It is said that a man in his life should accomplish three things,“ he should produce a son, plant a tree and write a book.” I produced a son called Bali 18 years ago, planted a cherry blossom tree as a celebration of marriage 20 years ago, and hope to publish a book within the next couple of months on the Philippines. I believe there is one other thing a person should do passionately, and that is travel. The best education you can have is to travel far and wide. After all education is not about filling a bucket, but about lighting a fire. I yearn to travel more, for as far as we know, we only have one life in which to see what there is in this world. I admire and envy Buddhists, for they are smart enough to believe in reincarnation, and can get other chances to explore the realms of the earth on other occasions. I admire the Balinese, for they are Hindus, and believe that heaven is like Bali. This allows them to live in heaven each day o f their earthly life. I admire the Tibetans, for they inhabit the roof of the world and in their presence you feel you are amongst a proud and knowledgeable people They are a people who are atone with nature and their harsh environment. I admire the Zulus in South Africa, and felt honoured to be in their presence, for they too emit an aura of hereditary power and powerful pride. Their warrior history is a remarkable tale. In South America I felt the shame of the destruction of the Inca nation, but was lucky enough to walk on their ingeniously built roads through the Andes mountains. In Singapore and Hong Kong I saw what can be achieved through foundations laid by a powerful colonial presence.
In Thailand it is the depth of culture that impresses you, with their magnificent temples everywhere to remind you of the power of unity, for they are the only nation never to be conquered by a foreign power in the whole of Asia. You have to admire them for that. What of the Spanish in the Philippines? I have always been amazed at the amount of Spanishness in the place. Chabacano is a language based on Spanish, and is recognised as a dialect spoken in parts of Mindanao. Spanish buildings are easy to find alongside the Catholicism throughout the islands. What about the Americans in these islands? I have always been surprised at the total lack of infrastructure in the place. What on earth did the Americans do for a hundred years besides pour concrete for their own purposes? They left behind a unique brand of English and an educational system which allows the Filipinos to integrate into the wider world, where English is the main commercial language. In Europe there is a saying that “Italian is for arguing, French is for your Women, English is for commerce, and German is for your slaves.”
In Vietnam they used to say “live in a French house, eat Chinese food and take a Japanese wife.” In the Philippines what could they say? “Live in Palawan, eat in Manila, and forget about the rest of life while lying on the beach in any of a thousand resorts.”On the language front they could say “English is for commerce, Tagalog is for your women, dialect is for arguing and Spanish is from your slavers.” That still leaves the Americans out in the cold. It is their military might and their innate belief that they are the keepers of ‘world justice’ that is their modern strength. A few advisers here, a casual troop movement there, a safety paranoia everywhere. I ’m surprised that Americans travel at all, because they are obsessed with security, and believe in their own vulnerability by seeing a bandit on every street corner. If you are not for them they believe you must be against them. The friendly but vulgar cry of “hey Joe!” is a constant reminder to all travellers that we are all Americans in the eyes of the masses. It is like being branded a burger-eater, a monster from the centre of the universe, a chewing-gum and candy man from the heart of Wealthland. As a non-american it makes me think of the quote from a past French President who said something along the lines of “America is the only country to have gone from barbarism to chaos without the usual intervening phase of civilization.” It’s all jealousy in the end! Along the road to Baguio and along the uphill winding road to Banaue there are the rows of woodcarving yards with the large American Eagles, and the North American Red Indian chiefs with their feathered caps, as the dominant characters. Pure Americanisation at its most obvious. Where are the rich vestures of Philippine culture, and the figures of Filipino folk law and heroes? Where is the wood carvers reflection of his rich rural environment? The mountain people managed to avoid most of the American infiltration in these islands, and have kept their culture most intact even today. The market in Baguio is a feast for the eyes and a third eye into the realms of a proud mountain culture. Magnificent textiles hang in vivid colours and patterns, dark native woodcarvings of figurines stand awkwardly on wooden chests, raw looking pigs from the farmyard snort silently from across the store.
Lizard feet on basketwork move gracefully along imagined vertical white walls of homes. All o f these intrigue the onlooker in a wonderment of creativity. In the far north of the Cordillera mountains in north Luzon, the mountain people are left to their own devices . They are pretty well a law unto themselves and live their lives of old. Cocooned and silk-like, but surrounded by a wilted world of modernisation. Tattooed bodies, and ancient women who still practice the art of tattooing with ancient methods and natural tools and dyes. The Philippines is such a rich tapestry of contrasts. It only takes some planning, a moment of time, a vivid imagination and a free spirit, and the adventure begins!
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