Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Paraw Regatta

I knew it was festival season around here but hadn't really realized what it all meant since I had no idea what festivals are celebrated around here anyway. The Philippines has a lot of holidays as well so I am constantly getting surprised by someone in the office saying that tomorrow is a holiday. Not that we follow the holidays really. We're Korean, not Filipino...
But festivals are different and I was fortunate enough to be invited by the remainder of the CS group here in Iloilo to go check out the Paraw Regatta festival this last Sunday. It had actually been going on for a few days but I was only present for the final, most important day. It is the #2 festival in Iloilo and is all about sailing. Or at least it's supposed to be. It has since expanded to include beach sports, body painting, and of course, dance competitions. Since the primary event on Sunday was the sailing race we (the Korean manager, one of my students and I) went down to Villa beach where everything was taking place. I'd never actually been to Villa beach before and although I'd heard of it, I'd actually thought it was a lot further away. In somewhat typical Philippine fashion it is a long but not wide strip of sand (not white sand this time though) and dirty enough to not be impressive. To be fair, there were a lot of people walking around which is going to translate to a spike in garbage floating around and there was plenty of litter from the fireworks the night before as well.
We arrived with just enough time to spare to check out the small sail boats before they started their race. The boats have the typical Philippine style with the outriggers and for the festival, very brightly painted sails depicting anything from psychedelic mythical scenes to what were probably good luck paintings by their children. To the sound of fireworks, the crews of 5 pushed their boats off the beach and head out to sea. It was not a long race as they were back only a few hours later, giving us time to check out some of the other events and activities.
Almost immediately after the boats left there was a group dance competition. Only 5 groups this time and again put on by one of the nearby national high schools and accompanied by a small army of drummers. This time the theme was Mardi Gras, Samba dancing complete with some great costumes. They do know how to put on festivals here and I enjoyed it a lot, more than the rest of the group because I could actually see over the top of the crowds to actually see the dancers in action. The whole festival only further supported my belief that this is a misplaced Latin American country and not an Asian one. After the dancing and a long lunch during which we met up with more couchsurfers, we wandered along the beach to check out the women's beach volleyball, frisbee and football competitions.
In other news, I have been trying to follow the Olympics. I don't have a tv and all online feeds are blocked because none originate here and I can't get access to any from other countries (not because the Philippines blocks it, but because it is prevented from going out). I feel like the only person here that even knows it's on. Koreans know they are good at speed skating but nobody here shows any Olympic spirit or national pride when I tell them they won another gold. It's a good thing I can't find face paints to act like Canadians all around the world who are no doubt going to all develop skin cancers with a curious maple leaf shapes in a few years from now, hehehe. They probably wouldn't appreciate it.
We have a grand total of 5 students now and that number will further shrink before the masses arrive. The arrival of the masses has been delayed again so for the next 3 weeks I'm only working 2 hours a day and almost all the other tutors are on a very long holiday. I'd be tempted to take off too but was not properly prepared to take advantage. That and I think all my friends here are working. As in real work, unlike me ;) So I'll just chill here island-style and dread the day I leave...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Plans of Escape

A lot of people ask me what's next and how long I'm going to be here. At first I didn't know so I wasn't answering. More recently I was worried that my next destination after here would be "home" but I still don't like that idea very much.
I have finally made a decision though and bought some tickets out of the Philippines. I will be leaving here at the end of May. I'm going to Taiwan for a week (return tickets from Manila were only $60) and then to Osaka, Japan for a week and from there down to Brisbane, Australia in early June to be reunited with Bre and Ben. I have a working holiday visa for Australia so I could be down there for a while but don't think I'll be moving around much to start. It could and should be interesting but I still think I'll be in for a nasty culture shock.
Other more recent news, hmmm....
Koreans are still strange and we seem to have the opposite approach to everything. We have soup at every meal. They drink the liquid and leave the chunks, I eat the chunks and leave the liquid. I'm just never going to fit in, haha. I got a haircut the other day. I think it might actually be the first time ever in my life that I've paid my own money for a haircut. Had I realized it before I got the haircut I might not've done it, just to set a record. It is very slow here at the school at the moment but we are supposed to be getting a huge group in early March. I might have to do some real work before I leave here. I don't really want to leave though. I like the Philippines, I like the weather and like everyone else, I'm getting lazy. It's just too easy to go on slow time down here. The Koreans might complain about it sometimes, but they are totally on it too. A 50% attendance rate for class is not uncommon as the rest are sleeping off the afternoon. Perfect country for retirement I think.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Guimaras and Miag-ao

Ida was still around for another 2 days following the festival so on Monday I skipped work and we went to Guimaras island. It's a separate Philippine state on a much smaller island only a 15 minute boat ride from here. Guimaras is famous for it's mangoes and is considered to have the best in the country, and since this country has the best mangoes, that makes these ones the best in the world. Unfortunately mango season isn't for another month or two.
I had not been to Guimaras before though most of the students make the trip out for an overnighter once while they are here. There isn't any good beach close to the city but Guimaras is supposed to have a few nice ones. We weren't really planning on swimming or anything which turned out to be a good decision because we were disappointed. It doesn't help that Ida is from Palawan and I've seen much better around the country too. It was a small beach taken up by a couple small resorts though there is still a nice view and the water would be clear if it hadn't been so windy. But our ride through Guimaras was nice on its jumbo-sized jeepneys and a much more rural and peaceful-looking countryside. But really, I'm just gonna have to wait for the mangoes to properly appreciate the place.
The following day we got up early and jumped in a van to Miag-ao. It's a small town about an hour away and has one of the 4 Unesco-listed heritage churches in the Philippines. The church is a Spanish-built Catholic church dating from 1787 and was built using limestone and egg. There are lots of impressive old stone Catholic churches around here so I honestly don't understand how a few made it onto Unesco's list and others did not. The interesting thing is that the stone facade depicts tropical trees (palm, papaya and guava) in addition to the local saint.
From the outside it looks rather squat but inside it was bright and airy. No central pillars but just an open church and light-coloured, undecorated walls and ceilings. We had a quick look around and then returned to Iloilo to work.
Last weekend I went to the dentist and had 2 of my wisdom teeth pulled out. It needed to be done and I'll have to do the remainders later. I can't believe how cheap it is. One tooth is less than $10. And yes, they use anaesthetic and know what they're doing. It's still painful though so I can't say I'm enjoying it.
That's all for now.