Note:

This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

This novel was recommended to me many years ago. When I looked it up, thinking it was some romance novel, I read the blurb and decided it wasn't really suited to my preferred genre.

But when I was packing up for the Philippines, I knew I would need several books on hand to read, after finishing A Dance with Dragons. I had only one from the library but that ended up being the third novel of a 'series' that I hadn't even read yet, so I begrudgingly started this one.

Initially, while well written, I was still not interested. But I decided to suck it up and just go with it. It was a small book. And it wasn't bad.

***Spoiler Alert***
This beautiful story is about Lily, a young Chinese girl who lives in the rural village Puwei. Her family struggles to provide for her, Elder Brother, Elder Sister, Third Sister, Second Brother, as well as her Uncle, Aunt and her cousin Beautiful Moon.

The first half of the book is dedicated entirely to Lily's childhood, specifically her match with a laotong - a strong, sisterly and lifetime bond with another girl with similar astrological profiles. It is a very formal match that is rare, since most girls have sworn sisters - a group of unmarried women within the village who spend time together until marriage. With laotongs, the bond lasts through marriage and is respected by the girls' families, even after marriage. Lily's match to a laotong is especially unique because Lily does not come from a respectable family but a diviner found her feet to be special, making Lily special.

And this, while very expensive for Lily's family, is welcomed because, in 19th century China, female children - daughters - are not welcomed and are considered irrelevant. But to Lily's family, her special-ness meant a possible good match for a husband that would also help provide for her family.

Her laotong is Snow Flower, a young girl from a much more affluent family. Snow Flower stays with Lily often, living with her and teaching Lily the ways of sophistication, while Lily taught Snow Flower how to clean and do other housework.

The bond is almost instant between the girls and the novel does a beautiful job of developing the love they have for one another. Beautiful Moon, Lily's cousin, is also a part of their lives and we read through their feet binding process, which is fricking incredible. It was so difficult to read about this: which essentially is breaking these young girl's feet by binding them so tightly so that their feet would stop growing, and have a shape of a lotus. It's horrific and is expected for every girl, around age 6.

I enjoyed the novel but didn't realize I was fully vested until Beautiful Moon's death. At that moment in the book, as tears streamed down my face, I was just enjoying the story, not aware of how deep these characters had become.  It was at that moment that I became a fan of Lisa See, and her gift for writing these characters out, that I knew them so well that when Beautiful Moon died, I was mourning too. I love this last paragraph, from the chapter of Beautiful Moon's death:
The flower tower helped protect Snow Flower and me, and it placated Beautiful Moon's restless spirit, but it did nothing for Aunt and Uncle, who could not be consoled. All that was meant to be. We were at the mercy of powerful elements and could do nothing but follow our fates. This can be explained by yin and yang: There are women and men, dark and light, sorrow and happiness. These things create balance. You take a moment of supreme happiness like Snow Flower and I felt at the beginning of the Catching Cool Breezes Festival, then sweep it away in the cruelest way with Beautiful Moon's death. You take two happy people like Aunt and Uncle, then turn them in an instant into two end-of-the-liners with nothing to live for, who, when my father died, would have to rely on Elder Brother's kindness to care for them and not throw them out. You take a family like mine that is not so well off, then ad the pressure of too many weddings in one household...All these things disrupted the balance of the universe, so the gods set things right by striking down a kind-hearted girl. There is no life without death. This is the true meaning of yin and yang.
This would not be the only time I would shed tears.

When Lily married, I cried. When Lily broke off her laotong relationship with Snow Flower, I cried. When Snow Flower died, I cried. It is just an amazingly powerful novel, in a mere 258 pages. Reading about what Lisa See did for the research to create this wonderful story is just as incredible. She should write a book on that alone.

These are characters that will stay with me for a long time. I thought See did splendid with building the first part of the novel by dedicating it to their childhood, and having the reader 'grow up' with these girls and then the last half quickly breezes through their marriage, the births of children, and then aging. As they recall their youth, I could recall it as though it were 'yesterday', the way they looked back. Amazing that a novel can feel like this for me.

I don't think I can watch the movie. The novel is too beautiful - almost like one big poem. And the painful parts, including the physical act of food-binding, would be too much for me to endure.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Bridesmaids

Another movie on my "Movies to Watch" list checked off. We all enjoyed this flick last night before we conked out by 8:30 PM (me). Still recovering from jet lag...

I wasn't too big on watching this until I started reading reviews about how funny this movie was. And the kudos continued to come in and after reading several 'best of 2011' reviews for movies to watch, I decided to add this one because it appeared in most of those lists.

The Oscar buzz (nominated for Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress) helped remind me of it so CJ and MiMi found it on redbox while we were at the local HT store.

***Spoiler Alert***

I expected this to be crude and rude, much how The Hangover movies end up being -- since there were comparisons to this being the female version of that movie.

Um. NOO-ah (as CJ likes to say NO, in two syllables). Perhaps I am biased, because I am female, but I found this more tasteful. The irony behind that statement is that the most funniest scene in this movie, in any movie, is pretty crude. But Tim, CJ and I could not BREATHE we were laughing so hard, and it's been a long, long time since any movie has made me LOL that hard.  At one point, I heard CJ say, "i can't take it anymore". Now _that_ is the ultimate compliment in a movie...

There is a lot of sex talk, with regard to pleasing men, so that was a bit uncomfortable around my children. But we managed to get through the movie despite the references to balls, and blow jobs, and all the goodies that men love.

On top of that, we are big Kristen Wiig fans and that she helped write this, and starred in it, made me think even more of her talent. It is just downright HILARIOUS, with the twist of sweetness.

Wiig plays Annie Walker, a single gal who has maddening sex with hot cake Ted (played by Jon Hamm), who treats her like shit. She sleeps over one night and proclaims how the 'rule' was broken (apparently, no sleepovers at Ted's), and as Ted rolls on top of her and kisses her, looking very much like a dedicated lover, he pulls back and says 'I don't know how to tell you to leave without sounding like a dick.' Nice.

Annie's BFF Lillian gets engaged and asks Annie to be her maid of honor. At the engagement party, Annie meets the rest of the bridal party, including the competition as Lillian's very best BFF, Helen Harris III (played best by Rose Byrne). Annie and Helen are constantly vying to be known as the closest friend to Lillian than the other.

Along with the antics between Annie and Lillian is Annie's developing relationship with local police officer, Nathan Rhodes. This is the female aspect to movies: a nice, sweet love story with a man who has the personality many women seek but rarely ever find...

It's truly a well-written script and if you like Kristen Wiig, you get to see her at what she does best. I saw all her best SNL characters in Annie. I definitely recommend this one. And watch it when you aren't full on popcorn, or chips, or candy...or anything, really.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Arrival

To end my trip to the Philippines, I will have to start with the beginning.

We left RDU around 12:30 Tuesday, January 10th. We would fly to Detroit to meet my mother, who was flying out of Memphis, TN.

Little did I know, she sat waiting for us at the gate to board the flight for the Philippines, with a stop in Nagoya, Japan.

She needn't worry too much. We got there 'just in time'. The flight was booked. When I got to the gate, Tim was like 'how are we going to find her?' because the entire gate was filled with filipino people. I didn't put two-and-two together, realizing that this flight would be full of people going back home.

But we found her easily and boarded. We apparently boarded on the business side, so I was ignorantly happy about the seats with TVs in the headrests. This was how our flight was to London (and back), which was a welcomed amenity to a long flight.

Alas, as we walked further and further to the back of the plane, the sad reality was that this would not be an amenity that Delta would afford us. Instead, we were stuck with one screen for all to watch: Tim, the girls and my mom being only two rows away from it; and me, able to see it but also in view, a teeny TV set in the aisle, that was more blue in color than anything else.

WTF is this? Delta stuck in the 20th century? Is it because we are flying to the Philippines? You treat minorities with sub-par planes? Well, whatever the reason, this particular flight SUCKS and I highly recommend NEVER flying this flight because there is zero luxury for the common folk. And unfortunately, this is what we had to look forward to on the trip back.

The flight itself felt like we were boxed in a can of sardines. It was packed. Once we were in-flight and coasting within the 13 hour flight time, people would just stand around by the bathroom areas, chatting. I was on an aisle seat, across from my family in the four middle seats, and the guy next to me would be gone for hours. But would come back at inopportune times, as I was sleeping.

There was one older woman who would waddle up and down the aisles. To where, or from, she waddled, I had no idea but it was smart.

I spent the trip wrapping up A Dance with Dragons, opting to skip out on watching Moneyball. I tried to watch it but I was more interested in my book and the few minutes I tried watching was utterly uninteresting to me. Even with all of it's Oscar nominations, I don't regret not seeing it.

The only movie I did watch with great interest was Jane Eyre. It wasn't great. It wasn't awful. But I was entranced by my remembrance of the novel, one of my favorite surprises of all-time. To watch the movie reminded my of the essence of the novel, and that, in itself, was worth watching around 3AM whatever-timezone-I-was-in.

Nagoya was short and not-sweet. We had to go through security but that required everyone off this big ass plane getting into a line and going through security.

Despite that, it was a really nice airport with very nice people. Me and the girls were most excited by the toilet in the public restrooms: there were a lot of buttons to be pushed. We spent way too long trying it out. Yes. That's what a mom and two daughters can do, if you are tsk..tsk..tsking me. I told Tim I want my master bathroom toilet to have one of these.

There were also charging stations and free wifi (not Public free wifi) to catch up on. Just another reminder that this piss-ass Delta flight offers no such amenity. I don't expect free wifi (that's not even offered to the low class on any flight) but nowhere to charge electronics for a 13 hour flight is just WRONG.

The last leg of the journey back to the Philippines was from Nagoya to Manila, a 3 1/2 hour flight. If you're keeping tabs: 1 1/2 hour RDU to Detroit, 13 hours from Detroit to Nagoya, now 3 1/2 to Manila.

I was excited, to say the least.

Finally. We arrive in Manila. We get off the plane and my mom calls for a wheelchair. This helps us get through the lines quicker (FYI: my mom has macular degeneration). Our first stop is through customs. We had been walking side-by-side with another man and his wife, who was also in a wheelchair. My mom was making new friends, as usual. We waited in line for customs and the customs officer called me up to the window. I happily go up, in my naivete, just in awe that I was here.

It is loud in the airport. This man is behind glass. And he talks like we are sitting right next to each other, on the same side of the glass. He asks me questions that I barely can hear and comprehend and I would ask what? to which he either answered or glared at me because _he_ couldn't hear me. The end result is: he appeared to be offended by me and I quickly understood his air to change for the negative. He thought I stated that my mom was not Filipino but American because she was a U.S. citizen. His question was worded incorrectly and I thought he asked if she was a U.S. citizen. After all, he was perusing through our passports. Instead, I hurt his Filipino pride and came off as a spoiled American brat, ashamed of her mother's native background -- which is furthest from the truth.

It is, however, something I am used to. There is a ridiculous minority of Filipinos that come to the U.S. and feign 'forgetfulness' of their language. It's a way to seem more high class in their warped minds. That has not ever been my case. I remember, if anything, shedding my "white" roots: when I was in school, filling out surveys had three options for Race: White, Black, Other. I *always* selected Other. I didn't want to discount my Filipino side.

But I never did learn the language fluently even while I lived there. I went to american-based schools (DoD schools) at Clark. My friends were all like me - military dependents. We spoke only English. I tried to speak with my relatives but as I am constantly reminded over and over and over (redundant, yes, but note the bitterness): I only learned enough to mislead the conversation.

So this MFer, holding my passport, and now spitting vitriol at me and his co-worker, humiliated me into silence. My elated-ness shaken to reality. I would turn back to my family, who seemed happily amused and ignorant of the hatred coming from this man's aura. I almost cried.

But finally, my suffering was over and we left. As we were leaving, my mom, my wonderful mom, felt compelled to say something to him after she sensed my sadness. I told, quite sternly, not to because I just wanted to leave and wanted no further delay by someone who had authority to. CJ noted that he was giving me the stink-eye as we passed him by.

Next up was waiting for our luggage. That would have been relatively simple had my mom remembered that the last piece of luggage we were looking for was black instead of dark blue. We were one of the last ones, as we watched the black piece pass us several times looking for a blue one.

Once we had everything, we headed outside to where greeters are divided up into groups by alphabetical order. Of course, this does not suit my family and the first person I saw was my Auntie Mher. My eyes welled with tears. I was so happy to see her. Then I saw my Auntie Cora. Eventually the rest of my family.

They were calling for the car when my mom asked to make sure we had our passports. I counted out the five passports and with intentions to give my mom back hers, discovered, in panicked horror, that I had someone else's passport. It was the gentleman that my mom had been talking to as we rolled his wife and my mom to customs.

OMG. We were outside the airport. Outside of the secured entry. With this stranger's passport. WTF do we do?

My auntie took us to a security officer, who kind of looked at us stupidly. We looked for the guy that helped us with our luggage, to see if he could locate the guy. And by sheer chance (is this seriously possible without some sort of divine intervention?), I saw the guy walking out of the airport. The guy who's passport I held in my hands. I ran to him, as I yelled to my mom "Isn't that him?"

H stood in stunned silence, as me, my aunts and the security officers ran up to him. We held out the passport, everyone yelling their own version of "you have the wrong passport!" He opened up one and it was his wife. He looked at us like: see, I have the right one. Not realizing it was his passport that we had, not his wife's. When he saw his image on the passport we had in our hands, it finally dawned on him and we made the exchange.

How's that for a welcome??? The yin and the yang: the glory of being there, greeted with family, to the agony of "oh shit. We are really screwed now".

We then climbed into the van and headed to Angeles City, which was nearly a 2 hour drive from Manila. I couldn't see the sights around me during the drive. It was well after midnight.

In the van, my auntie cora pats me on the arm and says "thank you for posting that picture; otherwise, we wouldn't have known you were arriving today." The picture at the beginning of this post was their alert that we were arriving. They had the dates off because, well, the departure dates in the U.S. don't coincide with arrival dates in this timezone. Apparently, my mom hadn't called to let them know and just by my instagram post, they were sent into a frenzy to try to find a van and hook up a driver to pick us up.  What a great story, huh? I love, love, love it.

Once we got to my Auntie Cely's place, everyone was asleep...but my Auntie Cely came out to greet us. I cried again. I was so happy to see her.

We chatted for awhile then was shown to our wonderful penthouse apartment.

And then, that morning, as I stated in my Day one post, I woke and looked out the bedroom window, and saw Mt. Arayat. My heart skipped a beat. I was home at last.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Crazy, Stupid, Love

I watched this movie for the second time on the plane back from the Philippines. Such a great, great movie. And while I'm not a big fan of star-studded films, this one had the stars I tend to enjoy watching, specifically Emma Stone and Steve Carell.

Emma Stone captured my heart in Easy A. If you haven't seen that movie yet, I highly recommend grabbing it ASAP. And then Steve Carell...need I say more?  OK, I will. He is just one masterful actor. And this role, he is much more deep and less comedic in any other role he's played. But for the record, I absolutely loved him in Bruce Almighty, before he ever became the Steve Carell we adore today.

Of course, in this movie, it doesn't hurt to have Ryan Gosling. 2011 was definitely the year of Gosling since I watched The Notebook (that one's old), Blue Valentine, and Drunk History Christmas. This doesn't include all the other movies that came out with him in it last year, like Drive and The Ides of March (which, unfortunately, has George Clooney...but I'll watch it anyway).

**Spoilers**
The clip that was shown on the trailers is what starts this movie off. It's misleading as this clip resembles Carell's comedic movie roles. I couldn't find just the clip, nor anything to embed with 'just the clip' so here's a link to a 30 second TV ad in which the clip is in the beginning.

After that, however, it becomes a more serious albeit still comedic but definitely in a more subtle way. Cal Weaver (Carell) has just been 'dumped' by his wife Emily (Julianne Moore). He drags himself into a bar and just sits on his pity-pot, whining and complaining about his woes.

Jacob Palmer (Gosling) confronts him, then decides to take him on as his 'apprentice': to teach Cal the ways of a womanizer. And yes, it's disrespectful and misogynistic. But fortunately, it works. I didn't really end up hating Jacob Palmer - he's too slick, too confident; he has that swagger. And while Cal starts out looking like a bumbling fool, he eventually becomes a man worth a double-take.

It was nice to see a change in the ugly-duckling-transforms-into-a-swan with a man. And of course, the other cool part for women, or maybe me: the womanizer who gets thrown by ONE woman and gives up his life of playboy-hood for 'the one'. That's what every girl dreams about, right?

There's a love story in every aspect of this movie: Cal loving Emily, Emily loving Cal, co-worker loving Emily, Emily and Cal's son, Robbie (a show-stealer), in love with his babysitter, the babysitter in love with Cal, and then Jacob loving Hannah (Emma Stone). There's a surprise twist in all of this that could have made it too Hollywood for me but it didn't. It's just a sweet, adorable, well-made movie that I highly recommend.

Along with Easy A (Emma Stone), Bruce Almighty (Steve Carell), Drunk History Christmas (Ryan Gosling; Blue Valentine is another I'd recommend but it's *really* a "blue" movie so not for the mainstream), The Kids Are All Right (Julianne Moore), The Wrestler (Marisa Tomei) and She's Having a Baby (Kevin Bacon).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Recovery

 Jet lag, with a major time gaps shift (13 hours), is a bitch. It's not so bad when you are on vacation but back in the real world, with work and school, it sucks. 

Monday we all had the day off. We got up about 3AM.  Wide awake. I caught up on some tv shows that I missed while we were out. Tim set out to get essentials at the grocery store so about 8AM I told MiMi that I was going up to take a nap. That nap lasted six hours and at 2:30, I forcibly got myself out of bed. 

CJ actually didn't get up until an hour later and she was the only one that did not get up with us at 3AM. 

Tuesday was back to school and work. This time, Tim and I got up at 2:30AM. This, after being wide awake in bed, hoping to fall back to sleep. MiMi was up but I made her stay in bed. 

Work was fine. I went through email, ate a lot and didn't feel tired until I left to pick MiMi up. I was playing angry birds in the car, waiting for her, and nodded off several times while throwing birds at those darn pigs. When we got home, Tim was pulling up, with CJ in tow. She had stayed after school to catch up on her work. I told him "I have to take a nap. I can't even see straight." He agreed and made us vow to take only an hour nap. I set the alarm and we conked out. I woke at 6PM, which ended up being two hours after we laid down. We slept through the alarm. 

We tend to wake up in a confused state. Tim was like "WHERE ARE THE GIRLS?!" I was thinking, what is with his drama? Where else would they be? "downstairs" I replied. 

As I walked down the stairs, I heard nothing. And if you have 8 year olds and dogs, that is never good. I entered the living room and there were my two kids, laid out and out of it. The dogs having destroyed something as they noticed their freedom. 

Today Tim and I woke at 3ish. Tim got out of bed while I tried to lull myself back to sleep, to no avail. It's getting better...I think. Tonight is volleyball practice - Cj's first in two weeks, still recovering from her own time change adjustment. Hopefully it won't be too bad for her, my little worry-wart. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Win Win

This movie was one of the four shown on our flight back from the Philippines. I was happy about that because it's on my list of movies to watch.

**SPOILERS**

The movie starts Paul Giamatti, who has just churned out some amazing movies. He plays Mike Flaherty, a struggling lawyer who happens to be the wrestling coach at the local high school.

His practice is making no money. He takes on a client, who has dementia and is being thrown out of his home, because he has no guardian. His drug-addicted daughter is nowhere to be found.

Seeing that the old man has a monthly stipend, Mike, as his lawyer, volunteers to become his guardian. He claims he will keep him in his home but in actuality, he puts him in an assisted living home. It's quite nice, quite frankly, and despite the initial ill intention, Mike is a doting guardian.

As he checks on the old man's house, he sees a young kid sitting at the front door. The boy introduces himself as Kyle, the old man's grandson. And then the movie gets even better.

Kyle, played by Alex Shaffer, is the star of this movie. He's a brooding 16 year old. He talks in monotonous tone; you start to think what a punk he is, with his bleached hair and nonchalant attitude.

But he has manners, and addresses everyone by name. He apologizes for smoking.

As Mike seeks Kyle's mother, he takes him with him to work and to wrestling practice. The wrestling team is on a losing streak and Mike shows his frustration at the practice that Kyle attends. At home that evening, Kyle asks if he can practice with the team the following day. When he does, Mike and his fellow coach, played brilliantly by yet another great actor and favorite of mine, Jeffrey Tambor, are stunned: Kyle is an A-1 wrestler.

Eventually they discover that he was one of the best in the state of Ohio. And he helps the team, the coaches, the family of Mike Flaherty, as well as his grandfather.

It's a wonderful movie - feel-good but definitely in the independent, non-hollywood fluff style. I absolutely loved it and Kyle's character is one of those few characters I'll never forget.

I definitely recommend it and am glad to know that two of the movies I've watched off my list have been spot on (the other was The Descendants). I'm looking forward to completing my list.

The Ask by Sam Lipsyte (DNF)

This is a DNF (did not finish) review, so take it for what it's worth.

I have no idea how I ended up having this on my list but it was. As I looked for reviews AFTER I decided not to read it, it looks like the critics tend to like it but the actual readers of it are closer to the negative end...based on Amazon and Goodreads ratings being around three stars.

I had a hard time trying to figure out the setting. Was it this century? The main protagonist is Milo Burke, a has-been, who reflects on his younger days - an artist who had ideological views of the world.

He is a development officer at Mediocre University. I assume that is what he calls it in his head but I don't have enough of his satire brain to know this for a fact. I don't even know what a development officer is, which is why I couldn't tell if this was a future setting, a fantasy setting, or something for real.

His job is to get donations from The Ask. Again, WTF? The "ask"? I've never fucking heard of this. But in my interpretation of it, it's basically seeking out donations from wealthy, powerful people, to help fund the arts department of Mediocre University.

Milo is fired, however. And he spends several weeks (?) not even bothering to find another job. He has a wife and son - another troubling and depressive relationship. Does Maura, his wife, love him? Or is she disgruntled with him as much as he is with himself.

The university calls Milo back, however, to do one big "ask". Milo has been personally requested by a more-than-wealthy old college friend, who 'asks' him to work out a plan for the college, but later, the true 'ask' is to help deal with his illegitimate son from a college fling. The son is a gulf vet, with no legs, who is blackmailing his dad for money.

Ugh. Does this sound good to anyone? How the hell did I add this to my list? BLEH!

The prose is a bit much. A lot of big, not-everyday-used words makes the novel, Milo, the other characters in it, and especially the author, a bit pedantic. A turn off but I struggled through HALF the book. But as I have vowed several years ago, there are too many other books to read to waste my time on something that has zero appeal to me.

I cared not one iota for any of the characters, to care about what happens in the end. I tried to find something outlining the entire story, just so I could figure out what the hell it was about. But it hasn't yet made a wikipedia page.

But, if you like critically acclaimed novels that somehow make critics think it's supposed to be that good? Have at it...

Departure

One would think it would be easy to get MiMi up for our flight home. But it wasn't. And trying to rouse a grumpy 8 year old at 1AM is not pleasant.

But somehow, we managed and made it downstairs for Manny and the van at 1:30. We were supposed to assemble around 2AM but we hit the road at 1:45 and headed for the Manila airport.

It was a quiet ride. The greatest thing was NO TRAFFIC. We made it to the airport around 4:15 and just like that, the goodbyes were said and we were inside.

Manila Airport was interesting, to say the least. There was someone for every action that needed to occur. Did it make it more efficient? Possibly. But there certainly are a lot of employment opportunities here vs. airports that I've been through in the U.S.

We went through ten checkpoints before we actually made it on the plane.

#1: There was a baggage conveyor belt before we could enter the airport.

Once we entered, we headed to the images of Delta and as we stood to wonder where the line began, we found ourselves in the line by person #2, who asked us if we were Delta...we said yes and then boom, we discovered we were in the Delta line...as oppose to the Cathay Pacific, since that's what it looked like we were in.

And let me tell you: this line was fucking long. Thank god we got there early. Our flight was at 6AM.

We actually did move rather quick, considering how long the line was.

Once close to entering the actual line within the cordoned off areas near the counters, we were greeted by checkpoint #2: a portable kiosk where our passports were reviewed by a Delta rep. I thought this was check-in but it wasn't. I don't quite know what this was for...

Next was checkpoint #3, where a Delta rep did the self-service kiosk 'check-in' for us. Then she lead us to a line to hit checkpoint #4, which was checking in at the counter.


took the ticket stub for departure fee

Once we got through that, we headed to pay our departure taxes, which is 750 pesos per person. There is no notice of this fee, which is approximately $17 per person, prior to this anywhere. Fortunately, Jhun had mentioned this to Tim so we were prepared...but imagine if you were on your last few dollars to get you through to your final destination and BAM! you have to pay to leave the Philippines. This is checkpoint #5.

Checkpoint #6 is now going through immigration. Then checkpoint #7 was going through the security screening.

We finally headed to the gate, hoping to find a variety of restaurants awaiting our pesos for any kind of food. Nothing.

Well, not exactly nothing but a couple of places where you can pick up a sandwich, or a bun with something in it or on it, that started with a K. Something I never heard of and I wasn't prepared to try something new for a 3 hour flight to Nagoya, Japan at 5:30AM.

We got a few snacks; I got puto from the little sandwich shop, which sufficed.

We then tried to get to the gate to find out from yet another person that we couldn't bring our water in. We threw the water out and then same lady checked our boarding passes (checkpoint #8) then sent us to another guard who slid paper all over us (checkpoint #9).

There was another security screening to go through (same as #7), then we had our boarding passes scanned (checkpoint #10). Once we were through, we were greeted with one last checkpoint, #11, where a man tore off a ticket stub off our departure ticket.

Wow. That's a lot of checkpoints and more people than I even outlined.

The flight to Nagoya was long but we knew we had to gear ourselves up for the flight from Nagoya to Detroit.

I was hoping to find a book in Nagoya since the one I was reading was not working for me. The ugly american in me forgot that the book shop would not be primarily in English.

I left empty-handed.







Once back on the plane, we were happily surprised to hear that our flight would only be 11 1/2 hours, vs. the 13 we thought it would be.

For the record, it felt much much longer than the trip TO the Philippines. It was horrible. None of us could get comfortable. Delta doesn't know how to upgrade their planes so we had a big screen for all to see, vs. the individual screens we were blessed with on our flight to London and the U.S. on our last (and only) international trip. Even complimentary wine and beer wasn't enough to make this flight home satisfying.

But even worse than the flight to Detroit, was the flight from Detroit to Raleigh. A 1 1/2 hour flight on a smaller jet, in which the seats would NOT go back. So we sat upright the entire time, with rolling heads, left-to-right, as we tried to snooze. We were beyond tired. We were zombies and there was zero comfort on this piece of shit plane.

I managed to somehow snooze and when I woke, I was deaf. I was trying very hard to get my ears to pop as I started feeling very claustrophobic. "Were we going to die? Was there oxygen deprivation happening? The kid behind me is also having problems..." I managed to keep my anxiety down (thank you yoga) and eventually, the miserable ride landed and we headed out.

It is great to be back but I still tear up thinking about who I left behind. I have no idea when we will have the opportunity to go back. I know it will be sooner than the 25 years it took me. I feel re-connected and want to share everything and anything with them. I even answered the phone call from my Auntie Cora -- remember, I really do not like talking on the phone -- but I actually WANTED to take the call and talk to them.

It was my Auntie Neng's birthday and I was missing it. I gave Auntie Neng my birthday greetings and my love, talked to my mom a bit and then said farewell. It's a new beginning for me...


Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

My first novel after finishing the, so far, five tome Song of Ice and Fire series.  As I write this post on the flight back to Raleigh, I think about the flight _from_ Raleigh, when my 'world' was still in Westeros. 

It is also my first true novel I have finished in the new year. Before we left for the Philippines, I wanted to stock up on some books, as I knew I would have the time to read like crazy on about 18 hours of flight time ( not including layovers, mind you). 

I was ready for some fun reading: chick lit, romance, something along that line. I couldn't find any thy would be readily available to me from the library, as I waited until the last minute to choose my books. Well, I couldn't find any to my finicky taste. 

For whatever reason, I felt like a Jane Austen book would fit the bill. I looked for any but the only one available at my closest library was Pride and Prejudice. 

Do I need to mention a spoiler alert for this classic?

Unlike Charlotte Bronte, Austen has a style of writing that was very difficult for me to read. I almost gave up within the first few pages but I felt that, at some point, I'd get the rhythm of her style. 

I did and I didn't. 

It became easier to read once I got into it but that doesn't mean it was easy. It seemed that I could get the gist of what I just read by reading further and piecing the events together. I'm not sure if I will be able to read more Jane Austen, although I haven't ruled it out yet since I did enjoy the story. 

Elizabeth Bennet, the main character of this story, is a wonderfully strong-willed young lady. I imagine this is probably not typical of the 19th century. Her sisters are pretty meek and she has a strong bond with her older sister Jane (which I found quirky since there is a Jane in Jane Eyre, one of my favorite books and female characters). 

Lizzy's mom is ready to marry off her daughters, so they can be provided for, as being non-male children, they will not inherit thief father's estate. Instead, the closest male relative, by law, will inherit his estate and that person happens to be a cousin. He pays a visit to see his future estate, as well as choose one of the five Bennet daughters for a wife. A belief that he held as being holier-than-thou, allowing one of the daughters to still have the estate. 

After learning Jane may be betrothed to another, he chooses Lizzy, who spurns him. He doesn't take it well, and actually doesn't believe her and thinks she's just playing hard-to-get, but eventually he gets the picture and chooses her friend instead.

Meanwhile, a tense relationship takes place with the aloof Mr. Darcy. Lizzy finds him arrogant; Darcy finds her endearing. And it takes the entire fricking novel for any major spark to occur between them. 

In fact, Mr. Darcy appears only a few times throughout the story...the res being entirely about Lizzy, her social life, the family issues, and then Mr. Darcy. 

I loved the relationship between them and would have preferred more interaction between them. I loved Lizzy and her attitude. At one point, she says to her sister, after her sister sees the brighter side of a devastating  heartache:

The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and everyday confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of either merit or sense. 

This reminds me of my favorite quote from Jane in Jane Eyre, where she speaks of vengeance on the people that do harm to others. While not quite the same, it's still a dissatisfaction with people and their inability to do the right thing. 

I manage to finish this book in just a couple of days. It helped to be sick and have nothing else to do but read. I may try another Austen book.  I so love the movies. 

Which brings me to the eerie sense I had about this book as I read it. I knew the storyline. I vaguely had a sense of all the characters and situations that would be occurring but not entirely. I am quite sure I have never ad Pride and Prejuidice, nor have I a recollection of watching its movie. I didn't even have actors in the scenes, but I did have visuals from some long lost memory. It still remains a mystery as how I might have known this. Maybe I am Jane Austen reincarnated... :)

Philippines: Day Ten

Our last day here. When I got up, I decided to take (more) pictures of the view I have every morning.

This view is from the side of the terrace, where I sit and blog, while Tim surfs the net. It's close to my auntie Cely's place, so we can pick up her internet from this spot. It's actually very, very cool in the early morning.

My auntie's place is the light colored pink/sand house on the left, on top of the green roof. You can't see their windows but they usually can see us from there, to see if the lights are on, or if we are out on the terrace.





This picture on the right is a close-up of Our Lady of Lourdes. You can see a snippet of it above, in the upper right corner.

Every morning you can hear prayer service coming from here. It's catholic but Tim said it sounded like the prayers he heard while he was stationed in Saudi Arabia. It's recited in a very monotone voice from a man and then a woman's voice comes in, as if to answer questions from the monotonous male voice.



This is the other side of the side terrace, opposite direction to where Our Lady of Lourdes sets.

This appears to be some water bottling distributor. Throughout the day, there is a song that plays when the trucks back up. I can't remember the name of the song but it's a popular one. Every time I hear it, which is about 100 times a day, I try to pinpoint the name of the song. But alas, I never got it figured out. I bet one day I'll be driving along and it'll play on G105 and I'll be like "THAT'S IT!"







What is truly amazing to me is, if you notice the bottom right-hand corner of the picture above, you see this - a little bit of barrio in the city.

It's a home with a dirt foundation, banana trees growing, and these roosters crowing for us. Here, among all the concrete, a rural piece of paradise. I love it.





This is the side terrace that the pictures above were taking from. The chair is next to a table and another chair for the internet freaks.

The sliding doors are the entrance to the two bedroom apartment.

And yes, no shoes allowed into the home...





There are three locks to get through (not including the sliding glass door entry), and about 60 stairs, to make it to and from our 4th floor apartment. The last (or the first, depending on if you are coming or going) gate is the one you see in the picture above.

Beyond the gate, the stairwell. And we are on the fourth floor, so it's eight steps, then seven; then eight, then seven; then one more set of eight and seven steps.









Once at the bottom of the stairwell, it's a short hall to get to the second locked gate.















This is the other side of the gate above. The hand print on the wall next to the gate is my auntie Cely's hand. This building was being built when she found out she had ovarian cancer. The hand print was to keep her memory with the building, which she oversaw.

Also, this building was being built during our visit to London. They had a video camera fixed on the building, so they could watch it whenever. While we were over there, we saw uncle Bong looking over the work. It's pretty cool and special that we were staying in that very same building during our stay.







Then it's the carport with its locked, sliding gate.

Tim seemed to always have the keys, so I was always needing help to get these opened just to get back up to the apartment.








Here is the building, as best as I could get standing in front of it.
















My auntie's home is just one house away. This is another home that she worked on: design, detail, everything.















Once through the gates, I am greeted daily by Cecil (don't know if that's the right spelling) and Wilma. Unbelievably, they hand-washed our clothes every day.














We had another mani/pedi treatment, so that we would have freshly polished toes and fingers when we got back to the U.S.

CJ had an amazing black/white design that made me green with envy. I wanted that soooo bad but I wasn't going to be a copycat.














MiMi was going to be a copycat. After all, all she wants to be is just like her big sister. But her cousin picked out different colors to make it different, so she opted for the pink and purple design.

I didn't get a picture of my nails but I had an elegant take on a french manicure: tan polish with white tips. Oooo-la-la!











My auntie Precy came in from the barrio to be with my cousin Babbles, who was going in for wisdom teeth extraction. This is my uncle Bong's family, although missing our his sons Jay and Jope.

What a busy day at the Ramos family home since she was getting her teeth removed, we were spending our last day, and my auntie Cely would be returning from the hospital after her chemo therapy.

The chemo didn't go so well physically for her. My auntie Mher stayed with her all night. It was decided, after a hard evening, that this would be the last of the chemo for her. This was it. She is done. So whatever happens next...just happens.



I decided I wanted to get another gift for my BFF's daughter, so CJ and I went with my uncle Bong back to Balibago's Rosas to pick up the gift. We rode the jeepney and crossed bumper-to-bumper roads to get to the store. I clutched my uncle Bong as CJ clutched me. Of course, I forgot my iPhone and captured NOTHING of this. Inconceivable that I would walk away from my main BFF, my iPhone...but it actually happened.

Auntie Tess managed to convince the family that a night at New York's pizza would be ideal for our last meal in the Philippines. I found it ironic - an American meal in the Philippines. But it was perfect. I was introduced to the pizza roll: a very thin-crusted pizza cut into strips.












You place upon the strip some alfalfa sprouts and arugula. Arugula is my very, very favorite green in the universe. I absolutely love arugula. You can't really tell in my photo but these were the biggest arugula leaves I have ever seen. I want them here.













This is what it looks like, on a plate that's already rolled two of these (sorry about that :)). That is also a piece of pizza crust next to the strip...the only ends (pizza crust) of the pizza roll are on either end of the long strip.

Before the final roll, a nice drizzle of pesto sauce (yes, italian pesto sauce) is placed along the strip.








And then it's time to roll.














Ta-da!

I did a brief google search and found no such thing within the first three pages. If anyone who actually reads this knows of something like this, I would love to get a link. I am going to try to make this on my own but I'd love to see if there are variations, or at least a baseline on the crust.










We made it back home and took a lot of pictures. I went up to say goodbye to my auntie Cely. It was hard not to boo-hoo through the whole thing. I was warned not to cry in front of her but that was one of the hardest things for me to do. I'm crying as I write this. I truly hope that she will pull through this and that I'll be able to visit her again.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Philippines: Day Nine

Today was a treat. My auntie Tess was taking me for a body scrub. Tim was to get a massage and CJ was getting a facial. 

But with the treat came the bad. Today was also the day my auntie Cely was going in for her chemo. It was a bustle in the house as everyone was anxious about getting her to the hospital. She would be in for 24 hours and my auntie Mher would stay with her. So it was the yin and the yang; the high and the low. 

Tim and CJ had left earlier in the late morning, getting restless and deciding to take a tricycle to MarQuee Mall to window shop. About 20 minutes after they left, auntie Tess arrived, ready to roll. They (Tim and CJ) were just going to have to wait. 

Actually, our ride was going to return for them. :)

So I went with my auntie Tess and her BFF. When it was time, they gave me a towel, flip-flops, and disposable underwear. That was hilarious. Big granny panties that were made from the material that shoe covers are made from. 

Our first treatment before the body scrub was a sauna treatment. At first, I thought it was going to be a steam room kind of thing, which was a bit daunting as I sat in an enclosed wooden thing...with my head popped out. I thought: if this room fills with steam, I am going to freak out, enclosed in this coffin. I soon realized that I was slowly getting hot within, then figured out what this was. it was then that I was able to relax and enjoy the moment. Auntie Tess and I had great conversations about various things. I truly enjoyed hanging out with her and her friend. 

 

 

 


After the sauna, it was off to the body scrub. The room was nice, with sheer curtains dividing between each massage bed, that looked warm and inviting, vs. the sterile, operating room-like beds I've seen in the states. 

Once I layed down, she started massaging me. And this was heavy-duty, put-your-body-into-it pressure. It was wonderful. And my masseuse was a tiny creature. But she had some firm hands and there is no apology - she just goes for it, no-holds-barred. I cannot stand paying for a delicate massage...which happens often even when I ask for more pressure. 

After an unfortunately brief massage, the scrub begins. All it is, is a grainy product slathered on, then scrubbed vigorously. This is a wonderful experience but not for the faint of heart: it is abrasive. But that's the pleasure of it for me. 

The funny part for me was how she flipped the disposable underwear under my butt cheeks and worked on my ass. I felt bad for her...but I withheld my beavis-and-butthead snicker and enjoyed the butt rub. 

The worst part of getting these decadent treatments is that each limb that gets attention is one step closer to the end. I have to figure out how to tune my brain out from thinking about how it's almost over. 

When she got to my head, there was a special 'massage' which was the 'pulling-of-the-hair' massage. This was no gentle tug; it was full on: grab a handful of hair and PULL. It hurt but you know, I liked it a lot. I know. I am a sicko. 

Once sadly finished, it was off to the shower. Ahhhhh...  I felt so refreshed. My skin was glowing and smooth. And all of this, when converted to dollars, cost my auntie Tess (she treated) barely $9. 

It wasn't long thereafter that Tim and CJ showed up. They were off to do their special treats and their rest of us ventured into the streets of Balibago, to hit Rosas, where I could find souvenirs for my friends. 

Once they were done and refreshed, we headed back to our place with plans to go out to the casino later. Tim, me and the girls headed back up to our apartment for rest and relaxation. We were supposed to meet downstairs at 7 to head out with auntie Tess and her friends but somewhere, something went awry. I don't know exactly what happened but it certainly was family drama with some pissed off people somewhere. Tim and I sat in naive ignorance, despite the air seemingly odd. But it eventually became clear, when 8:30PM rolled around that we had been stood up. 

But we were fed well during the drama-sode. My mom got us a Shanghai buffet of food. 

Shanghai is a Chinese restaurant that we went to during special occasions: visitors, weddings, etc. Food aplenty would be ordered, including a common delicacy here: bird's nest soup with quail eggs. My mom managed to buy that, along with seafood rice, seafood canton, broccoli with mushrooms, and shanghai rolls. It was wonderful and better than I remembered. 

Jhun, who had been in Manila for the day, he showed up in the evening and took us out to The Oasis hotel's pub. That was such a nice, spontaneous thing to do. We met up with his friend Mike, who had recently arrived back from China on business. 

The pub, thankfully, had Corona. I haven't felt like drinking since I've arrived here...the food is very filling, the time change has mucked me up, and it just hasn't been desirable. But it must be all in the setting since, once I entered the bar, I was ready for my beer. And coronas are not prevalent here...but being on the American side of town made it so. 

 


We enjoyed a great band playing and eventually, a group of Japanese business people who had a bottle of tequila to down during the night. I spied on them and made my commentary to Tim all night...one of my favorite activities. 

Jhun ordered fishcharron, which was like chicharron but with tilapia skins. It was quite tasty, even for a non-exotic eater like me. But at one point, Jhun asked if I liked it, which I enthusiastically replied Yes! It's quite tasty! And he said: you know, it's not really tilapia. OMG. I was about to kill him. Because the skin was striped and actually looked like snake. He then laughed and said he was kidding, that his friend Mike put him up to it. HA. HA. HA. 

 

 

The night came to a close and we actually got back close to midnight. The girls, with their cousins, spent the evening hearing about tik-tiks, capris, aswangs, and other haunted Filipino folklore. They watched Insidious and we were told of lots of screaming taking place while we were out.

It was a great way to end our final night here, despite the drama. Tomorrow is really our last day but the fact that we leave at 6AM means we have to leave here about 2 AM to get to Manila airport with plenty of time to spare for any unseen obstacles. 

 

Philippines: Day Eight

Today we headed to Anvaya Cove, which is an exclusive resort for the very rich.

How the hell did we get in there, you wonder?

It all starts with my Auntie Cely.

She owned and ran an apartment building in another part of Angeles. The units are rented to university students. One of those students became very close with my auntie. He also became a doctor. He is a close friend to hers and apparently was the one to inform her of her cancer, when first discovered.

He was invited to our Ramos fiesta from this past Saturday. During his visit, he invited us to the beach, to a place he owns land at. I loved when he said "It's not a vacation unless you've been to the beach."

He owns and operates his own hospital in and around Subic Bay, which housed an american naval base that closed in 1991. We drove through what was once Subic Bay Naval base and man, if you were stationed here? You were in paradise. The base still looks like it's been well taken care of, despite it no longer being an american base.

This trip consisted of me, Tim and the girls, as well as my Auntie Tess, my mom and Jhun. Once through Subic, there is a drive up mountainous roads which make your ears pop. Jhun told us to keep our eyes on the left side of the road for monkeys. It wasn't long after that that I spied one.

Jhun pulled over so we could get some good pictures. That little guy came across the street and we noticed two other cars stopped behind us to take a look. Damn tourists.

Auntie Tess told us to throw out some peanuts, so we did and he came right up to the car, along with another little guy. He was so close that I thought, hmmm...he might try to jump up in here. To which Jhun replied (since I recited my thought out loud) yes, I was thinking the same thing. So we got our fill of monkey pictures, rolled up the windows and headed onward.

We made it through the gate and headed to the pavilion, where we would meet Dr. Baluyot. When we got out of the car, we were awestruck.

It. Was. Beautiful.

I have never been to a place like this when I lived here. I went to the beach, maybe once, since we live in the central part of Luzon.

It's a shame too, since the Philippines is well-known for its beautiful beaches. And this one was amazing. Again, reminiscent of what you see in pictures of Hawaii.




This is a view of the reception area, where people check in. The walkway in the foreground is gorgeous and takes you into the 'resort' part of the area.

Anvaya Cove is a gated community of million *dollar* homes, with gorgeous views of the water, or the mountains, or both.

The part we are in are the amenities offered to the residents and their guests.

Their very lucky guests, as we were this day.


The beach sand was so fricking soft. There were spots were the sand was black but the surrounding mountains were not volcanic.

Although we were there on a Thursday, I can't imagine this place getting very crowded. More to the fact that it's more of a local site than to its exclusivity.  But being exclusive also helps...







The water comes from the China Sea. The water was so blue and so green. You can see MiMi's feet clearly through the water.

CJ, MiMi and I walked through the shallow water to one end of the beach. We passed some people that mentioned to a child "want to see the fish?" and then threw something in the water and said "see the fish? we are feeding them!" I thought: seriously, there can't be fish in this shallow of the water.  We walked by and sure enough, there were some average-sized fish right there where I would be wading.

I am not fond of live creatures in the water around my toes. I still waded throughout the day but I was on alert.





The pools were just as magnificent. There were several divisions to the pools, with watered walkways between them. A couple areas were jetted; two under canopies. So if you wanted some shade, you had your choice!















MiMi enjoyed her swim in the pools. At one point in the day, my mom asked me where MiMi was. I was like "i don't care" (I do) since I wanted her to enjoy ever aspect of the resort. She apparently hit all the pools, even the kiddie pool.

Tim mentioned that he could see her head poke out, giving him the stinkeye, that he wasn't in the water with her.












Lunch was at the restaurant on-site. It is beautiful - you can see the wonderful wood ceilings in the picture.

The pre-food 'bread' was chicharron, or fried pork  rinds. Don't freak out as they sell this in the states, in ye old potato chip section of your neighborhood food mart. But baskets of it appear with a vinegar dipping sauce. It's quite yummy.



The family fiesta was ordered, which was *a lot* of food. I opted for my favorite, pancit palabok. CJ had a burger and MiMi had mac-n-cheese.

The mac-n-cheese, despite it stating on the menu that is was noodles and cheese, contained some kind of meat in it. We ordered it again and requested "no meat". The nice waitress repeated, and wrote "no meat" and my auntie Tess expressed it again in tagalog. We got the second dish exactly as the first, including the meat.

At least Tim got his fill of mac-n-cheese...


Everyone, including Tim, was relaxed. Tim and I played in the pool, the beach, and walked the grounds. I laid out with CJ on the beach for a bit, so we all got a "tan", which is something CJ wanted most to get during this trip.















My mom seemed relaxed too. My Auntie Tess kept teasing her about finally getting out and traveling. Apparently she doesn't travel much which I think is a shame because there is so much to see here. Even if she has seen it before, it's nice to enjoy the surroundings. I know she wants to be with her family but *they can go* too.  I'm glad she went with us because we have built some great memories, of this beautiful place, with my mom.











My Auntie Tess managed to get this trip to happen. She was the one that contacted Dr. Baluyot and invited him to our soiree, which then lead to his inviting us to his place.

She is a riot, my auntie Tess. I call her Zsa Zsa because she has a wonderful way of talking..."Dahling, we must go here", "Dahling, don't you want to eat any of the food?", "Where are the children?", "Should the children eat?"

She was extremely happy to have my mom spend time with us, with her. They are usually at odds with each other, as sisters can be, but during our time today, they were the best of friends.






They really needed this time together. The next day, my Auntie Cely would be going in for her sixth, and maybe final, chemo treatment.

They are all worried about my Auntie Cely. It's hard for me to talk, think, or write about it without tears welling up in my eyes. To look at her, you would never think she was sick. But she is and in a lot of pain and hardship.

Nothing tastes right, even if she would feel the strength to eat. And after her chemo, it will be worse for her. And she's been through this many times before, since this is her second set of chemo treatments for her ovarian cancer. She knows what she's in for and, well, she really doesn't want to go through it.

I'm just grateful that I am able to be here now, have my family together, and see, as well as show, all the things that I recall. But I like seeing new things too, and I'm grateful for friends like Dr. Baluyot, who have the means to own places like this, as well as the generosity to share it. Especially with us. :)








Thursday, January 19, 2012

Philippines: Day Seven

Today was not pleasant for me. I woke up feeling sickly and, TMI, diarrhea. I wasn't too badly off...just Blah. But my neck pain was there, which then gave me a headache, and put that all together and I am just useless. 

I did go out early in the morning. My cousin Khim came over to announce that she was taking CJ and MiMi to the hospital where my Auntie Mher works (did I mention, she is *chief* nurse there?!) to get their ears pierced. MiMi was immediately complaining about how scared she was..."I'm shaking!". 

"You won't have to get your ears pierced. Don't worry." said I. 

"What?! But I want to get them pierced!!!!!!!!" said she. 

"OK. You can get your ears pierced."

"BUT I'M SCARED!!!!!"

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr....

So we piled into a Toyota and headed to the hospital. My auntie Mher tried to get MiMi to go first but she adamantly, and obnoxiously, refused so CJ went first. Basically, it's using earrings with a sharp end that just gets pushed through the lobe. No guns. Just ice to numb it. CJ's went fairly well since she had holes that had closed up, after getting infected the first time. 

 

 

 

 

 

MiMi's didn't go so well. She continued to whine about how she was scared it was going to hurt. They chased her around the room. Don't be fooled by the smile in the picture. Much temper tantrum throwing, kicking, pushing, screaming and then crying ensued. In the end, she did not get them pierced much to everyone's disappointment. 

My frustration, as I explained to her later, was her wishy-washy attitude. I didn't care if she got them pierced or not but she had to make the decision to either DO IT or NOT. But we wasted the time of my auntie, who was working, and their generosity of doing this for them out of their own selfless pleasure. 

The temper tantrum continues outdoorsm where she refused to get in the cat. Mean mommy attitude came to fruition as I drug her from the street and pushed her into the car with a stern command. It was an awkward silent drive to Nepo Mart, where we would pick up some new eyeglasses for CJ. 

It was hot too. One of the hottest days since we'd arrived. And I felt miserable, standing, walking around, with a temperamental 8 year old, a headache, neckache, and a tummy that was not cooperating. 

When we made it home, I apologized to everyone and said I was going to lay in the apartment. I laid all day. I slept to the throbbing rap music playing across the way. Any and all odors made me more nauseous. I knew I was out for the day, which was disheartening because my Auntie Tess was hosting a barbecue at her house. I had been looking forward to it but the idea of sitting around, or even seeing food, was making me green. 

MiMi came up with these lines: 'you know something is wrong with MiMi when...' and one point is 'she asks for water' or 'when she's not watching tv'. That was my day: you know something is wrong with me when she's not blogging. But I did manage to finish reading Pride and Prejudice. 

Philippines: Day Six

 Today's adventure was a trip to Mt. Samat. It would just be Tim, me and my cousins Jhun.

Jhun has been my lucky charm. When we flew to London in 2008, it was Jhun who picked us up. He was also part of the group that picked us up from Manila. He is also a cyclist - mountain biking, racing, etc., which is a source of controversy for my Filipino family. Why on earth would anyone cycle so long, up a mountain, for fun? He is constantly berated for being too thin, working out too hard, etc. Tim and I are constantly defending him, to no avail.
Before we headed out to the memorial, we stopped at his bike shop, Bikeworx. He had business to take care of so I mulled around the shop. I am just ecstatic that I have a relative that is in this business. It seems strange to have this type of hobby in this area...it seems foreign to me that people here would do this. But after seeing the area, it is prime for biking. Long roads, hilly and scenic. Forget flatness. We are surrounded by mountains. And during our trip, Jhun would point out places that he and his fellow bikers cycled and it's fricking crazy. DollarBill would pee in his pants at the opportunity. Ser
Services
Race wall
The drive to Mt. Samat is quite scenic. It looks like images from Hawaii. The road is a tolled freeway that cut a three hour drive to Subic (the ex-Naval base) to about 40 minutes. It cuts through mountain areas, rice fields, and just a jungle of banana, mango, and other fruit trees. Amazing and breathtaking, to say the least. 

Rice and bananas with a beautiful mountain background. 
 During the drive, you could see Mt. Samat because of the big cross at the top of it. I couldn't believe we were actually going to walk to the top of this thing. I was making myself brave because I have a pretty big fear of heights. No matter, I was going to do it even if I was scared. 





There was quite a bit of overcast, which actually was nice because it made it much cooler. The monument is amazing. There is a great deal of care for this shrine and it's impressive, to say the least. 

These are the steps to the marble colonnade wasn't too bad. I counted them but since forgot the number. I truly thought this was what would be the climb to the cross: a lot of stairs.  





  
This is the colonnade. The ends of the walls have the history of what occurred here etched into it. This was one of the last strongholds in the battle of Bataan, during WWII. Filipino and American soldiers fought the Japanese forces, but to no avail.  A surrender ensued and thus, led up to the Bataan Death March. There are markers throughout the town, marking the path of this death march. 





 View from the colonnade. 




  
Close-up of one of the inscriptions. 
As I mentioned, I thought there were stairs to the top of mountain, where the cross is located. Instead, I was greeted with this beautiful, but steep and wind-y path. 
They do a very decent job of not making this too scary. You can see, in the photo, that the path is lined with greenery, which blocks out the height and gives a sense of security. At least for me. I had no problem walking up but I also had a very patient Tim, who made sure I didn't go too fast, walk with gigantic strides, and just take my time and try to enjoy the moment.  
Once at the top, another amazing view is there for more awe. The cross, when up-close-and-personal, is very difficult to see without straining the neck. 






 The bottom of the cross, on all sides, are depictions of the battle. 







The view. The outline is the coastline, which again, is difficult to see even in real life, let alone the photo. 




 The dedication of this ememorial, from then President Ferdinand Marcos in 1966. 




The evening took us to the town of San Fernando. This was a town that I always went through, on my way to the barrio to see my grandpa (see Day Five post). My Auntie Tess was invited to bring us to friends related to her friends from London. One of our hosts was from London, but was visiting his family. 



They have an amazing home and treated us to a wonderful Filipino feast. We later learned that the hostess panicked when she saw Tim. She wasn't expecting an american and shrieked that she had cooked the wrong food. Little did they know that Tim is not the typical American they are used to here, and is in fact, much more of an adventurous eater than I am. 





 Our hosts actually fed us first. We partied until 9PM, where they would eat after we left.