This past weekend, I met Chuck in Manila for a few days of exploration. It’s a strange city full of contradictions, without as much to offer as many other cities in the region, but it was fun to visit. I wouldn’t recommend anyone go out of their way to see it necessarily, but I’m glad we went since we are more or less in the area. I didn’t bring the fancy camera (woops), so all my pics are iPhone shots, but you should get an idea of what it was like. 🙂
First off, I was really surprised that English was the default/primary language over there. While I was waiting at airports, I did all this research on some basic Tagalog phrases, and ended up using zero. All the signage, food menus, and advertising are in English. The live band we saw sang in English, too. I know the Philippines has a long history of occupation from European/American forces, but I think I was surprised because no one really speaks English on Okinawa, so I expected the native languages would be more prominent elsewhere, too. I’m not complaining, since it made for a much easier experience in many ways.
Anyway! I spent my first full day in Manila being a pampered poodle, since Chuck was still working. I relaxed poolside in the morning, then treated myself to a massage at the gorgeous, Thai-themed Devarana Spa. After lunching with Chuck, I ventured on my own for some truly high risk shopping.
In my defense, Chuck has done nothing but brag about the amazing shopping in Manila (specifically the uber-trendy Makati District), AND the Jimmy Choo’s were on sale. Still… I am mildly ashamed of this embarrassing display of conspicuous consumption.
Saturday was devoted to historical and cultural exploration. We focused on Intramuros, the oldest district and historic core of Manila. It was mostly destroyed during World War II, and hasn’t fully recovered since. Because the Philippines was a colony for so long, the architecture and ambiance is very old Spanish and Roman Catholic. We visited Fort Santiago (the old citadel), walked in the footsteps of Filipino national hero Jose Rizal, and explored the rather morose San Augustin Church. We saw a lot, learned a lot, and sweated a whole lot, and we had a great time doing it (hover and click on an image to view caption.)
Our evenings, in contrast, were spent indulging our love of food, cocktails, and socializing. Both nights we walked to Makati and enjoyed a Thai meal the first night, and a Filipino meal the second. We sampled tinapa rolls, baked tahong with cheese, sisig, duck basil fried rice, garlic chicken, and I even tried coconut milk, straight out of the nut! Both meals were great, but ultimately not that memorable. I’m not sure if that means we aren’t particularly Filipino/Thai food people, or if we just didn’t get the best samples of it…
One evening, we stayed for live entertainment at a bar called NUVO, where the band sang mostly American and Western songs and we were served colorful marshmallows as a free bar snack (rather than peanuts!) I thought that was adorable.
The most striking thing about Manila, however, is the incredible wealth disparity on constant display. Most cities have their rich sections and their poor sections, but in Manila, both are jumbled all together in a rather disarming way. I took the following picture from a perch in Intramuros. You can see the high rises and nice apartment buildings – looks like your standard city!
I glided my iPhone lens mere inches to the left, and snapped a shot of the shacks in the very same neighborhood, and then captured another shot of the street nearby in touristy Intramuros:
Of course, as some of the only white/American individuals in Intramuros that day, we were easy targets for the beggars and panhandlers. We do have that in the U.S. as well, but it felt different ignoring and walking away from those in Manila. It’s a unique brand of poverty all its own, and very sad indeed.
In sum… Manila is both beautiful and dirty, rich and poor, trendy and traditional, all at the same time. Compared to other places I have visited in my life, it certainly provided a different window into the world around us.