While D was still fighting the fog of jet lag, S was burning up with wanderlust. It’s not that her first three months in the Philippines were uneventful; far from it. Moving to a new country, then moving again a few weeks later from temporary housing to our permanent apartment; getting the kids settled with school and daycare; figuring her way around Manila while tackling the steep learning curve of her new job – there were more than enough challenges and new experiences to keep S thoroughly occupied during our separation. After spending a couple of months in Manila, however, S longed for a break and an opportunity to begin exploring our new country.
The best part of D’s Manila homecoming was the two weeks of leave he took upon arrival in the Philippines. Ordinarily, we try to maximize our vacation days for travel. In fact, this might be the first time during our nine years in the Foreign Service – other than when our kids were born – that either one of us took an extended period of time off and just stayed home.
If expectation management is the key to happiness, then we came to the Philippines well prepared. Good friends from all three of our previous posts have either served or lived here, and a friend from our Nairobi days now calls the Philippines home. We did not know exactly what to expect – as so much of one’s experience of the Philippine capital depends on where in the city one lives – but, based on what they shared, we had a fairly good idea.
The Philippines’ most (in)famous food – a developing duck embryo that is boiled and eaten from the shell – might not be for everyone. Luckily, there is a much sweeter way to ease into the local food scene. We have previously lived in the tropics on two different continents, but this is our first time living in Southeast Asia, and there is a vast array of fruit here that we are seeing for the first time. In addition to eating our weight in mangos, pomelos, and other more familiar produce, we have enjoyed sampling the local delicacies, a few missteps notwithstanding.
The one thing D had meant to do but didn’t before leaving the States was to sharpen his skates. Ice hockey is likely not the first sport that springs to mind when one thinks of the Philippines. In fact, the country’s national hockey team only participated in its first official international tournament two years ago. The team finished third in the second division at the 2017 Southeast Asia Games and remains unranked by the IIHF. Once D found out there was a hockey scene in Manila, he endeavored to get on a team before arriving in the Philippines.
A bird’s eye view of Manila offers a fascinating glimpse of life in this city. Open up Google Earth and zoom in on the Philippine capital, and you’ll see a warren of densely populated construction – a telltale sign of a crowded metropolis. In fact, Manila proper – with an estimated population of just under two million – is the world’s most densely populated city. There are more than 41,000 inhabitants for each square kilometer of Manila, which easily dwarfs the population density of Mumbai and Dhaka – the next two cities on the list – each of which boasts just over 28,000 residents per square kilometer.