The Philippines, Beauty on the Inside!

So what do you think of when you hear the word ‘Philippines’?  Well, if you’ve never been, the word probably conjures up images of poverty and filth.  If you have been, you probably still agree with that initial description.  But what I found shocking was the kindness of the people.  Despite the horrendous conditions of city life (I’ll get into that one in a bit) along with a minimum wage of roughly four bucker per eight hour shift, the people are really enjoying life.  Whether it’s walking around a mall or strolling a polluted bay front, it’s easy to see couples hand in hand or groups of friends laughing together…..  But now more on the cities. 

As with every country where people and their technology accumulate, there is a positive correlation with pollution.  Of course the rural areas of the outside provinces are lush with wildlife and beauty, but I believe no matter where I travel after this, I won’t find a more slummy urban environment.  The idea of garbage cans never seemed to have traveled this far, nor have regulation on car exhaust emissions.  The majority of the population carries around rags or surgical masks to help prevent inhaling the carcinogenic fumes.  The sky is so thick with smog it makes L.A. seem to smell like rocky mountain air.  The construction and architecture consists of building with any scraps of scrap material available while the beggars are absolutely shameless when it comes to them showing how truly poor they are.  It’s not uncommon to see someone squatting down taking a dump on the side of a pedestrian filled street.  Begging is for all ages as well, from 8 to 80s.  Shane himself was bit in the arm by a filthy little girl probably around 10 years old.  I couldn’t stop laughing at that one, but I guess it’s more sad then funny really! 

Ok, so it’s dirty, and for the most part, the people are happy and kind, but what exactly did we do?  We flew into Cebu, a city in the center of the archipelago.  We cabbed to a pension (cheaper hotel) and booked a room for two nights.  I made friends with the cute receptionist, Dina, and tried to get her to come out with us.  I was dying to see a movie since it had been forever that I had gone to the theatre.  Eventually she gave in to my persistence and we all had dinner at the SM mall before watching ‘Transformers’.  Ya, there wasn’t much of a selection, plus Shane was dying to see it…..go figure!

The second night was a little bit more unorthodox to say the least.  A couple girls working at the bakery right near our pension went out with us to ‘The Comedy Bar’!  What was the comedy you ask?  Well…….Gays!!  I know the Philippines and all South East Asia for that matter is very open with homosexuality, but I had no idea what to expect upon entering inside.  To make a long night short, the comedians on stage were all transgenders and they loved the fact that two studdly Americans were strolling in with a posse of Filipinas (only 3).  One of them actually came out into the audience to ask us questions with the microphone.  Of course, I felt a little embarrassed being heckled by the he/she, but hey, I can roll with the punches.  I mean it really was quite entertaining.  I also got a peck on the cheek, but I don’t even know if I should be sharing that information!

The next few nights we stayed a cheaper pension down the street.  Only 800 pesos, that’s about 17 bucks.  One day, we ferried to Tagbilaran to see the smallest monkey.  While waiting on Pier 4 for departure, I figured it might come in handy to run back and fetch our snorkeling masks just in case we happen by some gorgeous underwater sights.  Well, off I went with a full hour and a half to spare, leaving Shane P. and Ruthless at the dock.  I didn’t have enough money on me for a taxi, so I ran/Jeepneyed my way there and back.  If you’ve been to the Philippines then you know what a Jeepney is, but if not, it’s like a little packed bus that you pay pennies to jump on and off of anywhere they travel.  Well, I missed the boat…literally.  I saw it sailing away with out me just as I got there.  See, I got on this one Jeepney that was going to the pier…so they said.  However, just not right that moment.  As I was sweating in the heat of the smog from fear of not returning in time, I found my self in heavy traffic touring the city at 5 mph.  Oh, what can you do??  I refunded my ticket at the office, then bought another ferry ticket for 2pm.  That was two hours later, on a different ferry operator to go over and meet up with the ‘Yahoos’. 

To my disappointment, Tagbilaran was just another dirty city.  The visible smog from a distance told me all I needed to know.  I realized it wasn’t a tiny island like I had imagined and it wouldn’t be likely to come across Shane and Ruthless.  When I got there, zero money in pocket and thirsty from running around the city, I went on a search for coconuts.  A phenomenon I was all too accustomed for.  I thought I was over that for a bit!

The rest of my stay consisted of walking around the city till 6pm when I planned on meeting the Yahoos back at the port (they had my return ticket).  They ended up taking a scenic tour of the countryside which included spotting the Tersier (the smallest primate at a roadside tourist stop).  The little guy did look pretty cool in all their pictures. 

On a different day we went to Fitness First in the Ayala Mall.  This place was incredible…like the gym of the future.  You should have seen it.  They hardly had any free weights at all, which I didn’t care for (I guess I’m old school), but there were people working out underwater with elastics and tubes, while the steam and sauna rooms were huge and high class.  The entire places had techno and dance style music (and club-like light arrangements) and was literally packed with probably the richest that Cebu has to offer.  It was really an interesting place, fortunately we got a free daily pass to try it out!

The other days mainly consisted of strolling the roadside markets and catching a couple more flicks including ‘Die Hard 4.0’, ‘Next’, and ‘Vacancy’.  ‘Next’ was definitely my favorite of the group but that’s not saying too much.  On the last night (a Friday) in Cebu, we went out to ‘Sunflower’, a happening club that turned out to be enormous and a lot of fun.  We pre-gamed with a little pre-party by buying 2 bottles (only 58 pesos a piece) of Tanduay Rum which only cost us $1.20!  And that’s for two 750 ml bottles!!  Two of the girls from the comedy bar also came with us to Sunflower.  The club’s dress code didn’t let me in with out socks on my flip-flops, stupid or what?  I wore Shane’s socks while he wore his tennis shoes raw.  The club played an eclectic array of movin’ music and most of our time was up on the floor rather than back in our seats in the upper deck.  Shane P. and Ruthless (the Yahoo’s) left a little early, and after they took off I met a real nice girl there with her aunt whose birthday they were celebrating.  I hung out with them and they kindly dropped me off way into the morning hours.  It was a great time and a wonderful finale to Cebu!

Upon arrival to Manila, after a short flight of about 50 minutes, we were greeted with a huge smile and hugs from Raquel.  She sported a sign saying ‘Go Gators!!!…~T.Storm’!!  I introduced her to the family she had heard so much about.  Also, back in Cebu I had talked with Michelle online (the girl I met in Palau who is also planning on traveling with us throughout SE Asia), and she was in Manila as well.  The plan was to re-meet her since it had been a while, and drop off our backpacks in her room.  Off we went!

The ‘reunion’ was smooth and amiable.  Michelle had a bunch of mangos, pineapples, watermelons, and oranges cut up for us to enjoy.  She was close to what I remembered for our brief initial meeting back in Koror, and looked like a lot of fun to be around.  Michelle had plans to go out with some friends for dinner, and they were all excited for us to join.  They were 3 Korean dudes, Khan, Fair, and James, and we were all up for eating at their favorite Korean restaurant.  This turned out to be a blast, as we cooked our food on hot pot tops right in the center of our table.  My favorite feature was after every bite we would take a shot of Korean Soju, a rice liquor.  As you could have guessed, we all got a little carried away and buzzed, while Raquel was leading the way towards the drunken finish line. 

After our Korean feast, we returned back to the hotel to drop off a backpack we had, along with Raquel unexpectedly, who passed out immediately onto the bed.  The remaining 7 of us then went out on the town.  We scouted out a few night spots before deciding on an upstairs disco bar blasting some hip hop.  We’ll save the techno and Dance for Thailand!  We all got a round of Long Island Ice Teas, and then expressed ourselves through rhythm, Ha.  Michelle proved to be quiet the dancer.  The gay guys were even checking her out for a second, but then went right back to eyeing me…oh yippy!  Mix her dancing with her extravertedness, and we all found ourselves on the tiny stage before the night was over.  I ended up falling off that stage and landing on my rear, but it was all in good fun.  Eventually we parted ways with the Koreans and ventured back to the hotel.  Shane P., Ruthless, and I all crashed on the floor while Michelle and Raquel slept in bed.  It was a great evening and Michelle will definitely be an asset for as long as she chooses to accompany us.           

The next day we all decided on hitting up the Mall of Asia.  It is the 3rd largest mall in the World.  The mall was several layers and wings huge, but we were there for some ice skating.  Raquel and Ruthless hugged the walls while Michelle, Shane and I hobbled around as best we could.  It has been a while for me and it showered, but for a few fleeting moments I felt as graceful as a whooping crane high on pheromones!  Later that night, Shane and Ruthless went to use the internet while Michelle and I walked along the Manila bay front.  We climbed a huge banyan tree that just so happened to be in front of the U. S. Embassy.  We nearly got arrested.  Our dialog was interrupted by several police officers who demanded we descend.  Our conversation didn’t end there though, for it wasn’t till about four in the morning that we fell asleep.  The topics of ghosts and the great ‘time paradox’ ticked the hours away in a horrifying then confused way respectively. 

On July 23rd, Michelle decided to go to Palawan, while the three of us took the cheaper bus route to Baguio, a city in the mountains six hours away.  The long scenic bus ride took us through rice fields then mountains till we arrived at 10pm.  The city was a bit chilly, and reminded me a little of Cuzco, Peru (but it wasn’t that cold).  We found a pension for around 800 pesos a night, and we booked the room for the next three evenings.  Ruthless has been on and off sick for the entire trip, and in Baguio it was no exception.  We walked around the city, trying different flavors from the street vendors and enjoying the beautiful climate (It was about 65 degrees Farenheit). 

I thought the girls here were more beautiful than anywhere I had been so far, excluding South and Central America (Gotta give it up to the Latinas).  But gorgeous no one can deny.  While dropping dirty cloths off one day, the owner of the laundry place was trying to convince me to marry his daughter.  When I returned the following morning to pick up the cloths, the daughter was introduced to me wearing what was probably her nicest attire.  It was somewhat awkward, but I gave her my email address and said if in the future she ever makes it to the states, she would have a place to stay.  I’m used to talking to girls that want to go to the states, but the fathers not so much.  It was interesting to meet the entire family, I enjoyed it!  Baguio was a fun locale, but I was psyched to be on the bus ride back to Manila, to then fly to Bangkok, Thailand. 

I really enjoyed the 2 weeks spent in this country, the Philippines (not so sure about Ruthless and Shane P.), and bonded rather quickly with many nice people along the way.  I loved reuniting with Raquel (who was glad to see a Palauan…Me!!) and re-meeting with Michelle went better than imagined.  Like I mentioned before, the Philippines has more than what meets the eye.  From a distance you see the filth and smell the stench, but upon closer inspection you see the smiles and feel the warmth of the people.  As I sit on the bus, writing this journal entry, I look out the window and see nothing but field after field of rice.  I see the poor hard working, loyal people of all ages bent over tending to their staple.  I find myself somewhat saddened by the inaccurate and misguiding aura that the Philippine’s receives.  I feel like I experienced Palau well, but am leaving PI with many more amazing experiences to have and friendships to make.  Who knows, maybe I will return, but for right now it’s off to the Heart of South East Asia…..Bangkok!          



2 Responses to “The Philippines, Beauty on the Inside!”

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