Monday, April 23, 2007

Manila Again!

We flew to Manila on my birthday, May 22.  If I could have gotten out of the plane to push it to make it go faster, I would have.  My feet hit Philippine soil again, and they were off and running.  We were staying at the Peninsula Hotel this time, and no sooner had we checked into the hotel I was downstairs, hailing a cab.  I pulled up to my old school and ran inside, completely over the moon to be back again.  I spotted my best friend, Leslie, in the hall, and we literally fell over in an ecstatic, screaming hug.  Several of my old friends hailed me in the hall with "Hi LIZ!" and "Look who's back!!"  The prom was the next evening, and Leslie had fixed me up on a blind date, with a guy who had just moved to Manila that past January.  (My smoldering ex-crush had already left for the summer -- I didn't see him again until I was in my 20's .. but that's a completely different story!)  His name was David, and he was G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S.  We're talking tall dark and handsome, with curly brown hair, deep set eyes and a killer smile.  Who gave blind dates such a bad name, I ask you?

He picked me up prom night with a full pink lei, which he had coordinated with my dress (so THAT'S why he asked me what my dress looked like?)  I can't remember the theme of the dance, just that we danced the night away in a euphoric haze.  When they closed down the dance, the four of us (Leslie and her date joined us) took a cab downtown to Manila Bay and stood soaking in the lights flickering on the water like undulating jewels.  The wind was warm, and the palm trees whispered in the breeze.  We didn't say much, I just had to stand there and let Manila back under my skin.  <sigh!>  I was back home.

After a night of disco hopping, I think it was sunup before we got back to my hotel.  I had been given a pretty liberal curfew (as in none!) by my parents.  I slept most of the next day, but had to report for graduation rehearsal late in the afternoon.  My friends and I spent the evening together again, at Leslie's house and we took in a movie.  I think it was Saturday Night Fever.

The day after that was the actual ceremony ... when I stepped up to the stage to receive my diploma, I knew that the folder was empty; the school had mailed me my diploma back in January.  But that didn't matter.  I was happier at that moment than I think I had ever been, nor have been since. 

Once again, I had to say good-bye to the Philippines.  It was back to Singapore for a little while, but another adventure was just around the bend.  I had been offered a job in London with a British family as nanny for their two children, and was going to take a college class at Richmond College there.  Heady times, indeed.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

And then to Singapore

In the fall of my senior year in Manila, Dad announced that Ethyl was moving their office to Singapore.  Was it political?  There were stirrings of Marcos' downfall, although he didn't actually "fall" until the 1980's.  Money?  I can't imagine that it was cheaper to live in Singapore; Singapore is a modern, cosmopolitan city/state, unlike Manila, which, as much as I hate to say it, was a little late to arrive into the modern era.  Part of me was excited to see a new place (as I always felt when it was announced we were moving), but the other, larger part of me was crestfallen at the injustice of it all.  I mean, in the MIDDLE of my SENIOR YEAR??  For crying out loud!  Couldn't we just stay in Manila another four months until graduation?  Maybe there was an underlying mysterious reason that they never told me.  Had my father been named "persona non grata" by the government?  He was really in the CIA, wasn't he?  Not just a humble businessman .. he was really a spy!  (Of course not, that's just my imagination taking flight).

We spent Christmas at the Manila Garden hotel, with a pine cone Christmas tree.  Christmas Eve I said goodbye to my teenage crush-of-the moment, a smoldering Eurasian boy who was half Belgian and half Filipino.  Can you imagine how my little heart fluttered when he spoke French to me?  But I digress. 

We arrived in Singapore, another green, lush paradise, Hot and Humid (capital letters for emphasis - we were now even closer to the equator).  We stayed at the Shangri-La hotel, in the lap of luxury for about a month before our furniture arrived.  There was a 30 day quarantine for the dogs (we had three by that time) so we visited them daily at the very nice kennel at Jurong.  I used to sit out by the pool at the hotel, where a man sold satay (chicken on a stick with peanut sauce) and a tropical drink with fresh pineapple would arrive at the snap of my fingers.

Mom and I explored the city ... Orchard Road shopping; the Raffles Hotel, reminiscent of the British colonial times, Arab Street, where the four cultures of Singapore converged: Chinese, Tamil (Indian), Malay and English.  Shops lined the streets with colorful fabrics and exotic carved wood furniture spilling out onto the sidewalk.  Huge burlap bags filled with spices and beans were for sale.  We visited the food stalls in the median of Bukit Tima Street ... and lived to tell the tale.  I went to Bugis Street with a visiting friend of the family, the famous late-night spot where the transvestites hung out.  That friend was an Ensign in the US Navy, whose ship, the USS Kitty Hawk had made port in Singapore.  One afternoon we took a launch out into the harbor to tour the ship.  As we stood on the runway of the leviathan ship, sailor after sailor would come up to our friend, Frank, salute and ask some lame question.  They had been at sea for 6 months and hadn't seen a woman, much less a blonde one, in a very long time.  I think they were just hankering for an introduction.  I loved it!

What to do with me?  I had already completed my graduation requirements.  I could have sat on a lounge chair for four months working on my tan ... but it was decided by the Powers that Were (mom and dad) that I would go to school!  I was overjoyed by that decision.  I attended Singapore American School with all the enthusiasm of going for a root canal.  I sat through Algebra and Physics classes, staring out the window.  I didn't make many friends.  I was shy and filled with angst.  Why should I?  I was leaving.  Little boys threw peas at me in the cafeteria because I was the "new girl".   One guy even asked me to the prom, saying "No one else I asked would go."  I told him where he could go.

Mom and I did take day trips, one across the strait between Singapore and Malaysia, to tour the Sultan's Palace.  We ate at amazing restaurants.  We went to a classic movie festival at the British Club.  But overall I was miserable.  I missed my friends.  I was promised a trip back to Manila for graduation in May, and I tediously counted off the days.  It stretched forward for an eternity.  I buried myself in music; to this day I when I hear America, I can close my eyes and be in my bathroom, where I listened to the music getting ready for school, showering as quickly as I could because the water tank outside my window was the size of a small ice chest and the hot water only lasted five minutes.

In my next episode: graduation in Manila: a dream come true.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Manila Memories

Did I mention in the past that I went to high school in Manila, Philippines?  My dad was the director of Sales & Marketing of Southeast Asia for a large chemical company called Ethyl Corp.  Their headquarters were in Baton Rouge, hence my connection to Louisiana.  In 1974 we were transferred to Manila.  I had lived in Japan and Belgium also, so a new move overseas wasn't a big deal.  We had two schnauzers at the time, and they flew in the cargo hold of the Pan Am 747 all the way from New Orleans, to San Francisco (the last time we were able to take them out of their crate) .. to Honolulu, to Guam, and finally to Manila.  When we finally saw them emerge from the baggage hold, they had a look on their faces that said, "WHERE THE $%*& ARE WE??"

Our first "home" was the Intercontinental Hotel in Makati, then the business hub of the city.  My first impression of Manila was that it was hot (of course) and was very green, with palm trees and flowers everywhere.  The food we got in the restaurant was the ultimate in tropical fare: fresh pineapple and mango (which doesn't taste as good anywhere in the world) and fresh calamansi juice (a key lime) that you sweetened with a tiny pitcher of sugar water.  The Miss Universe pageant was being held in Manila that year, and every morning the newspaper slid under our door contained color pictures of all the contestants, and I poured over them for hours.  (Miss Spain won that year).

We moved into our house in North Forbes Park shortly after we arrived.  My dad was out of town on business, and my mom and I, after a hard day unpacking in the heat, treated ourselves to a big milkshake at the hotel.  That night, my mom had a serious attack of pancreatitis, and was rushed to the hospital.  There I was ... alone in a strange country, with no parents, alone in a hotel ... scared out of my mind.  We had been assigned a driver, named "Boy" ... (let's just say the names in the Philippines are quite unusual ... I knew a girl there named Cherry Pie) who drove me back and forth from the hotel to the hospital. 

Our house was a freakin' palace.  We're talking Beverly Hills here, although weweren't by any means rich.  However, things are a little more affordable in the P.I., and we lived like we were rolling in money.  We had two maids: one to cook (Jeannie) and one to wash (Carmen); a driver (the aforementioned "Boy") and a gardener named Ruben.  One wing of the house was the maids' quarters, complete with bath, their own kitchen and separate bedrooms for each.  The garden looked like something out of a magazine, with terraced grass and bougainvillae and all types of exotic plants.  We had a pool in the back yard ... a POOL!  There was hug stone wall around the house, with bits of broken glass embedded in the top, I guess to keep the prowlers out.  Out house backed up to a very busy street, E. de los Santos Avenue (shortened to EDSA) and also to a bus stop on said busy street.  People would climb to the top of the bus shelter and peer over our wall into our back yard.  Used to piss off my mom in a big way!

My mom wasn't allowed to hold a job, due to regulations for foreigners, so she passed the time playing bridge or mah jongg (basically Chinese gin rummy!) and having parties.  At the time we were there, the country was under Martial Law, as decreed by President Ferdinand Marcos, which included a 1-4 a.m. curfew.  If my parents' parties accidently went over past 1 a.m., they just kept partying until they could go home at 4.  I used to bar tend at the parties ...

I went to school at the International School of Manila.  It was a great school, although we used to joke about the fact that our Filipino English teachers couldn't speak English all that well.  I got a very solid education there, in the IB program.  I took classes like British Literature and Theory of Knowledge.  My friends made up a high school United Nations.  I dated a guy from Israel, whose best friend was Lebanese.  I had friends from Pakistan, India, Scandinavia and Australia.  We were all the same; just kids, only different colors and accents.  We never gave it a second thought.  Of course, my high school years weren't perfect; they were full of the usual angst and hangups, but overall, I wouldn't trade my experience in Manila for anything.  I volunteered at the Manila Symphony as an usherette and was the first "girl" acolyte at our Episcopal church.  We used to go on trips to the outer islands, where it was like swimming in an aquarium.  Oncewe took an outrigger canoe (banca) from one island to the other, and almost capsized in bad weather.  One time I got a job in a TV commercial for a brand of Jeep made in the P.I.  We shot the commercial on a beach, but when the Jeeps broke down, we were stranded and had to sleep in a nipa hut overnight.  Believe me, it does get cold at night in the Philippines, especially sleeping on a thatched floor with no blankets.

2008 will mark the 30th anniversary of my high school graduation.  I haven't been back to Manila since we left in 1978, and my class is planning a reunion in Manila.  I'm hoping I can go, but this will be about the same time that, God willing, we'll be putting Colin into college.  We'll see ... I know it won't be the same when and if I do go (even my school is in a different location) but part of me won't be complete until I return; until I once again smell the bougainvilla and taste the mango. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Back to New Orleans

Well, Mardi Gras is ancient history this year -- I think lent ends on Sunday -- but I thought I would talk about our trip down there.  Seeing as I just got the pictures loaded.  Our new digital camera doesn't have a teeny little memory card that you insert into the computer and download the pictures.  You have to use some photo program and I'm just not smart enough to figure it out.  However my IT guy finally got around to doing it (that would be David) and now I have pictures!

Driving south towards Laurel, Mississippi, we started to see trees sheared off pretty close to the ground.  There was verey little foliage, (although that could have been the season, too) but there was also a whole lot of scrambled up branches and scrub on the ground, in amongst the trees.  We passed acre upon acre of FEMA trailers, empty!  And they are kicking people OUT of them?  We saw classified ads in the local papers selling the darn things.  WTH?  When we finally got to the outskirts of New Orleans, we could see water lines on the houses.  10-12 feet up!  Right under the eaves.  And in the front lawn of many of the houses was a FEMA trailer, connected via large white pipeage to the sewer and water systems.  We saw houses that had been abandoned, again with very high water lines.  It was so sad ...

In New Orleans itself, where once upon a time you would wait hours in line for a poboy from Mothers' restaurant (on Poydras Ave) we walked right in.  In the crowds of the Mardi Gras parades, there were very few African Americans.  I thought glumly to myself that they were all in Houston or elsewhere.  (I remembered when Barbara Bush toured the Astrodome and saw the rows after row of cots, she commented, "Well, these people were disadvantaged anyway, I'd say they're doing pretty well!")  They are the ones who suffered the most, the ones who were herded into buses and dumped on the side of I-10 ... exposed to the elements.  They are the ones who would be raped in the halls, or died on the sidewalks outside the Convention Center, the same one we could see out of our hotel room, and past which we walked to watch the Bacchus parade.

The stores in the Riverwalk Mall closed at 6 p.m., there just weren't enough customers going through to support them being open any longer.  The food court was almost deserted.  There wasn't enough wait staff in the restaurants to open whole sections.

But the spirit was still there.  The parades were still crazy and funny as ever.  The kids caught tons of beads (want some?) and the crowds weren't too bad.  Not like in years past, where a body could literally be crushed in the surge.  So I felt kinda comfortable with the kids.    Christian started off the trip with the flu, and we were all taking tamiflu the whole time, so he didn't feel too great.  And it was COLD ... we had layers on layers against the wind.  But in the sun it was pretty comfortable.

Maybe next year the people will come home.