Travel to the Philippines

Due to popular demand following the stories from Afghanistan, I am pleased to share pithy travel and work insights from my trip to the Philippines back in 2004. This work was for Gameen Foundation, of which I was a staff member 2004 to 2006. Grameen is affiliated, but separate from, the well known microfinance institution, Grameen Bank, in Bangladesh whose founder, Dr. Mohammad Yunus, won the Nobel Prize.  This writing is entire my own; they’re not responsible for it.

By Drew Tulchin

August 1st, 2004

Getting there
Korean Air flight from Washington, D.C. (Dulles) to Korea, then Manila.  Yeah, cheap flights.  The cost per mile for this ticket was about the lowest I’ve ever paid, same for cost per hour of travel time, ugh.

Got to the DC airport 2.5 hours early (a veritable record for me), and still ended up with a middle seat.  Attendant took pity on me and gave me a nice seat for the second 4 hour leg.  She said people check in 5 hours before the flight to get the good seats. 

Pros: most of the way to Asia in one segment (14.5 hours) by flying over Russian airspace; Recent purchase of an extra laptop battery meant 8 hours of potential computer work, in between the 4(!) movies and 3(!) meals served.  Seoul Airport is a blast (especially when you are woozy from a long flight): food, all sorts of shopping (and tones of people buying the overpriced airport goods), craziest mix of cultures I’ve ever seen.

First observation:  Korean food appears to consist of you mixing up a bunch of stuff, with spicy things, and pork even if it isn’t a pork dish. 
The Philippines
How much do you know about the Philippines?  Not much? Me, too. But, I learned a lot.  It is a great country.  The people like to smile and laugh.  There are more than 7,000 islands (depends on if the tide is in or not, quipped one local).  It is divided into three zones - Luzon the big island to the North, Visayas the middle archipelago, and Mindanao in the South, sadly known as the bastion of Islamic fundamentalist violence.  The islands spread out over 1,000 miles North – South.  Transportation, as you can imagine, is a challenge.  Boats mostly.  Airplanes somewhat, although availability except through Manila is minimal.

Manila - Not one of the greatest cities in the world, but it is interesting.  Take a place the population of New York and arrange it as a chaotic space the size of Houston.  The architecture varies a great deal.                       

History – the history of the country is something.  It is punctuated by subjugation to the Spanish, then Americans.  It truly was an American colony for a period of time.  We wonder how America can expect countries to be good democracies when the lessons we provided them early on are so contradictory.  The American history of violence, imperialism, and oppression ‘in their interest’ is something.  Even so, most Filipinos seem to genuinely like America. They share some Latino cultural traits in addition to last names and about 20% of their vocabulary, like:  kissing hellos, lots of food at social occasions, and taking forever to leave a social event (none of these are bad things, mind you, but noticeable). 

Food - I had more food on a stick in three days, in the city of Bacolod, island of Negros, in Visayas, the Philippines than in my entire life up to that point, and I’m from the South.  Chicken parts, beef parts, pork, a combination, you name it.  It was quite yummy.  So much for vegetables.  So much for vegetarian aspirations.  Call it falling way off the bandwagon.  Acceptance is the first step, isn’t it?

I would highly recommend the country as a tourism destination.  English speaking (at least as an official language), lots of great places, good food, decent infrastructure.  Karaoke. 



Work insights from a previous trip to the Philippines.


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