Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Emergency trip to Leyte, Philippines

Originally posted in Life South.

Sunshine, Fem, Eve and I just finished a last minute trip to Baybay in Leyte, Philippines to see Lola - Fem's mum, and all the family. We had to take a bank loan to get there, but it was a great trip thanks to the wonderful hospitality of Mary and Titing, helped tirelessly by Celia and Tintin, and made fun and easier by all the family.

Lola was very old, and restricted to a bed, unable to move, mostly sleeping. It was very sad for Fem and Sunshine to see their Lola this way, knowing that death was not far away, but at least they were able to be with her, if only for a few days. While we were there she had managed to open her eyes and smile at them. Lola died the night we arrived back in Australia, leaving her 7 daughters and 1 son.

Eve the monster
The journey from Sydney to Baybay was a nightmare, and the whole time in Leyte was dreading the return trip. Thankfully the return trip was overnight, so Eve slept at least half of it. Once awake however, she became the monster, very restless in the confined space.

At 14 months, Eve seems to be entering a hyperactive and unsettled phase, coupled with clinginess to her mum. Sunshine endured a total 30 hours of Eve's restlessness going to Baybay, starting from Canberra and a 4 hour drive to Sydney, then a 9 hour flight from Sydney to Hong Kong. Connecting to a 2.5 hour flight to Cebu City where we were met and helped by Santos, Mary, and Fely (Sunshine's uncle and aunties). We all taxi'd to Cebu port where we boarded a ship for the 5 hour night cruise to Ormoc, then a 1 hour bus to Baybay, and finally a putput (cycle rickshaw) to Mary and Titing's house - arriving at 4am local time (6am our time).

We slept the first day away - except for Eve, who went wild playing with all the other kids. It was great to not have to worry for her any longer, and just trust all the family to pass her around. Apart from the journeying, Eve was great to have around, and the family really helped make it much easier.

Mary and Titing's house
Mary and Titing's house was packed wall to wall with family all week, and while Sunshine, Eve and I were given a comfortable room with a bathroom, everyone else slept on all other available floor and couch space. The joyful, family spirit was just awesome to be around, something I think many Australian families have lost...

Baybay is a charming little town in Leyte Province, with its own port, market, shops, schools and a nearby university. Flanked by mountains to the East, and relatively far from Cebu City, tourism does not appear to be adversely affecting Baybay.

A new shopping mall has been established, and while it's footprint is large, it seems to cater mainly for the more wealthy, and doesn't appear to be having too much of an impact on the older, more complex trading areas.

In the Baybay central area buildings appear to be influenced by old Chinese terrace house designs with ground story shop fronts and second story living. Larger 2 story concrete, brick and timber warehouses exist on larger properties. Outside the central areas, formed and reinforced concrete (prepared onsite) post and beam, infilled by brick, is the preferred building material and method. A large number of interesting and intricate timber, bamboo and thatch buildings still exist, but appear to have slowed in use. Termites trouble unprotected timber where it is used at ground level.

Low pressure water is piped to permitted buildings, but is not potable before boiling. Water heating is not common and though it is not used, simple solar heating could save time and fuel for boiling and washing. Low voltage electricity is also wired, but again, simple photovoltaic could be used to supplement the generally low power usage. Gas is bottled and delivered for those who can afford it, otherwise solid fuel such as wood is used for fuel. Rocket stoves would greatly improve fuel efficiency, reduce emissions and improve health for those using solid fuels. I didn't see any use of biogas, and while I heard that pig farming was too costly, I saw no evidence of methane gas generation from pig farms. Sewage is piped, and grey water is allowed to drain into normal water ways. Again, composting toilets and grey water treatment could help I think. Land line telephones and internet is available, but it seems most prefer to go without. Mobile telephone use is common.

On Wednesday afternoon, Uncle Boy picked us up in his 4WD Suzuki mini ute (now on my Christmas wishlist) for a beautiful drive up the Makinhas River Valley, to Fem's home town, Villa (pronounced Vilya). We ate the most delicious feast at Manang Soring and Manoy Badoy's house, again with all the family, and then we walked up to see the progress on Boy and Naty's house (one of Fem's 7 sisters).

Boy (64yo) then challenged me to a mountain walk, and we were both outdone by the Leyson sisters, who led us to survey their 6 acres of coconut farm in a steep mountain re entrant just over Villa.

Hot, sweaty and itchy, we climbed down to Domingo's house (son of Uncle Santos, Fem's only brother) who generously refreshed us with coconut wine, cola and bread. Domingo keeps a spectacular pet bird, native to the Philippines, called a Kalaw.

When the Japanese were repelled from Leyte, people living in provincial towns such as Villa squatted and farmed coconut, banana, yams and bamboo. At some stage after the war, the Philippines government issued titles for the land to the squatters, charging an annual tax from then on. Today that tax is about 2000 Philippine Peso (PhP) per year for 5 acres of land (Au$47).

Today, land central to Baybay township is of highest value and seems to sell at around PhP1000 per square metre with 1000m2 being a large section. A designed and quality building seems to cost about 20 000PhP per square metre.

Politically, Leyte seems stable and content, with provincial towns governed and administered by committees called Barangays. I did hear of one remote southern provincial mountain town called Monterico, that defends an autonomy from central governance however. Police and security were visible in Baybay, but low key. Their primary role seemed to be in the town central, defending businesses, and the port.

Socio economics
An extreme difference in income exists side by side in Baybay. A general labourer's income sits at around PhP120 per day, and a teacher around PhP500. A common meal costs PhP40. Poverty seems to affect at least two thirds of Baybay's population, but food such as yams, coconut, banana's and of course rice grow everywhere, and building materials such as bamboo and coconut seem readily available. Access to these foods and resources is negotiated with land owners, who usually expect a share of the harvest. The skills and techniques for using these resources seem to be commonly held by the poor. Coconut oil seems to be a significant secondary industry. Coconut that is roasted ready for oil production, fetches around PhP35 per Kg, and fibre for rope about PhP45 per Kg. Bananas, about PhP1 per banana.

On Wednesday, Sunshine and I had some basic dental work done by a lady easily as skilled and resourced as any Australian dentist I've visited, but affordable, gentle and pleasant! Sunshine had a back tooth seen to, that had chipped away during her pregnancy. I had a clean, and general check up with surprisingly nothing found that I need to worry about. My Australian dentist injected fear and lifelong worry about a toothless old age plagued with deformity, so mine was a PhP1500 well spent!

We caught the fast cat back to Cebu on Thursday, as there were no boats on Good Friday. On Friday we saw a small passion play of Christ's trial and parade, and decided to take a taxi tour south to the St Catherine Church of Alexandra in Carcar City, where devotional crucifixions take place every Easter. Unfortunately this year, they couldn't secure a sponsor for the event! No matter, the tour out to the church and back was worth a look.

Final thoughts
After seeing the quality of in-home nursing care that Lola received from Celia and the family, thanks in part to Fem sending money each month; and thinking about the many problems with the Australian aged care sector, not least that most Australians never really see death as part of life, I've been thinking a lot about the comparison in our ways of life.

Also, the opportunities that our two country's dollar value disparity presents. It is common for the wealthy classes in many countries in Asia, such as Hong Kong, Singapore, or Taiwan for examples, to hire Filipinos into care roles. I wouldn't hesitate hiring someone like Celia to assist with our family's care needs and preferences, if it were permissible in Australia, as the cost of doing so would be massively less than hiring locally, including flights!

But I also get to wondering why more Australians don't consider retirement in places like Baybay - where Australian Dollars can go so much further, and the quality and extent of services being so much more...

An inspiring visit, staying with an extremely welcoming and hospitable family, gave us such a valuable incite into the life and culture of people living in and around Baybay, and pause to reflect on our own conditions for living in Australia. For one, our family units are relatively broken down compared to what I saw in the Leysons. We don't have the level of interdependence in our families that people in the Philippines seem to have, and I think we are poorer for it. Also, the opportunities that transnational income disparity presents people from both regions. There's more to this than meets the eye of course, and I'm looking at things through the eyes of Illich as usual, where he would say of Australia and all industrialised societies, and as a warning to regions undergoing post colonial industrialisation:
[e]lite professional groups . . . have come to exert a 'radical monopoly' on such basic human activities as health, agriculture, home-building, and learning, leading to a 'war on subsistence' that robs peasant societies of their vital skills and know-how. The result of much economic development is very often not human flourishing but 'modernized poverty,' dependency, and an out-of-control system in which the humans become worn-down mechanical parts.
 The rest of our photos are here, and videos here.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

The False Promises of Constructivist Theories of Learning: A Global and Ecological Critique

Remember Chet Bowers? I used his book Let Them Eat Data to cast a critical perspective on Second Life for education.

Well, I was browsing other books by Chet, and this one caught my eye: The False Promises of Constructivist Theories of Learning: A Global and Ecological Critique. (I now notice that I missed the pointer to this text in a comment by Stian, to this text back in 2008!)

In The False Promises of Constructivist Theories of Learning: A Global and Ecological Critique, C. A. Bowers examines why constructivist-based educational reforms fail to take into account these current critical issues: the deepening ecological crisis, globalization, and undermining of the world's diverse cultural commons. Special attention is given to the enthnocentrism and Social Darwinism that created the foundations for the ideas of Dewey, Piaget, and Freire. Also considered is how the neo-liberal promoters of economic globalization share their taken-for-granted assumptions. Additionally, Bowers explains how teachers in different cultures can contribute to the revitalization of their cultural and environmental commons without engaging in the cultural imperialism that characterizes constructivist approaches to educational reform.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Loudspeaker on the Tower

I had heard that Illich rejected the use of a microphone.

Earlier this week I thought to attempt a talk about the ideology that comes with technology. I ended up talking about something different, as I could sense the business audience was not the right place to raise the question unfortunately.

Here is a short essay by Illich, that I would happily give to those who try to reject online and networked learning on an intuitive basis of it disturbing their sense of place and intimacy. It might be useful in understanding the ideological assault felt by these people, and develop more empathy for them.

For a quarter of a century, now, I have tried to avoid using a microphone, even when addressing a large audience. I use it only when I'm on a panel, or when the architecture of the auditorium is so modern that it silences the naked voice. I refuse to be made into a loudspeaker. I refuse to address people who are beyond the reach of my voice. I refuse to address people who are put at an acoustic disadvantage during the question period because of my access to a microphone. I refuse, because I treasure the balance between auditory and visual presence, and reject that phony intimacy which arises from the distant speaker's overpowering "whisper."
More often than not, both host and audience have accepted my decision. The auditorium is hushed, people strain to listen, the few who have impaired hearing move to the front. Several young persons have told me by letter that, since the evening we first met, they have trained their voices to increase their reach and timbre - as rhetors have done for a long time. 
But there are deeper reasons why I have renounced the microphone - its use in those circumstances in which I am physically present...

Monday, April 11, 2011


I've been invited to talk tonight, at the University of Canberra's Faculty of Business and Government Business Resource Showcase 2011.

I'll be sticking with ubiquity in this 15min, end of the evening talk, and taking the opportunity to flex some of the ideas I've been working on in the essay-in-progress, Ubiquitous Learning - a critique.

Here's the slides

The links and references for this talk are at http://delicious.com/leighblackall/ubiquity

I'll try and record audio and add it to a Slideshare copy tomorrow.