Thursday, July 10, 2003

A teacher's teacher

After dinner we take a short tour of the island, up to the founder's shrine and mansion at the top of the hill.

Later on in the evening, Jun and I find ourselves on the roof balcony. He's smoking away. The people here don't like smoking, but he gets away with it, he's a friend.

In the time that Jun spent in San Francisco, I knew only a handful of things about him. So, tonight, I spend time to learn more about who he is.

The breeze is moist and warm, which is nice, few mosquitos but it means a storm is coming.

Jun asks me what I want to do. I tell him I don't know much about this place. I'm game for just about everything. I'm a writer. I'm happy just watching people live out their everyday lives. Oh it's nice to do a few tourist things, but I like to do stuff that locals do. Sitting out here, talking with you, that's what I like to do. So I ask him, what brought you to Surigao 15 years ago?

Jun was part of Sining Kambayoka Ensemble (Kambayoka Theater - who actually have a very unique Filipino style of theater) while in college. It took him nearly 10 years to get out of college to finish his Physical Education major because he travelled with the ensemble whenever he could. He went all over the Philippines with them: touring, researching, etc. There's only 3-4 places in the Philippines he hasn't gone yet. But he never regretted a moment. He got a chance to have wonderful adventures.

He came from a family of teachers: both his parents, 2 of his sisters, and the third sister works admin at a school. He says his father didn't help him out much through school, maybe because he knew he didn't need the help and could pull through on his own. So Jun worked through his college days, doing just about everything and anything that would pay him a buck: scrub floors, heavy labor.

His first teaching gig was a school in Butuan, I think. But he got into trouble, publicly disagreeing with some head honcho, which essentially forced him to leave Dodge. Then he went to Surigao. At first, he went to another high school but something told him to walk up the hill to Surigao High. He said it felt right. He liked the energizing feeling of walking up the hill and when he got to the gate, he kind of knew to be here. And he's been there every since.

This is how Jun has lived his whole life by following a feeling. He tells me that when they got to Los Angeles 2 years ago, he didn't have a good feeling about it. But when I walked into the room to get them, he felt good and knew they should go.

I understand what he means by this feeling. And often try to listen to that feeling myself. I know quite a few people who lived their lives this way, not as some planned map, but as simply walking through each door that came their way.

He tells me about how he led Surigao High to win the open Sinulog street dance competitions in Cebu 5 years in a row and how he bowed out of a 6 year because he was burnt out and felt that Surigao shouldn't go just to win it or to think that they have to win it every year. His philosphy was that if you have something to show or to contribute, go, but if you're doing the same old thing, why bother. His speech is as fast as he walks and takes breaths on his cigarette in between. The red ember at the tip as he inhales is just a touch of the fire he tells these tales with.

He tells me about leading 5000 students in the middle of the day running up and down rows screaming at them. No sitting pretty under an umbrella for him, he's a hands on kind of guy. He tells me about the politics of being a teacher and getting funding. [I already know how hard public school teacher's in the States work to get funding, I can't even imagine how much more for here!] He earns some money from people renting out his costumes to other choreographers.

He wishes he had a house. He says it's not much of a living being a teacher. He is so poor. But, Jun, I say, what other kind of life could you have had? You would have killed yourself if you were in a desk job inside with airconditioning. He laughs imagining the scenario.

He tells me of past loves and current loves, how he decided that Surigao was still pretty small that everyone knows everyone else, so that when he moved to Surigao he would just be out. Often his kids try to set him up, egg him on, "sir, ooh, that one over there. yes, him!" But he finds his life too busy to fit anyone else just yet. Like everything else in life, he has faith that the right person will come when they come.

I have watched these past few days how memorable a teacher Jun Pilapil is. EVERYWHERE and I mean EVERYWHERE we go, there is a former student who makes sure they say hello and waves and calls out, "morning, Sir!" "afternoon, Sir!" "evening, Sir!" You would think he was the mayor or governor. But you can see, they respect his honesty and his faith and his determination.

His kids often tell him, "Sir, we don't have this! we don't have that! we can't afford this!" And he replies, "so what? just use what's around you! the grasses, the leaves, the wild flowers." He took a whole class out picking wild flowers once. "Use your imagination, your creativity!" he screams at them.

He says, oh I can't just teach them a sport or a dance withouth teaching them the history and cultural and political significance of it. They have to understand the world. I learned Surigaonon from them asking them to translate world events into Surigaonon. They have to understand how it all fits. [Just then, I wish I had a PE teacher like Jun when I was growing up. I feel a kindred spirit with him, since I too was a PE major and had once thought of being a PE teacher. If I had become one (there's always time), I would have wanted to be one like him.]

The thick clouds above finally burst and we tuck overselves under the eaves as the sheets fall.

I ask him about his work with the Memanuas. The Memanuas' home range covers Butuan to Surigao with Lake Mainit in the center. They are closely related to their neighbors the Monobos. For the most part, most have converted to Christianity and like many indigenous groups live on the impoverished edges of the main cities. He and his students go back and interview them. Ask them what they remember, what their grandparent's used to say and do. Very few know their language anymore. But the dance, I ask, how do you find that out?

They had drums they said. So, we gave them drums and said, just play. They told us, but we don't know how to drum or dance, we have forgotten. That's ok, just hit it, just play, just move, don't worry about knowing anything. And so they move and so they play. And somewhere in all the forgetting, a rhythm comes out and movement emerges. oh, see! You know! They have a very unique rhythm, it's very difficult.

He steps his foot a few times trying to recall it, but stops frustrated.

I tell him how my trip to the Philippines is planned on feeling. I know when I'm flying in, I know maybe where I'll stay the first few nights, but from then on, it's wherever I find myself and to simply be where I am. The way he walked up the hill to Surigao High. Lots of things were supposed to happen and lot of things might have happened, but they didn't, so this place talking to you seems to be as good a place as any to be.

The rain stops and we pull are chairs out a bit onto the black shiny balcony. We talk through another half pack of cigarettes til about 2 in the morning. I learn so many things from him about who he is and more importantly how he lives life. I believe Jun is more prosperous than he thinks he really is. He's a man that sees opportunities and takes them and gives them out to people he feels deserves it more. My teacher once told me, "Prosperity isn't about the number of dollars, it's about living the kind of life you want and do the things you want to do." Jun's life seems to have all the prerequisites. We have 4 hrs to sleep before breakfast and the first ferry out at 7am.

I go to bed thinking I couldn't have planned a better trip.

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