Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bats, flies, and parachutes

The last couple of weeks we’ve been hearing hard-to-describe noises at night, squeaky, screechy, chattering sounds, coming from high up in the trees. The sounds start right after sunset and sometime continue through the night. They are loud enough to occasionally disrupt sleep. Our best guess was tree frogs or some kind of migrant night-birds. We don’t remember this from last year, but then all of the sounds were new to us. A few nights ago, Marcia suggested that we try shining one of our big flashlights into the tree – we think it's called a "taluto" – beside our bodega. To our surprise, we saw a number of fruit bats in its branches, apparently feeding on the green blossoms. In the sky, we could also see more of the gigantic bats circling to land. Their bodies are 8-10 inches long, with wingspans of 24-36 inches. We had no idea fruit bats make so much noise, being much more familiar with the almost inaudible and much smaller insect-eating bats.

Most of the year, flies are not a big deal on Corregidor. They were much more annoying all summer long when we lived in Michigan. It’s not uncommon to have to shoo a fly away from your food when eating outside, of course, especially when fish is on the menu. As we move toward May, mango season, the flies also come into season. There are many mango trees on the island, both native and an Indian variety. A high number of both types border the Middleside Parade Ground across the road from our house.

For you city folks who have never seen flies in their natural habitat, let us describe their behavior for you. First, they are extremely quick and alert. If goaltenders had the reactions of flies, no one would ever score a goal in hockey or soccer. It’s almost as if they can read your mind, anticipating your every move. Second, they seem to have one-track minds. Once one zooms in on a landing area, it tends to return to the same spot. You might be able to find flies at your city zoo. If there is no exhibit, we’re sure you’ll find some in their natural environment around the monkey house.

Marcia seems to really enjoy sending flies to critter heaven. We spend a lot of our down-time reading outdoors in our dirty kitchen area, and it’s common for one fly to take it upon itself to “bug” one or the other of us. Marcia especially seems to take delight in sneaking up on a fly that has been pestering Steve while he is lounging in his hammock. Fortunately for him she is very accurate, so almost every swat means a dead fly! Once in a while he might be sitting at his computer in front of Marcia, and WHACK!!!, he feels a sting on his back before she has a chance to warn him. He does like to see proof in the form of carcasses to be sure it’s worth the sting of the swatter.

Flyswatters are available here, but the ones we have found are made from a brittle plastic which cracks after a short time. They’re also designed with a smaller “business area” than the ones we are accustomed to using, are much less flexible, and have a fly shaped hole just large enough for a lucky fly to slip through, so they require a very different technique. While we were in the US last summer, one of our shopping goals was to find flyswatters that would improve our hunting percentages. We found some – made in China – and have been quite pleased with them.

Last Friday we were visited by a daughter of Pfc. Richard J. Adams of the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team. He was among the first to drop on Landing Zone B, Corregidor, on Feb 16, 1945. Richard is still active and well, and has begun to make plans to return to Corregidor on Feb 16, 2011.

The daughter says that her childhood bedtime stories were her father’s tales of the 503rd. His license plate is “503P1R” for 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment. He had to substitute the “1” for an “I” because otherwise it would have been a normal 3-digit, 3-letter configuration for a Michigan license plate, and thus not allowed as a valid choice for a vanity plate.

Naturally, she was especially interested in the areas of Corregidor where her father had spent time. We started out with a half-hour lateral tour of Malinta Tunnel, even though Richard had not been inside the tunnel himself. It was occupied at that time by Japanese soldiers, who either blew themselves up, or were killed by bombs dropped down the ventilation shafts or gasoline poured into the shafts and ignited, since they refused to surrender. Richard was on Malinta Hill when the major in-tunnel explosion occurred, this one a Japanese mass-suicide. We then rode out to Kindley Field to where her father’s unit fought to root out the Japanese along the north beach area. Returning to Malinta Hill, we hiked to the summit, along the same path that her father must have used numerous times during the days when he was part of the troops occupying the hill.

After lunch at our house, we went to Topside to see the landing zones of the 503rd. Landing Zone A, where Tony Lopez was intended to land, was the Parade Ground area. If you remember, Tony was too anxious and landed short of the designated area. Richard was destined for Landing Zone B, the golf course across the road. He was in the initial wave which jumped from 550 feet, still too high for the winds that they encountered. Being the first man out of the plane on his pass, and facing higher-than-expected headwinds, Richard fell short of the gold course, smacking into the hillside in Crockett Ravine about 50 feet below the road. He sustained a lower-leg wound that tore his flesh to the bone. Nevertheless, he climbed up the hill, and assisted in carrying others more injured than himself to the temporary hospital set up in a second floor area of the Milelong Barracks on Topside.

While carrying one of the injured, Richard lost his Miraculous Medal of the Virgin Mary, which was very precious to him. The odds of finding the medal again on the battlefield seemed beyond remote. Later during the evening, when he and his friends were trying to settle down for the night, the flies were so bad (due to the numerous dead bodies) that they decided to go back to the drop area for some of the abandoned parachutes to use as covers. While walking back with arms full, he dropped his load of chutes. When he regathered them, there was his medal! Indeed, miraculous!

Richard, 87, and his wife reside in suburban Detroit. We are hoping to visit with them this summer while we are in Michigan.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Scaling Mount Samat

In our last newsletter we talked about all of the seatless toilets in the Philippines. We had several interesting replies. It got us to thinking: what could you possibly do with a used toilet seat, other than to use it as a toilet seat? Someone mentioned that they can be used as bicycle seats. So we are throwing out a challenge. What could you do with one or more toilet seats? Use your imagination and send us the best ideas. Remember, they are made of wood or plastic, and come in assorted colors, providing endless possibilities. If we get enough creative replies we will include them in an upcoming newsletter. We hope that this is not a crappy idea.

There are lots of twins in nature, but we never expected to see a twin banana. Marcia noticed that one of the bananas in a bunch was extra wide. Even though it had only one stem, when she peeled the banana, inside were twins! In all other ways it was normal. Have any of you ever seen this, or a similar unexpected phenomenon?

On Monday Steve gave a tour for about 90 U.S. Marines on a break from joint training exercises in Cavite. They arrived in their small assault boats, and for a few minutes it looked like Corregidor was once again being invaded. Tuesday he guided for about 40 members of the Pakistani Navy War College, here as guests of the Philippine Navy. Steve would be very hard pressed to decide which group was more well-mannered and polite. Although they come from opposite sides of the globe, all were gentlemen, with the exception of the two female Pakistanis – reserved, but very gentlewomanly.

On Thursday we took a banca to Cabcaben, and caught a couple of rides to the foot of Mt. Samat. The first thing we saw, right at the intersection, was a sign placed by the local Lions Club. Since we were both Lions for several years before moving here, it was nice to see that there is also a local presence. Soon after we began our uphill climb, we were able to ask a man who lives alongside the road how far it is to the summit: seven kilometers, or a little over four miles. Not really so far, except that the road is uphill at least 95% of the way, sometimes becoming quite steep, and rising to an altitude of 1850 feet. Our goal was to walk all the way up, and then back down. We decided we might opt to ride down, depending on the time.

It wasn’t very long after beginning our ascent that we could see the cross, which stands on the summit, way off to our left. Then the road turned that direction, and it looked to be quite the climb ahead of us. We have ridden up the mountain a dozen times, and knew that we might be in for a challenge, but had been looking forward to the hike for quite some time.

The road has a number of switchbacks, something to be expected on a mountain road, and our helper Roy spotted a couple of “shortcuts” that may have saved us a minute or two each. They were short but quite steep, something that you would much rather attempt going uphill, where a fall is minor, than going down, where a misstep could be disastrous. The next shortcut looked to cut a considerable distance from our walk, so up we went into the jungle. We soon encountered a stack of cut bamboo along the path, but paid no attention. Up and up and up we went, probably ascending at times a 30-degree slope. It was very hot, and we had to stop several times to rest. Steve joked to Roy that we better not be heading back to the starting point at the bottom of the mountain, which was of course impossible.

We both read a lot of the crime/detective/courtroom fiction that is so popular nowadays, and something we’ve often read is that a lawyer should never ask a question in court if he doesn’t already know the answer. Well, we now have a new rule. Think twice before taking a trail if you aren’t sure where it goes. Despite the fact that we were going uphill on a mountain that was coming to a peak, we suddenly came to a clearing on the trail with two possible uphill choices. Which to choose? Roy started up one while we rested, but returned shortly thereafter. That trail just came to an abrupt end. So we all headed up the alternative path, only to find out shortly that this trail ended in the middle of a thick, impassible bamboo grove. We realized that we would have to go all the way back down to the road. To put this in perspective, we had been climbing a very steep bamboo harvesters’ path for close to half an hour, probably having ascended somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 feet, only to have to go back down again. Aside from the loss of time and a good amount of energy, we were now faced with descending the same, very steep path.

Something we have learned from hiking the tougher trails on Corregidor; a walking stick can be very handy. Most of the time it really doesn’t do much, but when you are faced with a steep descent, a walking stick can be a life saver. The trick is to firmly plant the stick far enough in front of you that it prevents you from falling ass-over-teakettle down the hill if you slip or lose your balance. Without one, you’re risking a scary situation, while with a stick it can be a piece of cake. As we started back down the “shortcut” we were fortunate to be able to find a couple of made-to-order walking sticks. In another 15 minutes or so we were back on our way up the road.

Roy spotted one more shortcut, one he was already familiar with, and it made our walk to the top much shorter, albeit a lot steeper. The elevator inside the cross was operating, so we took advantage and went up into the cross arms. The wind was blowing so hard that it felt like jet-powered air-conditioning. It is probably the coolest we have been yet in the Philippines short of actually being in aircon. During our climb, we were drinking lots of water and Gatorade, and had arrived at the mountaintop quite sweat-soaked. Marcia, who cannot use sunscreen, had worn a lightweight long-sleeved shirt over a camisole. She held the shirt in the wind, and it was nearly dry after five minutes. The view from that height is spectacular on a clear day – we had clouds, but they were high enough that we could still see in all directions. Some days the clouds actually blow through the cross.

Having climbed a part of the mountain twice, we decided that we would take a ride down if we could get one. Amazingly, maybe a tenth of the way down there was a young man with his tricycle. He was happy to give us a ride back down the hill. He drove us to the next tricycle stop – they are licensed within specific areas - where we caught a ride into Balanga for a much needed lunch.

Now put on your thinking caps and send us some ideas for used toilet seats!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Kids of the chicken"

One night a while ago, we were eating at Ron’s. He had been trying to raise chickens at his row house, but cats kept eating the eggs and his young chicks. Finally he sent his hens up to Middleside, where Benny (of Benny and the Bolos fame) was also trying to raise chickens. Benny faced a problem, too, but instead of cats he had to watch out for pythons. As Ron was explaining the new housing situation for their joint chicken flock, he appeared to be saying, “Kids of the chicken.” Confused, we asked him to say it again, and it still sounded like, “Kids of the chicken.” We asked him to explain. He said, “You know, a thing to keep chickens inside.” Oh, CAGE of the chicken. We all got a good laugh out of that one.

Then Ron said, “Sometimes is hard to speak English if they use old words for food like” and then he said a word that sounded like “BUY-on.” We were trying to think about what he could possibly be saying. Was he trying to say that there was an out-of-use word in the English language that sounded like buyon? Both of us were wracking our brains trying to come up with the word that Ron could be talking about, but how would Ron know an obsolete English word for food? Steve said, “He definitely isn’t talking about ‘vittles.’ There’s another word on the tip of my tongue, but it’s not buyon.”

Then Steve said, “There is the word viand.” Then it occurred to both of us at the same time that in fact Ron was trying to say just that, “viand.” (Crossword puzzles to the rescue!) Steve said to Ron, “Viand.” Ron said, “Yes, buyon.” “Viand.” “Buyon.” We looked at each other and chuckled again. Ron just could not make the V sound. Just as there is no F in Tagalog, making Filipino “Pilipino,” there is no V, transforming viand to buyon. The final “d” is there, but barely heard unless you really listen for it. How had Ron ever heard of viand? How many of you use viand in your everyday conversation? Viand is a fairly out-of-use word for a main course item, such as chicken, pork, or fish. Now that we know to listen for it, it is actually used by Filipinos quite often, and in fact many Filipinos reading this may wonder why we are even mentioning it. In the mall food courts, your viand is whatever you order to eat with your rice.

Another word we hear often is “avail,” or the phrase “avail of,” in reference to taking advantage of tour package deals, special prices in stores, hotel rate discounts, etc. While on tours, the guides often use the phrase “fronting on the left/right” to describe a building along the street – we would most likely use “facing,” or simply say “to your left/right.”

One of the things first-time American tourists notice quickly in the Philippines is the absence of toilet seats. We too noticed this right away on our first tours. Aside from hotels and upscale restaurant restrooms, a fair percentage of toilets just don’t have seats. Of course, women will probably come to this realization sooner than men, but everyone is going to encounter it sooner or later. This is the case not only outside Metro Manila, but even in malls and popular shopping areas. Today, it seems that the better malls are increasingly more likely to have toilet seats and toilet paper, and we hope that this trend continues. We’ve learned to be prepared mentally, and to carry some tissue in a pocket as well. Some comfort rooms, as they are called here, do have tissue available but in a dispenser near the wash basins rather than in the toilet stalls. One upside to the SARS and H1N1 (swine) Flu scares is that the number of hand-soap dispensers has increased.

If you have a weak stomach you might want to skip the following short account of Steve’s intro to a men’s room in Japan, which just happened to be at Narita Airport.

“I felt fine the entire 12-hour flight from Detroit to Tokyo. Just as I exit the 747 along with hundreds of fellow-travelers, too late to use one of the on-board toilets, I have to ‘go’ something awful. Afraid that I am not going to make it to a restroom, I say ‘see ya later’ to Marcia and am practically running through the crowded airport hallway, thinking to myself, ‘I gotta go, I gotta go, I GOTTA GO!’ There, up on the right, I see a sign for ‘MEN’S.’ Fortunately the sign is in English as well as Japanese characters. Now I’m inside the restroom, the feeling still welling up, and all the stall doors that I can see are closed. What am I going to do? It looks like one near the end might njust be opening up. One man is ahead of me; I’m pleading to him psychically, ‘Please, please don’t go in there. Noooo! Oh man, you took the last one!’ Wait! Is it possible? Is the very last door slightly ajar? It is! I burst inside, hit the lock, and turn around.

“There’s no toilet! How can there be no toilet? I’m in a stall in a men’s restroom, for Pete’s sake. What’s this small opening on the floor? Well, it better be what I think it is, cuz I ain’t waiting around any longer. I realize that this must be how Japanese go to the bathroom, so I drop my pants and do my business in very short order. I clean up and, feeling much better, kind of smile to myself as I look back at the Japanese-style toilet. Then I think, ‘Do they really expect all travelers to squat like this?’ By the time I walk out of the stall and head toward the sinks, I notice that the stall next to me, which is now open, has the typical U.S.-style toilet. In fact, the panic behind me, I see the symbol near each subsequent door handle. All of the others are equipped this way. Just my luck, the one stall that was available to me in my most urgent need is obviously for Asians who feel more comfortable going the old-fashioned way. By the way, the symbol on the door I used somewhat resembled a capital J laying on it’s back without the line across the top, the curved part representing the slightly raised dome where the water comes from upon flushing, and the long, straight part being the slit in the floor.

“A former co-worker and friend of mine from India had told me about this style of ‘going.’ He said that when he returns to India he has a hard time at first because it requires quadriceps muscles that are conditioned by frequent squatting. I certainly hadn’t expected to run into it myself.”

We have learned that many Filipinos were raised using the squat method, and have even seen shoe prints on toilet seats from people who prefer it. We were very surprised to encounter a toilet in a newly-refurbished unisex restroom in a Makati bank that had no toilet seat by design.

We try to include a few pictures with each newsletter. A while back, one of our readers, Danny Rodriguez, sent us a few nice photos that he shot while on Corregidor, and we are including them now. Certainly better than the alternative, chicken coops and toilet seats, don’t you think?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Tony Lopez and the 65th Anniversary of Mac's Return to Corregidor

We spent a good part of last Thursday evening through Sunday afternoon with Congressman Joseph Santiago of Catanduanes and his father/son, mother/daughter Boy and Girl Scout weekend. They invited us to eat lunch and supper each day with them. The highlight, however, was leading the 4th to 7th graders and their parents on a three-hour hike. We took them through two of the bigger tunnels on the island, Corregidor’s primary command post, and Batteries Wheeler and Cheney. The route included scaling a rather steep hill and descending a couple of short steep ones. We were amazed at how well most of the children handled these, and also the somewhat spooky tunnels.

As a part of their weekend, almost all of the campers attended Sunday morning Mass. The priest is Spanish, approaching 80, and has lived here in the Philippines for over 50 years. This was the first time we have been able to attend Mass here on a Sunday, and only about the fourth time on Corregidor in the 16 months we’ve lived here. Ironically, we’d attended a Mass in our Island church earlier in the week. Doubly ironic, that priest is Japanese, and he says the Mass in Latin. Incidentally, we are more able to follow a Latin Mass – it’s what both of us remember from our early years – than one said in Tagalog. We wonder what Steve’s father Walter, a devout Catholic, but also a POW of the Japanese for 39 months, would have thought of such a Mass. We are thankful for both opportunities.

A little later Sunday morning, Tony Lopez, his wife Mary Louise, sons Tom and Steve, daughter Yolanda, and Yolanda’s husband Ron arrived on Corregidor for a two-day stay. (One son and one daughter remained behind in the States.) Tony had been a part of the original parachute team that landed here 65 years ago to liberate the island. Tony had trouble getting approved for a passport, which made the news in Denver, Colorado, and sparked nationwide sympathy. For several days the family couldn’t get any rest as they received phone call after phone call from interested media people. Despite having served in the U.S. military, he faced citizenship verification questions due to records having been destroyed in a church fire. The passport was finally issued, but so late that he was unable to be here for the February 16th anniversary of the 503’rd parachute landing. However, thanks to continued efforts by Paul Whitman, encouragement from many people – including his family members and a blatantly pleading email from us – he decided to come for the March 2 celebration marking the day of MacArthur’s return to the island. By the way, this whole story began in December when Paul met Tony and about 20 other veterans of the 503rd at a reunion. Paul proposed the trip then, and continued to urge Tony to come to Corregidor. The rest is now history.

On Tuesday, the ceremony was held at the site of the 503rd marker. Marcia served as the master of ceremonies and Steve was one of the speakers. It lasted about an hour and consisted of several honor guards, both national anthems with raising of the flags, wreath laying, and several brief speeches. Lt. Col. Art Matibag spoke of the history of the day, Leslie Murray told her story of civilian internment as a young child and gave a brief overview of F.A.M.E., Steve expanded on the meaning of the day, and then Tony answered a few questions from Steve about his remembrances and how he felt returning to Corregidor. The emotional celebration concluded with Tony hoisting a 48-star flag to the peak of the old Spanish flagpole, the same pole that has been here for over 100 years.

All were honored to have Tony in attendance. We wonder if he will be the last American Corregidor survivor to be able to attend an anniversary here. Thanks to Sun Cruises shifting their schedules, their tourists were able to attend the festivities and greet Tony personally. It made for a very nice turnout, and Tony was overcome by the expressions of gratitude and honor he received. We really enjoyed spending time in the evenings with Tony and his family.

While all of this was going on, we met James Farmer, whose father James Jr. had been captured on Corregidor. Of particular interest to us: his father came over on the USS Republic at the same time as Steve’s father, Walter, and they were assigned to the same battery. So from April 1, 1941, until sometime in the summer of 1944, they were more or less together, both having been at Battery Way when the Japanese invaded. Walter’s last act was firing the mortar, while James was driving a makeshift ambulance evacuating the wounded to a treatment area at Battery Wheeler, for which he received a Silver Star. Eventually they were taken separate ways, with James moved to Japan on the Hellship Noto Maru and being liberated from Mitsubishi Osarizawa Copper Mine Camp Sendai 6B, AKA Hanawa. We hope that the younger James will be able to join us here for the 70th anniversary of the fall of Corregidor and the Philippines on May 6, 2012.

The day’s surprises continued. Drew and Candie Blankman arrived in time to attend the ceremony. What makes this more than coincidental is that Candie’s father, Sgt Kenneth Davis, was a Bataan Death March survivor. When we asked Candie which Hellship transported her dad to Japan, it was the Noto Maru. Not only that, her father was also liberated from Sendai Camp 6B. Talk about coincidence! Unfortunately, James had already left Corregidor when we learned this, but we will connect them via email, and look forward to hearing the rest of their stories.

What makes this part of the story even more interesting is that both Drew and Candie grew up in northern Minnesota. Drew graduated from International Falls High School, while Candie graduated from Cotton High School. “The Falls” is considered the coldest spot in the 48 states, and is less than 100 miles by road from Virginia, where Steve’s mother was raised and still lives, and where he lived before getting married. Cotton is about halfway between Virginia and Duluth, where Steve grew up. Drew and Steve enjoyed reminiscing about high school sports, especially hockey, from the “good old days” of the 60’s and 70’s. We wonder if Walter and Kenneth ever spent time – they were both at Cabanatuan POW Camp at the same time for over a year – reminiscing about their time growing up only a few miles from each other and working in the WPA and CCC before joining the army.

On Wednesday the Blankmans and the two of us took a banca to Cabcaben, tricycles to the highway, a bus to Mariveles, and then walked the first 15 kilometers of the Death March back to Cabcaben. Because they won’t have time to see Camps O’Donnell and Cabanatuan before their flight to Japan, we hope to see them again in the next few years. It is always a very emotional experience for daughters and sons of these veterans to be at the places where their fathers were. It helps make the stories come alive.

Thanks to the clearing projects that we have been telling you about – to which some of you have contributed time or effort – and the work that was done to get ready for the 65th Anniversary celebration, many trails and batteries are looking great right now. Special thanks to Benny and the Bolos, Lou and the Loppers, and the latest group, Tony (Indifonso) and the Trimmers. In addition, we have had virtually no rain in over four months, which has drastically slowed jungle growth. We encourage you to come to Corregidor before rainy season, stay a night or two, and visit some of the out-of-the-way spots such as the tunnels and guns of Batteries Wheeler and Cheney.

We’d like to thank Paul Whitman for getting Tony Lopez here for the big celebration. Also, thanks to Sun Cruises for bringing their guests to the ceremony. Of course, none of this could have happened without C.F.I. director Art Matibag, island manager Ronilo Benadero, Tony Indifonso, the C.F.I. staff, Leslie Murray of F.A.M.E., the Philippine Coast Guard, and Unicorn Security. Our special thanks go out to all of them.

Steve and Marcia on the Rock – comment and read previous newsletters at