|A huge welcoming sign to Philippines Immigration|
The next day was the gathering that prompted this trip. It was in memory of Jason's grandmother's death, and also in celebration of his mother's birthday. The last time Jason had visited the Philippines was 7 years ago, and this gathering was a no-miss. Jason and I had been trying to get here together since we first became friends in 10th grade, his job ended two days before the party, I had the time and the money to plan the trip (and then some), so we made it happen. I arrived 7 hours before his flight. And then at the airport, somehow, Jason walked right past me standing in the walkway of the exit from Immigration, and we spent an hour and a half looking for each other. I couldn't find his flight on the arrivals board, which spanned the hours before and after the time his flight was supposed to arrive. I went two floors up to the airline office asking about the flight, which they said had arrived 7 minutes before the scheduled time. So I went back down, the elevator doors opened up and there, 30 feet away was Jason's father looking for me.
There were complications with the places where we were to stay because of all of the rain and flooding from a week before, so we stayed in a hotel the first night. All three of us had a blast catching up, especially Roselynne and I, because we only knew of each other's life adventures through Jason. After three whole days of travel for me, and only a few hours sleep in all, we stayed up all night long. Roeslynne is a friend of mine from high school and she has lived the last year and a half in Cebu, a different island than Luzon, where Manila is. She's studying to be a Physician's Assistant at Cebu Doctors' University. And little did we know that our philosophical paths have been nearly identical. A lot was said, and still more to say. She returned to Cebu yesterday, and I can't wait to visit Cebu.
The next day at the celebration, falling asleep on our feet, the last meal being 24 hours before, we ate like no other. The only thing vegan was plain white rice, so I went for the next thing with the most vegetables, a traditional noodle dish called pancit, which was by no means vegan. Desperate, I ate it anyway, and made sure to eat some papaya to help digest the next time I found some.
My last name is Cacanindin. 'Cacanin' basically means snack, and it is also a particular dessert here --- 'din' means 'too'. So Cacanindin translates literally to 'snack-too' or 'snack-also' or 'snack-much'. At the banquet, one of the desserts just happened to be Cacanin, a non-vegan dessert that I simply couldn't not try when I learned its name. It's basically a semi-sweet rice cake with a buttery chocolate-coconut topping. So tasty!
Jason's father's family is wealthy and very hospitable. I'm currently sitting on the sofa of a beautiful home that could rival all but the luxurious mansions in the States. My hosts have welcomed me into the family with open arms, and open minds, as they are doing their very best to take on the challenge of veganism. According to Jason, the motivations of each of these women to take on the challenge is unique, but regardless of selfless or selfish, I think it a bold gesture of hospitality. In fact, I feel overwhelmed by hospitality so much so that my usual means of showing thanks by cooking, cleaning, fixing things, or just helping in any way possible have no room to be shown. I'm sure I'll find more creative ways to express my appreciation in the coming days.
We are here with his father's family in Manila until Thursday, when we leave to stay with his mother's family out in the much poorer country (more to my liking than the city). Then from there, it's on to Cebu to stay with Roselynne, who returned last night, maybe Bohol, and maybe Palawan (both different islands from here) before heading back up to the main northern island of Luzon, to visit my family in the yet poorer and smaller village of Aringay in La Union province where my grandfather grew up. I have been told that I related to 80% of the people in Aringay. Additionally, one of Jason's relatives heard my last name and instantly mentioned a well-respected lawyer he worked with named Justino Cacanindin, from Aringay, who died along with his wife only a few years ago. Jason's family has a relative named Benito Macareg Valdez (1907-1991). His mother was a Macareg, one of four surnames I'm related to by blood. She married into the Valdez family. I'll have to look into it when I get to Aringay. What a surprise it would be if my best friend of 9 years from Lancaster, CA was also my cousin (once-removed)!
When I arrived, Jason's mom and some of his other relatives were horrified at my full beard, and his mom was proverbially handing me the razor to shave it off. So, rather than alienate Jason and myself from the family...
Roselynne made it disappear.
I slept better last night than I can remember every sleeping. Today I've been crafting fantasies of places I'd like to go while I'm in the P.I. and talking food with Jason's food gurus. This afternoon, we'll go to the Mall of Asia, the largest mall of Asia. In Philippine cities, the mall is nothing like it is in the States. No matter what you want to do, you have to do it at the mall. School, doctors, dentists, optometrists, post offices, produce, hardware, fish, day care, concerts, call centers, churches are all found at the malls, the majority of which are indoors. Jason and I tried our best to think of something that wasn't done at the mall, and the only things we could come up with were drinking and smoking. So aside from coffee and sugar, everything in life except drugs happen at the mall. We haven't been to one before, so we're going to the Mall of Asia first, go figure. Then tomorrow maybe to some museums and a park. Hopefully it won't be too long before I get to update again. Until then, bahala na! Let it be!