This Time On A Stick- Keeping Up The Tradition of BBQ on 4th of July

Many of my friends and family will be waking in a few hours to a very *hot* and dry 4th of July celebrating America’s 239th “Birthday” and separation from Britain. For the better part of my life this date means a neighborhood party with live music, a parade around the block with decorated bikes, wagons, and neighbors sitting in lawn chairs on the curb to cheer as it goes by, and the biggest beef beef I have ever experienced. Year after year. The kitchen would have a 2 or 3 big coolers filled with marinating brisket. To this day my dad holds the record for brisket and my mom can cook a better chicken than anyone. There. I said it. No take backs. The party focused around food and a decent amount of smack talk and ended with blowing stuff up (fireworks). Fun and merriment for the whole family.

This year, however, I am abroad in the Philippines. The 3rd was not a work holiday, I did not get a three-day weekend from Work/ School, and there will be no fireworks. But I did uphold the tradition of barbecue and let me tell you, what I had tonight smoked all y’all right out of the water.

Today’s outing was led by some of the people from work, who like me, had not seen some of the local sights in Cebu. My department supervisor, my HR director and her daughter, and another employee and I went out for an adventure to see Fort San Pedro. The fort turned out to be closed by the time we got there for a State of the City type address in the Independence Square so we ended up at a 150 year old prison and toured around. Our tour guide’s name was Danny Boy. It was a crash course in Cebuano history and the founding of the Philippines. Oh, and the main theme of the outing turned out to be cats. Which I will make a separate post to photos of Filipino cats here.

But the focal point of today. The food. A question I get asked a lot is, “Do you have a ___________ like this where you are from?” and a lot of the time the answer is no. Where we had dinner tonight was one of these instances: an open air restaurant with a butcher case full of meat on sticks and an amazing charcoal grill at the center. Plastic chairs and tables were scattered through out and we ended up seeing a couple small lizards on the all and a stray cat in the restaurant. You picked a tray, filled it with the raw meet on sticks; they cooked it for you and brought it to your table. Squid, the best chicken I have ever had (and the skin was heavenly), pork belly, and a few other things. Everything had an excellent smoky flavor and a succulent crunch from nice charcoal grill marks. Try as you might, I refuse to believe I will ever have grilled meat this tasty again and I know thems fightin’ words. I stand by them.

The more adventurous take on meat on sticks is a street vendor with a small charcoal grill cooking food on the side of the road for a few pesos a stick. I’m sure on my way to or from work I’ll have to try the “street food” version as a comparison this week. But. Damn. Still on the fence about how good this barbecue was? To all my American readers: It was better than bacon. Or anything you can wrap in bacon. If there’s one place for food I’ve been that I want to go back to, it’s this place. And yes I looked it up. It’s called AA’s. I would like to raise my grilled squid on a stick to the importance of food. Everyone’s got to eat. So you might as well eat it off a stick.

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It wasn’t the earthquake’s fault [seismic pun] I promise there are no more. This introduction is already off to a shaky start.

The first couple of days I was here I got to witness a huge electrical storm that illuminated the hills off in the distance. Now that it is officially rainy season, we lifted the blinds at work so we can watch the wind gush through the trees since it’s been making a decent racket. We’re getting wind gusts over 20 MPH (35 KM/Hour) and pelted with rain. It on the glass was actually what woke me up this morning and was a strange noise to wake up to. The lunch break was blustery with a few heavy raindrops but normal. Just before three o’clock the chatter at the office abruptly changed tone from casual to sharp and brisk (it was all in the local dialect so I was lost the whole time as to what) and I was under the impression there was another fire rising in the distance or an accident in the street as everyone stared out the windows. I jumped up from my desk and didn’t see anything that would cause a commotion and then I felt it.

The building was swaying back and forth and it wasn’t just because of the winds. The feeling of being caught in the sway after sitting down was comparable to when you stand up too fast and you get dizzy and disoriented. Within minutes we were evacuated out of the building and waited for after shocks while those who could scour the web for information furiously searched to see if we should be preparing for something worse. The 2013 quake that hit neighboring island Bohol where my step mom and her family are from came shortly before Typhoon Haiyan devastated the islands. Between the two, tens of thousands lost their lives, were displaced, and the damage was in the billions of dollars.

I think it’s safe to say that the office staff was more worried about me than I was about a little quake. Standing in the parking lot they kept asking if I was nervous or scared and kept telling me variations of: “If you go back to your apartment be safe!” “Get in contact with your family soon so they know you’re okay.” “Are you sure you’re going to be okay by yourself?” After about fifteen minutes when we believed the worst was over we went back to the office and tickled back to work. I was typing away at the web on my phone trying to collect details. Some of the people at work thought those of us who felt it were imaging it. The 6.1 quake struck Surigao del Norte at 2:43 pm and was 124 miles away or 200 Kilometers from where I am in Cebu (The two cities are almost horizontal from one another). The tremor struck and a depth of 20 miles (33 Kilometers). Within minutes of us easing back to work, the office was closed and our weekend started early.

Enter The Adventure.

I had yet to see Magellan’s Cross, the very famous Santo Niño, or the Basilica. So a dozen staff ventured out to show me the city as the office broke up for the “Quake Day” (We have snow days in the US so I thought it was fitting). We were quite the parade. We ended up taking a Jeepney, a local form of public transportation and ended up in the downtown district to see the sights. It was First Friday so many of the festivities were heighted for the occasion. The clock tower had been damaged two years ago in the storms so wooden scaffolding surrounded it as much of the repair was done by hand. The church has been around almost twice as long as America has been a country. Happy 239th Birthday America. You’re just a babe!
In various stages our company broke up as people went home or stuck around for the First Friday Mass. I was toured around the landmarks and given a short history of the flag, the Philippines, and the cross. We ended up at Jollibee for food and to wrap up the day of whirlwind Filipino exposure. Jolliebee is to the Philippines as McD’s is the America with offerings like spaghetti and fried chicken (I have a post coming up just about these two in the next couple days) in addition to several burgers, ice cream, and fries. We wandered around the shops again and then it was a Jeepney ride back to the office so I could walk the half-mile back to my apartment. I stocked up on drinking water (it’s advised you don’t drink the tap water, but it is safe for washing fruits and dishes) and made sure I had enough food to last a couple days. This is after all the Philippines and when I said I wanted a genuine Filipino experience, I did not anticipate a little rocking and swaying. I have doubts that anything more exciting is going to happen the next few days, but at the request of half the office, I am prepared to be by myself for a couple days should we lose power. I even packed a flashlight from home (Why I put it in my pencil pouch at the bottom of my backpack I will never know). But everything is at full charge and I am ready for the worst. We are more likely to have a transformer go out from a wind related incident than anything.

But the wonderful people I have the opportunity to work with have plans to get together again tomorrow afternoon so I doubt mother nature can cause too much mischief between now and then. I would say at least a quarter, maybe a third, of my job is just getting to know the culture, the people, and the history. In the two weeks I’ve been here I do believe I have my college major narrowed down from “general” to specific, I want to be involved in international business, and I’m now looking into career fields I never thought would interest me. What a way to spend a summer, let alone only be one quarter of the way through.

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Cockroaches Make Bad Co-Leasers

I came home from work and was all excited to wash my face. The weather has been cooler here the last two days and very lovely, but there’s just a grime level that comes with a little bit of sun and getting caught in a rain shower where the dirt and dust of the city sticks to you. Lo and behold, a lone cockroach was scuttling around my bathroom floor. Worst. Co-lease. Ever.

Luckily I had never had to deal with roaches before, and I was surprised I didn’t throw a bigger fit when I saw it. My rule is if it lives out side and is inside, it needs to high tail it out of there. I simply just rolled my eyes, called it a few choice names under my breath, gabbed a juice glass and a piece of paper, trapped the sorry fool, and shook it out into whatever was below my window of choice. I then proceeded to wash the juice class twice and clean most of my apartment. I’m not saying I saw mouse poop by the kitchen sink, but I think I saw mouse poop by the kitchen sink. And I really hope it was just a piece of fruit stem or something that I had ignored while cutting up fruit from breakfast. Please be from fruit.

Work. Market. Home.
I’m making a good habit of going to the supermarket after work most nights and not going on the weekend. Trade off is about 6:30-7pm when I’m usually there, it is very crowded and the lines are slow. But I’m getting more accustomed to how the world works here. When it comes to fruit, you have two options. 1) You pick up a pre-weighed package of a couple pieces and carry on your merry way or 2) You pick your loose fruit, bag it and take it to the scale genie who weighs it and slaps a sticker on the bag of how much it weighs at the per kilo price. Which I think is brilliant. Tonight’s selection included grapes, oranges, bananas, and pomelo, which I know I’ve had a couple times before, but no strong memory of. Just that it’s citrusy.

GENIOUS! GENIOUS I SAY

In my dozen or so trips to the market I have noticed that they call watermelons sugarbabies. Which I think is the best English-ism I’ve heard so far. It’s up there with referring to taking a break as “taking a kit-kat.”

After quest for caffeine I had just assumed that it would be a nice little stint while I was here to detox after the wondrous liquid that is coffee and caffeine. Instant espresso and I didn’t meld well. So I thought, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” up until the point where I was FaceTiming my mom last night and she suggested I get tea from the market and brew my own. I had the biggest duh moment of my life. I was the one who got weird looks from friends for brewing tea in my dorm in he middle of winter and drinking over ice. Needless to say, you should always listen to your mother. Always.

In a lot of ways, life is getting easier. I’ve been here almost two weeks. I’m still not getting use to the sun rising at 5:30am and setting at 6pm and the twelve and a half hours of sunlight in between. I woke up at 7am, did not go back to sleep like I usually do until my alarm went off, and instead had a lazy and slow morning getting ready for work. Today was the first day I felt I could suck the marrow out of life*. I haven’t felt exhausted like I have every say since I got here. And this is without the aid of my best friend caffeine. It’s 11:30 in the evening and I’m still awake. It’s almost normal.

Despite the limited hours of daylight, an amount associated with Oregon March and September, our spring and fall, (Having four seasons is a hot topic at work. Here they have three “summer” and “typhoon” and “rainy season”, which it is now). Cebu comes most alive after the sunsets and becomes most brilliant in the dark. A difference with a contrast “as strong as night and day”.

*The phrase, “sucking the marrow out of life” comes from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden: Or, In The Woods. But I know it from the late Robin Williams and The Dead Poet’s Society. Bone marrow soup is very popular in the Philippines. I have yet to try it.

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Praise the Pixies that turned down the heat.

It’s the first day since I got here that it is not uncomfortable when you walk outside. A very noticeable difference compared to a constant stickiness of humidity and sweat. It’s 7pm here, 81 degrees and 84% humidity. It’s almost comparable to Oregon in the summer right now, as in perfect. My apartment wasn’t unbearably hot when I got home from work, which was the real surprise because it’s usually like a sauna. The AC is only for a little air floor because the air was so stale but it will be off shortly.

It’s worth mentioning that a little more of American culture is coming out around the office now that I’ve been here a week and a half. I taught some of the staff “Fist bump” yesterday and today it was “the struggle is real”.

After the instant coffee debacle from a few nights ago, I’m off caffeine for the time being. It’s probably the first time since the 8th grade that I’ve gone three (3) days without coffee in the morning. After more than six years of drinking bean, instant espresso smells like sadness (I’m joking) but it does smell unappetizing and reminds me that some times the uphill battle of being caffeinated isn’t always worth it. So far so good. Three days in and I’m not really experience any withdrawal symptoms. If this going to bed anytime from 8:30 through 10pm continues, I may crawl back to the coffee one way or another. If two weeks here rolls by and I’m still going to bed like I did in the 5th grade, it’s worth a shot. (Espresso joke anyone?)

In the meantime, I’m spending the time before bed sitting in a chair trying to stay awake as blog and watch lectures for my online class. Last night I feel asleep in the middle of a video with my computer open, so I guess you could say the struggle is real. Goal is staying awake until 10:30 tonight without dozing off. Three hours to go.

This morning I woke up to the amazing news that the US Women’s FIFA World Cup soccer team is going to the final match (opponent to be determined sometime on the 2nd between England and Japan, I’m cheering for England). Last year at this time with the Men’s World Cup I was in New York City visiting family and watching games at local watering holes. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to watch the final match on Sunday. I’ve checked FIFA’s website for the time and I’ve tried figuring out if the window it gives me is for the States, where the game is being played, or here in Cebu and it would be amazing to watch the game.  I’ll check again after the next game to see if I can make heads or tails of it, but here’s to an amazing couple of matches in the next few days.

Breakfast this morning was a local mango, a banana, and an orange. Lunch was a 42 peso steam bun from the 7 Eleven near work and tempura for a snack later in the day when someone at work made a run. It’s 10 pesos for a couple of pieces of super fried yummy goodness that comes in a cup and you eat on a skewer. Dinner was lest over spaghetti from last night which was even better cold (yes I ate it out of the rice pot instead of getting a bowl. But I did, however, clean the rice cooker and set it to dry instead of leaving it in the sink overnight, I think that is quality adulting).

As for work, I’ve been here long enough that some of what I’m writing is finding its rightful place when it needs to be and its very cool to see what I researched and wrote is actually posted in the internets. When I was little I always wanted to be a writer and focused on short stories, and to see the dream come full circle and instead be a content writer is a dream come true. This whole experience is pretty amazing. I never in a million years thought I would be living by my self internationally for a summer, let alone working abroad, and even more so the thought that seeing my work online is very spiffy. Ferris was right.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbR7axof1wk and I fully intend to take the time to look around.

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