The Fella in Manila

Goodbye Texas

Very early in the morning on May 3rd my supervisor kindly picked me up from my place and we made the trip north to George W. Bush International Airport. Low on sleep and high on caffeine, I turn to see this astronaut bovine planting the Lone Star Flag in what I presume to be the moon. Maybe it was lack of sleep, but the explorer’s spirit that I saw in this cow I saw in myself. I certainly was not going to plant any flags – that would be rude – but I was taking a giant leap from my comfort zone. This trip was not meant as a sightseeing tour nor as a self-serving expedition. Sure, I expected to see some cultural and historic sites, I was certainly going to enjoy myself and do some really cool things – but like this cow, I’m representing Sugar Land, Texas, and the United States as a gesture of goodwill. I was going to help some professionals from the Philippines with GIS so that they can in turn help their country.

The Flight

I’m not going to lie, the trip was rough. My body was very uncomfortable and I couldn’t sleep despite the meltonin, the sleep mask, the earplugs, and the neck pillow. I was able to have a couple fitful naps while listening to podcasts. I also finally saw Avengers Infinity War. Please no spoilers for Endgame! My suffering had some great rewards. The view of Japan was incredible.

I had just enough time to make it to the gate and get to Manila. Another five hours of flight time (24 hours total over a day and a half) and I was in Manila! Finally I was in the Philippines and I was more tired than I’ve ever been. I rallied and made it through Immigration and found my checked bag. By about 8pm local time (7am in Sugar Land) I finally met Francis Gasgonia, my ICMA host. We talked a bit about Manila and our trip and I got my first taste of the infamous Manila traffic. Despite my utter exhaustion, I was very excited to see a Jeepney. I’ll have a short video of one further down this page. I checked in to the University Hotel at the University of the Philippines Diliman and I slept.

Exploring UP Diliman

For my first full day in Manila, I wanted to walk around and see the UP Diliman campus. The weather was a lot like a muggy, summer day in Houston. I rather enjoy the weather so I made it a long walk. I used Google Maps to find remarkable spots on campus and spent some time just people watching. Now here’s that jeepney video I promised:

Jeepneys were built from the many Jeeps that the US Army left in the World War II era. In 1945, the United States returned its Philippine colony back to the people. Jeepneys are a reminder of occupation, but they are also a great example of the creativity and ingenuity of the Philippines. Francis and I used the Jeepney once to get back to the University Hotel a couple days later. I also took a walk to the closest mall and got myself a hat that I felt really said a lot about me as a person:

I promise this is a joke. Tell my boss I am the most industrious person you know.

Just before bed, Francis met up with me in the lobby of UH and we went over the next four days of CoMap instruction.

CoMap Seminar

It was the first morning that I would be teaching. Francis and I drove two hours through rush hour traffic to visit with the US Embassy. We took advantage of being downtown to check out Francis’ alma mater University of Santo Tomas.

Not only is this the oldest university in the Philippines, but it’s the oldest in all of Asia.

I had to get a picture under the arch taken from the oldest part of the campus (circa 1611)

It was time to meet with the Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer, Ryan Bradeen and Cultural Affairs Specialist Eren Joy Bautista. The Embassy itself is beautiful (once you are past the fortifications). The main building was occupied by the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII. A lot of work went into restoring this and many buildings around the country. The conversation with Ryan and Eren was very helpful. I felt welcomed and part of something bigger than myself. YSEALI is a large organization of 152,000 strong, 25,000 of which are in the Philippines. I was going to help Francis instruct 20 more. Please take a look at their web site:

Francis and I with Ryan Bradeen. Later I got a polo to match Francis.

Before we left Manila, we went to take a look at the memorial to Jose Rizal, a hero and martyr of the Philippine struggle for independence. During my time in Manila, I learned a lot about the difficult years of occupation by the Spanish, Americans, and Japanese before the United States recognized the sovereignty of this country.

The Philippine Flag over Rizal’s memorial in Rizal Park.
Kilometer Zero in Manila directly across the street from Rizal Park. Older maps would use this point as the main reference point to all places on a map of the country.

Francis and I wanted to make sure the professionals coming to join us at the seminar would get the most out of their four days. They came from all over the Philippines and had a variety of backgrounds. What bound us all together was the desire and capability of making the Philippines a better place. Some of the participants had government jobs, environmental jobs, NGOs and a couple in the private sector. They all had need for Geographic Information Science (GIS) training. Non-GIS people, get ready for a little tech speak!

Francis is a longtime user of QGIS, an open source GIS software suite that has all the practical capability of some of the larger, more expensive systems out there. The best part, it’s free! The other benefit besides the no cost is the high amount of participation and collaboration when designing the software. I came to the Philippines with only about a month of experience. Fortunately for me, there were others in the class who also had years of experience in QGIS. For rasters, we used the Semiautomatic Classification Plugin for QGIS. I was amazed by the functionality and ease of use.

Our participants (and cool polos)
My turn to teach – I had to say something about projections.

For those of you who have never seen me at work, I love geoprocessing tools. I was excited when Francis asked me to talk about some of my favorites. We buffered, clipped, and reprojected shapefiles as a class. We encountered many problems with processing, data issues, and everything else we GIS professionals know all too well. But as a class, we adapted and overcame. Little did I know that overcoming obstacles would become a theme for the seminar!

I got up in front of the class to talk about ArcGIS Online. The idea was to use Collector in conjunction with AGOL to create shapefiles and to use the Philippine data that Francis provided. We got started with the ESRI Hub and downloaded some open source data. We then brought it in to AGOL and began sharing the data with each other. When it came time to download Collector on our phones, no luck! We needed to use the paid-for version of AGOL in order to access Collector. A new challenge came up and I didn’t have an answer for the class! Again I was saved by participants who have been using open source for their whole careers. We found a different app (Open Foris Collect Mobile and we used OsmAnd Maps & Navigation) to download and use in the field. The best part is we could use the shapefiles in either QGIS or AGOL.

Fort Santiago

This is the part of CoMap Seminar that I was most looking forward to. We went to a large fort that the Spanish constructed around what was a walled city built by the Filipinos centuries ago. We wanted to capture a video of the complex, explore the area, and get some points that we will later be able to make a Story Map with. As of the writing of this entry, these items are forthcoming and will be linked to in my final blog.

In the plaza outside the fort, an artist created the national bird of the Philippines, The Great Philippine Eagle, created with driftwood.
CoMap volunteer Jarrah explaining the significance of the footsteps. They were the final steps Jose Rizal took prior to being executed in 1898.

When we finished, it was time for the drone demo. Francis brought two Mavic Pro Platinum drones and I taught them drone operations, safety, and camera working tips. About half were brave enough to fly a drone for the first time!

The gate and moat surrounding the Fort.
The restoration after Japanese occupation was flawless.

After a short tour of the Fort, we met in a conference room and talked about open source GPS point capturing apps. Then we went outside to split into teams, capture points and take pictures.

Then it was time to fly around the inside of the fort, I can’t wait to see the results!

Always keep your eyes on the drone!
CoMap with the imagery!
Last shot with all the CoMappers! We had a great seminar.

A little Culture

I was fortunate to spend some time seeing some amazing parts of the Metro Manila (the large area comprised of dozens of smaller cities – UP Diliman is inside Quezon City). Below are some highlights.

I wanted to visit the cemetery where so many American Veterans of World War II are buried. It was very moving to see the sheer number of graves – 17,000. Add to that the servicemen that were never recovered – 34,000. All the graves in this memorial were casualties from around the Pacific Theater.
The walls of the main monument are covered in names of the missing.
The maps inside were made of tiny mosaic tiles. There were over 25 huge maps around the complex. It was stunning.
As a GIS professional, I have to give credit to the mapmaker. You can also see the detail a bit better here.
Me next to the Missouri State Seal, my home state.
My current home, all the states were represented here.
We sampled some famous Manila street food. This is fish bowl. There were balls of battered fish, veggies, and hot dogs fried in this bowl.
Me at the National Museum of Fine Arts. It was unique in the fact that all the galleries were full of artwork done by Filipinos. Here I am locking eyes with one of the more classical works.
Obligatory black and white.
Jarrah told me to act like she wasn’t there. It only made me laugh.
Jarrah took me to Chinatown!
We ate so much food!
Every Philippine City has a space between the Church and the Government building called a plaza. Here is the Plaza Moriones at night.
Inside San Agustin Church
The artwork inside was beautiful.
There was enough light to snap a shot of the exterior of San Agustin.
We had a trip to the Mountains on Sunday.
Francis couldn’t be bothered with a group photo 🙂
For my last night before the Mindoro trip, my hosts wanted to be sure I had some real Filipino food. For my first dish, chicken intestine.
I didn’t get a shot of the pig’s ears, but here is the famous balut! I won’t describe it here so if you’re curious come to the Philippines and try one!

I will have another post for everyone in about a week. There are a few more pictures and stories that I would like to share. Thanks for reading – salamat po.

One thought on “The Fella in Manila

  1. Fantastic report, so descriptive and made me relive Metro Manila where I come from. San Augustine Church was where my older sister got married and I was her Maid of Honor. Our independence from the US occurred on July 4, 1946, and for a time this was celebrated as our Independence Day, but it was moved back to June 12 (1898) when we got our independence from Spain after 300 years or so of colonization.

    Chicken intestines? Great job, Alan!


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