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The Escape ©MTHerzog / Location: Phi Phi Islands, Phuket, Thailand

Most people tend to run away from relatives when they come visiting, or at the very best, go deep into hiding. Work, meetings, emergencies, out-of-town trips always provide the perfect excuse to vanish and not go through the motions of sitting with people whom you know  you are related to but have nothing in common with. Not me. Ever since my parents died last year I crave for family in any shape or form, case in point my aunt as my Valentine date last week…

So when my Canadian cousin came to town, and I see her so seldom, I knew this was going to be something to be remembered for years to come. Last time I met Fem was in Berlin somewhere around 2005, so it was high time to catch up. While growing up, our age gap prevented us from having much to do with each other. I was closer to her youngest sister Teena, but as circumstances have it, tables have turned and Fem and I have kept in close contact over the years, regardless of where I moved to. She had originally suggested lunch, but if you are in Manila for a short time, need a quiet place to talk, enjoy the food in the most decadent of atmospheres, High Tea at the Lobby Lounge of the Shangri La Hotel is really the only place to go, especially with the orchestra. My ulterior motive for leading her there was to be in the Lobby Lounge that Mommy loved so much and enjoyed. I pointed out her favorite table, telling her how little my mother bothered with appearances and would waltz in with her Crocs and signature batik skirt and blouse. It was hard to contain the tears when I saw the table again.

In the middle of our laughter we heard a shy “Good afternoon Ladies”. Lo and behold, Aunt Lala managed to run away from her teaching assignments early to join us as well. All of us cousins share precious memories with Aunt Lala, especially the three sisters since they all attended St. Scholastica’s College while she taught there. The overlap was short, but the intimate family soiree brought back a little joy into my heart. By the time Fem had to leave, Aunt Lala and I decided we were not ready to go home and especially not brave the evening rush hour, so we opted to have our Valentine Date Part II.

The waitress came over, cleared the evidence of afternoon tea and set us up for dinner, which basically consisted of a shared Caesar’s salad, but it wasn’t food for the stomachs that we were both after. at 72, my Aunt Lala is not tech savvy, and struggles with her own mobile phone and email, but when I handed her something to read on my iPad, she dove right in and was in her element. A consummate writer, playwright, stage actor, and teacher, words are as seductive to her as they are to me. Neither of us can sing if our lives depended on it, so when we meet, it is not just aunt and niece reminiscing, but writer and playwright, novelist and literary critic that have an encounter. I finally, finally have her seal of approval for my written work.

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