Fort Santiago Archives - St. Stephen's University

Changing The Way I Look At Manila

By | 2010, Asia | No Comments

Here I am again in The Philippines. This time I am with 27 of my classmates and three of the faculty/staff of the university. Things are so familiar: the food (chicken adobo, pansit, bright red hot dogs, mangoes) the complicated traffic, the beautiful luxury homes beside the poor squatter areas, or the common flooding of the city streets. Yet this experience is extrememly different from my year spent in the south of Mindinao. There is nothing like travelling with 30 other people, on a tight schedule,  attending lectures and viewing the culture through anthropological eyes! I have enjoyed the lectures here; understanding the history of this country is essential to understanding the current social, political, and economic problems.

We had a tour around Old Manila, or Intramuros. With Fort Santiago on one side and Manila Cathedral, an old Roman Catholic Church on the other. We saw from a wall where the Americans set up shop when they came to ‘liberate the filipino’s from Spanish oppression’; there was almost literally a wall where the American’s ‘Hollywood’ started and the Spanish and Church’s architecture and culture meets it. Our guide talked to us about the devastation of Manila during the Second World War due to the Japanese and even the Americans.

He ended his tour by comparing Filipinos to the famous Filipino desert, Halo-Halo (in English, Mix-Mix, or everything). They have a complicated mix of Spanish Language, Catholic Religion and American Secularism with Chinese, Japanese and Indian cultural influences as well. The tour guide explained that people often look at Manila and say it has no soul, no heart, and no culture. His ending sentence was “If you can’t change the way Manila looks, change the way you look at Manila”. I think this goes for all of the Philippines as well. Despite the complicated and sometimes painful past, the Philippines is a beautiful place full of cultural diversity.


First Taste of the Philippines

By | 2010, Asia | No Comments

We began our Southeast Asia adventures by going on a six hour tour of the beautiful city of Hong Kong.  During the tour, we saw the Repulse Bay, Golden Bauhinia Square, and delighted in the view from Victoria Peak.  We then continued our journey to Manila.

The next day students started off the day with a history lecture followed by a tour at the House of Representatives. It was here that students were able to be exposed to Filipino politics, talk to the congressman and sit in on actual discussion time.  Our group was even formally welcomed in the House of Representatives!

The main highlight of Manila was the tour of the historical defence fortress, Fort Santiago.  We were guided through the fortress by an amazing Filipino tour guide who taught us the history of Manila through their eyes.

Following the service at Word of Hope Christian Family Church, we drove for ten long hours. After we were all checked-in at our hotel, we heard loud pouring rain and looked out to see the streets covered with water. That evening, we were informed that classes would be cancelled the following day and a super typhoon may hit. Thankfully, prayers were answered as no typhoon was experienced here and students were taken to their homestays as planned.  We feel that God was bestowed his graciousness upon us!  An added bonus of the possible impending typhoon is that the weather is much cooler and comfortable than expected.

Today students had a full day of lectures, a tour around the campus and visited the beautiful botanical garden. Spirits seemed high after returning from their homestays with the exception of a few who will most likely just take a little longer to adjust.

Yours Truly,

Asia 2010 Leadership Team

The City Without a Soul

By | 2010, Asia | No Comments

We were given this amazing tour of Fort Santiago by a convict last week. Yeah, that’s a good tagline, very exciting. Our friend had been imprisoned recently for protesting the church’s condemnation of the Philippine’s Reproductive Health Bill. I won’t go into much detail about that, my gist is to say he was a passionate and out spoken Filipino. Just the kind of guy to get a motley crew of university student’s attention.

So, Fort Santiago was the hub of the Philippines at one point, ground zero, the centre of it all. And, having been in Manila for a couple of days, seeing the great poverty of a corrugated tin shack juxtaposed between towering skyscrapers and Spanish inspired icons of architecture, I was shocked to learn of Manila’s progressive history. Being by the sea it was a place of international trade and culture for centuries, let alone during the Spanish and American occupations. At one point in history Manila had everything.

Let me just say, for the record, that I don’t particularly like Manila! It’s hot and crowded, the traffic is terrible, there’s tourist traps everywhere…it’s unsafe, high level of corruption, violence, crime…. You can’t breathe there; you can’t think there. And, though I enjoyed our activities, the food, the people, there was this suffocation. And, yes we’re tired, homesick and experiencing culture shock but there’s just something about Manila.

That’s what our guide said. He stared us down, humor aside, and said he knows what we think of Manila, he knows we call it the city without a soul.

Manila has been overthrown by three oppressors, experienced coups, martial law, and the destruction of wartime. It has been devastated by American bombing and raped by Japanese occupation. It has the identity crisis of the rest of the Philippines and their hodgepodge of culture.

Manila is the perfect example of the consequences of colonialism, inappropriate foreign intervention, and forced assimilation. As students travelling internationally from the West it is so important for us to see the consequences of our forebearers, to not take for granted the struggling city, and to admire the perseverant spirit of the oppressed.

Now, I still don’t like Manila, but at the very least I know why. And, hopefully as I try to live as a conscientious citizen I will he able to see and speak out against the patterns and wrongdoings we’ve learned about as a class. Knowing the consequences, like our passionate and controversial tourguide, silence doesn’t seem like an option.