Monday, June 29, 2009

Finally Legit. And Locked Out.

I finally got my new ID card for the UP. Bobot picked me up (25 minutes early! breaking my stereotype of the 5-10 minute fudge factor on pickup times) and took me to the Registrar's building, where I sat in front of a purple background and, chaching, there I was in all my glory. I sort of look like a frump in my picture, but since I am a frump--no harm, no foul, I suppose.

Because I had to leave early, it was up to Lizzie to get herself packed up and out the door on her own when the schoolbus arrived. There must be something in the air or water, because the bus--which usually arrives 10 to 15 minutes late--came early. In her rush to get out the door, Lizzie forgot about the key... Or so she texted me a few minutes ago. I don't know the details--whether she locked the key inside the apartment, or took it with her, or just ran out leaving everything unlocked.

Ah. The wonders of communication: I just got a text from Lizzie with the deets. She locked the key in the apartment. Well, that's what the guard is for, I suppose. To let me in when I get back after teaching my classes.

Speaking of the wonders of communication, I'm putting -- or trying to put -- a little film that Lizzie and I made into this post. I don't even recommend watching it. It's just my attempt to test the technology. (Meanwhile, Lizzie's been busily playing with her IMovie program, making all sorts of short films for our viewing pleasure. If this works, we might have to upload one of them...)

AND... It's taking a really long time to load up. Which doesn't make me all that happy. Impatient American: c'est moi.

The film loads up on the editor but then on the website itself I can't find it. (It's just a big white box. Can you see the big white box?) Also, the paragraph breaks in my text disappear.

So I tried loading the film onto Facebook. That took exactly 10 seconds, max. I'm beginning to suspect that Blogger bites the big one.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Couldn't get on the internet this morning when we tried--so this to our family and friends who hoped, perhaps, for one of those morning-here-evening-there phone conversations, sorry. We were thinking about you, though.

Yesterday, Beng took us out in a nice air-conditioned van to the walled city, Intramuros, where we toured the oldest standing church (during a wedding), San Agustin, and the Santiago fort that the Japanese took over in WWII, where they killed quite a few Filipino and American soldiers, and where, at the turn of the 20th century, they imprisoned and executed Jose Rizal, one of the country's heroes (an intellectual and novelist, too).

It was both lovely and spooky to tour the fort, walking in the brassed footsteps that mark out the path they marched Rizal along on the day of his death, looking through the closed windows at the cell where they kept him before sentencing him to death by firing squad. The gardens inside the fort are lush and tended; Beng says that there was a time, about 25 years ago, when it had all grown over with jungle, neglected. "I love these gardens," she said. "I'd love that house, if it were mine," she pointed to Rizal's white Spanish colonial memorial. "That's my ideal house."

The heat and humidity pressed down on us, making our clothes weigh more, our steps heavier. Across the river, a river choked with floating weeds, Manila bustled with life. A cluster of men on a far pier, stripped to their shorts, hooted and jostled with each other. I wondered whether they were thinking of jumping in. Behind us, in the locked dungeons, the ghosts of drowned military men, centuries of them, lay still, waiting for the evening's coolness.

We ended our journey at the bay, watching the sunset. A man with a bucket of fish attracted a cluster of men and boys, crouching by his catch, the usual curiosity lighting their faces. Families sauntered in the heat, looking out over the water. The high rises, the boats on the water: I was reminded of San Diego, summers spent with Grandma Tutu. I tried not to think about the two hungry faced boys who hid by the parking lot, behind the row of blinking, raucous bars, waiting for us to pass by, flush with our good fortune.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

On Again, Off Again

I've been having trouble getting onto the internet for the past 24 hours. Now I'm in Butch's office, and for whatever reason am on. But it took some doing to get here--basically, I had to deal with multiple rejections.

The life of a writer, ese.


I wrote this yesterday and today, and saved it up to paste here. I better do it, now, before I lose this connection:

It's raining--off and on--hard. I turned on the TV as soon as I got up this morning, hoping to figure out whether schools had been canceled again. A ticker tape along the bottom of the screen said something incomprehensible, except for "preschool, elementary, ng high school," signal 1," and "suspendido." So I went downstairs with my laptop to see if I could find an English language news website, or get the guard on duty to translate the ticker tape at the bottom of the screen.
As I turned on my computer, 6:30 AM, it was the changing of the guards. The guard going off said, "No school today, ma'am," answering my question before I even got a chance to ask it (they're looking out for us here). And then I found an English language news site and it was confirmed.

It seems that we were anticipating a typhoon (ignorance is bliss), Typhoon Feria, and our signal 2 alert had been downgraded overnight to signal 1, as the storm blew itself out into a mere tropical depression over Mindoro. Schools, however, are still suspended because of the heavy rains (no doubt because they cause flooding and traffic jams).

Meanwhile, the department of education is asking schools to stop panicking over the H1N1 outbreaks--so far, only one Filipina has died from the virus--and to stop suspending classes. Seems that we need to reserve the suspensions for the weather.

And the apartment complex has passed out extra garbage cans to fill with water, just in case our supply is interrupted. Oh. Yeah. It can get worse. A lot worse.


I prefer the rain, honestly, to the unrelenting moist heat. On Tuesday, I taught my two classes in a sweaty haze. After my first class, my shirt was soaked, and when I got up from my chair I looked down to see a humiliating stripe of sweat, crack-sized, on the black plastic.

It's still wet, of course, and I'll probably arrive for my 1:00 PM class spotted about the shoulders and soaked around the ankles, but I might smell a little fresher than I did yesterday. I wonder how many of the students will be prevented from attending because of the weather?

Now neither Lizzie nor I can get onto the internet down here in the breezeway of the Balay Kalinaw. Very upsetting.

It means that instead of finding my character inventory sheet on my SNC archives via the internet, and a copy of Tobias Wolff's "A Bullet to the Brain," to prepare for Butch's grad fiction workshop tomorrow, I'll have to trudge back up the 63 stairs (4 stories broken into two of flights of 9 steps each) and think about making dinner. Sheesh.

I wonder if the rain's managed to eat through some crucial server connection.

Day 2 of the internet disconnection.

The sun's shining, and the housekeepers busily wipe down the tables and chairs here in the breezeway. I've washed and hung a load of light clothing on the line. The barking dog whines his or her usual complaints behind the apartment complex and roosters share their full throated appreciation for the clear skies.

After the bus comes for Lizzie, at 9:30 today instead of 11:00, maybe I'll wander with my camera past the front gate, down Dogohoy, record a little portion of the world that I've been avoiding. Or maybe, if I'm feeling very brave, I'll see if I can walk down to Katipunan Avenue, where the jeepneys and cars and buses rush past in a mad dash.

I guess I'll have to reconstruct that character inventory from memory. Jeepers--real work.
The world goes on, but for Lizzie and me it's just a little smaller, since we can't connect--at least right now--with you.


Back into the present tense:

I tried to walk down Dagohoy, I swear I did. I managed to make it one block. And then I ran into a tight warren of streets, branching off from where I stood, or more like narrow lanes, about two tricycles or three motorcycles wide. Handbuilt shacks of all sizes crowded either side of each lane like broken teeth. People lounged in chairs, smoking, between crazy lines of drying laundry. The force field bulged out at me in wavy lines of invisible, electric heat.

I'm sorry, but I couldn't go a step further. All of my early adolescence, those years spent in Mexico behind iron gates and broken glass and barbed wire, welled up in me and before I knew it I found myself scurrying back to the Kalinaw with my metaphorical tail wrapped up between my legs.

There was no way I could force myself to get to Katipunan (though, to tell the truth, I am less afraid of traffic than of free range human beings). I'll have to leave that for another day.

I wish I could be like Sydney Bristow in Alias, and swagger on through with spy-like aplomb, all wig and leather adventure. Or like Buffy, who wears her flippant Hollywood ignorance like the latest teen fashion. Instead, I'm Adrian Monk's dumber little sister, counting the light poles, wiping my hands on moist towelettes and flapping them dry in the safety of the car.


And here's a moment of intense irony with which to end this rambling entry. I bought an old Mona Simpson novel at one of the used bookstores around here: Anywhere but Here. I started it after finishing Joaquin's The Woman with Two Navels. After half a chapter, I realized that the Bay City Simpson's main character comes from is actually Green Bay--all the names have only been slightly changed (De Pere is De Peer, Algoma is Malgoma, Pulaski is Pulanco, but Ashwaubenon remains Ashwaubenon and Lime Kiln Road is still Lime Kiln Road). So most of the novel's action takes place within walking distance of our house on Reed Street.

I travel half the world to read a novel about my backyard. Typical.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Instead of having school get cancelled for snow, we get school cancelled because of rain. 

Yes this is the second day in a row that school has been cancelled because of rain. Plus, on Friday, we have a half day. Which is odd. So tomorrow if I have school at all it's going to be from like 10:30 to like 3:30. I really don't know. I've missed art. And gym. But I don't mind missing gym. We just stretch most of the time anyway. So I'm not that sad about missing gym. I wonder if I have to make up the missed days at the end of the year like we did in Wisconsin. But I'm making friends at school. They're really friendly at my school. What if school gets cancelled tomorrow? I will die. My mom can't get on the internet in her office so I'd be dead by the time by mom comes back. I would die not being able to read my manga online! Do you know how badly that kills me? You people have no idea how badly that kills me. But I did find this one manga website with english translations so I just reread the series New Moon Wo Sagashite. Yeah. I just finished the series before I came and talked to you people. I'm sorry I haven't blogged a lot. I don't have a lot of stuff to talk about. Its just the same old stuff almost everyday. 

Lizzie >.<

The Other End of the Street

There's a lot of life at the other end of our street, Dagohoy Street. I know because every morning a stream of people wanders past the front doors of the Balay Kalinaw. So what's wrong with me? Why haven't I gone past the Kalinaw gates yet?

It's as if there's an electrified fence past the gates here. Or a portal to an odd, alternate dimension, one that might crush me. Maybe I worry that I'll walk past these gates and cease to exist. That I'll be swallowed up by the life that scurries past me. Perhaps I'm afraid of what I see over the balcony, from the 5th floor, and outside of our bedroom windows--a hidden warren of shacks behind the "legitimate" houses that front the street. Or perhaps I read something into the glances of the people who pass me, something more than casual curiosity (Look, there's one of those big butt Americans, standing on the porch, looking entitled...), something closer to scorn, a caustic dismissal. Perhaps I'm afraid I'll be further erased by it, past the gates where I, marginally, "belong" here.


Lizzie didn't have school today. We didn't find this out until we'd waited for her bus, waited and waited, 20 minutes past the pick up time. I texted the driver: is d bus on d way 4 Lizzie? I got an answer within 2 minutes: No classes 2day we r under signal 2. When we're under signal 2, all preschool, elementary and high school classes are suspended. We have to listen to the radio or watch local TV in order to figure this out (their equivalent of a snow day). Apparently, we're anticipating a typhoon (and after yesterday's pyrotechnics, massive thunder that shook my classroom like marbles in a fist and raised all the hair on my body, lightening bolts that sizzled in the air, I'm not surprised...and I'm not looking forward to having my typhoon cherry popped either). A typhoon didn't arrive, of course, but there was a hard rain this afternoon.

I went to campus before the rain started to hold my office hours. I was tempted to blow them off, of course, and stay home with Lizzie, but good old guilt made me go. No one visited me, of course, but I was able to read a few short stories by N. V. M. Gonzalez in Butch's office. As soon as 3:00 PM rolled around, my cue to leave, it began to pour.

I walked home in the rain, twirling my umbrella (not really, but that sounds good for narrative effect), and then stomped up the interminable flights of stairs to the apartment, which I'd locked--for good measure--behind me.

I'd left Lizzie in the airconditioned bedroom with the headphones, noise cancelling, on, watching something on her laptop. I tried the knob and remembered my brilliant stroke of security, punching in the lock as I left. I knocked. I knocked louder. I put my lips to the door crack and half-yelled, Lizzie! Let me in! I called Lizzie's cell phone. I came downstairs and asked the guard, Boy, to call up to the apartment--maybe the real phone would jangle through the closed bedroom door, the airconditioning, the headphones. No go. I had to wait for Marie, the housekeeper, to trudge up the stairs again with me and open the door.

Turns out that Lizzie's cell phone was, for school, on silent. Not that it would have cut through all the barriers.


Lizzie's been reading a lot of manga online. She burns through the juice in her computer battery in, what, two hours? She's got another battery but that one, too, is dead. "What's the point of having two batteries," she wonders, "if you can't charge one while you're using the other?"

Why can't I seem to get myself to wander farther than this gate post? Why does the thought of getting into a taxi (after a student wrote a fiction writing exercise about a callow young man who takes a taxi and gets shot for his trouble) make me break out into a sweat? Why does the task of getting to Lizzie's school to pay the rest of her tuition seem like an insurmountable obstacle?

These are the questions that obsess us.

Monday, June 22, 2009


I know you're probably dying for an entry by Lizzie. I'm partially following Nana Peterson's emailed advice not to pressure Lizzie into posting, nor to require it. Once it becomes a chore, I suppose the reasoning goes, there will be no incentive to do it.

Honestly, Lizzie's found manga online, so when we come down here to upload or write our posts, she loses herself in that strangely stylized world. That's after she checks her gmail for messages from Meghan and Jaimee, and hunches over her responses to them, smiling enigmatically to herself and flicking me semi-angry glances to the side. "You know it's illegal to read other peoples' emails," she says.

If you're needing a Lizzie fix and there's nothing forthcoming here, I suggest you check out her new Facebook page, under Lizzie Peterson. Since we created it together, she's been taking a plethora of those silly quizzes, including the one that asks you what sort of stereotype you inhabit (I'm the art freak; she turns out to be the loner. "What's up with that?" she fretted. Or maybe it was me fretting. I don't want my daughter to inhabit an evil stereotype before she even reaches high school...) If you're on the up and up, I'll let her friend you. (Perhaps it's naive of me, but I can't imagine anyone that we haven't vetted, at least by proxy, reading this blog right now.)


I asked my Fiction Writing students for advice: what Filipino writers, writing in English, would they recommend for me?

I jotted down their suggestions in my notebook, Cha looking over my shoulder through a beautiful scrim of dark hair to correct my spelling: Christina Pantoja Hidalgo, I wrote, June Cruz Reyes, Eddie Angbarros, Alfred Yuson, Cesar Luis Aquino, Nick Joaquin, Christopher Pike, Jessica Zafra (starred, because mentioned more than once), V. H. M. Gonzalez, Joel Stein, R. J. Ledesma, Diqueros of the Inquirer column. And of course Jose Dalisay, aka Butch.

In Butch's office, I found an old, browning copy of Nick Juaquin's The Woman With Two Navels, and I've been stretched out on the couch here, under the fan, for a few hours now, lost in the semi-surreal world of these post-war Filipinos as they move back and forth in their minds and bodies between the dreamy world of Manila's denial and the prosaic world of Hong Kong's exiles. The novel's style reminds me of the noir flourishes of Raymond Chandler and his Big Sleep, the dark, dripping streets and the twisted, feline femme fatales that haunt the protagonist's waking, midnight hours.

It's been a hot day, in the upper 80s with matching humidity--an "underground weather" website says the heat index is 102--and as I languish on my couch with my feet up on pillows and the fan breathing on me its small mouthfuls of warm breeze I'm touring a Manila that hasn't existed since the 50s, wondering about all the nooks and crannies of the current city that I'll probably never see. Because I'm a frightened American woman. Because I don't have a car or a tour guide. Because, like the Manilan citizens Juaquin describes, I too want to forget or deny the filth in the gutters, the rotting rats and black dust, the little girl squatting to relieve herself on the busy corner, the higgeldy piggeldy tin roofs, held down by old black tires, crammed into the nooks behind this apartment--to forget about my complicity, either through undigested nationality or economic privilege or middle class guilt or plain willful ignorance, in the inequality, in the Hollywood snap-snap glamor dream over the country's contested ground, its body.


The sad truth is that I can hold these sharp self recriminations in my mind along with a nagging sense that my current hair style is square and dowdy, that the dress I'm wearing doesn't flatter my figure. How shallow am I really? Sometimes I wonder why it is that I find it so hard to actually inhabit my life. Instead, I feel I'm playing, badly, a part in a boring drawing room play of manners, the kind of play that Henry James might write, miffed that his audience pelts him with rotten tomatoes at the finish.


Meanwhile, two lone ants dance a kind of Arabesque into and out of the patches of sunlight between shadows cast by the dining table and chairs. Human angst, the petty strivings of human against human, human dreams--none of these enters their insect realm.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


It's been hot and humid for the last 2 or 3 days. I didn't think I'd miss the torrential rains, but at least they cool things off, introduce a new kind of air, trap all the Jeepney smoke and rinse it out of the sky. I put on my only pair of jeans this morning, and a long sleeved shirt, so that when Lizzie and I went downstairs for our Skype date with Dave, Brad, Diane and Melanie, there would be a lot less skin for the mosquitos to sniff out.

That was at 8:30 in the morning. Now it's nearly 5 PM and I feel as if I'm marinating in these clothes, my skin sticking to them in a moist, human way that's deeply uncomfortable and, at the same time, natural.

After our Skype call, I dragged Lizzie with me around the corner to a Protestant church, Church of the Risen Lord, for 10 AM English service. All of my Lutheran childhood came flooding back to me--the somber organ hymns, the Doxology, the reverence for the spirit of church, for the fact of the liturgy, the slightly stiff smiles we gave each other during the passing of the peace, our backs upright, our eyes and lips smiling in the centers of our separate faces. Lizzie slouched down on the hard pew and dug her head into my shoulder. The parishners fanned themselves with their programs, their bamboo fans. A church lizard crawled around the high, arched ceiling. The architrave? Is that what that part of the church is called? A few sparrows flitted in and out of the church's stark bones up there. "The animals are really into church," Lizzie muttered.

After the service, Lizzie and I slipped out into the hot day and walked over to the Chocolate Kiss for what's becoming a habitual Sunday lunch treat. Lizzie convinced me to get the pesto pasta so that she could try it, and got her usual Chix in a Basket. We shared a piece of Devil's food cake. Pretty good, but I'm still a stone fan of the classic chocolate cake--chocolate on chocolate. How can you go wrong with that? Marshmallow icing is all well and good, but chocolate butter cream ... [she shivers with delight]

I'm getting all the gestures down--how to get a table in the restaurant. How to order. How to signal for the check by making a little box in the air with my fingers. How much to tip.

We came home and watched Happy Gilmore in the airconditioned splendor of the bedroom, lying under the stream of cold air. Before we flew out here, we made a pact: when we felt that we were getting a little overwhelmed with our new experiences, we'd say "it's a Happy Gilmore moment," and we'd watch the movie together to take a time out, to reset. On the way over to the Chocolate Kiss, Lizzie wondered if we should watch the movie.

"What, are you feeling Happy Gilmoreish?" I said.

She shrugged. "Maybe a little."

I don't think she or I really understood just how much space, apart from each other, we'd carved out for ourselves in Green Bay. Even in our smallish two story house, there's enough space for 3 people to have separate domains, and interests.

Now I'm in the livingroom under the fan, a wretched show (Make Me a Supermodel) burbling in the background on ETC, an on-air channel here that skims the most tawdry top layer off American culture and shows it, again and again, in waves of repeats. Lizzie's retired to the bedroom and is rewatching Juno--she did ask for permission first, bless her heart.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Old B***h Learns New Tricks

1. Walk on the LEFT side of the road to the office--that's away from the crowds waiting for Jeepneys--preferably in the bike/jogger lane of the street.

2. Smile and nod whenever you don't understand (completely) what someone's saying. Don't be afraid to admit that you didn't understand. You'll get the gist, eventually, as long as you keep whoever it is talking. And gesturing.

3. Ask questions. Ask them again. And again.

4. Walking with purpose conveys a sense of confidence that others will pick up on. Also, that act of confidence will translate into REAL confidence.

5. Pull UP on the bathroom key at school as you turn it.

6. Don't try to get on the internet at school between the hours of 11 AM and 4 PM. You might as well bang your head against the wall.

7. If you need to take money out of BPI bank machines (because, so far, those have worked), and you visit the one on campus for a cash infusion, you will inevitably discover that it is the only one (of 4) that is OUT OF ORDER.

8. Instead of getting frustrated with a plan doesn't work, do something else. Immediately. Trying and retrying the original plan is ridiculous and maddening.

9. Take your own TP, hand towels, and soap or hand sanitizer with you wherever you go.

10. No deodorant works in the tropics. For you, at least. Deal with your smell. (It's natural!)

11. Don't spray sweat-proof OFF on newly shaven legs. Stings!

12. Lizzie hogs all the sheets and blankets. So make sure that you keep your little pink blankie, the new one, all to yourself.

13. Drink lots of water.

14. Ice cream is best eaten out of the carton in front of the TV, perhaps when the Tyra Banks show is on and Lizzie has her dirty feet stretched out in your lap.

15. Life is good all over.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

School Day

I had my first day of school yesterday. My computer ran out of juice before I could blog, so I'm writing about my second day of school.

I rode the bus today, but I was the only person on it. You get on in the back. He dropped me off at the Learning Tree. (My school). And I was one of the first people there. Then some one of the other girls in my class showed up. I wasn't very clueless anymore. I just stayed by the people in my class and the other sixth graders.

We Social Studies first. We discussed Latitude and Longitude. I have to finish questions 1-6.

Next, we had math. We had a quiz and I guess I did pretty well.

We had Science and I finally had a class with Sir Ryan (Teacher Ryan. We just call him sir). We learned about inertia and reviewed the scientific method.

We had break. Like lunch.

We had Philipino. I had to find a patriotic american poem. I need a translator because they only talk in Philipino.

English was next. English as in Language Arts, not the language often spoken in America. We made conversations using the four sentence types, exclamatory, interrogative, declarative, and imperative. We had to think of 4 different conversations with at least 4 sentences. One sentence for each type.

Break. Again. We get 2 15 minute breaks.

Art. Fun. We're doing perspective/depth drawings. We need 2 ideas. So we can cover the wall by when you turn to go upstairs.

Then I went home. The bus was in a perdicament so the owner of the bus thingy took me home and told me that the bus was in a perdicament.

I had a fun second day.

I'll write later. Blog ta y'all soon.

Lizzie =0

This Just In

I am finally able, again, to connect to the internet in my (Butch's) office. Perhaps it's not a good idea, though, because it's distracting (today I managed to retype--at least that's what it feels like--an essay on American literature between the two world wars) and when I do, something weird inevitably happens. Like this time, I tried to connect with Zimbra (our SNC mail) and nothing really loaded right.

So I came here, to blogspot, and I was told that I couldn't log on (though I could read your comments, heh heh) because I hadn't enabled cookies or javascript. Oh, I beg to differ, internet-helpful-irritating-keep-me-out voice. I have SO enabled these things. So I tried again and, bing, here I am.

I know that I had something vitally important to write here, something ironic that would show me in the palest of all international lights, something self-revealing and embarrassing (my favorite tidbit: concrete self humiliation), but it seems to have vanished along with my sense of time. It's nearly 4 PM. I've been here in the office, tapping away at the rewrite of the essay ("notes" for tomorrow's American lit survey) since before noon. Lizzie will arrive on her schoolbus sometime around or shortly after 6 PM. (Today, Carlito picked her up at 11:05, interrupting an impromptu chat with the Jehovah's Witnesses that lurk around the Balay Kalinaw, just waiting for open faced Americans to hear the good news that this H1N1 virus was foretold in the Bible.)

I should be heading home now and thinking about what to make for dinner. Yes, the ever present dilemma--what to make for dinner. Lizzie's now suffering the same malady as I am (family friendly term? Dysentery.) So we have to eat something somewhat bland. Cynch gave us two heads of organic lettuce and I'm afraid to soak them and eat them. I've come to see all green leafy raw things as demons. But then the Puritan in me feels wiggish about throwing two heads of perfectly good greenery away (and then lying to Cynch about how delicious it was...)

Lizzie and I are watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 2, and it's so much fun to watch her navigate the plots and characters for the first time. I can tell that she really likes Xander's character (though she won't admit it out loud when there are parents in the vicinity) and now she waits with feverish intensity for Buffy to kick the butts of the boys who challenge her ability to do anything because she's just a "girl." In the dark bedroom, I can see that predatory gleam in her eyes.

Last night, we watched the episode where we discover that Oz is a werewolf (sorry, for those of you who aren't Buffy fans, this is going to be a lame diversion...). One of the bit characters is a loud, obnoxious jock who's sporting a "wild dog bite" that required 39 stitches and a bad attitude about women--he treats every girl in the school as an object of sexual derision. A scene opens in the gym, and the teacher tells everyone that they'll learn "simple self defense techniques."

"Oh, Buffy doesn't need any help with that," Lizzie commented. And then Buffy was paired up for the exercise with the annoying jock. "Ohhh," Lizzie said. "She's going to kick his butt."

Willow, Buffy's BFF, took that opportunity to remind Buffy, "Hey, don't go mental here. You're supposed to be a cute, weak girly-girl, remember. So play the part."

Buffy no doubt voiced what Lizzie was thinking: "Aw. Way to spoil my fun." And then she flipped out a cute slayer-pout.

When the jock made an outrageous remark and cupped Buffy's bottom, Lizzie got her wish. Buffy flipped him over her head and across a set of mats, where he landed, hard, and shocked.

I do believe that Lizzie clapped.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

First Day Down

Put Lizzie on the schoolbus at 11:15. Not all that confidence building because we expected the bus to arrive at 11:00. And then it was pretty clear that the driver didn't really understand what I was asking, about where Lizzie should wait to be picked up after school, and what time that would happen, and so forth. Plus, the contract I signed said that I needed to pony up one month's fees (P1500.00) plus one month deposit, and all I had on me was one month's fee... And there was no way that I could run up 5 flights of stairs to the apartment to get the other month. I tried to ask the driver what I should do and he pantomimed putting the money into the envelope and passing it over to him, so that's what I did.

To add icing (a strange metaphor for this) to the first day cake, I've got the travel trots in earnest. Which means that every hour or so, I feel the CR (comfort room) calling my name. I've got my own roll of toilet paper, and a key to the faculty and staff only restroom, but the last time I was in there I took notice of the sign on the pot: Wiwi only.

And it's raining again. Hard.

Oh, and the network on campus seems to be out. In any case, I can't connect to it.

I think I'll just resign myself to using the internet at home.


Met my first class, Fiction Writing 2. We meet in a noisy 3rd floor classroom--I put us into a circle after the introductions and I think I'll have to make the circle a lot tighter if I'm going to be able to hear anything. All the windows have to be open (because of the heat) and the sound from outside--people chattering, rain, someone jackhammering in another building--rises up to confound me. The class meets from 1-2:30, but the students informed me that we have to allow a 15 minute grace period from the start of the class, what we'd call "passing time." So we really didn't get started until 1:15. I'll just factor in some social time at the start of every meeting--that's fun in Fiction Writing, anyway.

In about 15 minutes, I'll go meet my American Literature survey. I'm back in the office (didn't want to hang around the classroom building looking like a dweeb) with the airconditioning, the jackhammer and the humming aircon an interesting background music. I still can't connect to the internet. And what would I do on it in 10 minutes, even if I could?

Thinking about Lizzie, hoping she's having a good day.


My second class, American Literature Survey 2, was packed: 25 students staring forward. The classroom was just a smidgeon quieter than the fiction classroom (must be its placement--a little further away from the madding crowd), and I found myself trying to stir up the usual chatter. It's hard to do with a larger class, but at the end, after I'd asked them if they had any questions for me about the course assignments or design (and determined that their background in American literature is pretty sketchy at the moment), I said, "Well, since you don't have questions for me right now, I'm going to ask you all questions."

I asked them what they did for fun--and when they didn't answer right away, I started listing off options and they said yes or no: dancing, eating, video gaming, parties, drinking... Their first real answer was "chatting"--which sounds like fun. They claim that they don't drink until they pass out.

"No," said Isabelle, a poetry professor. "They can really hold their liquor here. So they won't be drinking until they pass out."

Ah. Clarification.


When Lizzie got off the bus, smiling, I felt all of my insides lift off. I swear, I floated a little off the ground.

I hope she shares some of her stories (so I can hear them too).

Monday, June 15, 2009

Night Before School

We've gotten Lizzie's school taken care of, including a bus service to and from the apartment. The bus service was a bit dicey, because the line that the school uses primarily doesn't go where we live. But Beng, superwoman that she is, called another number given to her by the school as a good bet, and now a Mr. Carlito Padilla will pick up Lizzie at 11:00 AM and bring her home after her classes are over at 5:30 PM. Praise Jesus!

We've paid part of the tuition (I owe P28,500 more, which I will have to take out in P10,000 installments from bank machines over the next weeks and deliver to the school), and bought some of the books. We also found out that on Fridays Lizzie's expected to "dress up," so we got two dressier outfits and a nice pair of shoes (that cover her toes). We've also invested in the usual mountain of school supplies, everything from 10 notebooks to a stapler and staples.

In the process of doing all this, I managed to put my credit card into the banking machine, oh my, and was told "incorrect PIN." Yeah. After the moment that my stomach plunged into my feet and then rebounded (when I thought that for sure my bank card had stopped working suddenly and I was back to square one, a place I hate to be), I was okay. I sucked my hair back into my scalp, put the debit card in, and was good to go.

Some of you are no doubt thinking: this will come back to bite you in the rear. And of course it did.

After we got home and unloaded, I decided to get some of my cardio exercise today by walking down to the office, picking up my class lists for tomorrow, and dropping off my syllabi. I turned on the wireless in Butch's office and fired up the laptop, eager to check my emails.

There was an email from Bank of America--suspicious activity on my card. Click on this link or call this toll-free number at once. So I clicked on the link. It wanted my card number. Could that be kosher? I got out of there. Tried to log onto my Bank of America accoutn to deal with the problem there. "This account may not be serviced online at this time." Mount Shasta! I fired up Skype and called the international number on the back of my credit card.

I got a really terrible connection, disjointed, as if someone somewhere were flapping the airwaves and disturbing the sound. Someone answered and then Skype hung up on me. I called back. This time I got a real human being right away--and after asking me for all the information regarding my account, including my number, the last four digits of my SS number, and my favorite TV shows (exaggeration, but that's what it feels like), in a fractured wavy way she asked me to hold.

Fifteen minutes later (Skype so helpfully counts them for you, as it subtracts it from your balance), I was connected again to a real human being. I could hardly hear her, but I clung to the sound of her voice the way a drowning woman in the ocean might cling to the last oar from the sunken lifeboat. After asking me another battery of questions, including the last place where I used my card, she said that she'd "reset" my card and I was good to go. I was asking her to send me a PIN number for the credit card--to my home address in WI--when, shazam, she faded out.

And then I couldn't connect to the internet at all. I kept getting the message that I had "low or no connectivity" and no matter how many times I reconnected, I got the same message. The fixer-thingee told me that the network wasn't giving me an IP address. Ew.

So I packed everything up and wandered out to the English office, thinking maybe this failure to connect was universal--to allay my paranoia, mostly. And, indeed, the women in the office were milling about with vacant, confused looks on their faces, and their computers were showing blank screens, so I told myself to stop spinning like a top and settle down.

In the meantime, I met a young man who's beginning his first semester of teaching at the University--4 sections of composition, at 28-30 students a pop! Holy macaroni, Batman! I guess I've got it cuuuuushhhhy. Of course, after talking to him for about 10 minutes in animated fashion, I only remember his given name (Francis) and not his nickname. Errrrr. And that he's a Jr. and doesn't like it. And that he wants to go to Brown University to study American culture. "The students at Brown are apparently the happiest in the nation," he said.

"Is this the first time you'll be teaching Filipino students?" he wondered.

"Yes," I said.

The look on his face was kind but mildly apprehensive.

"I've taught some diverse students at the University of Arizona," I said, reassuring myself more than anyone else.

"Well, this is a rather homogenous bunch here," he said, despite his claim earlier that he likes teaching at the UP because it's more diverse. "You've got the whole swath of the Philippines at this university," he said. (He's a graduate of Ateneo, the Catholic university across the street where Cynch's husband teaches Economics.)

"I'll probably be the biggest curiosity, then," I said.

"You'll be the 'other,'" he laughed.

I just wish this 'other' could remember his nickname. It's Ag-something. Two syllables. Ugh.

I just checked with Bank of America online (paranoid) and it does seem that I can access my account again. Phew.

Now off to watch two more episodes of Buffy.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Undies Quiz

Not Cool

I was sitting at the dining table, working on a Sudoku, this afternoon, and I felt the tickle of a fly on my back. I swatted at it and, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a look at it as it hit the wall: it wasn't a fly, but a little fat-bodied spider. Jumping spiders in the apartment! SO not cool.

We went grocery shopping with Cynch and Boyet (her husband) this morning, at a Chinese store. "It doesn't have the atmosphere of Rustan's," Cynch explained, as Boyet navigated the Sunday morning traffic. "But the prices are cheaper." And they do take credit cards, but it's a Byzantine process; you take your cart through the check out, and then show the cashier your credit card. She rings up a tape, and scribbles on the back, then the bagger runs the card over to another desk where 4 to 5 women in store uniforms work the credit card machines. They run your card and print up two receipts, you sign them, and then the bagger wheels your groceries (on a special cart) out to the parking area for you.

Our fridge is packed now.

Tomorrow morning, early, Beng is picking us up so that we can go to The Learning Tree's business office and seal the cultural exchange deal for Lizzie. On Tuesday, I start to teach. Cross your fingers and toes that all of this finagling goes smoothly.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Taste of Freedom...

Everyone at my school has had like 3 hours of freedom, while I hardly get any at all.

I don't get any school freedom. Once I come back from the Philippines and, BOOM! I'm right back in school. No break. Ok I guess I had like 3 weeks of a break but all my friends get like 3 months! 3 MONTHS! I get 3 WEEKS! But I'm not going to get graded so that takes off some pressure. And these are my kind of people. They dress like me and stuff. I have a feeling I'm going to like it there. 

Good Day, Sobering Day

Cynch took us to the Ayala Museum in Makati City (which is the central financial district--kind of like Wall Street, but with high rise condos and hotels and, yes, more malls). We looked at an exhibition of paintings by a Filipino artist who has lived in San Miguel de Allende, in Mexico, since the 50s. He's a cubist, of sorts, who paints cockfights and festivals and women with children. His work reminded me more of my time in Mexico than my experiences here so far.

Then we saw an exhibition of Pre-Hispanic gold artifacts (death masks, ceremonial belts, earrings, bracelets), and another of ceramics from 14th and 15th century trading with China. After a delicious lunch--with a crunchy small fish surprise (dili) sprinkled on top of my spicy noodles--at the Museum Cafe, we tackled the dioramas depicting the history of the Philippines from 60,000 BC to the present.

We finished the day off with a trip to Haagen Dazs for more ice cream (Cynch says that she doesn't allow herself ice cream very often; we're her impulse/alibi), and a wander through the Greenbelt mall that houses the Ayala Museum, past Prada, Bvlgari, Jimmy Choo, and other glittering, over-the-moon shops, to a bank machine where, to my stunned surprise, my Associated card worked. Yes, dear friends, I am again completely embodied, able to access my funds. I don't have to be an overseas remittance wife, dependent on my rich, working husband.

It's sunny, the weather's not too hot, it's a holiday (Independence Day), and the only significant damper to our peace is the fact that one of Cynch's good friends, suffering from leukemia, passed away this morning at 10:30 AM, probably while we were looking for parking. The woman's distraught widower wants Cynch to organize the necros (like wakes, I gather) for the woman's UP friends and for her friends in the scientific-governmental community, two different cohorts--for tomorrow and Sunday.

So in the midst of Cynch's shock and grief, she has to organize two major events. Pretty stressful, and sobering: to think that so much life goes on, while one quietly winks out.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bank Woes, Part II

Well, after repeated assurances from Associated Bank that our card will work in ATMs here, there's still no cash action on this end. I think it's because Associated doesn't play well internationally. On the front of our check card, we've got a Mastercard symbol, which makes it seem as if we'll have no trouble using the card worldwide. Looks are deceiving, of course. On the back of the card, we've got symbols for the Pulse and Star networks. Here, all I can see are machines on the Cirrus and Plus networks.

Belle, the super-helpful admin assistant, called up a bunch of banks for me today and discovered that the Plus sign/network is pretty darn important viz a viz using a card internationally.

Of course, my credit card DOES have the Cirrus symbol on its back, and I've had absolutely no trouble using the card all over the malls we've been exploring, and in the nice supermarket we've checked out. I suppose that I could just get cash advances on the credit card, in a pinch, and pay them off toot sweet. It might make more sense, though, to see if Butch would hook us up again. (Jeez, it feels like I'm 20 something again, and can't drive. Wait. I really can't drive here.)

Looks like we'll have to start working on Plan B: opening an account here, and wire transferring funds to it. We'll be like those poor Filipinos left here who get remittances from their away-working family members in Saudi Arabia, Japan, and the US.

In the meantime, if any of you are planning to travel abroad, you should probably check out the networks on the back of your bank card (if you're planning to use that method of cash access) before you go. Look for that all important Plus sign.

Also, I think there's a direct correlation, at least with my body, between cash stress (perhaps it's the idea that if you can't access your considerable funds, you're less than a person, as if you've been partially beamed to your current planet) and body stress. As soon as my card didn't work, my guts began to boil and my rear end tightened into a walnut fist. The only (semi) positive side effect is that while Lizzie was up for a 10 AM ice cream cone snack, I couldn't face it.

Yes, believe it or not: bank card failure equals ice cream anorexia for Laurie Mac.


At 7 PM, or so, I had no trouble downing a Belgium Chocolate Chocolate Hagen Dazs ice cream. Delicious! (We were at yet another mall, this one about 5 stories, with Cynch and her husband. We watched a free French film, Home, an eco-didactic film which made us feel guilty for our rampant first-world consumerism, but didn't prevent us from having dinner out and ice cream to follow.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Good News

The owner of The Learning Tree has approved Lizzie's cultural exchange. Now we have to get to the business office and talk about fees. And set up a school bus.

I know I can do this. I can.

Missin' some people

Right now I'm taking this opportunity to use my blog for telling people I miss em.

Jaimee!! Miss you so so so so so so much! It really kills me how much I miss you.

Bre!! My math buddy!

Griffin!! I really hope you're reading this! Miss you lots!

Papa-san!! I miss you lots and lots. Can't wait for our next video chat!

Rainy, Ishy, and Willow!! I know that you can't read. I still miss all of you!!

Sunday Dinner Crowd!! Eating on Sunday isn't the same!!! Its too quiet.

And all the rest of my friends!! Its sunny while all of you sleep!!

Titles are getting hard

First of all its not Shoe Maker, its Shoe Mart.

Guess what world, I can't think of any good titles anymore.

yeah. I really don't have anything to talk about right now so......

Lizzie :-?

Monday, June 8, 2009


The courtyard at our apartment complex.

Here's the "smoking area," complete with ginger tomcat. (I can't say for sure that this is a male cat. But he looks like one, doesn't he?)

Here's our house lizard. I asked Beng what kind of lizards these are and she said, "House lizard." Okay.

Sweet candle for the house ghost.

Lizzie at the Chocolate Kiss, a neat cafe near our apartment.

Hooking Up

Yesterday, Monday, we went with Beng to a little Montessori based school close to the University, The Learning Tree. We met with the principal there and talked about the possibility of Lizzie being a cultural exchange student. That means that she won't be graded or officially enrolled. Rather, she'll participate in the classes and will be expected to talk to her classmates about life in the States. If this exchange works out (the principal has to consult with the board before making such a decision), Lizzie will be in a 6th grade class that meets every day from 12-5:30 PM.

She's really interested in the school, which is small and intimate. No one there wears uniforms -- "We believe that every child is unique and able to express her identity," the principal said. There is a dress code--no flip flops and no short shorts. We toured the small school, nestled in a neighborhood adjacent to the University, 4 small floors with classrooms named after trees. Outside in the playground area, a few 5th and 6th graders congregated, early arrivals. They were dressed like Lizzie, and seemed quite interested in her, smiling at her and acting middle school cool. So cross your fingers and toes, everyone, that things work out with this school and its board, and she gets to participate.


I'm in my "computer space" (office) with my office mate. I've got name amnesia, sad to say, and I've already forgotten her name. I'll have to ask it again, interrupting her reading, so that I don't forget it: Mikey. That's a cool name, if you ask me. I need a cool nickname. Lauriemac or lmac is just blah.

The guy was supposed to be here by 10 am and it's now 10:10. I wonder if he's going to come in the next hour. And if he doesn't, what should I do?

I walked down here alone. Lizzie's back in the apartment lolling on the couch, watching ETC TV (when I left, they were winding down on an episode of How I Met Your Mother and gearing up for High School Reunion.)

Last Thursday, we gave the housekeeper, Mari, a bag of laundry to do. She washed it for us (by hand) and delivered it to us yesterday, charging 250.00 pesos (the equivalent of $5.00). In hindsight, I'm not so sure how I feel about someone else washing our undies, so I did a load of them in the sink this morning and hung them up to dry on our little clothesline patio. Lizzie's wigged out about other people being able to see our undies drying on the line (if someone were in the apartment next to us and were to go out onto their balcony, they'd see a nice line of undies and bras drying in the sunshine), so I hung a screen towel up in front of them. This is the second day of sunshine in a row, so everyone tells us to take advantage of it to dry laundry.

Last night, Cynch (who was the exchange professor at SNC last semester) appeared with her car and took us to ANOTHER mall, across the street from the mall we tried on Sunday. (The mall we visited on Sunday is the SM, or Shoe Maker -- hee, personal associations of excellence -- mall, and the mall we visited last night is the Trinoma mall.) We went out for an early supper at an Italian restaurant and then walked around the mall, checking things out--two different bookstores! Delicious.

I managed to get myself some free weights so that I can work out in the apartment in the morning, like I'm used to doing at home, and today I tried a modified routine. (I think I need further modifications, though. I'm used to using an exercise ball, and I didn't think to look for one of those last night. I want to keep things simple.)

Afterwards, we went to see Night at the Museum II, in a massive theater (3x the size of any theater left standing in the US), nicely airconditioned, with cushy, slightly rocking seats--assigned seats, even! Clearly, this is a movie culture.

Update on the computer guy: he arrived minutes after I wrote that, and we discovered together that the LAN input on my Dell isn't working right. That's correct: the slut computer is not open for UP ethernet interface. Hm.

While we were trying to figure out where the problem resides, we ran into Butch in the hallway. He said, again, that I could use his office--his second office, the one he's never using--and that inside it there's wireless. Wireless! Whee! And the wireless, ladies and gentlemen, WORKS.

So here I am, tapping away at this entry, in an office off the busy UP hallway. And I will upload it from the office, where the mosquitos can't get me. Feels decadent.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Cooling off some steam

My computer isn't being nice. I guess it doesn't value its cybernetic life. 

Right now, I really want to punch someone in the face. I don't know why, but when I try to watch one of my shows, it won't play. I've tried HiddenAnime and Youtube. Neither work. I don't know what's wrong. I tried to guess the episode number on HiddenAnime, but it kept faltering. Like it'd go good for about a second or two but then it'd stop then start again. I guess I just have to try again tomorrow. But the good news is that I can finally log on to blogspot. (I couldn't before and that really ticked me off. Like majorly too. The site would just redirect me. But I can now!) Still, if it doesn't work by the time I'm done and I try again I will seriously think about exiling my computer. Then if in like 2 days if it doesn't work I will seriously think about killing it. This is how badly I want to watch this episode of my show! I'm not satisfied reading the overview and recap on! I really want to watch this 'sode. You're probably wondering what show I'm talking about. I'm talking about Inuyasha. I read that Inuyasha cries in that 'sode and he's like really tough and I need to watch this or my head will EXPLODE!! I'm serious it will. But I guess I should try again! Shalom to you my friend!

Zi >:-O

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Swine Flu Carriers

Because there are now 3 confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus in Manila, and at least two of them originated at La Salle University from students who traveled to (drum roll) the U. S., the Department of Health has suspended the start of classes for a week. We were supposed to start on Tuesday, that is, and now we'll be starting Tuesday next.

At first, it seemed like I would have to "self quarantine" myself for a week -- not meet my classes -- according to a bunch of texts forwarded to my new cell by the various branches of supervision that keep a loose eye on me. But now it's clear that we're all going to get an extended holiday.

This current excitement and fear makes me revisit a few scenes from earlier in the week. One day, Lizzie and I waited on the front porch of the apartment complex for our ride. The guard and her friends laughed with each other on the other side, casting sidelong glances our way. "Blahdiblahdiblah," they said, "blahdi blah H1N1 virus blahdi." And then they all smirked and giggled, casting sidelong glances in our direction. Now I understand it all: Look at those Typhoid Marys, they were saying, two little nuclear reactors of contagion. They were probably daring each other to stand in the same air space as us.

Those of you who've lived abroad know the feeling of being the "other" -- it's not a feeling that most Americans experience. Most of us live small, insular lives, seeing only a tiny radius around ourselves, assuming our world to be the center of all that is "normal." It's this insularity, which often breeds a sense of entitlement, superiority and (oddly enough) insecurity, that gives us the "ugly American" reputation. It feels tender and raw to be the "other," an object of scrutiny, curiosity, the butt of incomprehensible (inside) jokes, the source of contagion, someone to be feared. It's a valuable perspective, though, one that we should all live for a while.


It rained all day yesterday, Saturday, and Lizzie and I got to go to one of the malls near the University. It was the biggest mall I've ever been to, honestly. Lizzie and I only explored one of the 4 floors, and halfway, because we were a little afraid to lose our bearings and get lost. The good news is that my credit card works like a charm (unlike my debit card, which is still being a pooper), and retail therapy kicks the dregs of jet lag. Lizzie got some new jeans (we've discovered that this is a jeans culture--all the cool girls are wearing skinny jeans and Tshirts--and Lizzie's kicking me for making her pack skirts and capris) and I got a nonstick frying pan to make pancakes that don't burn and stick. We also got a strawberry lemonade candle to burn away the ghost, a thin fleecy blanket for my side of the bed, two DVDs that we found out we couldn't play on Lizzie's Mac (never fear, however, because my slutty Dell came to the rescue), some flip flops to wear ONLY when we're inside (house slippahs), and various other treats. We also, I'm ashamed to admit, ate lunch at a Burger King.

I've decided, after yesterday, to stop stressing/obsessing about the debit card problems. Since the credit card works, we can limit our expenditures (on groceries and such) to our trips to the mall and the local shopping center. If we need cash, we can get Dave to wire us some. And we can learn to live more leanly. It will be good for both of us.


I was typing this and a lizard scooted out from under the fridge, saw me, and evaporated back again. Too fast for me to get a picture.

I don't know what to call this thing

Hello, I am stuck.

Yes, Lizzie has writer's block. Right now she's not sure what to write. So Lizzie's writing this. Yeah. Right now Lizzie's watching Ben 10 in english 'cause she doesn't want to watch the Daily 10. She's thinking about how she misses all her friends and family. So Lizzie has some pictures to show the world. The world gets to see her dog and cats. Lizzie thinks they're really cute so the world needs to see them. Lizzie says to enjoy!

I got some inside shoes. They're in the picture below. Which one's you ask? They're the one's on the left. I got them at the SM north mall which is probably the biggest mall I've ever been in. It's like huge! You could get lost in there. I also got a pair of jeans. Skinny jeans are really popular here and I tried on the kind that are really tight around the ankle but I could hardly get it over my heel. So I didn't get those.Right now, well not really right now but everyday, I really miss all my friends. Especially my bestest friend in the whole wide world, Jaimee. Jaimee and I have been friends for 9 years now and you can see why I really miss her. Oh and this one night my dad was driving Jaimee home and I came along 'cause she's my friend, anyway, I brought my camera and we were being goofy. Jaimee had brought her stuffed doggy over and I said, "I wanna take a picture with you and your doggy." We were in the back of my dad's truck. (We weren't in the bed of the truck. That's illegal). Since it was nighttime, you couldn't see anything back there. So Jaimee would tell me when she was ready and then I'd take the picture. We got a bunch of awesome pictures and I would show you people one of the pictures but I'm going to be nice and I'm going to ask before I put her picture on!

Naturally, I would also miss my animals too. So here are some pictures of my animals:
Willow in her puppyhood. She wouldn't sit still for the camera

Rainy peacefully sleeping. Shhh.

Ishy in all his cuteness. Awwww.

One more thing:

See Ya'll

Lizzie c",)

Friday, June 5, 2009

My Assignment

for Linda

She asks me to find something beautiful
in this ongoing distress

and so I will tell her, and you, my friends,
that life on the other side of the world from you

springs, lush and green, wet dragon breath,
up from every crack in the muddy walks--

it climbs trees, it smokes out of shiny leaves
in fire orange flowers that shiver

like a horse's haunch, it scatters the flooded sidewalks
with trampled kisses.

Last night, Lizzie and I shared the bed,
stretched out under the churning "air con"

while wind howled rain against our windows.
Snug together, we cherished our closeness,

this haven high over the hooting, barking, cockadoodling city,
and listened in the dark to David Sedaris

burble on about roosters--what they say
in different cultures, how he uses that question

to break the ice in a new country, asking his cab drivers
to enlighten him,

("I will have to ask the guards,
tomorrow," I said, "what the roosters say here"),

his voice filling our room with
another familiarity, a gossamer thread to that

other life, the old life we've put off for a while,
sharing another expat's wonder at the world's

absolute wideness.
We're dizzy.

There are days when we lose track
of who we are and where we're going,

walking in circles,
rained upon, our umbrellas

snatched inside out, exploded,
by sudden, laughing winds.

Every day, our brains crack open
like this

and the massive world jumps
inside us, takes us

over--how can we help but be
stunned? It's monumental, this

universal racket, this screaming wide
connection, this birth and rebirth.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Ghost Management

We can't get to our money: that's the latest crisis.

I followed all the rules, of course. Went to Associated way back in March or April and told them I'd be spending these 5 months in the Philippines and to please put a note on it. But NO. As soon as I tried to use the card at a cash machine I was denied. Then Dave got an ALERT message that there was "suspicious activity" on my card.

He thought he'd taken care of the snafu. Not so much, it turns out. Still can't get at the funds. So here I am, halfway around the world, and I can't get at my money. It makes me more than a little frantic. The anxiety ghosts plague me all night, waking me up every two hours and chewing at my brain.

On the lighter side, I came down here to the breezeway to email Dave this morning and -- wah la! -- he was on Skype and we were able to have an impromptu chat. Then I ran upstairs to get Lizzie and the videocam and we got to see Dave and the cats and the dog. Tremendous.

At the same time, however, Lizzie got chewed by mosquitoes. Her legs are covered in bites, big mean super swollen bites.

I'm trying REAL HARD not to be the irritating American, all caught up in her rules and her need to keep schedules, to get things done yesterday. But it's very difficult to navigate this new culture, where people still do things the old fashioned way (by hand, cash and carry, and all of this after lunch). At least Lizzie and I now have cellphones, so we can text our new friends when we need help--with some assurance of a quick reply.

We're hitting major roadblocks not only with the money situation but also with Lizzie's potential school. They want us to have Franklin Middle School fax and send (via snail air mail) their required recommendation form, even though when I emailed them about this possibility back in March they said to get a letter of recommendation from her teacher... Not good enough. It took 3 weeks for a letter of invitation from the U of P to arrive for me, a slim airmail letter that weighed less than a gnat. Also, we need a "certified" health record for her. Lizzie can't take the test until we take care of all of these roadblocks.

Further, the semester starts on June 11 and they don't want us setting foot in their offices until we've passed a "voluntary" 10 day quarantine, because we're coming from a Swine Flu swamp. (There are 7 confirmed cases in Manila. 7. They'd die if they knew we had at least 3 confirmed cases on the SNC campus alone.) So all of this information passing happened because Chingbee was our emmissary, passing from the breezeway where we waited into the office and back again, at least 3 times.

I'm starting to think it might be a good idea to get Lizzie into tutoring or something instead of this. Butch (or maybe it was Chingbee) said that people here are quite reluctant to say no. They'll say everything but no. I wonder if Lizzie just can't get into the school, for whatever reason, and they just don't want to say no. Or if it's the same mountain of paperwork for anyone who wants to get into a private school--probably the latter. Just harder to do that when you're halfway around the world.

Yesterday we went to a massive mall to buy our cellphones, and Butch was a godsend because he fronted us the cash to pay for them--and to survive for a few more weeks without access to all our American wealth. He and his wife, Beng, took us out for lunch at a great Asian restaurant, and we've got leftovers to tide Lizzie and me over for a dinner or two.

Then they took us to the equivalent of WalMart and we bought a bunch of things for the apartment: a toaster, a special thingee that you put into a pail of water to heat it instantly (or in a matter of minutes) so that you can take a filipino style bath/shower--sitting on the floor and dumping the water over your head and body. It works! Plus scissors, and a paring knife, and a strainer, and a laundry basket... Butch lent us a transformer so that Lizzie can charge her DS and Beng talked to Lizzie about how to manage our sad ghost. (We need to let as much light in as possible, keep the windows open, use yellow flowers and nice smelling incense, and walk through the rooms disseminating happy thoughts. We also need to put a clear glass of water with salt in it in a corner or two, wait a few days, and then flush that water down the toilet.)

We capped off the day with a trip to Beng and Butch's house for ice cream and cookies. It was a wonderful way to avoid thinking about all the things I can't control--I can't thank the two of them enough for helping us out.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tiny Little Freakouts

In the building next door, someone has been yelling enthusiastically all day--it sounds like one of those motivational speakers.

While I was putting little slips of paper into my Norton anthology, before I take it (tomorrow) to a copy center, I heard someone singing, in a strange, loud, high pitched (male) and tuneless voice, "Night Fever" by the Bee Gees.

Lizzie's still crashed out on the couch. I wonder if I'm going to be able to wake her long enough to get her into her bed.

My hands and feet and ankles are swelling up in the heat.

I'm afraid to ride in the Jeepneys.

I'm afraid that I don't have the adventure gene in me. There were moments today when I fantasized shutting us up into the apartment and never leaving it. Too bad it's too hot in here for that.

A woman at the Office for Student Affairs is filing the paperwork for my visa. She has our passports right now. That makes me break out into a hot sweat when I think about it. And she'll have them for a month, she says. I'm supposed to call her if I need them, "because I'm hardly ever in the office," she says. What?

People here call me "mam." I look around for the old lady before I realize I'm standing in her shoes.

People here say "uh uh" to mean yes. It was particularly disconcerting when the visa lady kept saying it, after I asked her to clarify the procedure for the nth time.

My fiction writing class doesn't have any students in it at the moment.

My American lit class turns out to be for freshmen. And it's nearly full.

I feel like slipping down the same rabbit hole as Lizzie.


Pardon me while I have a little nervous breakdown.

Last night, Lizzie went to sleep at 4 PM. I went down at 8 PM. Then I was up at 11:00, 1:00, 3:00, and finally for good at 5:00. Each time, my stomach roiled, the roots of my hair froze in my skull, and it felt as if my skin was lifting off a little. God, I thought, what if I've made a horrible mistake for us?

Today, I thought I'd tackle some of my worries. I'm worried about getting Lizzie into this school. So I tried calling the school. Turns out I have to tell the man at the front desk downstairs to call the number for me. Then he calls me and transfers the phone. A woman I could barely hear said a bunch of stuff I couldn't understand. I tried to explain to her that I'd emailed her a few months ago about getting Lizzie into the school. When was that? she wondered. I told her I thought it was in May. Or April. Probably March, I'm thinking. She couldn't find the email. Didn't remember me from Eve. Okay. Could we come by in person, now that we're in town? She was still looking for the email--at least, I think that's what she was doing.

She transferred me to "admissions." A phone rang and rang and rang. Finally, I hung up.

Zero for one.

Then the Chair of the English and Comparative Literature department, Naida, called me to say that it looks as if no one is signing up for the Fiction Writing course. So can I teach another course on Fiction?

"A reading course or a writing course?" I asked.

"A reading course."

Okay. Time to reinvent the wheel. At the last minute. When I don't have any of my books around me. "Sure," I said. "I can do that. I was going to stop by and see you today. I was just leaving."

"I'll be here all day," she said. "But it's lunch from 12-1, so don't come until after 1:00." It was 11:30.

Zero for two.

Now it's pouring. While I was emailing Dave to set up a Skype date for Saturday evening, rain blew into the patio where I was writing and something happened to the internet connection. I got hung up in Gmail. I freaked out. But eventually, I think, I did manage to send the email--Dave will have to tell me if he got it.

Now there are sirens blowing all over, drilling into our eardrums. Sounds like the siren they use in the States for a tornado. Do they get tornados here? They certainly flood.

So, yeah. I'm trying hard to act as if I can go with the flow. But the flow is turbulent.

Reassure me. The worst that will happen is that I can't get Lizzie into that school for a while. She can be a student online. She can hang out in the apartment while I'm teaching, watching ridiculous things on the non-cable TV.


We braved the torrential downpour (and torrential is not hyperbole--the rain comes down in a solid, soaking sheet, and the wind can blow it sideways, so an umbrella is basically useless) and went over to the College of Arts and Letters to meet with Naida. When it rains like this, the streets quickly flood, and so we had to wade across a few curbs. It's turning out that my Earth flip flops are the best footwear for this weather. By the end of 5 months, I should have some wicked developed calves.

Naida took my course packet (it was over 200 pages, I think, and it only cost me 155 pesos, which is about 3 bucks) and showed me where to drop it off for printing. She took my syllabus for the American Lit course and said she'd have it copied.

What if I want to print out a file? I asked.

I need to bring it to the office, she said, and they'll print it out there.

Then we went to meet with the director for the creative writing courses, Cheng Bee (sp?), who turned out to be one of the most fabulous meets so far--she's a young woman with a great sense of humor and fluent (American?) English. I felt, for the first time, completely at ease.

Cheng Bee was hanging out in her office with her friend, Rex. (No one at the university leaves their door open. You have to knock and wait.) Both Rex and Cheng Bee remind me of the people I went to graduate school with--smiling, a little snarky, open. In short order, Cheng Bee volunteered to go with me to the Miriam School tomorrow to sort out Lizzie's situation. Praise Jesus!

Then she started to tell me about the class I'm supposed to teach, a literature course on fiction for writing majors. Okay, I can do this, I thought, as long as I have the right materials to photocopy. Did she have any anthologies lying around? She handed me The Story and Its Writer--fabulous. Then she got the brilliant idea to call Butch, the UP professor who exchanged at SNC two years ago. He's taught the course, she said, and we can get his syllabus and maybe even materials.

Butch appeared like the genie from the bottle, a ray of welcome light from the past. He decided, on the spot, that I shouldn't be teaching a lit course ("The two courses, the American Lit and the Fiction Genre course, are too similar," he said. "You'll be using a lot of the same readings for both courses, and you might have a lot of the same students. That won't work. And we need someone different to teach fiction writing, a taste of another approach. I don't want to give up on that.") Instead, after some strange sleight of hand, I'm going to be teaching a Fiction Writing course for undergrads--just what I'd prepared and planned for.

(Oh, and here's the kicker. It turns out that the course that didn't make was actually a graduate level POETRY workshop, rather than a fiction workshop. Yeah. Can you imagine showing up for the first day and discovering that you're pushing the wrong genre? Thank god that particular humiliation was avoided.)

Butch is also lending us his car and driver tomorrow so that Cheng Bee can take us to the Miriam School. And when that's all over, he's going to the mall with us to get cell phones--if you don't have a cell phone here, you might as well be cut off completely. Everyone texts rather than calls--texts cost about 1 peso each, which is about 2 cents. Lizzie's really stoked about the cell phones. She thought she was going to have to wait until she was 13.

So. Crisis averted. But it's still pouring (oh, and all those sirens earlier? About 15 tiny fire trucks roared past us to a fire that, it turns out, was in a building behind our apartment) and it looks as if we'll get completely drenched if we go out for dinner, as Lizzie wants.

"Welcome to the typhoon," Butch said, as he ushered us into his car for the ride home. "This should go on for--oh--three months."

Good thing we're on the 5th floor!

Here in Manira

For the record, I don't drool.

I'm here in Manira and so is the Juicy Fruit Canadian, but I have no idea were he is. My mom and I live in the Balay Kalinaw. (I hope I spelled that right....) Anyway, I'm glad I'm here and my mom's going to post a picture she took of me when I was "drooling" on the couch. She took it without permission. I believe that is a federal crime. Well it is in the Law of Lizzie Land. I can't go to the public school on campus because it doen't have any classes in english. So I have to go to Miriam College Catholic school. I was going to go there with my mom today but they aren't expecting us until the 15th. On the bright side, I getting a cellphone because everyone texts. You hardly see anyone talking into their phone. Why you ask? It's because it's way cheaper. It costs like 7-8 pesos per minute while talking and its only 1 peso per text. And the main reason my mama-san and I are getting cells is because the lady with our passports is hardly in her office so text her first. Cells are useful here.

I'm totally not used to the time difference. I sleep well until about 1 in the morning then I wake up. After that it's hard for me to go back to bed. Speaking of my bed, I think my bedroom is haunted. I hear a clinking sound. Then I heard something that kind of sounded like someone was banging on laptop keys. The weirdest thing was that when I'd cover my ears, the noise would stop. When I uncovered my ears, the noise would start up again. So I'm pretty sure my room is haunted. Then around 4 in the morning the roosters are shouting: "I'm a rooster!!!" They are so loud! I swear its worse than someone screaming at the top of their lungs. Roosters annoy me so.

I'm going to have to find something to write about and I'll try to get a picture of one of the lizards to show you people. Buh Bye!

Zi -.-

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

On the way

(All that is written happened 2 days ago.)

Right now I'm sitting in the Japan airport. They can't pronounce their L's. So instead of Manila they say Manira. The Japanese alphabet doesn't have an L. That's weird.

Everyone in the Philippines has a nickname. My mom is leaning towards L mac. Right now I'm thinking about Zi or Lizzie. But I'm known as Lizzie in the States and now it seems like that's my "real" name now. Like on a pure-bred dog's name thingy.

My mama-san and I have been awake for since 4 in the morning. We have been awake with no night for like 23 hours. The flight from Chicago to Tokyo was about 13 hours. But we had seat back movie things to occupy our time. I watched Confessions of a Shopaholic. Plus, I dozed off at least 10 times. Only to have one eye sleeping and the other trying to open over and over. We were served food 3 times. I had Chicken and Rice, then they gave us sandwiches (for the record, I hate sandwiches) but I only ate the mint, and the KitKat Bar, and my mom's mint and her KitKat Bar. Then there is the third meal. I had a pizza and fruit. I ate half the pizza and all the fruit.

We met a dude from Canada. He has been all over. He gave us the name of some good Philippino restaurants. He loves Juicy Fruit. I guess he's pretty cool.

I got 84 yen. Its really cool. I have to save some up for one of those happy cats. They are REALLY cute, they're wearing kimonos and are swaying back and forth. I can't wait for my dad to see them. I also saw some manga. They were in Japanese. The author of Naruto was talking about Doremon in his manga and ow he was sopposed to be drawn. I see his way was right. Doremon is the cutest robot cat thingy ever that I've seen. Yeah. Sayonara!

Lizzie 0_o

Promised Pictures

Lizzie with Filipino money.

The shower set up. That little white box is the hot water heater.

Cooking amenities

Kitchen/Living Room

On the 5th floor. No elevator.

Courtyard with man.

The building across from ours (the other half of this apartment complex).


Lizzie's exhausted by this trip. She's upstairs in the apartment, drooling onto the couch. I've been able to wake her for dinner (bow tie pasta and Del Monte sauce from a plastic pouch) but that's about it. When I do rouse her, she looks at me funny, as if her eyes can't quite focus. I better get back up to her.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Pictures to Follow...

We're here, at last, after at least 30 hours in airports and airplanes. Our leg from Chicago to Tokyo took 13 hours--at one point, I got up to use the bathroom and thought my rear end had atrophied.

Somewhere over the Pacific, we crossed into tomorrow and ended up here. Our flight from Tokyo to Manila took about 4 hours, most of which Lizzie and I spent dozing. I don't know about Lizzie, but my eyes felt like scratchy marbles in my head (I couldn't get to sleep much on the long flight, don't know why. But Lizzie managed to use me as a pillow.)

As we wound away from the airport, into the dark, past speeding honking buses and men on motorbikes and men on bicycles (without lights), past jeepneys and little decorated buses crammed with people, I asked Norberto/Bobot, a small smiling man who reminds me of a very tanned Bob Boyer, if the city ever slows down. No, he suggested. And in the morning, the road we were on would be jammed with traffic, he said--as if it wasn't already pretty busy. Dogs and cats, lots of cats, wandered in and out of people, cafes, piles of bagged and unbagged trash.

Our apartment is small, clean and spare. We're in an "International" apartment building on the very large U.P. campus. Little busses decorated in fancy colors and names blat up and down the streets, picking up packs of people who hang out of the window slots and the back doors. This morning, a rooster woke me up and I shot awake, afraid it was Lizzie screaming.

We've got window airconditioners in our rooms, thank god, and fans in nearly every room. Lizzie says it's nearly "too hot." I like the heat, but can see how it will get old pretty quick. Little lizards run up and down the walls--and across the floors of our apartments. I'd get a little freaked out about the wild life if I didn't suspect that the lizards are our friends--they'll eat the mosquitos that make it past our screens.

We can use the internet downstairs in an open breezeway. As I quick sent Dave a message to let him know we'd gotten here, rain gathered and poured down in sheets, misting us where we sat. "I'm getting wet," Lizzie half wailed. She couldn't figure out how to get her laptop to connect to the wireless, and when she turned on her computer she got an error message about her clock being wrong--and she doesn't seem to have administrative privileges. The rain pushed a yellow cat out of the jungle and onto the patio, where it regarded us with hungry suspicion.

It's our shower that makes me immediately miss home. Two or three weak dribbles come out of the head, enough to slowly wet your hair and rinse the shampoo out. A glorified cat bath (what Mom used to call a washcloth-on-the-important-bits). There's a big bucket in the shower (which is just a curtained off corner of the room, really, as I suspected it might be, and a little drain in the floor, just like in Mexico... only less impressive).

Last night, I lay down on my hard bed with my thin pillows tucked under my head, and read a little more of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. Lizzie's wobbly lips kept rolling through my mind. "I miss our animals," she said. "And Dad."

So do I, darling, I thought. So do I.

Let the culture shock begin!