Monday, August 30, 2010

Part 35: Christmas in Manila

"She asked him why:
Why I'm a hairy guy?
I'm hairy noon and nighty-night night
My hair is a fright
I'm hairy high and low
Don't ask me why
Cause he don't know
It's not for lack of bread
Like the Grateful Dead

Gimme a head with hair
Long beautiful hair
Shining, gleaming,
Streaming, flaxen, waxen

Give me down to there hair
Shoulder length or longer
Here baby, there mama
Everywhere daddy daddy

Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
Flow it, show it
Long as God can grow it
My hair"
~ The Cowsills

My hair had grown quite long; I hadn't had a haircut for sometime now and I was beginning to be a little apprehensive about the upcoming Christmas holidays. I let my hair go partly because it set me apart from everyone else, partly because it made me feel cool, but mostly because the girls liked it. Because of this I was more than willing to face my father's wrath. After lunch I'd sit on the Neutral and one or more girls would comb, brush, braid and style it. As it grew longer they would eventually give me a long braided pony tail or maybe a French Twist, using chop sticks, barrettes, hair clips and bobby pins. Sometimes I'd leave it for the rest of the day and sometimes a teacher would yell at me to take it out. I got teased occasionally but I didn't care, mostly it was because they were jealous.

Peg Hamil, Cathy McAllister and sometimes Kathy Duncan would spend hours after school talking and working on my hair. For Cathy McAllister it was therapeutic, her boyfriend had been "detained" by the PC. One day he never made it home from school. No one knew where he was or what happened to him. Then two or three weeks later his parents found out he was being held at Camp Crame, headquarters for the Philippine Constabulary and one of many detention centers for "dissidents". So, we tried to keep her mind off of it, keeping her company, telling stories, going to movies and working on my coiffure.

I was over at Hamilton Hall helping clean up the day after a dance and the girls started working on me, clips in my hair, a little make up and a crepe paper skirt. Mrs Jenista wanted a picture so here I am posing, with Elmer Strasser down on one knee in mock proposal.

Brent was participating in a citywide Christmas festival and we were organized to be in a parade and then some folk dancing down at Burnham park. Peg, Cathy, the Duncan sisters and I were at the back of the line.

Here we are waiting for the parade to start, notice I am pulling a bottle of Mateus from under my jacket. Hmm, the Duncan sisters seem a little too jolly.

This is as far as we ever got, because as soon as the parade started we ditched and first went over to Madame Chan's to do a little Christmas shopping.
The Old Pagoda Shop was one of my two favorite places to shop for gifts, the other was the Pied Piper. The Old Pagoda was filled to the rafters with things to buy. Some were genuine antiques and artifacts, others artful fakes, all of it very interesting. I picked out some incense, a few things for my mother and special friends, then we headed over to the Rose Bowl for some fried rice. It was vaguely disconcerting to see these slightly tipsy, normally straight laced, follow-the-rules kind of girls nervously clutching their bottles of San Miguel, Beth laughing uproariously with her booming laugh at the slightest joke.

What with the plays and parades I forgot to make my airline reservations to get home that Christmas. No, really, I forgot. So, when school let out for the holidays and I got to Manila I was stuck at the Guest House. First available flight out was December 27th. Not too bad a place to spend Christmas I thought, they had a fairly good selection of books and there were plenty of shops and department stores within a few blocks. It was fun to shop and browse those first few days, but then my parents decided I needed to spend Christmas with a "family", so they telegraphed some missionaries they knew and I ended up spending a few days at "Sydney's" home. I hadn't seen her since the Christmas before and she still was as cute as ever and her volumes had gotten bigger too. Her Dad was painfully aware of this and kept a close eye on us whenever he could. She was used to him playing watchdog and devised all manner of evasions that would give her a minute or two alone with me. But most of the time we hung out in the kitchen with her Mom, baking cookies and other treats for Christmas. Sydney had some peculiar habits and tastes one of which was dill pickles dipped in
Elmer's glue. I'm not kidding and she kept trying to get me to try it. I thought of all the nasty stuff glue is supposed to be made from and would put her off. But girls are real good at getting boys to do things and she turned her feminine wiles on full blast. Not the worst thing I have ever tasted, but not the best either. I was surprised, but pleased when on Christmas day they had presents for me too, thinking that at least I would be getting something for Christmas. It was interesting to see how other missionaries lived, especially those in the cities with access to imported American products. Their lifestyle was so different from ours in the boondocks where even getting comics or magazines in English was tough.

I did make it home for about a week that year, though it hardly seemed worth the effort. It started with the usual
"My prodigal daughter returns" and ended with "My prodigal daughter returns to school". Mom really tried hard to make it a good Christmas for everyone, she had even asked me what I wanted and tried to get them for me, although when I said I wanted an "ELO" or "The Beatles" album I meant Electric Light Orchestra not Enoch Light and his Orchestra play the Beatles. She also gave me some cash and a bundle of Enid Blyton paperbacks, really out of my age range but they were real gifts this time and she was trying to pay attention to the three boys, kissing and hugging us, playing the piano and singing. She brought Mrs Hinakay over from Samar exclusively to make me some shirts and Mom and I went to buy some fabric where I picked out some off white muslin and assorted cotton pastels. Auring didn't really approve of my hair either, but she still made my favorites: beef adobo, fried chicken, roast beef and browned potatoes. Of course I had tuyo and bulad every day.


  1. Those bell-bottom jeans in the 70s was how Session road was kept clean :-)

  2. Great stories... and I recognize them very well.
    My family moved to the Philippines when my son was 8... now he is 17. He goes to International School Manila and he plans to go to the US to attend college there. Your Brennt stories sound familiar :-)
    Thanks for sharing...

  3. Kathy Duncan left Brent the following year, didn't she? Beth came back to graduate '74/'75, but Kathy never returned. Wonder what became of the sisters.