#1 Philippines, Jan. 8, 2010

Dear Everybody,

While many of you are suffering through cold weather, I am in the warm, sunny Philippines! I arrived Tuesday night after a 12 hour flight from Minneapolis to Tokyo, and then another five hour flight to Manila. Security seemed about the same as before in spite of the Christmas Day bomber. I did learn that I don’t have to include my contact lens solution in my one quart baggie as it is considered a ‘necessity’ (this makes it safe?) They did test them, though.

I’m staying at a great hostel called Friendly’s Guesthouse. The lounge is open to the air on two sides. I can just glimpse Manila Bay from this 5th floor perch. We have cable TV (lots of American channels) and three computers for interneting.

I’m in a dorm room with 10 bunk beds and a bathroom but everyone is most accommodating. Since I get up at 6:00 (I have everything prepared the night before so I don’t make noise) I have the bathroom to myself. Mostly my roommates get up about 8 or 9 o’clock.

Wednesday evening the manager, Benji, opened a couple of bottles of French wine which he shared with us. There were about a dozen backpackers chatting—one, an Israeli, had worked in St. Paul, MN and another Norwegian girl had been a Rotary exchange high school student in Monticello, MN. Yes, the world is getting smaller.

While I was very tired on Wednesday after arriving late Tuesday night, I did do some sightseeing. I took a jeepney to the Intramuros region—an historic area of Manila.

A jeepney is quite an experience—it is their city bus system. I’ve never seen this type of vehicle before. They’re kind of like a very long, very wide squat pickup truck. You climb up and into the backend. There’s a long bench on each side (don’t bump your head!) where you sit. It’s open on the sides but has a roof. You shout your destination to the driver, “Intramuros!” who reaches back with his hand to collect the seven pesos (15 cents) that you hand to other passengers to hand to him. The problem was knowing which one to get on—there’s a constant stream of them. A boy took pity on me and spent about 10 minutes waiting for the right one to put me on. They have names emblazoned across the front like “Grace of God”, and “Johanna” and “El Shaddei.”

I visited the San Augustin church from 1587, the oldest church in the Philippines.
The cloisters had many displays including the tomb of the Spaniard who founded Manila in 1574. He embarked on this voyage from Acapulco, Mexico with a mostly Mexican crew. The church and cloisters had quite a Mexican ambience including three ceiling Aztec murals. There were pictures of some Mexican churches in the displays including one of Acolman, a Mexican church and monastery that I have visited more than once.

I also toured the Casa Manila, a reproduction of a Spanish colonial house built by Imelda Marcos that showcases the beautiful antique furniture and artwork from the 18th century. By then I was really tired so I went back to the guesthouse and took a nap!

I find Manila to be very different from other Asian cities. It really feels more Spanish/Mexican which, given its history, it should. It has many modern buildings but many that aren’t either. The weather is hot and humid, highs of about 86 degrees F. It is quite draining when I walk a lot in the sun to sightsee. It’s wonderful to come back to our breezy lounge and just hang out. Manila is very fond of hugh shopping malls. I visited one on the way back from sightseeing that is near my hostel. I bought some fruit at the grocery store.

The last several mornings I went for my walk along Manila Bay which is about four blocks from my hostel. It was beautiful with the rising sun illuminating the white ships in the gorgeous blue bay, which actually is kind of dirty when you see it up close.


Unfortunately (for them) there are quite a few people/families living on the green median between the promenades and they were just getting up. They bathe in the bay. Luckily it hasn’t been raining at all, but it is pretty rainy here. What do they do then?






Thursday I jeepneyed back to Intramuros and visited the Manila Cathedral. This building is number six that has been built on the same site. It was ruined once by a typhoon, once by fire, and twice by earthquakes, followed by being demolished during WWII. I guess Manila really took it on the chin—much of the city was destroyed along with 150,000 people.





After the cathedral I visited Fort Santiago, once a Spanish military base but now a memorial to Dr. Jose Rizal who tried to start a revolution against the Spanish in 1896 and was executed. This was quite an extensive site with little side-bars, like a Shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexican!)

One afternoon I was playing Solitaire in the lounge—I always bring a deck of cards to fill the odd moment when my iPod is recharging—when a very young Korean man asked me what I was doing.

“Playing Solitaire,” I replied. He didn’t know the game so I explained the basic moves. He watched me play for about five minutes and then exclaimed, “Oh, that’s the game that’s on my computer! I’ve never seen it played with cards!” Do you love, it?


Today I visited Rizal park—gardens, an orchidarium, two museums and a chess plaza where I was invited to play. (I didn’t). I even found my own jeepney home—didn’t have to be helped to find the right one!





Tonight Benji is firing up the grill so I stopped to buy chicken to grill and to eat with my hostel-mates. I also bought a bottle of that good Chilean wine that I like so much—Casellero del Diablo.

In the meantime I’ll fire this off to all of you. I’m planning to stay in Manila until Monday, then I’ll go south to Tagaytay.

I’m listening to Fareed Zakaria’s book, “The Post-American World” which I would highly recommend. I think he’s really smart.


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