Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Two Greatest Lessons in Life


Dr Abe V Rotor

But there are no neighbors!

Once there was a workshop for adult leaders somewhere in Asia. The teacher asked the participants to draw on the blackboard a beautiful house, a dream house ideal to live in and raise a family. It was of course, an exercise, which in the minds of the participants was as easy as copying a model from experience and memory. Besides it is a universal dream to own such a house, which allows free interplay of both reason and imagination, using the left and the right brain. The participants formed a queue to allow everyone to contribute his own idea on the blackboard.

Child by Pablo Picasso

The first in the queue drew the posts of the house, on which the succeeding members made the roof and floor. The rest proceeded in making the walls and windows. On the second round the participants added garage, porch, veranda, gate, staircase, fence, swimming pool, TV antennae, and other amenities. Finally their dream house was completed and they returned to their seats. A lively “sharing session” followed and everyone was happy with the outcome of the exercise, including the teacher.

Just then a little child happened to be passing by and saw the drawing of the house on the blackboard. He stopped and entered the classroom. He stood there for a long time looking at the drawing and the teacher approached him. The child exclaimed, “But there are no neighbors!

Human relations is very important. Sociology has become a major field in education. There is a field of biology known as Human Ecology. Economics is rooted into the theory of equitable wealth distribution, where everyone gets a fair share of the pie. Most religions, including ancient religions, are anthropocentric. The Good Samaritan, The Prodigal Son, Matthew 25, Sermon on the Mount, the meaning of Messiah – all these and many more speak of man to be good to his fellowmen. Salvation is not aimed at oneself, but should be one that is collective, which means, “No one goes to heaven alone.”  Very little mention is made on the role of the environment, or nature for that matter, in leading man to heaven.

But there are no trees, rivers...

In a another village near the first one I told you, there was a similar workshop. This time the participants were asked to draw a community. So they made a queue for the blackboard and after working together, came up with a beautiful drawing of a community. There are houses - many houses; a church, a school, village hall, plaza. Roads and bridges make a network in the village showing many people. The marketplace is is full of life. Anything that makes a typical village is there.

The participants discussed, “What constitute a community?” and everyone was so eager and delighted at the result.

Just then a little child was passing by, and when he saw the drawing on the backboard, stopped and entered the classroom. The teacher approached him. The child exclaimed, “But there are no trees, no birds; there are no mountains, no fields, no river!

As no man is an island, so is a village without a natural environment. What good is man living on top of a hill while being surrounded by people in abject poverty? What good is progress – megacities, science and technology, internet, - when progress itself is responsible for the destruction of the land, the seas, and the atmosphere, in short, the Planet Earth.

Many days had passed since the two workshops. Virtually no one ever thought of looking for the little child - who he was or where he lived. Then the whole village suddenly realized, and so they began to search for him.

But they never found him – not in the village, not in the neighboring village, not in the town, not in any known place.

Who was the little child? Everyone who saw him never forgot his kindly beautiful and innocent face, and they pondered on his words which are the greatest lessons in life.

"But there are no neighbors!"
But there are no trees, no birds; there are no mountains, no fields, no river!


"... but there are no trees, rivers, lake."
painting in acrylic by AVR 

Return of the Balloon Frog Tukak Bat'og


Dr Abe V Rotor
The first time I saw tukak bat’og was when I was a young farmhand. Its name is familiar because bat’og, battog or battobattog, in Ilocano means pot bellied. At that time anyone who exhibited a bulging waistline was associated with this amphibian. But there were very few of this kind then. The war had just ended and people had to work hard.

Hardship tightens the belt automatically, but peacetime and the Good Life opens a new war - the “battle of the bulge.” Today two out of five Americans are obese and Europeans are not far behind. Asians are following the same trend, as more and more people have changed to the Western lifestyle that accompanies overweight condition, whether one is male or female.

But actually Bat’og is all air. It’s like balloon short of taking off. But once it wedges itself in its tight abode not even bird or snake can dislodge it. Not only that. It feigns dead and its attacker would simply walk away to find a live and kicking prey.

Nature’s sweet lies are tools of survival. When it faces danger Bat’og engulfs air and becomes pressurized and distended, reducing the size of its head and appendages to appear like mere rudiments. And with its coloration that blends with the surroundings, and its body spots becoming monstrous eyes, who would dare to attack this master of camouflage.

Not enough to drive away its foe, Bat’og uses another strategy by producing deep booming sounds coming from its hollow body as resonator. I remember the story of Monico and the Giant by Camilo Osias when I was in the grades. The cruel giant got scared and rushed out of his dark hiding when Monico boomed like Bat’og . Actually it was the unique design of the cave’s chamber that created the special sound effect and ventriloquism. The vaults of old churches were similarly designed this way so that the faithful can clearly hear the sermon.

The exhausted Bat’og deflates and returns to its chores, feeding, roaming around and calling for mate – and rain, so old folks say. Well, frogs become noisy when it rains. Biologically, egg laying is induced by rain. Eggs are fertilized in water and hatched into tadpoles that live in water until they become frogs. Bat’og has relatives that live in trees and their tadpoles inhabit trapped water in the axils of bromeliads, bananas and palms. Or it could be a pool inside the hollow of a tree.

After I left the farm for my studies in Manila, I never saw any Tukak Bat’og again. Only a trace of that childhood memory was left of this enigmatic creature.

Then one day, in my disbelief Bat’og resurrected! For a long time it has long been in the requiem list of species, ironically even before it was accorded scientific details of its existence. Well, there are living things that may not even reach the first rung of the research ladder, either they are insignificant or new to science. Who would take a look at Bat’og?

I believe a lot of people now do. People have become environment-conscious after the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, the emergence of Greenpeace movement, and birth of "heroes for the environment". Who is not aware now of global warming, especially after viewing Al Gore's documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth? Who have not experienced calamities brought about by our changing climate?

What changed the thinking of the world - a revolution in our concept of survival - is that all livings are interconnected and that the world is one systemic order, that the survival of one spells the survival of all creatures and the preservation of the integrity of the biosphere and therefore of Planet Earth, and that there is no living thing that is too small to be insignificant or useless.

Of all places I found Bat’og one early morning in my residence in Quezon City. I would say it instead found me. There in my backyard, ensconced in a gaping crack in the soil covered with a thick layer of dead leaves lay my long lost friend - very much alive.

Hello! And it looked at me motionless with steady eyes. It was aestivating, a state of turpor, which is a biological phenomenon for survival in dry and hot summer, the counterpart of hibernation when organisms sleep in winter and wait for the coming of spring. My friend was waiting nature's clock to signal the Habagat to bring rain from across the Pacific come June to September, a condition necessary for its amphibious life.

Slowly I lifted my friend and cradled it of sort on my palm. And we rolled time back fifty years ago. And before any question was asked, it was already answered. It is like that when two old friends meet after a long time. I remember when journalist Stanley found the great explorer Dr. David Livingstone in the heart of Africa in the 19th century, Stanley simply greeted, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" and the old man lifted his hat and gave Stanley a firm handshake. This became one of the most famous meetings in the world.

You see an event earns a place in history, or in the heart, when it permeates into the primordial reason of existence, which is Reverence of Life.

Reverence – this is the principal bond between man and nature. It is more than friendship. It is the also the bonds of the trilogies of human society – equality, fraternity and liberty. It is the  bridge of all relationships in the complex web and pyramid of life. It towers over equations and formulas in science. It links earth and heaven, in fact the whole universe – and finally, the bridge of understanding between creature and Creator.

Bat’og is back. How easy it is to understand a creature however small it is, if it is your friend. Yet how difficult it is to define the role of a friend. The fox in Antoine de Saint-Exupery’ novel, The Little Prince, warned the little prince, “If you tame me you are responsible to me.” The little prince simply touched the wild beast.

Taming is the ultimate submission to humility. And the greater a person who humbles himself, the truer a friend he is.

How do we relate this principle to our being the only rational creature? The dominant species over millions of species? The God-anointed guardian of the Earth? The custodian of creation?

Allow me to have some time with my long lost friend. Either one of us is the Prodigal Son, but  that does not matter now. Let me join Darwin and Linnaeus and Villadolid et al.

That was a long time ago by the pond that had dried in summer. As a kid on the farm I have known the ways of my friend. Bat’og would stake its prey - termites, ants, beetles and other insects. Like all frogs – and toads – the adults and tadpoles are important in controlling pests and diseases.

One of its relatives belonging to genus Kaloula was found to subsist mainly on hoppers and beetles that destroy rice, including leafhoppers that transmit tungro, a viral disease of rice that may lead to total crop failure. Such insectivorous habit though is universal to amphibians, reptiles, birds and other organisms. If only we can protect these Nature’s biological agents we would not be using chemicals on the farm and home, chemicals that pollutes the environment and destroys wildlife.

Bat'og and its kind protect man from hunger and disease. They are an important link in the food chain. No pond or ricefield or forest or grassland is without frogs. There would be no herons and snakes and hawks and eagles. No biological laboratory is without the frog as a blue print of human anatomy. And The Frog and the Princess would certainly vanish in the imagination of children.

Bat’og is a survivor of chemical genocide. It is the timely age of enlightenment of people returning to natural food and the spread of environmental consciousness on all walks of life and ages that came to its rescue in the last minute. So with many threatened species.

Who does not rejoice at finding again native kuhol, martiniko, ulang and gurami in the rice field? Oriole, pandangeratarat and pipit in the trees? Tarsier, mouse deer and pangolin in the wild? And the return of ipil-ipil, kamagong and narra in the forest? And of course, Haribon the symbol of Philippine wildlife and biodiversity.

It is indeed a challenge for us to practice being the Good Shepherd, but this time it is not only a lost lamb that we have to save, it’s the whole flock.

Tukak Bat’og symbolizes the victory of Nature. But Nature’s victory does not mean man’s defeat; rather it is man’s submission and obedience to Nature’s laws and rules and therefore, the restoration of order on Planet Earth - our only spaceship on which we journey into the vastness of the universe and the unknown. x x x

Don’t eat between meals, old folks advise.

 Dr Abe V Rotor

Coffee break is a corporate invention, and snacks are the first version of fast food, thanks to capitalism. So why take heed of the old advice?

Well, let’s look at it this way. Our old folks take heavy meals, mainly rice or corn, depending on the region they live, and they do not eat anything in between meals. Yet they work for long hours, and are healthy.  How is that?

Image result for polysaccharide foods
 
 
 
 
 Plant foods are by far the commonest source of polysaccharides:
  • Starch is in cereal grains (wheat, oats, rye, barley, buckwheat, rice, etc.), potatoes and legumes (beans, peas, lentils).
  • Fiber is mainly in whole grains (whole-grain bread, brown rice, etc.), legumes, vegetables and fruits.
Starch in cereals is polysaccharide, which means that it has to be broken down into simple sugar before it is “burned” by the body to release energy. Starch has to be hydrolyzed with the aid of enzyme (amylase) found in our digestive system.  Glucose, the ultimate product is broken down through oxidation (respiration), providing the needed energy for various body functions.  This transformation takes hours, releasing energy throughout the process, and by the time the fuel is exhausted, it is time for the next meal.  This is a simple test. Have you experienced having a grain of rice unknowingly tucked between the gums and teeth?  After an hour of so, the grain taste sweet. It means that the grain is undergoing hydrolysis – from starch to sugar.
White sugar (sucrose), on the other hand is directly burned, after it has been split into two monosaccharides.  That is why too much white sugar leads to high blood sugar – if we do not burn it – and may in the long run become the cause of diabetes. 

Broil, don't fry.  It's healthier and more economical.

This eating regimen of old folks may apply to manual workers, principally in the field.  Today we find this virtually impossible to follow.  First, we need a lot of energy, mainly for the brain, and secondly, we are already accustomed to having snacks.  In fact many of us never stop eating. A foreigner once commented, “Filipinos are always eating.”  What with all the advertisements - from TV commercials to giant billboards - and the proliferation of food carts and stores.  ~