Friday, March 6, 2009

Iloilo, the final stop for the 2009 GSE Philippines Team

Our final stop was Iloilo, site of the 2009 DisCon for District 3850. As I write this blog, I'm back in my apartment in Boston. Much of my stuff is unpacked, and I'm preparing to head back to work in the morning. Though I'm glad to see my friends and family again, I'm sad to have said goodbye to the new friends I've made since arriving in the Philippines in February. It's my sincerest hope that I'll get to see them again.

This leg of the trip has been a reunion of sorts. I met with members of every Rotary Club I've been to: Zamboanga, Dipolog, Kabankalan, Bocolod and many others. We reminisced about what happened during our visits, memories I'll carry with me forever.

On March 5, we went to Safari Night, where we were thrilled to jungle-themed songs and dances (I believe there were some "Lion King" renditions there, and Shelley decided to join the fun at one point) performed by the different clubs of District 3850. Jon also gave a Wushu demonstration, which earned him a thunderous applause. As we had done so many times, we spent the night dancing, thoughts of our impending trip home still in my mind but for the time being pushed aside.

Next morning we listened to the different speakers at DisCon. One of the most memorable was Senator Mar Roxas, who spoke of the need for people to be involved in their government. He recited his speech from memory, and at the end the crowd rose to give him a standing ovation.

Our final night was spent at the Governor's Ball. Though much dancing and fun were once again had (as always), it felt a little surreal. A part of me didn't believe that this was our last night in the Philippines. This trip has been a learning experience in so many ways: professionally and personally. I've learned much about the news business, and about the direction I want my career to take.

I want to thank the Rotary Club for giving me the chance to be a part of the Group Study Exchange, and boundless gratitude to the Rotary Clubs of District 3850. Salamat.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Roxas, the next to last stop

As we entered the city of Roxas, a feeling of apprehension came over me. Here we were, less than a week remaining before we boarded our flight back to Boston. It suddenly hit me that this trip, without a doubt the best experience of my entire life, would soon be coming to an end. Since then I've been trying to make the most of my time here. I've taken as many photos as possible, trying to commit to digital every aspect of our journey.

During our first night in the "Seafood Capital of the Philippines," as Roxas is known,I met my host dad Mark Ortiz, a real estate developer and hotel owner. I went to the Metro Central Roxas Rotary Club meeting, where we ballroom danced the night away.

The next day we went to the Church of Pan-Ay. First built in 1572, an rebuilt in 1884, the church, a beautiful structure, is home to the biggest bell in the Philippines. Cast by Don Juan Reina, it was made from 70 sacks of coins, and weighs 10,400 kilograms. We ascended the 67 steps (I counted!) from which we were treated to a breathtaking view of the city. We got to ring the bell, the sound of which left our ears ringing afterwards.

After a meeting with the city's mayor, Vincente Bermejo, we had lunch at the Fishpond, where we saw how our lunch was caught. Jon took a try at climbing a coconut try, and suceeded just as the camera ran out of power.

That evening we traveled to the Barangay Talon, where we saw some of the projects the Roxas Rotary have done. We saw a slideshow of the relief work they did following Typhoon Frank. Words can't describe how powerful the images I saw were. Utter devastation was all that remained, and the Rotarians there made a Herculean effort, bringing food and other supplies to the affected areas. Jerry, the Rotarian giving the presentation, got chocked up as he saw pictures of the children who had been left homeless following the disaster. I can only imagine what it was like to be there.

On March 4 we left Roxas and made the long drive to Iloilo, for the final leg of the journey and the Discon. As reluctant as I am to leave the Philippines, I do so with memories of a wonderful experience and friendships that I will treasure forever.

Mangroves and Madyass

In Kalibo, my host dad Botoy took me around the city, which still showed some of the damage left over from Typhoon Frank. As we crossed a bridge, I could see lamposts which had been twisted by the winds and rain.

The team traveled to the Bachawan Echo Park, a giant mangrove forest. We walked almost a kilometer through the trees, some of which had been lost in the typhoon. It was a beautiful sight, as we trekked underneath the canopy of leaves and branches.

Afterwards we took a our of Asu Banga, an agricultural college where Botoy, a farmer for many years, gives a weekly lecture each Saturday. I was very impressed with the wide variety of programs the students are working on.

Though retired, Botoy still works as the publisher of the local newspaper, the Madyass Pen, and took me to his office. Though small, it has the air and presence of a real newsroom. I checked out some of the rough drafts of upcoming pages, and Botoy showed me how he gets from articles to the finished copy. We joked that if he ever needs someone to take over that he should give me a call. We also saw a pig farm, as well as a beach owned by Botoy's wife's family.

Once more I and the team took to the airwaves at DYRU, the local radio station. Doug, Jon and I answered some questions on where we had gone and our experiences. Our last stop before hitting the road for Roxas was the Kalibo Pilot Elementary School, which has seen some support from the Rotary Club.

On to Roxas!

Having a blast in Boracay

On the white sandy beaches of Boracay, the team enjoyed some downtime, perusing the shops and restaraunts. We were met by members of the Boracay Rotary and shown around the lovely island. Our rooms in the Diniwid resort were stunning, as we took in the view from our second and third-story balcony. I finally got to ride a tricycle, and the experience was one to remember. The fact the fare was one-tenth of what the cabs back home would have charged didn't hurt, either.

Much of my own time was spent walking the beaches and looking for some new clothes (not an easy task for someone of my size). I met Lee, owner of Real Coffee. It's a great place to go for breakfast, and the shakes are second to none. She's been living in the Philippines for almost two decades, and remembers what Boracay was like before it became so commercialised. Jon made it a point to check out areas of the island where shops and stores don't dot every available corner.

On the last night of our stay we attended the Governor's Conference, where I met some old friends and shook some new hands. As I downed another delicious meal (the fourth one of the day, if memory serves), I reminisced about my time here and what new experiences the remaining cities would hold.

Next stop, Kalibo!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Amazing Antique

Max B. here with another update from the GSE Philippines crew! We've completed our stay in San Jose, Antique, and man was that a blast! I got to tour a pair of local cable stations, where I was interviewed about my trip and experiences. Later that day I went to the DYKA radio station, where I once again spoke about how amazing this trip has been. It's a strange role reversal, a reporter being questioned, but it was a lot of fun and I can't wait to hear it.

I also visited a museum dedicated to the life of Gov. Evelio Javier. He was an oppositionist to the authority of President Ferdinand Marcos, for which he was assisinated on Feb. 11, 1986. It's said his assisination was what fueled the fire to start the People Power/Philippine EDSA Revolution that year. It was an experience that made me stop and think. For someone to take a stand knowing the risk, that's a rare kind of courage, and a rarer devotion to helping others.

Afterwards we went to a sugar factory. The festivities ended with the team (minus Doug) taking a ride on a water buffolo. Later that night we attended a Rotary meeting and partied late into the night at a karaoke bar. As always , it was too little time spent in another great city. We've got pics galore, so stay tuned!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What's your favorite subject?

These students are dressed for gym class!


This back pack belongs to a first grader who attends private school in Bacolod. The students must buy their own books and CARRY them or WHEEL them to school each and every day. They do not leave any of their school supplies in the classroom. In many cases the book bag weighs more than the student who drags it!

Shelley Visits Schools

My favorite part of the trip is visiting the schools. I brought one of my favorite books, The Rainbow Fish, and whenever possible I read to the classes that I visit. The kids ooh and ahh as I show them the shiny pages and they learn the importance of sharing. Then the students make their own rainbow fish to hang in the classroom. I brought shiny silver sticky paper to make their poster shiny, too!

As you can see, a good time was had by all!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Broadcasting from Bacolod City, P.I.

It's been two weeks since we left for the Philippines and after visiting several clubs in about half a dozen cities I am still amazed at what we are able to see and do.  I was gonna put up a different video before this one, but since that one is still in post production and this is edited for me, I said "why not?".  While visiting the ABS-CBN station in Bacolod City, we were given a chance to experience being on television or radio.  We had met with one of the hosts who interviewed us for a morning show, but I have yet to see it aired.  The next day, we came back and Doug talked about who we are and what we do on the airwaves while the rest were offered to do a mock newsreport which we were given a copy of.  I was even offered a job!  So if I decide to pack up and move here, which seems like a viable option so far, I know I at least can find work.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Snorkeling, seashells and sunburns

Max B., back on the blog from Kabankalan, with a whole lot of updates. Just a couple days ago the team and I took to the water of the Dakak Resort. Laurie, Shelley and I went snorkling while Doug and Jon took the scuba route. Now this was my first time snorkeling, and it was a blast! It was like seeing a whole new world (and no, I'm not referring to the Disney song, and no, I won't sing it. OK, maybe later). Coral of every shape and size, fish of every color, and even some blue starfish! It was with no small regret that I made my way back to the boat.

That evening we made our presentation to the Dapitan Rotary Club, and danced/sang the night away. Renditions of I Will Survive, Living La Vida Loca and Living on a Prayer (the last sung by yours truly) filled the air, and no doubt "delighted" our hosts and fellow resort guests. Well, we thought it sounded good.

The next day we were off to Dumaguette via boat. We met with the Kabankalan Rotary Club, who drove us to the Zaycoland Hotel & Resort. We had a little R&R, met with the vice-mayor and some other city officials, and Jon went through a baptism of sorts by trying balut, a delicacy in the Philippines. From what I understand, it's a duck fetus swallowed whole. While Jon was unable to keep the delicacy down for long, we all gave him an A for effort. As far as the team is concerned, he passed the test,which I was there to record for posterity.

Unfortunately, there was a shadow cast over the good times, when I realized afterwards I had developed a rather nasty sunburn that required a trip to the Southern Negros Doctor's Hospital in Kabankalan. It's no secret that I'm not the world's best tanner, so before you ask why I didn't think to apply sunblock, the short answer is, "I don't know."

All is well, however, and I'd like to extend a hearty thanks to the staff and doctors there. They patched me up good as new, and explained exactly what they were doing. I feel 110 percent, and can't wait for our next adventure.

See you all next time!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

From Cebu to Dipolog

On Feb. 13, we had a long layover in Cebu on our trip to Dipolog and were greeted by local Rotarians who took us on a tour of the City. We visited Magellan's Cross where Ferdinand Magellan planted a cross in the soil in 1521, claiming the Philippines for Spain. We just missed another GSE team from New Hampshire that passed through a few days earlier.

(Picture by Shelley: Magellan's Cross.)

After Cebu, we were on to Dipolog where we visited a hospital, a college, and a local newspaper. Dipolog Medical Center College was very interesting, combining traditional classes with hands-on experience. For example, there was a complete hotel suite, reception area, restaurant kitchen, and bar for students studying hotel management.

My favorite experience was caving in Manukan. Sporting headlamps and helmets, we crawled through a half-mile maze of stalagmites and stalactites. On the return hike, we shared fresh coconut with the locals-- a sweet reward. The drive to the cave was the first time we got a glimpse of the Philippine countryside; it is breathtaking. There are expansive rice patties, 60-foot palm trees, and rolling hills as far as you can see. Snorkeling and rock climbing at Dakak Beach Park & Resort are next!

(Picture by Shelley: DMC nursing students preparing an herbal remedy for Dengue fever.)

Zamboanga Images by Shelley

Manila Airport

View of Manila from Manila Airport

Photo by: Shelley Hamm-Moylan

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It's a Small World After All

Our third day in Zamboanga and we continue to be treated like royalty. Doug & I began with a tour of Crustacean Trading Corporation, a plant that blast freezes seafood to maintain the freshness and vitamins, so that delicacies like octopus can be shipped worldwide. It was an impressive family-run business, and standing in the enormous freezers reminded us of the frigid weather we are missing back home. Temperatures topped out just above 100 degrees in Zamboanga.

In the afternoon, Mayor Celso Lobregat treated us to a presentation about our host city. Zamboanga has a nearly 400-year history influenced primarily by the Spaniards who occupied the area for several centuries. The Latin culture is still a large part of Zamboanga’s culture today, and lead to a new branding campaign that position’s the City as “Asia’s Latin City.”

Having recently collaborated to implement a new brand campaign for the 10th fastest-growing city in the USA, I was particularly interested in the challenges Zamboanga faced in launching its new brand and communicating with its residents. Despite population differences, (Lancaster, California with 140,000 v. Zamboanga with 780,000) and the entire Pacific Ocean lying between them, these two cities shared many of the same challenges.

Thus far, we’ve been blogging about many of the differences we’ve encountered; our discussion with the Mayor was a wonderful reminder that there are many similarities as well. The opportunity to discuss our shared challenges is a priceless aspect of the GSE experience. Whether through business, or through the development of international service projects, it is amazing what a meeting of the minds from across the world can accomplish.
-Laurie B.

A memorable meeting (times three)

Whew! Max B. here, after another busy but fun day in the Philippines. Monday was spent touring several of Zamboanga's most memorable sights, including Fort Pillar and Paseo de Mar. Afterwards we had a great get-together at District Governor James Makarsiar's beautiful home, where we got to meet several members of the local Rotary, and I got to test my vocal abilities (There was a band there, so thankfully I wasn't the only one on the mike).

Today I visited the offices of the Zamboanga Times and Zamboanga Today, the city's two daily newspapers. I chatted with Roy Ramos and JV Faustino, the two editor-in-chiefs of the papers. They had a lot of questions for me about my paper and my hometown. It was quite the role reversal, a reporter getting questioned, but I learned a lot from them and hope to apply that knowledge to the Minuteman.

Later that day the team met with Mayor Celso Lobregat. We got a great overview of Zamboanga and all it has to offer, and got to ask some questions about the city, the mayor's goals, and how he plans to spread the word about its beauty. I've interviewed many a city official before, and at one point I wondered why I didn't have my recorder with me. Guess you can take the reporter out of the newsroom but you can't take the newsroom out of the reporter, eh?

Well, that's all for now. I'm off to the west chapter of Zamboanga's Rotary Club for a Valentine's Day party. I'll try not to sing this time.

Max B.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


Mabuhay everyone, Jon here.  As the Filipino American on the trip, I felt it necessary to say hello in Tagalog.

After arriving in the Philippines, I have to say that I'm on the same page as Max.  Everything is amazing and just from our experiences so far I could see me staying here.  Where did I put my passport?  Just kidding.  Everyone keeps telling me about the Mangoes here and it wasn't until I had some at the airport in Manila that I can see what they're talking about.  Yes, that's right, the airport.  And I don't even eat much fruit.  Since then, I've consumed Mango shakes, Mango juice from a can and I think the masseuses from last night used Mango oil.

They've given us so much food that I'm starting to think that all Filipinos, including myself, have huge appetites.  We've had all sorts of food including Lumpia, Lechon Sisig, Bangus, Tocino, and it was all good.  Even the San Miguel beer tasted better here than in the States.  

I just got a call from my host parents that, for my vocational experiences, I'll be visiting with students studying film as well as the ABS-CBN television station in Zamboanga.  So that is absolutely amazing to me.  We just got here and I can see this trip being packed with fun and many memorable experiences.  But that's the update for now and I can see myself going on so I'll say goodbye for now and until next time.

Arrival in the Philippines

Greetings, everyone! It's your faithful Philippines blogger Max B. here, to give you our first post-flight report.

After more than 30 hours on the plane our team has finally arrived in the Philippines!

The weather is beautiful. 90 degrees with a 70 degree dewpoint, with a nice breeze to keep it from getting too hot. I've taken tons of shots of the countryside, and it always takes my breath away A couple years back I went to Ireland, and thought no scenery on earth could match it. Suffice to say, I was wrong. 
I've done some travelling in my life, but this is  whole new experience for me. The people, the sounds, the food, there's nothing here that isn't new for me.  

We were treated to a rock star arrival by the wonderful folks of the Philippines Rotary District 3850. After the greetings and introductions were done, we went to the La Vina hotel, where we we had a delicious feast. 

That evening we went to a massage parlor, and man was that needed! Maybe it was the jet lag, or maybe it's the fact I'm constantly carrying 50 years of stress on my shoulders, but I left feeling like a new man. A late dinner, and we collapsed onto our beds (literally).

Feeling rested and refreshed the next day (I think I'm getting addicted to mango juice), we're getting ready to take a tour of Zamboanga City, after which we'll head to the homes of the Rotary families we'll be staying with for the week. It's sure to be an experience like no other, and I can't wait to start!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Fingers crossed for the next 48 hours

Hey everyone, its about 5 in the morning and I finally have everything packed and ready to go.  Our flight is leaving in about eight hours from now and with well over a day of traveling ahead of us, I decided to get my sleep at a much higher altitude than I currently am now.  With an itinerary that seems to change by the minute and faith that everything will all work out in the end the excitement is ever growing for me to finally go to the root of my ethnicity, the Philippine Islands.  With that in mind, many of the group I'm traveling with has been preparing for the trip for about a couple months, yet I sit here typing with the knowledge that mine has been much longer.  

From learning to dance Tinikling to finding a family once lost for decades to me; studying Tagolog and understanding why they call it chocolate meat; my participation in the Rotary Club's GSE team was not my first step towards understanding where I come from but rather the most important one.  So much so, that I offered to document our travels while overseas.  With me being the actor/videographer it's only prudent for me to make a film.  So to take a look at a video of what we've gone through for the past five weeks press play on the attached file.  


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Final thoughts

Well, folks, the day is almost upon us. 72 hours from now, I'll be on a flight to Manila. The last few days have been busy ones. Over the weekend, I started shopping for everything I'll need (memory card for my camera, new charger for my phone and of course, oodles of mosquito repellent). I check my tickets each day to make sure I haven't lost them, and go over the checklist to make sure there isn't something I missed.

Over the weekend the team and I went to the Northeast Link, where we met with GSE teams headed to Thailand, Poland, and the Philippines (other than us). We also learned about what's expected of us and got some tips on how to make the trip less stressful and more enjoyable. We even got to don our stylish Rotary uniforms (as it turns out we were the only ones to do that. But hey, we looked fab!).

It's Tuesday night, and I'm going to start packing for the trip. I've got a new suitcase courtesy of my mother (thanks, Mom!), plus a second one borrowed from my brother (hmmmm, something borrowed, something new....). I don't think it's hit me yet what's about to happen. I just put this week's edition of the Billerica Minuteman (the paper I write for and edit) to bed, and I find myself inadvertently thinking of what next week's issue will contain, though I won't be here to write it. Today it snowed, and within a few days, I'll be kissing the frozen shores of Massachusetts goodbye and head off to far warmer climes, yet I've never really stopped to think about that. I guess that's the byproduct of a busy life. We often don't take the time to focus on what's coming up because we're so entrenched in the now. We worry if we take too much time on what may be, we'll miss what is.

Well, busy or no, my life is about to take a whole new twist. I don't know what's going to happen, but I know myself, Jon, Laurie, Shelley and Doug will have a blast doing it. Next stop, the Philippines!!
Max B.

P.S., as a final parting gift, here's a video of the Filipino National Anthem

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Thinking about linking

A little over a week remains before we board our plane and head off to the Philippines. For your faithful blogger Max B., the days have been filled with checklists, packing lists, and the occasional panic attack as I wonder what I'm forgetting.

Last Saturday we had our final meeting at Doug's house in Concord. We talked to Marla, peppering her with plenty of questions (as if we'll ever run out), mainly about finances and what we should and shouldn't bring. It was our last time seeing her before we leave, and she wished us a safe and happy trip. We also handled some of the last-second paperwork for our visas and talked about the intinerary.

This weekend we'll be heading to the Northeast Link, a conference for teams and team leaders in the GSE program. We'll meet other teams traveling to different places and learn about diplomacy and the opporunities that come with spending time abroad. It's an all-day program, and I expect to leave armed with a lot more knowledge about what I can expect from this trip.

I've checked out the conference's Web site, but the truth is, my mind is a week ahead of itself. I've made my packing list and making sure I've made all the preparations, called who I need to call, and taken care of everything with my job. Hopefully I'll only need to pack once, and won't promptly dump out my suitcase to make sure I have everything.

Well, that's all for now. Catch you next time!

Max B.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Shelley's Service Project Philippines

According to Alyssa an exchange student from the Philippines, who we met during our dinner at JNJ Turo-Turo, the Filipino children love to receive American chocolate. Despite the team's concern over getting chocolate to the islands, I have organized donations from local businesses such as Shaw's of Auburn and Walgreen's of Worcester in order to have my first grade students participate in a service project. The Massachusetts first graders have packed little candy bags for their Filipino counterparts. They also attached small notes and a drawing of themselves. I hope the project promotes global awareness for both my American students and the Filipino recipients. I know that it was a success in my classroom because not one of my students asked to have a piece of the candy. They understood that it was to give and they felt good about it. As for getting the candy to the islands…well, I am still working on it. I am freezing the chocolate and I have purchased insulated bags. Any ideas beyond that are greatly appreciated. -Shelley
(Above Left: Jocelyn, a Massachusetts first grader, fills a bag with chocolate kisses for her Filipino friends.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


If you are like my first grade students in Auburn, Massachusetts, you may want to track the team's whereabouts. Below is our general itinerary:

February 6 – 8 FLY

February 8 – 12 Zamboanga City

February 13 – 15 Pagadian City

February 15 – 17 Dipolog City

February 17 – 19 Kabankalan City

February 19 – 22 Bacolod City*

*Side trips to Silay City and Victorias City

February 23 – 25 Antique

February 25 – 27 Boracay Island

Feb 27 – March 2 Kalibo

March 2 – March 4 Roxas City

March 4 – 7 Iloilo City

March 7 – 9 FLY

Counting down

Hello again, Filippino fans, and welcome to another edition of the GSE Philippines Blog.
As the days remaining before we depart dwindle, we're furiously working to make sure all the paperwork, doctor's visits and other preparations are complete. We hit a little snag when we learned our visa applications had to be redone. But all seems well, and it looks like the trip will go forward as planned.
Last Saturday we met at Team Leader Doug's house to go over the cultural presentation which Laurie had put together. I for one was amazed with the quality job she did, and the rest of the team seemed impressed as well. She managed to take out notes (which were lengthy in my case) and combine them into a short, yet informative package. It won't be easy, trying to talk about education, industry, pop culture and family life in just 15 minutes, but with Laurie's help, the task has become much more managable.
We also got a look at our itinerary and where we'll be staying. We'll be arriving in Manila, then hopping a connecting flight to Zamboanga City, then taking a day off at the Jardin de Lavina Hotel. We'll be staying in the cities of Pagadian, Dipilog, Kabankalan, Bacolod, Antigue and many others. I'm sure each one will have a wealth of new experiences for us.
Last weekend I had an epiphany of sorts. I was walking through Boston when it hit me that pretty soon, the familiar sights and sounds would be gone. Not for good, mind you. Things like seeing the Boston nightscape or going to the pizza place near my apartment, catching a movie with my friends or making the morning drive to my office, all these experiences would be replaced by new ones. It's something I'm looking forward too. I traveled to Ireland in 2007, and since then I've had a great desire to see more of the world. Just three more weeks!

'Till next time, I remain your faithful Philippines correspondent,

Max B.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Fun with photos

The clock is ticking, and within less than a month, we'll be bidding the frozen shores of Massachusetts goodbye for the sunny isles of the Philippines. Time is running out, but have no fear, because the GSE Philippines Team has everything well in hand.

On Saturday we went to the home of Skip Doyle, a Rotarian from Northborough. Within his incredible studio, Skip took some first-rate shots of each team member, as well as some group photos. We all agreed that Jon's the most photogenic of the five (it was no contest), and that viewing the photos from the right angle can make all the difference. After the photos were taken, we had a brief viewing session where we selected the best ones for the trip brochure. There were some laughs as we gauged the best smiles and whether to use the casual group shot or the more formal picture (we went with casual).

All the needed paperwork has been taken care of (except for Max's passport, for which he has reprimanded himself harshly for), and we're fine-tuning our presentations on the different aspects of American culture, industry, and history to present to the Philippines Rotary. It's no easy thing, compressing decades of history and pages upon pages upon pages upon pages (that's no typo, folks; we've been doing a lot of research) of information into a three-minute presentation, but in the end, we'll make it happen.

There was a definite air of anticipation as we handed in our visa applications and perused the article about Shelley in the local newspaper. Everything is really coming together nicely. I'm definitely looking forward to this trip and the experience it can offer me. Just a few more weeks...

Max B.

Monday, January 5, 2009

One month and counting

Greetings everyone, and welcome to another installment of the GSE Philippines blog. A lot has happened in the past week, so let's get to it.

Like the title says, we're down to our last month before we board the plane for the Philippines. There's still a lot of work to do before we depart, and much of the meeting was spent going over the various steps needed to take. Perhaps the biggest task left before us is completing our Powerpoint presentations. We each assigned ourselves a different area of American culture to cover; Laurie will be taking history, Shelly will tackle education and family life, Jon will become an expert on pop culture, and industry will be my subject.

We decided to make next Saturday a work day and complete each presentation. These will be shown to Rotary members while we're in the Philippines, so it's important we do the best job possible. We also got a look at the terrific introductory presentations which Shelly and Laurie completed, and decided to combine them, using the best elements from both.

We got a look at the new brochures, and man, they look great! Each member has written a pretty in-depth description of themselves, and next week we'll be going to a professional photo studio for some high-quality brochure pictures.

The meeting was held at Marla Luzzi's beautiful home in Weston. We got to meet her family, and she treated us to a fantastic Filipino meal. We had adobo, (dark-meat chicken braised in garlic, soy sauce and vinegar and cooked until dry), longganisa, (Philippine sausage), sinigang, (pork, fish or shrimp in a tamarind stew) and delicious Filipino noodles. Desert was halo-halo, which translates into "mix-mix." It's a an ice cream with mashed purple yam, plantains and jackfruit thrown into the mix. As always, there were questions aplenty.

There's a lot of work still awaiting us, but we've come a long since we first met a few weeks ago. This is going to be a life-changing trip for all of us, and we're not going to stop now.

See you next time!

Max B.