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CHRONICLES OF MY ASIAN ODYSSEY- Chapter 4
LAOAG CITY-Feast,Prayers and Traditions
We arrived in Laoag, the capital of Ilocos Norte Province on a Friday afternoon.It was a short 55 minute flight from Manila with Cebu Pacific Air, a new airline that specializes in Asian and Philippine domestic routes.My hometown's claim to fame is the infamous coupling of our former dictator President Marcos and Imelda ,a very flamboyant woman who made shoes a fashion " must have" for women all over the world for her shoe collection in Olympic proportion.2000 pairs of feet indulgence! Thanks for the grand dame of shoes,the obsession of accumulating shoes has rubbed on to me as well like a lot of women the rest of the world. I cannot pride myself possessing 2000 pairs of shoes but I do admit , I own quite a bit.More shoes that I can ever use in my lifetime and even on to the next life. Because of Madam Imelda ,she maneuvered to put the Philippines in the map as she quickly became a household name even up to this day.These 2 greedy clowns used to be former residents in my hometown.
Again, my never ending stream of relatives were already waiting for us at my old ancestral home , this time only small brigade met us.I dared not count the numbers anymore as I expected a similar turn out like the tribe that showed up in Manila.Surprisingly, my expectation was not as predicted.Only 5 showed up which paled in comparison to the previous 20 people that shocked the bones out of me. Pleasantries exchanged , and of course the usual laughing and banter ensued which is quite expected considering how suddenly my family exponentially expands everytime we go home. People that I have never met in my life suddenly sprung up like mushrooms and became the aunts,cousins and uncles I never knew existed. My mother, even at her very ripe age of 89 is still the perfect hostess and the Commander in Chief in family matters and social conduct.When she is HOME,she is the BOSS,the MATRIARCH and the QUEEN.She almost has this invisible motto posted in her forehead:MY HOUSE ,MY RULES-DON'T SAY I DID NOT WARN YOU. LOL!. She introduced me and my sister Tina to all them. Tina and I tried to act with politeness and enthusiasm but we had a hard time remembering each name, let alone keeping our eyes open. Being so tired, jetlagged ,no sleep for almost 2 days (thanks to the 16 hour time difference between Manila and San Francisco) and sitting in the plane for almost 24 hours now including our layover in between airports,the job of keeping our faces straight was a lost cause. My extended family relatives must have thought we came from Pluto as we looked undeniably delirious, which we were and almost resembling a space cadet without the flying saucer. All Tina and I wanted to do is to hit the sack and drop dead.Knowing the length of hellows and how are yous that is bound to happen (predictably, an all day affair) I was tethering to give up. No amount of enforced pleasantries is going to stop me to collapse in my old bedroom. Ah, my old bedroom,my refuge ! thank you for loving me after all these years of absence! Even with a tough,old cushion in my former medieval age Filipino wooden bed which has seen better days , heaven is not so far away! LOL! So much for having an extended family- Filipino Style. GIVE ME LIBERTY( in this case sleep) OR GIVE ME DEATH... I JUST WANT TO DISAPPEAR!
Exhausted as we were, we fell right into sleep.Amazingly, my mother was the only one left who is still as perky as a lark even after all the commotion of our arrival. If I was not aware for sure that she is my mother , I would have easily mistaken her as the mother of Hercules - the quintessential strongman in Greek mythology.Where in the world did she get her energy? It can't be Progesterone or Estrogen.Those are long gone and had vanished into thin air.I shouldn't even wonder why anymore. She raised 5 daughters , and if you think that is not tough enough to enhance your capabilities of strength? THINK AGAIN.
Partly rested and refreshed, we woke up the following morning welcomed by the neighbor's chickens crowing in unison with unbelievable loudness and tiltillating pitches.The crowing was not exactly music to my ears as it jolted me out of my bed. Still, it is the most precise alarm clock up to this day even with the digital rooster crow ringtone smartly installed in your smartphone. Chickens ,I was told , are known to have an intelligence that can surpass admission to MENSA. Ergo, they crow with better quality that can give an opera performance a run for its money.Whether that is true or not, I still have to search for a scientific evidence to believe such a folklore.
My mother arranged a traditional prayer gathering for the dead as November 3 is All Saints Day in the Philippines.It is traditionally a feast for all the dead people in your immediate family.It is celebrated with all remaining family visit to the cemetery followed by spiritual songs and prayers in the local dialect at home which is sang by the local church choir.Food served as an offering for the Gods with the traditional meals normally should be homecooked .As we were pressed for time to cook,my mother opted to have the food catered with a menu that consists of our family's traditional dishes that I grew up with as a kid.The church choir was about 12 people led by VITA AND GIL- two blind couple who had been church choir members as long as I can remember and are family friends.One of the church choir members was my elementary school classmate,Angeline, in my 4th to 6th grade. The last time I saw Angeline was when we were in the sixth grade ,40 something years ago and her looks had not changed.Still same hairstyle.
I was responsible of making the list of the deceased members of my family to be read and included in the prayers and songs .Tina was responsible in making a cross made out of rice and an egg at the center of the cross and laid out in a white linen cloth with candles. Our dining table was converted into an altar with crosses that were inherited by my mother from my grandmother. The choir arrived, people started coming mostly women with fans in their hands as it was hot and humid ,the caterers set up the party chairs and tables and the food in our old driveway which was converted into a dining reception area.My estimate of people who attended was about 50.The prayers and songs lasted for about two hours continuous with no interruptions.I was amazed of the memory of the church group members who can recite and sing the lengthy prayers with no written copies to read.The only musical instrument they had was a guitar played by onother blind man.They really did some serious praying and singing.The last time I saw an event like this was when I was in grade school. And God knows how long had that been.It was refreshing to see an old tradition kept alive over the years. It made me reminiscent of my roots ,where I had been and where I came from. Personally, watching this tradition performed infront of my very eyes was a very humbling experience.I was humbled by it.I saw the simplicity and humility of my people. They may not have much in the way of material things but they are gifted with real life - a simple,contented life -that is by far the better example of how life should be lived.Watching them as they sang and prayed with all their hearts and with all their souls,I felt like I have abandoned my roots as I have been swept away with the lure of living in America and eventually absorbed and caught by the system. Witnessing this, I questioned the validity of which lifestyle is better.Is it their's ? or is it mine's?. The answer is clear.
I guess , it is not too late to re-assess my values and priorities.Someday, I will comeback to my source,my roots , my beginnings.Now ,I can understand my mother, who, even after living years and years in this country called , UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, she has not gave in to the flow of life here and has not been swallowed and eaten up by the system like I have been. LAOAG CITY, I WILL FOLLOW YOU AND I SHALL RETURN.
More to come.... Chapter 5 currently under construction.....Stay tuned.