Family in the Philippines is much closer than family in the States, generally speaking. It’s very common for children to live with their parents even after getting a job. When they get married, they don’t usually move far away. Relationships feel closer as well: great aunts and uncles get the same title as grandparents, and when you have kids, your siblings AND cousins are titled aunt and uncle. For example, I have lots of older cousins here who are married with kids. Ian and I are Tito Ian and Tita Anna to those kids. (Does this mean we can enter the cutest nephew contest, Megan?)
Showing respect is also a big deal in this culture. As it relates to family, when greeting elders (aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.) you give them the sign of blessing – putting their right hand to your forehead. You also give older cousins the titles kuya (guys) and ate (girls). It does get more complicated than that, but those are the basic guidelines.
kuya: nickname for oldest brother as well as title for older cousins
ate: nickname for oldest sister in the family as well as title for older cousins
And now back to your regularly scheduled blog.
After a relaxing morning which included a manicure, lunch and a large dessert spread…
Tito Nilo (Mom’s bachelor brother and youngest of the family), Tita Gerts (mom’s older sister) and Didy (Tita Gert’s daughter, roughly my age) drove us the 1.5 hours to Meycauayan, hometown of our Daez clan. The first stop was the family business, Sacred Heart Memorial Park. Yes, that’s a cemetery.
After a nice merienda (afternoon snack) in the office building with Tito Jun over lots of legal papers for Mom to sign, we headed to Tito Dan and Tita Baby’s, where we met Sean, the son of my cousin Ate Happy and her husband Wilfred, before turning in for the night.
The next morning, Ate Happy took us on a tour of the compound. Most homes are enclosed with gated entrances, although building materials range from branch fences to tall cement walls with broken glass along the top to deter intruders. Per family staying close (note, all of this is in the city of Meycauayan), Tito Dan and Tito Armin’s houses share this compound.
Ate Ella and Kuya Alan were both home next door (although Tito Armin wasn’t), so we got to visit with them for a bit. Ate Ella showed off her doctor skills (she’s a dermatologist) by fixing up the cat scratches on my foot – apparently our arrival scared the cat, which took off the porch like a banshee and happened to land claws first on my foot mid-flight. I worried about rabies until Ian reminded me that it’s saliva, not claws, you have to worry about.
After “picture picture!” (in Tagalog, lots of things are repeat words – turo turo, or “point point” refers to eateries where you point to food you want) we headed out for a tour of my mom’s childhood neighborhood and home. Lolo and Lola’s house is currently unoccupied, but most of the old pictures, awards and decorations are still up – we saw some great photos of a much younger Mom and her siblings.
It also brought back so many memories of staying in that house on our previous visits: taking the still chicha (gecko) I found in the fridge outside to bury it, only to discover it just needed warmed up, heating bucket-bath water next to the old typewriter, seeing mosquito larvae in Lolo’s denture water (Mom laughed at him for that), saying goodbye to a bedridden Lolo… Dad said “I hope the next time we see you, you will greet us standing up” while knowing full well we wouldn’t see him alive again. Although I’ve only stayed at Lolo and Lola’s house three times in my life, it sure made it’s mark in my childhood.
The chapel where Mom and Dad got married was next on the list. Dad said they don’t do wedding rehearsals, which was a challenge since he’d never seen a Filipino Catholic wedding. Mom said he did great even if he didn’t know what he was doing. While we were at the church, the tide came in and we got to see baha (flooding).
After the tour, we went back to Tito Dan and Tita Baby’s house and Ian got to experience what I remember most about visiting the Philippines – watching TV while the adults talk Tagalog.
Later that afternoon, we left for Sean’s birthday party at Shakey’s. It’s like Chuck E. Cheese minus the games: instead there was an emcee who coordinated games with the kids and family members. Ate Happy selected a Toy Story theme, and they went all out.
Sean's cake/cupcakes (which were very tasty)
they had a photobooth-type setup for guests
The Shakey’s mascot even entertained the guests by dancing Jai Ho, the bollywood song from the credits of Slumdog Millionaire. We were all impressed at how well that person moved, especially considering he/she was wearing a giant chicken costume.
We also got to see/meet most of the rest of my family. We both have lots of names and face to try and keep straight still!
We finished the long day back in Makati watching “The Spelling Bee,” which is a great musical about several unique and entertaining kids in a county spelling bee. It was entertaining: “your word is runway – can I have a definition please? – the area models walk across during a fashion show or the pavement airplanes use for landing and taking off – can I have it in a sentence? – The model was walking down the runway when she was sucked into a jet engine.” Yet it also had depth: each of them was dealing with very deep issues, like emotional neglect from parents or the pressure of high expectations. It was a little awkward sitting next to Mom while listening to an actor playing a prepubescent boy lament misspelling a word because he was distracted by “my unfortunate erection.” But those moments were few, and overall we’d recommend seeing it if you ever get the chance!
Next on our agenda is a weeklong tour of northern Luzon (main island containing Manila). Didy, one of my wonderful cousins, planned the trip for us and will join us as tour guide and second interpreter. In the meantime, there are more photos on our Flickr site. Trust me: you don't want to miss seeing more of Mom's younger years!