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|Essays · Travelogs · Poetry · Comedy · Art · Digifilm||spring 2007|
Manila, August 1996,
Manila, Tuesday, August 20, 1996, 7:55 PM
Yesterday I took a cab to Malacanang Palace. It was closed. Then another cab to Intramuros, the old, walled city. It was open, but there wasn't much to see--just more stench, poverty, dangerously unhygienic food for sale, the remains of a country that the world has turned its back on, having taken from it everything it could.
Cats flee me here. Dogs bark at me from half a block away. The streets have a kind of Bangkok feel, but without the hope, the excitement of a booming economy. All the corruption and more crime, but without the love of King to keep them all united as one people. Instead, there is Catholicism and prostitution--a more comfortable match I can't come up with. Am I seeing all of this through cynical, discouraged eyes? No doubt.
You could surely get better details of Philippine street life and tourist sites through any real travel guide. I won't try to provide that here. There are many Jeepneys on the streets, however, and those I'd find fascinating if I weren't in so depressed. They're modeled after U.S. WWII jeeps, and their bodies appear to be made of tin. Many of them have chrome on top of the tin. There's sort of a public bus version that is stretched out back for, say, a dozen feet. They've all got colorful decorations, multiple, decorative headlights, and hand-painted signs all over them: Not 4 Hire; The Cortez Family; Pro GUN; Jesus, etc.
Apparently, people love handguns here. From the look of their bumper stickers, they appear to be politicized, too--something I'm not used to seeing in Asia. It looks to be a politics of Catholicism, `family values,' anti-abortionism, and the widespread proliferation of handguns. All of this in a culture wherein even the official tourist information shamelessly promotes the wide array of "naughty bars" for the free-spending tourist.
Part of my hermiting in my hotel stems from the lengthy, detailed warnings I've read about crime in the Philippines. Every Lonely Planet guide I have has a section on "Dangers and Annoyances." The Philippines guidebook has an especially long section. Apparently, people here have gotten quite creative in their scams to rip off presumably wealthy visitors. Of course, I am presumed to be wealthy too, because of the color of my skin and the fact of my national origin. Therefore, I am a prime target. In fact, I may have already been ripped off. At the airport, a man came up to me demanding to see my baggage claim tags. I had put two bags in storage, mainly to avoid having to lug them around and thus decreasing the likelihood of theft. I think he took two of my four tags. He asked me why I was leaving the bags. He could well have been a scam artist. (Are legitimate security personnel so energized?) I'll find out tomorrow evening when I try to reclaim my bags.
Yesterday, while walking around the monument to the national martyr, Dr. Rizal, I was accosted by a bleary-eyed Filipino man who spoke good English. Immediately I was leery. In a round-about way at first, he asked where I was from. America.
"That's the dream of all Filipinos," he said, "to go to America and stay there."
I briefly weighed the response, "It's a bad dream," but let it go so as not to build the conversation. Besides, I've got no right to judge another person's dream.
The poor guy may well have been completely legit. Maybe he was just being friendly. Whatever the case, he politely gave up when I pretended to be far more interested in the memorial plaque than in his presence.
The flight from Hong Kong to Manila was the scariest I had ever been on. Without warning, the plane started rattling and bumping and kept seeming to drop down several feet. There was silence from the cabin crew as we passengers looked around in fear: Are we going down? What's happening?
For the second time this trip my heart leapt up and chicken-shittedly admitted: "I don't want to die!" Whatever existential resignation I may sometimes feel notwithstanding, when the Big Dude is staring me in the face, Survival always interjects.
Besides, what an awful way to die--a plane crash--when you've got all those eternal seconds to experience, knowing you'll soon be disintegrated, decapitated, burned beyond recognition, or whatever fate has in store for you--and there's absolutely zero that you can do about it. Those poor TWA passengers. Those poor Challenger astronauts. We poor humans.
David SaiaDavid Saia traveled extensively in Southeast Asia in 1995-96. These travelogs were originally sent out via email to a select group of friends and acquaintances. The collected travelogs, now in manuscript form, are awaiting print publication.