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

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