Ever want to see where your grandmother grew up or the land of where your mom took the bus daily?

After 27 years of waiting, my family offered me the room and board...

We ran, climbed (trees), and swam.

This video captures some of it....

Forgive me for the romanticizing, but I loved this experience.

 

Key Things Learned

  • The people of the PI, of whom I met, across the age groups want similar things as to my friends, family, and coworkers of Southern California such as; a need for family, friends, relationships, a job, and to live out certain fantasies or dreams. 

  • My mother's aunt speaks not only English and Tagalog but because of the Japanese occupation she even worked a bit as a translator and can throw around a few phrases in Japanese still to this day. Now there are two people in the family who can speak Japanese. 

  • A son of my mother's close family friend may as well be my cousin. I say this because we met at one family gathering when I graduate college and as soon as I made the move to travel to the PI, a simple reach out to him resulted in a place to crash for a few nights, a few meals together, some good laughs, shared stories of travel, and someone who was a family friend quickly became a person I personally can call a friend and have invited to visit anytime to wherever I may be living. 

  • I am continuously amazed by the hospitality offered by the people of the Philippines as well as those of Filipino ancestry now living in the United States. It never ceases to inspire me. 

  • While a photo, may not move on screen, a photo often will move through time. (message!)

 

  • Through internships, volunteer work, athletics, jobs, and travel - I have seen that it is often the labour workers whom have the natural athletic built which some folks spend hours upon hours trying to mold. This man whom appears (based off facial features and skin age) to be above 40 or even 50 years old. 

 

  • We've all experienced that moment...when you think...this dude's job is dope. 

The Run

I wake up to the calls of about four or five roosters. It's 5 a.m. and I quickly prep for some photography to be followed for a jog. My cousin Pil is passed out and there's not a sound in the house. As I stretch while walking outside barefoot the dogs and goats lay at rest. An ancient tree awaits to be  climbed. I get to the a natural saddle in this tree about the size of an oak. It is peaceful and relaxing. Well, until I notice an anthill next to my hand! I move around to a different spot and later get down. There is a family of 4 across the street looking at me with smiles. I wave, say Hello and move on towards the bay side to view the herons skimming the sea and the crabs making there way into dark holes as I near. I look behind me and there is Bon, the probably 10 or 12 year old boy who would become an inspiration to me. A the moment, I figure he was either interested to see my camera or was thinking "this guy climbs trees, has a funny accent, i want to check this guy out for a minute." I offer to let Bon take a few photos of the birds. He politely declines. Alright then, I keep shooting and am scoping out the houses within feet of the water in linear distance but about 10 feet above being held by carefully placed sheet metal and wood. I'm just thinking 'wow this view is great.' "Hey, are you sure you don't want to use this camera?" there are some great shots right now of this wildlife and scenery. He shrugs again politely and continues watching the birds now walk along the lowering tide scouring for sea life.

 I begin to realize it's probably nearing 6 a.m. and I better start my jog because later around 8 I am supposed to meet with my Uncle for breakfast. I look to the kid and say "Hey I'm going for a run, wanna run?", without hesitation this shy kid says "yes", no smile, no exclamation point, just a straight "yes." We pass by his house shortly and he says something to his mom in this Masabate-Cataignan dialect, maybe some of it is Tagalog, I don't really know but it sounded different from what I grew up hearing my mom speak.  His mom smiles and waves goodbye as if to say "see you soon and enjoy your run." I am very surprised that all of this is transpiring. The only thing I know about the kid and his family is that they live next door to my Uncle and say they know him well. So, we're off, we can turn left and go downhill toward the coast or turn right and head up the Valley and climb a few hills. I notice I lean towards the hill and the kid also leans towards the hill. We begin our ascent and it lasts about 20 minutes at a slow but steady pace. We pass by locals beginning to open their shops, a few folks waiting around maybe for a bus ride, and onlookers at the crack of dawn. Our pace remains steady and neither of us seem to be slowing down after we peak the second hill. I begin to test this kid a bit, I jump from one side of a ditch to the other a few times, about a meter distance in width, and he follows suit, with a barely noticeable grin that could just as easily be taken for a face that is in a challenge and loves it, or wants it to end already.  

After now about 25 minutes we reach the base of the opposite side of the hill and see a sign in English that reads "Thank You", I guess for visiting. I look at Bon, he says something, I don't know the words but common sense tells he means something along the lines of, "how far do you plan on running?" I give him my water and he downs it. We stand back up and head back towards home. Then it happens, his sandal breaks. I just realized, he's wearing sandals. This whole time Bon has been running in sandals. We must have already ran 4km's with still another 3km separating us from breakfast.. I stop and before I could even form any real thought, he picks up the sandal off his right foot, he leans forward, and he runs up the hill. "Has he ran this before?" I wonder now. We continue on and in about less than an hour total from the beginning to end, we return from this 6-8km morning jog. Bon's Mother is eager for his return and pats him on the back, we give each other a high five and again without much of a hint of a smile. Bon goes on to receive another water bottle I hand over to him and proceeds to down it in large gulps. He continues standing as if he is not at all tired, until his mother finally tells him to sit down and take a rest. Bon's Father returns home and three other brothers make their way to the front yard. These tall lanky boys pat Bon on the back for his morning hour run. Bon's Mother then turns to me and asks more about my family ancestry. She discovers what she thought she knew all along once she saw me around my Uncles house and heard about me, I am actually distant cousins to Bon and her family! There is a sense of accomplishment in the air and Bon's calm cool demeanor remains as such, but this time the faint sometimes grin, sometimes intense focus on the run, turns into one of light on the porch of his home. 

The oldest brother, JC, stands at about 172cm (5'8") but his hands are the size of someone 2 meters tall, as are his feet. This guy might be able to do something real cool athletically I'm thinking. I notice this I guess cause I play sports so often. There is something about athletic culture that we tend to notice what someone might have the potential to do, sometimes for better or worse in our quick assesements. I also notice the huge hands and feet because, well, he's walking around barefoot and his hands are being used so vibrantly in our conversation. He's pumped to be able to use his English and talk about travelling, He wants to visit anywhere really. JC has a friend that my take an international trip to visit family in Eastern Europe or Asia, so JC is hoping to tag along

JC is a bright college student who seems to be the responsible older brother of the family. Later he notices I look a bit thirsty and asks if I like coconut. "Yea I like coconut". He says "wait here." He walks towards a coconut tree. This is one coconut tree in a sea of about twenty or thirty trees that surround their small farm house. I take out my camera in anticipation. He does exactly what I was thinking he'd do. He climbs the coconut tree with no ladder, no rope, just the tree and very slightly carved out grooves that don't go in more than half an inch. Within 10 seconds he's reaching for a coconut and within 20 he's dropped one to the ground. Another brother, Ajin, strolls over with a machete and opens up the coconut. Within a minute of being asked if I like coconut, I have coconut juice quenching my thirst. It's not over, we still get to eat the fresh, oh so soft coconut meat. Again it's not over, he drops another, and another, and another. We have enough for everyone to enjoy our morning treat with a glass of coffee. JC even rations out the portions meticulously to his baby brother as not to `spoil` him. He actually says "I don't want him to be spoiled, even though he is the baby, he has to wait like every one else." 

This morning was something special. 

 - Written by Jeremy Blanco

 

Epilogue

In reading this story into island culture of the PI I think it is first important to note that "culture" is ever evolving and one should not assume that a native or local people automatically prescribe to what we may see on television, media, or even only one person such as myself's story of an experience. Culture is the total sum of individuals as well as tradition which has been passed on from generation to generation while still evolving regularly. To a subconscious extent, I tend to reflect my own perceived values or even perceived hopes upon the people I visit. For instance, in this running story, take into account that I myself am a runner and athlete, therefore my story due to my brain's wiring and interests are going to lean towards athletic endeavors and often times adrenaline seeking pursuits. Think about this, here is someone on 'vacation' who decides to go for an early morning run on a tiny island with a kid I barely knew anything about except that he can run, was a family friend (turned out to be my cousin), and wanted to run up a mountain with me. Before moving to Japan to teach English, I coached high school athletics for 4 years, gave daily hikes as an outdoor education teacher for students the same age as Bon, and worked for the youth conservation corps building trails and leading youth on strenuous mountain hikes and fitness training. I felt confident that should Bon have any problem on the run we'd be able to return him safely to his family. Here is an author who wanted to run, wanted to experience an adventure, and wanted to connect with family. All three of those happened due to a bias. The story could have easily been about craft making, farming practices in a developing country, family dynamics on a socio-economic-status level, trust, luck, and so on. The amateur anthropologist (myself) in this case remains an enthusiastic amateur, so further study is definitely needed. Thank you for taking the time to read this and hopefully we will all continue our education on such matters, I know I need to!

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