Monday, November 14, 2005



After intense concentration and concerted reflection, I can sincerely state that my previous, sum-and-total knowledge and perception of the Philippines' social, historical, cultural, spirtual and metaphysical existence pretty much boiled down to:


Imdelda Marcos's shoes, that is. The wife of the leader. Infamous to me only because, during my late-childhood, early adolescence, he was known to my politically naive self only as one o those far-away in space and time world leaders sufficiently notorious to bear mention on Dan Rather's nightly newscasts, and probably because he was brought down to puppet-size life on that British comedy show Spitting Image, which also served as my first introduction to the Ayatollah and Qadafi. (If memory serves. And not that Marcos was all that bad; of that, I'm not sure. And while we're all gathered here, shooting the shit so casually about world leaders big and tall, why is it that so many newscasters still refer to Sadaam Hussein as 'Sadaam'. Isn't 'Saadam' his first name? Isn't that the equivalent of calling Carter 'Jimmy', Martin 'Paul', Seuss 'Dr.'?) I knew, too, probably from the occasional Johnny Carson joke, that Marcos's wife Imelda had a lot of shoes. Loved a lot of shoes. Probably had a fetish, all things considered.
(Not that I knew what that word even meant, but it was one of those pieces of vocabulary whose vortex contained within it all things adult and grown-up, from Johnny Carson's jokes to being able to drive to knowing exactly what to tell the barbershop to do when you sat in the chair and the scissors came out.)

Growing up, unless you're an army brat (or exceptionally curious), your knowledge of the world is understandably limited. Now I find myself, kind of grown up, for the third time (after Japan, after Cambodia) trying to make snese of a strange and foreign land. The process gets easier, to some extent (especially the third time around) the similarities inevitably slaughter the differences. And I always reach for whatever book I can find to help bridge the ever-present caps in knowledge and understanding. I've stumbled upon one here in Baguio called America's Boy: Marcos and the Philippines, written by an American who has lived, off and on, for over twenty years in a small Filipino villiage.

Things I've learned so far:

1) The Philippines are named after King Philip of Spain, who conquered this mass of seven thousand islands, largely in the name of Christ, which accounts for the fact that this country is now 95 % Catholic, an anomaly in Asia.

2) The Americans basically took over the country at the end of the Spain(Mexico)-America war, and until the Japanese seized control in WWII the Yanks weren't really sure what the heck to do with it. Was the United States conquerers or colonialists or what? Even they weren't sure.

3) The Philippines has been ruled by the Spaniards, the Americans and the Japanese; like most Asian nations (with notable exceptions, like Thailand), it's had other people telling them what to do and how to do it for extended periods of time, which usually, if not always, results in a pissed-off populace and years, if not decades, of convoluted politics and attempts, often armed, at achieving their own sense of solidarity and pride -- which is nothing more than dignity, elevated to the national scale.

These facts are just that, facts, and give little, if any, flavor. For that, you have to walk, listen, observe and see what your own confusions and uncertainties tell you about the land and, more importantly, about yourself.

Living in a foreign land you are, indeed, trapped in a world you never made, to steal the tagline from Marvel Comics' Howard the Duck. (The George Lucas-produced film version of which, by the way, I freakin' loved -- I must have been the only kid, if not person, to have seen the movie, read the comic adaptation, read the novelization, even, and actually bought the soundtrack to boot.)

Even as a kid, though, I never really understood that moto: 'Trapped in a world he never made!' Howard was, of course, an exile on earth from his home planet of DuckWorld, but who among us is not trapped in a world that we did not make? We don't choose where we're born, or to whom; we pop out into existence without a training manual or instructional video, and are thus expected to figure it all out as we go along.

In that sense, whether or not you live in a foreign country or the bedroom of your childhood home, you, too, are trapped in a world you never made. You have to look around and piece it all together. For me, with the Philippines, I start with Imdelda's shoes and work from there. For you, well, I'm not sure; that's your journey, in your world. It's just a matter of remaking that world again and again and again, day by day, until either you or it (or both) start to feel the gentle tug that indicates a coming together of the individual and society, however unlikely or jagged the fit may prove to be.

1 comment:

Muktuk said...

I think you're right on the money about being in a world "you never made." I always wondered what was so invigorating and tantalizing about new cities. Maybe that's it. In a weird way.