Week 8: Time to Come Home

The Work Week

Things at the office felt pretty routine. While that may sound boring, I think it points to having learnt my job and done it – no hiccups and without glamor. My bread and butter work of web articles was only briefly interrupted by an introduction to social media posting for the company. One other noteworthy part of the week is that I dipped into helping the Sustainability Department while my fellow American intern was on a vacation to Palawan (more on that later). This left a bit of a gap in work production which I ended up filling – and filling with some aplomb – which made sense as it dealt in producing a short article, rather than the research and internal presentations typical of the department. The few days of my final week promise much the same.

I won’t offer misty-eyed confessions on my time and work here, but one thing that bears expression is that writing in the voice of an informal woman to other women (the most common expression of the brand voice) has been a challenge for me from day one, and it remains one of the most difficult parts of my work here. It’s certainly made me feel like an overlarge, rough-cut, square peg a good deal of the time, but here we are. I got through it and put forward what I had to give for a company worth supporting.

(Not) Travel

After my recent, stormy visit to Bohol, it seemed like a good idea to visit Batangas, a nearby province where many go to escape Manila and enjoy some of the Philippines’ famed beaches. Except for a brief, cloudy walk along Alona Beach, this would have been my first and only time on the shore of the archipelago, but – wouldn’t you know it – the country is awfully wet in the height of the rainy season. It rained and occasionally thundered (with only sub-hour interruptions) for four days straight, and that was enough to keep me in the apartment and out of the struggles and discomfort of public transport. Instead, I enjoyed a few days quiet and relative comfort (the furniture doesn’t fit me very well and one of the chairs made a concerning creak when I first tried it weeks ago), while my roommate was off in Palawan. There was succor, however, in knowing that it could have been significantly worse; my roommate was most likely subjected to the same weather, but with the added sting of having bought a plane ticket and lodging for several days in perhaps the most sought-after spot for beach-going in the entire country. In the end, I enjoyed my time alone, and used it to reflect on my travels, catch the things that escaped my writer’s journal, and plan what to do once I return to my life in the US. It’s been good to be here and learn what I have, but my sister spoke the heart of my sentiments after I shared with her some stories of weak coffee and cockroaches. “Time to come home” she told me – and she was right.

Lightning Round

It’s pretty hard to find parmesan here. Only some big markets have it, and even then it’s just a few small wedges that are even more expensive than they would be in the US. The cost of postage to send a postcard to the US is less than half a dollar. Even at a church where there are specifically English and Tagalog services, the English Mass will still have a significant portion in Tagalog. I found this a little startling because the church had a flock of the mid- to upper-class, and, by and large, these are the parts of Filipino society that speak English most often and well. Manileños are legally prohibited from cutting down trees – even on their own property. There are few birds of prey here; in all the places I’ve been and all this time I’ve seen only one. It was on the coast of Bohol. The many roosters kept by tethering on the sides of roads or wherever they can be fit is indeed for cock fighting. This was confirmed by one of my officemates, who said, “People keep them because they think they can win a lot of money.” I once passed by a small – or large, depending on how you look at it – arena specifically for this purpose. 1-peso coins are silvery and 5-peso coins are either silvery or a yellowy color, depending on the age. The newer, silvery 5-peso coins are also nearly the same size as the 1-peso coins, which means you have to constantly check for correct change – unless you’re quite fine-tuned to the difference. My solution has been to keep one sort per pocket; it only solves part of the trouble, but at least it allows for a quick grab when paying for something. If you don’t have earplugs or earbuds for a bus ride, you will suffer for it. What’s played is almost all American, but the range is from modern pop all the way to 60 years ago, and I have not even the faintest clue who would approve of the selections. I suppose in a country where karaoke and videoke (karaoke with a screen to offer aid in the form of lyrics) are enormously popular, there must simply be a collective taste in music that is beyond my primitive understanding. The amount of bugs at dusk amidst miles of rice paddies is – rather predictably – absolutely tremendous. It’s like one continuous, dense clump of gnats, except the gnats are instead much larger mosquitoes. Because of the oncoming darkness it would be difficult to say for certain, but everything at distance seemed darker than it ought to have been because of it. It’s a small miracle I didn’t receive even one bite.

Week 7: The Final Countdown

The Work Week

This week was all about press releases. I had several outdated ones to edit and one to do from scratch. Oddly, the fresh slate made the project easier than the others, overall. The main thing that made the edits such trouble is that I was doing them with only suggestion access through Google Docs. If you don’t know, this means that any text newly entered was highlighted, and any text removed was highlighted and struck through, but not fully removed; this includes any text that was simply moved from one part of the document to the other. By the end of it, the whole document was in light green because the original was rather disjointed and its entire shape had to be shifted around to be made cogent. If I weren’t bound to a sense of discretion, I’d place a photo of the process here, but, as it is, you’ll have to take my word that the mess on the page when I’d finished was a grand hodgepodge for a work document. On a funny note, oxford commas are an official no-no in Human Nature copy, and holding myself to the rule has begun to cause my mind to snag as I use them in my personal life. So much for not bringing work home.

Travel

This weekend I took my big big trip in the Philippines; I went to Cebu, Bohol, and Panglao. It was meant to be in large part a beach vacation, but the weather changed my plans. Still, there were many beautiful, interesting things to see and enjoy and I did take in a few beaches, besides. They each had their own kind of appeal.

Perhaps the main reason for this trip was to see a part of the Philippines far from Manila. By that measure, it was a success, but the experience was much more pleasurable than that. From my arrival in Oslob up to my return ferry to Cebu City, there was better air, fewer people, less litter, less traffic, and more space everywhere. The locals even seemed generally more happy than their urbanite counterparts. And besides all that, I saw some beautiful pieces of history in the form of the old Spanish churches. They were certainly built to last. I just wish the locals had managed to keep their telephone wires a little farther away.

There was, of course, tasty food and many other experiences worth remembering along the way, but they don’t fit themselves so easily into this form and I didn’t always take pictures of them, so I’ll stick with some of these highlights.

Lightning Round

Like one hears of in other Asian cultures, bumping or brushing into people is much more tolerated here than in the US; it can, however, be difficult not to take it personally in the moment. A fast ferry ride is – except for the larger windows – much the same as an airplane trip. The amount of turbulence is very close (just no belly-droppers), the seats are the same, the air temperature is the same, and the rushing sound is close enough I’d probably have been fooled if I was blindfolded. Chinese tourists are much as they are in the US. In classical form, the areas immediately surrounding the ports I visited were more seedy than the surrounding areas – rats, mud sidewalks, and dark lighting included. People will indeed notice your appearance and try to rip you off. I asked how much a trip to the airport would be when accosted right off the ferry and was told P600; walking only a small percentage of the trip farther, I picked up a cab and the total was less than P240. To lower the chances of something like this occurring under most circumstances, you can ask the price before the service. This effectively creates a low-bid (or at least reluctantly honest) mentality in the driver because he then has to consider what would happen if you walked on and got a better price from the next guy. It seems the normal rate is preferable to losing a sale looking for a swindler’s deal. In Panglao and Bohol, the coconut trees had notches cut into them every few feet. After a bit of puzzling, I decided they must have been put there for the purpose of climbing the trunk; one of my officemates later confirmed this. When traveling, the offline maps feature of Google Maps is a great help. No need to find WiFi or use data to make your way – just use the GPS in your pocket. “Kindly verb” is a very common way of politely asking someone to do something here. It persists in the workplace and in the higher-class public transport sphere. Lastly, an odd cultural phenomenon: everyone and their brother is traveling to northern Luzon to be tattooed by a centenarian woman there – locals and foreigners alike.

Week 6: Punching in, Punching out

The Work Week

This week there really wasn’t that much to do. This is, at least in part, because of a serious shortage in the department that has left everyone scrambling, with little time or interest in devising tasks for me to accomplish. The closer details of the circumstances that left me sitting quietly at my desk are that the normal stream of edits coming down to me trickled and then stopped, that I could not get emails back for necessary information on my new work, and that there were no odd jobs I was able to pick up around the office. I still managed to get some work done, though. The most interesting of it was most certainly updating an old press release on Skin Shield for the current date. Skin Shield is a bug repellant that – true to Human Nature form – contains no DEET. This may not sound particularly interesting, but set against the backdrop of a first-ever, national alert for Dengue, it feels – and in fact is – much more important. Two years ago there were 150,000 reported cases of Dengue in the Philippines – a remarkable high in recent times. In the first 6 months of 2019, however, there have already been 100,000. Because Dengue vaccinations are not common (thanks to a virulent fear in the population caused by a misattribution of childhood deaths some years ago), the mosquito-borne illness is quick to spread through the population and its tropical environment. This, combined with the fact of its high mortality rate without treatment, caused at least one HN store to be practically mobbed last week when shoppers sought to purchase Skin Shield. That may not leave much for me to do by way of advertising, but to prepare a relevant article in a country in the midst of all this feels quite momentous to me.

Travel

On a less serious note: I did some traveling this past weekend. Really, it was a tour around Taal Lake, complete with two mountain hikes. On the first day I had that pesky kitchen sink replaced after I’d found it resumed leaking (not so simple as it’s written here, but I’ll let it be), and took several forms of transportation to Mount Batulao, via Tagaytay. The mountain was significantly more difficult than Taal had been, but not horrendous. I think you’ll find it was a photogenic place.

After the mountain, I enjoyed a bucket shower, some isaw (grilled chicken intestines), and adidas (grilled chicken feet). It was better than you might suspect. It wasn’t my favorite thing in the world, but I wouldn’t say I disliked it, either. That evening I stayed in a nipa hut about halfway between the two mountains. It was a charming place with very friendly staff, set back into a rather jungle-like setting for the middle of an urban area. There was no extra charge for the free pet at right; I learned he was there of his own accord when I found him on the mosquito net.

After a night in this odd place and a bit more travel, I climbed Mount Makulot. It was difficult, and took 5 liters of water to fuel me through the two peaks and down again. The plants along the trail are probably a little greener now because of the watering my skin gave them.

And that’s the most of it. The return trip was an adventure, too, but I’ve found that’s to be expected in a foreign land.

Lightning Round

“What’s your name” is the preferred greeting when one is a local child addressing a foreigner. I’ve never really figured out why. “Hey, man,” “Yo,” or, “What’s up” are also common in the same circumstance. Jeepneys are really a pretty good way to travel if you can put up with the noise, poor air quality, and relatively low speed; they’re cheap, plentiful, and so long as you know the next area in the direction you want to go, easy to identify for your purposes. However, queues at jeepney stands mean nothing as soon as the vehicle shows up; this is particularly frustrating when you are perfectly capable of pushing everyone in your way aside, but they decide it’s a good idea to jostle past you anyway. This is perhaps the least friendly practice I’ve personally experienced in the Philippines besides trike drivers trying to rip you off occasionally. If you’re a dainty woman, you’ll probably wear a filtering mask on public transport; if you’re a very dainty woman, you’ll probably hold a small, fine, pretty handkerchief to your mouth instead. When mountaineering, if you step on the right rock, it really will slide and clatter ominously down the slope for a long time, just like in the movies. Along similar lines, climbing a mountain with 30 pounds or so on your back when you’re not used to it is probably ill-advised – if only for how much more exertion it will require. Cigarette companies seem to be legally compelled to display images of ugly, smoking-related health effects on their cartons like throat cancer patients and stillbirths. The Filipino expression of “what?” is often to raise the eyebrows, silently open the mouth, and look the question-ee right in the eye. There is a greater variety and availability of high-quality – and even cheaper – sardines here. This extends to canned fish, generally. Apparently, newspapers all over the country smell far different than in the US, and I can’t say it was a difference I was pleased to discover.

Week 5: Giving a Little More

The Work Week

Good news: the 3 informative/persuasive articles I wrote for a targeted up-sell text blast came off pretty well. I was given edits by my mentor and started them, but later found out my boss said the original was just fine. My boss was also sick for a couple days this week, leaving me with an unfortunate work vacuum, but I did manage to make myself useful in the meantime. One of my colleagues in the design department suggested I go through the semi-monthly “magalogue” that will soon be published and offer edits/proofreading for the copy. I did, and submitted it for consideration. I’ve not heard back on my suggestions and suspect they’ve been stuffed under some files, but that isn’t a new thought to add to the general understanding of the intern experience. Another, more meaningful task I accomplished, however, was to produce an outline of a short speech for the Marketing Head, complete with relevant statistics. The speech was for the beginning of an event in which teams of college students competed to produce the best plans for how Human Nature might proceed in certain areas of our sustainability program. The winners’ plans will be put into action in the coming months. I was not able to hear the speech and there was no video taken, but I have been told that at least “some of the salient points” of my outline were used, and that it was generally a success.

Travel

The weekend was taken up with another trip to Quezon City, this time to volunteer at a Gawad Kalinga village specifically for persons with disabilities. Because of traffic coming in and going out, my roommate and I were only able to put in about 4 hours work, but what I failed to give in time I did my best to make up for in sweat. It wasn’t hard as the job that readily presented itself was hauling gravel, mixing concrete by shovel, and then helping lay it into the foundations of soon-to-be cinder block homes. I could have chosen to paint and helped that way by getting the high spots, but it would have been wrong while there was a 12-year-old villager pushing a wheelbarrow bigger than himself for the foundation work. Here are a couple photos to give you an idea:

It was a real pleasure to be able to help these people out, particularly through a larger organization I know does honest, continuous, good work. The villagers couldn’t have been more kind or grateful, either. Everybody on the work crew would give a big smile anytime you came in to spell them for a bit, and they were quick to point out a cut on your foot or some cement you missed washing up. And on an even closer level, the blind couple and their children who put us up for the night treated us like long-lost cousins and made sure we were as comfortable as can be, right up to accompanying us to the bus stop the next town over. Between work and the trip, the best way to summarize the week might be to say that it was one in which getting the most of the adventure was finding a way to give something back. In that way, it was one of the best so far.

Lightning Round

Dairy products – especially cream – are quite expensive here. “Organic” is a word that is not regulated by the FDA here. I learned this when I mentioned to a colleague that the organic option and its non-organic counterpart were the same price at the store. Trike drivers often wear sleeves of light athletic fabric as bracelets when they aren’t riding to stay cool, and as sleeves when riding to protect their arms from the debris of never-swept roads. The insulin plant is grown here. I tasted its leaves, and it has the tangy-sour flavor of small blueberries; the texture is fairly stiff. When I first arrived, I was told there were government efforts underway to modernize or phase out jeepneys. The drivers are now in the midst of several strikes, marches, and protests – mostly in Metro Manila. This place is hard on a tall guy’s posture. I’ve noticed I’m holding my head a little forward from its usual position, and I credit the short desks, short people I must literally speak down to, and transportation’s headrests that usually position the topmost section – the one intended to sit above the head – right where my occiput ought to be. And that’s only when I don’t have to hunch my body forward just to get in a seat. If you speak a modest bit of Tagalog with competence, you’ve jumped beyond the expectations of most visitors, and you will subsequently surprise and then disappoint your conversation mate – they will, however, still very much appreciate your earnest effort. Ironically, in the midst of a poor village I found the best WiFi in the Philippines I’ve experienced; it allowed me to hold a video call with perfect video and audio quality for an extended period.

Week 4: Business, Immersion, it’s Usual

Work and Travel

Four weeks down and I think I’ve got a pretty good feel for how things are run at the company. Because those press releases I mentioned in the last post haven’t come down to me yet, my contribution felt routine and manageable – there really wasn’t much to it. I took care of last week’s edits, helped a different department do some archiving when they were under hard deadlines, and took care of standard duties at the office while I waited for feedback on other projects from my boss. That is not to say it was a dull time, however.

Skipping our desk lives for a day, my fellow intern and I went with a group of new hires on an “immersion” at Gawad Kalinga’s Enchanted Farm on Friday. The trip is intended to give Human Nature employees insight into what drives their company, as well as what their individual work will eventually serve besides the bottom line. At the farm, GK maintains a village, farmland for its various subordinate social enterprises (e.g. Human Nature), housing and facilities for members of SEED (a program for training social entrepreneurs from among the poor), and a sort of miniature, modest resort for the visitors who come to see what all this is about. While there, we did a bit of work around the farm. Between us, my roommate and I built a small bamboo retaining wall, tilled soil, and laid 40 eggplant seedlings. Though the fact of villagers doing nothing but overseeing our work would indicate that our additional manpower was not of great importance to the function of the farm or village, it was still good to know that people would be eating the crops sown that day. The overall experience was also a nice, concrete addition to my understanding of this aspect of HN, even though I’d read and heard of it so many times before.

The Lightning Round (But a Little More Rolling Thunder this Time)

It’s considered strange to smell your food before eating it, even if it’s a new food to you. Forks are held in the left hand, large spoons in the right. The left serves the right, while the right cuts the food and transports the food from plate to mouth. This is the rule, except when eating something like a steak that requires a knife – a rare circumstance because of the common diet here. When I’ve explained the Western fork-in-left-knife-in-right method, Filipinos always exclaim something along the lines of, “how can you eat rice like that?!” This is linked with another difference in culture; knives are largely prohibited. From my understanding, the law only allows knives to be carried if they are somehow necessary to one’s work life, or a “lawful pursuit” like camping. When walking near an outdoor mall, I even saw a professional gardener slashing at the woody stems of bushes with a small box cutter. This could have been caused by a lack of money for a better tool, but I think the episode also points to cultural ideas about knives and their role in society that is different from what we understand in the West. There is practically nothing resembling road rage here; occasionally, you’ll come across an irascible cab driver, but that’s about the worst of it. The words I’ve so far encountered in Tagalog that have been borrowed from Spanish seem to suggest various things about the history of colonization. Some examples are: pulisya (policía), mundo, chisme, merienda, siesta, tinidor (tenedor), reyna (reina), and trabaho (trabajo/a). The Spanish words for the numbers 1-100 and telling time are also used.

Week 3: Making Progress

The Work Week

There was much to do. I wrote through the edits on last week’s assignments, a few more press release blurbs, an introduction for a PR video, and rewrote two info-heavy product webpages. Besides all that, plus a few tidbits, I also offered edits and my opinion on three press releases that are still in progress. What I didn’t know until a Friday afternoon meeting is that the editing on those press releases was actually preparation for writing new ones from scratch. It may be another half a week or so before I get to take a shot at them, but it’s a pretty exciting thought. The final sign-off on them will be from a higher-up, of course, but it seems possible to glean that if my boss thought I couldn’t do it, she’d save herself the headache and give me some busy-work instead. Certainly, the work is coming along.

And on a more social note, sharing an environment with my officemates has gone quite well. They’ve been very helpful in their advice for both work and travel here, and seem always ready to share more about Filipino culture. When possible, I’ve returned the favor by lending a hand here or there and being a sport about things like backup dancing for a colleague who sang karaoke at a company event. You won’t, by the way, be seeing photos or video of the event here. Would you believe me if I told you the footage was lost?

Here’s the section of office I work in. Few people have regular desks, which adds just a bit of color to each day.

Travel

A trip to Metro Manila packed the weekend from 5:00pm Friday to when I returned to base in Paseo Sunday evening. There were so many cool, odd, adventuresome things that came out of it, I’m at a loss thinking how I might choose what experiences to pluck out and share in this medium. While that bigger picture has more time to develop in my mind, here are a few snapshots:

An example of the remaining Spanish influence on the architecture of Intramuros – seen from the muro itself.

The Lightning Round

Beggar children here are quite tenacious. They will follow you for several blocks, ask you your name, and sometimes take your hand and put it to their foreheads, an old sign of deep respect reserved for one’s elders. I have now seen skin bleaching, and it looks terrible – besides being only questionably “safe.” If you’re going to be walking around in monsoon season all day, you should really – in the words of Lieutenant Dan, “change your socks.” Otherwise, you might find yourself with some regrettably large blisters. Many security guards carry holsters but no guns, and even some of those have no bullets. In the Philippines, even the ants are particularly tiny. The great income disparity here often has people with pretty fundamentally different lifestyles living in close proximity; the only place I’ve not seen any sign of the poorer citizens of this country is in Makati, among high rises that glisten at heights you’d expect to find in a big American city.

Week 2: Things Go Wrong

Much like in life, plans will derail and common expectations will not be met when traveling. Really, most things are slightly more difficult – even in a country where the native tongue is (halfway) your own. Here’s the big story to explain what exactly I mean:

When I arrived, I found the provided apartment was pretty lavish for the Philippines. After a few days, however, the odd smell I first noticed wasn’t what one finds normal in a climate like that of Florida. The musty, damp, not-lived-in smell had been caused by mildew all along, and my roommate and I had been unwittingly feeding it with our woefully-leaky kitchen sink. Naturally, we tried to solve the problem by reporting it to the leasing office, but were given the building owner’s number instead. We missed calling during working hours on a Thursday simply because of all the things to take in and remember here, and then Friday because of a mis-communication over who would make the call on our shared local phone. So, we wait through the weekend. We do, and – after 2 1/2 days lost because of a problem with a local ally and two work trips with Human Nature – we get the owner on the phone. The owner is willing to get a plumber there same-day, but we can’t manage to get back in time with our work hours to let the guy in. The next day, the owner calls back and we schedule the plumber to visit the following morning. Friday morning of the second week comes along and the plumber arrives – 15 minutes late. Because the first thing at work is to meet the co-founder of the company, my roommate and I will have to leave before the man’s finished, which means now we have to somehow get our door locked once he leaves. We speak to the security guard, asking him to take our second key, but he refers us to the office staff. The office staff won’t be in until 30 minutes before we must be in the office, which is ten minutes away. So, we wait. The office staff arrive on time and we ask them to lock the door after the plumber, but we’re told there is a company policy that forbids them from unlocking doors or handling keys once they’ve been given to residents. At last, we exasperatedly decide to take everything precious with us in our backpacks and leave the apartment unlocked until we return from work. Was it a good idea? Perhaps not, but it seemed the only way to at once honor our work obligations and get the sink fixed. In the end, nothing ill came of it. Our sink was fixed and the apartment (with an estimated 14 man hours of scrubbing with vinegar) was much-improved.

It’s worth mentioning that the University does a great deal to make sure that everything goes smoothly for the students they send each year; mandatory pre-departure meetings, a required online preparation course covering a range from health insurance to culture shock, local contacts, electronically-available procedure documents to help you get from the airport to your arranged transport to your provided housing are all put in order so as little goes wrong as possible. No matter how hard they try, though, stories like the one I’ve just shared are going to happen – and that’s just fine. If you don’t want adventure and the difficulties that come with it, stay home.

On the work front, the first real week was remarkably light, as my supervisor, mentor/co-worker, and really the whole office were engrossed with the semi-monthly completion of the company’s “magalogue,” a print source from which customer’s select their purchases. I did, however, re-write 2 articles on the website that were almost 10 years out of date, proofread several more, and create blurbs for old press releases that would reflect the current state of affairs at the company. The hardest part of all this actually came before any of the writing began, and that was internalizing the voice and brand of the company. For this I had a meeting with my supervisor, some reference materials, and several hours of research. Even so, the main critique of the work I’ve so far produced is that it didn’t quite match the tone the company maintains. Ah well. Things go wrong – especially at new jobs. Here comes another week to work and learn.

And now, the lightning round:

Filipino movie theaters have low, hard seats, relatively-cheap, flat-rate tickets, and staff that turn on the lights before the final note of the film’s score has ended; the viewers leave just about as quickly. Pork adobo is good, but not really as heavenly as everyone made it out to be. (I tried 2, to be sure.) Rainy season isn’t necessarily rainy all the time; there’s a drizzle here and there, but in 2 weeks there’s only been a single thunderstorm – albeit, a very intense one. There are many adults here with braces. Skin whitening is a fairly common and controversial beauty practice among women here. According to locals, dogs don’t say “bark bark,” they say “oh oh.” Coca Cola cans are 15 ml lighter than in the US, and their shape is long and skinny; they’re also branded, “to be sold in the Philippines.” According to my roommate after he made a trip to Metro Manila, there are more trans people in the town than you’d find in a big American city.

This post was going to include photos, but, believe it or not, there’s an issue with uploading here.

Week 1: Travel and Arrival

Getting to the Philippines was an expectedly rough trip. I left my home in Central Illinois on the 9th at 3:00pm and arrived at University of the Philippines, Los Baños, for an initial sleeping place two days later. In total, it took 19 hours flight time and 3 hours driving – not to mention 9 hours spent inside airports. Still, the cramped seats, lack of sleep, and airplane culinary fare have all been worth their trouble now that I’ve really arrived here in Santa Rosa, the site of my internship.

There isn’t a great deal to say about my actual work at Human Nature because it wasn’t until Friday afternoon that I received my assignments for the next week, but I can say being at the company – in the space and with the people – has so far lived up to my expectations. The outer face of the company I’d seen in my research matches the atmosphere and initiatives observable through my feet-on-the-ground experience. Here’s what I mean:

My co-workers and I are allowed to come in between 7:00 and 10:00am and work for only 7 hours per day because of the company’s “flexi schedule,” a policy designed to make a wholesome family life easier for its employees. We will also all be going to Carmelray early Monday morning to the HN plant, where we’ll take part in an annual stock-taking; for a company to see the cost of this “lost” work day (or half workday, perhaps) as an investment in the employees’ joint ownership isn’t necessarily ground-breaking, but here it feels genuine. “Bayanihan” is a concept in the Philippines that I will define from my understanding as “a sense of community,” and it’s one you see every day. So far, and without exception, the people at HN seem to be actively trying to make life better for their friends and coworkers. When a group of my now-colleagues went out to grab a snack at the drug store, they came back with the favorite treat of one of the employees who stayed behind. And, when I offered (innocently, even if foolishly) a light critique of a product’s appearance to a member of the design team, he responded good-naturedly, and with the assumption that I meant well in my comment. Later, he even invited me to speak up again because of my “fresh eyes!” All in all, it seems like the office at HN is going to be a happy, healthy place to work and learn for the next 7 weeks. I’m (still) looking forward to it.

There has been a great deal to process these first few days in-country, and I think the best way to share as much of it as possible is through only a slight filter. With that in mind, I’ve decided to adopt a lightning-round approach. Here goes:

Massages aren’t necessarily relaxing; I have a small bruise and a sore trapezius to prove it. If you want fresh fish in the Philippines, you can get it so fresh it’s still breathing and in schools. You need cash in a country where the transportation system is mostly run by private persons, and you need that cash in small denominations if you want to make friends. Being mildly tall by western standards makes you a walking landmark here and that makes plenty of people smile and laugh – until they have to squeeze into public transport in the space left over by your bulk (sorry, everybody; I’ll grab that jar of canned meat on the top shelf for you next time). If one were to divide the socioeconomic status of the country, it might readily be done in halves. The first half of the population lives and shops on one side of security guards, and the second on the other side – often in houses made of corrugated metal, cement blocks, and rough-laid mortar. The weather is hot, but not so hot that a citizen of Florida or Louisiana will feel out-of-place; in fact, once the sun goes down, the climate is much like a warm, pleasant night in Illinois.

Oh, and my roommate and I hiked Mount Taal, a nearby volcano: