A New Key

By : Charlie

“Damn it,” my roommate murmured when we nervously found that we lost the key to our door lock. As a consequence, we were compelled to leave the door of our small cottage unlocked almost as soon as we arrived at Tubud Mar, Hagna. It was the moment when I missed my home in Kunming or in Hong Kong.

But just as my best guess, our host family is so kind and friendly that they make us feel at home. Before I arrived in Philippines, tens of my Chinese relatives and friends reminded me of potential dangers caused by the recent arbitration for South China sea territorial disputes. But it did not take long before I fully realized those warnings are nonsense. All of our host family members are devout Catholics and the village is truly a peaceful place. The family told me that there are only 10 policemen in Hagna, a municipality with approximately 40,000 people. This ratio is not really a surprise in harmonious communities like Hagna. In big cities like Hong Kong, people probably do not even know their neighbors. But here in Hagna, when I walk along the road, small kids on top of nearby hills say hello to me and people in their motorcycles wave to me with sincere smiles.


Here comes the more amazing part: my host family. We live with Blesila Bolahon and her husband, a super nice couple with four outgoing kids.  They are not only polite and helpful but also treat us as their children or big brothers.  Their apparent kindness and hospitality deeply touch me. Our foster parents took great care of even very small details such as our sleep quality and mosquito bites. Every day, they meticulously prepare tasty food for us. It is fascinating that we could try different flavors of juice and bread for every meal. And they passionately asked us if we had spare time for a trip to Alona Beach. Our foster father is willing to drive us there, which is his birthplace, by motorcycle. It seems that their longtime peaceful life makes them not suspicious of strangers at all.

Kids in our host family are also awesome. At the first night we met with them, we exchanged language with local kids. We practiced again and again until Wille and I knew how to pronounce one to ten in Filipino while my foster parents’ children knew those in Mandarin and Cantonese.  We have lots of fun playing ball, watching TV and even dancing together. We watched tutorial videos on Youtube and followed those Indian dancing postures. We all laugh light-heartedly as small kids. Music is really a common language of mankind.


What is beyond my boldest conjecture is that I learn quite a lot from my host family. I could not imagine that even a 9-year-old boy can drive a motorcycle. I feel astonished when I hear that boy can catch fish in the river. I feel a little bit jealous when I appreciate their delicate handicrafts like the colorful Malaysian style kite that they made in only 3 hours. I feel amazed when I see their outstanding basketball skills. And it turns out that they are quicker at learning a new language than me. My foster parents used to work in Manila, but they decided to move back Tubud Mar owing to their pursuit of simple life here. The overwhelming abundance of material wealth in metropolitans may lead to the delusion of superiority. We really should explore the undeveloped world to learn to appreciate the impoverished rural residents’ brilliance and their lifestyle. Studying in a privileged university, I have much more resources than rural kids in developing countries. But whether I could efficiently use them remains a question. I get a strong sense of social responsibility to help with local business here.

All in all, I feel so glad to be assigned to live in this traditional bamboo house. Although the shelter is very small and crude, it makes me feel warm when I see family chat on the veranda, when I see dogs and cats enjoy their afternoon naps, and when I see a dozen children ranging from 4 to 18 play balls together and laugh so happily. Only after a few days’ homestay at Hagna, I comprehend that there is really no point in having a door key. I have already seen a new key: the kindness and innocence that make villagers in Hagna respect, trust and love others.


As a typical reserved Chinese, I feel quite uncomfortable calling non-parent adults father or mother. But this time, I genuinely call Bolahon “Mama” (mother) and her husband “Papa” (farther). The little moments with this great family cumulate to form a magical experience and the shabby house becomes a place we call home.




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