Archive | June, 2013

The Land of Smiles

30 Jun

My mom has one of those decorative stone heads sitting in our living room. You know the ones with the long ears and curly cue hair that comes to a point, or bun, at the top? I must have asked at some point, but I really have no idea how it came to reside in our living room, yet for some reason I associate that head with Thailand.

This trip came about a couple ways. A) I’m currently residing in Asia, specifically Manila, thus Asia is my new oyster. B) Earlier this year my grandma broke out an album of a trip she took with her husband and friends to Thailand and Malaysia in the early 80’s and the pictures were fabulous…even with a non-digital camera C) two of my travel buddies and I were discussing where to go on vacation and Thailand overruled the Greek isles.

Planning the trip became a bit difficult simply because there is so much to see and do. It’s impossible to pack in a whole country in one week, especially if your coming from the other side of the world. Ultimately we came up with a basic tourist itinerary including Bangkok, Phuket, and Koh Samui (which has been on my list of must-go’s for about 3 years). Shopping, street food, temples, Buddhas and beaches here we come!

Already, the four of us have hit a few minor snags due to rainy season delays, visa issues, and airline mechanical problems, but we’re hopeful that in the next couple days we’ll all be together and telling battle stories… Like the woman sitting next to me on the plane who is under the impression this seat is in her living room. And the sweet check in girl at the airport who is now following me on twitter. Can’t wait to see what vacation brings!

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Lessons Learned in the Philippines

16 Jun

I’ve been here for a bit of time now, and I’d like to think iv been learning some inside secrets, including the fact that it is possible to have a conversation using only one syllable.
Example: Elevator opens,
Person outside elevator: “baba ba?”
Person inside elevator: “bababa”

Translation:
Q: “Are you going down”
A: “Yes, going down”

Fascinating, right? Anyway, here’s a couple of other things I’ve learned so far.

Iwas means avoidance and Filipinos are very good at avoiding certain situations, both social situations and while driving. I know this sounds vague, but once you experience it for the first time it all makes sense.

It is very difficult to be a vegetarian in then Philippines. Pork and chicken are especially hot commodities, as is high cholesterol and thus heart attacks. Many of my Indian coworkers cook and bring their own food from home.

It is considered inhumane not to have recreation and nap rooms in the office. It is also customary to take a one hour lunch break. (I could really get used to this).

Being called ‘exotic’ is an insult. You might as well have just called the person an ugly mountain critter.

The invention of voicemail does not exist here. You may have to call the same office multiple times in order to get the person you’re looking for. However, an unlimited cell phone plan (talk, text, and data) is about $40USD a month. Yes, even for an IPhone.

There are number coding systems on the license plates indicating which days your car cannot be driven. If a license plate ends in 1 it means the car cannot be driven on Mondays during rush hour, and may only be driven between 11am and 3pm. Motorcycles have no restrictions.

When it rains, it often floods streets, but it might not be raining 5 minutes down the road.

Many of the people I’ve met cannot swim. “What?” You say, “but they live on an island, and the country is made up of 7,000 islands, and it floods!” Any you would be right, but I suppose the same goes for people born and bred in NYC. You wouldn’t exactly throw a child in the East river or the Hudson for a swimming lesson, and no one would voluntarily swim in the smelly, polluted Manila Bay.

Almost everyone asks your age. No keeping that a secret. It’s one of the first questions asked, along with “what do you do,” and “how are you liking it here so far?”

Apparently, no one here has a pointy nose, a cleft chin, or an eye color other than brown/black.

Most Asians want to be whiter. Now I knew this before coming here because in India and Hong Kong many people avoid the sun and use whitening face cleansers. BUT did you know that there is such a thing as whitening deodorant? And whitening face and body lotion?

Spas are an all day event. ‘Huh’ you ask? Allow me to elaborate….Over the weekend we went to Wensha spa spa. It’s open 24 hours and has an all-you-can eat buffet, massage, steam bath, sauna, mani, pedi, basically any type of pampering you could wish for. We entered in the afternoon and stayed the maximum amount of time, which just so happened to be 9 hours. (Yes, you read that correctly). Our first treatment was a one hour massage. Now I specifically asked if there would any type chest massage involved. In Austria, after graduation, I had stayed at a spa for a couple days and the European massage had been more…shall we say, invasive, than massages in the US. I was assured this was not the case. Boy was I in for a surprise! Not only was my butt given a thorough massage, but also my stomach, and pretty much the entire front of my body. Oh but the fun didn’t stop there. My masseuse also walked on my back, and did stretching, which included rocking me on top of her to stretch my back. It was intense. Probably the craziest massage I’ve ever had, to the point where my back was sore for a couple days because every single knot was rubbed out of me…literally. After the massage, nap time. Yup, I was covered with a blanket and passed out for a good 2hours. Next stop was our one hour foot massage. And by foot massage I mean another body massage, but in a laz-y-boy. The one mistake I made was getting a mani/pedi without a foot spa. In the US when you have a pedicure it automatically includes soaking of the feet and getting all the dead skin off your heels. Here, they are two separate services. Lesson learned. So for about $45 USD I had a one hour body massage, one hour foot massage, manicure, pedicure, nap time, lunch and dinner, oh and the steam room. I could definitely get used to this.

Lastly, everyone is really friendly and incredibly hospitable. All the people I’ve become close with here want to show me a good time and make sure I’m safe and have everything I need.

Bataan, Corregidor Island

6 Jun

History has always been fascinating to me, but being here has made me realize that the US and Philippines have been deeply intertwined for nearly 100 years since the Philippine revolution in 1898. We fight for them, they fight for us, and then we crash a mine sweeper on one of their precious reefs, due to “faulty navigation” ….but I digress. After a 3 month battle in Bataan in 1942 the Japanese army forced 60 to 80,000 Americans and Filipinos to march from Marivales, Bataan to Camp O’donnell. Known as the death march of Bataan, it is considered one of the worst war crimes in history.

After the third shift, at 7am, 13 of us packed into a 10 passenger van and drove from Quezon City, Manila to Marivales, Bataan. ( In case you’re wondering how we fit into said van, one American seat actually equals 2 Filipinos, so problem solved!) From Marivales we took boats out to Corregidor Island which has long been fortified to protect the entrance to Manila Bay. Corregidor also happens to site of two major WWII sieges and has been left unrestored in order to honor the soldiers that died there. We toured the island by jeepney and none of us realized exactly how big the island really is. Some of the hot spots include the Malinta Tunnel, the last stronghold of joint Philippine American military, the Filipino Heros Memorial, and the Corregidor Lighthouse, which is one of the oldest landmarks on the island. It seemed like we had the island to ourselves, and even though we were all exhausted, we managed to take an enormous amount of pictures, including jump shots.

Once back on the mainland it was time to find a place to crash for the night and drop off the people that were not staying the night. While we now had 8 people remaining in the 10 passenger van, this is where I get incredibly antsy. ‘What do you mean we don’t have a hotel booked?’ Perhaps it’s only the people I’m with on a daily basis, but they seem to have a difficult time making a decision. My interaction on a daily basis has been the struggle for where to eat lunch and what to order, and yet most restaurants have an 8 page menu. A typical interaction goes something like;
Coworkers: ‘ what do you want to eat?’
Me: ‘What do you normally order?What is the specialty here?’
Coworkers: ‘ umm anything, pork, chicken, beef, what kind of food do you want?’
Me: ‘I’m not sure what some of this is…what is palabok, what is lechon? well what are you getting?’
Coworkers: ‘umm I’m not sure yet, maybe we will go somewhere else’
Me: ‘ where do you want to go?’
Coworkers: ‘ where would you like to go?’ And on it goes.

You can imagine how the interaction went for picking a hotel. I was too tired to care where we stayed. I had faith in my US coworker and our driver, who has been our tour guide on the weekends. My US coworker was leaving for good on Sunday so this was to be her last hoorah. We settled at Villa Imperial, which did not happen to be on the list of hotels I had researched prior. Although there was barely running water and a flushing toilet, the food was excellent, and there was a videoke machine, which is very popular here. While I do not sing any type of karaoke, it was fun to watch, and with 26peso ($0.60) San Miguel beers what more could we ask for? We were provided with garlic rice at both breakfast and dinner, along with milk fish and Nilagang Baboy soup, which tastes like Eastern European sweet and sour cabbage soup. It has pork, bok choi, potatoes, and a type of white radish.

This week also marked one of my coworkers birthdays. In the US when it’s someone’s birthday, we all buy dinner for that person, or pay to go to an event of their choosing. In Asia, the birthday boy or girl pays for all their friends to go out. What a great idea! The birthday dinner happened to be traditional Filipino food at a place called Gerry’s Grill, (there are two locations in California)known for their sizzling pork sisig. We had beef care-care, crispy pla-pla, beef kaldereta, and tanigue kilaw. Some people may be grossed out when they discover what some of the food is, but don’t knock it ’till you try it. To cap off the dinner, we went to Conti’s for mango bravo cake. I love anything with mango, and mango bravo is officially my new favorite dessert here.

Tagalog word(s) of the day
Tawad- negotiate
Mahal- means expensive, but it also means love…love is expensive 🙂

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