April 14, 2002
By Brad Newsham
Tony's guest lodge:
In 1988, in the small hamlet of Banaue, high in the mountains of the Philippines, I fell into casual conversation with a rice farmer named Tony Tocdaan. The next day, Tony led me on a three-day trek through unelectrified mountain villages where his extended family lives the traditional rice farming life - almost the same life that Tony's ancestors have lived in that same valley for thousands of years.
In the summer of 2001 I returned the favor, sort of. I invited and paid for Tony to visit me in America for one month. Tony had been out of the mountains only once before I met him. Now he made the day long bus journey to Manila and flew in an airplane across the Pacific. Among other things, we drove my taxicab from San Francisco to New York and Washington D.C. It was a month of miracles - I could probably write a book!
Anyone who has traveled knows how travel pops the top off of one's imagination. Travel inspires dreams. And it seemed rather cruel to show Tony around this big, wealthy country of ours, to know that the experience was undoubtedly inspiring his own dreams, and to then send him back to the Philippines without the tools to follow through on some of his dreams. Per capita income in the Philippines is around $700 a year, and Tony is from the lower end of the country's economic spectrum.
As we talked on our coast-to-coast fare (by the end of the trip the meter, which we had left running just for fun, read: $20,644.90), we hit upon the idea of transforming his simple hut into a four-room guest lodge. Our theory was that this would enable Tony and his family to have tourists come to their house as a destination. Tony thinks his wife, Rita, is as good a cook as any in Banaue. I believe Tony is a trek leader extraordinaire. And their house lies in an absolutely stunning setting - Sigourney Weaver went there to film a few seconds of "The Year of Living Dangerously." The rice terraces in the background of that scene are called by many the "eighth wonder of the world."
When Tony was here in America and we first started talking about the possibility of him and Rita becoming lodgekeepers, Tony said he thought that $1,500 would be enough money to remodel his house into a place worthy of trekkers - simple, but comfortable, with a western bathroom. But before he went back home, he had a telephone conversation with his carpenter friend in Banaue who said that $3,000 was a more realistic figure. So when I received a royalty check last October, I sent him most of it - $3,000 - and work got under way.
Last Tuesday Tony telephoned. The phone he uses is two and a half miles from his home, and sometimes it takes us weeks to reach each other ear to ear. He told me that he is a bit over halfway through the project, but just about out of money. I said I could send him two hundred dollars right now, but that, really, I didn't know when I'd be able to send him any more. The San Francisco taxicab business has been devastated, the income from my book has dried up…I have $400 in the bank. But I told him I was sure I could come up with the money sometime - perhaps in a year, perhaps in two years. We were going to get his lodge finished one way or the other. I'd just have to think about how to accomplish it. He said, fine, thanks, no problem, he just thought I'd want to know about the situation. I said, yes, I did, and I would certainly put my mind to it.
Over the next couple of days I realized that it would be silly to wait. I've been in credit card trouble before, and I am in no hurry to revisit that horrendously bad country, but…if there was ever a situation that called for credit cards, this one qualified. The cab business will bounce back one of these days. Something good will happen soon. I'll work more hours. I'll mow lawns in the neighborhood. I'll write a novel. Somehow it will happen. I decided to take $2,000 out of my credit cards and wire it to Tony.
On Thursday I drove up into the Oakland hills and went for a hike in Sibley Volcanic Park, 15 minutes from my house. Out in the middle of the park, at the bottom of a canyon, someone several years ago created a labyrinth. If you don't know, a labyrinth is a maze laid out in a circular shape, and placed on the ground somewhere outdoors, or on the floor of a cathedral. It takes ten or fifteen minutes to wind one's way to the labyrinth's center spot and back out again. In the Middle Ages, European Christians who could not make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem would instead make the trek to one of the European cathedrals. There they would wind their way through the labyrinth and would feel they had symbolically made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. During the past decade the labyrinth has had a revival of sorts all over the world (there is now a labyrinth inside Grace Cathedral in San Francisco). Many people appreciate the experience, including me. Anything for a few quiet minutes. When Tony was here, he and I walked the labyrinth at Harbin Hot Springs.
So, Thursday I walked the labyrinth in Sibley. No one around. Quiet. Peaceful. As I approached the center spot I began to wonder what offering I might leave there. Previous visitors had left a candle, some flowers, some matches, a pretty pink rock. In my pocket I felt a small hiking timepiece that my mother in law Gloria gave me a year ago. I don't wear a watch, but I take this timepiece on hikes so I won't get caught out too long after sunset. I thought: Gloria won't mind - she's the kind of person who would probably appreciate the thought of my turning a gift of hers over to the world. Then I thought: Nah, I like this little thing too much. I reached into my pockets to see what else I had and the first thing I pulled out was a $20 bill. And I thought: Nah, I can't leave that! And I began fishing for a single, but almost immediately I said to myself: "Who says I can't leave $20?"
On the front side of the bill, I penned: "Yes, it's for you."
On the back: "Take it. Pass it around."
I laid a rock on top of it, but placed it so that the next person to come along would see Yes-it's-for-you.
Another Reason Why I'm a huge Giants' fan:
I have a friend I'll call Mike who I haven't seen or spoken to in over twenty years. A while ago, when I learned from other friends that Mike was going to be passing through San Francisco on business, I called him and we made a date for Friday night's Giants' baseball game. We met outside the new stadium, Pacbell Park, near the statue of Willie Mays. We hugged, remarked on each other's hair and on how fast twenty years can slip by, and made our way to our seats. Mike had recently read my book, and we had barely sat down when he said, "Whatever happened with Tony's house?"
I said, "Well..." and told him about Tony's phone call and my decision to take $2,000 out of my credit cards.
Mike said, "Oh, I'll give him the money. I'll be happy to give him the money."
I looked over at him. His eyes - I knew he meant it - there is not a breath of hot air in this fellow - it was a done deal.
I was doubled over with my head in my hands, eyes closed, roar of the crowd all around me for several seconds. I felt his hand on my back. "I got a nice bonus last year," Mike said. "It will be my pleasure."
An inning later Barry Bonds hit a three-run homer. Giants win, 4-1.