Wednesday, October 27, 2010

We meet Ray and Esther Ong

Last week we made a trip to Manila for the first time in two months. We were invited to stay with Ray and Esther Ong, whom we had talked with only via emails, thanks to a mutual acquaintance, Paul Whitman, of

Ray is a retired Philippine Army general, while Esther is a retired nurse. They spend about half their time in the Philippines and half in the U.S., where they have a bachelor son and a married daughter. Although Esther was born in the Philippines, she grew up in America and is much more comfortable with English than Tagalog. She is an American citizen. Her father was a sergeant at West Point, which is where and why she met Ray. After nursing school, she worked in a New York City hospital, where she says that, among other things, she personally administered shots in the butts of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in 1961. With their troubles apparently “behind them,” Maris went on to break Babe Ruth’s single season homerun record that year, with Mantle a close second. Esther says that she even had an autographed baseball bat which included their two names, which meant nothing particularly to her at the time, so she left it in a basement when they relocated. Wonder what that bat would be worth today!

Ray, who is a dual Filipino-American citizen, graduated high school from prestigious Ateneo in Manila at the age of 15. After three years at the University of the Philippines, he was awarded a place at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. At that time, one Filipino was given an appointment each year. Twelve years earlier that scholarship had gone to Fidel Ramos, later President of the Philippines (1992-98), and someone we now also consider to be a friend. The scholarship program ended when the U.S. military left the Philippines in 1991.

We spent our first evening mostly talking about West Point. Ray has a book that lists every students from the academy’s first year, 1802, through 2000. It was interesting to look up such men as George Pickett and George Custer, both of whom finished last in their respective graduating classes. But it must be pointed out that about one third of all entrants never graduate, and that all of those selected were outstanding candidates or they would never have been admitted in the first place. Robert E. Lee finished second in his class. Douglas MacArthur, later the West Point superintendent from 1919-’22, was number one in 1903 and had the highest accumulated point total (academics, athletics, and leadership) in 25 years. Ray said that Wesley Clarke, who finished number one in 1966, was a freshman when he was a senior. Ray finished in the top 25%, a great tribute to his preparation at Ateneo and UP, and most of all to his own hard work.

Ray served in the Philippine Army for over 30 years, attaining the rank of brigadier general. He was involved with, among other things, Special Forces, and taught such subjects as calculus and engineering. Esther was a nurse in the United States for many years. As is common in so many Filipino families, they were physically separated for many years due to their careers.

The Ongs treated us very well, and one of their special treats was several great meals. They tend toward more American-style cuisine, so we enjoyed spaghetti and grilled chicken and steaks. Esther made some scrumptious deserts, something we seldom get on Corregidor. In fact, having desserts after meals may very well be one of our definitions of “civilization.” Our waistlines are benefitting from having desserts as a rare event, so our “simple living” on Corregidor is a good thing.

The Ong home is in Fort Bonifacio, not far from the American Cemetery. They are also near a large shopping center called Market Market, a multi-level mall with outdoor shops and kiosks as well. Marcia was able to get a high quality haircut – much needed! – and also found a wing with several fabric shops which will most certainly be revisited during future Manila excursions. Market Market has a number of shops selling used books, a favorite of ours, since there are very few lending libraries here. Steve looked for a CD player, the “Walkman” type, but had no success. They have apparently faded into history, replaced by the newer and smaller electronics such as iPods and cellphones.

The trip back to Corregidor on Saturday morning was fairly uneventful, although we did get the opportunity to talk to several Americans who were coming to the island for the day. Steve was not scheduled to be a guide, so we bid our adieus at the dock. Most of the boat had been filled with 122 members of the Nikon (pronounced NEE-kone by the locals) Club of the Philippines. They were obviously hoping for a good photo shooting day. Unfortunately they picked the wrong Saturday, as it was cloudy with rain from about two o’clock on. They stayed overnight, and Sunday’s weather was better, so it seems that their trip was at least somewhat a success.

We are finally having to run our diesel genset regularly. It is near the end of rainy season, although we are not getting heavy rain, and sunshine is significantly decreased and often filtered by thin cloud layers when not obscured by heavier overcast. The good news is that the temperatures are more moderate. The bad news is that the humidity is up. Still, it is much more comfortable right now than it will be in a few months.

A few newsletters ago we included a picture of a red, semicircular object and asked if any of you could identify it. No one replied, meaning it was either too hard or so easy that no one bothered to tell us. So we are including it again and ask if you can guess what it is. We’d love to hear from you.

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