Our flight to Manila landed bright and early – just before 6am. Katy and Raf were crazy enough to get up pre-dawn and come meet us at the airport. In my bleary state, I don’t remember much about the drive to Quezon City, where we were staying, but I do remember thinking that the traffic was pretty nuts. I can’t really figure out why the motorbikes that are so ubiquitous in Thailand and Vietnam aren’t more common in the Philippines, but the result is millions of cars and hours upon hours in traffic.
We arrived at Tita Mina’s house in time for breakfast and got to meet some of Raf’s extended family. It was the first of many meals we would share at Tita Mina’s house, and even now as I write, I wish I could pop over and have some more longganisa or adobo.
The Bito clan was gathering to celebrate the life of Raf’s grandmother, who was almost 100 years old when she passed away in 2018. People were flying in from all over, and I saw a spreadsheet floating around just keeping track of flight arrivals and sleeping arrangements. With all that going on, it was amazing how the whole family fully embraced us and went out of their way for us. Including taking care of our very smelly laundry (a result of three days on a damp boat) – which was definitely above and beyond.
Our first day, we did some shopping at Greenhills, had our first Jollibee fried chicken, and napped to try to recover from the red-eye flight. On Saturday, before the party, Katy and I got massages at The Spa with Raf’s sister and cousins while the boys all went swimming.
Saturday night, we all enjoyed the party, the food was delicious (of course) and the entertainment was very entertaining. I endured a few moments of terror when Katy and Andy, a good friend of Raf’s and the karaoke leader of the evening, bamboozled me into getting up and joining Katy for a few bars of a song. Some of you know that I have a crippling fear of speaking in front of people, much less singing (which I am truly terrible at). It was my great good fortune that the video Kyle took ended before I was forced to take the mic.
Max and Henry made fast friends with Raf’s nieces and nephews, and spent most of the the rest of the trip either playing with them, or irritated with us when we did something that didn’t involve all the other kids. Henry also fell in love with the puppies at Tita Mina’s house, and wanted to visit with them at every opportunity.
On Sunday morning, we headed to the Cowboy Grill to watch Manny Pacquiao defeat Adrien Broner to keep his welterweight title. I know little to nothing about boxing, but Pacquiao is a national hero in the Philippines, and it was pretty fun to join in the cheering when Pacquiao did something good. Currently a senator, many people expect him to ultimately run for president. I can say I don’t need to watch boxing again for a very long time. I think the boys agree, after seeing an earlier bout where the guy got his forehead split open by a head butt, and then his opponent just kept trying to punch him in the head where he was cut. By the end of that bout, Max looked like he was going to pass out.
After the boxing, we got in a van and headed to Alaminos, where the Bito family has deep roots, for a couple of days. We visited the Hundred Islands National Park, boating, swimming, eating, and, weirdly, visiting the Stations of the Cross. We also had a delicious dinner of arroz caldo at Tito Don’s, and got a tour of some of the historical family spots in town.
Back in Quezon City, we headed to Bonifacio Global City (BGC) with most of the under-13 crew (and their parents). BGC was a surprise – much, much less traffic, wide sidewalks, mostly new(ish) construction. We went the Mind Museum, where the kids had a blast, and then to Yellow Cab Pizza Co. for some Filipino pizza. As far as I can tell, it’s a lot like American pizza, with a slightly sweeter sauce.
The next day, we played tourist with Katy and Raf and got a guided tour of Intramuros, learned about Jose Rizal, the brilliant, reluctant hero of the revolution, and about the Battle of Manila in WWII. We also visited the Manila Cathedral, currently in its eighth (!) incarnation, having been destroyed seven times (fire, earthquakes, and Allied bombings) since the original cathedral was consecrated in 1581.
We went to the massive Mall of Asia for lunch, where we finally tried halo halo. Hard to describe, truly. In our version, over the shaved ice there was ube (purple yam) ice cream, sweetened red and white beans, popped rice, jellied fruit, condensed milk, and flan, among other things!
It was a fun, busy week, and we were sad to say goodbye to Katy, Raf and all of our new friends in the Bito family. But we were also looking forward to getting “home” to Hoi An and the arrival of Brad, Melanie, Kai and Eli.