Finding bliss amid the crisis

From the eight floor, Cecilia Crisostomo, 73-year-old mother four and grandma to 10 grandkids, waves to the taho vendor. Since 5:30 a.m, she has been sitting in her balcony — her favorite spot in her home at Shell Residences. This has become a daily routine for her — waiting for the Mall of Asia neighborhood street vendor’s arrival while soaking in the morning calm. She would go down and out onto the street carrying her red cups for the day’s fill of silken tofu with tapioca balls, which she would distribute to Shell Residences’ service staff.

During the three years since she left the US to retire in the Philippines, she has enjoyed countless mornings like this. Some mornings she wakes up with the sunrise; other mornings, she wakes up a little later to relax by the pool or just walk around while enjoying Shell Residence’s breathtaking hotel-like feel. It’s freedom she savors at this stage in her life — freedom after decades of working in New York City’s corporate jungle. 

“It was my son-in-law who told me about this place,” she says. “‘Ma, it’s like your New York City home. Everything is so close!” he said to her.  When Crisostomo saw the unit for herself, she fell in love with the majestic view of MOA’s “globe” from the balcony. It was a whirlwind romance and like a woman smitten by her first love, she didn’t let go. She decided to make Shell her home. 

Walking distance from Mall of Asia, the MOA Arena, MOA convention center, a chapel, restaurants, five-star hotels, government offices, groceries, movie houses, and transport hubs, her Shell Residences home places her at the center of everything she needs. “You want to know where my clinic is? It’s right there across the street. That’s where I have my regular check-ups. The grocery? It’s a 5-minute walk. Everything is within reach here.”

Her life in New York as a real estate professional meant getting acclimated to the culture of walking, particularly around 5th Avenue in midtown Manhattan, her place of work. “When I was in New York, I loved being the tour guide and taking my tourist friends around for a walk. I do the same thing here. I take them around.” 

In her neighborhood, she watches concerts at the MOA Arena and walks home past midnight. “I watched Jokoy’s show and walked home at 1 a.m., alone. Can you imagine that? A 73-year old walking alone at night? That’s how safe it is here.” 

 “This is the best place to be locked down in,” she says. “It’s very secure here because of property management. Besides, most of what I need is close by.  Everything is right here.” Crisostomo’s unit is a one-bedroom affair. Though she lives alone, she is never proverbially lonely.  “I have so many friends here and they also live in SMDC condominiums.”  With friends residing in Quezon City, Makati, and as far as Tagaytay, and relatives in Cavite, where her roots are, Crisostomo is happy that her place is a convenient take-off point for those places. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic reached this country, they would meet up in each other’s condos and go on food binges either in their condominiums or nearby restaurants. But the mandatory quarantine has prevented them from going out these days. 

All based in the US, her children feel secure knowing that she lives in a safe and well-maintained place with everything around her and with friends who take care of her and make her enjoy life to the fullest. Her children have units at Shore and Sea Residences, so she would often participate in The Good Guys activities. That’s how she found her MOA friends, composed of residents of Shell, Sea and Shore Residences. Her vibrant, youthful aura and her carefree attitude probably come from her friendships with women and couples younger by a decade or two. In their pre-Covid lives, they would go on hikes to Benguet or engage in bedtime conversations during their out-of-town trips. She is open to people and new experiences. Together with her MOA friends, she climbed up the 700 steps of Mount Tapyas in Coron.

Help would come from friends in many ways just when she would need it. She remembers a time when she was down with fever and a friend from the 16th floor sent her medicine and mami from a popular noodle place in MOA. Every now and then, friends from the same building would volunteer to buy her groceries. “They’d take the time to ask me, ‘May ipapabili ka ba? Isasabay ko na’.” 

She is also friendly with Shell Residences’ service staff.  SMDC’s Shell staff and every day Good Guys have become her family. “I admire them so much because they work so hard. Ang laki ng nagagawa nilang tulong araw-araw. Simple lang naman ang kaligayahan nila.  Kape lang o taho, masaya na sila. They are very appreciative!”  Her eyes crinkle as she speaks fondly of them as though they were her children. 

“When I got this unit, I didn’t just get the unit — I got a community I love. I’ve been telling all my balikbayan friends – Shell is the perfect place to live!

Her happy place is a product of her own taste. It is a caring community. When she moved to Shell, she thought of getting the services of an interior designer to design her unit. But the exorbitant professional fee made her reconsider the idea; she decided to decorate her place by herself, aided by her co-resident friends who helped her get the best deals for materials.

In her living room sits a red couch. There is a fridge with a door filled with her collection of souvenir magnets from her travels, and in a corner, a bunch of red roses arranged in what she considers her special corner, her altar, where she prays her daily rosary. 

These days, she has been exploring the joy of cooking, too – something she never had a chance to do in America, having been a working mom. “One time, I got this pampano at the weekend market. It looked so fresh so I bought it even though I didn’t know what to do with it. I called up a friend who taught me how to cook Pampano with Bagoong.” 

When not cooking, she works out by walking in Shell’s open spaces or by watching workout videos for 70-year-olds on YouTube, watching TV or going downstairs for a chitchat with Shell’s staff.

Crisostomo is a picture of happiness and contentment. “Every day, I am thankful that my day goes smoothly. I am physically, spiritually, and mentally satisfied. I can sleep well at night. At peace ako. Hindi mo mabibili ‘yon. Wala ‘yung katapat.” 

Living at Shell has allowed her to experience the good life in her retirement, “The good life is waking up anytime you want to and eating what you want to eat. I can talk to anybody anytime, go where I want to go. I can make choices. I am living that kind of life here.” 

She danced in her youth and traveled around the world, watched Broadway shows in the Big Apple and provided a bright future for her children. She has many friends and continues to make new ones. She reflects on the seven decades of her life: “Life has to be enjoyed. Value whatever is left in your days because life is very short. I would never have imagined I would reach this age.”

It is a philosophy that only a few have had the privilege to practice.