A sovereign state in the Southeast Asia, the Philippines (Republic of the Philippines) is an archipelago of 7,107 islands. It is a kaleidoscope of cultures and ethnicities that are found all throughout the islands. Furthermore, Manila, the capital of the Philippines, is the center of education, religion and finance.
Jason Buzi arrived in Manila at around 4 in the morning, taking an overnight flight from Bangkok, Thailand. Heeding his guidebook, he headed to the neighborhood of Malate, an old district of the city of Manila. There were numerous guesthouses all over despite that, it had a Filipino feeling everywhere.
Cities in the Philippines are not the main attraction for tourists and likewise, Manila is not a beautiful city and has only a handful of tourist spots for a city of its size. In fact, many Filipinos spend their free time hanging out at the mall, as Jason Buzi shared.
The culture in the Philippines is difficult to describe yet there are definitely strong Spanish, Catholic and American influences that are evident everywhere. At times, Jason Buzi felt more like being in Latin America than Southeast Asia. The locals are very Southeast Asian but often times they hold a Spanish name. Most of them are devout Catholics which makes Roman Catholic as a one of the most influential religion all over the country. They are also fond of watching “telenovelas” on television. Furthermore, most Filipinos are fluent in speaking the English language, which makes it easier to communicate.
Jason Buzi once read that Filipinos have been colonized for so many centuries first by the Spaniards and then by the Americans after toppling the Spanish government in the country and so on until they lost contact with their own culture. This is probably true to some extent but they have also adopted other influences from different cultures. It is somehow a “halo-halo” of many influences however he wasn’t that interested about its variety. The Philippines didn’t have the many of the unique attributes that he experienced elsewhere, in relation to the national dress, architecture, and customs among other things.
According to him, the average Filipino’s biggest dream is to live and work abroad, and this for him doesn’t help the national pride as one country. He saw many agencies advertising job positions available overseas.
Although there aren’t many recommended places to visit in Manila, there are also a few exceptions and worthy of recommendations. First is the old Spanish buildings at Fort Santiago, where in it is a good place to walk or take a ride in one of the horse drawn carriages. Second is the boardwalk along the bay, which is very pleasant during the day however, by night, it is quite the opposite because of the many hopeless people who sleep there.
There are plenty of homeless families and street children all throughout Metro Manila. Some sleep outside modern shopping centers and office buildings. With his Coke and Mentos geysers, he entertained some of the street children and gave out some candies for them. Unfortunately, things quickly got out of hand, and some people tried grabbing the coke from him and chasing him for a few blocks. Also, they even tried pick pocketing him but failed to do so.
The “jeepney” is the most popular form of public transit in Manila. Known for their flamboyant decoration, they were originally made from the U.S. military jeeps left over from World War II. It is a jeep converted into a long van with benches for the passengers. Furthermore, there is often a Mercedes emblem on the front bumper.
“The biggest foreign group in Manila seems to be the Koreans”, he shared. It is because there are so many Korean groceries and restaurants everywhere. Also, all throughout Manila, there are many casinos and karaoke bars, where hostesses are available to provide entertainment especially to men. Like Bangkok, there are 3 to 4 convenience stores in every block however, unlike Bangkok, there are no beautiful temples or buildings and delicious street foods.
From Manila, Jason Buzi headed to the resort island of Boracay. It is a small island located approximately 315 kilometers south of Manila, and it belongs in the Western Visayas region. Before coming to the Philippines, Boracay was one of the few places he had heard of unfortunately, so has the rest of the world. It is a beautiful island with white sand beaches. Also, its beaches have crystal clear water, which is great for snorkeling.
Disappointingly, he had to share it with a million other people because it was a “super peak” season. It wasn’t only the dry season, but Chinese New Year was also celebrated. He found out later from a friend from Hong Kong, that package tours were promoted to Boracay from Hongkong, Taiwan and other places during Chinese New Year, which are quite popular.
There are also many direct flights from different cities in Korea, hence there were many Koreans as well. Moreover, there were also other nationalities such as Americans, Australians and many more. Until the late 70’s, Boracay was a hidden and well kept secret paradise until it came out to the world, and so, many hotels and resorts began appearing and tourists were already flocking the small island. It was one of the most beautiful island and beach he had seen and ever been to. He is glad he came to visit the place.
Furthermore, in the main beach, a man was selling “Balot”, a popular street food in the Philippines, which is a fertilized duck egg with a nearly developed embryo inside that is boiled and eaten in the shell. He was curious to see one so he bought and asked the vendor to open it but never intending to eat it. He just wanted to take a peek of it and get a photo. When he offered it to the Filipinos at the café he was sitting at, to his surprise, nobody wanted it and some made a disgusted face.
By night in Boracay, there were candle light beach side dining, live music, fire spinning performances and fireworks. There was also a police presence which kept vendors and beggars to a minimum. Althought it is a beautiful island resort, it is somehow identical to so many others in the world, which sadly, didn’t create a deep mark in Jason Buzi’s traveling memoirs.
For a more authentic Filipino experience, he went to the island of Mindoro after Boracay. It is the seventh largest island in the Philippines and is located off the coast of Luzon. He stayed with a family of farmers outside the town of San Jose. Like many Filipino families, the host family was loud, friendly, easy going and simple. By loud, he meant that the television was turned on whether anyone was watching or not and also the radio was turned on with maximum volume while people were talking. Other than that, people spoke simultaneously in loud voices. He really couldn’t say that he bonded with them in a deep way maybe because he didn’t have much in common especially in temperament, background, interest, and even language. Despite the differences, he was glad to experience a more traditional Filipino one compared to staying in hotels and resorts.
The farms in the area were growing tobacco, tomatoes, eggplants, onions and many others. He was able to ride a water buffalo and pump water, like a good farm boy. In Nepal and Myanmar, there was running water but electricity was kind of bi-polar but in Mindoro, he shared, that it was the opposite that is why the need to pump water from the well is part of the lives of the people in the area. He took showers using buckets.
Moreover, he was able to witness one of the most popular pastimes in the country, a brutal sport, cockfighting, which is banned in most Western countries. It is a blood sport between two roosters. The participants of the game were overwhelmingly men and many bets were made especially on the chosen rooster.
In the evening, the host family would sit around for hours, drinking beer and smoking, the two things Jason Buzi is not interested in. Although they showed little curiosity about anything else, they were curious about his laptop, especially when they found out that he can watch movies on it (they have no DVD player). Moreover, they also visited the “white island” near Mindoro, a small but very picturesque island. Only one family lives on the island and there are empty shacks for picnicking. He had a leisurely walk around the island which took him about 15 minutes. They were able to meet the owner, who lives in San Jose, and he said that the island is for sale for about $200,000. He shared that the amount is quite a fortune here but less than a studio condo back in the Bay Area, so it was a good bargain.
Afterwards, they went to the fish market, where in there were small lobsters for sale by vendors. Jason Buzi asked how much and it was only three dollars for all seven of them, so he bought it. The host mother cooked them in garlic and it tasted very delicious. He was told that they rarely eat lobsters because it was too expensive.
Other than the mentioned characteristics of most Filipinos, one of the most common is the “Filipino Time”, where in people will arrive late for an hour or so from the agreed time. Jason Buzi shared that when he arranged the boat going to the “white island” before 10 in the morning. By 30 minutes past 10, they were not yet ready to leave the house so he was getting anxious. Also, the harbor was at least 30 minutes away and nobody seemed to understand why he was concerned about the time. They said something about “Filipino Time”. When they all arrived in the harbor, everything was fine. It is a different time concept being exercised in the country as he realized.
Not only that, he realized that he wasn’t cut out to become a farmer because time moved very slowly and with little things to do so after a few days, he was ready to come back to the city. He flew back to Manila. He spent his last day in Manila visiting the modern business district of Makati. It is an area filled with office buildings and shopping centers and home to many first class hotels and multinational companies. It is similar to most financial districts of many western cities, not at all like the rest of Metro Manila. Afterwards, he visited Manila Ocean Park, which is a large indoor aquarium sitting by the bay. He really enjoyed seeing all the sea creatures, and most of them were native to the Philippine Islands.
He really enjoyed his time in the Philippines, and he would like to visit the country again as there are many other islands left to explore. Despite being not impressed with the country’s culture, which is a sentiment being shared by others who have visited the country, it is somewhat compensated by the fact that Filipinos are generally friendly and hospitable.