In America for the summer

We’re in America for the summer after wrapping up a frantically paced spring in Manila. There’s nothing like the Tennessee lake and sun to absorb stress and decompress from our metropolitan lifestyle. I’ve been enjoying a bit of a digital diet considering the extent to which I’m connected while in Asia. That means very little internet, minimal Facebook, Twitter or email. I hardly watch any TV when in Manila, and have kept that also to a minimum.

We’ll be relaxing here for a while, and then will head to Indian Rocks Beach, Florida for a couple of weeks in July.

On a completely separate note, here’s a photo I took on the island of Negros, southern Philippines. Surreal sky:

20101016 IMG 4562 540x359 In America for the summer

The beauty and grace of jellyfish

In the upcoming days, I’ll be posting a few photos of jellyfish that I took this summer. I find them beautiful, and almost zen-like in their movement and grace. It’s quite difficult to capture them in photos – it’s a fine balance between keeping the ISO down so as to avoid noise, keep the shutter speed high enough to stop their movement, and keep the aperture open enough to allow for proper exposure but also provide adequate depth of field.

These were taken with a Canon 5D mk II | Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM @ f/2.0 | 1/60 sec | ISO 1600

IMG 2988 The beauty and grace of jellyfish

IMG 2989 The beauty and grace of jellyfish

IMG 2994 The beauty and grace of jellyfish

Back in Manila in a new condo

Just a quick update to say that I didn’t fall off a cliff or get detained by the Filipino customs officers. I’ve just been wickedly busy these past two weeks since returning from the States. I foolishly scheduled our return flight to arrive the night before starting work. Serious jet lag abound.

Work is going well, jumping right back into things, but have even more on my plate this year.

If this all wasn’t enough, you may recall that I moved to a new condo 3 days before leaving for the summer. Most of my ‘free’ time has been spent unpacking and setting up the place – surely my neighbor could confirm this fact with today’s marathon of drilling into concrete walls. But it’s all worth it – this new place is awesome. Green space, multiple pools, and – wait for it – a balcony. Yes, I’m excited to have a balcony after living in the clouds last year. We’re still pretty high up – we have views of volcanoes, a giant lake, the American Cemetery, and jets landing and taking off in the distance. It’s not as dramatic as our previous place, is half the size, (and ironically costs more), but that’s all made up in location and the greener lifestyle. Pics to follow soon.

I finally was able to get internet hooked up at home – a big perk with our new location is the ability to get 10mbps (or 100mpbs if you’re named after a mall). Those of you in foreign countries may laugh at that speed, but in most developing nations in S.E. Asia, that’s screaming fast. It’s not cheap by any means, but for my line of work and lifestyle, I think it’s worth it. I don’t do personal stuff while at work, so I had to hold off on updates until this was installed.

The blogging/photography side of me took a hit this summer – I wanted to take a breather from being online so much and just enjoy life for a while. But I’ll resume posting now with regularity.

All in all, it was a fantastic summer, and in many ways made me miss life in the States.

Criminals, Cops, and Cherokees in B.F.E.

The back of a Florida State Trooper’s police car doesn’t smell like I thought it would. I figured bad aftershave, stale coffee, and tired sweat would be the eau de jour. This one just had that pungent new car smell wafting through the steel divider.

What would have been an average, long, and boring 11 hour trip from Tennessee down I-75 to Florida turned into what my mother likes to call, “an ordeal”.

Somewhere around Macon, Georgia, we stopped to buy some of the state’s renowned peaches and pecans. My father’s (borrowed) Jeep Grand Cherokee evidently wasn’t enjoying the states other renowned feature – 96 degrees with 96% humidity. A sickly sweet, and all too familiar scent of antifreeze was steaming up from the engine block. I checked the overflow tank – check. The water pump – check. The radiator – check. Considering we still had 7 hours of driving, I wasn’t keen to have engine trouble. This was, after all, not far from the filming location of Deliverance, and we all know how that story ended.

By the time we hit southern Georgia, I needed a refuel and realized something was seriously wrong. The water pump was squealing in agony with every churn of the big V-8, and the temperature was hovering somewhere around 215 degrees. However, it appeared that the coolant was only leaking when the engine was stopped – which meant, of course, just don’t stop. A responsible man would have pulled over for the night and found a mechanic in the morning. I’m still relatively young, and thoroughly irresponsible at times, so of course I figured we could make it another 250 miles.


South of Gainsville, Florida, the worries really set in when the squealing water pump was causing pondering stares from other motorists. The other pondering stare came from Novita, who, sitting next to me, couldn’t figure out why chanting, “c’mon baby, you can do it!” would give any sense of aid to the situation.

I had her monitoring the temperature gauge like a hawk; daring it to waiver past 215. Suddenly, and without a hint of warning, it rocketed to 240 degrees and I frantically pulled over to avoid destroying the engine. Luckily or unluckily, I had been watching an unmarked state police trooper behind me for the past mile, so I waived him to pull over as I was pulling over. I immediately shut the engine off and lifted the hood. Sure enough, somehow all of the coolant had suddenly leaked out and the radiator was bone dry.

I haven’t watched enough episodes of Cops to know how to approach the police car, or, wait, do you wait for him to approach you, or, uh, do you stay in your steaming vehicle, or….? It turns out, I gave up and walked up to his passenger side window. The big dude wasn’t smiling.

“Hi there, thanks for stopping. My car overheated – what do you recommend I do?”

“May I see your license sir?”

“Sure, so, is there a town nearby or a way I can reach my mother?”

A long, dramatic pause with no response.

“Sir, do you live in Michigan?”

“No, the Philippines.”

“The what…? Where are you heading?”

“Indian Rocks Beach, Florida – near Clearwater”


“To visit my mother.”

“Does she live there?”

“Well they have a place there, but they spend most of the year in Tennessee.”

“But you have a Michigan license, driving a Jeep registered in Michigan, to visit your mother who kind of lives there, and Tennessee, and you live in the Philippines?”

“Uh huh.”

He gives me a skeptical look and five more minutes roll by – as if to check out my story or my non-existant criminal record. He then gets his Blackberry out and lets me dial my mother’s handphone. How nice of him, I thought.

“Sir, there’s no town for at least 7 more miles. But you could walk to the gas station back a half-mile.”

“Any chance you can give us a ride?”

“I can’t do that sir.”

Somehow he sensed some desperation and gave in, finally offering us a ride. Great, so I went to grab my most valuable items – camera gear and passports in two backpacks.

“Sir, I will not take your bags.”, he sternly says in his best movie cop voice.

“It’s ok, I’ll hold them on my lap. I don’t want to leave the gear here and it’s not much stuff.”

“Sir!”, shouting now, “This car is not equipped to handle you and your gear. You will not bring those items into this car!”

I glance at the rather large, new, and capacious sedan with a surely cavernous trunk, but figure I have to play by his rules, so I put my camera gear back, only taking a very small bag with my wallet and passports.

It almost appeared as if he rested his hand on his gun, but that could be my imagination. “Sir! I will not tell you again. Get in the car immediately without any bags!”

Total douchebagness had set in apparently.

We pulled up to the gas station, and he let us out of the car, finally handing me back my license.

“Sir, you may walk back to the Jeep to retrieve your gear if you don’t feel safe leaving it. This isn’t the best of areas; lots of crime around here. Stay safe.”

Umm… yeah….

I didn’t mind the sweltering half-hour walk back to the Jeep. I minded having only two options – walk in marshy ditches for half a mile loaded with cigarette butts, condom wrappers, and McDonalds straws, or straddle the line of life and death with semi trailers brushing past me at 80 miles per hour.

Per the trooper’s advice, I quickly grabbed my most important valuables and started making my way back to Novita at the gas station.

Remember Rambo: First Blood when Stallone was walking down the road minding his own business and the sheriff pulled over to give him crap? Yeah, so do I.

Halfway back to the gas station, another police car pulls over; the cop motioning for me to stop. Awesome.

In a rather sarcastic tone, “Sir, what are you doing?”

“Walking back from my broken-down Jeep.”

In his best RoboCop impersonation, “Sir, this is an interstate highway, it is illegal to walk here!”

“I’m sorry, but, as I said, my Jeep broke down. How should I get to a phone?”

Obviously hard of hearing, he skipped that inquiry and proceeded to, “Sir, may I see some I.D.?”.

Deja vu?

“Sir, please get into the back of the car.”

“But another cop told me I could walk back to the Jeep.” – he obviously didn’t buy that,

“Sir, I already told you, it’s illegal to be out here. Another police officer wouldn’t have said that. Get into the car. And sir, confirm that your bags do not contain any weapons or explosive materials.”

Uh. WTF?

Another ten minutes go by, he pulled up to the Jeep, ran the plates, ran my license and I had to go all through the explanation of living overseas.

“Sir, I’m going to give you a ride back to the gas station, but I usually would have to ticket and fine you for this offense.”

Yeah, I’ll remember that next time I choose to break down and walk a half-mile in the blistering sun.

Novita was waiting for me at a diner next to the gas station. She wasn’t expecting me to pull up in a cop car, and by this time, we had made a bit of a scene having arrived not once, but twice in an hour from the back of police cars, escorted by large cops. I was ready to put a black bandana around my head and give in to the expectation.

After contemplating the choices I decided a last-ditch effort was required. My mother drove all the way up to get us – 140 miles one way, but I wan’t about to leave the Jeep in B.F.E.

I grabbed 4 gallons of antifreeze and a bundle of Bars Leak tablets as a desperate last hope solution to hobble down to Clearwater Beach. Luckily it worked. Limping and moaning, I got the Jeep to agree to 140 miles; finally arriving 16 hours after we left Tennessee. Turns out the water pump was totally shot, and the mechanic couldn’t believe I had made it that far. If he only knew.

Fortunately, that was the horrible beginning to a great week in Indian Rocks Beach.

There would be no sequel to Deliverance after all.

Summer in Tennessee

After our massive tour of New England and Michigan, we’ve settled in Tennessee at my mother’s home for a while.

4739794408 310722fe0d Summer in Tennessee

Her home is on a beautiful lake at the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, about half an hour south of Knoxville. We really love being here – in most ways, it’s the complete opposite of Jakarta or Manila, and is just what’s needed after those mega-metropolitan cities. It’s exceptionally peaceful and relaxing, with the only noises coming from boats cruising up and down the lake or the hum of lawnmowers in neighboring yards which I find comforting in a weird American childhood way.

There’s all kinds of wildlife around – just this morning we were out on the boat and saw a Bald Eagle soaring above searching for prey.

We have a few plans to get into the local attractions – the Smoky Mountains, Chattanooga, Knoxville, etc. And if all goes well, we may spend a week or so at their home in Indian Rocks, Florida as well – which will be another 11 hour road trip.

I’ll post more frequently now that we’re settled with (fast!) internet. I have photos that I’ll share from our tour around New England, Bar Harbor, Niagara Falls, and upper Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes.

For now, it’s back to reading Shantaram in the sun. Hasta.