tondo 023

One of the most amazing memories of my time in the Philippines was the attitude of Filipinos, especially those that had little but somehow managed to be happy despite all the hardships. These two kids were having fun, playing chase in the mud and puddles in Tondo–a garbage dump city on the outskirts of Manila–shortly after a major hurricane had passed through. Somehow they had fun anyway.

The visit to Tondo was eye opening and heartbreaking.  Here’s the full story.



This post participated in A Word in Your Ear’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Happy

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside


Po, our Manila cat.  And, ironically, our first “inside” cat…trapped on the 21st floor of a 53 story building.  Just like us, she was forever finding a new home! Here she is inside the apartment, inside the pantry and inside my nested mixing bowls.

This post participated in the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

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Final Glimpses of the City

Time to add the closing bracket on our experience of Fort Bonifacio.  From our initial First Glimpses of the City much has changed since the first few months of stepping precariously across empty wasteland plots.  However, in recent months the view of our kitchen window has changed little compared to other areas of the Fort. Documenting further progress involving going up to the roof on the 55th floor of our skyscraper. I put this off until the last day. The vertigo feeling is both scary and exhilarating, but mostly scary. Especially alone. But eventually… up I went.

Here is the view from our roof over the window-blocking new building:

It reveals more vacant grass patches, but not so many anymore. Every patch is really just the footprint of buildings to come.


Yes, that’s SM Aura in the background. Although the shopping center and cinemas are open, you can see the continuing construction on the tower as the offices are not completed yet. Here’s a close up of Aura, in striking contrast to the older, poorer district immediately behind it:


Lastly, the last patch of green grass – that WAS planted lawn not wasteland – that used to be our easy access into the center of Fort Bonifacio by foot – is now well on its way to becoming a car park. And that is sad. For me that was the nail in the coffin of my disenchantment in living here. Between the growing traffic, blocked sidewalks, noise, dust and pedestrian hostility, I have reached my proverbial shit limit on the construction story that I have tried to embrace whilst I lived amongst it. Perhaps its just human nature that when we know we need to make a separation from something the protective walls come down and we allow the negative in to help push us away. Or maybe I’m just sick of people trying to run me over!


Robert’s Farewell Party

How do you say goodbye to a large staff of almost 100 who have worked together as a team for over two years? With a big, slap up barbeque and video karaoke party of course!


Carpenters, painters, drivers and technicians getting ready for the big feast


Corn and fried tofu on its way


Smoking us out with bbq chicken


More food appeared from all over …along with more hungry guys


Part of the great team that is FM Manila. We will miss you guys!

And no goodbye party is complete without a tribute video.  With apologies to Psy!

OK Kids. Time to Put Everything Back in the Box….


Men at Work

Its surprising just how noisy 8 guys with tape guns can be.   The clunking, scraping and stretching sounds rip across the room like fervent roadscrapers, manically shoveling paths through snow.  A kind of Stockhausen-esque aleatoric composition with its own cacophonic melody.  Concerto for Tape Dispenser in G minor.    I could barely hear myself think above the din.

Drowning in stuff!

Drowning in stuff!

The more soft furnishings that disappeared, the more it echoed.  It took two days to put everything we own “back in the box”…some of it literally and some of it figuratively… and a third day to get it out of the apartment and out of our lives.  At least for a while.


As if enough wasn’t going on already, the window cleaning platform showed up. For the first time in two years they cleaned the windows properly. Great timing!


And then the boxes started to disappear

We are packed out and sort of back to square one with our home space, except now we aren’t  expectantly looking around imagining how the space with develop around us, we are remembering our lives in that space and in all of the things we did in the Philippines.





I never in my life thought of living in the Philippines.  Its just not on most people’s maps or bucket lists (unless they’re Filipino of course).  It has been both surprising, fascinating, frustrating, ugly and beautiful.  Its hard to even remember my impressions and expectations when I first arrived, and yet when I glance back at my own blog from the first few days, I really feel the extent of 2.5 years here, everything we explored, loved and hated about living here.  Despite the frustrations with traffic and food quality, it has been largely a very positive experience that I am so glad to have had the opportunity to experience.  It my own small way I feel ownership for the land, people and language.  Made in The Philippines will forever mean something more to me.

I doubt we will have the opportunity to return.  We have so many competing places and relationships elsewhere and only limited time to visit, but who knows?  Maybe one day?  I know that even five years from now it will be a very different place.


This post participated in the Daily Prompt’s Weekly Photo Challenge: On The Move


The IB Post It Note Study System


I am sure we’re not the first people to think of using a mirror and post-it notes to keep track of something, but I have to say that it was a really good study plan strategy. I noticed Latham liked to keep his homework on post-it notes sometimes, sticking them to the window when he had multiple assignments due. So for finals I bought a bunch of them in different colours, then we picked a colour-key (re-read, review, cram, exam) and put up a big calendar (pink post its) on the sliding mirror closet doors, covering the six weeks leading up to exams. Each week started on a Saturday because the weekend was the start of the lead in to the following week.

Then we added events, doctors appts and other key activities, included scheduled free time, and finally added the actual exams (red post its).   This formed the basis of all the “set items.” Then Latham created a yellow post it for every subject area he had to cover for every subject.  The goal then was to place all the subject study post its on to the calendar in a way that made sense based on the exam dates and all the other realities.  The photo is the final result at the beginning of the six week period.

It was such a great system because it was simple.  Every day he knew what he had to do and it broke up the overwhelming exams into daily bites.  It was flexible.  Things crop up and life messes with the schedule.  The post-its could easily be moved around to accommodate changes.  Plus it had the added bonus of being able to remove a subject once you had studied it, which has the same satisfaction as crossing something off a list.  What was really key was that it showed the possibilities and limitations of the six week period in a very visual way, illustrating how it could be done, but also demonstrating that if you don’t study a particular unit as scheduled you needed to find a way to fit it in somewhere else instead.

Regardless of his results which we don’t have yet, it set up him up to succeed and hopefully the results will reflect that.

So what do you think?  Should I pack some post-it notes in a fancy box with a DVD and sell it as an IB Study System for $49.99?!

“Its the Final Countdown” ….

boredyoga30 days. I have to admit to feeling a little schizophrenic during this final phase.  I seem to oscillate between bored (with a bad dose of cabin fever) and peacefully calm; (watching all the pieces fall in place).  Notice I’m not frantic, frustrated, or overwhelmed at any point so far.  Should I be?  There’s also been a few waves of sadness as the goodbyes and final landmarks start to appear….and there will be plenty more of those.  The hardest part will always be leaving the people, not matter how much I miss the palm trees and beautiful beaches.  At times everything feels so mapped out, and we are just working down the list, checking boxes.   But there have been a couple of physical injuries that have thrown a spanner into the works, which just serve as a reminder that the unexpected is always a possibility and I am grateful that despite them it all seems to be working out.

My goal is to spend the next month best enjoying what remains (Latham’s graduation, last trips around Manila and the Philippines, last time with friends and last favourite things) and the least stressful exit I can manage…

SM Aura Revisited

Sept 2012

Construction in Sept 2012

In the usual Sim City style of BGC, SM Aura was built, opened, and packed with people in the blink of an eye.

SM Aura in May 2013

SM Aura in May 2013

I’ve been keeping track on this blog for 2+ years on the rapidly changing face of Fort Bonifacio.  I had planned to do one more post just before we leave which was supposed to include a revisit of the latest significant addition: SM Aura.  However, the building’s opening was uncooperative, with it’s official launch was last Friday led by none other than Sarah Jessica Parker who happens to be in town shooting a new movie.  Therefore, so as not to be the last person in the world to report on this, I am going to do a couple of comparison shots now between last September (as in my blog post then) and today but –fear not– I will do one more construction update next month.

aura crowds

I’ve seen some detailed pictures of the grocery store in the basement, which would probably be our reason for visiting on a regular basis, plus maybe the movie house.  There’s also a Kultura in house, which is good for visitors, and a “sky park” on the roof with some trees and places to eat.  It looks like a pretty spot if it wasn’t too crowded.

I haven’t summoned the courage to go yet, as the crowds were so massive this weekend.  Perhaps I can go on first thing on a rainy Tuesday morning next week, just to say I did?  I’ll save any further comments until I see for myself.

On belonging…


The Filipino sense of community is very different from the Western individualistic approach to life.  I notice how it plays a part in so many things here, contrasting daily in positive and negative ways.  Really understanding another culture takes time, and after two years I only feel like I’m beginning comprehend the nuances of so many things that go on around me.

Some things are more obvious.  Brand new in Manila, the very first thing you notice is how common uniforms are.  They are everywhere.  Every store has one and it not just about branding, although branding is very big here.  I think they are partly about clothing allowance as wages are so low, but there’s much more to it that that.  As I child, I refused to join the Brownies because I didn’t want to wear a uniform.  Very early on, I had developed some basic individualist leanings.  Here it’s just the opposite.  Very early on the emphasis is on belonging and collective responsibility.

My first experience with Filipino kids was playing at an orphanage in Makati.  After games were over it was time to clean up, and it was pretty amazing to watch.  The kids knew everything that needed to be done: brooms appeared, litter disappeared, and balls and toys were back where they belonged in seconds with no words spoken.  By contrast, yesterday, after an American family party, I went to the games room to clean up.  I asked the kids to help me pick up.  Their shoulders slouched, their arms went limp and they looked at me in horror.  They couldn’t slide out the door fast enough!

But the cookie crumbles both ways.  We raise independent kids who are raised to think for themselves.  I watch my son at 17 have a pretty clear idea of who he is and what he wants, and that makes me happy.    I want him to listen to his parents advice — we are the experienced ones after all — but to balance it with an awareness of his own needs.  Then he has ownership of his decisions, including his own mistakes and the responsibility to actually learn from them.  I see many Filipino kids that appear to have had their decision-making capacity removed and only know how to act by the rules.  It frustrating to watch, and infuriating at times to experience an adult who refuses to apply logic or adapt rules in a sensible way.

Nowhere do these two paths seem more distinctly different than at the international high school where Western kids parents’ complain about failing grades and how their kids “just don’t care”, and Asian kids whose parents’ rule their schedules, leaving little social time for their kids. I see them in the elevator at 8 o’clock at night returning from a tutor, still in their school uniform.

Its clear that communities are important everywhere, and many aspects of Western society aren’t looking too healthy these days.  There’s a lot the West could re-learn about community responsibility from the Filipinos.  On the other side, placing rigid limits on individual expression suppresses creativity and growth, and Americans have individual expressionism down pat.  There’s no right or wrong way, but plenty of opportunity for open mindedness on both sides.

Its not lost of me how ironic it is that that the Philippines strives to emulate American culture in so many ways, but deep down it is so different.  Living here for the past two years and watching the two cultures blend, clash, combine and adapt has been a continual learning experience and one I am very grateful to been around.  It will be one of my biggest takeaways from my time here.