Day 4 (I promise I will quit with the daily posts soon!)

Today was a much quieter day, though not because we wanted it to be. We were told the phone company would be coming to our house at 10 AM to install our phone line. 10 AM came and went. No phone guys. Noon came and went. Still no phone guys. It was Sunday, so we thought there might have been a mix-up about what day they were coming. I get the sense that this is kind of how things work around here. Some things go perfectly, and certain other things are a hassle. The phone might be one of those things. We found out later that the company will not be able to come again for 3-5 days, which means no internet at home until next week. I’m trying to remain positive about this, especially since the school is about 2 minutes from my front door and is available to me 24/7. There are guards at the school day and night, and they will let you in any time to get into your classroom or workout.

At about 1:00 we hitched a ride with a couple of teachers (same ones we went to the beach with) who were headed into town for manicures and pedicures (VERY cheap here) and did a little of our necessary shopping. It also gave us a chance to explore on our own and start to get comfortable with the area. The malls here are absolutely insane. There are so many stores and hallways, it’s easy to get lost. They have touch screen monitors where you can view maps and search for different kinds of stores and restaurants. They also have security guards at all entrances. There isn’t much you can’t buy in a mall here. They have some of the exact same stores here that we have at home, as well as shops you would never see – Japanese furniture stores, shoe stores that make me drool – thank god their sizes are too small for me or I would go broke!, and lots of technology stores. We did our shopping and took a cab back to our house since the girls weren’t done yet. Our cab ride is about 10 minutes and costs 150 pesos (about 3 bucks). That’s considered expensive here. On the subject of manis and pedis and such: one of the favorite pastimes of Brent employees is getting massages. There are TONS of spas to choose from, but you have to look for the word “family” in the name. I’ll let you guess as to why. 😉 Massages are about $8 an hour. You can see why Brent teachers take advantage of that luxury!

After we got home, we took quick naps – still adjusting to the time change – and got ready for dinner at Texas Joes. This was the first time I was “disappointed” at dinner. It wasn’t that the food was bad, it was just that it was pretty typical American bbq. I had brisket, and I have to be honest, it didn’t even compare to Smoky D’s back home. Not even close. The restaurant is themed exactly as you would expect, and all of the servers wear cowboy hats. It’s pretty funny. Texas Joe’s is very popular with the navy guys that come in. We got to meet Mr. Davis, our activities director. He’s been in the Philippines since the 70s when his parents were here as missionaries. It was another fairly mild night; most of us were still a little jetlagged, and one of the new guys was pretty sick (turned out he has an ear infection and high fever! They took him to the doctor the next day. If I haven’t said it already, the school staff takes VERY good care of us.)

There are 9 new teachers. Four of us are from the States and the rest are Canadian. Five are single and then the two couples. This was our last “free” day before training/orientation. We were the first teachers to arrive and had a few days to get settled in and make our house a home. Most of the other teachers arrived TODAY! I feel for them, because they don’t have much time to adjust before the real work starts.

A note on Ringo: He’s doing great! We walk him a lot, since we have the time and the weather has been surprisingly nice so far. He has decided that since their are tile floors, he needs to be on the furniture. Not ok! We are working on clearing up that confusion. : )

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Day 3

I woke up, feeling guilty for having slept the day away, only to realize it was 7 am! Jeff took Ringo for a walk and went for a run. I did a little more cleaning and organizing and was lazy. Daniel told us to text him if we wanted to go shopping again because he was taking Craig, another one of the new teachers, at 10. We texted him but never heard back and were prepared to spend the day at home, doing nothing fun, when Erin, the veteran teacher from dinner the night before, called and invited us to go swimming with her and two other teachers. We hit it off with the Keshkas right away. They’re from San Diego and had emailed us before we arrived about bringing a dog. It was great to meet them. They are big-time travelers and gave us tons of tips on where to go and how to book trips. On our way to the beach, we stopped and saw where a large group of fox bats live up in the trees. They are a type of large fruit bat.

There are several beaches on the bay, and the one we went to was breathtaking. After paying to get in (about 300 pesos), we walked through a building and came out on a walkway to the beach that was right off the water. Jeff and I both stopped dead in our tracks and stared. All around us were green mountains, blue water, and sand. Palm trees bordered the beach, and just behind those was a beachside restaurant. The three others turned and looked at each other and smiled, amused by our awe and probably remembering their own first times seeing this. “Welcome to your new home,” they laughed. We spent the afternoon talking and hanging out in the warm ocean water, watching schools of tropical fish swim around us. Jeff and Brandon went off snorkeling (it still freaks me out) and the girls filled me in on more school stuff and traveling.

After the beach, we went to a late lunch at Bunker Bob’s. The navy left all of their buildings in tact when they left, and many of them have been repurposed. Bunker Bob’s is an old hillside bunker turned into a restaurant. I LOVED it. They decorated it with old pictures of the islands and naval artifacts. We had pizza and beers. They serve all bottled beverages with a napkin over the top. Why? Because they recycle their bottles and the metal caps often leave a little rust on the mouth of the bottle. You use the napkin to wipe the rust off. Kind of gross, but oh well!

We made it home in time for a quick nap (still exhausted in the afternoons) before dinner at a seafood restaurant. This place was in the mall. We ordered two giant platters that come out on boards with banana leaves. We had everything from chicken and beef to crab, squid, prawns, and fish. The seafood was left in tact – whole crab, fish, prawns, and squid just staring at you. It was delicious! We didn’t stay as late; it was clear to all the vets that the newbies were exhausted.

Day 1

The night before we were up until 4 am talking with Ximena, Daniel, and Pat and then unpacking. We didn’t even realize what time it was because of jetlag (it would have been 3 pm back home). We slept for a few hours, then showered and headed out with Daniel to see Subic and Olongapo and do some necessary shopping. Before we even left, my right eye began to bother me, and I was sure there was something in it, but I couldn’t see anything. At times throughout the day, it would bother me so much that I couldn’t open my eye. I began to worry that my eye was getting seriously damaged by whatever was scratching it profusely.

Daniel was an amazing tour guide and shopping advisor. He took us all over town and back and forth to home a couple of times to drop of the things we purchased. Before we left for town, we went up to the school and met Ms. Edna – our hero – and other staff. Ms. Edna is the one who answered all of our questions and helped us with all our paperwork before we arrived. We got our lap tops and Daniel showed us around the school. It’s different from home where the building is all interior. Here, the hallways are outside and there are giant courtyards with picnic tables and benches. Each classroom has an outdoor entrance. The building is staffed 24/7 with guards at all entrances, and they can let you into the pool or workout area any time of day or night. My classroom is HUGE! And from what I hear, my class sizes will be very very small, about 10-15 kids. I have my own laptop and my room is air conditioned, so you won’t hear me complaining too much! Jeff’s gym is not air conditioned, but it has giant garage doors all the way around it that can be opened during the day. His dress code is also very relaxed, so he can wear gym shorts and t-shirts every day. He doesn’t actually have a classroom, but he has a desk in the teacher’s lounge. I don’t envy him. He will also be teaching one section of 9th grade world history as well.

After we saw the school, Daniel took us down into Subic. There are two malls very close together, but one is on the Subic side of the river and the other is on the Olongapo side of the river. These two sides of the river, though only separated by about 50 yards, could not be any different. The Subic side is run just like it was when it was a navy base. There are strict rules about driving (you can get pulled over for not stopping at a stop sign for a full 3 seconds), and in general, it is very organized and clean. The Olongapo side is true Philippines. It is chaotic, noisy, and kind of dirty. The cars are jam packed on the streets and people wander where ever and when ever. Just across the river from Subic is the 12th street slums. It is hard to believe people actually live there. This street floods every time there is a high tide, so the people are constantly living in the water from the river. Mind you, the river is not-so-affectionately named “Shit Creek.” We have heard from other teachers that the children of those slums have horrible tape worms and other sicknesses.

Daniel took us to both of the malls to do some shopping. He had great advice on what to buy and where, so we were able to use our settling-in allowance well. We received 20,000 pesos to get settled in, and so far we have used just a little over half. We have purchased organizers, pillows, trash cans, cleaning supplies, food, hand towels and wash cloths, dog food ($$), and other odds and ends. Most products here are very very cheap. Dog food is more expensive than back home, as are most electronics. Plastic products are not as well made as in the States.

The malls are pretty impressive. Apparently, hanging out at the mall is a revered past time for young Filipinos. There are tons of stores and restaurants in them, as well as grocery stores and movie theaters. They blare American pop music and sing along. All Filipinos seem to have wonderful singing voices. Watch out, American Idol!

We ate lunch at a two-in-one restaurant which served both seafood (Clawdaddy’s) and New Orleans style cuisine no matter which restaurant you sat in. Jeff was quite happy to have American food so available. His first meal in the Philippines was a steak. The margaritas are insane here. They come in the same glasses we have back home, but they fill the class with a MOUNTAIN of frozen margarita and top it with a cherry and an umbrella.

At lunch, we discussed what would happen next, and I said something quietly to Jeff about wanting to go home and rest because my eye was bothering me so much. I had trouble focusing on all the things Daniel was telling us and showing us because my eye hurt and I could only look in certain directions. Daniel overheard me, and the next thing I knew, we were at an eye doctor (in the mall, of course) getting my eye looked at. It turns out it was a sty. It hurt so badly because it was on the inside of my eyelid. The doctor, who saw me immediately, told me to put a hot towel over my eye to relieve the pain. When I came back out front and Daniel asked what we owed, the employees shook their heads. I owed nothing. I had no appointment, I waited zero seconds, and they were charging me nothing. What!?

We went to one more grocery story for dog supplies, and then we headed home. Funny tidbit: all of the grocery stores also play American pop music. It’s like being in a club while perusing for canned goods. Both Jeff and I were exhausted (jet lag) when we got home in the early afternoon, so we took naps before dinner. I woke up just as tired as I was when I laid down, but my eye was feeling quite a bit better. A driver from the school picked us up, along with 3 other new teachers, Ximena and Daniel, and Erin – a 4th year elementary teacher.

We had dinner at the Lighthouse, which is in a hotel. It was very nice! We sat outside near the pool and watched lightning over the bay. It’s rainy season here, but everyone keeps commenting on how mild the season has been. It has been hot and sunny almost every day we have been here, just a couple of light showers. I had chicken stuffed with crab and Jeff had Mongolian grill. So much variety! We stayed pretty late, talking and having drinks. The veteran teachers and principal filled us in on our students and the school. About 60% of our students are Korean. Many of them come from families that put TONS of pressure on them to be perfect. The go to school, then to clubs, then to more schooling, then do homework, and have weekend tutoring and studying. Other students live with host families while there real families are back in Korea. I feel so bad for them, either way! The teachers overwhelmingly agree that behavior is not a major issue. The Korean students are extremely respectful. On that note – the Filipinos all call us “sir” and “ma’am.” It’s really hard to get used to!

After a few more drinks, we headed home, dropping teachers off at their houses. There are 2 separate areas where teachers live. One area is very close to the school (where we live) and the other area is about a 15-minute walk to the school. It a retirement community, actually. Those homes are a little bigger and nicer, but without a car, we would be walking in all types of weather with computers, papers and books. I’d rather be where we are, for now anyway.

Travel and Arrival

We are here. It seems impossible, but it’s true. After 27 hours of traveling with absolutely no issues (!), we are…home. Although I am too jet-lagged and all-around exhausted to go into much detail now, I would like to get down the basics.

We flew from Minneapolis to Detroit (1 hr, 15 mins), Detroit to Nagoya, Japan (12 hrs), and Nagoya to Manila (4 hrs). Then we hopped in a van and drove another 2 1/2 hrs to Subic. Ringo shocked the world by being so perfectly well behaved it seemed like a dream. He didn’t like taking off or landing, but who does? He laid at my feet, quiet as a mouse, and slept most of the time. My greatest fear was that he would pee on the plane or in an airpot and it would stink up the whole place or get on someone’s bag under the plane seat. He didn’t pee once! This, of course, had me concerned about his hydration. I gave him small amounts of water intermittently and fed him pretzels. He seemed fine with it. The plane personnel surprised me by being receptive to a dog on the plane, going so far as to ask what he needed and even making arrangements on a flight that wasn’t full so we could have an open seat in our row. Even with cramped quarters, lengthy flights, strange situations and noises, he was perfectly behaved.

My biggest worries, aside from his behavior on the planes, was getting him accepted as an ESA and dealing with customs in Manila. At the Minneapolis airport, I handed over my letter, but as I did so, I skimmed it and realized Dr. Garner had given me an old letter, not the new one. When I went to her office, I had asked her to print the letter on official letterhead. She had done so and handed me the new letter. Without looking at it, I put it in the envelope and threw the one not on letterhead away. In the airport, I noticed this difference – specifically that the letter was more of a note than an official-sounding letter – and began to panic. I handed it over, heart racing and expecting the worse. The woman read it quickly, handed it back, and asked for Ringo’s papers. She commented on how organized I was (used an accordian folder for documents), and handed it all back. That was it. So when that went well and Ringo behaved like an angel on the plane, I figured it must be customs in Manila that would ruin our track record. Not so!

Much like customs in the DR, customs in Manila was, well, a joke. I showed Ringo’s papers to the 70-something quarantine officer, he looked it over, filled out a form and charged us 350 pesos (8 dollars). We turned in our customs form to the officer, and we were done. I kept expecting someone to chase us down and start interrogating us, but it never happened. We simply got our luggage to our meeting point, searched a couple of minutes for a sign with our name, then loaded our luggage and selves into the van.

The road trip portion of our travels began at about 11 pm. After a full day of traveling and very little sleep in two consecutive nights, I was looking forward to sleeping. My brain had different plans and refused to shut off for the entirety of the trip. I was wired and excited and took in as much as a could of Manila’s night life (wildly busy at 11 pm on a Thursday!) and the dark landscapes outside the city. So many of the landmarks in Manila were familiar, which produced a sense of ironic comfort. We would pass a McDonald’s (home) as a tricycle (motorcycle with side car use as taxi) loaded with 5 or more people zoomed by and cut us off to cross 3 of the five lanes of traffic traveling down a 2 lane road. Children in western fashion would sprint across busy roads. Horns honked constantly, not in anger at wrong doings, but to remind others or one’s presence. Friendly chaos is the only way to describe traffic in Manila.

I dozed of briefly after we left the stop-and-go traffic of the city and began a smooth drive north. When I awoke, I could only make out the shadowy outlines of trees and mountains. Streetlights on the highways were minimal and dimmer than ours. I began to get excited when I saw a sign for Subic Bay: 18 km. I turned around to check on Jeff, who manage to sleep 90% of the drive, and saw the whites of his eyes and teeth – awake and smiling. We would be “home” very soon.

The ONLY hiccup in all of this traveling was the rest stop on our way to Subic. No toilet seats and toilet paper on request only. Of course there was no attendant, so I could not request toilet paper even if I wanted to. I was reminded of several excursions Wendi and I made in Italy and Egypt, where toilet paper is not a necessity but a luxury. I’ve done my fair share of camping, so I wasn’t too bothered by this less-than-sanitary method, but it wasn’t ideal, of course.

Mr. Higgins and Xiamena (pronounce Himena) Silva, the two principals, and Xiamena’s husband met us at our home to give us a briefing for the next couple of days. P. Higgs, true to his awesomeness from our interview, brought beers and we did a quick cheers to our new adventure. Our fridge is stocked with meals and beverages and our dining room table is covered in snack foods. We are well taken care of to say the least. Our house is no palace, but it is plenty big enough. It as 3 bedrooms and a joined living room/dining room/kitchen. Things are not perfect – there are no outlets in the bathroom, the front door is see through – but these are things I expected. It’s ridiculous to assume things will be perfect in a foreign country when they aren’t perfect at home. But we are here, we are safe, and we are excited. That’s what matters.

Goodbyes and Packing

Jeff and I leave for the Philippines in five short days. It seems that no matter how much I get done on my “to do” list, I still can’t find a way to feel ready… or even excited. Right now it is all about good-byes and packing. These are not the fun things I’ve looked forward to since February. These are not the things I thought about when I visualized making my overseas dream a reality. I know the excitement will come back when we are on that plane, headed into an exciting adventure, but for right now, it’s just hard.

I am so thankful for the time I had this summer to see my family and friends before we take off. No amount of time could have been enough, and I wasn’t able to see everyone I wanted to, but this adventure is teaching me lessons before it even begins. I’ve grown to appreciate the people I love more than I ever thought I could. Too often, the realization that others won’t be around forever comes too late. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the months leading up to this trip to soak it all in, and I am even luckier because this separation from loved ones won’t last forever. I’ve also grown to love Iowa more than is probably considered sane. I am going to miss this place and all of you so much!

The next post will be from halfway around the world, written 13 hours ahead of Iowa time. Hard to believe it’s finally happening!

Love you all,

Heather