My Philippines Visit, Trouble in Florida, and Skyline

by Will Espero

I recently returned from a vacation to the Philippines in my Dad’s home province after 18 years since my last visit. I hadn’t been to Manila for 15 years, and I must say I was impressed with what I saw.

The gap between the wealthy and not-so-wealthy was still apparent, but progress and improvements were noticeable and visible.

The 10-day visit was the longest vacation I had taken in my adult life, and my experiences and connections were precious and memorable.

We celebrated my Dad’s 90th birthday in San Juan, La Union next door to Bacnotan, La Union where my brother and father were born. San Juan is the surfing capital of the Northern Luzon, Philippines and a local tourist destination, and the niche resort atmosphere and the local population mix well as the reality of local living embraced the demand of out-of-towners seeking sun, fun, and beaches.

The importance of my family was readily apparent as the children of Aunties and Uncles who passed away continued the legacy of ancestors of the past. Young nephews and nieces and aging cousins enhanced the visit as I met and reconnected with quiet, curious, and motivated relatives. Our karaoke lunch at my Aunt’s house was one of the highlights of my trip.

My Dad joined the United States Navy in 1956 and spent 21 years proudly serving our country. He was a very good cook who ended up working in officers’ clubs and personally cooking for admirals, and his after-Navy life included being a chef, caterer, and operating his own restaurant.

In 1961, my family left the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Japan where I was born and arrived in California via a passenger ship. We experienced military life moving every two or three years residing in California, Washington (three times), Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Cuba, and Italy. It was an exciting and special time as we were able to visit and see many places and destinations thanks to the U.S. government.

Late last year, my parents and brother returned to the Philippines to spend more time in the motherland and be near family. As an 89-year-old American of Filipino ancestry, my Dad wanted to return to the Philippines in his golden years. Being the oldest living sibling in our immediate family, I believe he feels an obligation to be near relatives and help when possible.

I was concerned because of his age and health issues but realized this would be his homecoming as he considered a part-time home in La Union so he could spend time in the US and the Philippines as many of our elderly do. Traveling back and forth is common amongst many senior citizens as the value of the dollar goes so much farther in the Philippines. With the presence of so many relatives, it’s almost just like home.

Even though I know they exist in the Philippines, I didn’t see one homeless person and I saw very little graffiti, contrary to what we often see in Hawaii. There were no loud illegal fireworks, but the distant sound of roosters crowing could be heard at times as expected.

The air in Manila was hazy but tolerable since we stayed indoors most of the time. Manila’s modern new developments rival any major city in Asia, and I was particularly impressed during my short stay with Aseana City located near the Mall of Asia, one of the largest malls in the world.

In the province, the air was cleaner, and the skies were bluer although it was hot and humid in the daytime. It is rainy season now, and it rained mostly in the evening. For a couple of nights, the rainfall was almost non-stop, and I truly enjoyed the constant rain and the sound of monsoon downpours and a passing storm. The food was delicious, the sunsets when it was not cloudy were spectacular, and the retail prices made shopping enjoyable.

Following up on Edwin Quinabo’s July 15 cover story article about retirement in the Philippines, I can see why some Filipinos return to the Philippines to retire.

Family and cost of living play a big role in the decision, and with the high cost of living in Hawaii, the option between Las Vegas and the Philippines is an easy one for those who want a tropical setting with family and friends nearby.

My own relatives from the United States often travel to the Philippines to visit, and I certainly look forward to my next visit with the idea of traveling more throughout the beautiful islands and partaking in the rich culture and heritage.

On another note, the nonsense occurring in Florida due to its local conservative politicians and Board of Education is disgusting and pathetic. To think that slaves could benefit from slavery is ludicrous and crazy.

These out-of-touch policymakers need to be re-educated and given a true history lesson instead of trying to spread fake ideas, rhetoric, and propaganda in their education system.

Vice-President Kamala Harris was correct to be outraged and to call out these Floridians and criticize the new Florida education standards. The conservative ideology oozing out of Florida from challenging and censoring books to gender and sexual orientation issues is a threat to our Democracy and society.

Manipulating the truth about slavery and black history in Florida schools is unacceptable. An inaccurate depiction of history is the last thing we want in our schools, and we must not let these warped and misleading thoughts and thinking go beyond the borders of Florida.

The sunshine state is cloudy, and we must prepare for the coming storm being exploited by unreasonable, troublesome decision-makers.

Finally, Oahu’s rail system (Skyline) has been running for over a month, and the short route is great for those traveling from Kapolei to the stadium. Ridership is low for now, but, air-conditioned seating is readily available for all.

The complete benefit of rail won’t be fully realized until it goes to downtown, Ala Moana Shopping Center, and maybe the University of Hawaii, however, the over-budget project is a key investment in Oahu’s future transportation infrastructure. Rail is about mobility, moving commuters with ease, and getting people out of their cars.

If the Stadium site overlooking Pearl Harbor can be developed to include massive affordable housing for our local population, transit-oriented development can help the governor and mayor deal with the housing shortage and crisis facing our local families.

Other rail stops have the same potential, and county and state governments must now work together to deliver crucial affordable housing.

If the government and the private sector fail to maximize the value of transit-oriented development along Skyline, the exodus of Hawaii families leaving for the continent will continue, and the loss to Hawaii will continue to hurt the middle-class, low income, and poor.

WILL ESPERO retired from the Hawaii legislature after serving 19 years in the state House of Representatives and state Senate. He is currently a novelist, poet, and supporter of the arts. Lingering Thoughts provides a glimpse of his perspective on current events and issues. 

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