Sunday, November 12, 2017


My favorite new mural 

One of the things that I really enjoy about the area I live in is that there are a pile of murals (just ask my mom, when she came to visit I made her go walking to see most of them) and new ones are getting painted every year. It seems that there is a mural festival in BGC every year, not that it is all that well advertised, nor it is easy to find out where new murals are going up. But in some ways that just makes it more fun, more of a discovery when you realize that there is a new one over there, behind that building.

Stranger Things inspired mural on my walk to school
When I was walking down High Street recently I saw the top of a mural (the first picture) that I had not seen before, which led me on a wander around the fort to see if there were other new murals up. I found three, and saw two more this weekend that were in the process of being painted, although I know that it is not currently the mural festival, that happens sometime towards the end of the school year. 

Traditions inspired
In any case it is fun to have something to "discover" when walking around the neighborhood, and I love being able to watch the evolution of some of them go up. (Although I will admit I'm not so thrilled that they are painting over my favorite one.)

Detail of one mural

Saturday, November 4, 2017

October's Museum: The Ayala Museum

October always seems to be one of those months when life and work just get busy. It has been great in some ways, as I feel like I'm finally out of my apartment more than I am in it, but frankly it is a bit exhausting. I'm very much looking forward to the week long break we have coming up, and can't wait for a bit of down time. 
Katie and I outside the Ayala Museum
Things have been so busy that it was a bit difficult to find the time for Katie and I to get out to a museum this month. So we chose to stick close to home. Heading to the Ayala Museum in Makati, a short 10-20 minute taxi ride away. I really had very little expectation for this museum, having no idea what they might have. Only knowing after a brief search on their website that I could actually get in free if I brought my teacher ID with me. Not a normal part of what I carry on the weekend so I was glad I had read that. Otherwise, the only other thing I knew is that the Ayala's are one of the business tycoon families here in the Philippines - having their name on many malls, and so it isn't really a surprise that the museum is at a shopping complex.

Spanish galleon replicas

A little to my surprise, the museum was quite nice. Particularly the two floors that housed the permanent collection. The top floor with a fairly large collection of Chinese pottery that seemed to have mostly been found at archeological sights in the Philippines. An extraordinarily large gold collection was the highlight of my visit. It was mostly taken from burial sights in the Philippines. We were wondering how there could actually be that large of a collection here, in a fairly small museum, but upon reading we realized that most of it was discovered after 1960 when archeologists began working in the Philippines. The second floor had an extensive set of dioramas detailing important events in Philippine history. I will say I learned a bit more about that topic, since I didn't know very much at all. Although it gets a bit depressing to realize just how much war and violence is part of their notable history. All in all quite an enjoyable two hours visiting the museum.
Sculpture outside the museum
The Ayala Museum
Tue-Sun 9am-6pm
Entry: free for teachers with id, price ranges from 100p to 425 p
Makati Avenue corner De La Rosa Street
Greenbelt Park, Makati City 1224

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Long weekend in Guam

About a month ago I agreed to go with a friend to Guam. I didn't really want to mention it at the time, because you know, North Korean missile scare and all, but after some careful research and talking with parents at school who regularly do business in Guam, we decided to go ahead with our planned trip. I'm so glad we did! Guam wasn't really on my radar as a travel destination, but my general attitude towards any new location is "why not?" A four day weekend was a perfect amount of time to explore the island. After all it is only about 30 miles long (so you won't be surprised that we drove around the island more than once). I didn't really know what we would find when we arrived, except that it was supposed to have nice beaches and that there was a large US military presence there. So it was a true trip of discovery. 

First impressions: This is America! Being from the continental United States I've never really thought about Guam much at all, nor have I ever considered it a part of the US. However after one visit, it definitely is. As you go through immigration the wall behind the immigration desks declares "Welcome to the United States of America." The island definitely felt like I was (sort of) back in the US. With a huge K-Mart (yes, we went shopping), numerous restaurants that I would find back home, but also with a certain amount of businesses catering to the large number of Japanese tourists that come through. Guam became a territory of the US first in 1898 when Spain ceded the island in the Treaty of Paris. Although Liberation Day on July 21, 1944 when the Americans reclaimed the islands from the Japanese seems to be a much more popular date in history.

In fact while I was in Guam I learned quite a bit about the role it played in the War in the Pacific. There is a national historical park (definitely the most far flung national park stamp I've collected yet) that protects sites around the south side of the island. Since the majority of our weekend was rainy, I spent a couple of afternoons visiting the majority of locations, seeing left over (decommissioned) guns protecting the harbors and high points, bunkers dug into rocky hillsides, as well as memorials to the local lives lost. While there were not a huge number of locals actively involved in the war, it did affect a huge number of Chamorro (native people) and Guamanians when they were forced into working for the Japanese and then marched inland to concentration camps where many died or were injured. As in any war memorial, I found the memorial walls, with the extensive list of names of those affected sombering.

My weekend wasn't all about war history though. There are a couple of natural and historical sights that worth seeing. My two favorite being the Inarajan Natural Pools, a peaceful swimming spot on the south-eastern tip of the island, and checking out the lattes in Senator Angel Leon Guerrero Santos Memorial Park. No, I don't mean a latte you can drink. A latte is an original stone building block of the Chamorro. They were used as supports upon which the roof and sometimes the entire building rested upon. They are not widely used now, but are protected as part of the history of this island.

Of course I also spent time on the beach relaxing. Did a lot of eating. As well as a fair amount of shopping. Guam was a truly relaxing weekend away.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Long weekend in Hong Kong

Random beautiful staircase we found while walking
A few weeks ago I headed to Hong Kong with a friend for a long weekend. We didn't have much of a plan, but just wanted to go somewhere where we could walk around, eat good food, and get around fairly easy. Hong Kong fits the bill for all of that. It does make me miss having good, quick, public transportation, especially with how much easier it makes exploring. I've been to Hong Kong before so I wasn't all that interested in doing most of the typical tourist things, although I will admit I was excited to get to ride the world's longest escalator this time around. Although that is a bit of a deceptive title. It is actually a series of travelators and escalators that work their way up the hill from the harbor. The idea was to make commuting a bit easier for that area of town.

Colorful Choi Hung Estates
What we did do was go out and find all sorts of interesting spots for photos. The process of which reminds me of just how much the internet has changed travel. Most of the places we went to, we would have never known about before the plethora of photos that are now posted online. Andrea, the friend I was travelling with, was great at mining Instagram for idea of spots that we wanted to see. Those included the colorful Choi Hung Estate, an apartment block that is a literal rainbow of colors as you look up, as well as the Yik Cheong Building which is that quintessential snap of densely packed humanity that you expect from a huge Asian city like Hong Kong.
Yik Cheong Apartments

Perhaps my two favorite spots though were visiting the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, where the over ten thousand Buddhas was not actually the highlight (hey, one large number is as good as any other, right). No, for me the highlight was the over 500 golden statues that lined the path up. Upon returning I had to do a bit of research, as I was pretty sure that these statues weren't actually Buddhas. Seems I was correct, they are Arhan statues, images of individuals that are fairly advanced on the path to enlightenment but have not yet attained the level of being a Buddha. These showed a wide variety of features, and even situations. I saw one that stood out with its super long arm and others that were standing on animals (tiger, turtle, ox to name a few). It definitely kept the walk up the stairs interesting and entertaining. Although at one point I was wishing I had a statue by statue description so I knew more about each one. Of course then I might never have made it up the hill.
Arhan statues at Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery
Perhaps the most interesting and different stop was a quick walk through what is called goldfish street. A street that sells...goldfish. Something about seeing all those fish bagged and hanging from grates was just fascinating. Although I couldn't help but think about the guy in Turkey who used to sell goldfish from the top of his car close to my school there. So perhaps my fascination had something to do with memories. Or maybe it was just about how the bag changed the perspective on many fish. In any case it was a memorable street to explore. And seemed well tied to the goldfish that we saw being sold as part of the Mid-Autumn Festival decorations as well.

Goldfish street

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Welcome to the ber months

Welcome to the ber months. That is what they call them. As in September, October, November, and December. In other words, Christmas has come to the Philippines. What, you think it is too early? There is no such thing. Signposted countdowns began with 99 days until Christmas (my personal theory is that they only wanted to do 2 digits, otherwise it probably would have started earlier).
Trees are going up in stores and malls around town
I will admit that September really only brought out the Christmas music...just about everywhere. I've been grading in coffee shops to carols for the last month now. As soon as you enter the mall you're sure to hear the recognizable tunes. September also brought out Christmas decoration sales at many stores, after all, they have to help people get ready for the ber months too. However, once the first of October rolled around the Christmas decorating stepped up a notch. Each time I walk around town I notice a bit more going up. Slowly large trees are being set up and decorated. The lights are going up on the streets. Malls are starting their decorations. Even with that though, I know it will only continue to ramp up as we get closer to Christmas. After all the two story decorations in the mall aren't up yet, the street lights haven't turned into trees and stars yet, and there aren't huge red decorations on the grassy areas of the neighborhood yet. But it is just a matter of time. Welcome to the ber months in the Philippines, Christmas is almost here.
Outdoor decorations are going up this month

Saturday, September 23, 2017


"We'll come and tell the people, we're going to start a war
We're going to start a riot, bigger better than before."

That refrain was on endless repeat yesterday at school, as the Junior took a part of their batch (grade level) cheer and turned it into one of their standard cheers throughout the day as they dove with high energy in B.o.B or Battle of the Bearcats.

Batch of 2017 getting ready for their cheer
Battle of the Bearcats is a bit difficult to describe to someone who hasn't ever had the ear shattering experience of being on campus for it. It is a one of the few days when our high school students stop worrying about academics and actually act like kids for a while. They complete as grade levels (9 vs 10 vs 11 vs 12) in a variety of competitions for spirit points, which are often earned by the batch that is the loudest, initiates the most cheers, encourages the other batches and has a sustained support through an event. Unless you can picture a exuberant group circled around 8 students that are participating in the final event of the day, speed painting, you will never have a prayer of understanding this school tradition.

The end of speed painting.
How varied are the events? I'd almost guarantee way more than you would predict. Here is the list of activities for this year: batch cheer, 7-second challenge, badminton, basketball, bearcat challenge, bearcat idol, bearcat's got talent, board games, volleyball, capture the flag, chess, cupcake decorating, debate, dodgeball, escape hunt, recycled fashion design show, FIFA 17, graphic design, gym baseball, human calculator,  jeopardy, League of Legends, Lip-sync battle, Mario Kart, NBA 2k17, photography, poetry slam, Quidditch, rap battle, robotics, rock climbing, short story competition, So You Think You Can Dance, soccer, speed painting, Super Smash Bros 4, swimming, table tennis, tennis, touch rugby,  track and field, ultimate frisbee, water polo, and Whose Line is it Anyway (improv). I honestly think there is something for everyone on that list, which is good as pretty much every student is required to participate in something, and can at most take part in 2 events.

Winning Junior cupcakes (the horrible green color is
because of the shade cover we have... 
As you can imagine, this also requires quite a bit from the teachers, as we volunteer for activities to oversee/judge, serve as advisors to individual batches and be a presence as they work on their cheer in the weeks leading up to the event. This year I put myself down to judge the cupcake decorating challenge where I was quite impressed by the junior's team who brought in all hand made decorations, including sugar glass flames to go with their batch theme of riot. Along with rap battle, a bit of a disappointment this year, but then I'm always amazed at what kids are willing to get up on a stage and try. I also ended up helping out with the end of the recycled fashion event, where teams were given newspaper and packaging tape to create an outfit out of. It was actually impressive what some of them came up with.
Sophomore recycled fashion design

I do think, though that my favorite activity of the day is the opening ceremony with the entire high school  in the gym when each batch gets a few minutes to perform their cheer, and I think overall the cheers were of a much higher quality this year. I manged to record three of four, just to give you a sense of the high energy that persists the whole day.

It is an incredible, almost indescribable day, although I have to admit I'm quite happy to be alone in my quiet apartment today recovering from the over-stimulation that encapsulates B.o.B.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Pinto Art Museum

The grounds of the Pinto Art Museum
Well so far, I'm doing well on my resolution to visit a museum a month this school year. Month two, museum two. Last weekend I headed out with a friend to visit the Pinto Art Museum. Located in Antipolo, about 11 miles away, it was a half day outing taking about 45 minutes to get there (have I mentioned traffic in Manila is bad?). However, as soon as we walked onto the museum grounds I could feel myself let out a sigh of relief and relax just a little bit. Set on the grounds of a private residence (?I'm not sure about that, it is surprisingly difficult to find clear information about this private collection) that reflects a Spanish colonial style with white washed building covering multiple levels on the hillside, rooftops that have been turned into verandas with seating area, and a lush garden.

One of the six galleries

There are sculptures scattered around the grounds, and there is a very real sense of the outside coming in. The 6 galleries are open to the air, with a few large fans to cool off the space. I have to admit to wondering how in the world this was conserving the artwork, after all the Philippines is an extremely humid place. At the same time I enjoyed the sense of openness in the galleries. Wandering in and out of the building, going up and down stairways to explore each corner of the museum.

My favorite sculpture
The museum is a private collection of contemporary art, all of which I believe are done by Filipino artists. There were definitely some pieces that captured my attention. The metal webbed people, were perhaps my favorite, but I also like the oversized work of a fiber artist who used layers of yarn to create slightly three dimensional images. I also found the full room installation mimicking a bamboo forest with dripping water, an escape to relax, mesmerizing.

Exploring every nook and crany
All in all, I have to say that this museum was well worth being on my list to visit and it provided a great escape from the busyness of the city for a morning.

Pinto Art Museum
1 Sierra Madre St, Grand Heights Rd, Antipolo
Open: Tues-Sun 9 am - 6 pm
Entry: 200 pesos