No better time to write about a trip than when you are still jet lagged from the journey. For the last 11 days I have been traveling (through slow, chaotic traffic jams) across the Philippines with 9 students from the Kennedy School. The trip was led by a group of students including the one-of-a-kind Philip Dy, an HKS student from the Philippines. We spent a large portion of our trip meeting with non-profits and service organizations located in both metro Manila and Culion, a small island community in a province south of Manila.
The trip marked my first time traveling to Asia and my first flight longer than 6 hours. In total, the flights from Boston to Chicago to Hong Kong and then Manila span a time frame longer than 24 hours. While the trip there went smoothly enough, Tom will tell you I’ve been a basically dysfunctional human for the last 2 days trying to adjust to Boston’s timezone.
On August 20th a handful of students all arrived in Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport – named for a national hero and former Senator that was assassinated in 1983 for opposing the Martial Law governed the state until the mid 1980s. His wife, Cory Aquino, became president after Ninoy’s death spurred a national movement for democracy in the Philippines.
We arrived around 2 in the morning ready for some much needed shut eye. Instead, we were greeted by a spread of food prepared by Bernice’s mom (Philip’s mother-in-law). She fixed us a porridge which, if I remember correctly (as this point my lack of sleep was not helping my memory), is a late night snack Filipinos love. She laid out dishes with hard boiled eggs, scallions, shredded chicken, dried pork, dried mini shrimp, garlic, and fried tofu. She also prepared milk fish (Bernice’s favorite) and another pork dish for us. The meal of just the beginning of Bernice and her mom making us feel like we were part of their family. She later bought us souvenirs and helped us navigate the overwhelming seafood selections at the dampa.
This would not be the last time we were greeted unexpectedly by food. Filipinos basically eat 5 meals a day – breakfast, miryenda, lunch, miryenda, and dinner – with miryenda being the word for snack. Almost all meetings throughout our trip had some sort of food whether a KFC sandwich or fried bananas (yum).
After our late night meal at Bernice’s home, we were off to the Cenacle Retreat House where we would stay during our time in Manila. The retreat house is run by the Cenacle Sisters and is located close to the Jesuit university that both Philip and Bernice attended. Staying in such a peaceful place gave us a welcomed change from the hustle of metro-Manila. During our first full evening in Manila, we had dinner with HKS alumni that live in Manila and are working on a range of issues – education, public revenue, and law. We went to bed on our first night with full bellies and feeling incredible welcomed in the Philippines.
The next day we traveled to the University of Ateneo – where Philip attended undergrad – and met with staff and students from a study abroad program run through the University of San Fransisco. Instead of a traditional study abroad experience, students in the Casa Bayanihan program take classes while also doing extensive service work in the community. We got to visit the community they live in near campus and have lunch with all the participating students. I particularly enjoyed the conversation I had with a young, Filipino woman who joined the program after finishing her studies at Ateneo. We talked about the bakery her parents ran in her home province, her quest to use her business major to create larger good in her country, and her growing interest in hiking.
After lunch, we headed to old-town Manila for a tour of the Intramuros – meaning within the city walls. We walked through beautiful historic homes and the church and monastery of San Agustin. Close to 80 percent of Filipinos are Roman Catholic as a result of Spanish colonization in the 1800s. Unfortunately, the church and several other buildings were damaged during World War II because Japanese troops were located in the area. While we enjoyed the tour of old Manila, our tour guide may have stood out beyond the buildings. He referred to Jesus as “Mr. JC” and described how Filipinos told the Spanish “Hey, we are sick of you,” when resisting Spanish rule. There were many grad students giggling at his presentation style, but he definitely kept us entertained.
Next, we stopped by the Golden Mosque – constructed in the 1970s as a welcoming gift to Libyan President, Muammar al-Gaddafi, although his trip never occurred.
And finally, after a long day, it was time to EAT again. We drove across town where we met Bernice’s mom and brother at a dampa for dinner. Dampas are large, open air fish markets located within a complex of restaurants. You pick the seafood you want from the market and then walk it over to the restaurant of your choice for dinner. We were completely overwhelmed by the all the choices, so Philip and Bernice’s family took charge of the selections while we headed up to a private room with a karaoke machine. We ended up with enough food to feed 50 people – crabs, shrimp, oysters, clams, squid, more squid, and individual coconuts to drink. The dampa was a really amazing experience even though we had enough leftovers for a week.
Our next day brought another trip to Anteneo, a lunch with the vice mayor of Quezon City, and – most important of all – the group’s discovery of the “Selfie Stick”. I’ll leave you with a Selfie Stick teaser. More to come.