Wednesday, February 22, 2006

ALL My Posts are Right HERE!

It's all about Perspective (Isabel gets sick and has to be admitted)
Sarah's graduation from K
An Army family's service (Daughter, Marie and her family at Fort Hood)
First Communion (Isabel's)
Parenthood is wasted on the young

Sad Beauty
My Jackfruit Tree
Yellow Cosmos, My Happy Accident, a Little Gift from God
"Mango Grenades"
Alma, Snake Killer
First Papaya
Snail Mulching
Eight legged neighbor

Beauty is where you Make it
New Bedroom Revisited in Photos
The Porch
From Outhouse to Bedroom
Useless Side Yard to All-purpose Utility Room
New Home

MORE ABOUT ME (isn't it always?):
Saga of Pain
Where Have I Been?
Much Altered State
Take a Chill Pill Phil
Papa Juicy?
Bad Hair Day
Death and Sadness
Death and the VA
Back in the Saddle
Dreading it, but back in the "barrel" I go...
The dark man cometh

James and the F Bomb
I Met a Marine...
Mr. William; Soldier, Cook
African Embassy Moments, Ambassador Carter
"Star Wars Bar Scene People"

Heavenly Flight
Cebu City's Fort San Pedro
Magellan's Cross, and the City Square it sits in
Mactan Guitar Factory, Allegre's
Far be it from me to expect perfection, still... (Mactan's Crown Regency)
Magellan Beach, ...I Mean, LapuLapu Beach

Northwest Flight 71
Flying China Airlines, Northwest, and "Economy Heaven"

The Taking of Pelham 123
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
A 60s Kid Watches Star Trek, 2009
Christian Bale: Terminated!
Slumdog; NOT Really the Best Dog
Movie Review: D-War
National Treasure (sequel)
The Heartbreak Kid
Sweeney Todd

The Root of all evil is NOT money, It's . . .
I didn't vote for him
It’s not WHO, it’s IF
Yon vs Fulham, NO CONTEST...
On the Campaign...
"For the first time... I am proud of my country..."
The Rift (The "understanding gap" between those who've served and those who have not)
My Candidate Wish List...
Professor versus Policeman

Runaway hamster and escaped finches
Nest Building Fools
On the chopping block
Poor little thing...
The "Yellow Bully"
Even more birds for my big bird cage
My First Birds, a Pair of Cockatiels
My big bird cage

New Years View from My Tower; Not Bad...
VII. Tree House, 3/5ths Up
VI. Tree House, "Higher and Higher"
V. Tree House, "Stairway to Heaven"
IV. Tree House, "Step by Step"
III. Tree House, From the Bottom Up
II. Tree House, We Begin
I. Tree House, From Dream to Reality

Hazards big and small, Ya got to be careful
BVA & The Black Jesus Friday (stands for Board of Veterans Appeals)
Channeling Scottish
Testing, My Last and BEST Job in the Air Force
Deadly Streets
Back to Africa; Learning my "Americanness"

Christmas Explosion
Crackdown "Fun" on Fields Avenue

Part 1 of Bicycle Memories "My Flying Father"
Bicycle Memories Part 2, “Going for a Spin”
Bicycle Memories Part 3, Mountain Biking the Hard ...
Bicycle Memories, Part 4, from hybrid to mountaine...
Bicycle Memories Part 5, Making a Single Track Tra...
Bicycle Memories, Part 6, The Problems and Solutio...
Bicycle Memories, Part 7, Still Building Trail and...
Bicycle Memories, Part 8; Darn Humans & Lovely Spr...
Bicycle Memories, Part 9; Riding thru the Bugs of Arkansas
Part 10; Yanking and Banking

It USED to be Paradise; now....?
Hey, 1970 Phil!
‘Anyway, at least I’M still breathing!'
Crash! Just Like the Movie...
The French Foreign Legion vs. The British Gurkhas:...
Kids play
Coloring For Free

My Dad
"No Easy Way Out" (not many on my dad's side "left" easy)
My grandfather, Samuel Lount
Samuel Lount's Farewell
Grandpa Ray
My Grandma, My Time Machine

The State Department in Iraq: One More Strike and your're OUT
Mukasey's "tap-dance" on Waterboarding
Blackwater, State Department's Blackmark
Haditha Revisited

Two Pit Bulls and a Dane

“That’ll teach ‘em!”
Spontaneous Combustion in the Wild?

Turkish Barbery
Scooter Stop; just when you think you KNOW people....
Armenian Genocide

A Permanent Resident Soon to Fly Home
My Trip Home
You get what you pay for
Three Things, First thing first...
Thing two...
Thing three
"My Phil-ward" Flight" part 1
My “Phil-ward Flight” Part 2
My "Phil-ward Flight" End of story

A lesson in chicken catching
The Old Age Thing
Olfactory uh oh's
Americans “know” little, but “feel” a lot.
Me, My Mom and Nixon
Computer glitch
Conversation with a "dinosaur"
Michael Vick, off with his head?
Stroke! Stroke! Stroke!
Poor Laurnen Caitlin, Poor Us
The REAL Boys of Summer

Tiger’s Lucky 13
Throwing the Baby Out with the Bathwater...
The Rainy Season "Dodong" Blues
Pass HR 760, the Filipino Veterans Equity Act NOW!...

Part 1 Leg Bones and Tri-Care, Broken and in Pieces
Part 2 of "Broken and in Pieces" in Angeles City
Part 3 of "Broken and in Pieces" in Angeles City
Part 4 of "Broken and in Pieces" in Angeles City
Part 5 of "Broken and in Pieces" in Angeles City
Part 6 of "Broken and in Pieces, the Story of Mike...

Passport Renewal

Part 1 QA, a touchy-feely experience
Part 2 of "QA, A Touchy Feely Experience"
Part 3 of QA, Mr. Touchy Feely goes "TQM"

Hatred is an evil that must be guarded against
Jamaican Roomy
Royalty, to the trash bin NOW
The Fall of the Son of Sal
They are JUST people, same as you and me...
Mr Stinky
Literally Worried to Death by the VA
Earthquake in Karamursel
Three Men, Two Points of View
What's the difference between the VA and a con artist?...
Gulf War I Revelations
Listen UP! I'm STILL in my 40s!
The dogs of North Carolina
The 107th U.S. Open and my Beef with Tiger Woods
June 12, 1898 and July 4, 1946, Two Philippine Independence Days...
Human Trafficking in Angeles City?
Fields Avenue, now and then
Paris, back in the Hilton...
Out of Iraq and NOW?
My Evil Twin?

Part 1: VA Disability Claims Advice
Part 2: VA Disability Claims
Part 3: VA Disability Claims Advice
Part 4: VA Disability Claims Advice

Another Gym Talk, and talk, and talk, and talk...
Barefoot Runner
Jonas' Club called "The Zone"
Historical "Explosion" in the Gym
Why Angeles City?
“Sanctuary” for illegals? "Open Borders?"

Finding Madeleine McCann
Still Looking for Madeleine McCann

A "Real" Hero vs. a "Reel" One

Part 1 of The Man Who Fell: "Uh oh!"
Part 2 of "The Man Who Fell:" ... "malfunction"
Part 3 of "The Man Who Fell" ... "Terminal Velocit...
Part 4 of The Man Who Fell ... "I guess I'm dead"
Part 5 of The Man Who Fell ... "the morgue?!"
Part 6 of The Man Who Fell: "The Spirit is Willing...
Part 7 of the Man Who Fell: "Hang in There..."

American Idol 2009, The Final
Idol Thoughts: The Final
Idol Thoughts: Three Left
American Idol Thoughts: Down to 4
American Idol Thoughts: Only 6 Left
American Idol Thoughts: Only 7 Left

Cho Hseung-hui's Blaze of "Gory"
Virginia Tech Murder Spree; What's the Answer?

Bohol Trip: Lunch on The Loboc
Bohol Trip: Tarsiers are Cool...
Bohol Trip: The Chocolate Hills
Bohol Trip: Loboc Church
Bohol Trip: Loboc, A Tale of a Bridge vs a Church
More Bohol Trip, The Baclayon Church
Blood Compact of Bohol, Legazpi & Sikatuna
My Little Trip to Bohol

Children, Teach Your Parents
Sorry, But General Pace IS Right
Autopilot From Hell
Hooligan Nations
Daniel Smith vs "Nicole"
Pay Up, Or Else...
Take Up Chanting
Ask the VA about "Under Other than Honorable" Discharge
Vets with PTSD are in a "Catch 22"
Marine Intel Officer in Anbar
Killology vs Spirituality
Ugly Training, End it Now
Disappointment, Disillusionment and Despair
Stupid Soldiers: The Left's World View
Did Kerry Really Say That?
My Worst Halloween Ever
How the VA Plays Kick the Can
Baseball Introspection
An Arrow Runs Through It
Brain Drain
Too Dangerous in Angeles City?
Damn Yanks!
The Detroit Tigers and Me...
Christmas Time, Already?
The Saga of Friendship Bridge
School Days
That Is No Reason to Acquit the Guns
Kristin Chenowith? Yeah, We Talked!
Puddle Protocal of the Philippines
I LOVE My Dentist
Private Interrogation
There is No Doubt; War is Inherently Evil
Keeping the Moral Upperhand?
Detainees, What to do with Them? Shall We Ask the ACLU?
Okay, Okay, I'll Take the Drugs!

Letters From Bootcamp, Installment I
Letters From Bootcamp, Installment II
Letters From Bootcamp, Installment III
Letters From Bootcamp, Installment IV
Letters From Bootcamp, Installment V (The Breakdown)
Letters From Bootcamp, Installment VI (Krishnas Suck!)
Letters From Bootcamp, Installment VII (Snapping In)
Letters From Bootcamp, Installment VIII (Rifle Qual)
Letters from Bootcamp, Installment VIII (The Gas Chamber)

Another One on "Sexual Preference"
9/11 Flashback
"The Gays"
The Filipino College Student's Mind: Is There an Opinion in There?
24 Hour Relay Race, Parts I, II & III
24 Hour Relay Race, Part IV
24 Hour Relay Race, Part V
24 Hour Relay Race, the End
International Distress
Driving in the Philippines, an Outsiders View
Another Spine-Shivering Tale
Things My Friend Doesn't Get
Things I Don't "Get."
To Lasik or not? That WAS the Question
Ed Abbey Fires Back and I Return Fire
The War in Iraq -- Political? Should We Go Now?
Demoncraps and Republicraps?
Running Scared -- a Hashing Story
Back to School -- Retiring in the Philippines Part III
On Haditha and Murtha

Should We "Humanize" Basic Training?
When The Marines Landed in Monrovia
Filing for VA Compensation – Retiring in the Philippines Part II
Delightful Davao
A Flowery Welcome Home
The Rizal Monument, A Suggestion
Retiring in the Philippines: Health Care Update
Retire to the Philippines? Part I
Oh My God! Look Sir!
The Rizal Diorama...A "Must See" in Manila
"...We are Lacking Heroes..." ???
…And We Lose Another
Big Dwight
Easter in the Phils
Justice for Filipino WWII Veterans!
Outreach to Cagayan
Defending Washington & Revere
Manila Zoo Anyone?
Hollywood Influences
"Big Shots" in the Desert

A Dog Yarn
A PG Moment (PG = Puerto Galera)
The Oscars...The Wrath of Phil!
Liberals in the classroom
A Week in the Air Force...Hey, it's technical!
Aguinaldo's House, and Legacy (through my eyes!)
Dodgeball Stories
An Outing to Jose Rizal's House
Water and Oil
La Union Trip
Potty Mouth Killer! heh heh!
A Barangay Hearing
Confrontation, The End...Part III of III
Unbelievable! * Trash in the Road?
Unbelievable! * Did Aliens Do That?
Unbelievable! * Phantom Fire
SERVE For Citizenship
Serve for Citizenship--a Response
Christmas Past
The Enemy Within
I'm Out of Control
Game, Set and MATCH!
Climbing the Mayon Volcano -- Part I
Climbing Mayon Volcano -- Part II
The VA: Heartless AND Contemptible!
My Retirement Speech from April 2002
Unwanted American Influence
The Ghost of Fortunato
Amazing Survival, Inspiring Courage
The Philosophy of Exception and Compromise
Uncle Mike Memories
ON ON!!!
Number One Filipino Hero--Rizal or Bonifacio?
The Greatest American
Explaining the U.S. Family to Filipinos
Sheer Exhileration
Military Brat
What I Like About Living in the Philippines

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Aguinaldo's House, and Legacy (through my eyes!)

Emilio Aguinaldo is NOT my favorite player on the stage of Philippine history, in fact, just the opposite. But from 1896 through 1901, this diminutive fellow was gigantic in the struggle for Philippine independence; first in his semi-successful fight against the Spanish, and then, as he continued a losing fight against the Americans. I wanted to see and explore his large family home, not because I am fond of HIM, but because the place literally overflows with history and historical objects. After having been there, I can say now that I was NOT disappointed.

We were going to wait until day two to check out Aguinaldo’s home in Kawit, Cavite. However, after finding a resort in the hills overlooking Calamba, complete with “healthy” warm spring pool water, supposedly piped in from underground hot springs straight into the swimming pool, the resort manager told us check in time wasn’t until 6 p.m. I was astounded! Inconveniences like that irritate me all the time over here. My wife had already paid, so we now had to kill about 9 hours until we could relax for the evening. I asked her what time we had to check out next day and was told before 8 a.m. Struggling to control my ire, I gritted my teeth, and asked if any lodgers were yet in the resort and if not, then why couldn’t we check in while it was still daylight for crying out loud!

Ridiculous, irksome stuff like that assails you constantly when you live and travel here. I always ask WHY, but usually I can obtain no answer. The hired help have no clue as to the why of things, so it’s useless to ask them. What I HAVE ascertained is that because this place has no concept of customer service, most business policies are based on the convenience of the business itself. “The customer is always right” does NOT exist here; although I believe the tourist bureau is trying to instill it, but as yet with little success.

After leaving the Rizal Shrine, we spent 45 minutes at our driver’s aunt’s house in Calamba. They were very gracious, but I wasn’t willing to continue our intrusion. I told Amalia that we should go ahead and visit the Aguinaldo shrine, so off we went.

The drive from Calamba to Kawit does not look so far on the map, BUT…! Roads, streets and highways are not built quickly or extensive enough to keep up with the increasing numbers of vehicles using them, thus traffic is a KILLER no matter where you go. It’s why I have a driver. I let him deal with the local driving habits, which basically entails the following two attitudes, “Me FIRST!” and “I am MORE important than you, so I will go down the wrong side of the street to pass you, while YOU wait patiently in that long line of cars and trucks!” Of course, when selfish drivers do this it snarls traffic even more, but that’s how it works here, primarily because there are no traffic cops to interfere with their madness. Hey! All you spoiled, whining Americans—you will NEVER COMPLAIN about too many cops looking over your shoulder ever again, once you see what happens when there are NONE!

I thought about Emilio Aguinaldo’s legacy during the 2 and ½ hour ride to Kawit from Calamba. As we drove up the main drag through Cavite province toward his hometown, not far from Manila Bay, we passed through Imus, a city notable during the initial fight for the peninsula against the Spanish in 1896. It was here that the sword of the defeated Spaniard, General Aguirre, was captured. I realized we were driving through a part of the Philippines that is to this day fiercely loyal to Aguinaldo, even though he is the man ultimately responsible for killing the founder of the Philippine Revolution—Andres Bonifacio. In fact, if you go to any website originating in Cavite, history is written to the effect that Bonifacio was a treasonous criminal and deserved his ignominious end.

We reached the Aguinaldo mansion at 1 p.m., entering the gate of a huge parking lot incorporated into an unkempt garden and memorial complex. We parked the van under the shade of a large tree. It was decided that only my wife and I were going to see the large white Aguinaldo house, while the rest of the crew waited at the van. I don’t have any say in these decisions and it really didn’t matter to me, but I would have thought that some of them would be curious about it, since Aguinaldo is an important name in Filipino history. My own fascination with the things and places of historical significance always causes me to believe that everyone else should be just as enthralled. Yeah right!

We walked toward the mansion through the large deserted parking lot, and we began to doubt that the place was even open. Ours was the only vehicle in the massive lot. We made our way up walkways and through parking lot sections toward the house, which seemed way off in the distance. We stopped and checked out the statue of Emilio perched atop his horse and brandishing a sword. The larger than life statuary stands perhaps 10 feet tall atop a massive block pedestal, which is another 10 feet high and covered with black marble slabs. It needed a rinse, and one of the marble slabs along the bottom of the support block had fallen off, as if a scale had fallen off a fish.

Contiguous to the Aguinaldo statue is a monument devoted to the signing of the June 12, 1898 Independence declaration. All the signers’ signatures look about 10 times larger than original and are displayed exactly as they look on the document, which is kind of cool. Some of the reproduced autographs depicted on some kind of metal wall of—maybe bronze, are somewhat oxidized, though that’s understandable in a hot, humid place such as this… I suppose. Still… Altogether, it IS a very impressive tribute, except that it is needs maintenance and repair. Unfortunately, there seems little money available for that kind of thing. Maybe we were there on a bad day; I hope so. We continued past the statue toward the whimsical looking Aguinaldo house.

I looked back over my shoulder at the martial figure on his bronze horse and I grimaced a bit at the sight of him. My primary problem with Emilio Aguinaldo is that he made some poor decisions during the critical time he was in power. I point to two key events to make my point:

First, he allowed his fellow Caviteños to push for the death of the primary contender for power—Andres Bonifacio. After the “trial,” where Andres was falsely accused of treason, Aguinaldo correctly commuted the sentence from death to exile. But then Aguinaldo allowed his Caviteño advisers to convince him that Andres had to die, and Emilio caved! It was a horrible, unforgivable decision.

Second, during the running (losing) battles against the Americans, it seems to me that Aguinaldo may have decided to have his senior military leader, General Antonio Luna, set up and murdered by his company of Kawits. Check it out: In 1899, Aguinaldo sent a message to Luna for a meeting at a convent in the northern town of Cabanatuan. Luna showed up, and on his way into the building he dressed down one of the Caviteño guards for being a slacker. The story is he even slapped the man. Aguinaldo was NOT there (hmmmm!?), and so Luna loudly criticized Aguinaldo out of frustration. When Luna exited the convent, the men of the Kawit ambushed him. Luna’s last words as he brandished his pistol, firing it ineffectually into the air, were: “Assassins!” “Cowards!” He was shot and stabbed to a bloody mess.

Was Aguinaldo involved? Well, he never ordered an investigation, and no one was ever punished for the crime. (It seems that not much has changed since then, eh?) Aguinaldo apologists like to conjecture that Luna may have been plotting against Aguinaldo, a typical smear tactic seeking to turn the victim into the villain. The result is that whatever was left of the morale and willingness of the Philippine Army to fight on was snuffed out along with the life of General Luna, and there was no improvement whatsoever once Aguinaldo took over as senior commander. Any wonder then, that I question the leadership and judgment of Aguinaldo?

We strolled toward the front of the Aguinaldo house that once faced a street, no hint of which any longer exists. This long gone street was the major local thoroughfare called El Camino Real, or “The Royal Road” in English. In creating the Aguinaldo Shrine, the government has simply blocked off both sides of that street and created a permanent detour around the entire compound. It would have been terrific if they had maintained the look of the original street, because it was on this avenue that huge crowds of local Caviteños had gathered on June 12, 1898, when Aguinaldo declared national independence from the veranda of his home.
Amalia and I stood looking up at the window where independence was proclaimed more than a hundred years before. I tried to imagine what it might have been like back then, with hundreds of people crowded excitedly down below the house in the street, waiting to hear momentous words from their leader. That he was a fellow Caviteño must have made them immensely proud and energized. I could imagine him standing there in his military uniform, waving grandly at his adoring people before beginning to read loudly from his text.

There was no way to get into the compound of the house itself from the larger section containing the parking lot and Aguinaldo statue. A tall wrought iron fence separated it from us. We noticed an “entrance” sign pointing around the fence to the right, so we headed that way. We had to actually leave the parking complex completely and then reenter a whole different compound to get into the grounds of the house. A middle-aged Philippine Navy enlisted sailor wearing neat blue dungarees was on duty, and he met us as we entered the well-kept yards and grounds of the mansion. I greeted him, asking if we could tour the house. He nodded smiling and pointed toward the entrance.

I decided to look around the lush gardens and yard before going in. The outside of the home is beautifully maintained. Obviously, the house and its yard is where most of the upkeep money is spent. A fine-looking old 1930’s vintage car used by Emilio is on display in a protective glass enclosure, the only way to keep metal objects rust free over here. I glimpsed Aguinaldo’s enormous burial crypt located behind the house and I started to walk toward it. I was discouraged from continuing by the guard for some unknown reason, so we entered the home instead.

The mansion is so large and has so many interesting features, that I cannot do it justice by trying to describe all of it in detail. What I can say is, “Wow!” An older gentleman, Vera Valez, the house’s expert and guide, invited us to sign the guest book. I noticed that a dozen or more parties had visited earlier that day, some Americans, a couple Europeans, and the rest Filipinos from other provinces. They had all been there that morning. I was beginning to realize something after our fiasco earlier in the day at the Rizal Shrine: It’s best to visit Filipino tourist sites after lunch; hardly anyone else is out and about, so you’re likely to have the whole thing to yourself. That is exactly what happened to us at Aguinaldo’s. We were there for more than an hour with no one else getting in the way of our tour.

Vera gave us a delightful, private tour of the mansion. We started off on the ground floor, seeming more like a massive wide-open basement, originally used as a storage area of grain and farm supplies because of its cavernous, barn-like quality. Much of it is now filled with displays that tell the story of Aguinaldo along with the Philippine quest for independence—from the Caviteño and Aguinaldo perspectives of course. I tried to engage Mr. Valez about the Aguinaldo versus Bonifacio situation, but he simply ignored me, which is what folks do here when they wish to avoid an unpleasantness. I knew enough to drop it, something I wouldn’t have done just a few years ago. I’m learning.

Two oddball items of the house are the bowling alley in the basement and the swimming pool just outside and below the second floor master bedroom. They sound better than they are. The bowling alley is a single laner and looks chintzy, perhaps due to age. The pool is not much more than a long cement bathtub about eight feet wide and 20 feet long, if that. It wasn’t even outdoors; it was right along the edge of the house and roofed over as part of the house. Vera said Emilio used it more for therapy than for enjoyment. I’ll bet his grandkids had a grand time in it though.

It is said that the house was built in its initial form before the mid 19th century, perhaps 1845 or so, as a traditional Filipino style dwelling. Pictures exist of it at the turn of the 19th century; showing it with a high, extremely pitched roof covered with nipa thatch. The Aguinaldo’s were known as good businessmen before the revolution, and the money must have continued to roll in after he lost his fight against the Americans. I say that because from 1919 to 1925 he really went to town and renovated the house so that it was almost unrecognizable from its previous appearance. The window from where declaration was declared was turned into a veranda, but at least some semblance of the original still exists from 1898.

The outside look of the house is a combination of Spanish, Filipino and American architecture. To me, the tower and pitched gables make it look a little Bavarian—with just a twist of Disney Land! The inside of the place is awesome! It’s all hardwood—the floors, the walls, the ceilings, the furniture; all of it polished and nicely preserved. The National Historical Institute has done itself proud. I love all the memorabilia collected during Emilio’s almost 100 years of life. Scores of dignitaries, statesman, politicians, and stars of all kinds visited him over the decades, and there are photos of many of those visits.

Much of the incredible furniture throughout the mansion is antique, or expensively made gift pieces made by notable Philippine craftsmen and furniture companies. My favorite display item is the sword captured by Aguinaldo’s troops from the Spaniard Aguirre, when they defeated his army during the height of the Caviteño’s military successes in 1896 at Imus.

Vera took me all over the house and I could not get enough of it. The place is teeming with hiding places, secret rooms, escape tunnels, and hidden passages. Vera let me enter and explore every one. There is a huge ball room with a wonderful vaulted ceiling and Vera showed me how the ball room could be secretly bypassed through several secret passages so that the master could enter his bedroom unseen if he wanted.

The tower is THE most unique aspect of the mansion; you just don’t see any homes equipped with them in this country. Vera said that Emilio loved it, and spent much of his time up there. A very narrow stairway leads up to the tower bedroom and living area where at least one of the Aguinaldo boys chose to use as his bedroom. From this room we climbed some even steeper and narrower steps up to the main tower platform. Emilio loved hanging out here, where he enjoyed being able to see Manila Bay, and even the Manila skyline from high in his eagle’s perch. I have to admit that if I lived there, I would also spend most of MY time up there too. The breeze was great, and the panoramic 360-degree view would have made the difficult climb more than worth it, even after Emilio became old and weak—and he became VERY old. Finally, I climbed an ancient wooden ladder to the very hot and musty tip-top of the tower, and looked out at the world through its tiny glass panes. I wanted to be able to say I had made it up there, and I was!

The family bedrooms and bathrooms look almost exactly the way they did when Emilio and his family still trod those hardwood hallways. Amazingly, he lived to the age of 95, when he died of heart failure in 1964. Several times I could feel his presence signified by an eerie cold feeling in my back, and when the hair on my arms and the nape of my neck stood up. It was a deliciously uneasy feeling, and several times I said “hello” to him under my breath.

I never felt closer to him, however, than when I stood in his master bathroom where he had performed his daily “constitutionals” for decades. I pretended to turn the faucet that he had turned for some hot water; I lathered up with imaginary soap, and in a bit of a crouch, I looked into his mirror, cloudy with age, and pretended to shave. At that point, his presence became overwhelming. Smiling at my own milky reflection (and at his it seemed eerily), I acknowledged the old general’s ghost, “Hello General. I like your place. Rest easy sir. I’ll be gone soon.”

Looking out a window towards the rear of the grounds, I examined Emilio’s final resting place and wondered if he had ever looked out the same window at the spot he would someday rest for eternity. It seems fitting that he lies there in his huge over-sized crypt, completely alone, with no family to keep him company. To me, it says something about him that he chose to be laid to rest solo like this. I’ve been to the graves of great American presidents, and every one of them lies in the ground next to a beloved wife, and all have family nearby as well. What it says to me is that Aguinaldo, with all his ambition and ego, was unwilling to share his final glory with anyone else, even his family. It seems he loved himself above all others.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Dodgeball Stories

The local HBO channel has been advertising the comedic movie “Dodgeball,” coming soon to the Philippines on cable. I’ve never seen it, but the images have brought back some of my own vivid memories of the game.

Like most kids, I first played dodgeball from the time I was 9 or 10. As an Air Force dependent living on Karamursel Air Force Base in Turkey, I got to see the true “sporty” non-violent version of the old playground game. I confess that I always played it just okay, but I saw some truly great players. During those days I remember that the very best player of all was a girl. She was 12 or 13, and man could she DODGE!

The way we played back then was to form a large circle of players that I’ll call strikers or throwers. We used the reddish-brown, soft, bouncy ball that all Americans, and probably everyone else all over the world, uses for both dodgeball and kickball. We would form a large circle, usually no more than 12 feet in diameter. The “dodger” got into the circle, and the rest of us gathered on the perimeter evenly spread out around it. We then threw the ball at the kid in the middle—the dodger. The idea was to strike the dodging kid either on the bounce or with a direct shot. If you hit the dodger, then you “earned” the dubious right to become the next dodger.

Getting back to the young lady who was such a wiz at dodging—she was one of THE most incredible athletes I’ve ever witnessed of ANY age or gender! Once she made the middle, she could stay there almost for as long as she willed it. Her instincts, rhythm, flexibility and speed were a joy to behold. With her long wavy brown ponytail flying, she would dash from side to side, always keeping herself as far away as possible from the next thrower.

It didn’t matter how hard we threw at her, or if we tried to slyly skid the ball into her legs, or even if we attempted to fake her out with a false throw—she ALWAYS dodged the ball.

Once, a bunch of older boys decided that they would challenge her and she jauntily accepted. She rose to the occasion once again and became a dervish of dodging motion. The ball came at her from every direction, angle, and at an incredible rate of speed. No sooner did she sidestep one throw and start moving away from the next striker, than the ball would come whistling at her again from the other direction. At times she would jump high into the air, doing a full split, as the ball passed harmlessly between her legs, sometimes while she was wearing a skirt or a dress! (That was always a treat for us admiring guys!) Usually she just ran from side-to-side within the perimeter, evading the ball with a simple jump or a skip step, all while preparing for the next oncoming throw.

When this chick was center circle she drew huge crowds of us to watch her magic. She could keep this up for 5, 10, almost 15 minutes at a time. This doesn’t sound like all that long, but imagine running full steam without pause, starting and stopping between throws, and at the same time trying to concentrate on evading an oncoming thrown object that could come from any angle and speed.

As she eluded each toss, all of us would cheer as the ball passed her. The sound we made was metrical and it seemed to help her as she gathered strength from our encouragement and from the rhythm of our cheers. If someone threw high at her middle, she would avoid the throw by ducking or sidestepping; if the ball came at her low, she might jump over it, or split her legs while leaping just high enough to clear it.

No one else could do what Dodge Ball Girl could do. I remember my last attempt at trying to copy her. I could manage all right for 10 or 12 attempts at me, but the energy it took to keep moving and evading was sapping. My very last time at center circle went like this:

The ball came at me, again and again, bouncing at my feet, causing me to jump and move toward the direction of the thrower while I made ready for the next dodge. The easiest throws were those clearly not coming directly at me; all I had to do was take a step away, reverse direction and run. The most difficult throws were those coming directly at me toward my middle. Then I had to make a snap decision—duck, jump, or sidestep?

The very last throw I ever dodged on that playground was thrown at my crotch. Instinctively, I leaped high over the ball with spread legs, only that last time my legs went directly out and away. In other words, I lost my feet. I landed directly on my stomach with my arms and legs splayed wide apart. The sound that escaped from me was more than just a “thud.” When my body pancaked flat onto the asphalt it caused an embarrassing release of intestinal gas. It was exceptionally loud and every kid on the playground heard it. They responded with laughter that would have made Bob Hope proud. Is there any surprise that I never “dodged” there again?

But, my dodge balling career was not quite complete. Birch Run High School featured dodgeball as a required sports activity in all the boys’ gym classes. High school dodgeball is played a lot differently than the playground variety found in elementary schools. The highschoolers play it in teams, with each team having their own side of the gym floor to protect and “take refuge” in. A centerline divides the teams, but there is also a rectangular area on each side of the center that designates a “common area.” Within this “shared zone” the players can intermix and actually throw at each other from pointblank range, at times even from behind.

Boy’s dodgeball is warlike and played with a vengeance by both sides. In fact, we didn’t even call it dodgeball—we called it “murder ball!” The goal: hit your opponent on the fly with a thrown ball so that he is unable to catch it. If he does manage to catch the ball, then the thrower is out of the game and must sit in the bleachers with all the rest of the defeated “losers.” A player holding a ball in two hands can also use that held ball to repel a ball thrown at him. As long as he doesn’t drop the held ball, and the deflected ball doesn’t careen back into any part of his body, then he is still in the game.

My usual strategy was to hang back in my team’s exclusive zone and retrieve balls for my more aggressive teammates. That’s usually where I got tagged and forced to sit it out till the end of that game.

There would be a variety of conclusions to this warlike sport and it could be quite exciting to watch the game play out. I usually did exactly that—from the stands! At times, one of the teams became outnumbered and was forced against the far wall of their own zone while their opponents threw wickedly fast balls at them from the free throw line. At this point the end was not long in coming, and as we watched our still “surviving” teammates fall one-by-one, we prepared to run laps—the punishment of shame doled out to all boys’ gym classes since time immemorial.

In January of 1975 I found myself in this exact hopeless situation. The game had winnowed almost all the other boys to the bleachers, and there were just three of us still on the floor. I was flat against the wall with another teammate, whose back was also against the wall next to me not ten feet away.

Our opponent was a mean, muscular redheaded kid with a reputation for cruelty. He had managed to put all the other balls into his team’s exclusive zone, preventing us from making a break and getting our own ammo. We had no choice but to stay where we were. He had three balls in total, two spares placed not far behind him, and one ball that he intended to “kill” us with.

This malevolent fellow had a mean streak, and before “murdering” us he intended to torture us. I remember now that this guy did not even finish his senior year with us; instead, within a month he dropped out and joined the marines! This soon-to-be marine threw whistling shots at our heads again and again, intentionally missing us, but getting closer with each vicious hurl.

My teammates sat watching glumly, knowing that they would soon be loping around the gymnasium floor in defeat. The redheaded kid made it known that his “playful” torture was soon to end when he no longer attempted to retrieve the balls after they splatted loudly against the concrete block upon which we cowered. He was down to one ball.

Back then; I was a skinny fellow weighing no more than 130-pounds. To complete my nerdy image, I wore glasses that I continually pushed back into place onto the bridge of my pointy nose. I looked a bit like Harry Potter, only not as good looking. It came as no surprise then that my tormentor decided to center himself directly in front of the nerdy kid--me! He smirked as he relished the pain he was about to inflict on my thin-framed body. He was no more than ten yards away, but it seemed like he was right on top of me. Like my dejected comrades in the bleachers, waiting for my inevitable end, I figured I was about to get smeared.

At that moment I understood what it must be like to be on the deadly end of a firing squad. I felt completely helpless and fatalistic, but even so, I also began to feel myself become calm and collected. I decided I would not give this guy the satisfaction of watching me run and squirm. I held my position and prepared to “die” like a man!

The gym got deathly silent as he wound up like a pitcher on a mound and coiled to sling the red ball at me with all his might. I moved my hands to the front of my body to protect my groin and face as I watched for the inevitable approach of the red rubber missile. At last, he released it and time seemed to slow to a crawl. I could actually see the ball coming directly at me; it wasn’t a blur at all. I could make out the distinctive groups of lined patterns on it's round surface and even the seam molds. I could hear the ball hiss as it approached. When it was almost upon me, only a couple feet from the center of my chest, the ball seemed to float. I raised my hands to intercept it.

The cannonball-sized rubber ball thunked neatly between my spread palms and stuck like a dart in a board. Then—bedlam! The arrogant redheaded kid, so certain of a “kill,” cried out and collapsed to the floor in disappointment and self-rage. My teammates leaped from their bleacher seats cheering like crazed maniacs, while the other half of the gym class moaned and slowly arose to start their “loser” laps. Even Mr. Peters, our gym class coach, grinned his amusement at the unexpected turn of events. It was a far cry from my earlier embarrassed departure from the game some six years earlier.

After four years of high school, that might have been the first time some of those kids even realized I existed. Dodgeball is cool, and for a few minutes, after a miraculous moment in January of 1975, so was I!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

An Outing to Jose Rizal's House

We went to Jose Rizal’s house last October. In case you don’t know who Mr. Rizal is, he’s probably THE hero of the Philippines. Personally, I rate him the number two Filipino hero from my purely clinical outsider’s point of view. Read my earlier posting comparing Rizal to my personal favorite Philippine hero, Andres Bonifacio.

We left home early, before 6 a.m., picking up our driver near his home not far from the Angeles City entrance to the North Luzon Expressway. We got on the expressway and headed south toward Manila. I love having a driver. I get to sit shotgun and really see the sights, or better yet, I get to sleep when that napping feeling overwhelms me.

We got to Calamba City, the home of Jose Rizal, before 8 a.m. Calamba is a medium sized town south of Manila. We pulled up in front of “The Rizal Shrine,” as its called, and realized from its deserted appearance that we were early. We drove back up the main drag and had breakfast at McDonalds. By the time we made it back to the large whitewashed Rizal house just over an hour later it was after 9; already there was no parking left anywhere near it.

What a difference an hour made! Five large charter buses were lined up nose-to-tail along the busy street fronting the dwelling along with a multitude of parked cars and vans, and where there had not been a single soul only an hour earlier, the place was now teeming with sightseers. Our driver let us out just down from the entrance behind one of the big buses and we made our way up the crowded sidewalk.

We encountered a line of folks waiting to get in, so Amalia decided we should get in line with them. After a moment I wasn’t so sure. The line looked more like a group of students from one of the buses getting organized. I ambled up toward the entrance and noticed people going inside, while the front of Amalia’s line waited patiently without moving just outside the gate. I was right. There was no line to get into compound. But, Amalia wouldn’t believe me so we all waited with the group. I shook my head and laughed--AGAIN! Sometimes it’s just easier to go with the flow, no matter how ridiculous.

Once inside the compound we saw the REAL line of shrine visitors; it was long, winding and slowly moving into house. We finally figured out where the end of it was and we got in. It moved fairly quickly and within 20 minutes we were inside the structure. While moving slowly to get in I closely examined the exterior structure. It had an ancient mildew smell, but the bricks and wood looked much more modern and robust than it should for what I thought was a 100 plus-year-old dwelling. Sure enough, I found a plaque stating that the house had been built in 1952 by the Philippine government as a shrine to their acclaimed hero, Jose Rizal.

I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t THE actual house, but I suspected as much as soon as I saw it from the road. The building is SOLID! It looks more like a castle than a home, but evidently it mostly follows the architectural plan gleaned from old pictures and personal accounts.

From what I’ve read, Jose and his many brothers and sisters were born and raised on or near the site of the present shrine. Jose was born there in 1861. Many years later the family was forced to clear out by the Spanish after Rizal became persona non grata in his own country because of his writings highly critical of the tyrannical Spanish “friarocracy” that ran the Philippines at the time.

The inside of the two-story Rizal shrine looks quite authentic. It is packed with furniture, utensils, appliances, and tools that had been in vogue during Rizal’s time in the late 1800s. I love old stuff so I was fascinated with all of it. There were lots of exhibits and large oil paintings depicting Jose and his family's life, but the line moved so quickly that I could not read a single caption. We had to keep the line moving. I seemed to be the only one interested in reading the captions, so I guess I was the only one troubled by it.

We wound our way through the displays on the ground floor, headed upstairs to check out the bedrooms, kitchen, dining room, living room, and bathroom. Period bathrooms always fascinate me. It seems to me that the two-hole Rizal bathroom was designed as a “drop zone” where waste made its landing an entire floor below its origination. If it actually existed like that then it was a pretty smart design—it probably would have kept most of the unpleasant odors underneath the house well away from the noses of the occupants who we were told spent most of their time in the breezy top-story of the house.

Just minutes after we entered the home we were back outside. I felt dissatisfied with the speed of it. I wanted to take my time and actually read the captions and admire the artwork and furniture. Maybe it was just me, but no one else seemed a bit upset. Oh well.

We looked around the grounds of the park-like compound. Towards the back of the compound to the right there is a small museum building consisting of one large room, which has on display a small collection of memorabilia from Jose Rizal’s life. The only item of interest to me was a suit he once wore. From it I could see that he was a VERY slender tiny man. I probably would have fit into it back when I was 11 or 12. He was a highly intelligent fellow, but small. I asked the attendant a question about one of the displays, but he spoke no English so I blew it off. It surprised me since most people here speak English pretty well, especially those in public positions. He was probably there more for security than as a guide.

Behind the house under and surrounded by huge spreading trees is a little bamboo house called a bahay kubo. The marker sign states that the Rizal’s had one like it used by the Rizal children as a playhouse. Near it are life size bronze statues of Jose as a boy along with his metal pet dog. My kids had fun getting their pictures while riding the statuary dog. I sat by myself on a bench watching all the action from a distance, feeling peaceful and relaxed under my own leafy and shadowy tree. Nice!

By 9:45 most of the buses were gone as was the long line of people winding through the house. It seems that everyone shows up at exactly the same time. They all get into line at once, speed their way through the shrine’s interior and then leave. By 10 the place was almost deserted. I went back into the house and took my time examining the displays.

So here’s some advice: go see the Rizal Shrine at 10 a.m., by then the crowd’s are gone and you’ll mostly have the place all to yourself. Is it worth seeing? If you’re an aficionado of Philippine history by all means—go see it! It’s a complete recreation, but it’s been done pretty well.

Later that day we headed to Cavite to see the Aguinaldo house, another important figure from the Philippine’s past, but more on that in a future post.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Water and Oil

I've been thinking about this "cartoon Mohammed thing," trying to find some personal understanding, perhaps through comparison to our own "western" culture.

Most "normal" non-muslim nations have some limits on what is deemed illegal, distasteful, or
just too out of bounds to publish. I believe U.S. papers won't show explicit nudity or sex acts; they also won't show racial or religious stuff that might be deemed too provocative or hateful. For the most part, however, what controls what they print is what they think will sell or NOT sell. For the most part, pretty much ANYTHING can make it into the media as far as content and topic, but no publisher seeks to alienate their buying audience. That's what really controls what gets into print.

In a free westernized culture, we protest by NOT buying the paper or by writing a letter. We DON'T march in the streets demanding the "death" of an entire nation until our demands are met!

In this new world, polarized between muslims and non-muslims, everything has changed. I KNOW I've seen political cartoons featuring Mohammed in the past, but NOW its a big deal, a matter of life and death. We westerners are shocked that muslims could possibly insist that we change our culture to accomodate them! And muslims seem to be every bit as positive that their islamic precepts demand that we tippy-toe around THEM, and do so right in our OWN countries! The gall!

nd the more I consider the situation the more I SEETHE with anger! This "little" matter shows me that our two cultures are completely untenable. I could never stomach living in a place controlled by Sharia law; it would be impossible. I would fight to the death to prevent my family having to live in such an abominable society. Yet they have the temerity to tell us in OUR countries that we must comply with the tenets of THEIR religion?

This seemingly small matter should serve as ANOTHER wakeup call to all freedom loving peoples that our two cultures do NOT mix! It should be apparent to anyone half paying attention that islamic countries like pakistan and saudi arabia are NOT free! In effect, our two societies are at war. The islamics know it, but we in the west refuse to acknowledge it, and unless we wake up to the danger it could mean our end.

It should be obvious that free countries need to end ALL islamic immigration. It comes down to a matter of preserving our way of life, which will be ultimately undermined by islam UNLESS we keep them out. Once we allow large enclaves of islamics to form within our borders, they WILL insist that we modify our freedoms to conform with THEIR sensibilities, and this we CANNOT allow. These people do not understand, nor will they ever accept, our concept of no holds barred free speech, that no one and no "deity" is offlimits when it comes to self-expression and the media.

This tempest also points out that we need to find ways to e
xtricate ourselves from the ONLY thing we need from these fanatics--OIL! The Israelis have it right--build a wall and ne'er the twain shall meet. There is no other way. They are oil and we are water...