Archive for the ‘Philippines’ Category
Recapping some old travel notes that have been jangling around in my head. Most of this was originally written in a letter to my friend who I used to live with in DC and is now living abroad in Peru. I thought this part was relevant to anyone who might be traveling to Manila and considering taking the local transport. The one of the kind Filipino jeepney: crazy, maybe, and a product of history being reimagined and retold with more flare.
Nothing wrong with arbitrary choices, but mainly I started my trip in Manila because it was also the cheapest place in the region to fly into, at least at the time of booking. Lots of travelers go to the Philippines but they use Manila mostly as a jumping-off point before they head to the beaches of Boracay or Bohol or some other beautiful island. I saw this a lot at my hostel: Our Melting Pot in the quickly modernizing Makati City neighborhood was great, but mainly people didn’t stick around for very long. It’s really crowded, hectic, and hot in Manila. I remember walking for less than 10 minutes and being completely drenched in my own sweat – I wrote in my notebook, “I now know the meaning of the phrase ‘bathed in sweat’” – and so, people hop on jeepneys to get anywhere.
The jeepneys are the most common public transport in the Philippines and are interesting to read about. They’re old U.S. jeeps that were redecorated in some crazy ways after the U.S. left the Philippines post-WWII. They’re privately owned so I guess their drivers go all out. It’s funny getting into one that’s called “Sex Bomb” or “God Save the Queen” or any number of bizarre signatures. You can get into them anywhere – there aren’t really designated stops, although there are a few main places where many of them stop to pick up passengers – and stop them anywhere you want to get off on their route by hitting the metal roof with your hand or a coin and yelling “PARA!” It’s a fun mode of transportation to try out. To figure out how the route generally runs, you read the jeepneys as they’re going by and they list the beginning and end of the route (sometimes also other, in-between stops for routes that turn off somewhere).
I give thanks that again that long nights, though they’re lonely, are lit by stars and end with suns that climb. And the moon will back me up on this, just look up. - The Microphones, ”Thanksgiving”
In 2010, I’ve had much to be thankful for. At breakfast with my family, we’ve gone over the ones we like to remember each year (if not each day). Friends. Family. Health.
And also: it takes time after traveling to internalize the depth of one’s experiences abroad. Being in a new place makes me want to run around and take it all in completely, pushing myself to be more active – the obvious compression of time makes it feel necessary and of course the air is surged with excitement – and there’s less time for introspection. Most of my thoughts are saved to be written down in the stale air of an airplane or to the rattling of a rail car, but often just lost to time. My memory isn’t so great. So as time passes, there’s the test of what comes back: the sound of screaming cockroaches in a concrete shower, feeling warm and embraced by a roomful of strangers singing along to American songs in Bandung, watching the afternoon rains from a window in Bangkok.
My addition to my list of thanks in 2010 is this: Recognizing that I am one of many living in a world that does not deal evenly with all people, and yet it is no reason to lose faith that it gets better. I’ve seen a little more of the world: cried in a bedroom on an island far from home, made friends abroad who have loved unconditionally across oceans and sent their tidings across years, and found utopia in the most inconspicuous places.
Since last update, I decided to take a couple days to visit Puerto Galera, in northern Mindoro Island in the Philippines. Getting here from Manila takes less than four hours. On the suggestion by one of the guys at Our Melting Pot hostel in Makati City, Manila (where I was staying, and great place – spotlessly clean and staffed by helpful people), I took a JAM Transit bus from the Buendia light rail station headed towards Batangas.
I don’t know exactly when I left, but it was early in the morning and either way, I didn’t know the bus schedule. I left around 7 or 8 in the morning. The stereotype about “Filipino time” means attitudes towards time are very relaxed… that wasn’t an issue here – my timing was spot on. As soon as I got to the bus, they let me board and we pulled out within twenty minutes. The bus was air-conditioned and not at all full, so I had a row of seats to myself. It was great watching vendors come onto the bus selling all manner of food for the less than two-hour bus ride. You can buy donuts, hot nuts, oranges, water, some kind of chicken pastries, cookies, meringues, mentos, and so on. The conductor came around collecting the fare of 167 PHP [~US $3.70] and distributing tickets.
When we got off the bus at Batangas Pier, a young woman headed back to work on Sabang beach decided to take me under her protection. She declared herself my bodyguard and helped me navigate through the boat terminal. The ferry cost was 230 PHP, plus a 50 peso tourist environment tax. The ferryboat was a real blast to ride. Check out the color of the water!
The night before I left Manila, I shared a pleasant dinner with a new friend and we also had “San Mig” beer, the biggest local brew in the Philippines. It was refreshing but nothing special, except that makes me think that as a beer lover, I should make a point to try the national beers of each country. Of the ones I’ve tried in America, my loyalty lies with Dogfish Head from Delaware, and Stone from California. That’s a small push from me to check out their beers and generally support your microbreweries.
Malaysia’s my next stop. I’m going both to Borneo (specifically Kota Kinabalu), and the peninsula (Kuala Lumpur for sure, plus maybe another city). Anyone care to chime in about their favorite spots in either city or suggest others?
Two days in Manila is beginning to feel like enough time here. I should take a hint from my hostel bunkmates, who have continued onto more charming locales in the isles like Boracay and Puerto Galera. (Though maybe by “charming,” I really mean “more beachy.”)
A Filipino woman I met during one of my layovers on the way to Manila taught me the only Tagalog word I know: salama, which means “thank you.” It’s proven to be handy, if only to draw even bigger smiles. Though tourist culture here feels kind of negligible in areas outside of Intramuros, globalization is evident in the ubiquitous 7-Elevens, enormous shopping malls, and numerous fast food chains. English is spoken all over the city. A British traveler I met at my hostel who teaches university in Malaysia complained that all of his students think every Western thing they see is “American.” If they see an English-language television show, they automatically assume it’s from the U.S. – never considering it could be British or otherwise.
I’m staying in Makati, Manila right now, and explored the must-see sights of the city with two bunkmates yesterday. We grabbed lunch in Binondo (Chinatown). There you can expect to see naked children run through the overflowing sidewalks or sleep in handcarts while their parents sell their wares, from forged high school diplomas and doctor’s certifications to sandals and cell phone cases. Prices are low and the volume’s high.
We walked from Binondo to Intramuros, where we visited the larger than expected San Agustin Church and played with the turtles in the fountain. One of the guys wanted to see the sunset over Manila Bay, but once we got there, we were all dismayed by the amount of trash on the beach. More garbage than sand… See for yourself.
In contrast to that image, the Ayala Museum in Makati (near Greenbelt Mall) is one of the most modern museums I’ve ever visited. You may be like me – not so stoked on ceramics – but the history of trade routes between Southeast Asia and China is fascinating. Truth is, the style and technique employed in ceramics-making reveals a lot about commerce, influence, and geography. It’s worth watching the video named “A Millenium of Contact” on the 4th floor of the museum. There’s also a floor of dioramas (a full 60 of them!) in the museum depicting Filipino history from 750,000 B.C. to 1946. Neat approach.
By far, my favorite exhibit in the Ayala Museum was the one about the Boxer Codex, a 307-page manuscript with 75 colored plates depicting the inhabitants of the Philippines at the time of initial Spanish contact. It was the first known descriptions of these peoples in a Western language (originally in Spanish), merging early anthropology with colonial history. The writer makes very detailed notes about customs of the various groups encountered. In the museum, you can flip through a “virtual book” with clickable images of the plates and read some of the pages of the codex in both Spanish and English translation.
Other minor lessons learned in Manila:
- Aircon is like gold in this weather. So is water. I now know the meaning of the phrase “bathed in sweat.”
- Toilet paper is to be thrown in the rubbish bin, not flushed. Disclaimer: This does not apply all over the world.
- Keep cool like a local by carrying one or more of the following: a small towel or handkerchief to wipe your face and neck, an umbrella for the sun (and for the almost daily afternoon rain showers), or a collapsible paper fan.