The Emirates

This is how big the Dubai Mall is: 45 minutes after I decided I was leaving, I was whimpering pitifully down three layers of parking garage after passing the aquarium, the ice skating rink, and the waterfall.  I’d managed to leave the building once, but the sidewalk shuttled me right back in through Bloomingdale’s.  My brain was flagging, my tired body had settled into a shuffle in inverted-v, and I just. could. not. find. an exit.

This place is nuts.

I was only in the mall because it’s the only way to get to the top of the Burj Khalifa, which- as the current tallest building in the world with 160 stories- is even nuts-er.  It stands pointedly over all the other skyscrapers like Yao Ming on a Lilliputian basketball team.  Look:


The next day we had to be consummate professionals again here:


where you can get a certificate in “To Whom It May Concern”.  Nice.


We met with this handsome and well-spoken gentleman who made me want to sit up a little straighter, and over the course of the next few hours I learned a lot about how inspiring and knowledgeable are the group with whom I’m traveling.


Anyway, our cohort here is professionally impressive and I’m learning a ton, especially since I also get to speak with top educators in all of these countries.  Yesterday I even got to do a presentation at the Ministry- when the Emirati teachers heard about the demographics of Portland, they asked me to get up and speak about strategies for being a global educator- and I’m including the picture even though it’s not aesthetically pleasing because it appeals to my intellectual vanity and maybe my parents will be all proud.  But you guys- I don’t even want to hear any guff about the fact that I’m wearing a suit, okay?


A highlight of last night was Diann, an expat ex-Texan who happens to have double balconies on the 47th floor of a building overlooking the Palms.  The Emirati generosity was strong in this one, and she invited us over after the meeting to watch the sunset over the Gulf.  I can’t believe I got to do that!  Look:


We tried to hit the Palms Atlantis after sunset to see a belly dancer, but unfortunately we were an hour late and subsequently got kicked out for not ordering any food.  Went home, hit the sack, and boom: up for the Burj this morning.

It’s time to go to Abu Dhabi now-bye!


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In Which I Get All History-Nerdy

July 12, 2014

Did you know that it’s injudicious, skin-appearance-wise, to spend an entire day dressed in full length jeans and a waterproof jacket under a sun that’s burning a heat index of 106?  I didn’t drink water, either, like some kind of dope.  I wound up with a full body rash for three days and some serious heat-related coma-like symptoms, but it was worth it.

Yes, today, we went to the island of Corregidor.

This trip is an 80 minute boat ride, and you should know that Corregidor was, according to its website, “a key bastion for the Allies during the war.”  It’s located in Manila Bay, and the struggle for it and for Manila played a big giant role in how Japanese fates unraveled.

I did not know this.  Just like when I learned a couple of weeks ago that the Philippines was subjected to sustained invasion just the day after Pearl Harbor, I felt really ignorant upon finding out.  This feeling continued throughout the day.

One of the first things I learned was that “banzai” means “may you live ten thousand years”, and not, as I’m embarrassed to have thought, something simplistic and cartoony like “hiiiii-YA!”  It was also a really difficult fact to corroborate via Internet until I stopped spelling the darned word like it was a set description for Mr. Miyagi.  There you go, though.  The Filipino word “mabuhay” means the same thing.  Good to know, since I’ve been hearing it for two weeks and it could have just as easily meant “look!  A tall blonde mutant.”  Regardless, I like the Filipino usage much better as it’s more reassuring to hear it as a welcome rather than as a suicide pilot’s farewell howl.

Oh- suicide pilots.  That’s another piece of lesson I need to revamp when we get back to the States.  When I taught Japanese history and culture this spring and got to the World War II section, kids had tons of questions about the kamikaze pilots, and why on earth anybody would ever do something like that, let alone hundreds of people.  We traced Japanese culture all the way back centuries, back to the samurai code, bushido, the way of the warrior.  To a code that dictated harakiri, a ritual and suicidal disembowelment for anyone who behaved dishonorably.  The samurai were pretty much torn apart by Emperor Meiji in the 1860s, but their code and culture had run the country for hundreds of years, and you can’t just change people’s ways of thinking merely by declaring them obsolete.

So imagine a culture in which dishonor, for centuries, was treated with a self-inflicted death wound.  If Japanese soldiers fled from battle or otherwise shamed themselves in their duty to the emperor, it’s easier to see why their superiors could more easily convince them to “volunteer” for kamikaze missions.

It’s even easier to see when you know that they were also pumped full of drugs, as I learned today.  And that some of them were actually Koreans or Taiwanese whose countries had been forcibly occupied by the Japanese empire for decades.

Those are new details that will change my answers when students ask in the future.

The guide also mentioned that Japanese tourists got an entirely different tour on Corregidor, one in which they end up mostly discussing Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  It got me to thinking about how awkward and apologetic I’d be if I were sitting with domestic tourists at the nuclear bomb sites.  I found a book- by a Japanese author but written or translated in English- about Hiroshima in the library of Shinagawa Gakuen last year, and I felt so terrible reading it that I had to hide in the aisles and cry on the floor.  It reinforced a fierce belief to never judge a people by its government.

And the government of World War-era Japan was just filled with despicable jerks who perpetrated and encouraged what should be inhuman behavior.  The guide was just telling us about some of the “comfort women” forced into servility when a bunch of macaques interrupted by crossing the road, which I frankly kind of needed as distraction.

You should note, though, that the original Japanese plan had the Philippines conquered in 50 days, after which the Nippon military would move on to Hawaii and Australia.  The American and Filipino troops held them off for almost five months, though, destroying the plan and potentially saving our sorry buns from a world of suffering and hurt.

I’m not always proud of our military’s history, and I often bank on an internationally shared belief not to judge people by whomever holds power over them.

It’s just that new info makes everything so darned complex.

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Ladyboys Lead the Catholic School Birthday Party

July 8, 2014

“How much is that doggy in the window?” sang the ladyboy who emceed today’s performance.  She then bent toward the grade schoolers and growled.

Children and adults alike were squealing with delight.  The purple strapless sequins number followed, and I didn’t understand most of it because of all of the enthusiastic crowd howling, but Randdie translated for the ladyboy hostess who was next in line.   Apparently, she was exhorting rounds of applause from the audience… and if she didn’t get them, she’d yell something vaguely threatening about the audience members’ rear ends.

Can I just interject to say that this whole entire event was orchestrated with only an attitude of fun and- once again- total acceptance of all things humanly natural?  It is just the sweetest thing ever.

Amanda said it best as she was gaping in wonder at the joyous throngs.  

“Look at them!” she said.  “They’re just- I mean, everyone’s totally into this, but not in the American way of making sarcastic jokes and being slightly ashamed.  So cool.”

(Side note to Amanda if you’re reading this: I obviously invented the quotation marks for the sake of telling the story.  My apologies, coupled with the acknowledgment that the conversation has been re-imagined, but with its spirit intact.  As a librarian, just file this under well-researched historical fiction, yes?  Yes.  Okay, good.)

I’m not sure if it was the dancing I was doing on the sidelines or the fact that I am head-and-shoulders the most conspicuous person in the nation, but it wasn’t long before GMA- which is the national TV station for the country- was asking me to spell my name and to look at the hostess rather than the camera.  

I’m not giving any more details than that because I’ve gained ten pounds in dairy, sugar, and fetus (not pregnant- just ate one… see previous blog for the not shocking explanation) and at the time of interview, had already sweat a liter of t-shirt lubricant.  So frankly, I don’t want anyone with a preconceived notion of what I look like to actually see that.  But if you’re a member of the 12th most populous nation in the world and saw the broadcast: that’s me in the green shirt and pearl bracelet!  I love how nice you’ve been to me for the past two weeks!  Thank you for being the people whom I will stereotype, going forward, as the kindest and most accepting and most generous in the world!  

But yeah, also I cried today.

I’ve mentioned before that the singing here has been impressive to a degree that sort of defies belief.  In fact, I’m horrified by my entire day yesterday because I just found out that the karaoke place wasn’t soundproof and you could hear me singing ‘90s music at least a block away on the streets.  And this is not good, because pitch perfection seems to be DNAbled here and I don’t have it.

I’m sorry for what I did to you, Wonderwall.

But, right- at the goodbye ceremony that Donah arranged at San Agustin, a bunch of grade schoolers who’d had only one previous public performance sang for us, and it was beautiful.  They actually harmonized as a chorus.  Could you do that at nine?  Shoot, I was still under the impression that guitars only took one hand to play.  

I didn’t actually cry at this part because one time Chuck shut down the Gritty’s downstairs with his “lip syncing with a lisp” performance- making “thuck it in, thuck it in, thuck it in” the primary way that I sing John Popper- and the little girl in the front row who was actually lisping reminded me of that.  So while half of me was touched and overcome, the other half of me was mentally punching myself in the face for even considering inappropriate laughter.  

The crying part came next, with the teachers.

Four of them got up and sang Rent, and for five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes… I let the sentiments take over.

I can’t stress enough how kind these people have been, even with what was potentially (and I hope we’ve corrected this) the idea that we were coming in to arrogantly correct or critique their practice.  They’ve given us the run of their school and they’ve let us pop into classes for the express purpose of watching the cute ones wave at us, which is incredibly disruptive when you’re trying to get a lesson across.  I hope they know how much we’ve learned from them and what we’ll take back home.  I hope we can continue this connection, which I think was cemented as Amanda led a US/Filipino instructional Shim Sham.

How come our staff meetings aren’t like this, by the way, back home?  If we could do singing and dancing in them there might be a little more engagement.  Learning is definitely best when there’s some kind of personal connection, which should go without saying that that’s true for adults, too.

Invite a wisecracking ladyboy to lead our meetings, and I’m sold on PD for life.

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Parlay It Forward

My bunking of all things communal has left me in the company of blessed, blissful books. I think I’ve been looking forward to this day since school started last September.

The weird part is that the two books I’m reading- The Poisonwood Bible (recommended) and My Education (not)- forge some connection to the Philippines, and the luxury of time has allowed me to research things about this country that I would not otherwise, even wandering the streets in which sections of the book are set, have learned.

It’s disconcerting, by the way, to be still- ten years a history teacher- discovering new perspectives and new atrocities that I’ve never known to incorporate into my lessons, especially as I try to weave community and empathy as my principle threads. Why didn’t I know, until I was basking in a day’s freedom from a relatively cushy life, that this country was attacked at the same time as Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor? Why didn’t I know that the Filipinos endured much more brutality as their attack was coupled with a physical invasion, and followed by the Bataan Death March, during which both our countries’ soldiers suffered and died inhumanly at Japanese hands? Why hadn’t I heard George Takei’s story, which mitigates reflexive racism with a grace that demands we judge people as individuals and not as a culture, if we judge them at all?

I feel like an ignoramus. And yet I’m completely content in my day, having learned the above and vowed to parlay it forward.

Cheers to the written word, y’all, and the freedom to duly interpret.

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Catching Up

July 2, 2014

Here’s a tip if you’re looking to drive in the Philippines: don’t.  Lanes and laws are merely suggestions and you’ll furthermore have to learn the intricacies of Honking as a Second Language.  There are all kinds of vehicular hazards like frogs and chickens and goats and water buffalo and millions of other people who appear to subscribe to the “look, ma- no hands”ing method of motorized transportation.  Also, everybody’s looking at the yellow-headed thing.

Here’s a tip if you’re looking to walk in the Philippines: don’t.  Not if you’re the giant yellow-headed thing, anyway.  I attempted to walk places twice today, and both were exercises in reevaluation.

For the first trip, I was supposed to meet Amanda and Stephany in the lobby at 8 in the morning in order that we walk to school together.  Naturally I had told Stephany not to wait for me because I know myself, and true to form I arrived at 8:07 and had to mosey along alone.  After walking almost 25 minutes in the wrong direction, sweating through my shirt, and performing wild circles of arm aerobics after slipping in, probably, sewage, I finally bit the bullet and hailed a trike.

A tricycle is this:


(Daggone it, I used to have a picture from the outside but can’t find it now.  The above was taken from an attachment to the bike, from the inside where I was lamaze breathing while traffic hurled itself at my exposed and wide-eyed self from all angles.)

In it, late to school and with theoretical poop on my toes, I looked like this:


Luckily school was really fun in that I got to teach a class of seventh graders who wanted to know things like “are American teenagers liberated?” and “why would Samatar poke that lion?” which incidentally is a hit story worldwide.  We took a bunch of selfies and I left school with enough time in the afternoon to get some chores done.


One thing I definitely had to do was hit a running store, because (embarrassingly enough) my sneakers smelled too rank to pack, and we’re scheduled for a fun run/zumba session on Saturday.  See, Colegio San Agustin- my host school- had a terrible fire a few months ago that completely destroyed their gym.  The remains and ashes are still there and it looks pretty awful.  True to community form, though, everyone’s banding together to raise some rebuilding pesos, and that’s what this Saturday’s for.  I’ll be the one limping the 5k that begins at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m.

Oh, side note: when the kids sang “Cups” to me and found out that Anna Kendrick is from Portland, they pitched fits of excitement and made me promise to try to get an autograph for the school.  Does anyone know how to do that?  Do you think she’d give a dollar for the gym?  They’re really, really cute and that might be helpful…

Anyway, right- I decided to walk to the mall to get some sneakers.

The first thing I noticed was that alone, I am the most popular person in the whole entire world.  I hadn’t been walking two blocks before a kid yelled “hello!” at me… from inside his house.  Every person I passed either nodded or smiled a “good afternoon!” and security guards with giant scary guns stepped aside for me.  Taxi drivers- well, this is nothing new- shouted greetings from their moving cabs, and passengers in passing jeepneys hailed my bewildered self heartily.  The weirdest, though, was the guy in the fortress auto, so named because that’s what it said on the side.


This dude traveled alongside me for almost the entire 2.1 kilometres to the mall.

Imagine walking unfamiliar streets when a gold van starts creeping along with you, sometimes slightly ahead, sometimes slightly behind.  Imagine noting this after five or six blocks, and wondering if it’s purposeful.  Imagine him then pulling over, and asking where you’re going.

“The mall.”

“Oh.  Is that way.”


A few blocks later, he pulled over again and offered me a ride.

“No, thank you.”

About a mile and a right turn later?

“You took wrong turn.  Mall up that way, then right.”

Do I have a good samaritan or walk stalker?  Without quality perception in my extra-sensories, I vowed to take a tricycle home.

July 3, 2014

“Do you have gay people in the United States?” asked the Batman-clad fourth grader, tugging at the sleeve of the dress I’d tucked into my pants because it was the closest thing I could muster that looked professional.

“Well, of course,” I answered, flabbergasted.  A couple of girls stroked my hair as I tried simultaneously to have the conversation and sign autographs.

“Oh, good,” he replied, “I’m gay!”

“Yeah, he’s a girl,” chimed in one of his classmates, matter-of-factly and with zero judgment in evidence.

“It’s true!” he said gleefully, and then thrust a paper in front of me.  “Sign?”

And hey, what a heartening display of acceptance.  Even more heartening was that it was not at all a significant moment in their day.  They were far more concerned with rubbing my hair and seeing if I would make faces back at them while Amanda presented.

Bad role model move: I totally did.  What’s the point in being able to move your eyebrows independently if you can’t show children ‘round the world?


Alright, let’s change gears here.

Metaphorical cats and dogs have become an endangered species in the Philippines, by the way, because in the past couple of weeks it’s rained all of them.  Our meeting with the mayor this afternoon had a downpour soundtrack that resembled a FIFA crowd’s roar.

Yep, the mayor of a city of a million.  Monico Puentevella hosted us the day after his State of the City address, plying us with sweets and stories of American athletes he’s met.  Lebron James?  Aw, fiddlesticks, fraternized with him at the Olympics for a photo op with Pacquiao.  Anthony, Duncan, Westbrook… no big whoop.  We could see he was kind of a big shot.

The godfatherly offer of protection further cemented Puentevella’s status.

“Any Filipinos giving you trouble,” he said, “decide if you like him first.  You do?  Hahaaaaaa, don’t call me.  You don’t?  Here’s my number, I have the police take him away.”

Seriously, a charming man and the perfect host.  It’s too bad how fraudulent I felt trying to eat the caramelized bananas while under the table shoving my dress back into my pants.

That’s right, my clothing was more shameful and secretive than a fourth grader’s sexual orientation.

And I’m proud to say that it’s so.

July 5, 2014

My last google search is “duck fetus philippines” because when I got home from dinner last night, I thought I’d write some blog before throwing myself sheetsward. I had eaten something, see, aptly called “balut” (because that’s the sound American bystanders make when they watch you eating it) and it seemed to call for comment.

Balut looks like this:


It’s a partially formed duck embryo that’s been hard-boiled, and it’s a delicacy in much of southeast Asia.

Freedom!  America!  Happy 4th of July!

Anyway, I ate it anyway before knowing that it was a duck- the eggs of which generally make me throw up immediately- but it turns out I didn’t get sick and could move on to the feast of pancit, fried chicken, a delicious beef thing that has a more specific name I forgot, and caramels that tasted like sweet, sweet, marshmallow campfire.

I have no idea how Filipinos continue to be so gosh darned hospitable, but we’ve been here long enough to conclude that it’s not at all a show.  Donah’s family welcomed us into their home last night for the aforementioned feast and I want that kind of hospitable warmth to be exactly what I remember about this place.  We couldn’t stay too late because we were supposed to run that early 5k, but it was wall-to-wall food and open arms while we were there.

Side note: the 5k did not start at 4 a.m.  I was buckets of nervous because, for starters, I look and feel the worst I have since college, which was before I discovered that secondhand cigarettes, firsthand beer, dairy, sugar, and a lack of vegetables were ruining my brain and my face.  Unfortunately, most meals here consist of dairy, sugar, and a lack of vegetables.  As stated, people have been incredibly generous to us, but that tends to mean five meals a day in which I feel obligated to partake.  My brain and body has responded accordingly, which is why I begged off the weekend trip in order to rest, exercise, and eat only the foods that I choose myself.

This is not as easy as it sounds, mind you.  The fetus was a spirit-of-adventure anomaly; I’m generally looking for anything vaguely vegetation.  Actually for lunch yesterday, I tried to get sushi and a salad at this Japanese place down the street, but I was FOILED because look at this salad!  It’s just mayonnaise- are you kidding me?!?!


And then the sushi was wrapped in cheese and drenched in sweet sauce, which was almost exactly the opposite of what I was going for.

I was also nervous about the 5k because I haven’t done any exercise since playing basketball maybe the Tuesday before school ended.  I’ve been trying to hit the “gym” at the hotel before school, but it doesn’t open until 6, there are only two treadmills (which are usually filled by 6:30) and they shake when I walk on them because there’s a 140 pound weight limit and I will only weigh 140 pounds if I spend a lot more time on the treadmill and additionally, cut off a limb.

I was also nervous about the 5k because I didn’t get any sleep because I dreamed many many terrible dreams, most of which I forgot but one of which definitely involved the embryo coming alive IN MY MOUTH.

It was a bit of a relief to find the race was not actually starting until almost two hours after we got there.  I’m zonked, so I’m heading back to bed rather than partaking.  I paid my entry fee, made a decent effort, and will quake through a treadmill workout at a decent hour later.

Despite the fetal fowl foray, I’m confidently conscience-free.

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Classroom Observation: Win

July 1, 2014

Oh!  Here we go.  I’ve repurposed a notebook I found in my house to be my “Philippines Notebook”, and after paging through some years-old communication and some weird notes on a Paul McCartney/Spice Girls collaboration which I’m assuming never happened, I’ve finally happened across my jottings from today, entitled:

A Hero’s Journey

If you were a colleague of mine in the mid-2000s, your gag reflex has probably already been activated in remembrance of some just horrible required staff reading.  I got about three pages into the mythological mumbo-jumbo that was interspersed with Oz allusions and, strangely, Superman, before throwing it in disgust off the sunporch at Round Pond and declaring that I’d rather be fired.

The hero’s epic journey is the subject of this seventh grade English lecture, but thankfully it’s a grand departure from my preconceived notions.  For starters, this teacher is incredibly engaging.  I find myself evaluating him Danielson-style and I sort of want to give him a hug for proving that distinguished teaching exists.

Side note: it has been a professional privilege to work with district and union leaders on the new evaluation system in Portland.  I think people would universally agree that it’s been sorely needed, but the pleasure lies not only in being a part of creating something necessary, but also (and mostly) in being able to look behind the scenes at a group who is uniformly keeping kids at the forefront of its action.  This is not designed to be one of those scary “gotcha” systems that are dotting the nation.  The intent, rather, is to provide an effective reflection tool for educators, to identify master teachers in order to celebrate and share best practice tools, and to support and coach those who struggle.  If a teacher can’t hack it after that?  Sorry/not sorry, as the kids would say.  Nobody is in this to protect a bad apple.

Anyway, this woman named Charlotte Danielson came up with some rubrics for teaching, and they’re great.  Honestly, just reading them and self-assessing made me a better teacher, especially since I can’t in good conscience promote the system if I’m not doing my best to be on top of it.  I even changed them to kid language and had my classes fill them out for me as a sub plan one day, and boy, did I learn a lot.  I was sort of annoyed that I hadn’t done it early enough to change my practice with that particular group.

So, right- missed opportunity- but the point is that I was consciously evaluating this teacher today and he was phenomenal.  On a topic that was for me- an adult reading a professional publication- straight torture, this guy managed to engage his entire class and purposefully lead them, via the Incredible Hulk and connections to their daily existence, through the six elements of a hero’s epic journey.

At the close of class, he had them ponder: how can you make your life epic?

I think I’m doing okay with that one right now.


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More days. Lost count.

Saturday, June 28

The mountains of Bacolod, as it turns out, are breeding grounds for hundred dollar chickens, the ones that rich people own in order to support their cockfighting habits.  We drove through them today on the way to King Kong PhotoOp World. 


Yes, so.  We’re in Bacolod now!

I couldn’t write yesterday because I was drowning in the tidal tired that swept across me after a 12-hour day visiting two more schools: Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino High School and Makati Science High, both in metro Manila.

May I interject, please, with a plea that American chorale chiefs corral their US students in the Filipino fashion?  At St. Paul’s, the singing brought the trip’s first tears to the eye, and I sort of assumed they were this nationally recognized troupe of girls who were handpicked at birth and raised on diaphragm-specific steroids and soprano powders for the express purpose of entertaining various visiting dignitaries.  I did a mental Wayne’s World bow at their director, and left in awe.

But then at both Aquino and Makati Science, we experienced the same thing.  Just beautiful, soaring voices from kids who looked like they lived purely to harmonize with an energy that could power the world.  It’s what the word “awesome” was invented for.  And when Aquino did the Mariah Carey tune with the “do-do-DOO (ow)… do-do-do-do-DO-do- (dow)” I went into a dissociative state of absolute pleasure.  Filipino high school choir directors are TalentMongers, Incorporated.  And a nice touch at Makati was when the singers presented each of us with a single rose at their song’s conclusion.

Anyway, the schools themselves were interesting, although my favorite, of course, is always meeting students.  In all schools, they were incredibly warm and welcoming, and in each class into which we popped our sweaty American faces, the students interrupted their lesson, turned gracefully toward us, and chanted in unison, “good morning, vee-see-tors.  Mabuhay!”  It should have seemed robotic but the culture is so genuine that it was heartwarming instead.  Further inspiring was the fact that 40-50 kids were packed into a classroom easily the same size as mine, but without the benefit of moderate temperatures and a sound barrier to keep out Manila’s maniacal motor traffic.  And if the teacher was sick?  No problem.  The dozens would complete their seat work both teacher and ruckus free.  

I had a bit of a rough time of it, because the majority of my students just don’t have that kind of self-possession and motivation, and is it my fault?  People tend to blame a lack of resources on lack of student achievement back home, and there’s certainly data to support that socio-economic status is directly correlated to academic success in the United States.  Why, though?  Both high schools in Manila were surrounded on all sides with makeshift houses, with corrugated roofs held steady with tires, detritus, debris.  Stray dogs slept in cardboard lean-tos and children played barefoot basketball in the streets.  

It’s a culture, and it’s a specifically cultivated culture.  When I mentioned to a girl who’d kindly come to sit with me because she worried that I was lonely- I was all by myself in a  row in the conference room because it was freezing and I only dared go as far from the A/C as one seat behind the current farthest colleague- that everyone had been so generous, she smiled gently and said, “that is how we are.  We just want to welcome you here; we are a community and this is our culture.”  And it’s true; they understand and value that integral to a community are education and open arms.

I just love that.  I love that she’s so aware that her culture is so, I love her investment in it, and I love that that’s all I’ve seen across both Manila and Bacolod.  Regardless of circumstance, people value each other, and they work together and they hope.  

Hooookay, sappy time’s over.  Did you know that teachers have to take a neuropsychological test to teach at Makati Science?  Yep, it’s a really good school. 

Probably I would not pass that test.

Anyway, I fell into bed last night without recording all of the above because I was booooone tired.  This morning, though, we checked out of the Shangri-La and four of us headed to our next assignment: Bacolod.

Bacolod City is but a mere island-hop away, and it’s home to Donah, our intimidatingly smart and beautiful host teacher.  I am easily twice her size, as evidenced by this picture we took at the baptismal family meal we attended as our first item of business here.  Duly note: I ate pig intestines over rice and they were fine.  


The journey to Bacolod was fairly uneventful except for the funeral procession we saw as we were heading to the Manila airport. At funeral processions, you’re supposed to throw coins so nobody follows, although whether that means “follows the body to the grave” or “follows the walking parade nosily to the burial” sort of escaped me.  This was because I was fascinated by the mourners, who passed slowly while “How do I live without you?” played ironically in the cab’s radio.  And then Donah told me of some other Filipino traditions, like the one that says that if you sing in the kitchen, you’ll marry an old man.  For some reason Ed McMahon springs to mind (and hasn’t he already had his procession?) which is worrisome in that I’d rather have Pat Sajak and I sing in the kitchen A LOT.

I just reread this whole thing and have concluded that I’m losing my mind.  It’s time to end this.

June 30, 2014

I just took a video meant to illustrate what a cacophonous environment in which these kids are learning.  I’m in a tenth grade economics class and if it were mine, I’d be standing with both arms curved outward but hands clenched in fists by hips, audibly growling at the atonal surround sound symphony.

Boy, do people work hard for education here.  There’s a loudspeaker outside, where someone’s presumably herding a PE class, and since the rooms are necessarily open-humidity with airy windows that let in Bacolod’s battle of birds vs. business- yes, the auditory distraction is significant.

Adding to that is the visual.  Stephany and I are perched on desks in the back, and while most students try to glance at us surreptitiously, the flirty kid keeps staring openly between winks and the gentle brushing of his neighbor’s arm. It’s hilarious.  And somehow this sweet teacher is classroom managing all of them with dexterity, and teaching them economics in Tagalog, though there’s a Korean student here and one boy who just moved from Texas.  An award for this woman, please?
Both students and teachers here are en pointe with their adherence to the focal Filipino tenets of warmth and generosity.  The bonus today, though, is that we got to hang out with tiny people.  Our day began with the flag ceremony, where we stood in front of 800 or so students as they sang, recited the pledge, and welcomed us with aplomb.  Connie mentioned that the US and Philippines are the only two countries to recite the pledge, and that’s something I’m determined to look up once the Internet becomes a thing for me again.  The ceremony was sweet, though.  I do enjoy all the cross-cultural signs of “hey, we’re all human”… which in this case appeared as a sing-a-long played and as first graders flailing enthusiastically while the older ones gestured ironically, eyes a-roll.

The best part, though, was the pledge of non-violence that students uniformly recited.  They vowed to be peaceful, play creatively, and respect nature- among other important principles- and I must say that I like the heck out of that idea. 

A little tour came next, an entertaining part of which was my habitual (nun joke) thumbing through of library books to see if any used to be mine.  This is not a wealthy country, by any means, and a significant number of books and textbooks are old ones donated by the so-called first world.  I like to check the in-cover stamps to see their origins, but thus far haven’t come closer than Virginia, 1987.

SIDE NOTE!  Flirty kid just told me I look like Hazel Grace’s mother in The Fault in Our Stars, which I’m taking as a giant compliment – and preening, naturally- even though for all I know the part is played by a leprosy-addled gorilla.  Good book, that.

Speaking of feeling loved, we can chalk up the pre-school/kindergarten visit as a raging success, too.  I was late to the party as I was having a panic attack in the bathroom, once I realized it was a typical Filipino version and that I hadn’t brought any toilet paper.  I sorted myself out by fleeing, and ran smack into a bunch of 5 and 6 year olds who wanted to touch me and play.  One of them skidded to a stop in front of me and I watched as his eyes grew wide.

“Are you from Hollywood?” he asked breathlessly.

I giggled.  “No, I’m from Maine.”


“The United States.”


“Somewhere else.”

“Ohhhhhhhhh.  Your eyes are silver.”

And with that, I floated into the nearest classroom, forgetting that my hair resembled a matted street lion’s.  Because if kindergarteners think you’re special, then dang it, you are.

Boom.  Bombardment of preschoolers.  Giantest smacked kiss on my face with the best, tightest hug after an epic, Himalayan climb into my lap.  Selfie Central, 2014.  

We left, and I was feeling pretty good, much better than Geri, the Nursing Skills Manikin who is used for the TechVoc nursing specialty.


Eventually the school day ended and we went out to celebrate Donah’s birthday at a fish market.  After pointing out exactly which fresh seafood we wanted delivered cooked to our party, we had a table full of lobsters, crabs, shrimps, soup, blue marlin, and assorted drinks for 13 people and boy, did we eat like royalty.  There were literal bags full of leftovers and it still only cost us like 60 American dollars.

By far the best day I’ve had in the Philippines. 


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Day Two

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The day was chock full of busy again, and again I ate for the first four and a half hours of it while learning about country’s educational system.  How Filipinos can even drag themselves to school, by the way, is beyond me, as I’d be 900 pounds and sweating lumpia juice if I lived here.

Regardless of my body’s inclination to lie comatose in a bath of adobo, my brain is still working and it’s finding it to be difficult to be okay- even more so after today- with mid-Millennium Spaniards.  Come to find out, when they colonized the Philippines in the 1500s, they declared all Filipino books to be the writings of evil spirits and chucked them in the fire, thus ridding an entire nation of its ancestral legacy.   Now, I already have sympathy smallpox from teaching about the complete destruction of the Aztec and Inca civilizations, where the conquistadors (please don’t think I’m condemning every single Spanish person alive then, mind you) basically tortured, murdered, and spread disease through the lot.  And then set up harems and slave trade.  This is not to condone the Aztec practice of, for example, having multi-day heart-ripping-out ceremonies or to revere the Incan practice of, for example, tethering starving alpacas to freezing Andes summits in order that their cries prompt the gods to make rain, but still.  Don’t burn books; it pains me!

Right, education system.

During the Spanish occupation, schools muddled along teaching life skills to boys and housekeeping to girls (could arguably be the same thing but I’m trying to subtly- well, I guess not anymore- point out the sexism) and that went on for like 300 years.  The Americans blasted in in 1898 and introduced English as the primary language of instruction, but then Japan’s imperialistic tendencies took over pre-WWII and knocked schools right back into being a Nihongo propaganda machine.  It was regimented and totalitarianism and bunk.

Seems like they’ve recovered pretty well now, though.

We got to visit one of the schools today, and it was pretty spectacular.  Though the national system is going through some significant change- until recently, Filipino kids would graduate from high school at the same age as our American 10th graders- the students we met today were unbelievable.  It was a Catholic girls’ school with a few thousand students


and when we toured classrooms and extracurriculars (and were treated to a concert and dance performance even though they only started the school year two weeks ago) we saw some definite thriving.  Apparently this school got the idea that it was cheating their girls to hold arts and athletic clubs with just any old faculty member who had the time or inclination to coach, so if they didn’t have them on staff already, they brought in experts in each area and started a Gift program.  The idea is, all kids have gifts, whether it be music, performing arts, creative writing, athletics, whatever.  So it’s the school’s job to let kids explore those areas in elementary and middle school so they can find their gifts and interests, and receive expert instruction in honing them.  By high school, they specialize and get really good.

I love this program.  The nuns reported that since they’ve started it, kids have succeeded academically and are more likely to come to school each day, plus their dedication to their disciplines make for successful interscholastic competition.  It’s great stuff.


They have all kinds of cool student programs, like this one initiative from the student council that gathers student leaders from all kinds of area schools to share ideas and form communities.  I love this, too, and want to bring it home.  I feel like I’ve been really lucky in that some of our district and union leaders have made some fantastic teacher leadership opportunities available to me, and previous to this trip I looked on it as excellent professional development and an opportunity to serve my colleagues.  Now, though, I’m like… wait, what?  Why don’t I pay that forward, and create opportunities for student leaders to collaborate with each other?  There’s no reason our kids can’t meet with other middle school student leaders and form an interscholastic community; we just haven’t done it yet.

Note to self.

This school had some other great stuff that I’d like to appropriate, too.  Not in the conquistador way, mind you, but as ideas.  For example, they’ve got their own eco-center


where students not only separate and sort, but they also create their own recycled paper!  Teachers show them how to garden, too, so they really have a whole-child, whole-community approach.

I’ve got to go shower and prep for more visits, so I won’t get into detailed descriptions of the auditorium, gymnastics center, indoor track, and wellness room in which parents who are waiting for their kids to finish clubs can get massages and manicures.  Isn’t it enough to just know that they’re there?

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Day One

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Let’s start with the journey: the layover in Tokyo was tops!  Whitney- that sweet crackhead songstress- had been trans-Pacifically killing it, and a bunch of little things that I loved but had forgotten about in Tokyo were smack in my face again.  Poppy, chick-singer version of Under the Bridge?  Yes.  Chili Peppers sans strife: weird and magnificent.  Purple starbursty-thingies I haven’t found anywhere else?  Yes.  Little silver wrappers as carpet decor.  I didn’t have time for any ramen, but did sigh a content little sigh of Nip-stalgia.  Ohhhh, Japan…

Anyway, we finally got to the Shangri-La, our swanky-danky digs, around 11 p.m. and since that was almost a solid two days since I’d left Portland, I fell pretty heavily into the mattress.  We were supposed to be at breakfast at 8:30.

I honestly have to pass over breakfast because it was just too wonderful.  I could have happily eaten plates full of anything there, but I bypassed that station for sashimi, build-your-own-miso, and all the identifiables I could pile.  Look!  The dried fish is looking back at you.


Next we had an intro class on Philippine history, and that was pretty wild, too.  I learned more in two hours than I have in the month of randomly allocated Internet sessions that I used to prepare myself for this trip.  Like, did you know that the Spanish occupied the Philippines for 333 years, but wouldn’t let anyone learn the language?  They basically just passed on their religion and a bunch of surnames, and it’s amazing to me how thoroughly Roman Catholicism has inserted itself into society while “por favor?” for example, has not.  I mean, one of our hosts told us they celebrate Christmas for 4-5 months here!


Then I found out that the US colonized the islands (7,107 of them, whaaaaa?) in 1898, and although I am morally against the concept of colonization because there is overwhelming historical evidence of it being coupled with ravaging and tyranny, I did feel a bit better to learn that that’s when widespread education began.  Plus later, during World War II when Japan had taken over and was doing all sorts of brutal things to the population, the US’s General MacArthur came and sort of saved the day.  In fact, it is unbelievable how celebrated MacArthur is.  There’s this giant picture of him hanging at the embassy and there are statues and roads named after him everywhere.

Did you hear that?  We went to the embassy and met the ambassador.  That was neat.  I didn’t take any pictures because they checked all phones and cameras at the door, but they did give us some chocolate cake and a bunch of handy educational resources.  Side note: my students were so jealous that I got to go on a trip like this.  They couldn’t believe that kind of opportunity existed, and got all wistful and dreamy when they thought of me traveling halfway around the world.  It’s moments like this that I wish I could SnapChat into their lives and be like, “look!  See!  Look at all these resources they just showed us for student travel, too.  You can do this!”  I’ll have to just show ’em when I get back, though.

Oh- and I did manage to take a picture of one of the ubiquitous Jeepneys, so you can see exactly what we saw if we were brave enough to open our eyes on the way there.


A horse-drawn tour of Intramuros was next.


Intramuros is the walled city from when the Spanish were here and being oppressive enough to know that they should build some protective walls in which to live.  It was really pretty because it was magic hour so the light was gloriously illuminating all the old architecture, and I was able to snap a couple of decent ones.



Speaking of eating, our final destination last night was a Filipino culture show and buffet.  The costumes and dancing were pretty awesome, and they did some audience participation at the end so a couple of my colleagues got to practice the Filipino national dance, which involves timing impeccable enough that if you make a mistake, they crack your ankles with bamboo.   Some talent there.

This trip has been and will be quite wonderful, but I have to go to bed.  I get the feeling that waking up at 1 a.m. to create a blog post might bite me at some point today, but if I also get to bite something- most notable the nationally famous pork or chicken adobo- well, I’ll be okay.

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On My Way

June 23, 2014

The bathroom light is flattering in my stopover LA hotel, and I’m feeling good because as I was in there creating equally flattering poses and trying to figure out what day it was, it finally occurred to me that I’m on an adventure again!

I should have realized this yesterday when the recovering victim of asphalt assault picked me up to start my journey, but I was too busy being brain dead to properly comprehend my situation.  Trying to survive the last week of school while moving out of your house and planning a month-long trip to Asia will do that to you.  I don’t think I’ve accomplished more in one week in my entire life.

So, yes!  I’m homeless and I’m headed to the Philippines!  I tried really hard to be either nostalgic about one or excited about the other yesterday, but my first flight was freezing and I was numbed right to my soul.  I actually bought these ridiculous furry things that can only be described as “sockies” for my second flight, but that one was warmer and had one of those fun screens in the seat, so it worked out better and I could start feeling feelings again.  I did so while watching my very first World Cup game ever.  

I actually didn’t even know you could access the game until the entire plane erupted when, apparently, Portugal scored first and I thought we were having a LOST incident.  When everything calmed down, though, and someone finally saw me bobbing my head around looking confused, he lent me these giant headphones that made me look like DJ  FIFA fan- which I’m not because I watch John Oliver- and I got to enjoy the rest of the show.  I even bought him a thank-you drink from the aisle cart, but since the stewardess was blocking me when he ordered and since she didn’t give me a receipt for what appeared to be a plethora of Canadian Clubs, I may have inadvertently paid for a province-wide franchise of Costigan’s.  Costigan’ses?  Ugh.

Anyway, the game was exciting, I felt all kinds of patriotism because it was exciting and SPORTS! and I finally settled into a place where I can appreciate what’s happening.  

I’m getting on a plane to Manila in a few hours!  I’m going to eat tons and learn tons and experience tons, including bats!  I can’t possibly get rabies because the vaccination lasts for ten years!  I don’t have to live in that apartment anymore when I come home!

I’m excited now.  Manila, ho!

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