The River Herring are a group of fish that are similar to salmon, they travel between freshwater and saltwater throughout their lives. Given their namesake perhaps you would assume the RIVER herring spend most of their lives in rivers but you would be WRONG! These so-called ‘River’ Herring actually spend most of their lives in the ocean.
The term River Herring refers to two closely related species, the alewife (scientific name: Alosa pseudoharengus) and the blueback herring (scientific name: Alosa aestivalis). These fish have a wide range that extends along almost the entire eastern seaboard of North America. They’re grouped together as the river herring because they have a very similar life history and are quite difficult to tell apart.
So why are these fish called RIVER herring if they live in the ocean?!
It’s likely that early North Americans primarily interacted with river herring when they migrated into coastal estuaries, rivers, and streams during their annual spawning run. River herring migrate into freshwater from the sea in the springtime when the water gets warm. Back when river herring were abundant, personal accounts documenting their spawning runs described the rivers as teeming with billions of fish. Early North Americans would take advantage of the predictability of this spawning run to catch and preserve fish. This stock of food was incredibly important and a strong harvest meant survival through the long and cold northeastern winters.
What are some other names for river herring?
Since these fish live anywhere from rivers in Canada to streams in Florida, they’ve been called a lot of different names: bigeye herring, branch herring, freshwater herring, gaspereau, grayback, gray herring, kyak, sawbelly, white herring, buckie, and buckey (Narrow River Preservation Association). While the origin of some of these names is based on what this fish looks like, or where they were found, others have more interesting or even mysterious origins!
“Gaspereau, or Gasparot. Name of a common salt-water fish of Acadia (also called alewife), first used, so far as I can find, by Denys in 1672. Nowhere can I find any clue to its origin. It seems not to be [indigenous].”
W.F. Ganong, 1910
Sawbelly is another common name for river herring, though some sources only assigned it to the alewife. This name was likely given to the fish because of its sharp serrated underbelly (URI).
Kyak or Kiack is the word for river herring in the Mi’kmaw people’s language. The Mi’kmaw are a loose confederacy of semi-nomadic tribes across northeastern Canada. Historically, Mi’kmaw villages relied on the sea and rivers for up to 90% of their food (Mi’kmaw Spirit). They relied on the annual migration of river herring and similarly related species and would catch these fish using fish weirs. Fish weirs are a V-shaped tunnel made of wood or rock that would force the fish into a narrow passage where they could be caught with nets or baskets. Kejimkujik National Park was recognized as a National Historic Site in 2002 due to the millennia of Mi’kmaw history connected to the region.
I was unable to find information on some of the other names like buckie/buckey, perhaps this one came from “big-eye herring”?
Do you know any names for the river herring that aren’t listed here? Let us know in the comments!
“Your dives will be 1.6 million rupiah” the secretary at Gecko Dive Center doesn’t bat an eyelash as she rattles off this jarring number.
The mere suggestion of a million of anything is enough to make my stomach drop. That’s insane! ONE MILLION?!
Of course, 1 USD is equivalent to about 14,000 IDR so in fact the prices were quite reasonable. We double checked the conversions and shelled out the rupiah to dive in the Bali sea off of Penida island between Bali and Lombok. And it was worth. Every. Last. Rupiah…
We met our dive guide Maid (pronounced: Maddy) at 8am and enjoyed the island time as we slowly got our gear together and headed out for the day. When we took off I found the ride rather rough, but Maid assured me that it was a nice day and the ride wasn’t bad at all!
When we neared Penida island we approached a few other boats that were casually smoking cigarettes as they guarded a capsized boat with it’s props in the air. None of the Indonesians on our boat really give it much thought, we later asked Maid about the boat and we had to remind him.
‘You know, that boat we saw this morning that was flipped over?’
He says with a big ole smile, with no signs of concern in his voice, that it must have capsized this morning. Dani and I just shrugged it off and checked out our dive gear.
We arrived at our dive site, Manta Point. The dive site was below a sharp cliff, and the water was choppy as it bounced off the land and back towards the dozens of boats floating in the area. Manta Point is a cleaning station for reef manta rays of the Bali Sea. Manta rays are a migratory species so while some can get up to 5.5 meters (18 feet) in width, and up to 1.4 tons (2,800 pounds) (arkive.org), they can be hard to spot unless you know which reefs they visit.
The manta rays come to Manta Point to be cleaned by the reef fish. They glide over the reef, and the fish come out of the crevices and rocks to pick parasites off of the manta’s body. This is a symbiotic relationship because both the manta ray and the reef fish benefit. The manta rays get rid of potentially harmful parasites, while the reef fish get a meal delivered to their doorstep for free! This makes manta point a hot spot for diving, which was clear by the number of boats bobbing up and down in the water.
We jumped in the water and hung out near a small seamount, where the reef fish sat waiting for their daily doorstop service. We could feel the swells of the ocean’s surface up above as we bobbed up and down in the water column. We also sat eagerly awaiting, for a second I wondered if this is how the reef fish felt.
Suddenly a manta appeared from behind the seamount! It sailed over the divers with such ease. As I followed the one with my eyes, I turned back to the start to find one swimming directly at me. With thoughtless effort the ray rose just above me, just missing the top of my head. Manta rays flap their triangular pectoral ‘wings’ to propel themselves forward, and they have little mouthparts that protrude forward, called cephalic lobes. They appear to fly through the water column flapping their wings lazily and drift to the deep like a bird that has caught a steady updraft. They’re playful animals and as they approach one another they seem to dance around. Two smaller mantas encircle a larger one like children running at an adult’s feet. As they swam around they playfully tossed their cephalic lobes back and forth as if to simply entertain themselves, like an elephant playing with it’s trunk. Unlike other animals commonly spotted during a dive, their presence lost no novelty as the minutes ticked by.
We swam along the reef and spotted several smaller rays on the reef as well. These rays however move by undulating their pectoral fins. In other words, the mantas look like they’re flying underwater, while these smaller rays look like the edges of their body are creating waves that circulate around their entire body. When we surfaced we were absolutely ecstatic unable to even count how many manta rays we saw.
When we returned to land we were coaxed into doing a night dive at Blue Lagoon.
Night dives can be a little eerie. As you sink below the surface of the water, the reef that was seemingly playful during the day, is run by entirely different group at night. Swimming through the dark, you begin to realize what a scary place the ocean can be at night. You see the fish from the day hidden in the crevices of the rocks and corals. In the back of your mind you wonder…should I be hiding from what they’re hiding from?!
During the day, I like to turn away from the reef and look out into the ocean. It’s a deep blue color and looks like it goes on forever. At night it’s black, even with an almost full moon, the sea remains black. During a night dive you have a torch, and while flashlights on land can light up an entire area, underwater torches only light up one spot. The lamp creates a well-defined circle in the sand, and the edges of the light are met by immediate darkness. I shine my light out into the sea beyond the reef, into the blackness, to see what I can see. Thousands of little organisms’ eyes reflect off of the light and they scatter as I follow them with the lamp. I turn my back to the darkness and avoid thinking about the large predators out there somewhere hidden in the darkness of the ocean at night. I direct my light back to the reef, and see a whole new community of organisms, wide awake.
While many fish are asleep, the draw of a night dive is that you see an entirely new group of marine organisms that hide during the day. My favorite creatures we saw on this dive were the small cuttlefish. Cuttlefish are a type of cephalopod. This means they’re related to octopus. Cuttlefish have chromatophores in their skin that allow them to change colors. They use this ability for camouflage during the day. One can swim completely by a well-disguised cuttlefish that looks like just another rock. At night, they use this ability to lure their prey close. The flashes of black and white run down the length of it’s body and it’s tentacles pulse the colors as well. Once it’s prey wanders close enough to it’s beak, it snatches it’s prey out of the water with all of it’s tentacles like a lizard’s tongue! Luckily they can’t hunt humans because I was completely mesmerized by the cuttlefish and followed them for much of the dive. Other active predators during a night dive include sharks and octopus.
As we swam along we came across a small coral catshark that darted in and out of rocks and corals looking for dinner. We also saw a whitetip reef shark swiftly swimming close to the reef trying to spot an easy catch. There were a few other species we still haven’t been able to identify!
We came up to the surface absolutely thrilled once again, and I decided it was the best day of diving I had ever done. Little did I know that in a few days time we would get luck enough to hop on a day trip to Sipadan island in Malaysian Borneo, a spot that has been recognized as THE best dive site in the world….but more on that later! 😉
P.S. check out the videos on my Facebook post, they completely surpass the photos! (WordPress won’t allow me to share videos without a premium account)
Indonesia is the largest island nation in the world with over 13,000 islands. This is just about +6,000 more than found in the Philippines. So no matter how much of Indonesia we could squeeze into our short trip, we would only see a handful of islands.
To give you an overview of our travels, we started off on Java, to Flores, to Kelor island, Padar island, Komodo island, Gili Laba, and Moyo Island, to Lombok, and finally to Bali. While we hopped around quite a bit we only visited 11 of the +13,000 islands! The beginning of our trip was island hopping with Wanua adventure for 4 days. During these 4 days our schedule was hike and snorkel, read and nap, eat, and repeat.
The most exciting of the islands was Komodo island.
As the name implies, Komodo is home to the Komodo dragon. These are the largest, and heaviest, reptiles in the world. The biggest Komodo dragon ever caught was 3.63 meters (10.3 feet) long, weighing 166 kilograms (366 pounds). They use their tongue to smell the air and hunt prey. After the Komodo dragon ambushes it’s prey it only needs to bite it once. Even if the animal escapes anyways, the venom in it’s saliva will kill the animal in about 4 days. The Komodo dragon can smell rotting flesh from 4 kilometers away (2.5 miles), so after the animal dies, the Komodo dragon only needs to get there before the other Komodo dragons to secure it’s meal. (Smithsonian National Zoo). Komodo dragons are endemic to only a few Indonesian islands. With Wanua adventure, we got to visit one of these islands.
Upon arrival we already spotted one Komodo dragon lazily sitting on the beach, basking in the sun. Since they are cold blooded animals, they have to sit in the sun to aide their digestion. Otherwise, their meal ends up rotting in their stomach and can cause a lethal infection. We met our guides and our group was led into the forest. As we’re walking and looking around Dani notices the three guides are distributed through-out the group and they’re carrying long forked wooden walking sticks.
Dani: “What do you think those sticks are for?”
Me: “I’m pretty sure those are for the Komodo dragons”
Shout out to Dani for the amazing close ups!
We walked into a clearing and saw the infamous Komodo dragon, lazily laying in the sun, not the slightest bit concerned with his visitors. We walked down one of the pathways and saw another Komodo dragon, not far from the first laying across the pathway. Suddenly the first one got up from it’s comfortable sunny spot and walked after us down the pathway. Finding ourselves between the two Komodo dragons, I determined that there were enough of us that I probably wouldn’t end up as Komodo dragon lunch.
Still not concerned with the people at all the one began slowly walking towards the second. They are extremely territorial animals and so the larger first one chased the second one away from the path and back into the woods. After that we walked through the rest of the park without much other excitement. A few deer, who would probably later become Komodo food, and some time on the beach.
After our 4 days of boating were over, we arrived in Lombok and traveled 7 hours to our next destination, Bali.
Living near volcanoes is not something I had ever experienced before living in the Philippines. When I arrived at my site, I found my Municipality snugly tucked between two sleeping giants; Mount Mayon and Mount Bulusan. Both of these volcanoes have been active during my service. Mount Bulusan was raised to Alert level 2 when I first arrived and I could see smoke pouring from the crater from my house. Mount Mayon has only just recently calmed down from her activity earlier this year. Mount Mayon was raised all the way to Alert Level 4 and I could see the crater glowing from the Casiguran pier.
But with both the giants subdued, I can sit peacefully on the pier in the early morning and gaze at the volcanoes on either side of me. I can only see Mount Mayon on clear days. The iconic cone peaks above the Sorsogon Mountains from across the Sorsogon Bay. Mount Bulusan is hard to miss. Directly opposite of Mount Mayon, inland, Mount Bulusan towers over my little Municipality. Unlike Mayon’s perfect cone, Bulusan is far from perfect with it’s flat, slightly lopsided, top.
In Bicol, Bulusan means the place where the river flows (Gintong Aral). This name couldn’t be more accurate. Mount Bulusan feeds a number of freshwater springs, lakes, and waterfalls, that run into 4 different municipalities. If there’s one thing I’ll miss, it’s an impromptu day of discovering the hidden uniqueness to each spring and waterfall running down the sides of Mount Bulusan.
Coincidentally, most of these spring hopping adventures have the same beginning. Me and my sitemate, sitting drinking coffee or tea with our friend Kenny. During a lull in conversation, he would ask:
‘Have you ever been to Masacrot Springs?’
or Bayugin Falls, or Nagsipit Falls, or Buklad River, all places that would one day take the place of Masacrot.
Most times Perri and I would reply ‘not yet!’
‘Well,’ Kenny would start,
‘We should go there! Let’s go there now!’
And just like that we would be in a jeepney, tryke, or car, off to see some part of Mount Bulusan we had never seen before. Although they all have the same source, each spring and waterfall in Sorsogon is unique in some way.
Masacrot Spring is shaded by giant crawling jungle trees, the water is a deep blue-green that compliments the sandy colored stones that line the pool. The name Masacrot Spring is after the water found there. The water is ‘masacrot’ which means acrid. The water tastes as if it’s been carbonated. I asked Kenny why it was like this and he said “it’s because of the mineral content of the water. It’s a soda spring, so the dissolved solids make the water taste that way.”
At Nagsipit falls, just above Urok cold spring, the green layers of moss, leaves, and vines crawl forward as the falls erode backwards sinking further into the forest. It makes the place look like the perfect watering hole to spot water sprites taking in the dewy breeze rushing out of the narrow cove.
San Mateo Hot Spring has water so hot you can’t help but respect the sleeping giant looming above you as your muscles melt to mush. Kenny told us his favorite time to visit the hot spring is when it’s raining. It happened to be raining when we visited, and I realized exactly what he meant. As the pool elevates your body temperature, you can feel the refreshing but sharp contrast of each individual rain drop hitting your face.
Bayugin Falls is back in the middle of the jungle. Before arriving at the waterfall, there is a long metal bridge that passes over a canyon that has grown deep into the earth. The canyon meanders through the forest and leads to a waterfall. The water of this waterfall doesn’t all fall down, it seems to spray in all different directions. The jagged boulders at the bottom of the falls have not yet smoothed. So the water falls downward, but is then launched into the air by the jagged rock. The water flows down to a pool that is bordered by a tall wall of green. At the top of the wall giant trees appear to float on air as their branches grow away from the crowded jungle out over the edge of the wall.
Buklad River, the perfect spot for an early morning walk, the sunlight streams into the crystal clear water and the rocks that peak out of the water just a bit are the perfect height for sitting and combing your mermaid hair.
These are only the few falls, rivers, and springs , I’ve been able to visit while here. There are so many others I won’t get to explore, this time around. I’ve always been a salt water girl, but fresh water is alright…as long as it’s in Sorsogon, of course.
“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.”
– Flora Lewis
After my most recent Language Proficiency Interview, I started thinking about words in Bicol and Tagalog I’ve come to love. I like these words for a variety of reasons, I like how they relate to Filipino culture, I like that some of them have no direct English translation, and others have become such a part of my vocabulary I use them with Filipinos and Peace Corps Volunteers alike.
This means expensive and it’s probably the tagalog word most commonly used between Peace Corps Volunteers. No one knows when it started, but now it has become synonymous with expensive.
Example: I looked into that hostel but it’s mahal so I need to find a different option.
Lang means only or just but it’s used after the subject. So if something is only 20 pesos, it would be ‘20 pesos lang’. It’s a super easy word to just tack on to every day speech and it’s an easy way to ask for clarification.
You: Tag-pira ang pamasahae? (how much is the fare)
Me: 30 pesos
You: 30 pesos lang?
Me: Oo (yes)
This word doesn’t directly translate in English. It’s used to describe the light in your stomach, racing heart feeling. Most people have explained it to me as the way you feel when you see your crush, and I think the closest English translation would be what we call ‘having butterflies in your stomach’. Learning a new language, I’ve realized how much a language says about it’s associated culture and I believe this word is a perfect example. The Philippines loves love, and they have a lot of words to describe feelings of love that we don’t have in English.
Pronounced Ma-si-ram / Ma-sa-ra-p
The first (masiram) is Bicol and the second (masarap) is Tagalog, they both directly translate to delicious. While these words are directly used to describe the taste of food, I love these words because they’re often used to describe things other than food. They’re also used to describe when something is particularly refreshing. When a strong, cool breeze blows through on a hot day, it can be described as masarap or ‘sarap.
“‘sarap ang hangin”
Or when jumping into a cold pool on a hot day, the water can also be described as ‘masarap’
“Masarap ang tubig”
5. Ate, Kuya, Nanay
Pronounced: Ah-tay, Koo-yah, and Nah-n-aye
These words mean older sister, older brother, and mother respectively, but they’re not reserved only for those people. Ate and Kuya apply to everyone and anyone. The kids in my community call me Ate Chelsea, I call tryke drivers and jeep conductors ‘kuya’. It’s used a term to get someone’s attention but it’s more informal than ‘ma’am’. I would say the term ‘nanay’ is used more as a term of endearment. When an elder woman is getting off a jeep and has to walk crouched over to the exit, the jeep conductor might tell her ‘luway luway nanay’ (slowly, slowly, nanay). I like the use of these words because it reflects the closeness of community here. I know I will miss being called Ate Chelsea.
6. Salamat sa Dios
Pronounced: Sa-la-ma-t sah Di-o-s
The first time I heard the direct translation of this phrase was after I first met my counterpart. We took a taxi from our hotel to the bus station to go to my site for the first time. When we arrived safely at the bus station, she turned to me and said ‘Thanks God’. Since then, I’ve heard the tagalog phrase used whenever something favorable happens. For example, when the fans have been off all day because of a power outage and everyone is sweaty and uncomfortable. When the power suddenly flips back on and the fans come to life, people will sigh and say ‘Salamat sa Dios’
This is a small house lizard that I can say with confidence inhabits every home of the Philippines. They skitter across the walls chasing one another and the bugs. They are welcome house guests keeping away the mosquitos and cockroaches. Sometimes they fight with one another and make loud territorial clicking noises. When I still lived at my host family’s house, our cat had a bunch of kittens and when they were big enough they started pouncing on the butiki that skittered across the floor. One time, one of the kittens caught one by the tail and the lizard quickly detached it’s tail and took off. The tail kept wriggling and kept the kitten entertained while the butiki was able to escape! Evolution, one point; Kitten, zero.
I once accidentally confused binuton (a glutinous rice snack) with butiki and my host family still won’t let me live it down because it sounded like I said I wanted to eat lizards.
8. Palay, Bigas, Kanin, Tipo
Prounounced: Pal-aye, Bee-gas, Ka-nin, Tee-po
The Philippines has a bunch of different words for different types and conditions for rice! I like these words because it’s a reflection of how important rice is here. Are there any English words that behave this way? Something Americans use different words to describe different details or conditions of one subject that other languages would just use one word to describe? If you think of one, leave it in the comments!
Palay is unmilled rice
Bigas is milled rice
Kain is cooked rice
Tipo is burnt rice
9. Niyog, Buko, Copra, Nata de coco, Gata, Lambanog
Pronounced: Nee-y-og, Boo-ko, Ko-pra, Na-ta de ko-ko, Gaa-ta, Lam-ba-nog
What do all these words have in common? They’re all words for coconut!
Niyog is a mature coconut.
Buko is green coconut that is not yet fully ripened. At this stage the coconut contains coconut water, or buko juice. Sometimes entire coconuts are sold on the side of the road. A kuya will cut off the top so you can drink all of the buko juice. When you’re finished with the juice, they’ll cut it in half for you and fashion a spoon out of the piece they cut off the top earlier. Then you use the coconut spoon to scrape the sides of the middle for the buko meat. Buko and buko juice is one of the food items I will absolutely miss the most. The coconut water in the USA just CANNOT compare with juice from a fresh coconut!
Copra is dried coconut. Whenever things need drying they’re laid out on the sides of the road in the Philippine sun. So, it’s not uncommon to pass sections of the street covered in copra (usually there is still a narrow lane for vehicles) drying out. You can usually smell these areas before you see them because they have a pungent, somewhat sour, smell. When the copra is done drying the meat is used for coconut oil.
Nata de coco- fermented coconut water (Wikipedia) the coconut water gels together when fermented and creates a jelly that is used in buko salad, a filipino dessert.
Gata is coconut milk which you can get fresh at any filipino market, however it may not come how you expect it to. The inside of the ripe coconut is shredded and put into a bag. You use this to make coconut milk by pouring hot water over it and squeezing the pulp with your hands. Then you drain the milk from the pulp, and viola you have gata!
Lambanog has been explained to me as coconut wine, but I believe it’s closer to a spirit than a wine (EDIT: Lambanog is a distilled coconut spirit, Thanks Kenny!). It’s made of fermented sap from coconut flowers or palms and it is a strong but cheap alcohol, commonly drank in tagay circles on the beach.
This is a style of drinking where people sit in a circle with a bottle of alcohol, wine, or beer, in the middle. They then pass around one cup. The person who has the cup pours a little into the cup, finishes it, and passes it to the next person who repeats the process. In the Philippines this is primarily used to describe this method of drinking, but between my batchmates and I we use it to describe consuming almost anything in this, one serving-pass it on, fashion.
Example: Wanna tagay the last slice of pizza?
What’s your favorite word (in any language!) and why? Post it in the comments below!
For my first story let’s go back to the beginning…
The beginning of service can be A LOT. Every day is a neurological overload because, whether you notice it or not, culture completely saturates every aspect of our lives. I didn’t realize this until long after I went through the overwhelming days of culture shock. But everything we do, from your reaction to someone sneezing, the way you get someone’s attention, to your reflexive action to pick up a certain utensil to eat your breakfast with, it’s all rooted in your cultural background.
I spent every day having my reactive behaviors being picked apart. I spent the other half of the day trying to figure out the inner workings of what would be my home for the next 2+ years. On top of that, I was simultaneously trying to pick out words I recognized from the conversations occurring around me and attempting to participate without completely embarrassing myself. Some of the jokes made in those first couple weeks, I didn’t understand until a full YEAR later. Which brings me to my first story.
When you first arrive at site you have to do a bunch of ‘courtesy calls’. These are basic introductions to the important people in your new community. I did courtesy calls with my counterpart to my mayor, SB (Sangguniang Bayan), Home barangay Capitan and council, among others. During each of these, I used these basic lines of my local language:
Marhay na Aga. [Good Morning]
Ako po si Chelsea [I am Chelsea]
Peace Corps Volunteer ako [I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer]
Nagta-trabaho ako ni coastal resource management [I work in coastal resource management]
Baynte-dos anyos na ako [I’m twenty-two]
Taga-New York ako [I’m from New York]
Nakaistar ako sa Trece Martirez [I live in Trece Martirez]
Then I would be asked a few follow up questions I didn’t understand, would wrap it up with a strong ‘Salamat po’ [Thank you] and head out. My counterpart would talk to my officemates and tease me for my language skills, I couldn’t understand most of it, but she would focus on the way I pronounced ‘ako’. I didn’t really hear the difference but I also wasn’t brave enough to ask. So, I let it go and quietly studied language, tediously watching what I would choose to voice out-loud.
Fast forward a year later, I was a resource volunteer for the new batch of volunteers.
This meant I got to attend their community-based training. This is where new volunteers live in a community with host families and attend daily classes that focus on a range of topics such as language, culture, coastal resource management, safety and security, and medical. During one of the technical coastal resource management sessions we took a trip to a neighboring municipality to visit a fisherfolk organization. At this meeting they got to practice that beloved introduction they would learn to recite on command at their permanent sites.
I had gone through similar training and so I just sat back and watched the new trainees practice their language skills…that was when I heard it.
The harsher longer vowel sounds, where the vowel says its own name, are more common in American dialects. These don’t exist in Filipinos dialects. The letter ‘a’ is more commonly pronounced as ‘ă’ rather than ‘ā’. However, as a fresh little volunteer stubbornly sticking to my American accent, I was still using the harsher longer ‘ā’ sound in my introductions when I first got to site. Which, as a resource volunteer with a year of service under my belt, I will admit sounds very funny.
Your alarm goes off and you peel your eyes open to be partially blinded by your phone’s screen. The time reads 5:30am and you sit up straight and begin to stretch. Out in the kitchen you make yourself a cup of coffee and rest before beginning to prepare the biggest feast of the year. The menu is the same every year, but you still find yourself meticulously going over each recipe to make sure you didn’t forget any ingredients. No one wants to run to the neighbor’s house today to ask for a forgotten can of cream, or half cup of sugar.
After you contend that you have everything you could possibly need you begin to prepare the traditional dishes. Slowly and steadily the table begins to fill. The rest of the house wakes up to the sweet aroma of cooking foods. The family is immediately hungry and eager for the feast to come. You take a short break to watch the parade, and get ready to welcome family and old friends to share in the spirit of….
Thanksgiving? Fiesta? The end of that sentence is entirely up to you, Bahala ka.
On the surface these events seem very different, but the purpose of these celebrations is rooted in values that know no cultural bounds. Family, food, and cultural pride.
Christmas has begun
Fiesta, or Thanksgiving, family travels far and wide to come home and celebrate with their loved ones. The house is brought to life by warm hugs and conversations of life in the year (or years) past.
These holidays are nothing without the food! Buko salad, lechon, pansit, fried chicken, macaroni salad, fruit salad, among others grace the table during fiesta as stuffing, turkey, sweet potato casserole, and cranberry sauce do during Thanksgiving.
Both of these celebrations have parades that go along with them that highlight distinctive traits of their respective cultures. It had never occurred to me how deeply cultural the Thanksgiving day parade was until I saw the fiesta parades of the Philippines.
To me, the fiesta parades illustrated cultural value, history, and folklore. The dancers describe historical happenings, and the floats are designed to highlight important foods and exports. The Thanksgiving day parade is no different. The Thanksgiving day parade highlights foods that are typically used in it’s celebration, turkey, pumpkins, apples. We also dress in costume that is meant to be a tribute to the history of the holiday (the accuracy of this costume and version of history is another story). Many of it’s floats and acts are unique to the United States, whether they feature TV cartoon characters, a scene from a new Broadway show, or well-known celebrities.
It’s a fascinating experience to take a step back, and analyze my own culture on a larger scale. Describing the culture of the United States to people who have never experienced it, is a very difficult task. People want generalizations.
What do Americans eat?
What do Americans wear?
What sort of things do Americans do?
I always find it impossible to answer questions that generalize about the United States, because we are a country of such vast cultural diversity. Of course not EVERYONE in The United States celebrates Thanksgiving the same, but it’s one of the few generalizations I feel comfortable making.
Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, it holds a different meaning for different people. For my family it’s the epitome of autumn celebrations. Thanksgiving signifies the end of fall and the beginning of the Christmas season. It’s a time for family and to be thankful. Usually at my home we celebrate by cooking up all of the traditional foods, and a few of our own specialties (chocolate chocolate cake, cheesecake by mistake, to name a few of my mom’s famous dishes). We eat far too much and end up watching the movie ‘Elf’ in our sleepy, stuffed, stupor to officially start the Christmas season.
Post Thanksgiving Food Coma
1 Thanksgiving dinner later…
Christmas has begun
This year I taught my host nieces how to make hand turkeys, baked apple pie and stuffing. Tonight I’ll feel a little homesick while I video chat with my family, and I’ll make them turn the camera towards the television so I can watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
As the ‘firsts’ turn into ‘lasts’ this year, I can’t help but wonder maybe next year I’ll be experiencing similar feelings as I force feed my family in the United States buko salad to celebrate fiesta…
The period of time after Halloween and before Thanksgiving in the United States is a grey area. It’s not quite Christmas, but it’s also no longer that spooky pre-Halloween time. We all know those eager Christmas junkies that break out their Christmas decor on November 1, and can be heard humming holiday carols at all times of the day. The ladder, is the group of people who aren’t quite ready to embrace the ‘most wonderful time of the year’.
In my opinion, Christmas starts right after everyone has filled themselves to the brim with Thanksgiving dessert and the whole family settles into the couch and to watch the movie ‘Elf’.
So for those not quite ready to let Fall go, here is a post-Halloween article about the ghost and ghouls that haunt the Philippines.
In America we have things like vampires, ghosts, bigfoot, demons and spirits. And we all know at least one or two good ghost stories. Whether we’ve experienced the supernatural ourselves, or we’re relaying a story we heard from a friend, there’s nothing quite like a spooky tale that sends chills down your spine. The Philippines is no different! There are ghosts and ghouls that haunt this corner of the world too. I could explain them all, but I think this video does them more justice than I ever could:
The supernatural world is still alive and active in the Philippines, there are precautions to be taken in order to limit your vulnerability to the hurtful spirits. Like saying ‘tabi tabi po’ when passing by an area well known for Encantado (american equivalent would be a fairy). If you do find yourself effected, healers can be found in every City, Municipality, Barangay, and Situ. They are the ones that can heal ailments that cannot be cured by doctors or medicine. When I was sick a few months ago, the first thing I was asked was if I had offended anyone, as they may have put a curse on me. A quick diagnosis by Nanay determined I was ‘really sick talaga’ and had not been cursed.
But now that it’s drawing closer and closer to Christmas (and there’s no Thanksgiving to perpetuate the Fall) the spooky stories are being put away for next season, and the Christmas trees are being decorated with tinsel and lights. Hopefully I’ll spend my last Christmas in the Philippines in Casiguran, and not consolidated for another Typhoon!
If there’s one conversation that is surprisingly similar whether I’m in the United States, or the Philippines, it’s about where I’m from.
[In the United States]
Stranger: Where are you from?
Me: I’m from New York
Stranger: The city?
Me: No, I’m from upstate
Stranger: Oh like Syracuse?
Me: Umm, not quite that far upstate…
[In the Philippines]
Friendly Ate: Taga-saan ka? (Where are you from?)
Me: Taga New York ako. (I’m from New York)
Friendly Ate: aaaaahhyyeee New York City?! The Big Apple?!
Me: haha, uhhh actually dai sa New York City. Malaking an New York. (Not the city, New York is big)
Friendly Ate: ah okay, pirang an oras sa city? (how many hours to the city?)
Me: siguro cero o duwang oras. (one or two hours)
[Friendly Ate still thinks I’m from the city because an hour jeep ride doesn’t get you very far in the Philippines]
To be fair, the United States is huge. Even Americans find it difficult not to generalize when it comes to understanding where someone is from. For New Yorkers who aren’t from the city though, this can be a bit of a sore spot.
So, here are some pictures to help paint a clearer picture of where I’m from.
Small Town USA
Small Town USA
My favorite apple Orchard
St Mary’s Catholic Church
Where I’m from can be referred to as ‘Small Town USA’. There are no skyscrapers, no subways, no busy sidewalks and certainly no yellow taxi cabs. I live among farms, orchards, and forests on the outskirts of a few small towns. These towns have certain features that you may not find in the city, but are nonetheless, iconic to New York.
Fresh produce at Roe’s Orchards
Apples Apples Everywhere!
Betty’s Country Kitchen, a local diner
Smiling faces at Betty’s Country Kitchen!
A few of these features include Apple Orchards, Pizzerias, and Diners; and in preparation for my visit home these were all on my ‘to do’ list.
Visiting my favorite apple orchard for it’s crunchy sweet corn, the crisp juicy apples, and the ripe delicious blueberries. Luckily, I came home in the correct season when the orchard was open! In New York we can’t harvest these fruits and vegetables all year around because we have such drastic seasons. Most fruits and vegetables are ready for harvest at some point during the summer, or the beginning of fall.
Eat as much New York Pizza as I possibly could. Each small town I’m surrounded by has at least one pizzeria (if not 2 or 3). Truthfully, I had forgotten just how good New York Pizza was!
Eating at a diner. Diners are unique to the Northeast, and Midwest USA. They have a wide selection of food, and you can eat whatever you want at any time of day. In the mood for pasta at 6am? You’ve got it. Feeling like pancakes at 9pm? Still on the menu! ALSO, most diners are open 24/7 making it a perfect late night road trip stop. The diner featured above has a warm and welcoming feel to it, and has become the heart of my hometown.
And of course, what’s home without family!
My Grandpa makes the best steak!
Me and my sister Tiffany at our cousin’s wedding
My best friend, I avoca-don’t know what I would do without her.
My dog Maisy is not too happy about me leaving again
My baby sister Quinn at her brand new college
Besides getting to visit my favorite state, I also got to see a bunch of my favorite people (and canines!). Not all of them were in New York but a bit of travel was well worth seeing their smiling faces after over a year of living in the Philippines.
Penny the new addition to the Fowler Family. She’s an odd pup
My last New York feast for another year, with my favorite faces around the table!
We’ve been friends for almost 20 years, a trip to NY wouldn’t be complete without seeing Gabi.
My beautiful cousins
A quick stop to Florida to visit family and friends!
After an unforgettable two weeks home, 77 hours of travel, countless hugs and laughs, enough pizza, cheese, and bagels to get me through another year, and about 40 kilos of pasalubong, I’m back in the Philippines once again!
Trading the brisk breeze of my New York, for the humid habagat of my Philippines.