Touchdown Manila

I’ve actually been here a couple of days, just taking things slow and trying to enjoy the down time.  While I was just here in April to attend a wedding, this time it was a spur of the moment decision we had made for Angelo to finally get his long-requested summer stay in Manila.  We had always timed our trips to coincide with the holidays, and that meant arriving for his vacation with a homework packet.  It was understandably a dampener to what would have been a period of fun and relaxation. 

The flight home.  For the first time, I flew our national carrier, Philippine Airlines — and while I had wanted to fly my usual airlines (KoreanAir, Cathay Pacific), I had to adjust to the travel arrangements Angelo already had because he had flown 5weeks before I did.  (Long story short, I didn’t get to choose this flight.)  I had flown PAL many times before domestically, and even as recent as last April when we all hied off to Cebu for that beautiful wedding where I stood as godmother.  I liked that trip, but this last one left much to be desired.

It helped that I had set my expectations low, so I wasn’t surprised that the plane seemed to be old and worn.  I have complete faith in the crews that fly PAL, so I told myself, as long as they get me to Manila, I’m fine.  And get me here, they did.  So I am grateful to the professionalism of the two crews who flew us first to Vancouver, and then the second crew who actually brought us home.

The food was typical PAL, and better than most served on American flights.  My two favorite airlines, though, are favorites, partly because of their inflight dining menu.  Give me the KoreanAir Bibimbap anytime!  (And they do give it at every meal.. which means a two-time serving on a long haul each way.)  I arrived okay — not starving — but we don’t fly for the gastronimic experience.

Yet, all was not lost, and this is the reason I decided to devote a good portion of this post to the flight.  Kudos to the crews that flew on PR127 from New York to Manila via Vancouver on July 31, 2015.  You are the saving grace of this airline.  I got efficient and courteous service (expected), and very generous help when requested.  So forget that the control panel on my armrest kept falling out (no, I did not get electrocuted and it WAS working even if hanging by the wires, literally.), and that there was this tiny screen hanging from certain vantage points on the plane.  Blame it on being spoiled by every other airline I’ve flown in recent years who had individual screens in front of me — whether I was flying state to state or overseas.  (Even Aer Lingus had this!)

Whether I went to the galley to request for a drink, or ask permission to open the porthole by the rear door to snap a picture, I got my answer with a smile.  Even my water was poured with such grace I couldn’t help but wonder if they had practiced that motion during training.  No matter that the menu offering had to be repeated to every person on every row, the question as to your meal of choice was asked with a smile, and without the smirk that made you feel like you were being stupid for asking him something about the meal.  (Meal service, apparently, is not a favorite chore among most flight attendants..)  I wanted to tell them all that they did a good job, but I was busy lugging my luggage down the very narrow passageways and trying to wish the pain in my behind away — grateful I was finally home.

NAIA Terminal 2 – hmmmmmm… All these years, I’ve flown in and out of the same international airport in Manila — and it was an experience I almost dread, but not because of the fact that the airport was really dated.   This particular airport is not a happy place for me except when I arrive — so I have mixed feelings about plopping down into unchartered territory, landing in Terminal 2.

First, there was the immigration line which was always a coin toss between having “long lines” and “VERY long lines”.  I guess I was lucky my flight didn’t arrive with everyone else, so while there was a wait, it wasn’t unbearably long.  A couple of years ago, I got caught during the automation switch of the Bureau of Immigration, and I had to agonize through a two-hour wait with Angelo in tow before we were cleared for the gate.  He was probably 2 or 4 then, so I was actually in line with a young boy on a stroller.  We inched slowly to the front and when I was finally there in front of the Immigration officer, I painfully watched him try to navigate the system.

So you can imagine my surprise when I landed with an older immigration officer who not only processed me with speedy efficiency –but he also rendered courteous and friendly service.  That I am actually raving about it here should prove how impressed I was.  I even sent a direct message to the current Commissioner to make sure that I got the praise recorded officially.. Thank you, Immigration officer Tabao.. Job well done!  We always hear about the “bad eggs” — it’s good to hear about the good ones from time to time..

I walked through the new arrival lanes to the baggage claim area which looked new and promising, until I found myself waiting for my luggage which didn’t come out until after an hour.  Thank God, Immigration sped me through — I had happy memories to keep me preoccupied while I twiddled my thumbs as I lay in wait for the carousel to start showing us bags.  I got to meet an OFW from Vancouver who was hoping his luggage would come out before his wife’s flight from Hong Kong arrived.  (I think he beat her arrival by a few minutes.)  I met a nun who was home for the first time in 15 years, but sadly, to attend her brother’s funeral.  We spoke to each other quite a bit and had a few laughs, and then I saw one of my bags appear and I excused myself.  (Second and third bags appeared almost a half hour later.)  I would’ve met more but my brother started pinging me he was near.. where will he get me?  I suddenly missed the lettered zone in the old airport.

I found the “Bays” and let him know where I was.  (very short spans, though.)  I got into his car and his first concern was whether or not I was hungry — and thanks to the Chicken Tocino from PAL, I was good.. I didn’t realize that the trek home to San Juan would take 3 — YES, THREE – hours.. so you can imagine, I was famished by the time I got home and gave everyone else a hug.  I knew I was back in Manila — traffic and all.

No matter what the hassles and how my behind kept reminding me throughout the trip how long a journey it was, I am always happy to be home with friends and family.  And as they say now, it’s always more fun in the Philippines!

Milestones and moving on

Milestones and moving on

I started writing this Saturday morning but never got to finish it until the whole day ended and moved on to Sunday.  It was a jampacked half of the weekend which didn’t turn out as bad as I was afraid it will be. My little guy just graduated from fifth grade (yay!) and had a graduation party at a bounce place.  It was quite the no-frills celebration which only required a reservation and invitations a couple of weeks ago. Unlike his first two parties at this bounce venue, I didn’t have to worry about giveaways or hitting the minimum this time around.  We hit it well before today but way after the deadline.  (Note to parents out there: Please put yourselves in the shoes of the parent waiting for you to confirm your child’s attendance.  It CAN be nerve-wracking thinking the party might turn out to be a dud so please meet the RSVP deadline promptly.)

I also had to get him ready for a long vacation in Manila.  Father and son go first and I pick him up on the tail end.  I’ve been to Manila this year so the trip isn’t really for me.  I just think it’s time we gave him what he’s always been asking for — a homework-free, longer stay with his cousins.  Forget that it isn’t summer in the Philippine right now, so they’re all going to school.  As long as he doesn’t get a homework packet like he normally does when we leave at Christmas time (because we take him out a week or so before school officially ends for the holidays), he can look forward to just bumming around and enjoying his parents’ land of birth.

He’s grown so much that I am good with having him away THAT long.  I think with all that’s been happening on this end, we can both use a little break and time to grow and shift gears.  And when he returns for middle school, we will both be ready to move on.

We’ve gone on so many trips and with only one guy tagging along, I think I’ve got packing down to a science.  The only difference is I won’t be there, but I’m not worried because after his Dad returns to New York after the first two weeks, he will be with my brother and his family, my sister and other brother and mom.  Being an only son, they are the family he looks to for his ‘brother’ and ‘sisters’.  There he is a younger sibling with an “Ate Julia” and “Kuya Angel” to two others.  (“Ate” and “Kuya” are terms of respect for older relations, the former being feminine, and the latter, masculine.)  I am hoping he can pick up some Tagalog, and I’m tasking my sister who used to be a teacher to teach him cursive.  (Don’t get me started on that one!)

Medication (mostly first aid) ready.  Ear thermometer which is as old as he is, packed with the extra plastic covers.  Ointments?  Butt cream?  (Ewe…. hey, we need to be ready for ANY eventuality..)  Wipes?  they can get them there.. Dramamine?  (His dad’s taking care of that.)  He’s refusing to bring his seasick bands which is him growing up, I guess.  (I will pack them anyway.)  Snacks?  I think I have that covered.

It doesn’t help that my little guy is the pickiest of eaters, but I’m hoping that his newfound curiosity about food will make him more adventurous.  He is asking more and more what it is that I am eating, although he isn’t quite as brave to try it as often as I wish he would.  But at least the curiosity is there.. baby steps, I tell myself.

Saying goodbye was not quite as run-of-the-mill like most of our partings.  I knew he was holding back the tears, but the big boy that he now is, he just kept the hugs short enough to make it meaningful without giving the tears a chance to make the appearance.  My boy is growing up indeed… sometimes it’s hard for a mother to keep up, but we eventually catch up.

Do I miss you, Manila?

Manila 2011: JeepneysLast Tuesday, I was with a friend who asked me if I missed Manila.  And my answer came without pause or thought — Yes, I do.. I do miss Manila.. a lot.  Everyone who means something to me is in Manila — well, except for my little guy who is attached to me at the hip so he is here.  But everything I love and hold dear is there.  My mom who is turning 75 this year.. my siblings.. my friends..

And I’m so happy at the thought that I will be coming home this April.  It’s a belated birthday gift to myself.. and a chance to be a principal sponsor at the wedding of one of my favorite godsons in baptism.  My first ever as Ninang, too. =)  I guess every other godchild who got married got hitched when I was already here in New York, but Anthony is one of the few I actually seek out each time I go home, so he was never more than just a thought away.  And to him, there was always my next visit to look forward to.  When I saw him in December 2013, he boldly requested if I would consider coming home for his wedding, and again, I said yes in a heartbeat.

That’s this April, and just thinking about it is making me smile.

There are a hundred and one things that I miss about my city of birth, and I thought one way of “going back” today was to share a few of them here.  Maybe in writing about it, I will at least spend a bit of time “back home” and curbing a craving for things I hold dear.

I’ve been fortunate to have a mom who is a true wiz in the kitchen, and I can’t wait to taste her Kare-kare (Oxtail peanut stew), Ginataang Alimango (Crabs in coconut milk), and Macapuno (a coconut dessert).

I miss going to church in my favorite places of worship: The Redemptorist Church in Baclaran where I used to go EVERY Wednesday for the 9-week novenas which were answered even before the 9 weeks were up; my local Pinaglabanan Church in San Juan City, and get a bunch of apa later from the vendors who ply their trade on Sundays; and Manaoag Church which I visit every time I go home, even if it’s via a 5-hour commute each way.

I miss Jollibee, ChowKing, Aristocrat, Max, Dencio’s and Gerry’s Grill.  How come it feels like writing that enumeration just made me gain a pound? LOL

I miss riding the tricycles and jeepneys.  And one thing I’m looking forward to doing is riding again with my little guy if we get to go back together in December.  It was such a thrill for him the first time when he realized the jeepneys were OPEN and had no windows!  (My boy gets carsick with the scent of enclosed vehicles, even here in New York with our buses!)

I miss Divisoria with all its textile, notions and craft stores.  I grew up going to Mom’s suki from whom we got our textiles and which were brought to the favorite designer or modista or dressmaker of the month (or season).  It is quite a trek and the experience, but once upon a time, I used to brave the place when I was doing hair accessories and selling quite a hefty bunch of them to friends.  Plus, I used to tag along when mom went around and bought various spices and ingredients from the Chinese wholesalers/retailers.

One time I went on my own looking for those wooden steamers, and I asked the salesperson in the vernacular how much it was, whereupon I chanced upon a gorgeous all-steel tea pot.  I lifted it and uttered “Too heavy.”  From thereon, our conversation went on in perfect Engish.  My trader was apparently one of those rich guys dressed for work in regular garb but who was educated in one of the exclusive universities in the city, and he somehow saw I wasn’t exactly “from here”.  That was an interesting and eye-opening experience.. and which convinced me that no matter how I dress down and wear the slightest hint of lipstick only, I will still stick out like a sore thumb in that crowd.  Still, I love swimming in that crowd of people.

I miss watching Tagalog movies on the big screen.  Here in New York I actually consider sitting down through a two-hour movie a chore and a waste of precious time.  In Manila, though, I’d love to squeeze in as many movies as I can but I never have enough time.

I miss roaming Greenhills which is the shopping center that I saw grow and change in front of my eyes through the decades.  I know I’m dating myself here again — but I’ve seen that place change with me as I grew older.  And no matter how there are bigger and posher malls now, Greenhills has a homey feeling that none of the other malls actually engender.  Perhaps it’s the size of the entire complex.. or the presence of smaller, individual stores.. and no matter how it gets as crowded as other similar places, it remains MY shopping place of choice.

I miss National Bookstore.  For those who know Staples, Barnes & Noble, OfficeMax, Papyrus and Hudson News here in the US, National Bookstore is all those stores COMBINED.  I am one of those who can literally claim to be “Laking National” or one who grew up on National Bookstore.  Whichever mall I find myself in, if there is a National Bookstore there, I MUST check it out for the goodies and postcards (of course!).

I miss Cafe Adriatico.  I haven’t been back there in the last 3-4 trips I’ve made back home but will make sure I go back this time around.  BFF Fe and I spent many ours just sitting there people watching and passing the time away.

I miss the kakanin vendors and the Jollyjeeps that are parked on the streets of Makati for lunch.  Again, something to do when I come back.. this April if not in December.

I miss hanging out in the malls, in Starbucks (which I hate doing here but don’t mind doing in Manila), and sampling the great culinary outlets that are everywhere.  Yes, there may be a ton of people just going into the malls for a whiff of the airconditioning, and yes, Starbucks there is the same as here (well, almost.. they have food offerings there that aren’t present here like their delicious tuna pandesal), but it’s the whole vibe there that’s different.  And the restaurants — I have to salute those culinary schools for the genuises they have nurtured and grown!  More!  More!!  More!!!

I miss the live band performances — wherever and whenever.  The world was so wowwed by Arnel Pineda who was a perfect replacement for Steve Perry in Journey but there are hundreds of Arnel Pinedas in the Philippines — and quite a number of them perform with world class bands who can get you dancing on your feet with their perfectly strung together music sets.

Would I consider moving back to Manila?  Yes, I would.  Sometimes I actually dream of doing that.  Yes, even if the view below is a glorious postcard view that I actually have within reach every day.

A glorious Empire State Building in the downtown cityscape

Food trip: Elias

Elias for dinner x2One of the things I really look forward to during my trips to Manila is the culinary experience that it entails, given the gastronomic offerings available. I had the good fortune of visiting Elias twice this trip, and here are a few of the yummy delights we got to sample.

First of all, thanks to my good friend Ces who brought me here during our first night together.

The restaurant describes itself as “Turn of the century Filipino dining – a trademark that is only Chef Florabel Co Yatco’s.

Elias is a mélange of an elegant Filipino home during the Spanish colonial period, and a modern, classy Filipino restaurant of the 21st century.”

The restaurant decor is reminiscent of a rustic ancestral home bordering on “almost modern” but not quite.  It is dated but not “great grandmother old”.   The dishes are a creative play on characters and elements related to the period of Elias of Noli Me Tangere, Jose Rizal’s famous novel.

For my first dinner, Ces implored me to try the Munggo de Mariano which is lentil soup with chicharon (pork rinds) and tuyo fillet (smoked herring flakes).  I am not really a fan of lentil soup but I loved this one — probably because of all the crunch and flavor brought in by the chicharon.  For our main course, we had the Leandro which is Laing with Lechon Kawali (pictured below) and Joaquin or Tender Bulalo with Mushroom Gravy.  (Much like the Bulalo Steak made famous by another local chain of restaurants.)  We were too full to have dessert.Elias for dinner x2For Chrismas day, Mom, my sister, Offie, my brother Nikki, Angelo and I went out for dinner after a long day of cooking and serving lunch to our guests and I brought them to Elias for a different set of dishes. 

Elias for dinner x2

My sister picked this Oyster appetizer, Elias’ Choice,  pictured above, which is baked oyster with garlic and cheese.  (Oyster Rockefeller Elias Style?)  I would have gladly sampled it but I had just undergone some dermatologic procedures which required me to stay away from seafood at least until the “wounds” on my face healed.)

Nikki chose the Emilio which was actually Beef Morcon cooked in Classic Tomato Sauce.  I didn’t get to try this dish but it got Nikki’s seal of approval and that’s good enough for me.
Elias for dinner x2
Now, when I see that a restaurant offers special rice dishes, I try to sample it as a way of testing the mettle of the chef as far as coming up with simple yet complimentary flavors to the dishes his or her restaurant offers. We picked the Adobo Rice   which was hands down a great pairing to any of the dishes next to plain white rice and the old reliable garlic rice.  It had very subtle flavors which was the way it should be as it was not being offered as a rice viand, but rather as some form of “flavored” or “seasoned rice”.

Elias for dinner x2One rule of thumb I’ve followed through the years is to try a common dish associated with the cuisine a new restaurant I’m trying is known for to use it as a point of reference in comparison to something I’m familiar with.  How can you go wrong with Sinigang Gomez  which is good old Sinigang na Baboy sa Sampalok or Pork Sinigang with Tamarind Soup.  Authentic and soured appropriately — although Mom found it too maasim or tart.  I was quite happy with it.

Elias for dinner x2
My personal choice for an entree was the Lengua Laruja which I was hoping to sample from the classic Casa Marcos, but their only remaining branch was at the Fort which was much too far to go to on a holiday evening like Christmas. I had no complaints for the Elias version because it was soft and tender and the sauce was perfect to a T.

Elias for dinner x2
It was a busy night for the restaurant and as luck would have it, we were seated next to the dessert display, and one particular dessert was calling out to me.  Narcissa, Crisostomo’s Favorite which is Quezo de Bola Cheesecake was a perfect way to cap our sumptuous dinner.  This, alone, is worth going to Elias for.

Elias for dinner x2

Kudos, Chef Florabel!  Thanks for a memorable trip home.

Raine Sarmiento: I Paint the Roses Blue

Apologies to Raine Sarmiento for mixing her up with Raine Tobias, but I got an e-mail invite to the event below.  Apologies to Raine  whom I bumped ito  at a local Philippine Postcrossing Facebook group and with whom I  have been corresponding with  via postcards.  I realize now my connection to Ms. Sarmiento is probably through Etsy. Apologies but still endorsing!

Raine Sarmiento at the LittleLitFest

She’s a lady of many talents — our local artists need our support and I encourage you to go and meet her and see her body of work at this event sponsored by the National Book Development Board on May 31, 2013 at the Museo Pambata.  I have already contacted her to get a set of her postcards and at least one autographed one.  I am truly honored to know this young lady… good luck, Raine!

Basking in the glow of Autumn

fallI finally had the good sense to take out the camera before I reached this curb in our community where this majestic tree becomes visible.  On a day-to-day walk, I end up rushing past it as I walk to the bus stop.  Today, I deliberately took out my camera and had it on the ready a good 50 paces away, so that when I found a good spot, all I had to do was stop, adjust the cam, and shoot.  It’s not quite as good as I had hoped it would be and I guess it’s the fact that my camera is too intelligent for me — there seems to be an adjustment I need to make to stop it from trying too hard to focus.  (Which usually ends up with worse..)

The hurried shot doesn’t quite do justice to what I want to bring out, but it’s one of the better pictures I’ve taken in the last couple of days.  (Could it be that my not stopping fully to take the pictures is affecting the frame?  HAHA!)

As I walked to the bus stop finally, I thought about how I’ve been wanting to walk around and take pictures of the marvelous colors of fall.  Too busy, too cold, no time.  Well, the weather has improved quite a bit but I’m nowhere near the gorgeous colors of fire.

My current header picture is a photo taken in Central Park in the Fall of 2009.  I would love to walk down to Central Park one of these days on the ready with extra batteries and memory cards, a ziploc to put some leaves in and just spend a day enjoying my home city.   I’ve planned time and again in previous years but have never really gotten the chance to.

Another thing I would love to be able to do is photograph the fabulous display windows of the big stores here in New York during the holidays  which make a big deal of unveiling their storefront facades.  There was a time I had taken photos of Bergdorf Goodman in 2007, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Tiffany’s in full holiday regalia which was indeed a feast for the eyes.  (Amateur photographer tip: Best taken at night when the storefront glass won’t show a reflection of the scene outside the store — like you clicking away — plus the display lighting can do wonders to bring out the desired effect that the display was meant to evoke.)

I just looked at my banked vacation days and I stand to lose a week at least if I don’t take any substantial vacation in the next couple of days.  As it so happens, Christmas and New Year fall on a Tuesday, and my company has so generously allowed us the eve of both holidays as an office closing.  So that means the holidays will actually eat up on 3 of my vacation days.

We were actually mulling about a trip back home (again) but it’s a little too late in the year to be still planning and not booking it yet.  The fares during the dates we can go are astronomically high.  Our biggest consideration is that Angelo is now in third grade and can no longer afford to be away for an extended period given that they start state testing this year.  (Audible sigh.)  It’s a nice thought, but I don’t think it’s happening.  The sad thing is I have the time to give.

I will take the vacation days — probably a day here and there.  And I might yet get to go to Central Park this year just to photograph the leaves and the trees and all of Autumn after all.

Divisoria and Quiapo, anyone?

I started writing this post originally on March 18, 2012

It was a real adventure for me as I returned to a familiar place which is now so different and still the same.  I decided to take the jeepney like I used to, hailing one right at the corner of our street.  I was the only passenger at the beginning of the ride.  I didn’t know how much the fare was so I handed the driver a P50.00 bill and he returned a change of P30 something.  P14 apparently.  I had brought my old camera and snapped a few pics for the length of the trip covering San Juan, as I thought it was more prudent to keep it in my tote the rest of the ride.

The day was pleasantly warm and traffic was still good as I left the house early enough in the morning.  I couldn’t help but remember someone promising to drive me, but that was a while back.  I sat at the end of the row, by the “estribo”.  It has been ages since I rode the jeepney for any length of time.  If my brother os some other friend wasn’t driving me, I always took the cab.

It felt liberating and good and it made me feel nostalgic, bringing me home as in “home”.  I had taken this route many times almost 27 years ago when I had gone back and forth and up and down the streets of Tabora and Ylaya way back when I had gone into crafting hand-made ribbon hair accessories.  I did the jeepney route both ways back then.

Today was a lot different in that the landscape in that part of Manila has changed drastically.  You now have Tutuban Mall (which used to be a major train station) and 168.  I knew what I needed so I headed straight in.

I’ve always been proud of the fact that I can walk blindfolded into Divisoria and find my way out.  Through the years, I’ve gone in through Abad Santos at the back by car, via jeep, via taxi and pedicab.  I know the way the streets were mapped so well that I could determine which side I was on just by seeing which street came before which.  I know where to find the tapioca (sago) and the spices and condiments, as well as the towels and white sandos we used to wear under our Paulinian uniforms.

Divisoria is like any wet market in any town — the streets are grimy and slippery, stagnant mud in the street smell, and you see the different wares spread out in the streets.  People sleep and live where they do their business.  I would have loved to have taken out my camera, but I felt that would’ve been intrusive.  To just snap away would have meant invading their home, their world.  So I went about my business instead and left the cam in the tote.

I try to dress as nondescriptly although it is sometimes difficult to stay inconspicuous despite the t-shirt and cropped pants and lipstick only get up.  I don’t even wear any jewelry or accessories.  I somehow feel like I stick out like a sore thumb in the crowd but I try to blend in as best as I can.  So I walked towards Tabora where the main wares sold were notions.  Wellmanson’s was closed but Morning Glory was open.  I walked in and loved that the airconditioner was on full blast.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find anything interesting to buy.  I looked for a building with a clearly lit alleyway and walked in.

Most of the stalls between Ilaya and Tabora sell textiles and ready made formal wear.  I chanced upon a roll of canvas and picked up two meters.  The sales clerk asked me if I painted — I told him I was going to use it for jet ink printing.  (Yet another experiment.)  You have to be patient and navigate the alleys indoors, keeping in mind that most of the alleys are constructed in grids, and if you keep your head about you, you can head forward and find yourself out in the succeeding street.  So out I went into Ilaya.  I came out through the alley leading to the cotton textiles and saw some Angry Birds which I thought would make great pillowcases for Angelo.  Two yards each please.

Deep into Ilaya is a native supplies alley where I pick up wooden beads and assorted paper and handicraft supplies.  I wasn’t too keen about buying beads here, reserving my budget for that for when I hit Quiapo, so I simply picked up some round, oval and square coconut discs I am hoping to use  polymer clay on.  On the way back, I found a notions store and bought two metal crochet hooks, not really planning on buying any thread at this point.

I lugged my loot down to the nearest Chow King where I had a breakfast of buchi (sesame balls) which continues to appall me for being so outrageously expensive but which I just truly love!  The sesame balls here at my New York Mart, one of the bigger Asian groceries in my area are twice as large yet cost as much but don’t taste quite as good.  After breakfast, I walked back to the main street where a jeep for Quiapo happened to be slowly cruising by picking up passengers, and I jumped on as it was slowly moving forward.  (Yes, I can still do that despite my age and girth and the plastic bags with loot in tow.)

Next stop was Quiapo.  The jeep turned around two blocks from Quiapo Church.  The last time I was here two trips back, Abril had driven me over and we parked in Isetann then we took a pedicab to Church.  This time, I walked.  I stopped by the church first to pray.  I am not a Nazarene devotee like Abril and how Papa was when he was still alive, but I have always been moved by the faith of the people who worship here.  And any church of Christ is a place of prayer for me where I can just stand in one corner, close my eyes and just be.

I didn’t stay long.  I walked out to Villalobos street and headed for my two favorite stores:  Pot of Gold on the left and Wellmanson’s on the right.  There are a smattering of other stores in the area that I visited but which I wasn’t able to note the names of, but there is now more variety in this row of streets with a more diverse offering of gemstones and findings.

Pricing and product offerings can be confusing to the uninitiated, so it pays to know what you need and want when you walk into the stores, otherwise you will get overwhelmed.  Overwhelmed can mean grabbing more things than what you actually need which translates to going over budget, or just being paralyzed into not grabbing anything at all.  I knew what I needed — just a few findings from Wellmanson’s, some pliers, and their handy bead organizer.  I was going to help Ces make a full length rosary, so I picked up a suitable crucific and center joiner, but their silver plated headpins were not shiny enough.  I decided to pick the headpins from the store across the street.  I walked over to Pot of Gold where I got the right sized glass crystals and some dyed agate beads.  I went to two more stores on this side and picked up more beads and findings before deciding I was done.

I wasn’t able to head to either Divisoria nor Quiapo last December for lack of the opportunity to go there — since the family stayed in Pasay at one of the hotels there.  Besides, Christmas would’ve been a crazy time to brave the crowds doing their own holiday shopping.  I had made up my mind I would make sure to stop by this time around.  You just can’t beat the prices here — and while my crafting has been put on hold since I got back from Manila over the holidays, I had to take something home.  So when my brother Abril couldn’t take me, I vowed I would go on my own before the weekend was over.

I wasn’t about to take another jeepney ride with everything I was lugging, so I hailed a cab and took the easier way home.  When I got inside the house with everything I was holding, my siblings and my mom were aghast to find out I had gone to Divisoria and Quiapo unaccompanied.  (I told you they think I’m a walking target for every snatcher and other thug in those parts.)  But I managed to accomplish what I had set out to do in record time and all in one morning.  We had lunch and I retreated back upstairs.

I was exhausted by the time I brought everything up to the room.  Jetlag eventually caught up with me.  I skipped dinner and by the time I woke up, it was midnight.  Time to get ready for the sojourn North to a place I had visited many times through the years — where I prayed and my prayers were answered.

Getting Ready for the Journey back to New York

I know I’ve been writing in stops and starts but I’m getting to that point where everything is being lumped together now as my trip begins to wind down.  I am getting ready to pack the bags and make a mental list of what else I need to get.  At this point, I’ve reached out to everyone I need to see and have wrapped up all the pending meetings.  I guess the others will just have to wait until the next trip.

For once I cannot wait to get on the plane taking me back to New York, but I have two or three things still pending here at home.  I am hoping everything gets settled by tonight so I can wrap up tomorrow and head home feeling I have accomplished what I came here for.  In many respects, I know I have.  Whatever I failed to do or didn’t quite finish, I know I gave it my best shot.

So today I have a possible meeting tonight hanging over my head — otherwise, it’s just getting things together for the trip home.  Going to grab some groceries this morning, meet up with some friends midday and in the afternoon, and then the meeting (if it happens) or a dinner with friends (if it doesn’t).  This is the bittersweet thing about leaving after any visit here in New York — it’s trying to make the most of everything I’m leaving yet again for the nth time.

Getting there…

Early Saturday on my last weekend in Manila

I normally would be wanting to extend my vacation by now, counting four days left in Manila before I board the plane going back to New York on Wednesday, but this time around I find myself wishing I could hop on a plane sooner than my departure date so I can go home.  Not happening, though.  I am still counting on one more business meeting on Monday — possibly — and it’s getting a little more difficult remaining optimistic about that but I am trying.

I am trying to plan my day today which I hope to start in a half hour with a sojourn by jeep to Divisoria, then hopping on a cab to Quiapo.  (Ambitious, I know!)  I had tried to get to Quiapo yesterday with no luck.  So I figure the stores will be open today, so it should be worth the try.  I need to start getting ready to go.  I might have to go on the sly as my siblings tend to think of me as a walking target for the unscrupulous whenever I mention going to anywhere via the regular people’s route: Commuting by jeepney.  I have my outfit all set, I’ll be packing a nondescript bag, and I’ll be apportioning my money in places where they won’t get taken all at the same time.

I’m even leaving my US Blackberry just to make sure, lugging only my local reliable Globe SIM BB instead.

Let me get going and I’ll try and post something here again soon.

I do hate the thought of leaving Manila again, but this is one of those trips that make me long to be with Angelo sooner.  Time to move on..