Sep 19, 2020

Kambak kambak

Originally from the English phrase “Come back! Come back!” ‘Filipinized’ and only heard in Palawan – this endearing call describes an invitation and a process of falling in love. Simply, it means one has to return!

Strange as it may but somehow I relate the phonetics of ‘Kambak! Kambak!’ to frogs .

Every time I visit Puerto the image of a tree frog which found its way to the back of a very special family picture inside our home in Tiniguiban cove make me smile. Every dusk it leaps out behind the photo to return the next dawn climbing up to sleep, tucked in the exact same spot snuggling us tightly with its dreams. It is a funny episode to watch.

Uncertain of which species it belonged to I emailed the Amphibian Survival Alliance organization for identification of which to their delight upon receiving the ‘cute and cuddly’ fotos of the batrachian I attached along with the query. Initial observation made them conclude of either Polypedates leucomystax, the Asiatic Tree Frog or the mystical Polypedates macrotis, the Palawan Tree Frog (in any case two very rare species indeed).

The London based NGO forwarded my query to the Zoology Division of the Philippine National Museum of Natural History which identified it to be most probably the ‘Palakang Saging’ or the Asiatic Tree Frog – a species which one expert described as somewhat ‘into the habit of invading toilets and domestic homes.’

What make these anuran species very significant especially in Palawan these days is that they (considering the state of the environment and climate change) serve as biosphere indicators. So admittedly I am quite blessed to host such a rare guest indeed. As they control mosquitoes and other insect population I surely benefit as I don’t need to buy insect sprays or chemicals at all.

Globally, different cultures appreciate these web-footed croakers.

From the ancient world, the Egyptian Goddess Heqet who has the face of a polliwog was revered to bring fertility during the annual flooding of the Nile.

In modern day Japan, Sanrio Co. the makers of Hello Kitty created Kerokerokeroppi, in 1988. He is a small green frog with pink cheeks who wears a red and white shirt and lives on an island in Donut Pond called “Kerokero House” and has fans all over Asia.

Filipinos are also enchanted by salientians. During the 1980s the Komiks series entitled Kokak was quite popular. It tells of a beautiful lady cursed into a sad helpless amphibian. The pinoy version of Grimm Brother’s the Frog Prince. The Komiks series which later adapted on film in the 1990s eventually became a TV series during 2011.

But the most famous of all anthropomorphic frogs which has had many TV fans, whose nationality is American and married to Miss Piggy is Kermit the Frog of the Muppets Show. He is the only ranid species to address the Oxford Union and his Star can be seen on the Hollywood Walk of Fame steps.

Interestingly, a real-life-Kermit-look-a-like was discovered in 2015 in the jungles of Costa Rica. The glass frog Hyalinobatrachium dianae made a lot of croak in social media ever since.

Presently, social media or the internet has made a very powerful impact on migration and tourism. The flow of migration is however, ironic. Pinoys migrate or work abroad whilst ‘aliens’ come to Pinas. Allured by Palawan’s natural beauty and a warm tropical climate, some ‘foreigners’ settle in the province to retire. A haven pool of migrants it has now turned into.

But migrating is like leaping into unchartered waters. One has to undergo a metamorphosis of psychological plus emotional adjustments. A few of my ‘barkadas’ in Puerto have also migrated and settled in the US or in other english-speaking countries.(One of them had not since set foot on Palawan soil for over seven long years!) Sadly, some prominent families left during the early 70s and never returned. It seemed they immersed rightly to the new ‘pond’ they nested in.

On the contrary, deep within me is that longing to come back home. Spending years of cold winters with temperatures below zero affects one health (Frankly I never liked winter and snow). It makes me want to sleep and eat and do nothing else. Even amphibians hybernate during this gray and depressing season. Perhaps I am like that ‘Palakang Saging’ still clinging on to the recollection of Puerto and cherishing them. The impression of the giant acacia trees along San Pedro area where we used to catch insects or spiders. The sight of hundreds of flying foxes as they darken the nite skies near Junction 3 was a spectacle I always awaited. The sunsets spent watching from the Parola in Quito area and to wave at passing colorful ships bound for Manila were both fun and melancholic. The smell of dried squid in the Old Palengke. The ‘lamayo’ sizzling in our kitchen and filling our house with that distinct odour . The derelict moviehouses along Valencia street which we frequented as youngsters due to the showcased ‘double’ films. And ahhh the sumptuous french bread and the ‘Chaolongan’ studded around Rizal Avenue during the 1990s. Who could ever forget those glimpses of the past?

But Puerto has changed so much after 2010. Traffic has worsened and the pace of life has sped up! The cost of living has now much leapedfrog! The last time I visited another grandiose mall was opened and I felt like a ‘tadpole’ out of water. There were just people everywhere. It seemed like the whole world has come to visit Palawan. I even caught sight of tourists wearing Burka strolling around a mall! And when the gargantuan cruise ship Queen Elizabeth docked in Puerto port – busloads of ‘puti’ were hopping around the city streets. A far cry from the slow provincial life I recall in Rizal Ave in the nineties.

Over fifty years ago, a famous general once vowed to return to the Philippines. And he did. He probably shared the same Kambak-kambak feeling. This feeling strikes me every time I’m on the plane circling above Tiniguiban cove nearing touchdown. I close my eyes and imagine just parachuting down to my ‘kubo’ – to disappear amongst the mangroves with that enigmatic feeling like amphibians hiding amongst the thickets. And it is a darn good feeling to come back home.

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