7 January – 10 January 2004:
My parents arrived Wednesday morning, the 7th of January and stayed until th 15th of January.
The flight was to arrive at 6:30, was pushed to 7:30 and then to 8, which worked out well for us as we were to pick up airport passes but took a tour of all the airport wings in order to find the right office and we didn’t get to the Arrival hall until 7:30. I should clarify that I don’t mean the Arrival gate, as the pass simply allowed us to enter the building rather than stand around outdoors with the other welcomers. Lucky us were permitted to stand around the luggage carousels. What we didn’t know is that the planes pulled up outside and behind the carousels and the passengers are offloaded directly to the room we were milling around in. That didn’t mean I didn’t give grief to the immigration officers (and then Ian) when trying to find out where to go to meet the arrivals. Ah well. I paced, I muttered, I got the kids some chocolate milk and cake for breakfast from a vendor, I complained about how useless airport passes were when all they did was let you walk 20 feet closer to nothing. But my parents were the first ones off the plane and in line for immigration and we were right there to meet them, holding up a sign welcoming them to Manila. Big hugs all around and with no checked luggage we were off to the house for a break. Originally we’d planned to have a driver each of the 9 days they were visiting, along with an 11 person van. After the second day we decided we didn’t need a van or driver at all, and we muddled through just fine.
Day One, Wednesday, 7 January: We showed them around the house with a miniature scavenger hunt that ended with a collection of Dunkin’ doughnuts from the den, Oreos from the girls’ room and a pot of coffee in the kitchen. Silly us had purchased a 4 cup pot since we’re not coffee drinkers, where a 10 cup pot would have fit the bill instead. We did discover that Monk’s Blend coffee is really good stuff, made by monks right here in the Philippines. Batangas Blend from the province south of us is not so good though. After a sugar filled breakfast, we piled back into the van and asked the driver for a tour of our regular spots. I should have known when he couldn’t find the school that this wasn’t going to work well. We finally drove by the church, ISM, then by PriceSmart, over by the hospital and to the Embassy where we had lunch and saw Ian’s office. We couldn’t actually see the hospital as the driver drove every tiny back road to get there and then maneuvered around the side of the building, but oh well. Hopefully we won’t be seeing it for a long time ourselves.
In the afternoon we held our Second Christmas and then while grandpa made a first pot of his World Famous Spaghetti sauce, the kids with grandma and I played the new Lion King board game. The game has gobs of pieces and almost took more time to set up (for the first time) than to play, but it was quite enjoyable. There’s a single game piece for all players and at each checkpoint a contest for all the players. It sounds confusing but Nicholas figured it out so it couldn’t be that hard. Since it was quasi-Christmas we had hot cocoa, but not the local variety. If I’ve sent you a package, please accept my apologies. I’d sent some to my mom and tried some myself and it’s awful. Perhaps I’m simply accustomed to instant sugary goodness, but since neither of us ever got it to achieve creamy or even smooth (nevermind sweet), I just couldn’t get past the gritty, bitter drink it became. My mom wasn’t shy sharing her thoughts either.
Day Two, Thursday, 8 January: A trip to see the Bamboo Organ Church in Las Pinas and lunch in Sonya’s Garden in Tagaytay. Our directions used highways and well-known roads to us. The driver took us an alternate route and the entire time I was wondering if he actually knew where he was going. And then, there it was. A dark little church still decorated for Christmas, with a gift shop on the side, we entered and asked to see the organ itself. The bamboo organ is exactly that, with all the pipes carved from bamboo. The caretaker brought us up and we saw that it has a single tier of keys approximately half the size of a regular keyboard, and middle C isn’t in the middle. The pedals were about ½ a shoe in length and my dad says they weren’t actual pedal keys but an extension of the finger keys. If it piques your interest, you can read more about The Bamboo Organ. We did stop in the gift shop and purchased a small nativity made of, what else, bamboo. After the church, we drove what seemed like forever to Tagaytay. On our first trip there it had taken just about 45 minutes from home to the picnic grounds. I guess with the sidetrip to Las Pinas it was considerably further. That, or the fact that he never left 3rd gear (as my dad noted) made the trip longer and more painful that it needed to be. We did make it and while we’d been assured that he knew where the restaurant was located, some slow driving, asking for directions and our own printed instructions (thankfully done that morning “just in case”) finally had us arrive at an off the beaten path B&B with a restaurant on premises.
The location was gorgeous, truly a garden filled with flowers and fountains and there was a single menu for all the guests. They fed us too much, as bowls and more bowls of various foods were served (many organic and grown right on-site) including bread, salad, pasta, dessert and tea. The small bowls were filled with mangoes, pâté, parmesan cheese, cream sauce, prawns, gourmet mushrooms (ok, I’ll admit, I don’t know what kind they were), pesto, sundried tomato and olive spread, melon, dressings, and many other filling items. Dessert was banana and jackfruit, deep fried then drizzled with honey, and the tea had a distinct licorice flavor from the herb steeping in its watery bowl. Someone remind me what that is, ok? It tasted better with fresh-squeezed dalandan juice mixed in though.
The boys devoured the mango, and the rest of us were absolutely stuffed. The place settings were all similar but most from different sets, and the bathrooms (yes, I’m going to mention the bathrooms) were open-air and lovely, with shells and flowers all around, big basin sinks and a view of green hills and goats. OK, no one needs all those things, obviously, but it was pretty cool nonetheless.
We can’t go anywhere without something funky happening. I don’t know if it’s us or the country. While we were dining, a photographer and a cameraman were staking out the place taking test shots. After a short while, and a table set for two, a pair of actors entered and sat down to a meal, apparently on a date. We’re in the background of a very short scene in a local soap called Sports Unlimited. Check your TV listings. We just might become famous.
After lunch we waddled past the massage hut and down to the B&B. With three houses, each larger than the last, the one we toured was available for 6-13 people. I guess the idea is similar to homes at the Outer Banks for entire families to stay, but the idea didn’t really translate. There were 6 queen beds, but only 3 bedrooms, so 2 large beds in each room, with an additional twin in a sort of hallway. Definitely not kid-friendly, the place was stylishly decorated with flowers, glass bowls and gobs of pretty breakable items. I think the room with the greatest interest was the bathroom. Yes, I’m mentioning bathrooms again. There was no tub, but like all the other rooms, the room was bright and airy. The shower poured onto a floor not of tile, but of pebbles, and bowls of flowers were alongside piles of shells. Everything was white, from the bed linens down to the slippers and body scrub. Such a refreshing spot.
Relaxed and full, we left Sonya’s Garden to stop by the picnic ground, see Lake Taal and the mini volcano, and walk the trail. We’d seen what there was to see from the car already so when we returned and the mist had settled heavily over the entire lake and the volcano was completely erased from view, we didn’t feel bad about deciding to head home. Stopping along the way to pick up fresh mini ponkins (tiniest of oranges), bitty bananas (not their technical name, but I don’t know the variety) and a pineapple we finally made it home a little worse for wear. My dad would have a backache for the rest of his visit, largely caused by the bad roads, bad driving and poor suspension of this day trip. I was glad we didn’t plan any other out of town trips. But if we had, we were going to take our own vehicle.
Day Three, Friday, 9 January: There wasn’t much planned for today, just some photos, some shopping, a little food. It was a really enjoyable day overall. I was able to show my parents how I drive here. It’s not that big a deal, but I learned my driving paranoia from my mom, so I guess it is a big deal for me.
At 8 a.m. we ambled over to the playground in our tropical clime casuals and posed for our first full family portraits in years. You can see a couple on our photo page from the visit. Jonathon was not cooperative in the smile department, but remember Nicholas at this age? Same deal. Nicholas had received a Spiderman watch from the grandparents for Christmas, so you’ll notice its obvious presence.
After photos, we went our separate ways. Ian has needed some new suits for a while and while he had three we’d bought from S&K right before A100 began, now he’s doing 6 months in the Ambassador’s office and does need to look sharp. Tack on the 5 day turn-around for dry cleaning (or double the price for next day), it was time to fill out his wardrobe. Ian and my dad were dropped off at King Philip Haberdashery to be measured for custom suits, ready for alterations on Sunday and pick-up on Tuesday. Meanwhile the rest of us took over Powerplant Mall where the girls both visit the hair salon for trims and layering, followed by lunch at McDonalds. Looking back, we should have eaten at Jolibee for the “experience” but McDo is an experience here anyway. I was going to get a cake from Sugarhouse, but the kids couldn’t agree on one, and the menfolk were done with their measuring and wandering through electronic stores, so it was time to regroup.
At home, the Christmas tree finally came down, minus a few that the cats chewed on but with a slew of new additions. It was time. And we didn’t have any pine needles to pick up. Well, that’s not entirely true. I’m not sure what the attraction was, but the cats sure enjoyed chewing some of the plastic “needles” right off the branches. Ew.
The housekeeper arrived in the late afternoon and the adults hit the town, more precisely Greenbelt about 5 minutes from the gates of our village. It’s the upscale night time hot spot where every sort of restaurant is available and some way too expensive stores, all around a designer park with fountains and what else, a chapel. After walking by all the dining options, my dad chose La Grappa, an Italian spot that we’d been to before and knew to have good food. We had meandered, looking for outdoor seating which plenty of restaurants had, but decided that the relative quiet of indoor seating was preferable. The entire complex was teaming, expected for a Friday night. We checked out the chapel, purchased some CDs (Classical Chillout, Movie Reel Chillout and a contemporary Gregorian chant CD) and bought movie tickets for a “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” showing on Saturday. Since this city has figured out desserts, we stopped in at Bizu for a coffee and tea break, and some additional time to spend as adults chatting about whatever came to mind, a most wonderful way to finish off an evening. Oh, I’ve got to mention a bit more about Bizu. Our orders were taken on an iPac and on each table was an electronic call button for service. Yes, there were a plethora of wait staff milling about, but the urge to press that button almost got the best of us. Of course we were still stuffed from our meal, so we drove home with our assortment of individual desserts, just waiting to be tasted when an inch of space presented itself.
Day 4, Saturday, 10 January: My parents were finally adjusting to the time difference by Day 4, where mom wasn’t up at 4 a.m. Remember how I said we’d bought movie tickets? Well, it was time to go and the grandparents would get a day with the kids. Grandpa was very prepared to spend the day doing train and track maintenance in the boys’ room.
We left for the show early. Too early I thought, but once we realized the movie was 3+ hours long and lunch had been forgotten, I stood in line for popcorn and drinks at one kiosk while Ian ordered grilled sandwiches from another, and we made it to our assigned seats in a packed THX theater just in time. I loved the film and everything about it, the characters, the story and yes, the grand scenery. But more than that, each time we view one of the trilogy there’s a pang of “Wow, we’re going to go there!” and I get more and more excited about our trip. I’m so glad we decided to forgo a couple weeks in Sydney. Not that there’s anything wrong with Sydney! But (and I’m sure I’m not alone in this) I feel a connection with New Zealand, and the opportunity to see the sites of the film along with the cities and countryside has made me giddy.
We had a quiet evening at home, just the 8 of us.