A beach seemingly endless with sand shiny from the bright sun hanging at twelve in the clear sky. A sky mesmerising blue. Then a small whiff of the fresh air enters your nose with a pinch of the salty smell that comes from the sea. A sea with water so clear it is hard to tell how deep it goes. Taunting you with its alluring waves gracefully crashing onto the beach. You share this galaxy of sand and sea with few, whom are scattered either basking in the sun or bathing in the refreshing water. This, is the Philippines. Staying in a little hut or cottage, chasing after waterfalls and the many water-based activities. The heaps of beautiful islands and beaches, is what majority who has ever been to this archipelago will remember. But, crushing that paradise picture, it is not the Philippines I will be taking you to now. No, I am talking about quite the opposite – although for me a tiny paradise nonetheless. Imus, Cavite, a suburb of Manilla. Quite the distance from the capital, yet the same jungle of rip-roaring tricycles, jeepneys and usual traffic. Coming from my teeny town with scarce traffic, this mayhem of continuous honking and dashing vehicles left me quite bedazzled. The house had been right on one of these crazy roads, but, believe me or not, the traffic wouldn’t be the main issue. No, it wasn’t the endless sound, it was the daily heat during Philippine’s cool period. A humid heat arising from late morning until the end of the afternoon would leave me blazing the fan as I laid like a dried up frog sprawled out on bed. This hot madness, was where I would be staying for a large amount of the time.
Now some of you might wonder how I wound up in a Filipino home so far off the beaten path to begin with. To those unaware, three years ago, through the wonders of the internet I came upon a tiny Filipina by the name Kath whom managed to charm my heart and leave me enamoured enough to plan a visit. So, fast forward a year later when I had begun my Asian travels, indubitably, her chaotic suburb had become part, if not the primary destination, of my travels. Something that kept me up at night, was that I would be spending my time in her family’s house. It had made me nervous, to say the least. With hindsight, the anxiety was just. I remember when the mascot of Jollibee made me dance to “Baby Shark” in front of dozens of Kath’s relatives. Seeing how every time that we entered a Jollibee anywhere one of these mascots would be there, and as only white guy attention was oft on me, I was not the biggest fan of this food chain. Especially with regards to their horrible menu. Though I am a great advocate of pineapple on a pizza, I’d keep it off a burger and the mushroom gravy turns the burger into a soggy gravy-yard.
Speaking of Filipino food, I strongly believe, to truly experience the local food, you’re best off in a Filipino family. Though you will taste plenty during your travels, the surely authentic food remains within the households. Though no Malaysia, I have indulged in some of the greater meals within the four walls of my lady’s family. And one thing they did best was make sure I was fed. The whole house would echo “Kaiiin, kaiiiin” at the voice of the mother when food was served. I did have to get used to having rice multiple times a day however. Usually, we’d eat as a small group in the home, but at times we would be outside sharing the food with a bunch. I had soon learned my favourites. A plate of sizzling sisig with a smell alone that gave me a watery mouth or a plate of delicious garlic rice and some longganisa. It is when intestines, livers and pig’s blood is brought to the table that I fancied a break.
Then there is Kath’s family. A family unaware of a visiting lover until last minute. The house was quite full, with a younger sister, an older one, an older brother, her parents and grandmother. Coming from a place where we all have our own space and privacy, it was an interesting change to be in a home where most is shared and where I have slept at least once in every possible room during my two stays. From crashing on the couch to at times even sharing the room with others. But once you are nearly spooning the grandmother of the family, well, you become family. That, they did very well. They made me feel at home and welcomed into a new home. The younger sibling teasing me with a meme I am a “lookalike” of while the one older asks about our travels and future. Both the parents would joke around, the mother making me join in on a game of bingo whilst the father would urge me to drink the local whiskey with him. On Sundays there would be either Korean shows or karaoke. The latter being the national thing, occurring during weddings and funerals, birthdays and pub brawls, everywhere in the Philippines you will find karaoke. Thus even in this household.
Then there is the grandmother. She is a special one. She would wave at me, shouting in Tagalog and gesturing as if today I knew what she meant. Then she’d laugh and point at my face. That, or she would try to sway me into finding her an “Americano” prince for “dollah dollah”. She reminded me of my own grandmother, also fairly cuckoo but sweet at heart. The only tough nut to crack was the brother – who was often away at work. He had been protective of his younger sister who now all of a sudden had a boyfriend from the other side of the world. But truth be, I have sat down and talked to them all and staying there has gained me a whole other family. Even to the point that the oldest sibling long moved out had granted me with the status of god-father of her (then) unborn child. It has been a blessed experience and I am extremely grateful for everyone I have met in the Philippines.
Have you ever fallen in love through the internet, or are you currently in a long-distance relationship? How do you deal with the distance?