Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What an Experience in Manila

Manila is the epicenter of the Philippines. In other words, it was as if we were in Washington D.C. today. Certain things are important in Manila that may not be as important in other parts of the Islands. That sentiment is also true in the U.S. Some things that are talked about in D.C. are not talked about in Kentucky. Today, in Manila, we had our breakfast meeting with our very dear friend Paquito Claravall. Paquito is our in-country point of contact. He has set up most of our logistics, helped educate our students on Filipino cultures, and has guided us around as a family member. During our breakfast meeting we discussed our upcoming plans. He will travel to Cebu later in the week to observe our Cebu operations and meet with some of his staff that is based in Cebu. Our relationship with Paquito is priceless, and we are thankful for his continued willingness to work with us.

After breakfast we walked across the street to the U.S. Embassy in Manila. This is a very historic place. It was the location for Japanese war crimes trials and at one time it was occupied by the Japanese when they occupied the Philippines. The Philippines has been occupied by Spain and Japan.  The U.S. has also had a strong presence in the Philippines both before and after WWII. To be in the Embassy on December 7, 2010 is very special. As a veteran it was somber and a privilege.

We arrived about 30 minutes early for our planned visit with the U.S. Ambassador. We were kindly treated and then escorted to meet with the Cultural Affairs liaison, and later the Public Affairs liaison. These were people we had worked with via email to make these arrangements and to keep informed about our in-country activities. It was very nice to meet these individuals who have devoted their lives to Foreign Service. What a wonderful profession they are in – one that shares some of the same attributes as higher education.

Dr. Clark and I shared our program in great detail, had a few laughs with our colleagues in the Embassy, and then had the incredible honor to spend nearly an hour with the Ambassador. Wow. We were both humbled by the enormity of what was occurring. For me, a simple person that grew up free from wealth in Seattle – to be sitting in an Ambassador’s office in the Philippines seemed a long ways away from my humble but special upbringings. Yet, there I was with Dr. Clark. The first thing we discussed was service, our service. He sincerely thanked both Dr. Clark and I for our service to our country. As a veteran, this was meaningful to me since I was there on the heels of many others that served with honor for our U.S. As a peacetime veteran I feel fortunate to have served when there was no conflict (a rare period of time).

There were four of us in the room after the pictures were taken. Once we receive the photo I will upload it. The Ambassador shared his passion for service and his desire to expose more students, like those from UofL, to Foreign Service. This is why he was so interested in meeting us and why he was so interested in what we do. We shared our ISLP history and our work in Cebu. We also presented to him our photo book, a thumb drive (to the Public Affairs liaison) that contained all the videos and photos from last year’s program, a photo book of Kentucky, and our commemorative plate depicting the George C. Howe Red Barn (that one may put on the shelve to display). It was autographed by George himself. One of the few with his signature! We could see the sincere appreciation for the gifts. He understood the meaning of each of them. We also took the opportunity to invite him to campus, and we hope he will take us up on the offer in the future. As a person of color, and an Ambassador, it would be fantastic for our students to see him personally.

After about an hour of very engaging conversation and some light banter we departed to meet again with the Cultural Affairs liaison and the press/media officer. We provided her media information (facts and information), talked about our stay, and laughed a little. After about 30 minutes our new best buddy (the Cultural Affairs liaison) walked us out of the Embassy and back to our hotel. He was going out for lunch near our hotel.

In the Embassy we saw many things including the dents on the pole that holds the U.S. Flag. These were dents from WWII shells. We saw historical photos and stood in the same place as the Japanese war crimes trials. We stood where Emperors once stood many years ago. We also shared our passionate work with our Foreign Service colleagues. It was a perfect day and the perfect trip – and the reason we came through Manila this trip.

Upon returning to the hotel, Paquito was waiting for us to show us a small piece of the Manila history before our evening flight to Cebu. We also stopped at the Manila American Memorial Cemetery. Wow. I have never been to our nation’s cemetery, but this one was the largest one outside of the U.S. I was in Awe. Totally. Completely. I was there amongst the white crosses (burial markers) of those that died in past wars and service. Again, I was humbled beyond belief. 17,000 souls were buried in this cemetery. The U.S. Ambassador encouraged us to visit the cemetery, in part because of what it stood for and also because it was December 7th. We paid our respects to those that were there and then departed for the airport. I said a private prayer.

Our flight to Cebu was a short one hour. Checking in we were reminded of the 7 kg rule for carry-ons and had to check our carry-on. That was a bummer since we were both overweight (no jokes from any students now). Once on the plane we both slept the entire time.

Landing in Cebu was nice – it was just nice to be where we will be for the next 10 days. Tom Clark and I looked at each other, shook hands, and said, “We made it!” We both knew what we meant. We are here and our work will soon begin. It was sure nice sleeping in the hotel last night. I had a solid seven hours and woke up at 6 a.m. My body is almost in sync. – remember Cebu is 13 hours ahead of Louisville. I had a light workout in the fitness room and then started planning for today. More on that later.

Submitted by Dr. Tom Jackson, Jr.

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