Saturday, January 28, 2012

Mamma Mia!

The ad slogan says, "the world's No 1 show comes to Manila!" I'm not sure if it is the world's #1 show - but I did have a fun evening.

I had decided way back in September that I wanted to get tickets. But one thing led to another, and by the time the new year rolled around, I hadn't purchased any. And friends had already bought theirs, and I didn't feel like going alone, and Greg refused to go, so I figured I was out of luck. Except at the last minute, a friend of a friend had a cancellation in her group - so ticket-problem solved! Not only that, I also got to chat with some of the USAID folks - their offices are in a completely different location, so casual "cross pollination" is rare.

I don't think I've been to a show like this in some time - certainly never in HYD, and not on home leave, so that makes it at least three years. Word on the street is that Phantom of the Opera is coming to Manila before I leave post, so perhaps I'll have a chance to see another. Better take advantage of these things while I'm living in a city that can offer the opportunity!

What I enjoyed most, though, was remembering Wm's Christmas show. His class did dance numbers to two songs, his favorite of which was "Mamma Mia." He still - one month later - will break into song and do the dance. Thank goodness I have a short video clip from that performance :) So, as I sat watching a professional broadway production, what I was really thinking about was Wm dancing seriously (he does everything seriously!) on his school stage ... and teared up a bit, actually. Not sure why, but I missed him even though he was just a mile down the street. Seemed like he should have been watching it with me.

[For the record, Greg left the city for a night diving trip. That's how much he wanted an excuse not to hear Abba!]

Monday, January 23, 2012

Kung Hei Fat Choi

Happy Year of the Water Dragon! At least, that's what the newspapers here are calling this year of the Chinese zodiac.

With a day off of work, I spent the morning getting my hair cut and colored. I had done some research to see if there were a lion dance or dragon parade or something cultural like that we could take the boys to see -- but only coming up with large gatherings, I decided to pass. Large crowds just aren't my thing. And I couldn't figure out if our local Pasay City hall was going to have anything or not.

The Rockwell area near my salon did - I had just had my hair prepped, about to be colored, and was about 10 minutes into a foot spa pedicure (much more time efficient, combining these beauty treatments), when loud drums sounded outside. Two guys in a lion costume and about 20 people carrying a dragon-on-a-stick came around the corner. The dragon stayed outside, but the lion dancers came into the salon and all around. My own private lion dance!

After touring the premises, the lion backed out of the salon; I am wondering if going out forwards might be a bad omen, since it would turn its back to the establishment? The front guy in the lion then tried to reach up to get the little money envelope hanging above the doors. Unfortunately for him, he was short and the door was quite high. even with jumping he couldn't reach! The salon manager was about to bring out a step ladder, but then, still in lion costume, he jumped up on the other half of the lion (ie, the guy playing the hind quarters) and looked like a lion standing on his back legs. He reached his arm through the lion's mouth, grabbed the money envelope, jumped down, and then the whole entourage proceeded to the next establishment (a deli).

Needless to say, no camera on hand since I was expecting to only be at the salon. And, too bad Wm and Patch couldn't see. At least I felt like I experienced a little bit of Chinese New Year - and more of a "real" part than a "staged" version.

Here's my friend's version of the same event!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Life without

I can't imagine it. Well, actually I can, and I see a much more difficult - and expensive - life abroad. I think the ability to receive online shipments by DPO must keep our COLA down significantly. I've blogged before about how surprised I was at the cost of food here. But it's not just food ... it's also normal daily life things like durable mops and Crocs for the boys.

Case point. I've spent about a month looking at the grocery and hardware stores every weekend for a replacement sponge mop. Most of the mops sold here are the straggly rope kind, which I think end up flinging around more dirt than they actually pick up. Though the dust here isn't as bad as India, it's still at a higher level than the US. Match that with two boys constantly running in and outside, and a dog, and the house should be mopped every other day. You see how critical a mop is to our house! Today I broke down and ordered one from Amazon. Same with Crocs for the boys - since the local Croc stores don't carry lime green (the only color Wm will accept) and have a price mark up of 30%.

I really try to keep online shopping to a minimum. I feel like it's cheating, taking the easy way out to living abroad. After all, most expats don't have the luxury of DPO (diplomatic post office - the foreign service equivalent of APO or armed services post office), though perhaps some companies offer a forwarding service for letters and small packages. These other families seem to manage just fine with just taking an extra suitcase when they do go back to the States.

I sometimes wish some 70 year old retired foreign service officer could spend a year abroad now and write about the differences. How would my outlook change without, Vonage, and Google Chat (better connection at our house than Skype)? What was it like living in a really rural area 40 years ago with only letters - and delivery of those only once per week at best?

Part of me thinks trying out that life style would be an interesting experiment, along the lines of a PBS reality series where a family tries to live as in Victorian times. (I haven't seen this, but some friends were discussing it). I won't, of course; the Internet is too ubiquitous to give up for a month.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Guest room filling up - book soon!

It seems 2012 will bring us visitors! OK, only three so far, but given the 30 hour $2000 flight from the US, three is a big number. Karen (aka Nana) just finished a stop in for a week after spending two weeks with Greg's sister. One of my sisters is coming in March, and another in June/July.

That only leaves February, April and May with no visitors, since we're planning on being back in the US in late August / early September. If the Philippines is on your travel list - and you generally need to stop in Manila to transit to any of the domestic beaches - you better let us know soon :)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Out for dinner

Some how, going out for a dinner date shouldn't be that hard. We live in a city with a lot of restaurants and have a nanny who is always willing to work some OT (and our housekeeper gladly subs in if she's not free for some strange reason). Our driver would like to have more OT than we give him (since on the rare occasions we do go out, usually Greg drives). With these non-existent basic roadblocks, why, then, do we not?

I think it has to do with the traffic and our housing location. We like living at Seafront for the boys and dog and proximity to the Embassy, but it can be an hour drive to Makati or The Fort, where most of our friends and the restaurants we want to try are. Sometimes it only takes 20 minutes. But others can be *painful.* And the last thing we want to do on a Friday after a full week of work is spend 1+ hour sitting in traffic. The risk scares us off. We have the added benefit that our nanny is a pretty good cook, so we'd rather eat her prepared dinner than a mediocre experiment at a new restaurant.

This last Friday, though, after so long home with the boys, we decided to go out. We invited another couple, who readily agreed - they even live in Makati, but tend to be home bodies. To commemorate the occasion, we opted for The Fort Strip. Greg and I had previously tried a Chinese restaurant there, and the others looked good. Parking was a bit of a bear, but eventually we managed to find our companions.

The Strip is a collection of restaurants and clubs (and a gym thrown in) in a nice-looking strip mall, kind of like the "towne centres" you see in suburban America. After deciding that none of us were up for an expensive meal, and the ladies ruled out Chinese, and the guys weren't so thrilled about pub food that evening (weird, I know), and the menu of the Japanese restaurant would not fit the bill for two quasi-Japan-ophiles, we settled on choosing between three Italian bistros. We ended up on the one on the second floor with a terrace, so we could sit outside and enjoy the breeze - it's finally cool enough to be outside at night!

The food wasn't spectacular, but for $25 per couple it was certainly appropriate. The company was pleasant, and we stayed a bit longer chatting than we intended, I think :) Obviously, we just need to embrace the Manila traffic and go out a bit more often.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Two Disconnected New Year's Thoughts

No real relation of either of these thoughts to each other, and no real reason they should go in the same post, except that both are New Year's related, and I don't really like super short posts for some reason. 

1. New Year's Day here had terrible air quality - from left over firecracker residue and, even worse, from fires caused by fireworks that burned down houses. Even the Washington Post had an article about it! (read here). I've really tried hard not to complain about the bad smell sometimes coming from Manila Bay - or the pollution - in front of Wm, because I don't want him to be sensitive to that and hear negative comments from me about Manila. I knew New Year's morning was absolutely terrible air quality, though, when we took Bagwelle for her morning walk and we couldn't even see the buildings across the street because of smog. Then, after about a minute, Wm said, "Mama, it really stinks out here. I don't think I want to be outside today - I'm going back." And, we had all three air purifiers blasting all day. 

Luckily, the average air quality rating for Manila isn't that high above what the WHO considers acceptable, so I'm not overly concerned about asthma or other respiratory illnesses for any of us. But if we had lots of days like Jan 1, I really would be. For the most part, thoughts about poor air quality just lurk in the back of my mind.

2. I've been trying to think about if I have any New Year's resolutions. In the process of thinking, I realized I'm generally pretty happy with where we are and what I'm doing and how the boys are doing, etc etc. I could only come up with one: I want to try and learn how to do a yoga headstand this year. After three years of regular yoga study, I think I should push myself a bit more. And, now that I've written it on the blog for you all to read, I need to stick to it!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Disney on Ice

We started 2012 doing something I've never done before, nor had much inclination to try: seeing a Disney on Ice show at the Areneta Coliseum. I don't remember ever asking my parents to bring me to this kind of show - or even discussing the idea of seeing one with my little sisters. Thus, this was not some sort of "relive my childhood" outing, subjecting my boys to an ice skating show. Seriously, despite some thoughts floating out there to the contrary, I don't regret only having boys (though this might change in 30 years when I realize for certain I won't get to help plan a wedding nor be the first grandma to hold their babies. But that's far off and I still have time to come to terms with such things.)

The decision to go stemmed from a few reasons. (1) Our Manila stay-cation has been a bit long without other distractions. Diving solved part of this problem, but one can only walk around a mall so many times - and, besides, the malls were all closed this morning. HORRORS. (2) In HYD, our big-production theatre entertainment options were limited, so the idea of going to a show was appealing. (3) Ticket prices ranged from $3 in the nosebleed section to $40 for ring-side. (4) With the city deserted for the New Year holiday, traveling the nine miles up EDSA actually had a high probability of taking a normal amount of time.

I called this morning and decided to splurge for the second-tier box seats, at about $25/seat. But, in a truly annoying experience, after the guy on the phone told me what section my seats would be in, he informed me that they were no longer selling tickets over the phone and I should come to the Coliseum to pick them up now. Not even Will Call. Um. Yeah. Not driving there and back twice in one day. In frustration, I childishly hung up the phone on him and called of the trip. Wm, however, promised not to be cranky the whole afternoon if we went. Since he had been pretty miserable to that point (not having had enough sleep yesterday), I acquiesced. Outing on again.

Wm kept his promise, and we made it up in record time - 23 minutes. Amazing. Love this city when it empties out! An hour before the show, though, only seats in non-reserved sections were left. Not really liking large crowds in any country (I once got freaked out at a firework display in Japan - yes, Japan, whose only rival is Germany for orderliness), I hesitated, envisioning throngs of people balancing children, bright red hotdogs, and soda pushing to get better seats ... me and my little boys tumbling down the steep steps. Greg's more sane mind prevailed, though, and he pointed out that since we had already driven there, that Wm's mood was picking up, and that Filipinos are generally non-confrontational, we should be fine. And, if we or the boys didn't like it, four tickets were only $33, so it wouldn't be a deal breaker to leave without seeing the show.

He was right. Everyone found seats in the "Upper B" section without commotion, and the audience was pleasant, minus the children screaming at the top of their lungs in excitement when the Disney characters appeared. The rest of the show progressed as I imagine such shows would in the USA, non-objectionable music and medium-skill level ice skating, but kids super excited seeing the characters moving.

Patch, not having much Disney awareness yet, spent most of the time "planking" between our seat and the wall in front of us, dancing at a particularly catchy tune, and trying to entice his brother to wrestle. Wm was enchanted by about 75% of the show and spent the other quarter of his time eating popcorn and trying to fend off his younger brother ("Yes, Patch, I love you, too, but can you get out of my way so I can watch?"). About five minutes before the end (two hours after our arrival) he announced he had had enough and wanted to go home. Seemed like a good idea to us so we didn't get caught in the crowd exiting.

All in all, I enjoyed it because it was a new thing to do with the boys - they're at an age where such outings can be really hit or miss, and this one was (thankfully) a hit. And it got us out of our usual Seafront playground or fresh fruit smoothie at MoA outing routine, to see a new side of Manila. Gas + parking + snacks + tickets totaled about $45 - not inconsequential, but not bank-breaking either - which is probably about the price of just one ticket at a similar show in the US. Can't complain!