If This Is Tuesday, This Must Be Manila
by Jean Barbazette, President, The Training Clinic
Taipei was a stopover city in my travels to do 4 days of training in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and two days of training in Manila, Philippines. This marked my fifth extended training trip to the region in the past two years and my first time visiting The Philippines.
The 14 hour jaunt on China Air from LAX to Taipei began at 3:00 p.m. and was uneventful but tiring . I landed at Chaing Kai-shek Airport at 5 o'clock in the morning (LA time) but by the time I got through immigration and found transportation to my hotel, I didn't get to sleep until 7 o'clock in the morning. Ugh!
Attempting to travel straight through to Kuala Lumpur would have added another six to seven hours to an already exhausting trip. So, since I hadn't visited Taipei in the past I decided to spend one day and two nights in the city.
As a side note, I think I have finally figured out when is the best time to depart on a lengthy West-bound, international airplane trip. In the past I would leave in the evening -- frequently the late evening -- and sometimes the very early morning -- 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. This usually meant I boarded the plane after already being awake 16 to 18 hours and having completed a full day's work and/or packing. By the time the plane was in the air and all the drinks and food were dispensed, I would already have been awake 20 to 24 hours. Then, I would be looking at 18 to 22 hours of flying and airport layovers. Now, I try and schedule my departure for the mid-morning so that I begin my travels during normal daylight hours when my body expects to be up and while I am still rested. Depending on the departure time and destination it is possible to arrive in Taipei, Taiwan or Norita, Japan at a Pacific Coast time that is in the late evening. Then, by the time I get to my hotel and clean up I am just about ready to turn in for a long night's sleep.
But, back to Taipei. Taipei is an "in the middle" city. By that I mean that it isn't as bad as some Asian cities but it isn't as nice as many others, either. For instance, Taipei is dirtier and more polluted than Singapore but cleaner than Jakarta. Its people seem friendlier than the Japanese but not nearly as open and hospitable as the Thais. The city is less crowded than Canton but more crowded than Kuala Lumpur. Even a half-day city tour didn't do much to increase the appeal of Taipei. In short, it isn't a city that I would make a special effort to return to unless it made my travel plans easier, or if I had an opportunity to visit the countryside.
My hotel in Kuala Lumpur is the Crown Princess, a modern 34 story hotel attached to an upscale shopping center that would be right at home in Southern California. My large room has a marble tiled entry and bathroom, both tub and shower, queen-size bed, mini-bar, refrigerator, entertainment center, couch, desk and side-chair. All this for $88.00 a night, about half of what you would expect to pay in the U.S.
The night before the first workshop I enjoyed dinner out with my Malaysian business sponsors. We ate at a Northern Indian restaurant that features many vegetarian dishes and chicken and lamb tandooris (grilled meats). Since about 10% of Malaysians are ethnically Indian it isn't unusual to see many Indian (Northern and Southern) restaurants. The food was delicious and not too hot.The day following my first workshop was Deepavali, a national holiday . . . so no workshops. I was invited and attended an open house at an Indian family's home (The man of the house is an instructor for my Malaysian sponsor). The Deepavali visit was fascinating.
Deepavali is the Indian religious festival of "lights". It symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness and the blending of our spiritual nature to the flame of the candle in an offering. This family rose at 6:00 a.m., bathed in oil (a ritual of the holiday), then went to their temple to pray. The rest of the day was spent visiting or hosting "open houses" held by almost every Indian for family and friends. Even the high government officials host public "open houses" at their residences for anybody who wants to stop by and visit. During my visit I was offered soft drinks or tea (alcohol was not served because the host does not allow it in his home), sweet candies and cookies and then a complete, sit-down vegetarian luncheon. The food was not too hot, but was very tasty. There was an emphasis on bread, beans, vegetables (of course) and yogurt. We were then served a homemade tea with cinnamon and cream. It was a little sweet for my taste.During the visit we discussed Malaysian politics (they love their Prime Minister to the point that his opponents are now afraid to criticize him); the judicial system (they have two court systems: a civil court for crimes and some civil litigation and an Islamic court for followers to settle their divorce and other disputes); and the cost of living (a new secretary earns $600/month, an office worker earns $800-$1200/month depending on experience, and a 3 bedroom, 2 bath apartment will rent for $400-$600/month).
I inquired about the salaries paid to training personnel. A full-time, internal trainer will earn about $1600/month. A training manager for a large company will earn $2000/month. After 3 successful public workshops and 1 in-house program I departed for the Philippines.
The Philippines is a cross between the poverty, congestion and pollution of Jakarta and the personal friendliness and cordiality of the Mexican people. Every empire or nation that has occupied the Philippines has left its mark. It was a Spanish colony for about 400 years. The American influence is especially obvious. America took over the Philippines at the end of the Spanish American War in 1905. Everywhere you look you see American brand names and the people speak English (sort of) and Tagalog. When I attended Sunday Mass in an outdoor church located in the center of a park the priest gave half the sermon in English and half in Tagalog. Even the newspaper articles will have a paragraph in English and then a paragraph in Tagalog. As I toured Manila I noticed some interesting items:
- There are security guards, with weapons - often shotguns -everywhere you go. Even the smallest bank branch has two guards at the door. Almost every department in a large department store has its own armed guard. At first I thought it was an indication of danger. But, I was told that in the past many rival political leaders had their own armies. In order to disband them without causing an uprising or increasing unemployment they were allowed to become part of a "legal" security guard service. Now everybody is happy. They also guard private communities and are known to shoot anyone climbing over the wall and ask questions later!
- Philippinos are very religious and very Catholic. Almost every taxi driver has religious cards, rosary beads or medals hanging from his rearview mirror. Some Western television movies and shows like "Designing Women" have the words "parental guidance" superimposed on a corner of the picture throughout the show.
The finale for this training trip was a very successful one-day workshop for nearly a hundred people in Manila. I am looking forward to a return trip to The Philippines in April.