Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Thrilla in Manila

It is currently 7:44 PM local time, and I am sitting in the hostel (next to a Chinese kid playing StarCraft on his laptop) here in Manila. Let me show you how I got here and what my first day has been like!

Monday morning, after going to bed late and waking up before my alarm, I finished getting the place ready, getting my bags ready, and getting myself ready for Brendan to pick me up and take me to the airport. Naturally, it was cloudy and raining in Seattle, a fitting good-bye. Due to a stop at the drug store, traffic, and security lines, I got to my gate with only about 15 minutes to spare which was a little stressful, but on the other hand I didn't waste any time waiting!

The flight from Seattle to Seoul was 12 or 13 hours, and uneventful. I was sitting in the dead middle of the plane, so I couldn't see anything, but I don't think there was anything to see anyways. I was hoping to sleep on the plane, but couldn't because I just wasn't tired enough I guess.

When we arrived in Seoul, it was only 8pm or so local time, but the place was amazingly empty and a little creepy. I had been hoping to get out of the airport for the evening, but when I got there that didn't seem like it was really an option, and besides it was like 4am Seattle time and by now I WAS tired. I spent some time on my computer, got a 1-line chat in with Nick before he disappeared (?) and tried to sleep in the above 'Rest & Relaxation Area'. The whole airport was very nice, and it even had very nice, clean free showers. Again, I tried to sleep for the night before my 8:40am flight to Manila, but sleep would not come, mostly due to the uncomfortable chairs I was trying to crash out in. Oh well. Again, I woke well before my alarm and just wandered the slowly waking airport before my flight.

 The flight from Seoul to Manila was similarly uneventful. I will say, the airline (Asiana) seemed kind of nice compared the domestic flights I've taken recently. Not only did they give food (which wasn't that awful), but every 30 minutes it seemed they were walking around with drinks. This time I had a window seat, but we were above the clouds and there was nothing to see until the last 30 minutes as we were nearing the airport. (and there wasn't much to see)

This is the Immigration station (and past it is customs) at the Manila airport. Despite the government saying they require an outbound flight for entrance so as not to overstay the 21-day visa they give, when I tried to show the agent my papers, he wouldn't even look at them! Another amusing thing was the customs declaration paperwork. At the bottom in red, it says  "WARNING: DEATH TO DRUG TRAFFICKERS"

Once I was out of the airport with some local money in my pocket, the Philippine peso, I hopped a taxi to my hostel. Luckily he started the meter, but must have thought I didn't see, because when I reached my drop-off, he asked for 200 pesos, I saw the meter said 116 or something. Partly due to a lack of smaller bills, I ended up giving him 150 (~$3.40) and calling that good. 
The hostel is what I expected I guess. Not fancy at all, but it was close and easy. The tree growing out of it is pretty neat too.

 I decided to spring for a private room,and here it is. Small, smelly, no windows. Oh well, the price is right, haha. Instead of a ripoff, I actually caught a deal on this. The reservation said I had to pay 700-something, but they only asked for 600 pesos (~$13.70) for the two night reservation I made from the Seoul airport.

As soon as I put my things away and got myself somewhat organized, I headed out to walk around the area and see what I'd gotten myself into.  Small garbage-strewn streets, random dogs and chickens, kids playing in the streets, all that I expected. Literally within 5 minutes of leaving the hotel and walking around for the first time, I was offered a prostitute. By a kid that was like 5 years old. I knew it was big here but it did catch me off guard a bit, at least coming from such a little kid. 

Anyways, I kept walking, and the first thought that came to mind was 'disorganization'. It ain't the west here, folks. It is a sort of semi-organized chaos, where things seem to happen by some form of rationality, only no part seems to know what the other is doing and everything just sort of collides into one jumble.

I kept walking, and wound up on some pretty small narrow streets. In my 4 hours of walking, I'm not sure I saw a single white person. I certainly attracted some attention, with lots of strange looks, people calling me "Joe" (what they call all white people, I reference to the American military presence decades ago, and GI Joe I guess?), "Americano", and "Daddy" (what the prostitutes call people). Little kids constantly ask me for money, some walking with me for half a (US-length) city block, just saying "Give me Pesos! Give me Pesos! Give me Pesos!"

This place was weird. Just blocks from my hostel and only 2 miles at most from the airport, sat this building, the Coastal Mall. In reality, the building was nearly abandoned.  It is a crumbling 3-story mall, but only the bottom floor is used, mostly by one big warehouse store, and small kiosks selling pirated movies and cellphone accessories.

I kept walking, and the blocks just didn't end. I probably went more than a mile down this one street before there was a way to turn right or left off of it onto something else. When I did, I found myself in some crazy dead-end streets where I'm sure other tourists never go. haha. I'm still trying to figure out how things work here, but from what I can tell, people sort of lock themselves off into little 'neighborhood compounds' . Off the streets like the ones I've show, are side streets with gates and guards. The guards just sit there with a club and a sign that says "no sticker, no entry" and only residents are supposed to go in. While I expected this in more well off areas, I was walking through some pretty poor areas, so it was a bit of a surprise.  Most stores have armed guards at the doors, one convenience store even had a guy with a tactical-style shotgun at the door!

A quick video of what a walk down these streets is like.

Walking across a bridge somewhere in the neighborhood (Oh, now that I think about it, I did see a white person today, standing on this bridge).  What these streets are full of (besides people walking, jeepneys and the motorcycle/sidecar taxi) is little snack shops. It seems like 3 of every 4 storefronts is a shop selling the same candy and other snacks. There are also countless little places to grab food, mostly chicken it seems, but I hear you can find dog if you want ; ) .

Oh, another thing I find strange, is how much English I see. It's not that I didn't expect to see it, because it is the second most common language in the Philippines and what is used in government and education from what I understand, it is where I am seeing it. Nearly all these little shops have signs in English only, despite the obvious fact they are not in a western tourist area, and as far as I can tell, the people don't actually speak English from what I have experienced thus far... maybe someone can explain it to me.

Because it was getting dark, I decided I'd better get back to the hostel and dinner there instead of on the street.  I'm still a little worried about figuring out what street food I can eat without getting sick... but the other reason I wanted to go back to the hostel is because I thought it would be a better place to meet someone I could actually talk with. 

Well, it worked. This is Chris from South Africa. He has been in the Philippines for two weeks now, and is headed to the island of Cebu to meet up with some Danish people he has met, and to do some diving. Well, going to Cebu and learning to SCUBA dive is also on my list of things to do, so after I spend a little more time in Manila, I'll likely head that way and meet up with, amazing how that works out on my first day of the trip, huh?

So that is where I am at right now. Tomorrow I will leave my little neighborhood and start to explore this crazy city.