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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For the Love of Food: A week’s worth of culture keeps returning to a plate

My quest to understand as much of the Philippine culture as I can while I’m here is quite interesting. For every one question I ask about food, history, customs, and the day to day, I probably receive five or more about America and school/life/people/everything back home.

“So is it really like Mean Girls?” Is probably one of my favorite questions yet because it means a movie from 2004 is still that good to be common knowledge across an ocean. Before being asked if I like to cook, someone asked, “Do you like cooking pancakes?” “What about regular sweet cakes?” 

Meanwhile my brain is spinning as I try to relate my answer back in terms free of American slang and as straightforward as possible, I’m converting American dollars to Filipino pesos, miles to kilometers and pounds to kilos in my head as I try to explain a culture that comes as natural as blinking but this goes both ways as cultures are slowly starting to bridge together.

And the answer is yes. I do love pancakes. And every time I cross the street I feel like I am going to turn into a pancake. The closest thing I can compare it to is this scene from Elf when Buddy tries to cross the street for the first time in the City. Difference being the only top you cross in front of a stopped car is if traffic is congested, otherwise you Frogger your way across traffic. The first time I crossed the street here it was across a multi-lane roundabout to see what the Fuente Osmeña statue looked like. You don’t just look both ways before crossing the street here. Your head is constantly on a swivel as you inch your way across in font of motorbikes, cars, and jeepneys, sometimes, stopping in the middle of the road waiting on traffic. Just watch when I return to the states that this method of crossing the street has become a habit. I have a suspicion it will.

From somewhere outside my apartment Journey’s “Separate Ways” is playing loud enough that I don’t hear the rooster that crows throughout the day or the church bells I hear every morning. Urban Sprawl is intermittent with fires, last Friday we could see a cloud of black smoke that turned out to be over one hundred and fifty homes being leveled by in Barangay Mambaling (a neighborhood about 5 kilometers from work), in another part of the city. “Fires are common here,” several people at work told me as I looked on in awe.

I sometimes walk out of work or my building in any direction and am swarmed by beggars- mothers and children who pull at my shirt sleeve or dress hem asking for money with hands out and palms turned up or shaking cups at me that rattle with a lone peso. Whether it was “Santa” or “Santo” (saint), I didn’t have time to decipher as I kept walking.  I found out today at work that it is a fine-able offense to give money to people on the street and that often times the people begging aren’t in as much need as they lead you to believe, but are instead working as part of a scam for a boss.

The world is very different here. For dinner tonight I made Pinoy style sweet spaghetti (think SpaghettiOs sauce with more ketchup and BBQ sauce) and with the local favorite hotdogs. Of all things to be a local staple from American culture, I would not in a million years guessed it to be hotdogs. Food is just another way local life is being put into perspective. It’s something all conversations keep falling back to. And it just proves how much of a focal point food is here. After all, we all have to eat.

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A Little Lechon, A Little Karaoke, A Whole Lot of Rain, and A Day of Rest

It’s the closing of my first week here and I’ve learned a lot- at work, living on my own, and most importantly about the Philippines. The last two days have been the most notable since I arrived.

Yesterday was the work team-building event. We met at the office and went to Tambuli Beach, which is on a different island, very close to the island where I’m staying. Work and I are in Cebu, Tambuli was on Mactan Island where the airport I flew into is. The highlight of the day yesterday was the lechon, which is spit-roasted pig and hawt diggity dawg is was amazing. It was the best rendition of pork anything I have ever had. The skin is often considered the best part and to prepare you gut the pig (all the organs are saved and prepared) and drain some of the blood. I was not as bold to venture deeper into the anatomy of the lechon, as I was still getting use to the fact that lunch still had its face, something I have not been accustom to in the states.

It is also worth noting that karaoke is very popular here. You learn pretty darn past to have a canned go-to song to cue up when everyone wants you to sing. And you always sing. It’s better to sing badly than not at all. Karaoke came in two waves yesterday and the first was in Tambuli. After years of Mamma Mia (the Pierce Brosnan and Meryl Streep film version) I went with the first ABBA song I could find and called it good. Later in the evening we ended up at the karaoke bar in the basement of my building and we had over two dozen staff in a living-room sized room singing 80’s hits and popular American radio songs. I ended up singing more ABBA. But everyone ends up singing along to whoever’s ‘turn’ it actually is so it’s much more fun.

Today was Sunday and it was my first day without an agenda. I had left Oregon early Sunday afternoon, and landed late Monday night local time. It was three in the morning on Tuesday before I went to bed and when I woke up after four hours of sleep, I spent Tuesday going out a little ways from my building but not very far, mostly because of the utter zombified state of sleeplessness I was in. Wednesday through Friday I was at work. Saturday we had the team event. Today was my oyster I didn’t know what I would do.

I woke up late, lulled around for a while enjoying a slow breakfast and hydrating. Even though during the work day I drink about a liter and a half of water and more before and after work, I wanted to get all vitals as refreshed as possible now that I’ve been here a almost a week and hope to narrow down any future ailments to “dehydrated” or “shouldn’t have eaten that” instead of the base level of tired I’ve been feeling since I got here. About noon today I started feeling dizzy for no apparent reason and spent a decent amount of time trying just to feel better. And it seemed my day of adventure was coming to a quick halt. But I drank more water, rallied, and went to the market to get some things for my apartment- laundry and dish soap, more fruit.

As I was leaving the supermarket, the sky had opened up and water rained down in sheets. Most people stayed under the covered area to stay dry and I just charged giggling into the rain knowing that it was warm here, unlike the Oregon winters. I live less than a thousand steps from the market so I figured “How soaked could I get?” The answer is leaves a noticeable drip trail of water like I had jumped into a lake fully clothed. The building staff and doormen are likely starting to think I’m crazy since I just paraded through the lobby and to the elevator beaming. “Heavy rain outside today miss?” “Just like home but it’s warm here. And I couldn’t be happier.” Oregon has trained me well. No umbrella and all.

The rain was what put my adventure on hold and the fact it got considerably darker outside. It’s been raining heavily since and from what I have been able to notice, the world beyond slows down a little when it pours. I think the next time the sky tears open and I want to go somewhere, I’ll just throw on a raincoat over my sundress and trudge on in my Birkenstocks, but that was not today. I put my groceries away and realized that I had yet to set aside anytime since I got here to adjust to my living space. So that was how I spent my afternoon, with the windows open and the “cooling” breeze, organizing and cleaning. The rainy day and the slow afternoon to adjust and not need to be anywhere was very appreciated and I think next weekend I will go to the fort and some of the more notable churches.

Needless to say, I’m now feeling the best I’ve felt in over a week and probably since I finished my exams. I finally feel rested which is incredible. Compared to the timeframe after exams where I was just counting down the hours until I was here, I am relaxed and fairly adjusted to the day to day. After an exhausting week of just acclimating, Week 2 will be all about going out and taking advantage of everything I can. Jollibee, Magellan’s Cross, Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, Fuerte de San Pedro– I fully plan to take on a lot more of the sights this week. I think a rest day, timed with the weather there was no sweat, which makes a world of difference, really shifted my outlook on everything. I proved to myself I can survive and endure, all to make way for the real adventure.

A before shot and a requested selfie with a pig foot
A before shot and a requested selfie with a pig foot

 

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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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