(View from the 39th floor)
I landed in Manila at the break of dawn on a Tuesday morning and was that weird combination of delirious and adrenaline charged, too much so to really process where I’d landed and what I was seeing, and in many ways felt the same when I left less than two weeks later. I find it hard to pin down my thoughts on Manila itself. It’s a strange city. Huge, messy. What I call “Manila” is really Metro Manila, a series of cities connected by roads and highways, with no clear cut centre or downtown. The apartment I lived in for two weeks was in a glossier, Americanized part of Quezon City. We were on the 39th floor where my view was a jagged blend of various sizes of skyscrapers, multicoloured houses, slums, roads and the Pasig river, skinny and murky green.
That first morning, in the car on the way to the apartment, we hit my first traffic jam of the city, and I wasn’t awake enough to realize that it would be the first in many, many traffic jams. The traffic in Manila is a sprawling, lazy beast, an entity unto itself. It’s hard to ignore if you spend any time within the borders of the city.The traffic is indicative, I guess, of how busy and chaotic the city is. Chaotic, but seamless too – cars straddle two lanes at a time and dart in front of other vehicles whenever there’s an opening. Buses and jeepneys barrel down the streets, and then screech to a stop to let passengers off. I didn’t witness any accidents, though, just many close calls.
Mostly what you’ll find in Manila are extremes: extreme wealth, extreme poverty (although more weighted towards poverty) and all points in between. The area I stayed in, for instance, was as North American as could be. Eastwood is essentially a gigantic mall complex with stores like Marks & Spencer and The Body Shop, restaurants like McDonalds or TGI Friday’s. I will admit to having a really great burger at Johnny Rocket’s, an American diner replica, complete with jukebox and, mystifyingly, waiters and waitresses who broke into a dance routine every hour or so. The area was clean, safe, pretty, and I felt more like I was in California than the Philippines when I was there. It’s the kind of place where thoughtful relatives will make sure a North American will stay when they’re on their first trip to the Philippines to minimize the culture shock. Continue reading