Merry Christmas

Friday, December 25, 2009

Sagada Christmas MessageIt's 3.40 am Christmas morn - I just wanted to jot down some notes before calling it a night. It has been a great Christmas Eve spent first by attending a Christmas worship service, then spending the rest of the evening at the house of one of my sisters here in Maryland. For the first time in many, many years, Maryland actually out-snowed Illinois. Click on the photo taken from one of my sister's houses. They haven't dared remove the accumulated snow at their deck. It's more than a foot high.

#1. Christmas is best spent with family. Three of my sisters and their families live in Maryland. We're the only ones residing in Illinois. We postponed our Illinois - Maryland trip from Dec 18 evening to Dec 21 evening due to the worst winter storm in Maryland. When we finally hit the road, the forecast was clear all throughout our journey. BUT, reality was different. The visibility was very bad when we passed Indiana with snow swirling all around.

The worst happened in Pennsylvania though. We were travelling at the maximum speed when I felt our minivan slip in the road. I immediately slowed down and sure enough, saw that the highway was covered in a thin layer of ice. I noticed the vehicles ahead of us were going very slow and had their hazard lights on. I did the same. The scarier part was ahead of us. As we were crossing a bridge, we could see a small car ahead of us slowly losing control and slipping sideways as it crossed the bridge. I thought we were crazy to have taken the drive we did. But who could have known? A college friend did the same drive at a time that the forecast was worse. Their family encountered less problems than we did.

God was real gracious and allowed us to complete our journey without any other incidents. Christmas is meant to be spent with family and we are just so happy to be here.

#2. Look out for Christmas blessings. They're everywhere. While we were very bored and anxious waiting whether or not to make the trip to Maryland, we decided to attend the Sunday worship service at Willow Creek church in South Barrington. It was the biggest church I've seen so far. I've heard a lot about the church for a long time now and had made plans to visit it earlier. I'm glad we did this particular Sunday.

The Christmas carol singing was wonderful. Led by a nationally-acclaimed choir director, the whole congregation were urged to sing their best for Jesus. After all, isn't He the reason for the season? At least a couple of thousand voices joined the choir with joyful voices and it was hard to imagine not being blessed for taking part in those songs. The singing was recorded and was available in a CD after the service. Now I have my own Christmas album.

The message was simple yet profound. Jesus was the only human ever to have a say on when and where He would be born. He chose to enter our world through a place where animals were kept, and chose parents that society would have easily ignored as insignificant. Imagine the dirt, the noise, the chaos, the circumstances where the animals stayed - he chose to enter the very world he created in the most humble manner. Imagine what Joseph and Mary would have thought about delivering a baby in the least ideal of settings - and yet, that was the time that Jesus chose to arrive.

Indeed, God rarely shows up in situations when everything is under our control. It is when we are most needy, when we are most weak, when we are most humbled, and when we are most searching that He chooses to show Himself. Now that I think about it, it is in our most vulnerable moments that we can actually show our purest love. And rightfully, those moments are when we most encounter JESUS - love in human form.

We wouldn't have heard of the message had we not been delayed. God's timing is always perfect. We just have to wait on Him.

As the old ladies would say in my hometown of Sagada, MILI KLISMAS! Spend it well with your family, and keep your eyes wide open for those Christmas blessings.


Sagada Christmas Memories

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Before I got married, I spent all my Christmases either in Sagada or in a remote barangay of Tabuk, the the capital of what was then known as Kalinga-Apayao. But, I can only remember one Christmas spent in Tabuk, whereas almost 99% of my Christmas memories have Sagada as its setting. Knowingly or unknowingly, our folks have raised us to treasure Christmas and have a sense of tradition around it. Because of this, I am now trying to do the same with my children as well. I’m listing my fondest Christmas memories in Sagada as they appear on my mind:

- Decorating a tree. It was a real pine tree that we chose for the house and we would make it stand in a can filled with stones, not an easy task.

- Decorating our rooms at school. During the later years in elementary school, a group of students would be assigned a corner of the room to decorate. The class would have a maguey tree for its Christmas tree and we’d decorate it with classroom-made decors.

- Attending the community program at the basketball court on Christmas Eve.

- Singing with the choir at the church. I attended Christmas morning service before high school but I was allowed to attend the Christmas Eve service around high school. When the collegians come home for the holidays, the singing goes to a new level. “Glo-ooooo-ooooo-ooooo-ria, in excelsis dey-ey-oooo!” is sang in four very distinct voices by the whole congregation.

- Going home after the midnight mass and eating a slice of lemon pie / chocolate cake.

- The very, very cold Sagada weather especially when going home after midnight mass. During my teen years, it wouldn’t be that cold especially when I was tipsy from an earlier drinking session.

- Opening our presents on Christmas morn. Unlike my children and most other children here in the US, we were very happy with just one gift. We’d be ecstatic with two.

- My grandfather’s grapefruit breakfast. Choosing the juiciest grapefruit is part of the fun. Not sure how many other families can relate to that.
- The cakes and pies my aunt, my cousins, and my sisters bake. The Sagada fruit salad is found nowhere else.

- Preparing for the Christmas Eve and Christmas lunch meals. The kitchen was always busy.

- Inviting friends and relatives over for Christmas lunch. I wasn’t really that fond for the dish washing that would be assigned to me after the meal.

This blog wishes you and your family a Merry, Merry Christmas.


Elementary and Junior High Winter Orchestra

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

We accompanied our 5th grader as he was going to perform in the winter orchestra at their school. Our eldest started playing violin 5 years ago, when he was still homeschooled in the Philippines. When we moved to the US, he stopped playing. In their music class, he chose to join the Beginner's Orchestra group and he had to start with his violin lessons from scratch. It's a good thing because he lost most of his skills from his previous lessons. The winter orchestra is their first of 3 performances for the school year.

Winter Concert Atmosphere - the performance was held at the auditorium of the school district's high school. The audience were mostly family members of those who were performing.

Grade 5 Performance: My son is the kid in front of the second column from the left. I was pretty amused at the applause the audience gave the beginner's orchestra after each tune.

Grade 6 Peformance: There is a young Fil-Am amongst the better players in this group. He is the violin player on the left of the conductor. The group played a catchy "Frosty the Snowman" and the audience responded by clapping along. My son said they shouldn't have done that because it was difficult to hear the music. I thought it was just appropriate - the audience were showing their appreciation. And, it was sort of a family-type concert, not a formal one.

Grade 7: Look for a guy on the far-end left. He was really good. I'm not a violin expert but one could tell he was enjoying and performing well. He was one of the few violin soloists, and he also played a different instrument later in the evening.

Junior High (Grade 7 & Grade 8) Ensemble: Playing one of the more popular pieces for the night. My wife actually counted that of the 16 members of the group, 13 of them were of Asian descent.

Flashback: Video of my son 5 years ago performing at his first violin group recital in the Philippines. He stopped playing the violin for 4 years and had to start again under the beginner's orchestra group at age 10. Now that I think about it, the complexity of what he was doing then was not much different from what he was doing now.


Our 5th Grader's Spelling Season Ends Early

Around 3 weeks ago, our 5th grader (and eldest) informed us that he was vying as class rep for the spelling bee. I asked him if he had time to do so considering his many activities already. He is part of the student council, is leading a group for a book club competition, has a violin class, taking part in Math competition, and always vying for a top10 spot at the church’s AWANA program. He said he’ll find time to learn some spelling.

He found a book we have at home on interesting English words. For the first few days, he was really into it. He got to know some English words derived from foreign languages. He had fun learning the spelling and meaning of some of the longest words there are including "antidisestablishmentarianism" and "pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis". I was surprised to know that "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" was even a word. And, he laughed out loud when he was telling me about the meaning of "floccinaucinihilipilification". (Before you get too impressed with how I’m spelling these words, do know that I’m just copying and pasting from Google.) Yep, he amazed me with how he can say these words in a straight manner when they all seem like tongue twisters to me.

On a separate note, he said that a particular classmate whom he bested when they both run for class student council representative literally begged him not to take part in the spelling bee so others can also have a chance to represent the class. This girl apparently told him to “please, please not join the spelling bee”. Others were also already telling my son that he’ll surely get one of the 2 slots for the class. So yep, my son knew that he was a frontrunner early on.

Days passed by and we barely noticed it. Pretty soon, my son was cramming one Wednesday night because his class spelling bee was the next day. On hindsight, I can say that my son fell to what we Pinoys call the “ningas cogon” mentality. He failed to follow up on his initial super-enthusiasm. It probably didn’t help that the bee fell on the last week of the calendar year, a relatively busy week in a 5th grader’s calendar.

On Thursday evening, I learned that he didn’t get one of the two slots for his class. He fell in the second round. More surprising I guess, is the word where he made a mistake. He spelled "casino" incorrectly. Upon hearing that, our 3rd grader looked up from a book he was reading and said: “I can spell that – c-a-s-i-n-o”. I’m sure that didn’t sit well with his older brother. At his class, our eldest spelled the word with a double "s".

As a very competitive person, my son dislikes not coming out on top. But what really got into him was the ribbing he got from his classmates. "I couldn’t believe you didn’t know how to spell that!" were one of the friendlier lobs that were sent his way. His mother had a consolation for him – "it just means our family is not really into gambling". Way to go, mom. That night, he had to focus on something else. He joined other 5th graders as they performed in a winter orchestra – the first of three that they’ll be performing for the school year.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

On Sunday evening, we were singing some Christmas Carols to pass the time. I was telling my sons how we as children changed the words of "Feliz Navidad" to "Bilis Binigat". Loosely translated, that means "dried fish (bilis) every breakfast (binigat)" in Ilokano. Not knowing Ilokano, my eldest enthusiastically said that he knew what I was singing about. He thought it was about telling a heavy child to hurry up. I looked at him, puzzled. He explained - "You know - bilis is fast, bigat is heavy". Hehehe, poor child. He was using Tagalog to translate the phrase. I cracked up. I was about to tease him on "casino" but not wanting to spoil the mood, I stopped short of doing that.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

On some long-ish drives, the boys would amuse themselves by imitating a spelling bee. Recently, they asked me to give them some spelling words.

Me: "Ok, spell this (don't remember the word but it was a non-English one)."
Eldest: "Can you give me the definition please?"
Me: "It means ***definition of word***".

Eldest: "Can you give me a different pronunciation, please?"
At this point, I'd give a different pronunciation in my best foreign accent.

Eldest: "Can you give me the origin, please?"
Me: "It's ***name of language***".

My eldest remains stumped. At this point, he starts giggling. In his most innocent tone, he asks,
"Can you give me the spelling please?"


Recent Search Words

Thursday, December 10, 2009

As someone who is very interested in numbers, and is a statistic-nerd, I signed up with SiteMeter's free service to track where the traffic in my blog is coming from. In the past 4 weeks, this blog's traffic has increased 100% - thanks in part to the transfer of almost all pages from my erstwhile website: (It's below my expectations since I expected traffic to go up 200%.) Just a few minutes ago, I was checking how my recent visitors were accessing my site. About 90% of the past 100 visitors since this morning have used search engines - majority of which are from Yahoo and Google. What search words are they using that lead them to this blog? I checked the past 30 visitors, and have selected the top 12 search words according to their "most amusing" value.

Rank - Search Word - Position in Search (Search Engine):

12. "igorot" - #5 (Yahoo)
11. "sagada" - #9 (Google Canada)
10. "sagada tours" - #1 (Google Canada)
9. "sagada tour" - #6 (Google Philippines)
8. "igorot traditional ceremonies" - #4 (Yahoo)
7. "filipino igorot" - #2 (Google)
6. "masferre sagada" - #4 (Google)
5. "blog of the sagada igorot" - #1 (Yahoo)
4. "pictures of igorot native attire" - #3 (Yahoo)
3. "what is the filipino name for the igorot's sling" - #1 (Google)
2. "igorot never colonized" - #2 (Google)
1. "how sexually active are the male igorots" - #1 (Google)

Some comments:

- Note how the search words "sagada tours" and "sagada tour" differ in how Google ranks them because of the country the search was done on.
- Those searching for "blog of the sagada igorot" are either fans or enemies of this blog. This particular searcher was from Florida.
- "Filipino Igorot" is a nice search term. Is there such a thing as "American Igorot", "French Igorot", or "English Igorot"?
- To the person searching for "how sexually active are the male igorots"? My answer is another question: "Why do you ask?"


Sagada Dec 2009 Tour via Banaue

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I am sharing information on a Travel Advocate tour that covers both Sagada and Banaue. The tour date is from Dec 27 (Sunday) to Dec 29, 2009 (Tuesday). Billed as the BANAUE-SAGADA Year-end Adventure, the price to join the tour is P4,650.00/pax, roughly about $100. A reservation fee of P2,000 applies, and the payment of the reservation deadline is on December 16, 2009. The full payment deadline is December 21, 2009. More details on the tour is displayed below:

Tour date: Dec. 27-29, 2009
(Sunday night departure)

ALL-IN Tour package rate: P4,650.00/pax

Reservation downpayment: P2,000/pax
Reservation deadline: December 16, 2009
Full payment deadline: December 21, 2009

Tour package includes:
* Service of tour guide
* Roundtrip land transfers (air-con van/bus)
* Jeepney transfers around Sagada
* Accommodation at George Guest House Annex
* Total of 5 meals - 2 breakfast, 2 lunch, 1 dinner (*Dinner on the last day on pax account)
* Banaue-Sagada Tour (please see itinerary)
* Service of local guides and use of equipments inside the cave
* Tour entrance fees

Sunday Night
9:00pm Assembly at McDonald's along Quezon Ave. cor. West 4th St., beside Red Ribbon, infront of National Bookstore
9:30pm Departure for Banaue

*Travel by night. Get enough rest for the day ahead.

7:00am Arrival in Banaue
Breakfast at Halfway Lodge, Banaue
8:00am Travel from Banaue to Sagada
On the way to Sagada, stop at different breathtaking viewpoints:
Banaue Rice Terraces Viewpoint
Mt. Polis – to see what they call the ‘sea of clouds’
Bayo Rice Terraces and Village Viewpoint
11:30am ETA – Sagada
Check-in at George Guest House Annex
Prepare and change attire for spelunking
12:30nn Lunch
1:30pm Meet local guides at the Town Center
Start of Tour:
Burial or Lumiang Cave
Sumaguing Cave (3-4 hours) – Your visit to Sagada wouldn’t be complete without surviving this famous cave
7:00pm Back at the Town Center
7:30pm Dinner Time
Bonfire night
Overnight Sagada

7:00am Breakfast
8:00am Start of Tour:
Sagada church
Sagada cemetery
Echo Valley
Hanging Coffins
Sagada Weaving Center
12:00nn Lunch
1:00pm Pasalubong Shopping Center
2:00pm Travel back to Banaue
7:00pm Stop-over at Solano City for dinner (*On pax account)
12:00mn ETA - Manila
Drop off point: Same as assembly place

For reservation details, please click:

For more info, feel free to call us:

Reservation Fee
1. Deposit reservation downpayment on or before reservation deadline to:
Bank: Banco De Oro (Mayon branch)
Bank Account Name: Advocate Transport Service
Bank Account No.: 1050125949
Amount: P2,000/pax
Reservation deadline: Depends on the tour (Please see blog/post of the tour you will be joining)

2. Text the following deposit details to 0917-4249629:
Name and date of the tour you will be joining - ex. Banaue-Sagada Adventure (June 12-13, 2009)
Full names of participants
Date of deposit
BDO Branch

3. Indicate participants' names on the deposit slip and kindly bring on the day of assembly.

Full payment/Remaining balance
1. Deposit remaining balance on or before deadline to:
Bank: Banco De Oro (Mayon branch)
Bank Account Name: Advocate Transport Service
Bank Account No.: 1050125949
Amount and Full payment deadline: Depends on the tour (Please see blog/post of the tour you will be joining)

2. Text the following deposit details to 0917-4249629:
Name and date of the tour you will be joining - ex. Banaue-Sagada Adventure (June 12-13, 2009)
Full names of participants
Date of deposit
BDO Branch

3. Indicate participants' names on the deposit slip and kindly bring on the day of assembly.

*Please be informed that all payments made are non-refundable and non-transferrable.

For inquiries regarding reservation, feel free to call us.

The Advocate Team


Fantastic Sagada Pictures

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

sagada waterfallsFantastico. Merveilleux. Wunderschön. Exquisito. Now, I'm running out of European superlatives to describe the beautiful Sagada pictures from the website. I was looking for my regular fix of Sagada pictures from the many blogs out there and stumbled upon this huge gallery of Sagada images taken during a hike to the Bomod-ok falls. The blog post contains captured scenes on the way to the Big Falls. It also has an embedded Youtube video on GMA-7's "GIMIK SA TAG-INIT: Bomod-ok Falls in Sagada" feature. Additional images in the blog post contain scenes from the Kiltepan Viewpoint, Latang Underground River, and Echo Valley. What better way of escaping a Chicago blizzard than immersing one's eyes in beautiful pictures of my hometown, Sagada.


Marky Cielo 1st Death Anniversary

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The daughter of our next door neighbor here in Illinois, a teenager, alerted us on the death of Marky Cielo on December 7, 2008. I immediately checked the news and on the next days, my wife and I were glued to Youtube and other Filipino showbiz websites as news of the young Igorot's death, and various speculations surround it, dominated the networks until his funeral more than a week later. It was a shocking event - a young very promising actor at the peak of his career found dead by his mother on his bedroom. There were many speculations about his death and to date, the family has refused to provide additional details except that he was found lying on the floor of his bedroom and that he was rushed immediately to the hospital. It has been a year now - in a few days, as is the custom of Igorots and I believe most Filipinos in general, his 1st death anniversary will be observed by at least, his family members and closest friends.

I did a quick online search to see if there are any plans on how the day will be observed. No news. In the BIBAKNETS mailing group, there is no additional information either. It looks like it's going to be observed solemnly and privately - as should really be the case. From last year, I have received the following very few updates on Marky:

- His mother, Mildred, hasn't washed some of his clothes in an effort to retain "his scent";
- He was given a star at the Eastwood City Walk of Fame (Eastwood was our family's favorite tambayan when we still lived in Provident Village, Marikina);
- He has a Wikipedia page.

Interestingly enough, his Wikipedia page contains multiple issues. From the comments at the top, the information on his page contains "weasel words" that compromise the neutrality or of the information befitting an encyclopedia. It also appears to represent a biased viewpoint and could have been edited by a person with a conflict of interest. How they come up with these indicators - no one knows, but it does show how strictly Wikipedia is filtering the information in its pages. Not bad at all. The longest section in Marky's Wikipedia entry? It's the one marked under DEATH.

It would be a good idea to write Marky's mother an encouraging letter for the holidays. She doesn't know me, but I'm a kailyan; someone from the same region who have felt the loss of a loved one before as well. When Marky first joined the Starstruck contest and became a household name, a lot of acquaintances teased me on our similar features. Magkamukha raw po kami. I didn't agree. The young man was really good looking. I'm what you may call "average". But we do have one thing in common. We both are proud of our Igorot roots.

Above photo is a screenshot taken from


Sagada Pottery Trade in the News

Sagada PotsThe Sagada pottery trade is featured in an article in the BusinessWorld website. A 53-piece exhibition called "UB UBBO" is highlighting "contemporary work by six indigenous potters from Sagada". All 53 pieces, made almost entirely from Sagada resources, are among the first to be fired in a wood-burning kiln constructed with funding from the Australian Embassy. The exhibit is currently on view at the Le Souffl√© Restaurant and Wine Bar, The Fort, Bonifacio Global City until Dec 5, 2009. The organizer, clay artist Pablo Capati has praised Sagada's pottery tradition. "Sagada people are among the top potters in the Philippines in terms of knowledge, technique, and style," he said. "They really put their thoughts and culture into their work". Sagada visitors can join information sessions or buy stoneware from the Sagada town center. Article Reference: Sagada’s pot dreams


Igorot Voice in Copenhagen Climate Talks

The Igorot voice is going to be heard during the historic Copenhagen climate talks. In a December 3 article in the IPS News website, an Igorot representative will be joining a small group of indigenous people to show negotiators dramatic documentary videos they have made of the immediate impacts of climate change on their homelands. Keidy Magtoto Transfiguracion from the Igorot Cordillera region will be presenting how climate change has increased the number and strength of "super storms" that have pounded the Philippines in recent years. Her video documents show how large-scale mining operations have rerouted rivers and destroyed the local environment and are the root cause of the landslides. "The land can no longer absorb the heavy rains," she explained. Article Reference: CLIMATE CHANGE: "We Are a Harbinger of What Is to Come"