Editor’s note: In The Weekend Dispatch’s first installment of Blogger Exchange, Joshua Yam talks about his recent trip to the Philippines.
“It was like America and Thailand had a baby.” This was one of my first replies when asked what I thought of the Philippines on Day 1 of my trip, specifically in Manila.
The American part was the culture – basketball courts everywhere and I mean everywhere – every kalye, every barangay, everywhere. You could also pretty much state any American metaphor or pop culture reference and within a very high probability be immediately understood and responded to with candor and enthusiasm. There were also trivia nights in the local bars apart from the famous Filipino live band scene.
The Thai part on the other hand would be how dense and cramped everything was within a road. Being an engineer and looking at how the power cables were routed across the city, I was in shock – at least not what I had expected for a city like Manila. I jokingly told my “Filipino friend blogger extraordinaire” which shall be known from this point forth as “FFBE” that they have probably very good engineers to handle their very “complex” power distribution network.
Interspersed within the modern parts of rich and new Manila, lay the poor and destitute areas. Naked babies on the streets lying in the clutches of weary and disheveled parents, makeshift homes at every nook and cranny possible, so much so the utilization of whatever little space possible was in my opinion extremely creative, bordering on genius.
There is a tourism tagline by the Filipino government stating that “It’s more Fun in the Philippines.” After Day 1, I came to a premature rash conclusion that the government should make it “better” in the Philippines instead of just making it more “fun” – having seen the sandwiches of suffering I saw across of Manila. “Management” should be doing something about this I told my friend.
This was just Day 1 of my 7-day trip in the Philippines.
Over the course of the trip, I got to make new acquaintances, friends of the FFBE of which I must say have been one of the highlights of the trip. The people here I would say have one of the highest levels of social empathy among all the countries I have visited. They were absolutely friendly, accommodating and welcoming. In the family setting, family ties, honor and respect were upheld with the highest priority.
FFBE was welcomed home with such anticipation and grandeur by his family. A dinner party was thrown in his honor with all relatives invited including a cake with the icing words “Welcome home Anak” written across. I silently envied how love was explicitly expressed within his family.
The food was phenomenal across the three major islands of the country (barring the balut which I shall avoid elaborating on to not spur the wrath of 104 million people). If I had to summarize how Filipino food is like across the board from the expensive high-end dining restaurants down to the food sold by the local peddlers, it would boil down to one word: comforting.
I mean just mention the word “Jollibee” to any Filipino who has been abroad for years and you would almost see the tears immediately well up in their eyes. A medical lecturer whom I befriended succinctly described Jollibee as “the kind of meal I go for when I’ve just had a bad day” – and I could totally relate after my first taste of Chicken Joy and palabok.
The richness of the country’s history and how it’s preserved, especially within Manila was absolutely breathtaking and heart-moving, from the grandeur of the museums to the guarding of Jose Rizal’s shrine by the national guards, national heroes were genuinely revered by the local community and not just spoken of as a mere ‘historical subject.’
In fact, I took a “historical tour” on a bamboo bike through the Intramuros (inner walls) of Manila. It was probably the most riveting and memorable bike ride I’ve ever had in my life.
I was thoroughly amazed at how serious the tour guide took his job, having dedicated 10 years of his life to studying the history of Manila – some of those years on a university level. He toured us through the Intramuros effortlessly narrating dates and facts at the tip of his tongue, all done in a very attention-grabbing manner.
To sum it all, the Filipino culture is one of friendliness and social empathy. The food for the most part, comforting and highly revolved around the pig – from nose to tail.
I also realized through my travel across the 3 major islands that it is indeed a very large country, very large to the point that I realized I may have been a tad hard on the how government conducted their governance and management of the country.
Nevertheless, despite the issues of infrastructure management and socio-economic imbalance, they for the most part possess riches far above most other countries – the true kind of riches that money and good governance cannot buy.
Many thanks to the FFBE for graciously sacrificing his time to host me in his home country.
Joshua is an engineer by profession and is currently connected with a multinational R&D firm in Penang, Malaysia.
Aside from actively serving in a local church, two of his other passions are food (Indian and anything pasta) and music (jazz and John Mayer).
Blogger Exchange is The Weekend Dispatch’s new platform that will feature stories from other bloggers, travelers and every one else in between.