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While I’ve finished talking about the bulk of my trip, I want to emphasize that this vacation ultimately wasn’t about getting to jetset to cool places. In this piece, I want to feature snippets of other things I did, or moments I noticed while I was in the Philippines.
Every July, my dad’s side of the family takes a trip to Tali Beach, which is about three hours south of Manila. Around 40 of us get together in these two huge houses and we stay for the weekend, just eating and relaxing, and getting to be around family. The menu is intense: we had champorado—chocolate rice pudding—eggs, and bacon for breakfast, salmon, steak, and lamb salpicao for lunch, beef rendang and liempo for dinner—and that’s just what I can remember. The house has a brick pizza oven and we set up a make-your-own-pizza bar, complete with ingredients for both savory and sweet pizzas. When not in a food coma, the adults talk and drink, and the kids, happily left to their own devices, kick around soccer balls or swim or play hide and seek, among other things. Tali is always one of my favorite weekends whenever we go home because I’m just surrounded by family and the people I love, which is not an opportunity I get often.
One thing you’ll notice when you go to the Philippines—or even Asia in general—is that malls abound. I’m not talking about UTC-size—these are huge, multi-story, multi-mile malls. My mom and I joked that we didn’t have to exercise because we shopped so often, which honestly might’ve been true. I probably went to a mall almost every day, saw my fair share of Zara sales, and spent most of my pesos.
However, oddly enough, malls also function as a communal gathering place. There’s a live pianist that plays on the bottom floor of one of the malls near my grandpa’s house. A few years ago, he started to go to listen and would sit at one of the tables by himself, drinking a beer from a nearby restaurant. Over time, he started to make friends with other regular goers, and now, his table of one has expanded to a table of four or a table of eight, depending on the day. This community meant a lot to my grandpa—sometimes, they would be the only people he’d see other than family that day—and I could tell they all just loved to bask in each other’s company. On one occasion, a group of them gathered around the piano, belting “Paper Roses” for the entire mall to hear.
Because I didn’t live in the Philippines for very long, I never got the opportunity to learn about Filipino history outside of the few sentences that sometimes exist in American textbooks. This summer, I had the unique opportunity to take a tour of Intramuros, the old walled city of Manila. I treated it as sort of a crash course: we stared out at the Pasig river and rode in a calesa, a horse-drawn buggy, over the cobblestone streets. We learned about the country’s humble beginnings, the Spanish influences, the American takeover, and the ultimate independence. We learned about heroes like Jose Rizal or Andres Bonifacio. Most importantly, for me, I learned a little bit more about the intricate mix of cultures and the troubled but resilient past that I came from. The stories of loss and love and hope made my connection to the country just a little bit stronger.
Cousins are like my extended siblings. When I went back, I discovered that some of my cousins, like the ones that are my brother’s age, are “too cool” for me now, so I only saw them when they emerged from their rooms, video game on pause. The little ones, on the contrary, think I’m the cool big kid—I remember playing pretend with four of my little cousins, in which I was Kayla De La Cruz, Malibu millionaire and single mom. On the other hand, my cousin Sofia is only three weeks older than me, so we’re essentially identical in age. Before this summer, I hadn’t seen her in four years and we’d sort of lost touch; it was so nice getting to catch up, re-immerse ourselves into each other’s lives, and visit her favorite spots in Manila.
Missing out on family things is probably the biggest tradeoff with living halfway around the world. I don’t get to see my cousins grow up in real time; I kind of pop into their lives when they’re three, then nine, then fifteen years old, and all of a sudden, they seem as old as I am. Still, I cherish those few times when I do get to be part of their lives, and I hope I can keep up strong relationships with them and with the rest of my family even though I’m not physically present.
Inspired by my recent trip to the Philippines, Tales of a Philippine Life is a weekly column exploring culture, family, mindsets, home, and more. If you’d like to read the other pieces in this column, please visit https://ucsdguardian.org/category/lifestyle-2/. If you’d like to see more pictures of my trip, check out @storiesnstills on Instagram.
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