Wahoo! I am finally out of Palawan!! To be fair, the place did grow on me after a few days, it’s a super cute if not smelly place, and its very cultural for someone who wants to experience the real Filipino way of life, I met some great locals and made new friends, so I can’t say it was all bad. I was just ready to leave and am soooo excited for Malaysia + Singapore, having bought a Lonely Planet and started reading all about the places I’m going!!
I flew out of Palawan around 1pm and got to Manila without a hitch. I’m staying with some mutual friends here, who turned out to be excellent hosts and great company as well 🙂 I got to their gorgeous penthouse condo, and there just happened to be a birthday in the house, so we went out to celebrate my new friend Marshalls Bday! After the first decent shower I’ve had in weeks, we went out to the Sofitel, a very fancy hotel on the bay, doesn’t look like much from the outside, but man was it ever nice inside! We played some pool while waiting for our table, and had a great ( if not expensive) dinner while swapping travel stories.
The next day I was on my own as my new friends had to work, so I ventured out into the sprawling big city by myself in search of adventure. Instead of adventure I found a pancake house for breakfast and settled for that, lol. Everything is so Americanized here! There is TONS of fast food, A Mcdonalds on every corner, and I even found a Starbucks to satisfy my caffeine craving! Not quite the authentic experience I was looking for, but the Philippines was an american colony for 50 years and before that belonged to spain for 400 years, so it truly is woven into the culture here. A hybrid mix of old and new which struck me as strange but, hey, its part of their legacy here!
I ignored the shouts and catcalls of the many touts and guys and duders and security guards and walked along the big, dirty, dangerous, smelly streets. Seriously everyone shouts hello at you, whats your name, where are you from, where are you going….you get the picture. I just smile and pretend not to speak english. I`ve got nothing against meeting the locals, in fact i love it but they way they approach me makes me feel threatened so i just play dumb. I found myself at Rizal park, the place where Filipino independence was declared, and although its majestic, its basically just a big fancy park. i got lost after that trying to find the historic district, and luckily got approached by a sweet lady tout, Mary Jane, who told me I was going the wrong way and offered to give me a tour of Intramuros, the `city within the walls` which is the oldest area in Manila. I got into the sidecar and had a really enjoyable few hours in the old city, checking out all the old buildings, forts, and museums that I could handle, and talked to MJ about her life in Manila, which is hard but she was super cheery about it and assured me that it was way better here than her life of poverty in the country. She overcharged me for the tour but at that point I really didn’t care, so I gave her 700 pesos (about $18) and decided to check out some of the newer parts of Manila. I swear I could have walked faster than the taxi that took me to Robinson’s Place, the traffic in this city is actually the WORST. Add the smog and the heat to that, and , about ten million people, and you have one big dirty mess on your hands. Still, it is an interesting city and I`m glad I made the effort to stop here. I even saw my first prostitute deal go down! A tiny Filipino girl and a big American dude – go figure.
At the mall, I experienced a new kind of culture shock – i felt like I was in America again! Everywhere I looked were american brands, stores, and chains. But it all came with some distinctly Filipino touches, lots of kiosks selling Filipino food and drinks, the strangest assortment of foods, and pretty much anything you can dream of was available in this mall. I ate some delicious Pho (Vietnamese, Not Filipino, so sue me) and successfully maneuvered my way back to Bayview towers, a small accomplishment but I was still proud of myself!!
As I walked back, I noticed two more things – one is the huge population of transgendered men and women in Manila – the concept of gender is very fluid here and nobody seems to blink or care as lipsticked men and butchy women mingle and go about their business. Its awesome! The second thing that I saw was absolute poverty everywhere – people living on the streets, sifting through the garbage and living hand to mouth. It was hard to see, and while i was busy feeling sorry for them a whole family noticed me, broke into huge smiles, waving, saying hi and being super friendly and polite. Wow. To have such a happy, upbeat attitude for what they had, it really gave me a new perspective. i waved and smiled back, gave the littlest one some change I had, and continued my way to my penthouse, feeling infinitely luckier than before.
My lovely hosts made me dinner that night, thank you Duncan and Marshall for taking such good care of me in Manila! i went to bed early and was up at 4:30 am to grab a cab to the airport and flew to Kuala Lumpur without a hitch. My Malaysian and Singapore adventure was just beginning!!