Archive for July, 2010

Day 13: The Celebration

Maria Coronacion “Nanay” Villacorta Talusan Samaniego was born on October 13, 1910 to Alejo and Paula Talusan in the small town of San Ildefonso, Bulacan, Philippines.  She was the youngest of five, preceded by four overprotective brothers.  At the age of 16, she married Gonzalo “Tatay” Samaniego, and gave him fourteen children over the next thirty years (one of whom tragically died in infancy).  Last night in Manila, nearly 150 relatives– some of whom came over from the United States and Australia– threw an advanced celebration of the centennial anniversary of her birth.

It was a fantastic event!  I played master of ceremonies, and several of Nanay’s grandchildren (and great grandchildren!) performed songs and dances in her honor.  She was very present, had immediate recognition of nearly everybody, and was very gracious as some (re)introduced themselves to her.  She teared up as she was presented with a multilayer cake, while the crowd of nearly 150 joyously sang a familiar birthday tune, and was all smiles as her remaining male offspring shared her in a dance.  The six-hour party could’ve lasted forever, and no one would’ve minded one bit.  Not the least of whom, Nanay.

Nanay tears up as she is presented her birthday cake.

For me, last night’s party was the perfect culmination to my inaugural return trip home.  It was my raison d’etre and it couldn’t have happened more gleefully than it did.  Over forty of my 56 first cousins were there– and it was just like old times!  I can’t believe I waited this long to come back to the place where it all started.  And, now that I’m hours from heading to the airport to return to the U.S., I simply cannot wait until my next Philippine trip.

There truly is no place like home.

Day 12: Pool Party

Let me get something out: I hate pool parties.   I really don’t like swimming pools or swimming or wading or generally getting myself wet.  If I’m hitting any kind of body of water, it would be to snorkel or scuba.  In fact, in the three-and-a-half years that I lived in Puerto Rico, I could probably count in both hands how many times I was in the water.  I’m not sure why I have such an abhorrence for it.  I don’t know how many pool party invitations I’ve turned down in my lifetime.  I mean, I’m a good swimmer.  I remember liking swimming pools as a child.  Hmm.  I might need therapy to figure this out.

Anyway, yesterday, the family went to Calamba City in the Laguna Province (about an hour’s drive from Manila) to meet up with relatives at a “resort” for a pool party in honor of my soon-to-turn 100-year-old grandmother.  It was awesome seeing relatives I hadn’t seen in forever.  They came up to (re)introduce themselves to me.  A lot of them remembered “that chubby kid” that they’re surprised at how much my physique had changed.  I was embarrassed at how many of them I couldn’t immediately recognize, but had instant recall as soon they told me their names.  But there were also plenty that I was able to pick out simply because their facial features hadn’t dramatically changed this whole time.  They introduced me to my second cousins (or “nephews/nieces” as we Filipinos refer to them) and it was just as weird for them to meet their “Tito Jon” (Uncle Jon) for the first time.

Twenty years sure is a long time to be away from home.

Nanay with six of her thirteen offspring

The “resort” was basically a collection of pool areas that can be rented for the day.  Our area had three air-conditioned cabins, each with six bunk beds; a men’s and women’s shower/restroom cabin; three huts with benches for seating; a kids pool; an adult pool (not too huge); an open “hall” with tables and chairs; and a prep kitchen area.  The nearly 80 people in attendance enjoyed home-cooked fare, including a pit-roasted pig (called lechon, which was the highlight of the spread).  In the six hours that we were there, we never ran out of food.  In fact, there was plenty for people to take home with them.  Such is often the case at the end of Filipino family get-togethers; it is probably why people bring tupperware to them.

Luckily, there were a number of us who didn’t come to the pool party to be in the pool, so I hung out with them, drinking San Mig Light, and shooting the breeze.  Or rather, shooting without any breeze whatsoever.  It was unbearably humid, and the few electric fans in the area did nothing to beat it.  So, at some point, we ended up in one of the air-conditioned cabins.  People who live in the Philippines without AC are masochists.  And businesses who don’t provide AC for their patrons are sadists.  Such was the case with our transportation, whose AC unit decided to konk out during this trip.  So, stuck in traffic for at least 90% in each direction, was an exercise in patience.

My second to the last evening in the Philippines was pretty chill.  My brother and I decided to have dinner at a place not too far from the condo.  It offered free wi-fi.

Later tonight, I will be the master of ceremonies at my grandmother’s centennial celebration at a restaurant in Luneta.  Hordes of relatives will be in attendance.  It’s going to be crazy and enjoyable.  I can’t wait!

Day 11: It’s All Relative

Yesterday was kind of a chill day until Cousins Night took place in the evening.  There was a major downpour and we were worried that not a lot of the cousins would be able to make it to the restaurant for the get-together.  Thankfully, about 30 of us converged on Pier 1 at the Fort.  The live band– five HOT sisters who all sing and play instruments– was killin’ it, providing for a hopping backdrop.  I saw cousins I hadn’t seen in over twenty years, and met a few second and third cousins for the first time.  It was both amusing and saddening to hear them say that they knew me only from Facebook.

(Well, at least they knew me somehow.)

Sadly, I started hitting the San Mig Light way too early that I petered out fairly quickly.  At around midnight, I just up and left without saying goodbye to the dozen or so remnants from the big group that started out four hours earlier.  Whenever I’m three sheeting it, I don’t become an Angry Drunk or an Unruly Drunk– I simply disappear.  Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a big deal.  If I was back home in Portland.  But I’m in the Philippines, and I actually had to take a cab to return to a place I wasn’t all too familiar with.  Luckily, I made it home in one piece.

Today, it’s a pool party in Laguna with even more relatives whom I haven’t seen in a very long time.  It should be a hell of a good time!

Day 10: Malate Catholic School

I finally made it to my old high school yesterday.  Even simply standing in front of it was surreal.  This was where I spent four significant years of my life.  It seemed so small now.

I was lucky enough to catch a former teacher, Ms. S. (who’s now the Alumni Director) at the school, and, after a delightful lunch at Aristocrats, she gave me a quick tour of my alma mater.  A lot has changed.

The schools are now partially desegregated.  Whereas before, there was a “Girls’ School” and a “Boys’ School”– two buildings separated by a major thoroughfare (San Andres Street)– they have since been changed into the High School building (formerly the “Girls’ School”) and Elementary School building (formerly the “Boys’ School”).  Back then, it was a big deal when my buddies and I would venture into the Girls’ School.  We all had our crushes and eventual girlfriends, and, save for meeting up outside of school, we barely saw each other while classes were in session.  Nowadays, the students, although still separated into boys’ classes and girls’ classes, can now spend some time together during recess or lunch.  According to Ms. S., the decision to combine the genders had actually caused many parents to pull their students out of the school, citing that the lack of segregation would cause unnecessary distraction from their studies.  In 2001, the student body went from 6,000 students strong to only 2,900.

All the classrooms are now air conditioned.  I remember suffering greatly while in class when the mercury would rise to extremes, and the built-in ceiling fans weren’t enough to beat the heat.  What I would do to relive high school in air conditioned comfort!  (Um, on second thought, no; I wouldn’t want to relive high school.)

The gymnasium is now enclosed.  Before, it was simply barricaded with a wire fence, and whatever activities we did inside were viewable to the public.  With the increased desire for student privacy and security, solid walls were built, and the entry, as those for the schools, now have security guards posted.  Apparently, the gymnasium is the site of an alumni event in November.  Sadly, I won’t be able to attend.

Ms. S. introduced me to every current faculty member we bumped into, and it was a strange feeling being referred to as “alumni.”  I recently turned the Big Four Oh, but don’t really feel old.  Walking the halls of my former high school, and being surrounded by the current, young Malateans, I definitely felt my age.  But, it doesn’t change the fact that this stopover at my old stomping grounds not only solidified my desire to return to the Philippines for the 25-year Reunion, it made me even more proud to be an alumnus of this great school.

Day 9: The Konyo Boy

I hung out with some former high school classmates (and batch-mates) last night, and had a great time catching up on news and happenings from the past couple of decades.  So much has transpired– marriages, separations (there is no such thing as “divorce” in the homeland), and even some deaths– that they scolded me for having been gone for too long.  Luckily, I had in my midst the organizers of the ongoing batch efforts and, most importantly, the 25-year reunion taking place in February of 2012.  I don’t think they’ll allow me to be as out-of-touch as I’ve let myself be.

My poor memory also reared its ugly head last night, as they fondly recollected events and interactions with me of which I hadn’t the foggiest reminiscence.  A couple even remembered the day or situation when we first met.  They also spoke of a teacher who really remembers me and, hearing that I was in town, expressed that I stopped by to visit with her.  (I will actually do so today.)  One in our group also reminded me of an intense high school crush, even ribbing me with the fact that she was also still single.

It’s funny what people remember, and what they don’t.

They also reminded me that I was known as the konyo boy (or American boy) in high school.  Of course, I knew this.  After all, I returned to the Philippines after having finished elementary school in the U.S.  This, they said, was likely why many of my classmates back then had concerns making friends with me, as if I wouldn’t be able to relate with them somehow.  Although I’ve always been one to have only a small circle of friends, I did feel a bit of this exclusion back then.  Many, especially those in the other classes, were also intimidated by my American-sounding English.  What came naturally to me inadvertently became a deterrent.  Even last night, as I tried desperately to speak in my native tongue, I would stumble and revert to pure English.

I’m now actually looking very forward to returning for the 25-year reunion.  Oh, the stories that will surface then!

Day 8: Got Inked! Plus a New President.

For the longest time, I’ve been talking about getting a tattoo.  I’d always wanted to have a Jolly Roger (skull and crossbones) tattooed on my left ankle, but have always chickened out on it.  Plus, I was always drunk when I spoke about it, and that’s not always a good precursor to actually getting inked.

I finally got a tattoo yesterday.  I did it for a couple of reasons:  (1) It was time to put my money where my mouth was;  (2) I wanted to do something significant for having recently turned 40;  (3) I’ve been feeling exceptionally patriotic and wanted to have a tattoo indicative of the Philippine flag.  Plus, what better way than a tattoo to commemorate this momentous trip of mine!

Art by Morbid Tattoo (Makati, Manila, Philippines)

Art by Morbid Tattoo (Makati, Manila, Philippines)

The eight rays of the sun symbolize the first provinces that went into martial law during the Philippine Revolution.  The three stars represent the country’s three major island groups– Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Here is the actual Philippine flag:

Flag of the Philippines

My country's flag.

I chose this design so that it would be easily recognizable to a Philippine national but will appear to simply be random symbolism to the casual observer.

I’m so glad I didn’t go for the Jolly Roger. 🙂

Oh, and wouldn’t you know that the Philippines would swear in a new president while I’m in town?

Day 7: A Visit to “Nanay”

Yesterday, I got to see my 4000-mile trip’s raison d’etre.  “Nanay,” which is how most of my family members refer to the clan matriarch, was still quite lucid when we saw her, but her short-term memory is failing a bit.

Nanay and Me

Me and my soon-to-be 100-year-old maternal grandmother

We had an enjoyable visit.  Her caretakers were on-hand to make sure that she made it from her bedroom and into the dining room so that she can visit with all of us at the same time.  She was reminiscing about my late maternal grandfather (whom we called “Tatay”), telling the story about how they’d met, and how Tatay’s resilience (despite Nanay’s family’s rejection of him) was what led to their union.  She said repeatedly what a good man Tatay was to her.  (Tatay passed away in December of ’07.)  It seems she is missing him lately.

I can’t wait until this Saturday, when Nanay is surrounded by hundreds of her kin.  I believe about 45 of 56 first cousins will be there.  Not to mention all my living aunts and uncles, and countless second and third cousins (many of whom I’m meeting for the first time).

It’s bound to be a great time!