Sunshine, Fem, Eve and I just finished a last minute trip to Baybay in Leyte, Philippines to see Lola - Fem's mum, and all the family. We had to take a bank loan to get there, but it was a great trip thanks to the wonderful hospitality of Mary and Titing, helped tirelessly by Celia and Tintin, and made fun and easier by all the family.
Lola was very old, and restricted to a bed, unable to move, mostly sleeping. It was very sad for Fem and Sunshine to see their Lola this way, knowing that death was not far away, but at least they were able to be with her, if only for a few days. While we were there she had managed to open her eyes and smile at them. Lola died the night we arrived back in Australia, leaving her 7 daughters and 1 son.
Eve the monster
At 14 months, Eve seems to be entering a hyperactive and unsettled phase, coupled with clinginess to her mum. Sunshine endured a total 30 hours of Eve's restlessness going to Baybay, starting from Canberra and a 4 hour drive to Sydney, then a 9 hour flight from Sydney to Hong Kong. Connecting to a 2.5 hour flight to Cebu City where we were met and helped by Santos, Mary, and Fely (Sunshine's uncle and aunties). We all taxi'd to Cebu port where we boarded a ship for the 5 hour night cruise to Ormoc, then a 1 hour bus to Baybay, and finally a putput (cycle rickshaw) to Mary and Titing's house - arriving at 4am local time (6am our time).
We slept the first day away - except for Eve, who went wild playing with all the other kids. It was great to not have to worry for her any longer, and just trust all the family to pass her around. Apart from the journeying, Eve was great to have around, and the family really helped make it much easier.
Mary and Titing's house
Baybay is a charming little town in Leyte Province, with its own port, market, shops, schools and a nearby university. Flanked by mountains to the East, and relatively far from Cebu City, tourism does not appear to be adversely affecting Baybay.
In the Baybay central area buildings appear to be influenced by old Chinese terrace house designs with ground story shop fronts and second story living. Larger 2 story concrete, brick and timber warehouses exist on larger properties. Outside the central areas, formed and reinforced concrete (prepared onsite) post and beam, infilled by brick, is the preferred building material and method. A large number of interesting and intricate timber, bamboo and thatch buildings still exist, but appear to have slowed in use. Termites trouble unprotected timber where it is used at ground level.
Low pressure water is piped to permitted buildings, but is not potable before boiling. Water heating is not common and though it is not used, simple solar heating could save time and fuel for boiling and washing. Low voltage electricity is also wired, but again, simple photovoltaic could be used to supplement the generally low power usage. Gas is bottled and delivered for those who can afford it, otherwise solid fuel such as wood is used for fuel. Rocket stoves would greatly improve fuel efficiency, reduce emissions and improve health for those using solid fuels. I didn't see any use of biogas, and while I heard that pig farming was too costly, I saw no evidence of methane gas generation from pig farms. Sewage is piped, and grey water is allowed to drain into normal water ways. Again, composting toilets and grey water treatment could help I think. Land line telephones and internet is available, but it seems most prefer to go without. Mobile telephone use is common.
On Wednesday afternoon, Uncle Boy picked us up in his 4WD Suzuki mini ute (now on my Christmas wishlist) for a beautiful drive up the Makinhas River Valley, to Fem's home town, Villa (pronounced Vilya). We ate the most delicious feast at Manang Soring and Manoy Badoy's house, again with all the family, and then we walked up to see the progress on Boy and Naty's house (one of Fem's 7 sisters).
Boy (64yo) then challenged me to a mountain walk, and we were both outdone by the Leyson sisters, who led us to survey their 6 acres of coconut farm in a steep mountain re entrant just over Villa.
Hot, sweaty and itchy, we climbed down to Domingo's house (son of Uncle Santos, Fem's only brother) who generously refreshed us with coconut wine, cola and bread. Domingo keeps a spectacular pet bird, native to the Philippines, called a Kalaw.
Japanese were repelled from Leyte, people living in provincial towns such as Villa squatted and farmed coconut, banana, yams and bamboo. At some stage after the war, the Philippines government issued titles for the land to the squatters, charging an annual tax from then on. Today that tax is about 2000 Philippine Peso (PhP) per year for 5 acres of land (Au$47).
Today, land central to Baybay township is of highest value and seems to sell at around PhP1000 per square metre with 1000m2 being a large section. A designed and quality building seems to cost about 20 000PhP per square metre.
Politically, Leyte seems stable and content, with provincial towns governed and administered by committees called Barangays. I did hear of one remote southern provincial mountain town called Monterico, that defends an autonomy from central governance however. Police and security were visible in Baybay, but low key. Their primary role seemed to be in the town central, defending businesses, and the port.
On Wednesday, Sunshine and I had some basic dental work done by a lady easily as skilled and resourced as any Australian dentist I've visited, but affordable, gentle and pleasant! Sunshine had a back tooth seen to, that had chipped away during her pregnancy. I had a clean, and general check up with surprisingly nothing found that I need to worry about. My Australian dentist injected fear and lifelong worry about a toothless old age plagued with deformity, so mine was a PhP1500 well spent!
We caught the fast cat back to Cebu on Thursday, as there were no boats on Good Friday. On Friday we saw a small passion play of Christ's trial and parade, and decided to take a taxi tour south to the St Catherine Church of Alexandra in Carcar City, where devotional crucifixions take place every Easter. Unfortunately this year, they couldn't secure a sponsor for the event! No matter, the tour out to the church and back was worth a look.
Also, the opportunities that our two country's dollar value disparity presents. It is common for the wealthy classes in many countries in Asia, such as Hong Kong, Singapore, or Taiwan for examples, to hire Filipinos into care roles. I wouldn't hesitate hiring someone like Celia to assist with our family's care needs and preferences, if it were permissible in Australia, as the cost of doing so would be massively less than hiring locally, including flights!
But I also get to wondering why more Australians don't consider retirement in places like Baybay - where Australian Dollars can go so much further, and the quality and extent of services being so much more...
An inspiring visit, staying with an extremely welcoming and hospitable family, gave us such a valuable incite into the life and culture of people living in and around Baybay, and pause to reflect on our own conditions for living in Australia. For one, our family units are relatively broken down compared to what I saw in the Leysons. We don't have the level of interdependence in our families that people in the Philippines seem to have, and I think we are poorer for it. Also, the opportunities that transnational income disparity presents people from both regions. There's more to this than meets the eye of course, and I'm looking at things through the eyes of Illich as usual, where he would say of Australia and all industrialised societies, and as a warning to regions undergoing post colonial industrialisation:
[e]lite professional groups . . . have come to exert a 'radical monopoly' on such basic human activities as health, agriculture, home-building, and learning, leading to a 'war on subsistence' that robs peasant societies of their vital skills and know-how. The result of much economic development is very often not human flourishing but 'modernized poverty,' dependency, and an out-of-control system in which the humans become worn-down mechanical parts.The rest of our photos are here, and videos here.
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