The Final Farewell

7 07 2011

So this is it. After approximately 495 days here in Asia, after 11 countries visited and tens of thousands of kilometers travelled, after 2 different jobs here in the Philippines, after meeting hundreds of people from all walks of life, after finding and falling madly in love with the girl of my dreams, after a few brutal illnesses, a broken toe, a near-fatal motorcycle crash, and a stolen camera, and, overall, after a wonderful, great, exciting, and challenging time in Asia, I will return to Vancouver on July 10, returning back to the ice-cold weather and ice-cold people of Canada, as well as the ice-cold reality of having to leave behind Gloria, the love of my life.

Let me backtrack now and talk about what’s happened here since my last post. Most of my time in the last few months was spent at work, at the Center for Advanced Philippine Studies, where I worked with them on a project they had that was funded by UNEP. My tasks involved researching on existing decentralized sanitation projects in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines, then culling out the key information of these projects into case study reports. These reports will be useful for future sanitation practitioners to allow them to find out the types of projects already implemented in their country, prevent any ‘reinventing the wheel’, and provide useful ‘lessons learned’ to apply to future work. I was also responsible for then organizing a project meeting on this work, to which we invited sanitation practitioners from all of the study countries, as well as Thailand, Korea, and Japan. This was a new challenge for me, as I had never organized an international meeting before, but everything went off perfectly. We had NGO people from Cambodia and Laos, government and NGO people from Vietnam, a professor from Thailand, UNEP and KOICA people from Japan and Korea (as the project managers and funders, respectively), we had lots of locals from Manila, including USAID, NGOs, government officials, and a lady from the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation. To cap it off, we hosted this at the World Bank Office in Manila so that their Water and Sanitation Program could be involved too. Our 2-day meeting was followed by a field visit to Bauang, La Union, where participants got to view the work of CAPS up there on installing ecological and decentralized sanitation systems.

Our meeting came at a fortuitous time, as many of the participants were already in town for the previous week’s events on sanitation, the first of which was the ADB 2nd Sanitation Dialogue – featuring high-level government/NGO people to engage in policy/finance-level discussions on sanitation – and the second of which was the IWA-BORDA Conference on Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Systems. I was lucky enough to get an invite to both of these events, through my boss, and they were really neat to attend, especially the ADB event, which was held at ADB Headquarters in Manila. I had wanted to go in the ADB HQ ever since I first walked past it, as huge international organizations really get me excited, so it was a pleasure to explore its hallowed halls, trade business cards, and even get up in front the 200+ big shots in the meeting hall and ask a couple questions. If you’ve never tried that at a big event like this, I would recommend it, as it turns you from a nobody during break times into someone people actually come up to and want to have a discussion with, which, of course, makes sense, since everyone comes to these things wanting to meet people, but at the same time, its difficult to approach a complete stranger for a discussion, so if you’ve already broken the ice by putting yourself out there, other people have a ‘way-in’ to talk with you.

Another neat event I got to tag along in was a study tour put on by the Villar Foundation to local sanitation practitioners in Las Pinas (a southern Manila town). We got to meet former Congresswoman Cynthia Villar, wife of former Presidential contender and Senator (and billionaire) Manny Villar, who toured us around to the project’s various livelihood projects that have helped to immensely clean up the Las Pinas River. Other participants included 2 former Philippine Ambassadors, a current Congresswoman, UN and ADB people, and various government and NGO people like myself. I impressed them all, of course, with my smooth Tagalog-speaking ability (ok, not *that* smooth, but I’d definitely call myself “intermediate” at the language now) and my constant gossiping about my love life with them!

Other than that though, life in Manila has basically been work and home. My tiny salary did not allow me to spend nights at clubs or take weekend trips, though I wouldn’t really have wanted to anyways. There is no doubt that living here, if you’re not fabulously rich, is difficult, due to the heat, air pollution, cockroach infestations, and general high level of noise, and I’m not at all sad to leave it behind. As acutely observed by a man from UNICEF that I met at the IWA-BORDA Conference (who has, amongst other places, worked in Somalia), Manila is challenging not because of culture shock but because of ‘urban shock’. The total lack of parks and ability to access nature has killed me more than any other comfort that I could want. I never had noticed it while travelling, because I always planned my routes so that after a big city I would visit somewhere out in the countryside to recharge myself, but here I didn’t have that option, and, thus, the thing I miss most about Vancouver is the lack of ability to, within 5 minutes of leaving my doorstep, be immersed in raw, wild nature.

The only other major thing to report is that Gloria and I rescued 2 sweet little kittens from the street behind our house and have been raising them for the last month. I was never really a cat person, after having a bad experience with one as a child, but these little bundles of energy have renewed my love for these creatures. Gloria will take them back with her to Mindanao and hopefully keep them healthy and happy there! (Edit: This has been updated since I drafted this blog, as Gloria brought home 3 more little babies she rescued off the street the other night! She will now have 5 cats to care for!)

So now onto the main event: Gloria. Yes, the sad truth is that she will not be accompanying me home to Canada. I sure wish she could, as I will weep like an absolute baby when we finally part ways (we’ve already been in tears on several occasions in anticipation of this farewell), but she needs her high school diploma first, just as I need my M.Sc. I guess I should mention that too – I accepted an offer from the University of East Anglia, in Norwich U.K., to do a 1 year M.Sc. in Climate Change and International Development, which includes a  short thesis and internship option, which I will certainly avail of. I think it should be a positive year at a school known for the strength of its climate research, which I hope will propel me to an eventual career in UNEP or UNFCCC, which would be awesome. Gloria, on the other hand, will probably need at least 2 years to do enough high school to get a diploma, as she only ever completed first year and has a lot to do (she has trouble doing even basic multiplication). I will, of course, support her as much as she needs it, which won’t be particularly easy when I myself will be moving into debt, but I’m happy to do it if it means that one day she’ll be able to work in whatever country it is that I’m working. We can both at least be happy that we spent 6 wonderful months together, during which time we travelled together, lived together, raised cats together, and did all those types of things that are supposed to ‘test’ a couple successfully (other than children, of course!). I can’t stop talking about my love for her – I’m sure any reader of this blog who I’ll meet when I get back will get an earful of it! – and I will most definitely return here as soon as I possibly can for her. In the meantime, at least we have Skype!

So, that’s it then folks. This blog is officially put to rest for the time being, though do keep your subscriptions to it active, as I may do a post or two once I arrive in the U.K. about how life is like there, in lieu of starting a whole new blog. I might also do a post putting up some of the videos I took with my camera, as there are some good ones. I hoped you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it and sharing my experiences with you all, especially the photos!

Turning 24 recently, and having a close friend from high school recently pass away, gives me heightened sense of the inevitable passage of time. I will likely be 26 before I see Gloria again, which is sobering. I encourage all of you to not be stagnant in your lives – if you are interested in pursuing something, get out there and do it! Travel, learn, love; I recommend all of them to all of you. I have no regrets of any aspect of this journey and if I died tomorrow, I would die knowing that I had a great time, learned a lot, experienced a lot, and even inspired a few people along the day!

Happy journeys!

– Julian

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One response

10 07 2011
Andrew

Well holy crap dude. It’ll be good to have you back. See you soon!

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