Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

The last Thanksgiving I spent in the US was in 2004.  Since then, Thanksgiving day for me has been celebrated in different locations:  Camp Taji, Iraq; Zagreb, Croatia; Prague, Czech Republic; Nimes, France; and Luxembourg City, Luxembourg.  This year, it is planned for Vienna, Austria.

In 2005 at Camp Taji, my Resident Office passed up on the magnificent spread of traditional Thanksgiving food served at the dining facility.  Instead, we cooked and grilled our own food and invited members from our major contractor (a Turkish company) on base.  We all enjoyed the dinner, although limited and lacking in variety compared to the dining facility.  We also had a chance to just sit down and talk, and reflect on the time we have spent in Iraq.  In 2006, while in Bosnia, I had the opportunity to take a long weekend to Zagreb for a break.  For Thanksgiving dinner, I had the best Chinese food ever.  It may have been because I got tired of eating dining facility food at Eagle Base.  In 2007, a nephew visited me from Boston during his Thanksgiving college break in Germany.  On Thanksgiving morning, we took the train to Prague.  We arrived in Prague later that evening, in time to find a nice restaurant in the city and had a great full course dinner.  In 2008, a friend and I explored southwest France, cassoulet country.  Thanksgiving dinner in Nimes was obviously cassoulet, the specialty of the area, that was sumptuous.  In 2009, I took a day trip to Luxembourg City.  Thanksgiving meal was a late lunch at a French restaurant in the city center.

I hope to have a nice experience in Vienna for this upcoming Thanksgiving.  I am thankful that I am able do what I enjoy doing, traveling, and to have enriching experiences such as these.  To all of you, best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving holiday.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Trip Back to Seattle with a Stopover in Germany

I purchased my ticket to go back to Seattle to have a specialist check out my back.  I am leaving Abu Dhabi early Tuesday morning, 23 Nov, with an eight day stop in Germany.  Yeah, it would have been nice to be home for Thanksgiving for the first time in six years.  But I should be there for Christmas.  Also, it was hard to pass up a stop in Germany to visit places nearby.  In the plans are visits to Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest; and possibly a day trip to Budweis (home of the original Budweiser) from Vienna.  I have been to the first three cities before, but I would like to see them again, especially Budapest.  That covers four, possibly five, European countries in 8 days -- Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, and possibly, the Czech Republic.  I will be exploring these places by train with a friend I used to work with in Wiesbaden.

I am looking forward to this break.  I just hope my back holds up.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Back to Seattle for Good -- Perhaps

I thought I would have about a month to mull it over.  Tomorrow, Friday afternoon, Seattle time, I will have to make a decision if I want to accept a position with Seattle District Corps of Engineers.  After a week of going back and forth asking questions and discussing salaries, I may have been offered a deal that is hard to refuse.  It may have been negotiating skills I learned as a PM in previous positions, but I started out high and recommended "retained pay".  They held steadfast, as I did also.  I offered a few references for them to look over to re-assess their salary offer.  After a few more phone discussions, they finally put on the table a final offer.

It is definitely a good offer, position-wise and salary-wise.  Work location will be in Federal Way, just south of Seattle, at the Northwest Area Office of the Seattle District Corps of Engineer.  The Northwest Area Office manages construction projects in Eastern Washington, Idaho, and Montana -- mainly military construction at Spokane's Fairchild AFB, Mountain Home AFB right outside of Boise, and Malmstrom AFB near Great Falls.  There will be some civil works projects also.  There will be travel involved in these three areas -- about 15-20% of my time.  Position will involve, among other things, coordination of contractor submittals for review and provision of contract administration support.  It is a combined project engineer/office engineer position.

It is hard to discount my current situation in Abu Dhabi.  It is definitely a good position with a lot of responsibilities, but definitely a lot less stress than my previous position.  The compensation, benefits, and living conditions are all great.  There are a few things this coming year that I was looking forward to:  one week training in San Diego in late June and one week training in DC in mid-July.  I haven't had a chance to explore the Middle East as I was planning to do.  I was going to do some of that right about now until the end of the year, but this back issue is preventing me from doing it.  This week would have been a good time to visit Cairo because of an almost week-long local holiday, but I could not do it because I am headed out of Abu Dhabi next Tuesday first for a weeklong stop in Germany, then to Seattle on 1 December to have my back looked at.

I am leaning towards acceptance of this offer.  First of all, it gets me back to Seattle -- to be back with family and friends.  Second, it is a huge jump in salary from what I was making when I left Seattle back in early 2005.  If I do accept, I am not sure if this is my final move back to Seattle.  I still want to explore and work at other locations outside of the US.  Getting back to Germany or other areas in Europe are still future considerations.  Maybe it is time, after almost 6 years away, to "roost" even if just to get reacquainted again with family, friends, and Seattle for awhile until the next journey comes along.

My back situation, I believe, is one main reason I am leaning towards a move back to Seattle.  I probably would not have applied for a position back home if I was not having this issue.  It is something I need a specialist to look at.  First thing first, as I stated previously, I am headed to Germany this coming Tuesday for a short break to explore more of Europe.  Then I am headed to Seattle on 1 December for medical leave to see doctors about my back.  I will need to get back to Abu Dhabi at some time.  My return ticket currently is for 3 January.  If need be, I can stick around Seattle for any regimen that a back specialist recommends concerning my back.

If I do move back to Seattle to accept the position, I would guess a start date of late Feb/early March is a workable plan.  Back to Seattle for good?  Perhaps...

Update:  I showed up at work today, Friday, which is my day off, to go over this big decision.  As I always do, I make a list of positives and negatives for each of the option.  Then I start comparing the two alternatives.  There were not many negatives for each option.  This time, the quality of life stood out.  Health concerns relating to my back was a major item in my decision.  Obviously, taking care of this in Seattle would be much easier:  doctors who I can talk to directly; my medical insurance is based in Seattle; and the quality of service would be much better.  Also, as I state above, getting reacquainted with the younger ones in the family played a major part in my decision.  Many of the younger ones in the family see me almost as a distant relative who visits maybe three or four times a year.  Even if only for a short time while I am there, I want to reconnect with them and make a bigger impression on their lives.  And lastly, my social life in Abu Dhabi is almost non-existent.  It is pretty much work and back to my apartment.  On some Fridays, I get to visit places nearby.  We are such a small office -- we have had either two or three in the office.  I am sure that if I were more pro-active that I can develop more of an active social life.  But it is different here because of the many different expat communities.  In Germany, I had people from my office and other departments that I went to lunch with regularly, and some who I went out with for dinner and bars on some occasions; I also had a few friends that I travel with, whether for a weekend trip or a longer trip around Europe.  In Bosnia, I had a similar circle of friends from work including local nationals and EU military members who I hung out with during and after work, inside and outside the base.  Even in Iraq, because we had much more people in our Resident Office, we went to the dining halls together, we scheduled movie nights in our rec area, planned for bbq's, etc.

Anyway, instead of waiting until Friday afternoon Seattle time to inform them of my decision, I sent out an e-mail at noon (midnight Seattle time) to accept the offer.  I gave them a start date of 27 Feb 2011, which in our phone conversation from last night, they were amenable to that schedule.

Uncle Anks' Street Corner

My uncle Anks (see past posting about him) in Cuyapo has a favorite hangout, a street corner concrete bench not too far from his house.  When I am walking around town or passing by in a vehicle, I see him there smoking by himself or talking to friends.  A few years back on a past visit to Cuyapo, I went to check out the night activities at the town fiesta.  I got bored so I walked back to my aunt's house on my own.  As I was approaching my uncle's corner, all I could see was a faint ember in the dark.  It was hard to see or recognize anyone.  As I pass by, I hear a greeting:  "Kumusta ngay nakong" or "How are you my little one."  Initially, I was taken aback and a bit startled, not expecting to hear anything.  The voice became familiar -- yes, it was my uncle hanging out at his favorite place.  The faint ember was from his cigarette.  Yes, even in my mid-30's at that time, he still calls me "little one"; I am at least twice his weight.

Uncle Anks with me and my brothers Edgie and Nemy.

Me and Uncle Anks sitting at his hangout.

CUSA 2010 Program Ad

Early this past summer, my nephew Jojie was soliciting ads for the program (publication handouts) to be distributed during an upcoming Cuyapo-US Association (CUSA), Seattle Chapter, annual dinner-dance.  Jojie is currently the president of the organization.  Ideas from family members ensued that the Antonio family secure the two-page “centerfold” portion for a family greeting.  I am usually not a big fan of ads such as these in program publications.  In this case, I went with it just to showcase the younger members of the family.  Also, it was a great way to help the cause of the CUSA organization.

The finished product for the ad, designed by Ron, is shown below.  It has a picture of my parents dancing, a picture of all eight of their children, a picture of all the grandchildren, and a picture of all the great-grandkids.  All five photos have been separately featured on this blog before.  Unfortunately, none of the in-laws were included.  Click on the image to enlarge the picture.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Side to Side Cha-Cha

Cha-cha is a type of dance where one of the partner is either going forward or backward, while the other partner follows in the opposite direction, all in a synchronized, in step choreography.  I would like to show you an example of this.  But instead, I will show you how it should not be done -- dancing in a side to side manner.

The video features my brother, one of the birthday celebrant at this party in Cuyapo, dancing with a neighbor from our barangay.  The other birthday celebrant, also a brother, is shown later in the video dancing with another neighbor from Tagtagumbao, who I used to play with when I was little kid.  Near the end of the video is Rena and Sarah's parents, from Seattle area, but they happened to be visiting in the Philippines.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Visit to the Philippines

When I visited Seattle this past May, my brother Edgie expressed to me that he wanted to visit the Philippines.  He had just lost his wife, Ate Cristy, to cancer earlier in the year.  I told him that if I found the time, I would join him.  I was with Mng. Edgie and Ate Cristy last time they were in the Philippines, back in April 2006.  He was already planning a one year commemoration for Ate Cristy for next February in Cuyapo.  I suggested to him that since we were going to be in Cuyapo this time that he should plan to do a small remembrance for Ate Cristy with her family.  I think it was important to my brother that he meet with Ate Cristy's family to express, in his own way, his gratitude of his late wife to her family in the Philippines. 

At the same time, my sister Eden has been constantly urging me to visit our father in the Philippines.  I had seen my father in the Philippines last December and in Seattle this past February.  He has had quite a bit of difficulty traveling back and forth from the US to the Philippines.  So it would be easier to visit him in the Philippines, rather than him go the US and then schedule my time to visit him in the US.  Since I had the opportunity to do it, I planned a 10 day visit of my hometown, Cuyapo, and its barangay (village) Tagtagumbao in the Philippines.  Two other brothers, Bong and Nemy, and a sister, Eden, joined my brother Edgie and myself for the visit.  My oldest sister, Evelyn, had already moved back to the Philippines with her husband.  So the trip had multiple objectives for me:  to be with my brother, to visit my father, to see five of seven siblings, and as always, to see again all the relatives and friends that I do not see on a regular basis.

I did not really do much while there except to see family and friends.  I spent a day in Manila waiting for two of my brothers to arrive from the US.  They arrive a day later than I did.  The traffic in Manila was horrendous, especially around that time because many people were going back to the provinces for the All Saints Day holiday. I spent another day in Manila when two of siblings returned to the US.   Traffic was a bit more bearable this time.   I spent the rest of the time in Cuyapo and Tagtagumbao.  I wanted to get out a bit, maybe on some day trips, but my back could not tolerate the pounding of road travel.

We celebrated birthdays of two of my brothers by throwing a big bash for them.  We had initially planned for the party to be at my cousin's small resort out in the countryside.  The weather, steady rain during the scheduled day, changed our plans.  The party was moved to a newly built gymnasium/hall in Cuyapo, graciously offered by great family friends.  It turned out to be a better venue because the place was much bigger and the party was well attended.  Pictures and videos are soon to come.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Back in Abu Dhabi

I got back to Abu Dhabi this past Monday morning from a 10 day visit of Cuyapo, Philippines.  As always, visiting the Philippines was a nice break.  It is always nice to see family, relatives, and friends.  My back was giving me fits -- there were some days that I did not feel well because of this.  Relief for the back pain was always on the ready.  My sister has a maid that provided much needed back massages during my stay in the Philippines.

Just to test the waters, I had put in for a position with the Corps of Engineers' Seattle District.  I had just updated my resume.  I saw the Seattle position advertised and decided to gauge my marketability.  I was interviewed a few days prior to my departure for the visit to the Philippines.  The interview was via my cell phone.  I did not think the interview went well.  When I returned to work on Tuesday, I had an e-mail from the Seattle District office that they wanted to talk to me concerning the position.  I called them later that evening (morning time Seattle), and they were giving me a tentative offer for a job in Seattle.  The HR rep who had my file was not yet in the office.  She will call me back for further details.

What's next?  I will probably spend the next 2 weeks in Abu Dhabi.  Then proceed to Germany for more R&R for about a week before I go back to the US to have my back looked at.  My supervisor had already approved medical leave for me. I will need to return to Abu Dhabi by the beginning of the new year. 

I will have to think hard about what I really want to do next.  It will be six years this coming February that I have been away from Seattle.  I should not pass up this great opportunity, especially returning to Seattle.  I do not have return rights to a position back in the States.  But as a current employee with the US Army Corps of Engineers, I should be able to apply competitively for engineering and PM positions at the many offices of the Corps throughout the US.  I should be able to find a position back in the States easily, but not necessarily in Seattle.

I have been in Abu Dhabi for eight months.  I really haven't had too many complaints about my job here.  The benefits are excellent.  Like I said before, I was not really looking into leaving Abu Dhabi yet.  It will be a tough decision, but I have a few months to mull it over.