Saturday, November 16, 2019

Down under

Last week my brother Ralph and I had the opportunity to visit friends from Down Under. These were friends from way back—those who knew me from when I sported the crew cut and looked emaciated. We stayed in a university dorm together, enjoyed sweet Christian fellowship, labored in prayer for "acads" (how we termed our university requirements and exams, which we hoped to pass to get us closer to our baccalaureate degrees) and our spiritual walk with the Lord, and went to dinner in our favorite staple, Lola Lita's and its killer tofu, already burned down to the ground because of a massive fire a few years ago. They have remained friends and have become—no, really—family. My eyes water and my heart overflows with thanksgiving when I think of the tapestry of my life in my twenties, carefully handcrafted by God who included them.

After the delayed release of our visas, we booked a cheap flight to Sydney. Friends in Manila asked me what I was going to do there. My reply was that I did not know. The plan was to just coast along, follow the itinerary set in the WhatsApp group called "Catedrals in Sydney," and have fun.

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So have fun we did. Kuya John hosted us in his beautiful place in Burwood. He would cook lunch and dinner—steak and Australian wine and that luscious salad. He would join us for coffee and snacks during his breaks. He would tour me around Newtown and bring me to his favorite bookstore, where I saw a vintage copy of The Pilgrims Progress.

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Mike Tan treated us to dinner at The Rocks. He would be our tour guide in The Blue Mountains, and would ask us to pose for the camera, something I rarely do these days. But Mike was always insistent: "Naglakat pa kamo diri kung hindi lang kamo magpapiktyur!" Ah, Mike! It makes me laugh every time I recall our walks along the eucalyptus trees and our views of the vast New South Wales landscape, marred with the occasional bush fires and chilly winds. He also took us around the charming Katoomba and Leura towns, which looked like the New England setting of The Good Witch, a feel-good Netflix series I'm watching.

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Kuya Arbie and the lovely Ate Vinz prepared dinner for us in their apartment just a few blocks away from the Sydney Olympic Park. Their daughter Louise knew how rally a crowd, with her small violin and her ABCs, which she would sing to Kuya Arbie in the morning, like a natural alarm. I hope she does not get Kuya Arbie's musical ability when she grows up.

All of us, save for Ate Vinz and Louise, went for a drive to Port Stephens, did a not-too-exhausting hike, dipped out feet in the beach, ate pizza at a public park in sleepy Newcastle, dipped our feet again in the sand dunes where I saw camels for the first time, visited a small zoo with wombats and kangaroos, and drove home.

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In between these trips, we caught up with each other, talked about our other friends, about how God has been at work in our lives, and planned our next trip back to Australia.

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