Friday, August 27, 2010

Going to see "the beautiful places"

The best part about being posted in Manila is what's outside the city. Last weekend we had the opportunity to visit Tagaytay and Taal Volcano, and we saw some of the "beautiful places." (Every consular officer's favorite phrase.)

The view from People's Park

The view from Picnic Grove

Zip line at Picnic Grove

Tagaytay is built around the edges of Taal Volcano. In order to get to Crater Lake, you take a boat across Taal Lake to Volcano Island. I recommend driving down to the lake and buying your boat ride there. The road to the lake resembles the Mt. Washington Auto Road in New Hampshire and/or the road to Hana in Maui. Villagers greet you at the island and sell you a guide and a horseback trail ride up to the crater. The guide is likely necessary as an escort through the village, but we didn't go for the horseback ride. The horses are small ponies, and although the trail is hot, it only takes about an hour to hike up to Crater Lake. Haggling is acceptable. If you don't buy a horseback ride but get tired or overheated on the way up, no worries--the villagers follow you up the trail with a pony--just in case. 

Boat ride across Taal Lake

The village on Volcano Island

 Crater Lake at Taal Volcano 

Reminders that we're standing on the inner rim of an active volcano

I highly recommend enjoying a delicious meal at Antonio's

We enjoyed fresh air, good food, and great company. I can't wait for our next trip!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Food, Whine, and the Foreign Service

I have always been willing to try different types of food, but our move to the Philippines has challenged my flexibility. And not just balut or this local delicacy:
Having never traveled in a country where you can't rely on basic sanitation practices, much less drink the water, being afraid of my food is a new experience for me. Between our lack of transportation and the amoebas, these past two and a half weeks I have been much more interested in cooking.

However, after my first week of freaking out, my fear has not kept me from exploring the local cuisine. It has made me much more conscious of my food choices. My first time at every new restaurant I wonder, will this be the one that does it? But as long as it smells good I eat it anyway.
I'm glad I'm trying the food, because Manila has a lot to offer. We had a special occasion to celebrate during our time here, and we went to a French restaurant in Fort Bonifacio. I can't remember ever having sorbet in a tea kettle full of dry ice.
I had so much fun playing with it I almost forgot to eat it. And in case you were wondering if Starbucks has anything different in Asia:

Manila is a hardship post, but not for lack of fresh fruits and vegetables. The local large supermarkets haven't impressed me with their produce, but then again, neither did the grocery stores back home. However, the local farmers' markets are excellent.

Lime-skinned Oranges

I have been enjoying planning our dinners around what looks good at the market on Sundays. 

And if we don't want to cook, we can order in. You can have almost anything delivered in Manila. Tonight we had Indian food delivered to our door. It wasn't quite as delicious as Haandi in Falls Church, but it was good!

Practicing good food safety habits is prudent, but hiding in fear of amoebas is not necessary. I could eat all of my meals at home and still find myself sick. Fortunately we have a good med unit, and I just learned how to make homemade yogurt.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Finding Home Again

Within 48 hours of landing in Manila everyone, including the dogs, was sick--our house was full of coughing dogs and sniffling, feverish, and generally unhappy humans. In addition, I was scared to eat. This being our first post and my first time in a developing country, I did not know what to do when told that I couldn't drink the water outside of our house, bleaching vegetables was recommended, and getting amoebic dysentery was a way of life. At the end of our first week I started experiencing stomach pains, which I was sure meant that I was going to die of an amoeba attack, but it turns out that I likely brought it on myself by taking too much Vitamin C on an empty stomach. A week ago I was questioning our decision to join the Foreign Service for the first time. Why would I want to live somewhere that made me sick?

However, over the weekend I started feeling better and had the opportunity to explore the city, and both my health and my outlook improved. Our sponsors took me to a wonderful plant market, where I bought seven healthy plants, including an orchid, for $14. I made sure to get several spider plants, which help clean the air. And our neighbors took me to the Legaspi Market, where I was overjoyed to find good quality organic produce. Finding houseplants and a good place to go grocery shopping are important steps in my nesting process.

This week has been completely different. I am enjoying my job, found a great yoga studio, and our newly hired part-time helper/aso ya ya is wonderful. We have trips out of the city planned, we've made new friends, and we've renewed friendships with old(er) friends. I have yet to die of an amoeba attack--always a plus.

Last week I knew better than to make judgments about Manila based on what I had been experiencing thus far. My initial emotional response to feeling sick, overwhelmed, and isolated was normal, and I was fairly sure that things would improve. We didn't expect to feel so confined by not having a vehicle, but there's very little we can walk to from our house, and the air quality does not make walking a pleasant experience--at least not if you're anywhere near a large street. Fortunately there is a dog park next to our building where Julie and Grace can run, and my new air filtering mask works very well. I am even no longer particularly bothered by the smell of frying palm oil, and in fact, recognize it as a sign that I should avoid that restaurant.

Settling in to our new home will have its ups and downs, and I know that cultivating flexibility and living in the present will help us adjust. It's hard to be worried about the future when you're busy absorbing what's going on right now. We still look forward to having our car, but after a couple of taxi rides and getting to know our new friends and neighbors, we no longer feel isolated, just inconvenienced.

 All settled in

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Organic produce!

... beer can chicken, and a whole roasted pig. Just some of the food items you will find at the Legaspi Market in Manila.

I was so happy to find fresh, good quality fruits and vegetables. I still haven't bought any raw meat.

A big bag of organic produce for only $18! I bought some oranges with lime colored skin--they smell like oranges but I haven't tried one yet. I sampled some lychee but saved that for another day.

I had to buy a big woven basket (not one of these but similar) to carry my loot. The market also sells art, gifts, clothing, and used books. Read it Again could open a Philippine branch!

 Lechon - a whole roasted baboy (pig).  I don't eat pork, so I don't know if it's good.

Yum! Malagkit (slightly sweet sticky rice) with flavor or filling. I brought home a mango roll.

Fresh honey.

San Miguel beer can chicken!

I meant to buy yogurt, but ended up with milk. It's the best milk I've ever tasted, so I look forward to the yogurt.

Friday, August 6, 2010

First impressions

In the weeks when you are preparing for your first overseas assignment, it’s hard to imagine what it will really be like when you finally arrive. You research what others say about the area, but you also keep yourself open so that you can come into the experience without prejudices.

It’s also important to keep an open mind during your first few weeks, when everything is different and you and your body are adjusting to being in a (non-western) foreign country. For example, I am refraining from making any assessments because I have been sick since our third day here. First a horrible cold, and now some kind of stomach thing. My impression of our med unit is very positive.

Our second day here was great. Our sponsors drove us around the area surrounding our apartment, and we were able to see the incredible contrast that is common in Manila. First we drove around the local community market, which was very much what one might expect to find in a developing country. Then we went to the Mall of Asia, which, with its indoor skating rink, can be compared to the Mall of America. It was a very familiar--and very western--experience. Even in the most expensive areas of town you see evidence of poverty when you see the people who live immediately outside the community's walls.

I eagerly await the arrival of our truck, internet access in our home, and to be healthy again. My first impression of Manila is that it would be easy to surround oneself with things that are familiar--malls, IMAX theater, American grocery store brands (including Florida’s Natural orange juice), but then what would be the point of living on the other side of the planet? It’s comforting to have these things available but ... I look forward to having opportunities to explore.

The dogs arrived healthy, happy, and energetic last Saturday morning. We were so relieved to see them, and I highly recommend KLM as a pet shipper. Grace’s ear continues to heal, and Julie is loving the grassy dog park at the foot of our building.

Healing nicely