Saturday, April 27, 2013

Sungka - Asia's Friendly Feudal Game

Sungka - Asia's Friendly Feudal Game 
Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School on Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday

Sungka (pronounced SOONG-kah) is a game played on a solid wooden block with two rows of seven circular holes and two large holes at both ends called "head". This game is called mancala in the US. It is also known as "count and capture" or "sowing game" in English. The latter moniker is because seeds are sometimes used instead of shells or stones. Filipinos ordinarily use cowrie shells. 

Sungka, a favorite family game in the 
Philippines and Asian countries 

The Language of Sungka 

If you can't hold but vent your ire,
and wish your opponent harm
by fire, quagmire, and death,
and surprise him to disarm,

If you are seeking a battle  
in silence, save the clicking
of cowries in the lazy air,
whatever means of winning 

By the sleight of the hand,
or distract your enemy,
surreptitiously skipping
traps by hiding a cowrie.

If you play the ruthless Nero
while Rome is burning;
and your opponent raids 
the bounty you're keeping,

In words unpleasant, unkind,
yet devoid of real meaning 
in incessant exchange.
either winning or losing.

Winner and  loser come to terms  
in sweet notes that friends remain,
and peace reigns once again -
play of the sungka game.    
                                  Sungka, another indigenous invention, Calatagan, Batangas
Rules in playing sungka 
1. The game begins with 49 game pieces (shells, marbles, pebbles or seeds) equally distributed to alternate holes - seven pieces in every other hole - except "heads" which remain empty. Sungka requires two players. Each player controls the seven holes on his side of the board and owns the "head" to his right. The goal is to accumulate as many pieces in your own "head".

2. The first player removes all pieces from the hole on the extreme left of on his side. He then distributes them anti-clockwise --- one in each hole to the right of that hole --- omitting an opponent's "head" but not a player's own "head".

3. If the last piece falls into an occupied hole then all the pieces are removed from that hole, and are distributed in the same way (to the right of that hole) in another round. This player's (current) turn ends when the last piece falls into an empty hole on the opponent's side.

4. If the last piece distributed falls into a player's own "head," then  the player earns another turn, which can begin at any of the seven holes on his side.

5. If the last piece distributed falls into an empty hole on his side, then the player captures all the pieces in the hole directly across from this one, on the opponent's side and put them (plus the last piece distributed) in his own "head". If the opposing hole is empty, no pieces are captured..

6. The other player chooses which hole he wishes to start from, removes the pieces and distributes them - one in each hole to the right of that chosen hole. If a player has no pieces on his side of the board when it is his turn, then he must pass.

7. The game ends when no pieces are left in any hole on both sides of the board. The players now count the number of pieces in their own "head" and see who has won.

This game (with variations) is also played in other Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia where it is known as "Congkak."

(Acknowledgment: Internet - ASEAN/Philippines Sungka, on rules of game)

Parable of the Five Trees - Folk Wisdom for Growing Up (Lagro-Laha Summer Workshop Lesson No 13A)

A Lesson on the Parable as a form of short story to convey a moral theme
Dr Abe V Rotor 

Living with Nature School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School on Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday
 Parable of the Five Trees in Acrylic by AVR

Trees, like humans, also talk. They talk to one another everyday.

Actually the breeze passing through their leaves carry their conversations and even their songs and messages.

Only that we do not understand what they are saying, so we can only make inferences. For example, the rustling of their leaves and their outstretched branches touching one another, or some trees leaning to get close to others undoubtedly vouch this belief to the level of phenomenon.

The communication of trees runs through a network that enhances the unity and harmony of the ecosystem they form. Sometimes this kind of communication is perceived as queer, unintelligible sounds which made our ancestors believe there are spirits guarding the place like the deity Maria Makiling guarding the forest that is named after her.

Old folks advise us trespassers just to utter reverently "Bari-bari... Or tabi-tabi, po." when going through the forest or thicket.

One day five juvenile narra trees were engaged in a conversation.

Said one, "When I grow up and reach my fate to be cut down, I wish that I be made into a beautiful bed fit only for a king or queen."

The four trees began to have their own wishes, too.

Said the second narra, "I would like to be the mast of the tallest ship that travels fast and wide on the ocean."

Said the third, "I will make a fort, a strong fort, no invader can break through."

The fourth narra tree took some time to think, then said, "I'll be a tower to hold a big bell."

The fifth was the last to speak, but not outwitted. "Oh, in my case I would like to give all my wood to make the biggest temple of worship."

Years and years passed, and the trees finally reached full maturity. The woodsmen came and cut them down.

Guess what happened to the trees. Did all their wishes come true?

The first tree did not become a beautiful bed, but only a manger, actually a feeding trough in a secluded barn.

The second tree did not become part of a tall ship; it was made into a simple boat.

The third tree was not made into a strong fort, only a stem of it the size of a pencil and  became a writing tool of sort.

The fourth tree was not made into a belfry, but just one branch of it was made into a fine shepherd's crook.

The fifth tree failed to provide materials to build the largest temple of worship; two limbs were made into a cross.

So when Christ came into this world, he was born on a manger. It was comfortable enough on a wintry night?

When He became a shepherd, He looked for a crook and found a sturdy one to tend His flock of sheep.

As a Preacher He rode on a dinghy on which he delivered his sermons and told parables before the throng along the shores of Galilee.

When people were about to stone a sinner to death, He took a stick and wrote something on the ground, and on rising said, "He who has no sin cast the first stone." No one did.

Alas! When Christ was condemned to die, He carried a wooden cross and on it he was crucified. The cross became the symbol of Christianity.

When I went on a pilgrimage to the part of the forest where the five trees once grew, I found nothing but grass. There was complete silence as a beam of light from the sky shone on the spot where I stood. ~      

                   Reflection on the Parable of the Five Trees
Lofty are my dreams soaring far and wide,
     In boundless flight to nowhere;
in pursuit of wealth, power and pleasure,
     and confidence of a conqueror.

Blind of history, even as it repeats itself,
     In short-lived fame and fortune,
Yet models it presents to my ambitions
     In glitters, glory and grandeur.

All In youth’s craving, and craving still
     To believe dreams ne’er get old;
But time takes toll in dreams unfulfilled,
     And fate the judgment on earth.

Beyond lies a second kingdom few
     Can grasp – life’s real meaning;
Life’s purpose, stirrings of the soul
     To live in others, beyond the self.

How little do I know of the Fisherman,
     Born simple, preached love,
wrote justice, searched the lost lamb,
    died that humanity may live. ~
                                                                avrotor 2013

Kapre! - Writing Short Story: Folk Wisdom for Growing Up Summer Workshop Lesson

Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School on Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday.

Balete has overgrown a church ruin in Magsingal, Ilocos Sur, a favorite playground for kids. Who says a kapre lives here?

“Did you hear that?” I was startled by a mysterious moaning in the dark. I switched on the headlight.
“What is it?” Cecille sleepily responded.

“It’s a strange sound, like someone agonizing.” I said while straining my eyes on the sugarcane fields on both sides of the road.
We had just parked along a newly opened road of the North Diversion somewhere in Tarlac that night. My wife and I were driving to Manila after a vacation in our hometown in Ilocos. I was so tired driving, I pulled our Ford Escort to the grass lane for a brief rest, and switched off the engine.
Then. “Did you hear that?” Cecille shook me. It was the same agonizing sound I heard earlier, and it was coming closer!
I switched on the headlight, and there stood at the opposite side of the road a tall figure the outline of the Colossus of Rhodes – black and hairy, so huge I could barely see his torso.
Instinctively I started the engine and stepped on the gas. Cecille moved close to me as the monster took another step toward us. We escaped in the nick of time.

Since then I became popular with children. “Tell us about the kapre!” And they would gather around clinging to one another. It reminded me of Lola Basiang, the story teller of folklores and legends.

My story became known to my friends and officemates  It was the cause of a meeting suddenly losing its agenda to the kapre. Everyone had something to say about the mythical monster. They talked about kapre living atop big old trees, along rivers and somewhere else. One related his experience while clearing the vines clinging around a large tree when suddenly he noticed blood dripping from above. He looked up. Kapre!

Old folks say there are different kinds of kapre. There is even one taking over abandoned houses and empty buildings. There is kapre in empty playgrounds, farms and pastures. Kapre in gambling places, like the cockpit, kapre appearing suddenly in a group picture.

Since then we didn’t have to stay in office late. We had to finish our work early so we would not be taking the stairway that is seldom used, or hear typewriters clicking when everyone had already left. We won’t be passing dark alleys on our way home.

Children who heard the story of the kapre would stop playing at dusk. The farmer looks at the leaves of acacia, and when they start drooping, starts walking for home. Everyone in the family must be home for supper.

Because of the kapre, trees are spared of the ruthless chain saw. People passing through thickets politely whisper, “tabi tabi, po.” Fishermen catch just enough fish for their family’s need. Harvest festivals are observed even if harvest is not good.

Indeed there are different kinds of kapre. And they abound everywhere.

When I was buying a new battery for my car and told the salesman how I encountered a kapre one dark night, he handed me a new brand of battery. “Sir, nakakasiguro kayo sa bateryang ito.” (Sir, you can surely depend on this battery.)~

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Photo Study of Maria Makiling in Summer

Dr Abe V Rotor
Maria Makiling profile, view from Pansol, Calamba , Laguna 
Reclining Maria Makiling profile on SLEX. 
Maria Makiling profile, lower half,  highway view at Calamba, Laguna 
Settlements and farms have invaded the lower slopes
Rain cloud combs the deity's profile, instead of veiling her to hide her aging landscape. 
Haze returns in the afternoon with the promise of rain as May approaches.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Leaf Skeleton

Dr Abe V Rotor
Leaf Skeleton in acrylic, AVR 2013

The forest litter, layer after layer,
leaves fall, year after year;
for the earthworms, and the fungi 
and rain from heaven high.

Imprints of time, imprints of life,
footprints of passersby;
but neither the past nor future,
shall any living thing defy. 

life goes on, and on, ad infinitum
to hereafter unknown. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Folk Wisdom for Growing Up Summer Workshop for Children (Lagro-Laha)

Folk Wisdom for Growing Up Summer Workshop for Children (Lagro-Laha)
Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature School on Blog []
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid  People's School on Air)with Ms Melly C Tenorio, 738 DZRB AM, 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday 

  Features of the Summer Workshop
April 17  – May 13, 2013

1. Summer workshop for children of school age - 7 to 12

2. Recommended and sponsored by officers of Lagro homeowners Association

3. Class size: 25 to 30, preferably of equal gender

4. Venue and facilities: Laha Conference Hall, with working tables, blackboard,
proper ventilation. (Multi media and sound system, optional)

5. Attendance: ten sessions, three hours each, thrice a week; in addition  field trip, exhibition of selected works, and graduation.

6. Class rules: same as in school, on grooming, attendance, performance

7. Recognition: Grading and ranking, citations, exhibit award.

8. Lessons in 6 parts or chapters (list below).

9. Teaching method: Lecture-demo, hands-on, team work, field lecture,
tutoring if needed.

10. Broadcast Link: 738 DZRB Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid, 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday

11. Internet Link: Living with Nature, School on Blog

12. Accreditation: Certificate of participation, UST Faculty of Arts & Letters faculty outreach program

13. Field lecture and on-the spot painting: La Mesa Eco Park

14. Special project: Exhibit of selected work, and graduation

15. Cooperating organizations: LAHA, LGU, UST, others

MWF 8 to11 AM, April 17 start of classes



Children come every Sunday afternoon to the house in Lagro. At first there were six, then two dozens -  children ages 7 to 13 years from the neighborhood. They call me Lolo Abe, their mentor.

They are in the grades and in high school and they are intelligent. And they are a happy lot. They like to come and want to know what I am doing with the microscope, how I mix colors and paint on canvas, play the violin, feed the fish in the aquarium. Or visit an mongrel dog I gave a home.

We meet under a covered front yard and under the trees. It is sort of extension class. Lessons were compiled and became a source book.  It has six chapters with thirty  articles.

1.    Keeping Tradition Alive
2.    Appreciating Nature’s Beauty and Bounty
3.    Building Good Health and Lifestyle
4.    Developing Practical Skills and Self-Reliance
5.    Tapping Talents in the Humanities
6.    Emulating Models of Greatness

Some have attended as many as 12 sessions, three hours each.  They started talking about school projects, home remedies, and things about growing up – or at least, not cartoon characters, computer games, or frequenting the malls. But what happens after?  

The lessons are taken up on  Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid hosted by Ms Melly C Tenorio and myself as the instructor. The program is linked up with School on Blog [], broadcast simultaneously every 8 to 9 in the evening, Monday to Friday on 738 DZRB AM.

The children simply open the Blog and read the lessons. They can download and print them. New lessons are posted regularly to keep the program going. They join the viewers on the Internet (500,000 pageviews to date), and the audience of  the radio program. On PBS and Bureau of Broadcast  network nationwide and on [] worldwide

Learning can be simplified with today’s technology and vast networking. Education can be made available to everyone.  Lessons become practical, literacy functional with the least cost. Let us start with the kids in the neighborhood.  ~

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Singular Halo-halo

The Singular Halo-halo
Dr Abe V Rotor

It's a long, hot summer, and one way to beat it is to have a large glass or bowl of halo-halo (literally, mix-mix). Halo-halo is very popular in summer wherever you go in the Philippines.    

 Make halo-halo at home from a wide choice of ingredients. The most popular ingredients are kaong, nata, sago, gulaman or gelatin, cut boiled saba banana, evaporated milk, sugar - and a topping of leche plan. You can have other ingredients as substitute , or in addition to, like nangka (jackfruit). 

The enjoyment in eating actually is in digging out the ingredients while in leisurely (and haltingly) conversation with members of the family or with friends. There's a saying in Pilipino, "the deeper you get, the better it tastes." In Ilocano, "Umun-uneg, umim-imas."  Note: Halo-halo may cause indigestion because of its rich, varied ingredients, and when taken in large amount. It is not recommended for babies.~

Make one for me, a large, large glass,
Epicurean I am - Filipino;
halo-halo's the name and the brand,
that the world may know.

Make it potpourri-like, heap full flowing,
nectar sweet, white as snow; 
family, friends, and guests in company,
and special just for two.      

Make it loaded with native delights,
bounty of Ceres and Apollo,
pride of country and race and taste, 
oh! singular halo-halo. ~

Native Bibingka Goes to the City

Dr Abe V Rotor


 Native bibingka goes modern, retaining much its quaintness and countryside taste.

Queen of all pies to Filipinos
    with its come quick aroma;
oven fresh from wood-fed pugon,
    specialty of old grandma.

From the countryside trails
    to the city its magic wand,
onto the highway and the mall,
    to a li'l bibingka stand.

A bit of culture and history,
    culinary and folklore, too;
and old memories shall follow
    to where the bibingka could go. ~

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Beware of Mad Dog! Folk Wisdom for Growing Up (Lagro Laha Workshop No 4A , April 26 2013)

Dr. Abe V Rotor

Living with Natue School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM, 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday 

(Note: This is scripted for this lesson.  Photograph of the author's pet, Niko, a Doberman, behind torn cage. Now past his 15th year (centenarian if he were a human) he is suffering of cataract and arthritis. An old dog may be mistaken by some people to be manifesting signs of a mad dog - which is, of course, not true.)

Mad dog!  Get out of its way.  Away from its reach. Take the children out of harm's way.

Here are signs to forewarn us. 
  • The dog's tail is tucked underneath
  • The animal is restless, biting at anything within its reach
  • Froth is coming from its mouth
  • It is unkempt
  • Its breathing is heavy and rapid, showing signs of distress
  • Its eyes are blank and threatening   
  • It stealthily moves about without any apparent direction
  • It dreads the presence of water (hydrophobia)

The season of mad dogs is during hot days - summer, though they occur any season. 
Be keen; keep distance; notify others of danger; get help. And if someone is bitten by a dog - even if its a healthy dog, maybe our own pet - don't take chances.  Take the victim to the nearest doctor or hospital without delay.~

Friday, April 19, 2013

Tapestry of Life

Dr Abe V Rotor

Tapestry of Life in acrylic (22”x 22”), April 21, 2013

A wise old man, who had lived buoyantly through four score years, was asked, “Which is the happiest season of life?” He replied thoughtfully.

“When spring comes, and in the soft air the buds break on the trees, and they are covered with blossoms. I think, how beautiful is Spring!

When summer comes, and covers the trees and bushes with heavy foliage, and singing birds mingle with branches, I think, how beautiful is Summer!

When autumn loads them with golden fruit, and their leaves bear the gorgeous tint of frost, I think, how beautiful is Autumn!

When it is sore winter, and there is neither foliage nor fruit, then when I look up through the leafless branches and see, as I can see in no other season, the shining stars of heaven, I think, how beautiful is the Winter of life!

And when the four seasons come in the music of Antonio Vivaldi, in the Song of Praise, painted on a single canvas, and all of them woven into a beautiful tapestry, how wonderful is Life!”

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Reading Nature's Signs (Lagro-Laha Summer Workshop lesson No 3, April 22, 2013)

Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature - School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) 
with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM Band, 8 to 9 Evening Class, Monday to Friday

"Children learn to read nature, such as the coming of flood or storm." 

1. Ants on the move signal the coming of a heavy rain, if not a typhoon.  
The biological clock of these creatures responds to invisible signals, which comprise decreased atmospheric pressure, high relative humidity and air temperature. Their sensitive antennae and tactile hairs covering their body pick these up these changes of the environment. Thus we find ants in exodus, they move as a colony carrying their eggs and young indoors. Cockroaches become unusually active, flying about in frenzy, in search for a new place. There is a common message, that is, to escape to safer ground, an archetype engrained in their genes passed on to them by their ancestors through evolution.

2. Red and gray sunset is sign it’s going to rain - or a storm is coming.
Here is a verse about this belief.

“If the sun in red should set,
The next day surely will be wet;
If the sun should set in gray,
The next will be a rainy day.”

High relative humidity builds clouds.  Suspended water vapors reflect the rays of the setting sun red, orange and crimson in many shades and hues, while the thick clouds form a gray overcast.

3. Ring (halo) around the moon means a storm is coming.
High humidity in the air causes an optical illusion of a halo around the moon.  It is also observed around bright stars. This means the air is heavily laden with water vapors, which is potential rain. Everything is still, not a breeze is felt. There’s an uneasy feeling.  Take heed if the barometer reading drops. 

4. Animals are uneasy before an impending earthquake.
It is because they are sensitive to the vibrations preceding an earthquake. They perceive the small numerous crackling of the earth before the final break (tectonic), which is the earthquake. As a means of self-preservation they try to escape from stables and pens, seek shelter, run to higher grounds, or simply escape to areas far from the impending earthquake. Rodents come out of their abode, reptiles move away from the water, horses neigh and kick around.   During the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka, elephants defied their masters, in effect saving them from the disaster. We humans can only detect such minute movements through our inventions such as the Richter Scale. 

Hito or catfish are uneasy before an earthquake strikes.

5. When earthworms crawl out of their holes, a flood is coming.
This subterranean annelid has built-in sensors, a biblical Noah’s sense of a coming flood, so to speak.  Its small brain is connected to nerve clusters, called ganglia, running down the whole body length.  These in turn are connected to numerous hair-like protrusions on the cuticle, which serve as receptor. When rain saturates the soil, ground water rises and before it reaches their burrows, they crawl out to higher grounds where they seek refuge until the flood or the rainy season is over. The more earthworms abandoning their burrows, the more we should take precaution.

6The kingfisher (salaksak) is an emissary of death.

The kingfisher’s throaty voice is a call of death, so the old folks say.  Well, when ponds and rivers dry up because of drought, this fish eater will scour for alternative food outside its niche, poaching around farms and homes.    

One explanation of this belief is that the fire tree blooms to its fullest in the face of extreme drought, most likely due to El NiƱo, a condition that causes untold death and misery. It is the upland dwellers that are worse affected, forcing them to go to the lowlands in search for food or seek refuge, inevitably causing trouble.     

7. When the leaves of acacia fold it’s time to go home. 
It is time to fetch the carabao from the pasture and to start walking home before it gets dark. The fowls prepare to roast in their tree abode. The stew leaves a trail, as the western sky dims in the setting sun. By now the leaves of acacia (Samanea saman) have completely folded toward each other at the midrib, and the base of the midrib itself is bent on its attachment. This is also true with the leaves of sampaloc, ipil-ipil, kakawate - and more so with makahiya.  

These plants, among others, belong to the legume family and are equipped with a special organ – pulvinus – that controls the erection and folding of the leaves. The principle is like a balloon.  When turgid the leaves are erect; when flaccid, the leaves fold.  The pulvinus is controlled by osmosis, that is, the intake and release of water in the cells.

Reference of time among old folks is built through observation of the natural environment and a lifestyle where the amenities of modern living are absent. This triggers our biological clock, and while it may not be accurate, brings people to a natural sense of time and quaint living.  
8. When you hear the shrill of the cicada, you are certain the rainy season has started. Rain softens the ground and the cicada nymph turns into winged adult. Only the male sings to attract his mute bride. Another insect that heralds the coming of habagat is the salagubang or June (or May) beetle, Leucopholis irrorata.