Saturday, June 25, 2011

Water logged

Rain has been pitter pattering every day since we returned from Coron. Thursday, the tail end of Typhoon Falcon passed through Manila, really leaving a mess. Wm's school was canceled on Friday. Our parking lot had standing water past my knees at the worst point (for pictures, check out my neighbor's blog, "Here and There," at right).

I feel like I might never dry out. There's almost no point in attempting to tame my curls - or rather frizz ball head.

Best of all, I found culturally interesting how the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) defines storms - one of the main descriptions is by the conditions of banana and coconut trees.

Signal 1: Some banana plants may be tilted or downed.
Signal 2: Many banana plants may be downed. Some coconut trees may be tilted with a few others broken.
Signal 3: Almost all banana plants may be downed and a large number uprooted. Many coconut trees may be broken or destroyed.
Signal 4: Coconut plantations may suffer extensive damage.

Note no mentions of the banana trees in a Signal 4 storm. They were all already uprooted by the Signal 3 storm! Not that I have any knowledge of how strong banana or coconut trees are - but apparently I shouldn't be taking shelter under a banana tree.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Don't forget the pan-de-sel!

Lemon rice (William's HYD staple) has been replaced. Pan-de-sel is the new lemon rice.

It's a small bun, about the size of a parker roll, with a bit of sugar on top. Some versions, I'm sure, are sweeter than others. They're best eaten hot out of the oven in the morning, each bun costing about 1.5 pesos (3 to 4 cents).

Lea passes a little bakery on her walk from her apartment to ours and has taken to purchasing a small bag for Wm and Patch's breakfast. Every morning now, just barely after saying "Good Morning," Wm asks "Where is the pan-de-sel?" Even Patch starts clamoring "pen-sal pen-sal pen-sal" when she produces the brown paper bag from her purse.

Tonight as Wm was going to sleep, he said, "Mama, you forgot. Tomorrow is Saturday. How can I eat my pan-de-sel for breakfast since Lea doesn't come until late?" Looks like I might be up for an early morning walk to the bakery - let's hope the rain stops and the flooding subsides.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Moving-in update - almost done!

We arrived March 24 ... and now on June 22, I can say we're almost done settling into our apartment. Hopefully I won't jinx myself by writing that I expect we'll be done before the July 4 weekend.

All boxes are unpacked. The only ones left are ones that have clothes that are too small for the boys - and one box full of stuff that we're donating. Both acceptable reasons to still have things in boxes!

Placement of all framed items was decided upon tonight. No small feat! Greg counted and we have 20 frame locations left to measure. We have to do it all in one fell swoop because we only get one "free" visit from the embassy housing servicing staff to hang our picutres. We have cement block walls - which is great for keeping the noise down, but terrible when it comes to trying to hang our own pictures. I tried with one and failed miserably.

On one hand, three months to receive a shipment and totally unpack seems very efficient. On the other, when I think that it's three months out of the 24 we're assigned here (1/8 or 12.5% of our time...), that's a lot of time to spend in a semi-permanent status. The reality of the amount of time I'll spend packing, unpacking, and living without "my stuff" over the next years is starting to set in.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Visas, state's rights, and economics

After 2.5 years of non-immigrant consular work, I've had a lot of time to think about visas and really start to try and understand U.S. visa law. While I'm not "consular coned," the links from consular work to all sections of foreign policy are quite interesting. Any change in visa law (or even interpretation) has a huge political impact in foreign countries which are not part of our Visa Waiver Program. Indians will easily recall the hulabaloo when the processing fee for H1B visas (ie, for software programmers) increased. Filipinos are acutely aware of the current lack of H1C (nurse) visas.

I was interested to learn two weeks ago that Canada allows its provinces to sponsor temporary workers - and, if I understand correctly, the provinces can also decide how many of what kind of temporary worker. In the US, our numbers are capped by the federal government.

I started to think ... what would happen if, say, North Dakota could petition for foreign workers in areas where it had acute shortages? Northern VA, for instance, is chock full of software programmers. But what if Oregon wanted to actively grow its thriving (but comparatively small) IT work force - and had the option to recruit from overseas?

I then had an interesting debate with myself. On one hand, devolving power to the states appeals to me as more efficient - local governments usually have a better tap on what the local situation is and resulting needs are. On the other hand, with our current system, all companies in the entire country have an equal shot at hiring workers where they are needed - which seems like fewer economic barriers and less regulation.

Talking to so many people each day can be tiring, I readily admit. But the macro issues behind the individual visa interview are academically interesting. And I haven't even started to learn about our immigrant visa policy yet!

And we're off diving again!

We're off in about five hours to go diving again! Hooray! Naturally, Wm didn't want to go to school in the morning, with the excitement of boarding an airplane right after school let out. We promised him a hamburger for lunch, which got him in the car without tears.

Speaking of hamburgers, Wm has quickly adjusted to local tastes, preferring the Jollibee hamburger above all others. It's ubiquitous here - and I've even heard they've opend some in Daly City, CA, Queens, NY and Hawaii where there are large Filipino populations. I guess when we're back on home leave, we know where to head if he starts to suffer from too much culture shock. With the sweet thousand-island-esque topping, Greg and I will stick to the soft serve.

In India we tried to take a weekend trip every six weeks or so to see the country. It seems like here we'll slow down a bit to every two months or so - still plenty of travel, but it's a bit more of an ordeal traveling with two in tow and not just one. Of course, pretty soon we'll be able to travel a bit lighter - Patch has now been one week in a toddler bed! So, perhaps on the next trip we'll leave the travel crib behind.

(posted by PRDP, but my account wasn't letting me publish)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Close Call

Update from HYD - Naheeda passed her fifth class exams. It was a close call - she had failed three final exams (math, her weakest subject, Telugu and Hindi). The retest was scheduled for June 3. Stakes were high - she had already repeated fifth grade because she changed schools and the demanding new curriculum. If she failed, the current school might deny admission for a third repeat of fifth grade - and another school might not accept her into sixth as transfer with failing courses.

While all the other Indian kids were on summer vacation, she was back at her classroom for summer tuition and a second shot at passing the three exams.

Thankfully, word came today she was promoted to sixth class! Hopefully this next year will be easier, now that she has one year behind her. Big thanks to my friend Shae, who took over weekend reading tutorials to help build her English reading. She passed her English, history, science, and morals classes on the first go round!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

English, please!

We spent Memorial Day weekend in Shekou, China with Greg's sister, Tracy. She came twice to India to visit, but the 10+ hour plane ride with connections at awkward times with two young boys, deterred us from visiting from HYD. Manila made the trip easy - a quick 1.5 hour flight to Hong Kong, and then either a ferry or taxi across the bay.

We weren't really expecting to "see China." The goal was to spend time with Tracy, who just happened to be in China - which we did accomplish while also experiencing a bit of the Middle Country. Shekou is actually smack in the middle of the Shenzen SEZ, so it's not very "China-ish," especially the area where she lives which specifically caters to expats.

Even so, the lack of English surprised me. India and the Philippines, being ex-British and American colonies, of course have a strong English sentiment. Japanese people, while sometimes hesitant to speak English, can usually read and understand what you are trying to communicate (and all the plastic food items make ordering easy!). In Europe, of course, with similar alphabets, a small about of familiarity and a good amount of extrapolation can help an English-only tourist understand the basics. Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi and Dubai all had enough English (signs or speakers) to at least enable us to comfortably move about.

I would have been confined to Starbucks and McDonald's in Shekou, had Tracy not been with us.

Well, that's a slight exageration. I could have used the metro. But a taxi was out. Ordering food at any restaurant not specifically meant for foreigners - also out. Even with my recognition of a few common characters with Japanese, I felt excluded, illiterate, and a bit helpless.

We pushed Tracy's language ability to the max, taking her shopping for tea (I'm so picky!). And after those three days, I've decided that if I ever get assigned to China, I'll do my hardest to make sure I get some language training!