A Dress from the City of Dreams

The sign on the street read “Manila: City of Dreams,” and we all had to laugh. Manila? Dreams? More often than not, it was our city of NIGHTMARES: horrible traffic, overcrowded, dirty, smoggy, etc. I had certainly had more bad experiences than good in the capital city.

After trying on numerous dresses at four different stores in and around Des Moines, Iowa, I gave up hope of finding a dress for Jeff and I’s wedding reception/celebration. Everything I tried on was too fancy, too formal, too uncomfortable, too expensive, etc. I gave up hope and went to plan B: have a dress made in the Philippines. Lianne, one of the teachers I work with, had told me the previous year to not even waste my time on finding a dress off the rack, but I didn’t listen. So when I came to her, hands lifted in surrender, and asked for the names of a few good designers, she was more than happy to help – in fact, she offered to do the search for me! After a few weeks, she brought me the names of two designers. I did a little research of my own and eliminated one designer whose work just didn’t fit my own personal style. The other designer, though, had done work that I absolutely loved, so we made an appointment to meet with Maureen Disini at her studio in Manila. I was instantly intimidated by 1) the idea of meeting a designer to have a dress made and 2) meeting this specific designer who is incredibly talented and becoming more popular by the hour. When I mentioned to a local friend that I was having my wedding dress made in the Philippines and was meeting a designer, she asked who. When I mentioned Maureen, my friend nodded enthusiastically. She had heard of her?! That only made me more nervous about meeting her! But there was no going back. Appointment made, and girls weekend planned, six of us hopped in Lianne’s SUV and headed to “the city of dreams.”

I spent the better part of July, August, and September scouring the http://www., looking for dress ideas. I had no trouble finding beautiful designs; I had plenty of trouble making decisions. I am the self-proclaimed most indecisive person on the planet. Pair my indecisiveness with my anxiety regarding meeting a legitimate designer (why would she waste her time on me?!), and you can imagine how I was feeling.

We arrived at the Ritz (the Ritz!) for my appointment at 11:30 and took the elevator up to Maureen’s floor. We were ushered into her studio, and like true newbies to the fashion world, gaped and gawked at the posh studio, with it’s floor-to-ceiling windows, modern furniture, and impeccable decorating. We sat at the all-glass table in clear plastic chairs to wait for Maureen to finish a fitting with another client and did our best to compose ourselves as we were served water and melon.

Maureen was nothing like I expected. I expected distant, aloof, condescending. She was completely down to earth, incredibly nice, and – thankfully – very straightforward. I felt all my anxiety and nerves dissipate as she looked over my ideas and gave me honest feedback about what would work and what wouldn’t, what was trendy and what was classic. What I had spent 3 months deliberating, we had figured out in 30 minutes!

After taking my measurements, we planned for our next appointment and chatted a little about her upcoming trips to Europe and New York for fabric. I did my best to appear nonchalant as she talked of finding materials for my dress in the fashion meccas of the world. The entire meeting, I was pinching myself to make sure it was real. Maureen is amazing, and I feel incredibly lucky to have my dress designed by her.

To top off an already perfect experience, I mentioned liking one of her dresses – a short, black and white striped racerback – and she GAVE it to me! I stammered through a “no, thank you,” but she insisted I have the dress and went to get it for me, saying the timing was perfect because they’d just finished a trunk show for that collection. As soon as she walked out of the room, I looked around at the other girls and saw they were just as shocked and awed as I was. The best part: it fits!

We left soon after with plans to go over sketches in about a month. The whole way down in the elevator and to the car, I just kept thinking, “I can’t believe this is happening! I’m having a one-of-a-kind dress made just for me by an AMAZING designer… and she GAVE me one of her designs!” If I were the kind of girl who squeals and screams, that’s exactly what I would’ve been doing. Instead, I quietly relived each moment in my head for hours, while Lianne laughed at my faraway facial expression.

The rest of the weekend was spent shopping at markets and stores we don’t have in our area and eating delicious food. We made it to several resaurants unparalleled in Subic: Wild Flour for breakfast, a Japanese place called Geisha in the Fort for dinner, and my favorite, a restaurant called Earth Kitchen that served local and organic fare.

Every one of us had her own goals/desires (“dreams,” if you will) for our trip to Manila, and we laughed about the city of dreams every time one of us got that one thing she was looking for: special flour, an elusive book, a perfect pair shoes, pearls, and of course, a dress!

The trip was made 100 times more enjoyable by having “tour guides.” Lianne and Dimps both have a wealth of knowledge about Manila and were able to guide our posse to the best locations, stores, and restaurants. Lianne booked an amazing apartment that was really cheap. Any time one of us mentioned something we needed or were looking for, Dimps and Lianne were quick with an answer as to where we could realize our “dream.” Instead of spending 1/2 our time searching for things, we got there quickly, or they had a better alternative. I don’t think I can ever go to Manila with out those two again.

Manila is still dirty. It’s still overpopulated and crowded with traffic and trash. The smog still hangs heavy in the air. But if you know the right places to go and the best shortcuts to get there, it’s a really great city to explore and a great place to realize a dream… or at least a dress.

Update: Life in Subic

I promised to blog more this year, even when new and exciting things aren’t happening, so here’s a look into our everyday life:

Cross Country

Team_CC

Our season ended at 11:48 PM Friday, October 3rd,when the bus pulled up at school. We had our last meet of the season at International School of Manila. The meet was a last-minute addition to the season, which “officially” ended the previous Saturday. We asked our team if anyone was interested in attending another meet, and about a dozen runners chose to participate. It was a nice change of pace, having a final week of practice with 1/3 of our usual numbers. We got to know this group of runners a lot better, and I felt like they formed more of a bond as they cheered each other on.

We received the results from this meet on Tuesday, and I was floored to see that 11 of the 12 runners had set new personal records; some beat their previous best times by several minutes! What a great way to end the season.

All in all, it was a success. We had a handful of strong runners that competed in the top 10-15 at most of our meets. All of our runners worked on personal goals, and everyone improved in one way or another – be it attitude, endurance, speed, or mental toughness.

The season was a lot less stressful this year; we knew what to expect and had already built a base relationship with our team the previous year. It was a fulfilling experience again this year, but I’m looking forward to having my afternoons free again. Maybe now I can do some running!

New Home

Our new house is wonderful. We made a great decision when we decided to move. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that the staff are incredible, and that’s still entirely true. We were invited to a community party in September. While I was a little hesitant to accept the invitation, our headmaster encouraged us to go. He attended last year and said the food and entertainment was worthwhile. Plus, the people at TPV work so hard for us; it seemed only right to attend their party.

Upon walking in the door, we saw two tournament-style brackets set up with the names of the male residents and workers: an arm-wrestling competition! Mr. Higgins had mentioned this, but I didn’t really believe it would happen. Craig, Jeff, and Bob are all big guys, and most of the TPV staff went down without much of a fight. The competition ended with Craig and one of the wheel-chair bound retired Japanese tenants duking it out for the championship. Craig came out on top, much to the delight of his many adoring fans – the female staff at TPV love Craig, who bears a striking resemblance to Thor. The entire experience was quite surreal and extremely entertaining. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.

Now that we’ve gotten settled in to our new place, the plans for decorating have begun! Just this afternoon Danette and I went down to the market to purchase fabric for new couch and chair covers. Pictures are going up on the walls. Next up is a custom dog bed for Ringo.

Last year I didn’t spend much time or effort on our house because I knew we were planning/hoping to move. Now we have a place that actually feels like home, and I’ve started making plans to spruce the place up a bit. It’s good practice for our future, more permanent HOME. 🙂

School

School is going really well. There is such a significant difference in the ease of beginning this year compared to last year when we were new. The kids are used to us and we are used to them.

The one struggle has been due to large class sizes for Jeff in PE. He has a couple of huge sections that keep him very busy; activities are a challenge to plan and coordinate. Of course, he makes it work. Jeff’s very well liked among the students (I think it’s safe to say he’s one of the most popular teachers in school), so most of the students work to please him. It helps that he has so few discipline issues to worry about.

We just had Spirit Week here. This is basically homecoming without the football game. Instead of a “big game,” we have a house rally. Our students and teachers are divided into two houses: Gold and Azure. All year long we compete in various athletic, creative, and academic contests, and a winner is determined at the end of the school year. Jeff and I are both in Gold. Last year Azure won the overall competition. The first house rally this year consisted of house cheers (orchestrated by the team captains), obstacle courses, and relay races. Things got pretty intense, but everyone managed to have a great time. Azure and Gold tied in the events, but Gold came out on top in the cheer competition. Finally, we got a win!

In a couple of weeks we’ll have Book Week. I’m on the committee that plans for this, and we’ve got some great ideas planned. Blog to come!

Around Subic

I have been on a bit of a photography mission this year, so I took some time to drive around Subic taking pictures of some of the more interesting sites. Subic Bay used to be a U.S. Navy base, and many of the buildings are from that era. I’m fascinated with the almost ghostlike history of the place. The base was turned over to the Philippines in the mid-90s, and many of the quonset huts, offices, etc. have been repurposed. I’ve gone to so far as to dig around on the Internet for old pictures from when the base was in operation, trying to get a better sense of what this place looked like, teeming with American life.

Just a couple of weeks ago 3-4 ships docked in the bay, and Subic has been overflowing with Navy personnel. We went out for dinner Friday night, and I was shocked to find a normally quiet restaurant PACKED with Americans. We’re used to seeing U.S. Navy ships here, but this stay has been longer than usual, and people are definitely talking about it.

BTPI 

A few weeks ago Danette and I went on a photography trip to Bataan Technology Park, Inc. (BTPI). BTPI used to be the Philippine Refugee Processing Center (PRPC), a refugee camp for people from Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and other SE Asian countries. The camp operated from 1980 until the early 90s when funding ran out. This is yet another historical tidbit about this area that fascinates me. Before our trip, I spent an afternoon researching the PRPC and found several personal accounts of escape and rescue that ended at the refugee camp. Most of the people who found their way to the PRPC were quickly processed and sent on to the U.S. and Canada after short stays, so the atmosphere around the camp was said to be lighthearted and optimistic.

While most of the buildings from the camp days have been torn down, a few still stand, along with monuments and statues installed by the refugees. It was a rainy day, but we made the most of the few pockets of dry weather and checked out statues of Buddha, breathtaking views, and the museum, which houses one of the boats used to escape war-torn Vietnam. One look at the boat sent shivers down my spine. A simple wooden structure, it looked like it wouldn’t survive a float in the bay, much less a journey in the Pacific. The fact that people would be willing to risk their lives on these boats in order to escape the horrors of their home countries was a testament to just how bad it must have been. I can’t begin to imagine a life so hard that it would be worth risking almost certain death. These refugees have my respect and sincere admiration.

The trip to BTPI was incredibly interesting, but the weather didn’t allow us to explore as much as we wanted. We’ll be making a return trip one of these drier days.

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Life so far this year has been comfortable and less stressful. Now that we feel more like “regulars” around school and have learned our way around Subic and the surrounding area, we’ve really settled in. We have our routines – Tuesday Night Football, Sunday night massages for Jeff (Starbucks for me!), monthly book club, etc. The novelty of life overseas has worn off, but what we’re left with isn’t exactly an absence of enjoyment. If anything, I’m enjoying life MORE now that the novelty has worn off and normalcy has set in. I feel settled, comfortable, like I belong. The stress and anxiety of a new, foreign home just faded memories.

We leave for a 7-day vacation in Northern Vietnam in two weeks. I cannot wait to see another part of this great big world.