In Manila, theyâ€™ve â€œreclaimedâ€ part of the Bay, which means that the government has filled in the bay with soil from other provinces to make more land to build on. What was built? Wellâ€¦hereâ€™s a description from my journal: â€œSM Mall of Asia â€“ the Biggest, most extravagant mall Iâ€™ve ever seen anywhere in the world. Itâ€™s the size of 5 malls put together. They have a massive ice skating rink and every hour or so they make it snow!â€ (Snow. Inside a mall. When itâ€™s 90 degrees outside. And weâ€™ve just come from Chicago. Where we were trying to escape from. SNOW. Hmmm.) â€œMeanwhile, outside in the streets of Pasig, there are emaciated people who come up to your car window and beg for money with a thin, dirty plastic mug.â€
Iâ€™m hesitant to say anything even remotely critical of the Philippines, especially to my American friends, because so many people Stateside donâ€™t have the love for my ancestral home or culture the way my family does. Itâ€™s easy to look at the squatter camps (read: the hand-built refuges of families who would otherwise be nomadic and homeless) and turn our collective American noses up. Or to say to ourselves, Poor them. And, how lucky we are, in some inadvertent condescension. But disparity in the Philippines, just like disparity in Chicago or L.A. or San Francisco, or Rio de Janeiro, disturbs me.
I suppose the Chicago equivalent to this SM Mall of Asia versus the Street Beggars of Pasig struggle is the Magnificent Mile where there are the gleaming two-story shop windows of Ann Taylor and Eddie Bauer or Nike Town and Virgin Records. And yet, a few years ago, Mayor Daley had swept Chicagoâ€™s homeless people out of Lower Wacker. Having served food to my local homeless folks, itâ€™s hard to say the disparities in Manila are too different from those in the major U.S. cities I love, like Sweet Home Chicago (which I am also hesitant to say anything critical of because I love the people and the Lake and the unique neighborhoods of our city).
One thing my days in Berkeley anthropology taught me is that when we travel, it is as if we take two journeys simultaneously: a journey abroad and a journey home. Both journeys get us to re-examine our assumptions. Ten years ago, I would have been fixated on the differences between America and the Philippines. But these days, maybe because Iâ€™m getting older (I said older, not wiser!), maybe my mind and spirit are more engaged with seeing humanity as a whole. What do we, as a species, do to one another? How can we make it snow inside a massive shopping-an when people are literally starving outside in the streets of Manila? How can we spend a million plus on Millenium Park and not spend the equivalent on helping Chicagoâ€™s homeless folks find sustainable work, the basics of food and medicine, and a clean, simple place to sleep from day to day?
For me, journeys often open up more questions than they answer. Personally, I love the big questions. With big questions weâ€™re given the chance to grow and transform. And whatâ€™s life without transformation?