Is a Cruise for You?

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If in your future are exotic locations,
Such as Cancun or Mexico, assuming existing US relations.
Unlimited food, tasting mediocre at best,
That’ll send you straight to the toilet if it hasn’t been blessed.
A week away from your children at home,
Or bring them along and allow them to roam.
Does any of this sound too good to be true?
Then a cruise may be for you.

Let us first visit my favorite location, the buffet.
Where I heard there was food forever, that’s totally cray!
Failing to heed Admiral Ackbar’s advice:
“It’s a trap!” Limited hours. I’ve paid the ultimate price.
There is one item unlimited, no cause for alarm,
It’s the melted soft-serve, constantly running down your arm.
When there was food available, it wasn’t so great,
But it’s better than starving, so don’t arrive late.
If food’s not your thing, there’s plenty to do,
A cruise may still be for you.

Your cruise director always has something to say
Ours was named Alex, he would not go away.
Nothing he said was of interest of me,
No sir, even at 25% off, I will not buy new jewelry.
The ship deck was a great place to get sun,
Until the hairy chest contest (for ALL participants) sent me on the run.
Many ship staff and visitors were Filipino, no way!
Imagine my dismay to learn they were all from LA.
Supposedly the price of the cruise was all inclusive,
However the $82 WiFi charge was very elusive.
Perhaps I got bored because I don’t drink,
But who’s laughing now with the bill printed in ink.
The activities I’ve listed are only a few,
But do you know now if a cruise is for you?

Our shore excursions were quite a delight,
At least Catalina. Ensenada not quite.
Shirt off and snorkeling with the fishes below,
Yes ma’am the water is cold.  How did you know?
Sunscreen was one amenity I forgot,
Which will not bode well for interviews with skin in mid rot.
Ensenada we drove around in a rented van,
Yes I’ll buy your tamales. You think I can’t eat 20? Watch me, I can!
If anything you must come for the gorgeous view,
How about now, is a cruise for you?

And so concludes the end of our trip,
It was an interesting time aboard this ship.
This has by no means been a comprehensive review,
But you should know now, if a cruise is for you.

Seeing Something Better in the Philippines

It’s amazing how often we spend pining after things we don’t have.  We often fail to remember the things we have already been given, and continue to enjoy.  For three weeks, I spent my time with a group of students volunteering for CharityVision, a nonprofit organization with a focus on empowering local physicians in the developing world and creating sustainable solutions to the worldwide blindness epidemic.  We watched surgeries, played with patients, volunteered in orphanages, and performed projects to improve the clinics we were at.  We experienced conditions which are no longer prevalent in the United States.  For as many problems as our current healthcare systems has, we do have medical and technological advances to be grateful for.

Approximately half our time was spent in a rural location called the De Venicia clinic.  This clinic is used primarily for removing cataracts via a simple surgery.  Did you know that a $25 donation is all that it takes to restore vision to someone who has been robbed of it?  The process begins as staff travel to various locations across the Philippines (or the world, as this is an international organization) and perform screenings to find potential candidates.  We took part in these screenings (obtaining carsickness on the 3-hour remote drive) and interacted with the patients who turned up.

Patients arrive on their designated date for their surgeries.  Patients range in age from young children to the elderly.  Whether young or old, every person deserves the right to sight.  Observing surgeries was a fascinating experience.  Doctors performed surgeries with the patients conscious.  Can you imagine staring up at the caregivers while they stick sharp instruments in your eye?  What more, the doctor jokes with you and then chastises you for laughing and moving the surgical area (your face).  What a wonderful scene it was after the surgery when the patients would shed tears of joy after regaining their sight.

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When we weren’t observing surgeries, we were acting as workers, seeking to improve the appearance of the clinic.  Our biggest project was improving the patient waiting area outside.  5,000 bricks and 3 days later, we finished with all our fingerprints rubbed clean off (in order to commit the perfect crime).  We also made improvements to the patient bathroom and kitchen, and provided the nurses with a locker for their belongings.

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The remainder of our time we spent in Manila, volunteering at the Mabuhay House.  Patients stay here for longer periods of time for a number of maladies.  One such patient is a child named Balong who was born with club feet.  Instead of going through surgery, Balong has had metal braces placed on his legs with rods shooting through his feet.  Every week, a doctor tightens the brace as it slowly reverses his condition.  This painful process will take nearly a year to complete.  But when it is finished, he will be able to run and play with his friends.

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Or consider Stephen, who was born with a cleft lip.  Many people who are born with this condition and allow it to persist are often ridiculed and ostracized in society.  A simple surgery repaired Stephen’s condition and he can go about his life without having to worry about being teased.

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These are conditions rarely, if ever seen in the United States.  They are such simple procedures performed when the children are brand new.  Because many of these type of conditions are so rampant in the Philippines, it was surprising to encounter people with conditions such as cancer or diabetes.  The people there deal with more severe disabilities which could be so easily repaired, that they have no time to worry about diseases which first world countries consider more serious.  And if they can’t pay for those fixable maladies, how can they expect to pay for conditions we ourselves struggle to pay for?

The day we went and volunteered at an orphanage, we played with some of the cutest children who had just been dealt a bad hand in life.  There are many orphanages within the states as well, but what made this experience unique was that some of these children were a result of failed abortions.  Not only were they a result of neglect, but the poor actions of their parents had left lasting scars.  It was heart-wrenching.

This trip provided a meaningful experience to be a part of a humanitarian opportunity.  Becoming more aware of the healthcare we have been blessed with will allow us to focus on what we already have, rather than what we do not.  For more information on CharityVision and the work they do, you can visit their website. charityvision.net

Life as an Expat

I don’t consider myself to be a real expatriate.  I love America too much to defect.  My time is also quite a bit shorter than other expats here in the Philippines.  However, for the past week-and-a-half, I have resided in the thick of Manila, a bustling metropolis of 6.5 million people, and gone about my days as if I resided here.  Although I served a 2-year mission here, quite a few activities were prohibited, which are now free game.  A few of these experiences have yielded humorous and sometimes uncomfortable results as I have continued to learn more about the culture I love here.

One of the biggest differences between myself and many of the other foreigners here is that I am not more than 60-years-old with a wife a third my age, or DOM (Dirty Old Men) as we affectionately refer to them.  However, as I walked through the mall this past week with my friend Marje, I couldn’t help but feel extremely self-conscious that I had taken the very form of those I detested.  What do DOM do with their time? Hang out at the mall drinking coffee.  I was hanging out at the mall eating Dairy Queen!  A close comparison!  I wanted to yell at all the wandering eyes “We’re not married! Can’t you see she’s older than me (that’s hard to see since I tower over everyone by a head)! Stop judging me and let me eat my ice cream!”  Even if I was old and fat, I don’t think I could ever become a DOM.  The shame (365 million people in our country and you can’t find 1 person to marry you!).

That same day, we went to go see the new Mission Impossible film.  The Philippines does well enough in English that they take their American films in English with no subtitles.  Without sounding too much like a movie review, I’ll say that I enjoyed the film very much.  It was laced with humor; some subtle and some not-so-subtle.  It was this cleverly written subtle humor which proved problematic for me.  I laughed out loud at many of these moments, as I’m sure most people would at an American cinema.  Unfortunately, this humor was above most of the audience here, making me the only one to laugh in the movie.  After a few instances, I just wanted to yell to everyone “Oh COME ON! It’s funny!”

One thing that the movie theaters do correctly is the food they allow you to bring in.  As much as I love America, I will never pay for theater food that costs more than the movie you are paying to see, and outside food is not allowed.  In the theater lobby here, there is a Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Dairy Queen in the same stall.  What could be better than enjoying a movie while eating a taco or a pizza, or a pizza taco (it’s a thing).  Granted, I still sneak these things into American theaters.  The only difference being that I wouldn’t have to saran wrap a pizza and tape it around my waist or stuff other food under my clothes for fear of getting caught.  It’s no fun trying to explain to the manager why I have Ben and Jerry’s “Cinnamon Buns” trickling down my leg.

Enjoy your movie with a pizza, or a burrito

Enjoy your movie with a pizza, or a burrito

Since the city is much too large to understand their bus system (please just get a train), I have been taking taxis to get around.  Growing up in a smaller city, traffic is one thing I have never had to deal with.  I firmly believe now that traffic would be a dealbreaker for me in any city I live in.  Google Maps has forsaken me.  It tells me only 15 minutes to my destination, but I arrive an hour later.  I now only use maps to determine distance and then determine if I should triple or quadruple the ETA   Out of curiosity, I walked 6 kilometers to a clinic I was visiting and took a taxi back.  It took me 55 minutes to walk and about 70 minutes and 200 pesos to take a taxi.  To walk in the insufferable heat for free and arrive sooner, or pay up and move at a sluggish rate? That is the question.

Many of my destinations consist of me eating something (if you’ve learned ANYTHING from reading this blog, you would know that).  I have been so confused at the attention they give the food here.  For example, doughnuts are taken very seriously.  Hands are never used; instead, the finest silver is provided.  Because nothing screams classy liking eating your custard creme with a fork.  They are also a complete meal.  I was surprised to learn in the states that dinner crepes were a thing.  How about a tuna filled eclair?  Or perhaps a glazed with your corn beef.

Doughnuts: please take them seriously

Doughnuts: please take them seriously

I love learning about different cultures .  Every day is an opportunity to learn something new and unique.  With as much love as I have for the Philippines though, I will never share their love Air Supply.