Still basking in the glow of the May 1998 Philippine reunion -- and recalling the 1996 invitation by Ace to visit the U.S.A. "so as to compare the U.S.' charms with those of Europe" -- I finally said to myself "Why not?" The idea of the U.S. visit was thus discussed with a friend who had already traveled to the places I intended to visit - Efren.
Hinting that a possible trip was being considered, my tentative plans were sent for comments to Ace. After some minor revisions suggested by Ace, the final itinerary was set about a week before my departure date.
LEAVING ON A JET PLANE
Thus, in the morning of June 22, 1998, the excited bagong salta was on the first leg of his three-week tour of the U.S. of A.
The trip was not without some hitches though. My erstwhile confirmed flight from Narita to Los Angeles, for some hazy reason given by the carrier, was diverted to Las Vegas instead. As a result, despite the assurances by the airline rep that the waiting parties in L.A. would be advised of the flight changes, my lady classmate -- who was to meet me at the L.A. airport -- had to wait for more than six long hours, wondering where and what could have happened to her bagong salta colleague.
The scheduled show and overnight trip to Las Vegas arranged by the Grajos had to be cancelled on account of the change in my port of entry. Also, some local trips had to be foregone because some relatives, friends and former officemates of mine, who were living in the L.A. area, invited me to visit them too.
Norma's green thumb is displayed by her flower-laden rose garden: yellows, pinks, reds and whites were all competing for attention. Close to the Grajo's perimeter walls were some Dama de Noche (whose lush growth reminds one of similar luxuriant Dama de Noches in the Philippines). Likewise, the onions, tomatoes, pomelo, santol, guava trees, and strawberries were all thriving and fruiting well. The secret of their healthy growth? Norma's TLC and sweet voice. Soon to share their company were two branches of newly-arrived, true-blooded Philippine siniguelas.
Disneyland was not only for the young but also for the young once. I enjoyed the train rides (twice!) and the submarine dives, encountering the stationary "fierce" razor-teethed sharks and giant octopuses "thousands of fathoms in the sea's abyss". And to show back home that I was at Disneyland, I even harassed a tourist to take my picture in front of Walt Disney's statue. (Mababaw talaga ang kaligayahan ng bagong saltang ito).
The highlight of the L.A. stopover was the mini reunion -- with Nydia Mabalay, Cely Yamsuan, Luisinia Labios, their respective spouses and Emmanuel Pablo -- arranged by Norma. With Frank's barbecued treats and other delicacies brought by the alumni guests, we viewed the tape of the Philippine reunion. The tape must have been engrossing for its viewing extended to the early hours of the following day (with Luisinia willing to continue even with her 6:00 AM work schedule).
There were also some revelations during the mini reunion. Take talent, for example. I did not know that aside from Norma's soft voice and sweet smiles; her way with the plants, trees and ornamentals; Norma also plays the piano well. And the latter, she was able to pass on to her daughter Kristine (including a matching concert voice).
READY TO "LEAVE MY HEART" IN SAN FRANCISCO
The trip to the Alvarez', about an hour's flight from L.A., was not noticable (being fresh with the memories of the beautiful events in LA.). I was also in a state of anticipation of the unexpected in San Francisco. Will the highways be wide and clean, lined with trees several meters deep as well? Will the drivers be that courteous too and the streets almost without pollution like in L.A.? Or, will I see some corncobs and banana peels flying from the car windows this time? Will there be some guys doing their "thing" beside lampposts or against walls? Also, will there be some stray and unleashed animals in the streets? Those were the questions that I asked myself in jest while in the air.
Our flight arrived a little earlier than scheduled at the San Francisco airport. After claiming my luggage, I waited at the front gate and looked for a familiar face. After sometime, I saw Rudy coming out of the terminal. We missed each other inside. While waiting outside, there was this lady, sitted in a parked car, who was occasionally staring at me. It was Tessie! She had seen me much earlier but thought that I was a Chinese traveller waiting for somebody. How about that for the unexpected? (Minsan, May Isang Bagong Saltang Intsik!)
The Alvarez's residence, a well-appointed place, has a back terrace overlooking a wildlife preserve. The preserve has a rugged terrain of thick vegetation that gives haven to birds and animals endangered by the encroachment of big city life. It was here in San Francisco that I spotted a family of deer leisurely crossing the street; hummingbirds fluttering to sip nectar from different blossoms at Tessie's colorful garden; a bluebird gathering the sweet white petals of Rudy's pineapple guava and lovingly offering same -- a beautiful ritual of courtship -- to his mate.
The Golden Gate Bridge and the "Rock" (that is, the old Alcatraz prison) were marvelous sights (specially to a bagong salta like this one). The trips to the Conservatory of Flowers at the Golden Gate Park; the climb to the highest peak overlooking the city; the search in nurseries for the pineapple guava and maple seedlings; the flea market of backyard produce; and the window shopping spree with Tessie's sister Edang were all memorable. But the 'high' of my stay in San Francisco was the discovery (again) that Tessie loves singing and sings well! Without any professional voice coaching, Tessie's singing was simply beautiful. Edang (Tessie's promotional manager) even gave me tapes of Tessie's repertoire. Copies of these same tapes were later enjoyed by the U.S. and the Philippine alumni.
ON TO THE "BIG APPLE"
The third stop on my itinerary was at the dela Peña's in New Jersey. Fort and Chit arranged a day's trip to New York and an overnight stay in Atlantic City (the Las Vegas of the East Coast). We had an enjoyable and thrilling night playing the slot machines in Atlantic City. We also watched "Danger II," a show of death-defying walk on a high-wire; a synchronized motorcycle ride, by four fearless cyclists, inside a round mesh enclosure; and heartbeat-stopping stunt by an archer shooting arrows at an apple-atop-the-head and a cigarette-on-the-lips of his willing-and-brave partner.
The following day, back in New Jersey, Inang (Fort's mom) prepared for us a U.S. version of our Philippine kakanin - guinataang mais and carioca, sans sticks. We also took a special trip to New York to visit Julieta. We had a sumptuous dinner in the company of Julieta's physician husband (Tony) and their daughter Antoinette. Tonette plays the piano very well and also served us her favorite specialty - sweet and colorful pop rice cake.
On my last evening with the dela Penas, we had dinner (together with the Dionisios) at the Pegasus; and tried our luck at the race track. This time, everybody lost (unlike in Atlantic City where Fort went home a big winner). Nevertheless, even with our loses, we all had a grand time.
ROAD TRIP TO THE U.S. CAPITAL
On the drive down to Washington, D.C., Annie and Nilo gave me a tour of the JFK Medical Center grounds (where Nilo works); and the site of the Dionisio's new residence (which was under construction at that time).
The activities planned by Ace and Violy were hectic. First: I "claimed" the Taberna Del Alabardero dinner certificate given by my U.S. colleagues last May in the Philippines. We also went to see the Baltimore's Harbor Place, Holocaust Memorial and Loyola College; Washington D.C.'s White House, Capitol, Washington Monument, new IMF Building, Air & Space Museum, National Art Gallery, Smithsonian Museum, Jefferson Memorial and the Kennedy's burial site at the Arlington Cemetery.
Note that in every stop, my hosts planned a full itinerary for me. Consider also that every time my back was beginning to get "adjusted" on my assigned bed it is time to move on to the next stop. This hectic schedule had a side effect: On the way to each of our destination, my hosts told me, I always dozed off. Not only that, so I was also told, my dozing off was complete with prominent "sound effects."
With friends, it was easy to feel at ease, even in unfamiliar surroundings. One evening (at Ace's), I opened the kitchen's sliding door (not aware of the armed security system) to let in the fresh pine-scented air from the wooded area in their backyard. It was good that Violy was there to de-activate the warning signal. Otherwise, loud sirens would have gone off and really "alarm" everybody.
On the fourth of July, Fort, Chit, Mernilo, Annie, Domingo, Linda (Doming's spouse), Rudy, Lina and Joe came to the social arranged by Violy and Ace. Also present were family friends and relatives of my hosts. During and after the grand dinner, everybody shared delightful moments and colorful stories; Joe supplied the background music at the piano; maestro Rudy refreshed the group's line dancing; and (capping the evening) viewing of the Philippine reunion video. I felt really sleepy then and I sneaked up to my room to catnap (planning to get up later for the evening's July 4th fireworks). I woke up much later than planned when Alyssa-and-friends came back from watching the night's fireworks display.
CRABBING IN CHESAPEAKE, VIRGINIA
Parting the following day was not easy. However, the excitement was also building up for the scheduled crabbing at Joe's place. In fact, a straw hat from China was bought days earlier, in a side street of New York, for the purpose. Before long, we were on the road towards Chesapeake. Highlight of the long drive - the 17.6 mile (!) Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel. That was some sight!
At Rudy's place, it was amazing to find big, red and succulent tomatoes (so unlike the smallish, drought-shriveled and petrified varieties that were available back home) along the sides of Rudy's well-tended and manicured lawn. Seeing the eggplants and bitter gourd vines nearby (all laden with fruits), the first thing that entered my mind was a platter of steaming home-cooked pinakbet. The yard's hedges were also elegantly trimmed and the miniature trees, shaped in various artistic designs. Not to be ignored was the deck-by-the-lake -- which Rudy constructed single-handedly -- that is sandwiched between two plum trees.
True to expectations, the crabbing turned out to be very exciting. However, there was a limit to what one could partake in one sitting. Thus, despite the kettles of steamed fat crabs that could feed a hundred, we had to give up at a certain point.
Joe gave me a tour of the Norfolk Naval Station - the home to the U.S. Naval Atlantic Fleet. Rudy and Lina brought me to the (Douglas) MacArthur Memorial, which I recommend should be a "must see" for every Filipino who visits the area. That evening, we went to visit one of Lina's sister. Her sister's place was surrounded by hundred of towering trees where one could easily get lost inside the dense stands. Given the change, I would not have a second thought to retire in such an idyllic retreat.
Coming back from the beach with Lina the following day, I observed that the drivers were very disciplined and hardly used their car's horn. Driving was relaxed and smooth all throughout. Street islands were even planted with flowering shrubs that thrived well since there was hardly any pollution at all. While enjoying the fresh air at Rudy's deck one afternoon, I noticed the tranquility of the environs; neighbors were sensitive to other people's right to peace and quiet; there were no noisy pets in the backyards nor loud stereo music to disturb one's rest. Likewise, unnecessary loitering around was virtually non-existent.
CHICAGO - MY KIND OF TOWN
My sixth and last tour destination. Chicago's airport was huge by any standard. By the time I reached the baggage claim area, Rudy had already retrieved my luggage. Despite Lyn's busy schedule at the hospital, she was able to join Rudy and me in a tight set of activities. We had a splendid time at the Sears Tower (acclai med to be the tallest building in the world to date); a guided tour of the metropolis; a leisurely promenade along the harbor; and an exciting night a Drury Lane where we dinned and watched the rib-tickling stage play "My Girl."
Esper, who was out of town when I arrived in Chicago, made it on the eve prior to my last day with the Siwas. The four of us had a fun-filled day visiting the Field Museum, the aquarium, the Philippine booth (in connection with the centennial celebrations), the planetarium and enjoyed the invigorating stroll along the shoreline as well. Back to the Siwa's, with a whale of an appetite, we once more savored the special and tasty venison. With lots of fresh, red and juicy tomatoes the venison easily became my favorite request to Lyn.
Early the next morning, Rudy accompanied me to the airport. Esper was there also to see me off. With a heavy heart, it was time to say goodbye. It had been a well spent three weeks of colorful memories with friends, relatives and classmates. All these are new and treasured chapters of my life, a prelude to yet another set of fresh and new "leaves" that will come about in the year 2000.
1998 U.S. Visit
My trip to the U.S. in July 1998 was an eye opener. It made me aware of how well my classmates in high school have adapted to their second country; how some have even opted for another citizenship, perhaps as an alternative move to facilitate their desire for that American Dream and to help a kin or two in coming over to the Big Apple.
In the assimilation process, while they have retained and nurtured the old Filipino ways and values, they have also ingrained in themselves the traits, attitudes and even the sensibilities of the Americans - not only in the manner of their speech, which at time could have a different twang, but also in setting their priorities and in the efficient management of their available time.
There has been this continuous effort to improve themselves too, both professionally and in the acquisition of new skills - for self worth, to gain the respect of their peers in their place of work and to avoid the dependence on available but costly skilled labor.
Not only have they improved themselves, but have also instilled in their children the importance of hard work. These translated to the children being achievers in their own right in academics, arts, as well as numerous extracurricular activties in school.
As a result of such unwavering determination, they have become more self-reliant and their offsprings totally independent at an earlier stage. It was not uncommon therefore that some, presently or in the past, has two or more jobs at the same time. One job for the daily bread and the others, to finance their annual vacations to some distant places, a business or support some relations in the Philippines.
They have likewise appreciated the value of investment. Some have acquired not only one or two houses. Some have sold a moderately priced residence and transferred to a much bigger place - with the intention of possibly disposing the new house later at an advantage. Similarly, others preferred to buy, as a hedge, in a newly-opened housing site, when the cost of real estate there was still low, and disposed of same when the value has appreciated several times over.
It was not surprising to note also that some colleagues who were rather shy in the days past, have metamorphosed into proactive individuals, as accomplished piano players and even warblers of difficult-to-learn songs. Others have earned additional degrees fom good schools, learned carpentry, bricklaying, landscaping, acquired black belts in martial arts, culinary expertise and other talents. Even some big Picasso-inspired oil canvasses on the walls and beautifully designed mailboxes were products of some earnest pursuits.
Judging from the various interactions during the many mini gatherings of classmates and friends, I noticed too the contagious and special bonding among the members of the class, the ever present warmth and the genuine eagerness to see each other. There was even this story of a new emigre colleague arriving in a city where his former classmates were already well-settled. I learned that he got the full support of the group in various ways until he and his family were able to manage on their own.
Such support and outpouring of kindness are not only commendable but also the reason why the NESHS Class of 1958 alumni family's breed and culture are worthy of emulation.
the Lives of Some Alumni
It is with these thoughts that the yugyugan session, sophisticatedly re-engineered as the elitist's "ballroom dancing" came about. Dance instructors, also known as "DIs" or "Attorneys" , somehow were able to elevate the erstwhile not so glamorous trade of dance teachers (in the dance parlours along Quezon Boulevard during our college days) by a few rungs higher in the ladder of special skills and soon became visible in gatherings and other places.
Our Metro Manila group, after the brief taste of the dance mania during the preparation for the May 1998 Philippine reunion, felt that they should hold regular groupings, to update each one of some dull happenings, ventilate pent-up boredom, attempt to catch that elusive grace in the dance floor, bond with each other and sate the seemingly unsatiable taste buds of those with big appetites (like me).
What then is a sample of happenings during the so-called "grouping" day?
. . . An hour or two past lunch time on a Sunday, a member of the group arrives clutching a paper pouch of nibble food, followed by others in close intervals, dressed not in tutu but casually to a "kill" (complete with a pair of comfy shoes that loudly announces to everybody his/her readiness to the impending hazardous "combat". By the latter, I mean the much anticipated graceful aerobics in the company of a suave gentleman of the dance floor whose impeccable rhythmic steps only match his poetic body English.
Awaiting the dramatic announcement of the DI's arrival, and having laid bare on the table the various surprises of the day, each member is invited to sample the blessings while exchanging endless notes of interest. The sprinkle of demure giggles -- which once-in-a-while are punctuated by uncontrolled and boisterous laughter; and particular individuals' signature munches and gulps -- was then interrupted by the announcement of the arrival of the dance master.
The electronic components having been set, the first instruction and dance piece is given and demonstrated to the wide-eyed and eager participants while clasping the hands of their respective equally handsome partners, that's us (ehem).
Starting the dance session then . . ., "a wan . . . a two . . . a three … to the left; aray! Don't step on my foot Eli" someone softly screams at me. "Double step and turn; then sidestep and repeat. Okay, once again and with more grace this time. A wan ... a two ... good. Vicki, kuha mo na. Eli, mamaya pa yang turn na yan ... to the left and three ..."
"Wait, wait, rest muna tayo. Pagod na ako" (hingal, hingal, then sits and loosens the shoe laces to ease the rheumatic pain). Efren starts mopping his beads of perspiration with a beach towel.
After about three or so hours of panting, eating, resting and more eating . . . the group calls it quits. Each one expresses his feeling good after the "recharge" and resolve to meet again sometime.
Last modified: 11/19/08