Watercolor Journeys and High School Reunions
By Jojo Sabalvaro-Tan
Illustrated by Jojo Sabalvaro-Tan
My graduating class of 1965 of the University of the Philippines Preparatory School loves reunions. The most beloved of these reunions and the ones that get us particularly excited are those that take us to countries outside of the Philippines. This wanderlust was instilled in us by our many high school field trips to different parts of the Philippines. Not only did our school open our eyes to the wonders of the Philippines but also the marvels of the rest of the world.
I’m sure, like me, my classmates were fascinated with the art, culture, architecture, music and food in the Americas, Europe, Africa and the rest of Asia. It is no surprise then that freed from the seemingly incessant family and career building we were challenged with for many of the years after we graduated from college, we jumped at the opportunity to hold reunions in different parts of the world.
In the past 15 years, our class held reunions in Los Angeles, New York, Niagara Falls, Vienna, Vancouver, BC, Mexico City, Chicago, Bangkok and Den Haag (The Hague).
The first reunion outside of the Philippines that I recall was a casual affair when classmates from the Philippines and Canada were coming to visit Los Angeles. Using the just developing electronic mail on the internet, an all-out invitation was broadcast to the rest of the class to join in and “crash on the floor” at classmate Daddie Albaladejo-Matic’s home.
A few years later, another classmate, Linglingay Fonacier-Lacanlale (currently Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs) invited the class to the 1999 Philippine Independence Ball in New York City where she was posted as Consul General. Classmates from the Philippines, Singapore, Canada and the United States came and it would mark, for most of us, the first time we would see some of our classmates since we graduated from college at the University of the Philippines in the late 60s and early 70s. The euphoria of that reunion lasted for years and still feeds our fervor to spend time with each other every opportunity we get.
For the coming golden anniversary of our graduation from high school, I am featuring sketches and notes from my watercolor travel journal of the places we visited as my classmates and I gathered outside of the Philippines.
The reunion at Niagara Falls in 2001, hosted by Philippine Reporter co-Founder Mila Astorga-Garcia, offered the thunderous magnificence of the Niagara Falls, the natural beauty of the quaint town of Niagara-on-the-Lake as well as the cosmopolitan character of Toronto. We picnicked along the banks of the lake as we told our life stories and expressed our gratitude for being given the abundant blessings of studying at UP Prep and henceforth, each other.
Hosted by our Vancouver-based classmates, we were treated to Vancouver’s multicultural living and its abundant natural beauty with the ocean and the mountains as backdrop. Crossing over to Vancouver Island on a ferry, we visited the breathtaking Butchart Gardens near the very British capital city, Victoria.
The mini reunion in Mexico City in 2003 was hosted by classmate Ruth Monserrate-Villareal. Mexico City was a surprise and delight for all of us as we experienced its historical and archeological treasures of the pyramids of Teotihuacan, among many others. Throwing ourselves into Mexican culture, we cruised on the colorful boats in Xochomilco, watched the swirling dancers of Ballet Folklorico, and mixed among the locals at Bazar Sabado. From Mexico City, we took a road trip to Acapulco where we enjoyed its seaside treats and then to Mexico’s silver capital, Taxco.
The 2007 reunion was held in Vienna with side trips to other areas in Austria such as Salzburg as well as to Budapest, Hungary and Prague, Czech Republic. Our classmate Linglingay Fonacier-Lacanlale who was serving as Ambassador hosted the event. The historical and cultural tour in Vienna allowed us to behold the baroque opulence and majesty of the Hapsburg Empire, the artistry of artists such as Mucha, Hundertwasser and Klimt and the music of Mozart and Strauss.
During the Vienna reunion, we also enjoyed a cruise along the Danube river stopping at Melk Monastery, with its impressive library, on our way to Salzkammergut and then on to Salzburg, birthplace of Mozart and the setting for the beloved musical ‘The Sound of Music.’ One of the most touching highlights was a thoughtful surprise from the Philippine Consul ad honorem to Salzburg, Baron Thomas Wagner who treated us to a live performance of music from ‘The Sound of Music’, when we visited Schloss Leopoldkron, the house used as the Von Trapp home in the movie
The Vienna reunion group also toured Prague and Budapest. In Prague, we visited the church where the Infant Jesus of Prague is venerated. Some tried the Pilsen beer at the Old Town Square, as we watched the oldest working astronomical clock in the world chime with its parade of Apostles and other figures. Inside the gothic Cathedral of St. Vitus, we admired the windows decorated by Czech Art Noveau artist Alfons Mucha.
The day before, we toured the twin cities of Buda and Pest in Hungary, located on opposite banks of the Danube, now simply known as Budapest. We had a chance to see how Herend porcelain is hand decorated, shopped for Hungarian embroidery, saw remnants of the World Wars and the communist era. We were most amused pronouncing the name of our lunch stop, Vendeclo a Zsakbamacskahoz, where we had Hungarian goulash.
After the official reunion the attendees dispersed into groups that continued to tour Italy and Berlin, Germany. And then finally, gathering up again to throw coins into the Trevi Fountain in Rome.
The party for the Chicago reunion in 2006, which I hosted, was held at the 44th floor of the iconic John Hancock building with sweeping views of Chicago’s skyline. The reunion group set sight on Chicago’s Navy Pier, China Town, Millennium Park (home of The Cloud Gate sculpture) and the shopping districts of Chicago – State Street and The Magnificent Mile (Michigan Avenue). The highlight was a cruise on the Chicago River and Lake Michigan which showcased Chicago’s architectural treasures and history. A taste of Chicago-style pizza and hotdogs introduced the flavors that made the city famous. This reunion was made special since it was also a celebration of the 70th birthday of our Everlasting class homeroom teacher, Ms. Fraternidad Mistica-Magdongon.
Following the Chicago reunion, a group of attendees took a road trip to South Dakota to view Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse’s monument, the Badlands, the buffalos roam in Custer National Park and in Wyoming, the Devil’s Tower.
Classmates from Canada and the Philippines were welcomed to Bangkok by Philippine Ambassador to Thailand Linglingay Fonacier-Lacanlale and her husband Eric. According to attendee Ana Urbina, in spite of the weather being hot and humid, they enjoyed exploring the religious sites of Bangkok such as the Grand Palace with its Emerald Buddha, the various temples including Wat Pho where coins are offered to the giant Reclining Buddha. Visits to the Erawan Museum, Vimanmek Teakwood Mansion and Ancient Siam rounded out their cultural experience. The entertainment level was cranked up a few more notches by the Follies Calypso Show with its talented female impersonators and then, at the Rose Garden where members of the group rode elephants.
Our classmate Atty. Dennis Morales decided to host a reunion in Den Haag (The Hague), Netherlands where his wife, Lulu, iwas then posted as Ambassador. Set for Spring of 2013, the official reunion was based in Den Haag and included a tour of various towns in the Netherlands and Belgium and an extended trip to France. Classmates from the Philippines, the United States, Canada and Europe tiptoed through the thousands of tulips in full bloom at the Keukenhof Gardens near Leyden, cruised the canals of Amsterdam, shopped for blue and white porcelain in Delft, visited the windmills in Kinderdijk, watched cheese being auctioned in Aalkmar and joined in the festivities when King Willem-Alexander ascended to the throne.
In Belgium, the Brussels’ Grande Place is indeed grand with its impressive square lined with 17th century buildings and colorfully accented by the daily flower markets. The visit to Brussels was highlighted by the dinner at the Philippine Embassy hosted by the Ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg, Victoria Bataclan. In Ghent, the group was impressed by Jan Van Eyck’s masterpiece, The Adoration of the Lamb, an altarpiece housed at the gothic St. Bavo’s Cathedral. And then, maximizing their adventures in Belgium, the group took pleasure in cruising the canals, walking the cobblestone streets, studying the medieval architecture and shopping for the hand-made Belgian lace of romantic and mysterious Bruges.
After the tour of Belgium, the group embarked on a tour of France’s Normandy and Brittany regions visiting the harbor town of Honfleur, the ancient walled port city of St. Malo, the medieval town of Bayeaux with the close by Normandy landing sites, and the lofty isolated Mont St. Michel. For quiet contemplation, there was time to pray to St. Therese at Liseux and roam Monet’s gardens in Giverny. Then, on to Paris to bask in the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Seine River and indulge in macarons and croissants.
A group of attendees went on a pre-reunion road trip to Germany’s Rhine river valley, while other groups went on post-reunions trips to Switzerland, Istanbul, Turkey and Dubai, UAE.
What never ceases to amaze me about these destination reunions is that here we are almost 50 years after our high school graduation and we are still taking field trips together, still enjoying each other’s company and still wanting to learn more about the world. I, for one, am looking forward to the next one.
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