Crossing EDSA: The Charter House

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Asia » Philippines » Manila
January 7th 2007
Published: January 12th 2007EDIT THIS ENTRY

If you want to stop a tank, call a Filipino.

As our shuttle sped through the honks and bellows of Manila traffic, the crowds of people dodging cars, sprinting to roadside shops and markets melted away, replaced by high rise buildings and concrete mazes that signaled we would soon be entering Makati, the rich business district of Manila. Taking a left at Villamor Air Base, we detoured through a pensive neighborhood of old mansions walled off from the bustle of the street; these are the homes of Manila's elite, the billionaires. Portions of the old Fort Bonifacio, where Ninoy went on a hunger strike and was kept under arrest during Martial Law, have been converted into the modern tower of neon that is Global City. Modern malls and hi-rise condominium complexes are built in parallel, offering the complete experience of a self-contained, vibrant community all within a few blocks area, and all minutes from Makati proper. We will revisit this place at a later time, but for now we leave to complete the ride through Manila.

Parols, the traditional Philippine Christmas lanterns, still adorned the causeways and lampposts that guided us into Makati. Bearing a central star, these parols have a thin wire frame which hold panels of anything from translucent glass to thin seashells, tinted colors to render a brilliant display when lit from within by electric light. My father hung these regularly in Salinas during Christmas, and has won neighborhood awards for Christmas decoration, perhaps largely account of parols which, in the states, are eye-catching curiosities. The Christmas season remained very much alive, as the huge Makati malls still glittered with lights in patterns that looked like a cross between a fleur di lis, butterfly, and snowflake. These spilled over the tops of buildings to shower the consumer multitude below.

We confronted another stream of cars and jeepneys, to which my father motioned and identified as Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, the immortalized "EDSA." I stared in awe at the mess of traffic, which almost twenty-one years ago had been the flashpoint of the People Power Revolution. Along EDSA in 1986, countless Filipinos filled the streets to defend the military rebels who broke away from the embattled President Ferdinand Marcos. Using only their bodies as a mass human shield, the people stopped the progress of tanks Marcos sent down EDSA to pound the military strongholds of the rebels into the ground. I grew up with the stories of EDSA and People Power, so to finally be there in person...

On one of the Legaspi street corners in a modern mall complex, awaited the familiar KFC, Chili's, and Starbucks to greet us and assure us that though we were half a world away, we never seemed to be far from home. We arrived at The Charter House hotel on Legaspi, behind the towering and immaculate Greenbelt complex of Makati. The hotel is rudimentary, with a light green tinge to a slightly worn structure, spare in accoutrements, but ample in space and air conditioning. Positioned in the midst of thriving Makati, the bargain of Charter House is substantial.

After the twenty-three hours of travel, I was happy to at last be settled. There was one last thing to be done however, before sleep.

Since I was young, my father, who works in agriculture, told stories of the fabled Philippine Mango. Unlike the fibrous Mexican variety exported to the states, I had heard this Mango was an exquisite delicacy, in ample supply in the archipelago.

I found these fables were quite real. Savoring my first remembered taste of Philippine Mango, it was soft, full of juice, rich in sweetness, and most importantly, as smooth as cream. I do not think I can eat another Mexican mango, for this Mango was, as one of my father's friends quipped, like eating a bowl of custard in natural fruit skin. I swore on the spot to have at least one Mango a day during my visit.

This was complemented by fresh buko juice; buko is young coconut, also in ample supply and cheap in the Philippines. Even though I was a fan of canned buko juice in the states, and had even had fresh buko in California (though as you can imagine, this was quite expensive), it was immediately apparent that the fresh buko juice in the Philippines is of a different breed. It is cool and clear, like water, and is faintly sweet, but has a cleansing taste and finish unlike any other drink I have had, save perhaps for the Suisse Sante Winter Orange soda I had three years ago (and even that lost its refreshment after I consumed too much of it over the holidays).

So with the taste of Mango and buko fresh on my lips, I wished my parents good night and collapsed, having lost the race with my own exhaustion, and snored noisily on the couch.


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