Published on LancasterOnline on June 26, and in print on June 26.
Twenty years ago, Lititz resident David R. Brubaker arrived at an airport in the Philippines for the first time. In what he described as a “big beehive” of people, he had to find his way into the city of Manila.
He was visiting his son, Andrew, who was stationed in Manila while volunteering with the Peace Corps.
Brubaker said vaguely familiar fumes that smelled of burning leaves and leaded gasoline filled the air as he found his way into the “quasi-American” territory. He noted that there were American restaurants and chains littered throughout Manila and that most residents spoke English.
However, as he explored some of the almost 7,000 islands that make up the Philippines, he immersed himself in the nation’s culture and became interested in its quirks.
“You’ve got a city within a city; people who live a high life, the good life, but just outside of the wall there’s a stark difference between rich and poor,” Brubaker says. “You’re in another world — you’re at the end of the Earth.”
In May, Brubaker published a book, “Liberace’s Filipino Cousin,” through Global Directions/Things Asian Press about his travels in the Philippines.
It’s a collection of essays written in a conversational, somewhat informal style and chronicles several of his experiences in the Philippines. It offers an honest and personal account of the islands and some of its people.
Brubaker says he found few books about the Philippines. He says the books he did find did not outline the true nature of what he believes the land and its people have to offer.
“The people are laid-back; they seem to be happy,” he says. “Especially the kids.”
Poverty is prevalent in the area, Brubaker says, but people seem to be happy, despite living in houses made of things they “just found,” such as scrap and other recyclable materials.
Despite the fact that many of the residents do not have many material possessions, they have spirit and accept everyone for who they are, he says.
“It’s very open,” he says. “In two days, you’re accepted — no matter who you are.” Brubaker also mentions the seemingly synthesized nature of the culture, saying that the Filipino people seem to accept whatever life brings them and find a way to integrate everything back into their way of life.
One aspect of the culture — a way of life for some and something feared by others — is dark magic and sorcery. Brubaker says he was especially captivated by Siquijor, an island where dark magic is practiced.
When diagnosed with a benign brain tumor, Brubaker says, he went to Siquijor to get a treatment called Bolo-Bolo. It’s a noninvasive procedure conducted by a “witch,” and it involves water, herbal remedies and incantations. He says he has not received any traditional medical treatment for the tumor.
“I’m trying to paint an honest picture of the Philippines,” Brubaker says. “Of both the negative and the positive and all the nuances in between.”
He says “Liberace’s Filipino Cousin” was his vehicle to do that.
“I had a lot to say (about the Philippines),” he says. “It’s a country with over 100 million people, and it’s neglected. It’s great, but people don’t see that. They don’t think about pristine islands and the tremendous biodiversity.”
More trips are on the agenda for Brubaker, and perhaps one or two more books, he says. He encourages people to travel the world and immerse themselves in the culture and the people of where they’re staying. He also says people should visit the places not frequented by most tourists.
“We go to the typical tourist places,” he says. “What (tourists) see really isn’t the way it is.” The best way to be a tourist is to not be a tourist, he says.
“You have to interact with the average person, the cab drivers, the guy running the bakery,” Brubaker says. “That’s how you learn.”
When Brubaker is not in the Philippines, he says he likes to keep things interesting back home in Lititz. He lives with his wife, Marilyn, and has three cats. He has two children: Andrew, who was in the Peace Corps, and Adriane, an art therapist in Lititz.
Despite labeling himself as “semiretired,” he says he keeps busy by teaching undergraduate weekend courses at the McGuire Air Force Base in Trenton, New Jersey. Brubaker spends his free time writing.