Carol Dussere

by on July 27th, 2009

Taal Lake in Tagaytay

Welcome to Turning East.

This website features oral histories–that is, recorded interviews which were edited to be read but also to retain the language of the individual storyteller, whose name was sometimes changed to preserve her or his privacy. I started collecting these stories after I arrived in China in 1984. Almost all are set in  China, Korea, Japan or the Philippines and center on different topics:  religion, commerce, education, home life, economics, politics, health care and life on the road. Occasionally I include a story of my own.

You can access posts by using the links on the right, listed under China, Japan, Korea, Philippines and Elsewhere. Or visit the index page (link in upper right-hand corner of this green section) for a listing which provides title, date of publication, year of interview and a very short summary. Or use the archives. I’ve decided to change to posting on or around the first of every month.

It is now possible to leave comments and read the comments of others by clicking the Facebook button to enter the site via Facebook. Please do.

Downloadable textbook:

Over ten of the years I was teaching at Dongguk University in Seoul, I wrote and used a two-semester textbook based on the Korea interviews in this site. Each of the full-length chapters includes a reading selection on Korean and American interaction, exact definition of key terms, reading and discussion questions, listening tasks, grammar exercises/word study based on the reading selections and crossword puzzles using the vocabulary of the reading selections. Two additional chapters contain a reading selection for discussion or a writing assignment. PDF files of all eighteen chapters and a supplement are available on the textbook page so teachers can use them. Just don’t republish, please.

EFL in Afghanistan, Part 1

by on August 2nd, 2017

Lisa in front of the bombed out Darul Aman Palace in Kabul.

Lisa and I met twenty-some years ago when both of us were teaching English as a Foreign Language in Seoul. While I stayed at my university, she moved on to teach in several different countries, earn a doctorate in Australia and do research in educational issues. She is now the director of the English Language Institute in Jackson College in Jackson, Michigan.  We spoke via Skype. During the interview she frequently chuckled at memories of past difficulties.

 Lisa’s story

Lisa Roegner

 Probably my most relevant and significant experience teaching abroad was in Afghanistan and Iraq, two post-conflict countries.  I was fairly lucky in not having a lot of traumatic experiences—[laugh] no, I’ll take that back.

I went to Afghanistan in 2006 to teach at the American University of Afghanistan, AUAF, a private school. I arrived before the school opened. The US had entered the country five years before, and it was reasonably “safe,” that is, with fewer suicide attacks than in recent years.

The AUAF was on the old campus of Kabul International School, which was closed when the Soviets invaded in 1979. One building had been completed on one building and was in progress on another. All the others were still in ruins from the civil war, the fighting between warlords that occurred after the Soviets left.

AUAF building

In that environment you had to be flexible and resourceful because it was difficult to get things shipped into Afghanistan cheaply. For example, we got two shipping containers of books from a library overseas. We thought, “Oh, that’s great.” But we didn’t have a librarian then, and it took a long time for the teachers to go through the books.

AUAF campus

We had only one projector for PowerPoint. We bought white boards, but they weren’t the best quality, so they kept falling off the classroom walls. You just never knew what was going to happen. For instance, we had a main generator and a backup. Once the guards turned them both on at the same time, and the power surge blew out a lot of lights. I was printing off lessons for my class, and my printer caught on fire. I had to go to the other building, which was connected to another generator, to get my handouts done. So, stuff like that.

AUAF campus

At first we had fifty Afghan students between the ages of 18 and 25. We tried to get documentation about their high school diplomas and what-not, but in places like Afghanistan and even Iraq a lot of them had been destroyed. Records are not top priority during conflict. So we had difficulty finding out how much education the students had. We did some needs testing, then designed and put the students through a six-month program in English for Academic Purposes and math. The undergraduate program started afterwards.

The first fifty graduates

I have to say we chose well because those fifty students went on, the majority of them got bachelor’s degrees and a majority of the graduates got Fulbright scholarships. So that’s something to be happy about.

The teachers all lived in the guesthouse. We didn’t know when we’d have power. We didn’t always have water. For a couple of months we didn’t have a washing machine, so I washed my clothes by hand and hung them outside to dry. In winter they mostly froze.

When there was a suicide attack in the area, we congregated in a place in the guesthouse with no windows. We really bonded because we had to depend on each other and we tried to find the humor in the situation. One of the teachers had a master’s in storytelling in addition to his master’s in ESL. He would always tell stories. We’d hear explosions and automatic weapons fired all around us, and we wouldn’t know whether they’d hit our building, but he’d laugh and joke and make us all a little less scared. Those are really good memories.

How often did these attacks happen?

In those days, winter was kind of a quiet time, with the Taliban stuck in the snow up in the mountains. The spring offensive would start around April. Attacks could vary. Three years ago I was back in Kabul, and in about two or three weeks we had four attacks in various parts of the city. You just didn’t know when and where it was going to happen.

Kabul itself tends to attract more violence because the government’s there, the embassies are there–both agencies the Taliban likes to target–while in other parts of the country it’s not that bad. In the two years of 2011-2013 when I was working in Herat, in western Afghanistan, there were no attacks.

I would imagine dealing with some difficult cultural things in your daily life.

I had more freedom in Afghanistan than I did in Iraq. In Iraq I was pretty much behind walls most of the time, as stated in my contract. In Afghanistan—in both Kabul and Heart—we were sometimes in lock-down. If it lasted three or four days you got kind of crazy.

Lisa on a hike along an ancient wall in Kabul with the Hindu Kush in the background

But Afghanistan is a beautiful country, very mountainous. Kabul is surrounded by the Hindu Kush When we could leave the guesthouses and the university allowed us, I’d go up on the hillside with Elizabeth, my friend and colleague. There were mud-brick homes without power or running water. One of my students said they used car batteries to power light bulbs or whatnot. Once we got a bag of balloons, blew them up and let them fly into the sky. All these kids ran after them and caught them. They were laughing, and we were laughing. It was so much fun.

At the women’s park in Kabul we’d go to join the girls playing soccer. The women would be sitting around talking and then just start singing. It’s quite beautiful at the lake about thirty minutes outside Kabul. There’s a restaurant beside the lake where you could sit. People were so relaxed, and some would go swimming. Unfortunately, few people go there now because of attacks. This recent attack in Kabul was quite disturbing. Eighty people were killed.

The majority of Afghans are very friendly and hospitable. The family of one of my students was always inviting me over, taking me in like a host family. Like other Afghans, they had been through so much, but they just found a way to live their lives despite decades of conflict. Their resilience was amazing to me. I found that with the Iraqis as well. It fascinates me that people can live with so much trauma—which is not to say that people didn’t have problems or weren’t affected by these events but that they  seemed to overcome and find a way to be happy.

I didn’t ask, but I’d pay attention if students wanted to tell me stories, particularly in their essays for writing class. I had a student I hadn’t formed an opinion about because he was so shy and quiet. He was about nineteen when he started with the first group attending the university. In one of his essays he wrote about going to school when he was young and getting too close to a suicide attack. He wasn’t hurt, hit but he was covered with the blood of the people around him. Reading that gave me a different perspective on him, I thought, “Oh, my God!” Similar stories often came from students who were very quiet—horrible things. .

One young woman wrote that her mother had been a university teacher, but she was killed in her classroom by a bomb meant for the dean. Seriously, I could tell you stories upon stories. The young people in my classes just were trying to get an education and have a chance at life. It was amazing what some of them had gone through. I really admired them.

So that was part of the reason why you were there, your respect and affection for your students?

When the US invaded Iraq, I was out there protesting,

Yeah, me too.  Where were you then?

 Portland Oregon the first time and continued protests to withdraw troops later were in Australia.

I went to a large demonstration in Seoul. I thought it was okay since I was protesting against my own government and not against Korea.

To me, invading Iraq was just stupid. Afghanistan was slightly different, although Osama Bin Laden wasn’t even in Afghanistan. He was in Pakistan. But I felt that, as much as I disagreed with the invasion, I wanted to be part of the education process. I wanted to help give people a choice of leaving the country or changing it. That was probably my primary reason for going back several times.  After my first two and a half years I returned to Australia to work on my doctoral degree, but then I went back.

So what were things like in the classroom?

Well, even in the public universities the typical classroom was coed, but the students tended to sit with girls on one side, boys on the other. Teaching at AUAF was nowhere near as challenging as teaching at a public university in the provinces. The main difference was class size. While AUAF limited its classes to about 25 students, my undergraduate classes at Herat had 50-75.  There weren’t always enough desks, and the classrooms were much smaller. Then there was the shoddy supply of electricity even in Kabul. American University had generators because we were a private school, but public universities struggled more.

I taught in a classroom where the window panes were broken, letting the wind in, and it got really cold in the winter. I tried to cover the holes, but it didn’t work. So I bought glass panes and some light bulbs. There was no money for things like that in the department budget. If a classroom light bulb went out, the students would pool their money for a new one, or maybe the teacher would buy one. The Iranian-made ones were better quality than the Chinese-made ones. I bought some $10 light bulbs, and then somebody stole them.

How did you manage with 75 kids in a class?

Well, I did the best I could. My undergrads were all going to be English teachers. I taught methodology, syntax, writing and grammar, but I was determined to have a student-centered approach in the classroom. If I had a planned for them to work in groups I arranged the desks before class because otherwise with that many students rearranging the desks would take up too much class time. Testing was always an issue because the desks were so close together that cheating was too easy. We put the students outside because we didn’t have a choice. All the professors did testing outside. I remember one young man whose hands were freezing, and he kept trying to warm them. I gave him my gloves. I said, “You really need these.”

What did this division between boys and girls look like in your classroom?

Well, I mentioned that boys sat on one side and girls on the other. The invisible line was always there. There were times when I could mix them up—with group work or whatnot. Some of them were okay with that. Except during the Taliban period, there was a tradition of coed higher education. It’s not like the Arab countries where it’s been traditionally separate, with males and females in different parts of the university. It’s just that conservative wave came in, very similar to what happened in Iran as well, going from progressive to conservative. In photos from the 60s and 70s, women in Afghanistan and Iran dressed very much like Western women. They wore short skirts. They didn’t cover their heads. They were very open.

When I was teaching at the University of Pittsburgh in the English Language Institute, the Saudi students would group themselves in the same way, men on one side and women on the other. If a woman was wearing a skirt that hiked up over her knees when she sat down, she’d pull out a handkerchief and put it over her knees, so as far as the men could see she was covered from below the knees up.

Really? Oh, that’s interesting.

And the women would be giggling and speaking among themselves so that it was difficult sometimes to get them to stop.  Did you find similar behavior or behavior that was a little strange?

In high school the students were separated by gender. University was the first time they were actually in the same classroom together. There was an interesting dynamic among the freshmen. I The boys didn’t know how to talk to the girls. There was just a lot of posturing and showing off, They were what—18? Sometimes 20. Unfortunately, girls did get harassed, say if a boy liked a girl and she wasn’t interested. I preferred the seniors. They were all so used to each other that being in the same class was no big deal.

(Part 2 deals with the education of girls, restrictions on women and Lisa’s research on distance education in Afghanistan.]

A reader who once taught in Afghanistan writes: I really enjoyed Lisa’s story. Looking forward to part II!!!

In Indonesia among the Damudani

by on July 2nd, 2017

In 2015, I interviewed my friend Geri about her life in Korea, first alone and then with Chris, her finance. (link). The next year we talked about the accident which had taken Chris’s legs off above the knee, their marriage, and his recuperation. (link) Recently, Chris and I talked via Skype about his first trip to see the Indonesian Damudani, also called Dani, Danidani and Ndani . Chris was in their new home in Okinawa, and I was here in the Philippines. Thanks to Chris for the photos.

Chris’s story

About eight, ten years ago, I was in Kri Eco Dive Resort in the Bird’s Beak in western Indonesia not far from Sorong—a beautiful area, one of the last wild ones, not at all commercial. I met an ornithologist, an amazing, wonderful person, a little bitty guy you could imagine as a turkey in the woods. He could shimmy around everything. Since the divers couldn’t dive all the time, he gave tours to those interested in bird watching. He took me through the islands to show me very rare birds. He asked what else I was going to do.

“I’ve read about the Damudani in the Baliem Highlands. Is it possible to go there?”

By this time he’d gotten to know me and liked my spirit. He knew I was a high school teacher who taught humanities and was interested in working on a book. So he said, “Yes, I have friends that are of that native group, and I can hook you up.”

Since it was around Christmas time and I had a cap with moose ears on it, I figured I could do with some jolly-hollies and go there. I had my medical aid kit with pills to make sure I didn’t get typhoid fever or anything like that. I had a big Swiss Army backpack, a one-man tent and a smaller backpack which could carry food. I was wearing crocks, long pants and a bush shirt as protection against mosquitoes. Years ago I’d come up with a special spray made of citronella and peppermint oil—about four or five different kinds of oils. It worked well as a repelant. I sure didn’t want to get malaria.

To get to the highlands I first had to go back to Jayapura, on the border between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, and then to Biak, where I could fly into this remote area. People waiting for the plane had brought all sorts of bundles, as you see in other places like the Philippines. There was a little girl with a rooster. Before the flight one of her family members picked it up and   wrapped a rope around it and put it in the overhead bin. I knew then that this was going to be a different kind of trip.

When we arrived at the frontier town, many of the men meeting the plane had on absolutely nothing but their birthday suits and the gourds of modesty, these penis gourds. I met the guide, who was Damudani and who went back and forth from the town into the mountains. Ocasionaly he brought in tourists for only one day, showed them a little bit and then brought them back. I would be one of the first to get into the hinterland.

The guide had two other men with him. After we got provisions, the four of us left town in a truck, but about thirty or forty minutes outside town we had to set off on foot because an avalanche had blocked the road. We walked through the rocky avalanche area and came to a forty-foot drop to the bottom of a ravine. At the bottom was a river and a rickety-looking wooden bridge. On the other side were more rocks, and then we were headed up into the mountains. I asked the guide what we’d be able to do.

“Hopefully you’ll be able to bivouac, be with a lot of the people and learn what you want to learn.”

The ornithologist had told him I actually wanted to stay with them. The first night I put my tent up, and we talked, and he said, “Tomorrow we’re going to be humping through the bush.”

We got up early. It was rainy season and very wet. We had to climb way up,  like climbing Manchu Picchu, really high bluffs. The ground was wet and soggy. There was no vestige of any other outsiders. More and more indigenous people appeared. We came into a settlement area. I was walking around, starting to meet people. They had great big cooking pots and big butcher knives, and they were chopping stuff up. I was looking for my guide, and all these other folks are looking at me, and I was wondering if maybe I’d gone a little too far.

After about thirty minutes, my guide appeared and said, “You can go in.”

“Go in where?”

We went into a big round hut, shaped like an igloo or a yurt, but made of woven reeds and bramble. The floor inside was covered with rush or straw. I looked up and saw a star and a Christmas tree made of medicine bottles and then at the families, the mothers breastfeeding their babies, and as they started singing Damudani Christmas carols I thought they were probably closer than we were to what Christmas was all about. It was very beautiful, their singing in a language I’ve never heard. The preacher stood behind the podium, naked but partly covered in a gold liturgical vestment. The service was very spiritual, very free-spirited with a sense of interconnectedness to life itself. It was totally beyond anything I’d seen before, and I’d been around a little bit.

Afterwards we went outside and had the dinner made in those big cooking pots. There was a roast pig, and manioc (cassava) and sweet potatoes and yams that were all wrapped up and served on big plantain leaves. My guide chuckled at my previous consternation—he’d spotted me worrying about maybe ending up in one of those big cooking pots.

The next day he told me I could go to a more primitive environment. We climbed into the mountains. What fascinated me about the Damudani villages was that,  when you flew over the area you couldn’t see anything but  jungle, but down below the treetops there were big stone fences separating various sections, like for the pigs and for their medicinal herbs, another area for the yams, and for the bananas, all organized around the central warriors’ hut.

When we arrived, the chief and everyone else was gone except an old, blind man, one of the elders. He let me go into the sacred hut. Inside was a fire. Hanging from the ceiling were hundreds and hundreds of twisted pig tails. The wam, the wild pig, was the sacred animal. The Damudani would kill it and wear the tusks around their necks as a totem, but also as medicine. When someone was sick, they’d kill a pig and hang the tail from the ceiling. Inside the round hut, each of the warriors had his own spot with his spears and other implements. The separate spots were arranged in a circle, like the spokes of a wheel, with the fire in the center.

The only thing the blind old man was wearing was the gourd of modesty. I gave him a bandana because his eyes were kind of weepy. He tied it proudly around his neck. I’d noticed that all the Damudani had very rheumy eyes because of the smoke. They kept the fire going to keep the mosquitoes off them and covered themselves with light dust and pig fat for insulation. It got cold up there in the highlands. They’d also wrap up in a poncho or a shawl woven from bird feathers or an army blanket they’d traded for.

We spent the second night of my trip in that village, but in the morning I was told that the chief was pissed because no outsider was supposed to go into the warriors’ hut. So we skedaddled out of there.

We went up and down the mountain, and in a big open area I noticed that the others were on a little path across a rushing stream. On the other side it was very, very soggy, and they were up to their knees in mud, rushing to hack away at the bamboo and reeds and lay them down crosswise as a path across all the mud. They kept saying we had to hurry, like maybe we were being chased.

I thought, “You’re not in Kansas anymore.”

The stretch of the mud was the length of forty or fifty football fields. On the other side, we visited a village where I was allowed to put my tent inside one of the huts—not the big, central grandfather’s hut one off to the side. Sleeping inside the tent meant I didn’t have to worry about the scorpions or the highly poisonous red centipedes that got into your boots. We were sitting around the fire, eating a soup we’d made, and the guys were acting really nervous. All of a sudden I heard a sound like a freight train. It was a landslide which wiped out the muddy area where we’d been that day. The guys had known it was a possibility, which was why they’d been in such a hurry to get out of there. We wouldn’t be able to go back that way.

On the fifth day we came to a big clearing where food and other supplies were coining in on little Piper Cubs All along I’d met very interesting people. Here was a guy who swore that no matter what the missionaries and the other outsiders did, he was not going to give up his traditional customs and start wearing clothes. He spoke some English.

My guide asked me, “What would you like to do tomorrow? Would you like to go to a coming-of-age ceremony?”

”That would be fantastic.”

“Okay, we’ll take another route over the mountains. Only very rarely are outsiders allowed to watch a real coming of age ceremony, but the guys who met you….”

I haven’t mentioned this, but when I met someone, he’d grab my bicep or forearm and chant aWAsawasawa-wasa-wassawa for a minute or so while with his eyes he was penetrating straight through me. It felt like going through an MRI machine. Apparently, they thought my vibes were pretty good because afterwards they conferred among themselves and then invited me.

The next morning I was all hot to trot. My guide said we could go back through the mud and all the way down, then come back up and go over the hills. Or there was another way around the mountain which was a bit more treacherous but about two hours shorter.

I said, “I’m strong. I can go the shorter way.”

Now, ever since I was in the military as a conscientious objector who refused to carry a weapon, I’d always walked with a big staff. In Texas I’d strike the ground with it as I walked, and the snakes would feel the vibes and get out of the way. I’d been a martial artist for about forty years and learned to use the staff. It had become like a third leg as I walked. It energized me too, because I could equalize the weight when I was leaning against it and pushing up against it.

The guys I was with had big, black feet as long as boards. They didn’t wear any shoes. They just tromped across like mountain goats. I was climbing with my staff along the side of the mountain, with the guide maybe fifteen to twenty feet in front of me. The two other guys were behind me, one carrying the pots and pans and the other carrying some of the food. I was also carrying food in addition to my other gear.

I looked over the edge of the path we were on—as I said, it was like Manchu Picchu—at a drop of about four hundred to six hundred feet down into a ravine. The path had gotten more and more treacherous, from maybe three feet wide to about two feet, and now it was a goat’s path along the side of the mountain. At one spot I was edging along, and all of a sudden I noticed the wet ground was starting to slip under me. I jammed my stick down in the ground and tried to keep myself from moving any further, but it was still sliding.

“Oh, lord what am I going to do?” My guide was fifteen feet up ahead.

Suddenly I heard a tiny voice say, “Grab me.” I looked around, and there were little red, beady-looking flowers on this gnarly, bushy stuff growing out of the stone, gnarly like the Alpine stuff called Krummholz . I never saw these flowers before or after. It was one of the strangest things ever, to hear this little plant voice connecting me to the spirit of life itself. I couldn’t even turn around, but I grabbed the bush behind me and scrambled across, spider-monkeyed across while holding onto this stuff for maybe ten to fifteen yards, all the while hollering at my guide, “Where are you?”

He came hot-footing back. I got to a safer spot and said, “Listen, this doesn’t work. Whenever you see it’s getting really bad, we have to do a belay between the two of us.”

To belay is a mountain-climbing term. You tie a timber hitch around yourself. One person becomes an anchor point, and another person becomes an anchor point, and then you traverse across between the two. You lock the rope down so the other person doesn’t get pulled off either.

We climbed on and came to the place where the ceremony would be. The chief was covered with beautiful feathers. It was clearly a very festive time because people wore features, bones through their noses, big earrings that stretched their earlobes, necklaces and all that kind of thing. Usually people just had a little something around the neck, like an amulet with a big boar’s tooth and a tuft of the boar’s hair, but not much more than that. Maybe an armband with a warrior’s insignia, maybe bead work around the ankles. Then they’d have their penis gourd with a tie wrapped around them. Depending on how tough the area is, they might wear a loincloth, but generally they didn’t.

Now, the women had shawls woven out of a tree roots, and then they wore them with a band around the crown of the head, then down against the neck and back so they could use it to carry coconuts and manioc. Sometimes it was worn in front to carry a baby. They also wore woven underwear, while the men just wore penis gourds.

The different tribes had penis gourds in and different sizes and colors. In fact, they’d use them to carry their tobacco inside and sometimes a flint set. Some of the gourds were big, about a foot and a half or two feet. Other groups would just have long, thin ones. The gourds protected them from thorns and from the heat. A young boy might wear the gourd like a topknot tied into the hair. I tried wearing one, but it didn’t work. It felt like a tough sling.

As I trotted up the hill with my guide, meeting these guys, I noticed a big, muscular man cutting up something with a great big machete, His eyes penetrated into me, but I didn’t know why. It made me uneasy enough to wonder what I was doing in this place anyway.

An area was set up for the festivities, women on the ground with the food and the big plantain leaves. People showed me the wild pig, the wan to be shot with a bow and arrow.

The arrows were long pieces of wood, without feathers but intricately carved, beautiful, There were different kinds of arrows for shooting fish, for birds and for bigger animals,

The young boys hopped around, acting out a scenario while the men watched. One of the boys hit the boar, the boar squealed, and then another one jumped up and fired an arrow into the boar, and then he hit it on the neck. Then—boom—the boar collapsed. People took up butcher knives. The women started to chop it up, and the men cut off the legs and cut the throat to drain the blood.

It was carried to a really big pit near a big fire, cut open, stuffed with manioc and probably potatoes and sweet potatoes and wrapped in leaves. It was dropped into the pit and covered with hot rocks. There are four or five layers, of rocks, dirt, green things, all kinds of vegetables, fiery ashes covered with more rock. They covered all that with dirt and then with fiery ashes all around, more dirt, more leaves, and the whole thing was covered with jungle leaves and vines.

I watched as the men strutted around like roosters. They walked up to the ten young boys, who stood motionless while the men blessed them and cursed them and hit them with sticks. Another pit with a cooked pig was opened up and the steaming hot pig fat was smeared onto the boys’ faces. They didn’t react to the hot grease or the dyes thrown on them—dark yellow like turmeric. They were blessed, and then they ran off for a while.

I was drawing in my journal what I’d seen of the pig killing when out of the corner of my eye I saw the big guy who’d been staring at me the whole time—four hours, watching me and watching me. I was out of the way, over in the corner. My guide was nowhere around, and neither was anyone else.  The big guy walked over with his big machete and threw it on the ground right next to me. He pointed at the journal as if to say, “Gimme the book.” I gave it to him. He looked at my drawing of the pig and the bow and arrow. Then he grinned and pointed at me. “Gimme the pencil.”

In the meantime, four or five of his buddies had come over and circled around me while I looked for my guide and wondered what the hell was going to happen. The big guy was looking at me and at my picture. He grinned and drew a perfect likeness of a pig.

His meaning was clear: “You think you can draw a pig? You don’t know anything. Look at that one.”

I was thinking, “Well I can draw a space ship better than you.”

Then he drew a bow and arrow to show me. He grinned and handed the journal back, picked up his machete and walked away. His friends were all looking at me and laughing. You know they were saying, “That fool can’t draw no pig.”


From Metro Manila to Cavite Province, Part 2

by on June 1st, 2017

Me, my housekeeper Fe and her husband Jessie at People’s Park (photo by Melanie Ladra)

Lately I’ve been getting questions from Americans about what it’s like retiring in the Philippines, also from Manila friends wanting to know about my experience out in the province. As an answer to assorted questions I’m going into my own experience in some detail.

Living in the subdivision hasn’t meant I’ve made friends here, although I did go to some homeowners’ meetings and a party, which I hadn’t done in Quezon City. People have been friendly in terms of greetings and introductions—more than in the old e subdivisions, but so far it’s been neighborliness which hasn’t developed into friendships. There’s little contact, and we don’t seem to have much in common. My Tagalog also remains elementary, despite resolutions to get back to studying.

Nickie singing at Tago Jazz Cafe

Although English is one of the official languages in the Philippines, its use is rather restricted—business, official proceedings, one-on-one conversations with foreigners. Group socializing is in the local language. So, for example, you go to an hour-long meeting conducted entirely in fluent English, which everyone speaks, and afterwards one of your dinner table companions turns to you and says, “Sorry, but we’re going to speak Tagalog now.” So you sit there alone as they talk, and for the nth time you wonder whether you should just leave. Eventually you do, and you find better Filipino friends elsewhere. One English-speaking expat I know responded to the problem by simply monopolizing dinner table conversations herself. I was unwilling to do that.

Christmas 2015 at my house with Maggie and Patrick

I do have some warm personal relationships outside the subdivision. Within walking distance of Greenville is my friend Nickie, a talented jazz singer I met at Tago Jazz Café. Since she teaches English online we have plenty of stuff to talk about in addition to personal things. I get together frequently with Maggie and Patrick, who found me this house, and others who’ve also become friends.

Jessie, then Kingbert and Carole from Manila

Twice 15-20 folks from Manila have been willing to brave the hours-long traffic to come out for parties, although not without complaining that I should move closer to the city.

My friend Benjie brings me birthday flowers every year and sometimes drives me home from Manila. I’ve been surprised and delighted at the visitors who’ve come from the States and assorted places in Asia–maybe ten when I was living in Manila and four so far here.

Marita in her ancestral church

I met up with Marita, my writer friend from Woodstock, New York, in Manila when she was on her second pilgrimage to her father’s homeland. We explored the church and crypt where relatives were buried. (link/link)

During her vacation Sandra came over from where she was teaching in Taiwan. We took a boat ride on the Taal Lake together and had endless conversations.

Fe and Sandra in the boat on Taal Lake

Ida came from Los Angeles. (link) We met in Manila, did some sight-seeing and went to Benjie’s soup kitchen (link), where she presented him with a donation from Asian-Americans back home. We also did the boat ride—too windy, water coming into the boat—and sampled some Tago jazz. We had two great Filipino meals at Pamana, which like many restaurants on the ridge road has a view of the lake..

Benjie gives Ida a thank you card.

Melanie came from her graduate school program in Thailand. We did another boat ride—also too windy—and an excursion to People’s Park. More endless conversations, but somehow not quite enough. I’m hoping she’ll be back.

Tagaytay people are friendly and have made it easy to set up a support network, although the most important part of it I brought with me. It’s a long bus ride from their place in Bulacan, but my housekeeper Fe and sometimes her husband Jessie come out to stay several days at a time. Fe cleans and fills up the refrigerator with cooked food, and Jessie does the yard and whatever repairs or painting need to be done. As long as all three of us are flexible about the schedule, it works.

Melanie at People’s Park

Fe worked out a deal with a tricycle driver named Noli, who takes me around on a regular schedule or when I call. Maggie recommended a hairdresser who works in a salon in the nearby Robinson’s shopping center. A haircut is $4, or $6 with tip. Also in the same location is a friendly and absolutely painless dentist who charges $18 to clean teeth.

In Silang, a neighboring town, there’s Asian Massage and a good masseuse named Isabel who’ll come out for 300 pesos an hour plus 200 for transportation. With a 100-peso tip that’s $12 for a good massage by someone who actually listens to the client’s request—please work on my back—instead of automatically reaching for the back of the left leg.

Noli and his trike

The move to Cavite has been good for my finances. My rent has gone from $440 for a nice townhouse in a gated community in Quezon City (Metro Manila) to $350 for a much nicer duplex in a not-as-plush gated community in Tagaytay. Because it’s roughly ten degrees Fahrenheit cooler than Manila, I haven’t had to install the two split-level air-conditioners I brought with me, saving me $50-$100 a month in electric bills. My total expenses are now under $30,000 a year, including $7,000 for annual private health insurance premiums from a company in Hong Kong which has always been good about paying up.

Jhem, my hairdresser

This brings me to the question people always ask if they’re considering retiring in the Philippines, which is about medical care. Tagaytay is of course not Manila, which has very expensive private hospitals, expensive private hospitals, public hospitals and private or public clinics. My friend Bob had surgery at Medical City, and it went well. (link) Tagaytay is not exactly rural, but there’s less choice.

Isabel and the service trike from Asian Massage

When I first came I needed to find a vet. Right before we moved, little Sasha had developed ear mites as a result of her caregiver’s being too casual with the anti-pest treatment. She scratched a huge blister into her ear. I took her to the clinic where her brother had had a stone removed from his bladder, and the vet on duty said, “Well, you could do nothing, you could try this treatment or you could do surgery.” Back home, a visiting friend looked at the clinic card on my refrigerator door and said, “Why are you going to the most expensive clinic in the Philippines?” I took Sasha to his vet at Pendragon, who recommended surgery but warned that it could result in a cauliflower ear—folded over with its insides pooching out.

Sasha after her ear surgery

After she did the surgery, she told me to take Sasha to a vet in Tagaytay every day to have her bandage changed. I found one in a convenient location. He prescribed different meds than the vet in Quezon City—which always seems to happen—and charged $6 each time he changed her bandage. I thought it seemed high for the Philippines. We went there for over a week. Then one Sunday his colleague, who had apparently not been briefed, charged me $2 and said I didn’t need to get the bandage changed anymore.

Raku, Sasha’s brother, on the balcony

I had heard about Tagaytay’s reputation for ripping off tourists, vacationers and foreigners. I got so steamed up that on Monday I went to see the first vet with a prepared speech about the difference between being overcharged by a taxi driver or a fruit seller in the market and being overcharged by a health care professional who was in a position of trust. Then I got home, thought about it, and went back to apologize. But I also took Bob’s advice and looked for another vet.

Sasha did get cauliflower ear. I’m glad that the poor girl can’t look in the mirror, see herself and say, “Oh, I was such a beautiful cat. Now look at me. Look at my ear!”

Koki enjoying the sun

Several people have recommended a Chinese-Filipino clinic in Mendez, about three or four kilometers down the road. They do house calls, which is very handy if you have three cats needing shots. We’re with them now. A Frenchwoman nearby has a shop which will deliver large sacks of dry cat food and kitty litter. We get canned food on our occasional shopping trips to Imus. So we’re all set.

Restaurant huts on a nearby beach

Then there’s medical care for me. I still go to Manila to see the first-rate eye surgeon, Dr. Arroyo of Medical City and the American Eye Clinic, who’s done sixteen “procedures” on my eyes to ward off my age-related macular degeneration. It seems to be in remission now. (link)  I’m now seeing her only once every three months for tests and one of her colleagues every six months for glaucoma and a cataract.

Koki on the balcony

For over a year I was seeing Dr. Michael Satre at Medical City in Metro Manila about my sleep problem, which is common among older people with AMD. When my sleep improved about the time I moved to Tagaytay I suspended the visits with his permission and best wishes.

About a year after moving here, I got a bout of alternating diarrhea and constipation plus abdominal cramps. I couldn’t leave the house for two weeks. The next two weeks were less awful, and then it disappeared. From the Mayo Clinic website I gathered that I had gastroenteritis and, since I didn’t have certain specified symptoms, I didn’t have to see a doctor.

A few months later the abdominal cramps returned. Finally, in desperation I went over to Tagaytay Medical Center–a private but not swanky hospital–and said, yes, I’d see any MD who was available. I was sent to a nice man who prescribed something for the cramps. A week later he confessed that he had no idea what I had but would prescribe based on my description.

The next time I went to the hospital I asked for a specialist and got an internist. Immediately she asked how long I’d been seeing the first guy and pointed out that he’d prescribed only half of a course of antibiotics. She had me take a CT scan, which revealed that I had diverticulitis. She didn’t mention a “resting fast” for my overworked intestines, which the Mayo Clinic website said was standard treatment, but I’m doing well without it. So much for self-diagnosis via the internet.

Oddly, about the same time, my friend Bob in Beverley, Massachusetts also had a CT scan, although for another problem. Mine cost $400; his was $8,000. From everything I’ve seen, this difference in price is fairly typical between the US and the pricier hospitals in the Philippines as well as medical care in South Korea.

Except for the fact that in the Philippines prices vary a lot. The national hospitals can be a bit bleak, but many of the physicians who practice there, like Dr. Mike, also work at one or more of the private hospitals. A friend of mine spent one week at Medical City, which cost the same as three weeks at a national hospital. Looking–hopefully–far into the future, I gave Dr. Mike a copy of my living will and told him that if anything happened requiring long-term care I wanted to be put in the national hospital where he practiced, not in a place like Medical City, where even with health insurance my savings wouldn’t last very long.

Several weeks ago I decided that maybe what I’d assumed was a pulled tendon in my knee was actually something else. I went to Tagaytay Medical Center and was paired off with a doctor who prescribed pills and told me I needed x-rays but the machine in that hospital produced feathery-looking results. He sent me off to a facility in the backend of nowhere, a modern, empty-looking place with glaring but dim florescent lighting, where for $12 I got four x-rays, two for each knee. When I went back, he said I needed surgery. I said something about health insurance, and he said he didn’t feel qualified to fill out the forms, which could be as thick as a book. He gestured how thick, and I sensed the same frustration I’d often picked up from failing students. He seemed personally offended by my statement that I hadn’t taken my meds as he’d prescribed them since the “pain” was usually only a mild soreness and I didn’t take unnecessary painkillers.

“Don’t have surgery done in Tagaytay!” Bob practically screamed over the internet. Dr. Mike said that before I did anything as drastic as surgery he wanted me to talk to a couple of his colleagues at Medical City.

Ponz, my physical therapist

When I went back to the internist, she listened to my tale and recommended a doctor who looked at the x-rays and suggested either an injection every six months or—to start off—a dietary supplement which was supposed to increase the squishy stuff between the bones. He said I didn’t have to take the pain-killers.

Then I went to the physical therapy department where the very impressive doctor also looked at the x-rays and had a very nice therapist start me on a regimen of hot packs, electric stimulation, ultrasound and exercise with ankle weights and a stationary bicycle. I am becoming a fan of the physical therapy department. When I walk out on happy knees, I’m convinced the treatment is working. At other times I’m less certain.

I consider myself both very fortunate and a long way from knee replacement surgery. I did ask advice Facebook, and the majority who answered said the surgery was well worth it. I gather the results depend on the skills of the surgeon and the persistence of the patient in doing therapy afterwards. A friend in Manila says she knows three people who’ve had knee replacements. Two are very happy, and the other can’t walk–at all.

I guess the moral of the story, if there is one, is don’t settle for the first health care professional you get. In Manila I also saw another eye surgeon before Dr. Arroyo and four doctors before Dr. Mike. When I moved to Korea in 1988, health care there also seemed a bit spotty, but I soon found people and institutions I was satisfied with.

Edsel Gomez introduces his gig at the Ayala Museum.

As I said, I’m a city girl by nature and have been since the age of thirteen, when my family moved to Hamburg, Germany. There I discovered the freedom afforded by public transportation—similar I guess to what other Americans feel with their first car. And Seoul is wonderful for zipping around in one of the best subway systems in the world.

There are no taxis in Tagaytay. If you want individual service, this means tricycles for travel within a very restricted area. Fares from one place to another are fixed and easy to learn. Trikes are prohibited from driving on major highways, but some drivers will take you through leafy back roads–which I like– for a relatively high fare. There are jeepneys, which tend to be crowded and not very comfortable, and there are buses, air-conditioned and not.

The ballet “Opera” by Gabriel Barredos

The bus poses a danger if the conductor sees you as a slow-moving, gray-haired woman needing an assist. Instead of offering a hand up, he may impatiently grab your arm and hoist you on or off the bus, causing you to land hard on a foot connected to a sore knee. If you protest and yank your arm back, the man himself and the passengers behind him may well see you as a white woman who doesn’t want a Filipino to touch her. I’m working on a polite way out of this.

Paolo Cortez plays at Tago

Anyway, once or twice a month I board the bus for my fix of concrete, traffic, polluted urban air, connection with friends, live jazz, shopping, bookstores and whatever. I always stay at the no-frills, safe, friendly, clean Stone House, where a room with bath (shower, actually), double bed, air-conditioning and cable TV is about $30, including free breakfast. Having a home away from home has made it somewhat easier to get into town for concerts, like Tago’s collaboration on a jazz series with the Ayala Museum or regular jazz nights at Tago.

The Stone House

A day or two of Manila is enough. I breathe easier as the bus home starts climbing and the greenness on the other side of the windows seeps inside to quiet my spirit. My ears pop, and I feel drawn into cooler and cleaner air.

From Metro Manila to Cavite Province, Part 1

by on May 4th, 2017

The house after painting. The pink side on the left is uninhabited and hopefully will stay that way. The cream-colored side is mine.

Lately I’ve been getting questions from Americans about what it’s like retiring in the Philippines. As an answer to assorted questions I’m going into my own experience in some detail.

In the early months of 2015, I’d wake up in the morning, leave my air-conditioned bedroom and swear at the heat. It was too hot, too crowded and polluted to walk my usual route from the gated subdivision in Quezon City to the University of the Philippines campus. So I’d have breakfast in front of the computer while listening to National Public Radio, and somehow I’d end up being there most of the day. I’d convinced myself that this was no way to live even before I got a message from a friend in California saying, “Carol, what are you still doing in Manila? Go to a beach.”

I didn’t want to live on a beach, getting sand into everything and being bashed around by salt waves when I wanted a leisurely swim. About this time Bob arrived for surgery at Medical City. (link) Afterwards he wanted to be driven around the area by someone who wouldn’t jostle him too much. He hired a taxi, and we went to Tagaytay.

The town sits on a volcanic mountain a few hours from Manila. It’s rapidly growing popular with tourists and weekenders, so hardly a provincial backwater, but still requiring an adjustment for a city girl like myself who used taxis as her major means of transportation and still waxed nostalgic over the subway system in Seoul—which reminded me of arriving in Hamburg, Germany at the age of thirteen and discovering the great, unexpected freedom of subways, streetcars, buses, trains and ferries. It was empowerment.

I’d been to Tagaytay several times on outings with friends. (link). But this time as Bob and I were riding along the highway, admiring the view of the Taal Lake in the distance, I suddenly saw myself walking along that road. Okay, Tagaytay it would be.

The gate to Greenville Subdivision

Immediately I discovered that the real estate agents who advertise on the internet were looking for the rich tourist/vacationer tenants willing to pay three times as much as I was, or more. It happened that I had a few friends—Uay, Maggie and Patrick—who had connections inside gated subdivisions, which is crucial because otherwise the guards at the subdivision gates aren’t going to let you in to inspect houses with for sale or for rent signs. Uay found a house I inspected and negotiated for. Maggie and Patrick found others in another subdivision. Two were very peculiar, one with a garish mixture of paint colors and an owner who wasn’t sure she wanted to part with the house, and another with a precarious-looking, jerry-rigged circular staircase which seemed to warn of strange doings upstairs. The last one was almost perfect.

Getting ready to move

When I met with the owner, we discussed terms. It’s somewhat common in the Philippines to have a provision in the lease that the rent can be increased 10% a year. I don’t know whether this is a condition given only to foreigners and other suckers. I’ve never paid it. The new landlord agreed that the rent would not be increased for three years—I’d asked for five—but I wasn’t sure he understood that this didn’t mean we had a three-year contract. The agent, the caretaker’s wife, sent a lease which she’d copied from somewhere. All the terms of who would pay for what were the opposite of what the landlord and I had agreed. I rewrote it, emailed it to a lawyer friend in Japan for comment, and sent it on to the landlord. One afternoon we signed it together.

Last coffee with Aida, my friend and neighbor.

The house needed work. A roof over the narrow laundry area behind the house would stop the rain from coming in. I wanted a grill covering the ironwork on the balcony so the cats wouldn’t accidentally chase each other over the side. The paint was peeling, uneven or obnoxious inside and outside the house. The door to the balcony was badly broken. The tiled floor downstairs had holes which would be dangerous to a woman wearing high heels. (Maggie pointed that out to me. I wouldn’t have thought of it.) The staircase railing wasn’t properly attached to the wall. The plumbing in the kitchen sink was loose and leaking. There was a huge bald spot in the front yard where the previous tenant’s satellite dish had been and nothing but dirt on the ground under the balcony. Later we discovered termites.

The caretaker volunteered to fix some of these things for an insane amount of money—after, I discovered, having overcharged the landlord for work he hadn’t done. I didn’t want that man or his wife in my house.

The trucks arrive.

Fortunately, the very organized, talented, patient, forgiving woman who’d been my housekeeper and personal assistant for eight years agreed to continue on after the big move. Like all other residences I’ve seen, the house had a maid’s room, and this one was habitable.  As it turned out, the new arrangement would require flexibility on the part of both of us, since Fe and her husband, Jessie, still maintained their place in Bulacan, a six-hour bus ride away. Jessie  moved into the house for two weeks and did all the tasks on our list. Fe found some movers who would take all my stuff—furniture, appliances, mounds of boxes—for a modest fee. The only holdup was that one of the trucks broke down on Saturday and the homeowner’s association in Quezon City wouldn’t allow moving on Sunday, probably because the staff always had to inspect vehicles going out the gates to be sure nothing was being stolen.

The movers take it upstairs.

I’d been very fond of the old townhouse even though it had flooded twice—once with rain coming through a joint in the kitchen ceiling and once with a broken pipe in the upstairs bathroom. But the landlord was very good about fixing things.  I’d made some good friends, and we’d had good times. There were interesting people I’d just met. I’d become a regular at a jazz café only twenty minutes away.  Parting would not be easy.

Jessie finished his work on the house, the paint smell dissipated, the first of the trucks made its way to Tagaytay and my bed was set up. Aida and I had our last coffee together and late at night my friend Benjie drove me, Fe, and three caged, whining and howling cats to the new house. After midnight a trip which takes three hours or more by day can be cut down to a little over an hour.

The last of the trucks was allowed into the Quezon City subdivision, loaded and driven to Tagaytay. The moving guys brought stuff inside, up the stairs, wherever we wanted it. Everything fit in the new space except the plastic storage boxes of clothes. There was next to no storage space. Later we used drapes to partition off part of my L-shaped bedroom and create a walk-in closet. In very little time we had new curtains for the windows, which I cut to the appropriate lengths and hemmed. We started tending the grass. We brought in rounded, decorative stone for the ground under the balcony. I brought an assortment of plants from an organic farm where Maggie, Patrick and I met for coffee.

An abandoned Buddhist temple on the Amadeo road.

When Jessie discovered termites, we contacted a company recommended by one of the subdivision staff, they came out, explained that our variety of termite was less destructive than some others and the infestation was not so bad. They estimated the house was eighty square meters. They produced an extermination contract with a guarantee of inspections for three years. I immediately called the landlord, who dashed over to look at the termites. He agreed to pay the bill.

“The house is beautiful,” he exclaimed. I hoped it was not so very beautiful that his sister would want it back in three years.

A temple window grill

In her typical fashion, Fe arranged for the extermination to take place while I was on one of my monthly or bi-monthly trips to Manila. It was handled quickly and efficiently. To keep the cats out of danger the subdivision staffer who’d recommended the company moved them to another house while mine was being sprayed and Jessie was cleaning up.

Later, through the housekeeper-to-housekeeper gossip, I discovered that the previous tenant knew about the termites but did nothing because it wasn’t his house. I don’t believe the caretaker was ignorant either.

As I mentioned, Tagaytay is “sa probinsa,” in the province, meaning not in Manila, but it’s not in a distant backwater either. Before I decided to move here, I found a website with a variety of options for internet service. It proved to be totally misleading. While it’s true that parts of town have good internet, there are also dead spots, and my subdivision had been in one since a group of high-rises were built near the ridge road, cutting off wi-fi access.

Great view for a walk

Now, back in Quezon City I’d had disputes with Sky Cable, too. At one point I’d recorded the speed every day for a couple of weeks and brought the record into the company office. They gave me a refund, I ordered a cheaper service, and the internet speed doubled. Go figure. In Tagaytay I regretted the not-very-nice things I’d said about Sky Cable. At least when I moved to Tagaytay I’d brought with me six or seven months’ worth of posts for the website.

Patrick and Jessie install a sturdy antenna pole.

Fe and I went to Dasmariñas, the closest offices for Globe and Smart. In both places the representatives looked at the maps in their computers and shook their heads. But the Sun-Cellular office at Robinson’s in Tagaytay, after looking at their map, was happy to give me a little plug-in wi-fi device. I bought it and handed over an additional 1,000 peso ($25) deposit so I didn’t have to worry about running out of credit. The thing did not work. We went to the office to complain. A sweet girl came to my house and tried to force it to work for two hours, a good hour after I’d told her to stop. She said the problem was my computer. If I had a smaller device, it might work. It worked on the laptop for a few minutes. Fe and I went to the office again and filled out forms for a refund. We were told the paperwork was making its way upstairs. We were told to bring in the laptop, which I did. Nothing. After three months and seven trips to the office, word came that there would be no refund, not even of my additional deposit, because monthly fees had been deducted even after I’d handed in all the refund paperwork.

The cats settle in.

In the meantime, I went across the highway to the coffee shop in the Kimberly Hotel. Buildings directly on the highway had access to PLDT, which is wired. The coffee shop had wireless which sometimes worked and more often didn’t. I’d order, consume my ice cream or whatever, and after a long struggle with the signal would sometimes be invited to use the internet in the office. But during the APEC conference, when everyone left Manila for the provinces and Tagaytay was mobbed with vacationers, that invitation was revoked. So I went off in search of something else.

Near Robinson’s shopping center, about three kilometers from my house, was an internet café which was almost always open, but noisy. There were gamers who were old enough to have jobs but who seemed to spend all day  playing, making bets and yelling. Downstairs was a karaoke place with singers belting out their songs off-key. Such was my sense of isolation without the internet—remember, I had no job in the Philippines—that I went there for a couple of hours three times a week. I listened to the news and checked facts for whatever I was writing. Finally, during an on-line conversation with friends from various parts of the world, someone yelled, “Carol, we can’t hear you!” In addition to the usual noise there was a television going directly behind me. I gave up.

The next morning, a truck arrived from Globe Tattoo, not the regular Globe service, but a sub-service provider of questionable legality. They set up an antenna on the roof with a rickety pole and wired it to the outside of the house. I looked around and saw new antennas on a few neighbors’ houses. A neighbor said that when the wind blew their antenna in the wrong direction, they sent the houseboy up on the roof to fix it—a very Filipino way of handling the situation. I mentioned this to Patrick, and he came over to help Jessie install a bigger, galvanized pole, attach it securely to the house, and drill a hole in the pole so I could crank the antenna back on track if the wind blew it off. It never did.

That service was better. I’d get up in the morning, get NPR on the laptop, which got the signal better than the desktop, and download the news stories one at a time with a lot of poking and clicking and swearing. I could talk to people and do interviews. Service was on and off. When Tagaytay Cable came into the subdivision—as I said, the place is growing—I had that installed immediately. The cable office was on my usual walking route, so I could stop in and pay my bill. The technicians were friendly and capable.

For several months, we were good. Then service was interrupted. I complained, and the cable guys came. They got the signal once for a few minutes on the laptop. On the third trip, the main guy blamed my computers and said he would not come out again until I consulted a computer repair guy. I took the laptop to a repair shop—to a guy who has since become part of my support network—who immediately said blaming the computer was bullshit. I said something about “the Asian blame game” which I had to retract immediately because it hurt his feelings. He tested the laptop on his signals, one Globe and one PLDT, and it worked with both. After that the cable computer engineer came over, fiddled with the desktop for some time and eventually got the signal working.

We were doing great for a while, only now there’s often a problem in the evenings, when Skype becomes unintelligible and meetings, conversations, interviews have to be rescheduled. To put this in perspective, management at the internet café was proud when they got 2 Mbps. Tagaytay Cable was at best 3 Mbps. My friend Greg in California says the standard is 50 Mbps, and he’s trying to get his rates down by signing up for 20.

So much for my internet problems, which friends in Manila say they have been following on Facebook with some amusement. The cable guys were just here. We’re almost on a first-name basis.At least I know they’re trying to help.

Next post the Tagaytay saga continues.

Postscript: So PLDT. one of the major internet providers, finally came into Greenville. I now have fiber-optic cable, 20 Mbps, for the same price as I got zero to 3.3 Mbps from Tagaytay Cable. When I changed the service to television only, I got a blank expression from the woman at the desk as if she was wondering what took me so long.


A Remarkable Journey with Light and Sound

by on April 2nd, 2017

Book cover

I first interviewed Richie Quirino about his books and video on Filipino jazz in A Jazz Musician and Jazz Journalist.” [<–Link]. Recently we spoke in the Hotel Kimberly  coffee shop in Tagaytay about his latest book. The Amen Vibration, Volume II, was published under his spiritual name, Echad. It follows an unpublished manuscript of decades earlier. It presents a chorus of voices on the positive and negative effects of light and sound on humanity—science and religion with variations.

Richie’s story

Richie Quirino, Echad

In the first chapter of the book, God says, “Let there be light.” Then boom, the Big Bang, vibration, the primordial word. Only one verse in the Bible, Revelation 3:14, says what “amen” means. According to John, “amen” is the Holy Spirit, the Holy Ghost, the True Comforter which is omniscient and omnipresent. All the religions have a phonetically related sound: “aum” for the Hindus, “om” for the Buddhists and Taoists, “hum” for the Tibetans, “hu” for the Eckists. Amen, aum, om, ayam, all with the same sound vibrations. The Holy Spirit is a sound. The universe was created with light and sound.

Sound becomes light at the 55th octave. You can’t hear it anymore, but it converts itself into light. You can see it, and if that increases further you can’t see it anymore, but it becomes invisible rays, x-rays. It’s all about energy.

Our musical scale is pegged to 440 hertz. The tempered scale was invented by the Chinese. They passed it on to Marco Polo, and it became the basis for Western music. The Chinese consider the middle F of the Piano as the Kung Tone or the sound of nature and the universe. They cut bamboo at different lengths to create a cycle of fifths, a scale based on nature, on balance, on yin and yang. If you want to hear what the universe sounds like, go to Youtube and type in 432 hertz. [<– link]

For this post I’d like to focus on your personal experience. Could you talk about it, starting from the beginning?

Sure. In 1967 when I was eleven, my parents bought a beach house in Nasugbu. I enjoyed walking along the beach, observing how beautiful everything was. I’d put a shell to my ear and listen to the sound. I collected sea shells, traded them, classified them and read books on them. I wanted to be a marine biologist when I grew up. But two years later I was exposed to the music of the Beatles and Motown. Woodstock came along, and so did all this and that. I opened up and started to ask a lot of deep questions.

It was the time of “Jesus Christ, Superstar.” Jesus was my hero. I shared a room with my brother, who was a talented artist and who filled the room with depictions of heaven and the angels in water color and pen and ink. I asked him for a picture he’d done of Jesus. I put it at my feet, said, “Peace, man” and gave it the peace sign.

My hair was long, halfway down my chest. One day my father told me we were going to the polo club. When I saw we were headed toward the barbershop, I escaped. I went to a friend’s house and asked to borrow some money because I was running away from home. Then I took a bus, a jeep and finally a tricycle up the hill to Binangonan, a lake-shore town in Laguna Bay. Binangon means “to awaken,” but I didn’t make that connection until later.

I arrived at dusk. I told the people there I’d run away from home, and they accepted me. I stayed with them for twenty-seven nights. It was a simple life, cooking over a campfire, haulint water. Two of us would carry plastic containers on a wooden pole, hike uphill to a stream, fill the containers and climb down. At night it was cold. During the day it was hot in the sun.

I’d say I discovered nature and God in that place, with the leaves rustling and the bird singing, the flowers, the trees, the forest filled with medicinal plants. I had food and shelter. What more could you ask for? At night I counted falling stars—over twenty one night. You could see the city in the distance and feel its vibrations.

There wasn’t much to do. After a while I got bored and went home. My family was so happy to see me that they said I could keep my hair long. But a few days later I turned the color of catsup. The doctor looked up my symptoms, and he found I had scarlet fever. No hospital would take me. The staff had never seen anything like it, and they were afraid it would spread.

It was so painful. At home I was in put in an isolated room, and only my grandmother took care of me. She was a pure-minded, very religious person from the Spanish provinces who never said anything bad about anyone. She prayed all the time.

I often passed out because of the pain. But one day I woke up and knew I’d survived. I asked what had happened, and I was told I’d been sick for three weeks. Immediately I asked myself why Jesus had let me suffer so much. I was so disappointed I decided I’d set him aside.

A friend asked me if I wanted to do yoga, so I did. Then a few months later another friend suggested Transcendental Meditation, which had just arrived in Manila. So I attended the seminar, was initiated with flowers and candles and incense and was given a mantra, which I chanted. Then we meditated. Later I met someone who’d come to teach a humanist and scientific approach to meditation, having to do with how the mind perceived the world.

By 1976. I’d gone through so many different things—window shopping, actually. I heard about a lecture on the mystic 13, which I thought sounded hip. When I walked into the room there was a Bible on the table, and I decided to get out of there. But someone said, “No, no, no, Richie. This is about the apocrypha. It’s about the Dead Sea scrolls.”

“What, what, what?”

So I sat it out, and I was hooked. The guru’s right-hand man was there, and he gave me a practice: visualizations, chanting, meditation, breathing exercises. I was told that if I adhered to this practice I’d be welcomed into the inner circle, the Brotherhood of Christ Consciousness, which includes the consciousness to be one with Krishna, Buddha and Zoroaster.

I started going to the Theosophical Society in Quezon City [<– link], where I discovered a two-volume work by Helena Blavatsky, the society’s founder. on cosmo-genesis and anthropo-genesis. It provides an account of how the world began, from the initial cell to the ancient civilizations, as we see in archeological sites like the Stonehenge, the pyramids and the giant monoliths on Easter Island. These “root races” destroyed themselves by misusing light and sound. We were now also headed toward self-destruction, for example by not developing wind and solar power and by creating the nuclear bomb, a  a horrific explosion of light followed by sound which sets off a chain reaction felt around the world. Or not developing sustainable solar, wind and hydrothermal energy.

Another of the society’s leading lights, Dr. Geofrey Hudson, wrote a two-part book which deals first with the effects of sound on matter, complete with photographs, and second with on a clairvoyant’s depictions of what she saw in the atmosphere.

Later, when I met the guru, Brod Boy, he told me that my chakras, or my cerebral spine centers, were in disarray and needed aligning. He’d do psychic surgery. I had to sit in a certain position while he touched my knees, my shoulders and my heart. Each time I felt and heard a jolt. Then he touched the back of my neck where the skull meets the spine, called the medulla oblongata. Inside it, he explained to me, were my cosmic “akhasic” record—smaller than a grain of sand. He accessed it and said, “There are too many lives for me to tell you about all of them, but I can tell you the best and the worst, your potential and your weaknesses.”

He told me I was in the Vatican at one time. As he talked I saw the grandmother who’d taken care of me. I saw her walking through the door in spirit form, smiling, radiant. She represented good. Then he told me about my past life in Mexico, and oh, my God, I saw all these contorted disfigured images.

My guru has a vow of poverty. He has never asked me for a single centavo because the kingdom of God is not of this world. I failed him many times, and he still loves me, still accepts me.

Once we went to Wesak Festival in the full moon of May, Buddha’s birthday, when he descends to earth and blesses the planet. Ten days beforehand, our ashram initiates, get together and do a retreat and a ten-day fast on a mountain. For the first seven days, it’s a half fast from six a.m. to six p.m. You can drink, but you can’t eat anything. Then for the last three days, it’s full fast, no drinking or eating anything.

In 1992 in Baguio, during the three-day full fast I went into the kitchen, spotted a banana and some crackers and ate them. I thought I could get away with it because nobody saw me, but I was fooling myself. On the final day there was a closing ritual, and Brod Boy said I’d be initiated into the third part of the Egyptian Arcane. He taught me the practice. I wondered whether I deserved a promotion.

Then he said, “Okay, you can now go to town now and get back to normal.” But before we left, he looked at me and said, “Hindi ako manggagamot, hindi ako manghuhula.I am not a physician. I am not a soothsayer.” In other words, don’t believe what I say, but figure it out for yourself. He knew I ate the banana and crackers. He knew. There was nothing you could hide from him.

On Session Road, the main thoroughfare in Baguio, I saw “Mr. Doughnut, 1955 Boston.” I was born in 1955 and went to college in Boston, but I didn’t see the connection until later. We went inside and ordered tea and coffee. The initiate beside me spilled boiling hot coffee on my arm. I yelled, and the cook laid some tomato slices on the burn as first aid. It should have been ice. I was traumatized.

So we went back to the ashram—I was still screaming—and Brod Boy told people to get some guava leaves, boil them and get some cotton. They got the leaves, but they said there was no cotton. Brod Boy just gestured with his hand, and cotton appeared. As it turned out, hot guava leaves do heal a burn.

The following day I went nuts. I left the ashram for Baguio General Hospital, where they put a gel on the burn to soothe the skin and accelerate the healing. Eventually, the skin became a leather map on my arm. Here, you can still see the scar. At any rate, I’d flunked.

Brod Boy said, “God is all good, and he told us to be good. But he also gave us free will. If we choose the right thing, we reap the reward. If not, we suffer the consequences. Being good is not easy. There’s too much temptation,”

The teacher tailors the practice for the initiate, for what you were doing in past lives and for what you need in this life to accelerate your consciousness so you can be one with God, which is the purpose of every human being. Since Adam and Eve, we’ve lost the purity of animals, of the pure man and the pure woman. The planet is spinning out of control, the vibrations of the planet are off because we have misused light and sound. Carbon emissions, yes, but also electro-magnetic frequencies and the electro-magnetic pulse from cell phones, computers, television, radar—anything that generates all kinds of waves, billions of waves are coming in and out of us right now.

What happened in New York in 9/11 was the wakeup call for the planet, the sign of approaching total chaos. Brod Boy called the ashram together—there were about fifteen of us. He said, “I’m leaving on a mission with three other universal masters from other countries.” They were to traverse the planet, recharging the planet together in order to delay the total chaos scenario and give humans more time to change.

I said, “Oh God, Brod Boy, what do we do when all hell breaks loose?

“Well, you can go with me to the forest. Everything’s there—shelter, food, clothing, water. It’s all there.” But I’m so used to life in the city. How could I bring my wife and children out there?

Brod Boy’s departure was a shock, He’d taught members of the group from 1960 to 2001. But in a sense his departure made us grow. Now he comes back once a year. We have an ashram on a beautiful spread in Quezon Province, where we meet once a month for collective meditation.

After 9/11, I fell into a depression from thinking of the future of my children. The children of this planet don’t deserve to be punished because of what we did and previous generations did. And this is what we’re giving them?

When Broad Boy returned and found me depressed, he said, “Shame on you. You should enjoy every moment of your life. Embrace life. Love everybody. Be the best you can be. Smile if you can. You don’t know when that time will be, so make the most of every second you have left.”Then I snapped out of it.

Brod Boy gave me a new practice three times. In 1975. I was given a Hebrew cabalistic practice and a mantra in Aramaic, then Egyptian Arcane in 2001, and in 2015 it was Shakti Path. So from Hebrew to Egyptian to Hindu. Because each practice is tailored to the individual, the people in our ashram we didn’t have the same practice.

It’s not easy having a good practice if you also have to earn a living and take care of your wife and children. The real ashrams are far from the madding crowd. Like here in Tagaytay, where it’s so peaceful. Actually, I found a community here on an organic farm. After I bought some produce, I directed the farm community in the expanding light meditation in the book. It’s a guided meditation for bringing the spirit into your body and expanding it so it becomes one with the universe. You realize that you’re not this body, you’re this light. People seemed to enjoy it. Now that I’m retired, I help whoever I can.

Nowadays I only play with my band once or twice a week. All my life I’ve been an entertainer. Being exposed to very loud sound isn’t good for me. So three years ago I sold all my instruments. I told my family, “Next year, in 2015 when I turn 60, I’m going to get into the spiritual life I’ve neglected for a long time.”

In 2014, I sold all my instruments, got rid of the large house and built a new, much smaller home—I used to be in the construction business. I want to live half the time outside the city, maybe in Tagaytay. My sons have finished college and are working. They’re in their own orbits.

You had some experience with healers, didn’t you?

There was a Pilates instructor, a former actress who’d become clairvoyant after a near-death experience which opened up her third eye. She became a healer. The Pilates studio is commercial, but the healing sessions were in a special room. There it was by donation. She did me a favor by treating me on Sundays although Sunday was her day off.

In Brazil she’d bought a huge machine with seven big quartz crystals, each one emitting a different color of light. You lie down on a bed, and she covers your eyes and points the crystal quartz at your chakras. She sets the timer and the control for the light intensity. She claims that a being from another planet is guiding her, that she’s just a channel of that energy and that it’s God who does the healing.

The sessions last thirty minutes for the first one, and they increase to forty-five, then an hour. While you’re lying there she puts a Tibetan singing bowl over one of your chakras. She chants, strikes the bowl and rubs it and it makes a sound. During my first session, I astral-projected. When I got back, it was over. I said I had to go to a concert.

“No, no, no, you can’t move. You’re not yet grounded.”

When I got outside, I didn’t know where I was. Every street—I totally lost my perception. I almost got into several accidents.

During the fifth or six session, she told me I had a blockage in my hip. “Yeah, I know, I have sciatica.” When I left I was completely healed. No more pain.

After the tenth session she told me to go to Dada, a childhood friend who’d officiated at my Hindu wedding. I hadn’t seen him in years. Later he told me she’d stopped working because she had cancer. I wish she’d told me.

I met the other healer back in 1985 when the daughter of the mayor of Manila came over to the house with this huge guy who’d been living with her family for three months. He was Ronald Marcos, the adopted son of the president, but he’d run away from Malacañang Palace because he felt he was being exploited. He was an idiot savant. He said he didn’t know where he’d come from, he’d been found in a garbage bag when he was five years old. He was called Bionic Boy because of his special powers. The Marcoses had been using him to find gold and other minerals.

They’d sent him to NASA in the United States to find out where his powers came from. He loved America. He wanted to stay, but Marcos wouldn’t let him. Back in Manila he wasn’t allowed to leave the palace.

So I said, “Sure, I’ll take him in.”

He lived with us for a little over two months and wanted to stay forever.

All he had with him was a suitcase which contained a typewriter, a photo album and a shopping bag of clothes. He was so proud of the photo album. He showed us that it was stuffed full of foreign currency which people had given him. He was writing a book of “all the firsts,” even those which would occur in the future. He’d type in a trance,

He went to the piano, and he played “Blue Danube” without touching the keys. At night he put a flashlight to his forehead—as if he were recharging himself—and made sounds in cascading up and down pitches. Once time I took him and my parents to a resort where you could ride on a caribou-drawn cart and be serenaded. He borrowed a guitar and started playing it and singing in Spanish.

One of his favorite tricks was to take a ballpoint pen and a piece of paper. He’d tell you to ask him a question. Then he’d suck the ink out of the pen, blows it on the paper, and there was the answer to your question.

I’d developed a prostate problem after a friend suggested that I have my prostate checked out. I went to a doctor who charged a lot of money for prostate massage done by beautiful nurses. As a result I had a blockage of prostatic fluid. He’d ruined my prostate.

Bionic Boy had me stand against the dining room wall while he stood a few yards away making his bionic sounds. For maybe four minutes I felt jolts. I was completely healed. When I went back to show the doctor, he said, “Can he heal me too?” He had the same problem. Bionic Boy said he would do it if the doctor would heal his athlete’s foot. He took off his shoes, and his feet really smelled. Sometimes the healers can’t heal themselves.

Bionic Boy wanted me to find him a wife, a woman without an asshole. I think he was kidding. Eventually I called the mayor and asked him to take him back.


The book is available in Astra Gallery, 2nd floor LRI Design Center, Nicanor Garcia st. (Formerly Reposo st.), Makati City from Monday to Saturday. Also only on Sunday from 10am to 2pm, Legazpi Village Organic Market, look for Mara Pardo de Tavera’s Food Kitchen. Tyvm & Gbu.


Johnny Alegre  on Pinoy Jazz: Very entertaining read.

Another reader writes: Quite  a post. Enjoyed the YouTube 432 hertz recommend – found some fun stuff as a result. Over and over and over we hear MEDITATE

Evolution of an Intercultural Text—Free Textbook Download

by on March 9th, 2017

Pittsburgh bridges as seen from Mount Washington

Bridges: Intercultural Conversation 1 and 2 is available in PDF files at the textbook page.

I’m a staunch believer in using materials designed to meet the particular needs of particular students—their current circumstances, their culture, their preparation for the jobs they were most likely to have. I came to this conviction in 1984 when I arrived at Xiamen University in Fujian Province, China, and was told that the fourth-year composition classes I’d been hired to teach had been given to someone else. I would be doing first-year and graduate-level conversation. Instead of the box of composition books I’d brought with me from the University of Pittsburgh, I needed conversation materials. In the stacks of the university library I found almost nothing useful.

English teacher and student in the classroom

The freshman conversation book had already been selected. It was a cheap reprint of a pirated English as a Second Language textbook used in the US, but not as adaptable as the no-content ESL text I’d disliked using at Pitt, with discussion questions like “what are holidays like in your country?’ In China, in this distinctly English as a Foreign Language setting, my students didn’t understand their textbook. The Chinese teachers didn’t understand it. Those who had selected it—who probably wouldn’t have understood it either if they’d read it—thought it would teach something of modern technology via English, economically doing two things at once.

So, for example, one reading selection the students were supposed to discuss described how health care professionals in rural areas in the US could use a touch-tone telephone to transmit their patients’ vital signs to a hospital computer miles away. Right. The kids had never seen a touch-tone phone. When they used a telephone at all, they’d made operator-assisted calls. It didn’t help much for me to draw a phone on the board and make beeping sounds in different pitches. They still didn’t get it. They thought of a computer as a television set connected with a typewriter. They knew only what a computer looked like, not what it did. They were still campaigning for access to typewriters. The teachers would ask me, “What does it mean, ‘reach out and touch someone’?” They’d never even heard of the Beatles. How would they know about a telephone commercial? This was before the internet. Where could they look it up?

English language textbooks produced in China had as their first sentence, “Long live Chairman Mao.” An elementary German textbook talked about German as a tonal language. My colleague on the other side of the classroom wall appeared to be teaching English that way, as I often heard him declaim, and the students repeat, “What (rising intonation) is (rising intonation) man (falling intonation)! What is man!”

Eventually I discarded the textbook I’d been told to use and put together some readings stolen from various places, like Ms. Magazine’s Stories for Free Children. Descriptions of life on the American frontier with technology on the level of the butter churn they could understand. They knew of simple machines from the Chinese countryside. For the freshmen I wrote a book of dialogues to illustrate cross-cultural situations. Later I made it available to the other teachers in the department, and my boss had printed off and distributed.

For the graduate students I also typed out readings and discussion questions on mimeograph stencils and took them over to the printing factory to be run off. One article was another Ms. Magazine piece called “What Is Fear?” At that time psychology was illegal in the PRC. Who would need it in a workers’ paradise? I looked at how tightly the students’ lives were controlled by the society and the state and decided they needed to be introduced to some basic concepts. They were as eager to learn this as they were practically anything coming from the West.

Another time I got so ticked off at the repeated invasion of my privacy at the guesthouse where I lived that I gave an inspired lecture on the Bill of Rights while students scrambled madly to get it all down. In those days the foreign faculty were still trying to get students to think about what they read or heard instead of just memorizing, swallowing a whole article in one gulp to be spit out later, unchewed and undigested, word for word with some words missing. After the Bill of Rights lecture, two middle-aged men appeared in my class. They sat through a lesson on how to use the computer as a research tool, probably without understanding a word. No one gave them a copy of the materials. I’d already decided that if the department’s party secretary told me I couldn’t do something I’d just done–as happened later in Korea–I’d apologize and not do it again, but until then I’d do what I wanted.

So in 1989, when I started teaching at Dongguk University in Seoul, my bias was for materials based on students’ need. Meet the kids where they are, not in some imagined place where the school curriculum or the textbook publisher said they ought to be. I continued with the reading selections—reading is the best way to teach vocabulary—plus recordings I made of National Public Radio stores, later scenes from movies or television, whatever seemed to be something that would speak to them.

I discovered that although my Korean students didn’t know much more about Western culture than my Chinese students had, they often thought they did. For example, they knew that all eighteen-year-olds were thrown out of their parents’ homes and forced to sink-or-swim on their own, a prospect these very dependent kids clearly saw as undesirable, if not terrifying. They knew this because they watched recordings of Friends and saw young people living together instead of back home with their parents where they belonged. Some knew that driving habits in the US were worse than they were in Korea because they saw chase scenes on television. They were not buying the argument that this was just television–fiction. A few knew that African-Americans were the lowest on the hierarchy of races, because for them everything in life was placed on a hierarchy. Some told me the world was controlled by the international Jewish conspiracy. In general, students were often very critical of the US, which didn’t bother me, but would tolerate no criticism of anything about Korea unless they said it themselves. The female students believed that oppression of women was a Korean thing; the male students were glad of the lack of female competition in the workplace.

My response was a collection of texts called “American Pioneers,” with short stories or articles showing the lives of Americans from various racial and ethnic groups, women’s and family issues, gay issues and assorted windows into the US government and the US Constitution. In class I was neutral. I stepped back and allowed the material and the students to do the talking. The materials were available at the start of each semester, photocopied and bound into books by a shop down the hill from the university.

In the meantime I was interviewing people in preparation for a book. It had started in 1985 with a lively New Zealander who’d undergone surgery for a ruptured appendix under local anesthetic at the Xiamen University hospital. I realized then that my job was to take his words from his mouth, record them, transcribe them and edit them to make an oral history where his voice was still clearly audible. I put a manuscript of oral histories together but couldn’t find a publisher. I admit I didn’t look very hard. In Korea I added more interviews from expats and Koreans and put together a China-Korea manuscript which also didn’t find a publisher. One editor said, “This is a wonderful book, but last year we did four books about Asia from a Western perspective, and they were all financial failures. We can’t afford to publish yours.”

By that time I’d written and published a composition textbook made of my step-by-step instructions, sample compositions by my students and additional stuff like proof-reading exercises. It was accompanied by a semantics workbook which emerged from a my discarded MA thesis in linguistics. (My actual thesis for Pitt was a language attitude study about Korean reactions to non-native speakers of Korean.) A colleague and I got both textbooks and a teacher’s manual published by a Korean company.

Mary French at my house

When the oral history book was rejected I told myself I knew people who would be interested in the assorted opinions expressed in the interviews. So I cut the interviews up into bits and constructed reading selections about the experiences of expats dealing with Koreans and Koreans dealing with expats, adding a sociological perspective—individualistic cultures vs. collectivist cultures, for example. My colleague Mary French suggested making it more textbooky by adding precise definitions of key concepts, inserting quizzes and reading questions inside the reading texts. We worked out practical applications of the lessons learned and illustrated main points with role plays and recordings to use as listening tasks. I took the language of the reading selections—that is, spoken English—and used it as the basis of grammar and word study lessons. I added photos of my friends and my students and crossword puzzles of words used in the chapters. There are two surveys which students could do in either English or Korean.

The result was a two-semester book which I used for ten years at Dongguk, revising a bit every vacation for the first six or seven years. I looked for a publisher and didn’t find one, although again I didn’t try very hard. If I were to use it now, I’d use most of it as it stands and some of it as a basis of comparison of the America of twenty years ago and the America in the age of Donald Trump. I’d have students compare the traditional Korean workplace with the current workplace as they discover it from conducting their own surveys and interviews. All real, discoverable facts, not stereotypes or rumors. (In my composition classes the students did interviews, and they found the real world of work was not at all as they’d been told.)

My purpose, as I said to my sophomore-level conversation classes for English majors, was to show them what they needed to know to get and keep jobs in places where they’d have to work with people who looked like me. I thought, but did not tell them, “Look, this may be the English Department, but Shakespeare is probably not going to get you a job.” I knew this myself all too well. My first career was in teaching German and German literary scholarship.

Me in my Dongguk classroom

The students loved the textbook. They wanted to be eavesdropping on what Westerners were saying about them when they weren’t in the room. Reality often has an odd way of sounding like it. They wanted to know not only what not to say but why. Or why some Western behavior is not seen as disrespectful to Westerners as it is to Koreans. Or how much some Westerners knew and understood about Korean culture. A few  students who’d lived abroad told me the book explained things about Korean culture they’d never understood before. Some kids told an Australian colleague who was interviewing them that they felt they’d become “more international people.” The most popular chapters were the ones on the women’s rights, supplemented with a movie, and on consumer and business issues.

Bridges: Intercultural Conversation 1 and 2 is currently set up to be a two-semester book with a parallel set of topics. A student could take the first semester, the second semester or both. Each chapter is self-contained with regard to subject matter, vocabulary and language study. The material could also be restructured by removing the grammar and word study sections or by using only chapters on certain topics. It is suitable for university or institute classes, conversation or culture or four-skills classes, in-house classes for employees preparing to work abroad, translator training, independent study for individuals preparing to go abroad. It could be easily expanded with audio-visual materials or out-of-class assignments like more surveys and interviews.

Volume 1 has a two-chapter introduction to cultural differences between Korea and the US, followed by chapters on asking personal questions, non-verbal communication, deference in Korea, family structure, misunderstandings in the workplace and women’s history, plus lots of exercises. A final chapter on Canadian views could be used for either a paper or extended discussion. Volume 2 combines the two introductory chapters of Volume 1 into one chapter. Then there are chapters on friendship and respect as seen in the US, intercultural dating, the financial problems of getting through college, life in the military as told by Americans who are fluent in Korean, women in the Korean workplace, cultural differences in doing business, a historical look into racial relations–including the story of a Korean-African-American war baby–and a final chapter on Americans who have become experts on Korean Buddhist temple painting, Korean shamanism, and Korean birth dreams. Again, lots of exercises.

Mary and I dedicated the book to the memory of Darcy Shipman, a dear friend who taught at a school in Incheon and also at Dongguk University, who loved her students and taught them well.

So, please, check out my website, Turning East: Stories of Living, Working and Traveling in Asia, which currently contains 186 posts from experiences in China, Korea, Japan, the Philippines and elsewhere. Explore the offerings on the index page. Go to the textbook page and download the eighteen chapters and teacher’s supplement which are waiting for you as PDF files. Then please log in via Facebook and leave comments. Just don’t republish, please.

Donna Miscolta, Author of “Hola and Goodbye”

by on February 17th, 2017

Photo by Meryl Schenker

Donna Miscolta and I did an interview after the publication of her first book (Signal 8 Press, 2011), a novel dealing with a Filipino’s immigration to the United Sates and his subsequent family life in Southern California. The interview is available on this website, The Author of When the de la Cruz Family Danced. There’s also an accompanying video.

The opening story in her newly released story collection, Hola and Goodbye (Carolina Wren Press, November 2016), recently appeared online in Kweli Journal.“Lupita and the Lone Ranger” depicts a telling event in the life of a Mexican immigrant to California. Click on the link to read and enjoy. 

Donna and I Skyped recently about Hola and Goodbye when she was in Seattle and I was in Tagaytay, Philippines.

 Donna’s story

The book is divided into three sections. The first, “Four Women,” deals with concerns of survival—language, employment, friendships, and family ties – and the issues that threaten them, sexual exploitation, for example. There is also one character longing for a gringo husband, and other characters placing themselves on this or that side of a cultural divide. I asked about the dates and location of these stories.

As the title suggests, this section is about four women, each having arrived from Mexico in the 1920s. Each has her own story of assimilation and coming to terms with the realities of life in America. Lupita’s mind and tongue are resistant to the sounds of English, and she clings to the poetry of her Spanish. Her best friend Rosa is intent on becoming American and considers a gringo husband the path to doing so. Ana is young, a gullible romantic determined to find happiness. Irma is her older cousin, cynical of love and friendship, but loyal in the end. It’s Lupita’s family that the subsequent stories in the book focus on, with her bilingual children leading lives in lower-middle class neighborhoods, and her grandchildren learning that, even as English-only speakers, their American identity doesn’t guarantee an easier life than their parents’.

I like this passage:

If Lupita wasn’t so picky about the size of the onions or the firmness of the tomatoes she wanted, she could send one of her girls to do the shopping. Instead, she always had to rehearse her English ahead of time, scripting what she’d say to the talkative shop lady. But Mrs. Dawson asked different questions each time. Not easy ones about the weather. No, she wanted to know what Lupita thought about this or that complicated, inexplicable thing. Sometimes Lupita could do no more than smile politely.

Her tongue seemed incapable of forming the sounds of English, her mind confused by its structure, her heart despairing of the effort. Besides, what use did she have for English, sorting fish in a cannery that employed so many Chinese workers? Better to learn Chinese.

I know the frustrations of trying to learn a second language. I’ve studied Spanish at various times of my life and though I can stumble my way through a Spanish-speaking country, I’m far from fluent. I find myself rehearsing what I’m going to say before I walk into a store or restaurant, always fearful that I’ll mangle a pronunciation or botch a conjugation. My grandmother never learned English, maybe for those reasons, but also because she was busy raising seven kids and working in a factory where conversation wasn’t required and maybe even discouraged.

In the second set of stories, called “Ambition,” characters battle disappointed dreams and manipulate their families to get what they want. So, who are these people?

They are the first American-born generation of this family, born in the 1930s and coming of age during and after World War II. They’re from a working-class family, but in the post-war boom there is a sense of promise. But that promise never quite delivers. Their hopes and expectations are never quite realized. They find opportunities available to them are limited. They themselves are uncertain of their place in the world. They’ve grown up bilingual, with a push-pull identity, feeling very much a part of American culture – its music, movies, and fashions –but still aware of what makes them different: their immigrant parents. They decide their own children will speak only English.

There were a number of details which rang true for me, like consulting the Ladies’ Home Journal on how to be American and the longing for an avocado-colored refrigerator.

The details came from memories of my mother’s house and the homes of my aunts. They read the same magazines, even though their tastes differed slightly, I think they got many of their home decorating ideas from the latest fads featured in those magazines. Movies and television were another source of inspiration as they sought to be relevant. The characters in these stories are striving for a place to fit. To be American. To be seen as American.

Millie is the character who wants an avocado refrigerator. She’s a stay-at-home mom, as many women were in the 1960s.She’s not the most nurturing mother. This is a woman whose skills and temperament would allow her to flourish in a job outside the home but who lacked the opportunity, but also perhaps the consciousness, that this is what she in fact desired. Millie does her best by trying to improve both her home and her kids, but in a very twisted way. Her sense of self is askew because she isn’t making the most of her talents. When I was growing up, I sensed that often among the women around me.

In the dominant culture of the 1950s, there was also a desperate desire to belong, to be properly domesticated, followed in the early 60s by housewives stereotypically out in the suburbs, feeling unfulfilled. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique came out in 1963.

I think feeling unfulfilled might’ve been true of women across America, wherever they lived, and regardless of class or color. There was the expectation that women should stay home, which meant a lot of talent was going unused in society. In that particular story, “Ambition,” Millie wants to escape the restraints of her life by moving to a white neighborhood because she thinks that’s where success is. Her husband doesn’t want to move out of their neighborhood of mostly brown families—where he fits—to somewhere he’d feel out of place. So Millie becomes determined to change where she’s in charge: with her house and her children. Which doesn’t prove to be enough.

In the last section, “Leaving Kimball Park,” individuals in the third generation find themselves being exploited by a wrestling coach, looking for friendship in a mental institution, attending a high school reunion, taking off for an unknown destination or wandering the grandmother’s place of origin in Mexico. The final story shows the extended family humoring Lupita with a recreation of the old tradition of Sunday dinner, as Lupita communicates with her dead friend Rosa about loss and neglect.

The third generation in these stories was born in the 50s and 60s and speaks only English. Yet they have feelings of inadequacy, ironically stemming in part from their inability to speak Spanish, and a sense of removal from the culture and traditions of their grandmother. Julia travels to Mexico to the place her grandmother came from. She’s hoping to find a definitive answer about who she is and where she belongs, but such things are not so straightforward. She’s in an in-between place, between where her grandmother came from and where she is now, an English-speaking American who doesn’t quite fit in. That last story brings the whole family together, though there have been many changes over the years, most significantly aging and death, with the elderly Lupita feeling as if she’s on the fringes of the family as the younger members are occupied with the daily demands of raising children – as Lupita once was.

I’ve encountered quite a few Asian-Americans, who didn’t feel they fit in the US and who went back to Asia to discover their heritage, only to discover how American they really were.

Yes, it’s a familiar story. As you know, I’m part Filipino too. For a long time because of this mixed heritage, it felt as if I belonged nowhere, but I eventually decided that feeling originated within me, in my insecurities. Now I claim my multiple spaces. I belong to and participate in cultural, political, and artistic groups that are Latino and groups that are Filipino. My daughters are further mixed: Filipino-Mexican from my side, white from my husband’s side. Both have traveled in Spanish-speaking countries and are fluent in Spanish. My older daughter Natalie recently visited the Philippines. She had been in contact with the Las Piñas Heritage Guiding Association, which helped her locate my father’s sister and other family members. She was able to meet them and interview my aunt. Even though Natalie spent many days on the beaches of Palawan, she said the best part of her trip was meeting family in Manila. She’s trying to figure out where she fits in this world. I think this is a natural journey that people of color go on. Honoring and understanding the source of their otherness, while claiming space in the land of their birth—America.

One of your characters is a trans-woman who goes to her high school reunion. She’s now a woman after having been a boy in high school.

Twenty years ago at my twenty-five-year high school reunion, word passed from table to table that a classmate, a boy in high school, was now a woman. I didn’t seek her out. I hadn’t known her in high school, hadn’t had any classes with the boy she’d been. I didn’t want to be a gawker. But I thought what a courageous thing to do, to come to your high school reunion as your true self. It seemed a wonderful thing to be able to find yourself that way. So I wrote the story “Lovely Evelina.”

I didn’t do a lot of research for the story. I think I wanted to rely on my instincts and imagination in creating Evelina –  someone unlike me, yet similar to me and to all of us, in fact, in her need to find her place in the world. It was the same for my story “Strong Girls” about the twin wrestlers. They’re large people. I’ve always been skinny, and I used to be called names because of it. I know what it’s like to be shamed for your body, so I felt I could imagine the girls’ feelings and what was it like for them to be so conspicuous because of their size. The fact that they’re twins is important because they have each other; they aren’t alone in their circumstances. But when they are pitted against each other, they realize that their relationship as sisters is in trouble. So again, it is about discovering who they are and being okay with it, even happy, despite the opinions of others.

In “When Danny Got Married,” the second generation appears through the eyes of Julia, who comes from the third generation.

Yes, Julia’s a young teenager waiting to grow up so that she can escape her family and find herself. She feels kind of lost in her large family, or rather left outside of it. She discovers she’s lost the connection she once had with her uncle, and she wonders whether it ever really existed. She does make a connection to his new wife, who is also an outsider—she’s Spanish, although the family, in their penchant for gossip and tendency to jump to conclusions, at first assumes she’s German. It’s all part of the miscommunication Julia thinks characterizes her family and the reason for her misunderstood self.

Let’s include a passage:

But with the news of Danny’s marriage, my sighs were lost in the collective moan. Danny was ours no longer. Lupita lamented the loss of her youngest, Connie and my aunts shook their perms at the intrusion of Teutonic stock into our family. He should marry his own kind, they grumbled of their only brother, their fingers twanging the telephone cord as the called each other over morning coffee. None of the sisters, though, had married her own kind, having introduced Filipino, Polish, Irish, and Caribbean genotypes into Lupita and Sergio’s Yaqui-dominated Mexican bloodline. Lupita liked to emphasize the fierceness of the Yaquis, their resistance to enslavement by other tribes, even their murderous attacks on trains when they sliced the wrists and ears of passengers for speedy acquisition of a silver bracelet or pearl earring. Then they were crushed like the rest, Sergio always added as epilogue, the heel of one hand grinding into the palm of the other. Let’s face it, even at thirteen I knew we, as a family, were a hodgepodge of conquered peoples.

And there you have an American family.

When I was reading the collection, I became interested in the relationship of these characters with each other. The book reminded me of being at a gathering of a large extended family, meeting people and wondering exactly what their connection was to the others, particularly as the family branched out with the third generation. 

With Lupita’s children – Petra, Millie, Connie, Frannie, Lyla, and Danny – I focused only on three children. Millie had three children and they appear with her in the story “Ambition,” and later Bonita has her own self-titled story. Connie’s three children appear with her in the story “Fleeing Fat Allen,” and later Julia is featured in “Cursos de Verano,” in which she travels to Mexico in search of her roots. Lyla is the mother of the oversized twins in “Strong Girls.” That leaves Tony, the protagonist in “Señor Wonderful.” To be honest, I didn’t assign him a parent. He was just one of the crowd of cousins we see in “When Danny Got Married.” There’s another cousin in that story named Leonard and the collection originally contained a story about him, whose mother is Petra. But I took that story out. It was long and maybe not quite cooked. I put Tony in as Señor Wonderful, and I guess I overlooked his parentage. We can for convenience sake make him Petra’s son as well.

It seems really close to a novel in short stories because of the connections of the people with each other and because you seem to have a story arc that encompasses the whole thing.

When I was writing the stories, I was seeing the characters connected to each other, even while they had their separate stories. I didn’t expect the book to have a novelistic flavor, but I did see there was some sort of arc. For the most part, I wrote the stories in sections, the way they’re grouped in the book by generation. The stories in the first section are built around something I’d observed of my grandmother or some bit of family gossip or anecdote I’d heard about her, so that’s what ties those stories together for me. For the reader, I hope it’s the relationships among the women that links the stories. Taken together, they give a sense of family. And yet, I feel that each story can stand alone. There are recurring characters throughout the book, but the reader isn’t following one particular character from A to B. But Lupita begins and ends the collection and she’s inserted here and there among the other stories. She’s the anchoring point. I didn’t have a novel in mind although one editor suggested that it should be rewritten as a novel. I resisted. I liked the individual stories.

Do you think of Lupita as a matriarch?

I do. Though I don’t think I made it explicit in the book. I think of her that way because her story gives rise to almost all of the others. In the first story, we find her dutiful and nurturing, if at times in a self-serving way. In the final story, she feels relegated to the margins. The fact that she speaks only Spanish makes her both special and remote to the grandchildren. Her inability to fully interact with the world at large has made her children and grandchildren underestimate her capabilities, especially in her old age. Even so, they’ll miss her when she’s gone.

The story I identified with the most was the one of the foreigner in Mexico, although I hope I haven’t followed somebody around who speaks the language quite like Julia follows Margie, who is putting up all kinds of little signals that she’s not going to be nurse-maiding her.

Yes, in that story Julia takes summer classes in Mexico to learn Spanish and to find some connection to the land of her grandmother’s birth. While Julia and her friends are struggling with their rudimentary Spanish, Margie is dizzying them with her fluent Spanish and outdoing everyone in the cultural immersion experience. Julia feels she has a personal claim to Mexico because of her grandmother and she’s desperate to feel at home there. She seems to blunder about with her insufficient Spanish and inadequate self. Margie’s a bit of an outcast too, due to her odd looks and poor social skills. The two of them end up sharing a bus seat to Mexico City and a hotel room. Then a weird cat-and-mouse game commences, which finally ends with a confrontation on top of a pyramid.

What similarities do you see between extended Filipino families and extended Mexican families?

For me the main ones are the closeness of the families and the large family gatherings with lots of food on the table. There’s the shared history of Spanish colonization and the galleon trade between Manila and Acapulco from the sixteenth century to the Mexican War of Independence, with food and fabric and styles passed back and forth. Look at the guayabera in Mexico and the barong in the Philippines and the similarities between them. And Tagalog contains a lot of words borrowed from Spanish. I’m proud to claim both heritages.

So one last and unfortunately in these times rather predictable question: If you were putting this together now in the current political climate, how would you write it differently? Or would it be the same?

It’s sort of an impossible question to answer since these stories were written over a period of twenty years. Even now with what’s happening now in the United States with Donald Trump having campaigned and won on rhetoric bashing immigrants, women, Muslims, and the disabled, I don’t know how it will affect the projects I’m working on now. I tend to write about things and events after I’ve lived through them and not while they’re happening. But because the stories in Hola and Goodbye begin with an immigrant generation, I think that they are in a way a response to Donald Trump. The book is saying that immigrants are part of this country’s history and future. Immigrants are part of America.

A Memoirist of the Marcos Years, Part 2

by on January 23rd, 2017


Susan at Luneta Park

In Part 1 of this interview, Susan Quimpo talks about her family’s activism during martial law and the initial impetus for the memoir. In Part 2 she continues with a description of writing the book and her own life afterwards.

Susan’s story


Susan Quimpo

At first I wrote two chapters. Then I went for two master’s degrees, one in Asian Studies and the other in journalism. For my journalism class I wrote about the family and martial law.  I thought if I could make my narrative comprehensible to Americans, who knew little about the Philippines under martial law except the name Marcos, if I could write so everybody understood, then maybe my children and my brothers’ children and their children would understand despite the passage of time. With each story I brought to class, my classmates were really interested, and they’d say, “When is the next chapter coming? What happened to this character?” A journalism professor said, “You know that there’s an option to do a writing project instead of a research thesis. You could do this.”

I did a book outline of sorts and submitted it to her, and we worked on ten chapters. That became my thesis. My teacher suggested submitting it to her literary agent so the agent could find a publisher. Nothing came of that. By that time I was already married, organizing among the Filipino-American (FilAm) groups in New York. I put the manuscript on the shelf. Without a publisher what was the use of writing it up? We went home to the Philippines, I got into other things. I had kids.

Years later, I think in 1997, I was talking about FilAm programs with Vicente Rafael, a professor from the University of Washington. He said, “Oh, I heard about this activist family of Quimpos. Do you know them?”

I told him I was the youngest of that family of Quimpos.  He said, “Well someone should write that story!”

I said I’d tried, but no publisher was interested, He asked to see the ten chapters I had written for my graduate school requirement. I handed him my manuscript and forgot about it.

A year later, he came back, we had lunch, and he said, “You know that manuscript you gave me a year ago, the one about your family? Anvil Press wants to talk to you next week. You have a meeting with a publisher.”

“But I haven’t touched it in ages.”

“Just go.”

Anvil Press edition, available at National Book Store

So I met with the publisher, and they were interested. Karina Bolasco of Anvil Press was very supportive. Later, when I talked to Vince, I said, “I don’t know where to take the book.” I’d gotten to the part about the armed resistance against Marcos, but I hadn’t been part of the Communist Party of the Philippines. I didn’t want to assume things. That wouldn’t be history. Vince suggested asking my siblings to contribute. My brother Nathan liked the idea, and we started talking to the others. There were varying reactions. One sister said, “Why do you want to wash our dirty laundry in public?”

I answered, “What dirty laundry? This isn’t dirty laundry. This is history.”

She didn’t speak to me for two years. I persisted. I said if she didn’t want to write her story I’d write it for her. I wanted to respect her, so I wrote around her. I consulted with people who were part of that scenario or human rights reports about her arrest. So when she saw I wasn’t going to stop she said, “Okay, I’ll do my bit,” and she did.

The family had serious fights over the book. I wanted it to be a tribute to young martyrs. A brother who’d been deep into the revolutionary movement wanted to critique it. I said, “No, this isn’t about the dialectics of the movement. This is a memoir.”

It took a long time for the book to come out. In fact, Karina Bolasco said in her twenty-five years of publishing it was the most difficult book to get published because of the fighting among the Quimpos. Finally we got to the point where we knew if we kept retracting, rewriting, re-angling we’d never finish it.

After the book was published a whole new life started for me. I started receiving invitations to speak at schools, and these haven’t stopped. I was horrified at how little people knew about martial law history. At first I just went and told my story. Then I realized young people didn’t understand me. At that time there were only a few small rallies, maybe one every six months. They couldn’t imagine the First Quarter Storm with daily rallies of 5,000 people in front of Malacañang. In 2013, a rally would draw maybe a hundred. Even now. At the one in Luneta Park [a demonstration against the burial of Marcos in the heroes’ cemetery] there were three or four thousand, but that was so hard to piece together. A few hours before the rally started we were still considering calling it off, thinking no one would come.

It was hard for students to imagine the military being brutal or people getting picked up.  They had no concept of a curfew. So I turned to my own children, who at that point were in high school, and I’d discuss it with them. Before the book came out I wrote an article for Rappler to announce the book. []

At that point my youngest was about eleven years old. She said, “Good article, Mom, but you know what? You don’t say ‘underground’ to us. We think that’s the subway or we think Harry Potter’s subway.”

I decided that I’d have to provide images. I started digging out pictures. Then I realized I could only speak from my own perspective. “My brother Ronald Jan was 15, your age, when he started going to rallies, at Malacañang. This boy next to him, who was 15, got his head blown off.”

My children were wonderful. One of my first presentations was at their high school, and my little girl was among the students. When she frowned, it was a sign that I had to explain more. Eventually I was able to reach the audience with actual stories. I kept getting invitations.

When Bongbong Marcos,Ferdinand Marcos’ son and namesake, ran for the vice presidency, strangers on Facebook wrote me to ask what could be done. I took chapters of the book and posted them on Facebook. Some went viral. I was getting more “friend” invitations and more questions. I said, “I don’t know what can be done. Don’t ask me, I’m not an organizer.”

After a while I agreed to meet with people who wanted to do something about the Bongbong Marcos’  candidacy. When we got 15 people, we decided to launch a campaign against revisionism. Our little group created four short online videos targeting millennials. These went viral. That wasn’t enough. So I went back to our funders and asked if we could get a team of people to talk to schools.  For three and a half months, we reached people from Baguio to Zamboanga with one speaker per place. Bur once there, we’d contact other schools. That way we were able to maximize. We also gave interviews. Our audiences ranged from 20 to 800. Soon we got invitations from churches, barangays [local districts] and factories. I went to a sweets factory in Bulacan because the owner was horrified that her staff was thinking of voting for Marcos.

After the elections I said, “Okay, enough already.” Then the burial issue came up, and I found myself helping to organize the rallies against that. At the same time I was still trying to pay my bills. My husband is amazingly supportive. Whenever I get an invitation and I’m free, I say yes, but add, “Can you pay for my transportation?”

It’s been hard but also strangely encouraging. For example, on September 8, when the Supreme Court decision was announced [allowing Marcos’s burial in the Cemetery of Heroes], I was in Cagayan de Oro facilitating a group therapy workshop. Someone who’d heard me speak messaged me on Facebook, saying how dismayed she was about the court’s decision. I looked at her profile and saw she was from Cagayan de Oro and asked whether there was a rally I could attend. They were doing a nine-day rally for the nine justices who voted for the burial. At the rally, total strangers were coming to me, hugging me and crying, sobbing. They said, “We’re here because you spoke to us.” They arranged for me to speak the following week at a church, and a thousand students turned up.

So things like that are very encouraging. I’ve found that young people were not apathetic at all, but very affected. They understood the lie in having a dictator buried in a hallowed place. They knew this affected history. That’s why we saw millennials marching from the University of the Philippines, to Ateneo, to the People Power Monument last Friday.

When I picked my 15-year-old up from school, I told her about Marcos’ being brought in by helicopter and buried. After a silence, she said, “Today?” Then she put her bag in the car, got in, and after a few minutes she was sobbing. Weeping, sobbing and shaking. I asked, “What happened? Did you get in a fight? Did you have a problem with an exam?” She couldn’t speak for a full hour. When she could get the words out, she said, “The Marcos burial. How dare they?” Now she’s got her friends and their mothers going to rallies with us.

These high school kids are so wonderful. Despite the fact that we’ve supposedly losing the burial issue, I think we’re actually winning the hearts and minds of young people.

Personally, I’m committed to the cause for the next six years. I was devastated by the Supreme Court vote. Nine to five? One Justice abstained. Something is really wrong with this court. I’m hoping for a snowball reaction. We talked about the nation, all the way from the Katipuneros, the fight against Spain and America, then the Japanese and Marcos. We have to learn to take these things seriously, or history will just keep repeating and repeating and repeating.

I said to a Buddhist friend of mine, “Spiritually, I don’t understand. Is God’s justice not available to us?” She said, “It’s all karma because we haven’t learned.” I agreed, that was the whole point. If I can be part of the instrument of learning, so the next generation won’t repeat our mistakes, then I think I’ll have done justice to the martyrs of martial law.

I’ve been trying to mediate between anti-Marcos burial protest groups these past weeks.  And some people asked me suspiciously about my ideological affiliations. In my head I answered:  I belong to the group which believes in the martial law martyrs’ sacrifice. I used to be red, I’m no longer red; I was never yellow [pro-Aquino]. Now I’m more pink. But come on. We have to learn our lesson sometime; we need a united force to overcome a dictator.

I have one more question for you. I was amazed at the amount of detail in your book that went into names, and dates of this meeting, and this and that group. During martial law you had to be careful about not keeping records around because they could be found. So my question is where did all the detail come from?

My brother Nathan was writing his own memoir at the time Vince Rafael suggested that we do a family project. I think he’d been writing it for years, so he’d already researched the times and dates and places and things like that, while I’d gone into the files of the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, a human rights group, for information on my siblings’ arrests and detention.

Then, as I said, at the age nine or ten I knew I was going to write this memoir, so I consciously remembered. I could draw Ronald Jan’s detention cell right now. I know where the guard sat, and where that corridor was and where the bathroom was because I committed it to memory. When Jun was killed, we really didn’t know who killed him or what the circumstances were. In 1991 when I came back from New York, I looked for members of his old guerrilla squad. Two members were still alive, and they brought me to a place very close to where he died. They gave me the story and the descriptions and other details.

I think for my other siblings writing the book was cathartic. My brother Ryan had a lot of friends who disappeared, were tortured or killed, and he kept the memories close to his heart. His first drafts for our memoir were excruciating to read because they were all snippets of painful incidents. Perhaps not literary enough, but nonetheless wonderful. They were so raw and honest that his stories and images stayed in your head for months.  I think the book was an opportunity to get it all out.

So there was healing in the family?        

I can’t answer for the others, but for me, yes. That’s why I can go to schools and give talks without breaking down—which I did at first when I told my story. Initially, it was so embarrassing when I spoke to audiences and my voice cracked and I held back tears. Then I realized that my role was to speak out. The more I spoke, the more I realized I was getting through to young people. Now I see this is probably part of why I’m here and why I survived martial law. To be able to bear witness. This was how I healed.

A lot of people say, “Why don’t you move on? You’re so full of hatred. You need to forgive.” My response is it’s not about hatred or forgiveness. It’s about truth. You do a disservice to continue to believe a lie about our biography as a nation.

When some people say “forgiveness,” they mean putting the problem in a box and putting the lid on it, you seem to mean more like “acknowledgment” and “acceptance.”

Forgiveness demands justice.  The Marcoses have not even acknowledged the grim history of martial law, much less apologized for their father’s brutal dictatorship.  In a sense I pity the Marcoses because they’re continuing to propagate the lie their father started, passing it onto the next generation so that they have to live it and defend it. Why keep lying to yourself and rationalizing? What about the Marcoses’ children? Do they wish to continue living this legacy of lies?

I have close friends who are loyalists because of their family and because of the region they came from.

That’s another thing we have to learn. The truth is beyond family ties, friendships, regional loyalty and things like that. You can be friends with the Marcoses but still acknowledge that he was a dictator, a thief and a human rights violator. That’s just stating a fact. People are marching in the streets because they see the truth. For me, I think that’s enough of a reward.

A reader writes:

Carol, really enjoyed the two columns on the Marcos resisters. Good stuff.


A Memoirist of the Marcos Years, Part 1

by on December 31st, 2016


University of Ohio Press/Swallow Press

Susan Quimpo is a friendly, soft-spoken woman who laughs easily and often. She’s an art therapist and counselor. Besides her private practice, she works with civil society groups to help alleviate trauma in communities affected by typhoons and war. She provides therapy to political prisoners and victims of human rights violations. She also writes for Philippine news publications and international journals. She is the co-author of Subversive Lives: A Family Memoir of the Marcos Years (Manila: Anvil Press, 2012), recently re-released by the University of Ohio Press/Swallow Press.

I met Susan after a rally against the proposed burial of Ferdinand Marcos in the Cemetery of Heroes. The body had been flown over from the United States in 1993 and placed on display at the Presidential Center in his home province. The Marcos family was waiting until an administration took power which didn’t oppose his internment as a hero. With the election of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte and the subsequent approval of the Supreme Court, the time seemed right. On November 18, when Duterte was conveniently out of the country, the body was brought in by helicopter. There was a 21-gun salute, but only an hour before the ceremony did outsiders learn that this was not a rehearsal.

On Nov. 24, over lunch in Manila. I asked Susan to tell her family’s story of political activism during the period of martial law and to include an explanation of the anti-Americanism in the revolutionary movement, the burial controversy and the talks she delivers to Filipinos too young to remember martial law.

Susan’s story

Susan Quimpo

I was born in 1961, the youngest of ten children. My parents were married during World War II. They were very pro-American. They grew up in Philippines when it was still a colony of the US.  The Philippines was under the US from 1898 through 1946, except during the years of the Japanese occupation during World War II. [The Americans brought in English language education and established public education. As colonizers they were far more popular than the Spaniards.]

But to go back a bit, in 1898 with the end of the Spanish-American War and the Treaty of Paris, the Philippines was sold to the US for $20 million. The Filipinos, who’d been fighting for their independence from Spain since 1896, now discovered they had a newer, stronger enemy. In the Philippine-American War, they put up a good fight. They had gotten some concessions from the Spanish government, including money to buy arms, but these were peasants used to machetes who’d never held guns before. A historian told me that triangular thing on a rifle—the sight—which allows you to aim at your opponent, they considered it a nuisance, so they tore it off and threw it away. The Americans were amazed that the enemy kept firing above their heads. The war supposedly ended in 1903, when the revolutionary republic told people to lay down their arms, but some were still fighting until 1907.

The war was called an insurrection but was actually a national revolution against the new colonizer. The Americans won in part because the Filipino leaders were not united. The different factions were even killing one another. General Luna was assassinated by people within the revolution. In-fighting was a recurring story throughout WW II and throughout the Marcos era, spoiling the revolution against the oppressor—the Americans, Japanese or Marcos.

Anyway, my parents grew up under a time when American education was in the schools. They grew up saying “A is for apple” and “S is for snow,” even though they had never seen snow. They were both staunchly pro-American.

Your dad worked for Coca-Cola as an engineer.

Yes, his entire life. Mom came from the landed elite, although over the years they lost whatever prominence they’d had. In WW II, when my parents were in college, Dad wanted to volunteer as a guerrilla fighting against the Japanese. He went to say goodbye to his sweetheart, my mom, and when he got back to where the volunteers were being bused out of Manila, he missed the bus, which saved his life. All the students were leaving for the provinces because Manila was obviously going to be a battleground for the Japanese and the Americans. My father couldn’t get back to Iloilo, his hometown on Panay Island, so he followed my mom to Pangasinan, where they were married.

When the Japanese came, they lined up all the young men, and when they realized that my dad couldn’t speak the local Pangasinan language they suspected he was a guerrilla. He was about to be shot when my grandfather intervened. Again my dad was saved. He stayed in Pangasinan and was very valuable to the Americans, when they came, because he’d repair the jeeps and military trucks. When the Americans left, a mechanic gave him all his tools. He kept them until the day he died.

Moving into the 1960s, there was the Vietnam War and an overall sentiment against America. My brothers and sisters were in high school and university, where some of the students were mouthing anti-US imperialism slogans. In 1969, I was eight years old. There were heated debates at the dinner table, where my siblings would be spouting Marxist theories and my father would be really angry at them for shouting slogans in the streets against US imperialism.

As the youngest I had no voice. Looking back, I see I kept wondering, “What is my role in all this? All I do is I watch.” Only very recently did I think of the phrase “bearing witness.” I know it’s a biblical term, and I’m not religious, but I suddenly realized I’d watched the transformation of my siblings from good academic students to student leaders to activists to guerrillas and leaders of the revolution against Marcos. Now I am not an eight-year-old anymore, and I see it as my role to speak out for the martyrs of martial law. But I’m getting ahead of my story.

The first activist in the family was Ronald Jan, who went to Philippine Science High School, the premier science high school in the country. When he got there the school building hadn’t been built, and classes were held in an old building that had held government offices. The roof leaked and the chairs were broken. He told us that the chemistry class heated up chemicals in coke bottles because they had no test tubes. Students had to wait in line to use a Bunsen burner. When they complained to the principal, he said, “Look, I’m a government employee, and this is a public high school, I really can’t do much. Go to Malacañang [the presidential palace] and air your grievances there.”

So these kids between the ages of 13 to 17 went to the Presidential Palace. At the gates students from all the other schools were there also. It was the First Quarter Storm—the first quarter or the first three months of 1970, when Manila was hit by a storm of protest rallies. Three, four, five times a week, students were at Malacañang or at the US embassy or at the Congress Building shouting slogans.

Why demonstrations at the American embassy?

It was Marcos’s second term and the height of the Vietnam War. Anti-American sentiment was worldwide. Besides, Marcos was saying things like Filipino troops should be sent to fight in Vietnam under the American flag [as South Korea did]. Filipino students looked at the controversy over the draft in US universities and young Americans’ returning from Vietnam in coffins. They didn’t want that.

Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base [not far from Manila] were the largest American bases outside the US. There was a lot of abuse—prostitution, drunk American soldiers. Outside the bases, a lot of poor people, scavengers, were picking up garbage, and there were stories of American sentinels using them for target practice. The New York Times ran a story on this. If I remember right, over three years there were at least 32 deaths. The shooters would say, “Oh, we thought it was a wild boar.” It enraged people. [The US military also left a massive amount of chemical waste which has still not been cleaned up.]

People were angry with Marcos for pandering to the Americans. As a child I saw pictures of Marcos with Lyndon Johnson and their wives, all decked out. Imelda invited American dignitaries to lavish parties while the economy was failing. College students had no jobs when they graduated.

I remember Jane Fonda showed up at an antiwar rally. This was just after the release of Barbarella, where she was a sexy science fiction character, and there she was in a baggy white shirt waving her fist in the air. It got the students all fired up to be with an American movie star who was also an anti-imperialist.

In 1970 one of the worst typhoons, Typhoon Yoling, hit the Philippines. For the first time, Nueva Ecija, the rice region, was under water. For weeks only the tops of the coconut trees were above water. As a result, there was a lack of rice and the economy dipped. There was an oil shortage, and the price of gasoline went up. But still Marcos and Imelda were holding parties on their yacht; Imelda wore a diamond tiara like royalty at State functions. The typhoon had led to economic ruin, and during the typhoon the government did not help. It was the priests, the nuns, the civic organizations that brought relief to the victims.

So there was a lot of uncertainty inside and outside the country because of the situation in Vietnam. I remember as a kid seeing pictures of Woodstock in Life Magazine and thinking, “Wow, this is wild. Why are people wrapped in mud and dancing? Why’s a half-naked woman dancing in the mud?”

You were not doing drugs at the time, obviously.

[laughs] But I think there was worldwide anxiety anger against anything from the previous decade. I didn’t understand. I was just taking it in. We lived close to the presidential palace, and there were rallies three, five times a week. At least five thousand people marched past each time. Nowadays I tell friends, “As a kid I didn’t watch church parades, I didn’t watch the saints go by, I watched the police beating up demonstrators.”

At that point Mom was still alive, and our home was at the end of a row of modest apartments, which today would resemble townhouses. The row of eight apartments had a metal gate facing the street. We’d see a group of students march to Malacañang, and the mothers in our apartment row would watch for the students running back with the police after them. They’d open the gate for the students and close it so the police couldn’t get in. They’d give the students water or bread or let them use the telephone to call their parents. Despite the fact that my mother was very pro-American, she behaved like a mother. She was worried about the kids.

Ronald Jan, the brother in Philippine Science High School, was demonstrating in the streets. The activists went into all the schools. My siblings were part of it, consciously or not. It was the thing to do. Inside school campuses, at teach-ins students sat in circles on the grass while student leaders lectured on Marxism and imperialism and service to the people.

At the time my father was earning a thousand pesos a month. [During the First Quarter Storm, the value of the peso slipped from P4 to P6 to the dollar, so 1,000 pesos would have been roughly $200]. That was for food, rent, utilities, clothing and tuition for a family of twelve. That was really nothing, even then. We had rice, and we had eggs because an aunt who had a poultry farm brought us the damaged eggs, the ones with two yolks or something. But much of the budget was ear-marked for tuition because my father always believed education would be our deliverance. He was hurt when his children became activists because their grades suffered. It came to the point when he told Jan, “If you attend that rally tomorrow, you’re out of the house.” And he was. Then martial law came.

A week before the declaration of martial law in September 1972, Marcos threw all  the legal opposition in jail—Ninoy Aquino, the senators, the Congressmen, the trade unionists, the vocal faculty members of the University of the Philippines. The only ones left to challenge the dictatorship were high school and college students. At least three of my siblings were very much involved in Kabataang Makabayan, a militant youth organization that went underground. I don’t think they’d have become as radical in the underground movement or even in the Communist Party if Marcos hadn’t been so vindictive in going after student leaders.

At the gate of each high school and university was a huge billboard with pictures of all the student leaders, the president of a theater group or the botany club or a writer for the school paper or the head of the student council. If you were the president of anything, you were on that billboard, and the minute you stepped on campus the military picked you up. You were lucky if you were only questioned. A lot of people were tortured. Basically, the idea was that the intelligent students would lead the would-be opposition. That’s why Marcos was so bent on getting them.

Nobody was prepared for martial law to rule the entire country for fourteen years. Everybody had thought that we’d only have a suspension of habeas corpus or that martial law would be declared only in Mindanao. A few months after the declaration, the populations in high schools and universities had dipped because the students were hiding—or going abroad if they had money. Students were scrambling to get to the provinces. The extreme left had painted romantic images of a people’s army. These young people being hunted by the police thought their only option was to join this army. But it wasn’t even an army. According to Time Magazine, there were only 600 guerrillas with arms from WW II which were so covered with rust they wouldn’t fire. A lot of the students who made it to the mountains to form the New People’s Army were killed. They were all young, some of them teenagers, nobody over thirty. They didn’t know how to use guns, which—if they had them—would jam. They’d be ready to fire on the police and the military then retreat because they were out of ammunition. Some of those who died were friends and classmates of my siblings.

Between 1973 through 1978, our family went through arrest after arrest, raid after raid, torture after torture. Once they got you, they’d torture you so you’d point to other students, and then they get them too. The police and the military were seen as pretty much the same thing — Marcos’ soldiers of terror.  The military eventually took four brothers and a sister and threw them in the Marcos prisons; four of them were heavily tortured.

A week after martial law was declared, our house was raided. The police were just looking for guns and subversive materials in the homes around Malacañang, not making arrests. But when they came to our apartment, we knew it wasn’t safe for my siblings to come home. They started staying wherever they could spend the night. My brother Ryan, the one who has polio, was 15. He said that he and student leaders from other schools would spend the entire day in Luneta Park eating fried bananas or crackers, and at nightfall, because of the curfew, they’d go into funeral homes and pretend to be relatives of the deceased. They’d eat the food provided at the wake until someone asked them about their relationship to the deceased. My siblings weren’t home much. Now and then they’d call, but we were worried that the phone was tapped. We spoke in codes. So I grew up always conscious of being watched, aware that my siblings could be arrested, I wasn’t supposed to know where they were. It was a very paranoid childhood.

I was just thinking that here was a therapist in the making.

Exactly. Early training. Then they were captured. I’d read in the newspaper and hear on television, Marcos telling the press there were no political prisoners, and he’d laugh it off. And yet every weekend for four years I visited siblings in one or two or three camps. I was really confused. “What am I doing? Are they criminals? I know they did nothing except go against Marcos. So why are they in jail?”

They took people without warrants of arrests; they just barge into your homes, taking people and confiscating property. The military would throw you in jail and there you stayed indefinitely, without charges being filed against you. No court trials, no sentencing procedures. Then I’d hear my dad speak to my sisters who were not arrested, and they’d whisper about the others’ being tortured.  “Why were they being tortured? What did they do wrong? What’s wrong with shouting slogans at a rally?”

The pain didn’t stop when they were released. Ronald Jan would have nightmares. He’d be shouting, kicking, screaming and falling out of bed. At the time I didn’t know about post- traumatic stress, but now I do. When my sister was released we were very worried about her. All my siblings played the guitar and sang very sad songs. Once she was singing a song with words like “and this is the end.” My other sister Caren and I exchanged glances as if to say, “Oh, my God, what’s she going to do?”

Well, they were able to pick up their lives somehow. Ronald Jan returned to university and completed his studies.  One day, in late 1977, he left to go to school and remarked that we should leave him some dinner that evening.  He never returned.  To this day, he is a desaparasido [disappeared].  We believe he was picked up by the military and executed extrajudicially.  A week before his disappearance our home was raided again, so we knew that we were under military surveillance.

Another brother, Jun, was a college freshmen when he joined a Catholic volunteer organization that assisted an urban poor community set up a livelihood program.  When the government moved in bulldozers to demolish shanties, Jun joined the residents in a protest rally.  I think 200 people were picked up by the police at the rally and 199 people were released that same evening. The only one detained Jun because they found his school ID with his name on it.  The police said, “Oh, another Quimpo. Your family is  like a factory for activists.” So he was beaten up for ten days just because his surname was Quimpo.  When he got out he was so angry he joined the guerillas. A few years later he was found in an open rice field in the province of Nueva Ecija, with seven bullet wounds in his body.

The sister who was detained and tortured, when released, moved to Australia, got married, had a family and stayed there. Two brothers whom the police were instructed to “neutralize” (kill on sight) sought political asylum in Europe. One of them eventually became a professor in Japan; the other raised a family in France, and after his kids grew up he moved back.

People went on with their lives, but I think the hurt was never processed. Our family doesn’t talk much about it. In fact, Ronald Jan went missing in October 1977. I came back from the States in 1995. Over dinner at my sister’s house, I said, “You know, there’s a wall of remembrance called Bantayog ng mga Bayani or Monument to the Heroes. We should get (Ronald) Jan’s name on it.” She answered, “Oh, this fish is really good. Have more rice.” If you mentioned his name, my siblings would change the topic. So I knew my family wasn’t dealing with it at all.

But because I “bore witness,” all these stories were in my head. In fact, when I was ten I told myself ,” I’d have to write this down. “Much later, when I was in graduate school in the US, I was taking a class called Southeast Asian History from a fantastic professor of social history. He said, “You know, it’s a lot more interesting to look at a country from the perspective of ordinary people, not the leaders.” At that point I started writing.

An Unintended Adventure

by on December 10th, 2016

The wedding

In 2015, I interviewed my friend Geri about how her life had changed since she’d moved to Korea. To access the post, click “Korea. A Vision List” at the end of the Korea items on the column at the right. At that time Geri was a counselor at the US Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul, where her fiancé Chris was teaching World History and Advanced Placement Psychology at Seoul American High School. Shortly after our interview Chris was wounded, although not in a motorcycle accident as I reported in a note at the end of the post.

For this interview, Geri and I spoke via Skype when she was at Kadena AFB, Okinawa and I was in the Philippines. (Thanks to Geri for the great photos. )

Geri’s story

Geri and Chris

Chris’s accident was August 9,2015, when he was visiting family in Florida. On his last day of vacation, he was riding in a friend’s Mercedes when an SUV rear-ended it from behind at a stoplight. Chris got out to look at the damage and was standing between the two cars when a third car rear-ended the SUV. Fortunately,someone screamed “look out” and Chris turned, saw the car coming, and because he was a martial artist, he jumped straight up—no time to go anywhere else. The SUV hit him at the knees and dragged him beneath the car. The Mercedes was pushed fifty feet into the intersection. Chris remained awake and aware the entire time, telling people how to tie off his legs, and to get a helicopter instead of an ambulance. Thank God he’s in quite good shape except that he doesn’t have anything from his knees down. In fact, there was no trauma to his brain or his internal organs.

Geri and Chris

Chris spent about two weeks at Baptist Hospital in Pensacola, Florida and then another two weeks at Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital in Jacksonville. I flew over and lived in the hospitals for three weeks, sleeping on a cot. Because we couldn’t predict our cash flow, we decided I should go back to my job in Korea, live on the mountain and take care of our three dogs. Chris moved in with his brother, Bill, and sister-in-law, Gina, while continuing with physical therapy at Sacred Heart Hospital near their home in Santa Rosa. He also began working with Jack Pranzarone with Hangar Prosthetics in Ft. Walton.

Why don’t you talk a little bit about his rehab?

Well, as fateor whateverwould have it, he got one of the best surgeons in the area, Dr. Jason Rocha, who was on call at the Baptist Hospital Trauma Center. After the hospital, he went to Brooks Rehabilitation where he also had the best physicians, like Dr. Howard Weiss — people who were used to treating soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. After two weeks at the Trauma Center, Chris was transferred to Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital in Jacksonville because he was doing so well. In fact, many of his caregivers told him how amazing he was. They said they had young men who were depressed and didn’t have the drive that Chris had to walk on the prosthetics and to go back to teaching, scuba diving and martial arts. He had a tremendously positive attitude about his rehabilitation. After two weeks at Brooks they said he’d already mastered everything.

He was amputated above the knees, right?

Before the wedding

Yes, Chris has a bi-lateral amputation just above the knees, although his surgeon, Dr. Rocha, made a valiant effort to try and save his left knee with eight surgeries in two weeks. His X-3 prosthetic legs are made by Ottobock in Germany, and they are an amazing piece of technology, with a gyroscope in the “knees” using memory chips and Bluetooth to calibrate the correct alignment and pressure through the use of a computer. Chris continues to work with Jack Pranzarone at Hangar Prosthetics in Fort Walton, but he also received help from a wounded warrior who helped him to learn how to walk and manipulate his legs to go up and down stairs.

Then you got married.

We’d been engaged for years, but with the logistics of possible job transfers, military housing and other legal considerations, we decided it was time to get married. I called our friend Frank Tedesco in the Tampa Bay area, who said he’d be happy to take our dogs, and I shipped them to him before leaving for the U.S. myself. I arrived in Florida worn out from the stress of my job, our situation, and feeling totally jet-lagged. A lovely ladyand friend of the familyoffered us her home in Pensacola. The family came together, and we were married on December 27th. Chris was determined to walk on his new prosthetics at the wedding. His other goal was to return to Korea in April and teach the last quarter of his classes at Seoul American High School. After the wedding, I returned to Korea to continue working and to get things ready for his return.

Chris snokeling in Okinawa

In April, Chris made a few short flights by himself, as agreed, and I met him in Hawaii to escort him on the long flight back to South Korea. While in Hawaii, we decided to go scuba diving. We weren’t sure how we were going to do it, but we just showed up. A couple of military guys were on the same dive boat. (I’ve found that God just places angels everywhere you go.) Before we could even try to figure out how to get Chris and his wheelchair onto the boat, one of the dive masters picked Chris up, put him on his back and cat-walked Chris onto the boat, leaving the wheelchair at the dock. When we arrived at our dive site, Chris “spider-monkeyed” his way to the back of the boat, put on his gear and slipped into the water. Using just weights strapped to his thighs and webbed gloves on his hands, Chris descended the rope. But because his gloves were a bit large he accidentally hit both the air intake and release buttons at the same time while trying to get neutrally buoyant, and he flipped upside down. I saw him scrambling to hold onto the coral, and I quickly grabbed him and pulled him back. Then we released the air. He was finewe were both fine. It was a great dive. On Columbus Day we went diving again in Okinawa, and he did well, although at first he lost a fin and had to resurface to retrieve it. A deck hand had fished it out of the water.

The trip back to Korea was quite an ordeal, but we got him to the door of the plane. By that time he was able to use his canes to walk back to his assigned seat. We put his legs in the overhead compartment and checked his wheelchair. One day at a time we’re learning how to adapt to changing circumstances.

Seventy-two steps

In Korea our house was on the side of a mountain at a Zen temple, and we didn’t know how he was going to climb the 72 steps up to our front door. Our landlady had a train, but it was just a piece of junk and I was scared to run it by myself. One of our friends from the school was an Air Force mechanic who got the train running, but it still worked only twice. Chris has a lot of upper-body strength, so while I carried the wheelchair up and down the stairs, he hoisted himself along using the railing, and where there was no railing,he held onto ladders. It really was horrendous. He later developed a rash all over his body from poison ivy or some other foliage near the railing. One day, after two weeks of struggling up and down the hill, we came home from work in pouring rain. We couldn’t get the train to work, and Chris tried to go up the steps, but slipped and fell.

Chris with “sea legs”

It was at that point we surrendered, called a couple of friends who lived in UN Village, and they put us up in their extra bedroom. Earlier in the school year, we had applied for a transfer because the bitter Korean winters are very bad for amputees, and subsequently received a transfer to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. So when we went to the school administrators, we were allowed to access temporary quarters on the base.

About a week before departing from Korea, we again experienced a divine intervention. We already had our plane tickets to see family in the US, to check on our house in Turkey, and to make Chris’ appointments with Hangar Prosthetics. Our household goods had been picked up and were on their way to Cuba. Then there was a call from Washington DC.

“We have a problem. There’s no wheelchair-accessible home for you. Could you wait while we build one? It will be six months to a year. In the meantime, all we can offer you is a second-floor apartment in a building without an elevator.”

“Sorry, no.”

After some deliberation they said, “Okay, we’re going to send you to Okinawa.”

Our orders arrived two days before we were supposed to get on the plane. It was a whirlwind of chaos and uncertainty.

It sounds like your employers were very sympathetic.

Chris in China

Oh, they were wonderful. I can’t say enough for the SAHS administrators and the Superintendent’s Office in Seoul, the military as a whole, the teachers and staff support at SAHS, and particularly DODEA (the Department of Defense Education Activity), which hires teachers and runs the educational programs for the military dependents overseas. Chris has worked for DODEA for 32 years, and we have found wonderful supportive people everywhere we have gone, including his new Principal and Assistant Principals here at Kadena High School here in Okinawa. When we arrived here, we were told there were no wheelchair-accessible houses on the base. We had to shift again. Chris laughs about this being our unintended adventure. About a month ago we found a one-story house in the Yomitan-Son area of Okinawa. We have a beautiful view of the sea, the floors are completely tiled, and the bathrooms are totally wheelchair accessible. Divine intervention again.

Geri doing Aikido

When Chris lived in Okinawa before, he belonged to an Aikido martial arts group here. We heard our Grand Master was coming to Okinawa in September, so we joined the seminar training, where I received my Nidan. or second degree black belt. Although Chris is a Sandan, or third degree black belt in Aikido, we attended the seminar training with the idea that he was just going to watch. To our surprise and delight, Grand Master asked him to sit in the line training with the other martial artists, and he was able to join in. Currently, we are working on setting up another Aikido group here in Okinawa, as we did in Seoul. I think our mission has become to live without limitations: no matter how you might be handicapped, find a way to adapt and do what you want to do.

Where does he get all this strength and determination from? I can’t imagine myself being in that situation without getting enormously discouraged.

Yeah, me too. Friends who have known him for a long time say only Chris could have handled things as he has.I think in a difficult situation all of us can find strength we didn’t know we had. Chris has been a coach for 30 years and also has practiced several styles of martial arts for over 40 years. I think it has played a big part in his attitude and his ability to overcome adversity. He’s deeply spiritual, but not religious. Although we both were raised in the Methodist church, we have an eclectic form of spirituality and a regular spiritual practice which includes a morning devotion, meditation and prayer. Our committed relationship is part of it too, and we love traveling to different countries to visit temples, shrines, mosques and holy places together.

Were there times when you thought that supporting him under these circumstances would just be too much, that you couldn’t do it?

No—and I’m being honest about it. People say it’s amazing how I supported him. But what else would I do? I love this person. Looking back, I think it’s been a really tough year. I’m glad I couldn’t see into the future. In Seoul, when I was working as a counselor, I had a very supportive supervisor. In the morning he’d come into my office with a cup of coffee, sit down and ask, “How’re you doing? Anything I can do for you?” I can’t tell you how much that meant to have that constant emotional support.

I also journaled a lot. I have many journals filled with existential struggle and spiritual conversations with the angels. “What do I do now, how do I handle this? I need help with this.” I continue to journal regularly, asking questions, asking for help, trying to figure out what I am going to do next. I’m a caretaker and a counselor. That’s who I am. At one time I was married to an alcoholic, so now I’m an educated caretaker. I really work at trying to balance taking care of myself with taking care of others. I’m not a martyr.

You have to do that first, for yourself and the other person.

My goal in this house is to help Chris become as self-sufficient and independent as possible. I don’t know why, but I never thought I didn’t want to do this. I believe in karma and to a certain extent in predetermination. I think that Chris was built to do what he’s doing, and I was built to what I’m doing. This is who I am. I have a warrior spirit and I’m always looking to improve myself.

One of the aspects that initially attracted me to living in an Asian culture was the idea of the Kuan Yin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, but my experience is that Korea is very unsupportive of people with handicaps, and this shocked me when Chris got hurt.

In China thirty-two years ago, I learned immediately that there was no tolerance for anyone who was different. I think part of that was Confucianism—or agrarian collectivism—and part was the police state. Since university students were also reserve military, even having one leg an inch shorter than the other one would disqualify you as a university student. Disabled people were shut away. That’s also true now in the Philippines, which is based on a mixture of agrarian collectivism and Catholicism.

To date we’ve seen the most compassion among military people, who go out of their way to open doors, help with the wheelchair, or help Chris get out of the car. While in Korea, Chris had to get to the second floor of a building to get a military ID. There was no way he could get up there. So a couple of soldiers put him into a medical carry-hold and carried him up the stairs.

People come up and ask Chris if he was wounded in the war, and he’ll say he’s a vet, he was a medic, but that he got hurt in a car accident. The cutest thing is the kids, who are really blunt. They’ll say, “What happened to your legs?”

The parents are embarrassed, but Chris loves it. He’ll say,“Well, we think somebody was texting while she was driving and she wasn’t paying attention.”

Chris lived here for twelve years before he moved to Korea, so it’s like home, except he can’t do a lot of what he did here before. We’re both 64 now, but we feel pretty young. My goal is to improve our health, nutrition and lifestyle so that we can be healthy centenarians, like the Okinawans, many of whom live to be over a hundred. Okinawans are not Japanese, but Ryukyu, an island people, very relaxed and accommodating. Many live longer than anybody else on the planet, which has to do with what they eat and their easy tolerant lifestyle, but it also seems to be a very accepting and loving culture. This is what we’re all about on this unintended adventure!