There is New Years that most of the world celebrates, and then there is Chinese New Year which marks the start of the Lunar New Year. It is the most important festival in Chinese culture; therefore, everyone is traveling! While a lot of customs and traditions are practiced during this time, and it would probably be really cool to spend Chinese New Year with a Chinese family to experience this, it is custom for foreigners to "get out of dodge" for this event. Not because we are not interested in the customs or traditions, but living in a country with approximately 1,344,130,000 people and they all travel home at this time, it's difficult to go anywhere within the country. Not to mention the weather right now: below 30 degrees F, windy, moisture in the air, and gloomy...remember: not all buildings or shops or businesses are heated, and they have yet to discover insulation. So, even if a place is heated, like my apartment, it still has a chill to it because of the poor structure. (Where I teach is not heated, so during class, I am constantly moving, and I try hard not to have to remove my coat, gloves, or hat. I have even become more "Chinese": I drink hot water, and I bring an electric, heated, water bag to class to warm my hands.) Because this is a time where it is most important to be with family, the crime-rate goes up. People will steal to be able to get home for the holiday. While this celebration takes place, most everything in China shuts down...no one works. So...off we go to the Philippines!
This was the crew who started out together. We flew into Manila and started off with a bang on Vier's birthday in ol' Malati. Not knowing it at the time, the part of Manila we stayed in was the worst part possible: it was dirty, the poorer part of town, and the most dangerous. By the looks of it, it absolutely was dirty - our hostel got worse with each stay. Unfortunately, we saw how poverty stricken it was the very first night and every night after - mother's and children sleeping in the street, naked children begging at every street-side restaurant, and the signs posted on building warning tourists of the danger of children mobs. Seeing the children was the thing that really affected us. However, we never felt in danger. We were warned many times, so we were cautious. But, we never felt as if we were threatened in any way. And it reflects on the amount of fun we had here.
Vier and I both ordered prawns with steamed vegetables, and we shared the crab with garlic-chile sauce. Lindsey ordered a white fish that was just as delectable as ours. Not only was the food amazing, the atmosphere was just as welcoming.
Next, we imbibed some drinks on the rooftop of Friendly’s hostel alongside many other backpackers looking for the cheapest way to cut through Manila. Overlooking, the surrounding area's lighted buildings and bustling streets, we chatted with fellow travelers listening and taking advice as to where to go for the next month. Finally, in the midst of good conversation and flowing alcohol, Zach and Rick showed up. It was time to party. Birthdays and beginning of vacations are always fun…there’s just so much adrenaline pumping when experiencing a new place. However, we were not expecting what ensued. (Let it be said here: Filipinos know their music!!) We witnessed a serenade at Cowboy Bar – a man sang “You Are Not Alone” by Michael Jackson to Brian Vier - . It was outstanding! Both because the guy just nailed it and because of the obvious. Vier was a great sport! What a start to an epic adventure.
Night two we were able to meet one of Rick Fischl’s childhood friend who now lives in Manila. She had us all over for dinner and a jam session. Man, this girl can sing! And cook! We had traditional Filipino dishes: chicken adobo and pork sinigang. If you’ve never had either of these dishes, I highly recommend both of them. This night, we called it a somewhat early night – in comparison to the previous late night/early morning. Plus, the next day we had a plan to head up North into the mountains.