A "Take it Easy Day! " Having not had much sleep since I left the UK it was definitely time to take it slowly and catch up with some rest. I took a trike to Central after dropping my bags where I usually stay. The ride to Central is always picturesque with the mountains on the right and the rice plains running to the sea on the left. My first stop was the market in the town.
This place always feels like the central point of San Jose - it is where everyone seems to congregate. the trikes wait at different points according to which area outside the town they are going to. Trikes seem to be licensed for certain runs. There are trikes licensed to take you around town and others to take you out of town. When I arrive at the airport I have to take a trike into town to Parad'han Central, the place where trikes going to Central wait. The trike to Central goes out of town, and on route to Central it goes almost past the airport!!
Another regular of mine is the jolibee on the main dual carriageway that runs through the town. Jolibee is for most Filipinos an expensive place to eat and I find the food bland and plastic and cant understand why it remains such a "popular treat" in The Philippines - but still end up going there often because the people I'm often with love to eat there. I then visited the only department store in San Jose - Centro because there was a sale on and they stock a reasonable range of designer goods and I wanted some T Shirts.
In the afternoon I returned to Central to visit Siete Central Elementary School. The following day i was due to be the Guest of Honor at the Grade Six Graduation Ceremony, an privilege that I was thrilled to be asked to do. Graduation form Elementary school is a major rite of passage and sadly for many pupils it is the last time they graduate because money and the need to work forces them to drop out of high school. I wanted to pop in to find out what I should wear. I was given a programme which had my name on the front - Cool!
Leaving the school at around 4.30 pm there were still plenty of Grade Six pupils around having finished a rehearsal. They were so excited to see me and I was mobbed and their excitement was visible. It is difficult to describe how amazing it feels to be respected by children in a country so far from home and where everything is so different. Their faces tell the story.
In the evening I went to a Karaoke, sang, drank local brandy and relaxed, catching up with news in this little hamlet set back from the National highway.
The graduation began at 8.30 with a parade of graduates and their parents/relations making their way into the large covered performance/assembly area at the rear of the school. Distinguished guests, of which i was one, sat at a long table on a large stage. Water was provided. It was already very hot. The morning proceeded with speeches from the Principal, Area Superintendent, Barangay Captain and then it was my turn. The theme of the The theme of our graduation was " HINDI NATITINAG ANG PUSONG PILIPINO" which means that despite all odds and challenging moments, the Filipino heart refuses to be broken.
I have to say that I was very nervous to be speaking to pupils and parents but the audience was great and laughed in all the right places. Because I was guest of honor the pupils all rose when I spoke and remained standing throughout. when they had the opportunity to come on stage they thanked me and waned to shake my hand. When it came to the presentations, I was involved in the passing of the graduation certificates to each pupil.
The morning also incorporated presentations to leading scouts and guides and to the top 10 pupils in the end-of-year tests in each grade from one to six. I presented medals and was photographed with each child and their parent/carer. The whole event lasted 5 hours! After the end of the formal ceremonies I was invited to an informal dinner back in the main school building. Staff and visitors were served by pupils.
For me, this was one of the most moving experiences of my professional career and I felt a real sense of pride in experiening the gratitude from everybody at the school. During the graduation i was presented with framed expressions of gratitude from the Principal and I will treasure them, and the memory of this event.
The morning, albeit amazing was long and very tiring so in the afternoon I arranged for some friends to accompany me to to Aroma beach to have a drink and relax. Arriving by trike, my first stop was the Mindoro Landing monument which includes the friezes of the story of the liberation. Hot as it was, i took some time to study the panels and could sense the importance of San Jose in the eventual liberation of Manila, Luzon, and the Philippines.
Aroma was busier than usual, being a Sunday. A large crowd of children and young people were hauling in a new which had been towed out by a banca. The net was trapping a large shoal of sardines and the youngsters were busy hauling in the net and collecting the fish which were trapped in the very fine mesh. I was fascinated by this activity. it was a joint enterprise, there was no arguments or squabbling over fish and everybody worked together to contribute to the effort.
Kids were also swimming and many were assembled on the pier and were jumping into the Mindoro Straight of the South China Sea. There are many bars in Aroma Beach, mainly K.T.V. (Karaoke) bars. The drink is very reasonable and many serve food.
After watching the local residents enjoying the sea on this beautiful Sunday afternoon, I enjoyed a large bottle of Red Horse before we all set off for San Jose where we enjoyed some pizza and a halo Halo.Plaza, Afterwards I took the opportunity to explore the plaza and take some pictures of some of the places I had identified in my trip planning. I visited the liberty monument, the town hall, and gardens which includes a statue of lapu lapu.
Often dubbed as the Philippines’ first hero, very little is known of Lapu-Lapu except that he lived in 1521 and ruled the island of Mactan. Accounts written by the Italian scholar Antonio Pigafetta claim that Lapu-Lapu killed the conquistador Ferdinand Magellan in battle. Based on these claims, Lapu-Lapu became known as the first Filipino to defy foreign invaders. In a later post you will see a large statue of Lapu Lapu in Rizal Park, Manila.
In the evening I retuned to Cetral for ..... yes, you got it - another Karaoke accompanied by a chicked that was alive an hour or so before I ate it. The intestines are skewered and barbecued and are the perfect accompaniment to local brandy! The rest of the chicken was boned and the meat barbecued on wooden skewers. It was delicious.
Next morning i was back in Central and got the opportunity to see the harvesting teams in action on a local rice paddy. The machines do the work of many labourers and carabao and the rice is harvested and bagged up ready for drying. As the harvester made his way along the field, many children, some little more than 4 years old were on the field gleaning the crop that the machine failed to capture. they were threshing the residue and shaking out any seeds they could get their hands on.
Many of the children were in the field all day from early morning until darkness fell and had undoubtedly been told not to return home until they had collected enough rice to help their families. My only concept of gleaning came from The Old Testament story of Ruth and until now I had never seen this or appreciated that for some, this is a necessary part of harvest time.
In the afternoon I took a trike into San Jose to explore the river behind the public market. At the back of the market is a street with brick built stalls selling mainly vegetables and fruit. At each end of the street there is a set of steps covered by a blue tiled roof. It is from here that you can take a small boat, a kind of punt propelled using along bamboo cane across the Pandururan river.
This is a busy crossing that takes you to a sand bar and resting place to many banca and other fishing vessels on the sand. The crossing costs 1 peso; the boats leak and local Mangyan are busy bailing out so that you don't disappear under the water!
I had a very uncomfortable night's sleep due to several red ant bites that were very painful and their cumulative effect caused my feet to swell up and itch like hell. Great! I was travelling to an Island in the middle of nowhere tomorrow and I'm tired and hobbling around!
Friday 28th March.