Wednesday, May 27, 2009


EAT NEAT. A Home Economics class in Guagua shows students learning the proper way to set a table and to behave when partaking of meals. Ca. 1924-1925.

Like early Filipinos, our Kapampangan forebears found it natural to eat with their hands. Even now, as hosts, we command our guests-- “Manggamat ka!’—our way of encouraging them to loosen their inhibitions, unbridle their appetites and eat with unabashed gusto. Sharing food and water from a single bowl or cup was a common table experience, and it was also alright to express one’s gustatory delights through slurping, smacking of lips and making chomping sounds.

All that changed when we adapted our colonizers’ ways with the introduction of hand-held eating implements—cubiertos. Eating with silver cubiertos was the civilized way to eat food, and Filipinos soon had to master eating with a cuchara and tinidor while differentiating the usage of a cucharita from a cochillo. Suddenly, eating with bare hands was deemed as barbaric and unhygienic, moreso with the coming of Americans who were obsessed with both sanitation and proper etiquette. Filipinos had to learn social graces and observe proper table manners to keep up with a “civilized’ world.

A 1934 Kapampangan cookbook, Libru King Pamaglutu, outlined “Apulung Utus Karing Mamangan” (Ten Commandments for Diners) with regards to proper table decorum and the use of dinnerware.

1. E yu sasabit ing servilleta king talab ning baru you o king sinturon , nung e buklatan me lalam ning mesa at ilantang mu king kekang sapupunan.
(Don’t tuck the table napkin in your neckline or in your belt, instead open it, and spread on your lap, under the table.)

2. Nung miminum ka, pulisan mu pamu ing asbuk mu ning servilleta.
(If you need to drink, wipe first your mouth with the table napkin)

3. E yu gagamitang antimong kutsara ing kutsilyo a gawang panyubu.
(Don’t use a knife to put food in your mouth--as if it were a spoon).

4. E yu panyubu ing tinidor a makagulut.
(Don’t use the end of a fork to eat)

5. Ning mimilup kang sopas, e king punta ning kutsara nung e katalindikingan.
(If you’re sipping soup, use the side of the spoon to sip—not its tip.)

6. Nung sakali at mabaldug ing kubiertus king lande, manyawad kang panupaya kareng karungut mu at e mu na kukunan nung e mayari ing pamangan.
(In case a dinner utensil falls on the floor, apologize to those before you and don’t pick it up until the end of the meal.)

7. E re durusug bandang gulut ing silya nung makalukluk na ka.
(Don’t push back your chair when you are already seated.)

8. Makakalale ing pamaninum, alang alang keng kekang kayapan at king kayapan ning kekang panugali.
(Be careful when you drink, for your own good, and for the good of your manners.)

9. E yu lalabulan ing nasi ban parimlan.
(Don’t blow rice to cool it off.)

10. Nung tasa ing yadwang mu, ing talanan na ing idwang mu.
(If you’re handing a cup to someone, give it handle first.)

The rules end with a proper reminder: “E ko mamako king mesa nung eka pa mamun king kabisera. Nung king bale mu, king inda o tata ka mamun pa mu”.
(Don’t leave the table until you say goodbye to the host at the head of the table. If at home, bid goodbye to your mother or father).

Too many mouth-watering dishes, too many rules. I just want to eat with my hands again!


DON GONZALO PUYAT OF GUAGUA. The Puyat Patriarch still reporting for work at his Escolta office in 1960. He started the "House of Puyat" that became well-known as a premiere maker of furniture, billiard tables, bowling alleys and steel mill products. His son, Gil J. Puyat, became a well-known industrialist and a Senator.

During the Pinatubo eruptions, the unattended ancestral house of my granduncle was damaged not just by ash falls but also by looters who took advantage of the catastrophe by spiriting away the contents of the mansion. It was for this reason that I asked our workers to secure what’s left of the furniture there.

The only thing that the thieves left behind because it was too big and heavy to be carted away was a glass-panelled narra bookcase that used to hold the thick, legal tomes of Atty. Rafael G. Morales. While cleaning the dust-caked case, I found a sticker still attached on its back: Made by the House of Puyat.

From the 1920s to the 1960s, the most sought after furniture pieces in the Philippines came from the House of Puyat, a premiere woodworking business established by Guagua-born entrepreneur, Gonzalo Puyat. His rags-to-riches story is the stuff that today’s telenovelas are made of, a tale of hard work, honesty, perseverance and thrift. Gonzalo was born on 20 September 1878 of impoverished parents. He reached the equivalent of 2nd year high school, and in 1906 came to Manila with his wife, Nicasia Juco, and two children to work in a billiard hall in Quiapo for 18 pesos a month. From 6 a.m to 12 midnight, he cleaned the hall, set up balls, fixed the cues and ran errands for the customers. After the day’s toil, his family slept in the lobby, which he rented for 5 pesos a month.

Jose Martin, the Spaniard who owned the billiard hall, realized Gonzalo’s good services and so he upped his salary to 25 pesos a month, from which he managed to save 1 peso a month. In 1907, his kind-hearted boss decided to lease the billiard hall to him—a modest start for the House of Puyat.

In 1909, Gonzalo engaged himself in the repair of billiard tables which he learned by trial and error. With his additional savings, he bought a hammer, a plane, a chisel and a file and set up his repair shop. Once, he bought a pool table discarded by an American from Fort McKinley and tried to repair it and re-sell it, but to no avail. He converted the pool table into a smaller utility table which got sold instead. This jumpstarted his furniture business. In 1912, he exhibited a billiard table at the Manila Carnival and his furniture product won a Gold Medal and Diploma.

In 1920, Gonzalo expanded his thriving business by constructing bowling alleys and classic and modern furniture. By 1924, he had incorporated, involving his sons Gil (a senator and industrialist), Eugenio and grandson Jose into his diversifying business. He also manufactured parquet floorings, doors, windows and decorative wood panels. Briefly, he also was into making galvanized iron sheets with material imported from Japan, until he set up his own steel mill industry.

But the House of Puyat found lasting fame on its well-crafted furniture that not graced Filipino homes—from modest residences, posh mansion to the Malacañang Palace. House of Puyat showrooms started sprouting all over Manila, displaying the latest art deco bedroom suites, Ambassador living room sets, sleek narra bookcases, rattan sofas, chairs and upholstered moderns. The furniture factory was set up in a sprawling one and a half-hectare property on Rodriguez Arias St. in San Miguel district. To ensure a constant supply of fine woods, Gonzalo had lumber concessions in Surigao and Mindoro. Gonzalo Puyat and sons oversaw their business empire from their spanking 7-storey Escolta building that used to be Heacock’s.

In 1960, the House of Puyat was the largest furniture shop in the East, employing 350 woodworkers who regularly churn out furniture and billiard tables of all styles, colors, shapes, sizes and prices. Today, the company is still in business after nearly 80 years. I am glad that I rescued my granduncle’s bookcase, which, though a little worn and weatherbeaten has become more than a piece of furniture but a legacy of an enterprising Kapampangan, the country’s furniture king, Gonzalo Puyat.

Friday, May 15, 2009


OY, OT LAGU-LAGU KA KEN!? A Kapampangan belle exposes her beauty to the world, in this staged photo, dated 1924.

When our Spanish and American colonizers beheld the beauty of the “india”, they were divided in their descriptions of her physical attributes. Some marvelled at her cleanliness, her long luxurious tresses combed through with coconut oil. Still others found her flat nose and sunburnt complexion unattractive, which goes to show that beauty is defined not just by the eyes of the beholder, but also by the standards set by old-age culture and tradition.

Our contact with the Western world have forever changed our concept of beauty, and today, Filipinas—and that includes Kapampangans—pursue the art of beautification with a more western perspective. Where years before, chiseled, pointed teeth, a tattooed body and kutis kayumanggi were what made a woman beautiful, women now aspire for fairer skin, unblemished complexion and Close-Up white teeth. Black, long tresses have given way to short hair with blonde or burgundy highlights—all easily achievable today by using whitening soaps and clinically-advanced toothpastes, spending hours in a salon, or going to a cosmetic doctor.

But what did our grandmothers use when all these modern, chemical-laden cosmetics and expensive body-altering services were not even in the figments of product researchers’ imagination? Count on the inventiveness of the Filipina to save the day. My mother used to tell me that part of their primping rituals before they go to a party was to use red papel de japon to color their lips and cheeks. Achuete was an alternative but was better suited to coloring palabok, not cheeks. A much cheaper way to create instant blush was to give one’s self a quick slap on the cheeks. Gogo or plain starch was liberally used to give skin a white glow, and long hair was curled or straightened on a pakabayo (ironing board) using an ordinary plantsa (flat iron).

For those needing more practical help, a 1934 Kapampangan language book offered instant beauty solutions using commonplace ingredients found at home. Here are a few tips:

“ING DALAYAP, PAMPALAGU YA—Ing piga ning dalayap, makaputi ya king balat. Milalako in kintab ning lupa at makalako yang pekas. Nung paslan mu ing piga ning dalayap at ikuskus king lupa, abayan yu ditak a gatas, abak at gatpanapun, para kuminis ing kekang lupa. “

(LIME IS A BEAUTIFIER. The squeezed juice of a dalayap—Philippine lime-- whitens, removes the shine on skin as well as blemishes. Squeeze the juice, add a bit of milk then wipe you face morning and afternoon to smoothen your face).

The tip goes on to say that “nung buri yung muti ing balat yu, kuma kong metung a litrung danum, dinan yeng metung basung piga ning sagiwang dalayap at dinan yeng apulung patak ning aceite de rosas” (if you want to whiten skin, get a liter of water, add a glass of freshly-squeezed lime and 10 drops of rose oil). This concoction should be wiped on the face once a day to achieve the desired result.

“NUNG BURI YUNG MUTI ING IPAN, lasawan ing mabanglung sabun king danum at dinan yang ditak a aguardiente o agua de colonia, o espiritu de coclearia. Iti ing ikuskus yu king ipan.”

(If you want to whiten teeth, melt fragrant soap in water and add a little mouthwash, cologne or spirit of coclearia (?). Wipe your teeth with this.) Washing your soap with water

To strengthen teeth and avoid bad breath, all you need to do is: “kuma kong uling ning dutung, ilako ing abo at saka dikdikan king almiris. Ilulan king botelya at danuman…ing latak na niti ing gamitan aldo-aldo king pamaglinis ning kekong ipan..” (get charcoal from wood, remove the ash, and grind in a mortar. Put in a bottle, add water…use the residue every day to clean your teeth).

Hair is dealth with in more special ways:

BAN TULING ING MAPUTING BUAK, pabukal kong matapang a tsa at iti ing ikuskus yu mayap king buak abak at gatpanapun. (To blacken hair, boil strong tea and use this to wipe hair thoroughly, morning and afternoon).

To make hair shampoo, one has to make this formula—“ilulan ing claro ning ebon king ½ litrong danum a mapali at igogo. Isadya ing metung a palanggana a miki mapaling danum, dinan yang metung a kutsaritang borax”. (Mix eggwhite in ½ liter of hot water. Ready a wash basin with hot water, add a teaspoon of borax) . The egg white solution is then applied on the hair and is washed with the borax solution. The hair should be rinsed twice and this ritual should be done only once every 3 weeks, because “marok nung milako ing laru king buntuk” (it is also bad if you lose the oil on your scalp).

Next time you have a bad hair day or feel like Betty La Fea, open your pantry, your ref or your medicine cabinet—and make your own homemade beauty products, just like what Kapampangan belles did in the 1930s. There may not have been approved therapeutic claims—but they sure did work wonders!

*149. ON THE SAME BOAT: Cruising Pampanga’s Waterworld

ROW, ROW, ROW YOUR BOAT. Candaba's townsfolk negotiate the flooded waters of their town, using a trustworthy bangka, a necessary mode of transport for those living in low-lying Pampanga towns. Ca. 1927.

Kapampangans, being riverbank dwellers, have taken to water like ducks to a pond. The province’s complex network of river highways, its swamplands and river deltas have shaped the way many Kapampangans lived, traveled, devised their leisure and earned their keep. These bodies of water located all over Pampanga have been creating ripples of history since time immemorial. Through a river, Tarik Soliman and his fleet of boats sailed from Macabebe to Bangkusay to meet his heroic death. When the Grand Duke of Russia, Alexis Alexandrovich visited Apalit, he cruised along Pampanga River all the way to the home of his hosts, the Arnedos, whose mansion had a small pier.

Kapampangan traders from Candaba, Apalit, Bacolor and Guagua used the river channels and tributaries to ferry livestock and farm produce to the canals of Manila. Barrios were named according to their proximity to water: Guagua (from ‘wawa', mouth of a river), Macabebe (“bebe”- bordering the river bank), Sapa Libutad, Sapang Bato and Sapang Balen. Fiesta rites revolved around water as in the “libad” (fluvial procession) of Apalit’s Apu Iru.

Taming the waters was a necessity for riverine residents and those living in low-lying areas. Early Kapampangans, especially those from Candaba and the coastal villages of Sasmuan, mastered boatmaking, fashioning bangkas from hardwood trees like molave, tanguili, or guijo. Balacat trees were preferred for their straight posts that were used as masts.

Boat types included the parau (a large passenger or cargo boat), dunai (a simple boat propelled by a bagse or a paddle), casco (a covered cargo raft) and baluto (canoe). Even steamships were not unknown to Kapampangans as they were seen regularly cruising the waters of Guagua, now known as Dalan Bapor.

Directions were reckoned according to the directional flow of rivers. When one says “Pauli na ku”, he actually means he was riding a boat to go downstream. “Lumaut ku”, means one is going out to sea; today it means to go somewhere distant. “Luslus” means to head south by boat, towards Manila Bay, which, today has been modified to mean long distance travel, even by land.

In the late 19th century, passenger boats set sail every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from Guagua to Manila and back. The fare was $2.50, one way. With our modern and time-saving expressways linking whole towns and provinces to key cities like Manila, travel by bangka has fallen from passenger favor in recent times, being demanded when catastrophic floods occur. But for towns like Candaba, Macabebe, Sasmuan, Minalin, Masantol and Bacolor—where cyclical floodings no longer surprise, bangkas continue to be rowed, sailed and paddled, a practice that has become a way of life for the “pampang” people.


FULLY FURNISHED. An officer's house in Clark Field, furnished with Pampanga-made wicker furniture, including a rocking chair, a writing desk, cabinets and a lounge chair.

The center of Pampanga's woodworking industry is Betis, which has long been recognized as one of 11 Pampanga's most important towns at the turn of the century. Its name is derived from a first class timber tree, betis (Bassia betis merr.). The abundant supply of wood--old boatmakers remember the days when logs from the forests of Alta Pampanga and Bataan were floated on the old Betis River--gave rise to a furniture industry that has thrived and survved with time.

Indeed, “dukit Betis” has become synonymous with fine quality, detailed woodworks that counts not just fine furniture but also religious carvings and images. Besides Betis, lumbering was done in Lubao, Floridablanca and Porac. Most of the lumber is consumed locally, but some is exported to Manila. Lumber was also sourced from trees cut in Magalang and Arayat, like rattan, mitla, balacat, balanti, balete, baticuling and bangcal—materials ideal for furniture making.

Colonial furniture made locally adapted European styles popular in those times—rococo, baroque, neo-classical, although some elements of Chinese influences were integrated into the design. The use of bone inlays to decorate wood furniture became a trend in the 18th century, and Betis craftsmen were singled out for their skill. Historian Mariano Henson noted that Betis anloagues (woodworkers) were masters in the art of inlaying carved furniture with mother-of-pearl, bone and hardwood.

The American regime introduced new art forms like Art Deco and sleek, streamlined furniture pieces like Ambassador sets and Cleopatra dresser became the rage in the 1920 through the 40s. Americans took to furniture made from indigenous materials. Officers’ houses in Stotsenburg were furnished with attractive living room sets made of hardy rattan, which can be bent into different shapes, even mimicking expensive bentwood pieces from Austria. Their porches featured lounge chairs made from mountain bamboo (bulu) or with sillones and butacas with sulihiya (cane-woven) seats. American ladies sat on gorgeous peacock chairs of wicker , virtual thrones for the queen of the house.

Commercial furniture shops sprouted all over Pampanga during the peacetime years catering to different tastes and whims. In Guagua, Moderna Furniture manufactured “aparadores, catres, tocadores, vegillas, sillas made of narra and tanguile”, all with “first class workmanship and reasonable prices”. In Angeles, Sibug Furniture on Calle Rizal was the place to look for the latest furniture styles. Mabalacat had its won Bazar y Tableria de Tuazon y Lim, a “fabrica de diferentes clases de muebles”( a factory of different kinds of furniture). On Calle N. Domingo in San Juan, two enterprising Kapampangans, Clemente Dungo and Estanislao Dalusung opened Pampanga Furniture Company.

The rise of Clark Field in the 50s through the 1970s induced the flourishing of Pampanga’s furniture industry. Balibago in Angeles was lined with furniture shops with pieces catering to American taste. American servicemen particularly found South Pacific design themes appealing and so, rattan furniture gained more popularity, with cushions sporting floral and palm leaf upholstery. Kon Tiki masks, monkeypod pieces, dinettes with lazy susans and carved coffeetable trunks graced American as well as Kapampangan homes.

A notable woodworker who worked during this period was the versatile Juan Flores (b. 9 September 1900) of Sta. Ursula, Betis. He not only sculpted figures of heroes and saints but also made carved furniture that incorporated local patterns like bulabulaklak (floral) and kulakulate (design simulating vines). Flores and his platoon of Betis carvers re-did the guest rooms and various suites of Malacanang, furnishing them with exquisite furniture sets and various Renaissance style carved ornamentations.

Today, the Pampanga furniture industry is alive and well. One only has to see the many talyers lining the Olongapo-Gapan and Bacolor-Guagua Roads, with their roadside displays serving as showcases of Kapampangan woodworking expertise. Thanks also to successful, modern day entrepreneurs and furniture exporters like Myrna and Jose Bituin of Betis Crafts, the world has started to see what hard-working Kapampangan hands and creative Kapampangan minds are capable of.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

*147. MAMIPI: Livelihood in Laundry

WASH 'N WEAR. A group of labanderas for American families in Camp Stotsenburg do their laundry at a nearby stream in Angeles. Ca. 1912-14.

Just two decades ago, the only laundry services available in Pampanga are those in Angeles and the areas near Clark, and these catered primarily to the get-up-and-go lifestyle of American servicemen and their families. Today, mechanized laundry shops are gaining popularity in the country, a response to the demands of an upwardly mobile market who wants his laundry done and delivered just as fast as his fastfood pizza.

The shift from hand-wash to machine-wash has certainly taken its toll on today’s labanderas or laundrywomen, whose kuskos-kusot-kula skills have been taken over by state-of-the-art, coin-operated, liquid-detergent and fabric softener-fed washing machines, with spinner and dryer to match.

More than a century ago, however, any one with busy hands and an enterprising spirit could make a living out of laundering someone else’s clothes. Indeed, laundering was a legitimate and honorable job, although it paid very little—20 centavos per day—the same fee as one would pay a seamstress, but a weaver and a cigar box filler earned more. By 1902, the rate has gone up to 40 centavos.

The most proficient in clothes washing were surprisingly the menfolk—and the hardworking and fastidious Chinese were tops at this trade, often rising to become laundry foremen, in charge of supervising a group of labanderas. But Filipinas, too, became expert mamipi, adept in scrubbing dirt and grime away with a brisk hand rub and lots of tender, loving care. A complete service included home pick-ups of the dirty laundry, ironing, starching and folding of clothes, delivered to the client in neat bundles.

The tools of the trade were simple enough—a round batya hewn from a tree trunk, palu-palo (a wooden clothes beater) , commercial soap (the speckled blue and white sabon Intsik was favored) and iskoba (scrub made from coconut fiber). Washing was done in the clear waters of a stream or a river, and was almost always, a communal event, with labandera groups working as a pack.

Before pressing, the fabric was soaked in “gogo”, starch solution made from rice or cassava, to stiffen and give it form. The butterfly sleeves of the native baro, for instance, had to be starched to make it stand. Indigo blue or “tina” was added to the starch solution to heighten the whiteness of clothes—a bluish kind of white was the standard.

Ironing implements were a bit more complicated—one could iron large items like blankets, using the dry heat of “buli”, a foot operated wooden presser. The cloth item was rolled around a wooden cyclinder, which was rolled on a plank using another wooden piece, on which one stood and slid from side to side, thus flattening the fabric. Mostly, clothes were ironed after starching using open brass flat irons—plantsang korona. Live coals were put into this heavy iron with a wooden handle and was then run over clothes. They came in different sizes, the better to maneuver on the different parts of the garment. There were minuscule plantsa koronas for cuffs and sleeves.

Eventually, the safer “plantsang de baya”, which had an iron cover, was favored as it kept embers from flying out and burning the fabric. Ironing was done on a burlap-covered, ironing board called “pakabayo”, as it resembled a horse when unfolded. To make the plantsa glide better, it was allowed to rest at intervals on a bed of banana leaves.

When American servicemen started arriving in Camp Stotsenburg for their military assignments together with their families, Kapampangan laundrywomen were employed as outside help to take care of this backbreaking, but necessary task. Caroline S. Shunk, wife of an American army officer stationed at the camp in 1916, observed their work process and habits:

“The laundresses were sitting out on the porch, pounding the clothes with heavy sticks. I make them boil the clothes now on the American stove, which they consider most unnecessary and cruel. They have to use starch, too, instead of rice-water, which makes the clothing like stiff paper and unfit to wear; and it is another grievance that they have to put starch in the clothes and not eat it! They iron on a blanket spread on the floor, and as they smoke long cigars during the process, the clothing is apt to be burned and scorched. They do up the white and khaki uniforms most excellently, however”.

Labanderas, like kutseros, are a vanishing breed, but it is inspiring to know that at one time, the cleanliness of a nation rested in their hands. As the same foreigner noted and concluded, “The Filipinos are not dirty people—quite the contrary, they are the most bathed, washed, and ironed creatures you can imagine, and sally forth from wretched-looking little nipa huts, spick and span and immaculately clean.”


GANDA BABAE. A portrait of a Pampanga beauty, identified only as Soleng, sent to her friend on 28 September 1915.

Whitening products have been touting the beauty of a fair complexion as an aspiration of every kayumangging Filipina. But cosmetics companies recognize that being white is not enough, for there are undesirable kinds of whiteness with connotations of frailty and weakness. Pale white, uneven white, chalky white—these are beauty no-no’s. Instead, one should strive to have a rosy kind of complexion, exuding the pink glow of health and the vitality of youth.

Kapampangans too, have been obsessed with this notion that only white is beautiful. Their exposure to our fair skinned-colonial masters must have heightened their desire to transform their “kulay kastanyas” complexion—as islanders were described in Spanish colonial times-- to one of peaches ‘n cream. A Pampangueña spent hours pampering her face so she could have that “kabalat kapaya” loveliness, as one song described it—smooth, at “malare puti”—fair and glowing.

The same song variant offered creative solutions to paleness, which is a sure sign of sickness. To regain that dewy, rosy white complexion, one just as to follow a series of recipes using exotic ingredients—if you can find them!

O cacang maputla, bisang lare ditac?

Matul cung panulu, queca macacayap

Sagu ning cabayu, quiling ning damulag

Saca me aruban qng ebun ning tarat

Ilutu mu naman, qng curan a dutung

Layun mu lang tamban, qng marimlang danum

Panga dalise na, agad mung ipainum

Camandag ning saquit, antimong melasun

Nung a sacaling eca pa cumayap

Manintun naca man balbas na ning tugac

Atdung e mapait, larang e maparas

Qng asung apagquit, carin mu padaldac.

(O pale friend, do you want to look rosy?
I will prescribe a medication that would make you well
Horn of a horse, mane of a carabao
Mix with an egg of a wren
Cook these in a wooden pot
Simmer in cold water
And when fresh, drink it quickly
The venom of your illness will be poisoned
If, by chance, you don’t get well
Find a frog’s beard
Gall that’s not bitter and pepper that’s not spicy
In a sticky mortar, have these powdered..)

The above recipe reads like a witches’ concoction rather than an effective medication. Now if all else fails, you could always run to the nearest neighborhood drugstore and get a bottle of whitener with all sorts of glutathione-methathione-and-mela-white magic!


DOMESTICATED LIVES. A U.S. serviceman with his wif and newborn, begins their new life as a young married couple at their Camp Stotsenburg (Clark Field) house. From a private album ca. 1920s.

By the 1920s, Camp Stotsenburg had been firmly established as a military post and many American army men were encouraged to transfer to the Philippines as part of their tour of duty. For a lot of officers, this Pampanga assignment was equivalent to “two years lost…in a germ-laden country of burning heat and torrential downpours”. To others though, it meant “ two years of golden days and silver nights which fly on their way all too quickly”.

Most certainly, the facilities of early Clark Field were nowhere near perfect. A 1929 Manila newspaper described the camp as “ a lonely, dreary waste for many years”. The wooden houses that were the first buildings were “unpainted and unsightly”, resembling nothing so much as “an old lumber or mining camp”. Malaria plagued the area, so much so that the troops referred to Clark as a “death valley”.

Enlisted men who began arriving at the military post starting in 1919 had to be housed in conical canvas tents, around which a framework of bamboo thatched with nipa palms were put up as a shade to the bright sun and tropical heat. Married servicemen were horrified to know that their families had to be housed in bamboo houses and nipa huts in nearby barrios.

Caroline S. Shunk, an officer’s wife assigned to the Stotsenburg, detailed some of her personal experience in her book, “An Army Woman in the Philippines” as she faced the day-to-day challenge of living in the camp. “ This constant battle against cholera, leprosy, dysentery, malaria, and horrible skin diseases gets on the nerve, but at least together with spiders and scorpions, earthquakes and typhoons, they leave us no excuse for being dull.”

It was Brig. Gen. Johnson Hagood who initiated the improvement of living conditions in Clark in January 1922. Military activities were set aside to complete the necessary buildings and residential quarters of enlisted men. After a 4-month building frenzy, 33 new houses, nurses’ quarters, 5 new barracks, a commissary, a power plant, new stables, a new meat market and a new sewer were built on Clark.

The new residences were equipped with modern plumbing with showers and baths, while the old ones were updated. Porches were added to buildings in the absence of trees that provided cool shade. Commander Squadron Roy Brown and his wife Camille were the first to occupy the married officers’ quarters, and their house had capacious rooms furnished with rattan and wicker furniture. Homes were often tastefully furnished with capiz shell lamps, Oriental rugs while rare orchids and ferns bought from Negrito peddlers were hung around the wooden porches

American families also had access to household helps and the nearby towns provided the extra manpower to run the Clark households efficiently. Most sought after were the all-around muchachos (houseboys), lavanderas and nannies who came to work every day, obediently addressing their masters with “Sir” and “Madam”. They were supplemented by Chinese cooks and Japanese amahs. Language was often a problem as the servants came from the rural class with limited education. One lady of the house once instructed his Kapampangan ‘boy’ to “heat the food for dinner”, and the servant dutifully answered , “But I eat it already, Madam”, showing off the empty pan.

In 1923, a post exchange and a recreation hall were put up near the barracks. Garrison children, which numbered only to a few hundreds, were entertained through picnics, parties, sports shows and gift-giving events. Two schools—the Leonard Wood School and Dean Worcester School—were established to serve the growing educational needs of these children in 1925 and 1929.

Families depended on traveling peddlers of all nationalities: from Indians who sold scarves and ivory canes to Chinese and Japanese who hawked Mandarin robes, silks, lacquered trays and boxes, fans and lanterns. Filipino vendors had finely-woven Baliuag and Lucban hats, exquisite piña and jusi cloth, baskets and furniture in their inventory. For food, Americans would venture to Angeles, where the crowded tiendas of Sapang Bato provided everything from papayas, cucumbers, limes, nuts, fish, shrimps, sweets made from brown sugar and even edible bugs—“chow bugs” the foreigners call them.

Of course, the heyday of Clark living peaked in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when enterprising Kapampangans saw dollars in their agricultural lands, quickly transforming these into posh subdivisions and fancy villages to house a growing American population. Many chose to live off-base in such new residential communities as the Diamond Subdivision, Villa Teresa, Villa Angela and Marisol Village, which provided privacy and other exclusive amenities. All these would be taken away in 1991, when the eruption of Mount Pinatubo rendered Clark uninhabitable and uninhospitable as it was in the early 1900s---even worse, perhaps—as tons of lahar buried the traces and memories of the good American life forever.