Our interns land in the Philippines…

Hi Everyone,

Firth here. I’m in the Philippines now (didn’t crash and burn in the  Pacific), and it’s extremely hot. I am thankful for this semi-cool internet  cafe, except for the frequent wafts of dog business coming from Julian’s shoes, which he inexplicably refuses to wipe off (Julian — go find another internet cafe to smell up! Lol 😉 )

San Fernando’s pretty  cool…non-temperature wise, that is. Julian and I have been getting up at a  chirpy 6am and have been doing a lot of shopping (new business shoes for 4.5  dollars, phone for $25, a huge huge pile of groceries for $20, an  electric flyswatter for $4, lunch for $2…everything’s amazingly cheap). By  the way, what have I been doing all my life waking up at 10am+? The day  seems twice as long if you get up early, it’s awesome, I feel as if I’ve been here for a week.

I was super excited to discover how linguistically diverse the Philippines is. I was afraid that it would only be in name only — kind of like Papua  New Guinea, where they boast 1000 languages but a lot of them aren’t really  spoken, have been utterly bastardized, or have a morbidly low number of speakers. In the Philippines, however, people really do speak their local  language. The local one here is Illocano, which is completely unintelligible  from Tagalog, the country’s lingua franca. A few words of Tagalog are thrown  into the talk here (like “goodbye” = “pa’alam”), but for the most part  people use Illocano. When we ask people, “How do you say…?” they assume we  are asking for the Tagolog word, but are excited when they realize we are  more interested in learning their own language. There are also a few other  linguistic groups here. We tried to impress the staff of a shoe store with a  little Illocano, but it turned out they all spoke a language called Bikol  and were from some province 16 hours from here!

I’m counting pharmacies, cuz there seems to be a million of them. I have  yet to figure out if this means that Filipinos are extremely healthy or  unhealthy. But nevertheless they will surely be a good resource.

I’m also  counting instances of American music, but I’ve lost count. Jay Z, Beyonce,  Keisha, Dannity Kane, TI, Lady Gaga…you can’t escape. Especially Lady Gaga. American culture in general is fairly pervasive here. Our colleagues  who picked us up for the 7 hour drive from Manila to San Fernando seemed only interested in stopping at KFC or McDonalds for meals. There’s also  Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and Dairy Queen. The weird thing is that they can  really be anywhere, not just their typical petrol station environments. We  were walking around some kind of informal fruit and vegetable market and in  some obscure corner, hemmed in by many shops and signs, we saw a dusty Dunkin Donuts sign. I thought it was just a sign, like those abundant coca  cola signs above shops unrelated to coca-cola, but sure enough there was a  Dunkin Donuts!!

The drive up from Manila was on a National Highway, although it was a two  laner for most of the way, curbless, packed with pedestrians, and about 40km  per hour. The whole 280 km stretch was lined with random stalls and bus  stops and administrative buildings and houses, as if we never had left the outskirts of Manila. But if one looked beyond the first row of buildings,  you’d realize that for the most part it was pretty much just fields;  although the towns were admittedly closely spaced, and pedestrian traffic  was always high for some reason. As we passed settlement after settlement, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of economy each had, and thought how  difficult it might be to find the capital to start certain projects in  them. It never occurred to me that San Fernando might look like one of these  myriad places, and I might have a similarly hard thinking creatively about  what S.F could do with minimal funds. Being hit by this realization was a  good thing, as it eradicated the paradisical stereotype of the Philippines that I held—if not intellectually—but subconsciously. Such a  misconception probably was nurtured by the “oohs” and “aaahs” I got every  time I told friends back home that I was heading for the Philippines.  Anyway, although San Fernando was not the Paradise I may have accidentally,  momentarily, thought it might be, my lowered expectations from the car ride  up gave me the pleasant surprise to discover that it’s actually a really  vibrant town, with really friendly people, non-invasive sellers, and a  stronger economic base than the many settlements we passed on the way here.

Tomorrow, Julian and I start work. Wish us luck!



About sustainablecitiesnetwork

Sustainable Cities International is a registered not-for-profit organization based in Vancouver, Canada. Operating since 1993, the mission of Sustainable Cities is to catalyze action on urban sustainability with cities around the world. We work by connecting and mobilizing people through the process of co-creating. We facilitate a thriving, international network of cities that act as urban laboratories: adopting, testing and improving on innovations. Ideas are accelerated through sharing of experience and cities are making transformational change a reality
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3 Responses to Our interns land in the Philippines…

  1. Jane McRae says:

    Hi Firth and Julian – Jane McRae here. Sounds like you are adjusting extremely well, and no doubt making your other intern colleagues jealous about how cheap it is living in the Philippines! Although having to suffer through Julian’s unwillingness to clean the poo off his shoes sounds like its not all good times for you, Firth. One thing I am struck by from your posts is how advanced the environmental practices seem to be – they have the technological know-how and are applying it – (composting toilets, bio-waste to energy, etc). I am wondering if you can tell me what some of the things are that Valmar and your collegaues in San Fernando are hoping to learn from other cities – either within the PLUS Network, or elsewhere – and/or what practices they would want to showcase to other Network members. This could be either through articles, short stories and at our Biennial Conference in September.

  2. A virtual patriot says:

    By sustainable cities, are you only focused on environment? Can emplyment, education, governance, and health also be sustainable? Can sustainability be defined away from environment? Thank you.


  3. Firth McEachern says:

    While my work in San Fernando is primarily environmentally-focused, sustainability is an all encompassing concept, and is not suited to compartmentalizing. That is, even though preserving the quality, productivity, diversity, and resilience of our habitats is an environmental objective to first order, it is many other things as well. Without certain social conditions in place, such as respect for the environment, food and shelter security, a responsible government, some form of education (whether informal or formal), local empowerment, and ethical business, the environment cannot be guaranteed protection. Concomitantly, when the environment is better protected, other aspects of our life improve too, such as health (both physical and psychological) and even the economy. Hence, the quest for environmental sustainability and other forms of sustainability go hand in hand.

    Sustainable Cities, the organization who sent me to the Philippines, realizes this interconnection. It is an international organization committed to sharing, teaching, and implementing sustainable ideals, so even though most of its initiatives have an environmental slant, they are by no means restricted to the environment. Sustainable Cities oversees a network of cities called the Plus Network, whose members have made tremendous strides regarding social and environmental improvement. For example: the preservation of heritage buildings in Saint John, Canada; enhanced eco-tourism in San Jose, Costa Rica; organic urban agriculture in Bangkok; the inclusion of indigenous communities in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver; and a whole range of programs here in San Fernando.

    As an aside, over the last few years the ties between environmental integrity, health, and the economy have been better highlighted, spurring action across the globe. After so many decades of environmentalism being a niche concern, it has finally entered the limelight. Unfortunately some issues remain niche concerns, for their connections with the more familiar and exigent problems of the economy and personal health are less understood. For example, a worrying trend I have come to witness is the rapid decay of languages in the Philippines. No schooling is conducted in local languages, radio, TV, and music are flooded with Tagalog and English, and—in part because of the media and lack of government support—many people perceive those two languages to be more prestigious than local ones. As a result, many mothers are purposefully not passing on their mother tongue and children are growing up Tagalog/English speaking. No ethnolinguistic group should feel inferior to any other, whether by official policy or public sentiment. And no matter how environmentally-friendly a society is, it cannot be called sustainable unless there is equivalent respect for its cultural and historical assets. I hope to delve into these more elusive aspects of sustainability, as something tells me languages and cultures are worth sustaining despite being more difficult to contextualize. Part of my responsibility in San Fernando is to identify projects for future interns, so perhaps they could investigate such problems as part of new independent projects on sustainability. I shall bring this up with Sustainable Cities.

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