On April 8, 2011, with the support of the Obaldo family (Jojo and Jamile), I was able to get to the Edge of the World in Huraimla National Park, a remote town in the province of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for photography purposes. A breathtaking 360 degrees panoramic view of a serene and untouched wilderness lies an ancient seabed million years ago. I never thought that I would meet an Overseas Filipino Worker whose passion is collecting prehistoric life remains of ancient plants and animals commonly known as fossils.
Let’s have a peep on the success story of our Kababayan in Riyadh in the field of Paleontology.
Born, raised and grew up in Pasig and spent his vacation time at their ancestral home in Arayat, Pampanga. After years of hard work he was able to invest a house of his own in Antipolo City developed by Robinson’s Land Inc. Arrived and employed in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia in 1991. In 1997, fate turned on his side and was lucky to land a job in one of the biggest financial company in the world, The American Express brand, a leading quality card lending products as Senior Card Fraud analyst. Dedication paired with hard work was his ladder to his being the current Deputy Head – Fraud Prevention under the Credit Risk Group of American Express Saudi Arabia Ltd.
Keen analytical mind, passion, curiosity over things, imagination and lots and lots of patience in visiting sites, scientific knowledge of the fossils, time period and the familiarization of the fossils that he is studying are the qualities found in Chris M. Carvajal, a Filipino paleontologist in the making.
He visits his hometown and house in the Philippines once or twice a year but lately, his passion for fossil hunting made him stay more in this desert, oil rich country, Saudi Arabia. Chris got fascinated and engrossed in fossil hunting way back in 2005. He lay low for some reasons but passion and interest brought him back to searching more of this million years prehistoric life in the winter of 2010.
Currently, he is an online member of Paleontology Club, Fosiles…entree amigos (discussed in Spanish) and the World fossil forum. He created a Facebook page called Fossils of Huraymila National Park which discusses about the abundance of ancient marine life in the area and the latest page was called “Tethys Ocean” which aims to get a share of audience worldwide promoting Saudi Arabia as one of the world’s important site on Geologic time of the Paleozoic ERa during the Permain period 299-251 million years ago.
Inside his tool box you will find simple but expensive gadgets like a branded ax, chisel, steel hand crawler, magnifying glass, brushes, plastic goggles, hard hat, GPS, tape measure, small notebook and a pen. These equipments helped him posses the rarest find a paleontologist desires and dreamt of. A chitchat with Tong Zhi.
Cebuanawithlove: What inspired you in this hobby of collecting fossils?
Tong Zhi: It was when I went to Rumah, a small town 80 km. east of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I saw black stones and was fascinated with this ancient volcano igneous rock thing. Then, I saw sandy corals. At first I laughed at it and said “there’s a crazy person who threw this coral here” and I threw it back to the ground but to my surprise I saw an array of sand corals. I started asking myself, why are these corals in the desert?
Cebuanawithlove: Is your hobby worth all the hard work and effort?
Tong zhi: Yes, I get relaxed and find fulfillment in my hobby. I am inspired to off-road every weekend just to hunt for fossils, rocks and minerals.
Cebuanawithlove: Is it worth the time and money considering you have to spend and shell out money from your own pocket for this, I may say, expensive hobby?
Tong Zhi: Yap, it’s all worth it but still aiming for more and better collections. I may trade my collections with my fellow enthusiasts and collectors across the world and possibility of buying collector’s item too just to fill my collections.
Cebuanawithlove: What places have you been to just to hunt for fossils?
Tong Zhi: So far, I have been to old times Riyadh provinces only but in different places like Edge of the world in Al Barrah, Huraimla National Park, Jebel Beloum in Al Faisaliah town Nissah, Khurai, Rawdat Al Khuraim, Rumah, Al Muzzamiyah and Al Hair.
Tong Zhi: My favorite among my collections are the pre-historic plant stem called Archimedes – a micro fossil Bryozoans from Carboniferous to Permian period – 350 – 270 million years ago under the Paleozoic era.
Cebuanawithlove: Your rarest collection?
Tong Zhi: The family of Brachiopods dated 299 million years old.
Cebuanawithlove: As a Filipino amateur paleontologist, what practical advice and encouragement can you give the Filipino fossil enthusiasts specifically the youth and the world as well?
Tong Zhi: The schools in the Philippines doesn’t take it seriously in teaching prehistoric life and fossils and if they do, they don’t go into details. The children in the US were taught to value simple stones, the historical development of life as evidenced by fossil specimens. I hope that the new generation of Filipinos will have time to find out more of our natural resources, pre-historic life that we can share the world because somewhere somehow, there are fossils in our country that we can find, it’s just a matter of time and effort. This calling extends to all the youth from all continents who are fascinated by fossils that they may share their interest and collections to the whole world too.
Chris has done intensive research to properly document his collections.
Chris also known as Tong Zhi on Facebook is more than willing to share his collections to everyone who are interested to know more about prehistoric life and fossils thru his Facebook account.
Chris’ collections is featured in a documentary about OFWs in the middle east by an OFW filmmaker.
Collection was featured in Oks na Oks segment of Balitang Middle East entitled Edge of the World by ABS-CBN correspondent, Roland Blanco. Please click on the link to view the segment on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnY0cdwLjW0
Note: The Obaldo family (Jojo, the first to be interviewed in the segment is the leader of the group, an off-road enthusiast and adventurer) and the off-roaders of Riyadh were also featured in this segment of Balitang Middle East.
(Huraimla National Park also written as Huraymila National Park is the same)
Photography by Cebuanawithlove