Saturday, November 21, 2009 by Daniel

Philippines Day 6 & 7: In which I bitch, a bit

Our last day in Palawan dawned cloudy, in more ways than one. The inclement weather outside matched the mood inside, as indecision reigned over how to spend our last few hours on the island. We had slept in, for once, and we had to be at the airport in time for a 5:30 flight, so we didn’t have a whole lot of time. But what to do?

I thought it would be interesting to visit Honda Bay, even though we’d sort of decided against it due to all the boat-riding it entailed and our seasick-prone crew of adventurers. But, I argued, we wouldn’t be doing the full tour of the bay, we’d just get a boat and go to one island, just to hang out a bit and see what it was like, then we could turn around and come back. This is ultimately just what we did.

With the late start and the early departure, we only got a little under two hours on Snake Island, the island our helpful desk staff recommended to us. That turned out to be just fine, however, as the weather turned against us and got quite stormy, rendering the island not a whole lot of fun anyway. But we had time to go for a little stroll down a beautiful beach right on the reef of the bay, and to wade into warm, clear blue water and look from above at the large, beautiful fish that came to nibble on our toes. Rebecca even came with me with a bit of bread and bravely stood in front of dozens of swarming fish, with very little freaking out on her part. She’s even looking forward to the scuba lessons at the resort – as am I.

It wasn’t much, but it was a pleasant little excursion that finally got us a taste of what Palawan – and the Philippines – are famous for, and a nice little preview (hopefully) of things to come on Sumillon.

The rest of the day was taken up with the trip back to Manila, getting back to the hotel and checked in and fed at, of course, the mall.

This is going to be the portion of the blog wherein I do a bit of venting. You see, I don’t like malls, and I haven’t liked them since I was a teenager (when such predilections were compulsory). And it has irked me, throughout our stay, how much of our visit seems to orbit malls. We live across the street from what is probably the most upscale mall in the country. We’ll be going to yet a different one tomorrow. All Ben can talk about is which mall is better for what purpose. But I don’t WANT to spend all my time in bastions of western consumerism! I want to experience Filipino life and culture!

I had a minor epiphany today: malls ARE Filipino life and culture. They are far more, to them, than convenient places to shop. They are a center for socializing, for seeing and being seen, for getting out of the oppressive heat, grime and chaos that surrounds them all the time into a cool, clean, tidy little bit of paradise. Many of them have other attractions as well. Ours boasts a large outdoor pavilion tent that can house travelling fairs, dances, etc. Another one has a large-scale, 15-minute firework display every Saturday evening (we watched it from our hotel room). It’s like Vegas. Which I also hate. And as much as I feel trapped in this hotel, and in Makati in general, many Filipinos would consider this prime vacation real estate.

Which doesn’t really make me feel any better, but I do appreciate the insight. One of the reasons I liked Palawan so much, despite the noise and smell and ugliness, was its lack of pretension. Here the people-watching mainly consists of watching the Manilan glitterati strut around, and there really isn’t a discernable difference between American and Filipino hipsters. It’s all very silly.

Thus far, our efforts to escape have been largely stymied. Tomorrow we had planned on taking a daytrip to Ta’al, a nearby volcanic lake, but we’ve had to give that up in deference to Ben’s plans to take us to Green-something mall so we can see their great pearl market. We keep dropping hints to imply the sort of things we’d LIKE to be doing, but these are brushed aside with, “oh, I wouldn’t go there – it’s dirty and there are a lot of pickpockets” or, “that would be a great thing to do the next time you visit.” Combine this with the situation that Ben and his fiancĂ©e Rain are – in many ways – hosting us here and the fact that we have to look out for Dana and Marc, and our choices are limited. It’s frustrating, to say the least.

We got away for a very little bit this afternoon, taking a taxi to the American Cemetery. Not something that ever would have occurred to me to do, but Greg (our guide from Intramuros) recommended it strongly at least twice.

It is a beautiful place. I think, perhaps, that Greg likes it so much is the same reason that Filipinos cherish their malls: it is extraordinarily clean, spacious, and organized – all the things that Manila is decidedly not. It is quite large (13,600 Americans and Filipinos killed during WWII are buried there)¸with grave markers laid out in broad curves that follow the hill contours. At its center is a large, circular memorial with dozens of large marble walls with the names of the dead inscribed thereon. The real breath-taking moment came when we walked into one of the map rooms. GIANT, intricately laid-out handmade mosaics grace the walls, depicting in map format the history of WWII in the Pacific – battles, ships, islands and explanatory text all lovingly rendered in tiny shards of colored stone and glass. We learned a lot from these big maps that we hadn’t known before.

1 comment:

Polly said...

great travel-writing, Daniel, and good insights

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