Monday, 25 August 2008

So far from God, so close to the United States

Forgive my tardiness once again. We have been back in the UK now for 5 days, and I needed to add a last post or two to get up to date.

We arrived at Clark Airport (Clark being some US military bloke from the early part of the 20th Century, I'll come onto this later). This is a Manila airport in much the same way that Birmingham International Airport is a London airport as it is 2 hours out of the city. We got on a fairly comfortable bus and set off in the light which receded as we approached the urban sprawl. Then the rain came, brought all of its squally friends and stayed for a couple of hours. I have never seen rain like this anywhere in the tropics. Within the bus you could not see out of the windows for the sheer deluge running down the pain, which you might have been forgiven for thinking was because some young Filipino scalliwag was pouring bucket upon bucket of water from the roof. This was coupled to the fact that the traffic was also the worst we had ever encountered in the world meant it was a slow and fairly uninteresting trip into the city. We arrived about 20 or 30 minutes late having made it to a shopping mall as the terminus for the coach. We were tehn surrounded by people trying to get their luggage out of the bus, and taxi drivers trying to offer us lifts. Smuggly we declined as we knew we had a lift waiting for us

Well, I say "knew", actually it was more "hoped". My cousin, Aunt and Uncle were being driven to meet us by the parents of the bride. Except they weren't there. With the reputation of the Philippines in general and Manila in particular for crime we decided to wait at the main entrance of the shopping mall where we felt safe as they had security checks for people entering performed by armed guards. So here we waited. Fortunately we had a number for Frances' (the bride) mobile so managed to send her a text message and had some communication and discovered the transport was stuck in the horrendous traffic. So we waited two hours! It had been a bad night as:
1) it was Friday
2) it was a payday
3) it was the begining of a long holiday weekend
4) it was pissing down. Actually pissing doesn't do the weather justice, unless you are talking about a massive flock of flying elephants on diuretics who had also had a skinful of lager

Once we did meet up, everything went well and we were taken to get some food. This was to a place specialising in ribs and BBQ type stuff. Not Filipino (see later) . We then got whisked. Well, OK, crawled to our accomodation for the night, narrowly avoiding a disaster with the lock to the bedroom

This was our first night in Manila: two plus hours to get to the city, two hours outside the SM Megamall, and a long time in the car to get to our accomodation. and I hate to say this but what we had seen of the city so far was not impressive. It is an ugly concrete jungle of a city with little charm in the main. The whole place is covered with signs for fast food places: McDonalds, Burger King, Jollibee and is where the title of this blog entry comes in. The phrase usually refers to Mexico, or more lately anywhere in Latin America, but it is equally apt for Manila. OK, it's not close to the US geographically, but the stranglehold of American culture is everywhere from these fast food joints, to an airport named after a US general to the armed guards at every shopping mall, hotel and even the aforementioned burger bars. Couple this to the extremes of poverty which we saw later, the pollution and traffic, and the frequently high likelihood of typhoons, and you do feel a city that is so far from God and so close to the United States.

However, scratch beneath the surface and you do find a real Asian city. People are as warm and friendly as in Thailand, there is excellent local food to be had if you know where to look, and above all, there is a national pride in abundance, despite being variously Spain's, Britain's, Japan's and, most lately, America's bitch. True, there are parts of Manila where you wouldn't walk around at night, but there are also parts of Manchester, London and even Wakefield where you'd be pretty stupid to do that in too. Manila has a lot to offer.

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