Friday, September 30, 2011

A Little Filipino Humor!

Filipinos are certainly getting into mainstream America and into the world. With an estimated 4 million Filipino-American population (as of 2007), Filipinos are an emerging group in a diverse society in the United States .

Filipino talents like Manny Pacquiao, Charice Pempengco, Arnel Pineda, Lea Salonga, and Monique Lhuiller are doing a great job pitching in!

David Letterman, apparently used Filipino-Americans in one of his skits.

Here’s the recap:

Top 10 Reasons Why There Couldn’t Be a Filipino-American US President

By David Letterman

10. The White House is not big enough for in-laws and extended relatives.

9. There are not enough parking spaces at the White House for 2 Honda Civics,
2 Toyota Land Cruisers, 3 Toyota Corollas, a Mercedes Benz, a BMW , and
an MPV (My Pinoy Van).
8. Dignitaries generally are intimidated by eating with their fingers at State dinners.

7. There are too many dining rooms in the White House – where will they put
the picture of the Last Supper?

6. The White House walls are not big enough to hold a pair of giant wooden
spoon and fork.

5. Secret Service staff won’t respond to “psst… psst” or “hoy.hoyhoy!”

4. Secret Service staff will not be comfortable driving the presidential car with a Holy Rosary hanging on the rear view mirror, or the statue of the Santo Nino on the dashboard.

3. No budget allocation to purchase a Karaoke music-machine for every room in the White House.
2. State dinners do not allow “Take Home”.


1. Air Force One does not allow overweight Balikbayan boxes!

Stumbled Upon is a great thing.  If you have the credit card, you get points for every purchase, and after you pay your bill you have hundreds of points to spend on free merchandise.  And if you spend more than $25.00 worth, you get free shipping!  Wish I had thought of it.  Doesn't everyone?

The other day we did some shopping for some Very Important stuff, but were short of the $25.00 free shipping amount.  To fill in the gap, I did a quick search for Third Culture Kids and a book called "The Sullivan Saga" popped up, with the following product description:

"These are the exotic, funny and sometimes bittersweet family stories and photos of an overseas childhood told by the daughter of a State Department diplomat about her family's travels and experiences living overseas from 1957 to 1972. She and her six brothers spent their childhoods in South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand and Ethiopia. Through her stories, the reader can begin to appreciate the adaptability of children to other cultures and the fortitude and courage of parents trying to raise their children to be good citizens of the world as well as good Americans."

It didn't take me long to decide to get it (maybe a nanosecond).  I read it in one sitting (or in my case, lying).  Imagine you are the only girl in a family of six brothers!  That's challenge enough, I would think.  But then at the age of 5 (like me!) you are taken to Asia to live due to your father's job (okay, at that point there were only 4 brothers).  Maureen, the author, was blonde (like me) and also like me had the experience of people walking up to touch her hair.  In those days towheads were a curiosity and the Asian folks just *had* to touch it!  My mom was pretty lenient about it, smiling and nodding, but it pretty much creeped me out.

Maureen's mom Hope gave birth in Korea 10 days after they arrived.  (Why they didn't wait in the US until the baby was born is beyond me!)  In the accompanying video on the website, Hope describes arriving at the Seventh Day Adventist hospital, in labor.  A Korean woman was on the lone delivery table, and the staff swiftly moved her to the floor to make room for Hope.  A crowd of Koreans came into the room, including the janitor, to see if the Western woman gave birth the same way the Korean women did!  Hope seems like a plucky woman, (or maybe being in labor she just didn't give a darn!), and she thought, "what the heck" and had the baby right then and there. Two years later she had another baby in Korea.

The family went on to posts in Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand and Ethiopia.  Maureen went to the International School (then the American School) like I did, and the family lived on the same street that we did (Cambridge Circle, Forbes Park).  Her experience in Manila wasn't all hearts and flowers.  She had moved right before entering high school (like me) after making good friends in Taiwan and making the cheerleading squad.  (Sounds familiar!)  According to Maureen, AS was different from her previous schools in that "the majority of the students weren't transients like us.  Indeed, most were expatriate residents of the Philippines who were American citizens, but they didn't move every two years like we did."  She talks about being an outsider where all of the cliques had been established in elementary school.  She describes being amongst "sons and daughters of expatriates who had married and merged into the local Filipino society" which she found to be "something of a closed society".  It took her a YEAR (her emphasis) to make a single good friend.  (Well, me too, but I had to do it again, year after year!)

Although she does go on to describe all the historical sites and the fun beaches they went to, I was sad to hear that her experience in Manila wasn't that great.  However, I could relate to a lot of what she wrote.  I too felt on the fringe at IS, but by the time I got there, the school was populated by more of a transient group.  There was a core group of "old timers" who had spent their entire lives at IS, but there were also a lot of kids who came and went.  Like Maureen, I also had trouble making friends, but I don't blame the demographics of the school.  The fact was, I was shy, I was awkward, and teenagers can just be cruel.  As I (finally) felt like a (nominal) part of the "cool" crowd in later years, I admit I was probably less than nice to some of the kids I had befriended at the start.  Or maybe we just grew apart.  I hope it was the latter.  I hate to think of myself as being as cruel to others as others had been to me.  It's "Lord of the Flies" out there sometimes.

Maureen finally found her niche in Bangkok, graduating from the International School there.  The prologue of her book describes her first days at the University of Montana, holding a post card inviting her to a gathering of foreign exchange students.  Her home address in Thailand made the club assume she was one of them.  She writes the following:

"It's only kids like me -- overseas brats, third-culture kids, American dependents of diplomats or the U.S. military -- that have this problem with the semantics of the otherwise simple question 'Where are you from?'  The intent of the question is to place you in some context, to begin to know you ... I have my 'elevator speech' of who I am: 'I was born in Washington DC.  My father works for the State Department and I was raised overseas in Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand and Ethiopia.'"

"That answers the question but it is apparently quite intimidating and is generally received with one giant step back.  People don't know what to make of me or my background.  They wonder if I am bragging?  Or am I rich?  At any rate, all that world travel and exotic experience isn't conducive to creating comfort in my peers or a sense of camraderie.

"...We have a different set of skills -- mobile skills, if you will.  We know how to maneuver in new places, to learn our way around, to feel at ease in discomforting situations, to entertain ourselves and to be OK with ambiguity.  Good skills, to be sure, but they don't make you many friends."

I am forever envious of people who can pick my brain and speak out loud the things that I am thinking.  These words pretty much sum up the core of "me".  Thanks for having my back, Maureen.  Oh, and read her book.  It resonates.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Dark Side

I don't just read books.  I consume them.  It's frustrating for me to put a book down; I want to read it entirely in one sitting.  Lately, to my dismay, I have been doing just that.  Unfortunately this habit has kept me up into the wee hours of the morning, my eyes heavy with sleep, but my mind refusing to give in.  Just one more chapter, I think.  Being engaged in a story is just too compelling.

Creepy much?

In the last few days, I've read two books that I stumbled upon (hey, what a great name for a web crawler!)  Recently a friend from high school in Manila started a Facebook thread called "You know you're from International School Manila if ..." and five weeks later it's still brimming with activity.  I have done similar threads here on this blog, with the furniture, art and food.  This is a virtual high school reunion, without the expensive airfare and hotel rooms.  And we are all, in our minds, still young and vibrant: no gray hairs or wrinkles at this gathering!  

I found out a few things at this e-get-together.  One is that I went to high school with the brother of Michael Hutchence, the lead singer of the 80's group INXS.  My son, who is a walking encyclopedia of rock & roll trivia, was intrigued, much like he was intrigued that I went to college with Gibby Haynes, the lead singer of the Butthole Surfers (yes, that's their real name, google it).  I didn't know Rhett Hutchence at IS, but I was moved to buy his book, "Total XS" which tells the story of his relationship with his brother and the mystery of Michael's death; and unfortunately Rhett's drug addiction.  Losing a loved older sibling was something I identified with.  It all started with a comment he made on the Facebook page: "You know you went to the International School Manila if .. you develop a serious drug problem."  There have been 262 responses as of now, from nodding heads to outrage at Rhett being a "downer".  Up until then we had talked about favorite teachers, skipping school, drinking San Miguel beer.  How dare Rhett say something so dark and depressing?  

Yes, they really exist.

Granted, the school itself was not responsible for anyone's drug or alcohol addictions.  So many factors lurk behind the addictive personality.  I'm not so naive as to believe that "just wanting to belong" is the one and only reason for addiction. But the fact is, there was a lot of drug use going on in Manila.  I've talked about there being no drinking age in the Philippines, and for some reason, many of our parents gave us the freedom to wander the streets of Manila with no supervision.  We were little adults, sitting in bars with cigarettes in one hand, glasses of gin & tonic or beer in the other.  Even if we were at home, we were usually bartending our parents' parties, while watching our role models become more & more intoxicated.

My drink of choice.  With calamansi.

We also lived a transient life.  If we weren't moving every two years (or less) our friends were!  The group that was there freshman year was gone the next.  Best friends lasted as long as their parents' postings.  How to find a sense of belonging in that atmosphere?  You aligned yourself with anyone who was willing to take you in.  And sadly, sometimes that group was the druggie group.  My first marijuana came from my sister, who, in college in Louisiana, had come to visit over the Christmas break.  She met two guys from IS Manila on the flight over, and they were big into the drug scene.  She is the one who told me about people smuggling drugs into the Philippines inside boxes of tampons.  In our back yard one afternoon, I had my first toke and ended up jumping up & down in the pool, laughing hysterically.  I didn't fit the profile; people were often shocked that I smoked.  I had a "goody two-shoes" aura about me, I suppose.  Deep down I think I enjoyed surprising people that way; it made me memorable when previously I had been an anonymous, miserable face in the crowd.  A friend once gave me some pot for my birthday wrapped up in tin foil.  I hid it under my bed, but was horrified a few days later to find that our dog had eaten it all, leaving an empty and licked-clean piece of foil.  I hope he enjoyed it!  Overall, though, it just made me sleepy and the taste and smell was sickly-sweet.  I never felt compelled to smoke; I could take it or leave it.  

I didn't run in the hard core crowd that did heroin or cocaine.  But I knew it was out there.  There were car accidents and overdoses.  Entire families would suddenly and mysteriously leave the country.  I know of at least one acquaintance who died as a result of his addictions.  I'm sure there are more that I don't know about.   There was a darker side.  Yes, it is a downer, but is is reality, and you can't change reality by pretending it doesn't exist.  I'm sure at first some of us just wanted to belong, and a toke of a joint made that possible.  After that the path forked: one way was the way I went: just trying things on for size.  The other way was a far darker journey, from which I, but for the grace of God, was spared.  I will always remember my friend who wasn't so lucky.  But really, was this story any different from any other high school at the time?  Don't all teenagers just want to belong, TCK or not?

Tomorrow: "The Sullivan Saga" by Maureen H. Sullivan.  

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where Were You?

Most of us remember where we were when world events took place: my mom was ironing in front of the TV when JFK was assassinated.  I was at work in Louisiana when the Challenger crashed; I knew my brother-in-law worked at NASA with the Challenger astronauts, so it hit pretty close to home for me.  I can remember watching the early moments of the first Gulf War on TV in Mississippi.  The grainy black and white films of the surgical strikes were compelling and frightening.

We all have our 9-11 stories.  As I watch all the coverage today, I am taken back to a normal day in Charlotte, NC.  The kids had all been dropped at school on that sunny morning.  I was in my car running a mundane errand: I was on the way to the humane society to borrow some cat traps.  We had two feral cats who had taken up residence in our back yard, and being the responsible property owner that I was, I needed to get them checked, spayed &/or neutered (we didn’t know if they were male or female).  So there I was, driving along Gilead Road in Huntersville, on my way to Remount Road, where the animal shelter was.  A friend called and told me about a plane hitting the World Trade Center.  For some reason, when we human beings are confronted with the unbelievable and the unfathomable, we go immediately into denial.  Told that there has been an accident, we immediately go into denial mode: someone is hurt, but they will be okay.  A plane has hit the tower, but I’m sure it was an accident.  I could imagine a private plane taking a wrong turn. 

My friend was equally sure it was not an accident.  I brushed her off.  “There she goes again, overreacting,” I thought.  As I drove down I-77 to Charlotte, I heard about the second plane on the radio.  The truth settled over me like a wet blanket of disbelief and horror.  As if sleepwalking, I fetched the cat traps, telling the people at the shelter what was going on.  They turned on their TV immediately and we all watched, silent, for a few minutes.  I suddenly felt an urgent need to get back in my car and get to the kids’ school, just to be near them.  It was grandparents' day and we all sat in the auditorium that afternoon watching their little performances, smiling stiffly, wondering if their teachers had told them what had happened, wondering how we were going to tell them, hoping that their innocence wouldn't be crushed forever.

The rest of the day is a blur.  I remember standing (who can sit at a time like this?) in my living room, watching the news, switching from channel to channel.  The Pentagon has been hit?  Who is next?  Where is the other plane?  There were some murmurs about Charlotte being next, because it is the second largest financial center next to New York.  My husband’s headquarters were in Boston at the time, and he called to tell me that the John Hancock tower was being evacuated.  One of his co-workers was on the flight that hit the World Trade Center.  The news just got worse and worse. 

We were waiting for our travel dates to go to Kazakhstan to adopt our new daughter, Lisa.  We knew our turn was coming up soon, and I have to admit, selfishly, I was afraid how all of this was going to affect our trip.  We heard from our agency about several families en route from Kazakhstan to the states who had been diverted to Canada with their new children.  A book called “The Day the World Came to Town” by Jim DeFede tells the story about the flights that landed in Gander, Newfoundland and how the city took everyone in.  A couple from our agency was on their way home from Almaty, and ended up in Gander.

Not only that, my mother was scheduled for surgery in Baton Rouge to remove a node from her pancreas.  Every doctor I had consulted told me that there was only a 1% chance that it was not cancerous.  Their faces would grimly tell me that it was likely I was about to lose my mother.  And now the world was in crisis. 

I was supposed to leave on Thursday for Baton Rouge to be with mom for her surgery on Friday.  With the airspace over the US closed, I wasn’t going anywhere.  Her surgeon was supposed to go somewhere mid-week, but unable to travel, he moved her surgery to Wednesday.  Either way I wasn’t going to be there.  When they opened the airspace for flights on Friday, I flew to Baton Rouge on a virtually empty plane.  Only six other brave souls flew with me that day.  I convinced myself that with security so tight, now was probably the safest day to fly.  I had gotten the news that mom’s node was NOT cancerous.  She had beaten the odds … maybe things were looking up?

So here I am yammering about all the things that affected me on and around 9/11.  How can what I went through even compare to the horror, the unfathomable loss of life?  I can’t bear to think about the people who were faced with the decision that a fall from the top of the World Trade Center was a preferable way to die than burning in the inferno.  To imagine the chaos and confusion among those trying to make it down the interminable flights of stairs, only to suddenly have their lives snuffed out when the towers fell?  Execrable. 

And the anger.  Oh, the anger, the fury, the outrage.  How could anyone be so evil?  As the pieces of the story came together, it became more and more unbelievable.  We all walked around in a fog for weeks afterwards.   People asked us if we were still planning to go to Kazakhstan?  Of course we were!  Could we just abandon our little girl, who was already our daughter in our minds?  Most people equated any country with “stan” in the name with Muslim extremists.  We knew that Kazakhstan, while technically Muslim, was more moderate; the Muslims in that country were mostly Islamic in name only.  For some reason we felt at peace.  No fear.  

Perhaps being a Third Culture Kid, I never lost that feeling that there is good in the world.  Not being an ostrich: burying my head in the sand about the fact that there is evil, but not losing hope that good will triumph in the end.  Having gone to high school with Muslims, I knew that they were not inherently bad; that every religion has its extremists, and I never judged a group of people by the bad apples.  I'm sure that few people are able to have this attitude; perhaps we TCKs are unique in this regard.  I hope that some day we will look at this period of history and wonder, not only "How could they?" but also "How could we?"  How can it be that we live in a country where ignorant people murder men wearing turbans in the mistaken belief that they are Muslims when they are really Sikhs?  Where a Muslim taxi driver gets his throat slashed simply because he is Muslim?  Looking to history, how could we have interned hundreds of Japanese-Americans simply because of their race?  Japan committed brutal, inhuman acts against its enemies in World War II.  Now they are one of our allies; a strong people with an admirable philosophy of industry and progress.  Good won out.

We did travel to Kazakhstan.  The people we met were most sympathetic.  Our trip is forever tied to the events of that day in September … a bittersweet journey to get our sweet girl, when world events were coming together in a convergence of fear and anxiety.  Our world was changed forever, both on a global scale, and in our little family.  Our daughter was a ray of light in a dark time.  I look at her now, and I see hope for the future.  We will never forget.  

My beautiful daughter Lisa.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

How Not to Behave on an Airplane: A Passenger's Bill of Rights, from the Lonely Planet

How Not to Behave on an Airplane: A Passenger's Bill of Rights

Having spent the last three years flying between Austin, Texas and Charlotte, NC, on varying sizes of airplanes, mostly Very Small Ones, this article hit a note with me.  My favorite part of the article is the discussion of the armrest situation.  I agree, the middle person should have special status, and should be entitled to BOTH armrests.

My pet peeve is people who just don't read signs!  When I fly the tiny sardine-can jet offered by US Airways, oftentimes we are forced to gate check our carry-ons because the overhead bins are only big enough to hold a sheet of paper.  When we're all getting off the plane at our destination we have to line up in the jetway to wait for the bags to be brought up.  There is yellow & black tape covering the entire left side of the corridor, with large (make that enormous) signs saying "DO NOT STAND ON THIS SIDE".  Inevitably some poor illiterate, visually impaired souls will stand on that side, blocking the way for the baggage handlers, and clogging up the jetway.  Most of us stand in an orderly fashion, waiting our turn.  Others feel that they are entitled to forego all the rules of civilized society.

One question I have for the airlines is, who decides which equipment (translation: plane) is going to be used on which route?  Recently we flew a six hour red-eye flight on a rag-tag airplane, on which the seats didn't recline more than 1% off vertical and the lavatories smelled like they hadn't been cleaned since the 1990's.  We dozed and stretched, trying unsuccessfully to get a few minutes' sleep.  We then caught our 2 hour connecting flight home, and found to our amazement that it was an enormous, brand new shiny plane with seats (okay, in the interest of disclosure, we were in business class, and okay, I should stop whining) that reclined completely flat, with all the latest seat-reclining technology.  We barely had time to close our eyes before we landed.  But oh, that was the best ten minutes' sleep ever.

I will forego discussing my other pet peeves, lest I start to sound like a grouchy old curmudgeon (is there a female version of a curmudgeon?).  Usually people behave acceptably and everyone arrives at their destination with all their faculties intact.  I have yet to see a really outrageous occurrence on a flight (flight attendants jumping down emergency slides, movie stars peeing on the floor ... )  Would love to hear your stories about travel.  (I'm sure there are lots!)