A country of 7,000 islands

Trip Start Oct 19, 2006
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Trip End Apr 05, 2007


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Flag of Philippines  ,
Monday, January 8, 2007

 Christopher was waiting for me when I arrived in Manila.  The arrivals area is outside the building, on the sidewalk by the taxis, so he wasn't sure if I would even find the area, much less find him. So while I was waiting in the immigration area, trying to be patient, I thought I heard some garbled version of my name over the loudspeaker - yes, it was, inviting me to the arrivals area. Once I had my bag and my passport stamped, I walked out into the steamy heat of Manila and there was Christopher, newly shaved face and all.
 
We had a bit of trouble finding breakfast the next morning since our neighborhood was all bars. We eventually broke down and went to the Starbucks across the street from our hotel. I remember seeing a T-shirt in VietNam that said "I came to VietNam before McDonalds did" or something like that. Not so in the Philippines. The Philippines not only has Starbucks, it has KFC, Kenny Rogers, Burger King - we even had a frosty from Wendy's on our way to the movies one day. We also ate at Max's when we were in Manila before we left - a fast food place with the slogan, The House that Fried Chicken Built.
 
Our big errand and project in Manila was to go to the American embassy so I could get some more pages added to my passport. It was free, and not too much of a hassle, so I can't complain. I did think they would do something more official than just packing-tape the new pages into the middle of my passport, though. 
 
Much more exciting than that errand was our adventure at the procession and festival of the black Nazarene from a big park in central Manila to Quiapo church. A lot of barefoot pilgrims carry images of the black Nazarene through the streets, with banners, and on platforms or wheeled floats. Then everyone else in the street tosses their handkerchiefs up to someone (usually a young, light-weight person) standing on the float so that the handkerchief can be rubbed on the Nazarene figure and tossed back down. People also put flower garlands on the Nazarenes and held candles that dripped their hot wax into inside-out cigarette boxes. It was sort of a big parade - a slow moving, one theme, parade. Apparently in years past, people have died from the heat and crushing crowds of the parade. When we read the paper the day after the procession, everyone was happy that no one had died in this year's festivities.
 
So we took the train to near Quaipo church, where the procession was supposed to end. The line seemed quite blurry between participants and spectators, but the pilgrims were mostly wearing maroon and yellow - lots of polyester jerseys that seemed like they must have been oh so hot. Thankfully it was a cloudy day, which may was probably better for the people walking all day. We found a spot up on top of a traffic divider where we could watch over the heads of most people. We watched for a long time, Christopher made friends with a talkative Filipino guy squeezed in next to him. After a couple hours, we saw people pulling these long ropes that we thought were attached to the actual black Nazarene. Unfortunately we never got to confirm our suspicion since the people pushing and shoving to touch the ropes pushed the whole crowd toward us so much that we jumped backwards off the concrete median into the other side of the street. Some other people who jumped off got back up, but we decided that getting pushed off was probably a good enough sign that it was time to go. We were pretty filthy with soot and exhaust and smoke of all kinds.
 
We walked through Intramuros, the old colonial era walled part of the city, but it wasn't super exciting. People still live inside the walls, and apparently most of them are tricycle drivers who had just been waiting there for us all day.
 
We spent a lot of time inside a mall while we were in Manila. We originally went there because there was a grocery store where we could get yogurt. It was strange to go into a mall - there are lots of malls in Bangkok, but we hadn't been in any yet - so familiar with all the same teenage girls and teenage clothes and kiosks selling things in the middle of the halls. We also saw two movies at the mall - Blood Diamond and Deja Vu. I think part of spending time in the mall was because Manila was a hard town to be a tourist in, at least in our neighborhood. It was a hard town to walk around in - we almost always had to walk in the street in clouds of exhaust and noise. We did eat some good food, and we liked walking just a couple blocks from our hotel to the water's edge. The night before we left, we enjoyed seeing some guys singing at a restaurant called the Hobbit House, where all the waiters and waitresses are midgets. Its slogan is "The Smallest Waiters in the World." The song selection was surprising - lots of James Taylor, Jim Croce, and other folksy classics.
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