It has definitely been an interesting ride from the US to Manila to Los Banos to FNRI in Bicutan where I am now, but it has certainly been an exciting one. There was much sleeplessness on the 15-hour plane flight from Chicago to Taipei, and it was a relief when we finally landed. Our layover was 5 hours long, so we had plenty of time to explore the Taipei airport. It was quite interesting, with very, very long hallways. Many of the waiting areas by each gate was themed. The theme outside our gate was Hello Kitty, with I found is quite popular in Taiwan, despite being a Japanese cartoon. After the long layover, our flight was only two hours or so, and was therefore a much nicer ride. The heat in Manila hit me as soon as we walked outside, but it really wasn’t much worse that a very hot Illinois summer day.
Our ride from Ninoy Aquino International Airport was about 2 hours and quite an interesting (and fun) ride in my opinion; Traffic rules in the Philippines are certainly much looser than in the US. The campus of the University of the Philippines in Los Banos (UPLB) is quite beautiful and quiet compared to the street outside. After a night of much needed rest at the SEARCA hotel, we started off the next day with an orientation in Filipino culture, history and language. They fed us sweet rolls with ube (a purple yam) and banana for merienda, and we had a sampling of Filipino classics such as chicken adobo, pancit, and a sour soup that I cannot remember the name of. Remembering names and words for things is something that is difficult here. So many are thrown at you at once that it is impossible to remember them all. After all of the orientation, we were taken via jeepney to a traditional Filipino restaurant with a small lake that had floating tables. We had many of the same selections as lunch earlier, and I also had fresh buko, which is the water from a young coconut. We rode back in the jeepney too. While they are by no means the most environmentally friendly of vehicle, I think riding in them is a lot of fun.
The next day we all to a trip to the Villa de Escudero, which is a large estate and museum turned into a tourist attraction by the Spanish family that owns the grounds. We toured the Escudero private collection and ate lunch beneath a waterfall with water flowing under our feet. We also viewed a collection of dances and music from various parts of the Philippines. This show really highlighted the many different cultures that exist in the Philippines, among all of the islands.
Monday was a day we had to ourselves and the Independence Day here (it also happened to be my birthday!). A small group of us decided to try the massage parlor owned by one of our guides, Kuya Mellord. The massage was cheap, which was nice, but I don’t think I need to have any more of those.
The next day, we left at 7:00 in the morning for FNRI. It was a little bit awkward when we arrived because we had to leave all of our luggage at the entrance of the building for the tour and orientation by Czarina, who introduced us to all of our future bosses and showed us around the entire compound. After, she was kind enough to accompany us to the mall 5 minutes from our condo to show us all the shops we could go to for anything we needed. The supermarket was a cool place to see, and I was glad to see the imports section. It was very comforting to know I can still have my usual cereal in the morning even here. After the mall, Czarina showed us to our condos and we all went to bed pretty early due to the pretty long day.
Our first actual day at the office started the next day at 8:00 and I got to meet my official boss, Ms. Malu. Kate and I are in the same division, but our boss is abroad, so we report to the heads of our specific divisions. My division is promotions, so I get to do some interesting work in advertising for and promoting the work and technologies of FNRI. I will also get the opportunity to travel to conventions and campus visits, as well as help man some booths with Kate. The days are a regular workday from 8-5, so there isn’t much time to do anything during the workweek. Yesterday, we met up with Nathan and Human Nature and some of his coworkers, who took us to the Walled City of Manila. It was a full day, where we visited the site of the execution of Jose Rizal. Rizal is the national hero of the Philippines, who was executed by the Spanish authorities for protesting the continued occupation and colonialism of Spain. We also visited the two oldest churches in the Philippines, constructed in the 16th century. We ate lunch in Chinatown, which according to our carriage driver, is the largest and the oldest Chinatown in the world. We finished up the day at the National Museum, which had a really cool exhibit of living national treasures; people who are the only ones left with the knowledge to create traditional or indigenous items such as rugs, pots, hats, or even tattoos. Today was more of a relaxation and catch-up day (hence this blog post), but we did have a chance to go to the open-air market by the railroad tracks in Bicutan to buy some fruit and vegetables from vendors. This past week and a half has flown by, but I’m really excited to see what comes next!