Feeling My Way Around

 The idea that roosters only crow at dawn is a damn dirty lie.  They pretty much crow whenever they feel like it, which seems to be any part of the day or night.  It’s something you notice when you’re trying to sleep at any part of the day or night.

It took me a little while to notice that my sleep schedule pretty much resembles what it’s like when I’m at a dance weekend.  I start to crash at about 7:00-8:00 pm local time which is about 6 or 7 am EST, and I wake up about 5 hours later which is roughly the early afternoon back in DC.   I don’t get comfortable sleeping in strange places and I’m usually attuned to getting up early for work anyway.  The result is that there’s a big chunk of time when I’m awake and no one else is around.

Yes there are roosters about.  It’s hard to describe this area; it’s a mash up of rural, suburban, and urban elements.  I’m in my parent’s home in Mangaldan, a municipality in the province of Pangasinan.  They grew up here.  My father’s old house is down the street actually, still occupied by one of my cousins.  My mother is from a barangay of Mangaldan called Osiem.  In the terms most of my friends can understand: Pangasinan=state, Mangaldan=city, Osiem=barangay=Ward (if you live in DC or a burough in New York City)

Comparing Mangaldan to a city is a bit misleading.  It’s really comprised of two a few major intersecting roads, but the sheer density of people here suggests something more urban.  It’s as if you crammed inner city slums next to the most extravagant houses found in upper NW Washington, DC along a street layout reserved for a small rural town, and is  periodically broken up by new, walled suburban sub-divisions. 

The nice houses belong to the retiring baby boomers like my parents returning home after working decades abroad.  My parents’ home is comparable to the Jam Cellar mansion back in DC.  If it was actually located there, it would probably be valued at a cool million dollars, but having it built from scratch here only cost them a very tiny fraction of that.

Their home is located in a gated community, but it’s fairly common to see brand new huge mansions built next to homes assembled from corrigated alumninum siding held together by chicken wire and duct tape.

Despite the massive gap between rich and poor, there is very little crime.  Probably due to the familiarity of the returning retirees to the locals.  There’s also a culutral deference to elders ingrained in Philippine society.  Plus the retirees employ a large number of locals who build and maintain these homes.  My parents have a gardener and a woman who cleans the house once a week; something they would never be able to afford back in New Jersey.   But they don’t employ just anyone as my mother is able to point out some vague family relation to everyone that comes by to help out.

On our way to visit my grandfather, we stopped at one of my aunt’s estate.  Her home is just a small two bedroom bungalo, but the grounds resemble a small resort  including an enormous swimming pool complete with faux-rock water feature and areas marked out for future basketball and tennis courts.  She’s not in the country currently, but as we waited for the caretaker to let us in for a short tour, I noticed an elderly woman bent over from years of hard labor driving a cargo trike loaded with junk that my father guessed that she was going to sell at the market.   She eyed us with a mixture of longing and envy that makes me wonder how long Philippine society can  maintain this relative peace amidst such stark economic disparity. 

We went on  to my grandfather (mother’s father) in Osiem.  When I visited as a kid, the road there was a simple gravel/dirt road, but it has been since paved.  Like all the side roads off the main ones, this one goes no where in particular and ends at a river.  As usual, many new houses abut older makeshift homes of the poor.  Common to many of them are silver inlined black plaques declaring the name of a successful child or grandchild and their profession.  Nurse.  Electrical Engineer.  Philippine or US military service.  Lawyer. Real estate agent.  Certified Accountant. 

My grandfather was a simple animal farmer.  He raised chickens and pigs for a living , and there are still some roosters still wondering around.   They didn’t crow, but they looked like they were taunting me to let me know that they could at any moment. 

Selling eggs and piglets is how he and my grandmother sent my aunts and uncles to college.  He was a hard man.  His main condition to his children was that they didn’t fraternize with the opposite sex until they were done with their education.  It didn’t stop most of them, but he did bust one of my aunts.   Upon discovery of her realtionship, he gave her $100 (US)  and a blanket, and promtly disowned her.  He mellowed out years later, and evetually built her a house next to his. 

 A few years ago, my mother’s brothers and sisters (there are 10 total including my mom) decided to build a huge house on my grandfather’s land for him to live in and all of them to retire to.   Grandpa objected at first, but his animal farming business went bankrupt after his health started to decline.  He’s not doing very well these days, but he’s at home because there’s no where else to take him.  He spends most of his days sitting on the porch in his wheelchair.  He doesn’t remember very much anymore.  My mother tells me that one of my aunts just finished a three week stay with him and he couldn’t remember who she was or that she was even there.

There’s no socialzed medicine here, but thankfully(?) the US has banned any foreign born nurses from immigrating into the US.   The Philippines now has a plethora of unemployed, board certified nurses hanging around because  that was usually the end goal for all their training.  Pay in the Philpines doesn’t usually justify the cost of that kind of training to stay, and it’s not like the economy can support so many medical professionals anyway.  The result is that my aunts and uncles have been able to hire two of them to look after my grandfather almost full time.

My grandfather’s english was never very good, and he’s now near deaf and blind.    People still talk to him ,but it usually invovles repeatedly yelling, point blank into his ear.  After numerous attempts to identify me, he asked how old I am.  I told them and they loudly relayed that information to him.  After about a minute, he turned in my general direction and and said in very clear english, “You’re old.”

I swear he had a glint in his eye, the same one I remember as a kid when he visited us in the states.  My parents would normally speak in their home dialect, but they switched to English during an argument when he was there.  I looked over the dinner table, and saw a little twinkle in his eye that seemed to tell me that he knew more than he let on.

Later, my mother mused on the idea that the local dialect, Pangasinan, (named after the province) is slowly disappearing.  There are about 11 language trees and over 80 unique dialiects throughout the islands.  They’re different enough from each other that people from one area wouldn’t be able to speak with people from another.  These dialects are slowly fading because the national language, Tagalog, is gaining traction throughout the country.  It replaced the former official language of English which replaced Spanish before that.

Filipinos are usually tri-lingual by default; speaking the official langiages of Tagalog and English along with their local dialect; maybe even two or three others depending where they lived.   English used to be the default language in the schools, but now it’s Tagalog, and my mother thinks its ubiquitousness through mass media is eliminating the need for local dialiects.  I think one of the reasons why I never picked up neither Pangasinan nor Tagalog was because my parent’s did not use either on a conistent basis, switching constantly depending on who they were dealing with.

I spend quite a bit of time on this blog talking about the visual aspects of dance,  but hardly anytime talking about the physcial aspects of touch in social dancing.   I noted in a recent post on Yehoodi that talking about dance has only become practical recently because technology now allows people in different places to see the same thing.  This is part of the reason why I don’t address that physcial aspect of touch.  I just don’t feel I can do it justice with words.

I thought about this as I sat next to my grandfather isolated from the chatter around us because neither of us could participate in the conversation, albeit for very different reasons.   At one point I put my hand on his arm because it was the only way I could let him know I was there.

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1 Comment

  1. Apache said,

    March 10, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    Jerry, its interesting and somewhat comforting to hear your perspective as it relates to my life in ways.

    My mother who is from the Negros Occidental region (near Bacolod) speaks Taglog, Ilokano and English. None of if it rubbed off except the English. However I wish I knew it now because ever since my grandfather got in a car accident, he has been losing his memory and his ability to speak English and constantly tries to talk to me in Taglog. Mostly these days, I buy him lotto tickets (his favorite hobby) and try to smile and speak what little Taglog I know.

    On a somewhat related note, even with my mother and grandfather being around in my home, as a half European/half Asian American I have always felt a disconnect from the Asian side of my culture. It wasn’t until recently when I learned how to dance Tinikling (after Lindy Hop) that I felt a link to that side of my culture.


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