Manila Archives - St. Stephen's University

Mabuhay Pinay

By | 2012, Asia | No Comments

Being here in the Philippines is something I have been dreaming of for a really long time…longing for the day when I could put foot on Filipino soil and feel the humidity hit me like a long awaited voice shouting “mabuhay,” welcome home. Part of me was scared to arrive here, fearing that I had created an unsteady castle of “hopes” in my mind that would come tumbling around me once the hopes grew too high; hopes that I would love the Philippines, hopes that I would have the ability to experience moments of reality rather than pure tourism, and hopes that I would be accepted as a Filipina, despite my Canadian citizenship, mixed blood, and the Westernization that has rubbed off on me throughout the years.

So the moment of truth…I’m here in the Philippines, the only place that I know of in the world with such an incredibly happy and uplifting national anthem! I’m here in the Philippines where security guards exist at every supermarket, mall, bank, and corner store. I’m here in the Philippines surrounded by delicious foods that sing joyful songs in my belly! I’m here in the Philippines where the Manila International Airport motto is: “we go the extra smile.” And I pause, and ask myself, how do I relate to this Philippines? The answer comes with crazy immediacy to my heart and to my voice: “with overwhelming enthusiasm, an unquenchable desire to have the ability to pick up languages as quickly as others that I know, and an astounding sense of being whole and welcomed with open arms as a ‘Pinay’ (Filipina) through and through!”

I so wish I knew fluent Tagalog, the language of my relatives, and I so wish I had more than the 21 day visa I was given at customs. Yet despite these new desires, I am just so thankful for this chance to glimpse the Philippines and be so amazingly embraced by the Filipinos that surround me. One day I’ll come back, and then new wishes will appear, keeping me constantly entwined with the Philippines, and the Philippines always a huge part of who I am.

Now let’s analyze travel and time.

By | 2012, Asia | No Comments

Before this trip, when I traveled the journey was towards a destination. We were moving–traveling towards a new home–or I was going to a weekend away–an event. Travel was a string of moments leading somewhere.

  • 15 hours staring at a corn field that never seemed to end.
  • The rush through an airport burdened with everything I stuffed into my pockets at the last moment– everything that I of course will not use this weekend, but that I daren’t leave behind.

This type of travel is different. I’m not going to end the journey for another six weeks, and my destination when I get back isn’t home. I’m not racing towards a permanent destination, or (for now) any destination at all. The journey its self is the destination. The journey is the event. I have to tamp down the impulse to look forward, and pause to look at what’s around me.

  • Listening to the growl and cough of a tricycle motor in my ear, smelling metal, oil and dust, seeing greenery and the occasional canny spotted dog by the side of the road.
  • Enjoying the cooler temperatures in the hostel as we wait for lunch, watching smartly uniformed students hurry by the windows, and smelling curry, bananas and rice.

Myself looking out over the straits of Malacca. Photo Credit: John Patchell

However, despite how difficult it has been for me to pause, pausing is only the first step. Pausing still means I have an overriding mission I’m barreling towards, which I condescend to look away from for a moment. Not the mindset I want to be traveling in. Instead, what I should try to do is stop aiming myself towards the future at all. I should enjoy the moments I am in for the moments they are, not compared to the moments I wanted them to be, or as obstacles between the moments I’m going to experience next week. (That’s the ideal, at least.)

  • Sharing a bench on a bus with a classmate as we travel through Manila. The unfamiliar architecture is flat-roofed and hundreds of small signs crowd above and around store windows. We’ve been traveling since 5 am this morning. It’s dark, but still hot and humid out, though the air conditioning on the bus is sucking the water out of the air. We all smell like travel (i.e. not good) and someone on the bus has been burning incense recently. The traffic is a busy snarl of horns and engines swirling past the bus. The bus driver starts a cheerful song, and I hear the whole-hearted laughter of one of my classmates as we recognize the (very dirty) tune.
  • Holding the hands of someone I don’t know as I learn to dance between clacking bamboo poles. It is hot in the gym. I had a stomach ache this morning, but it’s going away in the adrenaline rush of staying on beat. An audience of students is watching me dance, and they start to cheer as I successfully keep my feet from being caught.

Moments that I wouldn’t trade away.

Outside My Bus Window

By | 2010, Asia | No Comments

Gazing out the droplet covered bus window onto the streets of Manila, aluminum roofs, laundry covered wires, rooster-and-garbage laden yards, and the sunken, somber face of a child stare back at me, stabbing  my heart with the stark reality of poverty.  I see an elderly man beneath a cardboard and bamboo shelter, with a dirty white t-shirt covering his face from the sun. I see a small girl playing in the flooded streets, wearing nothing. A boy who looks about school age tries to sell me sunglasses and hats, most likely not knowing who his next customer will be or where the next peso will come from. For the first time, these are not pictures on a TV screen or in a National Geographic magazine, they are real.

I really just saw that.

I am sitting in an internet cafe in the mall as I write this blog. Little girls and elderly men and school aged children are here as well. I wonder if and how they live knowing the immediate need of those around them. This has caused me to reflect on my own living and thinking and acting. I cannot without guilt look out the window of our air conditioned bus, with a pillow beside me, food in my knapsack, and an ipod in my ears while poverty looks back at me… the simple fact that it exists makes me feel like I am to blame.

As I continue my window-contemplation (we do a lot of driving) the sights before me– which cannot be captured unless you see them for yourself– make me think even more of how this entire earth is groaning and longing with pain for New Creation to come.  My view of Creation, though it has always included the entire universe, is now in practicality so much bigger than my minuscule cubicle of Canada.


bus rides and bobby pins

By | Uncategorized | One Comment

Shortly after returning from the recent Asia travel study term, Nicola had an experience with someone that impacted him.  His blog entry below speaks of the importance of the travel study terms for both our students and the people they interact with.


Nicola Gladwell gave me a bobby pin.

During a long bus trip this April, I got out the handwritten draft of a short story and my AlphaSmart Dana word processor.

I balanced the Dana on my lap, then realized there was no comfortable–or even uncomfortable–way to prop up the sheets so I could type them. On the back of the seat in front of me was a tightly screwed-on strip of plastic that held the chair cover in place. I tried forcing the edge of a page under that, but had no luck.


It was then that Nicola, seated across the aisle from me, came to the rescue. She removed a bobby pin from her hair and handed it over. I was at a loss what to do with it.

“What do you suggest?” I asked.

She took the flat prong and worked it under the strip of plastic, creating a clipboard. I slid a few pages into the bobby pin and they held.


Later on, we introduced ourselves and chatted a bit. She asked what I was writing.

“A newspaper column,” I said.

This was a lie.

The short story was an early draft, and I never talk about writing so new. It wasn’t much of a lie, however, because I planned to work on a column later on.

“May I read it?” she asked.

“Uh . . . no.”

I know better than to lie and was embarrassed that I have been instantly, though unwittingly, caught.

There was wireless internet on the bus, and she had her laptop open.

“Take a look at my website,” I told her. “There are things there you can read.”

I gave her the web address and she sampled a poem and an essay and said some very kind things about them.

“Now that I’ve read something of yours, you should read something of mine,” she said.

My Dana isn’t wireless, so I asked her to email me the link and promised I’d read it when I got to my hotel.

I have something to confess. Because Nicola is a college student–an undergrad, in fact–I had low expectations. Whatever it was she had written would be, I was sure, devoid of serious thought and lacking in decent craft.

The internet, as is often the case, had a surprise waiting for me.

Nicola wrote about a recent trip to Asia, telling how things that are of small consequence here, are valued and used there. Redeemed, if you will.

She gave as an example, painted car tires being used as plant pots in the Philippines.

She gave as an example, the Asian practice of eating all parts of a beast, including the snout and feet.

She gave as an example, a dollar-store toy that we would scorn in the west, having value in the hands of a Filipino girl.

She gave as an example, the scrap tin that is used in many huts in Manila and Bangkok.

I could appreciate what she was saying, for I’d seen the same thing in Africa.

In Kenya, a dirty, twisted piece of wire is not trash, it is something that can be cleaned and carefully pounded into an attractive pair of ear-rings, often with no more tools than a flat rock for an anvil and a discarded engine bolt for a hammer.

A useless piece of wire redeemed.

I could follow the path that her examples laid down, but was not prepared for where they led me.

“I loved Thailand,” Nicola wrote. “I could live in Chiang Mai.

“I would ride to work on an elephant and guide rafts on mountain rivers for a pitiful living, seeking wisdom from aged monks and taking a masters in sustainable living or linguistics at CMU.

“However. I have a problem. I can’t get it through my head — you have to help me.

“There are over two million prostitutes in Thailand. In [the province of] Chiang Mai, all of them are brought from destitute Burmese villages and trafficked through the village of Ma Sai on the border.

“I was in Ma Sai. I bought a pen. And a necklace.

“All Burmese teen girls traveling through Ma Sai leave without their virginity and thus their hope for a future and marriage, and almost half leave with an AIDS death sentence from their first few weeks in the industry.

“What does redemption mean to a sex slave in Japan, in Bangkok, in Kuala Lumpur?

“If I see so much of what we call garbage being redeemed throughout Asia, isn’t there a way to redeem the consequences of societal chastity, idolatry, obligatory merit-making, hierarchical systems, and poverty?”

I still have Nicola’s bobby pin. I am thinking of framing it and hanging it on my wall.

This will remind me not to judge the abilities and motivations of others.

This will remind me that the life we are blessed with here is not the life most people enjoy.

This will remind me that redemption is everyone’s responsibility.

This will remind me that Nicola, who was her way home for summer break, planned to visit with her family for a couple of days then head north to Ontario.

Ontario, you see, has set a goal of planting 50 million trees by 2020, and Nicola was going to help plant some of them.