Diversity Squared: Southeast Asia’s Pearl of the Orient
For most tourists, they would prefer a trip to the Caribbean or a trip to the Alps. But there are tourists nowadays who wish to explore new countries and learn new cultures. This then leads them to the Asian continent. The continent itself is filled with history and heritage unlike any other and each trip is a new experience. Many Western nations such as Spain, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States have been captivated by this continent’s vast resources and unique culture that they conquered a particular Asian continent and honed them to their liking. But, the continent is also well-known to be very independent and fought hard to fight for their freedom no matter what the consequences will be. In my last summer vacation, my family and I had the chance to visit one of the countries in the Southeast, the Philippines.
The Philippines is an archipelago in Southeast Asia with exactly 7,107 islands comprising the whole archipelago. Due to its location being part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, the country is prone to earthquakes and typhoons each year. The country is closely near the countries of Taiwan, Vietnam, Borneo and Indonesia. Many know the Philippines as the “Pearl of the Orient” a name it has carried from the early times. Down below is a short and general overview of the country:
Area: 299,764 km2 (land) 0.61% (water)
Population (2010): 94,013,200
Largest City: Quezon City
Language: English, Filipino (8 regional languages)
Religion: Roman Catholic with 7 separate Christian groups, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism and Baha’i.
Ethnic groups: Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Bisaya, Hiligaynon, Bikol, Waray (7 migrant ethnic groups)
Independence from Spain: 12 June 1898
Recognized by the US: 4 July 1946
Government: United presidential constitutional republic
Administrative Divisions: 17 regions, 80 provinces, 138 cities
Currency: Philippine Peso
GDP: (PPP) $351.360 billion; (nominal) $188.719 billion
As the country's main capital, Manila is filled with life and tradition that makes the city unique. Upon arrival at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, we were immediately greeted by Filipinos welcoming us to the country. Asia, well-known as a friendly region, has prided itself. Despite all the mishaps and entanglements it has experienced in the past because of its conquerors, the region still act friendly with its former conquerors. People were very easy to approach and since the country has been a great ally of the United States, they were very knowledgeable with English, despite their unique accent. Compared to the United States, Manila climate has been quite different as we were already sweating bullets because of the hot temperatures in the country. Manila and the rest of the country only experiences two climates: extreme summer and rain because of its location in the Pacific Ring of Fire. A big exception is Baguio City found in the Northern region of Luzon, where it is known for its very cool climate and rare instances of hail.
Moving around Manila can be done in a variety of ways: by train through the Metro Rail and Light Rail Transits which covers a particular track in the metro, by jeepney: a customized jeep after the designs of the US jeeps from the Filipino-American War, by tricycle/pedicab/kuliglig that can be found in some parts of the city, by bus or by kalesa if you have enough money to pay for it. The jeepney has been considered a trademark of the Philippines not just because it was one of the US’s contributions to Filipino life and cultures, but because of the trademark designs which made them uniquely Filipino. When I first saw a jeepney as we have travelled along Roxas Boulevard, I saw that it was uniquely designed in a multitude of colors and images. Each jeepney has its own story according to our kind taxi driver. He has also said that the jeepney represents the country’s diverse story which they hope foreigners would be able to learn upon their stay in the country.
We did, however, experienced one of the problems of the Philippines when it comes to rule enforcement as we had to stay stuck in traffic in major routes of the city. Apparently it is different in each city part of the Metro Manila region because there are parts where traffic rules are strictly implemented while there are some areas are on chaos. Some traffic lights also don't work which adds to the problem of traffic. The driver has apologized to us and said that it is only up until late that traffic rules and other regulations are slowly being revised thanks to the new administration led by President Benigno Aquino III. On the hotel, I ended up reading a little history about the politics of the country and saw that dynasties have ruled each of the three branches of government for decades. The Aquinos have been known due to their contribution to the EDSA Revolution that overthrew a dictator. P-Noy as he is known now was an unexpected entry in the recent elections and won a landslide victory.
Stopping by our hotel, we examined the whole map of Manila to map out our journey. Turns out, with Manila’s vast territory and considering the area of the Metro Manila area, we may not even cover each of the landmarks. Thanks to the staff, we have been able to map out our trip in the bustling city of Manila and learn a thing or two about its history.
Manila has been recognized as a city on June 24th, 1574 when Intramuros was declared as the new capital of the Spaniards, who then colonized the country since they have stepped in the shores of Cebu in the Visayas Region. Intramuros, known as the Walled City and the former fort of the Spanish government and nobility, is now presently part of the whole capital of Manila and is one of its oldest areas. Before the Spaniards invaded the country, Manila has been considered one of the most ideal trading routes for both the East and West. Many then linked this, and Manila's vast variety of resources, to become known as the "Pearl of The Orient". Due to the influence of the Spaniards and the rest of those nations who conquered the country, Manila became the main hub for business and government that is still seen today with an exception to Makati and Taguig City which has now developed as the new business hubs of the country. The main capital itself boasts a lot of excellent locations and landmarks that tells foreigners and locals alike on how the Philippines came to be.
Our first destination was the historic Rizal Park where the iconic monument of the National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal is situated. The whole park complex was previously named Bagumbayan, the same place where Rizal was shot to death. From the hotel, we took a taxi to the entrance of the park complex which can be entered from three different streets; from Taft Avenue, from TM Kalaw and from Roxas Boulevard. Aside from the main monument, there are other iconic landmarks in the area that show how diverse Manila culture could be. The park complex hosts its own Japanese and Chinese park as a symbol of the contributions of both nations to the country since the beginning. The Japanese Garden was a mini-representation of a classic Japanese park complete with surrounding fauna and the iconic bridge Japanese were known for. The Chinese Garden hosts a mini Chinese shrine, pond and leisure area great for its visitors. There was also a big man-made replica of the map of the Philippines which can be seen from the Light Rail Transit Yellow Line or from the plane. The park complex also houses Agrifina Circle where the former homes of Departments of Agriculture and Finance are situated. The National Museum and Library was also near the complex so we got to see some artifacts found around the archipelago such as skeletons of the Tabon Man and some artworks such as the Spolarium by Juan Luna, which won an award in a prestigious event in Spain. The people we met around the area were very friendly and considering that it was a public park, many still flock the area to rest, meet with friends and just hang out. Considering that today, not many people, especially the young generation, know a lot about their country’s history. I also have seen street vendors, beggars and misfits around the area and pretty much also saw them in our whole trip.
After leaving the newly rebuilt national park, we tried to trace the location of Paco Park. The park was known as the first place where Rizal was buried. We had noticed the number of people who still continue in visiting the park, despite its hidden location. The staff has told us that Paco Park is still a great venue for weddings and shows showcasing Filipino culture. I did remember the Park because it was featured in Amazing Race. By the afternoon, we have decided to hang out near the Cultural Center of the Philippines and Baywalk to witness Manila's famous sunset. Restaurants are also found near the area and one can try out local or foreign cuisine without travelling far from each restaurant. I was also brave enough to try "balut", a boiled duck egg where the content is a full-developed embryo of a duck. Locals say that my Philippine trip would not be completed without trying it out.
After a scrumptious Filipino buffet course, we had visited Intramuros. Going inside Intramuros was like entering a time capsule as the streets and houses are the same streets and houses the Spaniards used since the colonization of the country. The walls itself narrates the wonderful history of the small city. Tourists and locals are welcomed by guards dressed up as the Guardia Civil, Spanish local guards and they would gladly give directions to the area’s famous landmarks. There are two churches which are found in Intramuros and they are the Manila Cathedral and the San Agustin Church. Manila Cathedral was our first stop and did the traditional first wish upon entering the Cathedral.
Filipinos are very superstitious especially in religion. While in the Cathedral, the number of church-goers has increased and I realized that they would seriously follow decorum and religiously pray the rosary while in the Cathedral. I also saw some of them touch each relic displayed in the beautiful cathedral and pray solemnly in front of them. It makes you wonder how much influence the Spaniards used to have Filipinos have this kind of devotion. Would it also work with other countries? San Agustin Church has offered us tourists a brief and a very colourful trip back in the Spanish era due to its ornate and well-preserved structure. We visited Fort Santiago after our small church trip and we managed to try to trace Rizal’s final moments. Fort Santiago also has a mini museum that displays replicas and items used back in the old days when it was still a functioning Spanish fort. We have also tried out the kalesa rides offered in the area. For the rest of our stay in Manila, church hopping was our itinerary. Due to the immense belief of Filipinos in Catholicism, churches are built around the city. We have managed to visit Quiapo Church, home to the Black Nazarene; Basilica Minore de San Sebastian, the only known iron made church said to be inspired by the same man who designed the Eiffel Tower; the Baclaran Church where pilgrims from all across the country visit for its miraculous miracles; Malate Church which was near the Raja Sulayman Park and St. Jude Church near Malacanang Palace; the center of government in the Philippines.
When I boarded the plane bound for the US, I decided to look back and reflect. I felt pity because I saw how some Filipinos, such as the street children, endured to continue living, despite the risks and dangers they need to face. Although their government continues to work on improving the country, there are still Filipinos striving hard to keep up with the changes. I felt very lucky that I was born in the US and my life was not this bad. However, my trip around the capital provided me with insight and a sense of understanding on the rich history and culture the Philippines has. The country has withstood at least four conquests, seen many administrations come and go and experienced many tragedies and they managed to stand up and start over with a smile. Gazing back, I could not help but wish to return and experience in its entirety the whole Philippine experience.