Tokyo, Japan, and Dolores, Philippines, are separated by a four hour flight and then an eight hour drive. I am not sure that you can be anywhere in the world, travel 12 hours, and be in two more drastically different places than Tokyo and Dolores.
Dolores is in the rural, mountainous northern province of Abra on the main island of Luzon. Abra means open. They call this province Abra because they had to cut a path through the mountains to open up the area for people to settle. Once you hit the mountains, the drive is beautiful, as long as you can dodge all the oncoming motorbikes and buses. Seriously, the money and time that they spend on paint to make the lines in the road is just a waste. The lines mean nothing. The road to Dolores goes through several towns of various sizes and crowds. There are plenty of people selling food along the way so you won't need to worry about going hungry. And there are plenty of people stopping to relieve themselves on the side of the road so you won't need to worry about finding a toilet.
Dolores is a few blocks big. You can walk the whole town from river to outer streets in a couple hours. Even less time if you run. At the center of town there is a square park lined with old trees on all sides whose trunks are bigger than elephants. There is a large pavilion in the the park with a tall metal roof covering a stage and a concrete basketball court. Basketball is the game of choice in Dolores and all the Philippines. I met a Golden State Warriors fan who broke the news of Kevin Durant's move to me. During one afternoon I played basketball with some teenage kids. I was taller, but they were better. There are other events going on in the park depending on the time of day. I saw a group of women sitting in a large circle having a meeting one early morning. I saw tables set out banquet style one evening. I saw young school kids passing through trying to take the longest way possible to class late one morning. There are always people hanging out in the park, usually sitting on their motorbikes, and there are always people selling food on the streets lining the park. It's the center of life here.
The buildings are concrete; the roofs are metal. There is a noticeably poor part of town. There are more people selling snacks and sodas out of the shops set up as the front area of their house than there are people to buy these things. There is a rural health clinic with a queue of people always. There are dogs, chickens, and goats roaming around, and they are all friendly.
If you don't want to go to the market, the market will come to you. Everyday begins with a guy riding around in a motorbike at 5:45am selling freshly baked sweet bread called pan de sal. It is worth getting up for. People continue going around town with baskets balanced on their heads or motorbikes all day selling various things. While relaxing outside the house at various times we bought pan de sal, bananas, dressed whole frogs, fried fish on a stick, cooked bamboo chute, fried plantain rolls called toron, ice cream, and lottery tickets. All the food was delicious, and the lottery tickets were a winner.
I'm not exactly sure how the lottery works, I didn't want to get too deep into the underground gambling world of Dolores, but the basics are this: They have two local drawings a day. People go around collecting numbers and money for the each drawing. You choose two numbers from 1 to 36 and pay ten pesos. If they hit, you get a nice payout.
All meals consisted of rice and meat. There were few vegetables and most of the time they were just mixed in with the meat. As far as eating etiquette goes, it was either all hands or fork and spoon. The spoon in your right hand for eating and the fork in the left for cutting and moving food onto the spoon. No knives.
The people were intrigued. They definitely don't see foreigners very often. Walking around town I got lots of stares, smiles, and a few limited English greetings. Everyone was friendly, but shy. I pulled out a hacky sack in the park and messed around with it by myself for a while. A group of kids stood watching from afar. I motioned to try to get them to come join but they just giggled and turned away, only to come back and watch some more.
We stayed with my step father's family. A big family. They were so kind and generous. They refused to let us go two hours without something delicious to eat. I felt bad to ever turn them down so I probably gained ten pounds while there. They showed us around the area and helped me learn some of the language. They always made sure that we had everything we needed. Each night they welcomed me around the table with local San Miguel beer or the local drink of choice, Emperador brandy. The circle would be anywhere between 3 to 12 men sitting around the table passing around one shot glass, one bottle of brandy, and one glass of water. I didn't know what they were saying much of the time, but there was a lot of laughter.
I really enjoyed this small Philippine town. Food was fresh. People were friendly. Trees were huge. Rivers and mountains were nearby. And the rain every afternoon provided the perfect setting for a nap.