“You got a funny accent. Where'd you grow up?”
“Really. We have a Filipino gal as a caregiver for my mother. Sweet, talkative.”
“Your dad military?”
I sigh. “My parents were fraternal workers, that's how they say it, worked with the church. Dad on church and labor, squatters, ngo stuff now.”
Imagine the fugue– a brown woman stoops to change the diaper of his 89 year old mother, about the time I'm climbing acacias, driver ants crawl through the Poisonwood Bible in the Congo, some dark whorl of a place for white people, and women always in long dresses, while in Hawaii a white man (my father, presumably) waves a bible above dark heads while he makes cash like a bandit.
I didn't ask to come but we came, and so we grew up in post war Manila, grimy ugly teeming cheerful Manila. We called it the “Pearl of the Orient.” “When was it a pearl?” I ask Aunti Soli, one of my many SS Wright mothers. “Oh, it was, but before the war, you should have seen it then.” Her gentle husband, my Uncle Hank, was a guerilla fighter against the Japanese.
Gen. MacArthur said, “I shall return,” when he high-tailed out of Manila. He splashed dramatically back through low tide at the Gulf of Leyte. But the Battle for Manila was gruesome. Americans and Japanese slashed and burned it to a wasteland of charred buildings, bomb rubble and corpses decomposing in the tropical heat.
We lived south of the Pasig River in Malate, a formerly gracious American and upper class Spanish mestizo neighborhood devastated by mortar shelling and pitched battles. Malate was still bedraggled when we Poethigs settled in there. Families encamped in the ruins of the burned out houses and shanties along Wright Street.
When our family stepped onto the tarmac at the Manila International Airport, there were twenty-three American military installations dotting the Philippines. Manila was 7,000 miles across the Pacific ocean. But America was everywhere.
When we left, there were five.
Eunice's first letter home, March 1956
I am sitting here with a fan on my right and a glass (my 40th today) of calamansi juice on my left (a calamansi is like a ping pong size lime).
We arrived at the airport a little after Garcia (the new president) arrived from Australia. People lined the streets to see him, so we got our chance to see them. Mania is quite a contrast to Tokyo! Life is so much more sophisticated there and so much less so here. Rice paddies adjoin the airport and we saw our first nipa-thatched house on stilts with a farmer plowing (?) with his carabao as we landed.
I don’t know quite how to describe the effect of stepping out of our air-conditioned constellation into the warmth that is Manila. I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so blanketed by the weather. However, there is almost always a breeze to dry out in.
Sunday in Tokyo—to retrace our steps—was full. We went to Chapel Center for Church at 11. It is an Army installation, choir is Japanese, Chaplain preaches, Americans make up the congregation. It is on a hill that runs above one of Tokyo’s main streets. What an amazing intersection. Standing in front of the Chapel, to the left, is the Diet Building, symbol of the “New Japan.” On the right, across a moat and behind great stone walls is the Imperial Palace, center of the old ceremonious, Shintoistic, cultural Japan. And across the street is a large band of men camped in tents, surrounded by great red and white banners, white kerchiefs tied around their foreheads—striking workers (some say Communist inspired). And there on the hill are the Occupation forces and Christianity. While their owners are in worshipping, the big American cars lined up outside are being further polished and dusted with feather dusters by the drivers. I am sure if I were on the other side of the street, instead of on the hill, I would believe everything I was told by the Communists. However, the truth is that I will always be “on the hill” no matter how idealistically I might wish otherwise.It seems perfectly obvious that no missionary is going to crack the tough nut of Japan. The most we can do is to lay what groundwork we can for the growth of Christianity and let God in His own time bring it to bear fruit, no doubt without any westerner’s direction.
Our dinner was at the Winn’s and afterwards we had been invited by Mary Ballantyne to take a trip to Kamakura. However it got too late and involved an hour’s train ride with the children who were so tired and meant getting home late, in addition to the fact that I didn’t know what to do about feeding Johanna, so we very respectfully had to give it up.
We did go to Meiji Shrine where the Imperial Family worships. I was mortified when, right in the courtyard before the shrine, Kerry could wait no longer…
The plane trip was wonderful. So easy with children. It was not crowded and we spread ourselves out over 1/3 of the plane. The kids could run but not too far. Food was brought to them and they were penned in their seats by the trays which fastened on the arms. Many nice stewardesses. Close to the bathroom and Kerry slept 3 hours in the buggy while Johanna rocked in the little hammock. I intend to avoid ships from now on until the children are older (maybe forever, I just don’t care for people who are idle for so long.)
When we landed in Manila a “welcoming committee” was there. The Palms (Jim and Louise), Henry Little, Ernest Frei, and Marg and Bob Crawford who have since been a great help to us.
We are living in the apartment used for those “in transition” in Manila. We have a large bedroom and share a sala (that’s the word we PI’ers use) and a kitchen with other people here—who don’t use them at all.
Through Marge Crawford we have Linore who is going to help take care of the children, etc. here or over at the Crawfords’ where they can play in the yard. Marge and I are sharing on hiring Linore’s mother to do the laundry (at Marge’s). It seems like more help than I know what to do with but we will have to do shopping and some house hunting. Also I think we will find the heat something to contend with for a while. We spend a lot of time taking cold showers (no hot running water in the apartment) and changing clothes. Those cold showers feel good!
Today we went to City Hall to register as residents. City Hall is a large, shot-up building. This office was in a huge long Quonset hut building on one side of the courtyard. We got tied up in the traffic which was mixed up due to the arrival of the cars bringing Magsaysay and the others killed in the plane crash on Sunday. Thousands lined the streets. What a time to arrive here! The next few months are very crucial ones, to say the least. We don’t know what the people’s real feelings are about the loss of Magsaysay. The papers write of little else but others don’t say much.
We have enjoyed mangos for the first time, and Chinese snow peas. All the fruits will soon be in season. Acme grocery store is around the corner. It is complete with Dinty Moore’s stew and Corn Flakes written in Spanish. However, Dinty Moore’s looks out of place in Manila. Acme has everything but when you look at the prices, you feel like going on a fast. There just aren’t any bargains. Milk is 90 cents a litre, Corn Flakes 60 cents and soup 30 cents a can.
I haven’t seen enough of the city yet to say much. We are right next to a furniture store that has gorgeous wrought iron and rattan furniture.
Got your letter. Dick subscribed to Foreign Affairs for you and I don’t know about the other magazines of his. We’ll find out later (He’s a Union seminary commencement tonight). My Good Housekeeping I think I will stop since I did see American magazines at Acme. We’ll write more later.