Soon after the announcement, they started going through expat guides to the Philippines. “Did you know that classes start at 7am and get out at 1:45pm at the school you’re going to?”, “Did you know that we are going to have to have guards outside our house 24/7?”, “Did you know that we are going to have live-in maids and a driver?”.
No. I can honestly say that I had no idea what life in the Philippines would bring.
We arrived in the summer, the heat was intense and the humidity was almost unbearable. Immediately, my brother and I were signed up for tennis lessons at the Polo Club (didn’t know they played Polo – not the water kind – in the Philippines did you?), just like we had been in Japan. Except here, you don’t go around after you finish hitting around a basket of balls. No… ball-boys (men, really) run around for you. At first my brother and I would run after a ball if we missed it – feeling guilty that these adults were running around collecting our loose tennis balls for us (we had been used to getting them ourselves). After a while, it became normal to us – we no longer made any moves to collect the tennis balls. We fit right in.
(See Note 1 for another fun experience)
Enough about extra-curriculars. It’s time to talk about my favourite thing in the world: FOOD. I can’t even list all of the foods that I fell in love with while in the Philippines. A few highlights though… arroz caldo for breakfast, chicken adobo, beef tapa, lechon de leche, sinigang, garlic rice, lumpia, pandesal, taho… it’s making me homesick just thinking about it.
It took my family a little while to get used to the fact that we were never alone when we got home. We had two live-in maids, a driver, and three gun-packing guards that took 8-hr shifts guarding our home 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This was common to every family in the compound (gated community). Our driver and guards were in constant contact with each other via walkie-talkies so that at all times, they knew where in the city we were. I didn’t think too much of it then. To me, they were a part of everyday life. Looking back now, the extent of security we had is sort of terrifying. Why were the guards and driver in constant contact when we were out? So that if we ever got kidnapped (as was not uncommon there) they’d know where to start looking.
Case-in-point: My friend’s brother was victim of an attempted kidnapping. Luckily a bystander was there to save him. Ever since, that bystander was hired as the kids’ personal bodyguard who accompanied them to school and wherever they went.
By this point I feel as though I’m painting a not-so-perfect picture of the Philippines. Don’t get me wrong – it’s an AMAZING place to live. It is always warm (sometimes overly so), the people are so friendly, and the food is fantastic.
I was half-way through the 8th grade (age 13) when came yet another life-changing announcement…
I took up horse-riding at the Polo Club, after falling in love with their horses. I had never ridden a horse in my life up until that point. I arrived at the stables, signed in with the office, walked outside, and a man (called a “groom”) comes with a horse (all tacked up) who gives me a leg up. He leads the horse with me on it to the riding area to meet my instructor. At the end of the lesson, the groom comes back, helps me off the horse, and I’m good to go home. As I understand it now, in North America, that is not what you do at all. You are expected to groom and tack-up your horse before and after your lesson. Not here in the Philippines. Some of my classmates (daughters of wealthy Filipino families) had their own horses, with their own grooms who they would call out to if they needed anything. “Groom! Bring me my crop, I forgot it”. Personally I thought it was quite rude – they hadn’t even bothered to learn their groom’s name! Don’t worry, this is not something I fell into doing – nor did I have my own horse!