Friday, July 30, 2004

The Islands Revisited

Wow I haven't posted anything in a while. Since going on vacation I had been extremely busy.

Vacation was the most fun I've had in a long time. Our entire family spent three weeks together in Asia. We did a Japan Airlines Tour package which brought us to Tokyo for about 4 days and then to the Philippines for the rest of the time. Tokyo is pretty impressive. New York is the Big Apple, but man Tokyo is the REALLY Big Apple. Everything about Tokyo is clean, fashionable and high tech. Every single man and woman walking the streets were impeccably dressed, even the Taxi drivers were very professional. High heels were also everywhere; it must be a Sex and the City thing. In Tokyo we stayed near Shinjuku Station at the Keio Plaza Hotel, very nice. They had internet access so I think I posted so me pictures of Downtown earlier. I also found out the Red Light District wasn't too far from where we stayed. What a lost opportunity, we should have gone to check it out. Tokyo and glamorous go hand in hand; the attractive stewardesses on JAL should have tipped me off.

Besides Tokyo, we also drove out to Mt. Fuji and a place called Akami. Mt. Fuji was also very nice, but the day we went the sky wasn't very clear, so you could just barely make out the mountain's profile. The scenic point was also in an active geothermal area, so it stunk of sulfur, but the view was not bad despite the state of the weather. We also stayed at a hotel resort in Akami. The place touted its traditional accommodations, meaning there were tatami mats and hot baths. The hotel was dilapidated, but at one point it did seem like a pretty posh place. It's obviously seen better days, yet people still seem to come to it, especially us foreigners. What made it worth it was the view. They have an incredible location on some cliffs facing the ocean. Supposedly they build a much nicer wing adjacent to the old hotel, but it didn’t look like anyone was staying there. The hotel also had a nice ballroom, and they had western singers singing while people were taking a ballroom dancing lesson. The entire place reminded me of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shinning. It just had an aura of days gone by and on its old walls you could almost see old vacation memories and forgotten holidays.

All in all, Japan was neat and efficient but also very bureaucratic. The next week we landed in Manila, and the transition was night and day. Manila, despite being smaller than Tokyo was a hundred times more hectic, and dirty. The city is a managed anarchy. Everyone disregards traffic laws, you can bribe yourself out of anything and there are no building codes to speak of. In Manila we ate a lot. Food was cheap and good. Economic disparity was huge. In downtown Tokyo, two peaches would cost you 10 dollars. In the Philippines a housemaid makes about a fraction of that in one day. That was one discouraging thing about the Philippines, you could have done everything right in your life and worked very hard but with limited opportunities, you will still struggle. Its unlike the States, here and now. Generally if you work hard, you will find some semblance of prosperity. I think that was even more shocking than the disparity between rich and poor people.

We did get to spend a lot of time with our family, both on my mom and dad’s side. There were a lot of babies! Everyone has had kids since we saw them last, or their kids grew up. It certainly put things in perspective. In life we do many things and sometimes ignore the most basic, family, relationships, children, just plain life and living. Of course many of the things we pursue are also important, but this trip has reminded to reevaluate my priorities.

Beside Manila, we also went to Boracay, which I would say is just about the most gorgeous place I’ve ever seen. Scroll down to see the beach with water as clear as Evian water and sand as white and fine as sugar. Bora is a fairly small island in the Visayas region of the Philippines and its surrounded by coral reefs, so the water is mild and gentle, practically no current, so you could swim as far out as you can and swim back. Its unlike here in California where fighting the waves would tire you out after 10 minutes. The reefs also provided an opportunity to snorkel. Lots of Nemo fishes, they would swim right up to you and eat the bread off your hand. The water temperature was also just right. When I woke up at 6 am I just waded out to the water, took a morning swim, and then later at dusk I’d go back in and watch the sun set. One day we jumped in a boat, basically a sea taxi, we took it around the island and landed on this beach covered in puka shells. It was away from the hotel so it was totally empty except for some trinket vendors and another sea cab, it gets a 10 for scenery and solitude. I’m definitely aiming to go back to Bora. If I ever become a fugitive or independently wealthy, you guys know where to find me. During peak season there’s also a nightlife, so that might be interesting too see. But above all I like the people’s disposition there, everyone was so laid back, it being an island paradise, the place was another foil to Manila.

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