The kids and I had a wonderfully blessed week in Manila!!!
We arrived yesterday via Superferry 19, tired and spent but happy and satisfied too from a long, busy and successful week, where quite a number of dreams came true!
First, it was the trip itself. When I won my first PBBY Salanga Prize in 2004, I could only take Paolo, as he adamantly refused to be left at home. The girls and I half-jokingly consoled ourselves with the thought that we'd all be together next time, by the next award. Haha. As if the PBBY Salanga Prize gets awarded to the same person more than once, as a matter of course.
Then, it was the financial means to afford the trip without feeling tight, thanks to Mama's bighearted generosity, as well as my high school friend Melanie's (nicknamed Miz) surprise treat our first day there. She, her sister Lynnie and their driver picked us up at the hotel and treated us to a sumptous lunch at Emerald Garden (Chinese) Restauarant. Paolo even got to order one full steamed crab dish all to himself!
Then, they took us to the new Mall of Asia, where, even as the kids and I decided among ourselves that we'd just browse and window shop and come back another day for the stuff we really wanted to buy, Miz and Lynnie secretly bought the kids even more surprise treats, as well as paid for our grocery (Miz and I went to the hypermarket-- yes, that's what it's called--together before going home; she to buy food for her home, me to buy food for our hotel stay, knowing how the kids love to snack when cooped up)!!!
Then, we had a most wonderful and memorable awarding rites during the National Children's Book Day (July 17) at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. We arrived half an hour earlier so I wasn't so rushed like last time. It gave me time to get to know new people there, as well as chat with old friends in the business.
I didn't have an acceptance speech prepared; I thought there wouldn't be any as it wasn't in the Programme. But, when I was asked to give one, the words just flowed from my heart. I could see a lot of people in the audience nodding, with eyes shining, as if I have touched some deep truth in them too.
I even had more requests for autographs this time, and more media interviews (Manila Bulletin, Junior Inquirer, RPN). It was more memorable for two tidbits: one journalist from a local daily asked me for a donation for his hernia operation (!) and when lunch was ready but I was still busy signing autographs and entertaining media interviews, Paolo threw a sulking tantrum and accused me of prioritizing others instead of hungry him! : )
I was able to nicely turn the journalist down, and Paolo was soon pacified, when I personally prepared his lunch choices from the buffet table, even as my sister Honey cajoled him back to good humor.
I had an interesting insight there, though, about how men, as early as little boyhood, already demand their significant woman's full attention almost at all times, and when they don't get it, they "tantrumize"! : )
I had also insights as to how women have different ways of dealing with it. Honey both cajoled and threatened him, while I just let him be, until he came back to me, of his own accord. : ) That seems to be our general style in treating the men in our lives, too. Heehee....
In the afternoon after the awarding, the kids had a grand time playing with the gadgets and exhibits at the interactive Museo Pambata. We initially also wanted to go inside the Manila Planetarium, but we had to pay for 50 people's entrance fee (totalling P1,500) if we wanted to watch the planetary show, too! Ugh. No go for this time; but we can save up for it and do it next time. The kids weren't really so keen on it but I wanted them to experience the same highs I did when I watched the planetary show my self 20 years ago, when I was still in college and visiting my cousins in Manila for the summer.
The next day, July 18, we went to the Manila Zoo in the morning, then returned to the hotel by noon. We were fetched by a coaster rented by the Far East Broadcasting Co., who wanted to do an interview with me at their compound in Karuhatan, Valenzuela City. As we four climbed up the airconditioned coaster meant for 20 people, Paolo whispered loudly and grinned, "I feel important!" : )
It was quite a long ride, around an hour and a half, and the kids fell asleep. When Paolo woke up, he asked to pee, but we couldn't stop as we were in the middle of traffic, so I asked him to pee in the empty water bottle we had available. He delighted at the thought and promptly went to the back of the coaster to do his thing. He returned with a half-bottle full of yellowish liquid and wondered what his sisters would do if they mistakenly drank from it as soon as they woke up! I humored him in his scenario-building and we both giggled at the different scenarios he created in his mind. In the end, his kind heart won out and he asked me to set the bottle aside, far from the snack bag we carried, so his sisters wouldn't mistake it for juice. : )
The interview was special, too. I was interviewed by Doc Luis (Dr. Luis Gatmaitan), a famed children's book author himself, for their Wan Dey, Isang Araw storytelling program aired on Saturdays at 9am (see www.febc.ph and click on "Listen to the Radio" or something like it). (I will announce here later when our interview will be aired; as well as post the pictures from the awarding rites and the pictures from the radio interview, after Doc Luis emails the pictures to me.)
I was a bit anxious at first, but Doc Luis was good in orienting me, calming me and getting our conversation to run smoothly and freely, like we were just chatting, and so I was able to share more of my deeper thoughts and feelings, and I could tell I also touched some deep chords, as the radio engineer and staff who were listening in nodded along. There were two other children's book auhors, too,-- Robert Magnuson (of "Mister Beetle's Many Rooms" and "Diego and Marie's A Secret Sense of Home" and Beng Alba (of "Ang Batang Ayaw Maligo" fame)--who were to be interviewed after me, and their nodding along too affirmed me and made me feel more confident about sharing more. Doc Luis also took many pictures of us three writers, and then of me, and me with the kids, as well as me with the staff. Needless to say, the kids and I felt like celebrity, and I had more than my 15 minutes of fame! : )
After the radio interview with a late lunch of healthy sandwiches and iced tea, the coaster took us back, where we requested to be dropped off at Glorietta. It was another hour and a half ride to Makati, but this time the kids entertained themselves by fiddling on the radio channels. Paolo had to pee again, too, and he was an expert this time at peeing into another empty water bottle. : )
It was shopping time at Glorietta. Strangely, in the bigger Mall of Asia, the kids didn't find anything they liked. And they complained that it was too big and took lots of walking around, which tired them. So I decided to take them to my more familiar Glorietta.
We are like a little army when we go on our shopping sprees together. The kids know the Standard Operating Procedure by heart. I inform them of their individual budgets and the time allotted for their shopping. Then, they are let loose. They just come back to me when their baskets are full and their budgets are used; I stand by the counter waiting to pay.
So this time, we arrived at Glorietta by 6pm. Paolo and Bea had their spree at Toy Kingdom first. As the boys' toy section was in a separate store from the girls, Thea and I agreed that she'll go with Paolo while I go with Bea. Paolo had P800 of his own money saved up, while Bea had P500. I just added P1000 more to each of them, and they had until 700pm to do their shopping.
When they were done, I asked the two little ones to sit by a divan at the department store while Thea and I shopped for her clothes. I explicitly told the two little ones to not entertain any stranger and to stay close to their packages. I also asked the department store sales staff to keep an eye on them while I shopped with their elder sister, who wanted to spend all of her savings and the budget I gave her on clothes, and a music cd or a book.
By 8pm, they had all their shopping done and we ate their favorite chicken dinner at Max's.
We had to do the toy and clothes shopping that day as I planned for them to stay at the hotel the next day, while Honey and I went for our U.S. visa interview. Even if they were cooped up in the hotel, at least they had their new toys, books and other stuff to occupy them with.
July 19, 12:30pm was Honey's and my appointment schedule for the visa interview, but we left the hotel early and arrived at the U.S. Embassy by 1030am. It was Honey's first time, while it was my third time. I don't know which is better-- to be a neophyte or an old hand. In some ways, Honey's exuberant excitement touched me. In other ways, I am glad I am more sober and realisic this time. I had two very unpleasant visits before, not so much because of the visa refusal, but because of the process and the people that went along with it.
This time was very different, though. Not only am I going for an interview at mid-day (my first two interviews before were at 730am; that meant I had to wake up as early as 4am; not a good way to start the day), I was most surprised by the very pleasant, courteous and educated Filipino staff greeting us and guiding us with the steps in the process. My experiences before had to to with arrogant and burly-looking Filipino security guards who treated us as if we were cattle or convicts to be processed!
I looked even prettier and felt even more secure within my self this time, too. Although I prayed hard for a quick, easy and pleasant visa issuance for me and Honey so we could visit Mama soon, I was also very calm and centered about it all, not really attached to the outcome, in que sera sera attitude mode.
It was a long queue and wait to submit our passport, D156 and D157 forms. Then, it was another long queue and wait for finger scanning. By the time we got to the interview hall, it was already past 12:30pm and the consuls were taking their lunch break.
I guess that was a good thing, as when the consuls came back from their break, Honey and I were among the first to be interviewed. In fact, Honey was the first, at number 3175, while I was two people later at number 3178. She was assigned to Window 6 while I to Window 10.
The consul didn't even ask for her papers; he just asked her about her work and her family life. I was sitting, watching out for her envelope which contained her documents. Hearsay tells us that if you are asked for your documents, then you are on precarious grounds. Her envelope didn't disappear, even as I prayed. When Honey turned to me with a big smile and a thumbs up sign, I was suddenly happy for her and relieved, of course!
When it was my turn to go to my assigned consul at Window 10, somebody else was inserted ahead of me by one of the Embassy staff by mistake. So, I was redirected to the next available window, Window 6, the window Honey just left! : )
The consul was a young, goodlooking gentleman with a light, friendly aura. He greeted me first and I greeted him back with a smile, as I showed him my passport and two forms. He only asked me two questions-- what is "PJ" in my works as "PJ trainer", and what did I do in Hungary and Romania in 2001!
After that he said, "Okay", and I heaved a sigh of relief, too.
But then, he said, "I'm sorry..." and I held my breath again. And then, he continued, "... the computer's so slow." And then I flashed him a big smile and said, "It's okay, I can wait."
So, to while the time, he asked me more questions...
- Is your father still alive?
- Is he in the States too?
- Do you have children?
- How old are they?
- How long has your mom been sick?
And I answered everything calmly and straight to the point, elaborating only with more information when necessary. He also didn't ask to see any more of my documents, which I had prepared in my envelope.
All the while, I didn't know what to do with my hands, so I lightly crossed them against my chest instead. (I first thought of just holding them together, but it was too beauty-queenish or first lady-ish! Heehee.)
Still, the general effect was that I looked relaxed and confident yet serious too, and the consul and I were just chatting.
After 5 minutes, he gave me my yellow slip of paper, which had instructions to go to the official courier to process the mailing of my visa.
I said my thank yous and walked away, dazed, though. I couldn't believe it was happening! Some part of me actually hesitated and waited for him to return my passport! Until I saw him signal to the staff to call in the next applicant.
Needless to say more, Honey and I got our visas (Tope and his wife and child already got theirs weeks ago) and we can now see Mama soon!!! : ) : ) : )
Ohhhhhh, after 4 years since we last saw Mama!!! Happy, happy, joy, joy!!!
The next two days was a blur of last-minute short trips around Manila; the kids and I went back to the Museo Pambata, and then to the Mall of Asia, for a book Thea wanted to buy.
Then, on July 20, 10am, it was time to go home. The hotel car took us to the Aboitiz Superferry Terminal 15 for our trip back home.
It was quite an experience, too, all four of us-- the kids and I-- lugging around 10 medium to heavy luggage and packages, queueing in line for checks, and then further walking across the port grounds to climb up to our ship at last. When we got to our air conditioned suite, we collapsed on the bed, in perspiration, thirst and exhaustion!
The kids soon recovered by making bubble baths for themselves in the suite bathroom tub, while I slept most of the afternoon away. By late afternoon , I woke up and we toured the ship. The evening was lazy; the two little ones played computer games at one of the ship's shops, while Thea and I read. We ate at the dining hall and retired early, not after the kids took another bubble bath though. : )
We arrived in Bacolod at 11am of Saturday, July 21. Honey's best friend and my friend, too, Emily, along with her husband and daughter, invited us to dinner and karaoke singing at Cafe Breizh, with all our kids, last night, to celebrate God's Providence, and good times again. (Thea wowed us with her rendition of Cruisin', in a duet with Tito Ping; and a solo of Barbra Streisand's Memories!)
A fitting end to a wonderful, blessed, abundant week of God's Goodness!!! Thank you, God!!! (Thank you, even, for the beautiful sunny yet windy weather all throughout!!!)
On to more good times now, dear heart. : )
P.S. Initial pics here.