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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Yum yum

As a new resident of the Philippines, I want to learn the foods of my adopted country, so that I can learn about Filipino culture and eat good food.

Acceptance Criteria: Eat lots of food and ask questions so I can learn to make it all myself.

For the most part the Filipinos I've met and work with are cheerful people. Every morning I hear "Good morning ma'am" (sounds like mom), "Hello Miss Ingrid" and all with big smiles. And I think food is pretty important to them. Each week in the office they hold a Merienda--which translates to mid-afternoon snack. They bring in food and eat and socialize and laugh out loud all afternoon. They celebrate birthdays, weddings, and babies, which is awesome. One of the things I talk about as a coach is that if we spend something like 90% of our lives at work then those people should be like our second family and we should treat them accordingly. They definitely understand that concept here.

The native Filipino food really isn't that much different from what I'm used to; they prepare things similarly and they use the same spices, etc. However, they're not averse to using every piece and part of whatever the animal is they're cooking and that is definitely different for me. They will eat salad for breakfast--or at least serve it in the morning--but otherwise, it's chicken, pork, lots of Australian beef, and local fruits and vegetables. The influence of their colonizers has had a lasting impact; some Western and Spanish items remain part of the fabric of their society--English language and fast food restaurants and Spanish food like empanadas and adobo.

But the Asian influence is also huge. Chinese and Japanese , as well as Malaysian and Thai, are apparent in a lot of the food; there's just usually a little Filipino twist, like calamansi. Interestingly, Filipinos don't all like hot chili sauces or cook with chilies. I went to lunch with some people from work and we ordered spicy sisig--pork cheeks fried with chilies, garlic, ginger, bell peppers and onion--which they thought was too spicy, while I thought it was scrumptious with just the right amount of chili kick.

Noodles feature pretty large in Filipino cuisine (spaghetti is served in a lot of places, including fast food places), in both rice and flour form, and there is a lot of rice--white, brown and black. They do a LOT with rice. In fact, they do so much with rice I'm surprised I hadn't heard about some of this back home where we use rice mainly as a side dish or a base for a stir fry or curry. Some of what they do with rice is pretty ingenious and most of it delicious.

There is plain rice, fried rice (like in Chinese food), rice pudding and sweet sticky rice; arroz caldo--basically rice soup--and immense paellas, but then there is carioca, which is fried coconut rice balls and halo halo, rice cakes (not those dry crunchy things), and rice custards. Necessity really is the mother of invention.

Another place to find food, outside of restaurants, fast food joints and the street vendors, is the local Saturday open air markets. The Salcedo Village market in Makati is small but jam packed with so much fresh seafood, and fruits and vegetables as well as ready to eat foods it's hard to see it all. I've gone three times and still miss some of the vendors each time.

The market is also multi-cultural. In addition to Filipino, Moroccan, Japanese, Chinese, and Indian foods are represented. I recognize a lot of the things I used to search for back home and had to go to specialty markets to find. Here they are staples.

There are fresh fruit smoothies (basically orange julius' with fresh fruit), ice cream--with flavors I have never seen, local dishes ready to eat while you walk round and the things you've heard about or seen (#TAR anyone?) like century eggs.

Shaved meat wrapped in naan or chapati and, of
course, oyster omelette or fried pigeon for your brunch. Lumpia is also big here and it comes in many different shapes and sizes with fillings both sweet and savory. Lumpia Shanghai is very popular.

The seafood is so fresh it's alive. The clams are squirting at you, the shrimp are wiggling and the fish are sometimes still opening and closing their mouths, unless they have been grilled and stuffed with salad. And the novelties like Japanese pancakes are fun if not so novel. It really is a pancake; you get two and your choice of filling--jam or chocolate, etc. They are good though and the vendor has an amazing piece of equipment to make many of them at the same time. It's a nice finish to a morning of munching.

I thought I might actually lose weight while I was here and not in the clutches of the vast American sugar empire, but I didn't realize that the hold sugar has on this country is just as tight if not tighter. I think Filipinos have a real sweet tooth. Things here are so sweet sometimes, it is just too much for me. And then there is a lot of fried food too. Fried chicken is ubiquitous and not just at KFC.

They not only fry those coconut rice balls for carioca, they dip them in simple sugar sauce and then drizzle more caramelized sugar on top of them. Everything seems to have sugar added on top of sugar and in large quantities. I have also noticed in the smaller grocery stores, aisles with cookies and candies outnumber those with beans and canned meat and the produce area is far fewer square meters then the prepared food aisles. I'll have to see if that's true in other stores.

I haven't had the opportunity to try any recipes for myself yet since I only have a single burner hot plate. But the new condo has a stove with 4 burners and an oven so I'm looking forward to cooking again soon.

So I haven't tried all the food that I want to yet, but I sure will work on it. I've got another 11 months so I'll work on that while also bumping up my exercise to offset all the calories. Mabuhay.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Traffic and plastic and jeepneys... oh my!

As a new resident of metro Manila, I want to learn how to get around so I can get used to the area and become familiar with the streets and directions.

Acceptance Criteria: Pay attention when riding in taxis and ask questions; look at maps to orient myself.

The last couple of weeks have been very busy. Not only have I gotten full swing into the work I'm here to do---Agile transition for a large portion of an enterprise--but I found a place to live long-term, started my visa application process, learned how to travel back and forth from the hotel to work while carrying my laptop bag, purse, and grocery bags (because the best grocery shopping is close to work, not the hotel), the best time to get a taxi and where, how to flag a taxi and when to use the GrabTaxi app, and to always have the correct change for the taxi.

I am looking forward to living and working in the same area which will alleviate much of the bag-lady/sherpa look I have been cultivating. But the twice daily taxi ride has given me the opportunity to see so many things it's sometimes hard to remember it all and so much has been happening that I will definitely forget it all without some reminders. Good thing I'm blogging huh?

Many taxi drivers here decorate their dashboards. Some with religious icons and artifacts, others with what appears to be a local recycling effort--cutting green plastic soda bottles into small trees decorated with flowers and other items or birds and bugs--and some with both.

I'm not sure how it got started or who thought of it, but like cutting paper into snowflakes or paper dolls, it appears that someone started cutting the plastic bottles apart and then into shapes, and created these amazing little trees and other things. Most are small and some are medium so my guess is they are made from the 12 and 16 ounce size bottles. You can see the bases in some of them and the lids in others.

I have also seen pinwheels and need the time to walk the street vendors and get one of those to see them closer. Maybe those come from larger bottles? I don't know but want to find out. And get my own tree.

Although Tagalog is the spoken language of the native Filipinos, English is a very close second. I have no problems at all with language at work and for those who don't have a huge English vocabulary (most taxi drivers or cashiers), they usually have enough that we can get by. Unfortunately, none of them could tell me where they got their trees or where I could find one.

There are many taxi drivers who quietly drive me from place to place; and then there are those gregarious, curious drivers who ask if I'm from Europe or America and then ask all sorts of questions about where I'm from, what do I do, why am I here, do I like it, and tell me to be sure to see Boracay and the underground river; and then tell me I need to make a reservation a month ahead to float the river. One even offered to let me stay in his family's home there. It's interesting, and I wonder if many public transportation providers are similar in their curiosity and generosity but probably won't get to meet others.

I have been told not to ride the MRT which is the local train, because there is much theft and people at work have told me stories of losing their wallet, jewelry and more.

I also haven't tried a jeepney, primarily because I have been told scary stories involving theft about them as well.

Which is unfortunate, because I would like to take the train to skip traffic and would like to see what the ride is like in a jeepney. Jeepneys are like small buses. They are all over the place and are very cheap.

They were originally US military jeeps left over from WWII; but now they manufacture them for this purpose. I'm not sure how many people actually fit in them but there are two rows of benches inside facing each other and my guess is you can fit about 12 or more people in there.

They have jeepney stops like bus stops but people board them wherever they are stopped, even in the middle of traffic. There are buses here too, though they are more long haul rather than within each city. The jeepneys are how you get around in each city; buses get you from city to city.

I have also seen them arrive at work and pick up an entire gaggle of people--in this case all young women--and drive off with them. So they must have pre-arranged travel to and from work.

Jeepneys are colorful and cheerful and have become a symbol of Filipino art and culture.

I'm not sure if there is competition or if they make money from it but some of the Jeepneys are brightly painted and have lots of advertisement on the sides. Others are just plain metal but they are bright and shiny, so obviously well tended.

The flip side is jeepneys are very loud and belch a lot of smoke, and they are tough customers in the flow of traffic; usually winning the fight for space, especially against a taxi.

Of course, there is always foot power and I have made use of that; however walking in 35 degree Celsius weather with about 95% humidity is not something you want to do for hours. So, I get short walks in and make sure there is some air conditioned building to retreat into for awhile before I must brave the sauna again. Which is pretty much what we did in Iowa for the year we lived there; so it's not outside my frame of experience.

All in all, I've gotten so good at knowing where I am in the Makati area that I can get around pretty well. I also know how to get back and forth from work so well I've been able to tell new taxi drivers who don't know Makati well. So I've got that going for me.

Now I just have to learn about Mandaluyong, since that is where I will be living and working.

Until next time kids. Check out this funny video so you have an idea what I hear all day long every day; it's spot on. Mabuhay.