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

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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.

Year 2, here we come!

Jeff and I had an AMAZING time back in Iowa, putting over 4,000 miles on my car driving around to see everyone we could. Of course, it wasn’t enough time, so leaving was bittersweet. But we couldn’t wait to get back to our dog and see our new place! Our flights went well – on time and what not. We left Monday at noon and arrived Wednesday at 12:05 AM (13 hour time change). Losing half a day was pretty rough.

We arrived in Subic around 3 AM, dropped off our bags at our new home, and marched down the street to wake up the Keshkas and be reunited with Ringo. His reaction was about what we expected: a lot of whining/whimpering and about 10 minutes of going back and forth between Jeff and I, butting his head into our legs, as if to say, “Is it really you? Are you really back? I thought I’d never see you again!” We can’t thank the Keshkas enough for watching him all summer. My mind was at ease knowing he was with them, getting constant Facebook updates from Danette. These two should start their own dog-sitting business.

Our new place/neighborhood is pretty amazing. We now live about a 10-minute walk from the school in a Japanese retirement community called Tropical Paradise Village. A lot of other teachers live here as well. It’s nice because there is a large maintenance staff and they take care of everything very efficiently. We had a tree down in our tiny back yard after the typhoon, and they had it out in just a few days. We didn’t like the furniture provided, so they switched it pronto. Light bulbs are replaced within 5 minutes of making a request, and they came on Friday to convert several of our 220 outlets to 110. They have been AMAZING.

The house is better for us because it’s newer and our living area is on the ground floor – great for Ringo who has a bladder the size of a pea. We also have a lot more privacy here.

The house has 4 bathrooms, but only one full bath. There’s a 1/2 in the master, a 1/2 downstairs, and a 1/2 in the laundry room (maid’s quarters). There’s also tons of storage – closets everywhere!

But by far the best part is the master bedroom closet: not one, but TWO walk-in closets!!! I called dibs on this room right away.

We also have 3 bedrooms, so you’re all welcome to come visit! 🙂

Along with the new home comes a new neighborhood that has provided some interesting new experiences. While we were pretty used to seeing monkeys around town before we moved, we’d never seen them around our house. Now that we live just across the street from the dense jungle we’re getting used to them all over again. There is an enticing fruit tree in our front yard, and the monkeys come to visit almost daily. After taking two bites, they throw the fruit onto the metal roof of our carport. The first time this happened, we had no idea what was going on, and Ringo was pretty disturbed. On their second visit, Jeff thought it would be funny to throw the fruit back to the dozen or so monkeys perched on our roof. Unfazed, they caught the fruit off the bounce and scampered to the back side of the roof where there is a tree eye-level with the bedroom window. From upstairs, we could look out and see monkeys less than three feet from our house: the closest I’ve ever been and ever care to be to them again.

Ringo has taken to watching them from the sliding glass door. They stare at him curiously and chitter. He’s becoming used to them, which I don’t much like! I imagine leaving him outside and coming home to find him tied up on the patio, monkeys all over my kitchen.

We started back to work yesterday with a day of training in Manila. Traffic on the way back was the worst I’ve ever experienced; it took us 5 hours just to get out of Manila, and our friend’s car overheated from all the stopping and going, so we had to stop and let it cool down. We left at about 5 PM and got home a little after midnight. Brutal. Monday we start the year with teacher work time, meetings, and orientation. The kids come back on Thursday. We’re both really looking forward to seeing them again; they’re the best part of the job.

The weather has been pretty typical of wet season: intermittent showers every day. The sidewalks are patterned with brown slime that’s as slick as ice and everything in the house has a slightly damp feel to it. Fortunately, the temperatures are tolerable, so we just run fans during the day. We were lucky to miss the typhoon that blew through in mid-July, but the evidence is everywhere: trees down, debris piled on the sides of the roads. Word is there’s another one headed our way Monday.

We’re getting settled back in to our Subic routines and getting comfortable in our new house. We have so much to look forward to this year: visits from Jeff’s sister and the Rudds, trips to Vietnam and Indonesia, plans to swim with the whale sharks, and all the unexpected adventures and surprises that are sure to come our way in our second year abroad.

XC Party and Pamulaklakin

Friday Jeff and I and our cross country team had an end-of-the-year banquet at California Pizza Kitchen. It was the perfect end to the season. Because we outlawed soda all season, we decided to reward the kids for all their hard work by purchasing their first drink of the night. They absolutely loved it. We handed out silly awards, like “Never Sweats,” “Beast Mode,” “Mr. Fashion,” etc. The kids tried to guess which award would go to each runner, and they did a pretty excellent job guessing. It was a great way to reflect on all the highlights of the season. At the end of the year we’ll have an assembly for all athletes where we’ll give out the MVP awards. Fridays awards were just for fun. We wanted each runner to realize how special they were to the team, regardless of running abilities.

Our lone senior, Jessica, showed up with a giant box from Red Ribbon, a bakery chain in the Philippines. Inside was a GIANT cake that read “Let’s Go Razorback XC.” It was so sweet of her! She was our captain this year, which was ideal because she had the experience we didn’t. Had it not been for her, there would have been a lot of things that could have been missed or ended in disaster. For instance, she knew how dorms and showers worked at the schools, and she organized the ordering of team jackets. We’ll really miss having her around next year.

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After dozens of pizzas and pasta dishes, about a case of soda, and 2/3 of a giant cake were consumed, the banquet — and our cross country season — came to an end.

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Saturday a few of us decided to hike the Pamulaklakin Trail, which is just right outside our development. A native group called the Aetas live in the jungle and offer guided tours for a small fee. Craig, Brandon, Lauren, Jeff and I were feeling ambitious, so we decided on the 2-3 hour hike. Our guide was Rosario, a 57-year-old mother of six, all of four feet tall, if that. She showed us different plants and trees the Aetas use for medicines. There were leaves for bug bites, joint pain, and more. One tree produced leaves with undersides like velcro, which are used for camouflage. Rosario cut bamboo and made straws  for us and cut thicker stalks of bamboo that were full of sweet water. She also cut smaller pieces of hollow bamboo, which could be pressed against your hands to make a whistling sound. Brandon was the only one of us who could actually make this work.

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Different tree barks were also resourced for ailments. One kind of  bark was used to make shampoo. Rosario cut off a chunk and took it down to the river where she soaked it and began rubbing. Instantly, a soapy foam emerged. Using this shampoo also helps keep bugs away. Why are we not bottling this and selling it?!

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Rosario led us through the jungle, hacking away bamboo and vines with her machete. Maybe going at noon, the hottest part of the day, was a bad idea… every time we stopped to clear the trail mosquitos swarmed our bodies and ants started crawling up our legs. Aside from these “nuisances,” the hike was fantastic.

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The Aetas live in the jungle, but don’t get any ideas about loin cloths and savagery. They dress just like we do and are often seen on the roads to Subic and Olongapo. Really, the only ways you can differentiate an Aeta from anyone else is their very curly hair, slightly darker skin, and short stature. And even these qualifiers aren’t guarantees that a person is an Aeta.

After hacking our way through the jungle, getting eaten alive by mosquitos, and sweating profusely, we emerged onto a simple dirt road, which, turning left, led back to the trail entrance. If we had gone right, Rosario explained, we would be about 45 minutes from the Aeta village. As much as we wanted to see the village, we were pretty exhausted and decided to come back another day for the village hike and a picnic. Rosario insisted we return so she could show us around and cook for us. Well, if you insist, Rosario… 🙂

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Ups and Downs and Good Eats

Jeff and I held our last cross country practice on Thursday, and I have to admit it was bittersweet. I’ve been complaining about spending so much time at practice and being behind on school work, but when the reality of our season ending finally set in, I was already missing it. I’ve loved building relationships as a coach and watching our runners improve every day. We decided to take all of our athletes to the last meet, and everyone was very excited.

So it only seemed appropriate for a typhoon to pop up Friday.

I woke up to sunshine and birds chirping, showered, dressed, and settled down with my bowl of cereal to watch CNN. Routines have been formed. My phone alerted me that I had a text message – a rare occurrence… even rarer at 6:30 AM. Brandon passed on the news that school was cancelled. I was in shock. The weather was perfectly fine, but any time Zambales is under a signal 2 typhoon school is cancelled. I’m honestly sick of no-school days. We’ve missed so many days that I feel really far behind which leads me to feel inadequate as a teacher. On top of that, I had been really proactive and planned all of my classes for the next 1 1/2 weeks, and now my plans were completely ruined. Book Week starts in a week, and my students publish children’s books to share with the lower school students. This one cancelled day threw off all of my plans.

Normally, I’d be excited for a day off, but coupling my botched lesson plans with the likelihood of our last meet being cancelled had me pretty disappointed. Sure enough, by noon we had word from our AD that the meet was off. I knew the kids would be bummed and Jeff and I felt the same way. We still have our end-of-season party to look forward to, but it’s impossible not to feel like the season just sort of fizzled out instead of ending with a final push to show how hard everyone has worked.

The weather stayed decent all day Friday, and most of us grew stir crazy. Jeff, Brandon, Dave, and I headed up to the gym to play badminton, which was a lot of fun. I probably haven’t played since 8th grade.

Saturday brought on more boredom. It was raining, and we were out of things to do, so several of us went to the movies (about $3 a person). While at the mall, we realized that Ms. Philippines – newly named MS. WORLD! – would be making an appearance. Megan Young is from Olongapo (5 minutes from our school) and lives in Subic Bay. We were on the third floor right about the stage when she arrived, so we got to see “the most beautiful woman in the world” from a distance. Pretty cool!

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Sunday morning Jeff and I planned to have a breakfast of bacon and eggs. I got up early and went to set the bacon out. When I grabbed the bag, I noticed that the thawed bacon was a lot bloodier than bacon normally is, but I didn’t think much about it until it was time to cook. I mentioned to Jeff that it seemed weird, but he showed me the label: bacon sliced pork. (At this point in retelling this story to our veteran Philippines friends, everyone groaned. The mistake I am about to explain is one made by every rookie.) As soon as the “bacon” hit the pan, it was clear that this was NOT bacon.

Here in the Philippines, pork belly is a very popular food. Pork belly is basically thickly sliced “bacon” that isn’t cured. It’s just raw slices of pork, all laced with fat. Mmmmm Mmm! Not so much. The entire house smelled like a pork chop. We made the best of it by separating the meat from the fat and adding it to our eggs. I was really looking forward to some nice, crisp bacon. 😦

On a high note, we ended the weekend by celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving with a bunch of the other teachers. The sky was clear all day, so we decided to have the meal outside. Of course, as soon as everyone had arrived it started to rain and we made a mad scramble to get all the tables and chairs inside. This was more amusing than disappointing – if there’s one thing you MUST accept in the Philippines it’s the unexpected rain shower.

We all crowded into Lauren’s apartment for our meal, which was DELICIOUS! Mashed sweet potatoes, numerous salads, juicy turkey, stuffing, even cranberry sauce straight out of the can (reminds me of Grandma every time I see it!). I’ve been missing fall weather and food – especially pumpkin-flavored coffee. Erin made a “pumpkin” pie. Really, it was squash, but she added spices and it tasted exactly like pumpkin pie. I was in HEAVEN and consumed three pieces… and took one home.

Crowded into the apartment, we all laughed and reminisced about our Thanksgivings back home. It reminded me of seeing my family all sprawled out around my parents house, watching football and eating, eating, eating. One of the Canadian teachers, Craig, joked that he imagined U.S. Thanksgiving to be just like the family football scene from Wedding Crashers. Well, maybe he was joking…

Just like back home, everyone left stuffed and with a huge plate of leftovers in hand. Can’t wait to do it again in 5 weeks – the American way…which is exactly the same as the Canadian way.

Meet 3 and Spirit Week

We had our third cross-country meet last weekend at the same school where our second meet was held. This time the course was different. Our middle school runners did a 2.5k and our upper school runners did a full 5k, which was two loops of the same course the 2.5k ran. This route was MUCH hillier, and you could tell the runners were struggling with that change. Thankfully, Subic is pretty hilly, so our team had a lot of practice on hills. On the downside, the week prior to the meet we had horrible weather and didn’t get much running in. When we did run, injuries abounded. Our team at the meet was the smallest yet with so many runners hurt. Still, we took home 10, 9, 8, 7, and 6 places in the middle school boys division and 9 and 7 in the middle school girls group. It was awesome hearing them announce Brent Subic over and over again. I hope next year to be hearing that for the top spots, but we run against some HUGE schools that have large talent pools. Aside from ISM, we took home the most awards. They’re a very large school in Manila, so it’s hard for us to compete with them, but we manage. Jeff and I were both really proud of how our kids did. They worked their butts off!

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Our 6th place finisher is only in 6th grade (the little guy in the front row with the HUGE smile), and this was the first meet he was eligible for. You’d have thought it was Christmas Eve the way he was bouncing around the day before the meet. I was bombarded with questions during class: What time do we leave? What should I bring on the bus? How many kids will be there? Do you think I can win? I really want to win! He’s a great kid with tons of energy and talent. And he has more drive and motivation than any kid his age. In a couple of years he’ll be placing in the top three consistently. That’s just my prediction, though.

This week at school was Spirit Week. It was supposed to be last week, but the weather caused two cancellations, so they postponed the entire week. Spirit Week is basically like Homecoming in the States, except there’s no big football game on Friday. Instead, we have a House Rally. The entire school is divided into two houses: Azure and Gold. This is a very common system in British schools. (Yes, just like Harry Potter.) Dress-up days were as follows:

Monday-Pattern Day

Tuesday-Career Day

Wednesday-Neon Day (picture above)

Thursday-Backwards Day

Friday-House Color Day

Aside from dress-up days, they had games, prizes, and food vendors at lunch. Then Friday morning we had our house rally. I had no idea what to expect. Jeff and I are both Gold, by the way. The rally was a series of house competitions, the first of which was a house cheer. The captains for each house design a cheer; then the whole house performed it. Apparently, Azure wins this every year. They are stereotyped as the “artistic” house while Gold is seen as more “athletic.” I think they put me in the wrong house, but oh well. So we did our cheer and they did theirs, and it was all very elaborate. The winner for this portion of the rally will be announced later today (Friday). Next, we had an obstacle course relay race for the lower school, which Azure won. Then we had a rice sack race, which started a competition to see who could make the longest line of objects in their house color. Jeff’s shoes and shoelaces were confiscated because they were bright yellow (“gold” is loosely defined). Azure had streamers as part of their cheer, so they had much more to add to their line. We lost. Again. The competition is all very friendly, and any teasing is done with a smile. Siblings are purposely put in the same house to avoid rivalries within families; the same goes for teaching couples.

I’ll wait until the cheer results are announced to post, so you can all hear who won. I know you’re on the edge of your seats waiting for the answer… J

Okay, results are in, and Gold managed to squeak out a win in the cheer competition! I’m pretty sure this was a pity win, but I’ll take it.

Aside from the chaos of Spirit Week, we also had World Teacher Appreciation Day, which I had no idea was happening. As a middle school teacher, I don’t get many presents for holidays, and I’m okay with that. It’s not like elementary school where the kids have one teacher; now they have eight teachers, and that can get expensive. So imagine my surprise and delight when several of my students brought me gifts! I was doubly surprised because I had no idea that it was a special occasion. My favorite gift was from a student that LOVES to read. It wasn’t even the gift that I loved; it was the little note: To Mrs. Mayrose, “May the odds be ever in your favor.” Those of you who know my love of the Hunger Games know why this made my day. I also got a nice bar of chocolate from one of my students and XC runners. When I thanked him, he said, “Mr. Mayrose didn’t want it, so you can have it.” How thoughtful! Haha. Our principals also made cupcakes and surprised with a gift: we each get to order a polo in one of the school colors and with or mascot on it. They look really nice. Such a thoughtful gift!

It’s been a crazy, busy week, spending most nights at school or working until 10 or 11, and the weekend is FINALLY here. After spending the better part of my Friday night planning and grading, I’m ready for a break today (Saturday). The sun is out and the temperature is rising quickly. It’s the birthday of one our teachers on Monday, so we are all heading to the beach, dinner, and out for drinks. Should be a great day and a much needed break from the grindstone. Have a great weekend!

Side note: I had a dream last night that Iowa beat MSU handedly.  I’m hoping my dream is prophetic!

One Month in Subic Bay!

The weather is slowly getting better around here. The typhoon that went north of us was causing monsoon rains here, but it is supposed to hit land in China in the next few days, and I’m hoping that will lead to some better weather.

We started cross country today (finally!) and have about 30 kids signed up. I anticipate at least 1/3 of them will quit within a week. I know that sounds very negative, but I have logical reasons. Swim team will start in about two weeks, and a lot of kids are likely to change there minds when that becomes an option. Also, cross country is HARD. And a lot of our kids do not enjoy pushing themselves physically. Today was a light day: dynamic stretching and a 1.5 mile run. We had kids walking and complaining about the distance and hills. It’s only going to get harder! Our meets are 5k, so they haven’t run half of the meet distance yet. The weather is going to be our biggest challenge when it comes to practice. Our housing is situated at the top of a hill, so most long runs would leave us no choice but to go downhill. This is very dangerous during rainy season. The roads are constantly a little bit slimy, and with traffic on the main road up to our development it’s just too risky. We are getting creative, though, and have found a few winding routes that will take the kids through most of the housing. We can get in about 3 to 3.5 miles that way. There’s no choice but to run in the rain as well. Today it started pouring about halfway through their run. Luckily most rains only last a couple of minutes, and the kids don’t seem surprised by our expectation that they will keep going, regardless of the weather.

It has been frustrating to not have a consistent school schedule because of the rain and flooding. I find it hard to get into a good rhythm with my lessons and my students when we see each other for a couple of days then a day off, then a day on, and so on. I just start to build a relationship or get a feel for a class and we have a hiccup in the schedule. I spend more time reviewing what happened the last time I saw them than I do teaching something new. I look forward to the time when this will get better. This week we only had three days because of a cancellation and a holiday. It might seem strange, but this week felt longer than any 5-day week I’ve ever had.

On a positive note, I am loving the time I do get with my students. Here are couple of highlights from my week: 

I gave my 8th graders an assignment to create a name tree as a preliminary assignment for their memoirs. I explained that the tree is a metaphor for themselves and we talked about what an analogy was. They came in and presented trees that absolutely blew me away! Trees with roots that were pictures of their families, the countries they are from, dates of birth etc., trunks that represented the things they feel will never change about them, branches showing ways they’ve grown, and leaves that show the things they enjoy and care about, but which might change over time. They took my explanations to heart and exceeded my expectations with their creativity and understanding. And they clearly had FUN with their homework. Every time one of their classmates got up to present the whole class would erupt in applause to encourage the speaker. I love how supportive they are of one another! I grinned like an idiot the whole way through their presentations – even the bad ones. One of the kids put a quote from Richard Nixon on his tree. I asked him if he knew who Nixon was, and he shook his head, “no.” I smiled and politely explained that he was a U.S. president that is not too popular because of some of the bad things he did when he was president. 🙂

In previewing a story about turning eleven, I asked my sixth graders how many of them are eleven. I couple of my students started to raise their hands then stopped, looking confused. Finally, one of them asked, “Do you mean our Korean age or our international age?” Now it was my turn to look confused.

“There’s a difference?”

They smiled and nodded eagerly. Apparently when you are born in Korea you are automatically already one. And if you are born at the end of December you turn two in January. Internationally, my students were eleven, but in their country they are twelve. I absolutely love learning these new things about my students, and I think they enjoy teaching them to me. Sometimes I’m not sure who the teacher is, me or them! 

This weekend we borrowed Brandon and Danette’s car while they were in Taiwan for the holiday weekend. We rode with them to the airport in Clark and then took a slight detour on our way home to S & R. Clark’s airport is a really convenient and affordable place to fly out of, so most teachers prefer to use it rather than going all the way to Manila. Unfortunately, the heavy rains the past couple of weeks caused flooding and serious damage. Part of that damage was the collapse of a section of a bridge on the SCTEX, the main road to Clark. A trip that would normally take 40 minutes now takes an hour and a half with all of the detours. This was our first time going to Clark, and we did most of the trip in the dark, so we were pretty nervous about finding our way back. Road closures, construction, and other mishaps are not as well documented with signs as we are used to back in the States. We relied on a lot of landmarks and made it just fine. The trickier part was finding our way to San Fernando, where S & R is located. Jeff’s phone has been acting funny, and the internet wouldn’t work, so we pulled up a map on it while we had a wi-fi connection and just used that. You know, like people used to do before they had smartphones! We ended up finding it with minimal problems. S & R is basically a Sam’s Club or Costco. The prices aren’t stellar, but they have a lot of stuff you can’t get in Subic, and the bulk options are ideal. We mostly got dry goods, but we were thrilled to find a dog bed for Ringo. Okay, I was thrilled; Jeff didn’t get nearly as excited. For the first time since we got here, our cupboards are actually FULL. It’s a good feeling! After we finished our shopping, we hit the road to get home. The long trip and somewhat stressful situation of not really knowing where we were going had us both exhausted by the time we got home (11:00 PM), so we gave in to convenience over nutrition and go McDonald’s, then crashed early for a Friday night.

Saturday I was awakened at about 6:00 AM by something I hadn’t seen or felt in a lonnnng time: SUNSHINE! I held off until 8:00 before waking Jeff up to show/tell him the good news. It was like a dream! Determined to take full advantage of the sunshine (who knew how long it would last!), we took Ringo on a walk/hike to El Kabayo Falls. Erin, a lower school teacher that lives near us, joined us as well. The trail was pretty muddy and we had to trudge through water in a few places, but it was worth it to be outside and to see a local attraction. The falls were raging after all the rain. Swimming isn’t allowed in the Falls normally, but after all those rains it was definitely a bad idea. Ringo was thrilled to be outside. Round trip, it was about 5 miles. Considering the dreary days of the last two weeks, sunshine and all the sweating that goes along with it were fully welcomed. On our way back, we passed a building and heard monkeys. About 20 or so were on the roof and in the trees screeching and carrying on. I looked up and saw all of them staring at Ringo. Apparently, monkeys aren’t too keen on dogs. They didn’t come near us, and Ringo wasn’t interested in getting closer. He stared and kept looking back as we walked away. I think it’s safe to say he’s curious but not stupid. As soon as we were past the building they settled down. I tried to take some pictures, but they were too far away. We see monkeys pretty regularly now; I hate to say it, but it’s becoming almost common place.

After the trip to the Falls, Ringo was in dire need of a bath, so while I hosed him down, Jeff went into Subic to get his phone fixed and pick up a couple of beach towels. A group of teachers had planned a trip to the beach and we weren’t about to miss out. We went to a country club that has a beach because several of our teachers are good friends with some of the members. This place was NICE! Unfortunately, the beach was closed because the surf was too dangerous. We had to settle for swimming in the country club pool. 🙂

We met JJ, a close friend of several teachers, and he invited us all to his father’s birthday party later that night. We met his family – all so friendly! – and sampled some traditional Filipino foods. Jeff and I tried goat for the first time. The flavor and seasoning was great, but you have to watch out for bones.

After the birthday party, a large group of us decided to go do karaoke. This is a very popular past time in the Philippines, but there’s a twist: you can rent your own private karaoke room! It’s like a hotel room, but with a large tv, speakers, microphones, couches, and a bar. I have never seen anything like it.

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Sunday I decided to get brave and venture out to the Olongapo market. There are several, so I got recommendations from some teachers and went to the one closest to Subic. I haven’t driven in over a month, and driving here is not like driving in Iowa, so I was more than a little nervous. A couple of other teachers joined me. We got lost, but we eventually found it, thanks to Dave’s smartphone. The market was a lot like I expected: stalls with fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, and crafts. Normally people here stare at us when we walk through the mall, but I’ve gotten so used to it I hardly notice. If seeing foreigners at a mall is strange, seeing them in the market must be like a UFO siting, because I could feel every pair of eyes on us. No one is hostile or unfriendly, but it is a little uncomfortable. I finally got to try banana cue, which I have been dying to get my hands on. It’s a street food snack where they roll a fried banana in caramelized brown sugar. DELICIOUS! Sometime soon I want to try and go to the bigger market, which is on the other side of Olongapo.

While I was at the market and running errands, Jeff went and played tennis with some of the other teachers. We met back at home and decided to return the car to Clark that day rather than waiting and doing it on the last day of our three-day weekend. The trip there was simple since we (okay, Jeff) knew where we were going. We took a cab all the way back to Subic because we didn’t want to deal with the bus and it wasn’t TOO expensive. It was great to have the freedom to go where we wanted when we wanted all weekend. We planned to get a car all along, but now we know we REALLY want one. Cab fare adds up quickly here and taking Ringo on hikes/camping farther from home will be easier. All in due time.

After a busy day, we decided to stay in and watch a recording of the Lions vs. Patriots preseason game. Even though we already knew the outcome, it was fun to watch football. I’ve missed it so much, and I know there won’t be a whole lot of opportunities to watch it this year. As long as I can see most of the Hawkeye games and catch the Lions every week, I’ll be happy. Brandon, Jeff, and another teacher split the cost of a NFL package, so that should take care of the pro games. College, on the other hand, is a little trickier to come by.

On our way home, we had the cab driver stop at a convenience store, and while Jeff was inside, he asked me if Jeff was my husband. I told him yes and he asked how long we had been married. When I told him it was only about six weeks, he proudly told me he and his wife have been married eighteen years and have three children. I explained that Jeff and I have been dating for over seven years. To which he responded, “Oh, so you get married now because you are pregnant?” I almost burst out laughing! I told him no, I was not pregnant. “Why? You don’t want to be pregnant?” I smiled in the dark of the backseat. This is a common line of questioning here. It does not make sense to a lot of people that we are married and not having children. But this was the first time someone had assumed I was pregnant simply because I was married! 🙂 I realized once we got home that this was nothing culturally abnormal or inappropriate in his mind; his oldest daughter is 18 – the exact number of years he’s been married.

We had Monday off this week for All Heroes Day. It was a quiet one in the Mayrose household. I spent a good deal of time thinking of one of my greatest heroes: my grandmother who passed away a little over six months ago. I miss her and think of her often. Already I’ve told stories of her to my students who marvel at the fact that she was over 100 years old. Tomorrow, when I have them journal about their heroes, I will be sure to tell them more about her and what a strong woman she was. This way, she lives on.

Mostly I spent the day gettingt some school work done and Jeff worked out. Other than that, the day was uneventful. I know it seems like we never work, what with the weather and the holidays, but this will be our last short work week for about six weeks. September is devoid of holidays, so unless we have another typhoon or tropical depression, it’s nose-to-the-grindstone time here in Subic! I’ll be happy to have a settled routine – remind me of that when I start complaining about working too much in my later blogs. 🙂

This weekend marked the one month anniversary of our arrival in Subic Bay. It’s hard to believe it’s only been 30 or so days since we got here; it definitely feels like we’ve been here, known the people at Brent, and been away from our families and friends a lot longer than that. We are starting to get comfortable here, which is good. The weather has settled down (hopefully for good!), we have begun to feel adjusted at school, and our surroundings are familiar. Next weekend we venture off to Manila (maybe the third time is the charm and we will enjoy the city) with 20 or so runners for our first cross country meet. That should shake things up a bit; no chance of getting bored chaperoning teenagers around a major city!

Rain, Rain, Go Away…

Our first full week of school is done and gone. Classes were cancelled on Monday because of a typhoon. This sounds a lot scarier than it was. This particular typhoon hit farther north, so we just got a lot of rain and a little wind. School was cancelled because the rule is any time there is a level 2 typhoon or higher in Zambales, we cancel. We are technically in Zambales, but just barely. We are almost in Bataan. Northern Zambales got hit much harder than we did. So, we have traded snow days for typhoon and flood days! I wish I could say it was a lot of fun, but we spent most of the day inside, bored out of our minds. A few of us went out to dinner because we were so stir crazy, and we decided to end our extra-long weekend with a massage. Why not? They are only about $8.00 for an hour here. It was wonderful! No better way to end a weekend, if you ask me!

The school week went really well. I am starting to learn all of my students’ names and personalities. For the most part, they are incredibly hard working and smart. We see our students outside of school quite frequently because the community is so small. Back home I would nearly have a coronary if I saw students after I had worked out or if I was consuming an “adult beverage” with my dinner at a restaurant. I have quickly gotten over that here! There’s just no way to avoid them, and it happens so much I’ve come to expect that they will see me at 6 AM, walking the dog in sweats. The great thing is they are always, no matter their age, excited to see us. They will wave and shout from 20 yards away to get our attention just to say hi. It’s very sweet.

We had our meeting for cross country on Thursday and about 20 students showed up. We had already decided Jeff should act as head coach since he has the experience, and I will be his assistant. Practice will start Monday. It’s going to be very tricky training in the rainy season. I’ll be interested to see how often we actually get to have practice!

The highlight of my week was checking my mailbox and finding a package from Rachelle and a letter from Tracey. It took about 3 weeks from the time they were sent for them to get here. I didn’t even know Rachelle had sent anything, and I had forgotten Tracey said she sent a letter, so it was a wonderful surprise. It made my day/week to get mail from home! Our boxes, which were supposed to arrive on the 6th, still haven’t arrived. Now they are supposed to get to Manila on the 20th. Jeff and I hope to have them by the end of the month. It’s been so long since we shipped them, we’ve pretty much forgotten what we put in them!

The weekend started with an appointment for Jeff and I to get our physicals and psychological tests. This is standard procedure to work at Brent; I believe it is also required for a visa. It’s pretty thorough; I’m curious to see the results. Part of the testing involves choosing an order of preference for about 8 colored cards. I’m sure this will reveal something deeply intuitive about our personalities. 🙂

I was not looking forward to this weekend because I had to spend all day Saturday in CPR and first aid training. Jeff got out of it because he was certified in the states where it takes about 2 hours. I joked (okay, I kind of meant it) that I hoped it would rain all day Saturday so he couldn’t have any fun without me. Not half an hour after I got to the school for training, it started to pour. And it didn’t stop for more than a few minutes for the entire weekend. We lost power twice during training, and the instructor finally told us to go home. We have to finish training on Tuesday. It actually wasn’t that bad; I learned a lot of useful information and kept thinking about how beneficial this training could be when we go hiking.

After training, the power stayed off for about 2 more hours, so we went into town for dinner and to get away from our dark, dismal house. We came home to find the power back on (thankfully!). It looks like the week ahead will be very rainy as well. We have been spoiled so far; now the rainy season is showing its true colors. At least the sounds are soothing!

Our helper, Hermie, started last week. She comes twice a week for a half day each time and helps out with cleaning, dishes and laundry. It’s so wonderful to come home to a clean house and to not have to deal with our washing machine. It has separate sides for washing and spinning the clothes. I had to be taught how to use it, and I’m still not entirely sure I’m doing it right! Either way, it takes over an hour to wash the clothes, and you have to fill it with a hose, drain it, then fill it again. Which means we can’t really “set it and forget it” like we could back home. Having a helper, cheap massages and mani/pedis… we are definitely getting spoiled here.

(post started Sunday, finished Monday)

We were supposed to have school today, but the rain kept coming, and Rita (the river between Olongapo and Subic) flooded, leaving many people stranded and unable to come to work, so they cancelled school for the day. Image

It’s been lighter today, but lots of thunder the last couple of hours. I’d like to say I’m excited about another day off, but we are bored out of our minds! The crew is getting together later this afternoon to watch movies at Brandon and Danette’s, so that will shake some of the boredom. It’s great to have such a close community of teachers. We have this Wednesday off for a local holiday, and next Monday off as well. I know, we’re spoiled.

We are starting to plan our trips for the year: a trip to Boracay in December for a long weekend with a couple of the other teachers, Banaue in October to hike the rice terraces, and Thailand/Cambodia for Christmas. I am most excited about this last trip! In the future, we hope to get to Vietnam, New Zealand, China, and possibly South Korea and Japan.

Getting to talk to family and friends has made this transition so much easier. I was worried early on that we would barely every get to see/talk to people back home. Already we have set a weekly schedule for Face Time with Jeff’s parents, I’ve chatted on Google with a few different friends, and Facebook makes everything easier. It’s nice to feel connected even though we are so far away.

Time to get some work done; this 3-day week is going to kill me. : )