“Look! There is a turtle over there!”
“Ahhhh! Really? We are gonna go there to see it!”
“Will we be attacked by the wauk wauk (a ghost in local myth)?”
“No, they will only attack pregnant ladies.”
“Like this?” said Jake, one of us students, swelling his stomach to make it as large as a hemi-basketball.
“Ahhhhh!!” shouted and laughed everyone.
These are some scenes of our birthday party on the beach for Lito — the “papa” of our host family – last night. We went boating in the incredibly calm and limpid sea, sang joyful songs with the beautiful accompany of guitar, and swam together under the same broad and starry sky. It had just been one week since our arrival at Tubod Mar, the place where we will live for nearly a month, but we had already been so familiar and intimate with each other.
This reminds me of the self in the first few days – the boy who was tired from the internship and was longing for exploring a totally different world. The wonderfulness of the journey in this remote village even exceeded his expectations: he tried the unique local coconut wine in the busy market, appreciated the skyline beautifully shaped by the winding outline of distant mountains, and took pictures with the incredibly hospitable Filipinos relaxing on the beach.
Entrance to our little village – Tubod Mar
Simple but pretty local houses
Villagers making coconut juice for us
Encountered a buffalo in the hill path
I’ve had so many “first times” here, each one of which was worth a whole page on diary. However, the thing I value most is the days and nights spent with my host family, where I can really connect the scenery and people here with their life stories.
My host family is really a big one, which actually consists of three small families. The one where I and Samuel live is Rebecca and Lito’s. Rebecca is a worker and bookkeeper of a local blanket workshop, while Lito is a barber working in Cebu, a big city located in another island. Rebecca’s elder sister, Neneng, lives with her husband Rino, and her two children Reannie and Ryan, in a neighboring house. They are the host family for two other students from HKU, JeeSoo and Christina. In another neighboring house lives Rebecca’s younger sister, Estella, as well as her two lovely daughters, Pauline and Elaine. Apart from these, two other residents are Professor Beau and his nephew, Jake, living in the bamboo hut in the yard.
Every night, this big family will enjoy the dinner together in the bamboo hut. We will pray together, sing popular songs together, and exchange our thousands of stories, with the accompany of wandering chicken and kitties, and the melody of crickets as the background music. This often reminds me of the Spring Festival in China, on which day all the family members, however far from home they are, will come back to celebrate it together, with their one-year experiences outside. That is the warmest time in a year in China, while it’s happening every night in this family.
From the stories, I know that Lito and Rebecca, my “host parents”, met each other for the first time in Cebu. Afterwards Rebecca came back to Tubod Mar to work with fellow Mormon Church believers, while her husband continued to work in Cebu for higher income to support their family. They can only meet once a month, but this time Lito specially spared one month to spend with lonely Rebecca and us students. Though Rebecca and Lito have no child, they are supporting a niece to continue her senior high school education, despite their already tight budget. The niece, however, shows little gratefulness or intimacy and has made Rebecca cried for several times, but Rebecca never asks for any return.
Breakfast with Rebecca and Lito
Local kids playing on the seashore
Basketball game in Tubod Mar’s dust
Their stories are quite similar with many other Filipinos in some senses – facing the low income and limited opportunities, they do feel frustrated from time to time. But they always keep optimistic to life and try to find ways to overcome the difficulties. Just like what Neneng once said: “when we get stuck when speaking English, we just laugh!”
My mind comes back to the night sky yesterday, under which I stared at the millions of twinkling stars so fascinatedly. The little stars are just like us in the village – so tiny, so weak, but tightly connected to each other by the milky way, making the sky phosphorescent and filled with profound meanings. This remind me of the reason why I chose to study economics in the university – to improve the welfare of people, especially of those from the lower classes. In the computer laboratory of the university, these people become figures, ratios, charts and graphs on the screen, which are so efficient, robust and convenient for analyses. But the micro meaning of my ambition has never been so clear, that is to see the bright smiles on their faces – the faces of Rebecca, Lito, Reannie, Pauline, Elaine, and everyone, which I will remember forever.