September 2006

Some random reflections:

In the US we often feel pity for people in the Philippines. But here, they also feel pity for us. They say masarap na buhay dito, life is sweet here. In the US, they say, talaga kanya kanyang lang, if you don’t do for yourself you have nothing.

It’s not that people are lazy here. Talagang masipag mga tao rito. People here are really very industrious. We argue over who is going to take care of who, we really care for each other. It’s not uncommon to see people arguing in the street – a young person will insist on carrying an older person’s bags and the older person will insist that they are able to do it. In my family’s houses we have had multiple arguments over who will wash the dishes.

I think people here have learned the secret of a stress free life. They take pleasure in the mundane aspects of life. They don’t have to spend money to have a good time – sitting in the street with friends drinking beer or soda and eating peanuts is an event to look forward to, and event to savor, and an event that never gets old. Cuento cuento is an art form that Filipinos are really good at. The way Filipinos tell stories – I wish I had that kind of ability – simple occurances can sound hysterical, glamourous, pitiful, beautiful. Maybe that’s why food, singing and dance are so important to our culture. You can be anywhere, with anyone, with little or no money, and still have the best in life.

Here, people make time for relaxation and recreation in their lives the way Americans make time for exercise. People here know it’s not healthy to be stressed all the time…that not having any time to enjoy constitutes a wasted life and that enjoyment alone is a valid purpose. Yet, people here still get A LOT of work done. I spedn a lot of time just chatting or watching tv with my Uncle and Aunt here, yet somehow everyday the washing, the sweeping and the cooking get done. The house is immacuate and we never eat take-out. They are up to date on everything in the newspaper and what is happening with our other relatives and every couple days there is a new crocheted tablecloth or a book that has been read. One can only wonder how all of that has been accomplished given the hours I spend with them during which I never witness that work.

Another secret that I think Filipinos have figured out is how to enjoy work. Something I have heard several times here is that it is nice to be busy, one is happy if there is work. When Mary Poppins sang about making any job into a game, she learned it from Filipinos. In the US we complain about work. If there is dirt on the floor maybe we look at it, assess whether it really needs to be cleaned, then grudgingly get up to do it, anguish in every moment. Here, people will just get up without thinking about it. There is no use for complaints or self-pity because they are emotions that do not accomplish anything. If something needs to be done it gets done without worry. Even the people with very hard or hectic jobs – tricycle drivers, water deliverers, people working in a store or passenger vans, construction workers, they are always smiling. They are never too busy to take one second to tell a joke.

This weekend I went to Bicol on a Medical Mission. We gave free medical, dental and optical screenings and free medicines to almost 2,000 people who other wise would never be able to afford it. These people are the poorest of the poor – many work as indentured servants (that’s right, FEUDALISM still exists here), they work someone else’s land but have no claim to it and their only pay is a portion of the harvest. Furthermore, at this particular mission,w e treated people evacuated from the region surrounding the Mayon volcano. Most do not even have regular access to potable water – they pump underground water which may or may not be fit for drinking. Buying bottled water on a regular basis is expensive. When my uncle was giving them their medicines and direction on how to take them, I asked if maybe he should write, it’s hard to ermember directions if you have a lot of medicines, especially when you’re collecting medicine for yourself, your son, your mother and your brother. He said it’s better to tell them because most can’t read. These people who endure such hardship, you would never know from the way they act. They are still happy. They have committed themselves to not feeling sorry for themselves, to enjoying whatever they have, how much or how little that may be. In America we always complain that one person has so much than another, rarely do we think about those that have less than us or commit ourselves to changing unjust situations. Self-pity is rampant. Here, self-pity is rarely manifested. Pity for others is rampant.


*** I’m not writing this for the purpose of solicitation, but we do accept donations, monetary or in kind, for medical missions. 100% of the Money will be used to buy medicines (I can guarantee that because my uncle is the one buying medicine) and any relief goods, clothing, food, school supplies, will also be distributed. Prayers are also asked for and appreciated.

This weekend I accompanied Uncle Nene on his medical mission to Bicol Province. Mayon volcano, the beautiful perfect cone, erupted last month and is threatening to erupt soon again. As a result, people living close to the volcano have been evacuated. Our group went there to provide free medical, dental and optical services to the poor people there. We treated almost 2,000 people in 2 days.

Bicol is a really really long drive from Manila, about 12 hours.

On the way. Quezon national forest, a forest in the mountains. Notice how windy this road is. At all hours of hte day, especailly at night, tehre are people, mostly children, who signal the cars and help them avoid the edges and potholes in hopes that the drivers will throw a few coins at them.

Rest stop for lunch

Riding in the back of the truck with the medicine

You didn’t think we’d make it the entire way without at least 1 flat tire, did you?

The Church that houses the image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, Patroness of Bicol.


The original image of La Virgen de Peñafrancia comes from Spain, but when it was brought here a local carver made the new image of dark complexion with Filipino features.

That night we slept at Dra. Felipe’s (the organization president and our distant relative)house. A teeny vacation house. We basically laid foam everywhere and slept like refugees haha. Talk about an ice breaker

Early the next morning heading to the site

Our drivers. Doesnt Mang Tino (with the loosey) look kinda like my dad?

Our site the first day was in the hardcore boonies. It was actually right at the foot of Mt. Mayon.

And that’s the cone

Those are clouds, but on non-cloudy days you can see smoke from the top. The picture of it at night wouldn’t come out, but at night it’s really dark and you can just see red at the top peak.

Going to the site. No paved roads here. But there are little shacks. Yes, people live there.

Lava Rocks

And finally at the site. We got there around 8:15 AM and there was already a line. So many kids, and so cute! It was really incredible to see so many people, their faces could easily blend in with our New York barkada, they coudl be my relatives, yet to know that they were really and truly poor. Most of their infirmities had really simple causes…most often a lack of potable drinking water. Unlike in the US, the state here does not have standards as for the cleanliness of tap water. In fact,t he state doesn’t even provide everyone with fresh water, a lot of people get their water from private pumps or by buying water from deliver services. Imagine, these people’s illnesses can be cured just by having clean water to drink.

Doctors checking out the patients

We don’t have the capacity to give fillings or anythign like that, so our dental services basically consist of pulling infected teeth.

Uncle Nene giving out medicine


And now it’s Culture shock time! The bathroom of this house is an outdoor stall with a tin door and a hole in the ground. This is why Filipinos have excellent quads.

And then it began to rain, but people still needed their medicine

These were teh 2 cutest girls ever! Sisters, aged 9 and 7. The older one is named Krystal.

And these are the slippers they wore. kawawa naman.

When we were finished the barangay squad took over the cleanup, but not before some kids got a chance to play in the garbage

And more views of Mayon

Ok, so I’ve gotten requests to go more in detail about the food here. (I also can hear Nanay’s voice “Ay Naky! Ang Sarap!” haha para may ingat ka) So, I’ll be updating this entry every so often as I go on my way. Awlrite, here we go!

Typical Roadside Fruitstand:

This is a fruitstand you can see pretty much everywhere. Hanging at the top obviously are bananas. Bananas here are different. They’re much sweeter and the color of the meat is like the color of plantains, more orange-y.

The top row, from the left: Mango, Rambutan, Papaya, Santol, Oranges. Bottom row: more santol and Langka.


You all know what pineapple is, but the kind you get in the states, since it’s picked before it’s fully ripe and then shipped, is damn sour compared to the fresh stuff.


Small and brown, you can eat the whole thing. They’re kind of like little pears, similar in texture, but the flavor is kind of different. It’s sort of muskier, reminiscent of burnt sugar.


Rambutan is a tropical fruit unavailable in the US. They are typically red, although there are green varities too. The outside is covered with soft spines, think like a sea urchin but soft. If it’s really fresh you can press it and the skin will open, otherwise you can use your nail to open hte peel. The inside is a lot like a lychee, white with a pit in the center. The flavor is like lychee too, but milder.


Evidently lanzones are my mom’s favorite. You also can’t get them in the US as far as I know, the only time I’ve eaten them nefore coming here was in Canada.

They grow on really really tall and skinny trees and are tan and, depending on where they’re from, may have black spots. Also depending on where they’re from they may be round or oblong. You open it just by squeezing it. The inside is white translusecnt and segmented. Lanzones season is really December, so at this time there may be some sweet and some sour in a bunch. They taste kin dof like grapefruit, except milder and sweeter.

These, we bought in Paete, which Uncle Bing said is lanzones country, although our family friend said at this time of year lanzones in Paete come from San Pablo. oh well. That bag has 4 kilos, at 60 pesos per kilo. That’s $1.20 per kilo, so less than $.60 per pound. yeayah


The only place I’ve eated fresh guava in the US was from my mom’s tree. You usually find it in paste form or baked into a pastry. These came from the tree in front of Uncle Nene’s house. The flavor you are most familiar with is in the inside, by the seeds, which are hard but edible. The Outside is crisp like a vegetable. These grow pretty high, we use a stick with a net at the end to get them. I think these are my Uncle Boy’s favorite.

Langka (jackfruit):

Langka is only available in the US in canned form. This fruit is HUGE. The one you see is probably 2 1/2 feet long, and the diameter would be comparable to if I put my arms out in front of me touching my fingers.

The inside basically has segments of meat wrapped around seeds. You can kind of see it in the pic of the whole fruitstand. You can roast the seeds and eat them like nuts. The meat is sort of stringy (really like meat!) and when you chew it it gets kind of slimy. It’s Really sweet. There’s nothing really I can compare the taste to.


Guyabano (or babana) is also unavailable in the states, though you can buy the nectar at most spanish groceries. The inside is very very sweet, like, ridiculous, and it’s very sticky and also somewhat fibrous.


Atis is kinda ugly on the outside. It looks kinda like an artichoke but with bumps instead of leaves. The inside is a lot like guyabano, very sweet and sticky…almost creamy. (i think in Jamaica they call it custard apple) It’s also somewhat grainy like a pear. It’s so frikkin good.

Atis tree. Those little black balls are the young, unripe atis.


Of course, mango, the pride of the Philippines. Mango season is really May, at that time you can get a mango for 40 pesos, at this time of year they cost 80 pesos. My cousins also claim they are not as sweet at this time, but this one was still the best I’ve ever had.

Mango here is not like what you typically find in the states. The closest thing you’ll get to it in the states is called “champagne mangoes” and they’re from mexico i think. these mangoes are very soft, as you can see you can peel it like a banana. They are also gold in color, not red or orange. They are not fibrous at all, and very very VERY sweet, nothing like the tart mangoes typical in US groceries. Philippine mangoes are the best in the world. talaga. no exaggeration.


Ube in English is called purple Yam. Thant’s basically what it is, a tuber that deep violet in color. Here it’s used mostly in desserts, especially the infamous Ube Jam. You boil the ube, then peel and grate it, then cook it with condensed and evaporated milk until it becomes sticky. The hard part is you have to constantly stir it, which gets tiring when it’s really sticky. The flavor is prety much like a yam except a little nuttier and richer.

No food coloring added, that’s the natural color.


Mussels (taong i think) here are smaller than the frozen variety common in the states and lack that weird aftertaste. They’re much fresher/cleaner tasting. mmm. And cheap! I’m still waiting on calaba (oysters). My cousins asked me if it was true that oysters cost $1 each in the US and when I said yes they stared at me in disbelief, which quicky changed into a look of intense pity. $1 can buy a basketful here.

Alimango (crab):

As you can see, this crab is pretty huge. Crabs on the East coast of the US are tiny. These came from Ate Shirley’s client’s home in Quezon province. The taste is much more profound and rich than typical east coast blue crabs. Much more flavorful, you can really taste the ocean. The females were full of fat and eggs too mmmm.

One thing I learned…I always knew how to tell the difference between a male and female, you can tell by the size of the sheild-like flap on the underside. For example:

This is a female because the flap is wide. If it was really narrow, it would be a male. I had no diea there is such thing as a bakla (hermaphordite) crab! theres a crab where the flap is only somewhat wide and they’re smaller than the female. go figure!

This weekend we went to Lucban, to the huge shrine there. we slept over Uncle Bing’s house Saturday night. Haha it was soo much fun working the Sari Sari store! And sweet to sleep in a room with air con. Then we headed out early Sunday morning.

I was really tired but I couldn’t sleep in the car because driving in the Philippines is FRIKKIN SCARY! The highway is really a road with one lane of traffic either way. Along the side are homes, shops, lots of kids and animals walking. It’s like an obstacle course. You’re always either passing or being passed, there are unforseen barriers, branches, potholes, speedbumps, speople laying out rice to dry…thank Goodness Uncle Bebing’s a good driver.On the way we passed by Lake Caliraya in Laguna Province. This is a man-made lake built by Marcos which he used as a personal water-skiing resort. The enginering is quite ingenious, water is pumped up from Laguna Lake and then flows back down to the lake creating hydroelectricity.

We also stopped by the Japanese Garden, created by Imelda as a tourist attraction – I guess to attract Japanese tourists. The place is huge, but somewhat plain. I would guess in the time of Imelda it was full of flowers but now, like a lot of the Marcoses’ works it has come into disrepair. I guess that’s why the Marcoses remain somehwat controversial. O one hand they took on a lot of ambitious projects – unlike a lot of hte curent politicians who are content just to sit around. On the other hand, in order to accomplish those projects they displaced a lot of poor people, stole a lot of money and held the country in a state of fear with constant killings and disappearances.

Japanese Shrine

The top of the garden overslooks Caliraya lake

Mad fish in the pond!

We had the great idea to catch fish, so first we tried with a bottle

Then with hands

We didn’t get any fish :(, but apparently the attempt was really exhausting

And finally, to Lucban!

Eating Lunch

This place is known for their pancit canton, and indeed it was amazing

These are pahiyas. They’re basically rice paper, ground rice which is mixed with rice and then dried. Here in Lucban during their fiesta the whole town is covered in pahiyas, floats int he parade, hanging from the houses and balconies. The festival is in May so I might not be here at that time.

After lunch we headed to the Kamay Ni Hesus Shrine.

That’s right, something like 280+ steps. As you go up those different statues and stouff are the stations of the cross.

By the way, I’m not wearing htat towel on my head to be religious, I’m wearing it cause it’s really hot.

View from halfway up the mountain

Just to be clear, I’m not trying to blend in or anything, the pic just turned out that way. Also, I’m not wearing that towel on my head to be religious, I’m wearing it cause it’s really hot.

By the way, have I mentioned that I’m scared of heights? Yeah, going down was wayyy harder than going up, especially since a lot of the steps are uneven. But hey, if nuns in heels can do it, so can I in my tsinelas.

At the top. And this is why it’s called Kamay ni Hesus

Hot and winded

Looking over Quezon and Laguna

Ah, down finally1 at the bottom, a pieta

And a grass hut

There is also a chapel at the foot of the mountain where we heard mass afterward.

Some peopl efound it fitting to sleep during mass. tsk tsk.

The view from our parking space

Close up of bird poo. But what you should really be looking at is hte small homes on the side of the road.

On the side of hte road you can also see lots of animals, like these horses

An old Spanish church in Quezon province

Today we went to Tagaytay

Uncle Bing is so much fun! We just called him yesterday to ask when he wanted to bring us, and he said today! So, we went over there after lunch.

Uncle Bing was showing off his guns. Too bad I didn’t get a picture of his semi. I realized I’m pretty scared of guns, I was nervous the whole time he was playing around with them.

Uncle Bing was posing trying to look like this picture of my Lolo.

The pictures here, by the way, are the first time I’ve seen pictures of my Lolo, not to mention my uncles when they were little. There’s even picture of my Auntie Nancy wearing a dress! haha As you can see the quality is kinda bad, I’ll try to scan these pictures instead.

Anyway, here’s Kuya Egay also posing with the guns.

Everybody wants to be a cowboy here.

Yan Yan had a half day only at school, so he came along.

Tagaytay is in the mountains. At the top of a mountain there is a grand estate. Imelda Marcos originally built it for the Reagans, so that they could have a place to stay when they visited. There’s a really interesting history between the Marcoses and the Reagans, Ronald was quite enamored with Imelda and he gave the Marcoses an assload of money. Imelda had this place built, but the Reagans decided not to come at all, afraid of wiretaps for blackmail purposes. Now, the estate has come into disrepair. Sayang, such a waste! The land was taken from pineapple farmers, the people’s money was used to build the estate – everthing is steel framed! But due to disdain for hte Marcoses, especially under the Aquino government, the building was never maintained. Now theres signs around claiming that it’s under renovation/restoration, but who knows how true that is.

It used to be known as the “Palace in the Sky” but under Erap (president Ramos) the name was changed to People’s Park in the Sky Once you park, you can either walk or take a jeepney up the mountain. We chose to walk.

Notice how dilapidated the barriers are. They’re all rusty. What a waste, all they need is paint to prevent rusting. The sign says Tagyatay is for Forgiveness. Walking up there’s a bunch of signs: Tagaytay is for Discipline. Tagaytay is for Honesty. In fact, all over Manila too there are these positive affirmation signs: Cleanliness, Discipline, Safe, etc.

Inside the house theres a pool with abridge over it, gardens, some shops, and the hall of Presidents, with all the Presidents portraits. It’s interesting to see some of these portraits side by side if you know the history of how they fought each other. It’s pretty incredible to see how few presidents there have been, our country really is young. In America, portraits of George Washington and the foudning fathers are all in historical military garb and powdered wigs, they seem so distant. here, in portraits of our first president he’s wearing a pretty modern shirt and pants.

Me and uncle Bing in front of the portraits of oru first 2 presidents, Emilio Aguinaldo and Sergio Osmeña.

From the roof deck of the palace you can see all of Metro Manila and Batangas.

That mountain in the distance directly behind me is an active volcano, the smalles active volcano in the Philippines and perhaps in Asia. It is, as Uncle Nene says, a volcano within an island within a lake within an island.

You can also get a view of Mount Makiling. That’s right, the famous Mount Makiling of legends. If you look, the mountain looks like a sleeping woman. Some say the woman is pregnant. Right at the edge of my head are the feet, the first peak, the really high one are the bent knees, the next bump is the belly (or hands if she’s not pregnant), and then the breasts and then the head is cut off from this picture. The legend is that Mariang Makiling was hte daughter of gods who wouldn’t allow her to marry the man she loved because he was a mortal, so she waits, sleeping for him. It is said that her spirit still lives in these mountains. Hunters in this area used to claim to be visited by her, and she gives them golden ginger which turns into gold coins, but people say she doesn’t show up anymore because she’s saddened by the strip mining in the mountain. Too bad it’s kind of cloudy, the view would be even clearer. One advantage, though, of it being cloudy is that you can literally see clouds below you.

After leaving Tagaytay we stopped for a quick snack at Mushroom Burger.

They actually culture their own mushrooms in the field behind the restaurant.

Then we stopped for a couple minutes at this development site. They’re building a bunch of homes around a golf course in a valley in Tagaytay, and the building where they try to attract investors is on top of the mountain overlooking the valley.

by the way, have i mentioned yet that i’m getting fat? it’s all good though, i’m starting my basketball and stationery bike regimen tomorrow. para mag-seksi ako.

On the way home we stopped by Cavite to have dinner at uncle Ontoy’s house, but he’s in London so it was just us and Nanette and the kids and Katulong. I’m not quite sure what to call Nanette, it doesn’t feel quite right calling her Auntie since she’s ONLY 24. That’s right, my uncle’s 2nd wife is younger than his first daughter. Haha Nanette calls Shirley “Ate” eventhough Shirley technically is her neice. Uncle Ontoy calls Nanette’s father pare (something like brother, man, dude) because Uncle Ontoy is older!

Food was really really good! Roast bangus (milkfish), mussels, roast chicken, i didn’t take pictures. sorry.

But, I did take pictures of my baby cousins! Ang Kyute! This is Enrico, 8 months.

That’s right, only 8 months! He’s soooo FAT! This kid is seriously obese, but soooo cute! He lets anybody hold him, as long as he’s in front of a fan or in air con, otherwise he will cry.

Next to me that’s EJ, Nanette’s oldest, 5 years old. That’s the one who looked EXACTLY like me when he was a baby, he still looks like me, no? (actually, Enrico looks like me too, just fat) EJ is really cute but BAD!

omg, he is so spoiled! He was just running around spraying me with his water gun. But actually, he did sit still and talk to me for a couple minutes, showing me pictures and toys. Haha, but he is smart! He speaks straight, and quickly! I asked him “May asawa ka na ba?” (do you have a wife) at first he didn’t answer, so I repeated, “May asawa ka na ba?” He replied “Siempre hindi! Ano ka ba?!” (of course not! what are you?)

I think he likes me, i was just chasing him and then if I catch him I’d pick him up and tickle him. If I would ignore him for a little bit he would come again to find me. But then, when we were leaving he spit on me! I bent down so he could kiss me goodbye and he pretended like he was going to kiss me but he spit! haha my mom said to slap him if he does that again.

No worries, I plan to terrorize that child. Just like when I was little I was scared of Uncle Ontoy because he really liked to pick on me because I look like him, he would chase me everywhere and if he caught me he would kiss me with saliva all over my face. I actually had a recurring nightmare about it. I have vivid memories of being chased by him, I’m lost and everyone is so bug because I’m only four. There are 3 men sitting at a table playing cards who everytime I call for my mom they say “right here darling” to mimic me. I duck into a shed and then there’s no way out, he catches me and I scream and scream.

Now it’s my turn to do the same to EJ mwahahahahaha

Sunday, the mass for the Virgen de Peñafrancia was in Manila Cathedral, so before heading over there we took a tour of Intramuros, the old Spanish city of Manila.

I’m realizing now that I can’t take pictures of nearly everything I want to take pictures of, like jeepneys and tricycles, because I don’t want to whip out my camera on the street. But i’m doing my best.

Uncle Nene doesn’t have a car, which I think is fine because commuting is very cheap and efficient here in Metro Manila. Here’s the view from inside a tricycle.

You’ll just have to google philippine tricycle to see the full view.

From tricycle, we then go to jeepney.

Ordinarily, I would never take out my camera inside a jeepney, but we were the only ones inside this time.

Then, once in Intramuros, you can hire a calesa for a couple hundred pesos to tour you around the city.

This was the one we rode in.

Me and Ate Shirley inside the calesa.

We even got to drive it! (not really)

an 1890’s-style limo.

Intramuros is a place of fascinating history – especially because through 3 waves of would-be colonizers (Spanish, Japanese, and Americans), the use of edifices has changed. We had a great tour guide who explained the different layers of history here – I videoed some of his explanations and am still editing that material. Unfortunately, my camera consumes battery like a mother, so I couldn’t tape the whole thing. But, I took pictures of a lot of plaques so you can read for yourself.

Puerta de Santa Lucia: The layout of Intramuros is pretty typical of a Spanish city. Intramuros literally means within walls, and just like the old Spanish cities – Madrid, Toledo, Granada, etc., Intramuros was city surrounded by walls to keep out Muslim invaders. Much of the original walls, however, including this dorr, were destroyed by American tanks in WWII.

Beaterio de la Compañia de Jesus:

Puerta Real

UST: This was the original site of the Universidad de Santo Tomás, my mother’s alma mater. It’s the oldest university in the Philippines and where Rizal studied for his doctorate (he was an eye surgeon). The site is basically on the edge of town, Rizal would just walk from Binondo across the Pasig River to go to school.

San Francisco Church and Convent: (i think the second oldest church in the, though that is contested)

A central theme of the tour was the atrocities comitted under Japanese rule. The Japanese took over Manila during WWII, and Intramuros witnessed their brutality.

The Wall of Martyrs:

I think our tour guide also referred to the Wall of Martyrs and the “Memory of Manila.” The sign says: “This marker is erected in memory of the hundreds of guerillas and civilians arrested, imprisoned and killed here in Fort Santiago by the Japanese Imperial forces during the Second World War. These men and women died in defense of the freesom on the Philippines during the dark days of the Japanese occupation (1941-1945).

This simple stone cross markes a common grave for 600 Americans and Filipinos found in the dungeons after Manila was liberated from the Japanese.

Right next to the stone cross, this marker also marks a common grave for 600, but Filipinos only. The marker reads: “In Memory of the Victims at Fort Santiago. On this site lie the mortal remains of approximately 600 Filipinos. Their bodies were found inside a nearby dungeon where victims of the atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese Imperial Forces were imprisoned during the last days of February 1945. In memory of all these unknown victims of Japanese atrocities will live forever in the hearts and minds of the Filipino people.”

This is an area known as the Japanese Garden. The Spanish, and then the Japanese military officers had their offices here.

Our tour guide and Ate Ikke. These structures are over 400 years old.

From this watchtower they could see coming forces.

And this is where the Japanese kept prisoners. All those little chambers are connected.

In those days this was all covered, but it would flood whenever the Pasig river rose, and of course during the rainy season.

Nowadays, there is a golf course on the other side. Way to respect history! You can also see the Makati skyline.

Our tour guide said they get quite a few Japanese tourists there. I asked if he told them the truth of the history of this place and he said yes, and they often say “I’m sorry.”

Another central theme of the tour was the life and martyrdom of José Rizal. For those who don’t know, Rizal is our national hero. He wrote 2 novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, which contributed greatly to our fight for freedom against the Spanish. Think of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, they’re novels, but written with the intention of highlighting an evil and functioned to influence public opinion. Rizal was imprisoned here at Fort Santiago inside Intramuros before he was killed.

Entrance into Fort Santiago costs 40 pesos (about $.80), though only 15 pesos for students. The guards are dressed as Katupineros and there are also people dressed as American GI’s who target American-looking tourists.

The receiving courtyard at Fort Santiago

Then, cross the rover to go into the fort proper

The Honor Roll.

You’re able to walk through the old edifices, the majority of which have been turned into museums. Like in the Japanese garden, there are a bunch of underground tunnels. The main dungeon was first constructed for arms storage. Unfortunately, the Pasig river often overflows, and the arms would get wet and damaged, so the Spanish converted the underground tunnels into dungeons.

All over the fort they have these guard statues. Notice, no shoes. Not even tsinelas.

This is the main shrine to Jose Rizal. Inside that white house in the background is a museum with some of his personal things: clothing, surgery instruments and original manuscripts of his writings.

We were taking a picture and noticed guard walking towards us. If you notice our faces, me and Ate Ikke are trying to tell Ate Shirley to hurry up before he comes over and tell us to get off the grass, so we took this and ran away. Later on we saw him taking a picture of a huge group of tourists, haha! thats what we get for being paranoid.

Those red bricks are also old walls, but they have fallen into disrepair. There is so much here in the Philippines that is not being maintained.

I’m pretty sure this is not the actual cell – it’s just a recreation. The white house in the background of those above pictures – that’s where this is. When you walk in you’re in a small room – maybe only 8×8. It’s very dimly lit, at first I thought that was where the cell was. But, one wall opens into a hallway and at the end youcan see a small room and a man sitting at a table. That’s Rizal. It’s actually really creepy. Especially because, geniuses that these Filipinos are, next to Rizal you can see bars and a light with moving shadows, as if the guards are patrolling outside the bars. (ate ikke figured out it’s a mirror)

This is, however, the real place where Rizal was kept before his death. That’s a life-size statue of him; Rizal was only 4’9. This is where he said goodbye to his relatives, only his female relatives were allowed to see him before his execution and they could not even embrace him. Within this cell he wrote his last work, the poem “Mi Ultimo Adios,”and hid it in his oil lamp for his sister to find later.

So after touring the fort we went to hear mass at Manila Cathedral in honor of la Virgen de Peñafrancia. The mass was really long haha. And there was this cutttte little girl sitting next to us who kept running around. The homily was said by the bishop of Legaspi (i think) and in his homliy I got ym first taste of the political involvement of the Church here. He was preaching about, to use his term, dishonesty, mostly in government, but also about economics. It was interesting because we were just talking to the Speaker of the Senate before the mass, and he was sitting in the front row during the mass.

After mass, everyone flocked to the image of la Virgen just to touch her, hoping to receive a miracle, the icon is known to be miraculous. Icons are really treated like movie stars here. Uncle Nene was the guardian of the icon, standing in front of it and touching it with people’s handercheifs to give them a piece of the glorious.

I need to learn mass in Tagalog.

Today is day 4. Later on we are going to Manila Cathedral for the big Feast day of Virgin de Peñafrancia, so I might have to make this quick. So, on day 2, SHOPPING!! wooo. I went with Ate Ikke and Ate Shirley to SM North EDSA. Though this may be completely corny, the longer I stay here the more I see the connection between this trip and PCN haha. Just like Aaron’s reaction, this mall is…HUGE! It’s quite overwhelming actually, there are more buildings and shops than you could possible get to in a day. Also, I would HATE to be a salesgirl over here. My cousins were really sticking it to the salesgirl, asking an assload of questions and repeatedly asking for discounts. It’s really different than the US where everythign except a car is sticker price. So that’s why my parents are like that. So yeah, my Ate’s did the vast majority of the talking. We just told people that I was from Iloilo and self conscious about my Tagalog. So, I still have a lot of work to do hehe. The good news is, I GOT A NEW CAMERA. The samsung digimax 430. It’s so small and pretty. I paid 3000 pesos (about $60) for a 1 gig memory card, which hurt a lot, but total i paid a little over 10,000 pesos, or $200, so it’s not so bad.

me f-ing around with the camera’s features. Ate Ikke is my model.

yesterday we went to Uncle Bing’s house for lunch, it was his and Auntie Vicki’s anniversary, 29 years. Uncle Bing cooked soooooo much! All seafood too, crab, shrimp, fried lapu-lapu filet, sinigang na hipon (shrimp sour soup) oh my GOD it was so good. Then, we went to Uncle Nonoy’s house for a visit. I showed both Uncle Bing nad Uncle Nonoy pictures of everyone in the US and their reaction to everyone was to laugh and say “OH! Look, very old na!.” At Uncle Nonoy’s house we ate more – snak snak lang. I must say though, the chicharon was the best I’ve ever had.

Kuya boy and Auntie Remy and me

Then we went to SM fairview. Mall walking is a serious sport here. Yan yan is really into hip hop, but his favorite is nelyl and he wears grills! ohh nooo! it’s cool though, to have someoen to call me ate finally. i bought him a fitted yankees hat from ny, a real one that i seriously searched fo rtoo, and he seemed excited. i gave him some money too for a fubu shirt, fubu manila is really nice. yay i’m an ate!

ate ikke and Yan Yan. the camera flashes twice so it took a while for both of them to be looking.

Ate Cecil and Yan yan. speaking of which, my nephew Gian (who’s older than me) is goin to have a baby. i’m going to be a LOLA. omg.

After SM we came back to Ucnle Bing’s and ate more of course! Lechon! (roasted suckling pig) chicharon bulaklak (fried prok intestine), mechado (meat and vegetables with a tomato-based sauce), hipon (shrimp), sinigang hipon (sour soup with shrimp), lumpiang shanghai (fried filipino eggrolls), it was all so good.

Ate Ikke, Kuya Ray, Auntie Vicki and Julia (ray’s daughter) in the corner. Of course, the first thing to go is the balat (skin).

Julia, so cute!

Then, after we ate, it started to rain. Tropical rain. Auntie Vicki was excited to show me the baha (flood). Sabi nila Welcome to the Philippines! haha

This car was stuck in front of Uncle Bing’s house. Soaked to the headlights. I’m not sure if it was to make sure they couldn’t get out on their own, or if it was to wait till the water was high enough so that they would get paid more, but Uncle bing na dyan yan pushed this car to higher ground for 1000 pesos.

look how big those drops are!

Yan yan soaked to the ankles

even the roaches searching for higher ground

within a half hour the water was past the store front and up to the front door. Uncle Bing said they had never had a flood where the water actually went into the house

well, it did last night. we were scrambling to get things off the floor, and the dog peed and pooed next to me! haha, too bad i didn’t get a picture of that.

15 minutes, the water was ankle-deep in the house

even uncle nene, who had come from church, was wading through in his dress pants and barong

but we are filipinos, and the eating must continue

even the roaches couldn’t escape

another 15 minutes, the water was up to the bottom step

so, we went upstairs to wait until the water was low enough for us to clean up an drive home

Kuya Ray’s kids, Kim, 17 (she’s a scholar in UP. does she look exactly like leni or what! haha the same indifferent smile and everything) and Julia, 7.

Me with them and their mom, ate Joy.

We got back to Uncle Nene’s house after 1. Kuya Edgar and Auntie Siony called us maala haha.

Happy Anniversary!lol

Sept 7 (Sept 8 dito)

So here I am after my first day and night in the Philippines. Actually, I’ve been here for less than 24 hours, but on the go ever since I got here. First off, 22 hour long plane rides are no fun. But, this one was not soooo bad. I slept for hte majority of it and they had some good movies – Akeela the Bee (i actually had to stop myself from craying at the end. wow, how emo), x-mean 3, umm, i don’t rememebr what else. I also sat next to a Cuban woman who married a Chinese guy and now she teaches Spanish at the university of Taipei. She was pretty cool to talk to, and it was nice to have some Spanish before diving into the Tagalog world.

So here’s the outline of my day:

about 11:45 – arrive at airport. Uncle Nene, Ate Shirley and Tot, the driver, are waiting for me. the song on the car radio is usher.

We are joining hte motorcade to celebrate the feast of La Virgen de Peñafrancia in a couple of hours, so we have some time to kill. We drive around for a little bit and our first stop is jollibee so i can wash up in the bathroom. Then we go to the supermarket to buy some juices and I feel like everyone can tell I’m amerikana, but I think they were just staring cause that’s what they do here.

Around 3 (i think) – we hear mass woutside City Hall of Mandaluyong, which is a town in metro Manila. After mass there is a procession to the association headquarters. Me and Ate Shirley walk half way and then go back to teh car and hope Uncle Nene doesn’t notice It turns out he cheats too and gets into the car shortly after we do.

Around 5? (I have no watch nor cell phone haha) – we go to St. Andrew’s church in Makati (the city known as hte business district in metro manila) to hear a quick welcome ceremony for La Virgen. As the icon is processed through the church we throw flower petals and yell “Viva La Virgen!”

Around 6 we pick up Ate Ikke from her job in Makati. I take a Nap as we Struggle though Manila rush hour traffic.

I have no idea what time it is now, we stop by Uncle Nonoy’s House in Quezon City. He and Auntie Remy recognize me right away. Kuya Boy and Kuya Ray are there also.

We stop by Uncle Bebing’s house, which os only a couple blocks away.

Went abck to Uncle Nene’s House in Novaliches where Auntie Siony and Kuya Edgar are waiting It was a pretty long drive. Take a shower finally and it feels amazing. Have dinner and show them some pcitures, watch tv, look at mags of pinoy celebs, chit chat, call my dad, sleep around 1.

The Day in More Detail: (the juicy part)

As i disembarked from the plane I met a guy, we recognized each other because we both boarded at Newark. His name is Andrew and he lives in Jersey City and goes to Rutgers, sophomore. He is also staying in Novaliches, small world. Maybe I’ll call him to hang out, but he is younger than me so it’s a no go int he romance department.

At the airport, Uncle Nene met me and then we went outside to the car where ate shirley and toto were waiting. toto i guess is our driver, although that sounds demeaning to say. Here, people who work for you are very much treated like family, treated i would say like junior/younger members of the famile. yes, that take direction and speak with a lot of po’s (in Tagalog,y ou insert po into a sentence to signify respect), but they are also involved in conversations and take/dish out teasing just like everybody else. They are also always hearing the famous “kumain ka na ba?” (did you eat yet?).

By the way, for you non filipinos, “kumain ka na ba?” is never the last thign a person says. This is a typical conversation you will hear several times a day:

“kumain ha na ba?” (did you eat yet?)
“Opo. Kumain na ako” (yes I ate already)
“Meon tayong siopao, ispageti, ano pa..ano gusto mo? bumili tayo” (We have pork buns, spaghetti, what else…what do you want? we’ll buy it)
“Huwag na, ok lang ako” (don’t bother, I’m ok)
“Anong kinain mo?” (what did you eat?)
“Daming pagkain sa aeroplano” (there was a lot of food on the plane)
“Nako, kumain ka pa! Ah, inom, ano gusto mo?” (Gosh, eat more! Oh, to drink, what do you want to drink)
“Meron akong tubig dito” (I have water here)
At this point they have already eft to go to the store and they come back with an assortmetn of bottles for you to choose from. And it goes on and on.

I’m sure a lot of what I wrote is gramatically incorrect (and I’m just waiting for marco ot correct em). I’m trying to get in a lot of practice here. Simple phrases, i can get by, but it’s hard for me to express emotions or deep sotries. And my grammar is all over the place. Oh well, my relatives were not expecting me to know any tagalog at all, eben to understand, so when my Ates tell people “marunong siya” it feels really good. Marunong in this context just means “she knows” but the word also is used to mean wise or generally knowledgeable, so i can pretend that what they mean haha.

Ok so from the airport we drive around for a bit and then basically go straight to mass. Hah how appropriate. Uncle nene is a member of the eboard of some Bicolano group, which is funny because he’s not from Bicol. These next four days they celebrate the feast of La Virgen de Peñafrancia, the patroness of Bicol. There’s a bunch of masses and celebreations, fireworks, food, etc. The image they venerate is cool because maria and Sto. Niño are really dark. One would say they’re dark like filipinos, but the first Peñafrancia image was found in Spain, so I dunno.

Talagang Social butterfly si uncle Nene. He has so many friends. He’s a lot smaller than I remember (last time I saw him i was 4 and he was visiting the states and he got kinda fat and now he’s really skinny). What’s awesome is that he’s really really strong. He’s in his 70s now, maybe 71? but he’s bery busy. very involved in this organization and the medical Mission. He climbed onto the pickup truck to secure the image of la Virgen no problem, and jumped off hte pickup in his shiny boots like it was nothing. He’s super cool.

We went to St. Andrew’s church for hte welcome ceremony and then fo to pick up Ate Ikke from work. I’m starting ot get really tired now. Manila traffic is no joke man.

Afterwards we visit Uncle Nonoy in Quezon City. He and Auntie Remy recognize me right away, last time I saw them was when they came to the states, I think I was in middle school at the time. They look a lot older and are missing a lot of teeth. Uncle Nony has been ahving some health problems laetly, but he’s been recovering and God willing he will continue. It was kinda hard to see him like that, the summer he spent here he was very very strong, c0oking every day and going to the racetrack every night. That summer we both stayed at nanay’s and he was my kasama sa bahay because everyon eelse was working. Auntie Remy is the same her, very loud haha. Last night the moon was really birght and she got kinda emo saying that seeing the moon like that makes her happy, like hte world is going ot be ok and eventhough they don’t havea lot fo money they are happy. Kuya ray and Kuya Boy were also there, but i just woke up and we didn’t talk much. Uncle Nonoy and Auntie Remy say anytime I want to go anywehre to just call and Kuya Boy can take me around.

Then, we go to Uncle Bebing’s house, a couple blocks away. he has a storefron and his house is behind it. It’s maybe 10 or 11 at this time, and everybody’s just sitting in front of their houses talking. Uncle Bing has a big stomach, but hte rest of him is skinny, haha. He wakes up his son, Yanyan (he said heather agve him that name when she was 4). Yanyan is 17 or 18, finally someone to call me ate! He was wearing an oversized fubu shirt and basketball shorts. Maybe he’s hte one i saw in Auntie nene’s pictures waring a white t and big chain. I wanna talk to him about hip hop. I also met jon-jon who is the son of my mother’s cousin, but i dont know which one. We’re gonna go back to QC on saturday to hang with them. Saturday is uncle bebeing’s anniversary and we promised to have lunch and dinner at his place. Across hte street from uncle bing’s in uncle nene’s old place, which i remember! wow it looks so much smaller now, it’s like when i was talking to auntie nene and she told me about her visit to bugason, their hometown, last december, and how walk ing ot the places she used to go, when she was small it felt like they were walking forever, and now it’s only a skip.

Drove to Uncle Nene’s house in novaliches. It’s quite comfortable, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms. My parents provided most of the money to have this house built, and it’s good. Ate Ikke, Ate Shirley and Kuya Edgar all live here too. We eat and Auntie Siony is surprised I know hot to kamay (eat with my hands) haha. i like it here, i feel very much at home. there’s even hot water. I share a bed with Ate shirley. Uncle nene says nobody’s allowed to speak english so that i learn tagalog quicker, but he’s already broken his rule several times

today ate ikke is off from work. ate shirley works as a freelance interior designer so her schedule is always felxible. we’re going to the mall (woohoo) so i can buy a digicam and some clothes, being that i brought liek 3 shirts and 2 tank tops onle. Then we’re going to UP Diliman, I think Uncle Nene thinks i’m definite on going, but i’m not really sure. Anyway, the semester stats in november, so there’s time. This morning is so nice. I took coffee and pan de sal on the porch and can hear roosters crowing and the vendors singing their pregones (that’s spanish but id ont know how to say it in tagalog or english). “gataaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa” (milk) and the ever popular “baluuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut” (duck eggs). I dont remember much form the last time i was here (i was 4) but i definitely rememebr sitting on the porch with my dad at night hearing “baluuuuuuuuuuuuut” and seeing the balut vendor emerge from the darkness into the porchlight, and then my dad buying like 2 dozen at a time. Naku, it’s only 9am who’s eating balut now?

Random Reflections:

The first thing everybody says when they see me is “you got fat.”! On;y ate shirley sais “tamang tama lang” (she’s just ok). Butit’s not so bad i guess, they say it so nice! I think there’s something lost in translation. “You got fat” in Tagalog is “tumaba ka,” which has more of a connotation of “you gained weight.” At least,t hat’s what I’m telling myself. Anyway, I’m planning ot lose weight here, though it’s going to be harder than I thought because we’re in the city. Anyway I’m planning on eating a lot of fish and rice and fruit, so i’ll be ok. but hte chicharon might hurt, lol.

I am so frikkin excited to eat all the tropical fruits!

Jeepneys are the coolest thing ever. I didn’t know there were so many! When i get my camera I’m going to take as many pictures of jeepneys as possible.

I didn’t get bothered at the airport. My family spent so much time briefing me as to what to do and say when porters come up to me insisting to take my bags or hte taxi drivers start harrassing me. I was even prepared for the customs agent to nudge me so that I could slip them a $5. No one approached me and the customs agent signed my slip without asking anything. maybe I’m not so Kano after all hehe.

Teh heat doesn’t really bother me so far. I think yesterday it was aroubd 31-35 degrees C. After spain, where it was 40 a lot, i think i can deal here. Anyway, sweating should get rid of my fat haha.

There are teeny houses and shops right next to skyscrapers and mansions. I was kind of expecting tat after seeing it in jamaica. But i think it’s more pronounced here (at least than negril, idk about kingston) because it’s more cramped.

Everybody says i look just like my mom, except auntie Remy and I think Auntie Siony who say my eyes and nose are like my dad. haha they just stare at me and look amazed and say “talagang muka ni esot” (wow, it’s really esot’s face)

Culture shock #1: yeah, Manila traffic is no joke. And what they say about how there’s no real traffic rules and people just go, true also. What I wasn’t expecting is that all the streets are so narrow and windy, and there’s barely any sidewalk, the houses o right up against the street. It’s like New York, though, in that people unfearingly walk right intot he middle of the street and drivers stop for them

Culture shock #2: The construction workers only wear tsinelas (slipper). I saw 1 wearing sneakers, None of them have workboots. People in the grocery, store, anywhere, they all wear uniforms. The construction workers have no uniforms or hats or anything.

Culture shock #3: I was most unprepared for hte fac tthat you have to bring your own tissue to the bathroom. No one ever mentioned that ever. I’m sure I’ll forge tot do so a multiple times and that’ll be gross.

I really like it here.

I wrote this at the airport:

Tuesday Sept 5 2006, 11:46 Pm

So I’m sitting here in the airport waiting fot the plane to board and I can honestly say that this has probably been the longest day of my life. i went to bed last night at 2, woke up this morning at 7:30 because I was too excited to sleep. I’m finally doing it. i’m finally going. I’m finally going to lay my eyes on the otherland, step on the soil my fathers stood on, eat of the same earth where my ancestors lived and died and are interred. Walk above their bones. Ok, that’s emo. But growing up in a place where I have always felt on some level like a foreigner has left me with serious baggage. I am sooooooooooo excited! Thank God, a million thanks to God. It is about time I get away from new York. Lately I’ve noticed myself getting, well mean, and I’m talking about a LOT meaner than Usual. I find myself just not caring about people anymore. Someone says hi in the street, i don’t care. sit and look gross and mean and rude and I don’t care because those peopel wil probably not remember who I am an hour from now. Last week I walked straight past kids selling lemonade on my street. This has to end. But of course, after 17 years of living here, there are things about New York I will miss, many of which I experienced on my last trip in today. I know I will love my city even more when I come back here. In the meantime, I’ll think about today:

1) IFA
2) my subway
3) seeing tourists wander aimlessly around soho and knowing that I am not one of them
4) when all the tourists disappeared from the streets today just ebcause it started raining a little
5) the guy ono Lafayette who told me “ma, you got a juicy butt”
6) hip hop everywhere all day every day
7) the smell of the grime
8) having walk rage when people don’t know how to stand to one side on the escalator
9) dancehall music
10) on that tip, west indians (if my mission is not looking like it will be successful, someone might have to send me a Jamaican)
11) free condoms
12) tall guys who think it’s cute when I can’t reach stuff and help me out
13) Spanish everywhere, and different spansihes
14) wades on my feet
15) the accent. i suppose i could listen to myself speak, but it just wouldn’t be the same