Friday, December 5, 2014

Thanksgiving in the Philippines

Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, Curtis and I spent this past Thanksgiving eating, drinking, singing, and reconnecting with oodles of his friends and family in the Philippines. 

It all started when Curtis found his old family friend, Aunty Luisa, on Facebook. Aunty Luisa and her husband, Uncle Caesar, actually live in Las Vegas, but spend part of each year in Tagaytay (pronounced Tah-GAI-tai), which is a mountain town just outside of Manila. Although Curtis hadn't seen her in over twenty years, she said we were welcome to stay with them if we ever visited the Philippines. 
Here is Curtis with Uncle Caesar, Aunty Luisa, and a delicious pineapple rum cocktail.

Now, Curtis was thrilled about this because he has been DETERMINED to visit the Philippines since we arrived on this side of the planet. He lived there for a couple of years when he was a kid, and he really wanted to reconnect with all the family who he hadn't seen in decades. Plus, I think he wanted to know if he remembered any Tagalog. He kinda sorta did in the "Hey-- that one word means UNDER!" kind of way. 
A couple pics from his time in the Philippines. Although Curtis and his brother Chris are only a year apart in age, Curtis was (and still is) about half Chris's size.

You know what really made things intriguing, though? A little message from Aunty Luisa inviting us to come for Thanksgiving and adding, "We are getting a fresh, live turkey!" Did she just mean "not frozen?" Surely she couldn't possibly mean...
Yup! That's what she meant! This guy arrived a couple days before Thanksgiving. This was the first and probably last time I will ever actually meet my Thanksgiving turkey. As far as turkeys go, he seemed nice.

Once we landed in Manila, it felt like the party never stopped. We were immediately taken to Curtis's cousin's home where we were warmly welcomed by his cousin's big family and treated to a delicious Filipino dinner.
Note the family resemblance between Curtis and his cousin Alan in the top right photo! Hairline twinsies! It was fun to learn more about Curtis's family history, and about his great-great grandfather who immigrated to the Philippines from China. It was also fun to have Curtis's model/actor relative, Albie Casiño, recreate his magazine-spread pose.

After that, we drove 1.5 hours to Tagaytay where we settled in, did some exploring, and of course, lots of eating.
Tagaytay has great restaurants and beautiful views of Taal Lake and Taal Volcano.

I cannot tell you how many other relatives and friends were also staying with Aunty Luisa and Uncle Caesar during the five days we were there. Judging by the number of towels hanging on the second floor balcony, I would say a whole heckuva lot.
Our favorite fellow house guests were Luisa and Caesar's son Alex, his wife Pau, and their 2.5 month old baby Lily, who made the trip all the way from Las Vegas! Check out the head of hair on that little cutie!

Every single night, a big group would hang out outside. Some of Curtis's relatives traveled a long way to say hello. Eventually they busted out the karaoke machine, and I ended up trying to fall asleep upstairs while listening to my husband singing "Hey, Jude" after having a few (too many) of those pineapple rum cocktails. 
Pictured on the left is Curtis with his Aunty Chelle and Aunty Cling Cling. Curtis was especially excited to see his Aunty Cling Cling since she helped raise him when he lived in the Philippines. He was also happy to meet some of her six children (top right).

Just for funzies, we spent one night in an area of Manila called Makati. It's known to be a cleaner, safer part of the city. Still, it was hard to ignore the armed guards everywhere, and the bag checks and metal detectors at every entrance to everything. I've often heard Manila has a teensy problem with kidnappings and murders. I distracted myself from thinking about that too much by simply eating everything in sight.
I loved the public transportation in the city-- "tricycles" were little carts that seemed to easily weave around the insane traffic (bottom middle), and "jeepneys" were elaborately decorated buses with open backs that people could jump in and out of (bottom left and right).

On Thanksgiving Day, all of the Philippines descended upon Aunty Luisa's house. The food was endless and delicious, because in addition to bringing in that live turkey (on a bus!), relatives and friends also brought a goat (A GOAT!), and freshly caught crab, shrimp, squid, fish, and all kinds of other treats.
I don't think I had ever had goat stew before, but it was tender and delicious. So were the fried scallops, marinated shrimp, and grilled squid. The sticky rice dipped in sugar was oh-so-tasty. Oh, and the extra fresh turkey? Ridiculously good.

Unfamiliar-yet-friendly faces arrived all day and night, and Curtis got to hear a lot of stories about his family. He also got to hear lots of people tell him that he's really thinned out from being a fat little kid. Is "thank you" a good response to that? We're still not sure.
Curtis with just a few of his friends and family.

The slogan of the Philippines is, "It's More Fun in the Philippines!" and I can definitely see why. Of the Asian countries I've visited (China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand), I can say that the people of the Philippines are the most extroverted of them all. The Spanish influence here is very evident in the language, food, culture, and physical features of the people. They love to laugh loudly. And eat enthusiastically. And sing soulfully. And thankfully for us, they love to show their visitors a really good time.  


  1. Awesome!! I LOVED the Philippines!!! Eat some Halo-Halo for me!!! :D

    1. I LOVE halo halo!!! Especially with leche flan and ube ice cream on top. YUMMY!

  2. I absolutely love this blog. BTW- Tell Curtis that I'm working with a lady from the Philippines named Joy in the shipping room at Nordstrom. I don't know her last name but she knows Curtis from various Philippine events here in KC. Perhaps I'll learn some Tagalog, too.
    Miss you and Happy Holidays!

    1. Thanks so much, André! Yes-- Curtis knows that person and is FB friends with her! Miss you, too, and Happy Holidays to you and your husby!

  3. Awesome! its nice you both enjoyed your stay here in the Philippines, mrs. and mr. jay! :)) hope we could meet you personally too mrs. melissa! :D (and by that time you'd be craving for mangga and bagoong na!) :)))