When it comes to travel, I must confess that it has become way too easy to take my birth country for granted. After all, I grew up in the Philippines. I lived there (here) most of my life.
My parents have enabled us to visit several towns, cities, and islands as I was growing up. Of course, with over 7,000 islands, it's almost impossible to see the whole country in one's lifetime. But, I thought (foolishly) that once I've seen enough rice fields, farms, beaches, mountains, forests, waterfalls, markets, volcanoes, plantations, jeepneys, and the like, I would've just about seen and experienced it all.
So, why not opt to explore other countries more, right?
That's why I find it interesting that in order for me to appreciate coming back and discovering new places in the land of my birth, I had to go and find myself a new "home country" in Australia.
Having left the Philippines over a decade ago, I have managed to miss mostly food, family, and friends. Everything else, I was not too worried about missing.
Over the last few months, however, I have come back to this country more than I ever had in the last decade due to work matters.
Well, my family and I spent Christmas and New Year in Manila in December/January 2010/11. And, it was quite amazing to see my birth country especially from the eyes of my kids. I think I must have developed a refreshed sense of appreciation of this place due to their enthusiasm about it all, regardless of traffic, crime, disasters, pollution, poverty, and other issues that get some of us way too jaded about life in the Philippines.
Showing my kids where I grew up and what helped to shape a huge part of who I am as a person was quite a special experience.
Needless to say, I really enjoyed that trip.
Unexpectedly, I found myself back in the country not too long after I left, due to an invitation by Microsoft to speak at the MS NGO Connection Days in Davao and Manila last February. Although it was primarily a work trip, I had a great time meeting people working in the communities, speaking to them about social media in nonprofits, and just generally catching up about what's going on in the country and the nonprofit sector.
Unfortunately, I didn't get the opportunity to visit anywhere in Davao, but at best, I have developed new work contacts and loved the inspiration from people who are working passionately to change people's lives in the Philippines. It really helps to think that perhaps, one day, some of the issues of the country will be changed for the better because of the work of these amazingly dedicated people.
Although I thought that that trip would be the last one I'd have in a while for this country, I ended up finding my way back here this week. Again, as invited by Microsoft. But this time, representing my organisation and a new program we're part of launching in the region.
And, in this trip, I found myself visiting Bacolod for the first time. From the moment we flew in to the airport, it was almost love at first sight.
The sight of sugar cane farms during harvest was a delightful sight - farmers with bolos, chopping sugar canes; farmers on carabao-drawn carts carrying sugar canes, and trucks full of sugar canes on the way to the azucareras... Then, there are the colourful jeepneys going back and forth the roads... Recent festivities celebrating famous events called Cinco de Noviembre (5th of November) and Mass Kara festival (mask festival) have left remnants of their celebrations with giant colourful masks and flying banners all over the place. There are mountain views, forests, and the seaside all around.
The city itself is relatively small, but hold just about everything you'd need, even if you don't want to venture too far from familiar places like Robinson's Mall, McDonald's, Jollibee, and Starbucks. But, seriously, if you did not at least try the amazing cake shop called Calea or the fabulous 18th Pala Pala restaurant or one of the many fantastic chicken inasal (BBQ) houses, where Bacolod is most famous for... You'd be insane. Seriously.
Everything about Bacolod felt strangely familiar, yet unexpected. Nearly everyone I met were lovely, hospitable people. The food was fantastic. The views were great. And, the whole place seems to be both alive yet peaceful.
In fact, I have fallen in love with the place so much that I would love to write more about it again one of these days. A blog post is not enough to cover the extent of what can be said about Bacolod. Even though I haven't had the chance to see a lot of it, I managed to see enough to make me wish I can return one day. Hopefully, with my husband and kids.
Now, as I returned to Cebu after over a couple of decades since I first visited this city, I can see that it has changed a lot since then. And, unfortunately, much as I would love to rediscover its beauties, I won't have the opportunity this time around, as I need to head back to Adelaide shortly.
Tomorrow, I will be speaking at another Microsoft NGO Connection Day. And again, I look forward to being inspired by what people are doing to make this country a better place. I am also much happier, knowing that the organisation I work for is part of an exciting program that will be extending some of the work we do in Australia and New Zealand in to this part of the world. Hopefully, through this, we would be able to contribute something too.