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.  

Monday, October 6, 2014

The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

It's the end of my second week in Baguio, third week in the Philippines, and first week of actual teaching. I'm starting to feel at home here. I have now mastered two different jeepney routes, the Guisad route--which will take me to the mall, restaurants, bars, and basements filled with second hand clothes, and the Trinidad route, which I learned because I played the violin for a church in Trinidad which was welcoming Bishop Pacao of the Diocese of the North Central Philippines this Sunday. I found the nearby grocery store, and the other day I corrected an elementary student who called me David, “that's Sir David”.

I think of the relationship between Trinidad and Baguio as similar to that between Queens and New York, they definitely are different entities, but not entirely distinct. Also Trinidad seems a little bit more suburban, bordering on rural. Perhaps it's not a good metaphor, but hopefully you get the picture, for clarity's sake I'm going to abandon it.


By the way, full disclosure, I may make it sound like riding jeepney's is very difficult, but it really isn't. The places they're going is written on the side, and you only need to know two words, “palah” (spelling aproximate) which is stop, and “bayat po” which you say when you give the driver your 8 pesos (okay it's three words, “po” is just an honorific though)

A Jeepney leaving the Military School

You remember I mentioned Fray the driver, who drove me out of Manila and up to Baguio in the middle of Typhoon Mario. Well mostly he works in Manila, but his family is based in Trinidad, and here in Baguio his wife has been a good friend, driving me around after church on Sundays and showing me the sights of Baguio, while instructing me in how to get around and where to find the things I need. Today she showed me around Trinidad, the strawberry market which borders on the strawberry farms, the vegetable market, and Benguet University. I cannot tell you how glad I was to see the vegetable market, I never realized how much I liked fresh vegetables until I thought I was going to have to go without them for a year. The vegetable market is an enormous tent where farmers from up north sell their produce and grocers and and restauranteurs from Manila buy giant bushels of it. Luckily you can also pick up vegetables in as small an amount as a kilo. At this time of year the strawberry market is mostly souvenir stands and overpriced preserves, but apparently during strawberry season it is a major tourist attraction.

As my title suggests, I've been finding as I've gotten used to this place that many things are basically the same, but there is usually some twist to remind me that I'm not in Kansas anymore. For example, the church choir I played with is exactly like choirs at home, filled with sweetly indomitable mothers who will simply not believe that a skinny young man is full after only one serving. The difference is in the food they keep heaping on my plate at the church luncheon: liver, goat, great piles of rice, and some strangely chewy type of meat. I ask what it is, “uncooked!” shouts someone, I laugh, nope, not a joke, it really is intentionally undercooked goat meat, cooked enough to take the sauce, but not enough to ruin that texture. By the way, everything is delicious, I only regret asking a little bit. Another example is the entertainment of the church lunch, the Sunday school shyly sings a song, a group of youth giggle their way through a song and dance, there is a raffle to raise funds for the church; the first prize? A goat (second prize was a chicken).


You can find most of your fast food cravings here in Baguio: McDonalds, KFC, and some Philippine specific fast food like Jollibee which is a fried chicken place. But of course all of these places serve their food with a bunch of rice. And the restaurants, it seems to me, are significantly cleaner.
The biggest culture shock for me still has more to do with which end of the classroom I'm standing on than which side of the globe. The other day there were some kids shouting in the hall while I was talking to the class. I asked someone to shut the door and by golly a kid jumped up and did it! Maybe that doesn't seem like such a big deal, but remember I'm still getting used to the sensations of power. And then there's the feeling of shushing a crowd of kids and listening to the sound of momentary silence (until the whispering comes back like waves on the shore). I have my own classroom now, with a desk and everything, though I won't be teaching in there until the next grading period starts. I have a desk in the faculty room as well, where I get to participate in all that secret backroom voodoo that we speculated about as kids (mostly I read my textbook, comb my hair and go on facebook). Sometimes kids knock on the door and say “permission to enter teachers?” I cannot overemphasize how tickled I am by this.

Did I mention that I taught a class last week on the 20th century in music? “oooh” I think, “Debussy, Ravel, Schoenberg!” nope, not that twentieth century. Gather round children, today we're talking about Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Disco. (at one point in class I used the phrase “whatever it is you kids are listening to these days”).

Which brings me to the final bullet in my journal, what do these kids listen to? Well the first rule I've learned is that no matter where you go in the world, you can't escape Top 40 American pop music. But what else? Maybe Korean pop, or J-pop? Or some native Igarot folk songs? Nope, the predominant music you hear from live music bars and people's porches all over Baguio is good ol country music. Kenny Rodgers is a special favorite. So there's a kick in the pants for all my snobby New Yorkers, on the other side of the world people are still singing God Bless Texas.  

Thursday, September 25, 2014

First Week: Travel, Typhoons and being a Teacher

Well I've been in the Philippines for just a little over a week now and I think it's about time for a blog post. It'll be a long one, since I've been slacking in my blogging so far. Here's what I've been doing all week. Monday was spent in the air and in airports; since I crossed the international date line at some point I actually landed in Manila on Tuesday night after leaving New York on Monday morning. In the airport I was picked up by Fray, an employee of the church here in the Philippines and an excellent friend and guide. Manila is a fantastic city. It reminds me of New York City, except in Manila I would be much too afraid to jay walk, and the people in the stores are much more polite. I only spent a few days in Manila, and one of them was lost to jet-lag, as I settled down for a nap and ended up sleeping all day, an accident I've repeated once or twice since. Mostly in Manila I wandered around the lovely grounds of the Church center, an island of greenery in the busy metropolis, and sat in the Starbucks down the block, trying to get used to people calling me "Sir".

 The Episcopal Church Center in Manila. By the way, there are dogs everywhere 

 Filipinos are good at Graffiti 

Metro Manila peaking up from behind the trees of the church center 

On Thursday evening I was sitting in Starbucks when it started raining, the kind of downpour I associate with short summer storms back home. I tried to decide whether I should get wet or try to wait it out, and after about 20 minutes decided to just get wet. It continued for four days. This, I would learn, was Typhoon Mario. The next day Fray drove me through it for the six hour drive to Baguio, through the flooded streets of Manila and the rain soaked roadside towns where children sat with fishing poles to catch tilapia in the rising swampland. So my first introduction to Baguio was to a grey city with water running in streams down the hilly streets.

 Typhoon Mario flooding the streets and yards of Manila

Long rainy drive

I have since found Baguio to be a beautiful city. Brightly colored houses crowd each other on the steep hillsides, overlooking the steep and narrow streets where brightly colored jeepneys (a kind of public transportation looking like a stretched out jeep, driven with the aggression and abandon of a NYC cabbie) battle for space with cars, motorcycles and pedestrians. Wherever there is a break in the slightly ramshackle buildings one can see lovely views of the Cordillera highlands.

I am staying now in the Easter College Hotel, in one of the four rooms maintained by the School of Hospitality. I haven't started teaching yet, that will begin on Monday. This week is intermurals for the high school department (Easter College has an elementary department, high school, and college) so yesterday was a pep rally and field day, and today and tomorrow is given over to ball games. I was asked to judge the cheering competition, which was truly impressive. Each class had planned and choreographed their own cheer, complete with matching shirts, and painted arms and faces. The theme for this year was super heroes, so I was privileged to watch the classes being led in their cheers by Wonder Woman, Hulk and Batman, among others. Since that introduction to the school it has been my pleasure to walk out of my room in the morning to be greeted by groups of students saying "good morning sir"

So that's all for now, mostly I've been exploring Baguio, sitting in the canteen drinking coffee, and practicing the guitar. Next week will be challenging as I begin my teaching for real, but I am excited for it to start, and it seems that the students are too, I've been approached by several of them asking when I'm going to start and if they'll be allowed to join.

These lovely people have been showing me around

Of course I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I'm still fundraising. Any amount donated is greatly appreciated, checks can be sent to Mission Personnel, attn Yanick Fourcand at 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017.

Thank you and blessings from Baguio!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hello friends,

I think it's time for an update. I'm still in the U.S.A, working hard at my fundraising, and starting to realize that I need to worry about doctors, shots, papers, and learning some Tagalog. The fundraising is going well, I'm getting close to 50% of my goal, $10,000. I have been so blessed by the kindnesses of the churches and individuals in my diocese, it makes me realize how much like a family the church is, full of aunts and uncles and cousins who want to help me share that love. I'm trying to start now, but I can't wait until I'm there.

Anyway way, where's there? what am I doing? I will be in Baguio City in the Philippines. Baguio is on Luzon, the largest island, about 6 hours north of Manila, in the mountains. In Baguio, I will be a teacher at Easter College, an Episcopalian run-secondary school, which is to say high school level. I taught Sunday School for a season, and I've had music students, but I really wouldn't say I've ever been a teacher. Still, there was a time when some of my friends called me "Professor", and I'll admit I enjoyed it. I enjoy telling people that I'm going to be a teacher. After all, the disciples called Jesus teacher, I figure it's a good thing to be. I can't wait to learn from my students. It seems to me that learning to teach someone is just learning how to communicate, learning all you can about their lives and minds. And isn't that the whole point?

Here's some pictures of Baguio from the internet.

Monday, July 14, 2014

In missionary training we did a daily bible study in the mornings. One day we tackled the story of Jesus walking on water. I don't have my bible handy, so I'll paraphrase,

"The disciples were in a boat, and a storm picked up. They looked out and saw Jesus walking on water, they were understandably freaked out, but Jesus said 'Don't be scared! I"m not a ghost'. So Peter got out of the boat to try walking on water, and it totally worked! But then he started to sink, so Jesus pulled him out and said 'if you hadn't doubted you wouldn't have sunk'."

I feel that I have a pretty good idea of how this story should go. Peter should have sunk, and swum back to the boat disgraced. The other disciples would have tried to see if they can do better, and whoever walked furthest would be Jesus's Next Top Disciple. That is not what happens. Jesus pulls Peter out, and says, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" (I found my bible). So it was only Peter's doubt that sunk him, neither his worthiness or the power of Jesus are in question, only the strength of Peter's belief. 

I see myself in Peter, taking my first shaking steps out of the boat with my decision to serve with YASC, and feeling the support of the diocese and YASC under my feet. And then I start to sink, as doubts about whether or not I'll be able to meet my fundraising goal plague me. Sinking, I feel Jesus' hand in the form of donations from throughout the diocese, from old friends and from new friends and even from perfect strangers, all wanting to be a part of God's work.

We are all here to do God's work, and are given the power to do it. The only thing which can ever stop us is ourselves, our lack of faith. That is true and will always be true, but it is harder than it sounds. Jesus knows a platitude when he hears one, so he is always there to pull us out when we need it. You just have to get out of the boat. 

So I would like to thank everyone who has contributed so far. Please understand that you are giving more than just money, you are extending a hand of support, and you are joining God's mission.

Also if you'd like to donate, contact me at, or send checks to 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017, attention of Yanick Fourcand.
Thank you, and blessings

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

An introduction

My name is David Holton, I'm 22 years old. Brown hair, pale skin, small build and frequently bearded. I hail from the suburbs outside of New York City, am a harpist, and my favorite cartoon is the Pinky and the Brain.

I think that's enough bio. In the fall I will be travelling to Baguio in the Philippines as part of the Young Adult Service Corps. I continue to exist in a state of nervous excitement, nervous because I still feel very uninformed about what I'll be doing and how to go about doing it, excited because this all is a dream come true. My dad has been asking me for a concise summary of why I want to serve with YASC. So far this is the best I've come up with,

"The world is getting smaller, nations are jostled together like commuters in a crowded subway, everyone in each others space and everyone annoyed. I want to be a friendly smile in that subway, connecting with the individuals which make up a nation, and being a force for world peace through individual friendship."

The personal connections start in this country though. I am attempting to raise $10,000 to help fund this trip, the number is scary, but the number of people who have already started to help is a true blessing. I am travelling as a representative of the Episcopal Church and of the USA, a representative for you all, and as people donate money I feel a community being built around me. I will not be travelling alone, I go surrounded by the love and well-wishes of everyone who gives money, or prayers, and who stays abreast of my life via this blog and the letters I will send. So please, if you feel called to, donate some money to my trip. Checks can be written out the the DFMS (Domestic Foreign Mission Society) with YASC and David Holton written in the memo line, and sent to me at 91 Greenwood Lane, White Plains NY 10607. Please send your prayers as well, and continue to follow the blog! I've always wanted to be writer, I'm excited to have something to write about!