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?

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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

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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.

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

On With the Journey

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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.

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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

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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:

Meeting Destiny at Prado Farms

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We almost ended up not going to this place were it not for a fluke of destiny when our original destination was undergoing maintenance during the week of our tour and whose staff was somewhat rude to potential guests.

Prado Farms was the perfect location and a better substitute to that other place which turned off potential customers. In Prado, there was the added surprise bonus of meeting the artist, founder, owner who turned out to be an art therapist trained in Switzerland and steeped in the teachings of Rudolf Steiner.  I was starstruck to meet Reimon Gutierrez because I was a big fan of Sari Sari Store which he was a part of.  If you belong to the generation who knows Sari Sari, it’s a store for clothes and more serving the eclectic, eccentric, cooky, weird and artsy fartsy.  In short, my kind of store and I felt sad when they closed.

By a fluke of destiny, my ankle was also disabled and I wasn’t able to walk around with the other moms who went crazy posing for pictures.  I sat outside amidst the greenery and ended up having a long chat with Reimon.  After his involvement with Sari Sari Store, he set up ISIP:

The Institute for Steiner’s Ideas in Practice (ISIP) Philippines provides a space for the concepts of Rudolf Steiner, Austrian social thinker and philosopher, to flourish as forums for discussion and as applied efforts. ISIP produces events that aim to increase the depth and breadth of understanding of Steiner’s work. Steiner is best known in the Philippines as the founder of the field of study known as anthroposophy, the philosophical basis of the Waldorf schools, bio-dynamic farming, and anthroposophic medicine. The ISIP Center, located in Makati City, also houses The ISIP Store. Bio-dynamically grown rice, vegetables and herbs are available, as well as organic food products, plant-based, chemical-free household cleaning agents, organic soaps, baby products, and other personal care items. ISIP’s counterpart, Prado Farms in the province of Pampanga, 90 kilometers away from the country’s capital, is committed to similar goals and offers a space complementary to ISIP’s urban location.

Donna, my partner in this Hero’s Journey project, is very much into Waldorf having sent her daughter for two months to study in a Waldorf school in New Zealand and one week to try out Manila Waldorf in Timberland.  We were both excited at the prospect of Prado Farms as the future site for the Hero’s Journey.  We inspected the dorm-type facilities and imagined what fun the kids would have biking, swimming and taking Waldorf-inspired workshops.  Reimon put us in touch with Tammy who runs Camp Ikapudi patronized mainly by families who were into Waldorf.

For seven years, Reimon dedicated himself to helping designers all over the Philippines develop products for international and national markets.  Prado Farms is dotted by the results of those sessions with local craftsmen and manufacturers.  Reimon also helps cancer patients and other troubled souls through art therapy.

This coming October, I hope to attend a camp organized by Tammy who was introduced to me by Reimon by phone.  Their next activity is called Camp Inspire for parents and children.

Following is the description of Camp Ikapudi:

CAMP IKAPUDI for kids this summer at Prado Farms, Pampanga!

Camp Ikapudi, is a stay-in camp designed specially for kids that will be held in Prado Farms, Lubao, Siongco, Pampanga this May 14-17, 2015. For four days and 3 nights, children from 2-13 years old will have a legendary summer by getting their hands dirty, finding their tribe, and learning more than a thing or two in the process. The campsite, Prado Farms, is conducive to these activities because is a functional biodynamic-organic farm adorned with artistic creations.

At Camp Ikapudi, there are two programs for children ages 2-6 and children ages 7-13. The 7-13 year old children will get to harvest and cook what they eat (Farm-to-Table Cooking), learn science and math through Earth Kitchen Baking, and understand focus, concentration and dexterity through activities in Handwork and Craft. The camp program also includes Biodynamic/Organic Gardening, Animal Farm Care, Toy-making, Camp Survival, Painting and Clay Work, and games and movement activities that teach the hands, feet and body to work in harmony.

For the little ones, aged 2 to 6 years old, the camp’s Summer Playgarden includes a full day of care, nature, song, games, art, play, play and play!

This is a joint project of St. Michael’s Playhouse Makati and Shaping Sophia whose initiatives center on education. Taking the cue from their own principles and practice in education, they have chosen camp counselors with years of experience in teaching and training in child appropriate activities under the Waldorf curriculum in education, art and movement. There will be camp counselors and assistants who will facilitate the programs in toy-making and life survival skills, painting and clay, cooking and baking, movement games, crafts and embroidery.

The Prado Farm compound is a secure, gated resort and your children can explore even by themselves. Each family or parent-child can choose shared accommodations with the other campers, or an upgraded private room. Parents and guardians can join the afternoon activities. After dinner, families will have your own private time.

For this initial summer camp, parents or adult guardians will accompany the children. But Camp Ikapudi looks forward to a true summer camping experience in the coming years where children can come even without their parents.

Summer is here so make your reservations early by going to www.facebook.com/campikapudi , email campikapudi@gmail.com or call/text 09166445806 or 09288560764. Last day of registration is May 8, 2015. It can be just the summer adventure your child will take about for the whole year, until next camp. Camp Ikapudi advises one adult to accompany your child depending on the personal needs of the child/children. It would be great if parents can join the children in this adventure.

Summertime is magic time. And Camp Ikapudi makes it happen for your kids. It becomes a childhood enriching summer tradition where children can find their tribe, experience nature, deepen values and virtues, and create opportunities for development.

The camp is a fertile ground where campers can understand the rhythms in nature, discover universal principles that they can apply in daily living—in other words, camping has become more relevant than a simple summer adventure for kids.

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Check out more about Prado Farms:

7 Things to Do at Prado Farms

Day Trip at Prado Farms

Haraya Teen Camp for Creative Writing at Prado Farms

 

Las Casas Filipinas, Island Waters and Six Mothers

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Six mothers left eight kids in the hands of Coke Bolipata and his team of facilitators and counselors at Casa San Miguel, Zambales.  Six mothers went gallivanting and first stop was Jerry Acuzar’s heritage resort by the beach in Bagac, Bataan, the famed Las Casas Filipinas.  The place is a testimony to the power of dreams, of one man’s vision to rescue architectural treasures from the brink of decay and gather them in one place.  Brick by brick, stone by stone, plank by plank, entire houses and buildings were transported from their original location elsewhere to this idyllic place where sea meets mountain meets sky.  Some might say it’s sacrilege and the houses are better off where there were but if they had remained put, the chances of gradual destruction through time and neglect would be way, way higher.

Six mothers ooohed and aaaahed at the beautiful details of old buildings set against a gorgeous, natural backdrop.  Wide open windows allow the ocean breeze to cool the homes and each mom chose which house she’d like to live in, which house best represented her and her spirit.

Six mothers posed to their hearts delight in a boat ride echoing Venice but in Philippine waters.  A sculpture of Lola Basyang telling stories to a group of kids stood on the grass beside a bridge held by a trio of native monsters: the tikbalang, manananggal and kapre.

Not all structures in Las Casas are original.  Some are replicas with parts re-imagined and re-interpreted.  The Hotel de Oriente for instance was totally ravaged in Binondo and found another life in Bataan, this time as a showcase for the wood carving and wood mosaic skills of local craftsmen.  In this reincarnation, the hotel is now a conference area with theater and grand ballroom.  When the six moms saw the stage, they clambered up like little kids and danced their hearts away like they owned the whole world-wide platform.   They didn’t need any facilitator to express themselves freely through movement.

Six mothers flowed with the music from their cellphone.  Six mothers danced like no one was watching.

We didn’t stay overnight at Las Casas.  Instead, we drove to a gem of a discovery: Island Waters Resort, less than an hour away in Morong.  When I went on an ocular trip looking for reasonable and decent accommodation, it was such a challenge because the selection was limited and quite unacceptable, but Island Waters saved the day with crisp modern lines and clean, basic rooms.

Six mothers played in the waves and basked in the sunset.  Six mothers lounged by the pool, breathing in calmness.

 

 

 

Read more about Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar and Hotel de Oriente:

A Walk Down Philippine History

Las Casas Filipinas website

Hotel de Oriente: Then and Now