The harpist serenades us as lady-boys shoo away flies with white cloths, or are they merely surrendering to the scorching heat? Celebrating our daughter’s sixth birthday, we’re having lunch at No Problem Restaurant in a wooden structure suspended on stilts over a mangrove on Mactan Island, one of the 7,000 islands in the Philippines.
We’re sampling the traditional dish of Sutukil, a term derived from three words Sugba (SU), Tuwa (TU), Kilaw (KIL) meaning to broil, boil and marinade. Judging from the sour look on our cherub’s red face plastered with her waist-length hair, I decide this cooking process isn’t just applied to the food. One of our pouty chaperones gushes over my husband and attentively offers him advice on which condiments to use. This information is well received although noted that it is only dished out after I have already tucked into my fish without the correct relish. Apparently, we’re in an ‘authentic’ restaurant but I can’t help wondering if the locals are also treated to such royal treatment. Perhaps its because we’re dining with a celebrity, who is clearly not enjoying the cultural experience.
Pre-pubescent boys swim around us demanding money and we’re warned by the staff to not succumb to their demands. So I take their photo instead and I’m quite rightly rewarded with a rude finger sign. In the distance the pink Hilton towers waver in the sweltering distance like two flamingos perched on the edge of a watering-hole. From this angle the hotel seems to sprout from palm trees and makeshift wooden huts. Perspective is an important element in the Philippines as its wealth is unevenly dispersed, just as obviously as the Hilton juts out from the flat and undeveloped plain.
Returning to our hotel, the staff greet us with waves and calls of, “Paris, Happy Birthday!” Our cherub graciously handles her celebrity status with shy smiles for her adoring fans. Yes, Paris is staying at the Hilton. After enduring the heat through lunch we head straight for the pool. Not unlike her famous name-sake, the birthday girl seeks out attention by targeting unsuspecting lone children and stalking them until they succumb to her irresistible charm. We look on with relief as she laughs and frolics and seems healthy despite yesterday’s scare.
The previous day, we had toured the nearby major island of the gritty Cebu. Fighting nausea as the jerking van wound around along narrow roads up to the mountain top, Paris whispers in my ear, “Promise not to tell Daddy, but I swallowed a coin this morning.” I immediately betray her confidence and she pleads with, “But I was hungry and you WERE still asleep.” Exchanging nervous glances and swallowing our negligence we agree that ablution-watch won’t be that difficult since the hotel bathroom has a glass door, and the throne takes the prime viewing location from the bedroom. Although our room is well-appointed with a curious touch of the art deco era and offers views of the Camotes Sea from the 18th floor, I find the exposure of the toilet questionable. Who really wants to see their travelling companions do their ablutions? However, given our cherub’s impending bowel movement, perhaps the interior designers were onto something.
The remainder of the day passes by with endless cuddles, cakes and a thoughtful mango basket from the tour guide from yesterday. I smile remembering her advice that mangos might help with “the situation.” After Paris blows out the candles on the third cake from her special day, she asks, “Mummy, am I Paris Hilton now?”