Thursday, October 20, 2005
Turning 29 in Cebu, Philippines
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I have the best husband in the world. For my 29th birthday, Troy took me to Cebu for a diving trip. (Ok, fine, I didn't actually turn 29, but whatever!!!!!!!!!!) He was hoping to surprise me with it, but he was very busy travelling and needed me to help him get it booked.
One of the first impressions I had of the Philippines was of their buses. They are actually called Jeppney and they are just crazy! These buses are their public transportation which is what made them so unusual!
We stayed at a small beach club on the island of Mactan, which is part of the larger Cebu Island. Philippines has over 7000 islands so I'm not sure how their country is set up in terms of what island is part of what city. It actually took me several hours to realize we were not on Cebu island, but on Mactan island. It was all good though: warm weather, clear water, fabulous diving. The other thing I loved about this place was how quiet it was. We would sit by the water at night and hear almost nothing. No cars, boats, people. It was a nice change from noisy Hong Kong.
We arrived around noon, so we had the whole day in front of us. The first thing we did was rent a ski-doo for an hour. Troy had never rode one of these before so I knew I had to get him on one. The thing was a little too stable for our taste. No matter how hard we tried, we just couldn't dump each other. I decided after a bit I didn't want to get thrown off, because knowing my luck I would have hit my head on a floating coconut! The rest of the afternoon we spent getting our diving schedule organized, swimming and relaxing in the incredibly warm weather by the ocean. We knew that if we got bored, we could spend some time at the shooting range that was on the edge of the hotel grounds. (Not sure what that is all about!)
This was probably one of the easiest dive trips we have taken. We decided to leave our gear home for a change. I don't know if it was because we rented gear, but we didn't have to do a single thing when it came to loading our gear, setting it up and then unloading it at the end of the day. Most dives it was just me and Troy or one other guy, so our guide had it easy just taking care of the two of us.
The diving here was pretty good. For one thing, the water was so warm. At times, it felt like I was swimming through currents of pee. Ok, I know that is really gross, but I have to give you something to compare the temperature of the water to. Dynamite fishing is still done throughout the Philippines, but the places we dove were off limits to that. So the coral and sponges were awesome. The fish population was pretty good. There were a few dives where we saw huge schools of fish and big batfish that loved to be fed bread. There were also harmless jellyfish that you could touch. In the mornings we would often find them washed up on the beach. We were told they eat things that kill them then when they get washed onto shore, the locals will take a part of them that they find edible.
One thing that Troy and I love to do when we travel to different countries is to get a taste of the local life by seeing how the people live. There was a neighborhood outside of our hotels gates so we decided to take a walk through there after diving one day. The Philippines is a very poor country. Most everyone we saw in this neighborhood lived in small wood shacks. They would have pots of food that they cooked themselves that they were selling to their neighbors. The children were very friendly smiling, yelling hello and asking us our names. The adults were not very friendly. Everywhere we have traveled we have found the locals to be very friendly, but not so much here. We stopped at a German restaurant, that was clearly in the wrong place, to get something to drink. We both ordered a pint of beer but I have no idea what kind of metric system they go by. This was no pint of beer, it was more like a half gallon! The best part (outside of getting a half gallon of beer) is that it was $1.50!!!!!!!
We met a couple from Canada during our diving and the four of us decided to go island hopping since that was one of the many activities available. Our idea of island hopping was nowhere near what our guide had in mind. We thought we would go visit 4 or 5 islands, do some exploring, swimming, etc. That wasn't gonna happen. Our boat driver pulled up about 200 yards from an island and said go swimming. We asked if we could go to the island we were near, he said "later!" After swimming, he took us to a completely different island where we had to pay 200 pesos to visit. It was actually very interesting because a small village with a huge population of children lived on the island. They were used to "island hoppers" coming around because they were ready for us with bags of candy to buy for the kids. The small stands that sold food also sold "trust pills" and "lady pills" along with a variety of condoms. I assumed the pills were birth control pills, but I had to ask just to make sure. There were kids were everywhere. I met one guy who was 30 with 6 kids.
After we left that island, we asked to go to a quiet island with no other people so we could eat lunch. "Sure, no problem" we were told. Again, that didn't happen. We were taken to another island, where we had to pay another 200 pesos to basically set foot on the island and to use the dilapadated picnic table. We also were not the only people there. But it was quieter then where we last were and were not bothered by the locals too much. We then wanted to go swimming there, but we were told we were going to another island. Again, not really. We were taken 200 yards away and told to go swimming. They kept telling us the tide was going out and they had to get away from the island. But that didn't explain why there were other boats pulling up to the island after we left. By this point we resigned ourselves to wherever the guide took us. We knew argueing was futile!
Belive it or not, Troy actually had to be in Cebu during this period for a work meeting. So his airfare and two nights of hotel were on his work tab. The timing couldn't have worked out better. His meeting was in Cebu City, where we didn't do much except eat and hang out at the pool. We were a little taken aback with all of the security. As we entered the hotel, our luggage and us were gone over with a metal detector. Everytime we came into the hotel they checked our bags and used a metal detector as well. Between our hotel and a big mall was a small park. There were at least 3 policemen there at all times. The Starbucks near us even had a security guard. These guys were not armed with just a flashlight and a walkie talkie. They actually had guns. Guns at Starbucks? What's up with that? We knew the far south Philippine islands has had some terrorist activity so I think the city was just taking precautions.
Thanks Troy for a fabulous birthday! What are you going to do for my 30th next year!!??!!!??
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
China's National Day
On October 1st, China celebrated the 56th anniversary of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China. China and Hong Kong celebrated it with lots of carnivals, dragon dances, Chinese opera performances and fireworks. My dad was in town so we decided to go to dinner over in Tsim Sha Tsui (which is on Kowloon and not HK Island) with some friends then head down to the waterfront to watch the fireworks over the water. As we started walking down the main road toward the water, I realize the street is blocked off and there are masses of people moving in the same direction as us. We got about 2 blocks from the water and stopped. In fact, Troy and Chris got to a point where they literally could not move in any direction. They finally where able to push them (and us) back and out onto the street where at least we could breath. There were so many people there to watch the fireworks it was almost unbelievable have no idea how many people were in this area but we could only guess 20,000-30,000 people.
That is Shelly's estimate, I - Troy- think it was a lot more then that! TST is one of the most crowded places on earth and if a percentage of all those people decide to go out and watch fireworks...I think more like 100,000+. There were people as far as you could see down Nathan road. This is the equivalent of 6 land road packed with people for at least 1 mile.
And that was just in the area we were. I don't know how many were watching from Hong Kong island - talk about a quick immersion for my dad into the 8 million people of Hong Kong.
The funniest thing about the mass of people was the collective oohs, and ahh's when the fireworks went off. It was almost like they had never seen fireworks before. And the people were so loud. Just imagine being surrounded by several thousand people, jammed packed next to you and all at the same time they shout "ooh" "ahh".
The irony of all the parties and excitement is that the holiday is celebrating the rise of communism. Rock on communism!!!! Down with freedom of speech. Down with freedom of religion. Damn those bastard journalists that dare say anything bad about China. Hooray for the spies watching over the Internet. Who cares about Greenpeace, their not welcome here! :-)...Fortunately Hong Kong allows most of those things (e.g. freedom of religion and speech) - at least for now.