Friday, December 30, 2011

2011: Closing the Books

 It is time once again to let a new chapter in the Fam Och saga begin. But as always, closing the books on 2011 requires a bit of reflection.

CHANGE

It's what seemed to be the theme of this past year.



The biggest one being leaving this behind.
This one event was by far the most difficult thing we had to do. Dylan had his first swing here. The girls came home from the hospital as newborns here. We had numbers of Easters, Thanksgivings, and Christmases...opening presents by the fireplace...Simply put, this place housed every Fam Och memory for eight years. Leaving it suddenly made us feel vulnerable and unprotected somehow.


But we soon realized that although the circle of 2325 West will always have a special place in our hearts, home is always always always where the heart is.  And this little townhouse unit on base at present, fits the bill.

We've minimized and redesigned, explored new ideas, and set up house and made this our home.

Alaska is a place of wonder and adventure. Nature in extremes of beauty and weather, there really is nothing like it. Fam Och thanks its lucky stars every day we get to partake in its glory.

We've travelled on many occasions, whether on a train tour to see Mt. McKinley, or a plane trek across the Pacific to see my hometown. 

But when we look back at this past year, the main thing that comes to mind is how this family has banded together and hunkered down against all the difficulties of change. The Mister and I look at our children and see the most well-adjusted, truly wonderful kids we could ever have. And really, what more can we wish for?

So bring it on 2012! 

Livy and her Friend

I must admit this pairing caught me by surprise, although when I think about it now, it really shouldn't have.  Jasper's older brother JR was Dylan's best big buddy, and when I was younger, their oldest brother was mine. From the beginning, Liv started referring to Jasper as "my friend."


He would come over with gifts and chocolate cake. They would chat and play and Liv absolutely loved all the attention.

video

Jasper, in his full police uniform, sitting and enjoying "tea" with Little Livy.

These are those heartwarming moments that cancel out all the unwanted drama of this trip. :-)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

PI Vacay: Pistols and Revolvers and Bullets, Oh My!

 My younger cousin is a rookie cop (and also my youngest child's favorite friend, but that has nothing to do with this particular post). Of course, he finds a lot in common with the hubby.  During our first day there, I needn't worry that the Mister would be avoided/ignored since Jasper chatted up a storm and asked a multitude of questions about his service.

Anyway, it was during that day that tentative plans were made to go target shooting. It was agreed that he and a friend would supply the hardware if we supplied the ammo.

Unfortunately, the actual day of, I was nursing a nasty migraine so I had to bow out (who would want to be in the same room with a chick who is nauseous, sensitive to light and sound, and carrying a loaded gun?). So the boys plus T'Anna bounded off, a .38 revolver, .45 pistol, and a heavy heavy box of bullets in hand.

 Normally, minors are not allowed to participate in the firing range. But, as most things involving rules in the Philippines, a bit of "negotiating" gave Dylan the go-ahead. For the record, the hubby is very very comfortable with these weapons and I was there when the safety lesson was administered.

video
My boy and his first time shooting.

Dylan's target.
Pretty ghetto, huh? But hey, there's no reason to waste resources if the holes can simply be covered by masking tape and reused. LOL

This was hubbyman's target. 
Note the gaping hole in the center of the head. Pretty damn impressive, wouldn't you say?


video
T'Anna shooting for the first time as well.

They had a great time while I napped the pain away. They decided to do it again, that time with Jasper's new gun (they do not issue weapons, cops must actually purchase their own), aiming at cans near the lake.

PI Vacay: Splash Island, Laguna

A real huge plus living where my mom lives is the super close proximity to this water park. Ten minute drive...in the PI, the shorter the drive, the better. The Mister and I rounded up the clan and treated everyone to a day at Splash Island. Another awesome plus...the regular admission price of P500 per person (approx. $11.60) was slashed in half because we were residents of the town. 

P250 per person for 24 persons = P6,000 ($124 USD total)
Can anyone say SCREAMIN' DEAL?

We arrived early and rushed to the VIP villa (first come first serve) and claimed it as our own.  The villa's living room portion is enclosed by glass walls, with the sleeping quarters and private shower further inside.  I have this thing about public shower facilities...as I have issues about all sorts of stuff with potential germ infestations...so the P5000 ($119USD) was well worth it, especially since that villa is the only place within the park with air conditioning.

There is stuff for everyone here. There was a kids pool and playground area, but my girls preferred the wave pool. My mom was gracious enough to take them under her wing while the Mister and I joined the adults for more adult sized fun.
This is called Magellan's Drop.  It can be a bit disconcerting laying on a thin rubber mat, stomach down, head first, waiting for your go-ahead to push off. But the thought of smokin' all the other three in this race was more fun than scary. (Dylan was a tad nervous, so I told him to lift up on the mat when he wanted to slow down...which was of course a complete lie...it actually made you go faster...But he won his race with his cousins, so he didn't complain. Lol)

There were inner tube slides, enclosed slides, some you can ride with a partner, and others you had to ride alone.

Our favorite was the Rio Montanosa, a slide you can ride on a giant raft that holds five adults. We all endured the thigh-burning climb up several times with our big group just to scream all the way down again.

Francis, Sophia, Andrea, Auntie Linda

 Lulu, Auntie Elsie, and my mother sitting on the "shores" of the wave pool.

Marie, Olivia, Richelle, Andrea

The girls with Kuya Francis

Since it was December and considered a "cold" month (is there really such a thing in the Philippines?), the park is only open from Friday to Sunday. We would have happily gone more times had it not conflicted with all our other plans. If you are ever in the Metro Manila area, Splash Island is a must-see.

PI Vacay Day 1: Gastronomic Adventures and Disasters

 To say that my family to include mommy dearest was excited for Fam Och's arrival would be an understatement. We arrived at Casa Corazon at 0230 on 30 November after the missing baggage fiasco at the airport and the ever enlightening drive on the SLEX (pronounced ES-Lex...as in South Luzon Expressway) in which I believed our van would catapult to our certain deaths once every ten seconds or so. A welcome party to include a house blessing was scheduled that same afternoon.

It was ambitious, yes, considering factors of jet lag and children and such. But surprisingly, sleep struggles were not to be an issue this trip.  Apparently, the fam somehow managed to nap at precisely the perfect times during our flights to synchronize our internal clocks to that of the Philippine time zone. I have no clue how that came about, although there were many a time back in the Yukon in which I attempted to figure out some sort of sleeping schedule strategy on the plane (yeah, waste of time...but I had to try).

What didn't come as a surprise was the Mister's stint with food poisoning. The Philippines and food poisoning are best friends. Drinking water is the usual culprit. My mother was thoroughly prepared for our weak foreign stomachs and had a cache of filtered water at the ready...in the kitchen, in the upstairs fridge, and even in all the bathrooms (we were not even allowed to dip our toothbrushes in water from the tap).  Even the ice cubes in the freezer were filtered. So we should have been all set, right?

Well...no. This is MY husband after all, whose luck with these sort of things could qualify him as a certifiable jinx.

The man got food poisoning ON THE PLANE.  Yep, you heard me. Somewhere between the continental United States, Korea, and the Philippines, a nasty little bug claimed my hubbyman as victim. Upon landing in Manila, he had already broken out into a sweat and as I feared for our lives during the drive to momma's, he was curled up into a ball of spastic intestines.

Aside from the precursor introductions, the Mister spent Day One in the bathroom or in bed. Poor guy.


The parish priest made a house call to bless the house after extensive renovations were completed.

After a blessing, it is tradition to throw some coins for prosperity. 

Yeah, that's a whole pig. Roasted on a spit for hours and hours. The Mister was uber excited for this...poor guy missed out.

My Auntie Elsie's specialty pork kebabs marinated in her super secret sauce. This stuff is so good it's ridiculous. Liv loved this so much, she ate this for the majority of her meals there.

Huge shrimp for our seafood aficionado, Sophia. She refused to eat anything else. 

Pancit bihon. Soooo good.

The food spread was expansive. It took two long tables to lay everything out. I was in tummy time heaven.

The girls made friends effortlessly. They were always surrounded by my cousins and their children. 
JR, Jasper, Sophie, Richelle, Justin

Liv and two of her favorite three friends, Jasper, being her original number one "friend".

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

PI Vacay: The Flight(s) There

 As I completely ignored this blog during the vacation...(I tell you if you ever get cursed with dealing with Filipino cable internet as slow as a dial-up connection, you would, too)...the following posts will detail Fam Och's Christmas vacation.

Let's first start with the flight to our intended destination.

The goal this time around was to find airfare with dates compatible with the Mister's limited amount of leave days.  But, more importantly, the total $$$ would have to be pocket-friendly. After months of scouting internet prices, I stumbled across a short-lived sale and as the tickets were several hundred Benjamins less than what I've normally seen, I snapped them up. (International airfare during the holidays must be bought in advance, esp. with a traveling group of five. In this case, we found the best prices in October for travel in December.)

So our itinerary had us flying this route:

ANC-SEA-INC-MNL

3.5 hours to Seattle, 12 hours to Seoul-Incheon, 4 hours to Manila
+
2 hour layover in Seattle and 2 hr layover in Seoul
=
24 hours total traveling time

Yowza!




We've never travelled on Asiana Airlines before.  It is a South Korea-based airline, with its hub in Seoul. It's been my experience when flying multiple carriers (we flew Alaskan Airlines to SEA and must switch to Asiana from there) to check-in again at the gate of the new airline. However, instead of the gate, there was an official check-in counter serving all the Asiana gates. And as the fam was seated at the rear of the ANC-SEA plane, we were last to disembark, and therefore, last in line.  The entirety of the two hour layover in Seattle was spent standing in line to check-in, with the Mister sneaking off to the snack bar to purchase munchies for the kids.


All in all, the thousand-hour flight across the Pacific was uneventful. They had complimentary slippers, toothbrush/toothpaste packs, hand lotion, and combs available for passengers.  Headphones were free as well, although purchasing an adapter would allow you to use your own, far superior headphones/earphones set. You can choose between a Western or Korean dish...same ole airplane food...bleh. 


I did appreciate the built in head support...no more lolling heads!


Seoul-Incheon has been given rave reviews on its airport. I do admit it was pretty nice in there.  I didn't expect, however, that although we were just passing through to a connecting flight out of the country that we would still have to pass through another security checkpoint...which isn't a big deal for the fam since we have it down to a science (lol)...but the LINES!...the LINES!...and we only had a two-hour layover!...and we were again exiting from the back of the plane!...and our flight arrived 45 minutes late!

So here's the secret to this.  Passengers tend to herd over and try to speedwalk, following the green "Transfer" signs pointing to the security checkpoint.  They will ALL stop at the first one they come to, not knowing there are several of them in the airport.  Smartest thing to do? Bypass the first one, keep walking until you spot another "Tranfer" directional sign and head there.  You'd save yourself the time of waiting in yet another lengthy queue. Unfortunately, we didn't quite realize this until the flight back home. Needless to say, we were the last ones to board the final flight to Manila.


Now, the airport in Manila (Ninoy Aquino International Airport) is the exact opposite of Incheon...as in it has been rated as one of the worst airports in the world.  Ummmm, yeah, I can see why.  Usually, when deplaning, you can sense the temperature change only when walking through the jetway (that walkway that connects the plane to the terminal)...and when finally in the interior of the airport, you are once again oblivious to the heat/cold outside. Not so here.  This place needs an HVAC overhaul. If you're smart and packed a change of clothes in your carry-on, change into a T-shirt and shorts prior to landing. 

Immigration cards must be filled out for EACH member of the traveling party.  My cuz had the misfortune of being told otherwise and she had to fill out three more cards at the entry counter.  Visitors/tourists are limited to a three-week stay...any longer and you would need a visitor's visa which you should apply for in advance. If, however, you plan on staying longer (like we did) but have at least one member of your party who at point held a Filipino passport/birth certificate/proof of Filipino citizenship, simply present it to the immigration officer to receive your "Balikbayan" stamp. This exempts you from needing a visa, and applies to all members of your party. (I had discarded my Filipino passport long long ago, and since I was born in Japan and simply registered at the Philippine Embassy there, I did not have an official NSO Filipino birth certificate, I did not have official proof of prior citizenship. However, I just talked to the officer in fluent Tagalog, explained the situation, and received the stamp regardless.)


Remember that post wherein I listed some pretty nifty goodies that could help in keeping my rugrats from morphing into hellions on the flight? If not, click up on that subtitle. 

-The Trunki's were AWESOME. No strollers! The girls just hopped on theirs and went for a ride. Plus they fit perfectly under the seats in front of us. 

-iPod touches and their earphones were priceless when compared to the quiet time we had.

-Activity books and markers also kept them busy.

All the others were ok, but those three were the hit and I will never ever travel without them again. We received so many "Your kids are the most well-behaved kids I have ever sat next to."

Anyway, so that's how the first part of the trip went. Part II coming up.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Disappointment Strikes

 
I excitedly started counting down for this "grand" vacation to the Philippines several months out.  It had been a whole decade since I've stepped foot here, my mother being the only relative I've seen regularly since she treks over every year or so to visit us. To say I was excited was a gross understatement. I grew up in a family that spent vacations back home (here) rather than in new locales.  My sister and I cherished those times, flying back to the Philippines, staying at a hot and cramped house with a toilet that didn't have a flushing mechanism rigged to it. We didn't care, we were with our cousins, and we spent the days running around the small village, sneaking up on the corrugated steel roofs, telling of crushes and ghost stories of a half-man half-horse that smoked cigars and lounged in large trees (i know...weird...but "kapres" were scary when you were 8 years old).

I had this intense desire to show the Mister and kids how I had grown up this way, and I talked it up to them, going on and on about family members and their respective quirks...how this cousin was the neighborhood alarm clock since he tended to turn up the soft ballads radio station while he bathed in the morning and sang along with his loudest most off-key voice, often transposing his own personalized lyrics to the songs...or how this uncle had a habit of grabbing unsuspecting nephews and nieces and bit their fingers...or that cousin who had a pair of intensely hyperactive children whom I was sure would make great playmates for the girls. 


I had hoped that perhaps my children would make those lifelong connections as I did, forging close relationships this time with their second cousins (the children of my cousins)...that just maybe they would be the ones begging to go back whenever the opportunity for a vacation came up again.  Sadly, it is not so. 

I don't know what happened between the ten years I have been gone. Or even from when I was a child and now...Back then, although the language barrier was always present...it never seemed to be an issue.  I was raised bilingual (I am fluent in both English and Filipino), although my little sister could only understand Filipino but could not fluently speak it. There were times I had difficulty translating what I wanted to say into terms my cousins would understand...but we always found a way to understand each other...

Now, it seems this language barrier has manifested into a physical roadblock, standing in between Mister D and his cousins his age.  And as I had explained to my eldest beforehand, he would have to make the initial effort to communicate with them, as children here are generally shy and uncomfortable when it came to speaking English.  Being here for our second week, I've sat back and appreciated my normally timid son's attempts to make a connection with them.  This is not a natural thing for him, either.  And when I observe him approach a group of cousins and then see those guys turn their backs all for the mere fact that they are uncomfortable with communication, it simply hurts my heart.  And angers me all at the same time.  Here is my son, the one who is different, making the attempt to fit in...putting himself out there, as uncomfortable as any kid who is trying to be accepted...and he gets shunned.

It angers me to see such rudeness...such ignorance...such weakness.  It makes me want to point fingers and set blame...on those kids for hurting my child...on their parents for raising children who lack a spine...but in reality, I am just angry at myself for putting my faith in these people only to have my son hurt.

Now, Mister D has expressed his disappointment in the family I had talked up so much.  He says he does not want to return, and that perhaps he would be happier if we made an early return to Alaska. And I can't blame him.

And let's not even get into the other family drama ever present here...goodness! constantly hearing about it has exhausted me. One thinks she is being taken advantage of and disrespected.  The other thinks she is also being taken advantage of and disrespected. WTF. Has anybody heard of actually talking to the other person and trying to sort things out? So I am here, a sounding board for both, as they refuse to look at anything said at face value, instead twisting it and molding it to serve as some poisonous weapon to further corrode the relationship. It does wonders for the Christmas spirit.

Nine days into this vacation, I spent in my room crying, fed up with the drama. The hubby and I have decided to approach this vacation in a different way now.  Instead of the grand month-long family reunion I had built up for Fam Och to enjoy, we are instead focusing inward into our own family.  This will be just like any other Fam Och vacay...all five of us, enjoying what's available here in terms of entertainment, food, and culture. There will be no hurt alienated feelings when it is just us.  No petty concerns or little white lies...false pretenses...and plain old stupidity. I am officially done with it.  I have never imagined this would be such a disappointment. Good thing is, it's not too late to change that.  Hopefully, with this inward approach, it'll still be a memorable vacation rather than an enormous waste of money.