Prior to arriving in the Philippines, I read through several websites and articles online to get an idea of what I was in for during my Christmas vacation. Many travelers before me advised skipping Manila all together and heading straight for the other islands like Cebu or Boracay. They were right. Despite the number of skyscrapers and high end businesses moving in, Manila at its core is still very poor. Of course, poverty isn’t a fair measure of how much someone can enjoy their time in one place, but it certainly gave me a heightened sense of awareness. The truth is that I didn’t feel safe exploring Manila on my own, and for that reason, I didn’t dare carry any expensive equipment on me. Maybe it was the constant staring from everyone on the streets, the holiday wishes from prostitutes lingering on every corner, being serenaded with Christmas songs by groups of children begging for money or simply just being there at the wrong time of year.
Speaking of children, if China, India, and Thailand had a child, Manila would be the result. The city takes after Thailand’s essence of S.E. Asia with street food abound, megamalls in the middle of the poorest areas, year-round tropical climate, and adult entertainment districts mixed in with high end businesses and modern looking buildings. Manila also seems to resemble China and India in the way of pollution, crowded trains, horrendous road conditions, poverty, and trash laden streets. To top it all off, Manila gives Los Angeles a run for its money with bumper to bumper traffic at all hours. Pedestrians and motorized vehicles move as one, and motor bikes expertly zigzag between narrow spaces in the maze that is Manila traffic. If you want to cross the street, you just have to start walking and trust that cars will move around you. There aren’t any road rules or manners. Drivers only seem concerned about getting to where they need to go as quickly as possible, in whatever way possible.
As you will, Manila, as you will.