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Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Doing Baguio

A day of good food and sightseeing

We rose Wednesday and set out for the second stop of The Baguio Dining Trifecta: Café by the Ruins, an ultra hip, ultra-casual dining and artspace built amongst the ruins of a former governor's mansion destroyed in the America bombing campaign against the Japanese near the end of World War II. Incredible indoor/outdoor ambiance; great breakfast and baked goods. And while we were there, our friend Jim Ward, owner of Bliss Cafe (the number 3 stop of The Baguio Dining Trifecta) happened in for breakfast! We made plans to see him that evening, and set off for our first proper tourist destination.

Tamawan Village is an assemblage of traditional Igorot huts, and provides work and sales space for a number of local artists and traditional craftsmen. (Starting to see a theme? Baguio is all about food and art.) You can also rent a hut for the night and really "go native." Overall a truly charming place, in a mildly touristy sort of way.

Next stop: The Bell Church. Although it started out as a Buddhist temple, it now blends the various Chinese religions, with a dash of Christianity thrown in for good measure. In other words, it's a good, solid Chinese-community-based temple, where the major Chinese holidays are observed by the Chinoy (that's Chinese + Pinoy [a Filipino word for a Filipino]).

I can't quite remember what we did after that, but by dinner time we were on our way to Number Three: Bliss Cafe [since closed]. Jim Ward had promised to take us to the Baguio Buddhist Temple. Although it was too late for many pictures of the buildings and grounds, we were lucky enough to catch Sifu Christine in a rare, unbusy moment.

Sifu Christine is also a Chinay (female Chinoy), who grew up with no overt connection to Buddhism. While living in California, however (note the irony), she became associated with The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Talmage, north of San Francisco. Ultimately she became a nun, and has been in Baguio for several years.

Then, back to Bliss! (I mean us, not the nun.) Like the other two parts of the Trifecta, Bliss Cafe has an interior that makes the heart sing. But it's the people that really cinch it. It was so great to catch up with Jim (and Shanti, when we could get her out of the kitchen). We met an Indian vegetarian named Santosh, and a couple of Peace Corps volunteers who worked up north. (This was not too long after the shocking murder of Peace Corps worker Julia Campbell; although the girls we met had known her, Julia was not discussed. Jim and Shanti had hosted a memorial service for Julia less than two weeks earlier, with Sifu Christine officiating. I don't know, maybe because it was our honeymoon, but we just avoided the whole subject. Thought about it, though.)

Jim and Shanti are truly special people. I could do a whole blog on their incredibly diversified life experiences. But what really "sticks" is their warmth, their kindness, the giving that they do for the community. They are a paradigm of the compassionate entrepreneur. The first time we met them, in the summer of 2005, was when our bud Diego had taken us to the former location of Bliss on a Sunday night. We wanted to eat there again on Monday, but alas! they would be closed on Monday, and it would be our last day in Baguio. Not to worry: Jim called us Monday morning to arrange a pickup, and took us to their house that night for dinner and a game of Cranium (on which Lila is now hooked). I can't tell you the peace it brings to walk into a new town and find food, art, friends-for-life--all in a matter of half-a-week!

After a very satisfying meal, conversation, and viewing of Jim and Shanti's wedding pictures, we headed back to Iggy's. Still no Diego, though.

See a list of all of Lila's photo sets on Flickr from this trip here.

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