Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Months of waiting and my dad finally arrived; two short weeks and he is now back in Phoenix. Needless to say we had a very fun, meaningful time together, traveling throughout the central Visayas.
He arrived in Tacloban where he met me on a very raining morning at 7:10. After getting the baggage sorted out, we jumped onto a jeepney and realized we were, in fact, sitting next to each other for the first time in 17 months.
We met up with a friend for a day in the city, seeing Imelda Marcos' infamous Santo Nino Shrine wherein she kept the Marcos' many gifts from Asia and beyond, including this very fancy chair made of 100% silver than our tour guide encouraged dad to sit in. The museum also includes collections of ivory given by Mao Zedong, tiled Gucci leather walls imported from Italy, Austrian crystal chandeliers, a fountain made of local corals and a chair used by the Pope. Unfortunately, her legendary shoe collection is kept in Manila.
After the museum, we went for a pretty fancy Italian dinner, the likes of which are quite uncommon for Peace Corps volunteers, and we gorged ourselves on fine pastas and delicious wine.
After our Tacloban excursion, we headed down to San Juan to join the teachers in celebrating their Christmas party and to partake in a celebration of our own:
Interesting side story, dad had taken so many photos since I had last recharged the camera that the battery had been dead all day. After lighting the candles for the last evening of Hanukkah, I tried turning the camera back on, hoping we could capture this moment. The camera turned on, took one photo and then died again. This, my friends and family, was our own little Hanukkah miracle in the Philippines. Please appreciate how the last picture was of our Hanukkah celebration and the next is of the Pig roast we dove into that same week.
The Christmas party provided a few firsts for dad: his first time meeting my counterpart, Sir Erwin, my supervisor, Ma'am Rachel and my old friend, Mr. Lechon (roast pig)!
After leaving my site the day after the Christmas party, we embarked on a 16 hour excursion through Cebu City to Dumaguete so Dad could meet my tita, my host-auntie who took such great care of me throughout my pre-service training. Dad was enchanted with Dumaguete. On our way back to my site, we stopped for a night in Cebu City so dad could get a truly "urban" experience.
We spent Christmas eve with my host family, joining them for the midnight mass and returning home for the noche buena, or meal at midnight. Waking on Christmas, we immediately started eating and didn't really finish until we passed out later in the night. The one break from feasting and drinking we had was going to the celebratory Christmas day cock fights. Dad said he had more fun watching the people than the actual fights.
For the sake of relevance, as this is my blog and not my father's, I will spare the rest of the itinerary and details.
It meant the world to me that dad came all the way to the Philippines to see me, my family and my projects. I cannot express the pride and validation I felt when I gave him a tour of the school and the computer lab especially. Dad and I have never needed a preoccupation to spend time together. We have become adept at both deep and shallow conversation with nothing but time on our hands; I believe it has to do with the hours upon hours we have spent in the car together during road trips.
I can't express my gratitude to the time, money and sheer willpower this trip required; it single-handedly legitimated my efforts here and made me feel as though I had not been living in a vacuum for the last 17 months.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Friday, December 11, 2009
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
"Should I bring a laptop?"
This might be one of the most common questions asked by people leaving to join the Peace Corps and there really is no correct answer. However, from my own experience, having a laptop was infinitely valuable.
I served in the Republic of the Republic of the Philippines, a technologically advanced country as far as the developing world goes. There are a lot of buzz words and phrases in development, one of which is the "digital divide". The digital divide essentially states:
The term digital divide refers to the gap between people with effective access to digital and information technology and those with very limited or no access at all. It includes the imbalances in physical access to technology as well as the imbalances in resources and skills needed to effectively participate as a digital citizen.
The digital divide, and Peace Corps service in general, often conjures images of Africa, of stick huts, of telecommunications technology not exceeding that of the Pony Express. And of course, in some parts of Africa, and in some service assignments, this is true. However, my experience serving in the Philippines was quite different.
Most of Southeast Asia has benefited greatly from the .com bubble, which burst in '99, '00. During the bubble, millions and millions of dollars worth of fiber optic cables were strewn throughout SE Asia as the Asian Tiger markets attracted seemingly endless capitol investments in manufacturing and telecommunications infrastructure from around the world. As the Asian Tigers collapsed, so the .com bubble burst. Much like the railroad boom and bust of the 19th Century, which left thousands of dirt cheap and accessible railroad lines networking the United States, so had SE Asia millions of miles of fiber optics built by companies now long gone.The skeletal remains of late 20th Century telecom technology was then cheap, accessible and ubiquitous. For example, when I got to site, my students were already addicted to facebook, playing Farmville, using twitter and keeping a blog.
When I left for the Philippines to begin my Peace Corps service in the education sector, teaching high school, I decided against bringing a laptop for a number of reasons:
- Theft, the laptop being a liability
- Unreliable power/inconsistent voltage
- An obvious economic disparity between myself and my host family
- To idealistically ween myself from the technological dependence I developed in college
However, after my first month of Pre-Service training (PST), it was obvious that I needed to get a laptop. In my opinion, it is essential for Peace Corps volunteers to have a latop as they are assuming the role of a professional development worker. Indeed, for as many reports, projects, lesson planning and countless hours of boredom every volunteer inevitably encounters, a laptop is virtually essential.
I wound up buying an Asus eee PC 900 after a month into training. Netbooks are the perfect computers for volunteers as they are small, inexpensive and often times running Linux, which is impervious to the abundant viruses in developing countries. Recent developments in internet technology, essentially Web 2.0, give the netbook a leg up as social networking, photo sharing, online versions of Word and Excel and many other traditionally desktop-based computing has moved to the cloud and are free. Of course this all requires an internet connection.
The digital divide was nowhere to be seen in my small, rural community of about 5,000. I lived 10 hours from the nearest movie theater, yet I had wifi both at home at at my host agency, which indicates broadband, but not necessarily fast internet. I had a download speed of about 30 Kbps; downloading a 10 minute youtube video typically took 3+ hours, but it's internet nonetheless. This speed is definately fast enough to run cloud-based apps, such as gmail, yahoo mail, google docs, blogging engines and other services like Skype phone calls, delicious and evernote.
In fact, I highly recommend doing most of one's work in the cloud while in the Peace Corps. For example, I keep all my word, excel and powerpoint files in google docs because they are always backed up there. Power-loss is frequent and working on documents on the cloud is a great way to protect one's self from data loss due to power-outages. Secondly, theft is always a possibility and if one's laptop is stolen, the documents and photos are safe and backed up on the cloud.
This brings me to another important topic: backup. Backup is easier now more than ever, with external hard drive prices plummeting and online backup solutions like Carbonite and Mozy gaining popularity.
When leaving for Peace Corps, it's a great idea to leave backups of all your important files at home in a safe place. I brought my entire photo library with me on an external hard drive and I accidentally formatted the drive; just because something is stored on an external drive does not make it backed up! Fortunately I burned backup DVDs of my photo library and left them at home and can restore them when I get back. But I was photoless during my service.Now that services like Carbonite are available, I would suggest doing a full online backup, so all your data is safe in the cloud, for the full two years at $50 a year. Priceless assurance that if your laptop is stolen or destroyed during service, everything will still be there.
This ain't your grandpa's Peace Corps. The digital divide in many regions of the world is shrinking with the same rapidity that governs Moore's law. There is no reason to limit one's potential output because he/she didn't bring a computer. Chances are, many people in the communities to be served will have plenty of access themselves.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Later Friday night, I went to a small karaoke house called Pajog ni Bebe, or Bebe's hut, with Sir Erwin, Sir Villbon and Sir Roy where we were entertained by live music. After the musicians performed, we had our own chance to play the instruments as the musicians sat back and had a few beers cheering us on. This was the first time I had an opportunity to play the bass since training in Dumaguete, over a year! But I think playing in instrument is like a bicycle, it's easy to get back on and ride.
I woke up Saturday morning, my actual birthday, to my host mom busily preparing all my favorites for lunch: fried chicken, chicken curry, spaghetti in coconut milk with tuna, lichon, fresh apples, mangoes and grapes and of course, her famous chiffon cake with homemade butter-icing. My family here really loves me and my host mom and started calling me son as I have been calling her nanay, or mom. She calls me her menopausal baby :)
All in all it was a very memorable birthday and an event that made me feel at home here more than ever.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Always use the word "Africa" or "Darkness" or "Safari" in your title. Subtitles may include the words "Zanzibar", "Masai", "Zulu", "Zambezi", "Congo", "Nile", "Big", "Sky", "Shadow", "Drum", "Sun" or "Bygone". Also useful are words such as "Guerrillas", "Timeless", "Primordial" and "Tribal". Note that "People" means Africans who are not black, while "The People" means black Africans.
Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts - use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.
In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don't get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn't care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.
Make sure you show how Africans have music and rhythm deep in their souls, and eat things no other humans eat. Do not mention rice and beef and wheat; monkey-brain is an African's cuisine of choice, along with goat, snake, worms and grubs and all manner of game meat. Make sure you show that you are able to eat such food without flinching, and describe how you learn to enjoy it - because you care.
Taboo subjects: ordinary domestic scenes, love between Africans (unless a death is involved), references to African writers or intellectuals, mention of school-going children who are not suffering from yaws or Ebola fever or female genital mutilation.
Throughout the book, adopt a sotto voice, in conspiracy with the reader, and a sad I-expected-so-much tone. Establish early on that your liberalism is impeccable, and mention near the beginning how much you love Africa, how you fell in love with the place and can't live without her. Africa is the only continent you can love - take advantage of this. If you are a man, thrust yourself into her warm virgin forests. If you are a woman, treat Africa as a man who wears a bush jacket and disappears off intothe sunset. Africa is to be pitied, worshipped or dominated. Whichever angle you take, be sure to leave the strong impression that without your intervention and your important book, Africa is doomed.
Your African characters may include naked warriors, loyal servants, diviners and seers, ancient wise men living in hermitic splendour. Or corrupt politicians, inept polygamous travel-guides, and prostitutes you have slept with. The Loyal Servant always behaves like a seven-year-old and needs a firm hand; he is scared of snakes, good with children, and always involving you in his complex domestic dramas. The Ancient Wise Man always comes from a noble tribe (not the money-grubbing tribes like the Gikuyu, the Igbo or the Shona). He has rheumy eyes and is close to the Earth. The Modern African is a fat man who steals and works in the visa office, refusing to give work permits to qualified Westerners who really care about Africa. He is an enemy of development, always using his government job to make it difficult for pragmatic and good-hearted expats to set up NGOs or Legal Conservation Areas. Or he is an Oxford-educated intellectual turned serial-killing politician in a Savile Row suit. He is a cannibal who likes Cristal champagne, and his mother is a rich witch-doctor who really runs the country.
Among your characters you must always include The Starving African, who wanders the refugee camp nearly naked, and waits for the benevolence of the West. Her children have flies on their eyelids and pot bellies, and her breasts are flat and empty. She must look utterly helpless. She can have no past, no history; such diversions ruin the dramatic moment. Moans are good. She must never say anythingabout herself in the dialogue except tospeak of her (unspeakable) suffering. Also be sure to include a warm and motherly woman who has a rolling laugh and who is concerned for your well-being. Just call her Mama. Her children are all delinquent. These characters should buzz around your main hero, making him look good. Your hero can teach them, bathe them, feed them; he carries lots of babies and has seen Death. Your hero is you (if reportage), or a beautiful, tragic international celebrity/aristocrat who now cares for animals (if fiction).
Bad Western characters may include children of Tory cabinet ministers, Afrikaners, employees of the World Bank. When talking about exploitation by foreigners mention the Chinese and Indian traders. Blame the West for Africa's situation. But do not be too specific.
Broad brushstrokes throughout are good. Avoid having the African characters laugh, or struggle to educate their kids, or just make do in mundane circumstances. Have them illuminate something about Europe or America in Africa. African characters should be colourful, exotic, larger than life but empty inside, with no dialogue, no conflicts or resolutions in their stories, no depth or quirks to confuse the cause.
Describe, in detail, naked breasts (young, old, conservative, recently raped, big, small) or mutilated genitals, or enhanced genitals. Or any kind of genitals. And dead bodies. Or, better, naked dead bodies. And especially rotting naked dead bodies. Remember, any work you submit in which people look filthy and miserable will be referred to as the "real Africa", and you want that on your dust jacket. Do not feel queasy about this: you are trying to help them to get aid from the West. The biggest taboo in writing aboutAfrica is to describe or show dead or suffering white people.
Animals, on the other hand, must be treated as well rounded, complex characters. They speak (or grunt while tossing their manes proudly) and have names, ambitions and desires. They also have family values: see how lions teach their children? Elephants are caring, and are good feminists or dignified patriarchs. So are gorillas. Never, ever say anything negative about an elephant or a gorilla. Elephants may attack people's property, destroy their crops, and even kill them. Always take the side of the elephant. Big cats have public-school accents. Hyenas are fair game and have vaguely Middle Eastern accents. Any short Africans who live in the jungle or desert may be portrayed with good humour (unless they are in conflict with an elephant or chimpanzee or gorilla, in which case they are pure evil).
After celebrity activists and aid workers, conservationists are Africa's most important people. Do not offend them. You need them to invite you to their 30,000-acre game ranch or "conservation area", and this is the only way you will get to interview the celebrity activist. Often a book cover with a heroic-looking conservationist on it works magic for sales. Anybody white, tanned and wearing khaki who once had a pet antelope or a farm is a conservationist, one who is preserving Africa's rich heritage. When interviewing him or her, do not ask how much funding they have; do not ask howmuch money they make off their game. Never ask how much they pay their employees.
Readers will be put off if you don't mention the light in Africa. And sunsets, the African sunset is a must. It is always big and red. There is always a big sky. Wide empty spaces and game are critical - Africa is the Land of Wide Empty Spaces. When writingabout the plight of flora and fauna, make sure you mention that Africa is overpopulated. When your main character is in a desert or jungle living with indigenous peoples (anybody short) it is okay to mention that Africa has been severely depopulated by Aids and War (use caps).
You'll also need a nightclub called Tropicana, where mercenaries, evil nouveau richeAfricans and prostitutes and guerrillas and expats hang out. Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something about rainbows or renaissances. Because you care.
Text courtesy of www.developments.org.uk
Friday, November 13, 2009
If we were in Minnesota, we could simply bring these parts to the Stillwater prison facility to be recycled by the inmates there. However, we live 10 hours away from the nearest place that could potentially recycle these parts: Cebu City. And I'm not even sure that they have a facility.
I've been thinking about this problem a lot; if we could find a way to recycle, or even downcycle, these parts, computer-assisted education wouldn't put such a heavy toll on the environment and I could sleep a lot better at night. I thought to crowd-source and ask the readership of my blog if they have any ideas for projects or ways to solve this problem. I have readers in 65 countries with almost 2,000 absolutely unique visitors since last January (according to Google Analytics). The web is a powerful tool, no doubt and I hope some of my readers can offer some advice and/or links.
I was thinking that a recycling project, turning these parts into something else, could be a great way to rid our lab of the parts as well as create a small income-generation project for the students involved. Some feasible ideas I have stumbled across thus far:
- Hard Drive Platter Windchimes - wingie.org
- Hard Drive Magnetic Art Projects (thanks @unteer)
- RAM Stick Keychains - instructables.com
Monday, November 9, 2009
Sunday, November 8, 2009
The caretakers of the springs also had a pet monkey with which I was quite enamored.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Before I get ahead of myself, I walked home from school today to find a huge container of these things swimming around and crawling all over each other. I told my host mom that they looked like aliens but I was anxious try them. My standards for "fresh seafood" have risen substantially since I have been here.
If you look closely, there is indeed a safety pin to get the delicious inside out. It's a giant shellfish with tiger-ish looking stripes. These things were seriously HUGE, some the size of my fist, and we had to fish them out with the safety pin. I turned out to be quite adept at jiggering them out. Once removed from the shell, a lumpy piece of flesh, trailed by some sticky intestines which slurped out, you get the morsel as seen in the top picture.
One must carefully remove the intestines because, as my host mom put it, they are walay lami or not tasty. I tend to trust her 100% when it comes to these things so I made a little intestine pile at the side of my plate. As I have formerly described, Filipinos by and large will never let any part of the animal go to waste, so having a moment like tonight, when my mom warned me not to eat the entrails, reminded me of that Farside cartoon with the native american holding up a nondescript piece of buffalo saying something nanay says not to eat something, it is heeded, no questions asked.
The insides were delectable. It tasted like clams but 100 times richer and very tender. The entire time I was eating I was trying to imagine how they would taste in the San Francisco clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, which made me a little homesick for a second, but it was hard to stay that may, my mouth, nostrils and mind trying to wrap around this crazy-tasty food! To the right is a picture of my brother Johny going crazy with the kinhason. He asked me what we call them in English, to which I replied "sea monsters." He just laughed and that's when I snapped the photo.
My host mom said these become available about twice a year and this is the first I have seen them. I'm excited for a repeat performance. But now that she knows I like them, I'm sure she will keep a watch for them. She's so awesome when it comes to making things I like and keeping an eye out for them at the markets.
In other news today, I gave my first big test, a unit test on computer troubleshooting. All in all I am very pleased withe the outcomes as the class average score was 77.15% for the whole unit, passing! It's an indication I am actually doing my job correctly. I have learned that tests are not only an assessment of the students' comprehension and attained knowledge, but also of the teacher's abilities to pass on that knowledge. So I am giving myself that grade as a teacher; in other words, I get 77% on my ability as a teacher. There is room for improvement, but I am quite satisfied as a first attempt. My counterpart, Sir Erwin, even taught me how to set up an Excel spreadsheet to automate the grading process. I have never had a reason to fire up Excel, having majored in English, but I think I am getting the hang of it (he still has a lot to teach me).
I started watching The Office, seasons one through three, that I had previously ripped onto my computer. Just seemed like it was time to watch them again. Memories of sitting at Aaron and Jay's house with Brian, Kari and Malena started pouring in and it felt like we were all watching them together on Aaron's monitor just like the good old days. After a few days of obsessive watching, I felt like I had not only reminisced about my college social circle but also saw friends I hadn't seen in a long time: the characters. At the end of season three, I felt like I had to say goodbye again. But it was a weird feeling, it wasn't sad at all but a very sweet feeling that I'm not sure I can explain. I have spent the last three years with these characters and it's as if they were just stopping by to say hi, just to me. Naturally I began wondering what the old gang has been up to more recently than season three, so I found and acquired season four, which I am now devouring! Boy do I feel behind the times. I have discovered a means to acquire season five and by then I will finally feel caught up. I thought the Dinner Party episode at Michael and Jan's place was one of the best written episodes in a long time.
I will also soon be acquiring Arrested Development :)
Friday, October 16, 2009
Christmas spirit is in full swing and it still strikes me as strange, even for my second time looking out on the sunlit landscape, palm trees blowing in the tropical breeze, that it's still so HOT and we are listening to "Jingle Bells". This December will be my second Christmas away from home. I'm certain my most memorable experience will be my dad visiting me from the 16th to the 28th! More on that another time. The most memorable thing that happened to me last year was a phone call from my friend Jess who was medically evacuated last November.
This brings me to another point I've been stewing over and wanted to share. Jess has now been readmitted to the Peace Corps, this time serving in Ukraine. The funny thing is, she is in the same batch as a friend from Augsburg who was in my German classes and roommate of a very close friend! And if the world were not small enough, they are in the same batch as my brother's friend's older brother! All that compounded with the fact that my friend from my Namibia program is now in the new batch of volunteers here in the Philippines leaves me truly admiring how small the world (and how incestuous the PC world) can be.
As far as projects go, I have finally finished setting up the computer lab to my liking; I finished this last month (mid-September) and have been focusing more on my library project. We now finally have all the donated books encoded into our online library system, which includes 607 books (and my Gramma promises that more are on the way!). Otherwise, I have been trying to come up with a way to help out the victims of Ketsana and Parma; living so far away from the site of the disasters and not being able to leave my site for more than a weekend makes it difficult to go off to Manila for a sustained cleanup effort, much like me and Brian's trip to Biloxi, Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. After doing some research, I found that there is a way to send money electronically directly to the Philippines National Red Cross (bypassing any sticky fingers along the way) and have been collecting spare change at the Municipality Government Hall and the High School. I am still in the process of collecting so I don't have any figures, but the boxes are getting pretty heavy!
The country director of Peace Corps Philippines, as well as my regional manager came to visit me at my site. It was an honor to host them in my humble little town and show them around the school, orienting them about my projects. They were very pleased with my progress and creativity with my projects as well as the glowing report the principle, Ma'am Rachel, gave them. The country director even asked me, towards my close of service, to help rewrite training material for future incoming batches to incorporate ICT content and include strategies for incoming trainees with no teaching experience. I was quite honored.
Some other things on the horizon, I am just finishing teaching a unit of computer troubleshooting and I couldn't be more proud of my students in TLE IV. While they still struggle to express themselves in English, their English comprehension is something of which the English department here can be very proud. They have the best comprehension I have seen here at the high school. I am thrilled I get to work with them for the entirety of the next semester (the new semester begins Nov. 3 after All Souls' Day) teaching them web design. There is still a whole semester left and I am beginning to miss them already! Jane, is this normal?
Come December 7th-11th, my batch (or what's left of it) will all meet up in Manila for our Mid-Service Training (MST). The reason I say what's left of it is because a slew of close friends have been leaving for various reasons including my good friends Jasmine, Loren, Jeff, Cassie and some close calls that have (at this point) decided to stay. Of the original 69 people in my batch, there are 53 left I think, mostly people from my training group in Dumaguete.
I'm super excited about my dad coming; it will be a litmus test to see what changes I have undergone as he will be the person with a base of comparison I will have seen in over 16 months. I am thinking we will visit Bohol, Cebu city, Dumaguete and parts of Leyte. This will be his first venture into the developing world and I couldn't be more flattered that he is coming; often times, the intimidation of going to a developing country outweighs the reasons for going (recall my blog posts of the dinosaur spiders, typhoid, typhoons, earthquakes, etc.). Anyway, as I told him, I'm still alive so it can't be that bad, right?
I'm not homesick anymore. Of course I miss people and I have some MAD food cravings, but the Philippines has truly become my home and it's where I feel like I belong. This feeling is compounded by the fact that I am still a resident of California, my dad has recently moved to Arizona and my friends are spreading to Wisconsin, Virginia and as far as Oxford, England to study (yeah, Brian for a Rhodes Scholarship, and I know him!). Actually I am feeling kind of...I really don't know the word. I was looking at a picture from graduation with a friend here. The picture is of me, Brian, Aaron and Jay. As I pointed across the photo, I found myself saying, "Brian got a Rhodes scholarship, Aaron is in law school, and Jay is running for congress in Wisconsin. And I'm in Peace Corps," still waiting to start my real life I suppose. But that's fine. Fine indeed.