Sunday, June 28, 2009

Intramuros

Couldn't get on the internet this morning when we tried--so this to our family and friends who hoped, perhaps, for one of those morning-here-evening-there phone conversations, sorry. We were thinking about you, though.

Yesterday, Beng took us out in a nice air-conditioned van to the walled city, Intramuros, where we toured the oldest standing church (during a wedding), San Agustin, and the Santiago fort that the Japanese took over in WWII, where they killed quite a few Filipino and American soldiers, and where, at the turn of the 20th century, they imprisoned and executed Jose Rizal, one of the country's heroes (an intellectual and novelist, too).

It was both lovely and spooky to tour the fort, walking in the brassed footsteps that mark out the path they marched Rizal along on the day of his death, looking through the closed windows at the cell where they kept him before sentencing him to death by firing squad. The gardens inside the fort are lush and tended; Beng says that there was a time, about 25 years ago, when it had all grown over with jungle, neglected. "I love these gardens," she said. "I'd love that house, if it were mine," she pointed to Rizal's white Spanish colonial memorial. "That's my ideal house."

The heat and humidity pressed down on us, making our clothes weigh more, our steps heavier. Across the river, a river choked with floating weeds, Manila bustled with life. A cluster of men on a far pier, stripped to their shorts, hooted and jostled with each other. I wondered whether they were thinking of jumping in. Behind us, in the locked dungeons, the ghosts of drowned military men, centuries of them, lay still, waiting for the evening's coolness.

We ended our journey at the bay, watching the sunset. A man with a bucket of fish attracted a cluster of men and boys, crouching by his catch, the usual curiosity lighting their faces. Families sauntered in the heat, looking out over the water. The high rises, the boats on the water: I was reminded of San Diego, summers spent with Grandma Tutu. I tried not to think about the two hungry faced boys who hid by the parking lot, behind the row of blinking, raucous bars, waiting for us to pass by, flush with our good fortune.

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