With my YVR->HKG->MNL->CEB itinerary complete, a ton of window seat wing shots AND a proper sleep in a bed which thankfully did not involve me sitting upright with my head bobbing around, I’m able to share my first few thoughts and experiences to SE Asia and specifically the Philippines.
First off, flying that far can really mess with your head. The longest I had flown prior to this was about 11 hours which was Frankfurt to Vancouver, but it didn’t have the same time zone changes as this flight. I had my customary window seat and was amazed at the scenery that was flying past me. I began with daylight and then it just kept changing…total darkness, eerie blue, blinding light and so many different shades of colours, it’s quite the trip!
Having never been to Asia, I really had no idea what to expect but to be honest, that’s what it’s all about! I expected to see things that would cause me to shake my head and yes, I’ve done some shaking over the last couple of days. The first moment was getting off the plane in Manila, Philippines and trying to figure out where to connect for my final flight. There was no big electronic board with gate numbers that we’ve all come to expect. It became evident pretty quickly that the shuttle bus was my only option. It was late and dark and I was feeling very conscious of my actions, so a photo wasn’t taken.
So picture a small shuttle bus meant for 10 people with the luggage properly secured as we’ve all experienced at some point. Now imagine that same bus jammed with 16 people, all their luggage and no A/C. Oh and the driver has one hand on the wheel and one hand on the pile of bags balancing ever so delicately beside him. Think Jenga on a bouncing table and you’ve got the picture.
But you know what, it all works out. Somehow nothing fell, everyone got off at the right terminal and we all managed to get a story from our 10 minute bus ride.
Speaking of driving, I was introduced to the jeepney. A jeepney is the public transportation system in the Philippines. There are thousands in the street and each one is more flamboyantly decorated than the next. And not unlike my shuttle bus experience, there seems to be a badge of honour in cramming as many people as humanly possible into the jeepney and then some that hang on outside of the jeepney! They are loud, pump out some serious fumes but are also an incredible cheap way to travel. I have yet to venture on one of them, but I’m sure I will at some point! I envision a personal project of photographing as many jeepneys as possible.
As for the food, that will be another post, but needless to say I have been eating! I’ve had some traditional dishes like lechon (roasted pig) with rice and if you watched Anthony Bourdain delight at the crispy skin, yes it’s like candy! As for the pork soup which also came with my meal, it sounds like something I would devour, but it just didn’t do it for me. I know, shocking!
But most importantly, I will have the chance this weekend to volunteer and help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). My plan all along was to start my trip in the Philippines since I had friends in Cebu that I’d been wanting to visit for quite some time. Once news of the typhoon made it clear that any help would be appreciated, I knew I wanted to do something. I emailed a handful of large organizations saying I would be in the Philippines and wanted to offer my services, be it an extra set of hands or social media to assist in any way I could. Not surprisingly, I didn’t hear back from some of them and those that did reply, explained they couldn’t just bring anyone in to help even if it was being offered. It was disappointing to hear, but totally understandable.
Thankfully my friends were spared the devastation that we’ve seen on the news, but as we all know by now, other parts of the country weren’t so lucky. My friends and other expats who have made Cebu their home took action and started their own relief effort through an organization they founded called It Matters (check out the YouTube channel). They just wanted to help, so they did. While the major relief organizations were supplying aid to the larger islands, there were many smaller islands that had yet to receive any help due to accessibility and prioritization. So through the coordinated efforts of many expats and locals, they’ve done their part and continue to do so because since isn’t an overnight repair job. Initially the need was food, so tons upon tons of food was delivered and now they’re going back this week with tools, people to sort through what is salvageable and even an architect (another expat) to help get the process started of rebuilding their homes and their lives.
I donated before I left and I saw my contribution in the form of rice and sardines being handed out within a few days. I can’t explain it, but it stirred something within me to know that my few dollars helped in some small way. Now that I’m going myself, I know it will be humbling and I will share that story next week. If you’d like to donate, you can do so here.