Pearl of the Orient: Weekend in Manila!

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This past weekend, I met Chuck in Manila for a few days of exploration. It’s a strange¬†city full of contradictions, without as much to offer as many other cities in the region, but it was fun to visit. I wouldn’t recommend anyone go out of their way to see it necessarily, but I’m glad we went since we are more or less in the area. I didn’t bring the fancy camera (woops), so all my pics are iPhone shots, but you should get an idea of what it was like. ūüôā

First off, I was really surprised that English was the default/primary language over there. While I was waiting at airports, I did all this research on some basic Tagalog phrases, and ended up using zero. All the signage, food menus, and advertising are¬†in English. The live band we saw sang in English, too. I know the Philippines has a long history of occupation from European/American forces, but I think I was surprised because no one really speaks English on Okinawa, so I expected the native languages would be more prominent elsewhere, too. I’m not complaining, since it made for a much easier experience in many ways.

Anyway! I spent my first full day in Manila being a pampered poodle, since Chuck was still working. I relaxed poolside in the morning, then treated myself to a massage at the gorgeous, Thai-themed Devarana Spa. After lunching with Chuck, I ventured on my own for some truly high risk shopping.

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In my defense, Chuck has done nothing but brag about the amazing shopping in Manila (specifically the uber-trendy Makati District), AND the Jimmy Choo’s were on sale. Still… I am mildly ashamed of this embarrassing display of conspicuous consumption.

Saturday was devoted to historical and cultural exploration. We focused on Intramuros, the oldest district and historic core of Manila. It was mostly destroyed during World War II, and hasn’t fully recovered since.¬†Because¬†the Philippines was a colony for so long, the architecture and ambiance is very old Spanish and Roman Catholic. We visited Fort Santiago (the old citadel), walked in the footsteps of Filipino national hero Jose Rizal, and explored the rather morose San Augustin Church.¬†We saw a lot, learned a lot, and sweated a¬†whole¬†lot, and we had a great time doing it (hover and click on an image to view caption.)

Our evenings, in contrast, were spent indulging our love of food, cocktails, and socializing. Both nights we walked to Makati and enjoyed a Thai meal the first night, and a Filipino meal¬†the second. We sampled tinapa rolls, baked tahong with cheese, sisig, duck basil fried rice, garlic chicken, and I even tried coconut milk, straight out of the nut! Both meals were¬†great, but ultimately not that memorable. I’m not sure if that means we aren’t particularly Filipino/Thai food people, or if we just didn’t get the best samples¬†of it…

One evening, we stayed for live entertainment at a bar called NUVO, where the band sang mostly American and Western songs and we were served colorful marshmallows as a free bar snack (rather than peanuts!) I thought that was adorable.

The most striking thing about Manila, however, is the incredible wealth disparity on constant display. Most cities have their rich sections and their poor sections, but in Manila, both are jumbled all together in a rather disarming way. I took the following picture from a perch in Intramuros. You can see the high rises and nice apartment buildings – looks like your standard city!

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I glided my iPhone lens mere inches to the left, and snapped a shot of the shacks in the very same neighborhood, and then captured another shot of the street nearby in touristy Intramuros:

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Of course, as some of the only white/American individuals in Intramuros that day, we were¬†easy targets for the beggars and panhandlers. We do have that in the U.S. as well, but it felt different ignoring and walking away from those in Manila. It’s a unique brand of poverty all its own, and very sad indeed.

In sum… Manila is both beautiful and dirty, rich and poor, trendy and traditional, all at the same time. Compared to other places I have visited in my life, it certainly provided a different window into the world around us.

Okinawa: Love to Hate It

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The view from my 5th floor balcony: Crazy skies over the village of Uruma

I have such mixed feelings about Okinawa.

It is beautiful and exotic, but heavily peppered with ugly and distracting architecture.

The skies are¬†striking¬†and¬†waver between extremes at the blink of an eye, but the congested island itself simmers and festers in its own oppressively hot and sticky steam… featuring¬†smells you can’t quite eliminate from your walls, linens, and furniture.

You step outside and even if you are perfectly still, you will quite literally melt¬†within 30 seconds – glistening wet on every square inch of your surface. It’s unlike any humidity I experienced in the American south, and there’s simply no escaping it…

… But the water is blue, placid, and refreshing. There’s always, always that ūüôā

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Courtney Beach

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DINK Livin’

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*DINK = Dual Income, No Kids!

Chuck and I purchased¬†these hilarious decals from Etsy¬†for Daisy and the Rabbit. We certainly don’t mean to offend any of the many young families that live in our Tower (and we’re by no means¬†all that rich), but we just couldn’t resist plastering our cars with DINK* family stickers! The only thing missing is my baby fur¬†Bean… who is significantly less expensive than a human baby, that’s for sure.

In other news, life is moving at its standard time-warpy¬†pace. I have readjusted to life back in Japan after my 2-week visit to¬†the U.S., and my job is not demanding in the slightest so far. In fact, most of my days are spent at home, since my primary colleague has been in the States and there is no need for me to sit and do nothing in our mostly nonexistent office¬†with crappy, intermittent¬†internet. I guess we’ll start sitting at little desks more regularly when she returns, but I don’t anticipate much goes on during the average day.¬†The good news is that means it should be easier to keep up with class assignments (which start in about 6¬†weeks). I just registered for my Fall courses and I am getting really excited! But we’ll see how long it takes before I start grumbling about homework¬†and due dates ūüôā

In a couple of weeks, I will meet Chuck in Manila¬†for a weekend. Even though I know very little about the Philippines, I am getting excited to check it out. It’s not a destination that was ever on my bucket list, but that could make for a more novel and unique experience¬†in some ways. Since Chuck will already be there for work, we¬†will only have to pay for my half of the trip, which is kind of awesome. I am not one to turn down an opportunity for more stamps in my passport, and in the meantime, I will research Manila attractions. If there is anything cool to do there, I will surely find it!

Education, travel, and adventures… oh the life of a DINK couple ūüôā

Stop This American Horror Story

I seriously weep for humanity every time I see one of these expos√©s.¬†¬†I can’t believe this horrific¬†and sickening cruelty¬†goes on. I’m not even sure how eating meat raised and slaughtered this way is even remotely healthy for us, either. Watching the video is heartbreaking, but motivating.¬†If you still can’t bring yourself to watch, please sign the petition,¬†at the very least. There is no reason to produce bacon in this cruel and completely unnecessary manner. Companies like McDonalds, Burger King, Safeway, and Wendy’s have finally pledged to phase out cruel suppliers and inhumane practices, so change is possible!

Uncheck any boxes if you don’t want to have depressing emails regularly sent to you. Leave them checked if you want to stay in the loop. Try and avoid buying Tyson meat (going to be tricky for me since that’s all they sell at the grocery store here!), and please share with other animal lovers.

PLEASE SIGN: Tell Walmart to Stop Torturing Pigs

Typhoon Neoguri Pays Oki a Visit

Chuck and I experienced our first typhoon this week!

Typhoon Neoguri (neoguri means “raccoon”, by the way) came with a lot of hype and it certainly delivered, albeit not to the extreme that was originally predicted. Sunday we stocked up on supplies, Monday we went to work, and by Monday night/early Tuesday morning, we were officially under Neoguri’s attack –¬†continually receiving the¬†well-intended but decidedly unhelpful¬†emergency alerts to our phones like the one below:

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Our particular corner of the apartment building was mostly sheltered, so the wind and rain didn’t seem all that bad at first. Getting quite antsy, I decided to go out in it… twice! I captured some great video footage of Chuck braving the powerful winds. The chaos at the end is me getting tumbled around. I almost hit a wall, but managed to stop myself just in time. I blame my slippery flip flops… Kids, don’t try this one at home!

Here is a selfie of me before venturing into the typhoon, and one after. Wearing glasses and a bun in my hair were not the smartest moves! It was truly exhilarating, though, and definitely more powerful than we realized, once we left the concrete shelter of our apartment building…

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We lost electricity after the storm actually peaked. I was in the middle of cooking Italian sausage spaghetti, which was a crying shame, because of course I had to dispose of the sausages in the end. We resorted to sandwiches, wine, and Cards Against Humanity by candlelight with some equally bored neighbors. The night was warm and sticky without a working AC and dehumidifier. The wind continued to howl and the rain poured with more monsoon-like fury than before. We didn’t get power back until the next afternoon.

Luckily, our particular area in Okinawa is on high ground, so our neighborhood suffered very little damage. Other areas, however, were not so fortunate. Cars were overturned, trees were down, and flooding was rampant.

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Next time, I’m taking a page out of the Locals’ book. For everyone who thought I was crazy for going on in the typhoon in Chuck’s camo rain jacket, check out these Okinawans who ventured out for foot races… stark naked! ūüôā

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Culinary Delight #13: Citrus Salmon Salad

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I was in the mood for something light and summery, so I threw a bunch of random things together and it ended up a delicious (and mostly healthy) burst of flavor. It helped that I picked up fresh salmon from the Japanese supermarket… soooo¬†yummy!

Anyway, I was really bad about measuring exact quantities. I guesstimated based on what I thought would taste the best and what I wanted to dominate (mostly citrus.) In a small mixing bowl, I combined the following ingredients in order of decreasing amounts:

– Grapefruit juice

– Lemon juice

–¬†Olive oil

–¬†Soy sauce

–¬†Minced garlic

I soaked the salmon chunks in the bowl for about 10 minutes, then sprinkled them with lemon pepper and baked at 375 for 20 minutes. They were perfectly flaky and juicy!

Meanwhile, I laid out a bed of organic spring greens and topped with

– Sliced peppers (red and yellow)

– Chopped tomato

– Mandarin oranges (the only thing out of a can!)

– Feta cheese

I forked the salmon into flakes and added to the pile of veggies and cheese, then topped lightly with the remaining marinade mixture and cracked pepper.

Seriously… flavor explosion!! Chuck and I both loved it ūüôā

Coming Home

The first thing I said to my dad when I got off the plane at Dulles two-ish weeks ago was, “I’m not doing this again till I come home for good in 3 years.” It also happened to be Father’s Day. I am officially the worst daughter ever. But¬†seriously, what a trip! As I’ve mentioned before, my new job sent me back home to the DC area for two weeks of training, which I was not thrilled¬†about only because I had¬†just¬†recovered from the lengthy trip over here in the first place. “What do you mean I have to go back already?!”

All in all though, it was a wonderful¬†visit,and I am grateful for the free trip back (minus the flights themselves and associated recoveries…those really were quite agonizing.) In a serendipitous twist of fate, my aunts and uncles from Florida – one of whom has terminal brain cancer – just so happened to be visiting my Dad during a portion of my stay.¬†It was wonderful to spend time with her, and to take her to the National Cathedral, which was one of her many DC bucket list items. There was prayer, lighting of memorial candles (I lit one for Habu Lily), and tours of all my favorite nooks and crannies. She even found the perfect set of rosary beads to take home.

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I was also able to¬†spend some quality time with my in-laws, which included a tour of the West Wing. It had been a while since I’d visited¬†the White House at all, but this was a particularly up-close and personal view of where all the action actually occurs. I was struck by how understated most of it was, and kind of proud that our President is not entitled to anything overly opulent or pretentious, as many other world leaders are. Still, it was exciting, intriguing, and greatly tickled my fancy. I know Chuck was super jealous to miss out on this one!

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¬†I was not authorized a rental car, and I didn’t want anyone to feel pressured to drive out to lazy Springfield to see me while I was home on such short notice, but I was lucky enough that a few friends were able to come have dinner with me at my hotel. I took no pictures, which is very unlike me, but we all had a great time with our unexpected opportunity to catch up in person. Houlihan’s was the hotel restaurant that¬†wreaked havoc on my body for the first week before I adjusted to its mediocre fare, but I now associate it with some pretty fond memories, with both old friends and new. ūüôā

The training itself was overwhelming at first – at least due in part to my excessive jet lag (who can sit and pay attention for 8 hours straight every day when your body’s clock is on the other side of the world?) – but I learned a great deal and met/bonded with some pretty cool¬†people. We are scattered at military installations all over the world, but it’s nice to know people everywhere. Odds are good that I will run into them again.

I can’t lie, though. While I miss my friends, family, and many things about ‘Murica, my countdown to getting “home” again started rather shortly after I¬†arrived in DC. I’ve only been in Okinawa for about two months, but it’s funny how Home has become wherever Chuck and Annie Bean are. I mean.. who would have thought? ūüôā

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