2020

The year is 2020. A time of significant progress worldwide. We have achieved world peace. And men, as members of the one human race, finally landed on Mars. Interplanetary exploration has begun.

Wait a minute, that is not how I recall that year. Must have been a wonderful dream.

Ah, yes. Now I remember. Instead of world peace, there is rising tension between the US and China. Extreme weather and the damages this causes have pushed climate change into everybody’s mind. And who can forget the elephant in the room? 2020 was the year that Covid-19 became a world health issue. A disease not confined to some poor corner of the world. 

DLSU School of Art and Design

It was also the year we had planned a long-awaited trip to the Philippines. This all began in the year 2019.

It has been over 20 years since I last visit, but at last, I am going back to the Philippines. But I have mixed feelings. I was excited to see for myself the changes that have occurred. And to see the progress in the construction and planned inauguration of JMTalondiagnostics. 

Museo ng Muntinlupa

I had reservations about getting together with people, classmates that I have not seen or spoken to for over 40 years. What will be like? Will I even recognize them? Will I remember the name and place the face? But I figure it is time. So plane tickets were purchased, hotel reservations were made and schedules were coordinated, we waited for February 2020. Then in Dec 2019, China announced that a new disease had been spreading in the City of Wuhan. There are people who think the Chinese tried to hide this disease and acknowledged its existence after they lost control of the situation. That this was an escaped bioweapon experiment. The truth of the matter is to be decided by smarter men and women.

As Asia masked up, we in the US thought this would be another one of those novel diseases that appeared, then either disappeared on its own, contained or cured. There was the West Nile virus, Zika, MERS, and SARS. But soon Covid-19 spread and the death toll rose. The Government encouraged everyone to wear masks. To protect those around us more than to protect ourselves. And air travel got restricted. We watched as airlines canceled flights and worried if our vacation would push through. Especially since our stopover was in China. We asked the airline for a refund but we’re told this can happen only if the flight got canceled. So we waited for the expected cancellation and made other arrangements. Lucky for us, our original flight got canceled. Our alternative flight arrangements are completed, and off we go. And just to be on the safe side, we brought along some masks.

Metro Manila

B Hotel menu

In the capital city, we noticed a few people already wore masks. A leftover from a previous health scare and the high-level air pollution, or any pollution level in the cities. And the hotel we stayed in did temperature checks before letting guests in. Otherwise, everything seemed normal. The biggest issue? Traffic. It can take almost a day to travel from place to place in the city. So people bundled their travel plans by destinations. The biggest change? So many high-rise buildings. I visited my old University DLSU, and every street you drove on looked like you were heading to an enormous wall at the end. Enormous improvements in travel to outside manila thanks to privatization of the freeways. Skyway, which are multi-level roads, litter the place. Just imagine how much worse things would be if not for these.

We took the time to visit a couple of local museums. We had lunch and dinner with friends. It is good to know that despite the distance, we can get together for even a while and reminiscence the old days like it was only yesterday. But at the same time, your lives are no longer intertwined like before. And if you stayed together too long, you might run out of topics to talk about and end up with awkward silence.

Tarlac City

One of the main reasons to visit is to see the progress of JMTalon diagnostics which was slated to open in 2020. In the city of Tarlac, it was to my surprise much-improved design than expected. There was a dialysis center, MRI, X-ray, and labs. Plus doctors’ offices and commercial offices. A pharmacy and a convenience store. All very nice.

Talon General Hospital was also a surprise, not because it was not bigger and improved. They shrank the hospital space to accommodate a government-mandated ramp. They expanded the top floor into an open-air area. And despite the smaller space, all the services you need were still available. You just need to watch your head so you don’t hit it on the overhang. 

Talon General Hospital

Tarlac itself has seen tremendous change since I last visited. The main street is now a one-way street. The school I first attended, College of the holy spirit, had moved. In its place, a new archdiocese-sponsored elementary school, I met some former classmates I have not seen since high school back in 1981. Believe me when I say, complete disorientation. They would tell me I was on this street, but I could not imagine how, or where, this was back in the days. A new city.

We also had lunch with some cousins. Just a quick update on how everything was doing. And during this trip, I got to visit the graves of those in the family who had passed and pay my respects. A cousin, an aunt, two uncles. 

Time to go home

And just like that, it was time to go back home. Three weeks is very short, especially if you have to lose one week to jetlag and the time difference. We traveled through Japan. We planned on a long layover so that we could step out and go around. But by now, Covid-19 concerns had changed our minds. We stayed inside the airport, socially distancing from people. There were a few interesting things to see. There were shops, museums, and restaurants. And this being Japan, hi-tech toilets.

There were a few interesting things to see. There were shops, museums, and restaurants. And this being Japan, hi-tech toilets. And again, this being Japan, you can still find functioning payphones. I’m sure if we looked long enough, we would have found a fax machine somewhere.

Toilet or Bide
Payphone
Payphone

It is always a pleasure to visit the old neighborhood. As time passes the place looks more and more foreign to me. It is easier to see the passage of time in the faces of people you have not seen in a very long time.

Perhaps this is the reason why those who have retired tend to visit more often. A desire to relieve, and to not miss those who are important to one.

New Site

Hello and welcome!

This site is a continuation from my old blog MarylandersOnVacation.blogspot.com. I’ve decided to move to WordPress in order to have more control over future posts. Don’t get me wrong, blogger is a good starting point for anyone wanting to try to blog. It is just time.

The decision not to move the entire blog to WordPress was based on the amount of work that would be required to place images in the proper location. And I felt that from a historical perspective, it would be better to leave things as they were. Much the same way it is better to leave the pyramids where they are rather than to move these to a new, more accessible area.

The posts on our Branson, Missouri visit is an exact copy as the original post on blogger. I wanted a copy on both blogs to serve as an anchor linking the two sites together. I’m sure that google might disagree but this is an artistic decision.

So enjoy your visit.

Branson, Missouri


Everyone looks forward to the yearly vacation. At least I do. One of the regular issues we meet is the question of where to spend our vacation. Sure, you can always get suggestions and you end up with the usual answers. “Let’s go to Orlando,  Europe or Mexico”. Been there, done that. Except for Mexico. A cruise perhaps? It is an idea worth considering. “How about Branson, Missouri”. What? Where? Branson, Missouri? Why should we go there? 

Why indeed should we visit Branson? The answer lies in an event that occurred over a year ago. My Aunt had gone to the East Coast of the United States with a few of her cousins from Chicago, to visit other relatives. You can say they had so much fun they wanted a repeat reunion. We were invited to meet the “Pineda” side of the family. After a few months, they had decided that they would have it in Branson. It  helped that the place we plan to stay in, Westgate, had two locations there. We thought if they invested in two locations here, then it must be a place worth visiting.

The first order of the day is to figure out how far this place is from where we live. Maryland to Branson, Missouri is a 16-hour drive! And I thought Orlando was a challenge. This is not a trip we can take without stopping. The plan was to locate a safe location that is closest to the midpoint, an 8-hour drive. And that is Indianapolis, Indiana. We will drive a car and have 4 drivers alternate every 2 hours. Good plan, I say. I told my wife, “Let us go to Branson and attend the reunion, even if nobody else goes. It will be an adventure”. And of course, I had to invite my parents. They are staying in California so we need to figure out how to get hem from the Springfield airport in Missouri. I also invited my siblings from New Jersey. It wouldn’t be much of a reunion without them.  It took working around schedules but after much haggling and several starts and stops, the majority of the family will make the trip. And Lynne’s cousin/uncle from New York will be in attendance. 
So here is how it will play. My parents will fly to Maryland rather than to Missouri because they wanted to go on a road trip and spend more time with the grandchildren. Bobby, the cousin/uncle will  drive to Maryland. From there, we will go I’m a convoy, stay overnight at Indiana. Good. Did I mention that there are now potentially between 12 to 15 of us, plus the cousin/uncle? We now have to rent a 12 sitter van that my kids cannot drive. Should still be doable. We can always just take more breaks.
Another major issue that needed to be cleared is food. Who buys, who cooks and who pays. The first two issues are easy enough, my wife Lynne takes the lead here. As for who pays, not so easy. I have noticed that during these situations, like vacations, there us a race to see who will pay for . This can be in the grocery or even in a restaurant. What I suggested is that each family hand over to Lynne $100 each for grocery shopping or any other purchases that are used or consumed in the timeshare. Any other expenses like eating out in a restaurant or the rides will be Dutch treat. Again, everybody is in agreement. I can see those nods, even if reluctantly. 
With these decisions now out of the way, we went to bed. Rest was imperative.
The Trip to Branson
The day began as expected, late. I was prepared to leave by 6am. But after getting up late, loading luggage in the van and breakfast, we started off closer to 10am. That is ok. We can still make it to Indianapolis as scheduled if we do not stop too often. Wasn’t expecting that to happen but one can always dream.
Aside from multiple stops for lunch and rest, construction along interstate 70 and the rain slowed us down. We  arrived at our hotel in Indianapolis around 9pm. We were so hungry that after dropping off our luggage’s we went straight to Steak and Shake restaurant.
After dinner, it was off to bed. Again hoping to begin at 6am. Again, after breakfast, we started out around 10am. At least we were consistent.
We arrived at Branson between 8pm and 9pm. We stayed at Westgate Woods, a timeshare. There was confusion about the building we were staying in. We drove to the wrong one. The concierge had to find us and set us straight. 
So finally, we are here. The kids are bringing up the luggage and I was identifying which room this person would occupy. It was also time to ask the concierge the question  “What in Branson will make this visit unique? Why does it exist?” This is the question I posted to our concierge. Without hesitation, he answered, “The shows. These were the first attractions in Branson and is what and still keeps it on the map. There is also the Silver rides (Six flags-like) and Table Rock state park”. 
The Shows

I discussed my vacation with a few of my co-workers. The common comment was “Get ready to learn how to square dance! There is plenty of western shows”. The billboards we encountered on the way confirmed that. But my co-workers did not mention that there is also bible-centric entertainment.

The first show we considered was “The Showboat” dinner and cruise. The idea of having dinner and watching a show while cruising around a lake sounds romantic. After considering pros and cons, we decided it was too expensive. There are just too many of us. We also considered “The 60’s”,  “Tribute to ABBA” (not too popular) and “Moses”. It was difficult to get a consensus, my kids, nephews, and niece  in their late teens to early 20’s. The rest of us are in our early 50’s or early 70’s. It is good that the story of Moses spans generations, so that is the first show we watched. Later in the week, the elders watched “The 60’s”.
It can be said that the shows are comparable to what you can expect in Broadway or any other similar locations. According to my wife the show Moses is a standout. Not because the  were much better performers than everybody else but with the choreography and presentation. The show used three stages and, from my understanding, magic tricks.

Glide and Ride

Branson is a typical vacation spot. You can find the usual rides like roller coasters, bungee jumps, bumper cars. A museum of the Titanic, in the shape of the titanic. Minerals and other cool looking stones can be purchased after a visit to the caverns that dot the area.  Alas, the cavern we went to could not compare to Lurey caverns in Virginia. At least according to my daughter.
You will also find campgrounds, for those who love camping. And horseback riding. My nephews and niece were excited to go horseback riding. More so was my kid’s uncle who has never been on a horse before.
I wish I could speak in a first voice to how good the shows were, or the rides where. But I can’t. Turns out being one of two people able to drive the van means I am also the driver who takes everyone around, although not all the time. For grocery shopping or to the outlets, I was definitely out. For those, we could use the smaller vehicles. But for the others, I had to content myself to driving people from point A to B, then back or to C.
The Reunion 

The reunion was not as big as we expected it to be. Several attendees could not attend, maybe due to the distance. But we met. We had lunch at McFarlain’s Family Restaurant. There we met two of the Pineda’s, and my Aunt. The stories they told of their youth, or how life was for them when they first started their lives in the United States are revealing. We laughed at the challenges they encountered because the stories were narrated in a funny fashion. It did not diminish the sacrifices they made.

The next day, we met again, ostensibly for karaoke night at their timeshare. It turned out to be more of a “watch our YouTube videos” night that quickly became boring.

Painting

Paige had a very specific plan for tis trip. She will paint outdoors. There isn’t plenty of time to go around town looking for the perfect scene. Luckily there was a small waterfall next to the building we were staying in. Sha started painting at 4pm, and we ended at 730pm, when there was not enough light and the creepy creatures of the night had started to stir. If you have time, you will find plenty of scenic mountain areas in and around Branson.


The Trip Back Home
The trip back home is  a mirror of the trip to Missouri. We started late, we stopped at Indiana. There was construction along interstate 70. We took fewer stops.
The Recommendation

So, if you are asking if I recommend people visit Branson, I say yes. Will I consider going back? Not if I had to drive again. It is just too far and there is nothing that unique. But my recommendation will change if I lived a few hundred miles closer.

Branson, Missouri

Everyone looks forward to the yearly vacation. At least I do. One of the regular issues we meet is the question of where to spend our vacation. Sure, you can always get suggestions and you end up with the usual answers. “Let’s go to Orlando,  Europe or Mexico”. Been there, done that. Except for Mexico. A cruise perhaps? It is an idea worth considering. “How about Branson, Missouri”. What? Where? Branson, Missouri? Why should we go there? 

Why indeed should we visit Branson? The answer lies in an event that occurred over a year ago. My Aunt had gone to the East Coast of the United States with a few of her cousins from Chicago, to visit other relatives. You can say they had so much fun they wanted a repeat reunion. We were invited to meet the “Pineda” side of the family. After a few months, they had decided that they would have it in Branson. It  helped that the place we plan to stay in, Westgate, had two locations there. We thought if they invested in two locations here, then it must be a place worth visiting.

The first order of the day is to figure out how far this place is from where we live. Maryland to Branson, Missouri is a 16-hour drive! And I thought Orlando was a challenge. This is not a trip we can take without stopping. The plan was to locate a safe location that is closest to the midpoint, an 8-hour drive. And that is Indianapolis, Indiana. We will drive a car and have 4 drivers alternate every 2 hours. Good plan, I say. I told my wife, “Let us go to Branson and attend the reunion, even if nobody else goes. It will be an adventure”. And of course, I had to invite my parents. They are staying in California so we need to figure out how to get hem from the Springfield airport in Missouri. I also invited my siblings from New Jersey. It wouldn’t be much of a reunion without them.  It took working around schedules but after much haggling and several starts and stops, the majority of the family will make the trip. And Lynne’s cousin/uncle from New York will be in attendance. 
So here is how it will play. My parents will fly to Maryland rather than to Missouri because they wanted to go on a road trip and spend more time with the grandchildren. Bobby, the cousin/uncle will  drive to Maryland. From there, we will go I’m a convoy, stay overnight at Indiana. Good. Did I mention that there are now potentially between 12 to 15 of us, plus the cousin/uncle? We now have to rent a 12 sitter van that my kids cannot drive. Should still be doable. We can always just take more breaks.
Another major issue that needed to be cleared is food. Who buys, who cooks and who pays. The first two issues are easy enough, my wife Lynne takes the lead here. As for who pays, not so easy. I have noticed that during these situations, like vacations, there us a race to see who will pay for . This can be in the grocery or even in a restaurant. What I suggested is that each family hand over to Lynne $100 each for grocery shopping or any other purchases that are used or consumed in the timeshare. Any other expenses like eating out in a restaurant or the rides will be Dutch treat. Again, everybody is in agreement. I can see those nods, even if reluctantly. 
With these decisions now out of the way, we went to bed. Rest was imperative.
The Trip to Branson
The day began as expected, late. I was prepared to leave by 6am. But after getting up late, loading luggage in the van and breakfast, we started off closer to 10am. That is ok. We can still make it to Indianapolis as scheduled if we do not stop too often. Wasn’t expecting that to happen but one can always dream.
Aside from multiple stops for lunch and rest, construction along interstate 70 and the rain slowed us down. We  arrived at our hotel in Indianapolis around 9pm. We were so hungry that after dropping off our luggage’s we went straight to Steak and Shake restaurant.
After dinner, it was off to bed. Again hoping to begin at 6am. Again, after breakfast, we started out around 10am. At least we were consistent.
We arrived at Branson between 8pm and 9pm. We stayed at Westgate Woods, a timeshare. There was confusion about the building we were staying in. We drove to the wrong one. The concierge had to find us and set us straight. 
So finally, we are here. The kids are bringing up the luggage and I was identifying which room this person would occupy. It was also time to ask the concierge the question  “What in Branson will make this visit unique? Why does it exist?” This is the question I posted to our concierge. Without hesitation, he answered, “The shows. These were the first attractions in Branson and is what and still keeps it on the map. There is also the Silver rides (Six flags-like) and Table Rock state park”. 
The Shows

I discussed my vacation with a few of my co-workers. The common comment was “Get ready to learn how to square dance! There is plenty of western shows”. The billboards we encountered on the way confirmed that. But my co-workers did not mention that there is also bible-centric entertainment.

The first show we considered was “The Showboat” dinner and cruise. The idea of having dinner and watching a show while cruising around a lake sounds romantic. After considering pros and cons, we decided it was too expensive. There are just too many of us. We also considered “The 60’s”,  “Tribute to ABBA” (not too popular) and “Moses”. It was difficult to get a consensus, my kids, nephews, and niece  in their late teens to early 20’s. The rest of us are in our early 50’s or early 70’s. It is good that the story of Moses spans generations, so that is the first show we watched. Later in the week, the elders watched “The 60’s”.
It can be said that the shows are comparable to what you can expect in Broadway or any other similar locations. According to my wife the show Moses is a standout. Not because the  were much better performers than everybody else but with the choreography and presentation. The show used three stages and, from my understanding, magic tricks.

Glide and Ride

Branson is a typical vacation spot. You can find the usual rides like roller coasters, bungee jumps, bumper cars. A museum of the Titanic, in the shape of the titanic. Minerals and other cool looking stones can be purchased after a visit to the caverns that dot the area.  Alas, the cavern we went to could not compare to Lurey caverns in Virginia. At least according to my daughter.
You will also find campgrounds, for those who love camping. And horseback riding. My nephews and niece were excited to go horseback riding. More so was my kid’s uncle who has never been on a horse before.
I wish I could speak in a first voice to how good the shows were, or the rides where. But I can’t. Turns out being one of two people able to drive the van means I am also the driver who takes everyone around, although not all the time. For grocery shopping or to the outlets, I was definitely out. For those, we could use the smaller vehicles. But for the others, I had to content myself to driving people from point A to B, then back or to C.
The Reunion 

The reunion was not as big as we expected it to be. Several attendees could not attend, maybe due to the distance. But we met. We had lunch at McFarlain’s Family Restaurant. There we met two of the Pineda’s, and my Aunt. The stories they told of their youth, or how life was for them when they first started their lives in the United States are revealing. We laughed at the challenges they encountered because the stories were narrated in a funny fashion. It did not diminish the sacrifices they made.

The next day, we met again, ostensibly for karaoke night at their timeshare. It turned out to be more of a “watch our YouTube videos” night that quickly became boring.

Painting

Paige had a very specific plan for tis trip. She will paint outdoors. There isn’t plenty of time to go around town looking for the perfect scene. Luckily there was a small waterfall next to the building we were staying in. Sha started painting at 4pm, and we ended at 730pm, when there was not enough light and the creepy creatures of the night had started to stir. If you have time, you will find plenty of scenic mountain areas in and around Branson.


The Trip Back Home
The trip back home is  a mirror of the trip to Missouri. We started late, we stopped at Indiana. There was construction along interstate 70. We took fewer stops.
The Recommendation

So, if you are asking if I recommend people visit Branson, I say yes. Will I consider going back? Not if I had to drive again. It is just too far and there is nothing that unique. But my recommendation will change if I lived a few hundred miles closer.