Balikbayan, pt. 3

One of the things that I miss the most about the Philippines is that everything was interesting. It took me back to a time when looking out the window of the backseat of a car was a viable entertainment option. Wherever we went, be it the crawling pace of the rain covered city or the speeding, winding roads along the tropical hills, everything was interesting. Not pretty, not vibrant, not even infusing any particularly good feelings. It was just always stimulating to thought, giving you, the outsider, something worth examining. The titanic billboard for Coca-Cola has you concocting sociological theories. The rural unfamiliarities have you picking and prying at who you claim to be. The pile of electrical wires, hanging precariously overhead, has you wondering what big ideas are to blame for the shape of things.

Act three of our trip to the Philippines had the most to see. It's a story that starts off with lots of gleaming tourist attractions, funnels down into a complacent sense of family, and ends as all good stories do: A conclusive finale where the characters are changed and exit stage left. Curtains drop.

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Balikbayan, pt. 2

The first three days in Metro Manila were an exercise in privilege. A big city, with American franchises, air conditioning and pavement. The next week or so would be a few steps towards the other end of the spectrum. This was Angeles City in Pampanga. We had experienced what the successful in capitalism had to offer. Now it was time to see the rest.

Angeles, and the surrounding areas like Dau, are not minor villages full of living-off-the-land types. It is still a city by every means, but not a major, highly developed, nicely planned out one. They don't build their structures to the sky, they don't put lines on their roads, they don't paint over every cement wall. But it's not the province. The air is thicker with smog and nothing looks like it was ever new. It is urban decay bustling with activity, but not wealth.

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Balikbayan, pt. 1

Filipino immigrants always return. Like an annual ritual, they come back regularly to family and familiarity. For American-born Filipinos, they are brought along for the pilgrimage by their parents. I could call it a rite of passage, or an exposure to one's roots, but it's a part of Pilipino American culture that has many different meanings and indications for many different people. Some hate going, some never see more than their Lola's house, and some go every other summer.

For me, it had been at least 12 years since I last set foot on Filipino soil. As the years went on, another trip to the Philippines became more and more inevitable. You could only go so long without visiting. So it was decided that in the summer of 2007, that we would spend over one month immersed in the Philippines. We wouldn't just be visiting family and hanging out in the province. We would also see the sights, from the tourist destinations to the historical landmarks that defined the country's history.

It's been three nights here in the Philippines. I'm enjoying it, but it still a little bit daunting to think that I'll be away from the familiar routines for over a month. It has been, and will continue to be, much more than a vacation.

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