Friday, April 27, 2012

Oh Lordy Lord! Think of the Children!

I got really riled the other day when I read this article about a woman named Cathy Samford who was fired from her job as a volleyball coach and science teacher at the Heritage Christian Academy in Texas because she was - gasp! - pregnant out of wedlock.

In defense of the school's decision, the article quoted the academy's headmaster Dr. Ron Taylor, who said, "How's it going to look to a little fourth-grade girl that sees she's pregnant and she's not married?"  

That's the same bullshit line I heard from some politicians who opposed legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.

"What kind of message are we sending to our children?"

You know what?  A lot of kids aren't as ignorant or dumb as the people who purport to shield them from the harsh realities of life must think they are.

Hey Dr. Taylor!  Ask your fourth grade girls this question:

"Girls, do you think a woman who is pregnant without being married should be fired from her job just weeks before she is going to have her baby and lose her health insurance which would cover a lot of her medical bills?"

I bet you the majority of those girls, if asked, would say that Ms. Samford should not be fired.

It just so happens that I conducted a very unscientific poll of a lone third grade girl, my daughter.  I just gave her a quick summary of the situation and asked her if the school was right or wrong to fire her.

Her answer was "It's wrong."

I asked her why it was wrong.  After pausing a few seconds, she said, "Because now she has no money."  There you go Dr. Taylor.  Out of the mouths of babes.

I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Dr. Taylor was one of those self-styled "pro-life" types who opposes abortion even in cases of rape, incest, or medical reasons.  Funny thing is, if Ms. Samford had gotten an abortion in the early stages of her pregnancy, her school would have been none the wiser and she would have still had her job today.

Then again, "pro-life" just means forced birth.  What happens after the birth is not Dr. Taylor's concern.  Too bad Cathy Samford.  You made your choice and now you have to suffer the consequences, along with that out-of-wedlock child you're going to have.  Take that you slut!

And here's where the misogyny really kicks in.  If Cathy Samford had been Carl Samford and had impregnated a woman to whom he was not married but they were co-habiting, he could have easily kept it hidden from the school and need not have feared losing his job.  It's only the pregnant unmarried women who ever seem to have to worry about getting shafted by these kinds of rules.  And just remember folks, South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint is on record as saying that he wants it to be illegal for unmarried pregnant women to be teachers.  That's the American Taliban for you.

I don't know if Cathy Samford has delivered her baby yet, but I hope she has a healthy child.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

No True Buddhist

When I read about a group of Buddhists protesting a Muslim mosque on alleged Buddhist holy ground, I couldn't help but wonder how that jibed with one of the central teachings of Buddhism, namely, that one must not be attached to the material things of this world.  I guess they're not True Buddhists!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Philippines/Taiwan Trip - September 1, 2011 - I'm On Top of the World!

After the SYS Memorial, our next stop was Taipei's most famous landmark, Taipei 101.  For a brief time, it was the tallest building in the world, until it was supplanted by that tower in Dubai.  Now it's #2, unless someone else has built a bigger tower recently that I'm not aware of.

Not only is Taipei 101 the tallest building in Taiwan, it is way taller than any building in Taipei, which thankfully made it very easy for us to find our way there on foot.  While the four of us trudged towards the tower, it rained off and on, but fortunately it was a light rain.  The downside was that the rain and cloudy skies weren't good for taking photographs, like this picture below that I took of my wife and kids with Taipei 101 looming up behind them.  To get this shot, I got down on the pavement so that I could get my family and the tower in the same frame.

Before making our way up to the the observation level, we decided to take a load off our feet and get a bite to eat in Taipei 101's luxurious shopping mall.  I didn't take any pictures of it, but Nino has plenty of pictures here to give you an idea of the scale of it (it has multiple levels).

After that, we bought our tickets and went up the incredibly fast elevators (among the world's fastest) to the Indoor Observation Deck on the 89th Floor.  There is also an Outdoor Observatory on the 91st Floor, but due to the inclement weather, access to it was closed for the day when we got there.

The observatory offers commanding views of the city in all four directions.  On each side, to help you figure out what you are looking at, there are large interactive screens where you can touch the buildings or other sites displayed and it will tell you what it is.

I was able to easily spot our hotel and take a photo of it as seen from Taipei 101.

After taking in the impressive vistas, diminished as they were by the clouds and rain, the object of our attention turned to the ubiqituous Damper Babies.  The Damper Babies are basically these cute animated characters, sort of like Teletubbies, who explain in the short video below Taipei 101's damper, which is a structure that serves to stabilize the building during strong winds. 

I didn't take any pictures of the damper, but below is one from the Wikipedia page for Taipei 101.  For some reason, it makes me think of the derelict ship in the movie Event Horizon.

There were also plenty of Damper Baby statues for posing with in pictures, of which my wife and kids availed themselves.

Other photo opportunities involved posing in front of pictures of Taipei 101, one of which my son used to good effect.

After we had our fill of the Observatory, we walked down a flight of stairs and encountered a shop displaying rather ornate and extremely expensive jade figurines.  I didn't take pictures, but if you want to check some of it out, this blog post at Oz Soap Box has several photos.  Just scroll down to the bottom.
We lingered awhile in the jade shop mainly because my wife wanted to look at and possibly buy something, but fortunately her good sense prevailed!  With that, we took the elevator back down and prepared for the trudge back to our hotel, though I managed to get one more shot of Taipei 101.
While I complained about how the cloudy skies made for crappy photos during the day, I have to say I like how this night shot turned out.  The clouds in this photo serve to create a smoky effect.
Our first day in Taipei was not finished yet, as we still had a night market to find on our way back to the hotel, but that can wait for another post.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Philippines Trip - September 1, 2011 - On to Taipei

After recuperating at the Shangri-la in Mactan on August 30th, the next day we flew back to Hong Kong for a one night stay before heading on to the next leg of our trip, Taipei in Taiwan.  We arrived in Hong Kong around 3 P.M. local time, and after getting settled into our room at the Regal Airport Hotel, which is just a short walk from the airport itself, we took the Airport Express train into Central to meet a professional acquaintaince of mine at a noodle restaurant at the IFC Mall.

The next day we returned to the airport and caught our flight on EVA Air to Taipei.  If memory serves, our flight departed around 10:30 A.M. and the flight was about an hour and a half at most.

So, why were we going to Taipei, you might ask.  After our first visit to the Philippines in 2004, I thought that on each future trip we could take the opportunity to visit a different city in Asia for a few days after leaving the Philippines.  In 2007, Hong Kong was the obvious choice, because it was a stop over during the flights between the Philippines and New York. 

For the 2011 trip, I considered several different possibilities.  One was to stay in Hong Kong again, but to use it as a launch pad for ferry trips to Macau and Guangzhou (Canton).  Another was to spend several days in Shanghai.  The other option was Taipei.  Part of the appeal for me to visit Taipei was the chance to support with my tourist dollars a democratic Chinese state rather than the authoritarian Peoples Republic of China.  I also felt it would be a friendlier place for Americans to visit than the mainland.  While I doubt that American tourists face overt hostility when visiting the PRC, I do know that whenever the occasional international dispute between the United States and the PRC occurs, outbursts of anti-American behavior does happen.  Taipei was also closer to Hong Kong than Shanghai, and I didn't think my 8 and 10 year old kids would enjoy day trips to Guangzhou and Macau, so Taipei it was.

Me being the meticulous travel planner I am, I consulted my copy of The Rough Guide to Taiwan to see what places we might like to visit as well as where we should stay.  I also did some research on the Internet, where I eventually came across a blog called My Kafkaesque Life by a Slovenian expat named Nino who is currently living in Taipei.  Nino's writes about virtually any place in Taipei you could think of seeing, and being an avid photographer, his posts contain lots of photographs that really bring the sights to life in a way that tour guide books do not.  If you ever plan to visit Taipei, or Taiwan in general, as he has visited other parts of the island, then Nino's blog is immensely helpful in helping you figure out where you want to go and what you can expect.  Just don't ask him to make any reservations or purchase any tickets for you!  ;-)

So, before our flight even touched down in Taoyuan International Airport, I already had planned exactly what we were going to do on our first day in Taipei.  Step one, of course, was to hook up with our ride to our hotel, the Shangri-la Far Eastern Plaza in Taipei's Xinyi district.  If memory serves, it is the tallest hotel in Taipei, and I specifically booked us a room with a view of Taipei 101, the second tallest building in the world.  Below is a picture of Taipei 101 as seen from our room.  As you can see, the sky was rather overcast and it rained off and on throughout the day.

Once we were settled in our room, my daughter wasted no time in sprawling on the couch in one of the bath robes that were provided to us.

But there was little time to relax, as we had an ambitious itinerary planned for the day.  The first stop was the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, where I looked forward to seeing the changing of the guard, which is performed at the top of every hour.  I was hoping we could catch the 3:00 P.M. performance.  After consulting with the door men at our hotel, we were able to find a bus stop where we caught the bus that would drop us off near the Memorial Hall.

Unfortunately, the changing of the guard ceremony was already underway when we got there.  I tried taking some pictures of the ceremony, but the room was not very well lit and only one shot came out even halfway decent.

Silently overlooking the ceremony was a large statue of Sun Yat Sen himself seated in a chair, reminding me of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.  Again, due to the lack of light, the picture did not come out well, with the famous Chinese nationalist largely bathed in shadow.  I used to have a photo editing program that allowed me to brighten dark pictures like this in order to make it more visible, but it seems to have been lost when the computer guy updated my computer to Windows 7.

If you want to watch a video of the changing of the guard ceremony, I found the video below on Youtube:

Nino also has a post on his blog here about his visit to the SYS Memorial Center, and unlike me, he was fortunate to have lots of sunshine for his photos!

After the changing of the guard ceremony was over, we spent about an hour looking at some of the exhibits on display about the early 20th century history of China, including the war with Japan in the 1930's, as well as lots of photographs of Sun Yat Sen and his family.  Needless to say, my kids were bored and with that, it was time to move on to the next destination of the day, Taipei 101.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Philippines Trip - August 29 - 30, 2011 - The Perfect Storm


So, after our pleasant little diversion at the Loon Macaques Sanctuary, we headed back to Mia and Stuart's house.  As the miles passed by, I drank more and more of that bottle of chocolate milk I had purchased a couple of hours earlier.

It had been a long time since I had drank milk.  Because of my lactose intolerance problem, I normally drink soy milk.   However, my body is not consistent when it comes to dairy products.  For instance, I generally have no problem eating yogurt.  I eagerly devour pizza covered with mozzarella cheese and suffer no ill effects.   Apart from milk, probably the only other dairy product that I can't handle is ricotta cheese.  Usually the worst I suffer is a bout of diarrhea and within an hour I am back to normal.  While I was drinking the chocolate milk, the possibility of developing that urgent need to suddenly evacuate my bowels was there in my mind, but I figured I knew the worst I could expect.

By the time we had gotten back to Mia and Stuart's house, I think I was already beginning to feel those first signs that trouble might be afoot.  But that was not the only problem.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, to get back and forth from Cebu to Bohol, we rode the fast ferry.  Me being the organized planner that I am (at least when it comes to planning vacations), I had ordered the tickets for the Supercat fast ferry before we had left the United States.  Our original departure date from Bohol back to Cebu was supposed to be Monday, August 29.  When Stuart had e-mailed me that they planned to take us to Danao Adventure Park on that day, I contacted Supercat and told them that instead of August 29, we needed to change our reservations for the trip back to Cebu to August 30.  They answered me acknowledging the change in the itinerary.

When we had arrived at the Supercat terminal the previous week to board the ferry for the trip to Bohol, we were also given our tickets for the return trip back to Cebu.  In retrospect, I should have looked at them when they were given to me, but I didn't.   So, back at the house in Loon, hoping against all hope that I would avert the impending shit storm that was waiting to unleash its fury on me, I pulled out our Supercat ferry tickets to give them a look over to make sure everything was in order and then my jaw hit the floor.  The date on the tickets for the return trip to Bohol was Monday, August 29, 2011.

"Oh, Mia!" I called out to my lovely sister-in-law, "I think we have a problem here."   I explained the situation to her and she said she would call the ferry company, but she cautioned me that there could be a problem because it was a holiday in the Philippines (National Heroes Day, I believe), which meant that the ferry office would have a skeleton crew and the ferry for the next day might be sold out.

My sister-in-law Mia at work in her garden.

The first thing you need to understand about Mia is that she is a lawyer who often argues cases in court before a judge.  Sure, she may look sweet and innocent enough in the picture above, but from the way she argued my case on the phone with whoever the hapless person was at the Supercat ferry who had the misfortune to answer her phone call, I could get a sense of what it must be like to be grilled by her on the witness stand in a court room.

Mia relentlessly hammered away at the Supercat representative, pointing out that they had acknowledged by e-mail the change of date of our departure before my family and I had even left the Philippines.  She refused to take no for an answer and kept insisting that the ferry company had to provide us with tickets for the 12:00 ferry ride to Bohol the next day.

I think it was around this time that I was enduring my first attacks of the brown tide.  To my dismay, it kept coming on wave after wave far beyond what I would have expected.  But that was not the worst of it.  At that cafeteria back at Danao Adventure Park hours earlier, I ate a plate full of thick noodles.  Now I was starting to feel this heavy sensation in my chest.   While I was sitting on the toilet unleashing a veritable waterfall of diarrhea, I felt the unmistakeable need to puke.  Thankfully, the bathroom sink was just a couple of feet in front of me, so as soon as I felt a lull in shitstorm, I leaned forward and heaved into the sink what looked like the equivalent of a bowl of noodle soup.  And then I heaved some more.

I couldn't help but ponder the terrible arc of my day.  That morning, I had zipped across a canyon on the Suislide and did The Plunge.  I had gone from feeling like hot shit to unleashing hot shit.  And from there, my stomach had become a Mount Vesuvius of vomit.

During a merciful lull in my excretory activities there was some news to cheer me up.  Mia informed me that her negotiations were successful and that tomorrow the Supercat would have tickets for us for the 12:00 fast ferry to Cebu.

Sadly though, the puking continued.  Even worse, the sink in our bathroom, filled to capacity with my vomit, was clogged and would not drain.  I was also becoming rather dehydrated, as I could not hold any fluids down.  At one point, my wife and her sisters Mia and Myla (who was staying with us that night) discussed the possibility of taking me to the hospital, but I wasn't enthusiastic about that idea.

Weakened though I was, I undertook the unpleasant task of emptying the bathroom sink of my afternoon lunch by dipping a small cup into it and then pouring it into the toilet.   It was a rather tedious affair that probably took the better part of an hour before the sink was largely empty.  After that, I collapsed onto the bed, while Mia was able to unclog the drain and my poor sister-in-law Myla mopped the floor.   An inglorious end to what had initially been a glorious day.  And all because of my stupidity in drinking a bottle of chocolate milk.

During the night, I was able at last to sip and hold down some Gatorade.  The next morning we gathered all our things and rode in Stuart's truck to my wife's parents house in Tagbilaran.  A little later we got our tickets and we drove to the pier, where we said goodbye to the family before entering the ferry terminal.  It had been four years since we had last visited them and hopefully it won't be that long before we see them again.

The ferry ride was uneventful, and a little over an hour and a half later we caught our taxi to take us to the beautiful Shangri-la resort in Mactan.   We ate dinner at one of the restaurants in the resort and then relaxed in one of the pools while my daughter made repeated runs down the water slide.  It was time for some rest and recovery before moving on to the next leg of our trip, the city of Taipei in Taiwan.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Happy Palm Sunday

Today, I am going to do something I haven't done in a long time, I am going to attend a Sunday Mass.  It couldn't be a better day actually, as today is Palm Sunday, the day when our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and the people laid down palm leaves in front of him.  And like Christ entering Jerusalem, I will reenter the church that I abandoned more than two decades ago, humble in heart and asking for acceptance and forgiveness.