I flew into the Philippines a few days ago, coming down over fires in the mountain that were either lava flows or farmers burning their fields. But why would the farmers burn their fields at 4 AM?
My flight had left Shanghai half an hour after midnight. Four hours later in Manila I settled in for a four hour wait for my connection to Cebu. The flight was an hour delayed. Another hour later we arrived in Cebu... more specifically on Mactan Island where centuries ago Magellan landed, pacified most of the tribes, and then was himself slaughtered by the ultra-ripped (according to the statue on the island) chieftain, Lapu Lapu. I hope this isn't a bad omen for my trip in the Philippines!
I have arrived in Cebu in the midst of their biggest yearly festival, the Sinulog Festival. The deal is that a religious icon called 'Saint Nino' is carried through the streets as part of a massive dancing, drumming, bugling procession from one cathedral (right down the street from my pension) to the docks, carried by sea, then to a stadium where there will be a further dance competition. I probably don't have a prayer of getting into the stadium, but I'm hoping to catch some of the dancing procession tomorrow. I also got up/was awoken today by the 4 AM mass at the cathedral down the street which was followed by a procession of the icon (it looks like an American Girls doll, actually) plus drums, bugles, dancers, and half the population of Mandaue town. Exciting!
A word on my pension: basically I'm sleeping on a cot in what is really a storage closet. Not as bad as it sounds, and probably one of the cheapest deals in town during the current festivals.
Comparisons between China and Philippines from first impressions: Filipinos are very friendly, much more laid back, relaxed. Generally easy to get along with, which is nice. Most of them also speak at least a bit of English which surprised me (but perhaps shouldn't, considering the country was occupied by the Americans for a while) but definitely makes getting around easier, and means that I've had some good conversations with taxi drivers, slum kids, fellow passengers on the jeepneys, etc. Definitely the country is less developed than China (which is saying something), but also in some ways more affected by western trends, particularly foods and stores. I've been recognizing hardware store brands from America, not to mention the barrage of places offering pizzas, hamburgers, mexican, etc, ranging from high-end restaurants through fast food to family run places. It's nice to be able to buy burgers, hotdogs, and pizzas on the cheap again (not overpriced relative to local food, as they are in China); although I'm spending most of my time enjoying the Philippino food thus far.
Jeepneys: Perhaps the oldest of these were originally jeeps left behind by the American forces... I have no idea, actually. But these are an awesome alternative to a formal bus system. Basically these low-slung jeeps that are all individually decorated and graffito'd by their owners fill in for the lack of city buses. So cheap, too! 10 pesos takes me from my location in a suburb, all the way to downtown Cebu. That's about 1.5 Yuan, or 20 cents US.