Thursday, August 17, 2006

To learn before seeing

If you're following this blog closely, don't worry--I don't plan on updating as frequently as I have as a general rule. But I have to check my email frequently for logistical reasons (meeting up with my friend in Taipei, hoping to hear from my friend in Manila, arranging for how I will be meeting people in Hong Kong) and the internet cafe I'm using in Manila has a PhP 30 minimum which means I'd might as well use the time. That and it's air conditioned in the internet cafe. That and I have more time now since I'm not hanging out with friends. My computer is now my friend, for now.

I went sightseeing today in Manila, going around the old walled city called Intramuros. The Philippines were converted to Christianity by Augustinian monks, which like their namesake has always emphasized the grace given us by Jesus's sacrifice, just as the most famous Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, who to his shock and amazement, began the Protestant Reformation.

A lady outside a cathedral there insisted I take her literature attached to a plastic rosary, and asked for a donation for "prayers". Fairly Catholic. But the literature was pretty Evangelical. Recognize you're a sinner, know that Jesus died for you on the Cross, repent, ask for forgiveness, all that. Of course the literature had stuff related to Mary, but it was all in the context of asking her help in praying to Jesus. Of course, all of this is Catholic. Just the emphasis is Augustinian.

I've discovered something about myself. It's hard to be enthusiastic about sightseeing when I don't know much about the background. I didn't really prepare very much for my trip to the Philippines. For instance, it was only this morning that I read in my guidebook that I should never take a taxi from the departures area in the airport because they'll try to scam you. Ah, well. But the reason i wasn't sufficiently prepared was I was planning on seeing Manila with a friend who was local, so I figured I didn't need to read up myself.

So today, I saw where Jose Rizal was imprisoned and executed. No, I didn't know who he was before today. If I had known before I arrived that he was basically a George Washingon figure for the Philippines I probably would have seen the whole area in a new light. But I wasn't prepared. Now it was moving to read some of his sayings and see exhibits about his life and death, but I suspect the effect would have been more if I had known more beforehand, for instance, reading some of the novels he wrote or learning about the Philippine struggle for independence from Spain (and then from the US and then from Japan).

Rizal was an intellectual who stood up for his country against Spanish rule in the 1890s, and before he was executed wrote a poem that got smuggled out in an oil lamp, "Mi Ultimo Adios" that is now treasured by many in the Philippines:
or in translation
He seems to be quite an admirable man, loyal to his Filipino roots while fully conversant with European learning; fully committed to his Christian faith but not afraid to question what he had been taught about it; embracing his Filipino worldview and yet Modernist in his love of reason. Why hadn't I heard of him before? Surely there are many more such people all around the world, and yet in our globalized culture we are still so parochial we only meet in our educational system the writers who have affected our locale.

When students come to Hong Kong this Fall, I hope they will be more prepared for what they will see. They've read a book on Hong Kong last Spring, but I hope they will do more. I'm most concerned about our educational field trip, actually, because that's going to be to Vietnam. And I'm guessing most of the students don't know squat about Vietnam. I assume that because that's roughly true of me as well. How will we prepare for Vietnam? I'm not sure.

I'm also going to see if there's interest in a student trip to Xi'an. There I do know a bit, but I now recognize that a crucial part of getting students to come will be to learn even more and share some of these ideas with the students well ahead of time. Maybe even inspire them to find out more on their own (if possible).

On another topic, I'm surprised I haven't faced traveler's diarrhea yet. I'm generally pretty careful, but I noticed a few times when I've slipped. Last night I went to an all-you-can-eat buffet (they called it "eat all you can" which makes it sound even more of a gluttonous challenge) and the trouble is, I don't know what any of the dishes are supposed to taste like, so I don't have a good way of telling how good it was. It mostly tasted very good, except for one dish which my mouth reacted to badly. Maybe the trouble was it looked like chopped up chicken so when it tasted slippery and damp I was surprised. Then the fact that the tables were a bit sticky and there was a fly that kept on trying to land on my plate, and the fact that the floor, tiled with half-inch by half-inch linoleum squares set at an angle, was missing a few tiles in quite a large number of places, so that mopping the floor would be a herculean task, all then converged to make me... well, get something else from the buffet instead.

This morning I couldn't find a good breakfast place offhand, so I stopped at a convenience store, and got a couple of canned juices, a candy bar, and a small package of what looked like chocolate-covered thin wafer rolled into a tube. When I opened it I was surprised of a few things in this order: the packaging had arabic translations, it came from Turkey, the tube wafers were very fragile and crumbly and in fact a bit damp, they tasted okay except that the dampness made for a slightly mushy texture, then there were small bugs crawling around in the wafers I hadn't yet eaten.

I realized that if I threw it away I would have to deal with bugs in my room tonight, so I threw away the tubes in the toilet, and spat out what I could. In retrospect, this product was probably safe. Most bugs are not carrying dangerous diseases, and in fact the fact that the bugs were enjoying this pastry product was perhaps a sign that I might survive it too. But if I had to do it over again, I would still spit it out. Actually if I really had the power to do things over I wouldn't have bought the thing in the first place. Bugs don't live very long--they must have been packaged as eggs and they must have hatched recently (I only saw two or so, so there can't have been many generations living in the package).

For lunch I ate at what looked like a very nicely furnished restaurant, but I did notice a fly buzzing by. Which would have been fine if not for the fact that due to the previous experiences, I was on my guard. It was a buffet again, and though it was more expensive, the rich (even opulent) appearance set my mind at ease.

The museum attached to the St. Augustine Cathedral was enormous and had some very nice displays. It also lets you into the Cathedral itself which has Trompe l'Oeil painting everywhere (meaning it is intended to make you believe it is 3-dimensional, with columns and statues, even though it is just painted on a flat surface).

There is a memorial nearby to those innocents who have died in war, and in particular those Filipino civilians who died in WWII. The monument is very moving, and there were fresh flowers placed on the statue of the victims. Before and after pictures of the bombing of Manila were also poignant. Many people say that this is just an unavoidable part of the cost of war. I agree. But why is it that no one counts this cost when people are bandying about calling for the need to go to war?

It's very hot and muggy. I went to my hotel room before the end of the day, mostly because I was looking forward to the air conditioning. When I got out, I saw that it had rained pretty heavily while I was inside. This is the best way to experience a monsoon rain. The air was now clearer and not as muggy. I should mention the pollution which is pretty bad. I haven't had trouble breathing, exactly, but when the guidebook talks about Manila sunsets, I haven't seen one yet because of the haze.

Tomorrow, I head back to Taipei.


At 3:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin, as you're headed back to Taipei, I hope you will have time to visit their great museum. As it was told to me, Chiang Kai Chek (sp) brough most of the valuable Chinese antiquities with him to Taipei, and they are well worth seeing.

Your concerns about the safety of your wallet and passport are not unfounded. Be certain to carry a photocopy of your passport because it remarkably speeds up the replacement process if that becomes necessary. However, my position on "belly packs" or "fanny packs" or whatever you call them is that they shout aloud to a potential thief, "Here is where I'm carrying everything valuable!" Better to keep them less visible - for example, wallet in one side pocket, passport in another. Even better is to use one of those inside-the-shirt pouches for the passport. Keep one credit card and enough cash for your needs at hand, and carry the rest hidden - for example in a pouch that fits inside your pants, or straps to your calf.

If you think you were offered Rollex bargains in Manila, wait until you get to Nathan Road in Hong Kong! The difference is that you can buy REAL Rollexes in Hong Kong.

At 7:36 PM, Blogger Kevin Iga said...

Yeah, the National Palace Museum was one thing I was bummed about not being able to see when I went through Taipei a few days ago. I'm going to try to get there today or tomorrow.

When I said, "money belt" I meant something I wear under my pants and shirt. I'm not a believer in fanny packs, either.

As for Rolexes, I don't really know what a Rolex watch looks like, and even less how to tell a real Rolex from a fake one, so when offered one, I automatically assume it's fake. Not that it makes much of a difference--either way, I'm not buying one. My $15 digital watch from Savon tells time quite well, thank you, and until that one breaks, I'm not in the market for a watch.

The person selling it in Manila didn't start with a price--he was probably trying to see what I would offer, first.


Post a Comment

<< Home