Archive for December, 2016

A Memoirist of the Marcos Years, Part 1

by on Saturday, 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 Saturday, 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!