Philippines – Andrea Oran ’18

It has been 2 weeks since we returned home from our Filipino adventure. The jet lag is finally starting to subside and our bags have been unpacked, we have returned to school and resumed our day-to-day schedules, but the memories we formed, lessons we learned, and experiences we shared will not soon be forgotten.

I will admit, prior to the trip I did not know much about the Philippines. I grew up hearing stories of my grandfather’s experience when he was stationed there during WWII while he was in the Navy, but that was about it – and as we learned during our time there, not much remains from the pre-war days. Point being, I went into this trip very open minded and not quite sure what to expect.

Almost immediately I learned about Filipino hospitality through the way everyone welcomed us, the impeccable service at the hotels and restaurants we attended, and through the incredible welcome reception hosted by our trip leader’s family. I learned about the political climate from the inside and how they portray the direction they want the country to go in and the influence the US has had on them. I learned about the changing business climate for both large conglomerates and younger start-ups that are both navigating the constantly developing country.

But what I will remember the most is the natural beauty we saw – from the Pagsanjan Falls to the islands of Coron, I saw some of the most breathtaking views, pictured below (photo credit to many different members of the trip).

So to anyone traveling to Southeast Asia in the near future – I would encourage you to take some time to explore the islands that comprise the Philippines. Meet the hospitable people and see all the natural beauty the country has to offer.

Island Time

Andrea Oran ’18

Wednesday morning, we packed our bags, trying to make sense of the 11-kilo weight limit, and headed to Manila Airport’s domestic terminal. A quick flight later we were landing in a small airport in Busuanga. We were brought to a small restaurant off the side of the road for a Filipino feast, complete with fresh coconut juice straight from the fruit.

Bellies full and spirits high we headed to the base of Mt. Tapyas, where we walked 721 steps to get to the top. Out of breath and dripping with sweat, we were welcomed to the top by one of the most incredible views I have seen (see picture below). The American influence we had heard so much about in the previous day’s meetings rang true once more, as we saw that on the mountain below us was the word Coron (the region we were in), much resembling the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles.

Soon after, we boarded boats and were heading to our hotel’s private island. The staff at Two Seasons Coron Island Resort & Spa had prepared a welcome for us that would foreshadow the hospitality we would see over the next 48 hours: music played while people danced, food and refreshments were served, and necklaces were handed out. During our time at the resort we were able to enjoy the luxurious pools and spas, eat dinner on the beach, and island hop to see the natural beauty. No words can do it justice, so I leave it to the pictures below. Friday morning, the well-rested and very sunburned group headed back to the airport to go to Manila for a dinner with CBS alum and newly admitted students and our final day of programming.


Rapids and Politics

Andrea Oran ’18

Our first two days had very different experiences – one had us in bathing suits, “shooting the rapids” in Pagsanjan and the next had us in business casual smiling for a full press crew for a photo-op with President Duterte. But what the two superficially different experiences had in common was the undertone of Filipino hospitality.

On our first full day, we ventured two hours outside Makati, where we are currently staying. We boarded the fanciest bus I have ever been on, aptly named the Joy Bus. Each sit came equipped with a full leg rest, reclining back, blanket, bottle of water, and a snack. Waking up from a nap, I found that we had left the city and were driving through a more rural area. What was most curious to me, as I looked out my window, was the complete changes in environments within 5 minutes of each other – alternating gorgeous large homes and falling down shacks, indicative of the immense wealth gap plaguing the country. After turning off a main road, the Joy bus pulled into an area that was more densely populated with trees, where we came to a stop. After exiting the bus, putting on life vests and helmets, we were brought down to the water where we saw boats that looked somewhere in between a racing shell and a canoe. Two insanely strong men led us upstream against the rapids, using their full weight as they pushed off of rocks to navigate us and propel us forward. At the end was a gorgeous waterfall. We all got out of our boats and were seated on a raft of bamboo. We were then pulled across the river using a rope / pulley system, and were pulled right through the falls! We closed our eyes as water pounded down from above, opening them only to reveal that we were on the other side in a cave-like structure admiring the falls from a new perspective. I can honestly say I have never done anything like this before.

Day two took us out of nature and into the Senate of the Philippines. Here, we learned about the country’s system of government, and the influence the US had on it. We were fortunate enough to be able to meet with some really significant individuals shaping the country’s future, including Senator Manny Pacquiao (most known outside the Philippines for his former boxing career), President of the Senate Koko Pimentel, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, and members of the Senate Economic Planning Office. We hear their perspectives on the current state of the country, as well as their vision for the future, and had some great photo opportunities. After a tour of the Senate Museum and a few impeachment trial recreations, we were back on the bus headed for the Manila Hotel. The hotel, located on Manila Bay, the oldest premiere hotel in the Philippines, dating back to the early 1900’s. After a session with the Bureau of the Treasury, we were lined up at the end of a red carpeted entrance way to prepare for meeting President Duterte. After much anticipation, the President arrived and provided us with a warm welcome to the country and smiled for a photo (coming soon), before continuing through the hotel and greeting his constituents. We all learned a lot throughout the day, specifically around the discrepancies between how the country is portrayed in Western media and how they view themselves. All officials who we had the privilege of meeting were very candid in providing their views and the impetus behind their decisions. Personal political opinions and ideology aside, it was an insightful visit and sparked some great discussion in the group.

However, after a long days of meetings and filling our brains with new information, we are all ready for a little R&R. Heading off to Coron today for some beach time and island explorations. Stay tuned!

80 hours in Hong Kong: a Prelude to the Philippines

Andrea Oran ‘18

Tonight, 40 of us will gather for a kick-off reception starting our journey through the Philippines. Over the next 7 days, we will venture through the country, exploring the natural beauty of the region, while meeting with industry leaders in finance, energy, politics, hospitality, and more. But before I get ahead of myself…let me first recap the past 80 hours.

As this was going to be my first time in Asia, I wanted to make the most of my time here (not to mention that I wanted to spread out the 16 hour flights to and from New York as much as possible). After evaluating the multitude of options, 3 of my classmates and I decided to extend the requisite layover that we would need to have in Hong Kong…80 hours from landing to takeoff.  We were able to explore much of the city, getting a glimpse of the amalgamation of British and Chinese culture. The highlight of my experience has been the food – and that might just be because I ate my body weight in Dim Sum…every day…

So here it is…80 hours in Hong Kong, as told by food.

Tsui Wah: after arriving at 6am to a deserted city, we went roaming for a quick meal to satisfy our time-zone confused hunger pains. We happily found Tsui Wah open and serving their breakfast menu, which immediately exposed the difference between an American breakfast and that which we would come to expect over the next few days. On the menu: soups, noodles, meat. I decided on the Satay Beef with Instant Noodles in Soup. The spice immediately kicked my palate into high gear…I could get used to this style breakfast!

Tim Ho Wan: as an aspiring restaurateur, I have been counting down the seconds until I could venture to Tim Ho Wan, the cheapest restaurant to ever have received a Michelin star. After a morning of exploring the Nan Lian Garden and Central Hong Kong, we had worked up an appetite worthy of our first Dim Sum meal. We arrived at the restaurant and were handed a slip of paper with all the menu options. Overwhelmed, we began to mark off our choices – shrimp dumplings, rice bowl with beef, crispy chicken and chive spring rolls, turnip cakes, and before we know it, dishes upon dishes were being placed in front of us. The restaurant definitely met expectations – each bite was better than the last, and then the bill came and our jaws dropped – it came out to approximately 10 USD per person. Definitely a meal for the books.


Al’s Diner: as dinner time came around, we were still full from our earlier dim sum feast, so we decided to peruse the bar scene right outside our hotel and grab a quick bite. Representatives from each bar and restaurant lined the streets and tried to pull us in, promising us great drinks and fun at their establishment. After much back and forth, we settled for an outdoor spot with festively lit tables lining the front. We got the menus and saw that it was an eclectic mix of food – largely American. So an order of unappealing burgers later, we made a pact – for the rest of the trip we would only eat local cuisine…and leave the American food to our friends back home.

LKF by Rhombus: our second morning gave us the luxury of having the breakfast buffet that was included with our room in the hotel. A full plate of dim sum and a bowl of fruit later, we were ready for our day.

Temple Street Spicy Crab: as we ventured to the Temple Street Night Market, we stumbled upon a restaurant that had spilled out onto the street. One of my friends recognized the name from one of the recommendation lists we had received so we decided to check it out. We got the spicy crab, the restaurants namesake. It did not disappoint. One interesting thing though was we were not given any utensils beyond chopsticks, so had an adventure trying to rip the crab apart and pull out the tasty meat. After a bit of a struggle and a lot of a mess, our stomachs were full and we were off again to explore the market. 

Din Tai Fung: I am waiting for this place to come to NY…and I volunteer to help open it. The Taiwanese restaurant has had immense success and has spread across Asia and onto other continents – even to North America with several spots in LA and Seattle. Looking into the kitchen, it looked like a factory, with all the team of dumpling makers wearing all white with matching caps. They provided us with an instruction manual for how to properly eat soup dumplings, their most popular menu item. 1-part soy sauce, 3-parts vinegar, mixed with a bit of ginger. Pick the dumpling up with chopsticks and dip into the sauce combination, place in soup spoon. Poke a hole in the dumpling with your chopstick so the broth runs out, and then put the whole thing into your mouth. It was incredible.  We learned there is one in Manila, so we may be back by the end of the trip.


Peking Garden: for the grand finale, we had to go to a traditional peking duck meal…and it was worth every penny.  They put on a show with the “Noodle Dance” as they broke noodles down and stretched them to size for all guests to watch. That was followed by a delicious BBQ duck with hoisin sauce and green onions wrapped in a little pancake. We paired this with pea sprouts and mushrooms, shrimp and chive dumplings (had to have them one last time), and of course the noodles that we watched them make. Perfect end to a perfect foodie vacation.


Next stop Philippines for #chazeppines.