Trip Start Oct 20, 2004
114Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
Slinging our backpacks over our shoulders we stepped into the heat; crossed the street and walked a half block to our new hotel. We checked in to the 'Malate Pension' and as we pushed open the heavy door we cast appreciative eyes around the room, taking in the buffed wood floors, private bathroom and crisp, folded-back sheets on a reasonably sized bed that actually looked quite clean. At ‘Friendly’s Guesthouse’ we’d had the distinct feeling that we were the last people crawling between linens that were a few days overdue for their once monthly wash.
After depositing our luggage and freshening up we decided to spend the afternoon wandering around the Chinese Cemetery; a strange choice perhaps but our trusty Lonely Planet guide book touted it as an interesting diversion and we had bugger all else to do
The Chinese cemetery is the second oldest cemetery in Manila and came about because non-Catholics weren’t allowed to be buried with their God fearing brethren during the Spanish colonial rule of the 19th Century. Because there were huge numbers of Chinese non-Catholics they decided to designate their own cemetery and so, since the 1850’s this has been their final resting place.
Entering was, quite literally like walking into a ghost-town. This isn’t a ‘cemetery’ in the way we normally think of them, it’s more like a small town with nobody around. Well-kept but empty suburban streets house all manner of mausoleums and memorials ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. From simple grave markers and untended tombs to full blown mausoleums resembling everything from scaled down versions of the Cultural Center of the Philippines to Art Deco Warhol rejects and three storey monstrosities complete with parking lots!! It’s really quite incredible to think of the extraordinary amount of money that has been spent to honour the ordinary dead.
Ornate crystal chandeliers, marble washrooms and mahogany tables and chairs decorate living rooms for the deceased as if dinner parties all over a once-affluent and crowded neighbourhood had been interrupted by the Grim Reaper and anyone not scythed down by the big black-hooded bastard had run screaming for the hills
Some of the expense and finery adorning these places is quite astonishing. A-C units sit unused in large framed windows; crystal chandeliers hang from raised ceilings and flush toilets ensure that the deceased aren’t caught short on their way to the afterlife. Beautifully painted pictures hang on tiled, painted or plastered walls and portraits of the ‘inhabitants’ hang over marble tombs. Bushes, flowers and trees grow in manicured gardens. One place even had a Coke vending machine. What an ad eh?
‘Coca Cola - good enough for the afterlife’
The area is much cleaner than the heaving, garbage strewn city that surrounds it, but of course it should be; there aren’t too many people wandering around dropping candy wrappers or chucking their plastic bottles into the street… everyone being dead and all ..
Little wonder there’s a guard.
Wandering the streets is a strange experience.
There are almost no visitors; we saw only one other person touring the place while we were there and yet there are street cleaning crews out in force, primping hedges, cleaning gutters and sweeping yards. It’s like ‘Night of the living dead’; you can almost imagine lifeless, cloudy eyes watching silently from behind decades old curtains; skeletal hands opening creaky hinged doors and dusty vocal chords straining to yell ‘Hey, get the hell out of my yard!!’
Packs of mangy dogs and cats run the streets with impunity as nobody is there to curse or chuck rocks at them; it’s like a little dead suburb of a massive vibrant city
Suddenly it’s all a bit spooky.
Thursday March 12th 2009:
Today was the day we were supposed to pick up our passports complete with freshly bestowed Taiwanese visas. We grabbed a cab over to the RCBC tower; made our way through the security checkpoints, passed beneath the withering gazes of the stern faced, jack-booted fellows with big guns and hopped into the elevator to the clouds. The 44th floor was bustling
Well, of course it could.
With - I swear - a smirk of self satisfaction, the nice lady informed us that we would have to have an interview to explain why we had requested 60 day Tourist Visas.
Pardon my language here but, ‘What the Fuck…?"
We had been told we couldn’t get 60 day tourist visas so why were we expected to explain why we had requested them? Unless they were going to grant them to us…
We hastily concocted a story.
It was the typical one that we prepare for these visa applications; we always have a back-up lie – I mean story – in hand and it has been useful in the past as we have been interviewed before
I could feel the anger bubbling up from the depths again and had to concentrate hard on preventing it from spilling out in an irate verbal tirade. If we were told to come back to pick up our passports in 3 more days I was going to punch a guard in the head, kick him solidly in the cobblers, grab his gun and start plugging 12 gauge rounds into the office staff.
The interview was a complete and utter farce.
No real surprise there.
A miserable old trout of a woman eyed us coldly as we sat down across the large desk from her
Apparently the visa overstay was still causing complications. We explained – again – what had caused us to overstay our visas and promised her that we would not make the same mistake twice but the sour faced, partially mummified hag seemed unmoved by our assurances. In fact it would be fair to say that she was wholly unsympathetic to our tale of poor advice. Apparently even though our recruiter, our boss and some poorly informed Taiwanese immigration official (who should have known better) had told us that a few days of overstay would be OK, everyone in the Manila office disagreed. Well, fair enough but we were told that three days ago so why have you waited until now to tell us the same goddamn thing all over again? It was at that point in the proceedings that I actually began to fear that they weren’t going to issue us with any visa at all. Thoughts of phoning Cathy’s friend Donna in Taiwan and asking her to ship our suitcases to Canada flitted through my mind. Jeezus - how much would THAT cost???
But the really strange thing was that the old witch kept asking us the same question:
"Is 30 days enough?”
We kept giving her the same answer:
“No, we need 60 days and have already booked our tickets”
But she kept right on giving us the same answer in return:
“You can’t have a 60 day, you must change your ticket; 30 days is enough time for you to visit Taiwan”
Well, I’m glad you think so you bitter, wrinkled, old witch
Then she would ask again:
“Is 30 days enough?”
After a couple of times around we began to think she was either offering us a foot in the door (pending our ability to provide an acceptable answer) or a chance to shoot ourselves in the foot and so we’d reply again “No, we need 60 days, we’ve already booked our plane … see?”
“I can’t give you a 60 day visa; 30 days is enough….. Is 30 days enough?”
Eventually our passports were taken away and 20 minutes later they came back with 30 day non-extendable visas placed in them. Finally, thankfully, it was finished and sorted; not entirely to our liking mind, but at least we had our passports, at least they contained visas and now, at last, we could focus on the rest of our trip instead of cooling our heels in Manila. The only thing we hoped was that 30 days would be enough time to find jobs and get the paperwork processed for work permits upon our return to Taiwan without having to leave again, but we would have to wait and see because I wasn’t going to spend a minute more of my time thinking about it.
We soothed our frazzled nerves with some wonderful grilled calamari, barbecued chicken and cucumber vinaigrette at the street restaurant
The hooker I had nicknamed ‘Bumblebee’ due to her black and yellow, horizontally striped, barely accommodating, incredibly short dress was back again, smiling enticingly, wiggling and winking and exposing so much smooth tanned thigh that she may as well have just sat there in her underwear. She soon separated one from the herd and made her move. Twenty minutes later they were gone. Cathy and I went for a walk after dinner, just looking around the streets to see what was what and by the time we returned some hours later for a nightcap before bed she had ensnared another pleasure victim. Balding, bloated and miserable looking the young fella didn’t stand a chance. She winked and smiled as we squeezed past her table, I grinned and shook my finger at her as if reprimanding her for her poor behaviour.
I doubt it made any difference.