In January MyGuy and I took a trip to the Philippines and Hong Kong. We visited friends in the Manila area and toured the sights in and around Manila. It was the most eye-opening experience of my life so far. I can only describe the visit to Manila as "interesting." Firstly let me say I had a great time, and the Filipino people are the most polite, hospitable people I have ever met. "Sir" was my name most places I went. (My friends joked that primarily because I was a white American, we always received special attention whenever I was present. Whatever the reason, it was great). Secondly, the Philippines has many great resort area and the cost of living is cheap there by US standards. A nice meal for four in a restaurant ran only about $30.00US. While in the hotel I had a 90 minute Hilot massage, which is a Filipino deep tissue massage, and that only cost me about $55.00US. In the US you spend at least $1.00/minute for any professional massage. When not at our friends' house, we stayed at the Peninsula Manila hotel, a five-star hotel, costing about $185.00US/night, a hotel that in the US would probably run between $300-500.00/night.
The reason I described my trip as "interesting" is mainly because of the dichotomy of life in the Philippines. There are many malls, ranging from new malls with high-end stores such as Gucci and Louis Vittan, to smaller malls with markets. The malls are packed! Because it is a tropical climate, and very warm, the temperature while we were there ranging most days from 85-95 degrees Fahrenheit with much humidity (and this was the cool season, November-January), and because most Filipino homes do not have central AC (AC in the bedrooms only if that), the people congregate in the malls in the evenings to spend time with friends and family and to eat meals, and quite honestly, to keep cool. When I explained that most Americans get done work, go home, eat dinner, and relax at home most weeknights, our Filipino friends said, "How boring!" The malls on the weeknights in Manila looked like our malls on a weekend at Christmas time in the US. The malls also have several food courts lined with traditional Filipino food as well as McDonald's, KFC, Starbucks, Pizza Hut and the likes, and the people are feasting! The money certainly flows in the malls. (One of the pictures above is in Makati, the financial district of Manila). The "interesting" thing is the poverty that is just outside those malls, and the lack of money a great deal of Filipinos have.
I expected to see poverty, but not to the extent I did. Villages like the one above exist all over! Not just in certain areas outside the city. We would be standing next to a modern, very nice building and just a few feet away were shacks and squatter villages where people lived. People sold things they made and tried to make a living anyway they could. (I realize this occurs in other places in the world, and even in the US, but I had never experienced it for myself). It was sad to see how some people have to exist! It really is just like I have seen on TV where the poor search for food to eat. The second day I was there, this actually put a tear in my eye. (I have since been inspired to donate to UNICEF/PHILIPPINES and to sponsor a child through Children International).
Manila and the area has a great deal of history, unfortunately most of it is occupation by foreign lands. The Philippines was first colonized by the Spanish, and the Dominicans (Catholics) remained in the Philippines for 500-600 years. The Spanish influence can be seen throughout the Philippines. So can the Catholic Church's influence. I wondered while I was there was the Catholic Church coming to the Philippines a good thing or a bad. Many of the hospitals and schools were founded by the Catholic Church so I guess that's good. But what if the Catholic Church never came, would the people be better off now? The Filipinos, although influenced tremendously by the Catholic Church, also incorporate alot of cultural rituals/beliefs into their religion. For many, I believe the only hope they have is that God and the Catholic Church will help them. I did not see much of that help while there, I must admit. After gaining independence from the Spanish, the Philippines was again occupied during WWII by the Japanese, who were vicious. The US eventually liberated the Philippines from the Japanese.
Much more to come about my trip to the Philippines as there is just too much to write here. I can say this will not be my last trip to the Philippines.