Family Time

I enjoyed an afternoon soaking in a jacuzzi with my siblings and my niece. A friend of Malyn's was kind enough to have us stay overnight in their vacation home in Punta Fuego, Batangas. It is rare that we get together so I always make sure I document these fleeting moments. We caught up on family stories and of course, we shared so many laughs.

Punta Fuego, Batangas. June 2017

Punta Fuego, Batangas. June 2017

Punta Fuego, Batangas. June 2017.

Punta Fuego, Batangas. June 2017.

Puenta Fuego, Batangas. June 2017.

Puenta Fuego, Batangas. June 2017.

Watching Soccer

My Cousin Anna at Work. University of Makati. Philippines/ ©Stella Kalaw

My Cousin Anna at Work. University of Makati. Philippines/ ©Stella Kalaw

I tagged along with my cousin Anna to the University of Makati where her crew was covering a soccer match.  She is the Channel Producer for a local TV sports station in Manila. She was around 10 years old when my family migrated to the US and I missed the opportunity to get to know her. She spent the night at home and we had the chance to catch up with each other. "You can take pictures too!" she told me when I suggested I come with her to work the following day. I did that as well.

The Flood

 Photograph of my home in Manila taken by our neighbor across the street.

Typhoon Ondoy ravaged across Metro Manila yesterday leaving 80% of the city underwater. According to the Philippine Inquirer:

The 15th weather disturbance that hit the Philippines in 2009 dumped a total of 455 millimeters of rain in Quezon City alone in 24 hours, compared to the 250 millimeters of rain that Hurricane Katrina brought to New Orleans in Louisiana in the United States in 2005.

I spoke to mom yesterday and she said the water levels rose very quickly. "You can't even see our gate." she said. Phone lines were down, electricity was shut, appliances and furniture floated in the first floor of our home. By 2:00 am the following day, electricity was restored and by the time they woke up, the water had completely receded. "As if nothing happened! the sun is out right now." my mom said. I was not able to talk to my dad. He was at the auto shop trying to get one of our cars running. The clean up will be a daunting task. Thankfully, everyone is fine.

Friends shared several videos on Facebook as the typhoon progressed. Here's one that was really scary. The footage was taken at a university hospital (UERM) in Manila:

101 years old

©Stella Kalaw

I took this portrait last year of my grandmother's sister when she turned 101 years old. According to Tita Grace, she is stll alert and reads every night. She stopped wearing dentures a long time ago saying, "At my age, I've earned it."


Cesky Raj, 2006

I called my brother in New York where he was staying for a week with my sister. He was there for a much needed break. Before leaving Budapest, he went through an audit at the same time he hosted a regional finance meeting. He was on his last day of vacation before going back to Europe. I wanted to catch him before he left.

He informed me that the audit went well. There were a few more things that he needed to fix but overall, operations are beginning to run smoothly. It took close to three years before he was able to turn things around in Prague-his first assignment. This time, it took him eight months.

My brother left for Europe in 2003. On a stop over in London, he had a panic attack. Luckily, his friend Mae was there for moral support. Things happened quickly. In two months, he packed his life and moved abroad after being in Philadelphia for five years. He didn't even have time to read up about the Czech Republic. He went in cold turkey.

The first two years were very difficult. Apart from the language barrier and living alone, he had trouble deciphering the Czech's way of life and work. After a few failed attempts at getting his team on his side, he finally succeeded. My brother has this unique ability to manage people using humor and empathy without losing his sights on the tasks and goals at hand. He has mastered the fine balance of being firm and having fun.

On his spare time, he taught an Accounting course in a nearby university and recruited promising students to work at the hotel. He trained, developed and improved his staff's skill sets that he was able to promote four of them to overseas assignments both in the US and Europe. By doing so, he has improved their lives. He has earned the trust and respect of both his staff and his colleagues.

Just recently, he gave his current staff a raise. After the audit, he invited them for a barbecue at his place and announced the good news. "They deserved it," he said. " They really pulled together and worked hard for it."

On his farewell bash after accepting his assignment to Budapest, his GM (General Manager) organized an Asian fête at the ballroom and invited all the employees of the hotel. He was given a standing ovation and each department gave him a gift. His GM put together a slide show recapping his time in Prague. He was very touched. He admitted it was difficult to say goodbye.

I am so proud of him.

This morning, my phone rang at 5:00 am. I unplugged the phone on the night table last night so I had to bolt out of bed and run down to the other room to pick up the call. It was my brother letting me know he was back in Budapest. He said he was going through Season 1 of Brothers and Sisters and while watching the show, he was beginning to miss his family. He wished we could be like the Walker family where we could call each other up and spend time together. I couldn't agree more. Both my sister and I are fans of the show and we love it for the same reason. I stayed with him on the phone, half asleep, as we reminisced about the past and talked about our plans to see each other next year.


When I used to live in Boston, our get togethers were simple. We did not earn much as new immigrants working on minimum wage jobs. We shared home cooked meals and felt content with each others company. We played board games, sang broadway and pop tunes, exchanged stories, re-told memories from back home and cracked jokes that made us laugh so hard until our stomachs hurt, our eyes filled with tears. Our treats were regular trips to the nearby movie theatre to catch the latest Hollywood films.

Our first vehicle was a red two door Subaru Justy. My dad took us to the car dealership and could only afford the smallest one. He made all five of us including my mother pile up inside the car to make sure we would fit. The salesman probably thought we were crazy. He told him he would buy the car but only at a set price. He was very firm. We stayed until the dealership was about to close. At that point, the salesman relented.

One summer, we headed downtown with our friends Mariza and Doc Tins to watch the fireworks during a 4th of July weekend. The crowds gathered along the riverbank to listen to the Boston Pops Orchestra at the Esplanade. It was humid that day so we weren't keen on staying outdoors. Instead, my older sister took us to the top floor of the office building where she worked. Large windows filled the room and we had front and center view of the display. We brought with us a portable cassette recorder and tuned in to the radio station that carried a live broadcast of the Pops concert. Around 10:00pm, the Stars and Stripes filled the airwaves followed by the famous 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky. The fireworks were spectacular. We watched in awe as every burst grew larger and more colorful. For several minutes, no one spoke except for a few praises here and there. No one knew what the future held for us in America. We were simply happy to be together at that moment.

Tonight, as I watch the annual 4th of July Boston celebration on TV, I am reminded of our humble beginnings.

Last Sunday

Mom at Point Reyes, CA

My mother sat on the reclining chair at the corner of the living room as I busily prepared lunch. She remained silent for a long time. On a few occasions, she got up and walked towards the kitchen to look over my shoulder. She asked about the dish I was cooking and how I prepared it. She was trying to make conversation. I kept my answers short as I knew she did not cook. "Ahh......" she answered. She headed back to the reclining chair and turned on the television. The San Francisco Giants were playing against the Oakland A's. I heard her reading the stats out loud and I was quite surprised that she was actually following the game. Since when was my mother a sports fan? I thought. She must have picked it up from my older sister who lives in Boston. Two years ago, she stayed with her for several months while waiting approval for her U.S. citizenship.

Although I didn't care much for baseball or any type of sports, I stayed with her to watch the game after lunch. Out of the corner of my eye, I would sometimes catch her stare at me. When I turned my head, she gave me a smile. I wondered what was on her mind but I did not ask. If given the opportunity, my mother could get very inquisitive and I was not in the mood for it. So, I smiled back. After awhile, she fell asleep. I stayed a little longer and felt content keeping her company. Then I started nodding off. I got up quietly, walked upstairs and took a nap.

The Family as Photographic Subjects

These projects have inspired and kept me going on my own work.

I also follow Timothy Archibald's blog T.A. where he works collaboratively with his son. Here is one heartfelt entry. He recently started another blog to showcase these images entitled Work in Progress.