Sunday, January 22, 2006

Vanj : Friendship Interrupted

Vanj arrived at my parent's house just in time for lunch, the first time I am seeing her since I left for the US in 2002. She looked radiant and almost as bright as the sunlight we were enjoying on that Sunday, also the day of the Feast of the Sto. Nino. She also had her pixie haircut which made her look like a high school kid.

During our college years, my sister and I often brought home our friends home during the weekends. My sister came home usually with Vanj in tow and Leila, and sometimes with Au and Jojo. We had then established a sort of 'extended family' since my mom often doted on our friends. While she listened to their stories about love, life and school in the dining room, she cooked their favorite meals in the kitchen nearby. My mom was the original "cool mom" who we could talk to everything from love to alcohol to hmmmm....yup, sex. She also made the best kare-kare, adobo, pusit and morcon.

While Vanj enjoyed the fresh giant tiger prawns my mom cooked in butter, she updated us with her tsismis about friends. She also had some kare-kare which she swore she would never eat anywhere else (actually, same with me). The chit-chat was easy and familiar, almost as though she was never away and is always a part of our family.

After lunch, we sat in the living room burping and feeling sleepy with our almost sinful indulgence with gluttony - hehehe. And then we talked some more about the bits and pieces of life we had missed from each other in a friendship that was interrupted by my departure for New York. She also made tsismis about their 'girls week out' when Gigi and Leila came home in October. And then before we knew it, it was getting dark and it was time for her to leave. My dad and I said goodbye to her from the gate, noting how well she looked and how she hasn't changed - still the funny chinese girl who brings my dad his favorite hopia snacks from Chinatown. I will definitely see her again when I come back at the end of the year.

She left me with the calendars she had produced for the "I Can Serve" Foundation. One sits on my desk at home and another will find its spot in my office at work tomorrow.

Engagements Unlimited

NOTE: This appeared on my MSN Space in November 2005.

It seems like a chain - of one of the girls getting engaged just as we are about to marry off another. In 2003, Kristine got engaged a bit before Karen's wedding; at Kristine's bachelorette party, Aline had just gotten engaged and this year, we have two girls next in line to the altar as we celebrated Aline's singlehood: Thereza and Yndira.

Sixteen girls took over the Lower East side party scene starting with dinner in a Mediterranean restaurant where we enjoyed great food and perfect wine. Since the chance to get together constantly needs a great excuse such as birthdays, weddings and well, pre-wedding celebrations, the stories are endless. With the stress of long hours of work with hardly a chance for any socialization outside the cubicle, it was full speed ahead to an evening of relaxed conversation, laughter, teasing about who will be next in line and updates on each other's lives.

As the un-official photographer to all our get-togethers, I got to get the bachelorette and bachelorettes-in-waiting to pose showing off their rings. It turned out to be a gorgeous shot.
And as though the good news never ends: Rosalinda is now expecting her first child. I, of course didn't know this until she refused a glass of wine and it just hit me: why would an Italian turn down wine? Unless........she laughed and I jumped out of my seat to big her a big congratulatory hug. She also willing posed to show off her bulging tummy for a picture to share with our friends.

Despite the nippy weather as we stepped out, we acknowledged that in the city that never sleeps, the party never ends. And moved on to a bar for an addendum to the celebrations - as though we have not had enough alcohol!

Thank you so much for organizing this party. Thank you also for your happiness and always fun spirit. YOU'RE THE BEST. I had a great time. The pictures look great!
Kisses, Aline

I deduce that you decided to keep the ones from the strippers in safer place .... they are very nice, it seems like you girls had a lot of fun. In any case, thanx for sending me the pics, hope you have a nice weekend and send regards to everyone.
Jorge (In Madrid)

Friday, January 20, 2006

New Friends

The family driver dropped me off at the Manila International Airport at 5:00 AM, way too early for my 10AM flight. It was a Thursday and the color-coding scheme of Manila banned the red car from the streets after 7AM so we had no choice.

As expected, the check in counters were still close. The only other person there was another woman who smiled at me as I approached dragging my luggage. We made small talk and I found out that she was flying to Vancouver and that her name was Salome. This was the second time she was leaving Manila in two months, having returned just a week ago for her brother's funeral after he was run over by a mini-bus. Her family is based in La Union. A month ago, she was also in town but for a vacation and she related how her brother was so happy, so filled with life and the more cheerful of her two brothers (and 11 other siblings).

While we waited for the check-in counters to open, an elderly couple joined us in the line. They were a very shy pair, almost embarrassed to even inquire if this was the correct queue for their designated flight to Kona, Hawaii. Salome looked at their ticket and confirmed that they were on the right line. I looked at the huge plastic transparent bags they carried with brown envelopes inside. I knew they were travelling as immigrants.

They introduced themselves as Conching and Eleuterio from Cagayan Valley. Although they were the same age as Salome (65 years old) their faces were weathered, signs of the not so easy life they have led. He was the Baranggay Leader of their town, he told us and has had three terms before turning over the current one to one of his "Kagawad" (assistant) since he was immigrating. They have five children, two are in Hawaii, one is in Singapore and the other two remained in their hometown in Cagayan. Mang Eleuterio pulled out his ID card to show off his status as Baranggay Leader and I praised that he looked very handsome in his picture. He aso shared that the town had given them a 'despedida' (goodbye) party before they travelled. Aling Conching added that a lot of friends cried when they left. I joked that he must have broke a lot of the women's hearts for going away.

When the check-in counters opened, I moved to another line since I was travelling on business class. I met up with them again after paying the airport terminal fee and Salome shared with me how she had rescued them when they were lining up to pay for their terminal fee. It seems that Aling Conching didn't realize she also had to be in the line with her husband and when she did try to get into the line a woman rudely called their attention and despite Aling Conching's apology she persisted with her behavior, almost belittling the couple. It must have been obvious that they were first-time travellers and were open to abuse. Aling Conching tearfully told me she had never felt so humiliated and I was so angry at the insensitivity they had to suffer. How typical of Filipinos, I realized to seek out someone helpless and to lift their egos by stepping on someone else's. Sad but so true.

I was on my way to the business lounge but decided to stay with my new found friends. I learned later that their son had travelled to Hawaii 10 years ago and had never returned again to the Philippines. Mang Eleuterio was concerned that he might not be able to recognize him when they arrive in Hawaii. I advised that after exiting the airport, it was best not to go looking for him since for sure he'd be able to recognize them. He proudly related that the two sons who waited for their arrival in Hawaii would call often, excited for the parents to join them.

Salome also shared her story - that she was also a first time traveller when they migrated to Canada 33 years ago. Her husband had gone ahead with three of their older children and she travelled with the two younger ones age 2 and 4. She shared how hard it was back then, adding the insensitivity of some people who had requested for them to bring stuff for friends and relatives in Vancouver. She ended up juggling two young children and huge boxes on the way out of the airport. Since then, she shrugged, she has refused those 'padalas' even if it meant she seemed snobbish.

We boarded the plane separately but Salome volunteered to make sure Aling Conching and Mang Eleuterio found their seats with no problem. She patientlt briefed them also that they should ask the stewardesses for anything if they needed help or if they were hungry.

When we disembarked in Narita for the stopover, I decided to wait for my three new friends. Salome exited with the elderly couple and I knew she had waited for them also to deplane at the same time. Deep inside I realized that she, like myself, had decided to take this couple as her wards.

As we were lining up for another security check, Salome told me she still had to get her boarding pass from Air Canada - her carrier from Narita. I volunteered to take care of the couple. We inquired about their departure gate and I realized that theirs were in another building. I accompanied them on the shuttle train to the D99 gate and on the way reminded them that they could buy their snacks in any of the outlets while waiting for their flight which was still about another 4 hours of wait. I asked if they had money with them. Aling Conching said she still had 200 in Philippines pesos with her. They had no other currency on them. My heart sank. I couldn't give them money - that might insult them and I also only had enough to cover my $60 cab fare from JFK to my apartment.

There were already a lot of people waiting at D99 gate when we arrived and I looked around, scanning the crowd. I found three elderly women seated together and approached them with my wards in tow. I asked if they were Filipinos and they confirmed. I then introduced myself and the couple and told them that Aling Conching and Mang Eleuterio were first time travellers and I wanted to leave them with someone who would 'take care' of them until they reached their destination. The women were very accomodating and they asked where the couple were from. After Mang Eleuterio said Cagayan, one of the women asked where in the Ilocano dialect. Then they asked for the couple's last name and after, one of the women laughed - they were related. And I was relieved. This was a blessing - I felt comforted that I was leaving them with people who would be able to converse with them in their dialect and who were more or less seasoned travellers, also headed for Kona.

I said my goodbye and Aling Conching took my hand and clasped it close to her heart and said thanks in her dialect. Mang Eleuterio gave me a fatherly embrace and wished me goodluck after saying goodbye. Realizing they had no cash, I took out four of the 'Supermelt" ensaymada I planned to bring to Renee and Wally in New York and left these with Mang Eleuterio. He refused initially but when I reminded him that it wouldn't be another 4 hours until their flight departs and they were bound to get hungry, he took it with more thanks. And then we said goodbye finally.

I got onto the shuttle train and returned to my building and was headed for the departure lounge when I ran into Salome again with her Air Canada boarding pass in hand. I told her the couple were going to be in the same building where her flight was to board and assured her that the couple were in good hands after relating that seems I actually reunited them with some long-lost relatives.

Salome and I said goodbye but not before she kissed me and told me about her first-born son. She told me that he was now 42 and has had 3 divorces and seems cannot find the right woman. "You should get in touch," she said, "so you can get to know each other". I smiled and giggled and told her that was the last thing I needed at the moment since romantically seems I am confused enough as it is.

It was a good day. I sat at the business lounge and listened to the music in my ipod thinking about my new-found friends. I'd probably not hear from them again but I wonder how their lives would be upon reaching their destinations - Mang Eleuterio and Aling Conching reuniting with their two children in Kona and Salome telling her son about this woman she had met on the flight who would be perfect for him but wouldn't give her phone number.

C'est la vie.

Back in New York

"The noisy one is back!" the boss welcomed me with a huge bear hug as we bumped into each other at the corner of 42nd Street and Third Avenue. He was on his way home and I was headed for the office to say hello and drop off some stuff that I wanted my friends to enjoy fresh from the Philippines (like the bibingka malagkit from Legazpi and Samala from Cavite).

Well, it seemed the same sentiment was echoed when I went from office to office on our floor. Admittedly, I do have a tendency to get very loud in the office but nevertheless it felt good to be missed.

I realized that this was really where I belonged - here in this city of chaos where everyone is in a rush to do their business. This is where I fit in and where my life has become. Despite the fact that I do come home to Manila regularly, reality is people - including those who truly truly love me, have learned to live without me . But what else did I really expect anyway - that they hold their breath until the next time I am in town?

My daughter has her own life now, with school and as literary editor of the school paper (which byt he way is the same position I held back in college - hah! Now tell me from who she gets it from....hah!). My parents have their routines with their garden and their friends and their daily rituals. And my friends have their work and everytime I drive to Makati they can only set aside either coffee, lunch or dinner with me. Well, someone DID have time for me whenever I had time to see her - my dear dear Gabrielle! Life moves on without you, Victoria, I told myself....surprisingly the fact made me smile.

My flight from Manila had been uneventful although I did make some new friends (read next entry). After saying goodbye to my parents early in the morning (and crying my eyes out all the way to the airport - it's a ritual so don't think much of it) I was checked in and then boarding my flight by 9:30 AM. I also sent text messages to the friends who took time off to spend time with me.

I arrived in New York an hour late at 6:30 PM and breezed through immigration and picked up my luggage (no boxes, just a medium sized check-in and priority baggage - hey, I flew business class!). In almost no time I was back in Manhattan in my very warm apartment (the centralized heater was on of course).

Jetlag had me swinging in and out of consciousness the whole day before I got a call from the M.O. at lunchtime, wondering where I was. "Still in bed!" I laughed when I realized it was 1:30 PM. He urged me to get out since it was a nice mild day. Renee also said the same thing and so I showered and stepped out - to a beautiful afternoon when Manhattan was basking in sunshine and 50 degree weather. It felt almost like spring!

For the meantime I have emails to sort (yahoo tells me I have 158 emails in my inbox, 112 still unread) and regular mail is piled high on my dining table also screaming for attention. Magazines I have subscription to are also accumulated since I was away and I have no idea how I will read through all of them or even WHY I have so much magazines!

I will continue to live two lives I guess, like my mom says: one in Manila and one in Manhattan. And she fearlessly forecasts that it will remain the same until I settle down and get married - then I will finally make just one place home.

I plan to return to Manila in September but until then... my life in Manhattan resumes. I am back in New York. The noisy one is back. And she's glad to be back.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Dove si va ce non c'e

Whenever I come home to my parent's house for the holidays I end up digging through the old stuff I had left behind. Old pictures housed in shoe boxes now faded with time but with each image, the memories are still vivid. Clothes I used to wear to work in my corporate world pre-New York, old letters from former colleagues, ex-boyfriends and friends. I even discovered a shelf full of old cross-stich projects and the boxes of threads I had collected.

Books, old music tapes and vinyl records of Shaun Cassidy are all neatly packed in shelves or in my old bedroom now and then dusted by the ever faithful maid who is tasked to keep things in neat older.

I wonder, however, why although we have a tendency to have a place for everything we had outgrown we tend to or choose to forget some parts of our past - like old loves, for instance. Where does old lovers end up in our memories after we have cried out for failed romances? Often we forget, choosing to stay away from the remembrances of old pain. Maybe daring to reminisce when the alcohol boldly dares us to but never in sane and sober state do we sit and wonder what may have been - specially if it had been something deep and intense.

I wonder though, what really happens to all that intensity of love and passion after we have moved on to another romance. Do old feelings get shelved too? Is it forgotten or does it fill a part of our heart that stays there forever, waiting for some rude awakening - heaven forbid! Or does it sink into the past, fades like some forlorn pigment of imagination that we eventually lose grasp of.

I wonder.

Dove si va se non c’è
Come si far per tenerlo con sè
Dimmi se, dimmi che forse credere si può
Oh feelings dove si va se non c’è
-Lyrics by Il Divo

Gabrielle's Day Off

In Gabbie's words.....

My Tita (Aunt) Mavic called and told my mommie that she would pass by to take me to school. I have heard that before! Chances are, I told myself, she would forget about me again if some guy invited her to lunch!

Well, thank goodness there was no invite today and she did come. My mommie packed my blue's clues backpack, and then freshly showered and wearing my new shoes, my Tita and I got in her red car and drove to the school where she, my Tita Gigi and my dad went to when they were young.

I didn't want to be carried like a baby when we got there so I told my Tita that I would walk. We went passed through the gate and the guard brought us to the office of the Guidance Counsellor. When we came into her office, I smartly did what my mommie and Tita had taught me, I said "Good morning Teacher!" to the lady. She was sooooo impressed with me that she made me sit in the big chair in front of her desk. And then she asked my name and so I told her - loud and clear! She must have been so impressed with me because she told my Tita that although I couldn't qualify for enrollment yet for the next schoolyear because I was young, the Guidance Counsellor recommended that we go see the principal.

And so I jumped off the big seat and my Tita and I followed the lady to another office where the principal was. When the door opened, a lady with a weird long cover on her hair sat behind the desk. She was small but she had a BIG table but she seemed nice because she was smiling. My Tita said, "Good morning, Sister" and so I said the same thing. I was wondering though because the lady wasn't my Tita Gigi but my Tita called her her sister anyway.

The 'sister' then gave me her hand and told me to 'bless'. I took her hand and gave her a handshake like how I see my daddy doing it. But everyone laughed and I couldn't understand why.

The lady with the long hair cover then asked me again my name and how old I was. I said 'three' and tried to hold up three fingers but my all the rest of my fingers just kept sticking out so it must have looked like a four because she said I was smart and could be included already for enrollment for Kinder 1. She then asked the teacher to bring me and Tita to see the classrooms.

We walked along the corridors of the school where the big kids kept sticking their heads out of the classrooms to look at me. The Kinder 1 classroom was at the very end of the corridor, near where the huge gymnasium was. The students only have class from 7AM to 9:30AM so it was only the pretty teacher who was there.

She made me sit in the small chair and gave me a piece of paper where she taught me how to write the letter A. And then my Tita talked to the other teachers she knew from when she was still a student. I saw little pictures on the wall with the ABC's in them and my Tita told the teacher that I knew the ABC. And so I had to show them how well I knew my alphabet and so I sang the ABC just like how mommie taught me. All the way to the end of the song! The teachers all clapped. I really like this school thing...everyone likes me!

And then it was time to go and so I said goodbye to the pretty teacher and walked some more with my Tita around the school where she took pictures. And then we rode her red car again and she bought me my Happy Meal because she said she was soooo proud of me.

These adults.... they're so easy to please! What did I do anyway but just say my name, try to hold my three fingers up and sing. And they think I am so great! Wait 'til they find out what's been going on in my head!!! Hehehehe....

Grade School Grand Reunion in 2007 (updated 21 Mar)

When I had lunch with Lizza yesterday she told me a story about her sister who googled her name and ended up on my website reading a poem she had written for me about 6 years ago. It gave me an idea. I realized that since my grade school egroup had been in search of so many missing classmates since 2002, this blog would be the best site to publish their names so that they would eventually be found.

In an almost impromtu class get-together on 8th January, we agreed to gather for a grand homecoming in December 2007 preferably in the Philippines (Manila or Cavite). This would be for sections Orchid and Rosal of St Joseph College.

Those we had been desperately seeking:
1. Noel L. Ramos - found me!
2. Mussolini Africano - found
3. Lucia B. Cordova
4. Louie Martin S. de Vega
5. Minerva Reyes - found
6. Ma. Lea S. Olaes - found
7. Emilio Quilatan - found
8. Arlene Nuguid - found

If you wish to know more details or if you wish to be found, please send me an email.

Ganito kami nuon:

Class Section Orchid

Class Section Rosal

Ganito kami ngayon:

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Resident Cottonball

Meet Sky - as in Skywalker, our Maltese pup who is a total sweetheart.

The Cannons of Cavite

Driving into Cavite province, from Bacoor to Tagaytay to Indang, the familiar image that greets the traveller are makeshift streetcorner stalls selling PVC pipes (often used in plumbing). Not that everyone is about to remodel their plumbing system! These pipes are fashioned into noisemakers that when ignited can get as loud as the real cannon.

The sturdy plastic PVC pipes are cut according to specifications perfected by the inventors (definitely these handywork aren't copyrighted either I am sure). They are then painted and fashioned to look like real ammunitions. It is almost an expected reaction to give these instant stalls a second glance and wonder if they are the real thing! My joke to a friend I emailed it to is"This is not Afghanistan...welcome to the Philippines". That is probably why he has decided to fly back to New York from Hong Kong - hehehe.

To produce the loud boom for these PVC cannons, lighter fluid or varnish is lightly sprayed inside the tubes and then ignited with a candle lighter or a stove igniter. The tube is then aired by swinging it side to side or in an up and down motion to dissipate the remaining fluid, otherwise the cannon could ignite.

Is it dangerous? There are no safety standards for these toys not only for the big boys but also for the young. To those who cannot afford the PVC pipes, they weld together empty cans and use this as their cannon which also produces a loud boom. The cans can 'un-weld' themselves during the ignition phase and have resulted in some accidents. Some have also suffered minor burns.

Injuries are often synonymous with New Year celebrations in the Philippines. In a country where fireworks and firecrackers are set off on the streets to welcome the new year, many have lost a finger or a limb to carelessness. This is a tradition we most probably have inherited from the Chinese and to me, New Year's is about the pop-pop-pop of the 'judas belt', firecrackers strung together and the fireworks that light up the skies.

The PVC cannon is original to Cavite province and has been featured on TV several times. Next New Year's I am willing to bet they will come up with better models and louder bangs. This is Filipino ingenuity at its finest....I think.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The First Week Home

I arrived two hours before the traditional midnight Christmas dinner. Home is about 30 kilometers from the airport, my parent’s house and the intention was to surprise the folks who weren’t aware that I had been able to rebook my flight earlier. I zoomed through immigration and customs and was in Francis’ car by 10:45 PM and then we literally took off for the trip home. Somewhere along Coastal Road I waited for the gears of his car to shift to take-off mode and to lift-off from the ground – man, he has a mean car!

We pulled in front of the house and surprised my parents. My mom was so surprised she kept screaming for about half a minute, unbelieving that I had made it in time for Christmas. THIS, I realized makes the 18 hour trip and the hassles to get out of transport-strike stricken Manhattan worth it.

The first thing you appreciate upon coming home to Manila is the weather. I had walked from my house to midtown on my last day in New York in 20 degree weather and my face had the freeze-dried patches to prove it. Being home meant a chance to thaw and then after a few days the appreciation wanes as you get sticky and sweaty. Oh, I am a woman of constant discontent, huh?

On Wednesday, Francis called me up to tell me that two classmates from our elementary days were in town and that they were camping out at Angge’s restaurant, Aurora’s (which makes the best pancit in the the world so don’t forget to pass by when you are in Cavite!). Winnie is from Zamboanga and Joel is based in Japan and so after a brief phone discussion we decided to organize a class reunion – for lunch the next day! Amazingly, we had quite a good turnout. Good meaning there was enough laughter for major stomach ache after. We reminisced about old days and the way we had grown fatter, balder or just plain older, not necessarily wiser. And of course, we had to gossip about classmates who weren’t around. That is the spice of life.


On Friday, I drove to Manila to do our grocery shopping at the Pricemart near Macapagal Blvd and afterwards, watched the Pyro Olympics which was being held at the Mall of Asia. The fireworks were breath taking but it felt like the whole of Luzon Island had converged on the 8-lane strip of the boulevard to turn it to a giant parking lot. Still pretty familiar how frenzies like these always end up to be, I told my parents that we ought to start heading out of the area after the first batch of fireworks were done. And true enough, those who stayed until the end (around 10:30 PM) didn’t get home until 4AM!

Last night was New Year’s eve and once again everywhere in the Philippines we did our own version of the Iraq war scene – firecrackers were everywhere and the sky was lit with colorful fireworks.

The handmade cannons from PVC which I will write about in my next blog! Filipino ingenuity!

Welcome 2006!