Living in the Domain of the Golden Dragon
Previously written by me and published by PhilippinePlus.com and edited for republication.
As ex-pats who obviously came before me sit around enjoying an iced cold San Miguel Pale Pilsen with friends while relaxing in a beachside cottage, I sit and stare out my window here in Tupelo, Mississippi. And while they all savor the taste of the best beer in all of Asia, all I can do is yearn for the day that I return to the easy life in the Philippines.
Of course, the easy life is a relative term, and with an applied connotation that one doesn’t have to do much of anything if one doesn’t want to. Many things can simply wait until tomorrow to be done or, with very little peso-persuasion, tasks can be done in a timely fashion by someone more willing. The term ‘peso-nality’ (coined long ago) simply means having the ability at will to spread the wealth around. A few pesos here and a few pesos there will usually muster up any number of volunteers for anything that resembles labor, along with much appreciation and thankfulness for the opportunity to earn their share. So it can be a relatively easy life in the ‘Domain of the Golden Dragon’.
I can remember once when hanging out on a Guam Beach back in 1974, fully dressed in the uniform-of-the-day (shorts, t-shirt, and flip-flops), and having the beach all to myself – smack-dab in the middle of January! With my feet buried in the cool white sand and my snorkeling gear and a cooler of water and beer at my side, and an ocean vista to die for, all I could think about was what my friends were doing back home in Illinois. Actually, I knew exactly what they were doing…freezing their hinnies off while shoveling snow! After another beer or two and a few more passing thoughts of frigid winter-like scenarios, I decided to nominate and vote myself as a candidate for full-time living in the Domain of the Golden Dragon. BTW, I only needed one vote, and it was an overwhelming majority! The hard part was figuring out how to do it. For what it was worth, I smiled a lot that winter.
For the benefit of those that are not familiar with the Domain of the Golden Dragon, it is an age-old unofficial United States Navy award that is ceremoniously earned and given to crew members of ships that sail across the International Date Line. You enter the dragon’s empire when you cross the International Date Line by sailing west (say some), or sailing east (say others). With the extensive Navy operations In the Western Pacific since (and before) World War II, this unique passage has become so common that few initiation ceremonies actually take place these days. But the certificate, decorated with a Chinese-style dragon, will still find its way to a spot on that sailor’s wall at home.
As a career Navy man, I have had the privilege of crossing the dateline on several occasions. The dateline is actually the longitude of the 180th meridian, separating east and west. It’s the meridian opposite the Prime Meridian which joins the north and south poles and passes through Greenwich, England. I was lucky enough to actually go through the ceremonious hazing during my first transit across the line. I received my certificate, which I proudly display on the wall in my man cave. It reads as follows:
Know, All Ye by These, Presents: and to all pirates of the Yellow Seas and other derelicts of Far Eastern Seas, Greetings: Know Ye: On 5 August 1986, within the boundaries of my Dragonic Realm there appeared the Good Ship USS Beaufort (ATS-2). Be it known: That the said renowned vessel crossed the 180th Meridian in Latitude 17-41N. All her Officers and Crew have been duly inspected and found qualified by my Venerable Court. It is, therefore, my privilege to proclaim, with all the authority of my sphere of influence, that Randy Landis has been found worthy to be granted membership in my domain, the Silent Occult Mysteries of the Far East. And be it further understood: That the above named is now a member of my August Retinue and is therefore entitled to all the Rights and Privileges accorded such personages. Disobey this order under penalty of our royal displeasure. L.G. Nibbs, Commanding.
Back to Guam. Although I first arrived in the Dragon’s Domain in 1974 (via aeroplane), tradition has it you must ‘sail’ into the domain to be considered for the rights of privilege. But, the fact that I didn’t sail into the domain until 1986 has nothing to do with my early attraction to Far East culture. My arrival in Guam at the ripe age of 19 provided me my first look at this unique culture (and beautiful Asian woman). You see, even though Guam is essentially still the USA (incorporated territory), the local culture results from a blend of local Chamorro (Guamanian) and Filipino, with American, Japanese, Korean, some Chinese mixed in. While many of my Navy cohorts would sit around the barracks day-in and day-out and complain of nothing to do, I immersed myself in the island lifestyle and quickly fell in love with the uniqueness of Asian life. The three main ingredients required [3 B’s = good time recipe] to have a great time were always readily available – Beaches, BBQ’s, and Beer (the 4th “B” which stood for “Babe’s”, was harder to find but not necessarily required to enjoy the island life) I beached a lot, snorkeled, learned to dive, fished, did some cliff diving, learned to fly, fished, Boonie Stomping (island exploring), bought a boat, skied, fished, bought a motorcycle and literally moto-crossed myself around the island. Did I mention fishing? I attended Fiesta’s, Novena’s, and even played in
local card games and learned to play Maj-jong. I even attended a cockfight or two. For me, there was plenty to do and discover (remember, I was a flatlander from Illinois). One of the more difficult things to do there was to find a woman. There were plenty of women on the island but it seemed like they were part of an endangered species, or just maybe just a protected species with the protection administered by their distrustful older male family members. It was rare to find local girls out partying or simply unaccompanied and, except for a handful of nightclubs staffed with Korean ‘buy me drink’ ladies, there weren’t many places to go to meet women (except the USO, and that’s a story for another time). Island women of other ethnicities such as Japanese, Korean, or Chinese were more difficult to meet, mainly because of the stronger and more extreme cultural differences and language barriers.
Filipino however is the second largest ethnic group on Guam and totals over 25% of the population. Into the uniqueness of Chamorro culture, Filipino food culture had woven its way into the mainstream of everyday Guam life, where every week there was a fiesta and every fiesta consisted of pork or Lechon, red rice, pancit, lumpia, and many other of the Filipino descended delicacies. There was always beer, adult beverages, and tuba (a locally made coconut sap liquor).
Guam was truly a melting pot of Asia if you will and could be considered as stir-fried Asian, sautéed with Chamorro, and served up with a touch of Americanism. After spending nearly 5 years (off and on) living on the island, and 3 years living in the Philippines (where I met my beautiful asawa), it left me with an unending desire to return to the ‘Domain’ forever (remember my earlier vote – it had no expiration date) From my early days there and since then, I could never cure myself from the addiction to this culture. I didn’t want to. Now some of you are probably thinking Guam?…I never thought of living there! I say go ahead, but you better have a boatload of money or a really high paying job to survive there. Guam is beyond expensive.
Back to the Domain and the Philippines. To me, the Philippines is a lot like Guam, but on steroids. It’s not so small that you will get island fever-like on Guam. It has many more beaches and a more diverse economy with a variety of lifestyles to choose from. The friendliness of the Filipino people, combined with their natural and genuine nature to please, is unlike nowhere else. Their hospitality in Asia is second to none, and to many foreigners, the ability to live in a laid back society where the government still trusts you to make you own responsible decisions can be of paramount importance to anyone who loves liberty and freedom. Especially in contrast to the west (U.S.) where a meltdown of a great culture continues where many liberties have been lost or taken away. If you can immerse yourself into the culture of the Philippines as many others do, you will discover there is a certain richness about living there and it has nothing to do with having money or being rich, or having an abundance of material things. It has everything to do with having a good loving woman at your side, with strong family values, and being surrounded by a culture of caring people.
On occasion, you may hear an ex-pat say they that they crave for a certain food or a miss particular western convenience, or they might think out loud about missing the seasonal weather back home. Actually, you may hear many complaints from ex-pats from time to time, but it all means a hill of beans when one summons up the real reasons they are there – and because they cherish their adopted Filipino culture and the overall enjoyment of living in the Philippines.
The Philippines is not Guam, and it’s definitely not like living in the West. It’s simply all about the good life in the Domain of the Golden Dragon.