Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Christmas in the Philippines

This year, all of my coworkers (except one) and I decided to go to the Philippines for Christmas. As you know by now, the holidays don't usually feel much like holidays around here, but we had this creeping suspicion that if we weren't off doing something around Christmas time, we would all end up sitting in our apartments alone on Christmas crying to ourselves and wishing we were home. In order to avoid this horrible fate, we booked flights to the Philippines for around $350 dollars (not bad) and 5 nights at this AMAZING resort. (Not my picture, although it does it on the picture to see more about the hotel).

So the story begins with our flight leaving Seoul on Christmas eve around 730pm. Fortunately this gave us all day to run errands and such (like get money from the bank or go to the post office and any last minute items we needed for the trip). We got in to Manila around 1130pm, mostly carrying USD because everything we read said we could pay for things in USD as well as Pp, or Philippino Pesos. The first night we were staying at the Ramada because we figured why pay more for a hotel when we aren't really going to use it that night. The shuttle for the Ramada picked us up at the airport (quite nice of them, really) and drove us through Manila. We were struck at the level and amount of homelessness Manila holds. The main street was lined with people of all ages (that's right, even small children) sleeping on the side of the road, playing in the road, knocking on windows for money. My mouth was literally open and I, as well as everyone else we were with, were shocked. At the same time, there are huge Christmas displays everywhere. We were trying so hard to figure out if the, what seemed like, masses of people were out and about because it was approximately midnight on Christmas eve, or if there really are just that many homeless people in Manila. There were families of 5 riding on one motor bike (mom, pop, one child in front, one in the middle and a baby strapped on the front or back of mom...I kid you not). And these amazingly cool cars called Jeepneys. As yo can see in that picture, it's an old jeep rebuilt out of scrap metal used as a form of bus transportation around Manila. We also saw a pedicab with 10 people on it. This picture has 4 inside, so imagine that, plus one on the left side, one behind the bike guy, and like 3 on the roof, it was insane. Again, we were shocked from the emotions we felt about this culture as we first stepped into it, also knowing that Manila is the most dangerous place in the Philippines.

We finally got to the hotel, tried to pay, and Ellen's credit card wouldn't work. The issue with that was that we gave her our money before we left for the Philippines so she could just pay for it. "Ok," we thought, "we'll just pay with USD"...nope not here, they won't accept it. So we begin to fret and start counting our pesos, thoroughly confused about how much money we had since we were dealing with 3 currencies. Realizing finally that we owed about 35,000 pesos per room and that we only had about 8,000 total,  the manager let us go to sleep for the night and we would deal with it in the morning...Christmas morning...where no banks would be open.

Let me throw in real quick that EVERYONE in the Philippines speaks perfect English (thank God for no language barrier, can you imagine???)

Morning rolls around, Ellen calls the bank, they tell her she can withdraw money from her card at any visa ATM (not true)...however we ARE able to withdraw from our American credit cards (go figure). So we all get enough money to pay, eat a nice Christmas breakfast, and then decide to have a celebratory drink and call our 10 am.

After all that is over, we check out and head to our lovely resort. They let us check in early, they let us pay with American cash if we want (although we didn't actually end up paying right away anyways) and we hit the pool as fast as humanly possible.

The food we ate was amazing, much like a mini America, so we didn't eat much Philippino food, but food we miss dearly from back home and can't get in Korea. The people are SO kind (mostly). And surprisingly we made a few friends here and there along the way.

Now for a few culturally shocking experiences for you:
1. On our first night we wanted to go get some small groceries and asked the front desk if it was safe for us to walk. Their response "yeah, because it's Christmas." WHAT? If we were walking on any other day, it wouldn't be safe but because it's Christmas people will leave us alone??? Freaky. We did have a kid come up to us outside and ask for change over and over and over. He followed us across the street a couple times and then he finally decided to give up.
2. On our second day, we were headed to this outdoor mall to do a little shopping, perusing, and eating. On the way there, our car stopped at a light and we had a girl come up to our window and stare. Knock and stare knock and stare knock and stare. She wanted money or for us to buy her product and it was absolutely heart breaking. I'm not completely sure why we didn't give her a few pesos, it would have been very easy for us, but we didn't. I think partially because we had this suspicion that the money doesn't go to her but probably some man that controls her.
3. Dogs and metal detectors everywhere. Dogs by the gate of the hotel before you drive up, dog and metal detector at the door of the hotel, metal detector to get into the mall. Crazy! And yet at the airport, the lady isn't even looking at the scan screen to see what's inside our bags. Oh the irony.
4. The last is more of a story. One day we went to the historic part of Manila. We toured around a bit, then decided we wanted to go to the market. We needed to catch a cab so a young man hailed us one (although we could have done it all on our own) and pulled it aside so it didn't get crushed by a bus and made it wait for us. Then when we got in, he wanted coins. He wouldn't leave the cab door until we gave him coins. Again, based on principle I guess, we didn't want to give him any until the cab driver did, then we were like oh ok, it's something the locals even do, here's a couple coins. Getting int he cab we told the cab driver "Meter! We want to go to San Andres Market on the meter." And he said ok. Everyone was under the understanding that we were going to run the meter to the market. Part way down the road Ellen asks the driver, "Um sir, where is the meter?" (PS everyone in Manila called us ma'am so we got very used to calling people sir and ma'am while we were there). His response was "Package deal, I will take you to the market, wait for you, and then take you to Sofitel for 400 pesos." This price is outrageous since we got from Sofitel to the historic district for 75 pesos. Ellen starts to forcefully tell him that he told us meter and he lied so he needs to let us out of the cab right now if he doesn't want to turn the meter on. His response: "ok ok ok how about 150 pesos?" In retrospect, we should have taken that deal, but again, on principle, we say "No, you told us meter, you lied, so let us out or turn on the meter." He pulls over an says "Ok, 80 pesos for my trouble." NO WAY! Ellen, Rhonda and I get out of the car and he drives away. Now we're in the middle of Manila somewhere, we have no idea where, but we're by a golf course with a security guard so it can't be that unsafe, and we try and hail another taxi. Try and fail. Then we decide to move to another corner. Fail. Another corner. Fail. Another corner. Finally we are standing there after what seems like forever because everyone is staring at us and we're starting to get super sketched out and these 3 boys are walking up to us (one shirtless and yes that's relevant, also all shoeless). One bends down and picks something up right next to me, when really there is no need to be this close to me unless you're gunna take something from me and JUST in the nick of time, Ellen hails a cab. I kinda push the kid off because he's following me, get in the cab and lock the door. Rhonda is in the front sea and Ellen is on the other side where she closes the door. The kids walks around to her side as she's telling the cab driver meter please and where to go, the kid opens her door and Ellen turns and screams, thinking some shirtless man is going to get in the car with her and injure her. Fortunately he's just a kid, unfortunately he's a very strong kid. She shoves him off, and tries to close the door but it doesn't work. Finally the cabby gets out and tells the kid to go away in Tagalog (the language of the Philippines) and drives us off.

In retrospect there are a few things I would have changed with a little less of a hot head and stubbornness. 1 being that we shouldn't have gotten out of the cab not knowing where we were and just paid the man 150 instead. We ended up getting from where we were to the market in like 85 pesos, so total trip would have been about 110 so 40 extra pesos would have been worth it. Another thing I'd change is not paying the kid. He wanted money for "hailing us the cab" when he didn't really do anything, but as the cab driver told us after "Don't you have a couple pesos you could have just handed him and he'd walk away?" Duh...didn't we JUST learn that the last time we got in the cab? So yes, not the smartest decisions we've ever made, but we're safe and sound so no one should worry.

To sum up the trip. It was hot. It was sunny the last 3 days. It was fantastic to go somewhere new, warm, and sunny. I got a nice tan. I ate some good food. I laid by the pool as much as possible. What more could you ask for.

And now a few pictures:
Beautiful live orchestra in the Seoul airport on Christmas Eve. COOL!

The view from the Ramada window. Really awesome looking church. 

One side of the view from our Sofitel window. 

The other side.

Yes we arrived Christmas day just in time to see Santa!

Our pedicab ride. 

Did I mention that Sofitel is literally bride central? From Thursday to Sunday we probably saw 20 different wedding parties and I'm not even exaggerating. Probably more because that's 5 a day in 4 days and we definitely saw more than 5 some days. 

Best Greek food I've ever had (only Greek food I've ever had) but it was SO good!

That's right boys and girls. If you know me, you know of my undying love for FroYo and and I got some in the Philippines. 

This toilet says "Please do not squat." Do you think I wanna SIT on that? There isn't even a frame. 

Cool cars in the richer part of town. 

We saw some "fire dancers" (we were really excited because we thought they would dance with fire) but they really just did 5 or so different dances representing the different regions of the Philippines. Still really cool. 

Last night in Manila, drink in hand, beautiful sunset, and yes, that is a bride and groom holding their hands in the air in the background. 

1 comment:

  1. Love the sunset photos! Gorgeous. Glad you had a good time and new experiences. Also glad nothing bad happened although sounds like you had a couple of "scary" momments. Live and learn. You will definitely be more streetwise.
    Take care! Love you.