Sunday, May 30, 2010
What it's all about
A friend of mine who was in the service (and asked to be anonymous) shared a story of experiences while stationed in the Philippines...and I wanted to share with you, in honor of Memorial Day.
My thanks to all who have served and most likely suffered miserable pay, miserable food, and miserable treatment when you came back.
I come from a peace-loving family of veterans, incidentally.
Anyway, the buses. I believe they were called "rabbit buses." I'm not sure why. They were red schoolbus-type affairs, and I can't recall if they had no windows or if the windows were simply always down in the tropical climate. They have ferocious rains there sometimes, and I am thinking there had to BE windows, or you might drown on the way, if the skies opened. People brought chickens with them, it's true, and anything else that needed transporting.
Any time the bus stopped in these little villages, kids would come up to the windows selling soda pop, hot bread (which I want to say was called "pan de sol", but I may have that wrong...it's been a long time), which was to die for delicious, and whatever else. You just told the kid what you wanted, he would run off and return with it and you forked your pesos through the open window and there you were!
At some stops, the men would all go to one side of the bus and pee, right there at the side of the road. It was pretty disgusting to my American eyes, lol. And if you were a woman, well, I guess you just hold it til you get there. And as I said, as the bus went through the mountains, depending which side of the bus you were on, you could look out the window and see a tremendous drop, mountainsides covered over with dense foliage, going down down down, and no guardrail. If someone came the other way, the bus and the other vehicle had to very carefully creep past each other on the narrow road. Wild stuff!
I don't recall this happening with the buses, but once i took a ferry with a friend to another island. The ferry came to the dock and WHOOSH!, everybody just lept into it. My friend and I were the only ones standing on the dock! But back to the bus rides...
You would go through these little poverty-stricken villages, where people lived in shacks and there was just nothing, but there would be a beautiful, ornate Catholic church! In Manila there were cathedrals to take your breath away. Spanish influence. Manila was amazing. It had tall modern skyscrapers, elegant restaurants and hotels, but also had a slum section painted entirely--every stick--in pastel yellow paint. I stayed at a bed-and-breakfast, which is different that they are here. No frills, just a place to sleep and put your bags, in somebody's house. It was nice, clean, but not like they are here, where you go there as a destination for a weekend.
I went to an Italian restaurant in Manila, which was excellent, and after you finish your meal, the waiter brings you a marker, and you can write something right on the wall! The entire walls were covered in writing! Every so often they just paint it over and start again. It was fun!
As of 1975-6 when I was there, people still remembered WWII and would call any American serviceman "Joe" for G I Joe. In Manila, the college type young people sneered at us, but in the countryside, we were heroes. I went to see a then-current movie about the battle of Midway, at the base theater, and the Philipinos in the audience would all cheer like crazy whenever a Jap plane went down. After all, they had been occupied by the Japanese, and none too kindly, just thirty years before.
There were these little tribesmen there. They had a name, but to my surprise, I can't summon it now. They were extremely short, quite aboriginal looking. Anyway, apparently they had been of great help to MacArthur during the war, and so were still receiving special favors and rights on the base in the 70s. We didn't interact with them, they were pretty silent, at least around us. But we instinctively respected them.
The Navy base not far away, called Subic Bay (sp?) was on the water, naturally, and was beautiful. here is something I never saw before or since in my life, and likely never will. There were boats under the bridges, with several girls in each one, trying to hook a Navy man for the night. They would call up to the guys passing over the bridge, and if he was interested, I guess they made arrangements somehow.
The city outside Clark Air Base was called Angeles City, and bore the nickname, "The Wild West Of The East." It was almost nothing but bars, hotels for prostitutes and their marks (five dollars for the night), and souvenir type shops where you were expected to barter, and places to eat. Like some sort of sleazy Disneyland for airmen. It was major, major culture shock for this little soul, and I hated it. The girls were looking for husbands to take them to the U.S. with them, and in fact, something like thirty percent of all single first-timers got married during the fifteen month tour. Me, I drank. A lot.
My best friend had a pretty young wife at home in Texas, but he was a real rake. It got so that his cast-offs had become my friends by the time he was done with them, and I spent many an hour listening to them afterward. Those girls didn't have friends, unless it was each other. To the servicemen, they were amusements. Some of them had actually been brought to Angeles City by their mothers, and told to make money for the family in the countryside, who had nothing. Anyway, I have very few positive memories of that place (as opposed to the rest of the country), but I am glad for those friendships. I needed them and so did the girls.
Well anyway. That was a long time ago. I did learn a deep appreciation for what I've got, after seeing the poverty those people lived with. When i hear people here complaining because their car is five years old, I want to shake them. We have it made, here. I found out how much I could miss real (not powdered) milk, and McDonald's french fries. I found out what is really meant by "jungle." My word, things grew fast and thick over there! There was a hill in the middle of the air base that they would burn off every several weeks, rather than try to manage the vegetation. I learned how unbelievably hard it can rain in that part of the world. I mean, sheets. I rode in jeepneys, which are taxi cabs made from old WWII jeeps and held together with duct tape and a prayer. They always had the cabbie's name and a statue of Jesus in the front. Strangely, I learned something about music and books there! The base library had records, not many, but I discovered Tim Hardin, John Hammond and Fred Neil while I was over there. My interest in the Beats had begun in high school, and I checked out William Burrough's book "Naked Lunch." It's about his heroin addiction, among other things. In the short time I had it, you wouldn't believe how many people asked me if it was porn. Good grief.
When I arrived home, having been in the Philippines from October 1975 until January 1977, I quite literally kissed the ground of the good ole USA.