During the few days after our medical mission in the Philippines, Katya and I had arranged to meet my cousin Viktoria in the town of Lingayen on the coast of the province of Pangasinan. We had taken a bus from Baguio in the morning and arrived in the town at midday. Viktoria was still on her way from Manila so we hired a tricycle to bring us to a beachside resort where she said she could meet us.
We arrived with five bags of luggage, and received a warm welcome from the resort employees. It was probably a slow day. When we informed them we actually were not checking in but would only be staying for lunch they carried our bags to the restaurant. They told us that the cast and crew of the popular daytime drama “The Legal Wife” was staying there and shooting a scene the beach.
Other than a Russian family and two or thee resort workers who were taking siesta on the veranda, we were the only ones at the restaurant. They kept an enormous fish, a "giant arapaima", in a tiny pond by the entrance. After we showed some interest in photographing this fish, one of the servers came out with a bucket of chum to feed it. Although it had been floating motionless in the pool, it suddenly came alive and snapped up the chunks of meat with surprising speed when the server tossed them into the water.
Viktoria soon arrived, accompanied her driver, and my son Joel. We all drove to her family’s house nearby, actually a small compound consisting of a number of structures, including a single story main house, a smaller dwelling for the help, and a separate library which served as kind of a museum to her late father, a former governor of Pangasinan. The property extended about 700 meters to the beach, and included a couple large fish ponds, a covered dining area, and another cinderblock house that had been illegally built on the property. Viktoria’s family was in the middle of a lawsuit to have the owners evicted.
Lingayen Bay is famous for being a launching point for the Allied assult to take back the island of Luzon from the Japanese during World War II. Across from the legislative building next to the beach is a park where an old WWII tank and fighter jet are on display. There is also a small interpretive center which tells the story of the Allied invasion. The park is brightly illuminated all night long, and pop music constantly and inexplicably blares from hidden speakers. Just down the beach, the governor’s mansion glitters with Christmas lights, late into February. Since electricity is not cheap here, it is a conspicious and gaudy use of public resources.
On the eve of the Allied invasion, Filipino resistance fighters had informed the Allies that the Japanese opposition would be weak, and that there would be no need to bomb Lingayen. But for three days, Allied navy artillery and aircraft unleashed a devastating bombardment on suspected Japanese defenses anyway, destroying part of the town. Afterwards, the Allies landed without any opposition and established a 20 mile beachhead.
There is a lot of WWII history in the Philippines. The legacy of war can be seen on the most popular form of public transportation, the jeepney, which originally was built from American military jeeps that were sold or left behind after the war. The war also left a huge impression on the popular culture: Filipinos love WWII history, war movies, guns and violence as much as Americans, maybe even more so!
Another example is can be found in the aluminum boats of Bolinao.
Bolinao is the farthest western region of the province of Pangasinan. It is notable for the Cape Bolinao Lighthouse, a number of caves, the 400 year-old church of St James The Great, and some very beautiful beaches. On a whim we all decided to spend a couple days there before returning to Manila. Although she had traveled extensively around the province in her youth while helping with her father’s political campaigns, Viktoria was not familiar with Bolinao. She had not been there since her days as a rising pop star, when one of her music videos was shot on location at the lighthouse. While we were checking in at the Puerto Del Sol Resort, the manager at the resort recognized her, and said his sister was a big fan of her music.
The Puerto Del Sol resort at Bolinao has a gorgeous white sand beach, and the water is very shallow and protected by a reef about couple hundred meters offshore. You can walk through the water all the way up to the reef from the beach. At night fishermen wade along the shore wearing headlamps to attract octopus. In the morning we saw quite a few people out there collecting shells at low tide.
Katya and I were interested in taking a boat out and had hired a traditional wooden banca to take us to explore one of the offshore islands. It turned out to be a much longer trip then we had anticipated so we ended up directing the skipper to take us up the nearby Balingasay River instead. Along the shore we noticed a number of small boats with aluminum hulls that our guide said were made out of old WWII Japanese airplane parts. The aluminum apparently came from Japanese fighter planes that had either been shot down or abandoned. He said there were at least 30 of them along the river. The hull has a long teardrop shape, fitted with wooden thwarts and gunwales. These boats are paddled with a single blade paddle, like canoes. Since the hulls could be over 60 years old, I suspect that the boats probably have been rebuilt and the wooden parts replaced several times.
I admire the creativity of people who can repurpose junk and make a functional boat. This is typical of the Philippines, where I’ve seen sit-on-top "kayaks" made out of bamboo, fishing net and flotsam, and swimming fins made from plywood and bicycle tire rubber. They do it out of necessity, of course: poverty and the scarcity demand creativity and resourcefulness. Our consumer culture seems obscenely wasteful in comparison.