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2010: Patty Chuang Reporting From the Philippines

There and Back Again

The statues in Roxas City.

Cathedral in Roxas City.

Statues and Cathedral in Roxas City, which were right outside the window of our room.

We spent most of last night packing and running last minute errands, because we predicted that today would be chaotic before our flight from Roxas City to Manila (on another island). An appropriate prediction, as we were running all around the city today. Susan already left early this morning. John spent the majority of the morning and afternoon collecting samples to take back to Boston. Molly, Stephanie, and I picked up some goods for our families at the market before meeting up with Jane, Jarvis and other members of the Provincial Health Office one last time.

With the PHO.

With members of the Provincial Health Office (some not pictured as they were out of the office today).

With Charmaine, a member of the PHO.

With Charmaine, a member of the Provincial Health Office, who assisted us greatly.

Many heartfelt goodbyes and photos later, we drove to the airport and jetted off to Manila. Already, I miss the sweet and pungent fragrance of burning rice husks, off-roading in the back of a truck, 10 peso chocolate-dipped ice cream, the rattling tricycle rides and the salty beach winds. Most importantly, I miss the people I have met.

Stephanie, Jane, and Patty.

Stephanie, Jane, and I outside taking a quick break between sampling to take a photo. This entire project would have been impossible without Jane.

With the Dumulag crew!

At the Dumalag municipal health office, with the wonderful people that taught us how to cook/make turon.

It is so amazing to think that out of the 6 billion people in the world, I chanced upon this country and was able to meet the extraordinary people that live here. I am so incredibly lucky that our paths crossed for a few brief moments. Thank you, Roxas City, folks at the Provincial Health Office, and the wonderful citizens of Capiz Province that welcomed us into their homes for our research. To all of you - Salamat Gid!

So...24 days later, a little tanner, the CAWS team has bid farewell to Roxas City, and will leave Manila, Philippines on Sunday. Boston might be freezing, but for us — we will be warmed by the thoughts and memories of friends on the other side of the world.

In Manila, Intramuros.

In Panay, looking at the largest bell in Asia!

All of the CAWS team on a tricycle.

Some will win, Some will lose...

On good days, I like to think of myself as an aspiring engineer or scientist — or maybe just a nutty person obsessed with water. This is science in the most elementary of definitions — spending hours on end in the laboratory, reading until your brain hurts, etc. This is a science of utmost familiarity. But these past four weeks have been a hodgepodge of new concepts that leaves my methodical behavior in the dust. Fieldwork is nothing like research in a laboratory, and the language barrier has put an interesting twist on the entire study. It has shown me that communication and teaching is just as hard, if not harder, than conducting repetitive experiments on my own. I certainly lack the patience to be any kind of proper instructor, but others here (Susan and the rest of the group) have helped in so many ways. I have learned an incredible amount regarding field research, and I could not imagine a better way to spend the month of January.

Sheila showing us the EC-Kit.

We sat down with one of the Sanitary Inspectors, Sheila, for an impromptu sampling training session. She was incredibly receptive and such a great sport!

Today is our last full day in Roxas City. We have our uber-important-super-huge-presentation-thing today (very descriptive, I know) summarizing and presenting the information our CAWS team has collected thus far. A bit intimidating, as it is much too early to even speculate any type of results from what we have thus far. However, we have made some progress in our time here, and we are happy to present it for such an enthusiastic audience.

And as much as I miss the comforts of home, I wish I could stay longer here. Besides the obvious reasons (e.g. sunny weather, proximity to sandy beaches, abundance of mangos), I wish I could stay on a couple more weeks because I simply have not finished my job here. It is only just now that I see that there is so much left to be done for my portion of the research project, and I will be unable to be here for it.The incubator apron still needs modification, in fabric choice and design in particular (needs to include slots for the Colilert tubes, not just the Petrifilm).  At least it gets the general idea across, and I think it is certainly warmer in the apron than in the belt. Unfortunately, I will be unable to experiment much further here before we fly out tomorrow.

For those of you unfamiliar with the EC-Kit, I took the liberty of snapping a few quick photos of what it is. The tubes indicate presence or absence of total coliform bacteria (clear = absence, yellow = presence). One of the difficulties is that the liquid may experience only a slight yellow tint (such as in the photo below), so it can be hard to say when the tube truly experiences a color change.

Colilert tubes after processing.

Then we check to see if the tubes fluoresce under UV light. If it does, it indicates E.coli bacteria within the sample. Plus, I think the photo looks cool:

Colilert tube fluorescing.

Mostly, I just wanted to post this photo because it looked like something from a sci-fi movie.

As far as the EC-Kit goes, I would have liked to become more involved with how it is used throughout the province for the duration of the study, and perhaps even partake in instructing a training session for the EC-Kit. In addition, we could pursue the use of GPS for mapping locations of water sampling, as I have done for the past three weeks. Alas, the clock is ticking.

Baby ... Balut??

(This was such a baffling event for me to witness, it deserves a blog entry of its own.)

A few days ago, on Thursday, John and Stephanie decided to try one of the delicacies in the Philippines: Balut. Balut frequents many of the extreme-eating shows in the Western world (e.g. Fear Factor, Amazing Race Asia, etc.), but can be found at any street vendor here.

Balut is a fertilized duck embryo, about 18 days old. It is eaten in a similar way to hard-boiled eggs, with a pinch of salt.

John and Stephanie possess brave hearts and strong stomachs for attempting this massive feat. Molly equally so for staying on to take photos, while I had to leave the room. I had to pass my camera to others to document this monumental event, as my stomach is much too weak to watch someone eat it. In case any readers are of a similar disposition, I warn you in advance of the following photos...

Stephanie excited to try balut.

Stephanie is excited to try balut!

John drinking the juices inside the balut.

John eating balut.

John is not intimidated by balut.

Inside the balut, at the top.

I was startled to find this photo on my camera - apparently the top of the balut looks like this. I have no idea what part of an embryo I am looking at. A quick Google/Wikipedia search will yield better photos, for you curious (and brave!) readers.

In other work-related news, the incubator vest/apron design looks great! I am trying it tonight, with Susan. It is 11 PM here, so I will sleep with this incubator apron on tonight and see how it compares to the original incubator belt design. This one is certainly more lightweight, but the fabric needs to be thicker for it to double as a UV-light psuedo-darkroom. (Is this making sense to anyone besides me? I'll have a better post later once the design is finalized.)

The Final Countdown

Susan Murcott, our advisor, arrived safely from Ghana on Monday, and we were so glad to see her. She must have some extra energy reserves because she was equally excited to see us as well, despite the lengthy flights. Jarvis Punsalan arrived today, the Provincial Health Officer here in Capiz Province. Our group had conversed with Jarvis on Skype during the fall semester, and now we have a face to match the voice.

The group having dinner.

A candid photo of the group (minus Molly, who was taking the photo) eating at our favorite place (Alma's Restaurant next to Baybay Beach).

The third week of our research is coming to an end, and thus begins the countdown to our final presentation date next Thursday. I realize that, on this blog, I never actually clarified what the EC-Kit is and what I am doing specifically (aside from taking water samples and going to neat places), so I will do so briefly here.

The EC-Kit has two tests for assessing water quality: the Colilert tubes and Petrifilms. The Colilert tubes have a reagent powder that indicates the presence or absence of total coliforms and fecal coliforms (e.g. E. coli) in 10 mL of water. Petrifilm is the cheaper alternative to membrane filtration, and allows for quantitative counts of E. coli and total coliform colonies in 1 mL of sample. Like most microbiological tests, the Colilert test and Petrifilm tests need incubation. However, the incredibly neat aspect to the EC-Kit is that you can incubate the tests using your body heat! Thus, removing the need for expensive incubator machines — and opening up the possibility of widespread use in developing countries.

The EC-Kit will be compared with the Quanti-Tray, which is a widely used and accepted test — but it is very expensive. There are, of course, limitations to both these tests. My goal for this month has been to conduct water quality tests using both EC-Kit and Quanti-Tray, and also explore the limitations (if any) to the EC-Kit by observing the use among the Sanitary Inspectors at the municipal health offices here.

For the past week and a half, I have been working on a revised incubator vest/apron structure for the Petrifilms.  It is a work in progress, and I have no idea how it will turn out. The first trial was a bit of a mess, so I made some revisions and will pick up my second version at the tailor's today. If the template is perfect, then I will invest in more expensive cloth today and have the tailor make 40 more, enough to supply each municipal health office and an extra two for the folks here in Capiz.

Things are far from perfect, and I am skeptical about finishing everything before the end of next week. Yet, I am so content, as I have never worked with a better team of people. I have been truly lucky this month.

Molly at the market, with one of the local fishermen that gaves us a kilo of salted fish!

Molly at the market with one of the local fishermen who gave us a kilo of salted fish!

Patty and Stephanie on the mountains in Mambusao.

Patty and Stephanie on the mountains in Mambusao!

Rain on my Parade

When we woke up on Saturday, the skies were overcast and grey and the air smelled like forthcoming rain. Despite this forecast, our group met up with Jane's family and friends to attend the Ati-Atihan Festival in Kalibo (about a 2.5 to 3 hour drive away). Ati-Atihan is essentially a costume parade with music, and people from all over the island come to see the painted faces and vibrant costumes. I was worried that we would miss out on a good experience due to the pouring rain, and many of the people here believe that the rain will make you sick. However, upon our arrival to Kalibo, it was pleasantly clear that we were not the only ones willing to brave the weather!

Stephanie, Molly, Patty, and John in the back of a tricycle in the rain.

Stephanie, Molly, Patty, and John in the back of a tricycle in the rain.  It was POURING!

After waiting for an hour or so, we heard fervent drumming in the distance, indicating the start of the parade. Masses of people stand on the sides of the streets or lean over the balconies of nearby businesses and residential areas to observe the show. While our group stood underneath a canopy for shelter, I darted in and out of the crowds, sheltering my camera with my rain jacket, like some ninja-photographer-tourist hybrid. I took a million photos, as I possess a very unprofessional point-and-shoot digital camera and could never be assured of photo quality. Only a choice few photos shown here, but will likely post an album or somesuch later.

Costumes at Ati-Atihan.

These were my favorite, they reminded me of something out of The Lion King!

Costumes at Ati-Atihan.

Another group of costumes, which we aptly named "The Highlighters group." The neon colors really stood out against the grey backdrop. I think this is the group that won the costume contest!

Stephanie and Patty dancing in the street.

Stephanie and I danced with folks decked out in incredibly creative costumes. Their entire outfits were covered in shells that pleasantly rattled as they danced!

Cheesing at Kalibo.

Molly, Stephanie, and Jo (Jane's Sister) smiling amidst the masses of people.

John dancing in the street.

John attempted to blend in with the dancing crowd.

There were also the Ati-Atihan equivalent of wedding crashers. What I mean is that they were basically random groups of people in "costumes" (usually just cross dressing), and they just wandered in and out of the parade, dragging plastic crates of beer and charcoal paint. Rather amusing.

It is difficult to say which was my favorite part - the fact that the drums were so loud I thought my heart was going to leap out of my chest to keep up, or the street dancing. I was unable to capture the photos of the last part of the festival, where we followed the drummers and parade in the throes of the crowd to dance in the rain. Surely the onlookers thought we were all mental. It is true that the rain stops for no one... but luckily neither do we!

Island in the Sun

This week has held a whirlwind of events, and there’s still so much to come! Our first weekend in the Philippines was spent on the beaches of Boracay Island. We spent less than a day there, since the transportation took up most of the weekend. Saturday morning began with some much needed caffeine before we headed out.

In the van, on the way to Boracay Island.
Sitting happily in a van, before they crammed the entire population of the Philippines in the seats. Okay, I exaggerate – but they managed to fit fourteen people (with bags and all) in this vehicle!

After a topsy-turvy four hour van ride, a ferry, and a tricycle ride, we were greeted by the sight of sandy white beaches and translucent turquoise waters. To reward ourselves for surviving the van ride, and to harden our spirits for the return trek, we began the evening with refreshments and enjoyed the sunset.

Plenty of tourists at Boracay, but luckily there was also plenty of beach.
Plenty of tourists at Boracay, but luckily there was also plenty of beach.


San Miguel Pale Pilsen, the #1 beer of the Philippines.  Also the #1 beer of visiting M’Eng students.
San Miguel Pale Pilsen, the #1 beer of the Philippines. Also the #1 beer of visiting M.Eng. students.

Sunday was certainly our day of rest; we enjoyed mango shakes on the shore and dabbled about in the ocean. To avoid the general lethargy that emerges from lounging in the sun all day, I opted to go for the skimboarding lessons offered along the beach (at the price of 250 pesos for an hour or so). Many of the teachers were born in Boracay, and probably knew how to swim before they could walk. Quick tip for those visiting for longer than a day, they also offer lessons in kiteboarding, surfing, scuba diving, and many other aquatic activities.

Anyway, after we absorbed our sufficient fill of Vitamin D, we returned to Roxas City and the reality that exists outside of beach resorts. A reality that is full of fieldwork but also exhilaratingly new as well! John and Molly went with Stephanie and me to several of the sampling sites, so it was nice to get a glimpse into their projects as well.

Some of the highlights of this week included visiting Suhot Springs, which consisted of a lagoon-esque area adjacent to a yawning cave in the mountain. I had no idea such a place could exist…the cave’s air exuded the fragrance of unexplored territory, and stretched out over the tranquil waters and mossy steps.
Suhot springs.

Trying to capture Suhot Springs on camera was an impossible task, but here is my amateur attempt.

Phavorites of the Philippines

Being Foreign: No matter where we go, heads turn and people stare. Having lighter skin color makes us stand out, and it does not help that our group is taller than most of the people here (ok, maybe not in my case, although everyone seems to think I am Japanese). I really appreciate how folks in the Philippines seem to be genuinely excited to have foreign visitors, and have been very welcoming to our group. Passerbys say "Hello!"  and "Happy New Year!" In the states, you only say "Happy New Year" if it's December 31 or January 1st, but here people have been saying it all week. Some passing people even say "Welcome to the Philippines!"  It's really quite nice.  In Manila, we had people stop us to take a photo with us altogether.

A foreigner lost in the Philippines.

A foreigner lost in the Philippines.

The Language: The word "Salamat" - it means "Thank you." Said in a singsong tone, it is very pleasing to hear and say. I have also learned other key phrases, like "good morning/afternoon/day/night" and "I am vegetarian." The language spoken here in Capiz is not the national language of the Philippines (Tagalog), but rather the local dialect of Hiligaynon. It sounds like a mix of Malay and Spanish, with some English terms sprinkled in. It's spoken at a very rapid pace and it is impossible for me to determine when one sentence ends and the other begins.

The Music: The people of the Philippines unabashedly love their American pop music. Both in Manila and Roxas City, it is commonplace to hear the hits of Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Blackeyed Peas, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, and some other artists that I am embarassed to recognize. Music is always blasting at shopfronts and we can hear it throughout the city regardless of where we go. I am pretty sure that I have heard more American pop music here in the Philippines than in the States.

Modes of Transportation: Crossing streets is like playing Toad's Turnpike on Extra in Mariokart. In layman's terms, I mean that it is utter chaos. While many of the drivers appear to be unfazed, driving in the Philippines is certainly not for the faint of heart. However, being in that traffic is a challenge I am happy to accept, solely in exchange for the thrill of riding in a tricycle or jeepney. I am sure for many readers, the term tricycle conjures up childhood memories of training wheels and handlebars with streamers on the side. Well, you could not be further from the truth. Who needs roller coasters when for the low price of 7 to 10 pesos, you can ride a tricycle? A beautifully motorized cluster of people hanging onto the front, sides, and back (and perhaps each other) of a covered seat. Personally, my favorite spot is standing in the back, as it offers the best breeze and the best views.

Tricycles during the day.

Tricycle during the evening in Roxas City.

Tricyles at day and night.

The jeepney is essentially like a van with seats facing inward to the center of the car. The sides are open for ventilation (no windows) and people are packed like sardines. One of my favorite parts of the jeepney is the interesting decor on all sides. There was one jeepney that had a sign on the back that read "God is my Co-Pilot," which is a bit unsettling given the state of the roads here. These are more common in Manila than in Roxas City, but the prices are about the same.

Darth Vader in the Philippines, on the side of a jeepney.

Darth Vader in the Philippines, on the side of a jeepney.

Basketball: The pastime sport of choice here is basketball (often played in flipflops). I approve. That is all.

Basketball next to one of the health offices.

Good choice!

Finally Used a Machete!

Third day of fieldwork. Although Molly felt worse yesterday evening, but luckily felt a bit better this morning and managed to stomach a few bland items during the day. A weaker person would have been confined to bed for longer, I'm sure, so we are very lucky that Molly has recovered at such a good rate. John went to the office to delve into the hefty reading he acquired from the day before. Per usual, Stephanie and I set off together to collect water samples in the municipalities of Maayon, President Roxas (again), and Pilar. We also picked up the results from yesterday's EC-Kits (the Sanitary Inspectors were the ones to incubate the tests since I was unable to read them while sampling in the morning).

Some highlights of the day included trying sugar cane for the first time. The family that let us try the sugar cane were nice enough to let me hack at the sugar cane with their machete! They are just as much fun as they look. It is unfortunate that it would be utterly ridiculous to have one of my own. Then again, I am completely OK with being utterly ridiculous.

Cutting down sugar cane with a machete.

Cutting down sugarcane with a machete.

Anyway, the day ended after we processed samples at the office around 7 PM. We are going into the office early Saturday morning to read the samples. We are going to spend the weekend at Boracay Island with Jane and Pancho (if he can make it), which is supposedly one of the best beaches in the world! I am really excited as we have yet to make it to the beach during the day, only night visits since we are testing all day. More updates on this when I return on Sunday.

Second day of fieldwork

Second day of fieldwork. The four of us traveled with Jane and the crew to the municipalities of Pontevedra and President Roxas (yes, there is a municipality named President Roxas, and I thought it was confusing as well). We dropped Molly off for her to interview members of the community and John set off on a flurry of meetings with important engineers, politicians, etc. to inquire about past and present irrigation plans. Stephanie and I continued our water sampling in the area with our test kits.  

Testing began in the Barangay (village) of Amerligan, which we reached by boat (the boat was really more like a canoe with a motor). It was a fantastic way to begin the day!  We visited the local elementary school and sampled the source from there. They use a rainwater catchment system, and when the tank runs low, they buy water from the market and transport it by boat. It costs about 8 pesos/gallon (46 pesos : 1 USD for those interested in conversions). It took us all day to get 20 samples, which included a wide range of water sources. The water sources here are categorized as Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, and Doubtful.  An example of a Level 1 source would be a jetmatic pump, and a doubtful source would be an open dug well.  It is interesting to see that within a developing country, there is still a divide among the rich and the poor.

Jetmatic Pump.  These usually cost about 1200-1300 PHP each.

Jetmatic Pump.  These usually cost about 1200-1300 PHP each.

Open dug well.

An open dug well.

Conducting fieldwork here is amazing. Every family is so happy to see us, and I feel so lucky to see a part of the Philippines that a typical foreigner/tourist would never get to experience. I am amazed at how Jane and the Sanitary Inspectors that we work with manage to remember the locations of all these water sources. In addition to my EC-Kit testing, I am also taking GPS coordinates of all the sample locations for the purpose of water mapping. Unfortunately, I do not have the coordinates from the first day's sample locations, but Jane assured me that I can get those later. Stephanie and I finished work around 7 PM at the office - no rest for the weary! Many of the employees at the Provincial Health Office are extremely dedicated, starting before 8AM and staying beyond when Stephanie and I left.

Due to the beautiful weather and close proximity of Baybay beach, John, Stephanie and I decided to go for a nighttime run on the beach. Molly was unable to join because she had become violently ill from something consumed earlier in the day, but luckily we had the assistance of the entire Provincial Health Office to acquire the appropriate medication and salts to restore bodily fluids. This will probably happen to all of us at some point, trying to adjust to a different diet here, Molly was just the unlucky first.

The run on the beach was exhilarating, although it was a bit unnerving when dogs started to run after us when we passed by. To be honest, it scared all three of us as we could hear the vicious barking but were unable to see the approaching dogs in the dark. Whomever said ignorance is bliss obviously never encountered this type of situation; I would rather see the approaching danger, thank you very much. Aside from that, the run was just what we needed before our seaside feast of grilled foodstuffs and a full night of rest.

Having Phun in the Philippines with Phieldwork

Today was the first day of our fieldwork in Capiz. We truly are so lucky to have partnered up with the Capiz Provincial Health Office, as it would have been impossible for us to navigate on our own. The day began with a courtesy call to the governor of Capiz Province, Victor Tanco. I was incredibly intimidated, as we walked past masses of people waiting in line to meet Governor Tanco, and here I was - a mere mortal - cutting in line for our 10:30 AM meeting! I'm sure the other people have much more important things to say than I do, but Victor (Vic) was incredibly welcoming and quite the diplomat. He was excited to have our group working with the Health Office, and interested in the results. To have the governor take time out of his busy schedule to meet with our group really made me realize that this is not just my little project for my masters degree, but it is a part of a bigger picture. It will - ideally - provide the data necessary for interventions in the next year for residents in Capiz Province. Possessing such an influence is a scary thought, but certainly something that I know I would like to continue in the future. When you have an opportunity to make a small change in the world, how can you say no?

After a quick lunch, we began fieldwork. Having one car and four separate projects that need to be in a wide range of locations each day is a logistical nightmare. Furthermore, each of us needs to be paired with a translator or resident in order to communicate with the folks here, as well as get directions. Stephanie and I are basically partnered up, assessing the same water sources with various tests (me: EC-Kit, Stephanie: H2S). 

We have conducted tests in the laboratory in Cambridge using Charles River Water, rainwater, and pond water (many thanks to Susan for braving the cold in the early AM to collect this water!). It was exciting to finally get a chance to use our test kits in the field. The municipality we drove to was Sapian, which was gorgeous (how many times am I going to say gorgeous in this blog?). Sapian actually won one of the beautification awards, and I was appreciative of their creative uses of decor (for example, they painted old tires yellow and buried them halfway along the sides of the road, so sunshine semicircles line the roads as you drive through the sea of green vegetation). I had to pull myself away from tourist mode and focus on the task at hand. I worked with one of the Sanitary Inspectors, Angie, to collect the water samples for the day. We collected a total of 10 water samples, mostly from jetmatic pumps, although we were surprised to encounter a spring source (without distribution). 

A collection of 10 water samples may not appear to be an efficient use of a day, but the locations were not only far apart (separated by rice fields and farmland), but the rural roads take longer to navigate. Our group did not return to the office until we finished around 6 PM, and the work does not stop there! At the office, we had to process the samples using Quanti-Tray and EC-Kit. Processing took at least an hour to an hour and a half, but the data is well worth it.

Aside from data collection, the day also involved several new experiences for me. Since I am spending less than a month here, I intend to maximize my experience by trying as many new things as possible. Research-wise, I was able to use my first jetmatic pump, ever! Stephanie and I tried pumping the water out of the wells at several of the sampling sites, and I must insist that you believe me when I claim that it is not a task for those lacking upper arm strength. I am pretty sure most of the local residents were laughing at my attempts. Unrelated to research, we had fresh buco (coconut) from the tree! In the midst of sampling, we were thirsty and stopped at a local place for a snack and drink (buco and buco juice). With a pole, a man knocked down several bucos, and hacked away at it with a machete in such an impressive manner, that I wanted a machete of my own. The buco juice and buco meat are perfect for quenching thirst, and I still could not believe that I was sitting in the Philippines eating a coconut from the tree. Paradise in a nutshell.

Welcome to the Philippines!

Manila, January 3: It took two days of flight, but I am finally in the Philippines! After two weeks of M.Eng. withdrawal, the sight of John, Molly and Stephanie's faces was a welcome one indeed. We met up in Manila, tired and excited (yes, Virginia, it is possible to be simultaneously tired and excited). Despite the lengthy flight and looming jet lag that threatened to permeate my elation, we decided to wander around the area and become acquainted with potential dinner establishments. After our semi-widespread explorations, we eventually settled upon a Korean restaurant on the same block as our guesthouse. With stomachs full, sleep was the next item of business. A business that we welcomed wholeheartedly.

January 4: It appears that