I haven’t really been able to formulate full and complete thoughts about what I’ve experienced in the last 24 hours. The poverty and living conditions in Manila make my worst depiction of poverty experiences in China look like a vacation at the Ritz. I have been left all evening sitting here wondering if this is why the people of China support the People’s Republic of China and the Communist Party of China, because these parties bring change and development and stop corruption. And I don’t want anyone thinking I support communism or the philosophies, because I don’t fully understand what they entail in China (and probably neither do you)… but Manila is the dirtiest, poorest and most unsanitary city I have ever seen.
Last night I arrived to a scene that felt similar to parts of Thailand I’ve visited, with the tuk tuks, and rickshaws, tons of traffic and crazy driving and walking in the streets. There was a fire at the airport in the next terminal over, with tons of fire trucks trying to make their way through the cars and traffic, and my taxi driver kept saying something about how “Philippines not safe for Americans”… which you know, made me feel super safe. Turns out on May 9th, the U.S. issued a report stating that they have reason to believe that terrorist groups are targeting tourists in Palawan in addition to Cebu, and are strongly urging U.S. citizens to not travel to these areas. The Philippine government responded saying that there is no evidence of it, the debate is still out there, and the Philippine government is upping security as they continue to investigate, etc. etc. (in a nutshell) ((now all I can think about is Austin Powers… help I’m in a nutshell)).
My hostel was the scariest hostel I’ve ever been in, I was the only non-Filipino, there were cats and cockroaches everywhere, horrible facilities, no locks, and my room had no window coverings or screens, which is not ideal when its 86 degrees outside at 10pm at night and the windows need to be open. I will spare you all anymore of the details, as my mother is probably already freaking out, but I’ll just say that as soon as I had wifi I was already booking myself a hotel for the following day.
My current hotel is a million times nicer, I’ve got a bathroom with running water, a comfy bed, and will be enjoying some much needed sleep! It also came with a bucket for pushing water down the toilet (gravity fed) and so I was able to do all of my laundry, which is currently air drying with a giant fan in my bathroom 🙂
Given all of the up in the air information on what is and isn’t safe in the Philippines right now for tourists, I decided to walk to the Ferry Station to complete my paperwork for my trip to Coron, Palawan tomorrow morning. Taxis (even registered) are being linked to questionable activities for tourists, and so given that it was only 2 miles to the ferry I decided to just get out and walk and see a bit of the city. I honestly have still not recouped from what I saw today.
Today I saw hundreds of people living in cars, boxes, and shacks. I saw babies and children playing in cardboard boxes on the side of the busy roads while their parents tried to sell food/water/anything in the streets, I saw children walking around naked and barefoot, people who are skin and bones, I saw dead chickens and a dog lying in the heaps of garbage piled up on the roads while people were picking through it looking for scraps of food and things they could recycle. I saw so many things that I can’t un-see, walking around feeling so so out-of-place, with this turmoil of emotions of wanting to run away because I’m convinced I’m going to catch a disease, while also wanting to cry, feeling really unsafe, and wanting to help, and feeling helpless, angry, sad, sick, I just can’t explain everything that was going through my brain all at once.
There was the constant calling of “hello ma’am, hello taxi? where are you going ma’am” by peddlers wanting to make a few bucks, and children running up to me asking me for my name, and all I could think about was trying to be safe, not letting the children get close enough to pick pocket, and not buying anything or taking any sort of ride from any of these people, who are probably all just trying to survive by making money for their family, or just inquisitive children… yet I really couldnt trust anyone and had to assume the worse so as to be safe, leaving me basically just feeling like a giant asshole walking through their neighborhoods on vacation taking in the sights of how they live and being completely appalled and at a loss for words. It was the longest 2 miles I have ever walked in my life.
After checking in and getting things straightened out at the ferry ticketing office, I needed to find food, it was about 2pm and I hadn’t eaten anything other than a few snacks since the day before, and it was 94 degrees out with intense humidity. I ended up going to a Jollibee which is a chain restaurant here, because even though it is much more expensive than any local restaurant or street food, my main priority in Manila has just been safety and making sure I get to Coron. On the opposite side of the street from my walk in the morning, I’d noticed a few churches in the distance, and it turns out that there were a chunk of streets sectioned off as a “historic district” which were much quieter, cleaner, and “touristy” if you could call it that, by which I really just mean you didn’t see the poverty and despair that I’d seen before lunch.
The city has a few buildings from the 16th Century, although most of the historic district has buildings from WWII and during the American occupation and Japanese invasion. A lot of destruction to the historic area, and just the Philippines in general occurred during WWII and the Battle of Manila Bay, when the Americans and Filipino’s fought against the Japanese forces. Fun Fact: following the war Manila was the second most badly damaged city of the war, as a runner-up to Warsaw.
This little historic area was on my way back to my hotel, and so I took a longer route back as it was nice to see a bit of history, and avoid the busy streets and impoverished neighborhoods. While in front of the Manila Cathedral there were a bunch of horse-drawn carriages for tourists, and I’d passed by a group that were clearly tourists, maybe 15 minutes later they passed by me on one of these horse drawn carriages and asked if I wanted to join, and well, of course I did, because “I too like to live dangerously”…
They were all super nice, two girls from the Netherlands, a guy from Singapore, and another guy from France, and had all met at their hostel which was 45 minutes outside Manila, and apparently much much nicer than my hostel was, due to the fact that it was outside of Manila in a better, neighborhood. Anyways, we toured the downtown area the 5 of us and guide being dragged around by this scrawny little horse, which ended up costing 500 pesos which is equivalent to 10 dollars, or $2 USD each. He ended the tour by dropping us off at a “really nice bar” which was totally empty, and debatably “nice” but we had a cocktail and had some really great and light conversations about traditional vs western medicine, animal testing, hypnosis, lucid dreaming, disease and diagnosis, etc. … totally intense and not light hearted, but really interesting when you throw 5 people together who’ve known each other for less than a day and come from all different walks of life who are able to have conversation and debate in a setting in which everyone respects and is open to listening to everyone elses opinion and expands or counters it with another opinion or information. AND I realize I sound like a total and complete hippy right now as I’m typing this out, (did I mention I haven’t been able to fully formulate my thoughts?!?) but honestly, those have always been some of my favorite conversations, because none of these people are people I would ever probably be “friends” with, nobody I clicked with, nobody I was drawn to, but all with some interesting, if not straight up wacky (in my opinion) opinions, but everyone just kind of listens and respects each other and it’s just really eye opening when you can realize just how many different walks of life that there are both in the developing and developed nations. It kind of just made the day feel like it’d come full circle.
After a drink at the bar it’d cooled down enough to where the rats were starting to come out and run around, (yup) and I had been told by Adam that he’d be calling the U.S. Embassy if I hadn’t checked in by 6pm, and so I rushed off back to my hotel, and made it back with 4 minutes to spare. I did a bit more laundry, showered, and I’m holed up in my hotel room for the night, with some PB&J ingredients and a few books. I’ve spent the last hour or so reading up on the Philippines and their government and poverty, and am really just trying to get some sort of a grasp on the things that I saw today, and (saying this again)… I really think that this is why the communist parties such as China’s government are popular amongst the people of that nation. The Philippines are governed as a unitary state, which in simple terms means that their aren’t branches of the government; the president has the final say as both the Head of State and the Head of Government. Looking at roughly 20 or so articles and sites, consisting of blogs, shared platforms, journals, websites, etc., none researched enough to say that anything is in fact a fact, but my general understanding based on what I have read is that there is a lot of corruption due to the current political system in which roughly a few hundred families have accumulated all of the wealth and have the power over the finances of the country, and are not investing them back into the people and the resources needed to keep developing the country into a better way of life and economy. Votes of the people are bought during elections for a few hundred pesos a vote, people rely on religion stating things like “god loves sheds most upon the poor”, and that there is a huge lack of jobs of value for the population, even those who have completed school or training. There were also several sources that were stating that those Filipino’s who are the ones who advocate for change are also the ones who have left to work oversea jobs, who are sending money back home which is helping some pull out of poverty, but is also not helping to bring about reform.
So anyways, I’m still (clearly) just trying to gather my thoughts on how I feel about today and what I’ve seen, and how lucky-fortunate-privledged I am to be sitting in my air conditioned hotel room which cost me $17 USD while there are people less than .2 miles away sleeping on the ground tonight amid rubbish.
I don’t have many photos of Manila to take as I pretty much felt like a complete A-hole taking photos, but Manila is unlike anything I’ve seen before, and really has me counting my blessings, and has been a big life changer (especially after Tai O) in the whole “less is more” and Want vs. Need philosophy.
Headed off to Coron tomorrow, which is supposed to be Paradise, and I’m sure I’ll have happier posts from there! Count your blessings my family and friends! Miss you all!