They use a totally different calendar and for them, December 31 is not the last day of the year.  It’s an ordinary day that doesn’t end in a colorful bang, at least not in majority of towns that are not major cities chock-full of foreigners.  Christmas decoration is even more sparse and non-existent than before (new rules, I was told), so for traditional celebration-averse people, going to China during the holiday may be the perfect cure for the uber-consumerist tone of the season.  No matter the rituals observed, it’s still the time for reuniting with family and friends.

We started with the usual welcome by my sister-in-law and brother-in-law’s families, spoiled by the excellent cooking of Xiao Dan’s mom.

Manila or Tianjin, Joshua must get his football fix.  The football club in Dagang welcomed him plus dates with favorite playmates arranged.

We had one ski destination each week sandwiched in between the requisite visa-run to the Philippine embassy in Beijing for the kiddos.  Nanshan near Beijing was easy enough for Jimmy and I to enjoy but we left the more professional, technically difficult trails of Wanlong to the true champions of snowboarding — Joshua and Jason.

Four of our previous Hero’s Journey campers were part of a theater group whose performance we were lucky enough to catch and see how much they’ve grown.

The Hero’s Journey is on from January 24 to February 1, 2019 and we had a quickie meeting of partners to discuss the camp.  The more important purpose of the visit was seeing Xavier and for Jimmy, it was Evan’s generosity with his Pokemon cards and beyblades that made his day.  Samantha knew we were bibliophiles like her so she showed us her stash of beautiful new children’s books from Taiwan.

Mike and Joshua missed each other.  Joshua had been wanting to visit Mike in his home and finally it transpired.  We discovered it IS possible to have an X-box like experience with a projector but you need a PS4 instead.  If you don’t have the video camera, you can use the cellphone but it’s limited to dance.  Dance we did with joy and abandon.

Remember the library in Dagang Youtian that we started with a group of moms who love books and wanted to pass on that passion to their children?  That group has always been part of an active organization of Youtian moms who planned an amazingly full repertoire to greet the winter solstice (dong zhi).   Kids sold and traded products, food and drinks followed by tug-of-war.  The Mom who is into Waldorf education told dong zhi stories.   Then the community made jiaozi (dumplings). We’ve been having Chinese dumplings for two straight days and this was the most delicious, freshly made with lots of love.

Joshua and Yinpu were kindergarten classmates.  It’s hard to believe that they had more years apart than together but they still play so well together.  Yinpu’s Mom, Susan showed me Yinpu’s amazing artworks.

It was a blessing in disguise that Jimmy got a fever when we got to the Wanlong ski resort.  The temperature outdoors reached minus 23 degrees.  Jimmy and I wouldn’t have stood that long skiing or snowboarding but the other pair had two full days in the blue and black-grade slopes.  When Jimmy was well enough, we sled down two times a tiny, tiny hill and cowardly rushed back into the warm indoors.

December 29 was Jason’s dad’s birthday and how happy he was to be with his grandchildren.  He gave a touching speech before dinner started.   It was as good as Christmas for the kids with all the toys we managed to get for the cousins.

Vacation is a series of playdates, but then again so is non-holiday time.

Jason’s sister, Jiang Ping is probably the best teacher for Joshua and Jimmy.  They listen to her and follow while I can only learn from the expert.

And the food!!!   We had hot pot, barbecue, our favorite street food breakfasts, our favorite rib place, unbeatable noodles and this newly opened restaurant stoked our taste buds for extreme spiciness.  This table had a thin layer that looks like wafer solar panels but is used to warm the food.  A big piece of waxed paper is placed over the whole table and they pour a mix of seafood and veggies braised in Szechuan pepper and chili.  The best way to eat is with your hands so they provide you with thin plastic gloves, one of which was humorously packaged like condom side by side other designs featuring Chairman Mao and Hello Kitty.   I really miss China but I’m also ready to go home.

Online photos make it appear our vacations and lives are perfect.  The drama is not seen between the photos. A friend of mine occasionally posts pictures of her children crying just to remind everyone, not all is rosy.  In this case, what I was taking a break from Manila is what makes me want to go back.  I miss having problems to solve, tons of work to do.  A part of my mind is with the things I left unfinished back in my country.

But I am truly grateful for the quiet, no-fuss simplicity of this Christmas and New year in northern China.  I get to hug and snuggle more with these two in the freezing cold of winter.


In the Name of Research


It was a lucky day for our troop getting the research assignment to visit places on our must-see list in Baguio plus sample the food.  First stop was Kidlat Tahimik’s outpouring of love and creativity at the Ili-Likha Artist Village where every corner of the labyrinth was a feast for the eye and soul.  Our favorite was the 7-hour smoked chicken and the smokey bacon that came with it.  If a drive to traffic-choked Session Road is dreadful, perhaps a jaunt to this out-of-place but needed madness will restore our faith in humanity.

Next we went to Arca’s yard whose owner-collector displayed her affinity for all things Baguio to the hilt in a cozy space with a view.   Baguio has a number of these treasures to be discovered, created by people who have made it homier for us who are visiting for a while.  My childhood memories of Baguio have been overshadowed by the unwillingness to drive that long to get to a place far, far from how it was in it’s less-raped state back then.  Good people will always find a way to rescue and restore something that we keep losing.


All the Love in China


In a parallel universe, if we hadn’t left China to live in the Philippines, how will our lives be?  Perhaps a tad more idyllic, simpler, a tad less dramatic but still with it’s own cinematic potential.  Certainly more economical.

Jason, Joshua and Jimmy had a month and a week in China and I followed them after and stayed for ten days, just enough time to reunite with the family and enjoy meals, the bath house and a short getaway together.

I was gone from China for almost ten months and what I missed the most is the excellent park life.  This is the party place, happening hang-out where the Chinese congregate instead of bars in the west.  The new fangled gimmick that wasn’t there before I left is the portable, strike anywhere, pop-up karaoke using cellphones on stands.   Instant KTV!  I wish they had English songs I could sing to and embarrass my family with.

The unbeatable food — where else can you get this sumptuous bowl of ribs for an amount you will never ever get elsewhere?

We had a holiday within a holiday in the grasslands of Bashang, Inner Mongolia, one of Jason’s favorite spots in China where we were re-united with a great friend, Xiao Ya Juan who’s living her dream life amongst flowers, trees and blue skies.  Joshua and Jimmy had a blast playing counterstrike war with weapons that spewed out these tiny bullets that expanded when placed in water.

From Bashang, we headed straight to Jixian to meet up with family and relish what I will always miss in China – the outdoor barbecue during summer.

Then it was back to Dagang where the time is much, much too short saying hello and goodbye at the same time.

I leave you with shots of the perfect office for me and for Joshua:



Meanwhile in China


While Mommy is busy pursuing her dream of launching a game-changer in education, hubby and kids are having a blast back in our other home, China.  I wish I could be there with them but photos for the meantime are enough to transport me beside the dearest ones and fill me with joy since they’re spending quality time with their dad, grandfather, aunts, uncles and cousins.  In a temporarily parallel universe, hubby is also pursuing his dream to travel, showing off his hometown to the boys that Jimmy has not visited before.  Jason’s cousin got married so they took a long train ride from Tianjin to Hubei and celebrated with the family.  They haven’t made it back to Dagang but soon they will.  It’s great to explore the countryside with relatives you don’t see often but it’s like no time has elapsed, except in just a span of weeks, it looks to me in these pictures that the boys have grown.


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