It felt like rolling the dice on our travel fate waiting at Ninoy Aquino International Airport. It was a Saturday afternoon and we had just missed our connecting flight from Manila to Incheon to go back to Korea, and it was past time for lunch. As a group we were all just waiting for word. Half of us were sitting in the office where Kurt and Hyeyoung bargained with the lady at the desk for options to get home. Three year old Sahn was sleeping on one of the soft couches in the office oblivious of the people pouring in to loiter like the rest of us. Apparently the emperor of Japan was traveling and that meant several runways were closed and many flights were cancelled.
The first time we had been at this airport we had arrived at one in the morning and waited for a shuttle that never seemed to come. Cabbies had come to try to win our business and convince us that theirs was the better option. It seemed a far cry from Incheon airport which seemed to run like a well oiled machine full of restaurants and shops to peruse while you waited. Unlike the first night though, I had friends from America and China arriving in Seoul as we waited. The time I had with them was precious and short.
“We won’t be able to leave until Monday” I bargained for them to send me back alone. Our group was too big to accommodate for earlier flights. But I wasn’t allowed to go alone. “Send half the group,” I pressed. No dice. That was it. Two more days in the Philippines.
Despite my feelings towards the airport and what seemed like endless waiting every time we stepped foot there, the Philippines had been nothing short of amazing. Every morning we were awakened by roosters crowing and beautiful sunshine. It was the perfect break from Korean dry winter air. Every afternoon was filled with talks and an afternoon swim in the pool. Every night was dinner on the beach, waves lapping behind us and good conversation with people from all over Asia doing inspiring work.
This trip had been designed, not really for us YAVs, but for the people who have given their lives to their work in their various countries. The people who are deeply involved in people’s lives and live their lives next to them – sharing meals and experiences. I had the privilege to talk with most of the people working in the Asia region for PC(USA) helping refugees resettle, educating young women who would otherwise not have the opportunity, working towards stopping human trafficking, or working on community development. This was meant as a break for them from their lives which may rarely have moments of luxury amidst the simple living they work within. It was a great opportunity for me to do some vocational discernment and talk with some very interesting people.
But aside from the people we met there, the Philippines was its own experience as a country. Even touching down in the plane the economic discrepancy is very clear. From the plane window you could see houses that were small with thatched roofs and chickens in the yard next to sections of housing with two stories and a fountain. There is an extreme amount of poverty next to resorts like where we were staying. It is easy to characterize the Philippines as a poor country, and perhaps one more dangerous than Korea. The Philippines also has a tumultuous history with many conquering forces including the Spanish, America, and Japan.
While we were there though we were introduced to Silliman University which Dessa (who I interviewed with for the Philippines site) has connections with and some exchange students in Hannam we’ve made good friends with attend. We heard talks and got a tour of campus, and near the end of our trip we had the chance to see some performances by the very talented young people in the area.
Coming from UIC it felt like a throwback to college. They were performing dances like the college students I knew and loved. When I attended UIC, Filipinos in Alliance (FIA) was the largest Asian American organization on campus with the greatest presence. Every year they would do a dance competition called Battle of the Bamboo where they would compete with other universities in traditional Filipino dances, but they were also some of the best modern dancers I’ve ever seen with their dance group FIA modern.
These students had a similar spirit and talent in their dances. It felt so familiar to me, yet the context felt so different. I cringe at the thought of possibly being a “wealthy” foreigner at a resort watching this performance for us rather than a cheering audience member in the crowd at the Battle of the Bamboo. But I was grateful to be there to see their performances including really fun interpretations the Filipino creation story, and many traditional dances from some of the many different cultures within the Philippines.
Our time together with the people at the conference was wonderful and wrapped up nicely as an experience in Dumeguete. Our delay in Manila was unexpected, but an opportunity to see the Philippines on our own. I could see it first hand after many years of hearing about it from my friends. I had Jollibee for the first time (though I hear rumors of one opening near Chicago) after hearing I needed to try it for the past few years.
We were able to see some more of the Philippines’ rich history and beautiful architecture that we otherwise wouldn’t have seen. We went to the Mall of Asia, and got to shop at local markets. We were at a Catholic church on a Sunday in the Philippines! It was hardly to say we got to know the Philippines in our short time there, but we got to see a glimpse of what Manila was like. I know I won’t get those days back with my friends in Seoul and waiting at the airport was one of the most frustrating experiences for me, but that time wasn’t lost in our waiting. And we eventually did get to fly out of Manila after one last trip to Ninoy Aquino International Airport.