Friday, January 30, 2009

Meditation on "Post-Racialism"

I just finished listening to the Culture Gabfest podcast and they used a term I have been hearing quite often since Obama's nomination to run for president, "post-racial."
Often times I'll hear the term in close proximity to explanations of white guilt or suggestions of it. In the podcast, they talked about an article written about how whites will be a minority in 40-60 years and how the white population (split into a false dichotomy of NASCAR fans and yuppies) feels only one of two things: anxiety or white guilt. Speaking of white guilt, the podcast was surprisingly bent to the left and its almost as if the personalities were self-congratulatory on this idea of "post-racial" America, a kind of passivity in thinking something righteous is happening.
But isn't the term "post-racial" a euphemism of white guilt in and of itself to simply say "post-white supremacy?" This seems like any other feel-good, PC buzz-phrase, one that will leave lasting impressions on a white electorate that the difficult part is over, now that Obama is in fact president, and they will slide back into apathy.
I don't have any qualms with the term itself. I believe racial categorization is erroneous in that all humans are the same race, technically. This is simple and straight forward. But this is not how the term is being used. It would be nice if the implication of "post-racial" meant that we, as a society, have moved past race. But the mere fact that this term is only used in the context to describe the rise of the minority shows we are still a country obsessed with race, although in a more or less "post-racial" way.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Some Lists and Statistics

Hello World! [note: if you ever took a computer science class you'd be laughing right now]
I just wanted to reflect (and gloat)on some of the lists and statistics I have been keeping: projects I am working on, books I have read, exotic foods tasted and the amount of text messages I have sent and received (it's really worth sharing).
The first list I would like to share are the projects I am currently working on. As an education volunteer, I am responsible for teaching in the classroom as a primary project, but I am also responsible for secondary projects. I am currently working with a non-profit in California, Youth Community Service, and a member of their team to pair penpals and organize a book drive. I have a dear friend named Emily, who joined me on my Namibia trip, who is now working with YCS and 15 students of middle school age. It was actually her idea to pair 15 of her students with 15 of ours in a penpal relationship. After organizing some of our students, we plan on sending the first volley of letters this coming Friday. Her students are also planning a books and resource drive, which is awesome. Our school is in desperate need of fiction; our library is stocked with archaic encyclopedias, old medical manuals, outdated computer maintenance books and government issued textbooks. Last November marked English Month, the theme of which was "Reading First: Sustaining the Love of Reading." Well, most of the students avoid the library like the plague and it's obvious why. With donations of fiction books, the students will, probably for the first time in their lives, have access to materials suitable for pleasure reading.
As a previous post explained, I am working on a sustainable computer maintenance project that will protect the PC's in our donated computer lab indefinitely. Without being too repetitive, I have found a free application, published by Microsoft, called SteadyState. This application allows the system administrator (my co-teacher) to reinstall Windows and set it up with the applications he finds necessary and then "freeze" the computer. The computer is now ready to withstand any abuse the students subject to it: viruses, unwanted applications, changed settings. No matter what the students do, when the computer restarts, all changes are erased and the computer acts like it did the moment the administrator froze it. The life of the computers are now only limited to the physical life of the computers. Finding replacement parts will be another story entirely...
Speaking of computers, I am co-teaching a web design class with my ICT co-teacher, Sir Erwin. We are using Kopozer, an open source, free and always available programs the basis for our lesson. Open source have really made sustainable computer a dream-come-true. Open source means that the application is free and always available for download. So having free access to Kompozer for all the students to learn on is better than learning on Dreamweaver, per se, which runs about $200 a pop. This class will last throughout the rest of the school year.
That's about it for projects at this point.
The books I have read! I have done almost nothing but read in my free time. Here is a list of books I have read: Fear and Loathing in as Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 by Hunter S. Thompson, Side Effects by Woody Allen, The World is Flat and Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas Friedman, Freakanomics by Levitt and Dubner, The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain, A Long Time Gone: Memoire of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah, The World According to Garp by John Irving, Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman, Sarah Palin: How a Hockey Mom Turned the Political Establishment Upside Down (I have no explanations for this one) by Kaylene Johnson and Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama, a good portion of David Copperfield by Charles Dickens and the first 50 pages of An Idiot's Guide to Judaism by Rabbi Benjamin Blech. Altogether, since August, I have read 3,600 pages.
For exotic foods, here is a complete list of all of the foods I have eaten here that I think are exotic and bizarre: Balute (14 dayold half-fertalized duck eggs), squid in it's own ink, danggit (filleted fried fish heads), fish eye balls, durian (the fruit that is banned from many churches because of it's stench), chicken neck and feet in soy and tomato sauce, fried chicken skull, BBQ chick gizzard and intestines, fried leaf, fish head soup, spicy pork intestines, pig brain, lapsung (cow blood soup with floating bits of fat, grissle and God knows what else), diniguan (the same as lapsung but with pig blood) and kinilaw (raw fish soaked in vinegar). The funny thing is that my dad sent me peanut butter from the states and everyone was concerned for my health for that (because of the salmonella outbreak) and not for anything mentioned above!
As for texting, the Philippines is the SMS, texting capitol of the world. Since August, I have sent 5,306 messages and recieved 6,714 messages. Word.
So there is my "lists and statistics" update for y'all. Hopefully I will soon have a special on my house, with pictures!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Keeping Up with the Juan-sons

Part of the hardest thing about being away for so long is the fact that we have little access to current trends in…well, most anything back home. Keeping up with music, movies and books has become a challenge one must proactively tackle constantly. There is a great way to remedy this: the internet.

I am one of the fortunate few who have access to the internet almost always; my host family has a connection in my host father’s bedroom and I have wireless access from the office at my high school.

[Note: let me take this opportunity to explain that by internet access, I mean very rudimentary access. Yes, my internet is faster than dial up, but not much more. Watching YouTube is a far and distant memory as it takes about 20-30 minutes to load a 5 minute video. Even engaging in a video skype call is oftentimes garbled is displaced artifacts and pixels; the call quality of voice-only skyping is hit or miss. This picture demonstrates the mess of cables and boxes, the functions of which I will never know, which keeps the internet going at my house]

So, being that I do indeed actually have said internet connection, I can read the latest on the New York Times website, keep up with Facebook gossip and even read music reviews. Being out of the music loop, at this point anyway, is one of the hardest things to deal with, culturally speaking. There is (or was) a great website called pitchforkmedia that specializes in independent and alternative music reviews. Although I don’t consider my tastes too outlandish, Pitchfork usually reviews all of the upcoming albums I am most interested in (and has done so quite respectably). I saw, just last week, that they had a top 100 albums of 2008. Great! I can see what I’ve missed since August without having to sift through all of the review pages.

Again, having an internet connection implies that, despite how long it may take, I can download some movies and albums. I decided the best way I could spend a Saturday morning (and afternoon and early evening) was downloading the three top albums as listed by Pitchfork.

The top album was Fleet Foxes’ self-titled album. After the first listening, I fell asleep. After the second, I was bored. The point of this post is not to review the album. What I am implying is that, after the second listening, I deleted the link in my web browser to Pitchforkmedia’s website.

Being out of the loop is absolutely ridiculous and boring. I really need some new music and have no idea where to start. I miss having friends that could just plug their iPod into my computer and download whatever they were listening to in a matter of seconds. But I suppose that is one of the many faceted sacrifices one makes when joining the Peace Corps.

But of course there are worse things. The volunteers of my generation are quite spoiled by large-capacity multimedia devices, such as iPods. I mean, I have over 13,219 songs I can listen to at the push of a button. Consumerism (and obsession-based collection) has transcended the material and has seeped into the world of media. I am constantly looking for something new (though I always take time to go back and spend some intimate time with my old favorites). But still, I feel a little guilt while I sit there, spinning the wheel looking for an album to listen to out hundreds that I have. This must be juxtaposed with stories from two of my former professors, one who served in Thailand and one in western Africa somewhere, in the 1970’s. The former said she only had a reel-to-reel of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the latter had one Beatles cassette (as far as I remember). While the kind of meditative listening that would result from listening to the same album for two years is valuable, I think I would have to kill myself (as this must somehow violate the Treaty of the Geneva Convention). I need variety. I’m living in a coconut-laden jungle, I don’t exactly get the same stimulation I had in Minneapolis that tickled my imagined and self-diagnosed attention deficit disorder.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, just because a volunteer has internet doesn’t mean that volunteer is getting up-to-the-minute American cultural calibration. Despite the best, fastest and most ubiquitous technologies we have at our fingertips, we are still on the other side of the world, “turning on, tuning in and dropping out,” so to speak.

I imagine that when I return to the U.S., I will be a cultural time capsul, a relic of late 2008 that still thinks that YouTube is pretty high tech.

Monday, January 12, 2009

School Schedule, Linguistics and History

So first, let me break down my average day at school. Keep in mind that I only teach four hours a day, three in English and one in information communication technology. schedule

7:00 – arrive at school via bicycle and usually sit outside of the office, waiting for it to be opened. I will usually take this time to address any business on the internet I need to take care of.

7:30 – Flag Ceremony: singing of the national anthem, a pledge of allegiance, the singing of the provincial hymn and any announcements.

7:45-9:45-There are two class periods herein.

9:45-10:00 – coffee break for all the teachers

10:00-12 – classes

12-1 – I bike home for lunch and then return in time for classes.

1-4 – classes

Every class period is started with a mandatory prayer (usually an "Our Father" but depends on the teacher).

Either the teacher or I will first address the class. I have been trained in CLT method teaching, or Communicative Language Teaching, which transfers the role of the teacher onto the students themselves. While there is still lecture, we take time for group or pair work wherein students ideally practice English with each other. While make it a requirement that the teacher does not codeswitch, it is difficult to make sure the students are speaking only English. The co-teacher and I will take on different roles depending on the lesson plan, which we co-author before class. Below is a sample of a lesson plan we have used in the past with the second year. If this is the kind of thing that does not interest you, skip ahead.

Expressing Feelings, Opinions, Agreement, and Disagreement pg. 208

I. Objective

1. The students will be able to express agreement and disagreement by parallelism, determine and evaluate the objectives of a speaker, express and utilize variations of tone to express feelings and attitudes, use cohesive devices to make the flow of thought smooth and effortless.

II. Content and Materials

1. Content:

2. Materials: "Hello Goodbye" by the Beatles,

III. Procedures and Activities

1. Pre-reading

i. Post the song lyrics on the board with Manila paper. Play the students "Hello Goodbye" by the Beatles, have the students answer the question, "What is this song expressing? What is this song about? One person in the song says one thing and another one says another. Do the two people agree or disagree?" This is done by the PCV.

2. Reading

i. Discuss Key-points on 208. This is done by the co-teacher. After discussing parallel words, phrases and clauses, refer back to the song. Have the students identify the parallel clauses in the song.

ii. Using the activity in the book Five-Minute Activities, on page 45, "Ask each student to write down three things they like and dislike. They can decide whether they wish to refer to important things or to less important things, but what they write must be true. Do the same thing yourself. Rea out a point off your list and then add some information to it. For example? 'I don't like loud noises, particularly it they're not necessary. If it's necessary I can put up with it.' Encourage the students to ask the questions. Students then contribute their likes or dislikes. If time permits, students will take turns with a partner doing this same activity."

3. Post-Reading

i. Activities 1-3 on pg. 209, students work individually.

ii. Evaluation for day 1: Quiz – 5 questions to test the 75% comprehension rate. This is administered by the co-teacher.

iii. Assignment: Have students pair up for the project tomorrow and bring art materials by pair.

--------------------------------------------------------2nd Day-----------------------------------------

i. Students will work together in groups of 2 to develop a travel brochure for San Juan and include places to eat, stay and sites to see. After the brochures are created, the students will share them with the class. Afterwards, the students will pair up with different partners and roleplay. One student will be a travel agent and the other will be a tourist interested in traveling to San Juan. The students will take turns running through the dialogue on pg. 209.

II. Evaluation

1. Students will answer the questions on pg. 210. These will be turned in.

III. Assignment

The format is officially from the department of education (DepEd). The nice thing about all the Edu volunteers using a standardized format is that we are currently building a database of lesson plans for future volunteers, something we do not yet have.

I have also been reading a lot. I started a book last night called The History of the Filipino People. Give me a dry history book any day, I have no why idea why I love this stuff. The following is a generalized description of the people of the Visayan region,

The Visayan is a hedonist. Give him a jug of tuba [coconut wine] and a piece of dried fish and he will sing the wilderness into Paradise. He is a lover like the Tagalog, but he expresses his consuming passion in music, not in poetry. Thus, armed with a banduria, a ukulele or a guitar, he forgets his sorrows, even his hunger, if he is poor, by caressing the strings of his musical instrument and singing to its accompaniments. He may not know the difference between a do and a mi on paper, but he can put together the notes of the scale to produce lilting, coquettish music. History of the Filipino People by Teodoro A. Agoncillo, pg. 18.

Yeah, I know I'm lucky to be in this region. Other interesting points of interest are in language. Looking at the history and origins of words here was particularly revelatory. There are words from Malay, Chinese, Sanskrit and English predominantly. The Malay is related to the "primitive Austronesian" languages that spread from the SE Asian archipelago and spread south through Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand and many Pacific islands such as Hawaii and Guam (not sure on the last one). Interestingly, the word for umbrella in Austronesian is pajung, or payong in Tagalog (and Visayan). However, in the Cabalionon subdialect that they speak here in my town (a mix of Visayan and Surigaonon), they replace a "y" with a "j", which makes the subdialect here at my site truer to its origins as a branch of the ancient Austronesian language rather than Tagalog or many other dialects here in the Philippines.


Primitive Austronesian

Tagalog (Filipino)

Cabalionon (Visayan & Surigaonon)






I love etymology. Also, before the Spanish came, the ancient Filipinos (around the same time as the Greeks and Egyptians) used a written alphabet based on Sanskrit. From what I have learned while studying under the tutelage of Professor Gustafson, this is not unlike the written language of the Khmer people of Cambodia. Human geography is awesome! I just want to give a shout-out to all my history profs for making me the geek I am today.

Also, like the Mauri of New Zealand (of Malay ancestry), the peoples of the Philippines were adorned in tattoos, especially those in the Visayan region. In fact, the Spanish called the Visayan Islands "islands of the painted people" at first. Unlike my experience in New Zealand, wherein I actually saw some Mauri with facial and body tattoos, I have yet to see anyone here with such adornments.

Reading this book is very enlightening. I came to the Philippines looking for "Asia," whatever that means. Disillusioned, I spent a longtime looking for some kind of preconceived paradigm that simply does not exist here. The Philippines is not Asia, it is simply the Philippines. This book excites me; it helps me be observant of the marvelous culture here that I simply put aside or disregarded if it didn't fit into my concept of what was "Asian." From a post-colonial identity perspective, I was eager to see and learn what was fundamentally Spanish within the reconstructed Filipino identity. By eager to learn I mean I was overexuberant in assigning influences with absolutely no basis or foundation in my categorization. I was, and maybe still am, a sophomoric (in the literal sense) student of history. But at least I am sharpening my teeth. Studying post-colonial identity, I am learning, is not a simple "us and them" equation. This kind of assumption is, I believe, a Marxist paradigm of historiography (and one I was quite attached to in school). But to quote Professor Adamo, “it's more complicated than that.” As I have said in my post, this is a new century. It's time for new perspectives. Many people believe that history is stagnant and unchanging. The way we view history changes everyday! I am living it and it is thrilling!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Anthrax at the US Embassy, 21st Century Politics

Last night was like any other Thursday evening: dinner with the family, later a co-teacher of mine and I going to play billiards with my host brother and, as we ate dinner, the news was on. Typically I just tune it out because all of the news broadcasts are in Tagalog/Filipino and not in Visaya (my dialect) but, as I was putting a fried ball of meat into my mouth, I heard "blah blah blah anthrax blah blah US Embassy blah blah blah." Well, it might not be anthrax but there was a letter sent to the US embassy with white powder contents, supposedly from Houston, TX. I texted the Peace Corps security officer in Manila to ask if there was anything we should be concerned about. Within 30seconds he called me back and said he was watching the same story, waiting to hear back from the embassy. He said that this sort of thing was already happening in Europe and is now coming to Asia. Something like 76 U.S. embassies have been targeted globally since Dec. 31st, 2008. He said that we will be kept informed of pertinent information, which is to say we won't get little detailed updates.
When I first heard, I was concerned, but I wasn't afraid for my life or anything. The concerning thing that I simply could not communicate to my host family was that this act of terrorism was aimed at a nationality, not at specific people. I am an American. Obviously whoever sent that envelope wanted its American recipients to fear for their lives. Again, didn't matter who received the white powder, just as long as they were American.
Again, I just want to reiterate that the Peace Corps security officers are excellent and we, as volunteers, are not anywhere near harm's way.
But man, this got me thinking. Why did it feel like I received a blow to the stomach? This is 21st Century international politics, I'm just living it now, on the outside of the emerald city. I don't think I've ever been to a country where this was ever a concern. Blame cannot be place on anyone world leader. I don't know what has got us here, it certainly wasn't my generation, but it makes the Peace Corps and the volunteers that much more important. We are cleaning up the U.S. image abroad, one village, town and city at a time in over 130 countries with over 8,000 volunteers. This isn't just going abroad and teaching English, this is imperative diplomatic work at the same time. I'm not trying to toot my own horn, but this is the reality of grassroots diplomacy. Obama supports doubling the size of the Peace Corps during his presidency...heck yeah. I have no idea how to finish this.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Jumping right back into the narrative - Holidays, Vacations and Sustainable Co

Hello everyone! I have finally crumbled and started a blog after many years of resisting. Of course I am an early adopter of many technologies (I was one of the first generation users of Facebook) but I have always resisted a blog for some reason. For some reason, it seems like a blog is working better for the other volunteers instead of doing the mass emails. I hope it works for all of you. Hope the holidays were excellent.
The holidays here were more or less something over which to ponder. The Christmas season officially starts in September, the season lasting throughout all of the months that end in "er." Come to think of it, I still get the occasional "Maayong Pasko" (Merry Christmas) and it's January yet. Again, after four months of build-up, school closing a week earlier than break actually started to celebrate the fact that we will be celebrating in a week and a culinary hedonism I have only experienced here in the Philippines on Christmas eve, I was certain that Christmas day was going to be just unreal. Christmas eve we ate, ate, ate and ate some more. For dinner we had lobsters and for second dinner (after the 4 hour mass ending at midnight) we had a ham. We finally all went to bed at about 2am, waking late on Christmas Day. And this was going to be it -- the mother of all celebrations! After a rotisserie pig was laid out on the table with a bowl of pork-blood stew with pork fat, pork intestines and other UFOs (unidentifiable floating objects) that were probably pork related for our Christmas brunch, people just went to bed. Yes, The anticipation for possibly the biggest celebration I would ever have witnessed turned out to be a nap-day. Bahala-na, so that's life.
The day after Christmas, I left for Tacloban, the provincial capitol of Leyte, with the two other PCV's in my province. Going to Tacloban was our big wekend in the city. The three of us are all pretty rural and being able to eat Dunkin' Donuts for breakfast, McDonald's for lunch and pizza for dinner was pretty much stellar. It was actually the first time I have gone to a McDonald's abroad and not felt absolute guilt for not trying the ethnic foods of the country I was visiting. Not so; I had pork intestines in it's own blood the day before. I deserved this. We also visited the Santo Nino Shrine, a receptacle for the collected things..things tis the only word I can think of to describe them, of Imelda Marcos during the Marcos years. This is the woman who still has the Guiness book of World Records for having 40,000 pairs of shoes.
Next came New Years wher in the same two vounteers met up at a site about 2 hours from my own to bring in the new year. I ate myself stupid (seriously, I can't remember a single time I have been hungry since landing in Manila) and we sang videoke (kareoke but with random videos in the background) into the wee hours of the morning. I had woken up and was feeling the aftereffects of the night before (the food hangover!) just as midnight was sweeping east to west across the U.S. 
The three of us then set of to meet seven other volunters in a little resort town about 30 minutes from the house we were stayting at. We were going to snorkel, swim and possibly se whal sharks but the weather was terrible (up to that point it had rained for about 2 weeks straight!) and we stayed at the resort, just hanging out. We still had a good time. Four of us in the group, all members of batch 266 (I am batch 267), are dive certified. The day before the three of us got there, they had already gone SCUBA diving with the whale sharks. One, who has ben diving for probably 20-30 years, said it was the most terifying thing she's ever done. Anyway, it was really fun.
But anyway, here I am, at site, having been here now for a day or two over two months. I am sitting in the school's computer lab, taking a break from working on a pretty intensive project. The lab here has roughly 50 potentially functioning computers. When I arrived, roughly four were operational and the rest were all muddled and beleaguered with viruses. Having a completely donated lab (courtesy of the Intel Corp.) that can't even turn on is about as worthwhile as donating 50 over-sized paperweights to the students. I have done some research and have found a free piece of software that essentially lets us "freeze" the computers into whatever state we leave them as. For instance, my counterpart and I have been reinstalling Windows, installing all free and open source programs (removing all of the pirated software they had accumulated) and "freezing" the computers. This way, every time a student turns on a computer, they have an experience much like when one firsts takes a computer out of the box. They can do whatever they want, even install 1000000 viruses. As soon as they log out, any change they made, no matter how minute, is disregarded and the computer returns to the fresh out-of-the-box state. This is the first project I have begun that feels like it's in line with the "spirit" of the Peace Corps. It is sustainable and promotes computer literacy for all, every time the user logs in. It's a time consuming process. It takes about fours hours per machine. But it's totally worth it. So far, my counterpart and I have finished 15 computers. It has been fun watching the students reap the immediate benefits of functional computers.

I know my emails have been slow. I hope this blog will eventually have everyone caught up to speed. I have uploaded more photos for every one's enjoyment.
Soon I hope to give everyone a day in the life of a PCV teacher here.
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