My Palawan


Seeing Palawan Island on top of CN Travelers list brings back fond memories of my brief humanitarian trip there years ago.

Young, idealistic and fearless, I was sent down on rotation to “boost up”  the morale of a remnant of Vietnamese refugees stuck permanently there (later, after decades of legal wrangling, the camp was finally vacated and bodies shipped back to where they belong).

Palawan then as it is now (I suppose) was yet invaded by hotel chains and casinos. You can find more detail and description about Palawan on CN Travelers.

What once thought of as “trash” can quickly become “treasure”, given enough luck and time.

Australia, after Gold was found, became a nation, not a concentration camp.

Palawan Island, once housed unwanted refugees, now the darling of global trotters. (Same with Con Dao Island in Vietnam, once a French “alcatraz”, now a getaway of choice for the likes of Angelina and Brat Pitt).

Personally, I spent one entire summer on Wake Island – pristine waters, coral reef and cleanest air around – yet was unable to appreciate a single second of it (I was in transit, with a burning desire to get to my final destination: America). I am sure the Japs and the Allied forces were fighting for every inch of that place (a refuel station for B29 which ultimately delivered those two fateful atomic bombs onto Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

So what is at the heart of the matter? Is it the place? or one’s expectations of the place?  Prison, as undesirable as they may first appear, has been character-builder for Nelson Mandela, Genghis Khan, Senator John McCain. In a latest Atlantic article, we find Viktor Frankl’s meaning of life as the ultimate surviving mechanism, not pursuit of happiness. And this Nobel-prize winner discovered his theory in,of all places, Nazi concentration camps.

Back then,  laying under a thatch-roof hut and on top of a straw bed, I repeated to myself “He who is no fool to lose that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose” to get through the long and ardous torrential night.

I did not know back then I was getting one of the best vacations given 2014 CN travelers rating.

Or else, I would have asked to extend my stay.

People I visited were eager for outside news, for a word of encouragement, for my takes on things (reminds me so much of The Unconsoled, a novel by Ishiguro, who was famous for The Remains of the Day).

It was neither pastoral nor papal a visit. But it served a purpose: to assure that they were not cut-off from the outside world, and that they should remain faithful (drunkenness and immorality are not uncommon).

BTW. Years later, at MCI Circle of Excellence, it’s Maui for me. But then the expectations and excitement were quite different – with helicopter trip and black-tie reception.

It must be in the awaiting that makes the heart grows stronger.

To wrap it up, I was also visiting Liberia long time ago. Knowing that the country had been formed by former American freed slaves, I set foot there with enormous respect and a sense of appreciation.

Now it’s well-known as birth place and hotbed of Ebola. Things do come in full circle if you think about it.

You may say I  have a penchant to look for trouble spots (The Last Days of Vietnam, the burning monk and Three-Mile-Island news internship).

Those were choices by which I will be remembered.

I might not look like J.K. Rowling now, in fact, more like her pre-Harry-Potter version, but I have lived a rich and rewarding life. A shared life.

All things will come to pass. He who is no fool to lose that which he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose. If someone wins a free ticket to Palawan and asks me to join, I would politely decline. Once is enough.

Conversely, if someone were to offer me a Penn State Home Game pass, I would jump to the asking. You see, in Beaver Stadium, even when you lose a home game, a rare event, you still feel that camaraderie, a sense of WE ARE, PENN STATE. I wish for us to extend that esprit de corp a bit, sort of making waves, to embrace and include those who are now isolated, in the ward, Dallas and New York, because of Ebola. They are our new Unconsoled awaiting our visit.

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