ManiLa La Land

As of today, it has only been slightly over a week since the IWU Freeman interns first arrived in the Philippines. And what a week it has been!


Within the first hour of being in the Philippines, we experienced two characteristics for which the country is famous: torrential rain and hair-raising traffic. Motorbikes roared past our nine-person passenger van with confidence and dexterity in spite of the sheets of rain that pelted down. Jeepneys and trikes crowded the streets, where traffic laws are smothered by incessant honks and knowledge that no one is enforcing the rules.


We arrived at our hotel after three hours of driving. We were staying only for a short interim, allowing for cultural orientation and a couple of outings. Our lodging was nestled in dense jungle foliage at the edge of University of the Philippines campus in Los Baños, an urban municipality southeast of Metro Manila. The surrounding landscape was lush and, as one guest described it, “like Jurassic Park.”

Given the intensity of the sun and the inordinate amount of rain received every month (we are expecting 25 inches (!!!) while we are here), the plants are spectacular. The regional flora dominates every space possible. From spindly palm trees laden with coconuts to climbing vines that threaten to pull down tangles of power lines, one is struck by the over saturation of green.

Tourist Time

After the orientation, the interns were kept busy with various excursions.

One evening, we traveled by Jeepney to a restaurant that had floating tables. The beautiful scene was accompanied by delicious Filipino dishes, such as chicken adobo, pansit, fresh fish, and lots of steamed rice. Towards the end of the meal, a trio of locals with guitars serenaded us with artists ranging from Justin Bieber to Filipino musicians to The Eagles.

The next day, we visited Villa Escudero, a resort and plantation owned by the wealthiest family in the Philippines. The tourist destination housed a Pepto Bismol pink church converted into a museum. The museum was a hodge podge of religious relics; taxidermy insects and animals; and facts about Filipino traditions, native culture, and clothing.

Following the brief tour of the non-air-conditioned museum, we took our first Carabao ride to the river running through the resort. Akin to a water buffalo, the animal pulled us along a dirt path to the river running through the resort. There, we were able to go canoe rafting. Some groups struggled more than others. Meg and Brock ran bow first into the wood post holding up a riverside house. Fortunately there were no other casualties.

Afterwards, we ate lunch while seated at tables in a river. With our feet dipped in the refreshing running water, we enjoyed more Filipino cuisine and a unique dining experience!

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Taguig: City of Umbrellas


The rain and sun are formidable here. So, rain or shine, umbrellas litter the sidewalks.

Where there are sidewalks, that is. Pedestrians are second class citizens here in the Philippines. Sidewalks are uneven and often too narrow to fit more than one single-file line, which is less than optimal given the mass of people who commute to work by walking. So, pedestrians and motorbikes fight for the right of way in the street’s gutters. There is an impressive but precarious balance to the flow of automobile and pedestrian traffic. The thirty minute walk to work requires full attention and is arguably the most exhilarating part of the day.

The Con-do

My condo name sounds like it could be that of any subdivision in the US. Here, there are several beautiful amenities: a pool, a small gym, a basketball court, and many many (many) security guards. Additionally, it is far from the two interstates that run nearby, making it peaceful and secluded.

Unfortunately, all of the Condo cons reside with us in our unit.

  1. No wifi in the rooms– With limited data and a long work day, all we want is to return home to frigid air conditioning and functioning wifi. Guess we all need to rediscover what books are. Or download the new season of House of Cards.
  2. One set of keys for three tenants  — We were told to always lock the door when inside the apartment, for safety reasons. I agree with the policy, but not when the keys and two out of three of the roommates are inside. After calling and texting everyone to no avail, I spent forty minutes pounding on the door to wake up my sleeping roommates and attempting to explain the situation to the Filipino security guards. Close to 11:30 pm, my bleary-eyed roommate Randi opened the door to find a security guard, a maintenance worker, and a profusely sweaty Kate.
  3. Mini tenants– Ranging from itty-bitty critters to small cockroaches, we are hosting many who refuse to pay the rent. Home sweet home, am I right?

“Work, Work, Work, Work, Work, Work” – Rihanna

As much as I wish my whole blog could be about travel, I am technically here to work. *Sigh*

With that being said, I am intrigued by my job so far. The goal of FNRI is to conduct research on food products and nutrition and then to disseminate their findings to both the Filipino population as well as to local businesses in efforts to improve the nutritional content of food products. The conjunction of a better informed population as well as higher quality goods creates a healthier population–which is always good!

 At FNRI, I work in the graphic design and publication section of the Knowledge Diffusion department. So far, I have been working on creating an info graphic addressing iodine deficiency in the Filipino population.

Screenshot (71)Screenshot (72)

Additionally, our department produces short videos (called MTVs) once a month about local tropical fruits to play on televisions in Mercury Drug—similar to Walgreen’s.  The video is, in essence, a slide show filled with nutritional information and preparation ideas listed. I am currently working on the August MTV that is about avocados.

Sidenote: Little did I know that American avocados are different in appearance to Filipino avocados. For the variety eaten here, the skin is bright green, smooth and shiny until they ripen, when they turn a shade of darker green. The first submission I gave to my boss for editing included a description of the dark, bumpy skin of the avocados with which I am familiar. Imagine my chagrin when I realized over the weekend that my boss likely thinks that her new intern doesn’t even know what an avocado looks like.

At FNRI, I have also begun a stint as a model. My bosses had me cut vegetables for an impromptu photo shoot, in spite of the fact that I was in 95 degree heat in full work clothes. Nothing like a sheen of sweat to make one feel extra beautiful!


Doomed to Zumba

My first week at work was memorable in many ways, truly.

Those who know me well know I am clumsy and ungraceful. Those who know me even better know that I like to dance in spite of this sad reality. I do not like to be dramatic or perform, and the idea of dancing for an audience makes my head descend into my shoulders in a full body cringe. Unequivocally, I would be a horrible candidate to lead a Zumba class. I can hear you all now. “What does Zumba have to do with anything? In what context would anyone ask you to lead a Zumba class, Kate?”

Why, my coworkers on my first full day of work, of course! Allow me to demonstrate how I was roped into becoming the world’s most introverted, awakward (worst) Zumba instructor.

It is Kate Halford’s first full day of work at FNRI. She has no idea what her job description is. She doesn’t speak any Tagolog other than “thank you” (salamat) and “That’s tasty!” (Ang sarap!).

Three hours into the work day, Kate is still trying to figure out how she can manage her way through a job that would be suitable for a graphic design major but is significantly more foreign to an English-Writing major.

She hears excitement brewing in a nearby conversation, being held in Tagolog. Curious, she turns to see. Noticing curious eyes, her coworkers rope her into the conversation.

“Kate, do you like Zumba?” An unknown coworker asks.

“Yeah, I’ve been once I think. It was fun!” Kate thinks back to how awful she was at Zumba.

Perfect! You can lead the workplace Zumba session this Friday. It’s only 25 or so people.” 

Oh, no, I’m not qualified for that. I’ve only been to one class ever.”

Guess you’ll have to practice then. There is a stage that you can stand on while you lead. You can pick some songs and dances.”

And just like that, on her first day of work, Kate was doomed to Zumba. In front of tens of strangers. And she only had a day and a half to arrange an hour’s worth of exercise dancing. 

And now for the anti-climatic finale: I got a head cold and accompanying fever, likely from the thirty minute commute from work in the rain on Thursday evening. So I went to work and backed out of leading the Zumba session. You know, like a quitter.

However, it was the best decision I have ever made, for there were at least forty people attending Zumba (including my boss). I doubt I’m completely off the hook, but that’s a problem for another day. Until then, I’ll continue navigating my new work, city, and country.

I am sure there are many misadventures to come!


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