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Day 3: U.S. Embassy, Virlanie Homes, & Intramuros

The other Teachers for Global Classrooms fellows and I started our second full day in the Philippines with a trip to the United States Embassy. We arrived with enough time to spare that we were able to quickly visit the nearby Rizal Monument first. The monument commemorates national hero José Rizal, who was executed about 100 meters away from the monument's location. It is continuously guarded by two Philippine Marines. We had learned a bit about Rizal the day before during our visit to the Ataya Museum and we would learn more later on this day as well. Rizal was a renaissance man; an author, sculptor, political activist, scientist, and lothario--he is said to have had nine or more girlfriends spread throughout several countries at the time of his execution. He also spoke 22 (or more) languages. We couldn't come up with anyone in United States history who would have been a comparable figure. The best I could do was "Benjamin Franklin, if Franklin had become a martyr during the American Revolution." Here I am in front of the monument:

After a thorough security check-in that included surrendering our passports and cellphones, we entered the grounds of the U.S. Embassy. The embassy grounds are technically and legally American Soil. It was pleasant to be back in the United States for a bit. We started out visit with a briefing by the embassy's Public Affairs Counselor Carolyn Glassman. Glassman talked about the role education can play in establishing and supporting international relations, and discussed ways that American teachers could leverage services provided by the state department to connect their students to the world. Most notable was her mention of "American Corners," which can be thought of as miniature American libraries that are spread throughout the world. Many of the corners are hosted by a University and provide educational and cultural programming to the public in addition to access to English language books and research materials. I had never heard of American Corners before. You can read more about the corners located in the Philippines here. There are hundreds of corners throughout the world, Google "American Corners + [Country Name]" to find the ones you are interested in.

Next up was a tour of the historic embassy. The highlight was the flagpole at the center of the grounds. The same flagpole has stood in the same place since before World War II. The Japanese overtook the embassy from the U.S. when they invaded Manila. The flagpole was peppered with numerous bullet holes and shrapnel scars, evidence of the fierce fighting that took place. I could see dozens of marks on the pole, from ground level up to 15 or 20 feet above the ground. It is hard to imagine the amount of carnage that must have taken place in that spot to have resulted in so much damage on just a skinny pole a few inches wide. [Side note: I usually quote lengths in meters/centimeters, but considering the patriotic nature of the topic, I decided to go with feet/inches just this once.] The strict no cameras/phone policy prevented me from taking any pictures, but here is one of General Douglas MacArthur (in white) raising the American flag back up the pole following the end of WWII:

Our embassy visit concluded with a security briefing given by one of the State Department's regional security experts. He gave us a number of useful safety tips and answered our (multitude of) questions to put us at ease.

For lunch we stopped at Vikings, a extremely popular and extremely extensive buffet. They had what seemed like every food imaginable, but I stuck mostly with regional dishes. Ice cream flavors in the Philippines are quite a bit different than what you find in the states. I tried some mango (orange), cheese (yellow), and ube (purple) ice cream. Ube was my favorite--it tasted similar to cake batter ice cream. Ube is a purple yam. Purple yam is considered an invasive species in Florida. Floridians: you need to be making ice cream out of this.

In the afternoon we paid a visit to three of the homes run by the Virlanie Foundation. The Virlanie Foundation is an NGO that "cares for children in need of special protection - those who are among the poorest of the poor, the abandoned, abused, exploited, neglected, and orphaned." Each of the three homes cared for around twenty children at a time. The homes were walking distance from each other, in an impoverished area of the city. It is always shocking to see such poverty so close to booming, wealthy areas of excess. The children at the home were wonderful, curious, and full of life. I look forward to sponsoring one of the children in the future--800 pesos (about $16) covers the food and school supplies for a child for a month. Check out the Virlanie Foundation's website for more information.

Our last stop of the day was a tour of Intramuros, the historic core of Manila. We walked along the 424-year-old ramparts of Fort Santiago and visited the cell in which José Rizal was imprisoned in the days leading up to his trial and execution. Brass footsteps mark the path he was forced to march before his death by firing squad in 1896. A small museum at the site, dedicated to Rizal, featured this massive and dramatically-lit mural:

It was a long, hot, and incredibly interesting day.

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