Monday, May 25, 2009
The CNN weather report on TV said that it was going to rain all weekend in Manila. Fortunately the weather man got it all wrong. Since I arrived on Saturday night it has been warm and clear. Yesterday it was sunny and downright hot!
I really, really like Manila. I am not a city person, but this one is really great. I think what I like most about it, is that even though it’s a huge city and it has its fair share of poverty and problems, the people are incredibly friendly, down-to-earth, and warm. I felt the same way in Chicago…big city, yet people still act like Midwesterners. Well Manila has a similar feel. The city moves fast (holy cow, what a shock after living for 3 years in Majuro where the pace is less than ½ speed that Manila moves at). Filipinos are industrious, hard working, quick moving people, but they don’t get self-centered in all this hustle and bustle. They still treat others with kindness and respect. I love that!
I am also amazed at the level of English fluency among Filipinos, even those who have never left their country. This is a people who really value education and learning. Aside from these reasons I love the Philippines (after only 24 hours in the country) is that it’s a cheapskate’s dream vacation! The exchange rate is very favorable for those earning dollars, euros, or pounds. For example: 3 Mangoes, peeled and prepared = 20pesos (40cents). A decent room at a guesthouse is 500 pesos ($10), and an hour-long massage at a professional place is only 300 pesos ($7). There is so much natural beauty on these islands, from Ancient Rice Terraces on hillsides in Northern Luzon (I’m heading there tomorrow), white sand beaches and coral snorkeling with whale sharks in the Visayas, and plenty of jungles and volcanoes (some still active) to trek. Combine wonderful people with the great prices and a beautiful environment, and I’m really wondering why I didn’t come here a long time ago!
Yesterday afternoon (after attending church and meeting lots of great people), I decided to walk toward Rizal park. It’s a beautiful green space in the middle of Ermita district of Manila and a place where all the cute Filipino families spend time together on Sunday afternoons. On my way there, I met a nice Filipino guy named Miko who asked if he could accompany me. I was cautious at first, but soon realized that he was harmless. His job contract on an American Military base in Mindenao (Southern part of Philippines) just ended and he's home to Manila to regroup and look for work again. Underemployment has always been a problem here (there are so many highly skilled people with not enough positions for them), but more so now that the economy has taken a downturn. Miko is about my age (though he looks like he's 25 like all Filipinos do...they are such beautiful people!) His funny friend Raul came along with us. They are an unlikely pair...Miko is a well dressed young Filipino and Raul is a somewhat disheveled man in his 50s? with crooked teeth and a big grin. It was fun to walk around with them. I had them pose for my pictures in the park (which made all the families watching us laugh!) and then we walked back down the boardwalk by Manila Bay and took a Jeepney ride to town for dinner. I'm so glad they were around, because I really wanted to ride in a Jeepney but it's so confusing to figure out which one goes where and how much. They are so fun and funky. Filipinos got the idea for this form of public transport from the US military who occupied their islands during and after WW2. Jeepneys are elongated Jeeps with two benches in the back facing each other. But they’re not camoflouge colored! They are all pimped-out with bright colors, flashy signs, and sometimes pictures of Jesus or the Virgin Mary. Anyway...you can't beat the Jeepney price! (7 pesos/15cents) for a ride across town! We went to dinner at a nice authentic Filipino restaurant where I discovered that it’s difficult to find vegetarian Filipino dishes. Even the dishes under the “vegetarian” section have a few pig snouts/tripe/worse thrown in for good measure! I like adobo sauce, but not the meat so much. But I have to say that the Pancit was my favorite!
Niko gave me his cell phone and perhaps we'll hang out again when I get back from Northern Luzon next weekend. His story is so sad, though he doesn’t seem to wallow in self pity (I probably would). He was married and had two kids here in Phl. Then his wife joined the Overseas Filipino Worker program and moved to California, leaving their children with her parents here. That was four years ago. I asked him if he had plans to join her, he must miss her. His reply was that he can't because in the intervening years she met and married an American and got US citizenship, now with no intention of continuing her life with Miko or the children. It's such a heartbreaking story, and unfortunately it's not uncommon. 1/10 of the Filipinos live overseas in order to remit money home to their families here because the exchange rate is so favorable and they are such industrious, well qualified employees (I have met many in the Marshall Islands). OFW (Overseas Filipino Workers inject so much capital into the Philippines economy (over $12 billion per year) that the government provides incentives to the families of OFWs (my Filipina friend in Majuro's kids got free welding lessons during their summer break from University...isn't that hilarious? Her delicate little 20 year old daughter spent her break from Nursing school taking welding lessons with her brother!) But moving far from home often has really devastating consequences if you leave a spouse behind. I wish that the American government would make it easier for families to be together. One of the reasons I voted for Barrack Obama was his promise to make American Immigration more family friendly.
I went for a massage yesterday which was fantastic. Sweet girl, 20 years old, from Pangasinan province (3 hours north of Manila). Most Filipinas look about 10 years younger than their age, so she looked like she was 15. She kept calling me ma'am, which feels akward. I experienced that first with my Filipino colleagues at CMI...it is very strange to be called "Maam Britt" by colleagues who are my age (or my parents' age!) But it's 10 times worse here! Another funny thing is that as soon as you meet a friendly Filipino/a, they always inquire lots of details: Where are you from? how old are you? Are you married, single, divorced? I think I need to figure out more efficient ways to answer these questions.
Next destination on my trip is Banaue and Batad and Baguio. It’s a 9 hour bus ride to Banaue (starting at 10pm tonight!). Supposed to be very scenic, but I won't see much until we're almost there. Today’s agenda includes getting a haircut, arranging bus tickets, and a visit the Imelda Marcos shoe museum. Isn't that a hilarious?!? I love the Philippines!
On Friday (the day before I left Majuro) I was talking to my Dean of Academics, Joe. He and his wife are lovely people from Mindenao province. He said, "Britt, my wife and I will fly from Manila to Davao and visit my brother (president of a very progressive SDA University in the mountains there). Would you like to come with us? Of course!! I am so delighted! It only costs about $50 to fly down there (to Davao) and they can get me on a bus/ferry heading to the places I wanted to visit in the Visayas just after that. Prior to our conversation, I had wanted to see Mindenao (it has a reputation for being extremely beautiful), but it's not safe to go alone, due to terrorist activities in some parts of the island. But to go with Joe and Becky will be really wonderful. From there I think I will catch a bus to Surigao City (northern tip of Mindenao) and take a ferry to Leyte Island. There are lots of natural caves, snorkeling with harmless whale sharks, a natural bridge and thick jungles to trek in Leyte and Samar islands. Then I'll fly back to Manila to meet Ray and get ready to leave for Borneo. Two weeks is definitely not long enough, but I’m going to see as much as I can. I’ll write about the Rice Terraces and post pictures with this entry when I return next weekend.