Now, you remember when you were a kid and every year the first day back at school after the summer break was always the same: "Okay children, I want you to write an essay on what you did in your Summer Holidays". So, that's what I will do you for you today - an essay entitled: "What I did on my Summer Vacation".
What I Did On My Summer Vacation: by Grant Leishman
So it was, that at 3 a.m. on the Friday morning Thess, our youngest daughter Rose, and I headed out of our door for the epic sixteen and a half hour journey to San Jose. Personally, I love doing the trip by land, you get to see so much more and somehow it seems like more of an adventure than the impersonality of a quick airplane trip. You get to meet and chat with fellow passengers; who like you, are just stuck on the bus with nowhere to go and nothing to do. It somehow seems much more egalitarian, if somewhat more tiring, than traveling by plane.
To give you some idea of the travel involved; from home, it was a jeepney ride to Novaliches, then a bus trip to Santolan, where we boarded the Dimple Star Bus. At Santolan, we had two choices; we could go on the bus to Abra de Ilog in Occidental Mindoro and travel down the western side of the island to San Jose, or we could go via Calapan in Oriental Mindoro, and travel down the eastern side of the island, before crossing the mountains at the bottom, to San Jose. Being the adventurous souls that we are, we chose the Calapan route, as we'd never done it that way before.
Sixteen and a half bone shaking hours later we emerged from our bus, stretching, "oohing" and "aahing" to grab a quick tricycle ride to our accommodation at The Sikatuna Beach Hotel.
One of the things I've always been aware of since I've been living here is the great importance that Filipino's place on family, on barkada (circle of friends) and on home town. I suspect it is partly because so many Filipinos are spread all around the world, either working as OFW's (Overseas Foreign Workers) or having emigrated to other countries. I read somewhere once that the Philippine people are the most geographically dispersed nationality in the world. This may go to the heart of the reason why reunions (of any sort) are so popular and so widespread in this country.
Personally, I've never been to a school reunion (my own) in my life, and I couldn't imagine ever having the desire to do so, but for Filipinos, school reunions are big news and very important to them. We have a lot to thank Facebook for in reuniting so many of these old classmates. Prior to my arrival here Thess had not attended one of her High School Reunions, but it was reconnecting with her old friends on Facebook that convinced her to take the plunge and to go. This reunion, the 2015 version, was our second that we had attended.
Now bear in mind that St Joseph's School (for girls only) actually closed in the mid 1980's, some thirty odd years ago and yet after all that time there is still a vibrant and hard-working alumni in San Jose who work their tails off to put together this amazing Grand Reunion every three years. People literally do travel from all over the world to attend and to reunite, reconnect and reminisce with their old buddies from their school days. For me, who has been privileged enough to have witnessed this event twice, it is quite simply incredible and awe-inspiring.
Thess' Batch was Batch 76 and they all met, following the Mass, at the Seaside Restobar in San Jose, where the organising committee had done an amazing job of putting together a wonderful feed as well as lots of home-made entertainment.
As one of only, I think, three men in the room at the time I had an absolute blast watching these middle-aged ladies, completely and utterly let their hair down. They danced, they sang, they ate, they posed for numerous photos and most importantly they caught up with each other - their High School friends of so many years ago. I was privileged to be able to watch some of the most staid, prim and proper women of Manila, San Jose and many parts elsewhere, let go and have fun. It was just so entertaining to see them enjoying themselves so completely. The highlight for me was the stripper impersonation dance by one of the more distinguished members of the alumni, who shall remain nameless; (but we know who you are). Fear not, the video is safely locked away in the vault.
There was a special part of the Batch 76 reunion where the ladies remembered their school friends who were no longer with them. One of the things Batch 76 had done was to set up a fund to assist those of them who had fallen on hard times and also to provide a scholarship fund for the children of their own.
We were privy to a very emotional and moving speech by the recipient of this scholarship. His mother (the ladies classmate) had died several years earlier and without the scholarship this young man would never have had the opportunity to pursue his dreams. There was nary a dry eye in the house after his speech of thanks and gratitude to the alumni. Long may this attitude of giving and support continue to provide assistance to future generations.
The Grand Reunion itself was again held at the Divine Word College gymnasium (thankfully now air-conditioned) on the Sunday evening. I have no idea of the numbers of woman that poured into the gymnasium that evening, but I suspect it was upward of two thousand. There were a few of the Illuminati to be spotted among the crowds of laughing, jostling women. The Mayor and Deputy Mayor of San Jose put in a brief appearance. I imagine the sheer volume of women present was more than enough to scare him and his colleague off - but for whatever reason they weren't in attendance for long. Also present was the former Governor of Occidental Mindoro, and now Congresswoman, the Honorable Josephine Ramirez Sato, a former student of St Joseph's School.
The presence of these dignitaries in no way inhibited the women of SJS who continued their excited chatter and laughing through all the necessary but interminably long speeches. Nobody seemed to mind though and as one lady was heard to quip following the former principal's speech of welcome: "She used to talk too much when we were schoolgirls - she certainly hasn't changed."
As the night drew to a close, with the obligatory hugs, kisses and farewells we were left to reflect on yet another successful Grand Reunion of SJS. Sadly I did point out to Thess that with the school long closed, there will eventually come a day when such reunions are no longer viable, but until that day these ladies of San Jose and parts everywhere will come together to celebrate the special days of their youth. Roll on Grand Reunion 2018 - We'll be there!
The SJS women, just by the sheer size of their reunion were required to fill the bleachers on either side of the gymnasium, whereas the Divine Word attendees were able to sit at tables and chairs in the middle of the gym. The food was superb, but for me the most telling point of the evening came when the MC proffered the thought that maybe one day the Divine Word College Reunion would rival the spirit, excitement and camaraderie of the SJS reunion. To me that spoke volumes of the impact the SJS women still have on the San Jose community, even so long after their school was closed down.
What amazed me the most was the recognition factor. Even after almost forty odd years everyone still seemed to know instinctively who each other was. All I can say my darling, is your High School and College years must have been much more memorable for you, than mine were for me.
I know Thess was thrilled to spend time with so many of her old friends from those early adult years. By the time we returned to the hotel that evening she was glowing with the sheer pleasure of the last three days. For me, who never even went to these schools, the reunions were just as much fun as for Thess. I have a whole new circle of friends now and to see my darling wife so happy, so joyful and so uninhibited, just overflows my heart.
Fully recharged we headed back to Manila after a brief overnight stop in Mamburao at the home of Thess' sister.
All in all, a very different vacation from the usual, but an immensely enjoyable one. No, I didn't get to do any swimming this time around, but as the photo shows at least we were able to enjoy the peaceful solitude of a walk along Sikatuna Beach in San Jose.
And that is what I did this Summer - I hope you enjoyed reading it and give me an A+ please
EMBRACE THE OPPORTUNITIES LIFE PRESENTS TO YOU AND ALWAYS, ALWAYS FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS!
Have a great life and spread the love!
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