His blog and photos of life in the Philippines is pure dreamy and most definitely helping to promote the country as one of the world’s best tourist destinations, with his posts often reaching a few million people!
About two years earlier, Nathan wrote a post to defend Philippine tourism when another foreigner wrote that she would “rather go hungry than eat Filipino food again.”
Before Nathan and his I Dreamed of This assistant, Ella, came to the shop last year, I had the chance to browse through his blog. I was drawn by his genuine appreciation of the Philippines, its beauty, its people, its food. On the unique, sometimes funny or strange, cultural nuances in Pinoy culture, he seemed to approach with a learner’s mind eager to understand rather than criticize… He is talking about my country… He is talking about my people… He is promoting humble folk —my countrymen, most of whom can’t pay him back — and their livelihood in far-flung areas and treating them like family. [This is in contrast to online media criticism that highlights negative things with hashtag “#onlyinthePhilippines” without suggested solutions.]
Why is a foreigner prouder of my country than I am? Why is he doing more for my country than I am?
Soon, I discovered from the comments to Nathan’s posts, that many Filipinos stationed around the world as well as within the Philippines were reflecting on the same questions.
The other day, I was looking for the video files of an interview I had of a chef but instead came across videos taken from when Nathan came to the shop in November 2015. Nathan has been a great blessing to the Philippines, specially the less privileged and less accessible (sometimes micro-) entrepreneurs in remote areas whose provision for their families depends on the interest generated for their towns. Nathan wasn’t paid to promote the Philippines but in his passion to upgrade the tourism industry amidst mosquitoes, inconvenient travel arrangements, dangers and hazards even to his very life, when you see the excellence in his work, you would think he was getting paid to have a Hollywood luxurious life. He talked about many lucrative offers he received for his talent but he turned them down because he valued his integrity and credibility more.
This post is barely, barely commensurate gratitude on behalf of many grateful Filipino people (some of whom may not ever have experienced wifi) but I hope this will be able to faintly convey a heartfelt collective resounding Thank You to the honorary Filipino, Nathan Allen! You are one of us!
How did that happen that you’re not a Filipino but you’re very interested for Philippine tourism to be promoted?
People were so warm and very friendly to me when I came here. People really became family to me. Many foreigners come here and they say that. That’s why it kind of earned a special place in our hearts so you feel like you want to do what you can to help stimulate the economy to help some of the people you met in the villages and provinces… the fishermen I’ve stayed with… those families. That’s a really powerful experience.
What was the most rewarding experience you’ve had? … Coming to places like this meeting people like you, being able to share that with other people. Like [Ella, a Filipina] said, people get so happy and proud to see their place, country through the eyes of an outsider, and to see it appreciated.
Do you remember the scariest experience you’ve had besides falling into the [man] hole? [Laughter]
Again, this is why I want to streamline the tourist experience… because the DOT wants to bring more foreign tourists into the country and that’s great… but it should be ready. Because you want [the tourists] to have a good experience, go home, and share, bring more [tourists] because it could really help the country… This was just a place where the water was quite deep… I guess I didn’t realize that I would have to stay swimming or floating for a long time… in deep water. I thought there would be a boat or something; I could just hang on the boat but there was no boat. You just swim from the shore way out to… twelve meters… I was getting so tired. The local guide, he had a flotation device and I just said, “Kuya, can I just use that because I’m so tired” and I’m breathing heavy. He looks at me so scared and he says, “Wait Sir!” He just takes the flotation device away… I can’t believe it… I just barely found a mound under the water where I can just [touch] on my tiptoe… He came back and had something to use to float…Those are the things that they should improve because if you have someone that dies out there, it’s not good for business.
You are helping Filipinos in faraway provinces…
I felt I was very fortunate to be in a position where I had an audience…people who are ready to come experience tourism in the country. Through the blog, they are able to see these beautiful places and be inspired to come hopefully… I wanted to help because I had such an amazing experience, just fell in LOVE with the country. Really. I met so many incredible people that became my family. Eventually, it could really help stimulate the economy, it could help those fishermen. Tourism can really help preserve the corals, the reefs. It’s been damaged from dynamite fishing, overfishing. Those fishermen— they have a lot of mouths to feed— but if they had income from tourism, I hope they can let the fish populations come back, practice responsible fishing, the corals can regrow. Tourism can really, really help. That’s the one way I could possibly help so I want to try.
What are the challenges you have?
It’s very fun for me… but I definitely have had to sacrifice. I don’t have much money at all because I don’t get paid to do it but it’s something I dreamed about literally since I was a little boy coming to places like this and trying the food, seeing the coconut trees [to Nathan and a lot of people who live away from the tropics, a symbol of “the good life”]. A lot of foreigners [who] get older want to come retire here for good reason I can see why: no harsh winters, cost of living is good.
It’s hard for you sometimes to do what you’re trying to do?
Just in terms of tourism being more successful, people might be thinking more short term, “Give me the money now,” like Boracay getting completely developed. They don’t really think long-term for tourism (preservation) so as soon as that place might get ruined, they’ll move on to another place and that place will get ruined. But there’s a better way that’s more sustainable. Those are the obstacles I hope people will start thinking about because if they do think long-term, it’s a long-term investment for the country, for the people.
The title of your blog, I Dreamed of This, you literally dreamed of this?
[Either] you literally had a dream in the middle of the night but… it’s more like a daydream… something I always wanted to do. I dreamed of these places, these experiences.
How much of that dream has come to pass?
A lot of it!… I might even say 90 [per cent]. I didn’t expect much. I just wanted to go to those places… see the islands, the beaches, try the exotic foods… I did that. I wasn’t asking too much… I’m simple. That’s why I was able to live the dream.
Do you also see yourself as an official ambassador of your country?
People have told me that… I have American friends that live here… and they’ve thanked me. They say, “We don’t have the best reputation always out in the world.” They said that they like what I’m doing because they feel like it gives them a good name. I hope that’s true.
Say, you were representing your country, what would you like to say to anybody from our country?
Am I being interviewed for an Ambassador position? [boisterous laughter]
You never know, Nathan.
… I feel like there’s not really much I can share with Filipinos about my country because everybody already embraces it.
I was looking at your blog so it’s really more for the Filipino people…
That’s not really my intention but that’s what happened. It was a side-effect. I was writing about the Philippines to an international audience, to whoever and Filipinos were really resonating with it. Maybe a lot of travellers, they just come and they just say, “Okay, this is a beautiful beach, I get to try adobo and they get on their plane and say, “Here’s some photos” which are beautiful. But for me, I want to go in depth. I want to know why people are saying “nosebleed” everytime I walk up to them and ask them a question. All of these local cultural quirks… The jeepney drivers in Cebu would [make this] kiss [sound]; pointing with the lips. In Canada or the US, elderly parents will go into a Home for the Aged but Filipinos don’t do that. I covered those cultural differences…[by talking to people], absorbing, asking questions, trying to pick up bits of the language, the food, just because I’m so fascinated by them.
You are like an honorary Filipino for loving the country…
I also feel a certain level of pride myself. [Ella] is talking about the pride she feels reading these articles about the Philippines. Because I feel people here are like family to me, I even feel proud when the country is being recognized or awarded for this reason or that, it makes me proud of it… like an adopted ” Pinoy.” That’s what they tell me. It’s been two full years all over the country really diving in. I guess it has become home. But I’ve been really welcomed that way also so that’s why it means so much to me to try to do what I can to help. And it is so much fun for me because photography is a passion, travel is a passion, culture is a passion so I think combining all of that… even hopefully provide valuable resources to other travelers who are considering coming.
Even when I first started to come to Manila, I wasn’t too impressed with the food and service but in the last two-three years, it’s gotten so much better. In general, the service, the standards, the quality is [better]. I’m very happy. Manila before was just a stopover for a lot of these tourists something that they have to endure (I hate to say it) before going to the beautiful paradises but now it’s really changing. This is becoming a destination in itself so I’m very happy about that.
To come here, traditional values, family values, it’s nice to see that. At the same time, I have to be real… It’s not always perfect. It’s not always a cakewalk here… At this point, I’m like an adopted Filipino. Of course, I’m from the US and I’m so happy to have… a foot in both worlds…because the Filipino culture is bringing to the table a lot that we’re missing that we could learn a lot from. But there are some things that people here could learn from the US. It’s one of those reasons why travel is so enriching and valuable. If at all possible, I recommend people trying travel. It really broadens your horizons. It helps you to get out of your bubble.
I think I have a name for your next blog… The Accidental Ambassador.
The Accidental Ambassador. I like it. It’s good.
Thank You, Lord for Nathan Allen, for all he has done to help people all over the country, specially those who were overlooked by others who have platforms to bless them. May You bless and protect Nathan, his team, his family, his travels, his work immeasurably more than all he asks or imagines or dreams about. May the good seeds of good change he planted bear lots of good fruit. May You bless the Philippines, work out peace and prosperity within, around, and from it. May You guide and direct our leaders according to Your righteousness in Jesus’s name amen.