Our First Trip To Southeast Asia (The Philippines): 1992-93

The Philippines segment

Wednesday, December 16th. We rode out to Chiang Kai Shek International Airport for our Philippines Airline flight to Manila and arrived in Manila at 1:20 p.m. Today was also the first day of Simbang Gabi starting the Christmas season which meant that family members from all over the Philippines were converging on Manila for family reunions and the terminal was jammed with people as was the parking lot, with chrome and decal covered jeepneys packed with families. Our driver maneuvered and negotiated his way out of the parking lot and through Manila to our affordable room at the Royal Palm Hotel on Mabini Street in Ermita. Mabini Street is hard to describe except to say that the local Catholic church is especially devoted to its moral rehabilitation. Apart from the electric brownout that hits the city each afternoon, it's a suitable room with T.V. and air conditioning while the power is on. We called Clyde's old family friend, Roberto Masbang, who was thrilled to hear from us and promised to come pick us up on Friday to take us to Angeles. It sure made us feel less like strangers and more like family.

Thursday, December 17th. carabao We walked down to Rizal Park today and enjoyed an afternoon watching the ships out on Manila Bay and strolled through the Chinese Gardens where a number of couples go to be alone together. Lots of children at play which we missed seeing in Taipei's parks. The kids who recognized us as Americans smiled and greeted us saying "Hey, Joe!" Rizal Day is only a few weeks away and his statue is being spruced up. President Ramos left for Thailand today on a State visit, and was reassuring nervous citizens in English and Tagalog that the government was in good hands during his absence. Still, we checked out the distance to the American Embassy a few blocks away - just in case.

Friday, December 18th. Bert picked us up at the hotel about 1:00 p.m. in his Toyota and we chatted as we drove up to Angeles. I saw carabao for the first time and we stopped to shop at the new Paschalwan Christmas Market for duty-free items and souvenirs. We arrived at Bert's home about 4:00 p.m. and met his wife Precy, his three children, Kathryn, Archibald, and Benedict, and, of course, Lida. Lida had been the house girl for the Zuber family when they were in the Philippines about 18 or 20 years ago. It was a great reunion with lots of exchanging of pictures and catching up. There was no phone in the house but the two boys were glued to their Super Mario game on the T.V. Bert had named add-on rooms to the house by each country he had visited for the government. After dinner, he drove us to the Century Resort Hotel on MacArthur Highway, but, because the volcanic lahar from Mount Pinatubo had wiped out several bridges, we tried a shortcut across a little gully in the volcanic ash. Unfortunately, the car conked out there in the dark, but a number of guys came over and helped to push us to the other side of the gully. The hotel room was fine though the smoke detector kept beeping in the hallway (low on batteries?) Angeles reminded me of Myrtle Beach property with the mounds of white ash looking like sand from a distance. The closing of Clark Air Force Base has hurt many businesses (and shut a number of them next to the base), but the city is very much alive.

Main Gate Saturday, December 19th. Bert drove us up to the main gate at Clark Air Force Base and we tried to get in for brief nostalgia tour of whatever Mount Pinatubo hadn't buried. However, the Philippine military wasn't disposed to accommodate us, so we looked up Clyde's old off-base home which even had a sari-sari stand right across the street where we got a Sarsi (kind of a sarsaparilla drink). Clyde was excited pointing out where things had happened and how the back yard and the neighborhood had changed. We spent the afternoon by the hotel pool talking, watching the swifts swoop over the water as a wedding party filed in and the tropical sun set. We found an interesting new restaurant called "Oh! Anong Sarap!" ("delicious") and had dinner in their sidewalk cafe then walked down the street to get some good ice cream made, in part, from carabao milk.

off base house

The Zubers' first house in Villa Sol subdivision. That palm tree in this photo was two feet tall!

Sunday, December 20th. Bert picked us up for Sunday morning mass and we enjoyed the service and the worship, trying to follow the mix of English, Tagalog, and Pampangan. We sang, following the hymns on the overhead projector. We had invited Lida to go with us on the bus up to Baguio that afternoon, and she agreed to join us. Bert found a bus headed in the right direction. However, it was pretty crowded, so we sat on our bags in the aisle for awhile as vendors jumped on the bus and squeezed past us to sell food between stops. We later found seats as the bus began climbing into the mountains. Lida was very nervous about the steep and narrow highway (made narrower by the earthquake two years ago), but felt better when the bus got to Baguio. We got a taxi to Camp John Hay (now administered by the Philippine Tourist Authority) where we got our own cottage (the "Canadian Goose"). [Map of Camp John Hay]

The PTA had hired 90% of the former employees and the grounds and golf course were beautifully maintained. We had two guards on duty near our cottage who seemed to spend time sitting on the swing set for lack of much to do. The camp has a friendship garden which now flies the Philippine flag alone, without the U.S. flag next to it. The garden's stone retaining wall had slid down the hillside somewhat due to the massive earthquake that shook Baguio two years ago. The cool clear mountain air feels more like Colorado than the tropics, but I guess that's what the Americans liked about it. These days, there is a virtual Filipino metropolis crammed into what had been a small resort town.


Bert, Precy, Benedict, Kathryn, Archibald, Lida, and Martin

Monday, December 21st. We toured Baguio today with Lida (and got our laundry done at last!) Lida was great company and spoke with merchants and taxi drivers in Tagalog which invariably got a more enthusiastic and articulate response than our English. The camp has a whimsical American feel - there's a "cemetery of negativism" full of bad puns and positive thinking, carefully maintained borders of daisies and dahlias swarming with white butterflies a major gold course, and also a miniature golf course with giant plastic cartoon characters for obstacles. The golfers are all Filipino now, of course. We went over to the Easter Weaving School and bought sweaters and other goods. The workers are from the local Igorot tribe with their own dialect, so they and Lida couldn't converse with each other about the merchandise. We all visited the local market and had dinner at "Tom Sawyer's" where we could choose among American, Japanese, and Filipino cuisine. Lida remembered what a picky eater Clyde had been as a little boy, and was surprised when he ordered Filipino food. She recommended the calamansi juice (which was great as was the guibano juice). Seemed a shame to cultivate all these tastes which we won't be able satisfy back in the USA. Back at the cottage, we call Richard Milligan long distance and chat with him.


1971 WHS graduate Laurel (Zuber)
and Richard Milligan, July 20, 1985

Tuesday, December 22th. About 2:00 a.m., I awoke with a jolt, telling myself that a truck had rumbled by but knowing in my stomach that the ground had lurched. I decided not to bring it up, but Lida commented on the same thing. No other tremors though. Happy news - this morning we called up Clyde's folks in California who told us the very recent news that Richard and Laurel now had a second adopted child - little Mason Skylar Milligan. We have breakfast on the restaurant on the 19th Tee and are determined to find some quality wood carvings. We ascertained that the best wood carvers are on Assin street which is less accessible since the earthquake so we found a taxi driver who wasn't afraid to wind his way up and down steep roads, and we got 15 manger scene figures. We also found some beautiful filigree silver at the St. Louis Silver School. We spent dinner talking with Lida about coming to the U.S. and how that might be arranged.

Wednesday, December 23rd. We found the Camp John Hay Museum and learned about the tribes of northern Luzon and the history of Baguio (founded in 1903) and the Camp (bombed by the Japanese on December 8, 1941). After lunch, we left the Camp for the bus station. For some reason, the gate guard saluted us - though I don't think anyone could have mistaken us for officers. Together with Lida we found and boarded a crowded Philippine Rabbit for a long haul back to Angeles. Lida didn't like the downhill climb much better than coming up, but she didn't complain. The scenery interested me though, the rice paddies are an intense yellow-green and each small town had an impressive white franchise-cathedral of the "Iglesia ng Christo" sect. In Angeles, we crammed into the back of a jeepney (sure puts the "public" in public transportation) and rode back to the hotel and Lida returned home. Unfortunately, we got back to Angeles too late to see the Christmas Lantern Festival. We ordered dinner in the hotel's coffee shop and waited awhile for the meal. Clyde finally spotted our waiter through the window, pedaling his bike down the street to the Peking Restaurant to pick up our meal. They weren't really set up for dinner guests, it seems. Appreciating that we were Americans, they immediately turned on the color T.V. for us. We saw old episodes of "Mission Impossible" and cigarette commercials that I hadn't seen in twenty years.

Thursday, December 24th. I called home to wish my folks a Merry Christmas and did some studying. I had a headache and went looking for a drug store and a bottle of Excedrin only to find that the corner pharmacies have no American name-brand "pain relief" products and simply sell you a few pills at a time for whatever ill you have. They must not have the same over-the-counter pain-hype that we get in the U.S. Bert picked us up later for the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass which was so well-attended that they needed a second service in the nearby school gymnasium (this after nine days of 4:00 a.m. morning masses!) Afterwards joined the family for a huge Buena Noche Philippine feast and talked until around 2:00 a.m. We were exhausted that night.

Friday, December 25th. We watched the Pope on T.V. this morning doing the midnight mass at the Vatican and then got some Chinese fare at the Peking Restaurant for brunch and wait for Bert who has had a flat tire. Fortunately, it happened near a mechanic shop run by Jehovah's Witnesses, who, not celebrating Christmas, were open for business and willing to help. Bert invited us to join him and his family took us out to visit his relatives in San Vacente today, which is much more rural than Angeles. We enjoyed meeting Bert and Lida's father and the rest of the Masbang family. One of Lida's brothers took us out for a drive in a jeepney with the kids out into the country to a small barrio. To spare us having to walk across a foot bridge, he generously tried to maneuver the jeepney across a creek but the vehicle got stuck and Bert had to assist in getting it free. Meanwhile, we hiked with the kids up the hill, admiring the lake and the fruit trees and enjoying the breezy sunny day on the foot of the mountain. We met a number of carabao who aren't very impressed by us. A local family who was expecting us greeted us and gave us all sorts of tropical fruits to snack on. We spent the evening talking with the Masbangs about the U.S. and arranging to check on visiting procedures for Lida. It was a wonderful way to spend Christmas Day.

Mt. Pinatubo

Mount Pinatubo viewed from Don Juico Avenue (Perimeter Road)

Saturday, December 26th. We boarded the mighty Philippine Rabbit again for a short trip to Manila but found that the Royal Palm Hotel was booked solid. They put us up at their sister facility, the City Garden Hotel down the street which was happily a notch above the Royal Palm, and we arranged for a tour tomorrow of Pagsanjan Falls. We then took a walking tour down to the old Walled City (the Intramuros) which is the heart of old Spanish Manila, much of the center destroyed in WW II but now occupied by tourists and squatters. One of the squatters was tossing glass bottles onto the roadway in protest over something. One of the exhibits seem a little anti-American at the Casa Manila but the guards gave us a friendly "Hey, Joe!" and asked what we thought of the fortress. Clyde bought a barong (Filipino formal attire). At dusk, we walked back along the darkening parapet of Intramuros down to our hotel by way Rizal Park where many families are gathering with their candles for a healing service, and we explored till we found a good restaurant for a chicken dinner.

Sunday, December 27th. We strolled down to the Aurelia hotel for breakfast and our trip to Pagsanjan Falls and met a young Japanese pilot, Seiji Maramoto, who was the rest of our tour. After a two hour trip, we arrived and the three of us crammed into a banca (a canoe with a rower) and travelled up the river to the Falls with a flotilla of other bancas, getting soaked by the waves and a tropical rain shower on the way. The water level made it too dangerous to continue up to the main falls, but we admired the secondary falls and all the Japanese seem happy to get doused. We talked about Japan with Seiji and rode back to Manila wearing our Pagsanjan Falls t-shirts. That attire made us targets for various solicitations on Mabini Street so we changed in time to see a religious procession down the street complete with a silver icon of the Virgin in silent protest to Mabini Street, it seemed. We hunted around for dinner and found a great place called the Island Fisherman in which we "shopped" for our meal at a seafood and vegetable counter and then our meals were prepared from the food that we picked out. The numerous uniformed employees practically outnumbered the customers.

Monday, December 28th. We ran errands today. Clyde visited the American Embassy to check on a visa for Lida and to get an earlier flight on Singapore Airlines while I studied philosophy. We both then trudged around Manila trying to line up a tour to Corregidor which, as it turned out, only one company handles. The brownout was in full swing with portable generators roaring away out on the sidewalk, and tour employees suffering without air conditioning or lighting weren't able to be of much help. We finally decided to leave Corregidor to the Japanese tourists and the WWII buffs and planned to see more of Manila tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 29th. A group of religious fanatics were drawing attention to their cause today by running out into traffic and slashing tires to block traffic on the main thoroughfares of Manila, but we got to Makati (the ritzier section of Manila) to spend time in the Ayala Museum. We hit another brownout but still enjoyed the sixty or so dioramas - even in dim lighting - about the history of the Philippines and took turns reading the historical notes to each other. The museum had a fantastic display of wooden sailing vessels from different eras, complete with rigging and detailing. We searched to find equally fantastic clothing buys in the nearby Landmark Mall which is sort of Bloomingdale's with K-Mart ambience - accessible quality. Clyde negotiated our cab fare back to Ermita where the kids were gearing up for New Years that night with continuous explosions of local firecrackers called "Watusi" which jump, snap, crackle, and make a big bang. It seems that the Filipinos not only enjoy holidays but enjoy preparing for them too.

Wednesday, December 30th. At Manila Airport, several unauthorized teenage "porters" descended on our cab eager to grab our luggage out of the trunk ("service with a shove") but we plowed through the crowd with our bags to board our three-hour flight west to tropical Singapore. Singapore Airport was a dramatic change: spotless, uncrowded, and carefully engineered to orient tourists and meet their needs, though not quite so laid-back and friendly as the Philippines. We changed currency and were whisked to the modest-but-affordable Supreme Hotel without a hitch. We unpacked and explored the Orchard Road area, enjoying a Chinese dinner in an outdoor cafe on a warm tropical evening. The length of Orchard Road was ablaze with Xmas lights and interconnected shopping plazas - truly the Great Mall of China. There were more Western tourists but also plenty of Malay and Chinese.

Continue with First Trip/Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Hong Kong segment

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Original Photographs, Artwork, and Literary Compositions Copyright © Clyde Zuber and Martin Fowler-All Rights Reserved.