Saturday, September 12, 2015

Manila Diary | Week One | Flying, Culture Shock and First Impressions

It was 4:00 in the morning; and my family piled into our car to take me to the airport. Even with months to prepare, when the day came for me to fly out, I couldn't sleep at all the night before. My mind was buzzing all night long wondering what would be waiting for me when I reach the Philippines. I was excited, I was afraid, I was feeling everything at once. I checked my bags in, headed for the security line, and hugged my family good bye. Surprisingly, no one cried! At this point, I was ready to take on whatever was coming next.

Lucikly, I wasn't flying alone on this flight. Blake and I met up on our first flight to San Francisco. A quick 2 hour trip which was nothing compared to what we were in for late. After a few games of Tetris and crossword puzzles, we landed safely in San Francisco and worked our way past people and out of the gate. We didn't really know where to go so we followed everyone else. We searched around for our next check in. There were countless rows of different Asian airlines that I never knew existed.

I finally knew what it felt like to be the minority. Rows of different color, faces and races. Even being in San Francisco, there were many people that weren't from the United States. Many people with their luggage and cell phone up to their ears speaking in different languages. We found the spot to check and waited in line. It took us while, since we were staying for a few months in Manila. The language barrier didn't help, but we were able to show her all the documents we needed. After everything was taken care of, we grabbed some lunch and headed through security!

We met up with Madi for our flight to Guangzhou, China. It was a 14 hour flight, the longest flight I've ever done (including flying over the ocean.) We already began swapping stories of our adventure through the airport. We boarded the giant plane and got comfortable. The seat belts were purple! We sat next a sweet Filipino woman who immediately began asking questions about our internship and telling us places we needed to visit. I was probably the most anxious for this flight. I was finally leaving the country, something I've always wanted to do. (It's number 4 on my bucket list) We lifted up off of the ground and I watched as we zoomed by when there was nothing but the big blue ocean.

We weren't allowed to have our phones or laptops on, we could only watch movies that they offered to us. Every so often we got snacks and our meals. The meals were alright, nothing very filling. I tried sleeping, but it was very difficult to get comfortable. I spent time sketching and most of the time day dreaming while looking out the window. I watched movies like Mad Max, Inside Out, Pitch Perfect 2 and a handful of others. Even though it scared me a little, I couldn't help looking out the window as often as I could... the view was far too incredible to miss.

During a 14 hour flight, you get a lot of time to think. I loved ascending into the sky to see the earth and clear blue ocean below. As I was sitting there on the plane 38,000 feet above Beijing and I realized something... How have I never done this before? I see people all around who barely speak English, yet I don't feel very afraid. People are just people, trying to get somewhere, try to change something, or get to someone. I was excited at where I was going, I never felt afraid. At this point my spirits are still high, I was about to touchdown in China!

We made a soft landing and worked our way with the crowd to our next destination. There was a line with what seemed like millions of people in it that we had to wait in. We moved inches every 3 minutes. We realized that we were in the wrong area, so we had to circle around the corner to get to transfer flights. Luckily, there was absolutely no line for that. We celebrated as we made it through and waited patiently or our next plane. At this point, the exhaustion is kicking in. We're all very tired and loopy, and ready for a quick 2 hour nap for our final flight to Manila.

The last flight was probably the most bumpy. Manila was storming, so turbulence was inevitable. I was able to get a quick power nap in. What seemed like only 20 minutes later, the flight attendant announced that we would be descending in 5 minutes, I was finally home! I began filling out a health card and a entrance card to get into the country.

We made it. We had finally reached Manila. The moment I have been waiting for for months. It is insanely humid and hot, something I have never experienced before. It's true what they say when you feel like you're constantly wet. We were scheduled to have someone come pick us up, but because of the storm, the roads were flooded with the water coming waist high. We were delayed a few hours, so we had to wait. I was anxious to get home and go to sleep. Around midnight, we finally had our cramped and jammed ride to our apartment...when every car in Manila decided to be out on the road too. Another 2 hours later we were coming up to our new home...

Don't be fooled, we were all tired. Except maybe Anthony
I won't lie. The first night was very hard. We walked into our apartment and it was very cozy. You went over to the shower and you saw cockroaches and crickets. I went to the kitchen to get a drink of water where there were more crickets and cockroaches. I broke down. I was exhausted, hungry and I wanted to talk to the people I love. We got hooked up to WiFi as soon as we could and I was able to call a few friends and family which made things a lot easier. Culture shock is a real thing. It stresses you and strains you. I had to breathe. I had to allow myself time to sleep and relax. I got overwhelmed with my responsibility as a mentor for our internship, living in a new space, and getting accustomed to the new normality. I came here to help people, and I'm determined to make that my only focus. 

Today, I woke up feeling better, but still a little sad. I talked to some family and asked for some advice. They gave an out pour of kind words, stress relieving tips and recommendations for videos or books. I've always been this anxious little thing. I've really wanted to work through it and get some better control on it. After all the love I got, I felt ready to really take this trip for what it is; an incredible, once in a life time chance to bring change to peoples lives.

In the morning, we met one of the supervisors, Dawn, for our internship, as well as our housekeeper who we call Nanay! (Mother). Her name is Eden and she is the sweetest little thing. We actually spent most of the day with her exploring the markets in Manila. We planned on doing some grocery and supply shopping to get settled. We all got ready quickly, freshened up, and we were headed out! Anthony was cute and gave us all flowers to put in our hair. We had a quick bite to eat together and got to know each other a little better. We sat poolside by our apartment, with cats roaming around everywhere. After lunch, all 5 of us crammed ourselves into a tricycle (motorcycle + side car service) and headed to the markets...

The Market had carts that were filled with food like vegetables, fruits, and animal body parts. People would stare at us everywhere we went. They either smiled, stared or whispered to each other. Nanay told us to keep close together and keep your bag close to you. We shuffled through crowds of people to get to the different sections. Children would come and touch our arms begging for money, and we were told to turn them away when they ask for money. I never felt very threatened, but there were people that would turn their heads or even stop in front of us and stare.

We were pleased to find a lot of products we knew and brands we trusted (like Nutella) It was amazing to see all the different faces, they have such personalities. I loved walking around and seeing all these different people. There were children playing games, an old woman carrying heavy bags of produce, and mothers and daughters working and organizing fruit or rice.

We headed back home and Nanay made us chicken curry. It was very delicious (or Masarap in Tagalog)! We all talked and ate our dinner and not long after we ate, we could tell that each one of us was ready to go to bed. We hadn't slept nearly enough as we needed too. We were all awake for practically 3 days in a row, we needed sleep. It was only 8:00 at night, but we all said our good nights. I slipped on my tights and sweatshirt and within minutes I was sound asleep.

Today, I woke up around 7 in the morning. The night before there was a big rainstorm with lots of thunder and lightning. It woke everyone else up around 2am, but I slept through the whole thing. I'm a very deep sleeper, I slept for 12 hours straight. The boys were down in the gym when Nanay came to make us our breakfast of corned beef. We had the whole day to plan and figure out what we wanted to do, since we don't start work until Monday.

We decided to visit the Mall of Asia. We have a few days for down time and adjust to our new living space, we figured we might as well get some more sight seeing down before we begin our internship next week and that's where the real work will begin. We took a 400 peso taxi ride out to Makati. The roads are busy and cars are everywhere. Technically, there are lines painted on the road, but no one pays attention to the lanes. There's also no stop ligths... So, after a slightly terrifying car ride of quick stops, speeding up, and honking at other cars, 40 minutes later, we pull up to the giant Mall of Asia!

The Mall of Asia is incredible. There were so many American shops and restaurants. There was also bumper cars, ferris wheel, indoor ice rink, and so many others events going on. There was a bay out by the mall that when Blake and I saw, we began running towards it. After snapping some photos, we went around to different shops, picking up things we needed and also fun Filipino things. I found hand painted shirts, bracelets, earrings, and other fun things.

We headed home around 3:30 so we could make it back in time for dinner. The ride back to the apartment was much cheaper than the one before, it was only 200 pesos. We got jipped the first time, good thing that won't happen again. We were only in our apartment for 5 minutes when we heard a slow rattle outside the door. Rain was pouring down and lightning was rolling around in the clouds. A crack of thunder made all of us jump. It was the loudest I have ever heard it before. Anthony and I got the incredible idea of going and dancing in the rain. We fluttered down the stairs and ran across to the opening entrance. We ran out onto the basketball court to go play. The rain felt like a warm shower! We danced, skipped, splashed, and slid. We had an audience, but we didn't care! We were having too much fun!

We hurried back inside to go eat dinner. I pulled off the dripping wet clothes and placed them over the shower rod to dry. Dinner was a soup called Sinigang made with pork, ocra, fish sauce, and other vegetables. It was pretty good! None of us were tired and we wanted to swim, but were hesitant because of the rain. Anthony convinced us all to brave the rain and go swim. We shuffled down to the pool and had an awesome night swim. We were all jumping in, racing, and having so much fun! The day was amazing. We packed it with so many great memories and had so a lot of fun together. I can't even believe that we've been here for only 2 days, I've already seen and learned so much!

Today was a good relaxing day, we have a few more days until the internship starts and that's when we will be the most busy. We figured now would be a good time as ever to rest up and relax. We headed into The Pasig Palengke (The Pasig Market) to pick up more mangoes, bananas, and things we needed to make lunch. Anthony was kind enough to make us his own creation of creamed shrimp. We decided to take a dip in the pool while Eden made us dinner. There was a group of little Filipino girls that would giggle and dance and play around with each other. A little boy with goggles over his forehead yelled out "Hi, America!" to us as we walked around the pool. After an hour of swimming we headed back up to the apartment to eat dinner and watch a movie. 

Lately we've all been headed to bed around 7 or 8. I've been so tired that I can sleep from 6pm until 6am. It's taking my body a while to adjust to the temperature and time change, but I'm glad I've had a few days to do so. I like turning my AC on high and cuddling up in my sweatshirt and tights, it makes me feel more at home :) 

Today was the day that our entire team would finally be all together! Evan is arriving around 3:00 pm today, so we've been trying to plan on doing some thing to keep him awake. It would be better to get him on a regular sleep schedule, and try and help him stay awake. The faster you can get used to the time zone the better, so we'll at least make him stay awake for dinner.

He arrived in essentially the same state as we were, exhausted but awake. We needed food for tomorrow, so we took a tricycle to the market to get more food. It's fun having our group together again. People will always stare at the 5 Americans that walk in to that place. They will usually call out to us, or say "Hi Ma'am." That's when I smile and wave back to them. It's when they start cat calling, is when I ignore them.

After a week of new surroundings and new everything...I have to say, I'm proud of myself. I never thought I'd adapt to such changes so quickly. I've been sleeping really well, I've been eating really well, not afraid to try new things. It's all for the experience and the memories. Our group is so in tune, that we usually come up with the same ideas, and even opinions, at the same time. I think we are all ready to begin working with people on Monday, that is what we came down here for. While we were out and about tonight, we managed to run into Novie, our boss whom we hadn't met yet. She was a tiny little thing, that came up to us and asked if we were from Utah State. She knew us all by name and guessed who was who. It was nice to put a name to a face now, so we said our goodbyes and headed back to the apartment. We let Evan get some rest after dinner. I took a shower, pulled on my sweats and within a few minutes, I drifted off to sleep.

Thank you for Reading!
Love, Nick


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