Friday, May 30, 2003

No Tarzan, but me Jane

We drive up the road to Tarzan's Nest Resort. The sign on the main road says there's a restaurant and Blues and Jazz music. Our eyes remain alert and open to what the locals seems to deem as "bastos," or vulgar (a loose translation).

There is a wooden fence like three spider webs, made of scrap wood. In the front is a grass patio with a wooden rocking chair well worn from sun and rain, plastic patio chairs. We enter the single story building on the left, it's window is lined with clear bottles filled with colored water, the chimes announce our presence at the door. I look to Norma to identify Ros, but she first greets Maria Morales, a writer from Davao also visiting. The personal circles in Mindanao are small. I'm beginning to understand this.

Then we meet Ros. She has a radiance about her. Later I will understand this to be a part of her spit-fire energy, she rotates faster than the earth. The walls here are painted with a sunflower mural, even the shower and bathroom stalls. Amongst the flowers is a picture of the Disney version of Tarzan. There is so much to look at. The slabs of wood integrated into the concrete floor. The furniture that looks like it too is made of the found wood scraps like the fence. There is a raised bamboo platform, also adorned with sunflowers and cushioned with pillows (a bed of sunflowers). There is a light covered by a cloth tent with the faces of some of the greatest guitar players around: BB King, Clapton, Santana. We are in awe. It is like a playland in here. Ros goes behind the reception counter just to the right of the door as we enter. She flips up part of the counter, the edge is jigsawed in the shape of a penis with the corresponding vagina. This must be what the locals are talking about.

Other folks from the wedding are there, the Oxfam group. It is indeed a small circle here. Ros asks us if we'd like to take a tour. Everyone's eyes light up. It's the treehouse you just want to explore. First there are a few backpacker rooms, like mini-lofts just above us. There is no glass in the windows, merely screen mesh with grass thatch covers that can be propped open.

Next she brings us to the next building. First the downstairs: a room, a bathroom, the same unique wood furniture, mosaic tiles, another Disney Tarzan. Beyond this room is the swimming pool, currently empty, but Ros says if a large group were coming in, she would fill it, but leaving it idle, was just too much work. It is a simple shape, long and narrow in the center with two round pools at the base. It's not raunchy vulgar. Actually, a few visitors didn't even notice its shape. I actually find it quite poetic. Imagine, you, swimming in a pool the shape of a penis. My thoughts wander to notions of creation and creativity, the idea of implanting onself. We often consider the womb instinctively, but what of the spark? The drama that plays out of millions of sperm and only one possibly succeeding. The determination to create. The site of the pool in this context didn't have the machismo sexual dominance that I would have expected. In this context, it's simply part of the natural process.

Next we head upstairs. There are three floors to this section of the building. The tree itself grows through the middle. On the second level there are a few rooms, another bathroom. Our eyes are drawn to the unusual angles the scrap wood takes, the artwork that seems to be in every corner. The female baul that greets us on a door. We climb up the spiral metal staircase to the next floor. This opens up to a kind of living room, completely open to the air on two sides. This floor has a bathroom and full kitchen, with an adjacent living space. Ros says she can house about 50 people here. 800 Pesos (about $16 a night) for the entire floor. There is a view of trees and the nearby ocean. In the adjacent living area, there are raised bamboo platforms with some drapes. It feels like the sleeping car on a train. There is ladder to go up to more loft sleeping space. Above this is a small platform with a bench, with a 360 view of the area around. Ros tells us this is one of the few areas that get text reception. I think about coming up here to write in the morning.

There are a few guests here. But they're leaving tonight. Ben, a backpacker, who was actually lost, then came upon this place. Michelle from Cebu and a Swiss guy, who are here doing meditation. He is a Filipino martial arts champion from Cebu. It must be the WEKAF competition. We speak a bit about our respective styles. Ros suggests maybe a demo from each of us after lunch.

Lunch is chicken and vegetable curry, piled high with rice on each of our plates. It's enough food for two people, even three people. It's delicious! Next bowls of pako/young wild fern tips (?) and seaweed that looks like tiny bunches of grapes. The seaweed pops with flavor in your mouth. We can't get enough of the food. We finish eating our plates, but want to eat more even though we're full. It's an excellent meal. Instead of feeling slow an lumbering, meals should also make us feel rejuvenated. Ros is vegetarian, so most of the food served there is vegetarian.

Though most Filipinos are familiar with all the meat dishes: lechon, dinuguan, kaldereta. There is a vast repetoire of vegetarian dishes here as well: monggo, pinakbet, ginataang banana hearts, and so forth. Plus, there are so many rich vegetables and fruits and of course coconuts that a vegetarian could get fat on.

Ros explains to me the class that's been set up. A letter was sent out by the mayor's office to the local baranggay tanods. The tanods are chosen leaders in the baranggay to settle disputes and fights in the baranggay. The class starts Monday/tomorrow, three hours every afternoon until Friday. She shows me a bag of rattan sticks she was able to get made and asks if these are sufficient. It looks good.

I'm in awe. It's a strange feeling. Me, this Filipino American coming here to teach Filipinos about a Filipino martial art based in a language they speak and I do not. There's some fear. Who am I to do this? I put this aside for now. My mind must gear up for this class. What should I teach them? What do I want them to learn after 5 days?

All of us begin to talk about violence and power, the abuse of knowledge. The techniques I teach will hurt someone, will kill someone. How do I know these people won't abuse this power? It's an important topic to discuss. Violence and the abuse of power is a common topic, especially in Mindanao, where military forces (US and Philippine) are a constant presence. Many of the people I am with lived through the Martial Law years, some of them left the country for safety reasons, most all of them know of someone who has felt the abuse of power, some of them first hand.

I've come to learn that in my training, in order to be good at Kali, I have to find peace. I have tried to go out and do Kali when I was angry and it never works, the anger doesn't stay, unlike putting on a pair of gloves and hitting a bag. When the kali is good, there is a sense of calm. I must believe in the people who learn from me. I must believe in their goodness.

They ask me about its history. I tell them as much as I can as much as I understand history to be. I tell them of my great grandfather, the arnis master and abolario/healer. I tell them of the blind Princess Josephine. I tell them of the synergy between destruction and creation. I tell them what I know and what I don't know.

People abroad come here to the Philippines looking for masters to train with. To seek out the "authentic" art, the truth. But I do not know what is "authentic" culture anymore. Are the malls authentic culture? I live in America and learn arts of ancient origin: kali, kulintang that many Filipinos have never seen nor heard of. What does that mean? Is authenticity about physical location? or is kali and kulintang now a Filipino American tradition? I don't know. My head is spinning. Maybe I should just demonstrate the Kali and have them judge for themselves.

We go out to the front lawn. Ros and Maria bring some drums. It will be good to have music. I pick out one of the sticks from the bag. I walk my circle on the ground, enter it, say a prayer and begin my Halad/Offering. I ask for guidance. I ask for faith. there is a large acasia tree covered with a vine with large green leaves. I feel the grass, I see blurs of figures, I hear the drums. The tree shivers yet I feel no wind. From its leaves fall a soft cottony material with a seed in the middle. It has the feeling of a light snowfall. The tree shivers again, the leaves brustle loudly. I am pulled from my trance briefly and almost stop for this presence, this spirit. Then I hear the drums again and finish the Halad. Ros described the tree as dancing. As I close, I say a private prayer of thanks. I do not know what just happened, but I am grateful.

They ask a few more questions about the kali. I answer them, then do another demonstration with a heavy cut tree limb on the ground. I'm exhausted as I finish the demonstration. It's now 2:30p. We have to get back. The Davao folks need to make the last ferry to Balingoan at 3:30.

This place is so enchanting, you just don't want to leave. It's so easy to just be here. Ros tells me the other guests are leaving tonight, so I have my pick of any of the rooms. We will talk more tomorrow. I'll check out from Tia's and meet her for breakfast. She actually can't stay the week, needs to be in Davao in a few days, but will stay til Tuesday morning to get me oriented to the town, the mayor's office and the like.

This opportunity is not something I could have possibly imagined.

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