How Can We Go to a 7-Eleven Now?

20200214_105552

The way Jimmy looks at this “Hachiko” dog with love and longing is how we feel for Japan.  How will we ever go into a 7-Eleven or Lawson or Family Mart in Manila without hankering for the numerous food options of this developed nation known for its cleanliness, well-designed solutions to everyday hassles and high-tech toilet seats?

Soon after arriving at the Tokyo airport, we were greeted by rows upon rows of Gacha vending machines that spit out plastic eggs with surprise toys spanning themes that show how crazily creative, how infinitely imaginative these people are.  We save money by taking a slower train to our Airbnb and find the place exactly how it’s depicted in the pictures down to the blue car parked beside the modern concrete building.  Our Airbnb bathrooms make us feel like riding a first class airplane cabin while Jimmy simply savors his bathtub time.  We get lost several times in the train and subway system because it truly is as complex as how it looks, even if we have the advantage of Jason recognizing some Japanese characters since they are the same as Chinese.

We walk through a park to get to the Science Museum where the numerous interactive exhibits make us conclude it’s no wonder this country is so technologically advanced.  Although we do wish we had enough time to visit the Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Odaiba where we had too much fun and spent too much time with no regret enjoying each moment at the Teamlab Borderless exuberant exhibit of digital art.  The first floor was mesmerizing but the second floor was engaging with art you make and instantly see crawl across the floor, with a trampoline that feels like jumping in a black hole, with a climbing gym playing with lights and senses.

Jimmy’s two dreams come true: visiting the Pokemon Center and the dog cafe filled with Akitas, a Japanese breed known for their loyalty as exemplified by the film-immortalized Hachiko.  At Harajuku, Joshua finally bought the soccer shoes of his dreams in a five story building dedicated to his favorite sport.  My dream was already realized with the four of us together in Japan, a trip we had been planning since last October.  The corona virus almost threatened its fruition because Jason thought he wouldn’t be able to enter the Philippines if he left since he was Chinese.  Thanks to Vince, our friend who works in the airport, we were convinced that worry was for nothing.

20200214_123756

Mayon and the Last Stretch (RORO Part 5)

20200102_133234

We thought that there would be no ROROs on January 1.  In San Isidro port, there was none but further north in Allen, it turns out they operate 24 hours non-stop.  Night caught us hungry and tired on the road so we thought we’d look for a place to stay but luckily, ferries still plied and we caught the 9:30pm to Matnog, saving us from staying in a creepy place.  We arrived in Matnog near midnight and the places were either deserted or full.  We thought we’d have to go to the next bigger town of Irosin but fortunately, we found Villa de Sanj Homestay ran by the friendliest family who welcomed us on a late, rainy night.  They were no strangers to helping out strangers as they hosted a lot of people stuck due to Typhoon Ursula.  Shirly, the woman behind this homey place was all-out superb and hospitable, spoiling us by lending us slippers, sharing tourist tips, giving me her own hair tie because mine got washed away in the rapids, plus she granted my craving for tuyo!  Early riser Jimmy played with a lot of children in the river behind their house.

Rested from the tough night thanks so much to Shirly and the Bongons, we proceeded to Mayon Volcano where Joshua and Jimmy rode the zipline at Lignon Hill and we drove ATVs on a short river course at the foot of the mighty,  looming legend.  We found Sarung Banggi resort in Sto. Domingo not far from Legazpi City.  Whenever I see or read the name, the old song plays in my head.  The melody holds me tight and I can’t separate it from the phrase.

Jason cooks dinner for us in the beach cabana while a karaoke party accompanies our makeshift hotpot.  We enjoy staring at the sea and stoking the bonfire so it doesn’t die.  Joshua experiments with his own barbeque.  Jimmy chases chickens and collects treasures from the garbage washed up onto the shore.  The state of our public beaches makes me sad, but the ocean is so big, it can hold all our sorrows.

Someday, I’ll be old and maybe I’ll forget these details so I’m writing them all down.  Joshua and Jimmy will read them and we’ll laugh at our adventures and be happy, tearful that we made it.  We are grateful that their daddy and daddy’s friend were patient enough to drive us all over Southern Luzon and the Visayas.  We are grateful to be safe and guided throughout.

 

Slide22

In summary, our RORO road trip brought us to the following places from December 20, 2019 to January 3, 2020:

  1. Drive from Taguig to Batangas Port
  2. RORO from Batangas City to Calapan, Mindoro
  3. Drive from Calapan to Roxas, Mindoro (Can’t remember the name of the hotel)
  4. RORO from Roxas to Caticlan
  5. Boat ride from Caticlan to Boracay (Hey Jude and Grand Blue) and back to Caticlan
  6. Drive from Caticlan to Iloilo (J7 Hotel)
  7. Drive from Iloilo City to Bucari campsite
  8. RORO from Iloilo to Bacolod City (Joan’s house)
  9. Drive from Bacolod City to Guintubdan campsite and waterfalls
  10. Drive from Bacolod City to Cafe La Guada, Don Salvador to San Carlos Port
  11. RORO from San Carlos, Bacolod to Toledo, Cebu (Estrella Beach Resort)
  12. Drive from Toledo Cebu to Cebu City
  13. RORO from Cebu City to Ormoc, Leyte
  14. Drive from Ormoc to Calbiga, Samar (Lola Rosa)
  15. Drive from Calbiga to Paranas Torpedo Boat Ride and to Allen Port
  16. RORO from Allen, Samar to Matnog, Sorsogon (Villa de Sanj Homestay)
  17. Drive from Matnog to Mayon Volcano, Albay (Sarung Banggi Beach Resort)
  18. Drive from Legazpi City to Manila – longest drive of the trip at around 12 hours

35

Quite appropriate karaoke song of our last night:

What has life to offer me
When I grow old
What’s there to look forward to
Beyond the biting cold
‘Cause they say it’s difficult
Yes, stereotypical
What’s there beyond sleep, eat, work in this cruel life
Ain’t there nothing else ’round here but human strife
They say it’s difficult
Yes, stereotypical
You gotta be conventional
You can’t be so radical
So I sing this song to all of my age
For these are the questions
We’ve got to face
For in this cycle that we call life
We are the ones who are next in line
We are next in lineWe are next in line… Oooh… Ohh…
We are next in lineAnd we gotta work, we gotta feel
Let’s open our eyes and do whatever it takes
And we gotta work, we gotta feel
Let’s open our eyes (ooohhh)

And I sing this song to all of my age
For these are the questions
We’ve got to face
For in this cycle that we call life
We are the ones who are next in line
We are next in line

 

Samar is Something Else (RORO Part 4)

7980

Samar surprises us and exceeds our expectations.

First, perhaps not accidentally but through divine intervention (because somebody up there knows I LOVE Architecture), we discover a gem of a lovingly restored ancestral home called Lola Rosa.  Second, we rode motorcyles to reach what they call the mini-version of Niagara falls called Luluguyan.  Third, we might not have done the whitewater rafting we wanted but the Torpedo boat ride at Paranas with waterfall jumping at Deni point more than made up for the online misinformation.

We had just taken the 11pm RORO from Cebu to Ormoc and arrived around 5am and from the port drove straight for 5 hours to reach Calbiga, Samar so we rested for a while at Lola Rosa’s before venturing out to Lulugayan falls.  We wanted to go caving after but we reached the spot past 4pm and it was a one or two hour trek to the mouth of the cave so we had to cross that off our list and reserve it for next time.  That needs a lot more preparation to execute.

Originally, Cagayan de Oro was included in our itinerary because of whitewater rafting but because it’s too far and since Samar offered it, we went to Samar instead.  I kept showing people the screenshot of the inflatable raft over the rapids that’s supposedly in Calbiga but we found out that it’s an internet “untruth” and what they had was a boat ride called TORPEDO.  It’s a wooden boat with a motor going through a relatively flat river.  It wasn’t what we envisioned but since we were there, might as well give it a try.  Life proves once again that you only need to say “yes” to it.

After more than half an hour going through a river with lush mountain forests on either side and with some adrenaline-pumping, scream-inducing dips, we stopped at Deni point.   Our guides tied a rope between two rocks downstream and then upstream with the not-so-high waterfalls, we jumped over the raging water.  There’s no inflatable raft here but it turns out, our body was the raft that was to be swept away by the roaring current.  The guides were very safety conscious and they told us which rocks we could jump from.  They were always alert assisting us especially the kids.  Jimmy couldn’t stop jumping.  The adults stopped after a while but Jimmy still kept coming back saying, “one last time” several times.

The town of Calbiga had a number of beautiful but crumbling, teetering old houses but one house was lavished with so much love and attention and was turned into a veritable museum cum bed and breakfast by the family as a tribute to their matriarch, Lola Rosa.  Art works, pottery, paintings, artifacts, antiques, documents, framed photos, restored furniture, solid wood floors that shone bright, a fruit and flowered themed Christmas tree, a chair fit for a queen, knick knacks, bric-a-brac  — these filled the house but what was even more surprising was how the level of cleanliness in the main rooms were carried over in the glass cabinets for holding materials for the maintenance and upkeep of the house.  The tools and items used for repair were lined up perfectly like somebody obsessive-compulsive is wonderfully guilty of intentional care.

This home is where we spent our New Year’s eve with Jason and his friend, Lele cooking a feast in a spacious kitchen.  Walking distance away was the market where they could easily get ingredients and where Jimmy could get a colorful horn to welcome 2020.  Joshua, Jimmy and I ended up watching the movie that we started in one RORO ship but didn’t finish.  Now, it was quite meaningful to usher in the next 365 days with V for Vendetta, a film that celebrates anarchist rebellion.

 

I’ve always wanted to watch V for Vendetta because I used the short monologue in my English class in China.  Even if I hadn’t seen the movie then, I had the students come up with their own crazy alliterations.  New year is not only for making wishes but for making them come true.

But on this most auspicious of nights, permit me then, in lieu of the more commonplace sobriquet, to suggest the character of this dramatis persona.

 

Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a bygone vexation, stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin van-guarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it’s my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.

 

Check out the video of the waterfall jump here.

Unbeatable Bacolod; Passing through Cebu (RORO Part 3)

20191228_212733

There are five reasons why Bacolod can never be beat:  Joan, Xiaowu, Andy, Kylie and Dylan.  On our last night, after a big family meal in a Chinese restaurant, the kids had a blast playing in the park fronting the city hall, feeding the fish, tossing the plastic slingshot as high as they could so it swooshed up and swirled down with a blue light.  On our last day, Joan brought us to the hot springs which Jimmy says is his favorite spot because we ate on a table perched on a bamboo raft and he can swoop up tiny fish with an empty water bottle.  Amongst the trees, rocks and small waterfalls, we gobbled up a Filipino lunch.  Jimmy went with all the kids to the super crowded, noisy kiddie pool while Joshua joined the adults in the super hot, calming spring where you could cool down with a hose of cold water.   Joan couldn’t let us leave without coffee and more food.  She took us to Cafe La Guada in Don Salvador which has an amazing view and we may have found Jason’s dream home – a bamboo deck hugging the mountain with the sound of flowing stream below.   From there to San Carlos port, the drive was the most gorgeous stretch of road thus far in this adventure journey.

We rode our fourth RORO to Toledo, Cebu where we arrived late at night and had a difficult time looking for a place to stay but were rewarded with an available room at the Estrella Beach resort.  After the kids had their fill of the sand and jumping into pool, we headed straight to Cebu City where we took our fifth RORO to Ormoc.  Leyte was just a way for us to get to the San Juanico Bridge.  Spanning 2.16 km, I remember studying about it in gradeschool so I was quite excited to see it.  I wanted to stop and take pictures but we didn’t since it wasn’t at all impressive to my companions who are probably used to the engineering feats of China.  We just went through without stopping and at the end of it, waiting for us explorers, was Samar which deserves a whole blog entry of its own.

 

Number six and seven reason why Bacolod will always be special in our hearts — this romantic couple’s love for each other and their family:

24

Happy Campers at Last and Forever (RORO Part 2)

20191228_094413

Jason’s dream for us to resume our camping life at last comes true and the tent we have not used for more than a year (or two) is brought out, gets wet with cold morning dew and feasted on by greedy ants while we slept.  It’s in our family DNA to backpack and bask in nature’s glory.  Why did we ever wait this long to rediscover this old truth?  All thanks to a typhoon that got us stuck in Iloilo and after two nights of living too comfortably in a hotel walking distance from the usual gigantic SM mall, we thought too much convenience is not good for the soul and sought the mountains.

At first, it was quite a bummer not being able to take the RORO to Bacolod where we ideally wanted to celebrate Christmas with our friends who have become family.   Ferries were canceled because of the impending typhoon Ursula.  Somehow, we managed to squeeze joy out of the hassle because right across the hotel was a street side restaurant that served fresh oysters for P80 a bucket.  Jason and Lele, his friend from China and our travel companion, insisted on having both lunch and dinner back to back in the oyster place, since where else can you get such a bargain?  Our friend from Bacolod tipped us off about Bucari, the Baguio of Iloilo where we found a campsite.  Though we didn’t stay in a tent that rainy night, the facilities were only for those willing to rough it out.

Jason was back in his element cooking for us.  Instead of eyes glued on a hotel TV, the kids played chess with their dad.  Two sets of bunk beds served as Jimmy’s gym.  The next morning we hiked up the fourteen stations of the cross and were treated to one gorgeous vista after another.

After calling the coast guard every day to check on the ferry service, we were given the go signal on December 26 and took the third RORO of this trip, and once again experienced the chaos and inefficiency that’s sadly the hallmark and trademark of our nation.  Par for the course, expected, psyche yourself up — we smile through it all because a reward awaits on the other side.  Joan and her family prepared our favorite Chinese hotpot and it was amazing relief to plop our exhausted bodies in what felt like second home.  Giddy with excitement, Joshua and Jimmy were reunited with playmates Andy, Dylan and Kylie.  Joshua dared to eat balut because he saw Kylie relishing it.  We have homemade youtiao for breakfast and corned beef far from the blandness of budget inns.

Joan’s husband, my husband and Lele belonged to an outdoor club in China so it’s only fitting that our three families would celebrate the season with a camping trip with two treks to the waterfalls of Guintubdan.  Three men from China showed their cooking prowess on the grill and portable stove.  Six kids ran amok playing hide and seek in a wide, lush, terraced area.   One Superwoman from Bacolod orchestrated it all while one Filipina couldn’t stop eating.

Jason chose a spot to pitch our tent further away from the noise of other campers.  It was a spot suffused with the scent of flowers more intense at night than the day, a spot were the stars were closer and brighter, a spot where Jason could build his own fire and toast his feet above the coal.

GO RORO, GO RORO!

8

This was the plan:

Slide1

But as all ambitious plans go, they are not necessarily followed and this is the latest iteration:

4

The wanderlust, itchy feet, spirit of escaping from the city into the UNKNOWN (with matching Frozen warble) has been hounding my husband and me.  Jason has been craving to explore places that he has not been to in the Philippines while I’ve needed a real, work-free break, not a cheat break but an honest to goodness one.  For the kids, this is the way we want to homeschool / worldschool on the road with all the stopovers, “Are we there yets,” exhaustion from long drives, bureaucratic nightmares of getting space in the boat made worthwhile by lying on the ferry roof deck staring at the stars (in their multitude, scarce to be counted).

Knowing how government services work in this country, I was prepared for the worst so it was an unexpected delight that the first RORO trip went smoothly with a two-hour ride from Manila to Batangas punctuated with an almost immediate usher into the belly of the ferry.  However, the 7-headed Hydra of red tape reared their scary faces in the next port of Roxas.  It took us a whole day to navigate our way to a coveted spot that had to be earned with sweat, asking too many questions and grease money.  The frustrating, inconvenient truth was rewarded with the opportunity to sleep under a starry, starry night sky.

Thanks to Rachael, we were able to secure a booking in their favorite “suki” hotel in Boracay which was a surprise addition in the itinerary because I thought my husband didn’t want to go to what was certainly going to be an overcrowded pre-Christmas party.  Since Joshua was a toddler when he last went and Jimmy wasn’t born then, we had to make the stop for the kids.  I understood why Hey, Jude hotel in Station 3 was Rachael’s choice home away from home because the value was hard to beat.  Unfortunately, they were fully booked on our second night so we had to find another place nearby and the choices paled in comparison.

Coincidentally and divinely, my sister and her family were in Boracay at the same time as us so we managed to have a quick reunion.  The cousins were able to get the rare playtime on the beach and paddle board and laugh at Uncle Juan’s magic tricks.

Many years ago, my friends and I were walking along the powdery stretch of sand in Boracay and a person approached asking if there was a couple among us.  I jokingly pushed two of our single friends and announced, “Here’s Mr. and Mrs. Lim!”  They were offered an attractive deal from the newly opened Astoria hotel in Station 2.  We were smart enough then not to take the bait but this time around, I was walking along Station 3 and lo and behold, there was a swanky new Astoria hotel.  This time the offer of a free buffet lunch was too tempting to refuse.  I knew they were going to sell me some sort of membership after our group of 6 enjoyed the sumptuous eat-all-you-can feast as well as the pure eye candy of  interior design and a glass-sided swimming pool.  After a tour of the impressive facilities, I had to artfully and diplomatically decline the proposal at the end of a well-rehearsed and strategized marketing spiel.

By the way, “Mr. & Mrs. Lim” eventually got married not long after that prophetic prank.

In Boracay, my niece Anita was looking for halo halo in coconut and they weren’t able to find before they flew back to Manila while we continued our road trip.  We did find it in the food court of SM Iloilo where we headed next and where our effort to reach Bacolod was thwarted by an impending storm named Ursula.

There’s No Such Thing as Non-Negotiable

875

There is no such thing is a non-negotiable.  I thought I’d be able to negotiate and make a stand, not back down and win, convince my husband to put the children to school, but he insisted and debated for the continuation of homeschooling.  Now, I’ve researched homeschooling, unschooling, worldschooling and we’ve done it ourselves. I’m not too happy with the results and find it too stressful fending off everyone who feels we are wrong that I’ve started to believe we may be wrong, too.  My husband has no problem making a stand for something he believes in.  Me, I am the wavering type.   At the sign of difficulty, I fold and give up.

Homeschooling has been difficult and stressful for me.  There are many homeschooling families whom I admire – my friends, my sister, worldschoolers we met on our road trip.  But unfortunately we just don’t fit into that type of family which practices this non-traditional method of education in an admirable way.  We get angry at the kids.  The kids have too much screen time.  We are not that creative.  Gosh, and the kids still can’t read.  Even if I know for a fact it doesn’t matter in the end what age they start reading, it still weighs heavy on my mind.  Our methods leave much to be desired but my husband said we can improve ourselves.

What about the naysayers?   Those who echo my own opinion that we should stop because one year of experimentation is more than enough time.  I also feel the same way – that this has gone on too long but my husband thinks we should press on this path despite the setbacks.  He wants to prove that he can teach Chinese to Joshua and Jimmy in a calm and effective manner.  He showed me and it was quite good but can he do it consistently through time, every day?  That remains to be seen.

Me?  I wish I can hire tutors.  That’s my homeschooling method which is used by many moms I know.  One mom I had just met when we were in Manila hires a tutor two hours a day to go over the academic materials with her children.  When I met her, I told her that’s exactly what I want to do.  I was able to do that easily in Manila because I know my way around but in China, my husband insists on teaching Chinese himself and for English, I’m the one who has to do it unless I get the Skype tutor again.

My husband doesn’t understand why I don’t want to continue homeschooling because I was the one who researched a lot about it.  That’s true but my research spans a wider field – alternative education which includes progressive and democratic schools.  Precisely why I am researching those because I also want an alternative, a back-up, in fact it’s my preferred choice to homeschooling.  I am researching those alternative schools because I want to quit homeschooling and put my children in a progressive school.  It would be great if there were options for a democratic school but there’s none in China or the Philippines.  And because there is none, that’s what I seek to establish in the future with my friend Donna.

The other stressful thing about homeschooling is the people around me who do not believe in it, who do not believe we are doing it well, who are getting stressed themselves that our children are missing school.  That for me is stressful, but not for my husband who does not get stressed by what other people think.  So maybe this is a call for me to practice that devil-may-care attitude.  It’s harder for me because I also think we are not the ideal candidates for homeschooling.  We are striving for that ideal and we fall short but that’s like everything else in life, right?

After a year of traveling and many years of switching homes, I was looking forward to settling down in Xishuangbanna.  We promised the kids that we’d find a house, get them into school and get a dog – in that order.  Now, my husband decided against that for valid family reasons.

I was so eager to live in a pretty place.  Dagang is not pretty.  It’s pretty ugly.  Sorry to say, but it is.  Living here for two years, I had to seek out beauty and found it.  As in any place, beauty is all around, in the streets and most importantly, in the hearts of many people who become friends.  But my mind had been conditioned to expect this physical paradise, this Shangri-La that we found and agreed upon that was Xishuangbanna.  Now, it escapes my grasp.

I have to switch my mind and re-program it to re-discover beauty, reconnect with friends and feel joy and happiness wherever in the world I am at.  Yesterday, we drove by the bleak, unpretty, blah landscape of the oilfields and I felt this lump on my throat and inside my head screaming, “No!!!  I can’t live in this place again!  What?  You’re asking me to live here again?  This hell hole?  I’m so over this place!  I’ve moved on!  We were supposed to live in X!”   I waited for the shrill, panicky voice to die down and get tired and waited.  I didn’t have to wait long.  Just like a child’s tantrum, I just let it scream its lungs out and then I was at peace.  I can rock this world again!

About the school issue?  Maybe I’m too flexible, too kind, too giving, too stupid.  Maybe I’m wrong to give in to my husband in the major decisions that I have not been able to win.  Maybe, it doesn’t hurt to be too flexible.  This is just another arena for me to flex my muscles.  I set about re-envisioning how this could work.

I mean look at this, I’ve got three hunks (one half-naked) making noodles for me!  Only in Tianjin.  Plus I’ve got a promise of a motorcycle ride through TEDA!