Living and healing in Manila, Philippines.

Living and healing in Manila, Philippines.

posted in: Blog | 2

Yes.  Philippines, you are giving me butterflies in my stomach.  You are the perfect package and everything I have ever wanted….you are beautiful and take my breath away, you are romantic and wear your emotions on your sleeves, you are friendly and make me feel so welcome and comfortable, you have values and morals that are very admirable, you are extremely polite, nonaggressive, and  non confrontational.  I’m talking about a country right? Oh yeah…now let me continue. Yes, you have put a spell on me… You have a worldly knowledge and a fiery curiosity to learn about the world.  You have the passion of Latin America, the culture of Asia, and the mindset of an American.  Oh what a beautiful fusion and unique culture!   You have tons of holidays and I like the fact that the president can decide to make a new national holiday with a week or two notice and everyone gets time off from work. Your delicious food keeps me fat, happy, and craving more.  I have fallen so deeply in love with you that I can’t even articulate accurately my feelings for this wonderful country. So if you see me wearing a “I heart Philippines” shirt, don’t judge.  Philippines really has a bit of everything.  It has over 7,000 tropical islands with domestic flights being fairly cheap to explore. It has mountains, hotsprings, waterfalls, crystal clear turquoise water, cosmopolitan cities, and off the beat’n path areas to go Indiana Jones’n in.  The landscapes are exotic, the people are wonderful, and an added bonus is that English is widely spoken. Traveling has been an experience and longterm travel is about spending time in one place.  You move on when it is time…and I’m not ready to move on.  Originally Philippines was not planned for me.  I wanted to come here but I didn’t know if it was going to happen.  I had an idea and timeline of where I wanted to go.  Devastated and hindered from my foot injury in Vietnam, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.  I knew it was going to take some time to recover from it.  Do I call it quits and head back home to heal and get medical attention?  Do I go to a western country like Australia and get medical attention? That’s a travel budget burner! I called my travel insurance company to figure out my options. Soon I learned that the piece of paper that I bought from them was worth absolutely nothing.  They refused to pay any expenses thus far based on loop holes.  “ahh you went to a clinic? Sir, we don’t cover clinics.  You have to go to a hospital.”  “uh…there were no hospitals where I was.”  “So if there is a Western clinic and third world hospital, you will only pay the $2 hospital bill at the local hospital with an unqualified doctor so I can’t get real medical attention?” “okay, what happens if I need surgery?  Will you cover that?”  “Sir, we will pay for a ticket back to the states for you, your home insurance will cover that.”  “umm…I’m out of the country for a year, I don’t have insurance in the US. I didn’t think I needed that”  So what I found out is that basically they will pay for that one way ticket for you get to get back home which is less than the cost of the travel insurance. Of course, you pay that out of pocket and they will “decide” to reimburse you or not.  So after that I realized that my medical expenses were going to be out of pocket, where do I go.  I wanted to go somewhere that I really was interested in seeing and also get some treatment.  At the time I was in Indonesia and I realized I had to MAKE THIS INJURY GET BETTER.  Traveling with an injury is no fun.  It hurts, it is annoying, and extremely heartbreaking not being able to do all the things that you want to do.  Surfing in Indonesia…”sorry, you guys have fun.  I will watch from the shore.”  “Hey Jeff, we are going hiking up a volcano and camping up there.”  “You guys have fun, I’ll pass. I am going to sit here and hangout.”  Fortunately, I found my outlet and something that I could do was scuba diving.  And it was world class diving which was absolutely incredible!!!  Diving in Indonesia is jaw dropping spectacular!!! But I wanted this injury gone!  So determined, I grit in my teeth and I said “this injury is going down!!!”  I knew I needed a MRI to get the right diagnosis.  So with my best determine mean face, I booked my ticket to Philippines where it would be cheaper and give me a chance to chill, get medical attention, and relax before moving on. 

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This turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.  I found a western hospital that could compete with anything that we have in the United States with all the proper medical equipment and gadgets. I found St. Lukes Medical Center which is amazing.  The moment that I walked in the door, I knew “yes this is the place.”  It looked like a first class hotel.  Kind of reminded me of MD Anderson in Houston.  I walked over to the concierge and gave my best dramatic short version of what happened and he was like no problem, “I will make an appointment for you with a foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon.”  “Yes, yes, thank you very much..that would be great!!!”  So I was able to get in that very day.  I walked into the doctors office and he had a plaque, “American Association of Foot and Ankle Orthopedics.”  Now, I heard a lot of doctors at St. Lukes had either studied in the west or if they studied in the Philippines, the medical universities are so competitive that they have to be incredibly smart.   When it was my turn to see the doctor, I noticed he was incredibly smart.  If fact, he was one of those guys, that radiates intellect, and I was extremely confident in his abilities to get me back to normal. So Dr. Intelligent had me go through all the steps, X-Ray, MRI, ect…after a few appointments, we were making progress and determined that the previous diagnosis was all wrong.  And I was doing the wrong thing.  To give a short version of what was going on.   I was taping up my foot for an injury that we thought was what is called “turf toe.”  I couldn’t even bend my big toe.  Taping it up, I later found out what exactly was what I shouldn’t have been doing.  It was inflamed and the internal inflammation needed to go down.  Had I not been to Dr. Genius, I would have been living with my injury for the rest of my life.  So I had damaged tissue, bruising, a sprain, and my joints were filled with liquid similar a blister.  It was actually the best analysis that I could possibly have.  It meant no surgery and I was going to get better!  So there is a lubricating fluid in the joint that the body produces, but when there is an injury, the body goes into overdrive producing the liquid in order to try to protect itself.  This is extremely painful! Now they can’t drain this liquid like a blister.  Pop it or stick a need in it to drain it.  Your body has to reabsorb it which takes some time.  So I had to chew on anti-inflammatories like they were candy, take my doctor’s advice to stay off of it, ice it, and prop it up. No tape! Let the healing process start.  I chilled in the Makati area of the Manila which is the business district.  I found a cheap hostel and met some great people. Makati is great. It was hard being patient and staying off of it but I had to do it.  The nice thing about Makati is that everything is close, so I could hobble for anything I needed fairly easily which made it a perfect place to heal.  Plus there weren’t all the activities to remind me that I was injured.

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I really enjoyed Makati. For the first time, I truly felt like I was an expat since traveling.  I started really knowing the area.  People recognized me and waved.  I become a regular at the taco joint near my hostel which gave me a food baby that I named “Phillip” after Philippines. Living in a place is really what I really wanted to achieve in longterm travel.  I wanted to temporarily live is spot and experience life there. Actually have a routine and spots that I went to.  So perhaps this injury wasn’t so bad after all. It literally forced me to slow down and experience a place for a bit.  Oh how I am glad it was the Philippines.  

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Now, I could probably write a novel on how great my time in Manila was but I will try to keep it short.  …err short enough.  Many travelers don’t really like Manila. It is another big city where they spend a night or two then move on.  I found staying for some time, it really grew on me and I learned a lot about Filipino culture and made some new friends. 

In Manila, every establishment has a security guard at the door who opens the door for you and says “how are you sir?”  So if you are one of those people who get offended by manors and doors being opened for you, leave Manila off your list of places to visit.  Even when you walk up to any cash register, they greet you “Sir, how are you?”  I personally like this.  Growing up in Texas, I appreciate manors and I will chalk up Manila as one of the friendliest cities in the world. 

The Filipinos are also very family oriented.  Families can be as large as a small city which I couldn’t imagine what a family reunion would be like.  Christmas shopping for the Filipino I think starts at the beginning of the year for the next Christmas.  I have noticed that Christmas music was playing when I got here in the stores in September.  It confused me at first but now I get it.  Christmas decorations start going up in September as well.  The family oriented society also means they treat you like family too…it is just part of the Filipino personality.  It is very comforting.  I can say people have gone out of their way for me to help me.  Ask a question, a Filipino will help more than can be expected.

The food in the Philippines is probably not the healthiest but if you like southern fried food, then this is dream place.  You will have enough chin dripping grease to make you kick over in an euphoric bliss.  Unfortunately, growing up in Texas, I have a fat stomach appetite for greasy food.  Oh I love the food in the Philippines.  Filipinos love food too!  I mean they love to eat!!! They are food-philes.  You have to know a local to give you instructions of where to go, and how to eat Filipino style.  They eat family style.  Watch a group of Filipinos at a restaurant, they will order 1 of everything on the menu and share it.  Eat with a Filipino and you are sure to be ungodly full (“busog” in tagalog)….”After I eat with Filipino, I am like “Oh my belly.  My food baby, Phillip!  Where’s my elastic pants?” 

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Bulalo Soup.  Bone Marrow Soup.  FANTASTIC!!!….Maybe I shouldn’t have posted this one.  Disclaimer: I will not be held responsible for any damage caused by excessive drooling on your computer, ipad, smart phone, ect.

Donuts, fried chicken, pizza, hamburgers, hotdogs and then throw a scoop of white rice on the side and that is Filipino.  The combos are much different than what you get in the US too.  “I will take the small pizza and a hotdog combo, please.”  Filipinos love meat, white rice, and fast food.  I am pretty sure that any vegetarian Filipino in Manila would be ostracized and accused of being unfilipino.  Their family would probably disown them and never speak to them again….There are some serious and excellent pork, beef, and chicken dishes here.  They don’t trim the fat either…they make it like butter…so it just melts in your mouth.  So get the Paa and be sure to ask for the chicken oil.  What’s that?  So Paa is this rotisserie chicken quarter and served with a side of white rice.  Then you get the chicken oil which is the fat drained from the rotisserie to be poured liberally over the rice….”It’s good. Maybe not the healthiest…but really good.”  Surprisingly many filipinos are relatively skinny with this diet.  The Filipinos stop aging after the age of 20. I don’t understand how this happens but people are extremely youthful looking here.  I am convinced their is some Filipino secret age fighting elixir that they don’t share with anybody outside themselves. Their body is permanently preserved at the age of 20 no matter what their age is.   Even a 60 year old can fool a seasoned ticket agent at the movies to get the child rate.

wpid-20151018_121937.jpgAdobo – One of the more popular dishes of the Philippines.  This is Pork Adobo…served with white rice.  Notice they don’t trim the fat on the pork.

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White Chocolate with Almonds donut.  A Filipino favorite.

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Nightly Market in Makati.  Great cheap dinner place.

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Lechon – Roasted pig.  Buttery fat.  This is in Manila but I hear the best Lechon is Cebu which is another island.

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Surprisingly, many Filipinos know Denver, Colorado and I have even met a few that have been there.  Mainly they know it because of the basketball team, Denver Nuggets.  Oh yes, Filipinos love basketball and boxing.  I mean LOVE, like just mention the word “b-ball” and you will have any Filipino jumping out of their seat with excitement to talk about it.

Manila Filipinos are also about status and image.  They love cars, American food chains, and really poppy songs such as “love me like you do.”  There’s a starbucks and other coffee shops on every corner that create some of the most beautiful latte art that would make even Picasso jealous.  I think more effort is put into the latte art than the taste though.  Image..remember…A Filipino will undoubtedly photograph the masterpiece “teddy bear jumping out of the coffee cup” latte art and throw it on instagram as fast as possible.   

Manila actually feels very American but has a really interesting flare of Asian and Latin mix.  The language is Tagalog but most people speak really good English.  Back in the 1500’s, a Mexican-Spanish explorer colonized the Philippines which every street in every town is named after.  They brought with them the Spanish influence and the Catholic religion.  Filipinos are deeply religious and there are tons of huge churches here.  Also many Filipinos can understand Spanish.  Many of the words in tagalog are Spanish.  Even the numbers here are in Spanish.  My knowledge of Spanish has really helped me in understanding the language.  After the Spanish colonized it, the Americans came here and colonized it.  The Americans brought the love of cars, basketball, and boxing here.  And of course the fast food here.  You can find many American products and restaurants here.  Starbucks, Wing Stop, Chilis, TGI Fridays, McDonalds, Burger King, Outback, California Pizza Kitchen, GNC, Jamba Juice, and 7-11 are just a few.  Even the stores have American products.  For me it has been nice to be able to communicate easily and have mutual understanding.  Playing charades for 15 minutes going back and forth every time I want water kind of gets old.  Sometimes you want to press the easy button.  I have learned so much more about this culture too because people can explain it and make suggestions for things for me to try. 

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One of the benefits of being able to find American products, is finding homegrown American microbrews.  After life on the road for 7 months, it was a little piece of home, finding these imported brews.  Here I am enjoying an Oregon brew.  I actually found some Colorado brews too.  

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Manila is home to some of the largest shopping malls on earth.  This is any mall walkers paradise.  There is a mall on very block and they literally connect.  You can walk for days through the network of malls.  There will be a dozen Nike stores in one branch.  If you keep walking you will inevitably see another one of the same store or restaurant.  Filipinos love to hangout in these malls.  I can see why too.  The climate is hot and humid similar to Houston, Texas, so walking around in an arctic blast AC filled shopping center is kind of nice.

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As I am just now recovering from my injury, it feels so good getting out exploring again!  I may try to go back and write missed blog entries or I might just keep it fresh and write about stuff happening right now. 

12032283_10102418427748393_4888165530849535584_nThe famous Jeepney taxis.  I unfortunately couldn’t find my Jeepney photos so my friends Brian and Megan gave me this one.

2 Responses

  1. Wow! What a gift you have in bringing alive a country.

  2. Great review Jeffe! Makes me want to visit there for extended time period!

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