The month of December was packed and full of fun. We had a full house and a lot of memories for Christmas 2013. My parents finally came to visit us and it worked out the best to have them here for Christmas. They only had 10 days in the Philippines, but I think that we packed it pretty full to make sure that they had enough to do and also time to relax. One of the highlights of the trip was taking my dad to the island where his dad (my grandfather) is from (Siquijor) and meeting his half sister-in-law, nieces, nephews, cousins, etc. We also had Matt’s brother, Drew, come visit us since he served his mission in the Philippines and speaks Tagalog. After Christmas in Siquijor, we brought our cousin Sherwin with us back to Manila for a few days. It was his first time to Manila and his first time on an airplane!
In May while my sister was visiting us we met some cousins that moved from Siquijor and are now living in Manila (click here for the original story of our unexpected Filipino family reunion). First we met Marites (pronounced maurie-tess) and her boyfriend, Jay, at the mall. She also contacted her sister, Diana, and got her to come as well to meet us and bring her two kids, Christian age 13 and Dana age 12. We noticed that Diana was pregnant and found out that she would be giving birth around August.
A couple of months passed and we knew that it was getting close to the time that Diana would be giving birth. Then, this past weekend Marites texted us saying that Diana gave birth to a baby girl on Friday, July 26, but Diana had some kind of infection and was bleeding. We were asked if we could help since she needs some blood and medicine. Matt and I went to the hospital and entered the ICU. With my siblings and all the craziness that they do, I have seen my fair share of ICUs at hospitals…but this was NOT an ICU in America, Diana was in the “charity ward” of UERM Medical Center. Charity wards do not have the same level of care as the rest of the hospital. The ICU was a room about 20’x20′ and had 3 patients in that small area. Diana was swollen with tubes in her mouth and a scared look in her eyes. She wouldn’t let go of her husband’s hand while we were there. The doctors/nurses finally said that there were too many people in the room and that only one person at a time could be in there.
So, we left Diana and her husband to go look at the baby. This hospital is about 4 stories and the ICU was on the 4th floor and the “nursery” was on the 2nd floor. No elevators were seen and the hospital looked like it could have doubled for a WWII prison. We didn’t have to check-in as visitors, and everything was in Tagalog…good thing our relatives know some English. So we enter a small closet area to look into what we think is the nursery. But, it must have been the NICU. I have never seen such small babies in person before. Baby legs about as big as my thumb and 3-4 incubators with newborn/preemies inside. It took awhile and some talking to a nurse, but she brought over a 7 pound baby girl to show us. So that was so nice to see a “healthy” baby.
We left the hospital and gave our cousin Marites some money to pay for bags of blood and medicine for Diana. Marites broke down in tears and just hugged me so tight. This money was going to make things better! That was Saturday. On Sunday night we get a text message from Marites saying, “L0rd God plz help my sister diane 2 survive.” We responded that we would pray for her…not much more we can do late at night. We go to bed and in the morning receive a text that said Diana passed away.
We were in shock with this news. Our experience with being sick and being in the hospital means that you get better since the trained professionals are there with the equipment to make everything better. Well, that is the experience you get if you are at a “nice hospital” and have insurance, or money, or live in a 1st world country. At the very least, the doctors can help you survive a bit longer and prolong the fight. We can’t help but think that if she was in a better hospital this tragedy could have been avoided. We said that we would help with whatever we could, so we were asked to bring some food over for the vigil. I am not accustomed to Filipino vigils or death in general, but sadly our house help knows too well what is needed. We loaded our car with bags of food and drinks and took them over to Diana’s house where her body is there for people to pay their respect.
Diana passed away around midnight and we got to their home at roughly 6pm. The body was already in a coffin with make-up and lights and candles around the coffin for people to pay their respect. We were shocked to see how quickly things were done given the fact that Diana was still alive 18 hours ago. Diana’s body still looked swollen in the coffin and not like the person that we met back in May.
We spent about 3 hours at the house with family and friends. We got to meet Diana’s other sister (Devina), and her “common-law husband”. We also met other cousins of our cousins. It is hard for us to comprehend how Diana died so quickly at the age of 31, but her husband, children, and sisters could smile and chat with us. We assume that they are smiling on the outside, but crying on the inside. We know her son stayed up through the night in tears and hadn’t slept yet. I wish that I could take away their pain and sorrow. I take comfort in The Plan of Salvation that our Heavenly Father has for us where families can be together forever. There is possibility that I may have to speak before Diana’s burial since I am a relative; and if given the chance, I will speak and bear testimony of God’s plan, and that they can be reunited as family again in heaven.
Table of Contents: (links will be created as posts are published)
- Days to 1 to 4: Manila
- Day 5: Taal Volcano
- Day 6: Pagsanjan Falls & Mall of Asia
- Day 7 and 8: Basketball, Shopping, and Church
- Days 9 to 11: Bohol & Panglao
- Day 12: An Unexpected Family Reunion in Siquijor
- Day 13 and 14: More fun in Manila
- Days 15 to 17: Coron Island
- Day 18: Wrap-up
After several business trips to the Philippines (June 2011, Sept 2011, Feb 2012), I was successful in convincing Tia that we should spend our summer vacation there (without kids!). As mentioned in the first post regarding this vacation (Day 12), it would give us an opportunity to see some amazing sites and attempt to explore more of Tia’s family history.
The rough agenda had us staying around Metro Manila for the first week, including a few days in the office, and then island hopping for the final two weeks (returning to Manila on the weekends). The islands we visited are Bohol, Panglao, Siquijor, and Coron. Each offered a variety of great experiences and memories which we’ll attempt to capture in this family journal through an ongoing series of blog posts.
Highlights from the first few days include:
- Attending Church a short walk from the hotel
- Manila Bay Dinner Cruise
- Rain taking us to a professional basketball game (PBA)
- Tia’s first experiences shopping at the Manila super malls
- An evening with Toto & Ava Jill, who took us on a tour of
* We ran into not one, but two, good friends at the Houston airport! One was an old family friend from Sacramento, and the other was a co-worker from Australia who was passing through on his way home from Miami to Perth. (the same co-worker I met up with in Manila several times on previous business trips)
* On the plane from SF to Tokyo, we were surrounded by a group of young men in their 20’s dressed in basketball warm-ups. Turns out they’re a traveling Christian Missionary Team, and their coach is from my old highschool in Sacramento! (he wasn’t a coach when I played for the school, but said he recognized me)
* At the Sacramento airport (we had an overnight layover, dropping off our kids with their grandparents), someone who had the same brand of luggage as me took mine by mistake (and left). Luckily, I managed to locate his luggage and worked with the airport staff to contact him. He came back to the airport to exchange bags with me. Close call!
* Leaving Sacramento, upon check-in, our reservations showed an unknown error and would not let us proceed. The lady at the counter had to call headquarters not once, but twice, to get the mysterious error cleared. It was a pretty tense 15 minutes or so standing there with our fingers crossed (and even then, Tia’s connecting boarding pass from Tokyo to Manila printed out fine, but mine would not! I had to get mine printed at the gate in Tokyo).
* The flight from Sacramento to San Francisco was delayed due to weather. If it was delayed more than an hour or two, we would have missed our connection to Tokyo (luckily it wasn’t).
* Returning to the U.S., I was denied check-in at the counter in Manila due to a red coloration in my left eye. I knew it was being caused by a cold sore on my eyelid, but they escorted me to the airport doctor for examination. Despite my plea that it was a harmless cold sore on the eyelid (that I’ve had reoccurring since my teenage years), he still wrote conjunctivitis on the diagnosis form (which is highly contagious, pinkeye). Luckily, he also checked the box that says I’m clear to fly.
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of visiting the Philippines for the first time and wrote a short blog post about it here. Luckily, I was able to return for a second business trip the last two weeks of September.
This second trip was long enough to permit a weekend with my brother Drew, who is serving a two year LDS mission in the Cagayan Valley (a one hour flight from Manila). It was great to spend some quality time with my brother after not having seen him for nearly two years. It was also fun to see him as a missionary, participate in missionary activities, and hear him speak Tagalog fluently. He finishes his mission in December 2011 and will then attend university at BYU Hawaii.
Similar to the last trip, I was taken yet again by the kindness and warmth of the Filipino culture. I guess you could call it culture shock, but with a positive connotation. This alluring contrast was even more pronounced in the small city of Tuguegarao where Drew lived. Over the weekend he taught me a few phrases in Tagalog which served me well throughout the trip (‘How’s it going?’ ‘Thank you sir’ ‘Yes sir’ ..etc..) Most of these attempts at Tagalog were received with a very surprised smile and a bit of laughter.
The photos below illustrate some of the highlights of the trip, and the rest can be found here.
It wasn’t quite the Thrilla in Manila, but I was fortunate enough to visit the Philippines on a week-long business trip. My younger brother Drew has been over there for 18 months as an LDS Missionary and has shared some great stories in his letters. Also, my father in-law Jeff is Hawaiian Filipino, which means Kalani and Mason have a dash of Filipino in them.
As a family we’ve visited Hawaii several times and do a decent job of exposing the kids to the Hawaiian culture, but we haven’t done so much on the Filipino side. The trip turned out to be very rewarding, both culturally and from a business perspective. Below are some of the thoughts and impressions I’ve brought home to share with the family:
A culture of kindness — the never ending smiles, customer service, genuine desire to please, thoughtful respect, happiness without regard for material possessions:
- Everywhere we went, we were greeted with a glowing smile accompanied by a “Hello Sir!”. Everyone seemed eager to interact, help, answer questions, or assist in any way possible. Contrast this with our recent trip to Europe and it’s a night and day comparison. Often times in Europe, you feel like you’re ruining someone’s day by asking them a question. It was quite refreshing to have the opposite experience in Asia.
- One evening a hotel employee knocked on my door asking if I’d like him to prepare the room for sleeping (change the pillows, etc). I wanted to decline, but I could not say no to the eager anticipation on his face. His body language seemed to imply that it would have been a major let down if I had told him no. After prepping the room he ended with a big smile and “Please sir, is there anything I can do to further assist you?!”
- I was often asked if I’m rooting for Miami or Dallas in the NBA Playoffs. Not only did they want to make conversation, but they love basketball in the Philippines. Everyone plays it, courts are ubiquitous. One waitress gave me a laughing smile and high five when I told her she was getting no tip because she was rooting against my team (Miami).
- When the airplane was pulling off the runway, the entire ground crew assembled in formation to provide an animated farewell wave to the passengers on the plane. (Could you ever see that happening in the states?)
- When shopping or dining, the staff was always quick to assist, but never too pushy or rude.
- Just to reiterate how pleasant these people are: A janitor at a cafe one evening had the biggest grin while cleaning the restrooms and simultaneously dancing to the music being played outside.
We sometimes hear of the positive effect laughter can have on health, stress, and mood. I would venture to say that a similar phenomena exists when exchanging smiles. When someone smiles at me I can almost feel a small boost of energy, enthusiasm, and stress relief. When everyone around me is smiling, like in the Philippines, I can tangibly feel it lifting my spirits.
Other Thoughts / Activities / Stories
- One evening while shuttling from the office back to our hotel, a convey of police and SUVs followed has up to the hotel doorstep. Security guards kept us at bay while the President of the Philippines made his way into the hotel (for a meeting?). About an hour later on our way out to dinner the President made his exit and walked by us at only an arm’s length or so (he still had an entourage with him).
- Security is much higher in the Philippines than it is back home. I’m not sure if this is merely a scare tactic to keep crime in check, or if there is enough crime to warrant the extra security (or some combination of the two?). Upon entry to the hotel or the office, we are stopped and inspected by bomb sniffing dogs and metal detectors. Each floor in the office high-rise has its own security guard. Additionally, most retail stores have their own security guard. Someone asked if I felt insecure while out and about due to all the security, but it actually had the opposite effect. I felt quite secure thanks to all the guards.
- We spent a day touring our geothermal operations. This renewable source of energy is fascinating to learn about, and even more interesting to see in person.
- A local co-worker invited me to come play basketball with some other employees one evening. I anxiously took him up on his offer and had a great time. The court was a high quality roofed / open-air court in Forbes Park, Makati (one of the nicest parts of town). It’s kind of neat to think that I’ve now played basketball in four countries: USA, France, Scotland, Philippines.
- Pearl shopping is a common tourist attraction thanks to the near-market low prices found in Manila. A couple co-workers took us to a large bazaar of sorts and helped negotiate good prices on South Sea and Freshwater Pearls for our spouses. It doesn’t sound too exciting writing it here, but it was actually one of the more entertaining cultural experiences we had. (the sheer size of the shopping area was astounding)
- When watching Filipino TV, you’ll notice that the dialog switches mid-sentence between English and Tagalog. There doesn’t appear to be a rhyme or reason as to when the switch between the two languages should occur. This back and forth is apparently called “Taglish” and is a common form of communication. When pulling money from an ATM, it prompted me to pick from two languages: English or Taglish. It was also interesting to watch the NBA Finals on TV being called by local announcers switching between English and Tagalog.
- When I asked why Filipinos speak such good English and have great accents, I was told it’s due to all the American TV they watch (in addition to their adoration of American pop culture).
- Piracy is the norm without any social stigmas. In our airline lounge on the way home, they were showing a bootleg copy of the movie Thor, which was still in theaters back home.
- There doesn’t seem to be any adherence to traffic lanes when the streets get congested. Nor is there any concept of a fluid merger (most people are cut off with only inches to spare). Luckily, there isn’t much road rage and we always have an assigned company chauffeur.
- The weather was similar to Houston, Texas, with a bit more humidity.
- It wasn’t too surprising that we were stared at wherever we went, but one of the more memorable occasions was when a local girl exclaimed “Maximooooo!!!!” as our 6’7″ Scottish co-worker passed by. (We then named our 5′-something English co-worker “Minimo”)
Overall the trip was very educational, fun, and productive. Due to the travel distance I was not able to go visit Drew up north in Cauayan, but there may be other opportunities to do so in the near future. If nothing else, he will be able to share the Filipino culture with our family as the kids get older and want to learn more about their heritage.