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A World Away

This is the final chapter in the journal of my adventures in the Philippines this summer. Most of my trip was in Batad, Philippines, located in the heart of Luzon, the largest northern island in the Philippines. I accompanied my father to Batad, where we made handmade paper and art for two months. In addition, we helped develop cleaner, more fuel-efficient energy sources for the villagers.

More than two months ago, I set off on a journey to the Philippines, bringing with me many expectations. I maintained vivid memories of the filth and poverty of Manila from my previous trip to there almost a decade ago.

Manila has not changed much, and if it has, it seems it has only gotten worse. There are piles of trash so old and high that at first glance they appear to be part of the landscape. It is common to see children bathing in the street in any of Manila’s numerous squatter settlements, which are often built on stilts directly over sewage canals. There are entire families without homes sleeping on the city streets.

While I cannot recall seeing one policeman during my visit, there are privately hired certified security guards equipped with M-16s and 20-gauge shotguns on every corner.

I had seen all of this before as a young teenager. However, I was not old enough then to understand the reasons for these tragic circumstances. As it turns out, one of the main causes for Manila’s poor conditions is the United States, which has its hands deep into the Filipino economy.

As soon as I stepped out of the Manila international airport, it felt like I had traveled not to another place on earth, but to an alternate dimension. Manila looks like a twisted and corrupted version of Manhattan, or any other busy U.S. city.

The market is flooded with American foods, products, hardware and even television. It is common to find everything from Coca Cola and Pepsi to Ace Hardware stores with Black & Decker tools. The catch is that a majority of these American products are not imported into the Philippines. Rather, they are made in Filipino factories by Filipino workers, but the product rights are owned by the corresponding American companies, which also stand to gain all of the profits.

Competing American companies have run many Filipino companies out of business. Some still exist, but are now under American ownership, such as the popular Filipino soft drink, Sarsi, which is owned by Coca Cola.

The Filipino politicians in power get paid off by many of these American companies to “allow” them to continue to dominate the Filipino market – a reminder that not all of America’s hostile invasions involve our military forces.

Because of the lack of jobs within the country, many Filipinos get contracts for work with companies abroad. Leaving the country for a job is so ingrained into the Filipino culture that the word Balikbayan in Tagalog (one of the official languages of the Philippines) refers to a Filipino who has left the Philippines to work abroad and send money back to their family.

On the same small island as the pollution-saturated streets of Manila are the beautiful mountains of Batad. Living more than a month in Batad in the Ifugoa Province of the Philippines is an unforgettable experience. Being forced to hike to get anywhere has put me in the best shape of my life.

I feel fortunate to have witnessed the brute physical strength of the Ifugoa people, taste exotic Ifugoa dishes and view the majestic jungle-covered mountains and more than 1,000-year-old rice terraces of Batad. It is truly a papermaker’s paradise. I look forward to visiting both Manila and Batad again in the future.

To all students who have yet to visit a developing country, I strongly urge you to take the chance when the opportunity presents itself. Now that I’m stateside again, I find it frustrating that I cannot completely share this exciting and sometimes bizarre adventure to non-travelers. If only they could see what I have seen.