November 23, 2007

A family affair

It’s a family thing. The Peñalozas having fun in their own corner of the island paradise: (clockwise, from left) Jonathan with wife Jenny; Jocelyn with husband Alfrancis Chua; and Jason (shirtless) with the rest of the revelers, including the author. (Photos by TEDDY MONTELIBANO)

Something Like Life
Nov. 23, 2007

RETURNING from a four-day vacation in Boracay, where I had a fabulous stay at the newly-built resort Two Seasons (more on that in a future travel story), I find that things haven’t changed much in Metro Manila.

There was still much discussion on who was behind the explosion at the Batasan despite the arrests of suspects, denials on corruption as the root of a World Bank loan cancellation, and the Senate investigating yet another case of political impropriety regarding the cash handouts in Malacañang (this, even if they had yet to wrap things up on the ZTE-NBN deal).

These same-old, same-old issues are the reasons why I enjoy traveling and covering lifestyle stories. Who can stand all that muck-raking and the endless news of government stealing day in and day out when there’s so much more going on in other parts of the country? Everyone needs a break, and I always thank the Big Guy upstairs for allowing me to cover functions that some may find a bit escapist and unreal—amid all the blood, sweat and gore of everyday hard news—but nevertheless are still about honest people just trying to make an honest living. I think happy occasions are still worth covering, right?

Thankfully, such events, like the blessing of Two Seasons last weekend, also allowed me to make new friends, get up close to families like the Peñalozas, the resort’s owners, who are warm sincere people trying to make a difference in their lives and their businesses.

My travel buddies and I were touched that such a family, with a long tradition of Filipino-Chinese values, could be so warm and open to “outsiders” like us. We always perceive Chinoy families to be closed and extremely protective of one another, unable to genuinely relate to people without such privileged DNA. (Well, I do have some Chinese blood, which accounts for my fair complexion and slightly chinita eyes, but this has long been diluted by the murky brown indio marriages of my forefathers hehehe.) Happily, the Peñalozas were all warm chocolatey goodness. And having been a journalist for so long, I guess I know when someone is sincere or just BS’ing me.

My travel buddies and I were especially there to interview Jonathan, the “numbah wan sun” who runs Two Seasons. Heir to the ball bearings business his grandparents started, he disarmed us by his quiet charm and willingness to share with us his internal “processes” in eventually taking over the company from his father, Victor, and wishing to strike out on his own in an entirely different direction, by going into the resort/hospitality service industry. It was evident, however, that his dad and the family matriarch, amah, were all thumbs-up for the splendid new resort after seeing how Jonathan parlayed his keen sense for aesthetics and design into another possibly profitable business. All the other uncles, aunts and cousins, including family friends, were out in full force in Boracay to lend their support to the happy occasion.

(It was also so cute to see the very chica-looking amah, all of 92 years, smiling at everyone, while sitting in a wheelchair especially designed for the beach. I was told that she still gets up every day to go to work...what a tremendous spirit, that woman.)

And thank goodness for Jonathan’s lovely wife Jenny, who has been “conscripted” into the family business. No screaming and being dragged by her hands and feet, though. Jenny told us that she is happy to help out in the family business, training the staff from all over the country. Having her join the business allowed Jonathan to remain focused on the construction and design of the resort. How she also found the time to take care of her equally wonderful kids is a feat in itself and worthy of any working mom award.

Then, there’s the pert and pretty Jocelyn, who jokingly proclaimed herself to be the “youngest” among the siblings. She immediately warmed up to us and started telling us about her business and the most important relationship she’s had. She owns a store called French Dolls at the TriNoma—and, no, it doesn’t sell dolls but clothes from Bangkok, my favorite shopping destination. Of course, the trendy clothes won’t fit large-sized me, but they’d be in my closet if I were a size 6. (Still, I couldn’t help but kid Jocelyn: “Galit ka sa matataba, ano?”)

She is also married to Alfrancis Chua, whom everybody calls “Coach,” having been the Sta. Lucia Realtors’ coach for the longest time. Now conducting basketball clinics for kids aside from other businesses, Coach—or “Chua-lai,” as sports journalists apparently call him—just made us sick to our stomachs from all the laughing we did over his hilarious stories. Yet it moved me for someone big and tough like the Coach to confess that Jocelyn was the only woman who could make him settle down after all the girls he’s had in his life (and you’d be surprised at all the celebrity babes who’ve been linked to him). The clincher of the story is that Al and Jocelyn were high school sweethearts and were oceans apart for quite a long time before finding each other again. It’s a love story that immediately elicits an “Awwww” from anyone who hears it.”

The youngest—for real—among the five siblings (sorry Jocelyn!) is crazy Jason. Having just returned from the US, where he had a swell career photographing for The Gap and Guess, Jason has come home to set up himself here in Manila and have a go at the local commercial photography business. In the short time that he’s been here, he’s snagged major covers for a lot of the country’s glossy magazines. And yet he’s such a regular guy, despite his youth. I have never been so entertained by such a sweet funny person. Still he admitted being torn between his artistic spirit and his familial obligations. It is a conflict I can only pray he would resolve to everyone’s satisfaction, especially his own.

We weren’t able to sit down and talk with the other Peñaloza siblings but from the ones we met, I have no doubt that they are equally pleasant and amiable.

Spending a short time with a close and gregarious family like the Peñalozas was a real treat for hard newshounds like me. It reminds me of what really matters in this complex and often dog-eat-dog world we live in.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. )

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