Friday, 21 September 2012

A dally in tropicana - my Filo Holiday!

Behold – traipsings!!! – also this post is very long! but on the plus side – Story time, with Pictures!
funnest times ever
Those of you who were confused by my posts of visions of paradise on Facebook, fear not. This very lengthy entry provides an explanation.

I was in fact in paradise for a month.
see, paradise!

Paradise is also known as the Philippines, which as all my Pinoy friends have heard me rant about, is not, in fact, paradise.
At least not socially or politically, but really, I still think the Phils is one of the most amazing places ever, and
that isn’t because of ethnic bias I swear.

My month-long adventure starts in Manila, with the heat sweltering and the pollution migraine inducing. Nonetheless, we spent time with beloved family and friends, caught up with my magnificent and loverly cousin who is also a T and had a violently ecstatic time buying shoes. And I do mean violently ecstatic. The result; hordes of eyeliners and three new pairs of shoes…

Melissa shoes with Maleficent... aw yeah!

Also – I took the time to get fat and happy on local delicacies. Oddly enough I didn’t actually gain a lot of weight. Be it from the heat, the huge amounts of walking or maybe just the fact that I was eating steady meals with fresh produce and gorging on Calamansi Juice – which is actually super duper healthy.

Ma and the little A share a birthday so we had a double whammy birthday party. Cuteness ensued. My little cousin A has the most hilarious speaking habits and I call him ‘The Little Canadian’ because he ends every phrase with the term ‘eh’. He also adores the Avengers and I get a kick out of asking him to name them because he pronounces them in the cutest ways ever.

Iron Man: Ayan Man, Thor: Tuor, Hulk; Haurk, Captain America; Atchumeli (no idea why). Either way listening to him tell stories about Bumblebee shooting Iron man while the dinosaurs were eating and Optimus Prime was there but he jumped and Haurk got angry and then they were all flying and shooting and then they went home, is one of the most entertaining moments I’d had.

fighting with Ayan Man!

After spending time locally, we finally started visiting the provinces and visited friends and family there. In my regular trips to the Philippines, we had never left the province of Luzon, not even to go to Boracay (which I still refuse to visit, if I want to see white people at the beach I’ll go to Manly).

We finally went down to the Visayas and went to Bacolod, sugar cane central. There we visited the mother of a Sydney friend of ours who kindly put us up in her home for nearly a week.

Filo hospitality is well known for its friendliness and overabundance of food, I cannot stress how true that is.

Lola S took us around and proudly showed us the local sights. Bacolod is a wonderful city in that it isn’t too developed and people are not keen to imitate the capital city in terms of construction. Highrises are short by most standards and even the atmosphere is friendlier and more down to earth than in Manila. This tends to be the case however in any provincial city.

Lola S’ son leased some land in the mountains and turned it into a local travel resort. It is a fantastic place and it is so incredibly beautiful. There is no electricity there so the facilities were dependent on traditional forms of sustenance. The huts were of traditional weave and the food was local and cooked traditionally. Their swimming pool was sourced from a freshwater stream from the top of the mountain and was THE MOST AMAZING THING TO SWIM IN. I actually got super sunburned the next day and didn’t realise it. The weather that day was cool and breezy.

a local pet monkey
playing mahjong, what else?

I cannot stress how amazing this place was and it was one of my all time favourite places. I can’t wait to go back to visit them again since Lola S’ family are also the most wonderful people.

We were also taken to Mambukal, which is a more developed mountain resort with a nice sulphuric hot spring.


My sunburn didn’t appreciate the hot water but I still enjoyed it immensely. There was also a lovely butterfly house where you could buy souvenirs of perfectly preserved dead butterflies in resin.


On our last day, we were taken to some of the old ancestral houses and ruins that reflect Bacolod’s old colonial heritage.
The ruins were made by a very well known and old family in the province around two to three hundred years ago. The man who had it built made it to honour his wife, a Macao Chinese woman whom he fell head over heels for and died in Bacolod in childbirth. The cement used to make the house is so fine that the walls feel like marble.
During WW2 local guerrillas burned the building down to prevent invading Japanese troops from using it as an outpost. I guess it was better to lose the building than to give it up to the invader. But as the flamboyantly adorable tour guide said; ‘I guess it’s a good thing, or else I wouldn’t have a job now’, what a cutie.

The house took three whole days to burn down since the quality of the timbers used were so good.

After Bacolod, we decided to tour Manila, which was the weirdest thing ever since Manila is our home town. We went to Intramuros (literal Spanish meaning ‘Within the Walls’) and started off at Fort Santiago, where the country’s national hero, Jose Rizal was imprisoned and later shot for ‘treason’ against the Spanish Crown.

I could go on and on about the importance and history of Rizal. As far as national heroes go, this guy is incredible and a shining example of not just how amazing a person could be if they used a sharp intellect as a tool for national freedom, but how dangerous a finely honed mind can be to any form of oppression. In short, he is how an education can set you free. 

Later we went to this cute animatronic statue tour about the history of the Philippines and a dramatic recounting of Rizal’s struggles.
At Rizal’s prison, there was a copy of his books as were published 200 years ago, but more astonishingly, the original copy of the Ultimo Adios (Final Farewell), an incredibly moving poem that Rizal wrote in his final days in prison before he was executed. The piece of paper he wrote it on is no bigger than the palm of my hand and in it, he expresses 14 stanzas of the most moving, and beautiful sentiment on dying for his beloved Philippines.

The Spanish of course is just absolutely amazing and the English translation simply cannot do it justice.

After, we went to Manila’s Ocean park. It’s a cute little place where they tried to create this sort of fun-park meets shopping mall meets trendy night spot but ultimate feels a bit weird. You had to buy separate tickets for different parts of the park or buy an incredibly expensive ticket which allowed you to go to all the places and events. 
We bought general entrance to the aquarium, entrance to the ‘ocean foot spa’ and entry to the jellyfish gallery. 

There was also entry to go in a cage and be lowered into the shark tank for shits and giggles. I am ultra glad I didn’t do it for reasons I’ll explain below.

Like many things regarding organisational skills in the Philippines, entry took forever, the ticket readers weren’t working.
So, instead, the staff insisted on pushing the ticket readers to keep trying to read tickets and held up the line for ages.
Clearly because, you know manually reading the ticket and letting the masses of people through quickly and efficiently is not as fun as trying to get a ticket to scan at least 6 to 7 times before saying, ‘aww screw it, let me just check it myself’ with every single person in the line.

The aquarium however is really nice. Enclosures were small and some were sparsely furnished, the fish/eels/
crustaceans seemed a little cramped or sad at their unexciting homes but I thought the place looked great anyway, there was a lot of information provided and the layout was great, it hardly felt crowded inside.

The last part of the aquarium has the Ray and shark enclosures. The rays looked pretty happy swimming around in the underground glass tunnels with all the other fish but the sharks looked like the saddest pumpkins to ever grace the bottom of a swimming pool. One even hid his head in a rock. It was hilarious and a bit sad to see.
Sad shark is sad...
I know that feel bro
Being lowered in a cage into a pool filled with these saddos would have been heartbreaking for me since I bet that they wouldn’t have even mustered the energy to swim around had anyone been lowered in there.

Next we went to the Fish Spa. This was a pretty interesting experience which involved Turkish Doctor Fish. They’re sort of like piranhas in that they nibble away at dead skin on your feet and legs when you dip your feet in the pools. It was excruciatingly ticklish and they all seemed to swarm my legs and avoided everyone else’s. I was half screaming in laughter by the time they were through with me. Mum said it was mine were the only white legs in the pool ha!

huge... ticklish and huge

Thing is the fish were meant to be tiny, the ones having a go at us were the size of Tilapia.

We got stuck in a monsoon on the way home. Most of the main roads were flooded and catching a ride home was hard, but it was one wet, windy adventure.

After, my uncle took us to Tagaytay, which is a province around 45 minutes by car from Manila. 

I love Tagaytay and always make it a point to go there when I visit. The main city (Tagaytay City) is high above in the mountains of the region with most buildings and restaurants overlooking the breathtaking view of Mt. Taal. Tagaytay is actually a huge volcano which got flooded in and another small volcano rose in the middle of its flooder crater, making it a volcano inside another volcano. 

a pretty local spider... in that it is also pretty huge
 The views are magnificent and some of my favourites since I was a kid.

 We also went to Antipolo, which is also outside Manila to visit my cousin’s café and to visit an art gallery converted from the home of one of the land owners there.

Antique religious statues - very popular in the Philippines
The place was lovely and quite idyllic with fantastic views of Antipolo’s hills and mountains and housed some typically outstanding Filipino art.

Let me note that Filos are premiere artists, its something in the blood, with the stereotype that follows that the Chinese are good at maths and drawing, the same goes for Filipinos and Karaoke. Especially Karaoke.

For our last provincial trip, we went to Davao, which is my late grandmother’s home town. There we met up with our great uncles and aunties who are my mum’s second and third cousins. Let me say first of all that this place is PARADISE.

My grandmother moved to Manila after the war after she married my gramps. But all her life she always told us that she was Davaoeña and was very close to our relatives there. She was well loved in Davao and every time she went back to visit, she was treated like a prodigal child and treated like a princess. Turns out, it was literally because she was.

My great grandfather was a former governor and had also been appointed as datu or tribal leader of the region. I near flipped out seeing photos of my great grandparents displayed at the local museum. There is even a bridge named after

We stayed at a really nice hotel in Davao, it was pretty quiet and the views of the beach overlooking to Samal Island, a Island just of the coast where most of the reef resorts were. I swam at their pool every day and made an effort to stay in shape (a bit), despite the serious amounts of bacon and pancakes I was eating every day for breakfast.

We spend most of our days being shown around by the relatives. It was a fantastic and surreal experience. Our family ties to Davao are super deep. Our family and extended family there is deeply ingrained into the social history of the city.
One particularly weird moment was being driven in the car up a main street and realising that the street was named after my great aunt’s side of the family.

Golden Pheasant
There in Davao, your family name has weight. This is both a bad thing in that some families, like that of the current mayor have monopolised positions of power into dynasties. (The current mayor is the former mayor’s daughter, the vice mayor is the former mayor, once her term is over, she will most likely give it up to her dad and thus the position gets recycled, this is despite having free elections), and a good thing in that, in Davao at least, these families, with their deep histories have a deep respect for the land and their legacies so that despite being the main land owners or the political leaders, they work hard to keep the integrity of their society and preserve the history of the place and take care of the city because technically, it is their own. As a result there is a city wide gun ban, a city wide public smoking ban and despite the obvious poverty in many places, the city is clean and there is little to no public unrest. (Ok, so the mayor also employs their own personal army, but they used it to clear out not only some political rivals but to literally wipe out almost all gangs and drug rings in the area).

a typical farm shanty
We were shown about the properties of the family, they are all farms. Our great auntie explained that they have no interest in developing the land into housing or to sell (the land comes at premium price there) because farming is a family tradition and a simple farm life is the only life for them. Frankly, I couldn’t agree more.

at the farm

The farms they took us to were so well maintained and so beautiful and so fertile that I cannot imagine why anyone there would want to work at anything else. We spent some time with some of the farmers and people who tend to the fields and live there and it was one of the nicest places to spend time in. My great aunt told us that her favourite days was when she would go to the plantations and have lunch with their people. I can see why.

We also got taken to my third cousin R’s farm where he keeps horses. These aren’t the pithy rickety Filipino horses you find in Manila, but beautiful pedigrees that he loves to ride. I had so much fun getting my hand licked for salt by some of these pretties. I couldn’t ride them cause I was only wearing sandals and I am snobby in that One does not ride an Appaloosa in strap on sandals.

There was nothing unnatural about my love for this horse

We were also taken to one of the banana plantations where I got gobsmacked by the sheer size of the land. These places are actually well cared for and native trees are kept alongside fruit trees (which are also native). Overall, I got the impression that a lot of the farmers in Davao have a deep respect for the natural landscape of the region and did little to alter it. In fact, my great aunt also owned a rock quarry where they mined stone to make cement for the local roads.

Banana flower

Once they found out it was eroding the local riverline, they immediately stopped and carried on with a less dangerous venture.


Back to our hotel though. While we could see the lovely Samal Island beyond the beach line (we were not allowed to swim at the beach of our hotel, it was horribly, HORRIBLY dirty and polluted), our great aunt told us that the hotel itself had a strong tie to our family history.

Ok, so my grandmother was an epic story teller. She spoke about Davao all the time so I was very familiar with her childhood and what she and my grandfather went through during the war (my grandfather’s story is a separate one all together too harrowing to tell at the moment).

My grandmother told us war stories all the time. She was the only girl out of 7 children (or was it 11? I cant remember). This particular story was repeated to me by both my grandmother and my mother who also spoke about my great grandmother’s experience.

Basically, when the Japanese invaded Davao, the people fled to Samal Island to get away. Remember that bridge that is named after my great grandfather? there is a second one named after my grandmother’s older brother. He blew up one of the main bridges into the city to delay the Japanese from entering. He was on the bridge when it exploded.

The location where our hotel was at was the exact place (according to my great aunt who remembers it) where the Davaoeños fled.

It gets crazier. My grandmother’s brothers were the ones helping people in boats to get them across the small stretch of water from the coast to the island. They were the last to go across once everyone was safe. As they rowed to the island, an American fighter plane flew over, chasing the Japanese troops that had already breached the city. Mistaking my great uncles for Japanese (I guess they all look the same, civilian natives and armed Japanese soldier), the shot them down in the water. My great grandmother watched it all from the island, she dragged her sons’ corpses to the shore. It affected her so much she stopped talking for years. My mother remembers how laconic she had been until one day she just got better and was a spry active lady who took care of my mum and uncles and aunties as children and even raised some of my older cousins before she died.

It was disconcerting to say the least to stand on the shore there.

We later went to the day to Samal Island. It is now parcelled off into several beach resorts. We went to one of the quieter but prettier ones called Chemas. Its literally only a 5 minute boat ride. We spent the whole morning there enjoying the sun and the impossibly clear water. Only that in the morning the tide washed in all the rubbish, so I did my civic duty and gathered all the rubbish (chip packets, cans, plastic bags even a dirty nappy!) before going in for a swim. I had a brief love affair with a beach dog. It was magic.


We spent a lot of time with our distant relatives in Davao, including a third cousin around my age who was great company and an enthusiastic chatter and shoe lover. We are definitely related.

When we got back to Manila, we got homestuck because of the terrible floods. It rained and rained and rained. I’m not talking about the pitter patter of drops on the roof. I’m talking about a hellion taps left on during the night. It poured, there were no drops of water, there were just constant streams washing everything away. Manila bay’s flood walls got breached and the ocean took its vengeance by tossing back on the city more than 2000 trucks worth of rubbish that people had thrown in. In other places, people lost their homes and whole houses (including that of my cousins’) got flooded up to the second floor. The flooding wasn’t just caused by non-stop rain, but also by bad gutter infrastructure and a lot of people lost their homes because they lived in poor districts that were prone to things like this, eg, under bridges for example. The current Pres has been trying to relocate a lot of people to avoid these kinds of things and to
try and fix the butters of most districts, but you know, politics in the Philippines is the most ridiculous sport you will ever watch.

The cat seemed to not care about the rain and slept on the roof regardless
At one point one of these local braindead airheaded TV celebrities who was doing volunteer work at an evacuation centre said in an interview something like ‘I didn’t realise the gap between the rich and the poor was that big’.
I don’t know about you but I am not even local and I know that the rich/poor gap is obscenely wide. Clearly you are not only living in Lala Land but you are an idiot (that is my politest description). I would get into a rant about the sorry, sorry state of social and political affairs that country is in but those of you who have seen my posts on Facebook, I’m guessing I don’t need to repeat myself here… yet.
These are a facade of 'fake' empty house fronts used to cover up the poor shanty house district along one of the main highways

All I can same is that it’s a damn shame that such an amazing country is literally falling apart because of people who are too stupid or greedy or self obsessed to care about lifting the country which is lagging behind its neighbours.

I absolutely LOVED going ‘home’ to the Philippines this year. I got to spend time with family that didn’t involve rushing to get xmas presents wrapped. I reconnected with family that I miss terribly and I got to see my little cousins get a bit bigger. I really, really love my family, can you not tell? As a kid going back home to Spain after Xmas in the Phils I always got really depressed because it was always just me and mum again on our own after a holiday spent in the boisterous company of my relatives.

It was great visiting new parts of the Philippines and getting away from Manila (which is my least favourite city, except for Trinoma mall, which has the Melissa Flagship store [shoes!!!]). I am definitely going back to visit Lola S and her family in Bacolod and I will definitely make it a point to go Davao every time I go back and visit my extended family there. I hope to one day take friends to discover how amazing this place is, and kindly ask them to ignore me when I froth at the mouth when political or social affairs t here make my blood boil. Its only because I think the Philippines is a country that deserves better than the shit it lives through.

An old electric fan in our garden

Next time I go, I am definitely going to go scuba diving and maybe catch some Whale Shark sight seeing. There is so much to do still and I cant wait to go back. MISS YOU ALREADY!!!!!!

End of looooong gush.

T out.

PS – Hands up who wants to come with me next time I go? Seriously, I cant imagine why not.