Friday, January 27, 2012

The mysterious case of the moving Santo Niño statue

Over 80% of Filipinos are Roman Catholics, and nearly all Roman Catholic homes and businesses in the Philippines own and display a statue of Santo Niño, a representation of the Christ Child.  The Santo Niño de Cebu ("Holy Child of Cebu") is a celebrated statue of the Christ Child venerated by Filipino Roman Catholics.  Similar to the Infant of Prague, it is claimed to be the oldest religious image in the Philippines, originally given by Ferdinand Magellan to Rajah Humabon and his wife Humamay in 1521, along with statues of Our Lady of Guidance and Ecce Homo.  The statue is clothed in expensive textile robes and a gold crown,  and gained renown when it miraculously survived a devastating parish fire in 1565. The Santo Niño de Cebu statue is permanently housed under bulletproof glass at the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño in Cebu City, and is one of the most recognizable cultural images in the Philippines found in many secular and religious areas.  The Basilica is a major site of religious importance to Roman Catholics as well as a significant historical site and international tourist destination. 

Before we left Cebu in August 2011 on our last trip to the Philippines, my wife purchased a Santo Niño statue molded of light-weight fiberglass (for easier air transport back to the U.S.) from a vendor outside the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, which is immediately adjacent to Magellan's Cross.  This statue was clothed in a red tunic of thin nylon material which was slit down the sides of the legs, covering the back and front of the statue.  The statue also happened to be an "anatomically correct" representation of the toddler Jesus.   When we arrived back at our home in the U.S., my wife displayed the Santo Niño statue on an end table in the entry foyer of our house, positioning it near a floral bouquet facing our main entrance door.

A few weeks after positioning the Santo Niño statue, my wife noticed that the statue had moved its position.  She asked me whether I had moved it, and I told her that I hadn't.  She confronted our 8-year-old daughter about this, and she said that she hadn't moved it.   "Well, we must be having a miracle then, if no one is moving the Santo Niño!" my wife replied.  

A few days later, she found that the Santo Niño statue had moved again, and then again another day or so later.  The movement seemed to coincide with the timing of visits from our daughter's friend, a neighbor girl who is about the same age.  My wife questioned our daughter a little bit further, and found that apparently the first time this movement happened was when our daughter was using the bathroom and her friend was waiting outside the bathroom door, which is immediately adjacent to the end table with the Santo Niño statue.  Aha!  Finally a clue.  Our daughter then divulged to my wife that she had seen her friend these two most recent times picking up the Santo Niño statue to take a peek underneath his tunic, getting a look at his anatomically correct "pikoy"!  Our daughter told my wife that she had told her friend "that's not appropriate". My wife just advised our daughter to tell her neighbor friend not to move the Santo Niño anymore.   Then, she put in a request with my mother-in-law to have a new set of clothes made for Santo Niño, this one complete with a pair of underwear!  So, now our Santo Niño  has a beautiful white silk gown with red trim and sequins rather than a simple red nylon tunic... and a proper pair of underwear to prevent little neighbor girls from peeping at his pikoy!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A bangka (outrigger canoe) trip in Mindanao - up-river and along the shoreline

During our last trip in July/August 2011 to my wife's home town in Mindanao, the Philippines, we hired a traditional means of Philippine maritime transportation -- a small outrigger canoe called a bangka. The bangka is widely used in the Philippines, especially in the provinces outside the major metro areas, for fishing and transportation within and between the islands, and bangkas are very common in the seashore and fishing villages.  Its long, narrow canoe-like banana-shaped hull is wooden and painted with multiple coats of epoxy paint.  Generally it has two outriggers made of bamboo, which act to stabilize the boat in the tropical sea or river waters. The smallest bangkas are usually manually powered with paddles like a canoe or kayak, although the rather small bangka we hired was propelled by a small outboard engine that was I believe was only 5 horsepower.  I've been on a bangka  before and enjoyed it thoroughly, but this time we took a fairly small bangka and traveled on a trip route we had not taken before, which was  really pleasant and exciting for all of us.  For our 8-year old daughter in particular, this was an exciting, educational, and eye-opening trip that gave her exposure to many things she does not have the opportunity to see in the U.S.

The man that my father-in-law hired to take us out in a bangka was a local fisherman with his own bangka, and interestingly he was also a builder of bangkas.  So since my wife and I didn't personally make the arrangements, I don't really have any practical advice or suggestions about looking for a boat for hire other than "use your common sense,  and look for a boat that doesn't leak" (ha-ha!).   I have a definite appreciation for bangkas, and some day I would like to have one of my own.   Onboard the bangka were our Papa/Lolo (my father-in-law; "Lolo" is the Filipino word for grandfather, and is what my daughter calls him), my wife, my daughter, our bangka captain, his son who was about 11 years old, and myself. 

We started off from the beach at my wife's home town in Mindanao (Oroquieta City), and we went a short distance along the shore line until we came to the mouth of the river that flows through the small city.  Since the draught of our little boat was about equal to that of a canoe, it can get into some pretty shallow water.  From the mouth of the river, we went upstream as far as we could.  We passed under a pedestrian suspension (cable) bridge, which can easily accommodate the width of two people walking side-by-side passing in opposite directions, and we kept going upriver.  We next came to the first road bridge, and went underneath it.   There were a good number of people doing laundry in the river under the bridge, and this was really educational for our daughter, as this is something that is not seen in the U.S. and even in our travels in the Philippines we can't usually see too well what's going on under a bridge because our car is traveling over it.  An interesting social and work event, nearly hidden from the sight of all above.

Washing clothes under the bridge

We then had to turn off the motor and use paddle due to it being shallow.  We were able to go upstream about a couple hundred more meters,  at which point we were starting to scrape bottom and get stuck, and ultimately we had to turn around.  Our trusty bangka pilot and his son got out and re-situated the boat when we got stuck pretty well.  Before we turned around, however, we passed some more women doing the laundry, this time out in the middle of the river (since it was so shallow) on piles of rocks, and on several occasions accompanied by a very small child or children.  We waved at these tiny little children, who watched us with a shy fascination perhaps mixed with a little bit of fear. 

Children accompanying mother on rocks in river doing laundry

Little boys with their mama doing laundry on rocks in river
Once we headed back down-river and got past the bridge, we used the motor again, and headed out past the mouth of the river into the sea, following the shoreline less than a kilometer from the shore.   We headed north to find another, smaller river that came out of an area of foothills.  This smaller river would lead up to a village in which Papa had spent time as a young boy with his family farming and evading the Japanese Army during World War II.  Unfortunately, we didn't get many pictures of the beautiful shoreline, but the following picture is one that shows the area along the shore several kilometers north of my wife's home town.  In the photo below, we are approaching a much more rural and agricultural area, with the elevation of the land climbing up from sea level, and you can see behind the clouds the elevation of one of the main mountains in this area.  In this photo, the water is getting just the slightest bit of choppiness from either a bit of wind or from some turbulence from streams and the river coming down from the foothills.  There's a fair amount of desirable hardwood timber grown in those foothills (mahogany, nara, etc.) in addition to coconut trees and camote (sweet potato/yam root crops). 

Bangka boat "Kimberly", as taken from our bangka boat

We next passed by some fish nets that were staked into the water, and entered the mouth of this second, smaller river coming out of the foothills.  This river was much, much narrower than the river that passes through my wife's home town, but apparently also a bit deeper, at least in parts.   The narrowness of the river was really interesting and somewhat exciting to my daughter and me, but my wife was worried that there would be snakes in the thick trees and bushes that lines the shores (her worries were unfounded, at least during our trip).  We saw many nipa huts (bamboo houses), which near the river are typically elevated up on stilts, in comparison to nipa huts you'll see inland away from the rivers, which are not raised up as high.  Usually, sitting on the bank of the stream in front of these houses are brightly colored bangkas.  As shown in some of the photos below, bangkas represent an important means of transportation for villagers living along the streams and rivers of provincial (rural) Philippines.  Ultimately, we realized that this was not the river Papa was looking for -- it was a bit further north along the coast line.  Due to time constraints, however, we decided to just continue our trip and just "go with the flow" (or in our case since we were heading upstream, go against the flow).

Small bangka passing by, fish nets staked up in background

Bamboo nipa hut houses on stilts, bangkas docked in front

Family (mama, papa, 3 boys, dog) in bangka passing by on this narrow river...  a "fluvial road"

Another nipa hut house, with a brightly colored bangka in front

Family onshore doing some work near their bangka boats

We enjoyed our trip, and a great time was had by all.  Taking a bangka trip along shore and upstream is definitely something on my "highly recommended" list of things to do if you visit the rural coastal provinces of the Philippines, and it is especially fun to do if you have children.  Our daughter got to experience all of the sights, smells, and sounds of this trip, and also got to wave hello to a lot of families and little children along the banks of the rivers.    Papa got to reminisce about some of the trips along the same coastline he took as a child and as a teenager.  And my wife and I got to relax and really enjoy being out on the water, taking in the experience and enjoying the company of family.  Although our trip probably lasted about 3 hours, I could have spent literally all day on the bangka (despite having long legs in a small boat). I think next time we will bring along a picnic lunch and try to spend more than 3 hours out on the bangka.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Our loyal and loving (but intellectually challenged) little mutt

Here are a couple of photos my wife took early this summer of our daughter with our mutt, a Shih-tzu and Maltese mix.   He's truly not the sharpest tool in the shed - it took him literally a month of training sessions to learn how to shake hands, when other dogs I have owned picked up this trick in about 5 minutes of training.  Often he'll come bounding upstairs into our bedroom searching absent-mindedly for my wife when in fact he just passed her in our kitchen downstairs.  Let me be frank - he is very often dumb as a rock!   

However, he is a very sweet and loving dog, and is really good with children, even if neighbor kids come to our house and pick him up like a rag doll, smothering him with affection.   He truly craves getting attention and affection and being held on the lap, especially when it comes to my wife, and he is a true "Mama's Boy".  He shadows my wife constantly around the house, watching her every move and guarding her.   He seems to have an innate sense of when one of us in "the pack" are not feeling well, and in particular he was on a heightened sense of awareness, empathy, and affection when my wife was recovering from her mastectomy surgery earlier this year.  

As a typical 8-year-old, our daughter is into fantasy play, and she has no other brothers and sisters, so you can just imagine the rigors of play and make-believe our little mutt has to go through with her and her friends.  He has of course been dressed up numerous times, plays the role of co-pilot on different ride-on jeep-type toys in the backyard, and gets hugged, squeezed, and carried about by her and all of her friends (we of course monitor to make sure he's being handled gently). 

So, while he's by no means a genius, we're pretty happy with him in the three years we've owned him (we got him as a pup of about 7 months old) and he has been a good and loyal companion for us.  At times he can be frustrating, but in the end he loves unconditionally and really just wants to be loved in return. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Early detection of breast cancer - for everyone and including Pinays

I'd like to take a bit of time to discuss early breast cancer detection via yearly mammograms after age 40, and bring a point-of-view relevant to younger women and inclusive of Filipinas.  While the concept of early detection via annual mammography in women over 40 is "preached" by family physicians and OB/GYNs, and dispersed with public service announcements and public health campaigns through all types of media, it is easy to procrastinate due to a schedule that's too busy, fear of cancer, fear of discomfort during the mammogram, or any number of other reasons.  But I can speak from experience how important and crucial mammography really is.  January 11th marks the one-year anniversary that my lovely wife was diagnosed, after a confirmatory second high-resolution mammogram (first one looked suspicious)  and then a stereotactic biopsy, with a type of breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).   She went in for her very first-ever mammogram just a few weeks after turning 40, and had no family history of breast cancer other than one case on her father's side of the family...  only a family history of breast cancer on the maternal side of a woman's family is considered to be a prognostic risk factor.  Thankfully we caught it early, and she is healthy and happy now.   

Statistically, Filipinas and Asian women in general do not have as high an incidence of DCIS and other breast cancer as Caucasians.  Ironically, however,  immediately before my wife went in for her first mammogram, a Filipina acquaintance of hers who is just a couple of years older than my wife had a mastectomy for DCIS.  While certain risk factors exist and various ethnic groups have a higher or lower propensity for different types of cancers, any given type of cancer can be (and is) represented in virtually any population.  So I'd like to take the opportunity to strongly encourage, urge, cajole, and prod every woman over 40 (or any man who has a wife, girlfriend, mother, aunt, sister, cousin, daughter, friend over 40) of any race or ethnicity who reads this to please try their best to get an annual mammogram, and additionally perform regular self physical breast exams. 

DCIS is the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer. Ductal means that the cancer starts inside the milk ducts, carcinoma refers to any cancer that begins in the skin or other tissues (including breast tissue) that cover or line the internal organs, and in situ means "in its original place." DCIS is called "non-invasive" because it hasn’t spread beyond the milk duct into any normal surrounding breast tissue (i.e., stage 0).  DCIS isn’t life-threatening per se, but having DCIS can increase the risk of developing an invasive breast cancer later on.  According to the American Cancer Society, about 60,000 cases of DCIS are diagnosed in the United States each year, accounting for about 1 out of every 5 new breast cancer cases.  There are two main reasons this number is so large and has been increasing over time:   1) People are living much longer lives, and as women grow older, the risk of breast cancer increases;  2) More women are getting mammograms, and the quality of the mammograms has improved. With better screening, more cancers are being spotted early.  Additionally, the DCIS in my wife's case was not able to be detected via self physical examination because there were no palpable tumor masses, and therefore mammography was the only way to detect it so early.

Women who have breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy) for DCIS without radiation therapy have about a 25% to 30% chance of having a recurrence at some point in the future.  Including radiation therapy in the treatment plan after surgery drops the risk of recurrence to about 15%.  My wife was advised to have a complete mastectomy of the affected breast, which was actually what she would have chosen anyhow, and she decided that a prophylactic mastectomy of the other (contralateral) breast would make her feel much better in terms of not needing to worry.  For my wife's non-aggressive grade of DCIS, bilateral mastectomy brings the risk of recurrence down dramatically, to a yearly chance of about 2% and a lifetime chance of about 10% up to a very old age.   She had the bilateral mastectomy in February and is doing great since - her lymph nodes were clear, and she has not required any radiation or chemotherapy at all.   She has adapted perfectly well, is as active as ever before, and is confident and happy with the outcome of her surgery, her physical appearance, and her new lease on life.

I've included a few pictures of a Susan G. Komen Foundation Race for the Cure 5K run/walk we participated in as a family during Mother's Day 2011, less than 3 months after my wife's surgery.  It was quite an inspirational event, as many of the ~30,000 participants were breast cancer survivors (and their families), many of whom were diagnosed with much more aggressive types of breast cancer or breast cancer that metastasized, and went through some real hardship and tribulations through extensive chemotherapy and radiation therapy after surgery.   Numerous of the paper race/walk entry tags that were pinned to the T-shirts being worn by participants had listed in memoriam the names of mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, daughters, or friends who succumbed to breast cancer.  

Further information is available at the American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen Foundation websites.  I've also included a link to a review article, "What every Filipina should know about breast cancer", by Tyrone M. Reyes, MD which is from the Philippine Star website:

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Beautiful Boracay, Philippines - banana boats, jet skis, and parasailing

These are some photos of water sports we enjoyed during a family trip to Boracay in 2008.  I'll write a bit more about Boracay and the experiences we had there in a later post.  The jet skiing is self-explanatory, and was incredibly fun -  in my opinion the most fun and thrilling of all three water sports shown in the photos below, although I did not personally indulge in the parasailing and only watched from the back of the boat.  The icing on the cake was (were) the beautiful views we got of Boracay and the sea... a truly gorgeous place and an equally beautiful day.  All of these were very enjoyable, but unfortunately our daughter was too little to be able to ride on anything with the exception of the speed boat towing the parasailing parachute.

Gorgeous view of parasailing fleet, Boracay, Philippines

Water sports at Boracay
The jet skis were really nice and handled really well, especially when going full throttle - a good, exciting ride that really gives you some good bounce.  I rode with my wife behind me, then let her drive  with me as the backseat passenger (she was actually pretty good).  Finally, I went solo and really opened up and cut loose.  It was a blast, but I felt kind of bad because I forgot all about the time and the guys who managed the place had to send someone out on a jet ski to get me because I went a bit over with my allotted time.  I would have loved to have taken it out all day, and to have gone far beyond the boundaries they permitted me to take it.  Would be neat to rent one, but I doubt that is possible without a guide, because  one would have to have a really intimate knowledge of where all the coral reefs are in a particular place.

Pre-flight dockside check-out, Boracay, Philippines


Off we go!

My wife and I coming back to dock on jet ski, Boracay

My wife's turn to drive
My wife at the helm... aye-aye, captain!

The guy who had to remind me that my time was up!

Coming back in to the dock

The banana boat -- not a boat on which bananas are transported, but an inflatable banana-shaped raft towed by a speed boat -- was also fun and can accommodate a pretty decent-sized group of people, but was actually a bit more tame of a ride than I had expected... quite cushy and stable.  I had expected it to be more bouncy and that it would catch more "air" from the waves.   But it was fun, nonetheless, and everyone really enjoyed it... lots of laughs from all of our group.

"Vacation all I ever wanted, vacation had to get away..."

Banana boating in Boracay
Beautiful shoreline scenery of Boracay

Hoppin' and boppin' on the banana boat

Banana boat hitting the wake at Boracay

Finally, parasailing.  My wife and I have done some pretty bold and dangerous things, including white water rafting on a Class IV rapids on the river at Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao.   But since our daughter wanted to come on the boat with us (and since she hadn't had the chance to ride the other rides), we opted out and her two sisters who accompanied us have their chance at cheating death.  Just kidding - in all fairness it seemed safe and the operators appeared to be responsible.  But that parachute sure does get far, far up in the sky and far away from the boat!

My two sisters-in-law parasailing at Boracay
Don't cut the rope, Dong

Parasailing chute

Kicking up a good wake under the cumulus clouds

How's the weather up there?

Can barely see them any more

Monday, January 2, 2012

My wife's home town in Mindanao - a rooftop perspective

Three of my favorite perspectives of life in the Philippines are those perhaps often overlooked by the foreigner or tourist.  One of these views is that from the  street level as a passenger or driver of a pedicab.  Another is that from the water level from a simple bangka boat (outrigger canoe... I'll post photos from that later) either off-shore or going up a small tidal river in the provinces.   A third perspective that I've always enjoyed, particularly in the provincial towns, is that of the rooftop or water tower, often approached by concrete stairs and then finally a steel set of stairs similar to a fire escape.   The views and perspective up there are often unequalled.   The nostalgia-evoking smells of coconut husk charcoal from people cooking and fresh saltwater breezes coming up from the ocean are really nice, as is the effect of the cooling breeze gained from the higher elevation.   One of my favorite things is getting a great view of the varied tropical fruits growing on trees, depending on the season, with the ever-present coconut trees swaying gently in the ocean breezes. The activities of the people down below on the street are still very evident and noticeable, but the noises are a bit muted from the height of perhaps 20 meters, and in many ways one becomes a silent observer. I'm not a voyeur, but there is a certain anonymity and ease of observation while watching the day-to-day activities and the beating pulse of a relatively quiet provincial town (in comparison to Manila or Cebu) in a market below.  

I've posted a few photos from a rooftop in my wife's home town in Oroquieta City, Misamis Occidental, Mindanao, just to highlight this birds-eye perspective, although of course I cannot convey the senses other than sight.  Interesting and beautiful views of the mountains and the Holy Rosary Church, I believe built in the 1880's.  Four photos can never do justice to the views from the rooftop water tower perch, but hopefully readers of this blog will enjoy these.



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