Friday, April 29, 2011

Impressions from the Visa Window

I'll be honest, with two tiny kids at home, I don't go much of anywhere after work except home to play with the boys. Then after dinner, some sudoku and a book, it's bedtime as the solar-powered boys wake up at 5:30AM (can't wait for the boat to come with our blackout curtains!).

Thus, many of my impressions of my new home come from sitting at the visa window for six hours each day. My favorite phrase is "Thank you, Po!" or "Salamat, Po!" depending if the applicant uses Taglish or full-on Tagalog. It's said in such a sing song way - and whether or not the applicant was issued or refused - it brightens me up and keeps on going.

I've also noticed that most families are quite large - 4 or 5 kids appears the norm, and I'm quite surprised when I come across an only child. That poor only child must feel left out at school when everyone else is tagging around with brothers and sisters. William's school enrollment form had space for six names in the "siblings" section.

Also on the child front, I see at least one, and often two, special needs children each day - and their parents and siblings taking special care of their needs. And families with three or four daughters are not uncommon - and the parents are still smiling. I've taken an interest in the rapidly shifting gender imbalances, especially in Asia. Thus, the balance here is heartening after reading so many dire articles.

Communicating, as always

Many things in Manila are familiar - not because of the US influence - but because of the similarity with HYD. Probably that's why Wm and Patch are so happy here :)

Tonight, again, I was reminded how English can be the same, but different. And how just because something is written down on a "menu", that doesn't mean that's actually what will happen.

I find four critical elements in a good pedicure: exfoliation, cuticle and nail trimming, leg massage, and polish change. I've had three pedicures so far, and only managed to get either two or three aspects.

Tonight, I really thought I would succeed. I ordered off the menu what I thought I wanted and confirmed the two package names with the hostess, who repeated in Tagalog to Jenny, who was tending me. Exfoliation, check. Leg massage, check. Then, suddenly, Jenny disappeared into the back, telling me to relax and enjoy my book. I thought she would come back with the necessary items for the rest of the pedicure. Sadly, no luck. By the time I realized the miscommunication, 9:30 had rolled around and I was about to turn into a pumpkin. (no pun intended, Da)

This next week I'm off to experiment with a hair salon that comes with rave reviews for curly hair from a woman at work with hair just like mine. She reports the staff can concurrently do a pedicure and hair cut (wild!). I'll keep trying!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Two Trips in Two Days

I've always been amazed that we made it through two years in HYD with two small boys and no health issues more serious than pink eye. Really. Unbelievable. I figured Wm and Patch must have tummies of steel and antibodies up the wazoo. How else to explain this miracle?

Manila has been a bit harsher on them, sadly. They both had terrible tummy troubles this last week, culminating in Wm visiting the ER at 2AM on Wednesday. He woke up in so much pain and had trouble breathing - I honestly was concerned he had appendicitis or perhaps a return of intusseception (telescoping bowel) that he suffered from at 13 months old. Given that experience three years ago, off we tramped to visit the ER here.

Thankfully, it turned out nothing was wrong except a very bad bacterial infection - or, at least, that's the leading guess given his blood work up. So, he's on super strong antibiotics and I'll probably take him back in a month to make sure the blood work is more normal.

Just as I was recovering from that, I the clinic called - Patch had a gash in his lip (courtesy of a push from his big brother; he toppled over and bonked his head on the coffee table, in turn biting down on his lip). It's borderline needing stiches and they recommend I go to the ER for a consultation.

Pack up work bags, hail taxi, off I go to meet Patch (with nanny and driver) at the ER. Again. Two visits in two days. How many parents can be so lucky?

After consults from two different doctors at the ER, I opted for no stiches. The gash is pretty nasty, but the docs think it will heal quickly on its own since babies bodies do that. Lucky Patch - I was encouraged to feed him ice cream if it seems like his lip is bothering him. Now that's a treatment any kid would love!

The ER here is clean and nurses and doctors competent. Good things to know :) Both boys are now on antibiotics, so any residual tummy troubles should be gone soon. I'm thankful we have the clinic right on the compound, too. I told you I might be a compound-convert by the time we leave here....

Friday, April 22, 2011

Where Manilans Spend Maundy Thursday

My mom and I went into Intramuros yesterday, so she could see some of Manila aside from the compound and shopping malls. We took a walking tour recommended by some new coworkers: Half way through, we thought about ditching the tour and just exploring on our own, but decided to stay and, in the end, decided we enjoyed it. I'll have to try it out again without 103 people on the walking tour.

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are national holidays. Most Manilans head back to "the provinces" for Easter festivities. Traffic on the streets is minimal. Shopping malls are closed (gasp!). I could bike down to the embassy and not worry about being hit by a charging bus. It's really a completely different city, with over 50% of the population gone.

But I found out where those who stay in the city go: Intramuros. It was jam packed. We got there about 3:30, and stalls were set up in the small windy streets selling strange foods on sticks (I wasn't adventurous to try, and have no Tagalog skills to ask), cheap toys, and cold sodas. At first I thought an impromptu festival had been set up - after all, with schools and offices closed, people must go somewhere.

Then, as we walked from the Cathedral to St Augustin church, I realized why so many people were flocking here: huge set ups of the Stations of the Cross ( in the plazas front of and inside the various churches of Intramuros.

To date, my non-work experience of Manila has been pretty much limited to shopping malls and restaurants. I've met one woman who works with the Ballet Philippines (looking forward to July's performance!), and we found a weekend outdoor market. Before coming here, we were warned not to expect much "culture" after being in culture-rich India.

Seeing such a large cross section of the population reading out of prayer books at each station, though, shed a new light on my view of Manila. Families gathered round as one person (usually the matriarch) read out each passage to all. Groups of teenagers walked from one station to the next, in matching t-shirts or carrying their own mini crucifix. And many individuals, too, prayed with rosaries in front of each cross.

Culture does exist here -- you just have to dig a bit under the facade.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

time flies!

I can't believe it's already April 21. We've almost been here a month! We're settling in pretty well - and anxiously awaiting our boat shipment to arrive. If everything sticks to schedule (big IF), the boat should dock in Manila on Easter Sunday, and then it'll take about a week for the paperwork to clear and to have a truck bring us our boxes. Unpacking will be fun - it's always funny to see what we shipped that we probably don't actually need.

Wm is liking his new school ( - the Montessori method (AMI) has been a bit of an adjustment from Waldorf, but similar enough that he still feels comfortable in the classroom. I miss the imaginative side of Waldorf - Montessori's philosophy is more litteral - but I do like the individualized approach. Wm is pretty good at somethings, less advanced at others, so being in the mixed-age classroom is beneficial for him.

I also was happy that one of the first comments from his teacher was how kindly he treated all people - from teachers, to students to yayas (nannys). As many of you faithful readers know, we had a hard time selecting a preschool for him in HYD for that very reason. I didn't want a school where teh ayama's (aides) cleaned up everything for the kids. Looks like we chose well. We miss you, Sloka!

Patch loves the playground on the compound. In one short month he's figured out how to climb up the "rock wall" (steps shaped like rocks), which makes my mother suck in her breath with worry every time. He's quite the danger seeker, so I'm sure we'll have a trip to the ER at some point during our stay here. Hopefully for nothing too serious, since Dr Aunt Beth is far away!

My mom and I are venturing out into Intramuros this afternoon. Living on the compound, our life has been kind of insulated, so we're looking forward to seeing some of the old city. Hopefully for you, I'll be timely in putting up pictures!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

From your non-essential correspondent

I'm mostly just thankful that we got our Internet connection set up before we're furloughed next week. Now if we can get some cable tv and a car, I'll be all set to hang out at the pool for a few days...

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Coconut Jelly

We’ve ventured to the two grocery stores closest to our house: S&R, a Costco-style store complete with the Kirkland brand and jars of Ragu spaghetti sauce large enough to last a year, and S&M Hypermarket, a Target-like store with household items, clothes, and a large grocery section. Both contain a mix of the familiar – from Gold Medal All-Purpose Flour to Special K Red Berries – to the strange – half and aisle of various brands of coconut jelly and an entire aisle devoted to canned meat (SPAM, corned beef hash, and Vienna sausages galore). A friend kindly told us about an organic store which stocks a bunch of gluten-free options for my mom.

Seeing so many American and, to be honest, Japanese brands was very reassuring, leaving a first impression that most foods would be available here. Dairy products are generally shipped from California or Australia, so the taste is familiar. The Asian section has everything from Bulldog sauce to Pocky. Such a difference from Hyderabad! By the time we left it, between the four import grocery stores we could find most things, but it was always hit or miss. Here the import foods seem par for the course.

I am going to try and avoid the processed foods here as almost all the ingredient lists I’ve read contain MSG and large quantities of sodium and sugar. True of many processed foods in the US, too, but combined questionable food-safety processing techniques, I have my worries. A coworker said she found the best fruits and veggies at a Saturday market – so hopefully we can make it out to that soon.

Strangely, I have not yet found beans and lentils (aside from canned pork and beans), either canned or dry varieties. I had adjusted our eating habits after two years in India with more kinds of beans and lentils than I could keep straight. A trip to an Indian grocer might just be in order!

If anyone knows just what exactly one does with coconut jelly, do share. The SPAM I think I'll just let be.