“Traveler”. Numerous folks these days call themselves by the said label. With beautiful (filtered or “no filter”) photos that showcase the different wonders of our planet, people these days share on social media their love for visiting new places, tasting new cuisines and most of the time, the new friendships they have fostered on their trips. These posts are encouraging and inspiring. Sometimes, however, they can go overboard and border as boastful acclamation on their wealth and influence.
For myself though, I cannot swallow calling myself a traveller. Why? Because I’m a self-confessed (and happy!) tourist! Plus, I am an employee. Reality is, my travels are funded by my salary savings or are business trips in nature. I’d like to believe I have a healthy sense of reality for me to know that traveling to new places for me is not my job but a perk of being able to save (or of living with my parents haha!). I know how some of these seasoned (or not) travelers look down on individuals who act like tourists, but for me, I do insist on seeing tourist spots and taking photos at the most touristy of places (such as MTRs, which unfortunately, in 21st century Manila is practically dysfunctional and depressing).
But do not be mistaken! My personal views on travel do not entail of purely shopping, fastfood (eating McDonald’s in Bangkok for example and not trying pad thai) and “picture-picture”. I look forward seeing non-touristy trails, trying the local food and absorbing as much of the cultural heritage as possible. Although I admit that I occasionally indulge in shopping at stores that are already available in Manila (perfect example: H&M), I also make it a point to buy goods uniquely from the countries/provinces I visit even if I’ve been to that country before.
What I love about being a tourist is that everything I see seems new and interesting. Everything is worth a photograph and almost everything is worth trying. I think the only thing I won’t queue for hours for are amusement parks. This year, I tried Universal Studios in Japan and said “no” to Disneyland in Hong Kong. One amusement park last year was okay for me.
2015 was a wonderful year for me in terms of travel because I was able to enjoy and see new sights and at the same time, revisit old favorites. Traveling is not only about wishy-washy things. It’s about a multi-billion dollar industry that requires heavy investment in infrastructure, telecommunications, heritage preservation, food production, ecological maintenance, training, etc. It generates incomes for tour guides, bed-and-breakfast establishments, national parks, etc. Being a tourist makes a you a player in a life-changing game for countless others. Thus, it is also imperative that we become responsible tourists, travelers or visitors.
Last year, these were the places I remember visiting:
Bangkok, Nasugbu, Taal, Tagaytay, Sombrero Island, Japan, Magalawa Island, Boracay, Bantayan (Cebu), Singapore, India and Hong Kong.
Last year, I also facilitated tours in Intramuros, San Miguel and Binondo.
In all these trips, I was able to learn of the many things local tourism still lacks. However, I also realized that despite our many disadvantages (i.e. our airport is terribly disconnected!), our people make visiting the Philippines an enjoyable experience. People always smile and serve visitors with grace (unlike in other places I visited abroad where you couldn’t distinguish brashness to being “padabog”). Almost everyone too has a working knowledge of English.
Among the most memorable experiences for me in my trips were: seeing His Holiness, the Pope, pass by Terminal 3 before I flew to Bangkok, shopping at Chatuchak Market and partying in Silom with friends, waking up at sunrise in Magalawa (Zambales) and Bantayan (Cebu), chilling with my friends on the rocky shore of Sombrero Island, traveling for the first time to Japan with my cousins, eating at Tsukiji Fish Market the freshest and tastiest chirashi bowl I’ve ever had, jumping off at Ariel’s Point in Boracay, eating a hearty lunch with my best friend in the office at Bantayan’s Virgin Island, eating pochero and lechon in one night in Cebu with my two funny and close office mates, traveling to India for a 2-week business trip with my team mate and seeing the Taj Mahal, and finally, spending 8 memorable, uneventful days in Hong Kong with my whole family, my grandmother and my Mama’s other siblings.
In all of those trips, no unfortunate occurrence ever happened. All successfully ended with no injuries, stolen handbags or lost passports. Even our trip to Hong Kong was smooth despite the fact that my Papa is bound to a wheelchair. Why, we even got to travel from Kennedy Town (end of the Island line) all the way to Mongkok by taking the MTR! It was no sweat.
Unfortunately, for many Filipinos, coming back to Manila can always be a bittersweet experience. We are so near many advanced, well-maintained urban centers and yet, ours is a seemingly hopeless case. Our MRT and LRT are not PWD-friendly, they are inadequately staffed by inefficient personnel, and our roads are always jam-packed with pedestrians being the last priority. For a metropolis that has a heavy security presence, you ironically feel unsafe in Metro Manila as compared to Singapore, Bangkok or Hong Kong.
Traveling is a way for us to open our minds to better ways of doing things. We need to cease extolling practices or “virtues” that highlight our “patience” and “kindness” because really, we need to attack things decisively already. Our “resilience” is being taken advantaged by lazy policy makers. We cannot let everything to fate (“okay na ýan”), and start taking things seriously. I hope and pray that 2016 brings new leaders to our government who will orchestrate an integrated effort to fix our country to really make visiting the Philippines more fun.
There is beauty in our world but we shouldn’t romanticize or rationalize ugliness to give off a contrived, superficial impression. We need to make beauty present and felt in our cities, provinces and our establishments because that’s the appeal of traveling: the possibility of experiencing beauty. And why is there that insatiable search or attraction to beauty in our lives? Because we were created in the image and likeness of the creator of sublime beauty. Life, through traveling, seems to be a pilgrimage in search of that Divine Beauty that will fulfill what ours hearts long for.