Goodbye festivities

The unfortunate time has come for Mark and me to move back to the states.  We’ve had such an amazing time living abroad and living in Manila, but now we’re going to return to Houston for the next couple of years.

Its been an amazing experience and saying goodbye was not easy!  Here I am with some of my girlfriends…



And I had a lovely goodbye dinner with my synchro girls!  We even had cake! yum!



Mark of course had various work goodbye festivities, but didn’t take pictures!  ha!

The last goodbye that was one of the hardest was with our friends who worked where we lived.  They were so kind and supportive throughout our stay and we will miss them dearly.  They surprised us with balloons, cake, mangos, and a little goodbye party.  Thanks so much for everything guys!



JCo Donuts

Another hot item in Manila these days is JCo Donuts.  Everyone raves about them, the line is out the door from 11am until closing, and every flight I took there was at least one person carrying on upwards of 5 dozen JCo donuts for family and friends at their destination.

It took us a while, but we finally tried the legendary JCo for ourselves and I have to say, they make a good donut and some delicious flavors.  But at the end of the day, it’s still a donut!  I’d rather have a chocolate crueller.  But maybe that’s my german heritage speaking!!

Some of the fun donut flavors they offer: chocolate peanut butter, coffee & avocado, the Al Capone (white chocolate and almonds).  This blog post (from my favorite Filipino SE Asian travel blogger) has some great pictures of the different types of donuts.


Here’s Mark and a friend of ours that we ran into while we were there.  Isn’t it funny when that happens?  A metropolitan area of 20 million people, and we run into one that we know at the local donut shop.


Signs You Grew Up Filipino

This buzzfeed blog post made me laugh so hard I fell off the couch.  It highlights 34 quintessential Filipino “things” – things that are familiar or dearly loved – by people around the world who grew up Filipino. I have to say though that even though I didn’t grow up Filipino, many of these resonate with me after living in Manila for just these few short months.

Check it out –

Highlights for me…and things I’ve blogged about!

#2 – what a delicious breakfast… but with some mango as well, of course!

#5 – banana ketchup!!

#9 – mano po 🙂 with a great picture

#11 – balikbayan

#15 – pan de sal – yum yum yum

#18 – halo halo!

#19 – Manny Pacquiao 🙂

#25 – adobo – more yumminess!

#29 and 30 – videoke

#33 – Taglish – a mix of Tagalog and English

filipino flag 2

Synchro in Manila

One of my favorite activities in Manila has been helping coaching the Philippines Synchro Team!  Together I have helped prepare them for a competition in Perth, ironically, and really enjoy the opportunity to do something “real” in the community.  That’s one of the things I have found to be hardest about being an expat – figuring out ways to get out of the expat bubble and into the real community.  Synchro has been a great access point for this!

For example, it is a Filipino custom for kids or younger people to greet an elder by taking their hand and touching it to their own forehead with a slight bow.  It’s called “mano po.”  In spanish (and probably tagalog) “mano” means “hand.” “Po” is a gender neutral term of respect for an elder.

One online article describes this custom as thus – “Mano po” (pronounced mah-noh poh) refers to a physical gesture of taking the hand of an elder and bringing it towards your forehead. This is a sign of respect for the elder and is usually done at the point of greeting or farewell. Children are expected to perform this gesture towards adult relatives & adult family friends. Failure to perform “mano po” would be considered as disrespectful.

One day at synchro, the little girls came to practice and they came over to greet the coaches and older swimmers – then they left to go get ready but just a few seconds later came running back and completed this custom with me as well.  I almost cried – it was so sweet and so nice to be included in a very authentic and normal and natural moment of greeting.

Here I am with two of my favorite swimmers – Trixie and Jem 🙂  Thank you for the wonderful memories girls!

synchro practice

Spa Day


One of our favorite things about Asia is the many opportunities to get a good massage!  It’s easy, affordable, and in the Philippines, generally clean and awesome!  At the low end, I’d say you can get a good 1 hour massage for about $6-8.  At the high end, as with anywhere, there isn’t really a high end – there’s always a way to spend more!  But in general, the nicer places are still $20-30 an hour.  Therefore, this has been a regular splurge purchase for Mark and me!


As our time in the Philippines wraps up, we decided we should have a crazy spa day!  We went all out – Mark got a wrap and scrub while I had a scalp massage.  Then we went to a different spa where Mark had a “twin” massage – one where two masseuses worked on him at the same time! – and I had a combo foot and full body massage.  It was decadent and delightful!  We’ll probably not do anything like that again – well not until we’re back in Asia again anyhow!!


Baguio – A Tour of the City

Our next trip was to Baguio – the summer capital of the Philippines.  Baguio is located up in the mountains where it is always a little cooler – perfect for a vacation during the summer time!  We stayed at a lovely place recommended by a friend – some hotel/apartments – where we could have 2 bedrooms a living space and kitchen for a reasonable price.  It was so great!  Here’s a pic of the view outside our apartment one morning.


We met new friends from church and they offered to show us around the city.  Our first stop was the Ben Cab Museum.  Ben Cab, or Benedicto Cabrera, is a local artist who has built a beautiful complex (museum, farm, garden, cafe, studio, etc) for himself in the Baguio mountains.  His work has been shown internationally and he is considered somewhat of an art celebrity in the Philippines.  I was quite impressed by his work and the facility he has built in Baguio.  It was a great experience.


Here we are outside!


This is a collection of rice gods traditionally used by the mountain people to protect the rice crops.


Here is Mark and Mildred having a deep philosophical conversation about a Ben Cab piece…


This is Ben Cab himself taping an interview in one of the galleries featuring his work!


Afterwards we stopped by the Philippines Military Academy.  This is like the Philippines West Point where all the top military men and women are trained. It is said that the bonds formed between members of each PMA class are stronger than family.  In fact, when the dictator of 1965-1986 was ousted in the People Power revolution, there was a tense standoff where soldiers with guns drawn and military tanks faced citizens, nuns, and military people who had separated to support the revolution.  The standoff had a peaceful resolution where ultimately the tanks were abandoned, the soldiers put down their guns, and the Marcos’ fled the country.  One theory as to why the standoff ended peacefully is that there were members of the same PMA class on either side of the line and they wouldn’t actually turn on each other due to the bond they formed during their education.  I don’t know if it’s true – no one does – but it gives context to the strength of the relationships formed.



Although it was threatening to rain, it was a beautiful campus and we enjoyed wandering around.  One cool thing we found was this sundial!  Doesn’t it look neat with the rain clouds?


That evening we fixed dinner at our apartment.  Our driver, Naro, helped considerably – sharing some great recipes for stuffed fish, rice and vegetable preparation.  We had a feast!



Dampa Fish Market and the Pyromusical Competition

You know, you think you’ve seen it all, but then you hear that the next weekend there is going to be an international pyromusical competition in Manila!  So we bought tickets, booked our friends, and set out in search of this fantastical melding of fireworks, music, choreography, and competition.

But first, dinner!!

We had heard about this restaurant from a friend where you pick out your seafood from the market across the street and then you take it to the restaurant and they will fix it for you.  The market was amazing – fish, shrimp, clams, scallops, lobster, crabs – you name it, they had it and they wanted to sell it to us!




Then we had the restaurant across the way fix it!  Shrimp tempura, fried calamari, grilled lapu lapu (fish), and broiled scallops.  Yum!!



After we had sufficiently stuffed ourselves, we made our way over to the giant Mall of Asia and grabbed our seats by the waterfront to watch the show.  As it turned out, two countries performed each Saturday for a month and we were catching the last show – a competitive piece by Canada and a demo piece by the Philippines.  Both were outstanding.  I think it was the best fireworks displays I’ve ever seen – seriously.  The US didn’t compete, unfortunately, but the UK won and Canada, the won we saw, came in tied for second with China.  If you check out the website, look at the “gallery” for photos and the “participating countries” for video.  Here are a few I took!