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Testing the comfort zone

Back when I was a timid middle school student, my PE teacher (the terrific Mr. Canzanese) encouraged me to take risks by saying, “You’re only really learning when you’re out of your comfort zone.” I’m learning a lot in the Philippines as I test my comfort zone daily.

Transportation

Our daily commute to school involves two Jeepneys and a tricikab, a motorized bike with an attached passenger compartment. There seems to be no limit to how many passengers can be squeezed into these contraptions. Roma and I have navigated the process of paying, transferring, and asking for a stop, all in the local Ilongo dialect.

Tricikab

Tricikab

Stuffing into a trikab. Not pictured: the two or three  riders often dangling from the top.

Stuffing into a tricikab. Not pictured: the two or three riders often dangling from the top.

Riding on a Jeepney. They are the size of large vans with two side-facing benches. The open sides have plastic covers that can be pulled down in the rain.

Riding on a Jeepney. They are the size of large vans with two side-facing benches. The open sides have plastic covers that can be pulled down in the rain.

Communication

Personal questions and comments are the norm. It’s not considered rude to ask someone age, income, or marital status, or to comment frankly on a person’s physical appearance. “You’re so white!” and “You don’t eat much, but you’re chubby” are no different from mentioning that someone is tall or has blue eyes. One woman introduced her daughter to me by saying, “She’s chubby,” and another greeted her friend with, “Wow, you are much fatter since I last saw you!”

With some students at Leganes Elementary School. Can you find the white, chubby American lady?

With some students at Leganes Elementary School. Can you find the white, chubby American lady?

In the spotlight

We have needed to adjust to a constantly shining spotlight. We stand out as foreigners and people are eager to converse, take our picture, and see us perform. Every day we are asked to speak publicly to large groups at the schools we visit. Our audience often insists that we follow our speech with a dance, to an accompaniment of uproarious laughter and copious photographing and videotaping as we muddle our way through. I cringe to think what evidence might have crept onto YouTube! Our hip-hop performance was atrocious, while our Tinikling (traditional Filipino dance of hopping quickly between moving bamboo sticks) continues to improve.

Tinikling dancers at Barotac Nuevo National Comprehensive High School

Tinikling dancers at Barotac Nuevo National Comprehensive High School

Food

As guests, we are offered multiple meals each day, prepared by our wonderful and generous hosts. While unfamiliar, nearly everything I’ve tried has been quite tasty, and sometimes downright delicious.

Typical spread

Typical lunch spread.

Mangos, rice cakes, boku, and other traditional dishes

Mangoes, rice cakes, boku, and other traditional dishes.

Enjoying a refreshing drink of boku (coconut juice)

Enjoying a refreshing drink of boku (coconut juice).

Learning, growing, testing and expanding my comfort zone; Mr. Canzanese would be proud.

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American oddities

My adorable Italian cousin Valentina and her sweetheart Paolo visited the United States for the first time this month.

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Here are a few American things that they found fascinating and unique.

1. Foaming hand soap. Paolo even bought a bottle to take home.

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2. Grape jelly Valentina had some on her toast every morning. She said that jam is common in Italy, but not jam made of grapes.

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3. Chinese takeout food – even the greasy, salty, nutritionally devoid kind from the places with food photos on the wall.

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4. Squirrels. They must have taken a hundred photos of squirrels scampering around DC and Maryland.

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5. Drip-style coffee makers. Paolo naturally brought his own coffee maker and coffee to the States, since Americans really can’t be trusted to make proper coffee. Nevertheless, he and Valentina were impressed by the drip coffee process, if not the product.

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I wonder what items and events I’ll find to be unique and impressive when I travel to Asia this summer?