Saturday, November 1, 2008

Our World Map Project

Perhaps you would like to hear about the first side project I've been able to complete at my school.

Since I started my service I'd been wanting to complete a world map mural at my school. The World Map Project was started by a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Caribbean in the 1980s. She was assigned as a social studies teacher and thought it would be a good way to get the students at her school interested in geography if she could paint a giant world map on her school's walls. Today the Peace Corps promotes the project around the world as a means to building geographical knowledge, international friendship, volunteerism, and teamwork skills.

So last June another PCV and I started working on a world map mural near my high school's front gate. Prior to the work we did there, the wall was in sad shape, still banged up from Typhoon Reming and rusting in places. Our student helpers, M, and I spent many a good weekend sanding, drawing, painting and labeling until the map was officially completed a few weeks ago on October 13th.

While we were getting ready to take the mic that morning to announce the map's completion, I looked over at it and noticed six boys had gathered underneath. They were yelling things out to each other in Bikol, such as "Russia is so big!" "Why are the Philippines yellow?" "That's where my dad works," and, my favorite, "It's beautiful."

I hope you enjoy looking at the map too.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

So, You Want to Be a TV Commercial Model

This is an article I read in the Philippine Daily Inquirer a few weeks ago. Some parts made me laugh. Thought I'd share. ~ Fran

So, you want to be a TV commercial model
Don't hesitate just because you're ugly, this is your guide

By Ma. Dulce V. AristorenasContributor
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: August 09, 2008

MANILA, Philippines - I was in advertising for 25 years as senior producer and broadcast manager for Ace Saatchi and Saatchi, McCann Erickson and Lowe Worldwide.
Having established my credentials, believe me.
Let’s start at the end, which is a very good way to start (Maria in “The Sound of Music”).
The shooting is 60-percent waiting time. Even Steven Spielberg says so (Time Magazine). That’s why the big stars have trailers in Hollywood. That’s why Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie fell in love: There was so much waiting time, they decided to share a trailer.
If you’re patient and you know how to crochet, you can be a talent and please don’t expect a trailer. We have none anywhere in the Philippines (unless it’s a foreign film shoot by Jun Juban.)
Now, I start from the beginning so you don’t get depressed. This is the happy part. (Don’t quote me on this.)
I had brilliant head casters, such as Efren de José (he cast Gabby Concepcion and Albert Martinez in Close-Up toothpaste when they were nobody so they became somebody!); and Myra Mendoza (who was so pretty that the caster was cast as a Camay Girl when she was already 26 years old—she looked only 16!)
(Postscript: Myra later married her partner in the TV commercial. Now, do you believe me about waiting and Brangelina?)
Before, casters of ad agencies would walk the streets of Makati and Malate at night hoping to see a real cute guy or a one-of-a-kind pretty girl. But when the casters approached a stunning boy or girl, the talents thought they were “picking” them up!

Today, it’s different. There are big casting agents with corporate names. You better get into these agents if you think you’re beautiful, with nice hair that blows with the wind in one block without any strand of hair askew. You can also get in as a nice chubby girl, a beautiful baby or just a simple mother and father in their late 20s or early 30s. These are for the baby commercials that need good-looking parents because the baby’s own parents are ugly.
Well, after 25 years in advertising, I do not have the time to be polite. If you’re a good-looking guy, go in, too. They might get you for a beer commercial or an underwear TV boy. Wow!
That’s good money especially if you’re in the billboard along Edsa! Do you know that the latest commercial of Becks (David Beckham, Husband of Posh—got it now?) is for Emporio Armani with two billboards showing him wearing his baby suits?
One billboard of him with boxers (vertical billboard) as long as 21 floors and a jock (horizontal billboard) on a bridge. I am waiting for the statistics of cars bumping into each other because the women who looked at the billboard would “Uummm!” and the male drivers would cry when they saw Becks’ bump.

Freelance casters
Okay, back to the Manila scene. Now, agencies don’t have casters anymore: they hire freelance casters who are given the casting brief and they contact the talent agencies for what the casting brief says—a pretty but chubby woman, early 20s, and a cute chubby man, same age. Deodorant commercial.
The really savage ones are the girls for the whitening cream and the shampoos. All of them look alike, you don’t know which whitening cream or shampoo they are endorsing! But that’s not the caster’s problem.
First, the whitening cream. Can’t cast celebrities because they are naturally what they are. They can’t say they got white because of a cream!
So go to a talent agency for whitening cream if you are mestiza, Chinese or accidentally white because your father played around. Never mind, you’re paid so much you can go to Harvard. And besides, you’re all over the city: Billboards on Edsa higher than Kris Aquino’s, in Mandaluyong Bridge or Parañaque!
And you’re seen on TV every show breaks, which irritates the viewers but they are forced to watch anyway and, at the end, they believe you. So next day, they buy your cream and the sales surge.

Hair commercial
The hair/shampoo commercials are more complicated. They get a woman whose hair is pretty good. But more than that, one with a beautiful face so that even when she turns with her hair swinging in one piece, she looks good on a one-fourth profile or on a direct profile.
Who cares about the hair? That hair is managed by two men in blue skin suits tying her hair with blue poles and making her move. They twist her hair and let it go by the pole. The hair is beautiful and moves in one piece.
When they get to the computer graphics, the blue men are cut out, and so are the poles. The woman and her hair look fantastic when the CG puts gleaming spots on the hair and any stray hair is erased.
You want to be a hair talent? Sure. Go to a caster or talent agent. But be prepared to wait, wait, wait and be manipulated by poles again and again by two mysterious blue Batmans without the cape.
Sometimes, the ad agency just can’t find the right man or woman here in Manila to launch their new product. So the talent agent calls Bangkok for a semi-Caucasian man/woman. Boy, they are paid huge amounts. Never mind, the client says, she looks different from all the other women on TV.
That’s the key. You have to look different! Remember the Surf Wais na Misis and her mom-in-law? They don’t look any different from ordinary folks, but they are different because of what they do: How compliant and gentle the wife is, and how the mom-in-law looks like the bad wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood.”
To this day people remember them even if the mom-in-law insists on radio that sachet is pronounced sashit. Then your market listens because they look like them! Complicated? That’s the math of advertising.
So if you look different like a simple tindera, go to the talent agent! If you look like a Grade 4 girl who loves to drink milk, go to the talent agent. So with good-looking dads, moms and moms-in-law. Don’t hesitate because you’re ugly. Just look at “Ugly Betty.” I rest my case.
What if you have a special talent like hiphop dancing, ballet, ice skating? Go to the talent agents. You’ll never know when they’ll need one for a vitamin commercial.

Next, do you know how to act? If not, forget it, and stop wasting our time. If the storyboard of the TVC calls for a character actor who breathes acting, the talent agents prey on stage actors. The stage actors grab it because, at last! A huge paycheck! No more starving actors!
But if it’s just a simple girl who’s a snob and then rides the car of a stranger boy because his car is cool, you can get ordinary people if your caster works hard enough.
And, not to worry, there’s an assistant director (AD) and a final casting session where the AD coaches you on the fine art of acting for TV. If you fail, go to print ads that don’t make you move or talk.
Now back to the spirited world of casting.
Casters really, really scrape the dust to get what the ad agency needs. Marge Reyes and Zeny White are the ones I trust.
And don’t get involved in talent agents’ fights. Don’t sign an exclusivity clause with one talent agent. You lose the opportunity to get cast by others.
You still want to be a TV talent? Of course!
Fame and money are calling and they are hard to resist. Like Ice Cream and chocolate syrup. “Uuummmm!” just like Becks.

Join in
If you do get chosen by the ad agency and client, jump with your two hands in a fist and crumple your face like Michael Jackson’s before the 10th face lift and scream Yes!
Tell all your friends and relatives and officemates, but don’t tell your mom unless the TV commercial is done, because mothers don’t understand why five late nights are needed for roping your hair with arnis sticks. Just keep quiet.
There are final casting calls where you are presented with several guys who fit you. Uuuu.. The cutie is chosen and you’ll be doing a really hard commercial together. And when you sit down beside each other during the shoot breaks (you cannot lie down because your makeup will be spoiled and the client paid half a million to the makeup artist because she studied in the USA)…and the cutie tells you how scrumptious you look on the playback TV monitor, you realize that... You have to widen your vocabulary for instances in life like this.
Hey! You’re shooting now! We’ve completed the casting!
One more thing before you go looking for a talent agent. Casting in advertising is a Mafia, like the “Sopranos” and “The Godfather.”
But don’t be scared. It is a Mafia of intelligence, with an eye for beauty and with good business sense. YOU are a product they want to sell and they will think of ways you’ve never known in your life just to sell YOU.
Did I tell you that talent agents get a percentage of your talent fee? That’s okay. They sell you. Just don’t join the Mafia.
Be happy and honest knowing that you’ll make it.
I am a talent for a TV commercial! Yess! (Don’t forget the crumpled Michael Jackson face)!

Thursday, June 5, 2008


"Hey Joe, what's your name?"
- common thing for Filipino kids to say to Americans they see on the street

"Peace Corps must want its volunteers to be beautiful."
- Lala, my host sister, when I told her that the face wash I was using was provided by our medical officer

"Do you know already how to eat rice?" - A common question almost everyone I meet seems to ask me

"I'm very worried about you when you return to that place."
- the head teacher at my school, expressing genuine concern that I would not be safe living in the U.S. due to winter ice storms in the Midwest and the forest fires that raged in California last October

- our school's secretary's reaction to my telling her that I had our cat neutered

"You look like an astronaut."
- my teaching partner, Ate Lani, in reaction to me wearing my purple rain jacket inside the classroom because I was cold

"I didn't learn the word 'stressed' until I started working for Peace Corps."
- our Tagalog teacher, Ate Yoly. To be fair, she joined in the 1980s - probably before StressTabs were for sale at all pharmacies in the Philippines.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Out of the Office

A relative just sent me an e-mail commenting on how far behind I am on my posts. This was nice to receive - someone out there cares!

I sort of have a good excuse for this - I was out of town for about a month, mostly because I was on vacation with M in a couple of other Southeast Asian countries. Over the course of 24 days, we traveled from Bangkok to Saigon. Our route took us through eastern Thailand, Cambodia, and some of southern Vietnam.

Highlights included:
*Taking in the sights of Bangkok while zipping along on a Chao Phraya River Express boat
*Revisiting Wat Pho and getting an intense Thai massage
*Accidentally eating a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol at the Grand Palace in Bangkok
*Reuniting with my friend Pen and meeting her fiancée, who I met while working with Volunthai in 2006 ( - a very cool NGO which provides assistance to schools in northeastern Thailand)
*Getting creeped out by a large bucket full of swimming eels that seemed to have no eyes
*Nearly running over a large lizard while exploring the beach-filled island of Koh Samet
*Navigating out of an intimidating town at the Cambodian border
*Delicious chicken curry at our guesthouse in Siem Reap
*The magnificent temples of Angkor Wat (of course!)
*Visiting the Tuol Slueng museum in Phnom Penh (definitely more of a low light)
*The sights on the Mekong River as we crossed into Vietnam
*Riding a boat named "The Super Dong" to Phu Quoc island
*Consuming pho (beef noodle soup), french bread and creamy cheese, brewed coffee, and strawberry shakes in Saigon

Unfortunately my digital camera was stolen the last time I was in Manila, so there aren't any pictures from our long trip. Sheesh, what a bummer.

At the moment, I'm back here in Bicol. Classes start again on June 10th, so I've just been getting organized for the upcoming school year, running errands and hanging out with my host family. My best friend on our compound moved away to Manila while I was on vacation. She went to go look for a job, and she won't be back until August when we'll have fiesta. I miss her a lot but we've been keeping in touch via text and the other ladies on the compound are an excellent source of company and entertainment. I can't complain too much. Life is good!

Friday, March 21, 2008

"Philippines Health Minister: Get a Tetanus Shot Before Getting Crucified"

That's the title of one of the articles on my Google News Feed today.

Here's the first paragraph of this article: "Philippines Health Minister Francisco Duque has a message for his countrymen getting crucified today: Get a tetanus shot first, and be sure to use clean nails. Oh, and for those getting whipped, 'the best penitents can do is ensure that their whips are well-maintained,' he told AFP."

You can get the full article here.
Here is another article exploring the subject from what one might call a more serious perspective.

You might notice that this happens north of Manila. That means pretty far away from me. So no, I did not see any of this sort of behavior, nor, of course, did I take part in it myself. Last night my host family and I took a tricycle into town and took part in a procession - lots of people walking through town with candles, following giant floats with larger than life-size statues depicting the events leading up to Jesus Christ's crucification and resurrection. Since it was raining, all of the statues were, of course, underneath either giant multi-colored umbrellas or wrapped in large pieces of sheet plastic. Also, the first one, with St. Peter, had a real live white rooster on it who must have been really freaked out.

All stores in our town were closed on Good Friday, and all Philippine TV channels either went off the air or were showing religious programming, but for some reason our Jollibee was still open, so Ate Helga bought us all burgers, fries, and sodas that we gulped down until she came back with a tricycle that plucked us out of a sea of humanity and whisked us home to our barangay.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Baby Butanding!

Yesterday, M and I went to the humble little town of Donsol, Sorsogon to go snorkeling with a few of the butanding (whale sharks) that congregate off the coast. Butanding live in equatorial open ocean all around the world, and tourists can also see them in places like Mexico, Tanzania, and the Maldives. However, Donsol is recognized as the best place to go whale shark spotting in the world.

(All of these pictures came from the internet - I didn't bring my camera on this trip.)

So, here's how it works: we rolled into Donsol at about 9AM and took a fifteen minute trike ride to the Butanding Interaction Center, out on the coast. The Center was a very nice little tourist spot, complete with an overpriced cafe, showering facilities, and souvenir shops. We paid the registration fee (at a discount because we're Peace Corps Volunteers - thanks!) and sat down to watch the training video produced by World Wildlife Fund Philippines.
Then we got in a bangka boat with a German family, a Japanese guy, and four Filipinos who were our guides. The boat got powered up and we started heading out to sea. It had been raining earlier that morning, and being on the boat was super cold! After awhile, the spotters started getting excited, pointing at the sea, and the boatman started circling the boat around. Our guide told us to get ready, so I ripped my windbreaker off and threw it on the floor, pulled my mask and snorkel on over my face, and sat on the edge of the bangka. He yelled "Jump!" and we all jumped in the water and started swimming after him. Then he stopped and told us to look.
The first three times that we did this, I saw the beautiful diamond pattern of the butanding's skin, eerily close to me in the water, but no real edges of anything. M teased me that I needed to get my eyes checked, and reminded me to de-fog my mask before we jumped in. (It's hard to remember to do this when you're in a hurry to jump off the boat and swim after a whale shark!)
The fourth time we did this, it was different. I guess our guide had noticed that I hadn't gotten a good view yet, so after we jumped in the ocean, he grabbed hold of my arm and pulled me along with him. Then he told me to look. I did, and was shocked to see a huge mouth and whale shark face maybe a meter or two below my feet! I was so surprised, and scared, that I screamed as loud as I could. Of course, sound doesn't travel so well under water, so I don't know if anyone actually heard it. Then the butanding dove deep into the sea, and we surfaced. It was such a rush! I started laughing hysterically and our guide did too, go figure. Then he said, "Wasn't that a cute baby?"

Whale shark at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia, USA

I was surprised that that had been a baby - I wondered what the adult butanding looked like. Well, I was about to find out. We spotted and jumped in after two more - both full grown adults. The last one we sighted freaked me out - by the time I put my face in the water to look at him, his meter long horizontal mouth was way too close to me for comfort, and he came right at us! I would've touched him if our guide hadn't once again pulled me out of harm's way.

Fortunately, butanding do not eat people - they only eat plankton. Unfortunately, people used to eat a lot of butanding, which is why their population is now vulnerable. But I had a really good time and some great adrenaline rushes splashing around in the water next to them, and ecotourism is super cool. I hope more people I know get a chance to see some butanding!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Heavy Rains!

I know that it's been ridiculously cold in Iowa lately, but man, I sure felt cold here over the past few weeks. Hope that doesn't make anyone at home angry!

It rained here for two weeks straight pretty much... maybe a stop here and there, once every other day or so. And it was really cold - all due to a big low pressure system moving through. We were all wearing sweaters and socks, and heating water on the stove for our morning bucket bath. And it zapped everyone's spirits. Fun!

School closed down on Thursday morning since a lot of our students live in barangays (neighborhoods) that had been heavily flooded. A lot of people were sad because we had to postpone our prom until next week.

Here, you can read an article about the rain: