December 4, 2008

My First Day in the Philippines

Today was my first full day in the Philippines. I know that many people in my life are wondering – so what are my initial reactions, thoughts, and experiences of the country? From the time I arrived people have been inquiring about how I am doing, if I am enjoying my experiences here, and what I think about the country thus far. And I am sure these questions will continue throughout my trip and when I return home. So, what do I think

Let me start by talking about my experiences. This morning we woke very early – my husband was enthusiastic to be back in his country and looking forward to the opportunity of sharing this trip with me. After an excellent and plentiful breakfast of rice, eggs, coffee, and mangos (my favorite) Jonathan took me for a driving tour of the neighborhood. We wound our way through the streets, avoiding potholes, people, and various other vehicles, passing basketball courts, shops, and the church. This area has narrow streets with houses packed tightly together on each side. Most yards here are gated and the various colors of the buildings create a patchwork accented by trees and greenery everywhere.

After my small neighborhood tour we spent the afternoon having lunch and shopping at the Mall of Asia and the Duty Free Mall. Both places were overwhelming with vast amounts of customers and vocal salesman feverishly trying to convince people to buy. The hectic energy created a feeling of bombardment for me. I am accustomed to smaller crowds and a much more subtle form of salesmanship and felt trounced by this teeming environment.

We spent the evening in a more calm environment – at the house of my husband's childhood friend. It was a wonderful experience. Our hosts served an excellent dinner and it was wonderful to watch Jonathan smile and laugh with friends he has known his whole life but not seen in person for several years. I have been honored and appreciative that all of Jonathan's family and friends have welcomed me on my first visit with warmth and kindness.

I see the Philippines as a country of contrasts – tall modern buildings and bustling malls coexist alongside poor shanty towns. Filipino people are warm and welcoming; the streets of Manila are daunting – a crowded mass of people. Here people work hard to create beautiful and pristine interior environments while polluted rivers snake through the city outside. Here there are massive groups of people on the streets and in public places, but a great deal of importance placed on giving individual attention to guests, family, friends, and customers.

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