As I mentioned earlier this week, Kail and I recently visited the Philippines for the first time. After 30 years, there was a lot of catching up to do. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Truth be told, I was a bit nervous about meeting so many relatives at once for the first time.Our hosts and “tour guides,” my uncle and aunt.Well there was no reason to be. Both Kail and I were so warmly welcomed, as if we’ve been a part of the family all along. My aunt and uncle (my dad’s sister and her husband) organized all our activities for the two days we spent with them. They picked us up and dropped us off at our hotel, they drove us everywhere, they treated us to all kinds of delicious Filipino foods and they took us sightseeing.Cousins.We spent the first day in Manila, visiting Intramuros, the old Spanish walled city which I’ll write about in another post, as well as “landmarks” from my infancy: the hospital where I was born, the church where I was baptized and the house where I lived for the first year of my life. The second day, we visited an old estate about two hours outside of Manila called Villa Escudero, which I’ll also write about later.It all started here in 1983.It was a very humbling experience to see where I came from and to think about the opportunities I had growing up in Virginia as a U.S. citizen: college, career prospects, the chance to see the world. My life could have been a lot different were it not for the decisions and sacrifices of my parents: being far away from family, building new careers, adapting to a new culture and country with two young children.The church where I was baptized.The Philippines obviously has undergone a lot of change since 1984. It’s a country of more than 100 million people, about a quarter of whom live below the poverty line. But the Philippines has also experienced a lot of economic growth over the last several years.Ensaymada: a favorite pastry from my childhood.I didn’t know what to expect in terms of infrastructure and general development status. I haven’t traveled to any comparable developing countries, so coming in with Central America as my primary frame of reference, I was very surprised. Manila was a lot bigger than I expected, for one. Just a big city with lots of traffic and people, but also a lot of high-end neighborhoods, luxury malls and other areas that, as in many developing countries, were in stark contrast to the widespread poverty.Even though I’m from the Philippines, I definitely felt like a foreigner. Having spent all but one year of my life in the U.S. (well not counting these past couple years in the Foreign Service), I identify more as an American than a Filipina. And even though English is one of two national languages in the Philippines, not speaking Filipino or Tagalog underscored our foreignness. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to visit again and get to know more about Filipino culture and my family!Snacks.One of my favorite things about our trip — other than meeting my family, of course — was learning more about Filipino foods and eating a lot of the things I grew up with. Naturally, I packed up several treats and sauce mixes to bring back to Kabul: ensaymada (sweet donut-like pastries topped with mild shredded cheese), ube hopia (purple yam-filled dough), polvorón (sweet, powdery, shortbread-like cookies), dried mango and others. Yum!What do you know about your cultural heritage?