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!”

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas
Happy New Year
Steve and Marcia on the Rock

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The confession; Chistmas party

Kathy S. was Steve’s last manager as an employee at the State of Michigan. Recently Kathy sent us an email saying that she is retiring before the end of the year. This sparked Steve’s memories of the three years he worked for Kathy, and in particular, one incident which he has shared with no one except Marcia.

When he first worked for Kathy, Steve’s job was installing new servers at the three Lansing-area computer centers. They would arrive in large boxes from Dell and HP. He would unbox them, place them into preassigned racks, and hook up all of the wiring necessary to prepare them for the computer techs who loaded the software and put them online. The majority of the installations were done at one site, so Steve was given a computer and space to more-or-less set up an office in a room across the hall from his delivery storage room.

To understand “the rest of the story,” it will help to have some background. At the time we were very familiar with the Jerry Seinfeld Show. We’d seen the reruns often enough that, when talking with other Seinfeld fans, we could make one another laugh simply by mentioning an incident from one of the episodes, such as “calzones,” “serenity now,” or “toothbrush in the toilet.” Some of you readers know exactly what we’re talking about.

There was one particular episode in which Jerry had a man install new cabinets in his apartment. As it turned out, Jerry hated them and had them ripped out. However, George Costanza was inspired to have the handyman come to his office in Yankee stadium, where he was an executive – that in itself is laughable if you know George – and he had the man build a bed underneath (basically into) his desk. George spent his days sleeping right in his own office, and whenever anyone came to the office and didn’t find him there, would assumed he was hard at work someplace else. Eventually George was discovered in his hideout by the grandchildren of Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, but the kids kept their mouths shut and he did not get caught.

One day, after seeing this episode, Steve was in his tiny converted storeroom “office” and the thought occurred to him: would it be possible to set up a sleeping area right there? He was sitting at a desk like those that have become so popular, the ones where modular walls and cabinets and drawers and desks are set up in huge office spaces, creating mazes of virtually identical boring cubicles. However, in Steve’s case he had just enough pieces to hold up a desk with a cabinet above it, but not enough for an actual cubicle. To the left as he sat at the desk was the door, and beyond that another desk, also of modular design. The space under the second desk was empty except for the carpet. Because of all the trash created each time computer servers were unboxed, a large rolling trash box was also kept in the room. It was as tall as the desktop and slightly shorter.

So the idea hit him: if I could get under the desk and manage to pull the box up next to myself, I would have a perfect little hiding place. Now before we go any further, Steve just wants to assure Kathy and his fellow State workers that he had no intention of actually using this as a place to shirk his duties and take naps, but he just had to see if it would work – must have been that voice in everyone’s head that says, “Go ahead, see if you can do it.” So that’s what he did. It was winter, so Steve was wearing his cowboy boots and had his winter coat with him. He kept his boots on, since if someone came in and saw them ‘unoccupied’ he would know Steve must be very nearby. He took the coat, rolled it into a pillow, and crawled under the desk. He was able to roll the trash bin into place, and for a couple of minutes he lay there in semi-darkness just kind of laughing to himself, thinking that indeed this might work.

Moments later, just as he was about to get up, Steve heard Joe C., the computer room manager. Joe was talking in his usual loud voice, and he was obviously with someone. Steve could hear him say, “We’ll get Steve to help you.” Steve froze, thinking, “Oh, crap, now what?” Sure enough the door opened – Joe was one of the very few who had a key – and in walked Joe with someone whose voice Steve did not recognize. He thought, “What am I going to do if they spot me under the desk?” The box was a good foot shorter than the desk space, so his cowboy boots were visible past the end of the box. He couldn’t curl himself more tightly because any movement might have given him away. Fortunately his boots were against the far wall and Joe had no reason to go that far into the room. Steve could actually see Joe through a slit between the desk and the box. Steve held his breath as Joe said, “I just can’t understand it, Steve is usually here.” Then they left the room to look for him elsewhere in the data center. Steve quickly scrambled up, went quietly out of the room, and walked in the opposite direction from the one which they had taken, managing to soon be found by Joe and companion.

As you can imagine, Steve never again crawled under that desk. But it still makes him smile to think of himself hiding under there, hoping that Joe would not spot him, and wondering what he would have said if Joe had.

At least here on Corregidor, if Steve needs to hide from Marcia there are hundreds of caves where she’d never find him…but who knows what else might be hiding there?

We wish Kathy S. a very happy time in retirement, and hope that we can visit with her and some of the gang next summer. Our best wishes also to Al S., Steve’s good friend and co-worker, who also recently took advantage of a State of Michigan early-retirement offer.

In answer to last week’s question of how a beam of sunlight that passes through a round hole could project an apple-shape, two of our readers got the right answer. The wall on which the light fell is not smooth, but seamed and curved. If you look at the enclosed picture, “Parachute Dome,” you can see the exterior ribbing on the dome. Indented seams on the inside correspond with these ribs. Looking at the interior, each panel has a recessed spine which splits into curves going right and left at its lower portion. Thus the light has to travel further into the spine, and this causes the apple-shaped distortion in “Sunspot one.” In “Sunspot two” the sunlight is centered near one of the indented seams, so the sunspot shape is elongated at the top as it covers the curves of the two panels, resembling a shield in shape. So far, no one has proposed a better word for the projected sunlight which we called a sunspot.

Finally, last night was the annual all-island Christmas party. School is out, so many of the staff-members’ children are here. A good time was had by all, with plenty to eat and drink as well as games, music, and dancing, with some dances led by a professional instructor from Metro-Manila who came with our friend Beth. We’ve included a few pictures from the festivities.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

More exploring and tour guiding

Last Sunday Julia Holz, about whom we wrote in our last newsletter, returned with her friend Jill for one last 2010 trek on Corregidor. We had met Jill briefly last year, and she is another Corregidor hiker of many years’ experience. Since they planned to walk a familiar section of trail, one we had never explored, they invited us to join them. The plan was to walk the path which starts just before the War Memorial Zone archway and heads around the southern end of the “head” of the island. Since they were not planning to stay overnight, the decision about which upcoming fork in the road to take would be determined by our progress.

They wanted to start their day with a pancake breakfast, so we met Julia and Jill at the Corregidor Inn at 10:30. That left us more than three hours to hike, plenty on a warm, very humid day in early December. At first the trail was through an area of heavy vines that remotely resemble kudzu. This type of vine is taking over parts of the island, climbing up into nearby trees and completely draping some places. Since we were on the south side of the island, wherever the trail was open to sun it was overgrown with vines, tall grass, or small trees, but in shaded spots there was almost no growth at ground level. Just past an old pump house, we had to very carefully climb down from an old bridge and up the other side of a ravine. It took some hacking with the bolo to once again find the trail. Then we had mostly clear sailing along an old trail that had been cut into the side of the steep hill. Quite often pre-war sidewalk was partially visible.

We went past a trail that led down toward several of the old searchlight positions. Maybe someday when we are again looking for adventure we will try to see if it is possible to follow it. Eventually we came to a sharp turn back up the hill. When we got to the fork in the trail that would either take us to Battery Ramsey or Battery Geary, we decided to take the shorter path to Ramsey. Soon we ran into a massive growth of bamboo. We were not exactly sure where the trail was, all traces having been obscured. Steve hacked at the bamboo for a while, got completely tuckered out, and decided to try to crawl through it instead. After working his way maybe 50 feet, he still couldn’t pick up the trail. In the meantime, the ladies were all trying to find an alternate way through or around the bamboo thicket.

Steve crawled back out – but not before taking one wrong turn and getting really entangled. At this point we decided to try the trail up toward Geary. We walked a few hundred feet and gave up, having encountered another area of heavy overgrowth. We decided that we had best turn around and retrace our original path to make sure that Julia and Jill could make it back on time for the ferry. Since they were under time constraint and we were not, and since Steve was pretty exhausted from all the bolo work, Julia and Jill went on ahead while we took our time. It was frustrating. We knew that we had been close to picking up the trail, from which point we would have had a relatively short, uphill walk to Battery Ramsey, which is only across Middleside Parade Ground from our house.

Soon Julia and Jill were beyond hearing range, and the two of us meandered along the trail. We were happy to hear that they’d gotten back with enough time to shower before getting onto the boat. By the time we reached Bottomside, drenched in sweat, the ferry was preparing to pull away from the dock. We stopped at Mac’s Café for a late lunch/early dinner, especially enjoying some cold Coca Cola. In spite of the frustration, it was an enjoyable day, good time spent with friends, an introduction to a new-to-us section of trail, and well-earned rest at the end.

On Tuesday Steve led an alumni tour for the 1956 class of Ateneo High School, at that time a boy’s college-prep school in Manila. Our friend Ray Ong was a member of that class. He said that class-members gather as often as four times a year, sometimes in the Philippines and other times in the States. A total of eight classmates came for the tour, as did one spouse.

Then on Wednesday Steve guided for recently commissioned 2nd Lieutenants from the Philippine Marines. We included a few pictures taken during their tour. He really enjoys guiding for groups like the Ateneo alums and the Marines who have a special interest and appreciate his love of the war-time history.

While at topside during a recent tour, Steve was showing how the sun casts a sunspot – just what is the opposite of a sun shadow, anyway? – through the opening at the top of the parachute dome. (The word for such an opening at the top of a dome is “oculus” for those of you who, like we do, enjoy unusual words.) He was telling the guests that the dome is designed for the sunspot to fully illuminate the surface of the circular altar beneath the dome at noon on May 6 every year to commemorate the anniversary of the Fall of Corregidor. Usually when you are under the dome on a sunny day you can see the spot somewhere. The hole is circular, and the sunspot on the ground is oval in shape except when the sun is directly overhead. But on this day and time, the spot was higher, on the parachute structure itself. To Steve’s amazement it was neither circular nor oval, but shaped like an apple, so he photographed it with his phone and the picture is included here as an attachment. It took a minute for the group to figure out why the spot had such an unusual shape. There is a logical explanation. Can you guess what it is?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Corregidor's Number One female explorer

This past weekend, Julia Holz stopped at our house one afternoon to ask us about the conditions of some of the longer trails. After talking to her for a few minutes, we came to realize that Julia quite possibly knows the out-of-the-way trails of Corregidor better than any other woman in the world. She says that she has been to the island about 100 times, and is almost always off the beaten path. Julia had just walked from Battery Smith to Battery Way, and told us that along the way she had lost her snipping shears. We have found that in many instances shears are more effective, easier to carry, and definitely safer, than bolos for clearing paths along known trails. She had mentioned her lost shears to the island staffer at Battery Way, hoping that he might have time to back-trace her route and find the shears. We made plans to meet the next morning to walk to a couple tunnels and the command post, all near Battery Wheeler.

Julia’s plans changed a little overnight, after she decided to do the sunrise activities led by the Corregidor Inn staff. When she arrived at our house, she asked what we thought about retracing her trek from the previous day to look for the shears. Since we had intended to walk that trail soon in any case, we gladly accompanied Julia. We walked from our house to Battery Way, then began the long descent from there to the fork which leads to Smith in one direction and James Ravine in the other. We were glad to find that the trail is in pretty good shape, although there are a few trees which block the trail as a result of recent typhoons. When we got to the fork, we continued on towards Smith. Julia had only been using the shears when absolutely necessary, and it had fallen through a hole in her plastic bag.

As Julia began thinking we must be beyond the point where the shears had dropped, we came to a rattan patch that she had apparently pushed aside with her hiking stick the previous day. About 20 feet beyond it Marcia spotted the shears lying smack dab in the middle of the trail. If Julia had only decided to cut through that rattan patch she would have missed her shears and gone back for them. In any case, she was thrilled to recover them.

We then had three choices for our return. The longest was to go on to Smith. We decided to turn around and to try the path to James Ravine instead of going back to Battery Way. We were glad we did. We discovered that this trail is in good shape except for two things: wherever bamboo is growing it is reclaiming the trail, and a rockslide has buried one short section, requiring careful navigation through the rocks to avoid falling or sliding down the hill. But after that it was fine, and we finished by climbing out of James Ravine and taking the old road back to our house. Julia joined us at Mac’s Café to rest while we had lunch before her return to Manila.

On Tuesday we went to the Corregidor Inn to meet Lynn LaFever for the third year in a row. As we reported in our newsletters the past two Decembers, Lynn comes every year to bring Christmas presents to the children – and now, grandchildren – of island workers. We arrived during the distribution of gifts and were unprepared to take pictures, so we made do with a cell phone camera. We apologize for the poor picture quality. In one of the photos you can see Bing, one of the hotel waiters, receiving gifts for his children from Lynn. On another, you can see Lynn with Vicky.

Vicky was the last elementary school teacher on the island. She came straight from college to teaching here. Corregidor was the very first place that an American school was established in the Philippines, shortly after Admiral George Dewey won the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898. When Vicky started the school in 1985 most of the children here had no schooling. So she was teaching 6 to 12-year-olds their first lessons in a literal “one room school house.” Vicky says that at first it was very difficult. The older children were mostly undisciplined and knew absolutely nothing about most of the subject matters. Initially classes were held in the old Corregidor Inn, then moved to the recreation building at Bottomside, then to a very small building at the stockade level (which is between Bottomside and Middleside) and finally to a larger building nearby, which most recently was operated as the “Sea Calm Inn.”

Beginning in 1997, a second teacher was hired for grades 1-3, and Vicky continued teaching grades 4-6. In 2002 an executive decision was made to close the school, and the order went out that all school-age children must attend mainland schools. The children were completing sixth-grade educations on the island, but very few had gone on to graduate from high school. So to this day, island workers with children must have them enrolled in school, which is hard on the families but absolutely essential to the children’s future prospects. Vicky says that several of her students did very well at schools on the mainland, and we know that some have gone on to college. Our helper, Roy, was one of her students and is a high school graduate. Vicky remains on the island, working as an administrative secretary for the Corregidor Foundation, Inc.

With sadness we bid adieu to the men of Unicorn Security who have served well on Corregidor for the past eight years. Their commander, Dion Montenegro, always has the most wonderful smile. The new contract has been awarded to Ground Zero Security, and we trust that they will become friends as well. Dion and the other guards will be missed. Good luck to the Unicorn guys in the future.