the skies were overcast and our cars overloaded, yet on nearly the last weekend in September, three families that had never shared a campsite, much less a room together, were able to bask in nature's splendor, off the barely-sunny napa coast adjoining bodega bay.
i choraled 2 ladies that went to the same high school as I did, along with our husbands, kids, SUVs, and everything under the sun we were able to make use of within that 24-hour period. that's right- it was barely a day of separating from suburbia, technology, and naysayers but we bonded over every ounce that we had in common: all from guam, girls that shared a uniform and a school campus, kids that were uprooted from the island we will forever call home.
one would assume growing up on a lush island can make one accustomed to the outdoors. I am never that person eager to conquer a hike, sleep on a hard surface, or brave unsanitary bathrooms....but something about camping brings home to my mind and heart: that stripped of all things we flood our lives with, we can do more than survive, we can thrive.
after diligently mapping out the many paths that led me to architecture, i have followed the breadcrumbs to my childhood home: its canary yellow concrete exterior and tangerine trim that crowned a split-level floor plan. still standing in it's original state today, i frequently revisit it with vivid recollection - even in my dreams.
i never questioned why our bedroom hallway was L-shaped or why a wood rail allowed you to perch three-feet above the living room floor, but there is undoubtedly no other concrete box quite like it. a source of inspiration, i can't help but revisit my childhood with each detail of it's design.
my mom had only recently let me know that it was a korean architect, a friend of my uncle's, who designed our one-of-a-kind home. i find it very fitting and comforting that an actual architect had done their job in creating something unique, functional, and memorable. a custom-stained front door forced you to walk over the flesh-colored, marbled, vinyl flooring. beyond the dining entry, glossy white laminate millwork and crackled mirror shelving separated the open kitchen from the living room with a pass-through opening. custom wood furniture, chocolate and tomato-red corduroy couches splattered with orange, and polished chrome tables with beveled glass tabletops completed the groovy scene and it remained that way until the early 90's when my parents finally gave up their starter home to move outside of the northern "countryside" of yigo to the more centrally-located yet somewhat isolated outskirts of machanao, dededo.
by no means was our idyllic family compound, nestled in the streets of yigo, gilded with luxury, nor was I raised in an architectural gem. ;the fruits of my parents' labor indeed gifted me with a sense of space decades before understanding its implications on my architecture aspirations.
far from a privileged nor a struggling upbringing, our family of three girls thrived on the standard luxuries. each of my parents worked more than one job and made several attempts at entrepreneurial-ship to which we not only witnessed but participated in: balloons, jewelry, taxes, and magazine deliveries are among them.
the house also had an attached dirty kitchen", made of lumber and corrugated tin. it allowed for frequent casual outdoor gatherings while special meals or guests were attended to. this feature rusticated both the aesthetic and lifestyle of our home, while we stayed in rather than eat out at restaurants.
the house is situated off a beaten path with a partially and poorly-paved, pot-hole-ridden, long gravel driveway to announce your arrival. the yard was not neatly manicured but overgrown with fruit trees while barely able to grow a patch of healthy grass. soaring and leaning coconut trees were in place of a built fence and for many years, ours was the only concrete structure within the small cluster of homes that terminates the cul de sac at 115 salas court in the heart of yigo.
since having chosen this path, people often ask: "why architecture?". it is lofty of me wanting to change the "concrete boxes" that fill Guam's grids, knowing that i grew up in a concrete box that was anything but. it is truly a testament that after 3 decades, my childhood home has not undergone a major renovation or addition. this is now certainly on my bucket list.
i was more than lucky enough to have had two of my high school bffs visit and partake in my playground. my guests have crawled back into their rabbit holes and we are back into the throws of what'sapp to keep our conversations alive.
visiting friends are effective reminders of why i am here and why i should be home. i snicker a silent cackle as they bask in the scores of theme parks and malls- the same ones i willingly avoid so frequently. then they have their fill and retreat back to those beautiful sunsets and calming beaches that await them.
milestones reached in the last month - 35th birthday and kid finishing high school.
productive conversation with visiting girlfriends from Guam, 2 in fact: time to hone in on the by-forty plan.
reminder that i've been a bouncing rubber ball for the last few decades. girlfriends and mother are some of the many voices that are so good at beckoning me home. i've declared this manifesto in response repeatedly and now it's time for me to put the by-forty plan in writing.
some background, though. my return to the mainland 4 yrs ago was to jump start three things : son's high school, new marriage, and career. now all three are coasting along. every three years my mind-clock gets instantly antsy: anticipating my next big move. the machine in my head never shuts down, I tell you. it's a curse.
my by-forty plans means that if and when at forty, I'm still flailing in random and spontaneous successes and failure, it's time for me to GMABH.
get-my-ass-back-home. by forty, I hope to be doing the job and living in the house I'm supposed to be in living in for the rest of my made-up forever. be it here or in Guam or Ghana...the by-forty plan means i've got 5 more years of repeated trial and error, and lots to write about in between. ask me again in 5 years !
my eldest graduated from high school earlier this month. most consider this milestone as the end of parenting: that point when your kid is supposed to magically go off on their own and coast into adulthood. but we've had the odd and unique dynamic of growing up together. my parenting lines have already been blurred for quite some time.
at the brink of my very own adulthood seventeen years ago, i was getting by with long-distance mommyhood. there were futile attempts at failed relationships and life lessons learned along the way much too soon.
my wish for him is this : stay young.
my youthful, light hearted-ness is the happy product of growing up a parent. i raised a child and in the process, raised myself. the presence of him in my life has been nothing short of a gift.
and because he is my son, we do frequently engage in off-island-state-of-mind conversation. he is weighed by the "what if"'s of having continued high school in guam when we left 4 years ago. by witnessing his former middle school friends close out their high school chapters back home, he wonders about the path we've taken on that fork on the road. it was one that i had forced on the both of us. few are given the opportunity to have been on both sides of the plate. such insights had only crossed my mind later in life and now my 17 year old has already realized the ties that bind him to home. one day he'll realize this a gift (or a curse).
the last time i had the privilege of prubechu's company, i had only experienced the staff and space but had yet to experience the food. i waited for an opportune time: to celebrate my sister's birthday with 24 close friends in tow. not one person left disappointed nor hungry and we all left deeply inspired.
the modest interiors, plain-clothes staff, re-purposed furniture, and a black painted canvas canopy for a sign (with the former restaurant's name and address still ghosted) do not give you an indication of what to expect. once you step in, the aromas and sounds of Guam already begin to fill your mind with the warmth about to be served by way of food and service. shawn camacho and shawn naputi work fervently side by side while steering their staff to each thoughtful and beautiful dish that lands before you.
we opted for the tasting menu and ordered an ala-carte dish (red rice with broccolini, house-made kim chee, and pork belly) along with the day's special: soft-shell crab on a bed of coconut milk-and-ginger-braised vegetables. the tasting menu started with a fresh oyster marinated in tuba (coconut vinegar). smoky corn soup with clams and hints of spicy achote oil, a shrimp patty souffle served with fried shrimp heads and pickled cucumbers, escabeche with battered smelt and crumbled chorizos espagnot, tinala katne and grilled shitake and sugar snap peas with pork chalikilis, beef kadu with enlish peas and sotanghon (mung bean thread) noodles, and finished exquisitely with coconut candy ice cream, inalajan sea salt, and apigigi.
born and raised on guam yet in a filipino kitchen - all the flavors are reminiscent and familiar. you'll be reminded of sukang ma'asim, laing, pinakbet, nilaga, and tupig but the context is all guam. every plate was well-presented and impressive
i dare conclude with a very bold statement - this is the best chamorro food: not just in the city, the bay area, the state of california, the country...but in the planet. if you are from guam and visiting, your palette will be awakened by the fresh iterations of each dish. if you've never been to guam and would like to know about guam...prubechu embarks you on a new discovery.
as expected and as i've mentioned in reflections past - guam is increasingly becoming more accessible to the rest of the world by way of the media. the most recent stint is being featured on an episode of house hunters international.
admittingly, i have to brace myself for the worse and become devoid of any expectations whenever my island is about to be featured on (inter)national-freakin-tv, much less a "reality"-type show (let us please forget that syfy's episode on taotaomonas never existed). or when the amazing race, which happens to be my most favorite reality show on the planet, did an eleventh leg through what i thought would be my stomping grounds (but wasn't) - it was so underwhelming i cried. guam was reduced to military bases and a pit stop.
house hunter's international did not misrepresent. the repeated pans of the endless ocean and lush greens were so heartwarming viewed through the lens of hgtv's camera. not only that, the featured house-seeking couple seemed genuinely happy to have ended up in guam. i am suddenly reliving my house hunting affairs during my 3 years back home.
from 2010 and onward, i became such a self-proclaimed expert at finding somewhere to settle by moving 4 times in 3 years and helping countless others do the same. i was helplessly stubborn (and dumb) by refusing to live with my parents. instead i insisted i live as close to the beach as possible.
based on my facebook feed, the reactions have been so radically divided. most who watched from back home were somewhat embarrassed at the properties and the realtor while those off-island were delighted as i was at portrayal of the island's natural beauty (sans the wild parrots!).
the truth about looking for homes in guam:
they will most likely be off the beaten path
they will most likely not have the latest technology and appliances (such as the lack of AC and dishwasher exemplified in the episode)
they will have odd finishes and floor plans
they may look uninspiring and within a concrete box.
yet these reasons are not why people live in guam. people live there for the beaches and the scenery, not the real estate.
it was just myself and my then-twelve year old when we first moved in 2008. i initially found a 2 br apartment right in the heart of tumon, guam's tourist center. for $900 / month, i had the luxury of being 1/4 of a mile from of the office and being able to run, walk, jog, and do as i'd please between my front door and a mere 3 football fields to the sand.
i realized that living in tumon was ridiculously convenient. it wasn't much later when i found another 2 br apt for $750/month that was wonderfully adjacent to my firm's building. i would roll out of bed to my desk in just a matter of 2 minutes.
i did not think i could get more value for my buck until i eventually found my last 2br apartment directly across the street from prime shoreline (in the alupang area, away from tumon) for $575/month, another year later.
and just a year later in 2010 idecided i was done and left it all behind for this. back in california: driving 50 miles to the office and away from the house 12 hours a day. i'm just baffled, but only sometimes.
there was once a time in my semi-adult life when i felt so riddled
with heartbreak that my blog only served the purpose of therapy. these
days i find social media exposure and my writing to be on a
forced-filter so that i exercise caution when publishing.
recently on facebook i posted a tidbit that alluded to the bullying i endured in high school. i was not alone in that ordeal and never did i believe
myself to be a victim. i was also more than surprised (and delighted)
to receive several private messages from people whom i have not had
direct contact with in ages - apologizing and letting me know they had
no clue and had pegged me as an unlikely target. now i feel compelled
maybe it was my mom's habit of keeping up appearances that allowed me to
enable the bullying that went on. the first few horrific months of high
school were not a figment of my imagination. on
a daily basis, she would push me in the halls, pull my hair when
passing, and even press my face against the lockers. she then recruited
other tenth graders to torment me by doing the same and it continued
but the story here is not what happened twenty years ago. my story is the
resilience gained. there were countless others who survived the jungle
just as i did. i have never felt entitled to claim it as a my story
alone because i feel lucky to have found a sense of sanity amongst what
could have been far worse.
*off-island* refers to the state of being away from the island of guam. from my lush homeland to the city by the bay and into the far reaches of the suburbs, i've made my home twice. it was fun in my 20's and even better in my 30's. documenting it all makes me feel important (to myself). here you'll find my multi-tasking adventures with food and the fashionable, my love affair with my dvr, an occasional moment of profound thought, a lot of useless yet laughable ranting, and lately stuff about my babies. i'm only fab-ulous because it's in my name. i am mother, wife, architect.
now periodically posting from my mobile phone. pardon the edits, in my haste.