When I went to bed last night, the party was still going pretty strong, there were plenty of people still here, I figured they’d leave eventually but when I got up in the morning, most of them were still here. Everybody slept wherever they could find a place to crash. Most of the men stayed up all night playing some card game called Tong-it or something like that. I guess it’s really popular, Audie was trying to get me to play with them but I’m not really a card guy but apparently he is as he cleaned up last night. The wife’s sisters made breakfast and everybody got their fill and eventually all the guys that were here for the Lechon Baboy yesterday took off leaving just the wife’s family. Her mom was up early and ready for church and expecting everyone else to be as well but I wasn’t sure if we were going because the wife didn’t seem very keen on it. I didn’t want her mom to blame me for our non-attendance so I was kind of hoping we would go and sure enough, we got ready just in time and headed to church. I actually really enjoyed it. Filipinos are really religious people in general. I’ve always known them to be one of the biggest Catholic countries in the world but since I’ve been here, I’ve not seen that many Catholic churches. On the contrary, I have seen a TON of protestant churches such as Baptist, Pentecostal, etc., and you see Bible verses and religious sayings on everything from jeepneys and tricycles to buildings and eateries. The wife’s family is protestant but I’m not sure if it’s any particular denomination. I know her mom is a Born Again Christian. The church was nice, not very ornate, mostly just a big auditorium with a stage and a pulpit for the pastor and the choir and metal folding chairs for the congregation to sit on. The service had already started by the time we got there and everybody was standing up, singing and waving their hands. It reminded me a lot of the churches I grew up in or attended back home in the US most of my life. When the singing part was over, they welcomed the guests and apparently the wife’s mother had told them about my presence as I had to stand and wave when they introduced me which of course brought more stares. Just what I need, more attention on me and more people staring. Later on in the service they did a “greet the family” type thing where you say good morning to each other and everyone made a beeline to say hi to the white guy and shake my hand. I must have shaken a hundred hands, I felt like I was running for office for cripes sake. The actual sermon almost put me to sleep however as the guy who gave it spoke in a monotone voice in mostly English with some Tagolog mixed in. I’m sure that it meant a lot to the wife’s mother to have us in church with her so I’m happy that we went.
The rest of the day didn’t quite go as smoothly. After church, some of us went to Rosario for lunch at the Chow King. Believe it or not, it was one of the best meals I’ve had so far. I got the beef wanton noodles and a side order of siomai. I’d never had siomai before – I’d never even heard of it – but it turned out to be exactly what I’ve been looking for since I got here. I am a huge fan of Chinese dim sum and siomai is sort of a Filipino dim sum, a little steamed pork dumpling basically. They give you a little thing of chili sauce to dip them in and they were just delicious. The place was so packed that we had to split up on two different tables. The wife and I were sitting at a table next to an older couple who paid us no mind during our meal but afterward the wife started talking to the woman and after talking to her for about 10 minutes, they suddenly realized that she was her teacher when she was in school years ago. It truly is a small world but I probably shouldn’t be surprised as it seems like the wife is related to, or friends with, every single person we meet here, it’s crazy. The wife’s brother Samuel is very active in the church and he used the church van to drive us to lunch which was convenient but the problem was that it had no air conditioning and since I was sitting in the front, the sun was hitting me directly and causing a lot of discomfort as my exposed skin felt like it was burning. I’m taking malaria medication called Doxycycline and one of the only side effects of it is that it makes you much more sensitive to the sun so the doctor warned me to stay out of the sun as much as possible and wear very strong sun screen. I brought SPF 60 but I haven’t bothered to use it because I sweat so much that there’s no point to putting it on. Anyway, Samuel dropped us off at the bridge and as we started walking across on our way back to the big house, I was not feeling quite right. I felt extremely sluggish, like I didn’t even have the energy to take a step and I felt like just dropping to the ground where I was at. I slowly kept going, feeling worse by the minute and eventually I started getting light headed and a bit dizzy. I’m pretty sure I was starting to get heat stroke. I made it back to the house and sat in front of the fan mopping my forehead and eventually I felt a little better but I was on the verge of telling the wife that I don’t care if her family gets offended, we are checking into the hotel. But, we are going to the beach tomorrow so I changed my mind and decided to ride it out here.
So it’s been just about a full week here and it’s flown by. Overall, I am really enjoying myself here despite the inconveniences and lack of things to do. I definitely hope I’ll be able to come back on a regular basis, maybe even every year if possible. The wife’s family are a little shy but they seem to be warming up to me a little. For my part, I just love them all to death, they are such wonderful people. I’m actually a little embarrassed because this summer has not been kind to me – between leave, trips for work, the World Cup, and the wife being away, it’s been 3 straight months of eating and drinking mostly crap and too much of it at that and this has caused me to pack on between 10-15 pounds so I hate the fact that they are meeting me for the first time when I’m so overweight. But whatever, nothing I can do except make sure I’m back in shape next time we come so they can see the real me.
Since we’re at the halfway point in my trip, I figured I’d write some observations I’ve made during my first week here:
* I’m guessing they must have problem with crime here because security guards are everywhere. At banks especially, you’ll see several of them carrying machine guns but even the smaller businesses have them. It’s not uncommon to see, say, an appliance store with an armed security guard standing outside the front door. And when you go into the malls, they have guards at all the entrances to check your bags or pat you down. A lot of places make you check your bag at the front before going in. Restaurants have them as well, it’s kind of weird to be sitting in a Jollibee and have an armed guard outside. It’s funny too, many of the guards help by clearing tables and such, makes me chuckle.
* The people here are some of the friendliest I’ve encountered anywhere. Everybody calls me “sir”…and I mean EVERYBODY. You walk into a place and everybody who sees you greets you with ”Hello sir!”. It’s quite charming actually. They are also some of the most honest people I’ve ever met. For example, I needed to buy a sim card for my cell phone and there were 3 phone shops right next to each other so I picked one and asked which card would be the best for me to send text messages back to the US. He said Global so I said ok, I’d like to buy a Global card. He checked and said they were out so I asked if they had any other ones. He said they did but it would be better for me if I went to another store and bought a Global card. Cripes, if this was the US or Italy, he’d have sold me anything he could but here the guy sends me to another store!
* You will never go hungry in the Philippines. I’m astounded at the amount of places I’ve seen selling food in this country. Not just restaurants like Jollibee or Chow King either, it seems like every two feet there is some kind eatery. Some of them are just little stands on the side of the road but they’re freaking everywhere. I guess it’s the easiest kind of business to run here as everybody has to eat and if there’s one thing Filipinos can do well, it’s cook. The most common seem to be little makeshift places selling hot food with a sign out front saying somebody’s eatery. For example, “Rowena’s Eatery”…”Maria’s Eatery”…”Lucia’s Eatery”…etc., etc.
* Basketball is far and away the most popular sport here. There are basketball courts EVERYWHERE and it seems like every other guy you see is wearing a basketball jersey. The NBA is very popular here so you see a lot of NBA jerseys which are perfect since it’s so hot here. The two most popular teams are the Celtics and Lakers and it’s not uncommon to see tricycles and jeepneys decorated with team logos and such. There’s even a basketball court on the dirt path next to the wife’s family’s house, in the middle of nowhere. Soccer doesn’t seem to be very popular here but I have seen quite a few Brazil hats and shirts worn.
* The kids absolutely love it here. I had my doubts about the X Man as he can be kind of wuss sometimes and he’s afraid of everything but he has surprised me. Back home he gets scared of everything from dogs to house flies but here he plays with bugs, plays with the goats and catches frogs. He has a couple cousins close to his age and he loves going off with them to play in the woods or the river or to climb trees. Luca seems to love it here as well. Call me crazy but they both seem happier here than back home in Italy. I was a bit worried that a month and a half might be too long for them but obviously not. The X Man is even starting to pick up a bit of Tagolog.
* The whole white rice phenomenon makes much more sense to me now. I know it’s very popular because it’s so cheap and everything but the main thing is that it is filling. The wife’s family is pretty big so they have to make a little bit go a long way. I couldn’t understand it at first because we would go to the market to buy fish or a chicken or whatever and the wife would only buy a little bit even though it’s so cheap compared to what we pay back home. Basically they buy enough meat or fish so that everybody gets a little, then they eat some vegetables and a ton of rice with it and they get completely full. I’ve never been a big rice eater so I’ve probably eaten more white rice in the past week than I have in the past 20 years. You will never come to our house and not find a big pot of rice on the stove or in the fridge but the wife eats it all, I never touch it.
* So far my favorite Filipino dish that I’ve had is called “Tortang Talong”. It’s basically just a stuffed eggplant omelet but it’s delicious. They char the eggplant, then peel the skin off, then mix in some egg and grill it. I love eggs and I love eggplant but I’d never heard of this before. The wife’s sisters make it for me for breakfast pretty much every morning, I can’t get enough of it.
Most importantly...halfway through my trip and no snakes.