Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Surigao:the port of Mindanao

The car goes through various winding roads through the hillsides. This is the classic Philippine countryside. Forrested hills with coconut trees, valleys of rice fields with black skinned carabao knee deep in mud with an occasional basketball court to break up the monotony. Filipinos love basketball and just about every baranggay/neighborhood has one.

At the town of Mainit the woman next to me gets off, so I finally get to sit in a real seat and not the heater. Mainit, which means hot, sits on the 2nd largest lake in Mindanao. Several hotsprings empty into it, thus the name. The lake itself is bigger than the island of Camiguin.

At last we're here in Surigao. We get out of the minivan and pick up a jeepney. Jun rents the whole thing, just the two of us. By now I'm simply worn out by all the travel from motorbike to jeepney, to ferry, to bus, to minivan, to jeepney again. Jun says he has to stop by Surigao High first. He's teaching a summer arts program there. The jeepney turns right up the hill to Surigao high.

There is a group of high school kids (about 13-15 years old) dressed in costume and a group of drummers. They get up and dance! I am in shock! This is my welcoming, I feel like a celebrity. I walk down a lane they form and they present me with fresh buko, a basket of fruits, and rice desserts. There's a banner with my name, "welcome from the Surigao Hingas Dance Troupe." So, if I didn't know where I was before, I really don't know where I am now. I'm pretty speechless.

After taking a large group picture, we rest, take pictures. In chorus they say, "Welcome to Surigao Michelle." I am known as "the driver." It's a complex story. Jun came to America with a group called Sining Kambayoka Ensemble from Mindanao State University. They had gone to Los Angeles, but they fell into a bad situation. Somehow one of them gets in contact with a woman in the SF Bay Area who contacts a friend of mine, who contacts some of his friends, including myself. (Are you seeing this Friendster.com connection thing)

ANYWAY, this ad hoc group decides to bring Sining Kambayoka to San Francisco. Since we're low on funds, we figure the cheapest way to bring them here is by Greyhound bus. But to get their stuff and equipment, I fly down to LA and rent a UHaul truck to drive back to San Francisco. When I get there, Jun asks me if I am the truck driver and I say yes.

Now, in the Philippines, women do not drive trucks and in actuality women don't drive that much. But the bigger vehicles: trucks, buses are usually men. Grant it a UHaul truck is fairly modern with automatic gear shifting and powersteering. But to them, seeing a woman drive a truck was quite impressive.

So, when Jun got back to Surigao, they wanted to know all about his wonderous adventures. And one of the tales he spun was about this tall Filipina who drives a truck.

After chatting with his students for a bit, we head to Tavern Inn at the ferry port. This is where I will stay tonight. About $15 US a night for an aircon room with a sea view. He leaves me there to rest and return around 7p for dinner.

There is a tv in my room with cable. I take a peek at the view and quickly close the curtains to keep the sun out. The two mosquitos in the room take no time in finding me. There are always mosquitos. I take one of the chairs and sit in the line of the airconditioning airstream to deter them and flip through the channels. This is my first time to watch TV. There were a few TVs in Camiguin, but being out and about so much, there wasn't much time to watch and really no need to watch.

I do enjoy watching TV when I can, particularly when I'm outside of the United States. In the U.S. programs are geared to U.S. stuff. The news is all local or national with a smattering of international news which usually covers the latest bombing in Israel, Western Europe, and maybe Japan. If it's in Africa, South America or the Middle East, it involves war, bombing, or natural disaster.

International cable is much more interesting. You get international versions of Discovery, MTV, and CNN. In addition to the Philippine shows, you get Japanese stations and other programming. International news is just that, international. They cover Europe, Asia, South America, etc. and break up the news that way. There's actually only a little bit about the US. My mind has to adjust to it. I realized I was so inundated with war, iraq, weapons, troops, that I had no perspective on the world.

I turn to the Philippine news. Once the war in Iraq started, US news forgot all about the troops we sent to southern Philippines to "train" with Philippine troops on the war on terrorism. GMA is in the US being wined and dined as a US partner in terrorism. She had said several weeks ago she was not going to run for re-election but the news says she may still run. The number of refugees in Mindanao is increasing day by day. They pack schools and churches, sometimes cemeteries searching for neutral territory. Health conditions are poor and many are becoming ill.

The other Philippine stations are filled with talk shows and general entertainment shows that mix dancing, singing, and game show formats.

I flip over to Discovery channel and learn about African jungle animals.

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