Forester in Asia 2018: Days 14-17: 5th – 7th March 2018: Comfort Zones and The Land of Risk
So it’s 9.00 pm and we’re climbing onto the night bus for Camarines Sur. It’s full of double deck sleeping compartments. I never did this before – but new experiences are part of the joy of this trip. I’m able to make Internet connection and respond to messages until the journey begins, but once in motion it’s impossible to do anything useful. So I settle down for however much sleep I will be able to achieve, for I generally do not sleep well, whilst in motion. But I’m told we have nine travel hours ahead of us, so I lie backas best I can and soon we are moving fast on the freeway heading out of Manila.
Twelve million or more people live in the conurbation, which is actually an amalgamation of 16 original cities that have grown into one another. When the freeway gives over to standard roads, I awake (so yes I have evidently been sleeping) and watch the miles (or here, kilometres) slip away into the darkness. Though the road is lit most of the way, it’s not possible to see much. Some seven hours later I’m told we have arrived – two hours ahead of schedule. We bundle our kit out of the bus and I audit my bags and arms and legs. All of me is accounted for. A motorbike and sidecar are waiting in the darkness to take us to the motel (that’s ok. I did this before. I’m an old hand at side-car riding. I might even progress to the motorbike in due course. Eat your heart out Barry Sheene).
The room is basic, but clean and functional, equipped with WIFI. Indeed, it even has shower room. These guys are way ahead of us, you know. They had wet room showers long before we thought of them in the West. Only… how do I flush the WC? Ahh, you have to… but lets no go there. I finally fall into bed at 4.00 am and, mercifully, sleep some more. In the morning, I wake to a cold shower (soft Westerner? Moi?), before proceeding to breakfast. Here I find we have been met by a delegation of eight, courtesy of Marieta Ortile and the Sunukipan National High School, who are sponsoring this leg of my tour. Many photos are taken to much smiling by this group of star-struck young ladies, who are convinced I am a celebrity. I’m not sure if the cap fits that well, but here in the Philippines I wear it any way. Perhaps one day I shall grow into it.
The morning is recuperation time. The delegation decides I would like to visit the beach, so we head out to the Putting Buhangin Beach Resort, where the water is transparent, and waves murmur secrets to a lonely beach. Food has accompanied us yet again, (yeah, they do that a lot here) and at 11.00am I’m told I want lunch. Actually, these guys ate early, so as to prepare food and get to me by 8.00am. So if they are ready for lunch that’s fine by me. I’m wholly open to the many new tastes I am experiencing here, but choose to eat only plants, unless avoidance of flesh is impossible. Like the Buddhists, I seek to have compassion on all living creatures, for all living creatures suffer. It is important to me to remain vegetarian, but not important enough to cause offence to hosts who have gone to much trouble to offer me hospitality and value my visit highly. But I’m fine. For the little I need to eat at this time there is plenty available.
I have time to return to my room and shower again before proceeding to the first venue, Del Gallego High School. Del Gallego is a small town offset from the main road, accessed by a relatively narrow concrete roadway, where much good will and road-craft is required to negotiate passage around oncoming vehicles. Fortunately, most are of the motorbike and side-car variety, and our driver is more than experienced. We all alight from the minibus at the school, where even I can hear the sound of the percussion band playing in the schoolyard to welcome me. And what a welcome it is. The audience numbers in excess of four hundred and is seated outside, for the schoolyard doubles as an assembly space. Who wants to be indoors in this climate? But even though the stage and audience are shaded by a pillar-supported roof, it is hot; very hot. I ask if the whole school has turned out, but no, the school role is a thousand. Nevertheless, this is as big a day for these folk as it is for me. Following the usual doxology and national anthem, the percussion band yields to two troupes of traditional dancers, and a Filipino flute ensemble, much similar to a recorder group in the UK.
I am welcomed and introduced formally and the ever-supportive Dr Pascual nudges me when it’s time for me to speak – I rarely hear enough to be aware without this. At the appropriate moment I step forward on the stage and ease into the now familiar presentation, ‘A Journey to the Land of Risk.’ The talk explores the need perpetually to challenge ourselves to stretch beyond the comfort-zones of familiarity if we are to free, and give voice to the shackled poet within. Whether that poet expresses themself through words, or music or less obviously artistic activities of parenting, engineering or accounting, they make poetry only when we connect with them. And for this we must go beyond the land of Comfort Zone and entering the Land of Risk. My own first entry into the Land of Risk today is presenting in 380 heat. I never did this before. To a westerner from a cool climate it is, to say the least, challenging.
After a few minutes of speaking from the stage I become aware of the distance between the audience and myself. I am not yet connecting as I wish to. To reach these folks’ inner poets, to touch their souls, I must step beyond the comfort zone of the stage, and across the invisible barrier it creates. But the only risk here is that the microphone will not work so far from the sound system. Nevertheless, I descend the steps and the amplification indeed holds. As I step into the audience, an audible intake of breath sweeps past me. People don’t do this here. And there is applause when, with a deafening roar, my own poet leaps forth. Now I am connecting. And the connection is maintained for the rest of the afternoon. Eye contact and proximity work wonders in releasing shackled poets.
After forty minutes or so, it is time for me to fall silent and make way for audience response, in the form of questions and comment. They are almost always slow in coming. Few want to be the first to step into the Land of Risk when it comes to asking questions. But when they do come, they bubble like a brook. Almost all are on theme. “How to we connect with the poet inside us?” “How do we make this music in the spheres?” And more overtly, “How can we be like you?” My task now is to point these folk in the direction of what is already inside them; what has always been inside them. And I tell them, as I tell all audiences, that to find the inner poet, the inner artist, the inner engineer, the inner parent, to become the best we can ever be on this journey we call life, we must make space for the silence. For only when we take the trouble to disconnect from external voices, do we find the one voice that speaks only into the silence – the eternal spirit that dwells in all of us. Find that, and you begin to make your life into pure poetry.
The event finishes with more photos that I can number and much signing of autographs – on paper, on smartphones, on flutes and on I can’t remember what else. But only two books are sold, for resources here are scarce, and money is spent most carefully. But it matters not to me. I am not here to sell and to make money. Any money made will be left in this country anyway. I am here to illuminate journeys. I can do that by speech and I can extend it by pointing those that want to know more to my website.
In the evening I am afforded the enormous honour of being invited to dinner by the Principal of Sinuknipan National High School, Madame Lourdes S. Sevilla.
The second day’s event is at Sinuknipan National High itself, but involves other schools in the district as well. Launching at 8.00am, the heat is not as intense as yesterday, but still enough to have the audience fanning themselves within a few minutes of becoming seated. This audience is a similar size but older – all appear around 18 years or so. The event is billed as an extended workshop on creative writing. It will indeed cover this, but must expand beyond the limits of that definition, to encompass all expressions of creativity. As far as I am concerned there is no material difference in how that creativity expresses itself. Be it music, or nurturing, poetry or policing, it is this creative spark that is the essence of our humanity. It is how we reflect the nature of the creator.
I repeat yesterday’s decision, descending from the stage to much the same effect, for it is in proximity, in eye contact that the spirit-to-spirit connection is made. It rapidly becomes obvious as to who in the audience is ready to connect and who has yet to reach the necessary stage on their own journey. For those who have further yet to travel, I know there will be other opportunities. This time, I speak for an hour. The audience being older can take more. But because the event is billed as a workshop, there are some two hours of intense, demanding questions before I must take a break, and yield the floor to another speaker. Later I am recalled to finish with my second presentation – thirty minutes on ‘The Story that Changes Your Future. And of this, perhaps we shall speak more another day.
There is much final photo-taking and book signing but too soon it is time to leave for the bus back into the city. We arrive on time for the 1.30pm departure, only to discover that the bus left at 1.00 pm. So we take the 2.30 bus, which pulls away at 2.15, with maybe three occupants other than ourselves.
I smile. This is the Philippines.
An eight-hour journey lies ahead and the bus is of the stopping variety. Every few kilometres, sometimes less, it pulls over. Periodically it is boarded by food and drink vendors, so we will not go hungry. Amazingly, someone has packed a cheese sandwich for me. With this reminder of home, my thoughts turn to my nutritional journey, which for three years, now, has been vegetarian. I have preliminary thoughts of progressing to a vegan diet and have so far commenced with a significant reduction in dairy intake. But though the logic is obvious, the challenge is greater. And I wonder what I would do, should there be future visits here, for these folk include flesh in almost all they eat. To reject, also, dairy products and the all animal based output would leave me, I guess, with very little to eat. But my weight management journey also has far to go, so perhaps that would not be such a bad thing. I lose weight when in the Philippines anyway, and I am grateful to do so.
As the kilometres slide under the bus, we climb into the cool of the mountains and their rain forest covering. The trees are of a different variety from those at home, but the spirit of the forest reaches to me as keenly as it does in my own New Forest in Hampshire UK. The dryads are, at the same time, new and familiar. I feel the welcome through the glass of the bus and it seems we are kindred spirits. As I have said before, I number angels and dryads amongst my closest friends. As the hour grows late, the sun leans out over the pacific and is embraced back into a warm, welcoming sea.
Eight hours later, we do indeed arrive in the city and are dropped, mercifully, only a thirty minute taxi ride from my accommodation. At 10.30, I drop gratefully into bed, but not before I have set the alarm for 3.30am. At 5.30 I am due at the Eagles Broadcasting Studios for an appearance on national breakfast television.