Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Philippines: Day 1

Early Saturday morning we left Guam for a short trip to the Philippines (returning early Tuesday morning). We figured since we were already halfway around the world we might as well take advantage of the opportunity (and a great airline/hotel package offered by a local travel agency). The flight was just over 3 hours.


Getting in a bit closer we were able to see hundreds of fish farms in the waters surrounding the islands. It was pretty amazing to see how densely populated some of the islands were as well.


Upon arrival, I got my first stamp in my passport. I've been waiting my whole life for that stamp. It took 26 years but it finally happened! I hope to accumulate many more over the years to come.

After checking through customs we loaded into a taxi and headed for our hotel. That taxi ride was the most terrifying experience of my life. Hands down, no exaggerations. I really thought it extremely likely that we would die or be seriously injured. It was insane. The driver drove so fast and wove in and out of lanes with no regard to the lines on the road or the other drivers. He drove on the wrong side of the road when traffic on the right side was too slow. He came so close to other vehicles and pedestrians I thought for sure we would have an accident. Little did I know that EVERY taxi ride in the Philippines would be the same way. One driver explained to us that the lines on the road were just for decoration.

We zoomed through the streets of Manila and arrived at our hotel a few minutes later.Upon arriving at the hotel (the Dusit Thani) our taxi was searched for explosives by two policemen (along with every other car entering the hotel.) We were also sniffed by dogs at the hotel entrance for explosives and manually checked for weapons by guards. This was both reassuring and worrisome.
The interior of the hotel was lavish and probably the nicest hotel we have ever stayed at. Definitely worthy of it's 5 stars.

This girl played different instruments in the lobby. Her costumes were so beautiful and I wished so badly that I could get really up close to examine her jewelry. It was gorgeous. I felt bad taking pictures of her though and didn't want to get all up in her face so I didn't.The view from our room.

Our room was nice and fairly large. The only bad thing was the bed. It felt like plywood with foam stapled to it. It was so hard!

The first thing we did was change our American dollars to Philippine Pesos. The conversion is about 45 pesos to 1 dollar. Money goes very far in the Philippines. I also always love looking at foreign currency. I always think its a lot more beautiful than our own money in the US. I love all the color and detail and decoration.

After checking into the hotel we bravely (or suicidally?) got into another taxi and headed for Greenhills Shopping Center. Greenhills has over 2000 vendors and is a huge marketplace selling everything from handbags, to fancy electronics like Ipads, to pearls and jewelry, to local handicrafts. I think you could walk around in it for a week and not see everything. This was the one thing I knew I wanted to do for sure in the Philippines because I had heard that it was a great place to buy pearls.The stalls were so small and close together and there were so many people that the experience was incredibly overwhelming. Still I was determined to go home with some pearls so I persevered and found the pearl market in the labyrinth of shops.I didn't go crazy like I could have, but I did come home with several strands of great quality freshwater pearls. I mostly bought small pearls that I've been using for the new production line I've been developing. I wish I had bought some large pearls strands just because I was there and will probably never have the opportunity to buy them that cheap again, but I went conservative and bought very little. I did make one luxury purchase on a large mabe pearl that is beautiful, but I have no idea what I will do with it. I'll do a post soon just on all the stuff we bought with pictures so you all can see.
There were so many vendors, but we found some great stuff. We weren't very good at bargaining, but it seemed wrong when the prices were already pennies compared to what we would spend if we were buying these items in the states. We did do some bartering but probably could have paid a lot less than we did. Despite that, I was really happy with how we did and what we came home with.


After leaving greenhills satisfied with our shopping, we headed to a local Philippine and seafood cuisine restaurant called Zamboanga. They had entertainment that depicted the evolution of Philipine traditional dances. See video below.
video


This shows the bamboo dance, which is a crazy dance in which the dancers have to step quickly in between moving bamboo rods. They went so fast it was incredible!

The restaurant also had a great little trio that serenaded us with songs from the Beatles, the Eagles, and Kenny Rogers. It was a great end to our first day in the Philippines.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Philippines

(photo from here: Banaue Rice Terraces in the Philippines)

Tomorrow we leave for the Philippines. We are just staying in Manila for the weekend.
The Philippines are located in Southeast Asia in the Western Pacific Ocean, and consist of over 7,000 islands in the Pacific Ring of Fire. With a population of 92 million people, the Philippines is the worlds 12th most populated country. Manila alone has a population of over 20 million people. That's a lot coming from Phoenix's measly 4 million people.


I was really excited when we were talking about the trip in abstract...you know, "Ohh, it would be cool to go to the Philippines...its cheap and we are already so close, we will never have this chance again..." Now that I have my airline ticket I'm more nervous than excited. I read too much on the internet about all the bad things that happen there. The first thing I read was the US travel warning for Americans traveling to the Philippines. The recent tragedy in Manila didn't help calm my fears. Most of the internet sites are like, "As long as you don't look like a tourist you'll be fine". Well...I have RED HAIR. I'm pretty sure I may stand out.
As a fairly sheltered girl who has NEVER been outside the country (with the exception of Mexican border towns that don't really count), I have to say I'm pretty freaked out. I've definitely never been to a third world country where I speak not a SPECK of the language. The place is foreign, the money is foreign, the food is foreign. I know it will be fun and beautiful and exciting and all that...but I can't help but focus on everything that could go wrong (thanks mom and dad for raising me to be so paranoid). I just registered with the US Embassy and that actually relieved a lot of stress. Not sure why. I guess knowing that if something did happen to me, my country would look out for me. That's a good feeling.
We don't even really know yet what we are going to do when we get there. We have some vague ideas but the only thing on our agenda for sure is going to a large pearl market (which I am REALLY excited about). We are also thinking about just taking a drive of the country outside the city, and maybe going to a volcano.
Yeah, so after re-reading this I realize I'm being a bit irrational and ridiculous, but its my nature. I hope it turns out to be a great trip. Say a prayer for me k? I'll report back on Tuesday when we return.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cultural Night: Food, Fire Dancers, and Fun!

We've been attending a branch of our church in the village of Dededo since we arrived on Guam. I like going to church here. The branch is small (maybe 80 people) but it feels big. There is so much culture. The people here are from so many different places and backgrounds. I have learned so much in the few weeks we have been here. We have been welcomed with open arms by everyone. We have made friends I know I will miss when I leave. The people here are so kind and generous. We have met people from Tonga, Samoa, Pohnpei, Chuuk, The Philippines, Fiji, Guam, Japan, Liberia, etc. These people have come from very different cultures, upbringings, and places from us, but we all share the same faith. It's strange to come from so far, and yet still have so much in common. The feelings I have about this are overwhelming. Its an amazing feeling. It’s amazing to me that I can have so much in common with someone who is so different from me.
Anyway, the church had a cultural night on Saturday. Basically it was a big party (they call them fiestas here) where people set up tables about the countries they were from, shared foods from their land, and told others about their culture.

There were also dances from many places. Above was a dance from the island of Pohnpei.This was a warrior dance.They taught dances to the whole crowd.A married couple also did a fire dance (in the rain). It was awesome.
Scotts favorite table was the Mexican table. He misses guacamole. The horchata they made was amazing!My favorite was the Guam table. They showed many things about the coconut tree.
These are the various stages coconuts grow in. The top center is the youngest stage, then they are laid out counterclockwise in stages of growth.The coconut is also just a big seed, and this shows how they sprout.Coconuts ready for drinking the juice (I declined).Woven coconut leaves.The brown coconuts they use for many things, but a favorite is "Coconut Candy".They use this handmade tool to grate the inside flesh of the coconut out.Then they mix it with sugar and cook it until it becomes a sweet treat. See recipe below. I liked it, but think it would be better as a topping on other things rather than all by itself.There was sooo much food.
I got to try breadfruit!
It wasn't nearly as exciting and delicious as I thought it would be. It tasted like potato. Above is bbq breadfruit, below is dried.One family made an imu (whole pig wrapped in leaves and cooked in a pit with hot rocks). They wove a case for it from coconut leaves. The meat was really good.One of my new favorite foods is lumpia (deep fried banana, its the thing that looks like an egg roll). Sooo good.
Desserts. Yellow= breadfruit. Pink=mochi. The dark brown thing was a brownie and the light brown thing was a Philippine dessert that sort of tasted like peanut buttery mochi. It was made from sweet rice.We had so much fun!! Going home will be hard.