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The Learning curve

Old-fashioned child’s play @Fun Farm

When our US-based Fil-Am grandchildren — Diego, 7, Emilio, 3, and Juliana, 2 — were in Manila for a brief visit in October, we wanted them immersed in Philippine culture. Their parents Tanya and Edmund have always been in full support of this idea; they try to constantly speak to their children in Filipino and encourage the rest of us to do so, too.

I had mounted a large poster of basic Filipino words by their play area in their Northern California home, and it is a visible reason for regular word games. Diego is most motivated to learn because he has seen how many of these same words appear in his Spanish classes in second grade. Also, when once he asked his parents if they were fighting, his mother told him they were just telling stories in Filipino.

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After the kids adjusted to the new environment, wondering why there were so many cats around and why their car seats were not mandatory here, and enjoying a noisy and bumpy tricycle ride in the village that their Papa Elf (grandpa Elfren) had arranged, we thought long and hard about the best places to take them on day trips. The factors involved were their limited time and their ages, and the fact that they were traveling with us, their grandparents. My daughter and her husband had taken the rare opportunity to travel elsewhere without worrying about supervision for their brood. They were taking advantage of the extra help available in Manila, which is unheard of in their US way of life. And who’s to blame them?

There were four places on our itinerary, depending on several variables: the kids’ moods, our moods, the weather, city traffic. It seemed that with those factors, we would end up not going anywhere, but somehow the heavens converged and we managed all.

I am recounting our trips to share what Metro Manila and its environs can offer beyond malls and senseless TV studio shows. Our grandchildren’s comments should be the best guide for future such trips that other parents, grandparents and teachers may take with their contingent.

The first trip was to the little-known Sta. Elena Fun Farm in Cabuyao, Laguna. We had visited the farm a few years back and were happy to see how it has grown and become better maintained. A guide led us through the activities, always vigilant about the children’s safety. They were given leafy kangkong stems to feed rabbits and guinea pigs. There were chickens, ducks, and turkeys, too. The biggest thrill for them was riding a robust carabao named Chocnut, who was so well-groomed that one forgot all about the carabao-in-the-mud stereotype.

If one was not in the mood for that, there was a carabao-pulled cart to ride on with other passengers. There were tall and sleek horses, obviously well cared for. The carabao and horse trainers demonstrated extreme devotion to the animals and care to the young and adult riders like me, reminding us that the carabao’s body temperature is very warm and to avoid walking near the horses because they may kick. The trainers sounded proud of their work, even boasting that the farm is a frequent locale for movie shoots.

There was a large open space with play equipment, even an old farm truck and a zip line. This was old-fashioned child’s play, and an unforgettable trip for the children. As Diego commented, “This is better than Disneyland!” (He knows whereof he speaks because the family makes an annual pilgrimage to Disneyland in California.)

The Fun Farm describes itself with little exaggeration as a natural playground (“the only one in the country”), an escape from the city’s frenzy and today’s gadgets. One of my favorite signs says, “Listen to the wind, it talks…”

What was impressive and merits special mention was the first-aid and emergency service provided when Diego had a nosebleed. The staff arranged for him to be brought to the clinic of the Sta. Elena Golf Club in the same premises. It was also a welcome change that there was no commercialism on the farm, no push to buy any product or any toy for the children, no extra fees to pay aside from the admission fee.

More on the other destinations next time.

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Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: Filipino culture, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, Sta. Elena Fun Farm, The Learning Curve
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