"I am certainly not one of those who need to be prodded…"

08.23.10 – 09.12.10 the philippines (manila, concepcion, dumaguete, dauin, vallehermoso)

Posted in personal by stuart sia on September 20, 2010

Just got back from a three-week trip to the Philippines a week ago today, and I think my internal clock is only now finally reoriented. It had been 6 years since I last visited. We had gone for our grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary in Concepcion, Tarlac. We don’t visit often, because plane tickets are always so expensive, so when we do, it’s always precious, and this trip was no exception. And that I was going to see my brother and sister, whom I hadn’t seen in over a year, made it all the more special.


It took me well over a day to get from Mogobane to Manila. Took a khombi from Mogobane to the A1 Junction, a bus to the bus rank, crossed the bridge over the railway lines to the station, hailed a cab to the airport (GBE), flew to Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB), had a 2-hour layover, flew to Dubai (DBX), had an hour layover, flew to Manila (MNL) finally arriving in the late evening to find my sister, Stephanie, who had just flown in from Los Angeles, and my Tito Emi and Tita Zeny patiently waiting for me. We drove to their home in Las Piñas, where my Kuya Ronnie was stuck waiting for a conference call, and I had my first Filipino meal in forever. Oh. My. God. I love Filipino food.

The next day, after a sleepless night of catching up with my sister and my cousin, we drove up to Concepcion, my mom’s hometown, and de facto seat of the Castro clan. We went straight to our lolo’s house, where we found our Tita Landa, our cousin Patrick, and, of course, our Lolo Aurelio waiting for us. Throughout that day, we had relatives pouring in and out of the house, some of whom had changed so much I hardly recognized them, some who had hardly changed at all, and others who 6 year ago had yet to be born and whom I was meeting for the first time.

The next week was spent between Concepcion and Manila, shopping, catching up with cousins, karaokeing, just having a great time. It was so great to see my younger cousins, all big now, studying at some great universities in the city. They’re all studying such great courses like management, nursing, dentistry, medical technologies, etc. Patrick has already been working for some time as a nurse at our Tito Dick and Tita Lita’s hospital, and Tosca just passed the board exam, which gave us even more reason to celebrate. I’m just so proud of them, and I know they’re all going to make the world a better place.


Stephanie and I flew out to Negros, a southern island in the Visayas, where most of my dad’s family are living. It was an hour-long flight to Dumaguete, the capital of Negros Oriental, and we were welcomed by our Auntie Luvis, Ate Aileen, Ate Stella, and Ate Mylah. We had lunch at the mall, where we ran into our niece, Stacey, who just finished her studies and is now working. Something interesting to note, in our father’s side of the family, we are the youngest, for which reason a number of our nieces and nephews are our age or even older. We drove out to Dauin where Ate Ai’s parents, Auntie Ipin and Uncle Dudoi, live and we got to meet her super chubby and super cute darling baby girl. We headed back to Dumaguete to our Uncle Lloyd’s place, where we stayed for the next three nights.

We drove up to Vallehermoso, our dad’s hometown, with Ate Ai and Ate Mylah the next day to see our Auntie Gaynor and the old house. We had wanted to overnight there, but only ended up being there for a few hours. The incidence of dengue fever had been on the rise and they were afraid we’d catch it. We drove straight to the elementary school our Auntie teaches at and our dad had once taught at. It’s amazing how similar all of my dad’s sisters are. I mean, I’m sure they don’t see it, but all those mannerisms and manner of speak that I love about my Auntie Jane in Germany (we see her a lot more regularly than we see them), I see in them too. Before heading back, we also got to see Grandma Dolores, who had been our nanny back in America for a few years. She’s related to us in some way, though I have yet to figure out exactly how. She didn’t recognize us at first, but when it hit her who we were, she was so happy. She’s such a sweet old lady, and I’m so glad we got to see her.

The next day was jam-packed with completely unplanned activities. That morning, our Tita Leta came out to see us (we had been planning on visiting her in Bayawan, but we were all so worn out from the long trip to Valle that that wasn’t going to happen). Our Ate Stephanie’s husband was really sweet and took us around Silliman University, the alma mater of our dad and several other relatives, that afternoon. In the early evening, Uncle Lloyd and Ate Stella took us out on their mopeds to the edge of Dumaguete to visit some close family friends of our dad. We ended the evening with Ate Stella again and our Cousin Steve, who took us out for some delicious crispy pata and ballroom dancing. Before heading back, he and I topped off the night with some balut (hardboiled duck fetus). Ate Stella and Steph expressed no interest in partaking.

We flew back the next day to Manila.


Our lolo is so funny. Apparently, whenever he’s hooked up to oxygen, he starts speaking English. He gets very cheeky too. At least, this is what Tita Landa and Patrick were sharing with us when they picked us up from the airport. He had not eaten that morning on account of his medical exam in Manila. Upon being asked by the doctor whether or not he was hungry, he responded, “I’m not hungry, I’m angry! Because you didn’t let me eat this morning!” He was perfectly charming about it though.

His antics carried over into dinner at Kenny Rogers, a fried chicken place. I was daring Tos to drink her ice tea to which I had just added hot sauce. Instead, it was Lolo who stepped up to the challenge, and proceeded to further experiment with other even more exotic concoctions, like mashed potato muffin or fruit cup juice over rice. Tita Landa accused me of being a bad influence…on my lolo…

Our brother, my twin, Scott, arrived a couple days later. We had a party that day at Lolo’s and ended the day shopping with our cousins at the mall in Clark. The night before, I had given our younger cousin, Jamie, a crash course in photography. She was a great student, and we spent a lot of that day taking photos. When we finally got back to Concepcion, Steph and I spent another nearly sleepless night catching up with Scott.

We spent the rest of the week around Concepcion and Manila, seeing family and catching up. Ate Kori and Kuya Ranran took us out with Jamie and Patrick for dinner at a Chinese restaurant and karaoke. It was good to hang out with Ate Kori, she’s been so busy lately, being a mother. It’s amazing the things that change over time, and while it’s a little sad saying goodbye to the past and how things were, it’s exciting to know there are family members I’m going to love so much that haven’t even been born and that I haven’t even met yet. It’s definitely a bittersweet sentiment.

After a couple days of lounging in Concepcion, we went to Manila for Jo’s birthday. Tito Dick and Tita Lita took us out to a yummy buffet, where Scott (on upright bass) and I (voice) ended up performing Stand by Me for Jo.

Our Cousin Raymund, the son of our Auntie Leta and our oldest cousin on our dad’s side, picked us up the next day to meet his family in Rizal. Remember how I said we’re the youngest ones on our father’s side? Well, our Cousin Ray is a grandfather. His family was so nice and had us over for a delicious lunch, and we got to meet his newest granddaughter. He drove us back to Manila, and that evening Tito Fer & Tita Beth treated all of us (Fritzie, Aui, Jo, Chino, Patrick, and Tos) to dinner. We spent the night in Nikka’s room playing…snerds.

The next morning, Tito Fer and Tita Beth took us to Tagaytay, where Jamie and I resumed our photography lessons. It was supposed to be cooler up there in the mountains, but somehow, that day, it was hot and humid as ever. That night we went back to Jo & Aui’s townhouse for some karaoke.

We returned to Concepcion, for one last hurrah. Saying goodbye to Lolo was hard. I remember, 6 years ago, the last time I had to say goodbye, I lost it as soon as I saw Tita Lora crying. I think I was steeled for that this time around, because I managed to hold it together when I saw her. But as soon as I saw Lolo break down, I lost it, and every kind touch, shoulder squeeze, and nod had me in tears.

I flew out that evening at midnight. Jo and Aui sent me off with Elmo to accompany me back to Africa. Our cousin Benedict, Jo and Aui’s younger brother, passed away some years back from leukemia, and Elmo was his favorite Sesame Street character. It’s only been a week since Elmo’s been here in Africa, but I’m sure my cousins would be happy to know he’s already seen a rhino and some baboons. He’s grown tired of my cooking though. I think he misses Filipino food. He’s definitely missing crispy pata.