Monday, July 26, 2010

The Land of Smiles

Largest Reclining Buddha, Bangkok

Street Vendor, Bangkok

Kayan Hillstribe, Chiang Mai

Elephants from the Maesa Elephant Camp, Chiang Mai

Ayuthaya Ruins, Bangkok
Where in the world can you find the largest reclining Buddha, street vendors on every corner you look, women wearing rings to extend their necks, elephants bathing in the river, and ancient ruins? I mean sure, street vendors, that's no big deal... and elephants are a dime a dozen...and what place doesn't have an old abandoned building around somewhere...and big Buddha's were seen in Hong Kong and Japan... but long necked Kayan tribeswomen?! It's gotta be Thailand!!

A couple of friends and I caught a plane to Thailand, the Land of Smiles, last Sunday and took a week to explore Bangkok and Chiang Mai. The entire time we were there I kept thinking how great it was to be with friends. Jasmine, who was another volunteer in Leyte, is half Thai and ever since we met she's given Thailand such a great story and I finally got to put a picture to her words. She and her family took us around to see all the attractions, which included the pictures above, as well as riding those beautiful elephants, shopping in bazaars, and visiting a floating market where I had my first Thai massage and fish foot massage. Yay to thai massage, nay to fish massage... waaaay too ticklish! It's kind of exhilarating when you're in a lake and a little minnow pecks your toe, but imagine if you stuck your feet into an aquarium and a school of the little suckers comes and laches onto your skin like blood sucking piranhas. Ok, I exaggerate... but there were a lot of fish eating away at dead skin on your feet!

I liked Thailand, and was really surprised with Bangkok. It seems so clean to me. Maybe Manila has gotten to me too much. I think of the city, which before Peace Corps brought a picture of small Orlando where you just basically have to watch out for pooping ducks at Lake Eola, and now I think of pulsating Manila. Manila, where everywhere you turn there's a group of street kids, guys peeing on the street, women trying to get you to buy things, jeepneys pouring out exhaust, and taxi drivers trying to rip you off, where you just sigh and mutter, "uh, Manila." I didn't get that feeling in Bangkok. It was clean, I didn't hear any roosters, and don't you know those are my two criteria! I don't know, perhaps we stayed clear of the trouble areas, but on the whole, super impressed with Bangkok, and Thailand for that matter. I will say though, you got the traffic too man!

Friday, July 16, 2010

You and Me Could Write a Bad Romance

Well, it's that time of year again. The time when the plaid skirts get ironed, white shirts get an extra bleach washing, and black pants are pressed; aka The Acquaintance Party. It's the back-to-school bash that kids have been waiting for since school started back in June, and it's also my favorite dance that I'm required to go to.

Last year's theme was Michael Jackson, and to date is still one of my best memories of Peace Corps. This year they had an jaw dropping Lady Gaga impersonation contest. Unfortunately, I'm afraid I could be arrested for posting the pictures, so for viewing purposes just imagine Lady Gaga in her ukay ukay finest, dancing her heart out. So funny, and outrageous at the same time.

After the official swearing in that the new students do, and PTCA members pledge to do their best for the school, the lights drop down and the words DISCO bring on a roar from the students that I'm sure could rival any Lady Gaga concert. The kids had a great time, and well, me too :)

me and Genelyn

Lennie and some of the 3rd year boys in their dance competition


What happens when somebody gets ahold of your camera...

and again, thanks Genelyn for the awesome pictures.

And here is the innocent side of Acquaintance Party, the side of the traditional Philippine School... the Inopacan National High School Hymn (they sing this at flag ceremony every morning). I will without a doubt, completely regret missing next year's party.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"well, the fruits and vegetables are always VERY fresh"

Ormoc, Leyte, 2010.


Last May I complained about the heat, and after thinking, man it's still hot, (but nowhere as near as bad as May and June!!) I should share the secret tips of appearing "refreshed." I remember another volunteer, back when we first got to site, was so proud when one of her co-teachers told her she looked "refreshed" when she returned to school after the lunch break. And I must agree, aside from hearing you have mastered "Philippine hospitality" and "You're so sexy Ma'am," it is one of the best compliments you can get.

So here they are, the major things I've learned about how to stay alive during the heat:

1. Umbrella ALL the time. Rain is obvious, but sun is just as big. I constantly get the "where is your payong?" question, and many people won't accept my "I want a tan," reply. I'll be honest, I use an umbrella WAY more now.

2. Dishtowel down the back. I hated this at first. My host mom would stuff a towel down my back, as all moms do here (quite forcefully!) to absorb the sweat and keep your shirt dry. Now, it's not such a big deal. It really does keep you from having to change your shirt 10 times a day, thus saving you from washing 9 unnecessary shirts!

3. Baby powder. Baby powder is a girl's best friend. You just gotta use it, in the morning, mid-morning, after lunch, before bed, it's with you all the time. One of my friends also showed me how you can sprinkle it on underwear and bras to help absorb sweat... lovely right? Whatever, it works.

4. Fans. electric or hand, both rock the party. I don't leave my house without a hand fan. It's multipurpose also, seconding as a fantastic back scratcher and pointer for class. I can't imagine getting through a class without having my fan in my hand to make a breeze.

5. Hanky. I always thought they were dorky when I was younger... silly me. They're awesome.

6. Shower time 3 times a day. It's not questionable to shower in the morning, during lunch break, and before bed. It's a necessity.

7. Shade. God made trees for a reason, and if you cut one down, you obviously don't have to stay outside for extended periods of time. One a side note, since I've been here, I've begun to wonder why people plant trees that don't bear fruit? Shade and fruit are 2 of my most favorite things.

8. Pot-Pot. It's a bicycle taxi that I used to avoid cause I thought they were a waste of money. Again, time has changed me though. That extra ounce of sweat it saves is worth the five pesos.

9. High quality H2O. I actually used to complain about drinking plain water. Can you believe that?! I would say I "didn't like the taste." Oh man, major eye roll on my behalf, right now, as you read this. I can pack in 4-5 liters a day now in the summer time.

aaaaand, #10, and arguably the most important one:
Halo Halo. I will do a blog about the amazingness of this sweet treat another time. But for now know this, nothing is better than shaved ice and condensed milk.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Is it a good idea to list your goals on the Internet? hmmm....

Last post I joked about how I could cross off the COS, or Close of Service, conference on my list of acronyms. This is one acronym I can honestly say I'm proud of. I was totally the kid in the front seat of the bus thinking I could never get through training, and then wondered how I could complete the first three months, and then BAM, it's 18 months later and there's just 3 months left till I return home.

COS conference consisted of meeting back up with the remaining volunteers from our original batch. We came over with 69 eager trainees and are now at a nifty fifty. It was kind of sad to miss the friends that you've come to make and who had already returned, but good to be able to see those who were still around.

The grand finale of COS featured an Ukay Ukay prom. I guess in America that would be comparable to a Goodwill Oscars. It was major fun picking out outfits that you can find at the ukay ukays. They pile up thousands of pounds of donated clothing from around the world onto tables, and let you sift through until you hit the motherload. My inspiratin was Deb from the movie Napolean Dynamite. Fortunately for me, my hair can naturally do an 880's poodle perm, so it wasn't THAT big of a challenge... for once I'm thankful for my afro tendencies. It was fun, and WOW, there are some awesome ukay ukay possibilities out there!

But for more on what COS conference was like, it was by far it was the most optimistic meeting we've had. In all of our trainings thus far, we had focused on how to overcome challenges we face at site, but this time it was a "We Did It!" RPCVs discussed what it's like to readjust to American culture. I apologize now if I freak out on you after I get back. They told stories of people balling at seeing wasted water, the price of brandname underwear, or flipping out on people who demanded 'skinless, boneless, white chicken.' I don't know, we'll see how it goes I guess.

And then we started to talk about successes we have had at site and really begin to focus on what the future holds for us. And that folks, is where the real scariness begins.


EEEKS. I got some ideas. They involve graduate school hopefully, or if that doesn't pan out then working as a teacher at an elementary school. I'm going to work hard to get my Masters of Education in Literacy. The literacy degree is a result of my time in the Philippines. I've felt since the beginning that I could help my students so much more if I knew more about the subject. I feel like I wasn't the best teacher I could have been, and I think a degree in literacy will help any students I have in the future, regardless of where I end up teaching.

Who knows what will really happen, or where I'll end up in a year, but I'm starting to brainstorm and look at all the possibilities. It's just that there are so many possibilities!

Friday, July 9, 2010

sending all my love along the wire

It's not something most Americans think about, or at least I didn't before, but did you know that you have to have a telephone landline in order to have an ATM? I also quickly learned once coming here that to have Internet in a town you must also have a landline. I think we can all agree, in the twenty-first century, landlines are important!

Back in 2008 when I was finding out where I would settle down for the two years of my volunteer contract, they gave me the chance to say what type of place I'd like to live in. City or province was basically the choice. I said city, a place that's connected and reconnected with telephone lines, a place where I could access the Internet. So, I'm ashamed to say that I started crying when I heard the words, "Your town doesn't have a landline." Looking back, I know I over reacted. Life didn't end and I quickly found a way to get an Internet connection, yes a slow connection but let's focus on the word connection, at site and always had a handy reason to take the bus into the city. Life didn't end, but it was a pain when it came to uploading pictures or having to send in reports for Peace Corps that required high speed Internet.

You can imagine how stoked I was when I saw this announcement on the community bulletin board in town:

That's right, ATM=Land line=Internet!

That was back in March though, and based on past experience of expectations regarding time, I optimistically assumed that ATM would be up and running by early November... riiiight around the time my contract was up.

But Philippines, you showed me!! It is with great pleasure and glee that I announce that this is my FIRST blog update via the brand-spanking-new landline that is now attached to the house I'm staying in.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Heads up to those who are interested in being in Peace Corps, you're going to have to learn a new language. No, not Spanish, Tagolog, Cantonese, or Swahili; it's the language of Peace Corps. They don't use special glotal stops or subject-verb agreements, but instead it's a bewildering game of acronyms.

I mean can you make sense of these sentences:

You begin with staging, that's easy, but then you fly to your HC, meet your CD, PTO, and PCVs who will begin your IO. You get checked by the PCMO, meet your LCF, TCF, RM, SM, and find our where you will be for PST. You work, work, work for swear-in, take the oath and rush to your site to be with your HF, HCA, and CP. Inbetween trainings and PDO you will attend in IST, MST, and language camp (where you will take your LPI). But really, the whole time as a PCV you're working towards COS, when you can fill out your DOS and finally, finally, finally you become a RPCV.

I know, I know, it looks like jumbled alphabet soup, but it really does make sense Here's a translation:

You begin with staging, that's easy, but then you fly to your Host Country, meet your Country Director, Program Training Officer, and Peace Corps Volunteers who will begin your Initial Orientation. You get checked by the Peace Corps Medical Officer, meet your Language Cultural Facilitator, Technical Cultural Facilitator, Regional Manager, Sector Manager, and find out where you will be for Pre Service Training. You work, work, work for swear-in, take the oath, and rush to your site to be with your Host Family, Host Country Agency, and Counter Part. Inbetween trainings and Professional Development Opportunities you will attend In Service Training, Mid Service Training, and language camp (where you take your Language Proficiency Interview). But really, the whole time as a Peace Corp Volunteer you're working towards Close Of Service, when you can fill out your Description Of Service and finally, finally, finally you become a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

Right now, I'm at COS conference... yep, scratch another acronym off the list!!! :)

Saturday, July 3, 2010


I once said in a Facebook status: My favorite thing about hard boiled eggs is that nobody ever fries them.

Philippines, you have proven me wrong.

I was at Robinsons in Tacloban yesterday and saw this little booth called Itlog on a Stick (Egg on a stick). I became very curious, and then slightly disheartened when I found out that yes, there is such a thing as a deepfried hard boiled egg.

There's a lot of frying going on around this country, which is evident when probably 7-10 (done in my own personal, really has no scientific basis whatsoever, estimate) people will tell you they have "high blood." For a while my mind frame became, "If it's not fried or have condensed milk in it... I probably won't like it." But after numerous, and by numerous I mean sometimes up to 3 times a day, "You're fat," comments, I've started to seriously cut back on the fried food intake. It's easy if I'm cooking for myself, but it's not such an easy task to do if you're asked to eat at celebrations or other get-to-togethers around town. Sometimes though, you just gotta say no, even if it does make you look rude.

It was no problem at all however for me to turn down Itlog on a Stick!

Wearing It

I was in Jollibee this weekend (the Philippine equivalent to McDonald's. Instead of a clown with red hair they have a giant bee, a very happy bee.). I don't go as often as I used to, but when I'm craving frenchfries, or a clean bathroom, I'll stop and enjoy the aircon as well. That was the case this weekend. I didn't want to use the NASTY bathroom at the bus terminal, so I hitched over to the Jollibee. I always feel guilty when I use the bathroom there, but don't buy anything, so I broke down and bought a nice cold drink (ha, yeah, it was such a hardship on my part!)

The girl had just filled my glass full of Coke and was turning back towards the counter... exactly as another girl was turning around in the same area. Yep, the coke goes flying all over both girls. But the clean, dry guy employee who is just standing to the side turns to me and says in this awesome, slow-motion voice, "O-M-G."

I just started to laugh, cause what else can you do?