Tuesday, August 26, 2014


This is a month of celebrations: my mom and my sister are celebrating their birthdays this month... and a cousin is as well. The fiesta of Barrio San Miguel, Padre Garcia is celebrated in September (in fact, that's the only day I notice that there's a traffic jam on the barrio road.

September also happens to be the title of one of my favourite road trip songs. It's by Earth, Wind, and Fire. When I was learning how to drive, I used to play an EWF cassette tape over and over again. The songs, despite the upbeat disco beat, kept me relaxed (if relaxed can be used to describe my recitation of the litany of vehicles I drove passed when Daddy and I used to practice driving). Even now, 13 years on, September has a calming effect on me.

Not only has September become a mainstay of my road trip playlist, it has also firmly become embedded into my list of cool movie songs! It's part of the soundtrack of Intouchables and of Last Vegas, two movies that I had thoroughly enjoyed watching recently. 

🎶 Do you remember, the twenty-first night of September? Do you remember the love we shared? Remember, there never was a cloudy day! 🎶

to Ilocos and back!

I just had to put time stamps along the way because I wanted to monitor how long it would take me to drive all the way to Bangui, Ilocos Norte and back again to Calamba, Laguna. 655 kilometres. Seven highways. Three days. No chocolate in the car. Challenge accepted. :)

Ate Bing was with me on this fun road trip. The rest of the museum hoppers, however, opted out. It would have been even more fun if the whole gang went to Ilocos with us!

August 22

Ate Bing and I set off from Los Baños. Our adventure to Ilocandia has begun!

Time to gas up in Quezon City. Hello again, Eastwood! Traffic in Ortigas was heavy so it's quite a slow drive in C5.

August 23

We made our first pit stop in Tarlac City, 129 km north of Eastwood City. Too bad that this wasn't the end of our journey. Hacienda Luisita has a lot of sights to offer tourists. Next time, next time... When I'm not a passerby.

And we're off to Ilocos Sur! Our route took us through the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX), and then the Manila North Road all the way to Ilocandia.

As always, road conditions just had to slow us down. We were stuck in Villasis and Urdaneta City, Pangasinan. No biggie; it was nice to drive on long stretches of road after those road blocks… and we finally took the last bridge to enter La Union!

La Nuestra Señora de Asunción, one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, was our first stop in this cultural tour/ food trip of the northwest. This church is sitting atop a hill, with a commanding view of the quiet town of Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur.

After braving the thunderstorm that started at Santa Maria, we arrived at Grandpa's Inn, Vigan, Ilocos Sur... 300 kms away from Tarlac City. Goodness, this has got to be my longest drive to date!

Dinner... We ate at Cuisina Felicitas. The menu suggests pairing dinoydoy (squash and bitter gourd) with igado (pork ragout with bell pepper and green peas) and so we did. Then we also had sopas ti kappo paria ken saluyot (clam soup with bitter gourd and saluyot leaves)... Delicious dinner right after that long stretch of road!

Just when I thought my energy level has dwindled, I found my second wind. Ate Bing and I went on a walking night tour of the famous Calle Crisologo and the town plaza. Because of the rain, we did stop by Café Leona for Dutch Speculoos ice cream, cappuccino, and Chocolate de Vigan, but we didn't dine al fresco.

August 24

After breakfast and souvenir shopping, we set off to see Vigan when the sun was up. Calle Crisologo looks so different! I'm glad that we explored the city at night when the crowd wasn't there because it showed a quiet town. The morning hustle and bustle, on the other hand, showed what a vibrant place Vigan is.

Our next stop was Badoc, Ilocos Norte, the birthplace of Juan Luna. He is one of the Philippines' best painters in the late 1800s. The museum is currently closed for renovation so we didn't get to go inside. We ended up interviewing a tricycle driver, who was resting under the shade of a mango tree across the museum, about the house being repaired.

Paoay Church stood as a backdrop as Ate Bing and I ate lunch at the home of the pinakbet pizza pie, Café Herencia. It still is one of the most imposing churches I've seen, ever. As Professor Paul Zafaralla used to say, the Paoay Church shows the extremes in Earthquake Baroque architecture. We opted for good old sinigang to fill us up and hydrate us at the same time. I was so glad to see that the interior of the church was finally being repaired. It no longer looked gloomy inside.

The scenic route we had taken en route to Bangui allowed us to catch a glimpse of the Paoay Lake. It was just like a mirror! Perfect wakeboarding conditions! But I wanted to see the sand dunes so off we went to Barangay Calayab to see them. I was also curious to see what Fort Ilocandia looks like now, after venturing there a long time ago by mistake… back in high school.

While on our way to Bangui, I thought that it's early enough to make a pit stop at the Cape Bojeador lighthouse in Burgos. We are supposed to see the sunset in Bangui and it's just 20 km away. The lighthouse is on top of a hill and we had to drive up the steep and narrow incline. It was worth the side trip because the view of the sea and the town below is awesome. Mang Celso, the lighthouse maintenance man, gave us a few insights about the place too.

The windmills of Bangui first came into view. We had a snacks at Kangkang Windmill Cafe, just a stone's throw away from the giant windmills. Since the windmills were on the beach, I just had to stop and be on it. :) I didn't swim though because the tide looks strong. Back at the café, I had the longganisa burger and a buko shake... Yum!! While we're eating and resting, another group was hogging the microphone of the karaoke machine. So the café ambiance was, at that time, lost to me. However, this situation just proves that even in the remotest edges of the Philippines, the karaoke machine makes its presence felt.

I didn't hope to see a good sunset while along the Bangui Bay because of the cloud cover. However, the sun shone brightly on its descent as it escaped the clouds. So Ate Bing and I raced back to Cape Bojeador to catch the sunset at a lay-by along the AH26. 

And we're back to Laoag City, our sleep stop for the day. It was a 652-km drive from Los Baños to Bangui. Good thing Balay de Blas is such a comfy place to sleep in... But first, dinner. Tomorrow would surely a long day. It'd be an almost nonstop 560-km drive.

Due to a mix-up in the kitchen, dinner in Samaramsam Restaurant started really late. Thankfully, the manager and the head waitress were very gracious... and the food was just heavenly. The dinakdakan was like sisig stewed in Ilocano vinegar, chilis, and red onions. It reminded me of kulao but with meat instead of banana hearts. Then the poque-poque was eggplant cooked in egg, but not like torta. The egg was moist and soft while the vegetables (onions, tomatoes) remained firm and juicy... yet another example of Filipino cuisine's penchant for counterpoint. It was so yummy! 

August 25

We're back at Samaramsam Restaurant for breakfast of champs... Longganisa with fried rice, and tomatoes, plus some good old canned orange juice. These better keep me energized; I was bracing myself for the long drive home!

Pit stop, of all places: SM Hypermart, Laoag! I had to get an ice chest for my longganisa because it's going to be in the car for a long time. Alas, no cheap ice chests here. But instead of just setting off, Ate Bing and I walked over to the sinking bell tower of this city... Right across the street from the church. I found it strange that the belfry has to be outside the church grounds. Maybe it was built there so in case an earthquake rocked Laoag, the belfry wouldn't topple over the church. Who knows?

We just had to take a pit stop in Sinait so I could buy garlic and onions to bring home. During this stop, I started regretting not stopping in Pasuquin for the biscochos.

Pasalubong, for me, took the form of local produce and delicacies. I wanted to buy bagnet in Vigan. Time, however, was definitely not on my side. As tempting as it was to take a side trip back in Vigan, I opted not to. I want to be home in 13 hours! We had, instead, a brief stop at a roadside pasalubong center before we started the ascent in Bantay, Ilocos Sur to the seaside town of Santa. I was quite disappointed that the food was just pastillas, yema, and bibingka... Nothing uniquely Ilocano; I guess the recipes are Ilocano but the names have been adapted for southern visitors... To avoid neophobia.

It’s a relatively relaxing drive south through Ilocos. As we approached La Union, I knew that we were really on our way home. This road trip was about to end… Kobe Bryant’s poster welcomed us back to La Union, too.

So, it's been eight hours since we set off from Laoag. And we're stuck in traffic in Villasis, Pangasinan. But it appeared like I've driven at the same pace as during our trip north: 300 km in eight hours. Slow? Yes. But it's not me... We passed a lot of long stretches of one-lane Manila North Road because of extensive repairs up in Ilocos. 

Famished! It must be fun to have dinner at Matutina's in Urdaneta but we still had a long way to go. So, we skipped dinner there and opted to buy food to go at the closest McDonald's. Thanks to the traffic jam along the Manila North Road, it took us two hours to get our meals! No rest for the weary... More than 200km to go and I had class the next day!

Driving at 100 kph, I thought Ate Bing and I made good time. It took about 30 minutes to traverse the TPLEX and maybe another 30 minutes to cross the SCTEX. I was so happy with the highly possible prospect that we’d reach Laguna in about 90 minutes once entering the NLEX (given the lateness of the hour). That was dampened, however, when we approached the San Simon southbound exit. Twitter said that there’s a road accident up ahead involving a trailer truck… this was going to become one long night of sitting in traffic jams. 12 hours and counting. *sigh*

We escaped the snarled traffic in San Simon, Pampanga! I do hope that there were no injured people in the accident. In the meantime, Ate Bing and I finally got to stop at Shell of Asia in Guiguinto, Bulacan for my much needed venti dose of caffeine in the form of caramel machiatto. I mean, we still had about 90 km of driving to reach Calamba. I desperately needed the energy boost. A brief stop, and then we were off again. My goal of reaching Calamba before midnight… gone. Now, it’s all about driving home with enough energy to do so safely.

August 26

Finally, I got home, safe and sound!! I can’t believe it… I drove 15 hours, with minimal stops, from Laoag City to Calamba! I did have to depend on a large Coke from McDonald’s and the Starbucks coffee to bring me home, but I did it! This has got to be my longest drive to date!!

Certainly was a long driving adventure! Next time I'm doing this, I'd like to go back to Laguna via AH26. Now that will be a literal round trip! :)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

dry humor.

I finally got it: the humor that tickles my funny bones is mostly of the dry, dark, absurd type. Definitely not slapstick. That explains why I was at a loss (while everyone was laughing out loud) when I watched Sisterakas in 2012. It also helps to explain why some of my friends rarely recognize it when I'm joking. At some point, I was called out because I might hurt someone's feelings with a joke, failing to recognize that it was an attempt at irony with a pinch of sarcasm. The subject of the joke didn't understand my attempt at dry wit neither but said it's only because the joke was weak... only getting it when I explained it again.

Maybe my taste for dry wit was developed after years of watching David Letterman. One of my favorites, for instance, is his "Top 10 Reasons Why There Couldn't Be A Filipino-American US President", presented many years ago. I had tears in my eyes while laughing! On the other hand, other Filipinos (not used to sarcasm and irony) found the joke to be a jab at Filipino identity.

Maybe I've been exposed enough to actors (and characters they portray) known for their sharp brand of comedy. For example...

I'm a fan of John Cleese, as R and then as Q (the tech guy) after seeing James Bond movies "The World is Not Enough"  and "Die Another Day". However, only some people (like my dad) could see how hilarious he was as the über serious tech guy. And who could remember his ever poised interpretation of Nearly Headless Nick? More recently, Matty introduced me to John Cleese's classic series, "Fawlty Towers",  which turned out to be the standard to which newer British comedy shows are compared... a landmine of fast-paced wit, constantly playing on the thin line between humor and disrespect. I was laughing throughout the episode ("The Germans") we watched.

Then there's Stephen Fry; I found humor in his character's rebelliousness, the super serious news reporter, Gordon Dietrich, in "V for Vendetta"; it was refreshing amid the grey haze of the fictional post-modern British dystopia. His performance as the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland was reeking with sarcasm as well... but then again, that's what I've always liked about the Cheshire Cat, even when I first saw the Disney interpretation as a gradeschooler.

Hugh Laurie, another comedian, is funny (but not in a laugh-out-loud kind of way) as House, M.D. His character's bedside manner is appalling at best but he's a brilliant doctor. The humor comes into play in the way he talked to fellow hospital staff and to his patients... yes, to; not with. Watching it from outside is certainly humorous but if I were the person he's talking with, I'd say that he's such a pain.

The latest comedian I got introduced to was Lenny Henry, through his kitchen adventures as Gareth Blackstock in "Chef!" (credit goes to Matty again). He is the kitchen's ultimate fictional tyrant, blasting sarcastic jabs onto kitchen staff; even the restaurant's customers were not spared from his colorful insults! Five episodes in, I still wipe my tears of laughter... I do feel sorry for Everton, the commis, because in cooking school, I was the commis to my more culinarily experienced classmates (yes, some of them are/were working in hotel kitchens, have their own restaurants, or are home cooks).

Sherlock, yet another British series, is another show I watch whenever and wherever I catch it. In fact, I rewatched two seasons of Sherlock over Netflix, introducing my mom to the series during my 2013 Californian Christmas vacation. If there's a character who's become such a mental exercise to listen to only to be told, sarcastically, that the solution is painfully obvious and elementary... it's Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock. Sorry, Robert Downey, Jr. but Cumberbatch's take on the witty detective is sharper.

Believe it or not, however, my first exposure to dry wit was not in comedies. Disney's animated movie, "Sleeping Beauty", started it all. And I shall quote the conversation between the second baddest witch of them all and her pig-snouted minions...

Maleficent: It's incredible! Sixteen years and not a trace of her!... Are you sure you have searched everywhere? 
Minions:  Yep, yep, everywhere. We all did... We searched mountains and forests, and houses, and, uh, lemme see here... and all the cradles.
Maleficent: Cradle? Cradle?!? Did you hear that, my pet (to the raven)? All these years, they were looking for a baby!
And now, you know. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Last Vegas (2013)

Back in grade school and in high school graduations, I wondered what it would be like to see my friends again after we'd all gone our separate ways and then saw each other again many years later. The thing is, we do still keep in touch once in a while thanks to the wonders of modern communication. Plus it's easier to keep tabs of each other through social media. Unless someone goes off the grid, we pretty much know what's up with all of us.

Then I thought, what about my parents? Their childhoods were spent before the era of mobile phones. Knowing how their friends back in the day are now doing must be quite a challenge... with my dad entering the social media landscape very recently, and my mom just watching the computer screen beside him.

They were on my mind when I saw Last Vegas, a film about four childhood friends who grew up and went on to live their lives in opposite coasts of the country. One day, one of them was getting married  in Las Vegas and he wanted his three closest buddies to be there with him for it. They met up in Las Vegas and had a really good time overall (I'm skipping a lot of the drama here). A respite from the life of the elderly for their lot, surely.

I've been to Las Vegas once in my lifetime and I sure want to go back there again (because I want to see the Cirque du Soleil shows I didn't have time to watch on my first visit). It's known for the long stretch of giant hotel-buffet-casino-theater establishments. These were featured in the movie, of course, but not in an in-your-face way. I found it refreshing that the venue did not overshadow the stories of the four stooges that wanted to celebrate life there.

In October, I'm attending a friend's wedding; not in Vegas, but in Manila. I'm sure that we'll have fun catching up because we all went our separate ways after high school and I haven't seen them for years. The reunion won't be akin to the grand way that the four stooges celebrated (i.e., penthouse suite, VIP passes, extravagant parties...), of course.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

RIP, Robin Williams (1951–2014)

He was one of the world's most famous comedians. I've watched him, laughed at his antics, and reflected on his more serious scenes in Jumanji, Mrs Doubtfire, Dead Poets' Society, Hook, Night at the Museum, and Patch Adams. He basically lit up the screen by his presence! Basically, he's one of those people made made my childhood and my transition to adulthood a very colourful experience.

Robin Williams' sun has set for the last time, on his own terms. Leigh Blickley wrote a tribute piece which quoted Robin Williams' character, Jack, as he spoke to his class on graduation day. It is one of the most moving graduation speeches I've heard (from one of my favorite Robin Williams movies, Francis Ford Coppola's Jack):
"Please, don't worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting. And if you're ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky when the stars are strung across the velvety night. And when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day... make a wish and think of me. Make your life spectacular. I know I did."
Good bye, Mrs Doubtfire, Peter Banning, Jack Powell, John Keating. You and your brand of comedy will sorely be missed.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Intouchables (2011)

What a movie! This has to be one of the most heartfelt story I've watched since 1992's Scent of a Woman. Story elements from Intouchables actually reminded me of the Al Pacino movie: An elderly disabled man befriends a younger man who gave him an adventure of a lifetime. Al Pacino's performance in Scent of a Woman almost convinced me that he's really blind; Francois Cluzet's performance in Intouchables almost convinced me that he's really a paraplegic!

The movie starts in medias res: the paraplegic and his former full-time nurse (Omar Sy) were driving the paraplegic's Maserati over the speed limit. They were caught by policemen, who instead of arresting them, escorted them to the hospital. It's evident that the two of them are great friends here and the rest of the story, told as a flashback, showed how their unlikely bond grew.

The paraplegic liked that this nurse was different. He didn't pity the disabled guy and he pushed his limits to live a little. He introduced the paraplegic to pop music (well, 70s disco music, really) and made his birthday party more lively. On the other hand, the paraplegic introduced his under-qualified nurse to high-society things, like abstract art (which fetch a whole lot of money) and opera.

Their employer-employee relationship had to end, however, when the nurse had to return home to take care of his siblings and their kids. Despite this, the two remained great friends.

What a movie! I find it powerful emotionally because it shows the dynamic between two friends of different backgrounds. It's lighter in tone than Scent of a Woman, too! 

And the best part... the music! movie put Earth, Wind, and Fire's September to good use. The piano solo Fly by Ludovico Einaudi is a masterpiece! I've downloaded it already... for repeated playing. :)

Friday, August 8, 2014

What's the opposite of push notification?

Over lunch, one sunny weekday, I was seated with my friends by a koi pond eating risotto that I had prepare earlier that day...

One of my friends was complaining that his phone annoyed him a lot because it kept pinging when messages and news alerts came in. He's looking for a one-step solution to silence his phone... he has started putting his phone in airplane mode so it'd stop bugging him with pings. Done!

My other friends were suggesting that he should try turning off the software programs running in standby mode; he wouldn't have any of that because it's a multi-step process. Another friend mentioned that it's a user-problem. All he had to do was to turn off 'push notifications' in his phone.

While this conversation was on-going, I wasn't contributing anything useful because I think all he has to do is turn off the banner alerts during standby (and I had wanted to hear the whole story first). But, as always, in typical poker-faced joker Rochie fashion, I ended up saying:

"Yeah, turn off push notifications and have the phone on pull mode instead."

That made them laugh! Finally, a joke that flew!!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

La fabuleux destin d'Amelie Poulain (2001)

"La Dispute" by Yann Tiersen is a piano piece I'm learning to play along with Cold Play's "The Scientist" and Meredith Wilson's "Till There Was You". "La Dispute" is supposedly easy to play, but it proves to be a stretching exercise for my patience and my perseverance, and the limits of the music learning part of my brain and of my fingers. 

I wanted to learn how to play it because it's such a beautiful piece. Playful, nostalgic (like remembering good memories), and quite happy. So far, I can play up to the 26th measure. Still working on the rest of the piece.

On movie night, we ended up watching La Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain partly so I could understand the context of the music. Although it's in French, there were English subtitles. I'm sure the French speakers wouldn't want to act as translators throughout the viewing.

The film is about Amelie, a woman raised by socially awkward parents and who decided that her destiny was to help people. She's a hilarious character. She took revenge on a neighbor who had fooled her into believing that her camera caused accidents by disconnecting the neighbors antenna from the telly during crucial times of a football match. She fought for the greengrocer's assistant by breaking and entering the greengrocer's apartment and messing with his toothpaste, slippers, and clock. She assisted a blind man cross the road, describing to him what they were passing by. She asked the help of an air hostess to take photos of her father's gnome statue as the air hostess made stops all over the world to encourage her father to go on an adventure. She made complicated schemes to help the people around her and make them happy... it was a remarkable trait! And finally, it was her turn to be happy when she met a man who collected photos from an instant photo booth.

The sense of humor is definitely different from comedies I've watched before. There is, indeed, an element of slapstick in the movie but somehow, it's a bit more subdued... or maybe it's because the movie wants to emphasize on the introvert nature of Amelie and her sneaky ways of helping others. The movie also appeared to focus on social awkwardness and capitalized on it for comedic purposes, reminding me of Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge somehow.

A good way to ease me into French films, I think. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Saturday dinner with culinary classmates :)

It's been months since I've seen them last! I think our last dinner out was in September last year. Wow! Time has flown really fast... And in those months, we've gone on with our lives, touching base mostly through social media. I'm sure they've gone out a few more times without me but that's because I'm based in the province and they're all in the metro.

So on an evening that I was in Makati, I was able to have dinner with some of them! Gelo, Jen, Jella, and I went to Banana Leaf at Rockwell's Powerplant Mall for some Malaysian and Singaporean fare. Roti dipped in curry sauce and pomelo salad set our very Asian dinner mode, followed by beef rendang and other dishes that I couldn't pronounce. Dinner was filled with lots of laughter and catching up. I really missed my classmates... we had a good run in class!

After dinner, Jella helped me to pick out rosé wine, after she said she's connected with Sänti's Delicatessen (which, she said, has a selection of). I remembered that Matty had told me that he's been asking around about where to buy rosé wine and had been told that I was the person to ask. However, Jella and I didn't reach Sänti's because we passed by Bacchus Epicerie first. And that's where I bought for him a bottle each of the four rosés in stock.

And because we carpooled, it was relatively easy to move somewhere else for dessert... we ended up in Wildflour, a restaurant at the Bonifacio Global City. We had cheesecake flan and chocolate cake. Yum yum! The servings were big enough for sharing... good thing we didn't get one cake each!

What an evening! Sa uulitin, classmates!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

This movie spooked me. I guess the thought I had while watching Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was the same one I had when I attempted to watch The Pacific: It was all too real. 

(1) Part of the movie is set in San Francisco, which is just an hour's drive from my parents' place. So the scenes from above the Golden Gate Bridge and from downtown San Francisco, while probably shot using CGI or were shot live in a different city, were too familiar... it's almost akin to seeing your neighbourhood turned into garbage heap by a strong typhoon.

(2) Most of the humans have died because of an epidemic of simian flu. Those who were left were immune to the virus. This epidemic premise sounded awfully similar to that of the medical novel Outbreak by Robin Cook. 

(3) The motion-capture effects were so good that the apes were too real. But despite the ape appearance, I could almost see that the apes have evolved into human-like intelligent beings. And the way the apes fought... that's just too violent for my taste. I mean, I could watch Lord of the Rings (which has a lot of battle scenes) and not get scared of the film because the blood was black, the hand-to-hand combat was almost non-existent, and I know it's set in Middle Earth, not in a real city.

(4) The apes in the movie had human eyes. I could see Andy Serkis right through the ape-leader Caesar, the same way that I could see his expressions in Gollum's face. Goodness, Gollum freaked me out at first too!!

All these prove that the movie was good. So good. I am not watching it again but I do recommend that others see it.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

This used to be my playground

A week after Typhoon Rammasun (also known as Glenda in the Philippines) wrecked part of my house's roof, I received an SMS informing me that I have to visit Lola Batangas' house in Padre Garcia as soon as I could because it was damaged. So I went, the next Saturday, to have a look.

If I was stressed out right after the typhoon passed by my house, nothing could have prepared me when I saw what happened to my grandma's house...

Upon taking the final turn to my family's property, I started getting concerned because the view just had too much sky. Maybe the trees fell or the branches were torn off, I thought. The bananas were down, but that was expected because Rammasun's winds were really strong. The damage couldn't be so bad since I could see that the garage of our katiwala is still there, where his son's car was parked.

I wasn't prepared for what was coming next.

My initial relief turned into shock when I reached the garage of Lola's house. My jaw dropped when I first saw the house... or what remained of it. 

The bodega (on the left) is the last intact structure standing. Second floor decimated. Only the frames remain.

My dad says he used to deposit me here, in the care of my grandparents, when he had business transactions in Lipa City. There's a photo showing a toddler version of me in front of the bodega (I think) attempting to escape my grandpa's grasp to chase after free-range chicken. When I spent summer holidays here as a grade schooler, the first floor of the house was filled to the brim by neighbors watching television shows (some even watch outside through the windows) before the electricity was cut-off every evening.

The skyline was clear because there's no second floor blocking the view anymore! On the left, that used to be the bedroom's window above the bodega.

The second floor used to have bedrooms and a living room. Here, I pored through my elder cousins' old books and music sheets in the morning before Lola Bats would called us to pick vegetables which she'd cook for lunch and dinner. I remember that I really enjoyed going to the vegetable patch in the mornings, which was quite a hike away. My grandma used to have tomatoes, string beans, patani (lima beans), and malunggay (moringa) in the vegetable patch.

On the left, the mango tree where we used to eat lunch under (complete with table around the tree and benches). On  the right, the katiwala's house. In the middle, that used to be the outdoor sink and cooking area.

The mango tree was my very own Batibot (a local version of Sesame Street) set because it's like the hub of kiddie activity: we ate lunch there, played with beetles there, began our coffee farm hikes and water collecting walks (we used to get water from a huge hand pump in the middle of the barrio) there. On the other hand, I learned (well, watched my grandma, more like it) to cook rice and bulanglang (a vegetable dish) with firewood in the outdoor cooking area, imagining that this was Scouting 101. 

This is the view from the outhouse, where we were extremely afraid to go to at night because of the geckoes and the dark (no electricity at night back then). The window, on the right, was of the dining room of Lola's house.

The outhouse was a room that was the stuff of childhood nightmares for my sister, Anna. She's afraid of geckoes that go "too-koo... too-koo" and these sounds were loudest in the outhouse. We've never seen the lizards that make all that racket, which made them even more legendary. 

This used to be a roofed garage where my siblings and I had played hide-and-seek most of the day with the katiwala's kids. 

The garage used to house the barrio's very first tractor (and made my grandpa a figure in the village's history). We also used to ride in the trailer (the cart on the left side of the picture) as it's hauled behind the tractor round the farm and the barrio. What an adventure! That has got to be the best way to see the whole farm fast! It comes, however, as a far second to actually hiking in the coffee farm (now, sugarcane is planted; long ago, it was coffee). On the other hand, farm implements, piles of spare parts, and old tires were the best hiding spots for small kids. In the days before internet, cable tv, and cellphones, we were getting ourselves dirty and dusty here as we gathered circular plastic sheets that we then used as play money. 

This used to be a playground for me, my siblings, and my cousins.

I had my first navigating exercises in the farm because it's easy to get lost under the canopy of kakawate (madre de cacao) with vines of black pepper and distracted by the luscious red berries of coffee trees. No compass; no map (I was either in kindergarten or first grade, I think, because I only got introduced to road maps when I was in second grade)... My dad just pointed features of the landscape which I could use to orient myself in case I got separated from the coffee-picking group. The instruction being, if I get lost, I go directly back to Lola's house (homing instinct, check!!). I can never forget those exercises because I use them when I get lost, even when I'm in foreign land (the search for the Panda Hotel and Hanoi's water puppets come to mind immediately).

The elder cousins, I'm sure, have more stories to tell about this house and the farm. They also used to stay there when my grandpa was still alive. I often hear of them star-gazing for hours on end, or of them getting their first driving lessons from Lolo using the tractor, dragging the disc harrow across the field in bizaar shapes.

So many good memories! That is why it was simply heart-breaking to see the house in ruins. My chest literally hurt! I wish I didn't go alone. It turns out that I was the first of the family to drop by after the typhoon. Nobody else has gone back yet... But what do I expect? I am the one who's most frequently visiting anyway.

Now, the most important question: What am I supposed to tell my grandma when she asks about her house?!?