Ahhh the thrill of visiting a new country, especially a third world country. A new set of faces, a strange language, finding commonalities between people of the same culture...I'm so excited to leave my familiar first world comforts behind for something that challenges my patience and feels completely undiscovered. I'm currently flying from Auckland to Cairns (for a short stopover until I board the exact same flight) and then I'll be arriving in Manila very early in the morning. Luckily, I board my flight to Cebu not more than a few hours after, so it will have been a long day for me! I woke up for the airport shuttle at 5:30 AM this morning (I've always been a morning person so it wasn't that bad). I am so happy with Philippine Airlines. I didn't even pay for a checked bag (because I wasn't sure what their policy on my 10 kg backpacking bag would be) and they checked it. They were also highly professional, punctual, and fed me dinner and red wine for free! I didn't even pay for it at checkout, which is exceptional considering I didn't even get fucking water on my 7 hour flight from Osaka to Cairns from Jetstar...though every airline shines in comparison to that garbage. If this is a foreshadowing to my experiences in the Philippines, I'm so beyond excited :D!
I'm not sure how long I'll be in Cebu, but I will be going to Bohol for a day at least. I considered Palawan and Coron, but I might just head for Luzon instead. I fly out of Manila for Taiwan on the 21st. If you're ever traveling to the Philippines or New Zealand, do know that they both require proof of exit! I feel like almost every country I've flown into in Asia has requested it but not enforced the rule (by the check in staff) but they are not kidding around here! Deciding to go to Taiwan was as easy as deciding to buy a neck pillow for a 14 hour flight...it's just that cool! I've heard fantastic things about the markets, the nightlife, the nature, and the people. I also can't wait to pay homage to the country that invented my job in college, i.e. making bubble tea. And I've met some awesome Taiwanese people :).
One of the joys of traveling and backpacking is seeing what random occurrences cross your path. In a library at my hostel in Paihia, I traded my barely read (because it was boring and pretentious as hell) copy of Life of Pi for Deception Point by Dan Brown (which was so good!!!!). I then traded my copy of Deception Point for the first Game of Thrones novel (can you believe I found that in a hostel library?!). Of course it's completely dilapidated and annotated with a foreign language on weird words like "harp," "maggots," and "shattered," but that just adds to the fun and history of the book.
Unfortunately, I'm in for a 5 hour flight to Cairns, but if there's one thing I learned about myself, it's that I'm really awesome at turning my brain off and not thinking about sitting in the airport for almost 12 hours and also sitting on a plane. I absolutely loathe airports, with their overpriced bullshit paraphernalia (though I understand why you might shop at a souvenir shop if you haven't actually visited the country and won't have the opportunity to) and obnoxious people shouting over you, spitting into trash cans, putting leashes on their children (seriously if I had kids, I would never treat them like a dog), and having only 30 minutes of free WIFI for a 12 hour layover. That's another thing I love about good ol' 'Merica, she loves her free and fast WIFI (we Americans have attention spans of 5 seconds and can't bear to not check Facebook or Reddit every waking moment).
As I was reading the Filipino newspaper offered on my flight, I noticed some staunch differences between American journalism and foreign journalism. First of all, Americans have no problem naming people that are arrested or thought to be involved in a crime, including the victims. I noticed this in Australia, as a person who stabbed a convenience store worker wasn't even named or pictured. In the Filipino article mentioning drug crime, the individuals arrested were left unnamed so as not to "bring shame to the families." Another interesting difference is that American media is so filtered (but isn't all media to some degree?). What I mean by that is we're afraid to offend anyone. How did I come up with that idea? Well, I read a few articles in the newspaper about how Americans are not fighting Middle Eastern terrorism appropriately (interesting for another uninvolved nation to comment on our struggle...) and open and honest criticism of how Duterte (Filipino president) is handling the war on drugs. I would not be shocked to see such criticism on Obama from a Fox News outlet, but when the name of the newspaper sounds pretty neutral (Malaya Business Insight), it's surprising to see such commentary. I was also surprised to see justifications on why Duterte wasn't in a way, "sucking up" to Obama and the U.S. when the Philippines had done so in the '60s and '70s. I don't think American journalism would ever say such things about other presidents so overtly, unless it were a radical journal.
Landed in Cebu and sleeping on my bed (I'm in a coma thanks to Gravol, jet lag, travel exhaustion, and feeling a bit nauseous from dinner at a sketchy BBQ, so do excuse any grammatical mistakes).
General observations on the Philippines:
-I'm surprised by how third world the country is, despite how many Filipinos I see traveling abroad. Call me naive, but it's on the same scale of poverty as Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia (well, maybe not Cambodia), and Myanmar, and I don't see any citizens of those countries with money traveling abroad. I'm no sociologist, but that's pretty surprising!!! I was sort of expecting something in between Thailand and Korea, i.e. a little dirty, with bad water, but not as impoverished.
-People are so friendly. This is annoying when it comes to me getting excited "hellos" as I'm walking down the street and a passing jeepney full of guys has to cat call me. O_O I'm just not used to it after being away from Southeast Asia for 2 months.
-Jeepneys are buses here. They're like the Thai Songthaew, but bigger like a bus. I'm intimidated by them but I'm determined to use one! They are covered in artistic murals and drawings.
-Food is gross (sorry Philippines). It's just lackluster in comparison to Viet or Thai food. They do have a lot of dried foods on Cebu I want to try though! Like dried mango, danggit (dried and salted rabbitfish), and dried squid.
-I found a scuba dive for $25!!!! OMG. WHY this is so awesome!
-There's a million cool beaches and islands to visit. SO suck it Australia, I'm done paying over $100 to visit a crowded, overrated beach (ehem Whitsundays). Gotta love SE Asia :)
-I'm so hot Wahhhh. The heat shocked me a bit as I walked 2 km to the post office and felt like passing out. Gotta toughen up!!
-Island hopping via plane and ferry is ubiquitous, but usually pretty cheap. I want to go to Coron though and I would probably pay about $180, which ain't cool considering how cheap my flights to Taiwan and Hong Kong are. Boohoo.
-I miss you cheese, yogurt and fresh bread. RIP Western supermarkets
-Some German lady in Australia warned me the Philippines was expensive. LOL. I just bought lunch for $1. Nope.
-English is everywhere and so far Filipinos are fantastic English speakers. Lucky!
-There are so many malls, yet I haven't been yet.
-Surprisingly haven't seen many Muslims or hijabs in Cebu or in the Manila airport.
-The Spanish influence here is so strong! Tagalog sounds pretty Spanish to me and people definitely look so different from other Asians (I love seeing this in each culture I visit). They have tanned skin, can be very tall or short (I feel like women are often shorter) and the kids are so darn cute! The Filipinos I have met are very bubbly, friendly, and helpful. They are a lively culture. I also feel that "small talk" with Southeast Asians is a lot more meaningful than it is with westerners because their perspective is a lot more interesting and in general, a lot less whinier or mundane (I'll speak for myself on that one ;)).
-There is a crazy war on drugs going on (thanks to President Duterte) that is very reminiscent of the American war on drugs. Though I won't say I feel like Cebu is a crack infested place. It might be behind closed doors, but it's no different from seeing people opening tiny ziploc bags of Oxy or coming into cafes to yell at drug dealers like I experienced in Sydney and other parts of touristy areas in Australia. Gotta love this fear people have of drugs and third world countries yet drug abuse and the issues that plague it are all over America, Australia, Europe, and New Zealand. Can't necessarily say the same about first world Asia, to my knowledge.
-Also, something that hasn't been in my life for awhile: BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP! Honk BEEP honk! (: