From Enchanted Kingdom to Enchanted Living
The following are from personal experiences alone… Across the street from where I lived in Sta Rosa, Laguna was an amusement park. I initially thought it
had something to do with Disney or Disneyland because of the title, “Enchanted Kingdom,” but that was not the case.
My neighbor called me over to meet a girl who was visiting Martha at the townhomes. I think Martha wanted to fix me up but that was not so easy because I am disabled and not rich. The visitor’s name was Maria and she was with her friend whom I always called the “Ano” girl. Every time I would say something that girl would say, “Ano?” That word in Pilipino means, “What,” but I didn’t know that at the time. She thought the nickname funny and now I know why.
Just like the neighbors on the opposite side of me with friends over and talking in front of the townhouses. I could hear every word, though; I did not understand the language. I did know this unkind word, however, asshole. That was the only word I could make out…I wondered, “Are they talking about me?” Well I walked to the front door that was open and asked them, “Who are you calling asshole?”
Without missing a beat they began laughing and told me in English, “We are not saying, “Asshole. We are talking about the dog. Dog in Tagalog is, “Aso.” There, I learned and never forgot that word. I noticed that word when I had lunch a few years later in Sagada at their hospital and on the hospital menu. Aso Adobo was their luncheon special of the day. I didn’t eat there, but my Filipino friends (kaibigans) did and probably thought I was being boorish because I wouldn’t eat there. I t wasn’t because I deemed it so unconscionable, but because I kept envisioning my pet dogs.
Maria, Ano and I became very good friends while delivering a mattress to Maria’s aunt, who lived in La Union, a province to the north.
The very afternoon of meeting them, I was asked if I would like to take a little trip with them to that province because the mattress needed to be delivered that evening. “And,” she said, “My aunt is looking for someone to rent a room. Her townhouse is right near the sea, do you think you’d be interested?” Well I was excited to see the place and yes, I was on an island and so thought that I should be living near the sea.
We rode in a small moving van and there were four of us riding in the cab, which was illegal in the U.S. But this is the land where I’ve seen as many as seven on a motorcycle with sidecar, ha-ha-ha. We traveled north out of Sta. Rosa about 30 miles to Manila and then we were pulled over in one of Manila’s other cities.
Pulled over because of my American–looking nose and features, or so I was told by my kaibigans, and I understood. It was close to suppertime and the Pilipino Police figured they could shake us down by telling us we broke one of their laws and thereby get their supper and then some, paid for with money donated to them as a fine.
We paid their little made-up fine and were on our way again…next stop was, Tarlac the capital city of, Tarlac Province. We got out and stretched and had a snack at (the equivalent to a
truck-stop in America) a place where buses would stop and people would change carriers. It was dark now (the sky is lit up for 12 hours and then the moon casts its light for another 12 hours.) and the mood of everyone had changed. The driver (a cousin of Maria’s), the Ano girl, Maria and myself were more sullen and serious, but still happy whenever speaking. We still had approximately 70 miles to go to Bauang La Union I was told.
Back on the road, we all became jovial once again, especially the “Ano” girl and myself. Her and I got along so well and when we finally arrived at the townhouse it was too late to unload so they just pulled the truck inside the gate of her aunt’s place and we spent the night. The driver and the mover, a guy riding in the back, had friends’ near there so they walked to their homes and spent the night while Maria’s aunt Flo and her maid fixed the rooms for us to stay in. and offered us food.
In the Philippines it seems that everybody knows everybody else. How can that be? Well it’s just that the circumstances of nearly all Filipino’s are the same so there is a kinship, empathy of all being in the same boat, so to speak.
The “Ano” girl and I sat up in the upstairs room talking for hours and I thought I was in love. I think she was scared though of what she was about to do. Her pen-pal from America was coming for her in one week and so she was nervous. That was the reason she hung on my every word and why we joked around so freely. We laughed together about the names of some of the things in sa Pilipinas. Only because they were so foreign sounding to me, I mean proper names like – Dang, that was the name of one of my maids and Dong, the name of my fitness instructor at the, “Friendship Gym” in Limay Bataan. Nearly all Filipinos met proved to be beautiful, warm and helpful people.
I met her pen-pal when she had invited me for a barbecue back in Sta. Rosa. The people at that barbecue included her mother, Maria, and her sister who was missing an arm. I empathized with the girl because I was missing part of my brain. At least the “Ano” girl was going to a nice city in California… Stockton. And I never saw her again, however, she will always be thought of fondly.
Well that’s it for this post but will continue with my life in La Union next time…
The Impulsive Move
The “Ano” girl, Maria and I were taking a walk in the quaint, little downtown area of San Lorenzo when a guy approached me and asked, “Can I have your autograph?”
I didn’t know what he was talking about or if he was talking to me? While the “Ano” girl spoke to him in Tagalog, Maria said to me, “He thinks you’re Sylvester Stallone that’s why he asked for your autograph.”
“Really? Tell him I’m not Sylvester.”
“That’s what she is telling him now, but it doesn’t matter because seeing, ‘Sylvester Stallone’ makes him feel good.”
“Ahh okay…” and I laughed and then he glanced in my direction and laughed too.
But the “Ano” girl said, “He still wants your autograph…” I signed, Sly, and we both laughed ha-ha-ha as we parted ways.
“Ano’s” fiancée had business to take care of in Manila but he would be back in a few days and then they would be flying to America. Maria’s mother was trying hard to fix her other daughter (the one-armed girl – Jinky) and myself up for a date. But you know what? Jinky and I had conversed privately in the living room of their home when I was there for that cook-out. We both acknowledged that we knew what was going on and we agreed that love couldn’t be forced.
She had a boyfriend and I, sort of, had a girlfriend. I say sort of because it was more of a sex thing for each of us but love was definitely involved. Claudia would leave for a period of time occasionally, though; she would tell me when she had to go and offered where as well. That’s just how it was. She was trying to help her younger sister’s through school and once she even had to take a flight to collect her money in a big city on another island. I was confident that she was being truthful with me. Claudia never once asked for money to fund her trips.
I met Claudia the day before I had to leave for America. The meeting took place at my neighbor’s place, as Martha was the one to set us up.
Claudia presented herself as a single lady without kids. She didn’t tell me about her son until after I returned from the U.S. Filipinas can be wily creatures. Of course, I supported Claudia and her son all the while, financially while I received support from her in other, more personal and intimate ways.
I was able to purchase, for her parents’, things so they could remodel their bathroom with a shower and flush toilet. Claudia’s mom went with me and she picked out a nice water purifying system for their kitchen tap so they could also sell water to those less fortunate than themselves. There are many less fortunate than Claudia’s family because at least her mom had a good job with an insurance company and was one of their top agents. Even at that, their home like nearly all in the Philippines had no indoor plumbing.
I spent a week at their home on a smaller island to the south of Luzon and it was a real eye opener. I had always stayed at nice hotels or rented nice homes with indoor plumbing. This place though a good size, had chickens entering through the always-open front door and strolling about the dark living room. There were no screens or glass on the windows, but blankets covered the openings to keep the burning, hot, sun out.
Sleeping there was the first time I had ever slept under mosquito netting; the bugs were much bigger than any I’d ever seen, so I was grateful. The next morning Claudia’s younger siblings proudly escorted me to the bathing river and that was also their natural laundry.
Many Filipinos dotted the clear water on both sides of the river, mostly washing clothes and shyly giggling at the foreigner bathing. I must admit that I had never in my life seen a river so wonderfully clean; I could see straight to the bottom very clearly.
Anyway Maria, “Ano” and I moved things from my place like thieves in the night. Maria told me that we would have to move things that evening because then the truck would have to be returned.
So the three of us moved things hurriedly from the upstairs bedrooms and bath to the awaiting van. Then we went downstairs and collected the refrigerator, stove, desk and living room furniture, dining room table and chairs and got those things in the truck. We went back inside and got all of the smaller items and set them in a cooler. That cooler was my neighbor’s and in all the rush I must have forgotten. I gave that back to her and left her with all plants. There were many plants because the indoor courtyard I had transformed into a kind of greenhouse with orchids even – Classical lady loved Orchids and after all she had made the space into a garden of her own liking.
It was kind of a rush departure and even my neighbor mentioned, “I thought you would wait until tomorrow.” I explained to her that the moving van needed to be returned soon so I had no choice.
My neighbor and I said that we would miss each other and I waved bye to the small group nearly always sitting outside her “Sari” – “Sari” Store. We were on our way without much fanfare because it was nighttime. All the ‘Pinos said their goodbyes and again, I can’t emphasize enough how intertwined all Filipinos are. Their closeness is unbelievably, fantastic!
The van was loaded and Marie’s cousin, the driver, released the emergency brake as we rolled gently off the four inch curb at the front of the patio and we were on the road again…I loved road trips.
We spoke of the many varieties of flowers (bulaklak) in sa Pilipinas…Yellow Bells, the Shy Flower that closes up each time a finger gets close, the Bougainvillea well that is a flowering
bush or vine but has hundreds of beautiful flowers. There really are too many to start naming. Then, there are the tall Coconut Trees with their magnificent palms but my imagination was deflated when I saw the small Banana Trees that grow everywhere on the islands. I wondered why, Bananas shipped from the Philippines to the U.S. had way less bruising than the ones purchased in the Philippine super markets?
We stopped at the Tarlac bus stop to stretch and get a snack. There were always busses coming and going, to and fro from the big city of Manila. After our rest and stretches, we went onto Bauang.
Again, we arrived there in the middle of the night but that was ok and was seemingly all right with anybody we had to wake. In all my trips over there I never once saw a Filipino get up crabby. That night “Ano” and I were quiet, but still talkative to one another. We sat in my new diggs – just a room with a CR (comfort room) down the hall.
Still unsure if what she was doing was right, we talked. There was a little mattress on the floor and that would do until I got my things up here. It gave us a comfortable sit. I put some music in the stereo and played it softly so as not to wake anybody. We began talking of the music and how our tastes were very similar. She asked questions about America and I asked about the Philippines.
The air con was on, but still the cooler air became stuffy, so I suggested we go out on the deck and the night (like most) was near perfect. We talked of the stars and I mentioned that where I lived in the country billions of bright, twinkly stars could be seen, but that I hardly ever notice a one in the Philippines.
“Ano” told me, “I am really excited to go to America and see that and is it true that the weather there is similar to here?”
I had to be honest…”It is nothing at all like your weather, at least not where I’m from. You are going to California though and their weather is always or at least mostly fine and without the humidity being so oppressive.” The temps here are always near a hundred; it seems, with the humidity levels to match. I couldn’t think of anywhere in the U.S. that matched the jungle temps. “This night air is perfect with just a drifting breeze off the sea.” We both could have spent the night right out there, but she was getting cold so I did the gentlemanly thing and hugged her. I really loved the mood set in part by the music, the night air, the darkness and the girl. And though I would never say it, I really loved her!
“Magandang umaga”…good morning in Tagalog the national language of the Philippines. I stepped out onto the balcony to see what was going on because I heard a Filipino singing, “Pa-a-a-ndesal…Pa-a-a-a-andesal…Pa-a-a-andesal…” He was riding a bike with a basket filled with a bag full of bread, but not just any bread…Pandesal bread. That taste treat is an early
morning, warm, biscuit-like bread, and masarap – delicious! And our next-door neighbor who was on the balcony of her town home waved him over (their, “come here wave” was not overhand and bent at the elbow, but their arm would be outstretched, palm facing down and repeatedly bending the fingers under). Pandesal was the perfect accompaniment for the Longanisa links (little sausages).
There were also fish to eat that morning, but as I grew-up in the middle states of America, I could not fathom eating fish for breakfast. Well that phobia has since disappeared and now I enjoy that taste, occasionally. Even for breakfast – especially in the Philippines!
And now as I enjoy a lunch of chicken (manok), pancit bihon, and Pandasal, I think back to the sights, sounds, and smells of my time in La Union. I think, even though Stephanie was born in Bataan Province, that Bauang, La Union was my home in the Philippines.
You would have thought I was royalty or something. They introduced themselves in English and some right on the spot asked, “Do you want to go out with my daughter? She is getting old…she is already twenty-two. You can marry her if you like her.”
What, was I hearing right? “I have a girlfriend but she isn’t here right now…”
“Oh but you need somebody with you all the time because of your condition.” Darn it! I thought I blended somewhat! But now twenty-four years post accident; I realize I’ll never fit or blend. The Pilipino people knew there was something wrong with me for a question often asked of me was, “Why you move like that?” But that question didn’t ruffle my feathers in sa (the) Pilipinas because they truly did not understand but were sympathetically aware that there was something a little off kilter.
After most had left except of course the movers and my soon to be good friends, Manong, and his wife, Raina, (I am unsure of the spelling) we finished the task at hand…moving my things. Claudia later told me that Manong is a term used for all Pilipino males) I don’t know for sure.
While we talked inside and outside because I was busy going from the truck, up the stairs, putting things away, and then going back down and out to the truck again. The guys that helped me move were in and out, but mostly out now, trying to figure how to get the mattress up there because they were unable to make the sharp turn with it at the top of the stairs, they tried but it was back down the stairs with it.
Manong came up with an idea (Pinoy ingenuity they would call it) and he asked, “Do you have some rope?” Well I didn’t but I noticed a little Sari-Sari store when we drove in, maybe they would have some. I gave him some money and he went to that store and came back with a used rope, returned my money and said, “They didn’t have any rope for sale but they had some for us to use.”
And that was how life was in the Philippines. The people were all in the same boat (except for the corrupt politicians and businessmen) and so automatically helped their brothers’ out.
The truck was backed almost under the balcony so that when the mattress stood on end they didn’t even need the rope. The two movers stood on top of the trailer part of the truck and hoisted it up to Manong who waited on the balcony and pulled it in (all I could do was guide it) so that big problem was solved.
I was there for a day and got in touch with a physical therapist in Bauang. Theresa (the lady I spoke with on the phone) recommended two therapists and asked if that would be okay? Worried about the cost, I asked how much it would be? When I was told PHP’s (Philippine Pesos) 240 and after figuring in my slow mind the exchange rate, I said, “Sure let’s do it!” I was thinking that I would be the one to get to their clinic, but when they offered to come to my place I said, “Sure that would be great!” and I immediately began apologizing for I was only renting a room. Not bothered by that in the least, I gave directions and the twice-weekly sessions began at my home the next day.
For sure I will get better now because I’ll be able to almost exclusively concentrate on my therapy. That therapy was just as good and the same as what I had in the U.S. Albeit 10 years ago. Instead of walking on a treadmill I pedaled a stationary peddling machine that they took out of their therapeutic bag of useful items. While doing the exercise, listening to the soft sounds of ENYA and feeling a gentle, warm breeze, wafting through the air as the hottest part of the day had passed, I came up with a suggestion, “Could we go for a walk along the beach for my therapy? That way I would be walking on uneven ground and sandy ground, different textures of land because we’ve got to go over the grassy area to get to the beach. What do you think?”
They both thought about it briefly said something in Tagalog or maybe it was Ilocano and replied, “Okay, but it will be part of your therapy.” I knew that and expected nothing more. It was like the time spent at the rehab facility in the U.S. when I asked to go outside in regular, everyday places to see if I could be heard. Those therapists said they could hear me fine, but I don’t think so. I just wanted to practice in real life situations and not in a quiet room, talking, or pedaling a stationary bike.
After all, I would not be spending all of my days inside…
Part IV: Boredom Setting In
I so looked forward to my afternoons twice a week to meet with my therapists once again. We would regularly take walks along the beautiful, resort-filled beach. I remained in my room or on the balcony, mostly until those days.
I most definitely was not the Steve of old. What I mean is that before the car accident I was the life of a party (I was known as the, (”Party Animal”) and I loved mingling with others. However, since the car accident and my wife of sixteen years leaving me the desire for fun and friendship had come to a close. Even the landlord, who lived right downstairs, would invite me to dinner but usually, I would refuse so, Flo stopped asking.
I hated my jerky, uncoordinated and unorthodox movements; I stayed in that cool room and balcony except for the occasional foray to the city of San Fernando. But, I hated going by myself because most assuredly an ate (older Philippine woman) would ask, “Where is your asawa (wife)?”
Then I would mention that I was not married and the questions began flying. “I am not rich and I am disabled” I would tell them before more questions flew in my direction.
One lady told me, “Ahh, you know what happen to the rich ones” Well I didn’t but I was certain she would tell me. They have beautiful, young/ Filipina wife but when he goes back to America or wherever, she gets with Pinoy while foreigner is sending money to her. (I know that is not true in most cases. The Filipina is mostly a loyal companion, though; a little conceited with their beauty). Knowing that they are beautiful makes for fun flirting and it isn’t necessary for the end result to be bed; it could just be entertaining flirts that do not hurt anyone but bring joy to both.
My first stop or last one was at, Esperanza’s, where I could get a good cup of brewed coffee as opposed to “Sanka” or “Nestle’s” instant. And their pancit Palabok was delicious as well as
their Halo-Halo’s. Their bakery with the many choices was another reason for always going there.
Then I would meander to their small history museum and always purchase some little trinket. From there it was on to the department store to purchase shirts or pants. I recall that I had not fully gotten accustomed to their exchange rate and I was astonished the pants were four hundred pesos. But then I did the little equation in my sorry mind. I realized that in American dollars they were very affordable; at the time; only ten dollars while jeans in America at that time were about fifteen or more. I was perceived as a rich foreigner and (this rarely happened) was asked for a tip by the cashier. I acquiesced with a hundred pesos; roughly two dollars and twenty cents, roughly.
Claudia and the Fun We Had (most of the time)
I received a text message early one morning at approximately five A.M. Claudia was in San Fernando. Even though I had told her where I was moving to, I never thought I’d be seeing her again. She came just in time, as I was running out of patience with my slower than snail-like improvements.
I called her back right away and told her as best I could how to get to my place from San Fernando. “You went too far and passed the stop, but that’s okay because you’re close. Take the, “Rabbit” bus to the, Paringao, stop. And when you get off walk down the near pathway to the townhomes on your left; they’re kind of a faded salmon color, or pink with green trim. I am in the third one and I’ll wait for you outside in front of the unit, okay?”
I was excited to see her so ambled as quickly as I could to the shower. I got all ready and made my way down the dark stairs to where my landlord and her maid were sleeping on the small couches. Flo normally slept down the hall from me, but last night was extremely hot so she was downstairs with the large floor fan whirring and keeping things cool.
The both of them were awake so I told Flo that I was going outside to wait for my girlfriend who just texted me. Instead of being upset with me for perhaps waking them, she seemed excited that a Filipina was coming to my rescue.
I walked by them and past the statue of the saint given her to watch over for one year by her church. I had attended church with her on the day that the statue was held up high and marched in a parade procession to her home. Banquet tables were set up outside the townhome and laden with a cornucopia of food on that special day.
It was still dark outside, a morning dark only because the sun would begin brightening and heating the day in about an hour. The Philippines have twelve hours of sunlight, from six in the morning, until, six in the evening.
Actually that time of day, just before sunrise afforded comfortable, fresh, quieted and non-busy air. I was truly enjoying the time and the anticipation of what was to come.
Claudia arrived without my even calling her. She came without her son and told me that she would stay and give up her business of selling through a slim catalog, women’s clothes and perfumes. She would stay by my side. What she did during the next few days was unbelievable to me.
Flo was becoming uncomfortable with renting that room to me because I now had a lady staying with me, and though, all Filipinas’ have a natural bond with one another it was time to find another place.
Claudia and the therapists got along superbly and they told her of a little two-bedroom house on the other side of the highway and down a path for a ways. Claudia didn’t tell me but she went to see it first and then told me about it.
She came to me because she knew to begin looking for a place right away. Claudia told me she found this little place across the road and wondered if I would like to see it that afternoon after therapy.
“Yeah, I sure would,” was my reply.
“It’s a little bit of a walk, but it has two bedrooms, a porch, front annnnnd a back door. The yard is big and there were Karibow (water buffalo) mga manok (chickens), and Kambing (a goat). There are also fruit trees on the property, Mango, Calamansi (like tiny lemons), Tamarind (a tasty seed or nut), and Sineguelas (once ripe and red they are sweet and juicy and packed with vitamin C). The only problem is the location. It is back there quite a way. Could you handle that?”
“Hey, it sounds ideal!”
“And the price is less than half of what you paid in Sta. Rosa only, Php 4000.”
Well I was sold and wanted to see it immediately, “Don’t worry about the walk for me; that will be good therapy.” That afternoon, the three of us walked there to see it as part of my therapy.
I was expecting a dilapidated, rundown, not very nice place but was I ever wrong. We went through the farmland and the treed path and came upon a clearing and there it was! My first thought was that it wasn’t the one she was talking about because this was a cute, little dollhouse…
”This is it, Steve. Do you like it?” Wow did I ever and I couldn’t believe the low price. “Does it have indoor plumbing – running water? A shower, and a toilet well alam mo (you know).” When she told me that it did, I moved in closer and the owner had left a key with the neighbor.
The Fernandez’ (the neighbors) well actually Mrs. Fernandez or, Fe, like she wanted to be called gave the key to Claudia and we went inside to check things out.
Though small inside it afforded us privacy, was nice-looking and had a porch and many trees. Animals came and went from the farms around there; the place was ideal! I wanted to move fast on the place so mentioned to Fe that, “I have to give notice where I’m at but I will definitely take this place! Php 4,000 korek (correct)? I introduced myself and Claudia and the therapist also.
To be continued…