Saturday, June 28
So I was surrounded by growing cocks for a good portion of this afternoon. How’s that for an opening?
The mountains of Bacolod, as it turns out, are breeding grounds for hundred dollar chickens, the ones that rich people own in order to support their cockfighting habits. We drove through them today on the way to King Kong PhotoOp World. That’s where the totally literally true first sentence comes from. So it’s actually completely appropriate, right, Mom?
As a matter of fact, it’s actually much more appropriate than the genus/species jokes we were cracking in the car after I asked what those tall, spindly trees were, and Amanda answered with, “oh, I believe those are known as “philippinus treeus.”
Repeat that a couple of times to yourself and get in my mind frame. Then picture me giggling, drawing out the last two syllables of the first word slowly, and creating a bonding moment- based on wild immaturity- in the car.
Yes, so. We’re in Bacolod now!
I couldn’t write yesterday because I was drowning in the tidal tired that swept across me after a 12-hour day visiting two more schools: Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino High School and Makati Science High, both in metro Manila.
May I interject, please, with a plea that American chorale chiefs corral their US students in the Filipino fashion? At St. Paul’s, the singing brought the trip’s first tears to the eye, and I sort of assumed they were this nationally recognized troupe of girls who were handpicked at birth and raised on diaphragm-specific steroids and soprano powders for the express purpose of entertaining various visiting dignitaries. I did a mental Wayne’s World bow at their director, and left in awe.
But then at both Aquino and Makati Science, we experienced the same thing. Just beautiful, soaring voices from kids who looked like they lived purely to harmonize with an energy that could power the world. It’s what the word “awesome” was invented for. And when Aquino did the Mariah Carey tune with the “do-do-DOO (ow)… do-do-do-do-DO-do- (dow)” I went into a dissociative state of absolute pleasure. Filipino high school choir directors are TalentMongers, Incorporated. And a nice touch at Makati was when the singers presented each of us with a single rose, Miss Kay style- thought of you, Ken!- at their song’s conclusion.
Anyway, the schools themselves were interesting, although my favorite, of course, is always meeting students. In all schools, they were incredibly warm and welcoming, and in each class into which we popped our sweaty American faces, the students interrupted their lesson, turned gracefully toward us, and chanted in unison, “good morning, vee-see-tors. Mabuhay!” It should have seemed robotic but the culture is so genuine that it was heartwarming instead. Further inspiring was the fact that 40-50 kids were packed into a classroom easily the same size as mine, but without the benefit of moderate temperatures and a sound barrier to keep out Manila’s maniacal motor traffic. And if the teacher was sick? No problem. The dozens would complete their seat work both teacher and ruckus free.
I had a bit of a rough time of it, because the majority of my students just don’t have that kind of self-possession and motivation, and is it my fault? People tend to blame a lack of resources on lack of student achievement back home, and there’s certainly data to support that socio-economic status is directly correlated to academic success in the United States. Why, though? Both high schools in Manila were surrounded on all sides with makeshift houses, with corrugated roofs held steady with tires, detritus, debris. Stray dogs slept in cardboard lean-tos and children played barefoot basketball in the streets.
It’s a culture, and it’s a specifically cultivated culture. When I mentioned to a girl who’d kindly come to sit with me because she worried that I was lonely- I was all by myself in a row in the conference room because it was freezing and I only dared go as far from the A/C as one seat behind the current farthest colleague- that everyone had been so generous, she smiled gently and said, “that is how we are. We just want to welcome you here; we are a community and this is our culture.” And it’s true; they understand and value that integral to a community are education and open arms.
I just love that. I love that she’s so aware that her culture is so, I love her investment in it, and I love that that’s all I’ve seen across both Manila and Bacolod. Regardless of circumstance, people value each other, and they work together and they hope.
Hooookay, sappy time’s over. Did you know that teachers have to take a neuropsychological test to teach at Makati Science? Yep, it’s a really good school. Also- to revert back to adolescent mode- teachers are all evaluated on what’s called a Performance Management System… or PMS. Haha!
Probably I would not pass that test.
Anyway, I fell into bed last night without recording all of the above because I was booooone tired, and quite frankly was more interested in reading Bridget Jones’s new book, which I almost didn’t buy because I wanted to look smart in front of the State Department people, but which I’m glad I did because I enjoy laughing hysterically by myself. This morning, though, we checked out of the Shangri-La and four of us headed to our next assignment: Bacolod.
Bacolod City is but a mere island-hop away, and it’s home to Donah, our intimidatingly smart and beautiful host teacher. I am easily twice her size, as evidenced by this picture we took at the baptismal family meal we attended as our first item of business here. Duly note: I ate pig intestines over rice and they were fine.
The journey to Bacolod was fairly uneventful except for the funeral procession we saw as we were heading to the Manila airport, Ninoy Aquino International. (Motto below.)
At funeral processions, you’re supposed to throw coins so nobody follows, although whether that means “follows the body to the grave” or “follows the walking parade nosily to the burial” sort of escaped me. This was because I was fascinated by the mourners, who passed slowly while “How do I live without you?” played ironically in the cab’s radio. And then Donah told me of some other Filipino traditions, like the one that says that if you sing in the kitchen, you’ll marry an old man. For some reason Ed McMahon springs to mind (and hasn’t he already had his procession?) which is worrisome in that I’d rather have Pat Sajak and I sing in the kitchen A LOT.
I just reread this whole thing and have concluded that I’m losing my mind. It’s time to end this. I was going to talk about the chickens more, but
Fitting conclusion: it appears that I’m cockblocking myself.