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Celebrating the ties that bind

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By Imelda Argel

My unplanned 10-day visit to Manila in mid-February was a rewarding experience.

This was my first chance to see my first cousin Fidelis “Manang Elle” Verzosa since she left for New Jersey, the USA in the 60s. Our schedules to visit Manila, although frequent, never coincided.

She hosted the “Lahoz-Argel-Verzosa” reunion lunch at the Quezon City Sports Club. There, another first cousin, Noling Lahoz attended among many others. I also met with my childhood neighbour and close friend, Linda Alcantara Rabbito.

Former Governor Ma. Zita “Ching” Claustro Valera treated Raffy Faustino Fajardo and me to dinner and overnight stay at her residence then, to an overnight “barkada package” at the Nurture Wellness Center in Tagaytay City.

I visited my first employer, Atty Estelito “Titong” Mendoza. He was the Solicitor General of the Philippine government for 20 years. Returning to private legal practice later, he has successfully defended high profile cases. At age 87, he still wins his court appearances.

My last employment was at Eisenberg. Many of the original staff of 25, now reside in the different countries worldwide and reconnected through Facebook. Before returning to Sydney, I visited Eli Levin, age 82. Fondly referred to as the “Father of the LRT” (Light Railway Transit), he was the Managing Director of the Eisenberg Group. Five months, later he left peacefully in his sleep.

Fiji and Vanuatu

In June, Manny and I visited Fiji and Vanuatu. We could not go wrong with the package deal on a waterfront resort in Fiji. Included were 10 hours of massage with facial over a week, Indian cuisine cooking classes, flower arrangement, napkin folding, tie-dyeing, nightly entertainment and many others.

Moving on to Vanuatu for another week, we stayed at “Waves on Bukura” which served homecooked French cuisine. The highlight was the sumptuous lunch hosted by Honorary Consul and Mrs Florentino “Bong” Serrano and the Vanuatu Filipino community.

The Ghan from Adelaide to Alice Springs, Uluru and the Red Centre of Australia

In August, we took the ferry to Kangaroo Island from Adelaide. Hamilton Island and Norfolk Island were comparatively much more developed and had prettier sceneries.

Barossa Valley is only an hour’s drive from the centre of Adelaide compared to two hours’ drive to Hunter Valley in New South Wales. However, the Hunter Valley is more scenic and tourist friendly.

Then it was time to board the “Ghan”. The 25-hour train ride from Adelaide to Alice Springs, each cabin in the gold service has a double deck bed with an ensuite toilet and shower. It has a common viewing lounge and dining area.

After a stopover at “Marla” to have breakfast and watch the sunrise, we finally reached Alice Springs, the gate to the Red Centre of Australia. Walking to the town centre from our hotel and around by coach, the rivers were dry and there was no spring. The Supreme Court of the Northern Territory was the tallest building.

We stayed overnight at “Sails in the Desert”, a beautiful boutique hotel in the middle of nowhere, then off to the viewing deck to watch the sunrise at Kata Tjuta and Uluru. Kata Tjuta is said to be the Big Brother of the famous “Uluru”.

Walking on the base of Uluru to the Mutitjulu Waterhole, then watching Uluru’s changing colours at sunset was followed by a buffet dinner.

Manila, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Myanmar

From late August to mid-September, Manny and I had our own separate adventure. He flew to Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Myanmar after I left for Manila with no definite plan.
As it turned out, it was one of the most enjoyable Philippine visits for me. Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo and her staff spent a day at my hosts’ residence (Beda and Raffy Fajardo’s). Raffy’s daughter-in-law, Nancy, works as her Executive Assistant for Ceremonials.

On the last weekend, my hosts took me and Josie Paredes Miranda for the day excursion, at “Las Casas Filipinas de Azucar”. This heritage centre in Bagac, Bataan consists of old houses, uprooted from all over the Philippines, and rebuilt as a new village by the sea. We also viewed the historic shrine of the “Fall of Bataan”.

Back in Sydney, Cynthia Makasiar Sicat visited us and we took her on a tour of the Northern Beaches. Later, we were joined by former NEDA Director General Gerry Sicat, (Cynthia’s husband) for a French cuisine dinner overlooking Darling Harbour.

Linda Gaa, widow of my UP Law classmate, the late Philippine Ambassador Willy Gaa and her sister, toured Sydney with me and stayed with us.

Christmas celebrations

For us, Christmas celebration starts with my birthday. My sister, Rochie and Ed treated Manny and me to dinner at a French restaurant to celebrate their wedding anniversary, my birthday and early Christmas.

We also joined the annual Christmas lunch of Filipino nurses with their families on 16 December. Most of them were my clients who came on a 457 visa from the year 2000. Now Australian citizens happily married with children and, most own their homes.
We had a quiet Christmas Day picnic lunch overlooking Collaroy beach. For New Year’s Eve, we booked a six-course French cuisine dinner close to the Neutral Bay Wharf to watch the 9.00 pm fireworks on the Harbour Bridge.

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