Sunday, October 10, 2010

Dinner at Ron's

We continue to meet interesting people here on Corregidor, usually when Steve is asked to guide “walk-ons,” - people who come here by hiring private bancas from Bataan. One of those was a retired Lt. Col. in the United States Air Force. When asked if he was a pilot, the man said that he had logged a record 6500 hours in the F4, a jet still in use by some countries in the Middle East. He had often flown at Mach 2.5, and also had been forced to eject on several occasions due to malfunctions and having been shot down during missions in Vietnam.

Last weekend Steve had a mixed group on a Sun Cruises tranvia. One man in the group was particularly interested in anything to do with Douglas MacArthur. In fact, Jim W. said that he was a huge MacArthur fan, so Steve made it a priority to spend a little more time at certain spots than normal, including the steps to the Administration Building, where it is said that Mac was almost killed, saved only by a Filipino aide whose body came between a bomb and Mac. Jim also posed by the nearby Spanish flagpole, site of one of the most famous pictures ever taken on Corregidor, in which Mac witnesses the re-raising of the American flag on March 2, 1945, nearly three years after he’d left for Australia. Additionally Steve took the group to see Mac’s house on Tailside, a place that many visitors are interested to see but is often skipped on the regular tour.

When asked why he was such a fan, Jim explained that he had been a congressional page in April, 1951, when Mac made his famous “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away” speech on the floor of Congress. Jim said that he was standing under the painting of Lafayette, and near enough to some senators to see their tears during the speech, the most memorable being Richard Nixon of California. Nixon was not alone, as the 34-minute speech is said to have been interrupted 30 times for raucous ovations. Our opinion of MacArthur, as we have stated before, is that he was a great general who also had a tremendous ego, and that to understand him means understanding both his vast strengths and flaws. As Steve’s best boyhood friend pointed out, Mac was responsible for the “Bonus Army” tragedy, one of the most shameful acts imaginable of a leader against his own soldiers.

Most nights find us at Ronilo’s house for dinner. We provide the liquid refreshments and usually the meat. Less frequently Ron supplies fish or other seafood, and always the rice. Ron moved recently to another house in the same complex at the stockade level between Bottomside and Middleside. The old location afforded a view of the west end of Malinta Tunnel. Now there is a great view of Caballo Island and the province of Cavite. Often we are treated to a lightning show off in the distance, and if we are there late enough, we see the lights of the fishing boats on Manila Bay.

When it is not raining – which has turned out to be most of the time despite this being rainy season – we sit outside Ron’s house at a table which is situated below a sampaloc (tamarind) tree-branch. The very tip is the home of a spider (gagamba), and we have spent lots of time simply watching it spinning its web (bahay gagamba, literally “spider home”). The spider, which is at most two inches long, appears to be suspended in midair as it goes from branch to branch. Once Steve got too close and accidentally knocked the spider off a branch. It landed on his leg, and he quickly brushed it off. Nilo, who often cooks dinner, coaxed the spider onto a twig and placed it back on its branch. Soon it was back to business as usual, again spinning its web.

Ron has gotten into raising chickens, so we are joined by them at each meal. They are hoping that someone will give them cooked rice. It is interesting to watch his hens with their chicks. Currently one has nine and another eight. Each brood sticks close to its mother, although there is always one or two who are more independent and stray a little further away, only to come running back when it gets to be too far. As sunset approaches, they find their way to their sleeping places. One of the favorites is a mango tree in front of the house. Since chickens are poor fliers, Ron has a couple of poles slanted up into the tree to assist them. There is an overnight light in the tree to discourage pythons.

Although neither of us is a “cat person,” there is a pretty and friendly tomcat that joins us at dinnertime. “Ming Ming” has beautiful green eyes and loves to sit between us while we eat. He’s happy when the menu is fish or chicken, since there are always bones for him. Free range chickens are cannibals, so we have to give bones directly to the cat, or the chickens will dart in and run off with them. Ming Ming is usually quiet until the food arrives, at which time he starts yelling “now now” at the top of his little kitty lungs. He is capable of standing upright on his hind legs, begging for food. Interestingly he does not bother the chickens or their chicks, something that you would think would be natural. He also tolerates being held, unusual for what is essentially a feral cat. Allergies prevent us from ever having a cat, but if we could, Ming Ming would certainly fit the bill.

One of our latest dinner guests was Jim Valenzuela, on the island for a little personal R&R. We talked about him a couple of years ago, and were very glad to see him again. Jim’s father, now 92, served at Fort Frank (Carabao Island), surrendered on Corregidor, spent 18 months at Cabanatuan, and then was forced to work at what is now the U. S. Embassy in Manila. One day he managed to escape, and fought against the Japanese as a guerilla for the last year of the war.

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