TEN FLEETING DAYS and My After-Musings Part 3: Fidanzamento a Prego Trattoria (Betrothal at Prego Trattoria)

It was 30 minutes past the scheduled dinner time and my parents and brother were nowhere in sight. Our invited friends were already seated and I was as anxious as any bride-to-be could be on her engagement dinner night.  Ian, my ever active and supportive fiancé, was busy supervising some last minutes details such as instructing the restaurant staff, while also being a gracious host by greeting and mingling with our guests.

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Like a Boss.  My fiancé was doing such a superb job of supervising the staff that he might as well have been running the place.

45 minutes. My young uncle Clint wondered aloud: “Where are they?”

Exactly my question. Where are they?

Is it possible my family has decided to ditch my engagement dinner?

Were they upset enough about me marrying so quickly that they decided they didn’t want to show up?

The phone ringing disrupted the million thoughts racing through my mind.

Arjay, my brother’s close friend who had arrived earlier, picked it up.

“What? I can’t hear you. What happened?”

Reflexively, I turned my head to where the voice was coming as my heart skipped a beat.

“Is that them?”, I mouthed to Arjay.

“Yes. I’m already here”. Arjay kept talking to the caller who I assumed by now was one of my family members.

“You may go down in front of the main entrance, pass through the hotel lobby, and take the left door going to the restaurant”.

I was overhearing the one-sided conversation amidst the almost synchronized clatter of china and cutlery coming from the restaurant kitchen. It was my mother on the other end of the line asking for directions. Apparently, they had some trouble finding the place. Seriously? She helped me choose this restaurant and she can’t remember where it is!? And for the love of God, where were they?!?

“Baby, she’s asking you what drink you would like.” Ian, calm and in control, pointed to the waitress who was awaiting my order. “She will have a beer,” Ian, sensing my stress level increasing, informed her when I didn’t answer.

“Yes please, beer would be perfect!” I managed to respond after a delay. Dear Lord, it was a long night ahead of us…

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It wasn’t so long ago that Ian’s path crossed with mine on that fateful day when we stumbled upon each other online, of all places. It wasn’t so long ago when he traversed the International Date Line to see me, alive and breathing, for the first time, and when we went on an adventure together, exploring The Land of Smiles’ cities, provinces, islands, rivers, seas, villages,  railways, streets -every nook and cranny . It seemed only yesterday when we spontaneously fell in love…

Yet it had already been days, weeks, months since Ian and I decided we wanted to spend every day of the rest of our lives with each other.

And so there we were, all dressed and decked out on a night that could have been just any night only that it was not. It was a time that meant more to us than any night ever had.

It seemed surreal to be surrounded by a familiar crowd, some family members and close friends I would otherwise spend regular Sunday nights with. But there isn’t a minute to spare for second-guessing. We have finally arrived at the moment that Ian and I have rehearsed for several times in our heads and I’d be damned if we weren’t ready.   It was the night we vowed to celebrate the promise of our unwavering commitment. It was our chance to toast to and savor our little victory: We came to claim what we have toiled for, what our hearts have desired for in the first place- validation, acceptance and joy in the arms of the person we truly cherish and adore. We came to venerate a love so sincere it can cleanse even the most impure of souls, a love so pure it undoes human errors, it forgives mistakes. It is real, unadulterated, proud, defiant, unbent. We wanted it. We willed it. We have it. We paused for a moment to marvel at our masterpiece, borne out of sacrifice, patience and lots of hope. What wonderful music we have created, he and I!

Like artists at our gala, we basked in accolades. We indulged critiques. We smiled at each other secretly. We knew only one truth. Whatever may be, nothing can change anything, for our love is unbowed. We are unyielding.

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It was our night and not even my pamilya’s “Filipino time” arrival could have rained on our parade. Finally, at 7 o’clock, my mother, who was dressed to the nines and could have been mistaken for my sister, showed up with my father and brother in tow.

Ian politely greeted and thanked them for coming. Meanwhile, I motioned for the appetizers. The night was just beginning.

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Our engagement dinner was somehow designed to make up for the fact that my family and friends didn’t and won’t have enough opportunity to spend time with my fiancé to get to know him better. And since I barely discuss our future plans with anybody, it was also their chance to ask questions, verify information, and clarify anything and everything they’d want. Needless to say, everyone in attendance was thrilled, curious, and participative at the same time. If it was to be their only chance, they wanted to make the most of it. Arjay, my brother’s friend, former college roommate, and our “adoptive family member” was our impromptu master of ceremonies and facilitator. My brother Karl said grace before meal, and while pasta was being served, Ian showed off the ring on my finger and retold its compelling history. Our table echoed with oohs and aahs.

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Unretouched photo by RJ Protacio Photography
The Motherlode. A true Weinstein treasure, this ring previously belonged to Regina, Ian’s paternal grandmother.  He explained that the center stone was  the solitaire diamond on his grandmother’s original engagement ring which was given to her by his grandfather, Benjamin, in 1933. Then, in the 1950’s Benjamin had the engagement diamond re-fit as the center stone in a new ring featuring 6 smaller diamonds arranged into a bow shape; he gave this to Regina as an anniversary present.  After Ian’s grandparents passed away, it was decided that this heirloom should be passed to the next Weinstein male to get engaged, and over a decade later, this beautiful ring is fulfilling its destiny.

As encouraged by Arjay, everyone took turns in wishing us well. I held my breath when it was my parents’ turn to speak. I kept waiting for signs of bombs dropping but thankfully they never came. Phew! It wasn’t until later that I found out, upon returning from the powder room, surprised like an unsuspecting mother bear who went to hunt for her children’s food only to come back to find her cub surrounded by a pack of hungry wolves,  a horde had pounced on my Ian! Sneaky, sneaky, sneaky.

To lighten up the mood, our Uncle Clint and Cousin Jan Jay prepared a “How Well Do You Know Each Other” game to test our couple acumen during dessert. It was supposed to be a quiz but it actually did well to soothe my nerves. After all, we had nothing to fear: we knew each other well. All too well.

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Here Comes Mrs. “See? I’m Right”.  What is/are Ian’s favorite book/s and who is his favorite author?

Added to my relief, the food was good, the ambiance both classy and cozy, and the restaurant staff offered their best kind of service.  I’d say it was a wonderfully fun time overall.

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I’ll Stop the World and Melt With You. Molten lava cake for the lovers.

However, the ambiance, the food, the service, etc. was not the heart of it all. We were happy that everyone was gastronomically satisfied and there was laughter here and there during the night. But more than ever, Ian and I were glad that when they left the restaurant that night, we knew that they felt in their hearts that Ian and I know what we were doing and that we’re doing it as fairly and rightly as we can.

It’s no secret that what we have is a less than traditional courtship. Both of our families would have wanted more than Skype meetings, virtual greetings and overseas gift-giving sessions.  Ian and I want to give our parents and siblings experiences as close to the customary ones as we can. Even with the limitations, we labor to give our best. It would have been better if we could actually do more.

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Heads Up! The men in my family didn’t seem impressed, LOL!

It would have been a happier occasion if Ian’s side of the family were there in attendance. Instead, they got a full report over Skype on the following day. Later this year, Ian and I will be married in a civil courthouse ceremony with his family in attendance. My family will probably be watching the ceremony via live feed. They are not happy about it.

My parents prefer that I be wed before I leave for the States. As any parent would, of course. I assume that just as Ian’s clan would want to witness a marriage of a Weinstein man after several years of not having a wedding in the family, my parents and siblings would also want to see me struggling, er, walking down the aisle in a white poufy dress. They might even have hinted so to Ian when I excused myself for a few minutes to go to the powder room (along with the many other strong hints). I personally have been dreaming of my wedding since I was a little girl.

But for those of you who are familiar with the K1 visa, you’re aware that the rule is for the fiancée to travel to the US unmarried and to then marry on American soil. Any such violation on our part could jeopardize my eligibility to marry Ian in the future.  The way I look at it, my chances of being with the man I love for the rest of my life is entirely in the hands of a bureaucracy. I will not risk pissing them off.

My fiancé and I are in a challenging circumstance.  Honestly, we don’t like it either. We want to please everybody but there’s only so much we can do at the moment.  I can only tell you – and you must believe me – that we really try. In this crucial time, we need all of the support we can get. To all of our well-wishers, you must know that we really appreciate your kind words. We cherish your approval. We find comfort in your acquiescence. For without those, it almost feels as if it’s just us against the world.    Ian and I, we make do with what we have. We can only hope it’s enough.

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On the way home, I could tell that my family and friends felt better after having their queries answered. We felt better knowing that we were able to be transparent to them. People who love us have worried and will worry more for us. It’s human nature to care for one’s flock. Ian and I knew from the start that we are going to be okay. Now, they know that too. Going home, they had heavier stomachs and lighter hearts, more information and lesser worries, a better frame of mind and reduced anxiety. We couldn’t ask for more.

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A Walk to Remember

 

Gallery

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Her Perfectly-Styled Hair. It took longer to style my mother’s hair than for me to put together my entire look. She went to the salon. I did mine on my own. She wanted to look parfait, and so they were late! (It doesn’t rhyme…grrr!)

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Anything for Ms. Castillon? A name change is in order.

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Practice Makes Perfect. I’d like this pose for our wedding pictures too. Good rehearsal!

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The Couple flanked by the Board of Inquisitors

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BROck on!

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Bro Backing Us Up

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MAFIAmily. Er…My Family
Compliments to the staff of Prego Trattoria Italian Restaurant @ Novotel Hotel
http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Prego-Trattoria-Italian-Restaurant/269051753122091

TEN FLEETING DAYS and My After-Musings Part 2: Mothers, Lovers, and A Daughter’s Prayer for Peace

16th February 2013, Saturday, 11:30am. Ian and I returned to our Baiyoke Tower suite 30 minutes before check-out time. We had just gotten engaged on the top of Thailand’s Tallest Tower and what we really wanted to do was to turn off our phones, no internet and stay cooped up in our room until who knows when, if you know what I mean. But hotels here in Bangkok are particularly strict about check-out time because of the tourist traffic. Besides, we had obligations to fulfill such as Ian’s courtesy call to my family upon arrival and some more errands to do such as changing hotel rooms, getting ready for our engagement dinner on the following day, etc. So we scrambled to gather all of our things, pack our luggage and head to the hotel lobby for check-out…

It took some time for us to get settled into our new hotel room. Also, we had to travel to the suburbs where our previously chosen accommodation is located. My family lives in the area so in the interest of accessibility and convenience, we chose both this hotel and the restaurant for our engagement dinner to be in that vicinity.

We had plans to meet my mom and my brother in the afternoon to help Ian and I find clothes and accessories for our engagement dinner and pre-wedding photo-shoot. I had done my personal shopping with my stylist-cousins beforehand so technically this shopping trip was for Ian. I really appreciate my mom for agreeing to do this with us. I would say I am fashion-savvy; When it comes to men’s clothes, I may be able tell if it looks nice but I’m not an expert. My mom has three men/boys in the family and over the years she has gotten really good at shopping for males. So I intended to rely on her expertise. Besides, I thought it would be a good bonding opportunity for her and Ian (including my brother of course) because they had the chance to talk/get to know each other on only a few occasions before.

Admittedly, in the beginning of my relationship with Ian, it might have seemed difficult for my mother to process what was happening. To her, Ian could be just another “farang” (Thai term for foreigners particularly Westerners) with “yellow fever”. My mom was brought up a conservative and is very prudent in romantic relationships. She advocates a long courtship more than anything else and prefers two families of the couple to also know each other well before venturing into a “merger”.  As you know, it’s not very easy in our situation because our families are separated by miles, mountains and seas. As my mother, it’s understandable for her to have some qualms and hesitations about my impending marriage to a Cano (Filipino slang term for American man as in AmeriCANO) I have known for 7 months.

It doesn’t help that she hears horror stories from friends and colleagues about Filipina/Asian women who were into terrible circumstances while being involved with a white guy. I couldn’t blame her. Unlike me, she didn’t have the chance to interact with Ian on a regular basis. But I know that when she gets the opportunity, Ian’s charm, innate kindness, intelligence and obvious sincerity has the power to possibly win her over – as he did with me – and make her an instant convert.

My mother has been the primary constant in my life, good times or bad. I always treasure my fondest memories of my mother and I, such as her combing my hair and doing my hairstyle (I think she does the best braids and pontytails), putting night creams on my face and lotion on my skin while I’m sleeping because I’m too lazy to do it myself and I hate the sticky feeling. I seek her advice about even the simplest of things such as clothing and food options. To this day, she still calls me when she sees a lovely dress in the mall and thinks it would look nice on me. She would ask me if I’d like for her to get it for me.  My mom is my valiant protector; when I am hurt, she hurts more. When I had my heart broken in the past, it seemed to pain her more so than it did me.

I know that she wants the best for me.

So, in the cab on the way to the shopping center, I was crossing my fingers for good luck. Ian asked if I’m okay and I knew he could tell I’m a bit anxious.   I relied heavily on this shopping date for Ian and my mom to establish better ties.  Needless to say, my mom’s acceptance of my future husband matters to me. More so, I thought it would be great if the two people I love the most actually get along. At that point, I prayed to Mother Mary to intercede for me. Maybe she can warm my own mother’s  heart.

So we arrived at the mall and my mom was just finishing her grocery shopping. As I approached her, she asked me if Ian would like some pasta. My brother has perfected his version of spaghetti since we demand for his cooking every weekend. Apparently, she has been bugging Karl to cook so we’ll have something on the table when entertaining Ian.  I smiled secretly. Not a bad start.

To keep the friendly mood, I asked if anybody would like to eat. Everyone agreed that they were hungry so we headed over to one of the Thai restaurants for merienda (afternoon snack time) which was actually a late lunch for Ian and I. Over Pad Thai (stir-fried Pho noodles), spring rolls, chicken wings, Khao Pad Moo (pork fried rice), etc., my mother asked about Ian’s flight, his parents and sister which launched them to the eventual conversation about Ian’s family tree. Ian’s missionary aunt who was in Asia (particularly in the Philippines and China) for several years was mentioned and this captured my mom’s attention. My mother, who was raised a Catholic by her devoted aunts and was sent to Catholic schools from kindergarten to college pleasantly welcomed stories about Ian’s relatives who went into priesthood and nunhood. Ian’s maternal grandmother is Scottish Catholic. Many of his grandmother’s siblings lived as nuns, priests, missionaries and monks…. I interjected in the middle of their exciting convent-sation that my mother always wanted one of her sons and daughters to “respond to the calling” which ultimately lead to the mention of my brother Karl, who was enjoying the last piece of chicken wing, being a seminarian back in college. He finished Philosophy and just like Ian, he loves the big talks relating to theology, existentialism, physics and the purpose of life. Besides that, my brother plays the guitar and is into metal. Additionally, he very well liked Ian’s present during his last visit: a New York Yankees baseball cap. That being said, I don’t have any worries about my brother and his future brother-in-law getting along.  And the way the conservation between my mom and husband-to-be was going, it seemed I would have one less worry too…very soon. I prayed for my mother’s saints to watch over my cause. I could only hope they weren’t sleeping.

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Two brothers and a mom

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My Men. Enjoying Häagen-Dazs chocolate truffle ice cream for dessert

Someone mentioned that it was getting late, so we picked up the bill and started heading down to the department stores. Did I mention we were in Thailand? So that meant endless choices at ridiculously cheap prices for good quality garments. Evidently, my mother and my brother had already started scouring the mall for shops on sale before we got here so as to save time once we finally arrived. So in a systematic fashion – carefully supervised by my shopping expert mother –  Ian started his “ordeal” of trying on shirts, blazers, suits, etc., beginning with the brand Pierre Cardin which thankfully was at 50-70% off! (Oh Ian, aren’t you glad you’re marrying me?!) Halfway through the marathon, sweat began trickling down Ian’s forehead and my mother promptly motioned to me to wipe my darling fiancé’s forehead. At the fourth long-sleeved shirt, I couldn’t hide my frustration for the lack of available sizes for Ian. In Thailand, when you say large, it means American small or something. No kidding!  I am convinced it’s another one of the government’s grand schemes of regulating this aesthetically-motivated and figure-conscious country’s citizen’s weight.  As soon as I started with my tsk-tsks, my mother started with her disapproving stares: “Don’t be like that. Be patient”. Those were her words of wisdom followed by orders of “Wait for him outside the dressing room”, “Don’t leave him” and more. My mother was barking like the How- to- be –a- Good -Wife -101 professor.  After 25 years of marriage, I guess my mother has earned for herself a master’s degree in Wifehood.

We finally agreed on a light blue striped long-sleeved shirt for Anderson Lake (The Wind-up Girl),  a gray suit with matching skinny tie for Paul Varjak (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and a black suit and white long sleeved shirt for our engagement dinner. Phew! Done at last! Male shopping is definitely not my favorite sport. After a tiring three hours or so, we called it a day. My mom thought Ian looked really tired so she ordered us back to our hotel to get some rest in preparation for the dinner the following day. Riding the cab on the way back, I was in lost in my silent reverie. Generally, I was happy with the outcome of that day: My mom was gracious and I knew she was making her best effort to show that she is reaching out. Although with my mom, it is not very difficult for her to appear welcoming because she is naturally a thoughtful person-she genuinely cares about and is very mindful of people’s needs. I was really hoping that Ian felt welcomed because I knew in my heart that if I were in his situation, my mother would also like me to be welcomed by my in-laws to be. This memory brought me back to our non-traditional Skype “pamamanhikan” two months back:

Our families were scheduled to teleconference at 8 o’clock breakfast time in Bangkok. Meanwhile, in Katonah, New York, Bob and Ellena – Ian’s parents – had just finished their dinner at home. At one point in the conversation, my mother expressed her apprehensions about my move to America:  She was telling Ian’s parents that she is very worried because I don’t have aunts or uncles or any close relatives in the US and so she wouldn’t know where to refer me to in case something happens to me. In response, Ellena recounted her own experience back in 1974 when she was only 20 years old. (Ian has told me that she came to the States with nothing but the clothes on her back). Coming to America for the first time, Ian’s mom said the only person she knew in all 50 states was her husband, Bob.  But Regina, Bob’s mother (and the original owner of my engagement ring) welcomed her with open arms and let her into their family and hearts like a true daughter.

“Juvy, that I will do for Cecille, too”.

Observing this genuine and poignant exchange between two mothers sent a shiver down my spine. I swear I saw my mother become teary-eyed. Thousands and thousands of miles away, Ellena was able to project through an LCD screen connected to various wires and microchips powered by technology, a sentiment as old as time—human empathy, loosely defined as “caring for other people and having a desire to help them, to experiencing emotions that match another person’s emotions, to knowing what the other person is thinking or feeling, to blurring the line between self and other”.

To me, it translates as “Juvy, I feel you. I am a mother too”.

Thousands and thousands of miles away, Ellena struck me in the heart and in that instant I believed that everything is going to be okay. I will be okay in a foreign land away from home because I will have a second family. Across all of these thousands of miles, I felt a sentiment so much older than me but  so rarely experienced by many these day:  Faith in humanity.

I know I was supposed to tell our story, mine and Ian’s. Yet it is said that a good story is one that tells another story within. This story is not solely mine but also that of my mother, Ian’s mother, and of all the mothers, parents and families who are taking a gamble at letting a “stranger” claim their children as being theirs too (“stranger”: referring to fiancés or fiancées). Isn’t this difficult for parents to do? They are supposed to welcome into their homes and into their hearts the person who is about to take their child away from them and claim to have responsibility over them from then on. As parents who cared for their children from the time they were fragile babies, to naughty children, to troubled teens, and finally to present day adults, it is almost impossible to believe that yet another person could possibly care for their respective little prince or princess better than they have.  Again, faith in humanity –  so mainstream, but also so scarce. It is a tragedy of life that these days it is a stretch for a person to bring himself to put his trust into the hands of another man. That is why it is unavoidable for parents to quiz the future new family member about his background, circumstance, upbringing, viewpoint and opinion on things that they think matter. They want to know whether their future son or daughter- in- law can protect their interest.

I am proud of my Ian. I think I couldn’t have chosen a better man. Had I been an FBI agent’s daughter, my father would be disappointed to see Ian’s dossier to be so clean that he doesn’t have a bone to pick with him.  He would even be more disappointed to find that my Ian is a man about it: he looks forward to the interrogation with cool, respectful, confidence. He is not arrogant but he is also not intimidated.

The logical next step is then for my FBI agent father to take is to assume I am crazy, and that I do not know what I am doing getting married so soon. Surely, he knows me better than I know myself. Surprise, surprise!

It is very common to hear from parents the words: “No one else knows you better than us”. Maybe they do. But also, maybe they don’t anymore. With all due respect:

This is the sad truth for our dear Parents. Yes, once your children were little kids running around freely without any sense of direction other than what you had set for them. However, children grow to become adults just like you with jobs, responsibilities, and plans. Children, too, eventually mature to build a life and family of their own.

I do not mean for this to come across as being negative. Rather, I would like to bridge the gap there is between future in-laws from both sides (although this may not be applicable to everybody). Maybe, the marriage of your son and daughter must not be seen as another person taking your child away from you, but instead as one more person loving and caring for your child as much as you do. Maybe having a son or daughter in-law is not a burden, but instead a happy addition to your growing family, regardless of said son or daughter in-law’s color, race or creed. Maybe negative perceptions must be changed.   Perhaps the strict concept of exclusivity must be loosened a little bit.

The family is the basic unit of society. And wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if in our society there is harmony amidst diversity?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all just get along, despite our differences? This should apply especially when different parties have a common stake: to secure the lifetime happiness of the one they claim to love. Case in point: Me.

That is my opinion.  My parents, just like any other parents, also wanted to air a piece of their minds. Ian and I promised they will have a chance at the engagement dinner. That was only 12 hours later after we said our goodbyes in front of Central Chaengwattana mall.

As we bade each other farewell, my mother gave my darling Ian a “beso-beso”. I prayed to God it wasn’t a Judas kiss. Maybe this time God listened.

To be continued…

IAN.Y.S.M. Entry 003 – The Global Filipina’s Guide to New Paltz, New York: Activities, Attractions, and Fun (Part 1)

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Several months from now my Fiancée will arrive in the States to start a life together with me.  I cannot stress how much I admire her bravery for undertaking such a huge leap! She’s never been here before, and will doubtless have much to learn and discover about this place as she makes her adjustment.  With this in mind, I see it as my duty to do all I can to make her feel welcome and comfortable.

Although nothing can substitute for genuine, first-hand experience, this is simply not an option just yet. Regardless, I still want to get started, and that’s how the idea for this entry was born.  Thanks to the wonders of modern technology and the internet, I can provide Cecille with a virtual “window” to the USA via this blog. What better place to start then my hometown of New Paltz, New York?

First, a little bit of history and geography, so that you, dear reader, may orient yourself:

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New Paltz is located about 80 miles (130 km) north of New York City.  It was settled in 1678 by French Huguenot settlers, and their 6 remaining stone houses located on Huguenot Street is considered a National Historic Landmark:

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The population of New Paltz is about 15,000 people, which includes a sizeable number of undergraduate and graduate college students who attend The State University Of New York at New Paltz.  In fact, Cecille’s future home is directly across the street from the college’s main academic buildings.

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New Paltz is not some sleepy country town – actually, it’s quite active and full of life. This is due in part to the youth of the population (college students) as well as the town’s reputation of being a haven for artists, musicians, writers, and other such liberal folk.  We also attract our share of tourists here, most often being New York City dwellers who escape north to spend their money in antique stores, or sightseeing in the mountains nearby (more on that shortly), or apple picking, or touring the local vineyards for wine tasting.

OK, now that we have the setting, I’ll turn my focus to Cecille: my goal is to pair her likes & interests with local activities or places right here in her future hometown. So, what does she like to do?

Cecille is a health-conscious woman who will want to stay fit; her favorite way to do so is running.

About a 5 minute walk from my front door is the athletic area of the college campus, which includes an indoor gym, many playing fields, and a full-sized running track:

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Did you notice the amazing mountain view?  As long as I’ve lived here, I’ve found the views of the Shawangunk Ridge to be awe-inspiring…and I hope it inspires Cecille as she eventually runs on this track. By the way, Cecille, your new shoes are here waiting for you!

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Alternately, if we feel like walking, biking, or running on a nature trail, the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail passes straight through the Village of New Paltz.   A part of the long-defunct local railway system was converted into a nature trail…it’s 24 miles (38 km) long and passes through 3 towns as well as farmlands, thick forests, across bridges and by a river.  As you may imagine, there’s some amazingly picturesque views along the way:

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Cecille is artistic, and will dedicate time to pursuing such endeavors.

Luckily, she will need to go no further than Manny’s Art Supplies, conveniently located right in the Village on Main Street, also walking distance from my house:

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Here, Cecille will likely get to mingle with other local artists and craftspeople as she restocks. They’ll have all she’ll need to get her creative juices flowing!

Art and exercise is all well and good, but what about when we want to indulge in the finer foods and sweets this town has to offer?  Like me, Cecille loves chocolate.  The solution? Krause’s Chocolates:

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Home made and incredibly delicious, Krause’s supplies the best chocolate in the area. Can you look at this and NOT drool? I know I can’t:

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But we can’t eat chocolate all of the time, can we?  As much as I’d love to, we have to worry about such things as nutrition and health, too. Fresh fruits and vegetables are Cecille’s favorite, and we’ve been talking about how we’ll fuse together Thai-Filipino and French cooking. We’ll need to study recipes and get creative!  Luckily, we’re covered because New Paltz has its own Farmer’s Market:

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I invite those of you with Facebook to check out the photos of the fresh, delicious vegetables, fruit, and other foods offered up by local farmers:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/New-Paltz-Farmers-Market/133713611042

I’m sure we’ll prepare many healthy meals together with the locally grown food available at the Farmer’s Market!

And so concludes the first part in a 3 part series.  For Part 2, I will focus on restaurants and nightlife, and Part 3 will focus on places and activities in the environs surrounding New Paltz – such as apple picking, mountain hiking/climbing, and vineyard touring. Stay tuned!

IAN.Y.S.M. Entry 002 – Love Songs, Part 1: 恋の予感 – Koi No Yokan

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Music has always been a huge part of my life.  It has inspired me, entertained me, and sustained me. Some of my earliest memories involve music (mainly, The Beatles), and this is a direct influence of my parents: they both came of age in the hippy era…my mother comes from a very musical European family, while my dad got to attend concerts in New York City during his youth, seeing some of the biggest names in 60’s rock perform live.

So, while growing up music was always around me, and it didn’t take much time for me to set out to discover my own tastes as a child. After a steady dose of 80’s radio hits, and a brief foray into rap, I discovered heavy metal around 1985.  Since then, it’s always been a part of me…I also learned to play guitar and played in metal bands myself.

To those who don’t know metal, or can’t stomach the roar of distorted guitar, it likely sounds like a cacophony of noise.  In fact, metal has come to be one of the most diverse genres in all of music.  Metal has come to incorporate several different influences from other styles, often with good results.

This will be the first of (hopefully) several posts about music; I’ll often focus on metal because it’s my favorite, but I’m quite eclectic when it comes to what I like to listen to, so there will be some surprises as well. These first few entries will focus on “Love Songs”, specifically songs that I attach some significance to in terms of Cecille.  So, prepare for a mix of warm fuzzies and thunderous grooves!

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Here, I will focus on a specific album by one band, Deftones.  This particular album holds a special significance to me in terms of my romance with the lovely curator of this blog; first: the timing – it was released 12 days before I flew to Bangkok and met Cecille. But more importantly, the theme of the album and the mood of the music.

The title of Deftones’ most recent album is Koi No Yokan, which is a Japanese phrase which means “Premonition Of Love” 恋の予感, which fits the lyrical and musical theme perfectly.  Of course, it didn’t escape my notice that this American band chose a Japanese name for their latest release, because my love is in fact ¼ Japanese herself! More synchronicity thrown at us from the Universe? It certainly feels like it to me!

Deftones has a musical career that spans almost 20 years, and through their releases they’ve become quite adept at creating an ethereal atmosphere which is created by the layered, lush production, space-pop and trip-hop influences, but mostly by vocalist Chino Moreno’s unique and instantly recognizable crooning. They ensnare the listener by taking them on a journey between adrenaline-fueled catharsis and soft and subdued soundscapes. Chino’s voice can tranquilize like a lullaby or screech like a banshee, but his phrasing is sublime and his placement is perfect.  This most recent album showcases some of Deftones’ best songwriting to date, and quickly became the perfect soundtrack to falling in love.

 So without further ado, the first Deftones song I’m presenting is called “Romantic Dreams”

Even the very first line brings Cecille to mind:

“I process your constant changing phases”

Yes, nothing simple here – my love is a complicated woman. She keeps me on my toes…it takes some “processing” for sure 🙂 But this is a Love Song, so things are about to get a lot more romantic:

“So why wait to discover your dreams?
Now here’s your chance
I promise to watch and raise your babies”

Ah yes, a chance to discover love, the kind of love where the male protagonist entices with dreams, and promises of procreation born from said love, and steps up to the role of fatherhood. I imagine that for many women, this is about as romantic as it gets…Amirite?

“I’m hypnotized by your name
I wish this night would never end”

These words were echoing through my mind during the last hours I spent with Cecille before having to leave Bangkok and return to the US; I really wanted those moments to stretch into forever. They were full of smiles, tears, whispered promises and passionate kisses. Some of the most profound memories of my life so far.

Another song that’s grown close to my heart as Cecille has is called “Entombed”

This is a very mellow, atmospheric and moody song. Chino’s voice sounds like honey as he makes the following declarations to his love:

“From the day you arrived
I’ve remained by your side
In chains, entombed

Placed inside
Safe and sound”

“On the day you arrived
I became your device
To name and soothe”

The theme here is fairly obvious, and to me, it echoes the promises I’m making; it’s an expression of caring and devotion, even shackled to those notions, promising safety, definition, and “soothing”.

When I listen to this song I think of the future, of my Cecille arriving here…and beyond the promise of being her future husband, I acknowledge the challenges she’ll face in a new land and a new culture. My love, I will remain by your side, soothe you, and keep you safe from the moment you arrive. I promise.

And last for today, but certainly not least, is probably the most atmospheric and emotional track on the album, “Rosemary”

This was the PERFECT song for me to listen to as I was hurdling 30,000 feet in the air towards Bangkok.  Musically, it begins with a slow, building, spacey intro which ultimately becomes a thick, droning, groove based guitar riff, and the song alternates in this manner throughout, analogous with flying, lovemaking, intimacy, travel, and discovering “other planes” through all of the above. I remember leaning back in my airplane seat with my earbuds in, listening to this song with my eyes closed, feeling the throb and hum of the engines as I thrust through the sky:

“There’s no sound
But the engine’s drone
Our minds set free
To roam

Time shifting
We discover the entry
To other planes”

You know those moments when the “soundtrack” to what’s happening in your life is just sublimely perfect? This was definitely one of them.

And then in the very end of the song, which I interpret as the destination (“Just stay with me”):

“Stay with me
As we cross the empty skies
Come sail with me
We play in dreams
As we cross the space and time
Just stay with me”

Yes, in that moment I was still “playing” with a dream, while crossing space and time (it’s true, I crossed the International Date Line) towards that very dream, making it real and extending an invitation to The One I was about to rapidly fall in love with…come sail with me…let’s play in our dreams…just stay with me.

IAN.Y.S.M. Entry 001- A haircut and a plane ticket: Now The Leap!

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Wow.

Looking in the mirror that day, the change seemed drastic. Almost a foot of hair, gone.  I felt like I had gone from metal to ’92 grunge with just a few snips of my mom’s scissors.  Yeah, that’s right – I’m 37 and my mother cuts my hair.  It’s a rare occasion, perhaps once every year or two.  She’s the only one I trust to do the simplest, most even cut.  My fear is that a hairdresser or barber would get scissor-happy at the sight of 15 inches of straight hair on a guy. But this cut was particularly drastic – probably the shortest my hair has been since I was about 17.  Typically, I’ll request a healthy length around my shoulder blades, but today was different: I had somebody to impress.

That “somebody”, Cecille, had impressed upon me that my abnormally long hair would really stand out in Thailand.  It would attract attention, potentially unwanted.  Here in New Paltz, New York, no one really gives me a second look; but I’ve had long hair throughout my life, so I’m well aware of the negative attention that it can garner.  Basically, I couldn’t care less; it’s something that I had accepted a long time ago.  However I wasn’t sure how that kind of negative attention would translate for a “stranger in a strange land”, as I felt I was about to be.  Of course, Bangkok is a metropolitan, international city, full of foreign tourists and western ex-pats.  But to me, it was different of course; I’d never been East of France before.  So the idea of attracting attention that wasn’t familiar to me, of being a foreigner AND a freak somehow, wasn’t appealing.  Even more importantly, the idea of Cecille feeling awkward around me was even less appealing.  So there goes most of my hair, and I look unfamiliar to myself.

So I tie my hair back, and then I look just the same as before.  No one will even notice. And, I was right about that – since I’ve been back from Thailand about 6 weeks ago, not one of my friends or coworkers noticed my missing foot of hair.

I was restless that night; staying at my parent’s place, because they’d drive me to the airport in the morning. Tomorrow was a big day…my mind was on overdrive. First, what would the trip be like? I’ve never travelled so far and for so long.  But mainly, it was my reason for going that kept my mind racing; Cecille. What would meeting her truly be like? Would our chemistry translate to spending actual time together?  What would become of us, and what adventures were in store for the next two weeks?  Yet even as my mind raced with these questions, there also a sense of calm, resolute empowerment; whatever this turned into, my choices over the next days and weeks amounted to me taking control of my own destiny with my eyes wide open, and in a way I had never attempted before.  Come what may, I was ready…and it felt amazing.

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After a somewhat restful sleep, and a nice breakfast with my parents, I’m upstairs and in a skype call with Cecille.  We’re both really excited, knowing that what we’ve been anticipating is just hours away.  I would be a liar if I said that it was easy to get to this point; after all, we were both carrying a lot of hopes and even fears into what we were about to do. ..and there is really no way to predict such results.  But we had grown to care for each other over these past months, and both very curious about what the next step could be – so this was enough to keep us happily excited, and very very ready despite how nervous we sometimes felt. Case in point, I show Cecille my new lack of hair.  Well, not the reaction I was hoping for.  She told me she felt like crying, I had cut too much off.  “But I did it for you,” I told her. “I didn’t want you to feel awkward around me – I want you to LIKE being around me!”  Her response was to tell me that I had ruined her fantasy about being with a rock star.

Damn.

I did spend some time attempting to convince her that my hair grows quickly, and that if things go well with us, she’ll see it in all its long rock star glory again eventually. I was at this until my Dad started yelling up the stairway that it was time for us to go if I didn’t want to miss my flight.

Soon after, we left to drive to the airport.  My parents were excited for me; I know that they liked to see me so happy and excited to embark on such an adventure.  They knew I hadn’t done anything new or fulfilling for myself in a couple of years.  A spontaneous voyage to the other side of the world, to be a tourist in an exotic land and spend time with a woman I was getting close to was a positive thing for me and they were certainly more supportive and excited than nervous or worried. But, they are parents, so being nervous and worried was an inevitable part of it.  However, aside from the usual “be aware, keep your wits about you” kind of stuff, I didn’t get any lectures – save for my father’s one piece of sage advice: “Don’t get her pregnant.” Ha.

The security procedures at JFK weren’t as bad as I had expected, after reading numerous accounts of TSA’s strictness and even misconduct in news stories online.  Finally, I get to my gate and find a place to charge my phone.  I also check out the plane through the window: an aging 747. I looked at the hulking thing, imagining its immense weight getting off the ground and carrying me over Canada, the Arctic, and the eventually Siberia and into China.  My thoughts were interrupted by a flurry of activity around the gate counter for our flight. What was going on?

As I approached, I noticed a sign, which seemed to be a hastily-typed page affixed to a small sign stand. It hadn’t been there just a few minutes before.  Basically, it stated that our plane would need to stop in Anchorage, Alaska due to some “technical issue” and that thus our flight would land in China at least 3 hours late. Shit!!!, I thought, as I snapped a pic of the sign with my phone.  I then went to the counter and explained that I have a connecting flight to Bangkok after Beijing.  The harried attendant explained to me that I would miss the connecting flight and would need to wait until the next day in China for the next one.

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What a mess! I hastily sent the pic to Cecille, but I knew she wouldn’t see it until she woke up some hours later.  After a few minutes I just tried to relax and accept it: this was beyond my control, and I will make it there eventually. Nothing will stop me.

Nothing will stop me.  -That’s really how it felt to me.  I had set the wheels in motion as soon as I felt welcomed by Cecille, and since they began to roll they haven’t stopped.  I had to get to the other side of the world to see what would become of this; I wouldn’t be deterred by inconvenience or even fear, and the last thing I would allow myself to do would be to carry around such a big “what if?” with me for the rest of my life. I was going to meet this beautiful and intriguing girl that made me smile (and sometimes drove me crazy) no matter what!

PAUNANG SALITA (Foreword)

We often hear our fellow Pinoys say things like “Uy, alam mo ba ang balita? Ang kumare nati’ng si Shirley ay American citizen na” (Hey, did you hear about our friend, Shirley? She’s already an American citizen!)” Most often, this news is either squealed in delight or excitement as if it’s that huge a deal or disclosed in hushed tones as if there’s intrigue attached to it.  Sometimes, depending on the tone of voice of the news source, you could tell whether she’s genuinely happy for the person or jealous of her new status. I say sometimes, because people are not really transparent all of the time. They could say one thing but mean another. I don’t have a problem with that. That’s their opinion. What would not escape my scrutiny though is the usual end-phrase “Buti pa siya” (Oh, she’s better off!) as if being a citizen of another country (in this case, let’s say, the United States of America) is an upgrade for a Filipino citizen. I find it heartbreaking how some of our kababayans can take more pride in carrying the name of another country than our own Motherland. Sure, there are so many ways that we can complain about Pilipinas, but is that reason enough for one to actually write “American, Canadian, British, etc.” in the space provided for Nationality in their information sheets? A Filipino can acquire citizenship from various countries (and hell he can write whatever he wants in the citizenship section) but can never change his nationality. Is it then a sheer ignorance in identifying the difference between Nationality and Citizenship? Well, one can Wiki everything these days!

Maybe I am being too emotional. Maybe my patriotism is frivolous and getting in the way of logical reasoning. Maybe I have to be more forgiving to people who have less than excellent vocabulary.  I can’t help it. It has been deeply ingrained in me since I was a developing fetus. I floated in my mother’s womb to the tune of 70’s and 80’s socio-political tracks  from Asin, Noel Cabangon and Freddie Aguilar. The first full-length song I learned at the age of three (3) is Ako ay Pilipino by Kuh Ledesma.

Ako ay Pilipino
Ang dugo’y maharlika
Likas sa aking puso
Adhikaing kay ganda
Sa Pilipinas na aking bayan
Lantay na Perlas ng Silanganan
Wari’y natipon ang kayamanan ng Maykapal

Bigay sa ‘king talino
Sa mabuti lang laan
Sa aki’y katutubo
Ang maging mapagmahal

CHORUS:
Ako ay Pilipino,
Ako ay Pilipino
Isang bansa isang diwa
Ang minimithi ko
Sa Bayan ko’t Bandila
Laan Buhay ko’t Diwa
Ako ay Pilipino,
Pilipinong totoo
Ako ay Pilipino,
Ako ay Pilipino
Taas noo kahit kanino
Ang Pilipino ay Ako!

The first stanza alone is enough to stir waves of emotions in me. So yes, maybe I don’t have an unbiased perspective on this. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against other countries. I’m not even saying that I don’t want to go and live outside of the Philippines. I love travelling and I certainly dream of a European vacation one day. Besides, right now I am working abroad. I will continue living abroad if and when I have to. Six months ago, I had to leave the Philippines. I had my heart broken, and instead of bringing it with me and attempting to mend it, I left it there. No use in carrying extra baggage. What would I need it for anyway? I was determined to set aside matters of the heart. I would focus on myself and get my ducks in a row: Job, career, graduate school. True, the recent events have caused some setbacks in my timeline but I promised I would get it back in order very soon.

A few days before my flight, my friend Myrell told me over lunch: “Don’t worry. There are so many fishes in the sea. And in a very lively city like Bangkok, who knows? You might even meet a foreign guy and marry him some day!”  I remember laughing it off with her but at the back of my mind I really just dismissed it: “I will not go looking for love in Thailand. But if love finds me there, I will welcome it with open arms”, I replied with conviction. Back then, I honestly paid her no mind. With hindsight, wow, was she prophetic!

I met my now fiancé Ian exactly one month after I arrived in Thailand. Six months later, Ian petitioned his government so that he can marry me and be with me forever. Six months from now, I would hopefully be on my way to my future new home-The Land of Milk and Honey, The Land of the Free-The United States of America!

Wow! Younger Cecille would definitely be kicking me in the butt now. A heated confrontation would ensue:

13C (13-year old Cecille): Whoa dude, hold up! What about the things you said in your 9/11 editorial? What about your conspiracy theory?

AC (Adult Cecille): Sure! I still believe that.

18C (Placard-donning, sun-baked, street protesting 18-year old Cecille):  “Itigil ang pagtataksil sa sambayanang Pilipino at pagkapapet sa imperyalistang Amerikano!  (End the betrayal of the Filipino people and the country’s puppet days from the American imperialist!)

AC: Hmmm…maybe we should leave the politics out of this?!

3C (3-year old tiny songstress Cecille):  Ako ay Pilipino, Ako ay Pilipino, Ako Ay Pilipino, Taas-noo kahit kanino, Ang Pilipino ay Ako!  (I am a Filipino, I am a Filipino, I am a Filipino. Head held up high for everyone to see. The Filipino is me)

AC: Of course, I’m a Filipino through and through!

I am tormented by my nationalist conscience. My British colleague Joanna’s voice is ringing loudly in my ears. “How can you say you’re patriotic when you are marrying an American—he who hails from the land of your colonizer!”

And in what could have been my speechless, most shameful moment, I found my voice and managed a reply: “That’s exactly what Ian and I talked about. We don’t see each other as foreigners.  I don’t see him as American and he doesn’t see me mainly as Filipina. Those are just names, labels to promulgate division among the human race. We both wish that there weren’t any countries.  Right now, this BS bureaucracy is what’s stopping me and Ian from being together.  Without it, we would all be free to love whoever we want to love”.

I’m sure I did not say it as eloquently as that. But you see my point and I just want to stress it again: Leaving for the US doesn’t mean I am betraying my country. I promised myself that wherever I may be, I will never lose my identity and strive hard to raise my country’s banner.

Besides, at this point, it doesn’t seem like I have a choice. As I said earlier, when I left for Thailand, I left my heart in the Philippines. Then, Ian came to Thailand to give his heart to me. Now we share one heart. So, I have to be where he is and he has to be where I am.  For just as Siamese twins live with one heart, neither of us can survive without the other.

Let me tell you now: This blog is really a chronicle of love. But, it also tells the story of the Filipina woman—her passion, her hunger, her strengths, her weaknesses, her dreams and her heart. Each entry will be filled with her adventures and adversities, her travels and trials, her journey to conquer the world. We will watch her stand up after every fall, and recover from each little stumble: for she is of the noble blood of her ancestors. Dugong Maharlika. She is the Global Filipina. And she is You and Me.