I’ve been trying to write this since I got back, but fell asleep every time I would sit down and try. I’m not mad at it, coming back from 4 weeks in the Philippines has been one of the most impactful trips I’ve had to date. So if the tradeoff is jet lag and being up at odd hours, it was totally worth it.
Prior to leaving, I was super stoked. It’s been 12 years since I last visited and my memories are vague and merely of family. I didn’t know what to expect and was really keen to explore the homeland through the lens of curiosity I would travel any other country now.
Growing up a first generation Filipino Canadian, my parents did their best to pass on our language, culture, and (most importantly) food. I respected and was always grateful to come from a rich cultural background, but until I started making my own Filipino friends, I never really had anywhere to share this outside of family parties. In essence, I felt like I existed in sort of a cultural limbo - born and raised Canadian but in the visible minority and in contrast, when in the Philippines even though I am of Filipino descent, there is a clear distinction they can tell I’m a foreigner.
Besides attending a couple of rad weddings and spending time with family, my personal goal was to immerse myself in the culture, and explore what that means to me being Canadian-born. Truthfully, I felt honoured I could spend this amount of time in the Philippines. We had the opportunity to not only explore all around Metro Manila, but made it to Batangas, Cebu-Mactan, Palawan and surrounding islands, and a brief stop in Los Banos. That was merely scratching the surface.
It’s pretty ignorant of me to assume that there wouldn’t be diversity within the country itself. Even though we’re all Filipino, the diversity that existed from island to island, even neighbourhood to neighbourhood was really amazing to see. Each island had its own unique personality, local delicacies, and in some places their own dialect of language that I could barely make out. Regardless of where we were though, we were welcomed with open arms and a smile. A trademark of the Filipino people.
It’s incredible that in some places we were with people who live with very little. I’m talking they live off the land, wear hand-me-down clothes sent from abroad, and still get their water from a pump. Yet, these are the same people that want to give you the world when you visit. Often, all you need is karaoke, paired with a few San Migs and you’ve got a party. Plus, the country is full of talented singers and dancers, it’s hard not to be impressed.
One thing that absolutely made me smile was seeing children genuinely play (without the crutch of a screen). I would literally sit and watch for hours just to see what their minds would come up with, and I’d feel the joy and playfulness even from afar. I think at one point I was standing in the middle of a pretend war amongst the coconut trees and all they were using were a few tree branches and their vivid imaginations. If you want to make me melt, tell a small kid to speak tagalog and you’ve got me. Hella cute.
And the opposite.
In contrast, I experienced the luxe of luxury too. Being influenced by places like Singapore and Japan, Manila is very much a bustling metropolitan where you can get or experience almost anything your beautiful heart desires. Filipinos are creative, smart, and resourceful. They are quick to bring new ideas from abroad, and execute these new concepts really well. If you know me, I love a good cocktail, and there were no shortage of cool speakeasies and high quality restaurants to try. Every major luxury brand was represented throughout the various malls, and there’s a shit ton of super malls there - like a lot. To see where the wealthy hung out was dope… and I know what I experienced didn’t even touch how the richest of the rich live out there. It is evident that within their own respective socioeconomic classes, the rich, the middle-class, and the poor, each have a hierarchy too. I realize every country has a version of this, but this extreme divide is so fascinating to observe first hand. Picture beautiful cutting edge, modern building right next to a squatter settlement built amongst the wreckage of an abandoned construction site.
I finally got my sun fix and experienced just how beautiful I’ve heard the Philippines to be. No offence white friends, but when ya’ll tell me how beautiful my homeland is, I got huge fomo because I had no idea. But seriously, WOW. Beaches, clear water, the fishies, perfect temperature, and I could clearly see the stars at night - my absolute fave. Considering how far our dollar goes, vacationing here is a no brainer if you can score a decent flight.
Plus massages and fresh mango shakes on the regular?! Stop. My only qualm (and I knew I would feel like this), is that the Filipino diet hasn’t widely incorporated the notion of a vegetable lol. So anytime a salad was available I was one hundy all up on that. Otherwise, I didn’t have a terrible meal our entire 4 weeks. Like at all. Even excursion buffets which typically serve shitty food were actually pretty good. Granted I had friends who didn’t have the same pleasant eating experiences all the time. But my advice? Do your research to finds grinds you like in your area so you’re not always stuck chowing down Jollibee, there really is so much to try. When in doubt, rice and adobo is usually a safe bet.
A strong sense of pride.
All in all, I left feeling inspired to get back as soon as possible to explore the islands. Though I am foreign born, I felt a common underlying thread connecting me there. I believe there is a certain sense of pride we carry as Filipinos - we are family. And you know I had the Pacquiao fight playing when I got home. I still have so much to process since coming home. I am definitely coming back with a sense of perspective and gratitude for the lifestyle I am able to live. Beyond that, one thing I do know is building a legacy means even more to me when I understand my lineage.