Different Different but Same

A few hours in a plane from Manila and you are transported to another world.

Although both Asian countries Japan is pretty much the polar opposite of the Philippines: transport runs to the second, nothing is dirty or out of place and there is a stillness.

Even in cities there is a calm, soft voices, an order, a system to adhere to. From a plate of sashimi to a temple rock garden, everything is a work of art, meticulously placed in the correct position.

In the Philippines everything is a heady, crazy mixture of clashing ideas and aesthetics for an example simply look at the garish and menacing look of the pimped up Jeepneys that run whenever they are full of passengers (walang timetable). The Philippines is like one of its favourite desserts, halo halo (mixed mixed): colourful, loud, a combination of whatever is at hand.

And not only could I flush my toilet paper in Japan, there was a NASA-like control panel on the side for splashing sounds (to cover the real splash), volume of splash, temperature control for bidet, water location and blast strength and of course a flush button (never to be assumed in the Philippines!)

One thing Japan and the Philippines has in common is warm hospitality and a willingness to help a stranger in their land. If you know me personally you know I have travelled South America, Europe, Turkey, India and of course my homeland Australia, but never have I encountered so many people to help me along my way as I have in Japan and the Philippines.

There is also a respect for elders that is lacking in my culture back home. Perhaps because Australia is such a halo halo country we have no established culture of hierarchy, if anything we rebel against it. Or perhaps we have no linguistic tools to articulate respect like Japanese and Tagalog. Either way I will miss being ma’am, ate (pronounced ar-te), and my personal favourite, Miss Jenny when I return home.

Every dish is a work of art

Every dish is a work of art

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The decay of decadence

“It was then that I began to understand that everything in the room had stopped, like the watch and the clock, a long time ago… I glanced at the dressing table again, and saw that the shoe upon it, once white, now yellow had never been worn. I glanced down at the foot from which the shoe was absent, and saw that the silk stocking on it, once white, now yellow, had been trodden ragged. Without the arrest of everything, this standing still of all the pale decayed objects, not even the withered bridal dress on the collapsed form could have looked so like grave-clothes, or the long veil so like a shroud.” – Great Expectations.

While being given a very unenthusiastic tour of the Santo Niño Shrine & Heritage Museum another quote sprung to mind, “Money can’t buy taste.”

The Santo Niño Shrine is one of the 29 presidential rest houses that the late President Ferdinand Marcos had built. It was designed by his wife Imelda who was born near Tacloban, and is deteriorating from the tropical heat and neglect. Her family, the Romualdez, hold a great deal of political clout in Leyte, the relatively rich neighbour of poverty-ravaged Samar.

The Romualdez still command a large political following in the area and I noted that my sarcasm and open ‘dissing’ of Imelda’s lack of taste and opulence where not appreciated by the tour guide (it wasn’t that my comments were just not that funny, impossible).

It did strike me how the bathrooms are bigger than your average Filipino’s home and that the communities work with have communal latrines and a water pump.  And here was Imelda with all this – stuff.

Stuff including: chandeliers from Czech Republic, crafts from throughout Asia, antique mirrors from Austria and my personal favourite a Louis Vuitton leather-clad bedroom for old Ferdi. Not wallpaper or paint on the walls – Louis Vuitton leather. Who thinks of Louis Vuitton walls? And the dioramas were fantastic: each guest room depicting a scene from Imelda’s life, her humble beginning, helping the poor, winning a beauty pageant, hanging out with men in lab coats. Like the many reincarnations of Barbie – collect all Imeldas today!

And how can one talk about Imelda without mentioning the ultimate collection. Next on my list is the Marikina City Footwear Museum in Manila which contains hundreds of pairs of shoes, many of them found in the presidential palace when Imelda and Ferdinand fled the Philippines in 1986.

In her own words, “They went into my closets looking for skeletons, but thank God, all they found were shoes, beautiful shoes … Filipinos don’t wallow in what is miserable and ugly. They recycle the bad into things of beauty.”

I wonder what Santo Niño would have to say.

Money can't buy taste

Money can't buy taste

Tourism and Typhoons

I have survived my first typhoon in Donsol with a steady supply of fresh seafood, mangos and Tanduay rum, it was tough (biro lang – just kidding).

It was a concern that our collective funds were dwindling, the power and phone reception was sketchy and we had walang idea when we could leave. Later on we heard 27 people had lost their lives so our inconvenience was measured by local tragedy.

Donsol, home of the butanding (whale sharks) is one of the Philippine’s most famous tourist destinations. But I believe that there is a far greater threat to tourism in the Philippines than ‘states of calamity’.

It’s clear from the Wow Philippines to the revamped Awesome Philippines tourism campaigns that The Philippines is seeking the still elusive foreign tourism dollar. Apart from some intrepid divers, surfers and the ever-present sex tourists, Philippines is not on your average traveller’s radar.

From an Australian perspective, there are no ridiculously cheap flights here like there is to other Asian destinations like Thailand or the cliché Aussie destination of Bali.

Once you are here the public transport system although extensive is a minefield of non-connecting trips, scamming tricycle drivers and conflicting information. For example, travelling from the business hub of Bicol, Naga City to a major port of Matnog took 3 buses, 1 jeepney and me instinctively not listening to a tricycle driver who said there was no jeepney (but he could give me a ‘special trip’…). Getting to Donsol from Matnog was a similar adventure of mitigating how much I was being overcharged and personal safety concerns.

If the transport infrastructure improves, some of the needs for a viable tourism industry are here – white sand beaches, incredibly friendly and English-speaking locals, stunning natural beauty. But part of the charm of Philz is that you know you are off the beaten path, walang white people clutching their Lonely Planets wearing Birkenstocks with socks, you just have to be prepared for a variety of calamities along the way.

The only way in and out of Donsol

The only way in and out of Donsol