Formerly known as "Cruzers in Korea"

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Philippines Trip!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Mom and her sisters back then...

...and Mom and her sisters now.

Beanie, Alan and Rodante in the Philippines many moons ago.

Because of all the pictures, this will be one of at least two blog entries on the Philippines.  It's a pretty long entry so you are more than excused if you veer off course. Anyway, what started out as an unplanned trip to the Philippines to visit Mom and Dad, and admittedly an opportunity to get the "check in the block" family visit out of the way, ended up being a life altering event for me that I'll never forget.  Most of what I'm about to write is geared toward my siblings but I think the points I'll attempt to make just might do all of us some good. Heck, what am I talking about? I'm probably writing this for my own therapeutic benefit. Disclaimer - you might have seen some of these pics already on my Facebook page. Second disclaimer - on Facebook, I probably painted a rosier picture than actual reality.

So after the Cruz kids spend essentially their entire lives living in the US, Mom and Dad decide to pack up and retire to the Philippines. My siblings and I weren't sure what to make of that whole deal. Why would they move thousands of miles away from their kids and grandkids to a foreign land halfway around the world? Some of us might've had some buried feelings of resentment over their new Asian Pacific address. Maybe not. We were probably just apathetic about the whole thing. Growing up under Dad's disciplined roof will do that to you. Dad made multiple attempts to retire in the PI but always found reasons to eventually come back to the US.  Maybe he had become accustomed to the creature comforts of the US - listening to Alex Trebek's meticulous enunciation every night on Jeopardy, air conditioning, indoor plumbing and buying DVDs at Best Buy. Dad eventually got serious though and moved back to the PI for good a few years ago.

There was the thought that Dad wasn't getting the respect he felt he deserved in the States. His own kids kept him distance because of those two strong words - the past. In the PI, he could be Mr. Big Pants, King of the Hill, a somebody. His money would go a long way with the poor folks there and people would listen to him. It wasn't until I was actually in the PI that I realized that the Cruz kids were off in this assessment. Way off. While there might be hints of the things I mentioned, the bottom line is that the PI is simply home for Dad. Yeah, he could be in the US, staying with Darby or Alan or any of us. But there would always be that thing. That thing you get even when you stay with your best friend or closest relative. No matter how comfortable you think you can get, it's still not your place. It's not your home. Well, Dad's home is the PI. He and Mom are happy there. Simple as that.

We were also under the impression that Mom was only in the PI because of Dad. I really don't think that's the case. Matter of fact, with the help she gets in the PI, her life there might be easier than if she had stayed in the US. She gets help from Loni, the wife of my first cousin, Elmer. Lisa, another first cousin, also helps her out. Bros and sis, think about how much fun we have when we're around each other. Maybe Mom gets those same feelings when she's around her own sisters. And she's able to help them out too. They undoubtedly need it. Another thing, think about how hard Mom was working when she was back in the States - sewing, babysitting, cooking, cleaning, etc. She's no spring chicken anymore and maybe the relaxed life in the PI is exactly what she needs.

Mom and Dad both did some expectation management before we arrived. They told me that there are a lot of poor people here and that we may see things we don't normally see. On the hour and a half drive from the Manila airport to their house in San Miguel, San Simon, Pampanga, I saw people sleeping under bridges and in tricycles, huge piles of trash on the side of the roads and a bunch of disheveled shacks that people live in. If it wasn't third world, it was pretty darn close. Throughout the week, I saw things like kids and adults with rotted teeth, folks in dirty clothes walking around barefoot and even rats that some of the people eat with no qualms.

My initial reaction was, what the heck was I thinking bringing my family out here? The conditions were pitiful. But after a day or two, I realized the only thing that was pitiful was the way I was thinking. They didn't need cell phones, high speed internet or two cars to be happy. They didn't even need utensils to eat their meals. I have aunts and cousins that make their living by cooking food and selling it to people on the streets. They might make only a couple of dollars a day, and that 's good for them. I have a cousin that makes a living by driving people around on a powered tricycle. They're happy, humble and hard working people. They truly appreciate what God gives them and take nothing for granted.  Surprisingly, there's an internet cafe that's a ten minute walk away from the house. It's a concrete structure with air conditioning and a couple of computers. Lots of teens are in there playing video games.  Me, Carol and CJ, using three different computers, were online for maybe two hours. It cost 70 pesos total, or about $1.50. I tried to give the girl running the internet cafe extra money but she wouldn't accept it.  Many folks across the US are concerned about job stability and finances.  Everyone knows the economy is dreadful right now.  And yet, a single unemployment check in the US would sustain a San Miguel family for six months to a year. My eyes were truly opened. The things some of us worry about - our stocks and 401K's taking a hit, paying too much shipping for that eBay auction we just won, or whether to tip 15% even though the waiter was terrible - it all seems so petty compared to the lives of so many people in the Philippines and countries like it. In those few days in the PI, God showed me what is truly important.

So now that I've got you reaching for your wallets to buy airline tickets to the Philippines, let me continue on about the trip. I got to drink some cold beers with Dad, his friends and some of my relatives. Yes, I love Jesus but I like to drink a little (this line from the Ellen Show is one of my all-time favorites). Dad likes to host these get togethers at the house whenever he can cause he knows the other guys don't have much money. They really respect my father and look up to him. There's another big wig in the neighborhood - a professional basketball player. He's snooty though and doesn't associate with the rest of the barrio like Dad does. It was really good to see Dad in his element, joking with the fellas and just hanging out. I had so many people tell me in their most honest, alcohol-influenced truth, how awesome Dad is. He helps a lot of the people around here with money, jobs and in other ways. And I really didn't see it as this self-gratifying Godfather you owe me kind of thing. From my two eyes, it's sincere kindness Dad is imparting onto his barrio. I was very proud. At the same time, I was ashamed at myself for overlooking all those past opportunities where I could've tipped back some brews with Dad but didn't for no good reason.  He would've enjoyed drinking with his kids.  The guys here look up to Dad because of his Navy career and what he's done in the PI. We forget that he sacrificed a lot by leaving his home country and joining the Navy. To be accepted by the Navy, he had to pass a big test and English examination. Many of his peers didn't make it. I'm glad Dad did well on the exam!

Mom and Dad's house is probably the nicest in the entire barrio. Right next to their house is a yard where you'll find goats and chickens. We woke up to roosters crowing every morning. The electricity went out twice during our week long stay. We took cold showers because we had to. Houses here don't have hot water. You're fortunate to have running water at all. Some of the neighbors came over and borrowed some water from my folks because their water system was out for the last three days. Can you imagine no water for three days? Jake got bit up terribly by the mosquitoes. All of this stuff and yet it was still an awesome time.  I got to see where I was born, where Mom and Dad grew up and got married.  I got to meet and spend time with many blood relatives and truly take in my filipino roots.  Just listening to people talk in the Kapampangan language and being able to naturally understand them put a big grin on my face.  Tasting foods I hadn't tasted since I was a child was inexplicable.  How do you explain sweet macapuno in your mouth or the texture of purple ube or that first bite of a soft ensemada roll?  Yeah, we grew up in the US and I love America with every fiber of my being, but God's will was for all of the Cruz kids to be born in the Philippines.  I can't explain it, but I definitely got to feel some of God's will that week, and it was amazing. 

When I was a kid, Dad used to make these impressive models of houses out of pieces of cardboard boxes. Other than using an Exacto knife, I don't know how he created those things. There was one that I specifically remember - a white house with a burgundy roof. Little did I know that this cardboard model of a dream house that Dad conjured up from his imagination would be the very house I'd be sleeping in 30 years later.

Dad's dream house in the PI. He designed the entire thing. It's taken a couple of years to build and it's still not completely finished, but it's his dream house nonetheless. It's an impressive 5 bedroom house that sticks out like a sore thumb in this extremely humble barrio of a neighborhood.

The spot where I took this picture is usually full of action - folks hopping into tricycles and people walking by. Unfortunately, people also drop trash here too. I know it irritates Dad. He says that the country will never get to its true potential if people don't take care of their land. He's exactly right. I was surprised at how loud the neighborhood was. The continual blare of nearby stereos and karaoke machines, the revving of tricycle engines in dire need of mufflers and the crowing of roosters combined to form the definitive sound of the San Miguel symphony.

Carol says a sports bra is required equipment while traveling in the Philippines because of all the bumpy roads. The one common bond between all the different and crazy modes of transportation in the PI - cars, motorcycles, powered tricycles, manual wheelers - is that they make your boobs bounce. Sports bra ladies. Don't forget. Here's their car which they don't put many miles on. I wonder how many boob bounces per mile you get with this thing. Just kidding. I meant per kilometer.

Dad was a really good host. He went to the mall with us a couple times even though I felt like he would've rather stayed home, especially after one particular night of drinking and playing cards all night with his homeboys.

Speaking of drinking and playing cards all night, here's Dad laid out the next day. Please shoot me if I ever wear my drawers that high.

This kitchen table is where I added some poundage onto my not-so-slender frame. Pampanga is famous for its good cooking and Mom is no exception. I chowed down to some good pancit, lumpia, lechon, caldereta, barbecue, tocino, bibinka, leche flan, pata, pucit, ube, ensemada, siopao and other filipino delicacies. I hit it and I hit it haahhd!

CJ and I watched several DVDs from Dad's collection in this room. Who knew the boys would love Austin Powers and James Bond so much?

Carol chilling with Jake in the big house.

They've still got some work to do on the house like tiling, finishing a bathroom, building a terrace and other stuff. That Navy pension and social security goes a long way in the PI.

They've got some seriously high ceilings in the house.

As rural as the area is, the neighbors are surprisingly close. Here's Carol and Jake on one of several balconies in the house.

Right behind the house is a big old rice field. That's the house in the background.

Taken from the back balcony. It really was a majestic sight.

Here's the adjoining yard. Notice the goats grazing in the yard.

More goats. Beanie - can you picture Arnold Callanta's Grandpa with a bottle of vinegar and a malicious thought?

These jeepneys are all over the place. This one is in front of the snooty basketball player's house. I'm really not giving you the true picture of the neighborhood by showing you the two nicest houses in the whole place.

This is the house next door to Dad's. That's Dad's house on the right side. A lot of people build additions onto their parents' homes. That might be the case here. As far as the overall quality of the houses, our parking garage in Korea is in a much better state than many of the homes we saw in San Miguel.

Here's Dad's dog, Pepper. Dad didn't get too creative with the name. Pepper is also the name of one of my sister's old dogs. Dad bought him at the local market for 700 pesos, which is about $14 US.

Carol was skeeved out that the cats were hanging out on the kitchen counter. The cat on the left is named Cuning Cuning. The cat on the right is named Cuning Cuning. I don't know what the deal is with Filipinos repeating words. Words. That's only a coincidence that they are in close proximity to the microwave.

Cuning Cuning's other name is R2. There's R1 who is an older neighbor named Rudy who had a terrible accident as a child that blinded him in one eye. This cat is R2 because he was shot in the eye with a BB pellet. He's also got two BB's lodged in his body. "You'll shoot your eye out kid!" Like many of the people here, R2's had a tough life, and again like many of the people here, he's a pretty darn happy cat. Who knew Dad had such a soft spot for animals?

The rice field behind the house.

You knew the pose was coming!

Here's one of Dad's neighbors. He's changing the flow of the irrigation system by moving wooden boards from one place to the other. The source of this water is the nearby Pampanga River. Even with all of this rice, Mom said the PI still had to import some rice this year. That's a lot of rice. It was neat to watch this man in action.

I'm ashamed to say that I don't own a rice cooker.  Fortunately, Carol makes some really good rice from the regular old pot.  Who would've ever thought we'd be gallivanting in a rice field in the Philippines?

CJ was not amused by all the meat. He'd be a herbivore if we let him. He was in heaven though with the abundance of delicious mangos. Mom was prepping this meat for the big New Year's Day party. It was quite the spread. Now I know where I got the party throwing gene.

Lisa cooking up a big thing of pancit lug lug for the party.  It was delicious!

This is the little bridge that spans the Pampanga River. Even though it's maybe 15 or 20 feet above the water, the area still floods above this bridge sometimes. When that happens, neighbors help each other out as best as they can. They go for high ground and stay with nearby friends and relatives.

Here's CJ and Jake about to go on a tricycle ride with their Grandma. I'm surprised Carol allowed this to happen, especially considering that Carol is one of the biggest baby seat nazis I know. My impression is that baby seats aren't huge in the Philippines. Neither is safety. I don't think I saw a single street sign in all of San Miguel - stop, yield, u-turn, nothing. People overtake you from the left, the right - it doesn't matter. Sometimes you'll even bump people with your car or tricycle. Not a big deal.

This might be my favorite picture from the entire trip. The boys didn't know what to make of these ducks. One week they're hugging Donald Duck in Hong Kong Disneyland. A few weeks later, they're looking at the roasted carcass of Donald's second cousin.

In the back row is Auntie Luding (Lourdes), Dad, Auntie Lucia, Mom, me and Loni, who is married to my first cousin, Elmer. Loni cooks and does housework for my Mom. In the front row is little Angel being held by her dad, Elmer. And of course Jake with the big smile. I think Jake gets the big smile gene from his Grandpa. By the way - no, Elmer did not have a big argument over whether it was wabbit season or duck season and he did not shoot the ducks in the previous picture.

Aunty Lucia, Mom, 2nd cousin Esyang, me and 2nd cousin Maria. These 2nd cousins helped Mom with raising us kids when I was a baby.  In other words, they washed my buldit.

We had quite the feast on New Year's Day. Many relatives came over, including aunts and first cousins. There were many close relatives that I met for the very first time. I had an instant bond with many of them. The Cruz personality was just overflowing in them.

Although the language barrier was significant, CJ and Jake got along well with their many 2nd cousins and new friends. CJ and Jake brought a handful of toys for the trip. These few toys went over extremely well with the other kids. CJ also got to see how much they enjoyed doing simple things like playing with paper airplanes and drawing pictures.  I think CJ realized just how good he has it.

Me with the Anna's. These are more of my fun loving first cousins. From the left is Anna Marisel, Anna Marie, Anna Risa, Anna Belle and last but not least, Anna Lynn. Their mother, Auntie Oric, passed away a few years ago. The Anna's have two brothers, William and Bernie. They're not in this picture because they are not named Anna.

Rowena is Uncle Goc's daughter and Rodante's sister. I remember when Uncle Goc passed away when I was a kid. Dad was distraught. He flew back to the Philippines for the funeral. Rodante (Dante) is a good man. He stepped up and took care of his sisters after his father passed. He shares a passion of mine - fishing! I told him I was gonna send him some fishing gear so he could catch some big ones in the Pampanga River.

I'm not sure of everyone's names in this one. That's Rowena to the left of Carol and Regina on my right. I think that's Maria to the right of Regina. So Uncle Goc's kids are Rodante, Rowena, Regina and Maria, my first cousins. They were all an absolute blast. We knew each other what, one day? And we were high fiving and just laughing up a storm.

Carol with her drinking hat on. Notice the beer of choice - San Miguel Light. I was very impressed at how they could open a bottle by using another bottle. Still haven't perfected that one.

My little Vietnamese refugees.

More family!

Under the mango tree was the preferred location to drink beers with Dad and the gang. They were giving me a hard time about not knowing my native language very well. I actually remembered more than I thought. Mangan tana! That's Dante in the middle of the picture with the red shirt.

Notice the Coke in a bag. Some folks don't have the money to buy the Coke in a bottle so they buy the Coke in a bag and drink it up with a straw. Seriously. The little boy with the Coke bag kept spraying the other kids with Coke. It irritated the snot out of CJ. That's Christian in the hat. He's Bernabe Cruz the II's son I believe. Nice guy. The girl in the stripes is Ning Ning II. Ning Ning I is Darby's daughter, Ariel. There's those double words again.

That's Nelson in the white tank top, my first cousin and Auntie Lucia's son. He helped Dad build the house. In the middle with the little girl in the pink is Lisa, another first cousin. Her daughter LJ is adorable. So Auntie Lucia's kids are Nelson, Elmer, Lisa, Junior, Agnes and Arlen. I only met Nelson, Elmer and Lisa. That's it for the photos on this marathon blog entry. I'll post more pictures when I have time.

Seeing Mom and Dad so happy was worth the price of the airline tickets. If one of the Cruz kids wins the lottery or is awarded a big lawsuit because of finding a mouse in your yogurt cup, we've got to use the spoils to visit Mom and Dad in the PI, all of us together under the same roof. That would simply blow them away. Their 50th wedding anniversary will be in 4 or 5 years. Maybe that's the perfect opportunity. It's really just a choice of whether we want to do it or not. Simple as that. Don't get me wrong. It's a challenging place like I described. But if you want to step ahead into your future, sometimes it's best to take at least a small glimpse into your past.

Let me close my PI ramblings by saying that I know we could've gone to Boracay, one of the nicest beaches in the entire world and only 200 miles from Manila. I know about all the luxurious resorts that are plentiful in this place. That's not what I came for though. I came for family. And I got family. And it was awesome. I'm sure that everyone will have different reactions to experiences such as this. I might've dissuaded you from ever stepping foot in this country. I hope not. The comparison I've got for you is going to a supposedly fabulous place like Venice, Vegas or even a theme park with so much stuff to do and you just have a lousy time for whatever reason. Or you go absolutely nowhere -- but you're with the right people and you end up having the time of your life. For me, the latter is definitely what happened. On some trips, the souvenirs you take home with you might be a goofy magnet for the fridge or a donkey that ejects cigarettes from its butt when you pull its ears back. The souvenirs I take home with me from this trip are a bigger and much more open heart, perspective, appreciation and love. I hope I can visit again. --C2



Chris, This is possibly your masterwork in blogging. You encapsulated everything so well in that family is all that is really important when it is all said and done with. I was in tears many times as I read your heartfelt words and I come away richer inside as a person knowing where I came from and the joy I now know that Mom and Dad have each day they live in our birthplace, they deserve the rest and goodness they have in their life they left so long ago for us. I hope we can, in some providential way visit PI all of us as siblings and our families. What a reunion that would be. I'm just crazy enough to think we can all pull that off someday. Thanks for taking the time in blogging your visit to our true home.



Dear Chris & company;
As always, it has been a pleasure reading at your blogs (as well as your New Year's letter...thanks!).
What you have lived & described just make my mind go back to my own country, Paraguay. We have the same feelings everytime we go to visit. My parents, as yours, have decided to live there (after having an option to retire anywhere in the world!). This is what is called "roots". And as yours, they also enjoy every minute of ther retirement with family & friends.
By the way...your cousins, the Anna's, not far away from here!!! Remember that in MY house, I have the Maria's (Maria Guadalupe-Lupe, Maria Laura-Lita, & Maria Luisa-Tuki)!!!
I'm very glad that you had a great time & is good for CJ & Jake to 'live' their roots...
Happy new year & talk to you guys anytime.

Mo Lluberes & company


I had a coke in a bag in Nicaragua. Quite fun.

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