Monday, June 30, 2003

Welcome to July

1 July 2003 – Welcome to a new month. It’s a good month for us as Ian’s birthday is on Thursday any mine is next week. It’s off to a rough start though.

Yesterday I took Rebecca to the doctor for an earache and general cold symptoms along with an ugly swollen, oozy, blood shot eye. She has strep along with a double ear infection and what looks like pink eye, but the penicillin she’s on now should cure everything well enough. Oddly enough, I think I’ve come down with the same thing but I didn’t get myself cultured when at the clinic. Chalk one up for stupidity. We all have to be better by Thursday as our plan is to go to Enchanted Kingdom, the Philippine response to Disney World. I should probably come up with an alternative indoor plan, just in case.
Friday is the 4th of July, of course and Ian and I are invited to the Embassy function that afternoon. We’re expected to arrive 2 hours early and while he has to go, I do not, so I think I’ll pass. Saturday is the 5th and there’s a picnic at SeaFront.
I thought I’d mention a few lines about the seedy side of Manila life. Most notable is the prevalence of taxi rooms and garage rooms. For P150 (about $3) you can get a garage room for 3 hours. We haven’t quite figured out the specifics, but have come to the conclusion that it’s a rendezvous option that offers a goodly amount of privacy. There are signs for such spots all along EDSA.

Around the House

30 June 2003 – We read an article in the paper a few weeks back and it made us both laugh. A middle-aged woman here had discovered that she, in fact, did not need house help in order to survive. She could make her family’s meals. She could clean up. She felt liberated, out from under the watchful eye and drama of an all-around live-in housekeeper.

Over the years, her mother had continued to send over new girls to work and once in a while it would work out for a couple years, but after all she found it more a pain than a blessing.
Yes, we chuckled too. After all, in the States, making meals, caring for our children and cleaning up our own homes is standard practice. We run the vacuum, put the last of the dishes in the dishwasher and turn it on, drop the kids at daycare, get the mower to do a quick run on the lawn, pop some food in the microwave or crockpot, throw a load of laundry in the machine and call ourselves on top of things.
Here in the land of domestic servitude where their largest export is people to work in the homes of the wealthy worldwide, having a live-in is more than the norm, it is expected.
Reading further into the article, once she determined that she didn’t need or want a housekeeper, well…. Her kids were already grown so the ya-ya years had already been taken care of and her kids were old enough to take care of their own space, wash their own dishes and launder their clothes. She was only going to be caring for herself and her husband. Sounds like a given to me so we continued reading.
Their first significant purchase was a washing machine.
Now, if you’re like me, a little red flag started to wave. Maybe we shouldn’t have been laughing quite so much? Washing machines here are tiny as it is. We in the United States continue to get larger and larger machines to do our work for us, while the machines here are built to fit in cramped quarters, with units that would only fit a few U.S. sized t-shirts. Now, granted, the people here are smaller and it would follow that their clothes take up less space, but even so, these units are itty bitty. Anyhow, up until she was in her 40s, she’d never owned a washing machine. Her housekeeper had done all their laundry. In a big wash sink. By hand. Could you? A machine can cost over P40,000. (Just as comparison, our p/t housekeeper earns P5000/mo, or about $100)
Later on, they bought a dishwasher and far down the line, a vacuum cleaner. Floors are largely bare and with the winds and dust, sweeping every day is a must. With the rains, tracked mud is a problem. Washing dishes by hand can take a bit of time morning, noon and night, because if you don’t the ants start swarming. I left an empty honey jar on the counter recently to be washed after dinner. What a mistake that was. I can’t tell you how many cockroaches we see both inside and out.
There are hired help washing cars (no drive through car washes though you can get it done while you shop and are parked in a mall garage). There are gardeners sweeping leaves daily and “raking” with brooms. Mowing a lawn is achieved using hand shears. The truly wealthy have push mowers.
Now you tell me, do you have the time and energy to wash all your family clothes by hand and mow your lawn with shears and still feel like part of the family? Is it even humanly possible?
Who’s still laughing?

Friday, June 27, 2003


28 June 2003 – Having a reliable car here is extremely important. Trouble on a highway in the States is dangerous and annoying. Here it can be disastrous so we’re trying to avoid such a catastrophe, especially now that I am driving the kids to Seafront and other spots around Manila. The last thing I need with 4 kids in the car (or even without) is to have the car stall in the middle of EDSA, or not start up again after going to the store.

Hey, back up, did you hear that?? I’m driving! Yes, it seems like I took a 12-step program to do so, but here I am, weaving my way around buses and jeepneys and people who all seem to be trying to get themselves hit. Thank goodness on EDSA you can’t gather any speed, unlike Roxas where folks tend to stick a bit more to their lanes but when they make a sudden move, they’re doing it at 40mph instead of 15mph. It’s much more nerve-wracking going to the Embassy than anywhere around Makati. Jonathon and I did have lunch with Ian on Thursday but it’s just not as easy a drive for me.
One of my early expeditions out into the hairy Manila streets was to search for the nearby flight school which is (duh) right next to the airport. It was an uneventful drive and a good learning experience. But perhaps you’re wondering why we were looking for the flight school. Every place we’ve lived, Ian has searched for the closest strip with an instructor. It has all been a dream of his. Until now. He’s found the instructors, he knows where the school is, he knows the cost, the time involved and I don’t think there’s anything I can say to dissuade him as he’s already discussing how easy it would get to Banaue (11-15 hour drive) or other such spots. By the time we leave here, there’s a real probability that he will have a small craft license. Oh yeah, it was Father’s Day.
Anyhow, after having the starter solenoid cleaned, the car is still having issues, so it looks like we’ll need to replace the solenoid. Of course, they don’t have one in this country, so we looked on-line and the parts available are refurbished and are complete starters. It bugs me to purchase a used car part, but we’ll do what must be done and hopefully the car won’t give out entirely between now and the time we get it replaced. It does start, but often after multiple attempts. We’ve already replaced the battery so we know it’s not that, and the mechanics said the rest of the engine looked fine… of course they did mention it’s a new car, being a ’97 and all. Ian was nice enough to take the day off from work to deal with the garage and since we then had no transportation, we hired a car and driver for the day so we could take the kids to camp and wait to hear the verdict on the starter. After dropping off the kids, Jonathon fell asleep so we dropped him off at home where the housekeeper had already arrived and actually went out, just the two of us, for a little shopping and a lunch at The Seafood Club. I finally tried a buko drink (pass on it if you don’t like cloudy water with a hint of something you just can’t put your finger on) and we had the buffet (next time we’ll order from the menu since everything but the fried bananas with chocolate sauce should be given 2 out of 5 stars) since time was short before the kids needed to get picked up. It was so nice to be able to go out alone to peruse the bookstore and CD store, even just for a couple hours. When we returned home, Jonathon had awoken and was helping the housekeeper fold towels. I guess he did just fine.
Onto the kids. Katherine has lost 3 top teeth now. All in a row and only the middle one shows signs of coming in soon. She is going to look really strange in a few weeks. She’s been doing really well with reading longer and longer books and I purchased a new stack of short chapter books for her to work through over the coming weeks. Part of her allowance each week requires her to either write (a letter or e-mail) or read (quietly, on her own) each day. Most of the books are classics so I’ve told her that if she really enjoys one of the stories, these are abbreviated versions and we can get longer ones. She has worked a lot on her cursive writing and has done an excellent job.
Jonathon has reached a plateau with his pottying. At home he runs naked and does great, with a diaper on he’s hit or miss with a lot of miss. Though I’m very happy with how many fewer dirty diapers I have to change now. He’s fairly reliable in letting someone know he has to go. His speech is coming along with 4 or 5 words strung together. They don’t really make a sentence, but when he wants something in particular we’ll hear “open, key, door.”
Rebecca has not been feeling well, with bouts of headaches, fever and last night an ear ache. Back home in Virginia, she’d had a bad night of ear ache as well and while this one wasn’t as bad, it’s odd to have it come back again. She can do the monkey bars all alone now, which is a great achievement for my “physical activity phobe.” Next is to take the training wheels off her bike though she is resisting. She resists everything, but is getting much better about trying new foods. Especially if it’s something she thinks Katherine might hate.
Nicholas’s speech has been getting better with our current focus on replacing the “me yes” at the beginning of phrases with an “I”. “Me yes do dat!” “Me yes put my ‘oe on!” He's not eating much these days but I guess it's just a phase. He's enjoying summer camp with the big kids, even though he's decided he'd rather just sit on the side of the pool for swimtime. The first time he said it was because I'd forgotten to pack his goggles. So the next time I remembered but he still wouldn't go in. Oh well.
We’ve decided to get Katherine a new bike (one where her knees do not bump the handlebars, and move Nicholas up to her old bike (with training wheels of course). Nicholas is always borrowing Rebecca’s bike which drives Becca a little nutty, so this will fix part of the problem. Then of course, Jonathon will get the trike and we’ll have to get Rebecca off trainers. Of course, now that we’ve made the decision, we can’t seem to find a decent bike to get for her in Makati. All that we’ve found are straight handlebar, hand brake, multi-gear contraptions. Not ideal for a 7 year old. I’m sure she’d do fine with one, but they are more a serious traveling machine than something to tool around on at the playground. Instead we headed out to Coolocan City where we saw a listing for a BMX bike shop. Well, I wanted to get some driving in and after 2 ½ hours of packed streets, jeepney jams and too many buses, we’re home with a new bike for Katherine. And the driving was only half of it. The address in the phone book is 23B Rizal Extension. We found Rizal Extension after making a wrong couple of turns and once there, the numbers on one side started in the 3000s and the other was in the 100s. Hmm. So we drove along and noticed at least on our side that the numbers got progressively smaller and stayed even. OK, we knew we had to get onto the other side of the road at least, but couldn’t until the very end of the street where there was a circle, even though there are a multitude of openings in the median. All labeled with No U-Turn signs. Made it to the other side, and noticed that the number system made less sense on this side of the street. We figured we’d give up the search, scan the building signs for possibilities, but just head home. And there it was, 23B, followed by 3330. Whatever. A little hole in the wall business packed with bikes of all sizes and a style that would finally work for our kid. Two and half hours later and P1300 poorer, she has new wheels.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Lions and Tigers and.. ok, no Bears

27 June 2003 – Lucky us (that would be mom and Jonathon) joined the Camp Critters crew once again for their Friday field trip. This time it was off to the Money Museum including a video of how money is made (rather than going up to Quezon City where the mint is). I think the kids were fascinated most by the early forms of cash in shells and jewelry but I think that the mint and reserve would be a great trip for us to take-on in a few months.

But there was one old piso design that looked just like Ian’s bus token from Woodbridge. Katherine thought that was great. On the whole though, it wasn’t an interesting collection for so many little kids to walk through. Jonathon figured the bathroom was most enjoyable as we made several stops there, some with more success than others. Thankfully, this trip was in conjunction with a visit to the zoo so it wasn’t too long and the kids were all wound up and ready to spend some energy. Of course, my camera batteries were dead.
We arrived around 10 a.m. and left about 12:30 and in that time we saw a wide variety of animals. I was actually surprised with some of the animals that they did have including an Asian elephant, multiple tigers and a lion. There were a multitude of crocodiles, and one that comes to the forefront of our minds was simple giant and floating in a pool. As we Jonathon, Ms. Nympha and I stood there, it turned its head toward us, moved it up along the barrier so that its snout was pointing up, and slowly opened it mouth to a gaping maw directly at us. OK, -that- was weird. We figured it was too big to make a great leap, and the fence was probably strong enough to hold it in, but we weren’t going to hang around and see what it did next. No, we continued on, down rows of cages containing monitor lizards, red-faced macaques, birds of all sizes and plumage, and pythons among others. Jonathon’s favorites were the birds. Some were really noisy, I think one was called the Philippine Eagle and with a big aviary (housing too many birds), they put up a holy squawk that truly fascinated the little guy.
The zoo was broken into two sections, one with animals to see and the other with animals to touch. We entered the latter through a butterfly zone that housed no butterflies, but only after the kids were invited to interact with some big white cockatoos and a baby crocodile (with snout appropriately taped shut). Onward we came upon little red parrots that the kids could hold on their fingers, and one was quite spunky, crawling all over Mr. Weston’s neck and backpack (Weston is a new arrival to Manila and is a camp leader) and pecking Katherine’s finger. There was a 13’ foot python that was quite impressive as it curled its tail around Weston’s leg. The ostrich was so soft, and there were the typical rabbits, ducks, chickens, pot-bellied pigs, pony and obnoxiously loud roosters.
I must interject here and say that Jonathon wasn’t afraid of anything but the hyper monkey, and honestly that monkey freaked me out a bit too as it raced around it’s little cage with arms and tail flying, grabbing bits of fruit being fed to it. He touched the Burmese python, the crocodile, the pony, and wanted birds on his arms just like all the other kids. I hope to get some photos e-mailed to us.
Katherine’s favorite portion was touching the snakes, crocodile and birds. Nicholas’s favorite was touching the pony (no big surprise there! Him and his “ruh-rums”)
OK, so my impressions. As is a fault of just about every zoo, the animals were kept in areas much too small for them. When we were driving there, I wondered aloud how there could be room for a zoo in metro Manila and as it were, there really isn’t. One cage after another, some were enclosures, many were wire boxes. One held two black birds that looked remarkably like ravens (I never did get a map of the zoo, and a majority of the cages just had numbers on them so you could refer to the map), with a branch affixed to one end and another branch to the other end. That was the extent of the interest for the animals. No greenery, no dirt on the ground, just wire and concrete and two branches. The fact that most of the animals were bored was no secret. Several of the cat like creatures were simply laying in wire cages, with an open box their only source of miserable privacy. I think that the hardest situations to digest related to the animals we all know have a brilliance to them, and that would be the monkeys and their relations. The gorilla especially looked so despondent. In a cage not much bigger than an 11’X11’ room, it just sat there with unseeing eyes and no movement. It wasn’t asleep in the sense of achieving rest, but seemed to have simply turned off.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Camp Critters Field Trip

12 June 2003: The first week of Camp Critters ended on Thursday (with Friday being the observed day this year for Philippine Independence Day. Though I don’t know Independence from whom, the Japanese or us?) and the summer camp gang headed to Museo Pambata, a children’s museum located right next door to the Chancery. We rode on a bus that didn’t know the meaning of seat belts and Jonathon had his own seat, right over the wheel so his feet didn’t even dangle. Talk about giving him a thrill ride.

From the street Museo Pambata is unimpressive and when you enter, it’s seems unimpressive as well. But the kids had a great time. The building is broken up into 6 zones with a different theme for each. The first we entered focused on the history of the Philippines with examples of materials used for clothing, old toys, typewriters and a miniature trading ship all free to be touched and explored. Kids dressed up in period clothing, rang the ship’s bell, and climbed into a miniature of an old church that’s at the entrance to Chinatown. There were also phones around for listening to the voices of historic figures.
We were then led to an area about the waters around the Philippines with aquariums, hanging figures of various aquatic wildlife, a fashioned sewer pipe (three stars for realism!), examination table with shells and in an adjoining room, a mini waterfall next to an example of a riverside hut that the kids could climb into. The one at the National Museum was a true sample, but this one was big enough for just a handful of kids.
Off we hopped to the music room, where the gang could pound on drums and gongs and all sorts of really loud instruments, all at once. I’d have to guess that this was one of Katherine’s favorite sections and she scurried from one noisemaker to the next in a frenzy of excitement. Only one section was cordoned off and wouldn’t you know that’s the part Jonathon really wanted to touch. With pianos and guitars that were off limits he just couldn’t resist, not even the miniature rocking horse and pig could get him out willingly.
Once the room stopped reverberating, we marched up the stairs and were welcomed by a giant open mouth with a red carpet tongue. Welcome to the exploration of the human body where you can enter via the mouth and wander the throat and various body tubes, or take the more mature (and boring) entrance through a flapped doorway. A corner housed a giant womb for a child to curl in and sample the cozy sensation of pre-birth. Another corner had a circular model of a tongue, a tummy, a butt and a nose. Press the giant body part and hear the sounds it can make! A sneeze! A rumble and of course, a fart! Wheee! These folks sure know kids. Of course, we have to see how digestion works and everyone wants to know what food turns into as it moves through the gastrointestinal system. Yes, from chewing to waste, you can see it all. We spend the longest amount of time in this room, even I thought it was pretty cool, but of course I would.
Then through the doors to the outside portion of a long wide balcony that depicted a market. Each side housed different stalls, from a bakery to a barber and fish monger to conveniences. And all were stocked with items the kids could play with and pretend with. I bought plenty of cinnamon rolls and lobsters, had some clam soup from the street restauranteur, and passed on getting my shoes repaired. Nicholas enjoyed whacking the various shellfish while Rebecca was busy cutting people’s hair. Katherine was a fireman for a while before deciding to open her restaurant business. Jonathon just wandered from stall to stall undecided about his next purchase.
Once all the goods had been exchanged and business were profiting, we went over to the actors’ studio. Lights, camera, action, with costumes, a stage and actual cameras catching all the action, the kids put on a show about poachers and benevolent angels (or something to that effect, we never did get to see Act II and the conclusion). This wasn’t a great section for the smaller kids. There weren’t enough costumes and the big kids really barreled around. I was glad to leave the stage and head over to the final portion, the science wing.
Now, don’t think that this is anything like a children’s science museum at home. No, it didn’t compare at all. But for what it was, it was good. There were tornado jugs, a smoke tornado tunnel (low on smoke), and a bunch of visual experiments with mirrors. My favorite part was an earthquake table. Build a little house of blocks and push the button to simulate an earthquake. Have 2 people build houses or towers and see which one takes longer to fall. OK, call me silly, but I giggled each time my house crumbled. Last, we headed outside to the playground where a stripped helicopter was available for climbing and exploring. Of all things, Rebecca said the see-saws were her favorite. It was broiling out, the playground had no protection either from the sun or from the asphalt and we only spent 10 minutes there, but she thought the see-saw was great. Oookay. The boys liked the helicopter best. Of course.
Once back at Seafront, the kids jumped into the pool and Jonathon and I were allowed to join the gang since we’d helped chaperone the trip. With the formation of ARC (American Recreation Club) the pool, library, tennis courts and all fun things are off limits except to members. But since the kids are in Camp, we got to tag along and Jonathon had a great time. (Chances are good we won’t join until the rainy season is over so that it’s worth access to the pool.)

Sunday, June 8, 2003

Food, Glorious Food

Food, Glorious Food… where is it?

The Philippines is not known for its food. Ever wonder why there aren’t any Philippine Take-Out spots? Don’t. If anything, the Filipinos here in Manila are into their snacks. Prepackaged snacks are the thing.

In the evenings in the States, we are deluged with car ads. Here, all you see is snack ads. We’ve come to the conclusion that solace from the dreary world is found inside individual sized wrappers, not in impossible dreams of car ownership. The Filipino mentality is one of “share and share alike” which has spawned the prevalence of buying sizes that don’t require sharing and satisfy your immediate need (which also doesn’t require you to spend a lot of cash at once). At sidewalk carts and in the corner store you buy a can of soda, not a 6-pack. Gum is sold by the stick, as are cigarettes and we marvel when we find a package of cookies that isn’t a single sleeve of 3.
Sometimes you see “real” food ads, like for fast food joints or worse, some quasi-food in a can you can pick up. One of them simply grosses us out every single time. A man is scooping out large spoonfuls of some black pasty goo, huge grin on his face. All the while his teeth and lips are turning black. Bopis is it. Pork lungs. *retch*
One of the biggest disappointments food-wise is the lack of decent bakery breads. The local pandesol leaves an odd after-taste that simply shouldn’t be there when you’ve eaten a bread roll. When I was a kid in Africa, buying baguettes from the local stalls was a task no one minded because the bread was amazing (much heavier and more satisfying than the French baguette). I was so looking forward to finding a local favorite for all our bread needs. On the other hand, the baked goods like cakes are simply amazing. I guess we’ll just have to suffer.
So after a week of Japanese food (Katherine’s request as dinner on her last day of First Grade, and different than she expected), Thai food (Too ‘picy! Says Nicholas to the crabmeat curry), and homemade meals with teriyaki and soy sauce, we decided to eat-out American. In Ermita, an area around the Embassy loaded with hotels, there is.. oh you’ll never guess, go ahead and try, you’ll be wrong you’ll see… a mall! You were wrong weren’t you? I knew it. Anyway, yes, there’s yet another mall and this one is home to TGI Fridays. We were seated at a table that had no less than 6 flies buzzing it which kept Jonathon well entertained and were serenaded with radio tunes by ABBA, the Beatles and wouldn’t you know, the Carpenters. All while The Matrix played in the background on soundless TVs with bad tracking. For P85 each, the kids ordered specialty milkshakes and they were yummy but for Rebecca’s mint chocolate milk shake that tasted about ½ mint extract. Powerful stuff, but she didn’t complain. You heard me right. Getting to this mall was fun. Ian has taken on Manila traffic and is doing a superb job of not getting us killed. Even with the illegal U-turns, stopping crosswise across lanes for a hearse that didn’t have enough turn space, driving the wrong way down One Way roads, no one threatened us to any great extent with vehicular damage. Thank goodness for road maps.
The three older kids started Camp Critters (aka summer camp, 9-1 M-F, weekly all summer) which leaves me with Jonathon. Well, he was up shortly after 5 this morning, so by 10:30 he conked out for a nap. This leaves me with 2 solid hours to myself. The housekeeper is here, I asked the driver (yes, I’m still too chicken to drive the major roads myself) to pay our 2 bills since everything is done in person and in cash but I don’t know where any of the pay windows are, and now I feel like Marge Simpson when everything is going perfect, so she sits on the couch and decides to try to remove a skin spot in order to liven up her life. No, I’m not bored. I’m writing this post, I’m breathing a little slower, getting the laundry done and thinking about eating some food. With just the little guy, we stopped at the church to register with the parish (it was a long involved process of being asked if we were Catholic and telling them our name and address to be added into their book) and at Rustans to pick up some interesting odds and ends with Jonathon as my basket carrier. I think I’m enjoying this aspect a lot. Today I purchased a jar of peanut butter and jelly swirl just like home, only the jelly is guava. I picked up a jar of Coco jam made from coconuts for a friend of mine. And there were tons of little jars of extracts and flavorings from the common vanilla and rum to the local pandan and ube. Who can pass this stuff up?
In other news, for the first time in 8 years, we are crib-less. I sold our crib. In retrospect, I should have just donated it to the birthing center that USEC works with and truly wish I had, but the crib is still going to a Filipino family and their first child.

Saturday, June 7, 2003

7 June 2003 - Katherine is a 2nd Grader

7 June 2003 - Katherine’s last day of school, complete with food, birthday party and talent show was on June 5th. My little “star” decided she was going to sing “This Little Light of Mine” as a surprise.

And guess who drove down there? I think I did pretty well, for driving down fairly empty roads. We stopped at PriceSmart on the way home to pick up supplies for summer camp next week and wouldn’t you know someone asked if we needed a driver. Erg.
Katherine hasn’t been feeling well the past week, complaining of stomach pains that have brought her to tears many times, and yesterday spent the entire day curled up in bed and on the couch even though a friend was over to play. At least the friend kept Rebecca and Nicholas busy all day, allowing Katherine to rest a good bit. She was sipping tea and eating toast, but by the evening was hungry and ate a good bit, only to burst into tears a short while later in terrible pain. Ian gave her a dose of Maalox thinking she was suffering from a gas bubble and today she did seem much better (even with the dark bags under her eyes) but still complained some. She had enough energy to ride her bike at the playground and climb on the monkey bars, so I have to think the worst is over.
The other day was eye-opening. After dinner on Thursday it ended up being her and me sitting at the table while the others got ready for bed. While sitting quietly, she began to speak and out poured so many worries and thoughts (some rather disturbing) from her mind that I had to remind myself just to listen and watch her closely. She said she has lots of bad dreams. She talked a long while about a battle going on in her mind between a holy spirit and an evil spirit. She spoke of her desires to be good but how she often feels that evil spirits are near her, telling her to do bad things. She said how she doesn’t like cleaning up the dishes herself because she feels there is a ghost with her in the kitchen. She asked questions about going to heaven, about good people, about making mistakes and forgiveness. We talked about how God forgives us no matter how many times we mess up, as long as we’re really sorry about it, and the same thing goes for parents with our kids. I reminded her about all the mistakes I make, and we discussed how making mistakes or hurting people doesn’t make us bad. It means we have choices, it gives us chances to learn. It makes us human.
She continued by saying that she knows that some things are wrong to do and doesn’t know why she does them, and she hates being sent to her room, but while she’s in there she yells at herself and wants to hit her head into the wall, and how she feels she has to punish herself. She believes that she doesn’t deserve good things when she has done something wrong, if I’d given her something before then she should crumple it or tear it up. I did interject here, reminding her that being sent to her room is for her to calm down and regain control and hurting herself is not an option. I will keep a much closer eye on her next time she is disciplined, and remind her again that being in her room is punishment enough and I encouraged her to write out her feelings as she did last time. Last time, she wrote a wonderful few words of apology for her behavior because she didn’t feel that she could speak them to me. I told her that was fine, that the importance lay in her taking responsibility for her mistake. And of course I apologized too. I realized I need to hug her more. She’s so big and so strong and so smart and introspective. She is amazingly emotionally sensitive.
She’s 7.

Manila Slalom, and How I Got A Bikini Model to Sarenade Me...

A couple of people (Michele and Jeff) have recently said that my reflections on Manila and thoughts about my job would be interesting to some people. I've put it off because a) it's easier to put it off, and b) I'm worried that I might say something that would compromise my position in some way. I'm a U.S. government employee after all, and that disclaimer at the bottom of the index page doesn't really mean squat. My job involves sensitive and sometimes classified information. If I say something that runs contradictory to U.S. foreign policy or otherwise embarasses the State Department, I could be in a whole lot of trouble.

there are some things I can talk about. So I'll try to feel around to what those are.
First, some ground work. For those who don't really know what I do _ and I didn't in the first few weeks of working here _ I'm a Vice Consul in the Immigrant Visa section of the U.S. Embassy in Manila. This means that I adjudicate visa applications. My friends over in the Non-Immigrant Visa unit deal with student visas, tourist visas, and the like. The most common reason for refusal over there is that they think the person won't leave the U.S. _ that they are an "intending immigrant." Those intending immigrants are what I deal with.
An alien (or foreigner, or whatever you prefer) can get a visa if they have a special skill needed in the U.S. That is largely determined by the Department of Labor, and can be pretty broad. The vast majority of our work visa applicants are nurses. There's a relative nurse shortage in the U.S. Even Filipino doctors go to nursing school to be nurses in the U.S. Sometimes I get a physical therapist, or cement mason, or even a cook. "To prepare Western-style meals" for a construction company. There's a shortage of that, apparently, according to Labor. No comment.
But most of our immigrants have family ties. Parents can bring in their kids, kids can bring in their parents, siblings can siblings, adoptees can adopted, etc. The time it takes is variable according to age, family ties and status of the U.S. petitioner. A U.S. citizen can get their wife or minor child in pretty quick. Green-card holders take longer. A U.S. citizen will have to wait about 22 years to bring in their Filipino sibling. One of the small joys I have is giving that visa to some old guy and his family who has patiently waited and diligently followed our labyrinthine procedures and requirements, so they can immigrate and get a green card.
(Which, incidentally, isn't green at all. It was at one time. Now it's kinda peach colored.)
There is a far more interesting type of visa, too, the fiancee visa. An American can petition for their foreign fiancee to come to the U.S. They have to get married with 90 days of their arrival, and they must be happily (reasonably so) married _ to the same person _ for 2 years. The BCIS (formerly INS) checks, otherwise the alien is sent home. This visa can take a relatively short time to get, a matter of months.
For obvious reasons, these can be the most interesting cases and the hardest to adjudicate. They're not related, of course, so I can't just check to see if they're really father and son or whatever and send them on their way. We have to see if it's a "valid relationship." In other words, we see if Cupid has really done his job, or whether it's just a show.
Mind-reading is not a job requirement, though it probably should be. The Internet _ and its predecessors, the bride catalogs that still circulate from Asia and Europe _ fuels most of our applicants. Some are former schoolmates or neighbors here in the Philippines, but most aren't. Most met through online personals ads, in one form or another.
It's not easy, to say the least. I look at pictures of them together. I read their printed e-mails. I read their love letters and cards. I delve into their most personal details, from their medical records to their former loves (or marriages) to what side of the bed their fiancee sleeps on. And then I decide.
I worked today, on Saturday, because we're really behind on fiancees. It's no one's fault, really, it's just that everyone in the U.S. is marrying everyone in the Philippines, and they all have to go through my office. We had about 300 applicants show up today, a few with their U.S. fiances.
(Apologies for the gender references, but the vast majority of our fiance(e) beneficiaries are female. The U.S. citizen is almost always male. They also tend to live in little itty-bitty cities, but that's a different issue.)
As an aside, let me quickly mention my Manila Rules for Driving, since we got our car and have done some driving in the city.
1) There are no rules.
2) You are only responsible for the front half of your car. Same for other drivers. Cut off and be cut off.
3) Jeepneys (do a Google search for a picture if you haven't seen one) and buses are all over the damn place, and tend to stop suddenly to drop off or pick up passengers.
4) Beware of buses. They swerve all over the road. They're getting a bit better, now that some people _ including a former congressman _ have chased after erratically-driving buses and shot (yes, with guns) at the drivers.
5) Keep the windows rolled up at all times. Pollution, beggars and security.
6) There is no rule 6.
7) Do not use your turn signals, ever. Manila drivers see it as a sign of weakness.
Anyway, back to the fiancees. Here's a quick rundown of some of my more interesting cases.
1) 20 year old girl and 79 year old U.S. citizen. Internet romance, of course. He's been married 3 times before, and had two previous Filipina fiancees that didn't work out for various reasons.
2) 42 year old woman and 86 year old millionaire U.S. citizen.
3) A woman who had a kid with the male petitioner, her husband, then he went to the States. After 2 years of this guy trying to make enough money to petition for her, she apparently lost patience and married another guy, having three kids with him. 10 years later, the woman and guy #1 make up, and he's petitioning for her and all four kids.
4) Army man petitions for Filipina who was working as an "Entertainer" ("I served drinks and talked with the guys," she said.) in Korea.
5) U.S. citizen there with his Filipina wife, when I had to tell him that no, he's not really married to his wife because she has a prior unterminated marriage. (This happens _all_the_time_. Divorce is illegal in the Philippines. You can only get a marriage annulled, have the spouse die, or have him/her declared 'presumptively dead,' which has its own problems.) He took it somewhat well, considering. He didn't yell much.
And now, my singers. This hasn't happened before, but I might try to make it a habit.
6) U.S. citizen vacationing in Indonesia met a Filipina who was working as a singer there. She's part of a harmony group. I ask what she sings, she says Manhattan Transfer songs. I ask if she knows "Boy from New York City." She at first claims not to, which I refuse to believe, then admits she does. I tell her to sing it. Surprisingly, she does. She's an alto.
7) The Foreign Service Nationals (the local Filipino staff at the office, who are the backbone of any embassy) are all abuzz about an applicant who has married an American citizen. They say she's the 2003 Boracay bikini contest winner.
(Beauty contests are ridiculously popular here, and I'm not very up on Philippine stars yet. A few weeks ago I interviewed the mother of a big local TV/Movie star, Alice Dixson. I didn't have a clue.)
Everyone rushes over to check. I, being the responsible American officer, decide to check on the local staff and make sure they're not having any problems. In passing, I see her. She's mind-blowingly hot.
For some reason, they give her case to me. They said they saved her for me. Usually they just save refusals for me (I think they're cleansing after a bunch of cases like 1-3 above).
So I take her, so to speak. She, a 25-year-old, married a 53-year-old guy from Hawaii. They met at somebody's wedding. He's your basic middle-American middle-age guy. He's about to become real popular among his friends.
I ask her what she does for a living, she says she's a model and singer. I told her that we like to verify things. I couldn't very well demand that she model a bikini _ arg _ so I ask what she sings. Karen Carpenter songs, she says.
Of course. This country loves all that treacly crap.
I ask what her favorite Carpenter song is, and she told me. I can't remember it now, and I didn't recognize it. I asked her to sing it. She said she didn't want to, but she would sing "Close to You." So she sang a good three verses or so to me. I turned the speaker in my window up. She's a soprano. She was really good.
After I approved her visa (she was qualified for the visa, not just as a singer) and the FSN's returned her passport, she stopped by my window to wave goodbye.
No parting song.

Monday, June 2, 2003

3 June 2003 - Kid Stuff

3 June 2003 - Jonathon now refers to me as Nonny. He can say Mommy, but automatically defaults to Nonny, and I have no idea why.

One funny thing he does is call for me around the house, but once he finds me, he puts his hands on his mouth and yells “Nonny!” telling me that, well, he was calling for me mom. Just in case I didn’t know. Katherine’s 2nd top tooth is very very loose, but it’s been like this for over a week now and just doesn’t seem to want to pop out. Nicholas is adamant that his teeth are falling out too. We’re working with him to practice making various sounds currently lacking from his vocabulary. The sound “k” is completely missing, while several other sounds are being left off the beginnings of words but are present within some. Now at least we know he can make those sounds, even if he’s still having trouble putting them in the right places. For example, he says “‘ar” instead of “car.” And “may” instead of “play”. Oh, have I mentioned that his eyes are turning green like Rebecca’s? Katherine still has the grey-blue color. Rebecca is starting to make sense of reading words, but boy has she been a pill lately. Even after a discussion about how rules apply to her even if we aren’t standing in the room staring directly at her, she still feels the needs to push everything to the limit, pick on her siblings and generally be unpleasant. Was Katherine like this at 5? Nicholas is now totally into Spiderman as he hops from one piece of furniture to the next, flinging webs and catching the “’een guy go Rrrrowr!” Rebecca likes the role of helpless MJ. If Katherine is playing too, then she gets to be Spiderman and Nicholas takes on the role of the Green Goblin. It’s all a very intricate dance of rescuing.
Um, it’s June. We’ve been here for 2 months. Wow. And last night we cleared out 2 more credit cards leaving us with 2 dead cards and one live one to pay off. With our new and improved updated plan (as of yesterday), we’ll be out of old debt a year earlier than planned. Of course then there’s still the car, the house and all those student loans. But there’s a federal program that we qualify for that pays off some of our student loans each year up to a set amount. As it is, we’re scheduled to pay student loans until Katherine heads to college, so every penny in these early years will save us wads of cash later. A happy thing indeed.
Katherine’s last day of school is Thursday, June 5th and it's a half day. She’ll be receiving her first report card from ISM and I do hope that it’s a good one. We still have some left over bits to do in preparation for the next school year like buy new uniforms and order school supplies, register the bus for both girls and get their IDs. Next week, the 3 older kids start going to Camp Critters, a summer camp program that runs 9-1 for eight consecutive weeks but we can pick and choose which weeks to send them. It’ll be just me and the munchkin all morning, what will be do?? Nicholas is already getting worried that daddy and I won’t be there, but I think he’ll be just fine once he sees his other friends too.
Oh yeah, we did finally hire a housekeeper. She's OK. She works M-W-F from 9-3 and I know it sounds like a lot, but this place is too big to do myself and spend any time with the kids. Last Friday our housekeeper decided to bring her 8 year old daughter to work. We had talked to her before about her kids and had mentioned in passing that it would be fun to get her daughter together with our kids at some point at the playground. I guess she took that to mean anytime she felt like it her child could spend 6 hours playing in our house. I mean, Katherine was at school, I had to go to the grocery store and now I had an extra stranger in the house to contend with. Of course, Rebecca thought it was the coolest thing to play with a big kid. But I ended up making her lunch, and hanging out with them while they watched a movie with some popcorn. Not what I'd planned. On Monday I mentioned that while Rebecca enjoyed having her over (and Katherine after school), next time she has to give us some warning ahead of time. I often plan activities or errands while the housekeeper is here, and having her daughter around throws a wrench in my plans because then I have to fight with the kids to come along, or I just feel that I can't leave since the girl is hanging around the house with nothing to do. Arg.
On the whole I have become accustomed to having a housekeeper. Now that we have the car though, I am much less comfortable with a driver. He seems to be very temperamental and I'm never quite sure if he understands my requests. And my seating options are limited in our van. I can either sit up front in my usual seat and have no one to talk to (he doesn't chat, and if he did I have a hard time understanding him) or hurt my neck turning around to talk to the kids. Or I can sit all the way in the rear between the 2 girls. We could move the seats around in the car so that I get a middle row captain's but that puts Nicholas between the 2 girls in the back and I don't think my head could take that sort closeness in the car. So my other option. Learn to drive in this country. Bets anyone?