Paul Fontelo '13

Mabuhay, greetings from the Philippines.  This is my second time in Manila, my first was as an intern with the U.S. Embassy in Manila, now I return to the Philippines as a Fulbrighter.  So far, the experience, (Long travel process with lots of tasks) has been the same.  The only difference is a substantial one: I am a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross rather than a current student.  This has been a weird feeling for me to stomach and I assume for all of my classmates in the Class of 2013 but nevertheless it is part of life. But being here in the Philippines a second time brings me to the conclusion that we go through repeated cycles of living and working in the same place, sharing new experiences with the distinct memory of old experiences.  To quote one of my favorite scifi tv shows, Battlestar Galactica: “All of this has happened before and all will happen again.”  In time, these repeated actions become the diverse portrait of a life in progress.

Although the great flooding of August 7 has subsided, it still left some pretty devastating effects.  About a month’s worth of rain poured over the National Capital Region for 2 days.  Severe flooding left many places closed including the Embassy for several days.  In Pasay City, where I am living, the water was at least 2 to 3 feet high.  The damage was not severe and I was fortunate.

During the time off, I listened to water bear down all day and night.   I’ve never seen anything like it and I’ve been through 2 hurricanes.  Interestingly enough the floods occurred on August 7, 2012.  If you were to peruse through a copy of the Bible, Genesis Ch. 8 vs. 7-12 are the ones detailing the disastrous deluge on man.  The Philippine media pointed this out constantly.

The effect on the psyche was interesting…I didn’t see the sun for quite sometime and I rarely left the house.  One of my favorite numbers from Muppet Treasure Island probably best describes it…

A few weeks ago, I got a chance to see Intramuros for the first time.  This small section of Manila (the real city Manila, not the Metro Manila) is famous for being the last place where influential writer and thinker, Jose Rizal was held.  Jose Rizal remains one of the Philippines’ most notable heroes for his work to reform life in the Philippines.  His work was so controversial it ultimately led to his execution by Spanish officials in 1896, 2 years prior to the Spanish American War and the Philippines eventual independence from Spain and annexation by the US.

Intramuros has very impressive Spanish architecture and layout in the buildings and roads.  Prominent are Kalesas, horse drawn carriages to give a historic feel.  I thought it was interesting to see a vast area like this compared to the U.S.  Most historic colonial locations in the U.S. with big expanses are often far from the city or even the suburbs.  Intramuros is a colonial heritage site right in the middle of a vastly dense urban area.

Unlike Williamsburg, Virginia, people dressed in re-enactor clothing are scarce, only police dress up.  I was fortunate enough to get a picture with two, proudly wearing one of my favorite Holy Cross t-shirts.

It’s typhoon season!  The entire NCR (National Capital Region) is swamped with rampant flooding due to torrential rains.  It’s almost biblical.  To get bread and drinking water, I waded through water that was up to my knees and rising.  Almost everything here is at a standstill.  I think it’s been raining for about 20 hours with most rain averaging 2-5 inches an hour.

Much of the main street in Pasay City, Roxas Boulevard, was under water.   That doesn’t mean things are at a complete standstill.  7/11 and local fast food favorite Jollibee were open for business.  It’s strange to see daily activity still go on in this weather.

A lot of people ask me what travel is like around the Metro Manila area.  Manila is unlike any other city in the world.  While most cities have downtowns and layers of contrasting areas around them, the Metro Manila region is a megalopolis.  Downtown is a difficult thing to understand.

Downtown Manila feels very old style Spanish with long streets and elevated train tracks reminiscent of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”  Downtown Pasay City, where I am located, feels like one very long junction of major roads with different businesses all setting up all around, mainly docks, hotels, and casinos.  Off to the edge of the map facing Manila Bay is the Mall of Asia, the biggest mall I’ve seen.  The list is endless.  It has been wonderful to explore the layout of all of the different parts of the Metro Manila I have been fortunate enough to explore.

July 8 was a fantastic day.  My office set up a baseball game between youth groups in the Philippines and professional teams.  I loved the opportunity to help these kids play in such a big venue as well (the Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium in Manila).  The view was spectacular, we could see other parts of the NCR (National Capital Region) and very near was De La Salle University.  It was a real hot day, probably the hottest I have experienced in the Philippines.

It definitely was weird seeing these kids play.  Last time I dressed up for a baseball game was in 6th or 7th grade.

Even though the month of July is wrapping up, I didn’t get a chance to share my experiences during the July 4 celebrations.

I had the chance to organize programs for the U.S. Pacific Fleet Band.  Based out of Honolulu, these musicians were some of the best I’ve seen in the service bands.  As a trumpet student of a former President’s Own Marine Band trumpeter, I knew these guys had the chops.  They could do it all: singing, dancing, and performing (the real type-getting the audience involved in everything!).

It was a tremendous experience.  The day started with masterclasses at the University of Santo Tomas and finished with a public performance to 3000 people in the Mall of Asia in Pasay City.  The audience enjoyed the familiar songs, commanding stage presence, and persistent musicality of the band (they weren’t alone).

Ano ba yan’s most literal translation is whatsup.  But given the right usage, this short and sweet phrase can be the most versatile Tagalog phrase for anyone.  Other than “whatsup?”  Ano ba yan can also mean: what is this? who’s that? why are you doing that? what is this for? This is not the case in English with whatsup, if I were to make a gesture to a meal selection and said whatsup, the intended effect is lost.  This is not the case in Tagalog.

I’m finding Ano ba yan to be my favorite Tagalog phrase, on average I hear it more than any other Tagalog phrase.  It’s versatility astounds me.  Young and old people will use it; it may be suitable for a professional environment.  It is a good way to show someone your newfound Tagalog language skills.

For about a day, my mother and I were able to go to Dumaguete, a medium sized city in the middle section of the Philippines, known as Visayas.  Dumaguete is a coastal city that attracts tourists for its coastal views and sea air.  Its roads make it notable for being the motorcycle capital of the world.  From first hand experience, I could tell.  While riding in my cousins’ sedan, we were the only car on the road!  The local dialect is Cebuano, a slightly different Austronesian language that encompasses much of the middle section of the Philippines, but Tagalog, the dominant language of the North is still prominent.  Dumaguete is also very important to me as it is my father’s hometown.  We were able to visit his many alma maters, including Siliman University.

The first days were very good.  Mainly concerned with orientation and grounding myself in a new place.  It’s rainy season here meaning it’s wet.  Very, very wet.  Some days feel like the constant precipitation of Seattle mixed with the rain density of my hometown, Washington D.C.  Umbrellas are a must as it is very difficult to go around doing anything without some type of precipitation.  I adjusted smoothly to work attire.  The barong is the most universally appropriate form of dress.  Fortunately, I had several before starting and was able to buy some with my mom after we got settled.  Attached is a picture of me in my barong.

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Paul Fontelo '13

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