Saturday, August 27, 2011

Review of the Compound

We're five months into compound living. Since that's just one month shy of 25% of the time we'll spend here (yes, really!), I figure sufficient time has passed to give compound living a balanced review.

On the whole, I'd say that for our family at this point in time, it's a good place to be. On average, we have about a 15 minute commute to work, which I love. The play ground, dog park, and swimming pool are all less than 50 feet from our front door. We just signed up for a vegetable plot.

From what I've seen of the other residential options, our compound is the only place in the city where Wm can ride his bike freely, without so much as a glance back to see where we are - or a gasp from us each time he comes to a corner. The clinic is a 5 minute walk, and they allowed us to sign a release allowing Lea to bring the boys in in emergencies (a privilege used only once so far, knock on wood). The embassy maintenance staff take care of anything that goes wrong - quick and reliable service.

Now that more families are being assigned to houses and apartments here, Wm and Patch have built in playmates. It's easy and the compound culture for the stay-at-home spouses or nannies to just knock on doors to play - I don't have to pre-arrange play dates (though we do with Wm's two friends who live elsewhere, which means driver schedules must be coordinated :) ). When Patch gets old enough, he'll hopefully start at the preschool right here, which will require zero coordination for transportation.

My life = simplified.

Not to say it's all peachy keen. Friday afternoon, for instance, we talked about going out for dinner that night. But we just didn't feel like braving the evening traffic to try out some new places in Makati or the Fort - and we didn't want to go to MOA (Mall of Asia) again. The nearby dining out options are quite limited. And the traffic to get to other areas is miserable.

It's true - the bedrooms are much smaller than the off-compound leased houses and the finish is basic. But look at it in perspective. If we were back in DC working at the mother ship, we'd be living in our condo that's half the size of this place. And the finish is just like you'd find in a well maintained normal middle class home. After coming from our apartment in India where everything had a patina of high class finish - but questionable functionality - I'll take reliable and nondescript any day. Slip covers, rugs, and wall hangings do the trick.

If we had older kids - or no kids - or no dog - or were single - or basically were at any other point in our life where we really just enjoy spending time at home, the compound would likely seem stifling. But for the next 19 months, it will suit us just fine!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I'm headed to Ghana for work in a few weeks, and I needed two shots to go there. One was called "meningococcal", which doctor-speak for meningitis. The other is "yellow fever", which is doctor-speak for yellow fever. Unfortunately, our med unit at the embassy doesn't stock yellow fever vaccine, and I was referred to something ominously called the Bureau of Quarantine.

Knowing that this was a government office, I entered with low expectations. The place is located in the port section of Manila, which made sense when I walked in and realized I was surrounded by Filipino sailors about to head out to sea. All of this was fine until I completed the pre-inoculation for and answered, honestly, that yes, I had received a vaccine in the past seven days (specifically, the meningicoccal that had been administered an hour earlier at the embassy med unit). "Oh no, po", I was told, "you have to wait a week between vaccinations." As any well-vaccinated American knows, this is nonsense - we get multiple shots all the time. I also knew that I had just spoken to the embassy nurse about getting the yellow fever shot, and she had said it was just fine to go now. Third, I had just read the CDC information sheets about both vaccines, and both said that they were safe to receive at the same time as other shots. Finally, the doctors at the Bureau of Quarantine weren't citing medical reasons not to get the shot, they were going on about their policies.

So I was pretty sure there wasn't actually a medical reason I couldn't get this shot. But if I waited a week, I would start to push up against my departure time, and I couldn't get my Ghana visa until the yellow fever shot was completed. Lying seemed like a real option. At the same time, I like to be an honest person whenever I can.

What to do?

Well, I'm only sort of sorry to say that for just a few minutes I put aside my sense of propriety and remembered that I was dealing with government officials who just want to follow the rules. I made it easy for them - "Sorry, po, I misunderstood the question - my meningicoccal shot is right after this one, I haven't gotten it yet." A bit of discussion in Tagalog ensued. A was asked a few more times if I was sure about this, which I dutifully answered in the affirmative. (I'll note here that if I *had* gone to BQ first, then the med unit, I'm 100% certain that I would have gotten both shots in one day with no problem.) With no real alternative presented, the government doctor and nurse gave in. I got the shot - in the left arm, of course, because the right was still a bit sore from the other one, and still had a bandage on it.

It's at times like these that I try to remind myself that I, too, am but a lowly bureaucrat. I get it. All a good bureaucrat needs is a plausible explanation for how what they do is within the rules. So that's what I gave them. Shame on me.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Filipino Hill Station

If the Philippines had hill stations like India, Tagaytay would definitely qualify.

For our anniversary, we took a one night trip to Sonya's Garden ( Living on the compound has its perks - I did not worry at all about leaving Wm and Patch with Lea for one night while we were only a 2 hour drive away.

We arrived about 3 in the afternoon, checking into a beautiful room with crisp white embroidered linens - think English countryside visits the Philippines. I then went for a massage, a good rub with a little shiatsu thrown in (my first time having someone bend me). The massage oil was scented with goju, a local something - I can't find it on google, so perhaps I have the name incorrect. The slightly sweet and minty smell refreshed me.

Then we went to Antonio's for dinner, probably one of the best reviewed restaurants in the greater Manila area. The salad's lettuce was freshly grown in their own organic garden. Roasted tomato soup with basil foam followed. Main course of chateaubriand with hollandaise. I had a dark chocolate soufflé, and Greg a chocolate terrine, for dessert. Portions of a normal size, but the soup and the cut of beef definitely worth writing home about :)

Situated near the Taal volcano, Tagaytay's elevation makes it much cooler than Manila - I was a bit chilly at night in just a sundress and no shawl. Our room at Sonya's Garden had beautiful large (screened) windows, so we slept with them open, enjoying the mountain breeze. Such a treat after the constant AC in Manila. A night time down pour caused Greg to roll a bit closer to my side of the bed to avoid getting a bit damp. A poor placement of the bed or an added bit of romance? We decided to think of it as the later.

The next morning after breakfast of omelette, fruit, and freshly baked bread, we went back to the room to read. Well, Greg read. I just ended up falling back asleep again. Greg woke me at 11 to go take our class on "the art of doing nothing" - but we couldn't figure out where the class was held, so we just wandered the gardens experimenting with macro photography. Check out the results at:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wm's New City

Since January, many of our conversations with Wm have talked about "new cities." India and Hyderabad are the "old city" (he doesn't quite grasp the city vs. country concept), while Manila is our current "new city." But he does know that eventually we'll move to another "new city" and another child will live in our current house. At this point, these conversations are quite matter-of-fact, as much a statement of the obvious as observing that it's raining for the umpteenth straight day.

At our parent-teacher conference this week, Wm's teacher said he's adjusting well to his new situation, but he's still sensitive to moving and change. One of his classmates recently moved to Singapore. For the week after, Wm kept asking his teacher if that new city was a nice city and if nice schools existed in that new city. He was the only one in the class who even questioned where the classmate had gone and why - because he is the only one who has moved cities.

(Humorous side note: when I related this story to a friend at work, she remarked that at least Wm's bidding strategy is concurrent with ours: a nice city with good schools!)

Another day, during painting time, he told his teacher he was painting a road to a new city. She asked him where the road went, and he replied he didn't know yet. Only too true!

I'm very interested to hear in a few years, when Patch is 4, how Wm explains the "new city" concept to his little brother. I may never get the chance to listen in on that conversation (and perhaps, if I'm present, a version of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle will apply).