Saturday, September 17, 2005

Foggy SanFo

Fog descended on the city this evening. I lost myself. It was my intention to get lost. So I got lost.

I ventured into the heart of Chinatown. I ventured into Polk where the first theater to offer "live" shows in America continues to do good business after arguing several times in so many years that it has the right to show flesh.

I saw transvestites, gays, lesbians, prostitutes. I passed by the Hustler Club and tried to peek behind the doors of girlie bars to no avail. I saw a lot of massage parlors but I dared not enter, not because I did not want to but because I don't know how much a massage and an "extra service" cost.

Alan said prostitution is illegal here but people offer "escort" services on the streets and "extra services" in massage parlors. It is not prostitution because they are not offering sex, he said.

Words, words, words. They really make the world go round, flat and sometimes oblong. It's fun to be in the business of writing. One can open minds, close eyes and even change the world for better or for worse.

I had a good time exchanging ideas with the International Diplomacy Council here this evening. They invited me to speak about the Abu Sayyaf. I talked about life.

I visited the office of the Center for Investigative Reporting and met with Mark Schapiro. He said only the United States and the Philippines have an investigative center for journalism. He was referring to the PCIJ. He said people in his center admire what PCIJ does in the Philippines and hope that it will continue with its mission.

The other day I visited the journalism department of San Francisco State University. I was impressed by their online journalism course. I hope we can do it in the Philippines too. What is more impressive is a Filipino professor teaches the subject. Our loss, America's gain. That's life.

I went to City Lights again and drowned my imagination with the books on the shelves. I discovered another bookshop in front of City Lights, beside a "topless" bar. I would have entered the bar but I decided against it. A bottle of beer costs the same as one good book. I did not buy a book. I also decided to forego the beer and the sight of naked caucasians dancing. Instead, I bought a bottle of orange juice, a pack of licorice-flavored Jelly Belly, a banana muffin and a bottle of ginger ale. Simple living. Simple desires. Actually, I really don't have the money to spend on more earthly pleasures.

Last night Alan and I went into this Irish bar after the movies. People sang, dance and embrace each other. At least those with partners. I was wondering whether they were already drunk or what. They were just holding their glasses of beer and were not drinking. So unlike us, Filipinos. Most of the time we get drunk first before we sing and dance. I finished three glasses of beer and Alan was just surprised that I did not get drunk. He said with two glasses he could not just walk straight. I said Filipinos don't count how many bottles we drink. We drink until there's nothing more to drink or if we run out of money to buy a drink.

Most Americans I met during my trip have a lot of good things to say about Filipinos. They admire our many talents, our English, our friendship, etc. They just wonder why we can't change our corrupt system of government. I said it's because we are a happy people and happy people don't see corruption as corruption but as an adventure. We look at revolution as a game that sometimes we want to bet on and sometimes we just ignore.

So, what would happen to the Philippines? they asked. Nothing, I said. Why are you doing what you are doing? I said I am not doing anything. Why are activists doing what they are doing? I said because they just want to do it. Why do journalists continue to be journalists in the Philippines when many of their colleagues are being killed? Because they are not yet killed. How do you look at the Philippines five years from now? The same. Are we going to see you five years from now and listen to the same stories you told us? I said yes if they will give me a round-trip ticket to America.

An American in his 60s approached me after my talk and shook my hand. He said he met a lot of Filipinos, even Filipino officials, but it was only I who helped him understand why the Philippines continues to be what it is. He said foreigners look at the Philippines from a foreigner's point of view. Filipinos who live abroad sell the country to other people by describing the best of the Philippines. Activists describe the worst.

"You did not do anything," he said. "You amused us with your stories. You made us cry. You made us laugh. You are a storyteller," he said.

I am trying to be one, I said.

All alone in San Francisco

I've walked the streets of San Francisco. I saw people asking for money. I saw tourists. It's a beautiful city with all its bumpy roads, said one resident. I talked to its people. I watched a movie about life in the farms of America like one Alan has.

I'm alone now in this journey. Alan already left for his farm. I miss him. I miss the historical "lectures" he gave about everything. I miss his guidance. This is becoming an adventure. One just connects with people. Alan has become a friend.

I'm a little afraid now. But this is the exciting part of the adventure. To be alone and discover what experiences offer. Alan was my security blanket. He is gone now. A new phase of my journey has begun.

I haven't seen the Golden Gate. I haven't seen the Fisherman's Wharf. Alan said I must see it. I will see it tomorrow before I leave for Chicago. I am a little bit disoriented. I will do my best.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

San Francisco

It's freezing although snow does not fall in San Francisco. It's the cold wind meeting the warm ocean breeze that makes fog and turns the wind cold. People make the place warm. They came looking for gold. The Spaniards called California the "golden city" but it was not for the gold. It was because of the golden brown grass on the mountains. Rain rarely comes to San Francisco. Then people found gold and the Chinese came as workers, the Filipinos, then many other Asians. People make the city warm. The Silicon Valley is an hour away. It makes business warm. And the "rebels" made San Francisco famous too -- the hippies started here and the beat generation before them. San Francisco is a big Greenwich Village but it lacks the fast-paced life of New York.

I thought I saw the Golden Gate. I did not. It was another bridge. "The Rock" is here. The cable cars too that go up and down the streets. I saw the cable cars and the buses that run on electricity. I saw Union Square and found out that it was built to remember the "subjection" of Manila by the Americans and the defeat of the Spaniards in the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898. History makes cities. People make history.

The Grand Canyon touched my soul. San Francisco is trying to win my heart. City Lights Booksellers and Publishing grabbed me. I tried to escape but the books on the shelves and the autographed posters on the walls held me. There was no escaping the Beat artists. They bit my soul.

Journeys never end. They only start. I realized that the place where one goes doesn't really matter at all. What matters is how one looks at experience and how experience touches back one's life. My American journey has just started. It will continue even when I will be home. I have no plan of embracing America as a home. I plan to understand America as an experience that teaches me to love my country and to treasure our little hut in the province, the coconut trees around our hut, the rice fields, the sea breeze, the cemetery behind our house and my friends who were not able to go to school and could not read this blog because they have no access to the internet. They don't even know what internet is. They haven't even seen a computer.

I will treasure my days here in America, the good people I met, the stories they shared, the food I ate, the miles I walked. But I will never exchange my little hometown with San Francisco despite the books and the universities, despite the food and the music. I will not leave my heart in San Francisco. It thrives in the cruelty of life in my little hometown, there in the faraway place I call home, where dreams make us forever alive.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Mr. Bill Lippman

September 12, 2005
Los Angeles, California
9:30 p.m.

Thank you, Mr. William “Bill” Lippman. Thank you for the hospitality.

Bill brought me to his house in Beverly Hills and showed me his antique collection. Many date back to the 16th and 17th century. The house is a museum. Even his bedroom is a museum.

We had wine and we later went out for dinner at Il Moro, an upper class restaurant in the area, where we had a bottle of wine. I had shrimp in tomato sauce and sea bass for dinner and tiramisu and brewed coffee.

We shared a lot of stories. He said a nephew wrote a book on the floods in New Orleans in 1995 and won a book award. Another book is on influenza.

He can’t just believe that journalists are being killed in the Philippines. He said he knows that our government is corrupt although he admired Cory Aquino.

Bill’s wife, Valerie, has Alzheimer. She has five caregivers. Four of them are Filipinos.

Filipinos are a special people. They just care, Bill said.

Bill is former managing director of Muni Bonds for Smith-Barney before going into his own. He has businesses in Arizona and other states in the country. He has two children.

Bill is a loveable American. Tears rolled down his cheeks when I told him how Filipinos appreciate the education that his country introduced in the Philippines. He became emotional when I thanked him about all the good the Americans gave to the Philippines and how we really need to assert our sovereignty.

He complained about his bad knee and I talked to him how hard it is to survive in the Philippines, especially in Manila, running after the jeepney. He was amazed when I told him the .45 caliber pistol was invented to ward off Moro bandits in Mindanao. He asked how the Philippines fared after the withdrawal of the American bases. He was surprised when I told him it was “business as usual.”

Thank you, Bill. Thanks for showing me the American Indian masks and sculpture, the desks, drawers, tables and weather vane. Thanks for showing me the American way of life.

Good luck to Valerie and my prayers are with you.

Living in Beverly Hills

September 12, 2005
Beverly Hills
Los Angeles
3:10 p.m.

I’m right here in Beverly Hills. I saw Rodeo Drive. Nothing much impressed me.

The streets of Beverly Hills look like better versions of the streets of West Triangle in Quezon City. Forbes Park in Makati impressed me more with its acacia trees. Well, maybe it’s cleaner here, the streets wider, the lawns better maintained and things just work.

Or maybe I’m just tired.

After New York, it’s hard to be impressed with other big, crowded cities. After the Grand Canyon, it’s hard to find beauty.

The Walt Disney Concert Hall tickled my imagination. The garden on top of the building was special. The Museum of Contemporary Art gave my spirit a lift with the works of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Then the lights went out.

People scampered out of the buildings. Streetlights stopped working. Fire trucks rushed into somewhere. Sirens blared.

A blackout hit the city.

An al-Qaeda statement read in last night’s news identified Los Angeles as the terrorist group’s next target after the London bombings.

We canceled one meeting and went back to the hotel. The elevators were not working and people were out of their offices.

We had a leisurely cruise on Wilshire Boulevard from downtown to Beverly Hills. More buildings passed us by. Or we passed them by. Some have history written all over the facades.

I saw the hotel where Robert Kennedy was shot. It’s dilapidated. Like history. Workers were removing tiles from the roof. It was supposed to be turned into a school building. There were oppositions. Nothing happened. The building is rotting.

There’s a lot of road construction in the city, actually all over America. They just have to spend their money. Good for them. In the Philippines, a lot of construction work is also going on. Politicians and government contractors just have to pocket the people’s money.

Los Angeles is a place where commerce and entertainment meet. It’s also where some people who still have their souls intact hold fort as the world rushes by.

The Los Angeles Studios is a big compound and it’s boring as a hospital. Good that there are people like Sandra Ruch, executive director of the International Documentary Association, and Stephon Litwinczuk, membership coordinator of the organization who insisted for us to have green tea.

We talked about possible projects. And projects and work and more work.

Night of stories

September 10, 2005
8:39 p.m.
Grand Canyon

I walked back to the rim of the canyon this evening and tried to catch the sunset.

Darkness covered the woods when I came back. The moonlight, however, peeped behind the branches.

I passed by a small clearing. I heard the cracking of burning pine trees. I was freezing. I stopped.

People were sitting around a campfire. A man was telling stories.

I sat and listened.

The man talked about death, about life, about connecting with nature, about joy and about beauty.

He talked about how his uncle died in the canyon in the 1930s. He told us about how he survived a near death experience, how he cried when he came back for the first time after so many years, the happiness people feel by just being here and how they keep coming back to wonder at the beauty of nature.

There were more stories. There were more lessons.

I walked away from the campfire through the woods back to my lodge. The stars were shining and the moon was my guide.

I feel like I’m in a temple, a church, a museum, a library.

In the Grand Canyon

September 10, 2005 (Saturday)
4:21 p.m.
Grand Canyon

“You can’t capture the moment with your camera,” Alan said.

I tried. I know I can’t.

I tried to discover the wonders of the Grand Canyon. What I found was myself. And some squirrels and eagles and a big elk.

Alan and I tried to cross the forest in the morning. We tried to look for a short cut to the rim. We did not follow the trail. We got lost.

Then I saw the elk. It was as big as a horse.

“I can’t believe you saw it,” Alan said. “I did not see it.”

I tried to take a picture but the animal ran and got lost behind the trees, behind the curtain of the morning mist.

I took a picture of a squirrel sitting on the ridge. It looked at me. When I pressed the shutter, an eagle flew by. I captured them both in my borrowed camera.

Then I went on my own, with my borrowed life. I entered the 100-year old lodge, the 100-year old Indian house and I followed the Bright Angel trail under the heat of the noonday sun.

I just want to get lost.

I did.

Under the centuries old pine trees I talked to my God. I thanked him for the wonders that I’ve seen.

On the rim of the canyon, while looking into the abyss below, I prayed to my creator.

“I see that you’re being a journalist today,” Alan said before we went on each other’s way earlier.

I only smiled.

I was trying to discover myself, I wanted to say.

The world is so wide, so immense. I just want to get lost.

Faces of people I met in my journey to what I have become appeared before me.

Dapitan. Manila. Bungiao. Zamboanga. Basilan. Vienna. Jeddah. Thailand. Cambodia. Malaysia. Singapore. South Korea. Batanes. And the many others places I have gone to came marching by.

And the people I met in my journey smiled and sat beside me.

I could not recall their names. But they have become part of me. They made me. They live in me.

How many more years will this journey last?

Before death welcomes me to whatever awaits us after this life, will there be a Grand Canyon? Will there be eagles and squirrels and mountains and trails and cold wind to kiss my face?

I remember friends who journeyed to places they learned to love. Most met people who made their journey colorful. Some entered into relationships. Some did it for adventure. Others were swept away by their emotions. Others did it for pleasure.

Many tried to justify the moment. Others just let it pass. Some nurtured it in their hearts and continued to live in illusions.

I have been to places. I have all the opportunities to do what I want. I think about what I could have done, what I could do. But my whole being just holds on to the memories, the promises and the love that are always with me wherever I go.

The Grand Canyon is a retreat. I am not a journalist here looking for a story. I am me looking for myself in the middle of this natural wonder.

Nature shaped this place as a gift to humankind for us to discover ourselves.

Millions of years ago, this land was flat. The Colorado River carved an immense chasm through this arid land. The layers of rock exposed in the canyon walls are snapshots of the earth’s history.

The world is larger and wider here with sunrises, sunsets and storms adding life to the land. The moon and the stars shine brighter here.

The Grand Canyon humbles one soul.

I am just a speck in God’s creation. The grandeur of my dreams is nothing compared to the immensity of what this world, this land, went through millions of years already.

What little can I contribute to this world?

I pray that God will help me be more humble. I pray that I will continue to work in helping others realize that even as we cannot change the face of the earth we can be instruments in changing the lives of others.

I failed to capture the beauty of the Grand Canyon in my borrowed camera. I even failed to describe its grandeur in words.

“I will paint it in my heart,” I told Alan. “I will save it in my mind.”

I will do my best not to fail to record this experience in my borrowed life.

I promised to bring home stories to my friends and my loved ones. I promised that I will let them see what I see and feel what I feel through my stories. I might not be able to fulfill my promise.

My friends and my loved ones were with me when I soared with the eagles over the canyon. They were with me when I discovered the crags on the canyon walls with the squirrels. They were with me running after the elk as big as a horse before it got lost in the morning mist.

My friends and my loved ones are always with me in my journey. I never left them behind. They are always with me.

Books and other blessings

September 9, 2005 (Friday)
9:54 p.m.
Grand Canyon

It’s cold here like Baguio, maybe Sagada but I haven’t been there. There are pine trees all over. I have not discovered the place yet because we arrived here past eight o’clock in the evening after a four-hour drive from Scottsdale.

The trip was amazing. The highway was endless. There was nothing but desert and the sky. The sunset was exhilarating. It was a sight that I dared not capture with the camera. It touched me. God really created wonders. I don’t want to even describe it with words not to diminish the spirit that touched my heart.

I am really fortunate to have gone this far. I asked myself if I deserve this gift.

Alan and I left the hotel around noon today. We went to the old town center of Scottsdale. There was nothing to see but stores and galleries. Alan said the city is the playground of the rich where they stay during winter to avoid the snow in other parts of the country, buy art works, enjoy the spas, go to the casino and splurge.

I entered one of the shops and bought some things to remember the place when I go home.

We drove to Arizona State University and had our lunch in one of the cafeterias.

After lunch we went to the Cronkite School of Journalism and met with Dean Christopher Callahan. He gave me a list of online resources on journalism and wished me good luck in my “quest for knowledge.”

I met with Prof. Kristin Gilger, director of student affairs and student media, and Prof. Stephen Doig, Knight chairman of Journalism of the university. Both were former journalists and were happy to share their ideas with me.

They gave me journalism books, which they use in teaching and which they said might help me in my work.

- Doing Ethics in Journalism (2nd Edition)
- Doing Ethics in Journalism (3rd Edition)
- A Free and Responsive Press
- The Effective Editor
- Writing Across the Media
- The Complete Reporter
- Writing for Print and Digital Media
- Modern Media Writing
- Online Journalism

I told them that it would cost me a fortune to buy the books. It’s worth a month’s salary of two junior reporters in the Philippines.

They said they’re happy to share it so that I can share my ideas with other journalists in the Philippines. I promised them I would.

I’m already excited to read the books.

I thanked God when it rained while we were on our way to the dean’s office. I just can’t believe the blessings I received. But God said, “It is okay, you moron. It’s a punishment for not taking seriously your studies. Now you catch up, stupid.”

I have a lot to do.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Trip to Arizona

It was a long trip from Tampa. Instead of coming straight to Arizona, we had a layover in Milwaukee.

Arizona is hot. I remember Jeddah.

I am staying in Scottsdale for a night before leaving for the Grand Canyon. I will visit the Cronkite School of Journalism before my weekend vacation.

I still have to discover Arizona. I want to see the Indians and the cowboys. I want to see the desert. I want to compare the pictures in my mind to the world outside.

Why can't all people travel and see the world? There would be more understanding and love and peace and less promiscuity and competition and war and what else. It wouldn't be the same world.

Tampa, Ybor, St. Petersburg

September 7, 2005
Tampa, Florida
9:47 p.m.

I’m leaving Tampa early tomorrow morning. Let me tell you more about the city from what I learned from the reading materials in my hotel room and the brochures I collected from around the city.

Tampa Bay has been luring visitors since 1521 when Spaniard Ponce de Leon arrived in search for the Fountain of Youth. Hernando de Soto, another Spaniard, followed in 1539 looking for gold. They never found what they were looking for.

The Spaniards stayed and named the Mullet Key area punta pinal or the port of pines, a name that eventually became Pinellas County. For the next 200 years, the region attracted little interest or growth until the United States bought Florida from Spain in 1821.

Tampa grew after Henry B. Plant came and brought his Atlantic Coast railroad. Plant also started a steamship line from Tampa to Key West to Havana, Cuba, and built the area’s first hotel – the Tampa Bay Hotel. Tampa became a resort and the hotel became part of the University of Tampa and now houses the Henry B. Plant Museum.

Ybor City, where I had my dinner tonight at Columbia Restaurant (circa 1905), is a neighboring city and is known as the “Cigar Capital of the World.” I bought two cigars there today. Don Vicente Martinez Ybor, a Cuban exile, started “the road to glory” in 1886 with his Ybor City Cigar Factory – the largest in the world at the time. Ybor had 100 cigar factories then and employed 12,000 people and produced more than 400 million cigars a year.

The first permanent residents of Tampa area, however, were the Timucuan tribe that came to be known as the “mound builders” because of the mounds of debris and artifacts they left behind. The Timucuans called the bay near their fishing village “Tanpa,” which means “sticks of fire.” A mapmaker made an error and changed the name to Tampa.

Clearwater, another place near Tampa, was called by the tribe Popcotopaug, meaning “clear water.”

In 1857, John C. Williams, a Civil War general from Detroit, bought 1,600 acres of land in what is now known as St. Petersburg. After failing as a farmer, Williams decided to build a city with Peter Demens, a Russian immigrant. Legend says the two flipped coins to determine who would get to name the new city. Demens won and named the city after his Russian hometown.

I had dinner in Ybor this evening at the 100-year old Columbia Restaurant, which is supposedly known worldwide for its old-world charm and consistently outstanding Spanish cuisine. It was an expensive dinner but I could not just let the experience pass.

I went back to St. Petersburg today and visited its museum and visited The Pier where I watched pelicans and tasted my first American ice cream. It’s a pier.

I had lunch at the cafeteria of The St. Petersburg Times, home to award-winning narrative journalist, supposedly including Rick Bragg during his early years as a journalist. For more than an hour I discussed online journalism, press freedom and the business of news with Jim Booth, managing editor of the Times.

In the afternoon, I met with Prof. Robert Dardenne of the University of South Florida and we talked about the state of Philippine media and journalism in the Philippines with his students. At least two of his students were Filipino-Americans. Prof. Dardenne promised to send me materials on narrative journalism. He said he had been to the Philippines in the late 1960s and even saw a cockfight somewhere in Manila.

Tomorrow (Thursday) morning, Alan and I will be flying to Phoenix, Arizona, via Milwaukee to visit the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Then on Friday afternoon we will drive to the Grand Canyon for a weekend rest at the Yavapai Lodge before flying to Los Angeles on Sunday evening.

Getting serious in Florida

September 7, 2005
Tampa, Florida
11:15 a.m.

I write. This is what I would tell people.

I am trying to be a writer. I am trying to be a good writer and I write what I see and what I think.

I will tell them about my country. I will tell them that my country is poor because many of our leaders are corrupt. Many of our leaders are not there to serve the people. I will tell them that there’s a revolution in my country. I will tell them that we are free and we are not free.

I will tell American professors and students at the South Florida University that Filipinos are educated although love for learning has been declining in recent years. I will tell them that we want food and work and because we are poor and hungry many of our children just don’t want to study. I will tell them that more and more of our middle class just want to have power and money.

Journalists are not supposed to write what they believe in. We are supposed to be chroniclers of history and our stories the ingredients of history. But we cannot just close our eyes to what’s happening around us.

After hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, American journalists cry in front of the cameras. They cry on the air. They lament about what happened, about the failure of their government to help the people. They write about what they feel after seeing bloated bodies on the streets of their beautiful city. They cry because they realize that there are many poor people behind the façade of affluence.

Journalism is changing. Journalism must have a heart. Journalists must be fair and objective. But journalists must also come to terms with their own humanity and not just become robots churning out stories after stories. Journalists must not become story machines.

The American people are wondering why their government failed to immediately help the victims of Katrina. Why the delay in bringing aid to the victims? It took the US government more than two days to go to New Orleans and help people. Journalists were on the scene as it happened. Why was the government not there?

It’s just like in the Philippines. Journalists know how to find rebels. They know where to look for victims of calamities. They know where the things that matter are. The government does not.

I’m going back to St. Petersburg today. I will visit the offices of The St. Petersburg Times and learn how they do journalism. The Times is owned by Poynter Institute and is supposed to be the country’s most independent newspaper. There must be a lot that Filipino journalists can learn from them.

I will also meet with journalism professors and students at South Florida University. They will ask questions. I will talk to them. We will learn from each other. I will do my best to learn from them.

What will I tell them? I will tell them about myself. I will talk about how hard it is to survive as a journalist in my country. I will talk to them about my country. I will tell them our situation. I will talk about myself and hope that they will understand the story of my country and my people.

Alan and I

September 6, 2005
Tampa, Florida
10:15 a.m.

Alan Rudley, my escort, has become a friend. We had beer tonight after watching the movie “Red Eye,” where his sister worked as make-up artist. We talked about politics, movies, music, the American people, the Philippines and life as a whole.

One has to know and connect with people to really know them. Alan, a gentleman farmer from West Virginia, is just great. It would be interesting for him to experience the Philippines and see and experience life in the Philippines.

It’s been almost two weeks that we have been together and he knows when to give me space if I want it and to guide me when he feels I need some assistance. He’s a good driver too. We rented a car for several days to travel to St. Petersburg, where our appointments are. I serve as navigator and he’s my driver. You can just imagine me, who only read about the Interstate in novels and magazines, guiding this American through the highway and telling him to go to Exit 44 on I-275. It was just crazy but we never got lost.

People just connect if they learn to listen to each other. That’s what I did. I opened up to him and he told me stories. We swapped ideas, we disagree on things but we also learn from each other. He loves books and promised to bring me to this bookstore in San Francisco that is the “tambayan” of great American writers. I gave him my book and he finished reading it while we were on our way from Washington to New York.

Tampa, by the way, is a harbor and it looks like Subic. It’s just cleaner and the system works, unlike in the Philippines.

Today’s headlines:

USA Today – ‘Destroyed’ city clear out
The Tampa Tribune – TOLL OF DREAD
The Wall Street Journal – Behind Poor Katrina Response, A Long Chain of Weak Links
St. Petersburg Times – Some allowed back as all warned away

Everything’s about “Katrina.”

By the way, I had corned beef for lunch at a deli in St. Petersburg and it was not like our corned beef. It’s meat as in slices of meat. This evening, my best bet for beer was the Budweiser although it’s not as good as San Miguel. I had chips and salsa for “pulutan.” I’m enjoying this part of my American education.

Americans who would be reading this will laugh. Filipinos too think they know more. But I’m going around at least seven American cities from east to west in just three weeks, traveling by plane, train and car.

Beat that!

Meeting Roy Peter Clark

September 6, 2005
Tampa, Florida
5:07 p.m.

I was sitting at Poynter’s library when somebody approached me and asked if I’m the journalist from the Philippines who’s interested in narrative journalism. I said yes. The man invited me to sit with him on the sofa. He borrowed my pen and notepad and started drawing lines on the paper.

You must distinguish between a report and a story. A report deals with information while a story deals with experience. A report “points you there” while a story “puts you there.” A report answers the 5Ws and 1H. In a story “who” becomes the character, “what” answers what happened, “where” becomes the setting, “when” is the chronology of events, “why” becomes the motive and “how” tells how it happened. Quotes become dialogues in a narrative.

It was a short exchange of ideas. It was a short introduction to narrative journalism. The man stood up and congratulated me on my book, “Into the Mountain.” He also said there’s a Jose Torres who’s a famous prizefighter. I said he might be a relative a hundred years ago. The man said, maybe four centuries ago and laughed.

He held out his hand and wished me good luck in my journey and my interest in journalism. I said thank you then he left.

I went back to my computer and logged on the Poynter website. I searched for “narrative journalism” and an article with the man’s picture on it came out. It was only then that I learned that the man who talked to me was Dr. Roy Peter Clark, vice-president of Poynter and senior scholar at the institute teaching reporting, writing and editing.

He and Chip Scanlan are two of my favorite Poynter writers I read only in the internet.

Ethics at Poynter

September 6, 2005
Tampa, Florida
4:41 p.m.

I did not study journalism but I always wanted to become a writer.

For more than ten years now I have been dreaming of studying journalism at Poynter Institute. When the internet reached the Philippines in the early 1990s, one of the first sites I visited was Poynter. I dreamed of studying there.

I was at Poynter today and discussed Ethics in Media with Kelly McBride, head of the institute’s Ethics Department. She talked about the importance of ethics in all aspects of media – writing, reporting, editing, broadcast, management, etc.

She talked about ethics as a craft of decision-making in journalism especially with online journalism. She talked about the important role of images, which are often put out of context and which have the great potential to “miscommunicate.”

She said online journalism has given images an important, if not a disproportionate role. Words are many in the internet that’s why images have become powerful. People tend to look for images. Images, McBride said, also raise the risk of simplifying complicated stories.

In making decisions involving ethics, journalists must always identify alternatives, she said. “If you have only two choices, you haven’t gone through the whole process.”

She cited as example a report about a five-year old child who was arrested and handcuffed by the police for misbehavior.

We had a short workshop. We identified the stakeholders in the story. Should the child be named? Should her picture be used? How does one display the pictures and write the cutlines?

It doesn’t take long in making an ethical decision in the newsroom, McBride said. A deadline is not an excuse for doing unethical stories. She advised that rather than creating rules (Code of Ethics that are not used or ignored), a newsroom can come up with a guideline that will steer journalist to ethical decisions.

She encouraged educating the audience. Journalists must provide readers reasons to trust the media.

On blogging, she said it can be a big problem especially for journalists who do blogs about their beats. She said journalists must maintain ethical standards – objectivity, fairness – even in their blogs. News organizations that sponsor journalists’ blogs can be liable to lawsuits for the blogs of their reporters.

She also has an issue on print journalists going on television to explain their stories. Commenting on issues or blogging must go through the same rigorous process of editorial and ethical judgment.

On journalists arming themselves, she said: “They better hire bodyguards.”

Learning from 'Katrina'

September 6, 2005
8: 25 a.m.
Tampa, Florida

The tragedy brought about by hurricane Katrina opened the eyes of Americans that they too are vulnerable. Thousands have become homeless overnight. Dead bodies are all over the streets of New Orleans. Hundreds are in hospitals and evacuation centers. Poorer countries encounter calamities of Katrina’s magnitude every year.

Lessons should be learned. We should protect our environment. We should care for our world. It’s the only one we have. We owe it to the future to make our world safe not only from terrorists but also from ourselves.

Life is an endless quest for knowledge. Knowledge doesn’t cost that much. It’s a matter of dreaming and making dreams come true. Life is a struggle to recognize how weak we are. It’s a struggle to overcome our weaknesses.

Alan asked me why development is slow in coming to the Philippines. I said it’s because Filipinos dream small. We are contented with what we have. We are a happy people. We live, we celebrate and we die. We do not work to be rich. We work to live. Most of our leaders are corrupt. They forget that life is sharing with others. They forget that we are all into this life together. We don’t care that much.

The Americans are learning. They care. They want to make the world beautiful. They dream big. They also forget. They think they own the world. They think they are safe. They think they are powerful.

Power, however, is not just controlling the resources of the world. Power is not just might. Power is making simple dreams come true and the humility to recognize that surprises are waiting in every corner to ambush us.

Katrina, like the 9/11 attacks, is changing American society. Tragedies bring change. It brings lessons. We should learn. All of us, not only America.

Jose Marti in Ybor City

September 5, 2005 (Monday)
10:14 p.m.
Tampa, Florida

I saw Jose Marti.

Ybor City is Florida’s Latin Quarter District where one can go back to another era with its iron balconies, globe streetlights, brick-lined walkways and the architecture of cigar factories, social clubs and unique buildings.

I walked around the small city, a few blocks actually from Tampa, after taking the trolley or what is known in the Philippines as the tramvia. Ygor is rich with culture and history. It’s where I saw the statue of Jose Marti, Cuban poet and revolutionary. There are many landmarks of Cuban and Latino history in the city, where the ancient art of hand-rolled cigar making lives on.

The city boasts of at least 60 restaurants, bars and nightclubs. It’s colorful with all the tattoo shops, tight skirts and margaritas. For instance, there’s the Columbia Restaurant, which was established in 1905 by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez Sr. It began as a small corner café frequented by Spanish and Italian immigrants. It is now owned by the fourth and fifth generation family members and is the oldest restaurant in Florida and largest Spanish restaurant in the world.

Tampa Bay, meanwhile, is a vibrant waterfront on Florida’s West Coast with the nature-rich Hillsborough River where the yachts are anchored. Originally, Tampa Bay is the name of the body of water on the west coast of Florida.

Alan and I took the trolley to Ybor. We went around the small city looking for a place where Alan could eat and I could have a bottle of beer. But the shops were closed for the holiday so we came back to Tampa and spent the evening at Channelside for my beer and for Alan’s dinner.

We talked about the Philippines, about American history, about cowboy movies, especially “The Magnificent Seven,” which we watched on the plane on our way here from New York.

I will discover more tomorrow when we go to St. Petersburg for my appointment at Poynter Institute. I will be meeting with Paul Pohlman, the associate dean of Poynter, and Kelly McBride, Ethics Group Leader at Poynter.

I am scheduled to have lunch at the Salvador Dali Museum, the site of the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by the late Spanish surrealist.

Labor Day in Tampa, Florida

September 5, 2005 (Monday)
Tampa, Florida
6:30 p.m.

After a three-hour Delta Air flight from New York I am now in Tampa, Florida, virtually a ghost town because it’s a holiday (Labor Day). A few tourists were in the streets and on the promenade along the river, which they call here the Channel.

I am staying in another Wyndham hotel here in Harbour Island. It’s called the Harbour Island Hotel.

I have to walk several blocks and shell out $27 for lunch in a Thai restaurant after depositing my things in my room. All other shops were closed for the holiday.

Commenting on the holiday, Keith Epstein of The Tampa Tribune says:

“There was a time – more than a century ago – when Labor Day presented a reverse image. It meant what it was called: a day to focus on the rights of workers, not the national right to barbecue.

“The point wasn’t a day at the beach but a demonstration in a city square. People would picnic and carry signs that, for instance, reminded chieftains of industry that “Labor Creates All Wealth,” or demanded “Eight Hours for Work, Eight Hours for Rest, Eight Hours for Recreation” – goals still elusive for some workers.”

Unions in the United States in 1882 envisioned the holiday as a tribute to their strength and solidarity, said Epstein. He said the annual celebration of workers rights spread with parades and demonstrations.

The labor unrest shut down mail trains and worried politicians in Washington and railway bosses. Congress passed a law in 1884 making Labor Day a federal holiday. It was aimed to make a conciliatory gesture to voters who were upset over a violent crackdown on workers by President Cleveland.

Cleveland deployed troops to break the railroad strike. He declared: “If it takes the entire Army and Navy of the United States to deliver a postcard in Chicago, that card will be delivered.”

Deputy Marshals shot at protesters. At least two people were reported killed. To appease the protestors, Cleveland urged Congress to declare Labor Day a holiday.

Epstein, however, observed that Labor Day not only lost its original meaning but also interest in membership in labor unions declined and the labor movement seems to have become irrelevant and divided.

There’s nothing much to see here in Tampa, at least where I am staying. The buildings and avenues look new. Even the trolley cars that go around Tampa are new. Yachts are docked near the hotel. Across the river is Tampa Convention Center. Far ahead on Franklin Street are the offices. It looks like Makati on a Sunday.

I still have to discover the city. I’m going out now with Alan for a round of beer.

Greenwich Village and more

September 4, 2005 (Sunday)
11:40 p.m., New York

I had a good time in New York.

I went around Times Square on Friday evening after watching “Lion King” and had a feel of “the city that never sleeps.”

On Saturday I met Merpu Roa, a journalist from way back in Mindanao who is now based in New York with his family. He brought me to this camera store, which was unfortunately closed, to the Rockefeller Center, to Greenwich Village and to the Union Square where I watched people do all sorts of “raket.”

“Basta marunong ka lang, mabubuhay ka dito,” Merpu said. He’s into video editing and independent video production aside from babysitting his children. His wife is teaching.

Merpu took pictures of me in front of the Associated Press office beside the Rockefeller building, in front of the HBO office, the MNSBC, News Corp and all sorts of buildings.

“It’s a once in a lifetime experience,” he said. “Just do it.”

He brought me to Strand Bookstore and left me there to be on my own. I bought books on journalism and literature before I had my first adventure in the subway, losing myself several times on my way back to the hotel.

I walked around the block in the middle of the night and browsed books sold on the sidewalk at past one in the morning.

Today I went to Greenwich to meet independent filmmaker Fruto Corre. He surprised me when he said Lav Diaz is in town and will meet me after lunch.

Lav brought me around the village and introduced me to Filipino artists based in New York. There’s Blue who’s fascinated with shoes, said Fruto. There’s funny Alex, an artist who said he can’t just leave the United States because of the “United Nations” of beautiful girls, although Lav said Alex is afraid to talk when his wife is around, and there’s Lex who Alex said was affected by the 9/11 incident “at medyo lumuluwag na minsan.”

We went around the village. We went to this place where rock and roll stars used to play and to a place where actors and actresses rehearse. They showed me where poor and struggling artists live supported by the La Mama Foundation, where Alex evacuated his computers after the building that used to house his studio was demolished and they showed me the bookshops.

Lav pointed out to me a tree, which he said was very small when he started shooting “Ebolusyon” 15 years ago. “Ebolusyon” runs for more than 10 hours. Lav said he did not even include the scenes shot in America. He showed the places where he shot many of his films, including the place where he once saw a Filipina selling books who became the subject of an unfinished project.

This evening I visited Sari Dalena and Keith Sicat whose film “Rigodon” was shown at the Montreal Film Festival the other day. They just arrived from Montreal this afternoon with their six-month old baby.

There were many stories. How I wish I could write more now but I am overwhelmed and I still have to pack my luggage for my flight to Tampa, Florida, early tomorrow morning.

It’s a fruitful stay in New York, a melting pot of people. I will be back here to listen to their stories. Yes, listen to stories because that’s what I am here for.

Walking on Broadway

September 2, 2005 (Friday)
New York
6 p.m.

It was a long walk. I went to the Independent Press Association this morning at 10:30 via the subway.

Anthony Advincula, a Filipino (UP 1995), briefed me about the IPA.

After the meeting I walked to the Empire State Building and went up to the observatory. I walked all the way to Central Park on Fifth Avenue then back to the Hotel on Broadway. It was a half-day walk but it’s worth the exercise to get the feel of the city.

I visited the New York Public Library, the main library and the smaller one, browsed books at Barnes and Noble, visited the Philippine Center and prayed at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

In an hour I’m watching “Lion King” in Broadway.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Dupont Circle

To John and Caloy, thanks guys for the reminders.

Actually I spent most of my time at Dupont Circle when I was in Washington. It's a few blocks away from my hotel.

I went to all the stores you mentioned and found Second Storey the most interesting with the big and tall man guiding me through the maze of bookshelves. I took a picture of the store but the man, who really looks like that big man on Addams Family, did not give me a discount.

Funny that John even remembered CVS. I bought my first bottle of water in America from that CVS branch.

I already visited Strand. Sorry, Loy, I wandered on the first floor and even climbed the shelves of French history books to get the "Memoirs" of Raymond Aron for John. I bought all the remaining copies "para sulit ang pagod."

I went downstairs too to the Journalism section cubicle, which is just before you enter the Crime section. Good that there were signs. I almost confused one section from the other.

And don't worry Loy, I'm not watching Aida. For the heck of it, I watched "Lion King" and sang "The Circle of Life" while walking on Broadway Avenue from Times Square all the way to 75th Street.

John, I had my Tom Yung Gong with Yasmin Busran-Lao at Raku, not at Sala Thai.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

New York, New York

September 2, 2005 (Friday)
22nd Floor, Hotel Beacon
2130 Broadway at 75th Street
New York

I arrived in New York last night around quarter to eight in the evening. I left Washington’s Union Station yesterday via an Amtrak train that went through several cities to New York. It took almost four hours to get here.

I went around Georgetown yesterday morning and took some pictures before meeting with the Hispanic journalists organization at the National Press Club in Washington. I had lunch with Nobel Prize nominee Harry Wu and had a very passionate discussion about the state of human rights in China at the Meridian Center.

Mr. Wu is the founder of the Laogai Research Foundation and has been in the forefront of human rights in China for many years. He revealed what he dubbed as the tyranny of the Chinese government and called for an end to the Laogai system, the Chinese prison system, which Mr. Wu said arbitrarily strips Chinese citizens of their freedom.

Before leaving Washington I mailed some of my stuff back to Manila.

I took a walk on Broadway Avenue last night. It smells of urine and garbage. Beggars, tourists, businessmen, policemen were all over. It’s a city that never sleeps indeed. My hotel is right on the center of activity. I saw the theaters and I-don’t-know-what buildings. My room has a good view of at least two parts of the city. I just don’t know which parts.

I’ll try to go around today. My only appointment is with the head of the Independent Press Association so I can have a lot of time to go around the city. I will be watching The Lion King tonight and maybe some other plays this weekend.

I’ll check the map for directions.

The Amtrak experience yesterday was great. I hope Manila can have a good train system like the US. The Philippines, however, is far ahead in mobile technology. Americans use older cell phones compared to the Philippines and they don’t use text messaging that much. My guide said because it’s cheaper to call or it costs the same.

The Wi-Fi in hotels costs $9 a day so I decided not to use it and instead use the business center later to update my blog and read and send emails.

I’ve talked to Merpu Roa, who is based in New York, last night and he promised to be my guide this weekend. Ted Regencia in Chicago said he’s planning to organize a talk or an interview for me when I get there.

I still can’t situate myself on the map so I will just discover the city myself.


August 31, 2005 (Wednesday)
11:27 p.m.

Some crazy things just happen when you least expect it. I was just sitting at the hotel lobby this afternoon waiting for Alan when the fire alarms went off. People rushed outside and I saw hotel personnel directing people to go across the street. I thought it was one of those regular fire drills until a hotel attendant just came over and asked me to leave the building. It was a small fire that hit the elevators somewhere on the upper floors, I later learned.

Anyway, I went around Georgetown, named after King George by the early settlers. It’s the oldest part of Washington with the Potomac harbor, the Canal and a lot of old historic buildings. I went to see a movie with Alan, with first woman Secret Service in her late fifties or sixties I believe and a Latin American friend of hers. They invited me to watch Le Carre’s Constant Gardener. A movie costs $9 plus and a big Coke is $3 something. It’s an exciting and touching movie, which I think will reap some awards this year.

After the movie I went around Georgetown in the evening until around 11 p.m., spent some time inside the Barnes and Nobles bookstore but was not able to buy anything although I was salivating with all the good books around, and later walked to the hotel.

Washington indeed is a quiet little town, especially Georgetown. The weather was pleasant and I remembered Jeddah in the months of December to February – cold, silent and deserted wide streets. Of Course Georgetown is really beautiful, the buildings that date back to the 1700s are impressive and again I could only think that I was dreaming walking around the US capital. This is indeed a journey of a lifetime.

On my way back to the hotel I went to a CSV – that’s a drugstore/grocery shop like Mercury – and bought a bottle of water, some pecan strips for snacks and batteries for the camera. I was not able to bring the camera to Georgetown because I had no batteries and I did not know where to buy.

I went to the 20th St. earlier near M Street to buy a shipping box. I decided to send some of my stuff back to Manila so that I can travel lighter around the US. I will mail the stuff tomorrow morning and maybe spend some time around Georgetown to take some pictures before I leave town for New York. I will have a meeting with some Hispanic journalists tomorrow morning at ten-thirty and have lunch with a well-known Chinese activist before skipping town with Alan.

Blah, blah sa Amerika

August 31, 2005 (Wednesday)
Still in Washington
2:43 p.m.

I just had lunch in this Thai restaurant nearby on Pennsylvania Avenue, a few blocks from the White House and the Washington University after I attended the daily news briefing at the State Department.

The State Department spokesman talked about the tragedy in Iraq where more than 600 people were killed in a stampede. He also talked about the Constitution in Iraq which is the subject of debate there and some other issues, foremost of which is the Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and nearby areas.

Journalists asked questions. What is familiar, however, is that after the briefing everybody just went to the spokesman and chatted with him. It’s like in the Philippines.

The briefing was scheduled at 12:30 but journalists started pouring in around 12:45. The briefing started around one o’clock with the spokesman reading two short statements then the most senior journalist, who is seated on the rightmost seat on the front row, started asking questions. The others followed with questions on the same issue. Then the veteran journalist again asked another question on another issue and the other journalists followed it up. It continued until around four or five issues then it was a free for all with journalists raising their hands for questions. The veteran journalist then said thank you and the lights were dimmed and the microphones turned off and the journalists went around the podium to chat with the spokesman for backgrounders or off the record information.

Before the press briefing, I had a chat with the officials of the East Asia section of the State Department, the guys in charge of policies in the Philippines and other neighboring East Asian states. We talked about the Philippine situation, the Arroyo government, terrorism and places in the county.

Earlier in the day I visited Freedom House and had a conversation with them about the Philippine media situation, the killings of journalists and training of journalists in the Philippines. They also briefed me on their projects and I had the chance to visit the Journalists Memorial where all journalists who were killed are listed on a glass panel. As expected, Filipinos are among the most number of journalists killed.

I was happy to learn that there are at least three Filipinos working at Freedom House. I promised to keep in touch and update them of the situation in the Philippines when I get home.

Last night, I had dinner with James Mitchell, a writer who works with the Meridian, and his Japanese girlfriend. We had chicken and a lot of stories. Mitchell’s brother married a Filipino that’s why he’s familiar with Filipinos and even said he’s familiar with some songs on the Asin CD collection I gave him because he heard it from the relative of his sister in law. I also gave him a tubao as a gift from the Philippines.

Tonight I will watch a movie with Alan, my guide, who I learned just now, is Jewish. We will watch The Gardener, a movie based on John Le Carre’s novel of the same title.

I have been learning a lot from this trip. I learned that the White House is not that huge and is just a two storey mansion, that the chamber of the House of Representatives is much, much smaller than what we have in the Philippines, that there are also ghost stories in the House and that the cameras on the House’s chamber are only focused on the Speaker’s podium so that the people will not know that the seats are always empty during House sessions and that lawmakers only go there to vote.

Americans are very friendly people. You just stand on a street corner holding a map and somebody will approach you and ask you how he or she can help. I also learned that it has become a pastime for people in Washington to protest on anything and most are willing to take up any cause, that many Americans really don’t like their government and that they are also fed up with politics.

I’ll try to look for a post office this afternoon to mail some stuff back home so that I will not be lugging them around the country. Alan and I are leaving for New York tomorrow via Amtrak. I look forward to another experience. It is just unfortunate that I don’t have a good camera to bring along because there are many things that I want to take pictures of. I was not even able to bring my camera to the State Department so I just used my cell phone for a picture on the State Department podium.

Memories are best stored in the mind, however, than interpreted through words or pictures. There’s no substitute to the real thing. This applies on the most mundane things and the most essential things in life. How I wish that my loved ones are with me to share this experience.

Going around Washington

August 30, 2005 (Tuesday)
6:20 p.m.

I had my first Metro ride today. I started at Dupont Circle Station, got off at Metro Station and took another train to the Federal Station.

I went to the Air and Space Museum and the American Indian Museums of the Smithsonian, then to the US House of Representatives and had an insider look of the Capitol via the tunnels underneath. I later went to the Library of Congress then to the Supreme Court building then straight to the Union Station to meet Abi Wright of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

It was another long walk with Alan Rudley, my guide who has a 150 hectare piece of land in West Virginia where he raises 50 heads of cattle. He also restores old wooden houses in his neighborhood and works for the state department for a few months of the year. He studied political science majoring in American history but fell in love with farming after visiting an uncle in a farm when he was a kid. During his college days, he decided to go back to the country and farm.

I’m leaving this evening for dinner with James Mitchell. He’s an author and I-don’t-know-what.

Work starts

August 29, 2005 (Monday)
Wyndham City Center
1143 New Hampshire Avenue
Washington DC
6 p.m.

Today was the first day of my International Visitors Leadership Program. It started with a meeting at 9:30 a.m. with a representative from the State Department and Sheridan Bell, the program officer of Meridian Center, the organization that manages my stay in the United States.

The meeting took place at Meridian House in Crescent Place NW, Washington DC.

The Meridian House and its neighbor, the White-Meyer House, are historic places and the “jewels of the residential architecture of John Russell Pope," who also designed the Jefferson Memorial, the National Gallery and the National Archives.

The Meridian House, named because of its location on the “New World meridian line,” one mile north of the White House, was built by Ambassador Irwin Boyle Laughlin. He bought the land in 1912, two years after his friend Henry White, former ambassador to France and Italy, bought the adjacent site. Laughlin delayed building until after his retirement in 1920.

After the house was built, Laughlin filled it with his collection of 18th century French drawings and Oriental porcelains and screens.

Architectural Forum described the house as:

“Perhaps as fine a piece of work of its kind as this country can show…Certainly the manner of this house has not in this country better done, not only in terms of stylistic authenticity, but in terms of pure architecture, meaning good taste in selectivity, in elimination, in execution. It cannot from its nature do otherwise than set a standard which should endure permanently.”

Whatever that means, I don’t know.

Here’s another interesting trivia. Over both the front and rear doors are Latin inscriptions. “Quo habitat felicitas nil intret mali (Where happiness dwells, evil will not enter).” Over the rear courtyard door, the inscription says: “Purior hic aer: late hinc conspectus in urbem (Purer here the air whence we overlook the city).” It’s supposed to be the same inscription on a house at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome.

The adjacent White-Meyer House, also part of the Meridian Center, was where Katherine Graham, former publisher of The Washington Post spent her childhood. The author Thomas Mann, Eleanor Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson, the Kennedy brothers and numerous foreign ambassadors spent some time in the house and sat on the same chair I sat and discussed issues in one of the rooms I entered.

I would have wanted to take out my camera and ask my hosts if I could have my picture taken, but I forgot all about it sharing stories with Sheridan who talked about his experience eating balut in Baguio, how he rode the rapids in Pagsanjan, Laguna, his experience with Asian delegates to the World Conference of Human Rights in Vienna in 1993, which I attended, and his adventures as a diplomat in China.

I returned to the Meridian House in the afternoon for a lecture on federalism by Prof. Clyde Wilcox of Georgetown University. He talked about the federal system of the US government, how the national, state and local governments function, the strengths and weaknesses of the US style of governance, the limited power of the US president, the role of Congress, how the judiciary works and how political parties operate.

If only my professors during college were half as good as Wilcox, who talks with wit and passion, I might have been inspired to finish my education.

I had coffee late in the morning at the Radio-Television News Directors Association and Foundation with Carol Knopes, RTNDF director for educational projects. It was an interesting sharing about diversity in the newsroom and the empowerment of minority journalists. Ms. Knopes and her colleagues expressed interest in my book and my work as a journalist in the Philippines. They are trying to arrange an interview with me over the National Public Radio and maybe over television over the plight of journalists in the Philippines.

In Washington - 3

August 28, 2005 (Sunday)
Wyndham City Center
1143 New Hampshire Avenue
Washington DC
11:58 p.m.

I walked for more than nine hours from the hotel to the White House then to the Lincoln Memorial and the whole stretch of The Mall all the way to the Capitol building.

I started at 12 noon and came back to the hotel at 9:30 p.m. I again took a short walk to the Dupont Circle for dinner.

My legs are aching and I feel tired right now. But the experience was worth all the effort. The museums are awesome. I encountered people from all over the world. There were Asians, including Filipinos, Latinos, Americans and Europeans.

The weather was hot and humid. It was like Manila without the pollution.

I spent most of my time inside the various Smithsonian museums – the American history museum and the Museum of Natural History. I have to go back to visit the other attractions like the National Archives and the Library of Congress, which I saw from outside but failed to visit because of lack of time.

It was an overwhelming experience because I did it on my own on foot.

There were a lot of things I wanted to buy – books, music CDs, memorabilia and souvenirs. The cost, however, is prohibitive for my budget. But it was enough for me to see it and dream about coming back for it in the future. At least I will be bringing a lot of stories when I go back to the Philippines.

I have to rest now. Tomorrow will be a long day with all the briefings and the meetings. I look forward to seeing more sights in the coming days.

In Washington - 2

August 28, 2005
Wyndham City Center
1143 New Hampshire Ave
Washington DC
8:06 a.m.

It’s early Sunday morning in Washington. What to do?

Sit back, relax and wait for breakfast and read some history.

There’s no view from my room except the side of buildings. I’m on the second floor and there’s nothing outside.

I arrived with one of the strongest hurricanes in recent history hitting the country. People have been evacuated from as far as Morgan City and Florida. Hurricane Katrina has been declared a Category 5 storm, which is expected to bring in a surge of from 15 to 20 feet of water and strong winds of up to 160 mph.

Whatever that means, I can only imagine the typhoons and storms hitting the Philippines several times a year.

“Katrina” will not hit Washington but rain is expected later in the afternoon.

I called Alan Rudley, my guide during my trip. He said he’s planning to bring me around this afternoon for a three-hour walk to the White House and nearby attractions in the capital.

Washington, District of Columbia, was established as the capital of the United States in 1790. Government is the city’s biggest industry and the federal government dominates both the economic and social life of the city.

Washington is run by a mayor and 13 city council members. The city has a non-voting representative to the US congress but it was only in 1964 that residents were able to vote in presidential elections.

The city is host to Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, American University and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

The Smithsonian Institution, Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, the Capitol, Library of Congress, National Archives and the Supreme Court and National Cathedral are all in Washington

The cornerstone of the Capitol building was laid in 1793 after seven years of argument in Congress as to where the “Federal town” should be located. A French soldier and engineer, Pierre L’Enfant, had Paris, France, in mind when he laid out Washington in a series of broad avenues and spacious circles.

When the city was occupied by the British during the War of 1812, the White House, Capitol Building and other Federal buildings were destroyed.

The city has two major newspapers, The Washington Post and The Washington Times.

In Washington

August 28, 2005
Wyndham City Center
1143 New Hampshire Ave
Washington DC
2:30 a.m.

It’s a long way to America: Left early morning Saturday in Manila, arrived in Nagoya, Japan, before lunch, stayed there for more than six hours, left early evening for an almost ten-hour flight to Detroit, stayed in the airport for almost six hours then flew to Washington for an hour. Nobody was there to fetch me so I had to look for my hotel. I paid the taxi $20.

It’s still early Sunday morning here. It’s still a long way to America.

I’m booked in a hotel suite where a bottle of water costs $3.50. There’s nothing in the refrigerator. I’m famished but I’m also tired. I ironed some clothes and tried to connect to the internet via Wi-Fi. It costs $19. Forget about free access to information.

I saw the Capitol on my way to the hotel. I also crossed the Potomac River, which I only saw on films and television and read in Ludlum and Clancy novels. There’s nothing much to it in real life. The movies and novels are more exciting.

It’s great to be in America and encounter people I only heard or read about.

On my way to Detroit I sat beside a big American whose breath smells like rotten mango. He was friendly though and tried not to be a bother. He knows he’s big so he tried to squeeze himself real tight not to disturb me while I slept.

From Detroit to Washington I sat beside two friendly couples in their late forties. We exchanged jokes about how the airline crews lie about flight delays. They were happy to learn that I’m visiting Washington. They said they heard Filipinos are really nice people despite stories about the Abu Sayyaf.

Contrary to stories about strict immigration and customs officials, the people I encountered were friendly. The immigration officer asked me if I’m a Philippine government official. When I said no with a raised eyebrow, the man made a loud guffaw. The customs officer thought I’m an intelligence official. When I joked that I don’t know why the State Department invited me for a visit, the man smiled and said: “It’s hush-hush, isn’t it?”

I saw a lot of Filipinos in all the airports I passed. Many of them were arrogant and pretentious. The Americans are friendly. The cab driver was from India. He asked me if I need a fare receipt and gave me one that is blank. He was so thankful and helped me with my bag when I gave him a dollar. I planned to give him five for all the help and hospitality but when I dig into my pocket there was only a dollar bill and some peso bills.

I’ll try to go around the city later today after breakfast, maybe meet with my host who did not fetch me at the airport and visit some museums and bookstores.

Stranded in Nagoya

August 27, 2005
1:41 p.m. (Manila time)
Nagoya Airport, Japan

Sometimes good things come with a price. It was good that I got this airline perks. My flight has been delayed. I did not know that I would be stopping by Nagoya on my way to Detroit. The flight has been delayed. The plane encountered some problems. Airline mechanics said they’re waiting for the parts that would be flown from Narita.

I’m stuck in Nagoya for hours now. Thanks to WorldPerks, I’m staying in this executive lounge drinking Ginger Ale and eating what looks like “pusu” (it’s spelled “poso” in some areas of the Visayas and Mindanao but is pronounced “pu-su” with emphasis on the last syllable). This Japanese version is cooked gelatinous rice wrapped by that green-dried-seaweed-thing I see in Tokyo-Tokyo in Manila. I really don’t know what it’s called but this triangular thing is bigger than those I saw in Manila’s fastfoods. These ones look like “pusu.”

I lost a book when I deplaned earlier for the airline crew to clean the cabin. I left Pico Iyer’s “The Global Soul” with my boarding pass between its pages. Anyway, let me cut the suspense because my battery has been drained.

The airline attendant found the book.

Journey starts

August 27, 2005
5:30 a.m., NAIA

My journey has begun. I have no sleep for 22 hours and 30 minutes already. I had to prepare for this trip. I am not ready for this. I just took it for granted. I did not prepare. Why should I? I have nothing to prepare.

I left as the rain poured over Metro Manila. There’s nothing exciting about leaving one’s country while the rain is pouring or while the country’s president is being impeached.

I’m inside Northwest Airlines’ WorldPerks lounge where there’s free food and drinks. I don’t know how I got invited to be a “Gold Elite” member. I received a promotional letter a few months back. One of those we throw away without opening.

It was one of those boring days at the office. I opened the letter and accomplished an online membership form. I did not know then that I would be traveling.

Months later, I received a letter with a “membership number,” which I wrote on a piece of paper I hid in my wallet.

I forgot about that piece of paper until I saw the sign in the airport corridor just after the last security check before one boards the plane. I pushed the door open and someone said “good morning” at 4:30 a.m.

The aroma of brewed coffee and freshly-baked bread seduced me. There was no backing out anymore. I pretended that I’m just as the man thinks I am. I spoke English, told him to register my name and when he asked me where my membership card is, I said it did not arrive yet.

“Welcome, sir,” the man said. “We have some food. Please enjoy.”

“I will,” I told him as I proceeded to the buffet table.

I took a seat and enjoyed the coffee, the bread, another cup of coffee, a glass of mango juice and more bread. “So this is the privileged life,” I thought.

I sent an SMS message to my travel companion, social activist Yasmin Busran-Lao of Marawi, and told her to follow me inside the lounge. The receptionist did not allow her. It’s an exclusive club for members, she was told. She can pay US$45 to be allowed inside, the girl told my friend.

Yasmin remembered that she was looking for me. She told the receptionist.

Of course, Mr. Torres can have a guest, the receptionist said. “Welcome,” Yasmin was told. My friend laughed. What has this Mindanaoan done to merit a seat in this exclusive club, Yasmin might have thought. “You’re really a citizen of the Federal Republic of Mindanao,” she said laughing when she saw me.

Now it’s 6:20 in the morning and it’s time to board the plane that would take me to America.