Monday, October 24, 2011

Steve's Weight Loss Plan

There have been many things about living in the Philippines which we had not anticipated before we came here.  One of the most unexpected, unintended results was weight loss.

Now, for those of you reading this who know Kerri and I you know that we have never been big people.  Being overweight has never been a big issue for us.  That being said, over the years each of us has managed to slowly increase our body mass.  Nothing really noticeable, just a steady gain.

At first, when we got married, I attributed my gradual weight gain to being married and having a wonderful wife who was preparing an abundance of tasty meals.  I was not the least bit concerned with it.

Then, later on I began to work in construction, and found that because I was working a physical job I needed to eat more.  I calculated my calorie intake for a typical day to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 million calories, mainly in the form of Slurpees and Wendy's double cheeseburger meals.  Thankfully, I have been blessed with a fast metabolism and actually managed to burn off all 3 million of those calories each day.

Then, when I decided to quit construction and go back to school I had to reign in the Slurpee/fast food consumption.  What I didn't realize was that all the exercise I was getting while working was helping to keep everything in good shape.  Take away the exercise and muscles begin to droop.  Who knew?

So I was beginning to develop what we term a "Ministry Gut".  This condition is something which has been known to affect both pastors and Bible college students.  It is similar to other common conditions, including the "Accountant Gut", the "Computer Technician Gut", and others in the "Sit at a desk all day" family of gut conditions.  It can be recognized by a steady increase in pant size and the need to buy new, longer belts.  It is often assumed by sufferers of this condition that their clothes have begun to shrink.  (While often confused with the common condition of "Where-did-this-gut-appear-from?-I-used-to-be-able-to-drink-lots-of-beer-without-gaining-an-ounce Gut", Ministry Gut has been verified by modern science to be an unrelated issue.  Usually.  But that's for another blog.)

So over time, my physique gradually morphed from a skinny one (albeit with good muscle tone if I do say so myself) to a somewhat softer, slightly rounder one.  I can remember several times during Bible college thinking to myself, "Self, maybe you should get out and get some exercise while I say here and finish reading the 4000 pages that I have to have read for tomorrow."  It never worked.

So, I came to the Philippines at the highest weight of my entire 33 years on this planet.

Well, over the next couple of months I noticed that my clothes were getting a bit baggy.  I assumed that they were stretching out from being hung on the clothesline to dry.  (Seriously - this is what I assumed)  Then in a moment of brilliance, I realized that even if they were stretching somewhat in length, they probably wouldn't stretch in width.  Especially the waist size in the shorts.  Not something that usually gets bigger.  That is when I came to the realization that maybe I was getting smaller. (Go ahead, insert the jokes about my height here)

So, I have decided to share with the world my weight loss plan.  I have titled it "Steve's Weight Loss Plan".  I realize that is not a very creative title, but it does kind of sum up what it's all about.  I am hoping that it will become the next fad diet, the next Air Diet or Three-Day Hot Dog Diet (those really do exist).  I am thinking of marketing my plan.  If you would be interested in a franchise please let me know. Maybe this will solve all our concerns with raising support for our time here...

Here, for the first time ever in the history of the universe, I present

(You have to use your imagination for the deep, booming announcer voice and the flashing lights and fireworks, sorry.  I can't find the button to insert those into my blog.  I did the best I could.  Yes, that is red, bold, underlined AND italicized!)

  • Step 1:  Sell everything you own and move yourself (and family if applicable) halfway around the world to a place that you have never been to.  The stress which you are faced with will help to curb your appetite.  Note: for the weight loss to be fully effective you must choose a hot, humid location, preferably a third world country - more on that later.

  • Step 2:  Do NOT buy a vehicle for the first couple of months that you live in the new locale.  This will ensure that you get plenty of exercise when you have to walk everywhere.

  • Step 3:  Sweat constantly.  Try to stay hydrated - this will be an ongoing battle which you probably will lose.  This is kind of the point behind choosing a hot, humid environment.

  • Step 4:  Eat a local diet.  Living in a third world country is kind of key here.  Here in the Philippines that consists of rice, fresh fruit, rice, fresh vegetables, rice, eggs, rice, fish, and maybe some more rice.  (I have heard people say that rice is fattening.  Perhaps it's the stuff with the rice that is the problem.  Just saying...)  The specifics of the food selection will vary depending on region.  That is why this diet may be less effective if you move to somewhere like Italy or Britain.  A diet consisting of large meals of pasta or lots of deep fried foods may not have the desired effect.

  • Step 5:  Sweat some more.  That can help to kill any sort of appetite you may still have left.

  • Step 6:  Continue the above steps for the next several years.

So far this plan has worked well for me.  Perhaps too well.  I need to go buy some new shorts and have begun to use a new hole in my belt.  Except it's smaller this time.

Oh, and if you are interested in a franchise let me know.  I even have a satisfied customer.  Here is her unsolicited endorsement of STEVE'S WEIGHT LOSS PLAN:

"Steve, none of my clothes fit anymore.  They are all too big!  I need to go buy new clothes." - Kerri from Davao City

Need I say more?

Monday, October 17, 2011

A rough weekend

We all tend to have expectations about things.  We make assumptions based on what we know, even when what we know is not very much.  Sometimes those assumptions are conscious, other times they are subconscious.  Sometimes it can be difficult to verbalize those assumptions.  Sometimes those assumptions come back to bite you in the butt.

By this point you are probably thinking, "Okay, so what?  What does this have to do with a rough weekend?"  I realize you probably don't read this blog to necessarily hear my philosophizing, so should probably just get on with it and explain about our weekend.

Kerri and I celebrated our 13th anniversary a week ago.  In the past we have gone away for at least one night to celebrate every anniversary.  Often it was somewhere close to home, but other times it has involved a longer trip.  We have been blessed to have family close by who have been more than willing to look after the kids for us.  Obviously this year it is a bit different.  We couldn't very well expect that anyone would make the trip here (20+ hours of flying) just so that Kerri and I could go away overnight.  So we figured we would take the kids with us.  No problem.  Instead of a nice relaxing romantic getaway, it would be a nice relaxing family getaway.

I began to make plans a while ago, but right from the start found it to be quite difficult to plan for a couple reasons.

First, it can be very hard to find information about things here.  Back in Canada I had a real knack for finding the best little obscure hotels that you wouldn't normally find, and some great places to go and visit and spend a weekend.  I found some absolutely amazing hotels at great prices.  Some of our best memories from the last 13 years have been those trips.  It was just a matter of knowing where to look online to find them.  After a couple of hours on the internet I could have a whole weekend planned out; a great hotel booked, a good idea of what activities and restaurants there were close by, and an expectation of what it would all cost.  Very quickly into my planning here I found that would not be the case.  While there are many great places to go and explore in the Davao area, I kept finding it difficult to find information about them.  There are many resorts which would probably be great to go to and stay at, but either they don't have websites or the websites they have don't have as much information as I am accustomed to.

Second, I have known in previous years what Kerri has been expecting from a getaway.  It has generally involved a nice, quiet hotel, good choices for food, and relaxing activities (rock climbing, window shopping, walking around, etc.).  I was able to plan some great times because I knew that was her expectation.  This year I really had no idea what she was wanting, because she didn't really know what she was wanting.  She had a picture in her mind of a quiet resort, a nice beach, and a hammock, but other details were a bit more obscure.  (Kerri and I have already discussed this, so hopefully I won't get myself in too much trouble for putting it in here!)

So with those things as obstacles, I attempted to plan a nice, relaxing family getaway weekend.  I looked into several different resorts close to Davao, got recommendations from several people about where to go, and checked reviews of different places online.  I sent out emails and text messages to different places to see what was available and to check prices.  About the only thing I did not do was to go out to each place I was considering to check it out.  Perhaps in hindsight that would have been good, but I decided not to because of the cost to go, the time required, and the lack of a clear idea what I was looking for, it probably would have been a waste.  I would have come back with a list like this:

Resort #1 - Nice scenery, lots of palm trees, nice beach, warm ocean to swim in.
Resort #2 - Nice scenery, lots of palm trees, nice beach, warm ocean to swim in.
Resort #3 - Nice scenery, lots of palm trees, nice beach, warm ocean to swim in.
You get the point.

So I booked a resort (or thought I did - keep reading!).  I chose based on some good reviews, a decent website with what looked like good pictures, and a list of good amenities.  After packing up what we needed on Saturday morning we set out to go.  We drove to the ferry port and crossed over to Samal Island, the place where the resort was located.  We got off the ferry and went in search of the resort.  We turned right.  We drove down the main road around the island, searching for signs for this particular resort.  We came to a place that I knew was further down than where we wanted to go.  We turned around, thinking that maybe we should have turned left.  We drove some more.  We came to another place that I knew was further than our resort was.  We stopped to ask a local person where it was. She told us to go back to the ferry port.  It should be right there.  We turned around.  We drove back to the ferry port.  We asked someone else where it was.  They pointed it out.  We had driven right by it, but before we had turned right or left.  Need to pay more attention I guess (to be fair, as we were driving by it Julia did mention a sign, but I assumed that it was just an advertisement, not the actual place!).

We stopped and went in to check in out.  We went to the front desk to check in, but they had record of a reservation being made.  However, they did have several rooms available that we could stay in.  The staff very graciously showed us the different rooms so that we could choose which we would like.  I could tell from Kerri's reaction that this particular resort was not what she was expecting.  It was busier than she was hoping for, and did not want to stay there.  Considering that we didn't actually have a reservation, we left to find something else. (For any Davaoenos who may be reading this and can figure out which resort I am referring to, I want to say that we have nothing against that particular resort.  It seems like a great place, the rooms were quite nice, and everything was clean and well maintained.  It just was not what we were looking for!)

So we decided to head to another resort a little ways away which had been highly recommended to us by several different people (for our friends who recommended this resort, we understand why you would recommend it, but it just wasn't what we were looking for).  By this point it was getting late in the afternoon, and I figured that we had better decide on a place soon, or it would be getting dark.  We arrived at the next resort, which seemed like a really nice place.  We were the only people there, so they had plenty of rooms available for us.  We agreed to stay there and went for a swim while the resort staff set up our room.  By this point it was getting to be supper time, and we were all getting hungry.  I asked one of the staff about a menu, and was told that they don't have a menu for us to choose from.  The food selection is set for us.  And it would take about an hour and a half until dinner was to be served.  This would be fine, had it been just Kerri and I, but our kids were a bit more selective about what they wanted to eat and wanted to eat right away.  After explaining to them the way it was we went and showered off and got dressed.

This led to the next little problem.  Before any of us had a chance to take a shower a cockroach was found in our bathroom.  Now I know that cockroaches are harmless, and that you can find them pretty much anywhere, but that was not something we wanted to see.  It was in the toilet.  Who knew that cockroaches could swim so well?  It took quite a while to get it injured enough that it couldn't swim so that we could actually flush it down the toilet.  Then a bit later another was found.  And another.  Each was about 3" long.  The kids were very concerned about this and informed us that they were not going to sleep on the floor.  Instead they decided that it would be a good idea to share our bed.  I didn't agree, but knew very well that my opinion did not really count at that point.
Our family bed that night!

Trying to flush a cockroach down the toilet!

Supper came a bit later.  Next problem.  The meal which was served to us consisted of a delicious chicken soup, bread, rice, cucumber/tomato salad, bananas, and as the main course: freshly caught fish, fried and served whole; head and everything.  This was not at all what Daniel wanted to eat, and he was quite upset with the idea that this was to be his supper.  We did get him to eat some of it, but none of us really loved the meal.

Our meal, complete with fish heads.

After supper we sat outside and watched as a really big group of people arrived.  They seemed to keep coming and coming.  By the time they all arrived there must have been 5000 of them (okay, maybe 30, but it seemed like 5000).  Unfortunately they were not the quietest group of people.  We heard them up until quite late.  It was very annoying.

When we went in to get ready for bed I was sent into the bathroom to check for cockroaches.  I found three more.  Not what I was hoping for.  Two were in the sink (eating the soap) and one was on the floor.  I tried to kill them, but they are very fast and they all found a place to hide.  Dumb cockroaches.  It was all we could do to get the kids to go into the bathroom to brush their teeth and use the toilet.  Then we all piled into the bed and fell asleep listening to the soothing sounds of people partying, crickets chirping incessantly, and the air conditioner getting ready to take off to orbit the Earth.  Not the ingredients for the most restful night's sleep.

The next morning, after brief periods of blissful sleep, we were awoken to the sounds of people starting to party again.  At 6:00.  Not happy.  They all left shortly after though.  Breakfast was served.  Again, a set menu.  This time though it was more appealing to all of us.  While at breakfast we decided as a family to leave the resort to go to another that we had been to before and spend the day there.  We knew that there was a great beach and a great restaurant there.  So we packed up and left.  Or tried to leave.

On the way in we had gone down a really steep, really loose road.  I hadn't thought much of it at the time.  We made it down fine.  Going up was another story.  For those of you who have read our previous blog post about our lovely vehicle, which we have dubbed our unicorn, you will know that it doesn't have much power.  Or traction apparently.  We started up the hill, got a little ways up, and the back wheels (the drive wheels) slipped.  No more momentum.  We backed down and took a bit of a run at it.  We made it a bit higher when the same thing happened.  Back down again, and back up again.  By this point most of the staff were there watching, cheering us on, probably laughing at the crazy white people who couldn't get up the hill.  Two of them waited halfway up the hill for us to help push us when we stopped.  We did eventually make it up and were able to leave.  I guess unicorns aren't mountain goats.

We went to the other resort (the third of the weekend) and had a great time.  Nice and relaxing, great food, and some of the loudest bad karaoke we have ever heard.  By this point we were just happy to be able to salvage a bit of the weekend for the kids.  We stayed for a while and then headed back.  The trip back was pretty uneventful, thankfully.

The end of the story?  I wish.  I realize that this is quite a long blog post.  I really didn't plan to make it a long post.  Normally I am a man of few words, but for whatever reason I can go on and on when I blog.  Sorry.  I understand if you want to be done reading this.  Please come back later and finish the story though.

On the way back we decided that it would be a good idea to order pizza and watch a movie with the kids before they had to go to bed, then Kerri and I planned to relax and watch a few episodes of one of our favorite TV shows that we have on DVD.  To go along with this Kerri really wanted peanut M&M's and crunchy cheezies.  Instead of getting pizza from the great little pizza place we normally get it from, we decided to get it from Pizza Hut (yes, we do have a Pizza Hut here).  Since the Pizza Hut is at one of the malls which is close to home, I decided rather than getting it delivered I would go pick it up.  That way I could go to the grocery store to get the other goodies while it was being prepared.

I made my way to the mall, fighting the typical Sunday evening traffic.  I arrived there and proceeded to drive into the parkade to park.  Now you must understand that I hate the parkade at this particular mall.  No, hate is not a strong enough word.  I despise that parkade.  I abhor that parkade.  I detest that parkade.  It is an abomination of vehicular storage.  Why?  Because you cannot see if there are empty spots unless you go down an aisle.  But if you get down an aisle and find that there are no spots you are forced to back out of the aisle because they are so narrow you cannot turn around.  Even a unicorn cannot turn around in that amount of space.  Which is okay, provided the person behind you has not turned down the same aisle. Normally I just forget trying to get a space on a lower level and go up to the top level and can find a spot fairly easily.  That works if it happens to be a weekday at 10:00AM when the mall opens.  Otherwise good luck.  So after finding a spot way up on the roof and making my way back down and into the mall, I then had to descend from the 4th floor to the basement and then go all the way across the mall to get to the Pizza Hut.  I think that some of you in North America are actually closer to that particular Pizza Hut than I was when I parked my van!

I got into the mall to find it was absolutely packed.  I don't mean there were a few people window shopping.  I mean push-and-shove-if-you-want-to-ever-get-through-and-ever-hope-to-leave-before-Christmas packed.  Imagine the busiest mall in your city on the last Saturday before Christmas and take all those people and squeeze them into a phone booth.  That is what it felt like.  Now I don't like crowds all that much, so I was a bit edgy (okay, truthfully I really felt like I was going to punch someone).  I ordered the pizza and went to the grocery store (thankfully not quite so busy there).  I found a big bag of M&M's and a bag of cheezies (but not the right ones - they were sold out of those).  I went to the cashier, and after waiting in line for what felt like an eternity, my 2 items were scanned.  The M&M's, to my surprise, rang in at almost 1200 pesos.  To put that in perspective, that is about $28.  I just about choked on my tongue.  I told the cashier that I didn't want to pay that much for those.  She had to get a supervisor to void that from the transaction, which took another eternity.  By this point I could feel by blood pressure getting ready to cause my head to pop right off.

I went and picked up the pizzas, which turned out to be just slightly larger than a postage stamp.  By this point I didn't care at all.  I just wanted to be anywhere but there.  So then I had to try to cross through the hordes of people to get back to my van.  I was really hoping that God would either part the people like He parted the Red Sea for Moses, or at least let me walk on people's heads like Jesus walking on water.  Neither happened.  I had to push my way through the crowds carrying pizza boxes to get out.

I got to my van and decided to go to another mall, which I prefer, in order to get M&M's and maybe the right kind of cheezies.  I made my way there in a foul mood.  I had heard that there are times, when it is just not a good day, that you should avoid the malls.  It's just best for everyone involved.  But, I just had to go to one more.  I went into the grocery store there, got the things I needed, and left, just daring anyone to say the wrong thing to me.  I am not an aggressive person, but I just needed to unload on someone.  By God's grace everyone around me left me alone and I was able to get home with my Christian integrity intact (although I am sure people could tell I was having a bad day).  I came home and things improved (thankfully).  I talked with Kerri while the kids watched their movie, then we got them to bed and were able to just relax, watch some TV shows, eat tiny pizza and hard-fought M&M's and cheezies.  It was a good end to a bad weekend.

I know that one day we will look back on all this and laugh.  Today is not that day.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Looking Back

It has now been three months since we arrived here in Davao City and it's kind of fun to look back and reflect on our time here.  I remember stepping out of the Davao airport and looking across the street at the security guards holding very large guns, and instinctively pulling the kids a little closer and trying to walk a little closer to Steve, not sure if I should make eye contact with the guards or not.  Now three months later, guards with guns are just a normal part of life anywhere we go, really not a big deal. 

I remember the drive from the airport to our friends' house and thinking how there was no way on earth that I was ever going to attempt driving here and really didn't know if I even wanted to leave the house and have to be in a vehicle even if I wasn't the one driving.  That one took a little longer, however now I'm the one behind the wheel, honking my horn, moving into oncoming traffic in order to get around another vehicle and not really giving it a second thought.

I remember my first time on a jeepney trying to figure out how it worked - how do you know which jeepney to take? where do you pay the fare?  how do you know where to get off? how do you let the driver know where you want to get off?  Now I know which jeepney I want to take, I know how to pay and make sure I get my change, I know where to get off  and I know how to let the drive know I need him to stop.

I remember hearing Visayan all around me and thinking it's going to take forever before I can actually understand and speak any little bit of this language.  Now I'm the one using (limited)Visayan in the birth room and clinic and the best part is that for the most part my Visayan is understood.  I'm still working on understanding the answers I get to my questions, but I know it will come.

I remember getting a tour of the prenatal room and seeing one of the interns casually get a tetanus injection to give to one of the buntis and thinking, wow I wonder how long it will take for me to feel that comfortable doing that, and now that's me, doing prenatal check ups on my own and giving injections.

It's amazing to look back and see how much I've learned in these last three months and knowing that there's a lot more to learn, but knowing that it too will come.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Water Woes

One thing which I kind of assumed before coming here was that certain things would just be the same as it is in Canada.  After all, that is the only place I have lived, so that was all I knew.  Upon getting here I discovered that is not necessarily the case.  Things which were simply everyday things were suddenly done in a whole new way.  One of those things, which I came to discover, was having a shower.

For those of you who are reading this who may have never been to Canada or the USA, let me describe a typical plumbing setup.  First, you have a really big hot water tank in the house.

This is used to warm the water which comes into the house, because it is very cold, especially in the winter!  The hot water tank has a gas or electric heater to warm the water up until it is quite hot.  The hot water is then stored in the tank until it is needed for washing dishes, doing laundry, or having a shower.  Not the most efficient system, but that is how it is in most homes.

When it is time for a shower you have both cold and hot water which come out of the faucet and can be adjusted to control the temperature.  One of the greatest pleasures in life in Canada is a hot shower on a cold day!


Now, when I came to Davao I just assumed it would be the same.  I quickly discovered that I was wrong.  Here, hot water is not really necessary. Why would you want to have a hot shower when it is always hot outside?  So here water comes into the house cold (relatively), dishes are washed in cold water, clothes are washed in cold water, and usually people are washed in cold water as well!  One of the greatest pleasures in Davao is a cold shower on a hot day!

Sometimes though, it is nice to have a slightly lukewarm shower instead of a really cold one.  In that case you need to have a water heater.  That is a small box which attaches to your shower and plugs in, which heats the water before it leaves the shower head.  On the right is a picture of the shower in our ensuite bathroom.  You can see the water heater mounted on the wall next to the shower head.  It plugs into an outlet up above (I know that water and electricity shouldn't mix, but it seems safe enough!).  The temperature is controlled by the knob on the heater.  Down below is a simple on/off valve to control the water. (The three knobs partway up don't actually do anything.  I assume they used to work, but they don't now.)  The only problem with this system is that the heater is activated only if there is a certain amount of water pressure present (more on that below!)

Note also the extra faucet at the bottom.  That serves a couple purposes - it makes a great foot wash, it is good for using when cleaning the bathroom, and it works well to fill buckets.  Why is filling buckets important?

I had read online before coming to Davao to check the water pressure in the house before renting it.  Low water pressure is a common thing here, especially in the mornings when more people are using water.  We hadn't had any real issues with water pressure (except when someone would flush the toilet when the shower was in use!) until recently.  We had a really big thunderstorm with lots of lightning.  I don't know what happened, but the next morning we had no water pressure.  None at all.  I assume that the lightning knocked out a pump somewhere.  So that morning we had to do what most people here do - have a bucket shower.

As you can see, it is a bucket of water with a dipper to pour it on yourself.  The water is cold (unless you heat up some water in a pot or kettle and add it to the bucket).  It certainly wakes you up in the morning!

The other thing we were able to do was to open the valves on our water tower tank.  We are fortunate to have a backup water supply in our yard.  Most people do not.  It is enough for a couple of days if necessary, and because it is elevated gravity provides some pressure to get it through the pipes.  Not enough pressure for a decent shower though, certainly not enough for the water heater to operate, so it is still often a bucket shower in the morning!

The tank will automatically refill later in the day when the water pressure is higher, so it stays full unless the city water is shut down completely.  Thankfully, they have somewhat fixed the problem, although we still do not have the same amount of pressure that we used to have, I guess that is something we will have to get used to!

I have learned to take a shower every evening, when the water pressure is good and I can actually turn on the water heater.

As you can see, it is a very different system from Canada - frustrating at times, but a lot more efficient than in Canada.  Who would have thought that having a shower would be a cause for culture shock? I guess I would rather have culture shock in the shower than a shock in the shower from the water heater!