Where were you when…

Some people play the game of “Where were you when…” by mentioning a cataclysmic event then going on to describe one’s reaction to it. Friends have asked where I was when JFK was killed, or when Chernobyl had its meltdown, or when New York’s Twin Towers fell. My most recent event was on July 9, while napping at home in Cebu with my cat at my feet. Feeling the bed swaying, I turned to see if she was the cause but she was lying still. Realizing it was a tremor, I went to open my laptop. Phivolcs reported the quake at magnitude 6.5 in Jaro, Leyte, and magnitude 5 in Cebu.

When I learned that the tremor was “seismic,” I looked up how that differs from “tectonic.” The region of the planet where these occur includes certain parts of both hemispheres. Seismic, which I understood to mean up-and-down motion, is explained as the earth’s crust boiling over, rather like rice overflowing on the stove; the sideways motion of a quake is tectonic when underground plates collide horizontally to release gases trapped underneath. I presumed that was what caused Mount Pinatubo to erupt.


Like typhoons, floods, attacks by criminal elements, and earthquakes jolt one into feeling totally helpless — which is how I imagine Mayor Rolando Espinosa felt early in November 2016 when 19 officers of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group broke into the Baybay, Leyte, subprovincial jail to rub him out. In a country where one needs much security to stay alive if one is involved in political shenanigans, life can be precarious.

Another occasion, which wasn’t too surprising (early signs of the impending event were obvious), was in May last year when Rodrigo Duterte won the presidential election. I was crestfallen as I’d hoped Miriam Santiago would survive her cancer and make it to Malacañang.


Later that year, on Nov. 18, I was in Cebu grinding my teeth so hard I must have worn off much dental enamel after learning about the hastily arranged hero’s burial of the long-refrigerated remains of Ferdinand Marcos.

The Inquirer, on Nov. 9 last year, ran the headline that said it all for me: “OMG! It’s Trump!” The news that that cretinous candidate won the US presidential election caused me more gnashing of teeth as well as tearing of hair.

Britain’s handover of Hong Kong to China on July 1, 1997, was particularly painful for me as my back was killing me (I was working in the territory). A day later my orthopedic surgeon performed a laminectomy on my spine, allowing me to walk again four months later.

Stopping my English class in Hong Kong on June 14, 1989, we watched the crowds marching to protest the Tiananmen massacre, demanding real freedom for China and the territory.

I listened, full of rage in Hong Kong, to radio, watched TV and read about Ninoy Aquino’s assassination on Aug. 21, 1983, muttering Cebuano gaba (curses) on the Marcoses.

Time stood still for me in September 1981 when I was with my husband Antonio Escoda at Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York, where he succumbed to cancer. Tony was assigned to head the Associated Press bureau in Bangkok, where I was stunned to read about JFK’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.

The United States broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba on Aug. 11, 1961, but I didn’t much care as I was busy delivering my second daughter Tina in Manila.


When Fidel Castro established his dictatorship in Cuba on Nov. 4, 1959, I was engrossed in delivering my first daughter Carla in Manila.

I read vaguely about the Hungarian Revolution, but I was too excited about my wedding to Tony Escoda in Manila on Oct. 16, 1956.

This backward timeline shows I’ve lived long enough to have witnessed cataclysmic historical events, which I hope won’t include too many earthquakes!

* * *

Isabel Escoda has written about migrant workers, especially in Hong Kong where she lived for many years before moving in 2015 to her birthplace of Cebu. Her books include “Letters from Hong Kong,” “Hong Kong Postscript,” “Pinoy Abroad” and two books for children.

Read Next
Don't miss out on the latest news and information.
View comments

Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.

TAGS: historic events, Inquirer Commentary, Inquirer Opinion, Isabel Escoda
For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.

© Copyright 1997-2020 INQUIRER.net | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.