Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Our Trip to the Philippines - A Retrospect

We are back in California. It was a thrilling, if hectic, fortnight we had at our home country – the Philippines. To those of you who have never been there or have not been back recently, here are a few impressions and memories:

Weather - it was hot and humid. The first couple of days we were there it rained a little. Despite that it was still humid and I was perspiring almost non-stop whenever I am out of a building/house.

People – are everywhere! No matter what time of day (or night) you see people – lots of them. It was only when I went birding with my friends at the rainforests of Cavite and Subic that we didn’t see many people. Filipinos are by nature quite resilient. A month after the devastating floods that wreaked havoc on MetroManila, I couldn’t find traces of the said catastrophe. Houses that were damaged had been repaired and the residents were once again smiling as if nothing that horrible ever happened at all. Except for some traces of debris high up on the electrical wires, I wouldn’t have believed that a 24-foot deep flood ever occurred there.

Traffic – is terrifying! There are basically no rules that are followed, except stopping at a red light (and even that gets violated occasionally). If you are one of those who gives a finger to someone who cuts in on you, you will never, I mean never, bring your finger down in the Philippines. Cutting is just a way of life on the streets of Manila. Drivers driving their vehicles within inches of each other, and that includes buses and motorcycles, are not unusual. Blaring horns are normal, too. Vehicles never give way to pedestrians who in turn would cross the street anywhere, anytime. Yet in all 2 weeks of plying the chaos that is known as city traffic, I did not see any accident at all – no scratches, no dents and more importantly, no road rage.

Food – it is no secret that Filipinos love to eat. Anything. I have never seen such a gamut of restaurants anywhere. Name it they have it. Persian, Vietnamese or restaurants catering to regional tastes abound. At my reunion with my high school classmates (all of whom I am meeting for the first time in 47 years!), they took me to a buffet that serves Pampanga (a province in central Luzon) delicacies. One of the menu items being adobo crickets! (I politely declined that one). Food is relatively cheap, too. A combo meal at McDonalds (yes they have those, and Burger King, and KFC, and El Pollo Loco, etc) cost around $3. Higher end restaurant entrees would run about $5.50 per. My wife and I have been treated by friends and families to restaurants almost on a daily basis that we probably gained a few pounds (a portion of which were thankfully shed due to the sauna-like weather).

Safety – much has been said about safety in third world countries, and the Philippines is no exception. I think as long as you don’t flaunt your wealth you will be safe there. My wife and I walked the streets of a sketchy neighborhood trying to get a ride and we never felt scared or threatened in any way. Of course exercising prudence and common sense is always a good practice.

Shopping – next to eating, Filipinos love to shop. Malls are all over the place. Not just ordinary malls, these are four-story/five-story structures that house a variety of shops ranging from Nine West, Ann Taylor to pet stores and of course, eating places. Merchandise are relatively cheap, too, and in some of the malls, haggling is tolerated. Also at the malls they have clinics as well. I had my hearing tested for about $10 (if I had a senior card it would have been only $8). I also had my eyeglasses redone for about $30 which included an eye test and new set of lenses for my old frame.

Store Names – this is one category that is truly unique in the Philippines. Where else can you find a laundromat that goes by the name of: Wash now, my love. And it boasts that it uses the latest in Microsoap technology. It seems that the laundromats were the proponents of this style. Another laundromat is named Star Wash while a competitor nearby was named Attack of the Clothes. A bakery is named Bread Pit (I’m sure Angelina Jolie would be delighted to know this). How about a store named Rest.Toe.Ran? It is a shoe place and not a “restaurant”. And then there’s Pets in the City where the hamsters are um..propagating.

All in all we had a wonderful experience. We got to meet old (sometimes literally) friends and re-bonded with our families. It is interesting that the Philippines has maintained its identity despite the advent of modern technology (people are texting all the time!). Although government and politics remained in the same corrupt quagmire, the country itself has progessed significantly. Our short stay made us more resolved to retire here rather than spend the rest of our lives in America, where sadly, things are changing for the worst.

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