Hello August!

Sorry for the radio silence guys (all three of you who read my blog on a regular basis). The last few days I’ve just been busy and writing dropped in priority as I was working on my tech writing class in the evenings and just felt ‘meh’. Today I’m feeling a lot more ‘with it’ and I’ll tell you why.

Six Sundays ago I left Oregon and said goodbye to everyone. My dad, step mom, and sister dropped me off at the airport and I was on my way. Six weeks by yourself is a long time to go without your family when you’re somewhere new. I made plenty of friends at work and on the weekends we went out and adventured, but at work we worked and chilled during lunch and breaks so it wasn’t social hour, unlike college where just about everything makes way for socializing. Here I spend most of my time outside of work working on my online class or writing for my blog, and if neither of those are happening, there’s a good chance I’m sleeping. Being a nineteen year old American college student hardwired in for “June through August means summer” I’ve been sleeping a lot. Today I slept in until 11:15. If I don’t, I’m a walking zombie, especially with this humidity; it’s still a lot to adjust to. Average water consumption is 2-3 liters or more a day since you sweat so much so being awake takes a little more out of you here than it does at home. So that has been my day to day.

However, today has been the day I’ve been looking forward to for the better part of the last two or so weeks. The day my dad and stepmom arrived in Cebu. I love it here. It’s a great place to be and this is an amazing way to spend a summer. But in some ways, you miss the old, especially when you can’t just decide at 10am on a Friday you want to go home for the weekend and within an hour after being done with class you’re already home. It was great seeing the city through the eyes of my dad who’s been coming to the Philippines for the better part of ten years and my step mom who has spent all but three of the last years of her life in this country. It’s like when you’re running and you’re ready to be done but you know you need to finish the hour and you’re miserable but then Eye of the Tiger comes on and suddenly every fiber in your being finds new motivation and you power through. I have eleven more days in the Philippines and while not all of it is lounging on a white sand beach with a do-nothing attitude, everything coming will be different than spending my whole day at a desk working. Life has shifted from down a gear from fifth and I’m excited for a change of pace even though I will miss my new work family.

Being here for six weeks is long enough to say I ‘lived’ somewhere other than Oregon and has helped me find that I may not want to spend a term abroad in Hong Kong or Thailand or Singapore. At ten to eleven weeks, I think it just wouldn’t be the right fit even though all three places are on my “to see before I die list”. With the program I will be working with I have a couple options and I think I may be looking into Austria or elsewhere in Europe (Germany, Denmark or Norway seems a little more my speed).

Just observing people here I notice how much I stand out from people, even fellow Westerners, than how little you blend in. I’m inches taller than a lot of people, I have blue eyes and curly blond hair, I’m white, and I speak American English. When people stare, I usually make sure I’m wearing my sunglasses and try not to stare back, the ‘Glancing away and quick check back to see if they’re still looking at you and keep looking away’ game. To a degree, you feel somewhat violated because in America we believe staring is rude. I believe in the idea that it is very important to be a stranger in a strange land and be as alienated as possible several times throughout life, but I think if this was the caliber of my travels related to school, I would be a little too uncomfortable for too long. I could do it and endure, but like picking the college you attend for undergrad, I feel like being as ‘at home’ as possible is worth considering. There is only so many times you can endure, “For you- white girl price” when you’re trying to buy something off a vendor on the street before you are ready to up and quit and keep walking.

It’s very possible I change my mind between now and then and I know having experienced this kind of environment for two weeks in 2009 when I spent two weeks in China with my dad (For perspective, I was in the 8th grade and was 14). Now, six years later, I’m a lot more aware of the world and some of the finer workings and I think it takes several trips where you’re this far out of your comfort zone to actually not mind things as much. Bottom line is I don’t know what is happening between now and my term abroad and some things could change.

On two fronts, the end is near and everything is set to coast. It’s August and the month named after Augustus is fairly jammed pack and busy and now it is here, and that my family is here I feel a little better about everything and I can just power through, even if Eye of the Tiger is only playing in my head.

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When Life Gives You Cabbages, You Make Coleslaw. Duh.

This story is not necessarily told in sequential order whatsoever. But bear with me. This has a point, I promise.

Friday at work I had a meeting with HR. Not a “I’m in trouble” type meeting, but the “You’ve been here for five weeks and we would love to set aside an hour and chat about what you have observed while you are here, both at the office, as the Filipino culture as a whole, and just talk.” It was a light hearted conversation. My HR supervisor is the same lady who picked me up at the airport and who has been showing me around the Philippines while I’ve been here. My ‘host’ mom and apparently now adopted mother. We went adventuring on Saturday and she told her second youngest, “Be nice to your sister,” referring to me. It’s cute. I squee’d. I was honored. (This is where we start getting out of order).

But anyways, Friday after being home sick the previous day was a little wonky, I had a fine day at work, it was just slow going. I was trying not to over do it. My meeting overlapped with snack time in the management office and the Merienda (light meal) were burger type buns with canned tuna, smashed avocado, cucumber, lettuce and Laughing Cow Cheese slices. I was told to eat. And I did as we talked. It was mostly along the lines of “If we were to do this over again, knowing what you do now, what advice would you give yourself,” and the like. Coordinating my work opportunity that got me here, much like this story, happened out of order. So the sandwiches were good and I was happy to have fresh veggies. I knew then and there my next trip to the supermarket would yield the necessary things to replicate these little treasures. They were AMAZINGLY good.

Saturday my “host mom” and I started our adventure a little after 2pm, which by our standards, is fairly late, especially since we started at 3:30am only two weekends ago. We went to the butterfly sanctuary on the other side of town. The drive had us take the main road that goes by the decent sized mansions on the hill with a great view and in contrast with what I have seen this trip, I surprised to see such a strong cluster of wealth. The sanctuary was ‘meh’. I did get to go behind the “No entry” sign (thanks to our guide) to see the enclosure where they raise the butterflies until they’re big enough to fly out in the open. I always love being on the side of the sign the sign says you’re not supposed to be on. It was neat seeing the cats that roamed the property. Most of them had half a tail or less and they could leap to the top of an eight food fence in one jump no problem. I want to bring them all home with me.

After the butterflies, we went to Crocolandia. It original focused on the crocodiles but has since expanded into other animals of Cebu and is kind of a like a “zoo” but smaller. I made friends with a dozen brahminy kites, which are a type of sea-eagle (not making this up). For some reason or another I figured out how to replicate their call and spent fifteen minutes having a “conversation” with the birds very similar to how you “meow” back at your cat when it wants something. Croclandia had Filipino deer and an ostrich and a bunch of other critters. So there was no rhyme or reason to the animal selection. Still not convinced? They had a half dozen bearcats, or at the little girl who was with her parents called them, ‘cat bears’.

We had lunch at Cybergate Mall, which is on the roundabout near my building at a Mexican restaurant called Mooon (yes with three o’s). From there we went to Ayala Mall for dessert (which is worth the Google search because it is HUGE!). I joked that I should have been pushed around on a skateboard so I could focus on looking around instead of watching everything and walking. The mall just kept going and going and going like a maze. Dessert was a lovely selection of donuts with airy marshmallowy cream cheesy filling and they were to die for. After wandering around the mall, we ended up at a Korean café for second dessert and to see the sheer level of cute.

The upstairs level had two sublevels. The ground level and a lofted ‘upper level’ much like 10 foot square lifted forts with lots of cushions and pillows and a little table to enjoy your treats. The set up would have made an epic fort. All the while I had the whole day to think about the sandwiches from Friday.

Sunday was a quiet and lazy day. I slept in late, worked on my online class, and went to the supermarket for more water and things to make the sandwiches. And of course it didn’t go according to plan. The supermarket is always shuffling things around. Some genius put the iceberg lettuce and the cabbage heads next to each other. I didn’t know it at the time but I got a head of cabbage instead of lettuce from the lettuce pile. It’s like putting parsley and cilantro next to each other.

I got home and put groceries away and started washing my sundresses in the sink (the care tag says hand was only and it’s dry enough here it’s no too much work). By the time I got to lunch, it was 2pm in the afternoon and I was starving. I did my best to replicate the sandwiches, still not knowing at this point I had cabbage. It was as I was eating a sandwich I figured it out. I was frustrated. I was stuck with a cabbage and over the five weeks I’ve been here, I’ve tried really hard not to waste anything. If I have left overs from lunch, they go to the dogs before the proper trashcan. And here I was with a cabbage. What was I going to do with a cabbage?

The answer came to me today while at work. It’s summer and the common solution to cabbage is coleslaw. Coleslaw. COLESLAW! I had vinegar and black pepper on my pantry shelf already and I had picked up another container of sour cream (they were out of milk, again) with the intention of making French toast one of these nights. I cut up the cabbage, drenched it in vinegar with a healthy amount of sour cream and the hope the dairy would curdle a little bit to get more of a buttermilky flavor. I cut up an orange and drizzled the juice over the slaw and it’s currently in the fridge melding flavors overnight. I took one of the left over buns from my failed attempt at tuna and veggie sandwiches and set it in a pan on low heat to dry out and toast while I made the slaw. I used the remaining amount of tuna and a little cheese for an amazing tuna melt that went very well with the beginning flavor profile of the slaw.

The answer had been in front of me all this time and I got frustrated with being stuck with a cabbage when in reality, I love coleslaw. My mom has honed in an amazing recipe and if I was ambitious, I would have replicated it. But life gave me a cabbage and I made coleslaw. Everything in the Philippines really does find its way back to food.

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Week Five 5-Count

It’s hard believe it’s Sunday and I have one week left in the office. I have one more weekend in Cebu and then it’s off to the “vacation” side of things.

  1. I am always amazed at how global the Filipino economy is. My juice comes from Cypress, South Africa or Australia. A lot of fruit is imported from the United States. The “Imported” section at the supermarket heavily focuses on goods from America, Western Europe and Australia before it does other parts of Asia. Laughing Cow cheese is one of the top brands for process dairy and Nestle rules the world manufacturing just about everything through some of their brands. Lots of goods from outside the country bare a very big “Imported” sticker on them when you buy them. Standing inline at the supermarket, more people will stand in the “10 items or less, cash only” line if they have more than 10 items or if they are just paying cash despite some of the other lines being shorter. I don’t quite understand it.
  1. I am amazing at the volume of American culture and Western culture that dominates clothing here. There’s not just the American brands like Guess and whatnot that adorns a majority of clothing, but also sports brands and cities. The Chicago Bulls, football teams, college sports teams and shirts like “I’m so glam I bleed glitter.” I see shirts like “I heart Cebu” and what not. But a very high volume is icons and logos that are very familiar after growing up in the US. I see American flags and Old Navy. I see Union Jacks and other things. It almost seems like if someone my age isn’t wearing a school uniform (which everyone wears here for school), half of them are wearing very American clothes. It’s equal parts alienating and welcoming.
  1. “Ma’am” is almost interchangeable able with my first name here. Every time I enter or leave any building, it’s always “Good morning/ afternoon/ evening Ma’am” when I go anywhere. Even by people who are my age, I’m not “miss” I am ma’am, which is very peculiar. Very common here by all means, but it comes across as noticeable if you have not grown up around it or are not use to it. All sorts of people are very quick to hold open doors and I happily say thank you and grin ear to ear on a very frequent basis. It’s a mannerism that is regional in the US but here is very commonplace.
  1. Tuesday night was when I first came down with the cold. Wednesday I was running about 75% and I stayed home Thursday with an awful fever and felt like I was hit by a car. I was miserable. By the end of the day I was feeling better and Friday I went back to work. After not feeling great Tuesday-Friday, I finally felt well enough to clean yesterday and got everything else tidied up today for the rest of the week. It feels good to fight back the chaos and for everything to be streamlined and clean.
  1. As part of my “spring cleaning” I sent some of my laundry out. Most people do not have washers and dryers here and if they do their laundry at home, they hand wash and air dry it. It is very common to have a Laundromat do your laundry for less than a dollar US per Kilo (2.2 pounds) and within two days; it is washed, dried, and folded for you. Summer 2015 marks the first time in over a decade I have not been self-responsible for my laundry and it feels very odd, I miss the zen feelings of doing your own laundry and folding. It was peaceful. But at the same time, being able to pick up laundry on my way home from work and not having to deal with any of the hassle is great too.

Today, Sunday has been a rest day. I’ve done a bit of work for my online class, did chores, and chilled. I’m sure in the next 24 hours there will be a recount of my weekend up. It’s been a whirlwind and I’ve been tired. So soon.

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In Which “Fearless” Actually Becomes “Fear less”.

I would like to start with the wise words of three rad women who have helped shape my life and are helping me be more of an “adult”. They are as follows:

1. “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

― Eleanor Roosevelt

2. “Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.”

― J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

3. “Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgement that something is more important than fear; The brave may not live forever but the cautious do not live at all.”
― Meg CabotThe Princess Diaries

 I am not implying attempts for daredevil status. No feat like being the first women to fly solo across the Atlantic (Amelia Earhart, 1928) or to be Britain’s longest ruling monarch (Queen Victoria 20 June 1837 – 22 January 1901, Queen Elizabeth is 53 days away from breaking the record) or best of all being Malala Yousafzai who survived a life threatening attack for trying to receive an education and then proceed to open a school on her 18 birthday. I am, however, referencing being a stranger in a strange land. I have three weeks left until I am back in the states and if a month ago a crystal ball told me all that I would take on, I would shook my head and call it foolish.

My levels of fear and bravery are much more tame. More along the lines of opening cans with kitchen knives that I half expected to cut my hand open and have me running for stitches. Or along the lines of opening bottles with the herb snipper side of a pair or scissors. Or even catching rides on motorcycles (more of a when in Rome type thing).

On the early side of things I was casually describing what I was doing as “fearless” as I retold my adventures to friends back home but it really implies I am starting to fear less. While I will likely never see all the Philippines has to offer, or any country for that matter, I have seen and done enough to make my world significantly smaller but to also open countless possibilities. Take for example: I was wisely told to consider an MBA program and to continue my education after Oregon State. Turns out with a little research, as long as I keep my grades up (and improve them) and keep doing crazy awesome cool stuff in my spare time, I could potentially land a slot in a future Ivy League MBA program. I may not end there, but at least I know the possibilities are endless. The same professor was the old who reinforced the idea, “Make intelligent risks” and I do my best to follow through every day.

I have survived a big thunderstorm, two consecutive days of little thunderstorms, bands of tropical storms/ typhoons heading for China, partial power outages, and a 6.1 earthquake hitting about an hour’s flight from Cebu. The point is you endure. It’s critical to survival.

While my survival is not life and death like pioneers on the wild frontier who came before me, I certainly have figured out the way to get by with what I have. I have since bought a bottle opener to limit the chances of an accident and I feel confident in my knife opening ninja skills- one swift whack and the can is open and is putty in my hands which is leaps and bounds over the I don’t want to look as I do this but I really want this can open and I should look of where I was not too long ago.

I worry less about what happens and “okay” has been my catch all for “I’m game”. As my mom told my sister and I as we were growing up when we asked what we were doing for the day, the answer was always “roll with it” and now more than ever am I rolling with it. I have greater chances of losing a sandal in a boat or off a motorcycle while I’m here than just about anything else and shoes are replaceable. And I believe getting sick and needing to take a day off is the worst that can happen.

Some people at work read my blog or my writing assignments for work (In the past two weeks I have watched cat videos and trailers for a half dozen comic related films for a piece) and they’ve asked why I don’t write a book. The things I use to turn down and think would never happen to me are the things I fear less as I live my life day by day and move forward and receive the courage to keep daring. At the start of my freshman year I would have assumed I was working and going to school for my first summer out of college, yet here I am. Anything really is possible as long as I fear less, have enough nerve, and channel my fellow badass babes.

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The Muggle Struggle Is Real: Sick Days Make Me Wish I Was A Wizard.

Today I experienced a day that I hope none of you ever have to- being sick during vacation. While I am working during my summer break and taking six credits (I’m a full time and employee and a part time student. Look at me go!), this is largely one of the last few ‘breaks’ I have until I enter the world as a full fledged adult where my only breaks come as paid time off and vacation days. While I wasn’t puking my guts out which is an all too real possibility while being in a foreign country, Tuesday evening I did pick up the beginnings of a cold that by the end of the day yesterday, had me coughing every few minutes and left my eyes aching despite resting them. After talking to HR/tour guide in residence/all around superwoman about whether I should try dragging my husk of a body into work, we decided it was best I stay in bed and work from home. I wish I was a wizard so I could at least flick my wrist and have more juice show up without having to get out of bed. A girl can dream right?

Which turns out to be the best decision possible because last night I had goose bumps outside in 80-degree weather and felt feverish all through out dinner. I went to the market for fruit, OJ, and a package of instant noodles for my sick day and slumped into bed before 10pm. I struggled to sleep through the night. Several times waking up in a cold clammy sweat as my skin radiated enough heat to cook an egg (called it) and drank several glasses of water as my body tried to fight off whatever little gremlins where making me miserable.

We’ve had two back-to-back nights of thunder and lightning and I would not be surprised if there was a three-peat tonight. At one point I woke up to a thunder clap and checked in with my parents back stateside. I figured I would be up at least for a bit while I waited to fall back asleep and after touching base every night since I’ve been here like a well oiled machine, I did not need to set off the parental instincts and worry from 7,000 miles away. By the way, having your parents give you advice to help you feel better from an ocean away rocks and definitely helped. I didn’t want to take Nyquil because any orientation other than laying down made me dizzy, but the parental suggested it so I did. I was promptly asleep within minutes.

Last night’s dinner was pancit canton (the brothy soup version with an egg) which is the Filipino version of Maruchan Ramen, often made with left broth so it’s just noodles and usually enjoyed on bread as a noodle sandwich. I struggled to finish my 20 pesos bowl and did anyways because I knew the hot soup was good for me and not eat when you are sick is even worse. After sleeping for the better part of ten hours and spending an additional hour and a half refusing to move out of bed I made noodles for breakfast (it was 11:30 so more like elevensies). Today’s noodles were chili lime and after my first bowl, almost a liter of water, and some juice I felt amazingly more human. Still miserable, but more alive.

I managed to get through most of college without getting sick. Seasonal allergies were a pain and somewhere towards the end of May I caught a cold that lasted 48 hours and zapped the life out of me. The learning curve was that my metabolism ramps up when I’m sick (which is how I knew I was in for a day of misery) when I’m under the weather and I crave protein. For comparison, the last time I was this hungry this frequently was when I played lacrosse sophomore year of high school and two hour work outs five days a week usually in awful weather. Today I’ve gone through two packages of noodles, a package of kiwis, a whole liter of juice, and made an impressive dent in the six-liter jug of water I got at the store last night. To up the protein factor my dinner was red sauce pasta with two heads of garlic (not exaggerating) and a whole package of oyster mushrooms. I cracked two eggs into the sauce as it cooked (the egg yolks here are OSU Beaver orange and it makes me very happy) and served with parmesan cheese. I am very grateful that my sick tummy keeps demanding food instead of the other way around.

As the day has progressed I’ve napped, wrote the two articles I was supposed to for work, and watched cartoons from the lovely haven on my bed. And the aforementioned list occurred in that order. Work before play, even on sick days. While I’m not feeling 100% healthy, I do feel better than I did last night or even this morning when I woke up. I can now walk around with the world spinning and having to brace my self against the walls and the feeling I had last night of being hit by a semi is more like having my cat sit on my chest and not being able to get up. I can at least tolerate my cat.

The real turning point of my rest day was when the disaster level of my apartment sunk in. I’m usually pretty good about not letting dishes sit in the sink longer than over night and even then they are typically washed before I go to work. Dirty laundry does not exist scattered around my living space but the last two days I haven’t cared. Last night I dropped a spoon on the ground and thought, “Get comfortable. You’re staying there until I feel better to get you” as any advance towards the ground leaves me reeling. The mess is such that I notice it but don’t care enough to do anything about it. I’m not wasting my limited energy on cleaning when I want to go to work tomorrow so I can play with my work family during my last full weekend here in Cebu.

If I were at home, I would have watched the Princess Bride at least once today. It’s my favorite movie and my go-to film on sick days. In recent years, I’ve wanted to call the kid a snotnosed brat for asking, “Is this a kissing book?” because it doesn’t matter. It’s one of the greatest fairy tales of all time. It’s one of those films I can quote inside and out and a rare exception where I like the movie better than the book (and the book was top notch). Given the circumstances, it’s back to cartoons. It’s coming up on 9pm here and I figure I have an hour or so left in me before it’s lights out. I hope none of you have to experience being sick on your vacation, day off, or travels. But if you are, I hope it’s a day you can at least half-enjoy. Sick days are unfortunate and slow ya down. But it always means I get to watch the Princess Bride. And in my book, that’s a lose-win situation.

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Week Four 5-Count

Yes I know it’s technically Tuesday here and I wrote a post yesterday (Monday) about Sunday. But Sunday when I did the last 5-Count required a little bit of reflection so I will just pretend everything is right on schedule.

  1. Today, Tuesday July 21st marks one month in the Philippines! I’ve lived here for a month solo, which is pretty cool and I’ve learned a lot at work and a lot about being a human being. As such, I’m 104% done with the bugs. It’s been four weeks of being bitten everywhere I go. After Friday’s adventure I came back covered in bites and most of the welts turned out to be just bug bites. I’m guessing fleas (all the stray mutts and cats don’t help) or else aggressive biting ants, because is a type of any there that’s the same size as the Pacific Northwest black sugar ant except they’re more of a grey-brown color and are everywhere. I can’t leave any crumbs or dishes around my apartment and the trash needs to be taken out every day to fight them. And I found another bug that looks an awful lot like a cockroach today. I found another one this micro roaches on Saturday and I’m just at the end of my rope. If I don’t see a bug, I still feel them on me and it’s exhausting. To be fair, mosquito bites are as much a part of summer as roasting marshmallows is, but that’s usually only enough to count on one hand for a whole summer back home. So, grr. Bugs do not make me a happy camper.
  1. Last week I was on my way back from the supermarket with a bag of groceries in one hand and a jug of water in the other. An elderly gentleman held the door to the lobby open for me. I then proceed to hold the elevator for him and as we both thanked each other I caught his accent. He said he was from Ireland and when I said “West Coast United States” he asked specifically where. I said Oregon and then he thought for a second and he said, “Mount Hood, right?” and I said yes. He then asked me if I knew how Mt. Hood got its name and I did not. Before he could relay they story we stopped on my floor and I carried on with my evening. What most curious is how an Irish man in the Philippines for whatever reasons knows more about a geographical landmark in my home state than I do. I did look it up when I got to my computer. The curiosity was killing me.
  1. The concept of refrigerating food in the Philippines is an odd one to observe. Most dairy is in the cold case, beverages are kept cold because it’s humid and cold drinks rock, the meat however at the market is kept in an open air case uncovered and unwrapped and it’s up to you to get a meat bag* and the appropriate animal tongs or spoon to scoop up your raw chicken necks or ground beef. You do no cross contaminate animals. I have yet to bring myself to free for all scoop ground beef yet, but I have inched towards the meat case. I bought a prepackaged and pre-marinated selection of chicken drumsticks with the tights attached and brought them home to cook. I thought how hard can it be. They’ve done all the work and I just have to make sure they don’t burn. So I put a pan on the stove with medium heat and threw the meat in and oh my goodness it was the best thing ever. It certainly wasn’t my cooking ability, but the fact that Filipino chickens are itty-bitty and look like toys compared to the sad excuse of American meat bird. This chicken was so good; it was a race to see how quickly I could eat it off the bone without burning my fingers or mouth on the straight from the pan yumminess. I could eat chicken like this for the rest of my days and be happy.
  1. If you are every caught in the cross roads between where a business is roasting the day’s meat while their neighbors are baking the day’s bread, stop and breathe deeply as you enjoy some of the best smells in the world. I do believe heaven smells like slow roasting meat and freshly baking bread.
  1. I ended up at the bookstore in need of new reading material. I finished Stardust not too long ago and didn’t want to end up without a book. I wasn’t really looking for anything in particularly so it was judging books by their covers or summaries or if it was a title I had been meaning to read (I did not buy copies of Harry Potter, I have those at home). I did, however, end up buying a copy of Eat, Pray, Love after all the jokes I got from my friends about being here and I thought why not and I bought a copy of Little House In the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. As I wrote here, my parents read extensively to my sister and myself when we were little and the Little House books were on the list of classics. I felt it was only appropriate that I picked up a book I had not heard read aloud to me in over decade. I devoured it and finished it in a weekend and it was a blissful happy indulgence reading a book and not doing much else. I’m almost done with Eat, Pray, Love so I will likely be hunting down more books before I return to the states. Sometimes the best things in life are in fact the simplest. Here’s the Week 5!

 

*I never thought I would write something where “meat bag” was the appropriate terminology. I giggled.

 


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Stone Soup- When You’re Part of the Group That Is Just Giving

Yesterday (Sunday), a group of people from work and I participated in a weekend feeding at Rise Above Cebu. For about $80 USD, we can feed some 500 plus people a meal of rice soup with vegetables, and I think I saw chicken, which helps supplement limited resources. Rise Above is a community center with a library (no books), a small dentist center, a central kitchen, and they teach anyone willing to learn to help lift them out of poverty and hopefully into a steady job in the near-distant future. I’m sure there’s more, but this is what I saw.

Rise Above is right off the Guadalajara slum, only fifteen minutes by taxi from where I am staying, and the whole event was one of the most earth shattering and heart breaking afternoons of my life.

There was a lot to take in, and while I was actually in the slum for maybe 20 minutes handing out food tickets for the meal, I was almost floored by what I saw. Makeshift shelters that had been knocked down by some means and partially rebuilt with sheets of galvanized metal and miscellaneous building materials. ‘Solid’ structures were far and in between. Roosters and goats wandered around along side the local mutts, some of the goats were tied up with little bits of twine. Some of the children were half clothed, or not even wearing flip-flops, which is the preferred footwear of choice here (I got mentally really angry at Tom’s Shoes who built their business around the one for one model, where they donate shoes to children in need and I saw plenty of people who needed basic elements of survival. I’ve seen them focus mainly on Africa and there are plenty of other places in the developing world that could use a little TLC, too).

The meal was cooked in a giant cast iron pot. When empty, I could probably climb into it with another person and there would be room to spare. After all, we fed a decent number of people off a very well spent budget. The feeding was divided into two waves- 1) children and 2) the elderly. To receive a meal we took little tickets out into the slum and handed them out to the kids. No ticket, no meal. And for the most part, kids as young as five and six were already refining their con skills. By this, I mean we would give one kid a ticket for their siblings and when we would ask how many they would say, “Two. No, uh, four, no uh, five, no seven.” (Big families are very common here, small families, especially single children, are the rarity). And they would keep pulling tickets out of our hands until they had however many they wanted and would run away.

Some of the bigger kids would shove the littler and younger kids out of the way/to the ground so they could try and gain an advantage over snatching tickets. However, considering that I have significant height over the kiddos and they come up waist high, I held the tickets above my head and deliberately gave the tickets to the quiet kids who waited their turn and the littlest ones who were bullied by the bigger children. I may never be canonized as a saint, but I do prefer to go out of my way to dish up justice in whatever small manifestations I can. I know life isn’t fair, but when the kids instigate a Running of the Bulls just to get a hot meal, anyone’s inner saint shines through.

After the Running of the Bulls/ Handing out the tickets, we returned to the Rise Above Center to finalize the prep period. The tickets said they meal would be served promptly at 3:30 and at 2:45 kids started lining up outside they gate trying to work their way in. Little hands poked under the fence and several kids scaled a wall (by standing on a motor bike I can only presume) and were yelling directly at us to let them in (It was the cross between Mad Max and a zombie movie). There was a crazy fast exchange between the mob of kids and the volunteer staff at the center to get down, as well as some of the people from work relocking the gate as kids who were playing inside the fence were unlocking it to tease the kids waiting outside.

One of the management staff at the company I’m working with is Austrian, and her brother and her brother’s friend have been hanging out in the Philippines while I’ve been here and apparently to the kids, the friend looks like Jesus. (Almost 85% of the country is Catholic, and a total of 92.5% of the country is Christian according to the Census). Hearing the kids call “Jesus! Jesus!” as they waited for their meal was memorable- the Philippines is so devout in their faith that the people who came late to get their meal yesterday were those who left to the slum to go to Sunday Church. (To be fair, today, Monday, I was told I was the spinning vision of the Virgin Mary, so I think if I were to describe the Philippines it would be 1) “Saying hello in the local tongue us ‘Have you eaten’ / every, everything can be traced back to food and 2) they are very devout to their faith).

Everyone brought their own dishes and containers for food- I saw several regular bowls, a couple plates, various plastic food containers, leftover plastic ice cream tubs, and a handful of plastic pitchers and cups to take their meals in. My best guess is that each kid took their food back to their families and they all shared what little they had.

While I can only speculate, it was heartbreaking to see the slum. Years worth of garbage was everywhere (even the goats didn’t want eat some of it and goats eat just about everything). It was one of those instances where you just want to blindly rally the troops when you get home and do everything you can to make things better for these people. Guadalajara is unlawfully there. If the property owner decided they wanted to develop the land, they would have one week to vacate before permanently being displaced.

Moments like these lend themselves to reflecting on all that you have- both tangibly and intangibly, and reflecting upon your privilege. I was able to go back to my apartment, which has one person living in it despite people in the slums packing a whole family into a space this size. Running water, clean water to drink in abundance, electricity, a bed. I have food a plenty, both in the refrigerator and dry goods on the shelves to last me several meals. I have as much fresh produce as I feel inclined to carry back from the store. Most importantly, I’m here.

I was talking to some of the other interns about them coming to visit Oregon. And we were trying to convert money without calculators and it turns out just the air fair round trip is what students pay here on average for one year of university. (By American standards university is cheap and to Filipinos, they think college is ridiculously expensive, as does every American student). I’m very convinced that after my stint in the dorms this year I want to have enough extra space in my next living arrangements at least for couch surfers. So friends who road trip or travel abroad have a place to crash. You never appreciate a place to sleep with running water to take a shower quite like you do when you’re traveling. I would happily share couch space and floor space for stories.

You never fully appreciate all that you have until you start giving what you have, whether it is your time or your resources, It really drives the point home.

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Long Day// Long Post: Whales, Welts, and Waterfalls

My day started dark and early at 3-something am. Today’s excursion had us adventuring down to almost of the opposite end of the island all to see these gentle giants, the whale shark, and since it was a holiday, we wanted to be in the first batch or two of people out on the ocean to the creature that inhabits the 100 peso bank note. This meant rise and shine to catch a taxi to the bus terminal for a 4am bus. The big draw was the whale sharks, but that was not the only thing we did today.

And I made a map to show how much we traveled relative to the size of the island. Over 300 kilometers total today, or just about 190 miles all in all. So, without further adieu:

  1. Oslob, a three-hour bus ride.

The whale shark, butanding and balilan here in the Philippines, is one of those animals you just have to see in your life time and I was fortunate enough to do so today. While for the most part this was a very touristy things to do (our fellow boat mates were from Holland) and I heard no fewer than a dozen languages while I was there, this was one of the cooler things I’ve done this trip, this whole day was, but seeing the whale sharks up close really made you feel tiny, much like standing near the Spruce Goose . The average whale shark weighs 10 tons, has a mouth about 5 feet wide, has eyes the size of quarters, and can be over 30 feet in length. And whale sharks have beautiful white leopard spots on their backs that contrast magnificently against the azure of the water. Seeing one swim under the boat (a double outrigger that seats eight) and being able to look all around and still see the fish was breath taking. You could look out over the water for miles and see the next island over, which is Bohol, where I will be in two and a half weeks, lazy white clouds, and crystal clear ocean. Many people dream of retiring in a place like this, and I got to spend my day just soaking it in.

  1. Tumalog Falls (phonetic: tomb-a-log), Short motorcycle stint to the top, walk down a steep hill to the falls

From what I can gather, there is no available information on the height of this waterfall, but it is very tall and very wide. It’s what the professionals call a “horsetail” waterfall meaning that the water stays in contact with the bedrock for a majority of the falls. It’s hard to tell since the vantage points are different, but I think it is safe to say that Tumalog Falls is taller than the South Falls at Silverfalls State Park (which is 177 feet) but I can’t say for certain. Our entire walk down was steep and the whole way in we weren’t looking forward to walking out. The downgrade had us wondering if the whole thing was worth it, but we trekked on.

The falls was gorgeous- the water was an electric blue and cyan and the early morning light caught the mist on the falls and made a fabulous rainbow as butterflies and dragon/damsel flies fluttered around. People from work are asking when I’ll be back to the Philippines next and after today, I’m wondering when I will be back. My trip is barely past the half waypoint and I’m already looking forward to the next round of adventures after I have a baseline of familiarity with Filipino culture. Some work staff are already asking if I would think about coming back and interning for the company next summer which just makes my heart all warm and fuzzy. I do love it here.

Before I left Oregon I thought I would just “like like” it, but being here for two weeks when Oregon Winter is in full swing would not be a bad thing. When we were done with the waterfall we feared the trek up the mountain to get out and I suggested we hire some of the waiting habal-habal, or motorcyclists to give us a lift. For less than one American dollar each, we swiftly made it to the top where I enjoyed a coconut that was machete cut open while we waited for our original guides.

Today, after two different runs on bikes, it was the first time I noticed welts and scratched on my legs and ankles from the venture. Not quite burns, but likely the result of me climbing in and out of boats and on and off bikes. I am not the mot graceful of human beings and it showed.

  1. Simala-Lindogon Church, by fancy air-conditioned coach that offered pristine views of everything, about an hour, and then another habal-habal up a different mountain.

This church should really have its own Wikipedia page and it’s curious that it doesn’t. From what I could gather this is a monastery (lots of stairs) for ‘Mamma Mary’. This castle-church look, no seriously, look is impressive from an architectural standpoint. I have no idea how big this is and it was still under construction while we were there today. We arrived right in time for mass, which was projected across the grounds by loudspeaker, while people waited to see the museum and light candles for prayer. We skipped the line since this place was about Disneyland level crowded with tourists and mass attendees so we wandered around and saw sculptures of different saints and depictions of Jesus’s Crucifixion. The saints were grey stone and I recognized some, while the Crucifixion images were painted gold. Because of how we toured the grounds, we actually saw the New Testament unfold backwards.

We caught a ride on our hired habal-habal halfway down the mountain where we got in a van to head to a different part of Cebu City than where we started. From my estimations, this van was designed for maybe 12 or 14 people and 18-20 had actually been piled in, what with children sitting in laps, and what not. Our driver was a “Leave no survivors” type as he weaved in and out of traffic on the main road. There would be two lanes, one in each direction, and there could be a motorbike coming in the opposite direction and a car next to us and our van would squeeze by. His driving style could be summed up as “Hang the code, and hang the rules. They’re more like guidelines anyway” meets how the Knight Bus drives in Harry Potter and the Prisoner, Muggles click here if you don’t know the scene. There were a couple close calls where we were inches and seconds away from hitting someone or being hit ourselves.

We lunched at a restaurant in SM Mall, which is probably the biggest shopping malls I have ever been in in my life. It was full of shops and pop up vendors and people, natives and tourists alike. From there we went on to our next stop.

  1. Lapu-Lapu Shrine on Mactan Island, by taxi

This was another one of those “You’re here so you might as well,” when it comes to sights of Cebu. King Lapu-Lapu was chief of the native tribes when Magellan first arrived to the island. On April 27th, 1521, the battle of 50 Spanish Explorers with guns versus 1,500 natives with bamboo spears was fought, as Magellan tried to convert everyone to Christianity (I saw the Magellan’s cross a few weeks ago). Spoiler alert: Magellan died. As my dad says, the shrine commemorates the running out and death of the first Westerners, but also marks the later comings of Christianity and Catholicism to the country. Like the figures from the Crucifixion, Lapu-Lapu’s statue had been painted gold, and faced out toward the bay and the setting sun.

One of my “rookie” mistakes packing for this trip was not bringing a smaller bag with me. I used my school backpack as my carry-on and brought a shoulder bag under the assumption I would be taking my laptop to work everyday. I haven’t needed to, but I still have this four sizes too big bag I’ve been schlepping around, which is very counterproductive when you’re on the back of a motorcycle or else wandering around on foot and trying to avoid pick pocketers. In the courtyard around the shrine there were a dozen or so vendors peddling wares and I noticed the collection of shoulder bags that fit what I was looking for- something big enough for keys, my phone, peso coins, some water, and not much else. I found one I liked in the beautiful blue with a red, yellow, and orange pattern on it asked the price. 250 pesos, or about five and a half dollars US. I wanted to test my luck and see if I could get the price down. I ended up paying 200 pesos, or about $4.40 for the bag. While a dollar US isn’t that big of a deal, 50 pesos here is a meal or two and I’m very proud of my first haggle (and a successful one at that).

Today I watched the sun rise over the ocean and the sun set over the mountains. I’ve been up for the better part of 20/21 hours by now. My adventure was about 14 hours round trip and it was amazing. I can’t wait to see some of these places again in the future and eventually swim with the whale sharks.

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This Time I Wore A Helmet

All things considered, it’s been a very low-key couple of days. It was a short work week (Friday is a holiday) made shorter by the fact I needed to renew my tourist visa so I don’t create an international incident next Thursday when it actually expires [I kid]. My workday ended at 4 and one of my co-workers who is from Austria originally, took me to the immigration office. I would have gone on my own but it turns out the Bureau of Immigration is actually in a big mall in uptown and most taxi drivers know the mall but not that immigration is there (things I learn in hindsight.) So it was another adventure by motorbike. And this time I wore a helmet.

I have mad respect for people of motorcycles. They weave through traffic, and there seems to be no traffic laws here for the most part, and tend to dominate the outside of any lane and just squeeze by. I was convinced my knees were going to scrape along the concrete barrier as we crept past a semi truck. Much like the cat saying, “If I fits I sits,” the motorcycle equivalent is “If I can slide through I ride through.” I’m getting over my nerves of being on a bike and didn’t close my eyes this time and fear for my life [slight exaggeration, it is, after all, very safe]. I was even a little silly and put my arms out like wings and pretended I could fly (There’s a lyric by Death Cab For Cutie that I’ve always been fond off that mentions it so I had to try it).

 

Anyways, I got my stay extended and there’s now a neat little sticker with my name on it in my passport. I have stamps for June 21st in Japan, and June 22nd for the Philippines and now I have a nifty sticker from Immigration with my name of it that allows me to stay until August 23rd. Granted, it’s ten more days than I need but it’s certainly a cool accomplishment- I lived somewhere long enough this summer I had to extend my legal status to stay. I got a lovely piece of paper stating I do not exist on any ‘Hold Departure, Blacklist, Watch list, and/or Intelligence Derogatory Records.’ Cool souvenir? Do I plan on faming it when I get home and hanging it in my dorm? You betcha.

 

Aside from the passport renewal, nothing interesting has happened because this weekend will be three jam-packed days of adventure. My day starts at 3am tomorrow (Friday) (noon, July 16th, in Oregon). I know we’re going to the southwestern end of the island, and it’s at least a three-hour bus ride. This trip is a work/play excursion so I’m not in much of a rush for anything and as long as I make it back to my apartment at some point, I can’t say that I care what happens in between departure and return home as long as I don’t have some disaster story of “This really shouldn’t have happened to us.” No international incidents while I’m here. Saturday is up in the air and Sunday we are working at the business’s philanthropy in the afternoon. Friday marks the half way point for my trip and it’ll be down hill from there, two final weeks of work (I just finished week 4) and then two weeks of ‘vacation’ which is still family/friends/adventure and being a sometimes tourist.

 

Work is amazing in more ways than I could have imagined when I left Oregon almost a month ago. I’ve gone from not thinking I was qualified or interested for working at technology based companies like Google and Twitter to bookmarking summer internship forms and their announcement schedule for the next round of recruiting. I’ve also looked into Marvel Inc (I do love me a good superhero flick) and Lucas Film (STAR WARS COMES OUT IN 153 DAYS). Interestingly enough, I wasn’t just looking at West Coast United States locations and was looking at positions all across the globe, which is not necessarily where I was a month ago. It was more of just a lazy daydream of It would be really cool if and it never took off from there.

Less than a month from now I’ll be back in Oregon, probably sleeping off the jetlag. Here’s to a kickass weekend.

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In Which I Refer To A Fictional Character As My Significant Other

There are many lists floating around of best places to eat in Cebu. I always take these kinds of list with a grain of salt because different travelers, depending on place of origin and travel experience, have varying degrees of “You should totally go out of your way to eat here.” It turns out a lot of the reoccurring names are within a short distance of my apartment, so half of it is just getting out. Tonight I went to Casa Verde, which is listed as ‘American’ food and features a couple of Filipino items on the menu. I was skeptical. ‘American food’ is normal. Unbeknownst to me, I have apparently really craving tortillas like a fiend as I got the chicken fajitas, and I have to admit, there were pretty top notch all things considered. Most of the tomatoes are green here and Filipino chickens just taste better. This is what happens when chickens run and aren’t stuck in cages for days on end. Was it memorable? Yes, but only because I saw a couple cats, and a rat did run across the stepping-stones into the bushes. I swear the cats are getting lazy.

Our dinner conversation was memorable too. There was a beautiful little parrot/ parakeet in a roomy cage that started singing while we enjoyed our meal. I’d gone out with HR who’s been my ‘tour guide in residence’ whenever we go adventure. I’m almost twenty and she still gets nervous to let me cross the street on my own and usually hangs on to my shoulder bag as a precaution. I’ve been adopted. It comes in handy when I get distracted and look around at buildings and people and take everything in. There have been a couple close instances to a “Game Over Frogger” where I was reeled back onto the sidewalk with only minor whiplash. Coincidentally, this is why my parents dressed me in overalls when I was little. Before the eyesore of backpack leashes for toddlers were a thing. Anyways, I kept watching the cat who was sitting on the stone railing watching the bird and I was asked, “Do you like birds”? to which I said Enough. If I’m trying to sleep and they’re making noise, I want to shoot it. To which she laughed and said, “Your future husband better watching out.” I was dying of laughter. It was a well timed line for both of us.

And speaking of romantic interests-

Romantic Inquiry Number One: Saturday we went to Tops. This was the crazy motorcycle adventure. My guide had asked if I was married. I was honest and said no. This was rookie mistake number one. By the end of the conversation I was under the impression by guide was trying to play matchmaker on behalf of his son. With my experience in the US, we tend to avoid personal awkward questions and stick to general small talk like, “What do you think of the weather?” And “What brings you here?”

Sunday I ventured to the cat café. Which I thought sounded promising. It was a twenty-minute walk from my building and I thought it would be a good chance for me trek on foot and explore. The café was underwhelming. Despite being on a bunch of “Must go” lists, the cheesecake was pretty good (and adorable) but the cats were mean. I followed the rules, didn’t disturb a sleeping cat, approached the furbies like wild cards, and one of them bit my hand. Not hard enough. I was disheartened. I miss my furbaby back home, beautiful Gwin, and I was hoping a few kitty pets would make me feel better. Instead I got to deal with a sourpuss. All in all, it was a wash, but worthwhile for the fact I trekked out on my own and because I took a taxi back, by myself, for the first time ever (look at me and all my firsts this week, I’m adulting).

Romantic Inquiry Number Two: My cabbie spoke broken English. Conversational, but it was slow going and sentences weren’t quite structured traditionally. The first question was where I was from. I felt like an outsider and an obvious standout. I would bet my cab driver didn’t get a lot of white tourists. West Coast United States. North of California. I said, guessing that California had enough landmarks that it would at least provide some idea. And no sooner had I finished ‘California’ I was asked if I was married. Second time in two days. While I was hung up on trying to guess how old I came across here, I decided to play up my answer and spin a tale. I hesitated before I answered and then said, Uh, no. Boyfriend back home. And BAM rapid fire questions, being asked the next as soon as I finished. He’s, uh, British. And we’ve gone to school together for the last six years. I was thinking of all the times I’ve been teased about my love for Harry Potter. I figured might as well. At least it’s a conversation and my driver won’t think I’m rude for not answering the questions at all and sitting here awkwardly. So I went on. He’s tall, dark hair and green eyes. There was a pause for the next question. He and I travel when we aren’t in school. Pause for the next question. He plays Quidditch and has a pet snowy owl.

And before I could explain or answer any more questions, we had arrived at my destination. I paid for the cab and went on my way. In all fairness, Harry was the first boy to break my heart. I grew up reading the series and got book seven as a midnight release on July 21, 2007. He was a childhood friend and I grew up with all the characters and actors as they told the wonderful story crafted by one of my personal heroes, JK Rowling. My freshman dorm room had Harry Potter posters and I’m sure my room in the fall will too. Harry Potter Weekend on ABC Family is a holiday in my book and an excuse to veg out and work lazily in front of movies I’ve seen countless times. My mom knit me a Gryffindor scarf when I was itty-bitty so I could be Hermione for Halloween. Harry Potter taught me about the importance of friendship, about the evils oppression andcorrupt government, and that growing up is hard no matter your situation and walk of life. I wrote a post a while back about my parents reading aloud to me when I was in grade school and Harry Potter is what helped me enjoy reader in elementary school. JK Rowling inspired me to write and she’s the kind of person I want to be like as I age, because she’s an all around badass. [Link to a tweet calling out a jerk who was trying to put down Serna Williams after Wimbleton].

Do I feel bad for fibbing? A little. But I also know it would have been an even more awkward taxi ride if I said no and danced around questions. I do know only a little bit about the Philippines- Tarsiers and Manny Pacquiao and some of the more touristy spots I’ve been to already. For the most part I don’t remember the local names for food so that rules out a whole conversation, even though over half my conversations usually involve food or eating. Did I feel like a huge nerd for answering legitimate questions about a literary character? Absolutely not.

It’s certainly not the worst white lie I’ve ever told. I’m now in that awkward age where I still have to play along that Santa and the Eater Bunny are real for younger kids and if that isn’t lying, I don’t know what to believe any more.

I’m sure somewhere back home some of my fellow nerd friends are proud of me for saying I was in a relationship with HP, or at least would sake their heads, chuckle, and say, “Ya nerd.” Harry Potter is my life though. If someone is flipping channels and I hear any part of the movie I drop what I’m doing and run through the house just to power slide into the room and dive onto the couch. I deliver death glares if they change the channel. After all, Hogwarts will always be my home wherever I am in the world, at whatever stage of my life I’m at. Always. Until the very end.

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