might have seen the title as an advertising slogan usually around a funny set of photos. Its trying to get the tourists in. Here's the campaign site and an example of the photos that I found on the internet:
Previously i mentioned that my partner is a proud Filipina, as such I have been to her homeland a couple of times now. We have had quite a few adventures while visiting there.
She comes from one of the 7 thousand islands that make up the Philippines and its name is Mindanao.
Its a large island with many mountains, waterways and beaches. She comes from Lanao Del Norte – thats the region/province I believe and her home village is Maranding
in the township of LaLa. It may be an island paradise but it has more than its fair share of trouble,and i will get
to that later.
Our first trip to her homeland occurred in 2010, it was approaching Christmas and my father
joined us after travelling to Europe to visit my mums sister. You see, my mum had died in August that year and then my mums brother passed away only a month later. It was a sad time in our house but at the same time I was looking forward to celebrating
the first anniversary with my partner. Our travel to her hometown took the 2 of us first to Singapore, we visited the Night Safari and had a Singapore Sling at the old Raffles Hotel among other things. We
stayed with a friend of hers in Singapore and even took a luxury bus trip to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia where we
visited the KL Towers and Batu Caves.
Dad joined us in Singapore and we flew to Manila, a crazy place with
an even crazier airport, in fact it's voted one of the worlds worst airports. It was not my fathers nor my first trip to south east Asia, we had previously
toured through Thailand, Laos and Vietnam on an Intrepid tour back in 2000. So, we had some idea of what to expect and my partner had filled us in on other aspects. It was in Manila airport that we first met my in-laws – her mother, father and younger brother as well
as a family friend/neighbour and a couple of employees of the family business.
The family business is mostly rice and corn milling and coconut harvesting
as well as some fish farming. They have a shop and a mill, they use to have a bakery as well but that is no longer. I feel we all got along during the trip despite the language barrier as in we (my dad and i) dont speak Visayan and the family doesn't speak
much English. My partner and the family friend/neighbour were kept busy sometimes translating for both sides. Still we shared some laughs and every day we were on the move.
We, as a group of 9 toured around Manila to MOA (Mall Of Asia) and then across to Corregidor
Island, a former defence point for the US forces which was attacked by the Japanese in WWII. You can still see the big guns and the old barracks. I loved the history and just the feel of the place. From there we travelled
by plane to Cebu to meet more relatives and then took a boat to Bohol – home of the 'Chocolate Hills' and then another to Dumaguete (my partners former University campus island). While in these places, we often hired local forms of transport such as cycle cabs and motorcycle cabs, they reminded us of 'tuk-tuks' in Thailand, to get around and we were amazed at the amount of people and baggage these cabs would
carry. From Dumaguete we went by boat again to Dipolog where we had lunch before getting in a couple of dual cab utes for the long drive to Maranding.
Given that our travel was during the lead up to Christmas and that along the way we had visited shopping
malls during Christmas Eve which were packed with shoppers and the food court was frantic. We literally had to stand near people and wait for them to finish eating before we got a seat. It was amazing to me to see so many people out and about on Christmas
Eve and even Christmas Day given that in Australia most people are at home at these times with family and most of the shops here are shut. My father commented "wheres the GFC (Global Financial Crisis)?"
Finally, we arrived outside what can only be described as
a 'compound', the family house is just off the highway and has a huge concrete fence with steel spikes at the top and a big heavy metal gate which has to be manually opened from the inside. Papa has a habit of beeping loudly outside the gate to be let in and
will keep it up until someone comes, this must annoy the neighbours but noone came out so they must be just use to it i guess. Beeping the horn in Philippines is common practice when driving and of course the more it happens the less people take notice.
The house itself is large with a kind of split level feel inside. When we arrived at the house, the spread of food was incredible consisting of mostly local dishes such as fried whole fish and pork and lets not forget native chicken. There was lots of rice
but little bread or milk, though they had got some in specially for us.
We had sent a box prior to our trip and the box had presents for family, friends and neighbours as is the custom there.
Mostly small things such as soaps and chocolates, we tried to get 'made in Australia' products. The box also contained wine for the parties, fruit juices that they dont have over there and a big olive oil container for cooking. There was, of course, clothes
and other items for close family members in that box. It took us a little while to compile it all and then one evening we packed it all in this big box and taped it up. It got picked up on arrangement by a local mob whose business is sending boxes to the families
back in Philippines, this is a service we have used since on a couple of occasions.
It took me a little bit to get use to having staff around the house to do things such as the washing and cooking. My partner and her mum took care of organising the household while
my dad and I were the special guests. While we were in the house there was always lots of people milling around, new faces and names to remember all the time. But i just did the Aussie thing most of the time and said “G'day Mate” when I couldn't
understand or remember someones name. Filipinas have an elder respect thing where when they greet an older family member etc they bow their heads and lift the persons hand to their forehead. Its called 'bless' and I too participated both as giver and receiver.
Of course, my partner told me when to do it and it always got a smile or laugh from others.
For more on 'cultural etiquette' in the Philippines, although this seems to apply more to doing business in Philippines, you might be interested to click the linky:
We stayed with the family till after the New Year celebrations. The house always seemed to be busy with family and
staff constantly moving about, food was always at the centre of it which is not surprising given the family business is rice and corn etc... We toured a few places such as Maria Christina Falls, we even met a bloke who was from Beenleigh, Brisbane Queensland while we were there. We registered with the PNP (Philippines National Police) and met the local Colonel and other officers at their base. We had a security guard when
we went to certain places, basically our guard was an armed intelligence officer who moonlighted as security for the family. The Philippines seems to follow the American way with guns easily available. Upon entering the National Park, there is a sign
saying 'all firearms to be deposited before entering the park'.
There are military and police checkpoints along the highways most are unmanned normally unless there is an emergency. In
Mindanao the situation can change rapidly, these checkpoints make driving precarious to say the least, and downright scary at times. Driving generally is precarious in Philippines, there might be road rules but the enforcement is not strong. With the number
of pedestrians and houses/stalls that actually encroach the road and people drying their harvest in parts, motorcycles being ridden with more than 1 passenger – often a whole family, its a wonder anyone gets anywhere?! Somehow though the people are always
smiling and they seem genuinely happy. Sitting in the back of the family ute one evening as we were driving to the local markets was interesting as i shocked and surprised a lot of locals by simply saying 'hello'. I feel i got close to causing a few
spills by greeting people passing by on bikes/scooters.
Unlike in Australia where fireworks are strictly controlled, in Philippines they are everywhere even available
in most of the market stalls. As we were flying in to Cebu i remember looking out the window to see fireworks going off all around and i said to my partner “is there a new battle raging?” She just laughed and said “thats normal for this time
of year”. I remember seeing a lot of kids setting off crackers in the streets and then running off, often the crackers would fly horizontal rather than vertical which i thought was dangerous for anybody walking by or riding by. Apparently there are a
lot of accidents with fireworks every year in Philippines and i can see why. It makes me glad that Australian authorities restrict the use of fireworks and only licenced operators can use them at special events. By the time of the countdown on NYE a lot of
fireworks had already been let off but my father-in-law still set off a large amount at the 'Happy New Year' part. By then, having seen so many, it was almost an anti-climax. We 3 left on New Years Day and caught the ferry and then flights back to Australia.
We said we would return...
So in Feb 2012 when i had just started a new
job, my partner and I flew back to the Philippines – through Cebu this time for Papas 60th Birthday party, we were preceded in the trip back by my partners sister and brother-in-law who by this time were living on the Gold Coast. This trip
was less about sight-seeing and more about the celebration of a man whos health is in decline and was not expected to see his 60th. We were met in Cebu by a cousin and we took an overnight boat to Osamis, where we were met by the in-laws. The overnight boat, sorry i cant remember the company name but it was a bit of a patchwork with masking tape on part of the ceiling, a shower that didn't work properly and a balcony door which
didnt close properly. We were greeted by 'porters' at both ends who for a small tip will move bags to the accomodation area. Being what i think was the only white guy on board made them all bristle, I heard at least one say 'Americano' to which i replied “No,
Australiano!” Then i heard him walking down the corridor saying 'Australiano'. Peoples reactions in the more regional areas of Philippines to a white guy like me was one of either shock and shyness or over eager to shake my hand and try to converse.
Papas 60th birthday celebration started early, very early in the morning. We were all up around 4am to be greeted by song and groups of singers from the local
Seventh Day Adventist church. They then entered the house and wished Papa well, we had to go around the table and wish him good health etc... Another common wish that was made at this time was that he would have grandchildren soon. Given the fact it was sooooo
darn early and i hadnt even had my 1st coffee i struggled to think of an individual wish so i simply said something along the lines of “I got a call from my dad in Australia and he wishes you well” It was an international wish as my
dad and Papa had met before.
have known that later on that evening i was given the privilege of making a toast to papa at another event and i included this story in my little speech which i said in English. I got a few people telling me later that i should learn Visayan as most struggled
to understand my Australian English. Following the early morning wake up with singing, we had a big breakfast in the house with family and friends and more church people. Many photos were taken, especially people wanting to have their picture taken with an
Aussie. There was so much food, it was more evidence of our saying 'more food in the Philippines'.
After breakfast ended and we got tidied up, it was time to make our way to the mill as there was a staff lunch put on by
the family and again many pictures taken including me as the special guest. There was a huge number of family members of the staff and people from the surrounding area. Again, there was a lot of food, kids running about and quite a few staring at the visitor
i.e Me. I have never got quite use to people staring at me, it makes me think something is wrong, that maybe i had food in my teeth or something?! At this lunch we met the young people from a local college who would be the waiters and waitresses in the evening
party. Apparently, my partner got told by a couple of them including an obviously gay guy that i was 'gwapo' which in Visayan means 'handsome'. Now i had heard this from others while there before and i am not going to blow my own trumpet here, I will say that
caucasians generally are considered handsome in Philippines.
After lunch we made our way home and there
were more preparations for the big party/dinner at Alsons Palace. It was at this point that i was asked to do a welcoming toast at the
party and began to write my speech with the help of my partner. We all had parts to play in the party and many would get up to wish papa well. The night was long but filled with people. There must have been a couple of hundred people at the party that night.
Strangely i was still the only white guy in the room and the only one who didnt speak the local language. Although most people in Philippines watch American television spoken in english, their schooling is conducted, at least in part in english and often there
are english words spattered amongst the language of Visayan, i did still struggle with the language barrier. I was able to piece together from the few english words and body language with more than a little interpretation from my partner and a few others what
was being said generally. I made my 'welcoming toast' at the lecturn and although it was supposed to include a cheers at the end, nobody else had drinks in their hands at the time OOPS! Oh well, i got handed a shot of tequila to do it anyway and so i gave
the Cheers and downed it. I got a big round of applause and i had many on their feet, almost like a standing ovation.
The party went till midnight, a huge cake was cut and more than enough food and drink was served. At one stage it looked more like an anniversary party for Mama and Papa
than Papas Birthday with the couple sitting in special seats in front of the cake and with all the tables radiating outwards from there. A funny moment happened when one of the drivers who was visibly drunk but smiling came up to me, shook my hand and gave
me a hug. This was the same driver when sober who would not say anything to me and would rarely even acknowledge me. Ah, what a difference the 'social lubricant' can make eh?? :) I'm sure there were a few sore heads the next day and a lot of stories told.
During this trip we had a day at the beach,
the whole family and staff packed off to Pikalawag in SND. It is a trouble area with a big army training camp across the road
from where we were. I, as the Aussie tourist, decided we should have a look at the camp and we ended up asking the camp commander if we could take some holiday snaps of maybe a tank or one of the big guns. He rang through to head office and the word came back
a big fat NO! Oh well, we still had pics with a soldier carrying an automatic weapon and plenty of the sign outside the camp. After a good swim at the beach and playing tag in the water for a while with quite a few of us i had my first shower using a water
pump squatting on a rock and tipping water in a bucket over me. It proved to be funny for a few soldiers sitting nearby having a couple of brewskis. I guess they had never seen a white guy using those facilities. I had a beer or two myself after that and relaxed
under the shade of a beachside shelter. Later on that evening i felt a cold coming on and the next day we ended up visiting a hospital in Iligan, i wasnt the only
one unwell. I got to see a doctor and was given some medication. That night i had my first reflex massage, it was thought that this would help me. To say it was torture would be an understatement with my knee and lower back of particular note. I was then given
some leaves or seaweed, the name of which i always forget, and told to bathe in them for a while. I don't know whether it was the reflex massage, the leaves or the pharmaceuticals but i did feel better the next day.
As mentioned previously, there is and has been much trouble in paradise. The trouble is mostly to do with Islamic fundamentalists and drugs. There
have been kidnappings and murders related to both these issues. Foreigners have been targeted in the past and a lot of locals are scared of certain areas especially in the mountains. The first issue is a big one on the island of Mindanao, being so close to
Indonesia it is a hot spot for acts of terrorism by fundamentalists. My partners family has experienced this terror first hand with 1 uncle shot along with his next door neighbour many years ago. Very recently, she had a close cousin brutally murdered in what
can only be a case of confusing members of one side of the family with another. These murders had links to drugs as well in that it was supposed to be muslim retaliation for another distant family members involvement in drug-related murders of a couple of
muslims. Not only was my partner very upset but i found myself getting angry and certainly questioning any future plans to do with Philippines especially Mindanao. My question for all is: how do ordinary muslims feel about the drug
trade and why is there a connection there between the two?? I would have thought that any religious leader would not tolerate drugs in their midst. Perhaps this is just another aspect of their war with the majority Christian population there?
a previous student of criminology here in Australia, the other question i have is: why is it up to the families of the victims to bring charges/cases against the suspects?? Is this not the governments job, that of law enforcement?? If they do so, then isn't
it at least the job of police to protect the victims families and stop harassment by the suspects and their families? If this is so, then is it any wonder that Philippines struggles to develop and gain investment especially on the troubled islands such as
Mindanao?? From afar I have tweeted the current President regarding this but as yet - No Response!! Perhaps this blog post will find
its way somehow to those in charge and get them thinking about the situation.
I would hasten to add that we were planning a third trip to Philippines for our wedding later this year but given the state of play there with the recent murders and the fact that other family members
have been threatened/targeted, our plans have been put on hold. We now have immediate family members coming here for a visit instead and some want to stay on as students. Are they prepared for life in Australia and in particular here in the Outback?? These
factors and the slowness of getting paperwork processed in Philippines necessary for our wedding have placed a dampener on what could be an otherwise joyous occasion to be celebrated with family and friends.
Perhaps the politicians in Philippines could take a leaf
out of the politicians book here, I know I know, ours are not perfect but at least they respond when their constituents ask them questions. I have recently had cause to question our local politician regarding an issue and he got back to me pretty quickly,
not necessarily with the response i wanted to hear but at least he acknowledged my views on the issue and responded. You can read all about it in my next blog post entitled 'An end to the live export trade!'