Philippines Pt. 6 – Special Convention

Finally it was time for the convention – and the reason we had traveled all the way to the other side of the world.  For three days we attended the Ang Salita ng Diyos ay Katotohanan (God’s Word is Truth) Special Convention.

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We were foreigners in a far off land.

Inside Cuneta Astrodome

Inside Cuneta Astrodome

There were about 7,000 in attendance each day, made up of some of the local Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as the delegates from the United States, Indonesia, and Taiwan.  We enjoyed not only the program, but also getting to know one another before and after the sessions, and during lunch.  The majority of the program was in Tagalog, but the local brothers had received special permission from the Philippines government to broadcast a translation in English over the radio.

Chinese speaking friends from Taiwan.

Chinese speaking friends from Taiwan. They gave us beautiful chopsticks, handmade bookmarks, and cookies as gifts.

New friends from Texas.  And easily the tallest group in the building.

New friends from Texas. And easily the tallest group in the building – each of them over 6 feet.

At a little over 5'4", I'm short at home.  But in the Philippines I'm a giant!

At a little over 5’4″, I’m short at home. But in the Philippines I’m a giant!

This is Riley.  He is from our host congregation, Malibay.  Him and his mom found us everyday for lots of hugs and pictures.  We love this family!

This is Riley. He is from our host congregation, Malibay. Him and his mom found us everyday for lots of hugs and pictures. We love this family!

We shared gifts too - pictures from home, and artwork from the kids in some of the Reno, NV congregations.

We shared gifts too – pictures from home, and artwork from the kids in some of the Reno, NV congregations.

Conventions are an opportunity for those who desire, and who qualify, to get baptized as one of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Conventions are an opportunity for those who desire, and who qualify, to get baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

David Splane, a member of the Governing Body, from the world headquarters in Brooklyn, NY, releasing a new Bible study aid.  On the stage with a translator.

David Splane, a member of the Governing Body, from the world headquarters in Brooklyn, NY, releasing a new Bible study aid. On the stage with a translator.

Up close - me and Brother Splane.

Up close – me and Brother Splane.

More pictures with many of our friends from Malibay Congregation.

More pictures with many of our friends from Malibay Congregation.

Many wore traditional costumes from their country, culture, or language group.

Many wore traditional costumes from their country, culture, or language group.

These birds flitted around the Cuneta Astrodome, with 3 others, for the duration of the convention.

These birds flitted around the Cuneta Astrodome, with 3 others, for the duration of the convention.

By the end of the three convention days, we felt like family.  Many hugs were shared and tears were shed as we said, not goodbye, but “until next time” to one another.  As the busses full of delegates pulled away from the convention center, crowds of our new friends waved, blew kisses, and shouted mahal kita (I love you).  It was an experience to be remembered forever.

One of the local beauties.

One of the local beauties.

Outside the convention center.

Outside the convention center.

One more sunset over Manila Bay.

One more sunset over Manila Bay.

Rebecca Knabe

Philippines Pt. 5 – Metro Manila & Ayala Museum Tour

We expected our bus tour of Metro Manila and afternoon at the museum to be a little more low-key than our other days thus far, but our tour guides and the branch still had some surprises in store for us.

Leaving the hotel.  The bomb-sniffing dog that occupies the entrance.

Leaving the hotel. The bomb-sniffing dog that occupies the entrance.

While walking tours are ideal, I like driving tours too, as I find you can still get a good feel for an area when you are limited on time.  Our guides weren’t able to cover quite as much of the city as they had anticipated, due to heavier-than-usual traffic, but we still got quite an extensive overview of the city.

Jeepneys - the local public transportation.  Very affordable at less than 20 cents a pop.

Jeepneys – the local public transportation. Very affordable at less than 20 cents a pop.

The poorest citizens of Manila occupy these self-built shanties along the river.  We were told to stay far away from these areas, in part because dengue fever runs rampant in these slums.

The poorest citizens of Manila occupy these self-built shanties along the river. We were told to stay far away from these areas, in part because dengue fever runs rampant in these slums.

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Interesting architecture from different generations fills the city.

Interesting architecture from different generations fills the city.

I enjoyed photographing the haphazzard powerlines that are strewn up and down every street.

I enjoyed photographing the haphazard power lines that are strewn up and down every street.

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This globe is right outside the Mall of Asia - the largest mall in Asia.  When driving to the mall, the undercarriage of your vehicle is checked with mirrors for explosives.  To enter the mall, you pass through a small security gate with a metal detector and bag check.

This globe is right outside the Mall of Asia – the largest mall in Asia. When driving to the mall, the undercarriage of your vehicle is checked with mirrors for explosives. To enter the mall, you pass through a small security gate with a metal detector and bag check.

There's nothing more romantic than a hot cup of reconstituted noodles.

There’s nothing more romantic than a hot cup of reconstituted noodles.

Lunch was an unexpected treat.  Our busses brought us to the Golden Bay Chinese Restaurant in Pasay City, one of the 16 cities that make up Metro Manila.  We were greeted at the door by several formally dressed individuals, and then sent to our tables, where a family-style Chinese feast was served.  Towards the end of our meal, the group who greeted us at the door, made their way to the stage, to perform a beautiful a capella serenade for all in attendance.  These singers are all currently working as fulltime volunteers at the Philippines Branch Office of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as vocalists for CD’s, DVD’s, and other on-line recordings.

The bethel singers.

The Bethel singers.

We spent the afternoon learning about the history of the Philippines at the Ayala Museum in Makati City, the financial center of the country.  The historical collection at the museum coincides with their mission, “Re-collecting the past.  Re-presenting the future.”

Makati City

Makati City

The lovely courtyard behind the museum.

The lovely courtyard behind the museum.

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Finally, we returned to the hotel for a large evening gathering.  Another feast of local dishes, and entertainment by several local brothers and sisters.  The two-hour program included a vast array of dance routines.  Interestingly, none of the dancers were professional, several just learning the traditional dances for the performance for the delegates.  They had practiced nearly daily for 3 months prior to our visit.  But if no one had told me, I would have never have known this was new to them.  They were that good!

The umbrella dance.

The umbrella dance.

The clay pot dance, which required tremendous balance, as they carried a stack of pots on their heads.

The clay pot dance, which required tremendous balance, as they carried a stack of pots on their heads.

The breathtaking fan dance - of which my photo does not do justice.

The breathtaking fan dance – of which my photo does not do justice.

Rebecca Knabe

Philippines Pt. 4 – Corregidor Island & Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar

This day was long – about 13+ hours of sight-seeing – but it was one of my favorites.  We boarded a ferry early in the morning, and made our way to Corregidor Island, a small tadpole-shaped island at the mouth of Manila Bay.  Our ride was rough, and although there was a doctor on board with lots of sea-sickness medications, many passengers lost their breakfast on the 90 minute ride.  But not me!  🙂  I took some Dramamine, was happy to be there, and enjoyed every moment of the ride, chatting and making new friends.

Our view as we left the city.

Our view as we left the city.

Corregidor was used as a defence post for the entrance of the bay, fortified with several batteries, and coastal artillery and ammunitions magazines, to ward off attacks by enemy warships in the event of war.  During World War II, Corregidor played an important role during the invasion and liberation of the Philippines from Japanese forces. Although heavily bombarded in the latter part of the war, it was briefly used as the temporary location for the Government of the Philippines.  General Douglas MacArthur also used Corregidor as Allied headquarters until March 11, 1942.  Today it is an unoccupied island of ruins, memorials, and a garden of peace.

From boat to trolly busses.

From boat to trolley busses.

Can you spot the goat?

Can you spot the goat?

It is densely lush, green and beautiful.  And as we wound our way through the twisting, narrow roadways, our tour guide/bus driver reassured us several times that Filipinos are a forgiving and happy people, and they love the Americans and Japanese alike.

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Hey hey, it's a monkey....

Hey hey, it’s a monkey….

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Malinta, meaning "full of leeches;" this 390 foot tunnel was used as a bunker and storage, a 1,000-bed hospital, General MacArthur's headquarters, and finally the location of mass suicide of Japanese soldiers trapped within.

Malinta, meaning “full of leeches;” this 390 foot tunnel was used as a bunker and storage, a 1,000-bed hospital, General MacArthur’s headquarters, and finally the location of mass suicide of Japanese soldiers trapped within.

After our short, but sweet tour of the island, we boarded our boat again for a 45 minute ride to Bataan peninsula.  There we climbed aboard touristy jeepneys (a cleaned-up version of the local transportation), and were driven through beautiful mountains, fields, and jungles to Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar.

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A rare sighting of the ferocious Philippine Tiger.

A rare sighting of the ferocious Philippine Tiger.

The entrance to the town, who's theme is, "Pride in the past, hope for the future."

The entrance to the town, whose theme is, “Pride in the past, hope for the future.”

This little resort town is “a living museum,” with 27 architectural structures, dating back to the 18th to early 20th centuries, that were carefully and painstakingly reconstructed from different parts of the country and rebuilt exactly as they originally were.  We were greeted with live music and singing, and although the weather was rainy, we meandered through the cobblestone streets of the picturesque town.

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The stunning view from the bathroom sink.

The stunning view from the bathroom sink.

For lunch we enjoyed a large buffet of traditional dishes, and were entertained by local dancers.  After a little more wandering the area, we got back on the bumpy jeepneys, and made our way to the boat.  To everyone’s relief, our ride back to Manila was smooth and quick, and while it was too cloudy to see the setting sun, the city lights welcomed us back into the harbor.

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Back to Manila.

Back to Manila.

Rebecca Knabe

Philippines Pt. 3 – Metro Manila Assembly Hall & Bethel

Our second full day in Metro Manila was another busy one.  We were still struggling to cope with our jet lag and the 15 hour time difference, but once again, even dazed exhaustion couldn’t keep us down.

We were up before the sun, enjoyed another delicious Filipino breakfast of pancit, and loaded onto the bus headed for the newly built Metro Manila Assembly Hall.  The traffic in Manila, in a word, stinks.  Although only 1 in 5 residents in the city own a vehicle, Metro Manila is one of the most (if not THE most) densely populated cities in the world.  That amounts to a ton of traffic in a not-big-enough-to-accomodate-it area.  So movement around the city was slow, often sitting in heavy gridlock, but allowing for lots of photo opportunities.

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Possibly the only near-empty street in the city.

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We were welcomed at the Assembly Hall by many Filipino Jehovah’s Witnesses, donned in beautiful traditional attire and huge smiles, and holding welcome signs.  Jehovah’s Witnesses are known primarily for two things – our door-to-door preaching work, and our intense love for one another.  This love was evident as we shook hands, hugged, kissed, introduced ourselves, and took pictures with all who were there.

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The man on the far left with the grey umbrella ran next to me for much of my time there, his umbrella shielding me from the sun.  They treated us like royalty, even though we didn't deserve it.  It was a lesson in true humility.

The man on the far left with the grey umbrella ran next to me for much of my time there, his umbrella shielding me from the sun. They treated us like royalty, even though we didn’t deserve it. It was a lesson in true humility.

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The grounds were beautifully landscaped and meticulously maintained.  And we enjoyed wandering around the property in the hot morning sun.  We completed our self-guided walking tour, got back to the busses, and made our way to the Philippines Branch Office of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

A stunning white bird flits by.

A stunning white bird flits by.

Unlike the others, Jericho was not even slightly impressed with us.  :)

Unlike the others, Jericho was not even slightly impressed with us. 🙂

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Again we were greeted with smiles and vigorous waving of hands and streamers.  We enjoyed lunch with many of the local Bethel Family while entertained by a musical performance, and then our tour of the facility commenced.  The most notable part of the branch facility was the translation department, that keeps busy translating the Bible and Bible study aids into many of the indigenous languages and dialects spoken in the Philippines.  Again, the buildings and gardens were simple yet pristine, in stark contrast to the surrounding neighborhoods.

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Jeepney photo op.

Jeepney photo-op.

Traveller's Palm, which are not actually a palm tree, but a relative of the banana and bird of paradise.

Traveller’s Palm, which are not actually a palm tree, but a relative of the banana and bird of paradise.

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The landscape crew.

The landscaping crew.

As the day ended we were once again loaded onto the busses, our bags heavy with gifts, candy and fruit, as the Bethel Family outside waving to us their good-bye’s and ‘I love you’s.’  Paalam , mahal kita.

The sun setting over Manila Bay.

The sun setting over Manila Bay.

Rebecca Knabe

Philippines Pt. 2 – Malibay

After a solid 3 1/2 hours of sleep, fueled by little more than lugaw and adrenalin, eight of us delegates – the others from Georgia and North Carolina – were picked up in nicely air-conditioned vehicles, and driven to the meeting for field service* at Malibay Congregation.

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The eight of us were greeted by half or more of the congregation with warm smiling faces, we were divided up and each sent with 2 of the locals, and then driven to the neighborhood for our voluntary preaching work.

The locals use umbrellas to shield themselves from the hot sun.

The locals use umbrellas to shield themselves from the hot sun.

Handing out invitations to the "God's Word is Truth" convention to all in the community.

Handing out invitations to the “God’s Word is Truth” convention to all in the community.

My new friends and field service partners.

My new friends and field service partners.

All ages working together, including this sweet 90 year old sister.

All ages working together, including this sweet 90-year-old sister.

After our morning of field service we were taken to a fantastic buffet teeming with Asian delights, including my first taste of halo halo, a popular Filipino dessert made of shaved ice, evaporated milk, sweet beans, plantains, tapioca, sweet potatoes and coconut.

Once we had our fill of so many amazing dishes, we were returned to the Kingdom Hall.  To our surprise the entrance was decorated with balloons, welcome signs, and more smiling faces than before.  The entire congregation was there, and most were dressed in traditional Filipino attire.  We were seated in the middle of the room, adorned with leis and beaded necklaces, presented with gifts, and entertained for over 2 hours with songs and dancing.  The preparation and excitement that went into the performance was delightful and overwhelming.  The hospitality and love that these strangers showed for us brought tears to our eyes.  Even writing this now I feel overcome with emotion.

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All of the children in the congregation performed for us a beautiful song.

All of the children in the congregation performed for us a beautiful song.

A traditional hat dance performed by some of the girls.  They gave us the hats as souvenirs, and mine is now sitting on my bedroom dresser.

A traditional hat dance performed by some of the girls. They gave us the hats as souvenirs, and mine is now sitting – yes it survived the 22 hour journey home – on my bedroom dresser.

All of the pioneers sang a song, while in their beautiful filipino attire.

All of the pioneers sang a song, while in their beautiful Filipino attire.

The very tricky Tinikling Bamboo Dance.

The very tricky looking Tinikling Bamboo Dance.

As soon as the performance was complete, we spent a lot of time introducing ourselves, getting to know everyone, and taking pictures with one another.  Our cheeks ached from smiling with genuine happiness.  After that we were taken next door where a few sisters had prepared a wonderful feast of more Filipino delights for the eight of us.

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A lizard joining us for dinner.

A lizard joining us for dinner.

The day ended with my travel partner, Kristina, and I collapsing into our beds at 8pm from jet lag, exhaustion, and emotion.  This first day of our trip was going to be hard to beat.

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Rebecca Knabe

*Field service – or the door-to-door ministry of Jehovah’s Witnesses – is done voluntarily worldwide in 239 lands by over 7.5 million individuals.  Its purpose is so that everyone on the planet has the opportunity, if they so desire, to learn about and read the Bible in their own language.  As an organization we currently print the Bible and Bible study aids in 595 languages.

Philippines Pt. 1 – Getting There

These last few days have been difficult.  I’m really saddened by the devastation that came with Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda.  Having been there so recently, and making so many friends there, this natural disaster hits closer to home than any other has.

I traveled to the Philippines October 12-22.  Just 10 days.  But those 10 days were some of the best of my life.  I visited as a delegate for a Special Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  There were Special Conventions held this year in 10 different countries , in addition to the hundreds of District Conventions that are held annually around the world.  These conventions consist of 3 days of Bible discourses, and they are open to the public at no charge.  The Special Conventions are held with delegates invited from other countries, giving many Jehovah’s Witnesses the opportunity to enjoy our international brotherhood.

I have mentioned this before, and I will mention it again – flying terrifies me.  I do not (and probably never will) understand why an eleventy-billion-ton metal tube manages to stay tens of thousands of feet above the earth, with nothing more than air holding it up.  I rarely can make it through a week without succumbing to gravity, and I weigh much less than a 350-seater aircraft.  Oddly enough, however, I am less frightened flying internationally.  It probably has something to do with the fact that you don’t feel every little pocket of air in those giant planes, there is lots of on-demand entertainment, and they give you free booze.  Hallelujah.

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We traveled an exhausting 24 hours from Reno to Seattle, to Seoul, to Manila, on the fantastic Korean Air.  I was really impressed with this airline.  The food was pretty good, the leg room was the best I’ve experienced, the service was very polite, thorough and efficient, and one of the bathrooms was so big, you could take a step back to look at yourself in the full-length mirror (which I wouldn’t recommend if you have been travelling for 24 hours….).

This little charmer - Steven - smiled at me for nearly the entire 11 hours of the Seattle to Seoul leg.

This little charmer – Steven – flirted with me for nearly the entire 11 hours of the Seattle to Seoul leg.

Our short layover in Seoul was fairly eventful as we met several other delegates from Seattle, Maryland, Georgia and Texas.  We had a great time getting to know one another and before long we were boarding another plane and landing in Manila.  We arrived close to midnight, but were welcomed with signs and at least a dozen Witnesses, and led by the hand to our hotel shuttles.

Incheon Airport, Seoul, Korea

Incheon Airport, Seoul, Korea

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Upon arriving at the Trader’s Hotel Manila, we collapsed for a solid 3 1/2 hours sleep, before starting our fantastic first day in this wonderful country.

Our welcome packages included these ID convention badges.

Our welcome packages included these ID convention badges.

The view from our hotel room, with the Manila Bay in the distance.

The view from our hotel room, with the Manila Bay in the distance.

One of the signs in the Manila Ninoy Aquino Airport.  I love getting lost in translation.

One of the signs in the Manila Ninoy Aquino Airport. I love getting lost in translation.

Rebecca Knabe