Philippines


The Philippines is a land of contrasts. An archipelago of more than 7,100 islands with almost 100 million inhabitants, it is the most Hispanic nation in Asia but a place all its own. From shades of Spanish culture, Roman Catholicism and Islam, American-style malls and fast food, and its very name in honor of King Philip II of Spain, the country has long been shaped by foreign influences. Combined with its indigenous heritage, the Philippines has become a nation diverse and unique. From the millions of Filipinos who work hard around the world to provide for their families back home to the tragedy of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) that devastated the central part of the country in November 2013, the Philippines is a land filled with resilience and hope. Poverty and an increasing sense that life is getting better for most. Beauty and bad traffic. Gorgeous volcanoes that wipe out cities and villages. Delicious food cheap and fattening. Warm and friendly people who live life and make the best of what may come, for better or for worse. If you have the chance to visit the Philippines, take it. But don’t simply head to a beach resort for scuba diving and a tan. Hop in a Jeepney and go off the beaten path. You’ll never know what you’ll find in this incredible archipelago.

More About the Philippines

A View of Taal Lake and Volcano Island in Tagaytay

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Sunset over Manila Bay

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Entrance Gate of Fort Santiago in Intramuros, Manila

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Kilometer Marker 21 of the Bataan Death March and Mt. Samet on the Bataan Peninsula

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Bataan Death March, Philippines (Video)


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During my 2014 trip to the Philippines, I retraced the route of the infamous Bataan Death March on the Bataan Peninsula on Luzon Island north of Manila. It was fortuitous that I followed the route on the 72nd anniversary of the March.

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After the surrender of the U.S.-Filipino Bataan Defense Force during World War II to the Japanese on April 9, 1942, thousands of American and Filipino prisoners were force marched 102 kilometers from Mariveles and Bagac on the Bataan Peninsula to San Fernando in Pampanga. An estimated 60,000-80,000 Filipino and American prisoners of war endured the seven-day Bataan Death March. Those who made it to San Fernando on April 17, 1942, were loaded onto train cars by the hundreds and transferred by rail to the concentration camp at Camp O’Donell. Approximately 2,500-10,000 Filipino and 100-650 American prisoners of war died  from execution, exhaustion, injury, thirst, malaria, and other causes along the way. Survivors were held prisoner until Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II in September 1945.

This video footage shows what the route of the Bataan Death March looks like today.

Route of the Bataan Death March, Philippines

No longer a dirt trail, much of it is now the Bataan Provincial Expressway. It begins at Zero Kilometer Death March Marker (Km 00) Memorial in Mariveles. A second route from Bagac, a district in the interior of Bataan Peninsula where thousands more prisoners were forced marched, merges with the Mariveles branch at Kilometer 23. The highway continues north to San Fernando with dozens of markers and memorials along the way.

Bataan Death March Route

The video begins at Zero Kilometer and follows the Bataan Death March route from kilometer 4 to 13. The shaky cam from an air-conditioned vehicle doesn’t convey what prisoners of war endured during the March, but it will give you a sense of the challenges they faced en route.

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Straight from the Headlines: Sakhalin and Kurils Secede from Russia


Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Russia (RFN) – The Russian Far East islands of the Kurils and Sakhalin voted to secede from Russia and rejoin Japan.

An overwhelming majority in the Russian Far East federal subject of Sakhalin Oblast, better known as the Kurils and Sakhalin, voted today in a controversial election to leave the Russian Federation and rejoin Japan. Exit polls indicated that 99 percent of voters favored secession from Russia and annexation by Japan, which had governed the islands from 1807 until the end of World War II. The referendum called “hasty” and “illegitimate” by critics was held ten days after former Sakhalin Oblast governor Alexander Khoroshavin and his top aides fled to Moscow following a period of political unrest in the islands’ capital, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.

Russia Red SquareThe Sakhalin Oblast government led by interim governor Shigeru Kayano defended the vote as free and fair. “The will of the people is to rejoin the Motherland, Japan. The Russians are constantly trying to drive us into a corner because we have an independent position, because we maintain it, and because we tell it like it is and don’t engage in hypocrisy. But there is a limit to everything. Russia has crossed the line, playing the bear and acting irresponsibly and unprofessionally.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and critics called the referendum a “sham” and a violation of international law. Election monitors banned from Sakhalin indicated that a large number of foreign workers in the local oil and gas industry were seen at polling stations. Some observers accused the interim Sakhalin government of preventing Russian voters from going to the polls and refusing to give voters the option to remain a part of the Russian Federation instead of independence or annexation by Japan.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied his country’s involvement in Sakhalin’s move to return to Japan. The Japanese Diet is expected to approve the annexation, and Abe is scheduled to deliver a speech to the parliamentary body on the matter.

Putin decried the movement of ships in the U.S. Pacific Fleet off the coast of Sakhalin as a “dangerous escalation” to enforce the handover. U.S. President Barack Obama denied the claim and stated that the American fleet had been coincidentally carrying out pre-planned military drills in the Sea of Okhotsk. Putin warned that the moves could draw sanctions or a stronger response from Russia.

Before the March 21 disappearance of Khoroshavin and his $2 million Horch 855 Spezial Roadster, the Sakhalin Oblast government had been under pressure from foreign workers and indigenous minorities to ease up on “anti-non-Russian” political restrictions. After thousands of Ainu, Oroks and Nivkhs and foreign workers in the Sakhalin oil and gas industry took to the streets of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk in early March, violence erupted when pro-Russian forces tried unsuccessfully to dislodge the protesters occupying Lenin Square. Interim governor Kayano chided the Russian government for what he called “heavy-handed tactics” and stated that “Russia pressed the spring too hard, and it snapped back.”

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ACLU Seeks an End to April Fool’s Day

Los Angeles (RFN) – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), citing possible civil rights violations on April Fool’s Day, set up a hotline to help end the practice of perpetrating practical jokes on unsuspecting fools the first day in April. The ACLU asks those who are potential victims of April Fool’s Day pranks to contact the April Fool’s hotline at their earliest convenience. The ACLU will prepare cases for eligible claims in an effort to combat this offensive practice. If you believe you have wrongly duped by an April Fool’s Day joke or prank and seek redress, contact the ACLU at 968-3665 (YOU-FOOL).

Visit RFN for all the latest news and information affecting your world.

RFN – We report.

You deal with it.

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Eurasia: A Respite to Rosenheim


This is the sixth installment of a story chronicling my travels in 1994 as a college student. The six-month journey took me to 20 countries in Europe and Asia.

I woke up from a fitful slumber unsure of my location until I remembered that I was on a train somewhere in Bavaria far from anyone or anyplace I knew. I didn’t even know where I was in Germany! The night kept me from getting a good look at the countryside as the high-speed train sped toward Munich like a bullet on silver tracks that cut through the darkness like a knife. The occasional lamp post flickered by, reminding me of a firefly leaving behind a wobbly trail. The luggage stowed overhead groaned as the train’s wheels bounced on the rails. For the time being, this was my world.

The train arrived in Munich about 9 p.m. My only view of the city was a broad boulevard as wide as a runway that stretched away from the train station. It was lit up like Christmas by cars, street lights, and neon signs, the biggest of which was the oversized BMW medallion adorning the company’s headquarters. This was my sole memory of Munich at the time. I have to come back and check out this place someday, I thought, a promise I fulfilled years later.

Germany

I disembarked at Munich’s Hauptbahnhof train station to catch my connection to Rosenheim. Throwing my luggage and myself on the platform, I struggled to locate my departing gate from among the mess of local connections scattered across the byzantine reader board. Rosenheim was just one of several stops on a slower commuter route through Bavaria. My eyes wandered from the board to my ticket to the trains and back until an attendant pointed me in the right direction.

The same drill I learned in Frankfurt played out in Munich as my feet trudged to the gate to wait what seemed like an eternity for the Rosenheim train. The building’s interior reminded me of the German stations depicted in World War II films with its aging architecture that once had a pre-modern elegance but had grown blighted by cracked pavement, sooty fixtures, and smoky air spewing from older trains. Time moved ever slower as I waited to leave, anxious to move on.

Trains 2

I dragged my life onto the train, tossed it overhead, and settled into a wagon with few seats to spare. I sat down next to a young Japanese man named Koji who was headed to Vienna. His affable demeanor gave me a nice respite from the monotony of listening to the sounds of the rail, a common soundtrack in the days before the birth of portable MP3 players. Conversing in English and bits of Japanese, Koji told me of his frustration in exaggerated expressions of traveling by rail in Europe. I laughed at his mimes, flailing hands, and his gruff, smoke-laden chuckles that kept me entertained all the way to Rosenheim.

We were two weary travelers getting by in a strange land, but somehow we managed. Koji spoke little English or German, and my knowledge of the Japanese language was limited to “hello,” “goodbye,” “thank you,” car brands, and sushi dishes. At least I could speak the local language, albeit marginally.

When the train arrived at the Rosenheim Station, I waved goodbye to my new friend and disembarked. I never saw Koji again. I’m not sure how he fared but was certain he finally reached his destination.

Munich

To be continued.

 

Previous installments of Eurasia:

1. Leaving America

2. Vancouver to Frankfurt

3. Adventures in Frankfurt (Part One)

4. Adventurers in Frankfurt (Part Two)

5. On to Munich

Images courtesy of Microsoft.

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clip_image001M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Storiesand Alexander the Salamander, a children’s story set in the Amazon. His books are available to purchase as an e-book and in print from Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2013 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

I Survived Eating Pufferfish


I was extremely busy last night and crashed when I returned to my hotel.  It’s physically draining to be running around all day, hurrying up, stopping, waiting, springing into action.  Tomorrow night will be a very busy day for me as the most important dignitaries arrive here in Busan for the APEC Summit.  To read all about the APEC Summit and the goings-on here in Busan, visit http://www.apec.org/ or http://www.apec2005.org/.  The latter site goes into much more depth about what’s happening now here in Busan than what I could describe in a single blog entry.  It is quite an exciting time to be here in Busan.  I’m amazed to be on the front lines watching the action and advance preparations unfold.  I’m not a spectator, mind you, but I am watching while I work hard doing my small bit to make sure the show goes on smoothly.  The big show, the APEC Economic Leaders’ meeting, is yet to come on November 17, 18, and 19.  I will be here all the way through the Summit and will watch the last major plane fly away a few days later.
Yesterday I tried “bokguk,” or pufferfish soup.  The pufferfish, also known as the blow fish, is a spiny creature that blows itself up into a balloonish shape when it is frightened by potential predators.  The defense mechanism is one way for it to appear larger than life, scaring away the predator.  The pufferfish is also poisonous, secreting a poisonous toxin intended to kill its predator.  Many Americans know that Japanese enjoy eating pufferfish, better known in Japanese as “fugu.”  Stories occasionally come out of Japan claiming that someone died from eating “fugu,” typically caused by the improper preparation of the “fugu” dish.  In Japan, chefs receive extensive training on preparing “fugu” properly, removing the poison glands so that the puffin fish meat remains untainted.  It is considered a delicacy in Japan.

I did not realize that Koreans also eat pufferfish, although this fact makes perfect sense since Busan is just a few hours by boat off the coast of southern Japan.  In Korea, pufferfish is not generally considered a delicacy, and here in Busan, numerous shops serve the fish in a soup for about 5,000 Korean won (about $5.00).  The soup includes bean sprouts and chives and can be served either spicy or mild (depending on whether you want to eat it with red pepper paste.  It is typically served with rice and a variety of panchan, or side dishes.   The pufferfish meat is cut into large chunks and served in the soup.  One typically eats every part of the fish except the head, organs, and spine.  The meat is delicious.  Served fresh, the taste and texture do not taste like fish at all.  To use an overused cliche, the meat tastes more like chicken.  (Actually, it tastes more like frog leg.)  Perhaps best of all, the pufferfish has so few bones that it is very easy to eat. 
I’ve wanted to try “fugu” ever since I first read about it when I was a teenager.  Perhaps I’m crazy wanting to eat something that kills some people (I think the victims are typically children or the elderly).  I have no desire to eat live octopus, which here in Korea the cephalopod is occasionally known to kill an unwary diner if the struggling animal lodges itself in the diner’s throat and suffocates the diner, as happened to an unfortunate Korean man in the past year.  I personally think it’s cruel to eat live animals and would rather that my food not move on my plate while eating it.  I have the same apprehension whenever my wife’s family eats “drunken shrimp,” a Chinese delicacy featuring live shrimp soaked in alcohol.  I just cannot bear to eat an inebriated shrimp starting up at me with those big black eyes, as if to say, “Hey dude, surf’s up!”
According to Wikipedia, all species of pufferfish off the coast of Korea are considered poisonous.  It mentions a hilarious episode of “The Simpsons” in which Homer Simpson eats pufferfish and is mistakenly told he has just 24 hours to live.  Like Homer Simpson, I too ate pufferfish and lived to tell about it.  Perhaps more daringly, I ate pufferfish at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant I’m sure is run by a Korean family as a small business.  I’m positive the cook did not attend professional pufferfish culinary training.  Well, I survived anyway.  Will I try it again sometime?  Oh, I suppose I will, depending on the occasion, now that I know how delicious it is.  Hopefully next time I will try it at an upscale restaurant, where I would feel more comfortable about how my meal has been prepared.

Hanliu / Hallyu (한류)


Hanliu (한류), also known as hallyu or the “Korean Wave,” refers to the Korean cultural phenomenon now sweeping across East and Southeast Asia.  Korean culture is hot right now, especially in Japan and China.  Asians are discovering the uniqueness and intrigue of a place once known as the Hermit Kingdom.  The phenomenon started with the spread of a 20-parent Korean drama series produced a few years ago called “Winter Sonata.”  You might have even heard of this series in the news.  Right now it’s the hottest thing in Japan and very popular throughout Asia.  Other Korean drama series that are popular right now include “Summer Scent”, “Fall Fairy Tale”, and “Stairway to Heaven” (yes, the Led Zepplin classic is one of the featured songs).  I enjoy watching these dramas to improve my Korean, but they are not my kind of movie.  They can be slow, and the plotlines are too simple and have too many coincidences for my taste.  Rather than using violence to create suspense, these dramas tend to inflict characters with illnesses–blindness, amnesia, and heart failure.  Nothing like a good heart transplant to bring people together.

My wife, who grew up in Asia, is crazy about these movies.  Her favorite actor is a hunk who makes every woman in Asia weak in the knees, Bae Yong Jun (배용준).  Very few actors have made the same kind of splash in the U.S. as BYJ has in Asia.  The rapid rise of Leo DiCaprio after the release of the movie “Titanic” is probably the best comparison to Bae hysteria in Japan and Asia.  Interestingly, the popularity of “Winter Sonata” has cooled in Korea because it’s already a few years old.  I imagine that when the new “Spring” series comes out–the last of the four “seasons” dramas, it will be immensely popular in Korea and Japan.

Korean movies have heightened interest throughout Asia in other aspects of Korean culture, including music, technology, martial arts (tae kwondo), and language.  In Japan the wave of Hanliu is still on the rise.  It’s rare that the Japanese embrace another culture so quickly and feverishly.  Korean dramas are especially popular with Asians because many closely identify with the dramas’ main themes–love, love triangles, family duty, personality conflicts and manipulation, innocence, intimacy, and tragedy.  Korean culture itself is intriguing because it still embodies many Confucian principles, and Asians are revisiting these principles, perhaps for the first time.  This is especially true in China, which lost some of its Confucist character following World War II and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.

For Christmas I bought my wife the “Winter Sonata” soundtrack and a Bae Yong Jun T-shirt.  After an exhaustive search I found just one to buy on the Web.  (I found it at Kpopmusic).  I told my mother, and she exclaimed, “You bought her a T-shirt?!”  An American, she doesn’t understand.  At this moment that’s the best gift I could give her.  She plans to wear it proudly and show it off to all the Koreans she knows.