Saturday, December 15, 2018

President Duterte Rings Balangiga Bell

Duterte welcomes the return of the bells from the United States

After over a century away, the bells of Balangiga were returned by the United States to the Philippines. In a handover ceremony on December 15, 2018 President Rodrigo Duterte accepted them, and the bell was rung on the island of Samar for the first time since 1901.

Duterte's Remarks Accepting the Balangiga Bells

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Kuya Culture in the Philippines

Filipino masons smoothing concrete at a construction site

In modern-day Philippines, a westerner-traveler could be forgiven at first glance of its bustling cities, English-speaking natives, and tourist-friendly resorts to conclude certain things about this vast archipelago nation. You might find it familiar. In fact, many of my observations of the cultures of the world start by noticing the differences, but taking some comforts in the similarities. On a short trip, you might even believe you have the country figured out. After all, we all belong to the human race. Why should we be so different?

I mentioned "short trip," because its easier to be somewhere for a short time; you see the top recommended sights, try the local flavors, maybe even catch a local festival of some sort. Done! Subtract that from the bucket list. I've now "been there." It actually is comforting to think we aren't all so different, and you'd be right for the most part; we're not. Our individual capabilities, our dreams, our passions - they are not so different. However, the way we do things - informed by history, religion, physical environment, economic capability, and tradition - indeed can be unique to place or nationality.

If you have spent any time in the Philippines, you know there are labels of respect that are frequently utilized. Beyond the ubiquitous "ma'am" and "sir," there are two other titles: "ate" (older sister) and "kuya" (older brother), among others. Yes, ate and kuya are terms of respect rigorously used within the the family structure, but they are also used commonly in direct reference to familiar people older than oneself (although different than a parent or grandparent) throughout the culture. On the surface, this doesn't seem to be of significant consequence, but in my many months spent in the Philippines, not only have I been "Kuya Mark" to many, but I see kuya so extensively used that it suggests Filipinos have an inherent brotherhood among themselves... as well as with foreigners who choose to accept and integrate into the culture! Your jeepney driver can be kuya. Your neighbor from whom you try to buy beer at his house in the middle of the night can be kuya. A stranger on the street in another town from whom you ask directions can be kuya. When you lend a hand to make a situation work, I believe you are being a kuya.

When I am here, I feel and see a people linked together not by skin color, ideology, or class. What I see here is not a culture that seeks an offense as the best defense, but a creed-based society. I think it is more than pure etiquette that strangers easily interact with strangers, foreigners are made to feel welcome, empathy reigns over sarcasm, and there is a brotherly bond that ties people together in a way that (though not without confrontation or moral failure) seems to make society work. Yes, every culture has its standards and rules, but I think one based so universally to the concept of respect is one that might provide some model for other nations, and indeed the world.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

In Flight (2018) - Tacloban 5 Years Post-Yolanda

A remake of a video I made for All Hands Volunteers celebrating the resilience and growth of the people and cityof Tacloban on the 5th anniversary of Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Life Between the Bookends

Maybe life isn't all about the ending point... certainly not about the beginning; these are bookends, or perhaps punctuation. Life is all about the middle. Strange, because most of life feels like it's building up to something - the best is always yet to come! However, what if the best is now? We thrive in always building to be stronger and better, but we ought not be awaiting a crescendo or a grand finale. Rather than a perfectly crafted symphony, life is more of an impromptu jazz jam session. Preparation certainly makes us our best, but the sweet stuff comes in the moment. We take turns stepping up to shine, while most of the time we support, try to keep up, and seek to produce something excellent, unique, and beautiful.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Dance in Peace - In Memory of Nita Lehrack

Blond woman with glasses looking away

Not everyone gets a live-in godmother. For most, I imagine godparents are useful for a ceremony or are honorary title holders. Mine resided just across the hall for much of my early life. If you knew her at all, you know she always had an opinion - not one on one thing, but an opinion about everything. She was an athlete, a videographer, a storyteller... an entertainer. She took the role of deejay at a simple church St. Patrick's Day party and made herself an annual multi-act producer of lip sync concerts. She entertained our ideas and came up with grander versions, such as when I ran for my first student council office in grade school - she recommended I appeal to my voters in the oratory style of Martin Luther King, Jr. She indulged her grandchildren in what they enjoyed much in the same vigor as she shared music, dancing, basketball, and video-making with her children and me. I even did my first karaoke with her.

These are all now fond memories.

She was also a great giver of gifts; yes, astute at recognizing and attaining thoughtful things to put in boxes on special occasions, but to me, at least, she was able to bestow some others quite monumental. She was my mom's best friend for more than my whole life - a companionship that bonded two families and gave wind to each other's wings. And as my godmother, she gave me the lens to discover the tenet of forgiveness - a complicated process that recognizes both failure and dignity in some inner and outward quest for peace.

It's a quieter place now without you here, Nita, but perhaps that is the sound of you having found your own peace in which to rest... or more probably - in which to dance with angels.

Nita Lehrack
Called into Peace - August 21st, 2018
Remembered Well by Those Whom Her Spirit Touched 


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Three Promises If You Pass 77

There is a lot of uncertainty in DC regarding Initiative 77 on the ballot this week and what it will actually accomplish or devastate. If you want to know my credentials, I have worked in the restaurant industry for the better part of the past 25 years in California, Maryland, Hawaii, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC. And I have a degree in economics. I currently am a tipped employee in a restaurant in our nation's capital, and I have three promises for you if you enact this proposal that seeks to give me an hourly wage raise that I do not want:

Dining will get more expensive. I know the intention here is to get businesses to pay their staff better, especially at the lower level small places where people - often immigrants - are finding it very difficult to make ends meet on just over $3 an hour plus tips. DC is a liberal city, obvious liberal answer is to create an artificial price floor for labor above that which the market has determined. This will increase the costs of running a full-service restaurant significantly, and menu items across the board will see a jump as all operators struggle to provide a great product and still turn a profit. This will be a city-wide phenomenon, as all restaurants will feel the pressure, and we can infer that DC voters are stating that they don't mind paying more to help those less fortunate. You will get your chance to pay more at the end of your meal. In any scenario, the customers will be paying the wages of the staff - tipping or not.

Being a food server will change. Proponents of Initiative 77 claim to have the welfare of the employee in mind with their vote. Some restaurants may choose to abolish tipping (chefs here in DC have already openly pondered this, although with paying their cooks more as and end goal), which will result in many of the best and most experienced in our field looking for work in Maryland or Virginia, or another state where they can try to earn what they believe is their true market value. Some restaurants will get by with a minimum wage service staff. Due to the higher cost of labor, shifts will be limited to 40 hours or less with no opportunity to work overtime shifts. Expect restaurants to adjust their model to utilize fewer bodies - a bartender, a manager, and some food runners can serve a small restaurant, and they can get rid of the seasoned waitstaff (I've seen this in California.) Servers, bussers, and food runners, the tip credit allows you to be an affordable luxury to your restaurant; calculations will be made to determine which luxuries need to be restricted or eliminated.

Restaurants will close. Obviously, people will still dine out, but where? How will restaurants restructure, and how will patrons adjust their choices? There are so many young establishments in DC that are small businesses; will they be able to weather the storm? Will investors seek other markets? Will talented chefs take their cuisine to other cities? There are many variables, but there are already an overabundance of restaurants in Washington; some sort of purge might not be the worst thing in the long run, but what if the places that are willing to cut corners are the ones best positioned to make it through? People will cite other states whose restaurants manage to pay these higher wages and survive, but these situations should not be equated for a few reasons - one being they are states, not cities bordered by two states within walking distance.   

You are free to disagree with any of these claims and more, but the majority of us in the service industry are not asking for this. The best among us show up and work long hours to try as best we can to take care of our guests and earn a proper reward for our hospitality. This proposal threatens our ability to prosper, and I hope you will at least defer to those of us who have to live with your decision.

NO on 77.