The Philippines Revisited, part one: Christmas in Baguio

The all-important Christmas nutcrackers, but one is different… It’s an Igorot nutcracker! Styled after the traditional costume of the Igorots, the tribal people of the Baguio area.

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.

One of my favourite Christmas baking projects: Shortbread!

Some cookie decorators I co-opted for the task

Peanut butter, rice crispy and marshmallow balls, dipped in chocolate. The BEST!

The results of our baking marathon: Strawberry nut bread, banana nut bread, fruitcake, candy cane brownies, candy chip cookies, shortbread cookies, neiman marcus cookies, peanut butter fudge, and peanut butter choco balls! おつかれさま!

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.

One of my favourite Christmas staples, the candied yams! I put rainbow marshmallows and pecans on top.

A most delicious pineapple-topped ham!

Astroviper had the all-important task of cutting the turkey, as well as doing the potatoes and gravy. He was the master chef!

Uncle Ron, our host, is ready to feast!

The turkey was such a hit, they made sure to clean off the entire carcass. Actually, this guy went for the carcass when there was still plenty of sliced meat left, he just felt like being barbaric 😉

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.

Boys in the kitchen…

…and the girls on the couch! Works for me! Except that I was just fake-relaxing for the camera…

The boys got tattoos from Santa!

The girls got jewelry from Santa!

Also, from Japan with love: chopsticks for everyone! Good luck!

Family photo! Me with a couple of the boys from the Haven, and our boys!

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.

The dog that guarded the approach to the viewpoint had a sweet pad – he was fast asleep though.

Pretty creative use of tires as stairs on the way up

I found the best spot!

“Everyone look off thoughtfully into the distance”

La Trinidad Valley with the hills of Baguio in the distance

Astroviper in his element, taking photos, before his camera died

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.

Astroviper didn’t take too well to the karaoke at first…

…but they fed him Red Horse so he got into it

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).

Boating in Burnham Park! We got a swan boat, here are some seahorse competitors.

It’s all thanks to this little guy and his fascination with the boats that we got to go! Hooray!

It’s harder than it looks!

Traffic Jam!

With one of my closest Haven bros, and little nephew! He was a bit scared of me, everytime he looked at me it was like he was seeing a ghost. I tried to convince him I’m a friendly ghost! 😉

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.

Farewell Adobo dinner in the works!

5 thoughts on “The Philippines Revisited, part one: Christmas in Baguio

  1. Pingback: What’s The Opposite Of A Banana? | Breaking Moulds

  2. Is it just me, or is Genkiduck actually typing with a Japanese/Filipino accent? 🙂
    Great to read another chapter about your adventures…..I’m jealous!
    Love the pictures too.
    Happy belated New Years to ya’ll.

  3. Lovely! I was moved to read about your reunion experience and felt touched by your deep love for your Philippine family.

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