Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sometimes A Great Notion: Part 3 - Baguio

"Probably the worst time in a person's life is when they have to kill a family member because they are the devil... but otherwise it's been a pretty good day"
~ Emo Philips

"... but then, everything has its drawbacks, as the man said when his mother-in-law died, and they came to him for the funeral expenses" 
 ~ Jerome K. Jerome

We awoke the next morning to the sounds of the city. We lay in bed and listened to the street vendors for awhile; Maureen marveling at the difference between her Midwestern farm girl life and this bustling megacity on the other side of the world. 

For me, everything screamed Home. I was experiencing a crazy combination of Deja Vu and time travel where everything was familiar and yet new. It was a bit disorienting actually, warping between past and present and it was extremely hard to keep from acting like a kid in a candy store. 

We talked for awhile (mostly me sharing memories and insights) before getting up to pack and dress, then went down and had an early breakfast. I had tapsilog, (beef tapa, rice and egg) but Maureen had Frosted Flakes with milk (room temperature) and a banana. We finished eating and were wondering what was keeping the parents (we had knocked on their door on our way down). So we went and banged on the door again. Finally my Dad answered, they had fallen back to sleep! I reminded him we had an early flight and had to get to the airport!

Manong Tony picked us up a short while later and took us to the domestic flight terminal. We went through the metal detectors, were frisked and all of our backpacks had to be checked in. But other than that, the security check was substantially less than what we went through back in the States. We were off to the mountain city of Baguio!

We took off in the rain and there was a lot of turbulence. From the back of the plane I heard:
Step-mom:"What is that water down there?"
Dad: "The Pacific ocean"
Step-mom: "The ocean! So the Philippines is by an ocean?"

The bouncing around made Maureen a bit queasy. She kept her eyes shut, sipped water and tried to keep her frosted flakes down. I think there was also the fear that the plane was going to fall apart right where we were sitting. Our plane was a twin turbo prop of Canadian manufacture and the section where the plane was riveted together was at our feet and it kept shifting back and forth, and water dripped from the seam above our heads. The gap was wide enough to stick a pencil in and from the look on her face I could tell she was worried the bolts were falling out! Fortunately the skies cleared and she was distracted by the scenery unfolding below us.

We rose above the rain clouds to a cruising altitude of around 5000 feet. From the back of the plane I heard:
Step-mom:"What are those?"
Dad: "Mountains"
Step-mom: "Mountains! Does the Philippines have mountains?"

Just under an hour later we were there. It seemed like the plane just slowed down and landed without circling the runway or descending. We were just flying along and boom! we hit the runway and slammed on the brakes because the runway was very short and if we didn’t stop in time we would fall off the other end of the mountain.

We went through baggage claim and out through security and I went up to the ticket counter to see if I could use a phone. The young lady behind the counter said "sure!" and waived me around the metal detector to use the phone at her desk (so much for security). I called my friend Mike to see if he had been able to find us anything. It was right in the middle of the annual Panagbenga Flower Festival and usually everything is booked months in advance (which is why I had tried to discourage Dad from changing our itinerary; we had originally been booked at the Country Club, but they were full, as was the Manor House on Camp John Hay.) Mike said he found us something which was not as nice but it would have to do on such short notice.
We found a taxi driver who took us to our hotel, for about 150 pesos or $3. That was about a dollar more than the posted price, but well worth it because the driver was quite a character, full of information! We drove up to the city, me on the edge of my seat, looking here, looking there. We arrived at the hotel and as soon as we got there Dad leapt out, went into the hotel, leaving me to pay the driver.

At the desk we found the only thing they had was a suite with two queen beds: this meant we would have to share the room with the Step-Mother and Dad. I looked at Maureen and she whispered "it'll be okay."
Will it? I whispered back.

After we unpacked we decided to walk downtown. The Step-Mom immediately took off power walking and soon left us far behind.

Here she is about a half block ahead of us
It is a good thing she knew her way around Baguio... Oh, wait! This is her first time in the Philippines!

Unfortunately we didn't lose her and we ended up at Burnham Park. 
Step-mom: "Boy, it sure is hilly around here."
Dad: "uh, that is because we are in the mountains"

The parents got interested in all the plants and flowers on display and we left them to find an internet café to check on the kids back home.

We walked up and down Session Road, window shopping and looking to see if I could find any familiar landmarks from the past.
Here is what used to be the Pines Theater

And this was Session Theater

When we got back to the hotel the parents napped and Maureen wrote in her journal. We talked about where to eat that night, I suggested we try the hotel restaurant but the Step-Mom wanted "a sandwich". We looked at the menu but they didn't have what she wanted. She was kind of irritated by this, even after Dad explained that sandwiches were not as common here in the Philippines. I suggested she just tell them what she wanted and see if they could make it for her. But No, she wasn't going to do that. Anyway, she wanted a sandwich so the lady at the front desk suggested we try the mall.

We took a taxi to the mall and as soon as the cab stopped she jumped out and took off and disappeared in the crowd. Dad ran after her and that left me to pay for the cab again. Hmm, I am suspecting a trend here.

We hung around outside for awhile till Dad reappeared with the Step-mom in tow. We went through security and I spotted a Starbucks and told her they had sandwiches and she reluctantly went in. We looked through the glass case and there were several different kinds of sandwiches to choose from. But, of course, because I found them there was nothing she wanted. I decided to get a coffee while we were in there. Step-mom got mad and said “Why do you want that?” “Just get one where we eat!”
So we roamed the mall checking out the various restaurants. Well there was a Pizza Hut but she wanted a sandwich so we kept looking. There was a McDonalds but not that kind of sandwich. We went up and down the mall looking at menus. We finally ended up in the food court and by then we were all starving and it was the last resort so she had to eat there. 

All they had was Filipino fast food! I was in fast food heaven. I ordered siopao for Maureen and I (show-pow – roasted pork inside a rice flour dough pastry then steamed) and a pitcher of San Miguel Beer for 35 pesos. I suggested the Step-Mom try Dinuguan (a dish made from pigs blood and diced lungs, kidneys, intestines, ears, heart and snout) but Dad told her what it was so she didn't get it. She was mad (at me) about not getting a sandwich the rest of the night.

It was still pitch black out when we awoke the next morning to someone loudly talking in the bed next to us.
“What time is it, Paul?

Then they got up, turned on all the lights and started banging around and talking in even louder voices. I put a pillow over my face and silently screamed into it. They finally went down for breakfast but we were wide awake now so we went down to eat too. They asked how we slept. Maureen: “Alright” 
Step-mom: Did you wake up during the night?” 
Maureen: “No, actually I didn’t wake up until 4:30.” 
Step-mom: “Oh, well then you had a great night’s sleep!” 
Maureen: “Well, I could have slept a couple more hours.” 
Step-mom: “Oh, you couldn’t get back to sleep?” 
Maureen: “No, it started getting noisy.” 
Step-mom: “Oh yeah, the people next door were very noisy”

Dad and I got Filipino food for breakfast while Maureen had French toast. The Step-mom wanted whole wheat toast. Not on the menu. "Why not? Everybody has whole wheat!" Dad tried to explain that in South East Asia rice is the prevalent grain crop. Being as she came from a farm family in the Midwest, she couldn't understand why the Filipino farmers didn't grow wheat and grumbled to herself. It was shaping up to be a wonderful day.

It is Sunday and we were planning to go to the UCCP church service, but all of a sudden I needed some breathing room. So when the parents got up to get ready for church (and left us to cover the bill) we went outside and caught a cab to Brent School.

We were scheduled to take a tour of the campus the following day with Mike, but now I wanted to make a separate pilgrimage alone, without the running commentary from the Step-mom. 

For my father, Baguio was just a town and Brent was just another one of the many schools I went to. But for me it was the place I called home for five years.

Through the town, up Brent Road, my heart beating faster. The gates were closed when we got there, but when I explained I was an alumni they let us in.

Walking up the hill, it was if I had only been gone for the summer. Almost everything was still the same, I still knew this place like the back of my hand.
This is the place that changed my life forever, this is the place where I drew my strength. My blood, my sweat, my tears were in the very soil of this place. We walked around quietly in the rain: here is where my dad dropped me off when I was twelve, this was where my locker was, this was my Spanish classroom, that was my history classroom.These were the steps where I sat so many times. I reached out to touch the walls to remind myself that this was real, not just another dream.
Here was the dorm I lived in for the first two years, over there is the dorm where I lived for last three years of my time at Brent. This is the place where I learned self-confidence, the place where I found my identity.

Familiar voices called out to me from every corner, I turned to see the faces but they were gone. They were echoes from my youth, long forgotten scenes replaying in my head. Some of the words were mine. Loudest of all was the School, tugging at my sleeve, asking me where I had been. I felt guilty, as if I had abandoned a loved one without a word. 

It was only to be a brief visit, we were meeting Mike Pearson for lunch. So, all to soon we were walking down Brent Road to catch a taxi back to the hotel. At the corner of Brent Road and Leonard Wood Road was a shop that carried ethnic goods from the mountain tribes, it was still raining so we decided to go inside. Vintage and antique wares were on the walls and in the cases. Spears filled a big jar by the door, beads, arm cuffs, necklaces were in one case, head axes and heavy knifes in another. Hand woven loin cloths, blouses, skirts and blankets on the shelves. Another row of shelves held vintage backpacks. 

We purchased a few items then caught a taxi back to the hotel, arriving just before the parents and Mike arriving soon after. The break from them had done us good, we felt revitalized and ready for another round.
Mike took us over to to the Baguio Country Club for a buffet lunch and we sat on the veranda overlooking the golf course. It was an excellent buffet with many western style foods which made the Step-mom happy. For dessert Maureen had flan, crème brulee, and mango cheesecake.
Mike's family had been in the Philippines since before WWII. He came from a mining family and grew up in Baguio; both his grandmother and mother had taught at Brent. He captivated my parents with his stories, especially the Step-mom. She was trying vainly to wrap her head around the American Experience in the Philippines, and Mike was her historical expert.

After lunch, Mike took us on a tour of the usual Baguio tourist spots. Everywhere we went people seemed to know Mike, greeting and conversing with him in Ilocano. Camp John Hay, Mansion House (the President’s summer residence), Wright Park, Mines View. 
Step-mom: "So why does President Bush have a house here?
Mike: "No, the Mansion House is for the Philippine president"
Step-mom: "So why is there a US Air Force base in Baguio?  
Mike: "No, it used to be a US base. It isn't an Air Force base anymore"
Step-mom: "Wright Park? Is that a common Filipino name?"
Mike: ?!? 

He dropped us back at the hotel around 5 pm and I think he was worn out by all the Step-mom's questions. We were tired too and had supper at the hotel and went to bed early.

I awoke the next morning to loud voices: Deja Vu.
“What time is it, Paul?

Then they got up, turned on all the lights and started banging around and talking in even louder voices. I put a pillow over my face and silently screamed into it. OMG.

Mike picked us up after breakfast for our Brent tour and when we arrived at the school, the guards just waved him in (Mike was on the faculty and staff for a number of years). Mike gave us the full tour and the parents just sucked it up. I had forgotten that Dad had only been to the school three times during the five years I had attended Brent. Now and then I would try and interject with additional information, but the Step-mom ignored my comments and would ask Mike again.
Step-mom: "So tell me again why the students came from the United States just to go to school here?"
Mike: ???

Dad told Mike about "his" adventure getting to Baguio in the fall of 1972 and his subsequent "inspection tour" of  the typhoon and flood damage with President Marcos and his entourage. Mike patiently answered their questions and occasionally would glance over at me now and then with a bemused, puzzled look on his face. Welcome to my world buddy.

After Brent we stopped at a travel agency to get tickets to Tacloban; and yes, I ended up paying for the tickets as Dad had once again left his credit card at the hotel.
Here is Mike wondering how he 
can get out of this. 
The Step-Mom giving me the 'evil eye'

Then we went to Mario’s for lunch (I made Dad get his wallet from the hotel first). The Mario's I remembered from my school days was gone from Session Road, this was a new one, complete with modern menu. I missed the pizza, the bread sticks and the Bullfighter posters on the wall of the old restaurant.  Mike entertained us with funny stories about his experiences at a New Zealand boarding school.

After that Mike dropped us off at a shop, I think he needed a break. Dad wanted to buy a pair of mounted carabao horns, but the Step-mom nixed it.

Next we went to an Internet Café to check our email and then headed to the Shoe-Mart Mall (SM). We wandered around the mall and checked out the stores. One of the shops sold t-shirt spoofs:

The mall seemed to be built on or near where the Pine Hotel used to stand. It was four or 5 stories high on top of a mountain. There were huge balconies on the east and west sides with unobstructed views of the city. We found a little shop called Figaro’s. They served coffee and sandwiches (the Step-mom glared at me). Dad and I had grilled Spam and cheese sandwiches. We sat on the top balcony and had coffee while we watched the sun set and the fog roll in.

On our last day in Baguio we took a taxi over to the Easter School Weaving Room, where women with large looms were weaving yards of fabric. From this they sew blankets, tablecloths, placemats, purses and clothing.

We all picked out some gifts to take back home and the Step-mom said "what are you doing?"  When Maureen explained that she was getting souvenirs for her parents and our kids she gave her a funny look and said "why would you want to do that?" Maureen just gave her the moron look and said nothing. But shortly after that the Step-mom was scurrying around the store and headed up to the counter with her arms full. Dad did his knick knack paddy wack dance. Again. He looked at me expectantly. I asked him what he would do if I wasn't there to bail him out. He didn't even have any cash to pay for a taxi back to the hotel!

My visit to Baguio had not gone the way I hoped it would. I had been planning to take a day trip up to Banaue and/or Sagada to show Maureen the rice terraces, but the Step-mom didn't want to go. When I suggested that Maureen and I go by ourselves, Dad got all worked up and panicky and somehow I let him talk us out of it. I guess he, too, was overwhelmed by his memories from 30 years ago. I was used to an assertive, self-reliant father and didn't know how to deal with him. 

Just like that our Baguio experience was over. We ate a small breakfast, I paid our hotel bill (of course!) and then we headed for the airport. We got there, went through baggage inspection which included taking everything out of our bags and repacking. Then we got our boarding passes and went to the outdoor lounge and had coffee. There we met Richard Swart, the Dean of Studies at Brent School. He told us some good stories about his years of teaching at boarding schools. Then it was finally time to board the plane. 

This time I got to say goodbye.


  1. Amazing. The airport is closed now, but the Victory Liner De Luxe is great and has wifi. Your narrative about your parental unit is very funny. You can go home again.

  2. Waldo- I really enjoyed your post on the Baguio visit. I have just discovered your blog and look forward to reading a lot more. I was the Philippines off and on from 1959-1975, and went to Faith Academy. I was in the same class as Kevin Engle, if you knew him at Brent (though you seem a lot younger than me). I hope the stepmom shapes up! Maureen seems like a good sport.