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Journal of the San Francisco Ambassadors
on the Philippines Exchange

(including a pre-exchange trip to Singapore and Cambodia)

October 25–November 17, 2006


NOTE: This is a collaborative journal with different ambassadors contributing entries.


Baguio, Philippines


Saturday, November 11: Baguio, Philippines
Taking the bus from Manila to Baguio

By Monika Boerger  

It was a rainy day. After getting out of the city, we passed many soaked rice fields with water buffalo grazing. The only entertainment in the area people seem to enjoy were church-going and cock fighting, and they have large stadiums to pursue this "sport."

The area, which had been heavily affected by the erupted volcano on June 15, 1991, seems to have recovered with lush vegetation and new subdivisions.

We stopped to look at San Guillerma Parish Church, which the townspeople were trying to save after the disaster. As in most poor areas, the church is the most meaningful structure in the village. This one was no exception, it must have been beautiful and full of memories, but had been buried to about half its size with lava and had major cracks in the foundation, but they were pouring floors and building new altars. I said a prayer for them.

When we came to a town called Taplac, the end of the death march after WWII, we drove by the Prison Camp, Camp O'Donnell, and then went to see the very striking and moving Capas National Shrine. It was built in memory of and engraved with the names of 45,692 Filipinos and 9,300 American Soldiers, who died between April and March of 1942 in the hands of the Japanese.

The next stop took us through a rain-soaked and overgrown road to a remote new subdivision in Moncada, Tarlac, being created in memory of Willie McCool, pilot of Columbia, which was launched on Jan.16, 2003 and disintegrated during re-entry into the atmosphere killing all seven crew members. The 1 hectare (2.471 acre) property was donated in his name by his mother-in-law, a retired school teacher named Atilana Rambayon, in the hopes of providing a community where people can build and provide a better future for their families.

Arriving later than expected in Baguio, we were very friendly welcomed, having two young ladies dance and sing for us, and a welcoming speech by Dan Galang of the local Friendship Force, who gave us an overview of the area and invited us to a wonderful dinner, after which we were introduced to our Host Families and went home with them.


Monday, November 13: Baguio, Philippines
Meeting the Mayor, Philippine Military Academy, wood carving, weaving, and more

By Mary Pelland

We are now in Baguio at the home of Bernie and Shirley Canapi. The Canapi’s have four children, Paulo, Carlo, Miguel, and Anna. Paulo is in California studying to take the nursing exam. Carlo is in his last semester in Baguio also studying nursing, Miguel is 13 and in high school, and Anna is 11. The Canapi’s have a lovely four bedroom home in a gated community. They have a maid who Shirley refers to as her angel. The maid has a 7 year old daughter. They all live together in this four bedroom, two bath home.

Our day starts out with the sound of roosters crowing. We are in Anna’s bedroom. It looks very much like our granddaughters’ rooms in the U.S. “That’s so Raven,” “High School Musical,” Sponge Bob, stuffed animals, and Disneyland pictures decorate the room.

This is an important day not only because it is the first day we will sight-see with the Friendship Force Group but also because we get to take showers. The houses in this neighborhood have running water every other day due to problems with the water system.

After our showers, a big breakfast awaits us downstairs. There are eggs, pancakes, sausage, fruit, juice, tea, and coffee. After breakfast we hop in the car so that we can join the rest of the Ambassadors.

This day is filled with many Baguio experiences. One of the most interesting is a visit with the acting mayor. Mayor Bautista was actually elected vice mayor but when the elected mayor encountered some technical difficulties, the vice mayor was moved into the mayor’s position for a year.

All the Ambassadors were assembled waiting for the mayor to appear when this young man dressed in black jacket and blue jeans appeared. Some of us wondered if he would tell us when we would get to see the mayor, but we were wrong. The young man is the mayor. He teaches management at a Baguio college and is 38 years old and the father of two children. He discussed with us some of the industries Baguio has, including mining. Silver, gold, and copper are mined in the area. He talked about some of the history, including the American influence since Baguio served as an R & R site for the American military. With its high elevation, 5,000 plus feet, Baguio has a comfortable climate that made it a natural spot for R & R. He also mentioned some problems the city has such as the water delivery. Before the meeting was over, he presented us with the key to the city (good for anything except the jail and the treasury) and Karen, our ED, presented him with a proclamation from the Mayor of Fremont.

We visited the Philippine Military Academy. We went through the museum where statues depicted life in the Military Dorm. There were copies of interesting documents including the Japanese surrender document. After going through the museum, we were taken to the Parade Grounds for the Academy and it was there that an Ambassador suffered a minor injury to his arm and the Academy sent an ambulance to assess the wound, clean, and dress it. They also rendered some aid to an Ambassador who was suffering from a cold.

A visit to Kennon Road View Point and its breath-taking view of the mountains of the Baguio region was a memorable stop in our tour of the area. We drove past the summer “White House” for Philippine presidents. We went by Burnham Park in the middle of town. We also passed the Texas Instrument Campus where there is a Call Center that gives young educated Filipinos jobs with good compensation. We saw  the site of the Hyatt Hotel that was destroyed in the Earthquake in the 90’s. There is no sign that any building actually existed there now. We drove by the Manor House, a five star hotel that overlooks Camp John Hay Golf courses and the Country Club.

For lunch we went to The Filling Station. Here we could choose among vendors that sold pizza, burgers, Asian food, and ice cream. Don and I choose to share a small pizza and finished lunch with an ice cream sundae.

Later in the day we visited a wood carving school and then went to the Easter Weaving store. The weaving was particularly interesting. The workers were bare footed as they worked the looms. They produced a variety of beautiful fabrics. It would take approximately an hour for them to do one yard of material.

Finally we went to dinner at the Rosebowl restaurant. We were dropped off across Burnham Park from the restaurant and had the experience of crossing two streets in rush hour Filipino traffic in order to reach the restaurant. We all made it.

Mayor Bautista joined us again for the dinner. Our host family and several other families had dinner with us before we went home.


Tuesday, November 14: Baguio, Philippines
San Fernando, Botanical Garden, and more

By Katharine Kleinke

The itinerary for Nov. 14 was to go to the City of San Fernando, La Union province, which is about two hours drive north of Baguio. We had a beautiful drive through the mountains and the countryside to arrive at San Fernando. Arrival was around 10:00 a.m. and we were served a snack of hamburger and coke. Mayor Ortega was not present as she was in Denmark attending a conference. Her husband, a member of the city council, greeted us and told us about himself and the city. He said he had attended management school at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore on a Bill Gates Fellowship. A slide show was presented detailing impressive plans covering all aspects of city management.

After taking group pictures we reboarded the bus and drove to the city Botanical Garden with council member Kit Ortega. The Ortega family is extremely involved in local politics. She walked us through the various garden sections of the well maintained botanical and zoological park. Some of the animals included were birds and monkeys. Several mahogany trees were planted by the members of FFSFBA.

The next stop was lunch back in the city hosted by the governor Victor F. Ortega who stopped by to greet us but did not stay for lunch. This was at a Chinese restaurant. Comments from the group were that the sweet and sour soup was good. The city is clean and unlittered.

After lunch the bus took us to Poro Point Management Corp. where we were served dessert and soda. The ladies from the Corp. presented a PowerPoint presentation of the extensive plans for tourism and commercial development of this former American military base. We then drove over to the boardwalk area bordering the South China Sea. There was a short paved street and several shaded benches along a rocky shore. The beach was reached by navigating some broken cement stairs. Three of the group swam in the South China Sea, which we found mirky due to the recent typhoon. Ed Shannon expressed nostalgia in revisiting the South China Sea 50 years after his military duty in the area. The swimmers were treated to a hot shower. The final stop was a visit to the casino, the only part of the resort that is already built. A few in the group ventured a wager with mixed results.

The return trip to Baguio was over a different route. Along the way we passed an oil refinery. The oil comes in on ships from Saudi Arabia. The route leads up a windy mountain road with beautiful views back to San Fernando. Looking back over the sea we could see a beautiful sunset with red sun and bright golden pink sky turning crimson.

In the evening I had dinner at the home of the Heiduk’s hostess, Alma. Those present included also her family of three daughters, son-in-law, and granddaughter, and my hostess, Annabelle. After dinner we sat by the Christmas tree and sang Karaoke.


Wednesday, November 15: Baguio, Philippines
Camp John Hay, Farewell Party, and more

By Gerry Shannon

A typical morning, hurried breakfast, then a taxi ride to the Baguio Convention grounds, where we assembled ourselves in three vans/SUVs at 8:00 a.m. for our last day of touring. We enjoyed the clear air at Camp John Hay, former R & R spot for American troops, and walked through the lovely home named for our Secretary of State when the Philippines was acquired by the U.S. We toured the cemetery, the gardens, hiked to the gazebo, and viewed the beautiful garden amphitheatre being readied for a weekend wedding.

Next was a shopping stop for postcards and the last minute souvenirs, and a walk around the grounds of the lovely Manor Hotel, then on to the Baguio-Mountain Provinces Museum, which was experiencing a brownout, then to see the Igorot Stairs with the life-size figures graphically depicting tribal life. We arrived at the Cathedral an hour early so attended Mass before our hostess retrieved us for a shopping trip to the covered bazaar.

Our Farewell Party was held at Home Sweet Home, where our Baguio sojourn started four days ago. We were feted with dancing, singing, tasty potluck buffet, gifts, and testimonials to the friendships established here.


Thursday, November 16: Baguio, Philippines
Good-byes, Baguio to Manila ride, World War II stories

By Dee Gustavson

After an early breakfast, we bade goodbye to our host family’s three children, and their grandmother. Our hosts Eric and Jobi gave us banana bread to take along on the bus, and some nice presents: two packages of dried mangoes, and a lovely artificial decorative golden mango. (They know how we LOVE mangoes!)

While we four adults went for a walk around the neighborhood, (including climbing down and back up a very steep hill) the two maids carried all our luggage to the car, and packed it neatly into the car trunk.

Eric and Jobi drove us to the meeting place well before the 8:00 a.m. bus departure. One last group photo was taken, then it was time to say goodbye to our hosts. We were sad to leave, because after living with them for five days, we felt like family. Jobi and I hugged each other through tears; we both admitted that we don’t like goodbyes, so we said, “till we meet again!” And hopefully we will. We really hope they and/or their children will visit us in California sometime.

While boarding the bus, Bob, the American host Dave met at the party, delivered his novel to Dave, as an encrypted file on a CD. Dave managed to transfer the file to his Treo cell phone, so he could read it enroute home.

The bus was deluxe—no problems this time! It was equipped with footrests, restroom, sound system with mike, and a young stewardess who provided bottled water and snacks.

On the descent from Baguio via Marcos Highway, the scenery was beautiful—green velvety mountains with some trees, and houses perched on the steep sides, with vegetables growing on the terraces. This was the area we missed seeing while enroute to Baguio, because we traveled the last distance in the dark.

Near the roadside, we saw the remains of a large sculpture, Marcos' head, which was blown up by communists.  All that remains is a large framework of concrete.

While on the bus, Nilo, the Manila Exchange Director’s husband, told a true story about his father.  During the Death March, the prisoners walked right by their home. His father had heard that living conditions were terrible in the Death March. To keep from starving, some people ate the leather soles of their shoes. His father somehow managed to help five prisoners escape from the group—three Americans and two Filipinos, and he hid them from the Japanese, in their attic. The American's names were Green, Anderson, and Smith. (We had heard that the stragglers weren't well guarded.)

Nilo’s father later received a letter from the U.S. Government thanking him for saving these three men's lives. He used that letter several times to solve problems with the U.S., e.g., when three of his sons were entering the U.S. Navy and one was being delayed because of some minor problem, and once when he was having trouble getting a visa to visit the U.S. The interviewer immediately granted him the visa, saying he was more American than the interviewer, because he was American (in spirit) by choice, while the interviewer was American by accident of birth. Nilo’s father eventually became an American citizen.

Nilo's family had a rice mill. The Japanese came to destroy it, but his father said, "Wait! First you must come to my house." There he served them a meal, and after they were full and happy, he said "OK, now let's go destroy my mill!" They changed their minds, and left his rice mill alone. Their family's rice mill was the only one left in the region, so they provided milling services to the neighbors. They eventually became the dominant miller for the region, which developed into a good business for them. 

We drove by lots of rice fields in various stages of growth. Some growers were harvesting (cutting the grain stalks by hand), others were burning piles of straw in the fields. We also observed areas of rice drying (spread out in a thin layer on plastic tarps by the roadside). Some were raking through the rice to help it dry out. Several times we saw unattended rice being gobbled down by chickens!

We drove through former U.S. Clark Air Base, currently being remodeled into an international airport and an industrial area. A Holiday Inn, a casino, and a golf course still remain on the grounds.

We stopped at the JolliBee restaurant in Tarlac for lunch, the same place we’d stopped for lunch enroute to Baguio. We chose hamburgers (one with pineapple), but many selected chicken and rice dishes. Most selected some kind of shake or ice cream dish for dessert. We chose something called swizzle bits, similar to Dairy Queen’s "blizzard," and a chocolate shake that's really chocolate ice cream blended with ice, not at all what we consider a shake in the U.S.

We arrived in the Manila area about 3:00 p.m., but it took another hour to drive through the city to reach our destination, the Traders Hotel. Before we even got out of the bus, my eyes and throat were already affected by the pollution in the air. Because I’d been having throat problems all that week, I already decided to eat dinner in the hotel, so I wouldn’t have to go outside and breathe the air.

I discovered that the hotel had a Fitness Room, so I did a few miles on the treadmill and stationary bike before thinking about food.

Dave and I enjoyed dinner in our hotel, splitting a salmon entrée, which included vegetables and bread. Delicious, and just the right amount of food. Mary Lou joined us.

The book on Do's and Don'ts for the Philippines that Dave bought yesterday warns one to be careful not to embarrass a Filipino by indicating when something is wrong.  Dave should have read that before he pointed out to hotel management that he thought they ought to rethink their Internet arrangements, which are cheaper in the lobby or coffee shop than in the hotel room, but much less convenient.

Dave ended up paying for Internet usage in the hotel room, (P90 for 30 minutes) instead of using the Internet Café across the street, where it was free, if you purchased food or drinks from there. But we found it to be more comfortable to read and write emails in our hotel room.

We watched the Voice of America on TV, which showed an interesting program about NASA work on airplane safety. We also watched Animal Planet show about life in gardens, a fascinating program with incredible photography showing pests and anti-pests in life struggles, slow-motion plant growth, etc. CNN reported that Pres. Bush might be in Singapore while we are, so we hope his travels don't delay our flights.

After repacking our suitcases for the last time this trip, we got to bed at 11:00 p.m.  According to our Manila host's daughter, who works for Singapore Airlines, NO liquids or gels of any kind are allowed on board their aircraft. It sure makes it difficult for those on medication, or those in need of cough medicine! (As usual, we found out later that security was inconsistent, and a few people got through with water and small bottles of liquid, because they didn’t inspect thoroughly.)

It’s amazing that we begin our day tomorrow in Manila, then after spending 30+ long, grueling hours on planes and in airports, we’ll still arrive home on the same day. The trip has been an interesting, educational, rewarding experience, and we’re both glad that we did it. But after being away for 3-1/2 weeks, we look forward to being home again, and getting back to our regular routine.


Friday, November 17: Baguio, Philippines
Last day, going home

By Mary Alice van Doorn

Wake up call came at 3:45 a.m., so up and packed and boarded the bus for the airport to begin this VERY LONG trip home. No traffic on highways at this early hour. At airport: claim all luggage, put it through machine, reclaim other side, give up passports, stand in line to check in, fill out papers. Wil Heiduk must check his Cambodian “violin” at the gate!

7:15 a.m.: arrived in our VIP Room (Linda and Marilyn had arranged for us) after going through Immigration and paying exit fee (1000 pesos). Finally used my breakfast decaf cuz we were the last to board the bus to the airport! Steve and I spent waiting time (2½ hours) writing our journal days—Steve the first day in the Philippines and Mary Alice the last day—today. Linda asked to borrow my camera to take photos around the VIP Room. Marilyn took them, and I must remember to have several copies made and send to Linda and Marilyn! We’ve been advised our flight has been postponed until 10:00 a.m.

8:00 a.m.: Linda and Marilyn left to go home with hugs for each of us and Marilyn tearful. Around 9:00 a.m. Steve and I played a couple of hands of Honeymoon Bridge (which I was fortunate enough to win). Anne Sanders suggested she’d find Kay to play four handed bridge—which she did, and we played until time to board our late plane. Aboard, we were seated across the aisle from each other. Our group was all around, and Dee Gustavson figured out how to make everyone happy! Gerry traded to Steve’s seat, Ed Shannon got his window seat, and now  M. A. and Steve are together.

Take off for Singapore at 11:05 a.m. Singapore Airlines stewardesses have these beautiful “skinny” uniforms. Dee Gustavson asked if they are available to the public. Yes, in Singapore. (Ed Shannon just noted that we took off from Manila at 7:05 p.m. YESTERDAY!) Slept very little on this leg of the journey to Singapore. We arrived around 3:00, began boarding at 4:00, did a bit of shopping. Steve bought me a blue “skinny” uniform—size 42 [European sizing].

When we came aboard, our assigned seats were 60D and 60C—across the aisle—so we immediately began trading seats cuz Louise wanted an aisle seat and I wanted to sit next to Steve. When a young lady came to claim her seat next to Steve, we asked her to take Louise’s two rows up. ZZZZZ—slept from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. Awoke to stand in line at comfort station with very swollen ankles. Breakfast being served around us, and arrival time is 5:47 a.m.! Soon we’ll be parting ways with all but our Fremont contingent of six who'll be picked up by a van for the trip to our homes. Looking forward to seeing my Sooty and Blanco cat companions.

This is the end of an excellent Friendship Force experience, proving to me that I should NOT undertake such a physical challenge again at my increasing age. The planning by Karen and Diane and Karen and Linda was outstanding. Many thanks to them! Having five “others” was a plus, too.

Wanted to add: last night’s dinner on the plane—fish with veggies, coleslaw  with tiny shrimp, etc. and ice cream—was the best dinner of the trip. We were all disappointed to have to take our hand luggage off the plane at Hong Kong!


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