Friday, July 3, 2020

Congratulations To Sara

I LIGHT THE FIREWORKS this weekend to congratulate my recent high school graduate who understood, despite the tears, lack of garlands, friend group shots and a processed diploma, that she had to forego a real graduation ceremony in favor of a virtual one during this time of pandemic. She will be attending SUNY Binghamton for a degree in Psychology. Congratulations baby, and thank you to Maspeth Kiwanis for the scholarship award.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Too Close For Comfort

MY INDOOR DENIZENS are foregoing social distancing just to bask in the sun on this backyard beach--er, nursery. It's quite a sight while I do horticulture work and polish repurposing the garage, while The Lettermen croon "A Summer Place" on my wife's radio. Are we really back?

The structure was retired from its original service as a garage, fenced off from the driveway, a private door cut on its side wall, and its window widened to convert it into a writing shed, still in progress under the watchful eye of a fragrant linden tree.

Group shot, clockwise from the rear: (1) the first F. philippinensis (jaundiced from having been indoors since last fall), (2) the latest F. philippinensis with an aerial root being trained soilward using an orange drinking straw, (3) the aged and pricey F. microcarpa with a branch being converted into an aerial root using a water bottle filled with soaked sphagnum moss, (4) the popular F. microcarpa ginseng (also called "mallsai"--go figure), and (5) the young tiger bark F. retusa, in training and experimental restyle. Joining the gang are two other Mindoro denizens in welcome company: (6) sampalok (Tamarindus indica) and (7) kalimumogtsaang gubat or Fukien tea tree (Ehretia microphylla), both newly repotted.

The young tiger bark F. retusa out of the box.
The trunk was made horizontal by digging up and exposing the main root and propping it on a rock.
Wired and styled with new exposed roots.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

The Death Of A Toad (Take N)

RE-REWORKED THIS OLD sonnet for this guy who breathes through the skin. Two viruses together: COVID 19 and systemic racism.

The Toad’s Elegy

What a season this is to be described:
the air is toxic, and noose poles arrive.
Shall I stay at home, as dumb as a fish
copped out because the sun air fries the skin,
no donned N95 to mask its hiss
exhaling voodoo that poisons the rain?

Let at breakneck speed the deluge run wide,
slay a sun breached by the mirroring tide,
genuflect before the crown, this burnt flood,
detox amphibious hearts fed with foul blood.
I shall wear this voice until it is gone,
hip hop on the death of a jaundiced sun.

I shall wear this hide that gifts me with breath,
kill with warts those viruses from the wreath.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Life In The Time Of COVID

TESS HAD TO GO BACK cutting hair when the virus struck and my Chinese barber closed shop in Elmhurst (she now avoids Elmhurst like the plague--ouch!-- including Chinese supermarkets and Pinoy friends she normally visits).  So she gave me this haircut to prove her styling prowess, the one she used on her visiting father (who happened to sport an easy Kojak style) before he passed on. Meanwhile, Andrea Wigert, matriarch of Wigert's Bonsai in Fort Myers, FL sent me this picture of the new Ficus philippinensis pre-bonsai, a diamond-in-the-rough, that I ordered from her before she shipped it from her nursery last Memorial Day weekend.  As soon as it arrived and was by my former garage, Tess volunteered to style it her way, and I must say my new pre-bonsai doesn't look too bad at all. Good job, Mom! Just wait till she gets it repotted and those nebari roots controlled.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Parallel Roots

MY BALETE BONSAI (Ficus microcarpa) has been my keeper of sanity this past week. It is ready to hit the backyard any day soon, but something must to be done first: transform a branch into an aerial root that is parallel with the others and a column of darkly colored soil.

A branch was obstructing the view of the aerial roots.
So I bent it downwards and wired it to an old aerial root.

Removed its foliage and planted it in a pot made from a water bottle filled with black Long Island compost. By the end of summer, new aerial roots will emerge from the branch to be directly planted in and feed on the earth in the ceramic pot. If it doesn't work, I'll use sphagnum moss instead.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

A Growing Paranoia

I HAVE IDEAS FROM South America this growing season, but my wife says there is something creepy about this indoor bonsai (Myrciaria jaboticaba) that I'm planning to buy, after she saw pictures of the tree fully grown in Brazil. Would you? Or does it look like namumutiktik sa bundat na garapata?

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Blue (And White) Maspeth, 2015

SINCE THERE WILL BE NO Memorial Day parade in Maspeth this year, I'm going back to this pomp five years ago when NY Dem bigwigs descended on Grand Avenue near Mt. Olivet Cemetery, for a semblance of the normal. From Queens Gazette. Cheers!

Grand Marshals WW II Army veterans 88th Infantryman James Desio and Staff Sergeant William Aronowicz

The NY Shields Police Pipes & Drums

US Senator Chuck Schumer

Queens District Attorney (then Borough President) Melinda Katz

State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr., former Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, former Assemblywoman Marge Markey, Attorney General (then Public Advocate) Letitia James and Congresswoman Grace Meng

Saturday, April 4, 2020

With Fists Of Turnips Punishes The Land

DEATHS, SUFFERINGS, FEARS--too many to count, all without warning, indiscriminate, not man-made, the result of the natural process of evolution. How do you wrap your head around it?

New Yorkers in the borough of Queens queue at Elmhurst hospital (the center of the city’s coronavirus crisis) for tests as 13 deaths are reported in one day (AP)

A hero: a haunting image out of Elmhurst Hospital in Trump's native Queens that appeared to rattle him. 

A supply shelf in Elmhurst Queens hospital. Dr. Colleen Smith tells ABC News the orange bags are body bags for the deceased.

Workers construct a makeshift morgue outside Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. 
Refrigerator trucks are being used as makeshift morgues in New York. (AP)

A 38-year-old nurse at a Manhattan hospital shared this image yesterday of the inside of one of the refrigerated trucks lined on either side with the dead bodies of covid-19 victims. (Daily Mail)
Nature's handiwork

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Safety Days

THREE DAYS OFF EVERY TWO-WEEK pay period (designated as "Weather and Safety Leave" uncharged to an employee's annual and sick leave balance), plus buddies from the largely dead airport joining us at the seaport starting today, are welcome reprieves to essential seaport workers who have been showing up for work day in and day out despite the coronavirus pandemic. My imagination had my eyes glued on that vile swarm on a metallic sign shield, trying to figure out what the heck they were. Were those spotted lanternflies that had invaded Red Hook through a cargo ship from Philly? A portent of new bugs to come, already here? Even the blue sorbet king of the Queens neighborhood was not horsing around. After all, Port Authority boss Rick Cotton, Cuomo's buddy, already got the virus. Just be safe, all!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Fig Of My Imagination

WAITING FOR WARMER WEATHER that would let my new Ficus bonsai ship from a nursery in Florida (at $315 after $150 credit card bonus still not cheap), I ordered a console table from Amazon ($68 shipping included) to replace the metal cover of the thermostat by the west window of the bedroom and prepare a tropical spot for it next winter, then picked up a kerosene lamp at ACE Hardware (on sale at $8.70 tax included) to complete the works, soon to be together. The balete has many uses in traditional Asian medicine, the aerial roots of some species being a good immunostimulant or booster of the immune system. Will they make good fortifying tea against the coronavirus? Check out these collaborative scientific papers by Kmail, et al. (p. 55), Khan, et al. and Wei Chiang Chan, et al. Last is a fascinating article on Mangyan folk medicine by late Mindoro missionary Magdalena Leykamm (Google Translate into English) describing the use of balete bark as an antirheumatic.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Sublimate Hero?

APOLINARIO MABINI contracted the polio virus at age 31 that rendered him a paralytic, but it was not the bug that killed him; it was the cholera virus in his favorite drink, carabao milk, that did him in two months after he was allowed to return to the Philippines in 1903 from his exile in Guam, after he refused to swear allegiance to the American colonial government. Reading about epidemics and the Philippine Revolution, I strayed into this somewhat irreverent but interesting look at the enigmatic hero by Nick Joaquin in the July 28, 1962 issue of the Philippines Free Press.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

A Saint's Petition

"THE MOST WONDERFUL and beautiful letter" out of the six left behind by San Ecequiel Moreno after the great fire of August 12, 1881 that reduced the capital town of Calapan to ashes, according to Antoon Postma, is this petition addressed to the Vicario Capitular of the Arzobispado de Manila, urging the creation of a town out of a Mangyan settlement named Sta. Cruz outside Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro. The future saint's concern and admiration for Mangyan virtues is evident in the letter, as is his awareness of their exploitation and abuse by Christian Tagalogs (true to this day to some extent). For San Ecequiel's other letters, evangelistic missions in Mindoro and canonization after death, read here.

     In compliance with the disposition of Your Excellency in the preceding decree, I am supplying you hereby with the information requested from me, and as suggested by the Fiscal with regards to the establishment of a townsite in the settlement of Sta. Cruz, an annex of Sablayan, together with the creation of new mission posts on this island (Mindoro).

     The petition of the missionary-priest of Sablayan in the name of the Mangyans residing in Sta. Cruz, is in my opinion worthy of attention and approval, due to the advantages it can give to the Religion and the State, once a town will have started in that place, with the obligations that its inhabitants have taken upon themselves.

     How many people know anything about Mindoro? How many have traveled the huge distances that are separating the different towns from each other; have felt the need for intervening settlements to divide those long stretches of roads that are extremely lonely and difficult?

     Only the poor Tagalog, forced by an urgent government request, would dare to undertake these trips, along narrow trails, with dense vegetation, crossing rivers and swamps, going up and down the mountains, without any hope or consolation of finding a resting place nearby, in case his strength fails him.

     That’s why it is clear that those Alcaldes [Mayores] who might have visited (all) the towns of this island are rare, yes extremely rare indeed, and that’s why the (government) orders are slow to take effect, [doing so] at some imaginary time in the vague future.

     Last month (Jan. 1876) I had to send some instructions to the missionary-priest of Mangarin, and I looked for a Tagalog man best suited for this task, one well acquainted with the way going there, and who had made several trips already to that place. I gave him money, and whatever he would still need on his trip, but nevertheless, it is now almost one month since he left, and at this moment I don’t know whether the message has been delivered, or what the response was of the missionary.

     If this happens with a special dispatch well paid for, it can be imagined what would happen with the orders that are sent by a descending line of court officials through someone who is not interested whether his message will arrive sooner or later, and who is not urged on by Gobernadorcillos, or village heads.

     From the above it is clear that it is of great advantage to establish the village in question, because it is going to split up the 12 leagues (about 67 km) between Mamburao and Sablayan, and facilitate the communications that bring so many benefits.

     The new townsite will not change altogether the conditions prevailing in Mindoro, but to a certain extent it surely will. It is a step forward in the execution of the great job that has to be done for the island. The place in question couldn’t be more appropriate, and favorable results will undoubtedly be obtained, as already pointed out in earlier reports.

     This new township deserves also special attention and protection because the ones requesting the formal establishment are pagans. They pledge themselves to conditions that are most beneficial to the Religion and the State; they are now subjects who want to obey authorities that previously they did not submit to, and didn’t even know about; they are people searching and requesting for our Faith and our Tradition, and it is reasonable and fair that we accept them. It is important to do it in such a way that the fruits, obtained by the hard work of the missionary, will not be lost, and I believe therefore, that it is very important that we treat them favorably in everything possible, even to the point of spoiling them at the beginning.

     The Mangyans of Sta. Cruz are still like children who need encouragement, like fragile floats that can’t sail without a favorable wind in the back, and where the slightest contrary breeze will make them founder.

     A kind and fatherly treatment of them is needed; we have to please and not to oppose them at present, and undoubtedly, the results will be favorable and will still increase in the future. When they come to recognize the advantage of living in community, enjoy and be happy with the benefits that Religion offers them, together with the security provided by the government, they will like to participate in well-being and progress for their fellow beings, and give additional support to the missionary who brings the Good News to those who are still left behind in the jungle.

     Today, more than ever, it is imperative to give protection to the Mangyans of Sta. Cruz, once the creation of new missions in this island is realized, which is the subject of the serious consideration of this dossier, as expressed very well in the Fiscal’s opinion, and about which I will be saying something presently.

     After the statements of the authorities of this Province, of the priest of Sablayan, and of the Most Reverend Fr. Provincial of the Recoletos in their respective excellent reports on the case in question, I am the only one still to add my recommendation and opinion to those of such respectable and competent persons.

     I will do so, without many words, without giving more reasons in favor of this matter, because all have studied it in depth, and all agree, supported by strong arguments, that the creation of new missions is profitable and necessary, if this island is to be pulled out of the decadence it finds itself in.

     However, since my humble opinion is requested, together with relevant additional information, I will do so most willingly and will state what I think and know about this particular case.

     If I would be telling Your Excellency, that even aside from the Mangyans, and just considering the welfare in the secular and spiritual sense, and the progress already established on the island, that for these reasons alone there is already a need for the creation of new missions, I would have said enough.

     There are l8 towns on the island itself, and three on the two islands of Sibay, Semirara and Caluya, villages belonging to Mangarin. All of these 18 towns are along the beaches that are surrounding this immense and large island, without roads for communication, as I pointed out already.

     In most of the villages there is no respectable person to be found who could take care of its inhabitants, no one to enlighten and watch over them, no one to imbue in them concepts of helpfulness, progress and dedication to work.

     The local authorities are practically useless, although for these positions the most qualified persons have been elected. Only the Provincial Authority, by making a special effort, is able to visit these villages once, and the parish-priest only a few times, a year, which is the most they can afford.

     It is impossible for only 5 parish priests to frequently go around the whole coastal area that has a length of 85 to 90 leagues [or from 460-500 km], let alone also the 3 islands that belong to Mangarin.

     For example, it is practically impossible for the parish priest of Naujan to be in charge of more than 3000 souls of the town itself where he resides, as well as of 2,000 more who live in 6 other towns, also within his jurisdiction, comprising an area along a shoreline of 20 leagues [or 110 km] in length.

     Because of this lack of supervision and instruction, the inhabitants of these towns are ignorant and lazy, and have no incentive to work. Most of them spend weeks and months in the forests without returning to the town, living on the fruits and edible rootcrops that the fertile soil of Mindoro spontaneously and in abundance supplies them with.

     Many of them subsist on the work of the Mangyans, who are being exploited by them in a shameful way, [they] deserving the most severe punishment [for this exploitation]. The Mangyans are being deceived by them with false deals that most of the time result in their becoming slaves of these unfortunate people.

     This laziness, apathy and lack of interest, this way of living is the root of all other vices, and of the fact that they are not interested at all to have roads, or any progress in their towns, which are just a group of small and worn-out houses, and shelters for some criminals, who are acquainted with the simplicity and ignorance of the inhabitants, and feel confident not to be known and discovered.

     Some time ago one of these [criminals] was the manager and trusted person of a Gobernadorcillo, and neither this official nor the townspeople were in the least suspicious of him.

     Who could put a stop to all these abuses, free the people in these villages from their ignorance, make them into useful workers, and look after the progress of their miserable towns? What I have said already serves as an answer.

     The parish priest during his visits is aware of the abuses and denounces them, he enlightens wherever he can, works hard to make the addicted give up their vices, succeeds in obtaining the conversion of many. However, once the parish priest has left, they return to their old vices, partly because surely no one will reprimand them, and also because they are not well enough aware of the advantages of virtue, and the bad consequences of vice.

     Taking all this into consideration, one is bound to notice the need for the [population] increase of some missions, were it only for the proper well-being and progress of what is existing already.

     If apart from that, one seeks to increase the population, and wishes to do something in favor of the thousands of souls that are hidden in the forests, then, by all means, the six or eight missions suggested should be created.

     The number of Mangyans is hard to estimate, although an approximate number is given of 30,000, but I can only say for sure that there are many, and that after trekking for 3 or 4 hours from the beach into the interior, starting at whatever point of the island, one can still encounter the Mangyans.

     These people are gentle, and obedient to their leaders and elders, don’t cheat, and stick to their given word as if it were a solemn oath.

    They don't practice polygamy, and marriage is a formal act considered to be indissoluble. They punish disobedience, theft and other crimes, especially adultery. As far as could be verified, they have a rather vague belief in a Supreme Being, in the immortality of the soul and in reward and punishments.

     These customs and beliefs of the Mangyan are extremely favorable for a good result of the missions, and we may trust that with God’s help, abundant fruits can be obtained.

     The Tagalog, abusing the Mangyan the way he does, treating him more like an animal than a human being, receives from him obedience, submission, and even, I venture to say, respect.

     If the Tagalog managed this with the way he treats them, what not could the missionary achieve who is not abusing him? He will give him whatever he can afford, will teach him, and free him from slavery, and will treat him with the kindness of a father to his son. The missionary will be prepared to live with the Mangyans, and suffer with them when they suffer, or enjoy when they enjoy. With his soft character and patience he will make them better disposed; will make them accept his fatherly and affable treatment, and the meaning of community life and work, and in this way they will group together in settlements that should be organized initially in a way most advantageous to the purpose we have in mind.

     The Mangyan will come to realize the value of his labor, and the real price of his products. There will be no more deceit in the presence of the missionary, and the Tagalog will have to eat “by the sweat of his brow."

     Once the Mangyan is acquainted with us, his conversion to the Faith assured, and settlements established, it will not be difficult to open up roads of communication with the interior of the island that today is still a kind of enchanted castle filled with treasures, but fortified with its spectral and dense vegetation and inaccessible to the best prepared and most daring explorer.

     At present, hardly the ninth part of the land area of this island is under our control or known to us, all the rest we don’t possess in reality, nor do we have any knowledge of it.

     Therefore, if it is desired to develop and effect the temporary and eternal happiness of those thousands of people who are buried in the mire of disbelief, if it is desired to understand this island, make profit and utilize the riches it has in store, in my opinion, and in the opinion of all the prudent persons who know Mindoro well, it is important, nay, it is imperative, that the missions requested
should be created.

     This is the most appropriate way and one that will only cost a little money (which will be recovered with accrued interest), and eventually the lives of some missionaries.

     The poor health conditions in all underdeveloped and virgin land, the exhaustion of daily trips and other travails, will snatch these valuable lives away. But what can we do about it? It has always happened like that, and it should not he discounted as a setback in this great work.

     Because there is still Faith, there is still Heroism, there are still Apostles and Followers of the Crucified, there are still men who are eager to give their lives for the sake of their brothers, and die martyrs’ deaths.

     They are the fortunate ones! The Country will always remember them, and God will give them a great reward, eternal life!

     This is all I want to say in this connection, as a proper response to the request of Your Excellency, dated the 31st of last month. May God bless you for many years to come!

Calapan, 18th February, 1876

San Ecequiel Moreno, Vicar Forane of Mindoro, 1873-76, patron saint of cancer patients

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Dogeaters In Coney Island

NOT ABOUT MANGYANS, but recently discovered book The Lost Tribe of Coney Island by journalist Claire Prentice is a welcome addition to the imperial Gothic shelf, especially because its story took place on nearby ground. The event was an offshoot of the St. Louis Exposition of 1904, not out of government initiative but private enterprise this time, when Truman K. Hunt, doctor and conman in charge of the Igorot village in the Midwest, returned to the Philippines after the exposition closed and recruited his own band of Igorots comprising 51 men, women and children who were eventually exhibited in Coney Island and became a hit at its old Luna Park (nothing to do with the new Luna Park with the Cyclone roller coaster) in the summer of 1905. Their exploitation, deception and degradation in the big city is told and documented by Prentice in this amazing book. "Americans gone rogue, as Prentice puts it, have long been a part of the Philippines’ landscape, but Truman Hunt, an inveterate liar, a bigamist and a slave driver, seems nearly unparalleled as far as scoundrels go. In some sense, this slick-talking charlatan becomes a stand-in for America itself, or a certain version of America in its more opportunistic historical moments, blind to its own faults and willing to do anything to turn a buck. As Antoinette Funk, Hunt’s lawyer, declared at one of his trials: 'The government set the example of exhibiting the people. The government was the first to bring them to this country for show purposes.' She had a good point, if not a defense."--Robin Hemley in The New York Times 

A young Igorot girl at Coney Island in 1905 (via Claire Prentice)

Seeing $$$: Truman K. Hunt with some Igorots at the World's Fair in St. Louis in 1904 (via Claire Prentice) 

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Winter Mission

AROUND WINTERTIME IN THE Northern Hemisphere every year, octogenarian Dr. Godofredo Ng (Uncle Freddie to all of us), former surgical director of Carolina Medical Mission, brings his entourage all the way from Raleigh, North Carolina to our hometown in Mindoro to do noble work. Assisting him when in Pinamalayan are doctors and dentists from the Ng clan at Pinamalayan Doctors' Hospital: Tess' sisters Dr. Eloisa Ng and Dr. Joyce Ng, late brother Dr. Robert Ng† (who still directs from above), cousins Dr. Antonio Ng, Dr. Marivi Ng, Dr. Adonis Ng, sister-in-law Dr. Mignonne Ng and niece Dr. Romina Ng. Uncle Freddie's medical mission for Mangyan children last week, held in the hospital's covered court, looks like a success from these photos, shared by Dr. Eloisa Ng, Tess' youngest sister. I'll never tire of saying this: I love my wife and her family.

Dr. Godofredo Ng, former surgical director of Carolina Medical Mission (Photo by Spencer Dempsey)

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Children Of The Ash


Mangyan children collecting charcoal on the side of the Bongabong River. Wood is covered with soil and rocks and set on fire for a certain period of time to produce charcoal. The temperature of the wood must not be too hot for the wood to produce the best charcoal. After the wood cools children help sift through the sand and soil to get every small piece of charcoal they can find. (Photo and caption by Jacob Maentz)

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Postma Manuscripts

I COMPILED INTO A BIBLIOGRAPHY (in neither the MLA or APA format) all of Antoon Postma's work deposited at the Mangyan Heritage Center library in Calapan, accumulated in his almost six decades of working and living with Mangyans from 1958 to 2016. Aside from the five books and about a dozen journal articles he has seen publication during his lifetime, the bulk of his remaining documents are unpublished manuscripts, many of which one may consider as overlapping and repetitive, but testimony to Postma's accreting and evolving understanding of his subject. I am most interested in information I am yet to discover on subjects like Mangyan reducción efforts by early Spanish missionaries, Mangyan interaction with the American imperial government during the early 20th century, abuses committed against Mangyans by the military and lowland Christians in more recent times, and information of anthropological importance (or curiosity) like the rituals in gathering of honey, boiling water to make salt, removing poisonous substances in wild tubers to make them edible, and so on. I wish Postma had done research on the shore-dwelling Mangyans in Bansud before they were driven inland by Christian settlers from Marinduque (the name of the town came from "basud", Mangyan word for "delta" where they once farmed, fished and flourished before turning to the mountains.) But there is none.

With what is available however, book-worthy nonetheless, I have asked Emily Catapang, Executive Director of MHC, to have their text typed up in a CD and submitted with hard copies to UP Press or Anvil for consideration, and she is open to the idea. To enter Postma's world in Panaytayan, Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro, click on his photo in Kurt Hoerbst's slideshow.

(by Kurt Hoerbst, 2007)

Postma's 2004 handwritten transcript (first page) of Karyo's account of his travel to America in 1904, as gathered by Fletcher Gardner in 1939