It is 5pm here in Taiwan where I am currently, waiting for the direct 14-hour flight to Chicago set to leave in a few hours from now. This, then, will be my last blog post – I know, I, too, am crushed. But, as they say, all good things must come to an end.

I will start off with a brief description of the past couple weeks, mainly focusing on my weekend in Hong Kong and then my extended stay in Coron, Palawan, that began Wednesday (7/31) and ended just two days ago (8/6).

Me, looking at Hong Kong

Of Hong Kong, I mostly saw the city and part of an island I forget the name of. I went to visit the other IWU interns that are there, particularly my friend Adna Mujović, whose blog you should also totally check out. It was an incredible (if expensive) weekend, and it was quite an interesting moment to be there what with the protests against China occurring all over the region. One major takeaway from that trip is how politically active Hong Kong is, and how apathetic America is in comparison. For weeks now these protestors have been demonstrating against the encroaching authority of Beijing, and that kind of determination and commitment just seems to be wholeheartedly lacking in America today. Sure, the stakes are quite different – Hong Kong has less than 40 years of their political freedom while America is a somewhat functioning democracy with systems to allow certain peoples’ voices to come through. But I couldn’t help thinking about, say, the Women’s March, which I was passively involved with in Chicago. The idea behind the March is no doubt an important one; the President is a known sexual predator and misogynist, and women (and people in general) ought to stand up, united, to fight such outdated and icky ideas. But what change did the March actually bring? It was a single day of demonstrating across several cities and that was all. No real, material change came out of it. In the most cynical of interpretations, the whole thing was a show for people to feel like they were doing something against the sexist fabric of America so they would be even more passive as abortion access is stripped away and a sexual predator is appointed to the Supreme Court – but hey, we all did our part by walking for 2 hours in a police designated route, right?

An eggpuff/bubble waffle

In any case, highlights included going to a hot pot restaurant, getting a few podcast recommendations from some non-IWU interns there, and getting locked out of my Airbnb at 1 in the morning.

I present the entrance to my airbnb on the 3rd floor
where I may have had to sleep for a night

The next week was quite a short one for me, as I headed to the airport for Coron Wednesday morning. Still, on Tuesday I had a productive meeting with my supervisor Anna Wilk, who had just gotten back from the UK. I presented to her all my findings from my research and recommendations for moving to paper rather than plastic packaging, and I think it went quite well!

Coron, Palawan, was incredible for the first few days I was there. Wednesday evening through Friday were fantastic, as I swam in lagoons, lakes, and above some coral reefs. It was wonderful, particularly when a sea turtle swam directly underneath me! I stayed at a very cheap hostel and met some other Filipino travelers as well as a group of Polish college students. On Saturday night we all sat down for a lovely meal together, seen below.

I had originally planned to leave on Sunday (8/4) morning, but a monsoon decided that was out of the question. My flight was canceled, and I didn’t get back in Manila until Tuesday afternoon. I was very grateful to be back in Manila, as there was a legitimate worry I would have to stay in Coron until Thursday, and miss today’s flight back to Chicago, which was something that I really did not want to happen. But, luckily, things worked out – they often do.

Yesterday, L and I went over to the Wilk’s house for lunch with our supervisors for an intern lunch thing. We had lasagna! It was wonderful, and I was very grateful for the homecooked meal. Later at the office, our coworkers surprised us with some giftbags filled with Philippine snacks, which we were very thankful for. It was super strange leaving the office that day knowing I would soon be back on the other side of the world, returning back to this American life of mine. I spent the rest of the evening with my coworker friend Z[ee] at dinner and then at the Coffee Trail Cyclery with my pal Eric. He gave me a coffee on the house.

I am sure it’s a cliché, but I will miss my little corner of the Philippines. I hope all I’ve learned will transfer back with me, and that I have legitimately grown as a person from this experience – and will not simply forget and go back to my pre-internship self. I would be lying if I said I wish I was not coming back. Even though they’re only a day away, I miss my friends and family far too much to ever be 9,000 miles away from them for long. And as much as America grinds my gears and irritates the hell out of me, it’s still my home.

Thanks to everyone for following this blog and tagging along with me on this adventure. As always, more to come – just not on here. Salamat!

Banaue and Sagada

Hey everyone! This blog post is going to be mostly pictures of my weekend with some other interns up in Banaue and Sagada (hence the title). It was absolutely incredible, as we saw some rice terraces that are at least 2000 years old, went spelunking for 4 hours, and climbed several thousands steps down (up) to (from) a waterfall in the valley of some mountains. Enjoy this picture-heavy blog!

Reaching Banaue at 5:30am after an 8 hour drive from Manila
A view from the breakfast place in Banaue

That wraps up Banaue! On to spelunking in Sagada

The entrance to the cave we would later spelunk, adorned with Hanging Coffins
Spelunking buddies!

The morning after spelunking, we set out to see some more hanging coffins in Sagada. Traditionally, the locals would lay their dead to rest in a fetal position (hence the small coffin on the bottom right) but after missionaries converted the population, they began to use the more Christian rectangular, longer coffin.

The higher the coffin is placed, the bigger the family’s pride

Next, we headed down to Bomod-ok Waterfall. To get there, we had to descend a mountain and cross through a barangay.

View of the Barangay below
More mountains
A spectacularly beautiful bee

We left the following morning, but first we had to enjoy the foggy dawn at the top of the mountains.

Some spooky trees

After, we headed to a strawberry farm and market, where I got to sample some snake wine.

That about does it! I hope you enjoyed my collage.

Blood, Sweat, & Concrete

Alright everyone—it’s tomorrow. And you know what that means? That’s right. It’s time for another blog post.

Its 7:15pm here and 81 degrees, positively a cold spell. I think this is the first time we’ve been able to have our AC off and windows open since we’ve been here and actually be comfortable. Remarkable!

Anyway, last week marked the beginning of a new policy at work: a work week would now consist of either 8 hours over the course of 4 days or 6.5 hours over the course of 5 days. L and I chose the former, as we figured we could use the extra day for long weekends to better explore the Philippines. But, that didn’t really work out since Wednesday was a regional holiday and we had to take our off day then. You win some, you lose some.

At the office I spent most of my time ring-a-ding-dinging various colleges’ student affairs offices whose email addresses weren’t available online. This has probably been my most successful attempt at gaining more signatures, as quite a few emailed back and got me in contact with environmental student organizations on campus. We are, unfortunately, still nowhere near the 500k goal. But, on the bright side, one college (Adamson University) played their fight song when they put you on hold, and I’ll tell you it was probably the catchiest fight song I’ve ever heard in my life.

Starting last week, I made a very important discovery that I wish I had made weeks ago. The barangay next to the apartment is absolutely filled with street vendors selling several different types of food—yu chi gow, fried chicken, bread, kwek-kwek, fresh produce, nuts, etc.—for very, very cheap. In restaurants, it’s typical to spend between 100-200 pesos for a meal, roughly $2-$4. I can easily spend less than 100 pesos a day on food and have 3 pretty solid meals. I cannot recommend street food enough, and I regret not embracing it more fully until now.

On Wednesday I celebrated the holiday by getting breakfast, getting a mani-pedi, and biking for a cumulative 3 hours to meet a friend at Southwoods Mall. This last activity is of particular interest because of the remarkable failures that occurred. On the way there, my front tire went flat, and I ended up having to replace the inner tube, as the one I had was punctured. Not 5 minutes after getting the tire fixed, I biked over a speed bump while I was checking google maps and completely wiped out. My bike ended up on top of me, one of my flip flops fell off, and I was bleeding in several places. Worst of all, I wasn’t even halfway to the mall yet.

A cute painting on the side of a school I passed

Luckily, the bike was still in good condition, so I was able to get to the mall. But, on the way back to the apartment, my front tire went flat almost immediately. Turns out the inner tube I had just bought was defective, resulting in my having to buy a third inner tube—I had to buy one a week or two after buying the bike because, you guessed it, my front tire went flat—yesterday at a bike/coffee shop called The Coffee Trail Cyclery in Nuvali about 15 minutes away. I’ve become quite a regular costumer.

The rest of the week was a lot less exciting, but I did get this pretty neat picture ft. a stray dog on my bike ride back from the office on Thursday:


On Saturday morning, me and L headed once more to Makati on the trusty P2P (point-to-point) bus. We spent the rest of the day in the Gawad Kalinga PWD Community, where I painted some concrete houses and helped mix concrete for foundations for future houses. We ended up getting lunch with a few other volunteers, who were all very nice and delighted in taking pictures.

Look how delighted!

I ended up touring the community with two 20+ year olds (Sheilamae and Genesis) who had lived in the community their entire lives – even before Gawad Kalinga had built the houses. They were very thankful for all that Gawad Kalinga had done, and were both employed as teachers. Sheilamae was nice enough to buy me an iced fruit tea, and we all went back to the house later to play UNO and enjoy tortang talog for dinner.

I helped paint the bottom right two units!

That night me, Genesis, Sheilamae and her brother went out to a comedy-videoke bar thing, where I received a lot of attention from the two entertainers on stage. They were both drag queens, and doubled as comedians/backup singers to whoever was brave enough to get on stage and sing some videoke. I had read that the LGBTQ+ community here is often seen as entertainment/just amusing, and I definitely understood that a lot more from this experience, particularly after talking to the others about LGBTQ+ rights. Despite the fact that they had chosen to take me to this bar, at least one in our group was still very uncomfortable with same-sex marriage.

Really neat sign we passed that says “The Filipino is Worth Dying for”

On Sunday, we left early and went to Makati, but before I left I managed to take a picture of some lotion I had found in the house that left me quite discouraged:

“Whitens in 7 days”

I talked to Gen about it, and she told me her cousin had actually quite successfully whitened her skin with similar products. I said something like “that’s a shame” to which Gen replied that if it makes her cousin happier, she’s alright with it. I think both responses are valid; her cousin is voluntarily choosing to make herself whiter, after all. But it is still very sad to me that such disgustingly colorist beauty standards exist, and undeniably were a force—however small—in her cousin’s desire to whiten her skin. No choice is made in a vacuum.

We took a bus back to Makati at 11am, and I ended up staying there until around 5pm. On the way to an Indian restaurant I ended up getting lunch at, I passed this super cool statue of Sultan Kudarat. The plaque reads: Muhammad Dipatuan Kudarat was Sultan of Mindanao during the first half of the 17th century. Brave, wise and benevolent, he was the greatest and strongest Mindanao Sultan that ever lived. He united the Muslims of Lanao, Cotabato, Davao, Sulu Xamboanga and North Borneo and resisted bitterly the Spanish invasion of his Domain. Unable to conquer Kudarat, the Spanish Governor signed a pact with him that led to several years of peace. He was a fearless fighter and Filipino hero in defense of the Islamic faith and Philippine liberty. Kudarat died about the year 1650. I was honestly surprised that such a statue would be erected in honor of a Muslim hero, considering Manila is a majority Christian city and significant tensions remain between Christian and Muslim Filipinos.

Later on, I tried sorbetes or “dirty ice cream” from a street peddler, and checked out the Guadalupe Ruins, which was in fact a functioning church where a wedding was taking place.

Alright, well, I’m nearly caught up. On Monday, as I mentioned briefly, I got my bike fixed, and one of the employees, Eric, gave me a whole cassava cake he had gotten from his friend—I wasn’t kidding about being a regular. Today, I tried some kind of Ube shake from a vendor in the nearby barangay. It was absolutely delicious, and only 15 pesos!

Look how pretty it is!

This weekend, me and some other interns are headed up north to check out the famous Banaue Rice Terraces. I am very, very excited to see them. We have finally made it to today! But don’t fret, there’s always more to come.

Le Farm

Hello all! It’s Monday night here, so I’m doing my blog just like I said I would (hey, I never specified which Monday). We have two (2) weekends to talk about and an entire week, so buckle in!

Last last weekend me and L headed up to Enchanted Farms, the Gawad Kalinga (GK) farm where a lot of produce is grown and many a social enterprise begin. It is home to SEED, which you can read about here. Thursday night we stayed in Quezon City (which took us several hours to get to – traffic) with Ate Trina’s friends. I’m happy to say I finally got to try lambanog. Review: it was okay!

Friday morning we set off to the Human Nature flagship store and office (also in Quezon City) early, and stuck around until half a dozen other new employees arrived. I guess all Human Nature employees – or at least the ones that work in the office – get to visit the farms, which is pretty neat! We all ended up taking a van and drove first to a Gawad Kalinga community that was nearby. We didn’t stay for very long, but I got to see the colorfully painted concrete houses that I had heard (and read) so much about. The community was still very visibly poor, but at the very least the families living there had reliable, dry shelter, as opposed to dilapidated housing that is far too common elsewhere.

We arrived at Enchanted Farms around noon, and had a fantastic lunch (around 30% of every meal served there is sourced from the farms). I had some kind of tasty juice that was a cool blue color (I’m fairly certain it was turmeric but google images is showing an orange-colored juice) and put a little too much chili sauce on my fish and rice. After a brief introductory video that featured a few GK social entrepreneurs, we were off to tour the farm and surrounding facilities.

Our tour guide, Jojo(?) Lopez, was a little older than me and incredibly passionate about ending poverty in the Philippines. It was hard even for me to not be optimistic when he spoke about uplifting the poor. We found out Saturday night while singing videoke that he is also incredibly passionate about One Direction, as evidenced by his first name on Facebook being “Harrystyles”. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The many social enterprises associated with Gawad Kalinga

We ended up digging some plant beds in a kind of open greenhouse area, as well as touring the various social enterprises that are based on the farm, including Bayani Brew (specialty teasan beverages), First Harvest (various food spreads), Plush and Play (adorable plush toys), and Ambension Silk Enterprise (Eri silk products). After, the rest of the Human Nature crew headed back to the office, leaving me and L to spend the night, tragically sans wifi.

First time I’ve seen a pineapple growing

The following day was a bit underwhelming, as we didn’t actually have anything planned until 1pm, which we found out after waking up Jojo at his house around 9am after a delightful breakfast. So, I went swimming (there was a pool!) and walked around.

A small and harmless butterfly and flower….
…a large and harmless caribao (that was very weary of me!)
















Around lunchtime, I was i.ntroduced to some French interns that will be staying at the farms for a month, and had a wonderful mango fruit shake. I tried speaking some French to them, but it was a lot easier to communicate to all 5 of them in English. They were also admittedly not at all impressed by my French which I have learned exclusively from American teachers and professors – but I digress.

Coming from Illinois, I have a very singular view of what farming looks like – acres and acres of land perfectly plowed, growing corn or soy beans. This kind of farming, however, depends significantly on expensive and large machinery, huge subsidies from the government, access to a devastatingly large amount of fertilizer and water, and the continued use of corn syrup in literally everything. In contrast, the farms here were a lot smaller and relied on manual labor and organic fertilizer. I would get to experience that manual labor beginning at 1pm, an objectively god-awful time to begin farming. But farm we did! 4 hours later we had created 8 beds, two shallow trenches, and planted over 30 eggplant seeds, all by hand (and tool, of course).

I was, and remain, absolutely humbled by this brief experience. The absolute presence of the Earth reveals itself unapologetically through working the land with a hoe and a shovel. I don’t recall ever engaging in genuinely harder – nor more rewarding – work. What could have been done by machines in one hour was accomplished by two young adults in four.

I have been thinking for a while now about farming, and the destructive way in which we go about it in America. The growing – if not complete – separation between the land and the modern factory farmer. The exhaustion of water supplies. The use of toxic fertilizer. The degradation of soil. All of this, of course, in the name of production. Justified by claims of needing to “feed the world” despite the fact nearly half of all food produced in America is wasted, millions remain hungry and/or undernourished, and nearly a third of productive agricultural land is devoted to feeding livestock food they are not evolved to eat. It was genuinely fantastic to see farming done in a way that works with nature as opposed to against it.

Anyways, that night we all went out for some videoke, the Philippines’ version of karaoke, in which unrelated videos play on screen while the lyrics to the selected song run across. One of the French interns claimed The Eagles’ Hotel California was the best song ever, so that was something.

The next day Ate Trina took us out to lunch with her husband Justin and their two very young sons, whose names I regrettably forget. I tried lechon for the first time, and I have to admit, it was pretty great. While stuck in traffic heading back to the bus station, I got to play superheroes with the two kids involving a Lego minifigure, a folded piece of cardbord, and a large plush toy. It was wonderfully wholesome.

Well, I finished the weekend, and although I wanted to cover the following week and this past weekend, I am far too tired and it is pretty late. I promise I will catch up tomorrow! Unquestionably, unambiguously, without a doubt – more to come.

Intramuros, Pride, and Nature

Hello all! It’s me again, and currently I am on break at the ole internship. It’s Thursday, which means this past weekend was nearly a whole week ago (my plans to do this twice a week continue to crumble), but I’m still going to tell you all about it!

On Friday, L and I headed up to Makati, and after a 3 hour bus ride that was supposed to be an hour and a half (peace, love, traffic), we made it to the other interns’ apartment. As several other interns from IRRI and the surrounding Metro Manila area came down, there were around a dozen of us, and we all went out and had a lovely time. The next morning, L and I headed out to Intramuros, or the Walled City, the oldest part of Manila. The architecture was distinctly more Spanish in this part of the city, and it was very neat to walk around structures that were built more than a hundred years before America existed. Our first stop was Fort Santiago, which, according to Wikipedia, is one of the most important historical sites in the Philippines, as several world powers occupied it (Spain, Britain, America, Japan) at some point and José Rizal, a Philippine national hero, was imprisoned there in 1896 before his execution on unjust grounds.

The entrance to Fort Santiago

I should mention here that the wet season has properly begun, and within half an hour of arrival, it started absolutely pouring. My shoes would be soaked the rest of the day, and my umbrella was woefully unprepared to protect me from the rain. But, we carried on, and ended up inside the Manila Cathedral, which I believe has been rebuilt 8 times due to natural disasters and war. You’ve got to admire their dedication to this building, as it seems to be quite content with being destroyed.

From there, I separated from L and I headed back to Makati, to meet up with an intern, Leah, and her friends that live in her apartment building to then go to Pride. Though the plan was to leave around 4pm, we ended up leaving around 5:30pm, and got to Pride around 8pm (traffic). This unfortunately meant that we missed the actual march, but there were still thousands of people around the Marikina Sports Center, where the festivities were being held. Several booths selling food and LGBTQ+ items were present, and there was a DJ playing to a crowd of several hundred. I learned later that this Pride was the biggest Pride ever put on in Southeast Asia (around 70,000 attendees), and although traffic prohibited me from actually marching, I was glad to have had the opportunity to participate, however minimally.

The crowd in the Sports Center

As Leah and I appeared to be the only white people at this event, we garnered a fair bit of attraction, and three separate people asked if they could get their picture with us, which we were happy to do (although I was a little uncomfortable, I enjoyed the attention). While I cannot say whether the actual march was commercialized or not, this part of the event had very little corporate presence, which is a big difference from Pride in America, or at least in Chicago. So that was neat.

The next day, a few interns and I headed up to La Mesa Eco Park, a beautiful jungle open to the public an hour or so from Makati (depending on, you guessed it, traffic). The entrance fee was only 50 pesos (about a dollar) for non-residents, and it was wonderful to get away from the city for a few hours. One thing I’ve been really missing in Santa Rosa is the ability to walk around in nature, and I was very glad for the opportunity.

(from left to right: an outdoor amphitheater, a super pretty tree, and me and the other interns that went)

The next morning (Monday), I took the bus back to Santa Rosa, and this week I’ve mostly been reaching out to colleges via their Facebooks to ask for their Student Affairs Office emails, to send along the petition. I also looked into the pros and cons of switching to paper packaging for a product (a lot more complicated than I original had thought, as the production of paper is a lot more water and energy intensive than is the production of plastic), and have been conducting research on common carcinogenic and hazardous chemicals in cosmetics. L and I are going to head off to Gawad Kalinga’s Enchanted Farms tonight and spend the weekend there, which I am incredibly excited for. I won’t promise an update on Monday, but I really hope that I’ll be able to put one out. Until next time… more to come.

The Matter with Mass

Alright everyone, it’s me (David), back at it with another blog. I promised I’d talk about how mass went, and although its been several days since I attended church (it’s Thursday now), I will do just that.

Although Saturday night was stormy, the rain let up just as I started biking to St. John Bosco Parish & Center for Young Workers, a Catholic Church about half a mile away from the apartment. As I’ve attended a few masses in America, I had a basic understanding of what I was getting myself into, and to the Catholic Church’s credit, mass here is just about the same as it is in America – albeit with slightly worse English, and a sprinkle here and there of Tagalog. We sat, we knelt, we stood, we prayed, we sang, we took communion, etc., etc. The priest mentioned having sleep apnea, and reminded us of how everyday is a blessing and nothing is guaranteed. While all this was not too surprising, there were a few things about mass that really stood out to me.

First and foremost was the image of Christ here; like everything else, it was just about the same. That is, he is depicted as white.

[White] Jesus, in all His glory

In a country where skin whitening products are commonly used, where most (if not all) movie stars are mestizo, and colorism is incredibly present (particularly in advertisements), Jesus’ depiction as being a white man felt somehow worse here than in America. Perhaps I’m overthinking it (or, more likely, am simply ignorant), but the general imagery of a white man showing the native brown population to righteousness felt incredibly colonial. With the Catholic Church having such a large hand in maintaining Spain’s colonial authority, I don’t think my interpretation is without base. However, I am neither Filipino, Catholic, nor Filipino Catholic, so I really am in no way an authority on this subject. But hey, this is my blog!

[White] Jesus, guiding His brown Filipino children

A second thing I noticed was one church-goer in a Love is Love t-shirt. This struck me as interesting, as I typically associate the Catholic Church with conservatism, and, I dare say, homophobia. While every congregation is different, I was encouraged to see this blatant pro-LGBTQ+ statement in such a setting.

The last thing I found interesting was simply how many people were in attendance, particularly young people. In America, according to a few of my Catholic friends, the bulk of Catholic congregations are older people. Here, though, age diversity was very evident.

Alright, that’s it for my impressions of mass! On to the rest of the week.

Check out these cows I saw Sunday just hanging out on the side of a road!

At work, I have spent the majority of this week looking up different colleges in the Philippines to send our refilling petition to, specifically their offices of student affairs. Unfortunately for me, the majority of colleges do not list these offices, nor the emails or contact information. Nearly all of them have a Facebook, however, so I plan to begin reaching out to them there. Not much else to really report here – been a pretty work-centered week so far.

Today, we headed back to the warehouse around 2pm to participate in the all men’s talent show put on by various divisions at Human Nature. Me and L were forced to be apart of this, as backup dancers for a performance of If I Let You Go. Unfortunately, I am unable to upload the video, but here we are – The Paseo Boys.

We won, by the way

This weekend, L and I are going up to Manila, to spend some time in Makati with some other interns and then explore Quezon City. I and a few other interns will also be attending the Pride March, an event I am quite looking forward to supporting. That’s it for me! – more to come.

Makati and Other Things

Hello all! It is 6:45pm on a wonderfully rainy evening here in Sta. Rosa, and me and L (can’t be bothered to type the -ark) are in the (now majority mold-free) apartment. I am planning to attend the mass of a nearby Catholic Church tonight, though whether this storm is a way of God deterring or testing my resolve to go, I do not know.

In any case, enjoy these pictures of a tricyles (left) and a jeepney (right) I found on Google images. I evidently cannot be bothered to take a picture of the dozens I see everyday.

On Wednesday, Ate Jam (the employee who I’m interning directly under) went to visit De La Salle University, Makati, where we officially launched the partnership between Human Nature and their engineering/design students to create in-store, zero-waste refill stations. Modeled as a competition between 10 teams, Human Nature will get to choose the winning design(s) and hopefully give the green-light to place them in HN stores – petition pending, of course. In order to get to Makati (which, according to Wikipedia, is a highly urbanized city in Metro Manila), I had to take a bus leaving at 7am from the Nuvali station about 15 minutes away from my apartment by bike. I was quite tired – but at least I had my breakfast!

After the launch, Ate Jam and I ended up getting some lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant, where I tried some famous Vietnamese iced coffee, or cà phê đá. It was delicious, and absolutely is the best kind of coffee I’ve ever had.

First, wait for the coffee to drip into the cup ; second, pour the condensed milk into the coffee; third, pour over ice

After lunch, Ate Jam left me alone to explore the city. I walked around for several hours, visiting a local Human Nature store and going to a few second-hand shops. Around 5, I attempted to take a bus to Suntrest Treetop Villas to visit a couple other interns who live there, but after about 15 minutes of stand-still traffic, I ended up walking a bit and getting a Grab (the Southeast Asian answer to Uber), with marginally better traffic luck. In talking to the driver (who kindly offered me a mango), I learned he was a father of 7, and that his wife did not work, making Grab their household’s sole source of income. As we’ve seen, poverty is only a stone’s throw away here, and I was deeply humbled imagining how difficult it would be supporting even a family of 3 on such an income, let alone 8.

When we finally got to the Villas, me and the two interns that lived there went to this incredibly boujie jellyfish-rooftop bar called Antidote that was atop a similarly boujie hotel called I’M Hotel. Such spots are typically not my scene, but it did offer an incredible view of the surrounding Metro area. Still, the fact that slums were present only 10 minutes away from this extremely elitist bar sullied my drink a bit.

But hey, at least I got a huji

In total that night, I believe we counted around 15 old, overweight white men with young Filipino women. Not cute.

The following morning (Thursday), I headed back to Sta. Rosa, and arrived at the office a little after 9am. I mostly researched chemical pollutants that are commonly in cosmetic products, and the adverse environmental side effects pouring them down the sink has on surrounding areas. I also drafted a template letter to be sent to various colleges around the country, so hopefully this coming week I’ll be able to send it out to them and get thousands of signatures for the petition.

On Friday, L and I sat through a new hires orientation for the entire day, and learned a lot about the company’s overarching mission, as well as some not-so relevant information about payroll. In any case, we all got a free bag of HN products to sample, and I have greatly enjoyed using their sunflower seed oil since. I also learned about ingredients to avoid in skin/hair care (see: parfum, mineral oil, TEA, parabens, phthalates, etc), and learned that some of my own go-to products contain them. Go figure.

I have also been deeply pondering the company’s “no fire” policy. This kind of thing would almost never be seen in America, where workers are probably the most expendable resource available to companies. But, as Dylan Wilk, the CEO of HN, pointed out, many of their poorer employees have been told they are worthless and expendable their entire lives. For a company to stick with them through thick and thin means a lot to these people, and encourages them to succeed. This policy has certainly been tested – Dylan relayed one story of an employee stealing from the company, a fireable offense anywhere else – they have stuck with it. And, after being in business for 10 years and winning multiple beauty awards, I’d say it’s working out for them.

That night, me and L went to see Toy Story 4, and tried some Filipino McDonalds. Both were very okay, although I was deeply hurt, as a proud Midwesterner, that the latter had no ranch dressing to offer. Despicable.

L, enjoying a quarter pounder

While I began this blog post last night, I am finishing it Sunday morning, at Coffee Project, once more enjoying a Vietnamese Latte. I will make a separate blog post about my impressions of the mass I attended. Goodbye for now, and as always, more to come.

Overcoming the Mountain(s)

Greetings friends! It is about 8pm here on Tuesday, and currently Lark and I are hanging out in our [slightly problematic] apartment. These past few days have been full of whimsy and adventure, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

On Saturday, we decided to ditch the seemingly endless amounts of outlet malls around and head south to taste some nature and climb Mount Taal (pronounced tah-ahl). To get there, we first rode a van to Tagaytay, where we explored the very large marketplace there. There seemed to be everything and anything one could want – including some live chicks and rabbits – and we ended up having lunch there, a tasty concoction of pork, tofu, vinegar, and soy sauce. I could’ve spent there entire day there, but we had a dormant volcano to climb.

A former (and soon to be) vegetarian’s nightmare!

From Tagaytay, we tricycled down to Talisay, where we took a boat to Mount Taal. Definitely the most tourist-y destination we’ve been to, we hired a tour guide and set off to the top of the volcano.

The view of one of the peaks of the volcano from our boat

The entire hike was incredible, even if I was struggling to keep pace with the tour guide (Joel could walk fast!). About halfway to the top, we stopped to rest, and Lark and I shared a wonderfully cool and refreshing buko (young coconut). We set off, and much to my dismay the actual climbing of the volcano began, as up to this point the hike had mostly consisted of getting to the base of Taal. After several lonely pauses up the steep slope (Joel was killing it ; Lark has long legs), I arrived at the top.

The view from the top

Luckily, I wasn’t too hot and tired to not appreciate the beautiful view of the crater below.

The next day, I bought a bike, a purchase I have been enjoying thoroughly. I attempted to bike along a path google maps told me about that began wonderfully, but soon became entirely unnavigable.

On Monday, we had to wake up around 4:30am to get to the office at 5:30am, to head off to Human Nature’s warehouse to involve ourselves with inventory taking. I soon realized that having only coffee for breakfast is not the best idea when walking around an un-air conditioned Filipino warehouse for several hours. Some of our coworkers from the office that were in attendance took us out to lunch, and after inventory we all went out to a restaurant called Silantro, a self described “Fil-Mex” restaurant. Complete with an image of Abraham Lincoln in a lucha libre mask, this restaurant did not fail in its attempt to mix cultures.

To mention briefly the reason I am here (see: internship), I continued to research waste management in the Philippines, and drafted an email regarding the petition for cosmetic refill stations to be available in commercial stores. I hope to send this out to various colleges’ student affairs offices, who would ideally pass the petition along to student environmental groups on their campus. You can check out the petition here.

Apologies for the long update again (and the lack of promised jeepney and tricycle pics). More to come!

Arriving in the Philippines

Hello all! This will be my first real post and there’s a lot to cover so buckle in! I plan to start updating this blog at least twice a week (or more if there’s something particularly interesting to cover). As of this moment, I am sitting in a coffee shop with free wifi for 2 hours waiting on my Vietnamese latte. But for the rest of this update, I’ll be talking about the last several days, starting at the airport in Manila.

The actual flight to the Philippines was pretty long and boring, so I won’t get into that, but the food on the airplane was actually pretty decent. What’s the deal, indeed! I exchanged around $200 and felt like a very rich man carrying around over 10,000 pesos in my pocket. The rest of the interns and I all headed outside to get rides from Dr. Amoloza’s relatives, and my glasses immediately fogged up due to the heat and humidity. I think I’m still adjusting to the weather, but at least its predictable and constant, unlike the fluctuations I’m so used to back in Illinois.

We all packed into a few vans and we were off through the outskirts of the city. One thing that I noticed (and will continue to notice, if the past couple days is of any indication) is how tangible inequality is here. On one side of the highway were newly built residential high rises ; directly across the highway were slums. Through taking Development Economics and reading up on various theories of development in my own time (would recommend), I had been introduced to the Kuznets curve, shown here below. For those unfamiliar, it essentially models how as an economy develops, inequality initially rises and then eventually decreases as a result of market forces. The [somewhat pixelated] graph is below:

Kuznets curve

Even though I was aware of this idea, seeing it in person was really rather shocking. We absolutely have similar inequality issues in America, but I’d say we’re much better at segregating the rich from the poor (yay) – evidently not the case here.

Once we left Metro Manila, we made out way to Los Baños, and settled into our hotel. A few friends and I ended up venturing into town, where I tried my first Filipino mango (incredible). A total of 6 of us representing 3 races [or 4, depending on if you want to count Latinx as a race] and two nationalities, we were quite the sight to behold in this mostly homogenous city, and nearly everyone we passed did a double take. My roommate Lark, a 6’3″ bearded white man – tall even in America – is positively a giant here. It was abundantly clear we were not locals.

Me, with a tasty mango and a jean jacket I regret not buying

Heading back into town after taking a pit stop at the hotel, me and two other friends went to grab dinner. A few minutes after we took a seat outside, our attention turned to a sparking power line across the street, resulting in a live wire falling down and onto the sidewalk. Half the street went pitch black, and we ended up talking to some people at a table nearby about it. Turns out they were students from the University of the Philippines Los Banños, and after dinner we met up with them for some – ahem – age appropriate endeavors.

An example of what power lines look like in Los Baños

The next day (Wednesday) we spent with more of Dr. Amoloza’s family to learn some Tagalog and a brief history of the Philippines. In the evening, we took a jeepney to a restaurant, where I ate two extremely hot small red peppers and enjoyed some classic Filipino cuisine. The next day (Thursday), Lark and I headed to Santa Rosa with Kuya Mellord who showed us briefly around the place. Our apartment is small but nice, with a faint smell of mildew/mold in the air that we are still combating. We are surrounded by very developed outlet malls, and didrectly next to our apartment is a shanty town – another example of the extremely visible inequality present. Lark and I walked through it an checked out some of the shops, and nearly all the children stared and smiled at us, particularly Lark the Giant.

Our time at Human Nature has been brief but enjoyable, as everyone at the office is very kind and friendly. Friday was our first full day in the office, and I have begun to conduct some research on chemical pollution in the Philippines, waste disposal infrastructure, and how to acquire 493 thousand more signatures for a petition to allow refill stations for cosmetics and household products, to reduce plastic waste. This last part is the biggest project I’ll be working on, and I have some ideas (such as reaching out to environmental groups on various campuses) on how to achieve it.

PHEW! I will be more detailed in the next blog post, and include some pictures of the jeepneys and tricyles I have so familiarized myself with. Me and Lark are planning on going to Mt. Taal soon, so I will also report back on that. More to come!