Puerto Princesa Underground River, One of the World’s Wonders

I promised myself, “I have to blog this place!” This splendid river is purely awesome! This is God’s wonderful creation in progress!

Underground River
When Sister Sarah Sta. Ana, the lovely hearing wife of Deaf Pastor Isagani Sta. Ana texted me inviting me to conduct sign language training in their province from August 19 to 22, I immediately said yes. I could not let this pass. She personally asked me to teach sign language to the faculty, staff, social workers and other special education teachers in Puerto Princesa City.

From left: Me, Ptr. Isagani and Ma'am Sarah Sta. Ana
From left: Me, Deaf Pastor Isagani and his wife Ma'am Sarah Sta. Ana

She apologized for the abrupt invitation but she countered that their school in partnership with Christian Blind Mission, will sponsor all of my expenses including plane fare and hotel accommodation. However, she explained that I won’t receive any remuneration from the training. I said, it’s not a problem. But I requested that my deaf brother Ervin Reyes would accompany me while I pay for his plane ticket and tour expenses. That, we both agreed.

Off to Palawan

Zest Air
On board Zest Airways, we arrived Puerto Princesa City airport after nearly an hour. There, we were happily greeted by Ma’am Sarah. At first glance, Puerto Princesa is a clean and orderly city. There are porters roaming outside the parking area taking their share of work in assisting travelers for a fee. But they are very cordial and organized. The airport is new and well-ventilated. You won’t feel threatened. The place is comfortable for tourists.

Puerto Princesa TricycleThere were unusually few taxicabs lining up. What caught our attention are tricycles that looked like mini-cars complete with two headlights protruding on its main nose. Its inside is uncrowded unlike some filthy and unkempt tricycles we have here in Manila.

Palawan Map
Palawan is a long island southwest of Manila. Considered as the last frontier of the Philippines, this majestic island is shaped like a folded umbrella. It is bordered by South China Sea on the east and Sulu Sea to its right. Puerto Princesa is its capital city. It’s now the largest city in the country in terms of its land area. It’s also very clean and orderly. You can see green-painted garbage cans in every few meters and it’s strictly prohibited to just throw your wastes anywhere. The place is also very secured. Ervin and I went outside of our hotel even at 2 o’clock in the morning without fear of being mugged.

Off to the Mangrove River

The following day, we headed to the world famous Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. It’s some 80 kilometers on the other side of Puerto Princesa City even though it’s still part of greater Puerto Princesa. It’s located at St. Paul’s Bay connecting through the South China Sea. There were nine of us in a uniform tourist van including the tour guide. We were informed that the tour package fee is the same in every travel agency. This is in order to protect the tourist and give every tour owner a chance to make a living without going into bad business tactics.

mangrove parkMangrove Paddleboat Tour
After nearly two hours of travel time, we have reached St. Paul’s Bay. Although it’s not part of our itinerary, the tour guide asked us if we want to add the Mangrove Park in our tour package. We simply add P150. All of us agreed. We weren’t let down.

After a few meters of walk by the Daluyon shore, we were led to a beautiful yet tranquil mangrove forest. We rode a small banca and was toured by volunteer workers who protect the sacredness of the forest. We saw wild lizards, snakes and even worms that are endemic to Palawan. At the middle of the mangrove river, the tour guides got us to hear their lullaby anthem. 🙂

Off to the Underground River

Filipino DishAfter a sumptuous meal of Filipino dish in buffet style, we all headed to where we came for, the famous Underground River. We first rode a mid-size motorized boat which brought us near the mouth of the cave.

Motorized BoatAfter nearly 30 minutes, we stepped on the sandy beach of St. Paul Bay. We then traversed a man-made pavement for nearly 10 minutes. Lo and behold, the main cave entrance was in front of us!

Underground River Facade
For safety purposes, we were asked to wear life vests and helmets. I know that life vest is essential, But what is the helmet for? They explained, in order to protect our heads from bat poops! Ah ok. 🙂

Inside the Cave

Protective Vest and HelmetThe seven-man passenger alighted the small banca. Ervin sat in front and was given the chance to hold the battery-operated light and navigate the cave. Then, he got scared. So I volunteered to replace him and sat in front. Woooo! Scary!!!!

The main man, the one paddling our tour, started his work. As he paddles us inside the cave, he tells us of many stories about the cave and what we expect when we go inside.

Bell-shaped Rock FormationAs we go deep into the cave, everything is in pitch black. So I turned on our light. The place is so damp and cool yet dreary and eerie at the same time. The waters were so calm while the ceilings were so noisy with the chirping sounds of bats and what other beings that we can’t see. I know everybody is scared although we were too careful not to show it. A panicking passenger would turn our banca upside down.

As we traverse the whole 1.4 kilometers of dark, damp and dreary place, the main man, was pointing into rock formations, stalactites (limestones that fall from the ceiling) and stalagmites (limestones that are collected at the floor). The highest ceiling was around 10 meters. We saw many familiar figures like a huge lizard, some popular vegetables like carrots, pechay and cabbage. We also find rock contours of a lady with long hair, the Nativity scene, Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary. You can see almost anything as far as your imagination can figure it out.

There were other tourists whom we crossed as shown by the beacons of their lights. As we make our way deeper, my mind plays dirty tricks on me. Since I was seated in front, I can’t help but think, what if a sea creature would just appear from beneath us and eat us all alive? Sounds like a scene from a horror Hollywood film. But the main man calmed us about these things. He said that he never saw a live crocodile inside the cave. The only living creatures that live inside are bats and small blind fishes. Animals with clear eyesight can never survive that pitch black cave except of course, Batman. hehehe

Out of the Cave

Cave mouth from the inside looking outThe whole river stretch is around 8 kilometers. The end tip flows directly to the sea. We only traveled nearly 1 and a half kilometers because the rest of the river has a very small opening. Our boats cannot pass through those. But there are some tours that go as far as 4 kms.

Main Man and Me
Main Man and Me
As we see a dim light shining in the horizon, we are getting more excited and relieved that we are nearing the end. I believe claustrophobic people must not go to this place. But for the rest of us, this is a challenge and a great place to be.

Invitation to Visit and Vote

I congratulate the sincere efforts of Mayor Edward Hagedorn and the local government unit of Puerto Princesa for successfully transforming this majestic place into a tourist haven. The pavement leading to the river was 90% cemented. The people were very cordial and helpful. The volunteers were really doing a swell job in protecting the diversity of the place.

If I were you, I invite you to come and visit Palawan. It’s a great place to be! Aside from the river, there are other equally attractive places where you can go. There is the El Nido beach, the Honda Bay, dolphin and whale watching site and many more.

I also encourage you to come and vote for the only Philippine entry that made it as one of the top finalists in the New Seven Wonders of the Natural World. You may vote for it at New Seven Wonders of Nature. You may promote this wonderful God-given treasure from the Philippines and help boost our tourism. “Huwag maging dayuhan sa sariling bansa.” 🙂

Posting Hiatus

Geez! My last blog entry was August 15! That’s nearly a month ago. Sorry to my avid readers. These two months were my busiest months so far in my entire life. I said that because this is the first time I experienced traveling on three consecutive events.

As you have seen in my last two posts, I was at Korea with my deaf group from August 1 – 7. After taking a short rest for a week, I again went to Puerto Princesa City in Palawan with Ervin and conducted the Sign Language training for community based workers from August 19 – 22. In the following week, I again attended the Community Based Rehabilitation Congress in Manila Pavillion Hotel from August 25-27.

Right now, I’m here at Bangkok, Thailand together with Edmond Guzman, our deaf trainor/instructor in our school branch in Tiaong, Quezon. We are attending the Web Based Accessibility Networking Seminar conducted by the Asia-Pacific Development Center for Disability (APCD). We will be staying here from September 1 – 12. We were invited and all expenses are paid by APCD. They are our partner organization. Come to think of it, all of my travels were paid by those who invited me. Thank you, thank you, thank you. 🙂

Not that I don’t want to post. But I just don’t have the time to make a quality blog post. There are so many issues and events that I want to place here. But I need a longer time to make one.

I have tons of things to share; our wonderful trip to Underground River, our exciting visit to Aborlan School for the Deaf in Palawan and my dreaded encounter with a certain foreigner from St. Louis University in Baguio City who made offensive remarks against the deaf community.

Too much work? Nah! I don’t complain. There are so many opportunities, blessings and successes God has been giving me, our school for the deaf and our deaf students. I want to grab them while I’m still young and God never gives us challenges that we cannot pass. 🙂

My Korean Experience with the Deaf

Philippine Deaf Team on Stage
Philippine Deaf Team on Stage for Photo Ops

Last week, I was very much blessed to be part of the entourage of Filipino Deaf group who had a chance to visit the Soul of Asia, Seoul South Korea. For seven days, I was able to travel to one of the most sought after cities in the world.

Together with a mix of predominantly deaf delegation coming from Capitol City Baptist Church Deaf Ministry (CCBCDM) led by its Deaf Pastor Julius Andrada and his family, I experienced another exciting event in my life. Actually the nineteen-man delegation was composed of deaf students, staff, members and faculties of CAP College Foundation, CCBCDM and MCCID College of Technology. Well, the only common denominator is that nearly all of us are somehow connected with CCBC either as faithful attendees and sign language interpreters like me.

Andrada Family
Andrada Family

Ptr. Julius was with his wife and CAP SFD Registrar May Andrada together with two kids and their ward Lilet. Others from CAP were Ms. Revie Garcia, Harold Viray, Ylena Reyes, Michael Valois and Perseus Rendal. The last four are either students and alumni.

MCCID Team in front of DreamTel Hostel
MCCID Team in front of DreamTel Hostel

CCBCDM members were composed of Ptr. Rolando Landicho, Rodante De Torres and Jeremicah Penir. MCCID team who joined aside from me was Sir Ervin Reyes and Sir Jerome Marzan representing the faculty while Joanna Teves and Eleazar Fancubit came from the student group. Although Ptr. Julius selected the entire members of delegation, he gave our MCCID group a full hand as to who would participate.

Among the delegates, only six of us are hearing persons (May, Jules, Licca, Lilet, Revie and me).

02dreamtellflag
We felt honored that our Philippine Flag was one of those waving in the hotel's facade. But we also felt disgraced that it was erroneously posted with red on top of blue. So we called the attention of the staff. Later that night, they replaced it with a new flag and corrected the position.

Why are we there?

Typical Yewon Church Sunday Service
Typical Yewon Church Sunday Service with me interpreting for the Filipino deaf team

The Korean based Yewon Church, a rapidly growing Evangelical Christian church invited the Philippines to join in their third (?) World Deaf Mission Conference. Their aim is to spread the good news of God’s Word to the deaf people through the ends of the earth (That includes the Philippines). They already have a Philippine based Yewon Church. I believe they want to establish a separate Deaf Yewon Church through the able leadership of their Deaf Assistant Pastor Juwon Chung. Juwon is a Gallaudet University alumnus who is also a proud son of Rev. Chung Eun-Chu, Yewon Church’s Senior Pastor.

They invited the Philippine team and generously paid for all of our expenses. We are truly grateful to them for inviting us.

Korea and the Philippines

I wasn’t expecting much about the trip in terms of cultural differences. These past few years, there have been a deluge of Koreans who visit our country. They have virtually invaded our islands in terms of food (Kimchi restaurants are sprouting almost everywhere.), schools (I was surprised that in Licca’s elementary school, 50% of their population are Koreans.) and soap operas (Who can forget Full House, Endless Love Series, Jewel in the Palace and the now hugely popular Boys Over Flowers?). Latest survey shows more than one million Koreans have already visited the Philippines. So we have already been bitten by the Korean bug.

Beautiful Seoul Street
Beautiful Seoul Street

But then, I didn’t expect something exciting. Seoul is a beautiful and walkable city. Even at 2 am, my deaf team visited 7-11 Convenient Store which is a few blocks away from our hostel (Dreamtel International Youth Center) without fear of getting mugged. Then, we went to their famous spots like the top of the N Seoul Tower wherein one window was specially dedicated to Manila.

Juwon and Me at Seoul Tower Manila Window
Seoul Tower Manila Window
McDonald's Korea
McDonald's Korea

We were also treated to a cable car ride and experienced traversing the busy yet clean and hassle free Seoul highways and subways. Familiar faces of popular Korean actors donned every corner. How I wish the Philippines would be as clean as Seoul considering that Korea only became this highly urbanized more than thirty years ago?

Seoul Tower in Flames
Jerome in Flaming Seoul Tower
Korean Subway
Me, Juwon and Jerome inside a Korean Subway

As for the food, well, call me biased, but I never liked spicy hot meals. The first time I tasted their Kimchi, my stomach started to grumble in quick successions. I decided to refrain from eating some more for fear of having a hard time concentrating with my sign language interpretation.

Korean Breakfast
Korean Breakfast

In one of the Korean restaurants, the waitress motioned us to pour our rice on the soup. We immediately waived no. In another meal, one Korean lady explained to us that all the ingredients must be mixed in one bowl with red hot sauce on top. I’m not used to mixing food in one plate so we politely motioned her to leave us alone.

Watermelon Courtesy Call
Watermelon Courtesy Call

During our courtesy call with the highest official of their church, we were treated with a Korean watermelon. We felt a bit surprised and at the same time thought that we were cheap. You see, watermelon is one of the staple fruits in the Philippines. Everybody regardless of economic status can enjoy this delicious watery fruit. Later on I politely inquired about the way we were treated. Our interpreter defended that watermelon is very expensive in Korea. It was only served for very special guests and visitors. Ahhh, ok! I got it. Watermelon costs nearly P5,000 per fruit in their fruit stands compared to P50 here! 🙂

As for the people, they are lovely and gracious. But communication is still something to be desired. Only a handful of them knows English. It’s hard for us to ask the restaurant owners if they offer rice or chicken. Philippines is a hands down winner here. You can go anywhere here and still be understood by anyone including the street children.

One more thing. It’s very unethical to compare. But I observe that Filipinos are happier despite being lack of material things. Hooray for my beloved country!

Korean Deaf and Filipino Deaf

Jojo with Hanna Jang
A gorgeous Korean Actress (Joke!!), English interpreter Ms. Hanna Jung and I. Relay signing took place. A Korean Deaf signs on stage. Then a Korean voices it to Korean language. Then Ms. Hanna translates it into English. Then I interpret it in FSL.

I thought that Asian countries are alike in many ways. I may also equate these perception for deaf communities. But I was mistaken. Probably because of the sign language. Koreans have their own distinct sign language which, I was told, was basically the same as the Japanese sign language.

Filipino Sign Language got its roots from ASL. Many South East Asian countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong also got their roots from ASL. So Deaf communities from these countries can hit it well and fast. However, I cannot say the same with the Korean deaf. It might take quite a few more intense hours of conversation before we can have a decent understanding.

In learning a few Korean Sign Language, I found out that their hello’s, hi’s and goodbyes have the same sign. That sign can also be used to greet a deaf person in any time of the day whether morning, noon or night, much like the Hawaiian Aloha.

Although some of my deaf companions were able to hit it off with some Korean deaf, I cannot say the same for my Korean hearing friends. They have very limited English knowledge. I was only able to chat lengthily with Ms. Gloria Kwon, the Korean Sign Language interpreter and of course with Ms. Hanna Jung. They keep on apologizing about their limited English vocabulary. But they were remarkably good with English. However, I cannot know if they were able to faithfully interpret the Korean words into English.

Heartfelt Thanks

To the Yewon Church led by Rev. Chung Eun-Chu and Rev. Choi Duck-Keun of Department of Deaf Ministry, thank you very much for inviting us to visit your beautiful country and blessed by the Holy Spirit from your messages. Special mention to our Deaf companion, sign language interpreter and tour guide Mr. Juwon Chung for being so patient with us. God bless all of you! 🙂

To my brother in Christ, the faithful pastor of CCBC Deaf Ministry Julius Andrada, we are truly blessed that you selected our school to be one of those that participated in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Thank you and may the Deaf ministry continue to shine for the glory of God through Christ Jesus! 🙂

PS:
You may view the news article I made in our MCCID Website. You may also want to see the other photos here.

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