16 September 2007

Philippines and Japan

I've just got back from 2 weeks travelling around the Philippines and Japan with 5 friends from university - two strikingly different countries, but both fascinating places...


We concentrated our travels on the island of Palawan and the capital Manilla. There were virtually no tourists anywhere which was a major draw for us. Palawan is a large island to the East and we travelled up through the island, stopping at a spooky large underwater river complex with huge number of bats. We spent most of our time chilling out at El Nido in the Basuit archipelago - a beautiful set of limestone islands and beaches in the North (see pictures). We stayed at a lovely little resort there called Dolorag in the middle on nowhere, where we were the only guests during our stay

We then went on to Manilla and heard about the history of the country. Walking around today, Manilla is a dirty, scruffy place with few major sights. We went on a fact-filled walking tour of Manilla (http://celdrantours.blogspot.com/) and found out what happened to this once great city.

The Philippines, named after King Philip of Spain, has a fascinating colonial history. They were ruled by the Spanish for 350 years, then the Americans for 50 years and have since have 50 years of independence. The Philipines, under Spanish rule, was remarkably different to other colonies. It was actually more of a Catholic 'colony' than a Spanish one - because the Spanish deemed it too far and lacking resources such as gold to be worth their active involvement. The Catholic church saw it as a great opportunity to spread their faith and unlike the Spanish had no interest in getting the locals to adopt the Spanish language. So today there remains little Spanish cultural influence, but Catholicism is strong. In fact, we also learnt that most of the elite Filipino families today that cast themselves as Spanish 'mestizos' are actually of Chinese extraction, but Spanishised themselves in order to gain status during the Spanish rule (taking on Spanish names, the Spanish language and more European culture).

American involvement in the Philippines is also intriguing. In 1898 with the Treaty of Paris, the Americans purchased the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam and Cuba for $20M. Under American control the country flurished and Manilla became a major gateway between East and West. It is hard to believe now, looking back at pictures, how developed the country was. The citizens were the first in the region to receive items such as air conditioning and toothepaste, as well as it's own airline. The Americans also introduced free public schools taught in English, so today the country is the 4th largest English speaking country...

However, the second world war changed everything. The Japanese took control and the US launched carpet bombing campaigns on Manilla that flattened the city ("collateral damage"). It was the second largest destruction of an Allied city after Warsaw.

The other highlights of our time in Manilla was having dinner at an old mansion http://www.lacocinadetitamoning.com/ and staying at the beautiful new Hyatt!


Four hours away lies a different world. We spent a week travelling around Japan, with 4 days in Tokyo, 2 days in Kyoto and a day in Hakone. Overall, I was really sturckby Japan because everyone and everything in the country is incredibly efficient. People are so polite, incredibly well dressed and will do anything they can to help you. The country is so clean, modern and orderly.

We immersed ourselves in as many Japanese things as we could, from bullet trains and capsule hotels, to karaoke and standing-only sushi bars. We met up with a Japanese friend of mine from business school and he took us on a boat cruise on Tokyo bay, which was a lot of fun. He brought along several of his crazy Japanese friends to show us how they party and introduced us to the games they play (including a team game where you have to spell out words to your team members by moving your bottom!).

Japan would be a fun place to live for a few months, but I think it would be tough living somewhere that is so different to the rest of the world for longer than that...