Saturday, May 25, 2013

Manila: Until now

Kamusta sa lahat!

For those of you who weren’t aware, I just arrived in the Philippines almost 3 full days ago, and am going to be living here with my family until July 25th. I probably could have done a better job mentioning things like that online or whatever, but I guess the reality didn’t feel like it was happening until I finally stepped off the plane from my 35 hour total airport/plane experience without real sleep.

I arrived at Omaha at 5am to make my 7am flight, and after having a hellish time with customs (which I shouldn’t have, but the woman working the area was brand new), I made it just in time to board my plane. I had a short 1.5 hour flight from Omaha to Minneapolis (layover: 1.75 hours), and from there, there was a 2.5 hour flight to Detroit, which happens to be the Delta hub in the U.S. for all flights going to Asia (layover: 4.75 hours). After that, I flew over Canada, Alaska, and Russia, wishing I could have taken pictures from the plane of the beautiful scenery, my view of the polar ice caps, and the mountains and forests of the huge tracts of untamed wild in the North. 14 hours later, I arrived in Nagoya, Japan. I went through international customs and baggage checking for 28 of my 30 minutes spent there, and boarded the 3.5 hour flight to Manila, finally arriving around 1am Manila time. Naturally, my bags were legitimately the very last 2 to come out of the conveyor belt, so the claiming of my luggage took about 45 minutes to an hour, and after 15 minutes in customs and immigration, I walked outside to see my cousins Princesse and TingTing, along with my aunts, Yayun and Baby. (Real names in order: Arleen Ann, Anna Cristina, Pauline and Arleen. Everyone has nicknames in the Philippines, and it’s rare for any of us to actually go by our real first names. My Filipina name is Cocoy.)  

I have been incredibly busy from the moment I stepped off the plane, there is so much to do and see here, so I apologize for not having a lot of time to get on Facebook and answer your messages lately, beautiful friends. You’re all in my thoughts though, and I miss all of you!

Now that I’m finally settled and have been sleeping a little more normally (even though I woke up at 7am to write this blog post), things are good here. I love it, I love my guest room, I love seeing my family, and everyone is so incredibly nice. I get a lot of stares because my white skin stands out here, and a lot of people stop me in the street to tell me I’m beautiful, which is pretty gratifying. I probably won’t stay that way, since I eat so much food all the time. I’m going to come back weighing 700 pounds because everyone is constantly feeding me, and I’m always busog. ;)

Rundown of things I have done in the Philippines in the approximately 72 hours I've been here:
Acquired a Ukulele
Had my first legal drinks
Eaten nothing remotely American
Signed up for yoga
Been completely spoiled and have hardly had to lift a finger for anything
Visited my cousin and her new baby
Worried that I might go into a permanent food coma
Been given all my favorite Chinese/Pinoy foods whenever I want them
Brushed up on my Tagalog
Watched my cousin's stand-up gig

Sitting in the feng shui shop with the Ukelele my Achi Princesse got for me, thanks, Ach! :) 

Today's schedule includes composing, stuffing my face, finishing unpacking, and hookah bar.

I wish I could show all of you how different everything is here. Manila is absolutely nothing like the U.S. There are things that are slightly familiar because I grew up with my mom, but this is really just a completely different world. Everything here is incredibly luxurious, I'm waited on hand and foot, there's a driver, full maid service, etc. wherever I go, and the moment I say I want something, that desire is instantly satisfied. I’ve never been treated so much like a queen in my entire life. It’s legitimately ridiculous how much I’m NOT expected to have to do here. Also, I’ve noticed that everything is possible in this country, because, in my Achi Princesse’s words, “Filipinos are lazy.” Their McDonald’s and other fast food places all deliver (fastER food is what they call it), you can order massages to your own house (which I guess is happening for me Monday), and if you go to the store, you can tip someone a relatively low amount and have them shop FOR you.

On the flip side of this, the lack of middle-class living here in the Philippines is extremely apparent. There are only rich and poor people, and hardly anything in between. Even on our way to nicer areas of the city, poverty is very very real here. Shanties stacked on top of each other everywhere you look, children coming up to your car peddling fruits and flowers during red lights, people begging in the streets. It all puts things in perspective. I almost feel like I’m in a floating island here, watching the poverty all around me from above, and it’s disconcerting. I know it’s impossible to help everyone, but it still boggles my mind to see how some people have to live here, thanks to a horribly corrupt government that doesn’t do a lot in the way of helping its own people. One thing that was especially crazy was driving through one of the red light districts here in Manila, near Makati. This is the only place where I would see a bunch of people who were as white as me, meaning, a lot of middle aged dudes hanging out to purchase “services” from the many women who offered them around here. Also, the ridiculous amounts of “massage” places that we drove by in that area was a little alarming, and makes me kind of sad that so many people have to resort to that kind of stuff to make money.

Also, brief note on the traffic and driving here: absolute insanity. I’ve never seen a place that constantly blatantly disregards the rules of the road. I already thought that the way you’re required to drive here was slightly frightening when I was here last time at age 12, but coming back here, being knowledgeable and familiar with driving laws, etc. brings the amount of frightening to a different level. Our driver is almost constantly caught in “The Fast and the Furious” style situations, and it’s amazing to see the level of complete calm he has while doing things like driving 4 cars abreast with 2 motorcycles sneaking through in a 4 lane highway, or moving slightly out of the way when a car comes barreling the wrong way down the road to pass someone on his overcrowded side.

Weather. Two words. HOT. HUMID. All the time. We ARE very near the Equator, but still. It’s about 40º Celsius every day, which is over 100º Fahrenheit. Also, it’s always super muggy out, but it’s almost typhoon season. Haven’t experienced one yet, but it’s been rather overcast lately so I probably will soon.

My family here is wonderful, we can all talk like there hasn’t been 8 years separating us from my last visit, and they’re all some of the most entertaining and interesting people you could ever meet. My Kuya Richie is taking me out to the hookah bar with more cousins tonight after I actually get some work done today, which is a new kind of exciting because even though we’ve been running all over Manila and Makati, I haven’t gotten a single thing done productivity-wise.

Overall, I am very much enjoying this trip. I’ll keep trying to update you all, but I am very busy. Facebook is the best way to contact me, but if you absolutely need me, I have a phone, and you can Facebook message me for the number. However, it’ll probably cost you about 20 cents U.S. to message me, so be warned.

Quick translations of words I’ll be using frequently and used in this blog:

Achi: Honorific title given to older sisters or cousins. Chinese origin. Atsi is also correct.
Kuya: Honorific title given to older brothers or cousins. Tagalog origin.
Busog: Full. Tagalog.

Tagalog: The native language of the Philippines, and the main dialect of this country. There are a bunch of other dialects that are different from Tagalog by quite a bit, but everyone here speaks Tagalog. My family also speaks Visayan and Bikol, as well as Chinese, English and some Spanish, so usually we have at least 3-4 languages going on at once, often in the same sentence.

I’ve learned quite a few more words, but those are the ones I used in this post.

Love you all, stay in touch while I’m here, please! I’m 13 hours ahead of Nebraska time, so keep that in mind when trying to contact me. Also, send me a Facebook message with your address if you want a postcard from me while I’m here.


P.S. Song of the day: Clara by the Punch Brothers. Absolutely in love with this song, and Chris Thile. Yup. 

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