Teaching Tagalog to our Kids, Part 1: Flashcards and Books

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I’m Canadian, my husband is from the Philippines and our son was born in Korea (You can read more about our family’s story here!). We of course want our son to love and appreciate his Filipino heritage and a big part of that is learning to speak Tagalog. By being able to speak Tagalog he will be able to connect with his father’s country and join in conversations with his family and other Filipinos more deeply than if he only spoke English.

Teaching him to speak Tagalog while we live in Korea though has been a challenge. Our son attends preschool taught in Korean and he hears Korean everywhere when he leaves the house. My husband and I speak English to each other and it’s easy to find English books, videos and toys either in Korea or online. Though I have studied Tagalog, teaching it to our son is primarily left up to daddy and it isn’t even his first language.

My husband grew up in Negros Occidental on the border of the Ilonggo and Cebuano language regions. They spoke one language at home and when they went to the market they spoke the other.  When he started school his classes were in English and Tagalog so, by the time he was 6 years old he was using the 4 languages on a regular basis. After college he would go on to learn to speak Japanese while living there for 2 years and later learnt to speak Korean before going to Korea to work. I’ve seen him have conversations with groups of people switching back and forth between 3 – 4 different languages! So while he can speak Tagalog he doesn’t use it often and sometimes he struggles to find the words for things.

We tried using the very effective one parent one language technique in our home. I would speak English and my husband Tagalog but since my husband and I were speaking English to each other we would always forget to have him switch to Tagalog when he spoke with our son. Despite knowing many families in Korea with at least one Filipino parent, we have only been able to find 2 families in our city who were also teaching their children Tagalog. One has left and we have lost contact with the other family. A cultural center in our city offered us free space to hold language and cultural classes for Filipino kids but there was no interest from the Filipino community. We have visited Filipino groceries, sporting events, restaurants and churches to expose our son to Tagalog here in Korea as well but people go to these places to spend time with their friends and so he may hear the language but doesn’t get to practice it much at all.

We realized that we were going to have to collect resources to help us to teach our son. Here are some we have used. I hope they can help your family as well!

Tagalog for Kids Flash Cards

We bought the Tuttle Tagalog for Kids and the More Tagalog for Kids flashcards before our son was even born!  Each set includes 64 cards, an audio CD, a poster wall chart and a learning guide for parents with teaching suggestions. On the front of the card is a simple graphic in color with the word in Tagalog. On the back of the card is the English translation and a couple of sentences using the vocabulary word. The CD includes the pronunciation of the words, sentences and some songs.

            

Before our son could even talk he loved looking through the cards and having us tell him over and over what they said. We visited the Philippines for the first time when he was about a year and a half old and as soon as we got out of the airport he started pointing and excitedly yelling “Jeepney! Jeepney!” He had learnt about Jeepney from these cards. Though they are made from strong paper I would recommend having the cards laminated if possible. We ended up laminating ours and it has made them easier to clean and more difficult to damage. Now that our son is older we can work on the sentences with him.

Books

We struggled a bit to find good books in Tagalog but over the past 4 years more have been showing up on the market. We wanted fun and educational stories for our son but we found that a lot of the available Tagalog books are religious or political in content even for very small children. While this is fine for many families, we wanted to keep the topics more lighthearted when he was very young. Another reoccurring theme in many children’s’ books are balikbayan returnee stories. These are a fantastic resource for children who are learning Tagalog because their families are going to move to the Philippines. In our case I was worried that if our son keeps on reading about how he should be moving back to the Philippines he might feel guilty about living abroad. I might be worrying too much though!

It is possible to get books for children in Tagalog online and at the National Bookstore in the Philippines but at the bookstore the Tagalog selection is far smaller than the English book section.  At two of the National Bookstores we visited in the Philippines the employees didn’t even know where the Tagalog children’s book sections were! My husband and I had to search through all the aisles and show them. It was really shocking!

Here are some of our favorite Tagalog kids books:

Lakas and the Manilatown Fish / Si Lakas at ang Isdang Manilatown

Lakas and the Manilatown Fish / Si Lakas at ang Isdang Manilatown was the very first Tagalog book that we got for our son. The story follows Lakas through Manila town in San Francisco as he chases a magical fish and meets unusual characters along the way.  It is a dual language book. On the left side the story is written in Tagalog and on the right it is written in English so in our family daddy reads it in Tagalog and mommy reads it in English. It is aimed at children age 5 and up but we started reading it to our son when he was a baby. The beautiful illustrations kept his attention and he just enjoyed listening to us. Years later, he still enjoys it. The author and illustrator have released a second book Lakas and the Makibaka Hotel / Si Lakas at ang Makibaka Hotel but we have not had the chance to read it yet.

            

Filipino Friends

The book Filipino Friends has been created in the same style as the classic English language Richard Scarry books. The objects in the illustrations have been labeled in both English and Tagalog. The story is only in English though. Included among the pages are points teaching about Filipino culture, foods and even a simple recipe for kalamansi juice!  We enjoy singing Bahay Kubo together when we reach that section of the book. This book does end up being a balikbayan returnee story but it is so full of fun cultural bits we just couldn’t pass it up!

Tagu-Taguan

The illustrations alone in Tagu-Taguan are reason to buy this Filipino counting book! From sampu to isa the reader travels through the garden counting different insects. This book is a bit too difficult for children who are learning to count to read on their own but is a great book to read together as a family. Our son is an insect and number lover so this book was an instant favorite!

Kokak! Kokak!

We actually have 3 books in this series. “Kokak! Kokak!”, “ Mmmmm… Sarap!” and “Prrrrrt…Utot!” There are others in the series as well by the same author and illustrator. They’re funny little books with simple big graphics and few words on the page for young learners.  They can be purchased online and shipped internationally through http://www.anvilpublishing.com/ We got ours at National Bookstore and will be looking for more the next time we visit!

            

 

Adarna House Books

Adarna House Books have been publishing quality books for newborn to teenaged Filipino children since 1980. The following books can all be purchased through http://adarna.com.ph/ and shipped internationally.  They are also available at the National Book Store in the Philippines

Dumaan si Butiki

The award winning Dumaan si Butiki follows a cute little lizard up and down and around the house. It is a young learner’s board book that teaches locations as the little lizard goes left, right, up and under. It can be purchased online and shipped internationally through we purchased our copy in the Philippines.

Ang Una Kong Alpabeto and Kulay!

These two books are small board books with only one or two words on each page. Ideal for babies, they’re nice first books for little hands.

       

Ang Mabait na Kalabaw

We love carabao (just like lolo’s!) and so any book that features them is a hit in our family! Ang Mabait na Kalabaw is a dual language book with Tagalog at the top of the page and English at the bottom.  The good carabao is a role model of good behavior as he goes about his day. There are items to count on each page as well starting at 1 on the first page and finishing with 13 in the last illustration.

Check out part 2 here: Teaching Tagalog to our Kids, Part 2: Batibot!

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Should You Swim With The Whale Sharks in Oslob, Philippines?

oslob whale sharks
It’s not an easy question to answer. In recent years there have been quite a few articles and advocates who have encouraged people not to visit the Oslob whale sharks. In order to have the whale sharks returning to the area daily so that visitors can swim with them, feeders give the sharks fish. This has resulted in the whales having an unnatural amount of contact with humans. The artificial feeding behavior has taught the whales to associate people with food. They will now sometimes approach boats rather than staying away from them which can lead to injuries. Injuries can also occur if tourists in the water accidentally kick a shark. 

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The feeding has also resulted in the sharks having less variety in their diet as they spend more time eating the fish that are given to them rather than plankton and such. Some of the Oslob whale sharks spend up to 6 hours a day feeding instead of foraging naturally. In the future, this could end up causing nutritional problems. Additionally, the migratory patterns of the sharks have also changed. The breeding pool of the sharks or the spread of this vulnerable and declining species may be influenced by this. It is hard to say though as the whale sharks are difficult to study and concrete answers hard to come by. Obviously, the best thing for these Oslob whale sharks is to be freely swimming and living the way nature intended.
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Whale shark very closely approaching one of the feeding boats in Oslob

Having tourists visit the Oslob whale sharks is a relatively new practice. Back in 2011 photos of fishermen interacting with Oslob whale sharks were featured in Mail Online. The article was largely positive with conservationist Shawn Heinrich praising the bond that had formed between the sharks and fishermen in Oslob. In other places in the region the same whale sharks were being slaughtered by fishermen. It seems strange that a conservationist would applaud fishermen touching, riding and playing with the sharks until you consider just how bad the slaughter of the whale shakes in the region is.

In 1997 alone around 20 whale sharks were killed in the Philippines to be traded on the Asian market. Others were also killed or harmed by fishermen trying to protect their catch. Around this same time the 1998 the documentary “Whale Shark Hunters” hosted by William Shatner was created for National Geographic. The documentary aimed to highlight the issues surrounding the hunting of whale sharks in the Philippines and to help find alternative livelihoods for the whale shark hunters. This film lead President Ramos to ban the killing of whale sharks and manta rays in the Philippines. The Philippines became one of the first countries in the world to ban the killing of whale sharks.

The ban was a great first step but not all in the Philippines have welcomed it. The sharks can interfere with the catch of the fishermen who already struggle to make a living. Even as recent as 2015 in response to whale sharks and dolphins eating the fish in the major fishing grounds of Tañon Strait, Nelson Garcia, mayor of Dumanjug town in Cebu stated: “I want to kill those whale sharks…Man should be the first to survive, not the whales, not the fish, because we will be violating the Bible. God said, man have dominion over the ocean, the fishes, the birds, the animals, and subdue it. That is the order of God.” Tañon Strait is a rich fishing ground but is also part of the natural migratory path of large marine animals.

Whale sharks also still continue to fetch a lot of money in the Asian market. In China a single whale shark at market can bring in $30,000 USD or more, though the fishermen usually get considerably less than that. About 600 whale sharks a year were killed in just one slaughterhouse in Southern China it was found in an investigation between 2010 and 2013. Then in August 2015 the world was shocked by videos of a whale shark in China (WARNING: Graphic!) being butchered at market while still alive. While the sharks are a protected species in Philippines, China and other countries which do not protect the sharks, share many of these fishing waters as well as the migratory paths of the whale sharks with the Philippines.
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Getting the fishermen and local people to see more value in having the whale sharks alive then dead has been key to protecting them. It is easy to say “It is important for our environment to protect the whale sharks!” but when it interferes with your lively hood and ability to provide for your family the choice is not so easy. Groups have instead been working to educate locals and to set up profitable eco-tourism projects in popular whale shark areas.

Donsol Bay and Oslob Whale Sharks

Both Donsol Bay in the Bicol Region of Luzon and Oslob, Cebu are well known for whale sharks. They have both created tourism industries for their small towns around them. As a result the fishermen who once killed them in these areas now protect the whale sharks as tourist dollars bring in more money for them and the entire community.

The major difference between the two sites though is that the whale sharks are not fed in Donsol Bay. This way there is no unnatural feeding, no increased contact with boats, and migratory patterns are not affected. But it also means that there is no guarantee that you will see a whale shark when you go out in your boat even during the peak viewing season. In the past couple of years reports from tourists started to come out that the whale sharks of Donsol Bay were gone. People were sighting one or no sharks for extended periods of time. This continued for a few years and tourism in the area dropped considerably. Though it seems that the whale sharks have been returning to the area, it is hard to lure people back.

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By feeding the Oslob whale sharks, Oslob is able to guarantee a sighting of a whale shark to its visitors. Seeing a whale shark in a completely natural environment is much more thrilling but when you’ve traveled from far and wide and paid for the experience, patience is hard to come by. As mentioned before though, there are all sorts of problems with this unnatural feeding behavior. The sheer number of visitors to Oslob has also created issues.  In 2014 over 110,000 tourists came to Oslob primarily to see the sharks. Conservation groups have stepped in and regulations have been applied. Tourists are only taken out to the sharks from 6 am – noon each day. Time in the water or boat is limited to 30 minutes. If you plan on going in the water you need to be free from sunscreen to help keep pollutants out of the water etc. Anyone who touches a shark will receive a fine or even jail time.

This does not seem to be enough and suggestions of limiting the number of tourists or stopping the feeding practice have been made repeatedly. They are hard things to put in place though when a guaranteed whale shark sighting means tourists and tourists mean more money for the entire community which doesn’t have many other employment options. The Large Marine Vertebraes Project Philippines (LAMAVE)  is a great organization to check out if you would like to know more. They are working in the Philippines to research and educate, while striving to find a balance between marine conservation, and local community development.

Our Experience
We visited Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental which is just a short boat ride from Oslob so we decided to go and check out the whale shark situation ourselves. We fully prepared to leave if it looked like the whales were being harmed in any way. We stayed in a guesthouse just outside of the town away from the sharks and wished we hadn’t. In there weren’t many restaurants and our guesthouse didn’t offer meals beyond breakfast. Nearly all of the businesses catering to travelers seemed to be around the whale shark viewing area.

s0343844Before we visited the sharks we spoke with some of the boatmen, restaurant owners and other locals. They told us the stories of how in the past many fishermen in the area (or even themselves!) would attack or kill the sharks to keep them away from their catch. Now though they loved the sharks and wanted to keep them healthy and safe. Following the rules and restrictions that had been recommended by outside organizations meant to them that tourist dollars would keep coming into the area. If there are no sharks or the area gets a bad reputation the tourists will go and so will their jobs.

The people we spoke to at the feeding site took their jobs and the safety of the sharks very seriously. It seemed like a well-respected job in the community that many were competing for. Around 300 people work at the feeding site not to mention all the other jobs in the community created to care for tourists. Some mentioned though that they felt that some of the money generated from the whale sharks which was supposed to go into developing the town was being used by other areas in the region instead. I really don’t know about the financial allocations though.

dscf3571-2We decided to go out in a boat to see the sharks based on the positive stories we had been told. We traveled in August and arrived around 7:30 am. There were not many people and so the three of us were sent out in our own boat with 2 staff after the safety briefing. One staff member would keep our boat in place while the other took photos for us (for an additional fee). If you are a strong swimmer you can get into the water to view the sharks underwater though most people stayed in the boats. If traveling with a small child it is best to bring your own lifejacket since they may not have the correct size for little ones. 

s0173699We did not see anyone touch or harass the sharks. The whale sharks did at times though get very close to the boats of the feeders. They may have touched the sides of them. If feeding the sharks is truly necessary (I don’t think it is) it would seem that some sort of alternative could be arranged so that the feeders had no contact with them at all!

We had an incredible experience and feel really lucky to have been able to interact with these beautiful and peaceful sharks. We left with more questions than when we first arrived though. There seems to be no straight cut answer as to how to best protect the sharks. Though Donsol Bay seems to be the clear choice for responsible eco-tourism, I don’t think I would say that you shouldn’t go to see the Oslob whale sharks. The community genuinely appears to want to find a solution that is both beneficial to the sharks but also supports their livelihood. The whales may also have arguably been more at risk when these same boatmen sought to kill them just a few years ago. Rather, supporting groups which actively work to find a balance, and reporting mistreatment or violations when spotted so that practices can be improved may be the way to go. It is clear though, that more can and needs to be done to help protect these gentle giants.

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Geisha in Kyoto, Japan: How to See a Real Geisha

Our First Night Looking for Geisha

On our most recent trip to Japan our main goal was to finally make it to Kyoto because (if we were very lucky) I wanted to see a geisha. The exact number of geisha currently working in Japan is not known but it is estimated that there are about 1,000 with the highest concentration in Kyoto. There are about 100 geisha and 100 maiko (geisha apprentice) working in Kyoto.

We booked a hotel near the Gion, Kyoto’s most famous entertainment district where most geisha in Koyoto work. My plan was to go out to the Gion each of the 4 nights we were in Kyoto to just sit and wait and hope to catch a glimpse. Unfortunately our hotel was not as close to the Gion as we had thought.

The first evening we were just too tired and we had an early morning so we didn’t end up making the trip to the Gion. The next night we were too late. Every article we had read had mentioned that we should be in the Gion area around 5:45pm if we wanted to catch a glimpse of a geisha heading to work. Our son had had a late afternoon nap though and we had been given strange walking directions to the Gion.

We found ourselves in the Shimbashi area well after 6pm. It was eerily quiet with only a handful of people walking around. As we walked through the small alleys and side streets you could hear a low murmur coming through some of the glowing doorways as patrons behind the curtained doors enjoyed their meals. On the far side of the Shirakawa river canal large windows allowed us to get a peek into some of the expensive restaurants and clubs.

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Shimbashi side street

We then made it over to Hanamikoji Dori. The famous street is less pretty than the Shimbashi area but we had been told that we would have a better chance spotting a geisha there. It was very clear when we arrived though that all the geisha were already at work. If we wanted to try to see one, we would have to wait until their parties ended later that night or try another day.  We made our way over to Yasaka Shrine and then called it a day.

Yasaka Shrine

Our Last Chance

We didn’t make it back to the Gion until our last night in Kyoto.  We took a taxi right to the intersection of Hanamikoji and Shijo Dori and started our search by around 5:20 pm. We slowly made our way down towards Gion Kobu Kaburenjo theater (Gion Corner) where visitors can take in traditional performances by maiko for a fee. Looking this way and that, we carefully checked each alleyway. There were kimonos everywhere! We knew before we arrived though that most women we saw in kimono would be tourists. Daily kimono rental is a very popular tourist activity and some places will even make you up to look just like a geisha. There was a lot of “Is she? Is she?” as we walked along. A real giesha or miako is on her way to work though when you spot them in the Gion and so they will not be on the street chatting or stopping for photos.

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NOT real geisha

When we made it down to Gion Corner we weren’t exactly sure what to do next except head back the way we came. There was a large group of tourists waiting at infront of Gion Corner and we thought maybe they were waiting there to see some geisha arrive. When their tour guide joined them though they moved along. Further down the street I saw 3 or 4 men with cameras looking down an alley. These men were not tourists. They were middle aged Japanese men wearing business casual and though they were discrete, they didn’t fit in to the fast and noisy crowds around us.

We decided to check it out. There was a middle aged woman with them. I regret that I never got her name. She spoke a little English and we started to chat about where we were from. They were also waiting for Geisha and the photographers asked through her what kind of camera I was using. I replied “Nikon D90”. They all whispered between themselves “Ah! Nikon. Nikon. Nikon.” while nodding. I felt a bit like Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade. Apparently I had “chosen wisely” and was now part of their group! The woman told us to wait there for about 5 more minutes and then we should move on to the street near the famous Ichiriki Chaya teahouse.

Seeing Geiko and Maiko

I don’t know where she came from but suddenly she appeared! I wasn’t exactly sure what to do. There are signs throughout the Gion reminding visitors to respect and to give the geisha working there space. Some locals in the community even volunteer to patrol the Gion to watch that overly enthusiastic visitors do not act like paparazzi.

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Sign in the Gion

I stayed well back until our guide said “Get in there!” and nudged me to the front of our group. The beautiful geisha in front of us stopped only for a second, looked directly at us, gave a small smile and then as quickly as she appeared, she was gone. “Is she a real one?” I asked. “Yes” our guide replied, “a geiko”.  While “geisha” is the more commonly used term internationally and in Tokyo, geiko is the term used in Kyoto and other parts of western Japan.  I didn’t cry when we saw her but I was embarrassingly close to it and in awe. She was dignified and beautiful!


We quickly headed down the street to wait near the historic 300 year old Ichiriki Chaya tea house.  A menacing looking doorman stood in front. Entry is by invitation only and if the doorman doesn’t know you, you’re not getting in. Our guide instructed us to watch for people who were delivering food to the tea house.  If you see food being delivered you know that there is going to be a party there that night. More food likely means bigger party. The guests arrived in advance and would be listening to musicians playing before the geiko and maiko would arrive about 10 minutes before 6 o’clock.  We looked every which way and peeked in every taxi going by but we were informed that if they did come by taxi, it would only be in the black ones.

Ichiriki Chaya tea house

Unexpectedly in the alleyway across the street down the side of Ichiriki Chaya a maiko appeared. Taking tiny quick steps she made her way down the walkway…and then disappeared! I was looking right at her. I don’t think I even blinked a moment but right in front of my eyes she completely disappeared. Our guide explained that the maiko I had just spotted had arrived early and so she was hiding until she could make a more appropriately timed entrance to the party.

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It was now very clear to us who were geiko and maiko and who were just tourists in costume. The kimono of a geiko costs thousands of dollars. Some are even worth an entire year’s salary! Even from a distance you can see the difference in quality. The kimono of a maiko is colorful, elaborately patterned and has long sleeves. A geiko’s kimono is simpler. Maiko style their natural hair and wear beautiful hairpins whereas geiko wear wigs. Maiko usually have some skin on the back of their necks that remains without makeup but geikos usually wear makeup right to their hairline. The collar of a maiko’s kimono is red but a geiko’s is white. And so on.

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Maiko with her assistant


Around 5:45pm there were suddenly maiko appearing regularly. While we waited we saw two taxis with several maiko in them go by but resisted the urge to chase them down. We saw about 5 maiko in total go into Ichiriki Chaya. The maiko who had disappeared in the alleyway also suddenly reappeared out of nowhere and made her way to the tea house. They all moved so quickly. In the changing light conditions of the dark street with lamps I would just get my camera set when she would move to another area. They were all exceptionally hard to photograph! Some would give a small glance towards the camera but most didn’t.


Since we visited in February there weren’t as many tourists on the streets as there are during more busy seasons. We luckily didn’t see anyone swarming or harassing the maiko as they made their way down the streets. There were two tourists in Kimono who stood in the alleyway taking photos with their cell phones as a maiko made her way towards us. The photographers who we were with chastised them for getting in the way of the “real” photographers and for bothering the maiko with their cellphones. I also have a series of photos where you can see two men trying to take a selfie of themselves with a maiko and her assistant in the background. When they pass the men you can then see the men in the next few photos following and giggling like school girls. The look foolish but nothing paparazzi like.

Then suddenly at 6pm on the dot the action stopped. Our guide though told us to wait around a bit longer. If more food was seen being brought into the teahouse around 6:30pm it would mean that there would be more guests and more geiko and maiko arriving around 7pm. This was not the case that night. Shortly after 6:30 we all said our goodbyes and each person seemed to go in a separate direction. I’m not sure exactly who that woman was but she was a wealth of knowledge. The photographers with her took me under their wing. I should have asked but I was just so excited about the moment. With their help though and a whole lot of luck, our Kyoto dreams of seeing a geiko came true.

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Teaching Tagalog to our Kids, Part 2: Batibot

This article is part 2 on resources we have been using to help us teach our son Tagalog while we are living in South Korea and traveling internationally. These resources can help others teaching children Tagalog both in the Philippines and abroad Please check out part 1 here: Teaching Tagalog to our Kids, Part 1: Flashcards and Books

Batibot

I know what you are probably thinking. "What?! Batibot is still around?" Well the answer is "Yes and no". Like many kids across North America I grew up with Sesame Street and it was also one of the first TV shows our son ever watched. Fun and educational with songs you remember for a lifetime. For many Filipinos growing up in the 80’s and 90’s the equivalent was Batibot! The show was based on Sesame Street and was even originally co-produced with the Children’s Television Workshop. It was on the air from 1985-1998 and then resurrected from 2010 – 2013 before going off the air again.

Try as we may though we have not found much more than a few blurry incomplete episodes on Youtube of Batibot. We have looked online, asked in the facebook groups, searched video hosting sites, and asked in book and video stores in the Philippines and nothing! We aren’t the only people looking. Plenty of online forums are full of parents searching for the show but to this date, despite the demand, DVD's of the series have not been released. The best quality videos you can find of Batibot are from the Batibot saYoutube channel but they only have 9 videos available and the channel hasn't been updated in 4 years. Unfortunately, there just doesn’t seem to be any sort of equivalent in an educational children’s show for young learners in Tagalog these days. 

Batibot Apps

In August 2015 an app based on the Batibot TV program aimed at children from kindergarten to grade 3 was released. There are currently 2 apps:

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Batibot TV and Batibot Games.

I’m not really sure what the purpose of having a separate download for Batibot Games is since the same games are also included in the more extensive Batibot TV app. So, if you’re looking for just games that option is there but from here I’ll just write about Batibot TV. The Batibot TV app includes 4 sections Kwenteng Batibot (stories), ABC, Games and Karaoke.


   Batibot TV- screenshot

Kwenteng Batibot

Kwenteng Batibot currently includes 14 videos to download. The stories are about 5 minutes long and feature simple animations or puppets along with the narrator. Our son enjoyed all of them even though he couldn’t understand them all fully. There seem to be some glitches with this section still. You need to download all of the free stories individually which can take a long if your internet is slow. Even though we have already downloaded all of the stories I often get a pop up asking me if we would like to download our first story. When I click back and enter the story section again the stories are all loaded. Other times I need to re-download “Ang Tinapay” and/or “Paalam”. In general though this section is kid friendly and educational.

ABC

The ABC section has all the letters of the Filipino alphabet. The letter name is said and a word starting with that letter is given. Some of the words, seem to be strange choices for very young children. For example, for “C” the word is “cadena de amor”. Most though are great examples of words related to Filipino culture. There is also a section where children can practice writing the letters with their fingers and an alphabet song video. In the background as children are exploring the letters, part of the Batibot theme song is playing. I love the Batibot song as much as the next person but after listening to it repeat over and over and over as my son explores and slowly writes 28 letters I start to go a bit crazy! There really needs to be a way to turn off the background song or some variety in background music would be nice.


   Batibot TV- screenshot             Batibot TV- screenshot

Games

Unfortunately the Games section which we were most looking forward to has been our least favorite. I hope they have more games in the future. This app is supposed to be for children who are kindergarten aged to grade 3 but our son is 3 years old and even he found the games to be quite easy and a bit babyish. Right now as I’m writing this the “Games” section stopped working and I had to restart it but usually it works pretty well. There are 4 games available.


   Batibot Games- screenshot

Pares-pares is a 6 card memory matching game. Flip the cards to find the matching pairs. Alin ang Naiba shows 4 pictures and the child must choose the one that is different. It starts off very very easy. For example, it will show pictures of 3 frogs and a robot or 3 groups of marbles and a pie. It then moves into more difficult concepts though like running shoes, sandals, boots and a jeepney. Pagsama-Samahin requires the child to sort the objects. Again it starts out very easy with two groups of very different things like robots and eggs that all look the same but gets more difficult like sorting fruits and vegetables or clothes and toys. Finally there is Pagsunod-Sunurin. The child must choose which picture is next in the pattern like: doll, bear, doll, bear….you got it! Doll! Then it moves onto sorting 3 things from small to biggest, biggest to smallest or putting 3 letters from the alphabet in order.


   Batibot Games- screenshot

Karaoke

The karaoke section has 10 songs like Pa-Pa-Parisukat below. Like the story section you need to download each song individually. The ABC song is the same song as the ABC song in the alphabet practice section but the others are original songs with live video, animations or photos. Our son enjoyed all of the songs. In particular, as a family we really liked Isang Linggong Pagkain but the video for this sonng annoyed our son. The image changes very quickly over and over again to the music and he found it difficult to watch which is a shame because he liked that song best.
 

Katuwaan sa Batibot​

I haven't had a chance to check this out yet as I only came across it while writing this review. It appears that there is also still in publication a Filipino activity book for children called Katuwaan sa Batibot. It promises pages to color, games, mazes and counting exercises. It can be purchased through Anvil Publishing

katuwaan sa batibot

Manduca Baby Carrier Traveling With Kids Review

When our son was 3 and a half years old we made a trip to Vietnam.  As I start to pack there is noticeably less “stuff” that we are bringing this time. Our stroller is staying at home. We don’t really use it any more. Completely toilet trained, there are no diapers. No booster seats, sippy cups or travel sterilizer bags. And I have become aware that this would likely be the last trip for our Manduca baby carrier.

7 month 7 unjusa templeBabywearing isn’t really a trend in South Korea where we live. It’s more just a normal, everyday thing that parents do here until the baby can walk. The city roads are busy, sidewalks bumpy and a lot of businesses are completely wheelchair or stroller inaccessible. I’ve had to carry my sleeping son in his stroller up 10 steps just to get to the bank machine! Carrying your baby without the stroller just makes a whole lot more sense sometimes.

It’s also very much tradition in South Korea. It’s not uncommon to see 70 or 80 year old grandmothers carrying their grandchildren on their backs in a modern style podaegi (blanket wrap style carriers) like they once did with their own children. So, when I became pregnant back in 2012 finding a good carrier was much more on my mind than checking out the latest trends in strollers.

The very first baby iten that we bought for our son was our Manduca baby carrier. As an excited new mom I shared the news with my friends and family who are online just to have one friend pipe up and tell me that I could have bought a similar Korean carrier for half the price. I was confident though that the quality wasn’t the same. After all these years I still consider it the best investment in an item for childcare that we bought and worth every penny spent!

The Details

The Manduca carrier can be used for newborns up to children weighing 20 kg. One of the things we liked about the carrier was that the newborn insert is sewn right into the carrier. There was no need to buy an additional insert! The back also extends to give older children more support. It has wide belts at the hip and shoulder and is adjusted to fit the person doing the carrying easily and quickly. The carrier fit both my husband and myself comfortably and we could switch the carrier to the other parent in seconds. It can be used on the front, back and hip. We never found any need to carry our son on our hips but that option is there if desired.

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Travel

I don’t think there is a carrier out there that I would have liked more for traveling. Every country we visited we ran into other parents who were also using the Manduca baby carrier in their travels. At one point we purchased a metal frame hiking carrier. It fit my husband fine but cut into my back and it took up so much space in our baggage. The Manduca carrier though was nearly always comfortable to wear, weighs only 600 g, took up about as much space as a pair of jeans in our luggage, and it held up fantastically after many many many washes.

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Quite some time after we bought it I accidentally closed the buckle for the waist strap in the car door. It cracked but still held up perfectly! When our son was 3 years old we decided to buy a new (used) Manduca from a friend. We were going to be climbing up temples in Bagan, Myanmar with our son on our back and were a bit concerned about all the weight on the crack now that he was older. At that time, other than a little fraying at the edges and fading of the fabric everything else about the carrier was still fine.

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This trip will likely be our last one with the Manduca carrier. Our son is tall for his age and is reaching the upper weight limits. It’s going to be a whole different experience when we can no longer just put him on our back, grab our bags and go! We’ve hiked mountains in Korea, climbed Borobudur in Indonesia at sunrise, and visited the snow monkeys in Japan all with the help of our Manduca carrier.

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manduca baby carrier

Grieving a Loss or Death as an Expat Far from “Home”

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Agni Pooja infront of the sacred Ganges river. Those who are cremated on the banks of the Ganges or who die in the city of Varanasi recieve instant salvation.

I found out through Facebook that my great uncle in Canada is expected to pass away in the next very short while. I knew he was sick. He hadn’t been doing well recently but then suddenly there in my facebook news feed was a post that today may be his last day. Sitting in my office at work during a break I was instantly reduced to tears. He was the last of my grandfather’s generation still holding on and active to the end. As a child I always adored him. In a family full of chaos he was a constant calm. He was always a gentleman whom no matter what our age treated us with respect.

But here I am in Korea. Distance and cost make the trip home for final “goodbyes” impossible. In 11 years abroad this isn’t the first time I’ve found out about passing of friends and family online. I found out about an old teacher’s passing from condolences on his facebook page. Confused, I scanned through them only to find that they weren’t for someone he knew but for my friend himself. Another time I went to send a message to an elementary school friend I hadn’t spoken to in some time only to find out that she had passed away 2 years earlier. Because we hadn’t spoken in a while, Facebook had filtered her posts not to appear in my newsfeed. I hadn’t even known she was sick.

I also got an email about my grandmother passing after she had already been buried and her things divided up among her children or sold off. I got a message from the mother of the boy who I consider to be my first love. We were best friends for years but had drifted apart when I went to university. We had just reconnected online when I got the message that he had passed. Since it came in an online message it was even harder to believe than usual that it wasn’t some crew joke. Even the passing of one of our very good friends here in Korea was announced online. I turned on the computer and there it was.

None of this is unique to expat living. In this “digital age” finding out through social media of the passing of loved ones has become more and more common. And rather than one tragic phone call or letter, the news is announced to us over and over each time we turn on the screen. As an expat though, the distance in time and space complicates things even further. Family may gather but we are unable to attend. Whose death do we return home for? Can we return home for anyone? How do we mourn?

As an expat it can be incredibly difficult to get enough time off of work to return home. You may get a few days off but that only covers the trip itself and leaves no other time for arrangements. I know of more than a couple of people who have had to give up their jobs abroad since they had to suddenly go home for an extended period for emergencies like an illness in the family. It is not a stretch that some would be on shaky terms at work if they needed to leave for a week or more for deaths in the family.

In countries like the Philippines where so many traditionally work abroad, viewings and funerals can last around 3 weeks but even then it isn’t always easy to return. When my husband’s lola passed away in 2006 he had just started a contract at a new job and wasn’t allowed any time off yet. We can’t quite remember why we didn’t return at the beginning of 2012 when his lolo passed away as well. But it was around the time I was finishing up my degree, we both had work, were either in or heading on a trip through Northern India and I was either pregnant or we were trying to become pregnant. It was a busy time. My husband’s parents are getting older now. Both my husband and I know that if we move to Canada in the next few years and they pass away he likely won’t be able to make the trip all the way back home for their funerals.

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Finally visiting lolo's grave 2 years after he passed

If we don’t attend there is the guilt of not showing enough sacrifice and love for the family, of not helping enough during this difficult time. This is coupled with the guilt of being far away before they passed and of not sharing in enough events over the years. One of my friends died young and tragically. If I had been at home could I have perhaps guided him to a better path?

More often than not these days, mourning ends up taking the same approach that the announcement did. We change our profile photo, post pubic condolences, and maybe post a little memory of the loved one. Then we internally debate about when we can change our photo back, if it is appropriate to share something else in our news feed yet and if it is ever ok to “unfriend” someone who has passed if they had a social media account.

When my grandparents moved abroad it would have taken months sometimes for them to get the news through mail. All this digital connection has given us opportunities for those of us far away to connect nearly instantly and to mourn together over social media but it all feels rather empty. While those around me can relate to the loss of a loved one, no one around us actually knew them. There are no past stories to be shared over drinks.

There is no finality of the funeral. No seeing them one last time. In our minds they remain as they were the last time we saw them. There is no good bye or closure. The act of mourning seems to be missing in formality and in return we are either cursed or blessed with their image of them forever young, as they were when we left our homes to go abroad.