Trees and plants

Posted on Jun 23 2012

Jaime R. Vergara

 By Jaime R. Vergara
Special to the Saipan Tribune

Ex-PCV William Granert in the Philippines was my colleague in promoting watershed soil and water conservation in the Philippines’ NEDA Region VI shortly before Marcos’ rule ended, and housewife Cory Aquino ascended the steps of the Malacañang Palace, (home to fashionable and always coiffed Imelda Marcos’ inventory of boutique shoes).

Bill regaled trainees of the Johnny Appleseed story. Imaginary French Elzeard Bouffier’s planting of trees made it to film in the mid-80s; NY Times journalist Jim Robbins wrote of real life David Milarch of Michigan, who made it his life’s mission to plant hardy trees for a threatened planet and its humanity.

We went through Singapura in ’77 when the city transformed its neighborhoods into gardens of Eden. The rationale was simple. To conserve fuel, the city cut down on carbon emissions by massively planting trees to absorb the carbon, supply oxygen, and keep the city’s temperature low. It worked. Jahore across the channel in Malaysia reportedly has temperatures a few degrees higher than that of the City of the Tiger.

Singapore’s efforts were corporate and communal. A large nursery was seen on one’s way to Changi Airport, built by the government that insured a continual supply of arbor. The era of potted plants and moveable nursery trees began. I witnessed an old raintree carefully transported from a park to a forest location; all told, the venerable tree was worth 10 ordinary house aircon units!

“When is the best time to plant a tree?  Twenty years ago.  The second time.  Yesterday.”

It has now become obvious that we can no longer afford to consign the planting of trees to an annual event, or even a monthly routine. This MINA task requires a systemic approach as well as one that engages an individual’s missionary zeal on a 24/7 basis. Saipan has all the water and nutrients it needs to keep it verdant year round. And we do not mean, haphazard tangan-tangan shrubs!

A building is under construction under my 11th floor nose.  It stands between my dorm and the tree-lined front avenue. Yesterday, men and women descended on the grassy turf and started digging around the trees.  Then a crane and a truck showed up, trees got pulled out, roots were properly wrapped, and on the trees were on their way to either a nursery, or some location where they will be watered to sprout new roots.

Dong Bei (northeast) is extremely cold half of the year, and so it is a delight to see the bloom of spring. It comes with much communal assistance. The building steps are graced with hundreds of flowering potted plants, and the bridges have planter railings intentionally designed to hold plants.  Potted yellow carnations and morning glories, cherries and lavenders are not uncommon.

Classrooms look drab, almost a caricature of Gulags in Siberia. The teachers are high tech, all right. Some do presentations in PowerPoint with the front row at attention, but alas, the 15 back rows of the darkened room either eating or sleeping.

Oral English is an elective and not usually taken seriously except it is required for graduation. Until two years ago, listening comprehension was not in the standardized test, so students took the course for granted.

Two graduating students still needed Oral English this term but are on the last semester; now interning on the job they located before departing academe. These two students sent their friends to attend my class, thinking perhaps, “all Chinese look alike” to foreigners.

I am a shutterbug. I take photos of each student so I can put Chinese names to faces rather than require everyone to acquire English names. The two impostors broke down on the day they came on false pretenses and confessed that they were trying to do their friends a favor, but were sorry to commit a wrong. Of course, if I had not taken the picture, they probably would have gotten away with it!

We tell this story to indicate that our Oral English is more than just vocalizing English on proper syntax and standard pronunciation. We facilitate students to be reflective, invite them to be self-conscious and urge them to create their own destinies, doing so in the context of an enlightened humanity they can belong to, a sustainable secular earth they can live in, and a celebrative affirmation the “life is never the way we want it.”

In a culture where fate and destiny is allowed to coast on genealogical determinism and happenstance of chance, with minimal individual choice save for a select minority, we ask our students a bit more than they are used to.  They would rather just pass, or fail, a standard test. Instead, they are prodded to describe their sense impressions, express what they feel, articulate what they think, and plan for their future. Then, append the appropriate terms to their experience. They also decide to act.

For now, they cut the lower half of plastic soft drink bottles, fill them with water, and float a South African spider plant to add oxygen to our room’s air supply in this blighted carbon-heavy coal province. The floating plants now line the windows in my class.

I understand some of the students have taken the habit to their dorms. That, and other disciplines of self-consciousness! We are grateful for nursery trees and potted plants.

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