Saturday, February 28, 2009

Middleside Barracks

Life isn’t always exciting on this small tropical island. Sometimes we spend our days just walking along the few paved roads here, looking for birds, cool plants, and new areas we want to explore. The views are beautiful, especially on sunny days, and there are many spots where buildings once stood, now almost taken over by jungle growth. On other days we stick closer to home, reading and working around the yard.

We can’t always be writing about adventures like opening bottles without a bottle opener, or our trip up Mt. Pinatubo, which was so well received that it will be the cover story for the March issue of “AmChamJournal,” the magazine of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines. You might not find today’s topic as interesting as those, since I’m going to be talking about ruins. In general I write the stories and Marcia edits them, adding her perspective as she goes along. I take full responsibility for this email. If you don’t like it, send me an email saying, “Steve, quit sending me these boring stories.”

Two afternoons this week we decided to do some exploring at the Middleside Barracks. Completed in 1915, they are supposedly the second largest barracks in the world. From end to end the barracks are three-tenths of a mile in length, and three stories (about 40 feet) high. Building One (my name), home of the 60th Coast Artillery Regiment (CA), is about 650 feet long and 60 feet wide. Then there is a gap of about 160 feet. Building Two, home of the 91st Philippine Scouts, is about 775 feet long and 60 feet wide. There is a 175 foot section in the middle which is 18 feet wider. They are surpassed in size only by the slightly larger Topside Barracks, home of the 59th CA, just a short ways up the hill. Topside has the same end-to-end length but was built as one continuous, in-line building.

What makes these barracks particularly interesting to me is that my father was a member of the 60th CA, and thus billeted in Middleside Barracks before war broke out here on December 8, 1941. This barracks was capable of housing at least 6,000 men. But before the war there were less than 1,900 men in the 60th CA, and less than 800 in the 91st Philippine Scouts. Everett Reamer of Battery F, 60th CA, and a fellow Corregidor POW has visited here several times. He once told me that my father’s searchlight unit, Battery E (close to 300 men) actually lived in Building Two, at the end nearest Building One. The week before war broke out, 750 men of the 4th Marines arrived from China, and they were also assigned quarters in the Middleside Barracks. (Battery E was simultaneously reassigned to Bataan.)

The southeast end of Building One is only 200 yards from our house. It heads away in a northwest direction; then there is the gap, and Building Two veers slightly right, while the road veers slightly left. The original fronts of the buildings are on the east side, but the current road is on the west, so visitors typically only see the original backsides of the builds. A couple of years ago the front area was cleared of encroaching vegetation so you can now walk along and see the facades.

Building One is mostly destroyed. There are some sections that still stand the full three stories, but even they are rather dangerous to enter. Building Two is mostly intact, although it also has destroyed portions.

The buildings were made of concrete imported from Japan and reinforced with steel from the United States. There are no hollow pillars or walls, and they were considered bomb and earthquake proof. Obviously the architects never considered the powerful increase in bombs as they were redesigned and modified for WW II, and they caused the majority of the damage. Many were dropped from airplanes, mostly from high altitude, and crews were lucky to hit the buildings. Artillery, on the other hand, was very accurate. The Japanese inflicted the initial damage in late 1941 and early ’42, prior to its May 6 assault. The U.S. did its damage in early ’45, prior to its February 16 invasion, dropping thousands of tons of bombs on the island. In all likelihood more damage was done to these particular structures by the U.S. Army Air Corps as it pounded the island.

As you walk along, you see mostly empty, often bombed-out rooms. On the first floor there is evidence of mess halls, washrooms, and showers. But for the most part it is difficult to know exactly where the men slept, and where or what kind of other activities besides sleeping and eating may have gone on inside. In some sections, especially in Building One, you see many new reinforcing beams and buttresses to keep the walls and ceilings from further collapse when the next major typhoon or earthquake hits. In some places the roof is intact, but the second and third floors are gone, possibly indicating prior earthquake damage.

It is somewhat eerie to walk through these buildings. You must constantly be on guard for holes in the floor, of course, and for crumbling ceilings. What is in fact happening here and in all of the similar structures on the island is that moisture has worked its way through cracks in the concrete and into the rebar (steel reinforcement bars), oxidizing it and thus causing the rebar to expand, forcing the concrete to fail and peel off. Rebar is exposed everywhere, either lining the walls and ceilings or sticking out like ugly fingers.

But the eeriness comes from realizing that these now-bare, broken walls were once filled with thousands of men, mostly young and innocent, Americans and Filipinos alike, who were about to be assaulted by an enemy force much greater than their own. You realize that within these walls young men died or were seriously wounded and writhing in agony. Sections of the once-beautiful edifices were instantly turned into piles of concrete, steel, bones, and blood. Somewhere with these walls my father regularly knelt and prayed beside his bed before going to sleep. In his case, he had already been moved to Bataan before the first bombs fell on Dec. 29th, although later he returned to fight here, and witnessed death within these walls first hand.

Adding to the eeriness on both days that we visited were flocks of blackbirds that could have come right out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. They put out a very high-pitched and ear-piercing rhythmic call that is uncannily like what you would hear at a playground when children are using old and unlubricated swings.

As unsightly as they are, the reinforcements are the only reason that these barracks have a chance to survive future typhoons and earthquakes. The Department of Budget Management funded the project through the National Historical Institute after two years of persistence by the Filipino-American Memorial Endowment, Inc. I believe that plans are in the works to shore up the Topside Barracks as well. It gives the next generations a chance to observe these buildings with some of their former majesty retained, as opposed to seeing only piles of rubble.

The worldwide financial crisis has even affected Corregidor, where necessary budget cuts have recently led to the layoff of a few island employees. If you ever have the urge to contribute to the work here on Corregidor, let me know and I will direct you to the proper agency. Donations are tax deductible, at least for U.S. citizens.

Steve the writer and Marcia the editor in chief

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pythons; Japanese guests

On Thursday we were walking across the old Middleside Paradegrounds when we came across a dead python. Pythons are common on Corregidor, though almost never seen in tourist areas. The biggest one we have heard about lives near here and it supposed to be at least 22 feet long, big enough to swallow a goat whole. This one had been about five to six feet long, and someone had cut its throat. The skins are very beautiful, and are used like leather for everything from purses to cowboy boots. We don’t know if the skins of Philippine pythons are valuable and thus if they are hunted. On Corregidor, they are not desirable near residential areas because they eat the young chickens and eggs.

On Monday night we were at Ron’s and heard that someone had seen a python slither into an old tree, which was hollow at the base, just a few doors down. Because there are chickens and small children around, and since this was a formidable snake, the men lit a fire of coconut husks at the base. After what seemed a long enough time to either suffocate or cook the beast, all of a sudden out of the tree came a seven to eight foot python. Jhun the Plumber immediately chopped off its head. The snake was at least twice the weight of the other, and could have easily crushed a small child.

On Friday Steve led a group from the United States that was here for an Internee Tour. Four or five of the members were actually in internment camps, and we assume most of the others were relatives. Steve met a couple of brothers that were looking forward to meeting him, since the night before they had had dinner with our friends Brian and Leslie, Leslie having also been interned while very young. The group that Steve led was about half of the entire group, since they could not all fit on one tranvia.

On Sunday we were on our way to Bottomside to take a walk along Tailside. But before we got very far down the hill we came upon a jeepney that had broken down. The driver had the hood up, and several young ladies and a little boy were obviously without a ride. So we turned around and gave them a ride to their souvenir stores by the lighthouse on Topside. Marcia took the computer cases and got out to make more room, although in reality this was unnecessary.

Asians seem to have an innate ability to always get one more person into a vehicle. Maybe this is why the Japanese had no trouble packing the POWs tightly into railroad cars during the Bataan Death March and also on the “Hellships.” In any case, as the fifth girl started to crawl into the back of our small jeep, Steve informed her that she could sit in Marcia’s seat. On the ride up, the little boy, probably about two years old and sitting on one side in the back, giggled loudly each time Steve had to make a sharp turn, swaying him in the opposite direction. Then the girls would laugh. This happened over and over on the curvy route, and each time the giggling started all over again.

On Monday we were honored to have five Japanese guests. Naoko, Akane, and Chitose belong to an organization called Bridge for Peace. Koji is a filmmaker, and Toru, a retired history teacher, is with the POW Research Network Japan. They are all committed to educating the Japanese people about their countries militant ways that led to WW II in the hopes of avoiding future Japanese militarism. These are five of the nicest people that you would ever meet. It is incomprehensible how a culture that produced these folks could have been so militant so recently.

We spent the day with them, taking the Corregidor tour with a Japanese-speaking guide. At noon we joined them for lunch as well. Since we do not understand Japanese, Naoko, Koji, and Akane translated important passages of the guide’s commentary. We invited Naoko to summarize her opinions of the presentation, which we hope to share to with you at a later date.

Naoko is going to be a presenter at a forum being held at De La Salle University in Manila on February 26. During lunch she told us that she is going around interviewing Japanese soldiers of WW II, most of whom are 85 and older. She says that many now feel that they were brainwashed. They cannot understand or justify their own actions. Other veterans decline to be interviewed for whatever reason. She gave us a DVD of a 20-minute film that she made.

Asians are gift-givers. Besides the DVD from Naoko, they also gave us a box of Japanese chocolates, a mirror compact with Chokin artwork on top, some very fancy rice crackers with wrappers decorated as tiny people, and a Japanese sweet treat in an elaborately decorated basket. We said goodbye on the pier Minnesota-style, over and over again. Finally, they walked toward the boat, where we each took another picture of each other and said goodbye one last time. We had only know each other five hours and parted as best of friends.

It is ironic to realize that had the United States not ended the war with atomic bombs when it did, this meeting could not have taken place. Steve’s father, in Japan at the end of the war, would have been executed by executive order, as would all POWs. Historians claim that millions of Japanese would have died defending against an invasion that would have made D-Day pale in comparison. In all likelihood one or two of our guests would never have been born as well.

On Tuesday, February 24, we are celebrating our 36th wedding anniversary. Plans include a low-key party at the Baywalk.

Steve and Marcia

Another follow-up on the Japanese story, first from a local Filipina:

Hello Steve,
THANK YOU for this last email Steve.....I immediately forwarded this to my three adult children. ....I want to educate them (especially my eldest daughter who went to university in Tokyo and lived there for five years) about the realities of WWII in the Philippines....

You are doing a great job in continuing the heroic legacy of your father...Needless to say, he is "living" through you and you are somehow continuing his fight for the good, and the just cause that he believed and bravely fought for...

MORE POWER and all the best and warmest regards to you and Marcia!!!

LOVE reading your newsletters...... the Museum Volunteers (the best club in Manila : - ) has a website:
and a monthly newsletter about our interesting cultural and historical activities/works/researches/tours on the Phils and elsewhere in Asia (I know you did one on Mt. Pinatubo recently) ....., and thanks for the interesting pictures you sent on Pinatubo BTW)

One correction: Yuka pointed out that although she is a board member of the US-Japanese Dialogue website, that it was actually established by Kinue.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Readers respond to Japanse heroism comments


When I wrote the newsletter the other day about being instructed to portray the Japanese acts of fanaticism as heroism, I expected both positive and negative reactions. So far there have been no negative responses. I’d like to share the letters with you. Since these letters were to me I will not print the names, and in some cases have removed paragraphs that would reveal an identity, with one exception.

I received a series of emails from a Filipino who lives in Manila. There is no way to reproduce them here without possibly giving away his identify. He is very upset that a private Catholic boy’s school would try to indoctrinate its students in such a way. Being a graduate of a tremendous private Catholic boy’s school, St. John’s Preparatory in Collegeville, Minnesota, I am, too. I would gladly accept a chance to appear at the school and set the record straight, but my guess is that the invitation will never come.

I am attaching the original letter because I’ve added to the mailing list, and for those of you who may have missed it and are now curious.


From a Filipino-American whose father, a Philippine Scout, was captured along with mine on Corregidor:


From a Filipino who frequents Corregidor:

Hi Steve,

One thing I observe, when this elderly Japanese tourist come to visit Corregidor, most of them bring with them Filipina bar girls. I don’t know if they do this on purpose, to insult the Filipino and American people, or are these tourists just being boorish and showing what kind of people they are. I don’t feel comfortable, that they visit this war memorial island, and they act as if they are still in a karaoke bar.

I wonder how these old farts would feel if I visited one of their war shrines and I would be touting with me 2 giggling Nip bar girls.

If only I could communicate with them, I would ask them point blank to their very faces why they act and behave in such a manner. These people are showing gross disrespect to my country, people and history.

From a retired American teacher whose brother died in the Philippines during WW II:

Marcia and Steve:

You cannot alter history! It still is real and should accurately be interpreted! More power to you!!!

From a Filipina whose father was in the guerilla movement during WW II:

This is a touching email. I agree that the atrocities should be told as is. During my research, I came across descriptions of the atrocities numerous times. At first I would read it but after awhile, I could not stomach the capacity for inhumanity. The younger Japanese generations need to know via your tours because their textbooks are being whitewashed.

From a Filipino whose father was a Filipino guerrilla leader during WW II:

I fully understand how you feel about the Japanese now, especially since they are truly monkeying around with their history books so as to erase any vestige of WWII.

My father … was the … commander of approximately 25,000 [guerillas] in number, according to their own estimates.

My father also suffered much at their hands. A Japanese bayonet scraped the skin of his neck and he had a very visible scar until he died. In 1967, he had many small shrapnel removed from his body, but the doctors told him they couldn’t remove so many more smaller pieces, and these stayed in his body until he died, at the very young age of 53, due to his war wounds and stresses.

I remember how badly I felt when I first saw the Japanese shrine on Corregidor. I couldn’t understand how Japanese money (ostensibly to increase the numbers of Japanese tourists to Corregidor) could erase the sad and bad memories my parents, grandparents, uncles (all veterans) transmitted to me. Perhaps they shouldn’t have done that at all, so I wouldn’t have to feel this way.

But my father was a unique man. Immediately after the war, he was part of the government team to Japan to work out many arrangements for the government-to-government reparations program, and he did his work straight and with integrity, never allowing his personal feelings to overcome his main mission. Many years later, when my father and I were in business together, we were exporting Philippine specialty logs to Japanese companies, and also found Japanese to be humans after all. My father often resisted telling me the stories of his painful war days, and now I can understand why. He didn’t want hate to become a part of my being.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t, and shouldn’t, tell the truth like it is. The Japanese will officially try to erase all accounts of WWII from their books, but we have the sworn duty to the truth. That is, after all, what God said would set us free.

The following letter is from Yuka Ibuki, a woman who was a little girl when the war ended. She has spent the past several years trying to educate the Japanese people so that they will not repeat past mistakes.

In 2006 she and a younger Japanese lady, Kinue, accompanied us on our Bataan Death March Tour, which included the dedication of the Hellships Memorial at Subic Bay. The four veterans felt very comfortable with them. Yuka and Kinue listened as one of our guests read a dozen different accounts of atrocities that the Japanese committed against American and Filipinos during the Death March. I actually felt a little sorry for them, and very uncomfortable. But they sat through the readings and reacted just as every American on the bus did, having become very familiar with such stories through their own research projects.

They both attend various POW conventions and are welcomed as if they were family. Truly they have become our friends.

Dear Steve,

I especially appreciate this correspondence, which I've saved in a file as part of the history that should be known and remembered. I didn't know this event, although I' ve researched on Japanese side records of May 5 & 6, 1945 for another son of a POW. I'll also summarize this in Japanese for Juji and Yuji. They will be grateful for your telling them the facts: your father, fighting of both soldiers, US and Japanese. Your meeting with the Chinese descendants and Japanese people is truly great. I'm sure knowing the hidden realities of the war is necessary, for a better future of every one. I'm now forwarding your message to Naoko and her group.

By the way, Mr. Horikoshi, my former boss at the high school [where] I was teaching for more than twenty years, got a permission from Linda to translate her "Unjust Enrichment" for the group of POW Research Network Japan. He did a fantastic job, which was in 2003. Linda was aware of the need of some revision and didn't want this version to be published in Japanese, so it was printed and distributed among the group members, which include leading Japanese researcher of the POW Issue.

Indeed, the Pacific theatre of WWII was fanatic war of the Imperial Japan. Japan was ruled by the fanatic militarism that took over Japan 1920's to 1945. There were broad-viewed officers in both the Navy and Army, who had studied abroad, who knew it was suicidal for Japan to go into war against the US and other western countries. However, those narrow-viewed fanatic nationalists won in the Japanese Military. Coups were planned by some young officers. In China, war originally developed, by the local Japanese force led by such officers, against the order of the HQs in Tokyo, believe it or not.

Could I tell you a bit of the general history of Japan? It consists of four main islands, which emerged as a country in 4 century. The sea offered routes for a lot of communication with Korea, China and other Asian continent. Through the Silk Road, a lot of Greek and other European influences, and Buddhism, came into Japan. By 15 century, trade with the Philippines and other Asian and European countries was flourishing. The first Catholic missionary Francisco Xavier arrived in 1506, followed by a number of missionaries, while Japan was going through the War Period of a hundred years. Imported guns were already there.

Then, Hideyoshi took control of other Warrior Lords, and after his death, Ieyasu Tokugawa united Japan under his rule, and closed the country against the outer world. Japan isolated itself since the beginning of 17 century till 1854, when it reopened the ports, to the US, then to other European powers. Under the Tokugawa Shogunate, Japan had been divided into more than 160 domains. Each was ruled by a feudal Lord. People was confined to their birth village or town, the elder boy inheriting his father's land or occupation, in the four-class society of Samurai Ruling Class, Peasants, Craftsmen, and Merchants.

Just a handful of the top rulers got some western knowledge through the only opening port of Nagasaki from only Holland, which was permitted trade with Japan. Fishermen and merchants, who were ship-wrecked, saved by Russians, English, Americans or whatever, were not allowed to return, because knowledge of the outside world was strictly banned to ordinary people.

Demands for opening the port first by Admiral Perry, followed by others, divided the Japanese rulers into two: Opening the country and trade party and Keep Closing the country fighting against the Foreigner Party. Eventually, through a lot of events, they learned and Japan decided to reopen.

Power of seat was returned to the Emperor, who was then a boy of twelve, the capital was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. Feudal Lords returned their domain, and swards were banned to wear. The feudal four classes were abolished. Meiji Period oligarchy, who consisted of young former samurai who studied abroad, tried to get people united under a new concept of One State, modernizing the country, catching up the western technology, under the motto of Strong Defense and Rich Country. Modernization and development was made in rush and lacked in balance.

"Die for the Emperor" is a nationalistic propaganda, under the false belief of the "Emperor is a Living God." A lot of people now say they never believed he was a living god. However, those who publicly announced it were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and the family was ostracized. I believe a lot of Japanese soldiers killed themselves, because they didn't want their families to be dishonored and live in shame.

Well, thank you for reading. I'd be happy to talk with you about this or other topics, if you were interested. I would very much like to bring you and Marcia some books, or anything from Japan.

Please suggest some topics or items.

Very Best Wishes,


Yuka’s great website is:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

64th Anniversary of retaking of Corregidor; Japanese heroism

Yesterday marked the 64th anniversary of the recapturing of Corregidor from the Japanese by the United States Army and Navy. The following quote from a once confidential document called “Impact,” published in April of 1945, and quoted on, summarizes the events surrounding this historic date:

“Then 16 February came, and after a sunrise attack by B-24s and an hour of low-altitude bombings and strafings by A-20s, the 503rd Parachute regiment began dropping out of C-47s of troop carrier units of FEAF (Far East Air Force). They came down on the western heights known as "Topside", while a beachhead was being established by elements of the 24th Infantry Division at San Jose on the east end of the island.

“Three hours after leaving their Mindoro base, the 503rd Regiment paratroops were in possession of "Topside". They had a hard landing at the two tiny "go-point" areas, for a 16-18 knot wind sprang up as the planes came along, necessitating a change of timing in the jumpmasters’ counts.

“The grueling air and naval softening up of the Rock had left the defending Japs dazed and scattered but they rallied, and for nearly two weeks isolated groups of them fought on with a suicidal frenzy. But several days before 1 March our forces were in possession of Corregidor, opening the finest harbor in the East to Allied shipping. More than 4,000 Japs were killed at Corregidor, and many more drowned while swimming away from the Rock. Others, estimated to be thousands, sealed themselves in the subterranean passages, and those who destroyed themselves made the island reverberate with underground explosions for many days afterward.”

Several of our new friends came to remember February 16 here, as they have done for a number of years. At 8:00 A.M. we went up to Topside to raise the flag at the old Spanish Mast. However, the rope broke due to age and disuse. The good news is that we now are aware of the problem and will have it fixed before the March 2 ceremony in memory of General Douglas MacArthur raising the flag there. So we relocated to the flagpole at the Pacific War Memorial Museum.

Next year, being the 65th anniversary, we hope that many more people will attend, maybe even a surviving parachutist or two. The drop was from 350 feet onto small landing zones, and the number of killed at 19 and injured at 200 was considered almost miraculous. The Japanese were taken by surprise, expecting the initial assault to be by sea, as they had done slightly less than three years earlier.

Ultimately only around two dozen Japanese soldiers were captured, those that were too injured to kill themselves. On the following January 1, 20 soldiers surrendered to an American sentry, taking him completely by surprise. Others were found in the Philippines hiding out as late as 1974, almost 30 years after the war was over.

Ironically in a way, I was one of six guides asked to lead a tour group of boys, mostly Chinese-Filipino students, last Friday. They came from Xavier, a private boys’ Catholic high school in Metro Manila. Many come from very rich families and have body guards accompany them most places, including to and from school, to prevent their being kidnapped. We guides were told to emphasize the heroism of the Japanese soldiers, since “they had already received the American and Filipino sides many times,” as one of their teachers told me on the boat from Manila to Corregidor.

I found this political correctness doubly ironic, since not only did the Japanese treat the Filipinos terribly, but it was their unprovoked war on China, where they killed millions of innocent Chinese, that really started World War II. Look up “The Rape of Nanking” to get an idea of the atrocities that the Japanese committed against the Chinese. To this day many older Chinese loathe the Japanese as much as much as the former American POW’s such as my father did.

That’s not to say that the present day Japanese are responsible for the sins of their fathers, of course, but I think it is an injustice to indoctrinate the young people into equating the fanaticism of the Japanese empire with heroism. Sealing themselves in subterranean passages and blowing up themselves and others for their Emperor may have been considered heroism in the Japanese culture, but it is eerily similar to what is being perpetrated today by religious fanatics in the name of Allah.

Fortunately, the boys had a questionnaire that they had to have filled out, and the questions were not slanted in any way. I gave the normal tour, making sure that I answered all of their questions. Afterwards they expressed their appreciation, and I hope that they were able to satisfy their requirements. They were very polite and for the most part paid attention while I was speaking.

By the way, we are looking forward to having several of our Japanese friends visit us in the next couple of months. They are aware of what happened in WWII and are working to make the Japanese people aware of it also, since this has never been acknowledged or taught in their schools. We will be accompanying some of them on a tour which will be conducted in Japanese, and we look forward to them telling us what the Japanese tour guide says.

On Saturday I lead another tour, this time for a group of tourists who had already spent the night, and therefore had been to most of the places that we were going to see. This is, of course, not the best way to lead a tour, as some of them seemed bored most of the time. I did my best to keep them entertained.

On Sunday I was called to lead a “walk-on” group of 20 young adults from Orion, a city in Bataan that was on the route of the Death March. They were therefore already familiar with some of the atrocities committed by the Japanese against the Filipinos and Americans. Ironically, about half of the group were of Japanese descent and spoke no English. One of the young men was able to act as an interpreter, although his English was limited and I often had to repeat myself.

This was my first time to work with an interpreter. For those of you who have never done this before, it is not as easy as it may at first appear. You are constantly wondering how much to say before you stop to let the interpreter give his rendition. Also you have to make sure that he understands what you are saying. In the case of the tour here, many of the facts are hard numbers, such as the lengths of buildings, the capacities of water tanks, and the firing distances of guns. All in all it went rather well, I think, as they gave me a round of applause at the end of the two hour tour.

I am the son of an American POW who was beaten, tortured, and nearly starved by his Japanese captors for over three years, for which he and his fellow prisoners have never received an apology. During his last year of captivity in Japan he was forced to do slave labor. The companies for which he worked are now some of the biggest and richest companies in the world, but not one of them has ever offered the POW’s one penny in compensation. Obviously my father died with a justifiable indignation. If any of you would like to know more, I highly recommend “Unjust Enrichment” by Linda Goetz Holmes.

So whenever I encounter Japanese I try to be as understanding as possible, knowing, as I said earlier, that they are not responsible for the past. At the same time, I cannot forget that what their countrymen did was inhumane and inexcusable to the extreme, and when the situation calls for it, I can’t hide the truth. I suppose I would prefer to not be put into such as position, but the reality is that many Japanese visit the island every day, and on occasion I am going to have to deal with it. I hope that I’m doing justice to both sides.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mt. Pinatubo

On Tuesday, we climbed the world’s biggest and tallest volcano named Mt. Pinatubo. Okay, maybe it isn’t the tallest or biggest volcano, but it surely is the tallest and biggest NAMED Mt. Pinatubo. And it is pretty big and pretty tall. We’ve checked and all other Mt. Pinatubos are smaller and shorter.

Steve’s prep school friend and first year college roommate, George, was living at Clark Air Force Base with his family in 1991 when Mt. Pinatubo blew its stack. If we remember correctly, something like 20-30 thousand servicemen and their families were evacuated on a single Sunday in June. The surrounding area was buried in ash for many miles. The particles circled the earth, dropping the surface temperature a couple of degrees for about two years. Talk about global cooling.

We were invited to go along with the MVP, the same group for which Steve guided on Corregidor at the end of January. We found out that MVP stands for Museum Volunteers Philippines, which is pretty cool. The vast majority of members are not Filipino, at least not the ones who were on either tour, and in addition to outings like these, they do volunteer work at a number of the area museums.

Linda, one of the organizers, picked us up near where we were staying with our friends Leslie and Brian in Makati. Twenty six adults climbed on board a nice 28 seat, air-conditioned bus, and just after 6:00 A.M. we were off. Traffic was already beginning to pick up in metro Manila, so we probably cut a good hour from the bus ride by leaving that early. Manila’s markets were already bustling, and there may have been a record number of busy Mr. Donuts, Dunkin Donuts, and Krispy Kreme shops lining the highway,

Mt. Pinatubo is northwest of Manila, and a good part of the trip is now freeway. We exited near the old Clark Air Force Base. We passed by the Capas National Shrine, the site of the infamous Camp O’Donnell where thousands of Filipino and American WWII soldiers died. A new military training facility further down the road is now named Camp O’Donnell.

After about three and a half hours, including one rest stop, we pulled into the little town of Santa Juliana. The town was devastated by the Mt. Pinatubo eruptions. Many of the residents are Aeta, aboriginals whose features are much more like many Africans, with very dark skin and curly hair. In many ways the area has never recovered, but like all Filipinos, the residents are industrious, inventive and extremely hardy.

We climbed aboard five 4X4’s, most of which had seen their better days, and began our trip to the place where we were to start our hiking trip up the mountain. Once we exited the town we were immediately in what looked like a dry river bed, flat and dusty. It seemed like we were driving on the moon, but on both sides were high cliffs. The terrain kept getting rougher, not that it was getting hilly – it remained basically flat – but there were more and more boulders, and we had several crossings through a small stream that wound through the valley. The sides of the hills reminded us of what you see when you are in the desert southwest of the United States. The ride was bumpy, dusty, and scenic.

After an hour we arrived at the drop-off point. The drivers remained with their vehicles while our five or six guides started with us on our journey up the mountain. The walk was at times very easy, along flat trails. However, many times we had to cross a stream which would wander from one side of the canyon to the other. Sometimes we could easily cross on stones, and at other times the guides held our hands while we either balanced on stones or waded through the water. Those of us with mesh-topped running shoes seemed to do well. Some wore hiking sandals, and other than exposed toes and loose ash under their feet, they did okay. Those with boots had problems when the water went over the tops and soaked their feet, because the water could not drain. One woman had the sole of her athletic shoe come off, forcing her to borrow flip-flops from one of the guides, who then walked bare-footed to the top. The woman was able to borrow a spare pair of shoes from a fellow hiker to wear for the downhill walk.

The weather started out very nice, with sunny skies and coolish temperatures. There was little shade except when you were near the sides of the cliffs, so Marcia resorted to an umbrella. As soon as Steve commented that the weather was perfect, it started to get cloudy. Before we reached the top it was raining off and on, but not enough to ruin the trip by any means. We have noticed that there almost always seem to be clouds over mountaintops around here, like Mt. Mariveles north of Corregidor, and over the mountains of Cavite to the south.

At times it felt like we were reenacting the scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” when the actors are trekking through the valley on their way to opening the ark. Later, as we got higher and the pathway up the mountain became much narrower and more lush, it felt like we were walking to the “Temple of Doom.” There was very little evidence of animal life other than the many tadpoles in the stream, a few songbirds in the distance, and the very rare kite or eagle overhead.

Finally, after about three hours, we reached the summit of the hike, though we were still thousands of feet below the highest peaks around us. There was the lake of Mt. Pinatubo. The crater is so big that we were unable to capture it all in one snapshot. The water was a deep blue-green, possibly indicating a high copper content. Many of us decided this was the place to eat our packed lunches, as it was now about 1 P.M. A number of hikers brought their bathing suits along and swam in the lake, which required descending about 175 irregular and tall steps. Changing rooms consisted of someone holding up a towel, or the “do it yourself” method with a sarong.

Back up the steps, and then back down the mountain, the same way we came. We found out later that there is another way to the peak, which requires a longer 4X4 ride but only a 30-40 minute hike each way. For those in shape we certainly recommend the longer hike, but it’s good that there is a shorter way, since this is not for everyone. The hike down was actually mentally tougher, since descending is always scarier in situations like this. If you fall going up you can usually catch yourself pretty easily. Falling on the downhill can be much worse.

We decided to leave the top before rest of the group, so we could go slowly and take pictures. For a while we had our own personal tour guide, and then another couple caught up to us. Our guide, Gatan [gah-TAHN], or Tan, made sure that we made it safely over every treacherous rock and stream crossing. We would recommend him: his English is passable and he was very attentive and always smiling. We teased him about how wet he got helping us, and then we all laughed when Marcia got just as wet.

The boulders at the stream crossings were slippery, and Marcia lost her footing once, but our guide caught her so she only ended up with thigh-high wet pants. (Kept the cell phone in her front pocket dry!) Steve slipped once and almost sprained an ankle. No one in the group had any serious injuries. The stream had actually risen by the time we were on the way down, so some spots where we’d crossed with dry feet in the morning were one to three inches under water. By the time we reached the bottom we’d had wet feet for about six hours, so it felt good to change into dry socks once our shoes were relatively dry. Since these are the shoes we often wear for Corregidor jungle hikes, they are cleaner now than when we left home.

The reverse trip out on the 4X4’s was interesting in that we saw a number of people who apparently live in the desolate-looking valley. Some were driving carabao (water buffalo) carts. One little girl had a piglet on a leash. It’s hard to imagine where they actually lived. We were only able to spot a few homes on the lower slopes at the edges of the valley, but these were miles away from some of the locals we saw.

While we were returning to town, we noticed that many of the cliffs look like sandstone or limestone, but are in actuality packed ash which is very soft. You could walk up to what looked like a solid rock formation and scratch it with your fingertip. Many times along the way there were piles of ash at the base of the cliffs. These same cliffs often had huge crevices down the sides. We have no doubt that you could cause entire sections of cliff to fall down, which might be suicidal. It was quite obvious that these cliffs were less than 20 years old. They rose at least 200 feet, sometimes on both sides of the valley, and extended many miles back toward town before the last signs of the ash were gone. It was also obvious that the majority of lahar (ash mixed with rainwater) must have flowed in the very valley we were using to get to and from the drop off and pick up point.

The bus trip home only took about three hours, including a short pit stop. The driver left the lights on and most people stayed awake and talked the whole way home. We had three young Japanese women by us, and they kept up a constant chatter in their native tongue. We are getting used to hearing people talk in languages we don’t understand, but we are starting to at least recognize enough Tagalog words to have a clue as to what the locals are saying.

The traffic in metro Manila was already mild by the time we got there at about 8:30. The donut shops were still open. The entire trip from departure to arrival was 15 hours, a long but wonderful day.

Many more photos of the trip can be viewed at:

Monday, February 9, 2009

Funny monkeys

We aren't sure what it is about monkeys exactly that make them so much fun to see at the zoo. Maybe it's the fact that they appear to have to many human features. Maybe it's the way they swing from branch to branch or monkey bar to monkey bar. Maybe it's because they just always seem to be enjoying themselves, without a care in the world. Whatever it is, they are always one of the most popular attractions, and kids of all ages love them. Having monkeys around us is certainly entertaining.

We're going to let you in on a little secret: if you want to see monkeys on Corregidor, there is no better place than around our house. It's still referred to as the "Aviary House." Apparently lack Of funds led to the aviary's closure.

However, we've begun to refer to it as the "Monkeyary House." Just about any time of day and often during the night you can hear monkeys near it. We originally thought that a lot of the sounds we were hearing were from monkeys when in fact we now know they were bird noises. Once in a while a baby monkey will make a sound something like a chipmunk, but most sounds like that are birdcalls. For the most part what we are listening for are grunts, something like a pig makes, or barking sounds almost like some dogs make. Once you get used to them the sounds are unmistakably monkeys. And even if they keep their mouths shut, you will hear them when they jump from one tree to another. They can walk very quietly along a branch, but when they jump, the sound of the rustling branches will draw your attention, and you will see a branch swing up and down as it absorbs the monkey's weight.

Oftentimes we will be sitting on the front stoop reading or eating and monkeys will be crossing the road, either walking over it or swinging above through the trees, to get to the tamarind tree. When they are done, they will begin their trek back, then go from tree to tree past our solar system, and eventually end up behind the bodega, where we store our tools. If they are not in the backyard, they might be by the decrepit 3 million gallon water tank behind the old butterfly garden.

Chances are you won't have to wait too long to see them. If they are so inclined, they will sit in the trees and let you take their pictures, usually at a very safe distance. Once in a while one will be bolder, but you have to be lucky to get a good picture. First of all, they are usually in the trees and your camera will have a hard time focusing on the monkeys and not the branches. Also, the backlighting often makes it difficult to capture anything more than a silhouette.

When you do get lucky, however, it makes all the time you spend taking bad pictures worth it. We're especially thankful for digital cameras because on the days when the monkeys are hardest to shoot, you can just delete all the pictures. Even on good days most of the pictures are not worth much, since the monkey is out of focus, the lighting is bad, or he just moved when you pressed the shutter. You don't really know until you load them on the computer and take a close look, and most pictures will have to be cropped to see them well.

We'll let you in on another secret. We've learned that if you listen very closely, you can sometimes hear what they are saying. We've attached several pictures that we've taken, all within 250 feet of our house, along with what we think they were saying at the time we took them.

On Corregidor the monkeys have been known to wait until the tour bus is temporarily empty, put on a cap, wait for the visitors to re-board, and pretend to be tour guides. These pictures will give you an idea just how smart monkeys are. We'll bet that you didn't know that they like to watch golf tournaments; they get free seats in the trees, after all. You will probably be surprised to find out that they enjoy Italian operas, love Laurel and Hardy, and ponder the mysteries of the universe.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Roy; trip to Balanga

On Monday Ron brought us a new helper, Roy Baludbod, a young man who is currently on-call for work on the island. His nickname is Baroy, presumably a reverse contraction of his real names. Baroy was one of the best basketball players in the tournament, despite his being barely taller than the final trophy. His quickness drove other guards crazy as he kept stealing the ball. Baroy was born on Corregidor and went to school here for his first six grades, when they still had a school. Then he went to his home province to graduate from high school. He hopes to someday go to college. His father is caretaker of the island museum.

Since we have a number of projects that could use help from someone skilled in Filipino ways, we will try to use him as often as we can and to the best of his abilities, which we have yet to fully explore. Our yard obviously needed attention, so we had Baroy spend the day raking, piling, and burning leaves. In our back yard there is an area with pre-war and war time train tracks including a siding, so we had him rake there. We are also having him clear some of the dirt to better expose the tracks. In any case, they seem to be the best preserved tracks on the island. Our area was used to store ordnance, with this rail system used to supply nearby gun emplacements.

We decided that since we had our own temporary helper we might as well go to Balanga on Tuesday for groceries. Both previous trips we had gone with Raffi, who had pre-arranged rides. We wanted to learn the public transportation system. The first phase was the banca ride to Cabcaben, so we told Baroy to tell Maynard we would be down to the pier by 6:30 A.M. When we got there they were both waiting for us, so we soon were aboard.

Step one, departing from shore, is done manually. Maynard’s assistant pushed us away with a 15-foot bamboo pole. A number of the banca structures are bamboo, by the way, including the double outriggers and the shaft that attaches to the rudder and makes it possible to steer the boat from just about anywhere onboard.

The next step is to get the diesel engine, which was just repaired last Friday, running. That meant Steve had to stand up and move, since the engine was under his seat. It is started like an old-fashioned lawn mower, meaning that the cord has to be wrapped around the flywheel every time. It took a couple of pulls to get it chugging, only to have it die several more times before it seemed ready to run smoothly. The throttle is a piece of wire that runs from a nail on the side of the banca to the engine. Three inches from the nail a nylon cord is attached, and by controlling tension on the cord the pilot increases or decreases engine speed. Works reasonably well, except that Steve sat down, accidentally stretching the throttle line way too tight, which resulted in the engine racing for a second before it died. So Steve stood back up, Maynard tugged on the starting line again, Steve sat down a little more to the left, and off we went.

As usual this time of year, the trip to Cabcaben took about an hour while the return trip just before noon took barely more than half an hour, due to the wind out of the north. Of course, that also meant that the waves splashed us (only a little this trip) going across but not on the trip back. All in all, the trip was uneventful once we had the throttle thing established. Several large ocean-going vessels crossed our path, three during the trip over and one during the return trip.

From the Cabcaben pier we took a tricycle (mini-motorcycle with sidecar) to the main road. There we waited for the bus which runs to Balanga about every half hour, as best we could gather. When we first boarded we were packed like sardines, which is an acceptable way to travel in the orient. But soon about half the riders, school children, got off, and the rest of the way there were plenty of seats. The fares are collected by a man who rides along for that sole purpose. We paid 40 pesos, or about 85 cents, per person per way, which is very reasonable. In less than an hour we were dropped off at the bus terminal in the city.

Our first order of business was to try to find a jeep part. We had a rear wheel oil seal go bad on our jeep. The man who originally diagnosed the problem put it back with a slow leak, told us it would need to be replaced soon, and subsequently quit his job. So we have been waiting for his boss to deliver the part so that the regular motor pool guy, Budoy, could fix it. A part arrived last week. Budoy had removed the old seal, assuming that the part which the other man’s boss supplied was correct, so he drained the gear oil. Of course it was the wrong size, so our jeep has been sitting on blocks waiting for the right part. Hoping to avoid waiting another month, possibly for yet another wrong part, we tried to find it in the parts stores in Balanga. We had forgotten to bring the original along and were thus unsuccessful, despite having the part number. So we let the boss know we needed the part, plus one quart of gear oil. We hoped that he understood the urgency, which up until now he had not. Actually, we don’t mind walking except when we have heavy things to carry or need to be somewhere quickly.

Then, after breakfast at Jollibee’s, the Philippines equivalent to MacDonald’s, we took another tricycle to Elizabeth’s, a bodega (warehouse) grocery store. We bought things that are heavy and thus hard to transport from Manila, such as big jars of peanut butter, canned meats, and drinks. Another tricycle back to the bus terminal, and back we went to Cabcaben. While we waited at least 15 minutes in Cabcaben for the bus, this one was ready to go when we boarded. The only excitement during this ride was the constant peeping of chicks. A lady passenger had a crate of them on the seat beside her. They will eventually provide her business with eggs and chickens to sell. Maynard was waiting for us at the shore, and we were soon back on Corregidor. The whole excursion lasted just about five and a half hours, and now we feel confident that we could do this on our own, although the extra hands were very helpful carrying the groceries.

The rest of the week has been fairly quiet, for which we are grateful. Baroy has been coming every day to do tasks in the yard, and we will try to keep him employed until he is needed here again. Unfortunately, because of the economy tourism is down, and thus visitors to Corregidor are down as well. Since the majority of the money used to pay help come directly from admission fees, there may have to be even more cutbacks before things turn around. And we were able to get our Jeep back, parts having been delivered on Thursday.

One last thing: we are including two pictures. One is of flowers and leaves from a tree in our yard. Right now it is very fragrant. The tree is only about ten feet tall, and we don’t know if that is full grown or not. The other is a flower that just bloomed. It is white, very thin, and about six inches across. The flower stalks are about two feet long and the body of the plant is similar to tulips, but the leaves are fleshier. If anyone recognizes either and can let us know what they are, we would appreciate it.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Tour guiding; garlic

On Friday Steve led a “mock tour” for two of the Sun Cruises Inc (SCI) employees, in preparation for the tour that he conducted on Saturday. Tours must run on a strict schedule so that the guests are at the hotel for their appointed lunch time, at Malinta Tunnel on time for the “Light and Sound Show,” and at the boat to board in time to depart. There are designated stops along the way, with suggested time to spend at each one, in order to help keep the tours on schedule.

Steve is making himself available to SCI now that it is peak season, in case they are in need of a guide when there are two full boats. Off season there is only one boat a day, and during the off-off season, only four tours a week. But now the weather is wonderful and many school groups are booking tours, filling up the boats. Other than when SCI is short a guide, Steve will only lead one of their tours if a special group asks specifically for him, as was the case on Saturday.

None of the guides give exactly the same tour, of course. Steve’s tours will contain information specifically about his father’s experiences here, since Steve knows the barracks that Walter was in, along with the exact mortar that his father commanded. In small private tours that he has given to walk-ons, they seem very interested in what he has to share, and are excited to see the pictures of Steve’s father in the museum. The term “walk-on” refers to those people who arrive by means other than by an SCI ferry, so they’re more like “sail-ons,” although technically they do walk onto the island after arriving by boat.

On Saturday, Steve led his first official SCI tour. He didn’t know anything about the group beforehand, except that our friend Leslie had recommended Steve as guide. As it turned out, it consisted of 30 adults and four young boys, including only one or two Filipinos. Most were of European extraction, and most live in Manila, but interestingly, not one of them was from the U.S. There were Scotch, Dutch, Canadians, and even two Japanese ladies. Steve asked a seven year old and he said, “German, but I live in Manila [mah-NEE-lah],” pronounced perfectly. Everyone seemed to enjoy the tour, and many expressed an interest in coming back and staying overnight. Steve made the point that although the five-hour day tour covers the main points of interest, there are many more places to visit and things to see on the island. Overnighters also have time for some interesting hikes.

On Friday we had left an order for 2 chickens, a pineapple, 6 pongkan (like large tangerines, very good,) ¼ K onions, and 1 garlic. We have to calculate what we think the items will cost and add a little more for error and a little more for the bancero [banca/boat driver]. There are two banceros, Maynard and Mangmelio, who make one or two trips a day to and from Bataan. Maynard, with whom we rode to attend Christmas Mass, is younger and speaks English fairly well. Mangmelio is much older, doesn’t speak or understand much English, and is practically deaf. So guess whom we try to deal with if he’s available. Guess who ended up with our order? The answer to guess number one, Maynard, had engine trouble on Friday.

As it turns out, Mangmelio did not deliver our order until Saturday morning, just before Steve’s tour. It seemed kind of large to Steve, since Mangmellio told him, “Walang pina,” no pineapple. Since Steve was now busy preparing for the tour, he had it taken up to the house by one of the security guys. When he got home later in the day, Marcia told him that instead of getting one head of garlic, we apparently got one kilo of garlic! That, by the way, is 21 heads of garlic, which might be enough to last us close to half year if it would keep that long, which in this climate, it won’t. It’s a good thing we didn’t ask for our usual two or three heads! Marcia peeled the cloves from five or six heads, and put them into a bottle with vinegar. That is also how we preserve our hot peppers, when we have more than we can eat. We had plenty of garlic to share with friends.

A long time ago, just after we were married and Steve was in the Air Force, we ended up living in an apartment complex near Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio. As it turned out, Steve’s boyhood next door neighbor got married at that time and moved into the same complex, reuniting them by sheer coincidence. Steve was actually stationed at nearby Lackland AFB and had no idea Jim was even in the service. Jim was a supply sergeant at Kelly AFB, and one time he placed an order for a gross of a particular electronic component, since they were packaged in gross (144 piece) lots. Jim noted that the order was taking longer than usual to arrive, and couldn’t understand why one large box should take so long to appear. His confusion lasted until a semi backed into the loading dock and delivered a gross of large boxes, a gross of a gross.

One other thing, Ronilo returned after a very rewarding two weeks with his family in Iloilo. Ron’s family lives in the middle of three houses on his father’s property, where Ron grew up. His father and mother live on one side and a brother and family live on the other. Ron painted his house pink while he was on vacation…inside and out! Marcia’s Dad would love it!

We were very happy to have him back, but also realize what a sacrifice he and so many others make in this country by working away from home because there are no jobs that pay enough to survive where their families reside. Ron has worked himself up from a starting security guard position to Island Manager over the past 21+ years, while only getting to be with his family no more than two weeks at a time twice a year. During that time his two daughters and one son have grown up, with the oldest a senior in college and the youngest a senior in high school. Ron is very committed to seeing all three children graduate from college, which will greatly help their job prospects.