Category Archives: Travelog

Stories from the road

the Nepal Diaries: Day 1 (of 30)

JULY 22, 2011 [transcribed from my travel journal] My journey to Kathmandu: Newark  > fly 8 hours to Zurich > layover for 4 hours > fly 7 hours to New Delhi > layover for 8 hours > fly 1 hour to Kathmandu! I’m going to be laying over for almost as long as I will be flying for!  What a crap deal!  But what can I do?  I pushed purchasing the tickets until I had raised the money and even then, my busy schedule forced me to have Danielle purchase my tickets for me! But onward.  Today was such a crazy day, even leading up til takeoff.  I can’t believe I didn’t even get a chance to breathe until I sat down.  I know that I couldn’t have done it without Mom…she totally pulled through for me.  She didn’t get critical of me, but just jumped in and started helping.  I watched Limitless, Lincoln Lawyer, Just Go With It, and Hall Pass…all pretty good!  I’ve really enjoyed my flight.  Zurich airport was pretty scenic and so is Delhi; very clean and modern!  I think I slept for 2 hours in Zurich, a few hours on the flight to Zurich, and most of the flight to Delhi.  I probably got a full night’s sleep and it’s been about 22 hours by now since I first took off.  Th e Swiss Air food was impressive.  “Snack” was pizza and ice cream and chocolate!  And dinner was Indian rice and veggies and potatoes; not shabby at all and piping hot! So, Tish said that I’m going to touch these people and I’m going to grow so much.  Josh said I’m in for the adventure of my life.  Kal said I’m making a difference in this world.  Pastor George has been praying for me.  Pastor Adam says this is going to be a great trip for me.  Auntie Sandy came out of the blue and supported me, as did Mari and so many others.  I’m riding on the wings of all my supporters right now.  It’s by God’s grace that I’m even here right now, not having forgotten any crucial items, not having over packed, having slept, eaten, and traveled well.  Thank you.  Almost there!  

you can take the American back to America…

…but you can’t take the Nepal/Italy/Philippines/insert country out of her!  Recently, I heard someone remark, somewhat wistfully, that similar to resolutions, rarely do habits/lessons from travels weave themselves permanently into the fabric of our lives.  As much as I can appreciate life’s resistance to change, I believe that if attempted with gusto, much can be retained long after the last digital photo from a trip has been archived.  Here are some key aspects of a new culture that I make it a point to soak up and ways in which I preserve them: LANGUAGE:  I learn key phrases from new languages that I encounter.  When doing this, remember that collections are fun.  And so, “collect” the multitude of ways in which to say certain phrases that you commit to.  For example, I know how to say cheers in Icelandic (Skal!), Spanish (Salud!), Chinese (Ganbei!), Japanese (Kampay!), Italian (Cin Cin!), English/Nepalese (Cheers!), and stay tuned for more.  😉 FOOD: I hope that you try the signature dishes in every country that you visit.  If you do, I’m sure you begin to form favorites.  When this happens, I want you to begin to research the recipes for these faves so that you can recreate this meal once you’re back home!  Chances are that you’ll be surprised at the difference in dishes when you experience them prepared authentically.  Take this home with you.  I was so taken by squid adobo in the Philippines (the entire dish was black!) that I had to try to make it at home.  I was overwhelmed by the elaborateness of a meal in Italy (primo, secundo, dulce, etc) so much that I had to make an Italian dinner whence I returned.  And, as expected, I fell in love w/ multiple Indian dishes in Nepal and will be serving them up this weekend! PHOTOS/VIDEOS: On vacation is not the time to hold back on documenting your experience.  Seize every Kodak moment, satiate every posing urge, don’t hesitate to seek assistance…you will thank yourself as soon as you look back on your capture, even if it’s moments after.  You may never come back again to this statue, or to this street, or heck, to this country!  Take your time and indulge your inner photographer.  And when archiving, these are the photos that should be captioned to retain every detail.  And make a video to sum up the entire trip, with a soundtrack of relevant music! IF YOU’RE REALLY AMBITIOUS: Have a party that incorporates an authentic meal, stories, and footage from your trip..all in one incredibly cultured evening!

30 days in Nepal: the nutshell

panoramic of our campsite @ Yakaka

BAAACK: A month away in Nepal, trekking and volunteering, has taught me about another corner of the world and given me some cornerstones which I want to fuse into my life back here in America. So, the first question that I’ll receive from people upon seeing them is the understandably cliche, “How was your trip!?” And how to describe 30 days packed with activity, discoveries, first-time’s, and new sights, sounds, and people every day? I’ll sum it up in one succinct blog entry: the most poignant aspects of my trip, and then I will break it down, day by day, over a series of entries. I feel that this is the only way to do this trip justice and document it in a way that I can look back on anytime and feel everything rushing back!

a day trek in Manang

TREKKING: Make no mistake, for a sport that looks like glorified hiking, trekking can be brutal!  Let me first simply define trekking.  You are walking up a mountain.  This means that the terrain on which you are traveling can range from a man-made road to a dirt path to heaps of rocks to bridges to rivers to waterfalls.  Our point A was at 800 meters and our point B was at 5,400 meters. Whatever existed between these two points, we had to walk over, period.  Firstly, we were in the throes of monsoon season, making the already strenuous activity just downright annoying!  Secondly, it’s a marathon sport.  We trekked for 10 hours on one day and 4 hours on our shortest day!  It’s not like most sports where you’re engaged at every moment, where there’s an adrenaline rush, where things happen quickly.  You look up when you are trekking and realize that you have to walk your way through all. these. mountains.  Sometimes, you see a tiny cluster of structures in the distance and calculate that you’ll be at the next village in about an hour.

MONSOON SEASON: takes place during the summer months and we were right smack in the middle of it. This means that there are a lot of pretty waterfalls, but also means that we are drenched all the time. Armed with rain jackets, backpack covers, umbrellas, and waterproof boots, we still had to struggle with water pouring into our shoes as we crossed rivers, attempting to carry umbrellas and trekking poles simultaneously, simply seeing through the steady downpours, and many of our overnight items getting wet through our duffel bags. The sun didn’t come out for the first week and so I remember putting wet shoes on for several days. My feet were consistently wrinkled and white and blisters thrived in these ideal conditions. Our clothes would be put out to dry and taken down in the same state, if not worse, from the morning dew. For days, I packed and unpacked wet clothes. Monsoon Season. ;/

not my leech, but exactly how it looked!

LEECHES: I have never even seen a leech, let alone hosted one! On the first day of trekking, I was the lucky recipient of 4 leech bites! eeek!  I was innocently trekking when suddenly my guide looked at my leg and said “leechie.”  As he reached down to pull it off, I looked down to see the horrifying sight of a repulsive brown worm on my leg, stubbornly staying put until it was forced off, but not before leaving behind a bloody mess.  I squealed and did a scared girl dance and pouted as I was assured that it’s normal and harmless.  I moved on.  And then it happened 3 more times.  They joked that I had sweet blood.  I cried at one point, feeling helpless against and violated by these blood-sucking vermin.  I was ready to go home.  Our team leader had made us write letters of encouragement to ourselves that she would distribute if we were to ever falter in our commitment to the trip and that day, I was ready to ask for my letter.  I never did.  And I completed the trek.  But I still hate leeches.

the squat toilets at LLES where we taught

ROUGHING IT: No heat, no air-con, no plumbing, no running water, no hot water, no shelves, no hooks, no mirrors, no electricity…this was how we lived.  For a virtual city girl, I squirmed and braced myself and sometimes had to fight back breakdowns as I struggled to maintain my civility in what I couldn’t help but feel were primitive living conditions.  I stood outside the squat toilet our first night at Bhulbhule, dreading going inside the dark chamber that I knew held the waste of the multitudes who had gone before me.  I whimpered in the bathroom at Lower Pisang as I struggled to shower in the dark, not touch anything, and fight off mosquitoes.  I cursed out loud when the drawstrings of my bag touched the floor of one of the squat toilets which was brown and wet with what I’m sure was not simply water and mud.  I thanked God for my hiking soap which I was able to carry around with me everywhere, offering me a fleeting, but wondrous feeling of cleanliness whenever I washed my hands.  During one surreal moment, I found myself squatting outside of my room, pouring a pitcher of water over my face before turning in for the night.  I learned to pee behind bushes and rocks, using my umbrella for additional coverage.  I bucket showered.  Without hot water.  Or heat.  I washed my clothes by hand.  In a basin.  And then line-dried them.  I ate everything on my plate.  Even pizza.  Even fries.  Even chips.  I saved every ziploc bag, plastic bag, and napkin.  I lived in a mentality of survival and discomfort during these days.  And I’m more grateful than ever for my porcelain western toilet and the stream of warm water from my shower head.

NATURE’S CLOCK: The one welcome change of living in nature was that early to bed and early to rise was really, the only option.  We slept earlier than babies.  Earlier than grannies.  Earlier than morning news anchors.  We were sleeping at about 8pm.  Insane, right?  We were rising at about 6am, sometimes 5am, and once, 1am.  This is because at night, when the sun set and darkness settled over the village, there wasn’t enough light to really do much except wind down.  No tv, no computers, just your headlamp, which would attract mosquitoes when you tried to read with it on.  And so you would turn in and surprisingly fall asleep that early!  Then, in the morning, the roosters would crow incessantly at 6am and for me, that was the end of my slumber.  I began to wake up naturally at this time and this is one habit that I hope to carry on, using the wee hours for daily quiet time!

Nepalese lady w/ her wares

NEPALESE LIFE: We have one-bedroom houses.  They have one-room houses.  Most families live in one room with an additional kitchen.  Bathrooms were usually community ones outdoors.  The “kitchens” don’t come with any fixtures.  Burners are purchased and placed on top of tables for a “stove.”  Propane tanks the same height as the tables are connected to the burners as a gas source.  Water is brought in from outside and poured into basins for a “sink.”  Upright shelves are used to store dishes and kitchen stuff.  The other room is where the family does everything else: sleep, watch tv, entertain, and change.  The belongings of a family somehow fit into a 100 square foot room.  Incredible.  In the mountains, the easiest way to travel is on foot.  And if you want to transport items, they would be carried on your back with a strap that would fit over your forehead to center the load.  And villages are usually hours apart from each other.  People eat with their hands.  They eat rice, noodles, soup…everything, with their hands.  Tax for vehicles is 200%.  The government is unstable and to most people, perceptively nonexistent.  Rent in the city is about 10,000 rupees and rent in the mountains is about 1,00 rupees.  The average income is about 40,000 rupees in the city.  It’s normal for a family to be separated for years because fathers resort to traveling to different countries to find work.  The lifestyle is very humble in Nepal.

our guide, Buddhi, & his family

NEPALI HOSPITALITY: Despite the inability for a lot of families to regale their guests with fancy decor and toys, they open their homes readily to guests.  It’s common for neighbors to drop in and there is always time for conversation.  This differs vastly from the pretentious American mentality of needing to impress guests.  In Nepal, we were invited to sit in our friends’ one-room houses and 8 people were sitting on a combination of beds, seats, and laps, simply chit chatting.  This too, is very different from the American mentality of always needing to rush somewhere more important then a casual conversation.  This, too, is a mentality that I wish to incorporate into my life here. 

at KC & Chi-Mou's Praise & Worship

GREATNESS FOR COMPANY: One of my main motivations for joining this adventure/service trip was to join forces with Professor Chi-Mou, an impressive man who I met last year.  He founded these efforts and his story so entranced me that I just wanted to spend some time beside this man.  Well, I got more than I bargained for, as I was also greeted by Pastor KC on the trip as well, who I had also met last year.  This pastor of Every Nation Church in Taipei was a wonderful pastor when I met him and proved to be an incredible person once I got to know him.  To be eating, trekking, and praying with these two men for 21 days was incredible.  I learned how they are shameless promoters of God.  I learned how they turn to God in the morning for quiet time and anytime they need His help.  I learned about their business sense and their approach to their projects that are clearly successful!  I experienced their talents and gifts and humor and can now say with confidence that I genuinely admire them. 

Danielle & I singing "the english song" at closing party

UNIVERSAL YOU: Being away from your work, your hobbies, your projects, your environment, your element…you really get stripped down to “who you really are.”  At this stark state, the things that really matter are your personality, your sense of humor, your ability to relate to people, your approachability, your boldness, your musical talents, your dancing skills, your knowledge, your conversation…the things that travel with you.  No one really cares about your status, your organizations, your awards.  And so I’ve decided that I want to focus on those things.  I want to learn guitar.  I want to speak more languages.  I want to focus on the person that Jeanette is. 

Las Vegas or Lost Wages?

fresh off a trip from Sin City herself…

A woman drinking alcohol from a plastic guitar strung around her neck…a couple huddled drunkenly over their plate of limp lo mein…a couple staggering to the street music as their young child lays wide-eyed in his stroller…such are the sights of Vegas. This is not to deny the luxurious architecture, high tech games, mouth-watering fares, underestimated street talent, and constant buzz of activity that abound here on the strip, but Vegas wasn’t dubbed Sin City for no reason. With the highest unemployment rate of any state, an epidemic of addiction to gambling, and a host of other related issues, Nevada’s plan to lure in the luck-seekers hasn’t left out its own residents.

Perhaps it’s the increased oxygen pumped into the casinos, the lack of windows and clocks, the endless offers for free drinks, the lively sounds of the slot machines, the all-you-can-eat buffets at value meal prices, or the ease with which one can get lost in the flurry of it all. Whatever the formula, it succeeds in creating an atmosphere not unlike Spring Break, just for grown-ups: a ticket to dress scantily, speak lewdly, drink voraciously, and leave all that is real behind…just for a few hours or days.

I am genuinely concerned when I see evidence of escapism. I believe that Vegas is a unique form of fun that is amusing and impressive and memorable. But if you have to be hush hush about what “happened in Vegas,” then you might want to get that checked out!

disneyworld

it’s a place where imaginations run wild, but hopefully, some of that imagination will inspire action to make it a reality.  I haven’t been to Disney in ages.  Tracey and Vito took me to Epcot Center…and it was beautiful.  What most people don’t realize is that behind the Goofy-shaped foliage and Mickey Mouse hats, Disney seeks to impart a very powerful message to us.  We must live in harmony with the world around us, and that means the earth and her people.  Disney really knows how to present a powerful message too.  I’m talkin’ swelling music scores, wide-angled, fast-panning footage of America, surround sound voiceovers imploring “peace on earth and good will to men,” and “the Circle of Life.”  It’s sometimes enough to make you shed a tear!  An incredible fireworks display at the end of the night wrapped the entire experience up in awe and wonder and inspiration.  Please go to Epcot Center and bring me with you.  =)

eee-tah-lee!

ITALIA…it’s quaint, it’s rustic, it’s historical, and it’s peaceful. In Besnate, a small town of under 5,000, the houses are all gated and well kept. The keys used to open the houses are the old-school kind, with the detailing in the handle, a skinny body, and the teeth in a square shape on the end. They’re the kind of keys that hang off of a big ring that you see in storybooks. The bathrooms have bidets, the light switches are on the outside of the rooms, and the blinds of the windows are wooden and pulled up by a wide belt, hand-over-hand style, like a ship’s mast. The coffee cups are the size of espresso cups and they make their coffee in tiny coffee makers, where you press the grinds into the bottom, add water, and then twist the top part on. Everything is smaller and eco-friendly, from the refrigerators to the boxes of milk to the beds to the Fisher Price-like Smart cars. THE PASTI (meals) Breakfast is small, usually one of those tiny cups of caffe…(it’s seriously about 3 oz of coffee) and a single biscuit or pastry. If you want an American-sized coffee, you’d order a caffe lungo, and that’s as big as it’ll get. Then, you have your caffe lattes (coffee with milk), cappuccinos (coffees with frothy milk), and camomiles. Sugar is called zucherro. They have a “happy hour” which they call aperitivo, during which a drink special is served and along with that, the bar is lined with charming eats such as finger sandwiches, bruschetta, mini-pizzas, and pesto ziti. The aperitivo, a drink with a combination of spices and herbs, are supposed to whet your appetite for dinner; sometimes it’s just a special dry wine called prosecco. The meals, lunch being the biggest, consist of an antipasti (appetizer), a primo (first course), and a secondo (second course). Then come a basket of fruits and lastly, the dolce or sweets. A table setting is never complete without olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and a basket of crusty artisan bread. For example, one of our meals consisted of an antipasti of salami, a primo of artichoke risotto, and a secondo of salad and salt-baked pesce (fish). The basket of fruits is placed in the center and everyone just helps themselves to oversized apples, pears, and strawberries, plums, grapes, and these tiny apricot-type fruits typical in Italy. And the punctuation at the end of every meal is a dainty cup of espresso or tea. Another delicious dinner menu began with the most common antipasti, a platter of artfully arranged slices of ham, proscuitto, and salami, followed by a primo of meat ravioli, followed by a secondo of baked sardines and sautéed spinach, and ending with a dolce of profiterol torte, a pyramid of crème puffs held together by a chocolate ganache…yum! It seems strange to serve only one dish at a time at a large dinner table, but the idea is to enjoy each dish and the accompanying conversation in leisure. Just don’t make my mistake of filling up on the primo only to find out that much more food lay ahead! Pacing is key! THE STRADE (streets) The towns are rustic and charming, usually lined with cobblestone streets and houses accented with shuttered windows and flower-lined terraces. The streets are clean and everyone uses the modest-sized garbage and recycle containers. The atmosphere is calm and people are polite. I cringed when I remembered the homeless people and cat-calling that are the norm in New York. The living conditions are comfortable in Italy, which lends itself to this atmosphere. Switzerland is the wealthiest country in the world and most people don’t even have to lock their cars. VENEZIA (Venice) Venice…the city on the water, the city of romance, the city of mimes, masquerade masks, gondolas, puppets and accordions, the city broken up by canals and then reconnected by bridges, the city of terracotta roofs, shutters, clay-potted plants, and adorable terraces, the city opulent in all things intricate and ornate, the city which known for its lace and glass-blowing, the city which beneath all of its tourism, is actually home to history from the days of the Doge, or Duke of Venice. Let’s just talk about the aesthetics. Venice is hands-down beautiful. And the way that you zig and zag through the small alleyways and nooks and crannies just makes it all that more breathtaking when you emerge to view yet another bridge over peaceful waters or another gondola gliding past you or another stretch of magnificent Venetian skyline. Every house and building seems to carry its own unique design and its own character, from charming and provincial to exotic and grand. Cobblestone streets, three-tiered street lamps, piazzas, bridges, alleys, and canals are the vocabulary of this magical backdrop. It is no wonder this is called one of the most romantic cities. Of course, love makes every place memorable. But when you happen to be together on Rialto’s Bridge, you can’t resist creating that photo-perfect kiss that it is famous for. When you’re basking in the sun, at a table, canal-side, you can’t help but raise your glass of vino and saying cin-cin to romance. When you’re tucked cozily into a gondola as your striped captain steers you peacefully through the Grand Canal, you will be taking part in what is considered Venezia’s most romantic offering. When you’re sitting on the steps of one of the many piazza’s as the sun sets lazily over the water, it is only natural to sigh into your lover’s arms and wind down with the rest of the city. If you’re single like me, it’s enough to make you gag! jk! J HISTORIA Now, let’s talk about the history. I can attest to San Marco’s Cathedral, it’s piazza, and the Doge’s Palace. The Doge’s Palace was where the Duke of Venice stayed, his apartment, if you will. The rooms pretty magnificent, with every wall, ceiling, and what not covered in murals and gold sculptures, and glass chandeliers. A lot of the murals are like the ones I used to study in art history, with plump ladies, plumper cherubs, leaves, halos, and fruits. A lot of the paintings signified this time of good fortune and abundance. The paintings also chronicled a lot of the history of Venice. One painting showed a regular ceremony where the Doge would marry Venice and the water. The Doge wore a very elaborate headpiece and robe and was easy to spot in all of the images. We saw the room where all the senators used to sit and meet to discuss the governings of Venice. The chairs were wooden, like church pews, except these had separations for each seat. (Think “300,” where they gathered to decide whether or not they would reinforcements to Leonidas) And we saw where the Doge would sit. We also saw a much more somber room (Sala del Consiglio dei Dieci); the court, so to say, where the accused would be judged and sentenced. We saw exactly where they would stand and plead their case. Chances were that once you were in the judgement room, the question was more as to what sentence you would get rather than whether or not you would be sentenced. That brings us to the prison. Beneath all this splendor lay an entire subterranean world of suffering. It was cold and smelled funny down there. We traversed through a maze of concrete cells and metal bars. A bridge connected the palace to the prison…the “Bridge of Sighs,” and prisoners could take their last peek at the outside world before entering their doom. Vito wasn’t there to walk me through the prison, so I really don’t know much more. He was my main source of information! I don’t do audio tours or wall placards! LINGUA (language) The stereotype of Italians speaking loudly and with melodic inflections has truth to it! Everyone is very jolly…in their demeanor, not meaning walking around with big bellies and rosy cheeks! The fact that a lot of the words end in vowels makes it easy to end every sentence with a punch! Whether you’re saying eat! (mangia!) or good morning! (buon giorno!) or tomato! (pomodoro!), you can make everything sound exciting by hanging on to that last vowel and using some hand gestures! Here are some of my favorite words! Mamma Mia! = Oh my goodness! Ciao = Hi/Bye Buon giorno = Good Day Buona Sera = Good Evening Buona Notte = Good Night Come Stai = How are you Buon Viaggio = Have a good trip Arrivederci = Good bye Bravo(a) = Yea! Ancora = Again Pronti = Ready Fretta = Hurry Piano = Slow Stanco(a) = Tired Fame = Hunger (e.g. ‘Hai fame?’ = ‘Are you hungry?’) Mangia = Eat Basta = Enough Dai! = C’mon Risotto = Rice Pomodoro = Tomato Patata = Potato Finocchi = Fennell/ Gay (slang) Caffe = Coffee Latte = Milk Zucchero = Sugar Senza Zucchero = Without Sugar Fragole = Strawberry Funghi = Mushroom Pane = Bread Vino = Wine Dolce = Sweet Macchina = Car Ridere = Laugh Piangiere = Cry Nonna = Grandma Io = I Lei = She Lui = He Sorella = Sister Sposo(a) = Spouse Moglie = Wife Cena = Dinner Scioglilingua = Tongue Twister Acqua = Water Rosa = Pink Rosso = Red Bello(a) = beautiful Molto bello(a) = very beautiful Bellisima = very beautiful Piccante = Spicy Daria and I were carrying Italiano-Inglese dictionaries around by the end of the trip so that we could try to speak each others languages! I will be e-mailing her in Italian and hope not to forget the little bit that I’ve learned! To be continued…

spinning [outta control] in a good way!

Day 3 in Palawan: We had killed time Friday night star-gazing and dressing Stephan up in bikinis…boys in bikinis are ALWAYS entertaining!  We were so happy to crash at the bungalows on Saturday that that is exactly what we did…crash.  On Sunday night, we had spent the entire day relaxing, as the rain clouds, and finally rain, prevented us from doing any shooting.  We had already set the tone for free-spirited, silly fun, however, as we chicken-fought, raced, and dumped each other into the water while waiting on the speed boat which wasn’t doing a good job living up to its name! That evening is one that I’ll remember for a while.  All showered up and freshly moisturized, I visited Johannes and Jean in the kitchen.  We headed out to star-gaze and while Johannes plopped down on the sand to find the stars, I crouched gingerly beside him.  I was NOT going to ruin my fresh shower!  He suddenly shot up and spun around a few times, then insisted that we should all try spinning around while looking at the stars!  I thought he was crazy for sure and agreed to do it, but not really!  He did it and fell into the water.  Jean did it and fell into the water.  By now, we were all cracking up.  Then, all eyes were on me.  I was NOT going to get wet.  I tried to get out of it.  No luck.  I told them, all jokes aside, that I was not getting wet.  And off I went.  I spun, arms out, once, twice, three times, four, five, six and bamn!  I was splashing around in the salty warm water…in my pajamas!  And I was cracking up!  It was ridiculous, but then it was like, what the hell, let’s do it again! I improved my spins to about 8 spins before busting my ass.  And then it was time for spinning and running!  And then it was time for walking on our hands!  And then it was time for limbo!  And then it was time for sand fighting!  Jean was in her underwear, I was in my pajama shorts, we were all drenched and sandy…if it wasn’t pitch black, we would have been quite a sight!  We took breaks to plop down on the sand and at some point, decided to take it back inside.  There we massaged each other…hands, heads, and backs…it was so sweet!  No pretentiousness, no judgements, no complications…just good times and good feelings. It was a beautiful way to spend the evening and I don’t know what made it possible.  But I do know that it needs to be done more often.   Just let loose and enjoy the exhiliration of physical fun!  Tackling, jumping, spinning and touching…things that we stop doing at some point in our lives, but shouldn’t.  It’s so much fun…try it =)

Life in the Drab Lane, Filipino-style

So, on the complete other side of the Palawan coin, this beautiful island which serves as the trophy for a few rich somebodys is also home to a tribal community of Philippino peoples.  They drive on dirt paths and have to honk around each bend to warn possible oncoming traffic.  They sell do dads and homemade items at the local market, many of them selling the same wares as the person beside them.  They come down with tuberculosis and may not be able to recover for lack of availabiltiy of medical attention.  They have a total of 10 policemen to regulate the entire city of St. Vincent, usually taking care of petty crimes which result in the criminal cleaning the police station.  There is a leader who settles any altercations amongst the locals.  The mayor is excited at the possibility of a mall in the city to bring in business.  One of his major tasks was to bring down the tuberculosis casualties, as 1 in every 10 children was dying because of it.  He succeeded in supplying the island with a medical facility, but there was still much to be done.  His next task was to teach the people English, a skill he knew went hand-in-hand with success. In chatting with the mayor, I realized that things such as voting and teaching English in the school system and building up businesses weren’t in the vocabulary to even begin the discourse.  I looked at him and wondered how he could get up every morning and face as daunting a task as building up a civilization.  I wasn’t sure at which level to ask questions.  Would “Do the people have to buy their own plots of land?” be insulting?  Would “How about instilling an English-language program?” be over their heads?  For fear of choking my mouth with my foot, I decided to simply observe.  The life there is simple, very very simple.  It’s hard to relate, impossible to understand, and a puzzle to life as we know it.

Life in the Fab Lane, Filipino-Style

I had the fortune of being invited to visit the island of Palawan during my last three days in the Philippines. Wait, it gets better. This was no ordinary economy-class stay…this was first-class living, from the London taxi that drove us to the private single-engine plane that flew us to the beautiful private island where the jeep picked us up to bring us to the private yacht which drove us to the private resort on White Beach Island. Not once did we wait nor pick up our bags nor have to go hungry. It was effortless traveling. I sat shotgun in the private plane right next to the pilot and even wiggled the steering stick a bit! Right now, we won’t get into the fresh fish market where we picked up a huge fish and made it into ceviche and fish soup that night…I want to focus on the fab stuff. For the next two days, in terms of traveling, there was always a speedboat or raft ready and waiting to take us to our next destination island. There was always a crew waiting on each island to receive us, hold the ladder from the speedboat to the shore, and grab our bags. All we had to worry about was ourselves. Looking back, I realize what a luxury this was. On the third day, the owner of all this fabulousness, Michael Gleissner, affectionately nicknamed MG, paid us a visit at which point everyone’s attention to detail became “oh-so-keen.” The cook made up her face, the yacht was suddenly spotless, soft music was playing in the background, and everyone was minding their p’s and q’s. It was surreal. Before I knew it, we were on the yacht, chatting with MG’s two guests, one the right-hand-man to the head of Fashion TV and the other, a man amongst royalty and diplomats whose claim to fame at the moment was a documentary he had produced with Prince Albert. In any case, we drove the half-million dollar yacht to one of the islands where we simply took a scenic walking tour via MG. Back onto the yacht, we sipped white wine as we headed onward to White Sand Beach where we would have fresh fish and beef adobo and of course, rice! While waiting for dinner, MG had a hankering for a bonfire and in ten minutes, a ten-foot tall bonfire was built and blazing before us. Back on board the yacht, we dined leisurely beneath the incredible starry sky. We chatted about the best sound system for such a yacht (apparently, one with subwoofers built into the seats is best, not something resembling a car stereo system), Karl’s excursion with Prince Albert and how Al Gore used his footage for “An Inconvenient Truth,” the CrestCo technology system which required 90 kilometers of wires and allowed for a room’s ambiance to take on a “romantic” feel with the touch of a button. The night was deemed a movie night as MG and Karl would watch each other’s directorial debuts and amicably determine who’s producing chops made the cut! Afterwards, I crashed in one of the three bedrooms surrounding the bathroom with a circular glass shower, all sitting amidst an array of white leather couches and cherry wood countertops varnished to an impressive gloss. Again, not once was a glass empty or door touched or request left unfulfilled. It was effortless and luxurious and I didn’t want to pinch myself lest I wake up! I imagined living a life like this, took a deep breath, and tried to memorize this feeling. What does it take? Well, I hereby dub MG the “Donald Trump of the Philippines!” His own private plane, a handful of islands, a few call centers, a production company, and plans for a marina, a hangar, and a flight school are just some of the items on this mans resume. With access like this, he can be anywhere and do anything at a moment’s notice at his every whim…the world, of the Philippines, at least, is at his fingertips. Post 9/11, Michael Gleissner decided to re-locate his plans for Bigfoot Entertainment from New York to Cebu, Philippines. Over the next few years, he built the empire that he oversees today. He sees a lot of room for improvement in the Philippines and looks at everything through the eyes of an entrepreneur. “What do independent, good-looking girls want?” he asked me. “To become an actress!” He went on to elaborate that the typical Philipinno daughter, however, couldn’t make such an announcement and expect to be well-receieved.  With a solid Plan B, however, her parents might sing a different tune.  “And so, we build a school that teaches both acting and flying!  If they don’t make it as an actress, they can still make $8,000/month as a pilot!,” concluded MG.  It was quite genius, I couldn’t deny.  And so goes another MG concoction. I think that the moral of the story is, if you want to live life in the fab lane and never have to touch a bag or wait a moment, (and believe me, getting on a private plane sure beats security check-in and baggage claims!), then it’s all about pursuing your dreams with an entreprenuerial edge, all of the time!  Go!  And that includes me!  =P

the Quirky Philippines

After staying in any country for an extended period of time, one gets immersed in the culture and learns about the country beyond the hotel room, resort, and/or tourist attractions. Today was my day…and I can’t say that it’s all good…haha! Here is a little taste about what the real life is like over here:

-No traffic organization! I can count the number of traffic lights that I’ve come across on one hand. The traffic consists of a mixture of jeepneys, tricycles (someone pedaling with a small cart attached to him in which they can cram about 4 people!), mopeds, bicycles, jaywalkers, and stray dogs, cats, goats and chickens! It’s crazy. There’s a “conductor?!” who hangs off the back of the jeepney and actually steps off and on at each stop. It’s crazy -No rush. Lines lag, customer service is non-existent, the pace is snail-like here. It’s hard to describe. For example, I was at the post office today. I walked in and there were a bunch of windows and tons of people on the other side. Some were chatting on their phones, some were unloading things, some were doing paperwork, and some were just hangin’ around. Someone eventually moseyed up to the window and decided to see what I wanted! I wanted to mail something to London. She gave me an envelope and pushed everything back to me! I stuffed it, labeled it, and pushed it back. By then, she had walked away and was chatting on her phone. I eventually found out that I was supposed to seal the envelope myself when someone pushed some packing tape at me. I needed scissors. I was handed a stapler. I needed scissors. I got a broken pair which I managed to do something with. Still operating on New York mentality, I tried to get confirmation from the lady that I had written the London address correctly. Blank stare. I even tried to see if I could get a tracking number. Yea right! That’s what it’s like. T’hey kinda just go through the motions here. No motivation to really rush or go the extra mile. It’s like this…if I were to picture a McDonalds commercial here, instead of the person hopping up to the counter an d smiling, “Hi, welcome to McDonalds!,” I would imagine a bunch of Philippino workers milling around and then one of them casually looking up finally to say “next please.” Oh yea, they take a long time to look up at you too…haha! Language: They say “ma’am” at the end of EVERY sentence and do a Vanna-white like gesture. it’s really polite but so consistent it’s hilarious. And they say “ma’am” like “mom.” “This way ‘mom’,” “Thank you ‘mom’,” Good morning ‘mom’!” Other funny phrases: The candy and gum is in that “portion” of the market “mom” Please “transfer” to that chair for your pedicure “mom” Prices: Some things are comparable…some things are suuuuper-cheap! Comparable: Korean food: a seafood pancake: 250 pesos=$7 Jetskiing: $1,500 pesos/half-hour=$37.50/half-hour Cheap: 1 hr full-body massage in boo-ti-ful spa: $450 pesos=$11.25! mani & pedi: 50 pesos=$1.25! haircut: 50 pesos=$1.25! an entire pizza from the street (ham, raisins, and corn on it): 50 pesos=$1.25! a 25 minute taxi ride: $175 pesos=$4.38 more to come! one thing I know for sure…I couldn’t live here…too slow! haha!