Thursday, March 23, 2017

Abroad Edition: An American in Manila

I elected to fly Emirates this trip because I've heard from frequent travelers that their service is fantastic . . . and it's true.  The food was good, they had an amazing entertainment system and the legroom in standard coach was more than adequate.  The chairs recline partially into your own space, but enough that it's the first decent sleep I've had on a plane since my 2006 trip to Europe.  Of course, my connection was in Dubai, which was using an impressive amount of water for this display.
I've also realized how privileged I am to be an English-speaker.  Everywhere I've gone in the world, airport signs were in the local language and English.  Egypt and Dubai?  Arabic and English. Japan? Japanese and English. France? French and English.  I can't imagine how much more difficult traveling would be if I couldn't read the signs or the departure boards.  Not to mention the large number of people globally who speak English as their primary second language.
Upon arriving in the Philippines, I quickly learned that the internet is not up to Western standards - the WiFi at my hotel didn't work two of the three nights I was there.   Even the WiFi card that I rented barely worked.  I also hadn't planned for a wait while they checked my room for additional charges.

Having said that, I enjoyed my time in Manila.  My first day was a visit with my sponsored teen.  The majority of the details on that day are on my blog for sponsor travels here:
Manila VisitHere is a photo of us together though.
I will say that sponsoring kids is one of my great joys!  It's such a small amount ($32) to make such a difference for them!  In a country, Guatemala, where less than 10% finish high school and youth unemployment is unimaginably high, my first two teens are both employed high school grads. My Filipina is the first in her family to be in college also.  I like to spoil the whole family when I visit though!
My second day in Manila was spent on a tour with Philippines Tours and Holidays.  The guide is originally from Europe, but married a Filipina and moved here several years ago.  We went to the American Cemetery first, which is for soldiers who died in WWII.  When you see the massive walls of names, you can begin to understand why, at the time, the US thought dropping a couple of bombs and ending the war was a good idea.  More, you wonder why the world keeps fighting endless pointless wars.
It's sad to know 50% of the globe lives in poverty, sadder still that it means each of us who aren't only need to help one person to end it.  Think how peaceful the world could be if we treated everyone as equal human beings and traded fairly for the things they had that we wanted?  You can't help but notice the disparity in income levels present here.
The weather was not cooperative, so the views of the bay were ok, but a little hazy, so we headed to the park earlier.  I was unaware of José Rizal before, but he's a national hero in the Philippines - he's even on the one peso coin, "because everyone can have one peso" as my guide told me.  Rizal was an advocate for better rights for Filipinos during Spanish colonization and supported women fighting for their rights.  He was falsely accused of been part of a violent rebellion and executed. 
The rest of the park is a little more peaceful, with the Japanese and Chinese Gardens and other areas we didn't make it to because my knee decided it was time for a break!
We were off to Intramurus then!  This is the old Spanish walled city.  We went to the Fort first, where they're constructing a new lovely plaza, but you still have access to the old ruins, which were heavily damaged in WWII.
This section is still original, but some areas were rebuilt with red brick after the war - not the best idea, but it's interesting to get a feel for the design of the fort.  There's also a museum about Rizal.  We then saw two famous churches in the area - I somehow missed a photo of the first, but did get a quick photo of the San Agustin church.  I later learned this is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It appears that the same five guys who built many of the churches in France also had relatives building them here!  There are clearly shared features and they hold their own in comparison, although they're not as ornate as Austrian churches.

The nice thing about a private tour is that you can customize, so the early departure from the park resulted in a tour of an old Spanish colonial house instead.
It was a lovely tour and more like spending a day with local friends than a formal tour.  The company will customize tours and even multi -day trips, which sounds like a great plan for a return trip!

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