Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Broaden your mind

If you take the Philippines and the UK together, we have a summer holiday window from now until the end of August. Whether you choose a staycation or a long haul dream destination, this is a chance to broaden your mind.
For foreigners and Pinoys alike, the Philippines offers the opportunity to get out of familiar urban surroundings to explore nature at its best. Rural communities have that ability to expand time and find joy in what makes us more human, connecting with people, immersing in water and feasting on what Mother Nature grows. The challenge is to pull away from the addiction to wifi and experience real reality and conversation.
 The prospect of distant travel immediately brings to the fore the practical torments that accompany modern civilisation. Calculations of exchange rates , choosing the appropriate route and mode of transport. Sorting out travel documents, insurance and the much dreaded visa process.
Great Britain has made it that much easier for Filipinos to deal with the essentials so that you can focus on enjoyment. If you just want to plan ahead and apply for a tourist visa online, then follow the 90% of applicants who get a visa approved, well within our 15 day target. In the last 2 years, we have seen a 27% leap in the number of visitors from the Philippines. If you want a much faster decision, then, at a price, you can get one within 3 to 5 days. We introduced a 24 hour offer and more people have used the Super Priority Service that we had imagined. There is no need to ask me or Embassy contacts to facilitate a visa application. I have no role in the process and we have fast track options for Filipinos rather than VIP lanes.
You can make the Pound in your pocket stretch out further. Museums, parks, people watching and exploring the lakes, hills and valleys come free of charge. Homestay with a friend or relative is easier with over 250,000 Pinoys dotted around the UK. Bed & Breakfasts and family hotels have character and some owners can be a bit eccentric. If your bucket list includes living it up in one of our iconic hotels, taking in a theatre show or sporting event, then by all means have a splurge. Your obligatory pasalubong can come from the stalls in street markets or from world class retailers.
If you plan to go as far as London, broaden your horizon further. Stratford on Avon brings you up close to Shakespeare. Scotland has more than just golf and whisky. Liverpool offers you the Beatles tour. Experience the Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland and Wales has coastlines that are as breathtaking as yours.
On your journey, take the time to read one of our quality newspapers. The intensity of the journalism, the breadth of knowledge and the interest the media takes in global issues is striking.
If you have a hobby or an obsession with a subject then you are truly in the land of discovery. There is an expert on everything, an organisation for the most obscure pursuit and a store of knowledge that is mind blowing. In Britain, you will find the original foundations of the world we live in, the Magna Carta, the industrial revolution, the home of football, tennis and rugby.
When you travel you take back ideas. You see how a great city deals with transport challenges. You wonder in what way the positive experience of the tourism industry could be replicated at home. Compare how public safety and security is delivered. Appreciate that a pedestrian can be the true king of the road. Witness how to live in a clean green environment in high density habitats where affordable housing exists alongside more expensive  homes.
You also cherish what is good in your own country too and start to miss what is dear to you. The casual informality and inherent joyful spirit. The closeness of family and the dignity afforded to elders. Rice for breakfast.
Travel does broaden your mind and more people than ever before have the means to explore new places. Others dream about travel and hope that one day they too will get to see places they have read about and seen in the movies. Until then, with so many British brands in the Philippines, you can sample some aspects of my country, our food and lifestyles, closer to home.
Whether your summer is spent in the Philippines or abroad, there is nothing to stop your mind from wandering.
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(Asif Ahmad is the British Ambassador)

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