Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Graduate


The graduation ceremony started at 1:30 p.m. but we didn't get there till 4 p.m. That was on purpose because our own graduate would not be called until 5:30 p.m. Think how long the poor graduates were seated under the searing afternoon sun just for that moment when their name is called and they could go up the stage to receive their diploma case (diplomas will be handed out in a few weeks). Over a thousand graduates waited for confirmation that they had indeed successfully completed university requirements.
Our very own Barbie graduated with a degree in nursing. She also received a Special Award for academic excellence. We left the university about 7:30 p.m. after taking memorable photos of the event. The proud Mom took us to MO2 where we celebrated in a private videoke room. We toasted the graduate with strawberry margaritas and mango shake. Dinner spread included sizzling tangigue, boneless bangus, cordon bleu and nachos.
How novel to celebrate in a videoke room where we could sing with no holds barred.
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Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Going Private in Boracay


Finding the perfect accommodation at the hottest beach destination in the Philippines and perhaps Asia can be a bit tricky. There are native huts, five star hotels, Mediterranean inspired lodgings, boarding houses and if you’re lucky as I was, a room in a private home.

I’ve written before about Filipino hospitality and how easily I’ve made friends with them during my travels around the world. In Boracay, I was once again reminded how generous and welcoming Filipinos are.

My friends had invited me to Boracay for a long weekend through the first couple days of Holy Week. I was excited because I wanted to get away and see more of the island. My first visit to Boracay was on a day trip and we spent most of our time walking along White Beach. I was captivated by the colors of the sea and the missing crowds. It must have been off season then.

When we arrived at the home of my friends’ friends in the neighborhood of Station 1, I was entranced by the tropical landscape, the tree house, the nipa huts, Mona Lisa (the monkey), the open living room that invited the outdoors in and my very own air-conditioned bedroom with cable TV and refrigerator.

Our hosts, Terry and Wilson, made sure we were comfortable, fed us the most unforgettable meals in the most incredible setting and drove us around the island in their super golf cart. Now that’s Filipino hospitality!

Boracay will never be the same again.

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Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

When it Blooms


Photos and layout by Rosario Charie Albar

The Impatient Gardener


It’s a special privilege to have a garden. When I wake up in the morning, I stand by the French doors to see the flowers blooming, the trees swaying in the sea breeze, and more banana trees sprouting though the old mama banana has not yet borne any fruit.

I just planted several ti plants this week to give more color to my elongated yard and hide the ugly cement fence. When I first paid attention to these plants in Bali, I thought how beautiful it would look to have a profusion of them. They grow tall and the crimson leaves are eye catching. I’ll need at least two dozen of these to cover the walls.

My garden is still evolving. I am hoping to bring the lush landscape of inland Capiz and Bohol into my home. But some plants are a little difficult to find like the Madagascar palm tree. So far I have a few young palms. They take a long time to reach six or seven feet but if I start cultivating them now, I’ll enjoy seeing them reach their maximum height.

On the contrary, it’s easy for bougainvillea, kalachuchi and roses to grow and bloom. With bougainvillea, I just cut off a stem, stick it on the ground, water it and after two weeks, the leaves start to sprout and in three months, there’s a small bush. With roses I notice that when I cut off a stem, new leaves, reddish in hue, sprout on the old stem after a week. The stem I’ve cut and sunk into the ground develops within a month.

I’ve always dreamed of a pink kalachuchi tree outside my front door. That’s exactly what I see whenever I open the door. It’s been blooming since the winds died down. My only problem now is to get rid of the aphids that are eating the leaves and turning them a spotted yellow. I tried to spray the leaves with Tide but it burnt the leaves instead. So I must get some insecticide soon.

The gumamela (in the hibiscus family) are not as easy to cultivate but the varieties and colors are worth waiting for. There is a bush in the garden that’s a mix of pink gumamela with the long stamen and a red gumamela with a yellow border. It’s an amazing sight when they bloom together.

Some days I’m surprised to see yellow butterfly orchids, bright orange sunflowers or white spider looking flowers. Today I saw an incredible pink bromeliad. I don’t know all their names but these wonders are the joys of gardening.

It’s thrilling to come home after being away for a few months. It’s only then when I can see how fast my plants have grown. But day-to-day I only collect dead leaves from all of them, especially the papaya trees.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Once upon a summer's day

Once upon a summer’s day, I walked along the beach under a big, green umbrella with the name of a local bank emblazoned in gold across its face. I was dripping wet, the kind I abhor the most when my skin feels so sticky and shiny, I can only hope no one I know will stop and chat with me in my most vulnerable state. Any foreigner would laugh at the sight of me. No one uses an umbrella on the beach unless it’s one of those resort beach umbrellas that do not walk. But it’s scorching hot, a normal summer’s day.

These days I’ve been using my designer look-alike, plaid umbrella that can barely keep me dry, what with its flimsy metal bones that break at the slightest provocation. It’s been raining everyday since February. I wake up in the morning to the sound of howling winds and heavy surf. The skies are consistently a threatening grey. The ground is muddy and when I walk up and down the long driveway, my flip flops collect the mud. It sticks like glue and I feel laden with weight that I have to stop and wipe my slippers against any protruding rock along the way.

My friends and I talk about the rain and what happened to summer. Today someone said we’re lucky that it’s been windy else we would suffer the tremendous heat. And after thinking about it I had other positive things to say about this strange weather that La Niña has brought about. For one thing, I don’t have to use my airconditioner. That’s a big savings! And there are no mosquitoes at night because the unrelenting wind blows them away, hopefully far out to sea. But I miss the flowers in my garden which have eloped with the mosquitoes.

Now I know what it’s like to live in Seattle.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Videoke Queen

Whenever I've joined friends for a videoke evening, I've been surprised at how well they can sing. But I shouldn't be surprised in a country of singers. Singing is a great Philippine pastime. In church, I feel inspired by the beautiful songs rendered by the Sunday choir. On TV I've watched children sing like professionals. And at any party, the whole family sings while reading the lyrics on the TV screen.

But I'm surprised by my videoke friends because I've never heard them sing when I knew them in grade school. Now when they grab that mike, I hear Tony Bennett, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra or Andy Williams.

After each song a score comes up on screen to show how well the singer did. And my friends usually get a score of 97 and up. One of my earliest scores was 76. I was so humiliated.

I only knew one song, Girl from Ipanema, when I started going out with friends. And I was afraid to sing in front of confident men who would unexpectedly say, "Haaa" at strategic moments along the song. I've slowly learned a few more songs: If by Bread, Close to you by The Carpenters, Can't take my eyes off you. I've written down the numbers of these songs so I don't need to search through an interminably long list in a worn notebook in the dark. I hope I can get the Music System with microphone, video connection, and a 3000 song bank so I can practice everyday and surprise my friends with a repertoire of new songs. For now I must train my timid voice in the shower and heed my music advisor's words, "don't hold back". "Belt it out", he adds. Perhaps if I practice often like they do, I can score a 99 and be hailed Videoke Queen someday. Haaa!

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Let's Eat - Philippine Style


There is no simple meal in the Philippines. Any invitation to lunch or dinner entails fasting at least 24 hours beforehand. Every meal is a feast. Among the variety of dishes served are the staple lechon, prawns, fresh fish, crabs, assorted noodle dishes including spaghetti (the local version has a sweet taste), pork barbeque, and my favorite, scallops in a shell. Who needs dessert after such a feast?

Iloilo
Emilion - at the Grande Dame Hotel offers Japanese buffet nightly except Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays when they serve an international buffet. So much to eat for an incredibly low price.
Smallville - is a row of restaurants, bars and cybercafes. We love the Thai restaurant for great food and ambience.

Breakthrough and Tatoys - Getting rave reviews. Breakthrough is on the beach and offers seafood. Tatoys is famous for its tasty grilled chicken.

Cebu
Cafe Laguna at Ayala Center. Their lumpia ubud is as good as it looks and the sotanghon is excellent. Minimalist decor and spacious dining area.

Tides - at the Mactan Shangrila. Buffet dinner. Stations to choose from - Italian, Inihaw, Japanese, Seafoods, Dessert. Price per person without drinks may dent your wallet if you're on a budget.

Restaurant Chain
Max's Chicken - in Metro Manila, Iloilo, Cebu and even South San Francisco, USA. Their chicken is the house specialty but the other dishes listed on the menu like pinakbet are well prepared and tasty. Love the camote fries.

Kain na! Let's eat!

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When a Papaya is Not a Fruit!

I'm happy to see the 5 papaya trees in my garden growing fast but I have not yet enjoyed a single papaya. In time I'm sure there will be plenty to eat.

These last few months I've been interested in a different kind of papaya. This is the papaya dance that I've seen on local television. It's in the game show, Game ka na ba? It seems that when a contestant makes it to the final round, he/she must first do the papaya. I've followed this show religiously just to see the papaya dance. But to date I can't seem to get the movements down.

It starts with rolling both hands above the right knee, then the left. The next move is to raise both hands and roll them above the head and then down to the waist level. The next step is to wave both hands upward while the hips sway in the direction of the hands. This is where I get lost. But I'll work on it. When I've got it, the show's host can finally say, "Yeah, Baby!".

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