SM Mall of Asia

In Manila, they’ve “reclaimed” part of the Bay, which means that the government has filled in the bay with soil from other provinces to make more land to build on. What was built? Well…here’s a description from my journal: “SM Mall of Asia – the Biggest, most extravagant mall I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. It’s the size of 5 malls put together. They have a massive ice skating rink and every hour or so they make it snow!” (Snow. Inside a mall. When it’s 90 degrees outside. And we’ve just come from Chicago. Where we were trying to escape from. SNOW. Hmmm.) “Meanwhile, outside in the streets of Pasig, there are emaciated people who come up to your car window and beg for money with a thin, dirty plastic mug.”

I’m hesitant to say anything even remotely critical of the Philippines, especially to my American friends, because so many people Stateside don’t have the love for my ancestral home or culture the way my family does. It’s easy to look at the squatter camps (read: the hand-built refuges of families who would otherwise be nomadic and homeless) and turn our collective American noses up. Or to say to ourselves, Poor them. And, how lucky we are, in some inadvertent condescension. But disparity in the Philippines, just like disparity in Chicago or L.A. or San Francisco, or Rio de Janeiro, disturbs me.

I suppose the Chicago equivalent to this SM Mall of Asia versus the Street Beggars of Pasig struggle is the Magnificent Mile where there are the gleaming two-story shop windows of Ann Taylor and Eddie Bauer or Nike Town and Virgin Records. And yet, a few years ago, Mayor Daley had swept Chicago’s homeless people out of Lower Wacker. Having served food to my local homeless folks, it’s hard to say the disparities in Manila are too different from those in the major U.S. cities I love, like Sweet Home Chicago (which I am also hesitant to say anything critical of because I love the people and the Lake and the unique neighborhoods of our city).

One thing my days in Berkeley anthropology taught me is that when we travel, it is as if we take two journeys simultaneously: a journey abroad and a journey home. Both journeys get us to re-examine our assumptions. Ten years ago, I would have been fixated on the differences between America and the Philippines. But these days, maybe because I’m getting older (I said older, not wiser!), maybe my mind and spirit are more engaged with seeing humanity as a whole. What do we, as a species, do to one another? How can we make it snow inside a massive shopping-an when people are literally starving outside in the streets of Manila? How can we spend a million plus on Millenium Park and not spend the equivalent on helping Chicago’s homeless folks find sustainable work, the basics of food and medicine, and a clean, simple place to sleep from day to day?

For me, journeys often open up more questions than they answer. Personally, I love the big questions. With big questions we’re given the chance to grow and transform. And what’s life without transformation?


My son, Boy-boy, has a collection of Filipino children’s books called TUTUTBI PATROL (Dragonfly Patrol). They’re a bit like Aesop’s fables where the stories are designed to teach kids life lessons or morals. Often, the stories and illustrations are set on a farm or countryside with the animals trying to figure out how to get along peacefully with each other. Trouble ensues. They work it out. And all is right with the world. *grin* This thread in my blog is called BLOG-OG as a nod to that children’s series. There’s one character, Nog-nog Niyog the Coconut tree. When coconuts fall from her tops, it makes the sound BLOG-OG!

This is a sound my family has co-opted for its own use. As in, “Uh-oh, my R2-D2 toy just fell off the table. BLOG-OG!” Or, say, we’re driving through the coastal countryside of Cebu and something bounces off the top of our van(which it did) and we say, “Uh-oh, BLOG-OG! Must be a coconut falling from the tree!” Or, say, Boy-boy has a great hand in Gin and throws his last card on the table. It’s a perfectly GREAT time to exclaim: BLOG-OG!

In the case of cyberspace, we really like it that the word BLOG so closely resembles the Filipino sound of coconuts falling. *laugh* Blog pages falling from our keyboard out onto the net.So that’s our new silliness. BLOG-OG!


Excerpted from my private journal, 6 April 2007:

The immunizations are done — Hep A, Hep B, Tetanus, Measles booster, Typhoid. Everything on the pasalubong list has been bought for relatives and the NGO community leaders I’ll meet on the journey. The suitcases have been brought out, ready to load. I’ve done my Internet searches for local museums and historical sites, stayed up nights pouring through Lonely Planet and Rough Guide sections on Cebu, visited the Cebu Tourism site. Booked rooms, our flight from L.A. to Mainal and Manila to Cebu.

I’ve gone back to my compilation of articles to triangulate exactly where the old Cebuano settlements are (current day cities like Cebu City and Naga). I’ve contacted an expert on gender in the sixteenth century Philippines, packaged together my business cards and reprints of one of my essays.


This is the moment when all the “to-do” items on my list are crossed off. This is the moment of looking at the Herculean effort I’ve taken.

There were nights when I woke up with my heart-pounding — wondering how I’d get from the airport to Guadalupe or Guadalupe to the Marine Sanctuary. Traveler’s worries. Or times when I’d asked myself, “What am I dragging Alan and Boy-boy into?”

But this, this is the moment to savor — that I’ve made all my preparations. The checklists are all done. The ingredients are all there except for the WONDER. Now, I just have to let go and let the journey happen.

Standing on the Shores

Excerpt from my private journal, 5 April 2007:

I drove across Columbus Avenue to get to North Beach and wondered if the half-hour of writing at the Lake would justify the carbon footprint I’d leave behind. It is a fine spring day in Chicago and I’m hungry to see the expanse of turquoise water beneath the wide Midwestern sky.

It’s hard to explain creative writing to people who don’t do it. I think, most of the time, exercises we writers do to sharpen our writing skills just sound weird to non-writers. * laugh * For me, writing takes over my whole body, like a fever. And if I give in to my instinct – like this morning – it usually takes me to a place where I can feel with more intensity: The new leaves budding on the city’s oak and maple trees. The bite of the last winter wind. The wet smell of my Labrador retriever in the van as I write this.

This morning, I can’t help but think of Magellan. Did he stand on a Spanish shore just as I’m standing on the lip of Lake Michigan? Did he gaze out across the water and wonder what he’d find?

This morning, I awoke gripped by a nervous energy. It finally formed into words – and the words articulated my fears: Can I do it? Can I pull this trip off? Can I surrender to the FLOW of the moment? Will I be able to navigate jeepneys and buses, ferries and banca systerms I don’t yet know? Will it all work out?

I have a strange and complicated relationship with a man who has been dead for nearly 500 years. But this morning, I find myself in simpatico with him. I am gripped and called to sea. I cannot wait to stand on a prow and let the wind whip back my hair. I want all the answers to what I’ll find on this journey and I want them now. And yet, how I LOVE the mystery of what will be.

In thirteen days, I leave for Cebu to fulfill a lifelong dream. To travel to the islands where Magellan landed in the Philippines, to witness where he died. To listen to the land and the wonders of the sea around Cebu. And, at long last, to stand in the place where women babaylans, pintado warriors, Humabon and Lapu-lapu lived.

I am filled with questions. First among them is: What will I find?