One Tuesday morning, one of my favourite surgeons randomly said to me “So Angie, I never knew that the at one point the Philippines was at war with America.” I thought to myself that this was an incredibly odd topic to bring up out of the blue. I had no idea where this came from and where he was going with this statement.
It turned out he’d read a book by William Boyd that was set in the Philippines around the time that the country was under the rule of the US government, and he recommended that I put this book in my massive to-read pile because he was sure I’d find it interesting. I was curious enough to look it up on Goodreads, and I became convinced that I should read this book when I found out it was a love story.
I was under the impression that this was going to be another one of those war books that people seemed to like so much. In my head, I imagined scenes similar to Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale on Pearl Harbour and it would be all angsty and heartbreaking.
Cue tears and boxes of Kleenex.
It soon became clear that this was in no way similar to Pearl Harbour. Sure the premise seemed to follow the pattern of romance novels set in that era. Daughter meets her long-lost biological father and ends up helping him in his quest to find his long-lost love.
With nothing to go on but rumours and an old photograph, they set out for Portugal in the hopes of a happy reunion and along the way, this epic love story was told to the daughter in retrospect. I thought for sure that I already knew where this was going. I was so smug in my belief that the ending to this novel was a foregone conclusion.
How very wrong I was.
Warning, there will be spoilers ahead!
To my everlasting surprise, this novel had mystery, passion, deception, intrigue and yes, a bit of romance if one stretches one’s imagination enough to call infidelity and faking your own death romantic.
This wasn’t a story about love so much as it is a story about desire and the lengths someone would go to in order to satisfy that desire. I’m sorry, but the hopeless romantic in me still believes that love is not love if you can’t shout it out on the rooftops, and that when it’s right it should be easy. This pairing was neither right nor easy and it certainly wasn’t love.
So yeah, the love story wasn’t what I expected it to be. The good thing is, though, that this book had a lot of things going for it that kept me turning the pages even when I was so exhausted from work.
First of all, I don’t think I’ve ever read a published international novel that was set entirely in the Philippines. I’m glad we’re getting that level of exposure as a country and that our history is being discovered by people who read William Boyd.
I often think its a shame that we don’t make enough of a point of sharing our vast, colourful and interesting history. We don’t make enough of an effort to invest in museums that show the world what we’ve gone through as a nation and as a people. They can and should make a large-scale Hollywood movie out of it, in my own totally unbiased opinion.
The description of the setting was also authentic and incredibly atmospheric. It felt like I was transported to Manila in the turn of the century and watching the sun set over Manila Bay. I had the sudden urge to fly home and explore the remnants of the walled city of Intramuros.
The other thing I liked, and which should not have surprised me given that it was a surgeon who recommended this book, was that it showed the evolution of medicine in the Philippines. The nurse in me found this all very interesting. Medicine and surgery play a central and pivotal role in this story, and my inner geek was shouting with glee when I realised just how pivotal a role it played.
Anyway, I’ve blathered on for far too long when all I really wanted to say was that I really liked this book and I’m glad I gave it a shot. I wasn’t sure about the author’s writing style initially, but it grew on me because the plot was just so damn interesting. There were a lot of unanswered questions at the end, and to be honest the ending was ambiguous as hell. But that’s part of its charm I suppose.
I really recommend this book to anyone but most especially for people like me who might miss home every now and then.
I’ve recently come back from a much needed holiday in the Philippines and despite the weather’s best efforts to curtail my fun, I managed to stick an island getaway for myself and my entire family to Sumilon Island, which is part of Maribago Resorts Group.
Word to the wise: if you’re booking from outside of the Philippines, be warned that you may have to pay international rates, especially if you’re booking through websites like booking.com. If you have friends or relatives who can book for you from within the country, it might be cheaper to book via that route. There’s a substantial difference between local and international rates, plus, if you’re travelling with someone who’s got a senior citizen card, you may also get a discount.
Sumilon Island is a great alternative to the usual beach resorts scattered all over Cebu because it provides more activities than just swimming and lounging by the pool. My dad is not a big fan of swimming. I spent a small fortune on an overnight stay in Shangri-la Resort last April and he didn’t even so much as dip his toes in the water. He said he was basically there to enjoy the view so this time around, I really made the effort to find a resort where he can have his bloody view but where there are also activities for him to do.
Sumilon Island is accessed via pump boat from the port of Oslob, which is in the southern part of Cebu. This port is close to where the famous whale-watching site is so that’s also something you can do while on the island or on the way to the island. Transportation details can be found on the website but if you and your group are thinking of driving like us, free overnight parking is one of the perks that comes when you book a room with the resort. You can also hire a private van or simply head down to the South Bus Terminal for easy transport to Oslob.
Free Parking care of Maribago Blue Waters
The dock at Oslob port
My siblings and my cousin on the boat
Tres Marias at the dock
We booked the Premier Deluxe rooms which will only accommodate two adults and two children. Now to be honest, in some resorts its easy to get around that rule because the staff usually don’t notice that there are extra adults hanging around and waiting while the “official” guests check in. However in the case of Sumilon they make it mandatory to sign in everyone who’ll step on that boat on the way to the island, so they will know exactly how many people are with you on the trip. We ended up paying an extra 16,000 php for 4 extra people, but at least that came with free dinner and breakfast. Its not a bad deal but it is a hell of a lot of money.
The island itself was beautiful. It just took my breath away really.
Like I said, there’s loads of activities to do if you don’t want to go swimming. They have a lagoon where you can feed the fishes, do kayaking or boat pedalling. They also have trails for trekkers of all levels (beginner, moderate and advanced), and during this trek you’ll get the chance to see the lighthouse or “parola” . We were a bit disappointed when we got to the lighthouse and realised you can’t actually climb the darn thing, but it was good exercise. You don’t even have to worry about what you’re wearing (or not wearing) when you go on the trek; for the beginner’s trail you’re perfectly able to get through it even if you’re wearing beach shorts and slippers.
They also offer a bike trail as an alternative to the trekking although we didn’t have enough time to do that. For safety reasons, all the trekking and biking activities as well as the main beach have to be closed by 5pm so we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon swimming by the sandbar instead. If you book a room you actually have direct access to the sandbar via the coastline if the tide is low enough, but the afternoon that we were there the tides were too high for us to go via that route so we had to take the longer route instead.
The sandbar was absolutely divine, despite the fact that we were bracing ourselves from the really strong winds coming our way that day. If you’d rather not swim on the actual beach, the resort also has a stunning infinity pool near the reception area. The pool was actually smaller than I expected, which tells you that photos can be extremely deceiving.
Dinner was served at around half past six and though I wasn’t overly impressed with it, i didn’t think it was that bad. I think at that point I had been over-saturated with native Filipino food from the endless rounds of catching up with friends over restaurant dinners, that I was really just craving something different like sushi. But of course, this is a resort that seeks to provide an authentic island experience so they served – what else? – Filipino food. They did have a pasta station though but I thought I’d better steer clear of that if I still wanted to look good in my swimsuit the next day.
There aren’t a lot of late night entertainments around the island; there was no dancing to be had. I actually got the feeling that this resort catered more to honeymooners than family outings. My siblings, my cousin and I did have a round of drinks by the bar but we soon decided to go to our own room with the idea of finishing the two bottles of mojito we had sneaked in to the resort. We underestimated just how much the day’s activity had exhausted us however, and my cousin had come straight off a night shift, so actually I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
We woke up early the next day so that we’re able to swim and explore a bit more before breakfast and check out (which was at 11am). Breakfast was served at around 7, and I actually thought the breakfast buffet was much better than the dinner buffet. The staff were also incredibly accommodating. My aunt was suffering an upset stomach over something she ate the day before and we asked the chef if he could whip up some porridge or chicken arroz caldo for her, and even though it wasn’t part of the menu he was able to accommodate our request. The island transfer and transportation services were also really good. They were on time, they assisted us with all our bags and they were sticklers for safety.
All in all we had a really great time. It was worth the really long drive – Oslob is almost 3 hours away from the city; there was something for everyone and most of all, I cherished the opportunity to have fun with everyone in my family; who knew when my sister and I would have the opportunity to both come home at the same time again? I did find myself thinking I’d love to come back to the island again, but this time with “the one” by my side. Oh well, crazier things have happened.
I have these moments where I feel a little bit homesick for all things Filipino. During lunch today one of my colleagues brought food that just reminded me of home; someone else was asking me about the best places to visit in Cebu, where I’m from. Yesterday, my boss showed me 2 one-hundred peso bills that someone from Victoria gave her when she was trying to collect money for charity (huh???!!!). I keep getting these little reminders of home, and isn’t it funny how I still think of the Philippines as home even though I spend a majority of my time in the UK? For all intents and purposes, London is my home now and I love it. However, I am a Filipino first, and I know sometimes I forget. I think and speak in English most of the time; I write my Facebook statuses and blogs in English; I read English books, I listen to English music. Its so easy for me to forget where I come from, to shed those aspects of myself that make me Filipino.
To be honest, I think I made that conscious decision 5 years ago when I arrived in London. I decided that I would immerse myself in the culture of this country because I want to experience life here to the fullest. I don’t want to just be over here working 12-hour shifts to make enough money to send over to the Philippines. No, I decided that I would take advantage of this opportunity and become, well, British. I tried to embrace every aspect of its culture, though I’ve yet to see the point of constantly drinking tea or this love of football (basketball, baby!).
It also didn’t help that my first encounter with Filipinos working overseas was with my old landlady, who is a walking, talking model of every negative stereotype Filipinos have ever been accused of: ambitious, money-grubbing, slave to trends and designer brands, possessing a “crabs in a box” mentality, love of “tsismis” (gossip) especially about fellow Filipinos, having nothing to say about art or culture…the list goes on. I have to admit that when I first got here, I sought to be the opposite of all that, to show everyone I meet in this country that there are Filipinos who are cultured and educated and can hold their own in a conversation. There are Filipinos who are willing to try new things, to travel and to explore. There are Filipinos who don’t see every man as a potential sponsor for a fiancee visa (I was once asked out on a date where the first question the guy asked me was ‘so what visa are you on?’. Like hello, I don’t need you and your British passport. I can work my way to my own, thanks).
I didn’t realise until this moment just how separated I’ve become from everything that makes me Filipino. I feel like I’ve lost my love for my home country, and though I will be the first to rant that there is so much about the Philippines that I detest, there is also so much to love and be proud of. I guess today’s theme is a reminder for me to be a little more in touch with my roots, to never forget where I came from because its going to make an impact on where I’m going. And if there’s one aspect where I remain proudly Filipino, its my love for classic original pilipino music (opm). So I thought I’d share some of my favourite tunes in the hopes that after this post, I will be just a little bit more proud of being Filipino.
Halaga – Parokya Ni Edgar
“Sa libu-libong pagkakataon na tayoy nag-kasama, iilang ulit palang kitang makitang masaya. Naiinis akong isipin na ginaganyan ka nya, siguro ay hindi niya lang alam ang iyong tunay na halaga.”
This guy’s basically singing to a girl he’s in love with who’s got a boyfriend that doesn’t treat her right. Loosely translated, the lyrics are saying he’s never seen her happy with the guy and he hates the thought of him taking her for granted and not seeing her true worth. Literally, Halaga in Filipino means worth or value
Narda – Kamikazee
“Narda” is the alter ego of the Philippines’ version of Wonder Woman, called Darna.
When she’s in her human disguise, she’s called “Narda”. She swallows some kind of stone and shouts “Darna” if she wants to transform. Its a little bit silly, I know. But its a huge part of the Filipino culture. I can’t think of any Filipino over the age of 25 who doesn’t know who Darna is, or who hasn’t made a Darna joke. Anyway, she fights bad guys, she’s super fast and super strong and she flies. This group, Kamikazee, decided to write a song about how hopeless it is to fall in love with someone like that who is so obviously (and literally) out of their reach.
“Awit na nananawagan (a song that’s calling out)
Baka skating napakikinggan (hoping maybe she’ll hear it)
Pag ibig na palaisipan (a love he can’t make heads or tails of)
Sa kanta na lang idaraan…(so he’ll just write a song about it instead)
Nag-aabang sa langit (Looking at the heavens)
Sa mga ulap sumisilip..(peeking through the clouds)
Sa likod ng mga tala..(or behind the stars)
Kahit sulyap lang Darna.” ( for even just one glimpse of Darna)
Ugh, the whole song is such a great metaphor for the hopelessness of unrequited love. I love it.
Harana – Parokya Ni Edgar
Harana in Filipino literally means Serenade. Its an old-fashioned practice during the “courtship” stage for a guy to gather a group of his friends so that he can serenade the girl he likes (usually at night and usually with the girls’ father giving him the death stare. Honestly, how can the poor guy be expected to carry a tune?!).
Anyway, I guess in this era of Tinder and Match.com this practice is terribly OUT of fashion, and I for one think that’s a shame. I mean, I can see where this would be incredibly embarrassing, but part of me thinks its also incredibly romantic.
Parokya Ni Edgar is one of my favourite OPM bands, and their songs will probably feature in any OPM list I make. But Harana holds a special place in my heart because my high school crush sang it once and allowed me the illusion that he was singing it just for me (spoiler alert: he wasn’t!)
Pare Ko – Eraserheads
“Pare” (pa-reh) means, like, bro or brother or something. As this, and the next song, will illustrate, The Eraserheads are amazing storytellers and they really have a gift for writing songs in a clever way. In this song, the singer is telling his romantic woes to his “pare” and asking him to have patience and understanding because he knows he knows he’s bound to say things that are sappy and corny. So the singer tells his “pare” about a college girl he’s in love with who led him on and has now broken his heart.
Part of the reason why I love this song is because girls think they have a claim on the whole pouring-their-hearts-out-to-their-friends thing but actually, guys talk about their problems too. They just do it in a different way and usually with a lot more alcohol and swearing involved. This song is just such an accurate representation of the kind of conversation a guy would have with his friend, where he’s desperate for advice but trying so hard to still appear cool and collected. Although most of the song talks about the girl, because of the way the E-heads have written it, it actually becomes a celebration of male friendships instead.
Also? The song lyrics contain actual swearing! :p
“O, diyos ko, ano ba naman ito? (Oh my God, what is this?)
Di ba, ‘tang ina, (Son of a bitch)
Nagmukha akong tanga, (I looked like a fool)
Pinaasa niya lang aso, (She only led me on)
Lecheng pag-ibig toh…” (Damn this love)
Ang Huling El Bimbo – Eraserheads
Ah, now this is an epic song. Its really such a shame that I can’t translate the lyrics because it tells a story that is so quintessentially Filipino. To sum up, this boy once had after-school dance classes with this girl during which she would teach him the El Bimbo; in the process she also taught him about the power of true love. He never had the courage to tell her how he felt though, so they moved on and years pass. The girl becomes some kind of mistress and has a baby out of wedlock. Forced by desperation to take some kind of menial job washing plates or something, she was run over by a car walking home one night. So the guy laments that he can only hold her and dance with her in his dreams now. I’m probably not doing such a good job of translating this song, and maybe you have to be Filipino to understand the impact of this song. But the Eraserheads were probably like the Coldplay of OPM. They made listening to OPM cool.
To me, this song will always be associated with the guys in my class playing guitar one day during free period and everyone just spontaneously joined in because we all knew the words. This was probably a couple of months before high school graduation, and we all knew that we would never be together in quite the same way ever again. An era was ending and we didn’t know what the future held in store for us. Would we all make it? Would we all reach our dreams? In that moment, singing El Bimbo, we forgot about our worries for the future and just got lost in our love for music, for this song.