Penny wouldn’t use the word prostitution to describe her sexual activities; but her grandmother, had she known, would’ve felt differently. Even though this old woman grew up in a world of adopted daughters, prostitution to her seemed the same as slavery. When she was little, even very young girls in Canton, Macao and Hong Kong were sold as prostitutes to flower boats or brothels. It would seem as if Penny would’ve been aware of this and would’ve shied away from sleeping with virtual strangers. She had a conscience. She knew the difference between love and lust. Sometimes she didn’t like herself.
The world didn’t seem as if it was improving. The Communist revolution in China evoked morals; but while girls proclaimed “workers of the world unite,” they were still bent over from constant service. But the struggles went on, driven in China by propaganda. There was no greater person to rally around than dear Chairman Mao but if the government of China truly was a government of the common man, then the struggle would’ve been almost over. But it obviously was not. Meanwhile slavery had been obscured by flat denial.
Mrs. Ramos grew to question the collective wisdom of the people. True revolutionaries never did. Only those who knew China in the old days, such as she, could evaluate progress. Who honestly believed that the days of the mui tsai had disappeared? Thus Penny’s grandmother was disappointed with China and most disappointed with the people. To her, people everywhere were weak and needed to be constantly driven.
If not a tour of the dungeons of Fort Santiago, why then Manila’s detention centers? Penny never explained to Schumaker why she wanted to go. What woman would relish the hospitality she likely would receive in places named “Stalag One, Stalag Two, Stalag Three, etc.? Or more importantly why anyone would subject themselves to the insults of the guards? These were puzzling questions. When they could’ve been making love, Penny and Schumaker spent a lot of time trying to track down certain prisoners, one of them an American, by going from prison to prison. She knew only a little Tagalog, and her English sounded British.
It may seem strange that tourists would want to go to the prisons, when instead they could’ve gone to see The Balikbayan Dance Troop or a rare performance by Van Cliburn. On the other hand, officials hoped that by cooperating the visitors perhaps would overlook the jagged glass.
Some on her list had been released before then. Most of them had been tortured. And subjected to this kind of treatment, most of her father’s’ friends went through rehabilitation. What was the American’s name? Was it Jo-Jo or something like that?
At the prisons, she asked about certain people. She and the colonel got in through the gates and were able to talked to the prisoners. Papers she had did the trick. The guards knew nothing about the politics involved. Wherever she went, she ignored sexual gestures and remarks. Along with the smell of freshly applied cologne came “puntang ‘na mo” (you whore) or “bindot bindot (fuck fuck). In any case, after her tour, Penny could advise her grandmother that young upstarts had replaced many of the old Communist diehards she knew.
Obviously, then, her interest in Manila extended beyond the old churches and the old walls, and she felt she hadn’t lost anything outside of the city. She did want to see where her mother and her grandfather were murdered. Afterwards she insisted on floating a brilliant wreath of orchids, gardenias, roses and lilies in the bay near the spot and felt as if she had come to terms with their deaths. It was then that she had to give herself some space and had to get rid of Schumaker.
As she grieved, Penny could no more look at the violent deaths than directly at the sun. The trial represented a long journey, a journey without an end because the executions didn’t bring her mother or her grandfather back.
There were, however, other things that she shared with her grandmother, things that were neither sad nor sordid. She wrote about what was fashionable to wear: modernized ornate creations and traditional dresses altered to meet current fashion trends. “Neither women of Thailand or women of Malaysia, nor even Singapore are so emancipated and independent.” Indeed, when Penny wrote her grandmother about her impressions of Manila, she concentrated on the most positive aspects of her stay. Why would she mention Schumaker, when she barely mentioned going to the prisons or nothing about the wreath that she bought to honor her mother and her grandfather?