Saturday, August 14, 2010

Manila, Philippines in a Wheelchair

As we stepped outside, the humidity hit our skin and sweating automatically began. We were met up by AJ's Aunt Edith and Uncle Bong in a big van which fit my wheelchair and what little belongings we brought, and were off to Cavite, a town on the same island as Manila. Along the way, I noticed the millions of city lights and tall buildings. I amazed by how modern it was here compared to Cambodia and Vietnam. There was so much traffic that it seemed to take forever for us to reach the town. Once we reach Cavite, I noticed how many people were up so early in the morning. There were lots of dirt roads and small local shops as well as all sorts of styles of homes. I also noticed that there were tons of dongs. We happened to hit one along the way, tragically. I was too tired to lament at the moment, but it makes me sad to think of it now. 

It was a fun experience to get to meet AJ's relatives for the first time. They were so and all smiles. We could feel their warmth and excitement for us to be there. And they spoke English, which I was so grateful for because it made it so much easier to communicate! We got to ask them all sorts of questions about life there and what they do for fun. AJ's cousins like to play guitars together, which is pretty cool. They also have a good sense of humor and tease each other a whole. There are also a lot of traditions here in terms of respect of the elders and males. That is so Asian!  They have a tradition of young children placing the hand of their elders to their forehead to greet them and as a sign of respect. I'm glad I didn't have to do that because it would've felt weird, although I would do it if I had to. It was kind of cool that they called me Ate (older sister) Martina. It made me feel like part of the culture. Although i didn't feel like I really did anything to deserve that respect. 

In a family car, we were able to get around and do some fun things on the island like:
Hang out at a black sand beach outside of Cavite, although it wasn't very wheelchair accessible so I had to be carried onto the beach and hang out in one spot. Nonetheless, it was nice to hang out with everyone and enjoy the warmth of the sun and water.

Visit Tagaytay, which is a volcano resort. It was accessible to get from parking to the park entrance, but not very accessible with swinging bridges and up hills slopes. I had to be piggybacked up and down hill while someone carried my chair. But once, you get to a flat area, you can wheel around. Although the ground sunk in just a bit from being so moist. We just sat and enjoyed the view from a picnic area. It's really cool to see the volcano surrounded by mist and people rowing around in boats in the river. Unfortunately, I didn't get to go on the zipline, but I'll have to try that some time.  Afterwards, we found souvenir stands and purchased fun things for loved ones.
 Have church at this LDS chapel (So glad they speak English, btw. They were so kind in accommodating us). I loved that little kids were running up and down the aisles and in the pulpit area. Pretty different from church at home.
Shop at the Mall of Asia (seriously large mall with lots of stories), which was a couple of hours away from us. The whole mall is modern with lots of American restaurants like Mcdonald's, Panda Express, and Dunkin Donuts, which we haven't seen in a while since being in Southeast Asia. All of the shops were large and wheelchair. I was excited that there were lifts and escalators everywhere. It definitely made the shopping trip that much easier. There was even a Havaianas store. My favorite store was Cultura Filipina. It was a little pricey for local Filipinos, but comparable to American dollar prices.

Filipinos love their spam!
Eat some of the interestingly delicious cuisines like Filipino spaghetti with banana ketchup, rice and fish [even at KFC], Filipino fast food like Jolly Bee and Chow King (comparable to McDonald's and Panda Express but with an Asian twist), exotic Southeast Asian fruits like rambutan and lychee, and desserts like Puto bom bom and pan de coco! I've had desserts like those before in the states and loved them, especially the ones with lots of coconut and mango. I had some exposure to the fruits before in California, but was my taste buds were open to much, much more when I got to Southeast Asia. Each one has an interesting taste and texture. The outside of a rambutan is a bit hairy (I don't mean to make it sounds unappealing because it is good), but the inside is smooth and chewy. It's not really logical to expect fruits to all be like apples and oranges because even those two fruits alone are textured differently. However, these fruits totally threw me off. They look strange but are so worth the try!

The means for transportation here is either car, a big, colorful, loud bus called a Jeepney, or a cart attached to a motor cycle called a tricycle. I rode in a tricycle once with AJ's aunt. let me tell you, a tricycle is super small and certainly doesn't fit a whole wheelchair. So funnily, we broke down my wheelchair and split the parts between my tricycle and AJ's. It was a humorous sight for sure.

AJ gets his nails done in preparation for the party. It's pretty common to do that here in the Philippines. Although he said he felt weird doing it, I think he liked it :)
It's traditional for girls [whose families could afford it. We all know the reality of poverty in this area of the world] turning 18 years old to celebrate their coming of age. This is a big party where everyone gets dressed up and enjoys an extravagant dinner and dance. It reminded me of the quinceƱeras I've been to for my Latino friends, so it must be an occasion derived from Spanish culture. This one was a little more elaborate than the ones I've been to in the past, with choreographed dances with her chosen group of girls and guys, ballroom dancing with selected male family (AJ included)  and friends. It was such a unique and special experience to be a part of another culture we're not used to celebrating even though AJ is half Filipino. This was new for both AJ and me and we enjoyed it very much. The cool thing was that the party was actually set for an earlier date, but at the news that we were coming over, the family called everyone up to let them know that they were switching the date to accommodate us. That was very kind of them. I couldn't believe it.

Drop Molly off at the airport to send her back to the states. Look at how much she over packs. lol. The lines to get to security is right near the exit so it easily hangs outside of the airport building. Be careful to read up what is allowed to be brought back because the fruits will be taken out.
Visit the local Aguinaldo Museum to honor a past beloved president of the Philippines. There were so many cool stuff there like hidden doors to hide from mobs and multiple toilets in a bathroom. Plus, he owned lots of cool vintage cars. It was pretty easy to get around, although I had to be carried upstairs and couldn't get to some rooms. 

Like most homes around the world (even in the U.S.), homes here are not retrofitted so it was kind of tricky to work with stairs and small restrooms. I was grateful for help from my companions, AJ and Molly as well as AJ's relatives.

Overall, this was a worthwhile trip. I'm definitely glad I came and to meet AJ's cousins. I fit in quite well as many people thought I was actually Filipina. I take that as a compliment because they truly beautiful people. I hope to come back again soon and visit more places.

**Notes: We caught a quick flight from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to Manila, Philippines. We needed to get our visas done ahead of time for Vietnam and they require a new one each time, but you can buy a multiple entries visa for a little more and it lasts about 3 months. Because the Philippines were a U.S. territory, we got a visitor's stamp in our passport at the airport for free instead of having to get visas. Though, if you staying longer than 30 days, you'll require a Visa. It was easy to navigate the airport in the wheelchair. *Also, on the flight, make sure you have change for drinks on the flight because attendants will not have change. 

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