Wednesday, November 11, 2009

We meet FVR at Veteran's Day ceremony

On Monday we went to Manila on the Sun Cruises ferry, which left at 5:00 PM instead of the usual 2:30. As a result, we witnessed a stunning sunset between Corregidor’s head (west end) and the southern tip of the Bataan Peninsula. It has been months since we have seen the sun appear to sink into the ocean as we did on Monday. This should be a fairly regular phenomenon now that rainy season has departed, and something we never get tired of seeing, usually from Battery Grubbs.

We checked into the 1632 Hostel, a less expensive alternative to other hotels. We knew the manager, Agnes, because she used to manage the Corregidor Inn. The hotel is located in Malate, a part of the city of Manila, which as we have explained before is a small part of Metro Manila (MM), which consists of Manila, Makati, and 15 other municipalities. The hotel is situated in a much poorer part of MM than Makati, but despite that, we feel relatively safer there than we would in, say, Detroit or Chicago. There are a few beggars and some hustlers trying to sell fake watches and Viagra, but they are not really a problem. The hotel is only a block from a huge mall called Robinson’s Place, which almost makes you feel like you are in America when you look around inside.

On Tuesday Marcia had her hair cut. The barber spent close to half an hour making sure that every hair was cut evenly all around, just the way she likes it. The total cost? Seventy pesos (P70), or just over $1.40! Then Steve went to have his teeth cleaned at a dentist whose office is only yards from the hotel entrance. This is the first time that he had a female dentist. Besides the cleaning, she also took care of two teeth that had cavities in the making. The cleaning and two fillings cost P1600. Marcia then had her teeth cleaned for another P400, so our total dentist bill was just over $40. That would probably not have covered our co-pays in the States. It is not unusual for foreigners to come here for medical and dental procedures, which, including transportation, as well as room and board costs, are often much cheaper than having them done in the United States and other more developed countries. “Medical Tourism” is the name used in advertising such services.

Our friend Eli came met us again for a most enjoyable lunch. He brought us a few gifts, including the latest book about the Bataan Death March, Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath, by Michael Norman and Elizabeth M. Norman. He was unable to find it in Manila-area bookstores, but located a copy while in Singapore visiting his daughter. We were thrilled, as we have been looking forward to reading it after having read many great reviews. We’ll let you know what we think of it when we are finished.

Wednesday we once again went to the American Cemetery in Manila to commemorate Veteran’s Day by attending the ceremony organized by the U.S. Embassy. Last month when we were in our insurance company office, one of the co-owners came out to meet us. Mr. Carlos (Jun) Inigo had heard about us living on Corregidor. In the course of our conversation, he mentioned that he was a golfing buddy of former Philippine President Fidel Ramos, known here as FVR. Since we knew FVR to be a strong supported of Corregidor, we asked Jun if he would arrange an introduction. It turns out that FVR was to be the keynote speaker at the Veteran’s Day ceremony. Jun contacted FVR, who said that he had heard about us and that he would be happy to meet us after the ceremony.
We met Jun at his office and had a few minutes to get to know him a bit better. He is four months younger than FVR, and eight days older than Steve’s mother Mary Anne. He once was a basketball star, and noted how much better he would have been at Steve’s height. He drove us to the cemetery, where we got to talk with some of our friends. One of them is Jim Litton, a retired attorney. Both Jun and Jim lived along Manila Bay before the war, and their fathers were POWs together at Fort Santiago – another interesting story in its own right. Jun can remember seeing the guns of Corregidor firing at the Japanese on Bataan, while Jim can remember the newly-captured American soldiers from Corregidor being paraded down Dewey Boulevard, now called Roxas.

At 11:00 on the 11th day of the 11th month, we heard the traditional ringing of 11 bells to mark the agreement to end “the war to end all wars.” Then United States Ambassador Kristie Kenney introduced FVR. After the ceremony, we spent a few minutes with FVR. He gave us his assurance that he would continue to do everything in his power to protect Corregidor from those who would deemphasize the war memorial aspect. He told us that he was a part of the original Corregidor Foundation, Inc. He also invited us to spend more time with him in the future, which will be our pleasure.

We wonder how many of our readers, especially in America, are as amazed as we are at the access to current and past political figures. In March we sat in the same small room with former first lady Imelda Marcos. In October we met President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. And Wednesday we met former President Ramos. In addition, we have met Ambassador Kenney enough times that we are on a first name basis, and she even calls us her unofficial ambassadors to Corregidor. How different than in the United States, where access to politicians is so much more difficult. U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is spending two days here this week, and the security is literally 100 times tighter than it is around their own president.

Jun took us out to lunch at The Banana Leaf in Greenbelt 3. Before our entrees were served, banana leaves were placed in front of us, and we soon realized that they were in fact our plates. It is not the norm here to serve all of the people at the same table at the same time, but rather, each one’s particular meal is served when ready. Marcia, who was served last, could have had her choice of several different entrees, since we had a rather confused waiter who kept bringing her dishes that were ordered by other diners. The restaurant had a Southeast-Asian theme, and all of our food choices were excellent.

After lunch, we said our good-byes and thanks to Jun, and then used the rest of the afternoon to finish the last little bit of shopping. Marcia bought a pair of slacks in Robinson’s Department Store. To give you an idea of comparative sizing, she needed XXL, whereas in the U.S. she would have looked for either small or medium. Thursday morning we returned to our island home, ready to be away from the city again.

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