Wow, it has been a long time since my first Philippines post! Japan has just sucked me right back into the busy life without remorse. Oh, to live the relaxed pace of life of the Philippines again! Anyways I should recap the highlights of the latter half of our trip, before the vividness of it fades away.
A few days after the Christmas festivities in Baguio, we boarded a bus for the hot and sticky lowlands. First stop, Manila and the Mall of Asia for some much needed clothing shopping. My clothes have been falling apart, literally, I’ve been hack-job sewing up holes in them, and even accepting hand-me-downs from fellow foreigners in Japan. I haven’t been able to buy much in the way of clothes in Japan, and when I do the proportions are usually all weird, like they’re made for anime dolls or something. So anyways, post-Christmas Philippines prices plus clothes that fit = happy me!
The next day we headed for Taal Volcano, apparently the smallest active volcano in the world. We found out that the volcano itself wasn’t all that small, we had to boat across a lake in the larger crater to get to the center. The volcano that holds the record was just one of many cones inside the larger volcano. After the boat ride was about a 15 minute walk on foot to the top of the inner crater. From the top we could see steam rising through vents in the earth, and bubbles rising in the inner lake below. Swimming there is probably not recommended!
Before I move on from the volcano, I should retell a little of the saga that our volcano trip involved. We knew going to a tourist location like Taal would be troublesome, so our Filipino friend went ahead to negotiate a rate before we showed our gleaming white smiling faces. He settled on 1,300 pesos with a tricycle driver, which included the ride down the the lake, the boat ride across the lake, and back. Apparently. But when we got down the hill, we were ushered into a “resort” where they presented us with a rate sheet listing “3,500 pesos.” We attempted to explain this wasn’t the rate we agreed on with the driver, but long story short, we were already in their “resort” and were essentially taken hostage and forced to pay a highly inflated rate for the entire trip. We came pretty close to getting the police involved when the tricycle driver tried to get even more money out of us at the end of the day, but he backed off. By that point it was pretty difficult not to wish for a violent volcanic eruption in the near future. At least astroviper got to experience another side of Filipino culture: absurd price gouging for foreigners. Alas, we are not all made of money *sigh*
The next day was New Year’s Eve, and Manila is by far my favourite place to spend this holiday! This was to be my second New Year’s there, and we prepared by stocking up on a lot of chicken and fireworks. The chicken was kind of an accident, everyone in my friend’s family home where we were staying was contributing something different, but about half of us ended up contributing some form of chicken. Oh well, what better way to ring in the new year than with the Filipino staples of chicken and rice! And fireworks. Lots of fireworks. Every year several hundred people in the Philippines sustain injuries from fireworks and stray bullets, along with a couple of deaths, as we read in the newspaper that morning. Thankfully our group all made it through the night with extremities intact! Happy New Year!
On New Year’s Day we hopped a bus to the Batangas, a couple hours south of Manila. There we stayed at the YWAM Batangas base, which is led by the Gumarang family, who were also my leaders during my DTS in Baguio in 2004. This was probably the most relaxing and refreshing part of our trip! We just relaxed, read books, went to the beach, and I learned to play the flute! We ordered pizza one night for everyone at the base, visited some old Spanish colonial buildings, and a vintage photography museum. The only hiccup of the whole time was when we tried to visit the tower of the old Spanish Catholic church, and were presented with a rate sheet that was scribbled on a scrap of paper, saying this: “Students: 20p, Adults: 50p, Foreigners: 100p.” We were so appalled at this blatant display of racism and foreign tourist gouging, in a church no less, that we declined to patron their tower and went on our way. The Filipino friends with us were equally, or perhaps even more appalled at the lack of honesty and hospitality shown us by their fellow countrymen.
By far the highlight of our time in the Batangas was our visit to a small village called Tubog, isolated among the sugar cane fields. The YWAM base has a ministry in this village for kids, so they took us with them to visit on our last day. We had to walk through sugar cane fields for half an hour to reach the village, and as we walked we collected a small army of kids along the way. They knew the YWAM leaders we were with so they were super friendly and excited to meet us, as were the few adults we encountered. They took us into the fields and one of the small boys (probably junior high age) expertly climbed a coconut tree to throw down some coconuts for us. When astroviper voiced a desire to taste sugarcane, a couple of boys ran off to the field to cut him a good one. It started pouring rain suddenly, and we took shelter under a tree with the kids, then they cut us umbrellas from banana leaves for our trek home. It’s difficult to describe how our hearts were simply filled with joy from this experience, the kids being so friendly and giving, so genuinely happy to meet us, and I wish I didn’t have to say this but, so surprisingly free of that look we had grown accustomed to that says “oh look, a foreigner that might give me money or buy me something.” Let’s just say I smiled more that day than I have in a long time.
The morning after our sugar cane village adventure, we headed back to Manila for our last day in the Philippines. We decided to spend our last afternoon there having High Tea with friends at the Shangri-La in Makati City. It was a very elegant experience, perhaps the fanciest hotel I’ve ever been to, but the cost was incredibly reasonable, about 500p, or just over 10 Canadian dollars each. Luxury in flip flops!
Finally, we fulfilled a tradition that my friend and I started seven years earlier, by having our “last supper” at Bubba Gump’s Restaurant. Fried shrimp! Shrimp cocktail! BBQ’d shrimp! Shrimp pasta! And so on…
Late that night, or more accurately earlier the next morning, we headed for the airport and, after an overly excessive amount of checkpoints (beware Manila Airport! I think we counted seven or eight!), were Japan-bound once more.
With all the uncertain expectations that went into this trip with me, it is difficult to tease out how the trip impacted me in the end. On a superficial level, I built a mental list of all the things Japan needs to learn from the Philippines to be more awesome: learning English in school and actually speaking it, Peppermint Mochas at Starbucks, clothes with sleeves long enough for me, cheap everything, Western food uncorrupted by Japanese meddling, friends made easily, the list goes on. But as we got to the end of the trip and upon our return to Japan, I had to admit that the list goes both ways: not having to maniacally watch our stuff at all times, hot showers with pressure, a peaceful lack of dogs and roosters waking us up at the butt-crack of dawn. It was difficult for me to admit it to myself, but I actually felt a sense of relief when we got off the plane in Osaka. The Philippines was relaxing, but returning to Japan was a different kind of relaxing, like returning “home.” While I’ve always held the Philippines in my heart as my second home, and while I was overjoyed to share a small slice of it with my husband, Japan is my “home” right now, in terms of a physical and cultural place. In terms of family, the Philippines will always be my second home, thanks to the expansive and accepting “family” I have there; this is something I don’t believe Japan will ever rival. Overall, we both came back from our Philippines adventure refreshed, recharged, and ready to take on Japan once more.