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.

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Homesick for the Holidays

As the semester finishes up and everyone gets ready to enjoy the three-week vacation, I am torn between my excitement about visiting Thailand and the aching in my heart about missing home.

The Philippines is an amazing place to live. The weather is beautiful, the people are some of the kindest I’ve ever met, and the opportunities to explore and learn are endless. But it’s not home. My parents aren’t a 30-minute drive away. I can’t meet my best friends at a coffee shop where we will get dirty looks from baristas for talking too loudly. The temperature doesn’t drop below 80, much less below freezing. And as sick as you might think I am, I miss the cold. I miss the feeling of Christmastime in the Iowa.

It just isn’t the same here. Filipinos start celebrating Christmas in September, so it’s not as if the holiday goes unnoticed. There are lights on houses and carols blasting in the malls. But those lights reflect off of palm trees and that music is just a reminder that there is no frightful weather or frosty snowman outside my door.

This time of year is a challenge, as I knew it would be. Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday back home, was one of the saddest days I’ve had here. We do our best to keep each other upbeat, holding our own Thanksgiving feast, complete with Western and Filipino dishes. I can’t imagine how much harder this time of year would be without our Brent family. We focus on the exciting trips we’ll go on, and I get a hint of excitement imagining my friends and family receiving the gifts I’ve ordered online. Hopefully I will even get to watch them open a few via Skype and FaceTime. So it’s not totally devastating, but it’s undeniably hard.

My time here is priceless to me. I do not regret the decision to move here for even a second. But if there were a teleporting device, I’d hit the button in a heartbeat to spend just a few hours with the people I love on Christmas morning. This post isn’t meant as a pity party or to illicit sympathy from anyone. My homesickness is a testament to the wonderful life I have temporarily left behind. I wouldn’t be homesick if I didn’t have such wonderful family and friends making my HOME worth missing.

Love you all!

Book Week

Two weeks ago (yes, I’m a little behind on posts) was Book Week at Brent Subic. As the sole middle school English teacher, I was the representative on the committee for the middle school. I have to admit, I found this job to be pretty intimidating. I went into the experience not really grasping what Book Week was supposed to look like, but I did my best to offer ideas and to make the ideas of others happen at the middle school level. In the end, I think it went really well, and I’ve got some great ideas brewing for next year.

Basically the week is a celebration of reading. We had a book fair from Scholastic going on all week so kids could purchase books. Once each day we had D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) where the entire school read for 15 minutes, no matter what class they were in. Kids got a kick out of this, especially if they had P.E. during that time.

Because we had a unique situation in which we were in a 6-day school week for Book Week, I suggested that we make that sixth day a big event, culminating Book Week with a bang. No one wants to go to school on a Saturday, so I figured the least we could do was try to make it fun. (Side note: the reason we had school on a Saturday was to make up for all our typhoon/flood days. Also, we had two more “no school” days added to the calendar for the following Monday and Tuesday due to a national election. Our fall break was slated to start Wednesday, so really, we traded 1 Saturday for two extra days of break. Not a bad deal!)

Our Saturday was jam-packed with Book Week activities which included a costume parade, decorated room tours, a scavenger hunt, and buddy reading with the elementary school. That Saturday there was also a soccer tournament going on at the school, so we made sure our kids got a chance to go cheer on the Brent Subic team.

Prior to Book Week’s start, each middle school homeroom (there are six, two for each grade) had chosen a book to inspire their costumes and room decorations. The room decorations were my crazy idea for Book Week, and I was pretty nervous about the way it would turn out. Basically, each homeroom decorated their classroom to look like the book they chose, and during our room tours on Saturday the elementary students came to each room. They voted for the best room and that homeroom group won a pizza party. Some of the room themes were Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland (mine), Hunger Games, and Toy Story (Jeff’s). Toy Story was a bit of a stretch for a BOOK theme, but they made it work, and they WON! Because I was so involved in the planning and procedures of the week, I am sorry to say I was unable to get to Jeff’s homeroom to get pictures. I never even got to see their decorations! : (

Now, I am not, nor have I ever been, a big fan of costumes/costume parties/Halloween/etc. But considering that I was part of the committee AND a homeroom teacher, I really had no choice. My class decided I should be Alice, which was fine by me – an easy enough costume to throw together. Jeff, on the other hand, was in dire need of a costume. We searched for inspiration at the local malls and online before settling on making an Etch-A-Sketch costume. Not bad… This idea got axed when I discovered the costume closet for the drama department at school. I have never seen so many costumes in my life! Because store-bought costumes are hard to come by in the Philippines, most people have theirs made for them, which is actually really cheap. The school does this for every play/production and they keep all the costumes. I found what I thought would be a perfect Alice costume, but when I got it home I realized it was wayyyyy too big. For me. And wayyyyy too perfect for Jeff. I convinced him to try it on, explaining that he could go as a doll or something. Well, he had a better idea: Little Bo Peep, an actual character from Toy Story. I was headed to the mall for a last piece to my costume anyway, so I picked up a some yellow ribbon and found a “bonnet.” We made a staff out of a broom handle and coat hanger, and Jeff made a sign that said, “Have you seen my sheep?” to complete the look. Again, I have no pictures, BUT I know the yearbook staff got plenty, and as soon as I get ahold of one I’ll share it, much to Jeff’s chagrin.

Saturday we started off with the runway show where each class struts their stuff, showing off their costumes to a crowd of students, staff, and parents. When Jeff got on the stage, the crowd went absolutely nuts. What is it about a guy in drag that people find so entertaining? It probably helped that Jeff showed a little leg when he got to the end of the runway. 🙂 After that, it was no surprise that they won the room decorations, though people are giving me a hard time that the competition was fixed so my husband could win. Ha! They obviously don’t know me that well. If it were fixed, MY class would have won!

The rest of the day flew by in a blur, but I’m pretty sure everyone had a blast. My favorite part of the day was the buddy reading. The middle school students wrote and illustrated stories which we bound into books and shared with the elementary students. I figured the little ones would enjoy this, but I could tell my students felt pretty important and enjoyed the adoration from the kids. Most of them put a lot of work into their books, knowing they’d be subjected to the brutally honest opinions of young readers.

All in all, it went well. Next year I’ll be better prepared and will make sure there is more time to plan for room decorations and book making. I’ve got some fun ideas for additional projects and plan to get started right away in August.

I was exhausted by the end of the day, but it felt like a success. And there was a sweet reward waiting for me: 8 carefree days of VACATION!

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!

Running and More Rain

Wow, I’m way behind on updates – this is a long one, so bear with me!

2 Weekends Ago:

We had a cross country meet in Manila (all meets are in Manila) at Faith. This time there were no dorms to stay in, so we had to get on the bus at 5 AM. As brutal as that was, it meant the kids were quiet the whole way there, unlike the first trip where they wouldn’t stay quiet or in their seats.

We got to Faith at about 7:00, and I noticed right away that this meet would be a lot smaller than the Brent Manila meet. It turned out there were a total of 80 runners. The course at Faith is a lot hillier, and the kids knew that before we arrived. They seemed defeated before we even began. Trying to get them to focus on the positive, I pointed out that they had a better chance of placing in the top ten at this meet than at the Brent Manila meets. And it worked! We had two middle school boys place 8th and 9th. We also had a middle school girl finish in the top 10, but they had mistakenly labeled her as a high school runner, so we didn’t know she had placed until we got home and saw the official results. I looked closer and noticed they had made this mistake with a couple of our other runners as well. We had a few high schoolers running the 2 mile instead of the 3.1, and high schoolers could not place in the 2 mile at this meet. To avoid all of the confusion next time, we’ll have all high school runners run the 3.1 and all middle school runners in the 2 mile. Lesson learned!

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Just like the last trip to Manila, we stopped at the mall on our way home. Worn out from getting up early and running, the kids slept most of the way home, too. As much as I HATE getting up before 5 AM to get on a bus, I prefer the quiet bus rides. Our next meet is at Faith again, so it looks like I’ll have peace once again. : )

The school week blew by, as the last few have seemed to do. I have grown accustomed to changes that accompany cultural diversity, and I really enjoy it. Aside from some language issues, teaching here is just about like teaching at any other school. Kids anywhere are like kids everywhere in the basic ways. They forget to do homework and obsess over their social lives. They’re awkward. And they’re funny and insightful and surprise me every day.

Friday was the annual Acquaintance Party, which I believe is held as a way for new students and returning students to get to know each other better, but it’s basically just a dance. The theme was “hip hop.” Jeff was chosen to judge the dance competition, an honor he took VERY seriously. So we went home after school and dressed up in our best “hip hop” gear (sweat pants, sideways hats, etc.) and headed to the party. The student council put together one hell of a party, with group games, a rap battle, and the dance competition, which was far more impressive than I thought it would be. The inclusion of “Sprite pong” was a little suspect – even more so when the student council representative explained it as “just like beer pong, only with Sprite” to the entire audience… The judges were announced for the dance competition, and the kids made PLENTY of noise for Mr. Mayrose and his hip hop swag. Students from each grade choreographed their own dances, which were mostly impressive, but the seventh grade was by far the best. After the Acquaintance Party, we headed home for a low key night. Jeff was headed to Manila at 5 AM to have his knee looked at (more on that in a few) and I had volunteered to help with the Coastal Cleanup, starting at 6 AM.

Last Weekend:

Saturday started with rain, which looked to put a huge damper on the cleanup. Jeff took off at 5, and I was right behind him at 5:30. Student and teacher volunteers loaded up on three buses and headed to the bay to pick up trash on the shore. The places we normally see are public beaches and are well cared for. The cleanup took place in a less touristy area and was downright disgusting. Right when we pulled up it started to pour, but within 10 minutes it let up and didn’t rain again until right as we were finishing. We collected everything from diapers to foam from furniture and more shoes and sandals than I could count. There were multiple other groups out picking up trash as well, so the shoreline was packed with people all working together. It was pretty amazing to see the improvement after just a couple of hours. The kids did an awesome job, which made it almost enjoyable to pick up trash. We were home around 10, so it wasn’t even like I had to sacrifice my whole Saturday.

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Jeff’s day, on the other hand, was consumed mostly by driving in Manila traffic. He hitched a ride with the Model United Nations team to see a doctor about his knee. The day before school started, Jeff was playing basketball when his knee buckled to the inside. He was in a lot of pain and saw a doctor here in Olongapo who said it was just a sprain. He told him he’d be able to run on it within a few days. Well, that wasn’t the case. It was about a month before it really felt better. At that point, Jeff had slowly started to play basketball again. I remember the first time he played. I was walking the hallway above the gym and looked down just as he landed from a jump shot. He immediately fell to the ground, simultaneously looking up and making eye contact with me. “That was weird,” he commented. But he wasn’t hurt. Not two weeks later, he was playing basketball one night and his knee buckled to the inside again. This time the swelling was worse, as was the pain. He went back to the doctor who told him it was just another sprain. Thankfully, Jeff didn’t buy that diagnosis this time. The doctor relented, suggesting he could send Jeff for an MRI if it would “make him feel better.” MRI results: a severe partial or complete tear of the ACL. I was seething mad and wanted to give that idiot in Olongapo more than a piece of mind. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance because Jeff was ushered into his office, leaving me in the hallway. Probably for the best…he told Jeff all he needed to do was rest it for a few months.

After looking at his MRI, two friends of friends in the medical field said the same thing: surgery. Jeff has since been to see a surgeon in Manila who handles the players for the national basketball team. He took one look at the MRI and agreed wholeheartedly that Jeff should have surgery if he wants to continue living an active lifestyle. He also said the ACL was most definitely torn the first time Jeff hurt it, and the reason he fell and then hurt it again was because his knee is really unstable. This doctor does about 300 ACL surgeries a year, so I’d say he knows what he’s talking about. My biggest concern was anesthesia (I’m totally freaked out by being “put under” for surgeries), and my fears were immediately calmed because he uses spinal tap numbing. Jeff will be awake through the surgery but will feel nothing. The plan is to have surgery in early November, right after our trip to Caramoan. The doctor (the smart one in Manila, not the idiot in Olongapo) said it’s not urgent, but until he has surgery he should avoid lateral movements. Of course, any surgery isn’t ideal, but I am confident that Jeff is in the very best of hands with this doctor, one of the best in the country. I know before coming here I was leery about how good the doctors would be. As I found in the States, I’ve found the same to be true here: there are good doctors and there are bad doctors. Brandon made a good point when we were talking about this the other night: “Do you really think you could be seen by one of leading medical professionals in the field back in the States?” And that should make anyone worried about Jeff feel a lot better. His surgeon is one of the best, and his surgery is simple – done in about an hour. The hard part is the recovery: 6 months to a year of physical therapy. But the doctor said he will be at 95-100+% of what he was before surgery. Some people actually see better performance after the PT because they strengthen all of the muscles around the knee, not just rehab the ligament. Jeff is now convinced he will be a superstar baller in 2014.

This week:

It’s now Tuesday night and we haven’t had school yet this week. What started as slow, intermittent showers last week quickly turned into non-stop torrential downpour on Sunday. By Monday morning, Olongapo was in the grip of the worst flood in the city’s history. My principal sent out a message asking for home-cooked food to be sent down to the rescue workers. Well, home-cooked isn’t my forte, but I did whip up some scalloped potatoes and mac ‘n’ cheese to send down, along with a huge bag of Kit Kats that I desperately needed to get out of the house before I consumed them all. We spent the rest of the day watching football and being worthless. By 7:00 PM I was antsy to get out of the house, as was everyone else, so a few of us headed up to the gym to play volleyball. I put aside my insecurities and jumped right in. Yes, I was terrible, but I still had fun. It felt great to move around, laugh, and just be out of the house.

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Today I was surprised by Jeff’s 5:00 AM announcement that school was once again cancelled. It looked like the sun was out, I didn’t hear the monotonous drumming of rain on the driveway, so why no school? We learned soon after that the school had experienced a pretty nasty leak in one of the buildings, and all of those classrooms needed to be cleaned up. Also, the flood waters had receded in Olongapo, and cleanup had begun. The streets, office buildings, and people’s homes were full of mud and debris, as were the roadways and bridges. The people of Olongapo banded together to get everything back to normal.

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Thankfully, we are about to enter the last month of rainy season, and I can only hope it will be kinder to the people of the Philippines. We are VERY fortunate to live where we do, high up on a hill where flooding is next to impossible. The worst we have had to deal with is the roof leak between our living room and dining room, which seems to get worse every time it rains. Monday the paint on the wall bulged with water and slowly worked its way down the wall. We have two towels in constant rotation on that part of the floor. It’s certainly a pain in the butt, and I would really like for the maintenance to crew to figure out the problem, but patience — I am learning — is the most important of all virtues here. : )

All in all, life here feels normal, routine even. There are times I completely forget that I’m teaching in a foreign country, which I NEVER thought would happen. As much as living here is becoming natural, I still have moments where I stop and think, “Holy sh*t, I live in the Philippines.” I hope these moments never go away. I don’t want to grow to take this experience for granted.

And while I have gotten used to living here and find it very enjoyable, I still miss home. This will never BE home. I see pictures on Facebook showcasing the landscape of Iowa, and I little twinge snags my stomach. I miss Iowa football games if we can’t find a live stream of the game. I miss fall weather. I hear celebratory news from my friends and family and am reminded of all that we are missing out on by choosing this experience. Just the weekend before this, one of my very best friends announced she is pregnant. And while my heart burst with cliche joy for Glenna and Adam, it simultaneously broke, knowing I’m missing out on her entire pregnancy. I will never get to feel her baby kick or visit her in the hospital. I won’t get to plan her baby shower and pick out the cutest-ever first baby present. Baby Nockels will be over 2 months old before I ever get to smell its baby smell and feel its tiny hand squeeze my finger. So I have determined that I will find a way to make missing out on my best friend’s pregnancy FUN. Through monthly video chats and sending her surprise presents from afar. By buying the cutest-ever first baby presents from a foreign country and having her open them in a virtual baby shower. This baby will be wordly before it even leaves the womb, if I have my way.

I knew I would miss out on things when we made the decision to move overseas, but the reality of that is far harder than the hypothetical. And that’s life, in it’s hard, unforgiving nutshell.

Corregidor Island

Last weekend we joined a group of teachers on an historically rich venture to the island of Corregidor, the second most-bombed place during WWII. The island is situated right at the mouth of Manila Bay and was a key location during the war. American troops occupied the island during our control of the Philippines and to defend the country from the Japanese. Unfortunately, MacArthur was called away from Corregidor by the President, who felt he was needed elsewhere. Upon leaving, MacArthur is said to have announced, “I Shall Return.” It wasn’t long before the Japanese successfully invaded the Philippines for three years. President Quezon, his family, and other government workers were secured in a tunnel system on the island as the Japanese invaded the country. Corregidor was used as a stronghold for the Filipino and American soldiers during the battles with the Japanese. It was one of the last places surrendered to the Japanese. During that time, Corregidor was badly bombed and much of the military infrastructure was destroyed. True to his word, MacArthur and the Americans came back and reclaimed the Philippines from the Japanese, leading to more bombing on the island. This is only the briefest of explanations of Corregidor’s history, so please take the time to learn more.

Our day began before 6:00 AM with a 2-hour drive to Mariveles on the bay. Finding our meeting location for the boat ride over was tricky because signage isn’t plentiful. Danette was on the phone with the woman she organized the trip with, and we finally got ourselves to the right place. After parking the car and receiving our Titanic-brand life jackets (really?!), we hopped on the banca boats for a 20 minute ride to the island. As we approached, I found that Corregidor was much larger and hillier than I expected. I had it in my head that the island was tiny and flat. Not at all the case.

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We met up with our tour guide and piled into a jeepney to begin the tour, which highlighted the bombing sites – mostly barracks and batteries, the Malinta tunnel, a Japanese memorial garden, a Filipino war memorial, and the museum.

The tour:

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Statue of MacArthur at the dock where he left for Australia, stating, “I shall return.” In his absence, the Japanese invaded, eventually taking complete control of the Philippines for 3 years. In 1945 MacArthur indeed returned, and after a bloody struggle, the American and Filipino forces drove the Japanese out.

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The Japanese used man-made caves like this one to hide large wooden boats and themselves during the fighting. When MacArthur regained control of the island, these tunnels were “searched” with explosives, for fear that Japanese soldiers were still hiding in them.

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The Japanese war memorial on Corregidor went undiscovered for sometime. It was finally found after a picture depicting recognizable landscape near the memorial was found at a garage in the U.S. The memorial includes this statues of Buddha (facing Japan, not the West), several large guns used by the Japanese, and a small garden.

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The Philippine war memorial contains a timeline of the wars fought in the Philippines, statues depicting heroes (like this one, symbolizing the contributions of Philippine women in war time), and a small gallery of artwork portraying the wartime struggles of the Filipinos, specifically the Bataan Death March.

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The Malinta tunnel system was used to house President Quezon, his family, his staff, and military men during the Japanese invasion. Living in these tunnels during bombings would have been terrifying, but safer than staying in Manila.

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Looking at the destroyed barracks, I was immediately reminded of the Roman Coliseum, which is MUCH older than these buildings, blown to pieces in the 1940s, but the conditions of these buildings was so decayed it looked similar. I felt chills, looking at the ghostly old frameworks and staircases.

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We saw several batteries on our tour as well. Guns were place strategically all over the island for the best line of defense against attack. Unfortunately, most of the construction on the island was completed by Japanese companies, so the locations of our strongest weapons were known to our enemy.

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Some of our most powerful weapons were rendered useless because the Japanese knew their locations and the range of their fire and simply stayed out of their way and attacked from other sides.

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A lot of artifacts in the museum were objects found on the island: dog tags, pocket knives, cups, canteens, etc. I’ve always been fascinated by historic relics like these that link us to the past. It’s like time traveling. And I think we owe it to the heroes and victims of the past to hear their stories. I was particularly struck by this American flag, the first to fly over Corregidor in the early 1900s. You’ll notice there are only 45 stars on the flag. America – occupying other nations before our own had even finished growing.

We finished our tour of the island with a quiet lunch by the water. Satisfied and exhausted, we headed back to the banca boats for the trip home.