29 October 2012

The Philippines Photo Journal, Days 3 - 6: Boracay Island (Part 2 of 3) . . .

The Philippines is a fascinating place:  the colors are vibrant and the people have amazing spirits, filled with kindness and laughter. And travel from place to place is just as fascinating.

When we left Katti's house in Manila for Boracay Island, I imagined us hopping in a cab and going to the airport. I only knew what I was used to doing . . .

I guess I have always taken travel for granted. I find that I am quite adaptable:  if I need to get somewhere, I get there--be it by foot, bus, car, or bike. (Sometimes all 4 in the same day.) But never have I encountered 8 forms of transportation in one day.

I just kind of silently tagged along behind Katti the whole way, snapping pictures left and right. It was such an energized day of travel that it wasn't until we got to our hotel that I realized what had happened. And once I counted up the number of transports we used to get to Boracay, I couldn't stop mentioning it whenever the opportunity arose. I even typed a list in my iPhone, so that I could recite them--in order--at a moments notice.

For this very reason, I thought it only appropriate to start out this blog post with a clip from Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, the 1987 classic featuring Steve Martin and John Candy. 

1.  Jeepney

About 2 blocks from Katti's house we caught a jeepney. Jeepneys are the most popular form of transportation in the Philippines. The word jeepney is a combination of "jeep" and "Jitney". Jeepneys were originally made from US military jeeps left over from World War II and they are known for their flamboyant decoration and crowded seating.  

From the moment I landed in Manila, I was obsessed with jeepneys. It's as if Xzibit from Pimp My Ride went over to the Philippines and worked some magic on a bunch of jeeps. They are airbrushed with images ranging from religious to family names to women in bikinis. And at night they are completely decked out in lights. Jeepneys have open windows and open backs, so people wishing to ride them just jump in the back and pass their moneys forward to the driver. And, "barkers" work the vehicles. So, they are constantly calling out to get you to ride their jeepney.  

We rode the jeepney to a mall where we then walked for a ways to catch a train.

2.  Walking

What's funny is when we got out of the jeepney at the mall, I remember asking Katti if this was where we would be catching the bus. She said that we needed to catch a train first. So we walked through several malls that were connected before we caught the train. For a brief second I felt like I was back in Singapore, mall-hopping.

3.  Train

The train took a few minutes to arrive, during which I got a whistle blown at me as I tried to shoot a picture down the track. I stepped over a yellow line, which was a no-no. When the train arrived, I was surprised to find that it was an above ground train. And it was super-packed. I wanted to get closer to the windows to take some pictures, but it was not possible. In two stops we got off of the train and walked some more to our next transport, the bus.

4.  Bus

This is what we walked down several flights of stairs to . . . 

A barrage of buses waiting for passengers, honking away as a police man franticly directed traffic by hitting the buses with his baton. We made our way to the green bus stop, marked with the letter B (pictured above). When our bus arrived, we got on and told the conductor, the ticket-taker, that we needed to go to terminal 2. Ah, the airport is close, I thought. Nope:  we rode the bus for about an hour and a half.  

And, we missed our terminal 2 stop at which point Katti exchanged words with the conductor, all of which I could understand was:  it didn't help that she was white?! We got off of the bus and caught a quick trip on a second jeepney to terminal 2.

5.  Plane

We almost missed our flight, but made it safe and sound (first catching a shuttle bus out to the runway for boarding). The flight was pretty much empty which gave us room to spread out. But just as soon as we got our peanuts (perfectly labeled Happy Nuts), it was time to land. Our flight ended up being one of the shorter forms of transit that we took, which I found hilarious.

6. Shuttle Van

At the airport we were able to secure a spot for each of us on the shuttle van and boat for 250 pesos (about $6 US). The shuttle ride was an hour long and one of the most exciting trips I'd been on. I was sitting in the back and Katti was sitting in the front. We were snuggled in with about 10 other passengers. Before the driver took off, Katti pointed out a billboard featuring apl.de.ap from the Black Eyed Peas. (He's from Manila, so the whole time I was visiting Katti I kept asking her if we would run into him. We didn't.)

The shuttle van took us through the most beautiful countryside I had ever seen. It was luscious green and the little towns we passed through were peppered with houses and churches in bright yellows, blues, and pinks. Roosters, dogs, and kids meandered about--sometimes out into the middle of the road even. There was very little traffic, but any chance the van driver got to honk, he did. We sped past motorcycles with passengers in side cars, one of the side cars carrying a cow. We passed a man walking his carabao down his rocky driveway, a truck with two pigs laying down in the back, and a bright pink school where all of the students wore uniforms of the same color.  Incredible visuals at every turn!!

I kept thinking that there was no possible way we could be near the beach, but sure enough--over the hill and through the woods--a beautiful sea of blue appeared. We had arrived . . . Almost.

7.  Boat

We got to the dock and immediately boarded a very nice boat. We even got to watch part of X-Men Origins:  Wolverine. I kept mentioning during the boat ride how I didn't really like movies like this . . . But sure enough, we got completely engrossed in the movie and had to be asked to leave the boat because we had arrived in Boracay and we needed to get off of their ship. They had been waiting for us to leave.

8.  Motorcycle Sidecar

Our final transport to where we were staying on the island was via motorcycle sidecar. Katti and I rode in the front, as 4 guys piled onto the back. While we were going up a hill, Katti and the driver spoke to one another. She then turned to me and said--in so many words--"lean forward, sometimes these tip over backwards." Um, great . . . I'm happy to report we did not tip over. But, the thought of possibly tipping over definitely kept me wide awake for the remainder of our journey (a quick 15 minutes). Apparently the driver had also asked her if I was a nun because my head was wrapped in a scarf. (I'm curious if that would have made a difference in our journey if she had said yes, she is a nun.)

The whole experience--our journey from start to finish--was an absolute thrill! I wouldn't change any of it for the world. We made it! And it was totally worth it . . . 

Because at the end of our journey, this was waiting for us. 

28 October 2012

The Philippines Photo Journal, Days 3 - 6: Boracay Island (Part 1 of 3) . . .

My 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th days were spent in Boracay, rumored to be the best beach in the entire world. How lucky was I to be able to travel to this magical place?


Getting there proved to be one of the more adventurous parts of the trip . . . Just to arrive in Boracay took 8 forms of transportation. 8!! Jeepney, walking, train, bus, plane, van, boat, and motorcycle sidecar. It was incredible: chaotic and beautiful, all at once! What kind of allusive and desolate place were we going to anyhow? Had I not been with Katti, I don't think I would've been able to maneuver so well on my own.   (More on this experience in Monday's post!)

Once we got there, I was completely mesmerized. Those who know me know this: I do not relax wellAnyone who has seen my father's backyard knows which side of the family this personality trait comes from. 

So when I was told that we were going to the beach for 4 days and 3 nights, I became a bit worried at how the time might pass. (Momentarily forgetting my usual mantra: time always passes.) For the first time ever on a vacation, I didn't bring anything to work on. My mind was racing. But, day after day, I would go out by the water, walk along the beach, build sandcastles, take photographs, and swim. And by the end of the week, without realizing it, I had outlined a book, planned an upcoming installation, and written several yet-to-be-posted blog posts (this one included). So, I did work. Actually taking the time to relax had made me productive.  Maybe even more productive than I would have been had I brought items to work on . . .

Come to find out, I now believe that there is nothing more relaxing than floating in the ocean: letting the waves bounce you back and forth like they are playing catch with you, occasionally being able to taste the salty water. I dance around in the water, as if floundering a bit, sometimes I'm able to touch the sand at the bottom and sometimes I'm not. I liken my moves underwater to my favorite scene in Alice in Wonderland, when she is riding on the bird's beak backwards in the water. I must have stayed out in the water, jumping around like a crazy person, for at least 4 hours every day. (And for someone as pale as me, that's a long time.) 

After watching the glorious sunset during our 2nd night in Boracay, Katti and I ate dinner under a hut and listened to the guitarist playing next door. He was doing various renditions of classics, like Bob Marley, Eric Clapton, Simon & Garfunkel, etc. Occasionally we found ourselves joining in. I'm curious if he ever heard us . . . 

More on my adventures in Boracay to come . . . Stay tuned!

27 October 2012

New Love: Lavender Diamond

The Philippines Photo Journal, Day 2: Pinto Art Museum

"Appreciation is a wonderful thing:  it makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well." - Voltaire

On Sunday, Katti took me up a mountain in Antipolo City to the most beautiful garden space and museum.

Pinto Art Museum sits on a one hectare plot of land in the Silangan Gardens. The architecture of the museum is stunning, reminding me of colonial Spanish buildings with their high ceilings and open floor plans. Paintings, sculptures, installations, assemblages, and drawings-presenting a wide array of subject matter, approaches, and methods-are housed within the space.

Dr. Joven Cuanang spearheaded the Silangan Foundation for Arts, Culture, and Ecology, a non-profit that supports the museum. I met Dr. Cuanang during my visit to Pinto. We exchanged hellos and introductions while eating fried banana. He is a highly respected neurologist who supports Philippine art and culture on the side. "Through the years he has immersed himself in endeavors that promote art and culture while continually trying to explore its restorative aspects."

"Dr. Cuanang followed his heart, mind, and gut in acquiring each artwork. "I am emotionally connected to each piece, that is the only parameter I apply in my selection." Cuanang's bond to every small or large scale work is such that he has never parted with a single one since the initial purchase."

Art has the power to communicate, provoke, and educate.

"The safest way to avoid the world is through art and the safest way to be linked to the world is through art." - Randall Jarell

20 October 2012

The Philippines Photo Journal, Day 1: Arriving in Manila . . .

My much-needed-fall-break is being held in the Philippines.  

I am visiting a friend of mine from graduate school in Baltimore. Katti is from the Philippines and was a Fulbright scholar when she was attending MICA. We've kept in touch over the years, and when I moved to Singapore she was very excited to know I would be so close!

I am staying in Manila for the first few nights--at Katti's house--before traveling to Boracay.

When I got off the plane, she greeted me with a garland made out of the most wonderfully fragrant flowers! I knew right away that this was the place for me . . . 

The Philippines is made up of 7,100 islands. Manila is located on the largest island and is brimming with people! Just driving from the airport to Katti's neighborhood made me a little fearful for my life:  lanes do not seem to exist and everyone needs to be in the same place at once, and don't even get me started on the constant honking. Speed up, slow down, speed up, slow down . . . Biker!!!

Once we arrived at her house, I was struck by how similar this country is to Mexico:  the materials of the homes and the colors; the people selling corn, sorbetes, and sugary drinks on the street; the friendliness of passers-by; windows being left open with the ability to hear street traffic and voices at all hours of the day. I absolutely loved it! Such life! 

We ate a quick lunch of fish, rice, homemade iced tea, and mangos before heading over to the University of the Philippines, where she is an adjunct professor.

She is STILL carrying the bag I made for her! At the time, I thought she might be missing home, so I sewed the Philippines on a bag as a gift:  strands of flags and as many islands as I could fit on this tiny little bag. It's a little more worn now, but just as bright and cheerful!

Katti is teaching a materials class right now. So the students work sculpturally with as many materials as possible:  sawdust, fabric, recycled wooden crates, etc. Sounds like a wonderful class to teach (and to take)!

Katti is also taking a wheel-throwing class. While we were there, I got to meet her instructor and chat for a bit. He is a potter and told me about a huge clay festival that is happening in Singapore in January. I'm hoping they will both be able to come and visit for this fabulous event!

Afterwards, we went to this secluded little cafe right off the main road for dinner. It was delicious vegetarian food:  so good! I can't even begin to explain the textures and flavors . . . Then we went to the store and drove back home.    

I'm fascinated by the jeepneys! They are inexpensive transportation and they are all over the place. Here is one that we passed with about 4 people hanging onto the back of it! Crazy-town!

When we got home, Katti's father came over and we all had cake and coffee. All the doors and windows were open, and the temperature was a dry 68 degrees. It was magical! Then it was time for bed, so I tucked myself into my mosquito-net-covered bed and fell asleep almost immediately . . . 

More soon!