Thursday, July 31, 2003

Camp Critters Final Field Trip (and other stuff)

Today was the final field trip this summer and we went south to the border of Cavite and Las Pinas (one day I'll learn how to put accents over letters), to the SM Southmall. We went ice skating, had some lunch and then went to the indoor amusement park, Storyland.

Ice skating was a blast. I had no intention of skating because of Jonathon, but lo and behold, they had skates his size. Wow, those were small. So I skated with him between my feet and he seemed to have a great time, though I don't think my back will forgive me for a while. Nicholas tried to skate, had a couple instructors helping him, but he spent more time off the ice than on. He'd try for a bit, then get off and start undoing his laces. An instructor would come by and tie up his laces and he'd be on the ice again fo a bit, then back on the bench taking off his skates. Several more times later and I finally helped him give back the skates and regain his land legs. He tried, I'll give him that. He was much like Rebecca on her first try at 3 years old. The rink was pretty lousy too. I have no idea what the base was, but a layer of white rocks were visible and puddles of water were all over the surface. Katherine did really well, Rebecca stuck to the side but enjoyed herself
Then came lunch. I left ours on the bus. Packed lunch for us includes a 1/2 sized cooler, so lugging it around was not an option. Oh well, we were eating in a food court so rather than getting McDo or another sane option, I went vegetarian. "Meat" on a stick, some rice and soup. Yes, our first experience with tofu. It smelled good, but the texture was -far- from meatlike and the taste was barely passable. Ack. Rebecca ate all of hers. Katherine made a good dent, Nicholas took some bites and Jonathon wouldn't go near it. I agreed with Jonathon.
Storyland! An indoor mall wonderland for kids, with its own roller coaster. By 1 p.m. Jonathon was worn out, but we were here for the duration, so on the rides we went. Typical carnival fare with rides that went in circles, bumper cars, a track car ride, and all the carnival games. We stuck to the rides, and aside from the track ride, Jonathon hated them all. Nicholas insisted on riding the roller coaster (which the girls loved) and screamed for me the the entire time. Well, I'd picked the second car, he picked the 2nd from last car, and Rebecca was in the last one. We were the only ones on it and he had no idea what he was getting into. So... why then did he go again? Sure he insisted that I sit with him but he still cowered the entire time repeating it was too scary. Silly boy.
On the bus ride home, Jonathon finally fell asleep and we've done nothing with the remaining few hours of the afternoon and evening. We did hang around Seafront for a few extra minutes to pick up Ian from the medical unit (immunizations, whee!) so he wouldn't have to take a cab home.
Yesterday the kids all got the last Hep A shot, but couldn't get their TB tests done since it was Thursday and they couldn't check them on Sunday. You know, I wish they'd pick a process. Every time we get the TB test done it's different with some places saying you can check yourself, some saying the same nurse has to check you, some saying you can go to a different office and any medical person can check. Just pick one! Anyhow, we all get the TB test on Monday instead. Yay, another trip to Seafront.
The clinic has also ordered a bunch of Japanese Encephalitis innoculations and are recommending them to everyone. I asked why since when we got prepped for coming here, it was only recommended if you were going out into the provinces. I didn't get a clear answer and I figure if no one gets sick, we'll just avoid the clinic for a while. Immature, I know. Ian had his check-up for flight school and his EKG came back irregular so he'll have a repeat done next Friday.
We talked again about out trip back home in 2005, and I came up with (don't let Ian tell you different) a great idea. Rather than flying over the ocean and the entire continental U.S., how about we cross the ocean, land in Seattle and drive the rest of the way? Ponder that a bit.

Monday, July 28, 2003

All is well that Ends well

It's over, peacefully, bloodless and as far as I can tell, without any change. The rebels were sent back to their barracks. I can only hope that someone was disciplined but here it seems it's one extreme or the other and in this case I'm guessing nothing happened. They stood down, and that was the primary goal.

American citizens had been encouraged to evacuate the neighborhoods directly around the Ayala Center. The Embassy provided hotel rooms to all those interested. We were not part of that system, thankfully, as we have a major road between our neighborhood and the business district.
What did we do? We stayed home, made chocolate chip cookies, built a pillow/couch/table fort in the living room and figured God would forgive us for missing Mass. We didn't explain what was going on to the kids. Too close to home, and it did not interfere with our lives directly. If the standoff had continued, we had been in jeopardy, the building exploded, people died or the worst, we couldn't go to summer camp on Monday (perhaps something else that directly affected them), we would have given an abbreviated version of the news. But as it was, it ended without them needing to know anything.
Ian was called in to work on the task force at the Embassy and write a cable to Washington, then was sent to Makati to be an official American set of eyes on the situation. The roles switched between people every few hours so he wouldn't be working all night, just until 6 or 7.
While sitting in his bullet proof van, he was at the right spot to inform some new Japanese arrivals heading to check-in at the hotel that it really wasn't a good time. Once he filled them in on what was happening, Ian escorted them to find another cab and payed the driver a day's wages to take the Japanese business to a hotel on the other side of the city. All in a day's work around here.
Yesterday when our housekeeper arrived, one of the first things she said was "This was your first time, huh?" Doesn't that speak volumes?
In other news about things ending well, my dad is out of surgery. It only lasted a couple hours and he was in the recovery room and actually got up on his own. He had a disk removed in his back and replaced with a portion of his hip. Who came up with -that- idea? Sounds horrendous, but if all is well, he could be home tomorrow, off his feet the rest of the week, in a brace for 3 weeks and then almost all normal. In fact better than normal since this was to relieve a lot pain he's been having the past few years.
It's a serious drawback to our lifestyle when too much happens all at once. My parents really had a hard time, especially my mom. On one side she was hoping and praying my dad didn't die in the hospital (irrational? Possibly, but that's completely irrelevant). On the other, she was hoping and praying we didn't die 8000 miles away, or at all for that matter (irrational? Possibly, but that's completely irrelevant). I wanted to be home so that she wouldn't have to sit in the hospital all alone, and to be there for my dad. The kids are worried about grandpa but they made him cards which they hope will make him feel better. We wanted to make it very clear how much we love him.
My dad is someone who most people would call passionate. I don't feel that term adequately describes him. Passion suggests a single focus, something that draws you in and when the project is done it is a work of art, something to behold, something you realize and hold dear. Above all, I feel that passion suggests an inward acknowledgment of talent and pride and a power over your chosen medium.
My father is all that, but in everything he does. Everything he touches becomes his own. He does nothing half way. He reminds me of Midas where a touch of his finger transforms a potentially plain basic subject into a treasure. Only with my dad, he gives his soul to his music, his work, his family, his life. He touches so many people and transforms so much into gold. And most of the time, doesn't even know it.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

To coup or not to coup

27 July 2003 - Rather than a coup attempt, though that is what some political folks are still calling it, a group of somewhere between 100-200 malcontent soldiers have left their posts and set up around the Ayala Center here in Makati.

Their choice of venue happens to be Glorietta Mall and the surrounding businesses and hotels to make their demands (which I am still unsure of), and in order to ensure their own security, they have placed bombs around the area to dissuade the armed forces from approaching.
Makati is the central business district of Manila, and indeed of all the Philippines. This is where the wealthy come to live and work. The hotels and extended living residences are packed with expatriates, visitors and foreign officials. Thankfully, people residing in Oakwood (an extended-stay hotel located above the Ayala Center) including the Australian Ambassador were released early on. No one has been taken hostage, no one has been shot and no bombs have gone off. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has given the mutineers until 5 p.m. to stand down, but there reply has been a staunch “No way”. It’s a little odd to see our gas/service station and the roads around our neighborhood on CNN, blocked off by armored vehicles, trucks full of servicemen and lines of men in riot gear.
Actually, I do know one of their demands and why this is still being referred to as a coup attempt. The former president, Estrada, was kicked out for stealing billions of dollars from the government and Arroyo was put in his place to finish out his term. She hasn’t said whether she will run again (the Philippines has a single 6 year term so even her ability to run is in question), but these folks are loyal to Estrada and want him back as president.
Unfortunately, Ian has been called in to work.

So this is the life of an expat

Everything can change at the drop of a hat. When we awoke this morning I checked the newpaper on-line (Inquirer: ) and rather than a coup attempt, a group of mutinied soldiers have taken over the Ayala Center here in Makati.

For those who have been following this journal, the Ayala Center mentioned is our very own Glorietta Mall, across from our neighborhood.

Odds and Ends

The storm went through this week without too much damage. A big old billboard must have gotten caught just right in the wind because it’s steel supports were bent in half as the billboard now points to the street. A tree down the street was knocked over as well. But on the whole, it was a short-lived typhoon with a short power outage and minimal flooding.

The kids went to Malabon Zoo for their summer camp field trip. The Zoo is privately owned and from what I heard, it was a blast. Because it’s so small, the kids were able to hold baby orangutans, touch tiger cubs, and watch grown tigers get fed (With 7 vitamins stuck in the meat, mom! And the tiger stood up to get his food and it was bigger than daddy!). Some big fish were fed and leapt out of the tank to get their meal, the kids could touch an albino python and wow was it cool! I wish I’d gone along and taken photos. I sent Katherine with her camera, but she forgot it anyhow so now I’ll just have to imagine my child carrying around a diapered orangutan.
So where was I? I was in the Seafront Club at a newcomers meeting. Several folks from different organizations spoke and the most popular was the guy from FPO who answered questions on delivery times, writing addresses and how to handle internet companies who don’t accept FPO addresses. The director of the American Association of the Philippines also spoke and it seemed like an interesting group until he began speaking on a topic that I didn’t agree with. One of the functions of the AAP is to search out children of American service men who do not know their father’s nationality. These children are, in effect, American. He went on about how sad it was that they didn’t know anything about their home country and the AAP’s role in educating them about America and teaching them English. It bothered me. These children have Filipino mothers, have been raised in Filipino society, speak their local dialects, continue Filipino customs and it made me bristle to hear him speak as though they were neglected and being raised by heathens. American sperm does not an American make (I know the rule books disagree with me on this), unless that child desires to become an American. Only then does it carry weight. But heck, that’s just my opinion. The lunch was pretty good, very tame Filipino food with excellent lumpia. Ian had been told that there would be balut and I promised him that someone was pulling his leg. Turns out, I was right. No one would serve balut to first time expats.
We got a package from home! Chocolate chips because they simply don’t exist here. And oh are they good. We already had chocolate chip pancakes this morning and tomorrow there are plans for chocolate chip cookies. Grandma and grandpa also sent new swimsuits for the boys with built in floats, a sticker storybook for Rebecca and Harry Potter stationery for Katherine. What a wonderful box of goodies. The swimsuits look remarkably like a buff Spiderman, so Nicholas has been having a great time running around the house fighting the Green Goblin and flinging webs. Thank goodness he’s never seen Superman.
The girls finally got their hair trimmed. Nicholas desperately needs a haircut.
We're currently going through an attempted coup, or something of that nature. The news is sporadic at best and the only channel breaking in to say anything is all in Tagalog. Our home radio is working, and I'm thinking I should pack some bags, just to be on the over-prepared side.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Yesterday was busier than normal

So, yesterday was fun and busy. It started with a trip to Glorietta to pick up a birthday gift for a party we were going to in the evening.

I ended up picking out a Scooby Doo coloring book, a book about how to draw Dexter from Dexter's laboratory, an Asterix comic book and two abridged classics, The Three Musketeers and Treasure Island.. all for under $8. Then we stopped in at Jollibee for some ice cream because the kids were being good. The Jolibee has dipped cones with rice krispie crunchies, for P10 each. All 5 of us had cones for $1 with Nicholas choosing ube, Katherine picking cheese, Rebecca had strawberry and Jonathon and I each had chocolate. The other day Jonathon and I were in a hurry and stopped in at Auntie Anne's for pretzels and I highly recommend the almond variety. For P35 each, we bought two. I'm definitely picking up why our sponsors talked so much about eating out and where to get snacks.
While Jonathon napped, the other 3 did an art project, drawing a still picture of that VeggieTale cucumber, Larry. We have a mix-n-match Larry (much like Mr Potato Head), so I stood him up and the kids did their best to draw him a couple times in different outfits. I had them cut him out, then glued him onto some foam board and write something with foam letters, and they really did turn out cute.
Once the project was done and cleaned up, Jonathon was still sleeping, but the phone rang. Another mom called us up and invited us over, so I found a new neighborhood on the map and we spent the rest of the afternoon there while the kids built cushion forts and played with the various animals they own (from fish to hampsters to turtles). They have 5 kids, ages 11 years to 5 months and just moved into new quarters. The house is, of course, huge and has a pool. She has a daughter going into 2nd grade (different teacher than Katherine though) and another daughter starting K (we don't have our teacher assignments yet), so this could be a really good year. Manila is their first post as well, so we talked about hired help a bit and discovered we both prefer the same things. Drivers are too much to deal with, live-in househelp is not for us as we enjoy our privacy and a yaya is not a necessity because "lunch functions" are not our thing.
She knows a lot of places to find good deals being a 10 month Manila veteran to my 3 months, and told me one of the stalls at the bazaar has interesting quilts. Quilts are a big thing here, but all the ones I've seen are less than exotic, basic designs you can purchase at home. Granted, here they are loads cheaper, but I've never wanted to just "buy a quilt", so I can't see getting some pastel concoction just because they exist and are cheap. But she had one that had patches of different Filipino interests. Landmarks, cultural symbols, really really neat. I want one. The standard quilt apparently comes with a patch of cock-fighting in the middle, but she requested one with a temple instead. It took me a second to realize that in Quezon City is a Mormon Temple. We've agreed that once the the kids start school again, and it's just us and the little boys, we'll hit the town together a few times to see what we can find.
On a side note, we've been asked to be community sponsors for a family coming in August with 4 kids, expecting their 5th. What is going on here? We're going to be the small family at post at this rate since that will make three families with 5 kids that I know of off hand.
When we left the Lewis house, we swung by home to pick up Ian and then went directly to McDonalds where the birthday party was being held. Again, in a part of town we'd never been in, and the parking was on a slant up 2 curbs. That was an adventure. Thank goodness for parking brakes. Anyhow, this was a nine year old boy who the kids see at summer camp, and he has a six year old sister. It was enjoyable, but it was definitely a McDs birthday complete with games for kids and adults. I have no desire to go back to McDonalds any time soon. They had enough food for an army, giving each kid a big soda, a hamburger, bowl of spaghetti, piece of chicken, piece of cake and a McFlurry. I'm amazed the kids fell asleep at all.
And to finish off the day, we received a package from home that had some really great treats for the kids. How perfect was that? Grandma even included clip-on earrings for the girls that they tried out today and proclaimed much too painful to wear. They're thinking now that the short-term pain of getting their ears pierced might be worth it.
Oh, seems like all is set for our trip to Cebu on Friday. We have air reservations and hotel set up. We're not going to get to stay at Plantation Bay ( because one of the nights we wanted was booked, which we're really bummed about, but if we really like it in Cebu, maybe we'll go back. Not hopeful about that since there are so many other places to go and see, I don't know how we'd go back to the same place, at least not for a long while.

Friday, July 11, 2003

Odds and Ends

How many times does a mom of 4 get asked "So, how do you stay so sexy?" by a complete stranger in a bakery? OK, I acknowledge that this was most likely a badly chosen word on the part of the speaker, but even so, it was enough to make me stop and look like a moron for a moment before answering that I just don't have time to sit and eat very often. But goodness, Ian doesn't let me live that one down.

Katherine has lost all 4 top front teeth. I don't know how she manages to eat, but thankfully three adult teeth are already visible. Now one of the lower teeth is loose. The tooth fairy neglected to leave a coin one evening which caused a bit of trouble. I told her that the fairy most likely didn't want to come to a house that was a den of germs. She retorted that the fairy should just wear a face mask like all the people in the Philippines do. Well, touche my dear!

Nicholas made a picture at camp this week and on the back was his name. He was very proud of it and showed it to me right away. When I asked him what it said on the back I fully expected to hear "Dihdis!" but instead I heard his version of "I love you so much, Mommy!" Oh, man. What a sweetheart.

Jonathon has managed to get himself sick. I was so hoping he wouldn't, but here he is with an on/off low-grade fever all week and at the clinic today the nurse said it looks like he's getting an ear infection. This morning his eyes were red and getting goopy just like big brother's were before. I now have amoxicillin on hand in case the infection does flare up over the weekend. We'll be going back to the clinic on Monday to check on the ears.

Rebecca's reading is getting much better. She's sounding out words, but still gets stuck if what she sounds out doesn't sound like a word she knows. It's frustrating because she can't extrapolate ("Well, what word could it be, within the sentence?") but overall she's well.

Random thoughts...

Just some stuff going through my mind lately....

I set our computer to record "Oz" on the SOLAR channel, an odd Asian station that doesn't seem to be owned by anyone. The clips I've seen on there seem to all be from the first season, but I'm hoping they show more recent episodes. Anyway, I can never seem to record an entire episode. That's because although it's supposed to be on at 11, sometimes it starts at 11:20, or 11:16, or 11:04, or 10:52. My little ATI TV program doesn't have a setting for "Whenever the Hell SOLAR Feels Like It."
Our cable provider, which seems to be always a feather away from falling into bankruptcy, is losing the "Star Movies Mandarin" channel. That bites, now we won't get our ridiculous Hong Kong action/fantasy movies that look like 2-hour LSD trips. These are movies that are actually made less understandable by the English subtitles.
Just as long as they don't get rid of Sahara, one of our Indian channels. I don't want to lose "Dum Dum Diga Diga," the Indian music video show with some catchy songs and plenty of hot Indian ladies.
A few weeks ago one of the local papers did a story about how much money Philippine congresspeople make. Who makes a million pesos a year, who doesn't. Much like the US versions of this story, only in true Philippine style, they celebrate the rich rather than the poorer members doing it for public service. Anyway, it occurred to me then that here we are multi-millionaires. Even more so, since we don't pay for our housing here. We are richer than most legislators here. It's an odd position to be in.

Thursday, July 3, 2003

It's not every day you get old.. I mean, turn 30!

3 July 2003 – Ian turned the big 3-0 today. Our original plans from weeks ago had been to spend the day at Enchanted Kingdom. Well, after Rebecca being diagnosed with strep on Monday, Nicholas being diagnosed on Wednesday and me feeling all around awful (but no strep, just ear ache, sore throat, on and off fever which has turned into a sore and swollen neck, sore eyes and now laryngitis with coughing), we decided to bag that plan. Carrying around several medications that had to be kept cold, and just the idea of walking for hours around rides I knew we wouldn’t be riding, just didn’t seem like a wise idea. The park isn’t going anywhere so we’ll plan it for another day.

I had informed the Camp Critters leader about the kids being sick in case any other kids started being weird, and she invited us to go with them to Pizza Hut where the kids would go through the kitchen and make their own pizzas. We decided to take her up on it, but took our own car and kept the sick ones at our table to minimize contact. Yeah, it probably wasn’t the best plan, but we wanted to do something today. Ian tried to get an introductory flight scheduled and that would have organized our day and given him something truly memorable as he starts his private pilot’s license course, but there were no available slots. I guess with the clouds and storms that were rumbling throughout the day, it was probably a good thing.
Side note, pizza here isn’t like at home. They use a sweet tomato sauce rather than a mildly spicy one, and the cheese doesn’t melt and stretch like mozzarella should. They call it mozzarella, but it’s a very soft cheese that melts and turns kinda gooey. It’s an acquired taste, but so far neither Ian nor I have acquired it.
OK, so after some pizza lunch we completed the field trip by going to… the Manila American Cemetery. Now, while this was a great trip for our family (our kids enjoy cemeteries, reading the headstones, wandering the fields, etc.) I wasn’t sure that there was a purpose for the other kids. With us present, we could later talk to our kids about who was buried, the difference between cross and Star of David headstones, and what the memorial was for, but as far as we could tell, the leaders didn’t give the rest of the group any information at all. Why go, to a cemetery of all places, unless you want to impart information and give the kids a frame of reference? There’s a photo page up of our visit, so you can click on that when you’re ready.
The cemetery is officially called the World War II Manila American Memorial Cemetery. There is an open circle memorial on a small hill in the center of the park. The memorial is open to the elements and can be strolled through a middle corridor with perpendicular walls on either side etched with the names of the American armed forces missing in action. Here, this largely means “lost at sea”. Those who had been awarded the Medal of Honor were filled in with gold. Walking along, we crossed over the seals of all the States and at the ends of each section are rooms that have mosaics depicting plans for specific battles, along with battle plans for specific fleets. The memorial is far from “impressive” in size and style if you’ve been to downtown Washington lately, but on the whole it’s a wonderful landmark for battles few people have ever heard about.
And then cake and presents! Yesterday I’d taken the kids to a bakery where we created a mix-n-match of cheesecakes, chocolate cakes and tiramisu cake. OK, it looked a little funny, but everyone chose a kind they preferred and all were happy. Presents began with Rebecca handing daddy a bag of cash including a $1000 bill and plenty of gold coins. She’d made them all herself and was happy that daddy could now go out and buy fun stuff. Katherine had created a cardboard house. I don’t know why she picked that specific project but she worked long and hard on it and was pleased with the outcome. That’s all that counts in my book. From Jonathon, Ian received a white undershirt. He was understandably confused by this as he never wears undershirts, but then Nicholas handed over the final gift, a barong. A barong is the local men’s shirt, worn at the office. It is usually white or off-white, has a collar and a series of buttons part-way down the front and an embroidered design (often floral) in a rectangular pattern. There are formal barongs made of pineapple fibers but I didn’t think that the expense of one would be worth it.
The day ended with dinner at Outback.