Well, I've now been in Manila for a little over 2 weeks, and I'm still loving it here. The jazz singing thing I was supposed to be doing kind of fell through, so I've been trying to focus on writing. Not super successfully, but hopefully that changes soon.
But I'm writing this to tell you that I'm full. Full of food (always), family, and just the Filipino way of life. I love it here, and am seriously being spoiled like crazy. You have no idea. I have never been treated so much like a queen in my entire life.
It's just so unbelievable that I'm here sometimes, yet I already feel at home here in Manila. I'm getting used to the city, the chaotic driving/traffic, the late nights and late afternoons, multi-course meals that take 3 hours, and the geography of the city with all of its insane roads is finally starting to make sense.
I wish I could show you what it's like here. All of you. The Philippines is a completely different world from the United States. My camera battery hasn't been charging no matter how much I try to charge it, but I've still been trying to take pictures. Frustratingly, the pictures I'm taking don't really do justice to the things I'm trying to capture, it's just a cheap half-memory of what things actually look like here. The garden filled with tropical plants in the middle of Greenbelt Mall in Makati at night is SO beautiful, for example, and I couldn't take a single non-grainy picture. So frustrating. Everything here is bright and green with riots of color splashed everywhere, the ocean is always so near, making the air very humid, cicadas can be heard so loudly in the foliage all over the city. I want to SHOW you all these things, and I'm so frustrated that I can't. I wish that everyone in the U.S. would know about this beautiful place and come here, that I could share this experience with someone so that it would seem more real sometimes. The culture shock might be a thing, but pretty much everyone speaks English here.
Also, I've been living in the village of Ayala Alabang for the past few days since my cousins and Aunt/Uncle who I'm staying with are in Hong Kong until tomorrow at 8pm Manila time. To explain a little of my limited understanding of the geography of Metro Manila, it's kind of divided into little cities and villages, similar in some ways to the boroughs of NYC and the suburbs. For example, my cousins who I usually stay with live in Pasay City, just Southwest of Makati (which is the center of Metro Manila and what I would equate to a sort of Pinoy Manhattan), and Alabang is further south. Cousins, if you're reading this, please correct me if I'm wrong, I'm just going with my knowledge of cardinal directions here. Ayala Alabang is absolutely, incredibly beautiful. It's much more spread out and spacious than the rest of the places I've been in Manila, where everything is just kind of stacked on top of each other. Here, the houses are huge and most are Spanish looking, and the tropical foliage takes over the entire neighborhood, making tunnels of green as you drive and walk around. Incidentally, Manny Pacquiao, the boxing champion at least 8 times over who is also the second highest paid athlete in the entire world lives in this neighborhood in a really ostentatious house, which we drove by a few times today. Pretty neat!
Right, so about the things I've done in these past 2 weeks, there's so much so I'm going to try and list them in categories.
1) Family: Well, everything I do here is with a family member, obviously. But things specific to the family include eating cuisine from almost every imaginable culture, watching my lawyer-by-day-stand-up-comic-by-night cousin (Richie) in 2 of his gigs, visiting my Ama and Ang Kong and aunt and cousin at the cemetery (see below), and just feeling very spoiled and very loved. I think I'm more Lim than Gilmore personality-wise, truthfully, so the moment I came here, with every family member, it has been like no time has passed. I haven't seen most of these people in 8 whole years, but there has been no awkwardness at all, we all just fit together in this perfect little Asian tapestry of awesome. Seriously. I already feel like I've always been here. My family here is the coolest collection of human beings with the most interesting lives and personalities. I love them so incredibly much, you have no idea how happy I am to be living here and seeing all of them.
The cemetery visit. Very very different from an American cemetery visit, there are a lot of Chinese rituals that my family practices for our deceased, and it's actually really interesting. May 31st is the anniversary of my Ama passing away 15 years ago, so on Sunday, we went to visit. My family is Catholic because of my Ama, even though my Ang Kong was Buddhist, so our funeral traditions included Catholic prayers and the Chinese traditions.
When you go to a Chinese grave (in our case, the Lim mausoleum), it is customary to burn 3 sticks of incense and place them near the grave or shrine for each person who has passed, and then to burn 3 sticks for a small shrine that should be part of every grave to the earth god, Tu Di Kong (in Fujian, it's To Di Kong). You burn 3 at a time by setting them on fire at the tip and shaking them out, so it will smolder, never blowing out the flames because that is considered extremely disrespectful. Afterwards, you hold the smoldering incense with your index fingers on top and thumbs at the bottom, and place the 3 sticks near your forehead. You say a prayer to the person you are burning the incense for, and afterwards, bow 3 times, then place the incense by their grave or shrine. You do this for each family member who is buried there, so we did this 4 times. After this, there are 2 large slightly open cylindrical canisters of sorts (they're about the height of one of my legs, and I'm 5"1), for the burning of the money. Not actual money, but pieces of paper with gold papery stuff (similar to the foil you get off of 5 chewing gum wrappers), that you burn for each deceased member of the family, whether they're buried there or not. Also, each one of these pieces of paper has the names of the deceased on them, so the money goes to the right place. So, we all had to burn sets of money for my Ama, Ang Kong, my cousin Jeffery, my Aunt Nene, my Aunt Ming, my Ninong/Uncle Lucio, and my Uncle Charlie. You burn this "Money" with its gold plating so that way your deceased family members might have money to spend in the afterlife. After that, we offered food to the members of the family who were there, and ate at the cemetery and spent time with the family who was there as is part of the tradition. Before sunset, we said traditional Catholic prayers, and made sure to leave the cemetery by sunset, because staying after the sun is down at a cemetery can anger the spirits and is extremely bad luck.
2) Wakeboarding. We went to this wakepark in this area of Metro Manila called Nuvali, which, it turns out, is a client of my cousin Princesse! Meaning, this new area of Manila, the size of a normal city, was planned by her, where the best luck is to have residential areas, schools, etc. etc. Pretty sweet, di ba? Anyway, my cousin Ninin (Christine) and I were the only two who actually wakeboarded, while my not so physically active but physically supportive family watched us (old joke in the Lim family, we all like to eat. So, I'm going to be fat when I come back). There were 8 observers I believe to watch the two of us wakeboard.
Also, there were some really crazy people there who were a lot better than us, including a woman who I think was Australian who went out without a life vest or a helmet, wearing denim shorts and a t-shirt because she said she wasn't planning on going on the water that day, doing crazy flips and jumping off the half-pipe and ramps in the water. It was awesome to watch her.
3) FOOD. OH MY GOD. FOOD: I am literally eating all the time here. And everything is so delicious. And food here is so much cheaper than in the U.S., and the quality of the foreign cuisine so much higher than anywhere I've ever been. And meals take forever, usually we spend about 2-3 hours at the table. I haven't really eaten much American food here, but even that has been really really good. But, the cuisines I've sampled to date include: French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, German, Belgian, Swiss, American, Filipino, Italian, Australian, etc. etc. I can't even think of all of them. My Australian experience was particularly interesting, there was an Australian-themed Tapas night (which is a Spanish thing, but they themed it Australian? Whatever.) at the Mandarin Hotel where my cousin's Feng Shui shop is, so I ate kangaroo meat. For those of you who are wondering, it tastes kind of like a combination of venison and lamb, that's the closest thing I can come up with.
4) Spa: So, getting massages etc. here is very common and VERY cheap. I'm talking an hour foot massage, (like I had on the 7th) including a back massage and free tea for about 16 dollars U.S., including tip. But yes, I've already had quite a few massages. And people give you massages here for everything, I had my hair cut here and they massaged my back while I was having my hair conditioned. I got my first pedicure for less than 10 bucks U.S., and they massaged my feet and legs. Also, at the hair place, I sang for the hairdresser (by the way, there is literally nothing better than having your hair cut by a hilarious gay Filipino man), and I got my haircut for free because they liked my voice. My Aunt Baby (Arleen) told them all I could sing, I didn't just randomly start singing in the haircut place, but they asked me to and here, you just do what your elders tell you to do. Period. But hey, free haircut!
5) Being foreign: Although I've been seeing a few more fair-skinned people here (especially Australians, and quite a few creepy old white dudes with really young hookers), I'm still definitely a minority looks-wise here, since I don't exactly look like I'm 50% Chinese. So, I'm slowly getting used to random strangers staring at me for extended periods of time, or immediately speaking to me in English and being extra polite, or saying "maganda maganda" (pretty pretty) to me as I walk by. Kind of weird to get so much attention for how I look. Seriously. The amount of people who stare at me, combined with the fact that I'm waited on hand and foot, makes me feel like a celebrity or something. So weird. I don't know how famous people do it, this isn't nearly as bad and I already always feel like I'm under a magnifying glass here when I go out in public.
6) Crocheting: Yeah, so between all the tea I'm drinking here and the crocheting I've been doing for the past 3 days (My cousins Ting and Zarah and Zar's friend Debbie and I took a crocheting class that was actually really really fun at this super hipster mall-ish thing called the Collective, where I got a bunch of fun hipster-y things and drank German beer) is going to turn me into an 80 year old woman by the time I return back to the States. Seriously. I already knit, but picking crochet up at first was really hard. However, I've gotten pretty decent at it in the past 3 days, as in, I can make a mean granny square, see?
|Granny Squares Fo' Dayzzz|
7) Immigration: So, I had to go to the Immigration office to extend my stay, since you can legally only come in as a tourist for 21 days unless you pay for an extension. So I paid about 80 bucks U.S. to extend my stay until July 21st legally. The problem with this is that my flight leaves July 25th, and for an extra 4 days they'd charge me that again. Soooo, since that's about 1/3rd of a flight to Hong Kong from Manila, I might be spending one of the last weeks of my trip here in Hong Kong, so I could return from there with the extra 21 days and not be breaking laws and becoming an international criminal. But we'll see, I'm either going to do that, or we're going to ask immigration VERY nicely to extend it the extra 4 days since it's only 4 days, seriously, and Filipinos are usually pretty nice about that kind of stuff.
8) Chinatown: This happened the same day as immigration, and holy crap, I've never been to anywhere's Chinatown before so this was kind of awesome. We had some dim sum and ran around different shops getting vegetables for my Aunt Nena (Gloria), but we didn't get to stay for too long since I had to go back to pick up my paperwork from immigration, and we went during our half hour wait so we wouldn't be stuck in the super stinky immigration building. I have no idea why it smells so awful in there, but whatever. Hopefully I get to spend more time there exploring, it's crazy in Chinatown, everything is pretty stacked on top of everything, and my cousin said it really is a lot like Hong Kong.
God, I wish I was doing a better job of documenting the stuff I do every day, but I'm never bored and there is ALWAYS something to do. Seriously. This is all the tip of the iceberg of things I've been doing, and I hope I start doing a better job of documenting this. Sometime soon, I'm going wakeboarding again, and then having a shopping day, and having dresses made for me, and going to a speakeasy type bar, but I don't know when all of this is happening since my schedule is kind of subject to my cousins.
Some more quick translations:
Busog na ako: "I am full already." Origin: Tagalog. If you were to translate each word, Busog = Full, na = Already, and ako = me. I have a lot more to learn about Tagalog grammar so I can hopefully start forming sentences independently instead of just speaking in phrases that I know.
Mabuhay: Very similar to the Hawaiian's Aloha, can be both a greeting and a way of saying goodbye. Origin: Tagalog.
Ama: Grandma. Origin: Chinese
Ang Kong: Grandpa. Origin: Chinese
Ninong: Godfather. Origin: Tagalog (Godmother is Ninang)
Fujian: The southern Chinese province where both my Ang Kong and Ama's family originated (Pronounced and also known as Fukien).
Di ba: Right/correct/Isn't it/Don't you think? Origin: Tagalog. The shortened version of hindi ba, but everyone just says di ba.
I love you all very very much, if you want a postcard from me, please Facebook me your address.
Song of the day: Over the Love by Florence and the Machine, from the Great Gatsby soundtrack (still need to see that movie, I fell in love with the book in high school). It's just SO GOOD, and if you know the story, even better. Plus she kills it with her voice in this one, hot dang.