By: Zhang Siyang (Rachel)
Theme: Home stay
Down by the long bamboo bridge and in the center of a green and peaceful stream is a double-deck log cabin. A white cat, followed by a black kitty, is sleeping in the shadow of trees in front of the cabin’s door. Inside the door there lives a very lovable Philippine family, our host at Guimaras.
We first met Lala, our hostess, and her daughter Kasha at the wharf on the morning of the first day we arrived here. I was very flattered by their initiative warm welcome. Actually in the following days, I could keep feeling their enthusiasm and hospitable characters.
We guests and the host family mainly meet each other on the dining table. Lala is always trying to provide a variety of food for every breakfast and dinner. You can tell she has put a lot of thoughts into preparation. We have tried at least 10 kinds of Philippine local foods in 5 days. Lala explains their names and how they are made one by one, showing her willingness to introduce their culture to foreigners. Considering our dietary habit, Lala specially serves home-made hamburgers and buys us Baozi in China town, Iloilo. The mango season has passed, but she insists to serve a plate of yellow mango every meal for us, even not for her daughters. After realizing the mango price is kind of expensive and the other 2 host families next to Lala’s don’t have fresh fruits, I am really touched by Lala’s generosity and kindness.
(the curry chicken, one of the Philippine local food)
Lala has 6 daughters and their nicknames are Kasha, Rain, Laura, Zel, MM and Junnifer. They look very similar but have different personalities, so I differentiate them very soon. Although the girls are young, they never act like innocent or willful children in front of their guest. They behave well and know how to treat strangers nicely. To spare the larger attic to us, the 7 of them live in 2 narrow rooms downstairs. Every time they wait us to first finish our meal and chatting on the dinner table, and then eat the rest of the food: we all realized that and I’m a little bit guilty. When the light went out, Zel brought candles and the touch upstairs for us in the middle of the night. Kasha offered to weave my hair in a local way. And especially Junnifer, only 8 years old, welcomes us by excitedly shouting our names every time we are back. She would hug us whenever she wants and lean on me when sitting on the couch.
(Me and MM holding their white cat. MM is the second youngest daughter of Lala’s.)
The oldest daughter is only 19 years old, younger than all of us. I’m always thinking about how hard it was for Lala in all these years to raise 6 children who are unable to make a living on their own, and how difficult she will have to keep on doing so without her husband. They are not rich at all. Looking around the house, everything seems as old as antiques, implying that they don’t have money to spare on promoting their living standard for a long time.
(Two fans in the living room. The left fan was newly bought for us to live here. While the right one was used in their house for more than 20 years.)
I’m always impressed by the girls’ attitudes. They live in a very poor environment with much fewer physical resources than most developed places in the world, but they are not embarrassed or uncomfortable with the condition. They are neither keeping a distance or being shy to communicate with people from another world, nor overenthusiastic in treating foreigners. They just treat us liberally and equally like we are friends. They talk about their thoughts and feelings with a calm smile. Their elegant way indicates that they have good family education. It remains me that many people would not be confident and calm enough when facing foreigners, including the past myself.
Actually, we are friends, especially because we share the same interests as these teenagers. I have no idea before that the Filipinos love the same pop songs, the same movies and TV shows like us Chinese people. The internet connects people from different places of the world with world trend entertainments. Globalization is a good thing. It is the most relaxing leisure time in the evening. We can always find something interesting and have fun together. The 6 of us together with the 6 daughters and Lala spent one night singing freely with the microphone in their living room, 2 nights of American horror movies and 1 night of Korean popular TV drama. The boundary of regions or races seems disappear.
(A typical night at Lala’s.)
What impresses me most is that the family are incredibly strong towards disasters. There was a sea accident happened in October 2015 that a pump boat collapsed in a storm and carried away many lives of Guimaras residents. In this accident, the family lost an important family member Larry: the captain of the pump boat, the only male in the big family, the source of finance, and most importantly, the husband and the father. Lala told the sad story, with tears filling her eyes. She ended by saying, “If my husband was still here, you would love him like the other villagers do. He has a good heart and is a real joker. I can feel he’s not away from me and he keeps appearing in my dreams.” The family remember their beloved husband and father by hanging his portrait on the wooden wall.
I was feeling very sorry for the family’s unexpected loss in life. Sometimes human is very small in front of the nature power and we have nothing to do except mourning our beloved ones in grief. But life will go on for the people who stay brave. Fortunately, the family members can support each other. Lala said, “People persuade me to marry another guy for companionship, but there’s no need because I have the girls to live on with.” Every night, the girls and their mom sit very close in the living room, talking in their language and laughing. Lala said the youngest daughter, Junnifer, even tried to comforted her on the funeral of Larry. Also, the Christian family receives caring and support from the church. As a Chinese without a clear religion belief, I suppose the belief in god can take some of the sadness off.
Also, I find that the optimism is a tradition of the family. As a joyful and hospitable person, Lala laughed a lot on the dinner table and she’s always very cheerful to help us plan our journey in Guimaras. She has a beautiful voice. When she was standing in the living room singing as if she was in a band, she was shining like a star. She told us about her agency business and how she was managing to make more money to support her oldest daughter’s studying abroad. Maybe the girls inherit their mom’s positive attitude to life, because I never see the girls in depress too.
(some handwriting I found on the wall)
While I was typing these words, the girls are singing along with a pop song downstairs happily. I couldn’t wait to join them.