Friday, November 30, 2007

Coup D'etat

Yesterday, two men attempted a coup on the Philippine government. President Arroyo has been under fire for years now because of alleged corruption in her government. Of course, I don't know enough information to form my own opinion. But, it does seem that many Filipinos don't trust her or the government. Anyway, yesterday morning I got a call from Dwayne advising me to stay inside because something was going.

Four years ago, a man named Senator Trillanes attempted a coup. He and his supporters from the Philippine military laid siege to a hotel called The Oakwood. This hotel has been renamed and is the place where we currently reside. This was a tidbit of information they forgot to include in our expat counseling sessions. Anyway, he took over the hotel for a day and thankfully no one was hurt. He ended up surrendering and being arrested. Yesterday, Trillanes was on trial for this coup attempt when he and Brigadier General Lim (a witness at this trial) walked out of court with defected soldiers. They marched down Makati Avenue and barged into the Peninsula Hotel. They were calling for President Arroyo to step down as president. This, of course, did not happen. The Philippine military that did not defect eventually charged into the hotel with a tank and tear gas. Again, Trillanes and his sympathizers were arrested after a standoff that lasted around 6 to 7 hours.


The first picture is the exterior of the Peninsula Hotel and the second is the lobby. At least, this is what it used to look like before this mess happened. Here are a couple of pictures of the hotel during the standoff.



The next picture is of Trillanes. He's the guy in black.

And the last two pictures are of the Philippine military getting ready to take the rebels down.


The crazy thing is that most Filipinos were not at all alarmed by these events. They just went about business as usual because they are used to coup attempts. They happen almost yearly and especially around the holidays. Today is a national holiday, Bonifacio Day.

So, in the two months we've been here the following things have occurred: a bombing at Glorietta Mall which is attached to our building, a bombing at the House of Representatives building, an earthquake, a fire in a restaurant in our building, a couple of typhoons, and now a coup attempt. So far we haven't really been scared of anything. Well, the tanks rolling down the street yesterday was a little unsettling. But, for the most part, I still feel pretty safe. Just thought I would share what's going on in our neck of the woods.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Filipino Workers

The other day I was in SM Department Store which is around the corner from my house. They are trying to hire more employees and I decided to look at the ad. They are hiring cashiers, checkers, stock clerks, and sales clerks. To be a cashier or checker, you must be a college graduate. Checkers sit with the cashier and check their work to make sure the checker doesn't steal any merchandise or money. All candidates must be between 18 and 25 years old, at least 5'2" for females and 5'6" for males. To apply for a job, they must take their resume and a photo.

There is a lot of discrimination here. Most jobs require that you are physically attractive. Most people don't look like supermodels but you don't see overweight, disabled, or older people working in most of the service-industry jobs. The family structure here is one where the younger folks really take care of the older folks. For the uneducated people here who are older than 30, there aren't many opportunities. Everyone is young: the cashiers in the grocery store, the maids in the hotel, the waitresses, the janitors. If you are older than around 25-30, you don't have the opportunity to go back to school for an education and this includes post-graduate degrees. You have missed your chance. The older women are maids, cooks, and nannies in private homes. Our nanny is 35 years old and she is always lamenting about the fact that she's so old and has no children to care for her. The older men are drivers, handymen, and yard workers (I don't know the PC term for that...maybe landscape artists).

The other crazy thing is the contracts here. The maids in our building are on a 5 month contract. This means that they are out of a job after 5 months and can not renew the current contract. They must go somewhere else for a job. The current job gives them a letter of recommendation, of course, so this ensures that the employees do a good job while here. Most jobs are the same way: cashiers, factory workers, gas station attendants, whatever you can think of. This benefits the companies in a few ways. They don't give raises because the employee is not there long enough to prove themselves worthy of a raise. They don't offer any real benefits. The country has laws that state an employee can join a union after being on a job for more than a year. Guess how many people don't belong to unions? Most companies are owned by foreigners, an overwhelming majority being Chinese. The unemployment rate is so high that the Filipinos are just happy to have a job.

Just another little something that makes me appreciate the good old USA.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Feeling the ground move

When we moved to California, my only real fear was of an earthquake. Yesterday, while sitting in my apartment, I felt the ground move. There was an earthquake in the Philippines. The epicenter was miles away so the experience wasn't frightening. It was weird though. I felt a little movement but it made me feel like maybe I was just lightheaded. Then, the building swayed. The light fixture over the dining table shook. The nanny came to me saying "ma'am it's an earthquake". And then, just as quickly as it began, it was over. Hopefully, I won't experience any more that what I felt yesterday. The only thing that made me nervous is that I didn't know if that was the precursor to the real thing. We live on the 22nd floor so I didn't know if I should go downstairs or stay in my room. Should I take the elevator or stairs. I decided to stay here which was a good decision because we didn't feel anything else. But, I can now say I have felt an earthquake...sorta.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Poor Man's Blues

I grew up poor. I used to be ashamed but I grew up to realize that it is what it is. My parents barely made it from check to check. I wore hand-me-down clothes. My aunt (a thrift store/flea market addict) would bring home clothes from, well, whatever thrift store she could find. They were often ugly. I remember this particular coat that was a fake fur. It was gray. It was ugly...so ugly in fact that I would often go to school freezing cold to avoid wearing that darn jacket. Or, I would go very early so I could hide it in my locker before my friends got there. I knew enough to always be grateful for those ugly things and to never complain. My parents had an ugly orange station wagon that I also hated. It was so raggedy that there was a hole in the floor in the backseat. You could see the road as we drove. Only one of my friends ever rode in that car. We had to live with my aunt for an extended period of time because my parents couldn't afford the rent on the house where we lived. I remember being sent into the bank to deposit $1 or some other small amount to avoid my parents being hit with NSF fees. I was sent because my mom was too embarrassed to make the deposit herself. She couldn't afford to deposit any more money and that $1 was usually in change found around the house or whatever. My parents were stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. They made too much to qualify for any assistance but too little to live. Most of this happened while I was in elementary and middle school. They dug themselves out of this hole somehow. I don't know the specifics but I do know that life turned around for us. We were never very well off but my mom was able to buy a new minivan (my dad still has this 19 year old van). They bought a house and the thrift store clothes were a thing of the past. I know this experience shaped me into the woman I am today. I am the total opposite of materialistic. I could care less about designer clothing and purses. I can't make myself spend much money on stuff. I always think about those who could use the money to eat, pay rent, keep the lights on. I thought I was very familiar with the poor man's blues.

Lemme tell you, I didn't know a thing. Poor here is on a whole 'nother level. It's sad and utterly heartbreaking. We have never gone for a ride in the car without people, usually small children or very old people, knocking on the windows begging for money. There are street children everywhere. These babies are homeless and hungry, usually naked or close to it. A very large percentage of Filipinos live in squatter houses, which is little more than a tin roof covering 4 walls. Sometimes it's only tarp to protect them from the elements. Most people don't have electricity or running water. When we rode the ferry during our vacation, there were people begging. As we boarded the boat, small canoes came close with women and their naked babies begging for money. It's sad, y'all. It's enough to make you weep. The unemployment rate here is between 40 and 50%. Can you imagine the state of a country where almost half of its inhabitants can't find a job?

It's overwhelming for me. I want to help them all but can't. I want to wrap all the little babies up and bring them home with me, if only to give them a hot bath and a good meal. But then what about tomorrow? And the next day? I want to take the elderly and provide them with comfort in their final days. But how exactly can that be done with so many?

I thought I was poor but I now realize how well off we were. I never went hungry or naked. I may not have had the best but I was provided for. My childhood was happy and fun. I never had the empty, sad eyes of the Filipino street children. My parents never wore the permanent cloud of shame on their faces. I thank God for this opportunity to see the world, even the dark and ugly aspects. These experiences will also shape my future and that of my children. Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in our own desires and not relish in the reality of having our needs met. I praise God for all of His wonderful blessings he has provided for my family. I extol His greatness because his word assures us that the righteous will not be forsaken and his seed will not beg for bread. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving

I just wanted to say Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who choose to take time from your own lives to read my crazy ramblings.

Instead of turkey, dressing, macaroni and cheese, yams, sweet potato pie, and everything else y'all are eating.....we are eating, excuse me, drinking orange juice with plans to have a little soup this evening. Dwayne and I are transitioning back to eating food again after fasting for 10 days.

We decided to fast to detoxify our bodies and give our digestive systems a break. We also used this time to focus more on our personal relationships with Jesus and to especially pray for a very close relative who is faced with a serious medical issue. We have benefited tremendously from this fast, but most of all, we are waiting to hear from that family member that God has performed a miracle in his behalf. And, if that doesn't happen, we still praise the name of the Lord for all of His goodness towards us.

Anyway, I decided to post the things that I am thankful for today:
  1. God...because he loves me despite all of my shortcomings and failures. Because he thought enough of me (and you) to offer a plan of salvation. Because he protects me, comforts me, provides for me, forgives me, blesses me, and is in the process of perfecting me.
  2. Dwayne...because he loves me and is fulfilling his role as a wonderful husband in my life. He is the most fun person in the world and I love every minute that we spend together.
  3. Danae...because she is so much like me (sometimes I am not thankful for this). She is straight forward, very nurturing, lovable, mean, silly, annoying, and the cutest girl in the world (in my opinion). I love having a daughter. She notices things about people and compliments them. For example, she told the maid that her haircut was cute the other day and Dwayne didn't even notice the lady had gotten a haircut. She's all girl but has no problem getting dirty.
  4. Brayden...because he is a mama's boy. He's very friendly and lovable but definitely a boy. He's dangerous, loves to get dirty, climbs on everything, jumps off stuff. But, he's quick to say "tan chew" (thank you) and "duv you" (love you) which melts your heart. He's also a serious ladies man with his handsome little self (again, in my opinion)!
  5. The rest of our family...because of their unconditional love.
  6. All of my friends...because y'all are the best. I haven't seen some of you in a looonnngg time but you still stop by to read (and sometimes comment). I miss each and every one of you.
Alright, gotta go and I hope you all enjoy your Thanksgiving dinners.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Vacation in Cebu Continued...

Okay, so where did I leave off? I covered Day 1 so on to Day 2, November 2nd.

This was All Souls Day. On both All Saints Day and All Souls Day, Filipinos have a family reunion at the graves of their loved ones. They spend most of the day there eating food, cleaning off the graves, and socializing. It's so serious that several streets around the cemeteries are cordoned off to help control the amount of people there. This is a serious religious event and we gave our yaya the day off so she could spend the time with her family as well.

We went to Bohol for the day. This is on an island near Cebu. We took the hour long ferry over. Again, we took a tour. The Cebu tour was private so it was only us and the guide. The Bohol tour was with a group. So, the ferry dropped us off in Tagbilaran, Bohol. We boarded a bus and went off. Our first activity was the Loboc River Cruise. We floated down the river eating lunch and listening to music. There was a man on board playing his guitar and singing. He was really good. He sang a lot of old 70's Soul music and sounded good. When I closed my eyes, I was instantly transported to my childhood when my dad would play his records and we would dance together. He was good, y'all. The lunch was okay. I almost fed my children squid though. It was mixed in with bok choy and I didn't see them. Ugh! They had other things that we could eat though. The river was beautiful and we made a stop to visit the Abi tribe. They are an indigenous tribe in Bohol. They played music and performed dances and otherwise entertained us. It was good though. Dwayne and the kids joined in with the little drummers. They were playing on strategically placed bamboo. Dwayne was good too...much better than the others on this cruise. Here's pictures:









After the cruise, we headed to visit the tarsiers. This is the smallest primate in the world. It's status as a primate has been debated quite a bit because it is quite unlike the monkey. We thought it was such a cute little animal though. An interesting thing to note is that they don't handle captivity well. In fact, in this enclosure, there is no top so they do leave at night (they're nocturnal animals) to go hunt. They return to the enclosure because the owners have made it extremely suitable to their needs. Anyway, when captive, they basically commit suicide. Tarsiers have fontanels (soft spots) on the back of their heads. When captive, they continuously bang their heads until they die. Sad, huh? Here are pictures of them though. I saved the cutest tarsiers for last ;)







After visiting the tarsiers, we headed to Chocolate Hills. This is an unusual area composed of over 1,200 hills. During the dry season, the grass turns brown which is where the name comes from. Unfortunately, it was raining when we got there and the kids were napping. And, we would have to climb over 200 steps to get the best view. So, Dwayne and the others went up while the kids and I waited. We still got to see the hills though. Here are just a couple of pics to give you an idea.

We also visited a Catholic church in Bohol named Immaculate Concepcion but no pictures. It was built in 1595 and much of the original church, and its furnishings, are still intact. The inside was made of coral stone. There were quite a few people worshiping inside so we didn't stay very long. The next site was to see a sculpture called The Blood Compact. It commemorates a compact between Spanish explorer Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Datu Sikatuna, the chieftain of Bohol in 1565. This was a treaty of friendship between the two where they each made a cut in their arms and mixed a few drops of their blood with wine. Each man drank the blood of the other.
This was the last stop on the tour before heading back to the ferry and over to Cebu. On Saturday, we just hung out at the resort. We finally swam that evening and just relaxed. We came back to Manila on Sunday afternoon. It was a very nice vacation and, as you can see, very educational.

Filipino culture reminds me of American culture in that it is a mixture of cultures of other countries. They will proudly tell you that they speak like Americans, eat like Chinese, and worship like Spaniards.

Until later...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Vacation in Cebu

This post is a little late. For some reason, I just haven't felt like blogging. I have a lot to write about but just not motivated to do so. I'm going to try to get back in the swing of things.

We took a trip November 1-4 to Cebu. This City is about an hour's flight away. It's south of Manila in the Visayas Region. Manila is divided into three regions: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. We live in Luzon. Mindanao is where a lot of terrorist regimes thrive and do their damage. Actually, it's only a small part of Mindanao. Anyway, we went to Cebu. This was a holiday weekend. November 1st is All Saints Day and November 2nd is All Souls Day. So, Dwayne had those days off from work. As I may have stated before, about 85% of Filipinos are Catholic. There is no separation of church and state here so a lot of religious days are considered national holidays.

In Cebu, we stayed at the Plantation Bay Resort. A few pictures:




On November 1st, we took a tour of Cebu. We visited Allegre, a guitar factory. It was kind of interesting to hear about the process of making guitars. They use different types of wood to get different sounds and they have to age the wood to get richer tones. The guy in the picture convinced us to but a cocolele, a ukulele made out of coconuts. We thought it would be cool to have. It even came with instructions written in Japanese. A couple of pics:

Our next stop was to see Magellan's Cross. Ferdinand Magellan 'discovered' the Philippines and planted a cross here. This is how Catholicism was introduced to this area. The actual cross is encased inside the wooden cross. They had to cover it because the Filipinos would scrape some of the wood off, grind it, and mix it in their drinks for good luck. Again, a few pics:

Next stop was the Basilica del Santo Nino. This church was built in 1735. The original was constructed in 1566 but destroyed by fire. This church houses the image of the Santo Nino, or baby Jesus. This image is over 400 years old and is encased in glass. The parishioners must knock on the glass 3 times before making their request known. Because we visited on All Saints Day, there were more people there than usual. They stood in a line outside the church waiting to pray to the Santo Nino. The people believe that if they pray to this image, the prayer will be answered. There were also a lot of historic paintings and other sculptures of Jesus and saints in and just outside this church. For some reason, Dwayne didn't take a picture of the Santo Nino but he got some other shots there. An interesting thing to see is the parishioners wave when they walk in the church. We asked Tony, the tour guide, what that was about. They wave to the saints when they walk in and leave just as we wave hello and goodbye to one another. Pictures follow:







The next stop was to the Taoist Temple in a neighborhood called

There were people worshiping in this temple but you're not allowed to take pictures inside. To get to the temple we had to climb 9 sets of stairs that each had 9 steps for a total of 81 steps. That can be very tiring when you're holding a little one. The last picture is one that Dwayne took of us after he climbed even more steps to look at other temples. There were several temples there, each dedicated to a different god. Here are a few pictures:



We also went to see a huge sculpture in Cebu. It tells the history of the country. Dwayne got it on video because pictures wouldn't have done any justice. It was nice though. Then, we went to a place to buy souvenirs. It was a bit expensive so I just bought a fan and Dwayne bought a t-shirt for his coworker who set up this trip.

Since this post is a little long, I'll post about the trip later. Yes, I realize the date on the pictures is 10/31. For some reason, the date is off. Let me know if you like having a post with pictures and maybe I'll continue it that way (when I feel like it).

Until later,

Monday, November 05, 2007

Yes, we found a church

It's so nice to have so many friends concerned about our spiritual life here. Yes, we do attend church on Sabbath. The Seventh Day Adventist movement is really picking up momentum here. I've read that the Philippines is the second fastest growing country in the Adventist church. We did not attend church our first sabbath here because we had just arrived at about 10 pm the night before and jet lag ain't nothing nice. But, since then we have attended church.

There are only two English speaking churches in this area. Our first visit was to the church connected with the Manila Adventist Medical Center. The church is actually called MAMC. The children's sabbath school was really good. But, they don't have air conditioning in the sanctuary so it was rather hot in there. There is a small room with a window unit for families with small children. This room was so packed and noisy that Dwayne left us in there and stood in the back of the sanctuary to hear the service. I would have left too but there were no empty seats inside and I had absolutely no intentions of holding the kids while standing in heels.

The next Sabbath we attend Pasay Adventist Church. They have air conditioning! This church is actually really nice too. The choir is amazing; they sound so good. Even the children's choir is one of the best I've ever heard. We even heard a little boy preach for children's day. He was no older than 10 years old but I will admit it was one of the best sermons I've heard in a minute. And, he was funny. This church has two services each Sabbath and the church is packed for both services. It's a fairly large church that probably seats about 1,000 people. Yep, it's pretty large.

Most Adventists meet in each others homes where they only speak Tagalog. You know how during mission stories they say "your money will go to build a church in..." Well, there are several groups of people here who could also use a church home. In the meantime, they just rotate between private homes.

Here's a couple of pictures from Pasay Adventist Church. At this time, it's all we have. Maybe one day I'll add a video so you can hear the choir sing.