I love working here.
I’m settling in after returning to the states yesterday (Monday) afternoon. It’s Tuesday, 9:51AM here in Brooklyn, NY, but it feels like 9:51PM – I’ve been awake for the past 10 hours. I’m looking forward to getting back to the grind (or the ‘grinding board’ as my dad calls it), and seeing everyone. I feel bad that I didn’t get a chance to send anyone a postcard, but it would have arrived long after I returned anyway. I also regret not keeping up this blog, but I do plan on filling in all the missing dates and events, just to have it on record. Just keep checking back every so often. There’s lots to show and tell.
Here’s me on the last day during ‘Despedida’ which means ‘farewell party,’ which was held at Adelina.
On Wednesday morning I had the hotel’s complimentary breakfast with JC and my Dad, which consisted of garlic rice (fried rice with garlic), scrambled eggs, and sausages. Looking out the windows of the dining room, I got my first daylight view of the Philippines. I saw mostly modern skyscrapers (hotels mostly), and farther away, small villages consisting of corrugated shanty towns and concrete city blocks.
First Trip to Adelina
Later JC and I were picked up by my cousin Boy, his second oldest son J.L., and Memeng (sp?), my Dad’s childhood friend. They were to drive us to Adelina, a street in Manila where my Dad grew up and where most of the Jusay family still lives. Memeng, like Boy, is a cab driver, and only he could pick us up at that hour since only cabs and certain vehicles are allowed in Makati before 7pm since traffic is so bad. I vaguely recognized Boy from old photos, but the Jusay resemblance was definitely there. He actually kinda looks like Kurt Vonnegut.
He was a star tennis player when he was younger (he’s in his early 40s), but drives a cab now to pay the bills. J.L. is a happy 19-20 year old college kid (everybody’s ages get kinda vague here) with a huge smile and, like his two brothers, a talent for basketball.
Adelina, a place I remembered mostly from old pictures, seemed smaller, more cluttered with advertising (there were flags urging people to drink RC Cola strung from overhanging wires across the whole block), but the shape of the buildings and the way they were set up seemed very familiar. My first mistake was greeting my Uncle Bening (my Dad’s brother) – everyone calls him Papa Bening, since a lot of the Jusays there are his kids – with just a handshake upon arriving. What I should have done was take his hand and place it on my forehead, what they call giving a person your blessing, which is a sign of respect for people who are elderly. I realized my mistake only moments after I had made it, and I think I have yet to make it up to him (it’s more than a week later as I write this). Papa Bening looks like an older, quieter version of my Dad, and he too has blueish eyes.
The Blue Eye Mystery
For some mysterious reason, JC was the first person to realize in the whole Jusay family that my Dad has blue eyes. He had arrived in the Philippines before me, and while he and Dad were standing in the sunlight, JC looked at his eyes and noticed they were a greyish blue. Of course, JC spazzed out, and my Dad responded, ‘You knew me for 30 years and you didn’t know the color of my eyes?!?’
Apparently, my Dad, Papa Bening, and Daddy Gerry (the second oldest brother, he passed away not too long ago) all had blue eyes. Kids used to tease them while growing up by calling them mestizo (mixed). I think my Dad must’ve been embarrassed. Whatever the case, this was a new discovery for everyone, including my cousin Robert and Ate Nerie. Weird.
The inside of Nerie’s house looked much like I remembered it from the first time in ’78. Concrete walls, narrow layout, ominous wooden stairs leading two flights up. Jusays also owned the next two houses down. Inside I met Robert, whose kids were still sleeping upstairs, and Boy’s two other boys, B.J. (oldest), and J.J. (youngest), who both had the same big smiles as J.L., and both were basketball fanatics. I liked them instantly. I then met their mother, Baby, a very affectionate, loving woman with a raspy voice, who encouraged me to join her boys in some street basketball down the block. And this was where I realized my second mistake: not bringing my camera for fear of it being stolen or lost. Intimidated, I stood aside while I watched Boy’s sons play street ball with some other kids on the block. Everyone wore flip flops and the ball was half-regulation size, and everyone was fast. One kid even wore just one flip flop on one foot (I think he broke the other slipper halfway through the game). Behind the rusted basketball hoop was an empty lot with weeds and junk, and behind that, a three-story apartment building with clothes hanging from lines. About a yard away was a group of people playing dominoes on fold-up tables. It seemed like a perfect setup for a photo shoot. I vowed to bring my camera the next time. (Unfortunately, I never actually did take a picture of the street basketball court.)
Robert and Family
Later, JC and I reunited with Robert’s wife Gaye and their three kids, Joshua, Janina, and Julia (all J’s, too), who we hadn’t seen since Thanksgiving. The kids are a bundle of laughs and always remind us of how we were when we were their age.
Joy then arrived in her Pajero SUV, and we met for the first time. I had conversed with her so many times through Joe’s webcam and over the phone that it didn’t really feel like a first meeting, but it was nice to finally meet her in person. We then all went to Glorietta mall because I wanted to get a generic camera strap for my Digital Rebel (the included strap says CANON DIGITAL EOS in huge letters which just screams out STEAL ME), which proved to be a fruitless search, but it was nice to hang out with everybody, including the kids. It was also nice to see how Joy got along with everybody. She was already a part of the family (made sense since her brother had married Kat a year earlier). I also wanted to buy a copy of Liwayway, reputedly the oldest running comic book magazine in the Philippines, but I had forgotten the name of it, and Henry wasn’t really a comic book fan. (I later learned from Cess, Emil’s wife, that it had long been out of business, and that it wasn’t really comics – more prose with illustrations ala Saturday Evening Post.)
Later that night we all met back at Fraser Place to have a party for my arrival. In the pictures, I am wearing a red St. Theresa basketball shirt, which I borrowed from JC. My luggage had still not arrived.
It was also at this party where I met my cousin Emil (only son of Daddy Gerry) for the first time and his wife Cess. Emil works as a computer programmer, and he and I chatted tech for a bit. He had actually contacted me out of the blue several years ago when he tried to register the domain name for jusay.com and found my website instead. He wore a Buffy t-shirt and I heard he was into comics, so I liked him instantly.
Jessie and family dropped us off at our hotel, Fraser Place (pronounced Frasier Place), which was in the middle of the business district of Makati City (sort of like downtown Manhattan). One of the guards at the gate had a shotgun, but had a big smile for us. The room itself is actually a modernized, fully functional three bedroom apartment on the 19th floor. You need a key card for everything (even traveling the elevators), and the place is pretty posh, decadent even. According to my dad, it costs $150/day. Have a gander.
The first familiar face I saw was my niece’s, Kat (Kat-Kat) Mamalateo, who I had met for the first time a year before when she and her husband Henry visited NYC. After we kissed and hugged, she asked how my trip was. I said it was long. She then led me to customs, where I had to fill out an immigration form which asked what my business was in the Philippines, where I was staying, my occupation (‘artist’), etc, then wait on line, then hand over the form and show my passport. After that was done, Kat directed me to the baggage claim area, which looked like any other baggage claim area. There, I saw for the first time in 28 years my Ate Nerie (Ate is a respectful term meaning older female sibling/cousin), who is also Kat’s mother. I also saw JC (he had arrived several days before me), who looked like he was having a good time waiting for my luggage to appear.
My luggage never appeared.
Kat and Nerie tried to get to the bottom of the situation, which was more or less that my luggage (along with some other people’s from the same flight) was still at JFK or thereabouts. They agreed to deliver the luggage to our hotel in Makati (the business district of the Philippines) once they got hold of it. Satisfied, we left the airport where I was greeted by my cousin Robert Jusay (who’s family in San Diego I visited for Thanksgiving), Henry (Kat’s husband) and Cuya Jessie (Cuya is the same as Ate, except it’s for older brother/cousin), who is Kat’s dad and Nerie’s husband. Jessie would be driving us to our hotel. While we rode, I tried to make out the surroundings, but it was late at night. My first impression was that it reminded me a bit of Puerto Rico, and I was alarmed at how many cops (white shirts, black pants, black caps, shotguns) were milling about with seemingly nothing to do. I also heard that JC had been drinking a lot of beer since he got here (thus explaining the happy face), and that Jessie had been most encouraging in that department. I was glad to hear JC was having a good time.
My flight left JFK on Monday, May 15th, 2006 3:45pm Eastern Time. I arrived in Manila Airport on Tuesday, May 16th, 2006 12:00pm Eastern Time. That’s roughly 20 hours.
Wow, that was a long trip.
The first leg of the trip was mostly me weaving in and out of consciousness, working on Golden Age backgrounds with my Lenovo Thinkpad X41T Tablet PC, ignoring the guy sitting next to me, constantly misunderstanding the pretty stewardesses, and watching two movies: Serenity (really good, scifi film), and Hotel Rwanda (really good, disturbing, Oscar-caliber film – probably not a good choice going to a third world country) – both using my laptop naturally (I totally ignored the nice LCD screen bolted on the seat in front of me, except for the time duration information and the cool rear plane live camera feed – just clouds mostly). The upside of the trip was that each seat in economy class had a power outlet – despite what I was told earlier – configured for empower plugs (which I fortunately had the foresight to buy before leaving), so I was fully powered the whole trip. The downside was that the seat was incredibly cramped, and I found myself standing on the seat on occasion just to maneuver my body around or search my backpack. The food was nothing to write home about and really not very exotic for an airline called Cathay (I was expecting pork lomein but got a ham and cheese sandwich instead).
The second leg of the trip was the flight from Hong Kong to the Philippines. I didn’t get to see much of HK save for its airport, which looked like any other modern airport. I got lost at some point, but found my way by following people that looked more like me. The flight itself was only an hour and a half, and I slept the entire way. The guy sitting next to me seemed friendlier, and everyone sounded like a relative of mine.
I have a few hours to go (it’s 1:30pm EST and my flight leaves at 3:45pm) and so much to do. Haven’t slept in 24 hours. I did manage to snag a power outlet and a free (wired) Internet connection at the Cathay lounge here at JFK, so I can get some work done. Just bought a small $2.44(!) hazelnut coffee, so I’m rearing to go (as will my bowels soon enough).
Unfortunately, I found out earlier that only the first 5 rows of economy have power outlets (the bastards). When will these airlines modernize already? At least there’s hope in the lounges, but they don’t even have wireless (although I feel a bit smug that I seem to be one of the few who actually still carries LAN cables).
God, I hope I don’t fall asleep here and miss my plane. That’s my worst nightmare.
So here’s the start of my epic journey to my motherland. Hope I come out of it alive.
I’ll be making changes to the site incrementally as time permits, so don’t fret. In the meantime, here are some pics taken with my brand new camera (hope it comes out of it alive, too).
That’s all for now. Have to finish packing. And work on those BG’s. Oh boy.