Exploring A Colonial Past

I toured around Old Manila the other day, visiting the only remaining physical remnants of our colonial past. Intramuros, or "the Walled City", was once the seat of the Spanish government and military, closed off from the rest of society. It was heavily bombed during the battle of Manila at the end of WWII and very little remains of the architecture that once lay there. But still, some parts -- like the fortress wall and the gate Fort Santiago -- were preserved and you can still very much see the heavy Spanish influence.


But aside from that, Intramuros has become a regular city lined with homes, sari-sari stores (variety stores), and schools. There is such a huge contrast between that old world and the one everyday Filipinos live in today. On one street you had cobblestones that told the story of an entirely different time and on another was the regular hustle and bustle you'd see anywhere else around Manila. At one point during the day, I was standing atop the wall looking out on the Pasig River and was just so amused by the juxtaposition of an old Spanish ruin on my side of the river and the modern condos and office buildings that lay on the other side.

Looking up to Rizal, figuratively and literally. Prior to my trip, I'd been researching about our colonial and modern history as well as reading the literary masterpieces of our national hero, Jose Rizal, who kick started the independence movement here in the Philippines. I've been kind of obsessed with him actually--such an extraordinary man who just oozes fortitude, courage, and conviction. Aside from his real life though, Rizal's style of prose was something that really moved me--so eloquent, so poignant, and so full of substance.

Walking around, I tried to imagine a time long gone where the characters of his Noli Me Tangere would roam the streets-- a time of the friars, the Spanish elites, and the "indio" (then the word for a native Filipino). I pictured the Doña Victorinas of the day, the native Filipinos who, obsessed with being of a higher European class, were full of pomp and pretension. On that day, I faced Rizal's world of the late 1800s and it was just too cool to see in real life all the things I've only just been reading about.

A Journey to the Motherland

Wasting no time, I flew out to the Philippines just two days after leaving my job at jhr. I’ve been planning this trip for a while now because lately, there’s been this sort of longing inside of me to visit my country of origin. I was born in the Philippines but moved to Canada when I was just four years old and all my visits back have been too short to really get to know the country. And I guess more than anything else, I was too young back then to really appreciate the wealth of culture and history this country has to offer. The Philippines has always been a place where family was and nothing else outside of that mattered.

But lately, there’s really been that itch to go back and learn about the history of my native land…something I think every person should do. After all, it was our national hero, Jose Rizal, who once said, “he who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination”.

And so begins my journey to the motherland… I’ve been here for just a week now and it’s really been overwhelming. So much has happened in just a week, so much of my thoughts, conceptions, and feelings has changed that I honestly don’t even know where to start. It’s like I’ve been thrown into this entirely new world that’s so different from all that I’ve come to know and yet it’s all still so vaguely familiar.

the jeepney. just one of the many modes of transportation hereThe pace of life here is something else…it’s painfully hot (45 degrees with 90% humidity on most days), the traffic is intense, and there is just this unapologetic chaos that seems to permeate every aspect of life. I was half expecting to be taken aback by all of these things, especially considering I haven’t been back to visit in over six years. But I think I’ve adjusted pretty well…I’ve commuted on my own to a relatively far away city, which I know from a North American standpoint sounds pretty trivial…but trust me, commuting here is a whole other beast. There are jeepneys, tricycles, FX vans that you can take to get to your destination and each has its own system and routes...and like I said, the traffic...oh, the traffic!! It'll take you 5x the time to get anywhere around here.


A day after arriving, I started working with a non-profit media monitoring organization (like I said, I don’t waste time!) and the transition in thinking and speaking from English to Tagalog (the main dialect here) has been pretty smooth. Learning about the press system here and the culture of impunity has just been a whole other experience on its own. It's where my passion lies, especially considering what I've done and where I've worked in the past and to be able to contribute something of my skills to my country of origin feels just...right.

And yesterday I visited Intramuros and Fort Santiago, the heart of our colonial past and actually the only remaining physical remnants of it. That was something else too. To see our country's roots and the very obvious physical--not just cultural--Spanish influences...well, that was a side of the Philippines and of Manila that I've never seen before. More on that experience later...

And of course, I've been able to spend time with my family. Very important people in my life that I haven't seen in years, some of whom I haven't even met yet. Spending time with two nephews who have pretty much become my tail has been fun (so far, at least!)

So in a quick blog post, that's been my week. A bit fragmented and all over the place, but nonetheless, incredibly enriching in every way.

Every day is a new adventure here and my thoughts run faster than words could ever capture...

In Fuckin' Bruges (It's in Belgium)

Excuse the crass language above, it's all Martin McDonagh's! And unlike what Colin Farrell's character in In Bruges may think, this place is not a shithole! Far from it.

It's my last night here in Bruges and though I will have spent a solid five days here, I still feel like I'm not quite yet done with this enchanting little city. As the city's official guidebook says (and yes I am quoting a guide book here), it's a place "whose secrets you can’t unlock completely although they’ve captured your heart". I can't think of any better way to describe my feelings about Bruges.

One of the most well preserved Medieval cities in the world, it truly feels like I'm traveling back to the past -- during a time that I can only vaguely imagine. Every twist and turn of every street brings something new to take my breath away. Everything here just oozes a certain je ne sais quoi of a time long gone...the architecture, the churches, the Béguinages, the canals...

It's romantic and eerily mysterious all at the same time. It's a relic of the past and yet oddly modern as well with the ubiquitous wifi connection from the many cafes -- even from the famous Belfry! -- bringing you back to the present day.

I've never been to a place that's made me feel like this before and I'm truly sad to be leaving already.

Ik hou van jou, Brugge!