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.