Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fun with Tagalog

Warning: The following material contains NO “adult content.” It is suitable for children. However, due to the technical nature of the discussion, and the fact that it requires some concentration to fully comprehend, we suggest that if you have a short attention span or no sense of humor, you may want to skip reading this newsletter. Then again, you might learn something. But we doubt it. – The authors

The local dialect is Tagalog. Along with English, it is now the national language. Original Tagalog words, i.e., words that existed before the 300 years of Spanish control, are indecipherable without help. Many Spanish words were added, for example, yelo [YEH-low] (Sp. hielo) for ice, and serbesa [sehr-BEHSS-ah] (Sp. cerveza) for beer. Time is basically told in Spanish, even though Tagalog has its own numbering system, since Filipinos were probably introduced to clocks by the Spanish. In the past 100 years many English terms such as orange juice and seat belt have crept in amongst the Tagalog.

Tagalog is an Austro-Polynesian language, so other regional dialects contain similar words, but there is absolutely no resemblance to English. So, in part, learning Tagalog comes down to knowing when to use a Tagalog word and when to use the Spanish or English word. But you would never guess that tubig [TOO-beeg] is water – unless you recall our story about the “too big” beds – itlog [EET-lohg] is egg, and pakwan [pahk-WAHN] is watermelon. Damo [dah-MOH] is Tagalog for grass, while tanglad [tahng-LAHD] is specifically lemon grass.

Steve has had some fun with this. When people ask him if he has learned Tagalog, he says words like itlogplant, tubigmelon, and lemondamo. One of his favorites is walang alumahan [wah-LAHNG ah-lew-MAH-hahn]. What he is pretending to misspeak is walang anuman [wah-LAHNG ah-new-MAHN] which is a roundabout way of saying “you’re welcome,” literally something closer to “no problem.” Alumahan is a type of popular ocean fish (mackerel, according to our Tagalog dictionary), so he is actually saying “no fish.” Santo alumahan (holy mackerel!)

Any time you’re learning a new language you will run into compound words that just don’t translate. One night Ron had obviously prepared more food than we could eat, so Steve asked Ron the term for leftovers. Ron could not think of the word tira [tee-RAH] so Steve came up with his own words, kaliwa sa itaas, [kah-lee-WAH SAH eet-ah-AHS] literally left (kaliwa), as in left/right, and over or above (sa itaas). This would have thrown Ron for a loop awhile ago, but now he’s starting to think more like Steve, which is a bit frightening. The humor is actually helping us remember more words and phrases. Using this logic, kanan sa itaas [KAH-nahn SAH eet-ah-AHS] would be “right over.” We’ll have to try that one out.

When we were in Makati some months ago we looked for flip-flops for Steve, who has size 14 feet, not an easy task in a country where the average man is less than Marcia’s 5 ft 5 inches. One store called Landmark seemed to offer the best chance, since it stocks literally tens of thousands of flip-flops, which are worn by 99.9999% of Filipinos when not at work, and probably the majority who are working as well. We managed to find a pair of 13’s, barely big enough for Steve’s feet. A young man went in the back room and managed to find 2 more pairs of 13’s and brought them out. While he and Steve were waiting for Marcia to find her own pair, he said to Steve, “Your feet are too big.” Steve replied, “No, that’s water,” (tubig) and the young man got a laugh out of it. Marcia runs into a different issue with the local flip-flops; most Filipinos have wide feet, and she has narrow feet. Flip-flops of the correct length are easy to find, but she has yet to find a pair that are not too ‘floppy’ for her.

Gabi [GAH-bee] is the word for taro, a large-leafed plant whose starchy root can be substituted rather nicely for potatoes in dishes like soup or stew. Gabi [gah-BEE] is the word for night or evening. Magandang gabi [mah-gahn-DAHNG gah-BEE] is equivalent to “good evening” (literally “beautiful evening”). Of course Steve likes to throw a “good taro” in there once in a while just to keep people on their toes. Ron has gotten wise to this, and will say gabi gabi [GAH-bee gah-BEE] for his version of the joke, since gabi gabi, [gah-BEE gah-BEE] literally “night night,” is the way to say “night after night,” or nightly. By the way, we often have a gabi gabi, when we eat taro for dinner in a delicious pork leg soup. Didn’t catch the difference between gabi gabi and gabi gabi? Read the paragraph again!

Similarly, araw araw [AH-rahw AH-rahw] means “day after day,” or daily. Araw is the word for both “sun” and “day,” which makes some sense if you think about it, especially in a place where the sun shines so much of the day. (For much of the year in central Michigan, especially October through March, the word for day and the word for cloudy should maybe be the same.) Steve thinks araw araw should be Tagalog for “Sunday.”

Umaga [ooh-MAH-gah] means morning. One of the hotel staff, whom we have known since we started coming here years ago, is named “Norming.” Now every time that he sees Norming, Steve says, “Magandang ugama” (not umaga), and Norming takes it good naturedly.

One of our favorite Tagalog idioms is tulog manok [too-LOHG mah-NOHK], literally “chicken sleep.” This is used to describe someone who is trying very hard not to fall asleep, such as watching TV when you are tired. You keep nodding off for just a second or two, and then your head jerks back up and you appear to be wide awake, but before you know it you’re nodding off very briefly again, with your head jerking like a chicken’s does when it is walking, hence tulog manok. For sound sleep, the phrase we’ve heard is tulog mantika, to sleep like cooking oil that has thickened from storage in cool temperatures. We actually saw our oil do that here in December and January!

On Wednesday we quietly and privately celebrated our 37th anniversary with a tropical get-away…in our own backyard. A little wine, a gift from Bill and Midge Kirwan, in plastic cups. Not too bad for a couple of 40-year-olds! As they say here: Ha ha ha.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thoughts on THE PACIFIC

Tuesday, February 16, marked the 65th Anniversary of the American assault to retake Corregidor from the Japanese. A small group of us gathered at the Spanish Flagpole on Topside for a 48-star flag-raising to commemorate the event. Following two weeks of fighting, General Douglas MacArthur returned to officially proclaim the island secured. On March 2nd we are hoping for a good crowd to commemorate MacArthur’s return to the Rock with another flag-raising ceremony. If you are local, please consider joining us that day. For more information on the story of the “Rock Force,” go to

Most Americans know little about the War in the Pacific. Asked to name some of the events, most would probably be able to recall something about Pearl Harbor, the battle for Iwo Jima, and that the United States dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For many in the younger generations, such knowledge has come from movies, and as you well know, the vast majority of good World War II movies focus on the fighting and concentration camps in Europe.

In case you haven’t heard, HBO will soon air a ten-part mini-series entitled “THE PACIFIC.” It is considered the Pacific counterpart to the outstanding “Band of Brothers” mini-series which aired years ago and is available on DVD (highly recommended by many). The executive producers for “THE PACIFIC” are Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and Gary Goetzman. It follows three marines as they island hop from Guadalcanal to Cape Gloucester, to Iwo Jima, and finally to Okinawa. The title appears to be a bit misleading, considering that the battle for Guadalcanal did not occur until eight months after Pearl Harbor and three months after the surrender of the Philippines. We are strongly hoping that these facets of the story are covered by flashbacks or other means. Like anything done by Steven Spielberg and/or Tom Hanks, we expect this series to be top notch. Just realize that it covers a much narrower subject field – as far as we know - than its name implies, and you should not be disappointed.

We suggest watching how the Japanese are portrayed throughout the mini-series. That will be telling. Are the soldiers simply following orders, shooting back at the enemy who is trying to kill them? No one can find fault with that; that’s what soldiers are expected to do. Or will there be depictions showing their fanaticism, and the beastly treatment of their prisoners? We’re not just talking about American POWs here. Recall that the Japanese slaughtered millions in China (e.g. the Rape of Nanking) before Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. No matter what you thought of Tears in the Darkness, you’d have to be pretty dense to read that book and not come away realizing what type of enemy the American and Filipino troops faced in battle and as their captors. (There are such readers; see some of the Tears reviews on

We hope that some day Spielberg, Hanks, or someone of their stature tackles the Bataan Death March, the fall of the Philippines, the plight of the POWs – military and civilian – and the liberation of the Philippine Islands, including the Battle of Manila. This element of WW II has never been very well told on film, and most people today are likely to become aware of it only through a movie of the epic proportions and advertising budget of a “Schindler’s List” or “Saving Private Ryan.” It is hard for the former POWs of the Japanese to avoid feeling that they were ignored, first while fighting the Japanese, then while in the prison camps for over three years, next by the post-war government, and finally by the movie industry after the war. How bad was their POW treatment? Steve’s father, who was, like so many others, a POW of the Japanese for over three years, endured daily deliberate humiliation, frequent beatings, constant starvation, little to no medical care, and slave labor. He once said, “I wouldn’t take $1,000,000 to go through that for one day!”

At this time, HBO is considering a showing of “The Making of THE PACIFIC” to media guests here in the Malinta Tunnel in mid-March, before the movie’s Asian release which is set three weeks after its March 14 debut in the United States.

This email came to us recently from a university professor friend, concerning Tears in the Darkness:

I enjoyed your comments on the Norman's book. I do think it is one of the best descriptions of the POW experience, but its fact checking was very faulty. I stopped counting errors in the Oryoku Maru section at 35. (Admittedly, most were minor.) My biggest beef was their putting Zero Ward at Camp O'Donnell. Zero Ward was at Cabanatuan. There was a somewhat comparable, "St Peter's Ward", at O'Donnell, but it, and the O'Donnell "hospital" were run very differently from that at Cabanatuan. Confusing the two meant the Normans mixed stories about deaths at the two camps.
Around the same time as this email arrived, Steve had a discussion with a visiting doctor about Tears in the Darkness. The guest commented that he was aware of a new book out concerning the Bataan Death March. When Steve told him that it was both one of the best and one of the most disappointing books he had ever read on the subject, the man asked why. Steve then told him about the great descriptions contained within the book, but also discussed the apparent carelessness regarding fact checking, and that no corrections were made prior to publishing in paperback.

The doctor’s daughter currently attends the Journalism School at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. When Steve told him that co-author Michael Norman taught journalism at New York University, the doctor was incredulous. He said that his daughter’s journalism professor gives overnight three-page writing assignments, and if he finds a single error – spelling, punctuation, grammatical, or factual – the paper is given an automatic F- grade. Given that the best-selling book was 10 years in researching and writing, and that the authors credit assistance from hundreds of experts listed in the back of the book, it makes one wonder how an NYU journalism professor and his wife, already an accomplished author and NYU professor of humanities, would be willing to sign their names to a book with so many significant problems.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Harris Tour

On Tuesday Betsy Harris, her nephew Scott, and his wife Melba came to Corregidor for the first of three days with us. Steve was assigned as their Corregidor tour guide, so he was waiting to meet them on his tour bus. When everyone appeared to be aboard, Steve said, “Hi. I bet you didn’t expect to have an American tour guide today.” Many of the guests, including some from Wales and Poland, nodded. Then Steve said, “I’m a bit of a psychic. Is there anyone by the name of ‘Harris’ aboard?” A couple in the front row raised their hands. Since Steve did not yet know Scott’s name, he asked the man for his name. Then he turned to the wife and asked, “And you are Betsy?” The lady nodded yes. Steve asked them, “Where’s Melba?” They both looked confused and said, “We don’t know any Melba.” All of a sudden Steve was real confused. Something was terribly wrong. How could this be the Harris’s without Melba? It was then that Steve realized that his “joke” had backfired. These people were indeed named Harris, but not the ones he was expecting!

It turns out that Betsy, Scott, and Melba decided to use the CR (Filipino for comfort room, or what we Americans call a restroom) just as the other guests were getting off the ferry, so they were still on the ferry while all of this was going on. After getting a couple of rows of people to ‘skootch’ over to make room, they got on the bus and we were on our way to tour the Rock.

Betsy’s father was one of the Yangtze River Boat captains. His boat was the smallest of them, the Guam. (The movie, “The Sand Pebbles” features one of these boats, the San Pablo. They have an interesting story, but we will let those who are curious do their own investigating.) Her father sailed to the Philippines on the Luzon and was one of the POWs captured on Corregidor. He died at Cabanatuan on September 1, 1942. Since Betsy was born in 1939, she cannot remember her father. She says that he can be seen in a picture inside Malinta Tunnel which includes MacArthur and other men. Her cousin (her father’s nephew) Bill Harris was also on the Rock. He escaped with Ed Whitcomb, one-time governor of Indiana and the author of “Escape from Corregidor.” The two had a disagreed whether it was best to travel by day or by night to avoid the Japanese, and went their separate ways. Ed was able to evade the Japanese, but Bill was captured and spent the rest of the war in prison camps. He continued his military career after being liberated, and died a few years later while leading a charge up a hill in Korea.

On Wednesday the five of us took a banca to Bataan and drove along the first section of the Death March route. After visiting such places as Mount Samat and the Balanga Elementary School, site of the General King surrender, we spent the night at Subic Bay. While we were checking into the Subic International Hotel, Steve had a little fun with Tagalog. They asked us if we wanted “two big beds.” Steve said quietly, “Water beds.” Melba, a Filipina who thus speaks Tagalog, heard Steve and said to the receptionist, “Steve likes waterbeds.” Steve gave Melba a quizzical look, the receptionist repeated, “We have a room with two big beds,” and Steve mumbled, “Waterbeds.” The receptionist said, “No, we don’t have waterbeds, we have two big beds.” Steve looked at Melba like, “Don’t you get this?” After thinking about it for a few seconds, Melba realized the joke. Tubig is the Tagalog word for water.

The main objective on our final day together was the site where Betsy’s father had died, the prison camp near Cabanatuan City. There were actually three camps, called simply “One, Two and Three”. Camp Two was closed after one day, since it had no water supply. Camp Three was open for several months before its prisoners were relocated, joining those at Camp One. Betsy could not remember if her father died at Camp One, site of the Cabanatuan Monument, identified by the concrete footings of the water tank, or at Three, of which no identifying traces remain. In any case, the name of Lt Cmdr Andrew E Harris is clearly visible on the wall of the dead.

Following our return to Manila, Betsy heads off to spend a couple of days seeing the Banaue Rice Terraces and historical sights in and near Baguio. Scott and Melba are going to spend the time relaxing in the island paradise of Boracay.

On another topic, this came to us from Chris, whose uncle is buried in the American Cemetery in Manila, and whose father fought in many of the Pacific battles:

Be sure to tell your visitors about Honor Flight which flies WWII vets free to visit the WWII monument in DC. We took Dad in November and it was wonderful and so moving to see all these Vets together and treated royally. Each Vet is provided a guardian for the day. has all the info. It is a wonderful program.

What a tremendous program, indeed! Marcia’s Uncle John retired from the U. S. Air Force after a career as a pilot. His service included the WW II years. John told us about Honor Flight a year or two ago, shortly after the organization enabled many veterans to attend the WWII Monument inauguration ceremonies. We hope that many of the surviving vets will be able to make the pilgrimage. If you know of a veteran who has never been to the memorial, this program can make it happen.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

We follow the spiders

We had several reader responses about our mystery insect. Here are comments from them. We are leaving them mostly untouched, so please forgive the ‘email casual’ format, typos, and imperfections.

From Kyle, about the “critter,” and a very interesting aside about Fort Drum:

Hi steve, Me and my uncle went on the tour with you last month and truly enjoyed it. And yes me and him always do read your weekly newsletters. its the first time ill be responding because of 2 things, first the insect that you have on there looks to be related to if not the same as the african cave spider. I saw it on some discovery channel show once and the guy had to eat it.

Second is that I realized that fort drum was used as a video game map in a game i play alot, Call Of Duty in their 5th installment, World at War as a map called Battery. I immediately hopped on in the game and explored what fort drum looked like, and from images from the interwar periods did look very much the same, except it had an extra turret. Thanks very much for this newsletter, and i was wondering if you have any images of fort drum that you took yourself? that would be great to know. Thanks very much and hope i got the spider right!

How about that, all you “Call of Duty” players? We wonder if anyone else made this connection. And we did confirm that “our” creatures are close relatives of the African cave spider. It does NOT sound like a good dinner choice! Thanks again, Kyle.

More on the creature: this great reply from Philip:

First I thought that your mystery "bug" looked vaguely like a type of Arachnid native to the American South (where I was born and raised -- in Arkansas) named "Whipscorpions" or "Vinegaroons" (Order Thelyphonida/Uropygida), but they have big long tails (hence one of their common names), and a generally more leathery appearance. Your critter looked almost like some cross between a Whipscorpion and a "Daddy-Longlegs" (Opiliones). Anyway, my initial hunch was of some help, because after a bit of snooping around on the Internet this morning, I see that there's a related Arachnid Order, Amblypygi, called "Tailless Whipscorpions" or "Cave Spiders," and that must surely be what you found. Open this Wikipedia entry and see if you don't agree: Although I now make my living as a diplomat, I'm originally a botanist and biologist by training, so these things interest me.

And more, from Kathleen:

It is a tailless whipscorpion. go to and see some more of them.

And this from Eli:

Our local name for it is 'gagambang hari' or literally, 'king spider' so named because of its size but never for its ferocity. During our younger days when we hunted for spiders as a form of kid games, 'gagambang hari' and its bigger relatives, never displayed aggressiveness even towards its smaller opponents during 'combat' on coconut leaf rib but were no doubt helpful in trapping some mosquitoes and flies in its web.
We’re not sure that Eli’s spider is the same type, since the ones we’ve seen live in tunnel or cave environments, but admit our ignorance on the matter. This may also be an outdoor ‘cousin.’

We send special thanks to Philip and Kathleen, both of whom nailed it and supplied the links, to Kyle, and to Eli for local color. From the website references, we now know that the mother carries her young on her back, and eats any baby who falls off. Just in case you thought your mother was strict! By happy accident, Marcia actually got a picture of a mother with babies “on board.” Hold on tight, kids! We didn’t even see the babies until we downloaded the photo onto Steve’s laptop…mom was so skittish that Marcia could not get the camera very close, and had no desire to get her eyes any closer! A good time for our camera with macro setting and sharp auto-focus.

On Monday, Steve guided for Sascha Jean Weinzheimer Jansen’s Return to the Philippines Tour. We wrote about Sascha last year - you can read about it at
New readers might enjoy the story of Roger Schade, who tried to return a library book that was 70 years overdue!

There were a half dozen or so in this year’s group who were returning to commemorate their February 3, 1945 release from the Sto. Tomas (Saint Thomas) University internment camp. This is another of the 65th anniversary commemorations taking place this year, ending with the signing of Japan’s formal surrender aboard the Battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2.

One of the members of Sascha’s group had been born in Sto. Tomas. Several were old enough to remember living there. One, Sally Morgan, was born in China and was 11 when she was rounded up with her family. She has been very active with the American Ex-Prisoners of War, being its current Quartermaster and National Secretary. She posed for a photo with Steve at Battery Way.

Groundhog Day was exciting here, not because we are going to have six more weeks of the same gorgeous weather, but because Steve had a little incident with the jeep. Early in the morning, he’d sent an order with a bancero to buy 40 liters of diesel fuel and a few vegetables for us. At noon he texted the bancero to ask if the items were here, and was told “yes.” However, yes meant that the bancero didn’t fully understand the question – our stuff was still in Bataan – so Steve went to start the jeep to drive back up to the house for lunch, and the electrical system was dead. Fortunately, Michael drove by and offered to help. Eventually he traced the problem to somewhere other than under the hood. Then Budoy came along and the two were able to find that the wiring behind the amp meter was the problem. They rewired, and Steve was on his way. By then the bancero was back with our order. Once, during the ride up the hill, the jeep seemed to go dead for a second, which told Steve that there might still be a problem. Also, the fan belt was squealing so loudly that he decided to ask Michael to tighten it after lunch.

Steve dropped off the order, ate a quick lunch, grabbed a water bottle, and headed back down the hill. On his return trip, the belt was quiet and everything seemed okay…until he got within 100 feet of the level road at Middleside. All of a sudden, he heard electrical crackling, and the jeep died and rolled forward a few more feet. Then the amp meter caught fire. Staying perfectly calm?!?!?!?, he grabbed the water bottle and put out the fire. He had no choice but to leave the jeep exactly where it was, since it was on a steep incline 50 feet below the Middleside Road. After talking with Michael and Budoy, and explaining the fire, which sent them both into hysterics, they explained that all he needed was a new amp meter and everything would be fine.

The next morning, the bancero brought the part, which cost about two dollars – two more for pickup and delivery charges – Michael and Budoy replaced the part, and the jeep is “as good as old” again. In fact, it seems to start and run better than ever.

Yesterday Steve guided for 22 fourth-year students and their advisor from the Medical College of Wisconsin. They are spending some time at the Philippine General Hospital, under the University of the Philippines in Manila. Steve had lots of fun talking with students who knew where Virginia, Minnesota is, and also Superior, Wisconsin, where we lived for three years. One student even knew of our niece Angie Keseley from her hockey days at the University of Wisconsin. Another student wore a Michigan State University baseball cap, and the advisor had spent 15 years at MSU.

As you can see, Corregidor’s tourist season is now blossoming, and we’re enjoying the guests and the weather.