Our Second Trip To Southeast Asia (The Philippines): 1995-96

Borneo continued, and The Philippines segment


Lida Masbang in front of the Zubers' house on Clark Air Base sometime around 1972. The house sits at the corner of Clark Avenue with the front on 32nd Place (a culdesac). Compare with the same house shown after Mount Pinatubo eruption below.

Wednesday, January 10th. It's nice to drink local tap water without concern, as in Kuala Lumpur. We visited the Royal Regalia Museum today which is chock full of royal emblems, jewels, and assorted mementos, like the Tower of London, but also with royal carriages and video tributes to the Sultan. The museum staff is pleasant but seem incredibly bored with their job. We hike across the boardwalk and through the water village to a shopping center where we can find clothing. We make it back to the hotel in time to catch a cab and board our flight to Kota Kinabalu further east on the north coast of Borneo. It's actually in East Malaysia (as opposed to Peninsular Malaysia) but all you can see from the plane is jungle from one horizon to the other. Kota Kinabalu (KK) is rainy but we find lodging at the Holiday Hotel. Clyde calls our friend Lida in Angeles, Philippines that evening to tell her where we are.


Bert, Precy, Benedict, Kathryn, Archibald, Lida, Martin, and Clyde

Thursday, January 11th. KK is just a stopover but we do walk around town this morning before boarding our jet to the island of Cebu in the Philippines. Everything was closed up so early in the morning, but we did find a small shop where we were the only tourists and we got some breakfast.

Once we landed at Cebu International Airport (formerly the American Mactan Island Air Base), we got loads of friendly and chaotic assistance about accommodations in Cebu City. The tour desk at the airport arranged everything, including a car to take us to the Hotel De Mercedes which aspires to elegance but doesn't quite make it. Every hotel we've stayed in on this trip has had a shrine of some sort, and, having seen Hindu and Buddhist ones, we now had El Niño - the little Christ Child, who is the local icon in Cebu. The hotel restaurant is the Master Key with a unique combination of grilled lobster, big-screen TV, uniformed waiters, and cigarette holes burned in the table cloth. The hotel must have been a big hit with the kids who have stayed there, because they carved their endorsements in the wooden drawers in the room dresser.

Friday, January 12th. It's cloudy today. We got up at 8:30 a.m. after discussing travel plans all night. We walked to the Philippine Tourist Association (which was not that simple to find) but it has a wonderful setting close to the old Fort San Pedro, surrounded by a lush park. They even had an archeological exhibit of a restored Spanish Galleon, the San Diego, from an undersea excavation. We also found the Basilica de Santo Niño inside the College of the same name. The image of Santo Niño is centuries old and there is even a vestment museum nearby where you can see all the clothes that have been lovingly fashioned over the years for this statue. ("This doll has more clothes than Barbie!" exclaims Clyde.) We hike up Osmeña Boulevard in the evening to find dinner. The boulevard is wide and lined with trees and a nice stroll up to the circle with the fancier hotels. There are lots of young people around with Cebu State University nearby and we can hear an outdoor concert.

Saturday, January 13th. The Hotel De Mercedes is on Colon Street which may be the oldest street in the Philippines and is indisputably one of the busiest. We pressed our way through the yodeling horns of jeepneys to go shopping for clothes, music, and luggage. Clyde got an enthusiastic endorsement from the clerks for his choice of music, and we went clothes-shopping. Judging by the two pairs of feet that I saw behind one dressing room door, at least one couple was making good use of the privacy. The local mall was putting on a dance contest with one troupe of boys dancing up a storm in anticipation of the Sinulog Fiesta next week on January 21st. The masks, music, and banners are already being prepared. When Clyde produced his charge card to buy some luggage, this drew about 7 uniformed girls employed by the store to find out just how to process a plastic charge card. We had a stylish dinner that evening in the Master Key Restaurant, while watching Michael Worth in the near-forgettable "Fists of Iron" on the big-screen TV.

Sunday, January 14th. Today is the last official day for celebrating Christmas in the Philippines - which is a pretty drawn-out celebration. We're flying to Manila today where we'll catch a bus south to Batangas and then a ferry over to Puerto Gallera on the island of Mindoro. We decide to do the beach resort thing again. We had a smooth flight to Manila where we got a cab to the BTB bus station and paid $2.00 each to ride down to Batangas. Southern Luzon is pretty interesting from a bus. When we arrive in Batangas City, one guy tries to get us to buy passage on a banca (an outrigger boat) over to Mindoro, but we decide to stay in town overnight. We find a jeepney to the Mer-Sol Hotel which is only $20.00 if you don't mind the disco downstairs. We go for a walk and see a candlelight Sto. Niño procession and find the "Other Place" restaurant where a brother and sister duet sing American songs for the diners. There is a carnival set up for the holidays, complete with a ferris wheel like a beacon in the night, which we check out as we stroll through town, looking for a bank with a U.S.-friendly ATM machine. The night sky was very clear, so I could see the constellation Orion. Folks were friendly, trying to get us to try local food at the city plaza. We did, but also stopped by a Dunkin Donuts afterwards. Later, we were told that Batangas was one place not recommended for Americans to visit. But then, Germans probably say that about Miami too.

Monday, January 15th. We rose early to board the St. Augustine ferry. This is a tricky enterprise because it's not clear just which boat is the right one. German tourists might not get shot here, but they'd have a nervous breakdown on the pier. Clyde and I scoped out the right one, even as banca owners tried to steer us elsewhere. We arrived after a 2 hour ferry trip in Puerto Galera and took a banca around the peninsula to Small Laguna beach. The beach doesn't look like much, but all the scenery is under water. Snorkeling is fantastic, with cobalt blue starfish, parrot-colored fish, neon-blue schools of tiny fish, and black and yellow-striped fish amongst the corals and anemones. There is something on the bottom growing that looks like cotton candy. After snorkeling, we both took a nap. We then went out exploring the coast, up to Big Laguna Beach and Sabang Beach. There are plenty of diving schools advertising that they speak English and also Australian (!) We went back in the ocean around dusk and saw different fish than we had spotted earlier. The hills of Batangas across the channel look flat in the late afternoon sun, almost like a mirage, while the hills of Mindoro were etched deeply in shadows.

Puerto Galera Puerto Galera

Tuesday, January 16th. Clyde would like to visit his friend, Bruce Young, if he can. So we take a banca over to Puerto Galera and talk with the harbor master and the local tourist aide at the Philippine Tourist Office who are both extremely helpful. The girl gave us some local confection (nipola) which is a coconut/banana/peanut butter combination that tastes like fudge and is very good. We discover that, although we're on the same island as Bruce, the logistics of getting out into the boondocks/sticks where he works are formidable, so we decide against it. All the same, Clyde is very impressed with the helpfulness and initiative of this young lady. We get some pizza and then go back to Small Laguna for swimming. The water is less salty than in the Atlantic, it seems.

Wednesday, January 17th. The storm last night knocked out the electricity, but portable generators cranked up in the morning to supply power. We relaxed today, swimming and walking on the beach. I try to mail my letter to Mom, but nowhere in this full-service resort does anyone sell postage stamps, it seems. You can call or fax, but mail is another matter. We were hungry that evening and had a splendid meal at the resort.

Thursday, January 18th. This was strictly a travel day: banca to Puerto Galera, ferry to Batangas, bus to Manila (complete with on-board movie), and then taxi to Angeles. We drove around with our taxi driver to the old Century Hotel where we'd stayed before, but it was closed for renovation. Angeles is booming. We settled in at the Oasis instead and called Lida. It turns out that she had gone to the US Embassy in Manila on her own to get a visa but had been turned down. We worked out the details to accompany her to the Embassy tomorrow to try again.

Friday, January 19th. I better appreciate now why the U.S. Embassy gets bombed. After standing in line for hours (partly the result of the US government being unable to pay federal workers for weeks) and trying desperately to reason with an American bureaucrat through glass, we're told that Lida is just not rich enough to visit the USA. They can't guarantee that she won't want to live there, thus she can't visit. If she had some kids in the Philippines to "ensure" her return, that might make a difference, but she has no such offspring-hostages to offer. It's a really insulting and demeaning experience and I wish furiously for all the world that I had a different nationality. We're all disappointed and it was a sad bus ride on the Philippine Rabbit back to Angeles. The air conditioning was so strong that we stuffed the window curtains in the air jets to modify it. Clyde and I spend the evening sullenly watching movies at our hotel.

Clark golf Clark golf

Posing at the Mimosa Golf course driving range

Saturday, January 20th. I'm feeling sick this morning, but it doesn't last long. We meet Lida's brother, Bert, around 2:30 p.m. and go over to Clark Air Base to look around. Clyde used to live on the base when he was a teenager. Mt. Pinatubo changed the landscape considerably and the result is a wild variety of exploding enterprise mixed with utter neglect. The Mimosa Golf Resort is a world-class golf course in this special economic zone where you can join if you're rich enough to afford membership.

house front house house back

Clyde's old house on 32nd Place

But the old American housing where Clyde's family used to live is overgrown with jungle. A guard kindly escorts us through Clyde's old school where the sign pointing to the school counselor's office now points only to trees and snakes. We find Clyde's old house and can see Laurel's room and a star apple tree in the yard that Clyde remembers. The guards patrol deserted streets to keep out squatters. Clyde photographs the parade ground on base and the officer's club, and points out "pot hill" and other nostalgic sites. I think that Bert and Lida are a bit discomfited about this side of Clark - we probably aren't supposed to be taking this unescorted tour - but I'm glad they're along. At dinner, we speculate as to why the Philippine government hasn't done more to renovate and reclaim the American housing.

Wagner entrance Wagner High School parking lot

band room Wagner band room between Middle and High Schools

100-200 wing Wagner between 100 and 200 wing

200-300 Wagner between 200 and 300 wing (I think)

gym Wagner High School gymnasium roof

parade ground Only one flag on the Parade Ground

officers club O Club Pool filled in (with volcanic ash?)

HQ 13th AF Philippine National Bank, part of HQ 13th AF where Clyde's father used to work

Sunday, January 21st. Today is the feast of Sto. Niño. Lida and Bert's wife, Pressy, prepared breakfast for us all before church. We relaxed the rest of the day and watched a movie that evening.

Monday, January 22nd. Lida's brother drove us around town in his jeep today and we went to Rosa's to do some shopping. Clyde had to go bank-hopping again to get some cash. Lida treated us to lunch and it was hard to say "goodbye" this time. We had hoped so much to take Lida with us to the USA for a visit. We took the bus down to Manila and checked into a hotel.

barracks Remains of barracks on Corregidor Island

Tuesday, January 23rd. Today we decided to join a bunch of Americans and Austrialians and took the ferry across Manila Bay to the tadpole-shaped island of Corregidor. This island was the most heavily bombarded place in the Pacific during World War II, first by the Japanese and then by the Americans. The tourist brochure promises "diverse adventures", meaning that we weren't taken to see the Musashi Battleship Memorial or the Japanese Garden of Peace Park. I suspect that Japanese tourists don't linger at the Pacific War Memorial. The bomb-proof Malinta Tunnel has an light-and-sound show which tries to accommodate these conflicting memories from a Filipino point of view, but people guard their memories jealously and don't like to compare them against other people's stories. As we returned to Manila that evening, we watched the lush green island disappear into the sunset. It's hard to believe that it was a barren rock full of desperate and angry people fifty years ago.

Wednesday, January 24th. We flew back to the USA today, getting ready to adjust to January in North Carolina. We stopped first in Osaka, Japan for a few hours of rest in an ultramodern spotless airport. We then traveled on to Detroit, where Aunt Louise met us again and visited for awhile.

This may be the day which we get back when crossing the International Date Line. However, since we arrive in the USA one hour before we leave Japan, it sure feels a lot shorter.

Thursday, January 25th. Northwest Airlines rounded out their service record by showing us the video "Crimson Tide" from Detroit to Raleigh-Durham and landing ten minutes before the movie ended. Well, this certainly made the film even more suspenseful than it might otherwise have been. After our six-hour exercise in the art of stationary resignation at the Detroit airport in December, Northwest might have begrudged us the climax of the movie, but the stewardess was really profusely apologetic, and we did, after all, land safe and sound. We checked out the movie at the local video store a few weeks later. We deboarded into chilly winter weather as Lesley picked us up at the airport with warm coats in hand. It had been quite a six-week adventure.

Continue with Third Trip/The Philippines 2000

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Original Photographs, Artwork, and Literary Compositions Copyright © Clyde Zuber and Martin Fowler-All Rights Reserved.