Looking like something out of a James Bond film, you could not miss the British Embassy amongst the slums of Manila. But the embassy and it's ambassador offered a great in sight into the country's history, current state of affairs and the affect of natural and man-made disasters on the nation. I will do my best to summarise the key facts that you probably won't find on google (and some of these will surprise you!)
-25% of the country's population live below the poverty line.
-Yet, the Philippines has the second fastest growing economy in Asia (second to China).
-Country produces 96% literacy rates.
-However due to vast number of graduates entering the market there is mass unemployment.
-Because of this you need a degree to work in Starbucks.
-System is being reviewed so that University starts at 18 and not 16 so take some pressure off the job market.
-Mass over-employment- e.g. shops and restaurants are overstaffed at all times of day.
-This is because labour is cheap- minimum wage in Manila is equivalent to £2 a day.
-Despite Japanese war crimes on the Filipino people during WW2, the country now speak svery highly of the Japanese because of their generosity to the country's economy and infrastructure, military partnership and disaster relief.
-China has recently decided to reclaim old "lost land" and is slowly reclaiming islands just 30 miles off the shore of the Philippines (as well as other islands in the 'ring of fire' belonging to Malaysia, Indonesia etc...) They have soldiers dressed as fisherman taking over islands in the present day. To the anger of the Chinese the Philippines have taken this dispute to the UN- but there has been very little media coverage on the matter.
-The country has a strange love hate relationship with America- they love its customs but hate how it dominates over the country. However they still rely on the US for military force, as they have no navy of there own and only recently acquired fighter planes of their own. If there was ever a war with China the Philippines would currently need US back up to stop Chinese dominating Asia.
-Huge corruption. In the past up to 100% of budgets were stolen by officials.
-A recent example can be seen with typhoon Haiyan. The government predicted that they would need 8 billion pounds to rebuild the nation- but to date only 2.8 million pounds has been contributed by the filippino government. As a result there are still people living homeless- in tents- without access to running water.
-In this particular disaster the UK provided direct relief as they did not trust the filippino government to use the money properly. They were the biggest contributor to disaster relief from the EU.
Okay I think that's enough of the geography lesson! But I hope it gave you some idea about where I am for the next 3 months. Turns out there is much more to this place than karaoke, rice and friendly faced people!