Formerly known as "Cruzers in Korea"

Sunday, January 31, 2010


Sunday, January 31, 2010
There have only been three times in the last year and a half where I wished I was back home in the US.  It doesn't happen often because I love living here in Busan.  Now is one of those times.  One of my best friends, Mark Barao, had a heart attack and stroke recently while traveling for work.  It's hard not being able to support Mark in person.  The good news is that Mark is getting better every day and is now back in Virginia Beach with his family after an arduous stay in Pennsylvania.  He has definitely come a long way from two weeks of uncertainty.  For those friends and acquaintances of Mark's that don't know about his situation, please take a look at the following Facebook page:

In Support of the Barao Family

Even if you don't know Mark, it's very uplifting to see the progress he's made and the tremendous support his family has received from friends and loved ones.  For many of Mark's friends, I'm sure this was a huge wake up call.  Mark's always been a strong, tough guy - a man's man.  I remember seeing a video from one of his karate black belt tests (third degree I think) where he's flying through the air breaking multiple wooden boards before his feet touch the ground.  If I was a girl, I would've given him my number.  Who am I kidding, I would've let him get to third base.  Heck, the only thing you need to know about Mark's virility is that he knows Chuck Norris.  Did you know global warming was created from the heat coming off of Chuck Norris' fists?

Well, rather than dwell on the somber side of this situation, I'd like to share with you a couple of things about Mark, and maybe even have a laugh while doing so.  I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Mark will be back to doing roundhouse kicks and playing golf in no time.  Those physical therapists better be careful to not get knocked down by Mark's motivation.  It's a powerful force.

Let me tell you about my friend.

Mark and I have been friends since we were teenagers.  We were classmates at Brandon Junior High, Princess Anne Junior High and Kellam High School in good old Virginia Beach.  Matter of fact, Mark was one of my first friends when my family moved from Norfolk to Virginia Beach.  We had a lot of things in common - we were the same age, we were both Filipino, our dads were both in the Navy, we were both into sports and most importantly, we both had awesome mullets.  Check out our coifs:

All business in the front...

...and all party in the back.  Mullet - best hairstyle ever.

I was compelled to include this picture of my brother Lee's mullet cause his mullet totally crushes mine and Mark's combined.  Oh yeah, Duran Duran called.  They want their bolo tie back.

One of my best memories from high school is zipping around in Mark's convertible MG with the top down.  It was a feisty little burgundy two-seater that was the coolest thing ever.  It wasn't until later that I found out that Mark and I were breaking Man Law #7 - Two straight men shall not ride in a convertible together with the top down.  Hey, we were still learning.  

Later on, Mark had the Camaro then the 300ZX.  But it was that MG that was the most fun.  That MG had the fastest windshield wipers known to man.  On multiple occasions, I offered to drive to school but I think Mark preferred to drive his MG instead of riding in my white 4-door 1972 (or whatever old fart year it was) Chevy Nova that used to be a Chesapeake city car.  I knew it was a city car because you could still see the faded letters from the stenciling that was on the doors of the cars.  Yeah, not the coolest car in the world but it ran and it only cost $500.  You know what was really cool?  Mark never joked me about my car.  He was a good friend.

Mark always had the nice toys.  Some of us had the pleather Michael Jackson jacket while Mark was sporting the real leather.  When we were zipping around on our bicycles, Mark had the cool red moped.  While some of the neighborhood kids, myself included, were taking a dip in the neighborhood lake, Mark was enjoying his new swimming pool.  And he was really kind with inviting the buds over to enjoy the pool with him.  We'd play our own made up games like "Astronaut, Astronaut Never Come Up."  That particular game was borderline hysterical fun and hospital emergency room visit.  We survived.  BTW, that lake I mentioned - it was kinda dirty.  I'm pretty sure those lake swims were the reason why I had to go to the doctor and have my ears cleared out that summer.  I'd bet good money that the muck in my ears was from that dang lake.  Feel free to take a quick break so you can gag.

Oh yeah.  Mark was named "Best Dressed" at Princess Anne Junior High School.  Little known fact.  Mark almost missed this photo shoot because he was too busy folding his pants up at the ankles and pinning them tight.   

Mark and I really got tight during wrestling season.  We were both cutting weight and pushing our bodies to their limits.  The blood, sweat and tears we shared during our wrestling years is one of the reasons why I know Mark is gonna recover just fine.  Coach Michaels - thanks for everything you taught us and put us through - grueling practices, frogs, lazy dogs, challenges, all of it.  Mark might be thinking of you during those physical therapy sessions.

Young bucks on the Kellam High School wrestling team.  I wrestled at 105 lbs and Mark was at 132 lbs.  Mark also played wide receiver for the football team.  Even though Mark didn't have a ton of experience wrestling, he was still beating guys with much more experience.  He was just a natural athlete.  I remember him beating a guy from Kempsville that was supposed to be the best in the region.  Yeah, he learned about Filipino power that day.

On to more embarrassing stuff - breakdancing.  There was the Fil-Am Rockers - the official breakdancing group.  Then there was the unofficial CRAM Crew.  CRAM - Chris, Rowell, Arnold and Mark.  Oh yeah.  We had routines and everything.  Shoot me now.

CRAM Crew plus two.  Clockwise from top left:  Mark, Bill Cassity (Bill Shree), Arnold Callanta, me, Ant Brown and Rowell Armenio.  This is near the Cavalier Hotel in Virginia Beach.  We liked this spot because we could sneak over to the hotel pool and do crazy stuff off of their high dive.

I think this was taken with a disk camera.  Remember those?  They went away about the same time that our abdominal muscles went away.

Chilling with the boys at my house.  Even though this picture was taken from the second floor, you can still see the awesomeness of Mark's mullet.

Sexy!  You look good too Lani.  This is during Mark's midshipman days at Old Dominion University.  "Love lift us up where we belong..."  Side note:  Mark likes to bring up an old story where I was in a fight with a neighborhood guy and my nose started bleeding even before punches started flying.  I then like to bring up the story that I went out with Lani before him.

Hugging it out at my brother Alan's, ahem, first wedding.

Hanging out with our good friend Aileen.  Check out my IOU shirt.  IOU some money for not laughing at this picture.

Aileen, Mark and Lani.  Three of the nicest people you'll ever meet in your life.

There they are again, being nice.

At James Madison University visiting Lani and Aileen.

Mark professing his man-love to me.

Mark caught red handed two-timing on me.

One thing about Mark is that he can SLEEP.  Here he is knocked out at a party.

Here he is knocked out at another party.

Mark seeing me off at my farewell party before I departed for flight school in Pensacola, Florida.  This is also right before he knocked out asleep.  I don't think Mark knew how sad I was to be saying bye to him.

My oldest brother Alan, Mark, Aileen and Dave.  This is before Aileen and Dave got married and right before Carol and I tied the knot.

So a couple of years passed and I was the first of the group to get hitched.  This is right before I got married.  I'm really happy Carol said yes even though I had on a ridiculously large bow tie.  Mark gave me a hard time about not attending his wedding.  I had a good excuse.  I was deployed aboard the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT flying missions in the Adriatic Sea and Persian Gulf.  Cut me some slack man!  Wish I could've been there for you and Lani.

Catching up at my sister's place about 15 years ago.

We got to visit Mark and Lani in San Francisco while I was stationed in San Diego.  At least we were on the same coast for a while.  It was an awesome visit.  That's my flying buddy Al Francisco and his daughter Alyssa in the middle.  Here we are showing off the fruits of our loins.

No more crazy speeding in the Mustang from VMI to JMU or beating up drunk guys at Peabody's.  Settled down family guys.  That's us.

In August 2007, a bunch of the old Virginia Beach crowd had a mini-reunion at Princess Anne Park.  It was a great time.  Hadn't seen some of the old gang in over 15 years.  Me, Rick "The Man" Cosca, Mark, Arnold Callanta, Bill and Alan.

It was awesome seeing all of the kids too.

20 year high school reunion.

Pepito Arganza, Edgar Castillo, me, Gus Evangelista and Mark.  Better known as the OTW Club - Other Than White.

Well, thanks for taking this stroll down memory lane.  Lani and Mark, you guys are such an inspiring couple.  We'll continue to pray for you and the entire family.  Mark, I know there will be tough days ahead but nothing that you can't get through.  Stay strong and keep working hard.  God's strength is limitless.  You will get to the Mark of old.  My brother, I expect nothing less than TBD throughout your physical therapy - Total Barao Domination.  

Can't wait to see you in person.  I love you bro - Chris



Chris, what an amazing writer you are (as I've always said)! I cried AND laughed through the whole thing (especially the pictures!) Thanks for the walk down memory lane, what an awesome tribute to Mark!


Chris when you're done with the Navy, you have a future as a writer. If you need an editor, hit me up...

The Cruzers

Aileen - Glad you liked it. It was good therapy for me. You need to check out Mark's Facebook page. We've been talking about you!

Chuck - Thanks for the compliment. Don't mean to be rude, but which Chuck are you?



Cruzer--We left comments on your personal FB page, but I'll have to repeat it again--you captured the memories so well. Annapolis or any higher level of learning needs to take you in as a professor. :o)

We look forward to your return to the US. Keep "making the donuts", and love to the rest of the Cruz family.

-Lani Barao (Officer and a Gentlemen Female Lead)


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