My Philippine Adventure (Cawayanon Reunion) by Karen Haycox

Sometimes in our effort to entertain, we run out of words to express ourselves. Yes, folks, it is called Writer’s Block. But just about the same time, another writer comes into out midst and saves the day. I am posting my friend’s experience – with her permission, of course, and a few corrections (c”,) – because it seems very appropriate that her story be told first this 2013. Divided into three parts. Enjoy! —


by Karen L. Haycox

I am going to apologize in advance – this one is really long. But yes, the trip was that enduring and eventful.

So, turns out the two best things (at least in my mind) about getting fired was 1) I would no longer be working to fund the over and irresponsible spending of the Obama administration (4 more years of this, really, I mean really??) and 2) I get to go to my pineapple plantation reunion. And yes, these things do exist.

So, several of you don’t know this (because I chose not to advertise it) but my Daddy worked for Del Monte. Actually became CEO of both the Fresh and Processed sides of the business at respective points in his career (despite having no college degree). I kept this to myself because I wanted you guys to think my incredible insights (which I’m sure is how you viewed them) on the fruit industry came naturally, versus having an inside edge. Crafty huh?

But I swear, the retail stuff was all mine.

Some background.

I spent 4 years in the Philippines. One year on the plantation, one year in Baguio at Brent boarding school, and then two years in Manila. When we first arrived in the Philippines Daddy was in charge of the plantation. He was soon promoted to head of PPC (Philippine Packaging Corporation) but throughout the entire time we had a house in various forms on the plantation and spent every holiday there.

Fruit Salad at Del Monte
Fruit Salad at Del Monte

My Mom actually grew up there (her Dad was once plantation manager as well – talk about coming full circle) so we settled in wonderfully well.  Life there is self-contained and beyond blissful. Its beautiful, we have tennis courts, we play volleyball, we have a gorgeous pool, we have our own golf course. We have frequent parties at the lodge. We have a bowling alley. We have horseback riding (my horse was Warlock…I loved him – that boy could jump). And we have a pool table…I swear, once I was really good at this (Jigger -my childhood buddy from the compound- will debate this assertion, and yes, I know I owe you money).

Any rate, this year there was a reunion for the compound (that’s what we called ourselves). When I got the invitation, I was tempted, but the timing (early January) was simply incompatible with my job. As it turns out, really incompatible given all the SVU announcements. Have fun with that guys – I was on the beach.

But given I got my ass fired and saw Jigger over Thanksgiving in London, kind of realized, wait a minute, I can go. So I did. Upon finding out I was going, my parents actually decided to come as well.

So this is where the adventure begins.

I flew Cathay Pacific (can’t resist the constant access to ramen noodles) to Hong Kong. Flight is generally uneventful. But can’t help but notice, people next to me are wearing surgical masks. I know this is common practice in Asia, but still. Then it gets worse. Several flight attendants come over and take their temperatures and conduct several tests. Seriously, they would put any medi-clinic to shame with the extent of their examination. I look over at my other co-passenger. We both exchange the same look of abject fear. We are journeying to the land of Avian Flu. So evidently our flight is going to be one of those real life versions of one of those epidemic movies.

Which, sidebar, but have you not noticed that these movies have become a franchise in Hollywood? Seems to me one comes out at least once every three years. The only one I think that is credible, however, is Origin of Planet of the Apes. No, really. I won’t be a spoiler on what happens, but trust me, it’s feasible. I remember coming into the office the Monday after watching it and Lord knows whatever financial crises has happened (there have been so many I can’t keep them straight) and my co-worker Erin is asking me how will this turn out?? I solemnly answer, “I just saw Origins of Planets of the Apes, and trust me, we have MUCH larger problems”.

Flight is highly enjoyable. I used to assert that I watched mindless movies because I was trying to escape from my highly stressful job. Now that I have no job, I have to acknowledge, um no, I am just mindless. Request my ramen cup of noodles (no, really, I love this stuff that much). They give me a fork and spoon versus chop sticks. Can’t help but notice that my co-passenger, who is Asian, gets chop sticks. Blatant stereotyping. Blatant. Okay, I spent 4 years living in Asia, I spent most of my college year evenings in Korea Town (you don’t want to know doing what), I can use a f***ing pair of chop sticks. I feel rather insulted.

Land in Hong Kong. This time, successfully navigate the airport. However, have to fill out the landing card (I hate these things). Go to immigration line. Realize I don’t have my blackberry. This is not good. Go back to spot where I filled out the form, miraculously the blackberry is still there. Go back to immigration. Can’t find passport. And while I am highly irresponsible, there are two things I keep close custodian of – my passport and my Amex card. If I have these two things, I can deal with just about anything. Go back to stand where I left my blackberry and sure enough, I had managed to drop my passport. And Ziets, no, I was not drunk. It was just me being me.

Have a layover in the Hong Kong airport before my flight to Manila. Get some more ramen noodles. This time I demand, demand I tell you, chop sticks.

Sidebar, interestingly, in the Philippines, we don’t use chop sticks. The primary utensils are fork and spoon. No, really. And I ask everyone, what is the origin of this? No one knows. I actually know a lot about Philippine history, not just because I had to study it in school but also because I had a summer internship working as a tour guide for a museum. One of my best memories of that experience was giving a tour for a group of US marines that were literally fresh off the boat. Have never felt so attractive in my life.

Land in Manila. Meet up with my parents at the Peninsula (again, best hotel in the world). Have many drinks then settle in for the night. Turn on TV and watch the Philippine version of Master Chef – if the fact that they have their own version of Master Chef doesn’t prove they are on their way to investment grade status, I don’t know what does.

Next morning have a surprisingly uneventful flight down to Cagayan de Oro, main city by the plantation. We flew Philippine Airlines. Also known as PAL. Also known as plane always late. We used to call their landings a controlled crash. Am offered the exit row. I typically get this offer given my frequent flyer status. I always turn it down. No one wants my irresponsible a*s in charge of saving a plane full of passengers.

Land in Cagayan de Oro. All of our luggage makes it, which is always a blessing. Don’t care where you are. Can’t help but notice that some of the luggage coming through includes boxes of chickens. No, really, someone checked in chickens. I ponder the safety conditions of such a decision and my mom reminds me, there is no ASPCA in this country. But gotta tell you, those chickens were pissed based on the noise they were making. Can’t blame them.

Are met by driver as well as the “documentary team”. So, one of the fellow plantation alumni turns out to be an executive producer at Sony Pictures, Rey. His specialty is not documentaries, but thought it would be fun to film our reunion. At the very least we’d get an unusually high quality home video movie out of it all.

They ask us several questions about what it’s like to return to the compound after all these years. For all of us it really is quite surreal. My parents kept saying, “We never thought we’d ever be back here”. We are all also shocked by how HUGE Cagayan de Oro has become. When we lived here it was a fresh market, a few shanties, and my Dad’s office. Now its a sprawling cosmopolitan. I am also asked if I remember any of the language and if that not knowing it is a hindrance for me. Let him know, I can still fluently swear in Tagalog and I think I’ll get by.

On the ride to the compound was highly amusing to hear my parents reminisce about all the “scandals” that occurred. Seriously (sans the murders) we evidently could put any Desperate Housewives script to shame. Only to be expected when you are in such a contained environment. So annoyed that I was too young to pick up on it all at the time.

Another funny recollection was the fact that the local university, Xavier, awarded my dad a degree as doctor in humanitarians. If you knew my dad you’d realize how truly comical (and ironic) this was.

Arrive at the plantation and settle in. We were staying at the Lodge. The Morans are already settled in.

Back View from the Lodge

The Morans are something of an institution on the compound. Had been here since my mom first lived there. Eight children, the youngest being Jigger, whom as I mentioned, was my childhood buddy. I always just accepted his nickname of Jigger without question… This reunion actually finally asked where the origin of this came from. Turns out, yeah, his dad liked drinking that much, hence, Jigger became Jigger. Honestly, it suits him.

Tina is one of the elder Morans and the organizer of the reunion. We actually never were that close when I lived here as we were different generations. But I take to her like you wouldn’t believe. She is smart and funny. And I really can’t believe what she pulled off with this reunion. It was a 4-day event, and the level of organization and attention to detail was crazy. Seriously, if Tina was a general in any of our USA wars, they would last two weeks, tops. No, really. That’s how impressive/good she is.

I particularly took to her husband, Bob as well. We share the same sense of humor, same dissatisfaction of the Obama administration and same love of San Miguel beer. During the course of the reunion would strategically place myself by him to ensure a constant source of entertainment.

Then there is Marla. Marla was a few years ahead of me, but we hung out together. She was a terrible influence on me – hence why I loved her. Knowing how she was back then am amazed to see she has built a successful chain of restaurants and raised two lovely children, Gabbie and Noah. These kids are incredible. No, seriously. They are courteous, sweet and appreciative of everything (Charles & Maddie, please take notes).  At every event you could find the two of them huddled in a corner, reading. I finally ask Marla, “How intense is their reading list?” She informs me, “No that’s just how they are.” Amazing. One night after a few drinks I remind Marla of all the “advice” she gave me when we were young. None of which was sound. She doesn’t believe me, but oh yes Marla, you did.

The other Moran I was close to growing up was Bobby, he was one of the elder ones. We were once partners at the Hangover tournament (more elaboration on this event later) and almost won. Definitely more due to Bobby versus myself. Growing up was always told Bobby was one of the largest shareholders of San Miguel. I accepted this. When I hooked up with Jigger later in life was corrected, NO, Bobby was one of the largest CONSUMERS of San Miguel, hence the reference.

And of course, then there was Jigger, the youngest of the Morans. We got into many escapades together while living on the compound. When together now, Jigger and I tend to regress into our 12 year old selves. Our exchanges seem to consist of: “Yes you did”. “No I didn’t”. “Yes you did”. “No I didn’t.” or “Yes it is”. “No it isn’t”. “Yes it is”. “No it isn’t”.

You’d be shocked at how long these scintillating conversations would last. But would typically end with “shut up” or “f*** you”.

And the thing about childhood buddies is you kind of achieve a comfort level with each other that never goes away. Throughout the course of reunion Jigger thinks nothing of eating off my plate or stealing my water. Or waking me up at midnight because he wants me to go back to the bar for a drink. Or waking me up at 3 am because Bobby’s snoring is keeping him up and he wants my spare bed. Those two knocks on the door happened in the same night by the way. But I got my revenge. I woke him up at 7 am and kicked him out so I could work out. To say the least, Jigger is not a morning person.

But obviously, I adore him. And he knows it, hence the abuse of boundaries.

Boundaries people, we need boundaries.

So first night of reunion proved rather raucous. I think everyone was just really excited to see each other and be where they were. I think my parents are surprised by the incredibly warm reception they received. They shouldn’t be. Basically before Daddy took over the plantation there was the rule of the Perrines…and I use the verb rule with purpose. They had control of the plantation for 20 years, and it kind of went to their heads. Mrs. Perrine ruled the plantation with an iron fist. Daddy referred to her as “the Empress”. My firsthand example was the mangosteen tree. When Daddy was promoted to head of PPC we took over the Perrine House. What’s amazing, is even after all these years, to me, it’s still the Perrine House. Never ours. But any rate, there was a huge mangosteen tree in our yard. Mangosteens, by the way, are one of the most delectable fruits you’ve ever had. Sweet, juicy and succulent. Well, Mrs. Perrine wouldn’t let anyone pick fruit off her tree with the statement, “it’s not communal property”. Like she was going to put away all that fruit herself.

Any rate, we get the house and are asked (with huge trepidation) from some of the younger kids if they can pick some mangosteens. We’re like, hell yeah, why can’t you?

So again, I don’t think my parents appreciate the welcome change they brought to the plantation. They were fun. And kind. It was recognized.

Have to point out the difference between Mrs. Perrine and my mother. While Mrs. Perrine was, shall we say, strict, my mother hated confrontations, loved entertaining and socializing and is kind of an anything goes kind of personality. Again, a welcome change.

Sorry, getting back to the reunion….that night Tina had arranged a highly sophisticated game of Jeopardy. No really, we had buzzers and computerized categories and all. Proved highly impressive. Jigger “kindly” volunteered me to replace himself as co-emcee, but I end up butchering all the names as we call out teams. So pass the mike on to Myra. I always admired Myra growing up, she was just good at everything, whether it be volleyball, golf, you name it. She would just excel. Any rate, she was in rare form tonight managing the game. To give you a sense of life on the plantation the categories included, Cawayanon workers, golf, party & leisure, personalities, products and school.

I prove highly incompetent at the jeopardy game. Most of the questions were before my time and my eye hand coordination is highly deficient, so I am slow on the buzzer. My team proves highly tolerant though. Either that or we all really had just that much San Miguel at this point.

Next morning is GOLF. I am up, but I don’t golf. Instead wake up, work out, unpack and go through emails. Take a walk around plantation. Am embarrassed to admit I recognize almost nothing. But at our school can’t help but notice they have the EXACT same playground equipment from when I was there. And that kids are actually using it. This has to violate many a law.

Head over to lodge. Its about 11 am. Everyone assumes I have been sleeping off the night before, which I find insulting. Please, I did Wall Street. I can get my a*s up in the morning (just not necessarily a sober a*s).

Turns out they were betting serious money on golf this AM. There is a tie. My mom (who is an excellent golfer) missed making the final cut by just one stroke. Tina declares we need to have a sudden death replay of the final hole to determine who will win. Guess what, it’s another tie. So much for that idea. They finally just split the prize money as it’s noon, and time for the next event – poolside BBQ.

Poolside BBQ proves highly amusing as everyone reminisces on their favorite memories of growing up on the compound. Isa proves particularly entertaining – from a much earlier generation than myself. Some of the best ones include how they all learned to swim by a local who himself couldn’t swim, but would pull them through the pool on some kind of rope contraption. Or one of the larger forms of entertainment was running behind the “fog machine”. This was used to exterminate mosquitoes. God knows the illegal chemicals involved. Or how for DECADES the text books at the plantation school were exactly the same. At the end our conclusion is, it’s a miracle we survived childhood here and it’s a miracle any of us can add (I can’t by the way).

My own contribution was the “great” fairy tale theater event. My Mom was kind of the social leader for the plantation. We didn’t have TV but we had a closed circuit TV network. This is back in the antiquated days of VCR. My grandma would record things for us in the States and then send them to Mom and she would play them for the plantation. Well, one night on the schedule is “Fairy Tale Theater” for the kids. What Grandma didn’t realize is after Fairy Tale Theater, Charlie (my Grandpa) came in, didn’t see it was being recorded and changed the channel to hard core porn. We’re talking porn. So Mom puts in the tape and walks away. And the young children of the plantation are treated to quite the movie. Yeah, our phone was kind of ringing off the hook that night. And my Dad being my Dad, thought it was hilarious.  And replayed the tape to a crowd every chance he got.

That night’s dinner is a “cultural” event. We have a tribe (I really didn’t know we had these in the Philippines) perform a concert with drums. There are also some adorable children doing a dance, which honestly was them just kind of spinning, but really, was endearing. But it does go on for awhile. As the kids keep spinning and spinning I start to think we may be violating some child labor laws. As the drumming goes on I lean over to Jigger and say, “I think I know this one”. I get the “Shut up” response. Really, this is how we communicate with each other.

Next day Jigger and I go horseback riding. We have joining us his lovely young niece and nephew Gabbie and Noah. Meet up at the lodge and start nagging him that we are running late and need to get going. Jigger likes to describe himself as “laissez faire” and me as “type A”. I am told to relax.

We finally get on our horses. There are only three available so I put Noah on the saddle with me. Now, while I am completely negligent and irresponsible with my own children (Ziets calls me “mother of the year”, but not in a good way) I tend to over-compensate with other people’s children as the burden of responsibility bears down on me that greatly.

Head off and re-explore the pineapple plantation. Jigger wants to be “adventurous” so try to find the old air field. After awhile, I realize, we are totally lost. Completely and utterly. I don’t know if you have ever been in a pineapple field, but guess what, It ALL looks alike. I know we are screwed. And again, having Marla’s children with us, I am particularly concerned. I accuse Jigger of getting us lost. This of course brings about another mature debate: “no we’re not”…”yes we are”….”no we’re not”….”yes we are”….”no we’re not”. Fortunately we have two adults in attendance (Gabbie and Noah) to settle this heated exchange. They rule in my favor, thank you very much.

Jigger triumphantly locates our old compound school, with the “see I knew where we were all along”. Bullsh*t. But Jigger, less triumphantly, discovers the impenetrable fence that now surrounds the compound. He swears to me that was never there. Yeah, 20 years ago, idiot…..

But we follow the edge of the compound and do manage to get back. At this point I’m trusting my horse’s desire to get back to the stables more than I am trusting Jigger’s sense of direction.

So what was meant to be a one hour horse back ride turns into a two hour ride. I swear, in that last hour I keep hearing in my head the theme song to Gilligan’s Island, “a three hour tour, a three hour tour”.

Get back to Lodge ahead of Jigger (my horse proved a bit faster). Daddy asks how the horse ride went. I had some choice words for him.

That night another party at the lodge (shocking, right). Jigger, Bobby and Rey do an impromptu acoustic guitar concert for the benefit of Tina and all the hard work she did. Was absolutely fantastic. And we somehow managed got get some humor in – the highlight (for me) being Alfred doing an accompanying air guitar performance. Much laughter and camaraderie out of it all. I snuck out early (when I’m done, I’m done) but my Mom told me the next day as testimony to how drunk everyone was they thought she had a good singing voice. Neither of us do, so that must of been one hell of a good night.

Next day is the re-creation of the infamous hangover golf tournament. This always took place the day after new year’s eve, at the crack of dawn and was a very, very serious event.

No, I’m just f***ing with you. Goal of this tournament was to violate every rule of golf there is.

So we do play early in the AM (but this is Filipino time, so not as early as intended). It’s teams of two (I had requested very early on that I get Jigger as a partner – he’s the only one that will tolerate my considerable deficiencies) and we only play two holes. But it takes hours as we play as one large group. You and your partner alternate strokes. And there is no age limit with regards to who can participate. There was a 4-year-old that out-played me by the way. Daddy was rather upset by my performance. I have had a generally successful career on Wall Street, have raised 2 kids on my own, but what will Daddy say about me, “she sucks at golf”. All too true, Jigger finds it amusing that I suck that badly but actually wore golf shoes. I explain to him I golfed a LOT for work, but my core competencies lied with driving the cart and fetching beer. Those of you that were clients can testify to this.

So morning of tournament we are all gathered at the Lodge getting breakfast. Jigger is hell-bent on making Bloody Mary’s for the tournament. He goes to the kitchen to gather ingredients. Turns out, what he thought was tomato juice, was in fact spaghetti sauce. No, really. But the other ingredients have been mixed, the highly expensive bottle of Grey Goose already opened and Jigger determines there is no turning back at this point.

I don’t know what was more impressive. The fact that Jigger actually completed this concoction, or the fact that he consumed it. He swore that the hint of oregano and basil gave it an “extra edge”.

Hangover tournament, as usual, is vastly entertaining. What is always the most entertaining element is there are a few people that actually take it seriously. No really. They think it’s a real tournament. Unfortunately one of the victims of this misconception is Marla’s daughter, Gabbie. Given our bonding over getting lost in the pineapple fields (yes Jigger I will bring up again that you are an idiot) I am rather upset to see her partner pressure her and give her tips on how to improve her game. Halfway through the “tournament” I let her know, “screw him, just have fun”. I think she does overall. She is her mother’s daughter after all.

Don’t even remember who won the tournament. Do recall Tina and Bob got a box of noodles as a consolation prize. Their ball evidently was labeled noodle. And they actually sucked more than me. That takes effort.

Sleep off the hangover tournament – proved to be one hell of a nap. But that’s what happens when you play golf and have a beer cart following you. When I wake up wander over to the bowling alley. Many, many fond memories of childhood exist within this location. Am kind of disappointed to see everything now is automated – when I lived there we further violated child labor laws by having plantation kids restack the pins. But, any rate, several of the second generation “kids” are there bowling. I manage to get myself a spot on the rotation.

My performance proves pathetic. No, really, pathetic. This is highly dissatisfying to me as I actually am typically good at bowling. I am convinced there is a slant in the lane. I bribe Alfred with some beers to tell everyone that I bowled a 100 (which honestly I can do). Myra (who is Alfred’s sister), has been observing the entire disaster wryly comments yes, 100 points with two games.

Needless to say this gives Alfred too much material and guess how the story gets spun that night…..yes. Truth is told.

At party that night spend quality time with Marco – who is winding down his business as a cattle farmer in Australia and now consulting for the Plantation. But those of you that know me should realize, give me the chance to exchange fun facts on protein and I am THERE. I have somehow managed to convince myself that my large repertoire of fun facts on protein make me a hit at cocktail parties.

So that night finally do my interview for the documentary. It was late in the evening and I’d already had a few. Keep spilling my wine on the way to our interview “area”. The director asks if I am intoxicated. I tell him, “hell, yeah, but trust me, I’ll be better this way”. Rey is beyond disappointed that this statement is not caught on tape.

Get the email from Ziets that Constellation Brands (one of largest alcoholic beverage companies in the world) just reported earnings and crushed it – attributing my unemployment and evident ability to drink all day to their success. Inform him I have been out of the country most of that quarter, so not me, thank you very much, but do provide, based on performance at this reunion, the insider tip to buy some San Miguel stock.

(to be continued…)

Cawayanon - The President's House

Published by Bukidlife

A journaler - someone who writes in a journal.

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