I wrote this entry about ten years ago back in those days when I was trying to create my own website from scratch. Back then, there was no blogger or multiply. I tweaked things just a teeny weeny bit to reflect current realities.
**G.S. was conceived, born, breast-fed, baptized, confirmed, nurtured, disciplined, educated, married, employed, unemployed, wowed in Philippine soil. Once in a while she steps out of this Pearl of the Orient to get a whiff of foreign culture and px goods, but she always comes back, longing for all things Filipino, paunchy traffic enforcers and dirty stray cats excluded.
The usual Philippine intro starts with our archipelago being made up of 7,107 islands, but what I do I know about these thousands of islands when I've only been to about 8 of them? In my eyes, the Philippines is made up mountains and volcanoes; rice paddies and little hills; tiny barrios and middle-sized villages; a number of subdivisions which require you to have a sticker to enter; vast parking spaces pretending to be major highways; chinese-owned malls urbanizing every bustling town; business districts with its Starbucks cafes and yuppy hang-outs; cities with old churches and remnants of our Spanish culture; squatter shanties with TV antennae and exposed laundry; countless restaurants and bars; and a whole lot of places where you can have fun -- if you know how to have fun.
We are bursting at the seams with a population of 90 or so million people. It would be impossible to come up with a description of the Filipino that would embrace each and every citizen. Though we share a common history and though we can joke about quirks that make us so unmistakably Pinoy, I have to ignore those generalizations and just say that we are diverse. Diverse even in the way we look -- tall, short, brown, fair, chinky-eyed, wide-eyed, lithe, buxom, we are all these things, as we are the products of ancestors intermarrying among the native filipino, malay, chinese, american, spanish, arabic, japanese, european, and whatever possible ethnic combinations. We are diverse in culture, religion, political beliefs, lifestyles, tastes, sexual preferences, and education.
Fact books will tell you we have a total land area of 297,000 square kilometers. If you're like me with limited spatial sense and you cannot really relate to that fact, just imagine this -- as your 747 approaches the southmost tip of the country and gets ready to land at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, it will span the country for 15 to 20 minutes before it gets over the tarmac which is in the big Northern island of Luzon. I guess that means it is not very big in actual land area. But think about it -- over 7,000 islands mean a whole lot of shorelines. So when they say here that life is a beach, you can take it literally. We have islands and islets, beach coves and beach resorts, dive spots and surf spots, lakes, seas and rivers. Forget your Amex; do not leave home without a snorkel, your cute shades, your favorite tanning lotion and at least one smashing swimming get-up.
I was talking about Luzon a while back. That is one of the three major island groups which are: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Southmost is Mindanao. I will not pretend to know a whole lot about it because I have not spent a lot of time in there. And it's quite different from the Philippines that I know. There is a rich diversity of cultures present -- Christian, Muslim and tribal. I have been to Cagayan de Oro, which is called the "City of Golden Friendship". That title is very much deserved - nowhere else in the world will you see a group of people with such an abundant supply of smiles given so freely away. Davao is a city with the feel of a metropolis but with the charm of a quaint province. And, of course, Palawan, an exotic island with world class beachfront resorts, an underground river, a crocodile farm, and nature's showcase of breathtaking wonders.
What can you find in the Visayas ? Do you have the whole day -- to just read about it? Beautiful, enchanting, seductive islands: Bohol, with its Chocolate Hills and historic churches; Ilo-ilo, with its mansions and old-world charm; Cebu, which is like a more laid back Manila; and Boracay, with its reggae-thumping little bars, quaint inns and plush hotels, and little sandy nooks and crannies where horny lovers can have a quicky or two.
But Luzon is the island I know and love best. There are mountains, caves, lakes, waterfalls, lagoons, flatlands, rice terraces, little towns claiming their place in the map through an "original" delicacy, fishing villages, golf courses, country clubs, jet-ski resorts, universities, red-light districts, steel-and-glass business districts, a chinatown, weekly town fiestas, local politics and bizarre tragedies which usually provoke CNN newscasters to utter the phrase "only in the philippines", slums with style, exclusive villages with mansions and beamers, malls and mini-malls.
In the center of all of these is the place where I was conceived, born, breast-fed, etc., etc. (see above), a place outsiders call MANILA, but is actually a metropolis of cities and municipalities so close together, with borders indistinguishable, set apart only by the traffic jams for which this country is notorious. If one looks at the city with dispassionate eyes like Claire Danes did, it may look like a filthy jumble of smoke-belching vehicles, dilapidated buildings, pothole-infested roads, street children begging for change, a city cursed with poor planning and even poorer maintenance. But in my eyes, it is HOME, a very small world where you see somebody you know in every corner.
It is a fascinating city with a lot of humor, where people-watching can keep you entertained for one whole lazy afternoon. That's what the traffic jams are for -- for people to slow down and notice the dancing traffic cop, appreciate how even those begging street children can find ways to entertain themselves and laugh and play. It is a city with a beat, though sometimes off or slow, it is a beat, nonetheless, that once it gets into your soul, is hard to shake.