Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The other side of Filipino food

Trying new foods can be one of the most exciting--and astonishing--aspects of living in a foreign country. Last Thursday our Tagalog teachers exposed us to one of the more shocking Filipino delicacies, but since then I've had the opportunity to experience other Filipino foods. And thank gosh--I love to try new foods, but I draw the line at bird embryo. 

On Friday our class went to the Fairfax Inn, where we had halo-halo for dessert. Our teacher describes halo-halo as a mix of just about everything with ice cream. The one below was made of tapioca ice cream, condensed milk, ice shavings, a type of custard, rice crisps, coconut, tapioca pearls, gummies (or "bubbles" in Southeast Asia), and beans. 

I look forward to trying one of these in the Philippines, perhaps at Jollibee.

At a party this weekend I had the opportunity to try some chicken lumpia, which is a small fried spring roll. They were delicious.

And finally, shortly after we were assigned to Manila a friend of ours loaned us his Filipino cookbook, and twice I've made Chicken Adobo.


It was masarap (Tagalog for delicious), if I do say so myself.

I look forward to exploring Filipino cuisine, although I cannot imagine ever being ready for balut. However, I've heard that exotic aspects of foreign life quickly become normal, so I won't say never.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fear Factor FSI: Balut

At FSI, our language courses are not limited to teaching us how to communicate--they are cultural experiences. In today's Tagalog class we had the opportunity to experience a Southeast Asian delicacy: balut. Americans with weak stomachs should probably stop reading now, especially if you plan on eating an omelet for dinner. However, if you're curious, please continue.

In the Philippines, balut is a fertilized duck egg with a partially developed embryo inside. Balut is commonly eaten as bar food, and is reputed to go well with cervesa. The larger eggs in the picture above are duck eggs, which I graciously surrendered to my classmates. I had the pleasure of experiencing a chicken egg balut.

It looks innocent, doesn't it?

First you crack open the shell like a hard-boiled egg and drink the "broth." I do not recommend smelling it beforehand.

You're not supposed to eat the egg white--it's gross.

You eat the yolk with a fork, and shoot the chick (like a shot of liquor). It is not recommended that you look at the embryo, but I did anyway.


No, I didn't have the courage to taste any part of this delicacy. The above picture of a thoroughly enjoyed balut must be credited to one of my classmates.

To those Spanish classes who taste the wines of South America, THIS is a cultural experience. It's also a good way to lose weight, as I didn't eat any of my snacks this morning. I am very glad that I didn't pack my usual egg salad sandwich for lunch.

If you'd like to see a funny video of a Filipino giving instructions on how to eat balut, please click here. It's highly entertaining, but again, not for weak stomachs.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pack it up, pack it in

Let us begin. I came to travel, blessed me, it's a hassle.
I promise I won't crack up; sir, you'd better back up 
Don't return my emails and the whole crew will act up.
Get up, stand up, come on throw your hands up
If you've got a notion, jump across the ocean.

As we approach our second Foreign Service move, I find myself repeating many of the same concerns I had when we left Florida. Although I will continue to be unsettled until we have our questions answered by arriving, it is comforting to recognize that these feelings are simply part of being in a cycle of change.

In February we moved from a 3/2 house with a backyard to a one-bedroom apartment. I had low expectations for our temporary corporate housing, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the apartments were nicer than I imagined. However, after four months of sharing a small space with two dogs and way too much stuff, my feng shui is thoroughly off balance. In Manila we will have a two bedroom apartment, but I'm still worried. Instead of a few months we'll be living in this apartment for two years, and as every FS GSO knows, housing is a very personal matter.

Before we arrived here we were concerned about Julie adapting to apartment life, but were pleased to discover that the people in the metro DC area value green spaces. The parks in Northern Virginia are beautiful, and the dogs are getting more outdoor exercise here than they did in Florida. We have been getting mixed reports about the availability of dog-friendly green space in Manila, not to mention references to aso being a delicacy in the provinces north of Manila. Fortunately the American compound is said to have green space where we can walk the dogs, and if you've ever met a Vizsla who hasn't had a long walk recently, you know why we're concerned.

Career Goals
I left my job behind in Florida, and once I gave myself permission to relax, have been enjoying my time off. Not working has given me mental space to reflect on my priorities, and has helped me understand what I want out of a career. Ironically, our joining the foreign service could end up being a boost for my career, as not being obligated to work at a full time job has allowed to consider options that would have been financially risky in Florida. However, when we get to Manila I will need to start acting on my ideas, which is much harder than just thinking about them.

Distance from Friends and Family
The south pacific is a bit farther from Florida than DC. However, I'm grateful for Skype and email, and at least a twelve hour time difference will be easy to calculate.

Although we worried about these changes before we left Florida, we settled into our DC life easily and comfortably, and I hope that our transition to Manila will also be similarly smooth. Of course, moving to a foreign country will require additional adaptations, but I have enough to think about right now without additions.

Suspecting her of wanting to disrupt her comfort, Grace gives Julie the stink eye.

Poetry inspired by House of Pain

                And the next day .........

Grace's suspicion is validated!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Professional Development Fellowships for FS Spouses and Partners

This is a repost from Diplolife, and important information for Foreign Service spouses and partners!

FLO's 2011 Professional Development Fellowships

As I mentioned earlier this year in the post Funding Opportunities for Trailing Partners and Spouses, information on FLO's Professional Development Fellowships for the 2010-2011 term is out. The following was taken from the cable announcing the Fellowship:

The Family Liaison Office's Professional Development Fellowship program is open to spouses and partners of civilian direct hire US Government employees under Chief of Mission Authority [posted overseas]. This program is designed to assist those spouses and partners who are not in a position to pursue their career paths overseas to maintain, enhance, and/or develop their professional skills.

Fellowships will be granted on a reimbursable basis for enrichment activities. The 2011 program will have a minimum grant amount of $1,000 and a maximum of $2,500. The 2011 Fellowship period will cover activities that commence on October 1, 2010 and conclude no later than August 15, 2011.

Selected applicants must fund a minimum of 25% of the cost of the proposed activities while the Fellowship stipend will cover the additional cost up to the $2,500 maximum. Activities can include, but are not limited to, continuing education and distance learning through an accredited university, professional development, participation in professional conferences, and dues for membership in professional organizations.

The proposal deadline for 2011 is July 16, 2010.

More information and the application can be found on FLO's website at:http://www.state.gov/m/dghr/flo/c25927.htm

Monday, June 14, 2010

Being American

It is easy to just be a part of one's own culture. During childhood we develop assumptions that inform our thought processes throughout our lives, and when we are living in our native culture these assumptions are usually below our conscious awareness. However, when we have the opportunity to interact with a different culture these assumptions may be challenged, and as a result, we learn more about ourselves. Although we have not yet left the US, I am experiencing a preview of having my assumptions challenged in our Tagalog classes.

Sometimes the most apparent cultural differences pertain to gender roles. In the US, opinions about gender roles vary depending on who you ask, but as a group most Americans are proud of the advances we've made in gender equality. Thanks to the hard work of women's advocates, American women have more opportunities than our grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Although I'm not sure all American women would agree, our Tagalog teachers tell us that in the Philippines Western men are said to help out with housework. The US also has room to grow, especially in the areas of pay disparity. Yet advances in gender equality present in different ways according to the customs of the culture.

According to the 2007 Global Gender Gap Index, which compares countries according to health/survival rates, education, political empowerment, and economic opportunity, the Philippines is the sixth most gender equal country in the world. This report not only challenged my basic assumptions, it also helped me reflect on what it means to be an American woman. Opportunities such as these are what make life in the foreign service a constant learning experience. When you live in a foreign country you not only learn about that country, you also have the opportunity to learn about yourself.

Friday, June 4, 2010

When Dogs Fly

Last weekend we went to Club Pet to arrange for Julie and Grace's passage to Asia. Below is a picture of Julie's crate, which Grace claimed for her own.

At 40 pounds, Julie is not a large dog, but she's all leg. She takes after her parents. I am eight inches taller than the average American woman--I've never met a desk or table I could befriend. I am fully prepared to hear the word matangkad (Tagalog for extremely tall) as I walk the streets of Manila, where the average Pilipina doesn't reach five feet. My husband is 6'3", but as a man he's just mataas (tall). We love our height, but we're dreading the 16 hour flight, and are glad that Julie will not suffer from lack of space.

Airline regulations state that a dog must be able to sit down without her head touching the top of the crate, and it's very important to properly measure your dog before you buy your crate. You can't go by the crate company's estimation of weight--Julie needs a crate sized for an 80 pound Labrador. 

I hope there's not much turbulence during her flight--they don't install seat belts in there. 

Although we will be spending extra money shipping our "tall dog," as people call her, our 12 pound shorty fits nicely into a cat crate (don't tell her that). Dachshunds were bred to feel comfortable in small places, so Grace will be ok. With the ability to stand up and turn around, they'll both have more room than we humans. 

Most airlines place an embargo on shipping pets as baggage when the departure and/or arrival destinations are warmer than 84 degrees fahrenheit, and since both DC and Manila will certainly be warmer than 84 degrees in July, the dogs will take a special route to Manila. KLM and Lufthansa ship animals in cargo holds that have the same climate control standards as the human passenger section, which eliminates the pet's risk of exposure to extreme heat or cold. Julie and Grace will fly from the US to Amsterdam, where they stop for a six hour layover in KLM's airport "pet hotel." They'll be fed and walked, their crates will be cleaned, and they'll be checked out by a vet before boarding a nonstop flight to Manila. 

Safely getting our dogs overseas has been the most worrisome aspect of our decision to join the Foreign Service, so I am glad to finally feel comfortable with their flight plan. We couldn't travel much farther than Southeast Asia and still be posted on Earth, so our first flight will likely be one of the hardest. After this, traveling to South America or Europe will feel like a jaunt.

Grace vetoed this option.