Watching the news of late, I have been rather amazed by the political reports coming out of the Philippines. It seems so contradictory to the Philippines I remember. You see, back in the early 90s, I worked extensively at a factory in Quezon City (on the outskirts of Manila). I was providing project management consulting for the implementation of a manufacturing resource planning software implementation so I would spend two or three weeks at a time in the Philippines over the course of roughly a year. I got to know every nook and cranny of the Edsa Plaza Shangri-la Hotel (highly recommend it). With the hotel located within blocks of the SM Megamall, I got to know every nook and cranny of that place too! (And still have some of the purchases to prove it.)
I have many interesting memories from my time spent in the Philippines. Some of the more Filipino of which include taxis driving on sidewalks, rolling up my pants to wade through typhoon-soaked terminals to catch a few flights at the airport and bringing in the Catholic priest to sprinkle all our computers with holy water to ensure a good software implementation. If you are Filipino, you are shaking your head in agreement. If you aren’t, you are probably saying to yourself, “Really?!”
I have loads of fond memories from the Pearl of the Orient Seas (as the Philippines is sometimes called). Perhaps my fondest memory though is the kindness of the people. They could have easily left me sit in my hotel room on the weekends as they spent time with their families and went about their weekend chores but, in fact, I can’t remember being left to sit idle on any weekend while I was there (unless it was my choosing). I was welcomed to participate in dinner parties at coworkers’ homes. I got to know people’s families – Mom, Dad, the kids, the cousins. I was taken to concerts, escorted on road trips, accompanied hiking and rafting and, thanks to their efforts, had a wonderful experience that left me with a long-standing positive opinion of their country.
On one weekend, I went off with the woman in charge of the purchasing department to spend a day at Villa Escudero. About two hours out of Manila, Villa Escudero is still a working sugar-plantation-turned-coconut-plantation but, back in 1981, the kids of the original owners got creative and incorporated a resort, banquet center, restaurant, museum, cultural center and nature preserve on the property. It made a nice destination for locals and visitors alike and gave the kids some extra income.
I recall taking in the extensive collection of colonial religious art and artifacts in the museum housed in a replica church. Touring the plantation from the comfort of a carabou-pulled wagon. Paddling on Lake Labasin from a classic bamboo raft. Eating Filipino specialties at the very unique Waterfall Restaurant where the tables sit in a few inches of waterfall runoff and you can dangle your feet in the cool waters while you nosh.
I remember enjoying good food and fresh drinks served on bamboo leaves and coconut shells. And, from checking out the current web links while writing this post, I can see that little has changed. The museum is still there. The carabou still pull visitors through the plantation adorned with lovely sprays of flowers. People are still rafting on Lake Labasin (although they have removed those funky benches from the rafts and replaced them with pillows). And diners are still taking in the fun and the food at the Waterfall Restaurant.
So many times when I return to a place that I visited decades before I find that things have changed and often not for the better. Somehow the charm and the innocence gets lost. Kind of like I am seeing in the current politic reports! But I am happy to see that Villa Escudero is still as it was – full of fun, food and Filipino hospitality. If you ever find yourself near Manila and you have a day to explore, head on out to Laguna and take in all that Villa Escudero has to offer. You won’t be disappointed.