Monday, March 30, 2009

7107 Island Cruises cruise

On Friday we took the Sun Cruises ferry to Manila, then a taxi to the north harbor, and boarded the “7107 Islands Cruise” cruise ship. We eagerly anticipated a weekend tour that would include Friday night sailing Manila Bay, then take us to Subic Bay to spend Saturday, then Sunday to Corregidor and back to Manila. Marcia, who’s had vestibular problems in the past, has always shied away from cruises. We decided to try the short version, and see if we enjoy ourselves and avoid seasickness. We’d like do a longer cruise with them in the future to Boracay and Palawan, two of the most beautiful islands in the Philippines.

The ship was docked at Pier 6 in the Tondo section of Manila. Tondo is one of the most densely-populated areas in the world, and has had problems with gangs in the past. Our taxi driver said that the mayor has made a good effort at cleaning up the city, and indeed, what we saw did not look as bad as we had expected. The boarding area was decent enough, and we assume that the cruise line has no choice in docking areas. The only obvious sign of poverty was children paddling on large Styrofoam rafts in the dirty water, yelling “give us your money” whenever anyone stuck his head over the bay side of the ship.

Our room was small, but certainly adequate, and not the matchbox size that we have heard on some cruise lines. We decided to stay on the middle deck, so there are smaller and larger rooms for less and more money, of course. The bathroom was significantly larger than one in a 747 in coach class, and had a decent shower. Marcia thinks it was larger than the bathroom in our first apartment.

The toilet provided the first laughs of the trip. It looked pretty much like a conventional one, complete with water in the bowl, but acted more like an airplane toilet. When you flushed, which required pulling up a knob on the back of the bowl, at first the water would run out fairly normally, then all of a sudden there was an strange, high-pitched whooshing sound that lasted for about half a second, at which time the contents of the bowl were magically transported to an alternate universe, or so it seemed. Beam me up, Scotty.

The second laugh, if you can call it that, occurred when we heard Kenny G’s “My Heart Will Go On and On” playing on the ship’s sound system. Note to all cruise lines: Don’t play that song. It might remind the passengers of a sailing disaster where over 1500 people die. Worse yet, it will remind them of a movie where Leonardo di Caprio dies.

The first night included dinner and a dance, so Marcia packed a couple of mildly fancy dresses for herself, along with two nicer shirts and a pair of pants for Steve. We forgot a belt, and since Steve has lost 35 pounds and four inches off his waist, that presented a minor challenge. After some thought, we conjured up a faux belt using a fabric and elastic money belt. Philippine dress code does not require tucked in shirttails.

The dinner buffet was quite tasty. An exceptionally good band called “Music Venture” played mostly 60s-80s music. The lady who sang “To Sir with Love” may as well have been Lulu. The band was able to sound like Santana and many other popular bands of the past. All around great guitar, trumpet, keyboards, percussion, and vocals. In the meantime the ship was cruising Manila Bay.

We got word that former First Lady Imelda Marcos was on board for the evening, with her entourage eating in a separate dining room. It’s kind of funny that after living 55 years in the United States we were never knowingly near a First Lady, and here we were on the same ship with one. Later she came into the dining room, which also acts as stage and dance floor. Comedian Jimmy Guerero impersonated past Philippine presidents for Imelda. Then Jun Polistico and Anthony Castelo, two Filipino singers who perform in Las Vegas, provided the entertainment, sometimes singing duets, other times alternating their acts. When Polistico opened his mouth you would have sworn Frank Sinatra had come back to life. He later showed us how easy it is to imitate Tom Jones, Englebert, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, and Elvis. Yeah, right!

It was getting close to midnight so we headed back to our room. The singing went on until about 1:30, by which time the ship had redocked. Imelda and the entertainers departed and it finally got quiet. We slept in two twin beds pushed together. At some point the ship left the dock but since the engines have been running since we boarded – to provide power – we never felt it actually begin to move.

In the morning Steve got up and took some beautiful sunrise pictures. The ship had just passed Corregidor when he stepped on deck, and he was able to capture the sun as it rose between Mariveles and Corregidor. The ship then began heading north toward Subic Bay, and we went inside and ate from a very good breakfast buffet. Then we went back on deck to watch the docking process.

Late in the morning we took a bus to Ocean Adventure, about a half hour ride from the ship. We saw two shows, the first starring two sea lions, the second starring a half dozen dolphins. We followed up with a delicious lunch, and then visited their 10-tank educational aquarium, where we had our own private guide. The park also offers such things as having your picture taken with or even swimming with the dolphins.

As we were about to leave we ran into one of the co-owners, Scott Sharp, who had given us a tour of Subic Bay a year ago. Scott told us that this is the only dolphin show in the world that occurs in the ocean. He trained the dolphin for “Flipper” and the killer whale for “Free Willy.” Recently about 250 melon head whales (actually dolphins) got stranded just off the beach on the other side of Bataan. Scott is now nursing back to health the female that was beached and needed to be rescued, and she will eventually appear in his show: without his help she would have died.

On the way back to the ship we spotted thousands of fruit bats hanging in trees near the shore. These bats are large, with wingspans reaching several feet. We have seen a few of these on Corregidor but have yet to see them hanging in the trees there. Our driver was able to pull off the road so passengers could get photos.

We had another nice dinner buffet, followed by entertainment from the band “Millennium,” another band capable of performing a wide variety of music. Again there were talented singers and musicians playing horns along with guitars. Then Marco Sison, a well known balladeer here in the Philippines, sang popular tunes including several that he himself had made famous. We went to bed before Millennium returned, but we could hear them for a while before we finally fell asleep. All in all the entertainment was top notch; management did not scrimp there.

Sunday morning we awoke as we were pulling into our new home, Corregidor. We ate breakfast from the buffet table, and again were pleased. Then Steve led a tour around The Rock while Marcia went to the house to swap out clothing and straighten up the house before we return to Manila. As usual the group was very pleased with Steve’s enthusiasm and knowledge, despite the fact that they were all Filipinos. We know of one Danish man who sailed with us to Subic, but other than that, we were the only two non-Filipinos on the Cruise.

We returned to the ship for the lunch buffet, and noticed that this was the first meal with chicken, the most common meat of buffets because it is the cheapest. Most meals had included beef, which is much more expensive. Overall the meals were quite varied – something rare for buffets here – and consisted of quality food. The service was also very good, with wait staff always ready to remove empty plates and refill drinks.

The trip back to Manila was uneventful and peaceful, and we arrived at pier 6 around 4:00 in the afternoon in plenty of time to get to our friends’ apartment, where we will be staying for a day or two.

We found out that the ship is a little over 40 years old, and that it has been refitted a number of times. It weighs 5100 tons, is 600 feet long, and has 130 cabins. We have to compliment the owners on doing their best to turn it into a decent cruise ship. We know that it cannot come close to the modern cruise ships of the Caribbean, but it doesn’t need to, in our opinion, to provide get-away vacations here in the Philippines.

Marcia did not experience any seasickness or dizziness, which pleased us, so now we have the assurance that we can spend time on a cruise ship and enjoy ourselves. We received first class service, and we hope to take a five to seven-day cruise with them in the next year or two.

You can see our pictures of the cruise at:

You can see our pictures Ocean Adventure at:

Friday, March 27, 2009

Steve and marcia walk first 14km of Bataan Death March route

April 9 marks the 67th anniversary of the fall of Bataan, the largest surrender ever by American forces. The Japanese military leaders, under heavy pressure from Tokyo to conquer Corregidor Island, only three miles away at the closest point, ordered an evacuation of the Americans and Filipinos from Bataan. This subsequently became known as “The Bataan Death March.” To this day it is considered one of the worst atrocities committed during wartime. We do not use the word “atrocities” lightly.

The majority of the 76,000 participants, 10,000 of whom were Americans, began walking from Mariveles, which is on the southern-most tip of the Bataan peninsula. Before it was over, 1,000 Americans and 10,000 Filipinos would be lying dead along the route, about one for every 10 meters, for the 114 meter route to Camp O’Donnell where they were imprisoned. By the end of the war only about 4,000 of these American survived, the rest having died in the subsequent prison camps and “Hell Ships.” Another 19,000 Filipinos would die in Camp O’Donnell before the Japanese released the remainder in a good-will gesture, hoping they would then be sympathetic to the Japanese cause. It didn’t work. Most of those went on to fight against the Japanese in the guerilla movement.

We decided to walk the first several kilometers during the same time of year (this is the hottest and driest time) to try to get a little understanding of what the soldiers went through. Understand, as we do, that this is comparing apples to oranges. At the time of surrender the soldiers were sick with malaria, dysentery (severe diarrhea), dengue fever and the like. Their rations had been cut so severely that they were starving. Along the way many were denied water, even from dreadful carabao wallows. We on the other hand were healthy, well fed, and carried ample water. So there’s no comparison, really.

Enough for the history lesson. If you are interested in learning more, we recommend reading “Death March: The Survivors of Bataan” by Donald Knox, “No Uncle Sam” by Tony Bilek (who receives this newsletter), or “Ghost Soldiers” by Hampton Sides. And if you’re really interested, you can join us on a tour, one of which begins in about 10 days.

We and our helper Baroy took a banca to Cabcaben early Monday morning. From there we caught a bus to the Mariveles Jollibee, their equivalent to MacDonald’s. We each ate a hearty breakfast, used the CRs (“comfort rooms” – Filipino for toilets) and topped off our water bottles. There is a Death March marker at nearly every kilometer along the route, so we started beside Jollibee, at kilometer 0, in a small memorial park at the site of the traditional start of the march.

We began walking at 8 A.M. It was mostly cloudy at first, but full sun was not far off. Nevertheless we got the feeling that it was not as hot as a typical March day, and certainly not as hot as April. The first two kilometers are flat. Off to the right you could catch glimpses of Corregidor six miles away across the harbor. Mariveles is an export zone, and along the left there were many buildings associated with shipping. Dunlop has a big presence there, and Steve remembers hearing that Mariveles was the world’s largest producer of tennis balls.

At km2 the grade began to rise, and by km3 it was a fairly steep climb, like all but the steepest roads on Corregidor. The road wound around the hills, sometimes providing ample shade, while at other times exposing us to the sun. At this point the road is barely wider than two lanes, so we switched from side to side in order to keep from being run over by the generally light traffic, which consisted of motorcycles, cars, trucks, and many buses. Fortunately we did not have two buses meet each other on the same curve where we were, or we might have been in trouble. Drivers were friendly, although on occasion they would wait until they were even with you and then toot their horns, which can be startling.

At km6 it started to level out, and by km8 we were even walking downhill at times. However, now shade was pretty much non-existent. This area is known as Little Baguio, and it was in this area that Steve’s father Walter was located when the first bombs started dropping on December 8, 1941. His battery had been assigned here to set up huge tents, presumably for the field hospital. Dick Francies, a former POW, once told Steve that he was at Little Baguio at the time of the surrender. The commanding officer ordered his men to walk to Mariveles, only to be told by the Japanese to march right back up the hill!

Here the road is straight with wide shoulders which made for much easier walking. However, in the Philippines the shoulder is not just reserved for walkers, bikers, and broken down cars, so you have to be on the lookout for anyone who decides it’s easier to use the shoulder than the road. Also, jeepneys and buses pull over quite regularly to service their passengers.

As we went along we passed through several barangays, which are the smallest municipal units. Then we would walk for a stretch with nothing but open road. New subdivisions are going in. Some of the existing housing is quite nice, while other living quarters are very, very humble. There are many sari-sari (various stuff) stores, and the occasional barber shop or building supply store. Twice we passed by rice that was spread to dry on the shoulder.

As we approached Cabcaben the sides of the road became more crowded. We had been walking at a pace of one kilometer per 15-minutes, so it took us three and one half hours to reach Cabcaben. We were hot and sweaty, and certainly would not have looked forward to repeating the process for the next several days, despite our adequate supply of water, good shoes, and the fact that we weren’t being threatened with death if we were to stop to rest.

To see our photos of the first 14 kilometers of the Death March route from Mariveles to Cabcanen, go to:

On Wednesday Steve went to Cabcaben on Randy’s banca to pick up three Japanese visitors, our friend Yuka, her husband Juji, and their friend Yuji. They are all interested in furthering Japanese-American POW research and relations. They treated us to dinner that night, then we gave them a full morning’s tour of the island on Thursday, after which they took us to lunch at MacArthur Cafe. Yuka and Juji gave us a book on Japanese culture and another on how the Japanese dealt with defeat after WW II.

Yuji gave us a copy of his book, our first one written entirely in Japanese. Steve proceeded to turn the book upside down, not remembering that Japanese is read from right to left. At least this way the pictures, which appear to be WWII ships and boats, were now right-side up! He has done extensive research on the merchant ships commandeered by the Japanese military and used for troop and POW transport from Manchuria. Most were sunk by American naval and air force without reaching Japan.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Boy Scouts clean up Battery Morrison; Our niece Angie

Corregidor will occasionally host a group of campers. This week a Boy Scout troop from Faith Academy in Manila spent a few days camping on the island. Steve happened to run into several of their leaders in the museum one day and introduced himself.

The troop usually performs some form of volunteer service while staying here. This year island manager Ronilo asked Steve to come up with something they could do, such as clearing a trail. After thinking about it Steve decided that Battery Morrison, a six-inch disappearing gun battery on Middleside might benefit the most from their help.

Steve met with Brian, one of the troop leaders, who is also a teacher Faith Academy. They went to see Morrison, which is not far from our house. They decided that this indeed would be a good project for the 25 boys. The next morning the troop got a ride to our house and we walked with them to Morrison.

The area was severely overgrown, a result of neglect which in turn is a result of insufficient funds to keep the area cleared. The grass had grown to a height of several feet. Trees were growing in areas that not only blocked views but also threatened the integrity of the concrete. In one case damage has already occurred. Staircases were jammed with leaves, soil, and criss-crossing vines making it unsafe to walk on them.

Several of the boys had bolo knives, highly effective but equally dangerous if used incorrectly. Brian, the leader at least for this project, began with a prayer, then gave some information about the battery, and finished with a warning that the boys stay eight to ten feet apart to avoid hacking each other.

Soon they were at it, cutting grass, chopping trees, and clearing the steps. Occasionally someone had to be warned to move further away from someone else, but for the most part everyone caught on and there were no injuries.

As is typical this time of year, it was sunny and soon got very hot. The boys are used to the heat, but it was obvious that some of them are more used to working in it than others. One of the scout leaders commented that it was easy to tell which of the boys is expected to work and which ones are used to having someone else do work for them, such as their mothers or servants.

There were four adult men and two adult women from the troop who pitched in. Steve and the women mostly moved the cut grass and tree limbs into a pile away from the battery.

The closest thing to an accident came when Steve stepped into a hole that was well camouflaged by high grass. Fortunately the grass padded his landing and the hole was only about two feet deep. He felt a slight twinge in his left knee for a couple of hours but realizes that it could have been a whole lot worse.

The boys were very polite and most of them were very enthusiastic about helping. On the walk back out of the jungle Marcia had a very good conversation with one of them about WW II. She thought it was great that he and many of the others would hold serious conversations with adults they’d just met, a sign of good upbringing and education.

We look forward to working with the scouts in the future.

When we arrived on Corregidor in October there was only one provider of transportation from Manila. We have mentioned Sun Cruises several times, and Steve occasionally has been asked to guide for them. However, recently two other options have arisen, with possibilities of permanency if they are successful. 7107 Islands Cruises has brought people here on three of the past four Sunday mornings, and Steve has been one of their guides each time.

On Saturday another ferry arrived for a test run, this one from a company called Prestige Cruises. Steve led a tour for several of their new employees, some of whom soon may be new guides. The owner, James “Bugsy” de la Reyes, explained that he had run tours here in 2004 and 2005, and was hoping to have the boat ready to begin regular tours here very soon. Their boat is slower than the ones operated by Sun Cruises, but for some people the time may not be a problem, especially if the price is right.

We think that competition is a good thing and are grateful that there is enough interest in Corregidor to warrant multiple choices to enjoy the island. 7101 Islands has a small, nicely out-fitted cruise ship, and Sun Cruises runs the Corregidor Inn, leasing it from the Corregidor Foundation. We’re not sure if Prestige has plans for overnight guests.

We encourage you to write to us. We assure you that we read every email and try to answer all inquiries. Sometimes our answers may seem short, but please understand that we have very slow internet service, so we have to make the most of our time. But please let us know what you think, send a little news, and if you have a suggestion for a topic we would appreciate that as well.

Also, we once again remind you not to send any large attachments to our normal email addresses, as that just slows and sometimes stops us entirely. We have set up a special email account for longer attachments which we will check at least once a month when we are in Manila and have access to hi-speed internet. If you want to send us pictures that’s fine but please reduce the size to 640x480 like we do in our emails to you. However, for anything over 100kb please use:

Steve and Marcia

For those of you interested in a little personal story, read on.

I want to brag about our niece, Angela Keseley. Angie has been playing ice hockey since she was old enough to stand in skates. I think that she played mostly with boys up until 8th grade. Girl’s hockey was becoming more popular in Minnesota, but Angie went to St. Louis Park in suburban Minneapolis, a small “non-hockey” high school. Nevertheless she put SLP on the map, scoring hundreds of points in her career. Despite being the highest scorer in the state her senior season, the University of Minnesota took her for granted, a mistake she made them regret. She signed with Coach Mark Johnson, MVP of the Miracle on Ice team of 1980, at the University of Wisconsin.

Signing at UW was a big risk. They had never won a conference title, much less gone on to bigger things. That was reserved for Minnesota, who had a very high winning percentage against Wisconsin and was the defending national champ, and other Minnesota schools like UM-Duluth where both of Angie’s parents, including my sister Paula, graduated. The first time she played against Minnesota Angie scored the first goal, and for the past four years UW has owned UM.

Wisconsin went on to win the national championships both Angie’s freshman and sophomore years. They had a rebuilding year last year and still took runner-up to UMD. By the way, UMD had an illegal Russian pro player and may have to forfeit all the wins for games she played in, although she did not play in the championship game. I believe that in any men’s sport Wisconsin would have been declared champion.

Anyway, this year they were ranked number one most of the season, losing only two games all year. They won their first playoff game 7-0, with Angie scoring three goals and adding two assists. In the semifinal they beat UMD 5-1, and although Angie did not score, she was on the ice for each of the goals. I was nervous about the final, a rematch with arch-rival Minnesota, but it never occured, as Mercyhurst buikt an early lead and held on for the upset. Wisconsin then went on to destroy Mercyhurst 5-0, with Angie getting a goal and two assists. I have a tear in my eye for her as I write this.

Angie has no desire to play any more hockey competitively. Her two linemates at UW will be on the Olympic Team, and Mark Johnson will be their coach. Angie is a selfless individual. I’m sure there were times in high school when she was described as a puck hog because she scored so much, but she was just that much better than anyone else on her team. Then in college she got teamed up with players as good as and in some cases better than herself. She could have shot more and scored more, but she wanted to be a team player and often passed when she could have tried to score herself.

Here’s the other thing about Angie. She went to Africa a couple of summers ago with her mother Paula, who works for a charity that raises money for schools in Kenya. Angie met a girl there and now sponsors her education. School was never easy for Angie either, but she has done very well at a tough university, sometimes making the dean’s list. Like I said, Angie is a wonderful woman, and I am very proud of her accomplishments on and off the ice.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dirty kitchen

Our temporary helper Baroy built a “dirty kitchen” for us over the past few weeks. The term simply refers to an outdoor food preparation and cooking area. At first we were going to have Roy build it attached to the bodega which is about 50 feet behind the house, and he already had a good start on the frame when we decided to move it next to the back door of the house. One reason is that the bodega has no electricity, so we would have to run a line there, since most evening meals here are cooked after dark. Secondly, cooking that far away from the house is impractical during rainy season without a covered walkway. We also realized that this location will give us a larger area that is sheltered from sun and rain, since it extends from the four foot roof over-hang.

The first step is to locate and prepare the wood for the frame. The best wood on the island is called bilogan [bee-low-GAHN] in Tagalog. It is hard, and the trees naturally grow straight. After it is cut, the bark is stripped. Post holes are dug by hand, with Roy using a tool that was basically a handle with a rectangular piece of metal attached. After several times hitting the hole, the loosened soil is removed with a half coconut shell, then more loosening and removing until a two-foot deep hole is dug. Then the pole is inserted, and dirt is tamped in with the bottom of another pole until the upright pole is secure.

Before the frame was fully constructed, Roy built the cooking surface. He set four poles, one of them a tall corner pole, the other three cut to table height. Next he put down a piece of marine plywood, a material that is treated to handle moisture well. He then attached sides all around to hold about four inches of soil, upon which the fire will be lit. He also built a two-level free-standing table which we can use for storage underneath and food prep on top. Prior to building the table, Roy’s “ladder” consisted of seven stacked plastic chairs. Afterward, the table became a scaffold, which tells you how sturdy it is.

To collect enough bilogan, and bamboo which would also be needed, we temporarily hired Benny, and two of his crew, Ricky and Rene who are brothers. Benny’s group had been temporarily laid off. Benny is unusual in that he dresses like it is below zero, complete with face and hands covered, when it is hot and all the other guys are shirtless. In fact the temperatures recently are reaching about 90 during the day. When we asked why, several people guessed that Benny is trying to avoid getting darker skin, a common Filipino practice. In any case, it certainly looks uncomfortable to us.

After the guys were done gathering wood, we kept Benny on for a few more days to help Roy finish framing and roofing. One day Roy went by banca to Cabcaben to buy the 3X8 galvanized roofing sheets while Benny completed placing the roof beams. The guys took precautions to ensure that the roof would be tall enough for Steve to pass under without hitting his head, something he has done numerous times already at Ron’s when we’ve been there for dinner. When they finally nailed on the roof, the noise made it hard to keep writing this, since it is right outside our office window.

One day we went with Ron to Balanga to buy some needed cooking items, including a big pot with lid, a large kawali (wok), and an even larger kawali. We also bought round metal cooking tripods to be placed over the open fire, upon which the pots and kawalis will sit while cooking. Since we have eaten often at Ron’s, we had a good idea of what we wanted and were very successful in the Balanga Market.

We realized that there was a perfect place for a bench, so Roy and Benny built one out of bilogan and bamboo. It is very comfortable, since the bamboo strips, each about an inch wide, are slightly flexible. Since we have less concrete on the backside of the house, and because the dirty kitchen means more roof and therefore more shade, we also now have a hammock hanging from the rafters. For those of you who have never used one, it takes some getting used to. Getting on and off requires a certain technique to ensure that you don’t dump yourself right out. Also, they have a tendency to sway, so if you are subject to motion sickness you might want to think twice about one. For this reason the hammock will probably be Steve’s alone. Marcia is content to read while sitting on the bench, having already had enough years of equilibrium issues.

The soil was put into the frame, after having been sifted for stones and live ammunition. After all, we wouldn’t want a .45 caliber shell to go off and ruin our dinner. Ron told us to buy about a kilo of salt. He came over and sprinkled the salt on top of the soil, watered the surface, then tamped it down. The solid surface keeps the cooking tripods from sinking in, while the salt attracts moisture, making the surface safer for fire. The fire-pit area has solid walls on the house and back sides, while the side away from the house has a bamboo strip wall to help vent smoke away from the window and the chef. It is pretty effective aside from the occasional wind gust from the backyard.

The last steps were making an eating table, and chopping and splitting wood. Roy made the table similarly to the utility table, using marine plywood for the top and bilogan for the legs and supports. Firewood is in abundant supply, both dead wood lying around, and the wood from the trees that had to come down to expose our solar panels.

Finally it was time test our new “dirty kitchen.” On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, we invited some of our friends for dinner. Quite by accident one of the main dishes was corned beef and cabbage. We were pleasantly surprised the first time it was served to us, and it is now one of our favorite dishes here. By the way, Filipinos for the most part have never heard of St. Patrick’s Day, but they do like the idea that he chased the snakes out of Ireland.

Philippine-style corned beef and cabbage:

1. Lightly brown some chopped garlic
2. Add chopped or sliced onion and sauté til soft
3. Add 2-3 small chopped tomatoes
4. Stir in a can or package of corned beef
5. Add one small head thinly sliced cabbage, stir and toss til it begins to soften, what is called “half-cook” here

Monday, March 16, 2009

Library book; Sascha

Roger Schade was one of the internees at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) in Metro Manila who came to Corregidor last month. He recently made the newspapers here. Roger, age 17 at the time and a Boy Scout, wanted to learn more about a particular Filipino tribe. Just before war broke out, Roger checked out a library book about the tribes of the north. While interned at UST he forgot about it, but after he and his family moved to Colorado in the United States, an unknown person mailed his family some of their personal belongings from UST, and of all things, the library book was among them.

He always felt an obligation to return the book, and finally got his chance to do so. Surprisingly, he had a very difficult time returning the book to the National Library. Numerous calls were shuttled from desk to desk. Nobody was interested in meeting with him to get the book back, so he entrusted the book to the American Historical Collection at the Rizal Library of the Ateneo de Manila.

But the tale doesn’t quite end there. Because the story made the newspaper, it got the attention of the director of the National Library who pointed out that Mr. Schade had not actually accomplished his mission of returning the book to the rightful owner. (The newspaper reporter had anticipated this, using the word “entrusted” when referring to the transfer of the book.) Consequently the book was returned without fanfare or thank you.

I have never met the owner of the tour company with which Mr. Schade came, Sascha Jean Weinzheimer Jansen. She had emailed and asked me to lead the Corregidor part of their tour. Sascha had polio as a child, so she is mostly confined to a wheel chair now, and did not make the trip to the island.

We just returned from staying at our friend Leslie’s for a few days. She only met Sascha a few years ago. However, since they were both interned by the Japanese as young girls at the UST, their paths probably crossed over 60 years ago. They recently learned that at one time their fathers were on the same kitchen detail at UST.

Leslie showed us a book which she owns entitled “Interrupted Lives: Four Women’s Stores of Internment During World War II in the Philippines.” Sascha’s is one of the stories. Sascha blames the United States for failing to evacuate civilian families like hers before the war, stating that President Roosevelt was more concerned about Philippine morale and the war in Europe. Sadly she is correct. As a result, her family was rounded up by the Japanese and eventually ended up together at UST.

Sascha’s polio had meant semi-yearly trips to San Francisco for operations and therapy. Then, right before the war the children were almost stranded in Germany, her father’s homeland, without passports, while her parents were in Switzerland. They managed to make their way to Switzerland and return as a family to the Philippines, but war meant years without her polio being addressed. She said that her legs were as bad as before any treatments, by the time their liberation came.

Life in UST was hard, essentially a prison camp by another name. People were routinely underfed. This made a lasting impression on Sascha. She talks about seeing former businessmen being reduced to “rummaging through garbage cans.” Sascha says, “One lady had a two year old baby and would tie a rope onto it and lower it into the garbage pit to pick up food. She would point at what she wanted, and the baby would get it for her. My father told us never to do that.”

Sascha talks about eating vegetables and not wasting a thing. “Now, we got wormy vegetables and didn’t cut anything off – we ate worms with pleasure. They were a good source of protein and filling.” Steve’s father, Walter, talked about similar things, such as one prisoner of war picking the worms out of his rice and setting them on the ground, only to have another POW scoop them up and gladly eat them. He also spoke of times when food was in such short supply that rice was divided grain by grain to make sure everyone got a fair share. Consequently, we never left food on our plates while I was growing up, and I suspect most children of POWs and internees like Sascha would testify to that as well. Actually, most children whose parents went through the Depression, including Marcia’s, had similar training that food was not to be wasted.

Sascha’s attitude about waste continues to this day: “When I fix dinner and peel a turnip or carrot or potato, cutting off the ends to serve the best part, I can’t throw any of it away. I save it in a container in the freezer, and when it’s full I make soup from it.” At dinner one night we had a discussion about leaving any food on your plate, and Leslie said that it was understood in her family as well that you ate all the food that you had taken on your dinner plate.

We were at Leslie’s because the Filipino-American Memorial Endowment (FAME) hosted Mr. James Zobel, the curator of the MacArthur Memorial and Archives in Norfolk Virginia, USA, to speak on Friday evening. We were lucky to have Jim on Corregidor for two days of his two-week stay in the Philippines. He visited many places, seeing much more of the country than Marcia and I have had the chance to do so far. He said he could easily have spent the whole two weeks just on Corregidor, he loved it so much here. He is very busy, and it took Lou Jurika seven years to finally make this trip happen, so we don’t expect to see Jim here again any time soon. Maybe we can make it to Norfolk some day. Col. Matibag thanked Jim for giving the museum the 48-star flag, while Leslie acted as hostess for the evening. Also, Jim presented Leslie with a photograph taken at UST in which Leslie appears as a very young girl.

Now that we are more settled in, we need less time for shopping when we do go to Manila. As a result we were able to spend Thursday afternoon with our new friends Stephen and Soma. They treated us to lunch and took us to a huge aquarium.

Philippine restaurants tend to serve your food as each dish is ready, and they make no attempt to serve everyone at the same time, as we are accustomed to in America. It’s not unusual for some diners to be finished while others have yet to start. This can be a problem if they forget to make your meal, as appeared to be the case that day. After everyone else was done eating. I asked about my main course, and I think it was then that they started cooking it. The meal, including two deserts that were served a half hour apart, lasted over two hours. On the positive side, the Mediterranean food was excellent, we were in no hurry, and the view from the second floor mezzanine of the Mall of Asia overlooking Manila Bay was great.

Then we went to Ocean Park, a new, large aquarium built on Manila Bay near the Manila Hotel, right behind the Quirino grandstand. The exhibits were splendid, with most having outstanding coral settings for the fish. There was even a 75-meter long Plexiglas tunnel which wound through mantas and other interesting large fish. On the down side, you had to pass through a huge restaurant, then a gift shop, and eventually pass dozens of shops before you finally got to the exit. It was like passing through an entire floor of a mall. I can just imagine trying to get a young child out, past all the enticements. An ad currently running in the Manila newspapers exemplifies the mentality. It states in part: “During this Holy Week, fish be with you.” Shameful, in my opinion. Why ruin such a wonderful addition to the city with such crass commercialism?

Still, all in all we had a wonderful time with our new friends. We just found out that Stephen, about 60 and diabetic, is being admitted to a local hospital due to fracturing a toe a few days ago. For those so inclined, keep Stephen in your prayers.

Steve (not to be confused with Stephen) and Marcia editing, of course

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Roots. Not “Roots” as in the saga about Kunta Kinte, but roots as in the things that plants stick into the ground. Or rocks. Or concrete. A real attention grabber, don’t you think? Well, at least one recent visitor liked roots, since he took numerous pictures of them, so this column is dedicated to him and whomever else finds roots fascinating.

But first, let us introduce the man interested in roots, Steve Cornwell, and his fiancé Soma. Steve lost his wife of 33 years to cancer in December, 2005. They were “Steve and Marcia” just like us. We have become quick friends, and this week Steve and Soma came to the island a second time, partly to spend time with us. The first time they came to stay overnight and see the island. We were introduced then by Sun Cruises guide and our friend Armando, who thought we should meet, and we are grateful that he thought of us.

Steve is still in the mourning period and talks a lot about his late wife, but Soma, a Filipina, seems to take it in stride. Like so many couples we meet nowadays, they met on the internet. Once Steve began advertising for a potential partner, he had hundreds of younger Asian girls trying to get his interest, and he knew it was primarily so that they could go to the United States. Soma was different. A widow herself, and much closer to Steve’s age, she answered all his inquiries in a way that made him comfortable that things may work out, and now they are waiting for Soma to get a fiancé visa so that she can visit the U.S. to meet his family. It is very difficult for Filipinos to get U.S. visas, so they will have to be patient.

Here on Corregidor, roots can be intriguing. They are not only interesting to look at, but show just how much their owners will do to stay alive. It’s important to realize that the climate here is typically “hot and hotter.” We experienced an unusually cool January, despite temperatures almost always well above 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit). From November through mid-May it will not rain much, if at all. In April most trees still look green despite blistering temperatures and the fact that there may not have been a soaking rain in half a year. Thus the need to have effective root systems.

One common tree here is the banyan. It will take over an entire area, if given the chance, by dropping runners from its branches to the ground. Should a runner root, it will eventually become another trunk. Once when we visited Marcia’s parents in Fort Myers, Florida, we saw a banyan tree on the Edison/Ford estate that had hundreds of trunks and took up close to an acre of land. This was technically one tree! Some banyans here have become such a problem that they have had to be eliminated. Good examples are the Ft. Mills Hospital and the Administration Building on Topside, where banyan trees would have eventually engulfed and destroyed them.

Giant fig trees grow all over the island, and we find their roots beautiful. We call them “skirt trees” for obvious reasons. Their roots extend almost like skirts above the ground, then snake wherever necessary to find water. During the right time of the year the figs fall and make a mess, of course. These trees are not as destructive as banyans, and are much more plentiful, often seen along roads and trails. Often the roots wrap around rocks as large as beach balls, and sometimes hold the rocks suspended after rains have swept the soil away.

Trees may be seen growing anywhere that a crack exists, often appearing to grow directly from concrete foundations. One large fig tree appears to be growing right out of a concrete abutment, but of course its roots do reach the ground. Other trees try to grow in small holes in concrete monuments, but they are doomed to die as their roots cannot find water.

A very common sight here is to see a tree reconstitute itself after it has fallen over. The main trunk is more or less horizontal, and it will put up branches which become new trunks to reach for the sky. We saw this phenomenon in Michigan so maybe it’s more prevalent than we realize, but it is very common here. Often there is evidence that the main trunk was cut off because it was blocking a road or path, but that doesn’t stop the tree from contriving to stay alive.

Another interesting example: a tree whose trunk appears to start several feet in the air, almost as if the ground was swept out from under it. This is sometimes the case, but we found one tree that is suspended over an old road. You can see a picture of Marcia standing beneath it. In many cases vines drop down from high up in trees and try to root in the ground below, and then begin the climb upward again

We have a papaya that just started growing on its own in our front yard. We have transplanted other papayas which are progressing very slowly, in part because the monkeys have eaten their new leaves. But this particular tree decided to grow right at the edge of an old concrete wall, so for it to survive it will have to eventually break the wall. We were delighted to see that it began to bloom this week, so we may soon have fruit to use. The islanders consume most fruit before it ripens and becomes attractive to the monkeys. (Bananas can be harvested green and allowed to ripen.) We have eaten a very good dish called Chicken Tinola, a stew with green papaya as an ingredient. Very, very good!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Text messaging; sister-in-law of Fidel Ramos

On Friday we were surprised to get a call from a friend of ours, John Schurtz. He told us that he and a group were on the island for the day tour, and he wondered if we could see them. We told him that if he would like, we could take him anywhere he wanted to go, since he had already taken the tour in 2007. So we met him and one of his friends and spent the day taking them around the island.

He introduced his friend as Colonel Klink and himself as Sergeant Shurtz, a reference to the comedy series Hogan’s Heroes. Actually his friend’s name is Lt. Col. Heino Klinck, and John is not a sergeant but an officer – sorry, we don’t know his rank – in the U.S. Army. They both work in the diplomatic corps, John in Beijing and Heino in Hong Kong, and they are both Chinese language specialists. We know John’s parents and two brothers from previous tours and were glad to have the opportunity to spend a few hours with him.

Later, we were getting ready to go to dinner at Ron’s when Steve received this text message: “Sir ds is d name of d sister of mrs ramos n sis law of FVR. MRS ERLINDA MCCABE plus 3 guests via sci boat tom. Pls have ur mr ron n steve kwiekiski meet them pier n steve join them tour bus. Thank you po. Ging gapud ofis Fvr.”

Steve texted Ron asking him who sent the message, and he answered, “I did.” Steve wrote back, “This had to have come from someone else,” and Ron replied that it had come from his boss, Col. Art. Since this obviously did not start with Art, we continued to be confused. On top of the origin, some of the message didn’t seem to make sense. What was this “FVR” mentioned more than once? What did “Ging gapud” mean? Neither “ging” nor “gapud” are in our Tagalog (Filipino) dictionary.

Text messaging is so common here that you will see men with $1000 suits walking down the streets of Makati texting instead of talking on their cell phones. It saves money, but often in the end you spend so much time texting back and forth to get your point across that it would have made more sense to simply call in the first place. When we first arrived here five months ago we didn’t know what it meant when a billboard said, “Text ‘love’ to 12345.” Now we’re becoming fluent simply because to communicate here you must be. And part of it is knowing that “d” is “the”, “n” is “and” and so forth.

At dinner we were able to get our answers. Ging is a common woman’s nickname, so ging gapud must be Ms. Ging Gapud. Also, Filipinos love to use acronyms. The current president is almost always simply GMA (for Gloria Magapagal Arroyo). Cha-cha, which is always in the papers, stands for “charter change.” In this case, FVR stands for former Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos. Therefore, the message in full would read: “Sir, this is the name of the sister of Mrs. Ramos and sister-in-law of Fidel V. Ramos. Mrs. Erlinda McCabe plus three guests [will arrive] via Sun Cruises boat tomorrow. Please have your Mr. Ron and Steve Kwiecinski meet them [at the] pier and [have] Steve join them [in the] tour bus. Thank you kindly. Ging Gapud office [of] FVR.”

Art decided that since Mrs. Erlinda McCabe is a VIP, she should have her own tour guide, and Marcia thought that she would enjoy coming along. So on Saturday morning we drove down to the pier to meet our guests. The only thing was, they were not expecting us to give them a personal tour. Ronilo was able to find them, already on a tour bus, so he escorted them to a small vehicle driven by “Steve said don’t cut down any tree’s” Rollie. With Mrs. McCabe, who goes by Linda, were her two American neighbors Scott and Cathy (hope we guessed correctly on spelling)West from Atlanta, Georgia, and her Filipino escort known simply as “Boy,” also very common nickname here.

Linda had been here many times before, and is in fact the sister-in-law of the ex-President, FVR. We were told that his friends call him “Eddie,” and that he has lived in the same house in Alabang (Metro Manila) for many years. She said that Eddie is a very nice man and very approachable, and that she hopes we can someday meet him. We look forward to it. It took Steve a little while, but he finally realized why he took to Linda so quickly. She reminds him of his aunt Gina [GEE-nuh] who was also his godmother.

Because of her previous Corregidor visits, Linda often stayed in the truck when we made our stops at the various points of interest. Scott and Cathy have never been to the Philippines before, and Scott especially really enjoyed seeing the historic sites. He said he reads a lot of history books. Cathy said many of their previous vacations have focused on his strong interest in history, combined with her interest in historic homes. At the end of the tour, Scott said what a pleasure it was to have Steve show him around, sharing both knowledge and enthusiasm, and answering all of his questions. We also really enjoyed the day with them. It’s one of our favorite ways to spend our time here.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

MacArthur Museum visitor

On Thursday our friend Carlos, a Sun Cruises tour guide, introduced us to a man named Joseph Monfiletto from Southern California. Joe is a collector of military artifacts, and Carlos gave him a private tour of the island. We made a date to see Joe the next morning, and as it turned out, we spent the rest of the day with him until he had to depart for Manila. We hiked with Joe to the top of Malinta Hill, and drove to a beach resort area that was used by the Japanese for a prison camp. It was referred to as the 92nd (Philippine Scouts) Garage Area. During our conversations, Joe indicated that he may have some items in his collection to someday donate to the Pacific War Museum on Topside.

Saturday found the two of us clearing a trail past seven house foundations on Infantry Point, which is located on “Tailside.” According to Amea Willoughby in “I Was on Corregidor,” page 114, these houses were occupied by such dignitaries as US. High Commissioner Francis Sayre, President of the Philippines Manuel Quezon, and General Douglas MacArthur, along with family members. William Graves, Sayre’s stepson, indicates that the house closest to the battery was the one he lived in, and that the second house was MacArthur’s, in a July 1986 National Geographic article and accompanying map. They used these homes during the period between their evacuation from Manila on Christmas Eve of 1941, and their departure for Australia in February and March of 1942.

This part of the island is not heavily overgrown, and the trail was already somewhat accessible, so it only took us a couple of hours with a bolo knife and snippers to clear a decent trail. The worst part is that most of the small scrub trees along the path are full of thorns. As careful as we were, we had a number of pricks and scrapes by the time we were done. The good part was that we did not run into very many ants, a nice variation from our usual experience in the jungle here.

On Sunday Steve was asked to lead a tour for a group that arrived on a “7107 Islands Shipping Corp.” cruise ship from Manila. Steve and several others were given a tour of the ship before the passengers disembarked. He was first told that the tour would begin at 7:00, but the passengers were apparently told 7:30 or 8:00. In any case, by the time “Filipino Time” was taken into account, it was closer to 8:30 before the Tranvias pulled off the south dock. Everything went well, with Steve receiving several business cards from tourists wanting to be added to this newsletter. He always encourages guests to come back and spend the night, and a number indicated that they just might take him up on the idea. The company has another trip scheduled for March 14.

Monday, March 2, marked the 64th Anniversary of General Douglas MacArthur returning to Corregidor, where he witnessed the raising of the American flag at Topside with these words: “I see the old flagpole still stands. Have your troops hoist the colors to its peak, and let no enemy ever haul them down.” About Corregidor he said, “Its long-protracted struggle enabled the Allies to gather strength. Had it not held out, Australia would have fallen, with incalculably disastrous results. Our triumphs today belong equally to that dead army.”

Corregidor Foundation Director Art Matibag honored Steve by asking him to present a wreath at the monument of the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team. Steve asked Art if he was expected to say anything, and Art said, “No, just walk behind the wreath as it is carried by two men.” As Steve was leaving the wreath-laying, Art then surprised him by asking him to give a five minute speech on his father’s role on Corregidor during the war. Then the group walked a short distance to the old Spanish flagpole, where James Zobel, curator of the MacArthur Memorial Museum in Norfolk, VA, presented a 48-star flag to be “hoisted to its peak.” Fifty to sixty guests, coincidentally mostly Americans, arrived on Tranvias at just the perfect time to witness the entire ceremony.

Accompanying James Zobel on a two-day tour of Corregidor were Peter Parsons (son of guerilla leader Chick Parsons), Peter’s wife Tea [TAY-uh] who is from Spain, his cousin Lou Jurika, and professor/writer Robin Hemley. Also our friends Karl and Paul were here to accompany them while seeing the sights of the island. A major highlight was walking with the group to the houses where we had cleared the trail two days before. While we were there, we also went on to see Battery Kysor with its two 155mm gun mounts (sans guns) and a large tunnel built into the side of the hill that was Kysor’s ammunition bunker.

We spent the better part of Tuesday making sure that James in particular, who is on his first visit to the Philippines, got to see the most important sites. We wandered around Topside, seeing the museum and the main batteries. Later in the day we went to Tailside to see Kindley Field.

James, Lou, and Karl left for Bataan by banca on Wednesday morning. Lou has been planning this trip for James for seven years, and will make sure that he sees the most important sites in the Philippines. We are hoping to attend a talk that James will be giving later in the month in Makati.

Later in the morning, Marcia accompanied Robin up Malinta Hill and joined him for lunch. They were pretty excited to see a monitor lizard along the trail, just less than two feet long. It was too shy to let Marcia get a photo, though. In the afternoon Robin, Paul, Peter and Tea left on the SCI ferry for Manila. There were only 33 tourists on Wednesday, not enough for SCI to normally make the tour, except that they were obligated to get our guests back to Manila. We hope that this was a one-day aberration, since tourist attendance is necessary to keep the island running and to avoid further staff layoffs.

Steve was already starting up Malinta Hill with Marcia and Robin when Ronilo called him to guide a tour. He then met Knut, a Norwegian in his mid-sixties who is married to a Filipina and spends half his year in the Philippines and the other half in Norway. Although he was very interested in the Corregidor tour, he was also eager to share his story, which Steve enjoyed as well. He says that his aunt, who is living in Oslo, used to play cards with Douglas and Mrs. MacArthur at her house in Manila. He is not sure if his aunt has any pictures of that, but says she has a photo album that is three inches thick, full of pictures from her time in Manila. Knut is going to check if she has pictures that may be of interest to us historians here when he sees her this summer.

At the end Knut thanked Steve and said that it was his best tour in the Philippines since another that he received by an American in 1993, soon after Mt. Pinatubo erupted. He has trouble understanding the English of many Filipino tour guides, unfortunately a common complaint from English speakers. We have found that even those Filipinos who speak with perfect grammar and good vocabulary can be difficult for some to understand because of their accents, which apparently are very hard to lose.

In the meantime, our temporary helper Baroy is building a “dirty kitchen” for us. Filipinos will all know what we are talking about. The rest of you will either have to Google it or wait until we send photos when it is finished.