22 March 2010


The Last Day of School, the First Day of Summer
(Alternatively Titled "Tutor Tales, Volume 15")

During my interview with XYZ Tutorial Centre, I had to field questions about how good I am at Maths, Science and Filipino. (Apparently, anyone can teach my true speciality, English!) I admitted that while I hadn't tested my problem-solving skills or had to dip into my memory of high school Science lately, I'm good at understanding what I read and explaining things to others. That was, it turned out, the "right" answer.

As my boss went on to explain, after-school tutoring is not so much about knowing the subject well even before your tutee has to learn it, as it is about learning the subject again, side by side with your tutee. No matter how many students from the same grade level in the same school one has met, each new child means a new learning experience.

I learned how true that was when all my wrestling with Doctor Nemesis ended up building my own Singapore Math muscles . . . and when the sum of my mental slugfests with Doctor Decimator meant that I ended up memorising all the Presidents of the Philippines backwards and forwards as well.

Meeting that last Social Studies objective was particularly frustrating because Doctor Decimator's textbook is so dead. (I can't think of any other word.) Some of the most dramatic and intense periods of Philippine history were completely sapped of spirit by writers who wanted to boil them down to names, dates and places. So even though Doctor Decimator could, by the time his exam rolled around, name the Commander of the USAFFE during World War II, identify the country to which President Quezon and his cabinet went into exile, and trace the route of the Bataan Death March on a map . . . he didn't really get it. Heck, neither did I!

Then came last week's media launch at Corregidor . . .

Battery Crockett and Its Two Disappearing Guns

The tour's history lesson began on the boat ride when we were halfway to the island. And suddenly the names in Doctor Decimator's textbook started coming to vibrant, startling life. It hit me that I was going to a place where, to paraphrase William Faulkner, the past would never be past. In a matter of hours, I would be standing on the same rock--the same "Concrete Battleship"--on which Presidents Quezon and Osmena and Generals MacArthur and Wainwright had walked, lived, and made desperate last stands. I would be walking among ruins in a place where war had been very, very real--not just something one hears about on the news, but something that makes the very ground shudder beneath one's feet. When the guide pointed to the coast of Bataan on the north, I felt as if I were traveling through time--not back in time, exactly, but to a dimension where time is, in reverence for the dead, willingly standing still.

Later, I would understand more deeply what pride of place Corregidor has in Philippine history--and how heartbreaking its last chapter in history would prove to be.

I don't think I would have taken this "history lesson" to heart so intensely had it not been for the dozen or so Japanese tourists who had come over on the same boat. What a loaded prepositional phrase, given all the history! Yet it was both literally and figuratively true . . . They had brought flowers with them to lay at the Japanese Memorial Garden--which was, until the bodies were exhumed, cremated and flown home to Japan, the Japanese Cemetery. Like us, they had come to honour the dead; unlike us, they knew it long before they even got on the boat.

I did not, and now don't ever want to, squabble about who the real heroes of Corregidor are. In the span of about five hundred years, this small island and the surrounding sea has become, for soldiers from lands as far flung as Spain, the United States, and Japan, that "corner of a foreign field that is forever"--to depart from Rupert Brooke now--that is forever sacred.

Yet for many Filipinos, who of course number among the fallen, Corregidor might as well be an equally foreign field. A promotional video we watched on the boat challenged us: Huwag maging dayuhan sa sariling bansa--Don't be a foreigner in your own country. Whoever produced it knew that Filipinos are often so neglectful of their own history that it is American families who must raise money for memorial markers for their dead fathers and Japanese tourists who must fly thousands of miles to lay flowers where their own dead are no longer buried.

Indeed, when the usual day tour needed to be cut short, to make room for viewing the half-hour-long Making of "The Pacific" and other press junketey things, one of the spots the organisers decided to skip was the Filipino Heroes Memorial. Our guide was grinning when he told us, and we all chuckled along in amusement. How typical--and in more ways than one. Filipinos aren't really forgetful, just self-effacing.

Not that that explains the poor quality of Doctor Decimator's History textbook. Yet, in fairness to its writers, the story of Corregidor was just too epic for them. In the same way that one cannot properly appreciate Greek myths without studying the stars, one cannot understand history without, at least once in one's life, walking among ruins and remembering the names of the fallen.

The day I stepped into history was the week after Doctor Decimator had to memorise all those names, dates and places--and just as I was learning things I would never forget, he must have been forgetting things he never wanted to learn. I feel so badly for my boy, trapped in the present time when the past is only a boat ride away.

Image Sources: Battery Crockett, Corregidor


Mark in Spokane said...

Hello! Thanks for following my blog! Always glad to have readers. I have read your blog, following links from other blogs I follow, and I enjoy your work a great deal.

I'm happy to add you to my blog-roll (feel free to reciprocate, but it's not required)!



Enbrethiliel said...


I'd be glad to, Mark!

I would have started following and linking to your blog sooner, but when you first left me a comment (on my old blog), I was preoccupied with making the move to this new blog and let it slip my mind.

Mark in Spokane said...

Understandable. It's easy to forget a comment when reorganizing on the web!

I've got a link to you on my blogroll now. And I've signed up to follow your blog as well.



Belfry Bat said...

Hmm... I wonder was your textbook written Hogwarts' Proffesor Binns?

Enbrethiliel said...


The irony here is that living people made that horrible textbook and that "ghosts" made Corregidor! ;)