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

Friday, January 13, 2012

Philippines: Day One

I think I slept for about four hours after we got to sleep about 4AM Philippine time. I woke up a few times but when I got out of bed about 9AM, I looked at the window and saw Mt. Arayat. That brought a smile to my face and a deep flush of serenity. This is what I remember most from living here and seeing that mountain just made everything seem so surreal.

I got up and walked outside to the patio and looked at my surroundings. I forgot how we were surrounded by mountains. I wondered which one of these, the opposite direction of Mt. Arayat, was actually Mt. Pinotubo – the infamous volcano that showered this city with ash and closed Clark AFB earlier than they anticipated.

Soon after, I heard my Auntie Tess commanding the troops (my Uncle Tony and someone else) to move the furniture from the inside to the outside patio. We caught up as I hadn’t seen her since our trip to see her in London but she had flown in a few days before we did.

We both went to where my Auntie Cely lives, which is just two doors down. There I enjoyed some Pancit Palabok, my very favorite Filipino dish in the entire world (J) for breakfast. The other aunties had prepared fish and fried eggplant for Mi-Mi; and fried chicken for CJ.

Tim and the girls showed up soon after. Tim has been in awe of the roosters and continues to comment on them cackling, as well as going outside the house to look at them. It’s quite amusing. He wanted to go for a walk down the alleyway, to which they quickly dispensed my Uncle Bong to go with him. “Just so he won’t get lost”. J There aren't very many “howlies” (white people) in this part of the city so he would stand out like a sore thumb.

I decided to join him and then my uncle suggested we go walk to Apo Church. That church is on my list of things to see as it was one of many churches I attended mass with my aunties.

This particular church has a full-sized “body” of a statue, lying in state behind the altar. I have always been fascinated by this and when I was young, I thought this was a real, petrified body of some saint. There would be lines of people who would wait for the opportunity to go behind the altar, behind the glass case, to rub handkerchiefs, their hands, whatever, on this holy relic. I remember standing in line once and then backing out because I was too scared. This time, I wasn’t _that_ scared. Nervous as this time, I wanted to take pictures and I wasn’t sure if that would be blasphemous or not. I asked my uncle several times if it was OK, so I got these shots behind the scenes.

After the church, we walked to the marketplace – again, a place for the locals *not* a tourist attraction. We passed by the rice vendors, street food, pigs and chicken parts for sale, fruits and veggies. We passed a fish vendor and my uncle pointed out something to me. I thought it was a bunch of snails until he pointed out to me the frogs. Yikes.

The sights and smell felt like I was just here. I remembered it like I hadn’t been gone for over 25 years. I wondered what my children thought of all of this. They’ve not seen poverty, or the fact that people in other countries can live in a house that is less than 800 square feet, let alone 3000.

When we got back from our walk, it wasn’t long until we headed back out with my cousin Jhun to my old neighborhood, and also a trip to what used to be Clark AFB. My auntie Tess (Jhun’s mom) and my Auntie Cora joined us for our trek.

I didn’t get out of the car for this, nor did I get pictures. I hope to go back to do that. I was too much in awe to consider getting out for anything. I was just reminiscing, with almost-tears of happiness. I repeated this anecdote to Tim several times during this trip: “I dreamed so many times of this place – of places. Since I left for good in 1982 (I came back a few times from 84-86, during the time I lived on Guam), I dreamed so many dreams of my home, the base, places and streets. To see it was literally a dream come true. I could remember it from my childhood and specific places within these many dreams. At one point, as I commented on things I remembered (there were two entrances to Diamond, the movie theater was here, etc.), my Auntie Tess said to me “you have really dreamed about this place, haven’t you? Now your dreams are coming true.” It was as if she read my mind. Which she probably can as my Filipino family have some magic in them…

So no pictures this time, just me writing down my memories. We got to Clark. There used to be a big salakot (hat) that greeted the people coming into Clark’s security gates. This has been moved to a park. The gate is still there but no longer American forces. As we drove in, I remembered the bus transit station that I would get to and take the bus to various places on the base. I left here partway through 7th grade, so imagine a young girl, taking jeepneys from my house to the base, then getting on a bus and going to wherever I wanted to go on the base…alone.

We passed by the two other gates I remembered, as well as the military cemetery that one of my cousin’s dad is buried at. I was in a 3-school-bus accident between the middle and last gate at some point. I remember it very clearly: hitting my forehead on the edge of a seat in front of me, turning to look at my friend, who just happened to be sitting on the floor of the bus…and hitting my cheekbone on the same seat and watching her roll to the seat in front of us. We all were OK but it was a big deal at the time.
We drove around and I had a hard time remembering where things were. I wanted to find Lily Hill but Jhun had never been there so he didn’t know how to get there and I didn’t know how to tell him. But we passed by, what used to be, the Youth Center…and a bit down from that was what I called ‘officer housing’ – these big, old houses that you expect to see in a tropical setting. Next to these houses is a big, beautiful field (even today). This was where I practiced softball.

There are some base housing still left – renovated. I remember them well: doing some kind of food drive for the girl scouts, and every year until I was too old, I trick-or-treated here. I also visited my fried Evelyn’s house, riding the bus home with her and learning how to make peanut butter toast.

After the tour, we went to SM mall, which is on the way out of Clark. The mall, once inside, looks like any other mall in the US. I managed to pick up a great purse for only $15, so I was happy.

We drove to other places: the old Nepo Market (no more kalessa’s, horse-drawn carriages that was part of the public transportation system at the time I lived here). We went to the new Nepo Mart to eat lunch and have some halo-halo for dessert.

We got back and it was probably only 6PM and we all were dog-tired. We bid goodnights and hung out for maybe an hour back in our little hacienda. I tried to read a bit before sleeping but I didn’t even have the strength to do that…

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