If memories have teeth, then there are certain things that will be forever stuck in mine. That’s kind of a gross analogy. It was a poor attempt at saying that a person doesn’t really know the highpoints of any journey until a few weeks pass and that person can ask him or herself, “What the heck do I remember about the trip I just took?” Say the person remembers nothing…well then, the trip wasn’t very exciting, was it? Or perhaps too much alcohol was consumed, or the person just has a really poor memory. Hmm, perhaps. I feel these are excellent points I’m raising. Regardless, if my recent trip to the Philippines was, say, teeth in a mouth, below you will find the ones that stick out…in my memory…which is also like teeth.
A tarsier is a tiny little animal that looks crazy. Although often mistaken for a monkey it, like an ape or George W. Bush, is not, in fact, a monkey. It’s actually the smallest primate known to man. This may surprise you, as I’m sure you’ve always thought the world’s smallest primate was the Sea Monkey. Sorry to disappoint you, but those are not really monkeys either – they’re shrimp. Anyways, tarsiers are also the only fully carnivorous primate. They eat insects, birds, and bats. Birds, I imagine, must have terrible nightmares about being attacked and eaten by these fugly little non-monkeys. Another interesting fact about tarsiers is that their eyes are the same size as their brains. Liza Minnelli and E.T. are the only other mammals for which this is true. There is no conclusive proof as to whether or not they also eat birds.
2. “Tinikling” Doesn’t Mean Taking a Pee
Quick story – so TTD and I were on this neat river cruise going through the forest in Bohol, when the boat suddenly docked in the middle of the river and we were told that there would be a short break in the cruise. There, sitting on the dock, were about thirty or forty peasants. I know that’s kind of a derogatory word – peasant – but I don’t know how else to describe them (prize to anyone who can give me a decent synonym). At first I was displeased. “Crap,” I said to TTD, “what is this?” She pointed out that they all had instruments. “I think they’re gonna perform for us,” she said. And perform they did. They sat in a big semi-circle and began singing and playing their guitars. The next thing I knew, we were down on the dock, holding guitars and sitting in the semi-circle with them. It was actually a really wonderful moment and as I looked around, I was overwhelmed by how beautiful and filled with life they were. I mean, here were a bunch of people living in poverty, and they smiled and sang with such joy. While I was getting choked up, some long sticks were brought out and they began ‘tinikling.’ This is a dance where two people kneel at the ends of the sticks, making them move, and a third person sort of hops around in the middle, trying not to get his or her foot whacked. It’s sort of like how they’d shoot at someone’s feet in the old west, only this is with sticks. Everyone clapped and laughed, and when the women in the semi-circle started playing “Bye Bye Love” by the Everly Brotherse, well, I don’t think I’ve ever felt such an intense love for mankind as I did right then. It was a great moment.
3. Immaculate Conception Church: Just as Good Now as it was in 1595
I dig old churches, and so I was really blown away by The Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Baclayon. It’s one of the oldest churches in the Philippines; the church was first built in 1595 by Spanish missionaries (it was finished in 1727). I’ve seen old churches before, but this one was a knock-out. It’s got all the things that make religion powerful and bewildering and kind of creepy (photos and words don’t do it justice). For instance, in one of the buildings, there was a huge glass coffin with a life-sized wooden Jesus inside. The coffin was adorned with all sorts of things and Jesus was just sort of chilling out in there, kind of like Nathan at the end of the first season of Misfits. I told a friend about this when I got back, and she said, “Why is Jesus in a coffin? Don’t they know he rose?” It was a good question. “Maybe they got bummed out and stopped reading after the crucifixion,” I said, guessing. “The church might not know about the whole twist ending with the rising.” I liked the idea that the Spanish missionaries never, for whatever reason, read the end of The Bible. That they skimmed over it or got bored or depressed. Hey, they were busy. I learned later that they first built the church with stones that they carried inland from the sea. I work an 8 hour workday, so I can relate to always being too tired to read.
4. Rizal Shrine: There’s A Lot You Can Learn From Moths
Jose Rizal was a writer, an artist, and a leader in the movement for Philippine independence. He was captured and executed by the Spanish. Luckily he was able to sneak his last writings out of his prison before he was killed; a guard passed his manuscript to his family inside an oil lamp. Today, in the Intramuros district in Manila, visitors can learn a lot about Rizal and even walk, via footprints set in the ground, the steps he did leading to his death by firing squad. For me, it was a unique and informative experience, as I hadn’t heard of Rizal before. What moved me the most was an excerpt from his writing, put on one of the walls of his shrine. To close this brilliant blog entry, I thought I’d share Rizal’s words, which are moving and sad, poetic and knowing:
“My mother began to read to me the fable of the young and the old moths, translating it to me piece by piece into Tagalog. At the first verses my attention redoubled in such a way that I looked towards the light and fixed my attention on the moths that fluttered around it. The story could not have been more opportune. My mother emphasized and commented a great deal on the warnings of the old moth and directed them to me as if to tell me that these applied to me. I listened to her and what a rare phenomenon the light seemed to me more beautiful each time, the flame brighter, and I even envied instinctively the fate of those insects that played so cheerfully in its magical exhalation. Those that had succumbed were drowned in the oil; they didn’t frighten me. My mother continued her reading, I listened anxiously, and the fate of the two insects interested me intensely. The light agitated its golden tongue on one side, a singed moth in one of these movements fell into the oil, clapped its wings for sometime and died. That assumed for me that the flame and the moths were moving far away, very far, and that my mother’s voice acquired a strange, sepulchral timbre.
My mother finished the fable. I was not listening; all my attention, all my mind and all my thoughts were concentrated on the fate of that moth, young, dead, full of illusions.”