Travels with Myself

A Journal of Discovery and Transition
Doug Jordan, Author

24.8 Return to The Philippines

This blog, Travels With Myself, began some five years ago in my year of living dangerously, and here we are, seven tours later, returned to The Philippines, living a little less dangerously but still with heightened awareness of the vagaries and shortness of life. Much has changed, and much has stayed the same, but what we make of it continues to be the abiding theme. Or so I persuade myself.

As many of my readers (of the AFS Publishing Newsletters at least, if not the blog itself) will know, the whole adventure, naturally, involved a woman, or more accurately, three women: what else would draw a man to such a distant land (vis à vis Ottawa, Canada)? The original blog told the tale and was converted into a book, Travels with Myself (2021). 

I also wrote a second blog during my seven-month tour in Philippines in 2019: The Pilipiñas Paquet, which you can read here.  Some of my readers thought it would have made a better book than Travels With Myself, but it was more of a travelogue than a self-help (!) memoir and I decided it would have been too expensive to produce, given all the colour pictures that would have had to be included, to publish, and so generate a very limited sales volume. As it was, Travels With Myself was hardly a big seller itself, perhaps 49 copies in circulation to date! 

Despite the fascination of the country itself, five years later, and seven tours, it’s the woman that draws me back.  But this post will not dwell on that particular draw.

Today’s post, and likely the next, seeks to recount what I find in the Philippines five years on.

Manila International Airport

There are three airports that make up the Airport complex in Manila, mostly for human traffic; freight moves principally through the airport north of Manila, the old USAF Clarke Air Base. I arrived at Terminal 3 – so familiar to me now as compared to five years ago – and made the long march from Gate 101 (why does my carrier always seem to be assigned to Gate 101 the farthest away from the Immigration and Baggage Hall?). The walk is no longer, really, than any other international airport, it just seems longer – already tired from twenty-four hours of travel time, unrelieved barrenness in aesthetics and hard tile floor, and only lightly airconditioned – and this time the moving sidewalks are shut down for periodic maintenance. I’m also painfully aware, despite recent cortisol injections to my arthritic hips, the walk is exhausting, requiring occasional stops to rest. Five years ago I didn’t have this problem. It began to be noticeable in my return to the Philippines post covid in 2022, and unignorable in my trip last year. 

But I did notice, once again, the heat and humidity as we left the air-conditioned aircraft for the heaviness of the Manila night. This time it didn’t seem quite so oppressive as five years ago; familiarity prepares you somehow, even welcomes you.

I worked my way through Immigration rather quickly, welcomed by a friendly Filipino officer, but warned my entry visa was good for only 30 days. I provided evidence of my returning flight out of Philippines, May 22, four days under the wire. Welcome to the Philippines, po! I recovered my luggage quickly enough, breathed a slight sigh of relief, and exited the baggage hall to the greeting crowds outside. Carmen’s apos quickly spotted me. I waved, found Carmen in the crowd who waved back excitedly as we both made our way to the exit rail. She greeted me with a big, though suitably chaste, kiss. I kissed her back with a more exaggerated smack. Filipinas are generally conservative in their public display of emotion, as I was well aware, and deliberately teased Carmen with my response. The teenagers gathered my bags and we made our way to the cash machine for my first – of what I knew would be many – withdrawal in order to pay our driver for the return trip to Trece Martires. The whole transition took less than an hour.

This was far more efficient than the arrival the first time in 2018. Somehow it didn’t feel quite as hot, somehow the 24-hour travel time didn’t feel quite as endless and uncomfortable, and most of all, Carmen was at Terminal 3 to meet me rather than mistakenly Terminal 1 as in 2018.

As we left the airport, I noted that some of the signage said MIAA rather than NAIA. Manila International Airport Authority, not Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Ah, Ferdinand Marcos II is president now. I smiled to myself and wondered if Montreal Airport would be renamed Brian Mulroney instead of Pierre Trudeau soon.

Culture Shock

Philippines is a third world country, not as desperately poor and backward as many African and Asian countries but nevertheless dramatically different from prosperous Canada. I was prepared mentally for the contrast in 2018, but as it turned out, not emotionally. Driving from then NAIA to the Discovery Hotel in Pasig City, Manila, in 2018 was remarkable for the traffic (even at 11:00 pm) and the heat, and the roadsidetindahans (shops) and vendors with baskets of snacks carried on their heads, taking advantage of the crawling traffic to access the passengers in the taxis. I was expecting tricycles and jeepney buses as a curiosity, not a reality, and not in volume, at 11:00 pm. But it was nighttime, and I hadn’t really seen nothin’ yet. 

A few days later we (Carmen and I) took a tour of Manila via a Hotel-authorized taxi and the culture shock became much more alarming, especially for the contrasts – sleek, tall office and condo towers separated by a mere few blocks from slum dwellings jammed into alleys with lines of laundry hanging from and between fifth floor buildings. I was prepared for this too thanks to Hollywood action films – who knew James Bond films could be educational too. 

But the shock really hit home a few days later when Carmen and I traveled to her home town of Trece Martires and her subdivision of Capitol Hills: miles and miles of towns and villages, shops pushed right up to the streets and highways, chickens and dogs everywhere, shifting to a larger town and then rural again with small rice paddies and tethered cows every couple of miles, then Trece of the Thirteen Martyrs, Barangay Lapadario and finally Capitol Hills itself with the tiny cement block houses, metal roofs, cheek by jowl on narrow streets. Capitol Hills was built in the 1970s as a housing development by Imelda Marcos for the struggling lower ‘middle class’ (or as Justin Trudeau’s Liberals might say, ‘those working hard to join it’). For most of that two-hour tour I became quieter and quieter.

Five years and five tours later it is just as desperate a scene as it ever was but somehow no longer shocking. The traffic is still congested around the MIAA but the drive to Trece was relatively quick. There is still a lot of broken pavement and hanging wires and row upon row of tiny tindahans, still promoting their wares at 11:00 p.m. There are still many unfinished and abandoned highways and construction projects and now new ones underway but I’m no longer ‘shocked’ by the shacks and pets wedged up against the curbs; instead I notice that in places these huts and shops have been pushed back ten meters and new concrete has widened the roads. It doesn’t make the traffic flow any faster – the new pavement is now filled with parked cars, motorcycles, jeepneys and tricycles – but it feels less congested. I smile at the progress. I even smile at my previous arrogance – there was a time I said I would never ride on a tricycle or jeepney. Now I find comfort in the familiar site of them.

I think to myself, familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, but it does bring acceptance of a sort.


Speaking of the familiar, when I come to the Philippines it is not just Carmen I come to see. Or even if it were, I would not be able to escape the rest of the pamilya, or for that matter, the whole barangay. One of the apos did not make an appearance greeting me at the airport. I was disappointed but not surprised. I already had been briefed on the ongoing feud between Carmen, expecting to be respected as lola, and a rebellious granddaughter fighting for her emerging independent identity. The teenager dwells in the back bedroom, only coming out to eat after everyone else has retired. Donning my hat as mediator I entered the den and engaged the recalcitrant apo in a conversation about life and the need to make amends with people who really matter. I told her Canadian families are not much different from those in The Philippines and it is tragic when close family members become estranged; life is too short and regrets can last a long time. The next day, ‘A’ reconciled with her lola. I’m glad to have them both back. 

Close Quarters

I’m finding it difficult to live in this small house of Carmen’s with seven other people and 4 – 6 visitors during the daytime. I understand why they all live here, or visit here – there are many reasons: family ties, social, aircon, lunch – but it’s more social and more congestion than I am used to, living alone in my much larger townhouse in Kanata. This is a culture shock of another sort. I’m careful how I express my discomfort to Carmen – she says she understands but does she really? – and I certainly don’t want her to feel defensive, needing to justify the realities of The Philippines. It’s even curious to me how paradoxical my own existence is – simultaneously depressed about my loneliness and yet not happy about intrusions on my solitariness. I think, in psychological terms, it’s more about locus of control than introversion. I mean, I like company, I seek it out, but I know, usually, they will go home, or I can. 

Tag-Init at Villa Espino


Init means hot. Tag-Init is hot season. And it is hot. To a Canadian it is always hot in The Philippines; not surprising, being only a few degrees of latitude above the equator. When I came to The Philippines in 2018 December it was TagLamig – the cool season. Ha! The Philippines recognize only three seasons a year: TagLamig (~ November – February), Tag-Init (~ March – May) and Tag-Ulan (rainy season, June to October) – this is also typhoon season. When I first came to Philippines I met the young paster at the Yahweh (Born again) Church. Over the ensuing year I became quite fond of this young scholar and formed a strong attachment to her, thinking I could be of some help as she tended to her flock and struggled with her own doubts. Unfortunately she became afflicted with stomach cancer and died in June 2020. You can read about her here: Pavane pour une Infante Défunte. Speaking of tropical Philippines, she advised me that in her country there are only three seasons, unlike Canada: Hot, very hot, so hot you don’t want to know about it. In five tours to Pilipiñas I have experienced all three seasons, including two vicious cyclones, and now understand what she meant, even if given with a smile.

It’s not clear to me what Filipinos think about the current obsession with Global Warming happening in First World countries. It’s likely, for them, they have only ever experienced hot and the current climate is unchanged for thousands of years.

I’m sure I will have more Philippines observations for you in the next post, May 15

Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Trece Martires, Philippines

© Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing

All rights reserved. No part of these blogs and newsletters may be reproduced without the express permission of the author and/or the publisher, except upon payment of a small royalty, 5¢. 

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