Saturday, December 28, 2013

Special Christmas message from the Clarks

From left, Theo (11), Natalie (8), Margie and Casey
• A sphero remote-control robot/smart toy, featuring augmented reality games;
• Cute bunnies calendar;
• Blue shirt from Banana Republic (slim fit);
• Street Fighter for PlayStation (Rated T for Teens);
• Charm bracelet in a little blue box with red ribbon;
• Rug for Theo's room;
• Fluffy blue shirt with leggings (two)
• Scratch off lottery tickets;
• Rubber bands and Rainbow Loom;
• Miscellaneous video games;
• Bunny necklace;
• Bunny stuffed toy;
• Gift cards from Uncle Danny;
• A roll of 35 $1 bills;
• Red long-sleeved shirt;
• One of those ticklers that scratches and massages the scalp;
• Three books, including "The City of Ember;"
• Chess set;
• Brainbows, the colorful spheres that bloom into rainbowy cheer;
• Noodle hula-hoop product; and
• A voucher for "Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare," by Isaac Asimov.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Neptune, Shake Not Thy Gory Locks at Us

In the parking lot of a Texas H.E.B. supermarket. The kids don't believe the B stands for "Butt." But it does.
Cashing in Marriott points and United miles, the Clarks of New Jersey ventured to San Antonio for an historic weekend in Texas.

River walk? Check. Alamo? Check. Haunted Menger Hotel with cool-but-ridiculously-expensive-toy-soldier store? Check. Mexican restaurant? Check.

Schlitterbahn water park? 

Well, that last one brings our blog to one of the greatest decisions in the history of Clark family vacations. The Schlitterbahn is, of course, the fourteen-time honoree of Water Fun Magazine's "Best Water park in the World" award. Miles of slides, acres of pools, river rides, surfing simulators, fountains and sprinklers, all built by German engineers to maximize slippery pleasure. 

At Denny's, Dad told the staff that we were heading to Schlitterbahn. All the waitresses were excited, and a little jealous. Everyone assured us we would have a wonderful day. "Your kids will be tired after all that fun," was the common refrain. I cannot remember for sure, but I think the staff of Denny's and some customers waved to us as we pulled out of the restaurant parking lot. I can't be sure, but I seem to remember them shouting: "You'll have a great time at Schlitterbahn, for sure!"

Along the highway, the billboards advertised "Schlitterbahn: It's more than a water park."

"This is the going to be great," Dad said. "I've always wanted to go to Schlitterbahn, ever since I saw that water-park documentary on TV."

Anticipation swelled like an artificial, German-engineered wave in a 20-acre pool. And then, finally, we saw the first skyscraper of a water slide in the distance. We had arrived. After a 35-minute drive from our hotel, we had arrived.

And this is where all four of us -- Mom, Dad and two kids -- began to gather and analyze visual cues that led to our fateful decision. The first sign that something was amiss was the sighting of two women, walking in bathing suits, about a half-mile from the park entrance. Where are they going? Then we saw a few people walking on the side of the road. And then more, and then a long line of people. 

They were all carrying huge inner tubes. Why are they not in the water?

We drove close to the park where a four-story slide had about 8 stories worth of people jammed on ladders waiting for their turn. The line appeared not to move. We drove past the "LOT FULL" sign. We saw a huge open-air bus full of swimmers.

Where are they going? Why are they not inside the park, enjoying the cool water under the hot Texas sun. It's 100 degrees outside? This is no day to be riding a bus too and fro.

We pass another "LOT FULL" sign. We pass another water slide, this one taller and more crowded than the first.

We drive farther. More busses from all kinds of directions. People walking around like ants in the steamy jungle, carrying inner tubes. We see a line of people waiting to get on a bus. The line was like a Newark "Liberty" International Airport TSA line that snakes back and forth through a maze. Why do they want to get on a bus? 

We received directions to additional parking. "Kids," Dad coached the witnesses. "What do you think of this place? This doesn't look fun to me." 

No answer. Outside, more families were walking slowly in the heat. Perhaps they have traveled great distances to be here. But why are they not in the water? It's 2 p.m. I've seen a thousand park visitors, gypsies and refugees, and I haven't seen anyone having fun in the water. 

We followed a line of minivans and SUVs packed with hopeful families to a satellite parking area down a winding road, farther and farther from Schlittenbahn. Where are we? Amid all these unanswered questions, the two kids share their thoughts. 

LIttle Natalie: "Can we go back to the hotel?" 
Little Theo: "Yeah. Let's go swimming in the hotel pool."

"Mom," says Dad, "chart a course for the Fairfield Inn. We're going home."

Best. Decision. Ever. We stopped at the H.E.B. on the way home, and we all agreed that we like Wegman's better.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Thinking of you, from Cebu

The Creature from the Cebu Strait
One of the few disappointments of the Great 2013 Clark Family Trip to the Philippines was Casey's inability to find a pick-up basketball game. The Talisay court was under construction. Added to his nightly prayers is a request for the speedy and successful completion of a high-quality basketball court that welcomes American players.

Another disappointment was the separation of the family at some beautiful resorts! The photos from Cebu were incredible, including this one of a rare aquatic life form that dwells in the Cebu Strait. Margie took this photo while staying at the Cebu Shangri La Hotel. 

Theo, Natalie and Margie, along with Ninang Beng and little Erin enjoyed the layout, but poor Casey was back in New York with his nose to the sawmill. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Clarks of Arabia

Thanks to Miss Margie's worldwide connections, the Clarks of New Jersey (with the exception of Casey) visited Dubai at the tail end of the great family trip to the Philippines. One of the highlights was a visit to the top of the world's tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa, measuring 2,716 feet and six inches from top to bottom. Whether the building actually "belongs to the world," as they say in the United Arab Emirates, is a matter of opinion, but the family seemed to enjoy the views. 
Here was Theo's report from Dubai: "In the Philippines, it was so hot that you didn't want to go outside. In Dubai, it was so hot that you couldn't go outside."
Traveling through Dubai is an indoor activity. 
Judging from the pictures, the malls, the airports and the vertical cities were very impressive in oil-rich Dubai -- a nice balance to the wealth of natural beauty the family enjoyed in the Philippines. 
Margie, Theo and Natalie looking out over Dubai from the world's tallest tower.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A thousand twangling instruments

The rain was supposed to fall. It was predicted to fall, and it looked as if it would fall. But it held off, thus giving friends of Rosa de Leon Gardiola a glorious day to celebrate her 80th birthday.

Crews of workers and caterers created a side-yard party space with seating for about 60 in classy yellow-and-white-draped tables. The caterers, about ten in all, invaded at about 9:00 a.m., setting up positions at the buffet line, and establishing a dish washing station behind a curtain in the corner of the yard. Two employees, probably those with the least seniority, worked this station full time. 

A quick regression: the night before Inay's party, the neighbor across the street blared his karaoke machine at full blast from about 4 p.m. to exactly 15 minutes past midnight. The author embraces a to-each-their-own attitude when it comes to neighbors, especially neighbors in foreign countries. But this guy was out of control, screeching power ballads, disco hits and songs from various local artists. In the author's mind, revenge and retaliation were considered, and rejected by the slimmest margin.

Now back to Inay's party. It's 10 a.m., and who now comes carrying huge karaoke speakers from across the street? The same neighbor! As the French race car driver from Talladega Nights says: "Now the matador dances with the blind shoemaker."  

At about noon, the bar was officially open (cold San Miguel's in the indoor fridge, and black label in the corner with Margie's colorful cousins, a group led by Kuyas June, Joseph and Boy). Father Ricky got things going with "You are my Sunshine." The author followed with a tasteful "Lay, Lady, Lay," and things advanced or deteriorated, depending on one's point of view, from there. 

In the sober morning, it's clear that three award winners from the Karaoke slam were: 
• Honorable mention: Cuya Boy -- not talented vocally, but he put his heart into it, and he was generous with cigarettes.
• Runner-up: Bart Barretto -- our own mini-Arnel Pineda. Fueled by San Miguel, our beloved brother-in-law powered through several classics late in the afternoon.
• Champion: The guy who looked like Pacquio. He sat there quietly with his young family for most of the morning and early afternoon, but when he stepped up to the microphone and selected U2's "With or Without You" the field took notice. And when he turned loose his pipes, the very ground seemed to shake, and a thousand twangling instruments hummed about our ears.

Also, the food was delicious, and all the guests were fantastic, warm and friendly -- even the guy who seemed to sneak in and sat by himself the whole time. 

Inay's house, transformed.

The author sings: "Girl, You'll be a Woman Soon." Father Rickey at right.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

At Pico de Loro in Batangas Province

Our beloved cousin Gillian, at the hotel lobby.
Here we are today waking up at Pico de Loro, a remote Batangas beach resort that cozies up to the South China Sea, the bathwater warm and gentle shore. Is it the best beach ever seen by the Clark Family? Dear reader, Pico de Loro deserves serious consideration for that title.
How we got here is a long story, involving family connections and the Catholic church's great resources throughout the Republic.  But we are here, and if there is a finer beach anywhere, well -- as Golden State Warrior coach Mark Jackson says: "Call my bluff."
Such is its beauty, one is reminded of Marc Antony's great line to Cleopatra: "Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the great arch of this ranged empire fall. Here is my place."

 Daddy, standing in the South China Sea.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Upon looking at Taal Volcano for the first time

The Clarks of New Jersey finally left Manila, a crowded city of intense traffic, drove south and discovered the charms of Batangas province. 

We arrived in the town of Talisay, the ancestral home of the Gardiola clan, on the same day that matriarch Rosa De Leon Gardiola celebrated her 80th birthday. A large catered event is planned for Saturday (it's Thursday morning as I type), so more on that later.

Among the other early highlights in Talisay were a stroll to the water-front market, where the entire town buys fruit and vegetables, fish and meats. (No Walmart here. The largest grocery store is the size of a small bedroom.)  Beng-Beng's husband Bart cooked up some locally grown Tillapia for breakfast, and everyone laughed when I declared it "masarap" -- a routine that never seems to get old among native speakers of Tagalog. We also enjoyed a ride in a "tricycle," the misleading name for a sidecar motorcycle taxi. And we spent $16 per head to enjoy a beautiful swimming pool at Talisay's resort of Balai Isabel. We had the entire pool to ourselves, and then we got most of our money back, because of the wash out. 

"Inay" has discouraged all portrait photography up to this point, but this blog has acquired a fantastic picture of the two Clark ladies staring off at the largest active volcano in the Philippines. It's called Taal, two syllables. Shortly after this photo was taken, Neptune shook his gory locks in our direction with 60 mile-per-hour winds. Then, as in any one of a number of Joseph Conrad novels, the mini-typhoon was gone as quickly as it came. 

Caption: Margie, left, and Natalie, with eagle eyes stare at Taal volcano.