Thailand Part 1: Bangkok

Two friends from DC (I may or may not have played a small role in getting them out on a first date) came to visit!  They landed in Manila after a day traveling and were happily welcomed by Xena and our newly adopted puppy, Conan.

We went to breakfast at Sofitel the next morning to eat our faces in delicious food and indulge in the cheese room.  Then headed to Wildflour for a late lunch/dinner before sending them on their way to Bangkok.

Part 1: Bangkok (hehehehe)

We booked a room at the iCheck Inn Silom, which turned out to be a perfect place to stay.  It was off the main road a bit, so didn’t have the noise of the busy street, was reasonably priced, easy to grab a cab, walking distance to lots of food, AND the bar from the Hangover!

 


We grabbed a delicious dinner for only a couple bucks and set to bed early so we could explore the temples the next day.

I woke up early to hit the gym, which was an easy 10 minute walk away.  Crossfit Ten500 had open gym from 8-10 and even let me start a little early.  They were very welcoming, I almost came back the next day for class, but I’d be cutting it close for catching my flight.

After working out I met up with Mark, Alex, and Tory at a cute coffee shop, The Hobbyest, with delicious drinks and food.  Then we set out to explore.

First Stop: Wat Phra Kaew

The temple was huge, and beautiful.  We had to be fully covered, so in the heat I threw on some pants and a sweater, but it was totally worth it.  Even with the crowd.  We wandered around enjoying the architecture, then took off our shoes to see the Emerald Buddha.

Second Stop: Wat Pho

A bit less crowded than the first temple and boasting the huge reclining Buddha. This temple felt a little more peaceful without the crowd.

 

Third Stop: Thai Massage

We went to the school of medicine for our massage.  It was a mix between the hell of myotherapy (that I endure often at Pace Prehab and Recovery) and a feel good massage.

Fourth Stop: Dinner

We found a delicious Indian restaurant and tried to figure out what we would do for the rest of the evening.  We decided on…

Fifth and Final Stop: Muay Thai

We weren’t sure what to expect, but there were fights going on at Ratchadamnoen, so we figured when in Rome…err Bangkok.  We paid for the seats right next to the ring, because we wanted to sit.  There was a Thai price and a foreigner price, but we managed to get a little bit off the foreigner price.  There was some kind of point system, 5 rounds per fight, and we stayed for 8 fights.  One which ended early because of a K.O.  I have no idea what was going on, but it was fun.

Then we headed back to the hotel for bed, early start the next day.

 

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Mt. Balagbag

I’ve been trying to come up with more adventures for the weekends.  I decided to hike Mt. Balagbag because it’s not too far from Manila. The top of the peak overlooks Manila and there’s a waterfall.  Plus, it’s ranked a 3/9 on the difficulty scale, so it seemed like a nice active recovery day.

We were surprised the day before the hike with a dog.  A friend’s friend shows dogs and one of the huskies was not show eligible, so he was up for adoption.  We brought Xena over to meet him, there was lots of tail wagging, and he came home with us that day.  The next day, we decided to continue with our plan to hike and bring both the pups.

Meet Conan! Our 2.5yr old Husky

Waze stopped working so we switched over to google maps, which led us onto a dirt road.  This made the hour and a half trip to the trail head about a 2 hour trip.  We hopped out and began trekking the mountain.  Although the trail was not challenging, the heat and sun beaming down made it a little strenuous.  Within five minutes we were sweating and the dogs needed water.

We came to a fork in the road and were told one way led to the waterfall and one led to the summit.  We hadn’t gone all that way to NOT go to the summit, so we decided to head up and then go to the waterfall.  We arrived at the summit and were told there was a path to one waterfall from the top, but it was steep.  We figured we would be ok and went for it.  Better to go that way than back down to the fork in the road.

Tired pups at the top of the summit.


Now, normally when someone in the Philippines says something is a far walk it’s not actually that far, it’s just that people are used to driving.  So, we assumed that when he said it was steep, it was an exaggeration.  This was no exaggeration.  It was steep, and slippery.  We were walking in a muddy creek bed, straight down hill.  The dogs were pulling us down full speed, I think nervous about the path and falling.  Conan is a husky, so he had some fur to cover his paws and stomach down the rocks, but poor Xena got beat up.  Whenever there was shade, she would lay down and refuse to get up.

The downhill trek to the waterfall took over an hour, probably closer to two.  We arrived, shocked to see a huge crowd of people.  Within seconds, we learned that Conan swims.  He walked right down to the water and got in, we’re fairly sure it was his first swim.  We enjoyed the cool water on our (my) sunburned skin.  We discussed the fact that the trek was harder than expected and so we were low on water – our 2 hour hike was already at a 4 hour hike and we had to get back.  We asked how to get to the easier path and were told there wasn’t one, we would have to go back the way we came.  But what about the easy path leading to that fork in the road?  That’s another waterfall.  Oh.  Shit.

 

Finally, some cool water!


We began heading back up the mountain, thankfully it was easier to go up than down, but we were VERY low on water.  After an hour we arrived at a house with a little store in it.  We bought ALL of their Gatorade, including the display bottle and guzzled it down.  It was the best damn Gatorade I’ve ever had.  Then we were happy to continue walking.  We took a path that didn’t go back up to the summit, but rather around the side, so it wasn’t too hard.

 

The hiking crew at the top of the mountain and the river at the end of the trek.


We arrived back at the trailhead six and a half hours after we started.  Hungry and ready to eat.  All in all though, it was worth the adventure.  The dogs did great, the company was fantastic, and it’s a good story.  We later found out we had hiked two summits, Mt. Balagbag and Mt. Maranat where the Maranat Falls are, instead of the Kaytitinga Falls.

‘Murica

I am supposed to be writing about a lovely trip to Boracay, but two weeks before the trip I received an email inviting me to interview for a place in George Washington University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Program. So, I booked a flight to DC and headed off to America.

I got sick before the plane trip, but thankfully I flew Emirates so it wasn’t completely awful. I got extra legroom and even three seats to myself. They gave me warm towels to wash my hands, pretty good food for a plane, free red wine to help me sleep, and more than enough movies. After the 27 hour journey from 90 degrees and humid, I landed in DC in the middle of winter. I was nervous I would be freezing the entire trip and not prepared clothing wise to handle the cold. Thanks to global warming and El Niño it was a surprising 65 degrees when I landed. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G

I spent my first week working out at CrossFit Balance Georgetown and laying low because I was sick, then headed off to my interview at GW on Saturday morning.

It was so easy to be back in DC. I was able to stay shockingly busy for having nothing to do but an interview. I met up like old times for lunches, happy hours, and trivia.

 

Back with the gang for a night of Trivia.

I even got to spend time being a tourist. I visited the Renwick Gallery for the Wonder exhibit (which I highly recommend), and walked around the monuments…in a tee shirt, in December.

Renwick Gallery, Wonder Exhibit.

I got back on the plane ready for Manila, knowing that at the end of our post I would officially become a Physical Therapist.  I was accepted to GWU.

Manila Throwdown 2015

I competed in my first Rx competition.  There are traditionally two divisions, scaled and Rx.  Scaled is for the newer athlete who has not mastered all of the gymnastics skills and heavier weights, Rx is the higher level one for those who have been doing CrossFit for a while.

The throwdown, or competition, was a team series with two guys and one girl per team.  I teamed up with another coach at my Box as well as a coach at another gym, Sky High Fitness.  We came out and set the bar high on our first event, winning by a landslide.

We stayed consistent throughout the next four events, never dropping outside of the top 3 places.  On the fourth event I was the only girl to start out on the rings doing muscle ups.  The Primal Ape Cheering Squad was insane, they were literally chanting my name.  It was impressive to be both the newest and loudest box in there.  What a great community.

Unfortunately, something went wrong on my 8th one, not due to fatigue, just a slight error that in the moment, I thought was my shoulder about to dislocate.  Thankfully, I lowered myself down without more than an extremely tired shoulder.  With very little time after the fourth event, the top eight teams had to come out for a final round.  Heavy overhead squats and a 10 meter handstand walk.  I had practiced this event two times (back to back), but when I picked up the bar my shoulder refused to stabilize.  After a few attempts, I FINALLY finished the overhead squats and went over to the handstand walk.  My shoulders felt like bricks, but I kept walking, at last I came up to the line and touched it with both hands, “NO REP!” I hadn’t completely passed the line, just touched it.  I had to go back and try again.  I was half convinced I couldn’t do it, my teammate came over to cheer me on and finally, I made it.

My teammate giving me encouragement to redo my handstand walk

We came in third place on the final event, but it didn’t matter, we had created enough of a buffer to win the Throwdown.

It was a fun day and a good first Rx competition to remember.  That being said, I still have a lot of work to put in before the CrossFit Open.

The Workouts

WOD 1: Manila Hold ‘Em

Station 1: 70 calorie row & 185lb Deadlift hold. 

Station 2: 60 Burpees over plank & 45lb weighted plank hold.

Station 3: 50 Weighted pistols (16kg for guys 12 for girls) & 105lb overhead hold.

Station 4: 50 Chest to bar pull ups & bar hang hold.

One athlete works, one does the hold, one rests.  Switch when athlete doing the hold breaks.

  

  
Workout 2: N’ Sync

Male athletes:

30 Synchronized toes to bar

30 Alternating shoulder to overhead at 125lbs

30 Alternating hang snatches at 125lbs

30 Alternating box jumps

Tag Female in to do:

20 Box jumps

20 Hang snatches at 85lbs

20 Toes to bar

Workout 3: Speed Clean Ladder

Ladies do two repetitions of squat cleans at

115lbs

125lbs

135lbs

145lbs

Males one does on repetition of squat cleans at

205lbs

215lbs

225lbs

235lbs

then tags in male two to complete the ladder.

Top 8 teams have males repeat, at heavier weights

235lbs

245lbs

255lbs

265lbs

  
Workout 4: Lightwater Lucky 7

As Many Rounds as Possible in 7 minutes of

70 Double Unders

7 Thrusters at 185lbs for men and 115lbs for women

14 Handstand push ups

-Rest 1 Minute-

As many muscle ups as possible in 1 minute.

Athletes cannot repeat a station from one round to the next.

  
Final Workout: Championship

Male 1:

5 Overhead Squats at 195lbs

10m Handstand walk

Male 2:

7 Overhead Squats at 155lbs

10m Handstand walk

Female:

9 Overhead Squats at 110lbs

10m Handstand Walk

  

Trip Two: Bohol

It’s been a week since we got back from our second trip, so I figured I’d write a little bit about it and post some pictures. The pictures seem convince people they should come visit.

I snuck in a quick workout on Friday morning, you know back squats, snatches, cleans, jerks, handstands, rowing, wall ball, kettlebell swings, sumo deadlift high pull…just a couple things.  Then we headed off to the airport.  I learned two things this trip to the airport:

  1. Medical tape is considered a weapon.  I had athletic tape in my bag and they told me to throw it out, WHAT!? I could, apparently, use it to tape someone up and hold them hostage.  They then asked me the wrong question, “Have you ever tried to get out of athletic tape wrapped around you? It’s impossible.”  To the surprise of the security agent I responded, “Yes I have tried, I was taped as part of an initiation and managed to escape out of hockey tape which is much harder to tear.”   I still had to throw the tape out.
  2. Never show up more than 20 minutes early to a domestic flight out of the Philippines.

We landed in Bohol and headed over to our hotel, the Hennan.  The resort is new and it’s basically just one giant pool.

We spent the evening at the poolside/in pool bar then hit the hay early for a long day.

Half of the pools at our resort. There are more by the beach.

Day 1: Sailing

We booked a day on the Alona Blue, and did not regret it.  We met Captain Mike, Jenny, and their adorable little dog foxy at 10am.  A storm was coming so we tried to wait it out.  We “set sail” (it wasn’t very windy) around 11am and hoped to pass through the storm.  To our luck, we did.

Alona Blue had a mooring off the shore of a small resort with literally no one on the beach and good snorkeling.  We saw some little fish and a giant and terrifying purple jelly fish.  We got to hang out on the front of the boat with Foxy then were served a delicious lunch.  A couple hours later we headed back to shore with a little bit of a tan.

Alona Blue. We got to jump off the boat, hang out with foxy and enjoy a nice day after passing through a dark storm.

Day 2: Tourist

I’m not entirely sure why we decided to conform to society and do all the touristy things in Bohol that everyone expects you do to.

The Blood Compact Monument The view was nice.  The monument didn’t have a single sign explaining what the compact was or why it was important.  If not for wikipedia on our phones to read about the compact this would have been a pointless stop.

Baclayon Church Although the church had been badly damaged in an earthquake two years ago, it was still pretty cool.  We walked through the museum with a guide who explained the artifacts and thoroughly answered our questions.  I did feel like I was going to fall through to the floor below because we were walking on the original hardwoods.

Loboc River and Floating Restaurant I’m not going to lie, I’m shocked this has received so many good reviews.  The food was almost inedible. I think the experience would have actually been better without the food.  The views were nice, it was very lush and pretty (once it stopped raining).  The coolest part was watching the Tinkiling dancing.

The Man made Forest I wouldn’t exactly call this a “destination” but it was very pretty to drive through on the way up to the chocolate hills.

Butterfly Sanctuary This was pretty, only about a dollar or two to get inside, and I wouldn’t say I would have been happy paying more.  We saw some butterflies, the guide gave a nice little talk.  We didn’t see as many butterflies as I would have expected, but maybe I’m bias because I’ve seen the Monarch Butterflies as they migrate through Michoacan, Mexico.

Chocolate Hills This was by far the best stop on the trip.  I wish we had hiked up and through some of them, but it was still pretty cool to walk to the top of the viewing area.  There are a few legends about how they came to be that you should definitely check out.  My favorite is that they’re a mean carabao’s poop.

Tarsiers Bohol is famous for the tiny little monkey’s.  We saw four of them.  They’re nocturnal and antisocial.  Seriously, they don’t like having another one within a hectare of them. If one trespasses, they’ll often fight to the death.  Also, if you touch them they apparently freak out and bang their head against a tree until they die, or so someone said.

Blood Compact, Baclayan Church, Loboc River Tour, Man Made Forest, Butterfly Sanctuary, Chocolate Hills.

Days 3 & 4: Beach

We were not big fans of the beach our hotel was located on, Alona.  There were vendors everywhere, it was a marina filled with boats, you just really couldn’t relax.  So we did some research, asked around, and found out that Dumaluan was the best beach to go to.  We grabbed a trike and headed over.  After arriving, we discovered that the Bohol Beach Club was next to us and that we could pay an entrance fee of 150 pesos each (plus more, but that was consumable, as in could be used towards food).

We had originally hoped to stay at Bohol Beach Club, but it was fully booked the weekend of our trip.  Boy do I wish we had booked early.  The beach was beautiful and the food was fantastic.  We spent the day (and the next day when we returned) sitting in hammocks and reading.  Best part of the trip and exactly what I needed.

Bohol Beach Club Paradise

SUP Dog

We finally got out on another adventure.  At 7am on Sunday morning we met four friends and our guide, Tono, at a gas station off of SLEX. Only about 1.5-2 hours later we arrived at Taal Lake, a crater lake inside Taal Volcano. Tono gave a thorough overview of proper stand up paddling technique and we headed across the street to the launch site. 

Before heading out to the water

As you can see, I had Xena with me. Xena coupled with the fact that two people in the group had never done SUP, meant we were doing a short(er) beginner paddle. We spent about an hour and a half paddling around the lake. The view is amazing, a lush green forest, perfect glassy lake, and a volcano in the middle. The longer paddle, which we will do next time is a 12km paddle around the volcano. Also on the to-do list is to hike up Taal Volcano and see the inner crater lake (a like in a crater, in a lake, in a crater). 

Paddling with Xena presented a whole new challenge. For starters, I forgot the peanut butter I had planned on giving her to make her happy to be on the board.  So, she was not the happiest pup at the beginning.  She fell in early on, thankfully she had a life vest on with a handle so I was able to easily pick her up and put her back on the board.  It took her about an hour of pacing up and down the board to figure out the safest thing to do was lay down.  She chose to do that directly below where I was standing, I think that was where she felt safest.  All in all though, I think she got over her fear a little, we will keep trying – next time I won’t forget the peanut butter.

 

Xena’s first time on a SUP


We finished the day with a delicious meal at Balay Dako in Tagaytay.  This massive restaurant has amazing views of Taal and delicious food.   We ordered a ridiculous amount of food, and all of it tasted great.  Family style was definitely the way to go, that way we all got to try everything.  To top it off, the bill was only 800php per person.
 

View from Balay Dako

 
I can’t wait to head out and do the 12km paddle around the island! Here’s to more adventures in the coming weekends.

Eligible for Unemployment

I have to give fair warning, this post will be very dry.

I was reading blogs with Eligible Family Member (EFM) tags and stumbled across one of my favorites.  A post from a few days ago really struck home for me, and has prompted me to write this post.

While that may seem like a crazy thing to say, particularly at a spouse orientation, I was not the least surprised.  Spouse orientation was an interesting day for me, and I assume for many other spouses.  First, let me explain the backstory.

Prior to spouse orientation, most of the information EFMs receive is from the spouse, who receives the information from the State Department.  During the application process, the applicant is given packets about the FLO.  The FLO was set up because EFMs had to accept unemployment as part of the trailing spouse position and they wanted that to change.  They wanted the State Department to acknowledge that EFMs are generally well educated and have rewarding professional lives. They want to continue to have careers throughout their time abroad. Furthermore, without work, it can be a tough transition, leading the direct hire to seek other employment so his/her spouse can lead a happy, fulfilling life.

Anyway, the direct hire receives all the information about the FLO, the Global Employment Initiative (GEI) and the Expanded Professional Associate Program (EPAP).  These programs all sound fantastic! They pass this on to the EFM and accept the job as a diplomat.  This brings me to the spouse orientation.  This is the first time a spouse is invited to learn about life abroad as an EFM.  This is when dreams are shattered.  I was told that the best thing to do when moving to a new post is to either telework or pick up a hobby – like writing, photography, or guitar.  I had just quit my office job and couldn’t think of a hobby that I liked enough to give me fulfillment for the rest of my “professional” life.  They mentioned that spouses love getting coffee, or often find joy in learning new recipes.  With each new suggestion, my heart sank a little deeper.  It’s clear why I’m not entirely surprised that a C-suite executive spouse was told to try running a daily bake sale.

The most useful portion of the spouse orientation was when an EFM came in to discuss his experiences at his past couple posts.  Finally, I was given an honest and direct answer.  He said something along the lines of, it was lonely at times. I was working full time prior to our departure so I couldn’t learn the language.  I had a hard time getting around, and an even harder time meeting people.  I applied for a job at the Embassy, but I never got it.  You’ll find it’s very typical for only a single job opening to become available when you’re at post and everyone wants it.  If you do get that job, you often have to wait about 6 months for the security clearance. That being said, I’ve never regretted my decision to come along.  For every hard day, there’s something amazing I’ve learned, plus I’ve lived and traveled to some pretty cool places.

Later in the day, I was presented with the statistics regarding family member employment.  I was quite displeased, for two reasons.  First, 60% unemployment seems fairly high, and didn’t give me much hope for finding a job.  Second, this includes spouses who are employed full time, part-time, and “as needed.”  My opportunity for regular employment started seeming less and less likely.

I tried and tried to find some more honest answers online through blogs, but came up fairly dry.  Mostly because a lot of blogs are written by EFMs with children, so it didn’t seem to fit our situation.  They filled their days hanging out with toddlers, meeting other parents from school, volunteering, working at the Embassy, or enjoying early retirement. Finally, I was put in touch with a friend’s friend, who is also an EFM in her mid twenties, with no children.  She told me that the saying tends to be, assume you’ll be unemployed, finding employment is a bonus.  Don’t expect it to be in your career field, and if it’s at the embassy, it will generally be administrative in nature.  So, I learned that the GEI hasn’t been as successful as I had hoped.

The most immediate, and easiest, fix I can see for the short term is to include reliable internet as a utility.  Housing and utilities abroad are covered by the State Department, but internet has not been added to the list of utilities.  This means that internet is not set up in the house upon arrival.  This would be fine in the United States, but abroad, it can take 2-3 months for the internet to be fully installed, and in those places, it’s generally very unreliable.  These does not provide EFMs with a very good chance at teleworking.  If it were included as a utility and the fastest provider was used, EFMs would have an infinitely better chance at teleworking as a career from post to post.

With all that said, there are, of course, some very big pros to this lifestyle.  Some people do not want to work and certainly will feel no shame in deciding not to apply for a job.  Household help is affordable at many posts, money is provided for each school age child to help cover the costs of the expensive international schools, and housing is provided.  It is a great opportunity to travel, experience new cultures and find new interests or better develop old ones.  While the career may not be traditional, through part time jobs, volunteer work, some full time positions, and hobbies, it can still be a very rewarding life.

So why have I bothered writing all this, especially since I have a job?  I wished that I had found this type of information before we committed to the lifestyle.  While it probably wouldn’t have changed my decision, it would have been nice to have made the decision based on the truth.  I am very grateful that the FLO, CLO, GEI, EPAP all exist, I just think there’s a long way to go and until we get there, the truth should be made more public.