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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Two days in and I haven't figured out Filipino cuisine yet

Mactan Island, Cebu, Philippines

After yesterday's somewhat-depressing tour of urban poverty in the Philippines, Melissa and I were eager to escape the city and see what beauty Mactan Island had to offer. We moved hotels this morning and headed straight to the beach to soak up some rays.

Our hotel isn't beachfront -- those resorts are MUY expensive -- but most of the seaside resorts sell daily swim passes so we headed off to one of the nicest, Tambuli Beach Resort. For a set price, you can use the resort property and eat some food.

The water here is a perfect shade aquamarine and as crystal-clear as any paradise. For whatever reason, there are almost no tourists here this time of year so the beach was empty except for one of the grossest sights possible: elderly American men with young Filipino women.

During our entire afternoon, only two couples didn't fit the older white guy/younger Filipino girl mold. It makes sense, really. The man gets companionship and attention from an attractive woman; the girl gets money that can elevate her (and potentially her family) out of poverty. It's just so sad and stomach-turning to see these couples canoodling and doing whatever else in the ocean. No one wants to see that.

There is also a huge disparity here between the haves and have-nots. Shacks crammed with people sit adjacent to massive resorts. Many of the people on the island have no beach access as the resorts buy up all the land. There is an enormous and sad wealth gap here, and you can understand why so much crime against tourists exists -- although in America and Korea, Melissa and I are far from rich, in the Philippines we are wealthy.

Driving to our new hotel this morning, the cab driver locked the doors because often at red lights, people will fling open the doors and grab cameras and cell phones. It was frightening to hear.

While the poverty is sad, it's important to see this because it puts a face on the "issue" and, I think, ultimately makes people more charitable. I wish more Americans could see this and become aware of the changes that must be made in the world.

But enough preaching about the need for social and economic change. The beach is lovely, nice and hot, the sun is shining, the water is warm and the food is plentiful. Still haven't eaten anything authentically Filipino because everywhere seems to cater to foreign visitors, serving a mix of American, British and Korean food. No kimchi for me, please -- tonight we ate Thai and I relived my amazing Thai vacation last month.

The Philippines is lovely but so far, Thailand is definitely the king of Asia.