Operation Manila Underground

Trip Start Dec 03, 2012
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Trip End Jan 09, 2013


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Flag of Philippines  , Luzon,
Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Like Chicken without his Head
One of the many reasons I am here in Manila is to visit a city cemetery where hundreds of filipinos make their homes with the dead. Took LRT to R.Papa station and walked to La Loma cemetery only to be told by security guard that La Loma is a private catholic cemetery and strictly no cameras allowed. Instead I was instructed to ride a tricycle to the southerly Chinese cemetery. Once I got there the local guard and a guide told me that this was also a private cemetery and La Loma should be the right place. 
 
Frustrated, I returned to La Loma on trike to the first guard's surprise. Then he informed me that the north cemetery is the supposed public cemetery! To the point of being angry, I rode to the gates of North cemetery (sounds like a heavy metal title!), only to be turned away by the security guardForeigner must attain camera permit from City Hall! I was passively arguing with him that it was impossible to get a permit in time, to persuade him to change his mind. He stood his ground.

A Walled Cemetery
Now, La Loma, Chinese cemetery and North cemetery are all interconnected (based on my iphone map) and shielded behind a 5 metres high concrete wall, much like a prison. I was determined to get in by hook or by crook, so I started exploring the eastern perimeter wall, looking for any secret passageways. Some local kids were scaling up the wall with the help of knotted ropes but the walls were so high I doubted I would succeed. On my map, Tagaytay street - the north perimeter of the cemetery fronts a neighbourhood and a secondary road entry, so I ventured further but was informed by a local that the secondary gate sometimes open at 5 pm.
 
A Secret World
It was 1 pm. Hot, frustrated and hungry. Seeing that the entire length of the Tagaytay street perimeter is fronted with shops, I thought the shops could be porous through to the cemetery. Taking my chances, I asked one of the shop vendors if there are indeed backdoors/passageways to the cemetery. J (don't want to reveal his name here) hesitated but revealed that his shop can connect to cemetery and offered to take me in. Jackpot! Ducking under low ceilings and dimly lit stairwells, I emerged out of his shop atop the cemetery wall to a full view of the cemetery, much like a cinematic scene. J then told me to be discreet and avoid any contact with the cemetery police otherwise we both would be in trouble.
 
Living with the Dead
Finally my persistence paid off handsomely. Scaling down a ladder, I had to navigate around juxta-positioned tombs before I find myself on a street. Started chatting with the residents and taking as many photos as I was allowed to (Many were shy but opened up very quickly). It was here that I met some of Philippines' poorest and disenfranchised. Most of them parents, were even born in this very cemetery. Some tombs housed three family generations. None of them were concerned about living with the dead. To my astonishment, the cemetery homes are in better conditions than the slums I saw in the city. There are proper streets with street names, like it would in any cemeteries. 
 
It appears that residents here are safe and some even have electricity for fans and TVs in their abodes. There are even tiny convenience stores! Bizarre indeed! Speaking with one of the residents from the northerly shopfronts, apparently many reporters and photographers entered the cemetery in the same manner as I did - without a permit. It seems to me that the government wants this cemetery community out of the public eye.

Food Poisoning and Toilets
Feeling really satisfied, I then caught a jeepney to Blumentritt LRT station for my well deserved lunch before heading down south to check out Manila's financial hub - Makati City. The train interchange station was Taft Avenue - I was mildly shocked at the uber long queues just to purchase a ticket. If you reckon Singaporeans love to queue, wait til you visit Manila. Everyone in queue was orderly and patient, even in this insane humidity. The only passenger I saw queuing with a black face was this very tall european woman. So I got my ticket, headed down to Ayala Shopping Center and suddenly I had a stomachache and was desperate for toilet.
 
Luckily for me, there was one right in the department store. I blamed it on the siomai I just ate or the coconut juice with ice. These food stores were everywhere around the LRT stations. Anyway, it pays to bring your own paper roll or wet tissues wherever you are in the Philippines. You will not, I repeat, will not find a single sheet of toilet paper even in a departmental store toilet in Manila's financial district.

Blizzard in Night Bus
I was looking to take photos of Manila's skyline but decided to head back to room in case the gastro gets worse. I was even contemplating to forfeit my Banaue bus ticket tonight but thankfully my gastro was short-lived. Taxied to Espana for 110 php and boarded my night bus to Banaue. It may not be the longest bus ride I had ridden but it was definitely the most uncomfortable and coldest. Absolutely no leg space and front passenger had to incline his seat. It was truly a contortionist's seat.
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