Last week we had a visit from a very old and dear friend of mine, Olivia Smith. Livy lives in Lafayette and works for a ministry called Campus House on Purdue’s campus. She is a CPA and does their accounting, but her responsibilities at Campus House include everything from leading a small group Bible study to planning and leading mission trips to South America.
Livy and I met in first grade at Lighthouse Christian Academy. We both stayed at LCA and graduated together 12 years later. Most of that time, our classes had fewer than 10 students. Needless to say, we were (and are) the best of friends. Growing up, our favorite topic to discuss was travel. We dreamed of traveling around the world one day, and seeing as many countries as possible. In early elementary, we started saving every cent to take a trip together. We planned to visit our 2nd grade teacher who lived in the Philippines, of all places. By high school, we both had enough saved to take that trip. Unfortunately, it never materialized.
Over the last 12 years since we graduated, we have traveled to (or lived in) over 40 different countries (Livy’s number is double of mine) on five different continents (sorry, Australia), but never together. So it was perfectly fitting that we would meet up in the Philippines this year.
Olivia arrived late on March 8, just two days after Ben and I returned from Seoul. On Wednesday, day one, we dove right in and I took her to Carbon Market in the heart of Cebu City. Now, Carbon Market is not for the faint of heart. It is not a tourist destination, but rather a sprawling, bustling market full of produce, fresh flowers, dried fish, hardware, used clothes, tools, baskets, and anything else you can think of. It is dirty, smelly, and some Filipinos have told us they wouldn’t set foot there. But as I mentioned, Livy is a seasoned world traveler, so I wasn’t afraid of overwhelming her.
We went to Carbon Market because we wanted to buy some souvenirs and because I wanted Livy to get this unique glimpse into Cebu life, and because I needed to buy ferry tickets at the nearby ferry terminal. After purchasing ferry tickets (which was an adventure in itself), we headed to Carbon Market. We left our bags in the car and tucked some small cash into our pockets. Ariel, our driver, served as our guide. We explored a bit, bought some fresh fruit and souvenirs, and then headed to the fresh flower area. There, we bought a bunch of fresh orchids for $6 and some greenery to make a bouquet. We picked the boys up from school and stopped for banana-Q on the way home–a favorite Filipino street food.
On Thursday, I got to introduce Livy to two of my “new” friends. We had coffee in the morning with my friend Susan Kang. Then in the afternoon Livy was in for another adventure. My friend Ayesha, another Cebu expat from Pakistan, invited us to go smoke shisha (hookah) with her. It was a first for Livy and me, but we were up for it. It took us a bit to find the restaurant with the hookah, and Ayesha was disgusted with the lack of ambiance and pitiful flavor selection (only 4!). We made the best of it, though, and Ayesha spiced things up a bit by requesting a custom mix–strawberry and blueberry with a touch of mint. It took almost an hour for the hookah and the food to arrive. Livy and I received some expert instruction from Ayesha, but it took us a while to get the hang of it. Much laughter accompanied Ayesha’s tips:
“Don’t be so prim about it, you have to suck hard!”
“Blow a little bit first, like this, so that the flavor will come through better.”
“Hold it in a bit so you can taste it, now blow the smoke out, like this!”
That afternoon, we all went to Tops, our favorite Cebu destination. We watched the sun go down together from the top of the mountain, and took a bunch of pictures. Then we watched the city below come to life in the twilight as the lights twinkled on one at a time.
After Tops, we drove down to Giuseppe, our favorite Cebu Italian restaurant. Livy heartily approved of the Sicilian thin-crust pizza. The manager took us behind the counter to let us get a better look at the wood-fired oven. She explained how they have to start the oven in the morning and maintain the wood fire through the day. The wide, flat oven is open to the kitchen, and we watched as the wood fire burned on the right side while our pizza cooked on the left side, directly on the floor of the oven. She told us that in the rainy season they sometimes have difficulty finding dry wood. Occasionally they have to use the conventional oven instead.
“The pizza just doesn’t taste the same then. It just doesn’t.”
We returned to the table and took a seat as the pizza arrived. But one of us was missing. I turned around and spotted Daniel still standing in the middle of the busy kitchen, gazing into the oven, mesmerized.
On Friday morning, we all got up at the crack of dawn and headed down to the ferry terminal to catch our high-speed ferry to the neighboring island of Bohol. Two hours later we arrived in Bohol and took the shuttle to our hotel on Alona Beach. The shuttle driver asked me and Livy,
“Are you two sisters?”
I said, “No, but we look a lot alike, don’t we?”
Livy looked at me like I had a hole in my head, but the shuttle driver responded,
“Yes, you do!”
I laughed. Livy couldn’t quite wrap her mind around his “all white people look the same to me” point-of-view.
We spent that afternoon walking around the beach, swimming, and exploring.
The next day we hired a pump boat to take us out snorkeling on another island called Balicasag. We spotted several sea turtles during the boat ride. On the return boat ride, Livy and I saw a flying fish skimming over the surface of the water at lightning speed.
On Sunday morning, we got up and headed to the beach again after breakfast. Then in the early afternoon we took the ferry back to Cebu and got back just in time to change before going to church (our church’s Sunday service is at 4pm). Livy got to meet our church family, who gave a warm welcome, as always.
On Monday, Ben and I took Livy to another of our favorite restaurants–Phat Pho. We ordered Vietnamese noodle bowls, fresh spring rolls, iced coffee and kalamansi juice (a Filipino version of limes). Then Livy and I went shopping at Ayala Mall. Livy was blown away by the size and luxury of the mall, just as I had been. We did a bit of shopping together. I introduced her to our two favorite stores–Zara (Spanish) and Muji (Japanese).
On that last night, we stayed up late laughing about old memories from school. She told me several stories about high school–stories I don’t remember–and I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to my high school teachers. Actually, I take that back. I would like to apologize to Andy Halsey. To the rest of you, I’m kinda sorry but mostly you deserved it.
Before she left, I took Livy to my favorite ramen restaurant. We angered the ramen gods by splitting a bowl (strictly against the rules) of Tantan-men, but we also had a side of Gyoza (steamed and fried dumplings), and we stuffed ourselves. That night, Livy flew back home via Hong Kong, and we have been missing her ever since. She left behind loads of American chocolate and Easter candy, along with a handful of thoughtful gifts for each of us.
Thank you for spending your heard-earned vacation days and travel money on visiting us, Olivia! I hope this is the first of many travel adventures with you!