My university is a private university and so they don't always follow the same rules as the public system. One instance of this is a full-week May holiday instead of skimpy three-day weekends spread out over the spring (jealous much?). So what is a sun-loving laowai to do besides whisk his beaming new bride to a land of volcanoes, beaches, and traffic?
My aunt and uncle live in the Philippines, as do some of my parents' close friends, so we got the mad hook-up (places to crash, glorious food, private drivers). We were there for a total of six days, and it was jam packed. We took a carriage ride around Manila's old Spanish quarter, rode horses up an active volcano, slept in a cozy cottage overlooking the sea, and went scuba diving. The diving was righteous and I think I've got the fever.
The only bummer was the lack of sunshine. It was unusually overcast almost the entire week and rained often. But this wasn't too bad because it kept the bugs and the crowds away, and was actually very refreshing. But we had no major glitches, didn't get ripped-off or robbed or lost, and only had slight allergies when we first arrived. It was Tina's first trip out of China and I'm glad she had such a blast. And it was uber-cheap to fly and shop there, even by Chinese standards. Tina had quite the blowout at SM Mall, the capitalistic Parthenon of the Philippines.
A few observations about the Philippines: it was very different from what I was expecting. I've been to China's Hainan island and I guess I was expecting something similar, but the Philippines was far more Western than I imagined. In fact, it was too Western. I grew up in what most would call the ghetto in New York City and parts of Manila felt just like the delapidated parts of Queens. The graffiti, blaring party music, and gangster-clad youngsters running around made me wonder if I was even in Asia. It looked, sounded, and smelled like the Latino quarter of any major American city. I love Latin culture though and I enjoyed the ostentacious colors and decorations and the laid-back party vibe of the whole country.
The people looked very Hispanic as well, especially the women. I've known many Filipinas and having heard the legends, I was expecting to be surrounded by throngs of gorgeous senoritas but honestly, I was unimpressed. Having been in China for four years (and married to a lovely example :-), my standards for beauty have been raised quite high and I saw only a handful of Filipinas that I would consider beautiful, and if they were on the streets here in China, they would barely get a passing glance. I can't speak to their characters or personalities, but as far as appearance goes, Chinese girls outdo them in figure, poise, grace, make-up, and fashion no question. I was quite proud of all the envious stares directed my way as we made our way through the shops and beaches :-).
Compared to the Philippines, China is cleaner, more organized, and a bit bland, but I find it more fascinating and exotic because of its cultural distance from the West. The Philippines felt too familiar and this diminished its enchantment, but not its fun factor. I'd go back in a heartbeat.