A Trip Home (to Batangas) and the First Day of School

On Sunday Dindin and I drove to San Pascual, Batangas, where his family lives. It’s about a 90 minute drive from Tagaytay, but can be longer depending on traffic. We were delayed by three different funerals. Outside of Manila, funerals and parades seem to be the main impediments to the smooth flow of traffic (but tough competitors are poor road conditions, vehicles in poor condition, and a near total lack of traffic law enforcement). Some of the hearses here are quite beautiful, basically similar to hearses I’ve seen in the US but more creatively designed.

The worst of the three funerals (in terms of its traffic impact) must have had at least 100 vehicles (although who knows, some of them may have just been tagging along to avoid the gridlock). This one did not seem to have a hearse at all, although there was a van from a funeral home and a large flatbed truck. Perhaps they had several corpses on that truck, which would explain the unusual size of the caravan. Overall I think it took us about two hours to get there.

Sunday was Duane’s second birthday (Duane is the third child of Dindin’s sister, Loids). So we stopped to get some chocolate fudge cake. We also had plans to take the car to the Toyota dealer in Batangas on Monday. Of course, we knew it would be hot. The summer here is supposed to be from March to May. But it doesn’t follow the calendar as reliably as I’m used to in the US, and there seems to be a lot of disagreement about when it begins and ends. Summer started late this year, in late March. But it ended on time, according to the newspapers. Except the weather didn’t seem to cooperate with the news reports. Here it is June 7 and it was a hot day today, even in Tagaytay.

Anyway, Sunday in Batangas was very hot. Duane seemed to enjoy his birthday. He looked quite different than I recalled, because his head was shaved, or almost. He reminded me of the boy in the movie The Last Emperor. Luckily my rib has healed enough so that I can hold him now, because he kept asking me to pick him up. But this time he didn’t cry when I left. He has learned “bye-bye” now.

On Monday Dindin and I woke up at 5:30 am. I wanted to go to Toyota early, so I didn’t go back to sleep. It turns out that Monday, June 6, was the first day of school for 28 million Filipino youth, including Dindin’s nieces Aprhille (13 years old) and KC (8) and his nephew Damiel (7). The school is quite close to their house. I walked with the kids and the adults to the school yard. On about 5 hours sleep, I was amazed at the level of activity at 6 am. The whole town seemed mobilized to get all the kids safely to school.

It was quite a large campus, with several buildings. Aphrille had already left to go to the high school part when we left. The two younger children are both in the same third grade classroom. All the students were dressed alike, more or less. The boys had white tshirts that have the school name on the front and the boy’s first name on the back. The boys all had black pants, either long or short. The girls had matching skirts and white blouses, with plaid ties (ascots?) hanging from their necks. The list outside the classroom for third grade part A had 23 boys and 22 girls on it. 45 students and one teacher, but it could grow higher if other kids showed up.

This is the tragedy of education in the Philippines. The public schools are underfunded. Most students attend for only 10 years. High school begins at age 13, and kids graduate high school at 16 or 17. There is a plan in place to extend schooling by three years, by adding kindergarten and two later years, for a total of 13 years. While this would bring the country closer to international norms, the way this plan is being implemented suggests it may do more harm than good. They have begun rolling out the first phase, kindergarten, but have not provided any more teachers. They expect the overloaded first grade teachers to also teach the kindergartners. Of course, my information here is limited to reading a few articles in the newspapers and talking to a few people.  So my details may be way off.

What I observed Monday morning, aside from the high student-to-teacher ratio, was quite wonderful. Children are very important in this society. While the funds from the government may fall short, the enthusiasm and dedication of the whole community was evident.

While I took the car to Toyota, Dindin took Yeesta, our shi-tzu, to the vet to have his hair cut. The difference in his look is dramatic. He is usually a ball of fur. Now he is a seemingly hairless, naked little dog, except for his very furry ears and tail.

As planned, Dindin’s mother, Luzviminda, came back with us to Tagaytay. Our plan had been to drive to Manila on Tuesday, as I had some business to attend to there. Monday night Dindin reminded me that we cannot drive to Manila on Tuesday. Not on any Tuesday. Because of the number coding.

Number coding? Yes. It’s a system they have here to try to reduce the number of cars on the road. There is one day each week, determined by the last digit of your license plate, when you cannot drive your car in Manila. Of course, I bought my car on December 30, 2010, and I had to wait until mid-May to get my license plates, so I wasn’t yet used to this. Before I got the plates I could drive any day of the week, wherever I pleased. Now that the plates are on the car, ending in the digit 2, I cannot drive in Manila on a Tuesday.

So today we stayed home. We could have driven the car, as in all the other areas we tend to drive (basically in the provinces of Cavite and Batangas) there is no number coding. But we were all tired and decided to take it easy. Besides, it’s cooler in Tagaytay than anywhere else we would go.

The main cultural difference between the Philippines and the USA is that the highest value here in the Philippines is family. (The highest value in the USA is definitely not family. Personal achievement perhaps.) While I have always been very happy with my family of origin and didn’t think I was looking for another family, I am grateful for the truly wonderful family that I have here.

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  • robin yates  On June 7, 2011 at 10:57 am

    nice post, thanks. I live in Payatas A, Quezon City.It is great seeing all the fortunate kids going to school, but it saddens me so many don’t go because their parents cannot afford the fees. A generation wasted

    • Barry C. Saiff  On June 7, 2011 at 11:01 am

      Yes, I wondered about that. I’ve been told the fees are very minimal, but there must be quite a few families who cannot afford even minimal fees, or the uniforms.

  • Al  On June 7, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    I enjoy your posts Barry. I would, however, disagree (You know I will disagree right?) with your genralization about the value of family in the USA. For some of us, family is very important. Most of us are from somewhere else anyhow and tend to bring those values with us. It is my perception that people born in California value family less than people in the midwest and also that people born and raised in rural areas value family more than people born and raised in ciities or their suburbs but that is just a perception.

    That said, a lot of people in the US appear to value ‘stuff’ more than anything and as you suggest, some value achievement most. I suspect it has a lot to do with how one was raised and the rewards life has brought.

  • Barry C. Saiff  On June 8, 2011 at 12:24 am

    Of course, these are just my impressions, so you are welcome to disagree. But for me a very telling point is that, in many families in the US, a child is banished when they come out as queer. While that may happen in rare cases here in the Philippines, for most Filipinos, no matter how homophobic they may be, to rend the family asunder is unthinkable. Another aspect has to do with how families support each other. In the USA, if a family is functional, the members of that family, especially the younger ones, are supported by the family in achieving in the world. Whereas in the Philippines, a young family member in some cases will be held back from achieving in the world if the family needs their support at home. Making family, or any one thing, paramount above all others is not always uniformly a positive. I think the extent to which family is paramount here in the Philippines is unusual, even when compared to the most functional, supportive, and loving families in the US.

  • Barry C. Saiff  On June 8, 2011 at 1:36 am

    Apparently the class size in Manila is even larger. Editorial in today’s Philippine Star: http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=694054&publicationSubCategoryId=64

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