Vail traveler finds Philippine identity search
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado –In reviewing my two months in the Philippines, let me start with the highlights. I must warn you that there are a lot less than previous trips and this is an indication of what is to follow:
1. The terraced rice fields in Banaue, Luzon; absolutely incredible and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
2. Even though not really something typical Philippine, it occurred while here – I’m talking about my five-minute snorkel trip all alone with a giant sea turtle near Moalboal on Cebu
Unfortunately that’s about it. Yes, there was nice scenery, but overall it was definitely not as spectacular as previous trips.
My impression of the Philippines – and especially the Philippine people – is that they are searching for an identity. This country, like many in Asia, was ruled by foreign powers for centuries – even the US. ruled for four decades. That has resulted in a confusion – a condescension even – which seems to manifest itself in an inferiority complex toward foreigners.
They want – need – our money, but it seems they would prefer we didn’t actually show up. I saw very few foreigners there, which made for lonely traveling given the attitude of the local people here. Obviously there are exceptions.
Allow me to give you a couple of illustrations and you decide.
• In Taglibaran, walking into a travel agency intent on buying a ticket, I first asked about ferries and hotels. “Hotels I don’t know and for the ferry you need to go to the port (three miles away),” was the answer – not “Let me see what I can find out” or something similar.
• In Vigan I ordered and paid for an ice-cream cone when a (Philippine) customer butted in, ordered something – which the attendant prepared – and paid. Then and only then did she get me my ice cream. When I politely asked her why she let the other customer butt in, she shrugged her shoulders.
• I rented what turned out to be a lousy motorbike and when I asked for my money back, only the unused portion, the owner became violent and I virtually had to beg to get my credit card back.
• Staying in Fernando’s Hotel, supposedly the best hotel in Sosorgon, my hot water didn’t work. I politely pointed this out and was promised that it would be fixed. But it still did not work the next morning.
At breakfast, the manager Ms. Luisa, asked me how my stay was and I told her about the problem and that I was disappointed. Her answer and I quote was: “Sir, we cannot please everybody and we are very happy if we please 60 percent to 65 percent of our customers.”
What about the other – mainly foreign – 40 percent?
Other manifestations of this identity search are the language: On Luzon they count in Spanish, on Cebu and other islands, in English – not the Philippine language.
Another is food: There is no Philippine cuisine. It is a mixture of Chinese, Indonesian, Malaysian and US food – and most of it is bad.
Don’t tell my friends, but for the first time in 20-plus years I had a McDonald’s hamburger. Still pretty bad, but at least filling. Maybe that’s why I lost 17 pounds in eight weeks.
Another thing I could not find was any local art, as either presents or memories, All I found seemed to be mass-produced. Lastly, it is relatively expensive here. Hotels here are between $25 and $60 a night, while in Indonesia, the same will run between $10 and $25.
Overall, it was not been the best trip ever. On top of it all, the weather was quite abominable. So let me answer the question I normally ask at the end of each trip. “Would I do this again?” The answer unfortunately is “no” and I’m quite sad about that.
Heavenly Father, look down on us your humble and obedient tourist servants, who are doomed to travel this earth taking photographs, mailing postcards, buying souvenirs and walking around in drip-dry underwear.
Give us this day divine guidance in the selection of our hotels that we may find our reservation honored, our room made up and hot water running out of the faucet. We pray that the telephone works and the operator speaks our tongue.
Lead us, dear Lord, to good inexpensive restaurants, where the food is superb, the servers friendly and the wine included in the price. Give us the wisdom to tip correctly in currencies we do not understand. Forgive us for under-tipping out of ignorance and over-tipping out of fear.
Make the locals love us for what we are and not for what we contribute to their worldly goods. Grant us the strength to visit the museums, the cathedrals, the palaces and the castles listed as “must” in our guide books and if we skip a historic monument to take a nap after lunch, have mercy on us for our flesh is weak. Amen.
Before starting on my evaluation of the last two months, I have a personal matter with which one or more of you readers might be able to help me. I have been writing for the newspaper off and on going on four years and I have compiled the articles into various books augmented by about 130 photos in each. I had them printed through the Internet, a rather expensive proposition.
What I therefore need is a publisher in the travel book/coffee table book category willing to take on a “new author” and if any of you knows of anyone or has connections at a publishing house, an introduction would be highly appreciated. I have various books “ready” for perusal and would like to see them published. Thank you very much in advance.
While it will be postmaster Elizabeth Turner’s first busy season in Avon, it’s far from her first holiday-shipping crunch.