Friday, December 22, 2006

First 14 hours.

Written in: Poblacion, Town of Sta. Maria, Province of Bulacan, PHILIPPINES
Composition: Impromptu, recalling something from 22 days ago.
Previous Post: The Trigger

Riding from the Airport in Tito Nato's Toyota Tamaraw FX, I made it a game to see which parts of the scenery I could recognize and which ones I couldn't.

Even in the dark, things looked eerily familiar, yet surprisingly different.

For instance, one of the last remaining preserved memories of Manila which I could remember was that I should be able to see a lot of Manila Bay from the airport to Roxas Boulevard, even at night.

This wasn't the case anymore. Almost all of it is now reclaimed land. Going northbound through this historical and most scenic of routes in Metro Manila, I should be able to see hotels and high rise apartments to my right, and the bay to the left. The hotels and high rise buildings were there, but the bay... well, it was further away than where I remembered it to be. The only exception was Baywalk - now a major nightspot, as Tito Nato explained.

This general feeling was repeated thoughout the rest of the 45 minute drive to where I'll be staying.

I know these places.

I've been here before.

But yet, they don't quite look like the images from what I personally remember.

North Luzon Expressway, Bocaue exit, Bagbaguin in the Town of Sta. Maria... With every passing roadside view my time capsule of a mind was being constantly updated. Memories from almost a decade ago were being dug up and renewed.

And it wasn't even daylight yet; that wouldn't come for another four hours.

I arrived at my Family's Hacienda at around 0200 local time. Well, that's just what I'd like to call it. It is an ancestral farm and mango orchard in the Barangay (aka Barrio. Barrio however is usually reserved for more rural areas) of Tumana, Sta. Maria, Bulacan. About 500x500metres in size, it is where the houses of Tito Nato and "Uncle" Tito, are situated. I'll be staying at "Uncle" Tito's home, which also happens to be the ancestral home.

(Note: I call my aunts and uncles by the traditional Filipino way of tacking in Tito - Uncle, or Tita - Auntie in front of their commonly used names. My Dad's youngest brother however, is the exception. His name is already Tito - derived from Francisco... somehow Tito was derived from this. Anyway, calling him Tito Tito would sound a bit weird. As a result, all of us pamangkin [nieces and nephews] save the English translation for him.)

After offloading, I was immediately greeted by the whole family and entertained with delicious dinugoan, rice, and the balut that Tito Nato and I bought on the way from the airport.

Before Uncle Tito had started a family of his own, I was one of the youngest of the first cousins in my Dad's side living in Sta. Maria. I left the Philippines when I was 15, and because almost all my other cousins were older than me, they only had growing old left to do. Uncle Francisco's family however, all grew up in the near decade that I was gone. I had seen recent pictures of them, but seeing them in person was another matter altogether.

After the meal, my childhood friend and cousin, Tito Nato's third child and second son, Marco, dropped by. We talked for hours with him doing most of the talking - updating me with the latest and the greatest in what's happened to him and our highschool buddies.

When dawn broke, we decided to go a quick spin in his Mini Cruiser (imitation baby land cruiser...restored through the pukpok method by highly skilled lateros) around the town capitol and sorrounding areas.

If my trip from the airport was an eye opener, cruising around my hometown and watching it wake up was more so. From a frozen Canadian prairie city, minutes away from the Canadian rockies, I was transported to a prototypical developing Filipino town, hours away from the capitol - it was during this instant that I realized, I'm on a completely different place.

I was awestruck, exhilirated, even reduced to monosyllabic expressions of "whoa". I was straining my neck looking left and right, soaking in the town scenery, listening to it stirring and waking up, taking in the smells, and breathing in the thick, humid air - where the smell of agriculture mixed in with the pollution of modern machinery.

I quite positively looked like a newcomer.

Yet, despite it all, never was I dumbfounded. The view I was seeing may be slightly different from what I had in my mental archive that's almost a decade out of date.

Yet. I KNEW this place. I had been here before. I grew up here.

Things have definitely changed. The desire for progress meant that some of the ricefields, woodland, and old edifices that I used to use for landmarks have made way for more and more imposing buildings and structures. Roads are plied by more vehicles, and commerce has produced more and more business establishments.

Yet, scratch the surface, and it's still Sta. Maria.

Driving around town, the sights, the sounds, and the smells, may have changed. Yet, certain key elements to remind me that "this was your home" are still there.

The Municipal hall still remained largely unaltered. The Poblacion Church with its historic, Spanish Era bellfry still stood sentinel at the highest point in town. The River Valley still looked the same with its squatters and their Tumana (Planting by the river's flood plains) crop growing.

And of course, there were the morning sales people, plying their dawn route. Magtatahos (mobile bean curd seller), Mag pa-pan De Sal (mobile breakfast bread seller), Mag so-sopas (mobile breakfast soup seller), all sang a welcoming song that rivaled the Filipiniana band that greeted me at the airport only hours before.


PaAaaAaaan De SaaaAAAaaaaL!
SooOoooPAaaAaaaas Kayo Diyan!

Overwhelmed isn't quite the word, but it's the first word that comes to mind.

Suddenly I'm 15 again waking up to a Philippine morning.

We had breakfast at a highschool buddies' place, Marvic, in the Barangay of Santa Clara. Cousin Marco was trying to contact everyone but only Marvic (Vic) was available to be disturbed. We chatted for a good hour or so at Vic's place, and then when I indicated to Marco that, pare, umiikot ba ang mundo oh talagang hilo pa ako? (duude, are the sorroundings moving, or am I still all jet lagged?) We decided to head back to home base. I also used that opportunity to call Dad and Mom in Calgary to indicate that I had arrived in one piece.

I spent the rest of the afternoon checking out the home farm, our old compound and my old home, and of course, catching up with everyone I could recognize.

All this time I was still wearing my inside white shirt and the blue jeans I wore in the flight. I had changed to sandals, but I hadn't even unpacked yet. I hadn't even dug out my camera - hence why this post is barren and devoid of images.

I don't quite remember the time, but it was before dinner on the 30th of November 2006 when the household phone rang. I was lying in bed, but not napping because I was too wired for that. I hadn't even spent 14 hours in Philippines.

It was my Dad again, calling from Calgary.

What, so soon? I thought. We just spoke hours ago to say everything went well.

But he wasn't calling to say hi. He was calling to tell me that my Lola, my last remaining Grandparent, my Mom's Mom, had died.

Next Post: The Evening of November 30th 2006


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