Treetop and Jollibee Joys


One is scrunched up in fear; the other raises his arm advanced in triumph at the starting line.  After the Superman rider zips them back and forth twice over the lush canopy of Subic rainforest, they all want another turn.  That’s like how we are at times with life – nervous, anxious, doubtful at the beginning but once we get the experience, we’re good to go another round and another.

In a visit to the Philippines, aside from enjoying the sand, water, sky, sea and trees, one must have a taste of the jolly bumblebee’s delight – Jollibee spaghetti and chicken joy.  There’s also Kultura for souvenir shopping – one stop and everything’s there.  The Manila Bay sunset, Toy Kingdom and National Bookstore are bonuses.  You have to let the guests try sinigang (tamarind broth) and halo-halo (mixture of shaved ice, milk, beans, jelly, fruits and other goodies).

We are grateful Camile, Francis, Maebel and Danise prioritize safety especially in crazy crowded areas like Mall of Asia on a Friday night.  We are grateful for the counselors’ generosity of spirit and energy.  We are grateful to Taj and Dingdong for the synergies they facilitated through the workshops.  We are grateful to Gabe and John for leading us to Dingdong.  We are grateful for Carl, Samantha and Zena for braving the exhausting plane rides to and excruciating airport of Manila and for bringing the children to experience something totally different.   We are grateful to all the parents and children for their trust and participation.  We are grateful for your laughter and your screams.  We are grateful to all the people behind Prado Farms, Casa San Miguel and Crystal Beach Resort for hosting us.

It’s quite fitting that “summer” camp (in this case, it’s really winter since it’s winter in China) ends with tearful goodbyes.  Till we meet again next time!





Crystal Mingle


My favorite part of Crystal Beach in San Narciso, Zambales is the part where you go through a thicket of pine trees, bend low as you wade through the needles that gently slap your face, follow the light at the end of the furry tunnel and emerge in a cozy hang-out labeled Mingle in the Jungle.  Mingle in the Pine Forest doesn’t sound as good, so jungle it is.  Two hammocks among the pine trees wait for you not to mention a set of sungka invites plus music from guests who just grilled their dinner.  A few steps away is the beach with perfectly angled lounge chairs for chatting the night away.   We could stay here forever but we had a bonfire roast (hotdogs, smores, marshmallows) planned.

Crystal Beach had another surprise waiting for us: they set up a movie screen on the beach with low tables and banig and they showed back to back two animated features: Home and A Bug’s Life.  What are the chances that they chose these on the night our children’s camp was there?  On a usual night, it would be surfer type movies.  They know how to please their guests.  I remember talking to the owner’s daughter some months back and she said how her dad blended in with the staff because he would pick up trash and wanted people to have doses of thoughtful service.

We stayed, nay cheated a bit in their glamping tents — tents where you can fully stand up and that come equipped with electric fan, light and outlet to plug your gadgets.  On nearby trees, swings hang made of tires and plastic blue barrels for barreling through the air finding your balance.  Wide open sandy space beckons you to play frisbee and volleyball.  I’m glad Camile convinced me to hold the much-awaited laser tag at the obstacle course.  I pictured in my mind that the kids will run a race through the half-burried tires and climbing net but instead, they played the classic camp favorite.  Sometimes, maybe most of the time, reality presents us something more interesting than what we imagined.

At Home at Casa


We could come home to it again and again and it would welcome us with open arms despite anything that’s happened in the past.  That is home.  That is Casa.  Casa San Miguel of my dreams and now, yours.

This time around, it’s twelve kids without their parents.  Only one Mom came and she graciously helped us record everything in photos and videos so that parents back in China can be assured of how well their children are cared for, and more than that, how they are having a rollicking, crazy good time frolicking in the beaches of Zambales, catching tadpoles in the pond, directing a surprise for their fellow camper, making puppets come alive, chilling out with Lego and the piano, riding the Pinoy tricycle, eating pizza, biko and suman, and going round Coke’s mental and physical labyrinth.

In my over 20 years of visiting Casa and its surroundings, I’ve never been to Anawangin Cove and this time, we took the guests there but it’s probably not the pretty, pristine cove it was way back then.  We took the boat to Capones which still rule our hearts because we can own the island for the afternoon and pick shells and tiny bits of coral as much as we want.  Even if we can’t swim or safely ride the waves like in Anawangin, it was enough to feel like ship wrecked adventurers on our very own island.

A 3-minute tricycle ride plus a good sand trek away from Casa, we also had an afternoon swimming in the river with it’s fresh, unsalted, calm waters in sharp contrast to the salty ocean with powerful waves just parallel it and with merely a sandy strip dividing the two bodies. Nature is a miracle worker.

Dingdong from SPIT Manila facilitated the process of drawing stories from the children which were then translated into shadow play through the guidance of Taj.  Camile, Francis, Danise and Maebel joined the fray, gently coaxing the storylines out of the kids and even coming up with their own wacky presentation.  It’s amazing to see how shadow play stamps out inhibitions and brings out confidence as you remain hidden behind a screen.  After a day and a half of workshops, the kids jumped into performance which brought out enthusiastic voices.  After garnering the applause and bowing on stage, the kids went behind the screen and continued weaving their own stories and dialogues like what they do in free play.


Read other articles about Casa San Miguel:

Coming Home to Casa

Hero’s Journey Version 2.0

Culmination and the Awesomeness of Ensemble

Casa of My Dreams

The Ballad of Coke Bolipata

And you can watch this on Youtube: The Story of the Filipino: Coke Bolipata

Look at Casa through the lens of Hero’s Journey 2017 and 2018 and you see the big difference in the structure.  Coke, ever the genius creator, added a bold, radical roof with green wall and hanging woven lamps, pushing boundaries all the time.  I know there are people who miss the iconic silhouette but it always makes me wonder what Coke will cook up next.




Peace at Prado


Luck was on our side driving from Manila to Lubao, Pampanga on a Sunday when we breezed through normally choked EDSA.  After one full day of flying from Tianjin to Xiamen to Manila, leaving very early morning and arriving way late at night, it was good for the travelers to relax the next day in a serene farm dotted with art works, creativity bursting from each detail.  Among the trees, kids played on and under colorful sculptures.  At first they were tentative and scared to go into the pig pen but once they started offering leaves to the pigs, it was hard to get them to stop so the next group can take their turn after the carabao ride.  They brought out a ping pong table for our group to use near the big tree with vines from which it was a joy to swing.

Except for one, all twenty of us stayed in a dormitory which was great for bonding.  Camile and her team of camp counselors, Francis, Maebel and Danise played charades, tag and read the kids bed time stories.  We felt that one day and a night in Prado Farms is too short to fully soak in the trees, sky and fields into our system and next time, we’ll stay longer.

Check out Prado Farms

Hero’s Journey at Prado Farms last year (2017)


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.