Friday, March 29, 2013

Extraordinary Religion (Original Post Date: June 21, 2011)

Today, Yahoo News covered this annual ritual in San Petro Cutud, Philippines.  I thought I would resurrect (ha, no pun intended) a blog post I wrote two years ago about it and my thoughts about religions around the world. 

AP Photo/Aaron Favila
My mom read my piece on Kate Webb, and reminded me of another time Kate came to our house:

Re: Kate the UPI correspondent: After we had met her, through Caro and Leon, one day the doorbell rang there in Makati, Forrrr-bess Parrrrk*, and when I opened the door, there was a blood spattered Kate Webb. Her face and blouse were covered in tiny dark red splotches, and I was afraid that she had been injured. But no, she had been covering one of those super-religious events they have in the Philippines, around Easter. She had been very very very close to the person enacting the role of Jesus carrying the cross to Jerusalem, and as he was lashing himself, accompanied by more lashings from the crowds lining the street, the real blood had splashed onto her. All she wanted was to wash her face, and have a relaxing cool drink of something—maybe calamansi juice** (Scotch ?)—I don’t remember.  Just another footnote to the most interesting things that happened to an ex-pat living away from the U.S.A.

Photo: Aaron Favila/AP

I had heard about these rituals … never saw them.  In many areas in the Philippines some of the more devoted followers of the Catholic church would reenact the crucifixion.  They would walk barefoot through the streets of the village, flagellating themselves bloody, and then submit to actually being nailed to a cross.  One hardy soul promised to have himself “crucified” every year, in return for his wife’s safe delivery through a difficult childbirth.  Similar reenactments are performed in New Mexico, although there the penitents are tied, rather than nailed to the cross.

Of course, it’s hard to see pictures of this.  My first reaction was horror, naturally … but in a small way I was impressed with the depth and the strength of their devotion.  Many people do all kinds of things to find God, or to become closer to God.  Maybe this is their way of earning forgiveness for their sins.  Who are we to judge how other people practice their faith?  People fast, they handle snakes, speak in tongues.  They walk miles and miles in pilgrimages and wear special clothing.  Expressing religion is so different from culture to culture. 

When I visualize the world’s religions, I see an enormous quilt, of red, purple and gold satin, different squares of rituals and practices all interlocking and connected to each other.  I see idols and statues, stained glass windows and silver goblets.  I smell incense, smoke, wine and fruit.  I see different races of people woven together in a common purpose: worshiping their god or gods.  I sometimes sense as much or more devotion in the eyes of a Buddhist monk in his bright orange robes or those of a Shinto priest in his starched vestments than in any evangelical Christian or Orthodox Jew.  If everyone claims that he or she is right, who is the ultimate decider?  In the afterlife is there a big “I told you so” moment?  Who knows?  Having seen, heard, smelled and tasted so many other cultures, this Third Culture Kid is not capable of believing that any one religion is right or wrong with any degree of certainty.  If someone’s way to God is through being nailed to a cross, then so be it.  We all wander on a different, winding path.

*Filipino pronunciation of Forbes Park, our subdivision .. no vowel is left behind.
**A very sour lime.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Here is an excerpt from a memoir I have written.  It’s not specifically about being a TCK, but I do touch on my life in Asia.  In this section I talk about being thrust into a new Asian culture, Singapore.  We moved there in December of 1977, the middle of my senior year in high school:

Singapore has to be one of the most unusual conglomeration of cultures.  Its name translates as “Lion City”; Singapore is inhabited by Chinese, Malay, Indian and European folks.  It was once a British colony; the traffic drives on the left.  The influence of Great Britain is everywhere: there is a huge cricket pitch downtown, and the Raffles Hotel is one of its most famous landmarks.  The hotel was named after Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore.  The famous “Long Bar” at the hotel was the birthplace of the Singapore Sling cocktail.  Once an elegant emblem of the British Empire, the hotel in the late 1970’s had lost its sheen and glimmer and had fallen into sad disrepair. 

A visitor to Singapore will meander through parts of the city that are predominantly Chinese, only to turn the corner and find himself in the Indian quarter on (the incongrously named) Arab Street.  Little open-air shops line the uneven streets, with burlap bags leaning into each other, overstuffed with spices and beans, and diaphanous batik printed dresses hanging from hooks on the ceiling, turning and flowing in the warm breeze.  Back in the day, a trip to Bugis Street was in order; the parade of flashy transvestites was a sight to see for all the voyeurs in us.  (Sadly, they’re not around any more; Bugis street is just another pedestrian mall).

Even closer to the equator than the Philippines, Singapore’s heat can be unbearable.  Every afternoon, like clockwork, there would come a downpour, sheets of rain that would lash for 30 minutes.  After the rain stopped, the humidity was as thick as soup.  We lived in a concrete block of five townhouses on Shelford Road (more evidence of Singapore’s British-ness) off one of the main thoroughfares.  Our  neighbors were veddy, veddy English.

I only spent six months in Singapore before I left for college, but I was able to experience a good bit.  My mother and I visited the Sultan’s palace in Malaysia, across the narrow causeway that separates Singapore from the Asian continent.  We sampled as much of the multicultural cuisine as we could, including the food stalls in the median of Bukit Timah Road.  We ate typical British fare at Foster’s and Chinese delicacies at Shang Palace at the Shangri-La Hotel.  There was a little guy who grilled spicy chicken satay by the pool at the hotel, where we stayed for the first month.  I still have a vivid memory of another restaurant called the Omar Khayyam, across the street from the American Embassy, which had the tastiest Indian food.  The taste of curry, with naan and yogurt to cool the heat, always takes me back.

We flew to Singapore the day after Christmas.  I had said good-bye to my current flame, a smolderingly handsome Eurasian boy, with furtive kisses after the midnight mass the night before.  That morning, Mom, Dad and I had opened a few small gifts in our hotel room at the Manila Garden Hotel, which had been arranged around a tiny pinecone Christmas tree, before we packed our bags to head for the airport.  I was sick with a bad cold, adding to the sadness of having to leave the home that I had come to love.  I felt like my world was crumbling away.  There was no sympathy to be found from my parents.  My pleading to be allowed to stay to finish my senior year fell on deaf ears.  “Sorry, the company won’t pay for your school if you’re not living with us.”  A friend of my mother’s had offered to take me in, but the answer was a dismissive no. 

Digging into my suitcase soon after we arrived in Singapore, I sliced my finger on a razor blade.  Now I was experiencing a trifecta of pain: grief, illness, and now injury.  My misery was complete. 

As a very small consolation prize, my folks told me that I could go back to Manila for my birthday in May, which coincided with my (former) high school’s graduation and prom.  I spent my days in Singapore counting down each interminable day, one by agonizing one.  It was an eternity to me: each day seemed to last 25 hours.  I got an occasional letter from friends back in Manila, but their lives continued without me.  Even though my principal from Manila had graciously decided I had enough credits to graduate in December, my parents nonetheless handed down the edict that I would have to attend Singapore American School as a post-graduate.  Really?  Really?  In what universe was this fair to me?  Was it to keep me out of the house?  It didn’t matter.  I got to experience being the new kid yet again, at the tail end of my senior year. 

When we arrived, it was at a point in the school year called “Interim Semester”.  There were myriad choices of courses to take in this longer semester break: trips to Nepal, to Hong Kong, Japan.  Other courses were more mundane: remedial chemistry, robotics, chess!  I looked longingly in the brochure  at a trip to New Caledonia, an island east of Australia in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  “Nope!” was the answer from dear old mom and dad, and instead, I enrolled in “Advanced Math Word Problems.” 

So, every morning I had to trudge to school to sit in class learning about Train A traveling east at 50 miles per hour, and train B traveling west at 40, well, you get the picture.  What had I done to warrant this punishment?  It was only a little more exciting than watching paint dry.  Talk about adding insult to injury.

When the “real” semester started, I only half-heartedly participated in my classes.  What was the point?  I already had my diploma; it had arrived, unceremoniously stuffed in the mailbox in a manila envelope.  I had a “small world” moment when we found out that my math teacher had lived in Brussels; he had been my older sister’s teacher as well.  His wife had taught fifth grade at the International School there.

I got an office assistant job with the guidance counselor.  Sometimes when the secretary was out, I would type letters to my mom.  Filled with minutiae of the day; that I had taken an envelope to the headmaster.  I sharpened some pencils.  I licked envelopes.

Then, the dreaded lunchtime would roll around.  You know that sick feeling you get when you get your tray and face a sea of people sitting in their little friendly groups, chatting away.  You take a deep breath and try to find an empty spot in which to sit, not feeling brave enough to walk up to a group and chirp, “Hi!  Mind if I sit here?”  A group of younger, bratty boys sat at the other end of the long table and threw peas at me.  “Hey, New Girl”.  Plop.  “Hey, what’s yer name?” Plop, plink. 

A very nice boy named Melvin took an interest in me, even though he had a girlfriend.  The girlfriend wasn't too thrilled with this, and I got a lot of nasty looks when I was walking around campus.  But Melvin took me to movies, and out to to eat, and came to work on homework with me.  It never went any further than that.  A TCK never forgets a kindness.  

Monday, March 18, 2013


I remember my earliest stirrings of patriotism.  Of all places, they started when we were living in Europe.  I can still see the pictures in my mind of my 5th grade Social Studies textbook at the International School of Brussels.  On the cover was a painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, George Washington posing all Founding Father-like in front of a large table, quill pen at the ready.  I suppose that was Tom Jefferson on the other side of the table, waiting patiently for his turn.  Strident green and yellows were the background colors for the scene.  Even though it was an international school, it seemed that the focus was on American history.  My fellow students included British, Swedish, and Indian kids.  Even my teacher was Belgian.  I have a vague memory of going to a different teacher for Social Studies, though, and I think she was from the U.S.

The road signs in Brussels were in French and Flemish, but oftentimes Flemish hooligans would cross out the French names.

In Brussels we lived in a predominantly Flemish area of the suburbs.  Our address was #1 Kerselarenlaan, (Cherry Tree Lane!) in Beersel.  While we could get by with our limited French, Flemish was way out of our purview.  We learned a little of the history of the conflict between the Flemish and the French Walloons, but things were more or less peaceful when we were there.  None our neighbors ever made an attempt to say hello, in fact, my mother tells me, we were outright shunned.  Perhaps we Americans were as bad as the French?  To this day I don’t know why this was preferable to my parents to living in the French areas, where most of the other American expats lived. Once I had to run next door in an emergency to make a phone call when we were moving out of our house and our phone had been disconnected.  The lady of the house scowled and pointed at the phone, and that was the extent of her hospitality.

I know there was anti-American sentiment in the Philippines, but I never had any experience with it.  Ultimately, the U.S. Naval base in Subic Bay was closed, possibly due to an anti-imperialist movement.  There are tensions today because of joint U.S. and Filipino military maneuvers in the southern part of the country. 

When I turned 18, I set out to fly halfway around the world from Singapore to London.  A British friend (okay, they were drinking buddies) of my mom’s from Manila, who had recently repatriated to England, had agreed to take me in for the summer as her aupair/nanny.  I also went to summer school at Richmond College there.  My mom’s friend lived in a semi-detached house in Ealing, a suburb of London.  It was a quiet, residential street, and there were lots of sketchy-looking teenagers who roamed around during the day.

In a letter home, I wrote: “There has been some friction from some neighborhood punks who found out there is an American broad living here, so now they’re always hanging around the front gate.  Some of them have been friendly, others not so friendly.  I hope the novelty will wear off soon.”  I can still hear their mocking voices: “You’re an AMERICAN,” as if that was the most awful thing to be.  They made fun of me, chanted at me, made me feel lower than low.  They even scrawled “American” in chalk on the sidewalk.  I was confused; I didn’t know how to react.  I ran inside, ashamed, (why?) but it never occurred to me to fight back.

I used to take a double-decker bus to school every day, an hour each way.  I did a lot of queuing at the bus stop, trying to blend in.  Once I was waiting behind a British gentleman when an American tourist came up and asked him for directions.  After the tourist left, the British guy turned to me and said, “Bloody Americans!”  I tried to think of a snappy comeback, and with as American an accent as I could muster, I replied, “Yeah well that’s the way it goes!”  He turned beet red and turned away. 

Another time, as I was walking down the sidewalk, I was approached by a British couple; they had lost their way.  They probably noticed the confused look on my face and, said, “Oh dear, you’re a foreigner, aren’t you?”

Many, many years later, my sister and I went on a humanitarian aid trip to Kazakhstan, where my daughters were born.  We had to make a tight connection in Munich, and by the time we got on the plane we were out of breath and riddled with adrenaline.  As I made my way down the aisle, juggling my belongings and checking the seat numbers against our boarding passes, I noticed that there was a man in my seat.  I said, quite politely, “Excuse, me, I believe you are in my seat.”  He looked at me blankly, while I double- checked.  Oops, I was wrong; he was in the row behind me.  I said, with every ounce of humility I could muster, “Oh, my mistake, I am in this row.  Please forgive me.”  His look went from blank to one of unfettered disgust.  As his eyes burned into me, he growled, with his thick guttural German accent, “You must be an American.”  Really?  REALLY?  I was so taken aback, it was all I could do to plop down in my seat, face burning in embarrassment.  My mortification was complete when my pillow fell behind my seat and I had to lean back and ask him to hand it to me.  Stupid Americans.

We always think of ingenious things to say to an insult after the fact.  I should have said, “Why yes, I AM AN AMERICAN, and thanks to my forebears, your country is in pretty good shape today.  Ever heard of the Marshall Plan?”  To those young boys in London, I should have flippantly retorted, “Yes, I AM AN AMERICAN, what of it?”  I realize that my country has not always made popular decisions, but haven't we always had good intentions?  Maybe the interpretation is that we have always been self-serving, but don't our humanitarian efforts count for something?  Why do we all have to be painted by a single brush?

Being a TCK has exposed me to a lot: poverty, climate extremes, political unrest, and cultural differences.  It is a sad commentary that the world can be an unfriendly place at times, but, having been on the other side of a prejudice, I have determined not to judge anyone by the plurality of his nationality.  If only we could all see it this way, maybe we could put the United Nations out of business.  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Apocalypse Now .. and Then ... Redux

Even the best TV shows have reruns.  

It was sometime in the mid-1970’s.  I was sitting on the front steps of my house in Forbes Park, Makati, Manila, one clear afternoon, when a virtual flock of Huey helicopters flew directly overhead, heading south like angry, acking raptors looking for a meal.  Later I learned that Francis Ford Coppola was filming his iconic movie, “Apocalypse Now” in the Philippines, and these helicopters were being borrowed from the U.S. government.  Many of the young men at the International School took an entire month off of classes to be extras.  They came back with heads shaved and several thousand dollars in their pockets, and the knowledge that they had participated in a piece of film history.  In the scene where the cavalry lands on the beach, there is a quick shot of a boy being forced out of a helicopter, yelling, in the midst of the chaos, “I’m not going! I’m not going!”  That’s Alan Penner … a guy I knew! 

Let me introduce you to Steve Valley, one of the extras.  Like many of the soldiers in the crowd scenes, he is a TCK.  His father worked for Lockheed, under contract to build and maintain the C-130 cargo plane.  His work took the family to Saudi Arabia, Tripoli, Libya, Manila, Venezuela and Hawaii.  Steve learned to swim in the Mediterranean Sea, learned to speak Arabic, and got used to the call to prayer broadcast five times a day over loudspeakers.  Fields trips from the Oil Companies School were to Sabratha and Leptis Magna, the oldest ruins on the planet.  Family vacations were to Malta and Tunisia.  The local bread was delicious, candy was from Europe and garbage was burned across the street.

In Manila, life was good.  Maids, drivers, and cooks were the norm.  Like me, Steve was given an inordinate amount of freedom.  Bar hopping, partying and disco dancing was the activity of choice over the weekends.  We drank beer and liquor and lived like little adults.  The only limitation was the government-ordained curfew from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m.  It was easy to get around the city, either by cab or Jeepney, in a mad dash to make it home in time.  It sounds like a sybaritic paradise, but Steve says it taught him responsibility, and kids were trusted to do the right thing. 

But one experience stands out above all.  Steve waxes nostalgic when he talks about his time on the set of “Apocalypse Now”.  He remembers Coppola as being “hell with the megaphone”.  There are memories of long hours spent waiting for a shot to be set up, pouring down monsoon rains and less than ideal (make that miserable) living conditions.  There were open-air toilets, set-busting typhoons and being rescued by the Philippine Army after a storm stranded the boys for two days in an old schoolhouse.  He remembers hanging out with some young guy named Larry Fishburne, 14 years old at the time, Steve wishing all the time he could hang out with a “bigger” star like Martin Sheen.  Sheen did eat lunch with all the boys one afternoon … they were all tongue-tied in his presence, until they figured out he was just another guy with teenage sons.  While they expected the big star to be aloof and lofty, he was actually very cool and willingly signed autographs. 

Robert Duvall, on the other hand, lived up to his megastar reputation.  There was a moment before the shooting of the famous “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” scene, where Duvall was sitting on a folding canvas chair.  Someone whispered “That’s Robert Duvall.  He was in that movie, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’”.  Another boy replied, without whispering, “Oh yeah, I recognize him.  He was that retard who hid toys in the tree.”  Duvall turned to look at the boy, squinting and frowning at him for an agonizing minute, before he said, “Who the f*ck is this kid?”  The boy was ushered away from the star, “gagging on the foot in his mouth.”

During one scene requiring heavy rain, the crew pumped river water into four or five firehoses, aimed it straight up and let it rain down in huge brown drops on the extras, for hours at a time.  In knee-deep mud they dug trenches with combat helmets, absorbing all kinds of tropical bugs.  As a result, several of the boys came down with a nasty jungle fever, spending nights and days on uncomfortable cots in the humid, un-air conditioned schoolrooms, where they were billeted. 

During the filming of a beach scene, the boys were given Coke cans with beer labels, as they cooked steaks on makeshift grills.  At one point a huge truck of San Miguel beer arrived and the boys lined up to fill their faux beer cans with actual beer.  After getting their beer, they would go to the end of the line and drink up while waiting in line for another fill up.  Some went through the line several times before those in charge wised up and shut the operation down. 

Adversity brings people together.  While the creature comforts may have been lacking, the opportunity to be a part of this movie was once-in-a-lifetime.  Like war veterans, they join together on Facebook pages to reminisce and rehash the stories of their experience.  It could be that fighting an imaginary war affected them as much as a real one.  Perhaps being a TCK is itself like being in a war, fighting for our identity and our place in the world.  Thus, like the band of brothers who emerge from the battlefield, battered and scarred, we look to each other to find our solace.  We laugh at the difficulties we overcame and brag about the ridiculous luxuries, but all in all we find, in our commonality, ourselves.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

An International Education

Only recently I learned about the “Filipino Scholarship Program” at the International School Manila (formerly the American School).  Exceptionally gifted rising 8th grade kids who otherwise might not be able to afford the tuition can sit for an entrance exam and interview and earn up to a full ride, depending on their circumstances.  This is a huge honor for the kids who are admitted; ISM as an institution is held in great esteem among Filipinos.  I’m proud that I was able to attend ISM for high school, (thanks to my dad’s company) but, on the flip side, I am ashamed that I took my education so much for granted.  The International Baccalaureate program had just been launched when I was there; my last two years of high school were steeped in the IB traditions ("I got a 7!") I was able to place out of several freshman classes in college because of my IB education.  The full IB diploma track wasn’t in place yet, but the advantages were there.  I would venture to say that most of us TCKs who got an international education benefited in ways that we will never know.  Among my fellow alums are a pediatric AIDS researcher, diplomats, businessmen, engineers, physicians, teachers, professors and more.  I am humbled to share a background with people of such caliber. 

About a year ago, we ISM alumni learned of a 14-year-old Filipino boy named Romnick Blanco, the 7th of 9 children of a poor farmer.  Romnick was so dedicated to getting an education that he used to walk two hours across barely passable roads to get to his rural school.  Thanks to the efforts of The Green Earth Heritage Foundation, Romnick sat for the Filipino Scholarship examination and is now an 8th grader at ISM.  Talk about ambition and dedication.
In my day, as it is today, it was an honor for the kids who were Scholars.  It brought great pride to their families.  We had a classmate who, it was rumored, was in danger of losing his scholarship due to slipping grades.  Sadly, he felt that his only recourse was to take his own life.  It was a tragic reminder of the value of an ISM education, a fact that escaped us at the time.  

This attitude towards education seems a universe away from that here in the U.S.  (Those of you with teenagers will nod your heads vigorously in agreement; it takes the Jaws of Life to get my kids out of bed for school every morning).  Can you imagine a typical American teenager walking more than ten yards to get to school?  One only has to look at where education falls in the political pecking order to see how far it has fallen in the hierarchy of our priorities.  Every time there is a new round of budget cuts, it always seems that educational programs are the first to go.  I’m not sure what it would take to change this.  I have recently been hired to work for a local school district as a substitute teacher.  Like an ant moving a mountain of sand, grain by grain, I dare to hope I can do a (very) small part in changing just one person’s feelings about the value of an education.  (I’m not jaded enough yet to have given up hope!)

My friend Chris Frondoso recently gave me a little insight into the experience of a Filipino attending ISM. I wondered to myself if the Filipino kids who went to ISM had a different perspective about our school, and if they came away with the same global perspective that seems to be our TCK birthright.

Chris Frondoso
"What is a Third culture kid (TCK)?  My understanding of the definition is that it is someone who grew up in a foreign country or countries and who has more in common with his or her peer group than with those who are from his own country.

"While I do not exactly fit in this definition, I am somehow out of place.

"I grew up in Metro Manila, Philippines, during the 70s and 80s. Those days were mostly under the strong-man rule of then President Marcos. There was a far reach of the government: import and foreign currency controls, travel restrictions for Filipinos, increased control over education and limits on freedom of the press.  That was the era of pre-globalization and Internet.

“'Why did you go to IS?' was the question my then professor asked in my first year of college.  I was surprised she had spotted me among all of her students at Ateneo de Manila.  She told me she could tell by the way I said “sentence”. My professor happened to be a TCK, in that her father worked as some kind of technical man monitoring geographical and environmental issues around Asia with an international organization.

"My answer was my mother wanted to send us to a good school that was non-religion affiliated. When I was growing up, the top local schools were run by the Catholic Church.  My mom, who attended some post-Bachelor’s degree schooling and training in America, appreciated the common medium of communication, which allowed her to cross borders.  She believed in having a good working knowledge of English. In the 1970s there was a trend to make local schools more Filipino, diminishing the role of English and experimenting with a new curriculum.

"My family’s background on a local standard was a little culturally mixed or cross-cultural. My father grew up in the then predominantly Tagalog Manila, while I remember his mother being very culturally Kapampangan. His father was or appeared Tagalog in his ways but the family name to my knowledge has origins in the southern Philippines. The Philippines is made up of various people, languages and geographical groups where differences are quite obvious in the local setting.

"My mother’s heritage was not your typical Filipino. She was a mix of Chinese, French and Spanish.  She grew up culturally as Chinese, as her forebears were from the Fukien region. Her family religion was also in the minority, they were Protestants in a predominantly Catholic country. I remember the church her family attended, which I attended until I was about 20 years old. The standard and official text they read from was the old English of the King James Bible.

"Looking back with all these differences I wonder why I didn’t develop a major identity crisis.

"IS Manila was generally a good experience for me.  There were times when I had problems with academics, which required me to put extra effort or get some tutoring.  There were also a few “bad guys” I had personal differences with.

"It taught me to be sensitive to other people’s beliefs and cultures, to be reasonable, to have critical thinking skills and to speak my mind.  Although in the Philippine these qualities are not always appreciated.  On the other hand, when I speak my mind it is quite toned according to western standards.

"During the days I was growing up and going to school, local schools were under strict government control, financial regulation and other local conditions that made IS then stand out. We had up-to-date materials for class and other school activities. I remember telling people about the audio-visual materials such as filmstrips and the computer lab and they were in awe. (Just a reminder these were the days that preceded the Internet and widespread use of the computer).

"Outside of ISM there were people who viewed and even treated me as a foreigner, as the Philippine situation was more closed then. There were a few, even when I was an adult, who were interested to learn about my days and experiences at IS because they thought of it as fascinating.  With my mom’s extended family some were trying to be more Filipino, while some were trying to maintain their Chinese cultural identity.  It was hard to relate to them with the exception of a few of my relatives who had also attended ISM.  I had three cousins who attended the rival school Faith Academy (at the time an American missionary dependents’ school).  I saw one of these guys a few years back, and while we have different lives, he seems to share common ground with me in the uncommon times we underwent.

After ISM it has been an ongoing journey for me to keep adapting to situations and dealing with people. Over the past 20 years the rise of the Internet and globalization has narrowed the gap between the IS kid and the local kid.  Local schools have had government controls minimized if not totally removed, thereby allowing them to raise fees to finance capital investment in the institutions. The Internet and computerization have allowed them to have up-to-date international material. Globalization and the Filipino diaspora have broadened outlooks but I still keep in mind that there is a unique local flavor. I notice that those a decade behind me have more of a worldview than those in my actual peer group.
The generation that came after mine grew up in the “free” or “democratic” society after the Marcos era. This is a group less restricted in their thought than those that grew up in the time of Martial Law.

"Once in a while I see some old ISM classmates.  Many have moved on and evolved. It’s ironic that I have seen Filipinos become very American and I have seen an American become so Filipino that I wouldn’t recognize him. Some have average lives in business and commerce, while others have gone on to great success.  The shy ones are now outgoing while some of the party people are busy raising families. The sad thing is that some are still stuck in a limbo, having never found or achieved what they wanted.

"If I may, I will end by saying that every day is a journey to dealing with what is thrown at me and ISM has helped me approach varying situations in my search for solutions."

You can read more about the ISM Filipino Scholarship program here.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Bridge to the Sun

Two things greater than all things are.
The first is Love, and the second War.
            And since we know not how War may prove,
Heart of my heart, let us talk of Love!


When I was a wee girl in Tokyo, my older sister, Debi, was like a second mother.  I used to ask her, “When Mommy dies, will you be my mother?”  Just trying to straighten out how things work in life, you know.  Her teenaged girlfriends from the American School in Japan, were tall and beautiful, with their long, straight hair, miniskirts and heavy eyeliner that were popular in the mid-1960’s.  One of these statuesque girls was Emi … a Japanese-American girl who had a sick sense of humor.  She convinced my sister that the Japanese word for hot chocolate was “opai”.  Debi called room service at our hotel, and ordered “Two hot opai, kudasai” not noticing that Emi had collapsed on the floor laughing.  She had ordered two hot breasts.

Debi and Liz in Tokyo, about 1966

Emi had been a child actress, performing in a movie called “Bridge to the Sun” with Carroll Baker.  She played Mariko, the daughter of a young American woman, Gwen Harold, who had married a Japanese diplomat, Hidenari Terasaki, on the cusp of World War II.  The movie was based on Gwen's memoir with the same title.  Refusing to be separated from her husband, Gwen, with young Mariko, was deported to Japan, where she lived and endured the worst of the war in the Japanese countryside.  Starvation, bombings and illness were ongoing battles.  This was a part of the war that most Americans never knew about.  Few people thought about the citizens of Japan who were the unlucky recipients of America’s fierce air campaign late in the war.  It was easy to mentally pinpoint the enemy as the stereotypical Japanese soldier or kamikaze pilot, not thinking about the civilian women, men and children who scratched out a meager existence with very little food and the daily threat of death. 

One of the most poignant scenes from the movie is when Mariko witnesses a school friend die in a ditch during a bombing raid.  The book and the movie are clear statements against the brutality of war, and how love can reach beyond racial and national differences.  As an adult, Mariko devoted her life to “issues ranging from the arms race, war and peace, racial and sexual equality [and] political reform.”  (  She was an honorary Consul-General to Japan.  She has done her best to maintain the “bridge” between the United States and Japan about which her parents cared so deeply.
Mariko Terasaki Miller, in later years.  (
It was remarkable that my family lived in Japan a mere 20 years after the end of the war, and there were very few reminders of the carnage.  My parents had a deep respect for the Japanese people; there was none of the outrageous xenophobia that was pervasive during the war.  One only has to look at some of the propaganda that existed at that time to see how deeply the hatred ran.  My parents were living examples of tolerance and acceptance.  Mom still talks about Japan with misty fondness in her eyes. 

I don’t know how she came to get it, but my mom had an autographed copy of the book that Gwen Terasaki wrote back in the 1950s.  I’d like to think that she actually met Mrs. Terasaki at some point.  The battered and ripped copy is one of my most prized possessions.