Saturday, June 28
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.
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 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.
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. 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. 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.
June 30, 2014
I just took a video meant to illustrate what a cacophonous environment in which these kids are learning. I’m in a tenth grade economics class and if it were mine, I’d be standing with both arms curved outward but hands clenched in fists by hips, audibly growling at the atonal surround sound symphony.
Boy, do people work hard for education here. There’s a loudspeaker outside, where someone’s presumably herding a PE class, and since the rooms are necessarily open-humidity with airy windows that let in Bacolod’s battle of birds vs. business- yes, the auditory distraction is significant.
Adding to that is the visual. Stephany and I are perched on desks in the back, and while most students try to glance at us surreptitiously, the flirty kid keeps staring openly between winks and the gentle brushing of his neighbor’s arm. It’s hilarious. And somehow this sweet teacher is classroom managing all of them with dexterity, and teaching them economics in Tagalog, though there’s a Korean student here and one boy who just moved from Texas. An award for this woman, please?
Both students and teachers here are en pointe with their adherence to the focal Filipino tenets of warmth and generosity. The bonus today, though, is that we got to hang out with tiny people. Our day began with the flag ceremony, where we stood in front of 800 or so students as they sang, recited the pledge, and welcomed us with aplomb. Connie mentioned that the US and Philippines are the only two countries to recite the pledge, and that’s something I’m determined to look up once the Internet becomes a thing for me again. The ceremony was sweet, though. I do enjoy all the cross-cultural signs of “hey, we’re all human”… which in this case appeared as a sing-a-long played and as first graders flailing enthusiastically while the older ones gestured ironically, eyes a-roll.
The best part, though, was the pledge of non-violence that students uniformly recited. They vowed to be peaceful, play creatively, and respect nature- among other important principles- and I must say that I like the heck out of that idea.
A little tour came next, an entertaining part of which was my habitual (nun joke) thumbing through of library books to see if any used to be mine. This is not a wealthy country, by any means, and a significant number of books and textbooks are old ones donated by the so-called first world. I like to check the in-cover stamps to see their origins, but thus far haven’t come closer than Virginia, 1987.
SIDE NOTE! Flirty kid just told me I look like Hazel Grace’s mother in The Fault in Our Stars, which I’m taking as a giant compliment – and preening, naturally- even though for all I know the part is played by a leprosy-addled gorilla. Good book, that.
Speaking of feeling loved, we can chalk up the pre-school/kindergarten visit as a raging success, too. I was late to the party as I was having a panic attack in the bathroom, once I realized it was a typical Filipino version and that I hadn’t brought any toilet paper. I sorted myself out by fleeing, and ran smack into a bunch of 5 and 6 year olds who wanted to touch me and play. One of them skidded to a stop in front of me and I watched as his eyes grew wide.
“Are you from Hollywood?” he asked breathlessly.
I giggled. “No, I’m from Maine.”
“The United States.”
“Ohhhhhhhhh. Your eyes are silver.”
And with that, I floated into the nearest classroom, forgetting that my hair resembled a matted street lion’s. Because if kindergarteners think you’re special, then dang it, you are.
Boom. Bombardment of preschoolers. Giantest smacked kiss on my face with the best, tightest hug after an epic, Himalayan climb into my lap. Selfie Central, 2014.
Eventually the school day ended and we went out to celebrate Donah’s birthday at a fish market. After pointing out exactly which fresh seafood we wanted delivered cooked to our party, we had a table full of lobsters, crabs, shrimps, soup, blue marlin, and assorted drinks for 13 people and boy, did we eat like royalty. There were literal bags full of leftovers and it still only cost us like 60 American dollars.
By far the best day I’ve had in the Philippines.