After months of preparation and anticipation, the international field experience portion of my Teachers for Global Classrooms fellowship finally arrived. At 3:45 AM Eastern time my alarm sounded to signal the beginning of what would be 30+ hour journey from Boston to Manila. The first leg was a two-and-a-half hour flight to Detroit. There I rendezvoused with three of my fellow fellows and Hannah, the IREX staff member who would be accompanying us for our field experience. After a brief layover, the five of us boarded one of Delta's seven remaining Boeing 747-400s, bound for Tokyo. The 747-400 is an outdated aircraft, a relic of the 1980's that has since been surpassed in efficiency by several long-range aircraft. Our aircraft, N662, happened to be the oldest 747-400 still flying today, having first flown in 1988. I regretted Googling this fact and decided not to volunteer it to anyone else prior to the flight.
Our flight to Tokyo would last twelve-and-a-half hours, breaking my previous record for longest flight (London to Johannesburg) by an hour and a half. Because long distance flights follow great circle routes, our 6,600 miles flight path took us well inside the arctic circle, north of Alaska and then south across Eastern Siberia. I was blown away by this view of the ice sheet on the arctic ocean.
We had a two hour layover in Tokyo before the final leg of our journey to Manila. Not enough time to leave the airport, but enough time to have some damn good ramen:
After a final four-hour flight to Manilla, we arrived in the Philippines at around 8:45 PM local time, nearly 30 hours after I had left my house in Norwood. By the numbers:
Miles flown: 9,060 miles
Total flight time: 19 hours
Total travel time: 30.5 hours (House-to-hotel)
Hours slept: 0.05 (I can't really sleep sitting up.)
Northernmost Latitude: ~72.5° North
Movies watched: 11
Good movies watched: 8
We were greeted in Manila by Alix, an ILEP alum, high school principal, and our in-country contact. After a short ride to our hotel we sat down for a delicious welcome dinner. Dinner was followed by blissful and deep sleep.
The morning of our first full day in the Philippines was scheduled open to give us time to rest and adjust, if necessary. We slept in a bit, to 8:00 AM or so, but then we wanted to explore! We started at the Ayala Museum which showcased Filipino history, art, and culture. One highlight was an extensive set of meticulously crafted dioramas depicting the turbulent history of the Philippines. I was interested to learn that national hero Ninoy Aquino lived in Boston and lectured at Harvard and MIT while he was in exile. Another highlight was a large collection of gold artifacts, most of which dated from the 14th century or earlier. Most impressive was a braided gold chain to be worn like a sash which weighed in at more than ten pounds. The organization and scope of the museum made it feel like we had made three brief visits of an art museum, a history museum, and a culture museum, making it a great "first stop." The only downside: a strict no pictures policy.
Next we explored a network of connected malls/shopping centers. It was very similar in appearance and scale to Montreal's "underground city," the notable exception being the blast of 100 degree humid air that hit you on every outdoor passageway, and the multiple security checkpoints throughout the complexes.
In the afternoon Alix gave us an excellent presentation on the history, culture, geography, and food of the Philippines. It was a nice complement to what I had learned in the museum.
For dinner, we traveled as a group to a restaurant that served many of the traditional Filipino dishes Alix had mentioned in his presentation. I particularly enjoyed the sinigang, a sour soup, and the adobo. This restaurant also featured beautiful live performances of traditional Filipino music and dances. A percussion performance that heavily utilized a large, pot-shaped gong and drum was sufficiently "metal" for my tastes. Surprisingly, several of the dances featured elements of danger! For one dance, the dancers performed their moves while each balancing a lit candle on their head. For another, performers dances above a set of bamboo poles that were rhythmically slammed together, timing their footwork such that they ankles didn't get smashed. Another involved leaping dance moves atop a bench that acted as a balance beam. My seat was ideally located for watching live but not for taking pictures, so I didn't take many. Here's the best one I could get:
The dinner and performance were a great way to end a great day.