A First Day In Manila

It’s summer in southeast Asia, meaning that temperatures of 32 degrees Celsius have been replaced with temperatures of 42degrees Celsius, and Manila is no exception. It’s hot and sunny. The city isn’t as congested as I’d expected, but it is enormous (actually 16 cities amalgamated into one megacity) and I’ve only seen a small part of it.

I spent the day walking around three separate areas, having explored my own area the day before. I took an hour long tour with a local, a spry old guy who must have been past 60 but moved around like a 30 year old. He actually took me around on a bicycle equipped with a sidecar. I sat in the covered sidecar and he peddled along on his bike, baking in the cruel sun. I honestly could’ve walked faster than he moved on his bike but it was a fascinating way to see the area of Intramuros (an area surrounded by Spanish-era walls, literally “inside the walls”) and he took me to sites I never would have thought to visit on my own. Namely, he took me to two Spanish forts that were later converted to barracks by the Japanese during the WWII occupation. Now, they’ve been turned into rather quaint parks and gardens used by locals for weddings or dates. He had me climbing to the ramparts, which I never would have known or guessed was allowed, even using the barrels of old Spanish canons as steps!

First day in Manila, the Philippines

I also wandered the Chinatown, which was great. Chinatowns in Southeast Asian cities are often wonderfully chaotic and energetic, and this one proved a prime example.

The poverty here, though, is stunning in its visibility. Homeless people are everywhere, sleeping on sidewalks, on benches, in makeshift shanties erected just about anywhere and everywhere. Some areas look like camping grounds, except that they’re homeless encampments.

To get to Chinatown I had to cross one of the city’s major rivers. As I walked along the bridge I took photos of large ships moored along the river. A group of kids saw me and waved, so I took their photo. A few told me to wait and made a swimming motion, essentially miming that they intended to jump into the river. I laughed, thinking they were kidding. The water was absolutely filthy, an opaque greenish brown dotted with litter. To my mingled horror and fascination, one boy clambered onto the bridge railing a few feet from me and, after insisting I photograph his foolishness, he counted loudly to three and dropped about five meters into the drink. Two more boys and a girl followed suit. The girl even finding some way to the prow of a moored ship and leaping from the gunwale.

First day in Manila, the Philippines

They laughed and exchanged high fives as I showed them the action shots I’d taken of them, the lot of them surrounding me, most stripped to their underwear and dripping.

As I turned to go, most jumped back into the river as one of them, about ten or eleven, lowered her panties, hung from the wall, and peed directly into the water, not two yards from where her friends swam. None of the others paid her any notice.

The poverty here is stunning in its visibility.

Soon I would witness more of it, though, as I’d signed on for a slum tour, given by locals from the area. It wouldn’t necessarily be pleasant, but I did think it was important.