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Summer. Vacation. Home.

June 16, 2011

Originally, I wanted to write a reflection post on this school year, but…just no time. Last day of school was today, and I leave for the airport in about an hour and a half. Along with a many other teachers, I got the earliest flight possible. It seems appropriate to get sentimental at this point, with so many of us going our separate ways. It just hasn’t hit me yet.

What can I really say with just a few minutes left before I’m on my way to the airport?

It scares me just a little to think how comfortable I’m getting here. This is the first year since I was 19 that I have not moved. Every year since, I have changed addresses, boxed my things, and returned the keys. This year, I do not have to do that and it feels great! I can leave my desk at home cluttered, a shirt or two in the hamper. Looking around my apartment now, it’s filled with green pants of different sizes, paintings on the walls, books on the shelves, floor mats of varying colors, a portable black wall partition, a sully-stocked kitchen, and a this feeling of…home. For now it’s just that.

But before I go back to my home in the PAC NW…check out these two weeks I got planned:

In two weeks, I will:
– visit 5-6 cities in 3-4 countries (Belguim is a maybe)
– Stay in 5 hostels
– Stay 2 nights in Couch Surfing host’s home.
– Hike Alps.
– Ride bicycle in Amsterdam.
– Use 5-Day Eurail Train Pass.
– Say goodbye to best friend in Heidelberg (before he trains it through Russia and Mongolia, and moves back to the states).
– Fly Frankfurt to Seattle.

Thanks for reading. Not sure if I’ll do this blog again next year. My friends are at the door…I’ve got to get going.

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A Health Update and other Ramblings

May 31, 2011

The days here are moving fast enough, yet I’m tired of teaching.  That’s right; I’m not afraid to say it.  I’m tired of teaching.  My fatigue – although, getting better – has been an incredible strain on my work days.  I suppose I also attribute my lethargy to my lack of “teaching stamina”.  I’ve talked a lot with my kids about reading more and more everyday to improve reading stamina.  I’m on the same boat with my teaching.  Mr. Rongcal tired everybody.

The symptom of fatigue is really new for me, but like any chronic disease you learn to live with it the best you can.  And in my years of having this disease I’ve recently just learned new things about it and how it affects my body – as I reluctantly brave others’ blogs on the disease and actually try and do some research on the topic for myself.  I learned that stress increases the disease’s activity and its symptoms (not to mention the painful cycle of my symptoms causing me stress).  Also, the fatigue I’m talking about apparently cannot be relieved through more rest or sleep (as I quickly learned).  So, even on a goodnight’s rest, body has felt tired!  Also recently, I’ve began seeing a physical therapist.  From him I’ve (re)learned one important thing about regular physical therapy: it increases the longevity – the usage – of my joints.  I always felt I knew that, but it really clicked when he said it.  R.J….With 100 percent certainty, doing these exercises will give your joints a longer life span.  Make no bones about it.

Anyways…the days are moving fast enough, but there is still so much to do (as if a teachers’ life is ever peaches and gravy when it comes to To-Do Lists.)  Speaking of notes and to-do lists, I wrote on a post-it note to myself several weeks back (in earnest hand-writing): Your health is THE MOST important thing right now!  And I leave my self post-its all over my desk at school and my apartment, pretty soon it’s just this potpourri of different colored papers and inks looking back at me in disappointment.  To add to the irregular effectiveness of this tactic, every Wednesday my maid, Mira, so routinely takes any papers that are in my place – on my coffee table, in the kitchen, where ever.  And creates one nice, neat little stack as if they all belong together.  I have writing assessments mixed with prescription forms, song lyrics mixed with restaurant menus.  Naturally, all the post-it notes I’ve been writing for weeks and weeks become sporadically interspersed amidst all those papers.  But I can’t really hide the post-it notes from her; that would kind of defeat the purpose.

I suppose the days are going fast enough, in that, they are busy.  Tutoring twice a week.  Environmental Fun Club every Monday.  Staff meetings on Tuesdays.  Although, I did have to give up something I fell in love with rather quickly, and that my friends is…Ultimate Frisbee.  In my attempt to network beyond my own co-workers and more so to routinely exercise and get my body somewhat ready for my summer hiking adventures, I began playing Frisbee with a group of ex-pats twice a week for two hours at another American school across the freeway from ours.  I loved it, but my knees, ankles, and toes did not.  Three weeks of playing this quick-paced game of constant sprinting, cutting, jumping, pivoting, etc. was enough to send me straight to physical therapy.  In eight years of having this disease, this is the first time I’ve seen a physical therapist.  It’s not that my joints haven’t been worse before, because they have been much, much worse!  But I finally felt I needed more professional help other than my Rheumatologist and my own independent research.

I know ultimate frisbee is not a high-contact sport, but my body just could not handle the constant exertion against the astroturf.   The short of it:  my body’s different that it was…even one year ago.  Thus, I’m needing to figure out what changes I need to make in my life in order to…respect this disease – whether it be changes in my diet, physical activity, the shoes I wear, the positions in which I sleep, whatever.

As I was saying, the days are…busy, busy, busy.  Despite the fact my papers are piling up at work, I still find myself researching travel plans during my planning periods.  It’s kind of its own vacation in itself.  Sending the kids off to specials and…browsing “Things to Do in Gimmelwald”, reading hostel reviews in Heidelberg and Amsterdam, scrolling train times to align with my hostel check-in and check-out times, and reading bloggers’ own experiences of when they travelled Central Europe.  That’s one way I’ve been spending my planning periods at work.  Clear cut sign I’m ready to knock all this sand out of my shoes.

I’ve never been a fan of counting down the days toward a special occasion.  It always seemed counter-productive, like watching the stove for a pot of water to boil.  But I think it’s only natural at this point in the year to entertain those feelings of…celebration…freedom…those feelings that all build up as you pack your things, say your goodbyes, and walk through security…to finally touchdown once again and walk into that glorious and intoxicating summer.

Stormy Sands and Summer Plans

May 1, 2011

Just had a Turkish Coffee, and before I crash from it I wanted to build on this second wind I’ve gotten (as I sit in the cafe, the time nearing 7PM).  With six weeks left in the school year, there are two directions I can go as a teacher. I refuse to “check-out” or wing-it until June 16th. Even though, plans for the summer are still on my mind.

The American School of Kuwait will be flying me home in June via Lufthansa Airlines, with a layover in Frankfurt, Germany. Since it’s up to me to pick the exact dates of my departure from both Kuwait and Frankfurt, I did what many ASK employees do and extended my layover in Germany – extended it to about 13 days. Free flight to Central Europe? Okay. With a list that originally began with seven countries, I’ve been able to narrow it down to 3. As of now, those 13 days will be spent backpacking Germany, Switzerland, and Holland (with possible day stop overs in Luxembourg and/or Brussels). I chose these based on recommendations from friends, a personal interest in the outdoors (and beer), and the proximal conduciveness to train travel.

This will be my first time traveling on my own. Which I’ve been itching to do because I’m eager for the responsibility and the experience. My attention and focus to detail I’ve noticed decreases when I’m traveling with others. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel with savvy, experienced, well-prepared individuals that pretty much make up the plans for me. And trusting their judgement I’m oft to say, Let’s do it! to a majority of their questions. Now that I’ll be on my own, I can use my recent experiences to find the best hostels, landmarks, restaurants for me…all on my own! This will also be a test in meeting new people, something I’m not always good at initiating. Also, need to figure out the train system. Considering tutoring for this last month to pay off a Eurail Pass, it being over $400 and all.

What else is happening? Thinking of buying a car. Right now I’m short-term leasing, but I’d really like to buy so I can sell the rig back when I eventually leave for…greener pastures(?) Speaking of driving, last night we had our second big sandstorm of the year. But this one was different because it was raining, and thundering, and lightening. I realizes I imitate the same posture while driving in a sand storm as in a snowstorm – windshield wipers on high, body hunched over until my chin is basically on the steering wheel, head-ache induced eye-squinting, going about maybe 40km/h.

So, I was driving west on 4th Ring Rd. thinking I’ll stop by Carre Four for some groceries, maybe buy myself a new backpack. The picture is from the last sandstorm (which was quite worse), but what I saw when I was driving yesterday was not far off. Mind you this is at 5:00 in the afternoon; sunset is still a long way away. I looked ahead of me, a brown wall of sand (reminiscent of the movie The Mummy). I looked in my rearview, clear blue skies. Hmm…I thought, maybe it’s not as bad as it looks. I changed my mind quick and skipped on to the freeway to Mahboula – 20 minutes south. At this point the storm is just reaching me – blue skies to my left, dark skies to my right.

Taken from our teacher building in Mahboula. An un-altered pic of approaching sandstorm in March (photo courtesy of a Facebook friend)

Few minutes later…I was driving down The 40 (King Fahad something-or-other-freeway) and I’m going through the muddiest rain I have ever seen. My windshield wipers alone didn’t work well enough because the mixture of rain and sand is just creating a sludge on the glass. The best I could do was continually use the windshield wiper fluid. One big difference between the two storms is that one can pull over on the side of the road and wait for the sand storm to settle before continuing to drive. As I neared my exit, which I almost missed, was the first time I’d ever felt my car swerve from strong winds.

Got to my apartment and checked my surfaces…yep, dust everywhere. It wasn’t as bad as the one in March, where literal clouds of dust built up in my apartment (cover your electronics!), lingered, and forced me to a friends place on the gulf side of the building with less in-door dust. Never while I’ve been here has our school had indoor recess because of rain, but we’ve had many indoor recesses because of dust.  It’s the same reason camels have such thick eyelashes.

Planes, Trains, and…Tuk-Tuks

April 30, 2011

Nick, Ben, and I spent our Spring Break in Siem Reap, Cambodia and Koh Chiang, Thailand.

This hardly does Angkor Wat justice, the largest religious monument in the world! The grounds are well over 1 sq km, with a moat around it that looks more like a rectangular river. You may recognize it from a little movie called, Tomb Raider.

All the temples we are over 1,000 years old, this one is no exception. Amazing architecture.

Some of the temples they let you climb the steps that were originally meant only for priests to climb in order to communicate with the gods. The grade was dangerously steep, and on others we just had to climb the steps like mountain climber.

Me at Buddhist Temple outside Ankor. This picture was taken by a local Cambodian who suckered me into giving him three bucks for giving me a tour of the temple and taking pictures for me. I still think I got the better end of the deal.

We saw at least a dozen monkeys outside of the Ankor Wat temple just hangin' out.

Smiling Buddhas at sunset

Smiling Buddha up close

How these trees grow this way is crazy! 

An "at-your-own-risk" descent

Nick, Ben, and I making our way to a waterfall.

In Siem Reap they do the 3 Rs. This man is re-using Whiskey bottles to store propane. The propane in this picture being used to fuel our tuk-tuk.

Laura and I in Koh Chiang. Along with the nation-wide water fight in celebration of the Thai New Year, locals also like to celebrate by smearing wet talcum powder on strangers' faces and bodies.

From Mountains to Mahboula

April 22, 2011

* I wrote half of this blog during Spring Break on our Thai/Cambodia trip.  Sat down today and wrote the rest of it.  So some parts might seem kind of contradictory…again, I’m just grappling with an idea.

The longer I’m away, the harder it is to see myself moving back home.  How can I leave this all behind?  The travel, salary benefits, job experience, friends, etc.  The other question is, How much has Silverdale and Seattle really felt like home in recent years.  I almost consider Bellingham more of my hometown.  These towns just feel like…places I’ve lived.  I don’t have expansive histories or extended families or taxed property there to call my own.  I long for my friends, but not particularly for the places I’ve been.

One of my favorite books is A Man without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.  It was the first book that got me thinking on an “international/global level”.  I was 22 when I first had the idea to go abroad, and I read this book at 23, helping to crystalize that idea.

The title of Vonnegut’s book refers to his life as a German-American growing up in Illinois, and that he often felt like a….man without a country.  Naturally, I relate to this by growing up in Washington State as a first gen. Filipino-American.  My roots in America – if I’m really trying to stretch it – go back less than 4 decades when my father was stationed in Bremerton, WA sometime in the mid-70’s.  My roots in the Philippines seem detached, primarily because I’ve never lived there, nor had a desire to.  Maybe I’m just trying to relate myself to a literary great like Vonnegut, but I can somewhat relate to the feeling of being a man without a country.

The Pacific NW is the closest thing I have to a home, despite not having an expansive familial history there.  And the longer I’ve been away the more I associate with it.  I meet new people — I tell them I’m from Seattle.  I visit a new place–I compare it to the Northwest.  I picture an ideal home–I see trees, mountains, and blue waters.  But Mahboula, Kuwait can be just as formative as Bellingham or Bremerton, I think.  Amidst my thoughts of home this year – their fluctuating – and amidst the seasonal inspiration of a new Spring, my brain is currently caught thinking, out of sight, out of mind.  Seattle is only two months away…there’s no use in pining over it now.

But it surprised me when I didn’t feel a longing for home when I was listening to a sad folk/bluegrass song by Doc Watson called “Blueridge Mountain Blues”.  He longs for home in such a way, and I find myself being jealous of just how much he misses his…home.  He sings:

When I was young and in my prime

I left my home in Caroline

Now all I do is sit and pine

for all those folks I left behind.  

My grip is packed with travel

and I’m scratching gravel for that 

Blue Ridge faraway

I listen to similar old folk/blues songs that wail for home and the images they miss and the people, and I want to feel that same intensity of emotion as them.  Do I feel guilt for not feeling that way about home? (now)  Is it a case of “out of sight, out of mind”?

Regardless of the place you’re from, the office where you work, the dorm you live, or the team you’re on, it’s the people you share those experiences with that embroider definitive memories.  It’s not that I don’t miss the Pacific Northwest, I do.  But I miss my friends and family more.

I long for the relationships with my friends, but not particularly for the places I’ve been.  I long for many things that are not so much in a particular place, but instead in a specific state of mind.  Natural and beautiful things.  A dog on her walk; the hen resting on her eggs; the cow chewing its cud.

Live for enlightening human relationships and profound life experiences.  I am happiest when the two intersect.

Hopes and Dreams? I’ve got a Plane to Catch!

April 5, 2011

Someone close to me, someone who gave up on once sincere passions, inspired this.

When I was 21, I told myself I’d be able to write while I teach.  So far it hasn’t worked out like that, and there are several reasons why.  For about 2 or 3 years now I’ve had this fear that my youthful idealism would eventually fade, and I’d be sitting around making excuses for why I never got anything published, never played music for a crowd, never travelled around South America and learned Spanish, never became one of those people who can “fix anything” – for example.

My other fear is that I’d be sitting around not even regretting not doing such things.  Instead, I’d be sitting around pretending (or actually believing) that such things were never a big part of my life.  The third avenue of thought this takes me is that this fear is just my own creation.  If I lose interest in writing or movies or music, it may not be because I “failed” but perhaps it’s something that just no longer thrills me.  Of course losing that intrinsic desire for something special in my life (and being okay with it) is a sad thing in itself.

I read somewhere that from age 25-35 are generally the most productive years of persons life.  It’s also the age range when people, to put it plainly, give up on their dreams.  It’s true these things happen (probably more often then we realize because I bet many people don’t care to share such insights).  From the outsider’s perspective this is a sad thing.  “Oh, Jimmy always did want to be ______ …what happened…he just lose interest?”  These things happen.  People have these clear definitive dreams at some point, and they fizzle away.  But it’s not so much the actual event of one’s mind losing this once vivid dream.  What scares me is the apathy that replaces, the new state of mind that has taken over – so to speak.  But as goes life.

When we’re 7, everybody and their brother will someday play in the NBA.  But with each passing year into and through adolescence, that number of wanna-be ballers deflates.  As with our dreams as we grow through adolescence – emergent adulthood – and into adulthood, less of us dream about nailing a buzzer-beater in the Finals.  But most people are fine with this!  Many kids just played because their parents made them.  What’s my issue?  I can feel at times I’m losing interest in my interests.  For example, I fear more the reason for losing my interest in writing rather than the actual act of losing it.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Tickets for Thailand and Cambodia are booked.

3rd quarter report cards are finished.

Spring Break is in 2 days.

I can think about my hopes and dreams later.  I’m out!

Great Potential, High Expectations

March 25, 2011

* I started writing this post with the intention that only the first paragraph be “prose-like”.  But, for whatever reason, it kept on that same path.

** This is fiction.

***

You’re nine months pregnant and due any day.  You’re expecting a beautiful baby girl.  Next thing you know you turn your head and see your mother in a rocking chair holding your first born in a fuzzy pink blanket.  Her first grandchild.  With the great expectation of bringing a baby into this world, and the expectations to follow…wow, it feels like a lot of pressure doesn’t it?

(This post is about the way a life can be structured around that great word: expectation.  After all, it begins before we’re even born…that’s what it’s called!  Expecting.)

The next few years go without a hitch.  She babbles her words, walks, talks, poops, and screams.  Cuts her first teeth.  She even learns how to turn the pages in a book, a few letters…then eventually learns to read.  School begins and the usual expectations continue.   You can tell she’s smart; her teachers even say so.  Maybe you sub-conciously compare your child to another.  She makes friends easily.  The sky’s the limit.  Now she’s reading chapter books and teaching you things about sea creatures and how mummies are made.  The school Spelling Bee let’s her shine in front of the whole school, and you are so proud.  You get teary-eyed after her flute solo in the 6th grade music concert.  She can do nothing wrong.  She is perfect.

Hmm...

She experiences failure (cut from the soccer team) for the first time and has difficulty handling it.  She now experiences “pressure”, things she felt in few isolated incidents as a young girl…but now it is much more frequent, much more regular.  She is now creating her own social and intellectual expectations for herself, the same kinds her parents set for her as a girl.  But too often her expectations are too high and…she fails.   She begins comparing herself to her girls her age.  She doesn’t like what she sees in the mirror.  She pushes on with the need to live up to her potential and the expectations put on her by her teachers, coaches, and parents, the potential she lived up to as a young girl.

She extends this need of meeting expectations to her relationships with classmates, friends, and boyfriends.  Setting her expectations too high, and pressuring herself to do things she otherwise would never do.  Luckily, she is smart enough to succeed enough that she not succumb to learned helplessness.  But the setting of high expectations does not leave her.  It becomes so engrained in her throughout the years that her mind sets them automatically without even thinking.

She expects her neighbor to be one of her best friends, and is saddened when it doesn’t happen.

She expects to read at least 3 books this summer, and gets mad at herself when she only reads one.

She expects to meet her future husband by the time she is 27, and questions her worth when he doesn’t come.

She tries to counter/balance this by setting very low expectations, but then appears apathetic.

Grown up now she has a enough wisdom to recognize unrealistic expectations (and change them), and enough savvy to leave a situation that puts unnecessary pressure on her.  She’s learning the difference between a success and a failure.  As she better understands the ambiguity of the two.

There are more situations in her life where successes and failures have little meaning, and many places where success and failure do not exist at all.  It makes her so much happier to know this.

*** (Hearing students say things like, “I have to do perfect on this math test or my mom is going to be sooo mad.”  inspired this post.)