Last weekend was another wonderful experience for Kelsey and I. It was a long weekend, as we had Friday off for the Eid (politicians are trying to get the Muslim vote) so Kelsey and I went to Makati to visit the Ayala Museum. They had some spectacular collections of pre-hispanic Filipino gold artefacts and from the pottery trade with China, Japan, Thailand, and other Asian countries, but my favorite feature of this museum was the second floor, which was dedicated to displaying Philippine history through a succession of dioramas. After seeing it I was really able to more accurately locate myself as an American within the context of the history and culture of the nation I am a guest in.
Saturday was a reunion, as the four student interns from IWU placed at the International Rice Research Institute in Los Banos (to the south of us) came through Manila to pick us up for a trip going north to Bulacan where our four other friends were placed at Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm. “Gawad Kalinga” means “to give care” in Filipino: it is an organization aimed at addressing the class inequalities of Philippine society by helping the poor help themselves. The Enchanted Farm is the for-profit branch of GK and is a center for social entrepreneurship and developing businesses that aim for a positive social impact, not just profit. We toured the farm and learned about their philosophies, and then got to catch up with our fellow IWU students about what their internships have been like thus far.
On the way back, we were dropped off to meet our second homestay family in Mandaluyong City. Our connection to the Castillo family came through their daughter, Khamylle, who is the President of the SSC Student Council and one of the students we’ve befriended. She has two brothers as well: one older (David) and one younger (Benedict, or just Bene), as well as two wonderful parents: Edwynn and Grace. She also lives with some of her extended family on her mother’s side: her grandmother, and aunts, uncles, and cousins as well. We came into their home in the midst of a birthday celebration, and they had turned the warehouse they owned next to the house into a videoke party. (Videoke, or “Video Kareoke” is huge here and they had rented a videoke machine for 24 hours, which we got to sing for hours on, and it was wonderful.)
We went to mass with them on Sunday morning at the San Felipe Neri Parish – unlike the service we went to with Mrs. Becky, this one was in Tagolog. But it was still neat to observe the rituals. I also really enjoyed seeing the colorful vendors lined up at the entrance to the parish grounds who were selling candles, religious icons and medallions, and jasmine flowers (known here as sampaguita) – the national flower of the Philippines which is strung and commonly sold on the street. It is often used as an offering or as an adornment for the religious statues on public and family shrines
After church, Mrs. Grace taught us how to make Bicol Express, the dish Kelsey and I had agreed was our favorite after sampling a wide variety of Filipino fare.
This was a weekend of food – the Castillo family battered us with questions about what we had and hadn’t yet tried and then took it upon themselves to fill in the gaps. They bought us santol, an incredibly refreshing fruit that I’m not sure has an English translation, biko, and suman – sticky rice wrapped in a palm leaf and eaten by dipping it in sugar. Much to my chagrin, we also – finally – experienced the rite of passage that is balut. Balut is a common street food here (and a delicacy!) that consists of an aged and fertilized duck egg, which is then boiled. To eat it, you peel a small hole in the bottom of the egg, sip out the fluid, then peel off the rest to bite into your partially developed duck embryo – feathers, beak, and all. I was able to take a few tiny nibbles before I lost my nerve and started dissecting it like it was a science project – which is really what it looks like.
The Castillos also took us to dinner at the Kanin Club, where they ordered a whole spread of Filipino dishes for us to try and which we shared family-style. It ended with a twist on two beloved Filipino desserts: halo-halo (the shaved ice mixture) and turon, which is a banana rolled in brown sugar and deep-fried. We had halo-halo turon: deep-fried “halos” topped by ube ice cream. It was heavenly, and we left dinner that evening feeling very full and very satisfied, glowing from the generosity and hospitality that we had been shown. Staying with the Castillo family was a weekend of laughter and love, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.