Scrapbook #6: The Philippines, part 3: Outside Manila

As much as I was fascinated by Manila, it was a relief to get out of the city for a few days and breathe some fresh air, and my family made sure to organize some trips for us. My first glimpse of a non-urban setting was when we spent a day south of Manila in Tagaytay, a popular town for city dwellers wanting a little break. It’s on the edge of Lake Taal, and we had lunch at a restaurant that overlooked a volcano jutting out in the middle of that lake. From a distance it looked too hazy and gentle to be something as destructive as a volcano.

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After eating too much (i.e. just enough), we strolled around the grounds of a church looking out onto the most incredible landscapes. The countryside is a muddy yellow-green; I’ve never seen anything precisely that shade.

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Scrapbook #5: The Philippines, part 2: Manila

DSC07078(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.

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(Street scene)

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.

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(In Eastwood)

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

Scrapbook #4: The Philippines, part 1: Some photos

I’m back in Canada after two weeks in Philippines. I have so many things to write about, but I’m jet lagged, still processing and looking ahead to a busy week back. If I don’t have time to pop in before the weekend, for those of you in Montreal, Andrew has an exhibit at the DHC as part of Nuit Blanche on Saturday and you should come by to see it.

Until later, here’s a selection of photos I took while I was away. There are more to come, along with details and context, but I’ll start with these highlights.

Hello again.

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Scrapbook #3: Mid-winter trip.

My parents moved to Canada in the seventies as part of a big wave of immigrants that decided to establish new lives in a different, welcoming country. They met and married in Toronto, had me, and remained. My father came from Greece, and I’ve been fortunate to visit the country often (and once for a long time). My mother, on the other hand, is from the Philippines, where I’ve never been. My mother hadn’t gone back in over 15 years herself, and last spring when she started talking about taking a trip I knew I had to go with her. I wanted to see the country where she grew up; I wanted to meet the other half of my family.

A trip to the Philippines is harder to coordinate than one to Greece, but we eventually got our schedules sorted out, and on Christmas Day I booked myself a ticket for a 20+ hour journey from Montreal to Vancouver and then Vancouver to Manila. I was excited, but this excitement promptly got swallowed up by day to day life. I worked a lot. I tried to write. We had houseguests and did typical Montreal things involving poutine and skating.

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And now the trip is around the corner: I leave on Saturday. I arrive in Manila on Monday morning, where I’ll meet my mother, who has been there for a week and a half already. The weather will be very different from the snow and cold here in Canada, and I’m looking forward to this unexpected winter break. But other than the temperature shift, I have no idea what to expect. Either way, I’ll be arming myself with a camera, a notebook and my laptop. The trip is relatively short for such a long distance (two weeks), but I have a feeling it will be the kind that inspires many words, photos, feelings.

I’ll keep you posted. See you in a few weeks.