The Philippines / Thoughts

Impressions of Manila

I know I know….This blog post is way overdue, as many blog posts to come. But at least I am writing it now :). These are my first impressions of Manila.

It is time for me to note down some of my thoughts about Manila, since I have been here for more than 3 month already. Let’s not forget, I arrived on short notice. I found out I will do my internship here about two weeks beforehand, booked my flight three days before and had a half day stop in Hong Kong to pack my last belongings and jump onto Cebu Pacific, the budget airline blacklisted in Europe. With no place to stay, I asked my future boss where to go. She suggested to stay at her place for as long as I need to. So generous. I took the offer. Off I was all by myself, saying bye to Hong Kong and reflecting on my nine month stay.

I was in deep thoughts when the plane suddenly dropped 50 meters and people started screaming like crazy!

This is the END- I thought. Before the short flickering movie of my life started scattering in the back of my mind, the pilot found control of the plane and all was good. Haha! Little shock moment, just one when thinking of my arrival.

My boss came to pick me up on time at the gate… When I entered the arrival hall as the only white girl, the only white woman approached me and introduced herself. All was good.. Puh smooth! Got on her car and had a little chat. The next morning I had to wake up early already so as soon as we got to her nicely furnished apartment, she showed me the guest room which was heaven compared to where I have stayed in the last few month. -Nice!

Next morning, reality shock: found a note on the table with the address of the office and some Peso so I could pay for the taxi. Little did I know about taxis…

I left the apartment. But let me tell you, taking a taxi in Manila is like trying to find a dog you can pet without getting any disease on a remote Philippine island… Literally impossible. After standing on the ‘sidewalk’ for about one hour, waving at every single car passing by like an idiot, I decided to see how other people try to do it. Maybe that’s the way to go and there is a secret trick?

After another 15 minutes of observing no one getting into any vacant taxi and getting a bit depressed that I will be more than one hour late to work, I jumped on the street and knocked on some taxis that were standing in traffic. Finally a women rolled down her window and I asked her if I could jump in and take the taxi from wherever she was heading to. Bingo.

After heading into the completely wrong direction (which I didn’t know at that time so it didn’t matter) it only took me another 40 minutes to reach the office. May I note that the office is less than three kilometers away from my boss’ apartment? That’s Manila traffic. You basically don’t move for 8 minutes, then the taxi starts rolling and stops after about 3 meters. Oh lord! Okay after giving the taxi driver all my money (my boss’ money) I finally entered the big, fire station like building. Everyone seemed a bit surprised to see me, but eventually someone said I am in the right place and let me up to my new work place. Okay, all cool, finally reached my office after this journey around the world. Entered, nobody there. Great.

After a while my new colleagues entered and I was happy to be there.

This was my first arrival to Manila for my internship. It was definitely a promising start 😉 But this is basically just a little story of my very first experience. What I actually wanted to blog about is what it is like to live in Manila.

When you are in Asia, you hear many things about Manila. Most negative for sure. And most rumors are true. Yes, Manila is hot, busy, dirty and if you are not used to see poverty it is shocking. But Manila can also be an inspiring, cultural and adventurous place. Makati for example amongst one of the most western and developed areas in Manila is a good place to live. On my way to work, I have never seen a foreigner (western), but at night you encounter them in all common spots; supermarket, 7/11, mall and especially bars. Therefore, you don’t feel completely lost or alone, as long as you know there is some more of you. In other areas such as the Fort Bonifacio, you will for sure find other foreigners 24/7- but whatever, this is not about foreigners, this is just to give you an impression. I personally prefer not running into foreigners all the time anyways, just because I like the cultural experience.

I think you should ignore rumors about how ‘dangerous’ Manila is. If you get here with that attitude it won’t take you long to end your trip. If you are alert and respect the unwritten rules of the Mirella foreigner guide to Manila (yet to come) at all times, then you will be fine (in Makati and the Fort at least ;)). So far I have not gotten into any dangerous situations so just follow my guide. (Watch out will upload it this week). But Filipinos are the kindest people I have met along with Taiwanese. Besides the fact that they speak perfect english and live according to many western norms and morals, they are genuine, kind and caring. When people ask me what I like the most about the Philippines, it is the Filipinos for sure.

On sunny mornings women and men almost break their neck to tell me ‘Good Morning Miss’ and are so happy if you smile and tell them back ‘Thank you, you too’. Remember, many of them don’t have much. Security guards, maids or secretaries, don’t just do their job- they really mean it and are so happy to hear something back from you. The people for me ‘make up’ for many things I struggle with in my daily life. During my first month or so, the temperature during the day and night was around 30 to 40 degrees and it never cooled down. In the place I started living after my guest stay at my boss’ apartment, I had no air conditioning, and it really almost killed me. I couldn’t sleep at all, construction work on the neighboring property started at 6 am, not to mention the marching band starting practice SOMEWHERE at 9 pm, playing until 2 or 3 am. (????) The honking never stops, basically wherever you live (currently 27th floor) you will always hear the traffic from the street. But I don’t want to complain I am just trying to tell you what Manila is like.

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Once the weather started cooling down it all became more bearable, even the 50 degree hot shower. (Yes, no cold shower). I quickly started learning how to take jeepneys to work. The US Army brought these jeeps to Manila back in the day and the Filipinos rebuilt them and started using them for public transportation purposes. It’s definitely a cheap way to travel and more reliable than any taxi. I really enjoy taking jeepneys (ignore standing in traffic and trying to grasp for air while only breathing black exhaust gases haha). Filipinos are always giving me the kind and curious look when I get on the jeepney, I can tell they wonder if I am too poor to take a taxi or if I am so cool and adventurous enough (second one applies of course! – just kidding actually the first one :’() haha. But I really enjoy taking jeepneys. Come on they come every few seconds, you jump on and shout when you want to get off, how awesome is that? And for 8 Peso? No cheaper way to travel! Love it!

I also love about Manila that I can get the freshest fruits on my way to work. Fresh mangoes, buko (coconut) or bananas, they cost me nothing and I find a fruit stand on every corner on my 5 minute walk to the jeepney. Honestly, I started making fruit shakes every morning for breakfast and dinner. Mango or Avocado with some coconut milk and ice cubes made out of buko juice. Oh my god, so delicious. This is the luxury life you can live as a student. Add getting a manicure for about a Euro and a pedicure for less than two. Get a facial, waxing, hair treatment, eye lash extension or a massage. It’s every girls dream! I get a manicure every week, it’s amazing, I feel like a princess.

Ahhhh, I really love it. But my thoughts about Manila change daily. It’s this Asian thing: one day is the best of your life, the next is another shocking moment, when you cross the street and little kids beg you for food. I will write about poverty and the true difficulties of Manila in another blog post and will end this blog post on the note that I am truly enjoying my stay in Manila. I am very grateful for being able to experience living here, working here and meeting all these amazing people.

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