Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas Eve to New Years Eve

On Christmas Eve, after a beautiful sunny day with a high in the mid-80s, we went to Ronilo’s house for dinner. Earlier in the day we had given two large chickens, about three pounds apiece, to Ron for roasting. Later when we arrived, Jhun was slowly turning the chickens over hot embers. The spit is a use-once-and-throw-away bamboo pole (see picture). The birds were stuffed with lemongrass and tamarind, and had been coated with patis, a clear, salty/vinegary concoction that is commonly used for seasoning here. Ron had wanted us to bring our computer so that we could watch an action movie, and we wanted to watch something with a Christmas theme, so we settled on “Die Hard,” a shoot-em-up thriller that takes place during a Christmas party. Ho ho ho.

Our dinner started with talakitok [tah-lah-KEY-toke] soup, which includes whole chunks of fish and camote (sweet potato) leaves, along with the ubiquitous serving of rice. Then came the delicious chicken, and plenty of Red Horse beer, the beer with a kick.

We thought that we would be going straight home after the dinner and movie, but Ron had something else in mind. The four of us went down to the contract workers barracks, or “barrio,” where many of the island workers reside. Because of the holidays, many of the families are reunited for a few days, wives and children usually coming to join their husbands and fathers, who live here away from home to work and support their families. By American standards these are financially very poor families. Despite the very simple lifestyle, the children seem happy, a phenomenon that we witness whenever we travel through the Philippines.

These children cannot look forward to the kinds of gifts common to our childhoods. Ron’s idea was to go to the barrio and give each of the children at least something. When we arrived, plates of food were placed on the table in front of us, and despite already being stuffed we politely ate a bit of each offering. The next thing we knew, more Red Horse arrived.

Ron began to ask the children for Christmas kisses, and as they came up and kissed him on his cheek he gave each one a 20 peso (P20) note, worth around 45 cents apiece. Then the children danced to music, with Ron handing out additional P20 notes and joining occasionally in their dancing. Taken by surprise, we had no camera with us, and since it was dark and the cell phone camera has no flash, it was not up to the job. Nonetheless, we are including a couple of fuzzy pictures of the children just so that you can get some kind of impression.

On Christmas morning, we woke to a surprisingly chilly-feeling 79 degrees, according to our very unofficial thermometer from the school-supplies section of National Bookstore. We continue to be amazed that we, who grew up in Minnesota and spent most of our lives living in northern states, can find this temperature cool enough to make us get out warmer clothing.

We’ve mentioned how Steve has run into a number of people who are from our home states of Minnesota and Michigan. Only once has he seen any apparel from Michigan, when a man from Grand Rapids was wearing a University of Michigan baseball cap. Steve’s been longing to see something from Michigan State University, and this week it finally happened. A young lady in one of his “walk-in” tour groups was wearing a white hat with a green “S” on the front, and sure enough, on the side it said, “Spartans.” (“Walk-in” is the term for a tourist who arrives on Corregidor via banca rather than Sun Cruises’ ferry.) Steve said to her, “That’s my school, the Michigan State Spartans,” only to be met with a blank look. The lady was in a group of Ilocanos from Baguio, the city in northern Luzon known as “naturally air conditioned” due to altitude. Unsurprisingly, no one in the group of 30 had ever heard of the school, but, again not surprisingly, they all knew of Magic Johnson. Magic, of course, led the Spartans to their 1979 NCAA National Basketball Championship before leaving college early to join the Los Angeles Lakers and lead them to a few NBA titles. In the Philippines, MSU stands for Mindanao State University, a far cry from Michigan State, fondly known in mid-Michigan as “MSU” or simply “State.”

The next day, Steve struck up a conversation with a man in his Sun Cruises tour group who appeared to be an American. Steve asked, “Where are you from?” “California” was the response, but with a slight drawl. Steve said, “You certainly didn’t grow up there,” and the man replied, surprisingly, “No, Michigan.” “Where in Michigan?” It turns out that he grew up in Lansing, where we lived for most of the last 30 years. DeVone said that his brother Daniel is head-coach for football and track and field at Lansing Sexton High School. DeVone is visiting the country with his Filipina wife Nerissa, son Caleb, and daughter Imani. DeVone is the first Lansing native we’ve met here on Corregidor.

Another family on the same bus had three young children. The mother is Chinese and the father is from Germany. They said that their children are becoming fluent in English, Mandarin, and German. What an advantage to be able to master multiple languages as children, when they soak it up like sponges.

Filipinos love to use anagrams, nicknames, and abbreviations. The previous president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, was almost always referred to as GMA. Her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, was “Erap.” Current President Aquino is “Noy,” Noy-Noy,” or “P-Noy.” Headlines in the paper are often abbreviated to the point of being indecipherable. An example from the Dec. 29 Philippine Star: “NCRPO chief inspects LRT, MRT”. Fortunately the first paragraph read, “To prevent the spillover of the Sulu violence in Metro Manila, National Capitol Region Chief Director Nicanor Bartolome inspected yesterday the Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Metro Rail Transit (MRT) platforms and stations to ensure the safety of the riding public.” A Dec. 26 Star headline read: “Cayetano lauds DOLE for resolving PAL-FASAP row”. Huh? The Star writers do spell out the names for almost every anagrams used within an article, but that doesn’t seem to be policy in all publications, greatly frustrating the non-daily reader.

Our New Years Eve celebration was pretty quiet, with just Ron, Rex - the new island radio operator, and the two of us. Dinner was again a two course meal, beginning with a radish salad we brought and fish soup, sapsap in a wonderful lemongrass broth. Ron brought out several small tangerines and an apple, reminding us of the Philippine custom of inviting prosperity in the New Year by displaying round-shaped fruits in the home. We progressed to grilled chicken, manually rotisserie-cooked by Rex and Marcia, and then began watching the first Terminator movie on the laptop. It started to sprinkle, not good for the computer, so decided it was time to head home.

With that we leave you with the following headline: “SMR wish you HNY!”

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