Published: June 26th 2010June 24th 2010
Having been away from the Philippines for 14 years I had a lot of catching up to do. It feels like I've been here for much longer than just the 3 days since I arrived on the 21st. Right now we are staying with my aunt Nene in Pateros. She and her family have been beyond generous with their time and resources.They picked me up from the airport on the evening of the 21st. I was pleasantly surprised that getting in/out of the airport is much easier now, even the drive home was not bad. While driving appears as chaotic as ever, it appears that the traffic has gotten better. We still get stuck in jams but the delays are not as bad as I remembered. The weather is hot (in the 90s Fahrenheit)humid and sunny. We probably have global warming to thank for the lack of rain. Since the onset of the rainy season has apparently been delayed this year.
My first day was spent catching up with my extended family. Most of them live in Pateros which is the smallest town in Metro Manila (as the capital region is known). The town's main street is much changed from how
I remembered it. Growing up it was a very laid back,small town where everybody knew everybody,the streets were lined with mostly single family homes mostly dating from the 40's-70's, with a good number of older homes that predate WWII. Nowadays the small streets are choked by tricycles,cars,jeepneys and people. From street vendors selling everything from rice cakes to cell phones, kids on their way to school, workers and shoppers. People everywhere! We've took several early morning walks around the town, revisiting my old grade school, the town church, my cousins and other family friends I have missed since being away. John and Brenda had their first tricycle ride and first taste of street food Filipino style.
Here are a few highlights of our first days in the Philippines:
The Filipino's love affair with malls often bewilders travelers. I try to think of them as modern day town plazas. Europe may have its piazzas and grand squares, the Philippines has its malls. It's a great refuge from the wilting heat and humidity. The number, size and variety of malls in Metro Manila alone is staggering. So far we have visited Serendra, Greenhills and the gargantuan mall of Asia. Serendra
is located in the Bonifacio Global city. What used to be military land when I left 14 years ago has now been partly turned into very upscale condos,office buildings and retail spaces.We were surprised to see all the major brands represented here. It's like an upscale mall anywhere in the US transplanted to the tropics. There's even a freestanding Krispy Kreme cafe, surely a testament to the Filipino sweet tooth. For a different shopping experience there is the Greenhills commercial complex. Haggling and bargaining is the game here and counterfeit designer products abound. Rolex for $20 anyone? The rule of thumb is always ask for 40%-50% off the original asking price and threaten to walk away if you think it's not a good enough deal. There is no bargaining allowed at the MOA(mall of Asia), built on reclaimed land from Manila bay, this is the biggest mall in Asia. It is truly huge with around 1000 shops and restaurants, a performance venue, cinemas including an Imax and an Olympic size ice skating rink. You can get you hair cut,go to the dentist, shop for groceries/clothes/shoes, get a massage,get waxed and even get a prenatal ultrasound and that was just on
Situated 56 miles west of Manila,this tadpole shaped island literally guards the entrance to Manila bay. It has served as a military fortification since Spanish times. A visit to Manila will not be complete without a stop here. During World War II the Philippine and American forces retreated here as the Japanese were advancing. They finally surrendered on May 6 1942 after months of relentless bombing. Colorful and detailed commentary was provided by our guide Mr. Pol (as in Pol Pot according to him). He claims to be 87 years old and a WWII veteran but with after all the jokes and puns I can't decide if he was pulling my leg. The tour takes you on several ruins of barracks, some huge guns/cannons, the US,Filipino and Japanese war memorials and culminated in a light and sound show inside Malinta tunnel. This tunnel built through a hill served as a bunker which housed among other things a 1000 bed hospital, the headquarters for Gen. MacArthur and the Philippine president at that time (Quezon). It was a moving 30 minute display which gives only a glimpse of how much Manila was ravaged by WWII.
Of course Manila
has much more exciting places and activities to offer however it can also be an oppressively hectic place. After 3 days here we are ready for a change in scenery. And what a change it will be. We are off to the almost mythical El Nido and Bacuit archipelago. Every guidebook to the Philippines heaps praise on this area and lists it as a must see. We shall find out!
There are more photos below