from April 21, 2000 to May 6, 2000:
· I survived 16 hours in a cramp seat on board a 747. It was 5 hours from SFO to Honolulu and 10 hours from Honolulu after a 1 hour refueling. The plane was fully booked with people and luggage – in the case of Filipinos, boxes (more on that later).
· I took Philippine Airlines (PAL) and there’s a running joke among Filipinos that PAL stands for “Plane Always Late” and it was accurate. I was a few hours late. My plane ticket shows an arrival of 4:30 am and I did not arrive until 7:00 am.
· I packed a large suitcase, one of those pilot/flight attendant small carryon suitcases, and a backpack. While in line to check my luggage, a fellow traveler marveled at how light I traveled. I guess I was the only one who did not bring a box full of clothes. Each passenger is allowed two 70 pound pieces to check in and a 40 pound carryon (no wonder the plane had to refuel.) I guess I was the only one not to take advantage of this…I only had 85 pounds total. You see, it’s a Filipino tradition to pack two boxes full of goods (clothes, candies, toys, etc.) from the US to bring to relatives in the Philippines. When I arrived, it took me almost one hour to find my luggage in the carousel. For an entire hour, I watched hundreds of boxes go by…and by…and by…and by…
· It’s also another Filipino tradition for the whole “village” to meet the returning Filipino. As I exited the terminal, I observed large groups of people, children, parents, cousins, grandparents, friends, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends, waiting intently for one person. There was excitement written on their faces and they started to cheer when they saw their relative emerge from the terminal (it’s probably because they know they are getting something from the US in those boxes.) I did not get such an exuberant reception…my mom and dad were waiting but that’s good enough for me.
· Unfortunately, April is the height of the summer season in the Philippines. I was expecting heat and humidity…I remember how it felt in Florida last summer…but it was more oppressive here. It was 7:00 am and the temperature was 80+ degrees and 90% humidity. Not a good feeling when wearing the clothes I’ve had on for more than 20 hours. Suffice to say, I went straight to the shower when I arrived in my grandmother’s condo.
· I always enjoy the drive from the airport when I arrive in a foreign country…or in another state for that matter. I get a kick out of observing the different scenery from California. It’s like night and day when one comes from California and lands in the Philippines. The streets are much narrower, it’s very dirty, the buildings are deteriorating from the lack of maintenance and pollution, and the most amusing part (to me at least) is how people drive. They do not observe any traffic controls nor drive in lanes. But for the some reason, there are rarely any accidents…it’s maybe because everyone drives slow because the traffic congestion is so bad…so much worse than anything I’ve experienced in the US. What stood out immediately was the poverty…we passed by a railroad tracks with whole shanty towns build on the adjoining land. These are the “squatters” who build shacks on land owned by someone else, usually the government or large companies. These one room shacks are usually built with corrugated steel roofs, sometimes cinderblocks but usually cardboard walls. People gather these materials from garbage dumps or abandoned buildings which abound.
· My grandmother’s condo is a modest big city dwelling one would find in a large US city. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, dining room, and kitchen (and running water). But in Filipino standards, this is a luxury since 75% of Filipinos live in small tenements or hand build shacks with no running water or toilets.
· Filipinos love shopping malls. Within a radius of a quarter mile, there are three shopping malls and these aren’t the usual strip malls, they are huge malls. In fact, one is known as “Mega Mall”. I had lunch there with my grandma and parents – all you can eat Japanese food. It’s larger than any mall I’ve seen in the US. Six levels!!!
· As many of you may know, Filipino food is rich and fattening. Unfortunately, I love the food, my grandmother stocked up on groceries, two uncles and an aunt are also visiting, and my grandmother employs a really good cook. Suffice to say, we are always eating!!! Not good…gotta exercise!!! Easier said than done…because of the heat and the pollution, I cannot just jog around town. Interestingly, people have found a large mall to jog around. It was a sight to see hundreds of people jogging around a mall at 6 am in the morning. I did four laps (1 mile around the mall) mostly walking than jogging because I did not want to collapse due to heat exhaustion. I think I’ll find a good indoor gym tomorrow.
· The best part of my trip so far was visiting the countryside ministrieswhich my extended family sponsors. My grandmother started praying with and ministering to the poor in her home province called Pampanga (45 miles north of Manila). First, we visited the new building site of a church called Christ In You. The classrooms have been completed and the sanctuary is currently in construction. Although the scenery was very different (I took many pictures), the events advertised on the church bulletins were familiar (i.e.: small groups, prayer meetings, youth camps, Christian concerts.) We then visited a few of the intercessors who pray with my grandmother. My grandmother also asks them to pray specifically for each member of my family.
· We first visited the family of a man named “Bong”. He is the janitor of the Christ In You church and, as my grandmother tells me, prayed constantly for me as I took the Bar Exam. It was such a privilege to meet him in person. He and his wife shared their testimony with us. He welcomed us into his humble home. He showed us the small room which comprised of his original home. It was made of cinder blocks and a corrugated steel room. The floors were originally bare concrete and there was no toilet nor running water. From her tithes, my grandmother donated a deep water well which Bong shared with all his neighbors. He also shares the rice my grandmother sends him monthly. He and his wife have four young children and are barely able to feed them. In fact, my grandmother just told me he never owned a pair of shoes until she gave him pair. He also shared that he used some of the money we donated to buy some canned food and other goods to start his own convenience store out of his home. He also put some of the money in a bank account for the education of his children. His wife was so joyful to share that they now have $4000 pisos ($100) in the account. What was so profound was seeing the joy and warmth in them. I could tell they thought of their children and their neighbors first even though they could barely survive themselves. The best part is that, along with his generosity, Bong shares the gospel with his neighbors. He had very little to give but gave what he had. My mom told me that during one visit, they cooked their very last chicken (they raise chickens in their yard for food) to serve my family. Talk about lifestyle evangelism!!! I saw Jesus Christ in this humble man.
· We then drove to Sister Baby’s neighborhood and visited one of her neighbors, Janet. Janet lives a hard life, like most people in the countryside. Janet has five children. Her husband went to prison and when he got out left her for another woman. I visited her small home. Without sugarcoating it, it’s a shanty. Janet is a prayer partner and intercessor with my grandmother and Sister Baby. My grandmother told me that every time someone in my family was in need, she would make a phone call to Sister Baby who would then round up all the intercessors and pray for the respective persons. Again, Janet knew my name and gave me the warmest smile when we met. She gave us a tour of what she called her “mansion.” I guess it’s a mansion compared to what it was like before. She told us that she did not have running water and she and her five children slept in the ground and was soaked when the rains came. With the offerings from my family, she received a deep water well and a cinder block retaining wall in the rear of her home to shelter them from the rains. She even now has a concrete floor. She also received a bed from other sources. My grandmother donated her old pots and pans to Janet who then started a small business cooking for her neighbors. She also shares her well with neighbors who don’t have running water. There was so much joy and excitement in this woman…so childlike.
· We then drove to a small church called His Life. There we met the pastoral staff of the His Life, as well as the pastors from two other churches, Bread of Life and the church we previously visited, Christ In You. God was full of surprises that day!!! They actually planned a short worship service for us. It was so cool to worship with my extended family whom I only see on holidays – my parents, my grandmother, my aunt Therese, my uncle Sonny, my uncle Dickie, and my aunt Marie. Interestingly, all the women are strong believers in Christ and all the men are “on the fence” so to speak. One of the pastors started playing his guitar and we started singing the same worship songs we sing at our churches in the US. Then each lead pastor from the three ministries gave their testimonies in Tagalog. Fortunately, I still understand the language. Another surprise was when they invited our family to share testimonies with the local pastors (about 10 were present). My mom gave a great testimony about how the pastors there were the “feet” who do all the leg work for Christ and we at the US are the “hands” that supply the means to do the work but together we (the Filipinos and Americans) are united as one Body of Christ, a body that requires both hands and feet to do His work. And then they asked me to share…somehow I knew this was coming. I shared my testimony about my divorce, about my law school and Bar Exam struggles. Then they asked my uncle Dickie to share. Out of all my family members who were there, he seemed most distant from the Lord. It was so powerful…he went up and could not say anything except that we (in the US) are so lucky and then he burst into tears. The Lord, through the people we met, really touched his heart!!! Just from seeing him up there, we could see that the Lord really revealed His love and compassion to my uncle that day.
· I thought we were on our way home after the last experience. After experiencing such a spiritual high, I was ready to go home and rest. But God had other plans. We drove towards Mt. Pinotubo (the volcano which erupted a few years ago). The eruption devastated many nearby villages with the ash (called “Lahar”). Most of the displaced villagers were relocated to resettlement camps built by the Philippine government. We entered one of those camps. There were rows and rows of attached cinderblock homes not bigger than a one-bedroom apartment in the US. We visited the satellite facility of the church His Life. The church is essentially the pastor’s (Alvin) small cinderblock home and another corner home he miraculously acquired. Pastor Alvin was a victim of the eruption. He was called by His Life ministries to plant a church in the resettlement camp as there were no churches there and most people did not have cars to drive long distances. So Pastor Alvin, with the help of donations, cemented his front yard, built a roof over the yard and held two services every Sunday, and had Sunday school for the kids in his home. Pastor Alvin is very soft spoken so he had difficulty communicating his message during the services. My mom donated some money to him to buy loud speakers which he also used to announce the services to his neighbors. He told me that his church has over 100 members and they all meet in his front yard. He even showed me his “church in a box” (all you River people know what I’m talking about). During the week, the facility is his home so he stores the speakers, the music equipment, the podium, and the wooden cross in a small room. Alvin and his family were so gracious. They have so little money, yet, when we arrived, they ran to the corner store and bought snacks and drinks for us. I was so impressed with the sense of love, joy, and community in the face of so much suffering and poverty. Only one way to explain that….Jesus!!!
· The recollections of my visit to the Filipino countryside does no justice to what I experienced. I took a lot of pictures that depict the poverty, but it is no substitute for the actual experience. A “mission” to a third-world country is something that a Christ-follower should experience at least once in their life.
· Fred’s wedding – I had the privilege of being the “best man” for my brother Fred in his wedding last Friday, April 28. It was both a traditional and non-traditional wedding. The men wore the traditional Filipino wedding dress called the Barong Tagalog instead of a tux. The Barong Tagalog (meaning Tagalog or Filipino Dress) is either white or off-white and is made out of pine fibers. It’s very light and is decorated with ornate embroidery. It is worn over a white undershirt called Camisa Chino (meaning Chinese Shirt) with black slacks. I was struck by the beauty and symbolism of the bride and groom both wearing white. The word “Purity” appeared before my mind’s eye. Also, a traditional Filipino ceremony includes the dedication of the “arrae” (I’ve never seen this before). The arrae is an ornate hand-sized basket which holds coins. It symbolizes the husband’s material possessions. After the exchange of the rings, the husband pledges all his material possessions to his wife and gives her the arrae. In addition to presenting the rings, I, as best man, also had to present the arrae to the minister. The rest of the ceremony was non-traditional. It was not a Catholic mass, as my brother and his wife attend an evangelical/non-denominational church. I liked this part because the ceremony was tailored to the couples’ own personalities not the Roman Catholic ordinances. The pastor gave an insightful and inspiring message on Ephesians 5:22-32, which is about the duties of Husbands and Wives. The pastor took each verse and gave his insights and explanations on the meanings of Paul’s writings (i.e.: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord…Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church…”). The most moving part of the ceremony was the feet washing. The pastor first read the verses about Christ washing his disciples feet and the meanings behind it. Then, my brother and his wife each took turns washing and wiping each other’s feet. Although, somewhat non-traditional, the ceremony really conveyed the essence of a Christian marriage – mutual submission and humble service to one another.
· Wedding Reception – the reception was also in the church. I did not have to give a speech or toast as it’s not a tradition here but I did have to stand up in front of the crowd and embarrass myself when I ended up with the garter. Fred did not toss it. Instead, we played a game of “hot potato” between all the single guys (i.e.: pass the garter until the music stops) and guess where the music stopped? Yup, me!!! It was a set up by the DJ and my brother!!!
· Hong Kong I spent four days in Hong Kong. It was hard to believe I was in China. The roads look like England just with Chinese signs and people drove on the left hand side. The traffic was much more tame than the Philippines and the streets were relatively clean. What struck me was the lack of land and huge population. Their solution? Build up. I’ve never seen so many high rises. Another interesting observation was the fact that all the scaffolding used to build the high rises were made of bamboo. I read somewhere that bamboo is structurally more sound than steel scaffolding. Hong Kong comprises of two land masses, the Kowloon Peninsula (which is where we stayed) and Hong Kong Island (always in those Kung Fu Jackie Chan or Jet Li movies). Kowloon is the “downtown” area with all the “bargain” shops which line every single street and Hong Kong Island is the “financial district”. It got a little boring after a few days there because all there was to do was shop. (I bought clothes to last me a few years.) Hong Kong used to be known as the bargain capital of the world. Shoes and electronics are now actually cheaper in the US. The clothes were a bargain. I bought some cool shirts for less than $15 and slacks for less than $25. I noticed in my Hong Kong travel guide that there is a lot of really scenic hiking trails in Hong Kong (which is like the Bay Area because there are a lot of mountains next water) but it was way too hot and humid to go outside.
· Manila Nightlife – Filipinos like to go out all night and socialize. The big activities are: Ballroom Dancing, Videoke or KTV (which stands for Karaoke TV), and concert bars (where local bands play top 40 hits.) Everyone likes to sing and dance over here. I gave Karaoke a shot for the first time in my life. I went to a Karaoke Bar called the Library and sang Kenny Roger’s Through The Years. Ballads are really big here. Man, people who go to these bars are really talented!!! I also did the Ballroom thing with my family and the concert bar.
· It’s Friday night, May 5, 2000. No Cinco De Mayo celebration
for me since there are no Mexican people here. I leave tomorrow evening
on another grueling 12+ hour flight to SFO. It’s been a blast sharing
my trip with you. In His Grace, Patrick