Change, Courtesy of the Philippines  

Posted by Brock Booher

Travel should change you. It should broaden your horizons and make you question the status quo. Your experience should leave an indelible impression that becomes a part of who you are from that point forward. I was anxious to see how my oldest son had changed after two years in the Philippines.

Crossing multiple time zones shocks your system, and tosses the pieces of your daily rituals up in the air. That process allows you the opportunity to sift some of the chaff from your life, if you chose. It causes you to evaluate your habits and routines, and prepares you to accept the new surroundings as normal, even though they may be very different. Ironically, the quickest way to recover from the jet lag of crossing several time zones is to get yourself back into a routine as soon as possible.

Our first full day was Sunday, so after breakfast we ventured out and went to church. I found the closest LDS chapel, got the meeting time, drew a map for the taxi driver, and headed out into the crazy Manila traffic. Some things are universal the world over – children, LDS church services, and taxi drivers. Children are cute and loveable. LDS Church services follow the same basic pattern of worship. Taxi drivers try to rip you off. After our first day, I could confirm the universality of those three things in the Philippines.

The second day we did a little sight seeing and ended up in Intramuros, the old walled city built by the Spanish in the late 1500’s. A young man, Ricardo, harassed us until we conceded to take a tour of the old city by horse-drawn cart. His horse, Indian Boy, was a flea-bitten pony that needed some groceries. I was sure we were going to lift the poor creature off the ground when we sat in the back of the cart, but he managed to haul us oversized Americans through the streets.

During the tour we learned the history of the various stone buildings and the people of the Philippines. Ricardo cited dates and names with ease as he rambled on about earthquakes, typhoons, and conquering invaders. I detected a sadness in is voice as he expounded on the various battles that had left so many of his countrymen and women dead or wounded. I wondered if so many invaders had jaded the Philippinos and made them wary of visitors, but I soon had my answer.

If there is a group of people in the world more courteous than Filippinos, I haven’t met them yet. Everywhere we went we were greeted by warm smiles, and friendly greetings. From the hotel staff, to the security guard at the mall, everyone was courteous. I thought at first that I would find a difference when I left the plush tourist area and headed out into the barrios where my son had served, but I found the environment to be the same. People everywhere smiled and offered a greeting as we passed. If we needed help, total strangers would offer us assistance. Even in gnarled traffic that would have brought on serious cases of road rage here in the U.S., people still applied basic courtesy. I think we could teach them a thing or two about traffic control, but they could school us on courtesy.

We Americans are so lazy when it comes to learning foreign languages because we are insulated, and so many people abroad speak English. Because English is the language used in Philippine schools, most Filippinos speak basic English. I learned a few Tagalog phrases before the trip, but found that we could easily communicate in English. Tagalog flows from their mouths like a well-versed song, and their accent in English also carries a harmonic tone. I found their language pleasing to the ear.

The next day, we met up with the Smiths. They are serving a volunteer mission as Humanitarian Service Coordinators for the LDS Church. They gave us the opportunity to join them in service for the day. I always believed that any money I gave to the LDS Church for humanitarian aid was used properly, but now I KNOW that it is used well, and wisely. We visited Mabuhay Deseret, a facility much like a Ronald McDonald house that services children with medical problems such as cleft palette, clubfeet, and vision problems. We then helped deliver goods to a birthing hospital where a child is born every twelve minutes. In spite of the difficult circumstances we witnessed, people were happy. I was also impressed at how little it takes to improve the lives of our fellowman. Consider donating time and money to worthy causes. You will be happier as well.

Seeing our son for the first time in two years was an emotional experience, but maybe not what you think. We were overjoyed, but not the gushing uncontrolled kind of feeling. We experienced a warm embrace, and choked back a tear or two, but overall we felt a sense of pride in his growth and accomplishment. I never did feel sorry for him and his lot. In fact, I have been jealous of his experience. So, when we were reunited after such a long time, it was feeling of mutual comfort and a sense of a new beginning.

I saw several changes in my son. He spoke English with a beautiful Philippine accent, and struggled to find the right words in his native English tongue. His Tagalog made Filippinos stop and gawk since he is very fair skinned with blond hair. Apart from learning the language and culture, he was not the young teenage boy that left our home two years ago. He exuded a deep-seated confidence that comes from building your life on a firm foundation. Gone was the selfish and sometimes undisciplined teenager. He had become a capable and outward-looking adult worthy of our emulation.

We passed through areas of extreme poverty. If I used the word “squalor” I would be too generous. I thought of my rich blessings, and like most of us wondered why I was so blessed, and they were not. I never have an adequate answer for that question, but each time I see such disparity I count my blessings and feel compelled to be more charitable and giving. Likewise, I am reminded of how little we humans require to survive.

We visited the houses of several people Rian had taught, and felt their deep sense of gratitude for our son. His love for the people was obvious. Their reciprocating love was also evident in their faces. They laughed and talked about their mutual experiences, and how their lives had been changed because of each other. We sat in their humble homes feeling grateful to them for treating our son with such affection. I was reminded of the universal goodness that is still available in a world of ever-increasing evil.

As our visit ended, and I boarded the Boeing 747 bound for Tokyo and eventually Los Angeles, I felt fortunate to have visited the Philippines. I was glad I experienced first-hand the sights and sounds of such an industrious and vibrant people. Their warm and courteous spirit moved me. They say travel should change you. As I returned home after a week in the Philippines, I knew that my travel experience had accomplished its task.

This entry was posted on Friday, November 5, 2010 at Friday, November 05, 2010 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


What an incredible adventure! I envy you guys. Ypou deserve to enjoy time together. And,By the way, this is a well written blog.

November 5, 2010 at 10:04 PM

Thanks Dr. Lee!


November 6, 2010 at 7:27 PM

Thank you, Brock. I cried as I read through this and I pondered on the changes and growth that will occur with Nikolas as sets forth on his mission. Today is his final Sunday with us, no doubt another reason for tears. Each final is also a beginning. So many new beginnings that I look forward to him having.

November 7, 2010 at 3:54 AM

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