The Philippines was my first “second home” outside of Canada. I’ve always kept the memories, the people, the sights and smells of that place close to my heart. And Japan, even though I’ve now lived here almost twice as long, has never usurped its place. So when I returned this Christmas for the first time in seven years, this time with a husband in tow, I had no idea how the experience would impact me.
The first thing on our agenda (after a highly overpriced taxi ride, a four hour wait for a bus, and a seven hour ride on said bus), was… sleep, shower and food. Okay, yes, but after that, preparing Christmas dinner. We spent three and a half days virtually enslaved to the kitchen of the family friend we were staying with in Baguio City, baking, prepping, and cooking. Enslavement or not, though, I was just elated to be able to bake things, since the tiny toaster oven in our Japanese apartment can’t even cook toast properly, never mind cookies.
Finally, on Christmas Day, our guests started arriving around noon. We had been baking casseroles, desserts and such all morning, and had a turkey and two hams in the two ovens. It was a lot of work to prepare a feast for 30+ people, but it was worth it in the end, for them at least. Some of our guests had never even tasted turkey before. This is the first turkey dinner I’ve ever been to where there was not a slice of turkey leftovers remaining.
The best part of Christmas for me was, first, reuniting with some of my family from Baguio after seven years, and second, introducing Jordan to them and meeting their new families. I call them my family, as my Grandpa raised many of them as his own at the Haven Children’s Home, and they called him Dad. When I first visited the Philippines shortly after my Grandpa’s passing, I discovered this entire network of brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, all who accepted me instantly as one of them. Now, seeing them raising their own families, some of them who as kids had come from unimaginably difficult circumstances, was incredibly moving. I nearly cried myself to sleep that night, so deep was the joy that my physical body couldn’t even process it.
After Christmas was said and done with, we spent a couple days roaming around Baguio and the surrounding areas, before venturing down to the hot, sticky lowlands for New Year’s. Baguio is known as the summer city, because it is in the mountains and maintains a moderate temperature year-round. Many people maintain summer homes in Baguio to escape the unbearable heat down below; there’s even a presidential palace in town for this reason. One of my favourite sights ever is the hills of Baguio, littered with colorful houses, that come into view all at once as you crest the final hill on the bus ride up. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see it this time, as we rode up at night, but we did get to a spectacular viewpoint of La Trinidad valley from Mt. Kalungong.
This was followed by the inescapable Filipino experience of uber-cheesy videoke. Now, we had already listened to our fair share of it – on Christmas Eve, from the bedroom in our guest apartment, we had it coming from three sides – cheesy songs of love and love lost assaulted our ears from above, from behind, and from the side. But there’s nothing like holing up for awhile in a dingy bar or bistro and singing along to cheesy piano soundtracks accompanied by completely unrelated video backdrops.
On our last day in Baguio, we ventured to the market to shop for souvenirs – the infamous “barrel man,” for one, and the less well-known “barrel woman.” I cannot describe these to you in detail, nor can I post pictures, so you’ll just have to use your imagination. You lift the wood-carved barrel surrounding a wood-carved person, and see what might pop up. That’s all I’m saying. After that, we headed to Burnham Park for some long-awaited swan boating (at least, I’ve been long awaiting it, it’s the first time I’ve EVER been able to convince astroviper to go swan-boating with me anywhere, all thanks to my cute little nephew).
Finally, to cap off our short time in Baguio, we were treated to a home made dinner of chicken adobo, a classic Filipino dish. I was sad to leave after such a short time, after all last time I spent over nine months in Baguio alone, but I was very filled with joy after seeing my Filipino family there again, and I was also looking forward to seeing other people elsewhere. And, let’s be honest, I would not going to miss the late-night videoke-ing neighbours, and the roosters and dogs who greeted us so cheerfully and obnoxiously before dawn each morning. So, early the next morning, we climbed into another bus, Manila-bound.