Tuesday, December 7, 2010

1st Wednesday in the Philippines

Where to begin?? Dr. J. has pretty well discussed the first legs of our flight, so I won't go into further detail other than to say that having the Bose Q15 active noise canceling earphones added an absolutely unbelievable level of comfort on this trip. We had generally very smooth conditions, and there were times that there was no discernable sense of motion and with the headphones on, it was almost like sitting in the quiet solitude of my own study at home watching the aforesaid movies. I heartily recommend "Winter's Bone". Very poignant, and growing up in rural Kentucky--I KNOW people like that! Anyway, the point is: those headphones are worth every dime that I spent on them. I am able to sleep on these flights and it does enable me to stay in sync with the timezones. I am very glad that this is the case as it would be miserable trying to function without that capability. When we flew down from Manila last night, I didn't even know when we took off and woke up as we were taxiing into the terminal at Cebu.

A little commentary about the Philippines and Manila in particular: The island chain occupies a very significant geographical location for the Asian continent and serves as a jumping off point for Pacific Ocean excursions. Because of this, down through the years it has been repeatedly colonized and subjugated by various "super powers".Over two millinia ago, the great Chinese Emperor, Nu Sun, began actively exploring and colonizing throughout the Pacific, extending his empire even to the western coastal areas of both North and South America, establishing a series of seven trading colonies from what is now Washington state, as far south as the coast of modern-day Chile. The Philippine islands were also colonized at this time by the Chinese, however, the evidence suggests that this was not the first such colonization by the Chinese. Along the way, other foreign powers also made their presence known in the islands: at one time, even the Vietnamese colonized the islands. I was unaware that the Vietnamese were imperialistic, however, history shows otherwise. During the 1500's, the Spanish and Portugese became the subjugating powers in the Islands and the history since that time is pretty well known to most of us. After our visit to the US Embassy,(which I will return to later) Tom and I took a tour of part of Manila. As has been said, it is a huge city. We skirted around part of the old sea wall, which was built during the time of the Spaniards, and at present, is quite a ways from the the sea. It was largely built by slave labor. Tom and I noted, that for all of the angst that we as Americans have about our past and the use of slave labor in our nation building, every other great nation has always done that. Doesn't make it right, but is, nevertheless, a historical fact. The wall is massive and an amazing structure to behold. Manila has incorporated a significant amount of green spaces throughout the city, with numerous parks and open areas,and, given the population of the city and all that it requires, is refreshing, indeed. There is an interesting mingling of the old with the new, and the transition sometimes isn't that obvious.

To the Embassy: going to one of our embassies abroad is always a special experience and there are certain protocols that are observed. Tom and I both dressed in dark blue blazers, with our UofL Cardinal lapel pins, red cardinal polo shirts, kakki pants, etc. We wanted to look nice and reasonably professional. The US Embassy is across from the Bayview Hotel, where we spent monday night, and was a short walk from the hotel. It is surrounded by a secured perimeter, patrolled by what appeared to be Filipino Military guards carrying what appears to be H&K automatic assault weapons, and although their demeanor was stern, when spoken to, and asked for directions, they softened and were genuinely friendly. There is an area where people applying for visas to the US must go to be processed, however we were directed to the main gate for our entry into the embassy. Presently, with the tensions that are manifest in the Korean peninsula, everything is in a state of high alert. I suspect that the level of security at the perimeter is higher than normal, as a result. At the Embassy gate, we were met by local Filipino Security Guards that were designated by their uniforms as being United States Embassy Security Personnel. Since we had an appointment with the ambassador, we were registered at the main gate,surrendered our passports, were given visitor badges that indicated that we were to have escorts, and ushered into a holding area where we had to pass through a security gate, much like the TSA ones in airports. Since Dr. J. had a bag with gifts for various embassy officers, it had to be checked and passed. We were given seats and waited for our escort to arrive and pick us up. Shortly, a lady named Rose came and introduced herself and invited us to accompany her to the Office of Cultural Affairs where we were met by the Officer in Charge of that section. The embassy is a large compound, consisting of several buildings, some of which are undergoing renovation, and there is an older section being torn down and a new building being constructed. There were construction people all around, and without exception, they all had ID's and there were numerous security guards in the interior of the compound. We were met by Rick Nelson, the Public Affairs liason, and were escorted over to the main building to meet with the ambassador. Here, we passed through yet another security area, this time to be checked by US Marines. Our names were recorded and checked against a list to confirm that we did, indeed, have an appointment with the ambassador, and then were ushered in to the foyer of the ambassador's office. This was an elegant, darkly paneled room with art work on the walls suggestive of the Philippine Islands, and life thereof, some nice porcelain urns(maybe Chinese?)on mahogany tables, and large overstuffed leather couches and chairs, that were very comfortable. Glass panels in the walls facing the inner sanctum of the office, gave us a view of where the ambassador's business was being conducted. We had arrived about 1/2 hr. early, and actually were received a little before our scheduled appointment time. An official embassy photographer showed up and we were then taken in to meet the ambassador. The Honorable Harry Brooks, Jr. took up his appointed office in April of this year, succeeding Ambassador Kenne, the former US Ambassador to the Philippines. Ambassador Brooks is a big man, dressed nicely in a well-fitted gray business suit and a blue bow tie. He met us with an ear-to-ear grin and a genuinely warm welcome and firm handshake. Official photos were taken, introductions were made, but hardly necessary, as Ambassador Brooks had apparently already studied our dossiers in detail. Comments that he made to us indicated that he was aware of our past military connections, and made it a point to thank us personally for our service to our country. At the time, I didn't think a whole lot about those comments, but reflecting upon them now, I am humbled that a high government official thought enough about us to make those kinds of comments. There is an element of class in a person like that, one who does pay attention to detail, and it is extremely gratifying to know that persons of such caliber are in positions of responsibility, representing our government, and us, to other governments abroad. I expected this meeting to last about five, maybe ten minutes at the most, but Ambassador Brooks was in no hurry and everything was quite relaxed. It became obvious that he has a passion for foreign service, and spoke with pride of where he had been, and where he was from. We all compared notes in similarities of our respective pasts, and just how fortunate we are to be where we are in life. He then wanted to know, in great detail about the ISL Program. Again, evident in his comments was more than a passing knowledge of the program, but he wanted to hear from Tom and myself, firsthand, about our respective parts in the program, and how it works. We discussed the horizon-broadening experience that the program provides for our students, and the good that we have been able to accomplish through it, and that we function as de-facto ambassadors to the people of the Philippines and other parts of the world with the outreach of our program. In a way, it sounds trite, but in reality, it is true. I never realized it before, but Dr. J. pointed out that we were the first foreign visitors, ever, to the Barangay of Paril, and with that visit, we were able to forever indelibly etch on the minds of the people there, what Americans are truly like. Ambassadors, indeed!! Our meeting extended on to an hour. We talked about so many things, there is not really room here to describe. But, suffice it to say, we made some serious friends at the embassy, and who knows where that will lead? We then had an out-briefing with the public affairs people, who expressed concerns about the media possibly hounding us, and how to handle it, (ie., let the embassy do it!). We has an opportunity to see the hall where the Japanese War Crimes were prosecuted--so much history! Outside we saw the central flagpole in the court yard, with bullet holes and dents from combat in the Second World War. The flag was flying at half-mast that day, in honor of the death of a military officer, whose name escapes me. I think that it is significant, and important, that this flag pole has not been replaced with one unblemished, but serves as a reminder of the realities of that war and current conflicts, and our roles and responsibilities, past, present, and future. I am glad that it is still there. Ambassador Brooks suggested that, if we had the time, we should visit the Philippine and American Cemetery, as it was a very important site. 17,000 US and Philippine soldiers are buried there. It is an awesome and holy place. One can't visit a place like that and not come away with feelings of strong emotions. The horror, and the ultimate cost of human conflicts--we never seem to learn................

It is interesting to note that in many of these conflicts, key players have a local history with the geographical locations, and people of the conflicts. Theodore White, in his book, "An American Caesar,the Story of General Douglas MacArthur", writes of the time that Gen. MacArthur spent growing up in the Philippines when his father was stationed here, and the impact it had on him, and his connection with the Philippine people. General Norman Swarzkopf,(hero of Desert Storm), grew up in Kuwait and Iraq. General Patton spent a lot of time in Europe and northern Africa, as a young man prior to WWII. One wonders about this. Destiny, perhaps? What does the future hold for us??

Today, we went shopping to pick up some supplies. This went well and we were able to get everything but new patient chairs. The dental guys will like the nifty little chest of drawers that we got for each station. Should make getting stuff organized a lot easier in the clinic. Tomorrow, we will haul it up to Paril and inventory what's there and make sure everything is in working order. We picked up our pharmaceutical stuff at the Southern Pharmacy. Mr. Tiu, the owner is a good guy, and gives us a break on prices. He was asking us all kinds of questions about the program, and what we do in Paril. Even among the poor, Paril is recognized as a place of grinding poverty, and a place where people suffer because of it. He asked me, "Why do you keep coming back?" Why, indeed?

If I have learned anything in life, it is the significance and value of trust. We should never, ever, promise anything that we can't deliver. I think that one of the reasons that we are so successful with our program is that we take this kind of responsibility to heart. Talk is cheap, and we never talk if we can't back it up. We return, year after year, because of the commitment we make to the people of the communities that we serve. But as faculty, we have a greater commitment to our students to provide an experiential framework, wherein they can grow, and experience the gratification od doing something for their fellow human beings, that really does make a lasting change in their quality of life. So, why do we keep coming back? Why, indeed?

Submitted by Thomas J. Clark, DMD

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