Philippines, Part 4: Strawberries and Cotton Candy (Baguio)

Fridays we spend in the Philippines, reliving our incredible summer there backpacking through the wilds with a baby. The story of our journey to citizenship and Italy will resume tomorrow. Of course, if you are a regular reader of this blog you are, by definition, of above average intelligence and able to follow multiple simultaneous streams of history with ease.

If you’ve missed any of our Philippines adventures, you can find them here:
Philippines, Part 1: Have Baby, Will Travel
Philippines, Part 2: Do You Know How to XOOM?
Philippines, Part 3: Confessions of a Carseatless Baby (Vigan)

Philippines, Part 4: Strawberries and Cotton Candy (Baguio)

Philippines, Part 5: Hanging Coffins! (Sagada)

Philippines, Part 6: Voyage of the Icebox (Banauae & Batad)

Philippines, Part 7: Revenge of the Cockroaches (Manila)
Philippines, Part 8: Please Don’t Feed the Sharks (Anilao)
Philippines, Part 9: “Sexy Chic” at the Playboy Fashion Show (Field Study Research)
Philippines, Part 10: Luxury Travel, Filipino Style (Cebu)
Philippines, Part 11: Nuts to the Huts (Bohol)
Philippines, Part 12: If You Were Stranded on a Desert Island . . . (Panglao)
Philippines, Part 13: The Chocolate Hills (Bohol Again)
Philippines, Part 14: Trouble in Paradise (Malapascua)

While on the last leg of our journey to Baguio, we met Ronard, a very kind young engineer. who spoke six or seven languages. He took us under his wing, helped us find a hotel, and showed us all around Baguio. We saw “The Mansion,” a big house up on the hill with a gate that is supposed to be patterned after the gate at Buckingham Palace (we had not yet seen Buckingham Palace at the time, and I’m afraid that by the time we did make it to London a few years later, I completely forgot to compare the Buckingham Gate to the one at “The Mansion”).We also visited the quaint Botanical Garden, where winding paths bordered in lush tropical vegetation were punctuated by replica Igorot (native tribal) houses on stilts. Finally, there was Barnham Plaza, designed by an American architect who modeled it after Washington D.C. (In fact, the Philippines has an unusual preponderance of “second” architectural wonders modeled after the famous ones in other countries. We even saw an exhibition at the National Museum in Manila about some engineer’s idea to transform Manila into a stunning second Venice. As anyone who has ever visited Manila knows, the Venice plan has yet to reach fruition).

However, Baguio’s most famous attraction is simply its pleasant weather, such a rarity in the Philippines that no conversation is complete without a mention of the “natural air con” there. The city is famous for its strawberries, which flourish in the cool misty air. Local reverence for the weather is such that the megamall in Baguio is a popular tourist attraction simply because it is incorporates many open air verandas and requires no air conditioning (In contrast to normal Filipino malls, which serve as a large artificial habitats for those of us unaccustomed to tropical weather). It was in that very megamall, in fact, while waiting for Tony to print some snazzy business cards at an internet cafe, that I was severely reprimanded by an old man with wild white hair and multiple beaded necklaces for eating cotton candy. What’s so bad about cotton candy? Well, he cleverly began by complimenting me on my baby and asking if I were breast-feeding her, and then launched into a long tirade about the evils of white sugar for babies, even second-hand. Well guess what, I agree, but still. I haven’t publicly eaten cotton candy since.

Having served a two-year Mormon mission in some of the less savory quarters of Manila several years before, Tony was afraid that his new wife and daughter would be kidnapped or at least robbed if we looked like we had any money at all, so he made me leave my wedding ring at home. He egalitarianly left his too. While in Manila the week before, we had looked for replacements in a Chinatown gold shop, but couldn’t find anything we (I) really loved. When we saw an artisan silver shop in Baguio, we knew it was the place. I had my heart set on matching ones, and when I noticed some that reminded me of Galadriel’s, I couldn’t resist, although Tony balked just a little. The total came to the equivalent of $12.00 for both, which we considered an incredible bargain for guaranteed 92.5% silver (7.5% mithril, of course). Until Tony’s slowly turned completely black over the course of the next two weeks. Oh, well. I still wear mine, although it was relegated to my right hand in favor of my real wedding ring when we returned home.

Baguio is home to St Louis University, and Ronard took us to a fascinating museum in the basement of the campus library. It was here that we became acquainted with the pensive black wooden figurines with folded arms called bululs. They are modeled after the little old Igorot men who sit in doorways with their arms folded. Traditionally, the bulul figurines are kept to guard things. The ones with their arms folded guard the house. Others with little bowls guard the rice field. I’m not sure what the ones with swords guard . . . maybe the other bululs? Most of the little forms appear to be masculine, but we brought home one obviously female bulul for me; she is carrying a baby on her back. Ike, the curator of the museum and expert on the local culture, was very kind and willing to explain things to us. He even gathered together a group of students who used several of the traditional instruments from the museum to strike up a little impromptu band for us.

Ronard also introduced us to a friend in Baguio, Jerry, a graduate student who prefers painting to thesis-writing. He is descended from the Igorot, the tribespeople native to Northern Luzon. His paintings are amazing, and were on display at a few local galleries, which we also visited. When Tony asked him to pose for a photo with us, he took a painting off the wall and bequeathed it to us on the spot. It has hung in our various houses ever since. Ronard invited us to Mass in the little university chapel. It was a pleasant service attended by a priest who spoke in English until he would start a funny story, when he would slip into Tagalog (I had noticed the same phenomenon at our own Church. By this time I was mostly resigned to missing pretty much every punchline). At the Mass we met Cesar and Faye, Ronard’s hosts in Baguio, who invited us to dinner at their house that very night. Highlights of the meal included fish intestine soup, pancit (very skinny spaghetti rice noodles mixed with very fat ones), and sizzling sisig (pig’s ear). Baby Axa just had milk.

We were sorry to leave Baguio and our kind new friends. When we left, they presented us with some lovely gifts, including a traditional woven baby wrap and a necklace with a tiny bulul made by Jerry himself for Tony. For the rest of our trip in the Philippines, that necklace didn’t leave Tony’s neck. He even wore it to Church every week instead of a tie.

Stayed tuned next Friday for “Philippines, Part 4: Hanging Coffins!”

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