Sunday, December 13, 2009

Will & Will Not Miss

Here we are, the last entry. I've been trying to keep a list of my favorite and not-so favorite things about Manila since we've been here. Somehow it's not very complete--I guess I didn't do a great job. Domage. It's been a challenging few months, but in the end I've made some unforgettable memories here. Salamat po, Manila.

The Nots:
1. MBC, the vampire creepster. The appropriate people know what I'm talking about. Will not be missed.
2. Palm oil. I hate the smell of it, I hate the taste of it--if either happens, my appetite is completely destroyed.
3. Older western men with young Filipina ladies. Personal judgment call, I agree. But chances are, she's being paid as an escort, and the only reason why she has to endure it is to support her family on the income.
4. Cab drivers taking advantage. I now have no qualms about duking it out with a cab driver who refuses to take me to my destination (see No. 5) and/or quotes a fare. No, Mr. Driver. You are going to take me to where I want to go because that is your chosen profession, use the meter, and carry sufficient change.
5. "Traa-peeek". Translation: traffic. OUF. Manila traffic is horrible! Drivers refuse to go to certain parts of the city or ask you to pay extra because no one wants to deal with the parking lot rush hours.
6. Hovering salespeople. Please don't follow me around the store, offering things to me I'm not interested in. But in the rare chance that I do ask you a question, please know what I'm talking about.
7. Bad covers of American pop songs. The Filipinos can sing, no doubt about that. But does "Poker Face" really need to be covered as a slow song? By a man?

Will certainly miss:
1. My ladies! Obviously, I am going to miss Diana, Julie, and Meena like crazy! We'll always have stool sample collecting and the best Thanksgiving ever. But most importantly, we'll always have Tracy.
2. Newbies. All of Meena's warm and welcoming family, Catherine with her penchant for judgment, Julia and our epic karaoke sessions, Mackenzie and Sascha who saved the four of us from homelessness, the WHO boys club, Sr. Dulce and Kris, maybe even the security guards and doormen of our building.
3. The laundry service. You drop off your kilos, and your clothes are delivered the next day, folded and pressed neatly into a little cube of freshness, wrapped in plastic. All for a whopping $0.30/lb.
4. Dashing Diva. The perfect hour-long pedicure for $6. Ladies, I know you feel me on this one.
5. My morning oatmeal. And the two sausages I always get on the side. And the barbecue chicken. And the banana bread. I will miss the WHO cafeteria!
6. Cheap, Cheap, Cheap. Everything is a bargain. It's going to be very difficult justifying paying more than $3 for an hour-long cab ride or $6 for a new dress.

The perfect ending to this entire trip was to attend the wedding of Meena's cousin, Jorick, to his beautiful bride, Helen; two very funny, loving, thoughtful people. The bride wore a stunning green dress! Helen and Jorick, my best wishes to you both! Can't wait until there are little Helens and Joricks running around. You can finally have a proper Rock Band jam session! Jorick and Sons?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The End is Nigh

In just over two weeks, I will be leaving Manila. It's flown by, hasn't it? Especially since the start of my internship, I have no idea where the past month and a half has gone. After Manila I'll be heading to Korea until March, then back to the US to piece my life back together. In Korea I'm taking a language course at Yonsei University and tutoring to finance my wanderlust. I figure as long as I'm doing something productive, I can continue to justify my rejection of adult life and working, n'est-ce pas?

Just kidding, I'm genuinely excited about the prospect of finally beginning my career in public health. I am still overwhelmed and, at times angered and dejected, by what I see. The more I learn about global health, the more I see that there will always be a population in need; and that's what motivates me. Basic health and well-being is not difficult--it can be achieved. But far too many people in the world live without it, whether because of lack of access, financing, simple education, etc, etc. The list is too long. There is much work to be done!

Here are a few more memories I've collected in the past few weeks:

We went on field visits to Dumaguete and Bacolod in the Negros region with Sister Dulce Velasco. What an inspirational woman! She is a physician and nun who specializes in holistic/alternative medicine, and incredibly knowledgeable regarding community healthcare financing. For 10 days, Sr. Dulce led us around to various communities so that we could learn about how it is done in the Philippines. It was encouraging to see community members coming together to work towards improving each others' lives and care for the well-being of one another. Along with health financing and community insurance schemes, we also saw microfinance groups and alternative learning schools for child laborers who would otherwise not receive schooling.

Some friends I made on one of the visits:


Microfinance group:


Speaking of inspirational women, the Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Margaret Chan visited the Regional Office at the beginning of the week, to much pomp and circumstance. Smart, feisty, witty--I found myself laughing at her wry humor while simultaneously wondering how she still managed to be so open and personable.

And finally, Thanksgiving in Manila! It was, quite honestly, one of the best Thanksgivings I've ever had: Diana's friends visiting from the US, apple pie, stuffing, a cornucopia craft session, and even the Charlie Brown theme song in the background. Food holidays are the best!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I love food a little too much

When I lived in Brussels, I tore my jeans the first month I was there because I became crazed over apple pastries, warm baguettes and cheese, frites with samurai dipping sauce (spiced mayo), chocolates from Pierre Marcolini, et bien sur, la bière! Barbar is the only one I actually like. My girlish figure suffered greatly.

Anyway, I thought it was about time to discuss the food situation here. This is by no means comprehensive--we've eaten a lot, and my inner fat kid would cringe if I recounted all of our meals. It should suffice to say that there have been some amazing meals, others questionable, but most thankfully, no torn clothing to report.

Of the typically Filipino dishes, there is of course, adobo, a marinade based on soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and whatever else your heart desires. I actually haven't had too much of it, other than Meena's delish home-cooked chicken adobo back in Boston.

Breakfast will usually put you right back to sleep. It consists of garlic rice, fried eggs, and some meat. My favorite is called tocino.

Of the four tagalog words I've picked up (salamat = thank you, dito = here, Manny Pacquiao = Pacman, the Destroyer) the fourth is sinigang, my favorite soup. I tend to avoid the fish head because I don't like my food looking back at me. But stick a little rice in that bowl, maybe a little kimchee if it's in the fridge.. Lord, I am so Korean.

The Filipinos know a thing of two about the pig. Anthony Bourdain ranked Cebu lechon numero uno on the hierarchy of pork. Read about it from the lucky guy who helped make it happen on the Philippines episode of No Reservations.

Meena and I have also been pleasantly surprised by the WHO cafeteria offerings. First of all, the prices are so low that it would be more expensive to pack a lunch. For two unpaid interns, that's gold. And secondly, they serve decent food! There are some talented Keebler elves back there, churning out some bomb desserts. So far we've had brioche raisin bread, banana bread, lemon poppyseed bundt cake, and tiramisu. I have to admit, the elves aren't so talented on the Italian pastries, but someone back there sure knows how to bake.

For some of the catered morning meetings, they'll bring in coffee and a nibble or two. Last week it was black forest cake, to be washed down with Ferrero Rocher chocolates. Yes, World Health Organization. Yeah, I was wondering about that too.

Outside of the WHO, I attended a meeting at the ADB headquarters here, and we had a nice buffet lunch. When I say "nice," I mean classical pianist on the grand piano playing some Mozart to help you decide which dessert you'd like from the 6-foot long table of dessert. I hope my wedding reception is as nice as that lunch. Here we are, wishing the bride and groom a long and happy life together.

Sorry, I know this is long. I told you I love food too much. I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking:

For those hedonistic foodies, here is my favorite food blog, Tastespotting. Absolutely decadent.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Feeling lazy

I've tried to keep up a weekly appearance on this blog, so sorry for not posting in awhile. Though if you also check Meena's blog, she has a good run-down of all things considered. Same same. Le fin.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I am tired

My days begin at 5:45am because I need at least an hour in the morning to become coherent in time for the start of my workday at 7:00am. While most people are beginning to stir awake, the WHO busy bees are buzzing away, battling the evils of Morbidity and Mortality. It's only been a week, but I've already learned a lot and couldn't be happier with how things are going. Currently on the agenda are meetings for the post-typhoon health emergencies in the Philippines and research on future health agendas for the Dept. of Health.

The situation here is unbelievable. There are still people trapped in and around flood waters, where diseases are rampant. The worst offender is leptospirosis, mostly due to the high levels of rat urine in the stagnant water. As of October 1, there are 1963 reported cases and 148 deaths, and the figure increases daily. Compare this to 40 deaths and 640 cases between 2004 to 2006, and you see how problematic this is. The DOH has a plan to distribute prophylaxis to the most at-risk populations throughout the affected regions, but there hasn't been an outbreak to this magnitude before, so there isn't an existing plan of action. However, it's not just lepto that they have to deal with. There are also increasing cases of diarrhea, cholera, and typhoid.

What do you do with the people who are in these areas, and currently displaced in evacuation centers? They can't be expected to wait out their lives in some temporary holding facility until their former homes are habitable. More often than not, they weren't even that to begin with. And the flood waters are going to be here for months--it's not as if there's a bottomless pit of funding for these medications. Then to top everything off, the typhoons keep coming--Ramil (Lupit) is expected to hit the country this weekend. Oh boy...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Change of Scenery

I'll spare you the theatrics, but long story short, we've had to re-arrange our living situation in a short amount of time. It's quite a story, however, and if you'd like to know, I'm happy to share.

Alas, we are no longer guests of the Tropicana Hotel. Our beds will not be automatically made, bathrooms no longer scrubbed, and Meena and I will not be living in the same building as our boss. Frankly, I'm a little relieved about that last one. No more chances of awkward run-ins at the pool or shared elevator rides after an especially heinous work out.

What I will miss most is the neighborhood we've been in. It's not the prettiest of places, and the ongoing construction is irritating at 8am. But we've found our niches, and I'll be sad not to be in walking distance of our usual hangouts. If we aren't home, you'll likely find us at:
  • Café Adriatico, the food never disappoints, the americano is perfect, and you'll feel like you've traveled to Europe. There's a great description on the Traveler on Foot blog.
  • I've already talked about the Shawarma Snack Center, but it warrants another mention. I'm pretty sure the last time we were there, the Qatar National Basketball Team was at the table next to us. Either that, or a group of neck-strainingly tall men raided a market stand that just happened to sell clothes imprinted with "QATAR" everywhere.
  • We have a love/hate relationship with Robinsons Place mall. Your go-to for just about everything. We almost signed onto living there inside one of the residential towers. Wouldn't that be ridiculous? Actually living inside the mall? But there's a cafe we frequent often called MoMo!. It's gone through a renovation and it's not the same, but it'll do.
  • Chinese food = Hap Chan. Ok fine, it's a chain. And more likely than not, they use MSG. But that sweet and sour pork is insane. And we just discovered their student discount, so it's only 100 pesos! ($2)
There are also the stores down the street...
  • the bubble tea stand: the 20-something owners apparently open only when they want, and that's usually only on sunny days, so they are never open.
  • the laundry: where everybody knows your name, but calls you, "Julie," and Julie, "Nora."
  • the dvd guy and his scary wife who yells at him to charge us more.
So there it is, that's essentially where we spend our time here--in Malate, anyway. I'll post photos of our new place once we're settled. In the meantime, here's something to look forward to in the new 'hood: Hobbit House. "...[F]ormer Peace Corps volunteer and college professor Jim Turner was so inspired by Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books that he founded a bar called Hobbit House entirely staffed by “little people.”"

Friday, October 9, 2009

I am not a morning person

It's been a while since I've had to wake up at an adult time, sans the once-in-a-blue early morning flight. I'm a grad student. I've just taken out an ungodly amount in loans, so if I want to sleep until 11am, I'm going to sleep until 11am.

This morning after going to sleep at 2am working on school projects, I am awake at the very adult 6am to continue working on school projects (and said blog post). Why the sudden change? What happened to "we have soooo much time on our hands?" Somehow, unbeknownst to us, projects were assigned by the powers that be, and everyone decided October 12 and 13 looked good for due dates. I've had 4 papers and 3 projects to work on over the last few days and into the next few. Not all of this is because of procrastination and poor planning. Only 85%. Anyway, with this time crunch, I'm guilty of some self-neglect. I've been making meals of SkyFlakes because my visit to the grocery store is long overdue.

However, despite my griping, waking up this early is good practice for the half-way point of being in Manila. Shortly after classes are over on the 13th, Meena and I will begin our internships at the WHO. We're working with them for six weeks on various projects. That's six whole weeks of adult time awakening. I hope I'm ready for this. I am going to require lots of coffee.