Manila, A Mix Bag
Like a favorite 'mix trail', Manila is a lot like a delightful bag filled with nuts, chips and fruits, and there's enough of the sweet, salty and spicy to keep one coming back for more.
Rudyard Kipling said: Our hearts where they rocked our cradle, Our love where we spent our toil, And our faith, and our hope, and our honor, We pledge to our native soil.God gave all men all earth to love,But since our hearts are small,Ordained for each one spot should prove Beloved over all.
I love the country of my birth. Returning was a big emotional decision in more ways than one. While there was much I missed, like family and friends. there was much to dread as well, Overall, it was pleasurable, with modernity, high rise buildings, bigger malls added to it's landscape. But, it was more heartwarming to find the old charm, and that there were some things that remained the same. There is no place in this planet that has given me more mixed feelings in the extreme like my home country. For the hopeless romantics that we are, we agree, there is so much to love, and fall in love with. With 7000 Islands, and over 80 million population, there is no lack for discovery and enchantment of every kind. Do not believe all the negative news you hear about the Philippines. It's a beautiful country, and one must go there to know what is real and what myth is. The Filipinos can be the most delightful people, charming and fun loving. Yet, there is much to hate as well. There's corruption in government, environmental abuse, and the great divide, between the wealthy and the poor.
I had the opportunity to meet once more the same smiling faces of street children as we fed them and distributed relief goods. I was blessed to play "Picture Picture", as they willingly posed with the Santa caps we provided. The attention obviously made them happy. They waited patiently for prayer time, signaling that soon they would partake of Filipino noodles, hotdog sandwich and a cup of juice. They even sung for us Christmas Carols, in broken English lyrics, you can be sure they didn't understand. It wasn't much, you can tell, they received every gift with total gratitude. We can only hope that in their little hearts, they will believe that there is hope in what may seem to them, like a cruel and hopeless world. That God’s love is real and is demonstrated through His people, because they experienced it. Some made their way back to “Carol” us at night, and a handout of 50 pesos, plus more, collected from the neighbors in our village meant another meal. We can only hope, because some will buy drugs to sniff, to help them forget their plight.
While walking out of a restaurant close to the US Embassy, i saw a naked boy bathing, using a little tin tub, with no shame whatsoever. It was quite a sight, and i quickly took my camera to take a shot. On second thought i said, "Nah, why should I ?". But, he saw me and begun to pose, smiling and waving, like he was having fun. Well, he was! I reflected on that image and again, my mixed feelings. He has no home, no private bathroom, perhaps no family, and yet, he is able to smile. What's up with that? Then i realized, he doesn't know what he's missing, because he's never had them at all! Talk about traveling light! I have yet so much to learn from the unlearned.
No Place Like Home
Our reunion was to say the least, a blast!. My happiness was in the exceeding, i had tears of joy. As if it were not enough, my husband and i celebrated a milestone of being together Christmastime in Manila again, after 30 years. We felt God's favor shining on us, over and over.
As a 're-instated' (my husband's own words to my brother upon their meeting at the airport) member of my family, the 'long lost' brother in law was given the "Royal Welcome", We were treated to the best and finest restaurants in town, served the best homecooked meals, and introduced to old and new family friends. We opted to stay at my sisters home, so as not to miss a beat of what it meant to be 'really home'. Nothing compares to Philippine style hospitality, where you have maids to cater to your every need, and there's a family car with a driver to boot, who also serves as a butler. It's better than the most expensive hotel, and we were pampered with first class love. Imagine waking up to a breakfast of fresh fruits, the sweetest most delicious mangoes, bananas, or papaya, hot pandesal (bread), Quesong Puti (White Cheese from Laguna), or Fried Garlic Rice, eggs of your choice, Vigan Langoniza (Pork Sausage), Fried Fish (Danggit, or Milkfish), fried tomatoes, old fashioned hot chocolate, or brewed coffee, eaten leisurely.
Being home for the holidays topped it all. For the very first time, my husband sampled the traditional Noche Buena, a Christmas Eve Dinner grand celebration. Our host was my niece and husband at their luxurious condominium located in the heart of Manila. The event consist's of an early dinner and a 'repeat' when the clock strikes 12 Midnight. We were served the family's most loved recipes, of Christmas Soup, Russian Potato Salad, Baked Stuffed Turkey, Calderetta, Galantina, Slices of Queso de Bola, Chinese Ham, and a smorgasbord of desserts, from Leche Flan, Ube, Fruit salad, Pastillas de Leche, Mazapans and my sister's special rich delicacy called "Yema". Staying awake, waiting for the children to open their gifts can be quite a feat, especially when you're jet lagging. Joyful, festive, unique, meaningful, we find ourselves wanting to do it, year after year.
We were given the grand tour of all the new and biggest malls teeming with people shopping for the holidays. The horrendous traffic never let up, and a half hour trip to the next building can take an hour to 2 hours. We tried to squeeze two occassions of lunch and dinner each day, but found it all too exhausting. Besides, we just couldn't eat all the good food and not feel like we've become gluttons. Seeing the faces of hunger in the streets, of children begging, knocking on the window of your airconditioned car didn't help. No matter how you try to remove those images from your mind, i doubt that they will ever go away. You cannot, but be moved and your conscience be troubled.
During our long drawn lunches (somehow, no one seemed in a hurry), we got updated on the country's latest political and social news. We were interested to know who the candidates were in the upcoming big election, who was backing who and what new challenges faced our countrymen. The conversations were kept light, interesting and injected with lots of typical Filipino humor. For our part, we shared life in paradise Hawaii, my art, how we are living the 'retired', yet re-threaded dream life, and how wonderful it is to be young grandparents, but still face the sad reality of the economic recession that's hurt the great nation of America. We all agreed, there is no perfect existence.
For close to a month, we tasted the wonders of familiar grounds, and a community we will forever cherish. We celebrated milestones, from the birthdays of the very young and the not so young. We had a chance to retrace our steps by traveling to places my husband and l loved in the past, like cool Tagaytay and breathtaking Batangas. We reminisced the time when we were young and carefree, and pranced in our swimsuits in Tali Beach, and cuddled by the fireplace in charming Baguio City. We sure made lots of precious memories, and hope to make more.