Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Kamagong Journals Part One: The Long Answer Behind the Title

Technically I met my wife online. Back in the day when forums were all the rage of online communication, we were both members of a photography forum. At first all I knew was she was a female who was interested in photography living in London. I didn't know anything else about her including marital status or ethnicity. I know more about most of my readers of this blog than I knew of her. Then two things happened in my life. First after a couple years of knowing her through this photography forum, we developed a friendship. Second, being young and single, I wanted to exercise my wings and begin to explore the world, especially since I lived near a large international airport with occasional cheap airfare to points all around the globe. After research, I decided an English speaking country might be my best bet for a first trip outside of this one and chose London as my destination. I wrote to the only person I "knew" living in London asking if she would like to meet me for a day or two and show me around town. She accepted and about three years later she became my wife.

The first time I went to the Philippines, I was newly engaged to my soon to be wife, but after three years of a long distance relationship, we needed to spend time together. I also needed to go meet her mother, brother and rest of her extended family and get a blessing for our upcoming marriage. That trip to the Philippines was mostly about discovering myself and this new country so foreign to my comfort zone thus when I came back with stories to tell on this blog, I named the series Joe Philippines for reasons already mentioned in a recent post. The second time I went to the Philippines for an extended stay, I was already becoming familiar with the country so it wasn't so "foreign" to me and it felt like the major theme of my stay was getting to know my extended family over there. Kuya is a term of respect given to people close to your age but older than you are in the Philippines. A lot of people addressed me as Kuya Ed over there and so I named the series of blog post I brought back Kuya's Philippine Journals

This trip to the Philippines developed a theme that was totally unexpected to me. I knew my extended family well and this time around, it felt more like a second home than a foreign country. I have grown comfortable living there to the point that I sometimes forget to be self conscience of being a tall white guy in a country full of short brown skinned people. Instead, I saw a piece of wood that was so beautiful that I immediately fell in love with it. I spent my time searching for some souvenirs made from the wood and searching for unfinished pieces of the wood to bring home and make some things out of it for myself, chiefly some fountain pens. Because the latter task turned out to be much harder than I ever expected, it got to the point where is was always on my mind.

Kamagong is a wood native to the mountains of the Philippines. It is a super hard and dense wood referred locally as ironwood sometimes and ebony wood other times due to the dark color. The wood actually starts off more the color of our native oak wood here in the U.S. but as the tree ages, it develops dark streaks of black grain structures. The older the tree gets the more black grain develops until in an old tree the wood is completely ebony in color. Kamagong completely ebony in color is very rare and very expensive. Most of the kamagong wood that I saw was black with tan streaks running through it like the bowl you see at the top of this post. It is still hard to find and expensive by local standards but not rare. Almost all the kamagong souvenirs are left in their natural state or made into things that could be turned on a lathe using high speed steel tools because is such a hard wood to work with and hence the nickname of ironwood.

The pens that I took to the Philippines to hand out as gifts to my extended family and friends were a big hit and so I quickly thought that it would be nice to find some of the wood to take home for making some more of them. I could find finished souvenirs made from the stuff but halfway through my trip when I began realizing that I might night find any kamagong, I actually bought some sticks used in martial arts made from the wood thinking that I would just cut them up and make them into pens. I kept searching though and every place I stopped or went, I would ask locals where I could find some and I always received vague and varying answers. Eventually on the last full day of my stay in the Philippines, I found it close to my home in the Philippines and brought back two used stair treads made from it. Each tread 1 x 8 x 36 inches in size, probably weigh close to 40 pounds so it was a feat getting it home. More on that later.

So to wrap up a long story, that is why the title of this series of posts about my trip to the Philippines will contain the word kamagong in the title. It will help me keep this series of posts separate from my previous two so the posts can be found for future reference either. I have a lot of stories to share with you and I hope you enjoy reading about them.

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