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They Who Paint Our Roof White: The Price of Cheap Labor

Looking back on this journal entry as a reminder to give thanks to our everyday heroes 🙂

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Yesterday upon waking up, I headed straight to our garage to jog on the treadmill a bit. Not so much of a routine; just something I thought of doing since I haven’t done it for a while. The unbearable heat tempted me in every way to go inside our room again and enjoy the air conditioner, but somebody suddenly caught my attention.
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I looked around: only Chippy, the family dog, was beside me.
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I looked around the second time, then a drop of white paint fell innocently on my right arm—I looked up.
Uy, Mang Temmy, andyan ka pala!
I seemed surprised but really, I was more afraid of the unaccountable calls earlier on.
Ang hirap dito sa taas, ang init! Pero mas matangkad na ‘ko sa ‘yo!
I just smiled, then laughed, not knowing what to say. As much…

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Salomon Xtrail Run 2017 Review

After five years since my last race… Finally! And now, with a new addition to my weekend run trips from this day forth:

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On our first trail run together

R and I haven’t been to Subic for x years now, and signing up for this race has not only been a good motivation for us to pick up running again but also as a willing excuse to take a weekend trip to celebrate our anniversary!

For the event details:

Name of event: Salomon Xtrail Run 2017

Date: July 23, 2017

Main organizers: Salomon and eXtribe

Venue: El Kabayo Stables (start and finish line), Subic Bay, Olongapo City

Trail run categories: 32K, 24K, 12K, and 6K

Average elevation: 48.33%- 46.67% (downhill- uphill ratio)

Run route (6K): from El Kabayo Stables, you run along the concrete path towards Mt. Maritan, then back towards the stables.

Registration fee: PHP 950 per person (additional 5% if paying via PayPal) inclusive of technical jersey, post-race meal, and giveaways

Impressions:

  • The race was well-organized with strategically stationed race marshalls along the route.
  • Unlimited refills of sports drinks before and after the race, and water during the race, provided that you bring your own water container. I personally prefer bringing my water bottle even during races as I can afford to do so because I do not run competitively 😛 Plus, I feel bad about wasting heaps of water.
  • Lots of goodies for worn-out runners after the race, something that is quite uncommon in the Philippine scene.
  • The only thing that could be better next time would be their race kit pick-up arrangement. All participants were required to pick up their race kits at extremely slim date windows (July 14-15 for registrants before July 10, and July 20-21 for registrants after July 10), and only at Salomon stores in Manila which happen to be in SM Aura, SM North Edsa, SM Megamall, and Glorietta 3. The inconvenience of picking the race kits for participants coming from areas in and around Subic might have contributed to the lack of local support. It felt like an event catered for those from Manila.
  • Why I’m joining again: Despite the race kit hassle, I will definitely join again because I felt so safe despite the event being a trail race! I actually felt so much safer here than in other road races, thanks to the many professional and supportive marshalls present all through the race. The event being in Subic, it is also a destination in itself. Check out Subic Bay’s official tourism website for local travel advice.
  • And at par with my usual travel advice: do not quickly assume. Make sense of the why behind the what first and while you’re at it, get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂

P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in local language, culture and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut ❤

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Market Find: Barbecue Skewers

This article is part of a regional reporting project in partnership with GoUNESCO, a UNESCO New Delhi initiative.

Largely a meat-loving society, it is common for Filipinos to have meat viands and snacks paired up with steamed rice and sawsawan (dips).

Visitors to the Philippines may find it surprising to see barbecue skewers being sold in markets both in large and small markets. The fare is sold so casually that even kids are asked to fan out the skewers as they are being roasted with locally sourced charcoal and a makeshift rack.

At around PHP 10 (0.2 USD) per stick, it is not bad when you’re craving for a rich protein fix. As for health concerns, I think this issue has more to do with how soon and how much you want to adapt. We all can’t go on eating off a pack, don’t we?

Why I love it: although not a big pork and beef fan, I love the way Filipinos marinate these skewers which side more as a sweet fare. These are very filling and can be eaten on the go on its own or, as I prefer, as a main meal with rice.

Barbecue skewers at PHP 10 per stick!

As with any cultural element in the world: do not quickly assume. Make sense of the why behind the what first and while you’re at it, get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂

P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in local language, culture and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut ❤

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Market Find: Ar-arosep/ Seaweed/ Sea Grape/ Green Caviar

This article is part of a regional reporting project in partnership with GoUNESCO, a UNESCO New Delhi initiative.

The Philippines has one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world and its marine life is no exception.

One interesting find in Philippine markets in the Ilocos region is “Ar-arosep,” a local term for seaweed, sea grape, and green caviar.

Only seasonally available in high-end restaurants overseas, the Philippines is lucky yet again to be gifted with Ar-arosep that is best known to treat thyroid disorders. That is an advice taken from local elders who have precious wisdom passed down from generations.

Water pollution is the major threat to the increasing fall of Ar-arosep.

If you pass by Ilokano markets, be sure to look for this navy green, bush-like presence. It’s best enjoyed fresh with sliced Ilokano tomatoes (tiny but very sweet).

Why I love it: ar-arosep represents one of the few unspoilt beauties still available in the Philippines. It serves as a reminder that in the midst of commercial fishing and industrialization, there lies survivors that find their way into local markets.

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Ar-arosep: one of the many overlooked Philippine market finds

As with any cultural element in the world: do not quickly assume. Make sense of the why behind the what first and while you’re at it, get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂

P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in local language, culture and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut ❤

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Expensive, but Not Always Worth Much: Higher Education in the Philippines

via Expensive, but not always worth much: higher education in the Philippines | D+C – Development + Cooperation | Alan C. Robles

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Higher education in the Philippines. Image Credit: Ron Giling/ Linear

It is a cruel paradox that a college education helps to escape ­poverty, but Filipinos have to be rich to afford one. Furthermore, those who do manage to go to college run the risk that the education they pay for may turn out to be sub-standard or defective. By Alan C. Robles

Critics say the root of the problem is that Philippines’ system of higher education follows the American model. Most universities and colleges are private and profit-driven. JC Tejano, the national spokesperson of the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP), says: “All schools want to do is earn money.” In the SCAP’s view, they do far too little to ensure quality.

According to government data, there are 2,247 Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the Philippines, and 88 % of them are private colleges and universities. Of the country’s 2.9 million higher education students, 1.74 million (60 %) are enrolled in private schools. Though they are smaller in number, public HEIs tend to be crowded, underfunded and overstretched.

Cost issues

The government’s Council on Higher Education (CHED) currently estimates that, on the average, a student in a private school will pay 237,600 pesos (€ 4,200) for a four year course. On average, however, public schools, are not much cheaper. The CHED reckons that tuition for a complete four-year course will cost 233,600 pesos.

At a top tier university, however, the costs will amount to 400,000 pesos. The best and most expensive schools are in the private sector – but that is equally true for the worst and cheapest ones.

Compared with what a typical Filipino household earns, the costs of higher education are stiff. According to the official Philippines’ 2009 Family Income and Expenditure Survey, the average family’s annual income is a mere 206,000 pesos. The survey notes that for the families in the bottom 30 % the average is only 62,000 pesos.

HEIs tend to increase tuition every year. In the Philippines, college subjects are taught in small “units”. In 2005, according to the online magazine Bulatlat, the average cost per unit was more than 330 pesos. By 2011, the average tuition per unit had risen to more than 500 pesos.

Tuition isn’t the only financial worry of college students of course. The CHED figures do not include board, lodging, transportation and other expenses. These are not trifling outlays. For example, professors tell stories of students skipping classes because they cannot pay for transportation to go to school; there have also been reports of students who can’t focus because they’re weak from not having eaten properly.

Aggravating matters, HEIs are creative in devising ways of padding their bills. Among other things, they levy fees for “laboratories”, “energy” and “development”. Last year, Antonio Pascua Jr., an official of the youth group Anakbayan, claimed one school was charging a “restricted fee”, the purpose of which was not clear to students. He says this is “completely baffling”.

Patricia Licuanan, the CHED chairperson, wants “all HEIs to carefully study their tuition and fee increases each year”. On behalf of the government, she insists that every HEI should “spend wisely and judiciously in order to lessen the costs to its most important stakeholders – its students”.

The sad truth, however, is that many students discover at some point or another that they are no longer able to afford tuition and drop out of the HEI they have been attending. They either stop studying altogether or transfer to a cheaper HEI. The new schools are worse, of course, but they are also in the habit of increasing fees.

In 2005, the Bulatlat report stated the dropout rate was as high as 73 %. Today, student leader Tejano demands a freeze on tuition and other fees. His organisation wants the burden on ordinary people to decrease. It also wants to ensure that more youngsters get a good education.

Private HEIs respond by saying they have to raise tuition fees or go bankrupt. CHED’s Licuana agrees and says that “quality education has a price”. She points out costs for faculty salaries, laboratories, equipment et cetera. Therefore, she argues, tuition hikes are “necessary”. At the same time she wants them to be “justified, reasonable and transparent”.

Quality concerns

Apart from the cost of education there is also the matter of quality. Among the private HEIs, there is a handful of top tier universities. Their graduates can probably compete with those of other elite schools around the world. Most other private-sector HEIs, however, basically seem to seek profits at the expense of substance.

A university faculty member, who asks not to be identified, says: “Some of them shouldn’t even be schools at all – there’s a proliferation of HEIs which are not qualified.” This educator speaks of fly-by-night operations” and “diploma mills”. While some do not charge high tuition, their quality is below standard.

Other teachers, who decline to be identified, tell disturbing stories too. One school, for instance, does not stock books in its library because its president argues that books are obsolete and everything can be downloaded from the Internet. A few semesters ago, another HEI was still using a textbook on international studies dated 1976. The world has changed since. 1976 was one year after the Vietnam War, 13 years before the fall of the Berlin wall and 25 years before September 11.

Another professor tells of a school that refuses to give faculty members money for photocopying exam papers. They either have to pay for copying themselves or write everything out on a blackboard.

The government of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III is not blind to the problem of low standards in higher education. In fact, it has ambitious reform plans for the education sector. They include adding extra years to primary and secondary schooling.

There is indeed room for improvement, as CHED Chairperson Licuanan says: “The Aquino administration inherited a chaotic higher education system.” In her view it is marked by too many higher-education institutions and programmes, a job-skills mismatch, oversubscribed and undersubscribed programmes, deteriorating quality and limited access to quality higher education.

For these reasons, the CHED is pursuing a Higher Education Reform Agenda. Among other things, it aims to improve standards and expand access.

At the same time, the commission’s political clout is being tested at the ground level. For some time, it has been trying to close down a Manila school called the International Academy of Management and Economics. This school uses the acronym IAME, which sounds a bit like the vastly more prestigious Asian Institute of Management (AIM). The CHED accuses the IAME of “gross and serious violations, continued defiance and failure to comply with existing laws, rules and regulations”. Nonetheless, IAME is still in business. It claims to have close ties to President Aquino himself.

Shady schools, however, are not the only challenge. Because secondary education tends to be poor in the Philippines, HEIs take off from a rather low level. The writer and scholar Isagani Cruz, who is a visiting fellow at Oxford University and has taught at various top-tier HEIs in the Philippines, asserts that first year college in the Philippines is really only equivalent to high school in other countries in academic terms.

All these issues prevent education from effectively contributing to economic growth and national development. The issue is well understood. Bill Luz of the National Competitiveness Council states: “Many in the business community have complained about our state of education. Indeed in global competitive indices, we have been rated poorly in terms of quality of basic education, quality of science and math education.” He points out that cooperation between industry and academia must improve.

Indeed, many graduates lack the kind of skills and knowledge that employers expect of professionals. “A large number of college graduates are taking low productivity jobs,” was the assessment of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in a country study of the Philippines in 2007. In the same document, the ADB bemoaned a “scarcity of skilled workers in industries such as information technology and business process outsourcing”.

Earlier this year, the World Bank made basically the same point about the Philippines in a report on higher education in Asia. It argued that there was a disconnect between the education system, government programmes and private sector needs. Unsurprisingly, the report recommended improving the quality of higher education in order to boost the professional competence of graduates.

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My thoughts on why it pays to rethink the meaning of education:

I’m sure I’m not the only one frustrated by this. But what can we do to be part of the solution?

If anything I’m not against education; just with the highly archaic system that puts a premium on tried-and-tested systems over innovation. Most of our schooling is based on grades and that one right answer; but when we go out we realize that there is more to life than getting straightforward answers. Life is not black and white, after all.

I’m not yet a parent but I think it’s important that parents nurture their kids to treasure learning rather than formal education. It starts by leading by example. What’s a degree when we cannot even stand up for ourselves when we lose our jobs, experience a state financial meltdown, or when conflict strikes?

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Note: Since I am reposting this article, I used rel=”canonical to properly attribute the work. This means, blog traffic goes to the original source and not to Anthroonfoot. I encourage you to use this when reposting someone else’s online work.

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Why I’m Proud of My Parents: Part 3

(If you haven’t read Part 1, you’ll find it here; and Part 2, here.)

So the question remains, Why am I proud of my parents? 

First off, my parents taught me that life should be dealt with head on with an open mind. They taught me that life has its ups and downs, and so I should develop the resilience to deal with it. An open mind, coupled with an open heart.

My parents taught me that in life, there are absolutely no double standards. Principles remain and so if these are challenged, I should be ready to speak up for what I believe in.

My parents taught me that hard work is key to success. Despite their well-off backgrounds, they chose to build their own lives together even if this meant having to live together secretly for a year until I was born. They lived in a small rented apartment, then when I was born moved to a house which was eventually paid off on my 25th birthday.

My parents taught me that there is nothing wrong with saying “No,” and that the key to failure is to try to please everybody. I am free to strive for things that I want to achieve even if that meant they couldn’t guide me professionally because the path is very different from theirs. But knowing that I’ve got their back 100% all through the journey is all I ever need.

My parents taught me that when people say not to do things because of what other people will think, I should put the comment in one ear and push straight to the other ear. This is the best advice I’ve ever received in life, and I’m glad they led by example.

My parents taught me that it’s okay to feel ugly, fat, and a failure. It’s not a mental issue. It’s these feelings that make us human.

My parents taught me, most of all, that life is indeed simple to live in. It is not as stressful, mean, or f****d as it is deemed to be. But if I put into the equation the want for fame, power and prestige, then I cannot expect my parents to wave their magic wands to make my life better. It’s a choice to make and many people are drawn to them. At 27, I should know by now life is a waste to be leading down that path.

… And these are the reasons why I’m proud of my parents. They taught me valuable lessons that I would never have learnt in school, read in books, or watched in documentaries. I may not have the best-paid job in the world, but I know I am complete. I am fulfilled. I am content. And that’s because of a grounded, liberating and nourishing life I was brought up in. Thanks to my parents. I’ll forever be grateful.

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32 years and 30 pounds later.

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Why I’m Proud of My Parents: Part 2

(If you haven’t read Part 1, you’ll find it here.)

When I tried to make sense of my life, I thought of my parents when they were growing up.

My parents are not from sugar baron, oil refinery or steel milling families who had extraordinarily deep pockets that can sustain even their 100th generation. But I’d say they were well off.

My dad is from a family who made their wealth through land properties and lending. His maternal grandfather, an Italian who joined the Spanish government, was eventually elected as the first mayor of their hometown. I acknowledge that it was a very difficult time for many Filipinos throughout the Spanish colonial period, and I am not proud of that history. However I also acknowledge that we are given the gift of life to make things better moving forward.

Growing up we would have family reunions in my grandparents’ farm during the harvest season. My favorite was for watermelons. One time I asked my grandmother where exactly her farm land is as I found no difference among the greeneries. She said, “As far as your eyes can see.” I thought for sure she was kidding. As a kid I thought there was no way that can happen.

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When I was younger I once asked my grandma where her farm land exactly is. She told me, “As far as your eyes can see.” I didn’t fully understand what she meant back then.

As for my mom, she is part of a family who made their fortune through trade. Her dad is an only child of a family that owned the first hotel, first ice plant, and first ice cream factory in the city. Her mom, on the other hand, is from a family of mango plantation owners who had their own tennis court in the backyard. Things turned sour when my mom’s maternal great grandmother died and the new stepmother rewrote her aging husband’s will and put everything under her name. My mom grew up in the penthouse of their hotel, and she would spend her weekends in her maternal grandparents’ flower farm a few kilometers away.

Both of my parents got to choose the major they like, got the chance to travel before university, and had the opportunity to study full time with generous support from their parents.

But with all these privileges, why didn’t my parents choose to sit back and enjoy the fruits of their foreparents’ labor? They were both given the opportunity to join in and continue with the family trade, but why did they choose to dip their hands voluntarily, without compensation, and start a career of their own?

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Check out Why I’m Proud of My Parents: Part 3, the last of this series, which shall answer the question.