Sunday, October 30, 2011


Moving to a new city is fun on so many levels; one of the more exciting things to do is find an array of new doctors and dentists.  Sometimes you can hit a home run; other times, not so much. Meeting my new family doctor, I hit an out of the park grand-slam.  She is a Filipina, and we spent half of my appointment talking about the Philippines.  She even made me sing the national anthem (sitting on the examination table in my paper gown!)  Back in the martial law era of Ferdinand Marcos, we were required to stand and hear the anthem played in movie theaters.  I have no idea what it means, but boy can I belt it out.

Recounting this little tidbit to my high school chums, I started a thread about how fun it is to connect with Filipinos today.  I can spot a Filipino accent from just about anywhere, be it US Airways' call center, or on a bus, and I always make a jackass out of myself (according to my kids) talking to the owner of the accent about how I lived in Manila.  I almost always get a smile (yes I can hear a smile over the phone).  On a recent Alaskan cruise most of the crew was Filipino and I was a celebrity in their midst, of sorts. I always got a "Magandang umaga!" (Good Morning!) or "Anong pangalan mo?" (What's your name?) when I ran into them, accompanied by giggles.  It's a connection ... an acknowledgement.  Most Westerners don't even give them a second thought; they're just the "staff".  By knowing something about where they come from, I hope I give them a sense of importance, that I validate their identity, and communicate how much I appreciate and love their country, that they are human beings to me, not just waiters and busboys.  In a way, they do the same for me.  I feel a connection too, something that we TCKs latch on to like a life boat. Our lives are filled with such continual disconnection, that finding a common ground is like manna, its juice a medicine for our souls.

So when I recently heard someone refer to Filipinos as "Orientals," my defenses shot up.  Way back in the early days of this blog I wrote this post about the word "oriental".  By osmosis, I suppose, I developed an aversion to the word not for any particular reason other than it just felt wrong to me.  I know there are is a wide swing among people as to whether or not the word is offensive.  It strikes me in the same way as the generational "colored" or, of course, the dreaded "N" word.  The State of Washington enacted a bill in 2002 claiming that the word "oriental" in regards to its citizens was "outdated and pejorative" and that "All state and local government statues, codes, rules, regulations and other official documents enacted after July 1, 2002, are required to use the term 'Asian' when referring to people of Asian descent.  The use of the term 'Oriental' is prohibited."

Why do we have to label people?  Why do we talk about the "(fill in the blank)" lady who waited on us but not the "white" lady?  To me, these labels set others apart.  The label emphasizes their difference, as if we (the westerners) are the "norm" and the "orientals" or "blacks" are the deviation.  The word "oriental" itself is ethnocentric, to differentiate between the geographic West and the exotic East.  Do we refer to ourselves as "occidental" (western)?  No.  Why not?  Labeling others and not ourselves creates an "us" versus "them" way of thinking.  I'm reminded of my college history classes where I learned about Theodore Roosevelt's attitude towards the Philippines.  He had a paternalistic view, asserting that the United States had an obligation towards its "little brown brothers".  I remember how this was a kick to the stomach for me.  As if they weren't capable of taking care or governing themselves.  "The Imperial Cruise" by James Bradley is an intriguing, if not shocking, look at American imperialism of the time, and how, the author posits, this was an underlying cause of early 20th century Japanese expansion, and therefore, World War II.  What is really sad is that there are still undercurrents of this today, if not overtly, at the very least subconsciously.

Surely I'm spreading controversy here, but I welcome input from all sides.  Maybe it's a little close to home because my daughters are Asian.  I am ashamed to admit that I have been more than a little rankled by people who referred to them as "oriental" and have replied in less than polite terms. I know there is a way to politely inform without hurting feelings.  Am I being hypocritical here?  Aren't I being just as paternalistic and protective of my "Asian" brothers and sisters by speaking out on their behalf?  I know they can speak for themselves.  In that regard, I am reposting a poem that I heard years ago.

is not
head bowed, submissive, industrious
model minority
hard working, studious

is not being
Lotus blossom, exotic passion flower

in no talking
ahh so, ching chong chinaman
no tickee, no washee

is a white man's word
Oriental is jap, flip, chink, gook
it's "how 'bout a back rub mama-san"
it's "you people could teach them niggers
and mexicans a thing or two
you're good people
none of that hollerin' and protesting"

is slanty eyes, glasses, and buck teeth
Charlie Chan, Tokyo Rose, Madam Butterfly
it's "a half hour after eating chinese food
you're hungry again"
it's houseboys, gardeners, and laundrymen
Oriental is a fad: yin-yang, kung fu
"say one of them funny words for me"
Oriental is downcast eyes, china doll
"they all look alike"
Oriental is sneaky
Oriental is a white man's word

ARE NOT Oriental.
We have learned the word all our lives
we have learned to be Oriental
we have learned to live it, speak it,
play the role
The time has come
to look at who gave the name.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Orphan Nutrition Project Video - SPOON Foundation

The Orphan Nutrition Project Video - SPOON Foundation

Digressing a little bit from the Third Culture Kid agenda on my little blog. The SPOON Foundation is a non-profit organization started by two moms who, like me, adopted children from Kazakhstan. When we were adopting Melanie from Taldy Korgan, in eastern Kazakhstan, we were fortunate enough to meet a little girl who later was adopted by one of these moms. The little girl was in a special needs group because she couldn't walk. The caregivers speculated that she had cerebral palsy or mental retardation, or both. When she got home, she was diagnosed with rickets, a vitamin deficiency that affects the growth and development of the bones; a condition which can be reversed with vitamins and by a simple change in diet.

When we first came home with Lisa, she could barely walk up a flight of stairs, much less pedal a tricycle. We saw first hand the lack of exercise and gross motor "play" that the children got in the Baby House; activities that children in this country take for granted.  We took part in a program sponsored by our agency to build playgrounds at some of the orphanages there. I went to Esik and Petropavlovsk the summer of 2006 and helped to build two sets. I learned a lot that summer about power tools and how to use a post-hole digger.  But exercise is only one part of the solution to make these kids' lives better.

I am so excited to see how the SPOON foundation's efforts have been received by the government of Kazakhstan, and to see that it may spread into other countries as well. Please take a minute to look at the video, and to get a glimpse into the Kazakh baby houses where my daughters spent their early days.

Hey it's Johnny C | Adventures and insights about Third Culture Kids, Asian and Asian-American culture, Globalism, Human Rights, Travel, and more

An eye-opening blog that I have come to love.

Hey it's Johnny C | Adventures and insights about Third Culture Kids, Asian and Asian-American culture, Globalism, Human Rights, Travel, and more

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

No-Bake Cheesecake Cups with Nutella Spiderweb Topping | BlogHer

A delicious treat from a Filipina who explains how All Saint's Day is celebrated in the Philippines.

No-Bake Cheesecake Cups with Nutella Spiderweb Topping | BlogHer

10 Most Suitable Countries for American Expatriates | Expatify - StumbleUpon

Hmmm ... which to pick? Australia might be the "easiest" because of the language issue. Having recently been to Spain for the first time, I might want to move to Barcelona. What a city! Just fantasy, of course! Where would you go?

10 Most Suitable Countries for American Expatriates | Expatify - StumbleUpon

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Parallel Universe

A couple of weekends ago, my husband and I traveled to San Antonio for alumni weekend at Trinity University.  Trinity holds a special place in our hearts, as we met there at freshman orientation, in 1978.  He recently got a call from some fraternity brothers, encouraging him to come down for a beer or two, to catch up and to talk about the good old days.  We had some timeshare points to use, so we thought, why not?  We ate some good Mexican food, did some shopping, and overall had a great weekend getaway.  The fraternity party was great, we saw some familiar faces, and got caught up on all the goings-on over the past 30 years.

It was surreal to see the old campus, in some ways the same, in some ways, very different.  It was almost as if we could sense the ghosts of our former (young) selves, flitting about from place to place.  I could see myself walking across campus to get to my 8:00 class, eating a bite in the refectory (who came up with that name for the eating place??) or dancing to the band at the annual welcome back party at the tower.  We walked around, sharing our memories ... "That's where I jumped the fence to the pool and went for a swim in February, just so I could tell my friends back in New York that I went swimming in February!"  "There is the window seat in the library where I used to study."  "I remember when they threw me in the fountain for my birthday!"  And so on.  I felt like I was in a time warp.

Ultimately though, we left a little deflated.  It was as if we suddenly realized that that part of our lives is no longer.  The concrete and bricks may still be there, in one form or another, but we are no longer a part of the place.  We did a little grieving, too, about that carefree time in our lives, when all we had to worry about was getting good grades, and making our allowance stretch through the month.  It was a little disappointing that some things had changed, but they were mostly changed for the better.  That creaky old building where I had most of my classes was no more; bulldozed and rebuilt into a modern, exposed beam and glass representation of modern architecture.  The old science building where Mitch spent hours in biology and chemistry labs was earmarked for demolition as well, with a new, state of the art science complex under construction next door.

Fort Bonifacio

Third Culture Kids spend a lot of time looking back.  Our years overseas were, for the most part, charmed.  We lived lives that no one in our home culture could ever envision.  We tell stories about the exotic locales, the luxurious lifestyle, the freedom.  In the case of the Philippines, we had extraordinary carte-blanche to explore the city and explore ourselves.  We had maids, drivers and gardeners.  Field trips meant a drive to some of the most beautiful tropical beaches in the world.  Some of us were witnesses to history; sometimes living through revolutions or martial law.  We lived just down the road from the American military cemetery at Fort Bonifacio.  Daily we drove on streets where World War II battles took place.  Names like Corregidor and Bataan meant something real to us.

The new and improved Manila.
So when the day comes that dad announces that we are "moving back to the states" we unrealistically expect our past lives to remain the same.  We want that time in our lives to freeze, to never change, to stay suspended in permanent animation.  We grieve when we hear about the changes.  There's now an elevated highway on E. de los Santos Avenue?  You've got to be kidding!  And where is the Quad, where we used to spend our afternoons watching movies or hanging out?  Gone!  There's now a SUBWAY system in Singapore?  Impossible!  A recent visit to Google Earth confirmed that my old house on Cambridge Circle in Forbes Park, is no more.  Granted it was one stiff wind away from falling down when we were there, but it was nevertheless a jolt to see that it was gone.  I can still close my eyes and be in my bedroom, and hear the hum of the window-unit "aircon".  I can hear the cook, Pacita, announcing "Dee-ner is u-ready!"  But that parallel universe is gone.  In my mind I hear platitudes like, "You can never go back" and "The only thing that stays the same is change."

For us TCK's though, those cliches are too close to our hearts.  When you watch a child grow up, the changes are imperceptible.  Only others, who haven't seen them in a long time, notice how drastic the changes are,  ("My goodness!  You've been eating your Wheaties!")  From the distance of time, the changes in our former homes are just too striking to comprehend.  Our old school has been demolished for an office skyscraper; the new location is flat-out gorgeous on a major scale.  Someone posted a video (above) and pictures online of the old campus before it was wiped out.  Rubble littered the floor, empty classrooms were covered in cobwebs and dust.  Here and there was a broken desk, a microscope still sat on a counter. The earth was reclaiming the land; weeds were growing through the concrete floors and vines covered the cracked walls.  It was eerie and devastating to a lot of us.  When we were there, it was old, it was creaky, but it was ours.

The new and improved International School, Manila
There is a lot of talk about TCK's having unresolved grief ... moving sometimes is like a death.  In those days, there was no internet to keep up with the old gang.  In most cases, you never saw those people again, ever.  So it was like a death, several times over.  Is it any wonder that we have issues with attachment and identity?

Not to end on a morose note.  Now we have the internet, we have message boards where we can reconnect with former classmates.  It heals the heart to "see" those folks again, to banter about our days in Manila, to look at pictures of ourselves from that time.  Reconnecting with the past heals; all of our awkward foibles and high school mistakes are forgiven and forgotten.  Happily, our spirits do still exist in that time and space, in that parallel universe.