Sunday, August 30, 2015


A distinctive part of the culture here in the Cordillera is the ganza—small, brass, flat gongs ranging in size from about 10 inches in diameter to about a foot and a half. They're usually held in one hand by a rope thong and beaten with a stick held in the other, and while playing the ganza players also dance. Traditionally the gongs are played exclusively by men, who, at least in certain dances, dance and play in an inner circle while the women dance in a larger ring around them. In the community dances everyone follows the same motions, the rings circle, reverse directions, contract and expand all simultaneously (or not so simultaneously based on the knowledge and skill of the dancers). To me it all seems like a big game of follow the leader.
The individual gong rhythms are fairly simple, but they blend together in wonderful and unexpected ways, combine this with the different timbres of each individual set of gongs and every iteration of the same melody will be different. I keep asking people if the players know the rhythms beforehand or if they're improvised, and I keep getting the same answer “uuum...well they kind of just know”. So did they get sat down one day and get taught the individual rhythms of this or that song? Maybe, but probably not, I expect it's more just a case of hearing the same rhythms from childhood, and finding ones place.

I'm having some trouble explaining the ganza so generally, partially because I'm woefully ignorant, but also because ganza styles are so diverse. Everyone plays the same type of gongs, but every tribe has their own rhythms, and their own ways of playing. In some tribes one of the men will hang the gong from his belt and play it with two hands like a drum, while others play the normal way. Some tribes add a solibao drum, or bamboos which are struck against the ground to get a sound that reminds me of bull frogs. The dances are different, with different ways of stepping, and different motions made by the women's hands (remember that the men's hands are busy) Then there are all the different functions of the ganza. There are community rhythms which I've mentioned, there are wedding rhythms, courtship rhythms, and war rhythms. I'm sure there are more but those are the ones I've seen so far. Of course each of these has its own dance, some for a whole lot of dancers, some, such as the courtship dances, only two. One particular dance I love to see is the scarf dance, where a young lady dances with her shawl, until a young man comes and takes an end, and they dance off together each holding the shawl. The symbolism is rather clear. (any Filipinos reading this can help me, is this an Ibaloi dance? I can't remember.)

So why did I feel it was worth it to write a blog about ganza, other than my natural musicians curiousity. I love the ganza because to me they personify so many of the best things about the Philippines. Anyone can join the dancing, or the playing if you're brave, it's not so involved or difficult that a stranger can't join in. Am I saying that it's simplistic? No not necessarily, there are subtleties to the ganza and the dancing which is where the beauty is. Like many Filipino dishes, the recipe is simple, but the details and the skill of the cook is what makes the meal delicious. In the dancing, the steps are simple, but the grace of movement makes it beautiful. Is grace the right word? Grace is often used to mean something slightly effeminate, and fluid. We call ballet dancers graceful. Dancing for the ganza is not like ballet. There is something blocky and ...fierce about it, especially in the male dancing, which I find fascinating. But the movement is still graceful; joyous and free.

A friend of mine told me that the gongs traditionally are a call to a feast, that anyone who could hear the gongs was invited. It seems to me that this is still true. The gongs are loud, obnoxious, and joyful; they beg you to participate, and they are always accompanied by food. In these ways they are just like Philippino parties, and that's why I love them.

I stole all these pictures from the internet.... I know I have some of my own...just wait till I find them

Friday, July 31, 2015

Pigs, demons, race

I’ll admit, I’m not always the best at listening to sermons. Sure I start out alright, but I get distracted, lost in my thoughts. I get my spirituality from the service, and the hymns, the words of the service so familiar that my mind can slip into it’s well worn paths without distraction, the hymns providing what I find a fun activity. But during ther sermon I so often find myself thinking about what I want to do after the service, or maybe what I would say about the scriptures of the day. To be fair I’m usually back in the choir loft and so it can be hard to hear, and distracting--like trying to pay attention the teacher even though you know he won’t know if you don’t. Plus the sermon is often at least partially in Ilocano which can make it hard for me to pay attention, even if half is in a language I do understand. Excuses, Excuses….

Somehow I do better when I go to church at the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Joseph in Manila. Maybe it’s just that I sit a little straighter and pay more attention because I’m in a cathedral, or because I’m sitting in the pews instead of back in the loft, but regardless, I’ve heard some fine sermons there. Now I do have a habit of picking out one line or concept to the exclusion of others, and habit of paraphrasing and shaping the meaning of the words to my life and my thoughts. I also have a habit of forgetting the names of the distinguished priests delivering the sermons… So I’m sorry for the unscientific nature of these rememberings, so it goes.

The sermon I want to focus on was preached on the story of Jesus where he banished the demons from a possessed man into a herd of pigs and the pigs ran off a cliff to their death. I remember this because the padi took a view of this which i found surprising and humorous, “Sayang! Mayat di Lechon, diba?” (What a waste! They would have been good for roasting, am I right?), my Filipino there is probably wrong but that was the gist. First of all, true, lechon is delicious. She went on to think of it  from the point of view of the pig herder who lost his livelihood. All this seemed a great example to me of seeing a familiar bible story from a new cultural standpoint, one much more familiar with the concept of pig raising.
Humor and culture aside, she was making clear the lengths Jesus had to go to to expunge the evil of the demons. There sermon was about evil, and she had the perfect contemporary example, the killings in Charleston, South Carolina, which had just recently happened. Padi was fairly informed, if a little confused. She said that a young white man had gone into a church made up mostly of South Africans (that was the part where she was confused), joined a prayer meeting, and then started shooting and killing people.
I had been hearing so much about this recently, it seemed to be the only thing on Facebook, anywhere on the internet. I had hoped not to have to hear about it in church, half a world away, but here it was. I was ashamed, that this kind of thing could happen, repeatedly, in my country, and that this is what people here in the Philippines were hearing about my country. I can only hope more people in the USA feel this shame. Padi went on to talk about the aftermath, about the killer and the families of the victims. She said, “He was evil, he tried to kill their faith in God, but do you think he succeeded?” This is where my ears pricked up out of my self-pity and shame, “no, when the mother of one of the victims spoke to the press she said to him, ‘we forgive you’ “ It was the first I had heard of this, and it made me smile. That is Chrisitianity, that is strength.

J.R.R Tolkien writes about the concept of “Eucatastrophe”, the climax of a story, in which something enormous, impossible and good happens to drive out evil. A perfect example in so far as I understand the concept is the Resurrection of Jesus. Nobody saw that coming, and it irrevocably puts and end to the triumph of evil. Forgiveness is the eucatastrophe of this story, where Jesus’ teachings were able to help this woman through the ravages of evil. I’m glad that padi could see past the evil coming out of my country and focus on the all encompassing love that all Christians share.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Garden

Hello from Baguio! I’ve now been here for 8 months, and frankly it feels strange. My Ilocano is still in what I would call the “talking dog” stage, which is to say that people are surprised and delighted by my attempts, but I can’t carry on a conversation. Still I’ve gotten used to Filipino english, and to Filipino mannerisms and that’s surely worth something. As an example, I used to feel hounded and offended by all the people asking “where are you going” whenever I walked around the school. I’ve since realized that that is just a common form of small talk. The whole phrase in Ilocano is a single word “Araramidem”, and on occasion I can get a ride to wherever I’m going if I answer. I’ve gotten used to the food too; I can’t say I like intestine very much, but liver, brain, and blood are all quite tasty if made the right way. And meals without rice don’t really seem like meals anymore. And I have friends here, a community which keeps me going and makes me feel at home.

'break the pot' like pinhata, but made of clay

What feels strange is that my comfort and love for the my community here in Baguio both conflicts with and increases my homesickness. Family, and place, are so important in the Philippines; indeed they are in some ways the same, because family extends to clan, and clans are inextricably bound to their region. It makes me more and more aware of how far away from my own family and place I am, in a word, I’m homesick. So I’m excited to go home, but when I do I’ll be leaving behind so many new friends (I might almost say new family), and so many wonderful uniquely Filipino things. But, c’est la vie, I had something else in mind when I started this blog post.

When the choir went to visit Uncle Cyril he told me a Filipino saying (please pardon a mild profanity) “Give a Filipino 4 wheels and 2 G. I shits and he’ll give you a jeepney” (if I haven’t mentioned this before, a jeepney is an extended military jeep used as public transportation, they are one of those wonderful uniquely Filipino things). Now this slightly vulgar, slightly nonsensical saying is a fine example of Pinoy humor, and as a thoroughly accurate encapsulation of Pinoy ingenuity. As Kayla, another YASCer here in the Philippines says, “Everything is everything”, which is to say, any piece of trash can be used to fulfill a necessary function. A tire can be cut into strips to make a rope, you can poke holes in a juice bottle to make a watering can, or a squirt gun, you can fill the same juice bottle with colored paper and pebbles to make a decoration or a weight. With enough bamboo and twine you can make anything, if you only have the Pinoy ingenuity.

jeepneys can also transport produce

I’ve got a little porch from my room which looks out over the back end of the Easter compound. A few dozen yards of greenery leading to a shear hill which nothing but dogs and small children can climb, and off to the side a staircase which leads to Pinsao Pilot Project, the neighborhood at the top of the hill. When I moved in the view from my porch was of brush, dead brush, and garbage. As the weeks went on I started waking up weekend mornings to the smell of smoke, and after a little bit of panic, saw that they were burning the brush outside. After all was cleared away there was a busy couple of weeks when students, teachers and staff all worked together to transform the now bare area into a garden. I loved watching this process (and occasionally helping). Everybody turns out, everybody helps, and when the job is done, everybody sits around and hangs out. And everything is made, nothing bought, except for the plants. I saw fences, arbors and walkways made with bits of scrap wood, decorations and dedications written with plastic bottles stuffed with rocks and paper, a pagoda made out of bamboo and thatch.
So here's a moral from my time so far in the Philippines. With hard work, bamboo, twine, and friends, you can make anything. 
I never did take a "before" picture, but this is past the garden area and gives a good idea

The view from the window, when the setting sun goes this crazy orange color

Almost done!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Sorry I can't...I have choir

One nice thing about being a musician is it makes you part of a tribe. Like magnets we attract each other and discourse about forces incomprehensible to the non-adept. Classical musicians, being scattered few and far between, are especially prone to this magnetism. So two of the first friends I made arriving at Easter were Ma'am Rouilla, soprano, one-time conductor of seemingly every Anglican choir in the city, and music teacher at Easter School; and Reis, tenor, composer, music student, and staff accompanist. When I met Reis his first question was how good my sight singing was, and his second was whether I wanted to join the Holy Innocents choir for their concert next week. I figured it would be a good way to meet people and agreed to help them out, four months later I'm still singing with them.
btw, have I mentioned how beautiful Baguio is?
When I joined the choir they were having rehearsals every evening, it was intense, and not just musically. It was like joining a family. We would typically have rehearsal at 5 30, so at 5 30 I would show up to find maybe half of the choir sitting around downstairs (Filipino time). So we sit and chat, drink coffee and eat the snack that someone would invariably bring; we go upstairs to start singing when a quorum of people has arrived, around 6 or 6 30. The songs for this concert were a mixture of showtunes arranged for choir, which I found pleasantly incongruous; and Filipino songs, which I found pleasing melodically but difficult linguisticly. After a little while its break time, and we go downstairs where a big pot of pinikpikan (boiled chicken soup) or adobo (ubiguitous recipe involving vinegar, soy sauce and any available meat) on the boil by an overflowing pot of rice. Dinner is served. Typically Filipino, dinner is a lengthy event, and involves a long stretch of sitting around, drinking coffee and chatting. After dinner we rehearse some more, and go home, usually around 9 or so; rather a long rehearsal, but I gained so much! Aunties, Uncles, a gang of friends my age, and of course a week of free dinners.

Before the Concert

Any place is defined by the people that live there, I think that is especially true of the Philippines. This country cannot be understood by keeping abreast of the latest natural and man-made disasters, nor by eating a bunch of exotic parts of animals, nor by reading up on the colonial histories of Spain and the USA. The Philippines is a country of interpersonal relationships, of vast extended families, clans, and tribes. Because of this the Philippines is much much bigger than its 77 islands, because these relationships extend to every country in the world, spread by the vast Filipino diaspora. So when I say that joining the choir was like joining a family it's no mere nicety, joining the choir really was one of the best things I've done here, I became part of the community. For one thing my new Aunties and Uncles also happen to be the Lolas and Lolos (grandparents) of several of my students. Many of them are teachers as well in Easter, or are good friends with my fellow teachers and my superiors. Churches are very much community organizations here, most of my new friends live within walking distance of the church, which incidentally is directly next to where I stay, so I now have the experience of being able to walk down the street and see people I know, stop for a chat just like any other person in the neighborhood. This is a tremendous moral comfort, and it is also of great practical use. I've found that things are not scheduled in the Philippines in the same way that they are in the States. There is no calender of events for the next year, or if there is it is probably wrong. Even knowing dates and times a month ahead is iffy. One finds out about coming events by chatting with other people, things come through the grapevine. If you have no one to chat with, your best bet is to hang out somewhere conspicuous and hope someone warns you before important events.

Here in Baguio there are many choirs. There are at least 5 Episcopal Churches with choirs within Baguio City and La Trinidad. There are amateur choirs attached to many other institutions, operating out of City Hall or the Department of Agriculture, choirs made up of lawyers and choirs of students and choirs of priests. I'm assuming there are more choirs in churches of other denominations. I doubt that ours is an unusually busy choir, nonetheless we are much busier than any musical organization I've ever been a part of back in the states. We sing for weddings, wakes, funerals, Sunday services, holy days, secular events, and friends. All of these are community events, so everyone is there, all the friends and family, some having crossed boundaries and oceans to be in attendance. Invariably there is food, Aunties sitting around chatting, or walking around making everybody eat; Uncles slightly removed, sitting around and chatting; children running around playing; plates and babies being passed around. Probably the most frequent of these events are wakes, with weddings a close second. In the States I have been to one wake, here in the Philippines I go to at least one a week. But these are not particularly sad occasions, they are a chance for people to gather, to support each other with music and speeches, cash donations and by simply hanging around and helping out. They're a chance to remember and say good by and look back on hopefully a long life well lived. Being able to be a part of these community events is why I am so grateful for my choir.

during the concert

I'll close by talking about Uncle Gilbert Dao-ey, an elderly cancer patient who we visited at home about a month ago. We didn't do much, we hung out, we chatted, we brought some food, we ate the food, after an hour or two we sang a few songs and went home. Uncle Gil was lovely, cracking jokes, teaching me words of Ilocano, reminiscing about his days teaching at Easter School and his own student days. I remember him telling me what he claimed was an old saying, “Give a Filipino 4 wheels and a bag of GI garbage and he'll give you a jeepney” This was during a conversation about Filipino ingenuity and lack of concern for safety protocols. All in all it was a charming afternoon, and when his wife told us (at a wedding reception a week later) that during our visit he had been happier and more lively than she had seen him for months, I was touched. It's good to be a help for someone.

We have fun too

Today I sang in Uncle Gil's wake. It was one of the first wakes that I found genuinely touching, because it was one of the first ones where I had met the deceased. But it was not sad, or at least not only sad. Instead I found myself thinking about him, the things I remember him saying, the way I imagine he used to be, and how wonderful it was that such a lot of people were in some way connected with his life, enough people to fill the room for 3 days running of the wake. I was thankful for the chance to meet him, and the chance to say goodbye.

From Left to Right, Uncle Johnny, Reis, Uncles Bede, Jimmy and Gilbert, Me

Thursday, January 22, 2015

That's Sir David to you

Hello, dear, patient readers. It's been far too long since my last blog post and I have so much to write about! According to my calculations I am almost precisely a third through my year in the Philippines. What have I been doing? Same as ever, teaching, playing, eating, traveling, expanding horizons, learning. And what am I going to write about in this long belated blog post? I'm not sure yet, so bear with me.

I don't know if I've mentioned this, the Philippines is beautiful

The last time I posted I was just starting with my own class, feeling my way along and secretly terrified. Now it's been a few months and I think I've got a pattern down, moving from guitar to piano to violin to recorder all in one class, but I no longer feel quite so much like a chicken with my head cut off. I've learned that with guitar players I'm mostly needed to show them one or two of the more difficult chords and a strumming pattern, and after that I can leave them to practice and teach each other, occasionally I have to whirl around to interrupt a selfie and set them back to work. My violin players are progressing quickly and I couldn't be more proud, as are my piano players, some of whom I have playing with both hands!
some of my students experiencing actual cold in a "winter room"

I've been noticing some strange changes in myself, chief among them, I am genuinely sad that I'll have to leave these kids soon. Who will teach them music? If no one picks up where I left off, how many of them will abandon their instrument forever? Tragic.

 Here's an episode in my life I found telling. At the christmas celebrations the kids were playing with water balloons, and I felt a twinge of panic. The sidewalk would freeze and someone would fall! They'll get frostbite! Of course my first reaction after that was the base stupidity of the thought, it was in the high 50s and sunny. And then I thought, since when do I worry about kids doing stupid things? Of course that may sound callous to some of you, but I've always been a 'let them burn their hand and then they won't touch the stove again' kind of person. Oh well, my friends say I have the teacher bug, and they may be right.

Today I bought two books of etudes, one for drums and one for piano. For those non-musicians out there, etudes are those boring little pieces that you hear parents and teachers yelling at students to practice and which all students fantasize about burning. But there's an amazing thing that happens when you start being a music teacher, you open your mouth and hear your old music teacher speaking through you. Is this anything like being a parent? So I realized that in my efforts to get better at piano and drums I was completely ignoring all the advice I give to my students: going too fast, biting off more than I could chew, sacrificing technique for fast rewards; and I tried to fix it. If this is what growing up is, it feels weird.

So I try my best to be a good teacher. I tell jokes, I threaten, I cajole, I try to remember what it was like to first start learning music. I have yet to really truly yell or lose my temper, partially cause I'm not sure if I know how, partially cause I don't think it would be effective with Filipino students. They tend to clam up when singled out and I expect it would be the same when yelled at. They have a curious method of defiance; they smile, they are polite, they say “Sir, we don't know how”, “Sir, later”, “Sir, please” and they try to charm their way out of whatever I'm trying to make them do. The response that I have found which works is to charm them right back, smile, joke, be firm, maybe give a little ground, but not too much. Here was a recent interaction regarding their test, a practical in which they had to play me a song, “Sir, can we play modern songs?” “no, it has to be out of the hymnal”, “but Sir pleease? Modern songs are easier”, “I know they are, that's why you have to play out the hymnal”, “pleeeease?” “You can play Christmas songs from the hymnal if you want” (disappointed) “yes Sir, thank you Sir”. Victory!!

So that's my experience of teaching. Sometimes I feel like an army of one trying to battle an unstoppable horde of little savages. Sometimes I feel like I've woken up with a whole pile of nieces and nephews filling me with pride and worry. One time I saw a group of my students on the street after school; quick as I could I crossed the street and caught a cab out of there and pretended not to hear when they called me. One time I heard some students singing "Go Tell it On the Mountain" and accompanying themselves on guitar and I was on cloud 9. Sometimes I want to lock my door and turn out the lights in my office and catch a quick nap during lunchtime, but I never do, and my room fills up with students of all ages wanting to practice, hang-out, get extra lessons or chat about America. Sometimes I can't wait for the school year to be over, but I know I'm going to miss these little buggers.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Adventure to Ambuklao

whoops, I never posted this blog, oh well, this takes place about 2 weeks before the preceeding blog post

Hello from Baguio. Things go on much the same. Days of teaching, nights of practicing Beatles and Bob Dylan tunes, and karaoke (did I mention that Baguio is filled with karaoke bars and acoustic live music bars? I have countless opportunities to study up on country music and guitar technique). So there isn't much to report, except for last Monday when I had the opportunity to go on an adventure. The Episcopal Church here has a program called Receivers to Givers, whereby they provide soil enhancers and other helpful things to farming communities, with the stipulation that those who receive must in turn pass on help and experience to other communities. My friend Laiyan works for the organization, and she invited me up to the organic farm in Ambuklao last Monday, which happened to be a holiday from school (I'm still not sure why, various sources said it was Teachers Day, or that it was because of a Muslim holiday, frankly I didn't sweat the details too much). I hope I'm not getting this wrong, as my Philippine geography is still not too solid, but Ambuklao is in the Barangay Province, north of Baguio, in the mountains. So me and 5 other young people, some employees of the organization and some along for the ride like me, rolled up there in a truck, me and two new friends bouncing around in the back with crates of fertilizer and soil enhancers, clinging tight to the bars on the roof as we twisted and turned along the mountain roads. I found myself wondering if there are any roller coasters in the Philippines, with roads like the ones we were on, they don't need them.

street meat

The views from the window were truly spectacular. The mountains are higher, the country greener, I dare say the sky is bluer, once we left the house packed hillsides of Baguio. Here there is nothing on the mountainsides but trees, and lonely little pit stops offering chips and bathrooms perched on stilts propping them against the steep sides. So up and down up and down we drove, past other other trucks and the occasional cow grazing by the side of the road. In the valleys are little quickly flowing rivers in wide riverbeds which give an idea of these rivers' size during the rains. Suspended over the rivers are little footbridges which look truly terrifying.

So eventually we reached the farm, after getting off the highway and enduring a mile or two of dirt roads, and trail which I think can hardly be called a road, we parked by the little Anglican church of St. Bartholomew, which is perched on a little shelf above another of those spectacular views. There the employees of the Receivers to Givers program presented their program to the assembled committee of 6 or 7 community leaders (people occasionally left or arrived, so the number is approximate), while the rest of us sat or wandered around and took pictures. The presentation took place in Ipaloy (spelling approximate), so even if I was further along in my Ilocano or Tagalog I would have been at a loss. Do you know how many languages are spoken in the Philippines? I don't, every time I ask people just say “a lot”.
St. Bartholomew's

It must be tough to give a sermon with the congregation looking at this view

Of course afterwords the people offered us food and coffee, I've learned to always go to any event hungry. Rice and some cabbage dish, which I looked at askance until I tasted it, then I went back for seconds and thirds. We went walking around the grounds and the employees of the organization showed the people how to use the soil enhancers (it involves digging holes in the ground and pouring the stuff in). Then someone handed us a couple plastic bags full of little green fruits, which looked like limes. Against my better judgement I ate some along with everyone else (I'm fine by the way), and found that they tasted sort of like a cross between a lime and an apple and was filled with mushy seeds. I asked what they were and was told they were guavas. My friends were surprised that I didn't know what a guava was, and I explained that up until then I had only ever experienced guava as a flavoring in iced tea.

So we headed back. This time, not pressed for time, we stopped often at overlooks and at a dam, to take pictures. We also stopped at a sulfur spring, which I was surprised to find almost completely undeveloped. I explained to my friends that in America we would long ago have fenced the place off, charged five bucks for admission, and put fences around the bubbling springs so little children didn't fall in. And that, invariably, it would have been filled by garbage left by people who jumped the fence at night to get into trouble.

sulfur springs
there was also a horse

I would go into more detail describing the amazing sights of the mountains, but luckily I took pictures, so now I'll sign off. Blessings from Baguio!

It's been awhile since my last blog post and I'm somewhat scared of forgetting something, but I'll try my best. I think I am well and truly acclimated to living here now. I've quit shopping at the nearby supermarket in favor of the large open-air Baguio Market. The meat market is the most colorful part of this experience, a large tent full of butchers who will cleave your meat to your specifications and where you can buy pig heads and various innards as well as the more familiar parts of the animal. I've learned how to cook adobo, the most typical Filipino recipe, consisting of meat boiled in a mixture of soy sauce, ginger, vinegar, garlic, and onions. I'm getting better at eating with my hands, (three fingers to scoop and push the food to your mouth with the thumb). My Ilocano is still sadly lacking, but I know how to say “lets eat”, “I'm hungry” and the names of several different types of food, and my friends assure me that this is all one really needs to know. I still dream about home sometimes, but I invariably wake up when I start to wonder how I'm going to get back in time for class.

Which brings me to my class, which has at last started! I'm having a great time, and learning rapidly. I teach high school three days a week and elementary two days, teaching those students who are interested and who have instruments how to play those instruments. They range from a couple already competent guitar players (who I fear may be better than me) to the students who have never touched their instruments. I've got piano players, guitarists, violinists, drummers, recorder players, and one girl who said she wanted to learn cornet but has since decided to learn guitar instead. I'll admit I'm relieved. Almost none of them can read music, almost none of them have ever been a member of any kind of ensemble before. I spend the class periods scurrying around from instrument to instrument giving each a phrase to learn by rote and then whirling around to the next and trying desperately to keep everyone on track. When class ends at four I go home and pass out. I worry that I'm not being effective, but despite that (because of it?) the students still seem to like me. They still shout “hello sir!” as I walk across the campus, and at lunchtime some of them come to eat and hang out in my office. I often would very much like to nap during this time, but I don't have the heart to turn them away. Besides whether they come because of a desire to play more music or a curiosity about the American, a little extra practice never hurt anybody.

I've joined to choir at the church by the school, Holy Innocents Episcopal, and it has been wonderful for a number of reasons. I've made a number of friends, six of the men in the choir are my age, and of course the aunties and uncles are all very sweet as well. Especially nice is the fact that most of them are local, so when I walk down the street now I have a good chance of seeing people I know. Then there's the fact that all of our rehearsals include food, at least some bread or pastry and coffee, but sometimes full meals. And of course the aunties know that I live alone and so insist that I take leftovers home with me. Finally of course is the chance to be a part of a rather good choir, I've started singing tenor and on the hymns I like to play along on the violin, so it's really excellent practice for lots of different musical skills.

This Tuesday I'll be travelling to Manila for the consecration of the new prime bishop of the Philippines. I'm excited to see the capital for the first time (I don't count the week following my arrival because I spent most of it asleep), and my friends at the national office, and of course a big cathedral service with all the smells and bells is always a good time, but somewhat nervous about that oppressive lowland climate.

By the way, I almost forgot to brag about my latest culinary feat, I've tried balut. Balut is a food I first read about in an article called “5 Disgusting Foods You Won't Believe Are Delicacies in Other Countries” and I'll leave it to the less squeamish among you to look it up. Suffice it to say, the crunchiness was somewhat disconcerting, but overall it wasn't too bad.