The Significance of a Bamboo Gate

Trip Start Jun 03, 2006
Trip End Jun 03, 2009

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Flag of Philippines  ,
Sunday, July 29, 2007

I am sitting in the shade under a thatched roof and looking out across a sparkling aquamarine sea. At the water's edge is a breakwater and some scrubland. The shelter and shade of the bake shop where I'm sitting is reinforced by a fence of bamboo slats cut about a metre high. It's cool, comfortable and relaxing. The coffee and corn flour cake are good.
My eye is inevitably drawn to the beautiful blues of the Camotes Sea and yet as I gaze into the distance, my focus suddenly comes back to the gate not 3 metres in front of me.  It's a simple gate, using the same narrow slats of bamboo which weathering has now blackened. As I look at the water, my eye adjusts slightly to the uneven line of blue, and looking at the gate I realise that what has caught my attention is that each hand-cut strip of bamboo in the gate is a slightly different length.  In these surroundings it seems perfectly natural.  It's weird, but I can't leave it at that and I'm surprised to find myself bringing an idyllic trip carefully contemplating a bamboo gate.
It's a gate, nothing more, and yet suddenly it encapsulates the absurdity of so much that is image and precision and appearance. It really doesn't matter. Whether the gate is perfectly squared off or whitewashed doesn't make the sea any less beautiful, or protect my feet from the sun, or make the coffee taste different.
But then I ask myself, are the coffee and cake really good? I mean Starbucks and their ilk wouldn't sell them.  This experience doesn't belong in the modern world of marble-floored shopping mall consumption that we should supposedly all be striving for.  Of course, if these things are good to me, then they must be good - that's my truth, but they also reflect my positive, cheerful and relaxed state of mind.
In the midst of all of this introspection, there is a more serious point, which for somebody as fortunate as I have been to travel widely raises itself in the strangest guises, bamboo gates being just one. It is the unavoidable fact that there is no apparent connection between material wealth and emotional or spiritual wealth. Of course, you can make a perfectly good argument that says you can only gauge or understand a community's emotional well-being if you live within it for an extended period.  Nonetheless, let's take a superficial example right here in Poro.  Is a place where everyone smiles, nods and says hello worse off because it has a polygonally flawed bamboo gate?  Would you swap the cheerful greetings for the stony scowls of London commuters passing pristine shop entrances?
I would never dare to suggest that the folk who live on the island deserve only what they have or shouldn't enjoy more material wealth.  We have seen many people living here who would surely be classed as living in poverty by the people who dish out those types of labels.  Notwithstanding this, there is a spiritual, human wealth that is striking and dare I say enviable because it's not always there in my daily life nor in many places I have seen or lived.  It feels so nice to greet and be greeted everywhere you go. It's just a nod, a smile, or simple hello, but it makes you feel better about the day.  This isn't a case of my imagining that grass being greener either because these people have something special which is not universally enjoyed.  I hope for their sakes that they don't forget it in the quest for financial wealth.
Perhaps the quest for wealth is an inescapable facet of the human condition that we cannot escape. People crave more and we can ask ourselves whether there is ever enough, when perhaps we should be asking ourselves, "what is wealth?"  I can honestly say, that at this point in time, I can count myself lucky to have more than enough.  As for the friendly people on these islands, I wish them happiness and good fortune and thank them from the bottom of my heart for making my time here so pleasant.  I don't feel it is my place to tell them, but I wish for their sakes that they never lose the thing that in my eyes makes them most wealthy.
I feel somewhat patronising and hollow as I try to express this feeling, and I'm wrestling with the ideas and the 1001 variables which shape the reality of everyone's living environment.  I can only conclude that what it comes down to is that people being cheerful and pleasant to other people make any part of the world a nicer place to be.  Almost everything else is insignificant.  It's a good lesson to remember and a nice thought to finish the holiday with.
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maiax on

oho! so you've really been here, and in my hometown Poro. That was a poignant introspection sharp enough to stab us in the gut i guess it takes the eye of a stranger to appreciate what we have all along tho i'm glad that you see some possitivity in our country's condition although it really doesn't take away the poverty - i guess we're just so used to it that we have become so apathetic about us we can't do anything but helplessly smile to your delight...

Michelle Perry on

I am half American, from Chicagoland and half Filipino, from Camotes. I completely feel that the people there on the island are emotionally warm and unaware of how truely wealthy they are! And though I dearly love all the people there, is somewhat annoys me that so many Filipinos there think that to live in the USA (for example) is to be rich! They do not understand how much of our economy is pure illusion. The average American is extrmely stressed out, and generally unhappy, because they do not really OWN anything of value until they are old, after decades of non-stop "slavery" to their mortgages. Besides that, I think the average Camotes Islander would be surprised to know how many tens of millions of people in the USA live on government welfare for food, and that millions of Americans buy used shoes and clothing at second-hand thrift stores, and millions and millions are in jail. The people of Camotes Island genrally OWN Camotes Island, and have for a long-long time. IF you own your land, and plant food, and raise a little livestock, and fish too... What else do you need? TRUE POVERTY IS THE LACK OF HUMANITY, and simply judging by the fact there's no real police force (because there's no real crime in Camotes,) it is obvious that the islanders have a fantastic thing going for themselves. I mean come on! They live on a blue and green tropical island paradise... They're so very wealthy. So wealthy they could care less if the gate is crooked : )

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