Saturday, November 17, 2012


From right to left: Marissa, Ely, Ming, Eve, background jokester Felix,
little Zyrel, Dani, Marilyn, Sarah, and me, the sore thumb sticking out
Yes, I'm still vegan, and no I didn't eat any, lechon is traditional party food
In the morning, I met Cris's girlfriend and business partner, Andrea, more of his friends, and got to know the dogs better. Rolly owns a building basically containing three townhouses, and one was temporarily vacant, so there was plenty of space for me to stay. I cooked several dishes for them, including real Italian spaghetti at Rolly's request, complete with carrots, eggplant, and brewed coffee in the sauce. That night, Rolly brought me to meet my uncle Vic, a very talented and well-known professional guitarist and singer. Vic has eleven gorgeous guitars and a gorgeous apartment. Together, the three of us went bar-hopping until 2:00am, tasting the music at several different venues. I even got to hear Vic sit in with a couple friends at a '70s-hippie folk bar with the word moustache in the name.

The next morning, I borrowed my uncle's bicycle and enjoyed biking through Manila (a maze, just look at google maps and you'll have 1/10th of an idea just how much of a maze it is) to get to the office of Haribon Foundation for my appointment. I met with the project director and the talented young man who I'd been corresponding with via email. Haribon and I were equally thrilled with the work, philosophies, and experience we had to offer each other. I will likely be able to get them to pay for a sort of work visa for while I'm on call to work for them (indefinitely in my mind). As of now, I have plans to do a week-long survey to confirm a Philippine Eagle sighting in Aurora Province, which is also a major outpost of the potentially dangerous New People's Army. More on that when I return...

I then took care of some personal logistics while I was in the city, cooked dinner, and caught the bus north to Baguio together with Jo-jo and Rolly. Rolly's brother, Dani (obviously also my uncle), is a well-respected doctor in the Philippines for revolutionary approaches to medicine and education, creativity, and sheer passion and excellence for everything in his life. He has an amazing house up in the Cordillera Mountains in Baguio that hints at Wabi-sabi, a Japanese style that he described as meaning incomplete, asymmetric, and never-ending. He has a wonderful taste for organic art full of art. He has many artist and musician friends, and he could boast of a seriously rare and broad reputation, except that he's absolutely not one to boast. His family is just as interesting and in the process of spreading their own roots of influence. He is currently retired but runs a pulmonary practice in Baguio without compensation.

BENCAB Museum fun

I spent the next day, Saturday relaxing and experimenting in the kitchen as usual. The expanded capability of multiple burners and a much broader variety of ingredients made the resulting dishes much more interesting than most of the cooking I'd done thus far here. Preparations for the following day, conversation and music led to sleep. The occasion for the weekend was the birthday of Dani's granddaughter's first birthday. About 170 adults and kids were expected. This party was all out. The decorations were tasteful and hand-made by family and helpers, as was the cake, and all of the food. My cousin, Dani's son Jong, is a culinary school graduate and in charge of planning the menu. I took on a couple of dishes to lighten the load, as did tons of other people including Rolly and Jo-jo, other family members, and helpers who seemed almost too used to the scale of this gathering. Three kitchens were running all day long, and I was thinking I don't know where I'd start trying to plan a feast so big. There was enough food for 250 people, though only about 70 showed up. Still, they packed away the food in their stomachs and tupperware containers, and the vast amount of left-overs were eaten by hungry poor in town. I was in the kitchen from sun-up to sun-down, and got to know everyone there very well. Midway through the day, my "Very best" Auntie Marilyn and Uncle Ely, the only two relatives of mine in the Philippines I'd already gotten to know in North America, arrived and found me in the kitchen. It was fantastic to catch up with them.

After I was done in the kitchen, I set up the family keyboard, attempted to remember how to play the piano for thirty minutes, then piled into the car with Ely and Marilyn and headed to Aringay, the hometown of my grandfather and most of my family. The two of them retired this year and their house on the beach is in its final stages of completion (albeit dangerously towing the line between late and too late). It's a massive 4-story structure perched almost apartment-close to Dani's home here on the property they all own together. Between the two beautiful homes, there will be space here for the vast extended family to come and go.

The next day, I tried to learn how to surf using a wind surf board that I repaired by roping its two pieces together. The board held up but either it or I didn't do the trick and I never did get up. Who'd have thought there was a Californian like me who's never tried to surf before. Well, I did grow up in the high desert 2-3 hours away from the beach. Not that that stopped most of the kids I grew up with. Anyways, that was fun, but I'll try again in better conditions so that at least it's only my incompetence in the way. I also got to go to the market, where there was a store called "JMCacanindin Store", which sells cell phone stuff. Naturally I inquired as to the family connection, which happened to be my great grandfather and theirs. They even knew my grandfather by name, perhaps because he married a French-Canadien. Ironically, I became the middle-man between some relatives from Canada who happened to be visiting at the same time as me. Eve, Marissa, and Sarah arrived in Aringay the next day after a 7-hour long ordeal for them on the bus.

Can't believe these are really roots
The next day we had fun eating, swimming, and getting to know each other. Together, we all visited the market and several places where my close relatives grew up. It seems that each hour that goes by, I find the many similarities between all of my family, things we never knew we had in common. There are so many good musicians in my family that I feel like just another out of the herd, lucky enough to receive training. The connections and similarities with each individual are too long and intricate to explain here, but suffice it to say that even the friends of my relatives like Jo-jo and Felix seem interconnected by some invisible web of community likeness. I've never really experienced anything like it. It's ineffably fascinating and special. Somehow the news of this blog had preceeded me and almost everyone had already read it. I guess that's why the visit count on the right has gone up so much! The day ended with karaoke, and we all marvelled at Sarah's gifted and fine-tuned voice. This is the first time she has traveled anywhere in the world and almost anywhere in North America for something that isn't related to choir or singing. She currently sings in a professional traveling choir based out of her hometown of Vancouver.

My Great-Grandmother and Great-Grandfather

The girls left the following day, which I spent doing research on my plans for after the weekend, when we were planning to celebrate Dani's birthday somewhat more subtly than we did for his grandson. My research led me to follow Dani and Tita Ming back to their home in Baguio, where I biked in the rain to the Immigration Office. Jong showed me some of the art venues in the charming and beautiful city of Baguio, where indigenous and postmodern converge. Now I'm back in Aringay about to prepare some food for the evening birthday feast. It's hard to believe I'm here, the goal of my travels overseas to the Philippines, the place of origin of the Filipino blood running through my veins. I have learned so much about myself, my family, and my roots up to now, and expect to learn much more. There is a seriously big family reunion planned around the Christmas and New Year's holidays, including the blessing of Ely and Marilyn's new home as well as a wedding. Tons of family are coming from around the Philippines and North America, and I'm lucky I came to visit for this year. Regardless of the fun, the difficulties, the risks and adventures awaiting in the future, I feel I have surpassed some sort of benchmark in life. I am thrilled I decided to come here, and I am excited for whatever the future holds.

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