so I was happy when it was time to go. We went back to Stilettos, only an even more obnoxious fat American fellow was in there, and the other idiot I thought we had escaped from in the other bar soon joined him. So much for that—we called it a night.

The next day we decided to call our last in San Fernando, La Union. (San Fernando is the town, and La Union is the province analogous to a state in the US.) Amalia was anxious to see the kids, so after watching enough of game 5 to be sure that the Marlins had a good chance to go on and beat the hated Yankees, we checked out and caught a trike out to the main road. We waited until an aircon bus going south came by and our trike driver flagged it down for us. We got on and headed home.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Confrontation, The End...Part III of III

I promised I’d comment on my confrontation and resulting barangay hearing of last week. I’ve been busy with my classes, my service officer work, and more importantly—worrying about my two little girls, who are down with some kind of virus that’s been knocking down a lot of the local kids.

To begin with, JoJo’s bellicose attitude makes me realize that a basic underlying condition of this world is friction, between males, based on testosterone maybe? For whatever reason, “it” sits just beneath the surface of civilization waiting to rear up like a spitting cobra. Mankind is a "warring kind" because of people like him (and me?); and if I were the same reactive young man I was 25 years ago, we would have HAD the private battle he wanted, and right here in our normally quiet little neighborhood. The problem is, there are many people like JoJo—someone ready to smash first, a man who believes that “talking things out” is done ONLY by “faggots” and “wimps.” HIS world is the REAL world, unkind and unpleasant though it is. There are whole communities of “people” like him back in the USA, a country that I believe is peppered with places as aggressive, mean spirited and adversarial as any in the world. People can be just plain MEAN in my beloved home land; folks full of impatience with each other, and ready to hate and curse anyone who would seem to impugn them by daring, for example, to make them put a foot on the brake pedal while driving. I am embarrassed to share citizenship with him, because he reminds me that so many of my countrymen think and act just like him, and admittedly—at times in the past, even me!

Since last week, the concept of civilization, and how it applies to my own little world, has been nipping at my mind. The “civil” part of the word “civilization” is supposed to be about being courteous and respectful to one another, but that idealized version of civilization is ONLY as good as ALL the citizens interacting in it. For instance, JoJo seemed dead set on pursuing the most antisocial and UNCIVIL of all acts—the action of doing physical harm to another. Is that really the kind of world he wants to live in? If so, then the rest of us have no choice except to react to HIM. He forces HIS world on us, and in effect, it becomes OUR world. His aggression becomes something that the rest of us are forced to react to or reckon with. So, it takes just ONE of him to change the face of the place in which the REST OF US live. It follows that if society puts up with it, as it seems to be doing across much of the United States, then JoJo’s “style” of civilization will become the norm, and Americans will become meaner and as a society, less kind. It’s a discouraging thing to contemplate.

Now, here’s a comment for anyone else finding themselves in a similar situation in their own neighborhood in this country. Don’t expect anyone to call the police if any kind of altercation or squabble takes place, no matter how loud and unruly it is, and especially if weaponry is involved. This place doesn’t work that way. Cops here don’t prevent or intercede in violence; at the most, they ONLY react, and usually LONG AFTER it has taken place. And after an “event” HAS taken place, there is neither a CSI nor any kind of post-criminal activity investigation, except for the most rudimentary and cursory. There’s a reason why everyone in this country lives behind walls inside gated compounds, and it has to do with the minimalism of security and law enforcement. Once I started on that tightrope with JoJo—once we began our verbal grappling on that slippery slope of hostility—I was on my own. Whatever resulted from our row, there was going to be no intercession by authority, and there would be no pulling us apart by bystanders. I was aware of all that from start to finish; I was on thin ice and I knew it.

I’m still not certain what that whole barangay hearing was about. I went along with it because I wanted some kind of supervised way of confronting my adversary, but I’m not convinced it would really do anything substantial if JoJo felt undeterred by it, and why would he? He was able to continue to bait me and to use foul language right in front of the judge; and if he felt unbound after signing the judge’s agreement—what then? My impression is that a bully like him can pretty much do anything he wants here. Fortunately, this is NOT a country of bullies. No, MY country’s society seems to breed more bullies than does this one—a good reason to live here despite the lack of an overwhelming stateside-like police presence?

And now, here are some thoughts on how I handled myself. Initially, I acted very poorly. I over-reacted when he cut in front of me. Also, the way I got off my bike seemed aggressive in retrospect, not that I realized it at the time. After that, however, I did everything exactly right and I would change nothing. While he screamed foul language and lunged at me like a rabid dog, I remained cool and measured. I never looked away from him during his rants, never took a step back, and I never flinched or blinked. He was out of control and shaking with rage, while I was calm and steady. He never got to me. He did not succeed in bullying me, and neither did I physically back down from him. He drove off first, out of control and still screaming, sure, but the "battle" ended with him driving off, not me. I held the ground!

An interesting aside took place at my office after the barangay hearing. I told the veteran whom I was advising, a friend who owns and runs a local bar, about the quarrel and barangay hearing, and when I got to the part where JoJo kept calling me a f###ing white boy, my friend interrupted me excitedly.

“Oh man, I know that guy! His name is Joe, right?”

“Well, yeah, sort of. Why do you think it’s the same guy?”

“Because this guy, an American named Joe, hates white guys, especially white American guys. He’s been telling EVERYONE how much he hates them. The other day he almost killed an Australian in my bar just because he thought he was pointing at him. Joe rushed up to the Aussie in a fit of instant rage, the Aussie tried to explain he wasn’t trying to start anything, but Joe picked up a barstool and started beating the guy with it. I tried to stop him, but he’s STRONG!”

“Holy crap!” I said. “Are you sure it’s the same guy? JoJo didn’t look any stronger than me. What’s he look like?”

“JoJo? He’s no JoJo. His name is Joe. He’s black and he’s about 30 years old, a pretty big guy.”

“Okay then, not the same guy. My guy is originally a Filipino from around here.”

“Well, Joe took that bar stool and broke several of the poor guy’s ribs. I took him to the hospital afterwards.”

“Damn, that crazy bastard could have killed him! Broke ribs can be tricky. Have you banned this murderous SOB from your bar? And what about you—you’re white? He doesn’t hate you?”

“Nope, he said since I’m Italian that I’m cool. He came back into the bar after going to the cops and apologized to me. He said he THOUGHT the guy was an American and that’s why he kicked his ass.”

“Now that’s a small comfort for white American guys like me! What did the cops do?”

“He said he told the cops that the white guy started it by provoking him.”

“The cops believed him? They didn’t talk to the victim?”

“Nope, he was in the hospital trying to breathe! Joe told me that the cops’ only remark was, “That sounds like something those arrogant white guys would do.” And that was all there was to it, according to Joe.”

“That’s about a crock of crap about Italian guys. They can be as racist as anyone. This Joe guy is as irrational as they come; ONLY HE’S a proven potential killer. Man, we need to spread the word to watch out for this character. He’s gonna kill one of us!”

The upsetting thing about my friend’s news, BESIDES the fact that it was proof that, suddenly, at least TWO fellows existed in the area that virulently hates us “white boys,” is that racially motivated fools like JoJo and “killer Joe” are so rare here that we are NOT used to it. We just DON’T have those kinds of problems in this place. We Americans, especially the veterans living here, help each other no matter what race we are, and we tend to know each other, or to know of each other; and come to think of it, it was probably a good thing for “killer Joe” that he DIDN’T attack a local American, for his OWN good. As a community, we wouldn’t have let it stand. Conversely, I asked a couple of Aussies in the gym over the last couple days if they even knew about it, and not one did. I have spread the word to others around here out of concern that “killer Joe” will brutalize someone else whom he imagines to be disrespectful. I would be irresponsible if I didn’t pass the news.

Well, I’m sure all this “hate” stuff is a passing thing. There are plenty of Americans living here, of all races, and we all get along just fine. Black, White, Asian--those are just descriptions to most of us here, like old or blonde, that's it! We don’t need some stateside idiots coming in here and ruining our “little LOVE fest!”

Saturday, January 07, 2006

A Barangay Hearing

Before reading this, be sure to first read the previous posting entitled "Potty Mouth Killer."

The day after the evening we reported the incident between the nutcase and me, we went to the barangay post building that covers our neighborhood. Amalia and I got there about 20 minutes before nutcase showed up. The judge asked me again for a few of the details about the spat, such as where and how it all started. He asked me to sketch a rough little map showing how the original traffic dispute came about. I showed him, but I also said that THAT wasn’t the real issue. I told him the actual problem was his continued combative and abusive attitude long after he should have cooled down. I’m not sure he understood what I was talking about; he seemed to be fixated on the traffic thing. I understood his English, but I’m fairly certain he wasn’t getting all of mine. I’m used to that now though.

Nutcase showed up, still looking just as pissed off as the last time I saw him. He was still barely in control of himself. At his arrival we were all ushered into the “judgment” area. The tables in that room were arranged in a “U” shape, with the judge in the center of the “U,” while we disputants sat looking across at each other. I tried to catch the eye of nutcase, but he wouldn’t look at me after much more than a glance.

The judge opened the hearing by saying we were there because of a problem that started after a traffic incident yesterday at 5 pm. In Filipino he then asked nutcase for his name. “JoJo Concepcion,” he answered. So now I knew his name.

Then, looking at me the judge asked me to explain what happened. I got just past the part where I had said, “What the f###,” when JoJo interrupted vehemently.

“No way! That’s not what you said! After I rolled down my window, you told me you said ‘What the f###!’ Then you said, ‘F### you mother f#####r!”

I interjected. “I did not! I don’t talk that way, especially in front of my daughter.” Now I knew this guy was going to lie about the whole thing. So be it.

He sneered. “There you go again, claiming you were scared for your daughter! You’re such a ….” He cursed under his breath. His blood was boiling again—that was pretty evident. At the judge’s behest, JoJo continued the meeting with HIS version. I shook my head in amazement, because the way he told it, I had continually called him a mother f#####, and used other insulting language. I let him go on without interruption, after all I figured, what’s the use?

At last, the judge let me speak again, so I did. “Look, if you think you heard me speak like that, well, I can assure you that I didn’t, because I don’t use that kind of filthy language. It’s not my style. But I do regret that in the heat of the moment that I even used the “f” word to begin with, but I never used a bit of provocative language after that. As a matter of fact, when you pulled up next to me and I could see how angry you were, I was trying to calm down the situation. Why would anyone want to expose their four-year-old daughter to the ugliness of two grown men fighting?”

At that, JoJo was about to jump out of his seat at me. Glaring, his body quivering, he spat at me, “Hey, your daughter isn’t here now! I’ll fight you right now you f###. Come on! Show me what you got! I’ll bash your f####ng face!”

I threw my hands up in the air and rolled my eyes in exasperation. “This guy is impossible!” I looked at the judge and he showed no expression at all—I was puzzled that he didn’t show or voice any disapproval at this nutcase’s outburst. Evidently, the English spoken F word is only another word over here, just an expression; and his provocative behavior was clearly going to be tolerated by the barangay captain-judge. I was amazed, but became resigned to it. The grizzled old guy “playing” judge merely looked on before finally saying, “Okay, enough. Go on.” He nodded at me to continue.

There were two other local gentlemen that I presume were part of the official barangay team of personnel, and they looked apprehensive that they might have to intervene if hothead JoJo really did start a fight in the room. It was a weird situation for me, but I spoke on as asked, “I admit for about a minute I was angry too, which is why I mouthed the words that I did. Then, I reacted to your anger, and that set you off. We were in the middle of the road, so I parked on the side of the street facing away from the gate, got off, and removed my helmet and sunglasses.”

He interrupted yet again, “Yeah, and the way you did all that looked like you wanted to fight, so why didn’t you? You pussy! Asshole, you’re in MY country. You don’t act like that here!”

Amalia exclaimed, “Where do YOU live? You have an American passport. How dare you say that! Do you act like this back home? We don’t act like you are now in the U.S. or we’d be in jail by now!” I put a hand on her arm and gestured for her to calm down and shush. She was as angry as nutcase was now.

He scoffed, “Oh bullshit! Where do you live—with a bunch of white people? No wonder!”

I observed, “You’re right. I’m a visitor here, and I’ll be a visitor if I’m here for 50 years. I MORE than realize that now. YOU can be an American, but I can NEVER be a Filipino. I accept that.”

He went on, “How did you expect me to act right there in the street with everyone watching? You want me to kiss your white ass and say, “Oh yes sir, I’m so sorry sir. You’re right sir.”” He said the last in an exaggeratedly deferential manner, obviously being sarcastic.

I reminded him, “I understand how important saving face is in this country, and I apologized to you several times while you cursed and baited me, but you would NOT accept it. You even drove off giving me the finger saying f### you.”

“Yeah, and it’s a good thing you said sorry too, or I would have smashed your face.”

I smiled at hearing again his broken record response, but still trying to be somewhat placative I replied, “Okay, so you say. I believe you. This bashing my face thing seems to be the way of your world, but THIS is a civilized country and that’s why we came to the barangay to sort this thing out.”

JoJo snorted, shaking his head in his contempt for me.

I went on. “Like you said yesterday, JoJo, I DON’T know who you are. I’m here today to get this thing over between us. I don’t want to have a war that goes on forever. Looking over my shoulder is not my style.”

He broke in. “Hey, I’m a man! I’m honorable. I’ll fight you to your face.”

I marveled that he didn't see the irony of his last statement, of being honorable and all, while acting and talking like a complete animal. I realized that this man's views were not "normal," at least not a civil type of normalcy. He was acting and talking exactly like an American gangbanger, which I began to suspect that he was. I went on..."Okay fine, that’s good to know, but what happened yesterday is NOT worth fighting about, and by now, you should realize that, just as I did yesterday. But my last view of you was an extended finger while you screamed f### you. The only reason we are here at all today is because I want to make sure this is finished. It wouldn’t have been necessary at all if you hadn’t been so disrespectful to my wife yesterday night.”

He blew up again, “Hey, SHE came to MY house…” Amalia spoke up in Filipino and the two of them went at it, but I noticed he didn’t call her bitch or kabet, or resort to any other name-calling. I put my hand on her arm and told her to calm down and to let him show his true "colors" to the judge. “Come on, rise above his level Babe,” I told her.

The judge then "officially" allowed Amalia speak, and she explained in Filipino what happened at JoJo’s house. The two of them continued to point and jaw at each other, until finally I told Amalia that all this was senseless, and to calm down. Staying consistent, JoJo once again reverted to the use of the foul language of the American “street.” I got the distinct impression that this guy must live in “the hood” back in the States; and sure enough, when Amalia asked him where he lived in the U.S., saying that people didn’t act like this where she lived over there.

“Oh, bullshit! Where are you from? It’s like that everywhere!” he spouted.

I butted in, telling him, “I know the situation you come from JoJo. You’re from a large city in California aren’t you? I recognize your attitude man.”

“I live in San Francisco, why, where did you live?” He asked.

“Oakland and Alameda.”

“Okay,” he nodded, “Then you DO know. It’s the same over there.”

I didn’t tell him this, but in fact, back in the 70’s, two young 18-year-old fellow marines who didn’t know any better, stepped foot into a Filipino hangout right outside Alameda Naval Air Station, called Ginni’s Little PI. A gang of young Filipino thugs beat them so badly that both of them ended up in critical condition for two weeks. Their faces were so completely black and blue from the kicks and punches they sustained from at least a dozen gang punks that they were completely unrecognizable. They were very nearly killed. Our CO ordered the rest of us NOT to retaliate, as indeed, we were planning to do. Eventually, Ginni’s was burned down, but probably by another rival gang. So yes, I know EXACTLY what ugly world this angry twisted man is from.

I mentioned I had been in the marines stationed there and JoJo blew up again.

“Big f####ing deal! So you were a marine! So show it! Come on!”

This guy was just becoming annoying now, and I looked at my watch not wanting to miss a second appointment to assist a veteran after already missing an earlier one. I looked at the judge showing my annoyance, and shrugged resignedly.

The judge took the hint and said, “Okay, we are here today so both parties could speak their piece and to arrive at some kind of reconciliation. I want to know from both of you if this thing is over?” He looked at me for an answer.

I started, wanting to get to the end of it all, “I already apologized several times yesterday, but if it helps, I’ll do it again now. We aren’t neighbors, and we don’t have to see each other ever again, in fact, that is my preference, so that level of conclusion is just fine with me. As far as I’m concerned it’s over.”

His anger somewhat deflated, for the first time, he said quietly with little emotion, “I’m going back to the States tomorrow anyway.”

The judge paused for a few moments looking for something in the stack of papers and items next to him on his desk. Curiosity got the better of me, and I started to ask during the silence, “What part of San…?”

My wife, still steaming at his insults, kicked me and snipped, “Don’t talk to him. You’ve already apologized enough!” She was right, but I wasn’t taking any of this as personally as either her or JoJo.

The judge, having found the logbook he was looking for, wrote three or four lines in it and announced, “So both of you have agreed that this is finished. I want you to sign your name under my statement that says you agree that you have resolved your differences and agree not to pursue any further actions concerning what has already transpired. Do you agree to do this?”

I spoke up first, “No problem. I’ll sign.”

JoJo merely shrugged and grudgingly responded, “O po.” (Yes sir).

The judge handed me the book and I signed it. Then JoJo signed it. But the judge wasn’t done yet. “I would like to see the both of you shake hands before leaving this room.”

I looked across the room and saw JoJo scowl and grit his teeth. I took great pleasure in his distaste. I have no idea why. I spoke up one last time, “Fine with me. It’s up to him.” In Filipino I said, “Bahala ka,” which means ‘it’s up to you.’

He got up to leave, and having to pass me on the way out, I stood up and stuck out my hand. He took it briefly and wasted no time going. Thus ended the barangay hearing.

Later, I’ll comment in a new post about what I have became conscious of as a result of this whole affair. For now, it’s good enough that I have simply recounted what happened at the hearing.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Potty Mouth Killer! heh heh!

I shouldn’t write this one, because it’ll make my family worry back home; but I can’t protect them forever! (grin)

I live in a very quiet subdivision, Timog Park, and I’ve never had a problem like JUST happened. If you read back a couple posts, you might remember the one I wrote about depression called “The Enemy Within.” I spoke about how ignitable my personality has become to the point that I don’t fear for my life at times. Well, I just ran into some local fella who is worse than me in that regard.

I was giving my four-year old daughter, Isabel, a ride on my scooter after I got back from afternoon classes. We went very slow and steady because there’s always plenty of traffic and pedestrians. We turned left out of our street, Yellow-Bell, and headed up the main drag toward the main gate. I got almost to the last corner before the gate where I turn around and come back, when a car pulled up from the right out of a side street, seemingly without the intention of stopping, so I pulled quickly on my brakes. I was very concerned about my daughter and I mouthed the words, “What the f##k!,” strictly in the heat of the moment. The guy took immediate exception and stopped his car in the middle of the road and honked his horn at me. I pulled over and let my daughter off. He pulled right against my scooter and rolled his passenger window down.

This guy was “me” two weeks ago, when the van tried to force me off the road while I was minding my own business riding my scooter. He was shaking, absolutely livid with rage, and demanded to know why I used a “bad word” to him. I told him to calm down, and I only said what I did because I thought he was about to hit us. He demanded to know what I said, so I told him, “I said ‘What the f##k,’ but I didn’t even say it out loud, and I already told you, that’s because I thought you weren’t going to stop.”

At this point he lost complete control. He raged at me almost spitting as he screamed, “But I stopped didn’t I? I wasn’t going to f##king hit you. Who the f##k do you think you are? You f##king WHITE boy! F##k you! You don’t know who I am! Do you want me to get out of this car and kick your ass in front of your daughter?”

Hmmm. All of a sudden I had flashbacks back to the States. I hadn’t heard that kind of racial invective and hatred spewed at me since I was back home. I understood all of a sudden that this fellow had a massive chip on his shoulder, and the weird thing is I sensed this guy MUST be from the U.S., because although he looked local, Filipinos from around here NEVER talk like that. Just the same, I had a decision to make. My daughter was already shaking with fear and pleading to go. I told her wait a minute, that everything would be fine. Then I realized with my daughter there I had to act like an adult, going completely against my nature (grin). I told him, “Hey, calm down. Who is using bad words now?”

“F##k you! I am! Do you want me to get out of the car? I could kill you. You don’t know who I am! You f##king WHITE boy!”

‘Man, this guy really hates white people,’ I thought. But now, for the life of me, I was starting to see this whole thing as funny. Whenever he spouted a new tirade He’d lunge at me from the drivers seat like a mad dog against his leash stopping just short, and the more I showed absolutely no fear or concern, the madder it seemed to make him. As I examined the situation clinically, it struck my funny bone. I struggled not to grin. My main concern now was to spare my daughter from seeing her daddy involved in violence. I also knew I had complete control of the situation, because if this loudmouth was really serious about wanting to fight, he wouldn’t be asking me if I wanted to. No, if he were for real, he’d just jump out of his car and go for it. I’ve seen it many times before. I knew he was nothing more than a “barking dog.”

But alas, my daughter was whimpering and holding on to my leg, so, I “wimped” out—I did the “civilized” thing. I told the blowhard, “Man, take a deep breath and think a little. If an apology will bring you back to your senses, then cool, I apologize.”

He lunged again, “Why, you afraid I’m going to kick your ass in front of your daughter? You f##king white boy! F##k you!”

I couldn’t help it, I grinned.

“F##k YOU!” (Guess who said that. I’ll give you three guesses!...........No, it wasn't me!)

With a grin I told him, “Okay man, one more time. I APOLOGIZE. Now what else is it you could possibly want?”

The conversation turned into a "loop" at that point, where he continually threatened to kick my white ass in front of my little girl. It got to the point where I grew bored with him.

Finally, he drove away yelling one last: “F##k YOU! WHITE boy!” and he did so with a very American style middle finger pointed at me.

Which led me to think, “Dang, am I back in Flint, Michigan or something?’

I grinned at the guards who had wandered over from the main gate to do whatever it was they were going to do if things got any more out of hand. I smiled at them and told Isabel, “Hop on Isa. Let’s finish your ride.”

Still shaking, she whimpered, “I want to go home Daddy.”

“Isabel, don’t worry about that guy. He’s got problems in his head.” I knew this very well, since that's my PERSONAL expertise after all.

Later, when I got home, I told my wife, Amalia, about the nut that wanted to fight for no good reason. I asked her to go ask the guards who he was in case he tried to do something sneaky, like shoot me in the back. She came back about 45 minutes later with her OWN story!

Amalia’s story:

She went to the main gate and spoke to the guards who had witnessed my altercation. They backed up my story and told her that he had already come down there and asked if any one had complained. Amalia conjectured he must be a little worried about his actions if he did that. The guards encouraged her to report him to authorities, and then they took her to where this nut lived. They also told her this guy came from the states, that he was new here, and he was going back to the U.S. soon. I KNEW IT! Anyway, nutcase came out and the two of them had it out. According to Amalia, it went something like this:

Amalia: “Did you really tell my husband in front of my little daughter that you were going to kill him?”

Nutcase: “Yeah you f##king bitch; he must be a faggot if he sent you down here.”

Amalia: “What’s wrong with you? Do you want me to bring charges against you?”

Nutcase: “F##k him! He’s white! Why you protecting him for? Your just his f##king kabet (girlfriend) anyway.”

Amalia: “F##k you! I’m his wife you asshole, and we’ve been married for 8 years.”

Nutcase: “F##k you too! Why do you want to be with a f##king white man anyway? All white people do is pay you! You know what that f##king makes you?”

Amalia: “If you keep this up, I’ll f##king kick your ass!”

Nutcase: “F##k you! I’ll kill you too!”

Amalia: “That’s it. I’m going to file a complaint against you right now! You wait right here and you’ll get your notice.”

Nutcase: “Bitch! Get the f##k out of here. I don’t give a f##k! Go back to your f##king white boy bitch!”

The guards observed this whole exchange and again advised Amalia that she should go to the Barangay Captain and file a complaint. We just returned from making our statements at the Barangay post. Supposedly, tomorrow morning, we (nutcase, Amalia, and me) will meet in front of the Barangay judge, who will make some kind of decision. I have no idea what that entails. I’ll be curious to see what kind of fallout results from going through all this. Life can be pretty “interesting” at times, eh? Stay tuned for news!

Monday, January 02, 2006

Unbelievable! * Trash in the Road?

Originally, I wanted to put my “Unbelievable” experiences all into a single post, but these SHORT reminiscences have turned out to be a little longer than I figured. They tend to lengthen as I add the “extra” stuff, like story setup and details. You have to admit, without an adequate “setup,” the mind-boggling stuff just doesn’t seem to “boggle” like it should. As they say, both God AND the devil are in the details. In the Air Force we called it “fluff.” Well… I LIKE my fluff. So, let the fluff begin!

Trash in the road:

From 1982 through 1986, I lived and worked in Japan. Hardly a day went by that I didn’t bicycle or run on and around Yokota Air Base, my home for those four unforgettable years. From my travels on foot and bike, I knew every inch of road and trail for miles around the base. It was a splendid place to bicycle and run, and I totaled literally thousands of miles doing both. But whenever I ventured off base, to stay healthy—to keep bones unbroken, and skin unbloodied—I really had to stay on my toes, for danger lurked around every corner.

The neighborhood streets were the narrowest and busiest I’ve seen anywhere in the world—they wound-around, doubled-back, dead-ended and were nearly impossible for a non-local to navigate. Running through the narrow lanes, especially in Japanese residential areas, was like making my way through a rat’s maze, except that there were thousands of other “rats” in the maze with me; and all of them driving cars, bikes, and scooters, or, on foot, like me. Many of the corners were blind, so in the interest of self-preservation, I learned to make good use of the many circular mirrors set high up on poles, or on the sides of buildings. These ubiquitous mirrors allowed travelers to see what was coming from around each tight corner. Without them, traffic would have to slow to a crawl or run the constant risk of collision.

The constricted streets—actually they were more like alleys than streets—twisted, turned, and doubled back so subtly, that I spent much of the time lost and confused. After awhile, it became an amusing game for me—to get lost, and then to work to regain my bearings. At times, I’d just go as straight as I could, until I ran into a major thoroughfare that I recognized, at which point I tried to follow it in the correct direction. If I got turned around, I had a 50-50 chance of going the wrong way, and THAT could make for a very long day. The one place I NEVER got lost though, was up in the hills that ringed the base to the Southwest.

As a hill lover, my first inclination is to go to high ground anyway. For some reason, “Run for the Hills!” has always been my personal credo. As long as I was in the hills overlooking Yokota, or near enough to see them, I could always figure out which way to go to find my way back home. Plus, I loved the challenge of running up steep inclines; nothing tests a runner or a biker more than a long, tough stretch of uphill going. On days when I really had no plan as to my route for that day, I usually turned left out the back gate, and headed toward my beloved hills.

One cool spring day, I found myself up in those lovely hills, enjoying an exceptionally long run past tiny tea plantations, hillside temples, and cemeteries. I was so far out, that most of my route was over streets upon which I had never trod before. I had been running a busy, and for once wide, asphalt road that followed the ridge top for several miles, and after about an hour and half, I decided I’d better start making my way home before I ran out of steam. After another half-mile I came upon an intersection that looked promising, so I turned right hoping to head back downhill onto the Kanto Plain and home to Yokota Air Base.

That steep, two-lane street wound back-and-forth, and grew steeper as I ran down it. The narrow lane barely had a shoulder, and was just wide enough to accommodate two-way traffic. It twisted and turned so often that I rarely could see more than 50 feet ahead before it turned into another blind bend. People driving cars and peddling bicycles also seemed enthused by the smooth downhill twists and turns, and the lack of any real sidewalks or shoulder forced me to pay rapt attention, or chance getting nailed by these fellow downhill “racers.”

Well past half way down, my second wind kicked in, and in spite of the length of time I’d already been running, my speed picked up. It felt like I was on wheels instead of pumping legs. Or perhaps floating is the better description, as if I had no body, only a quickly moving spirit. Only another runner who has been in tiptop shape can understand the feeling of running like an ethereal spirit.

I was just finishing negotiating a particularly tight S-turn, best described as a double bend, when as I came around the last sharp turn, I saw what appeared to be a mound of odd-looking blue trash laying in the center of my lane. Remember, the Japanese drive on the left side of the road. The blue rubbish pile was right in my line of travel, so I shortened my stride in preparation of jumping over it. But within just a couple of strides from taking my leap, I saw it wasn’t trash at all! My heart nearly jumped out of my throat, so shocked I was at what it ACTUALLY was.

Instead of jumping over it, I veered quickly to the right and came to a skidding stop. It wasn’t wayward rubbish at all; what I had actually come upon was an ancient little Japanese man in a blue tracksuit that had just wrecked his little blue bicycle—of a sort ridden by millions of Japanese. At first glance, he didn’t look alive. His face was blanched a deathly white. A trickle of blood ran down his nose and cheek from a deep cut on his forehead. His arms and legs were tangled up with the thick frame of his blue bicycle, so much so, that I thought he’d broken all four of his limbs, and perhaps his back and neck as well. I noticed his left hand was badly scraped and also cut and bloody. It was an appalling, heartrending sight.

I quickly realized he was still alive from his short shallow breathing. He made strange gurgling animal-like noises occasionally, like he was in pain. About then, I became concerned that both us of were about to get clobbered by cars coming around the uphill bend, from the direction I had just come from. Bending over his twisted body I felt completely vulnerable as one car after another barely missed us. As a half-dozen cars passed by us with inches to spare, I spoke to the old guy trying to reassure him, “Hey buddy, don’t worry. You’re going to be okay. Just hang in there and I’ll get help.” I doubt if he understood me, and from the lack of movement from his half-closed eyes, I assumed he was unconscious, but he seemed to respond as he made another groaning noise.

Another car sped past, barely pausing, before continuing down the hill. Now I was getting angry. I could see these cowardly drivers look at me as they passed with absolutely no expression, and when I made an imploring gesture at them for help, they quickly turned away and kept going. I heard another car coming and I jumped to my feet in front of him with both hands held high—the universal sign language for STOP YOU S.O.B! A driver, a middle-aged man, in a white Toyota slowed down and tried to go around, but I shifted my body in front of him. “Stop! Damn you!” I yelled putting my hands on the hood of his car.

He stopped directly in front of us, giving the fallen old man and me some protection from getting squashed by the fast-moving cars. The driver got out of his Toyota sedan and spoke to me rapidly in Japanese; I didn’t understand a word, but I was able to ask him with the few Japanese phrases I knew at the time, “Where is a phone? Call for an ambulance. Please!” He answered me, again I didn’t understand, but I was encouraged to see him running to a building. The good thing is he left the car where it was, so it continued to protect us.

I took my shirt off and gently place it under the old guys head, hardly lifting it in case he had some kind of neck injury. Then I bent down close him so he could continue to hear me speak soothing words. I knew if I was in that predicament, that I’d want someone talking to me like everything was going to be okay. I looked up when I heard the white Toyota being started and then watched it drive past us. I was horror-stricken. The driver never even looked at me. ‘What the hell!’ I thought.

Once again, we were at the mercy of speedy traffic coming from around the bend. Sometimes the cars would mash their brakes and fishtail alarmingly before regaining momentum and speeding by, and others merely swerved expertly around us. I was fearful and enraged at their lack of compassion. An old model car, a rarity in Japan, coming from the downhill direction slowed and stopped; two old Japanese gentlemen, probably in their 60s, sat in the front. The driver asked me through the window in surprisingly clear American-accented English, “Has anyone called an ambulance?”

I answered, “I hope so!” Then I told him about the guy in the white Toyota, that he might have called, but I wasn’t sure. I was utterly gratified that I was no longer alone and solely responsible for the welfare of the distressed old gentleman lying so pitifully on the street. The old boys, undoubtedly MY saviors as well as the old man’s, got out of their parked car and hurried over. The first thing they decided to do was to lift both the injured man along with his bicycle, and move him out of the middle of the road. I was very concerned about doing that, and I did my best to support the unconscious fellow’s back and neck as much as possible, while they half lifted and half-dragged the bike and fallen rider out of the path of oncoming cars.

I scooped up my t-shirt, sweaty from me and spotted with blood from the old man, and I happily pulled it back on. It felt cold and clammy in the chilly air. I stood there, for a few minutes, and when I realized that I was no longer needed; I took off jogging again, back down the hill in my original direction. About then I heard the distinctive sound of a Japanese ambulance siren approaching from the bottom of the hill. At the same time, a young woman, probably the hurt gentlemen’s granddaughter or daughter, passed me hurrying up the hill, looking frightened and worried.

I took a deep breath, sighed, and got my mind back into the task of finding my way back to base. I still had a good hour or more of running before I would be back in the comfort of my home in base housing. I looked down at the smudge of blood on my shirt; that spot was my link to reality, because what had just happened was so surreal that it was already feeling like a dream.