12° 52′ 46.9956″ N, 121° 46′ 26.4612″ E
For Chinese New Year (not to be confused with the Western New Year on January 1), my school closed for one week. For my friends and me, that meant traveling somewhere to immerse ourselves in all sorts of mayhem and mischief. I chose the Philippines because it was the cheapest option in terms of plane tickets, and because I have always been interested in Filipino culture. Two of my friends decided to join my six-day adventure. One of them was Oliver, a tall Danish guy whom I met in Copenhagen last fall during my semester abroad. The other guy was Eric, another Korean-American from the same business program as mine, who was as excited about traveling as me.
As excited as we were about traveling to the Philippines for our very first time, we ran into a bit of trouble with planning while we were still in Hong Kong. We ended up collectively deciding that it would be best to “go with the flow” and figure things out when we arrived in the Philippines. We booked a hostel room for the first night and left our plans open for the rest of the stay.
When we arrived in the Philippines, it was around 9:00PM. After withdrawing some Philippine pesos from the ATM, we caught a cab and got in. The cab driver barely spoke English and kept talking loudly on his headset in Tagalog, which is one of the native languages of the Philippines. He eventually drove us to a neighborhood called Angeles City, which was a 45-minute drive from the airport. The taxi fare was around 400 pesos, which is just under $10 US dollars, and was fine with us as we ended up paying a little over 130 pesos each. We finally got to our hostel at around midnight and checked in. For one night, we ended up paying 450 pesos for three people, which is around three US dollars per person. The hostel was run by an old and kind-looking Japanese couple, who assured us multiple times that their place was very clean and sanitary. Nevertheless, I was slightly paranoid because I’d had run-ins with some giant cockroaches during my stay in Malaysia.
The next day, we were woken up exactly at 8:00 AM by the obnoxious crowing of roosters. As I groggily rubbed my eyes open, all I could think of was, “Why are there roosters in the city?”. Although I was initially annoyed at being woken up so early during my vacation, I also found it amusing how angry my friends were at the roosters. After chuckling a couple of times, I then got up to brush my teeth, but noticed that something was amiss. I was itching everywhere. I slowly realized with a sinking feeling that I was itching everywhere on my body. I looked down. My arms and legs were covered in tiny welts, around 30 or 40 of them total. They looked like bedbug bites. Needless to say, I was not very pleased by my new fate, especially because neither Eric or Oliver were bitten. I decided to not complain and press on. Since we began so early, we thought we would be able to tour all around Manila. However, we were all astounded by how large the city was. It never took us less than an hour to get anywhere within Manila. Because of how far away everything was, we were limited in what we got to see in the city. However, the things I saw will always stay with me because it was my first exposure to how people lived in a developing country.
We started in an area called Intramuros, which is the historical part of Manila. However, it was only after an hour of walking around that we realized how large the area was. It was also difficult to find the historical parts of the city because they blended in so well with the rest of the city and because they were not kept in pristine condition. We ended up getting lost and had to hire a rickshaw to take us back to where we started. We then got some lunch (we hadn’t had any food yet) at a local restaurant. I tried to be adventurous and ordered the most authentic-looking dish possible. I ended up with a deep-fried pork chop with a side serving of spaghetti. Both the meat and spaghetti were extremely sweet. Apparently, Filipino cuisine is different from that of other Asian cuisines – Filipino flavors tend to be very bold and simple, rather than subtle and complicated. Although the pork was a bit too sweet for me, I really enjoyed the Filipino interpretation of spaghetti because it was spicy and sweet.
After lunchtime, we tried to visit the American Memorial Cemetery near the Fort Bonifacio neighborhood in Manila, but got lost on the way. We took a cab but ended up getting even more lost because the cab driver misinterpreted our destination. He graciously let us get out of the cab without paying the fare, but dropped us off in the heart of the Manila slums. We didn’t realize this at first, but soon understood it after finding out that no one spoke any English and after not being able to find any other taxis. We ended up trying to find a taxi for two hours and finally found one after we agreed to pay him 500 pesos to take us to the American Memorial Cemetery. The trip there actually took us around two hours due to the extreme traffic we faced after we exited the slum area, but I was extremely thankful that we had found a taxi with air conditioning.The Manila slums were an experience by themselves. Like every city the world over, there are the wealthy neighborhoods, the places where tourists typically visit, and there are always areas of the city where the poorest people live. The disparity between the wealthy and poor can be shocking, particularly because most people avoid visiting the poorest neighborhoods if they can help it. So, most people don’t really understand the conditions that the poorest people live in, even in their own city. Visiting the slums made me more appreciative of the things I have been afforded in my life.
We finally reached the American Memorial Cemetery at around 4:30PM, and walked around the area. The memorial was beautiful, but I couldn’t get out of my head the images that I saw earlier during the day. We left after only a brief stay, at around 5:00PM, and headed for the airport. We wanted to go to Cebu, a city on an island further south. Manila had treated us well, but I was glad to move on.
To be completely honest, I had expected a capital city to be more developed than what I experienced in Manila. I also had expected everything to go relatively smoothly despite my lack of planning. But such is life, and I gained a valuable appreciation for the privileged and comfortable life that I live.