Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Insurance frustrations

In January, we had a leak in our then-unoccupied condo continue until our underneath neighbor noticed some discoloration in her plaster. An emergency visit by sister and condo board manager confirmed a total disaster. Five months, countless emails and middle-of-night phone calls, and a few more visits by my sister later, and finally our pipes, walls, and floors were repaired. The condo was put on the market and rented out within three weeks. 

The insurance saga, however, continues. I'm sure the saga of the insurance company would continue if I were in the US or overseas, seeing how the modus operandi of the majority of insurance companies (State Farm in this case) seems to be to just keep saying no until the insured gives up. Except I'm really not in a mood to give up on this one. 

I did give up the first time our claims agent refused to pay the repair damage for our underneath neighbor. After reviewing her small claim (about $300) with our condo manager, who advised that he did not agree with State Farm's legal interpretation of the condo regs and the underneath neighbor could take us to a small claims court, we decided from our sanity perspective - and the responsibility of being a good neighbor - to just pay the small amount to repair her plaster. After all, if it weren't for her call, the water could have leaked for much longer causing even more damage.

In the course of the repairs, the flooring company found additional damage to our concrete slab. So I appealed to State Farm to increase the amount of our settlement by $600 to cover the repair for this repair not covered by the original assessment when the damaged wood floor was in place. Just now -- June 4 -- I received an email saying that she reviewed my claim and did not think the damage was caused by the leak. 

I requested further explanation as to how she reached that determination, as I disagreed with her assessment. Having owned the condo since 2003 with no noticeable issue with the floors, I figured I was due more than one sentence explanation. Instead of an actual explanation, though, I just received the following one sentence response: 

"As noted in the correspondence emailed to you, the damage to your concrete slab was unrelated to your water loss, and I am unable to issue payment on this portion of your loss." 

Any additional correspondence must be by phone, but never once has she actually answered the phone when I've stayed up to call. Every single call went straight to voice mail. And even though I remind her in the voice mail to please call at the start or end of her work day to compensate for the time zone differences, she has managed to return my call (when she remembers to) between 2AM and 3AM Manila time, or about 2PM and 3PM east coast time. 

Not really feeling that "like a good neighbor" vibe. Nor do I put my odds of getting the $600 very high, but I will try this time.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Impossible without friends back home

When we left HYD for home leave, I vaguely remember commenting on how this job would be so much more difficult without a supportive family back home - relatives to stay with and to borrow cold-weather clothing from so Wm and Patch, who basically wear exclusively shorts and t-shirts, could experience snow. I know it can be tiring having us whisk in for a few days, say hi, then jet away never to be seen again - sometimes for two years. None the less, we really appreciated all the extra effort by family, many of whom traveled to see us at various gathering points at a significant expense.

Prepping for the upcoming "prego-vac," I am again thankful for the help, this time from longtime - and just introduced - friends to help provide the basic newborn gear, so we don't have to ship stuff across the Pacific and back. I'll admit, most stuff I'm sourcing from a friend in DC with a son about a year and a half old; a perfect set up. A loaner car seat, though, was a bit elusive ... until I posted on an online forum for foreign service parents. One Foreign Service mom, whom I've never met, jumped to my aid, happy to loan her infant bucket seat out for the approximately six weeks #3 will be an outsider in the US.

And #3 must realize I've been writing about him, because he's been jumping around like crazy as I type. Either that, or maybe he's just excited by the prospect of our soon approaching trip to the Land of the Free. As much as I enjoy this foreign life, I really am looking forward to three months back in the U S of A.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Reading in the papers

This week, one of the major things I work on - the Trafficking in Persons report - was released. I've been happy to read articles that reflect both the strengths and weaknesses highlighted in the report. Certainly some experts have commented about lack of clarity in a few technical points, but by and large the media has treated it fairly.

I noticed that every single article I've read quotes how much the Philippine government allocates to the Interagency Council Against Trafficking, the anti-trafficking coordinating body. It has me thinking I now need to do some research about just how public government budgets are - or aren't - here.

In the U.S., I think most citizens take it for granted that they can find out how governments from local to federal level are spending tax money. It might take time and hard work, but one can eventually obtain it. Academically, I know that other countries don't have the same open government rules. Perhaps these congressionally-mandated reports benefit not only U.S. citizens, but also those in the countries we write about by encouraging more transparency. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A sense of humor

Patch was a late talker. He didn't really start speaking until we had been in Manila for about six months, just before his second birthday. Various pediatricians in three countries assured us this was normal for a kid who grew up in HYD consistently hearing three distinct languages (English, Telugu, Hindi) only to then add Tagalog/Taglish to the mix. English, though (especially living on the US compound), is even more prevalent in  Manila than HYD ... so I think his developing brain finally figured out the language thing.

The last nine months have been pretty amazing to observe his language acquisition. At pre-school graduation in May, a number of other parents even commented at the end of the event how they couldn't believe Patch was the same kid. When he started he barely spoke a few words, and now he can complete full sentences with multiple clauses on relatively abstract thoughts (ok, abstract for a two year old. I won't brag too much).

Lately, I've been quite amused by a budding sense of humor, almost sarcastic ... taking after his father for sure! As I left for a work reception this evening, I gave him a kiss and told him I loved him. He replied, "Bye bye Doo Doo Nuts" (not sure where Doo Doo Nuts came from, but it's been a common phrase around the house for some time, unfortunately). To which I replied: "No, Patch. The correct answer is, 'I love you too, Mama!' "

Patch gets this sneaky grin on his face, looks me squarely in the eye, and says, "I love you so much - DADA!" and turns to Greg and laughs. William was forever the serious and intense baby and toddler ... nice to have Patch around to lighten things up. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Going local?

As facebook friends will know, Greg was off in Cambodia this weekend, exploring Angkor Wat with his sister. If blog readers are lucky, he might actually post about his trip! That left me, Wm and Patch for the weekend. Mind you, Greg's trip was actually my idea, so no one go giving him a hard time about leaving a pregnant wife with a 5 year old and 2 year old for three days.

Saturday was fine - our helpers come in for half a day anyway, and with back-to-back birthday parties, by 6PM the boys were exhausted so an easy bedtime. Sunday, however, was a challenge: Wm woke up at 4:30 AM (?!?), and while he and Patch attempted to fall back asleep in my bed, they failed miserably. As a result, all of us were cranky the whole morning. By 10:30 I couldn't take Patch's antics anymore, so off he went for an early nap. He managed to resist for 15 or 20 minutes before conking out.

By 11:30, I realized I needed a nap, too, or the afternoon was going to be worse than the morning. I must have sounded as upset / tired as I felt, because Wm understood that he wasn't supposed to bother me for 30 minutes (until both clock hands were pointing up). I finally got a quick cat nap, waking feeling much better.

Wm and I debated what to do for the afternoon - I realized it would be best if we got out of the house and preferably off the compound, since the morning attempts to go to the playground and pool failed miserably. Wm's suggestion? Mall of Asia! That's when I realized he's fully adjusted to Manila. When in doubt, go to a mall. Something will pop up of interest for sure.

I checked the movie schedule, and Madagascar 3 was playing at 2:45 and still had tickets available. At 2, I woke up Patch, packed a peanut butter sandwich (you can bring your own food into the movie theaters here - what a concept!), and off we went. Wm asked to stop for a strawberry smoothie, so I got a peach-mango smoothie and Patch some fresh apple juice, too. Patch really enjoyed the movie, but Wm got kind of mad at the mean animal control character, taking it a bit too seriously.

I thought we'd go home after, but again Wm showed his cultural adjustment and suggested we just walk around a bit to see what was going on. Since it is the Mall of Asia, after all, something is always going on. At the main outdoor court, the big bouncy castle was set up, so the next hour the boys spent jumping around until Patch jumped from on top of a tunnel-like structure, scaring himself more than hurting, and Wm was drenched in sweat and thirsty. And Wm still didn't want to go home!

I had heard about a new Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf that opened in a building next to MoA, which had a great view of the bay, so it being sunset I decided to walk that direction. We took the escalators up to the fourth floor (btw - escalators count as "fun" when you are 5 and 2), only to find the coffee shop was closed on Sundays. However, the outdoor plaza was super windy and had well maintained grass, so the boys enjoyed running around against the wind, much to the delight of the guards and grounds keepers who all stopped their work to watch them. Another 30 minutes of (free!) fun.

By this time, it was 5:30 and time to head home before a melt down. We stopped in at my new favorite Starbucks (which is at the bottom of the escalator) for some Silk "chocolate shake" for them and an ice coffee for me before heading back to the car, a bath, and bed.

I'll admit, I was skeptical about Wm's suggestion to spend the afternoon at MoA, but it's a good thing I listened to him, because we all had a fun afternoon, forgetting the morning crankiness. I guess I shouldn't dismiss spending so much time at malls out of hand. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Remnants of Telugu: OUT!

Though I spent eight months learning Telugu and two years trying to perfect it - culminating in speaking in Telugu with a group of wonderful women at Telugu Women's University only a few weeks leaving HYD - I'm currently endeavoring to replace it with Japanese. For the last six weeks, my neighbor (Japanese wife of American FSO) has been kind enough to come over once / week for one hour to practice speaking and reading with me. Luckily, the Japanese department at the State Department's language school sent me their intermediate materials, so "lesson plans" are simple and all she has to do is show up, usually in exchange for some cookies or banana bread :)

Though I've been speaking Japanese off and on since age 10, the transition has been harder than you might think. For one thing, the grammatical structure of Telugu and Japanese is the same (modifier comes before the noun, particle usage, verb at end of sentence), so I have to think in reverse when speaking in both languages. And for another, I haven't actually spoken Japanese since 2007, where as I conducted 80-100 interviews a day in Telugu for two straight years from 2009-2010. That's a lot of Telugu talking!

The first few lessons were quite difficult: Telugu kept on coming out. I quickly learned which words I must have used the most frequently when I spoke Telugu, because I continued to say those words despite my best efforts. Six weeks later, though, I'm doing much better, and Japanese is again regaining its place as the main language in the section of my brain devoted to foreign languages. Today, I even remembered the word for "human rights violation" out of the blue, which my neighbor had even forgotten. Yes, I'm taking this study for my language re-test seriously, talking about all those diplomatic-type things and not spending much time on useful topics like food or travel. It's all about studying for the test, right? Just like the SAT in high school.

Why retest, you might ask? Language scores in the State Department are on a scale of 0 (no ability) to 5 (university professor level), with a 3 representing normal functional language capability on a variety of professional topics (hence the importance of phrases like "nuclear reactor accident" or "rice import tariff"). Scores last five years - so I tested in Japanese in January 2008 at a 2+/2+ (speaking/reading) and my score will expire in January 2013. We're hoping to bid on some jobs in Tokyo for our next tour, so I want to have an up-to-date score. Hence the extra effort now.

It pains me to say goodbye to Telugu - after all, not that many people without Telugu ancestry speak it, and it reminds me of a happy tour in HYD. Not to mention we gave this blog a Telugu name!  But, this job is all about transition, so out with Telugu and in with Japanese. Wish me luck for my test at the end of August. The weird thing is, this might all be for naught. For all I know, we could end up in Bishkek or Ulaanbaatar next, another casualty of the job.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Speaking of food

My debate this month is what to do about Wm's school lunch. Going to a local school, the school year starts tomorrow. At his school at the CASA age (2.5 - 6 years), the start dates are staggered. New students start June 4. Returning students join June 13. Then from July 2, the "extended day" kids (ages 5 and 6, i.e., kindergarten age) attend until 3PM, which means bringing a lunch.

Remembering how stressful lunch time can be for kids, I made sure to ask his teacher during orientation what a Filipino kid takes for lunch. Sadly, a sandwich, piece of fruit, pretzels and a small sweet is not the norm. Instead, it's - of course! - Asian style: warm rice, a small portion of meat/chicken/fish, veggies, and some fruit for dessert. While I have no problem with the nutrition, the logistics pose a problem to our usual morning routine.

When the kids live near by, their driver drops off a warm lunch just before it's time to eat. But for those a bit further away (i.e., us), the families pack in thermos-type containers in the morning. So now I'm wondering we will cook. And even wondering, too, if by "we" do I mean me? or asking Lea to come 30 minutes earlier? I'm not sure. I do know that Greg would tell me to just give him a sandwich.

Oh, to be two

Patch doesn't really have the "terrible twos," but he certainly has his quirks. Well, really only one quirk right now: food. I think he would be reverting to a milk-only diet if we would allow it. While in TX in January 2012, I remember my mom and mother in law both remarking what a great eater he was. No matter what was put in front of him - fruit, veggie, meat, diary, grain - he'd eat with gusto. Really the only things I remember him disliking were scrambled eggs and rice (the later very strange for being born in India).

Slowly, without my really realizing what was going on, he started cutting foods out of his diet, until the only things he would eat were chicken nuggets and hot dogs. Not so keen on the processed food only intake, I stopped buying those (the easiest way to keep our nanny from feeding him that). And since then, I think he's pretty much subsisted on peanut butter, bread, and milk. Every now and then he'll eat some plain yogurt. Very occasionally he'll deign to pick up a raisin or two that I diligently leave on the coffee table, hoping to entice him. Eating a french fry (yes, I did say "a" french fry) has become something of an accomplishment. And I was thrilled when he ate all three options of breakfast buns purchased from our local bakery (a cheese bun, a coconut bun and a more familiar sugar bun).

He will chow down on cake and cookies; I know this because eating rules at birthday parties are suspended in favor of minimizing tantrums in public. He is stubborn, though. Though I don't, in general practice, subscribe to bribing as a parenting method, I admit I've tried it with Patch and food. I've placed numerous things in front of him and lined up small bits of chocolate behind his plate, explaining he could have a bite of chocolate after each bite of real food. He just sits in his chair, says, "NO!", and keeps sitting there, not even crying about the chocolate. He obviously understands the deal, and wants no part in it.

And he enjoys teasing us. We'll be talking about food, and he'll sneakily say, "Apples are good."  My ears perk up, a light shines in my eyes, and I immediately reply, "Patch, shall I cut an apple for you or get some apple sauce." He just smirks and says, "No. More milk please." (to which the usual response is, only water for you now.)

A rational part of me knows I can't do much and I shouldn't stress about it. Wm, after all, asked for only green beans and peas for dinner tonight - so eventually all kids come around - but all the same, I'd be much happier if he would revert to being a good eater, or, at a minimum ,pick one acceptable fruit and one acceptable green vegetable!