18.01.2008 - 20.01.2008
Although January is dry season in the Philippines, it’s raining almost everyday. Rain here is a part of life and after a while you just learn to ignore your wet feet and the drops of water falling on your nose, and live your life as you would if it didn’t rain. So when it started raining Friday afternoon, I decided to go on with my plan anyway and pay a visit to Liliw the shoe town. I was expecting to have two jeepney rides, first one to Santa Cruz and then another one to Liliw. But while I was waiting for a jeepney, I saw a bus with Santa Cruz sign. I flagged it down and jumped in. The good thing about Philippines is that you can actually ask the driver where the bus is going, as opposed to taking your chances and hoping for the best.
If you think the buses in Korea are made for small people, then you should check out the buses in the Philippines. Even I, at 5 foot tall, was squeezed between the seats behind and in front of me. And another unusual thing was that vendors get on and off the bus to sell their products, from popcorn to roasted peanuts. The driver, of course, gets his free dose of goodies for allowing the vendors to sell on this bus. At Santa Cruz I got on a jeepney for a not very pleasant an-hour long ride. I was amazed at how something could be so cute and so uncomfortable all at the same time.
When I finally got to Liliw, I thought the painful ride was worth it since I found myself smiling by the sight of thousands of shoes on display. I walked my way up the hill looking at the shoe stores till accidentally I came across an old church with huge statues of Jesus and some saints I didn't recognize. Then it started pouring. Since my arrival in the Philippines I had being resisting the need to buy an umbrella because I have actually being enjoying walking in the rain, until that day! And it turned out that umbrellas are not sold in the convenient stores. So I had to get on a jeepney to get back. Two hours later I was home and I was amazed at the outcome of the day. I had gone to the shoe haven and back without buying one pair! That must have been a miracle.
Friday morning before the trip to Liliw I decided to join the group and check out one of the two public high schools in Los Banos. And I’m glad I did. I learned some facts about the education system in the Philippines that made me wonder how they manage teaching/learning despite all the problems. For example, books are lent to the students and must be returned to the school in mint condition after the students finish the exams. It means no writing, underlining or highlighting the text. There are on average 60-70 students in the class in a public school (40 in private school). So the teacher to student ratio is on average 1 to 65. The female to male ratio enrolment was just the opposite of what I expected. There is 25 percent more female students than male student enrolled at high school level (well, in one of the public school in Los Banos). The tuition fee is free of the students although the parents are encouraged to contribute as much as they can since the government pays the school only 600 pesos per student per school year. I was shocked and speechless to hear this because I had just bought a pair of heels for 650 the day before. It was hard to believe that my shoes cost more than what the school gets for each student for 10 months.
On Saturday, my not-at-all-anticipated 31st birthday arrived and I decided to do what I do best. Sleep all day. Since I was now officially too old and can now get away with stuff like being a lazy bum, I slept till 1 pm and woke up sore and tired. Then I figured, well, it’s my birthday and I should probably indulge myself in something nice, like a hot spring. So I slowly got out of the bed, slowly got ready, packed my bikini and sunscreen, slowly walked down the rows of beautiful palm trees and got myself into a jeepney to go to Calamba where most hot springs are. When I got there, I walked into the biggest place that got my attention, Splash Mountain. There were pools, Jacuzzis, water slides and rooms. The outdoor Jacuzzi sounded the best till I asked the price and found out that it’s 500 pesos for an hour. I asked to see it and found myself looking at an empty diamond shape pool that takes at least half an hour to fill up. The worst part was that it was right next to a swimming pool packed with hundreds of screaming kids and adults in t–shirt. so I started debating my decision of picking the biggest spa in the area. “Bigger is not always better’. Bigger draws more attention, therefore it won’t to be all yours. So unless you like to share, bigger IS NOT better.” I thought to myself. I was not going to be the only one in bikini. I wanted to be invisible and not being stared out. Being the only one in a yellow bikini doesn’t translate into being invisible. So I walked out and decided to get something to eat instead. It was my birthday so I treated myself to a whole fresh-water filipino style fried fish, with rice and an enormous plate of buttered vegetables. I loved the fish and enjoyed every bite as three waiters attentively attended to me, the only customer in the restaurant. Then I walked out stuffed and happy. I walked to the main road getting all soaked up in the rain, and patiently waited for a jeepney. Then I went to the best spa in town, the V-loung and got a full body massage for an hour. As I was being pampered in the hands of a professinal, I thought to myself, "This is how I want my birthday to be from now on until I die."
When I got back in the hotel around 7 pm, I found all of my 20 students jammed in the tiny classroom waiting for me with a cake, candles, beer, snack and smiling faces. They had thrown me a surprise birthday party. We cut the cake with a plastic fork, we attacked it with our spoons, we drank beer like fish and we laughed for hours until we were ask to keep it quiet by other guests in the hotel. As I lay down on my bed, I thought, this was a good day. And maybe turning 31 isn’t that bad after all.
On Sunday, we went to Manila, to the third largest shopping mall in Asia called Mall of Asia. There were all sorts of shops, from Calvin Cline and Guess to little Gap style shops and boutiques. I found my perfume which wasn’t sold at Gimhae airport, bought some clothes, souvenirs and a jeepney magnetic for each of my 20 students who had so thoughtfully remembered and celebrated my birthday.
After a long day of walking around the shopping mall and spending more than I had planned to, I was ready to go back home. As the van was driving through Manila, I thought I would really like to come back and see this city, where the average income is 200 dollars a month and where most people spend less than a dollar a day. So I decided to spend my last weekend in Manila, instead of Borocay, to see what life in the Philippines is really like.