Philippines Observation 3: The People October 18, 2008Posted by Jeff Block in Adoption, Family, Travel.
Tags: Communism, Islam, people, Philippines, syndicates
Part 3 of an eight part series on observations of the Philippines. View the index of all eight entries.
The people were the best part of the Philippines, by far. Almost every person I met there was friendly and coureous, and the people in customer service positions were unmatched in my experience in bending over backwards to take care of the people they were serving. This was true both at the InterContinental hotel in Manila, as well as the the hotel in Laoag. People at the markets, the drivers of the cars we took around Manila, the men and women who worked at the orphanage. In my experience, the Philippine people were a warm, friendly, serving people, and that was great. I’ve been to other countries outside the US, and that’s certainly not always true; not always true here either, btw.
The only two times when I felt that the people weren’t wonderful to be around was when we were driving through the back alleys of Laoag trying to get to the museum there and when were at the bus station in Manila. Both times, I felt like there were lots of people around just waiting to slit my throat and take my wallet. It was like moments of being in a really bad area of town. Gave me the willies.
Other observations? Hmmm… Let me see.
It was very interesting to be a minority. Outside the hotel in Manila, there were VERY few other white people around. I never saw (to my knowledge) another Mexican, which would be so common in America, and I saw a grand total of 3 black people, all at the InterCon. Otherwise, everyone was Asian. There were lots of other Asians in Manila – at least I think so; my eyes aren’t very good so it’s hard for me to tell – but other places it pretty much felt like natives only.
As a seriously minor minority, we stood out like sore thumbs. It didn’t help that I was a full head taller than almost every person we came in contact with. In Laoag, as we wandered around the market, people stared at us, pointed, etc. Three guys even said to me “You’re so tall!” in English. So that was pretty funny.
Another thing I noticed was that the place never seemed to sleep. It seemed like there were always people up and wandering around the street, no matter the day or time. I found that odd. Typically, they were either loitering or sitting at their roadside shanty store hoping someone would want to buy something. The only explanation I could come up with was that abject poverty had led them to a life of hoping that someone would spend even a few pesos at their little store. Sad really.
Philippinos had no facial hair. That was something Faith noticed more quickly than me. Once I started observing, I notice a grand total of 3 men with facial hair – all mustaches. Since then, Asian friends have confirmed that facial hair among asians is both rare and considered odd, which goes back to why people were staring at me, I guess.
Oh, and I can’t leave this out…
In traveling to the Philippines, it was made very clear to us that we should A) always have a guide with us, and B) never travel to the south.
The guide thing was basically a poverty and perspective thing. Many people in the Philippines are very poor, and they categorically view Americans as very rich. Therefore, I was told a number of times that it would be easy for someone to basically look at you like a predator who is trying to think of how to get his prey into a dark alley alone. Basically, they said, always have a native with you, and stay in very public places. Plus, the guide can help you know where you were going (a must since signs, even street signs, were non-existent), and can help you haggle when buying things at market, because they know the ways of the locals.
The “never go south” thing is about the fact that there is a large and growing Muslim community in the Philippines. Particularly on islands to the south, there are very militant, very fundamentalist Muslim groups, who have taken over and made it very unsafe for foreigners.
Then we get up north, and learn that they’re not the only ones. We were driving between Dingras, Laoag and the orphanage, admiring the mountains in the distance to the north. Faith made a comment about how beautiful they were, and Brian (the director at the orphanage) launched into how the communists live up in the hills. According to him, it’s even more dangerous up there than it is in the south. At least in the south, you’re just taking your chances. Evidently, there’s no law up north, and foreigners are just shot on sight. So, whether or not that’s true, it was enough to make me want to stick to the rice field laiden planes … and with a local at all times.
Lastly, it’s improtant to talk about the children. There are evidently some 200 million street children in the world, and a radically disproportionate number live in the Philippines. Evidently, these children are organized in the cities by “syndicates”, which sound a lot like mafia. They claim the children, abuse them, and then make sure they’re on the streets all day every day to beg for money. They then take the money, give the children enough food to keep them alive, and throw them back on the street to make them more money. Children can be out on the street as young as just a few months old. The girls are sexually abused, and if they get pregnant, that’s just one more worker for the syndicate. Children are sometimes even mamed or otherwise severely injured to engender more sympathy from tourists or whoever else might be generous enough to through them a few pesos. It’s absolutely horrible.
In fact, the day we left Shekinah, they took in a group of four siblings. The youngest had meningitis and went pretty much straight to the hospital. We’re not even sure she’ll make it. The oldest girl had been raped by mom’s boyfriends, and was in pretty bad emotional shape as a result. All were severely undernurished, and exhibited evidence of torture. It was SO sad, and I was glad that they were now in a place where they were safe from abuse, and would be well taken care of by people who love them and love Christ, and want to redeem and rescue children in their position.
Visiting two orphanages and the governmental agency for International adoption during our trip, we definitely got our share of horror stories about children, neglect and abuse. It was really sad, and sometimes I had to just tune it out to keep it from becoming overly depressing. You just can’t rid the world of evil. All you can do is oppose it, and change the world for one child at a time, which is what we’re glad we can do for John. And in return, he has given us a family – something we’ve wanted for a long time now. So, the blessing is mutual. We are truly blessed by him.
Okay, time for bed. More tomorrow.
Where we were and what we observed in the Philippines October 12, 2008Posted by Jeff Block in Adoption, Travel.
Tags: Dingras, Laoag City, Makati, manila, Philippines
In addition to daily blog entries, I thought I’d throw out a series of observations that I made while in the Philippines, just in case anyone is interested. To kick that off, I want to cover where were and give you an index of the observations I’ll discuss over the next few days, just to establish some context.
Faith and I spent time in four distinct areas of the main island. There are like 7000 islands that make up the Philippines. I’m sure that some are no bigger than your kitchen table, but that’s still a daunting number. We were on one of the few big ones, where the capital Manila is located.
Here’s where we were during our trip…
- We were in Makati for 6 days. Makati is the prosperous financial district of Manila, the capital city.
- We were in the outskirts of Manila for a half a day, so we got to see the conditions along the roads and in the districts between Makati and where we were in the burbs (about 90 minutes outside the heart of the city).
- We were in Laoag City for 1 day. Laoag is the capital of the northernmost region of the island, called Ilocos Norte. It’s a much smaller city than Manila. In terms of number of people, I’d compare Manila to Chicago and Laoag to a Naperville or maybe a St. Louis. In terms of land area, I’d compare Manila to St. Louis and Laoag to a Collinsville or an Elk Grove Village.
- We were in the country just outside Dingras for 5 days. Dingras is a very small rural town. We were out in the countryside 10 minutes away from the heart of Dingras at John’s orphanage for a significant part of the trip.
I made the following observations while in country. I’ll do my best to elaborate on these in brief entries over the next couple weeks.
- The socioeconomic conditions of the country
- The weather
- The people
- The roads, vehicles and general driving conditions
- The pork … er … I mean the food
- The technology
- The language
- The diverse cultures
I’ll get to it asap.
Philippine Travel Log: Our Last Day in Manila October 9, 2008Posted by Jeff Block in Adoption, Family, Travel.
Tags: adoption, John Block, Jollibee, Kultura, Philippines, shopping
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October 9th was dominated by one theme: preparing to return home. We ate our classic breakfast buffet at the hotel, then headed over to the mall for sovenier shopping. After being exposed to such great stores at the “new” mall (the one we hadn’t been to) the night before, we decided that it would likely be one-stop shopping for us. So, off we went to Kultura to get started.
We shopped there for like two hours – easily long enough for John to be totally bored out of his mind. I’m terribly indecisive when it comes to this kind of thing. Also, when I’m really hungry and have to choose something to eat from a large menu. I’m fairly incapacitated by (what I unfortunately have to admit is) the fear of choosing “the wrong thing”. Shopping at Kultura was no different … Are we spending too much? Will so-and-so like such-and-such? If we get this person this, will that person feel slighted that we got that? Plus, we had already purchased a few things along the way through the trip – such as during our day trip to the Ilocos Norte museum and Fort Ilocandia while up north near Laoag City. So, the decision-making process was further complicated by trying to remember what we had previous purchased, who it was for, how many we got, why we got it, etc. Ugh! Made me (and still makes me) want to just tell all my friends and family that we love them but we’re not competent enough to shop for them while traveling. Then again, I guess I just did. :-/
So after spending a grand total of P6200 (about $100 – which I only mention because it’s amazing how much we bought for that little cash) on everything from serving platters to figurines to picture frames to smaller gifts for the children of neighbors, friends, and family, we were finally ready to move on. I think John was on his third anurism by this point, and mom and I were beginning to lose patience with him as well. Hours of shopping with mom and dad is not the way to a 4 year old’s heart, I have to say.
For the record – and for John’s memory when he reads this 10 years from now (the real reason I’m recording all of this), we bought some really cool stuff. We got picture frames for parents and siblings, which we knew we’d fill with fun pictures of our trip. We got a carved wooden statue of a Philippine eagle, the 2nd largest in the world (the eagle, not the statue) for my dad. We got coin purses and other little trinkets for lots of kids in our lives. We got some simple serving platters and bowls for friends. And a whole bunch of other stuff, I’m sure, that I just can’t remember at the moment. We also purchased a really awesome rice serving dish and spoon – wooden bowl and spoon with a glass lid – for us, and a picture and woven scroll to hang on the wall. We were adament in going over there that we would purchase art and/or a few random other artifacts so that when John becomes more aware that he is in a foreign place, that he has a taste of home to remember it by.
Okay, enough Kultura. After that, mom distracted John with the all-powerful, all-enticing siren’s call of the escalator. She kept him busy for quite a while – made longer by a resurgance of my fear of choosing wrongly – as I shopped for transformers at the mega toy store in the mall. Our thought was that if we gave John a transformer when he got on the plane that he would be SO distracted by the wonders of modern toyhood that he wouldn’t even notice the 24+ hour trip home. Yeah, like that worked, but I’m getting ahead.
Once reunited, we headed for the massive food court to have lunch. I think Faith sneaked a quick pummelo run in on the way there, but it’s all a blur. She was quite the fan (so was John), so it wouldn’t surprise me. It’s too much like grapefruit for me to get my fries to covered in chili. But I digress…..
So, at the food court… I was more than a little frustrated with Faith, because she seemed to be pretty scatter-brained. First, we didn’t know where we were eating. Then she couldn’t get a table. Then there were bathroom runs to make. And all the while I’m loaded down with GIANT bags of souvenirs. I don’t remember any more detail than that, just that I was frustrated. I’m sure it had as much if not more to do with a long morning of shopping and John’s starting to get roudy than it did with anything Faith was doing.
We got John and Faith Jollibee, and I tried something else I don’t remember, but remember thinking that it wasn’t anything to write home about. Of course, John and Faith were both prepared to write home about the Jollibee spaghetti and fried chicken combo! Faith absolutely loved their fried chicken, and John is pretty much all about fried chicken and/or spaghetti wherever he can find it. And if I had a peso for every time Faith commented on how much she liked the rice with her meals, even fast food, I’d have a whole dollar (which is saying something). Not that I’m complaining; I happen to agree. But anyway… Once we were sitting down and chilling out, all our moods greatly improved, which was my favorite part.
After lunch, it was back to the hotel. Dad set about the daunting task (but I love this stuff) of getting us all packed up and ready to head back to the States. And it was better for everyone involved – more fun for everyone – that Faith and John went swimming. It was sunny and warm and the last opportunity for many months they would have to bask in the sunshine, heat and water. Plus, we had to rearrange toys and other supplies that John had yet to be exposed to, as we had been saving them for the long ride home (we were so prepared!). AND, everyone knew that the mess that would be created in that little hotel room to get us packed up wouldn’t be made better by tripling the number of people in the room.
So, I packed. They swam. And a good time was had by all.
Upon completing the packing, I joined them by the pool, but didn’t get in. I wasn’t there long before the sun (and my personal tendencies independent of the weather) drove me back inside to the business center to play with Facebook, my blog, and other glorious technology.
Eventually, after they had had their fill of sun and pool, and I’d finished a blog entry or two, we headed back over to the mall. Faith wanted to check out Philippine cookbooks and other books on the Philippines (for both John’s and our educations). We hung out in the bookstore for a little while, John on my shoulders most of the time drawing “aww, how cute!” looks for passers-by. Faith picked up a couple books, and I definitively declared that all this shopping for cookbooks was making me hungry. We ate at TGI Friday’s in the other mall, which was really fun family time, and then headed back to the hotel.
We got ready for bed, there was snuggling, and there was a little more play time, and there was evening and there was morning, the last day.
Philippine Travel Log: Death by Pink Laptop and Windows Vista October 9, 2008Posted by Jeff Block in Adoption, Family, Technology.
Tags: broken laptop, Philippines, Windows Vista
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Before hitting the sack on Saturday, 9/27 (after arriving in Manila), I of course pulled all manner of electronic equipment out of my bag, and began setting up my command center in the room – as is my custom. Faith had insisted both that we take only one laptop and that it be hers. Both were sensible demands suggestions, given that a) we didn’t need to lug around multiple laptops, b) we had enough luggage without a 2nd laptop, c) my laptop is a work laptop with all kinds of information on it we don’t need to take a chance on getting stolen in the Philippines, and d) her laptop is new and covered under the mega Dell no-matter-what-happens-you’re-covered plan. So, we had her (*cough* bright pink *cough*) laptop with us, and I drug it out to send the “we’re here” email before bed.
The laptop didn’t immediately connect to the internet. I talked to the front desk, and learned that you had to call a certain number, get passwords, etc. I complied, and still no connectivity. I thought maybe the three-fingered salute would help, so I rebooted. But instead of a smooth return to the land of Microsoft, Vista told me that a critical file was corrupt on the hard drive, and that booting wasn’t going to work. UGH! You mean to tell me we lugged this thing halfway around the world, watched half a movie on it, and now it’s dead. No way I’m accepting that.
We went to bed, and the next morning discovered that the hotel has a business center where we could get online. We sent the “we’re safe” email then, and updated our Facebook statuses (which have become a life’s blood of some kind somewhere along the way. I also sent out an email to several technically-savvy friends to send me the critical missing file, figuring I could load it on my USB drive, boot to a command prompt, replace the file, and be on my way.
Got the file, but the command prompt wasn’t happening either. Or safe mode. Or anything else for that matter. I read up on the corrupt file, and found that it’s part of the authentication system used to gain security access to the file system (among other things), so there was no way around it. I had to boot to something else.
But I can do that. Newer computers can boot to the USB drive. Surely the Windows XP systems in the business center could add system files to my USB drive and make it bootable. Ah ….. nope. Some utility I could find online? Well, hundreds of sites claimed they had a utility to do the trick or gave interesting instructions, but at the end of the day, nothing worked. Eventually I screamed uncle, and caved. Well, Faith told me to give it a rest and focus on the trip not the silly computer. She’s wise.
But that didn’t stop me from sneaking out at one point and trying to find another copy of Vista at the mall, which failed miserably. Evidently Philippinos don’t believe in Operating Systems, and Faith doesn’t believe in stealth shopping. So that plan failed too. Not sure I’d really have bought a copy of Vista to solve the problem, but now that I think about it, the amount I’ve paid to lease computer time at the business center (about $11/hr) would probably have covered it. lol
So, the net result… The laptop remained locked in a suitcase most of the trip, and we have enjoyed the hospitality of the business center one hour at a time, when one or the other of us could sneak away late at night or during John’s nap time. Welcome to parenthood! So that’s what all our parental friends have been talking about all these years.
Philippine Travel Log: Minor Disaster Averted October 8, 2008Posted by Jeff Block in Adoption, Family, Travel.
Tags: InterContinental, John Block, parenting, Philippines, tantrums
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After dinner with our friends and a little shopping – particularly for our new-found fruity friend, the pummelo – we returned to the hotel. It was getting close to bed time for John, but we still had time to play a little anyway and to open a present he’d received from the Ramos’.
First, we opened his present. Joel and Cherry had given him a Philippine coconut which had been hollowed out (I still don’t know how) and a slit added to turn it into a bank. Inside, they had already placed a single Philippine Peso from the year of John’s birth. This is evidently a tradition in the Philippines.
So, eventually, all John’s left over Philippine coins went in his little coconut bank. Here’s a picture of his playing with it after he opened it.
Next order of business was John’s shower. After mom and John both got ready for bed, she helped him floss his teeth. I included this picture, because he is just SO cute. This might have been the first time he flossed his teeth. He did really well.
After getting ready for bed, it was play time. In order to fully appreciate this story, you have to understand John’s affinity for bellies. We had quickly learned that John had a thing for them. He loves to be tossed over daddy’s shoulder like a “sack of potatoes”, but when he is, he’s always reaching for the belly. Or, whey he runs up to either of us, he will try to stick his hand under one of our shirts and go for the belly button. Go figure!
Well, during play time, John got it in his head that he would stuff coins from his coin purse – one of his favorite toys at the moment – inot mommy’s belly button. So, mom laid on the bed, and John built a tower of nickels and dimes on her bare belly. Jeff was rolling his eyes – and videotaping – the entire time. Here’s the (hysterical) video I shot from our little digital camera: Get in Mommy’s Belly (Facebook account required to view).
So, we’re cruisin’ along having all kinds of fun with bellies and coins and video cameras, and all of a sudden (not on video), John bounces right off the bed and hits his head on the night stand on the way down to the floor.
Now, you have to understand that at this point, we had been living in fear for days that John would totally lose it in the hotel the way he had two or three times at the orphanage. In those cases, it seemed like no matter what we did, he just screamed and wailed and cried inconsolably. More than one night, after John had gone to sleep, Faith and I had discussed our fear that if he let loose on one of those tantrums in the hotel, that we wouldn’t know what to do. We had nightmare visions of John’s screaming and wailing in the hotel room and half the hotel calling security. Next thing, we’re in some kind of Philippine gulag accused of abusing our little boy with no hope of ever seeing air conditioning again. I guess it didn’t help to have read/heard, in preparation for adoption, all the stories about adopted children accusing their parents of abusing them or screaming “Don’t touch me there” in Wal-Mart or other such horror stories.
I guess, given that we had to read up on stories like this, that it’s not surprising we were paranoid. Of course, just becaues you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they’re not all out to get you. In this case, just because we were paranoid, didn’t mean John wasn’t going to lose it in the hotel. So here we were, with one day left to go, and John falls off the bed.
He wasn’t hurt. He just bumped his head a little. You know how children can get startled, and that scares them as much as they are hurt. This one of those times. However, both out of concern for John and out of fear he would start crying, I scooped him up to try to console him. I got him halfway into my arms and he started flailing, trying to get away from me. I lost my grip, and he flops out, bounces off the bed, and falls to the floor again, this time landing on his head. And immediately, he opens up like a combined siren and waterworks. Tears, screaming, the dejected “I’ll crawl under the bed and you’ll never get me out” look we remembered so well from one of his tantrums in the orphanage … all the makings of our worst hotel-tantrum, paranoia-induced nightmare.
It was Papa Sadiri and Chosen Children Village that saved us. If you remember back to our time at Shekinah, when John lost it just before church the Sunday before. Sadiri and Auring had basically ignored his tantrum, and forcibly got his coat on and just moved him on to the next activity. Later in the car, they had explained that this was the way to handle John … not to try to console him, but just to move on.
Early today at Chosen Children Village, when he got jealous over Faith’s holding the baby, and threw a fit, I’d taken their advice. I scooped John up, and after a brief (futile) time trying to console him, took him outside and started playing on the playground. He forgot all about being mad, angry, jealous, sad, scared, or whatever it was, and just played.
So, here we were in the hotel. It’s like 10PM. The waterworks are flowing. John’s wailing. The calls to the secret police had no doubt started. Faith, didn’t hesitate. In true super-mom form, she scooped John up in one hand, lunged for the door to the hotel room, and opened it with her other hand. Before our neighbors could even finish dialing child services, she was out in the hallway getting him to punch floors on the elevator (which he loved to do). I barely even got to them before John had stopped crying and totally forgotten he was supposed to be getting us arrested.
Whew! What a relief. When I finally caught up with super mom, I looked at her adoringly. She looked at me like, “Please take your son and wander around in the lobby for a while so I can sleep.” No problem. She’d averted crisis. The least I could do was give her some quiet time.
So, John and I wandered the lobby for a while. He was a little on the reserved side at first, but eventually snapped back and made me climb the stairs a dozen or so times. No wonder I came home a few pounds lighter from the Philippines … well that, plus all the dishes based on charcoaled catfish, sour broth, and bitter vegetables.
Eventually, John and I returned to the room, and mom was in bed but not asleep. We put him down, and chatted for a few minutes about how amazing Faith’s scoop-up-and-avert-tantrum skills are, and I let her go to sleep. I, of course, was off to the computer lab for more blog time.
Philippine Travel Log: Dinner with the Ramos family October 8, 2008Posted by Jeff Block in Adoption, Family, Travel.
Tags: Chicken Sisig, Food, Joel and Cherry Ramos, Kultura, Max's Restaurant, Philippines
When Faith originally mentioned the idea that we were going to meet up for dinner in Manila with a family she’d met on the Yahoo! adoption group, my first reaction was paranoia. I was pretty (legitimately, I think) concerned about meeting someone we didn’t really know in a foreign country. I had visions of being left for dead in a back alley as some thug made off with Faith, John, and my passport and wallet. Ugh! So, I was pretty funny drilling Faith about the “rules” of meeting with this family. Don’t get in a car with them. Stay in a public place. Insist on their meeting us within walking distance of our hotel. Etc.
Faith assured me that everything was on the up-and-up, though, because these people are evidently a fixture in the Philippine Yahoo group. They are a wonderful couple named Joel and Cherry Ramos – clearly wealthy by Philippine standards – and apparently make it their business to meet with families who are traveling through Manila for the purposes of adopting from the Philippines. We were the latest couple in a long list of Americans they have met up with and added a bit of spice to the journey of adoption.
Here’s a picture of all of us at dinner…
And here’s the story…
Faith had arranged for the Ramos family to meet us. They did, and we could tell immediately that everything was fine and that we were going to have a great time. We walked next store to one of the three malls which flank the Intercontinental Hotel in Makati – the one Faith and I hadn’t been to yet. Immediately we realized that we had been missing out. This was the mall with the massive grocery store. Right out of the gate, Joel and Cherry introduced us to a new fruit I still can’t remember or pronouce. But it was like a grapefruit, only sweeter. Funky afterbite, but very tasty. Both their daughter and John loved it, and it served as a great hold-them-over snack while we wandered the mall. They also introduced us to an awesome shop where we ended up doing much of our souvenir shopping the following day, called Kultura. After wandering around there for a while, we ended up at one of the Ramos’ favorite restaurants, called Max’s.
Before I get to dinner, let me tell you a little about Joel and Cherry. First, it was clear they were people of means in the Philippines. They have a live-in nany, who takes care of their daughter, and is like one of the family. That was really interesting and cool. Second, they both work in Makati, the financial district in Manila. They also spoke with better English than most Americans and knew WAY more about American pop culture than Faith and I did. It was pretty funny. Joel would routinely rattle off references to movies or music or use slang words or obscure contractions that shocked me. He was a storyteller too, so it was really fun to listen to him talk. Faith and I had a great time, and though I’m sure John was bored with the conversation, he was all about the food, so it was okay.
Speaking of the food…
They went crazy ordering food for us in this little restaurant. If Faith or I expressed even the slightest interest in a menu item, it was on the way to the table a second later. Of course, there were a number of dishes that they insisted we needed to try as well, so that was fun. Ultimately, there was way more food than we were ever going to get through in one sitting.
Faith’s big favorite was the chop suey … veggies that tasted amazing and looked fairly healthy until you realized that they were cooked with pork liver bits. Ah, the pork!
Jeff’s big favorite was a dish called Chicken Sisig … chunks of chicken mixed with chopped veggies and a spice with a bit of a kick to it. Very tasty. Here’s a blog post about the Sisig from Max’s. Interesting that I’m not the only sisigaholic.
John liked the soup broth. I think if he could have resurrected the digusting Tinenneb nga Paltat (translated: evil dead charcoaled catfish floating in broth) that we had at the Palazzo de Laoag hotel in Laoag City, he’d have been all over it.
After a long evening of conversation and way more food than any group of people should consume, we headed back to the hotel to call it a night. Of course, after Faith and John went to bed, I snuck off to the business center to get some alone time with the computer and my blog. Of course, this was not before a dreaded mishap was only barely avoided at the hotel. Check out my next entry for that story.