Saturday, May 10, 2014

Philippine Philanthropy

Last weekend, 16 students, 2 other teachers, and I flew off to Kalibo Philippines to visit a school there that had been hit by the catastrophic super typhoon Haiyan.  Last semester, in November, our Middle School raised over $2,000 to assist this school's recovery.  We now got the opportunity to go visit them and spread some much needed love to the children of this school.

We set off early Thursday morning, and it wasn't until late Thursday night that we finally arrived at our sleeping quarters, which was Catholic seminary there in Kalibo.  The next morning was when we went to the school.  The plan was for us to work in the morning, and then after lunch we would have time for playing with the children and then we would exchange performances in the afternoon.  We didn't know exactly what work they wanted us to do, but we arrived with a willing heart to serve them in whatever manner possible.  The first thing they did was to take us to their garden, which had been completely destroyed and roughed up by the typhoon.  When we arrived there was already an old man working an old steel plow being pulled by an ox.  Amazing to see the use of technology that dates back to around 3000 BC with Ancient Mesopotamia still being used today.  After admiring it for a bit, he soon asked if we would care to give it a try, and a few of us, myself included took quick turns working the plow and driving the ox.  It was pretty cool.  Afterwards, they took us the real job that they wanted us to do, which was paint their front fence.  Acting as the trips photographer, I was making sure to snap pictures of my students working hard, but in the meantime I was also taking time to get to know and just be silly with the kids at that school.  They were so fun to just goof off with and talk to that I at times forgot that I was supposed to be working and was getting accused by my students of slacking off.  Although I did work, it was these moments of talking with the children that were most rewarding.  While I was talking to my favorite kid, Jefferson, I was served a huge Southern-sized helping of Humble Pie.  In a group of about 10 or so students who had surrounded me while I was painting, Fredrick began to ask me if I knew about the typhoon Haiyan that had come through the area.  After confirming that I had, I began to ask the kids about their experience with the typhoon and most of them replied that it was very scary.  But Jefferson gave me more insight to how the community continues to suffer from the storm as he explained the the typhoon had ripped the roof off of his house and that he still, six months later, does not have a roof on his house.  It's always amazing to learn and see what children in different parts of the world have to endure, and yet how soon we forget when we are given those reminders and go back to complaining about taxes, traffic, or whatever else mundane first-world crap we like to bicker and whine about.

Jefferson giving me a bigger smile

We only worked for about an hour before the Filipinos told us it was too hot to work, which we completely agreed! So instead, they decided to roll out our lunch for us a bit early.  They prepared so much food for us but the most notable item was the lechon, which is a full pig that is splayed over a bamboo spit and has been cooked crispy.  They also had available for us the Filipino delicacy called balut.  This is a partially fertilized duck egg in which the embryo has already begun to take form and in some you can even find feathers.  A few of us wanted to try just for the experience but only one of us actually ate the whole thing, and it was a 7th grade girl!  I just could not overcome the mental aspect of what I was eating and the texture.  Within two chews I felt my stomach involuntarily trying to turn itself inside out.  We tried not to offend them, but I actually think they found it amusing to watch us try to eat it.

After lunch the kids had a number of performances for us including a choreographed dance, a cultural stick dance, a cute little girl singing "Let it Go", and the highlight was my new buddy Jefferson bringing down the house with a beautiful Filipino song.  After their performances had finished, it became our turn to entertain them and for this we had prepared a couple rap songs to perform.  First, me and two other students rapped the Black Eyed Peas song "Where is the Love?" with the girls singing the chorus.  It was fun seeing the Filipino's, who really love their music, get into it and start swaying their hands during the song.  Next two of my students took the lead rapping "Hall of Fame" by The Script, with other students filling in other minor roles of the song.  I had a lot of fun with it, but I know many of my students were very nervous, but I thought they did great.

Next was a series of different games we played with the students of their school.  Games such as a sack race, a cross-dressing relay race, a pseudo-pinata game and then there was this game where you walk on coconut shells as stilts, however we didn't get to play that game because as we took turns practicing my weight broke the shell (I felt like the kid from Sandlot after hitting the homerun causing them to not to be able to play anymore).  The games ended with a series of volleyball games, their main sport, in which they embarrassed us all in good fun.  The games wrapped up a fun day getting to share so much joy with the students of the Philippines and of our students as well.

The next day was our "fun day", although our work/service day turned into a fun day as well, for this day we were taking our students to the world renowned Boracay Beach (TripAdvisor ranked #19 beach in the world).  It was a full day to just let loose and have fun at the beach and surrounding shops, and a great opportunity for bonding with my students.

On the last day before we were traveling back to Singapore we got to witness a mass at a local cathedral (the one that one of the other teachers on the trip and his wife were married in).  On the way back we had a long layover in the city of Cebu, which just so happens to be the place were Ferdinand Magellan was killed.  Ferdinand Magellan, as you hopefully know, is the Portuguese explorer, sailing for Spain, who is credited with sailing all the way around the world.  However, he didn't actually make it as he was killed in the Philippines.  It was his crew that continued and finished circumnavigating the globe.  So of course I was super excited to go see the place where he was killed in a battle that took place on the beach.  We had to add a little history into the trip while we were in the Philippines!

Eventually we made it back to Singapore.  With the trip concluded I am very thankful for both the opportunity to get to know and interact with the children in the Philippines who were so kind and always happy, but also the time to get to bond with my students who rarely get to see me step out of the "teacher" role.  I think they finally realized how cool I am :)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Down Unda'

With all of the places I have traveled to there has always been one place that has remained on my list, but respectively closer to the bottom of that list, and that country was Australia.  However, as my time in Singapore is dwindling ever so rapidly to a close, I felt it necessary to visit this popular country/continent while living so close.  Consulting a few my Aussie friends as to what city I should visit, I kept hearing differing opinions between which was better: Sydney or Melbourne.  So I resorted to my go to solution when faced with a difficult choices; choose both!

First up was Sydney.  As soon as I got checked into my hostel I immediately dropped my bags and went exploring.  The first place I set off for was this place called Mrs. MacQuiare's Chair, that I had read was the best lookout point of the Sydney Harbour which framed the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  After patiently waiting for the other tourists who felt the necessity to take what would have constituted as about 5 rolls of film a decade ago, all of essentially the exact same picture just moderately different poses or slightly different combinations of who got to be in the picture (I feel like this is a potential math problem: "There are seven people of a specific racial group and they want to take a picture with every possible combination of their group at a very popular tourist destination.  How many photos will the rest of the tourists have to endure watching them take before they too get an opportunity to take a photo?"), I eventually got the picture I had walked nearly two hours for.

On my way back to the hostel, which was a much shorter walk now armed with the knowledge of where I was actually going, I stopped to eat at this little hotdog stand on the side of the road called Harry's Cafe de Wheels.  Now there was nothing that really looked impressive about this place, and after eating their hotdog there indeed was nothing all that impressive with this place, but I was excited to eat there simply because one of my most sweet hearted students, who had lived many years in Sydney wrote out a list of her favorite restaurants that she really wanted me to eat at, and this one topped her list.  So this was for Julie and I am glad I could share the experience of eating at her favorite hotdog place (this would not be the last place I would eat at based on Julie's recommendation either).

The day I flew into Sydney coincidentally just happened to coincide with the same day that Major League Baseball's first ever Opening Day game would be held overseas in none other than the city of Sydney.  Sadly, being the huge baseball fan that I was, I did not even know about this historic game until about 3 days before I was to fly off, which then put me in the dilemma of whether or not to fork out the money to get a ticket.  I held off on getting a ticket, but when I realized that the stadium was only about a 30 minutes walk from my hostel and I had all the time in the world to spare, I decided that I might as well check out the gameday festivities and see if couldn't snag me a ticket.  Even though I was not the least bit interested in either team playing (LA Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks), it was still neat to see the excitement of baseball starting and there were many people, like myself, who were just there because they loved baseball and proudly displayed their allegiance to their different teams from all over America.  When I went up to the ticket office and asked if they had any of the cheap seats still available, I was shocked to find out that they did!  Excitedly, I asked the clerk how much they were and he replied, "$390".  There was no way I was going to pay that!  Instead I decided to try my luck with the scalpers.  I approached a few and asked what their cheapest ticket was, to which, wanting to always be in control of the negotiation, they asked back what I was willing to pay.  To that I explained my contentment in not watching the game, and that I was merely curious of the ticket prices and if one happened to be what I deemed as reasonable then perhaps I would purchase it.  Again, they stubbornly asked, "how much?" to which I replied that I would pay around $50.  No takers.  However, while I was talking to a scalper, a normal person with presumably a respectable job, came up to me and explained that he and his friends had an extra ticket due to the fact that one of their friends had bailed on them.  Not wanting it to go to waste they wanted to sell it and make some of the money back.  I then asked him how much he had paid for it and the told me that he had paid $220 for it.  Honestly I told them that I wasn't able to offer anything near that, but when they persisted that I give an offer, I again told them $50.  Again, they didn't want to let it go for that cheap which I totally understood, but I told them if they have trouble selling it and it comes close to first pitch and they just wanted something for it rather than nothing, then I would be waiting in roughly the same spot with my $50.  Sure enough, about 15 minutes before first pitch the guy came walking up and said, "Can you give me $60?", to which I laughed and said that yes, I didn't mind paying $60.  The novelty of the game was what made it special.  Watching it with a bunch of Aussies was pretty cool too.  The game itself was pretty uneventful and LA won 3-1, but I am still sure glad I was there!

The next day in Sydney I did not do a whole lot.  I went to a very popular beach, called Bondi Beach, where there were tons of people.  It was a nice beach, and I could imagine it being a lot of fun to hang out there all day with a group of friends, but I was alone so I didn't stay for long.  However, there was another restaurant from Julie's list that was right by the beach, so I decided to stop by and have lunch.  The place was called Hurricane's Grill, and they had some pretty darn amazing ribs!

For my last day in Sydney, I had saved one of my most anticipated activities on my "things to do in Australia" list, which was to touch (preferably hold if possible) a koala bear.  Prior to my trip, I had seen people with photos of them holding a Koala bear and so I tried to research a place where I too could do this.  However, everywhere I read said that anywhere near Sydney or Melbourne it was illegal to hold them because supposedly the constant handling by humans makes them uncomfortable.  I was told about a place where you could still pet them, however, and so I was content in settling with that.  Featherdale Wildlife Park was about an hour and a half commute by train and then bus.  The day was a bit rainy, but since Koala's live in trees, rain doesn't seem to affect them so much.  At the park, they have all sorts of indigenous animals of Australia, all of which you can pet! They had koalas, wallabies, wombats, dingoes, Tasmanian devils (which are shockingly similar in behavior to the cartoon, the thing never stopped running in circles for the entire five minutes I watched it!) and much more.  It was a lot of fun, and koalas are even softer and cuter than I had imagined.  This concluded my trip in Sydney, it was off the next morning for Melbourne.

Where Sydney had a more modern art type of feel, Melbourne definitely reflected more of the colonial style and seemed much more rustic than Sydney.  There were numerous colonial buildings, undoubtedly named Victoria "something", and they even had cable cars as public transport rather than buses.  The city had a neat feel to it and it was enjoyable to just walk around, which is precisely what I did my first two days there.  Having had enough of walking around a strange city by myself, I decided to book a tour to travel the Great Ocean Road the next morning. I had heard of this road from many of the people that had traveled Australia, and even seen some of their pictures, and it looked beautiful.  The road, which was commissioned to provide jobs for thousands of Aussie soldiers returning from WWI without work, winds part of the southern coastline of Australia, providing stunning views of the rocky cliffs with great ocean swells crashing up against them.  I was originally planning to rent a car and drive this road myself but decided against it as it was more expensive, complicated, dangerous, and lonely than doing it through a tour.  The tour got off to rough start.  I was told to meet the tour bus at a cathedral near my hostel by 7am, which created a great shock when I rolled over to check the time the next morning and saw that it was already past 8am.  I quickly ran down stairs to the front desk of my hostel, whom I had booked the tour through, in hopes of just getting lucky and something being able to be worked out.  I was not so hopeful though because the following day, my last day, I had already purchased tickets for a rugby game I was super excited about and so there was no way for me to reschedule.  However, as always, my travel angel was with me and it just so happened that that company runs two tours a day and the other one left at 11am and they had extra room for me, I just had to sit shotgun in the front with the driver.  No problem!  The other bad news was that the day we went was the one rainy overcast day during my stay in Melbourne, which prevented the beautiful sunshine and sunset pictures of the coast.  Even without, the drive was absolutely beautiful.  After driving for about 6 hours we reached the end of the road at the famous 12 apostles landmark.  What this is is 7 rock pillars jutting out of the sea just off the coast.  Why is it called the 12 apostles when it only has 7?  Good question.  Basically, the original name for the formations had been the Sow and Piglets, but was changed to the apostles to be more attractive for tourists, and it would be strange to call it the 7 apostles.  Regardless, the whole trip was super cool and the sights were beautiful.  OH, and we saw some wild koalas on one of our pits stops!

For my last day in Australia, I did some more walking around, souvenir shopping, and eating, particularly the meat pies.  However, all I was really doing was killing time until it was time to go to the rugby game I was so excited to get to watch.  The game was part of a tournament called Super Rugby, where 15 clubs from Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand (5 from each) compete against each other.  For soccer fans, this is like watching the champions league.  Anyways, the game I was going to watch were the Canberra Brumbies, who finished the last season in 2nd place, against the home town Melbourne Rebels, who aren't that good.  Despite the ref trying to give the superior Brumbies all the help he could in the first half, the Rebels came back and won the game in heroic fashion in the second half.  It was a fantastic game and a fantastic way to end my stay in Australia.