Thursday, May 10, 2007

Bert's Trip to the Philippines, Part 3

March 20, Bocaue, Bulacan

The Myna Bird

The night after the party, I decided to accept the invitation of a friend's family to spend the night at their big house in Bocaue. My two other sisters and I were driven to their house which was not too far from the convent. Actually it was just within walking distance, but we were tired and sleepy and looking forward to a good night's sleep in an air-conditioned room.

The biological daily alarm clock embedded in my brain makes me wake up at six o'clock in the morning no matter what time I go to bed the night before. The next day, while everybody was still asleep, I tiptoed down the veranda on the way to the kitchen which was on the other side of the big house. Then I heard this whistling sound, the sound of a guy admiring a sexy woman walking by. You know how it sounds, right? Intrigued, I searched around the corner until I found this myna bird in a cage at the hallway. To my surprise, this bird started to talk. To me, I guess, because we were the only ones in there.

"Pangit," the bird said.

Startled, I shot back, "Pangit ka rin!"

"Gago," the bird retorted.

"Gago ka rin," I said.

The bird kept quiet for a minute. When I turned around, she asked, "Kumain ka na?"

I didn't answer, but started to walk to the kitchen. The bird asked again: "Kumain ka na? Kumain ka na?"

Unbeknownst to me, we were being watched by the katulong at the kitchen. He was laughing like crazy when I saw him. Over a cup of coffee, he told me that the bird could also swear and say some other bad words, but denied training her those exact words.

After another cup, I decided to walk back to the convent, which was near the main thoroughfare. This morning, the streets were already buzzing with pedicabs, jeepneys and motorcycles. I walked around the plaza in search of the best pan de sal in town. I found what I was looking for, a big pan de sal roll with a crusty outside, but soft bread inside, two for five pesos. This was the closest bread I could find that was similar to the ones I used to eat from Hagonoy, Bulacan where my father grew up. For some reason, a few years back, I had a craving for it. And it went on for years and years. And I promised my self I would search and taste this pan de sal again during this trip. (Another search was for the best siopao, but that is a different story.)

I didn't have any cash with me--pesos anyway--and the tindera would not accept cents or dollars. I told her who I was, and if it was possible, to charge it to the convent, but she just looked at me as if I was from another planet. So I had to go to the convent and look for relatives I could borrow money from. After I got my cash, I went back and bought a couple pan de sal. I didn't have to eat much, just to taste it again and confirm this was the same pan de sal I was dreaming of.

Heaven is different for different people. When I got back to the convent, I thought I was in heaven. Prepared and waiting for me on the breakfast table were packages of white carabao milk/cheese (kesong puti) and freshly brewed coffee from Batangas (kapeng barako). I quickly polished off both, with the help of the pan de sal, and headed back to the big house where I suspected our hosts were also preparing breakfast for us. And of course, I told the people at the convent NOT to tell the others that I already had breakfast there. Why? When you find heaven, wouldn't it be better if you find two of them? Sira ba ang ulo nila!

This was Tuesday morning. And on Wednesday, we would board a Cebu Pacific Airlines flight headed for Boracay.

More to come.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Bert's Trip to the Philippines, Part 2

Manila, here I come.

After 14 hours up in the sky, after three movies (one of them in Tagalog, with English subtitles), after two hot meals and several snacks, after numerous drinks including white and red wine, after a few hours of nap time, the plane finally landed at Ninoy Aquino International Airport. It was the smoothest plane ride I had ever had. I don't think the captain put on the "fasten your seatbelt" sign more than half a dozen times during the entire flight. Congratulations, Captain Medina and crew. And say "Hi!" to Josephine.

The time was 10:21 a.m. Hot and humid, of course. (By the way, one big change I noticed was all the employees at the airport were courteous, helpful, dedicated, and honest and always with a smile on their faces. And they were not even asking or hinting for a tip. A huge change from what I remembered five years ago during my last travels.) Thank you, thank you very much. (My decision whether to fly or not to fly PAL again will be revealed in a subsequent part of this series.)

Another hour of waiting for the two balikbayan boxes of assorted personal items and padalas, and I was finally in an air-conditioned van plying and squeezing between jeepneys, cars, taxis and trucks, buses and pedicabs joining this controlled mayhem of misdirected direction called Manila traffic . My only regret was, I was not able to record any of this to show to my American friends. Amazing, isn't it?

Since it was almost lunch time, my sister-in-law suggested to try the eateries at Serendra. Who was I to argue? They don't take dollars, so my money was safe. We went to Conti's. (A few days later, my other group of barkada treated me to a dinner at Duo. But that's another story.)

The purpose of my travel was to attend my parents' 65th wedding anniversary celebration which was done at Bocaue, Bulacan where my oldest brother is the parish priest. He made all the preparations and executions. It was the celebration of the century for us. How many families are lucky enough to celebrate what we did? Not many. Time to count our blessings.

Instead of narrating the events by chronological order, I will just offer observations and comments, in no particular order.


The night before, I did something I have not done in my almost 60 years. I had a manicure! Wowee! The manicurista was there to do house calls and when she was done with my sisters, she asked me if I want one too. Why not? I was on my third bottle of San Miguel Pale Pilsen by then. And it was for less than a dollar! How can you beat that? Don't they charge $40 for this service in L.A.? (But you get to keep the entire bottle of nail polish, I was told. Big deal.)

Three of my college buddies, picked me up at Quezon City, and we all drove to Bocaue. Another one called in to give his regrets. These three guys are still full of fun, and I just kinda listened to their exchanges of recent crazy happenings. If other people would just listen to their conversations and not see them, they would not suspect that these are semi-senior citizens (one of them, at least is not 60 years old yet) who are serious with their jobs, careers, and lives. Puro kalokohan pa rin, sabi nga, after all these years.

Speaking of seniors, we were at my brother's convent office/parlor drinking San Mig Light (that will always be the "basaang gilagid" venue) when people were coming and going who saw us there. More than one person thought we were bishops from other dioceses invited by my brother. Can you imagine if any one of them offered to kiss our college rings? It might be the first of "many."

More than 250 guests attended. We had the proverbial fatted calf, five lechons, a dozen adobong pato and other stuff. The finale was the fireworks display; after all, isn't this Bocaue, the Philippine capital of Fireworks? As you may have guessed, 65 rockets were launched in the air. It was almost midnight when the party ended, but the "three bishops" left earlier than that. And guess what? With all the food and drinks, I was not able to eat or drink a lot. I was busy attending to relatives and friends, taking pictures, and generally visiting. And thank goodness everybody had a camera, because with all the confusion on my part, I failed to take a picture of my parents. Lagot!

My contribution to the event was a comedy skit I wrote and directed, starring all my young nieces and nephews. It was about how my parents met, the situation around the first wedding 65 years ago, and the births of all ten children. The funny part was during her "labor," you could hear my "Mom" screaming "Huli na ito" but then again, it was repeated nine more times. We didn't have time to rehearse or have a dry run so we did it with scripts in hand, but all in all, it was fun.

More to come.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Bert's Trip to the Philippines, Part 1

Blah, blah, blah, I mean, Blog, blog, blog...

(I intermittently used some Tagalog words, for emphasis, character and color. Also, I just made up all the names to protect the guilty. Mind you, this narrative is for entertainment only, and my facts and figures are not verified. And to satisfy all those people who are always looking for mistakes, I intentionally left some. [Editor's Note: Not if I can help it!] What a gimmick!)

March 15/16, 2007 LAX

My low lights were at the beginning of the trip. As soon as I fell in line at the PAL counter at LAX, one of the passengers in line informed me at once that the flight would be delayed by three hours. Some of them even snickered about the "true" meaning of PAL, Plane Always Late. (I didn't mind it as much, since it was a lot better than the flight the day before where my sister and her family were on board--it didn't take off until the following day.) Anyway, the airline was gracious enough to give us a voucher for $8 to cover dinner that night since the flight would not leave until one o'clock the following morning, a three-hour delay. $8 elsewhere is enough money for dinner on the go, but not at the airport. It will buy you a decent enough dinner, but you have to fork over money for the drinks, which was close to three bucks for a bottle of Diet Coke. What the heck, I was on vacation. What's a few dollars, right?

It must have been a conspiracy--I am not so sure--for all 400+ of us waiting at the terminal for the plane to get ready. The conspiracy I'm talking about is the closeness of the duty free shops next to the waiting lounge. I forked over another $27 dollars for a carton of Marlboro, pasalubong sa mga smokers sa pamilya ko doon. (I found out later, they don't care anymore for Blue Seal cigarettes, local brands will do. Oh well!) In a span of three hours, more and more passengers were buying goodies. I asked the saleslady what time the shop closed and she answered she would stay open as long as there are passengers. Not a bad marketing strategy.

More frustrations.

Anyway, when it was time to board, they had four big buses that transported passengers from the terminal to the airplane which was ten minutes away. The bus ride was so long, it seemed, I thought we were at Burbank by then. Even though they were boarding passengers by seat numbers, that system did not work out the way it was intended to be. Because some of the buses were bigger than the others, it took longer to fill up. The smaller ones that were assigned later got filled first, and took off first. And when the buses arrived, they were almost at the same time, and when the passengers queued up to the hallway leading to the plane, the order was no longer valid. It was at this time I started to make notes, mental and written, of what my experiences would be. Seriously, one of them was--not to fly PAL anymore.

Tips to future PAL passengers or any 747 riders (to make a short story long):

Have your travel agent secure a plane seat for you when he or she books your flight right away. This will get you the best seat in the house--which in this case, is the second section (after the first class) maybe seats from rows 20 to 37.

And as far as seats go, aisle C and H are NOT good when you plan to watch movies, because passengers and flight attendants are always in the aisles, blocking your view of the big screen. Good aisle seats are D and G. Remind you, this only matters when you are in the second section. The plane's seat configurations are different on other sections. Also, the second section is one of the first ones to deplane, after the first class and business class. (I figured out why they charge so much for the seats at first class section: THEY ARRIVE FIRST, after the pilots. Get it?)

In fairness to the employees of Philippine Air Lines, I found all of them to be courteous, kind, professionals, and good-natured. All of the hard feelings I had before boarding were replaced with awe and delight of unimaginable stages as I witnessed how patient they were doing their work over and above what was required, from my point of view. And mind you, it has nothing to do with the attendant assigned to our section who was not only attentive and always with a smile, but also pretty and sexy. I tell you, if I were only single, younger and richer, I would have asked Josephine to marry me.

More next time.