Having spent about a month working in Manila over the last year
or so, there was little surprise in the arrival: the airport is a bit shadey,
but if you take the "hotel taxi" which costs ten times as much as a regular
taxi, you get a safe ride, the driver speaks a bit of English, and the car
is almost air conditioned. We checked into the classy Pan Pacific, which is
just a few hundred meters from the Malate Pension but charges (again) ten
times as much. The first night was relatively uneventful as we knew we had
an early morning ahead.
From Japan, I had booked Eugene and I onto a Philippine Air flight
for Palawan the next morning. It was lucky that the agentt in Japan could
make arrangements for such flights for us, because arriving at 10pm in Manila
and leaving again the next morning allowed no time to play with tickets locally.
We woke up at 6:30, got in the taxi around seven, and missed our flight
just past eight. The mistake was a combination of the slow service at the
hotel check-out and some minor Monday morning traffic to the airport, and
we convinced the PhilAir to give us seats on the next flight to Palawan--
the following morning. So, we had a full day to kill in Manila with no
particular idea of how to spend it.
I had previously spent plenty of time in the financial districts of the
town as well as the old government center which now seems to be dominated
by the US embassy, some UN offices, a great big park, and a few government
agencies that were left behind. The new national government now lies in Quezon
City a few kilometers up the road. Anyway, rather than spend any time in
any of these places, we decided to head for Intramuros, the old walled city that lies just north of the old downtown. A quick train ride led us up to the doorstep of this place stuck in time. We wondered past the national post office and a park where there were lots of people lounging around in the sun. We happened upon a small monument which had only be dedicated a few days before. Fittingly, it was a memorial for the "comfort women" that were forced to provide elicit services for Japanese servicemen during the occupation of the islands (through the end of WWII). After pausing here and there, we entered the walls of the old city
You may have guessed that the term, Intramuros comes from the days of Spanish rule of the Philippines. Thus, the area has a decidedly colonial feel to it. Some of the buildings have been well preserved and create a quite stately atmosphere for the area. However, in general, this area has fallen into a bit of disrepair. Unlike the prim, proper, on-time days of colonial rule, these quarters are now home to some of the least time-abiding people around. Meaning, there are people just lounging around the streets in an unproductive manner that would upset any penny pinching king or governor. The new colonialism is to be found in the capital centers of Makati and Mandalong where American business keep the time now. Here in Intramuros we ran into people playing basketball in the street (where the backboard was blazened with the word "Saddam"?) and friendly woman who invited me for a photo. Only later did I realize that her T-shirt is from my mom's home state of Nebraska. Where do people get clothes like this?
But the Spanish era was not entirely in vain. The cathedral they left in the area is still in good shape and has even accepted the Pope himself. In fact, the Philippines may represent one of the most successful examples of missionaries' conversion of local people to the Western religion. Granted the Spanish rule lasted from the mid-16th century through the very end of the 19th century. But the success is somewhat impressive given the Philippine resistence to colonial rule. For example, these are the people who killed Magellan when he tried to establish Portuguese rule prior to the Spanish arrival. And the Filipinos are one of the few groups brave enough to start war against the USA. You can check it all out at filipinoheritage.com or Colonial Masters. Anyway, the current attitude in Manila gives the impression that the Filipinos are finally in control of their destiny, but the presence of cathedrals, Spanish surnames, and American fast food, reminds one that this land has been shaped more by the outside than it may appear at first glance.
The Best Nightspot
Socio-political concerns aside, Intramuros made for a great place to explore for the afternoon. As the sun made its way down to Manila Bay to the west, we climbed up on the old wall of the fortress and joined other people taking in the evening glow. This historical wall has been surrounded by a golf course which allowed the government to leave the old moat and lawn that encircles the area. This has to be one of the few places that you can get away from an otherwise insane city. I wish I had found this when I was here on business, working weekends, and stressed out...
And now a seond opinion...
to begin with the dark side, but Manila city, IMHO, was a complete shithole
-- pardon my french -- of a place where chaos and friendliness co-existed.
People were -- wherever you went -- were kind, but the stench and filth
were totally out of control. I wonder sometimes whether my values have
evolved so much to skew my views, but if I am to be propositioned to never
transit through this city as it is, this would add a level of comfort;
however, I'm glad I did it once
Eugene had the following words for the chaos that we found in other parts of Manila: