Hero’s Journey 2018 Version 3.0


From February 3 to 10, a dozen kids from China, majority unaccompanied by their parents, flew to Manila with three teachers from Tianjin and joined the Hero’s Journey camp 2018.  The third we have had thus far, it combines the best features from the first and second camps, striking a balance between fun outdoor activities and art.  Combining improvisational theater and shadow play, facilitators drew stories from the children that were woven into a performance that brought out their voices and imagination.

We started from Manila, drove to Prado Farms in Lubao, Pampanga where the kids fed pigs, rode a carabao-pulled cart and swam in the pool.  Next stop was Casa San Miguel in San Antonio, Zambales where we had river trek, cove and island hopping, workshops, performances, games on the lawn, tricycle rides and a surprise birthday party orchestrated by the children themselves.  We wished we all could have stayed longer at the next destination at Crystal Beach, San Narciso where we had bonfire, movie night, sungka, swings, frisbee and loads of time chasing the waves.  Treetop Adventure at Subic produced the usual effect of fear first and pure ecstatic enjoyment after.   Last stop was MOA where Kultura (pasalubong shopping), Jollibee (the favorite meal) and Toy Kingdom (Mom, I need more money) were the orders of the day.

We look forward to more Hero’s Journeys in the future and there will be more detailed accounts coming up from this quite dormant blog.   Since my family and I made a transition from China back to the Philippines, I have remained silent on WordPress but will soon be back with reports about the camp as well as updates about self-directed education.


Hero’s Journey 3.0 Happening February 2018


This is a special and unique tour to the Philippines where the parents and children start and finish together but in between there will be a separation, hence the name, Hero’s Journey.   Each is on a quest to find the hero within the self.

The children attend a camp in an art center with facilitators who ensure that they will be totally immersed in an English environment while enjoying nature and the beautiful surroundings.  While this is happening, the parents will tour other sites.  When they are re-united with their children, the parents will watch a shadow play performance which is the output of the kids’ workshops.


This camp is recommended for children ages 9 to 12 and will be good for them to experience another culture, practice being independent and enjoy an English environment.

This is the third Hero’s Journey conducted with children and parents from China visiting the Philippines.  Through this, we hope to increase each child’s confidence in speaking English through fun, uplifting and educational activities indoors and especially, outdoors, enjoying all nature has to offer.

Throughout the ten-day journey, there will be 5 facilitators who will be with the children, conducting games and activities with them.  They have 10 years of experience running summer camps for children and will ensure that the kids are in a totally English immersive environment during their entire stay in the Philippines.  Carl from America will also be one of the facilitators.  He has been running an English Learning Center in Tianjin for a number of years with his wife, Samantha.  Taj, the shadow play workshop facilitator also has more than 10 years of experience teaching shadow play and art.

These are the two different routes for the children and for their parents.  The parents’ route deviate from the kids’ for a few days.



We hope you can join us this coming February 2018!


Check out more stories about the Hero’s Journey here:

Culmination and the Awesomeness of Ensemble

Surviving the Obstacles

On with the Journey

Meeting Destiny at Prado Farms

Las Casas Filipinas, Island Waters and Six Mothers

Hero’s Journey Version 2.0

Why Hero’s Journey

Hero’s Journey 1.0



One Last Hurrah or Is it?


Did we overdo it?  Did the kids have enough fun?  Was it too much work for them?  Did they eat enough?   Questions swam through the minds of overly but naturally concerned mothers.  But we set them aside to have one last hurrah making sure the children have the holiday fun stuff down pat before they board the plane back to China.

The kids swam night and day at Vista Marina in Subic and on the last full day, we went on the Treetop Adventure.  All kids rode the Canopy, Superman and Silver Surfer.  But not everyone wanted to go on the Tree Drop so two moms and another kid went in place of the unwilling so the ticket was not wasted.  Some kids started the ride with petrified faces but returned with giant grins signaling joyful satisfaction.

The rain enemy struck again and we had to postpone the Treetop Adventure for a bit and substitute an early lunch at the Kawayan restaurant nearby.  While waiting for the rice and soup cooking in bamboo, the kids and moms visited the bird park beside and enjoyed the bird show despite a bawling incident.

The moms have a mini-shopping spree at SM Clark with the requisite pasalubong jaunt to Kultura.  The kids dig into their Jollibee meals like they haven’t eaten in days.

Meanwhile so many ideas for improving the next Hero’s Journey plus other new concepts pile one on top of the other that I have to quiet my mind.  Donna will be in the U.S. and we don’t know whether we’ll have a third journey usually slated on February. When the dust has settled, we’ll see what emerges.

Culmination and the Awesomeness of Ensemble


So it all boiled down to one day.  At Sunday 3:00 pm, the performance was on.  Three days of workshops and two days of rehearsals and in between, living with strangers who become friends.  No mom or dad to coddle you and attend to your every whim and need. Ants and insects to boot.  Unfamiliar food and unfamiliar bed.   They all survived.  We all survived.  But more than survive, we passed and thrived with flying colors thanks to the ensemble, the leadership and the hero’s courage in each and every one of us.

The children were reunited with their moms the night before the performance.  We heard the coughs and listened to their stories.  It rained on the bonfire but we were happy to just be together.  The morning of the performance, the moms prepared Chinese dumplings while the kids rehearsed.   The star of the show got sick and had to catch up with rest in bed.

Dumpling-making proved to be a fitting contribution from the Chinese visitors as it brought everyone to the table wanting to try bao jiaozi.  The local kids and adults were excited to join but after a while, the Chinese moms had to find a diplomatic way to get them out of the kitchen so that they can wrap the filling more professionally.   Did Coke really drink the improvised dipping sauce that Xiao Bai made thinking it was a refreshing beverage?

Xiao Bai had to whip up an approximation of Chinese vinegar because there was none in the supermarket.  Xiao Bai also rescued the kids and moms who missed Chinese food so much.  She made ge de tang (a Chinese soup) for the kids and fried rice for the moms.

The show was a testimony to the awesome power of an ensemble — bringing together and orchestrating the talents of many so that the total is more than the sum of each part. The music transported us to another world while the shadow play touched our hearts. The kids performed while the moms on the front row were probably flooded with emotion. We started and ended with a celebration for the senses — a worthwhile feast laid out with local and foreign parents and Casa people pitching in.

A portion of the script laid out different definitions of a hero and I’m putting it here since it expresses much of what we feel this Hero’s Journey is all about:

Kid 1: Brave, courageous, noble . . . . those are some of the characteristics that define a hero.

Kid 2: Emperors, warriors, kings and queens, Superman and Wonder Woman. . . they are the usual image of a hero when one is asked.

Kid 3: Truth is, many times, being a hero or showing heroic acts doesn’t mean one has to have superpowers, be put in grave danger and eventually die.

Kid 4:  To be a hero, one must be willing to heed the call for adventure and survive obstacles, take risks, make sacrifices, do things that most people refuse to do.

Kid 5: And that journey can be dangerous, lonely and painful.

Kid 6:  That’s why heroes also need to have guiding lights.  It can be family, friends or a mentor.

Kid 7: Heroes are the ones who maintain peace and happiness of humanity.

Kid 8: Heroes are the ones who care, protect, fight and give.

Kid 9: Heroes are easy to find because they are the ones who are kind, gentle and responsible.

Teacher Ashley:  Look at the person beside you . . . . he or she may be a hero.  Let us teach our young ones to be heroes.  Let us build the world a home, let us teach the world to sing, let us furnish it with love.  Because heroes can be found anywhere, everyday.  Because any of us can be a hero.

Thanks to Coke Bolipata and his amazing technicolor team at Casa San Miguel!





Surviving the Obstacles


The rain poured on and off but more on than off in San Narciso, less than an hour from San Antonio where we were supposed to take a boat early in the morning to go to Capones and Camara Islands.  Donna insisted that we cannot possibly go on the boat ride if it continues raining but Arman who is coordinating all this for us, gently but firmly steers us to stay on course and follow the set itinerary.  The boat has been paid; the packed lunch is ready; the rain is losing strength.

We had a leisurely buffet breakfast at the surfer’s resort on Crystal Beach but we at last, much to my relief, set off and drove back to San Antonio where the skies were clearer but the water still tempestuous.  It turned out we were at the wrong docking area and we had to drive further down to Pundaquit where the waves were calmer.  The moms wanted to go back to Casa San Miguel to change clothes and I thought we couldn’t afford to delay the already delayed and miss the window of pacified weather.  In the previous Hero’s Journey, there were no arguments between Donna and me but in this one, we were tested twice.

We arrived in Pundaquit where many locals wait expectantly for tourists.  It started drizzling and once we were on the boat, there was no turning back despite the choppy waves.  One mom kept squealing each time the boat leaped, but we were all smiling to have made it thus far. Seeing the lush mountains with multiple veins of waterfalls erased the morning’s unease.  We set foot on Agnaem, the only change in the itinerary which was originally Capones. Agnaem had the more convenient landing and huts for meals.

Our guide from Casa San Miguel, Rogie led us to the waterfalls which was an adventure especially for the moms who haven’t trekked up a tropical mountain with streams to cross and tall grass to wade through.  And what a thrill to make it to the falls after the threat of cancellation fell, like Coke wouldn’t allow us to go back to Casa unless we had competed the tasks that were in our list.  Like heroes beginning an adventure with a list of things to accomplish, we couldn’t earn our rights to go home unless we have ticked them off.

Rogie turned out to be a man of many talents.  He took violin lessons at Casa when he was a child but gravitated towards another art form — sculpture.  He has had his works exhibited at the Cultural Center of the Philippines alongside Coke’s sister, Plet who is also a sculptor.  He showed us his work displayed in Casa beside his mentor’s.  Rogie is an excellent cook as well and prepares the meals for Coke and his team of artist-facilitators. He enjoyed collecting shells and hermit crabs with the moms from China who filled a bottle with souvenirs from the sea.

For the nth time that day, the weather again threatened to change so we boarded the boat while the waves grew. We made a short visit to see Camara Island from enough distance to appreciate it and headed back to the shores of Pundaquit where we waded through a semi-turbulent part of the beach that partially knocked one mom down.

(Note to self: must bring Jason, Joshua and Jimmy to surf here, too.)

We made it back to Casa San Miguel bringing our trophy of a journey and the moms couldn’t wait to be reunited with their kids.

Around twenty years ago, my friend, Aouie and I were university students full of dreams and drive.  We organized an exhibit-workshop-performance at Casa San Miguel linking music and architecture.  Fast forward to today, Aouie has three children with her university sweetheart and fellow architect, Randall.  My son, Joshua loves sleeping over at their home because he plays non-stop with their youngest son, Dylan.

I invited their family to Casa to witness Joshua perform and see how much Casa has changed over two decades.  They were able to make it to Capones Island, site of a Spanish lighthouse which we measured and drew many, many moons ago.  They docked on the opposite side of lighthouse steps and were able to take pictures as awesome as this: Poseidon rising!

Aouie has yet to give me the Little Mermaid pictures of Margaux.   Gavin got stung by a sea urchin.


Out of the sea. . . . wish I could be . . . . 

On With the Journey


The first two days the moms were away from the children, it was quite okay but on the third day, a bit of anxiety crept in and all we had to console and assure ourselves were photos the team at Casa San Miguel sent through Facebook.  Some of the moms had never been separated from their child so worry was natural and justifiable.  The kids seemed busy with workshops and rehearsals, and appeared to be having fun as well. So on went the moms with their journey, with a tinge of trepidation matched by the coming rains.

Chinese travelers predictably tire of foreign food after a few days, so I arranged for the mothers to cook at my Tita Lens’ house in Subic.  We went to the supermarket at Harbor Point mall and the palengke ng Olongapo, then proceeded with culinary experimentation making do with what was available, forging on even in the absence of Chinese vinegar. The result was a happy, memorable dinner with my aunt.

On the fourth day, we were wondering if we could return to Casa San Miguel earlier than planned and stay there for the night.   We used the excuse that we didn’t have a booking plus the dorm-type arrangement might not be acceptable to some moms.  In the morning, we passed by Crystal Beach and thankfully everyone got excited with the wide beachfront and the rustic accommodation was not a problem.  I’d love to bring Jason, Joshua and Jimmy there to surf.

At least, we accomplished staying away for four nights and hurdled the urge to switch plans.  Coke requested that we keep to the original schedule because they still needed the time to get the kids ready for the culminating activity.  He didn’t want the kids to lose their focus if the moms came back earlier.  Somehow, it wasn’t just the kids having their Hero’s Journey.  The moms are on theirs, too.


This last photo was taken at the Subic Park Inn which I thought was a cute, homey, sweety-sweet kind of place moms would like.

Mommy Potter Power


We couldn’t find it in Waze and we had to keep asking people in order to reach the place. Driving up a narrow path, we did not expect at all the heaven that greeted us at the end. Mia Casal’s home and pottery studio called Clay Avenue in San Narciso, Zambales overlooks a sprawling piece of land straight out of paradise.  A stream curves through marshmallow soft grass perfectly composed with clumps of trees here and there and mountains beyond.   If this was your backyard, you can sit the whole day soaking in the view.

A city girl most of her life, Mia moved to this middle of nowhere, pastoral wonder and for a year buried herself in her work.  She emerged from her cocoon realizing she wanted to be a part of the community.  Today, she gives jobs to people around preparing clay and meals for the visitors who make the pilgrimage to San Narciso.  She teaches pottery to children from the mountains and lives a full life far away from the city.  When she was a child, her mother took her here every summer so she has always felt a strong connection to this place.

After an introduction to shaping clay, the Chinese moms from our Hero’s Journey experience their first boodle fight in Mia’s lair.  The freshness of the food combined with the rough, carefree Filipino practice that is both odd and novel for beginners who are too dainty when they scoop ulam and rice with their hands.  We drank clam soup from Mia’s handmade bowls.  After the meal, we sit down with Mia showing her works – both functional and purely artistic – on her laptop.  We saw how nature inspires her, how much of herself she invests in her art, how art has healed the broken pieces of herself and how she shares her passion with others.

The women go back to studio while Mia and I exchange life stories discovering uncanny parallelisms and intersections.  Mia joins them and after some hours, another break is taken, this time with suman which I really wanted to introduce to my Chinese friends.

There is a meditative calmness the women find working with the wheel and clay.  I sat mostly staring at the view, thinking about life, how we search for things to lift our spirit, empower ourselves and each other, the power of art to change internal and external realities, what a truly blessed time this is, and what a simply great pair the boodle fight lunch makes with suman merienda.

I asked Mia where we can find her works because she had only her students’ creations in her Zambales studio.  All her works are delivered to Manila or are privately commissioned.  She pointed me to Aphro at Karrivin which I visited the other day and filled me with awe at the creativity of people.

Know more about Mia Casal and The Alley at Karrivin:

Mia Casal on Spot Light

Clay Ave on Facebook

The Alley at Karrivin

More pictures taken by Mia: