Monday, February 07, 2005

Back from the Philippines

Hello !

I arrived back from the Philippines last night and took a day to chill and ground myself back to Seattle. Here's me on the farm of the family I stayed with. They now stay in the town, more on that tomorrow...

The Philippines is a wonderful place. It has an interesting mix of cultural influences. And it is big for an island nation (the world's second-biggest archipelago). The earliest influence is the Pacific-Islander culture, and then there has been a Spanish/Roman Catholic influence starting in the 1600's, then the USA acquired the Philippines as a territory in 1898, and then full independence after World War II. So you could say its a southeast asian-pacific/spanish/christian democracy.

Like other asian -pacific nations it has one foot in the third world, and one foot in the first world. There's not much middle class. There are nationals and foreigners who have worked in the west or developed huge corporations, and they are tremendously wealthy by Filipino standards. And there are the locals who struggle to get by.

Environmentally, The Philippines remind me a lot of India. Hot, open fires burning, especially starting around 5pm, as most people cook outdoors on wood-burning stoves. Dusty streets, some paved, most not. Add high humidity to the 90 degree-plus temperatures and the faint smell of fish in various stages of decay, and, in the cities add lots (and I mean LOTS) of smog and diesel fumes. Oh, and there's no trash collection most places, and in the cities they have open sewers running along the streets. Beggars, and many, many people setting up makeshifts shops along all the streets selling anything they can manage to buy and resell to passersby (clothing, crafts, dried fish of course, snacks, drinks, well - anything). Here's a pic of a local market in the provincial city of San Quintin, where I stayed for two weeks.

Streets clogged with traffic. The Filipinos have a special affinity for a vehicle they call the Jeepney, which is a modified American-style jeep whose rear has been extended to hold up to twenty people. The legend is that the Filipinos discovered that the Jeeps left behind by American forces in World War II could be modified, and it became a favorite. Jeepneys cruise the cities and the rural provinces, usually each driver picks a route he prefers, and he picks up and lets off passengers for a small fee along the way. The drivers have all modified the body of their Jeepneys and decorated them with a colorful paint job, the names of their families, and also many times a profession of their religious beliefs, or simply a prayer such as "God Bless Our Trip". Here's the jeepney we took on a ride to the beach one day.

Also popular is a vehicle called the "tricycle," which is basically a small motorcycle ,like a Yamaha or Honda, with a rider car attached, and can hold up to three or four passengers plus the driver. Then in the cities there are taxis, and then there are various types of buses. The tourist buses have air-conditioning, and some of the cabs do. Air-conditioning is a luxury in the Philippines and provides a welcome respite from the smog. This is a shot of a street in the mountain city of Baguio. Note that jeepneys outnumber any other type of vehicle on the street.

So all that is very southeast asian. But wait....why are all the signs on the shops and businesses in English? After all, most people speak Tagalog, the national language. The government decided, a couple of decades ago, to begin teaching in schools in English as well as Tagalog. The idea is that Filipinos will be able to read, understand, and converse at least minimally in English. The Filipinos know that English is the language of choice in the west, for business, education, and travel, so they want new generations to be able to compete in the global marketplace. I found that I could converse with children and young people easier than with the older generation.

Another sriking difference from the rest of Asia is this: Catholic Churches everywhere. The Philippines are the only Asian nation that has been primarily
Christian for hundreds of years. Thank the Spanish for this. The Philippines are 85 percent Roman Catholic, and many of the Filipino people are devout. I myself went to several masses, which, in Manila and the North at least, are in a combination of Tagalog and English. There are new, modern churches being built everywhere, and the older shrines are kept in good condition and have a constant stream of visitors, regular attendees, and pilgrims. Here's the local Church that the family I stayed with attends.

How the Philippines came to be under the influence of the Spanish is a very interesting story and links them with, of all places, Brazil. In the 1600's, the
Portuguese, and the Spanish had explorers competing to "discover" and claim parts of the so-called "New World" (which means everything outside Europe, Asia minor, India and China). Portugal and Spain had made an agreement as to which lands were to be claimed by each country, and this agreement originally included the Philippines as a colony of Portugal. However, the Portuguese explorer Magellan, who would be the one to explore the Philippines, could not, for political reasons, get funding from the Portuguese royalty. So he went to Spain looking for funding, and found it there.

Meanwhile, Brazil was originally, under the Spain-Portugal agreement, to be a Spanish territory, along with the rest of South America and parts of North America. But because Magellan was funded by Spain, a trade was arranged by which the Philippines was ceded to Spain in exchange for Brazil. And that is why Brazil became the only Portuguese-speaking country in Latin America, and why the Philippines became the only Spanish-influenced culture of the Asian/Pacific. And that is why, of course, Catholicism is the primary religion of both countries.

I'll post about my personal experiences more pix tomorrow, so stay tuned...


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