Catastrophe and Context

First of all, let me say something to everyone who has volunteered, donated, prayed, or just expressed concern about the Philippines in recent days:

THANK YOU!

The outpouring of generosity from all over the world is tremendously inspiring and humbling. It underlines the reality that we are all in this together. More on that a bit later in this post. For those looking for where to donate, the New York Times has a good list of organizations, here: http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/11/how-to-help-philippines-typhoon-victims/?_r=0

The first type of context I want to provide regarding this catastrophe relates to geography and population. The Philippines is an archipelago of 7,107 islands. The total land mass is roughly equivalent to the state of Arizona. However, the islands are spread out over an area almost 1.5 times as long as the state of California. They range in size from extremely small to almost the size of Pennsylvania.

There are three main groupings of islands:

  • The northernmost and largest island of Luzon, which contains Manila, as well as the provinces of Cavite and Batangas, which I frequent, and is home to one half of the country’s population: about 50 million people. For these 50 million people, “island living” is something of a misnomer. The island is so large that you can easily live your whole life without seeing the ocean.
  • The central region, which includes thousands of islands of varying sizes, called the Visayas.
  • The southern, second-largest island of Mindanao. The southwestern half of this island is where the majority of the 5 million Muslims in the Philippines live, and is often the site of civil unrest. The other half of Mindanao is predominantly Christian, like the rest of the country, which is 80% Catholic.

The super-typhoon hit the Visayas, especially Eastern Visayas. While the satellite images showed it covering the entire country, in Luzon and Mindanao, and even in parts of the Visayas, the only impact was some extra rain and wind. I have not heard of any flooding on Luzon, a common occurrence with much lessor storms.

Here is the key: 10% of the population of the Philippines was affected by this storm. 90% of the population was not affected.

Both of those numbers are very important. Imagine if a storm affected 31 million citizens of the USA, meaning several large states completely devastated. Now you have some idea of just how large, powerful, and destructive this storm was.

On the other hand, the entire country was not destroyed! 90% of the population was not directly impacted.

Of course that 90% is very focused on helping the 10% who were affected. So the country, while severely challenged right now, possesses considerable strength with which to deal with the aftermath.

Imagine the administrative delays and snafus, the protests, accusations, and demands that would result if a storm wiped out 30% of all buildings in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.

No country on Earth today is prepared to deal smoothly with a storm of this magnitude. The Philippines had made many preparations that were simply washed away by the massive storm surge. So please, have some flexibility in judging the response of the Philippine government.

Now let’s turn to the political and environmental context.

This storm was not merely a natural phenomenon. Humans, and especially humans living in the USA, had a helping hand in making this happen. I am tired of the constant refrain of, “We cannot definitively tie any specific climate event to climate change.” As my late grandfather used to say, Hogwash! Consider the following:

  • We have been told for years now by scientists that climate change would lead to larger and more severe storms.
  • This was, according to several reports, the largest and most severe storm ever to make landfall anywhere on Earth.

I don’t think I need to go on. It seems clear that THIS storm, if not its existence then at least its magnitude, was caused by climate change. And the country whose emissions of greenhouse-causing gases has contributed the most to climate change over the last 200 years is my country, the USA.

Countries like the Philippines are paying the price for our industrial development, and our official refusal to responsibly limit our emissions, even after the impacts of climate change have begun to affect populations all over the world. Countries such as the Philippines are paying the price in blood and tears for our lack of responsibility.

This is the context missing from the news coverage. It is time to start climate reparations. Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed to a Global Climate Fund, or GCF, to which the most developed countries would contribute, to pay for repairing climate change damage in those poorer countries most affected. The Philippines is predicted to be among the 3 countries most affected, and is, unfortunately, already off to a good start on that.

The GCF is supposed to amount to 100 billion dollars per year by 2020. A downpayment on that of 5 billion dollars to the Philippines right now could go a long way toward not only recovering and rebuilding from this storm, but also making unprecedented and massive preparations for future super-storms.

The GCF is one of the major sticking points right now in the annual climate change talks going on in Warsaw, where the head of the Philippine delegation has started a hunger strike, until meaningful progress on an accord is in sight: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/12/world/asia/typhoon-in-philippines-casts-long-shadow-over-un-talks-on-climate-treaty.html

There has been no movement because the US and other wealthy countries are refusing to provide any funds for the GCF.

Please don’t disrespect my intelligence by telling me that the US doesn’t have the money. Consider:

  • We could cut several hundred billion dollars from our military budget and still spend far more than any other country on Earth.
  • We could impose a fraction of a cent tax on financial taxes and raise a similar amount.
  • We could increase taxes on the wealthiest to their levels under President Clinton, or increase taxes on fossil fuel companies, and raise a great deal of money.
  • We have the money, lots of it. You’ll see that very clearly the next time the US goes to war.

Obviously, this isn’t going to happen just because I think it should. It will take thousands or millions of people organizing for it and demanding it. There are many organizations and groups active on this issue. Lately I have become enamored of this one:

http://350.org/

Take a few minutes to learn what they are about. And feel free to comment, even if you think I told you not to above.

Note: From time to time you may see advertisements on these posts. I have no control over the timing, placement, or content of these, nor do I receive any compensation for them.

A Letter to my Grandfather

My maternal grandfather, Abraham Dobin, died on October 14, 1983. Aside from my parents and my brother, he is the person who most influenced my development. Much of who I am, I owe to him.

Abraham Dobin wrote an autobiography, dedicated to his four grandsons:

http://www.amazon.com/Fertile-fields-Recollections-reflections-busy/dp/0498015459

Grandpa was a leader, a man of the community. Like my father, he was also a business owner, as I am now. Both he and my father learned, and lived, something important about business: There are two things you must be as a businessman. First, you must be committed to managing your business well, so that it makes a profit. Without that, all of your plans and dreams — to earn a living, to build something of value, to benefit the community and humanity — will come to naught. Second, you must operate with integrity at all times. Without that, you may succeed in business, but you will not achieve true success or happiness as a person.

Abraham Dobin was not a very religious man, although he was very committed to and participated in the Jewish community, was bar-mitvahed at the age of 60, and later played a leading role in uniting three different Jewish congregations to build one temple. That was just one of many causes and community efforts he spearheaded or supported in his life.

He may have been the most competent human being I have ever known.

I last wrote a letter to him in the Fall of 2006, on the occasion of my 46th birthday and what would have been his 99th birthday. At that point I had lived exactly half my life without his physical presence. As of last month, it has been 30 years since he died. It’s time for another letter.

 

Dear Grandpa,

I wish you could be here now. There is so much I’d like to discuss with you, so much guidance I know you could give me. Whenever I think about you, I feel your spirit and your love, and it brings tears to my eyes.

I want to share with you something I discovered today. Like most of our family, I have not been very religious. There are many parts of the Jewish religion that I appreciate and value, but the prayers and the anthropomorphic conception of God are not among them. But today I found myself doing what I would call praying.

For the last two years I’ve been struggling to build a new business: http://saiffsolutions.com/home/

This business is a dream that I am committed to, that I want with all my heart to succeed. I have been through many challenges so far, and at this point I think I have all the elements in place to achieve some real success. My goal is to reach stable profitability by March, 2014. We have a long way to go in a short time. In the last six months I’ve put together a North American Sales Team, developed a brochure, generated interest at industry events, and, through the sale of my condo in San Francisco, generated enough capital to continue to build the business.

Today, as I drove through New Jersey and enjoyed the beauty of thousands of trees displaying their Fall colors, I felt a powerful call from within myself. I felt vulnerable, bare, open. And this is what I prayed:

I want this dream. I will do and be whatever I need to do and be. I am open to whatever is demanded of me. I will make this dream come true.

What I mean by “this dream” is described on these three pages:

http://saiffsolutions.com/home/mission

http://saiffsolutions.com/home/about/vision

http://saiffsolutions.com/home/our-values

Grandpa, thank you for everything you have given me. Thank you for always loving me, for wanting to be with me, for considering me an important part of your life. Thank you for being the best man you could be, and giving me the strength and wisdom to be the best man I can be. I will always love you and remember you.

Love,

Barry

 

A Change of Focus

A lot has happened since I last posted in March. On April 30, Saiff Solutions, Inc. closed our call center. After 9 months of operation, we were still not profitable. Many people succeed in the call center industry here in the Philippines. We did not.

However, our company is still operational, and we are now focused on our original work – technical writing. Dindin and I moved to a new house, which is quite a bit less expensive to rent but in many ways better than our old house. Dindin has been working full time at a call center in Manila. I’ve been back and forth quite a bit between Tagaytay and Manila.

It seems that Sydney, our female shi-tzu, is now of child-bearing age, and in heat. Yeesta, our male, is now singularly focused on becoming a father. I think that is the most dignified way I can describe his behavior. In fact, he is so focused on this one goal that he often does not eat, nor does he allow Sydney to do simple things such as stand up, drink water, eat, or walk around. When we lock one of them in the cage to give Sydney a rest, Yeesta, instead of eating or drinking, stares at her and pants heavily. It’s all very cute, and should thankfully be over soon. We’d be very happy if Sydney got pregnant, and I guess we should trust nature’s way, but it seems now equally likely that they will both get injured and no puppies will result. Yeesta seems to be trying to make up for a lack of technique with enthusiasm. By technique I mean an understanding of which end of Sydney is which.

Yeesta is not the only one with a new focus. I am focused on having sales conversations with potential customers for our technical writing services. Moving is of course, quite disruptive. For example, three weeks after our move we finally have Internet at home. We had wonderful help. Dindin’s mother and aunt spent 2 weeks packing and unpacking, and then his father spent the better part of a week doing various carpentry projects. In our commercial office, he transformed our 16 caller cubes into 8 tech writer cubes, now painted in two-tone blue, just like our logo. In our home office, he built two beautiful desks.

Regarding everyone’s favorite topic here in the Philippines – traffic – I’ve noticed two promising developments. One is that traffic is getting a lot more attention in the news, and there seem to be more plans and projects to improve it. Of course, this has surrounded an epidemic of blaming the poorest. Everyone has been noticing that even the slightest rainstorm causes flooding in Manila, tying up traffic. Government officials and many in the media have blamed the squatters who live near the small and large waterways in the capital, who allegedly live too close to those waterways and also dump their trash and waste into said waterways, clogging them and causing flooding. It is a complex situation and the squatters, not all of whom are poor, are partly to blame for the situation. But I suspect that industrial waste dumping is a far bigger problem, and is getting almost no attention. However, there are now significant government efforts underway to both improve water flow and unclog waterways, and relocate squatters (not a simple matter). While these problems are difficult and unfortunate, I am pleased to see the increased attention and action.

The other promising development, seemingly at odds with the first one, is perhaps illusory. I have been driving to and from Manila 1-2 times per week for the last 2 months. I have experienced less traffic in the last 2 months than in the previous 3 years. Much less. In part it may be due to school being out in the summer. Summer here is approximately March-May, and in the past I tended to either avoid the Philippines or avoid Manila during those months. However, summer has been over for a month or so, and school has been in session. Maybe some of the traffic improvements have actually already had a positive impact. Seems unlikely, but it may be so.

I am travelling in about 9 days to the USA, for 3 weeks. In addition to business meetings, seeing friends and family, and putting my San Francisco condo on the market, I will be attending 2 special events: my 35th high school reunion, and the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Saiff Drugs, my father’s pharmacy in New Jersey. A few months shy of 50 years ago I celebrated my 3rd birthday in the drug store (or so I’m told, I actually don’t remember the occasion). Congratulations to my father, Ivan Saiff, my mother, Barbara Saiff, and the entire Saiff Drugs team!

Exercise, Philippine Summer in Tagaytay, and a New Toy!

One of my readers asked for comments on the weather here in Tagaytay this summer. Yes, it is summer now. Summer in most of the Philippines is from March to May, approximately. We’ve had a lot of sun here, some very hot days. But it’s still not like the heat in Manila or Batangas. There are occasional breezes, and in the shade it is OK, even when the sun is at its hottest.

Dindin and I have been on an exercise kick. We’ve been working out on our back deck every other day, using our own free weights. OK, well the last 5 days I haven’t been exercising, but Dindin has (but then he isn’t working 12 hours a day, running a start-up).

MEASUREMENTS

One thing I highly recommend to anyone starting or continuing an exercise program is measurements. When we started on February 17, we took these measurements (all in inches).

Dindin – February 17, 2013

Neck: 14
Waist: 31.5
Chest: 33.5
Shoulders: 39.5
Hips: 33.5
Bicep: 11.25
Wrist: 5.75
Thigh: 18.75
Calf: 13

Barry – February 17, 2013

Neck: 16.75
Waist: 46.5
Chest: 42.5
Shoulders: 43
Hips: 44.5
Bicep: 13.5
Wrist: 7
Thigh: 24.5
Calf: 16.5

Today, one month later, we took these measurements. I’ve put the gain or loss from last month next to each measurement.

Dindin – March 17, 2013

Neck: 14.5 (+0.5)
Waist: 31    (-0.5)
Chest: 33.25 (-0.25)
Shoulders: 40.75 (+1.25)
Hips: 32.75 (-0.75)
Bicep: 12.25 (+1.0)
Wrist: 5.75 (0)
Thigh: 18.25 (-0.5)
Calf: 13.5 (+0.5)

Dindin’s Gains: 3.25″
Dindin’s Losses: 2″

Barry – March 17, 2013

Neck: 16.5 (-0.25)
Waist: 45.75 (-0.75)
Chest: 41.5 (-1.0)
Shoulders: 43.75 (+0.75)
Hips: 44 (-0.5)
Bicep: 13.5 (0)
Wrist: 6.75 (-0.25)
Thigh: 23 (-1.5)
Calf: 16.5 (0)

Barry’s Gains: 0.75″
Barry’s Losses: 4.25″

I had been a bit concerned that our workouts tended more toward Dindin’s needs than mine. He needs to gain weight (muscle, ideally), whereas I need to lose weight (or to lose fat). We do vary our workouts, his are more focused on heavy weight and mine more on speed and endurance, with some aerobics. I think I need to add a weekly run. But our first month results show that our results fit our intentions. He has gained, and I have lost.

Of course, weight loss is 80% what you eat. I’ve been trying to control my quantities, and of course to continue to stick to my ridiculously restrictive diet. Dindin has been trying to both increase his appetite and “clean up” his eating, by eating better quality food.

The scale can be useful, but if it is your only feedback mechanism it falls far short. Measurements are your friend. Get yourself a tape measure and get started!

MUSIC

And now, introducing our newest family member! I learned to play the piano as a child. I have a very good keyboard in San Francisco, but it proved unpractical to ship it here. My plan had been to buy a new keyboard as soon as my business hits its first profitability goal. However, I found this one sitting in the Korean salon where I get my haircut. It’s used, probably needs repair, but it works and has very good grand piano sound, plus lots of other features. 4 of the 88 keys no longer work, but 3 of those are almost never used. I’m very happy to be playing daily again!

Casio_Previa

2012 in review

I only posted once to this blog in 2012. That was in March, yet the busiest day was in September. My resolution for 2013 is to post at least once per month! Thanks to my loyal readers for sticking with me, even through the lean times. A very happy, healthy, and successful new year to everyone!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 5,600 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 9 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Success and new beginnings

It’s been over 4 months since I posted on this blog! Thanks to my loyal readers for their undying patience. Life has been very full.

Initially what led me to stop posting was a rather negative experience of culture shock last Fall. I was driving from Tagaytay City to Manila. In the city of Bacoor I stopped at an intersection, and a traffic enforcer walked up from behind my car and knocked on my window. He said he was giving me a ticket, but could not explain clearly what I had done wrong. It turned out that he wrote on the ticket that I had disobeyed a traffic officer, something I had not done. I spent 2 days contesting this lie, to no avail. In the hearing he told many more lies, fabricating a story in which he had stopped my car, a story that never happened. The hearing officers believed him and I was required to pay 1500 pesos to get back my driver’s license, which he had confiscated.

This incident left me feeling very sad and disappointed, and seriously questioning the wisdom of my move to the Philippines. There are aspects of life here that are very depressing. And while it is possible over time to create positive changes in society here, there are things you just have to live with. I’ve been stopped by traffic enforcers about 5 times in 15 months, and usually they are attempting to engage in deception or corruption. The corruption is part of the design of the system. If you refuse to participate you sentence yourself to significant inconveniences.

However, there are also many positive aspects to life here in the Philippines.  In January we moved to a new house in Tagaytay, with a view of Taal Lake and Taal Volcano, and a separate billiards room that we’ve adapted to become the office of my new company, Saiff Solutions. We launched the company after New Year’s. In early February I was in the hospital for 2 days with a severe infection. I had a very high fever (103F) for several days, and a splitting headache. The diagnosis was upper respiratory tract infection, bacterial. It took me all of February and the better part of March to recover. I still have an occasional cough and congestion, but it isn’t slowing me down much now.

Right, I was going to talk about the POSITIVE parts of living here.

Those of you who’ve read some earlier posts know that I was writing a book about moving to the Philippines. This transformed about 9 months ago into writing a chapter for a larger book on Moving to SE Asia that a group of writers is publishing. Well, after about 8 months of off and on writing, I’ve finally submitted a complete draft of that chapter, about 90 pages. This frees me up to do all the other writing I now need to do for the business.

I’ve been planning this business for about three years. We launched it  in early January. At that point our site was up (http://www.saiffsolutions.com), and our Facebook and Linkedin pages, and our new Twitter account . We had completed our registration with the national government as a Filipino corporation back in November. Now we’ve completed our local registration. I knew the business was a viable idea and that it could work. The one thing I was a bit uncertain about was, would we get any customers? Well, as of the last 2 weeks we now have 4 customers who have verbally agreed to do business with Saiff Solutions. I am about to hire 2 people, and probably 2 more as soon as I identify them.

The business model for Saiff Solutions is based on doing business with companies overseas – companies in the USA, Europe, and other wealthy countries who need technical documentation or related consulting, in English. Most Filipino companies would not make good customers for us, because they’d be unwilling to pay the rates we charge. Our rates are approximately 1/3 of what companies pay technical writers in the USA, and competitive with what companies in the USA or Europe pay for writers in India. However, our rates are several times greater than the rates that Filipino companies pay local writers in the Philippines.

So, I’ve been surprised to learn that one of the most useful ways to spend my time is networking with people in Manila. Many local companies are involved with foreign companies. And despite the general truth of my thinking on Filipino companies, there are exceptions. In fact there seem to be enough exceptions, that is Filipino companies who for various reasons are willing to pay our rates, to keep us quite busy.

So, I am thrilled that this new company, which I’ve had such high hopes for but also great uncertainty about, is already becoming a success. There are many, many issues to address to make our success possible, and at times it seems overwhelming, but this is exactly the challenge that I wanted, and I am up for it.

Also, we have a new member of our family, and a new wing of the company. Most of you have seen pictures of our shi-tzu, Yeesta. Yeesta is now a 2.5 year-old male. We have wanted to get a companion for him, and Dindin has been researching the idea of becoming a dog breeder for some time. On Sunday we met Sydney, a 6 month-old beautiful female shi-tzu. Her personality seems to be the exact opposite of Yeesta. She is a bit shy and reserved, but she does wag her tail often. Our new house provides a perfect environment for breeding dogs. We don’t let them into the main house, but there are both indoor and outdoor areas for them to play and sleep, and a storage room out back where we plan to keep the puppies when they arrive.

Yes, I will post pictures soon. Sydney is a tri-color shi-tzu with a beautiful coat of soft, silky hair. In the last few days our office has been transformed. Most of the floor space is taken up by a full-size billiards table, which the landlord has required us to retain in the room. We had a carpenter build work surfaces on top of the pool table, with insulation underneath to protect it. He also made another workspace on the side. I selected some beautiful woods, and he did a great job.

Much of the success of Saiff Solutions so far I owe to our newest board member, my friend Leon. Leon has extensive experience in the call center business, and as a salesman. With his help we are creating a sales capacity and developing a pipeline that should keep us busy and growing with new customers every month. In so many ways, this business is being built upon friendship and family. I am grateful to all of our business associates, our whole team, all of whom I count as friends or family.

I will share with you the three elements of the Saiff Solutions corporate vision:

US$1 billion in annual revenue by 2025

To move the annual global budget of The Hunger Project (http://www.thp.org) from $12 million to $200 million, by 2020

To transform the culture of work in the Philippines.

Please like us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SaiffSolutions

Follow us on Twitter: SaiffSolutions

Crime and relief

This afternoon Dindin and I went to the mall. At one point I realized I no longer had my wallet. We returned to the store where I last used it, I thought I had left it with the cashier. They remembered me but said I had not left my wallet, so we realized I was likely pickpocketed. The mall was crowded due to the Christmas season (which starts here Sept 1, so it’s in full swing now). Although I’ve been to the malls here hundreds of times, today was the first time that people were jostling me in the crowds. That’s probably how it happened. A team of people, several blocking my way, others separating Dindin and I, while another picks my pocket.
The various problems that were about to result from this were rather depressing. First, of course, I could not drive, as both my Philippine and CA driver’s licenses were in the wallet, along with my permanent visa card, about 5 US credit cards, 2 local ATM cards, one US ATM card, and a lot else, plus a large amount of cash. We reported the theft to the SM department store (it was an SM mall), and they took down all the information, including the contents of the wallet. They also assisted me in cancelling the 2 local bank ATM cards, and I was able to confirm that the cards were cancelled and there were no transactions today.
Dindin drove us home, but before we got about halfway I got a text from SM customer service, saying they had my cards. We turned around and went back. The cards were found near the women’s bathroom. The beautiful wallet that I had bought in Thailand and all the cash was gone, but the rest of the contents were returned to me – including the receipt for our laundry, assorted business cards of mine and others, pictures, etc. I counted 18 plastic cards of various kinds and a similar number of paper cards, plus some other items.
So, we are very relieved. I will be calling the credit cards anyway, as it is possible that the theives swiped the cards before returning them. The local bank already has new ATM cards for me on order, which I should have by the end of the week – I got those cards back but they are useless now.
After we got the cards back, Dindin bought me a new wallet, and a chain that attaches it to my pants. It’s the second time this year that I’ve been a crime victim. However, there is crime everywhere. The staff at SM were very helpful, they did everything they could and treated me very well, which is why I went right back to SM Dept Store to get the new wallet, and used my SM Advantage Card for the 4th or 5th time today. I must say I am very pleased with SM customer service.
And of course, I couldn’t ask for a better companion. I’m very glad Dindin was with me. Even before we knew I was getting my cards back, Dindin reminded me of something I had said when he lost his wallet several months ago (we later learned it had actually been stolen, and he eventually got his cards back). I had said, “At least you are still alive.” I’m not sure it was helpful to Dindin when I said it, but it helped me when he reminded me of it. I was in a place of gratitude for everything and everyone I still have in my life. And then I got my cards back.

What is home?

Now that I’ve been living here almost 1 year, another level of culture shock has set in. For 50 years I learned how to live, how to enjoy life, how to succeed in life, in the environment of the USA. This is a very different environment. It may not seem so different at first, due to the prevalence of English and the Filipino love affair with many aspects of US culture (songs, movies, malls, some major brands). But it is a whole different world, and navigating it requires different approaches.

Given this, experiences of home become crucial to my well-being. I think I’ve always had a strong sense of home, in large part because the house my parents bought in New Jersey when I was 6 months old they did not sell until 40 years later. Unlike many of my fellow citizens who moved frequently as children, I never moved as a child (well, OK once as an infant). I made up for that by moving about once a year in my twenties and most of my thirties, joining the 20% of the US population that moves about once a year. Since then I’ve been more settled. But now I am far from my home country, and I may only be able to return there once a year. How do I find or create home where I am?

The answer for me is community. But not just any community. A community where it feels like family. I participate in many communities. Last week was like old home week, as I got to be in two communities that feel like family to me.

On Thursday night, I attended the first session of the Landmark Forum in Action seminar series, offered in Manila by Landmark Education (http://www.landmarkeducation.com/). Landmark is a global educational company that offers state-of-the-art courses in human growth and development. I’ve been participating in this work since 1981. I’ve done many of their advanced courses, and for a period I led their introductory meetings in the San Francisco Bay Area. While the main purpose of Landmark Education is to empower their customers to live their lives powerfully and to lives they want, an important side effect is the community of Landmark graduates. These are people from all walks of life, adults of all ages, who share what I would call a very special form of humility. Landmark graduates, no matter how accomplished or talented, believe that they can learn more about themselves and the world, and are committed to their own personal growth and development. They are actually interested in finding out what their “blind spots” are, what are the ways in which they have been missing what’s important in life? To me, these are very important qualities. We humans are all arrogant in our own ways, and our arrogance often causes problems for us and those around us. Being willing to see your own shortcomings in a new light, no to knock yourself down but out of a commitment to improve yourself, this to me is the true measure of a human being.

So it was like being at home, to be able to participate with a group of Landmark graduates in Manila in a Landmark course. The seminar meets weekly for 10 weeks. This is one of the major reasons why I bought a condo in Manila (I’ll share about that and post pictures soon in another post), so that after these seminar sessions, which end at 10:45 pm, I don’t need to either get a hotel room or drive 90 minutes home to Tagaytay at night on roads that are not well lit.

If you’ve never heard of Landmark, or if you’ve heard of it but thought it was something different, I encourage you to check it out. And if you used to participate in Landmark but have not in years, I encourage you to check it out again. Landmark has changed dramatically in the last 30 years (before 1991 it was known as est). What I observed as arrogance and obsessiveness in the 1980s is gone now, replaced by a deep respect for people. And love, not romantic love but a natural, healthy acceptance and love for everyone, has returned, not as a focus but as a context of the education. I owe a great deal of my success in life to Landmark Education. Without it, in numerous situations I would have damaged myself and others due to my own arrogance and denial. Time after time, it has opened my eyes in ways that saved my soul.

On Friday night I had another experience of home. I finally went to the Jewish Synagogue in Manila (http://www.jewishphilippines.net/). I attended the Friday night Shabbat service and the dinner afterwards. I was raised in a Reform Jewish congregation in Edison, New Jersey, led by Rabbi Alfred Landsberg. Rabbi Landsberg is one of the people who made me who I am. To him, the most important aspects of Judaism are ethics, love, humility, and family. Long after I moved away I read about Rabbi Landsberg’s leadership in officiating same sex union ceremonies.

I remember the Rabbi drawing a circle on the chalkboard, a pie, and then making slices in the pie for the different aspects of Judaism – heritage, food, traditions, belief in God. He told us that we could choose which slices to participate in. Including belief in God. You didn’t have to believe in God to be Jewish.

Now, to many Jews that will occur as heresy. But that is my background, and I firmly believe that a person’s actions and how they live their lives are more important than what they believe. I am not exactly an atheist, but I do not believe in God as he is depicted in the old testament. So, in some ways, I felt out of place at the synagogue in Manila. This is an orthodox Sephardic synagogue, very different from the Reform synagogue I grew up in.

The sanctuary is beautiful. However, the main part of the sanctuary is reserved for men. Women must use the two sections higher up on either side, behind a large marble wall. Only two or maybe three times in my life have I experienced this separation of the sexes in Jewish prayer. It does not sit well with me. While many Jews will claim that there is no sexism involved, that women’s participation is valued, just in different ways, I don’t buy that. If women are not truly equal, meaning that they are free to participate in every aspect of life exactly as men, then life becomes based on a denial of the true nature of human beings. Women are just as capable, and their contributions in every aspect of life, including all levels of leadership, are just as important as the contributions of men. Traditions can be helpful, or they can be hurtful. At this point this tradition has outlived its usefulness, and it is holding back the Jewish people.

The service was completely in Hebrew, again not what I am used to. Despite the lack of spoken English, and my inability to follow most of the Hebrew in the prayer book, I loved hearing the singing of the prayers. Although our services were part English and part Hebrew, as a child I loved hearing and singing in Hebrew, and I realized how much I miss that. Every year my family would attend a Passover seder at my orthodox cousins’ house, and we would sing many Hebrew songs together over dinner.

The congregants and the Rabbi were all very welcoming, and I met some wonderful people. While their practices are in some ways foreign to me, they are Jews, and we share a heritage of thousands of years. Despite all our differences, it felt like family, like home, and I look forward to returning there. I am very grateful for what the Rabbi and the congregation are doing, creating a home for Jews in the Philippines, a country where the total number of Jews is probably only in the hundreds.

Happiness from home: shipping and shopping for those missing items

Today is a great day, because 1) the box shipped from San Francisco in late July finally arrived today, and 2) I bought some delicious smoked salmon, smoked blue marlin, and smoked pork.

As any expat will tell you, there are certain things they enjoyed in their home country that they simply cannot find in their new country. Other things can be found, but it’s not so easy to find them.

For example, every morning I make a protein shake that includes 10 ingredients. The ingredients were specified by my nutritionist, and the eating plan that we developed together over the last two years, while difficult at times to follow, has had tremendously positive effects on my health, so I am committed to continuing it. Two of the ingredients in the shake are almond milk and almond butter. Initially I thought I could not get either in the Philippines. However, I have found one chain of stores (Healthy Options) that carries the same two brands of almond milk that I am used to from the US. They also carry almond butter, but only one brand, and I don’t happen to like the taste of that particular almond butter. So the box that arrived today included about 8 jars of almond butter, as well as many supplements. The supplements, most of which go into my morning shake, I can only buy from my nutritionist, so those I need to ship.

Shipping to the Philippines can be very inexpensive. I use a company called LBC, which ships to and from the Philippines in locations all over the world. To ship a standard 24″ x 18″ x 18″ box from the San Francisco Bay Area to an address in Luzon (for example, in Cavite or Batangas), costs $55, regardless of weight, and takes about 5 weeks. The box goes on a ship, that’s why it takes 5 weeks. Sea freight is much cheaper than air freight, and has less restrictions on what can be shipped. For example, I cannot ship my supplements air freight. Only supplements that are “widely available” can be sent air freight, and these are not widely available, as they are not sold in stores. Who knows why, I assume this is a peculiarity of Philippine customs laws.

However, some things will not keep for 5 weeks. Things like vegetables. I still have not found parsnips here, and only rarely do I find beets. I am not going to ship fresh parsnips and beets from the US. And smoked salmon, which we Jewish people affectionately call lox.

So I was very happy to meet, at an expat gathering here in Tagaytay, an expat from Belgium, Gaspart, who handed me his card, which advertised his cold smoked delicacies. I had met him about 3 weeks ago, and finally emailed him yesterday. Well, today I drove to his house, where he let me taste about 8 different smoked fish and meat delicacies. I ended up buying about a half kilogram each of the three I liked best. The prices were about the same as what I’d pay for similar quality in the US, perhaps a bit less – about $20 a pound. But I would have bought some even if the prices were higher, because I had thought these things were simply not available here.

One of my fondest memories of childhood is Sunday morning breakfast, when we’d have bagels with cream cheese and lox, and sometimes also smoked whitefish, sturgeon, or sable, or creamed herring. I can no longer eat the bagels, the cream cheese, or the sour cream that the creamed herring is made with, but I can eat smoked fish or meat. And Gaspart’s smoked delicacies do not seem to be made with sugar (“lots of sugar” would be the Filipino definition of “delicacy”). He takes a European approach that emphasizes using very few high quality, natural ingredients.

I’ve also been unable to find fresh turkeys here. Few people here eat turkey, and so far all I’ve found is frozen turkeys. I’ve cooked turkey with great success, but I frankly don’t want to get involved in defrosting a turkey. It takes a week to do it properly, without risking illness. While my new friend did not have smoked turkey today, he does regularly procure fresh turkeys to smoke, so he agreed that when I want to cook a turkey he could get me a fresh one.

So, as I said, it’s a great day. About to become even greater, as I’m now headed to the kitchen for some dinner!

Tropical Critters

The Philippines is in the tropics, so things grow quickly here. There are all kinds of plants and animals all around. Having lived most of my life in cities in the US, I was used to the assumption that there are spaces reserved for humans, where other animals only rarely tread. Here it’s a bit more mixed up between the species.

Insects

The cockroaches here are not merely humongous, they also fly. I realized that while they are bigger than the cockroaches I’m used to from the US, I did see some this size in Florida once. In Florida they call them palmetto bugs. But according to wikipedia, palmetto bugs have short wings that are useless for flying. These cockroaches here really do fly. Not that often, but when you least expect it they may fly right past your face. We’ve found the best solution for them is spray – get the can that says Cockroach Killer on the label. It works pretty fast. Whereas if you step on them or flush them down the toilet you may not actually kill them.

I’ve seen bees here the size of lemons. OK, that includes their wings, but even the body part is maybe 4 times the size of the bees I’m used to in the US. I’ve seen one moth that was the size of a large grapefruit, again including the wings. Lots of smaller moths that have little clear wings. They are attracted to light, easy to kill, but very annoying.

Mosquitoes here can carry not only malaria but dengue fever. Dengue can be fatal to children, less so to adults, but it can make you very sick for weeks, as it did to a friend of mine here. Lots of smaller insects like ants of all sizes, termites, and things I don’t have a name for.

We also have lizards, which eat the insects. Most Filipinos live in harmony with the lizards, as we do here. I once saw a lizard actually eating a moth here, so I know they’re on my side. But one day there was a horrible smell in the bedroom, it turned out there was a dead lizard there. There are spiders too, of all sizes, and I suppose they also eat insects. Their webs are sometimes annoying. Walk in a place where we haven’t been recently and you’ll get web all over you (and it’s not the world-wide kind).

Sometimes you can’t even see the insects until they are on you, or you find yourself scratching later. At least twice I’ve been sitting here at my desk and something dropped into my hair.

Rodents

Then there are the mice. Little tiny ones that can hide in the walls. We managed to catch a few with the little glue trays. Of course then you have to pick up the tray with the still moving little body on it and dispose of it. A few weeks ago Dindin went to visit his family for a few days. I called him one night because I saw something, larger than a mouse. First I had heard it, rustling the plastic garbage bags in the hall where we keep the garbage. Yes, we had a rat, actually it turned out we had rats. Seemed like he might be too big for the glue tray, so the sales person at the hardware store recommended the fly paper. Well he just balled that up and ignored it. The glue tray held no interest for him. We tried a mousetrap, he got the cheese out without springing the little trap. I bought a cage trap, but when I got it home I realized it would not kill him, and then I’d have this large, living animal to contend with. So we got some poison. We had been concerned about poison because then we could have a dead rat smelling up the place and not be able to find it. But they sell poison that works slowly and slowly causes blindness, so the rats seek the light.

Well after a few days, we found 2 small dead rats outside on the lawn. So it apparently worked. They were larger than the tiny mice, but not as large as I had feared. About half the size of a small banana. Disposal was fairly easy. Now, I know some of my friends will object to the cruelty, and perhaps I should have used the cage and taken the animal elsewhere, but wouldn’t that be likely to just cause problems for some other people? This country is full of people – almost 100 million of them. I think we did a public service by killing those rats and mice. At least we did a personal service for our household.

Snakes

I haven’t actually seen any snakes, but they are here. It’s a consideration in landscaping. You don’t want areas of thick growth where the snakes can hide. You want to be able to see the dirt. I actually like snakes, but I don’t want to be surprised by any.

Driving in the Philippines: Coding, Convenience, and Corruption

They have a coding system in Manila to limit the number of cars on the road. There is one day a week when you cannot drive your car, and that day is determined by the last digit of your license plate. This much I knew, as even people who don’t drive know that much about the system. But it’s proven very difficult to find out the details.

When I bought my car, on December 30, 2010, I didn’t initially have license plates. I had to wait until they arrived at the dealer from the Land Transportation Office (LTO). During the five and a half months (yes,we have bureaucracy!) that I was waiting for my license plates I was not subject to coding. According to some people I was also not supposed to be driving in Manila, because I had no plates. I rejected that notion. After paying tens of thousands of dollars for a vehicle I’m supposed to wait 5 months before I drive it? That cannot be correct. In any case, I didn’t have any problems.

In late May I went to the Toyota dealer in Batangas, because my plates had finally arrived. I asked them about the coding. The saleswoman told me that because my plate ends in a 2, I cannot drive on Tuesdays. I asked if there was a sheet or a booklet that explained the rules. No, nothing like that. I asked the customer service people, they had never heard of such a thing. I asked where I could not drive on Tuesdays, the saleswoman said it was a rule for the whole country.

Further investigation showed that to be untrue. I asked a policeman in Tagaytay and he said, no, they do not enforce coding in Tagaytay. Nor in Batangas. Only, apparently, in Manila. Fine, so I won’t drive to Manila on a Tuesday. I went to the LTO Web site, trying to find out more details, but none were available.

This all worked fine until last Monday, when I needed to go to Manila. At 3:20 pm I was stopped along a major highway in Manila, EDSA, by the police for a coding violation. It turns out the information the saleswoman gave me was completely wrong. License plates ending in 1 and 2 are prohibited from driving in Manila on Mondays between the hours of 7 to 10 am and 3 to 7 pm. 3 and 4 cannot drive Tuesday in Manila, during the same hours. 5 and 6 Wednesday, 7 and 8 Thursday, 9 and 0 Friday. According to one of the 3 cops who stopped me, the system has not changed in 10 years.

The experience of being stopped changed my attitude toward corruption in the Philippines, basically from hopefulness to despair. In the moment of course I was a bit stressed and was just trying to comply with what the police wanted. I explained what I was told by the saleswoman to the cop. He asked me, as if it was a question, I’ll write you a ticket, OK? He must have asked that five times. I asked him how much the ticket was for, he said 500 pesos (about $11). I asked him if I can pay it by mail, he said yes but kept asking me the same question. Finally I said, you want me to pay the 500 now? He said yes. I looked, and told him I don’t have 500, I have 1000. I didn’t have a 500 peso bill or enough smaller bills. He said That’s OK. He asked where I was going, I told him I am going to the Mall of Asia and then back home to Tagaytay. He had one of his colleagues escort me on a motorcycle so I wouldn’t be stopped again, but explained that I would have to stay at the Mall of Asia until 7 pm, about 2 hours later than I had planned. Of course I got no change from my 1000 peso bill.

Only when I got home and talked about it with Dindin did I realize I had paid a bribe. Apparently what you’re supposed to do, instead of giving the police money, is to get a ticket, and the cop will confiscate your license. (I was given no ticket, and was given my license back.) You then have to go to the LTO office, wait in one or more lines, pay your fine, and get your license back. And if you get stopped again before retrieving your license, you show the cop your ticket.

This is tremendously inconvenient. Why should I waste half a day going to LTO because some saleswoman gave me the wrong info? I’m glad I paid the bribe. But what’s depressing is that the whole system is designed to make corruption your only reasonable choice.

In the US a cop will almost never confiscate your license. However, in the US the cop will go back to his car before writing your ticket, where he is able to find out if you have any prior tickets, if you are wanted for a crime, if your car was stolen, etc. And then if he does write you a ticket, he usually tells you to wait until you get something in the mail before paying it, because, lo and behold, he uses a system that knows where you live!

In the Philippines the cops have no such systems. They confiscate your license because otherwise they expect you’ll just throw the ticket away, and no one will ever know you didn’t pay it.

Needless to say, I was quite angry with that saleswoman. I had been breaking the law for months without even knowing it! I decided that the next time I go back to Batangas I’m going to go to that Toyota dealership and demand that they reimburse my 1000 pesos, and train their staff better.

Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. The next time I was in Batangas was yesterday, Friday. And it was raining. And on the way to Batangas we went through another town, Lemery, where the road was flooded. This was the deepest water I’ve ever driven in. The flooded area was about 1/10 of a mile long. Soon after I entered it I had a thought. Perhaps I shouldn’t have done that? Maybe I should turn around?

The water was at times up to the top of the tires. We passed a couple of trucks, and the wakes they made in the water probably made the level as high as the engine (which is a bit higher on my minivan than on a regular car). And the water was full of broken coconuts, which I was afraid might get stuck in the wheels.

Well, we made it through fine. Apparently no damage to the car, it runs fine since. Of course, this delayed us a bit. I gave up my plans to go to Toyota that day, because a) I didn’t want to take the time, and b) it was hard to be mad at Toyota now, I was at that point very happy with the car.

I guess the good part of this is that I now understand the situation better. I had naively thought that it would be easy to not participate in corruption. Silly me.

No, we’re not floating away

Ever since I got back from the USA on July 20, it has rained. Every day, or almost every day. Yes, it is the rainy season, which in the parts of the Philippines I frequent runs roughly from June to October. There was a typhoon this week, but it traversed across our island, Luzon, on a fairly straight east-west course 6-8 hours north of us here in Tagaytay. But I think that typhoon is long gone, and we still get rain every day. Sometimes the rain is light. Sometimes it is very heavy. Sometimes it rains all day or all night or both. More often it rains during some parts of the day and night.

There are many areas in the Philippines where flooding occurs quite often. Tagaytay is not one of them, as we are perched on a mountaintop 600 meters above sea level. But to me, it seems amazing nevertheless that our house doesn’t float away. Especially since, from the outside the back of the house does look a little bit like a ship.

How can the ground absorb so much water, repeatedly? Apparently it’s not a problem here. Everything gets greener and more lush, which is nice. This week we asked the man who usually works at the house next door to come and clean our pool and trim the yard on Tuesday. Tuesday it was raining very hard all day. And Wednesday. And Thursday. On Friday he must have had some kind of premonition, as he and his wife both showed up early and worked all day, until about 4 pm, when it started raining very hard. How did he know the rain would come late on Friday? I have no clue.

I’ve done some feeble research online into the levels of precipitation here. As usual, weather data on Tagaytay is readily available but mostly worthless. As I’ve noted before, almost every site that shows weather data for Tagaytay notes in the fine print that the data was collected at Manila airport, where the weather is about as close to Tagaytay as Southern California weather is to San Francisco. However, I found this page, which has 3 nice graphs summarizing historical weather patterns in Tagaytay:

http://www.weather-and-climate.info/average-monthly-Rainfall-Temperature-Sunshine-fahrenheit,tagaytay,Philippines

And this page, which predicts it will keep raining every day for the next two weeks (no, I’m not surprised):

http://www.accuweather.com/en-us/ph/cavite/tagaytay-city/forecast2.aspx

This page has a nice brief summary of weather patterns in the Philippines and when it’s good to visit, with nice pictures:

http://www.worldtravelguide.net/philippines/weather

However, if you haven’t been to the Philippines yet, I’d suggest you ignore what it says on that page about places other than Manila. Most of the places they mention are not likely places you’d visit on your first trip here, unless you have family or friends in those areas.

I’m still frankly very happy with the weather here in Tagaytay. At least it’s not unbearably hot that often. I can take some rain. What I don’t want is extremes – way too hot, way too cold, winds or rain of hurricane force all the time, lots of snow, etc. Tagaytay offers none of those so far, but then again August is historically the month with the most rain, so we’ll see how that goes.

Driving: USA vs. Philippines

I’m back in the USA for a 4 week visit, after living in the Philippines for 6 months now. The most striking differences I notice here in the USA relate to driving.

First of all, Filipinos, particularly in Manila, have a reputation for being aggressive and reckless drivers, which is only partially deserved. Before I ever drove a car in the Philippines, I was a frequent passenger in cars and other vehicles. Based on that experience, I was very afraid of driving there, as it seemed that all the drivers were very aggressive and ignored traffic laws. However, now that I’ve been driving in the country for about 6 months, I find I enjoy driving there very much. Driving is one of the experiences that remind me of my former life in the USA. Basically the driving experience is similar. And while there are many aggressive drivers, there are also many drivers who will give way. Yes, you will find cars on the roads doing things you would not expect in the USA – going the wrong way on the shoulder, turning left from the right lane, blocking 4 lanes of traffic to make a U turn, ignoring stop signs, and on and on. But Filipino drivers are often very skilled, both at executing maneuvers that foreigners may consider crazy, and at dealing with an environment where that happens all the time. They expect you to do whatever you need to in order to get where you are going, even if doing so breaks the rules. So when you want to make a U turn, they will often let you. And if you hesitate they may honk the horn to encourage you.

However, there are some very significant differences between the two countries. In the USA, almost every intersection that needs a traffic light or stop sign has one, actually it has several. Just about every road has clearly readable signs that tell you the name or number of the road, and in most cases that name or number is the same name or number that you’ll find on any map for that road. Further, most roads have signs telling you the name of the roads crossing it, and highways have exit numbers and signs that clearly tell you the name of the road and its direction.

You are unlikely to find any of this wonderful signage in the Philippines, and perhaps 10-20% of the needed traffic lights and stop signs exist. Yes, people drive (mostly) on the same side of the road as in the US (on the right). Yes, almost all the road signs are in English. That doesn’t mean they are helpful. Signs on roads almost never tell you what road you are on. They rarely tell you the names or numbers of the crossing roads, and when they do those names may not match the names on a map. Instead the signs tell you what city or town you can reach by taking a specific road. On multi-lane highways signs above each lane only show the name of a town or neighborhood or city, which theoretically you can reach if you stay in that lane. If you don’t know where these places are, your map won’t help you very much. And in fact, to reach one of those named destinations you will likely have to switch lanes several times. Not to mention the frequent signs admonishing you to “Stay On Your Lane” that contradict the signage telling you which lane you need to move into to get where you are going.

Everyone asks about GPS. I will have more to write about that in a month or two. I have a Garmin GPS unit in the US. When I moved to the Philippines there was no Garmin software available for the country. Now there is, so I plan to take my unit home with me and set it up with the software. I enjoyed using the Garmin in the US. We’ll see if it helps in the Philippines. Of course, now that I’ve been driving there for 6 months, it is much easier, as I’ve learned a lot of the place names and how to go to many of the places I need to reach.

Drivers in the Philippines routinely ignore the traffic laws, as there is almost no enforcement. If you get in an accident, you may then be charged with breaking a traffic law. And you may be stopped by a policeman for swerving. I’m not sure if swerving is a valid crime, or just an offense that cops use to try to extract a bit of money from you, in exchange for not confiscating your license.

So tonight, when I was stopped by a member of the Branchburg, NJ police force, it was refreshing to see some traffic enforcement in action. The cop introduced himself and was very respectful. He stopped me for going 40 miles per hour in a 25 MPH zone. After learning that I was a visitor to the area and unfamiliar with the roads, and (presumably) checking to see if I had any violations on my record while I waited for him to return, he gave me a verbal warning but no ticket. And then when I asked he gave me the directions I needed. All in English, of course.

The best part was that there was no expectation that any exchange of money would take place, because that is rather uncommon in such situations in the US. Because it is very common in the Philippines for money to exchange hands in these situations, it is always a possibility. It’s not that I mind spending a few dollars. Bribery is illegal, and corruption is a major force that retards economic progress and the elimination of poverty in the Philippines. Estimates are that the country loses $2 billion worth of investment per year due to corruption. The idea of participating in that, of being a part of that problem, is very distressing to me.

One more difference is the number of lanes in each country. Arguably, the highways in the US, taken together, have way too many lanes. In the Philippines they have too few. Some toll roads have only 2 lanes. Not 2 lanes for each direction, 2 lanes total, so if you want to pass you must use the lane for opposing traffic. The difference between such a toll road and other roads is the lack of entrances to businesses and residences along the road. Most roads serve the dual purpose of connecting distant towns and cities and providing access to local establishments and homes, as well as the frequent extra duties of hosting local festivals, funerals, marches, and other traffic-blocking organized activities, or disorganized activities, such as extended periods of road construction and excavation.

Being in New Jersey at the moment, and driving to various locations in the state to visit family and friends, I appreciate the excellent road design, great signage, ample traffic lights, largely law-abiding drivers, and ample supply of lanes. In particular I am in love with the road called 287 (formally US Interstate 287). A wonderful invention, that decades after being built still has freely moving traffic with lanes to spare, and along its circuitous route connects many of the places I need to go this week.

A Trip Home (to Batangas) and the First Day of School

On Sunday Dindin and I drove to San Pascual, Batangas, where his family lives. It’s about a 90 minute drive from Tagaytay, but can be longer depending on traffic. We were delayed by three different funerals. Outside of Manila, funerals and parades seem to be the main impediments to the smooth flow of traffic (but tough competitors are poor road conditions, vehicles in poor condition, and a near total lack of traffic law enforcement). Some of the hearses here are quite beautiful, basically similar to hearses I’ve seen in the US but more creatively designed.

The worst of the three funerals (in terms of its traffic impact) must have had at least 100 vehicles (although who knows, some of them may have just been tagging along to avoid the gridlock). This one did not seem to have a hearse at all, although there was a van from a funeral home and a large flatbed truck. Perhaps they had several corpses on that truck, which would explain the unusual size of the caravan. Overall I think it took us about two hours to get there.

Sunday was Duane’s second birthday (Duane is the third child of Dindin’s sister, Loids). So we stopped to get some chocolate fudge cake. We also had plans to take the car to the Toyota dealer in Batangas on Monday. Of course, we knew it would be hot. The summer here is supposed to be from March to May. But it doesn’t follow the calendar as reliably as I’m used to in the US, and there seems to be a lot of disagreement about when it begins and ends. Summer started late this year, in late March. But it ended on time, according to the newspapers. Except the weather didn’t seem to cooperate with the news reports. Here it is June 7 and it was a hot day today, even in Tagaytay.

Anyway, Sunday in Batangas was very hot. Duane seemed to enjoy his birthday. He looked quite different than I recalled, because his head was shaved, or almost. He reminded me of the boy in the movie The Last Emperor. Luckily my rib has healed enough so that I can hold him now, because he kept asking me to pick him up. But this time he didn’t cry when I left. He has learned “bye-bye” now.

On Monday Dindin and I woke up at 5:30 am. I wanted to go to Toyota early, so I didn’t go back to sleep. It turns out that Monday, June 6, was the first day of school for 28 million Filipino youth, including Dindin’s nieces Aprhille (13 years old) and KC (8) and his nephew Damiel (7). The school is quite close to their house. I walked with the kids and the adults to the school yard. On about 5 hours sleep, I was amazed at the level of activity at 6 am. The whole town seemed mobilized to get all the kids safely to school.

It was quite a large campus, with several buildings. Aphrille had already left to go to the high school part when we left. The two younger children are both in the same third grade classroom. All the students were dressed alike, more or less. The boys had white tshirts that have the school name on the front and the boy’s first name on the back. The boys all had black pants, either long or short. The girls had matching skirts and white blouses, with plaid ties (ascots?) hanging from their necks. The list outside the classroom for third grade part A had 23 boys and 22 girls on it. 45 students and one teacher, but it could grow higher if other kids showed up.

This is the tragedy of education in the Philippines. The public schools are underfunded. Most students attend for only 10 years. High school begins at age 13, and kids graduate high school at 16 or 17. There is a plan in place to extend schooling by three years, by adding kindergarten and two later years, for a total of 13 years. While this would bring the country closer to international norms, the way this plan is being implemented suggests it may do more harm than good. They have begun rolling out the first phase, kindergarten, but have not provided any more teachers. They expect the overloaded first grade teachers to also teach the kindergartners. Of course, my information here is limited to reading a few articles in the newspapers and talking to a few people.  So my details may be way off.

What I observed Monday morning, aside from the high student-to-teacher ratio, was quite wonderful. Children are very important in this society. While the funds from the government may fall short, the enthusiasm and dedication of the whole community was evident.

While I took the car to Toyota, Dindin took Yeesta, our shi-tzu, to the vet to have his hair cut. The difference in his look is dramatic. He is usually a ball of fur. Now he is a seemingly hairless, naked little dog, except for his very furry ears and tail.

As planned, Dindin’s mother, Luzviminda, came back with us to Tagaytay. Our plan had been to drive to Manila on Tuesday, as I had some business to attend to there. Monday night Dindin reminded me that we cannot drive to Manila on Tuesday. Not on any Tuesday. Because of the number coding.

Number coding? Yes. It’s a system they have here to try to reduce the number of cars on the road. There is one day each week, determined by the last digit of your license plate, when you cannot drive your car in Manila. Of course, I bought my car on December 30, 2010, and I had to wait until mid-May to get my license plates, so I wasn’t yet used to this. Before I got the plates I could drive any day of the week, wherever I pleased. Now that the plates are on the car, ending in the digit 2, I cannot drive in Manila on a Tuesday.

So today we stayed home. We could have driven the car, as in all the other areas we tend to drive (basically in the provinces of Cavite and Batangas) there is no number coding. But we were all tired and decided to take it easy. Besides, it’s cooler in Tagaytay than anywhere else we would go.

The main cultural difference between the Philippines and the USA is that the highest value here in the Philippines is family. (The highest value in the USA is definitely not family. Personal achievement perhaps.) While I have always been very happy with my family of origin and didn’t think I was looking for another family, I am grateful for the truly wonderful family that I have here.

A new home in paradise, part 2 – pictures

I previously posted a detailed description of our home here in Tagaytay. Today I’m posting some pictures, along with some of the descriptions from that prior post, and some new descriptions.

Here you see the front of the house, with my new Toyota Innova parked in the front driveway. The balcony on the second floor leads to the master bedroom and bathroom.

Front of the house

Here is a close-up showing the car and the house number on the gate. (It took about a month after moving in to find out what the accurate house number was and get that number plate.)

Front driveway gate with number and Innova parked behind it.

The balcony in the back of our second floor is much larger. This is just the front part of that balcony. The back looks out over the pool.

Large balcony, front part.

The lot is 600 square meters, and includes a gazebo encircled by a small moat where a koi fish swims. This picture, taken from the balcony on the second floor, shows the gazebo and one of the swing benches next to it, from above. You can also see the fence and the neighbor’s house behind it. On the left side of the picture is one of several large wood and metal wheels that decorate the outside and inside of the house.

View of gazebo from balcony above.

In the front of the house is the steep one-car driveway that you saw in the first two pictures, which has a smaller gate to the side for people. On the side is another gate that leads to a drive where 2-3 more vehicles can be parked. This picture is taken from the back of the side driveway, looking out toward the road.

Side driveway.

Next to the side driveway there is a small concrete picnic table, shown here. Behind it you can see a stand of palms, and to the right is the side of the house. There is a side entrance, hidden by bushes in this picture, with steps leading to it from the side driveway.

Picnic table next to side driveway.

Behind the drive is an outdoor grill and sink. You can see the sink to the right of the grill, with our basil and tomato plants in front of the sink.

BBQ and sink.

Behind the gazebo is another swing bench, facing the pool. This swing is the least windy spot in the yard, good for smoking a cigar.

Swing bench behind gazebo.

Here is a picture of the pool. On the other side of the pool is a bathroom, and toward the back of the pool you can see an outdoor shower and a small structure that encloses the pool equipment and some storage. There is more storage space on the upper balcony. Storage space within the house is very limited.

pool

This is the swing bench that gets the most use. It and a wooden picnic table are covered by a wood roof, and sit behind the kitchen and in front of the pool. In this picture you can see Dindin sitting on the swing, and the door to the outside bathroom behind him. The pool is on the right side of Dindin, and on the left is the sliding door that leads to the dining area and the kitchen. Above you can see the small storage area on the second floor balcony.

Swing bench and picnic table behind kitchen.

The grounds are full of beautiful plants and flowers. Here are two closeups of some of the flora.

red flowers

flowers

Flowers near the gazebo.

The inside of the house is truly beautiful, a mix of stone and old wood, with beautiful mostly wood furnishings, including a bar, a piano, and the desk where I am writing this, which sits at the top of a beautiful staircase, shown in the next two pictures.

Staircase

Lower part of staircase, between kitchen and living room.

Staircase 2.

Middle part of staircase.

If you’ve visited my prior home in San Francisco, you’ve probably noticed my collection of elephants. Most of them made the trip here and seem quite at home, like this one.

Elephant.

Of course, what makes this house a home, more than the elephants, is our shi-tzu, Yeesta, shown here in the kitchen.

Yeesta.

The king of the castle.

 

The upper floor has 3 bedrooms, including the master bedroom and bathroom, another bathroom, an open office area above the stairs, the very large wrap-around balcony, and the front balcony, off the master bedroom. Here is one of the bedrooms.

bedroom

Guest bedroom.

The first floor has a good-sized living room, small bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and dining area, which has a large table with 8 chairs. Also on the first floor, connected to the house but with separate entrances, is the caretaker’s quarters and bath. The dining area opens out to the covered picnic table and swinging bench, beyond which is the pool.

Here is the piano, which we are hoping to get rid of. We had a piano tuner do an evaluation – he said it was built in 1882, is worth maybe $35, and would require about $800 of work to fix, whereas a new piano costs half that. Once we have room I’d like to get a digital piano. Beyond the piano, you can see some of my hats on the hat rack in front of the front window. To the left is the side entrance that leads to the side driveway.

piano

Piano in living room.

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