One time, my Singaporean boss asked me if it would be all right if my work takes me to the Philippines couple of times instead of staying all year round in Singapore. That wasn’t the first time he asked me (and I would always answer, I’m fine with it, and I’m not sure if he believes me when I say that because he’d ask again). Actually, the question is understandable because many Filipinos like to leave the Philippines for good (thanks to goddamn traffic, life-threatening pollution, and the unbelievable indolence and corruption everywhere), but many of us would love to return and stay here, too. Some friends and relatives in the U.S., for instance, would fly back to Manila every now and then despite expensive airfares. The explanation for this can be found in the Department of Tourism’s latest 6-word slogan.
This Sunday gave me another reason why it’s more fun in the Philippines. My college friends and I went to the Hot Air Balloon Festival in Clark Field, Pampanga (two provinces north of Manila).
All six of us met at Manila’s economic capital, Makati. It was me who arrived first because I thought of seeing a film while waiting for all. Jay had thought of watching The Girl With The Butterfly Tattoo in Glorietta since Oscar season is near. Unfortunately, available seats: zero. Jay arrived and I suggested we go to Powerbooks because I want to scout for biographies of the Beatles. I saw one, Paul McCartney’s, and mentally put it in my To Buy List (I try not to buy another book unless I’m done reading the one I just bought–White Tiger, this time). Why I’m interested in their biography is another story.
Jay and I had our dinner at some place that smells of sizzling plate and barbecued goodness. Four times did their staff approach us for beer, coupons, promos and beer, until we realized, it’s Valentine’s next week, hence, all these Valentine’s promos offered to the most unromantic persons in Makati that very time (but we tenderly loved our tuna sisig and inihaw na tuna belly). We’re just so glad Kate, the girl with a fabulous scarf and knee length cardigan, and Connet, the girl in leggings and boots, came.
Raymond, our official driver, later arrived. We waited for our last travel buddy, CJ, at the coffee shop that serves the best chai tea latte.
Past midnight, we were at CJ’s fully furnished 6k-two floor apartment in Makati (we couldn’t get over his darn luck), and stole some sleep before our 2 am trip (balloons take off at the crack of dawn). Connet cooked us some chicken noodles ‘n egg yum. And I fell asleep while they chatted on the road from Manila to Pampanga, something I did again while they chatted from Pampanga to Quezon City.
I had to wake up from my sweet slumber (first, on our way to Clark; second, on our way to Makati) because I volunteered to pay for the gas
at the expense of my precious sleep.
Kate brought a curious looking toy, supposedly to kill time on the road. It’s called Bop It. Basically you do what the voice tells you–turn/ pull its knobs, spin its wheel, shake the unbeatable thing.
The kids They had a pretty good time with it. Throughout the trip, Kate–an Inquirer.net reporter–has lots of stories to share and some of the memorable ones are her first-hand account of the Corona impeachment because she’s assigned in the Senate. Of course, the juicier stories are the ones off cam.
The Hot Air Festival at dawn was cool, but I realized, long drives and the company of friends excited me more.
One thing I liked about the festival is the early morning skydiving. One of the skydivers took out a gigantic Philippine flag high up as the national anthem played down on the ground. It must’ve been a spectacle to see 7,000 people quietly looking up, watching the flag touch down as soon as the music stopped. Amazing. Now, that’s a flag ceremony. Another spectacle is the thousand of cameras–DSLR, digicams, camera phones, and iPads–raised for an hour. I’m not sure how many of us were standing just staring at the sky without a gadget between the spectator and spectacle, but I’m sure not as many as those who went there to watch the balloons and exhibition through lenses, like one woman beside me who kept on bumping into me for her to get a good angle of every rising balloon. I thought of shouting at her, but I’m too civilized to do that. I walked away from her and looked at the air gliders with a happy heart because they looked so cute, gliding in the air like doves who fly in flocks in different formation.
Next, Raymond on the wheels, we looked for a place to eat. The nearest Jollibee has occupied parking spaces so we followed a McDonalds sign, which brought us far into the heart of the town of Angeles, outside Clark. In front of McDo stood another branch of Jollibee so we had our fill of happy meals there instead. We talked about that Young Blood article I wrote and they imagined Mike and I having our pre-nup pictorial in an HM bus. That is one funny idea. Anyway, I asked CJ and Ray if they’ve started reading the books we bought at Bookay Ukay, and they replied yes, and CJ said the book he bought upon my recommendation, Murakami’s Wind Up Bird Chronicle, is their Book Club’s assigned reading (he also said that his office mates got them at almost the same price he paid at Bookay. Damn. I had told him it’s more expensive outside. Sorry, Ceej). I also got interested in the previous work of Connet’s father who was an Air Force pilot, that’s why hot air balloon festivals and air exhibition like these have been part of her childhood memories (her father used to be the one who flies those crazy acrobatic planes). Awesome.
Next stop was Marquee Mall because Raymond checked out some airplane model toys in a specialty store (he’s a collector). While the girls bought nail art brushes, we (boys) went to Krispy Kreme, and when all of us sat together, prodding Kate to take her nail art talent/career to a higher level, the staff gave us Original Glazed doughnuts each, free! Winner Sunday.
Next stop was UP Diliman campus. I’m not sure why we went there. I was asleep and woke up to the sight of fields near the registrar’s office. I thought I was dreaming. Till I saw good old CAL. UP it was. I asked why we’re there, and of course, my very serious friends said they’re planning to dump me in the campus while I’m asleep and leave me there.
Anyway, looked like we stopped over for Raymond to rest. I almost forgot that he’s a human being who somehow needs rest from a midnight-till-noon drive. While we rested, Jay and Kate were debating whether the kids on the other side of the parking lot are UP students. I have to agree (quietly) with Kate who commented that UP students are rich now; Jay was in doubt because they looked like high school students.
We exited the campus through the Asian Center and out to Katipunan, across C5 and straight to Rockwell where Raymond’s office is. He had a special mission at Nestle that time, so the rest of us stayed at Nestle’s lobby for a while. While Connet was sleeping, we talked about Nestle’s building, India, IRRI, ADB, how we got to talking about India, rice, coconuts, etc.
Later on, Sunday noon, Jay bought us Quattro Formaggio (four cheese) and Pesto di Aglio pizza as his treat for winning the Manila Game Jam, and CJ–the lucky guy who has a well-priced Makati apartment–bought each of us a cup of gelato at Amici located in Ayala Triangle when we were back in Makati. Yey! Chika topics this time were cameras, lenses, settings, DSLR brands and Connet’s very quick FB uploading (it used to take her months, now–weeks, she claimed with a triumphant face).
I’m pretty sure they all dropped dead tired when they got home as I did. What a Sunday. Now we look forward to seeing each other again, hopefully with more of our friends.
photos by CJ Brosas from his blog, the mountain and the wind