Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Going Home To Ilocos #1: Playing With Frogs

                                 Ilocos landscape

Five years.  It's been five years since I've gone home to my parents' hometown in Ilocos Norte.  I really have no excuse --- life just buzzed by and with my meager vacation days, I could not find the time and the willpower to go home.  I figured it's enough that my mother goes home every couple of years or so,  and that I did see my nieces three years ago when they came to Manila while I was on vacation.  There's  facebook  and  phone conversations to keep us connected.

But who am I kidding?  The truth is that going home to Ilocos somewhat made me uneasy.  It's a mixed bag of joy and frustration, of belonging and not really fitting in.  It was easier and far more comfortable for me not to go.

On the one hand,  Ilocos defined my childhood.  My happiest memories as a child were the two months of summer spent with my mother's parents,  Nana and Tata. This went on every year until I was fifteen when Tata died. 

My brother and I have not much to bank on when it comes to love between our parents.  I am luckier perhaps, because the seven years gap between my younger brother and me  meant I had the gift of time to spend with my grandparents.  Since I was six,  I  have spent my summers nestled within the loving adoration of  Nana and Tata.   They were the sweetest couple ever,  my Tata would arrive from his day at his farm and he'd holler to Nana,  Good evening, Darling ko!  And kiss her on the cheeks. And then he'd tug me and give me a warm embrace.

Despite the simplicity of life in Ilocos, I thrived,  and at the end of every summer I'd come back to Manila healthier and livelier.  In Ilocos, I could not be the picky eater that I was in Manila,  I could not demand for hotdogs and all those processed foods so readily available in the city.  Instead, my Nana taught me a  love for pinakbet, to eat malunggay soup, enjoy adobong saluyot and enjoy the clean taste of ukyang soup --- river crams in a clear broth of ginger and  sliced tomato.

                                Walking through farmlands

In the city, I was a quiet kid who filled her days reading Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twins  detective stories.   In Ilocos,  I learned how to climbed trees, joined my cousins in the afternoon walking through farmlands, picking tomatoes and uprooting a few of the peanut plants we passed by  for our snacks( which is bad, now that I think of it), and when the  wet season came at the tailend of the summer I ran with  them to welcome the rain.

                               Image from amigurumiisland.wordpress.com

We'd play in the mud,  overturn  stones, and poke little crevices with walis tingting sticks (broomsticks) in search of ...frogs.  Yes frogs.  We never did anything to the frogs we found except gather them and throw them  back on the wet earth.  It was their croaks and the crazy hops done in panic that amused us, how foolish and funny these creatures were, how totally different from us.  I suppose in this time of political correctness,  our innocent joys of torturing these frogs, plucking them from their hiding places for our amusement, well the high and mighty they might say we were cruel,  but for us kids,  those were precious moments, there was something elemental with our happiness as we watch in amazement how  these little creatures scrammed away from us, mere kids.  Perhaps to them we were big forces of nature who could if we were so mean, squash them in a single  stroke.  But to us, they were these emerald, bug-eyed creatures, our  precious pets at least until we got tired of them, until we are called upon to wash up our muddy limbs.  Until the lure is called on by Nana,  an invitation for a bowl of hot steaming Royco, the chicken noodle soup we so loved as kids.  Food or frog? So easy a choice,  with that we leave the frogs be to their croaking.

UP NEXT:  What to Eat and Buy in Ilocos


  1. Haha, my boyfriend also grew up in a province before moving to Manila, but I suspect he spent less time playing outside and more in front of a PC =D I have similar memories from going to my grandparents' summer house (having a cottage in the countryside is really popular in Czech Republic), they had a small pond where there were tons of water bugs and frogs. I really enjoyed fishing all the water bugs and putting them in a small bucket filled with water and releasing them back to the pond after I removed them all. :)


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