Manila, Phillippines

Well… if I had known that Manila has the largest population density of any city in the world, I may have scheduled less than five nights there. Seriously – Manila has roughly 43,000 people per square km. Compare that to Mumbai at 23,000 – and those of you who have been following the blog know how negatively I felt about the space squeeze there.

Part of me loves to opine upon a major city based upon its mass transit system. I truly admire a well-planned people mover system. Manila has it’s LRT and MRT – they are just obnoxiously overpopulated. Riders pile into the train cars, used to pushing and shoving to create space that should not exist. I noticed (and so did everyone else) that I was the only foreigner using the system every-time that I was on. Also they are poorly maintained – dirty, most of the escalators rarely function so that you have to walk up them (always creepy to me for fear that they may unexpectedly start up and tumble you off), lousy connections between the two systems, everything above ground and not air conditioned, too much security.

Too much security is another Manila problem. Every shopping mall, grocery store, transit stop you must go through a bag check and a pat-down for suicide vests by non-police officers carrying large-caliber hand guns. In front of a lot of the banks, gold shops, money exchanges and such in the downtown areas are uniformed rent-a-cops with a pump action shotgun strapped across their chest. I don’t know about you, but that gives me a queasy feeling when I find myself in the vicinity of one of those big guns.

Nutrition. Manila gets a D-. It is hard to eat healthy here. I have never seen so many franchise fried food operations per square km in my life. The fresh fruit and vegetables in grocery stores are anything but exciting or inspiring. The only yogurt to be found is by Nestle and 50% sugar. Even my old standbys over here like Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, where you can go for a real US style iced tea, add sugar in the mix pre-made in the Philippines as opposed to their recipe in every other country I have been. I found a Jamba Juice, but alas – too much sugar and no way to order without. Not surprisingly, some quick online research will educate you that the Philippines has a very high diabetes occurrence rate.

And then there is the cigarette smoking. I’ve noticed that besides almost all the males chain smoking, here the females seem to have a high incidence rate of smoking in public – something that you do not see in other Asian countries. Perhaps the long-time influence of the American colonial presence in the country is part of this social trait – yaaahhh!!! Another notch in the belt for US big business making a buck by killing Asians. It gets so old to get a blast of horrible smelling second hand smoke from 3rd or 4th grade tobacco in terribly hot and humid weather conditions. What can be the pleasure? To me, so obviously stupid and a constant irritation. My utopia would quite clearly be tobacco-free.

Manila was totally destroyed at the end of WW II. There was no patience for the Allies by this time for saving cultural landmarks and history. The Japanese had done an despicable job and were made to pay for it at the expense of entire country’s legacies. Manila was never properly rebuilt. I went through the two-day Lonely Planet itinerary and was sorely disappointed by how much was not really there compared to say, Cambodia or Myanmar.

It is, however, a tale of two cities. Makati is now the business hub of Manila Metro and it is more reminiscent of Singapore with lots of green ways and tall architecture.  It seems so false, so empty with all of its retail chains from Hermes down to TGI Fridays juxtaposed to the extreme poverty of dirty babies sleeping in the gutters on the fringes of the district, where reality meets the planned community head-on. And I really couldn’t even find a decent meal in Makati, money-be-damned.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the month in the Philippines as I venture south to dive areas and more rural venues. There’s always a silver lining!!


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