No Can Opener, No Problem. What My Step Mom Taught Me About The Philippines.

For 120 pesos, I can get a Starbucks venti iced coffee. A little half and half and we’re in business. For a little more than that, I can hit up the local super market and buy milk, instant coffee, and a can of sweetened condensed milk. After I boil a little water in my apartment (there’s this neat little contraption like an electric kettle but with a reservoir designed to boil water AND make things in the kettle-pot) and I can set up a left over water jug with the condensed milk poured inside and then the instant coffee mixture with a little milk to refrigerate over night so I have a cold beverage to start my morning without hitting up the green mermaid for a little get up and go.

My first questionable decision was not looking up the ratios for instant coffee and water. It was not on the label of the container like I thought and when the standard unit here is liters and grams, it didn’t even dawn on me convert between liters and cups and again for grams and teaspoons. Enter the moment where high school and college math come back to laugh at me and say, “You done goofed kid.” I’m guessing now it will either 1) weaker than I want or 2) more bitter than I anticipated since my familiarity with instant coffee extends to the occasional baking recipe.

My second questionable decision was not even thinking to see if there was a can opener in my apartment. I thought about it while at the store looking at cans of sweetened condensed milk. This was not the first time the presence of a can opener was a variable in the success or failure for the cooking task at hand. In college, a frequently asked question was, “Who do you know has a can opener?” And someone near by was smart enough to actually own one.

Thus we come to the moment where I realize there is no can opener, but there is in fact a very nice kitchen knife in the cupboard and I thought back to a morning at home where the can opener had broken and there seemed to be an impasse for my coffee (I think the condensed milk and lack of can opener may be a recurring gag in my life, TBD).

Enter my step mom. Filipino born and raised and accustomed to Americans having gadgets for every thing imaginable, takes out her orange kitchen knife, it’s a designated knife that is not used for anything else, whacks later and working the knife back and forth, the lid is off and everything is as it should be. My morning at home, 7,000 miles from where I am now carried on and everything was peachy keene.

I take the knife and the can and think, Oh my gosh. This is how I’m going to end up in a foreign hospital needing stitches at 8:30 in the evening. A feeble couple of thuds later, the can is punctured and I can start working the knife back and forth like I’m shucking an oyster.

Much like how the versatility of a kitchen knife to open aluminum cans, from what I can guess so far, versatility is part of the bedrock of the way of life here. My step mom doesn’t talk much about her life and growing up, just a couple islands from where I am now. And when she did, it was often the funny stories and the interesting parts.

You can’t walk down the street without seeing a homeless cat or dog, often underfed, roaming the street, bones showing through skin that’s seems too big for the creature. Everything and everyone here adapts and endures. Despite typhoons, despite hardship, despite a lot of things I am just beginning to understand, you make do with what you’re fortune enough to have here to the point MacGyver would be out shined.

My first year of college taught me about minimalism and ingenuity in a shared space- with a roommate, and with friends and neighbors at your fingertips. In just the three days I’ve been here, quietly observing the world around me, utilizing what I’ve observed from my step mom is making the day to day a little easier. Slowly but surely I’m adapting too.

What was trendy back home- thrifting, upcycling, many of the things that were ‘hipstery’ are part of survival here. If I could I would have paid more attention to what I could have learned from my step mom before coming here. But instead I’m watching the world around me and talking it all in. I can’t wait to see what the next few weeks’ yields.

After all,

It’s just the beginning

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Leave It To the Oregonian To Feel At Home Wherever It Rains

I’ve been in the Philippines for about twelve hours now. To say the least, I survived the journey, and that can be the hardest part. Solo international travel. Landing in Narita, Japan and having to transfer, by bus, to another terminal, in a country you do not speak the main language, but everything is still in English. Traveling before I had always thought LAX was intimidating. But that was when I was with someone who did a lot of the legwork and my job was just to follow.

This time is was a greater scale. Getting off the plane. Wandering through the airport to customs and immigration. A communication barrier between an elderly airport assistant and myself, and thusly did not understand that my luggage had been forwarded to my next flight, and did not require me to collect my bags and re-check in. The heart pounding fear of staring at the customs and immigration agent and hoping that you filled out the forms correctly. Asking an someone else how to get to the next place and being relieved when their English sounds better to your American ear than the English you’re trying to string together as the nerves and excitement simmers over and you just want to be at the gate for the next flight so you can breathe. “Follow this hall way to the left and take Bus 6 to Terminal 2.” And repeating the directions over and over under your breath even though you just have to walk two hundred feet and threw a door. Terminal 2 asking an agent, Where do I go for Philippine Air? “Second floor.” Getting turned around after walking the length of all the different kiosks and not finding it. Hint: it was at the end where you didn’t see it because it was the only one and the sign was small. The look of relief I could feel flash across my face when a Philippine Air desk attendant helped me check in and got me situated with the right directions to get to the gate. Getting there more than an hour early and waiting and checking in with friends and family and the Internet saying I got here. I’m half way there.

Usually I’m all for wandering around until the answer is apparent. But when you’re running on some hours of sleep, without a sidekick to keep you on track, not sleeping on your ten hour flight except through the bulk of Mulan (Which is an hour and a half long, by the way), being hungry and dehydrated and anxious, it’s usually easier to sacrifice the wandering for the concreteness of being where you’re supposed to be. I was more relieved as the airport antics carried on because every step of the way my chances of getting lost, needing to back track, missing my flight, having to mentally prepare myself for whatever level of miscalculated instructions I had managed to end up in- everything I worried could go wrong, didn’t actually happen. But I knew my worrying wasn’t actually because I was worried, it was because I wanted to be prepared for the unexpected, which always manages to happen when you travel.

This case of unexpected could not have come at a better time in my travels. The inbound flight that would take me to my final destination was delayed by a half hour or so. And it didn’t matter. I was sitting outside my gate, relieved and exhausted, typing away at my computer as I connected with people in Cebu who would be getting me from the airport to my apartment when I landed, and with family and friends back home in the States who were excited and curious about my adventure.

Thankfully, after running on fumes for some seventeen hours or so and a couple time zones later, I managed to sleep on most of the second leg of my journey. I landed. Followed the mass of people through customs and immigration again, got some neat stamps for my passport, again hoping that nothing would go wrong as I angrily got stared at by a customs agent, collected my bags, and waited for my ride. It was about one in the morning at this point. Hot and humid, like standing in the bathroom after a hot shower having forgotten to turn on a fan to vent the steam. The dark city (and quiet in comparison) was nothing compared to what I’m now experiencing. But I made it. Keys, internet, water. Telling my parents I had made it. A shower to get some of the travel funk off. Bed. Each small part building to the point where I thought, Holy cow. I made. Solo international travel, and a lot else, seems easier. 

Four hours of sleep later, figuring out how to lock up my apartment (both locks have character and little tricks to get them to actually lock), and an iced coffee later, I had at least made it out of my apartment and back with confidence. Later, I went for an adventure around the block, here it’s like two city blocks had been merged together in length, and went around again to the supermarket just up the street for rations (bananas and juice). I stopped at the 7/11 for a siopao, which is a rice flour steam bun with yummy filling (a staple from home that I knew would ease the rumbling stomach) and made it back, this time finding my way around was significantly easier.

About an hour ago it started raining. As a born and bred Oregonian, I had grown up with rain and despised its cold, wet, windy lingering it left for months at a time, but today it called for celebration. Today the rain was a sound of comfort. Which also meant the humidity dropped significantly and walking outside felt less like a steam room. The rain brought with it a sense of calm, invincibility, and a wonderful breeze. If all it takes for me to think I can take on the world, so be it. Adventure is mine for the taking.

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Oh Monday

It is entirely possible I may have committed vehicular homicide of the half dozen succulents I bought this morning from a vendor downtown. (Am I being slightly dramatic? Yes. But it also makes for a better story.)

With my sophomore year job I will be living in a residence hall once more and I planned on having a fish (predetermined name is Roosevelt thanks to an unanimous vote from my friends) and a couple plants- the extend of living things other than residences allowed in dorms rooms at Oregon State. So when I got a notification that local succulent slingers Ponderosa and Thyme would be downtown, I made plans to be there and by a couple for my room. I picked up a half dozen of itsy bitsy plants with the intention of bringing them home, letting them grow over the summer with minimal watering, and then divvying them up to take with me when I return to college. Easy enough game plan, easy enough execution.

The half dozen pots were but in a Ball mason jar box so they wouldn’t slide over my car and so I could carry them. Unbeknownst to me, the six little pots did not agree with captivity and kept falling over as I gingerly carried them across the street to my car. Just in the time it took to cross the street and put them in the front seat, two of them had tipped over and been put right again just for a third to fall over once they were sitting in the front seat.
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It is also worth mentioning that I hate driving downtown. I hate stop and go traffic. I have a very strong dislike for people being bad drivers and downtown Salem does a good job attracting them.

So when I carefully pulled out of the parking spot, after waiting for on coming traffic and a nice clear gap, to be puttsing around downtown, not a half block from where I parked, some contemptible person in their little truck darts out of their spot, without even looking (I can assume, I was angry) and almost rear ends my driver side door, I panic. I hit the breaks,  befriended the horn (didn’t swear much to the approval of my mother), a little creative driving around the lovely person, and I was on my way.

This is all while I wish I had a slow motion camera in the front seat to capture this. While I hit the breaks I hear a crashing of terracotta (a horrible noise coming from inside your car), little pebbles, and dirt crashing against the glovebox before falling to the floor. Luckily for me I had just about a mile until I was home so the poor little guys didn’t have to suffer for long. I got them into a plastic box with as much dirt as I could salvage, got the broken pots taken care of and everything as back to normal as possible. Leave it to me to get distressed about killing plants in some way other than over/ under watering or too much sunlight. I have a suspicion these little guys will be okay, but my morning was a little more exciting than I would have liked for only one coffee into my day.

This evening we will have plant repotting party and everything will be right as rain. I was a little broken up this morning about the whole thing, but was in better shape than at least one of the pots. Needless to say, this Monday is almost behind me and I have a great story to tell. Now I just have to hope these plants stay alive until August so my effort isn’t for nothing.

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