Friday, July 24, 2009

Our Trip to the Philippines – Part 1

Now that we are on the ground in the Philippines and been here for a few days, I thought I would share some initial reflections.

First, for some reason I never really knew this before, but Daphne’s family is very well connected here on the island of Palawan. Her father’s sister, Dr. Teresita Salva, is the president of the Palawan State University here in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. PSU is a major, 10,000-student university and a very significant presence on this island that is still steeped in third-world poverty. Think of how colleges in America can dominate a small town (Clemson, Penn State, etc) and extend that to dominating an island that is equivalent of a small US state. The university here provides key educational resources necessary to the future development of the entire province. Then, my mother-in-law’s brother, Dave Ponce de Leon, is the Vice Governor of Palawan and former Philippine congressman. He is the equivalent of a lieutenant governor of a state in America. He employs a staff of around 80, I believe. They have facilitated the entire experience so far and have provided wonderful hospitality for our family while we are here. We are staying in university housing that has air conditioning, nice bathrooms, and convenient meals. Everywhere we go, we have official drivers and vans from PSU providing all of our transportation needs. It is great.

When we traveled to Toronto a few months ago, I played a mental game with myself, trying to figure out what would tell me that I was in a different country. Occasionally I would see signs in kilometers, or the radio station would give the weather in Celsius. For the most part, though, there was very little obvious differences between the US and Canada. When we landed in Tokyo, on our way to Mania, the first things I say were rice fields (different) a Sheraton hotel. I didn’t see my first Japanese letters until we got in the terminal. The Manila airport seemed dated but everything was in English (it is the official language of the Philippines), and so there really wasn’t a lot that set it apart from other US airports, other than some of their procedures, etc. Also, it was midnight, so we really couldn’t see outside the airport. Well, when we landed in Puerto Princesa on the island of Palawan, on got outside the small terminal, from that point on, everything screamed, “We’re not in Kansas anymore!”

I was in the back of the van, not able to take pictures like I would have liked, so I missed taking pictures along the road from the airport to the PSU campus. It was instant culture shock – unbelievable hustle and bustle on this small (but important) road, chickens and dogs all over the place, wooden shanty-like storefronts selling food and lumber and whatnot all along the way, and tons of motorcycles, bicycles, very small van/buses, and these tricycle/motorcycle taxi-type contraptions. People walking, squatting on the side of the road, or just hanging out, and children playing. No sidewalks, just dirt, mud, and standing water.

The other thing I noticed were many missionary churches. I saw at least two with Fundamental Baptist as part of the name. Some were simple open-air pavilions and others were very fancy (especially for the area) enclosed “normal-looking” structures. I have no idea who any of these men are or what their works are like, but it was interesting to see a rather significant visible presence of missionary activity on this island. On one of our outings we meet a native boatsman who was a member of a missionary church in Sabang, on the northern coast of Palawan. He was saved through the witness of his missionary pastor, someone named Bowman. It was encouraging for us to meet him and he said it was encouraging for him to meet us. It was neat accidental encounter.

To be continued…

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At 9:32 AM, Blogger Don Johnson said...

Hey Andy,

Culture shock is an interesting phenomenon. It is here in Canada, too, when Americans come here, but it is much more subtle and takes time for immigrants to become aware of it. It is a reason contributing to the discouragement and departure of some missionaries. Someone told me that the hardest cultures to get used to are those that are very similar to your own.

When I moved back to Canada, I thought it would be no sweat, but after a few months living here, I realized I had to stop comparing my experiences to 1) the USA that had been my home for 10 years and 2) the Canada I left 10 years earlier - and didn't really exist anymore.

From what others have described to me, it seems that a place like the Philippines is so completely different that you expect the culture shock and (perhaps) deal with it better.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

At 7:46 PM, Blogger Andy Efting said...

I'm here as a tourist, so the culture shock for me is just seeing new things and how people live. The place where I'm staying is very similar to an American motel, with air conditioning and decent bathroom/shower facilities. Everywhere we go, we jump in an air conditioned van that takes us to our destination. All these things are very rare for most people here. If we actually moved here, I'm sure we would experience culture shock on a totally new level.


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