This Generosity of Spirit


This generosity of spirit bowls me over, washes over me like the ocean tide.  I’ve heard about how Pinto Art Museum is a must-see, must-visit place in Antipolo but I never made my way there up until I had to meet somebody in the area and we decided to rendezvous at neurologist Dr. Joven Cuanang’s masterpiece paradise, a multi-layered Eden that can’t be captured by any camera.

The generosity stuns me – all the art works collected through time, love poring out of each nook and cranny, the landscape flowing and playing with the heights and depths, insides merging with the outside, always taking you up to perches with views and escorting you through wonderland passageways like Alice chasing the rabbit down the hole.

The generosity is in stark contrast to the meanness not too far away — another large, rolling, beautiful piece of land locked in a feud that has spanned decades.  It will not be enjoyed by people.  Some are blessed with so much and they share their abundance willingly and joyfully with others.  Then there are others who also have so much but isolate themselves, choose not to share and prefer the safety of the cocoon to the perceived, over-estimated dangers of the external world.


Chinese Family Holiday


They left this morning and we miss them already.   Seven days with them here in the Philippines reminded me of the life we left in China.  Though we continue on our separate paths in two countries, we remain one family — solid, undivided despite differences in opinions and ways, even backgrounds and dreams; we stay committed to each other especially raising the next generation.

我看他们我很想很想我们的中国生活,丰富和简单。不过菲律宾也不错,给中国家人看漂亮的菲律宾风景。第一我们在马尼拉,哪儿有厉害的堵车不过方便跟别人见面,购物,也看菲律宾家人。第二我们去Subic 海边看好多鱼。第三我们去Baguio 抓草莓。然后我们去La Union冲浪的地方。我们再回Subic 发现非常美丽的采取。

We traced a route north of Manila: Subic, Baguio, La Union and back to Subic and Manila.  We tried out two resorts in Subic — one had a bounty of colorful fish (Camayan) and the other was much like paradise on earth (Acea) introduced to us by Tita Lens.  We drove up to Baguio a few days before the Panagbenga festival and though we didn’t stay for that, we were able to see some floats in the process of being created.  We went down to San Fernando, La Union and hung-out in a cool surfer’s retreat aptly called and decorated, Flotsam and Jetsam.

The next time our family from China visits the Philippines during the Spring Festival holiday, we plan to head straight to other islands, skip and escape the madness of Manila.

My favorite memories from this trip: 1) Yeye (grandfather) playing Lego with his grandsons while waiting for the ladies to finish shopping for souvenirs, 2) aquarium-loving Jiang Ping having her fill of the real deal in the clear beach waters of Subic, 3) listening to the voice of two-year old Cheng Cheng’s talking, singing and making the long car rides bearable, 4) playing Nerf gun and picking strawberries at the Baguio Country Club, 5) two brothers and one sister in business action mode, 6) Joshua and Jason catching crabs by the rocks on the shore at night, and 7) everyone thoroughly enjoying the water whether in the pool or the sea.












Off to Chinese Summer Camp

Joshua has tried summer camp in the Philippines; now he’s getting a taste of one in China.  Ran and organized by my brother-in-law, Jiang Yong in the mountains of Jixian an hour and a half hour away from Tianjin city, the camp trains children in Chinese calligraphy, martial arts, musical instruments and seeks to impart the cultural heritage of this proud nation.

At first, Joshua was not too eager to join but once he saw other kids his age, he forgot about his mom and dad, ran off to play with new-found friends, all wearing their smart, light blue, Mandarin-collared costumes.   During lunch, some of the parents expressed their apprehension since they had never been separated from their child.  I look forward to meeting them after a week when we pick up Joshua and wonder how the parents endure the separation.  In most cases, I think, the separation is harder for the adults.  For my kids and I, because we’ve been shuttling between China and the Philippines at times together and at times not, we’ve had a lot of practice.

Jason and I found our bit of heaven staying a couple of nights in Jixian, enjoying the cooler weather and walking up and down the mountain slopes right outside our doorsteps. Dream come true for mountain-lovers!

Check out information about the summer camp here, but it’s in Chinese:

Shan Shui You Dao Summer Camp

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.

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: